my boss is using my email account to impersonate me

A reader writes:

I’ve reached an ultimate low here at work. I started here half a year ago in a 2-person office. (It is a fair size company, but our office just opened about 8 months ago.) I’m female and my boss is male. Continuously, he has overstepped boundaries socially: trash-talking people, telling me that people like me (yes like like that), repeatedly putting me in extremely awkward social situations.

I’m skipping a LOT of horrible situations and stories to keep this short. Sigh.

My boss often lets me leave early. I thought he was being nice. But recently, he sent me a text about another girl being a lesbian and that he thinks she likes me. I went through my emails to find out what was going on, and I found out that my boss has been letting me leave early so that he can snoop through all of my emails and reply as me! Unnecessary thank-yous and you’re-welcome’s and other short responses, literally impersonating me. I found it completely innapropriate. He even impersonated me to her, although as far as I know, nothing innapropriate was said.

This made me feel completely violated and I have saved his text. Now he tells me everyday to leave early, but instead I stay 20 minutes late and lock my computer.

Monitoring is one thing, but literally going through all my emails and impersonating me is just going too far. Especially since he has already developed a reputation with me of being a subtle pervert with no social etiquette at all. I believe he enjoys reading my emails and responding back as me any chance he can. If he had never sent that text, I would have never known this was going on.

He is now trying to find a way to get emails that are 100% mine and related only to my job sent directly to a general email account where we will both receive them, likely because he can’t snoop through my email now that I’m staying late.

How to deal with this? I’m not ready to go over his head yet, but there has got to be a limit, and I’m tired of feeling violated. (Believe me, this is not about trust on his end. We’ve worked together before in a bigger company, and he sought me out for this position. I never knew this side of him existed.)  I firmly believe there is a hint of pervert and sociopath in him. I’ve literally been reading books to help me deal with him.

Um, wow. Something is wrong with your boss. We could speculate on what it is, specifically, but ultimately Something Is Wrong with him.

There are three actions you should consider taking here, and you might need to do all three, in the following order:

1. Talk to him directly. Say this: “I noticed that you’ve been sending responses to emails that I receive. Why?”

He will either acknowledge it or deny it. If he acknowledges it, regardless of his reason, tell him that don’t feel comfortable having him send emails that purport to be from you. Say, “I’d rather this stopped. Is there any reason it needs to continue?” (Obviously the answer to that question is no, but this is a good way to frame utterly unreasonable behavior to the perpetrator, when that perpetrator is your boss.)

Alternately, if he denies it, then say that you’re alarmed since only the two of you are in your office and that if he’s not the one sending the responses, then there’s been a serious email security breach and that you’ll contact your I.T. staff so they can find out what’s going on.

By the way, speaking of talking to him directly, you should also talk to him directly about the other problematic behavior — say directly that you aren’t comfortable hearing his assessments of who might have romantic interest in you, and ask him to stop. Ideally you’d do this immediately after he makes that sort of comment, so that you don’t have to have a big, awkward conversation with him about it later, but either way, say it: “This is inappropriate. Please stop.”

2. Talk to your HR department, assuming you have one. You say that you’re not ready to go over his head yet, but you really should be. You’re alone in an office every day with a man who has shown that he’s willing to violate boundaries in some really weird ways, who you feel is a pervert and a sociopath, and who abused his power in ways that make you feel violated. You need to let your company know what’s going on, and when you do it, you also need to talk about how to prevent him from retaliating against you as a result. A good HR department will be very, very clear with him that if he makes you feel uncomfortable in any way for speaking with them, there will be consequences … but you may need to raise that piece of the issue yourself in order to make sure they address it.

3. Seriously consider finding a new job. This is not someone you want to work with, and he’s really someone you don’t want to work with in a two-person office.

I suspect that you’re in that state that people often get into when they’re in an utterly insane situation and know that it’s dysfunctional but can’t see clearly exactly how dysfunctional it is. This is one is sufficiently dysfunctional that you really should take the steps above to address it head-on. Good luck.

{ 144 comments… read them below }

  1. Kerry*

    Holy crap, that is nuts! I’d be pretty nervous to talk to him alone, to be honest, especially knowing it’s just going to be the two of you in the office the next day, and the next day, and the next…

    I really hope your company has an HR department that is willing and able to deal with this, but, yeesh. I definitely agree it’s look-for-a-new-job time if it ends up you have to continue working with this guy.

    1. Lindsay H.*

      Normally I would say to talk to him directly before going to HR because people need the opportunity to change behavior once they are aware of it before it gets to that point. However, this is not a NORMAL situation. I would bring HR in the loop and have an HR representative present when you talk to him. I don’t get the feeling he’d physically harm you, but obviously he has no problem lying. I wouldn’t put it past him to say that you tried to make romantic advances towards him or some other outrageous statement.

      Oh, and get the hell outta Dodge as soon as you can.

      1. Andrew*

        I think that with such aberrant behavior he could easily escalate things to the physical in a one-on-one confrontation. You should absolutely have someone else there during any such talk. Hell, I’m a guy and I’d be uneasy in a situation such as this.

        Your safety is more important than office politics.

      2. Anonymous_J*

        I completely agree with this post. I don’t think a one-on-one conversation is a good idea in this case.

        I also would NOT rule out the idea that his behavior could escalate. He definitely sounds unhinged.

        I really think you’d be best off just leaving as soon as you are able.

    2. Liz T*

      Do we think there’s a way she can talk to him about it in a public place? The only reason I’d suggest talking to him first is because HR might ask if she’d told him to stop.

      1. Another Emily*

        I think she’d be fine going straight to HR. If they ask “Did you ask him to stop?” (a legit question) she could answer “No, I feel too unsafe around him to confront him on this behaviour alone.” (a legit answer)

        1. Long Time Admin*

          This, absolutely!!

          She’s working alone with this creep. That leads to the “he said…” and “she said…” kind of thing which HR might not even try to do anything about (except maybe “talk” to the offender). However, start there and tell them how unsafe (and use that word!) this whole situation makes you feel.


          1. Lindsay H.*

            Plus, I think sending e-mails under her name elevates this into a completely different level. In my opinion, she shouldn’t have to tell someone not to/stop doing this. This goes beyond the workplace boundaries of checking up on someone’s work.

  2. ChristineH*

    VERY creepy. I’d say you might want to think about doing #3 WHILE trying #1 and #2! Get out as soon as you can for your sanity…I don’t see this guy changing his behavior willingly.

  3. Greg*

    My other advice would be to immediately start documenting as much as you can about his behavior. We’ve established that he’s sneaky, which means it’s entirely possible he will respond to any accusations with denial, obfuscation and possibly even by leveling counter-charges against you. My guess is that if you can conclusively demonstrate even one instance where he accessed your email when you were out of the office, he will instantly lose all credibility with HR (and possibly his job — if I found out one of my employees was doing that to a coworker, much less his subordinate, I would consider it grounds for immediate termination.)

    I agree with AAM that you should talk to him before you go to HR, but be prepared in case he turns on you.

    1. Anonymous*

      I thought it was normal for bosses to check your work e-mail.

      The only even newsworthy portion of this post is that he responded as her.

    2. Anonymous*

      And furthermore, maybe she’s lazy about responding to e-mails and he just wanted to avoid any hard feeling by helping her out.

      Let’s stop constantly assuming the woman is right and the man is wrong just because women are “vulnerable.”

      If the boss was a woman and the employee was a man, would ANY of you have the same sentiment?

  4. Anonymous*

    OP, please report this creep. Don’t feel bad about it and feel like you have to “be nice”. Women are socialized to be nice, mostly to our detriment, especially in cases like these. You have a right to feel safe and secure at work, and your boss doesn’t have the right to sexually harass you (which is what he is doing when he impersonates you to try to start a lesbian relationship for you, or when he tries to discuss potential romantic partners with you). He has probably done this before to other women and will do it to others unless he is stopped.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It might be, but we’d need to know more specifics. Sexual harassment in the legal sense has to be “severe and pervasive”; this could potentially go either way, depending on the frequency of the comments and specifically what he said. (If he’s just telling her that he thinks various people like her, it probably isn’t going to meet the legal standard for harassment. Although it would still meet the normal-person standard for creepiness.)

      It’s also important to note that if your company has a policy on harassment that spells out a reporting procedure, you must use that reporting procedure (and have it not work) in order to later have a legal case.

