my new coworker keeps joking about violence

A reader writes:

I have started working with a new employee who has been working at our company for about a week. He’s really great at his job, and I would love working with him except that he is always making these little “jokes.” Essentially, he looks at me with a deadpan face and says things like, “I’m going to mess you up so bad that even your parents won’t be able to identify your body” and even more graphic, and then does a weird little laugh.

It’s never in response to anything, as far as I can tell, and I have also seen him say similar things to our other coworkers so I am decently confident that he isn’t serious, and I do see it as a joke. But clearly, it needs to stop.

I went to talk to my manager about this problem, and he seemed to already know about this issue but in a weird “Oh, yeah, that’s classic Jerry!” kind of way rather than in an “another staff member has brought this to our attention and we’re dealing with it” tone. (It might be worth it to note that I have suspicions that he may be friends with the new guy outside of work.) Secondly, he said it’s not his responsibility to deal with it, and it’s not up to him to “babysit” the staff, essentially chastising me for not handling it myself.

I have seen in a number of articles here that you advocate for handling issues one-on-one with coworkers if it’s a personal issue rather than going straight to a manager, but I feel in this instance the situation is a bit different.

First, I don’t at all feel comfortable with getting into any sort of confrontation with someone who thinks it’s funny to graphically describe how they’re going to kill you, even as a joke, because people like that are just generally unstable in other ways. I have also been seriously harassed and stalked by someone from work before, so these sorts of things make me extra uncomfortable.

Second, if I talk to him about making these jokes to me, he may stop but continue to make them with other employees.

Third, our company is very front-facing, and there are constantly customers just a handful of feet away from where these jokes take place, so that should make it the managers business to know.

Am I off-base here? Is this not as serious as I feel like it is, or it really is just my problem? I haven’t heard anyone else complaining about his jokes (and its a gossipy office so I feel like I normally would) so maybe I’m the only one creeped out by them. And if you think that this shouldn’t fall to me to deal with on my own, what should I do now?

No, you’re not off-base. Lots of people would find this just as unsettling as you do, and any halfway competent manager would be concerned about employees and customers being around comments like this rather than laughing it off.

Ideally the next time this guy makes one of these remarks, you’d tell him directly to stop — as in, “Please don’t say things like that to me or other people here. That’s really unsettling.” If he tells you he’s just joking, you can say, “Good, then it won’t be a big deal to stop” or “Joking or not, I don’t want to hear things like that” or whatever you’re comfortable with.

But if you’re not comfortable addressing it directly with him at all, I do think it’s reasonable to escalate this above him. You’re right that in general it’s better to try to handle interpersonal issues directly with coworkers, but this isn’t really just an interpersonal issue; it’s something a reasonable company would want to know about and put a stop to. (It’s different in that sense from, say, a coworker who annoys you by whistling all the time; that’s the sort of thing you should handle on your own. Someone making graphic threats of violence to coworkers is a bigger deal.)

Unfortunately, when you approached your manager about this, he got it 100% wrong. You told him you felt unsafe, and he brushed you off — and even told you that intervening would be him “babysitting” the staff. He’s wrong. It’s not reasonable to expect employees to work in an environment where a coworker regularly jokes about graphic violence. And that’s true even though you’re fairly sure that your coworker joking and doesn’t actually intend to dismember you; you still get to assert your desire not to be subjected to that.

It’s also particularly disturbing that your manager is so unconcerned that a new employee who’s only been there a week is already setting off alarm bells for people. He has a chance to nip this in the bud, and for some reason he’s not taking it. (If you’re right that they’re friends outside of work, that could explain it, but in that case it’s additional evidence of your manager’s poor judgment because that shouldn’t be influencing how he handles this.)

And really, this would be so, so easy for your manager to handle. “Hey, please stop joking about violence with people here; I know you’re joking, but it’s not appropriate here” is straightforward and would probably solve the problem.

Anyway, as for what to do now, do you have an HR department? They’d be the appropriate next step if you don’t want to say something directly to the dude yourself (or if you do and it continues), and they’re more likely to take this seriously than your boss did. You should also let them know that you tried to talk to your boss and what his response was, because they probably need to set him straight there.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 243 comments… read them below }

      1. Trinity*

        Documenting doesn’t do squat sorry. I have been sexually and violently harassed in workplaces with manages who could care less and documentation did nothing.
        Stand up to him – and if he isnt joking? Those things will happen to you.
        Your manager is an idiot for not taking measures against it NOW, when he could outright stop it. and if they are friends, are they in cahoots? You don’t know this person. No one does he is new. So you should not brush it off and trust them. its inappropriate in any workplace and especially in times when people are killed in movie theaters, workplaces and more – daily.
        I’d be turning in my resignation and saying bye-byes before I was the next news highlight if the day.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Documenting won’t stop it, but it gives you something to show later. And you’re completely right; the manager is a total idiot. Argh! has a good point that the documentation can prove that the OP tried and the manager did nothing.

        2. Mephyle*

          Yes, the purpose of documenting isn’t to stop it, it’s to help substantiate that it happened and what it consisted of. Without documenting, you can take a complaint up and when they, “Who said what to you? When?” you’re left behind at the post if all you can report is, “They said it lots and lots. All the time. I don’t remember what they said exactly, but it was nasty.”

    1. neverjaunty*

      Documenting is important, but violating recording laws is going to hurt, not help – and a violent co-worker is not going to react well to OP doing this.

      1. The Bimmer Guy*

        I’d consult with an actual lawyer, but I believe recording laws are as follows:

        Most states (including mine) are one-party consent states. What this means is that a conversation can legally be recorded if just one party in the conversation gives consent, which would be the party doing the recording. So if I live in one of those states and I make violent jokes toward my coworker, she can record the conversation and use it as evidence later.

        1. Crabby PM*

          I was actually in a situation like this, and my sister, the attorney, bluntly said: “Record first, worry about admissability later.” Violating recording laws isn’t anywhere equal to making threats. Protect yourself.

    2. OriginalEmma*

      I heard this piece while driving home yesterday. It immediately made me think of AAM and what would Alison & the commentariot do/say?

    3. anonanonanon*

      DO NOT violate recording laws. Some states charge it as a crime if you record people without their consent. That would hurt OP’s situation even more.

      1. The Bimmer Guy*

        It wouldn’t be illegal; it could just–depending on the state in which the conversation took place–be inadmissible as court evidence.

    4. fposte*

      Can you talk a little about what you’re envisioning the goal of documentation to be? Is the theory that if he does it enough HR or the police will intervene?

      1. NYC Redhead*

        I am not Gene, but documentation as to the date and the exact language used can be persuasive to whomever is investigating.

        1. fposte*

          But I guess that’s my question–persuade whom of what? I don’t think documenting’s horrible, I should be clear–it’s just that it’s not always clear to me what purpose it’s going to serve. I think documenting makes a lot of sense for something like sexual harassment, where individual actions are dismissible but the whole picture tells a story, for describing to HR and if they don’t take action to the EEOC.

          But this doesn’t sound like a situation where the whole picture will tell a different story than what the OP’s got already. Guy likes to tell people he’ll mess them up, and boss has (stupidly) yawned. I don’t see “he said it again a bunch more times” as changing the boss’s mind, and it’s still not police level. I guess it could make some sense if you’re going over the boss’s head, so you can make it clear and quantifiable that this isn’t a one-off but a repeated behavior. But I think this is hitting right at one of the problems of violence from folks you know, whether family, partners, or co-workers–the law doesn’t offer you much at the preventative stage, and if it goes beyond the preventative, documentation isn’t going to help you much.

          I guess if you also document reporting this behavior to your boss and to HR, it could provide some grounds for suit if they fail to take action and he does do something violent. But even for me that’s be too cynical a reason to document.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes. Also, I think that if the OP takes this over the manager’s head (to his boss or to HR), they’re likely to deal with it. If they don’t, she could consider documenting to demonstrate to them the severity of the problem … but there’s no reason to do that now when she could just escalate it and probably get it handled. I’d try that first.

          2. catsAreCool*

            In some ways, I think documenting can be considered cynical, but I think that’s OK. Documentation is proof, so in case people don’t believe you… I don’t know, but that seems like reasonable cynicism to me. But yeah, don’t record it unless that’s legal in your area – no point in getting into legal trouble.

            1. Argh!*

              In the U.S. documentation of any and everything that happens on the job (outside of the bathroom or something) is legal. I can’t imagine a situation in which a co-worker or manager documenting a problem would be more liable than the problem person(s). If you feel that’s creepy, then don’t be the kind of person that other people need to document.

