coworker confronted me when I mistakenly assumed another coworker was his wife

A reader writes:

I am an IT worker, and in that position, I frequently come into contact with my coworkers’ email during the normal execution of my duties. I do not snoop and really have no interest in what my peers are sending to each other. Nonetheless, in my line of work it’s not possible to 100% eliminate seeing other people’s messages.

I noticed one of my male coworkers (we’ll call him Fred) frequently eats lunch with another female coworker (we’ll call her Ginger). This seemed innocent to me and nothing I took a particular interest in.

Recently Fred requested that I help him with a problem on his PC. He had left open an email message on his desktop from Ginger. The first two words of the message were “hey baby.” I did not read the rest of the message because I had no interest in it and it was not why I was there. I fixed his PC problem and left.

I did not know Fred or Ginger well. I noticed Fred wore a wedding ring, had seen him often with Ginger, and knew Ginger sent him an email starting with “hey baby.”  I assumed Ginger was Fred’s wife. I made an offhand comment to that effect to one of my coworkers, believing this to be an innocent conversation and thinking nothing of it.

The comment got back to Fred, who, to my surprise, was not Ginger’s husband after all. Fred cornered me in my office while I was alone, and demanded in unambiguous terms that I stop spreading rumors which might threaten his marriage. This hit me as a complete shock; I had no idea Fred was not married to Ginger, and had never intended to start any rumors. I had simply made a logical (but incorrect) deduction from a few casual observations.

Fred’s manner and tone in this confrontation felt very threatening to me. I stammered an apology and quickly left the room to escape a very intimidating situation. In hindsight, I do not feel I did anything wrong, and more to the point, I feel Fred’s confrontation was both overly aggressive (bordering on bullying) and unfair.

In any case, I feel there must have been better ways for me to handle the situation. Offering apologies when I did not truly believe I had done anything wrong was just being a doormat. I would like to know if there are better strategies for dealing with this kind of confrontational coworker in the future.

Fred’s reaction was definitely over-the-top … but you also weren’t really warranted in thinking they were married on the sole basis of a “hey baby.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if Fred and Ginger are indeed inappropriately involved, which would also explain the overly aggressive nature of Fred’s confrontation with you. Otherwise, he’d presumably just correct you and move on.

In any case, you’re asking whether you could have handled the situation better. I actually think you handled it fine: You apologized for saying something about him that was incorrect, which is reasonable, and you didn’t do anything to inflame someone who was already worked up. Both of those are generally good moves.

Fred wasn’t wrong in telling you to cut this out — he was wrong in how he did it. And you could certainly address that with him later if you wanted to, but frankly, he sounds like a guy that it would be better to just steer clear of.

Anyone want to argue it differently?

{ 166 comments… read them below }

  1. Employment lawyer

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if Fred and Ginger are indeed inappropriately involved, which would also explain the overly aggressive nature of Fred’s confrontation with you. Otherwise, he’d presumably just correct you and move on.”

    I disagree completely.

    Those types of rumors are often INCREDIBLY damaging, both personally and professionally. And they tend to stick around; false accusations of misconduct are almost impossible to disprove.

    As a result, it’s perfectly appropriate to shut them down hard, even aggressively (not in a physically-threatening manner, of course, but certainly real anger would be appropriate.)

    The OP was in the wrong here. It sounds like the punishment fit the crime–they got yelled at, everyone moved on. Discussing inter-employee relationships is way off bounds and a surefire way to make major enemies very quickly.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      But he didn’t say they were having an affair, which would indeed be damaging. He said they were married. I can’t see a reasonable person freaking out over this.

      1. Employment lawyer

        I also meant to note that IT folks are supposed to be unusually circumspect; a breach of confidence by IT is “worse” than other things. If computer techs start blabbing about what they see on folks’ screens, the company tends to go downhill fast.

        (that’s part of why I view the OP’s “I didn’t do a THING to deserve this!!” with a non-zero amount of skepticism.)

        I still say that the OP should just move on. So long as the chatisement didn’t cross the line (physical, etc.) then just deal with it.

        1. Nikki

          I don’t think he mentioned the “hey baby”, I think he just made a comment implying they were married, or alluding to their marriage.

          1. Lissa the Cocoa

            That’s arguably worse. Folks know that IT often see the contents of coworkers’ emails, and having an IT person casually refer to two people as spouses whn they are in fact not will make other people wonder what it is they saw.

        2. OP

          Hi Employment Lawyer,

          Thanks for replying. I think you may have misinterpreted me, and I apologize if I did not articulate well. At no point did I ever mention anything to anyone about Fred’s email. I did mistakenly refer to Ginger as Fred’s wife when speaking with a coworker.

          -OP

    2. fposte

      Yeah, I once thought a Lisa I worked with was married to one Mark instead of another. It’s just a mistake–it’s not an accusation of misconduct or a damaging rumor.

      1. Jazzy Red

        I thought a co-worker was eating lunch with her dad every day. It was her husband.

        No one screamed at me for that, because it’s not a big freakin’ deal.

        “Fred” definitely over-reacted.

    3. Ellie H.

      To me, because marriage is such a clearly delineated category, it seems more like an obvious mistake than like a rumor. A bit weird but not harmful, malicious or gossipy. I think it’s understandable that Fred would be upset, but I think that it would have been more reasonable for him not to say anything if it was clear that it was simply a mistake, that it was immediately corrected, and that it didn’t prompt gossip or speculation. (However, I can understand if it wasn’t clear that that’s what happened, because this is a confusing situation.)

    4. SarahJ

      I had something similar happen to me at work. I have a standing coffee run with one of the higher-ups in my office around 1pm every day and it got back to me that the lady in the office suite across the hall thought we were married because she saw us getting coffee daily. She made an assumption based on almost no evidence, I found out, told him, we laughed about it and moved on. How is this potentially damaging?

      1. businesslady

        true, but what if Fred is married to a man, & he & Ginger are just really good friends? (that seems super unlikely given how the scenario ultimately played out, but otherwise that’s a plausible male/female dynamic that doesn’t involve any hanky-panky.)

        on the other hand, “hey baby” isn’t the most professional salutation regardless of the gender/sexuality of the people involved.

          1. fposte

            It’s certainly a dumb thing to do if you get upset about people misunderstanding your relationships.

            1. Jessa

              It’s also not a good thing to do in a work email. A lot of companies require archiving of emails, or can be subpoenaed for them. Anything sent to and from a work email should be relatively professional. AND written with the understanding that anyone could read it. A lot of companies have that policy as well.

              1. fposte

                I would disagree–my email is legally public, and I still don’t have a problem with the odd silly endearment from long-term colleagues in my email, nor would I have a problem with people knowing about them, because neither the emails or the relationships are romantically based. I’m not recommending this for everybody–it’s really important you know your organization and your field, and academia is its own weird place–but I am saying it’s not a universal.