      1. Anonymous*

        “It’s also important to note that if your company has a policy on harassment that spells out a reporting procedure, you must use that reporting procedure (and have it not work) in order to later have a legal case.”

        Eek! No, this is not true. It makes for an easier case, but there have been numerous cases where an employer was found liable for sexual harassment even without its being reported to them. If the harasser is in a position of authority relative to the victim, especially.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Sorry, I should have been clearer. If your company has a policy on harassment that sets up a reasonable reporting procedure (that doesn’t require you to report it to your manager if your manager is the one harassing you), and don’t give you reason to believe that they will not investigate quickly and fairly, then you generally do need to report it under your company’s policy in order to later pursue a successful case. Federal law (backed up by a Supreme Court ruling) says that an employer has met its obligation if it takes reasonable steps to prevent harassment before it occurs and takes effective steps to remedy harassment after it takes place, and that if an employer has a harassment reporting policy, employees must report harassment under the terms of that policy and give the employer an opportunity to fix the situation before an employer would be found liable. Obviously, details vary case by case, but that’s the general situation.

          However, there are some state exceptions to this, like California, where employers are liable for managers’ conduct, despite any reporting policy or other efforts by the company to prevent/remedy harassment.

          1. Greg*

            Isn’t there also a difference between the company’s liability and the boss’ liability? I agree, if the OP ever plans on suing the company, she needs to be able to demonstrate that she followed proper channels. And I can also imagine a scenario where a boss who was, say, telling mildly off-color jokes could claim that he hadn’t been told that his employee found them offensive. But I can’t see the OP’s boss plausibly claiming he didn’t realize that using her personal email account was wrong.

              1. Anonymous*

                What?! Of course he’s personally liable for his behavior!

                The reason people sue employers is because they typically have more assets to go after than the harasser himself has. It absolutely does not mean the boss is not liable for what he did, and there’s no reason at all she couldn’t pursue that avenue by itself or in addition, should she want to.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I don’t see anything here that she could sue him for personally. The work computer is the property of the company, and her boss is legally entitled to do what he’s doing even though it’s gross and creepy.

              3. Anonymous*

                If the employer could be sued, which you acknowledged as a possibility earlier, then yes, the boss could be too. Unless you’ve changed your opinion on the possibility of this rising to the level of harassment, I’m very confused by what your point is here.

              4. Kimberlee*

                I’m interested in what I think is an implied question here… if this were some kind of legally definable harrassment, only the company can be sued, right? I mean, Bob on a personal level (assuming he’s not a director or officer) cannot personally create a hostile workplace, only a hostile workplace can do that, right? Or am I wrong? <<<< not at all a lawyer

              5. Anonymous*

                That’s not accurate. If the person who harassed you is a supervisor, in many places you can name him as well. You could also have actions against him for various torts.

              6. fposte*

                Ah, I think you’re talking about state laws. Yes, it does look like some states have provisions for individual suits, but it doesn’t seem to be part of the federal law.

      2. JLH*

        I would hope any good HR manager would recognize that saying so-and-so “likes” you is a filter–his way of trying to get around sexual harassment but trying to pin it on a third person. I’m not implying he’s doing that consciously, but there you go.

        It’s funny that he seemed fine before the two-person office. My guess is he’s slid into this because of the lack of normal boundaries that would be inherent in a bigger office. Whether or not you bring HR into this, you’ll probably need to set firm boundaries with him and make sure you call him on it every time he does something out of line. Hopefully that’ll work for you. Good luck! :o)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, but an HR manager recognizing it is different from it rising to the level of sexual harassment in a legal sense. (I’m not saying it doesn’t, only that we can’t tell from what’s here.)

          1. Lindsay H.*

            Tangent but this part of the thread made me think of something. Even if this doesn’t reach the level of harrassment or if the behavior subsides between now and when/if the OP finds a new position, what is a person’s obligation to report this kind of behavior so it doesn’t happen to someone else? I’m curious about people’s opinions.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              This is such a good question. I think it’s the same as for any serious issue with a boss’s behavior, not just harassment but screaming at people, generally being a really extreme jerk, etc. You’ve got to balance your responsibility to speak up in the hopes of preventing it from happening to others with your own interests in protecting yourself (from retaliation, burned bridges, etc.). I don’t think there’s an easy answer — it will often depend on the personalities involved, likely consequences for you, your own tolerance for risk, etc.

            2. Kimberlee*

              I agree with AAM, with an additional item to add to the balance that I think one’s obligations to others should be higher than one’s discomfort… that’s not to say you should always have to torpedo your own career for others, but that, often, doing the right thing does involve some discomfort and sacrifice on your own part. :) That’s something I often think about when making these kinds of decisions… that if I want others to be willing to put themselves on the line for a greater good, I have to be willing to do that myself from time to time.

              But agreed that there’s almost never an easy answer for where that line is!

              1. Emily*

                Especially when what’s potentially at stake is your successor’s safety. Leaving a new person at the mercy of a screamer without at least a quiet word of warning in order to protect yourself from retaliation might be bad; leaving a new person alone with a creepy creepster who seems to be escalating would be unjust.

              2. Lindsay H.*

                *nods* I took a semester long class in college, Conflict Management and Resolution. We often view conflict in terms of “war, fighting, etc.” Conflict definitely can be uncomfortable and unpleasant, but it’s sometimes a completely necessary means to reach a much needed end.

              3. Anonymous_J*

                Yes, yes, YES! I absolutely feel—particularly with something this egregious–that there is some level of responsibility to protect the people who will come in behind you.

                Always weigh the risks, but protecting people IS, in my opinion, the right thing to do.

  5. Pullingoutmyhair*

    This is the person who asked the question here.
    Thank you so much for your advice. It is amazing how being put in a situation like this makes you forget how to professionally confront the person and instead remain silent. Your responses to this and other articles are helping me find my voice!! Thank you for that.

    On another note since the text and now locking of my computer everything is returning to what should be a professional work place. Thankfully.

    I’m keeping my eyes open though and now no fully how to respond. Thank you!!!

    Keep in mind all that I am young and still establishing myself in this career, leaving personally is not an option for me.

    I do believe things continue to improve, and if not confrontation in particular situations I believe will do wonders.

    1. Laura L*

      I understand being young and not wanting to make waves in your career (I’m in the same position), but I still think you should bring this to HR. This is a major problem and it’s probably going to happen again.

      1. Liz T*

        DEFINITELY. Even if it doesn’t continue, they should have it on record. You can make clear to HR that things have toned down, but that you wanted them to know there’s a history.

        After all, what’s your fear–getting him fired? Good, he should be. You’re probably afraid of rocking the boat, but remember that, without repercussions, he’ll happily do this to the next person.

    2. Student*

      Look at it this way, OP:

      If he is creepy and behaves in ways that are downright weird, unprofessional, and odd, how do you think this job is really going to help your career? Do you think, after this weird behavior, that he is going to give you a sane recommendation or help you try to get promotions, or even just good work assignments? Obviously, you’re in the best place to judge this, but from where I’m sitting I can’t picture this job doing anything good for your career at all. The sooner you move on, the less damaging this job will be to your future.

      1. jmkenrick*

        Additionally, he’s sending out e-mails as you. Anything he sends will reflect on you. More so, if people found out you knew about it and didn’t excercise all your options to have him stop.

        Please don’t feel uncomfortable or weird going above his head on this. I often have trouble approaching higher-ups when I’m unhappy about something, but I’ve found that once I finally work up the courage, I’m much better for it. This is HR’s job. It doesn’t make you strange or difficult to approach them with this issue. It makes you totally normal – people approach them with issues all the time.

        I think you should both have a conversation with your boss and alert HR. You really don’t want him to be writing e-mails as you.

      2. K.*

        Exactly. If he’s as weird and unprofessional as you say, you don’t want him as a reference anyway, because he’s likely to say/do something weird and unprofessional. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

        I don’t know your life, obviously, and if you can’t afford (financially) to quit, I don’t judge that, but I have to say, I read this and immediately thought “OK, she’s got to put together a folder documenting all his behavior, show it to HR, and then quit.”

      3. M-C*

        Absolutely agree with the others. If you’re young and not yet established in your career, then you must leave immediately. This creep is going untold damage, some of which you may never know about.

        1. khilde*

          This. Precisely because OP is so young and her career so unblemished, this is not a good foundation to lay.