      2. Grey*

        I’m not sure what Gene is envisioning, but I’d document everything in case I felt threatened enough to quit my job. With documentation of my hostile work environment, I’d be able to collect unemployment benefits.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Ah! The judge in that case was an unemployment judge, ruling solely on whether the conditions there were bad enough that a reasonable person would have quit, which is relevant for unemployment eligibility (but a whole different thing from “hostile workplace” lawsuits, even though it does look like he used that term).

              1. Grey*

                I didn’t mean to get hung up on terminology. I’m just saying that an employer allowing you to be threatened with dismemberment on a daily basis is worth documenting because you might have a good case if you quit and want benefits.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yeah, sorry to be pedantic. I’m just on a quest to educate people about that term since there’s so much misunderstanding around it (which can lead to people thinking they have legal rights that they don’t)!

                2. LQ*

                  There is certainly a big difference between can you quit and get Unemployment benefits and can you quit and sue your former employer/win. But unfortunately they have a lot of overlapping language there so it helps a lot to clarify which level of case/judge/etc you are talking about.

                  Especially since unemployment varies so much state to state.

                3. Not So NewReader*

                  The problem with not using the word “hostile” in a conversational context is that no one knows what other word to use to convey the level of the situation. I think that until we find a word that replaces the word “hostile” in conversation, this mission will be endless. People need a word that is as strong as hostile and conveys the desperation of the situation.

                  I have wracked my brain looking for a word that holds up as well as “hostile”. I went through a list: nasty, horrible, ugly, vile, nerve-wracking, scary… you get the idea. Nothing cuts the mustard, here.

                  Compounding the problem, when people are upset or shook, they are not going to use words by their exact legal meaning. The same thing happens in medical situations, people do not use words by their exact medical meaning.

                  I think until people know what to do, they will continue doing choosing to use the word “hostile”. The clearest thing would be to tell people “we use the word _____, instead of the word ‘hostile’ so we do not get confused with the legal meaning of the word hostile.” This way people know what TO DO.

                  As an aside, I really hope we do not get too many more laws. We will not be able to speak because every word will have a legal meaning. As it stands now, defendants should not really say anything in a court, because they have no clue what implication their word choice has and how that choice will impact the outcome of their case.

                4. BeenThere*

                  I think “toxic” might be a good word to replace hostile when you are trying to use the latter in a non legal sense

            2. Natalie*

              In my state that would be called “constructive dismissal”, just in case anyone wants a more accurate term.

              1. Colleen*

                To avoid over-applying the legal phrase “hostile work environment,” I often use one of the following words, depending on what the employee’s been doing/saying: distracting, confrontational, aggressive, disruptive, negative, upsetting, alarming, shocking. Really exercise caution when using those last 2 though–they can make the matter worse, depending on the temperament of the employee in question.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          While this is certainly hostile in the usual sense of the word, it’s not hostile work environment in the legal sense. “Hostile work environment” is about treatment based on sex, race, religion, or other protected category. Just being hostile isn’t enough (they really should have picked a better name for the legal concept!).

          1. PurpleMonkeyDishwasher*

            Late to this thread, but I’m pretty sure the reason the phrase “hostile work environment” is used is because it’s meant to indicate that the work environment is hostile to employees in the protected category at issue. So it’s really “work environment that is hostile to ::insert protected class here::,” but that phrase is clunky and awkward so it gets shortened down to “hostile work environment.”

            1. LD*

              Very clear explanation with the phrase “work environment that is hostile to :: insert protected class here ::,” …thanks!

      3. neverjaunty*

        The theory is that if OP’s manager threatens her job or fires her, she has documentation that she was being threatened repeatedly and her manager did nothing.

        1. fposte*

          So for unemployment, then, as Grey suggests? I could see that if the OP didn’t see it as a joke, but she does.

          1. neverjaunty*

            For protection against workplace retaliation or having her complaints swept under the rug. If OP escalates and her manager says “She never told me about this!”, well.

            1. fposte*

              Okay, but we’re talking about documenting the talks with management then, it sounds like, rather than the behavior of the co-worker. I also don’t see how it protects the OP from retaliation, because I’m not seeing what would make retaliation illegal here. They get to fire people for complaining whether they’ve documented or not.

              The thing is, I’ve had to document. It’s not nothing. It makes the problem bigger in your day and in your head; it takes an emotional toll. think it’s sometimes a go-to as if it gave an employee some leverage, and I think it’s not all that common that it gives anything beyond tsouris. I think there are situations where it’s likely that it’s worth doing despite its effects, but I’m not seeing the gain articulated clearly enough in this situation.

              1. Argh!*

                It makes it bigger in the head of the person who got documented, but in my experience, it’s rather a relief not to carry it around as a secret. By documentation I mean sending an e-mail to the coworker “As I told you a few minutes ago, please stop referring to acts of violence in my presence. I do not think such “jokes” are funny. Thank you in advance for preserving a professional and productive work environment.”

                That e-mail will be in your records for the future, and if you can others to do the same, it’s documentation you can take to his supervisor or HR if he doesn’t get the message.

              2. Elizabeth West*

                I’d still document the coworker’s remarks, because customers can hear them. If Mr. Lupin of Werewolves, Inc. complained and the record matched, that would give weight to the OP’s complaints. “Yes, Mr. Lupin was in the office on Tuesday, and Jerry did make that remark where Mr. Lupin could hear him. I made note of it.”

    5. Anon for this*

      I wouldn’t record it even if it’s legal – unless you can be sure of doing so without his noticing *and* it’s legal, and even then I’m not sure. But after each incident, I would memorize the words, go back to my desk and make a note of them. As unobtrusively as possible. (Unobtrusively because you don’t want to set him off by doing it obviously.) If at all possible, it would be in a paper notebook I owned, or in a file on my phone, not on company paper or company computer.

      The goal would be to have a log *if needed* of his actions for future reference in HR issues, but also for *myself* to see the pattern. With your boss trying to claim it’s just his style, and your own impression that he’s probably just joking, it could be easy to dismiss something you shouldn’t – a log may create context for you that validates your own unease and lets you take action, if you need to. At the very least, it should help make you more resistant if this guy or your manager later tries to gaslight you that it’s “not really that bad” or the like.

    6. Gene*

      I would document to support my assertion to management/HR that this is a serious problem that needs to be resolved. It would also come in useful if they do nothing and jokey guy does go off and injure someone to hold the company partially responsible in the personal injury lawsuit. The company has deep pockets.

      And I would record for one reason, so I could transcribe absolutely verbatim. Though in Washington, an All-Party recording state (where I live), this type of behavior is a specific exclusion from the recording law. RCW 9.73.030 (2)(b) . Surreptitious recording is easy in these days of smart phones and digital recorders.

      1. All can be returned. All can be taken away.*

        My daughter was looking for something to use to record some of her classes the other day, and I ran across this:

        I’ve not used one, plus The Usual Disclaimers and yeah, don’t get yourself into legal trouble over using such a thing. I’m with Gene – if I were in this kind of situation, I’d use it as a “memory aid” for transcription. And I’d definitely transcribe – there’s a difference between “he said he would break my legs” and the guy going off into Thomas Harris-land, and a transcription would make that clear.

        (Of course, there are any number of recording apps – some free – for one’s smart phone, as well)

  1. Elle the new Fed*

    Wow. This would be setting off so many alarm bells for me, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. That is just SO creepy and inappropriate on so many levels. OP, I hope you can escalate this above you manager if he’s unwilling to address it.

    1. WorkingMom*

      Honestly, in my workplace, a comment like the above (if reported) would be grounds for termination immediately. This could very well be a threat of violence. It also could be a poorly timed /poorly placed joke. But you can’t roll the dice on this. I’m surprised the manager was so nonchalant about this. Even if he/she realizes the individual just has a terrible sense of humor – management has to realize that it’s not funny.

      1. Windchime*

        I think it would be a fireable offense at my company as well. People have been fired for a lot less, like making a comment that can be interpreted as retaliatory. The more I read here, the more I’m thankful for my workplace (boss and HR).

    2. Jazzy Red*

      I think comments like those are called Terroristic Threats. I would absolutely go to someone higher up the food chain, repeat verbatim as much as I could remember and use that term.

      This is not something to joke about any more. Anyone with half a brain (or more) would know better. There guys sound like a couple of adolescents who never evolved further than 9th grade.

