a computer-throwing coworker, a new manager calling employers from 9 years ago, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. New manager is calling previous employers from 9+ years ago

I have a current employer (of 9 years) who had changes in management. One of the managers above me called previous employees and employers asking how I perform and how I treat others (outside of the current organization). Is this allowed?

It’s allowed, but it’s weird. If the new manager wants to know about your work, she should look at your actual track record in your organization and talk to others who know about it. Calling employers from more than nine years ago is incredibly bizarre, not to mention a really indirect route to information that she has much more direct and recent access to. I’d take this as a flag that you’ve got someone above you who has some really odd ideas about how to do things, and maybe as a flag that she has concerns about you.

In your shoes, I think I’d just ask her directly what’s up — as in, “I absolutely understand the need to get familiar with me and my work. There are a number of people here who have worked closely with me, including X, Y and Z. I wasn’t sure about why you were getting in touch with old employers — is there any concern that I can help address?”

2. How to decline a job offer after seeing the contract

I have always worked in museum education and have recently started as a freelancer due to having to constantly move (my husband is in the military). Freelancing has been a bit slow to take off, so I am also looking for part-time jobs that I can fit around it.

I applied and got accepted as a workshop leader for a small company I had never heard of before. The job seemed ideal for my circumstances and the owner of the company seemed very pleasant and competent. I accepted the role and she said she would send a contract. I then heard nothing for two weeks. I started getting red flags and looked into the company more. There seems to be very little about it on the internet apart from a few old adverts and no social network presence, which I found quite strange for the industry. When I got my contract, I started getting more red flags. There is a lot of preparation, meetings and training that I would not get paid for and I was responsible for sourcing clients. I also had to give over a month of notice to leave, whereas I would only get a week if they decided to let me go. I would not be entitled to any holidays.

I know none of this is awful but have decided not to take the job, as I am getting a bad feeling that I have decided to trust. I was quite enthusiastic about the role during the interview as I understood it to be something different. How do I politely decline the offer after my conditional acceptance? I am a bit worried about burning a bridge as it is a small industry.

Well, you’ve just gotten information about the offer that you didn’t have previously (unpaid work, responsibilities, notice requirements, and no holidays), so it’s very reasonable to just explain that now that you have additional details, it’s not in line with what you’re looking for. I’d say something like, “Thanks so much for sending the specifics of the offer. I hadn’t realized some of what was included in the contract (such as the lack of paid holidays, the unpaid training and prep time, and the client sourcing responsibilities). Reading this over, I see that it’s a bit different from what I was envisioning, and I think I need to decline the offer. But I appreciate the time you spent talking with me and wish you the best of luck in filling the role.”

(Alternately, you could try to negotiate away the parts you don’t like; that’s often doable — although it sounds like you’re not really interested in the job at this point.)

3. My boyfriend’s coworker tried to throw a computer at him

Yesterday, my boyfriend got a computer monitor thrown at him twice, by an angry coworker. The coworker, Ivan, asked my boyfriend, Tom, if he had finished a P&A form that Ivan gave to him earlier in the day. Tom replied that yes, it was finished, and continued to work on what he was doing. Ivan got angry, and through the service window, tried to throw Tom’s computer monitor at him. Since it was attached to his computer, it didn’t get very far. Ivan knocked over a full can of Coke while he tried chucking the monitor, and then proceeded to come into the door of the department and do the same thing, since Tom put the monitor back in its place as Ivan was coming around the corner. He got into Tom’s face, and being about 2 feet taller and wider than Tom, was towering over him and trying to edge him on to fight. Apparently, Ivan wanted to know something else completely than what he asked and got mad that Tom couldn’t read his mind. Tom told Ivan that he wasn’t going to fight him at work because that’s just stupid, and Ivan tried picking up the monitor to throw it again, only this time it fell onto the desk and came apart at the seam, landing in the puddle of Coke that was on the desk.

First of all, Tom’s boss wasn’t at work and didn’t bother to tell anyone he wasn’t there, so Tom had to call his boss and leave a voicemail of what happened. It took about 5 to 10 minutes for the boss to get there. Instead of asking if Tom was okay, he asked if anyone had seen this happen, and yes, another coworker saw it, and had immediately gone to see if Tom was okay after this altercation. The only thing that happened to Ivan is he’s getting written up. He hasn’t apologized (not that he’s required to, but he is an adult) and Tom is kind of afraid of Ivan, as this came out of nowhere and his boss seemingly doesn’t care about his employees’ well-being.

Is there anything my boyfriend can do to protect himself? Since he never got physically touched, I don’t see a point in filing a police report. Also, instead of doing anything, his boss just asked Tom what he wanted him to do about it and had sort of a condescending tone. My boyfriend is already looking for another job elsewhere, since he doesn’t want to work in a hostile environment. Is it normal for a boss to ask if anyone witnessed something before asking if both parties are okay? I can understand if it’s a liability issue, but otherwise I think it’s kind of messed up. (Tom told me last night that he’s not really afraid of Ivan, but he’s worried that this guy is going to be waiting for him sometime after work, since he stays about 30 minutes longer than everyone else, and he’s also worried that this guy is going to freak out for no reason again. But he knows his boss isn’t going to do anything, as I used to work here and was being bullied by another employee and all I was ever told was to suck it up, even though he was actively preventing me from doing part of my job and spreading rumors to customers that I didn’t want to do my job.)

Wow. Yeah, ideally your boss would have first talked to Tom about what had happened rather than going straight to asking whether anyone else had seen it. That’s a question he might want to ask at some point in the conversation, but it’s weird that it was the first thing out of his mouth. On the other, he showed up in 5 to 10 minutes on a day he wasn’t at work, so that part says he took it pretty seriously. But the write-up sounds like a slap on the wrist, obviously. (Although it’s possible it was more serious than you know; for all we know, Ivan was raked over the coals by their boss and told that if he even looks askance at Tom in the future, he’ll be fired. That’s not something you’d know about.)

