managing an employee with inappropriate emotional outbursts

A reader writes:

My sister has an employee with a long history of inappropriate emotional responses to situations. For example, my sister will ask Jane to adopt a more professional communication style in meetings, and Jane will say/text/IM “I don’t know how you can ask me such a thing” or “I should not have to tell you what’s wrong if you don’t know” or “I will just have to stop telling you how I feel, since you never listen.”

They were friends before my sister hired Jane, which she now understands was a bad idea (so maybe we can skip the “you can’t be friends with people you manage” conversation). Because of Jane’s outbursts, my sister has asked that they limit their communication to work matters only, but it has not helped much.

Recently, they were at a work retreat and Jane had to leave early, before group transportation would be available. The airport is an hour away from the site. A male volunteer at the site offered to drive Jane, and my sister said “Great idea!” However, Jane is a sexual assault survivor and told my sister that this would not work for her, and that she felt triggered. My sister immediately apologized, profusely, and made arrangements for a cab.

Days later, Jane sent my sister a string of abusive text messages, starting with “I think I need to know if you get the depth of how betrayed I feel,” continuing with dozens of messages, and ending with “I need to stop before I unleash everything I have ever wanted to say to you,” and “I am so hurt that I want to destroy you.”

My sister acknowledges that she made a mistake and hurt Jane, and regrets it, but she and I both think that Jane’s outburst was inappropriate and unprofessional. My sister works for an organization where it is extremely difficult to fire people. How would you handle it? And how would you handle it in a normal organization?


This is beyond just unprofessional and inappropriate; it’s abusive, and it’s really, really not okay. There’s no way your sister can be managing this employee effectively. For example, how is she going to be able to give feedback to someone who reacts like this? And presumably any feedback she does attempt to give isn’t getting a lot of attention paid to it, given that Jane’s focus seems to be on being betrayed by it.

Your sister can’t manage effectively when she has a employee who unloads on her like this, who barrages her with abuse, and who has such a warped understanding of what their relationship should look like.

Moreover, is your sister sure that Jane is only doing this to her? There’s a possibility that she’s doing it to other coworkers too, and that is really, really not okay too.

None of this okay. It’s all really bad, not just a little bit inappropriate or unprofessional. It’s high-level, code-red, must-address-immediately, totally-embarassing-if-her-boss-found-out-that-she’s-let-it-go-on stuff. I get that this is probably all made much harder by their pre-existsing friendship and the fact that by allowing it to keep happening, she’s inadvertently reinforced with Jane that it’s okay, but if your sister is going to do her job, she needs to put a stop to it.

As for what to do … Ideally she would meet with Jane and lay out firm boundaries and make it clear they’re not negotiable. I’m not sure if the “I want to destroy you” text messages were recent, but if they were, I’d start with that. I’d say something like this: “I was really taken aback to get these text messages from you. There’s no situation where it’s okay to send a coworker, let alone your boss, messages saying that you want to destroy them, or otherwise become this emotional with colleagues. I regret not setting clearer boundaries earlier, but going forward I need there to be no misunderstanding: I cannot have you sending messages to me or anyone else like this. (Fill in here other specifics that illustrate the type of thing she needs to stop doing.) I need you to keep your communications with me and other colleagues about work, not about your feelings toward them or me, and I need you to maintain pleasant and professional relationships with everyone you work with. Can you do that?”

If she says no — which seems like a real possibility — then ideally your sister would say, “I want to be clear with you that is a requirement of the job. You cannot continue to send these types of messages to me or continue to make negative personal feelings such a focus in your communications. It’s extremely disruptive. What I need from you is a commitment to keep your focus on your work goals, and leave personal issues at the door. If you genuinely don’t think you can do that, we’d need to talk about a transition out of the role. Would you like to take a few days to think about whether this is something you’ll be able to do?”

If Jane says that she can do this, then your sister needs to have a zero-tolerance policy for missteps going forward and needs to address it immediately if it happens again, with consequences (more on that in a minute).

I’d also tell Jane that she can’t use texting for work communications anymore — none, zero, zip. She’s not using it appropriately or constructively; take it off the table as an option. (And that’s not outrageous to do; plenty of managers, myself included, don’t text with employees.)

Now, as for it being “extremely difficult to fire people” at your sister’s company; that’s not the same thing as “impossible to fire people.” It generally just means that there’s a bunch of documentation and warnings involved, but that it can be done if she’s willing to put in the time and effort. So she needs to find out exactly what the steps are in her organization for letting someone go, and she also needs to bring someone (her own manager or HR, or both) into the loop about what’s been going on and what her plan is for dealing with it. She’ll want to have her own boss backing her up before using the language I have above, but no decent manager — hell, no mildly decent manager — is going to tell her to put up with this behavior. (In fact, it’s more likely that her manager is going to be concerned that she’s allowed it up until now, but there’s no way around that, and if she shows that she’s committed to stopping it now, that’ll help.) Frankly, there’s also a potential safety issue here, given the content of some of those messages, so your sister has an obligation to her employer and to herself to loop someone else in on what’s going on.

And really, barring a major turnaround on Jane’s part, this is probably someone who your sister is going to end up needing to remove from her staff. There’s no real way around this — this is just so, so, so unacceptable, and it’s killing me that it’s been allowed to go on as long as it has.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 347 comments… read them below }

  1. Jubilance*

    Serious question here – how is Jane getting a ride to the airport by a male volunteer “triggering” but getting into a cab with a stranger not? Am I the only one confused?

    I think your sister has no choice but to find out how to go about firing Jane and set that into motion. I doubt that talking to her is going to rectify the situation, even if she knows her job is on the line. Given the comments she’s made before and her inappropriate reactions, I don’t think she’d take the conversion to shape up well.

    1. Kyrielle*

      It needs to happen, though, or Jane will have (finally) a legitimate gripe that it was allowed to go on and then poof she was fired.

      But it needs to happen after OP’s sister knows what will be involved in firing Jane, since I agree that’s likely to end up being necessary.

      In fact, giving the extreme emotionalism, I’d suggest OP’s sister be prepared for the need to fire Jane *on the spot* after that conversation (and possibly to have security nearby ‘just in case’ during it). It seems to me very probable that Jane is just overly emotional and abusive in verbal ways, but it’s not *impossible* that she would escalate to physical violence, and if she would, that conversation might do it. Having an action plan for that would be important (and for what the threshold is. Personally, I’d see her out immediately if she threw something heavier than a balled-up paper at the wall, never mind any action against anyone else) in the event it happens, I think, even though I still would assume an emotional outburst is far more likely.

      1. Artemesia*

        I’d sit down with the manager above the OP and lay out the ‘I have given her feedback about how inappropriate this is and it continues to happen and I feel it is a real risk to the organization to have this continue. (i.e. indicate you have in fact tried to rein it in but that has not worked to somewhat mitigate the negligence of allowing this to go on) Here is what I am proposing to do to start the PIP, but I fear that she will not be able to function without making these threats and making abusive comments, so we may need to consider termination. I think we need to have a security person nearby when I lay this PIP out to her. Here is what I propose to do yadda yadda. If she responds that will be good, but if she becomes abusive when I do this, I think we need to terminate at that point and walk her out. If she can respond but reverts to this behavior, then that should result in termination.’

        I do agree that with the violent ideation that having a security person nearby and being prepared to remove her from the organizational environment is important. This does sound like a potentially dangerous person who has been allowed to go on like this far too long.

    2. NickelandDime*

      I’m not saying that Jane didn’t have a horrible experience, but it’s clear she’s using that fact to manipulate the OP’s sister. And that is very unfortunate. But I would not allow her to do that to me.

    3. LBK*

      Good point. I wonder if the previous abuse situation involved a coworker, so maybe it was that specific scenario that made her uncomfortable? Or the fact that cabs usually have dividers between the front and back, so that felt more safe? If her issue is just that she doesn’t want to be alone with a man, I really don’t know how she functions at the job at all.

      I think I’d be a little more clear than Alison that you’re sympathetic to her history and understand that occasionally it might mean making accommodations for her, but that in no way is it acceptable for her to lash out as a result. I might even delineate acceptable behaviors so she’s clear on what you are and aren’t willing to put up with.

      Asking to take a cab instead of drive with a coworker? Fine. Saying calmly “I really wasn’t comfortable with situation X, can we talk about how we could handle that in the future?” Fine. Sending a series of vitriolic texts? Absolutely unacceptable. I’m someone who’s generally fine with concepts that are getting huge media backlash (safe spaces, trigger warnings, etc.) but you still need to have some level of control over your behavior. If you’re legitimately blacking out or having panic attacks that are leading to this kind of harmful reaction, you need to be seeking inpatient mental health treatment.

