my employee’s husband wants to talk to me about her

A reader writes:

An employee’s husband reached out to me asking to speak with me urgently. I wrote back that unless he could give me more to go on, or had permission from his wife, that we couldn’t talk. He wrote back that she has PTSD and that he received professional advice recommending that we speak. I don’t see how talking with him without his wife’s consent (my employee) ends well. It may even be against the law? He is bringing up a medical issue, but I still don’t see why this needs to be a secret. Actually, the fact he wants it off-the-record raises a red flag for me

I feel like I”m about to step in an ADA/HIPAA/privacy quagmire.

This isn’t against the law (HIPAA only applies to the info that health care workers release), but I’d be really uncomfortable too.

However, while my first instinct would be “no way am I going to talk to a spouse about an employee,” there’s at least one possibility here that you’d really need to know about — and that’s if he’s calling because he thinks his wife is a danger in your workplace. If he’s warning about potential workplace violence, you need to hear that. (Note: This probably isn’t the case, but you don’t want to risk it.)

So I’d say something like this: “I’m not comfortable discussing an employee with someone outside the office, but if you think there’s a danger to Jane or others if we don’t speak, my number is ____. Depending on the nature of the issue, I may need to tell you fairly quickly that it’s not a conversation we should be having and would need to end the conversation there. However, since I don’t know what the issue is yet, I can’t say that definitively at this point.”

And then be firm. If it turns out not to be something you need to hear, say, “I understand your concern for Jane, but these are issues that I can’t discuss with an outside party. You can encourage her to raise them with me herself, but I can’t discuss them with you.”

{ 77 comments… read them below }

    1. A Bug!*

      The concern seems valid to me. There’s a world of difference between “I think this is inconvenient and I don’t like it, I’m sure it must be illegal!” and “It seems pretty iffy to discuss an employee’s health with a third party, and I am concerned that it might be illegal but am not certain.”

    2. Anonymous*

      When it comes to privacy, it’s more than “lol.” Many people know of HIPAA but not the ins and outs of it. I’d rather the OP err on the side of caution and keep quiet rather than potentially risk invading privacy.

  1. Anony Mouse*

    This is really fishy…if there were some type of immanent danger, the professional should have gotten involved directly. My money is on the husband being nuts.

    1. Jamie*

      That’s what I would think. If there were a chance of Jane being dangerous the therapist should have placed the call.

      Don’t they have a professional obligation to warn of potential harm – like a license losing if neglected obligation. I don’t know anything about this – but I would think so.

      On the off chance someone could be hurt I’d follow Alison’s advice, but my money is also on the husband being the problem here.

      1. fposte*

        I think there’s a third alternative, which we’ve seen a few times–the spouse as agent, with or without the employee’s consent. I’m betting on a “Here are things that you shouldn’t ask Jane to do any more” list.

      2. Anony Mouse*

        Well, we’re assuming the professional is a doctor/therapist/etc. It could just as easily be a lawyer, too.

        1. littlemoose*

          If it is a lawyer telling him to talk to the wife’s employer, then the lawyer should understand the OP’s reluctance to discuss. The lawyer will be able to give the husband advice on how to proceed.
          And the lawyer part of me wants to endorse Alison’s response – HIPAA only applies to health care providers, third-party clearinghouses, etc., not a run-of-the-mill employer.

          1. littlemoose*

            On that note, OP may want to check the company’s written policies for guidance on disclosure of employment-related information to third parties.

      3. Anonymous*

        If it is a health care professional and they know the person is a risk to harm themselves or others or is themselves being harmed by others, their obligation is to report to the appropriate authority i.e. police, child/adult services etc depending on your state. It would be a HIPPA violation for a health care worker to release any information to the employer unless there is a Release of Information for said employer signed by the client.

      4. Danielle*

        Yes, there is duty to warn (Tarasoff law), but it has to be a very direct specific target, i.e “I’m going to kill the CEO of the Chocolate Teapot Company with a gun tomorrow at 2 pm!” vs “Sometimes I want to kill my boss.”

