overheard a possibly abused coworker, telling an employee I’m moving her office, and more

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

1. I overheard a possibly abused coworker my first week at a new job

I started a new job this week. On the first day, I was introduced to all the staff. My initial impression of one specific colleague was that she seemed a bit “off” (overly isolated, etc.), but I didn’t think about it very much. However, yesterday while I was in the restroom, I overheard her on a personal call. My colleague was confronting the person on the call – it was very clear that she was on the phone with a family member – about what sounded like physical and verbal abuse (“that thing you did to x body part cannot happen again” and similar language). She made references to past events (including date identifiers) and seemed rather upset.

I am concerned, but also know that I only heard a small piece of a story. Additionally, given that it is my first week and that I do not know this person at all, I am unsure of how I should respond. Should I talk to my colleague? Or should I hold off on bringing it up and wait to see if notice additional red flags? I don’t want to overstep my bounds, but I also don’t want to ignore someone in need.

It’s understandable that you’re concerned and want to help, but I don’t think you’re in a position where you can, in this case. If you knew her better, yes — but at this point you’re basically a stranger. I do think you could make a particular effort to be kind to her and perhaps establish the sort of standing where you could eventually reach out, though. I’m curious to know if others feel differently, though.

2. How to tell an employee I’m moving him to a less desirable office

We need to move an employee in my department to another area where they will be away from me and most of the other people in their area. The work they do is independent so they don’t need to be with the other people in my department (that’s why he was chosen) but I feel they will see it as a slap in the face, and the offices available are not as nice as the one they has now. I’ve worked very hard to avoid this happening for the last year but ultimately we have to do it because of space crunch and this is the solution that makes the most sense (I’ve lobbied for a new office to be created in my area by converting a storage room, and that even made it to the plans but I was also told it would take probably at least a year until they could do it, so it does not solve the immediate problem).

Do you have good language so I can present this in the most emphatic but boundaried way I can? I want them to know that even though this happened I did have their back and I do appreciate them. This is a really good employee and I don’t want to lose their enthusiasm. Because of our proximity, we now talk often, so I am planning on scheduling meetings regularly so they don’t fee neglected but I’d appreciate any other suggestions.

Be straightforward, explain the reason, explain the other options you considered and why this ultimately made the most sense, and acknowledge that it’s not ideal. But at the same time, don’t treat it like it’s going to be devastating news either; that risks making the employee think it’s a bigger deal than it actually is.

So, for example: “As you probably know, we’re having a space crunch here and I’m having to move things around to fit everyone in. I’ve tried to keep our whole department together, but now it’s at the point where we need to start using other space too. I’ve considered a bunch of options, like A and B, but (reasons those won’t work), so the upshot is that I’m going to need to move where you sit over to C. I know it’s not ideal. I settled on this because (reasons), and we’ll do (actions) to make sure that we keep the impact on you as minimal as we can. You are awesome and an important part of our team, and I don’t want you to read this as anything other than us needing to figure out this space crunch.”

3. If I get an offer, can I ask if was the first choice?

I am a finalist for a position that I would like to get at another company, but I can take my time to look a bit more as my current job is satisfactory.

The recruiter was supposed to call me Friday, a week after the interviews, to let me know the outcome of the finalist interviews and if they would be making me a job offer. She called, but said some of the interviewers were traveling over the past week and so they could not all come together on their decision. She said she would let me know by Wednesday of the following week, if not by Monday. I believe this means they made an offer to the other candidate, who asked for more time to provide a response/acceptance. I would not say anything now, but if she calls and offers me the role, can I ask if I was the first offer? It matters to me in terms of fit with the hiring team.

No, I wouldn’t ask that; it will come across oddly. And I also wouldn’t let yourself believe it will matter in terms of fit; if they end up offering you the position, it’s because they’d be happy to hire you. There are often multiple great candidates who an employer would be happy to hire; just because someone else was the first choice doesn’t mean there will be fit issues if they ultimately end up hiring you.

Also, I wouldn’t interpret the recruiter’s statement as indicating they’re actually waiting on another candidate; I’d take it at face value. What she said — that she needed longer to coordinate people’s schedules for decision-making — happens all the time, especially at this time of year. Believe her, and know that you’re falling into some over-thinking traps here.

4. Listing academic honors on a resume

Does it help or hurt to include academic honors on the education section of your resume? (I’m thinking about more universally recognized honors such as Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude, not honors that are particular to the school.)

If you’re a recent graduate (last few years): Yes, include academic honors.

If you’re not a recent graduate, I think it’s still fine to include Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude but not any others — but only if you can list them on the same line as your degree. I wouldn’t use an extra line on them, because you don’t want to take away real estate for other, more recent accomplishments.

5. Do I need to send 15 thank-you notes?

I had a day-long interview with a large company and spoke with 15 people, 30 minutes each (sometimes two people interviewed me together), plus three people at lunch. Some of the people who interviewed me are my hiring manager’s peers and wouldn’t be directly supervising me, some would be my team members, and some are on other teams. The last one was the hiring manager’s boss. Not all the interviewers asked informative questions. Some didn’t prepare any questions and just had some casual conversations with me.

Should I write 15+ thank you letters? They were very nice to me during the interview, and I had a better than expected experience, and I want to say thank you, but it seems that the whole point of thank-you letter is not to just say thank you for being so nice. I am afraid writing a letter just to say thank you will make me look less than professional. Plus, it seems to be a daunting task to write 15 tailored letters; at least, I couldn’t finish in a day or two.

No, in a situation like that you don’t need to write 15 separate letters. I’d send them to the key people you talked with — the ones who did the most substantive interviews and any who you had particular rapport with. Then, in your note to the hiring manager, you can ask her to express your appreciation to the others who took time to meet with you as well. (You could say something like “I’ve sent follow-up notes to Jane and Percival separately, but I’d be grateful if you’d pass along my thanks to everyone who took time to talk with me. Meeting so many people really gave me a good feel for your culture and the people I’d be working with in this role.”)

{ 221 comments… read them below }

  1. gnarlington*

    I think I might have to disagree with Alison on #1. If you can find it within you to reach out, especially if you definitely believe this was about abuse and this person doesn’t have resources, I would do so. “I know this seems really forward and I’m new, but I couldn’t help myself from asking. I overheard your conversation in the bathroom the other day, and I notice you often seem isolated. Again, this could be me confusing things, but I’m concerned. What’s going on?/Help me understand what’s going on?”

    This is one of those situations where I don’t think there is any way not to seem abrasive no matter how you phrase the question. But as the old saying goes: better safe than sorry.

    1. DebbieDebbieDebbie*

      15 years ago, I was in this situation (if OPs assessment is correct). Firstly, I did not remain in the abusive relationship because I was unaware that resources existed to help me. I remained because I believed the resources were inadequate to help me. That is not an indictment on society or my family/friends. My situation, like most, was more complicated than: “Just get out and get counseling.”
      If I went into a bathroom thinking I could have a private conversation away from coworkers and a new, relative stranger came to me with sympathy or advice, or worse yet–insisting that I “help THEM understand, I would have been incredibly discouraged if not angry. Work was the only place I went where there heaviness of my life didn’t hang around my neck like a cinder block. Such a confrontation would have eliminated that little bit of peace for me. Going to work was the only way I would have the economic security to leave and it would have been agony to have my personal life bleed into work.
      What my incredible coworkers did to help me was just to be caring, friendly, awesome people: When I did leave and end up telling my work group what was happening and what would be helpful, they listened and if they felt like helping, they did the things I asked. Some likely had judgement or would have done something differently, but if they did they very importantly never shared that with me.

      I think the best first action for OP #1 is to do is the work he or she was hired to do and establish a good general working relationship with coworkers.

      PS: I am specifically not going anon for this. I come from a solidly middle class family without violence in my home, have a graduate degree, worked for the federal govt. during the entire time I was in the relationship and have no personal history or substance abuse or mental illness. Domestic Violence occurs to all types of people.

      1. KT*

        Amen. I work for a United Way chapter that offers domestic abuse services (emergency shelter, job training, childcare, and rehousing help when they’re ready). We get calls from every kind of person, both men and women. Domestic abuse exists regardless of race, gender, or income.

        We have picked up women from multi-million dollar homes at 2am in their nightgowns and without shoes because it was the only way they could escape.

        I get so frustrated when people write it off as a poor or uneducated problem. It can happen to all people.

      2. Former Retail Manager*

        YES! YES! YES! #1, you need to mind your own business. (Although I, like you, would be concerned and would try to establish a good working relationship with this person as Alison said) You’re simply still too new to know how this person is handling it. Perhaps they are already attempting to leave the situation by working with various family members/friends/agencies. Orrrrr……what I more commonly saw in my retail days, they will never leave and this will continue in perpetuity with either their current partner or a new one down the road. Domestic violence is a complicated emotional scenario and unfortunately many victims have a “type”….the abuser type, and even if they get rid of one, they pick up another one later down the line. You would then be the co-worker that basically knows more about your co-worker’s personal life than they wanted you to know. While we all know the bathroom isn’t private, I do think that personal conversations overheard in an environment where privacy is expected, should be respected as private. I hope your co-worker is able to somehow rectify the situation and have it never occur again. Congrats on the new gig!

        1. SCR*

          “Domestic violence is a complicated emotional scenario and unfortunately many victims have a “type”….the abuser type, and even if they get rid of one, they pick up another one later down the line”

          This gets pretty close to blaming the victim. It’s not because people have a “type” it’s because they may not understand what makes a healthy relationship or feel like they are worthy of a healthy relationship. It is a cycle but it is not the abused’s fault.

          1. RVA Cat*

            It’s more like the abuser has a “type” and exploits people’s vulnerabilities while putting up a charming face to the world (“he could NEVER do that”) and luring his victims to believe his persona is real.

          2. LBK*

            I read Former Retail Manager’s comment as agreeing with exactly what you’re saying, actually – that there are people whose own issues tend to subconsciously lead them to partners with abusive traits. I don’t see how that’s blaming the victim; no one is saying people are intentionally going around looking for abusive relationships.

            1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

              We talked a lot about normality is set for us as we grow up with our parents. For some people, the cycle of abuse is set very early on, and that person doesn’t realize that love != pain. This cycle can continue when finding an emotional partner.

              One who stays in an abusive situation is operating within her experience of normal. She isn’t intentionally looking for someone to abuse her; she looking for what relates to in a loving partner. She doesn’t deserve blame or pity, but empathy and understanding.

              This is why it can be so dangerous to try to force a woman to leave – she’s abandoning the normal she may know, or she may be in general fear. The first step for the abused is to talk to a therapist to reframe a loving relationship and help her see for herself the reasons she should leave.

              1. LBK*

                Yep, I agree. And this doesn’t just apply to abuse; in general, people repeat the relationships they grow up around and/or form their attitude about relationships based on their childhood. BTDT, have the therapy bills to prove it!

                1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                  Same here. Still accumulating them. The hardest part is having that a-ha! moment that perhaps something is messed up in one’s inner templates and perhaps one needs to talk to someone about that.

          3. MsChanandlerBong*

            Yes, please let’s not make statements like that. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship around 10 years ago. I’d never been abused before, and I’ve never been abused since. My abusive ex is perfectly charming in public, and he was perfectly charming toward me right up until we were in a long-term relationship. Once we moved in together, it was like someone flipped a switch. He isolated me from friends and colleagues, called my work to make sure I was there and not “wh**ing around,” stole money from my purse/wallet, installed a keystroke logger on the computer to track all of my emails and chat conversations, etc. He told me if I ever became pregnant, he’d kick me down the stairs and then bury my body underneath our swimming pool.

