I talked to my colleague’s husband and now she’s making false complaints about me

A reader writes:

In December, I started working at a law office as a receptionist. I went to the Christmas party a couple days after I started. I smoke so several times throughout the night I was outside with the rest of the smokers. One guy and I ended up outside at the same time several times. We made the usual smoker small talk. At one point he abruptly said “I have to go, if my wife catches me out here with you she’ll kill me!” I thought it was kind of a weird thing to say, but hey I’ve been jealous before. Sure enough, his wife was there when we went back in the door. I recognized her the next week as the attorney whose office is the first office around the corner from reception where I sit.

Ever since then, she has been complaining to my boss about my loud voice. At first my boss said he was confused and he didn’t think I had a loud voice. After she complained a few more times, my boss actually wrote me up. His boss has the first office to the left of reception and she apparently said she never heard me being loud either. Several times Mrs. Attorney came out to reception while I was having a conversation with someone and made a spectacle of herself telling me to be quiet and keep my voice down. Another time she came to my desk and said she could hear every word I said even when her door was closed, and that the things she heard she was sure no one would want to overhear! Not only is that a blatant lie, I never talk about anything inappropriate at work, and it’s just not at all possible to hear anyone when a door is closed unless they’re yelling!

I confided in a friend at work, and she said that this attorney had recently gained about 50 lbs and seemed miserable all the time. She keeps complaining to my boss and he seems really irritated. I feel bad for him. The only semi-positive thing that’s happened is the other day I was on the phone with one of the other supervisors and she came out and shushed me, so I guess I have “proof” that I wasn’t being loud. I don’t know what to do. I’m worried where this will go if she keeps complaining. However, the thought of going to my boss and telling him about the Christmas party seems potentially embarrassing for everyone.

Embarrassing to the attorney and her husband, sure, absolutely, but embarrassing to you? Not really. You’re being targeted and needled by someone for unsupportable personal reasons. You have no reason to be embarrassed.

I think you absolutely do need to tell your boss the background here. Otherwise, it’s much easier to believe that indeed you are being too loud than to believe that a colleague has just randomly started targeting you without cause. But explain the background and suddenly the whole thing can be seen in a different light.

So explain to your boss what happened, so that he has some context and can understand what’s going on. But don’t get into her weight gain or personal unhappiness — that’s not relevant or even appropriate for you to bring up. Just explain that you hung out with her husband at the Christmas party, he said that his wife wasn’t going to like it, you saw her watching you when you went back inside, and ever since then she’s been making complaints about you.

That said, there’s an important caveat here: If your boss has any sense, he’ll deal with this on your behalf and put an immediate stop to the attorney’s complaints. But in some law offices, in a dispute between a receptionist and an attorney, the attorney will win, regardless of the facts. So you want to factor in what your know about how your office operates and what your boss is like.

Still, though, I don’t know what choice you have than to fill your boss in on what’s going on. Letting him continue to believe her complaints isn’t a viable option.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 144 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    In our building, there are several areas where you can hear very clearly the conversations happening elsewhere. (As in different rooms) It’s a strange phenomenon, but it does go on. I wonder if it existed at a low level, and then after the Christmas party she made it something to complain about. I know that usually we can all tune out the acoustical quirks, but it’s harder to tune out someone you don’t like.

    1. Anonymous*

      Yes. I can’t hear two cubies over very well, but I can easily hear what’s being said in my Director’s office in hushed tones, and that’s about 5 cubies over. Weird. But that is what noise cancelling headphones excel at.

    2. SJ*

      This is true… makes me wonder if there was a receptionist before you, and whether the nasty lady thought the last one was too loud also? That would point to this being a problem with the acoustics in the office, not with the actual speaking volume (or nasty lady’s resentment issues)

    3. Lilly*

      I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion it’s not a noise thing, it’s a me thing because no matter how loud other people are in the lobby area she’s never come out and told anyone else to keep their voice down.

      1. Jen*

        Then that helps, actually. After all, your boss’s boss’s office is right next to the lobby, and I’m sure he has heard firsthand that there are people in the lobby who ARE loud yet those people never get shushed — or written up for it. Might be a good point to make, if it comes to that.

        1. Jen*

          P.S.: The Christmas party story is just your theory, after all, and I suspect that discussing a specific (and potentially embarassing and/or defensive-sounding) theory about why she might be upset with would just give fuel to denials.

          Instead, I think the weird disparity can be your talking point. Your higher-ups need more awareness of how disproportionately Ms. Attorney focuses on your conversations rather than other people’s.

          So how about something like so:
          “Hey boss or boss’s boss, I know from these repeated complaints that Ms. Attorney has been really bothered by my voice in the lobby lately. Of course I want her to be happy, and so I’ve tried being quieter. Boss’s boss over there seems to think my noise level is reasonable, so I’m just not sure what else to do. As boss’s boss knows due to his office location, other people have lots of noisy conversations in the lobby every day — but as far as I know I’m the only one she gets upset with, and that is making me wonder. Is there maybe some other underlying issue or concern here that’s specific to me that I should know about? Please, if you think of anything more I can realistically do to address this, do let me know.”

          My point being… put it on them to figure out what her real issue is, or at least put it in their minds that it might be Ms. Attorney’s issue rather than your own. And really, if they’re willing to ignore something as obvious as this targeting, then you perhaps know whether you actually want to work for them or not, eh?

  2. BGirl81*

    Ugh, this attorney is acting like she’s in a Lifetime Movie (“Moment Of Truth: Smoke Of Sin” would work great as a title). I completely agree that once you talk to your boss about this, it will be obvious to him what’s going on. If it makes you feel any better, I once had a coworker’s wife spend an entire summer picnic giving me the side-eye because I gave him a gift for their new baby. I know, what a hussy!