      2. Charles

        The words “hey baby” look very unprofessional. And this is coming from someone who is the youngest in my team, I do get titled baby, but they don’t address me like that, and they certainly don’t put that in emails to me ever, why, because we are professional and no way in hell inappropriately involved. However I do understand that “hey baby” is a friendly greeting in some parts of the world, to good friends, but is it really what goes in an email at work. Outside of the US, Australians and Brits say “hey mate”, but they don’t put that in work emails ever.

    5. Liz

      I disagree. I’ve actually been in Fred’s situation: a couple of times I was waiting for a coworker to pass on something from my husband (they’re friends and ex-colleagues) and someone there thought I was $coworker’s wife despite the photo of $coworker & wife which lives on his desk… I just said “nope, I used to work with $coworker. I’m $husband’s wife.” They said “Oh.” And that was that. $husband, $coworker and I all laughed about it. (Mind you, his wife wasn’t as happy but she didn’t work in our department.)

    6. ...

      I have a serious issue with this logic… how would you NOT be able to proove who you were married too… don’t you have to have a license ect…

      I could see why the guy might get angry – you know how gossip goes, you say purple and two people later it’s yellow -but to say that it’s ever appropriate to be unprofessional and agressive in professional setting strikes me as not only wrong but immature.

      Especially when talking about gossip – an over-reaction like that only serves to justify people’s assumptions.

    7. Kou

      But a reasonable person– even a reasonable guilty person –reacts with clarification. A jerk flips out and yells at people.

      1. Amouse

        yeah or cuts someone off and then acts passive-aggressively forever after. That’s almost worse than yelling. Almost.

  2. Anonymous

    If the only information I had was;

    1. He wears a wedding ring
    2. He frequently eats dinner with a specific Female
    3. The Female sent him an e-mail with the heading “Hey baby”

    I would come to the same conclusion that he was married to her. But after the way he confronted him… I agree, you should just stay clear of this guy.

    1. Anonymous

      I’m surprised that you know no men who have 1) a wife/wears a wedding ring, 2) a close female friend other than the wife and 3) Tends to be very informal in chatting to the opposite sex?

      Yes, the coworker reacted badly and shouldn’t have. Yes, he shouldn’t use work email for private emails and if it was a work email should be told to be more formal. It is however a huge assumption to jump to them being married and make a comment about them as husband & wife to another co-worker.

      1. Amouse

        Seriously?!! Do you want your spouse beginning e-mails to work colleagues with “hey baby”? Cause yeah, I don’t….

        Sorry people I’m in a but of a bad mood today lol

        1. Jamie

          I have to say – that would displease me also.

          The lunches – fine – I’m certainly not going to leave my office to go to my husband’s work to meet him for lunch and the man has to eat. That’s a work thing – the hey baby…that’s something else entirely.

          But maybe that’s because I can’t in a million years picture him saying that to someone casually…so maybe there are people where it wouldn’t be a big deal.

          1. Amouse

            At the same time eating lunch only with one member of the opposite sex and no one else on a daily basis might seem weird to me. haha I can’t picture my boyfriend calling anyone other than me “baby” either fortunately :-)

          2. Schnauz

            I can see if it’s an inside joke of some kind, but if it were then he’d be unlikely to react so badly. So yeah, probably something inappropriate going on.

        2. Anon @3.46

          No, I don’t. However I’ve had emails at work from male co-workers who I’ve had to tell them to stop doing it – they did it to nearly every female they work with! *shudder*

          If I found out my husband was doing it at work I’d tell him to be more professional!

          1. Amouse

            That is so unprofessional! I don’t even like guys who aren’t my partner calling me baby even if they’re my friend. Maybe I’m just being uptight here, but I reserve terms of endearment for the one to whom I am endeared er-I think that made sense… :-)

          2. Anonymous

            Ugh really? I get my feminist hackles up when male coworkers call me a “girl”…if anyone called me “baby” I might lose it.

      2. Kou

        Neither assumption is irrational. Just because IT guy settled on the one that isn’t true doesn’t mean the assumption was outlandish and crazy.

  3. Anon

    Ugh…I think Fred is doing something inappropriate too. Mistakes like this, unless something is going on, is met with a laugh and “Oh she isn’t my wife – too funny!” Fred’s reaction was out of order.

    OP did nothing wrong. I’d steer clear of Fred.

    1. twentymilehike

      This.

      Before my male boss got divorced (hence not wearing a ring anymore), people used to always think my other female boss was his wife. They didn’t do anything to make people think this–they were simply business partners so they were together a lot during the work days. They always laughed it off and it was never a big deal.

  4. fposte

    I see it exactly the same–mistakes like this happen, they’re not a big deal, Fred’s overreaction is doing him no favors. I’m thinking about the co-workers/colleagues I might playfully exchange endearments with. If you thought I was married to them I’d just think it was funny and tell you not to worry about it.

    And Fred: cheating and porn should stay off the work computer.

      1. A Bug!

        I didn’t get that implication. It’s like the saying “Steer clear of two topics at work functions: religion and politics.”

        Fposte was saying that, like porn, you should keep evidence of your extramarital activities off your work computer.

        If I’m wrong I hope fposte will correct me, of course.

    1. Ellie H.

      I can easily imagine that the “Hey baby” was a playful exchange. I think there are a lot of people who have fake “work relationships” like that. It’s Fred’s reaction that makes the speculation that he and Ginger are inappropriately involved more plausible. If it WERE just a “fake work relationship” thing my guess is that they would have been actually amused by it. But this is all speculation.

  5. Lora

    I must say I find the OP behaving a bit inappropriate in the first place. Yes, you may encounter private and sometimes sensitive information in your work. If you find something troublesome, please discuss it with your manager and/or the employee’s manager. But do not comment and gossip around it with other employees.

    If you find that someone have doctor’s appointments scheduled in their calendar, do you discuss that with others aswell?

      1. Lora

        I’m curious of what the OP responded when notified that they are in fact not married. If he said “Oh, I noticed lunches and an intimate e-mail” – then it’s gossip. But perhaps it was just an “Fred’s wife Ginger…”/”Ginger isnt Fred’s wife!”/”Oh, I must have got that wrong”-situation.

    1. Anonymous

      The “offhand comment” mentioned was not in reference to the something private or sensitive in his work (seeing the opening of the email). It was about them being married. The email was just part of the information he had that brought him to that conclusion.

    2. Another Jamie

      I find it hard to believe that it was just an off-hand comment, based on the information we got from the OP. An off-hand comment would be corrected immediately by the person he was talking to. This comment got back to Fred, implying it went through the office grapevine. Whatever the comment was was interesting enough to pass on.

      1. some1

        Yeah, but if I heard a co-worker say that two other co-workers were married when they aren’t — and when one is married to someone else, I think I would ask the person why they thought that. Not because I’m nosy, but out of curiosity.

      2. Anlyn

        I can imagine a scenario like this:

        OP: Oh, there’s Fred with his wife Ginger again.

        Coworker: Oh, that’s not Fred’s wife.

