my coworker hit me in the head while I was on a work call

A reader writes:

I work a company that has different rules for different departments, mostly in terms of appearance and attitude. It’s a large company, 500+ nationwide, and is public. During a work-related meeting, I was on the phone with a vendor and was intentionally hit in the head by an SVP…hard. I think he was joking with some other employees and decided to bring me in. The problem is, I’m not his buddy and I wasn’t in the conversation. I was doing my job.

I’m a guy and have taken a punch, but I wasn’t expecting this and it was excessive. This was also in front of my director (immediate supervisor). I became very angry and it showed, and I was told by the SVP that it was in fact hard and he was sorry. I mentioned he shouldn’t be hitting people in the head and was told to calm down.

Meanwhile, my director did nothing to address the situation outside of saying (tongue in cheek), “Oh, I love when things get awkward.”

During the rest of the meeting, I finished my calls, but was silent. I’m a very outgoing person so this was noticed. The SVP, who I might add hits other employees and has on more than one occasion called me homosexual slurs (I’m not gay, not that it matters), came over and shook my hand and apologized, stating that he didn’t mean to make me mad. After a few rebuffs, he started to turn it that I had a problem with not accepting his apology. I did and almost immediately left for the day.

My question is, do you feel I should go to HR? It seems straightforward until I add that this SVP is friendly with my VP and I fear some backlash if anything happens, directly or indirectly. I am currently looking for a new job/company and cannot afford to quit without one, but I want to make sure I’m covered. Any advice is very much appreciated.

Oh, so many problems here: the hitting, the gay slurs, your own manager’s incredibly inappropriate response.

Obviously, it’s not okay to hit someone — let alone in the head, let alone while they’re on the phone. Yes, it sounds like he was joking around with others and you got inadvertently pulled in — so it’s true that it’s not same as if he’d hit you in a moment of rage or something — but it’s really not okay to do, and someone needs to tell him that.

As for your own manager, reacting as if she was a bystander with no role to play was negligent. She should have stepped in.

Now, it’s worth noting that I can’t tell from your letter whether your response was proportionate or not. If the guy basically nudged you (as opposed to truly hitting you), then it’s still out of line, but taking it this seriously and refusing to accept his apology would be unwarranted. But it’s also possible that your response was perfectly warranted by what transpired; I just can’t tell from what’s here.

In any case, I do think you need to talk to someone about this guy overall — not just about this situation, but about this and the gay slurs, which should have no place in a workplace (or anywhere, for that matter). Ideally you’d start with your boss, but if you’re not comfortable talking to her (and given her response here, I can certainly see why you might not be), then HR would be the next place to go.

To be clear, if this wasn’t really a hit and was more of a nudge that came from misplaced joking around, then making a big deal out of it isn’t going to reflect well on you. But if it was truly a hit, and if you’re willing to raise the slurs too, then it’s reasonable to raise it, and a good company would want to know about it.

Since you’re afraid of potential backlash from your boss because she’s friends with this guy, mention that to HR too. They can often take steps to prevent that from happening, but you often need to explicitly explain your worry and ask for help in order to get it.

{ 218 comments… read them below }

  1. Lizabeth*

    I think people are being influenced by the tv show NCIS and the “Gibb hit”. USA Network actually made a commercial promoting NCIS showing a bunch of “Gibb hits”. That said, it’s not right to come out of the blue and hit someone, joke or no joke.

    1. Mimi*

      Can I just say, I seem to be the only one in my family who finds the “Gibb hit” totally obnoxious?? If someone did that to me, even joking around…..I’d be really p*ssed.

      1. PJ*

        As an HR type, I cringe every time I see the Gibb hit. I cringe as an employee too. I’m not convinced this type of hit belongs even within a family. It is rude and demeaning.

        That said, man, I’ve wanted to deliver a few…

      2. Anon*

        Gibbs is a really horrible boss. I used to watch the show and thought “okay, some of this stuff is kinda bad, especially because he’s hitting his subordinates, but, hey, ignore it and watch the show.” After the show fell off my radar, I ended up in a truly toxic environment with a horrible boss that ended up with me going to a crisis center after a weekend of being unable to stop crying.

        Since then, I can’t watch NCIS. All I can see is how terrible a boss Gibbs is. He’s also done things in series that are actually criminal, so there’s probably a good thesis to be written there about hero characters in media vs. how they’d be in real life, and all that. ;)

      1. Lillie Lane*

        I didn’t know the reference either, but I googled “ncis gibb hit” and there is a montage and a few examples on YouTube. Basically it’s a smack on the back of the head.

        1. Acronym Overload*

          I just skimmed through all the comments, hope I didn’t miss this … what is an SVP?

              1. Jessa*

                This exactly. People who touch me without warning get sharp responses. I’m hearing impaired, so if they shock me they’re going to get reacted to. Also I have a back injury you make me jump you hurt me.

                I do not get why ANYONE in an office situation where they are not actively helping someone (stop them from falling or something,) would put hands on another person.

    2. Jazzy Red*

      If my boss hit me, he’s be in the emergency room, and I’d probably be arrested. But he would *never* hit me again.

      It’s never appropriate to hit in the workplace. Or in kindergarten, which is where this jerk of a SVP should have learned that.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      They also get between DC and Norfolk in about 20 minutes in that show. I’ve spent many a cursed hour on 95 wondering about that…

  2. Mike C.*

    I’m a guy and have taken a punch,

    It shouldn’t matter what bits you have or don’t have in your pants, and even if you have taken a punch or two, I’m sure you weren’t bracing for a sucker punch while on the phone.

    By the way, is this the first time these sorts of things have happened before to you or others? You may have simply become accustomed to an increasing level of incredibly bad behavior, but this is incredibly serious.

    1. TheSnarkyB*

      You’re saying that if this were a male coworker who walked up and punched a female coworker who is not even their friend, in the back of the head, we should all think of it the same way?
      That’s just unrealistic and there are reasons (legitimate and less-so) that men hitting women is looked at differently than men hitting men.

      1. Mike C.*

        Yes, where “the same way” means “that’s really terrible and has no place in modern society”. And the same way goes for any permutation of two human combination hitting/being hit.

        I don’t care if there are reasons some out there think it’s fine or “not as bad” for someone to hit or be hit, but all of those reasons are wrong, and there’s no reason for me to entertain them.

        1. Heather*

          Yeah, I’m with Mike C. here. Smacking someone in the workplace is bad, full stop. Doesn’t matter what gender either person is.

          1. Cassie*

            I agree. Some of my coworkers act very young (even though they are +/- 30 yrs old) and frequently punch each other in the arms or push each other. The females seem to feel free to do that to the males, and the males do that to other males, and (less frequently) some females will do that to the males.

            They are not violent punches, but it just comes across as extremely childlike to me. Is this supposed to be some sort of “teamwork” exercise or what?

        1. Anonymous*

          You’d be a fool not to. Contact with the opposite sex carries a much higher chance of being *sexual* harassment rather than the simple form.

          1. bob*

            There is same-sex sexual harassment.

            Also don’t confuse
            P(sexual harassment|different gender)
            P(different gender|sexual harassment)

            You seem to be saying
            P(sexual harassment|different genders) > P(sexual harassment|same genders)
            but we don’t have that kind of evidence. All we know is that
            P(different genders|sexual harassment) > .5

            Further, the item “sexual harassment” is only *reported* sexual harassment. Same gender sexual harassment is often not reported.

      2. Jen in RO*

        I’m sure we would be having a different conversation if a man hit a woman on the head.

  3. Marmite*

    Hitting in the head seems…weird? I work in a male dominated environment, and a fairly young one at that, and there’s a lot of shoulder punching and back slapping and so on, but whacks to the head, nope.

    This question reminded me of the current series of The Apprentice (UK version) where Lord Sugar told one of the guys off for slapping/shaking the person in front of him way too enthusiastically each time his team won!

  4. BCW*

    This is interesting. As someone who jokes around in the office quite a bit, I can definitely see how what was meant to be just a playful thing can get out of hand quickly. I’m guessing that even if it was a bit hard, it wasn’t so much that it hurt as that it was unexpected and that is where the anger came from. Also, if the guy sincerely apologized and you didn’t accept it, unless you really thought he was trying to injure you, that kind of makes you look bad (especially in “guy code”). Unless this is a pattern of intentional and malicious disrespect, I’d be inclined to let it go. Now maybe in the future you have a conversation with him about how thats not how you like to work, joke, etc. But I think it can be chalked up to a joke gone bad.