            I’m now married to a wonderful man who rarely even raises his voice and does everything he can to make my life easier.

        2. neverjaunty*

          This isn’t about “mind your own business”, which is a phrase long used to ignore abuse. And please stop blaming the victim.

      3. Erin*

        “Going to work was the only way I would have the economic security to leave.”

        I think this is so, so key.

        I don’t pretend to know what victims of domestic violence abuse go through, but I did recently interview a woman for an article who had been in two violent relationships and gained some insight. Sometimes the main reason they don’t leave is because they would literally be facing homeless if he’s the sole bill payer.

        OP, I would not say anything for now. It’s too risky, you don’t have enough context, etc. etc. But do keep a watchful on eye on her.

      4. ThankYouDebbie*

        Thank you for posting not anon. I hate feeling like I still need to be anon on a board where I’m already super anon, but it still feels like that to me. It is really important to understand this can happen to all types of people. Thank you.

        1. DebbieDebbieDebbie*

          Thank you for your support…there was a teeny tiny voice telling me not to hit “submit” on my comment this morning :) Any boldness in me has come with time and from gratitude for the distance between me and the person who abused me. If you are still at a stage of healing where you choose to remain anonymous, then you should — it is the good, right and smart choice for you to make.
          Keep moving forward and don’t look back.

      5. INTP*

        Thanks for this post. I’m lucky enough to have not been in an abuse situation, but your post confirmed my intuitive sense that what someone is likely to need most in that situation is respect, privacy, and an emotional respite from home life, not to mention no one threatening their reputation at work by being indiscreet (not that it SHOULD threaten one’s reputation, but many people make assumptions and believe in stereotypes). A lot of the ways people are suggesting to “help,” while well-intentioned, seem to be more about making the OP feel better about not ignoring the situation rather than providing actual practical assistance.

      6. anon for this comment*

        One of my dearest friends was a doctoral student working with vulnerable populations of children, doing very well for herself, when she met an actual sociopath who completely destroyed her life and beat her nearly to death. Even with her intellect, resources, etc. she almost didn’t get out alive.

        Meanwhile my first boyfriend way back in high school showed some signs of being possessive when I broke up with him, and while I got out unscathed, he threw the next girl down a flight of stairs and tried to run another over with a car. We were white, upper-middle-class, solid family backgrounds. It really does happen everywhere.

      7. Florida*


        I just want to thank you for sharing your story. The aspect of work being your only refuge is an angle I would not have considered because I’ve never been in a situation like this. Thanks for sharing.

        I concur with others who have said it’s best to mind your own business.

    2. Colette*

      “Help me understand” implies that you have a right to understand, which you don’t. The coworker owes you nothing.

      It’s possible that she has a thriving support system already. It’s also possible that she might confide in a stranger – but if that’s the case, it’s not likely to be a stranger she needs to see every day at work.

      1. AnonInSC*

        I agree. Be a caring person, but don’t pry. Particularly as she has no idea (presumably) that you heard anything. And this isn’t about you, it’s about her. If she opens up, ask what she needs from you. It’s not her job to make you understand or feel better.

        OP – I would be sick to my stomach if I had overheard that conversation and would want to run in and fix it all. So I totally understand your instincts and you clearly have a kind, caring heart. It’s just that what we want to do may not actually be what is best at the moment. We don’t have all the information. And you just don’t know her well enough yet.

      2. Not me*

        I agree. I don’t think you need to understand, although you’ll want to ask.

        Asking for an explanation reminds me of the question, “Why didn’t you tell me?” These questions can sometimes put the other person, the one that was abused or experienced XYZ, in the position of comforting you about what happened to them. That’s kind of backwards, right? Even though they’re understandable questions, because of course when you’re concerned, you want to know more about what’s happening and what you could do about it.

        I read some explanation about this online 6-7 years ago. I’m sure I’m just repeating it awkwardly here. But I’ve been told a few times since reading that advice that I’m good to talk to specifically because of it.

        Right now, you want to avoid making more stress or emotional work for your coworker. That probably means being kind but not pushing for more than that. AnonInSC’s advice is good here.

    3. eplawyer*

      I would not approach the person about what was overheard at all. She went into the bathroom specifically for privacy. If she found out she was overheard, she would be mortified. Which only adds to her problem, not helps it.

      Alison’s advice is good for the situation as it is now. Get to know her better. Then maybe later, you can do something. Obviously if she shows up with noticeable bruises or is in danger RIGHT THIS SECOND, you do something. But until you know the person better, anything else is an intrusion into an already difficult situation.

      1. A Non*

        Please be careful about assuming that bruises on a woman = must take action immediately. I’m studying aerial acrobatics, including static trapeze. Resting one’s weight on a narrow steel bar in creative ways results in interesting bruises sometimes. All my coworkers know I do aerials partially because I’m way too enthusiastic about it to keep my mouth shut and partially to head off any uncomfortable conversations about bruises. I tell doctors preemptively too. It’s both a sad reflection of reality and an annoying stereotype that people assume women are more likely to have an abusive partner than to do sports that leave them with bruises. No-one makes that assumption about men.

        I’d only suggest asking a bruised woman if someone’s hurting her if you’re very close. If she says she’s not being abused, believe her or at least act like you do. She’s either telling the truth and it’s very infantilizing not to believe her, or she doesn’t want to tell you and you’re not going to help by trying to pry it out of her.

        1. Lindsay J*

          Yeah, I used to fence and my boyfriend currently does and you get tons of bruises doing that.

          Bruises can also result from consensual bedroom activities. Usually one would try to generally put bruises in places where they wouldn’t show in clothing, but stuff happens.

        2. Connie-Lynne*

          Yup. A fellow rollerderby skater once had her husband kept from her for HOURS at a hospital ER because the ER staff assumed all her bruises were the result of abuse. They questioned him at length and it was only after longer than an hour that he finally realized what was going on and said “Are you trying to find out if I’m abusing her? She skates _roller derby,_ that is what all her bruises are from!”

            1. A Non*

              An ER is one of few places that I’m okay with people being nosy about possible abuse. The staff is presumably trained in how to do it without making the situation worse, and they’re by definition dealing with people who are getting badly hurt.

              Though being a little more straight forward might have helped in this case. :-D Yay for women who skate.

        3. MsChanandlerBong*

          I take blood thinners, and I bruise SO easily; I hope no one ever jumps to conclusion about my husband. I currently have a bruise on my ankle simply from wearing a sock with an elastic band at the top of it.

          1. BananaPants*

            One of our children has a mild bleeding disorder and one of her symptoms is easy bruising. She can get bruised just from bumping into the coffee table or taking a minor fall, and her shins and forearms are pretty much perpetually bruised from playing on the playground. Parents of kids with her condition have been reported to CPS for suspicious bruising before! We have her condition documented everywhere to avoid the chance that a teacher/school nurse/camp counselor/coach/etc. will see bruising that is admittedly unusual in a school aged child and think she’s being abused.

            She’ll have this condition her entire life and I certainly hope that 20 or 30 years from now an acquaintance or coworker won’t see a random bruise and just assume she’s being abused.

        4. Seven If You Count Bad John*

          Up until the end of September I taught aerials at a circus school in my area. I personally know three separate women who were asked by total strangers in public who was beating them up at home and if they needed help.

    4. Observer*

      This is one of those situations where I don’t think there is any way not to seem abrasive no matter how you phrase the question. But as the old saying goes: better safe than sorry.

      The problem is that you present an inaccurate dichotomy. Being abrasive to someone who is already hurting is not exactly going to do a lot to improve her safety.

      Help me understand what’s going on?

      I’m going to go with the others who say that this question is particularly bad. It’s great, even important, to be concerned and empathetic. But, it’s all sorts of boundary crossing to imply that you have any right or expectation of understanding her private situation or that she has any sort of obligation to help you understand it. If she came to you for help, that would be one thing. But you are approaching her. You have no business providing her with further tasks, much less asking for information that is private and sensitive.

    5. Ad Astra*

      I might feel differently if the phone call had been in a more public area, or in one of those situations the coworker looks up and immediately realizes what OP had just heard. Bringing up a conversation you overheard days later is going to seem confrontational, and I doubt that approach will get the results OP is hoping for.

      My advice, in addition to Alison’s, would be to keep an eye out for these situations going forward. There may be a better opportunity to help in the future.

      1. irritable vowel*

        Yes — if the coworker realized immediately that I had overheard, I would probably just say (as soon afterward as possible, to cut down on any awkwardness she might feel), “I’m sorry I overheard your phone conversation, and I won’t say anything more about it unless you want me to.” Other than that I don’t think it’s the OP’s place to get involved, and really, the OP is so new she has no idea what the status quo is in the workplace regarding this person. Maybe everyone overhears this coworker having these conversations frequently, maybe everyone ignores them or maybe everyone is trying to help in a way or at a time that isn’t what the coworker needs, etc.

        Maybe the OP could arrange for some small leaflets for victims of domestic violence to be left in the ladies’ room — I’ve seen these in lots of places. Unless it’s such a small workplace that the coworker would know that it was about her.

    6. LW #1*


      Thank you for your feedback! My gut was telling me to not do anything right now, but as an innate doer/fixer I was concerned that I was making the wrong choice. I am very, very aware that this person IS a stranger to me right now. I don’t like sitting back, but, ultimately this is 100% NOT about me… I really appreciate the feedback. :)

    7. Fmr. Victim - Reg. Poster*

      I agree that OP1 shouldn’t say anything unless the person knew that OP1 overheard the convo. The coworkers who helped me best were those that were my genuine friends. When I confided the light stuff w/ them, they were kind, caring, confirmed my view that it was wrong, and told me that their boyfriends or husbands never treated them that way. It was so very helpful. So, if she knows you overhear something or you she sees you observe something, say something kind. If she is someone you want to be a friend to, do that too. Good luck. It’s helpful to have people care and approach in a way that is helpful and not harmful.

    8. Jerzy*

      I don’t think I’d use the phrase “Help me understand…” because you don’t need to know what’s going on. It’s not about OP, it’s about the person who may (or may not) be in an abusive relationship.

      If OP simply cannot help herself, she could just make herself available to this woman. Just be her friend, as if that conversation in the bathroom never happened, and always treat her with no judgement and an attitude that lets her know that she’s safe with you. She may not trust easily, so coming on strong and letting her know you know something, is likely to alienate her from you, and you’ll never help her anyway. If she feels she can trust you, you might be able to help, somewhere down the line. And you might not.

      This woman may need help, but she doesn’t need a stranger swooping in trying to be her hero. It would feel terribly intrusive to me, and I don’t think I’d ever trust someone like that with any details of my personal life.

    9. BananaPants*

      Nope, this person is a total stranger to OP #1 and has no right to expect a possible abuse victim to help her understand the situation. The coworker does not owe YOU any explanation, OP. Be kind and pleasant to her, and maybe as you get to know her better you may be in a position to help – but now is not the time.

  2. This is serious*

    1. Not knowing the whole story, this sounds to me like violence. You have a responsibility to do something. Maybe discreetly/anonymously drop her a note and say that there are resources available for this kind of situation? Or maybe tell her that you inadvertently overheard her say that, and that you’re concerned. The worst thing you could do is to do nothing.

    No woman should have to put up with this. Ever.

    1. MK*

      “The worst thing you can do is nothing”

      I am afraid that is simply not true. Taking action without thinking it through or being too aggressive can have disastrous results and make the situation worse than if one did nothing. Doing something should be about helping the person in need, not making the helper feel better in a “well, at least I tried!” way.