As for what your boyfriend can do, well, if he feels unsafe around Ivan, he should tell his boss that. He could also make a point of not being alone around the guy. But beyond that, I’m not sure there are a lot of options here, unfortunately.

4. After being rejected, asking if I should apply for a different role

I’ve had a decent number of interviews that I felt went quite well but ultimately did not result in an offer. I’m reaching a point in my job search where some of the positions I want to apply to are similar ones at the same organizations I interviewed at. However, since it’s par for the course not to give any feedback following a rejection (and occasionally no formal rejection at all, even after an interview), I sort of have no idea where I stand. Is it okay to email my prior interviewer and ask in a friendly way if they think it would be worthwhile to apply for Job #2? I always send a thank-you note after an interview or after a rejection, so I don’t think there should be any bad feelings involved. In my fantasy world, asking this leads them to remember me in a positive light and put in a good word with the new hiring manager, but I also would really appreciate being told I’m just totally not qualified or am a bad fit for the organization, were that the case. Good move or terrible idea?

Sure, it’s fine to do that … but I’d also manage your expectations about responses. If these are organizations that won’t give feedback as a matter of policy (and sometimes won’t even bother with rejections), you might not be likely to get a candid answer — but there’s no harm in trying, particularly with an interviewer with whom you had a particular rapport.

5. When an employer asks if you have pending offers

I was wondering if it was a good sign when HR calls from an interview I went on to say they are still in process but wanted to know if I had any pending offers or if I’m interviewing anywhere else. They called a week later with that response and again the following week with the same response and to apologize it’s taking so long.

It usually means that they know their process is dragging out and they want to find out if they’re in danger of losing candidates they’re interested in as a result. So it means you’re someone they’re interested in, but you could be one of several; I wouldn’t take it as a sign of anything more than that.

(That said, “are you interviewing anywhere else?” is an obnoxious question to ask. “Are you in the final stages with anyone else?” or “do you have timeline constraints we should know about?” are fine, but “are you interviewing anywhere else?” is silly.)

{ 111 comments… read them below }

  1. Nina

    #3: That’s terrifying. A computer monitor chucked at you will do some serious damage, no matter who you are. Good thing it was still hooked up, and I’m glad your boyfriend wasn’t harmed. I have no idea what’s going on, but that type of Hulk-like aggression doesn’t sound healthy. It shouldn’t be happening in the office.

    Since liability seems to be the boss’ only concern, I would follow Allison’s advice: your boyfriend should keep applying for work, and stay clear of Ivan. If he can go off on a dime like that, I wouldn’t be surprised if all his coworkers were staying clear of him.

  2. Homme

    # 3- Your boyfriend should file a police report and consult an attorney. It doesn’t matter whether this guy physically touched your boyfriend or not – he assaulted him. That kind of behavior is legally and morally reprehensible. At the very least, if you file a police report, this guy’s behavior will be on record in case something else happens in the future.

    1. A Dispatcher

      Depends on the state; Technically in New York the action described is not assault. It is still a crime though and could/should be reported.

      1. Chriama

        How is that not assault? He tried to throw a computer monitor at him! It doesn’t matter that he missed. I could see this being classified as “attempted” assault, but there’s no way it’s just totally legal. I think the bf should go back to the boss, tell him he’s really disturbed about what happened and needs reassurance that the workplace will be safe for all employees. He could also go to HR for support, but either way mention that he’s thinking of filing a police report because he’s worried that Ivan may be thinking of doing something else and he feels unsafe. That will get someone moving, and if it doesn’t then at least he’s protected if Ivan does decide to retaliate (either physically or something like damaging his car).

        1. A Dispatcher

          I didn’t say it was legal, just that (in NYS) it’s not assault. Here, it’s kind of like assault and battery are combined and there needs to be physical injury to be classified as assault.

          1. Doreen

            New York is a little weird-what most states cakk “battery” is “assault” in NY and the crime that is usually called “assault” is some level of ” harassment”

          2. Chriama

            You’re right. I missed your last sentence where you specified that it’s still a crime. So I retract that first part of my comment (although I really think he should either file a police report or threaten to do so).

          3. Angora

            Forget the manager go to HR. Send an email to HR with full story. Bc your private e-mail address for documention and self-protection. Request formal meditation. But job search. You need to act as if you wish to resolve it even if you are out the door. Your boyfriend needs to document everything. Many times companies will let a top performer be a bully..or are afraid to confront an unpleasant situation.

      2. Homme

        Lets not play word games, as it takes away from the seriousness of the situation. I didn’t say it was assault, I said this guy assaulted her boyfriend, in the ordinary sense of the word. I’m aware the law depends on which state she is in. But in most states, there is a law that covers this sort of behavior. Call it harassment, assault, what you will.

    2. Brett

      Most states (not all), physical contact is not required for assault. And even in the ones where physical contact is required, there is normally another crime that covers what would be assault in other states.

      So, there was a crime. But that doesn’t resolve the real question of whether or not to file a report and seek charges against Ivan.

        1. Artemesia

          It is the continuing threatening behavior that raises this to something that should be reported. If it was a one off and the guy apologized, maybe not. But this guy is a hulking menace.

    3. smilingswan

      Came here to say the exact same thing. Assault doesn’t necessarily involve touching, battery does. File the police report, that way you have a paper trail if things escalate, especially since there is a witness to this incident.

    4. Nusy

      I was just about to say the same. Most jurisdictions separate battery (physical touching) from assault (threat of force or fear). Also, OP mentioned that the monitor came apart at the seam – that is, there was property damage. In fact, I would have called the police maybe even before my boss (but then again, I work in a county building with deputy sheriffs as security staff).

  3. neverjaunty

    OP #3, I am completely floored by your blasé statement that there’s no point in calling the police because Tom wasn’t “physically touched”. Ivan tried pretty dang hard to “physically touch” your boyfriend, you know, by throwing a piece of heavy computer equipment at him. TWICE. And then tried to goad him into a fight. Are you really saying it doesn’t count because he missed?

