coworker mock-slaps me, reporting a coworker’s inappropriate comments, and more

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

1. Coworker regularly mock-slaps me with a clipboard while yelling at me

The manager of the department next to mine frequently marches in front of my desk and, in a standing position, mocks slapping my face with a clipboard while yelling, stomping her feet, and pointing animatedly with her arms, then drops the clipboard to the ground for emphasis at the conclusion of her tirades. I find her actions aggressive and physically threatening. Certainly they are unprofessional and inappropriate. Can I legally report her for wrongdoing and to whom? My immediate supervisor is aware.

No, there’s no law agains mock slapping if she’s not actually making physical contact. You can, however, tell her directly to stop: “Please stop waving that clipboard in my face right now.” You might also add on, “Please stop speaking to me that way,” followed by, “I’m not willing to be spoken to this way, and I’m going to walk away from this conversation now.”

And your manager sucks for knowing about this and doing nothing. If you have a reasonably responsive HR department, you might consider talking to them about it.

2. The friend I referred did horribly; should I talk to her about it?

I’ve been working freelance in film and television for the last two years since graduating college. What this usually entails is long hours, being detail-oriented, being on time, and having a good attitude. I assume this isn’t too far off from qualities required in other job fields, so I don’t usually explain crew expectations to people I recommend for jobs.

I have a slightly younger friend who recently graduated and is looking for work in the same field. She sees me as kind of a junior mentor since I’m slightly older than her, we have similar personalties and interests, and I’ve gone through all the job hurdles she’s about to encounter for the first time. All summer I’ve been recommending her for opportunities when I can. This morning though, I got a call from a coordinator friend at a major TV network. They recently hired my friend as a production assistant for a shoot, and it went horribly. They said she was nice, but she was repeatedly late to work (ranging from 20-60 minutes late), did not pay attention to details (got the director tea instead of coffee, etc.), and in general wasn’t motivated/a good worker. It caused some problems for my coordinator friend at the network. I apologized and made sure to get the story straight (I don’t want to ruin my reputation with a bad recommendation).

Should I talk to my friend about any of this? She wasn’t fired because the job was only a few days long, but she definitely soured her reputation at this network and isn’t going to get hired back. She is new to our industry and I want to make sure that she knows what the expectations are at future jobs, because I care about her and want her to do well. I got permission from my coordinator friend to chat with her about this, but I’m not really sure how to proceed. It’s worth mentioning my younger friend is incredibly, sweet, talented and shy, so I’m also a little worried about a talk like this doing more to hurt her than help her. Do you think I should talk to her, and if so how should I go about it?

Yes, you should talk to her. I’d say this: “I talked to Jane, and she mentioned that they weren’t happy with how things went on the X job. They gave me some feedback; would you like me to share it with you?” Assuming she says yes, be straightforward about what they told you.

No matter how receptive she is to this, though, you should stop recommending her until you know for a fact that she’s become a different type of worker; otherwise you risk harming your own reputation (not having future referrals taken seriously).

3. Telling my boss about a coworker’s inappropriate comments in a meeting

I was supporting a senior colleague in an external-facing meeting, and he made a number of analogies using terms generally inappropriate for the workplace. The tamest was “pooping in other people’s pools”; the least tame involved UV lights and bedding. At the end of the meeting, the external folks noted that the analogies “need to be sanitized” in future; the senior colleague responded, “Well, at least I didn’t say ‘semen’.”

I notified my other senior colleagues (notably my own boss) about the external folks’ comments (verbatim: “need to be sanitized”) as part of my predesignated role of relaying their feedback. Most of these other senior colleagues corroborated with similar accounts from their experiences with this guy, but one wants to know exactly what he said in order to prep/warn him in future.

Bottom line: I don’t think these comments should be put in writing anywhere (international team, very reliant on email) and I’m extremely uncomfortable having to repeat his comments (particularly because my boss has also made inappropriate comments in the past). So – how do I handle this without having to say the word “semen” to my colleagues?

I would just tell him; you’re allowed to say the word “semen” at work when it’s in the context of explaining someone’s inappropriate comments so that they can be addressed.

If you really don’t want to put it in email, you could say, “I’m uncomfortable repeating it in an email; feel free to give me a call if you need the verbatim quotes.” If you’re uncomfortable repeating it at all, you could explain that, but I’d urge you to just report the language dryly and factually.

4. Employees want details about a potentially contagious virus

One of our managers reached out to me regarding an employee who told a few of her coworkers that she had a viral infection that caused her to go on medical leave. They want to know if I can share what she has, whether it is contagious, and whether her work area needs to be cleaned because she works in a shared space. I know I can’t disclose the information per HIPAA, but how do I respond?

Actually, you’re probably not restricted by HIPAA. HIPAA applies to medical professionals, like doctor’s offices, but in most cases not employers.

That said, there’s no reason to disclose an employee’s medical information; you should protect her privacy even though the law doesn’t require it. But her coworkers aren’t being unreasonable to want to know if any precautions need to be taken. You can answer those questions without discussing the details of sick employee’s own situation.

5. If we’re on a call when our break comes, we have to skip the break

I am working at home for a call center that provides insurance agents for insurance company call centers. The company is domiciled outside the U.S., but the workers are U.S.-based; I am in Florida. We work standard shifts of 9 hours, with an hour for lunch and two 15-minute breaks. We have been told that if we are on a call and we miss out break time, we can not take it and just have to work until our lunch break or the end of the shift. To me, this does not seem correct. Is my employer skirting the law on this issue?

Florida doesn’t have a law requiring meal or other breaks during the work day (and nor does federal law), so it’s up to the employer whether to offer breaks or not. That means that your company is free to do what they’re doing; the breaks they’re offering are above the minimum required by law (which in this case is zero), so they’re free to revoke them if they want to. (That said, it sounds like you might have coworkers in a bunch of different states; if any of them are in states that do require breaks, your company would have to honor those laws for those workers, despite the fact that the company itself is based elsewhere.)

{ 181 comments… read them below }

  1. Ruffingit*

    OP #2, your friend’s personality doesn’t make it any less necessary to have this discussion. If she takes constructive criticism personally, I don’t think the TV/film industry is right for her anyway. This is the part where she grows as a person and employee. I assume that since you both graduated recently, she’s 22-24 years old. Better to learn these lessons now than to go through a career that never takes off because she didn’t get this kind of feedback in the beginning.

    Also, in addition to sharing what you were told by the person on site, tell your friend exactly what needs to be done: “Jane, it’s imperative that you arrive on set and ready to work at the time they tell you to be there and preferably 10 minutes early. Pay close attention to what you are being asked to do whether that is get coffee or set up a shot.”

    1. W.*

      I want to say OP 2 is a great friend, I wish I’d had someone who stuck their nose out for me and recommended me here, there and everywhere. Many people say they will, very few actually do. So you’re a great friend, but don’t risk your career or future for someone who isn’t grateful.
      A grateful person would have realised this was an opportunity in a hard industry, speak to your friend, tell her you can’t recommend her for roles if this how she behaves – but check if there wasn’t some underlining reason which she could ‘recover’ from. Also explain that her behavior reflects on you, as does her attitude, and so far both have been somewhat disrespectful.

      1. MK*

        I am not sure I completely agree. Recommending someone whose work quality and ethic you know “here, there and everywhere” is being a great friend. Doing the same for someone who is an unknown quality is somewhat irresponsible; and it might end up harming their career. I wonder if the OP didn’t see fit to qualify her recommendation and make clear she cannot vouch for her friend as a worker.