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        Yes, this.

        I’m broadly with Alison on this that it’s just not anything to do with OP; the one exception might be where OP has personally experienced something similar, and can approach it as “I/my sister/my nephew/my best friend [etc] has survived an abusive relationship; I’m afraid that I couldn’t help overhearing you on the phone the other day, and while I don’t want to interfere I just wanted you to know that I’m here if you need me for anything” (or whatever works best for OP)

        To leave an anonymous note with a list of resources is going to seem patronising at best and horribly stalkerish at worst.

      2. 30ish*

        I agree completely. The relevant principle in these situations is “first, do no harm” and, unfortunately, in these situations stepping in can do harm – you don’t know how the person will feel about your intervention, and what other events it may cause. Just one possibility among many: The coworker will feel even worse because now her workplace is also a context in which it is known that she’s being abused, so she loses a place where she can play a different role and gain some self-confidence.

        As a cautionary tale, a former colleague of mine wanted to help her neighbor who was being beaten by her husband. The neighbor did want her support at first, but then took back everything she had said about her husband. My former colleague made the mistake of confronting them both about it and the neighbor defended the husband. It’s likely the intervention made the situation even worse for the neighbor because the husband doubled down on his control and potential support in the neighborhood was lost (my former colleague blamed the neighbor for defending her husband and did not want to support her anymore).

        1. 30ish*

          Or another, scarier unintended consequence: The coworker tells the perpetrator that she’s been approached about the abuse at work (“even my coworkers tell me this is not OK!”). The perpetrator then makes the coworker quit her job (abusers often successfully isolate their victims from people they know are offering support).

          1. SCR*

            I thought the same thing. The abuser will try to cut off her support system and outside contact. Part of the abuse is gaslighting someone to think that it’s really not that bad or that everyone has such bad fights or they can’t help it or maybe the abused is overreacting, etc. Keeping someone isolated plays into this tactic.

      3. Not me*

        Agreed. You don’t know the entire situation, and if your impression of it is accurate, you still don’t know the coworker’s SO. You don’t know how the SO might react to your interference.

      4. Ad Astra*

        There have been previous comments on AAM from domestic abuse survivors about the importance of timing (help at the wrong time is worse than no help at all) and about giving victims autonomy because (among other reasons) they know their abuser better than anyone, and that information is vital in keeping them safe. Anyone have those links handy?

        You can’t save an adult from an abusive situation. You can only help them save themselves. (You could maybe argue that children can be saved from abusive situations, but even that comes with caveats.)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Here are a few really good ones:





      5. BRR*

        I’m making an assumption the LW is not trained to deal with domestic abuse situations. Doing nothing doesn’t make someone a bad person. I also know that I would be miffed if somebody I didn’t really know that well decided to give me their unsolicited thoughts on a very personal situation when I thought I was having a private situation. The coworker also seems pretty assertive which to me (who admittedly has no knowledge of this subject matter) which I consider a good sign.

    2. ThankYouDebbie for not going anon but I feel I need to*

      I had someone do this to me once, they left some pamphlets for a domestic violence center at my desk when I was away. They were directed specifically at me.

      They dropped them off the day I came into work looking horrible, bruised, scraped up, etc. I didn’t talk about it because I was really embarrassed. I’d had a stupid biking accident. After that I told people I’d had the accident but at least a couple people didn’t believe me. They also dropped them off just before I brought a client to my desk, which I moved, but they still noticed.

      Now the kicker to this is I had actually just managed to get out of an abusive relationship. It made me feel like I would never escape being that person even though this was a new job in a new city. People can tell, I’m never going to be able to escape, I’ll only ever attract a partner who would want to abuse me because people can see that I’m that kind of person even when I just had a biking accident. This huge cloud of panic and stress and it made it much harder to stay away from that relationship.

      It doesn’t always help to do something like this.

      1. Erin*

        Insightful story to share, thank you. Another reminder that without the right context and information we don’t truly know what’s going on.

    3. fposte*

      I think there are two different questions here: is this serious? and will my involvement help this person? There can be a resounding “Yes” to the first and a resounding “No” to the second. And that’s really hard for well-meaning people (maybe especially Americans?) who get it drummed into our heads that doing nothing is complicity and cowardice, that it’s allowing the bad thing to happen, that action is always better than inaction.

      The problem is that those things are demonstrably sometimes wrong, in medicine, in policing, in parenting, in intervening in a co-worker’s situation. There is considerable potential to make something worse with intervention. We owe it to the people we’re trying to help to think very carefully about whether we can help best by not diving in, and whether our discomfort with feeling like we’re doing nothing is less important than the damage we can do in a complicated situation we don’t understand. Sometimes feeling awkward or frustrated or guilty about doing nothing is the best contribution we can make to a situation, because it’s something we have to deal with alone.

      I think if you get to know her and get closer to her, that could change what she might find helpful from you. But even then, you can’t fix this. She’s standing in a snake’s nest, and she knows where the snakes are, how big they are, and which ones are venomous, and what makes them bite; you don’t.

      It’s really hard to want to help and not to. But sometimes that’s the best thing you can offer at the time.

      1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        Just because you *can* get involved, unfortunately, doesn’t mean you *should*. one invokes the law of unintended consequences that way. Listen and become an acquaintance. That really is about all you can and should do at this time.

      2. INTP*


        Make sure that your actions, if you take them, are based on actually providing practical assistance that she may not already have access to, NOT on making yourself feel better about not doing anything. (I’d say this goes for any act of kindness, I’m dealing with a person that is mucking up a lot of things with her generosity right now, but ESPECIALLY for a high stakes situation like this.)

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Make sure that your actions are based on actually providing practical assistance that she may not already have access to, NOT on making yourself feel better about not doing anything

          I think this is incredibly useful advice for a whole slew of situations!

      3. Erin*

        Excellent points.

        “That’s really hard for well-meaning people. . .who get it drummed into our heads that doing nothing is complicity and cowardice, that’s allowing bad things to happen, that action is always better than inaction.”

        This reminds me of efforts towards the Good Samaritan Law, which encourage just that – actions if you see something wrong. “If you see something, say something.”

        It really is drilled into our heads, but it’s not applicable/appropriate for every situation.

    4. INTP*

      But does anyone really not know that there are resources available? Correct me if this is just due to my particular background, but I’ve been taught about domestic abuse, that it’s not the victim’s fault, and that there are shelters available since before I was even old enough to date. I presume most people know that shelters and services exist. This to me seems like it serves no practical purpose for the victim other than telling her “I know what is happening to you.”

      One thing that might be helpful is to research specific ones for her if she feels she has no safe place to do so (afraid of being tracked at work, history will be checked at home). However, I wouldn’t broach the subject with no more context than what is described in the letter. By making it “a thing” at work you potentially take away the one place where she can escape and doesn’t feel defined by what is happening to her at home, and chances are there are reasons she hasn’t left other than that no one has offered to google resources for her yet.

      1. Ad Astra*

        I think there are people who may not realize what resources, exactly, are available. But I also think there are even more people who know there are resources but don’t realize that what they’re experiencing is abuse, or don’t recognize their situations as severe enough to seek out those resources. It’s easy to educate people about hotlines and shelters, but quite difficult to educate people about healthy relationships if they’ve never seen them modeled at home. This goes double, or even triple, for emotional/psychological abuse when there’s no physical abuse going on.

    5. Just another techie*

      “The worst thing you could do is to do nothing.”

      I have a friend who is a paramedic. He won’t get involved in a medical emergency when he’s off the clock, not because he doesn’t care, but because without all his tools and his ambulance, there is very little he can do. In fact, he could do more harm messing around with a patient than if the patient were just left alone another few minutes until a fully staffed and properly equipped ambulance arrived.

      1. Chinook*

        “I have a friend who is a paramedic. He won’t get involved in a medical emergency when he’s off the clock, not because he doesn’t care, but because without all his tools and his ambulance, there is very little he can do.”

        Ironically, no one recognizes that your friend is actually doing something – he is following through with the first step of triage/emergency response which is to assess the situation and your ability to help. He isn’t ignoring an incident but instead has assessed that his aid will do more harm than good. I would bet good money that, if he were in a situation where an ambulance was, say, a half hour away, then he would step in and act.

        Assessing a situation and accepting that you can’t help is not the same as ignoring a situation.

      2. Connie-Lynne*

        Yuuup. Appropriate help is appropriate.

        When I cut my finger slicing garlic, my EMT roommates helped me wash my hand and get a bandaid on it.

        When I potentially dislocated my shoulder (didn’t, hurrah), my EMT roommates helped drive me to the Urgent Care.

    6. Mary*

      To drop her an anonymous note would be absolutely mortifying to her. She would have no idea who dropped the note and would think that everyone knew about her plight. Even if the OP told her what she heard, the employee would also wonder who else knows.

      Befriend her; right now it sounds like she could use one.

  3. firewalker*


    I disagree with Allison on this one. In these situations, I think professionalism takes a backseat. My suggestions would be to when you see her upset, ask her if she’s OK. Befriend her if possible to put yourself in the position where you could offer help. I am interested to hear what people who work with victims of domestic abuse would recommend. Because I could be totally off.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      Alison did not say anything about professionalism, the reason Alison recommend not jumping into action is that the OP Simply isn’t in a position to intervene in a meaningful and helpful way.

      It’s great that the OP wants to help but domestic violence is such a tricky and nuanced situation to deal with there’s a very real risk of harm if someone just jumps straight in with nothing more than an overheard phone call to inform their thinking.

    2. DHT*

      As someone who has done this kind of work for a long time, you are pretty “off”, yes. Alison’s advice is actually spot-on. The OP in this case does not have any standing with their co-worker to be the person who intervenes here. It’s not about professionalism, and indeed Alison did not indicate that her advice was about prioritising being professional. It’s about what will have the best outcome for the people involved.

      The OP can be a good co-worker, they can strike up conversations with the person in question, and they MAY indeed be able to develop a closer relationship that would give them that standing. But that will take some considerable time if it is to happen, and it will not necessarily be possible. And that’s OK. It is not the OP’s responsibility to fix this and they should not feel bad that they can’t (unless, as discussed elsewhere on this post, they are a mandated reporter AND there is an obligation in these circumstances to report what they heard, which I think unlikely as they would have been aware of that already I would hope).

      Right now, the OP involving themselves will not be the helpful act we might wish it to be, and could indeed be harmful. The OP does not know enough to even judge if abuse is actually happening, let alone the best way to help the person if it is.

    3. Ad Astra*

      Actually, I think your specific advice sounds fine, and doesn’t really conflict with Alison’s advice. Asking her if she’s ok next time she’s upset and befriending her (assuming she wants to be friends) are far better choices than trying to intervene without knowing all the facts or earning the coworker’s trust.