  2. Mike C.*

    Outside of very specific environments with people who know each other really well, this is creepy as all hell.

    1. Nina*

      I thought about that too. I really hate jokes like these, but there are people who find them funny. But it’s such a “know your audience” type of thing. If he jokes around like this with his friends who know him and his type of humor (assuming he’s kidding) then that’s one thing. But his coworkers are not his buddies and he must be pretty dense not to see how uncomfortable this must make other people, and how disturbing it looks.

      Unless he finds it funny that he’s making people so uncomfortable, so he keeps doing it.

        1. BenAdminGeek*

          That’s my guess as well- he’s enjoying how uncomfortable OP is, and exploiting that. I’m going to guess if you talked to former co-workers at his old job, these same stories happened there too.

            1. BelindaGomez*

              But the OP has not requested, asked, ordered or told him to stop. It may not be fun to do, but the OP needs to do that.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Yes, and soon. The longer it goes on, the harder it will be to stop it.

                I’m not the least bit timid–I would have said something the very first time. “WTH Jerry!? Please cut that crap out. Thank you.” But that’s me.

        2. L McD*

          ding ding ding ding!

          The absolute best case scenario here is still really bad. What kind of person enjoys making others feel like he might be violent and dangerous? Not somebody you want to work with, unless you work with Liam Neeson in Taken. Document everything and don’t stop escalating until the company does something about it.

      1. Ad Astra*

        The part that strikes me as truly odd is that he’s started using this type of “humor” in the first few weeks of a new job with people he doesn’t know well. I might be more inclined to dismiss it if it were the other way around, and an established employee was doing this to a new employee who maybe wasn’t quite “in on it” yet.

        My gut tells me this is not a viable threat, but lots of us would feel uncomfortable with these comments and that’s a problem on its own. The fact that this employee actually does feel threatened should shoot this to the top of the manager’s agenda.

    2. LQ*

      I have a relative who thinks these are funny and has been making the same sort of violence based jokes since she was like 8. She’s really not violent at all, but she thinks they make her seem tough. She’s in her 20s and has an adult job and I’m worried about when this gets her in serious trouble because it will.

      She was up for a manager job and I pointed out that this is something she has to 100% cold turkey stop at work if she ever wants that job. She continued to insist to me it was ok.

      Until she didn’t get the manager job because of it. I think she’s finally starting to get it because she’s pulling back a lot on it, but some people are very invested in things like this because it is “part of who they are”.

      1. Observer*

        Until she didn’t get the manager job because of it.

        You mean someone actually told her that this is why she didn’t get the job? She’s quite lucky about that.

        1. LQ*

          I pushed her to go in and really openly ask for feedback and mentioned that this might be part of it so when attitude was brought up she asked specifically about it and it was confirmed. I totally agree that she’s lucky about it and it’s really helping her to get why it’s a problem. Though I don’t think she’s internalized why it’s a problem, sometimes it’s enough to walk the walk.

      2. catsAreCool*

        It is surprising to me when someone considered something so negative to be part of who they are, especially when it’s likely to burn them. Glad she’s starting to get it.

      3. KS*

        I literally don’t understand how this is a joke. Like, it doesn’t resemble a joke. It’s just people saying something idiotic with no punchline. The humor snob in me is looking down so hard on this nonsense. >_< It's like people who don't know what a joke is.

  3. SirTechSpec*

    Am I the only one praying we don’t get an update where we find out these “jokes” weren’t really jokes? That is not a thing most people joke about at all, let alone at work!!

    1. eplawyer*

      Me too. Does the manager really want to take the chance on “Oh that’s just Jerry, he’s harmless.” What if “Jerry” is not harmless? The company could be on the evening news and not in a good way.

      As noted above, document, document, document, so when someone does decide to act they can show this is not a one time thing that someone took the wrong way. Also, if he does get violent, you have proof of his making threats in the past, which will help getting the protective order should you need one (and I pray like mad you never do).

    2. Argh!*

      I would bet it’s an inexperienced young man who has spent a lot of time in online gaming and perhaps 4chan, where these things are not taken seriously. Just being told to cut it out would be enough for someone eager to learn and grow.

    1. Mike C.*

      In specific contexts they are, for the same reason that Cards Against Humanity is funny. But humor like many things requires an appropriate context.

      1. Laurel Gray*

        Bingo Mike, bingo. When it comes to humor and comedy it is much about context and rapport. There are jokes I can make with my best friend in private that I don’t want anyone in my professional life to deem okay to make with me. There are people in my professional life who have a rapport with me where certain jokes can be made but they are the exception.

        1. Three Thousand*

          Yeah, these are the kinds of jokes my friends and I sometimes make with each other, especially when we’ve been working a while, getting tired, and feeling especially loopy. The vast majority of humor is context and “you had to be there.”

            1. Three Thousand*

              Louis CK is a good example. A lot of his humor wouldn’t land coming from someone like Daniel Tosh or Dane Cook if they repeated it verbatim, because it relies on his stage persona.

              1. Argh!*

                He’s one comedian I don’t find one bit funny. I can see someone who admires him not realizing the guy is not everybody’s cup of tea.

      2. Ad Astra*

        Exactly. I can totally see how this would be funny, and I can totally see how this would be terrifying. That’s why most of us stick to the same “Must be Monday!” jokes at work. Not everyone has the same sense of humor, and it’s pretty important to avoid terrifying your coworkers.

      3. lawsuited*

        And truthfully, even if my very best friend made more than one joke about killing me in the same week, I would be weirded out.

        This employee has been on the job for one week and already made multiple violent jokes, some more graphic than “I’ll kill you and even your parents won’t be able to identify the body”. There basically is not context where this could be funny.

      4. hayling*

        We have CAH at my office and I politely find myself “busy” the few times people have played. Not appropriate!

      5. MyFakeNameIsLaura*

        Yeah except that CAH “jokes” are frequently based in racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. I stopped playing it full stop after being on the receiving end of too many racist comments that “friends” thought were funny jokes and other people were too _____ to stop or call out.

        1. Artemesia*

          We played it at Chirstmukkah with a mixed family group of Jews and Christians and I was sort of weirded out by some of the cards. I drew ‘Auschwitz’ and I cannot imagine any context in which this could be a funny punch line. It is fun — but this aspect of it is awkward. (I just ate that card and never played it)

      6. kelseywanderer*

        Yes, context is vital. There’s a lot of ‘black’ or ‘gallows’ humor where I live, because it’s a dangerous place to be and that type of humor helps us to deal with that. But I definitely wouldn’t repeat the jokes we make here to people back home, because they don’t understand the context and would just be weirded out.

        This guy’s creepy ‘jokes’ might be fine with his friends, who know him and understand any context he might have, but those jokes are definitely not okay in the workplace with coworkers who are lacking that context and therefore hear threats instead of jokes.

      7. L McD*

        Yeah the thing that’s bothering me about this is that it sounds like there IS no context for it. Like, from the way the OP describes it, I cannot picture this going down any differently than that scene in American Psycho where his persona starts to crack and he cheerfully tells that bartender or whatever that he wants to stab her. Like, it sounds like these comments come out of absolutely NOWHERE. Not like me joking around with a coworker I know well and having them mention that they got a holiday off work when I didn’t, and I’m like “ugh, I’m gonna kill you!” This is just a whole other level of horrifying.

    2. KS*

      Why do people think this is anything resembling a joke? It’s like an alien trying to figure out what “joke” means.

  4. Katie the Fed*

    Oh, I had an issue very much like this last year! Guy was using VERY graphic, violent imagery when he talked to his coworkers. I was really upset they waited so long to talk to me, but they were seeing if it would stop first.

    I talked to him first and told him that his humor was making people uncomfortable and was far too graphic. He kind of laughed and said “yeah, some people find me a lot to take!” and I had to be clear that it was a serious issue and needed to stop. I also referred him to the EAP because he was getting frustrated about things that were pretty normal and seemed to need to manage his temper.

    He did use the EAP and it got somewhat better but I had to talk to him a second time and make it clear that it had to stop.

    1. Meg Murry*

      Oh wow. I don’t think I could take graphic imagery very well, and if it was coupled with someone with a temper, I would be seriously concerned that one day he would act on his comments.

      Good for you for dealing with it up front, and I hope he has really learned his lesson.