        1. ShortforaStormTrooper*

          Hey, OP #2 here! I wasn’t clear about this in the original question, but I’ve actually worked with her a few times before and she’s always been great. They’ve been student sets but she’s always been on time/on point/the hardest worker on set. I know she’s worked professionally a few times (not from my recommendations) but I’ve never worked with her on a professional set. I always include how I know a person and my experience with them whenever I recommend someone for a job so the person with a job can make their own judgement call. In the case of my friend that we’re talking about, it’s usually something along the lines of ‘friend of mine, worked with her on student sets and she’s great, never worked with her professionally’. For this particular job I also recommended my friend along with a few other friends, and knowing how Film/TV tends to work I’m sure my friend in question was the only one available, so the one who got the job. But I totally agree with you, blindly recommending someone for jobs is a dangerous game. I definitely flirted with it this time though, so I’m only going to recommend people I’m 110% sure of for now on.

          I’m actually very surprised that she performed so badly that I got a phone call about it, and am very curious to get to the bottom of it. I’ll definitely update you guys about how it goes/what I learn.

          Thank you for reading/commenting!

          1. Three Thousand*

            My guess would be anxiety, since you mention she’s shy (as opposed to entitled, lazy, flaky, or something similar). She might have psyched herself out so badly that she fell into a pattern of self-sabotaging behavior she couldn’t get out of fast enough. It can happen to people who tend to be on the fearful or nervous side when dealing with new situations. I would ask about that if it were me.

            1. ShortforaStormTrooper*

              OP #2 here! Yikes, I think you nailed it. That sounds really plausible given her demeanor. I’m definitely going to talk to her and see her take on it. Thank you for your comment!

          2. AdAgencyChick*

            In that case, it sounds like you couldn’t have done anything better than you did.

            It would be a kindness to her at this point to give her the feedback as Alison suggested, *and* the hard truth that you cannot recommend her for any more gigs until and unless she does better in future professional assignments. Not just once or twice, but consistently. Alison is right — recommending people who aren’t good at their jobs will definitely hurt your reputation. A lot. Learned that one the hard way.

            1. ShortforaStormTrooper*

              OP #2 here! Thanks! I hope that is the case. I really like her, she’s a great person, and I want her to do well. It’s going to suck to have to tell her all those ‘hard truths’ but I think everyone is right, if I’m really her friend and want her to succeed it’s the best thing I can do for her. Thank you for commenting!

              1. Not So NewReader*

                If you talk to her the way you are talking now, I think you will do a great job. You sound like her number one fan but you are reality-based. I think you actually have a chance of getting her to listen.

          3. Olive*

            OP, I’ve been exactly where you are – way back when I was a production secretary on a studio feature I recommmended a friend as an office PA who I’d only worked with on a student film in college, but I knew he’d worked as a post PA professionally – turned out to be a total disaster. I was mortified and never recommended anyone again who I hadn’t personally worked with on a professional set. (Ten years later, the UPM from that show still says to me, “Remember that friend of yours who [spectacular screw-up]…”!!)

            I find Three Thousand’s anxiety comment so interesting; now that I look back, that would explain what was going on with my friend too. Yikes.

            If anxiety is part of the problem, you could suggest that she might try looking for work in a different department from ADs or production office, both of which put you right in the line of fire? Maybe accounting clerk, wardrobe PA, props, construction, craft service? It’s a little harder to find non-union positions to start out in, and of course lateness or lack of detail isn’t tolerated any more in those departments, but in my experience the stress level is a little bit lower and the department heads tend to be a little less screamy. She could build up her confidence that way and just might find a department she’s great in.

          4. penelope pitstop*

            Hi OP2–Apologies if you’ve gotten this before–I sampled, but didn’t read all of the responses headed your way. I’d definitely not soft pedal, but I’d approach the convo with your friend in exactly the manner and tone that you framed in your letter.

            I’d tell her that given your experience working with her you had no qualms recommending her and that you were taken aback to get a call in which the director reported x, y, z. Then I’d ask her for her POV and let her talk. It’s also possible the feedback wasn’t entirely fair or was one-sided or that someone set her up to fail. Does the director have a reputation for being difficult to work for/with by chance?

            As others have said, what’s important is to see how she handles the convo with you, clarify expectations and understand if/why her behavior was different from what you expected and industry norms. Depending on how that unfolds, I think it’s fair to tell her you’re not sure you can recommend her at all or that you’d have to qualify the reco going forward. Or, maybe she IS great and she and that director just didn’t mesh for whatever reason.

            Sorry TL/DR… BUT, it’s been my experience that when someone else’s experience is drastically different from mine, there’s always a story behind it and sometimes not the one that it seems to be on the surface.

            Als0, the world needs more people like you who genuinely want to see others succeed. Good luck.

      2. ShortforaStormTrooper*

        OP #2 here! Aww thanks! I try. I’m very curious to talk to her about all this, because I’ve been on student sets with her before and she’s usually on point. I was not expecting to get a phone call about her being a poor worker whatsoever. I will also try to have the hard talk about how her behavior and attitude reflects on me. I will definitely cool it from recommending her for a while, that is for sure.

        Thank you for your comment!

        1. Kadee*

          I was going to ask if it was out of the ordinary for her to behave like this because my first thought was that maybe she was very ill those couple of days or maybe she got bad news regarding her health or of that someone close to her, and she felt she couldn’t call out sick since it was only a two-day job and she didn’t want to let you or the others down. Who knows? That’s why I think it’s good that you want to hear what she has to say, particularly if you feel this is out of the ordinary behavior because it may be that what she needs is guidance on how to deal with unexpected situations/personal issues that impact her ability to perform the job adequately.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I agree that something is up with her if this is out of character for her.

          You can still send her links to jobs you see or tell her about jobs you hear of. What I would say is, “Because I am just starting out, too, I have to be careful about referrals myself. I learned a lesson here. So for the time being I am not acting as a reference for anyone, just until I get settled in more than I am now.” Then you can add that you will still help her by letting her know if you hear of any job openings.

    2. ShortforaStormTrooper*

      Hey, OP#2 here! You are definitely right. I have a soft spot for her since I’m a shy girl myself, but also realize I’ve had to work hard to get over that part of myself in order to work in the industry. You’re right that if she can’t handle it it’s much better to find out now at 22 (bingo on her age!)

      And I will absolutely explain everything that needs to be done. I might have to sit down and right out a list because a lot of it is common sense (like show up on time for work), but I think some of the other posters are right that film/tv can be a little frantic which can be distracting, so it’s important to focus up and take the important information out of what people are asking of you.

      Thank you so much for the comment!

      1. Anonymoose*

        As somebody who worked in TV and film, as well as many other industries, the expectations in film and TV are vastly stricter in film and TV. That goes for timeliness especially, but also attention to detail, and general culture and fit. Friend you referred also had prior experience so this is probably a bigger surprise to you, but please don’t assume that others have the same understanding as you. It is doing them a disservice to believe that they don’t need to be told something that you’ve noticed, if you truly want to be a mentor.

  2. FiveByFive*

    Actually, #1 could be considered assault, couldn’t it? Actual contact is not required.

    “In common law, assault is the act of creating apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive contact with a person. An assault is carried out by a threat of bodily harm coupled with an apparent, present ability to cause the harm.”

    1. Artemesia*

      I’d be taking out my phone and filming this whole thing and then heading for HR. This is so bizarrely ‘off’ that I am trying to imagine what else is going on her and how your own boss ignores it.

      1. Nina*

        Bizarre is right. Besides being immature, how do you mock slap someone like this, anyway? You rear your hand (or clipboard as it were) and stop just before you reach the face? I’d be worried about the day the manager’s hand “slips” and really smacks the OP.

        IA about going to HR. They need to be made aware of this because your supervisor isn’t handling it all.

        1. UKJo*

          I agree – not to mention my defence mechanism would have me raising my hand to ward off the object being aimed at my face, meaning it’s very likely the manager could smack my hand (of course that might make it a darn sight easier to report, or shock ’em into stopping…)!

        2. Kyrielle*

          Or you swipe it through the air at a distance so it never could’ve hit their face unless they leaned into it. In which case the question is what the distance is. If she’s across the desk and LW would have to lean all the way across the desk to actually get hit, then it might not rise to the level of assault – I’m not sure. If it’s a close thing like you theorize, then I think it might.