    What surprises me about this is that A) it was a SVP who did that, since you would think he wouldn’t have gotten to this position if he didn’t know better. and B) that your director did nothing. As far as the gay slurs thing. First off, let me say that I’m in no way condoning it, but without knowing anything about the people involved or location, it could be him just trying to bond. Guys often bond over trading insults with each other. Again, not saying that a gay slur should be considered an insult at all, but some people aren’t PC at all, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are malicious. I do agree that it has no place at work though regardless. But I think that is a separate issue from the hit, and that if you didn’t bring it up before, at this point it would seem like you are just piling on your complaints about him based on your issue with the hit on the head.

    1. Just a Reader*

      Does “guy code” have a place in the workplace though? This all seems egregious regardless of gender, and excusing it just perpetuates unacceptable behavior IMO.

      1. BCW*

        Does it have a place? Probably not. But its there. Rightly or wrongly I think there are some things that a guy could move beyond easier if a woman did it to him than if another guy did it. I think for many guys, if they found out a woman was talking about him behind their back but being nice to their face, their reaction would be very different if they found out another guy was doing the same thing. It may not be popular to say it out loud, but I think its there in many cases.

        1. TL*

          You know what’s a good way to get something that *probably* doesn’t belong in the workplace – like “guy code” – out of the workplace?
          Stop tolerating it.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, of course, but I think BCW is talking about the way people often think — not that they should, but that they do, and that it’s useful to consider that. Whether it’s right or wrong and whether you think they should or shouldn’t, it’s still valid information that they do.

            1. TL*

              You’re right; I’ve just had one too many experiences where vile behavior has been excused because “boys will be boys” or “guy code” so I may have read this wrong.

              If BCW was bringing it up as a “be aware that some people will think X because guy code, so escalating might not be a good idea” then that’s really valid. But if (and how I initially read it) they’re saying “excuse it because guy code exists” – that’s a stance I really dislike.

                1. BCW*

                  I wasn’t excusing anything. More providing a possible thought process and context to how things can end up. I think people are taking a lot of what I said to be defending the guy. That was never my intention. However, I was saying I see how something like this could be taken too far when there wasn’t an intent to be anything harmful. I think saying “I see how this could happen” is very different then saying “There is nothing wrong with this situation”. I don’t know this SVP, but he sounds pretty immature, definitely inappropriate, but I don’t know that I’d say he is a jerk. Take a show like the office. Most people loved Jim, but a lot of the things he did were things that weren’t really office appropriate and very immature. But no one really thought he was a bad guy.

                2. VintageLydia*

                  A lot of people liked Michael Scott, too, but that doesn’t mean anyone would actually like to work with either of them.

                  Look, using gay slurs and hitting people are generally considered bad things, in AND out of work, “guy code” be damned. So yeah, this guy is a jerk, full stop.

                3. TL*

                  I understand that joking behavior can go too far easily sometimes, but the person who got out of hand needs to realize – and quickly – how inappropriate their behavior was and that it was out of hand. Especially if it involved deliberately hitting someone who wasn’t even involved in the first place.
                  The proper response to make it absolutely clear that their behavior is wrong and will not be tolerated, no matter how they got there.
                  At this stage, the OP doesn’t need to be overly concerned with motive – I would be much more worried about setting boundaries.
                  Now, if the OP is still holding a grudge a year later, then, sure, an “it was meant to be a joke; the offender understands and has changed their behavior” conversation and thought process would be helpful.

                4. Anonymous*

                  BCW, you realize that Jim Halpert is a FICTIONAL character who probably would have been fired pretty darn quickly, right?

            2. Mike C.*

              But it’s not a very useful thing to discuss. Yes, some folks out there act like wild dogs as a form of socialization. No one disagrees with that.

              The interesting discussion comes from “What now?”

              1. TL*

                I think it’s useful in terms of considering all possible consequences of bringing it to HR. In a more general conversation, it may not be useful but for a specific event about one person’s decision, I think it could be really useful.

    2. Mike C.*

      It’s not appropriate to bond over insults against discriminated groups.

      The whole idea that “boys will be boys” needs to stop, it causes too much harm in too many places.

      1. BCW*

        I agree that using discriminated groups as your insult isn’t good. But as I said, not being PC doesn’t necessarily mean its malicious.

        The whole boys will be boys thing, I kind of see your point. But the fact is that women and men have different behaviors. While I don’t think those should be “excuses” for certain behaviors, I do think you can’t disregard it completely either. In my management classes during my MBA, this was something that was definitely discussed, because its not good to ignore these differences in what how society conditions men and women to act.

        Aside from this, I’m a person who (and I may very well be in the minority) likes to look at intent behind something.

        1. Just a Reader*

          It just doesn’t matter. That’s not acceptable behavior. And the longer it’s excused as such, the more people will be made uncomfortable at work and told to suck it up under the bro code.

          Also, management classes aren’t reality. Approaching men and women differently in the workplace means softening an approach, being more direct, something like that–not putting up with homophobic slurs and hitting.

          1. Felicia*

            It doesn’t matter if it’s malicious or not. It hurts people and if people stop excusing it maybe people will stop using gay as an insult, because it’s never okay.

            1. Jessa*

              Exactly. The intent of the actor has nothing to do with anything. The result of an action is the way the person it happens to receives it. Intent is not magic. An immediate and sincere apology (not one of those I’m sorry you got mad things,) may mitigate it, but it doesn’t change that a person was hit, or insulted or anything else.

          2. Ash*

            “Approaching men and women differently in the workplace means softening an approach, being more direct, something like that”

            Uh, not really. Just treat each individual like an individual, regardless of their sex, orientation, whatever. Some men needs to be handled with kid gloves and some women can be handled in a direct manner, so…Who cares?

        2. Min*

          As a gay woman who regularly had to hear the men I worked with “bond” by calling each other gay, I’m sick up to my eyeteeth with the whole “PC” / “non-PC” thing.

          It’s not about political correctness. It’s unbelievably insulting to have someone insult another person by comparing them to you. It has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with humanity and respect.

          Writing it off as bonding or just non-PC is bullshit pure and simple.

          1. Emily*

            Hear hear, Min! It’s not about being PC or not, it’s about being a decent person who respects other people – and ultimately, whether someone means to be malicious with their slurs-as-bonding or not, the intent isn’t to be inclusive and thoughtful towards others, so if intent matters, that matters.

        3. Meg*

          I understand your point about looking at intent, because it can make a difference in some situations. But in a case like this, there are too many people who use derogatory slurs as insults and defend themselves by saying “Well I didn’t mean it like THAT”. It really doesn’t matter. We as a society need to stop using the word “gay” as an insult, and if we let it slide because it wasn’t done maliciously, then it perpetuates the idea that it’s ok to use that word.

        4. TBoT*

          Every time I’ve ever heard anyone use the “boys will be boys” justification, it has been for something that is blatantly not acceptable, like commenting over the length of women’s skirts or the size of their breasts, physically boisterous behavior in a conservative work environment, or, in my case, physically picking up female employees at a public lake and throwing them in. There’s a big difference between “men and women behave differently” and the kinds of actions that usually prompt someone to say, “Well, boys will be boys.”

        5. Mike C.*

          The action doesn’t have to be malicious for the action to be harmful. By making jokes like that, it normalizes discriminatory behavior.

        6. Heather*

          I’m just going to say +1 for every single response to this comment. You guys all nailed it.

        7. Leslie Yep*

          Look, basically the point of “political correctness” is that a particular group of people, which has experienced consistent bad treatment in the past that has negatively impacted their life chances, has told you, “Hey, please stop ______. It’s hurtful.”

          Anytime someone tells you you’re hurting them, and you choose to continue, it’s malicious. Anytime someone tells you you’re hurting them and you ignore it or downplay it or assume it doesn’t apply to you, it’s malicious.

          The rules of “PC” weren’t just made up to bum you out. It’s a collection of requests by marginalized people to help make their lives incrementally better.