    Yes, he should absolutely make a police report. That way the next time Ivan attacks your boyfriend – and there will be a next time, since Boss made it clear there will be no consequences – your boyfriend’s side of the story and Ivan’s behavior will have a paper trail.

    1. Henrietta Gondorf

      If he’d fired a gun at Tom and missed, it’d still be a crime. Just because you’re not particularly efficient at it, doesn’t mean you’re not committing a crime.

      I know it comes up periodically here, but I think reading the Gift of a Fear may have some benefits. Ivan does not sound like a safe person to be around.

    2. Elysian

      I agree that even though there was no physical touching doesn’t mean it can’t be reported. I mean, I’m not sure what the police would do, but it would at least create a record of the incident if something more serious happens. They may interview Ivan, and perhaps being interviewed by the police would be more motivating than being reprimanded by the boss. I think its worth reporting for those two reasons, if no others. I’m glad your boyfriend wasn’t hurt.

      1. JM in England

        I agree Elysian.

        Reporting the incident to the police would, as you say, create a record. This could potentially strengthen his case should Tom need to take legal action against Ivan in future.

        As an aside, under UK law both threatening to harm someone and actually doing it are both classified as assault.

        From what I read, even though Ivan has allegedly been written-up, it still sounds like management are sweeping the matter under the carpet.

        1. Phyllis

          It sounds like the reason the boss wanted to know if the incident was witnessed is; if the answer was no, he wasn’t going to take any action at all. Hope your BF gets out of there soon!!!

          1. fposte

            Though it could also be an attempt to find out if somebody other than Tom or Ivan could offer their take on the situation. That’s especially likely if the two have had any issues before.

  4. Artemesia

    #3 Throwing a computer monitor at you is assault. Especially given that there was a witness, it is not out of the question to have called the police and pressed charges on that.

    #2 Don’t feel any hesitation about declining the contract; discovering you are responsible for working for free and recruiting your own clients when that is not what you thought you were being hired to do makes this a smart decision. It isn’t the job you agreed to take; don’t let anyone guilt you about it. Of course be pleasant and gracious about it, but don’t let them bully you.

  5. Juli G.

    OP 3, is the boss the Big Boss? If not, it’s time for Tom to go over his head. If yes, it’s time to call the cops.

  6. James M

    #2. If you’re feeling generous, along with your rejection, append a summary of the contract’s points that are most egregious to you. If you do (did?) decide to negotiate the contract, please send AAM a follow up and let us know how it went.

    #3. +1 to everyone who suggests reporting this kind of thing to the police.

    #5. Simply say that you really like their company and would appreciate a timely decision on their part. Companies should know that the best candidates will have multiple offers; just leave it at that.

  7. Sandrine (France)

    OP 3:

    Go higher, to the police, whatever, but something else should be done.

    This Ivan person should suffer the consequences of his actions. If “fired” won’t be it, then it has to be something else.

    If nothing can be done I sure hope your boyfriend can flee ASAP… while still reporting the incident. This is too big to leave as is :( .

  8. Jamie

    Wait just one minute…we do NOT manhandle the computer equipment or peripherals!

    Yanking the monitor while still attached could unseat the graphics cards…not to mention a full can of coke being dumped in the vicinity of the now askew tower…

    I’m glad the OPs boyfriend is okay, but no one is worried about the trauma sustained by the vid card or motherboard who was violently assaulted?

    I’d have Ivan’s head for that – maybe the bf should have reported him to IT rather than the boss. Everyone at my place knows that when workplace rumbles break out they are to first remove themselves from the vicinity of any gear issued by my department.

    In all seriousness though, I personally would consider any physical attack on another person a fireable offense first time out. I understand that the other party will not and often should not be privy to the extent of discipline being meted out to the coworker but in instances of violence or even a significant physical threat they have a right to enough information to feel safe, IMO.

    But again, I don’t see how a scenario where this plays out ends in anything except Ivan being immediately escorted out of the building and fired – so the whole thing is bizarre to me.

    1. Chriama

      I agree that in situations where a coworker was acting violently, the victim has a right to know enough to feel safe. Imo, a write-up wouldn’t make me feel safe, unless I knew it included specific terms about how Ivan is to act towards Tom in the future and the consequences for violating the terms (and as long as the consequences were severe enough to actually be a deterrent to Ivan.) Otherwise, I would fear that a ‘slap on the wrist’ kind of write-up would just cause Ivan to retaliate in some way. I would recommend that Tom follow up on this and specifically mention that Ivan made him feel unsafe and he’s afraid of further retaliation. Even if Tom doesn’t feel that way, it’s not an unreasonable sentiment and it covers his bases in case Ivan ever does escalate his behavior.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        The OP’s statement that Tom told her that he’s not afraid of Ivan has me thinking that he’s either really not, or doesn’t want to tell his girlfriend (and perhaps possibly his boss) that he is.

        1. Liz T

          He said he’s not afraid–but everything after that means he’s afraid! He’s “worried” that this guy will stalk him and attack him again. It can be difficult for people (particularly men, but anyone really) to admit they’re feeling the emotion of fear, as though that makes them weak or cowardly, but this person is concerned for his physical safety. In terms of his course of action, what we call the feeling isn’t important–it’s that this guy knows he might be in danger.

        2. Chriama

          It’s true that maybe he doesn’t feel afraid at all, and I think I definitely have biases that are coloring my perception and reaction (physical violence is always a bfd for me because of my small stature, but 2 guys may feel on equal footing compared to how I would feel). However, I still feel strongly that there should be some kind of official record and Tom should know enough to feel that management has his back on this.

        3. Sue Wilson

          Eh, I’m pretty sure saying, “I’m not afraid, but Ivan might come after me” is an oxymoron designed to protect masculinity here.

          1. Marie

            +1.