      4. Anonymous_J*

        …Not to mention that, even if things have toned down, your safety is possibly still at risk.

        There comes a point when you need to decide if your career track is really important enough to put your own safety at risk. Plus, you are young I’m guessing. You have time to move on and continue to build your career.

        The sooner you get out, the easier this will be.

    3. Ellie H.*

      I agree with others. I think that this is a serious situation and that you should report it to HR even if you believe things are improving. This is really beyond the pale of unacceptable behavior.

    4. Anonymous*

      Please do not take this situation lying down just because you think it has stopped. He will take any opportunity to continue his behavior. You need to confront him and talk to HR. There is literally no reason that you shouldn’t be doing this. You may be young, you may be new and you may just be starting out in your career but that doesn’t mean that someone can do this to you! Stop making excuses and protect yourself and anyone who this will happen to in the future (because if he isn’t stopped, he will do this again).

    5. Long Time Admin*

      If you insist on staying, at least take a good self-defense class.

      I would also advise that you not use the company computer for personal emails. And no talking about your private life with this guy.

      This might seem a bit overboard to you, but you really cannot be “too” safe.

    6. John H*

      You’ve gotten some good advice here about how to handle the situation although you’ve still got the tough job of actually doing it.

      What are the laws in your area regarding video and audio recording conversation with someone without their knowledge or consent? I ask that because I would suggest you take that step before tipping your hand in order to have a record that can used if need be, but you’d need to be very careful not to cross the legal line yourself.

      Best of luck with your situation and I hope it improves for you.

  6. Pullingoutmyhair*

    Also please note my computer would be left on — for emergency emails. If that makes a difference.

    Again thank you Alison.

    1. Gene*

      This is bogus. If your computer is locked and can only be accessed by you, what is the purpose of leaving it on if you aren’t there? The email server will keep all emails until you log in, emergency or not.

      Also, even though he has stopped, if you are in a state that allows single party consent ( you should record every conversation with him from now on for documentation.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        She might have a low storage limit on the email server and have to leave her PC on with Outlook open so messages will download to Outlook and not use up her storage on the server.

        We use an outside vendor for our email server and Outlook as our email program in the office. Emails come in to the server and then download to Outlook when the program is open. If I close Outlook, all incoming emails are collected at the server until the next time I open Outlook. Once the limit is reached at the server, all other emails will be bounced back to the sender. For this reason I always leave my computer on with Outlook open. There’s always someone who decides to send me a HUGE email attachment and I don’t want to risk having emails bounced.

        1. Henning Makholm*

          I wonder what it would cost to find an email provider with less draconian space limitations — compared to the electricity cost of keeping everyone’s PC running 24/7…

          1. The Other Dawn*

            They’re always onfor patching purposes anyway so raising the limit wouldn’t matter . The storage limit usually only poses a problem when someone goes on vacation for more than a week.

        2. Student*

          A sane company would simply put size restrictions on the attachments that the email server accepts. If some idiot sends you a multi-GB file, they’ll get a bounce message from the email server explaining the problem, or the message will be forwarded to you sans huge attachment.

          If you’re hitting size limits frequently with typical document attachments, then your company needs to upgrade their email server from Windows 2000. Gmail gives you 7.5 GB to work with for free (not that I would suggest running business mail out of gmail!), so your company had better be providing more than that.

          1. The Other Dawn*

            Yes, there is a size limit on attachments. No, we don’t hit the limits frequently.

          2. Kimberlee*

            I hate limits on size attachments… I’ve had Gmail bounce stuff back to me trying to send PDF’s our our 990’s to another employee… even when there was only one 990 per email. It was super frustrating! I’m so glad our work emails don’t have limits!

  7. Charles*

    OMG! That is just soooo creepy! I would leave there so fast the door wouldn’t have time to hit my butt on the way out!

    If there were more folks in the office I would say try to stick it out – you know something about safety in numbers; but, given that there are only the two of you I would report him immediately (with documentation, of course) to an higher office or someone and NOT go back to work.

    Also, OP, don’t let you previous experience working with him cloud your judgement of him now – he could have changed since you last worked with him and have even deeper problems than before – in which case you have to ask is he getting worse and going to just “snap” one day?

    I’ll say it again, I would be out of there so fast . . .

    1. Anonymous*

      Agree with this.

      Also, OP mentioned that she didn’t realize he was going through her email for a while, so even if things seem to be getting better, how would she know he’s not doing other creepy things she just hasn’t caught onto?

      In addition – OP, as a young woman also just starting her career, I advise you to never let someone take advantage of you/do creepy things just because you’re at the start of your career. You are still a person and deserve to be able to go to work without enduring creepiness like what is listed in your email. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself just because you’re only starting out.

  8. CinSi*

    Wait a minute…why in the world should the OP leave, when she isn’t the one in the wrong? She should stand her ground. He should be the one who leaves! Something bad happend, it likely will happen again, but don’t run. Stand your ground, professionaly, and let him be the one getting fired. Get other people involved – HR, upper management, his boss…anyone above him who will listen. Don’t trash talk or badmouth, just state the facts in a calm way and make them aware of his awful behavior.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Because very, very often people don’t get fired for stuff like this. They get talked to (if that), but they keep their jobs. And she should not continue working with someone like this. So yes, she should try HR, but she shouldn’t assume they’ll just remove him.

      And yes, it sucks that she should have to leave over it, but people leave jobs because of their boss all the time — it’s one of the most common reasons.

      1. K.*

        And if she tells HR and he’s reprimanded but stays on, it sounds like he’s weird and creepy enough to act out and make her life even more unpleasant – which is unfair, but that’s the world we live in. I absolutely think she should tell HR about him, and of course he’s the one who should be let go – but I don’t think that will happen, and I also don’t think they should continue to work together, which means she leaves.

        1. Anonymous Agrees*

          And that’s why some people don’t report those who are mistreating/abusing them … because they believe it’ll only makes things worse.

    2. Charles*

      ditto what others have said above; but, if I were in her shoes (okay, I’m not, but, let’s say that I am) I would not stay.

      Yes, I agree that she should NOT be the one to HAVE to leave. However, life just isn’t fair some (most?) times.

      This guy sounds like a creep beyond belief; hence the reason I would not stay. No one else can be responsible for your safety but you. This goes double since she is in the office with just him.

      Seriously, I worked with a guy once who had “some problems” to put it mildly. The problems were:

      Trash-talking about the openly gay guy in our office (thank God he never knew I was also gay). Crap such as “don’t go into his office; you’ll catch AIDS!”

      Trash-talking about women in general. I won’t repeat any of what he used to say – really I won’t.

      Then there was also the time that he was telling my boss and I about how his wife “refused” sex; So, he taught her a lesson that she should always be there for her husband – that was her “duty.” (OMG – did he rape her? Is that what he meant by taught her a lesson? OMG!)

      After his wife left him (kudos to her!) he would then call up folks that we had just interviewed to ask them out for a date. I kid you not! Imagine that you had an interview and someone from the company called you that night? Your reaction must be I got the job. Yea! Only to find out it was a sleazebag asshole asking you out because he “admired your white pumps.”

      Then there was the woman who he had a one-night stand with. Since this woman tried to commit suicide he felt “guilty” and so, he hired her sister to be our new receptionist! This new receptionist, during her lunch hour, used to go out into the parking lot in front where everyone comes and goes; including clients, lie spread-eagled on the hood of her car with her skirt hiked up to “avoid tan lines.” Wow, now we can see why Jack hired her!

      I could go on and on; but the bottom line is that nothing ever happened to this sleazebag because he was a good friend of the owner of the company. The owner would simply issue a new rule: “Jack, you cannot date someone we interviewed.” “Jack, you cannot hire the sister of a date.” “Jack, you cannot do whatever.” etc. But, Jack was never fired.

      Even when we had massive lay-offs, Jack was not let go. In fact, Jack was one of the ones to help with the lay-offs. Wasn’t that nice!

      As for myself, I did have several run-ins with him. Myself and another employee went to the owner about his behaviour one time – Jack did get a very sharp “dressing-down” from the owner. That weekend, both this co-worker and I had our cars broken into. Was it a coincidence? Maybe or maybe not.

      Sorry to ramble on so; But, I think this shows that the bottom line is no one else is responsible for your safety and well-being as much as you are; that, I think, is why so many of us are suggesting that she leave. Even if nothing happens to her, it is not a healthy environment to be in – she is better than that.