      5. BW*

        This smells fishy to me too. I don’t know of any mental health or medical professional who would actually advise a spouse to speaking with the client’s employer. I noticed the husband did not explicit reply that he had permission from his wife to speak, which leads me to think he’s doing it possibly without her knowledge. Unfortunately, this is exactly the kind of thing a nutjob partner would do to screw with their SO. It could be a concerned and totally clueless spouse, or the guy could be deliberately trying to sabotage his partner or ex-partner or who knows who he is. It’s not clear if the HR person even knows for certain that the employee in question is married, and/or this guy is who he says he is.

        Creepy all around!

  2. Erica*

    I’d imagine that the employer could listen to whatever the husband says, without the employee’s consent, but that the employer shouldn’t GIVE the husband any info.

    Am I off-base?

    1. Jamie*

      Actually, I think listening could lead to a sticky area as well.

      If Jane finds out husband told HR XYand Z, and down the road she has workplace issues she could accuse HR of letting this knowledge factor into workplace decisions.

      For example if she were to be fired for performance she could file suit which could result in the company having to spent time and money proving that it wasn’t a result of the psychiatric issues disclosed by the husband.

      1. Anony Mouse*

        I’m not sure that’s true. I *think* she is only protected under the ADA if she discloses it to her employer; if she doesn’t, there is nothing stopping them from firing her for psychiatric issues.

        1. Jamie*

          Just because it would be legal doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be expensive to fight…and I think the lines are blurry enough that she could get a lawyer to take it on pro-bono. imo.

          1. Anony Mouse*

            I disagree. In general, wrongful dismissal lawsuits are extremely difficult to prove and many good lawyers will strongly discourage you from going down that path.

            1. fposte*

              If it’s under the ADA, though, it would be discrimination rather than wrongful dismissal, I think, and would be weighed differently on the PR front.

              And in general, without even getting into legal issues, I think the point that you don’t want to possess information that will affect this person’s job without her knowing is a good one.

          2. JT*

            “Just because it would be legal doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be expensive to fight…and I think the lines are blurry enough that she could get a lawyer to take it on pro-bono. imo.”

            Could we please stop with fear of lawsuits or the costs of lawsuits playing such a big part in decisions. Please please please.

        2. Kimmie*

          The employee could have ADA protection if she is perceived to have a disability (whether she has a disability or not).

  3. MS*

    What came to my mind is an attempt to shield himself of any domestic violence issues/accusations that may be raised by the wife, say, if other people begin noticing bruises and such.

    1. Natalie*

      Yes, this can definitely be a problem. I answer a DV crisis line, and I have personally gotten two calls from exes with “an important message for Jane”. Creeeeepy.

      1. BW*

        My ex has done smilar things when he was unable to get in touch with me. He even somehow found out where I was working and my direct phone line, which I had published nowhere. He called my family and friends as well. He tried to blackmail mother to get her to convince me to write in an email that he was “not a stalker”. So, yeh all kinds of red flags going up for me reading this one!

        1. Natalie*

          Not to make light of what I’m sure was an incredibly difficult situation, but there is something bizarrely hilarious about a person stalking you and then trying to get your mom to vouch for their not being a stalker. Oy.

  4. Sophie*

    Could the husband and OP speak with an HR person present? Like a third-party mediator or whatever? Just so someone has the OP’s back. Perhaps it’s my untrusting nature but I would not want to talk to him at all without the wife’s consent.

  5. Malissa*

    I would think the proper reply would be, “I’ll only speak to you if your wife is present or has given her clear permission to me personally.” I understand that at times there may be an issue that the employee feels very uncomfortable even talking about and a spouse may be the best avenue to deliver the message. But the employee would consent to this if it were the case.
    Otherwise I’d feel that the husband is sticking his nose in where it does not belong and I’d tell him exactly that.