            I was also thinking that the situation would have been handled very differently if a large and much stronger, aggressive man had thrown a monitor twice at, say, a female colleague. I picture the boss taking the incident much more seriously, and Ivan getting terminated (or at a minimum, a final warning).

    2. Anon Exchange Email Admin

      +1

      I was thinking this as well and cringing at the image of cords being yanked, things falling in spilled soda, the monitor splitting open.

      ;)

    3. class factotum

      As someone who was unable to save a keyboard after knocking a cup of coffee on it, I, too, was aghast at the coke being spilled so near the computer. Will nobody think of the hardware?

      1. CompuGeek

        The poor graphics card. If it gets unseated, then the next time the computer boots it it would give four beeps. Not one, but four whole beeps. That is an SOS distress call I’ve heard before and never want to experience again.

    4. Nichole

      I agree- it boggles me that any rational person would not see this as a Big Deal in the first place (suggesting that the boss may not be very rational), but if they’re so blase as to ignore threatening behavior toward an employee, I’d think they’d at least take notice of actions with such a high likelihood of destroying company property.

      1. KrisL

        Nichole , that’s what I thought too. Very weird. I wonder if Ivan is related to someone important.

  9. NurseB

    OP #3: I have been in a similar situation and would have been even more upset had my boss not handled it the way he did. Many years ago before I was NurseB, I was OfficeManagerB and one of the people in our office flipped out one day, yelling and becoming extremely aggressive toward me but didn’t actually touch me. Of course my General Manager was at a national convention in the Bahamas but I got ahold of him, told him the situation, and by the time he returned the other person was fired. He was clear and decisive about the behavior that was ok in our office and it showed. Good luck to your boyfriend, as it sounds like he may have to talk further with his manager or the police to see much more done than has already happened.

    1. Jamie

      Absolutely. It sends a clear message to the other employees that violence or threats aren’t tolerated and safety of the employees is a priority. I’m glad your boss handled that properly.

    2. ExceptionToTheRule

      God, I wish every manager would handle things like that.

      I have a coworker who got verbally abusive with one of the people in my department. It was reported to that person’s manager and… nothing was really done.

      Then a few months later, the same coworker got verbally abusive with me. I reported it to the same manager and reminded them of the previous incident. Nothing happened.

      Two days after that, he got verbally abusive with a third person. That person went the same manager. I escalated things to HR. I was very, very clear that I was following the corporate approved policy for reporting these types of incidents and that all of the people this guy was verbally abusing were women. I told HR rep that they needed to make it stop or the next time it happened, I’d continue up the corporate approved ladder for reporting harassment.

      The behavior has stopped, but we all figure it’s just a matter of time before it happens again and don’t get me started on the other guy who was throwing chairs…

    3. OP #3/Tom's GF

      Wow, even when he was in the Bahamas your boss answered? I’d kill for a boss like that! See, Tom was expecting Ivan to get fired when he went to work yesterday…This happened on a Thursday, and he was still working there–when Tom asked the shop foreman, he said “Ivan got written up.”
      Tom doesn’t want to have to file a police report, but said he’s kind of nervous around Ivan and is trying not to be left alone with him–but he doesn’t like my idea of taking an old webcam to work and using it to record video of the entire day, so he’s going to look into filing a report, unless it’s too late? I don’t think it is, but I don’t know a lot about that kind of stuff! Thank you for sharing!

      1. fposte

        Tom should not video co-workers without his boss’s permission, or he’s the one who could lose his job.

        It wouldn’t hurt him to see if the police will accept a report at this point, but that’s not likely to affect the workplace situation. If he wants Ivan to be forbidden to come to his work area, he should ask for that explicitly.

      2. Brett

        It is definitely not too late to file a report. The longer he waits though, the harder it will be to get the other witness to participate.

      3. Chriama

        A secret webcam will never be admissible. So if Ivan pulls something and Tom has illegally obtained proof, Ivan walks on a technicality. I still think he should file the report, and loop HR in. Even if he doesn’t want to escalate the issue within the company right now, when Tom leaves, if he has any trouble with references (because jerk bosses are jerks) he (or a letter from a lawyer) can remind HR of the fact that he had to file a police report because they failed to address a coworker who was physically violent with him and get them to agree to a specific story for reference checks. Or, say Tom gets fired (again because jerks are jerks), he can use the fact of the police report to negotiate better severance. In other words, get an official record now — and make sure you have proof that the company knew about it — in case you ever need it later.

        1. sunny-dee

          Ivan would only walk if the *police* illegally recorded something (that’s the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine). It’s still admissible if Tom does it — he just gets in trouble, too. People do some kind of surreptitious recording a lot, like nanny cams and even security videos.

          1. Natalie

            And even illegally obtaining evidence doesn’t automatically mean acquittal – it just means the state can’t use the illegally obtained evidence or anything flowing from it. Plenty of people are convicted even after some evidence is thrown out.

        2. Apollo Warbucks

          My understanding is you are quite within your rights to record someone unless they have a reasonable exceptation of privacy. So warring a wire in someone’s house would be wrong but a secret recording of them in the work place or on the street would be fine

          1. Liane

            Recordings, video & audio, are covered by state laws (in the United States), so they do vary. It’s my understanding* that
            in some states only 1 party has to give permission for it to be legal; in many states, however both/all parties must be aware & give permission.

            *not a lawyer, but do have 1 or 2 friends who happen to be ;)

            1. fposte

              Audio and video are subject to different laws, so let’s be clear about which one we’re talking about–the one-party two-party thing is audio, not video. Additionally, the OP hasn’t said that her proposal was for a *secret* videocamera, and openly videorecording is a different matter.

              However, I still think that the concern with any of this is the job’s opinion of his action. “Legal” doesn’t mean “job has to put up with it.”

          2. LJL

            It really does depend on the state; all the laws are different. If you plan on recording people without their knowledge or consent, first check out your state’s laws to find out if it’s legal.