      Lastly, it totally sucks that if/when she leaves she is now stuck with trying to explain her “short” tenure with this company to future employers.

      1. khilde*

        Charles – you have THE most entertaining stories. Though this is a sad entertaining story (sad for all the people in Jack’s life) :(

  9. Flynn*

    If you confront him, I’d do it with a witness. If he’s half the sociopath you think he is, he is quite capable of lying persuasively, or turning manipulative, either to you or to whoever you go to about him; we worked with someone like that for a while, and he blatantly lied to EVERYONE. Luckily he was stupid, pushed it too far, and we started comparing notes, so he got fired fairly quickly, but he got away with everything the first few times, because he acted as if he was in the right and was asking something perfectly reasonable.

    And I don’t really see how letting him walk all over you and manipulate your social interactions is going to help your career at all. Apart from any damage his emails may do, he may progress to actually telling people directly what you supposedly think or feel about things to get the reactions he wants.

    1. Liz T*

      I actually think the emails are worse than just saying things–it’s the difference between “word of mouth” and “straight from the horse’s mouth,” if you will. People will assume the emails are legit.

      1. Flynn*

        Oh yes, but it sounds like the emails he actually sent were mostly pointless and innocuous, so far. So he’d have to up the drama level a bit to get the same level of whatever he’s after.

  10. Lisa M*

    Forgive me if I missed something, but . . .

    I can’t think of a single reasonable business-related reason for anyone to send out emails on behalf of someone else in the normal course of business.

    If the OP is out of the office for a period of time (more than just overnight) , that might be reasonable. Might. And I know assistants often do calendar things on behalf of their bosses . . . But that is a whole different kettle of fish.

    So, my take is that he is violating company policy as well as breaking the law. Go directly to HR and share your concerns.

      1. Anonymous*

        Generically, identity theft and computer misuse laws. As a company computer, he can read all the emails on it, but sending emails as the OP is a bit different. The ‘From’ and ‘Sender’ fields are distinct to provide for the ‘on-behalf-of’ situation Lisa M describes, but I don’t have the impression that’s going on here. It’s going to vary by state, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the behaviour described is normally illegal.

        OTOH, this is an opportunity for the OP – once it is generally acknowledged that her boss does this, she can send out whatever she likes, and blame it on him.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Hmmm, I don’t think so. If I were this creepy boss and I were asked about this, I would say that I was concerned that the OP wasn’t being sufficiently responsive and communicative to clients, vendors, etc. and I took it upon myself to ensure they were getting appropriate responses. Since it sounds like all he’s been sending are innocuous thank-you’s, etc. and he’s ultimately in control of her work computer, I can’t see a successful legal case here. (That doesn’t mean I think HE’s innocuous though.)

          1. Anonymous*

            If all the messages are just of the “Thanks for you email” type, I can see that that could be “reasonable doubt” for an actual legal case. However, as others have pointed out, I’m quite sure that if this were to happen anywhere I’ve ever worked, IT would be sending out a repair team immediately – the repair team whose only tools were the baseball bats.

      2. You ARE being harassed*

        a law isn’t being violated when he is insinuating “something going on” about her sexuality/personal affairs?

        1. fposte*

          Not likely. If it goes to a point where she has quantifiable damages, she might have the basis for a defamation lawsuit, but those are really expensive and rarely worth pursuing.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          He can insinuate “something going on” and it makes him a jerk, but a law isn’t being violated until the harassment is “severe and pervasive.” We’d need to know more to know if it rises to that level.

          1. Liz T*

            Also, to constitute harassment, doesn’t it have to persist despite requests to stop, or involve retaliation? She hasn’t said anything to anyone.

    1. moe*

      Which makes it even creepier and more disturbing in my mind–that the only gain he is getting from this, is (I assume) some weird control/thrill thing about being in her email and acting like her. I can see a certain personality type enjoying that… and it’s a scary person IMO. The behavior is so weird that I really fear for OP’s safety.

      Somehow it would be better if he was doing something more nefarious, wouldn’t it?!

  11. Pullingoutmyhair*

    You are absolutely right about the computer belonging to the company. But what happens if no agreement has been signed in regards to monitoring / going through my computer? Monitoring is ok, I think it’s too far he starts reading all of my emails even outgoing and for all I know almost everyday. (I know he does this because he’s ‘tattled’ on himself once when someone called about an email I sent four days ago — which he knew all about — and proceeded to take my call. It’s why I wonder if he is taking this beyond ‘monitoring’ and feel like its almost pretty creepy actually.

    As far as sending out emails as me it was more unnecessary emails “thank yous””you’re welcomes””good nights” and another one which most definitely implied I was the sender. I personally find it absolutely creepy and since he was copied in on his own email, a deliberate cross of boundaries.

    On another note, while I may feel I’m being harassed or violated I don’t think I am. I think it’s a case of dealing with someone with no boundaries and or deliberately pushing them to see how far he can go. If it continues to happen I will take the above advice, state to him he is doing so & if it still continues I will put it on record.

    1. Anonymous is Confused*

      If you feel you are being harassed or violated, then perhaps you should listen to your gut (?). And now you say “if it continues.” Why did you write to AAM then? Your letter and your response here, at least to me, convey two different tones of how you view this situation. In my opinion, I think you should do something now and begin to really keep track of what you are experiencing with this creep. I find it just creepy enough that he is telling you who is interested in you in the romantic way. It is beyond having no boundaries.

      1. pullingoutmyhair*

        If it continues was in regards to me stating things are getting back to a normal situation….
        I appreciate all of your good advice and I feel empowered again.
        It’s a little too late to talk to him now, it would be awkward and he could act like he’s clueless. It should’ve been dealt w when and during each situation. All I can do is keep my logs, and deal with it right in the future.
        In regards to seeming confused, accusing someone of harassing you when you have no witnesses and just because they have a disgusting habit of going on my email could ultimately make me look bad. I’m sorry if you don’t understand, but this situation has to be dealt with smartly.
        Like I said. He is SUBTLE and to others completely normal and charming.
        This text I have is hard proof, and with the above advice it’s time to deal with things appropriately when and if they continue to occur.
        I came here for the wonderful advice I’m getting. And sort of piece of mind that he IS overstepping boundaries and IM not just overreacting. Naturally a friend and husband will support me, these public opinions are helping- a lot.

        1. M*

          I understand where you are coming from; I was once harrassed at my place of work when I was in my early twenties and just starting out. I just wanted the situation to “go away” because I didn’t want to be marked as a complainer for the rest of my career. The problem is: people like this don’t just go away. You are right to deal with this smartly, which is why people have been suggesting you document everything and approach HR if you company has it. You have the text, it is proof along with possibly showing them time stamps on emails, etc. Don’t fall into a false lull suggesting this man has changed because it is very unlikely that he has, and I would suggest you deal with this *now*, rather than waiting for him to strike again.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes. I would also say that this man’s behavior is so odd and out of the norm that I’ve got to think he’s going to boundary-violate in other ways as well. Even if he stops this, he clearly doesn’t have an understand of what is and isn’t appropriate.

        2. Anonymous was Confused*

          I’m sorry if you don’t understand, but this situation has to be dealt with smartly.

          While I understand, to some degree, where you are coming from now that you have explained yourself a little bit further, I just hope you are not being condescending here. However, I am keeping a cool, level head.

          But, what I noticed between then (the original letter) and now (the response I had answered to above) sound completely different. Let me explain. I would think you wrote the note after something had just occurred, such as finding another email he answered or he made an inappropriate mark. Something motivated you to write this letter now. If everything was calm and quiet, you might not have written in.

          But the tone of your response sounds different, as if you are trying to talk yourself out of thinking things are as bad as they are. That’s dangerous. Like I said, go with your gut. As other people have said, this is harassment. I just don’t want to see you fall into that trap where he creeps the daylights out of you only for you a couple of hours later think everything is dandy again. It can encourage him to escalate (we don’t know what he is capable of). Don’t let your guard down. I’m just worried for you, and when I sensed the different tones, it just seems that you were suddenly trying to soothe it over as if he isn’t that bad.

          Even if you don’t feel it is right to go to HR now, is there anyone you know within the company you can go to as a confidant?

          1. Britta*

            +1. I got the exact same impression, that OP is trying to talk herself (and us) out of how bad it really is.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Me too. It’s worth noting that the OP’s letter was sent to me yesterday, so this isn’t a situation where enough time has passed that things are different. OP, take this seriously!