          1. VintageLydia*


            Someone who bristles at “having to be PC” in my book is advertising that they’re a giant bigoted jerk who can’t even be bothered to be polite. They usually are hollering about free speech rights, but that’s besides the point.

          2. Schnauz*

            “The rules of “PC” weren’t just made up to bum you out. It’s a collection of requests by marginalized people to help make their lives incrementally better.”


        8. khilde*

          “Aside from this, I’m a person who (and I may very well be in the minority) likes to look at intent behind something.”

          I am with you, BCW. I see where you’re trying to analyze this from and I agree that trying to understand intent can be very helpful in weighing options for the best way to approach and deal with the person.

          1. Anonymous*

            In normal circumstances, sure. But once someone starts behaving in unwanted violence and discriminatory behavior, I don’t really give a flying *bleep* about their “intent.” I’m just going to do everything in my power to put a fast, hard stop to it.

        9. Elizabeth*

          Aside from this, I’m a person who (and I may very well be in the minority) likes to look at intent behind something.

          Intent is not magical. Intent is meaningless in the face of reality.

          I suspect the SVP in the original post didn’t intend to assault the OP, but he did. I also suspect he didn’t intend to present himself as a thug & bully, but he did.

          You may not have intended to present a first-class defense of dude-bro culture & behavior, but that was what you provided.

          1. BCW*

            Please, get over yourself. Your “dude-bro culture” thing you are trying to spout is ridiculous. If you read what I said, I never condoned anything he did. However, I did say that what he did probably wasn’t meant to be how it was. People take things in a variety of ways based on how they feel at the time, their upbringing, the setting, and many other things. So to just disregard my statement because you don’t agree is pretty ignorant on your part.

            1. Jessa*

              What he meant really has no bearing on what HAPPENED. What he ended up DOING is what counts.

            2. VintageLydia*

              I’ll use the tried-and-true “stepping on one’s foot” analogy and try to apply it here. The SVP may have stepped on the LW’s foot thinking for whatever reason that it’s something the LW would welcome. When the LW responded (POLITELY! More politely than I!) that it was indeed NOT something he liked, the SVP SHOULD HAVE responded with a sincere apology. Because that’s what one does when you hurt someone else, even on accident. The SVP did not respond with a sincere apology, and in fact TOOK BACK the already suspect apology when the LW didn’t respond exactly how he hoped. So yeah, intent doesn’t matter, but it ESPECIALLY doesn’t matter when you’re given a chance to apologize and correct your future behavior and DON’T TAKE IT.

              BTW, your “guy code”, every time you describe it (this isn’t the first comments section you brought it up) is pretty much everything I associate “dude-bro” behavior to be, so no, I don’t think Elizabeth’s assertions are ridiculous. It’s not a cute attitude in frat boys, and certainly not acceptable for executives.

              1. BCW*

                You are right, if you step on someone’s foot, they deserve an apology. But if you step on someones foot and its clearly an accident, but they get super pissed off well they don’t come off looking too good either in that case. Point being, if you stomp on someone’s foot with the purpose of injuring them, or you accidentally step on it, yes the outcome is the same, but if you really don’t see a difference in the 2 situations, then I feel sorry for anyone who has to be around you. Heaven forbid they do something by accident.

                I’m fairly certain I’ve never brought up “guy code” before. I’ve probably brought up the younger male perspective in things, so if you associate that with guy code, then thats a leap on your part. If you think I’m wrong, feel free to show me a post where I used that term. I have no idea what your background is, but I’m fairly sure me and you are on opposite ends of the spectrum. However, I don’t see why if I defend or even bring up possibilities of why I act certain ways I tend to get blasted quite often, when people on this board generalize groups ALL THE TIME. How many times have I seen things on here that just bash younger workers just because they don’t know what people think they “should know”. Even in this group there is a “joke” about Canadians. But heaven forbid I bring up a plausible reason for a guy to have a certain behavior.

                1. VintageLydia*

                  The SVP didn’t accidentally step on the LWs foot, though. He did it on purpose and SHOCKER, the LW wasn’t pleased, and the non-apology that was offered hardly made up for it. I don’t know why this is such a difficult concept for you. My best friends and I are sarcastic bitches to each other. I sometimes let that attitude slip around other people, TOTALLY in jest, and occasionally it offends someone. I am in the wrong in that situation, even though it was something I thought they may like, and I apologize for it. This is basic social calibration stuff. Like, pre-school level. Literally. My friend’s preschooler is learning this stuff in class.

                2. Forrest*

                  I think the reason you may get “blasted often” in regards to some of your comments is because they come across as defending someone at the cost of actual evidence.

                  I think the most obvious case is the ex-boyfriend who wanted to work at the same place as the OP – despite her tell him to not contact her repeatedly. You sided with the boyfriend even though there was justifiable reason for the OP to be concerned and it was almost like you were dismissing her in order to defend a social group that you belong to (young men.)

                  And I’ve noticed this in other cases – you often mention that you’re a minority in relevance cases but it seems like you only mention it to give you more authority – but in a lot of cases you put down the concerns of a minority group (women).

                  I reading the archives this weekend and came across the open post about how blue collar parents affect their kids’ careers. You clearly had issues with the topic being discussed at all and on one comment, where a reader was explaining how her blue collar mother impeded her career, you responded as if you didn’t really read her comment at all and just wanted your point to be proven.

                  So I think that’s may be way some people respond to you in a particular way. Its almost like you come at certain topics like they’re an attack on you, you personally. They’re not.

                3. Anonymous*

                  I think part of the reason you’re getting so much flack here is because you stick so wholly to your guns that there is a “plausible” reason for someone to intentionally hit someone in the head and call them derogatory slurs in the office. There’s not. Being a younger male who doesn’t want to be PC doesn’t excuse ANYTHING. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, as is ignorance of professional norms. If someone called me a gay slur even in jest, I would be talking to their manager and HR so fast their head would spin. And just because that’s the “perspective of the younger male” does NOT mean that I’m wrong to do so. I’m not oppressing his right to have his “perspective,” I’m simply asserting my right not to engage in childish behavior in the office.

                  And calling someone (I assume) a “f****t” or a “d**e” in the office might be something that some old school boys clubs still engage in, but the fact is that it’s poisonous language (intentional or not) that needs TO BE NIPPED IN THE BUD. Same with unwanted horseplay.

                  tl;dr: Your (universal) right to follow “guy code” absolutely doesn’t trump other’s right to be treated with decency and respect. And if someone gets pissed off about the way you act, throwing “but I didn’t mean it that way/guy code/calm down/you’re too sensitive” or reacting negatively when someone doesn’t immediately want to be best buds with you following the infraction is simply compounding that disrespect, and shows that you don’t take it as seriously as it deserves.

        10. Ash*

          Men and women shouldn’t be conditioned to act differently because we’re lead to believe that men should be aggressive and dominant and women should be meek and polite. By treating men and women differently because of socialization, you are just reinforcing the societal conditioning and it’s idiotic and backwards and it needs to stop. Just treat people like people.

    3. PJ*

      My HR alarms are ringing off the hook! If you must insult an entire group of people or accept an apology for being hit in order to “bond” with your male co-workers, there is something SERIOUSLY wrong with your working environment.

    4. soapyme*

      1. The point of an apology is to make the person you are apologizing to feel better, not to make yourself feel better. He does not need to accept an apology just because one was made.

      2. You can’t dismiss someone who casually tosses off gay slurs as being less PC than others. Gay slurs suggest that being gay is abnormal, undesirable, or disgusting, which is not true.

      3. I don’t need to know anything further about the people or location involved – if hitting and gay slurs are considered no big deal, that is not the kind of environment I want to be in.

    5. Girasol*

      There is a pattern of malicious disrespect, though. This isn’t the first time he’s done this and this isn’t the only person he’s doing it to. If someone could stop it, they would have. The direct manager sounds like he’s covering his own feelings of discomfort with it. But he said it was awkward, so the senior manager knows this isn’t perceived as appropriate behavior. This culture doesn’t sound like a healthy one.

  5. College Career Counselor*

    The whole thing (physical blows, slurs) sounds like bullying behavior to me by the SVP. Curious whether the SVP also hits women in the head or otherwise. I’m willing to bet he does not, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s appropriate because it’s confined to men. Besides the apparent cavalier attitude by the OP’s director, I note the SVP’s attempt to make the OP at fault. (The OP has a “problem” not accepting the apology, etc.)