        OP: Oh, I thought it was.

        Then coworker says to Fred, “OP thought Ginger was your wife, haha”.

        Nothing malicious or gossipy about it. An offhand mention but blown way out of proportion.

      3. JessBee

        I have more questions about how the incident was passed along to Fred than how it came up originally.

        If someone at work mistakenly thought 2 of my coworkers were married to each other, I would likely find it pretty funny and pass it along to one of them. You know, “Oh, Fred, Sam in IT thought you and Ginger were married — isn’t that funny!”

        OTOH, if the re-teller was concerned/suspicious that something inappropriate was going on, the tone could have been, “Hey, what’s going on with you and Ginger? Sam in IT said he thought you were married, the way you were acting.”

        Either way, I am inclined to agree that Fred handled it poorly, and it does suggest sensitivity about the subject. It could be that Fred and Ginger are inappropriately involved, or it could be that Fred is aware that it could seem that way (or, frankly, that his wife is aware that it could seem that way), or it could just be that their friendship has raised eyebrows before, and he’s sick of it. Ripping the OPs head off about it seems like overkill.

    3. OP

      Hi Lora,

      Let me apologize if I gave you the incorrect impression that I shared any information about what was in Fred’s email with anyone. I never spoke about that, and had I done so it would indeed have been inappropriate. I simply referred to Ginger as Fred’s wife, an assumption which I discovered later to be untrue.

      Thanks again for replying!
      -OP

  6. CoffeeLover

    To be honest, the only way I would jump to the conclusion that they’re married is if Ginger and Fred have the same last name. Yes, Fred over reacted, and I think the coworker you talked to should have just said, oh they’re not married (in fact I don’t understand why he didn’t). As someone in IT though, who has access to people’s email (even if those people shouldn’t be using said email for personal communication), you should have a certain level of discretion. I honestly think you were more in the wrong than your coworker because really, intentionally or not, you were spreading rumors based on “private” (I know they’re not really) emails. The less you say the better. Also, a big part of me thinks you knew they weren’t married…

    1. CoffeeLover

      Main point of what I said: OP, take this as a lesson not to comment on people’s personal relationships unless explicitly told. This is akin to asking if someone’s pregnant when they aren’t ready to share that information.

      1. fposte

        Eh. It’s easy for these misunderstandings to be displayed non-gratuitously, so I don’t really see that as a takeaway.

      2. OP

        You’re absolutely right. I have no idea why I didn’t notice their last names were different. Thanks for the feedback. ;)
        -OP

        1. Adam V

          Eh, my wife didn’t change her name for almost a year after we got married – work was busy for both of us and it wasn’t a huge deal. She changed it once we decided it was almost time for us to start looking at houses and we wanted our names to match up on the house note.

      1. Frances

        Yes, for the sector in which I work women often don’t change their name when they get married (particularly if they have an established career already). In fact, the mistake we more commonly make at my workplace is *not* realizing two people are married until we’ve been talking to both of them for some time.

      2. Anonymous

        In academia and research, very often people don’t have the same last name, or continue to use their “maiden” name professionally, so I make no assumptions about people’s marital status based on what their last name is.

      3. Also got confused with a coworker's wife

        I do have a different last name than my husband (neither of us thought it would make sense to change names after getting married), and when I applied to my current job I was interviewed by a manager with my last name. I ended up being hired and working closely with him, both reporting to the same sr. manager.

        It annoyed me when someone made the assumption we were married (only because it would look like I wasn’t hired because of my own merits). But the mistake became so common that he started to joke and call me his “ex-wife” at meetings, because he is also married to someone else. I thought it was funny, and it gave me an excuse to explain that no, we weren’t related or married and never had been :-).

        1. Ali_R

          Oh my goodness! I just had the twisted image of a desperate employee changing their name to the hiring manager’s to have that commonality for a foot in the door!

          This is in no way implying you were given preference but I can see how it would certainly make one stand out from the crowd!

          1. Adam V

            It’d be hard to change your name every time you get an interview with another company, and keep up with all the different names you use. :)

    2. Natalie

      Regarding the email, the OP says they read that portion of the email because Fred left it open on his screen. That’s a situation anyone literate could have found themselves in.

      1. K

        And really, if you’re going to send co-workers e-mails starting with “hey baby” from your work e-mail account, to say nothing of leaving them sitting open on your desktop, what do you expect to happen? Seriously, have some sense.

      2. Rana

        Agreed. It’s why I dread people who don’t put spoiler tags in posts. If I see a word, I’ve read it before I have a chance to try to not read it. Words just go instantly into my brain the moment my eyes pass over them.

    3. Zahra

      Since, in my province, in order to change last names, you need a better reason than “We got married”, a common last name would just lead me to think that they are siblings, cousins or similarly related. And I would be offended that someone would dismiss (not necessarily out loud) any thought that I could be married to my husband because “but they have a different last name!”.

      1. twentymilehike

        Since, in my province, in order to change last names, you need a better reason than “We got married”

        Oh interesting! Out of curiousity, where are you? It’s a pretty traditional American thing for the wife to take the husband’s last name, so I find it interesting when other cultures differ.

        1. Zahra

          Quebec. Some of my acquaintances were actually horrified that they couldn’t change their last name if they got married here and decided to get married in another province. On the other hand, at my wedding, I got asked “So, how do you feel as a HisLast?” My answer, with a frown “The same he feels being MyLast.” Getting married does not erase my history as a MyLast and I wish that men would change last names as much as women do. Oh, and it is very common that children get a double-barreled last name (and that too is fraught with “You should put your last name first/second because kids usually keep it/drop it” which is infuriating in its own right. Why do people assume that I have any interest in making sure my kids will drop my or my husband’s last name? I think that they will use both all the time or choose whichever to use depending on context, since my last name is visibly of a different origin.).

          1. Also got confused with a coworker's wife

            Zahra,

            My husband convinced many of our female friends not to change their names when they got married (architects and other professionals who already had a professional reputation, for heaven’s sake). Several of them thanked him years later when they got a divorce, because not having changed their names made their lives so much easier.

            He has a male colleague who changed his name to match his wife’s, and agrees with you, this should be more common as the convention should go both ways. But basically he is against unnecessary bureaucracy and thinks everybody should keep their birth names :-).

              1. Jamie

                I think people should do whatever they see fit when it comes to this. Some women keep their maiden names, some hyphenate, some take their husband’s name, some couples create a new name for themselves, and yes – if a man wants to take his wife’s name that should be an equally viable option.

                But I don’t understand the position of husband in the post above yours who thinks everyone should keep their birth names, nor do I think changing one’s name due to marriage is arbitrary.

                What is right for one couple isn’t necessarily right for another – I took my husband’s name (both times) and that didn’t negate or erase who I am – it was a deliberate choice and I happen to like that particular social convention for me. I would never presume to think others should follow suit just because this is what makes me happy.

