one of my employees hit another, using a work printer for personal use, and more

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

1. I’m on vacation and getting reports that one employee hit another

While I am on vacation, I received a call from one employee claiming that another employee had an argument with her that led to a physical assault. (Police were called.) The alleged assailant denies that she hit the other employee, but a witness says it was an assault.

Do I fire the aggressor now, wait until I am back from vacation (I am out of the country), or try to work it out? It is a very small office (4 employees) and the victim says she can’t work with the aggressor anymore. This is obviously a culmination of smaller interactions that I am unaware of.

One employee assaulting another is a big enough deal that ideally you’d do at least some preliminary investigation from where you are so that you can deal with it right away rather than waiting until you’re back. But if that’s not realistic, I’d put the alleged assailant on leave until you return and can investigate what actually happened.

2. My coworker emailed something crazy to our new boss and made it look like I was part of it

My organization of nine people is getting a new director. I am on a smaller team within the organization, consisting of only me and one other person. Since they have announced who the new director is, my coworker from my team took it upon himself to email the incoming new director and tell him to not listen to the associate director. I was copied on this email and also included in my coworker’s suggestion to meet with him, so I’m afraid it looks like we are both in on this message.

I do not feel that the email was professional, especially not the part complaining/warning the new director about the associate director. I do have concerns there, but this is not the way I would have addressed it.

What should I do? I’m hesitant to email the new director in a way because I feel it will add to the drama. I can sit back and hope he knows to not take this other person’s word as mine. However, I tend to be overly non-confrontational, so I am wondering if that is just the introvert in me talking and a more direct approach is needed.

What on earth is your coworker thinking?! Even if he’s right about the associate director, there’s no faster way to make himself look like the problem than sending an inappropriate message like this to someone who isn’t even his boss yet.

I do think it’s worth you clearing it up. Do it as calmly and concisely as possible, but I’d clearly state that you have nothing to do with it. For instance, in your shoes I might say, “Jane, please don’t take my inclusion on this message as indicating agreement. I’m not sure why I was included on it. Separately, I’m looking forward to working with you!”

Although ugh, even that feels like too much drama, so now I’m second-guessing myself. Maybe it’s better to wait until your new boss starts and clear it up then. Or even better, force your coworker to clear it up for you, since it’s his mess. I’d also have a word with that coworker and tell him not to drag you into things without your explicit consent.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Is it normal to address people differently based on age?

Is it normal that, via email, I address people differently at work according to age? For instance, to a VP who’s 30 years older than I am, I’ll say, “Hi, Jessica.” But for someone in my age group, I’ll start with “Hey John.” I also tend to be more casual in emails to people in my age group. Is this normal, or something I should watch out for?

I don’t think “hey” versus “hi” is a big deal. If it’s coming out in bigger ways though (like first names versus last names or the overall feel of the way you talk to people), that’s worth paying attention to.

4. With at-will employment, can my employer ask me to commit for a year?

I work part-time as an instructor in an after-school program, and my boss told me that in order to for me to brought back as an instructor, I would need to guarantee her I would not leave any time throughout the year. I could have lied, but I also understood why she said that because of the challenges she faces with having to monitor so many students. I told her I could not guarantee it and took on the role of substitute instructor.

I want to know, though, if what she was asking me was actually legal, because I felt pressured into giving her an answer I wasn’t comfortable with. I am in California, and I know this is an at-will state, so my understanding is that she can’t guarantee me a job for the whole year any more than I can guarantee her I will be there. Am I right?

Nope. At-will employment just means that, absent a contract to the contrary, you can be let go from your job at any time for any reason (other than specifically illegal reasons, such as because of your race or religion) without notice and you can quit at any time without notice. But it doesn’t mean that your boss can’t promise you employment for a specific period of time, or extract such a promise from you. Either of you is free to make such promises to the other if you choose to do so.

5. Using a work printer for personal use

How much can we use our workplace printer for personal use?

Depends on the norms in your workplace. In most offices, printing a few pages for personal use isn’t a big deal, but printing something lengthy or intensely personal would be.

{ 210 comments… read them below }

  1. esra*

    #2 I’ll be honest, I would throw this coworker right under the bus with a reply-all “Not sure why I’ve been cc’ed on this?” or something along those lines.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Exactly. “Not sure why I’ve been cc’d on this?” avoids drama while making it clear that your co-worker’s pretense of “we” is just that.

      1. OP#2*

        Yes, I do like that idea. I’ve been lumped in with this guy before and, obviously, he doesn’t have the best judgement, so I don’t want that happening with this new guy before he even gets here!

        1. Adonday Veeah*

          Ah, so you have history on this guy. Yes, by all means, step away from the rear tires of this bus!

    2. Mister Pickle*

      I wish there was a better way, but the co-worker brought this on themself. I think I’d respond directly to co-worker, Cc’ing new director and everyone else, and say “In the future, please consult with me before including me in your plans. I do not agree with your proposed course of action.” or words to that effect.

      1. Mary*

        I like this response, to email co-worker back and Cc new boss, putting it squarely in his lap and letting new boss observe that. Don’t worry about throwing him under the bus as it sounds like he’ll do it himself.

      1. LBK*

        My hesitation with that is that it still involves you in the drama in some way. Throwing people under the bus is not a great first impression to make and never reflects well on you, even when it’s completely, 100% deserved.

        I wouldn’t say anything to the new director until he gets there. I would, however, sit down your coworker and grill him over how incredibly inappropriate this was and that he needs to make this right as soon as possible.

        1. WorkingMom*

          I think some type of response to the new director is a good idea, something similar to AAM’s original suggestion. Tread lightly though – as much as you want to make it clear that you are not involved in this coworkers drama at all, said coworker has made it very tough for you to clear their air without engaging in the drama. Not to put pressure on you, but I think that how you handle this is going to be new director’s first real impression of you. I would think it through, hopefully other readers have good suggestions on how to craft the response, but I’d want to make sure you stay above the fray. Really crappy situation, and I agree that addressing this with coworker is priority #1. Make sure he/she knows it was completely unacceptable and inappropriate that they included you on this.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Ugh. Yes, to all of this.

            Once I had a similar situation where I said this to my new boss: “Please do not assume other people are telling you my opinion accurately. If you hear something second-hand that you question please let me know. I am happy to talk over anything with anyone.”

            Then I had to make sure my talk matched my walk. So we had a couple of difficult conversations in the beginning but then my boss got a sense of me and how I work and the conversations just stopped.
            I developed a habit of having difficult conversations right in the moment (this is only indirectly related to OP’s question). But I made myself learn to do this because of situations just like this one. There are plenty of times where you cannot fix it in the moment, but you can open up the conversation later. Just indicate the reason why- “I’d like to go back to that email from Bob that you received early on. It’s important to me that you know that email does not represent my opinion, nor does it represent the way I like to maintain my working relationships.”

        2. phillist*

          I think the tactic I would use would be to seem genuinely baffled while doing the bus-throwing.

          Reply all, something along the lines of, “I’m confused as to why I was CC’d on this. I don’t recall [this conversation/talking about this/whatever] taking place.”

          If you feel comfortable enough, you could add something like, “But since I’m here, for what it’s worth, I don’t agree with [thing] at all. Perhaps you were misremembering?”

          I didn’t want to say “perhaps you confused me with someone else” because that could lead to all sorts of problems, but acting puzzled at the whole thing while simultaneously giving your co-worker a way to back out neatly seems like the best option for preserving your working relationship with them, and distancing yourself from their nonsense.

          Then I would have a Very Serious Conversation with them about invoking your name without your permission.

          The new person will figure out that this is a pattern of behavior from your coworker. I don’t think I would mention it again unless I was directly asked, and even then I would simply reiterate my confusion about the whole thing. I tend to come from the “give them enough rope” school of thought in these situations; coworker will reveal his true colors on his own.

          1. Judy*

            From the clarifications, it seems like the OP believes there are issues, just not how this guy chose to raise them to the new hire director.

    3. Jessa*

      That was my thought. Email to coworker (but reply all) – Hey CW, I have no idea why I was included in this, please take me out of future conversations.”

      And in a separate email NOT cc’d to the new boss – “Please don’t put me in things like this without asking me first in the future.” And depending on how much you know the coworker you can possibly say “wow, way inappropriate,” but definitely respond to the original in your best “Why the heck are you involving me in THIS,” tone in a way the others in the chain can see.

      1. LBK*

        but definitely respond to the original in your best “Why the heck are you involving me in THIS,” tone in a way the others in the chain can see.

        See, I completely, 100% disagree that this makes the situation better. I would take that as an almost equally dramatic response (even without that specific wording, obviously). It implies to me that there’s an existing rift or tension between the OP and the coworker, which wouldn’t make me think highly of either of them.

        Email tone is incredibly hard to read, especially in short messages with people you don’t interact with face to face. It’s not worth the risk that this message gets misread.

        1. Kyrielle*

          The problem is, there’s a problem already. OP #2 has been implicated in a very unprofessional attitude and handling mechanism. If they _don’t_ reply to distance themselves, then that sticks to them. If it’s not corrected quickly, it may be too late.

          If they _do_ reply to distance themselves, then the act of engaging sticks to them. But I think if they do it politely and carefully enough, this is the better course of action, vs. being known for a confrontational and negative approach *they don’t even endorse or agree with*.

          There’s no good way out of this one. OP #2’s coworker has set them up, and all they can do is pick which fallout they want to court. Frankly, I think their odds are better if they actually address it in the moment.

          The other thing they could do is:
          1. Reply to the co-worker only with a “hey, please don’t put me on things like this unless you talk to me and I agree, this is not okay” (phrased much better) type message.

          2. Reply separately to the new director with a “Just FYI, while I’d be happy to share my impressions of the workplace with you if you feel you need them, but I have no idea why I was included on this particular email.”

          …but doing _that_ risks being perceived as undercutting the coworker behind their back. Will the new director prefer that, or the direct approach where the coworker also sees what is said? No way to know. OP #2 might as well go with whatever best suits their style, since at least that way *extra* conflict is least likely.

    4. Cat*

      Yes, I like this and I’d go so far as to do it from my phone so it has the “sent from phone” message below it, making it clear that I saw it, was confused, and tossed off a cursory email about that confusion instead of devoting time and energy to involvement.