    2. fposte*

      The “some people find me a lot to take” thing is so related to the previous post on Dunning-Kruger–he’s got the narrative in his head that he’s a fearless original, not that he sucks at dealing with people.

      1. aebhel*

        Yeah, this. I can be difficult to get along with (although I try not to be), but that’s a character flaw, not a point of pride.

    3. afiendishthingy*

      Ironically my first thought about his “Oh a lot of people find me a lot to take” comment was “I would throttle him.” One of my coworkers will vent about someone (her MIL, a difficult client) and say “I wanted to claw her eyes out” – but I still think it’s very different from directly telling your coworkers, however jokingly, exactly what violent acts you will supposedly do to them.

    4. Argh!*

      I am too cowardly to say this, but the special types that require special understanding really need to be told that lots of homeless guys on the street are “special” and misunderstood. (Yes, I have known homeless people and it’s a thing with a lot of them)

      A job is a responsibility, not an entitlement.

  5. F.*

    We had one who, upon hearing of his seasonal layoff (quite common in our field), verbally threatened to “go postal” to me and two coworkers. One of them pressed him on it, and the guy doubled down and repeated it. I was not HR Manager at the time. Had I been so, he would have been permanently fired. However, we did exile him to a remote location away from our office. He eventually quit.

  6. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m not surprised that your boss is reluctant to take action.  To confront him would be uncomfortable and embarrassing, especially if the offender insists he’s kidding around.  Putting the onus back on you is the easy way out.  Don’t think for a second this situation is actually about “babysitting” employees.  

    The irony is that such an encounter IS uncomfortable and embarrassing but not for you or your boss; it would be that way for your coworker and him only.

    Read the “Gift of Fear.”  It’s a fantastic book that has good advice about situations like this.  The doctor who wrote it has an entire section devoted to the workplace, including real life examples of how violence played out.

    In EVERY example, there were always signs, but confronting people goes against social norms.  That’s probably why your boss won’t do it.

      1. Ethyl*

        Could be mixing up Lundy Bancroft (Why Does He Do That?) and Gavin DeBecker. I’m not sure if Bancroft is a doctor but I am pretty sure he’s a therapist of some kind who works with men who abuse/are violent.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      For me, I stopped being embarrassed by the conversations, once I made up my mind what I would say if the person blew me off.
      If someone says they are kidding around, you just roll with it. “Okay, you are kidding. You MUST stop this behavior NOW, regardless of whether you are kidding or not.” I have listened so many excuses for poor behavior and poor choices. I found, for myself, I had to decide to put my foot down BEFORE the conversation even starts. Part of that decision is recognizing that excuses don’t cut it. You know, Fridays at 3 pm are never a great time to have to put your foot down. The weekend is so close you can smell it. So I would give myself a pep talk and then go have the conversation.

      As a coworker, of course, my tone had to be different. “Oh, okay you were kidding. Well, either way, kidding or not, I do not like it when you do X and I am asking you to stop.” I don’t get into any side conversations about whether it was a joke or not, if it was funny or not, etc. I call those side conversations “deflects”. Going down that road is just a distraction and does not gain any ground. I push those deflects away and keep the conversation on course.

      1. L McD*

        Yep, people who do stuff like this rely on making YOU feel embarrassed and not wanting to be “impolite” to them, or the one who “can’t take a joke.” You’re not the impolite one, you’re not the one making the situation awkward – THEY ARE. Never forget that!

    2. Maggie*

      I second (third or fourth) The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. He writes about how after a workplace ‘event’ there were always a litany of signs preceding the ‘event’. These signs were ignored because people don’t want to believe and don’t want to deal with the ‘transgressor’.

      If there are other signs, and management refuse to do anything, then one’s only option is to leave before the escalation. It’s shitty to have to do that but it’s about putting one’s own oxygen mask on first.

      (I am referring to the book, not the LW’s situation.)

  7. Sunshine Brite*

    Nope, just nope. Especially with the lack of affect/inappropriate affect when he says it, that’s scary. If you don’t have HR, maybe even if you do, I’d also escalate this to the manager’s supervisor because he doesn’t want to do anything about it.

  8. holy red flags batman*

    Call the police. These are not jokes; these are threats.

    For sure try HR, but, I’m completely serious: document and call the police.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I understand the concern, but the OP says that it seems to her like he’s joking and some people do make jokes like this without meaning anything by it. Calling the police isn’t likely to be the right way to go here. (And there’s a much more direct and easy situation that will get the desired outcome — the one I recommended!)

      1. SkryimFanatic*

        Frankly, I don’t see anything to make it seem like he’s joking–he says it with a serious face and never said it was a joke before. He may well be telling the truth, with the knowledge that nobody will believe anything that outlandish. (See Matilda by Roald Dahl)

        1. Three Thousand*

          I think that kind of reasoning only works in fiction. In reality, you can expect people to panic and overreact to the smallest perceived threat, so there’s no realistic expectation that you can actually say things so outlandish no one will believe them.

          I think the majority of people who openly make straight-faced comments about killing and mutilating people, as few as they may be, have zero intention of actually harming anyone.

          1. I'm a Little Teapot*

            Actually, I once had a bullying teacher I frequently likened to Miss Trunchbull because the things she did were so bizarre no one would believe kids who reported them. My whole family still thinks I’m lying about her, and I’m in my thirties now. So some people really DO operate that way, sadly.

            1. aebhel*

              That’s really what gaslighting is–not just lying about bad behavior, but doing things that are nasty but so weird that it messes with one’s sense of reality.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The OP is the one who’s there and she says he seems to be joking, so I’m going to trust that she’s better equipped to judge that than we are. There are people who makes these kinds of jokes.

          1. A Cita*

            I get that in theory, but OP has only known him for 1 week. I’m not sure she’d be able to accurately assess that. It’s bizarre behavior within one week of employment at a new place. And as the very similar story about my friend I posted below illustrates, this should be taken very seriously. He also claimed he was joking. He actually wasn’t.

            I’m not advocating for police involvement, because I don’t think they could do much and it could escalate the situation. But HR and management needs to take this seriously.

            In my friend’s case, she was relieved at first that he was fired. But after it was clear that she still wasn’t safe as he attempted to stalk her and show up to the workplace unannounced, she eventually had to leave her job. For her own safety. It’s a crappy situation.

            1. lawsuited*

              Yes, she’s only known him a week and may not be able to accurately assess him, but she’s certainly in a better position to assess than us internet strangers who do not know the OP, the workplace, the violent joke-maker, etc. The OP was there, assessed his body language and determined that he intended to make a (tasteless) joke. We do the OP a disservice by not believing her. People have developed different terms for “deadpan” and “serious”, because we understand that they’re not the same thing, that a joke can be made using mock seriousness that is not the same as actual seriousness.

            2. Natalie*

              “I’m not advocating for police involvement, because I don’t think they could do much and it could escalate the situation”

              This is a really important point. It’s pretty unlikely, unless you live in Mayberry or anything, that the cops are going to do anything but give this guy a talking to. If he is unstable, that could escalate the situation in a way that you don’t want. And if he is really just a dolt, the fact that you went straight to the police is going to make your work life a little more uncomfortable.

              1. Brooke*

                “It’s pretty unlikely, unless you live in Mayberry or anything, that the cops are going to do anything but give this guy a talking to. ”

                … if that.

        3. I'm a Little Teapot*

          I suspect he’s “kidding on the square” – telling “jokes” that are mostly meant seriously, but with just a hint of levity so that he can backtrack and say “But it was juuust a joke!” when people get scared, angry, or offended. Certain vile media personalities and politicians are masters of this.

          1. Carpe Librarium*

            Otherwise known as ‘Schrödinger’s joke’ – someone says something threatening and/or bigoted and waits for the reaction of their audience.

            If the audience calls them out it was ‘just a joke’, but if they don’t get pushback they have learned the audience either agrees or won’t hold them to account for being a shitmitten.

    2. Jeanne*

      I was wondering if this is a police situation but I’m not sure it’s there yet. I think OP should go to HR or directly ask him to stop first.

        1. fposte*

          For me, the question what outcome is sought. The police are likely to have two responses here: they’re going to brush the complaint off because this is not hugely abnormal as hyperbolic language, or they’re going to come and talk to the guy, likely at the workplace.

          And if dials it back as a result, it’s likely he wasn’t a threat; it’s also likely that the OP’s boss isn’t going to be delighted to have the cops in his office as a result of one staffer calling them about another staffer. So that’s not much of a gain.