          2. Chinook

            I was completely shocked to find that, when I moved to Quebec, I had to revert to my maiden name. As a result, for 5 years, my photo id and credit cards didn’t match because I couldn’t change my credit cards back to my maiden name without proving that I was divorced or legally changed it back.

            What was even more interesting was moving back to Alberta, where I had lived for 30 years before hand and then had to convince the registry in my hometown that I did have a driver’s licence history and that that I wanted to change my name on my driver’s licence back to my married name despite having no photo id verifying who I was and my Quebec ID had my married name as my middle name and didn’t include my real middle name, so I had no government documents to verify who I was. Eventually I was able to explain that “Quebec is strange” and use the stereotype to get it done.

            So I now have a fully working alias available to me whenever I want to move back to Quebec ;)

            1. Jazzy Red

              I’ve heard that they have a lot of crazy laws in Quebec.

              Many years ago, I worked for a company that made hand tools, and we had some demonstrators that worked in Canada as well as the US. We wanted to give them all a banner to use which had our company name and a tag line. The guy in Quebec told us that any sign that had English in it (as opposed to all French) had to have the French translation, twice as large as the English letters. Or the sign could be in all French without any English, but NEVER English with the French-twice-as-large.

                1. Zahra

                  Yup, Quebeckers take their status as a minority seriously. We’ve seen what happened in Louisiana and to other French-speaking communities in North America. They’ve had a steady decline of French speaking communities and, in some cases, they almost completely disappeared. Also, the English-speaking minority used to hold the vast majority of the political and economic power, which, when you think of it, is pretty messed up. Francophones couldn’t move up the ladder because English wasn’t taught or taught properly in schools.

                  So, since the 80s, the provincial government have put in place laws that says that French must be predominant in any sign (though I’m not that is needs to be twice as big), software must be offered in French and any product sold must have French description/manuals/etc. The work language must be predominantly French, unless there is an imperative to use English (for companies with clients in non-French speaking areas). Anglophones have been bemoaning the loss of their privileges ever since, but, what can you do?

              1. Chinook

                It is the law and we Canadians have learned to accept it. Believe it or not, there actually is a “language police” in Quebec whose job it is to check to make sure the law is followed.

            2. twentymilehike

              I was completely shocked to find that, when I moved to Quebec, I had to revert to my maiden name.

              That is amazing! Although I understand …
              Recently I was in the local immigration office doing some paperwork (I have a green card and am in the process of changing that). When I got married I changed my last name to my husband’s. It’s been a few years, and all of my IDs have my new last name; I changed it with social security and at the courthouse and the DMV, etc., so of course I used that last name on my paperwork, since I assumed that was my last name now. Well they didn’t seem to be very happy explaining that just because I did all that, I didn’t actually, legally change my last name.

              1. Chinook

                The lawyer that had to redo all our paperwork to buy a house in Quebec but didn’t take the time to verify what my legal name was actually said that just because it was legally changed in Canada doesn’t mean a thing in Quebec.

                I think he was just ticked at having to redo the paperwork for free.

    4. CoffeeLover

      I’m sticking to my guns on this one. Regardless of last names and leaving stuff open and all that, I think that at the end of they day, at the office, it’s always safer to assume no relation. It avoids this whole sticky situation. Even if he had blatantly read “hey baby let’s get together at lunch and ****” (pardon the stars) I still think your best bet is to not say anything. I have avoided many awkward situations by keeping my mouth shut. Until someone tells me otherwise, everyone at the office is single, no one is pregnant and no one is sleeping with anyone else. Now I totally understand that it was probably a slip of the tongue for OP, but he/she will probably encounter many more situations like this given they have access to people’s emails. Learn the art of filtering early, and you’ll avoid future situations like this.

      1. OP

        “I have avoided many awkward situations by keeping my mouth shut.”

        Best advice I’ve gotten in a long time. Thanks!
        -OP

        1. Ellie H.

          There’s a great precept from Anna Karenina, “When in doubt, don’t.” I just read it in December and I swear that keeping it in mind has influenced decisions (for the better) many times since! (Of course, it’s advice several characters in the book would have done much better to follow.)

        2. CoffeeLover

          I hope I wasn’t too harsh OP. Believe me I’ve also said my fair share of awkward things. What you said is pretty mild, but it goes to show how extremely people can react (especially when they’re caught in the act of cheating ;P).

          1. OP

            Hi CoffeeLover,

            Thanks again for replying! I appreciate the feedback and did not find it harsh.

            To clarify one point, I did not catch Fred in the act of cheating. I caught Fred in the act of receiving an email with “hey baby” in it. I hope he was not cheating, but if he was, that’s an issue between him and his wife. His overreaction may have been indignation or guilt; I will never know.

            I do want to draw attention to the question at the end of my narrative, which was how to handle an aggressive coworker without being a doormat or becoming aggressive myself.

            Thank you again for sharing your thoughts! :)
            -OP

      2. Nichole

        We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. If the OP is in a generally friendly workplace, a conversation like the one Anlyn described (which the OP verified was pretty close) is far from a nasty gossip-fest. Fred was completely within his rights to ask why OP said that and set the record straight, and even to do so in a way that indicated he was Not Happy about the mistake, but a tirade like what OP described always overshadows the complexities of who was more right. It was an honest mistake, which Fred may have realized if he hadn’t come at the OP like a wild bear. I do agree with you that erring on the side of discretion is a good idea. Lesson learned-I’m just saying it could have been learned equally well without making another person feel threatened.

        1. CoffeeLover

          I’m definitely not siding with the way Fred reacted. I think he overreacted for sure. I also agree that it was an honest mistake on OP’s part, and I’m sure we’ve all made similar ones.

      3. Jennifer

        I may be too late to comment on this but here goes. I’m married and have always had male friends at work. I became friends with one person who I am still good friends with 15 years later. He’s like a brother to me. We always hung out at work and him, my husband and I would hang out socially all the time.

        The one time at work, I was very upset over something that happened. We had a boss who was just downright horrible. I was outside with my coworker taking a break and I was crying. He hugged me and another coworker saw this. When we went back inside everyone in the office seemed strange. I found out that the coworker who saw us said announced to everyone as soon as he walked in the door that my coworker and I “must be having an affair.”

        I got very upset and confronted this other coworker in front of everyone. I told him my personal business is my business. I said I was married and nothing was going on. I said it’s possible for men and women to just be friends. I also asked him if I was hugging another woman would he have come to the same conclusion? I told him that next time he has a concern about my personal life to ask me and not spread rumors about me at work.

        I got defensive because I value my marriage and I didn’t want anyone to think I was the type of person to cheat. Plus I see nothing wrong with a man and woman being good friends.

        My situation was different from what the OP encountered. But I had to put a stop to what my coworker was saying to prevent any further damage to my reputation. It may seem to many that I was defensive but I wasn’t. I was upset that someone would automatically assume something that wasn’t true and upset that someone would automatically think a man and woman hugging means cheating.

        Of course I want to add that I would never call my friend “baby” or anything else like that. I wouldn’t even do that in a joking way because that’s kind of creepy to say to someone who isn’t your partner.