      1. Rose*

        I think that’s a really smart idea in theory, but it would require other people to read way further into your personal/emailing habits than I ever would. But it’s totally possible I’m just a little bit oblivious :-P

        1. LBK*

          I agree. I think this all requires operating under the assumption that the director even read into the OP being cc’d the way she did – he might not even have given it a second thought, or may have already come to the conclusion on his own that the OP was being dragged into this. Until the director is in the office or responds himself, he’s still somewhat of a sleeping dragon so I wouldn’t go around poking him if I don’t have to.

        2. Cat*

          Nah, it’s all subtle atmospherics – it doesn’t matter if they don’t pick up on them but may create the right unconscious effect (and it won’t hurt if it doesn’t).

      2. Formica Dinette*

        I totally agree with this strategy. It says, “This isn’t my deal,” without adding fuel to the drama fire.

    5. INTP*

      I like the idea of a reply all with AAM’s wording. It’s important to CC the coworker because otherwise you may look like you’re hiding something – like you may be playing both sides, talking about this stuff with the coworker but then privately trying to uninvolve yourself. I would fear that “Why was I CCed on this?” would result in the coworker replying, “Because of that conversation we had where you expressed concerns about….”

      I kind of wonder if the coworker is just hopelessly politically inept and thought the OP’s sharing of concerns meant that they would be happy to be involved with the complaint email. In that case, I’d feel kind of bad throwing them under the bus. However, they started the situation, so there’s no obligation to sacrifice yourself.

      1. OP#2*

        Honestly, I do think that is the case here: he’s totally politically inept. He thinks he’s “speaking truth to power”, but he’s really just coming across as a complainer. We have discussed our issues with the AD before, privately, and I think I’m going to have to have a discussion with him about, first of all, not speaking for me and secondly that I don’t like the things I say being shared with others in this manner. I have been careful for a while now about what I say to him.

        Thank you everybody — great responses so far, as usual.

        1. Sharon*

          Good idea. Also, stop sharing your concerns with him. He can’t be trusted to maintain confidences.

          1. ThatITd00d*

            1,000 times this.

            I once worked in a 3 person division at a company. Our supervisor was an all-around horrible person, the kind that is only happy at work when she had a chance to dress someone down over an error, etc.

            My other coworker, K, was a very friendly middle aged woman and we pretty quickly became friends. I trusted her. Big mistake.

            When I was finally laid off, after having a fairly dramatic confrontation with my evil Supervisor, one of the things that came to light was that not only was K telling me all the awful gossipy things that the Supervisor was saying about me behind my back, but she was also taking all of the complaints I was venting about our Supervisor right back to her, and in some cases augmenting them.

            Long story short, my Supervisor was fired, I was laid off, and guess who was tapped to become the new Department Lead? K still emails and calls me periodically, trying to connect and find out where I am now. I have wisely decided to refrain from any further contact.

            Be. Careful. Who. You. Trust.

            1. April*

              Yes, I’ve noticed this as a pattern in human nature – if someone gossips *to* you about others, they will also gossip *about* you to others. Be careful of this.

        2. some1*

          “that I don’t like the things I say being shared with others in this manner. I have been careful for a while now about what I say to him”

          A lesson a lot of us have learned the hard way!

    6. Wren*

      Or maybe reply all and say “Annika, I think you may have accidentally included me on this meeting invite.”

    7. Jolie*

      OP #2 – As an alternative to continuing your involvement in your coworker’s ill-judged email thread in any way, I would write your own separate email to the new director. Don’t cc your coworker, and don’t mention your coworker’s faux pas – just introduce yourself! By initiating a separate conversation, you distance yourself from your coworker’s conduct without having to point out that you’re doing so. You also demonstrate a willingness to be accountable for your own communications (and not someone else’s).

      Language I’d use: “I see you already heard from Steve, my coworker. As we’ve never spoken before, I’d like to introduce myself in my own words! I’m Jane, Senior Teapot Specialist, and I’m really looking forward to having you on board.” (Emphasis on ‘in my own words.’) Or you could say you prefer to make your own introductions (somewhat more pointed); you’re writing to introduce yourself personally, etc. Adjust tone to your own comfort level.

      Deal with your coworker separately. It’s not the director’s problem.

    8. QK*

      Yup. Consider me another +1 for clearing this up right away. I wouldn’t wait until the new director starts–clear it up now before an initial impression of you and your opinions is formed.

    9. That Marketing Chick*

      +1 Great response. And perhaps moving forward, you’ve learned who the “office gossip” is. We all have at least one.

  2. nina t.*

    #5 also when printing anything personal be sure to retrieve it quickly from the printer. Especially if it’s something that you really shouldn’t be using work resources for, ahem coworker and your resume and job applications.

    1. dragonzflame*

      At my last job, I printed off my own resignation letter on the office printer (being very careful to be standing right there as it came out), and nabbed an envelope from the stationery cupboard to put it in.

      I didn’t have a printer at home; how else was I supposed to do it? ;-)

      1. Gem H*

        Same! I even sent it to a co worker to print as I wasn’t hooked up to the printer, but that probably days now about my previous work environment than anything else :p

        1. SnowWhite*

          After being royally screwed over by my former manager (HR) I printed my CV’s and resignation letter before I left, as well as an apology letter to our CEO on the company printer. Would not recommend anything I did to anybody else.

          I was young, I was hurt and had been purposely strung along by my boss of one year.

          Offered the role I had been doing as an apprentice for a year £10,000 less than advertised (job ad was word for word my LinkedIn profile), then expressed interest in the advertised role at the advertised salary I was told that I had it – had to go through the interview process for legal reasons but was just going through the motions, not to apply anywhere else as I definitely had the job and then 3 months later told that my application was unsuccessful because I said we instead of I when discussing the team framework I had built with admins in 50 centers and that I would also need to train my replacement and the senior member of staff who constantly said that she “could do my job with her eyes closed”.

          I left the next day with a personal reference and recommendation from the CEO. One month later whilst grabbing a coffee between interviews I watched my replacement who was signed unfit for work with chronic back pain (ex worked in my old office next to the HR department who discussed people’s medical issues loudly) walk past in full interview gear and stiletto heels and she never returned from sick leave. My manager was gone within 3 months as well as the senior member of staff.

          1. DrWex*

            I would be VERY careful about printing anything personal at work. What you think of as a “printer” is actually a computer with a big hard disk that stores images of whatever you print. You can easily find stories of people buying second-hand printers and retrieving the former owners’ documents from it.

            Even if you remember to pick up the physical object you’re copying/faxing, or delete the personal file from your own machine, that printer will have a digital copy, possibly long after it leaves the building. If you’re OK with that, then fine. But if it’s something you truly don’t want your employer to see, go find a print-per-page service such as Staples and use that.

            1. Traveler*

              Exactly. If its something you’d have to retrieve quickly off the printer, or wouldn’t want someone to physically catch you doing – don’t do it!

            2. Not So NewReader*

              We actually have a fax machine where I work. Confidentiality rules extend to the disposal of the drum for the fax machine. It is possible that confidential information could be still on the drum at time of replacement.

              A separate thought: I read an article recently that said the serial number for some new printers is embedded in whatever is printed out on that printer. Yes, the serial numbers are microscopic, but probably retrievable from a document if need be.

            3. A Non*

              Yep. Most people (even most IT people) don’t know how to retrieve documents like that and won’t care enough to try. But it’s still out there. This is basically true of anything in your office that has electricity running through it. Except maybe your desk lamp. If you brought it from home.

      2. MK*

        You can print stuff at copy shops and many internet cafes; also many shops with a printer will allow you to print a couple of pages for a fee. That’s assuming you don’t have one single friend with a printer.

        I don’t think printing or copying a few pages of personal stuff at work is a big deal. And a resignation letter is at least work-related. But the ”I had no other choice” excuse doesn’t hold water.

        1. Joline*

          I admittedly printed my resignation at work. Then scanned it with my work scanner (after signature). And then e-mailed it from my work e-mail.

          But in my case I also already spoke to the partners and they knew I was quitting and at this point it was just to paper the situation for head office. I even asked one of them for the appropriate wording. …and whether I could backdate it to when we talked.

      3. Gene*

        I would tend to see a resignation letter as work related and see no problem at all with printing it on the work printer.

    2. Al Lo*

      As someone who does a more-than-nothing amount of personal printing at work (maybe 20-30 pages a month some months), I bring in a stack of printer paper once or twice a year to help offset my use. I know paper isn’t the only cost of printing, but it’s a gesture to not taking advantage of the fact that my office culture is pretty lax about that.

    3. Crazy Me!*

      I normally have my own printer, but mine had been down so I was using one on the other side of the building. They fixed mine, but the default was still set on the other one. I accidentally sent my Sephora online order confirmation to it, and one of my co-workers walked it back to me with an admonishment that I had forgotten to order his lipstick! I was a tad embarrassed to say the least.

      1. some1*

        Do you need a hard copy of an order confirmation like that, though? Couldn’t you just save the confirmation email until you get your order and then if you have issues with the order or need to return it, you can print out hard copies then?

          1. Crazy Me!*

            I always print one out in case the e-mail doesn’t come through (I know, highly unlikely!). As far as the personal thumb drive, we can’t put any thumb drives in our work computers anymore due to someone bringing in a devastating virus that crippled our business for 2 days. But, I could save the confirmation as a .pdf and save it to my desktop. Thanks for the ideas!

    4. Lily in NYC*

      This! I cannot believe the stuff people here print and then forget about. Personal medical info, photos of their kids and pets (on our color printer), once I even found a printed-out email chain of fight between a coworker and his girlfriend. I was so tempted to add my opinions in red ink and then leave it on his desk!

    5. the gold digger*

      I saw a co-worker’s offer letter on the printer. He and I had been hired at the same time, so I was relieved to see that we were both being paid the same amount. Yes – that is the risk you take – if you send something to the company printer, other nosy people like me might read it.

    6. Graciosa*

      I think the resignation letters are business work items (assuming you’re resigning from that employer!) and should be printed at work. Some of the rest – I’m trying to imagine why this is going on at work at all (although the Sephora order might be a benefit to the team by adding some much needed levity to the workplace!).