    2. KarenT*

      While I wouldn’t be happy if I were the OP either, I don’t think you’ll get very far with an assault claim based on someone ranting and pretending to hit you with a clipboard.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes — and generally speaking, trying to file criminal charges against your coworkers isn’t exactly a go-to move for professional success, particularly when you haven’t tried other avenues available to you (with exceptions for serious crimes, obviously).

        Whenever stuff like this comes up here, there’s often a lengthy discussion about whether or not it qualifies as assault, and while I agree that that can be interesting intellectually, I always hope people realize that seriously proposing it as a course of action wouldn’t make sense.

        1. A Dispatcher*

          Agree regarding jumping right to criminal charges. There’s plenty that is technically illegal but wouldn’t make sense to call the police for right off the bat. Employers, for instance, aren’t generally calling us when an employee takes home a company pen, even if it’s technically larceny.

          1. Tau*


            And the thing is that jumping to legal action will almost invariably burn your bridges with your company, which is not a good state to be in if you’re employed by them.

            Which isn’t to say that you should never do it, but does mean that going to it as your *first* course of action without having sat down and spoken with the person involved/your manager/HR/whatnot about it is almost certainly a bad idea.

          2. NickelandDime*

            Agreed. Don’t leap to making a formal complaint with police over this. I know someone that did this because a person did something similar to what was described in this letter. They got fired for doing it, of course. It’s angering and unprofessional, and the company should handle it, but if they don’t, the OP should just start looking for another job. There seems to be more issues than just this idiot coworker at this place. I know many companies where if someone did something as described in the letter they would be walked out immediately.

        2. UKAnon*

          In the UK, this is definitely assault. That doesn’t mean you jump straight to calling the police. But it is useful information to know for OP’s country, because it can be used in the moment (“I don’t know if you realise, but I feel like you may be about to harm me, please stop”), with the manager who is refusing to do anything (“I don’t know if you realise, but this behaviour rises to assault, please make Jane stop”) and with HR (“I am fed up of being repeatedly subject to intimidating and physically threatening behaviour whilst trying to work, what can you do?”)

          I would also be documenting everything that happens in the workplace and with higher ups, because this may escalate outside the workplace, and then police probably should be quietly involved.

          1. misspiggy*

            And surely, if after asking manager and HR for support and the problem doesn’t stop, the OP would be justified in walking off the job if it happens? Doesn’t the employer in the US have some responsibility for creating a safe and non-hostile environment?

            1. Colette*

              Does she want to continue having a job?

              If it were a legally hostile environment (which it probably isn’t, unless there’s more going on here), she’s still not going to get paid if she’s not there – she just has more long term options available to her.

            2. fposte*

              Presuming she’s not on a contract, she can walk off the job whenever the whim takes her. The question is what that does for her reputation–there are situations where it may absolutely be worth it and situations where it wouldn’t.

            3. Kyrielle*

              Justified? Morally, ethically, even legally if in the US? Yes.

              Will it get the results the OP wants? Well, that depends on whether they can afford to be without a job for a while, whether they can afford the probable burned bridges and bad references. :|

          2. Lee*

            I really like the “I feel like you may be about to harm me, please stop” language — even for the United States (or anywhere else the employee really feels this).

            The whole scenario is so bizarre, it seems obviously meant to, at the least, deliberately intimidate and professionally ostracize the OP. I mean who watching this display can possibly think this is okay professionally?

            1. OhNo*

              Speaking from experience, but that kind of language isn’t likely to do anything with someone who thinks this is an acceptable way to behave in the first place. You are more likely to get a string of “I would never actually hurt you, how dare you imply that, don’t you know I was only joking, can’t you take a joke?” than any actual meaningful response or change in behavior.

              While this is definitely something to keep in your back pocket just in case, I think your best bet would probably be to go to HR first. Hopefully they can do something about it.

              1. F.*

                I may be totally out in left field here, but have you tried just continuing to work and totally ignoring the tirade? Or even laughing at the person? It just might take the wind out of their sails to no longer be able to get an upset reaction from you.

            2. Kathryn T.*

              What I teach my kids to say is “I don’t like it when you do that. Please stop.” It’s firm and unambiguous, and civil without being apologetic. It doesn’t get into why you don’t like it, because that’s not really relevant. But best of all, you can say it to a peer, a subordinate, or a person in a position of authority, all without being weird or inappropriate.

            3. Jazzy Red*

              I agree with Lee that this behavior is meant to intimidate *and humiliate* the OP.

              If this was happening to me, I would stand up as soon as it starts, say loud enough to be heard “I will not take this kind of behavior” and walk away from this crazy woman (NOT leave work, just walk out of sight of this nutcase and come back when she’s gone). Lather, rinse, repeat as needed.

              But that’s just me. I don’t take cr@p from people any more.

        3. MattRest*

          The recommendation is to not report crimes committed against employees to police on Labor Day of all days??

          I’m mostly kidding, because this instance does seem to be fairly trivial. But I have to wonder what IS the threshold. Should criminal laws apply to employees in other matters as it does for overtime pay ( must be followed whether the employee agrees or not)?

          There is way to much latitude in federal labor law, in my opinion – #5 makes my blood boil. Other than I’m just musing/venting, as it’s so early on a holiday morning.

          1. doreen*

            I would say the threshold is whether a reasonable person would call the police in a similar non-work situation. Would you call the police if another person in your bowling league behaved this way? Probably not until you at least made efforts to have the league stop the behavior. Would you call the police if instead the bowler punched you in the face? Then call the police when it’s a coworker.

            It’s not a matter of criminal laws not applying to employers and coworkers – they absolutely do. They also apply to friends, neighbors and families – but in any of those cases, one must think about what is likely to happen next. Technically, if my daughter takes a $20 pair of earrings from my house without permission, she has committed a crime . That doesn’t mean that if I call the police she will be arrested and even if she is arrested she may not be prosecuted. But it’s absolutely guaranteed to change my relationships with her and the rest of my family , and a $20 pair of earrings is probably not be worth it.

            1. Shell*

              Yup. By the time legal action is brought in, it’s no longer about correction, it’s about compensation. So one has to be really, really certain that correction is no longer viable before they go the nuclear option.

            2. Student*

              The problem with that argument is that “reasonable people” can have very different thresholds for this sort of behavior, and it’s often situational.

              I’m a very small woman. I’ve had large guys bust my nose or bruise me badly through complete accidents that would not have injured a person of similar size. Usually it’s just the sheer difference in mass or size. Sometimes it’s because I’m so much smaller than them, something hits me at a level much worse than it does for them (eyes and face are lower – easy to get an elbow in the face; neck is lower; feet can’t take as much weight on them). If a big guy or a large woman started flailing in my face as described, I’d be concerned that they don’t realize how easy it is for them to injure me, even if it is on “accident”. I’d be less concerned about someone my size doing same, and I’d brush off a one-time incident with a small child completely.

              At best, the co-worker is engaging in this type of behavior as mock intimidation to express anger or frustration. The co-worker is out of line and should use her words instead.

        4. INTP*

          Agree, in this case I think you would be seen as the psycho who tried to have a coworker arrested for joking around and annoying you. (Unless this person’s demeanor indicates that they clearly mean to threaten the OP and the coworkers are also afraid for the OP’s safety.) It’s not worth sabotaging your reputation like that, as unfair as it might be, unless you are truly concerned for your physical safety (and even then, asking to be moved away from them would probably be more effective and better for your career than consulting the police before telling management/HR that the situation bothers you).

        5. JB (not in Houston)*

          You’re totally right of course, but I didn’t read FivebyFive’s comment as suggesting it as a good idea? Just possibly disagreeing with your statement that there’s no law against it?