  3. anonce*

    Eeek, I’ll be the immature one here who’s feeling a lot of compassion for the attorney. I’ve been with a really flirtatious boyfriend before, and watching him flirt with women, especially friends, was really humiliating for me. I can imagine that would especially be true at a work function. I’m not saying this is the case with the OP, as it doesn’t say anywhere that there was actual fraternizing happening, but maybe there’s a history in their relationship and she’s sensitive. That’s obviously the attorney’s issue and not the receptionist’s, and she should have the restraint to not be unprofessional about it, but I admit my first instinct was to feel bad for the attorney.

    1. AF*

      But if the other person is innocent, do you because her because of your and your boyfriend’s issue? That’s what’s going on here. And to think that her boss gave her a written warning (which is pretty serious) without knowing the facts or background is really bad.

    2. some1*

      I don’t feel any sympathy for women who put the blame on the target/victim of their S.O.’s leching instead of where it belongs: their husband or boyfriend. And when the flirting only exists in the women’s imagination (like here), I downright loathe the behavior. It’s not the LW’s fault that the attorney is jealous and insecure.

      Even if the attorney’s husband had given her a valid reason not to trust him, that is still not the LW’s problem.

      Disclaimer: I’ve been in the LW’s situation more than once in professional and social situations, so I know how this feels.

      1. Anonymous*

        I’ve been in the attorney’s position and I don’t feel any sympathy. If you don’t like his behavior, and you can’t change him, get rid of him. Trust me, you’ll be happier.

        Been in OP’s position too, actually. OP is in a tough spot, because the attorney, in a law firm, will have inherently more “value”. Unless she’s a really low performer.

        Honestly, if I was OP, I would pull my resume together.

        1. Anonymous*

          I’d like to venture out into the pond and say that if she has enough time to keep track of what the receptionist is doing and how loud she’s being for an entire workday, there’s a good chance that she is a low performer.

          1. Lilly*

            My thoughts exactly. The other day a friend came back from vacation so I asked him “how was your vacation” He said it was great he went to a few baseball games, it was fun. That’s it! An hour later my boss sends an email saying he’s still getting complaints, if I want to talk about things “of a personal nature” I need to do it on my lunch or on my break. A couple hours later is when she came out and shushed me when I was talking to one of theother supervisors.

            Everyone in the firm loves me(except her) and people make small talk while passing through the lobby all the time. It’s just getting to feel a bit oppressive. As I type this the back up receptionist is having a long, lively conversation with an attorney about juice fasting, he even used profanity, do you think she came out and shushed them? No.

            1. Ruffingit*

              Talk to your boss as Alison suggested. And get your resume together and begin sending it out. It’s really ridiculous for you to have to deal with this day in and day out. If your boss can get the attorney reined in, great. But if not, sending your resume out is the back-up plan. You don’t need to deal with this, it’s ridiculous.

              Having worked as a lawyer in a firm, I don’t know why this psycho wants to get on your bad side. The receptionist at my firm was a fabulous gate keeper and incredibly helpful in any number of ways. No way would I want to mess that up. She’s a moron. If you have a good receptionist especially in a law firm, they are worth their weight in gold!

              1. kelly*

                A good receptionist in any office environment has more power than they actually realize. They are the ones that deal directly with the public and can get the sense of what walk ins/phone inquiries are good and which ones are a waste of their and their employer’s time. I worked as a back up receptionist in a law office and know that although you may not seem to be that important, the attorneys would be lost without you.

                If someone was being all Mean Girls on me and nothing was being done to correct their behavior, I would have no problem referring the clients who would take a lot of their time and would have trouble paying like a fair number of criminal cases and divorce cases. I also would refer them the bankruptcy cases because those are so much work for a flat fee. Also, if they have a request for supplies or need billing done ASAP, I would put their request towards the bottom of my to do list because of their attitude towards me. When they see that they get the less desirable clients and their requests take longer being fulfilled, then hopefully they may think about why that is happening to them.

        2. RedStateBlues*

          While I basically agree with what you’re saying, I don’t see anything stating that the husband was doing anything other than making small talk with a woman. I certainly don’t see that as bad behavior that needs to be changed…

          1. Jen*

            This is all speculation at this point, but there must be some weird dynamic there with one or both spouses if he is saying things like “if my wife catches me out here with you she’ll kill me!”

      2. Chinook*

        I have been in the attorney’s position as well and, frankly, she is being immature by taking it out on the OP. Sometime’s talking is talking, sometimes there is friendly flirting that both parties know will not go anywhere and then there is hitting on someone. In all these cases, the hittee is not at fault (unless they started hitting on the spouse first when it was obvious that they were with someone else – I have also had that happen. DH is a hottie and I am not, which makes me invisible to female hotties when next to DH)

        1. Lilly*

          I’m a lesbian, so there definitely wasn’t any flirting/hitting on going on, on anyones part. That’s why I thought his comment about his wife “killing him” was so weird because he definitely wasn’t a flirty guy, but again, I don’t know anything about them, maybe he’s a man whore, who knows, it’s just not my problem but this woman is making it my problem.

          1. Ruffingit*

            It may be that nothing at all is wrong with him in terms of being flirtatious, but that his wife is instead an incredibly jealous person who accuses him of cheating on her if he smiles at a stranger walking down the street.

          2. Chinook*

            Could his comment about her killign him been a reference to the fact that he was sneakign a smoke?