  4. Seven If You Count Bad John*

    Ooh, I’ve been the employee in #2, and while I support Alison’s phrasing and approach in how you make the announcement, I think it’s important that you take steps going forward to ensure that you back up the value statements with concrete demonstrations. I was physically separated from my “team” because I did independent work. My manager was kind of crappy in general (she was constantly canceling 1:1s just for starters and there were other behaviors that bothered me too) and the result was that everyone kind of “forgot” that I was there. (To the point of not being invited to team holiday activities that were expressly intended to help us bond!) I got a lot of empty words and promises about how “valuable” I was, but I ended up burning out because of the isolation. (I’m an introvert and I work well in isolation, but my boss went way overboard and assumed this meant I was okay literally never speaking to anyone all week. I counted once and went four full days without saying a word or seeing any member of my “team”. No one noticed or cared.)
    So, I mean, just be sure when you isolate this person, that you don’t all end up in one end of the building having impromptu cookie-shares and dad-joke-duels while your Valuable Employee is by themselves in their new broom closet reading Cracked with silent tears running down their face. (This was before I found Ask A Manager, obviously.) Someone whose work is independent might actually need a little more maintenance on a personal/team level if they’re physically separated. And, obviously, if I’d known this was going to be a problem, I’d never have acceded to the conditions in the first place–I’d have refused the job rather than go through that. So when your Valuable Team Member says “sure boss, no problem”– check in every once in awhile afterward.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      Moving people in general is a thing that happens, and varying quality of offices happens, and I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who get Very Upset About Routine Moves. Our primary reason for moving people is to bring teams together.

      Moving people away from the team is a big deal. I’m sure there are people who don’t care, but most would and most would wonder “what does this mean?”

      I appreciate your thoughts here. This is both on point and funny in a poignant way:

      So, I mean, just be sure when you isolate this person, that you don’t all end up in one end of the building having impromptu cookie-shares and dad-joke-duels while your Valuable Employee is by themselves in their new broom closet reading Cracked with silent tears running down their face.

      If I had to do as the OP, I’d ask other team members to make sure that the exile was as included as possible. Also, we’ve developed skill sets in keeping remote workers “included” and I’d employ those with the exile. Stupid things like running jokes through email, funny pictures that go with whatever stress situation we are talking about, etc.

      If Betty brings in bagels, remember to invite Wilma or bring a bagel over to her. And then everything Alison said.

      1. EmilyG*

        > I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who get Very Upset About Routine Moves

        I get this, but went to a change management seminar a while back that highlighted stupid office moves as a stressful thing that, if handled badly, is one of the fastest, most reliable, and most unnecessary ways to demotivate employees.

        That stuck with me, since I was once the “victim” of a botched office move… My two direct reports and I were moved from a relatively okay spot to the absolute dankest and most depressing one around, and they never had a conversation with us about it. They just had big meetings where our group was labeled as being in the other space on a blueprint. They never said when it would happen, so we got strung along for months, until one day it was time to load everything on carts and head to the basement, where of course there was no new furniture, repainting, or anything.

        This happened under a new director who was notably passive-aggressive as a manager and continually underestimated me to my face–by that point, I’d been a standout employee for about 4 years, and instead of promoting me or even recognizing me, he kept asking me to do menial tasks in front of other people. Oh, and I was in the middle of getting divorced when this happened so I moved to the rotten cubicle right as I was moving away from my home, too, and my memory is of sitting at the new desk and crying. And yet, the director seemed vaguely surprised when when I quit as soon as was feasible! Hasn’t Allison said that you can learn about management from bad managers? In his own way, this guy was a master class.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

          That’s a terrible move. I’d have a lot of sympathy for that one.

          We do a fair amount of musical chairs shifting to align teams together, and there’s a lot of flux because of seasonality of business, cross training, etc. A newer person might have 3 different spaces in the course of their first year. An experienced person probably only moves once every year or two. Someone who was greatly upset by that kind of change wouldn’t be a good match for us.

          I don’t think it’s been a real issue in the last years, although back in the day there were people who would burst into tears because they wanted to still sit near their best friend. No sympathy for that.

          1. Chinook*

            I have been the one moved around to the “bad office” (think surrounded by dark brick walls on 3 with a partition on the 4th and no overhead light and no way of seeing daylight. They actually had to bring in floor lamps so I could work). I have been moved from offices with a door to a corner next the supply closet and people had to squeeze by me to get folders. I have also had a classroom assigned to me and had it all set it up over the summer only to be told the day before classes start that they really wanted me in the next one over . And always took it as no big deal because the boss never apologized or made a bigger deal out of it then they needed to. If someone started apologizing profusely for an office, I would wonder what they were hiding because, short of it being so far away that I have to drive to regular staff meetings (done that twice as a teacher due to space issues) or there be open wiring hanging over a water faucet (I turned down the job that had a teacherage with a bathroom like that), the odds are pretty good that it can’t be as bad as everyone thinks it is.

        2. Lucky*

          I had my office moved at a prior job and the way it was handled should have been a red flag to me of my value to the company. I had been moved twice before, once from a temporary office (a positive move) and once because of a floor plan remodel (a neutral move). Then I was on an assignment two states away, working 60 hour weeks for three months, where I could only come home every 3rd weekend. I had a week off for Christmas, during which I was spending the long holiday weekend with my family and rushing back home to have surgery that had been put off for 2 months due to the assignment. The week before the holiday, I got a call from HR saying that the partners decided to move me to a smaller office in favor of a new junior partner, and I needed to have my things moved by 12/27, the day before my surgery. I expressed my exasperation and frustration that they would make such a demand in the middle of my grueling schedule, with no regard for the tiny amount of time I had off and my health issues. She arranged to have staff help her move my office for me (and they did a great job – unpacked and arranged my desk exactly as it had been) but I should have seen that as Red Flag #9999 that they were a terrible organization. Ugh, it still makes me angry 4 years later.

        1. Seven If You Count Bad John*

          And formal ones. My manager actually arranged a holiday activity where The Team got to go over to her house and bake cookies (or maybe it was popcorn balls, or construction paper stockings with your name on it in glitter, I don’t remember, something to be distributed to the rest of the company as a goodwill gesture from our department). This was during the day, so everyone basically got a few free hours off from their Incredibly Critical Work. I didn’t even find out it had happened until people started sharing photographs of the event in company email. I gently asked about it later and she was shocked, shocked! that I hadn’t been invited (someone else had been tasked with telling “everyone on the Team”). (I was practicing learning to be tactful so I carefully did not say “you didn’t notice your ONLY Boiling Steam Whistle Tone Calibrator was the ONLY person not at your HOUSE?? Your carefully hand-picked, in-house Whistle Tuner? Who was emailing you from work during the event??”)

          The person who left me out was supposedly approached about it, but the most I ever got in the way of amends was my manager telling me “well, you can help distribute the goodies when we go to do that.” A week later, she and another Team Member came by my broom closet with a cart full of the goodies, which they were distributing. “You forgot again.”

          I don’t even LIKE this sort of activity, but actively being forgotten about? Hurt. Now, bear in mind, for the most part the isolation worked fine and I was cool with the amount of freedom it gave me. And the reason for it was that the Steam Whistle Tuning Calibration honestly had to happen in a quiet, private locale. But it just went way, way too far.

          (Then they put my arm up behind my back and frog-marched me to the Official Company-Sponsored Team Building Field Trip a few months later because “we need to bond as a team”.)

        2. Kadee*

          For what it’s worth, I’m impressed about how thoughtful you are in regards to this situation. You’re practical, interested in creating proper expectations, wanting to maintain good boundaries, but you are also clearly pretty empathetic to your employees and their needs. I just wanted to acknowledge this because traits like that can make moving to less-than-desirable offices a lot easier to take because it becomes about logistics instead of their personal value to the team and organization.

      2. LQ*

        My office is going through a Dramatic but Very Routine Move. The most frustrating part is that no one has just sat us down and said, you’ll likely be moving on X but it may vary a day or two depending on schedules. You’ll be going to Y. Z will also change.

        Instead we heard next to nothing. No one knew when they were moving or how long or if it was permanent or when or if they’d be back. I think making sure to give any information you have, and be honest if you don’t know something. Our group leadership said they didn’t want to waste time telling us because it wasn’t a big deal. But the amount of time people have spent talking about it and wasted on all of the junk surrounding it is huge. A 10 minute conversation can go a really long way here.

        1. Witty Nickname*

          Ugh. My office does these every couple years or so (I’m approaching 9 years there, and have moved 10 times. I can pack up my desk and label everything for the movers in less than 10 minutes). The last move was just a couple months ago, and for several months leading up to it, we were kept informed that it was going to happen, given advanced notice of where our new desks would be, and given specific instructions on what we needed to do when. When it had to be postponed for a couple weeks, we were told immediately and kept in the loop. It’s the only way to make a huge move (ours involved hundreds of people across 7 floors) go well.

    2. Blurgle*

      This probably sounds crazy, but: if the office itself isn’t so good, make sure your employee isn’t also stuck with the crappiest desk, the oldest computer, cheap nasty lighting, an uncomfortable chair, etc. In my experience this is what office managers do: unload the crap that’s just a hair too good to justify discarding on the person in the closet. It’s adding insult upon insult to injury.

      1. Hornswoggler*

        I second Blurgle on this – new computer, lovely chair, nice pic on the wall, and maybe a special gadget that nobody else has (i dunno…. electric stapler with flashing lights…).

        Also, the worker should be invited to any specific meetings or team briefings or whatever – even if only to the first quarter of an hour, if it isn’t all relevant. Ways of getting them to walk the distance between her crappy office and your department! Include them on the bagel rota. Think of ways that people might be encouraged to visit THEM.

        1. Hornswoggler*

          Maybe even allot a bit of budget specifically for them to spend on gussying up their new space?

          1. TerpAccountant*

            Frequently when we want to invite people to a lunch, etc. I mentally go around the office by desk and add them to the email. Maybe create a contact list that includes this person so they don’t get forgotten because they are not right there?

          2. Chinook*

            “Maybe even allot a bit of budget specifically for them to spend on gussying up their new space?”

            Floor lamps actually make an office space more relaxing, especially if they can control the overhead lamps, and can be bought relatively cheaply.

        2. Felix*

          I third this comment! Within the last year I was downgraded from a private office with a magnificent window to a shared cave-like office no window, no air circulation and the crappiest desk/chair (broken with stains). The move was because: “Felix, while you are amazing, we need more room for permanent staff.”

          To top it off, the new office was a storage area for boxes of dusty old paper work and *I* personally had to move this stuff into a new storage space even though it had nothing to do with my work.

          Office mate and I then had to arrange getting all our own supplies (desk with drawers, filing cabinets, chairs, lighting etc.). I might add that I already work 5-8 hours of OT a week and the move was very disruptive to my work. It took 4 months for my new chair to arrive. The whole experience was awful. No tears, but I had to work VERY hard not to release my grumpy kraken on everyone. There is really no better way to demoralize your staff than to make them move and make them responsible for an old mess in a shitty office space. Also, I don’t understand treating contract employees this way- it really makes you question why you would want to stay if offered an extension.

      2. Dr. Doll*

        This is not crazy at all, it’s critical! In fact I would go farther and say if you can, make sure the moved person has an extra-nice chair and maybe some other little perk like one of those things that you can adjust to make a standing desk. AND, make sure you have someone to help them actually move. They shouldn’t have to carry their own boxes (just this once).

        1. Chinook*

          “make sure you have someone to help them actually move. They shouldn’t have to carry their own boxes (just this once).”

          I have moved offices and homes and I would have to say that the best perk ever is having someone pack, move and unpack your stuff. Whether it be down the hall or across the country, having someone else figure out how to move your stuff is a wonderful, wonderful feeling (especially since they know tricks of the trade to make it easier because they do it so often)

      3. BadPlanning*

        This is a great point — I recently downgraded in offices (window office to a cave) and I console myself with the fact that the desk is much nicer in my new digs.

      4. Artemesia*

        I once had the office without a window for a short stint. The manager put a poster on my wall — one of the Magritte window paintings — which gave me an amusing window and also acknowledged that this was not a great office but he was trying to make it better.

        And providing a decent chair particularly or other new amenities also goes a long way towards not making the move seem like punishment. I never cared about the desk, but the computer and the chair were important.