    1. ImpassionedPlatypi*

      That is pretty much exactly what I was thinking. If I were the OP I would have gone to my employee after the very first contact and asked her about it, while being sensitive to the possibility that it was something she was very uncomfortable talking about.

    2. A Bug!*

      Yeah, I think I’m in your boat. I can’t really think of a circumstance where it would be appropriate for Jane’s husband to be contacting her employer independently.

      If Jane poses an actual danger to those around her (or herself), then her husband should not be contacting her employer; he should be contacting the appropriate authorities for their area. If there’s a safety issue what could the employer possibly do just based on uncorroborated information from her husband.

      Heck, who knows? Maybe Jane’s recently separated and her husband’s trying to harm her employment by bringing her competency into question under the guise of “genuine concern.”

      1. some1*

        These were my thoughts as well. They are separated/ing & the husband is trying to make trouble for Jane.

        OR Jane is suspected of or is in fact having an affair with a colleague & the husband is trying to drag the OP into it.

  6. Jesse*

    I see two possibilities:

    1. The employee is in danger and the husband is trying to alert you.
    2. The employee is an abused spouse and the husband is trying to set her up to be “crazy.”

    A couple solutions:

    1. Ask the husband to send an email documenting the PSTD issues. If he refuses, or insists on a verbal conversation that’s a red flag. Abusers are often charming and can convince you of anything. He might try to convince you that the employee is crazy so you’ll start treating her like that. Its another step of isolation.

    Whereas if the employee is really a danger to herself or to the community, have a paper trail shows that you were trying and documenting all areas of their life.

    2. Speak the husband with a member of HR present. Again, let him know that there are two people listening. If he gets angry, or insists on speaking to you only, then don’t listen. Its just not worth it.

    1. twentymilehike*

      Yes, this. I did a stint at a domestic abuse hotline, and one thing we saw a lot of was the abuser getting involved in the victim’s life outside of the house as an attempt at control.

      AAM, what would you think about the OP approaching the employee either directly about this, or just casually to ask how they are doing and see what comes up? What about having HR approach the employee? Is that crossing the line? If it really is an abuse situation, it could help the her, however, if its something else, maybe it could backfire on them. Maybe he wants to throw her a suprise party?

      1. Anonymous*

        If it’s a suprise party, he’s a nutcase for blaming it on PTSD and probably needs attention drawn to THAT.

      2. Jamie*

        “Maybe he wants to throw her a suprise party?”

        I’m not big on birthdays, but if my husband ever planned a party which involved HR at my work and a reference to PTSD I would consider that grounds for divorce.

        ‘Hey honey, I embarrassed you at work and it’s probably now part of your personnel file. Happy Birthday!’ Yikes!

        1. twentymilehike*

          ‘Hey honey, I embarrassed you at work and it’s probably now part of your personnel file. Happy Birthday!’ Yikes!

          I nearly spit out my coffee at this, even though I tried really hard to keep the potential seriousness of the situation in my mind. I just saw the complete possibility of this happening on an episode of The Office. Clearly (hopefully), I wasn’t suggesting that as a serious posibility, but if the guy really IS a nutjob … who knows.

          I’m very eager to read an update on this already, mostly because I’m concerned for the employee’s welbeing, but also because I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t plain curious as to what he wants to talk about.

  7. Anonymous*

    I would want to know who this “professional advice” is coming from. From the OP’s question, it doesn’t seem like he specified that it’s legal or medical.

    Professional advice could mean his best friend, who happens to be a teacher (or any profession), told him to call you.

    1. Anna*

      I totally agree. “Professional advice” can mean just about anything if not made more specific.

      My advice: see if you can find out what kind of “professional” this “advice” is coming from. And if you can’t — run the other way.

  8. ladybug*

    If the employee has PTSD and is a danger in the workplace, the husband or the professional advisor should be calling the police not the workplace. If the employee has PTSD and needs a change in work duties, then she should be addressing this with her manager herself. I think the advice is the article is absolutely correct.