            1. Lilly*

              No, good guess, but I’d say there’s no way he was sneaking a smoke, as he was out there quite often

              1. Elaine*

                I’m so sorry you’re having this issue. Sexuality is nobody’s business, but could this mean you’re a protected class? Is it common knowledge you’re a lesbian (I wonder if Ms. Attorney could find that out and then suddenly lay of–or if you’re really attractive she might just be jealous/insecure anyway)…

    3. Jen in RO*

      Like some1, I think it’s ridiculous to blame the ‘target’ of the flirting. The husband is the only one who might be guilty (if he was indeed flirting). I find it quite disturbing that some women choose to think that their men are always innocent and it’s the ‘other’ woman’s fault… what’s the reasoning behind that?

      1. Ruffingit*

        Because it’s a hell of a lot easier to blame the other women. Blaming the man means coming to grips with the fact that your significant other is at worst cheating jerk (assuming they have done more than flirting) or at best is flirtatious, which generally doesn’t make very many women feel good about themselves.

        This gets exponentially worse when the relationship at stake is a marriage with kids. So much easier to believe your cheating spouse was enticed by the other woman and it’s all her fault because if you blame the man that means making the hard decision to leave with a cheater or leave. Many people cannot handle either of those so they become delusional and blame the other woman rather than handle the difficult decisions inherent in finding out your spouse is a cheater.

    4. Mena*

      This attorney is an educated professional adult. If her husband is a flirt, this is her problem to deal with and not the receptionist’s.

  4. Lizabeth*

    Also something to consider: how much $$$ is Mrs. Attorney billing? If she has high numbers, they “may” put up with any behavior she dishes out.

    1. Anon*

      In my law office, in a disagreement between a receptionist/assistant and an attorney, the attorney always wins. It is not fair, but that’s the way it is. I would strongly suggest the OP think carefully about how staff are treated at her firm before she brings this to her supervisor.

      1. RedStateBlues*

        I would be looking for another job. I was going to say just ride it out and see, but its been 8+ months now? I don’t see her backing off. I guess your boss might surprise you, but seeing as that he’s already caved once by writing you up apparently based on nothing but her complaints, then he’ll probably cave again and fire you, eventually.

        1. Jessa*

          Exactly, the time to have brought the context on this was when he wrote you up. I would be looking for a new place, although if your boss is reasonable, I’d still bring it up.

          And if you CAN be heard (maybe your boss should try listening from various points,) even if you are NOT speaking loudly due to weird acoustics, have them put up one of those cubicle baffles or something, because sometimes you CAN be heard talking at a normal tone and that could lead to confidentiality issues.

  5. Sourire*

    Voice of dissent: Here’s the thing – OP went to the party a “couple of days” after she started. This complaining happened pretty much directly after that, so still within a week or two of OP starting. While it certainly does sound like it could be a jealousy issue at play, it could also be a legit complaint that the coworker waited a bit to bring up since OP was a brand new employee. If OP had been there for months without so much as a peep from this woman about OP’s volume, and then complaints started immediately after an incident with the husband, that would be different.

    1. Pussyfooter*

      OP’s boss can talk to other coworkers to get a sense of OP’s talking volume as well as any acoustic foibles the building may have.

      My first thought was that in Attorny vs. Receptionist the receptionist is probably going to lose. *But* some bosses have the confidence to tell the high ranking staff member to get a grip on herself, rather than mistreat a lower ranking employee. Keep the resume handy, but consider giving New Boss a chance to prove himself.

    2. Ruffingit*

      I might buy this except for the fact that the OP is the ONLY one being complained about. Meanwhile, other people have actual loud conversations and not a word is said by Ms. Attorney. She’s only bothered by it when OP is speaking. That speaks volumes, pardon the pun.

  6. Cruella Da Boss*

    Does your office happen to have the same architectural phenomeon as New York’s Museum of Natural History?

      1. Cruella Da Boss*

        Apparently the atrium is built in such a way that you can whisper in one corner and hear it in another. (How I Met Your Mother, season 6, episode 8 “Natural History”)

      2. Ash*

        There’s a section of the museum where two people can stand opposite each other very far apart and hear each other perfectly across the room, even when whispering. It’s pretty cool.

        1. beryce*

          This works at Grand Central Station as well. It is very cool, though perhaps not at the office day in and out.

        2. Chinook*

          The Alberta Legislature has that too, but one spot is in the centre of a fountain. If you stand in the other spot, it sounds like you standing under a waterfall.

            1. Chocolate Teapot*

              St Paul’s Cathedral in London has the Whispering Gallery where you can hear what somebody is saying, when they are standing on the other side.

    1. Lilly*

      HA! I don’t know about that. Like I said before, I don’t think it’s a noise thing I think it’s a me thing. If this woman was really bothered and distracted by noise why would she not move her office instead of having one that’s right off of reception and bumped directly up against the main conference room. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Specially when there is an empty office two doors down that would allow her to be in the same vicinity as her practice group.

      1. llamathatducks*

        Plus if it was really just a noise thing, and the attorney was a reasonable person, she would have brought it up in a reasonable way. Which complaining to the boss and demanding that you be written up isn’t.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I’m betting not. If so, the attorney would be bothered by everybody’s conversation, not just the OP’s. Nope, she’s mad because her husband talked to the OP and some women are so insecure and jealous that they cannot handle even a coworker talking to their men about work.

      I don’t know if the husband is flirty, but some men do not help the situation because they ARE flirty jerks.

  7. Friends*

    Why don’t you try to get to know her and stay away from her husband? If a woman who was flirting with my husband or if my husband was flirting with her and she made an effort to get to know me (and of course with my husband off limits) and focused on business and other things outside of the issue I’d probably change my mind about her and think she was a genuinely nice person. Have you tried to talk to her about the noise or loud problem and then genuinely tried to make a difference. You can always ask her after making an effort if it made a difference. Or you could just step away from your area and take a call somewhere else.