              1. Anonymous was Confused*

                Actually, that was one thing I was going to ask you but got sidetracked once I hit the reply button.

        3. Anonymous_J*

          You know, I really have to wonder if the OP sent the original email to AAM from her work email–the one the Creep hacked–and if HE is now responding as HER.



    2. Rana*

      Um, that’s the very definition of harassment and violation, right there:

      Someone pushing (and crossing!) your boundaries, without your consent, to the point that you are uncomfortable. Hello!

      I understand that what he’s doing is scary and disturbing, and it’s natural to minimize it so that you don’t have to confront the situation (or him). That doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. Please trust yourself and don’t minimize his behavior. It’s creepy and wrong and something that should stop!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Just to be clear, that’s not the legal definition. The legal definition requires that it be “severe and pervasive” and based on your membership in a protected class.

    3. Anonymous_J*

      Um, most companies have very strict policies regarding logins and passwords and the use of such. That’s why we HAVE THEM. He is very likely violating company policy in acting as you, regardless of what those emails say.

      If he’s concerned about your timeliness or thoroughness in responding, he should talk to you about it and perhaps have you cc him on emails that you send out. He should NOT be impersonating you!

  12. You ARE being harassed*

    Using someone else’s identity is always a crime, much more so if he is someone working for you/ your boss. You may not believe that you are being harassed but you are. Sexual harrasment is clearly in the works here, as he is referring to your sexuality in a malicious way.

    1. fposte*

      Actually, it’s not always a crime; generally, it becomes a crime if the impersonation is for the purposes of breaking the law.

      In most places, if I just go around telling people “I’m Alison Green of Ask a Manager,” and ask for nothing but being told how great I am, I’m not committing a crime. If I do it in ways that screw with Alison’s business, she could sue me, but that’s a tort, not a crime.

      I think AAM’s covered the harassment question upthread.

  13. Anonymous*

    If he’s as creepy as you say, he could deny that he authorized you to leave work early. Just putting that out there.

  14. RecordsGirl*

    Impersonating you via your email may not be illegal, but does it violate any company policy? My organization has an electronic communications agreement that all employees are required to sign and follow. It stipulates that “No attempt will be made to hide the identity of the sender, or represent the sender as someone else…”

    Behaviour like what you described in your original post would get his butt fired so fast over here. Quite rightly, in my opinion.

    Look for the creepy behaviour to return. Locking your computer and not leaving early has only thwarted his current modus operandi – he hasn’t changed.

    1. fposte*

      I was thinking about company policy, too; honestly, even if the company didn’t think to write a policy for this, they’re really not going to like it. I think that the isolation of this office is playing an important role here, in that she doesn’t even have a nodding acquaintance with a colleague who can help point her toward HR or the boss’s supervisor, and in that he’s feeling securely unobserved.

      I’m going to join the chorus, OP, in urging you to talk to HR ASAP. While there are all kinds of workplace annoyances, I’ve worked for decades without ever encountering anything this creepily crazy, and I doubt you will again. It’s that far out of Saneville.

  15. Confused*

    Start documenting things now. Not later…now. That includes the previous emails.
    If you end up having great to book it out of there you don’t want to have all your evidence etc in the computer/office.
    Also, you said things have gone back to being professional but in your original letter you said he is now trying to get to your emails in the general inbox….??
    You should NOT have to stay 20 minutes after work to make sure he stays off your computer!

  16. Jen*

    I agree with the others… your tone has changed dramatically. I know you’re worried about being seen as credible (no witnesses, etc) but if you wait until something REALLY bad happens before going to HR they’re going to ask why you hadn’t spoken up before. When you approach HR (because you should) I would emphasize that he’s mostly a nice/charming guy and you’ve worked with him before without a problem – in a bigger office. Maybe they’ll hurry up and add more staff to that location, or they can have his supervisor “drop by” occasionally until there are more people, or swap you (send you back to the bigger office, and send a male out to work with him). How people behave without supervision can be quite different to how they behave when they know they’re being watched – HR knows this. HR would rather avoid trouble, be it with you or any future young female employees!

    For what it’s worth, I’ve hired young female women who were looking for a new job because of their crazy/sexist/icky bosses. As long as their references were good, I generally took their word on it. Having been (being?) young and female in the work place, you see same crazy stuff – you aren’t the only one, and most likely there are other women (in HR, conducting interviews) who have seen this too. You are NOT a complainer. Male supervisor alone with a young female employee… just doesn’t seem like a good idea.

    Goodness, when I was 22 I worked for a cell phone distributor, and overheard my boss on the phone tell someone he hired me because I had nice boobs! I hung around for a few weeks, until something else pissed me off and I just didn’t go anymore one day. Not recommended of course, but it didn’t really hurt my career either. A simple “my boss made sexist comments in the workplace” generally satisfied anyone who asked about it. Eight years later it’s not on my resume and no one asks. =)

  17. Karen K*

    Wonder if she could contact her IT department and ask them to investigate why emails she is not sending are showing up in her sent file. “Is someone breaking in remotely?” she asked innocently…

    1. Dan H*

      This is what I was going to recommend. The problem with a two-person office is that there’s really no way to maintain anonymity if you complain to HR. Even if they don’t release your name, who else could be making the accusations?

      A safer way to go is to leave your computer unlocked again, then wait for him to start up his old tricks. As soon as you notice a message sent by ‘you’ that you didn’t send, call IT and report a hacking incident. Don’t mention the boss. Just say that somehow someone must have hacked into your computer because messages are being sent ‘by you’ that you didn’t send.

      If IT is remotely competent, they’ll start an investigation and quickly realize that someone in the office is accessing your computer. Since the boss is the only one there, they’ll have to confront him about it. But you have deniability: “WHY didn’t you tell me you were sending those E-mails? I thought I was being hacked, and was just doing my duty to report suspicious behavior to IT! So sorry if I got you in trouble…”

      Now he’s caught, but he can’t blame you for it. And if he just gets reprimanded and not terminated, you still have a possibility of continuing a working relationship and hopefully he’ll have learned a lesson about boundaries. And he’ll certainly know that the company will be watching him.

      1. pullingoutmyhair*

        We do not have an IT department, sadly…
        However I do like your advice.. to leave my computer on and see if he does it again. If he does, professionally ask him not to email from my account via email & with our headquarter boss/hr copied in(especially if since his email is copied in!!!).
        That could be an option of bringing it to someones attention.
        Would that be too harsh or unprofessional of me?

  18. pullingoutmyhair*

    Everyone, I understand why you think my tone has changed. Firstly, I have a bad habit of feeling bad to those who have wronged me after I get upset and they change. 
    Secondly, I feel that, in regards to all the awkward conversations and simply bushing it off, ignoring it, or simply telling him in re: people ‘like liking'(and yes in his eyes everyone likes me…) “it’s just my positive tone & can do customer service they appreciate”, that it’s too late to say something about it now. 
    In fact, what happened was recent, but after him awkwardly attempting to explain himself and a few horribly quiet days of literally ignoring him- nothing violating or harassing has happened the past week. (other than the general email suggestion which likely was a test for my reaction or a bluff- which failed and hasn’t been brought up again yet & the daily telling me to leave early, which thanks to these empowering posts I made clear is not happening anymore).   
    Now I feel it’s too late to go over his head, and he deserves a fair chance at me confronting him first. Also too late to bring up an over the boundary convo from a week or + ago. 
    It may sound ridiculous but I have now from here learned how to respond, and if he crosses a line again I will assert myself, clearly and let it be known it will NOT be tolerated. That’s it- he gets one fair chance and it’s off to the superiors. 
    Lastly, I will not leave. I’ve worked hard to get where I am done asshole isn’t going to stop me. I am going to put up a fight. I deserve this position.  So like I said he gets one fair chance and I guess then the fight will begin. 

    1. SW*

      Don’t make the same mistake I did. I was harassed on a daily basis by a security guard at my old job and he really got off on the control he had in the situation, especially when I was by myself with nobody around to witness what he did and said. One time, he saw my boyfriend pick me up so we could go to lunch together, and he made a big deal about it when I came back: “Where did you go off to? “[blah blah] and that’s why you should just stay right here on your lunch break!”