          And there’s the other possibility: that this aggravates the situation. If he is a violent and disturbed guy, he’s not likely to take well to being told what he can’t do. Cops aren’t an inoculation against a bad outcome; they’re part of the physics of the situation, and in billiard terms they’d be a spinning ball shooting across the table into the balls already in motion, not something that stops the game.

          This isn’t because cops are evil or crappy, it’s just because people are people. I’ve been enormously fortunate to have good police access in most of my life, and there are definitely times I’d call them when I’m unsure about what might happen. But they’re generally not a good preventative when it comes to somebody you spend a lot of time with, and I’d place that bet very strategically–when enough has gone wrong that they can genuinely take some action, but before it’s too late. Unfortunately, we don’t always get a nice clear chance at that spot, but in most situations I don’t think calling in the cops earlier prevents things the way one might hope.

          1. catsAreCool*

            Sometimes if you go in and talk to the cops and just ask for advice, they can help with that – they must have some training in dealing with this type of thing, and then you can get it on the record that you were concerned.

            1. fposte*

              I can see calling and asking for advice, just in case they have some insight. I don’t know that they’re trained in de-escalation–I’m pretty sure they’re not around here–or that they have an “on the record as concerned” status that isn’t filing a complaint, though.

        2. Ad Astra*

          Unfortunately, law enforcement can’t do much to stop a potential bad guy until he’s committed a crime. That’s just how law enforcement works. Of course, making a serious threat is a crime, but it sounds like the OP doesn’t think this is a credible threat. Being creepy isn’t against the law.

        3. Lmgtfy*

          I hear what you’re saying, but unless he joined the new job to kill someone or he was fired from his last job for killing someone, likely the first place to address this is with his manager.

    3. Dana*

      I’m not being snarky, but what would the police do? Can they arrest someone for saying something when their explanation is “it was a joke”? A restraining order? Just filing a complaint/report? They can’t fire the guy…that’s the manager’s job. I’m not sure what the intended outcome is.

    4. Eric*

      Someone sends you a dick pic? Call the police.

      Coworker continually “jokingly” threatening you and others? Politely ask them to stop.

      This makes no sense to me.

        1. alter_ego*

          I think it was a reference to the HR manager who called the police after a candidate they had offered a job to “accidentally” sent her two separate dick pics on two separate days, from a number she didn’t recognize.

      1. Elsajeni*

        The post about the person who called the police when an applicant sent her a dick pic was about something that had already happened — it wasn’t something Alison or anyone in the comments suggested. I did see some discussion in the comments about whether it was a reasonable reaction, and a few people concluding that, depending on the exact situation, they thought it was understandable; that’s a pretty long way from “Someone sent you a dick pic? Quick, call the police!”, though.

        1. Observer*

          Right. And, no one here is saying “Ask nicely and then drop it.” It’s “state clearly and then escalate as needed.”

  9. TootsNYC*

    I’m reading a mystery about a psychopath–this letter scares me a little.

    What if he’s serious? I mean–he could be.

    If there’s HR, I think the Op should be in there immediately with the info that she took this to her manager, and he didn’t do anything about it.

    1. Brandy*

      I looove to read and watch these type of books and movies. It runs in our family, being interested in this type, and mostly the more you talk of it the less your likely to do Theres a reason the murder was always “so nice and quiet”. They don’t talk of it, they do.
      We cut up like this in my family, about violence, just to get rises from each other, and we always say don’t say this, or that at work or out where people can hear us. But we know not to too. Its a know your audience deal.

      1. Dynamic Beige*

        Completely inappropriate but for some reason that old Eddie Murphy SNL skit about killing Buckwheat popped into my mind when I read this letter originally.

        Minister: He was a loner, and a quiet young man. He attended church, and Sunday School. I remember he was always very polite.
        Ted Koppel: Do you believe he killed Buckwheat?
        Minister: Oh, yes. Definitely. That’s all he talked about.

        Everyone they interview about the killer of Buckwheat says pretty much the same thing, he was quiet and polite… and killing Buckwheat was all he ever talked about.

      2. Trinity*

        But its not a movie. and yes Psychopaths will talk before acting, It is the sociopath who will not. and both are totally dangerous. the rate of mental illness undiagnosed and undealt with in the US today is sadly and unfortunately epitomized in an on screen on camera murder of two fantastic young people. by – a coworker (ex, yes I know.)

        Sociopath traits & sociopath symptoms:

        1. Superficial charm and good “intelligence”
        2. Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking
        3. Absence of “nervousness” or psychoneurotic manifestations
        4. Unreliability
        5. Untruthfulness and insincerity
        6. Lack of remorse or shame
        7. Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior
        8. Poor judgment and failure to learn by experience
        9. Pathologic egocentricity and incapacity for love
        10. General poverty in major affective reactions
        11. Specific loss of insight
        12. Unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations
        13. Fantastic and uninviting behavior

        new co worker has 6, 7, 8 & 13 all wrapped up in just a week, What does next week bring?
        SCREW that job get the heck out of it girl.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Those are accurate traits of a sociopath. Ask my 219734698167 textbooks.

            Just because the OP’s coworker makes these grossly inappropriate remarks, however, does not make him a sociopath. He IS absolutely an immature douchebucket. I’m inclined to agree with Argh!’s assessment upthread of a younger dude with a penchant for 4chan-type bullsh*t. I’ve known people like this–it predates the internet–and it’s the kind of hyperbolic asshattery they like to pull to get a rise out of people.

            If she wants it to stop, OP needs to say something to him. If it doesn’t, go back to the manager and tell him. If it still doesn’t or the manager does nothing, then to HR.

        1. Therapist*

          Psychopath and sociopath are different names for the same thing. Your list of “traits & symptoms” is a simplified version of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist.

          I don’t know that the OP necessarily needs to quit her job right now, but if she escalates this to HR/her boss’s boss and no corrective action is taken, I would personally remove myself from the situation.

    2. ella*

      I was 17 years old, at a high school in Littleton (though not at Columbine) when Columbine happened. This kind of shit scares me a lot.

      Luckily (??), I still live in the Denver area, and the number of people who went through or know somebody who went through Columbine or the Aurora theater shooting is so high that that the chances of this happening and then not being taken seriously are superbly low. Everyone knows that you do not joke about this kind of shit, ever.

  10. Rex*

    If there’s no HR, next step might be to mention this to the boss’s boss. Definitely a don’t mess around situation for a lot of reasons.

  11. Laurel Gray*

    Seeing as how very recently two people lost their lives – at work, doing their jobs (and on camera!!!!!) – when they were shot by a disgruntled ex-coworker, I can’t believe the OP’s manager wouldn’t take this more seriously.

    OP, I say go with Alison’s advice. Be direct about you not finding this amusing at all and wanting it to stop immediately, whether to him or through HR/your manager. Boundary overstepping like this where someone thinks they have a rapport with me to make certain types of jokes is a huge pet peeve of mine. If and when this colleague of yours does stop this behavior, keep away from him, he’s a creep.

    1. Jazzy Red*

      When my company started having layoffs, I started making note of every escape route in every section of our building, and places I could hide or lock myself in. Yes, we had security doors that only opened with our ID cards, but anyone could break the glass and get in. There were A LOT of people laid off, and some of them were very angry. These things happen every week, it seems.

      Someone needs to take this kind of cr@p seriously!!

  12. Jeanne*

    I despise when managers shove real problems back onto their employees and refuse to manage. If the manager and coworker are friends outside of work, I bet the coworker is also making these “jokes” to the manager and he’s cool with it.

    If you can’t get anyone on your side like HR, get a therapist who will help you realize if things are escalating and you need outside help. After a while with this guy, you could feel a little crazy when you’re not. Take care of yourself.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Undoubtedly–that’s why manager is not taking it seriously. But whether Jerry is joking or not isn’t the issue. He’s making the OP (and probably other people, and CLIENTS) uncomfortable and the behavior needs to stop.

      If it’s necessary to go back to the manager after she’s spoken to him, I think the OP should re-emphasize that customers can hear this.

  13. going anon for this*

    This sounds like a similar situation from my last company, except the employee was making misogynistic and biphobic comments. He was a flamboyant gay man and everyone would be all, “Oh, that’s classic Tom!” whenever he would say something offensive and just laugh about how he was soooooooo sassy. And the comments were really offensive – the type where if anyone else said them, they’d be fired or dealt with immediately. Stuff about how women were stupid and should stay in the kitchen, how “girl parts” were disgusting and made him want to gouge his eyes out, how bisexuals deserved to be “abused” until they “decided what team they played for”, and he would call women slurs (words beginning with a B and C, and then get offended when someone called him out on using those words), etc.