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        “If her issue is just that she doesn’t want to be alone with a man, I really don’t know how she functions at the job at all.”

        Everyone’s experiences are so difficult that I am really hesitating about posting, but in response to this and to the question above; sometimes it can be “I don’t want to be alone with a man”, but at other times it’s “I don’t want to be alone with a man *in a specific situation*”. For one thing, you’re far more likely to be believed if you claim that you were sexually assaulted by a cab driver than a coworker. For another, you’re statistically more likely to be assaulted by a coworker than a cab driver. Everybody will have different triggers, but it is sometimes seemingly irrelevant things like this that can make the difference between a trigger or not.

        That said, I agree with your final paragraph. Asking was fine, in fact I’d even give her a break on her reaction in the moment (particularly as this is a friend as well as a boss, so she probably sees it as less weird to show these kinds of reactions to OP’s sister) But the texts? Nope. Maybe, borderline ok to send a follow up text a few days after saying “I am still struggling with the situation the other day – I appreciate that you were willing to call a cab when you knew, but when I’m more able to talk about it I’d like to discuss my triggers with you so we can try and avoid a similar situation in the future” (again, borderline because they also were friends, usually I think you’d have to approach this much more tentatively with a boss).

        1. TL -*

          It’s really not unreasonable to say Wakeen has a spot in his car and is willing to take you home since you have to leave early. The OP offered an option, Jane decided she didn’t want it and asked for a different option, the OP complied.

          There’s nothing wrong with that scenario.

          1. Artemesia*

            This. ‘I can’t do that, I’ll need to take a cab’ is a bit different from ‘I want to destroy you for suggesting I get a ride home with Fred.’ This was grounds for firing on the spot.

            1. TL -*

              No, I meant the OP’s handling of the original request to leave early was perfectly appropriate.

              Jane’s responses should get her fired indeed.

              1. AMG*

                She could get a new job working in the formerly dog-friendly office from yesterday. I bet she’d be a great cultural fit.

          2. Kassy*

            I definitely agree with that. It sounded like OP said that her sister “acknowledges that she made a mistake” referring to the transportation situation, and I wouldn’t agree that she did. She may not have known about the assault or that it would be a trigger for Jane, or it simply may not have been in the forefront of her mind at that moment. When Jane told her that it was a major problem, she immediately discarded that as an option and made other arrangements. I don’t see a mistake here.

          3. Sarahnova*

            Agreed. I’ve dealt with PTSD after being assaulted by a male coworker, and I would not blame a manager if they inadvertently triggered me by a suggestion like that. It’s not their job to manage that for me.

        2. Ad Astra*

          All of this. Getting in a car with a man is a common trigger. Some survivors would even find getting into a cab alone to be triggering. It’s going to depend on the specifics of what happened to the survivor, but a general reluctance to be alone with a man you don’t trust is extremely common.

          It sounds like Jane has very little control over her emotions, and some kind of counseling is probably needed. This isn’t the sort of behavior where getting fired is your wake-up call and everything is smooth sailing after that. It sounds like something that will permeate every relationship she has until she starts dealing with it.

      2. Green*

        “I think I’d be a little more clear than Alison that you’re sympathetic to her history and understand that occasionally it might mean making accommodations for her,”

        This just gives her an opening for “accommodations” and a different standard for her. This person is a “give her an inch, and she’ll take a mile” person, so I wouldn’t further blur the boundaries here. She already apologized and offered alternative transportation in that incident, and this conversation isn’t about that.

        1. LBK*

          I see your point, but I also think taking a complete hard line “You can’t let this impact you at all while you’re at work” is more likely to illicit a further reaction of blaming the sister for lacking empathy, not understanding, abusing her, etc. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s actually a reasonable stance to take. Although I can see the argument that this person is going to blow up no matter what you say, so it’s better to just give the impression that you’re done making exceptions even if you’d actually be willing to do it (for her or others).

          1. Observer*

            But, that’s not what Allison suggested. The hard line is not about being triggered and asking for an accommodation, but about behavior that ranges from aggressively rude and derailing to wildly out of line. Allison didn’t ask why she was allowed to get a cab, but why she was allowed to repeatedly be rude and insubordinate to her supervisor, and why she was allowed to get away with making threats.

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, the cab and the driving thing aren’t even worth discussing; they’re too low on the priorities list to be worth getting to, and they risk clouding the real issue.

            2. LBK*

              I’m inferring that from this line in Alison’s script:

              What I need from you is a commitment to keep your focus on your work goals, and leave personal issues at the door.

              I read that to mean “You need to not let this affect you at work”. Maybe I’m interpreting it wrong? I also thought that the berating texts were all related to the cab incident – that the employee was freaking out at the OP’s sister because she thought the suggestion to go with the coworker was so inappropriate and hurtful.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Oh! No, she’s allowed to be upset by the cab thing, but the abusive texts aren’t okay. But I’m looking at the cab situation as just one example of what sounds like many in a big pattern, and my advice to the OP is to address the pattern, not just that one particular incident.

          2. JessaB*

            But it’s not “this can’t impact you,” it’s that you can’t sent texts like that. You can’t manage HOW it impacts you by threatening your boss. That’s different.

            And even a fully ADA accommodated employee who already has things in place can be fired for doing what the employee did in this case. Accommodation does not mean you get to be a total jerk (unless perhaps you have an accommodation for something with involuntary actions, in which case the accommodation should probably be instant permission to leave to a safe place and have the meltdown privately.)

            But even my friend, for instance, who has Tourettes understands that they can’t act out at work with no consequences and the office understands that 99% of the time they are able to control the obvious stuff, but once in a blue moon something will set it off, and they’ll leave the room and come back and apologise later.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The other thing is that the assault trigger was one example, but the other examples don’t appear to be related to it (like exploding after getting feedback). I think we might be getting sidetracked on the trigger issue, but it sounds like her entire style is inappropriate and abusive, totally aside from that instance. (And sure, it’s possible that they’re all related on some level, but that speculation would be way beyond what’s appropriate for a manager to do.)

          1. Ad Astra*

            This is exactly what I’d tried to say multiple times and couldn’t quite explain. She was angry at OP’s sister for triggering her, but it doesn’t sound like Jane (or anyone else in the letter) is attributing this pattern of behavior to being triggered, or to a history of trauma.

            1. LBK*

              Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but I thought the letter was directly relating the abusive texts to the driving incident? I thought they were a continuation of the fallout from that event.

                1. LBK*

                  Gotcha. I think those examples so paled in comparison to the later ones that I wasn’t really considering them noteworthy. Ignoring the specific incident and just focusing on the pattern of responses to feedback, I’m with you – that’s behavior that needs to be stopped regardless of the reason.

              1. Rmric0*

                I think the text of “I wanted to destroy you” sounded line the straw that broke the camel’s back since Jane had been a jerkosaurus on previous occasions for unrelated things.

          2. Ruffingit*

            Yes this! I feel like the sexual assault issue is clouding the real issue, which is that regardless of your personal issues, however traumatic they might have been, you are not allowed to be abusive and unprofessional with your boss or anyone at work. This woman’s reactions are beyond concerning. Something is not right here and her boss needs to deal with it by terminating her.

      3. Observer*

        I’m someone who’s generally fine with concepts that are getting huge media backlash (safe spaces, trigger warnings, etc.) but you still need to have some level of control over your behavior.

        Well, the second part of your sentence is why there there is so much backlash. I don’t want to get into the issue of co-worker vs cab, as I really can’t add anything to what others have said. But, when “I was triggered” becomes an excuse of outrageous behavior, that’s going to create backlash. When the response happens or continues well past time for the person to get some help or do some self care, that’s just inexcusable. But, all too often “advocates” jump down anyone’s throat of they dare to mention that the reaction was inappropriate.

        1. Ad Astra*

          What you’re saying is true, but it’s also true that many people scoff at the mere suggestion of things like safe spaces and trigger warnings without understanding them at all. The idea isn’t to let people behave however they want because they were triggered; the idea is to warn people when they might encounter triggering material so they can do what they need to do to stay safe. Usually, that’s as simple as mentally preparing themselves or briefly leaving the room.

          In any case, it doesn’t sound like Jane is using the triggering incident as an excuse. It doesn’t sound like she’s making excuses at all. From what the letter writer tells us, she’s acting as if her behavior is acceptable and it sort of sounds like OP’s sister has also been acting as if that behavior is acceptable.