    I’d have a hard time accepting that apology, too. I wonder if the strategy to say something like, “I need you not to hit me or use homophobic slurs–can you do that” would work. For the record, I can’t imagine having to say this to someone–frankly, if someone was doing that to me in the first place, I doubt they would take me seriously. Or if something stronger would be warranted? “If you ever hit me again, I will press charges for assault”?

      1. Jessica*

        Particularly in the fact that they seem to have called the OP into the meeting just so the SVP could throw a punch at him – basically treating him like a non-person. And then they give him crap for not graciously accepting an apology?! Personally, I hope the OP pursues the harshest course of retaliation available. Anyone who hits someone else at work should be fired.

        1. fposte*

          I’m not reading it as they brought him in to the meeting to hit him–I think the OP, who was already at the meeting and talking to a vendor, meant that the SVP was engaging in horseplay and decided to include the OP in the stupidity.

    1. Girasol*

      I had a manager who liked to try to humiliate people in front of his staff then apologize in private. Same pattern over and over: bully in public, apologize in private. I suspect he thought that he could look big in front of his team however he pleased, and “sorry” meant that his behavior didn’t count.

  6. T-riffic*

    I would absolutely have a hard time accepting this guy’s apology. I mean, for the sake of group dynamics in the moment I might say something like “I understand that you didn’t mean to hurt me, so I forgive you for that.” But, in my head I’d be thinking “What the eff is wrong with you that you can’t control yourself in the work place. Like h**l you didn’t know how hard you were hitting.” I would be angry for a while. And it’s not just the physical pain, there’s definitely an element of embarrassment here too.

  7. The IT Manager*

    Unrelated to the main issues, I am having a very hard time picturing a meeting during which someone is on a phone to a vendor and another group is horsing around to include slaps/hit to the head. That meeting is out of control!

    1. fposte*

      Exactly. I have a hard time understanding what even happened here–it wasn’t even getting hit in the head by a flying basketball or something that got out of bounds. Somebody deliberately struck somebody who was *doing his work*. I mean, setting aside the issue of how hard a hit it may or may not have been, what kind of dumbass office wants to interfere with people when they’re doing work?

    2. Andie*

      +100!! I was thinking the same thing. What kind of meeting is going on where a person is on the phone with others fooling around in same area? Maybe this was at the end of the meeting where people kind of hang around and chat before going back to their offices.

    3. tcookson*

      I am having a very hard time picturing a meeting during which someone is on a phone to a vendor and another group is horsing around

      Watch almost any episode of The Office.

      1. Elizabeth*

        It is frightening to me that a pseudo-documentary of how not to behave in a professional setting seems to have been taken as a how-to manual for managerial behavior in some quarters.

  8. Rob Aught*

    I like to joke around at work to. I receive as much as I give and it’s all in good fun. We try to keep the mood light and I don’t mind if my employees see me as a real human being.

    However, I really consider physical contact off limits in general. Maybe the occasional handshake at most especially when interviewing but I just really make a point of not touching anyone at work. This is not a “scared of potential harassment lawsuit” behavior but more of a personal comfort issue.

    Any kind of physical contact that could be considered violent, even if it is done jokingly and without much force coming from a position of authority can come across as intimidating. I’m all for being the voice of authority when it is called for, but I don’t want to make anyone afraid to approach me.

    In short, I can’t think of any context this action could be considered appropriate at work.

    Also, I get gay slurs as further joking around, but with two gay employees I have no desire to see their feelings hurt. That would need to be shut down right away. Do what you want outside the office but please don’t take a blunt instrument to any employee’s morale.

    1. fposte*

      A lot of the non-gay employees will be a lot closer to their gay sibs, kids, parents, and friends than they will be to the chuckleheads at work, too. Talking smack about people’s family and friends will make a workplace plenty divisive in its own right. That’s the problem with bonding based on an out group–it’s based on an in group and an out group, and a workplace is going to have both. So, not so bondy, really.

      1. Kara*

        Exactly. Some of my closest friends and family members are gay. None of my coworkers, past or present, fall into the “very close friend/family member” category.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I get gay slurs as further joking around, but with two gay employees I have no desire to see their feelings hurt.

      Even without those two gay employees, it’s not appropriate. Just like it’s not okay to make racist or anti-semitic remarks because there are no non-whites or Jews in the room.

      1. Rob Aught*

        I agree, I just know that it happens. Guys do it all the time because it is an easy insult, or is at least perceived as one.

        I wouldn’t be comfortable with it in general, but because of the two employees on my team it goes from merely immature and unprofessional right into downright hurtful.

        I think without homosexuals in the workplace it is a bad idea because I think it suggests that discrimination against them is ok or that they are not welcome there. What happens if you get a really good candidate who happens to be gay?

        So basically, I agree. It’s just I see this hitting a lot closer to home in my particular circumstance.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’d guess it would hit close to home regardless — as fposte points out, plenty of employees will have people close to them who are gay.

          1. Jessa*

            Not to mention, they may have a dozen gay employees but not know it. How would they know necessarily if some of them are not out at work or some of them just don’t discuss their private lives?

            1. Kerry*

              And they’re *especially* not going to come out at work if there are gay slurs being thrown around by management…

  9. Daria*

    What the HELL? I would not act graciously if someone hit me on the head. That is not acceptable at all. The fact your manager did not step in just floors me. It’s okay to be angry about it. I likely would have punched him right back out sheer reflex if it had happened to me.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I know; I was thinking, per someone else’s comment, that if the SVP’s intent was to humiliate, it would backfire horribly, because the hittee has no reason to be embarrassed. I would be like, “Ow! OW! That hurt! What the hell are you doing?” Any blustering he does after that makes him look like an ass. If the atmosphere is that bad that he can repeatedly do this and get away with it, then it’s time to leave. The gay slurs are bad enough, but HITTING someone in the head? Seriously, WTF?

  10. Lisa*

    We always assume that HR is a diff animal, but the reality is the SVP is the SVP for HR too. How do we know that HR is comfortable talking to the SVP about inappropriate behavior? I always think the worst, because in my experience, higher-ups are never treated the same as a co-worker in the next cube.

    1. Just a Reader*

      I don’t understand what “the SVP is the SVP for HR too” means?

      That job function doesn’t necessarily oversee or have anything to do with HR, just because it’s a high title.

      1. Lisa*

        I am basically saying that SVP is higher than HR too even if that job doesn’t oversee HR. HR dept doesn’t exist in a vacuum, where they are protected from indirect or direct blacklash for pointing out any higher up in the organization is doing something unprofessional.

        1. Just a Reader*

          Ah. Well, not necessarily. It depends how they’re structured. Our head of HR sits in the C suite.

          1. blu*

            Same here, I’m in HR and we roll up to the SEVP of HR who reports directly to the CEO. Where this SVP falls in relation to HR depended entirely on that particular company’s org structure.

  11. Laura*

    In my classroom, physical contact is where it stops. There is no argument about it. It doesn’t matter what it “is.” It matters that it happened.

  12. JR*

    Yeah, it’s NEVER okay to use gay slurs in any way at any time no matter what. I mean, come on! It’s 2013 people need to get with it.

  13. theotherjennifer*

    don’ I don’t care who you are or what your title is or wtf you think you are doing – joke or not. Physical contact in the workplace – absolutely not.

  14. Mary*

    I am in shock the the OP’s manager didn’t report this. I realize that the SVP is above him/her in rank and title; but for her not to report the hit is gross negligence on her part. If I were the OP, I would, as a courtesy, tell my manager that I am reporting this to HR. This gives him/her a chance to report it themselves (which is the right thing to do). Once a proper functioning HR hears what happened and that the OP’s manager witnessed this and didn’t report it, they should be in big trouble. This SVP is setting up the company for a lawsuit.

  15. Natalie*

    This SVP could stand to follow the rules an old friend of mine always used:

    1. Don’t hit.
    2. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
    3. You can’t hit the high notes in The Police’s “Roxanne”.