    I had personally told him to cut it out, but he wouldn’t stop making these comments and just said I couldn’t handle a joke. His comments towards me and one other coworker who complained became worse (he somehow found out that I’m bi so I had an endless slew of comments – like if I took too long to reply to an email, it was because “all people like me were indecisive” or, worse, once had a meeting with a male and female coworker and he made a comment about how I was best equipped to handle meetings like that because “people like me were used to threesomes”).

    A couple of us went to our manager about it and were told it was up to us to deal with the situation. We went to HR and they were worried that it would give them bad publicity to fire a gay man, despite the fact that his comments were insulting, degrading, and verging on sexual harassment in some cases. We eventually had a group meeting where he stated he was just joking, and while the jokes tapered off for a few weeks, they soon came back in full force.

    We had to threaten to take it up in a lawsuit for HR to do anything about it. He eventually got put on probation and quit before they could fire him (not that I think they would have).

    I will say that for awhile I thought I was the only person uncomfortable by the jokes, but I soon learned there were other people who were offended by them, but too scared to say anything. So there are probably other people in your office who feel the way you do, OP. I would definitely recommend going to HR if the employee doesn’t stop and your manager doesn’t continue to do anything. Hopefully things get better!

    1. Trinity*

      I’m very sorry you went through that.
      and to all on tis very nicely done web page, I like that you are all sincere and polite and not trying to “mince words” and make something out of a slip of grammar and things like that. Politeness and intelligence is exhibited here and excuse me if I get excited about this – but I have good reasons for that and just wish for others to be safe where they work.

      In younger days I would have stayed and tried to “deal ” or “make management deal.” I have learned better now.

      thank you.

      Divine Beige, I just really like that name. It should be a color of paint :)

    2. afiendishthingy*

      So infuriating. I’m glad that at least you don’t have to work with him anymore, but disappointed that HR didn’t think they could fire a gay man for being sexist and queerphobic.

    3. I'm a Little Teapot*

      Wow, that’s horrifying.

      Also, I can just imagine what Alison would say regarding the idea that you “can’t fire someone in a protected class” no matter how terrible his behavior.

      1. Harriet Vane Wimsey*

        You can’t fire someone in a protected class in most cases. I’ve had situations three times as a manager when I’ve wanted to for performance and HR or higher ups would not allow it because the employee threatened to go to EEOC. It’s sad and not right but it happens all the time. It’s not worth the pain you have to go through.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You can absolutely fire people who are in protected classes; you simply need to document the problems clearly so your reasons are clear if they’re ever questioned. (And actually, a language note: Everyone is in a protected class. For example, race is a protected class. You can’t discriminate based on race — any race. It’s not only people of Race X or Race Y who are in a protected class.)

          It sounds like you had a terrible HR department, but don’t carry that lesson forward with you!

  14. All can be returned. All can be taken away.*

    It’s one thing to get him to stop making these jokes. But what concerns me is whatever underlying factors are leading him to say this stuff. It could be nothing – maybe it’s an affectation based on some character in a book or movie – or it could be that he’s got some genuine “issues”.

    I agree that the manager executed a complete FAIL on this. Next step would be to go over his head to HR or possibly even to his boss (does your company have an open door policy?)

    Also: you don’t want to be seen as “ganging up on the new guy”, but under the circumstances, have you discussed these jokes with your co-workers?

    1. pony tailed wonder*

      Yes to mentioning it to your co-workers! You need to know who else is creeped out by this and seeing if they would like to also document the comments.

      And your manager is a jerk.

  15. SkryimFanatic*

    I would take those “jokes” very seriously. Some people get a kick out of the way they can tell the truth to people and not be taken literally, when they mean exactly what they say. Please be careful.

    1. TootsNYC*

      This is what I keep thinking.

      And even if it is a joke–it’s a joke that’s only value is in unsettling you.

      That means he’s deliberately setting out to make you feel unsafe.

  16. Sadsack*

    This is a serious topic and I hope it is resolved without much more discomfort for OP.

    Having written that, I must confess that I laughed at the phrase, “a handful of feet.”

  17. TWIG*

    I just had a conversation with a good friend this weekend relating to this whole topic.

    My friend did not realize until a couple of years into her adult work life (so mid-twenties) that it is ABSOLUTELY not okay to tell a coworker (or anyone, really) that you will kill them if they (insert unacceptable action here).

    She grew up in an abusive household where that type of threat was normal. She didn’t think anything of threatening people with (in her case) imaginary violence. She is now horrified that she was ever doing this to her co-workers.

    I wonder if this guy just needs someone to tell him that this is not okay workplace behavior. — especially in front of customers.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Well, first of all, this guy isn’t “I’ll kill you if you miss that deadline!”, he’s apparently just bursting out with very graphic threats to the OP for no reason, and then laughing about it. So no, not like your friend who didn’t understand hyperbole.

      It’s also not the OP’s job to try and repair the effects of a bad upbringing, assuming that’s even what might be going on here.

      1. TWIG*

        Oh no, My friend understood hyperbole. She just didn’t know that death threats (and threats of other bodily harm) are inappropriate for the workplace — or anywhere else, really. I didn’t see this notion in the comments, so I wanted to throw it out there as another possibility.

        I don’t think it’s the OP’s job to do anything with regards to this guy. I apologize if I implied that. Ideally, it would come from someone in a supervisory position, but based on what the OP said. Management sucks there.

      2. aebhel*

        Yeah, ‘I’ll kill you if you miss the deadline’ is inappropriate, but it’s nowhere near the same thing as graphic threats out of thin air.

  18. A Cita*

    I have a friend who went through something very similar with a co-worker. So similar, in fact, that I can’t help but wonder if we’re talking about the same person.

    In her case, management and HR did respond appropriately and he was fired. And they were smart to take the threat seriously, as he has continued to attempt to stalk my friend, harass his ex-coworkers to “explain his side” and get info on my friend, and has shown up to the workplace randomly on several occasions when he had no reason to be there and lives for away. They had to alert security. So all this to say: take it seriously.

  19. Not So Sunny*

    What the hell is wrong with people? Both the employee and the manager are wrong as wrong can be.

  20. AndersonDarling*

    Has the guy been staying up late and watching slasher movies? My first thought was that he is quoting some obscure movie or TV show and thinks everyone is getting the joke. Or this is a regular part of his conversations with friends, or even how they talked at his old workplace.
    Only the OP can really judge if this guy is a sociopath, or just socially immature. I’d take Alison’s advice and point out that those comments are disturbing. Or even be more delicate and say that this is a conservative office and talking like that could get him in trouble.
    I’m curious to hear an update.

  21. RVA Cat*

    “Ramsay, it’s really hard for me to concentrate on getting work done while you’re talking about cutting off pieces of my personal anatomy and shipping it to my family in a gift box.”

  22. msbadbar*

    I would be creeped out too. I’m hoping he’s just an immature or needy person who needs to shock others to feel some sense of power. However, it’s worrisome, especially if the OP lives in the US. It seems unlikely that someone working in a US-based office would not be aware of the workplace shootings that have happened in the last five years. Most people know not to joke about bombs or terrorists when they are on a plane. It makes me wonder about someone who would joke-threat about hurting a co-worker while in the office.

    I can see someone making a passing “going postal” joke (“Don’t go postal Jeff, haha”), but saying “I’m going to mess you up so bad your parents won’t be able to identify your body” is something very different.

  23. LBK*

    So, um, I make these kinds of jokes sometimes, so I guess maybe I’m a psychopath according to some other comments. The caveat being I only say it to people with the same kind of humor that I trust enough to either laugh at it or be comfortable telling me if they don’t think it’s funny (so, like, 2 people). Definitely not to random coworkers that don’t seem amused.

      1. fposte*

        I think they’re jokes if they’re with people who think they’re funny. When I thought about it, I could see times when I’d make those jokes myself–friend jokingly threatens to tell embarrassing story about me, I jokingly say, “OMG, they would never find your body.”

        1. Serin*

          My best friend and I have a bit of this language between us (“How’s work?” “Do you have time this week to help me hide a body?”) — but >between us, in the context of a 20-year friendship between two people who won’t even kill bugs if there’s a chance to let them loose outdoors instead.

          Context is everything.