    I think OP is taking it too personally and needs to look at the situation with taking the husband situation out of the picture…how can you make a difference…what is your objective anyway as a receptionist. Focus on your work, work hard, and don’t worry about this kind of crap.

    1. SJ*

      It seemed to me like OP was seeking advice because she was worried she was going to get fired over this if her boss doesn’t understand the reason behind it, not that she is taking it personally/wants to resolve the issue on a personal level.

      1. Friends*

        It’s very easy to get caught up in this type of mess from the beginning…so it’ smarter to focus on work early on.

      2. Jazzy Red*

        That’s what I got out of it, too.

        The fact that her boss wrote her up, though, gives her the right to explain things. Keep it to just the facts, and let him know you just want him to know your side of the situation.

        1. Friends*

          It’s also a great opportunity to ask your boss for advice on how to improve instead of waiting for the probationary period if you have one.

          1. Forrest*

            I think the problem is there isn’t anything to improve on – the lawyer on the other side isn’t complaining, the person the receptionist was on the phone with didn’t say anything, its all this one person who seems bothered by the receptionist on a personal level.

            The OP can’t really fix something that isn’t there. She could try whispering, she could try being a mute, she could try taking up sign language and the lawyer will still complain that she’s being loud.

            1. Chinook*

              A mute receptionist is ineffective. Sign language is almost always difficult to read over the phone. Maybe she can have a series of signs to use to greet visitors?

    2. some1*

      “if my husband was flirting with her and she made an effort to get to know me (and of course with my husband off limits) and focused on business and other things outside of the issue I’d probably change my mind about her and think she was a genuinely nice person.”

      Why would the onus be on the target/victim of your husband’s flirting to make this up to you? And why would you assume the woman is not a nice person just because your husband chose to flirt with you?

      1. Friends*

        I’m not sure if you know women or not but insecure women tend to be jealous of everything even a glance. The jealously will lead you to believe the other woman is all kinds of horrible things even when the case is not true. Considering the comment from the husband, it seems like the Angry Wife is a really jealous person.

        Talking to someone directly about the problem and trying to fix it will take the blame off of her. OP just needs to let her boss know she’s making this effort.

        There is a time and place for everything, you can use your common sense as when to small talk with her. The most important thing to do right away is to make a VISIBLE effort to help aleviate what OP is accused of.

        1. Ash*

          “I’m not sure if you know women or not but insecure women tend to be jealous of everything even a glance. ”

          There’s no need to make this a gender thing. Insecure people tend to be jealous of everything, not just women. No need to be misogynistic here.

            1. Mike C.*

              You don’t speak for all women, and being a woman doesn’t shield you from making misogynistic comments.

        2. some1*

          Yes, I do know women: Female Since 1980.

          And I have been jealous and insecure at times, and know plenty of women who are like that. IME, indulging someone’s jealousy will do little to dissuade someone when the jealousy is this unfounded. She went out to smoke and started talking to a guy who was out there. That’s it. If the LW acts in any way like she did something wrong that evening, it will encourage the Atty to act this way from now on.

          1. Friends*

            I don’t think the problem is the jealousy of the wife….at least not the problem the OP should be worried about. OP needs to address the being loud issue.

              1. Friends*

                It’s not a suggestion. Let’s take gender out of this for a minute. Look if you’re talking to someone at a party and their spouse who you work with starts getting on your case about something unrelated possibly as retaliation, then you’re likely to stay away from that person at the party anyway. I would at least…Only because the person I have to deal with is the spouse who I work with right? If the spouse’s issue is some insecurity or jealousy or anything, why aggravate it by making an effort ot talk to the person at the party anyway? especially when you really don’t care about that person because all they were, was someone you spoke to during a smoker’s break…I don’t understand why the focus is on this when my entire point is suggesting the OP handle the situation a little differently then previous posts. If you don’t like my comments, don’t follow it.

                1. some1*

                  Actually, no, I wouldn’t change my behavior in any way, shape, or form when I did nothing wrong. The LW changing her behavior because the Atty is threatened by her would be like rewarding a 2-yr-old because he had a tantrum in public.

                2. fposte*

                  It doesn’t sound she’s even seen the husband again, though, so it would be hard for her to stay any more away from him than she is.

                  And I actually think trying to befriending the wife would make her more suspicious, not less. If she’s the kind of “it’s all the woman’s fault” person you conjecture, then that’s going to look like a move to get to him through her. (Plus it would be workplace weird for a receptionist to try to befriend somebody high on the TO who’s been criticizing her work.)

                3. Lilly*

                  This was a one time incident, over 8 months ago at the Christmas party. She’s been complaining about my loud voice ever since. And I have tried to be nice to her, for instance if I run into her in the kitchen or restroom I try to make small talk. It just doesn’t matter. This whole thing seems very personal, and not at all related to a noise problem

                4. Mike C.*

                  You’ve got your cart before the horse here. You’re suggesting that the OP should have stopped talking to the male spouse to avoid retaliation when in fact the retaliation happened after.

                  Furthermore, the onus of stopping harm never lies with the victim.

            1. Lilly*

              The comments are coming so fast here I’m guessing no one saw my comment above so I’ll re-post here

              I don’t think it’s a noise thing I think it’s a me thing. If this woman was really bothered and distracted by noise why would she not move her office instead of having one that’s right off of reception and bumped directly up against the main conference room. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Specially when there is an empty office two doors down that would allow her to be in the same vicinity as her practice group.

              Everyone in the firm loves me(except her) and people make small talk while passing through the lobby all the time. It’s just getting to feel a bit oppressive. As I type this the back up receptionist is having a long, lively conversation with an attorney about juice fasting, he even used profanity, do you think she came out and shushed them? No.