      Every time he hung around me trying to get my attention, I thought to myself, “If he does it ONE more time, I’ll take it to HR…but I don’t want to look paranoid/whiny, so I’ll hold off on it for now.” And every day I stressed myself out trying to keep my mouth shut.

      I finally resolved it one day when I chatted with his supervisor and went, “Hey, is security supposed to hang around my desk doing nothing most of the day? Because so-and-so hasn’t really done much else.” I never saw that creep again.

      My only regret is not doing it sooner. I could have saved myself so much stress and discomfort! So, I’m telling you, don’t fall into the same cycle I did, of swearing you’ll tell on him tomorrow and not following through. Do yourself a favor: print out all your email evidence, and go to HR.

      If you don’t, I PROMISE you that guy will do something creepy to you again. Because now he knows he can get away with it.

    2. fposte*

      I admire your commitment. But can I just encourage you to be flexible on that “one fair chance to confront” thing? Because, if you think about it, not everybody deserves a chance to be confronted first–should a shop owner confront the thief before calling the police, for instance? Give yourself the prerogative to talk to somebody with more power first, especially if he gets weirder. And at least consider documenting things privately so that HR can get this information when you get the better job you so richly deserve–think about, as Lindsay suggests above, somebody else following you into this position, maybe somebody with less nerve and strength than you. It’d be nice to give her/him a little less hard of a row to hoe.

    3. Anonymous*

      Don’t let your guard down. Some people deserve “fair chances” while others do not. And let’s not forget the stories you are apparently leaving out, and therefore, I believe he is beyond his “fair chance.” You seem well set in your way for not wanting to tell anyone else outside this office, including HR. But I’m still convinced something happened recently, more recently than a week ago because something motivated you to ask AAM.

      But that’s that I guess. Good luck to you.

    4. Emily*

      OP, this is why I’m nervous for you.

      You say you “have a bad habit of feeling bad to those who have wronged me after I get upset and they change.” I do, too. I always make an effort to see a tough situation from another person’s perspective, and in the process often find myself sympathizing with them. It is a bad habit! You’re not obligated to forgive, forget, or excuse someone else’s bad behavior because you got upset and have now cooled down, or because you’re generally an empathetic, forgiving person. You’re also not obligated because you’re younger, because you’re a woman, or because you’ve worked with/for this person before.

      It’s not too late to say something now. I know it feels awkward and like you’re “taking back” an unspoken agreement about what’s acceptable for your boss to say or do, but you don’t have to treat social allowances like that as rules written in stone. I think the AAM archives have a lot of examples of language you could use to tell your boss that it’s time to change the way he speaks to you from here on out.

      I also don’t think it’s too late to bring up the previous over-the-boundary conversation. In fact, I think difficult conversations can be more effective when you have them outside of the moment, i.e. not just in immediate response. Bringing something up after the fact can lend gravity to the conversation, deters the other person from dismissing or “forgetting” what you say, and gives you control over the timing and the chance to prepare yourself.

      I’m glad you’ve got your email protected now, but I wish it didn’t mean you staying later alone in the office with this person, even as he urges you to leave, presumably so he can poke around in your email again. Now that you’re preventing him from accessing your email and you’ve vetoed the general inbox idea, what will he try next to get into your account?

      Though your tone has changed a bit, I still read suspicion and some anxiety in your messages—whatever event or emotion made you write to AAM is still on your mind. Please don’t dismiss it!

      AAM—do you think you could recommend a phrase that the OP could use to broach the subject of things the boss has said or has been saying to her but which she would prefer not to hear again?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes! I would say, “I want to clear the air about something. I’m not comfortable when you make remarks about who might like me, or X, or X. I’d like you to stop.”

        I know some people will disagree with me on this, but you could also add, “I know you don’t mean any harm, but it does make me uncomfortable.” Saying you know he doesn’t mean harm is a way for him to save some face and possibly get you to a better outcome.

        1. Julie*

          I said a version of this to someone in my previous office who used to come by to say hello, but then he wanted to hug me and put his hand on my back. Another colleague (male, who had recently been harassed by a woman) and I had been talking about harassment and what to do when this other colleague came by. I just said that I didn’t feel comfortable with him touching me. He apologized and never did it again. He was actually a nice person who I think just didn’t know any better, and we were friendly after that until I left that job. But regardless of a person’s motives, you shouldn’t have to put up with anything you don’t want. Period.

    5. Anonymous*

      1) Stop talking yourself out of this. One week’s worth of changed behavior doesn’t mean anything in the long run.

      2) People would’ve had a better time understanding your situation if you had explained yourself clearly in the first place. You write a lot of extra fluff that doesn’t need to be there and your writing style makes you very hard to understand. Work on communicating more clearly and I’m sure not only will that help you in this situation, but throughout the rest of the professional career as well.

      1. Anonymous Agrees*

        I think the extra fluff is to detract from the situation, as per her “bad habit.” And if she’s bad at communicating, it could allow the boss to escalate the habit. I’m sorry, but I feel that the OP is not communicating well with her self. Her subconscious is telling her this guy is bad news, but she keeps writing it off as if it’s nothing. Listen to yourself OP! Listen to what your true self is telling you about the severity of this situation, and then read how you make excuses for this guy. His fair chances were out long ago. And while you deserve this position, you deserve respect and proper treatment even more. Remember that.

  19. Editor*

    What bothers me about OP and her boss is this:

    “We’ve worked together before in a bigger company, and he sought me out for this position. I never knew this side of him existed.”

    He lured you to this job with him?

    Read Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear.”

    Approach HR immediately to tell them about the text and the emails sent after you leave. Ask them if IT should be involved in making sure your email account is not used when you’re out of the office.

    If you don’t want to make further waves, ask HR and IT what you should do.

    If you can record inappropriate remarks legally, do.

    Listen to Alison.

    Don’t back down like you seem to be. Whether your boss’s problem is caused by long-term creepiness, short-term creepiness and illusions of power, an undiagnosed medical problem or dementia, a drug interaction between legitimate medications, lack of supervision and isolation from normal social constraints, problems at home, or possession by demons, you are not doing yourself any favors by putting off the report to HR. Please, please tell someone at your employer about this behavior, even if it never takes place again.

    Don’t back off from reporting because you feel pressured by the people posting here. Don’t feel we’re making someone you like and helped you get a job, but who has had lapses, into an ogre.

    What we’re saying is, steer into the skid. We’ve had driving situations where the car went into a skid, and we’re telling you how to drive based on more experience than you’ve had. Even when we seem judgmental, what we’re saying is that this is really the best way to handle this situation to avoid a crash. You want to wait because that seems logical to you. Reporting seems counterintuitive when he’s not behaving badly.

    Not reporting him is like yanking the wheel when you’re skidding. You try to change direction to keep in the lane, but trying to do what’s feels right at the moment can have unexpected consequences. Do what needs to be done to straighten things out.

    1. Ry*

      I completely agree with Editor. And Allison. We’re not trying to be bossy or dramatic internet-people. We’re reacting strongly to a situation that is alarming. You understand the gravity of this situation; you must, or you wouldn’t’ve written.

      Please respect yourself and take yourself seriously by taking the steps outlined in Allison’s answer. Read these responses to yourself as many times as you have to, to bolster your “spidey-sense” that is correctly telling you that this situation, without intervention, will only get worse.

      You mentioned a husband. Could you show him your letter to Allison, and this thread?

    2. Anonymous*

      The Gift of Fear was just recommended on the Today Show this week on the “My Favorite Things” section.

  20. Camellia*

    I’m coming in late to the discussion and I’ve just skimmed the responses so forgive me if I missed something, but HOW is this NOT stalking? And everything that can go with it?

    The OP says he sought her out for this position.

    He has blown right past her boundaries and, by slowly revealing this to her, he is grooming her to accept his abuse.

    Seeming to back off, or promising to alter his behavior and seeming to do so for short periods of time, is just part of the grooming process.

    No amount of talking to is going to get through to this man. He is not going to suddenly slap himself on the forehead and say, “Sheesh, you are right, how did I not notice I was doing this? I will stop immediately and never do anything like this again. Please forgive me.”

    Stop telling her to confront this man!! Tell her what you said in a post not too long ago (sorry, I don’t remember when), about how this demands actions that may be counter-intuitive. Tell her about that book you recommended! (again, can’t remember the title – something FEAR?)