    4. Mallory

      I had a coworker at LastJob who came in one morning and verbally flipped out on everybody. We were all standing around chatting before starting the workday, and she walked in and immediately pointed her finger at all of us and said, “Don’t any of you people [eff] with me today!” As she continued to rant, I looked at her with my mouth open in astonishment and did a sort of nervous/incredulous laugh, and she pointed right at me and said, “And that goes for you to!”

      While all this was going on, somebody slipped back to the General Manager’s office to alert him to what was happening. He came up the hallway and out into the lobby where we all were, fired her on the spot, and escorted her directly to her car with instructions to never come back. It was awesome.

      1. lonepear

        Hm, I think I feel sorry for her. While the flipping out was totally unacceptable at work, if she never did that before, it sounds like the sort of thing someone says who has had some stressful thing happen and is reacting poorly. If I were her manager I’d definitely send her home for the day, but I probably wouldn’t fire her if she got herself sorted out and came back and apologized.

        1. Mallory

          Oh, her final flip-out on that last day was the last straw in a whole heap of straws. Everyone was so relieved to see her go. My boss didn’t even want to hire her because her reputation preceded her, but her boss (yes, the same GM who ended up walking her out) made her because the candidate was his neighbor and he wanted to be nice. I still wonder how awkward it was for him in his neighborhood after that.

  10. Jamie

    Okay after a retread there a couple of things I don’t understand:

    The first attempt to throw the monitor is through a “service window.” If he’s reaching through what I think of as a service window you couldn’t throw anything, but maybe he tried to knock it over?

    Second attempt he’s in the office itself and trying to throw the monitor in an attempt to harm Tom. What’s the fixation on the monitor? Because it seems like one of the least efficient ways to hurt someone if you’re in the same space – and if you’re angry enough that your now on your second attempt to commit assault, you don’t at that point just f the monitor plan and punch him?

    Especially given the size difference between the two men. Although I’m sure the 2 feet description is hyperbole unless Tom is 4′ something or Ivan is 7′ something – possible but unlikely. But as Ivan is so much larger than Tom and as angry as he was, why is he being thwarted by a monitor cable?

    I can’t imagine being angry enough to resort to violence, but if I were and the first thing I tried to throw wouldn’t budge I would grab something else, or just smack him.

    This is weirdly fascinating to me, because I just cannot envision this chain of events.

    I’ve seen guys like Ivan in the workplace over the course of my career – once they lose it they need to be pulled off while someone else is dialing 911.

    I’m not excusing it by any means, but I’m wondering if Ivan was attempting to intimidate him and f with his stuff and area rather than a genuine attempt at assault. Because in this situation it seems that if he wanted to hurt him he certainly could have.

    (Even if that was the case it’s still cause for immediate termination, IMO.)

    1. Mimmy

      The first attempt to throw the monitor is through a “service window.” If he’s reaching through what I think of as a service window you couldn’t throw anything, but maybe he tried to knock it over?

      That confused me too. Given that and the description of the size difference makes me wonder if the situation wasn’t quite as violent as it sounds. I still believe something definitely happened, though, and if Tom fears for his safety, that’s not something to be taken lightly.

      1. NylaW

        Same. The chain of events is a little weird. Unless by service window the OP just means the service desk and it doesn’t have one of those Plexiglas windows with the little opening for passing stuff back and forth?

        Even if the incident is less violent than it sounds, Ivan should still be in way more trouble than it seems he is.

        1. Laura

          At one place I sometimes go to do business, the “service window” is a normal horizontally-sliding window; it’s normally open about a foot, and can open as wide as two and a half feet. I immediately envisioned something like that being shoved to its widest extent during the grab for the monitor.

          But Ivan was either trying to be threatening or something, rather than actually hurt, or he somehow gets weirdly fixated, because yeah, the monitor wasn’t the most effective path once he was in the space.

    2. fposte

      I was picturing one I saw at a college–a big open aperture of about 8 feet wide going nearly to the ceiling (soffit and molding on top). More like the space above a pony wall than your usual window.

      I suppose if Ivan is leaning over something like that to hoist a monitor, he’s diminished his power considerably and the cords may be more of an obstacle. But I do agree that if he can’t manage to yank the cords out of a monitor he’s not the threat he’s attempting to be.

      But yeah, nthing the call the police, and maybe the office would be more concerned if the OP’s BF pointed out the risk of damage to the technology.

      1. fposte

        Meaning that he figured hitting him with a computer monitor was a loophole, or that he was going for show and was never actually going to throw the monitor? The second would actually explain a lot.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Maybe that he wanted to commit some violence on the monitor, but not on Tom — knocking it over or throwing it. Still unacceptable but a different flavor than using it as a weapon.

          1. OP #3/Tom's GF

            Ivan said that Tom was being a jerk, as if that excused his behavior…I don’t think he thought it was wrong at all which makes me really worried.

            I mean, the guy got into his face a little bit after he tried to make the monitor go airborne, like he wanted Tom to throw the first punch…I’m pretty sure he was trying to start a fight.

    3. OP #3/Tom's GF

      When I say ‘service window’ picture a normal, slides to the left or right house window with no screen in it that is above Tom’s desk–it’s so he can give people car parts without having to leave his department. About a foot away is the door to get into said department….This is in an of course, illegally built structure Bossman built inside the building he is currently using for this business–and he doesn’t own it. So it’s literally just a normal house window missing it’s screen!
      Ivan was standing outside the window when he asked, and when I asked Tom to clarify how he tried to throw the monitor, Ivan used an upward swiping motion with just one of his hands. He did this twice, once through the window and again when he decided to try again after entering the department.

        1. OP #3/Tom's GF

          I don’t know, from the description Tom gave me, the monitor went airborne before it slammed face-down on the desk because of the monitor cable preventing it from going very far–He’s got two monitors side-by-side, so there’s one of those weird little splitter cables that isn’t very long coming from somewhere…Plus his tower is under one of the monitors. Either way, Ivan raged and tried to harm him–I’d be just as upset if he had thrown a sleeve of bag of pens or something at him because it was with malicious intent!