        2. Myrin*

          I do think your example is different from what the OP describes, though, which has a disturbing amount of detail and graphic description, not a simple “I’ll kill you”. I’m aware that might seem nitpicky but I have to say that to me, it makes all the difference (one shouldn’t joke around with a plain “Do that or I’ll kill you!” to a random coworker either, obviously; there’s a time and place and people for certain things).

        3. Not So NewReader*

          Context. Saying that they will never find her body, fits in with your conversation. Also, it is not that graphic.
          OP is saying his comments do not fit the conversation and the comments are graphic annd he does it thorough out the day. Different context.

          If you said that to me within the first week of work, I would laugh with you.

          1. fposte*

            Oh, not disagreeing–I was responding to Not So Sunny, who I thought was suggesting that such comments could never be jokes.

      2. LBK*

        This comment doesn’t even make sense to me…if I know I don’t mean it seriously and so does the receiver and we both laugh at it, I don’t see how that doesn’t meet the criteria of a joke. Are you suggesting I am actually making real threats and I don’t even know it?

    1. LQ*

      I get that it can be a joke sometimes, and I don’t think it makes you a psychopath, but I do think that you need to be very careful who you make these jokes around. And I think it’s worth looking at it to go, is this the funniest thing I can say here? Or can I do 10% better?

      1. TL -*

        My friends and I have a running joke because when they say something like, “Oh, don’t do that, TL’ll kill you,” I kind of reflexively respond, “No, I’m philosophically opposed to violence.”
        So when we’re joking around, I will make comments like, “I’m going to detach your arm and pick your nose with it,” or something ridiculous like that (the more ridiculous the better) and then they respond, “oh, no, you’re philosophically opposed to violence.” -it’s even funnier because I don’t actually touch my friends at all.
        And it is a pretty funny running gag – I know this because they will do this without my participation (ie, someone will come up with something I’m going to do and someone else will respond with the whole opposed to violence line).

        That being said, not something I would say to someone who wasn’t in on the joke or who doesn’t participate in the joke. But it definitely can be funny and it can be the funniest thing you can say in the context.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      My husband and I shoot these kinds of comments at each other all the time. I guess we are psychopaths as well.

      1. INFJ*

        Nope, you’re not, because you don’t say that to coworkers you’ve known for 7 days. There’s the difference!

      2. msbadbar*

        Yeah, but it’s not just about the comments–it’s about who they’re being said to (a co-worker he doesn’t know well) and where (the workplace).

      3. lawsuited*

        Yes, I have been known to say “please unpack the dishwasher….or I’ll kill you” to my darling husband. It is sort of funny to escalate mundane matters of domesticity to life and death stakes.

      4. Artemesia*

        I have managed to be happily married to a guy for decades without ever threatening him with dismemberment or death. Is this really a thing?

      5. aebhel*

        So do I, but I don’t say them to people I barely know. That’s the distinction. Black humor between people who all share a sense of humor and understand that it’s a joke? No problem. Telling a coworker you’ve just met that you’re going to dismember them and passing it off as humor? So totally inappropriate that you’d have to be either utterly clueless or the sort of person who enjoys making people uncomfortable to do such a thing.

        1. LeahS*

          This. A million times this! I am a ridiculously non-threatening person with a somewhat dark sense of humor. Context and knowing your audience everything. There’s absolutely a type of person that is aiming for “it’s funny when they are shocked or don’t know how to react” rather than “they’ll appreciate this joke”.

    3. neverjaunty*

      I don’t understand the point of this comment. If a new co-worker were randomly telling an LW his graphic sexual fantasies about her, would anybody say “gee, I do that too so I guess you would all say I’m a creep, but of course I only do it to my spouse and in private, not to co-workers”? The entire point of OP’s letter is that this is someone who is a virtual stranger and is making unsolicited graphic threats of violence.

      1. LBK*

        It wasn’t really in response to the letter, just to all people saying they think anyone who makes jokes like this is probably a violent murderer.

        1. aebhel*

          Anyone who makes jokes like this at work, to a coworker they don’t know, who doesn’t find them at all amusing is so far outside the bounds of appropriate social behavior that I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine they might become violent, yeah.

    4. afiendishthingy*

      Yeah, I don’t make jokes like this, but I definitely have known people who do, and no, I don’t think they were psychopaths. As you say it’s definitely about knowing your audience. OP’s coworker has incredibly bad judgment and needs to cut it out NOW, I can’t imagine why someone would think this was an appropriate way to behave in their first week of work. It seems pretty unlikely to me that he will ever actually hurt a coworker, but my god,can you imagine if he did and the boss had brushed his comments off. And even he isn’t physically violent, his coworkers and clients shouldn’t have to hear these explicit comments. If there’s an HR department, they are definitely going to want to know about this.

  24. LV Ladybug*

    The OP said that he makes the “jokes” to others as well. Perhaps gathering with them and all approaching him how they all feel uncomfortable. Not in an angry mob kind of way, but there is safety in numbers. If three people all tell him to cut it out, maybe he will get the hint.

  25. Mena*

    He’s been there a week and it is ‘classic Jerry’ ????

    Jerry is wrong (and strange) and now you boss is wrong for his inertia. You’ll need to say something since you don’t have management support.

    “That is an odd thing to say. Please don’t say it again.”

    Very even tone, then move away.

  26. SerfinUSA*

    Has calling the police been suggested?
    If the employer won’t step up, and this person is voicing threats in a non-joking way, then maybe letting the cops know wouldn’t hurt. Hopefully they would contact ‘the joker’ and either scare him out of threatening people, or maybe this person has a history of violence and involving the police could save lives.

    1. Observer*

      Actually, contacting the police COULD hurt. See some of the comments earlier on regarding that suggestion.

  27. ChelseaNH*

    I agree that documenting the incidents would be helpful for pursuing the matter with HR; it helps to clarify the scope of the problem. Since it sounds like it will take a while for anyone to intervene, it’s worth thinking about how to respond in the meantime.

    A clear statement of “stop doing that” seems an appropriate first step. If this is, in fact, a power play, then it’s not going to stop. This is where it’s useful to have a standard response. If you can manage it, I would suggest, “I beg your pardon?” in a tone of “I didn’t quite catch that” or “that makes no sense, I must have misheard you.” If this is his idea of a joke, having to repeat it is going to make it a lot less funny for him. And if he does repeat himself, feel free to keep saying “I beg your pardon” right back. Essentially, you’re refusing to hear him until he says something appropriate.

    1. Awkward Fangirl*

      A similar tactic that I learned from Captain Awkward: if he falls back on “but it was just a joke!”, reply with something like “I don’t get how that remark was funny. Could you please explain it to me?” And if he tries to answer, say “No, I still don’t see the humor. How is saying X funny?” Repeat until he ends the conversation.

      But only if you feel safe to have this type of conversation with him, and are sure it won’t compromise any other steps you’re taking to manage this (like involving HR).

  28. LookyLou*

    This reminds me precisely of a family friend. The man is an adult who has autism, he’s never been able to hold down a job for this very reason… he is harmless but it is as creepy as heck when he makes comments like that.

    He is very into the horror and more graphic aspects of comics/video games. He’ll often randomly burst out and quote something that he read/heard that is largely inappropriate, he just cannot help it. It is worse when he is uncomfortable, but then he makes everyone else more uncomfortable. Once he was sitting beside me and randomly said “Stick a knife in a virgin’s c*** and twist it to watch the entrails of her sins pour out of her.” While I knew him and just ignored it, many women would’ve removed themselves from the situation because it sounded like he’d stab them in the hooha for amusement.

    This certainly needs to be addressed by management to get to the bottom of it. If he can control it and stop then it is no problem, but if he can’t then it would be either finding him a position suited to his inappropriateness or have him leave.

    1. afiendishthingy*

      Ohhh dear. I wish someone had worked with him on this earlier when he wasn’t quite so set in his ways. People with autism CAN control their actions and statements, but it’s harder for anybody to change a behavior the longer the behavior’s been a habit for them.

      1. LookyLou*

        People have been working with him all of his life… he was loads worse when we were in high school with outbursts, he is at least at a level where he is just quoting things. It wouldn’t be bad at all if he were into Shakespeare or something!