        2. LBK*

          I think this is just the pendulum swinging back the other way from where society has been on mental illness for decades, if not centuries. It’s been stigmatized and ignored for so long – I still see pervasive messaging that says to just get over it, move on, cheer up, etc. so I think there’s an understandable exaggeration sometimes from people who are desperate to get across that sometimes they genuinely aren’t in full control of their brain.

          Sure, like with any medical issue, there’s people who play it up for the purposes of manipulation. But I think the problem is that often when there’s an incident and someone says “This was the result of my mental illness,” the response isn’t a kind “I understand, but I still need you to be able to perform these functions.” It’s a dismissive “I don’t believe you” or “That’s not my problem” or “Don’t make excuses”. People aren’t receiving the empathy they need to handle some of these issues appropriately, so they’re starting to look for systematic ways to create the same result (by creating official safe spaces/trigger warnings/etc.).

          1. Observer*

            You make a point. What’s really interesting is that while you are right, the reverse is also true. Using victim status, mental illness, etc. as an excuse for bad behavior is so incredibly common.

            Look at some of the discussions on this site for some examples. For example, we have letter from the guy whose new employee told him that he’d punched someone out. There was a fair bit of excuse making based on possible background and “poor immature guy is going to have his reputation trashed because he’s an immature male.” If I went through the archives, I could probably come up with another dozen from the last year easily.

            I’m sure you’ve heard the term “culture of victimhood.” And, I would not blame you if you rolled your eyes, but at the same time, it really is a thing. It’s not a good thing in its own right. But, it also is a factor in why it’s hard for a lot of people to get their heads around the real issues that people have. It’s much like the faddy gluten haters who make real celiacs look like crybabies. Of course, some people are just stupid about any of these things, but that’s not the whole population of people who don’t get it.

            I see this in how often I find myself on the other side of the conversation from where I was the last time I discussed this. It’s not that I’m changing my mind so often, it’s that I disagree with the “oh just get over yourself” in the face of serious trauma guys AND the “Poor baby has x,y and z strikes so you have to let him be obnoxious at work” types. And each group feeds the other.

            1. LBK*

              But when mental illness is involved, the self-victimization can often be as much a symptom or result of that illness as anything else. A hallmark of depression is lacking self-worth and feeling like you’re at the mercy of your emotions, and a huge part of treatment is learning how to retake the reins and be more discerning about what your jerkbrain is trying to make you believe. I really think you’re overestimating the percentage of people who knowingly abuse their medical status for personal gain.

              I don’t think you need to have unlimited empathy, but I think you need to trust your employees about what they need when it comes to mental illness because you can’t diagnose for yourself. If a warehouse employee breaks their arm and has to be in a cast for 3 months, I think you’d come off as incredibly callous and rude to describe them as self-victimizing or making excuses. Yet people feel totally comfortable giving a prognosis for someone else’s mental illness, probably because there aren’t such easy visual signals – it’s pretty clear when someone gets a cast off. It’s not so clear when someone completes a course of therapy or finds an anti-depressant that works for them.

              1. Observer*

                I don’t think that many people deliberately use their mental illness as a way to get what they want, at all. In fact, I think that this is probably rather rare.

                What I am saying is that there is a surprisingly large contingent of people (some of whom should know better!) who misuse these concepts. More often than not, it’s done with good intentions, but it’s still bad news.

                I’m watching this play out with a friend of mine – dealing with a family member with some serious issues. The issues ARE serious, but much of the resultant behavior is inexcusable and definitely NOT inevitable. But she’s getting advised to “be gentle”, “have patience” etc. because of these issues. And it’s leading to some really difficult problems. The worst is that she’s not the only one who is suffering because of this; there is most definitely collateral damage because of this. The people who are advising her mean well, they really really do. But, it’s insane and anyone lacking nuance is going to conclude that a lot of the “stuff” is “garbage”. All the more so because some of the advice she is getting is coming from people who are supposed to be credentialed.

                The thing that is finally getting her to realize that something has to change is the realization that if no one in the family pushes back, the family member is eventually going to have bigger and broader problems. I can’t imagine some of what has happened going down well in any workplace or in any relationship. And, because they haven’t gotten the push back they need, they could wind up quitting even in a workplace that doesn’t fire even when it should, because they think they have not been treated well enough.

        3. Tara R.*

          This is a complete red herring. People co-op legitimate things for their ridiculousness all the time. Abusive, manipulative parents everyone say “I’m just looking out for you” and “I’m doing it because I love you” but I’m not running around mocking peoples’ parental affection or claiming that love isn’t a real concept. The only time it becomes “We’re going to judge everyone based on the possibility that some person might go to far” is when it’s a group of people that everyone is out to screw over in the first place, i.e. people who are suffering and dare to be vocal about what would help them.

          1. Observer*

            Except that that is not how this issue tends to play out. What I was referring to was not the people who are intentionally using these excuses to gaslight people. I’m talking about a very broad swath of people who use issues, even legitimate issues, as an excuse for all sorts of things or a reason to not have to take responsibility for things.

            1. Tara R.*

              You said people using being triggered as a cover for outrageous behaviour, so that’s what I gleaned from your words.

              I have honestly, genuinely, never in my life– not in high school, not in university, not on the Internet, not on Tumblr, not in my gender studies class or the pride group or otherwise– seen someone use “triggered” to excuse their own behaviour. I’ve seen them ask nicely if there’s a way we can not do x, or not have x around, or warn them if it’s going to be so they can not be there. *I* have asked that myself. I’ve seen people say “Hey, I can’t do this alone because it will trigger my anxiety, can someone help me out?” I’ve heard “I’m not reading this book, it has a graphic suicide scene and I tried to kill myself last month and it’s the last thing I need to read, can I have an alternate assignment?” And yet somehow my life and my needs are made a mockery of for being proof of some “culture of victimhood” that I have never actually experienced.

              1. Blurgle*

                The “culture of victimhood” in my opinion is an often-unconscious backlash not against trigger warnings but against the startling concept that victims shouldn’t just go away, shut up, and accept the blame for their victimization. Maybe even just go away and die, as George Carlin seriously suggested for kids with allergies.

                People who have never been seriously victimized seem to harbour a visceral if unexamined need to blame victims. It’s a form of denial: if victims are either exaggerators or liars I don’t have to accommodate them and can continue to merrily ignore their needs in favour of the whims of the perpetrators, who are Fun! and Easy-going! and A barrel of laughs! – ignoring that they’re only fun because they aren’t fighting trauma.

                This is not to say that OP’s sister’s employee doesn’t need to be fired, but she also needs help – but that’s beyond the ability of OP’s sister. What isn’t is empathy.

                1. Observer*

                  Maybe sometimes it is. But there are also a lot of real issues.

                  Here is a relatively recent example. For a while there was this meme going around about “the knockout game.” I’m not sure that it was ever really a thing, but there definitely some very real and very ugly incidents of gang like attacks on innocent people that started the media nattering. The excuses made for this stuff were just mind boggling. In fact one black elected public official in Brookly actually said that you “have to understand” why these kids would target Jewish people (in the wake of an incident in which and old lady was beaten bloody by a gang of teens) because “the Jews” are pushing their parents out of their homes by offering to buy the houses they live in. I’m not making this up.

                  You don’t have to blame victims for their victimhood in order to recognize how insane this is. You do have to recognize that real people (often including members of other marginalized groups) get hurt when we make excuses like this for inexcusable behavior. In fact, other members of the “victim group”, for lack of a better word, are quite often the ones who suffer the most from this kind of thing.

                2. Cactus*

                  Maybe even just go away and die, as George Carlin seriously suggested for kids with allergies.
                  Really? Wow. I’ve only seen a little bit of Carlin’s material, and it was all over 10 years ago…for the past few years, I’ve been a bit wary of all the Carlinworship memes going around. But holy crap, what an asshole.

                  People who have never been seriously victimized seem to harbour a visceral if unexamined need to blame victims. It’s a form of denial: if victims are either exaggerators or liars I don’t have to accommodate them and can continue to merrily ignore their needs in favour of the whims of the perpetrators, who are Fun! and Easy-going! and A barrel of laughs! – ignoring that they’re only fun because they aren’t fighting trauma.
                  Yes, yes, yes, yes. Thank you for saying this. There is nothing more true when discussing victim-blaming culture.

                3. Not So NewReader*

                  “People who have never been seriously victimized seem to harbour a visceral if unexamined need to blame victims. ”

                  It could be me. But the biggest victim blamers I know, were raised by the golden rule of “suck it down, get over it.” It works this way:

                  The teacher hit me.
                  Suck it down, get over it.