          1. fposte

            I’m not saying that what he did is okay–it’s just that you can’t really expect to lift and target a monitor with a quick upsweep from the bottom, and if the monitor cable stayed attached there wasn’t much force involved.

            If Ivan tells the police that he was trying to damage the monitor, not to throw anything at Tom, that could be pretty credible.

            1. Jamie

              I agree with this. It’s inexcusable behavior and I’m not going to lie, if someone came and did that to me I’d be pooping the proverbial brick, but it sounds like an attempt to intimidate by knocking his stuff over rather than intent to harm.

              That would be a far more credible report if he were to go to the police.

              Speaking from experience any kind of significant force can yank a display port out, but if it’s a DVI or VGA (your traditional monitor connections) if it’s screwed in tight enough even significant force won’t pull the cable, but it will definitely unseat the graphic card or motherboard (depending on where the connection is.)

              Source: I’m a very clumsy IT and it’s possible I’ve knocked a monitor (or two) off of a desk which yanked the cords and had to repair the resulting damage.

              By no means am I minimizing the severity of this, it is a bfd, but he would do himself a favor if he reports it to just explain the events rather than characterizing it as Ivan trying to throw the monitor at him to cause injury.

        1. OP #3/Tom's GF

          Without getting into too much detail, the structure is illegal because that’s what the boss said. He’s brought it up on more than just one occasion!

    4. OP #3/Tom's GF

      Something I’d like to add is that no one is supposed to be in the parts department except for Tom, another coworker, Tom’s Boss and the shop foreman. Basically Tom and maintenance are only allowed in there–but this rule hasn’t really been enforced for a while, according to Tom.

      I keep telling Tom to quickly back away from the window with his hands in the air every time Ivan approaches it, but he doesn’t like that idea very much.

      In any case, Tom has realized that his boss doesn’t give a single damn about him, so he’s quitting the minute he finds a job somewhere else!

      1. fposte

        Yeah, the backing away thing actually sounds like it would incite escalation rather than defusing anything; I’d recommend against it.

        Aside from a new job, what is it that Tom would like to have happen? Does he want Ivan fired? (Not sure that helps the fear after work thing.) Does he want Ivan to be told not to come near the tech bay?

        1. OP #3/Tom's GF

          When I asked him, he said he didn’t want Ivan fired, but he’s afraid he’ll do something else as unprovoked and stupid in the future. From what I’ve gathered he doesn’t want to do anything that would prompt Ivan to retaliate against him in some way, but he also doesn’t think he’ll be working here much longer.

          AAM, if you read this, can OSHA help with this in some way? There’s no HR department to go to, so the only option Tom has is to get a new job, unless we can get someone else in there to make the boss do his job…which seems very unlikely to me.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            No, OSHA doesn’t deal with stuff like this. There’s no government agency that would (other than the police if it were assault).

            I think you’re right that the options are to convince the boss to handle it differently or to change jobs.

    5. samaD

      thinking out loud about this….
      in tv or movies when the tough guy pushes the monitor it goes flying (because there are no cables) and breaks with a satisfyingly intimidating crash and the other guy, who should know better than to block anything the tough guy wants, probably gets hit by the monitor and is either knocked out or grovels and produces the information. Either way he never annoys the tough guy again.

      when that didn’t happen with a push from outside he came in to try it from the inside because, as you say, the point was the intimidation. His script said the monitor was the method so when it didn’t work again he had to escalate, especially because he now looked weak because he couldn’t throw the monitor and stupid because he didn’t think about the cables.

      and hey, if it’s just the _monitor_ that hits him then _Ivan_ didn’t hit him, so there’s no problem, right? He should have ducked! If Tom rose to the bait and started a fight Ivan would be completely justified in defending himself. /sarcasm/cynicism

    6. Cat Herder

      It’s common for people to lose control of their anger in stages rather than all at once. Ivan’s behavior represents a loss of control, but not a complete one. He has a lot less control of himself than somebody who yells, less than somebody who punches a wall, and only marginally more than somebody who uses violence effectively.

      To put it in slightly different terms: He may have left the monitor plugged in because a small part of him was hanging onto enough control to keep the assault from being effective. When he loses that last bit of control the outcome will be different. And it’s probably a matter of if, not when. These things tend to escalate. Each bit of control one loses makes it easier to lose the next bit.

      The OP should report this to the police and give his manager a heads up that he’s done so. And he needs to seriously weigh the risks of quitting now against whatever damage Ivan is capable of doing. This is not necessarily a situation where unemployment is the worst possible outcome, especially if the OP has savings.

      At the risk of generalizing too much: Women and men tend to process anger differently. Women sometimes underestimate the threat posed by people like Ivan because they don’t recognize what’s behind the behavior. For me, having spent my formative years learning to master the effects of testosterone and get off the anger staircase far below the monitor-throwing stage, the pattern is instantly recognizable and obviously dangerous.

      1. Kate M

        Just to be clear, abusers (not saying that Ivan is technically an abuser by whatever definition is used, but he was being abusive in this case) in general don’t “lose their temper” and lose control so much as they use their anger to intimidate, knowing very well what they are doing.

        To quickly summarize some studies I read about where psychologists/therapists worked with a group of abusive men and published about it (maybe someone else has the link to the study), there were two anecdotes that stood out to me:

        -one was a woman with an abusive husband who told the psychologist that her husband lost his temper sometimes and would smash things in the house, but didn’t mean it and was always contrite after. The psychologist then asked her who’s things were smashed (his, her’s, or a combination), and who ended up cleaning the mess up. She was surprised to realize that he always smashed HER things, and she was always the one cleaning up (leading her to realize that he knew exactly what he was doing, because if he truly lost control he wouldn’t be able to differentiate who’s things he was smashing).