              1. Pussyfooter*

                It wasn’t at first clear that you are the OP. And, yes you need to tell your boss what’s up.

        3. Chinook*

          I was thinking this as well. If the lawyer was insecure, than anyone of the opposite sex even looking at the SO, never mind talking to them, would be considered threatening and that behaviour would be considered flirting. The OP could very much be an innocent victim.

    3. Sadsack*

      It is probably difficult to find common ground to start up a conversation with someone who is always coming out of her office to tell you to shut up. The attorney seems to have targeted OP from the get-go based on her simple interaction with the husband and will not be interested in becoming chummy with the perceived threat (OP).

      Someone here mentioned that maybe there was also a loudness issue prior to OP’s arrival at the firm, but I doubt that because OP’s boss would not have been shocked to be hearing the same complaint again. I feel bad for OP, I hope she is able to get this worked out without having to look for a new job.

      How does a receptionist step away to take a call somewhere else?

      1. Friends*

        My company we all have a different desk every day. We walk in and find an empty spot…managers and receptionists. I was looking at it from my POV. Apologies, not everyone is that way.

        1. Sadsack*

          No need to apologize. I think of a receptionist as someone who sits in an area where he or she is the first point of contact at a central location in a building to receive visitors and who answers and transfers phone calls, among other things. It is difficult for me to imagine a set up for receptionists (and managers) as what you describe.

    4. Pussyfooter*

      Diffusing the wife’s fears is a good idea, but may not be an option due to the wife’s rebuffs or office norms of interacting.
      This also would take some time, while the Angry Wife has already endangered the OP’s job security.

    5. Anonicorn*

      I like this approach. Take the potential jealousy out of the picture and speak to her objectively, something like – “I don’t realize that my voice is loud, and I’m sorry that it’s bothering you. I can try to do XYZ, but that’s not always feasible because I need to cover the desk and part of my job is to take calls. I certainly don’t want to disturb you. Do you have any suggestions, apart from XYZ?”

      The way you’ve described this woman makes her seem unpleasant, but it’s possible she’s super busy and stressed (being an attorney and all) and doesn’t have time to consider that she’s being curt. I also wonder if she’s behaving this way to everyone or just you, because that will make a difference too.

        1. Del*

          Agreed. A good rule of thumb I’ve found is to treat anyone’s issues in good faith, no matter how much they’re acting in bad faith. Be the reasonable one, do your best to de-escalate, and then if they keep pushing it just becomes really obvious that they’re the ones stepping out of line.

      1. Lilly*

        It’s only me. The few people that I’ve talked to were shocked, saying “Wow, that’s surprising, she seems so sweet”

    6. Anonny*

      You start your response advising that the OP try to be friends with the coworker (to prove she’s nice person?) and then end it by telling her to focus on her work and not worry about this crap?

        1. Forrest*

          I don’t know, if I was a Jealous Insecure Woman who got upset because my husband spoke with a receptionist at the Christmas Party of all places, and decided that I was going to passive-aggressively get her in trouble or fired, I’d probably go even more off the deep end if this hussy I never spoke to before but thought was trying to flirt with my husband all of a sudden tried to be my friend. Am I being lured into a false sense of security I wonder? Are they secretly meeting on that balcony again? Are they smoking the same brand?

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Personally, I think that’s a waste of time in this case. Crazylady doesn’t want to be friends; she wants the OP gone because she thinks OP stepped into her territory. She’s using her position at work to push a personal issue. While it may be legal (!), it’s not exactly ethical. And since the boss already wrote her up based on this woman’s say-so, my impression of him isn’t that great either. If this were me, I would start looking.

    7. Adam V*

      > stay away from her husband

      They were talking during smoke breaks. It’s not like they went out to lunch and left the wife behind. And isn’t it going to be more of an issue if you go out for a smoke break and abruptly turn around and leave because one guy is already there, or immediately put out your cigarette and go back inside if he comes out?

      Besides, even if the issue were “the receptionist is too loud”, the way she’s going about it is what makes me think it’s personal. When you notice something like that, especially with someone who’s new, the polite thing to do is to go up to them and say “Hi! I just wanted to let you know that the office isn’t all that sound-proofed, and you’re coming across as a bit loud, so you might want to tone it down a bit. Besides that, welcome to the company!”

      1. Friends*

        Just because Angry Wife is taking it personal doesn’t mean OP taking it personal is going to help the OP. If OP jumps on the let’s take it personal bandwagon, it’s only going to hurt OP because she’s already under hot water with these threats at a new job. If OP wants to go anywhere at this place she’s got to focus on business and what counts and address issues with a win/win plan in mind.

        1. some1*

          “Just because Angry Wife is taking it personal doesn’t mean OP taking it personal is going to help the OP.”

          It doesn’t mean she has anything to apologize for, either.

    8. TL*

      Can I just point out that talking to someone of the opposite sex is not automatically flirting and it’s unreasonable to assume that they were flirting when the OP says they were talking?

      1. Friends*

        I agree. According to OP’s side it doesn’t seem like flirting. The husband and the Attorney’s comments from the OP above seems like the Attorney thinks it was flirting. My read may be wrong.

        1. TL*

          It seems your reply is predicated on the scenario where Reasonable Wife seems Receptionist flirting with Husband. Receptionist then acts super friendly and professional and Reasonable Wife acts – well, reasonably and lets the situation go.

          This is Unreasonable Wife sees Receptionist talking with Husband and gets (presumably) angry because talking=flirting with Intent. I don’t think UW is going to respond reasonably to the OP’s friendly and professional behavior, given that she doesn’t seem to have behaved reasonably so far.