  16. Jane*

    Unwanted touching of any kind is just crazy as far as I am concerned. Shaking hands is as far as I would ever go in terms of touching a colleague and it’s clearly not unwanted if I reach out and the other person also sticks his or her hand out to meet mine. Might seem extreme to some, but I can’t imagine going to work at a place where any type of unwanted touching would be OK. I don’t care abou the gender. If it’s unwanted, it’s not right, period. I would hope that most workplaces have an extremely low tolerance (if not zero tolerance) policy for unwanted touching in this day and age and would be shocked and dismayed if that were not the case. Gay slurs – definitely zero tolerance should be in effect. That is insane to me that that would ever be tolerated.

  17. Christine*

    Whoa….definitely not a work environment I’d enjoy! I’d don’t mind a little bit of lighthearted ribbing, but I too draw the line at physical contact and jabs that could be easily taken as offensive, even if that’s not the intention. It’s especially distracting when it occurs around work areas while others are trying to focus–this has happened to me at one job, and it is not fun.

    My only qualm is the fact that the OP didn’t accept the apology. I guess I’m too forgiving (I usually accept apologies reflexively) and I wasn’t there to hear the tone of voice, but if no malice was intended, I would’ve accepted but try to make clear that, yes, that was kinda hard!

    1. edj3*

      If the apology said “I’m sorry you feel hurt/whatever,” it’s not an apology.

      If the apology said “I’m sorry you can’t take a joke,” it’s not an apology.

      Unless the apologist took responsibility for screwing up, it wasn’t an apology.

      1. fposte*

        Yup. Apologies start with “I’m sorry I….” A statement that starts with “I’m sorry if…” or “I’m sorry you…” (or even, in a case like this, “I’m sorry things…”) is not really an apology.

    2. A Bug!*

      I think the fact that the SVP basically withdrew his apology when it wasn’t accepted indicates that it wasn’t genuinely given.

      An apology conditional on forgiveness isn’t an apology; it’s a negotiation.

    3. TL*

      I feel something like a very calm, “That was completely inappropriate and needs to never happen again.” would’ve been a good response to an apology. Or “Just make sure it never happens again.”

  18. Jane*

    The only time unwanted touching would be OK is if it were truly an accident. I’ve bumped into people before. It happens because we have a bunch of blind corners in my office and we both laugh it off because it’s also kind of amusing. I don’t even hug work colleagues I am friends with when we are at work. Outside of the office, if we are very very close friends and I know they are comfortable with it, that is another story.

    1. Chinook*

      Semi off topic joke about accidentally bumping into people and apologies: How can you tell the Canadian in a group of people? Bump into each of them. The one who apologizes when you bump into them is the Canadian.

      1. fposte*

        Did you ever see the excellent little comedy An American in Canada?After a work flameout, U.S. anchorman ends up in Calgary (or “Cal-Gary,” as he pronounces it), and he’s freaked out on the plane heading there when people keep apologizing to him for letting him bump into them.

        1. Natalie*

          They use a similar joke in How I Met Your Mother – Robin, the Canadian transplant to NYC, goes to a Canadian bar in Manhattan. She straight up body-checks someone from behind, and he apologizes and offers her a donut.

          1. Chinook*

            How I Met Your Mother has tons of Canadian references, and only some of them are fake. Their subtlest one is the Tim Hortons coffee can they use for their cigarette butts on the roof.

          2. Canuck*

            Cobie Smulders is from Vancouver, so I love all the Vancouver Canucks references in the show!

    2. Jessa*

      Honestly if there are blind corners that people walk into others in your office, someone needs to put up one of those curved corner mirrors. There’s no real excuse for that.

      As for someone being stupid about an accident, that really IS stupid.

      However, any form of roughhousing, game playing, acting up, that accidentally or on purpose hits anyone, is wrong. Period full stop. There’s no excuse for that kind of action in an office unless you’re in the gym playing a team sport or something.

      If you’re funning around or whatever you want to call it, and you involve an innocent party, it’s wrong.

  19. Jane*

    I also have to add that I think an apology is meaningless under the circumstances. You can’t sexually harass someone and get away with it by apologizing. So why should you be able to engage in any other sort of unwanted touching and get away with it by apologizing. There should be some kind of consequence up to and including termination.

    1. Jane*

      I should clarify that I think if it’s truly an accident an apology is warranted and should be accepted. That said, even if it’s an accident and you seriously injure the person I’m not sure an apology would get you off the hook in a reasonable professional office environment. I wouldn’t say that termination would be warranted, but you might not be so easily let off the hook.

      1. Chinook*

        A true apology also should have happened immediately after hitting someone. An adult shouldn’t have to have someone point out to that hurting someone is a bad thing and the other person deserves an apology.

  20. Angry Writer*

    It took me to “I mentioned he shouldn’t be hitting people in the head and was told to calm down” that I realized this was NOT metaphor but a literal HIT TO THE HEAD. Whoa.

  21. WWWONKA*

    I laugh at the part about going to HR. I worked for a very large company. There were massive amounts of complaints about a co supervisor that went untouched. I also went to HR about a very serious situation(s) I was aware of regarding my manager and his manager. They told me without ever discussing with me that there was nothing to substantiate my claims. RHIP Rank Has It’s Priveledge/Power. I find HR to be useless. Since this person will be leaving it’s best to shut up and not burn the bridge.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Depends very much on the company and the particular issue at hand. Complaints about a manager’s incompetence might be ignored in the same organization that will act quickly on reports of sexual harassment, for instance.

      1. WWWONKA*

        Mine were regarding sexual harassment as well as other unethical behavior. All it did was cast a dark cloud over my head. I saw too many times when the HR department did not do a thing. In another situation, they had an investigation regarding the other Supervisor. After they “interrogated” me and others they wanted me to sign a typed statement which I refused and told them point blank they had a reputation for not doing anything and I would not sign. Seen to much of this. HR is useless for anything more than getting you set up with you benefits.

        1. Rob Aught*

          Really depends on the company. I’ve had many negative run-ins with HR in the past as well, but where I work currently they are great even though they get put in some impossible situations.

          It is unfortunate that you have no confidence in your HR department but what happens at your company does not happen everywhere.

  22. JamieG*

    I would have a really hard time accepting an apology in that situation as well. It wasn’t an accident; the SVP intentionally hit him! Given the context, I can’t help but read the apology as more a “I’m sorry you’re mad about being hit” than “I’m sorry I hit you”; apologies are for accidents, not a get-out-of-jail-free card for something you knew you shouldn’t have done.

    I’m just glad I don’t work there; the day I get smacked by one of my supervisors at work would 100% be the last day I worked there.

  23. Anonymous*

    To hell with HR. Go to the police and press criminal assault and harassment charges.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Based on what’s here, it’s unlikely to be something the police would get involved with and the OP could end up just looking ridiculous.

          1. Anonymous*

            Well, at the *very* least, a Hostile Work Environment complaint needs to be filed with the relevant state Dept of Labor. I would trust HR with this as far as I could throw the average office building.

            1. HR Pufnstuf*

              Hostile as it may seem, it doesn’t meet the legal definition of “hostile work environment”.

                1. fposte*

                  “Hostile work environment” has a specific legal meaning; it doesn’t just mean a workplace where things are hostile. It means an environment that is discriminatory or harassing based on people’s being in a protected category. It also needs to be considerably more than a one-off (and it’s not the DOL but the EEOC that deals with it).

                2. Anonymous*

                  Well, at the very least, it would most likely be worth lawyering up. OP has a room of witnesses who saw him/her get struck by the SVP.

                3. fposte*

                  Lawyer up for what? If we agree he shouldn’t report it as a crime, that leaves litigation–which is about getting money for financial injury. He hasn’t lost any money.

                4. fposte*

                  For a single moment of horseplay? The only lawyers who’d touch it would be dishonorable ones who’d do it on retainer, otherwise known as “a donation to the attorney of your choice,” because there’s no money for them to take a percentage of if they win, which they wouldn’t. And even if he had a great case, nothing would happen to benefit him for years, and in the mean time he’d lose his job and hinder his hireability elsewhere.

                5. Anonymous*

                  It’s not horseplay. It’s a PUNCH TO THE HEAD.

                  You keep playing armchair attorney. Would you like me to play armchair psychiatrist and point out what your repeated defense of the SVP’s acts says about you?