                  So and So shot my dog.
                  Suck it down, get over it.

                  I am hungry.
                  Suck it down, get over it.

                  Sometimes people who are not taught empathy do not know how to give ,empathy. I am not saying this is right, NO, nor does this excuse the victim blaming behaviors. And clearly, at some point, as an adult, lack of empathy is no longer a family issue, but it has become a life choice on the part of the victim blamer. They have donned the attitude of blaming the victim and made it their own attitude. What is jaw-dropping to me is that it hurt when someone did it to them, why-oh-why, do they turn around and do it to someone else? wth. /soapbox

                  It’s just something I have observed around me and may or may not apply to all similar situations. Too many times I have seen harshness beget more harshness.
                  To be even about this, I have to say I have seen people suffer incredibly cruel childhoods and mature in to exemplary and awesome adults.

                4. Frustrated ENTJ*

                  Re: George Carlin – it was part of his stand-up, so I wouldn’t necessarily say it was a serious recommendation. His acts were extreme, to say the least.

              2. Observer*

                I’m glad you have never experienced that type of thing. But, here you have someone who IS doing that. Not the original discomfort with going with the co-worker – that’s totally legitimate. But, abusive texts days later? “I want to destroy you” might have been excusable in the moment, but there is no way it flies later on. Yet, that’s what she did. And her excuse was the original trigger.

                The thing is that she probably has other significant issues, and I’d guess that that’s where this is coming from. BUT those also don’t excuse the behavior. She doesn’t need people making excuses for her. She needs to recognize that her behavior is unacceptable, and if she really can’t help herself, she needs to get help.

                1. Tara R.*

                  I know, and that’s why my original point was that you can get outrageous people doing outrageous things with any variety of ideas they claim justify said outrageous things. “Triggers” are not the be all and end all of reasonable ideas sometimes misused by people acting awfully. They might use their status as a parent, or the fact that they’re a high performer, or their status as a religious minority, or any number of things to justify their atrocious actions. But we shouldn’t look at these weird outliers and decide that the idea of triggers, parental authority, perks for high performers, etc. are an awful idea– just treat it for the bad behaviour that it is, regardless of the reasons they give.

                2. Observer*

                  I agree that you can’t dismiss issues because some people misuse them. The point I was making though, is that when loud advocate types insist on excuse making it feeds a backlash. It also feeds backlash when these accommodations are taken to an extreme or are used in an overly broad way.

                  The real problem with this is no so much when you have an individual whose acting like a jerk. The backlash is provoked more when others, especially supposed experts, are the ones making excuses for the bad behavior, and are doing so loudly, publicly, and in a broad based fashion. And, especially when they claim to speak for the “whole communitf of x” (Which they generally do NOT.)

                  Just so I’m clear – I don’t agree with the backlash, because it’s clear to me that these issues are real and do need accommodation. I was commenting on ONE of the reasons for the backlash.

    4. Koko*

      That actually doesn’t seem that odd to me. Cab drivers are licensed and report to a sanctioning authority, so there’s clear standards for behavior and more of a sense that they have an obligation to uphold them. You also sit in the back seat, often with a divider between you.

      A male volunteer on the other hand, you’re sitting right up front with him, and the social contract for acceptable behavior isn’t as explicit. A lot of predators play in the gray area and take advantage of the fact that what they’re doing isn’t technically, in some contexts, inappropriate. A light touch they “didn’t mean anything by” that you’re “blowing out of proportion” is more likely to come from a casual acquaintance who doesn’t respect boundaries than a professional performing contracted services for you.

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        Yep – “Oh, sorry I caught you as I changed gears” can sound innocent enough to start pushing boundaries with. (It can also be completely accidental. But it’s a really good excuse for anyone who is a creep)

      2. anonanonanon*

        Yes, exactly. That was the only part of the letter I didn’t find odd or extreme, but completely understandable.

      3. S*

        It isn’t at all weird that she would be triggered by the volunteer and not a cab driver. The trigger might not have been his maleness, but maybe he looks similar to the person who assaulted her. Or maybe she was assaulted by somebody who volunteered to give her a ride as a way to get her alone. Or maybe the volunteers car was the same as the person who assaulted her. Or he smelled like the guy. Triggers can be anything, a sound, a word, a sensation like wind, a red sweater, a situation…I think it’s really important not to assume Jane is being manipulative for needing to have a cab driver rather than a volunteer drive her. That said, it is totally unreasonable and unacceptable for her to send such vitriolic texts a week later.

        1. Not me*

          I agree with this and you’ve explained it better than I could. A PTSD reaction being set off in the first place was understandable. How she chose to behave was completely unacceptable.

          1. blackcat*


            This sexual assault survivor endorses the above statement. PTSD sucks and can make someone feel really, really awful and crazy (flashbacks can be considered type of psychosis it they rise to actual hallucination level). But it’s not an excuse for being an asshole. When it does cause asshole-ish behavior*, reasonable people apologize after the fact.

            *I punched a few people who surprised me when I was at my worst. It was not good. Once calm, I would always apologize profusely, with a firm request to not be approached from behind and tapped on the shoulder. I cited nebulous “trauma.” I also got my butt into therapy because randomly punching people is not okay. I still don’t like being surprised, but now I give death-glares rather than punches.

        2. LD*

          Yes. It doesn’t sound like anyone is blaming Jane for the trigger or for asking for a cab instead of a volunteer to drive her. They are saying that her follow up to the manager was out of line and maybe even rises to the level of serious threat of harm and needs to be addressed. Not the triggering, but the follow up reaction to threaten her manager.

      4. Myrin*

        Also, humans and their minds work in ways that often don’t seem logical.

        My little sister is a rape survivor as well and while she sometimes gets triggered by or reacts extremely to situations which to everyone who knows about it very obviously tie in with the assault (like someone trying to touch her in a certain way or guys with a physical resemblance to her rapist), she also gets panic attacks or flashbacks because of the seemingly most random things. On the other hand, a situation that would have her triggered otherwise can have just one details differently and she will be totally okay with it.

        What I’m trying to say is: It’s probably better not to try and find a “logic” behind triggers and thelike because the human psyche is complicated and weird. But also, like NickelandDime said above, Jane absolutely uses her terrible experiences and twists them into something to hurt and manipulate the OP’s sister with.

    5. Not me*

      PTSD is weird and reactions can be unpredictable. (I’m just going to assume, in this one comment, that Jane really does have PTSD. It’s not my business.)

      I agree that there’s no choice but to fire Jane after she’s been so horrible to work with, especially now that there have been threats. Jane’s been given chances to stop acting like this and she hasn’t taken them.

    6. LawBee*

      “Serious question here – how is Jane getting a ride to the airport by a male volunteer “triggering” but getting into a cab with a stranger not? Am I the only one confused?”

      I would accept that at face value. That’s not the problem – the subsequent texts are the problem. I know someone who’s triggered by ALGEBRA. The most random thing of all, but it’s closely tied to an incredibly traumatic time in her life, and that’s what her subconscious has decided to do, and there you go.

    7. INTP*

      What is “triggering” is not always logical. Maybe she was raped by a coworker, an acquaintance who gave her a ride, someone who looked a lot like that volunteer, etc. I see no reason to doubt that maybe she really did feel too triggered to be alone in the car with that particular person.

      That said, when you have some sort of limitation about the kind of transportation you can accept, it’s up to you to find transportation that suits you. Not up to everyone around you to read your mind and provide you with exactly what you want with no inconvenience to yourself. Either Jane has such intense emotional trauma that she is just not able to form relationships without unintentionally hurting people right now or she is intentionally manipulating and gaslighting people like OP’s sister. (The fact that the sister felt bad about what happened is a huge red flag, when she went above and beyond her call of duty imo.)

    8. AW*

      Aside from what others have already pointed out about how triggers work, the cab driver doesn’t even have to be male. The OP’s sister could have asked the cab company to send a woman driver.

    9. I'm Not Phyllis*

      It can happen, I guess. Maybe it was the physical characteristics?
      In any case, in this scenario she was expecting the sister to act like her friend and not like her boss. The sister did nothing wrong – she accommodated her exactly as she should have.

      1. Observer*

        I agree that it’s really not all that odd that the co-worker triggered her, while a cab driver might not. But, I disagree that any part of the problem was that Sis acted like a boss, not a friend. Given how weird and non-intuitive triggering can be in cases like this, it’s not even reasonable to expect a friend to know that a ride with a co-worker would trigger her unless there has been very specific history with this particular trigger.