        -The psychologists also worked with a group of abusers, and were creating a skit about abuse, and asked the abusers to watch it and give feedback. During the feedback, the abusers started getting really into it, and saying things like “you have to step closer to her to intimidate her” and gave suggestions to gaslight the partner, letting the psychologists know that they were aware of their behavior and knew how to manipulate the situation.

        Not saying that that is exactly what happened here, but I think it’s important to differentiate between “losing your temper” (which I think happens to everyone to some degree once in a while) and using anger and violence to intimidate under the guise of “losing control”, especially for repeat offenders.

        Sorry for the tangent, and I wish I had the link to the study now, I’m trying to find it.

        1. One of the Annes

          This is really interesting and eye opening. I’d always kind of lazily assumed that physical abusers had poor impulse control.

          Something else that would seem to support the study conclusions you describe is that abusers seem to “lose control” only behind closed doors (not out in public around other people who could intervene).

        2. ORione

          I was reading about that. “Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men”, by Lundy Bancroft.

  11. NylaW

    Wow. OP #3 workplace violence is workplace violence. It doesn’t matter if someone just threatens, throws something and misses, or actually physically touches someone. If the manager won’t deal with it appropriately, your boyfriend absolutely should report this to the police. Especially as you say he’s worried this guy is going to be waiting for him after work.

    1. KrisL

      The police might not be able to do much about it now, but it’s good to have a police report on this (with the witness also saying what happened). The mere fact Tom went to the police might make Ivan decide to leave him alone. If Ivan doesn’t leave him alone, having a police report will be helpful for that.

  12. Graciosa

    Regarding #1, Alison has come up with a clever way to address some really bizarre behavior. What does this manager think she’s doing? A good manager is focused on what matters, which is your current performance at her company, not the performance of a person with nine years less experience at a different company.

    To me, this was a huge warning of an incompetent manager. She does not know how to assess an individual’s performance in the job – which is a core responsibility for a manager. I would be very nervous about working for her.

    On #2, this is a wonderful example of the importance of contracts! Seeing the company’s expectations reduced to writing provided important information – take it seriously.

    To OP #4, I wanted to reinforce the importance of not expecting too much from this. I would only do it if the jobs were pretty closely related (for example, same job reporting to a different manager or at a different location). Otherwise, you’ll look like someone who just wants a job – any job – and that appearance can make you a weaker candidate rather than a stronger one.

    In my company, we already share resumes among hiring managers within the function – and feedback – so there wouldn’t be any possible upside from this attempt, but that probably isn’t the case universally. Good luck.

  13. Beti

    #3 – I’m not sure going to the police should be the next step. Is there no HR department? It seems to me that’s the next logical step. And I asked my husband who is a retired police officer. At least in our jurisdiction, the police would not be able to do anything. And a DA would never take this seriously. As far as filing a police report to “create a record”, that won’t make any difference if Ivan actually assaults Tom in the future. Just a piece of paper saying “they had some sort of argument” does not constitute any sort of legal evidence that could be submitted in court (like a previous conviction or similar).

    I feel like we are not necessarily getting the full story here. What happened after Tom told Ivan “yes, I’ve finished the report”? Did he say “I’ll give it to you in a minute”? Or just completely ignore him? Also, what’s the history between these two? Have they not gotten along in the past? Did Tom take Ivan’s red stapler? Of course the girlfriend is going take her boyfriend’s side and he also may not be telling her everything e.g., “I’m not really afraid but he also might be waiting for me after work.”

    “I used to work here and was being bullied by another employee and all I was ever told was to suck it up” also stood out to me. Not unreasonably, the OP is going to see anything at this workplace through that filter.

    I’m not saying Ivan was in the right here but I think we don’t really have enough information to give advice.

    1. FiveNine

      Of course we can offer advice, which AAM and many people in the thread have done. And generally, in the United States, any situation where a person perceives they are at risk of bodily harm is battery or assault type situation that can be reported to the police, whether they prosecute or not; among other things, just alerting Ivan or the boss or the bosses boss of the police report could make the situation be treated a little more seriously.

      1. Ruffingit

        Yes, and I also think it can help to just feel like you’ve done what you can in terms of “I alerted the authorities to this problem.” Whether they do anything or not is on them, but if Ivan assaults someone, puts someone in the hospital or kills them, when the questions come about why someone didn’t do anything, OP’s boyfriend can say “I filed a police report when he attacked me.” If the police do nothing because it can’t be prosecuted, perhaps that is a signal for laws to be changed to stop this nonsense the first time it happens before he kills someone.

        Whatever the case, I opt for erring on the side of calling the cops and doing all you can. You just never know what a difference it can make. And perhaps this isn’t the first report they have on file about Ivan.

    2. OP #3/Tom's GF

      That is correct, no HR department. Just the boss and a shop foreman who do nothing. Thank you for at least confirming that it is a waste of time to file a police report–As we’re in Albuquerque, I try to avoid the police as much as possible.

      After Tom said “yes I finished the report,” Ivan became irate and started yelling “That’s not what I asked” and then “You’re being an asshole!” and tried to chuck the monitor. Tom honestly really doesn’t like Ivan, but has always been professional and courteous to him. Ivan has made it clear in the past that he doesn’t really like Tom, and used to go through a coworker who quit a few months ago instead of going through Tom.

      Ivan just got back from driven 16 hours in 2 days right before this happened, so it might have something to do with that? Something was said about Ivan having family problems or possibly having to go to a funeral…The boss in question is a very poor one, he’d rather keep a trained employee who was bad at their job than he would hire someone else and train them!

      1. Michele

        But still, there is no excuse for Ivan to be let off the hook for what he did. Have you thought about speaking to your state’s Department of Labor or even an attorney?

        1. OP #3/Tom's GF

          I haven’t, I have no idea who to go to for this kind of stuff! Since it’s a small, indepedentally-owned place, there’s no one above the boss to go to–except for his father who has no power in the business.

          I’ve thought about an attorney, but aside from the free help I can get online, we can’t afford to ask one right now.