                6. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Anonymous, you’re both out of line here and wrong on the facts. No reasonable lawyer would take this on, as there’s no case. You don’t seem to understand workplace law, or how things like this are typically resolved in an office. That’s fine — if people couldn’t learn here, there would be no point — but it’s not cool to attack someone trying to explain this stuff to you.

  24. HR Pufnstuf*

    I’ve worked with 2 Managers at separate times (and companies) that learned management style from their College fraternity experience.
    Fortunately for them (and their reports) they learned how ineffective and damaging to professional relationships this can be. Both are much better now.

    Can’t say the same thing for the SVP.

  25. Lora*

    What the…? I just… I don’t even.

    The closest I have ever experienced with horsing around in a workplace was a colleague sneaking up on me and yelling BOO. Which resulted in my shrieking at the top of my lungs and a manager running into the room to see if I had been attacked by an axe murderer.

    Punching colleagues? And the boss stands by and watches, doing nothing? I work in a very male-dominated environment, often I have been the only woman in my group/department, and never, NEVER do the dudebros ever hit each other. They tease each other about girlfriends/wives, they make tasteless Your Mom jokes, they talk about sports and teevee and organize trips to BBQ shacks and places that have those “eat the whole (whatever) and you win a prize” type of lunches. They take the male interns out to the nudie bar for their last day of work, they organize happy hours on Fridays, they play golf and drink cheap beer. They don’t punch each other. I’m pretty sure most of em have never punched anything, ever, not even a punching bag at the gym. Seriously, I’ve been working in male-dominated jobs for 13 years, and I’ve never seen anyone throw a punch at work. Not even the oil roughnecks.

    I wish I knew what to say about dbags like this, but I really don’t. I would talk to HR at least, but they might not be able to do anything.

  26. HR Pufnstuf*

    Years ago I was working as a counselor for adolescents with behavioral problems, tough crowd. I went to my Director, a woman I had a great relationship, with the idea of changing our focus from simple housing to a more life-skills focus for later teens. I was excited and animated, her reaction was a slap across my face. It wasn’t hard but it was felt, and I could see she instantly regretted it after seeing the look on my face. She apologized, I accepted and we moved on. I forgave but never forgot.

    What’s the point? Good people can do bad things too, make it clear they are never to do it again and go forward.

    1. Kara*

      Wait, what? You proposed making a change at work and your boss slapped you in the face? Are you serious? I don’t even understand this.

    2. fposte*

      Holy Valhalla, I’m with Kara on finding this absolutely insane. Was there any mitigating circumstance or surrounding pressure? Was she trying to *jokingly* slap your face (is that even a thing?)?

      1. Anonymous*

        @fposte – You find a slap to the face “absolutely insane”, and yet you’re practically chomping at the bit to defend the SVP who punched the OP in the head?

        I hope that we never become coworkers. Ever.

        1. fposte*

          I think you’re spoiling for your own fight, for reasons I don’t understand, but I think even annoyed as you are, you can see that my disagreement with you about the role of a lawsuit isn’t the same thing as cheering on a punching.

          1. Anonymous*

            Ah, so now you’re playing armchair attorney *and* armchair psychiatrist?

            Your trollery has become too obvious. I’m done interacting with you.

            1. jesicka309*

              Says the poster who is hiding behind ‘anonymous’. fposte is on here regularly, and always has something constructive or insightful to say, and says it in a respectful way, even if not everyone agrees with it.
              I have no idea who you are, because you’re hiding behind an anonymous handle…tbh, you’re the one coming across as confrontational and trollike, not fposte.
              Just some food for thought.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Calling one of our most insightful, fair, and thoughtful commenters a troll is so bizarre that I’m assuming you’re not of sound mind at the moment. Please no more attacks of this sort. Thank you.

              1. Not so NewReader*

                @ fposte and AAM:

                You guys rock.
                Thank you for continuing to share you time and thoughts here.

              2. MeganO*

                100% agree. fposte, I always look forward to your posts – in my experience you’re unfailingly insightful, sensitive, and polite. Please know this mostly-lurker appreciates you!

          2. Ariancita*

            Ha! You’re about as much of a troll as I am the Jolly Green Giant (I’m 5’2). You’re one of my favorite commenters here–always carefully thought out–even if I don’t always agree. You are unequivocally thoughtful, insightful, and fair with a degree of balance and neutrality rarely seen in a comments section (wish I could claim the same for myself, but…alas :) something to strive for though!). Rock on, fposte! Rock. On.

    3. Anonymous*

      “What’s the point?”

      The point is that her career should have taken a nosedive after that incident.

      1. HR Pufnstuf*

        Her career shouldn’t have “nose-dived” , she was a good director and manager and it never had to go beyond us.

        The reason for a slap was she had just finished a meeting with the board and had proposed almost exactly what I proposed to her. It wasn’t in anger, just in her shocked surprise(?) I don’t really know but I can say she instantly regretted it and apologized. She only had to do it once for me to accept. As I stated before, it wasn’t okay with me and she knew it.

        My point is there was not need to take it further, end careers, go to the police, or fashion a voodoo doll to stick pins in.

        1. Maire*

          Hmmm, no I’m still not getting the reason for the slap in the face. Still completely unacceptable as far as I can see. It’s not normal to react to someone by slapping them in the face.

          1. Kara*

            Right. I’ve been shocked, surprised, and had my opinions differ from my boss’s. None of those reactions have resulted in face-slapping. That is insane.

        2. Joey*

          Except that good managers dont slap ever. Do you think by your inaction you sent a message that this was condoned and that there would be no consequences for what’s typically a fireable offense?

          1. HR TomatoPaste*

            There wasn’t inaction. I made it very clear it wasn’t okay and she understood that to be the case.

        3. Tinker*

          This just seems bizarre. It commonly happens that I propose an idea to my boss that is the same as their own, yet I’ve never been slapped, nor would I think that I would be slapped, by them. I don’t see where one gets from “great minds think alike” to “I should hit someone in the face at work”.

          While I agree that there was no need to call the police and that ending the person’s career over this incident would be excessive, at the same time actually hitting someone else at work is usually something that comes with significant consequences. Shouldn’t a manager have a bit better impulse control than THAT?

          1. HR TomatoPaste*

            Yes, a manager should have better impulse control that that and displayed better impulse control after the slap.

  27. Not so NewReader*

    OP, FWIW, I would have a very hard time accepting the apology. I can just picture you sitting there, the sting of the hit still raging and here he is apologizing.
    That would not work out for me. I would be sitting on my fists or clutching the table in effort not to strike back.

    Ok, so Alison said calling the police is not really a great option.
    How about going to a doctor for a check up and asking him to document the incident?

    Some day this FOOL (insert your own word choice here) is going to hit the wrong person in the head.

    Perhaps he will hit someone with seizure disorder. Or perhaps he will hit someone with aneurysms. Or perhaps he will hit someone that had a previous head trauma in that very same spot.

    I have a family member with several aneurysms in her brain. These aneurysms are well documented. Since they are not operable, she goes about life. The time she has is the time she has. To look at her you would never, ever guess that this is her fate.
    Granted, she is female and he may not hit females, but a man could be suffering the same condition.

    Some day this dude is going to hit the wrong person. And his family will be suing, no doubt in my mind.

    Yes, OP, I am trying to stir up some thoughts that could motivate HR to rethink how they handle this matter.

    Hitting is just plain wrong. No explanation makes it okay.

  28. MiaRose*

    I’m disturbed that this situation is even downplayed in some of the comments. OP was hit on the head, during a work call, hard enough to hurt. Aside from the actual hit, it is a demeaning experience for the OP, regardless of whether it was meant jokingly or not. Add the gay slurs, and you have a recipe for a lawsuit.

    I’ve checked multiple legal websites, and this situation fits many of the definitions of criminal battery. If it was a one time thing, though, it does not quite qualify for a hostile work environment.

    Think of it this way: if someone in public randomly smacked you in the head and thought it was a joke, what would you consider that?

    1. Anonymous*

      Thank you for being a voice of sanity. The SVP should have been arrested and criminal charges should have been filed. If I were in the OP’s shoes, I would stop what I was doing and immediately call 911.

    2. fposte*

      I understand the desire to make thoughtless people be aware of how wrong they are, but that’s not what this action is likely to do, and it’s likely to be at the expense of the OP’s life going how he wants.