          1. some1*

            This. Friends, I can’t understand what position you are arguing from here. It seems to be that you are saying the LW should make nice even though she wasn’t flirting to keep the piece and get the atty to stop complaining.

            I don’t the LW should in any way mention the Christmas Party to the Atty in person. But I do think she needs to tell her boss about it because it could very well be why the Atty is targeting her.

    9. foxforcefive*

      I think a good reason not to get to know her is that she’s insecure, unstable, and lashes out. I would proceed with extreme caution. Some personalities are so toxic that distance is advisable at all times.

    10. Observer*

      Why on earth are you putting the onus on the OP? Especially when your suggestions make no sense. I mean, you suggest that she “stay away from the husband” – as though she’s been chasing him around. But, she hasn’t seen the guy since the office party. How much more “away” can she get?

      As for the idea that she could ” just step away from your area and take a call somewhere else”, I’d ask you how she is supposed to do that when her job requires her NOT step away. Oh, and when a supervisor wants to talk to her, is she supposed to tell the supervisor to call her cell phone?

    11. Melissa*

      Why should the OP have to step away from her own cubicle to take a work-related call? The onus should not be on the OP to make nice with this woman simply because she was a human being and spoke to her husband. OP also has not interacted with this woman’s husband since then, so “stay away from her husband” is a bit dramatic. Even if she was flirting with her husband, that’s not a reason to interfere with OP’s *job*.

  8. Del*

    A couple things to keep in mind.

    – You’re seeing a correlation between “talking to Coworker’s husband at party” and “Coworker starts being nasty.” However, that correlation may or may not actually exist; all you have to base it on is the husband’s remark, which may have been a legit thing, or may have simply been a joke. A lot of people make “Oh man my spouse is gonna kill me” statements without a lot of weight behind them. This all went down a few days after you started; it may be unrelated.

    – Your boss was willing to write you up based on her complaints, while acknowledging that those complaints don’t appear to be terribly valid. It’s a pretty clear statement of who’s the more valuable here. Tread carefully.

    – If she is making mad complaints to the higher-ups about other issues, not just you, then she is painting herself as the crazy one all on her own. That sounds like what your friend is suggesting. (“She keeps complaining to my boss and he seems really irritated.”) Let her knot her own noose; unless she’s a real superstar performance-wise, decent management will get fed up even with an attorney.

    Here’s my advice: treat her complaints in good faith. Do everything you can to show that you are willing to be compliant, cooperative, whatever it takes. Because that way, a) you’re doing everything you can to legitimately de-escalate the situation, b) you’re going to make her look even worse if she keeps her behavior up, and c) you’re covering your own behind with regard to this job. She’s already got management noticing that she’s complaining about something unreasonable, and yet they’re willing to write you up anyway. Don’t give them any more reason to write you up again, and instead work to gain a reputation as a rockstar. The more this goes on, with you taking her complaints seriously and acting on them to the best of your ability, the more and more and more unreasonable she’s going to look, and the more and more and more reasonable, sane, and saintly you’re going to look. You keep your professionalism no matter what, and you’ll Professional that jerk right out of the office!

    1. Mallorie, the recruiter*

      For probably the first and only time, I might disagree with AAM! My world is crashing around me! Anyways! I don’t think I would bring up the party incident because it COULD (I repeat could) reflect poorly on the OP. Not saying its right, but some of the points in this comment by Del have resonated with me. I think you should approach her or your manager and take this noise complaint seriously… if she’s crazy, that will come out on its own for sure. But at least you get to look like the better person, taking the issue seriously with a genuine concern to fix it. The other way could come out very much as “She’s just jealous cuz her husband thinks I’m hott!” Again- not saying its right and not saying it isn’t true, but such a sensitive issue… I can’t help but think that might bite OP in some way :-/ — Great post Del! Really made me see this in another light!

      1. Pussyfooter*

        I think Del is missing something here.
        Del points out that the manager is willing to punish OP even when he doubts that OP deserves it.
        Maintaining a professional attitude hasn’t helped this, yet your comment seems to imply that it will protect OP going forward.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          It might not protect her, but it will certainly help her know in and of herself that she isn’t the problem here.

          Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the other person is the unreasonable one and is not worth wasting time on with revenge fantasies, backlash, or anything else (not that the OP is doing that). I know there have been plenty of LWs here that have asked AAM “Am I really doing something wrong?” If the OP has been and remains completely professional, that will help her keep her head up at least, and she can answer that question with a firm “No, I am not.”

          1. Pussyfooter*

            Hi Elizabeth,
            I got the impression that the OP has been well behaved all along, so when Del suggested that she *bother to* it seemed odd to me. Like you said “If the OP has been and remains completely professional…”
            But something Del said helped OP, so it’s all good :)

        2. Del*

          Maintaining a professional attitude hasn’t been a perfect protection, no, but the lesson to take away from this is that breaking the professional attitude will be even worse.

          Basically there is rarely, if ever, a good excuse to break professionalism on the job, no matter what the other guy is doing.

      1. Del*

        I’m glad it was helpful! I’m also glad to see you were able to talk to your boss honestly about what you suspected the underlying issue was. With a setup like that it can definitely be tricky.

  9. M*

    First off, if the coworker’s actions are because the OP was mearly talking to coworker’s spouse, that is 100% unacceptable (not to mention loony tunes).