    5. BW

      I know so many married couples with different last names, it wouldn’t be weird to think they were married. If the OP lives in an area where this is common, it’s not an off-base assumption.

  7. ITwannabe

    I believe it was an innocent conversation, and agree with Alison that it is very possible that OP could have stumbled onto something he wasn’t supposed to. All they can do now is steer clear of the other guy, and if that isn’t possible, then stay as pleasant and professional as possible, with no extra conversation. Whether or not it’s fair, I think that IT people have to take a page from doctors and lawyers. We are in a position to know things about coworkers that others do not, so we have to be that much more cautious about making any kind of personal remarks in the workplace. Sorry that happened to you, OP.

  8. Laurie

    I think I’m on Fred’s side of this argument – not his threatening behavior, but his indignance.

    I don’t assume people are pregnant, gay, involved, engaged, married, or anything unless they tell me themselves and I definitely wouldn’t take my observations as fact and discuss it casually among co-workers.

    The OP didn’t intend it as gossip, but since Fred and Ginger aren’t married, anyone who hears it will want to know why the OP thinks those two are married when their last names aren’t unique and aren’t the same. Even if OP just relays the facts (they were seen together, the “hey baby” email etc), everyone else will jump to the conclusion that F&G are having an affair. And that’s definitely not the OP’s business and it can be damaging to both of their careers.

    1. Zahra

      Argh, not everyone who gets married changes their last name! The very concept is patriarchal and, to my mind, antiquated. And while close to (or over) 90% of women in the USA do change their last name upon marriage, nothing says that the OP is in the USA.

      1. Laurie

        Zahra, yes I agree – except, that wasn’t my point at all.

        If a man and a woman have the same unique last name, both wear wedding rings, hang out for lunch all the time and exchange emails with ‘hey baby’, it would be logical to think they are married – though I would still not assume it as fact until they confirm.

        If a man and a woman do NOT have the same unique last name, both wear wedding rings, hang out for lunch all the time and exchange emails with ‘hey baby’, as is the case here, it is NOT logical to assume they are married.

        1. Your Mileage May Vary

          I guess I need to stop having lunch with my husband (with a different name) in case someone thinks we’re actually cheating on our real spouses.

          1. Laurie

            For clarification, my own parents don’t have the same last name any more, after my dad changed (more like, rearranged) his last name to suit American standards. My mom finds it funny that although she did change her name when she got married, her husband changed his last name, so she’s kind of in married-name limbo.

          2. ThursdaysGeek

            Yeah, that happened to me when I worked at the same place with my husband. Our names are different, we don’t wear rings, we arrived at work together, ate lunch together, and left work together. People close to us knew we were married, but one manager thought we were having an affair. I thought it was funny. “Yeah, I’m having an affair — with my husband!”

        2. fposte

          I don’t see that the last name makes a difference here. Either you go CoffeeLover’s route and assume you know nothing about people’s private lives until they’ve told you (which is certainly the safest), or you make some reasonable guesses based on what information you do have, which may be wrong. Same last name is still guessing, it’s just guessing based on different material, and it’s not hugely more conclusive than any of the other evidence.

        3. P.

          I don’t see how taking out a single variable (the unique last name) makes the assumption go from logical to illogical. In fact, you can replace the unique last name variable with the knowledge that many, many modern women do NOT take their husband’s last name and you would be back to the original logical assumption.

    2. OP

      Hello Laurie,

      Thank you very much for your well thought out reply! Fred may have been 100% innocent, and if so, had every reason to feel both indignant and defensive (I certainly would if people assumed I was cheating).

      Thanks again!
      -OP

  9. Jamie

    Couple of things bother me from an IT standpoint.

    I frequently come into contact with my coworkers’ email during the normal execution of my duties.

    Really? How? I will go through someone’s mail if they are terminated and occasionally yeah, you’ll see something – but frequently is weird to me. I’m just wondering how that comes up so often?

    And I’ve always stood by the rule is anything I’ve seen by accident while fixing someone’s PC is never mentioned unless it violates policy and I need to address it. It’s the e-version of overhearing something by accident. If it wasn’t meant for you to read/hear then act like you didn’t. If you came across someone’s browser history and saw they were googling divorce lawyers and info on custody law you wouldn’t ask them about the state of their marriage.

    The exception is wallpaper of pets. It’s okay to admit you’ve seen their wallpaper on their desktop and if they didn’t want to hear me talk about how adorable their furry kids are then they shouldn’t have put it there for me to see.

    From a non-IT standpoint I’ve been in the working world too long to ever assume that people don’t hey baby in an extramarital fashion. Maybe if you knew that his wife worked there too and they had the same last name – okay…but that’s not a leap I would have made.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’m thinking he probably means that he sees people’s emails while on their computer to fix stuff and they’ve left their mail open or whatever … not that he’s going through it, just that whatever message is open is right there.

    2. Ellie H.

      Eh, I know for a fact that our IT people have seen (literally seen, not just happened to have their eyes near) my email. I’ve had it up on the screen with someone going in remotely, and with our new IT guy, I actually forwarded him multiple chains of (personal!) emails when I was having trouble with email not being received (I know you are technically not supposed to use work mail for personal email, but I think most people do). Of course I’d be upset if the IT guy was telling people about the contents of my email, but I assume he did read it and I’m fine with that – I see it as a relationship of confidentiality like at the doctor or therapist or whatever.

      1. Jamie

        Oh I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. If I have to fix an Outlook problem or yeah, people leave it up, it happens…I’m probably just over thinking the use of the word “frequently.” And other environments are different – but for me it’s certainly not daily or even weekly that it comes up – but it definitely happens.

        Maybe I’ve just done a very good job in training my users to close all programs before I remote in. :)

        And yeah – I didn’t know how to express it but it is that kind of professional confidentiality.

        1. OP

          Hi Jamie,

          Seeing email is nearly a daily occurrence for me while fixing peoples’ computers. Outlook is the most used application in my office, and the biggest ticket-generator, so people tend to leave it up. I’m in the habit of pressing WIN+D (minimize all windows) when I get to a user’s desk (eliminates distractions), but in this specific case, Fred asked me to help with an email related problem, so difficult to avoid seeing the open message while troubleshooting Outlook.

          I make specific efforts to avoid seeing peoples’ email messages, but it’s not 100% avoidable.

          To clarify one point, I never told anyone about what I saw in Fred’s email. I did refer incorrectly to Ginger as Fred’s wife, a mistake that I regret now.

          Thanks for posting!
          -OP

    3. Runon

      I assumed that this is someone who perhaps remotes into computers to fix them in a help desk kind of way and so in closing the open email window (I’ll admit mine is open 95% of the time someone from the help desk remotes in) they see them that way. If this isn’t it I would be concerned as well.