      Sure, the OP could certainly have called the cops. The question is what he wanted to have happen–and since he presumably knows how to call cops as well as the rest of us, that wasn’t what he wanted. The odds of much happening to the co-worker if he does so are pretty slim–on the other hand, so are the odds of the OP’s being successful–or even staying hired–at a workplace where he called the cops as a result of some office-approved horseplay. And yes, it would be legal to fire him for doing that. Additionally, what lawsuit is this a recipe for? What tort has been committed and what damages–that’s money–is the OP seeking redress for?

      Look, I think legal procedure is a fine thing. However, the law often operates better as a standard than a situational corrective, and it really isn’t interested in most of the stupid stuff that make our lives crazy. Whether something technically meets the standard of battery is a different question from whether a cop will care or a DA will give a damn, and all of those are different from the question of whether the OP’s life will be improved by this action.

      1. MiaRose*

        I do agree with you that going the route of calling the police would, ultimately, lead to more trouble for the OP than actually fixing anything. This is quite unfortunate. I do wonder, though, if these types of situations would even exist if people did actually suffer the appropriate consequences for their actions. But that only happens in ideal situations, and, if we had ideal situations, AAM would not exist for us.

      2. HR Pufnstuf*

        ^ fposte- You may have been abandoned by one up thread, but I have to confess my faithful loyalty.

        1. fposte*

          Aw, thanks! And I totally understand why people want something bad to happen to the jerk who did a wrong thing, and I share that feeling. It’s really not fair, and not fair sucks. But I don’t think punishing him by getting the law involved will help the OP, and ultimately helping the OP is more important than punishing the guy.

      3. Tinker*

        I think the impulse arises from a sense that the punchy person isn’t going to receive an appropriate consequence from an appropriate source, and hence there’s a desire to resort to other authorities. Which… well, I can understand why a person would think it likely that justice would not be served in this case.

        That said, it strikes me as fantastically naive to think that inviting police officers to a minor dispute is going to somehow improve the situation. Law enforcement is rather far from the secret sauce that makes everything taste better.

      4. bearcat*

        I’ve had job where I was being stalked by a co-worker who did not work on my team and ended up calling the police. Here’s a list of everything I did before I called the police: 1) I documented everywhere I was that he also was. The list covered 4 months and was nearly 25 pages long. He’d joined my gym, shopped at my grocery store, and walked around my dog park with no dog even though he lived 45 miles away in another town. Not to mention, EVERYWHERE I was at work, he was there also, just lingering and staring at me. 2) I talked to him about it (long, long before it got scary, when I just started to notice). 3) I talked to my manager about it. She saw nothing wrong. 4) I talked to his manager about it. He laughed at me and told me to get a grip on myself. 5) I talked to HR. He said, “well, you are very pretty. Men like pretty women. Sometimes men follow women because they don’t know how to talk to them.” 5) I documented all the internal bullshit I went through and sent it to the office of the highest person in our agency along with one request: transfer my stalker to a different office. 6) followed up with that office to see if they would do anything. Answer: nope.

        This is when I called the police. I lived in an apartment and saw stalker in my parking lot and called the police. They didn’t even come out to my house (but they did give me very helpful advice, like lock the door and stay away from the windows…). They told me that stalking was hard to prove in the best of circumstances and that being stalked by a coworker would be even harder to prove. To the police’s credit: They put me in touch with an advocacy group that helped me get a restraining order with all my documentation. I filed the restraining order with HR and they transfered the stalker (with a promotion and pay raise) and the stalking stopped. Start to finish, this whole thing lasted a year and a half.

        All I can say is: I really needed that job and the money and I work somewhere better now.

        TL;DR: Sometimes not even the cops can help when the situation is ambiguous and involves workplace politics.

        1. bearcat*

          I just re-read what I wrote and think it comes off as saying don’t call the police. I don’t feel that way and would like to add this: Do you feel scared at work or at home because someone else is making you feel that way? Yes? Call the police all you like. Call them over and over again, if you need to. Call other groups that may be able to help you. Don’t stop trying until you get the help you need. Just get help.

    3. BCW*

      Are you serious? Do you want to call the cops and claim theft because someone stole your pen too? I mean based on your statement, it is also meets that definition right?

      1. MiaRose*

        I don’t think I mentioned anything about cops in my original comment, except in my reply to fposte’s reply agreeing that it would ultimately not be a good idea. I do still think that there should be some consequence for this kind of behavior, and that the work environment that the OP is in seems to enable the behavior rather than correct it. One thing I’ve noticed about aggressive behaviors is that they tend to escalate.

        But, yes, I am quite serious about thinking that being smacked on the head in the workplace is considered battery, regardless of intent. Whether anything can be done about it, well, that’s another matter. I’ve spent 10+ years training in martial arts, so I’m not just reacting from fear of roughhousing. I do believe that no one should be touched without consent, and this guy crossed the line.

        1. BCW*

          Sorry, you are right. You didn’t mention the cops (although you did say criminal battery, which tends to imply police). But I still think that calling a playful hit on the head battery is as extreme as calling taking a pen off of your desk theft. They both may be true statements, but its really stretching the definition.

          1. MiaRose*

            I’m actually not stretching the legal definition, but I think that some people do tend to blow off battery if it is not severe, as in this case (and each state probably has a different set of rules governing the severity of battery). But, yes, bringing up the legality would have to imply that police would have been involved. OP would have to weigh his options when deciding what to do.

            Personally, depending on the history of the workplace, I would have pushed for some kind of action done within the company, and, barring lack of action, I would have looked for another job, then later filed a suit along with any documentation I have. But, then again, I would hope that I never work in a place where this kind of thing happens.

            I don’t know why, but this situation has weighed on my mind.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I don’t see any cause for filing a suit here. Unless you mean pressing criminal charges (vs a civil suit), but that’s not usually the type of thing you can do months later in a case like this. (Although I disagree that the police would be interested even if it were minutes after it happened.)

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          We really don’t know if it would quality as battery or assault or not. We don’t know if it was a light, playful shove made in jest or an actual hit, and that would make a huge difference

          1. MiaRose*

            I think I may be having problems with this situation because I have never been in a work environment where I’ve suffered or witnessed this kind of uninvited touching (I’ve asked my SO about his experiences as well, and he’s also never experienced this). I think the worst thing I’ve dealt with was a surprise hug from someone I didn’t really know, but I understood that to be part of the social environment.

            OP did say he was “intentionally hit in the head by an SVP…hard”, which leads me to think this was a significant smack. Either way, whether something can be done or not, I would highly recommend that the OP find another job and soon as possible.

  29. KD*

    Ok, I’m gonna be the odd man out. I read the email a couple times and maybe I’m just missing something here but I feel like the OP is perhaps blowing things out of proportion. He got hit in the head – it’s clear to me that it wasn’t aggression or anger or malice. Just rough housing that got a little too rough. The rough houser apologized and recognized that he’d gone too far. Still the OP sulked and the situation worsened.

    I do think it’s inappropriate to horse around in the workplace, but I think it’s silly to think this is “harassment” or a “hostile workplace” or “criminal battery” (lol at the last one).

    Rough houser apologized. Maybe it wasn’t the apology the OP wanted, but it was an apology and he could have neglected to do even that. I think OP needs to move on with his life and stop sulking for the sake of not burning bridges. Unless, of course it happens again, and THEN he goes to HR with it.

      1. A teacher*

        Retread the part about gay slurs. Clearly the SVP is not a super nice guy and he “thinks” he’s funny. Just because an apology is offered for really awful behavior doesn’t mea. It is accepted or should be.

        Excusing it or essentially blaming the victim for “sulking” is in part why things like this continue to happen. It’s in part why as a high school teacher I have to talk about bullying and acceptable vs. unacceptable behavior. Do you know how often patents defend their kids because they were “just playing” and didn’t mean anything by it? Or my favorite excuse, kid or coworker, “we’ll, that’s not what I meant.” Doesn’t matter what you meant, it matters what happened,

        1. A teacher*

          I will apologize for horrible grammar and spelling now. Essentially, when you say “get over it” you are excusing it. It’s a problem I see in the work world and in the educational system.