        The reality is that “How dare you not be aware of every nuance of my mental and emotional issues without being told!” is just not appropriate in any type or relationship. People are not mind readers, and that’s what Sis would have had to be. So, while being upset in the moment is understandable, any nasty reaction later on (as opposed to exploration of how to deal going forward) would have been inappropriate, even with a friend and minus that threats. That is was to her manager and included threats just adds to the utter inappropriateness.

  2. NickelandDime*

    Jane isn’t just doing this to your sister. There’s a strong possibility she’s acting this way toward multiple people in the organization. And not only is Jane abusing your sister, but others in the organization aren’t looking too kindly on your sister either – they’re assuming she’s allowing Jane to act up because of a prior personal relationship.

    Jane should be fired.

    1. Gem*

      This! This has to be affecting other members of staff, surely. Either everyone’s worried Jane will have a go at them (and get away with it), or there’s resentment towards OP’s sister that she isn’t managing. Or both!

    2. Bwmn*


      I think that the fact that the OP’s sister had a prior relationship with Jane is also serving to warp/gaslight the OP’s sister’s perspective on the situation. My mother has PTSD which when you know her, you can understand the internal inconsistencies of a male volunteer driving vs a cab driver (who in my experiences in the US are 99% male). But she – and countless others with PTSD – have completely professional ways to discuss why they’d prefer a cab without any kind of outbursts or deep references of triggers. Now true, if I asked my mother to do something that is a trigger for her, I would likely get a far more emotional response – but my mother is not my boss or employee.

      There are many employees with PTSD, phobias, and other mental health concerns – and they are also able to be entirely professional. While mental health issues may explain why someone is behaving the way they are, it is hardly an excuse that deserves this degree of kid gloves.

      1. Green*

        Her inappropriate behavior extends beyond the potentially “triggering” moment, so I think it’s safe to say that there’s something deeper going on here than situational PTSD.

    3. Not me*

      Agreed. And if Jane is doing this to the person who hired her, how does she treat anyone “beneath” her?

    4. Former Retail Manager*

      Totally agree! However, I would be interested to know if Jane exhibited any behaviors in this ballpark before she was hired or was this totally out of the blue? Seems like there would have been some indicators at some point that she has the propensity to go “off the rails” like this.

    5. INTP*

      This is a good point. It’s possible but rare for toxic personalities to have just one victim. Maybe it’s intentional abuse or maybe Jane is just too traumatized at the moment to form healthy relationships and needs therapy (sometimes a reaction to being made to feel powerless is to try to keep the upper hand at all times, often by manipulation). Whatever the case, the OP’s sister and her employer in general have an obligation to ALL employees, not just the troubled ones. At the very least, I think a manager needs to investigate whether there might be additional problems here.

    6. Anon Accountant*

      Absolutely. Jane has to be affecting morale or bullying other staff. Based upon her behavior I’d say see what the process is and required documentation is to fire her. And start the process.

      Other employees are probably not coming forward about mistreatment from Jane because they know Jane and OP were friends previously and are worried Jane is permitted to behave this way because of this relationship. Sorry OP. Time to look into the process to fire her.

      1. Chalupa Batman*

        My first thought was this as well. Other employees probably don’t know OP’s sister has tried to talk to Jane about her behavior, so when Jane continues acting that way, they think it’s because Sister’s allowing it, not because Jane doesn’t hear feedback. They may think their complaints wouldn’t get a fair hearing because Jane and Sister are friends. And I would not be one bit surprised if Jane planted that idea.

  3. Ihmmy*

    > ““I need to stop before I unleash everything I have ever wanted to say to you,” and “I am so hurt that I want to destroy you.”” – this is a straight up threat and is absolutely not ok. Save them, give HR a heads up of the situation, document document document

    1. NickelandDime*

      Jane was never the OP’s sister’s friend. It doesn’t sound like Jane can be a friend to anyone. Jane needs to go. Hopefully this firing , and the destroyed friendship, will be the wake up call that she needs to make some changes to her life.

    2. AMT*

      I agree. This is less a “put her on a PIP” situation and more a “have security escort her out of the building” situation.

      1. Artemesia*

        I agree but since the OP’s sister didn’t do this right then and it has been some time, I think at this point it is in fact a PIP situation. But have security standing by when the PIP is explained and it should be zero tolerance.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Yes, this. At the moment that happened, firing her immediately would’ve been the right response…but the delay makes that a bit murky. It’s not like her manager wasn’t aware of the issue right when it happened, since she was the one it was sent to.

    3. AMG*

      I don’t trust HR much and even I would run screaming to them after that. Jane is in serious need of IEP.

      1. Argh!*

        HR has to be involved whether you trust them or not, and HR runs EAP in most places so they will automatically be involved.

      2. JessaB*

        Sorry but as a former special ed teacher I laughed my head off at your Freudian typo. I know it’s inappropriate, but it came over funny. Like most Freudian slips do.

    4. Nom d' Pixel*

      “Document document document.” That is exactly what I came here to post. This year we had an extremely emotionally unstable person who reported to me. Fortunately, I am in the habit of keeping notes just so I can keep track of everyone’s projects and timelines, so I had early documentation of things that started popping up. I involved my boss who thought the situation was bad enough to bring HR in right away. While we were getting everything in order to fire him, he threw a temper tantrum and quit, approximately 2 months after he started. Then he decided to sue for causing all sorts of emotional and physical health issues. HR was very relieved to see my notes which included his outbursts, failure to perform basic work functions, and his comments to me that he has had problems (to the point of becoming physically ill) when dealing with stress for several years. So yeah, document everything.

    5. snuck*

      And bring a third party into the meetings and all communications with Jane.

      Don’t communicate with Jane ever again without a witness.

      Formally in writing advise her to stop sending you texts, that her process is to contact you via telephone or email, and that ALL text messages are being kept. Screenshot all text messages to date and save them.

      If she ever texts you again ignore the text, it does not exist. She’s been told not to. Do not engage, do not respond, this is the work of a person not in their right mind.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I do agree with this and I do not think it is far-fetched at all. It is a fair and reasonable thing to do to protect both the boss and the employee.

        I am not convinced that Jane will hurt the boss, BUT why allow this to keep accelerating? Put the brakes on everything. Bring disinterested third parties in and work to get things to settle down. Jane is very interested in stirring the pot. She has little to no desire to look for solutions.

  4. BRR*

    How was Jane as a friend before this? Jane sounds horrible and this doesn’t seem like the usual boss as a friend problem. I’m having a hard time believing Jane is only like this to one person and it’s only because they were friends.

    And I agree with Alision, difficult to fire doesn’t mean impossible. It might be hard but I am very tired of people just not having the persistence to fire bad (terrible) employees.

    1. LBK*

      I could see their relationship working very differently outside of work; in a personal context, it’s more appropriate to give support and leeway to someone who’s going through a difficult ordeal even if they take it out on you because there’s no defined deliverables in a friendship. You essentially decide what you want to get out of it and what you’re okay with accepting. At work, there’s expectations that you can’t flex on like professionalism and productivity.

      1. BRR*

        I just can’t see my friend saying those things to me in any context. I have a really tough time believing it was such a drastic change.

        1. LBK*

          I don’t think her behavior was necessarily exemplary beforehand but the OP’s sister may have been more willing or able to accept it. In general, people give their friends more leeway than they can give their employees, because for an employee there are rules and standards of behavior and there are considerations beyond just the relationship between the two of you. In a friendship, there aren’t really outside factors to consider beyond “is this friendship making me happy?”

        2. Rmric0*

          It may well have just been targeted in different directions before Jane got the job. Then when OP’s sis was put in authority over Jane it flipped a switch because the dynamic shifted.

          Dollars to donuts it wasn’t a good friendship to start with but ugly people are capable of hiding their true faces if it suits them.

    2. Shannon*

      Going from friend to boss is a huge relationship change. People act differently depending on their relationship with you. There is also the fact that you just don’t spend the same amount of time with a friend (or even family) that you do with a boss/ coworker. Your boss/ coworkers get 40 hours a week of your prime time. Your friends get maybe a few hours a week of your off time. Personality traits that were hidden at the friendship level become really clear at the boss/ coworker level.

      A friends endearing flakiness a few hours a week becomes a really annoying lack of attention to detail at 40 hours a week.

      1. Charityb*

        Agreed. It’s kind of like moving in with a friend; if your friend is a drama queen but you still like her, you can just hang out with her less often. If you live with her full-time, the only way you can avoid her is to avoid your own house, which breeds resentment.