      But then when I see those kinds of things (not emails but a different kind of information that isn’t really mine but something I can see so I can fix the problems with it) I don’t notice the details of it just is it working and what are the problems. And I’m actually running thru all of them in detail. So I’m not entirely sure what the op is doing.

  10. Another anon

    Random sort of connected story. My boss was a woman (“Susan”) whose partner has the same name as mine–let’s say “Angela”–and who also happened to work at the same institution. (Academia–lots of couples all over the place.) A new employee comes in and hears about “Susan and Angela” and there’s me, Angela, working so closely with Susan . . . you can guess what she concluded. For months she thought Susan and I were a couple. One day I mentioned my husband in conversation and then the whole story came out. It was pretty funny–she told us that she wondered how the heck we managed to keep such healthy boundaries between our personal and work lives.

    1. Frances

      Once at a work function I was introducing myself to an offsite associate who had only met any of us by email. As soon as I said “Hi, I’m Frances,” she smiled but I could see kind of an odd look on her face. Within about two sentences I realized she thought I was my boss’s wife (who has the same first name, but is, like my boss, quite a bit older than I am) — and was clearly reacting to the significant age difference. Luckily we got that sorted out without too much embarrassment — now I make sure I introduce myself as “Frances X” to anyone who might get confused.

      1. Malissa

        Okay you just gave me a whole new phobia. My boss is dating somebody who shares my first name.
        At some point this will get awkward…

    2. Natalie

      My office has that twice over – my boss’s wife and I have the same name, and my vice-boss’s husband has the same name as a different person in our office. And there are less than 10 people here.

    3. Rana

      It can get funny how names overlap. My uncle married a woman with the same name as one of my cousins (on the other side), who has a daughter with my name, and two other close relatives and an ex with the same names as my mother, my husband, and my brother. It’s pretty amazing.

  11. Darcie

    The OP just made a simple mistake, anyone could have made it on the basis of those coworkers eating together regularly + the ring. The only thing that makes it different is the access to IT, but I bet the OP didn’t mention the email header to their coworkers. If they did, shame on them for gossiping. Otherwise, anyone could have made this mistake.

    What if the wife/coworker have the same first name?

    1. VintageLydia

      I actually had a boss who’s wife had the same first and extremely similar last name as me (think Connor v. O’Connor.) There were a few jokes among our coworkers about it, but everyone knew everyone else so thankfully no actual misunderstandings resulted.

  12. Amouse

    The OP did nothing wrong. Fred responded based on his own issues, which regardless of if he actually is involved with Ginger, he CLEARLY has. I’m so tired of people overreacting because of their own issues and then someone well-intentioned being blamed for it. There is no way this innocent mistake warranted the OP being literally threatened! The Op is not responsible for Fred’s complete overreaction and that’s the end of the story.

    Also, Alison it’d be cool if Bob and Jane became Fred and Ginger :-)

    1. Amouse

      OK the OP may have jumped to the conclusion of marriage a little hastily but Fred’s reaction just makes that a moot point in my view.

  13. Revanche

    I’m with fposte here. “Fred” kind of overreacted there – whether there’s an affair on or not.
    At least 7 people assumed I was married when I wasn’t based only on seeing me with a guy at one of my jobs (I wore no ring, I hadn’t introduced them, our paths didn’t cross) and I knew this because they referenced “my husband”. And they assumed I was married to the guy I was seen with. It wasn’t anything serious, although perhaps a little awkward but in a funny way because some of the people who did it were people who hated being corrected. So I just shrugged and let it be. If it happened to be a coworker, I would actually said something but otherwise it didn’t seem worth it.
    If you spend regular time with a coworker, and neither you or the coworker are known well by other people, I wouldn’t be surprised at all by the assumption anymore, forget having run across an email that references the other person as “baby”.
    I couldn’t have told you whether half the people in our office were married and to whom. Names don’t help much, I know plenty of folks who didn’t change their names or didn’t wear rings so I couldn’t have corrected any such assumption if it was mentioned to me.

  14. Anonymous

    Maybe Fred was just having a bad day and reacted more strongly than he intended to.

    Then again, maybe his ex-wife has been breaking into his e-mail. Just goes to show that relationships that begin at networking events are doomed to fail. OP be thankful that his wife didn’t e-mail you to complain! ;-D

  15. Allison

    It was a mistake. I have to wonder why the co-worker he said this to would run back and tell Fred instead of correcting the OP? Maybe the co-worker thought it was funny or wanted to warn Fred to be careful what he types in his email?

    Shrugs.

  16. Chriama

    OP, I want to comment on your claim that apologizing when you did nothing wrong makes you a doormat. I’ll admit that I tend to over-apologize and then feel really bad about not standing up for myself, but I think in this situation it’s really easy to say, “Sorry, I must have misunderstood” and then exit gracefully.

    I think I know the “doormat” feeling you’re talking about, and I also don’t like apologizing to people who are full of righteous indignation because they tend to ignore it or use it as further ammunition against you.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t feel bad about yourself for apologizing. Even if you didn’t do anything wrong, you’re sorry he was inconvenienced and you’re sorry he’s mad.

    Saying you’re sorry doesn’t have to mean accepting responsibility for whatever charge someone is laying against you.

  17. LCL

    OK, I wasn’t gonna drag gender back into it, but someone has to. The whole point of OPs email to me is they felt threatened. I wonder if the OP is female, hard to picture a male English speaker describing a confrontation with the language used. So rephrasing OPs question, it’s “What can I do when a co worker is in my face about something and so hacked off at me I think he’s gonna hit me?”
    Which is a good question to ask, whether female or male.

    “Fred’s manner and tone in this confrontation felt very threatening to me. …quickly left the room to escape a very intimidating situation. I feel Fred’s confrontation was both overly aggressive (bordering on bullying) and unfair.

    … just being a doormat. I would like to know if there are better strategies for dealing with this kind of confrontational coworker in the future.”

  18. N.

    Wow, I am surprised at these reactions… Guess I worked for a strict company, but anything reading “Hey Baby” on a person’s work computer was very inappropriate no matter to whom it was addressed, and if some one had knowledge of it and did not report it to HR, they themselves could be in trouble for it. Especially IT who were required to report and handle anything like this, and required to scan EVERYTHING coming in or out.

    Even if this guy had written it and it was not noticed immediately, but he had ever come under investigation for any other reason, discovering something like this could have tipped the scale towards termination. Anyone noticed this on his computer and reported it, a passerby, what-have-you, IT’s directions would have been to turn his account to HR for investigation anyway. No one would have even known IT was involved or HR investigating, until they found something. Then they had a meeting with you and your manager who perhaps didn’t know of the investigation until then either. Being an at will employer they had no compunction firing over something even more minor than this.

    As it was, what happened would have been grounds for disciplanary action; the fact the man got into the IT guy’s face for doing his job would have resulted in discipline up to termination depending on how he handled the investigation. Even if the marriage remark had been mean spirited, all IT guy would have had to say was what he saw on the computer, and would have been game over. “Fred” is lucky it didn’t cost him his job.