      On the other hand, I’m the nut who carries a second laptop on long business trips so I don’t have to use my work one for anything personal (having read the policies regarding IP ownership of items created using company assets and IT monitoring rights) so I admit I may be a bit more rigid than most about keeping work and personal separated.

      The closest thing I do to personal browsing at work is probably Ask A Manager. ;-)

    7. Traveler*

      Many printers store that information for an amount of time. At my last job I could go back to the printer and view previous jobs and reprint them. They would also come labeled with whoever executed the job – so I highly recommend not doing anything of a personal nature or something that you would have to “quickly retrieve” if it can be avoided.

      1. Traveler*

        View and reprint them without ever accessing a computer I might add – just straight from the printer itself.

      2. prchrldy*

        …and the office server will have a copy of every email, document, online transaction. If your employer is providing your cell phone they have a right to call logs, texts, and anything else that goes through your cell. Even if you have a personal I.D. for the copier or printer, H.R. and supervisors can access it.

    8. Elizabeth*

      Many of the larger types of office printers come with a Secure Print feature that I wish more people would use. Enter a password when you send your print job, and the job can only be released once that same password is entered by you at the printer itself. No more accidental printing! Obviously not all offices have these types of printers, but I’ve worked in too many places that do where no one takes advantage of this feature.

      1. Lindsay J*

        Wow I didn’t know this existed. I’m going to have to see if my work printer has one (though I’m sure it probably does. The thing is as big as a car and has 8 paper trays.)

        I have to print documents on specialty paper sometimes, and right now that process consists of loading special paper into printer, setting printeer tray, sprinting back to computer while telling other people not to print, hitting print, running back to printer to pick up copies/remove excess special paper. And pretty often my paper winds up being wasted when other departments don’t hear me/don’t listen to me and hit print anyway.

        And it sounds like it would also help prevent my stuff being lost in the middle of other departments’ 500 page multiple job paper stacks.

        1. JessB*

          I’m a temp, and have never forgotten the giant black beasts of printers that one government department I worked for had. They were gorgeous!!! They’d collate, hole punch and/or staple documents, and they had a secure print option, of course. In fact, they were set so that you had to scan your ID when you wanted to pick up anything!

    9. Agile Phalanges*

      I printed resumes and cover letters at work with impunity, but then the company had closed our entire office and that was one of the “perks”–we were all welcome to job search on company time and with company resources. While being laid off sucks, it was SO helpful to be able to job search openly while still employed. We all still got our work done, but it was so nice to be able to just say “yup, interview” when dressed up, or ask each other for help on our materials, or have our current manager available as a reference. Anyway, just wanted to say that sometimes it’s okay to use work resources for job-hunting. :-)

      1. Bea W*

        Same thing happened to a friend of mine. Her entire department was getting the axe. Management gave them a heads up to start looking. There was actually nothing being assigned to them the entire time, and no one had any work to do other than look for work.

    10. SherryD*

      At my last job, printing personal materials at work was fairly common. Personally, I printed bills, vacation reservations, and, yes, job application materials, and I know others (including the bosses!) also used the printer for personal documents. Yes, I know IT could go back and look at what was printed, but I took a gamble on their indifference!

      I say go for it, unless your work culture seems to really frown on it. Those print shops are too darn expensive. As others have noted, quick retrieval is key!

  3. Dan*


    Him. This is actually very tricky and requires some hair splitting that would not otherwise be appropriate here. But I think the op is actually right, at least in the sense that the boss can’t force him to stay without a reciprocating promise.

    You either have a contract to work for a certain period of time or you don’t. Some will post and say that if it’s not in writing then it’s not a contact and therefore not binding, but that is false. Oral contacts are binding, you just have to prove them or be able to acknowledge that they exist.

    But the question is whether or not you have an enforceable contract, and I don’t think you do. One required element in a contact is consideration, meaning you have to be getting something in return for your commitment. I can’t tell if employment in and of itself, without any guarantees (or higher pay) satisfies that condition.

    If it does, and you’re not getting extra pay, than a good argument can be made that this agreement is unconscionable, in that the contact is so one sided in favor of the past with the superior bargaining position. Let’s face it, an agreement that forces you to stay but allows them to terminate you whenever with no extra pay is pretty one sided.

    If I were the op, I wouldn’t worry about this promise.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Right, but the OP is asking whether her boss is allowed to ask her to commit for a year. Of course her boss is allowed to ask that. They’re free to enter into that arrangement with each other if they choose to. At-will employment doesn’t prevent people from making firmer commitments to each other if they want to.

      1. Dan*

        I read the question too quickly. I thought op was asking if they were stuck for a year because they “felt pressured to give her an answer they weren’t comfortable with” and overlooked that they had already declined the full time position.

      2. ThomasT*

        Since was in the popular is-that-legal category, though, I think it’s useful to consider what possible recourse the employer would have. Even if they had made such an agreement, if it was without a contract, the employee could still quit in a few months, and all the employer would have is the threat of a bad reference. Which can be a pretty powerful thing. It’s certainly better (if currently financially a drag) for everyone to be above-board with their needs and availability.

        1. Graciosa*

          Presuming it was “without a contract” may be risky in states that allow oral contracts, or where the employer asks for even an email confirmation, or has employees sign a code of conduct for the year that contains the commitment, etc.

          If a contract is found, breach of contract damages could include the employer’s actual costs. Recruiting expenses to hire a replacement are pretty typical – and since these normally are calculated as a percentage of the new hire’s initial annual salary (I’ve seen 25-33% for executives) this may not be a small amount of money.

          Alternatively, the employer could ask for the entire agreement to be rescinded, the theory being that they would not have hired the OP (or paid any salary) if the OP had not committed to the full year. Returning salary would also be a big deal – not a likely winner because presumably the employer got some benefit, but still a frightening prospect if someone serves you with legal papers along those lines.

          I’m not suggesting that these things are typical, because frankly you get a horrible reputation as an employer pursuing poor little Mary Smith for breaching an employment contract by taking another job. So statistically, the odds are favorable for people wanted to gamble – but the consequences of being wrong and encountering the one employer who wanted to set an example are potentially serious financially in addition to the impact to your reputation.

          I agree that the OP did the right thing by being upfront about the level of commitment offered.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Assuming, of course, that a purely oral employment contract of “if we hire you, you stay for a year” is even enforceable in OP’s state.

        2. INTP*

          I’m not a lawyer, just someone who briefly worked HR in California, so take my words with a grain of salt. However, I was told that in California, employment contracts are usually difficult to enforce from either side – even with a contract, your employment is generally at-will. The major exception would be some independent contractor situations, where the person might be held responsible for providing the business with promised services (though they could have someone else provide the services).

      3. Korren*

        I was in a job where the one-year contact allowed the employer to fire me just like an at-will situation, but required me to pay a $2000.00 replacement fee if I broke the contract early. There were a lot of things I didn’t like about that job.

        1. Graciosa*

          Those types of things irritate me – if they were going to charge you $2K for leaving they should have offered you equivalent severance if they terminated you without cause.

        2. Dan*

          As I said in my slightly longer post that kicked off this whole discussion, I’m really curious if a contract like that is enforceable. I’d make an argument about “unconscionability” which would theoretically apply if the terms overwhelmingly favor the party with the superior bargaining power.

          1. Graciosa*

            The salary received in the position is consideration, and normally contracts for specific lengths of employment are enforceable. Employers do have problems enforcing overreaching non-competes, either because of statute or because they effectively prevent the former employee from working at all.

  4. Artemesia*

    The Email cc is a giant big deal. One of the worst situations I ever got in in my working life was in a highly political situation with a new CEO coming in and a complaint being made like this that included my name. I don’t think you entirely ever get the stink off you when someone does this with a new leader whose first introduction to you comes in this situation. I think that yesterday, the OP should have CCed back to all recipients “I don’t know why I was CCed on this message but I was unaware of it and am not in agreement with it.” I would not dwell on it or bring it up repeatedly but I would definitely disassociate myself from it clearly and quickly.

    What a bummer that someone would clock another employee while you are on vacation. Since police were called in and there is a witness, the assaulter needs to be put on leave immediately; he (or she) needs to have it made clear that no visits to the office will be made and you will meet with this person on your return.

  5. A Non*

    #5 – Don’t print all 70 of your vacation photos, full page, in full color right before the holidays. You will use up all the toner (which should have lasted for another three months), and it will be the one time when there isn’t a spare in the building and a new one can’t be ordered quickly. Everyone will end up walking to the other end of the building to use the other printer for a week while they’re trying to get ready to go on vacation, and they will blame IT. IT will happily throw you under the bus. Printing the photos after hours won’t save you either. We will look for you, we will find you, and we will never let you live it down.

    I’m not speaking from personal experience or anything. :-D

    1. Anonyby*

      Here’s a way to make it easy to know who printed what it color… Give each employee their own code that they have to use to print in color! (My company does this, mostly because most of the employees are contractors that get billed for color copies.)

      1. Lia*

        We have this, in large part due to a similar situation that A Non mentions. Only in our case, it was several hundred wedding invitations and assorted other related wedding documents, on heavy, glossy paper that gunked up the printer AND used up the whole toner cartridge. She did at least have the courtesy to do this after hours, but not enough to remove the evidence, and got caught quickly.

      2. The Cosmic Avenger*

        We have job codes, plus a personal code where we can pay for our own copying and printing. I much prefer to pay a few cents or dollars for stuff like that than feel like I’m stealing. Same for long-distance phone calls, although with cell phones plus Google Voice’s ability to connect the call to a landline for you, who needs that any more?

        1. the gold digger*

          I had just picked up a new migraine medication and gone back to work. I had swallowed one of the pills – maxalt – on my way back to work, but it wasn’t working. It wasn’t until I was back in the office that I read the instructions, which were to let the pill melt under my tongue.

          So I took another one.

          And of course, in an hour I was completely ditzy. I realized that I should not be driving, so I stayed at work late.

          I was cogent enough to know not to drive, but somehow, calling my good friend Debbie, who lived in London (I am in the US), on my work phone, seemed like a really good idea.

          So I called her and we talked for an hour and then I was sober enough to drive home.