      2. BananaPants*

        This is very true. My father recently found himself in a position where he’s working for our family friends’ business as a supervisor. It was very kind of them to offer him a job and he is EXTREMELY careful not to bring anything personal into the workplace even though the business owner/his boss is one of his closest friends. He eats lunch with the other non-family employees, works his butt off, and aside from basic pleasantries he doesn’t talk about anything personal when he’s at work. They don’t talk shop outside of work, either!

        “Bob” is a lot more strident and mercurial as a business owner and manager than he is in friendship. Mr. BP worked for him during a period of unemployment and while Bob is a fair boss, he is very demanding. Frankly, while we greatly appreciated him having the opportunity to work there, it was a relief when Mr. BP was no longer having to dance the line between personal and professional interaction with Bob and other family members who work in the business.

    3. Jerzy*

      I’ve had a couple of friends before that sound an awful lot like Jane, and I can tell you, I’d never hire them to work for me. I even had to end the friendships due to abusive and cruel behavior that sounds a lot like what OP is describing here. If OP’s sister is anything like me, she wanted to be helpful and supportive of her friend, even at the expense of her own happiness and comfort, which may be why she hired her in the first place. She probably figured that being her friend, she already knew her past and could help her avoid “triggering” incidents in the workplace.

      The problem with people like this is that they find themselves very comfortable in the role of victim that they forget how to just be a person. Jane needs serious, professional help, and it will likely take years to get her to a place of healthy social interaction, and OP’s sister can’t risk her own job by making accommodation for abuse in her workplace.

    4. INTP*

      Sometimes a reaction to being made to feel powerless, like in the case of sexual assault, is to try to keep the upper hand in all relationships to avoid being taken advantage of again. I can see how this behavior could arise suddenly if the sexual assault was recent, or specifically in situations where Jane feels someone has power over her and is trying to be exploitative (like at work – even at a good employer, there’s a power dynamic and they are trying to profit off of you). I don’t think we need to demonize Jane as a human being here. I do agree, however, that it seems like at this time, she is either unwilling or unable to form healthy relationships, and doesn’t need to be working in this particular position for the wellbeing of the OP’s sister and other employees.

    5. neverjaunty*

      People like Jane seek out, and latch on to, people who are giving, generous and dislike conflict, and play on their very natural desire to be helpful and give second chances and accommodate others. That’s not in any way to say that people like the OP’s sister “deserve” or “are asking for” Jane to at this way, mind.

  5. Katie the Fed*

    Your sister needs to take a step back and remind herself that she is the boss. Sometimes we forget that in our efforts to smooth things over.

    So, first step is reminding herself that she has the authority and responsibility to deal with it. She’s not helping herself by apologizing profusely. It wasn’t even a real mistake. It’s good for managers to apologize when they make a mistake, but this really wasn’t one.

    Then start with the conversation above. And also be more specific about things like “be more professional in meetings.” What exactly does that mean? Lay it out for her.

    I would also refer her to the company’s EAP if you have one. You will want to show that you made an honest effort to get her help if she needed it because of something going on in her life.

    And then you start the progressive disciplinary measures, which will likely lead to termination in Jane’s case because I don’t see a big turnaround in her future.

  6. Katie the Fed*

    BTW, for what it’s worth, I also work for an organization where it’s hard to fire people and I promise you I could have Jane escorted out of the building by security within MINUTES if she sent me messages like that. The firing might take longer, but she wouldn’t be back at work.

    1. Shannon*

      Yes. Many places tend to take threats extremely seriously because of the potential for workplace violence and the resulting liability if the employer knew about the threats and did not treat them accordingly.

    2. AW*

      Yeah, I find it hard to believe that there are many workplaces where “hard to fire” translates into “continue working with someone who is literally threatening you”. Once things reach the level where police involvement becomes a possibility, “hard to fire” shouldn’t be an issue.

      1. AW*

        Dear OP,

        I posted this before I saw your update below where HR was useless. My faith in the idea that, at minimum, a business will do what’s necessary in order to protect itself has been shaken.

        Very sorry your sister is dealing with this.

    3. Mike C.*

      Yeah, I’m in a similar position. Stewards aren’t going to help you if you’re threatening your boss.

    4. IT_guy*

      I’ve worked in the Fed before as a contractor and was faced with a similar situation. My contractor direct report was always hard to manage and undisciplined, but he survived because he really was as smart as he thought he was. This went on for a couple of years but he managed to cross the line with abusive behavior and shouting in the work place and was walked out that day.

    5. Jillociraptor*

      Right on. Threats often fall under the umbrella of misconduct, and have a much lower standard of “proof” and less complex process than performance issues. If the employee had just sent one text I’m not sure if it would be accepted as misconduct but a pattern of using language like that probably would.

  7. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’d also tell your sister to consult with an employment attorney not because this will end up in court but more of a CYA.  I’ve often found that the money I pay for an attorney’s time is well spent because I feel better and more confident about the situation.  Your sister’s workplace ideally should have someone on retainer.  An attorney can give guidance on how to documents, where to keep it, who else should be copied, etc.

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      This. Maybe she gets offered a severance package in exchange for waiving any potential claims against the company. Even BS claims cost a lot to fight. Some states have laws protecting crime victims too. I could see Jane saying “I disclosed that I was previously assaulted and felt unsafe with what my manager was asking of me and then I was wrongfully fired.” Sister hopefully kept all of the threatening texts to prove that she didn’t fire Jane for being a victim needing an accommodation but for threatening her after.

  8. Charityb*

    It may be difficult to fire someone, but it’s likely not impossible. It will likely take some time but it’s time to start now. The manager may have to keep some of the abusive messages that she has kept and may have to gather statements from others who were yelled at by Jane in case there needs to be some kind of hearing or other process before she can actually fire Jane.

    (Incidentally, isn’t Jane the same person who was mothering/smothering one of her younger coworkers a few weeks ago? If that’s the case, she really needs a wakeup call. If she does have genuine emotional issues it’s up to her to have them addressed, but regardless she can’t just be allowed to treat everyone else badly without repercussion. Talking to her isn’t working.)

    1. SL #2*

      “Jane” is a common placeholder name on this site and between commenters/OPs (along with Wakeen, Fergus, and Lucinda). I don’t see any indication that this Jane and the smothering Jane are the same person from the letter.

      1. Charityb*

        Ah, that’s too bad. I would have felt better if there was only one jerk like this, then they could just fire her and solve two people’s problems.

        1. SL #2*

          If all the Janes and Wakeens and Ferguses and Lucindas on this site were the same people, it would solve a whole lotta problems and Alison may not have anything left to post about after! :)

          1. Kyrielle*

            If all the Janes and others were rolled into one person each, and we could get them all hired at the same workplace, we could have one heck of a blowout letter from some poor person in that workplace about the ensuing drama, though….

  9. OP*

    Wow. I was not expecting this response – in part because I felt like I had toned down the whole series of exchanges between my sister and Jane, and I was starting to wonder if I was blowing it out of proportion based on my concern and love for my sister. Thank you, this was incredibly eye-opening. It would be completely insane in my office (which is normal), and I thought it was bad even for a dysfunctional office, but I did not realize how bad.

    I sent this letter a couple of weeks ago, and here’s what’s happened in the meantime:
    – My sister blocked incoming texts from Jane. Then Jane’s HUSBAND started texting my sister, detailing all the ways my sister had wronged her. Really, this happened.
    – My sister reported the conversation to HR. They were not helpful, their solution was to try to have Jane transferred.
    – Based on your advice to others on dealing with difficult people, I went on over to Captain Awkward (who is so, so fabulous) and realized that Jane closely resembles “Alice,” the infamous narcissistic mother-in-law (link below). My sister bought a book on dealing with narcissists based on Captain Awkward’s advice, The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists, and she said that it has helped her to deal with the emotional abuse Jane was throwing at her.
    – My sister has cut off all communication with Jane that is not work-related. She did unblock her long enough to see that she’d sent a text about how the “destroy you” comment was taken out of context (what context would make that okay?!), but has not received any more abusive tirades. For now. Neither of us believe Jane has learned anything.

    That said, I really appreciate this advice, and look forward to what the other commenters will say. While my sister was able to address the personal issue, the professional issue remains.

    1. Myrin*

      Oh my, Jane and husband sound like a delightful couple.

      (Sorry, there’s so much wrong here I can kind of only focus on this little thing. Gosh.)