    However, it is *possible* that the “my wife will kill me” response comes from a different place. I have complained vehemently to my husband about a heinously (possibly criminally) incompetent coworker and I know it’s affected how he interacts with her in social settings (I’m not a lawyer and my husband’s allergic to cigarette smoke, so coworker is not me!). It may well be that the OP is actually loud or the unreasonable volume expectations stem from something else and the coworker had already complained to her spouse about “the new super loud receptionist” at the time of the party but waited to start complaining at work simply beacuse the OP was new or until she couldn’t stand it anymore.

    TLDR, not saying that the coworker’s behavior is not unreasonable, but it’s only timing that links the two events, correlation does not equal causation.

    1. Windchime*

      Yes, this. I will say that people who speak loudly or who have voices that carry are often unaware. It might be wise to examine whether or not she has a legitimate complaint. As others have mentioned, accoustics can sometimes be funny and sound can travel when we might think it doesn’t.

    2. Chrissi*

      Yes! My mother is extremely hearing-impaired and I got the chance to sit in on her last hearing test/hearing aid purchase. I was able to see the audiologists computer through her entire test and could see at which pitch levels she had hearing problems which essentially showed me that we all have some variance in how well we hear different pitches. The audiologist also really liked explaining how things worked and explained that the clarity of certain sounds correspond with how someone perceives the volume of certain pitches (for instance the sound of vowels correlates with deeper pitches). I hope I didn’t just butcher the science on this – apologies if I did.

      The point being that I agree that some people have voices that REALLY carry (including yours truly), whereas others (like my brother-in-law) speak at a perfectly acceptable volume and articulation and I still can’t understand him half of the time. So the OP should at least consider the idea that the attorney really is sensitive to her voice. In that case, of course, the attorney should just move offices like the OP said above because obviously the receptionist can’t move (I don’t think). Would it be inappropriate for the receptionist to mention that to her boss as a possible solution?

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        It’s a bit late to reply, but is it possible that the OP’s voice is at a pitch that the attorney is especially intolerant of, that she has an unknown hearing problem, and the timbre of just that one voice comes through louder than other voices? In other words, OP’s voice is not really louder, it doesn’t bother other people, but because of her hearing issue, she notices it more than the other voices in the office.

    3. Ruffingit*

      Let’s say that is true. The solution then would be for the attorney to move offices. The OP has already stated she could do so as there are appropriate empty offices available that would place the attorney far from the receptionist desk and therefore solve the problem. Rather than do that, the attorney has chosen to continually complain instead. Makes no sense and leads me to believe the attorney’s real problem is the OP as a person and not the volume.

      1. Lilly*

        Ruffingit, the first time I was told about her complaint my response was “Can she close her door?” To which I was told she refuses to close her door, saying it gets stuffy. BUT that doesn’t seem to matter with this woman, since she has told me she can hear everything I say, even with the door closed (which cemented by feeling that she is crazy)

        1. Windchime*

          She may very well be a nut-case, for sure. But there are plenty of people in my office that I can hear clearly through closed doors. Admittedly, I have very acute hearing so maybe this lady does, too.

        2. M*

          Not saying the coworker is not a nutcase, just saying that her nuttiess may not be related to you (you are OP, right?) talkng to her husband. She may well have already decided that you were “too loud” (unjustly according to other evidence) and complained to her husband about you. He knows she doesn’t like you (for no good reason) and *thats* why he knows she wouldn’t like him talking to you (b/c he’s married to a loon)..

  10. Not So NewReader*

    What if you went into talk with your boss and said something like this:

    “Boss, I really like working here. I am distressed about this write-up I received. I am willing to do whatever it takes to stop these complaints. What are your specific recommendations? I would like to get this issue under control and put it behind us. I am concerned because typically I do not have many problems at work, I try to help everyone and be a rock solid employee.”

    As an aside: Do you have any idea why the last receptionist left?

  11. AnonEMoose*

    Sounds like a classic workplace bully to me, especially once the “sweet to everyone else” behavior comes into it. OP, I’d suggest that you start looking for forums about handling bullying in the workplace when you’re the target – there are some good ones out there.

    And if you plan to let your boss know what’s happening (and I think you should), I would start documenting the behavior. In other words, every time people are loud in the lobby without getting shushed, make a note of it. Every time she shushes you, make a note of it (time, date, any other witnesses, as much of what is said when she shushes you as you can remember). If possible, keep your notes in a bound book in ink (so it’s harder to accuse you of adding or changing things later). And for the love of Deity, keep your notes on you at all times. Not at your desk or in your purse, but on your person.

    That way, you have a pattern of how often this is happening when you talk with your boss.

  12. Lilly*

    Everyone, THANK YOU SO MUCH for all your great advice. I have good news. I was so inspired by all of you that I went to talk with my boss. I started with I’m concerned about the reoccurring noise issue with So-and-So. Right off he said “I don’t understand it, you’re not loud, and no one else has ever complained” So I felt comfortable telling him that I think it may have something to do with…and explained about the X-mas party. He was super understanding and awesome. I said I was worried where this was going if she keeps complaining and complaining. He said not to worry because she doesn’t have the authority to do anything, and that he has thought, since her last complaint of just coming out and asking her what is going on! So we’ll see how it goes. I told him I was sorry he had to deal with all this nonsense and he said “It’s okay, it’s my job” So basically I need to call Michael Scott and ask him where I can get one of those Greatest Boss in the World mugs!

    Thank you again everyone

    1. Ruffingit*

      Oh awesome, really glad to hear you were able to have a productive and helpful conversation with your boss about this! I hope he’s able to solve this problem and tell Ms. Lawyer that SHE’S the one who needs to pipe down with her complaining noise.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Maybe they’ll move her anyway, and then she’ll be far away from you and you wont’ have to look at her face anymore.