    1. A Teacher*

      If the employee is a danger to the workplace, the professional is required, by law (at least in my state) to notify those in danger.

      AAM hits the response on the head. As a teacher that is a mandated reporter and as a healthcare provider with a state license, I don’t even report when a student comes to me and says she is pregnant to the parents. It is a slippery slope to talk to a spouse or others about someone’s medical condition.

  9. Anonybee*

    I was once in a very similar situation as the husband here. I provide the story only as another possible explanation (not justification!) for what is going on.

    I once went to visit my sister at work, a small retail shop where she worked with the owner. Sis had been working there a month or two I think, and she didn’t know I was stopping by– I had never been in the store before, and didn’t know anyone but her. I go in, look around the store, and can’t find her anywhere. I ask the employee at the counter about her, and he says she isn’t there. So I call my sister. It turns out she has had a panic attack and left work without explanation to her boss. She had a history of panic and anxiety problems, but treatment had been going pretty well and she had hoped it would not interfere with her job. She hadn’t, however, ever told her bosses about her issues. She begged me to tell her boss what had happened (the blind panic that induced leaving had been compounded by the anxiety of telling anyone what had happened). I know it was her issue to deal with, but the very nature of her anxiety made that so difficult, and she’s my baby sister. So I agreed.

    Her boss, understandably, refused to talk to me about her. I persisted, trying to reassure him that I had no intention of discussing her employment in any way (I was certainly not going to beg for her job), just she had a medical issue that made it hard for her to talk to him directly. Eventually, I convinced him, and he listened to me explain what had happened. He was nice, and said that if she had told him beforehand he could have tried to help, and that she could talk to him about her job (which, as I had told him several times, really wasn’t my concern at all. I just wanted to be able to assure my sister that he knew what had happened). I was mortified at the awkwardness and forwardness I had to use, but I’d do it again for my sister in a heartbeat.

    So yeah, he may be abusive/crazy/inappropriate. But it’s also possible that he’s just willing to act crazy/inappropriate for his wife’s sake. In that case, is it her responsibility? Sure. And she’s clearly a grown adult, where my sister was about 20. But it’s hard to say no to making something easier for someone you love when they’re struggling so hard.

    1. Anony Mouse*

      The problem is that this is still all wrong. As mentioned upthread, your sister may have had ADA protection IF she appropriately brought her issues to the attention to the employer. If the employer finds out on his own (i.e. through a third party), no such luck. I understand you were trying to do your best for her, but a far better option would be for the employee herself to write something out and provide it to her employer if a face-to-face conversation is too difficult.

      1. Anonybee*

        I understand– as I said, I’m not justifying anything. However, she wasn’t interested in ADA protection or anything else. She didn’t even want to go back to the job. She just wanted to know that he had been told.

      2. Ariancita*

        I’m pretty sure Anonybee knows that. They were just pointing out another possible reason for it happening. There was no comment about whether or not it was appropriate or right or such.

      3. Lisa*

        what if Jane doesnt want her boss to know about her PTSD, and the husband wants to alert the boss in case she also gets panic attacks and freaks out due to her PTSD. He may think he is helping by alerting the boss so she won’t get fired in the event her PTSD causes a problem.

    2. Henning Makholm*

      Wouldn’t it be easier to handle that as “my sister asked me to give you the following message to you” than as “I want to speak to you about my sister”? Then you’d just be a messenger rather than a third party, but with much the same net result.

      1. Anonybee*

        If I remember correctly, that’s how I tried to approach it. But he already knew that she’d walked out of her shift with no word to anyone, so his attentae were up, as it were.

  10. Ivy*

    I understand we’re likely to never get an update on this…. but boy would I love to see the situation unfold….

  11. Boina Roja*

    Scary to read that it’s appearantly a common practice amongst abusive husbands to use the “I am warning you she is crazy” to control their victim even at work.