    1. MiaRose*

      If you read the original post, the OP mentioned that he rebuffed the apology. Instead of walking away at that point, the “rough houser” decided to up the aggression ante by making it about the OP not accepting the apology. It seems the OP was pretty much pressured into accepting what he considered an insincere apology. OP was under no obligation to accept the apology if he felt it was not sincere, no should he have been pressured to accept it.

    2. BCW*

      I also like the part that “it wasn’t the apology the OP wanted, but he could have neglected to do that”. I’d go so far as to say that many apologies aren’t really apologies for an action, but apologies for how it was taken or the reaction. I can joke around with a friend, or bring up something about him that he thinks is funny in 95% of instances, lets say that he is constantly late to everything. However if he just got in a fight with his wife about this, or reamed out by his boss about it, then he might not find my joke that funny at that time. So I’d apologize. But in reality I’m not apologizing for what I said, because I probably would and will say it again in the future, and he’ll probably find it funny again later. I’m apologizing that at that specific time, the joke wasn’t taken well because of other things in his life that I wasn’t aware of. I’m sorry that at that instant what I said triggered it, but I’m not “sorry” for the action, because I don’t really need to be, and he wouldn’t expect me to be. In fact, he’d probably later apologize for blowing up for me about it because he knows it wasn’t intended maliciously. There is that horrible intent word again.

    3. Jen in RO*

      I tend to agree too. Honestly the gay slurs seem like a bigger problem than this. The way I read, it was meant to be a playful hit (and yes, a playful hit to the head is something I can image) and the SVP hit harder than he meant. It sounds like kindergarten behavior to me from (I assume) 30+ year-old men, but from that to battery there’s a long, long way. I’d be pissed off too, but I think the OP and the commenters are blowing it out of proportion.

      1. Anonymous*

        I feel the article’s title predisposes the whole blow out of proportion thing, but controversy = comments = page loads. It’s the HuffPo effect I think, lol.

      2. Grace*

        For those that don’t know, assault is the threat (and a person can be arrested for that) and battery is what’s known as “a completed assault” (i.e. physical contact, with an object, etc.).
        A good way to understand the law is for you to do an
        internet search “[your state’s name] criminal jury instructions
        for battery”. The jury instructions are simple and straight forward and explain each element. Yes, what the OP described
        is the crime of battery. (Additionally, there are other issues
        in that workplace: OSHA – which requires employers to maintain
        a safe and healthful workplace. Negligence by the employer.
        Forseeability…the employer knew that this employee had
        a habit of doing this.)

    4. Joey*

      Here’s the problem though. Rough housing isn’t acceptable for SVP’s, ever. I don’t care how much rough housing goes on in lower level positions, rough housing and SVP should never be in the same sentence. An SVP rough housing is like the CEO walking around massaging the shoulders of women. By doing it he’s sending a message that its okay for everyone else too.

    5. Anonymous*

      The problem is if no one ever stands up to this “roughhousing” guy who is clearly a barrel of fun that some people here would love to work for, then this guy is never going to get that it isn’t ok. But I guess some of you seem to think it’s just fine to punch people at the office because COME ON IT’S A JOKE.

      Can’t you people take a joke.

      Jeez you’re no fun. _insert homosexual/racial slur_

    6. LMW*

      I agree that the gay slurs part cast the whole thing in the most horrible light. But I can see how you could interpret it this way without it.
      When I was really early in my career, I did something stupid – tried to pull a book out of the bottom of a high pile sitting on top of a file cabinet. The books fell into the cube behind the cabinet and some of them hit my coworker. I felt terrible, apologized profusely, and even offered to buy her lunch. She refused to accept my apology, complained to my boss and held a grudge against me the rest of the time we worked together. After awhile, I stopped feeling bad about it, because she couldn’t understand or forgive an accident.
      So I can definitely see how someone could read it this way…but with the other context the OP supplies, I’m more inclined to think the SVP is a jerk.

      1. Jamie*

        An accident is totally different, though, IMO.

        We’ve got some blind corners at work and if someone walking around one knocked me over they would be sorry and I would immediately accept because they didn’t plan on it and a decent person is pretty mortified when you inadvertently hurt someone.

        For me there is also a line between someone horsing around when they shouldn’t have been and accidentally hurting someone. Wrong, yes. I would be mighty annoyed, but if it wasn’t deliberate …I can get past it. Once.

        If someone shoved me deliberately – knocked me down because they were angry and intended to hurt me? Whole different ballgame. I’m now nervous about my physical safety and the professional relationship is broken. I wouldn’t allow anyone in the world to become violent with me if it was in my power to avoid/prevent it and people at work are no exception.

        FWIW I think it sucks your co-worker was so grudgey about your accident. You didn’t do it on purpose, so why make you feel worse? And yes, if you’re genuinely sorry for an accident but someone wants to hold a grudge that’s their problem…you shouldn’t wear a hair shirt for the rest of your life.

        I hope the OP clarifies, because I’m really curious as to how the hit came about. Was it a Gibbs hit trying to be funny but landing too hard? Was it goofing around with others too close to the OP and not intending to hit the OP at all.

        I’m not excusing the unprofessional behavior at all…but I’m really interested in the specifics of how the OP was hit.

  30. Anonymous*

    I am a somewhat serious person, at work at least. Having worked in a place where the “fun” culture included horseplay where I reacted much as the OP, in the end I discovered that job+culture combination just wasn’t a good fit for me. I quit, but they still wanted me to work so they let me work remotely on a contract basis. I know this is tough, not fair, and it shouldn’t be this way, but life is not fair. Sometimes you have to cut your losses.

  31. Windchime*

    I am late to the party, I know, but I honestly cannot imagine a situation where “rough-housing” is appropriate in a professional setting. At the very least, it’s disruptive to people who are actually trying to ……well, get work done. For a senior vice-president to be participating, and actually hitting people on the head–not cool at all. We don’t have SVPs here, but I’m thinking of people at the Director level and I truly cannot imagine any of them smacking a subordinate on the head while roughhousing. Just can’t picture it.

    I agree that “I didn’t mean to make you mad” is not really an apology. And your manager–he sounds like an idiot. I hope you can find another position soon, because this place sounds like a madhouse.

  32. It's pretty sad when it comes to this*

    Wow! I just went to see maybe something similar is happening to anyone else. It is! Lots of people have had lots to say. I’ve worked at my job for 25 years.m
    In the last 10 months I’ve been assaulted. Hit, things thrown at me. Screamed at inches from my face. My imediate supervisor chooses to ignore this persons aggression on others. Told my manager. He told me I’m stupid and petty. I go to HR, they tell me they’ll get cameras. Month later this person (not on the clock) comes into my area and disrupting my work. She slaps my hand while taking a floor mat from me. I yelled at her and was fired. Referred to as hostile and put on probation. Id had more then 24 years good service. Dedicated too! Nothing happened to her. It seemed she was rewarded with her pay and extra pay. Union got my job back. But I’m hostile on record. By the way they’d lied about cameras. I return to more violence. In September she assaulted me. Plenty of people had seen it. I reported it and also reported it as injury because she had hurt me. Week goes by and she assaults another. Both went without punishment to her. I’m now very afraid. I file with my local police. They decide it it up to the company to take care of. I took two months off unpaid in fear of my saftey. I find out they indeed have cameras and that the woman had had conflict with another. I feel a but safer, my leave time was running out then too. I return to work and my intimidation is in the parking lot now. We have no cameras in the parking lot. She’d parked so close I couldn’t open my door. I remove myself, she’d complained I’d moved. It was documented by this manager who’s ignoring me and documenting anything and everything for her. I fear for my saftey and I tell them I do. I’m told to write up why I fear. I’d included everything that’s happened in ten months. She’d also been told to do the same. She claims to be afraid of me. They call a meeting, she and I are told to pick a different time of day to work. There are 4 options. I’ve worked there 11 more years then her. I get first choice. I picked early morning. She refused to pick. They said to be fair we both had to pick. Since she refused we both were terminated. Back to the union hall for both her and I. We get our jobs back. I work when they told me I work and she’d gotten what i had picked.
    Heads up! I’d gone to my civil rights commission back in August. Thing is, it takes 6 months. That time is just about here. And all information from my 10 month nightmare included. Hope they see it the way I do! Not fair is what I see!

  33. sean*

    If he likes to joke by hitting, then hit him with a right cross to the jaw. When he complains, jyt say it was a joke and youre sorry.

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