      1. some1*

        People like this always find other people like this. My ex best friend is very much like Jane, and one of the things that attracted her to her now-husband is that he was willing to fight her battles for her. And in similarly inappropriate ways to Jane’s husband.

    2. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      Firstly, I’m really glad that your sister has got the personal issues sorted out. Hopefully this gives her confidence that she can deal with this and that while this is Not Ok, in a year, or two years, she’ll barely remember this, and when she does it won’t be with all the heavy emotions attached (I find it can be helpful to think of it that way when you start to feel like you’re drowning in The Drama)

      If HR won’t do more, I think a transfer is probably the best solution (I mean, firing her is the absolute best solution, but if HR steadfastly refuse then at least a transfer is… something?) Their previous friendship is really complicating this for your sister, and Jane is always going to take advantage of that. I also think that the advice for your sister to loop in her manager and gain her support is very good advice. We are all human, and it’s ok for your sister to struggle with this and need support; that’s what her manager is there for. She could have handled all of this better, but mistakes make us better professionals, and as long as your sister learns from this and grows then she is being a good manager (it’s people who make mistakes and never learn who are really a cause for concern)

      And, of course, the whole AAM community will be cheering her on! Can you show her this thread? I think your sister needs to be reminded of just how horrific all of this is, it sounds like you’re both inured to it. But it’s Very Much Not Ok. Definitely Very Much Not Ok.

      1. LizNYC*

        Seriously. If the choice is keeping Jane as an employee or unloading her onto another department, I’d choose B (sorry, other department!). It’s the company’s problem that they’re ineffective at handling staff issues, not yours.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          It’s possible also that the manager of the other department will take steps to deal with her right away. I know it sucks to push it off on them, but it might help the situation for Jane not to have had a personal relationship with the boss. But I agree with AMG below; the HR sucks.

    3. NickelandDime*

      Just a few questions: Did your sister just go to HR with the texts and the general story about that, or did she show them documentation about an ongoing problem with Jane’s behavior and work? Because something tells me Jane’s work isn’t on point either. It can’t be acting like this. Also, does your sister report to someone, and did she pull them in the loop?

      I have a feeling, and I could be wrong, that in some ways your sister might still have a bit of sympathy for Jane and might still be covering the severity of this. After getting hate texts from Jane’s husband, this should have stopped immediately.

      1. OP*

        I don’t think Jane’s work is bad, but that’s sort of like saying asking Mrs. Lincoln how she enjoyed the play, otherwise.

        For now, HR didn’t have another place to transfer Jane – my sister’s department is very, very specialized. I am hoping this thread (which I will definitely show her!) will help her renew her energy to remove Jane from her life.

        1. AVP*

          Does your sister report to anyone? HR might have a different response if the messages and situation get escalated up your sister’s chain, but only if the right people are involved…it’s hard to say from the outside.

        2. AnotherHRPro*

          Your sister’s HR person sucks. And it doesn’t really matter if her work product is ok, her behavior is unacceptable. Performance is more that work product. Your sister should tell her boss and then two of them should go to HR together and say that your sister feels threatened by Jane, that Jane’s performance is unacceptable and that they want to begin the process of putting Jane on a performance improvement plan (if the company does that) or terminating her.

    4. Shannon*

      I cannot think of any context in which the term “destroy you” is remotely appropriate. It’s either a threat or a sexual innuendo.

      1. Kyrielle*

        In the middle of certain board games, played by very dear friends, and said aloud in a laughing tone of voice, or MAYBE in a text with a smiley.

        But otherwise, yeah, seriously not appropriate.

        1. OwnedByTheCat (formerly Anony-Moose)*

          I often say it to my cat, but I think that’s about the only time I can imagine uttering it.

      2. Ad Astra*

        I mean maybe it could be trash-talking about a game of pool or darts? But I think it’s clear that’s not the case here.

      3. Nervous Accountant*

        To food? as a joke, I can understand sure…. definitely not in this case.

        I think this is one of the posts I”d love to see an update on, if not now bc it’s too soon but at least sometime next year

    5. Interviewer*

      Jane is the reason a lot of companies have handbook policies about not threatening coworkers. I am so sorry your sister is dealing with this.

      Perhapsif she escalates the conversation with HR along the lines of “I” statements – “I feel threatened by Jane, I feel unsafe at work, I feel like I am in danger. Here are examples of the things she is doing, and her husband are doing, to make me feel this way.” Rather than focusing on everything Jane is doing, relate it to how it makes her feel threatened in the workplace. Tell her to write it all down in a memo, make 2 copies and hand one to them, making sure they see that she is keeping a copy.

      It sounds like the transfer for Jane to get out of your sister’s department was not successful. If they recognize the warning signs, a meeting like this should be a game-changer for HR. If they’re unwilling to act after that meeting, that should tell your sister how the company really feels about its employees.

    6. Katie the Fed*


      “My sister reported the conversation to HR. They were not helpful, their solution was to try to have Jane transferred.”

      This is how some nice, unsuspecting manager likes me comes back from leave and finds out the office jerk/imbecile has been transferred to her team.

      This is how people like Jane last for years and spread their bad behavior everywhere. This pushes away good employees.

      1. some1*

        Not that she deserves any, but it doesn’t do Jane any favors when they get a manager who’s finally willing to take them to task, either.

      2. catsAreCool*

        Since HR is supposed to protect the company, it doesn’t seem like they’re doing such a good job of it by trying to transfer a problem employee. Unless they think that having 2 different managers having problems with Jane will make it easier to let Jane go.

    7. BuildMeUp*

      Wow. Has your sister talked to her own manager, in addition to HR? I would suggest that she do that right away if she hasn’t already! And all of the other advice above is spot on. I’m surprised that HR didn’t respond better, but it sounds like this place might be general dysfunctional.

    8. Charityb*

      “Neither of us believe Jane has learned anything.”

      You’re probably right. Part of the issue is that it sounds like Jane has at least one person who is validating her weird behavior.

      1. Not me*

        If Jane has the narcissism that OP brought up in an update, any response at all is validation/fuel. :/

      2. JessaB*

        Her husband seems to have been roped in to texting the OPs sister, so yeh she has at least one person totally supporting her.

    9. OP*

      One more delightful Jane-ism, which I will include just because I think it illustrates what kind of a person Jane is: when my sister’s beloved dog died very suddenly this year, she wanted to be alone, and Jane accused her of “shutting [her] out” for not allowing her to visit (Jane lives a few hours away and works remotely).

      1. Not me*

        LOL yes, your sister wanting to be alone was ALL ABOUT JANE. It sounds like a story that sums up Jane perfectly.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        Hmmm, could your sister have an epiphany that this position would be much more effective in-house? We had a few people laid off over the years because they wanted to bring positions people were doing remotely back to the main office.

      3. AVP*

        Wow, I know it’s not helpful to diagnose people on the internet but it sounds like looking at ways to deal with narcissistic behavior was a good direction.

      4. Katie the Fed*

        Jane has some serious boundary issues. But I do wonder how your sister responded to this and other things. You have to be very firm and direct with people who have boundary issues – they’re the velociraptors always testing the fence. Clever girl!

        1. OriginalEmma*

          You have to be very firm and direct with people who have boundary issues – they’re the velociraptors always testing the fence. Clever girl!

          This metaphor is perfect. Thank you.

          1. Cactus*

            Agreed. It’s difficult to keep saying no over and over and over again, but if you give an inch…they’ll eat your feet.

    10. Green*

      Sounds like a transfer would at least be an improvement. Jane will either replicate the situation in that department or get a fresh start without the personal relationship. And either way it won’t be OP’s sister’s problem anymore. I don’t see how the sister can effectively manage the employee after this.

    11. AdAgencyChick*


      Does your sister’s manager — not HR — know what’s going on? HR may just want to make the problem go away by moving her (which, of course, won’t work), but sis’s manager’s priority is, or should be, having a functioning team. So sis’s manager may be more willing than HR to take the steps needed to get Jane out of the organization. (The manager will likely have to work with HR as well, but may have more clout to run things as far up the food chain as necessary to make it happen.)

    12. fposte*

      Your sister’s company sucks. But also none of the actions you’re describing are your sister directly managing this employee. Your sister needs to directly manage this employee.