          The next day, I realized that I had not made the best of decisions about how to use company resources. I sent an email to my boss telling him that I would pay the long-distance charges. He wrote back that it wasn’t worth worrying about, which was very nice, because at the time, international calls were not cheap.

    2. Bea W*

      70 vacation photos full page in full.color? What are people thinking? You should require these peopke to do the walk of shame through the office carrying boxes of offering toner to the printer.

  6. Chocolate Teapot*

    5. I always try and print personal documents as small as possible (i.e. 2 or 4 pages per side for something like a travel confirmation or hotel booking).

    1. Tenley*

      I came in one weekend to pick up my laptop before going on a business trip to find a coworker printing a massive stack of some sort of flyer. I mean it already was a ream of paper and the printer was rocking full speed. I don’t know this coworker except on sight, and the look she shot me was so uncomfortable — somehow it conveyed guilt and a sense of would I bust her/could she lose her job over this? etc. I said nothing but still don’t know what I should have done. (It’s so strange how something seemingly small — it was probably for something fun she did on the side or volunteered for — can be fraught with quiet office drama.)

    2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      Yes, please be respectful of resources.

      The type of printer matters. We have high volume printers that are a few cents a page and high end printers that are 50 or 60 cents a page.

      For some reason, I located the high end printers near me to see what was coming out and who was coming to it. #notacontrolfreakbutthissh*tbeexpensive

      1. Mallory+Janis+Ian*

        We* got a high-end color laser photo-copier a couple of years ago. Black-and-white printing comes with our monthly contract at no extra charge, while color printing costs 0.25/sheet extra. As a cost-saving measure, the dean and department heads told the faculty to conserve resources by emailing or using Blackboard to electronically disseminate their course syllabi, but NO! they are designers who must print 70 copies of their beautifully-designed, 30-pages-chock-full-of-architectural-images syllabi and pass them out by hand for the admiration of all. In all the courses I’ve taken at the university, no other professor ever handed me a print-out of anything, unless it was that day’s test; they all sent them electronically and it was the students’ option to either print or not.

        *By “we”, I mean my most recent old job that I just left at the end of September. I still haven’t quit calling them “we”.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          I’m twitching thinking about the ink coverage involved on the pages….at least you had a fixed price. Our .50 to .60 is average cost of toner for average ink coverage.

          Angels cry when I have to approve the invoices for the toner cartridges for these things.

          1. asf*

            I don’t understand the point of having a printer if you basically don’t want people to use it. If the costs are high, set up a system to charge them to appropriate work units of people with a limited budget for each, and a requirement that they kick in money for the extras.

            Then it is up to them if they print their 30 pages whatevers.

        2. acmx*

          At the start of your post, I was wondering if you had started your new job. Yay!

          I still say “we” when talking about what I did in old jobs.

      2. Cat*

        Do people know? I just print to whatever IT has set as my default printer unless I specifically need something in color. That is otherwise the extent of my printer related knowledge.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Oh, sure. I’m not assembling some kind of list or something.

          I hate passive aggressive notes (although am a fan of the site!) so rather than having a big sign on the printer that says:

          $$$$$$$ YOU BETTER BE SURE YOU NEED TO PRINT TO THIS $$$$$$$$$$$$$

          It’s an educational opportunity if someone does print errantly. People want to know.

          An example of when this came in handy was when both high volume printers went down and folks were trying to print wherever they could. I was able to direct people off of the expensive printers and to the cheaper HP laser printer options. They didn’t know. They were just hoping a print button somewhere would work for them.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            and I hate how much paper we still have to use. Which this reminds me about. Makes me nuts. Will be conquered eventually.

          2. Vicki*

            I worked for a company that decided to try to convince people to SAVE PAPER.

            They created a big campaign, with 17″ x 22″ full-color posters over every photo copier, extolling the joys of double-sided printing, etc. They also put a full-color cardstock flyer with the same information into every employees mail slot.

            Some of us got great joy out of taping the cardstock flyers up next to the “don’t waste paper” posters… (Engineers. :-)

        2. Taz*

          Hahahahaha. Not only that, IT could print out a list of every website you visit each day. Our company had to bar access to some NFL channel and Netflix because people were watching those on company time and slowing down speeds for things we really do need via the Internet.

          1. Arjay*

            At our office, we ran into problems with streaming of Michael Jackson’s funeral interrupting regular business functions.

          2. Cat*

            I think my comment is being misinterpreted – I know IT knows what I print; my question was whether people know which printers are more expensive. I personally have no clue (except I assume color is more expensive than black and white).

            1. Judy*

              I know during the budget tightening of the past crash, our IT department published a list of things like cost per page on each printer and cost per minute for conference calls. (Just because the conference call info says $.05 per minute for each location, it doesn’t mean that they somehow sum the calls from a location for one $.05. It means that every separate dial in is $.05 per minute. So if 5 people who are calling in for an hour call in a location got a conference room rather than calling from their desk, you could save $.20 per minute, which is $12 for an hour. Do that for a bit, and it starts to be real money.)

              1. Callie*

                When I was a teacher, our IT department sent out a list of fonts they recommended we use to save printing costs. Which I thought was hilarious, since we had to buy our own ink for our printers out of our own pockets (the school district purchased the printers for each classroom but would not buy ink or paper).

              2. Bea W*

                It drives me nuts when somesome schedules a call with me or me and one other person and uses their conference call number. Dude. Just call me directly or have me call you directly. Back in the day I used to have to go through our project conference call bills and allocate which projects the calls should be charged against. That shiz is expensive! We had a guy dial the toll free number from Paris for a 90 min call. That was ugly. (In his defense, he probably had no clue “toll free” wasn’t actually free for us.)

          3. Bea W*

            Back in the day at a previous employer, they would track down the bandwidth hogger and either give them a call or visit personally to politely tell them to cut it out.

        3. Traveler*

          If you have any sort of IT department, and/or any sort of “log in” you should probably just assume everything you do on your computer is public knowledge or accessible somewhere in your work place.

  7. A Bug!*

    Since it’s such a small office, I’d be very cautious of the possibility that any witnesses to the incident may not be telling the truth, or may be leaving out significant details. Please keep a very open mind and be alert to anything unusual that may reveal the full story, because you may find yourself wanting to replace more than just this one employee.

    I agree that it’s a good idea to put the accused assailant on leave until your return, if only to prevent any further escalation, but if you’re able to, please consider making the leave paid. I know it can seem like giving a free vacation to someone for punching a coworker, but it’s really not.

    1. soitgoes*

      I agree. It’s surprisingly easy for a group of three coworkers to come up with a story to get rid of someone they don’t like, especially if the fourth person doesn’t have any friends in the office.

    2. BritCred*

      I agree. An incident earlier in the year could have lost my friend his job when actually he was stopping a co-worker from harming a second by putting him in an arm lock. He was lucky and enough of the people around told the full story but we don’t know what others saw or what the provocation was here.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        My first thought was how to keep everyone safe until the OP can get a copy of the police report, because they’re going to investigate this better than the OP could. I agree with A Bug! that the accused should probably be put on paid leave, just in case the accusation turns out to be false. Then again, if you work with someone regularly and are a decent observer of human behavior, you probably have a good idea how likely it is there was actually an assault vs. a malicious lie.

    3. Illini02*

      I agree as well. Who really knows what happened, or what the provocation was. Not that I’m saying its ever ok to hit someone, but who knows what the alleged victim was doing that led up to this. I’d suggest talking to the person who supposedly punched the person, getting their side before anything happens. Then until you get back, put them both on leave until you can figure it out. If it is a 3 vs. 1 thing, there may be a lot to this.

    4. Mister Pickle*

      #1: a couple of things:

      – If your company has a legal department (or even a lawyer on retainer), you may want to get them involved. IANAL but I believe assault can lead to both criminal and civil action, ie, somebody getting sued.

      – Most people equate “assault” with “hitting someone”, but the legal definition of assault is “a threat of bodily harm coupled with an apparent, present ability to cause the harm.” My point being that if A hit B, it’s pretty cut and dried. But if A is holding an hammer and says something to ‘threatening’ to B – that is something that could possibly be played up into assault, even though A was holding a hammer because they were in the process of putting a nail in a wall to hang a picture. Again, IANAL – the point I’m trying to make is that assault isn’t necessarily a physical thing. I understand that the LW was told it was physical assault – but sometimes people are pretty loose about the words they use.

      That said, echoing AAM’s advice: send the “assault-er” home and do an investigation.

      1. Risa*

        In California, assault is the threat, battery is the act of causing harm (which could be as simple as spitting on someone). If it’s an assault with no battery, then it is likely just a threat. If it’s assault and battery, then the person probably did something physical to the other coworker. You really need the police report to sort out what happened.

        1. JAL*

          Same here in New York.
          OP: I would highly advise the lawyer, as they can advise you on your state’s law because there are nuances depending where you live.

          1. doreen*

            Actually, NY is extra strange- assault requires physical injury, so spitting or shoving wouldn’t qualify. A threat would be harassment or menacing

    5. Mister Pickle*

      One other thought: I suspect that the longer it takes to investigate, the more difficult it will be for you to ascertain the truth of what happened. If there is any collusion, they’ll have more time to get their stories aligned. Definitely get a copy of the police report.

      I think that the usual police procedure is to separate everyone and question them individually. Again, if your company has any kind of legal counsel, you may want to get them involved during the investigation in case there are any liability issues.

    6. ella*

      Since the police were called, I would recommend OP get a copy of the report (which I think is possible? I’ve never called for a police report that didn’t involve me), and maybe even see if they could talk to the officers who responded to the scene and get their impressions. An officer won’t be a perfect witness, but they may have a good sense of whether it was a big hairy deal or if nobody even got hit.

      I honestly don’t know what I’d do after that, though. If Person A hit Person B, of course they get fired. But if Person A is denying that hitting happened, Person B has no bruises, if the cops are unsure if hitting happened, and if Person A is usually a good employee with no history of violence or inappropriate outbursts? I dunno. I’d be really uncomfortable firing something that I didn’t witness myself, that couldn’t be independently verified.