    3. Sociable*

      I thought this too could be considered as assault depending on how it interpreted. At the very least the OP should directly state that this person needs to stop immediately, and then follow up with HR, so that if it continues, there is a record of it being reported. This is absolutely absurd in a workplace or any other social/professional environment in my opinion.

      1. BritCred*

        Absolutely. Whilst it works for Gibbs on NCIS that isn’t exactly the best run workplace for a good example…

    4. A Dispatcher*

      I am in a state where our assault laws are different than most (assault here is what most places consider battery), however, I would generally assume that intent would matter here. Coworker is being obnoxious but to me it doesn’t sound like she has any intent to actually cause LW any bodily harm or even is really threatening to. Does LW have a reasonable belief that coworker would actually hit her? If so, that changes things…

      1. Observer*

        I think it would be unreasonable to NOT consider that risk of real assault happening at some point. The fact is that although the co-worker is probably being theatrical at this point, he (she?) is also clearly being intentionally intimidating. And, also “pretend slaps” do have a tendency to end up with real slaps albeit often unintentionally.

        1. A Dispatcher*

          Reasonable in the legal sense. Would a reasonable person, in that specific situation (and not speculating re a future situation), believe that they are actually being menaced/harm is intended.

          I of course find this behavior ridiculous and encourage LW to put a stop to it by speaking with the individual and/or reporting the incident within the company, I just wouldn’t jump straight to calling the police re: assault.

          1. Observer*

            I think that in that position, based on the description, it is absolutely reasonable to be afraid of being hit, even if the person doing the “mock slapping” says he’s “doesn’t mean anything”.

    5. Illegal Eagle*

      Even if it technically meets the definition, which I think is debatable, the cops are not going to get involved because she waved a clipboard at someone.

      1. London reader*

        Re no. 1, I think this is a case where the perception of the colleague and the OP could be completely different, and I wish the OP has given a bit more detail. Is the colleague doing it during an entirely work related conversation? E.g. “You are running late with your monthly report! You idiot! Slap!” Or is it during a informal conversation in a break? Something like “You want Manchester United to win? Why do we employ people like you? Slap!”

        I am assuming in your example it is the former, and then I would agree it’s always inappropriate and abusive. But, if the context is more like the latter, I could envisage a situation where a mock slap is perceived by all involved as a joke, or indeed that the colleague doing the slapping doesn’t realise that the OP doesn’t share the same stupid sense of humour.

        In my first example, I think escalation is appropriate, in my second example escalation as a fist step would be an overreaction, and it would be more appropriate, in my view, to tell the colleague to stop, and only escalating if they don’t.

        1. fposte*

          The whole “fake slap” thing is very weird to me in conjunction with seemingly genuine anger. Mind you, the whole having a tantrum in front of somebody else’s staffer is weird to me too, and I’m rather curious what she’s so exercised about and why it’s not the problem of the OP’s boss.

        2. QualityControlFreak*

          Am I the only one who would be soooo tempted to just go with the scene WackoManager is creating? Something like rocking my head back from the imagined impact of the clipboard, staggering, falling to the floor and crawling over on hands and knees to beg forgiveness and plead with her not to hurt me anymore?

          Okay, I probably wouldn’t actually do it. But if this performance was repeated too frequently I’d have a very hard time resisting.

    6. INTP*

      I seem to be reading this differently than other people, because to me this seems like a person who thinks she is hilarious and likes to make a spectacle of herself for attention, not like it’s meant as a threatening gesture. Don’t get me wrong, it would annoy the absolute hell out of me, but it would probably be a waste of time to report it as an assault. I don’t think that they are going to arrest a person for joking around in a way that makes you feel nervous, and you would probably create more problems for yourself than your coworker if you handled it that way.

      If I’m correct and this woman is just a ham who does this for laughs and attention, I would suggest speaking to her privately and saying that when she does that to you, it makes you feel uncomfortable (because the clipboard flying at your head is startling, you don’t like being brought into the center of attention, or whatever) and kindly ask if she would not do it again. I do think what she’s doing is inappropriate and Not Okay, but this type of person can be very sensitive to public criticism and you might bring more of her hilarious antics upon yourself as she overcompensates to save face if you confront her within earshot of others.

      1. ShortforaStormTrooper*

        I thought that too! Since the OP didn’t mention what situation it arose and used the phrase ‘mock slapping’ I thought it might be the coworker just trying to be goofy. I’ve definitely worked with coworkers who fake punch me/fake insult me and the joke is that we’re all friends and it’s all cool. However this only works if everyone is on board with the joke though, so if OP #1 is not finding it funny she should talk to her coworker about it. If they’re just joking around I’m sure they will stop, or at least not do it to OP anymore. It being seen as a ‘jokey’ behavior might explain why the manager knows and hasn’t done anything about it. If the manager thinks it’s a joke and so does the coworker and the OP hasn’t spoken up about it yet to either of them, it might be continuing because everyone thinks that OP #1 is in on/ok with the joke. Thoughts?

      2. Koko*

        That’s how I read it at first too. I couldn’t figure out if the other manager was throwing some sort of grown-up temper tantrum, or if she’s doing a physical comedy shtick like the Three Stooges. Both are ridiculous but the second seemed more plausible.

        Still completely inappropriate but the way you deal with obnoxious slapstick humor in the workplace requires a different solution to someone making pseduo violently themed threats.

    7. TootsNYC*

      I agree w/ the idea that actually filing criminal charges would be a bad career move.

      However, pointing out to your boss, to HR, or even to the offender herself that “creating apprehension of offensive contact” is part of the language of the legal definition of assault. And so it’s not really that unusual that you would object to her actions.

      Because I think that yes:
      Can I legally report her for wrongdoing and to whom? My immediate supervisor is aware.

      it is legal for you to report her for treating you this way–report her to your immediate supervisor.

      Your supervisor is aware that she does this. Is your supervisor aware that you object?

      I can see a boss just not bothering to step in because the boss thinks this is just hijinks, etc. So “knowing THAT it happens” is not the same thing as “thinking it is wrong,” or “knowing that you need her to step in.”

      I agree with the idea that you need to immediately say, “Stop that. Don’t do that to me again. Speak to me professionally, and stop pretending to hit me.” And then go to your boss and say, “She did that fake-slap thing; I told her to stop. I’m looping you in, and I’ll go to HR if it happens again.”

    8. FiveByFive*

      Geez, easy folks!

      I never recommended that the OP file criminal charges. The original answer to the OP states that there is no law being broken if physical contact is not made. I simply pointed out that that’s not necessarily the case, to emphasize the seriousness of the matter.


    9. Miss Betty*

      Not only is no physical contact required (that’s battery), it’s both a crime and a tort (a civil offense). It seems to me – as a legal secretary and having also been a paralegal; I’m not an attorney – that what this person is doing actually is illegal and actionable.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        You’re right that assault is both a crime and a tort! But you usually have to intend to make the person afraid that you are actually going to hit them. We don’t have enough facts here to know exactly what was going on.

  3. BuildMeUp*

    #2 – Please give your friend the feedback! Since she wasn’t fired and probably didn’t receive too much feedback on the day, she might not have any idea that she did such a bad job that she won’t be hired back there. Being repeatedly late is 100% inexcusable, but it’s possible that “overwhelmed and unsure of what needs doing” could have come across as “unmotivated,” so I would definitely let your friend know.

    I would say that, in my experience (largely on indies in Chicago, so YMMV), film work doesn’t have exactly the same expectations as a normal job, and there are differences that might not be obvious to someone who hasn’t worked on a set before. A lot of people, especially people fresh out of film school, aren’t necessarily prepared for the “paying your dues” part of PA work, where you generally do as you’re told, get people coffee, and don’t get to watch any of the “fun” that happens on set. I think in the future a quick rundown of what a newbie PA should expect might be helpful before you recommend someone!