    Above all, tell her to get out now! In fact, forget the book, it will take too long to locate and read it – tell her to call an abuse hot line to find out how to deal with this situation and how to get out safely and how to protect herself while she does and also afterward.

    OP take care of yourself please!

  21. Anonymous*

    Small point, compared to the rest, but, passwords: make them strong. Nothing guessable from what he knows about you. Long and complex, but something that you can type quickly, so he can’t get them through shoulder surfing. Change any passwords of personal accounts you have used on the work computer now, and don’t do any personal business whatsoever on the work computer. Change any passwords of social media or webmail accounts even if you haven’t used them at work if they are in any way guessable by someone who knows you personally. Set your browsers up to dump cookies and history at the end of every session and not to store passwords or completed webforms.

  22. pullingoutmyhair*

    I’ve definitely been reading and rereading!  I’ve saved some logs, whatever I could find off my email. 
    And I made it clear I’m not leaving early so stop telling me too. 

    Also in regards to not expressing myself good- you’re right. I’m trying not to give up toooo much information, because God I can go on for hours about this. I’m trying to hold back because half of the things I could go on about no one on the outside of this situation would see, understand or feel the way I do. It’s one of those things you need to be in their shoes to believe. This goes beyond my email and his comments that go too far. 

    On another note about approaching HR, have you ever dealt with someone who seems so very sneaky, manipulative and who lies?  God knows what b.s. he may have put in their head about me! Guys I need more than he sent some seemingly harmless emails from my account & the he said she said stuff. I’m not saying I WON’T report him. You’re right about the fair chance- that ship has sailed. But if I’m going to go in fighting for my job to HR, which it ultimately might come to, then I’m going to them prepared. 
    What I meant before by subtle is: these inappropriate things hes said- will end up he said she said; my email- I was just helping out.  With this, HR will just talk to him.  And the above I mentioned “this goes beyond my email and his comments that go too far,” will only get worse after a talk. 

    If you are all right and you think he has lulled me into a false sense of security, then it should be no time before that boundary is crossed again and I take this above his head. 

    All of your advice is so great, so much what I needed, I only wish I came here sooner.

    1. fposte*

      Keep in mind that just talking to HR isn’t demanding he be fired or even talked to. You can say you wanted to check with them about the email behavior, even though you think it’s curtailed after you asked him to; you can say that since he’s inclined to be really personal and you’re working there alone with him, you wanted to make sure you were clear on the company’s policies and what the line of contact is.

      I don’t mean you can make HR swear not to do anything, but I think it’s legit to use this as a way to make yourself more aware of the company culture in general and also make the company more aware of the possibility that this guy is sketchy. Because what really concerns me, in all this, is that you’re the only other person in the office with him and the rest of the business isn’t anywhere they can see him. The more you can cultivate connections with either the rest of the business or, if you’re in a site with other offices or businesses, other people in the facility, the less private his misbehavior is going to be and, I suspect, the less likely.

    2. Blake*


      You need to change your password and not leave it written down where it is easily found. And, either set up your computer to lock withing seconds of you leaving or make sure you physically lock the computer whenever you leave.

      I’m an IT person and trust me, if an email is sent from an email account that is password protected, whoever the account belongs to is responsible.

      Also, make sure you’ve got a fairly sophisticated password. The easiest way to create an easy to remember but difficult to break password is to combine, say, your zip code with your mothers first name..but, hold down the shift key when typing in the numbers. (don’t use the 10 key for entering numbers, use the numbers directly above the letters)

      If your co-worker claims that you need to share your password, more than likely he is lying. Especially if you work for a large company. Large companies tend to have specific policies in place prohibiting the sharing of user passwords.

      The only people who should be able to access your email account are yourself and the IT people at your company.

      This isn’t a good situation and the only thing you can do is work to protect yourself.

      1. M-C*

        I’m going to strongly second blake here. Look, we all here agree that the guy is a major creep. You really should leave, immediately. But it’s your life, we can’t do it for you. At least you need to record every one of these incidents (in a place that he can’t access). But you should also use a bit of techno-self-defense, at least about the emails.

        First change your password. As blake said, make it secure. Do NOT write it down anywhere, not even in something that you think is personal. He ;qy be going through your bag when you’re not looking. Do not make it your dog’s name if he knows your dog’s name.

        Second, do not leave your computer alone unlocked for a second. I’m serious, do not even go pee without locking it.

        In addition, use some good sense in how you use your account yourself. Setup an account elsewhere, gmail, yahoo, something, and direct ALL your personal mail there. People are often resistant to that, and you remain on their lists under the old address, so do insist. Be sure to reply to their message to your work box from your personal account, so they can hit reply and go to the right place. That is the one thing that’ll redirect traffic most successfully.

        And you should also figure out whether your mail is kept on the office server or it’s only on your own computer. Learn how to configure that, and remove it from the server if possible. Your system people will help you, especially if you explain you were hacked (no need to say by who if you’re uncomfortable about it). Go through all your mail now, inbox AND sent folder, and be sure to remove every bit of private information. Save any iffy message for this guy onto your hard drive, and back them up, so they’re available for any future HR action. It’s closing the barn door after the horses have escaped, but it’s better than nothing. If this guy is as much of a creep as we all think, he’s probably figured out how to read your mail without your password , although most likely he can’t send any, even though it’s basically illegal in most places. But let this be a lesson to you: last time I looked, more than 85% of employers monitored email – do not ever get anything personal at work.

        I’d also suggest learning about PGP and using it as much as possible, at least to encrypt your hard drive. Just to protect your work stuff, your personal stuff should all be at home, right? Also make sure you regularly empty your trash, and install the eraser program, so that you can be sure every bit of personal data is truly gone from your computer.

        And finally if you have a facebook account, shut it down now! It’s a stalker’s dream. I’ve seen it in action at work, and it’s not pretty.

    3. Anonymous_J*

      I’m sorry, but you need to just stop this dance and escalate to HR.

      I’m very concerned, from your responses, that you are going to end up more than just harrassed, and I don’t ever want to see that happen to ANY woman anywhere.

  23. Outside Looking In*

    OP, I think you need some insurance here. He is CLEARLY a sociopath and can likely charm his way out of most situations.
    Do you have a friend at one of the places you deal with on a daily basis? When you leave one afternoon, leave your computer on. Go somewhere and fill up with gas using your credit card, and GET A RECEIPT. While you are doing that, have your friend send an email to you but NOT about business. Say, ask you to a company picnic (which does not exist…) at their end. He can dissemble on answering anything about business (I had to answer: it was an urgent email, I forgot it was her machine etc). But personal….he can’t answer that. And if he does not answer, what do you bet, he will ASK you about something he should know nothing about?

    More complex response would be to set up a webcam “for Skype” and leave it recording..

    1. pullingoutmyhair*

      I seriously doubt he will ever email from my account again.
      It scared him when he realized I was NOT OK with that. It scared him because he knows it wasnt for professional legitimate reasons. The text MSG and the email he slipped up.
      I am locking my computer 1) just in case. 2) I think there’s something wrong with continuously wanting to go through my emails, yes my gut says there’s nothing professional about it.

      1. pullingoutmyhair*

        I agree completely and withdraw my above comment to Dan.
        It’s just so frustrating.

        I’m sticking to Alison’s advice.

        I thoroughly thank you all for your support and opinions.

        1. Anonymous*

          If your boss is willing to go onto your computer, what is to stop him from deleting this text from your phone while you are in the restroom, or if you leave your desk for a short period of time? Or what happens if you drop/damage/lose the phone?

          I agree with all who say to report now, then you have a record of the issue, even if it never recurs. If some time has passed, then you just explain how you have been struggling with the situation, and whether or not you felt it was something that needed to be reported. And that it is embarrassing. I would be embarrassed by this, and that is part of the manipulative and creepy actions of your boss – if you are ashamed you will not report him, and he is able to continue the behavior.

          Feeling uneasy about how this will reflect on you is an understandable reason for contemplating the issue before reporting. I think your HR dept or any other coworker would completely understand your uneasiness and nervousness about handling this situation.

          You will feel much better once you have support of a coworker or HR rep, along with all of the comments here. If you think you just can’t go through with it, email HR to set up a meeting first, so you have a time or deadline. You CAN do this for yourself. Stay strong.

          If anything happens before you report to HR (as in Dan H’s scenario), be sure to take immediate action.