      1. Traveler*

        Police reports aren’t always filed right away, and as you said police officers aren’t always the greatest witnesses. They show up after the fact and are basically just writing down what they were told – and sometimes that’s even done well after the fact so not only is it 2nd hand information, but its 2nd hand information being recalled days later. It’s worth reading, but I would take it worth a grain of salt.

      2. Dan*

        Which is why if I’m the perp, “Deny deny deny” is the course of action. I once made it easy for my boss to fire me, I’m not doing it again.

        If you want to fire me, no offense or nothing boss, but you’re going to have to do some work. I’m handing it to you on a silver platter.

      3. Zillah*

        I understand what you mean, and in some ways, I agree. At the same time, though, this is exactly the rationale that people use when it comes to sexual assault and rape all the time, and it’s how people time after time will get away with it. Obviously you want to avoid firing someone who’s innocent, but at the same time, I think it’s important not to throw your hands in the air if a clear picture of what happens doesn’t emerge. At the end of the day, IMO, you absolutely cannot have two people on your staff who have accused each other of very serious crimes.

    7. AdAgencyChick*

      I so want to hear what Evil HR Lady has to say about this minefield.

      OP #1, my sympathies to you. What a crappy thing to have to deal with while you were supposed to be enjoying your vacation.

    8. Student*

      While I’d encourage the OP to keep an open mind, I do want to bring this up –

      Statistically, false accusations of violence are around 5% of total reports of violence. They happen, and they are a huge problem for those so accused, but false reports get a lot more attention than they proportionally deserve.

      Go into this investigation with an open mind, but don’t invent conspiracies. And try hard to leave your personal feelings out of this, or to get someone to investigate who doesn’t have a horse in the game about which employee is more valuable to retain work-wise. It can bias your handling of the investigate in ways you don’t realize to have your professional reputation and personal workload wrapped up in the outcome. This is a great time to reach out to a different manager, an HR employee, or even an external consultant.

      1. annie*

        Agree. I would also say if you can, try to at least talk to your employees about this immediately, even if you have to call long distance from a weird time zone. You are going to loose at least one of these employees because of this, and possibly witnesses too if this isn’t handled well – if its such a small office, that could really hurt your business.

      2. Grand Mouse*

        Way more often in my experience, claims of violence get ignored because it is uncomfortable for other people and they’d rather doubt the victim than take action. Unless you have some very strong evidence otherwise, I would go with believing the incident happened.

      3. A Bug!*

        To be clear, my comment wasn’t intended to imply in any way that it’s likely that the incident didn’t happen, but that it’s very possible that there’s much more to the story than the victim and witness might volunteer. I’m not saying that the OP should be looking for reasons to disbelieve the witness and victim, but that the OP should approach the matter with an open mind. That can be accomplished while still being supportive.

        I was trying to avoid getting into “what ifs” because I didn’t want to influence the OP’s investigation. But it is possible that even if the circumstances surrounding the incident don’t exonerate the assailant, they might also reveal concerning behavior from other parties as well.

    1. Robin*

      Love it, thanks! (especially the Print Sprint, which I used to have to do to get an endorsement spot on the back of a legal doc)

    2. Mimmy*

      LOVE this!!

      As a former PhD wannabe, this site could definitely be a major time sucker. Must…. resist…..

  8. Stephanie*

    #4 – I interviewed for a part-time HS robotics team coaching job at a fancy private school over the summer (I’ve done this on a volunteer basis before). I probably screened myself out when I admitted that I was job-hunting nationally and also applying to grad school nationwide. The students were like “Our last coach was with the team for six years.” I couldn’t bring myself to say “Sure! I’ll work this part-time job with no benefits indefinitely! I love living with my parents!” The students were the ones interviewing me–I almost wanted to be like “Yeah, look. The only people you’re getting with this skill set for those hours [2-6 pm 4x a week] and tenure expectation are the retired, students, or maybe a self-employed person.”

    #5 – I had a job where I had my own personal laserjet. It was glorious.

  9. AnonyMouse*

    Re #2, I would probably reply all and say “I think I may have been cc’ed on this in error.” But then my organisation is big enough that it could conceivably be true….a team of two might not be able to pull that off. Is there anything else you actually need to discuss with your new director? I’m 100% NOT a fan of making up a fake issue and emailing someone about it as an excuse to talk about something else, but if there are any genuine questions/comments/etc you’ve been saving for in-person but could also work via email, this could be a good time to break them out, and then casually mention the other email. Maybe something like “Hi Hank, hope you’re doing well. I’ve got a quick question about teapot packaging – going forward, are you planning to XYZ etc etc? And on another note, I’m not sure why I was cc’ed on that other email from Steve, but I hope everything’s alright there.” I do think you need to bring it up at some point, even if emailing now is too awkward. If nothing else, I would wait until your new director arrives and then find a time to quickly and privately express that you don’t agree with that message, or support the way it was handled.

    I also think you need to have a conversation with the coworker who sent the email. It’s possible he cc’ed you because he sees you as an ally of some kind in the issues with the associate director, and if this is how he’s going to handle them, that needs to stop. How you handle that depends on your relationship with him, but I’d be clear with him that you don’t share his views on the AD and you don’t want to get involved in any workplace drama. And even if you do share his views, I’d still tell him you don’t think emails are the way to handle it and you’re not interested in getting involved.

    1. nofelix*

      This approach creates a risk that the email will get ignored. Why bury the most important point that might save your career amongst some time-consuming questions?

  10. Paul*

    Regarding #2, maybe I’m being slow this morning but I don’t see how receiving an email means you agree with it. Obviously the co-worker’s conduct was inappropriate but I don’t think the correspondent is being dragged into anything. Am I wrong?

    1. Tenley*

      It’s more than just a cc. The coworker in the text of the message also made it seem like both he and the OP wanted a meeting with the new director, so it looked like it was a joint message.

    2. Mallory+Janis+Ian*

      Tenley is right — the cc implies that the “cc-ee” is in collusion with the “cc-er”, and she needs to correct that impression.

    3. BRR*

      If you were to receive it without knowing anybody, it could easily look as the OP was cc’d because they were a part of it especially because their name was used as wanting to meet with the new director.

      1. OP#2*

        Yes, that’s how I saw it — because I was cc’ed on the email and mentioned specifically in it, I am afraid it looks like my team member and I “plotted” the email together. We’ve met the incoming director only once, so I am afraid he has limited data to form opinions about us and I don’t want to be seen as someone who would bad mouth the AD in that way.

    4. OP#2*

      I am really hoping the new director thinks like you do! :D Seriously, reading your comment has made me feel better.

      1. Artemesia*

        No — you really need to fix this as best you can because no one will read it as anything but you and this dingaling planned this together or at best discussed it and you agreed with him.

  11. Rebecca*

    #5 – I think if it’s one or two pages, fine, but more than that, you should ask. The company pays for the toner, upkeep, service contract, whatever, and even though the cost per page might be a few cents, it adds up if dozens of people print 10 pages a day, every day.

    Years ago, I had the unfortunate experience of being audited by our state revenue department, and they wanted copies – a lot of them. To make these at a copy store would have cost a fortune. I spoke to my boss, and she agreed if I bought a pack of paper, and made the copies before working hours or during the lunch break only (with the understanding I didn’t interfere with someone else who was using the machine for work), I could make copies at work. I ended up paying about $8.00 more in taxes, after spending $15 to send them all the paperwork. What an efficient use of state government time.

  12. BRR*

    #2 reminds me of when I was a child and would do something to my brother and run to my mom first and say, “Everything he says is a lie.”

    1. OP#2*

      There are many, many situations where I work where it feels as though I am dealing with children. :D

  13. Jubilance*

    For printing personal things, check & see if your printer has a “private” or secure option. With this option, you can’t print the item unless you have the password. For the printers used at my company, you release the print job at the printer, after you put in your password. That way you don’t have to worry about having your personal/sensitive documents sitting at the printer for everyone to see.

    1. Taz*

      This cracks me up, because probably all the machines in my office have this but I’m sure maybe only 1 percent of the people working there realize it.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Our printer has 40 secure print jobs that have been sitting there for a year because people forget to release them.

        1. Squirrel!*

          In my area, we are all required to use locked print if we want to print to one of the large copier/printer machines. If your job has been in there more than a week, the secretary is on you to either print it RIGHT NOW or delete it because we need the space.

    2. Zahra*

      I actually did this at a previous job. I had labels to print to mail stuff to clients and I had a bunch of documents to print at once. Doing that allowed me to batch my process when no one was using the printer. Actually, I was so good at optimizing *my processes* (i.e. printing all 15 documents of 10 pages at once and then photocopying them in triplicate all at once) that I was asked to do my batch printing/photocopying during lunch time since it took me about 90 minutes.

    3. The Cosmic Avenger*

      That also works great when you need to use special paper or print on a form or something like that. Send the print job, walk to the printer, load the paper, THEN release your job on the printer.

  14. Bea W*

    With #5 Don’t even assume your off hours are the same as everyone else’s if it’s a big or slow job. I’ve had some unfortunate and highly annoying situations where I was trying to print something I received last minute for a meeting or had specifically waited for the end of the day to output a big *work related* job to a special printer and was SOL while I waited (20 min in one case) for someone’s personal tome. One woman decided to print her job to my dept’s printer during *her* lunch and then proceeded to argue with me that her boss said it was okay to do it on off hours. Um…your boss did not mean midday during office hours and probably didn’t mean 20+ minutes worth, and why in the hell if it’s okay are you printing outside of your own dept?! Had she not slipped up behind me as I was muttering under my breath I would have cancelled the job midstream and gotten on with my life. Instead I had to walk back to my desk and send my 2 pages to the printer in her dept. The queue of work documents on our printer was ridiculous. Do not be this woman.

    Also do not send a personal job to the printer and leave someone else to load the empty tray or clear your jam. This is already annoying when someone neglects a work job that backs up the queue, and it’s triple annoying to find the bottle neck in the queue is someone’s personal printing. Please don’t leave it sitting there all day either. Other people really don’t need to see the TMI you forgot to pick up!

  15. De Minimis*

    #5–our agency actually gives a tiny bit of leeway as far as printing, I think we are allowed to print things for personal use if it does not involve a huge amount of paper [and isn’t something that would otherwise be in violation of policy.]