    1. Betsy*

      I know the entertainment industry very marginally, but from what I know it’s far more demanding in that regard than other industries. I think LW2 definitely needs to make it clearer to her friend that people in film/TV are significantly more… particular than folks in other industries and can be even occasionally abusive to more junior colleagues. Which is one reason I stay far, far away from it.

      1. MK*

        I am not sure it’s a good idea to stress how particular the industry is, when the OP’s friend is exhibiting behavior (tardiness, inattention to basic instructions) that would be unacceptable in any workplace. She might go away under the impression that it’s not her that didn’t perform well, just that the industry is full of unreasonable divas.

        1. ShortforaStormTrooper*

          OP #2 here! I think I might use both arguments when talking to her. Yes, Film and TV is a different work environment in some ways than a lot of different industries, but being on time, attention to detail, and a good attitude are things that you should bring to whatever job you have, regardless of what industry it is in. That’s just being a good employee. Thanks for the comment!

        2. Betsy*

          Well, I agree that 50-minute tardiness and sloppiness are reprehensible regardless of where you work, but I find that folks in TV/Entertainment can be extremely particular and hard to deal with. So I think you can do both, as OP said below.

      2. ShortforaStormTrooper*

        OP #2 here! I think you’re right in the sense that things do move at a much faster pace since you’ve shorter time frame to complete a project, so you work longer hours, a faster pace, and mistakes aren’t really forgiven as easily. I think I’ve been in it so long that I forgot that it’s sort of an unusual environment in a couple aspects. I’ll think about that and write down examples to give her. Thank you for the comment!

      3. PoisonIvy*

        I’ve been in the entertainment industry for over 15 years, and I think we kinda have it easy, compared to some of the craziness I’ve read here! :)

    2. ShortforaStormTrooper*

      Hey, OP #2 here! I’m definitely going to let her know. I’ve never been in this position before so I was definitely treading water about what action I was going to take, but after hearing everyone’s feedback, I’m going to definitely talk to her. I think you’re right, she deserves to know that there was a problem and how to change it, and as her friend/someone who recommends her I should know if there was more to the story.

      I think you’re definitely right, I think maybe everyone isn’t ready for ‘paying your dues’. (Especially after graduating school where you’re used to being treated as an equal by most people). The weird thing is she’s been on professional sets before, and I’ve worked with her on student sets and she’s always the best/a really hard worker. Maybe she always does badly on professional sets and it never gets back to her? Or maybe she just had a bad couple of days?

      I will definitely update everyone on the site about what happens with the phone call. I’m probably going to call her tomorrow.

        1. esra*

          Well apparently mixing up tea and coffee is a real big thing. (I kid, OP#2, I’ve worked in entertainment as well and I know how it goes, even if I think it’s a bit silly.)

          1. MK*

            Irony aside, if it’s part of your job, you should be getting it right. Especially if its a short stint; look at it this way: if you were hired to work for a few days and part of your job was to get your boss tea X times a day, and you got them coffee, well, you didn’t do 15% of your job correctly. Sure, it was over something trivial, but it still is a performance issue.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        I worked in LA briefly and had a couple of friends that were shocked at the difference between student sets and professional sets.

        I agree with everyone that sharing this feedback would be a kindness.

  4. Nobody*

    I think a lot of people have confusion and misconceptions about HIPAA, FMLA, and ADA, and it’s surprisingly difficult to find clear answers about some of these things. I would love to see a post (maybe with input from the lawyers who guest-post here sometimes) with some information about the rights of employers and employees when it comes to employee illness, injury, and disability. For example, what is an employer allowed to ask when an employee calls in sick? How much information must an employee provide when requesting FMLA leave? What information must an employee disclose when requesting accommodation for a disability? What are the privacy requirements related to employer-provided medical exams (e.g., mandatory physical for a job, or second opinion for an injured employee)? Obviously, you can’t cover everything in a single post, but I would be really interested in some answers to a few frequently asked questions.

    1. CMT*

      There was a good article in the NYT recently about people misinterpreting HIPAA as more restrictive than it actually is. (And weirdly they spelled it Hipaa the whole time.)

      1. TootsNYC*

        (And weirdly they spelled it Hipaa the whole time.)

        I think their style is: “if you pronounce the acronym as though it is a word, you capitalize it as if it is a word.”

        So, FBI, but Nasa (except that they do “NASA”)

        And in their archives, they’re a bit all over the place w/ Hipaa vs HIPAA.

    2. A Dispatcher*

      Agree! I actually overheard a conversation between a couple of coworkers a bit back where they were grossly misinformed about FMLA/HIPAA (which so many people are so uniformed about they call it HIPPA), and it was hard not to but in.

      1. Felicia*

        I heard some people hear talking about how HIPAA covers them or something, and it’s even worse because I’m in Canada, specifically Ontario, and that’s not a thing here. We do have something that’s extremely similar and the same idea, but it’s not called that because it’s a different country with different laws.

        It’s like how some people here talk about their right to free speech (specifically 1st amendment) or they think the miranda rights are a thing that police read here. I think they get all of their information from TV and movies. We are a different country with different laws, and a lot of them are similar but a lot of them are different. Even the similar ones do have different names here. Those same people also think we have the CIA here…well we have a similar agency called CSIS, but CIA is American.

        1. Blurgle*

          Ask me about the people who travel up to Banff with the grand idea of getting their buddy with a Universal Life Church ordination to marry them in the mountains.

      2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        In college, I worked for a medical system, and at one point had to call patients who wanted to go to Dr. So-and-so and tell them that actually she wasn’t accepting new patients; could I help them pick a different doctor in the system? People were sometimes mildly annoyed but didn’t take it out on me, but one lady was very upset. Trying to placate her, I said, “What about Dr. X, on Chestnut Street? I see in your chart that you live in (neighborhood), so that would be close to you.”

        “My CHART?! You’re looking at MY CHART?! You’re not allowed to look at my chart! That’s a violation of HIPAA! That’s illegal! Only my doctor can look at my chart!”

        It took my manager to explain to her that having a HIPAA-trained employee access the parts of the chart she needed to access to do her job – in this case, the cover sheet with the patient’s contact info – was not, in fact, illegal.

        1. Mimmy*

          SMH. I’ll admit that I don’t read the HIPAA notifications I get with every new doctor visit, but even then, I still know that office staff are allowed to–HAVE to–look at patient charts to do their jobs!!!

    3. Mimmy*

      I’d definitely support that. I may even be able to offer a little bit of help with the ADA parts. I’m not an expert by any means, but I’ve read a lot about it since it’s within my primary area of interest.

    4. Kyrielle*

      It would be complicated by the fact that answers to many of those will vary state-to-state, but at least addressing what the federal laws do and don’t cover would be awesome.

      And IANAL, but I could chime in on at least the basics of OFLA, which is specific to Oregon, and significantly extends FMLA in some areas here. I had a coworker who would have handled her maternity leave differently if she’d known.

    5. Anonasaurus Rex*

      Hospital compliance officer here, HIPAA applies if you are on FMLA. So whatever communications have been made by the employee to the company regarding what is wrong with them are covered by HIPAA unless the employee waves it. That can be done verbally. HIPAA does not apply if the employee has shared details with other employees.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Hmmm, FMLA is very much not my area of expertise, but my understanding is that HIPAA still only applies to the medical provider, even during FMLA leave … and that you, as a hospital, are covered by HIPAA, but the employer receiving the medical info is typically not.

        SHRM says: “The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s privacy provisions require employers to obtain authorization from an employee when protected health information (PHI) is used for purposes other than treatment, payment or health plan operations. However, employers can avoid this requirement by requesting the information directly from the employee, rather than from the health care provider or the health plan itself.

        For example, most employers will provide employees who request leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) with paperwork and ask that they have the Certification of Healthcare Provider form completed. FMLA documentation received in this manner is considered an employment record, not a health care record and, therefore, is not covered by HIPAA.”