    1. A Bug!*

      I understand that the commentary is focusing on abusive husbands because of the specifics of the question in the post, but it’s distressingly common for spouses of both genders to attempt to involve themselves in their partners’ (or ex-partners’) employment, either as a control measure or just plain malice.

      Which isn’t to say that it’s common in general, just way more common than it should be.

      1. twentymilehike*

        A Bug!, do you mean more along the lines of the idea behind “helicopter parents?” Maybe he means well, but is going about it wrong. If that’s the case, I would think a healthier way to go about it would be for him to encourage his wife to approach her manager herself.

        1. A Bug!*

          I was actually talking more about people who involve themselves in their partners’ work for nefarious purposes – to exert control over his or her spouse, or to harm his or her employment.

          Spouses who meddle along the lines of helicopter parents are a different category, because those spouses do tend to believe they are doing a good thing for their spouses, and they just don’t realize that they’re probably harming their spouses’ employment. In such a case you’re right, the spouse just needs to be told that it’s best for them to offer support and encouragement without direct involvement.

          Abusive /harassing partners and ex-partners, on the other hand, tend to know that what they’re doing is wrong on at least some level, and often have lengthy rationalizations for their actions. You won’t convince them to stop just by telling them that they’re hurting their partner, because they will either not believe you or they won’t care because that was their goal in the first place.

          1. Lisa*

            I helicopter with my bf, sometimes he scares himself into thinking telling his boss he is sick will get him fired. He creates emergencies rather than just say he is sick. It infuriates me that he thinks the truth will be grounds for getting fired. I have to coach him into telling the truth via an email, or write the damn email for him in order for him to schedule our vacations. My bf thinks creating an emergency lie hours before a flight (funeral, illness, pipes burst, carjacked, etc) is better than admitting we are going out of the country with like 3 months notice.

            1. A Bug!*

              If I’m understanding your post correctly, you’re not dealing directly with your bf’s employer but rather encouraging him and supporting him in doing it himself?

              Because that’s not helicoptering at all! It’s a good thing, unless your input is unwelcome by your bf.

              1. Lisa*

                True, I am not talking to the employer directly, but bf gets mad anyway that I badger him to tell his boss about us going away. He is a super; so the building needs to have another person on call when he leaves for a weekend. We often drive from Boston to Maine during the summer, without him notifying his boss to put someone else on call. So yes, i badger him to tell his boss with the required 2 weeks notice, but he thinks his boss will say no so he never does tell them, and I end up driving 5 hours back to Boston during emergencies that come up cause of his thinking he isnt allowed time off from a 24 hour on-call job without risking being fired and losing his free apartment

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Does he have trouble in other situations where he needs to deliver (what he believes will be) unpleasant truths? My worry would be that there would be other situations (including with you) where he’d withhold unwelcome news because he was worried about the reaction. (Not that this should even be unwelcome news, but he believes it will be.)

        2. fposte*

          However, the “helicopter spouse” thing is what I was thinking of, and we’ve seen those before in threads here. Which is all the more reason for the OP to stick to talking to the actual employee.

    2. Natalie*

      It’s not limited to work, either – some abusive partners will sow the seeds of “s/he’s crazy” among relatives and friends, too. At the crisi line, I’ve actually had one call where the abusive partner was attempting to do this to the employees and volunteers at a domestic violence shelter. Hello?

      Most domestic abuse incorporates progressively isolation, which is a significant factor in why abuse victims frequently stay with or go back to their partners.

  12. Ask a Manager* Post author

    This is all really good feedback, and I hope the OP is reading the comments and comes back and updates us!

    My take on this is that the appropriate response really depends on whether the issue is workplace violence or not — which the OP doesn’t know. If it’s potentially workplace violence, she should let the husband talk (she doesn’t need to respond, but she should hear the info) or request that he direct the involved “professional” he referenced to do their job and alert whoever’s appropriate to alert. (However, it’s possible that no health care provider is involved, and the “professional” he referenced is someone in an Internet site about these issues or something.)