  16. Robin*

    #4: In that situation, I think I would say something like, “If you’re talking about writing up a 1-year contract, I’m open to it, depending on what is in it.” If that’s really what she means, problem solved, if not, you are (gently) pointing out her hypocrisy in asking for something that she can’t promise back.

  17. Jessa*

    Honestly on the printer thing, a page or two here and there I just don’t see an issue with unless you have one of those code boxes where you use the numbers to bill people over how many copies, you have to have a way to indicate that your pages are not counted.

    Otherwise, just ask. I’ve had to print something and just went to the boss and said, “my printer’s broken, can I use this one.” Most bosses (read nearly every single one except the lawyer who was dumb and didn’t have a spare counter key for plain office work,) said, “sure no problem.”

    1. Jessa*

      Hit reply too fast – there is a BIGGER issue here that has nothing to do with printing anything. It has to do with the source of the document – many many offices do not want outside computers, discs, flash drives, etc. on their systems, nor non work information beyond something simple due to requirements of holding data. Or due to security issues. I’d be more worried about whether I’m allowed to put the document on the system than whether I could print it.

  18. HR Manager*

    #1 – Oh my, should I assume there is no HR there? Because HR should be all over that. If things escalated enough to involve a physical altercation (one-sided or not), then both sides need a cooling off period and an investigation into what happened. There is also a huge concern of safety in the workplace, and an employee should not have to sit by waiting for a response if there is a reasonable concern that s/he could be physically harmed at work. If breaking from vacation is not possible, I’d consider sending both home for a day or 2 and let them know that this will be looked into upon your return. If that’s not an option, I suggest scheduling them at different times, or ensuring they are never alone in the same room.

    #3 – I agree with Alison – you need damage control STAT from that email. That email to a new director is complete crazy cakes. I would reply to disassociate, and let that co-worker know that what s/he did permission from or consulting you was not appreciated.

    #5 – This reminds me of the time someone printed his resume and left it on the printer overnight. *head slap* Even in conservative companies I’ve worked for, occasional light printing is ok (I can’t tell you how many directions and Groupons I’ve seen), but huge personal projects should not be done at work. All equipment is co. property and they have the right to monitor anything you do on co. equipment (including laptops/PCs). Printers are usually networked which means IT can always track who sent what to which printer.

  19. librarian manager*

    I had an employee who color copied posters for her part time weekend theater job. My supervisor caught found the stack of copies on the shared printer on another floor. Took one and left the rest of the stack on the copier. On Monday morning, my supervisor handed over the one and asked if I knew anything about it. I said yes (employee had been talking about the performance) I had a meeting with the employee with the color copy in hand. Employee lied to my face and said, that it was an accident, she must have pressed the wrong button and she was only printing one. She would never print color copies like that for personal use. I continued documenting.

    1. some1*

      This is another point (assuming you work at a public library), if you work for the government this is can be a pretty big deal because you are funded by tax dollars. I would absolutely ask permission to to print out something personal if I worked a government job.

  20. Elizabeth*

    “Hey” vs “Hi” — I don’t think this is necessarily an age thing so much as a hierarchy thing. I remember someone sending my boss an email that said “Hey Josephine” to which the response was “I don’t think ‘hey’ is an appropriate greeting for me” (probably didn’t help that the rest of the content of the original email was unlikely to make her happy on top of the “hey” greeting!). But still, like most things, this is a case of knowing your audience, and I’d always hedge on being slightly more formal with your supervisor than I would with a colleague.

    1. librarian manager*

      oh it was a big deal. Just another document for the PIP/ Investigation/Discipline. sigh.

    2. JAL*

      I’ve always thought saying “hey” was really casual, and I’d never address a work e-mail “hey” .

    3. Joanna*

      To me, it’s also about “distance” (familiarity) besides just being about hierarchy. I would totally send my supervisor a “Hey” because we work very closely together, but a new hire, even someone that reports to me, I would address with “Hi.” When someone who barely knows me addresses me with “Hey” I think of it as a put-on and I get a teeny bit suspicious, like a waiter who treats you like an old friend.

      Also, this way down the list of important concerns when someone is addressing me. If I had a boss who specifically made an objection to being addressed with “Hey,” I would count it against them.

  21. librarian manager*

    sorry. My supervisor found the copies on the color printer after hours on a friday night.

  22. Joey*

    1. Do not fire or try to investigate while you are on vacation. Put the alleged assailant on leave. Ideally you would pay him while he was on leave if you determine he didn’t do it.

    Then when you get back you’ll need to try to determine credibility. Fwiw I would give a lot of weight to the police report since those statements occurred closest to the incident along with past behavior.

    I just think firing someone is such a big deal that Id hate to get it wrong because I was unable to personally interview folks and do a thorough investigation.

  23. librarian manager*

    I am an old fashioned, old lady.

    I despise Hi as a greeting in emails. I know I am in the minority.

    I prefer the abrupt, curt-
    Do you you have copies of the packing slip and invoice for the teapots we shipped last Thursday. It seems they were short-shipped two.

    Or from someone I don’t know begging for a favor
    The traditional “Dear” goes a long way.

    And if you know me, and we go way back, I don’t mind
    Hi Salome,
    Its been a long time since you left us for the academia and snows of the midwest. The Teapot maker conference will be in your fair city in 2015. Can we book a time to get together?
    We miss you and your cranky snarky manner here in Gotham.

    1. LBK*

      This is interesting to me since “dear” sounds more personal than “hi” IMO. This person isn’t “dear” to me, they’re a coworker or client. How would you greet them if you saw them in person? Probably with “hi” or “hello”.

      If I do want something a bit more formal than “hi,” I usually go with “good morning”/”good afternoon”.

      1. librarian manager*

        The “dear” goes way back to secretarial training that I am pretty sure I will never shake.
        Dear was the standard impersonal greeting for all business correspondence.

        I continue to use it when “cold calling”

        As in
        Dear Mr. Scieszka (May I call you Jon?)

        We met at the Stinky Cheese conference last fall and I will be in the neighborhood of your factory on November 8th. Would you possibly have an hour to go over the possible partnership opportunities rolling out in 2015?


        Ms. Charlie Parker (Please call me Charlie)

      2. Elsajeni*

        Yep. My pattern is: on first contact, “Good morning/afternoon, Wakeen.” On future contacts, the same if his reply was very formal; “Hi, Wakeen,” if his reply was very casual and friendly; plain “Wakeen” if somewhere in between.

      3. ThursdaysGeek*

        I dislike using ‘dear’ as a greeting, although I know it is standard business language. The people I am sending cover letters and other business correspondence are not dear to me! I often use ‘greetings’ instead. Or perhaps I should go really old-fashioned:

        My Dear Mr. Bullitt,
        Hire me, I’m the best.
        Most Sincerely Yours,

      4. Graciosa*

        “Dear” strikes me as exactly the opposite – formal enough that it should be followed by an honorific! I think I’m more likely to react the way Salome does.

        I understand that historically in American English, Dear [Mr. Wolfe] was used formally and only true intimates would use a salutation that started with My Very Dear [Nero], but British English does the opposite. My Very Dear [Ms. Marple] is the proper formal address for a anyone from a relative stranger to a friend, but Dear [Jane] is reserved for closer relationships.

        I’m not sure that applying logic (assuming that “Dear” is only reserved for those dear to our hearts) works very effectively to explain rules of etiquette, or our cultural reactions. This strikes me as somewhat analogous to the practice of royalty addressing other royals as cousins, even if there was a different blood relationship (“Dear Cousin and Sister”) to be acknowledged separately. Custom is not necessarily logical.

        To sort of bring this back to work, wouldn’t it be fun if this were done in business, perhaps among senior officers? I’m picturing a letter from the late Steve Jobs that begins, “Dear Cousin Bill – “

    2. Boo*

      If I’m not sure how to address someone, I usually sidestep it by starting my email with “Good morning”. I’ve not had any complaints about it yet…

    3. Just Visiting*

      I never used to use salutations at all in emails, just the person’s name followed by a comma. Then my husband saw me writing an email one day and was like “what the FUCK, that is so rude, have you really been doing it this way for years?!” What can I say, I’m not the best at social cues. Now I use “hi” for everybody. Hopefully I come off as less of an inadvertent jerk.

  24. Wilton Businessman*

    #1. It depends on your management structure. If you have a manager that is covering for you, they should be in close contact with you and execute your wishes. If you are the ultimate decider, you hop on a plane, deal with it, and go back. Physical assault is something that must be dealt with swiftly. You get the police report, you talk to the witnesses and you decide.

    #2. I agree, distance yourself from the crazy right away. Be direct and up front about it without disparaging the crazy person.

    #3. I got nothing.

    #4. Promises are made to be broken.

    #5. Keep repeating to yourself: “Anything I print on my employer’s printer is their business”. If you don’t want your personal business being your employer’s business, don’t print it at work.

  25. Ann Furthermore*

    #1: In the OP’s place, I’d be tempted to put both employees on paid administrative leave until I was back and able to sort out what happened. If both are getting paid, then at least the wronged party would not be getting penalized by losing pay.

    On the surface, it sounds like the employee who contacted the OP was the one who was attacked, but it could be that she’s reaching out first to try and deflect attention from her culpability in the incident, and the witness is siding with her to help her out. You really can’t know for sure until you get both sides of the story. The fact that there’s a police report on file should help ascertain what really happened. Telling both of them to just go home and cool off for a few days might be a way to put the entire thing on hold until you’re able to be there in person to deal with it.

    It can be risky to make snap judgments and quick decisions without taking the time to gather all the facts. A few years ago at my company someone contacted HR and said an employee had made threats about coming into the office with a gun and killing everyone. HR immediately assumed the guy was guilty, and cut off his network and building access, contacted the police, and banned him from the premises. Then later I heard that they had not even talked to the alleged guilty party and asked him about it before doing all that. It was handled pretty badly. I understand that they were trying to keep everyone safe, but to do all that before giving the guy the opportunity to tell his side of the story was the wrong way to go about it.

    1. Mister Pickle*

      After giving it some thought, I agree that it would be best to put both employees on paid leave until mgmt gets back.

      Not to trivialize this incident, but some aspects of it remind me of dealing with children.