    2. fposte*

      See, I think the computer thing is a symptom, not the disease, which is why I’d love the OP to still connect with the rest of the business even if the computer problems have stopped. This isn’t a guy with inappropriate computer habits–this is a guy with inappropriate co-worker habits, some of which involved a computer.

  24. Dan H*

    Check out my earlier suggestion above – don’t report him to HR – leave your computer open again, wait for him to send an E-mail from it, then report a hacking incident to IT. Don’t mention your boss at all. Let the subsequent investigation uncover your boss’s misdeeds, and then he’ll be reprimanded/terminated and you can’t be blamed. And even if he isn’t, calls from IT about suspicious hacking behavior in his office will probably scare the bejeebers out of him and he may straighten up and fly right.

  25. Joe Schmoe*

    This reminds me of an episode of “Undercover Boss” that I saw over the weekend where “Hooters” was profiled. The CEO was undercover at one of their restaurants and the manager (I use that term very loosely) said that it was getting a little slow and he wanted to let a couple of the “girls” go home early (which was something they really wanted – probably so they wouldn’t have to be around him).

    So the manager set up his “reindeer games” and told them they would have to play them and the winner got to leave early. He had them eating a plate full of beans like pigs (no utensils – picture “A Christmas Story where the child ate like a pig).

    Needless to say, the CEO was horrified that the manager treated the “girls” that way and realized why Hooters has some of the bad reputation that it does. When the CEO revealed himself he gave a very strict talk to the manager and told him that until he saw what that man did, he had no problem with his daughters working in a Hooters restaurant (They were like 11 & 13). Only when he told the guy that he would NEVER allow his daughters to work in an environment like that did the guy get it.

    At the end, it said that the manager “left to pursue other interests”.

    Some people are NOT meant to be supervisors or managers. They do not have the ability to understand what they are doing is wrong – they are just sick. I worked for one too. I got out – and I would suggest that OP get out too.

  26. Anonymous*

    I’d just like to say that it’s ridiculous for anyone here to side with the woman here where we don’t have the guy’s version of the story.

    Women constantly tend to over-exaggerate things and all he could have said was “I think she has a crush on you” after the other woman said something with a double meaning.

    We also don’t know this woman at all. She could be a pathological liar for all we know.

    Considering that even with her version of the story, he never ACTUALLY did anything wrong, he shouldn’t be punished for it.

    If she doesn’t like his decisions, then get another job.

    I’ve never understood why bosses have essentially no rights in who they hire (if he’d rather hire a man, maybe he can’t, because he can’t discriminate against women!) and no rights to run the office the way he wants?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m sorry, but this is insane. By that logic, anyone who writes to me could be a pathological liar and I shouldn’t bother answering any questions here. And bosses have enormous leeway in hiring whoever they want, as long as that decision isn’t based on what sex/religion/race/etc. the person is (or isn’t).

  27. Anonymous*

    I’d like some clarification here:

    Why are boundaries EVER encouraged?

    Doesn’t that just encourage fakeness.

    Example: You think what your boss is doing is stupid and he asks your opinion on it.

    95% of advice blogs are going to tell you to agree with whatever he proposes, but if all you do is nod your head like a lackey, what’s the point of asking in the first place?

    Example # 2: Shouldn’t a boss care about his employees enough that he would tell her something about her if he hears about it?

    I feel like everyone here is encouraging everyone to just not give a damn about anything and only care about money.

    That type of attitude makes me want to throw up.

    1. fposte*

      Have actually been reading this blog? I’ve never seen anything like the philosophy you’re describing here.

  28. Lily*

    I came to this site via google results searching impersonation. I have a former supervisor now impersonating me in porn, after she already defamed and bullied/mobbed me out of the workplace. Got incrementally worse for years (meanwhile i have no reprimands or bad evaluations; just glowing accomplishments in my record).

    After the torture went on and I could do nothing (HR, management, coworkers, all supported her due to not knowing the truth; she made me the pariah) I was shoved in a position designed to NOT use any skills or interests I have despite being uniquely qualified for my job (HR director signed hiring freeze waiver stating it was a business critical tough to find skillset not existing in-house). But they shoved me in a redundant job being done by 10 others, that i’d have to learn from scratch; told me my old position had no work, then others were told it was because i falsely accused my supervisor of harassment (despite no investigation occurring to see if it was true). After that functional change and bizarre blindsiding, traumatized, I “escaped” via FMLA sick leave, unpaid. A few months ago i lost my health benefits. In a few months more, since i’m on extended FMLA now, I will lose my employment entirely and be terminated. Diagnosed with PTSD I was unable to go back (several doctors say they will not sign me back to the clearly abusive environment). HR and management support her and anyone who stood up for me, or knew the truth, were both shoved out, including our bureau director (who got fired), plus my husband (who worked there in a different division but took a lateral move to another agency). My former supervisor could not let it alone as i cower in my home with PTSD, formerly a very active person I haven’t left the house in 8 months and suffer nightmares and jump at every sound and shadow. She impersonated my husband in a blog as the first thing I noticed, and stalked his ex for 8 months to get fodder to post, pretending to be the ex pining away (presumably to cause relationship problems but that didn’t work). Several other events online occurred but most recent between Feb 2012 and current, there is a porn profile, a social-network porn sharing and hookup site, impersonating me clearly, at first including all my real data, name, birthplace, hobbies, universities attended, mimicking my LinkedIn and other legit profiles to optimize for search engines; she removed my name and some of the more blatant obvious data after adequate search caching (2 weeks), I guess to make it more obvious. Now she’s “friending” people who seem dangerous, writing profane sex offers AS ME on their “wall”, and populating a playlist with heinous topic matter. There are read-between-the-lines threats (she has targeted my interests in legit things and combined them with perverted sex interests, i guess to make it more upsetting to me and more believable to others) and in the most upsetting turn of events yet, two days ago she posted invitation for chat … So i’m wondering when she is going to set up sex encounters and have people showing up at my door to who knows what… She knows I’m home alone all day now, suffering PTSD from her abuse. I’m already destroyed and ousted from work so the only motive can be to enjoy hurting me more, as i cannot see what the goal is, or what i can do to make her stop.

    My questions: Is the employer liable for her behavior with the online stalking and impersonation? And would this be defined as sexual harassment (hostile type, not quid pro quo)? The supervisor and I are both still employees (technically I am still one) plus she acted in capacity of supervisor to me in July 2011 when she orchestrated the adverse employment action, sneakily, but with full support of her boss. This supervisor has also since worked with HR and the new bureau director in attempt to gather emails from my coworkers and send them links to things like my twitter or online forum posts, in order to collect “evidence” that I’m using a computer thus violating FMLA (using a keyboard is ONE of my essential functions but so is cognitive-analytical thinking, which is where I’m currently nonfunctional)…

    So does that make her my ‘supervisor’ in legal definition?

    It dawned on me that these events are so many and so extreme that I can hardly find a way to explain, and where to start addressing the tornado of wrongdoing that hit me at once, so it sounds delusional everytime i try to explain it.

    My husband is witness to all of this – he was abused as a secondary target in the workplace and also cyber-impersonated. Once he and I we were both gone, the online harassment ensued.

    I have been reporting problems with this supervisor since July of 2010, at first discreetly, then firmly… to management, HR , and two union stewards but nothing was done except to turn around and shove me out. I even proposed ideas for solutions that would have improved business and allow us to solve the problem without even pointing the finger at her.

    All I wanted was to do my job… now that my career is over and my health suffers, all i want is to move on and heal, and maybe live my life again somehow, but the online abuse continues to ruin every area of my life, permanently cached for all to find, and the sex solicitations and topic matter she is posting and KEEPS posting even put me in danger of being raped or assaulted, and there is no sign of it stopping. I can’t ask the site to take it down because at least where it is now, I can monitor it; if this one profile gets shut down, she will certainly just put it elsewhere where perhaps i cannot find it.

    Another tactic she is using is pretending to be young girls posting to “confessions” sites using my husbands real name (a very unique name shared by only one other person I’ve ever found online) and stating she had sex with him and that he wished I were not so ugly and old etc… So can HE file sexual harassment? We put in a report to the IC3 and awaiting response on the cyber-crime end of it, but honestly, I’m getting pretty used to people just thinking we are nuts and not believing us.

    I’d appreciate any advice or insights, or to hear if anyone has heard of a supervisor doing something like this before. Figure I can’t be that unique… maybe just rare in that I’m not dead yet from the stress.

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