        1. Anonasaurus Rex*

          Individual states also have laws governing what employers can do with employee medical information that fill in some of the gaps in HIPAA. It’s true that both as a healthcare entity and an employer my hospital rides a fine line as do many others. You are correct that if the form is completed and sent by whatever doctor or hospitalthe employee is getting care, HIPAA does not apply to the employer because the employee has already certified the release of that information to the doctor or hospital. That sort of exempts the HIPAA rules that would otherwise be in effect. But HIPAA does apply to employers in the event of an FMLA, workman’s comp, and disability claims in general. There are just process and forms that sort of work within and around it. A lot of times HIPAA is very minorly violated in doing so, but because no one makes a point to report it or pursue it (because there are far bigger violations to go after) it just gets brushed off.

          As someone in compliance, it makes me cringe, but it’s the reality.

      2. DataNerd*

        That’s… not how HIPAA works. There is no verbal waiver of rights, and who an individual has shared information with has no impact on the responsibilities of health care providers to safeguard that information.

        I hope you’re aggrandizing your position, because otherwise your hospital is getting some really weird compliance advice.

  5. Purple Dragon*

    #4 – Employees want details about a potentially contagious virus
    When I contracted a contagious virus that could have potentially lethal consequences to some people (elderly and children) my company called everyone into the boardroom and said “Purple Dragon has this – if you’ve been near her in the past x weeks please get checked – here are the symptoms to look out for”. I understand why they did it but a heads up before I started fielding phone calls would have been good. Maybe loop the employee in and get their input ?

    Although – don’t do what they did to another employee who’d traveled to a country where you’re supposed to get shots first. This person didn’t and got something nasty. Same boardroom meeting with a “She didn’t get her shots and therefore has this – these are the symptoms – see your doctor blah blah”. I really objected to them blaming her in an open meeting like that. They could have conveyed the message with the same, or similar script to what they’d said about me. It was nasty.

    I don’t know what the laws are in the US (I presume ?) but in Australia I think people who have been in close contact with someone with a reportable illness have to be told (both of the above examples were reportable illnesses). Maybe that’s something to check ?

    1. June*

      Apart from being nasty, the fact is that getting ‘shots’ is no guarantee that one won’t get the disease.

    2. straws*

      “Maybe loop the employee in and get their input ?”
      This was my first thought. I’d likely go back to the employee, let her know there have been some concerns from people she shared with, and ask what she’d be comfortable sharing on a larger scale. She may also have useful information from her doctor that’s specific to her case.

      1. Purple Dragon*

        “She may also have useful information from her doctor that’s specific to her case.”
        Excellent point!

    3. Monodon monoceros*

      It’s terrible that they didn’t talk to you about it before they told everyone, but on the flip side, at least they did inform people. There needs to be a balance. At my last job, two people contracted MRSA from a work area. I knew one of the people, but that was the only reason I knew, even though I was working in that area too! It took me threatening to go to OSHA before they decided maybe they should warn people working in that area to take extra precautions.

    4. OriginalEmma*

      Each state in the US has its list of reportable diseases, which tend to be the same but their reporting urgency differs (e.g., a case of plague in the southwestern US may be a “report within 24 hours” situation whereas a case of plague in NYC would be “report immediately” since it’s so unusual and may point to some nefarious doings). Depending on the disease, its infectivity, time lapsed and time spent in contact with the coworker, as well as mode of transmission, coworkers MAY be notified by the health department with jurisdiction over their residences (e.g., a local or state health department).

  6. JHS*

    Regarding #4, AAM is of course always right that HIPAA almost never applies to employers because it only applies to covered entities under HIPAA (or information gleaned from covered entities under HIPAA like an insurance company, unless the information is stored in a personnel file). However, there are many states that have laws protecting employee medical information whether contained in personnel files or not. My state has a pretty strong law regarding disclosure of such information that can lead to fines for violation with the state department of labor. Anyone disclosing an employee’s medical information would be very wise to check their state labor laws before doing so, even though HIPAA is inapplicable.

    1. fposte*

      That’s really interesting–I’ve never even thought of state restrictions on this, and it is weirdly difficult to find information on states other than California with this. That’s not code for “I don’t believe you”–I found a relevant statute in my own state of Illinois and I’m still having a hard time finding a regular prose discussion of that statute’s implications. Usually with stuff like this you’ll find a nice chart in Nolo or elsewhere showing each state and their relevant law, and it’s not there.

      1. JHS*

        Yeah it is interesting and I think something one would think less about in the private sector. I work mostly with public sector employers and that is something that we have to watch out for more so, but there is a specific law for private sector here too. My state tends to have very strong labor laws though!

  7. Black Bart*

    Regarding the incident with the clipboard waving, If I were the OP, I would do two things: 1. IMMEDIATELY report her to HR and her manager 2. Get right in her hostile, mongoloid face and back her down telling her that if she ever dared to wave a clipboard in my face again, she would be on the business end of a lawsuit. I do not know the legal particulars but there is NO REASON ON EARTH that anyone has to tolerate such absurd garbage whether at work, on the street, in their own home, etc. What the clipboard bandit is doing is one step away from physical assault. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the person doing the clipboard waving is mentally ill. It is such a bizarre thing to do and furthermore, it is nearly impossible to read any other message into it than one of physical threat. Plus, what happens if that clipboard actually connects with the OP’s chin and knocks a tooth loose? If I was managing this situation, I would fire the clipboard bandit without hesitation. You don’t deserve a job if your idea of communication involves waving clipboards in people’s faces, even if it is “pretend.” What the f##k is wrong with people?

    1. Colette*

      What happens the next day?

      That kind of hostile response will affect not only your relationship with the clipboard manager, but with everyone else at work, assuming you still have a job.

        1. Observer*

          Yes. Both. Actually jaw dropping. But, then again, as @Colette says, this is an incredibly hostile response altogether.

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      “Clipboard bandit” made me laugh, and I agree that the situation is bizarre and needs to stop, but the antidote to their craziness isn’t to overreact, most of the time you’ll get a better resolution by calmly stating the outcome you want and remaining rational.

    3. TheLazyB (UK)*

      i am going to give you the benefit of the doubt and presume you didn’t deliberately use a racial slur. But really? Mongoloid??

      1. Tia*

        Actually, this has also been used as a slur against people with Down’s Syndrome in the past so it’s both racist and ableist!

        1. Blurgle*

          > What’s wrong with people?
          And it’s lovely to hear that the offender can’t be simply a bully; no, they must be “mentally ill”.

        2. De (Germany)*

          Since I can’t really think of any way Black Bart would directly jump to a racist insult there, I suppose the ableist definition was actually what they meant. Wow.

          1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            If you’re speculating non-racism because of the username, Black Bart was actually a highwayman in California in the 19th century. He would leave poetry behind when he held up a stagecoach, and when he was eventually caught, he wound up getting a lighter sentence because he had never actually fired a shot – in fact, he claimed his gun was never loaded. It’s a pretty cool story.

            But that’s an aside. This insult, though, isn’t cool at all.

            1. De (Germany)*

              No, I’m speculating that because it makes no sense whatsoever jumping from what’s in the letter to “person of Asian/Mongolian descent”, but from the later comment of “that the person doing the clipboard waving is mentally ill”, the ableist interpretation would be… consistent :/

        3. Artemesia*

          I didn’t take it as racist at all but as the equivalent of ‘retard’; has Mongoloid actually ever been used to describe anyone who doesn’t have Down syndrom in the last 50 years at least?

          On the other hand suggesting mental illness is a lot kinder than assuming the person is a complete jerk, which they appear to be.

          1. Inksmith*

            It’s not that kind to those of us with mental illness who don’t wave clipboards in our colleagues faces – or if we do, don’t do it because we’re mentally ill. I think, all things considered, I’d rather people were kind to people with mental illness than kind to as-far-as-we-know-not-mentally-ill people who act like jerks.