      5. Angela*

        Exactly! I got moved around to variety of less than desirable offices while much nicer ones actually sat empty because we apparently needed to have two *nice* offices with premium desks/chairs for the extremely rare client visit which never sent more than 1 person at a time. I had a crappy old metal desk and probably a chair that we had gotten for free when another location closed. People in other offices had very nice desks with matching credenzas/bookcases and brand new, expensive chairs purchased for them. There were some crazy office politics that caused some of that, and my direct manager was not involved in the decision to put me in those offices, but it still made me feel very undervalued by the people that I saw on a daily basis.

    3. Azalea*

      I completely agree. I was that employee shuffled back to the crappiest office, isolated from the rest of the building. I can’t tell you how many times I’d go into the main office to find that they’d all ordered lunch together, or the boss randomly bought bagels for everyone, and they’d “forgotten” to tell me. It would hurt, and make me wonder if I was truly valued – or if I was stuck back in the crappy office as a punishment.

      Then, after a major safety violation, I was moved to a really good work space, so yay for that! :) But anyway, the point is – don’t make them feel isolated and excluded. And I second what a previous commenter said about getting them nice office supplies.

    4. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yes! I totally agree with having a straight forward conversation before the move; providing office perks like a better desk, chair, or computer; and ongoing efforts to be inclusive after the move!

      Once I was moved while I was on vacation! I came back from vacation, walked to my office, and all my stuff was gone. My first thought was literally, “Did I get fired?!” Turns out my stuff had been moved to make room for someone whose work was more central to the team.

  5. Retail4Life*

    1. If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out directly I have another idea. Since you’re new, make a flyer you can put in the break room for Crisis Text Line – http://www.crisistextline.org/how-it-works/ Anyone can text 741-741 to talk with a counselor for free. It’s often easier to reach out to someone anonymously (and via text) if you’re in a domestic violence situation. Plus you never know who else in the office could use the resource. You can tell your coworkers you saw it on a TED talk. That keeps it work appropriate for you and you’re still able to hopefully help your coworker.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      That’s a great idea, puting up a poster the coworker would see will let them know there’s help out there and let’s them reach out for it on their own terms.

    2. Another Job Seeker*

      I love this idea! And OP, maybe you could make sure that you have this conversation while you are talking to a large group of co-workers (including the one you believe is being abused) so no one feels like they’re being targeted. OP and others who are sharing, thanks for your compassion. And Retail4Life, thank you for the link. It might help someone who is reading this blog.

    3. hbc*

      I did something similar when I got worrying signs from a couple of employees. I had our monthly team meeting cover resources both inside and outside the company. Here are our health care benefits, here’s our leave policy, here’s where you can get low-cost counseling, here’s a number for abuse (ahem), here’s a website for addiction counseling (ahem). I don’t know if anyone has used the information, but now the resources are posted so they don’t have to go research if they have that one moment of “I wish I had some way to get help.”

      1. Blue Anne*

        That seems like a really good way to handle it.

        Our firm gives employees access to a mental health hotline, which I used once when I was in a really, really bad place. So that kind of thing definitely does get used sometimes.

    4. F.*

      I don’t want to poop on this great idea, but I would caution that you check with your Human Resources department prior to putting up posters like this. Just don’t mention the specific situation and out your coworker. There may be specific rules/procedures for posting things. I got gently warned and the item I put up was taken down at one place where I worked. If the company has an EAP, there may already be specific posters, brochures, etc. that are approved for posting and address the situation.

    5. Abby*

      A bathroom may be a great place for this, too, so anyone looking at the information isn’t obviously looking at it. Seeing a poster about a sensitive topic with relevant information is different from going up, looking at it, and taking not of the information. Privacy can be better preserved by placing it in already-private places. You’d want to make sure it’s in both men’s and women’s (and unisex) restrooms, of course.

  6. Paul*

    The questioner in #1 doesn’t state what field she works in but it is important to mention that some fields she would be required by law to report what she has heard. For example, in Washington state, where I live, this is covered by various laws including RCW 74.34.020(10).

    1. Retail4Life*

      Most mandatory reporting laws only apply to medical professionals treating victims of abuse. Some mandatory reporting is expanded to other professions if the victim is a child. Overhearing something in a bathroom does not make you a mandatory reporter.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        No, most of the laws I’ve seen on mandatory reporting apply to medical professionals, social workers, school employees, and law enforcement officers, and although these laws are intended to increase reporting among served populations, if any people in those fields overheard a coworker in a bathroom, they should check with their supervisor or legal department to see how non-voluntary disclosures of fellow employees were treated under the law.

        I believe that’s why Paul said “in some fields”.

        ref: (13) “Mandated reporter” is an employee of the department; law enforcement officer; social worker; professional school personnel; individual provider; an employee of a facility; an operator of a facility; an employee of a social service, welfare, mental health, adult day health, adult day care, home health, home care, or hospice agency; county coroner or medical examiner; Christian Science practitioner; or health care provider subject to chapter 18.130 RCW.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          I think it’s a moot point if the OP was subject to mandatory reporting laws they probably would have mentioned it in their letter.

        2. Case of the Mondays*

          In the three different states where I was a mandated reporter it was only mandated for people that didn’t have the ability to seek help on their own. It included children under 18 or still in high school, disabled adults (whether they were disabled enough to fall under this law was a bit of a gray area but it was basically people that were dependent on those they lived with for survival or those with significant cognitive disabilities such that they couldn’t sign documents for themselves) and the elderly (similar analysis as the disabled). It did not include healthy adults.

        3. doreen*

          Yes, but this is why you can’t understand a statute by reading only one part. The entire chapter is about “vulnerable adults” and then goes in to define that term in RCW 74.34.020 (21). The short version is it doesn’t apply to most adults- it applies to a person without the physical,mental or functional ability to care for him/her self , who is in a hospital, nursing home or other facility or who is receiving home care services. There could be some other law that requires mandated reporters to report domestic violence against any person, but that wouldn’t be typical. Although mandated reporting laws apply to more than medical professionals, they typically either mandate that certain injuries be reported ( any gunshot wound must be reported where I live) or that abuse/neglect of specific populations be reported ( children, the developmentally or physically disabled, people in institutions of one sort or another etc) . Sometimes, as in my case, the reporter is only mandated when they encounter the victim in a professional capacity. ( I would report my suspicions either way – but I won’t be held criminally or civilly liable if I don’t report my suspicions about the neighbor kids)

        4. OriginalEmma*

          The “Christian Science practitioner” part popped out to me. Why them vs. any other religious practitioner?

  7. Almond Milk Latte*

    Food for thought on #1: You don’t have enough context to know if your coworker is in the process of a master plan to leave her abuser. A new job might be a step along the way. Getting involved in her situation might impact it negatively.
    The best thing you can do, like others have said, is be a friend.

  8. KT*

    #1-No, just no. Do not interfere with a stranger. She thought she was in a private place–if you reach out to her, she may panic, be frightened, and will withdrawal even more.

    There is nothing you can do to motivate her to leave her abuser. That is something she needs to come to grips with. It takes a person seven attempts to leave their abuser before they do for good.

    If you haven’t dealt with domestic abuse, it’s extremely difficult to understand, and of course the impulse is to swoop in to help. It’s so much more complicated than you can imagine.

  9. Blue Anne*

    Hm. Given that it was 10 years ago I should probably take National Merit Scholar off my CV, I guess…

    1. Development professional*

      Oh dear. I haven’t even thought of the phrase “National Merit Scholar” in close to 15 years, and I was one too! It never ceases to amaze me how things that were so important as teenagers just fade into the background of memory over time.

    2. Donna*

      I don’t know, I think National Merit Scholar is still impressive. They don’t give that award to just anyone. If it was 10 years ago, I’m guessing you’re under 30? If I was your interviewer, I wouldn’t think it was weird.

      Now, if someone in their 40s was listing accomplishments like that, I’d raise an eyebrow.

      1. fposte*

        But it doesn’t say anything about the ability to do the job, and it’s overfocusing on a pre-adult achievement. It needs to be more than something they don’t give to anyone to last into an adult resume–it needs to be either hugely relevant to the job (like if you’re applying to work at the National Merit Scholarship Corporation–that degree of specific, since it’s not a specific achievement) or hugely unusual for somebody of that age to still be worth taking up precious real estate once you’ve been an adult for a while.

      2. Artemesia*

        If you are smart enough to be a Merit scholar then you should have graduated at least Magna cum Laude — so put that on the resume. Merit Scholar is about having taken a test and having decent high school grades; no one cares about that when you are an adult. The question is achievement. Latin honors for graduation are the next level achievement and that totally wipes out the significance of SAT scores and similar predictors of achievement. IN fact a Merit SCholar who isn’t PHi Beta Kappan and or at least Magna sum Laude looks a tad underachieving.

  10. KT*

    Because I can’t get this post out of my head this is a “typical” experience we have with domestic abuse survivors (I’m using “she” for convenience, it happens to men too)

    The woman contacts us saying she is in danger of her spouse, and that the abuse has escalated to the extent that she is afraid for her future. That can be financial abuse (stealing money, isolating her from resources), emotional abuse or physical abuse. All 3 are serious.

    She decides she is truly afraid of what will happen if she stays. After talking to the counselor, she makes up her mind to leave. She knows her abuser will be home in just a half hour, so she leaves the house with the clothes on her back and meets us out front in a car.

    We drive her to the shelter, but we ask her to please close her eyes or hide her face so she can’t see where we are going–the rationale being that way she can’t mention where she is to other loved ones–the abuser might be able to manipulate them to find out her location and endanger everyone.

    We get to the shelter. We give her clothes, towels, toiletries. We do have beds and rooms, but as always, we’re over capacity so she sleeps on a cot in the common room. She shares facilities with 50 other men and women.

    She can’t go back to work, her abuser knows where that is and could show up to harm her. So she has to quit with no notice. The bank accounts were in his name only and he refused to give her the PIN, so she has no access to money.

    She does call loved ones, and they tell her she’s being dramatic and they can work this out!

    She starts counseling, she may start job searching. In extreme cases, we may have to help her relocate to another part of the country to be safe.

    We have to start the process of getting her new identification–license, social security number–, since she left everything at home and there’s no way she can go back to get them.

    After 3 months, we’ve found her a job and a small apartment a few counties over–we’ll help her with the security deposit and first few months of rent/utilities. She’ll live there, hours away from the people she knew, starting with just the basics we can provide. But at least she’s no longer on a cot in the shelter.

    It is not uncommon for women to leave the shelter and go back to the abuser. When people say “resources are available”, that makes it sound very neat and tidy and immediate. The process is overwhelming, exhausting, and invasive. They lose privacy, a sense of identity, the life they knew.

    Deciding to go through this is an immense decision and means the life as they knew it is over. It is not something that can be rushed.

    1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      Thank you for sharing your experience, KT. This is one of those areas where I know that I don’t know very much, so I always really appreciate when people are willing to talk about it. It’s so easy to forget the heartache and trauma in-between the steps of leaving forever to being ok again.

    2. Not Today Satan*

      Thank you for this. What could LW do beyond giving her a hotline number or info on a shelter–as if packing up your life and moving to a shelter is a simple thing to do? I don’t at all mean to denigrate shelters, but if I were in the abused woman’s situation and a coworker I met last week came to me with some information I have undoubtedly already found on google myself, I would feel very embarrassed/ashamed and pissed. If leaving is the right thing to do at this time, I highly doubt the recommendation of a stranger would influence her to do that.