    But if it’s not a violence thing, she should really shut him down from the start …. or go to the employee and say, “I got this call, I don’t intend to talk to your husband, but I want to make sure you’re okay.”

    But of course she doesn’t know which of those two it is, which is why I think it’s really hard. And especially with the Colorado shooting in my head, it’s hard to take a risk here.

    1. Anonymous*

      Look, what if the husband did say it’s a workplace violence thing? Then what? Unless this OP has some very specialized background knowledge, I imagine he would feel exactly like I would feel – utterly unqualified to gauge the actual threat, and completely confused as to what to do about it. I think you’re heart’s in a good place, but I just don’t think you’ve thought this through to the logical conclusion.

      For one, we don’t even actually know if this is her husband. Maybe OP recognizes the guy as her genuine husband, but maybe this is the first time they’ve “met.” I wouldn’t rule out this being complete fraud yet, with the minimal information and the strong desire for secrecy – stalker, abusive boyfriend, angry ex-husband, crazy relative, or arch-nemesis.

      For another, we don’t know if this guy can accurately judge the threat to the workplace. If this is the case, odds are good that he’s well-meaning, but also probably ill-informed. I know I have more than a few (questionable) relatives who are happy to play arm-chair psychiatrist, and they do it badly, so I am very skeptical of anyone’s attempt at arm-chair doctoring.

      I think the best response is to tell the guy, firmly, to have this “professional” get in contact with you if the professional deems it appropriate. Don’t talk to the husband at all. If the professional follows up with you, verify her credentials and then follow her directives. The professional is more likely able to tell you how to deal with your employee if she is a threat.

      If the professional doesn’t follow up with you within a week, then talk to your employee and tell her what happened, without judgement and without the expectation that it’s true. If this guy is an abuser (or has a mental disorder, or whatever), she deserves a chance to deal with it. If, worst-case-scenario, she is a threat and you’ve brought it up, it gives her a fair chance to get help. It also puts you in some danger, but arguably no more danger than you are currently in anyway.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Well, I think if he does say something about potential violence (which I continue to think is probably unlikely), then she contacts an expert who can advise on what to do next. I just don’t think she should put up a block to that info, on the off chance that it is what it is.

        [And yes, this is indeed partly because my head is full of info right now about people who were in a position to warn someone about the Colorado shooter and didn’t (and for perfectly understandable reasons, it sounds like).]

        But I think your points are all good ones.

  13. Sparky629*

    Am I the only dying to know why the wife has PTSD? Was she in the military and in a war zone? Was she a witness to a drive by shooting? Does she live in a violent home/neighborhood? Was she in a terrible accident that involved some tragic ending?

    What is the reason? *holding my hands up to the sky*

    Seriously, you don’t just wake up one morning with PTSD without any identifiable reason. Also, if the wife had some tragic thing happen or a military deployment, wouldn’t the employer know about it?

    How is it that we (and the OP) don’t have any context for her PTSD? That just screams red flag to me that the husband is an abuser.

    OP, please please write in with an update so that we know how everything turned out.

    1. Anonymous*

      She could have had PTSD from a bad early life experience or a rape/sexual assault; she could have a very mild case that involves something like nightmares and freezing rather than full on episodes that she prefers not to disclose. (I always think of Vietnam vets losing control in Wal-Mart when I hear PTSD, but that’s an extreme rather than the norm.) A lot of mental disorders are fairly easy to hide in professional settings, especially if it’s a more mild case.
      She could also be having a recurrence after having been free from symptoms from many years if there’s a major life or hormonal change – when my mom started going through menopause, she had to completely readjust all of her psychiatric meds.
      (She could not have PTSD at all, too – I agree with the general comment thread to tread quite cautiously.)

      1. Sparky629*

        I understand what you are saying…I do. But in my mind, if the wife had some tragic/abusive childhood and received professional counseling (she would have had to in order to have a specific diagnoses) then I would think she would have learned some coping strategies so her husband wouldn’t have to intervene on her behalf.