    As for IT guy, yeah you are a touch naïve, to cover your toukais maybe you should have approached HR when you saw the email. Maybe you should approach them hat in hand now and explain what happened, and that you saw no harm, and did not mean harm and see what they say. As a former mananger I would want to know if one of my direct reports was behaving this way, since it had the power to bring down the hammer of HR, and since I am not too keen on people intimidating one another in the workforce. I am surprised your company doesn’t have a policy or training for you for such things, because policy at mine was very clearly spelled out. I also suppose they were very large, and a smaller company may not feel the need to address such things. Intimidation was also prohibited, and put together, this man almost certainly would have threatened his marriage by threatening his own job. I think its cute too, how he was trying to hold IT guy responsible for his own misconduct.

    I agree with the poster above that “Fred” was hiding something, or in the dog house at home, or he would have just laughed it off. My husband and I have different last names, and it has happened many times, that his sister (who looks nothing like him) was mistaken for his wife, and I his sister. to me it is laughable, I would be out of line if I got in someone’s face about it. Even if they make a somewhat rude comment about our last names not matching, I let it slide; the fact that the dude was angry and defensive does not bode well for him.

    I am sure many here would think this is all over the top, and a few people argued that at work, but the company pointed out REPEATEDLY: their computers, their network, their property, no reasonable expectation of privacy.

    What I don’t get is why is that hard to understand? Why is there “hey baby” on anyone’s work computer when we live in this society where everyone sees and knows what everyone else is doing? If I had been this guy’s manager, I would never have risked my own job to hide information about or defend him for accosting a coworker, and certainly not if I found out the reason why.

    1. OP

      Hi N.,

      Thanks for replying! For what it’s worth, it would not be logistically feasible to scan every email message. (I’m assuming that by “scan” you mean “read”, not “virus scan”). We could occupy several people full time doing nothing but reading email if that was required.

      My perspective on information privacy, and I believe I can speak for every other IT professional I’ve worked with over the last 13 years, is that we really don’t care when people send email of a personal nature. We care if people do things that are a legitimate threat to the company, such as send industry secrets, network information, or passwords, particularly outside the company. Personal use of company email is a normal, acceptable, and 99% harmless use of the company’s resources. In the other 1% of cases, we do get involved, but only with explicit instructions from HR and only when some form of legal liability for the company is involved.

      -OP

    2. fposte

      That is a wild level of restriction. So even if people emailed their spouse with “Honey” you’d have to report it?

      I’m not disputing the company’s right to do so, but I’m seriously questioning their intelligence; I suspect HR didn’t do a lot of useful work if that’s what they were interested in monitoring.

      1. N.

        I agree it was strict (unfortunately it wasn’t the first time I had heard the N. Korea crack! Once or twice I was brave enough to call it “KGB” in private, at home, in the closet with the blinds drawn, and Megadeth’s Symphony of Destruction was blasting (which I used to have to listen to to psyche me up enough to go to work in the first place; everyday it was a fight not to turn the car around and speed into the sunrise.))

        Fposte: in the case you are talking about, the company’s stance was the work computer is not for personal use, (though some personal use was permitted, you just had to remember you were being watched! Every website visited was logged, and computer usage was subject to monitoring in real time or months later, though I don’t think they used keystroke software) company email is for company business, using it to send a personal message was frowned upon. Knowing the company could read everything we wrote when and if they wanted to, most people would never dream of using their company email for writing “Dear Honey” letters, and NEVER to a coworker. I usually just texted stuff like that from my personal phone to my hubby.

        OP: when I said “scan”, we were told that software scanned websites and emails for “flag” words and if too many emails were getting flagged by the software or the user attempted to access too many blocked sites (I got into a tussle checking my personal email which was linked to gamesville) their account was flagged, the user could be shut down, and if that happened they had to call IT across the country to explain and let them back into the system. If any IT person became aware of something like what happened to you, policy was to notify their superior and/or HR; us chickens were assured it was procedure and nothing personal if IT did so. Depending on whether or not there was reason to be concerned, HR could ask IT to view anything the user did, and we were assured history could be viewed and deleted emails were cached for 6 months. A “Hey Baby” here or there might not be noticed, but if the person was investigated for anything else, guaranteed they would be made to regret this choice of words.

        Alison: my last company very closely guarded anything that it considered proprietary information, many people had to sign non compete clauses in order to be employed there, vehicles and people allowed on property were subject to search at any time, if they failed to agree they would be asked to leave. After a former employee took a trade secret to a competitor (resulting in a multi million dollar suit) they became very concerned with liability on all levels, and had the security to match. Anything that may have been construed as sexual in nature on that had occured at their site was included. If I heard some one say “Hey baby” to an employee and said nothing to them, the next time it happened and someone complained it was made clear I was accountable. We were instructed to ask the “offender” to refrain from saying these things, and usually they stopped. If they persisted even after their warning about company policy, failure to bump it up to the next level would get you in trouble. We all knew it, and so our company motto was pretty much “Don’t do it!”

        Honestly, it has to have been the most sanitized place I have ever seen, though until I started reading your column my lack of experience made me suspect most places were like this. Maybe it is just the industry.

        Anyway thank you all for indulging my super long posts, OP good luck, fposte I like what you write, Alison keep up the good work!

  19. Chloe

    A couple of years ago a rather mischevious colleagues (“John”) went onto my computer while I was in a meeting and sent an email from it to another colleague (“Peter”), that simply said “I think you’re great”.

    Peter, clearly mystified, replied “thanks, thats nice of you to say”, or something like that. John came back to my computer, saw Peter’s response, and deleted it from my inbox.

    Luckily, another colleague saw this happen and told me about it. When I found the emails, I was absolutely furious. I went and told John that what he had done was absolutely, completely, 100% unacceptable. I wasn’t shouting but I was so angry that our boss actually came up to me and told me to take it outside. At that point I just walked away, because I’d made my point. But to be clear, it was in an open office, and I wasn’t physically threatening. Plus I think I reacted in a way that many people would react. When both Peter and I are married with children, and have a completely professional relationship, I think its clear that John did something very, very stupid.

    Compared to that, I feel like Fred’s reaction to the OP’s comment was pretty over the top. Many years ago someone thought I was married to a colleage who happened to have the same last name as me (and, even more confusingly, the same first name as my actual husband). But no-one thought that was anything other than a funny, innocent mistake.

    I suspect Fred has a working relationship with Ginger that his wife might not fully approve of. Calling someone else’s husband “baby” is a little off.

    1. Henning Makholm

      Aside from one’s ethical judgment of John, there’s a computer security lesson to be learned here.

      When I was a CS student, it was a sure bet that if you left a computer in the open labs (this was before students could be expected to own computers themselves) without password-locking the session, some joker would have posted something embarrassing from your account by the time you got back. This encouraged a sound habit of always locking any computer you leave unattended, for any amount of time, in any circumstances.