      I like your boss again. :)

    3. RedStateBlues*

      Glad it worked out for you! It still doesn’t sit well with me how readily he wrote you up though; unless write ups really don’t mean anything where you work. I’ve worked at places where write ups were pretty much an exercise demanded by HR and places where they were taken pretty seriously.

  13. lilly*

    Just a little update, I just spoke with a co-worker and he said the receptionist who was here before me was really loud, that she even had a really annoying loud high pitched cackle, and that she laughed all the time. So, I guess it really IS personal.

  14. Anonymous*

    I think you are taking the wrong approach on this. Yes, it sounds like she has a personal grudge against you. However, I suggest you address her actual complaint, instead of what you think the complaint is.

    Talk to your boss, and tell him/her that you are trying very hard to accommodate this attorney’s desire for you to be quiet, but you have not found a solution that is acceptable for the attorney and still allows you to do your work (mention phone shushing, don’t bring up smalltalk).

    Then, offer solutions to that specific problem. Ask if the company can purchase things that would prevent your sound from traveling to the attorney. If the attorney is willing, I would start with a set of nice headphones for her. After that, you can suggest a nicer door for her if she has an office where she can close the door. Then talk about moving your work area, if possible. Then talk about putting up something like a privacy wall – a freestanding cubical-type wall between you and the attorney’s office that could potentially mute you. Or, talk about some soundproofing material near you (I often see some soundproofing material hanging from ceilings in small, busy restaurants, and there are things you can put on the wall). Maybe ask to put up a door between your area and the main hallway, if there isn’t one.

    I know it’s kind of galling to ask to buy nice headphones for someone who is being an ass. Think of it as an opportunity to make peace with her. If you don’t want to make peace, think of it as bribing her to leave you alone. This approach is a lot less likely to get you fired than complaining about the attorney’s bad behavior. And, if you are mistaken about her motives and she actually does have super-hearing, then you’re being the good guy.

    If the headphones bribe doesn’t work and she starts immediately complaining about some other aspect of your work, then this will become more transparent to your boss. You’ll have an easier time establishing a pattern when you address it with him. If it does work, then you get what you wanted, even if it wasn’t in the way you wanted it.

  15. Patty*

    I’ve skimmed the comments above, and especially since the attorney didn’t complain about the actual loud receptionist, it sounds like it’s personal.

    The thing is, it sounds like she’s making a hostile work environment for you. The only real cause and effect chain is her seeing you talking with her husband.. then the complaints started and kept going —

    It’s borderline sexual harassment.. she’s going after you because of an interaction with her husband — an innocent one… and it’s not going to stop until she wins. If she keeps doing it, I’d get it on the record with your boss that she’s making your work uncomfortable because you’re effectively afraid to open your mouth. You feel that you’re being singled out because of a perception by the attorney that you’re involved with her husband, and that the manager needs to be more assertive about responses to her harassment of you.

    On a practical level, perhaps a photo of a woman on your desk and slowly coming out in the office will stop it all — on the other hand, it could backfire because lots of guys have threesome fantasies about lesbians (most of my lesbian friends kind of gross out about this, so I don’t for a minute thing you’d do that with him… nor should she..) and she could be even worse.

    To be honest, it sounds like she’s trying to make you quit.

    1. Lilly the OP*

      I was confronted again today by this attorney. I was speaking to my co-worker and once again
      she said “My door is closed and I can hear every word you say, you need to
      keep your voice down” I said “I’m just trying to do my job” For some
      reason that pushed her over the edge. She said “Well I am too!! And if I
      can hear you with my door closed you need to be quiet!”

      SO I finally did what I should have done (actually what my boss should have
      done) a long time ago. I had a co-worker go into her office and shut the
      door. I talked in my normal tone, even raising it a little. He couldn’t
      hear a thing, not even my voice much less anything I was saying. Just to
      make sure, I had him stay out front and I went in her office. I couldn’t
      hear anything, except at one point I heard a quick little sound. He said he
      was practically yelling. Given these facts, and what happened at the
      Christmas party, she is harrassing me for lack of a better word. She is
      lying to try to bully and intimidate me, and worse, trying to get me into
      trouble, and I’m guessing she thinks if she continues they would eventually
      fire me (which is not true)
      I’m flabbergasted to say the least, and I definitely don’t know what to do
      at this point. Any suggestions?

  16. Lulu*

    Glad the manager was understanding. I would still tread lightly and keep your resume prepared just in case. Years ago I witnessed a young female clerk suddenly get fired for some seemingly petty reason after a new female manager’s husband chatted with her while waiting for his wife. The clerk had a year of solid work there and new manager had no complaints until the episode with her husband coming in to pick her up for lunch and while waiting, engaged the clerk in conversation.

  17. Lilly the OP*

    I was confronted again today by this attorney. I was speaking to my co-worker and once again
    she said “My door is closed and I can hear every word you say, you need to
    keep your voice down” I said “I’m just trying to do my job” For some
    reason that pushed her over the edge. She said “Well I am too!! And if I
    can hear you with my door closed you need to be quiet!”

    SO I finally did what I should have done (actually what my boss should have
    done) a long time ago. I had a co-worker go into her office and shut the
    door. I talked in my normal tone, even raising it a little. He couldn’t
    hear a thing, not even my voice much less anything I was saying. Just to
    make sure, I had him stay out front and I went in her office. I couldn’t
    hear anything, except at one point I heard a quick little sound. He said he
    was practically yelling. Given these facts, and what happened at the
    Christmas party, she is harrassing me for lack of a better word. She is
    lying to try to bully and intimidate me, and worse, trying to get me into
    trouble, and I’m guessing she thinks if she continues they would eventually
    fire me (which is not true)
    I’m flabbergasted to say the least, and I definitely don’t know what to do
    at this point. Any suggestions?

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