        Even if her only strategy was going into the boss and ask for a few days off for ‘personal reasons’ so that she could get back to her idea of normal.

        If the event occurred since she has been employed there then the OP would have context for the issue and wouldn’t have her spidey senses tingling.

        Even if you get mugged or have your house broken into, most people will contact their employer and say…’Hey, X happened last night and I need to take a few days off to sort things out’, then if PTSD appeared shortly (or a long time after) then the boss would have a legitimate way to connect the dots of the incident and your behavior.

        I’m not saying that he’s an abuser but I wouldn’t be surprised if he is. It just seems really weird to me that the husband has chosen to take this route on such a sensitive issue.

        Besides, I don’t really think PTSD is something you can just throw out there to an employer and not expect to have some serious medical documentation to back it up.

        1. Anonymous*

          That’s kind of my thought process as well. I’m concerned that he’s full of BS, but it’s also a bizarre diagnosis to give someone if they don’t have it. Maybe bipolar disorder or schitzophrenia, but PTSD doesn’t seem like something people just throw around in these kind of situations.

        2. Anonymous*

          Rape happens quickly, occasionally results in PTSD, and is probably something the employee would be ashamed to admit to an employer. There’s a heavy stigma around it, and it often doesn’t require hospitalization. Depending on who the rapist is, she probably will not want to bring charges and might have refused even hospital services – it may be that she’s only told her husband and psychiatrist. It’s rare to even bring rape cases to the police, and very rare to prosecute a rape case.

          If it’s rape, the husband might be trying to warn the OP that she’ll be touchy around men for a while (this is a fairly common response). While well-meaning, that’s probably humiliating for the OP and something she’ll need to work out in therapy. It’s also probably not something she wants advertised, hence the ill-conceived secrecy requirement. If this is the case, there’s probably nothing the employer can do for her other than not touch her or sneak up on her, and be understanding if she’s a bit jumpy for a while.

          There’s nothing to go on to suggest rape specifically here, but I can easily see it fitting all of the conditions of the letter. I’m sure that there are other incidents that can also cause PTSD just as suddenly. Witnessing a crime or violent death comes to mind. Sometimes big news events, like Colorado, can stir up an otherwise dormant case of PTSD. If she does counseling work or hospital work, that’s another potential non-violent avenue to pick up PTSD.

        3. Anonymous*

          Hey, original Anon here. My point was just that you often can’t tell if someone has a mental disorder or not through professional interactions and a lot of people don’t handle them very well (lack of knowledge, social stigmas, inability to be emotionally stable/rational about actions, ect…) That goes for both the person afflicted and those around them, so I just wanted to point out that it’s dangerous to think “This is the way they would’ve acted if they really had X.” (Which isn’t, from your second comment, what I think you were implying. But it’s a common enough conception that I thought it was worth clarifying.)

          I definitely agree that this is at best a very bad way to handle a delicate situation and at worst a red flag – and I wouldn’t be surprised at either.

        4. fposte*

          PTSD diagnosis can also come at a much later time than onset, so just because she has it (if she does) doesn’t mean that she’s been treated for it all along.

          As far as hearing the story, though, this is one of those situations where it’s often better in real life not to get the story. Not that I don’t understand the feeling as a blog reader, though.

      2. Jamie*

        “(She could not have PTSD at all, too – I agree with the general comment thread to tread quite cautiously.)”

        This. It’s possible she has a diagnosis, but at this point it’s just his word. I mean the wording of the letter is that he received the professional advice – not even that it was her professional.

        That is one of those diagnosis that does tend to get tossed around with no regard for medical opinion. Aspergers is another.

        I’m not being flippant, but this happened to me at work a while back. I am jumpy and startle easily. It’s embarrassing, everyone in my family does it…I prefer people pretend not to notice but I’ve gotten used to the jokes. A former co-worker once diagnosed me with PSTD based on this alone. Then proceeded to try to probe for the root cause telling me it could be anything and concluded I may have been sexually assaulted and probably just don’t remember.