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          The Dept of Labor doesn’t deal with this kind of thing and I doubt a lawyer could do anything.

          There’s no labor law being broken here.

  14. bee

    We are all armchair attorneys here- call police and find out what to do.
    Workplace violence is real and escalates.

    1. jelly donut

      +1. I would add that not taking this guy’s violent behavior seriously and sweeping it under the rug is a mistake. Workplace violence apologists who suggest doing nothing in a situation like this make me feel slightly ill.

    2. Ruffingit

      This. File a police report now if for no other reason than to have a paper trail. When Ivan goes off and hurts or kills someone, first question will be why someone didn’t report this first incident of violence.

  15. Ruffingit

    I sympathize with Tom as something happened to me many years ago with a co-worker. This particular co-worker (Tim) had some mental health issues and was somewhat paranoid about how people perceived him. Had no idea this was the case until after the incident. I had given my two weeks notice as I was going back to school.

    After a totally innocuous conversation on a Friday afternoon, which was witnessed by another co-worker, Tim came in on Monday and was visibly angry with me. When I asked him what was up, he started yelling and screaming at me about how I had insulted him, called him names, said he was worthless, etc. in the conversation we had on Friday. None of that was at all true and the fact that it wasn’t true was corroborated by the co-worker who had witnessed the covnersation. In Tim’s mind, he turned what I said into something entirely different and weird.

    He got in my face while I was in my chair (open office plan so all other co-workers were there to see this, boss wasn’t) pointing his finger in my face and screaming. I told him to back off and he kept saying “Come downstairs with me, we’re going to discuss this, you’re going to listen to me!” And I said no way, I am not going anywhere alone with you.

    When the boss came back, the other co-workers told him what had happened as did I. Boss was a meek, couldn’t manage his way out of a paper bag type and did nothing except have a meeting with me, Tim and the co-worker who had been present for the conversation and Tim basically said he would not speak to me at all for the rest of the time I was there. That was OK with me, but nothing else was done to Tim. The fact that he got verbally violent and in my face to the point where another co-worker said he was afraid Tim was going to punch me was of no matter to the boss apparently.

    A lot of people just do not care about the safety of their staff. He worked there for two more years until quitting for another job. It was fortunate that I had already given notice, but I was not the issue here – Tim was dangerous and no one cared. That is demoralizing and sad. I hope the OP’s boyfriend can get out ASAP. No one deserves to work in fear.

    1. Mimmy

      Wow, that’s pretty scary! Did your boss know this guy had mental health problems? If so, the boss was probably afraid of a discrimination lawsuit (under the ADA most likely) if he’d fired Tim. That’s definitely not an excuse to not address the situation properly, just something to think about–I’m sure that explains similar circumstances as well, perhaps even the OP’s situation.

      1. Ruffingit

        No, he didn’t know about the guy’s mental problems. Those only became clear after he’d been hired on. This happened many years ago. My boss had no fear of ADA lawsuits, in fact he had no idea what the employment laws were or what they covered so he wasn’t even aware of the existence of ADA. He was a nice person with no common sense or understanding of basic issues like that.

        He was simply a very, very poor manager. This was one of many incidents that underscored his inability to appropriately handle workplace issues.

  16. HR “Gumption”

    #3- I 1st want to note that Ivan the Awful should be canned for his action, whether it was assault or not.

    2nd, Jaime, fposte, & Beti raised some questions I was asking myself while reading the text. I have only one thing to add and that’s our OP seems to run drama heavy in the original and response posts. My exaggerate filter is clogging.

  17. Angora

    LW#1. Have you asked your manager why he’s calling your prior employers? Just ask but be prepared to handle the answer. Maybe he thinks you would be a better fit in another job in the organization. Ask. He may quit once he knows you are aware. Are you up for a promotion? Are layoffs in the future? You can also ask HR about the calls but it is a risk he will find out.

  18. Michael Rochelle

    #4 First, the person asking the question needs to be commended for having the maturity to be rejected and still be interested in initiating conversations about other job opportunities. I’ve always felt a little weird about initiating that conversation, but I can say that organizations that have passed on me have called me back when they found other opportunities that they thought I’d be a good fit for. Personally, I’d rather let the hiring manager or human resources person make that judgment call…or I’d apply for other opportunities within the organization without calling to anyone’s attention that I’d been passed by before.

    1. KrisL

      I like what Michelle said. I know someone who applied for 2 or 3 jobs at a company before he was accepted. He wasn’t accepted the first times because of any problem; in those other cases, there was just a candidate who was a better fit.

  19. YoungProfessional

    #3 I don’t know Ivan or Tom but this scenario sounds like an “outta character” situation. OP, you said Ivan had been dealing with some personal problems so perhaps when he didn’t get the response from Tom he wanted he melted down. This certainly doesn’t excuse his behavior and I agree with everyone who said a police report should be filed. I don’t know what the DA can do but at least it’s on record.

  20. University admin

    #1 so… i doubt anyone will see this since this post is a few days old, but I’m going to add this anyway. I wouldn’t be surprised if this person isn’t calling just your past employers. How many subordinates does this new manager have? Maybe he’s calling all of them. People do weird things sometimes when they’re coming into management roles in a new company. It’s possible that it has nothing to do with you personally.

  21. Crow T. Robot

    #3: People who fly off the handle like that over such small things really scare the crap out of me.

    1. OP #3/Tom's GF

      Me too, but it’s so hard to do anything about it!

      There’s always a chance of someone retaliating…

  22. OP #2

    I followed the advice given here and received a nice email back thanking me for letting her know and wishing me well for the future. I think I built it into a bigger thing than it was as I am used to working in a small sector where these things can easily come back to bite you.

    I did not go into detail about my issues with the contract. I felt that could easily have turned into more of a conversation than I was willing to have and I guess the terms work for some people.

    Thanks to Alison and everyone else who gave feedback in the comments. I really appreciated the advice and it made me feel a lot less paranoid!

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