      1. Dori47*

        If both involved employees were on leave at the same time, it would only leave the employee who is home sick, and me, not feasible

  26. Adonday Veeah*

    #4. I once got an offer letter that suggested a one-year commitment. Since I was relocating, and moving onto their property into their housing, out in the middle of nowhere, I was grateful to agree to it — I was making a huge change, and I appreciated their commitment to me.

    After I arrived, I had an interesting conversation with my boss. As the HR Manager for this company, I was surprised to learn that he thought I was an at-will employee. “Our legal counsel wrote that letter!” I told him that the letter was perfectly legal, but it was not at-will.

    Changes happened after that. And yes, this all happened in California. Although California is an at-will state, any contract or implied contract can negate that.

  27. some1*

    In general I don’t think printing out personal things is a big deal, but I think it’s definitely worth asking yourself if it’s something you need to have a hard copy of, in order to preserve resources, not to mention environmental concerns.

    For me, directions, recipes and the like get cut and pasted into One Note on my phone (or I email it to myself and open the email on my phone when I need it). Bills, financials, tax filings get scanned into a PDF and stored electronically. I haven’t printed out hard copies of stuff like this in years, but it’s there if I ever need to.

    Also, even printable tickets don’t necessarily need to be printed. I have seen the movie ticket people read the confirmation text or email off the customer’s phone before.

  28. Student*

    #1 I can’t really give you advice as to what to do. I came here to give you some perspective into how your employee might feel, so that you’d understand why it would be best to do SOMETHING to address this right away.

    I had a co-worker physically assault me once. My boss decided not to do anything meaningful about it. There were no witnesses, but the co-worker admitted to the boss that he physically attacked me. The boss called us both into his office, and told me to not do things to make my co-worker angry enough to attack me.

    One thing I had a lot of trouble explaining to my boss and my co-workers was that, to me, the guy who attacked me was a giant. I’m a small woman, and the guy who attacked me was an average guy. However, the weight difference between me and an average guy is similar to the weight difference between an average guy and a professional football player. Relative size makes a real difference in how threatening someone is. I wouldn’t have been nearly as bothered if someone my size had done what my co-worker did, because I have a decent chance of winning, and the possible injuries are lower and less severe. My co-worker attacking me was like a professional football player attacking him – the fight outcome is pretty obvious, and the injuries from such a fight can be pretty severe. I’ve spent my whole life getting non-trivial injuries from guys who are bigger than me and aren’t even remotely trying to hurt me – simple issues, like bumping into each other or stepping on someone’s toes, are much bigger problems when there is a large size difference. When someone big wants to hurt me, then I am going to get hurt, and I am probably going to get hurt worse than they intended.

    When I had to face my attacker, every day, for hours, I found myself going through a range of emotions. The strongest was pure rage. I wanted to hurt my co-worker, badly. I wanted to yell at him. I wanted to yell at my boss for making me work with this guy. I wanted to yell at my boss for essentially endorsing violence against me, by not holding out any consequences for the co-worker. I looked up how far I could legally go if this co-worker decided to go in for round two – in the state I was living in, I was permitted to kill this man if he did something similar again. There was also fear – if he could do violent act 1, what’s to stop him from doing something worse? What’s to stop him from raping me? Or even killing me? It wasn’t always logical fear – it was a fear of the unknown,of how far could he go before the boss finally decided it was not okay to hurt me.

    It was also completely de-humanizing. I lost all respect for my boss very quickly. I’m a person, and I expect to be treated with a certain amount of dignity – not to be physically attacked by a co-worker. It felt like my boss and my co-worker didn’t see me as a fully equal human being. I jumped to the conclusion that it was because I am a woman pretty quickly, within minutes of hte boss opening his mouth.

    The whole job was a lost cause at that point. I put up with it for a week before I came to terms with the fact that there was absolutely no way to salvage things. Then I put in my two-weeks notice. I shamefully admit that I didn’t bother showing up for most of that two weeks. Partially because the boss didn’t ask anything of me, felt too awkward to talk to me. Partially because I couldn’t get any meaningful work done with the co-worker around – I was too angry to concentrate, it was pointless and dangerous for me to be near him, and the risk of escalating the situation needlessly seemed worse than crying on my couch at home and getting a miserable reference.

    1. Adonday Veeah*

      “The boss called us both into his office, and told me to not do things to make my co-worker angry enough to attack me.”

      Wha…!!!! This is breaking my brain.

      “I shamefully admit that I didn’t bother showing up for most of that two weeks.”

      NOTHING shameful about this. You were put in a horrible position, and you kept yourself safe. Good job taking care of yourself! I am very sorry this had to happen in your life.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This. That boss was lucky you even gave notice.

        I had a boss raise his hand to me. He did not hit me, though. That was it for me. No notice. Bye-bye. Which is probably what he wanted anyway. (He was drunk.)

    2. Mister Pickle*

      Student – that is an interesting (if bleak) story. My jaw dropped when you said your boss told you not to do things that made your co-worker angry enough to attack you.

      Can you shed any light on the circumstances that led your co-worker to attack you? I don’t mean to be overly nosey, but I would like to know just how this kind of thing gets started. Was this a professional environment? Retail? Construction? Why did this guy attack you? Was he drunk / a psycho / other?

      1. Adonday Veeah*

        With all due respect, Mister Pickle, but this strikes me as an odd question. Not speaking for Student here, but in general “circumstances” can be anything from the aggressor having been cut off in traffic on the way to work, to the victim looking like their much-hated mother. In any situation, a healthy person would be able to curb their aggressions and not take it out on those around them. You can’t always tell by looking at someone if they’re drunk or psycho or some other thing. If you’re trying to make sense of this, I would suggest that there is no sense to be made.

        How the manager handled this… well, THAT makes no sense to me either!

        1. Mister Pickle*

          I guess it’s because Student’s story is so completely alien to my experience. The company I have worked for all my career has a strict zero tolerance on physical violence. So I’m wondering what kind of establishment / work environment this was? As it stands, the accounting starts with someone being assaulted by a co-worker. I disagree: I don’t think it’s odd at all to wonder about the circumstances that led up to it. Put another way: if you met a friend for lunch and they told you a co-worker assaulted them, I think there’s a good chance that your first words would be “What? Why? How did that happen?”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            While I agree that some places are fine there are many places out there that have serious problems.

            I had another boss that would get ticked off over the slightest transgression and throw plates (restaurant) at the employees. Another boss would fling or kick boxes. Yet another sad place that I worked, coworkers would attempt to drive over each other getting out of the parking lot at night.

            In each of those cases, the people involved had very unhappy personal lives and/or work lives. It’s human nature to look for causes and, in turn, reassure ourselves “that problem won’t happen to me because no one here has X going on”.

            One of my take-aways from Student’s story was that boss had probably been taught as a child to placate angry people. He was probably telling Student to do as he had been taught to do while growing up. He never learned any other way to deal with aggression. This does not make the boss correct-no, no- but it does make me think about what we learn as children we can carry into adulthood without ever questioning it.

            1. Adonday Veeah*

              Good insight, NSNR. Having been raised in a violent household, it took lots of therapy to learn not to placate as my default behavior. Sometimes it’s the perfect thing to do in a situation to keep you safe. Sometimes vacating the premises, as Student did, is the right action. But if placation is what got you through as a kid, it’s what you teach to others if you haven’t learned other skills.

              I still HATE what happened to Student and that nobody stood up for her. But maybe I’m softening a little on the boss’s actions. Maybe. A little. Not forgiving, but softening. (As you can see, all that therapy freed up my inner warrior!) ;-)

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Understanding does help us to pick what our next move should be. In Student’s setting her choice to leave was THE RIGHT choice to make. Nothing was ever going to change for her there and she could have ended up injured.

                I am sure Old Boss spent a bit of time thinking about that, too. Student, it could be that the boss learned something because you showed strength he did not have. It takes strength to realize something is hugely wrong and take action because of that realization. The boss in this story was lost in a fog of illusions and misconceptions. There is no fix for that, until someone says they need help.

          2. Chriama*

            That makes sense to me. Hearing Student’s story also made me want to know more details. Maybe it’s just morbid curiousity/rubber-necking, but I don’t think it’s an odd question. Asking the question doesn’t imply that Student did anything wrong or that the boss was right.

    3. illini02*

      I’m curious about the circumstances that led to this as well. Was this an ongoing issue that escalated? Was he just mad that you forgot to attach the cover to a report and just flipped out? Also, I’m curious as what you mean by physically assaulted. While I’m not saying its ever right to physically do anything to your co-workers, the way its being described kind of made me think your definition of being assaulted may be different than mine. For example, if someone shoved me, I wouldn’t personally call that being physically assaulted, although I’m sure others would.

      1. Student*

        The co-worker who attacked me was a recently hired-senior teapot maker, and I was a longtime junior teapot maker, to give some relevant framing information.

        I had lots of experience working with our special high-voltage teapots, and he had no prior experience with them, hadn’t seen them before this incident, and no related high voltage experience (he had plenty of chocolate teapot experience though). Our high-voltage teapots are not like sticking a fork in the electric socket socket – they are bona-fide, heart-stopping levels of high voltage and high AC current, with no safety features whatsoever. We were in violation of multiple company safety rules and common sense just for having them, but that’s a another story.

        I was trying to fix a high-voltage teapot. It was taking a long time(~1.5 hours, roughly), because I was being careful and there were lots of failure points to check. They are very much like loaded guns – you can work around them if you are careful and methodical, but they are serious hazards to the worker and anyone near-by. It was about dinner time, and neither I nor the co-worker could go home until after the high-voltage teapot was fixed and an additional dependent task was completed. We’d been working long hours for a week, were going to be stuck there until pretty late at night, with at least another week of the same long hours to look forward to.

        He was frustrated and tired (as were we all). After I’d been working on the HV teapot for a while, he came by to see what was taking so long. I told him. He demanded the HV teapot so he could fix it. I initially took this offer seriously, but I knew he was a very new hire and was surprised he wanted to handle this, so I asked a question before I handed over the teapot – had he worked on the HV teapot yet? Nope. Okay, had he experience with high voltage work? Nope. Did he know this thing is dangerous? Nope. Did he know what the HV teapot even did? Nope, but he assured me that as a senior teapot maker, he could certainly fix it faster than I was if I’d hand it over, tell him what was wrong with it, and tell him how to fix it.