      By all means, we all should look out for our loved ones, and if we suspect a loved one is being abused, offer our support. And if we witness abuse, we should do something (yell, call 911, etc.). But I just don’t think a new coworker has any meaningful support to offer a woman she met last week. (This applies to adult victims only… I think we should be more proactive if we suspect child abuse.)

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        The best support we could offer in this situation is providing a safe, supportive environment.

      2. ThankYouDebbie for not going anon but I feel I need to*

        The best thing to do is never say something even in the same universe as “she deserved it” or “if she didn’t want it she’d leave” or “those” as in othering people who are victims of abuse. I know it doesn’t seem like much but it actually is. Each time you hear someone talk about a victim in a way that isn’t, it can really happen to anyone and it is never their fault, you are doing greater harm than you know to the victim.

        Even better if you hear someone make a joke about it, or talk about the latest political whatever in a way that is like that call them out for it. That’s a big thing to do. Having friends and family who repeatedly said that smart women didn’t end up in abusive relationships is the number one reason I still feel like I can’t come forward about it.

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          Half a lifetime ago, I carried a lot of anger and frustration from failed relationships. I found a guy who was into pain. We met in college, were at the tops of our classes, and thought we were smart enough to deal with complicated bedroom items that we weren’t. We formed what started as a mutual friends with benefits; I wanted to hit, he wanted to be hit. Eventually, what started as physical abuse became emotional warfare, and we were caught up in an abusive cycle. We opened some can of open wounds that overwhelmed us.

          The only way it stopped is when I left. I learned my lesson, got into therapy to deal with my anger, and learned about safety in relationships. It was a hard lesson, but I think it helps me understand how abusive relationships can develop and grow even without any intentions to do so, and how much one can become entangled in a growing nightmare. During the relationship, it can be so hard to see the problems (and I had friends to tried to tell me, believe me, but they just didn’t *understand* what we had, man!). I lost him, I lost friends, and I moved far away to escape the entire tainted atmosphere and put it all behind me.

          I still carry guilt over what I did. I’ll own that forever until I can figure out a way to release myself from it.

    3. Dynamic Beige*

      KT, I was wondering what people in general could do to help out local shelters? I heard that luggage is something that gets used a lot at shelters and donated an old set I had. At OldJob, for a time there was someone who asked us to collect hotel sample toiletries and they would drop them off at homeless shelters.

      Last year, I heard about something called The Shoebox Project (link in reply) which is a charity that organises volunteers to create Xmas gifts for women in shelters. It may be too late to do that now as a group but if OP#1 is concerned, that could be something to do anonymously for someone else (not the coworker!). Or, it could be something that is done next year. There are a lot of companies that in lieu of client gifts or employee parties will make a donation/arrange a charitable activity instead.

      1. KT*

        The biggest things shelters need are gift cards! We only give the people new things–usually, they’ve never been given the decision on what to wear, what to buy, themselves. For many, this is the first time they’ve been given the opportunity to shop for clothes themselves! Being able to say I want WHITE towels, and being able to buy them, is a huge step.

        Walmart, Target, etc.

        1. Nother Name*

          Depending upon the shelters in your area, some also take donations of (unused) personal care items and samples. (For example, shampoo samples, which can also be used by homeless shelters, where a lot of clients only need a one-use item.) Items for children or often needed, also.

          Basically, the best thing to do is to ask what your local shelter(s) want. A lot of them have wish lists online or listed with various local groups.

          1. Chinook*

            My women’s group had someone speak to us from a woman’s shelter and one of things she mentioned were feminine hygiene products and it makes so much sense. This is the type of item where every woman who uses them has a preference, most women need them quite regularly, and quality does get better with price. I could see this be an item that would help with a woman’s dignity (and laundry).

            1. Nother Name*

              That is one of the things my knitters’ guild gathers during the months that we donate to women’s shelters. (We also make handmade winter accessories for the kids and fashion scarves for women who need to go on job interviews – it’s an easy way to dress up very basic clothing.)

              Also, senior centers/nursing homes will take often adult diapers – which are expensive and often needed. (Sometimes people get these through a supplier through their health coverage and end up with more than needed.)

          2. KT*

            Yes absolutely, toiletries, hygiene products, even general household items like dishes, cleaning supplies, pots and pans, bedding sets….so many of these people have to start over from scratch, so we try to give them what they need to start building a life.

            Toys are also very useful–we often have people bring their children. Pet food, pet carriers, etc are also welcome–we’re one of the few that allows people to bring pets when they leave.Right now we have enormous iguana taking up half a room but she couldn’t leave without him!

      2. Anon Accountant*

        Can you contact your local domestic violence center to ask about donation items? Do they have a website listing donations requested?

        Ours (in a small local town) has a website listing items needed. Toiletries, cleaning supplies, trash bags, socks, underwear, diapers, and paper products are on the list.

    4. Ad Astra*

      What gets me every time in these stories are the friends and family who criticize the victim’s choice to leave. It’s bad enough to not believe someone when they say they’re being abused, but the “you can still work this out” messages… I just can’t get over it. You have the right to leave a relationship for any reason or no reason at all. It’s disturbing that so many people seem to think otherwise.

      1. ThankYouDebbie*

        It is so incredibly common. I am from a non-religious background so there wasn’t even any stay married or do it for god stuff happening. It was just “Oh you seem like such a nice couple.” The absolute worst was the people who I felt like should have been in my corner (mom, I’m looking at you!) who really seemed to love him more than me. There is nothing like the gut punch of years later having a family member ask what happened with that nice fellow, he was so nice and sweet and kind and that I must have done something to make him leave.

        1. Nother Name*

          When I was a teenager, my father told me that the only people who truly know what’s going on in a marriage are the two people who were in it. I always thought this was a really good thing to remember about any relationship. It’s so easy to make assumptions when you’re outside of a situation.

          1. Anon Accountant*

            That is really good from your dad. Very true. It is easy for others to make assumptions when outside of a situation.

        2. Anon Accountant*


          Hearing “If you would’ve tried harder…” or “he was so nice” from those that should have been your best supporters is a hard blow to hear from them years later. Especially when you managed to find the courage and strength to leave the relationship.

          1. ThankYouDebbie*

            I wrote a novel that I shared with some friends years later and they all said that that (oh he was so nice) element was totally unbelievable. (It was a sci-fi thing but there was a character had escaped an abusive situation.) It’s still shelved because I can’t figure out a way to either get people to believe that yes, that totally happens, or cut it (which I just can’t do, it is critical for the plot!). It is part of why I still have so much trouble saying, me too.

  11. Katie the Fed*

    #1 – You know, she could have been talking to her own child after a tantrum or something.

    I understand the urge to get involved, but you 1) don’t have enough information and 2) could cause a lot of harm by getting involved (explained much better above). Best thing you can do is be friendly and open with her.

  12. Quirk*

    Note for the UK, “honours” are part of the most common type of bachelor’s degree – so such a UK degree will be e.g. a Bachelor of Science with Honours, First Class. Mentioning that it’s an honours degree remains relevant for the rest of your career over here, and I’ve run into companies who prioritise chasing candidates with Firsts even after decades of professional experience.

    1. Blue Anne*

      Except if you’re in Scotland, where an MSc (Honours) First Class would also be an undergrad degree!

      And an MSc (Honours) 2.1 does not correlate to a GPA of 2.1, but a B average.

      It’s been interesting trying to explain the UK system to my American family.

      1. Quirk*

        I am a Scot in Scotland, funnily enough, but you’ll see honours on undergraduate masters degrees on both sides of the border, it’s a general UK thing.

        Masters degrees are confusing in the UK. Certain old universities award MAs rather than the BAs awarded for courses of equivalent length at newer universities, undergraduate STEM masters degrees generally are the length of a bachelors degree with a year extra, post-graduate masters degrees are generally studied for a year or so by people who didn’t do a bachelors in the field and so tend to be a bit less deep… it’s hard enough explaining where a particular masters degree fits to someone else in the UK, never mind someone from outside it.

        The first class / upper second / lower second / third division is a bit more standardised, at least. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_undergraduate_degree_classification#First-class_honours suggests a 2.1 (upper second) translates approximately to a 3.33–3.67 GPA – I know nothing about GPAs but I imagine the difference between 3.5ish and 2.1 would matter to many American employers.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Blargh! That’s confusing.

          Hmm, there’s a chart in there. I’ll have to go home and look up my GPA and see where I fall on the chart. I graduated cum laude and made the Dean’s List (typically around 3.5 or above) twice. So I guess that would be upper second?

      2. Tess McGill*

        This! My son just completed Year 10 and Year 11 in England, along with sitting all his GCSEs. Trying to get his American high school to properly translate his grades to an American style transcript has been crazy and took just over three months to complete because they didn’t want to use the GCSE test scores … they wanted “report cards” from each term (which the UK doesn’t really do). I had to go through all sorts of hoops and request “official” letters from the headmaster (even though we had the grades from Pearson) just to get the American high school to accept the grades. I’ve explained GCSEs so many times to so many people, I could do it in my sleep.

        1. Blue Anne*

          Yup! And on the other side of it, I regularly get asked about my school grades in interviews (WTF?! I’m 27!) and have to explain that American grades aren’t really standardized in the way UK ones are, but here are my SAT and ACT scores.

          It’s pretty ridiculous, the whole thing.

      3. Quirk*

        Undergraduate masters with honours aren’t restricted to Scotland. I am Scottish, as it happens, and in Scotland, but my English ex has an MMath with honours from an English university. The ins and outs of masters degrees are however complex to explain to fellow Brits, never mind trying to match them against any other system.

        1. Blue Anne*

          Really? Huh! I’ve actually heard it referred to as a Scottish Master’s. i always thought that it was kind of a title bump to “justify” the extra year.

          1. Tau*

            I think there’s some specific tradition of Master’s degrees in Scotland that the “Scottish Master” thing ties into. The weird thing re: Scottish Master’s, to me, is that they’re not “Bachelor’s plus an extra year” because a four-year course can be both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s. I did my undergrad in Scotland and found out at graduation that half my friends were getting MAs and half were getting BScs and we did the same courses and exams. This is not something I’ve seen in England before – all the Master’s I’ve seen there have been something like a year on top of the Bachelor’s, as part of undergrad or at a different university, or a weird sort of non-degree like Cambridge MAs (which I hear people with BAs from Cambridge get automatically if they’ve been at Cambridge a sufficient length of time?), or…

            …actually, let me just +1 your last sentence.

  13. Rebecca*

    #2 – I have another take on this. If this were me, I’d be thrilled to be moved! I share an office with a wonderful office mate. I spend more time with her than any other person in my life, but given the chance for my own space away from the people with smoker’s cough, the person who blows her nose like a goose sounding a warning, the over exuberant sneezer, the bellowing manager who fails to understand that we have both instant messaging and phones so you don’t have to yell to someone 3 offices away, and the people who never. stop. talking. ever., I’d jump at the chance. When my office mate is on vacation, I shut the door and just work. It’s wonderful.

    So, you may actually be doing a good thing! Just don’t forget to include him or her in meetings, emails, etc. to keep them in the loop.

    1. Nother Name*

      This! You never know how someone will react, which is why you should explain the move fully but make sure it doesn’t seem like a punishment. I actually prefer sitting in a corner away from noise and drama, and I did not like it when I was moved to cube that was more “in the thick of things.” However, I do agree that the new office should not have second-hand equipment, and the OP and team should make sure that the CW doesn’t feel left out and forgotten by everyone, either.