            1. Tau*

              Yes. The association of neuroatypicality with bad behaviour is extremely *un*kind to those of us who are not neurotypical, whether we behave in a reasonable manner in the workplace (and hence don’t need to be tarred with the jerk-like or violent behaviour brush) or not (and hence need to be informed that such behaviour is not OK without making excuses and dragging the rest of us into it). It really needs to stop.

        4. TheLazyB (UK)*

          Well I thought that and googled, and was surprised when it came up with the racist thing first. Either way, it is SO NOT OK to use it as an insult in this way.

      2. Observer*

        I thought he mean “retard”. I’ve never heard the word used in the racial sense, except for when I was in elementary school and we learned about the Caucasian, Mongoloid and Negroid “races”. But, when I was a kid “mongoloid” was the term used for people with Downs Syndrome. (It wasn’t even meant as a slur – it was just the term that was used. But, then again “retarded” was also not used as a slur either. But, today, it’s generally used as a slur for neurotypical folks, which is totally NOT ok, and that’s what this sounds like.)

    4. Blurgle*

      Do that and you’re lucky to only be fired.

      Bullies don’t back down when you confront them. They triple down.

        1. Observer*

          Bullies are OFTEN cowards. But, they are also often stupid and / or highly sensitive perceived slights and threats, often believing that they must respond to show dominance.

          The kind of response that @black bart is suggesting could get very ugly, very quickly. Assertiveness sometimes works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But overt hostility almost never works well if you are looking for a solution rather than a fight.

  8. Polka Dot Bird*

    #1 – you might also find it useful to stand up if she comes over to your desk? If she swings her clipboard at you, you could then take a step back – not in a retreating kind of way, but in a removing-yourself-from-the-madness way. Follow up with a direct request to stop. Good luck. Hopefully standing up will change the dynamics enough that she stops taking a swing at you (??? So bizarre and out of line).

    #2 – 60 minutes late?! Wow. Definitely clue her in – it would be a kindness.

    1. #HashtagsAreOverused*

      #2 I was 30 – 45 minutes late everyday my first week of work … because no one bothered to tell me the office started at 8 am and, as a new graduate whose only understanding of office norms came from pop culture, I thought 9-5 was the norm.

      The only reason I found out I was arriving 60 minutes late each day was when I talked to a co-worker on Friday and asked when people usually arrive at work because I had been 30 – 15 minutes “early” everyday and still the last to arrive. After an awkwardly brusque and simultaneously drawn out conversation she finally told me that the office started at 8am.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Ugh. On the one hand, it’s too bad it took you a week to figure it out. But really, I think this is a failure on the part of whoever hired you. Employers should let new employees know office norms like working hours, how to take lunch breaks, dress code, etc. Doubly so for employees that are new to the working world in general!

        1. #HashtagsAreOverused*

          I 100% blame those who hired me, and my co-workers for not letting me and/or my boss know that I was arriving late everyday (my boss and most of our team was in a different state). The only reason I brought it up at all, was because i wanted to make a good impression by showing up “early” the first few weeks. If I had not had that attitude who knows how long I would have gone before learning when the office actually opens.

    2. ShortforaStormTrooper*

      Op #2 here! Yeah, I couldn’t believe it myself. We live in NYC so sometimes the subways can be funky (I know for sure that she lives near an unreliable line in a different borough than she was working in), but at the same time that’s not an excuse. I learned that pretty quickly when I moved to NYC, the trains can suck, but if that’s the case, add that time to your commute so you’re not late for everything. If your train runs on time and show up a little earlier than expected, even better. I would be really surprised if she missed that lesson since she’s been in NYC for 5 years, but I guess you never know. Thank you for the comment!

      1. voluptuousfire*

        You always, always leave early in NYC to anticipate traffic and train delays. That’s no excuse.

    3. TootsNYC*

      Re: #1 Clipboard Slapper

      That was going to be my suggestion.
      The moment she starts the swing, stand up. Swiftly.

      Or, if you’re standing, the moment she starts moving her arm toward you, take one big step *closer* to her.

      And then say, “Don’t ever swing that clipboard at me again.” And stop talking and stand there looking at her steadily.

    4. Brandy*

      Id have myself a new clipboard once she was done. And leave her with hunting for something new to swing.

      This is not ok in the workplace, or anyplace.

    5. AMT*

      #1: Good idea. I’d say something like, “Whoah!” and jump back a little, just so she knews how weird and inappropriate it is. Maybe follow it up with, “Jesus, what was that about?”

  9. NicoleK*

    #1. The manager is immature, unprofessional, and lacks sound judgment. OP needs to tell her to stop and then escalate if it continues.

  10. #HashtagsAreOverused*

    #5 This is actually a common practice in call centers. The issue is, if you are on a call through your break and then take that break in the next slot, it leaves the entire call-group understaffed for that time and could tank the call statistics for that day – especially when everyone is taking a break “around the time” they are supposed to and not spot on.

    In order to counter this, bigger contact centers may have floor managers who calculate an optimum time to go on a break if an agent missed their break, but that requires a lot of manpower to keep track of.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      If your job is to answer the phone, it seems like it’d be very likely to wind up missing your break routinely, though! I know the company isn’t legally required to provide any breaks in Florida (which I think is a bit ridiculous) but it feels disingenuous for the company to tell new or prospective employees “you get two 15-minute breaks a day” if they only get those breaks occasionally.

      1. #HashtagsAreOverused*

        I totally agree with you. It’s just something to be aware of as an issue in call centers.

        Personally I think businesses have gotten away with not only disingenuous behavior like the above, but also flat out lying and worse in the U.S. It’s all due to the fear of losing your job in this still very high unemployment market, especially for young people.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          The economy has made it worse, for sure, but it has always been there. And surprisingly out in the open, also.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This is one of many reasons why people feel that employers lie at every given opportunity. Employers don’t realize that employees keep track of the number of times this misspoken things come up. Too many discrepancies lead people to conclude they are being lied to.

    2. Lee*

      There used to be a mode to switch the phone into so that after a call, another wouldn’t immediately ring in and you could do a quick few notes or whatever — it wasn’t pause, I don’t recall what it was. You only had a very limited amount of time for this — and it’s what I used right before going into break and also right at the end of my shift (otherwise you’re always working one more call past work time). I mean it has to do with call management and is one of those things that no call center is going to explicitly educate someone on — but also never ever will reward someone for doing 100 percent the bureaucratic way (in fact, not doing it means you never get breaks and never go home on time, and call centers are all about specific time starts and stops and don’t reward “extra effort” anyway unless you specifically want overtime).

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        So by having the policy that if you were on a call, you lost your break, your workplace incentivized you spending a couple extra minutes per day on pause mode. If their policy had simply been, “your break starts at 10am or, if you’re on a call at 10, as soon as that call is done” then you would have actually spent a couple minutes more per day working. So they kind of shot themselves in the foot with their policy.

        1. Lee*

          That’s the logical way to look at it. Call centers don’t really operate logically. I always took it they’d much prefer X number of new and relatively new employees who don’t know any better just lose their break time and stay over and keep working. Seriously. Because they truly never teach new people that this is what that mode is actually for (again, it’s all about call management).

  11. Melissa*

    Re #1, the part that fascinates me about this Gibbs wanna be, is that it isn’t even OP’s manager! OP, is the manager talking to you? Or using your space as his/her stage?

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I wondered that too–is she yelling at her own employees or at the OP? Is the OP just unlucky enough to be in the line of fire?
      My manager wouldn’t put up with this for a second. <3

    2. INTP*

      Regarding your stage comment, I also thought it seemed like this is a person who thinks they are hilarious and is doing this to draw attention to themselves, not to be aggressive and threatening. Maybe I am reading it differently than others, though. Still annoying as hell and inappropriate, but calls for a different way of handling it than if they are doing it out of anger or something.