      I continue to marvel at how people I see around me in the workspace don’t lock their computers. It should be a reflex: automatically pressing Win-L whenever you stand up from your chair to leave the desk is much easier than consciously deciding whether or not you can trust the people who’d be in a position to access the machine while you’re done. And if some day you find that you don’t trust your coworkers anymore, it’s a lot easier to simply continue always locking the session than to explicitly start doing so.

      1. Chloe

        Yes that was a major lesson for me. I’d relied on my co-workers professionalism up to that point, but that was a misjudgement.

  20. Chocolate Teapot

    I know of a few Work Spouse relationships.

    The flip side of this is when nobody has told you 2 colleagues are a couple (either married or long tern partners). Then there comes a points of “Duh, didn’t you know that Margot and Jerry were married?”

    Well no, because whenever I took Margot’s messages for Jerry, he never bothered to say that they were a couple, and oddly enough it never cropped up in normal conversation.

    Bonus points for anyone who twigs as to the names in my example!

    1. K

      We have a Margot and Jerry like that at our office; different last names so it can take a while to twig. Apparently one time Margot invited a summer intern over to her house on a Sunday (with some other staff members) to finish a project that was on deadline. The intern came in on Monday and said “You know, this place is just so friendly. Jerry even goes over to Margot’s to help her with her yardwork!”

    2. Steve

      I had the same thing happen years ago. I was a department manager at a University and my new IT manager came to me pretty upset. She said “Steve, I was working on X’s computer and he has pictures of Y on it. And they are not just normal pictures, they are..”

      At that point I cut her off and said it was okay – they were in fact married. I do sometimes wonder about the pictures though.

      1. Jamie

        Married or not if the pictures were erotic that’s still a problem. No IT should have to come across that stuff at work when just trying to do their job.

        1. OP

          Sometimes it’s part of working in IT. HR will (very rarely) require us to confirm whether a terminated employee stored porn on a work PC. This is really rare (I’ve only seen in once in 13 years), but it is part of our responsibility, and we approach it with as much professionalism as we can. It can be uncomfortable, but every job has uncomfortable aspects.

          Thanks for replying!
          -OP

  21. Job seeker

    I agree with what Alison said and try to steer clear of this guy. I have learned the hard way it is better not to assume anything about another person. My mom (she is 78) is older and assumed something about our pharmacist a couple of days ago. This lady has been very kind to my mother but mother thought she looked pregnant. She asked her to her face when was her baby due. This lady was not pregnant. She was nice when she told my mother she was not, but I feel so bad for her. Never assume things are not always like you think.

  22. Christine

    Haven’t finished reading all of the comments, but I too believe this to be an innocent mistake with no ill intent. Fred most definitely overreacted. I’d say it’d be best to avoid him unless absolutely necessary for work purposes.

    P.S. Love the use of “Fred” and “Ginger” as the pseudonyms!

  23. HR Pufnstuf

    I was a production manager for a number of years supervising employees from rural communities with very traditional lifestyles.

    I cannot count the number of times I was assumed to be married, living with, dating, or breaking hearts when no relationships were going on. It was a simple fix, no yelling or threatening needed.

  24. V

    The OP made a mistake, and while it was an understandable one, I can see how the comment could be harmful to Fred, so I also understand why he felt the need to confront OP, although it sounds like the confrontation was over the top.

    One thing to keep in mind is that Fred does not know why OP made this mistake. It may be that there IS an inappropriate relationship and that there are emails between Fred and Ginger that say more than “hey baby.” If that I were Fred and that were the case, I would assume that OP has read all of those emails and is now sharing that information, and I would freak out too. It is 100% Fred’s problem, and he should have thought of that before using company email for those messages, but it may explain his overreaction. (explain it, not excuse it)

  25. Blue

    I agree that the probability of improper behavior is high. That being said, I agree with the OP who said it is better to say nothing. I had a similar situation at my work, where it took me about six months to figure out my boss was having an affair with my coworker. I never said anything, and it turned out he had been having marital problems since long before, so it was better to have kept my mouth shut. I believe in never judging. What I am shocked at is all the people who think it is appropriate to yell at another coworker. It is fine to express disapproval, but yelling is unprofessional IMHO. I think the OP handled it fine, just apologize, and leave it, but like others said, I would keep my distance in the future.

  26. Wubbie

    I have read many but not read all the comments, so I apologize if this has been addressed.

    My main question about the situation is, would OP have referred to them being married if the “Hay Baby” email had not been seen? If the answer is no, then I think OP commenting on it was completely inappropriate. Publicizing private information in any way whatsoever without explicit permission is simply wrong.

    As another poster said, Fred’s indignation (perfect word for the situation) is completely appropriate. Even if he is cheating on his wife, it is no business of OP to say a single word about it (even accidentally, as happened in this case).

    While, if the details as presented in OP are correct, it is probable that Fred acted too aggressively in confronting OP, it is also true that he has every right to be angry about the situation.

    I am quite certain that there is something about your life that if someone made such an offhand comment about it you would be just as angry as Fred was. Stay out of people’s personal lives.

    1. Amouse

      It’s not appropriate to back someone into a corner and yell at them ever, but at work especially. If people cannot manage their anger in a way that is not threatening and violent to others, they should seek professional help. It also really says something about Fred that he immediately assumed this OP had meant to spread gossip without even seeking clarification. People should not have to be subjected to that kind of loose cannon.

    2. OP

      Hi Wubbie,

      Thanks for replying! I feel I need to clarify that at no point did I ever speak anything to anyone about Fred’s email. Also, I never suggested or even implied anything about Fred having an affair. I did erroneously refer to Ginger as Fred’s wife, and found out about my mistake later.

      Thanks again for replying!
      -OP

  27. Annonomous

    I hear advice to people who let slackers bother them, “Don’t let it bother you if doesn’t affect you.” However, I think this lack of work ethics and attitude toward slackers affects everyone. I work at a job where we share the work. All of our observations have to be in by the end of the week so I can send in my report, which is not accurate unless all are done. My co-worker chooses to wait untll Friday to put hers in , not because she doesn’t have time, but as soon as the children leave, she sits and talks to co-workers until time to go home. Then, she misses Friday and guess who can’t send in an accurate report because her work isn’t put in the computer. I have gone to my supervisor, she runs off the guidelines, that state,”Observations can be put in daily, every two days or at the end of the week.” This is fine for someone who actually cares if the work is done. When you have slackers, new people come into a work place and see how easy it is to socialize, suck up to the boss and have one easy day after another. Well, how is that fair to the people who put in their eight hours? Then we all have to listen to this in center meetings, “You need to work your eight hours, if you want to talk, come in early, don’t do it on work time, get your paper work done on time.” We hear this over and over and over but it is never addressed to the people who actually need it. I think slackers affect everyone! You can’t tell me your work doesn’t suffer if your mind isn’t on it! The people who take up for the slackers must be slackers themselves! Frankly I get tired of people who come to work to stay on the phone, surf the internet and gossip! It does affect everyone and it is contagious!

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