    2. AMT*

      I was thinking the same thing. For all we know, the reaction will be, “Yay! Wakeen’s phone conversations and Joaquin’s smelly lunches were getting on my nerves.”

  14. Xarcady*

    My take on #1 is that other people in the office are probably aware of the situation–if the woman is taking phone calls in the bathroom and doesn’t stop when she hears someone come in, I suspect that others have overheard similar conversations before.

    Keep the office a safe place for this woman. Don’t approach her directly about this issue. Do be friendly to her, and a listening ear, and a shoulder to cry on. But unless and until you know a lot more about her situation, don’t do anything, other than maybe posting something in the breakroom, as mentioned above.

  15. SCR*

    For #1 I echo the sentiments of others — be nice, be friendly, but do not approach her about this. I was in an abusive situation and had a pretty bad bruise and my coworkers noticed. Luckily they joked that maybe it was from too enthusiastic sex — yeah, no. For a moment before the joke was made and after someone had pointed out my bruise, I was horrified they would know and judge. It made me feel so ashamed of myself and made me more aware of what I was showing others and wanted to hide it even more.

    You cannot make her leave her abuser — if that’s what’s happening. Just be a good coworker and a friendly face.

    All the commenters suggesting you confront her are scaring me a bit. That is likely a very, very bad idea. I know you want to help but it’s not your business.

  16. Blight*

    #1: I think OP needs to take a step back and just work on getting to know this coworker first. It is entirely possible that this is not a domestic abuse situation… I once had another female friend that would punch me in the arm when she got drunk and leave big bruises, a confrontation like that on the phone could easily leave one to believe I was being beaten by my drunk husband.

    I was also in an abusive relationship once, it would’ve been more damaging to me if people had started making comments – especially coworkers. The last thing you want is to make her feel more shame and wonder if this is now an office rumour. Some people would even quit their jobs if they even suspected that a coworker knew of the abuse. To bring this up would also likely make her feel like she can no longer make these phone calls at work, considering work is a safe place from an abuser this would make it more difficult for her to confront the behaviour in a safe place.

    1. Nother Name*

      Yes, if you only know part of the story, you don’t necessarily know the story at all. (I once had a huge bruise on my arm from a metal overhead shelf door falling on it at work – my own fault for not closing it properly. I had a few embarrassing conversations with people who were trying to be helpful, when the only things out to hurt me were old office equipment teaming up with gravity.)

      Right now, you should be kind and friendly to this CW, but that goes for all CWs, anyway.

  17. TotesMaGoats*

    #4-I’m going to disagree slightly on AAM response for non recent graduates. If you’ve been out of school for 5 or more years, I wouldn’t list those honors. I could go back and forth on PBK. There might be jobs that you’d apply to where it would make sense. The same would be if you won a prestigious scholarship or fellowship in grad school. My general advice though is more than 5 years, no one will give a flying rodent’s rear end that you were summa cum laude and hopefully your work product in those five years more than outweighs that you were a smart cookie in school. I agree that it shouldn’t push something actually noteworthy off your resume.

    1. Blight*

      I think it is good to only put this stuff on your LinkedIn where you have unlimited space vs resume. I initially had listed all of my academic recognitions but found I would need 2 pages, so I just have a section on my Linkedin for interviewers to view those details.

      1. Ad Astra*

        Yes! My LinkedIn is full of information that doesn’t typically make it onto my resume. PBK and summa cum laude and such do mean something even years after graduation, but they may not mean enough to give them expensive real estate on your paper resume.

    2. Case of the Mondays*

      I’m going to disagree in the other direction. It takes up no extra space. BA, Criminal Justice, Cum Laude. All one line. In my field (law) if it isn’t listed, we assume you didn’t get any honors. Law is a weird beast though where your undergrad and law school matters to some odd ducks your whole life. The honors basically replaces listing your GPA. I wouldn’t want an employer to assume I had a low GPA because I didn’t list the honors.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        YMMV is law and medical fields of course. I think the concern is that some folks who aren’t fresh out of school are still listing all the semesters they received Dean’s List honors or the 27th random honor society they got into just because their GPA was high enough and they took enough of the classes. (Here’s looking at me and my english honor society cord. Never even put that on my resume because it didn’t apply.)

        1. Case of the Mondays*

          Law drives me nuts sometimes. I recently saw a job ad looking for someone w/ 10+ years experience that had graduated top 20% of their law school class (I think there was also a top 100 school restriction) and had been on law review. It blew my mind that you could have won the most groundbreaking cases in your area of law, argued before the U.S. Supreme Court but if you didn’t check the magic boxes from your law school days, they didn’t want to talk to you. I think I learned far more working in a law firm through law school than being on law review but what evs.

      2. Ad Astra*

        Counter example (not to argue for/against your point, but to add anecdata): The journalism school at my university didn’t give honors. There was no way to graduate with honors, and there was no dean’s list. A fair number of people were also enrolled in our university’s honors program, or they double majored and finished that second degree with honors. But nobody’s resume ever said “BSJ, Journalism, Cum Laude.”

        Sometimes I do wonder if it makes people think I didn’t earn good grades, but grades are completely irrelevant in my field, so it really doesn’t matter.

    3. Artemesia*

      It fits neatly by the education e.g. BA Summa cum Laude — I wouldn’t take it off. But Phi Beta Kappa is a toss up and nothing else works unless your job is in academia where prestigious awards and fellowships are important.

  18. INTP*

    #2: If her work is independent, what about allowing her to work remotely all or most of the time, or giving her the choice between that and the office? That would definitely sweeten the deal so it’s less of a disappointment to be moved – plus, if the new office were a longer commute or really terrible, I’d be annoyed that clearly my employer doesn’t think I need to be in physical proximity to my coworkers but still requires me to come into an office daily because…why? (Barring any obvious reasons why someone would need to work onsite like if the work requires lab access or access to a secure network that can’t be remoted in to.)

    1. OP2*

      That is a really great point, one that causes friction and frustration (including to me), but my boss is totally against remote work so it’s not feasible. The new office is on a different floor but in the same building so the commute is the same but I agree that it could be seen as an added annoyance of the move.

  19. squids*

    The many excellent comments on #1 remind me of my mixed feelings on Ontario’s Bill 168:
    “Employers who are aware, or ought reasonably to be aware, that domestic violence may occur in the workplace must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect a worker at risk of physical injury.”
    This bill was passed in response to incidents where an abusive partner attacked others in the workplace, but it’s also potentially interpreted as requiring managers to out any of their employees who have experienced domestic violence.
    Links immediately following.

    1. fposte*

      Do you know how that’s being interpreted? To me that’s a higher standard than the mandated reporter laws in the US–“aware” is not the same thing as “suspects”–and the specific focus on the workplace would seem to take it beyond awareness of domestic violence that happens in the home but hasn’t elsewhere. I mean, I can see it going totally haywire in practice, but I can also see it as “If Wakeen tells you he’s being abused at home and asks you to keep his partner and nonemployee Bob out of the office, you have to do it.”

      1. squids*

        It’s only been around for 5 years, and I’ve seen a lot more speculation about what it actually means than case studies of it being put into practice correctly or incorrectly. A lot of language in this part of the Act is around requiring workplaces to have policies and programs in place, rather than specifically stating what that policy should be.

        Domestic Violence: s.32.0.4 If an employer becomes aware, or ought reasonably to be aware, that domestic violence that would likely expose a worker to physical injury may occur in the workplace, the employer shall take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of the worker.

        Provision of Information: s.32.0.5(3) An employer’s duty to provide information to a worker under clause 25(2)(a) and a supervisor’s duty to advise a worker under clause 27(2)(a) include the duty to provide information, including personal information, related to a risk of workplace violence from a person with a history of violent behaviour if,
        (a) the worker can be expected to encounter that person in the course of his or her work; and
        (b) the risk of workplace violence is likely to expose the worker to physical injury.
        s.32.0.5(4) No employer or supervisor shall disclose more personal information in the circumstances described in subsection (3) than is reasonably necessary to protect the worker from physical injury.

        I think your interpretation is what should happen in most cases. But if it should come to it, the need to protect any/all employees takes precedence over employee privacy.

        1. fposte*

          I think that’s a fair assessment of greater need in the abstract–it’s just hard, in the concrete, to know when that is. Which is probably part of what’s making you wonder about the implications of this law.

  20. Workfromhome*


    Unless you have an incredible relationship/friendship with this employee no matter what you say its impossible for them not to feel slighted or punished even if its on a subconscious level.

    Not only are you separating them but putting them in a less desirable office. The first thing that comes into my head is the scene in office space where they move the guy into the basement,take away his stapler and rather than fire him just stop paying him in the hopes it will eventually work itself out. I realize this is not what this is but if it popped into my head someone else could think the same way.

    I think the suggestions are good to be very transparent about all the efforts that were made to avoid it. I’d be very careful about the way the “new office that will take a year” is framed. If you are not absolutely certain it will happen don’t make it seem like a done deal. If they expect they only need to survive a year of “exile” before its resolved and it falls through that would be the nail in the coffin.

    I’d suggest there be some “perk” in return for being the only person singled out to make this move. Since the office isn’t great maybe an option to work from home that others don’t have. As others have mentioned that while the space might not be great maybe furniture and equipment that is of higher quality softens the blow of the downgrade.

    I know from experience being a remote worker that even if someone is independent it doesn’t mean they want to feel abandoned. Make sure you treat them as equally as possible. If you are having a meeting in the office and provide lunch but the remote person needs to call in let them expense some take out. If everyone in the office gets a new mousepad make sure they get one too. Few things are more disheartening than to feel like you are somehow on a lower tier just because you are remote.

    1. OP2*

      Yes, good reminder on not presenting the new remodel as a done deal – things have a habit here of taking much longer than first suggested.

  21. Hush42*

    For LW #2 you refer to the person whose office is being moved as “her” in the title but the LW refers to that person as a “he” in the body of the letter “(that’s why he was chosen)”.

  22. LQ*

    I really think it doesn’t matter if you were first pick or not.
    I have a good friend who was turned down for a job that would have been a bit of a stretch for him. They turned him down nicely, but still, a no.
    About two months later they called and offered him the job. (After much hemming and hawing he took it.) He found out the previous hire had been FAR more experienced, but had been a bad fit for the company, they decided to take a chance and go for good fit but will need to train. He’s still there several years later and had gotten two promotions.
    Second choice can still be awesome. This is where it isn’t like dating. You don’t want to be your spouses second choice, but it is really ok to be your jobs second choice.

    1. fposte*

      Seconding this, big time. OP, it shouldn’t matter to you in terms of the fit with the hiring team, and given that you’re thinking that it would I would strongly *discourage* you from finding it out–it would needlessly affect your take on your job.

      Second choices are not consolation prizes. As LQ said, this isn’t like dating. This also isn’t like a situation where there was an objective contest and the first choice was quantifiably better than you. The final choice out of the top two is often coming down to complementary strengths with the team, slight preferences on the history, or even just a vivid component of the interview or references. Most of the time either of my top two would be absolutely fine in the job, and it’s not uncommon for me to think, when a top choice turns me down, that yay, I get to hire Jane then, and I really liked Jane. Whether you were second choice this time or it happens in future, don’t take it as a read on your employer’s valuing of you–that’s a way for you to poison yourself.

    2. Graciosa*

      I thought worrying about whether or not you were the first choice candidate showed a lack of confidence or maturity. This is work – you don’t have to be number one in the eyes of every single other employee in order to be successful.

      If you get a job offer, then the important decision makers think you can do the job. That’s all you need.