  12. ShortforaStormTrooper*

    Op #2 here! Oh my goodness! I can’t believe it took that long for everyone to tell you! You would think that someone would think to say something instead of just assuming you wanted to be late every day. But then I could shift that logic on to my situation with my friend, so I will definitely be telling her in case it’s something like what happened to you. Thank you for your comment!

  13. Ants with Wings*

    The owner of a former company I worked for would often grab male employees by the shirt and slam them up against a wall, pin them there and then yell at them, but only when he wasn’t actually mad. It was all pretend, but the first couple times I rounded a corner and saw it, I was completely terrified. No one ever told him to stop because we knew we’d lose our jobs.

      1. Ants with Wings*

        He thought it was funny. I mean, he was completely nuts, so his sense of funny wasn’t exactly in line with other people. The company was about 85% male, and there were often screaming matches, these displays of “mock” violence, and really disgusting pranks. It was a real boys’ club and the feelings anyone who didn’t “get it” we’re rarely considered.

    1. Observer*

      You know, I don’t believe it was “only pretend”. It sounds like a highly calculated display of power and dominance. What was turnover like at that place?

      1. Ants with Wings*

        Surprisingly, not bad. A lot of people I worked with are still there, three years later. It was definitely a power play, but he never did it when he was angry. When he was angry, he just screamed.

        1. Observer*

          In other words VERY calculated. Along with a dash “I’m really a great guy, since I only yell when I’m angry, even though I could just flatten you if I wanted to.” So, now screaming at people when he’s angry is not dysfunctional, it’s Mr. Nice Guy, and he gets to humiliate people at will. Lovely.

  14. azvlr*

    OP#3: This reminds me of an incident when I was a young, but newly promoted sailor. I shared a common area with a very immature, loud and not-so-bright Seaman Apprentice. She came in slamming doors when I was trying to sleep. I poked my head out and asked her to keep it down. The next day, I came back to my room to find a note taped to my door that said, “How dare you tell me to be quiet! blah blah @#$#% blah” and then signed her name.

    I really didn’t want to deal with the confrontation, but as this was pretty explicit insubordination, I had to write her up. In the Captain’s Mast (discipline hearing), the Executive Officer, who was a petite and dainty lady read the write-up and the the note. Me, standing at attention trying not to laugh as she read the note in a totally deadpan voice, “. . .and I don’t give a fuck if you are a Petty Officer.”

    Funny story, but it taught me that someone can say the words without it being their words. I actually thought more of her after that.

    *Sadly, I didn’t learn how to handle these types of confrontations until much later. I probably could have handled things better to begin with.

    1. Vicki*

      Note that @azvlr included the note in his report.

      OP #3 – print this letter to askamanager and give it to the senior staff member who wants specifics. They’re all here.

      1. azvlr*

        That’s exactly right. In my case I had a printed copy, so it was pretty incriminating. You could collect statements from others if need be. It sounds like they will all match.

  15. mel*

    1. I can’t even get past the screaming and stomping to even take the clipboard action seriously. Why would a coworker think they had any authority over you? What is causing them to do this? Why are you okay with the screaming and stomping, yet drawing the line at clipboards? SO MUCH INFO WAS LEFT OUT.

    1. OhNo*

      Agreed – this must be a very odd workplace if the clipboard part of that was the only thing that caused them to question the behavior. There is so much else going on there that needs to be dealt with.

  16. Kadee*

    #1 – I don’t know that I totally follow. The manager from another department is upset with you and mocks hitting you while berating you? That just seems odd. I realize that there are plenty of crazy managers in this world, but it made me wonder if there isn’t more to this story, like the manager is being over-the-top thinking it’s funny and that the behavior isn’t intended to be 1) directed at OP in particular and/or 2) not intended to be hostile. It seems doubly weird given that the OP doesn’t even report to this person. Granted, that doesn’t make it all OK and Alison’s advice will work in this situation as well, but it just seems bizarre to the point that I wonder if there isn’t more to the story.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, I couldn’t quite follow what’s going on here, either. When I started reading, I thought either an ongoing more-or-less personal feud between OP and the “foreign” manager would be revealed or the fact that this manager thinks she’s super funny cute quirky and is one of these “Haha, look how close we are, I mock-hit her all the time!” kind of people. Neither happened and now I’m still so confused.

  17. Kara*

    OP#3 – If you’re not willing to be, as Allison suggested, dryly factual about what was said, you risk coming across as someone who is prudish and complaining about non-issues. The conversation winds up being “well, uh, he said, you know … inappropriate things”. “like what?” “Well, uh, you know, like sexual things?” “What specifically?” “Well, like you know, about … sexual stuff.”

    You have to be able to go to your manager and say something like “Co-worker said, X and additionally Y and further Z. Not only do I and others on the team feel statements like this are inappropriate, the client has asked that his statements be “sanitized” in the future.”

    If they don’t know what he’s saying – exactly – then they can’t make determination if it’s inappropriate or not in order to take proper action.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I have done this. I have repeated word for word what someone said. Oh my, did the boss’ face turn RED. wow. Too bad, I say. I said it in a factual, calm manner. I am talking to my boss. If the boss cannot handle the conversation, then start learning how to handle these difficult conversations. It’s part of being a boss.

      When I was supervising I got all kinds of stories, abuses (people and animals), molestations, failed abortions, tax evasion, ugh, just so many things. After seeing that side of the story, I now have absolutely no problem repeating something someone said. If they have the nerve to say it, I have the nerve to repeat it to the proper authority.

      I will say, I did talk my boss down a bit. It was not my intent to embarrass him. One of the things I came up with to say was, “You are always very careful with your word choice, and you don’t even say things that are ambiguous. You work hard at professional communication. So I knew I could say something to you and you would understand the importance immediately.” I don’t know how much that will help OP, though.

  18. Not So NewReader*

    For OP 1, tell her to stop. Tell her that you do not speak to her this way for a reason, you do not expect to be spoken to this way.

    I don’t know what a person can be thinking to make this behavior all okay, but here we see it anyway. People are funny/odd. We think our words have no power so we do not use words. But a good share of the time, telling people to stop resolves many problems. But, yet, we do not try because we do not believe it will work.

    Tell your boss that you are going to tell her to stop. Then go on to explain what your next steps are if that does not work. Then add, “I am telling you this, so that you are aware and you can say you heard it from me first hand.” Sometimes just this convo alone is enough to spur a sleeping boss into action. And other times you have to move forward as planned.

    Next, when you tell her, sit or stand straight, chin up. If you can make eye contact, good for you. If not look at her ear lobe or eyebrows. It will probably appear that you are looking directly at her. Speak calmly, use a formal, business -like tone of voice that you would use with a serious work discussion. Believe in your own words, believe your words do have weight. Remind yourself that you are asking for basic human respect, something all employees should get.

    If she tells you some excuse, or let’s say, she proclaims she is just joking then you calmly say, “Okay, fine. But moving forward I am asking you to stop doing this. Will you stop?” In this example here, you stay focused on your goal, your goal is for her to stop. So whatever she comes up with to say, you blow by the excuses and rationale by very briefly acknowledging it with,”okay, fine”, you are indicating you heard her speak, that is all and you restate your same question.

    I am really hoping that when you approach your boss with an action plan, he will think “Oh, crap. I better do something”, and he will jump into action, so you do not have to do anything.

  19. Liz*

    Sympathy for OP1 — when I had just started at my current job, a senior colleague slapped me on the wrist when I confessed to making an error. Not hard — but it was enough to leave me flabbergasted, standing in the corridor going, “What? Excuse me? Really?”

    We have no HR department, and the colleague just laughed when I pulled myself together and told her not to do that. Luckily she was retiring, so I only had to put up with her for a few months — and I stayed out of arm’s reach. I hope you can find a more proactive solution than I did!

  20. Frannie Mae*

    People need to educate themselves about HIPAA. I hear the HIPAA law being discussed around the office without much regard to what it actually covers.

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