        1. afiendishthingy*

          I had a fifth grade student with autism respond to “finish your math” with “SHE’LL DIE A HORRIBLE DEATH!” Luckily I know him well, I’ve worked with many kids with autism and it takes a lot to really shock me and I pretty much thought it was hilarious. I think it was from a cartoon or something, most of the random things he said were. that God, I loved that kid. And yes, I was also just glad he wasn’t punching me, or worse punching another student, while he said it. One does have to pick their battles. I just wanted to clarify that having autism does not mean a person can’t control what they’re saying. For a lot of individuals on the spectrum I think those scripts from TV, etc, are similar to semi-unconscious behaviors other people have like twirling their hair or humming under your breath, and they do them without thinking about it too much. They can stop doing them just like I could stop playing with my earrings or hair when I’m nervous, but it would take some work and they likely aren’t fully aware of or motivated by the social ramifications in the same way a neurotypical person would be.

          So even if the OP’s coworker is on the autism spectrum – he could be, he probably isn’t but who knows – he can and should refrain from making these comments.

          1. afiendishthingy*

            Also – your family friend sounds like’s not directing his scripts at anyone, they’re more like a cry of frustration that he’s emitting in times of stress. OP’s coworker is clearly looking for some sort of reaction. I hope other coworkers aren’t laughing awkwardly because they don’t know what else to do. Not that it’s their fault he’s making the jokes if they do laugh, but unfortunately if the manager isn’t willing to do anything their best move is probably a firm but unemotional “that’s inappropriate, don’t say those things to me” and then leaving if he persists. Ugh. He sounds like a joy to work with.

          2. Tau*

            For a lot of individuals on the spectrum I think those scripts from TV, etc, are similar to semi-unconscious behaviors other people have like twirling their hair or humming under your breath, and they do them without thinking about it too much.

            Basically this… I’m autistic and I’ll sometimes say a thing without realising that I’m saying it, and it can be a phrase that’s lodged in my head for whatever reason. I’d have to be stupendously unlucky, but it would be *possible* for it to happen around someone, loud enough to be comprehensible, and be a violent threat.

            …that said, my first reaction when I realised what had happened would basically be “ohmygod I am so sorry I didn’t mean that!” and to fall over myself apologising. I also wonder if it could really be taken as part of normal conversation, because my affect, intonation, body language etc will usually be very different when I’m saying something in that manner.

            All of that does… not match up with OP’s coworker, and I think the simpler explanation (he’s being a jerk) is the one most likely to be accurate.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I agree with your last point–some people really do like to say things to shock/horrify other people. It doesn’t mean they would DO it, just that they enjoy the reaction they get.

    2. neverjaunty*

      I’m glad it took this long to bust out the ‘maybe he’s autistic/has Asperger’s’ thing, but no. This guy has a job which he is very good at and is buddies with OP’s manager. Someone on the autism spectrum has to be pretty low-functioning to be UNABLE TO LEARN that such comments are inappropriate. (Not understanding social mores intuitively is one thing, but ASDs are not an automatic license to be/lifetime sentence of being a jerk.)

      1. aebhel*

        I think most ASD people are able to learn that such things are inappropriate, but a lot of us have echolalia and aren’t always able to control what we say. Also, low/high functioning aren’t really useful distinctions, honestly; autism is a spectrum of behaviors, not a line, and people can be quite high-functioning in some ways and low-functioning in others.

        That said, I agree that it sounds like this guy is just a garden-variety jerk.

  29. Not So NewReader*

    I am hoping that my story has nothing to do with what is going on with you, OP. I do agree with those who said document. Especially if you have a wishy-washy manager, which it sounds like you do.
    I worked with a woman once and we started out fine. Gradually, threats worked into conversation. Probably within the first few days- but it was all “ha-ha, do this again and I will kill you, haha”. As the weeks went by the comments turned nasty. It was clear that she was not joking any more. “You stupid ass, you do this again, and I will see it that you are dead. My brother is in the mob, you know.”

    Over the next few months, I learned more about her brother than I did about her. He had guns, he had connections, they did hits and so on. I started taking more and more Advil for my headaches. I would get little cuts and the cut would gush every where because I had so much Advil in me. Finally one day the middle of one of her screaming fits, I told the boss, “I cannot do this, my head hurts so bad from stress that my hair and teeth hurt.” He said he understood. He even offered to hire me back later.

    My point is to watch this for escalation. I am not clear at what point we stopped laughing but we did. Then another shift came where she started cussing. And finally, she was going to have the mob rub me out. No, I did not think the mob was going to get me. They are not stupid people, a person like me is a small fish to them. What wore me down is that she felt it was okay to talk like this to people all. day. long. and day after day after day. In lighter moments I would try to figure out how she kept a job, or how she lived to be as old as she was. In darker moments, I would have to face her wrath, because one of our coworkers said “at least one NICE person works in this area” and then glare at her. If I had been documenting, I would have been able to see the escalation and I would have known I needed to do something sooner. Instead, I tried to ignore it and I hoped it would go away.

    1. Jeanne*

      I’m so sorry. But your manager also had issues. He was willing to hire you back later but not deal with her. Awful.

      1. Kfish*

        Seriously. What the hell kind of management sees good people leave, and thinks “Well, let’s keep the violent one!” Mind you, I think that about a lot of letters that come in here. People are willing to pay an amazing price to not have to deal with the unpleasant job of confronting unacceptable behaviour.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        She was the only one with X skill. It would take months to replace her. I could not get up to speed fast enough if he canned her that very day. It would hurt his business to rely on someone at my skill level. I understood.
        He is one of my top three favorite bosses. He and his wife were fine people and they both had a heck of a work ethic. He never said, but I think that he hired me and another girl to work off of each other so we could learn the job and he could fire witchy woman. She quit before I did. It could be that he was working on it firing the other woman. And it could be that she was escalating because she knew he was getting closer to firing her. It was his busy season and the work loads were incredibly high. He did fire her a few months later, in a slower season.
        I liked working there, I would have stayed if I did not have to deal with the steady stream of garbage coming out of this woman’s mouth.

        1. Jazzy Red*

          How nice for you to know that dollars and cents are worth more than your life.

          I hope you never have to see either one of them again.

  30. FiveByFive*

    If this guy really thinks he has such a great sense of humor, try locking him out on a balcony five minutes before an important meeting, as a prank. Then we’ll see if he really has a sense of humor or not.

  31. Argh!*

    I was actually threatened with a knife in a way that could have been interpreted as harmless, and my boss brushed it off because I had handled it okay in the moment. I escalated it but not until being bothered by it for awhile. Nobody should ever be made to feel unsafe at work, even in a joking way. Some supervisors are cowards, plain and simple. Their own supervisors should know what they have on their hands, if only to ward off lawsuits in the event of an event. Even if they don’t care about low-level employees, they care about their own arse.

  32. Me*

    After the initial ‘knock it off, Sunshine, it’s getting old’ next time he did this I would fix him with a stony glare and say, in my most no-nonsense voice, ‘Don’t make me stand my ground, bro.’ Hold the glare until he backs down.

    If that didn’t work, then yeah, I’m calling the cops on him for making criminal threats, which is a crime because of all the myriad instances of stalking that have turned deadly. If he’s really a potential murderer, he’ll escalate regardless of such an action so it’s not going to ’cause’ it. If not, he might be scared straight, or at least learn to STFU around me.

    Then again, I grew up in NYC in the 70s when people formed vigilante groups to be able to travel the subways at night so my ‘stony glare’ can break glass.

  33. cataloger*

    I think I have seen this tone before! I had a classmate in grad school that I didn’t know well, but every time he saw me he threatened to stuff me into a trash can. I was never worried that he was serious, and he never made any moves to go through with it, but it was a really odd interaction that we had, repeatedly. I usually just gave him an odd look and didn’t respond, but in retrospect wish I’d just told him more directly to knock it off.

  34. Sammie*

    At a SW company used for work for–one of our sales director’s mentioned that ,” he was so mad about situation X that he wanted to bring in a gun and start shooting.” When I reported this to HR they told me that unless they told him I was the one that made the complaint–they would not officially document the complaint. Afraid of what he would do—I rescinded the complaint.

    I still regret it.

  35. Artemesia*

    I know its been said but I can’t help it. This guy is in his FIRST WEEK. This is when you can shut down inappropriate behavior because it isn’t entrenched in that setting. And if you can’t then you have a big problem that needs to be fired. What is this manager thinking?

    I hope the OP takes this on up the chain so we don’t have to read about this workplace later.

  36. JoJo*

    1. Send an email to your boss reiterating your conversation. cc top management.

    2. Tell HR immediately.

    3. File a police report.


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