      There’s an episode of The West Wing where they ditch the nominee for the Supreme Court at the last minute and choose another.

      The President tells him, “You were not the first choice. But you are the last one, and the right one.”

      When the candidate is asked to accept the nomination, his answer is simply, “With pleasure.”

      That’s the attitude OP#3 needs to have.

    3. some1*

      Conversely, candidates ACCEPT positions at their 2nd, 3rd, and, heck, 33rd choice employer all the time. If the hiring manager at Chocolate Teapots thinks you are the best candidate for the role, they aren’t going to spend the energy worrying about whether you went into job searching initially hoping for an offer from vanilla Teapots.

    4. Artemesia*

      My daughter was second pick and now runs her company. If they offer you the job don’t worry about it.

    5. Ad Astra*

      Precisely. I applied for a job in September and didn’t hear a peep from the company until November — complete with a “Remember us?” email from HR asking me to come interview. It was clear that I wasn’t their original first (or second, or third) choice, and they later revealed they’d interviewed a lot of people but couldn’t find the skills they needed. Turns out, I’m an excellent fit for that job and I start my new gig with this company in two weeks.

      In the end, it’s about who’s the right choice, not who’s the first choice. As long as you’re confident you can excel in this position, you should be confident that this company is excited to have you on board.

    6. einahpets*

      I was coming here to comment on #3 as well.

      When I was hired for my current job, it was months after I had interviewed. It turns out they had hired their first choice pretty quickly, and then decided they had the resources (months later) to hire a second person in the same role. I’m a pretty competitive person, so it sort of stung to hear that I wasn’t the first choice for the job… but hey, I still got the job!

      A year later, the ‘first choice’ quit, leaving a mess of different projects. I got to inherit one of those messy projects and turn it around… and I recently learned that the client wants to bring us a new project soon; they were so happy with my performance. And I was recently promoted, probably in part because of what I was able to do with that project. Nobody in our department talks about ‘first choice’ except maybe in reference to the mess she left.

      So yeah. Even if you aren’t the first choice, you got the job. Celebrate that, and then make the most of it!

  23. Calla*

    1. I get the impulse to help, but I really truly think you don’t have enough information (not to mention the relationship) to approach her about this. It may not be the case but I could absolutely see someone having that kind of phone call, say, during the process of appropriately dealing with an abusive parent–attempting reconciliation, final steps before cutting off contact, etc. In other words, she may already be getting help and working this out in a healthy way.

    I do think it’s entirely reasonable to be friendly to her though (and, if the situation ever presents itself to do so in an appropriate way, make it clear you support women/victims of domestic violence in general).

  24. GrittyKitty*

    Our restrooms (both men’s and ladies’) have flyers for the Family Resource Center taped to the back of the stall doors. They have the little tear-offs with phone numbers at the bottom. We tore one off (in different spots) when we hung them, just so no one would think that they were the only one needing such resources.

    1. Windchime*

      We had these flyers in the bathrooms at previous workplaces. Always on the inside of a stall, so people could tear off the tab in complete privacy. I thought it was a great idea.

  25. LBK*

    #3 – Agreeing with others to let this go. I got hired into my current job as the second choice while the first choice was still working there (two positions on the team, after she took the first vacant one the other person on the team quit so I got it). She ended up quitting after a few months; meanwhile six months in, I got a raise from my manager without having to ask because she was so impressed by my work.

    The point being, don’t worry too much about the mechanics of how things shake out in hiring. Whatever impression they have of you from the hiring process will be completely replaced by what you show them once you actually start the job. Even if you are the second choice now, if you take the offer and then prove you’re an awesome employee, no one will still be thinking of you as “the one we had to take because Jane said no.”

  26. Karyn*

    When I first started the job I’m in currently (2+ years now), I was “paired” with a coworker to learn how to do things. Her husband would call her at least 10 times a day. She also sounded meek and agreeable when she talked to him. It concerned me, but I didn’t say anything. Flash forward to two months later when we were sent to Washington DC on a conference. He called her even more often, berated her for going out at night after the day’s conference time was over, and told her that she should be thankful he allowed her to go on the trip at all. It was awful, and by that point, I felt comfortable enough with her to tell her that I thought her husband was controlling and I was worried for her. It took her two years, but she finally left him this past September, and she credits me with it, because I just listened to her and supported her until she was finally ready (even though I tell her all the time that SHE did it, I just helped her move).

    My point is, just be there for your coworker. If she eventually confides in you, then you take the next steps, whatever they may be. Don’t push your coworker into a particular course of action. Ultimately, it has to be her decision, or she will just continue to go back to him time after time. Best of luck, and for what it’s worth, thank you for being concerned. So many people turn a blind eye to perceived abuse; even if your suspicions are wrong, it’s good that you at least noticed something.

  27. Bio-Pharma*

    #2. Slightly off-topic, but has anyone ever heard of an office/cube layout where offices were in the CENTER (or along windowless area) and cubes had access to the WINDOWs? I just feel like this would be a great compromise between people (higher ups) “just wanting a door” and others at least wanting direct view of windows. Instead, the typical offices-along-windows and cubes-in-center makes the (perceived) class divide so much greater.

    1. Anon the Great and Powerful*

      I worked in a call centre that was set up like that. The bosses, HR, etc all had their offices in the centre of the building and the cubes were in an open-plan area on the outer walls of the building. It’s a good set up.

      1. nerfmobile*

        Several buildings at my company have this set up. There is a row of executive offices and conference rooms in the middle of the building, and then the open space up to the windows is open plan (either low cubes or open desks in rows). I do know of a few very high-level executive offices that are at the end of the building and have windows, but they are across from conference room spaces and aren’t blocking desks from the windows. I do like being able to stare out at the trees outside when I need a break from my computer.

    2. INFJ*

      Yes, my office is set up that way. It’s more like alternating rows of cubes and offices (with cubes on the ends).

    3. Jillociraptor*

      I worked in an office like that once. I think it was great. The offices had floor t0 ceiling windows next to the doors, so natural light could get in, too.

    4. Bio-Pharma*

      These are awesome to hear, thank you! I’m in a situation where we may have input into a new floor set-up, so I’ll have to bring this up. I see an argument of “but the inner offices will break up the (spacious) open concept,” but if private offices are going in, it’s not 100% open concept anyway.

      1. Chinook*

        “I see an argument of “but the inner offices will break up the (spacious) open concept,” but if private offices are going in, it’s not 100% open concept anyway.”

        The right to light office I was in got around this by having all office walls being glass frosted at certain levels (a wide stretch at a height that meant women wearing skirts don’t have to worry about crossing their legs when sitting at their desk). We had an entire floor and the sides that had buildings next to them had offices with an outside window and those with no obstruction had the cubicles by the window and the offices on the inside. There were still pods (versus a completely open floor plan with no offices and just support columns) but it allowed for each department sort to have their own section of the floor.

    5. Chriama*

      My office is like that. The cubes are all on the outside and inside are the kitchens, small discussion rooms for phone calls, mid size conference rooms, and offices (but only for the really high-up folks).

    6. Chinook*

      “cubes had access to the WINDOWs? I just feel like this would be a great compromise between people (higher ups) “just wanting a door” and others at least wanting direct view of windows.”

      I worked in an office with this policy. It was called a “right to light” and it was wonderful…as long as you weren’t the receptionist (which I was). My desk space was designed by the interior designer who seemed to think that being able to see a window = natural light reaching you, but it doesn’t. Instead, my desk had an artistic overhang that blocked sunshine and made you feel like you were working in a cave with a view.

    7. hermit crab*

      We had that in a previous office! The rule was that you either got a door or (were within sight of) a window.

    8. Kyrielle*

      I worked in an office where half was like that, and half was offices outside and cubes inside. The cubes in one half and the offices in the other were popular, as you might imagine. The interior offices were actually pretty horrid – with a bank of cubicles three deep between them and the windows, most of them really didn’t get any natural light.

      1. Windchime*

        We have a large amount of people (probably around 50) that are in a completely windowless room. I used to work in that room and it was really tough. There were a lot of people tightly packed (in cubes), no natural light, and lots of noise from the break room. It was tough.

        The room I am now in used to have a whole wall of windows, but they divided the room in half with a wall and now we have one floor to ceiling window that’s about 3 feet wide, in the very corner of the room. I’m lucky enough to have a view of it but not many people are.

  28. NYCer*

    #1 As a former victim of domestic violence, it did, indeed, affect how I behaved at work. Being in that situation is incredibly isolating, frustrating, and confusing. However, there’s really nothing that you, as a stranger, can do. Although I was being tortured for eight years, I didn’t leave until my loving family physically dragged me out.

    Please do not talk to her about this directly or say anything to her coworkers or upper management. Or HR. That would only embarrass her and affect her professional reputation, unfortunately. I agree with AAM that the most helpful thing would be for you to make an effort to be kind to her, reach out to her, and try to be a positive presence. Although she is isolating, it might mean the world to her to have someone reach out to her in a kind, friendly, non-obtrusive manner.

  29. brownblack*

    I am 10 years out of college now but I still include a couple distinctions from my academic life on my resume. For example, I managed a student organization that had a six figure budget and is well-known in the industry in which I now have a career. I also received a particular academic honor that is well-recognized in this industry, and I did coursework with two highly regarded professors who, again, are well-recognized in the industry. While I have pared the academic section of my resume, I will continue including these details.

  30. BookCocoon*

    OP5: There’s a difference between “do I have to…” and “will it make a difference if I…” When my husband landed his current job, one of the things he was told most impressed them about him was that he wrote individual thank-you notes to everyone who interviewed him, even the students who took him on a campus tour. It’s certainly very likely he would have been offered the job anyway, but if it’s a job you really want it can be a way to stand out.

  31. DV Advocate*

    I’m a domestic violence advocate and have worked in the field for several years. First of all, OP 1: you are a kind person to care about your coworker and wonder how you can help her.

    Unfortunately, domestic violence can be very complicated, and involve a lot of factors for the survivor, including when it is time for them to leave. Your coworker may be well aware of services and resources available, however there could be many reasons why she hasn’t utilized them yet. (Or maybe she is in the process of it right now). Recognize that work is a safe space for her, and allow her to have that safe space. Approaching her and letting her know what you heard could make her feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or just embarrassed.

    What you can do, if you are willing and able, is be a friend to her. Don’t treat her like a victim, but be warm, open, friendly, and available. If it works for your relationship, offer to grab coffee, lunch, or after work happy hour, either with just her or other coworkers. Let her know through your actions that you are a safe person who cares about her. Best case scenario, maybe you will become friends, and she will confide in you. Be prepared for if this does happen. Would you know what to say if she asked your for help or support? If you’re interested, reading up on domestic violence, cycles of abuse, and resources in your area can maybe help you feel more prepared.

    I don’t know your own history of abuse, or working with domestic abuse, so there may be specifics here that will apply for you and your situation. In my situation, I am very open about being a DV advocate, I talk about domestic violence issues on my social media accounts, when working at jobs in different fields I was very open about my work and volunteer experience in the DV field. Because of this, I have a had a lot of friends, friends of friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and the like, come to me in private about domestic violence concerns. As a survivor myself, I know how empowering it is to make that choice and decision to open up and talk to someone, but if has to be on their terms.

    I know it is frustrating to be in this situation, and you sound like a good and caring person, but trust that your coworker knows best in this situation.

    1. DV Advocate*

      And I forgot to add to this- if you have continuing concerns about the situation, it may help to call a local or national confidential DV hotline, and ask them for tips on what you can do as a coworker/friend.

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