        I didn’t really appreciate the condescension, but the much bigger problem is that this is equivalent to a toddler asking to play with a loaded gun. It would be extremely negligent, even malicious, of me to hand over an HV teapot to someone who doesn’t understand the hazard it presents and has already flagged that he isn’t take me seriously. He could die just fooling around with it – probably would die, if he tried to honestly troubleshoot it without the correct safety precautions or any idea of what it did. I tried to deflect him – I offered to train him on it when we weren’t so crunched for time, or to point him at our HV teapot designer for expert training later (from someone he might take seriously, I thought but didn’t say). He then demanded the HV teapot. I told him, simply, no.

        At that point, he lost his temper. I was holding the HV teapot in my lap through this whole conversation. He tried to take it by force. He was grabbing at my hands, grabbing my shoulders, and due to the unfortunate position of the HV teapot, grabbing at my crotch to try to take it.

        This is like wrestling over a loaded gun – I don’t like using that analogy lightly, but I am seriously concerned that this thing is going to hurt me, or him, or more likely both of us, while he’s trying his best to take it with force in a manner that would be inappropriate if it was something harmless. And he’s got his hands at my crotch, which is unacceptable even though he has no sexual intent. Frankly, even if my crotch was on fire, I’d rather my co-workers not touch it.

        I didn’t lay hands on him – it was all I could do to keep him from grabbing the HV teapot (and I’ll admit, I was angry at this point, and I’d have held onto it out of sheer stubbornness even if it was harmless once he got physical over it). So I yelled, loudly, just the word NO. This shocked him enough that he retreated out of the room. I was flabbergast. I didn’t know what to do, so I just kept working on the HV teapot, found the problem, and carried on with our tasks for evening so I could go home. In terms of direct physical damage, it was a pretty lame attack – I’ve certainly had much worse. A few small bruises. But I was scared for my life of touching the wrong part of the HV teapot and having my heart stopped the whole time; the only scarier fight I’ve been in involved a gun to my head.

        He came back after I’d finished the HV teapot work to tell me off. I told him he was wrong, and couldn’t treat me as he had. He told me that since he was a senior teapot maker and I was a junior teapot maker, I had to do what he told me to do. I told him he wasn’t my boss.

        He went to talk to our mutual boss about it. He framed it as a respect-the-hierarchy/obedience thing to my boss. My boss told me I was to do whatever the senior teapot maker told me to do. I had worked with many senior teapot makers, since they cycle much faster than junior teapot makers – as an industry rule, our senior teapot makers cannot be in charge of junior teapot makers, and no senior teapot maker had ever treated me this way before. No one had said anything to me that this senior teapot maker could order me around at any point before this incident.

        I tried to explain to my boss that the senior teapot maker wanted to do something dangerous – he had no idea how to deal with the HV teapot safely, and no idea how to fix it. The boss told me I should’ve given the HV teapot to the senior teapot maker even if it was a safety hazard; if the senior teapot maker hurt himself with the HV teapot, then so be it.

        I told my boss the co-worker had attacked me, tried to wrestle the HV teapot out of my lap. That I found this completely inappropriate. The boss told me that wrestling over the teapot was probably not a great idea on the part of the senior teapot maker, but it was my fault for being so frustrating and stubborn and bitchy. If I wouldn’t make the co-worker angry, he wouldn’t get mad enough to do that. I broke down in tears and left at that point. The boss had clearly made up his mind already to side with the senior teapot maker no matter what I said. He wasn’t listening, didn’t care, and just wanted to go out with his buddies (it was around 9 PM at this point). I got the impression from the boss that he expected me to smooth things over and obey my co-worker because I’m a woman. Days later, HR even had the nerve to tell me that because my co-worker was from a country where women obey men and don’t question them, that I should be more understanding of why my co-worker did what he did (this all happened in the US).

        Ugh, that was long and rant-y. But a couple of you lot asked.

        1. Mister Pickle*

          It occurs to me in retrospect: you should have just given him the HV teapot and let him ‘fix’ it. *evil grin*

          No, not really. But – wow.

          Thank you for taking the time to tell us. I’ve heard some outrageous work-antics in my time but this – words fail me.

          For what it might be worth, I can tell you that if this happened at the company I work for, both co-worker AND boss would have been fired – literally on-the-spot – as soon as a senior boss found out about this incident. I say this not as a ‘brag’ that I work for an awesome company – I think their policies are fairly standard for a Fortune 500 firm – I just want to reassure you that not all businesses are so awful as this place you used to work.

          I shudder to think what a “HV Teapot” really is, in this story. A test-tube full of Marburg? I hope not.

          Ijust noticed: HR got involved and backed up your manager???

          (Again, in retrospect) as painful as it was, this entire incident may have been a blessing in disguise, if it pushed you to leave this bunch of bozos.

          And again, thank you for sharing this story. I confess I was having difficulty seeing how this could happen in a professional environment – now I can see it all-too-well. It seems like gender was at least partialy an issue in this. I’ll go on record that, as a guy, if I’d been treated this way, I too would be out the door.

          Also, as a guy, I confess that if I saw a person (male or female) who was on fire, I would try to put out the fire, and if it involved the crotch or other sensitive areas, I’d apologize later. I think I’m probably not alone, and I’ll have to ask you to trust me that there would be no weird jollies involved in this. In fact – and again I don’t think I’m alone in this – I’d have to force myself to reach into someone’s crotch area. It’s just a boundary that I grew up with. I don’t care if he grew up in a culture “where women obey men” – ack, I’m just going to stop myself here. There is just so much wrongness in this. It offends me to think that people like this exist.

          Now where’s my Lorazepam?

          1. Student*

            HR was trying to take a middle road, to try to be fair. They had no authority to deal with my boss or my co-worker beyond talking with them. Nominally they agreed that I’d been treated poorly but told me there was nothing useful they could do about it.

            The HR folks I worked with aren’t technical people, they are people-persons. They don’t understand what an HV teapot is, and can’t really grasp that it’s dangerous without me giving a much more calm explanation than I was capable of at the time. I wasn’t exactly in a mood to get out the charts and graphs and lecture them about HV teapots. I probably should’ve called in our safety office instead of HR, in retrospect, because they’d have understood that a bunch of safety rules had been flagrantly violated. Without understanding that this guy was doing something very reckless, it becomes a grumpy tiff between two childish co-workers.

            The dumb comment from HR about this being behavior being my co-worker’s culture was a misguided (offensive!) attempt to get everyone communicating and identifying with each other again. HR wasn’t surprised when I told them I was changing jobs.

  29. TheExchequer*

    I really, really want an update to #1.

    #2 – I would not necessarily assume that someone was “in on” something just because they had been cc’d on it. Unless the word “we” was used in there or something.

    #5 – It really does depend on office culture and the sphere you work in. The tax office I worked at from January-April? I could have printed off a small novel and nobody would’ve noticed. The customer service office I work at now? In the almost three months I’ve been here, I’ve printed off exactly 1 work related sheet of paper.

  30. Alternative*

    Personally not a fan of “hey” as an email greeting. It’s too casual and slangy for me. I think of it as how you would greet your friends in High School.

    My goal is to treat everyone in the office with professionalism and respect – from the newest, most inexperienced person, to the top. You would think this is common sense? But, it’s amazing how awful people can be when they think you aren’t “important.”

  31. KerryBerry*

    #5 I had a coworker leave copies of her lady regions on the printer. (How did this happen? Apparently, the all in one went down while she was trying to print. A few days later, our IT guy recovered all jobs during the down period and printed them. Someone found them, reported her, and it was discovered she was uploading her selfies from her phone onto her workstation to print them.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      She must have missed the news articles on these types of things.

      Am shaking my head.

  32. Heaven's Thunder Hammer*

    #5 Re: Stuff in the printer:

    At my last job I once found:

    1.) Very detailed emails about the CFO’s impending divorce, financial and family settlements. Turns out I knew about 2 months before the CFO’s best friend.

    2.) Pricing details for a contract with a major government agency that prizes secrecy.

    3.) 50 lolcat pictures.

    #3 still gets me. Why so many?

  33. Nicole*

    Q4 Employee here. I finally had a falling out with the same supervisor where I felt bullied again, at that point I contacted HR and her supervisor to inform them of both incidences (without telling my supervisor first). I was told that it was not appropriate for my supervisor to ask me to commit to a year, and they would ask the supervisor what exactly she said. I haven’t heard anything again on the matter, but I certainly felt empowered that I spoke up and knowing that my supervisor would think twice about what she says, and how she treats other people.

    I’m glad to be reassured by Alison I was in the right.
    Thanks, Alison!

  34. EvilQueenRegina*

    #3: For me it’s not so much about the age of the person I’m emailing and more about how well I know them.

    #5 – Someone where my mother works once typed out a letter they were intending to send to prank someone. They’d changed the spelling of the business address to make it into something rude and signed it Mustafa Laff. I didn’t hear the rest of what was in the letter, but it was along those lines. Yes, the guy got in trouble for it when it was found on the work printer.

  35. Dori47*

    #1. Follow up. The attacked employee went home the day of the attack and was told to stay home until I was back. The witness was so stressed out, she called in sick the rest of the week and although she returned to work this week, was sent home ill. The attacker was the only one left with the Locum ( the person hired to replace me while I am gone – btw this is a medical office, the employees are a receptionist, nurse and assistant, with two part-timers job sharing one position- everyone has to work with everyone else) The part-time employee showed up for her two days and doesn’t know what is going on, other than others were not at work. The attacker admits what she did, but denies the seriousness and apologizes for creating the chaos. She has been placed on suspension until the police mediator deals with it( but we know she is job searching and might quit, she has taken home all her personal belongings) the attacked and witness want to keep their job but have been up in the air if they could. The office is operating at half capacity because of this. The attacked realizes her role in instigating things, and realizes she is easier to replace than the attacker so is concerned about her future.

    I have been consulting a lawyer .
    Both the attacked and witness feel they cannot work with the attacker again.
    Other info: the attacker is a 20 year employee and has recently had arguments with everyone in the office as she is having problems at home.

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