        That was about as angry as I have ever been in the workplace. Can you imagine the effect me on had that been true and not just a figment of his imagination?

        People are too quick to toss things like that around…so without additional details I wouldn’t take the husbands word for anything.

        1. A Bug!*

          That is pretty terrible. I also startle easily, because I get really focused on my work at times and it becomes easy for others to sneak up on me unintentionally.

          I’m fortunate in that I haven’t experienced teasing for it (except from my partner), and I don’t think I could trust myself to stay civil in the face of the grilling you got.

          Like, seriously! Even if you did have PTSD, what in the world would give him the right to ask for details? And to jump to that conclusion? Man, I am getting angry at him just thinking about your exchange.

        2. KT*

          Ugh happened to me too. I’m naturally very jumpy and tend to flinch (no idea why) and I once had a co- worker tell my boss I was showing signs of battered women’s syndrome. It was so embarrassing and 100% false. I never confronted my co-worker because I figured she must have her own experience to recognize this and maybe would one day help someone who needed it.

    2. Anon*

      I have read that PTSD can arise from workplace bullying. Could that be a possibility here? The wife is afraid to confront someone in the workplace and a loving and outraged husband is taking matters into his own hands? Just speculating.

  14. Elizabeth West*

    Slightly off-topic, but if ANYONE is a danger, it needs to be dealt with. Here is a video our local news posted on Facebook today. It’s a disaster preparedness video that tells you how to react in a shooter situation.

    Because of the intimations that the husband may be an abuser, I would like the OP especially to know about it. Domestic violence situations often spill over into the workplace. It happened here in my city at least once that I know of; a lady who worked in a mattress store was shot and killed at work by her estranged husband, who then turned the gun on himself. He could very well have killed all her coworkers too.

  15. JessB*

    Crickey, this got fascinating fast!

    I had a similar problem at work just yesterday, when someone called the admin office I work in at a university to report an issue with one of our Psychology students. The caller said that the student was using what they had learnt to harass and belittle others in the workplace, and that they had been advised to call us by their doctor (a GP). *In hindsight, this should have been a flag, but I missed it.* They had already called the Australia psychologists industry body to report them, and were now calling to report it to us.

    I figured it was a Psych student on a placement who had gone rogue, so I put them through to my manager. She later came in and told me that the student was working in a completely different environment (i.e. not on placement) and that the caller was having problems with them, and was off on sick leave. This is where the GP’s recommendation should have been a flag.

    My manager listened, and got the student’s name, but when the caller demanded to know what we were going to do (he was pretty strident), she said she’d alert the program convenor, but that was it. This wasn’t an issue where the university had any involvement at all – it wasn’t on placement where the student would have broken regulations and could be pulled out of it, it was her personal life. Sure, the caller thought the student was mis-using the knowledge she had learnt with us, but what can we do about that?

    It was a really interesting situation. In this case, I think Alison’s advice is right on the money – be open to contact, but clear that if it violates health or privacy laws the conversation will have to end.

    1. fposte*

      Using the knowledge I have gleaned from surfing the internet, I say that your caller’s butter has slipped off of his noodles, and he would be best served by a nice tinfoil hat.

      Really? “Someone has learned the skills to drive the world crazy in coursework, and now must be stopped!” Uh-huh.

      1. JessB*

        Yeah, I told my manager to take it as a compliment – he obviously thought we could fix the world! If only it was that easy…

  16. Another Emily*

    Some have speculated the possible scenario of an abusive husband trying to set up the employee as “crazy”. Whether this is true or not, I hope that you don’t treat your employee like this based on your interactions with her husband, regardless of any abuse, PTSD, or anything else.

    It seems like you would never do this but I thought it would be worth mentioning. The last thing a person with PTSD or any other mental illness needs is to be treated like they’re “crazy” so I thought it would be worth mentioning.

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