      1. OP*

        I personally think my sister needs to manage Jane off a bridge, but I’m a bit biased here. I think she’s tried, but she spent years being gaslighted and it warped her perception of what is normal and not normal. She’s been actively laying down more strict boundaries in the last few weeks, but I think ultimately the best way to manage this is to fire Jane.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          But…but…if you’re effectively managing, you can’t get gaslighted. Being a manager means staying in control of the situation. I feel bad for your sister, but this situation is partly of her own making because she hasn’t stepped up and set clear boundaries until now.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I’m with Katie here. I know we’re getting this through you, OP, so there may be more significant actions being taken that we don’t know about, but the ones you’re describing sound like she’s dealing with a peer on a personal problem–blocking the phone rather than meeting with Jane to tell her in no uncertain terms that this has to stop.

              1. fposte*

                Excellent! And sorry if it sounds like I’m being hard on you, OP; I know you’re just the messenger here.

                1. OP*

                  After reading the onslaught of abuse from Jane (my sister sent screenshots), that hardly feels harsh. :) My sister has been reading the comments and said she was amazed at everyone’s respectful, professional demeanor. Not surprising, given what she’s used to.

                2. JessaB*

                  Make sure your sister saves or otherwise prints out the texts, in case the phone goes kablooey and she needs to have documentation of this.

          2. Lizzy May*

            Agreed. And I know this is your sister and not you and we may be missing context as a result, but her job is to manage Jane. That means setting out what specific behavior will no longer be acceptable and following through with consequences when/if (that if is probably being very generous considering what you’ve told us) Jane does not meet those expectations. Jane needs to be told that she cannot text her manager regarding work related issues anymore. That she is not allowed to use threatening language in the workplace, by text, email, phone, facebook or any method towards your sister or any other coworker. She needs to be told that failure to follow those boundaries going forward put her job at risk. She needs to do this because this is how you manage an employee and its also the first step you take to fire an employee.

          3. OP*

            I shared your velociraptor comment above (great metaphor!) and she responded with this: “I was not firm or direct with her consistently at all, because I believed her when she said I should listen and that she had a right to her feelings (not making the connection that she does have a right to her feelings but she does not have a right to abuse me and make accusations based on that feeling).”

            So I think you and fposte have a point, and she’s going to work on it.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The other thing I’d tell your sister is that Jane has a right to her feelings, but that doesn’t equate to having a right to express them at work. Your sister has a right to insist that Jane keep her behavior calm, polite, professional, and non-disruptive. Jane can feel however she’d like, but she needs to behave appropriately.

              1. TootsNYC*


                ” that doesn’t equate to having a right to express them at work.

                Maybe just saying, “This is work, only talk about work things, and your feelings aren’t work things.”

              2. borogirl*

                Alison, I’m fascinated by this comment. I 100% agree, but I feel a lot of the nonprofit workplace would disagree about their right to express their feelings at work. I know you have a lot of lot of nonprofit experience– do you think it’s non-controversial to tell your subordinates that there’s many times that they should keep their feelings to themselves, especially if their feelings are disruptive or aren’t productive? I’ve been personally accused of wanting to make our nonprofit workplace into like a Wolf of Wall Street environment for a similar tack (though that’s likely a great example of a feeling my subordinate should have kept to themselves).

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  It would indeed be non-controversial in any nonprofit workplace I’ve worked in! I know that there are nonprofits that operate like the way you’re describing (just as there are some for-profits that do too), but it’s definitely not universal. Honestly, if you’re working somewhere like that, it’s pretty dysfunctional, and I would bet not just in this way.

                  But to be clear, what I’m suggesting is not a “keep your feelings to yourself ” statement across the board, but only when someone’s feelings are regularly becoming disruptive. Good managers do want to know how people feel, to an extent, but good employees understand there are limits to how relevant their feelings are and limits to when it’s appropriate to bring them up … and good managers will step in and explain that if someone doesn’t seem to realize that.

        2. Charityb*

          That’s not a bad idea, but it would be hard to make it look like an accident especially after the conflict became known.

        3. Artemesia*

          I think she also needs to drop her entirely as a ‘friend’. She is not a friend. This can be done by ghosting but she needs to do it.

        4. snuck*

          Your sister needs to rename Jane to Jenny, and then imagine how she’d manage Jenny the Employee (not Jane the sort of maybe Friend)… and manage that way. Create an employee persona for Jane and manage to those norms, not the manipulated warped confused norms that were started in their friendship.

    13. Observer*

      I wrote my response before all of this was posted, and then my browser refreshed after I hit post.

      I still think that most of what I said applies.

      I would say that in addition to actively job searching, your sister should document what happened (including keeping copies of the texts that she already got), then start documenting the situation is excruciating detail. Keeping her manager in the loop here, is a good idea. When she has enough of a dossier, she goes back to HR to say “Jane’s behavior continues to be unacceptable. If we don’t address the problem we are setting ourselves up for x, y and z problems (include the possibility of a law suit). You’ve been unable to transfer her. How do we start the process of firing her?” If they tell her how hard and complicated it is, she should insist that that’s still what they need to do, and “we’ll just have to jump through whatever hoops we have to jump through.”

      And, I hope your sister finds a new job SOON.

    14. neverjaunty*

      HR may be foot-dragging, but I wonder if your sister was completely direct with them? If so, she should probably keep pushing on them and involve her manager: She received THREATS from Jane, and now harassment from Jane’s husband. HR needs to get that this isn’t “oh, we’re having a spat between friends”, but that Jane is an actual liability.

    15. Artemesia*

      I can’t believe your sister cannot launch a PIP here. I can believe the husband though. I had an employee whom I eventually fired whose wife intervened several times about how abused her poor husband was, how much he had given and how he deserved yadda yadda. I had passed him over for promotion to run his division because he was an insubordinate undermining jerk although he had in fact done some valuable things and taken initiative back in the early days of computerization to create the technology to run the unit. Unfortunately he was an amateur who hoarded knowledge of the system so he was indispensable and also bullied everyone else into believing it was incredibly difficult and competent and only he could ‘save the day.’ I tried getting assistance to update the system and to cross train everyone and he torpedoed every move and undermined the person I had put in charge as director of the division (whom I had trained in the updated technology since she also had allowed him to ride roughshod due to his expertise). The two things that finally convinced me it was not going to work were his lecture to me about how we were totally unreasonable to expect mere secretaries to have to use boolean algebra and his wife’s repeated interventions. I remember looking at him incredulous when he smugly laid the boolean algebra thing on me and saying ‘you mean ‘and and or’?’ He was so deflated because this kind of gibble gabble had kept everyone cowed up to then. We tried to help him succeed but ultimately he was too invested in his narrative as the wronged genius with the boolean algebra who should have been director.

    16. AW*

      Then Jane’s HUSBAND started texting my sister, detailing all the ways my sister had wronged her.

      Jane & her husband are lucky your sister didn’t call the cops and hasn’t tried to get a restraining order. I’m shocked HR doesn’t see this as a problem.

    17. borogirl*

      I am so so so sympathetic to how out of control this “I’m feeling emotional because you’re a friend” thing can get before it becomes clear that you need to stop allowing it. I had a somewhat similar situation myself– it wasn’t so dire, but it continued for so long that it became literally a clinical mental health issue for me. For me, it slid so easily from a semi-appropriate flag from my-former-friend-but-also-employee that “hey, just wanted to say as one friend to another that I thought you handled X badly” to “I am so offended by this thing that you said that there’s nothing else I could have possibly done but say so and run out of a full staff meeting crying hysterically” to “you’ve betrayed me by saying this other thing” and “I can’t ever trust you again.”

      This is an odd thing to say, but the “I want to destroy you” comment might actually be helpful for your sister’s mental model because it’s so so over the line that it can’t possibly be okay, when “I need you to know the depth of betrayal I feel” is something that an inexperience manager (like I was!) has a hard time not taking personally and wanting to fix.

      That whole situation degenerated in a spiral of horribleness, so no great “how I fixed it” story, but the one huge take away I have from the whole thing is that you can’t try to FIX how THEY feel, like you might with a friendship. Going down a road of explaining how you actually haven’t betrayed them, or why you felt that your own behavior is consistent with friendship is a trap, turning the topic from professional to personal. To any conversation that turns emotional and/or personal, the only response is “I’m sorry you feel that way, but here’s what I need to see from you– are you able to talk about that now, or should we reconvene when you’re feeling more able to make a plan to move forward?”

      1. OP*

        Yes, this is great. The book she’s reading echoes this sentiment as well. It’s tough for me, because I so badly want Jane to see reason and understand that her behavior is absolutely not okay, but that’s not within the realm of things my sister or I can change.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          This is a pit. Careful, watch yourself, don’t fall in it.

          It’s a healthy thing in human nature to wish others well and to want the best of them.

          Sometimes, t he people we direct these well wishes at do not always want our well wishes. And that could be for a number of reasons. For example, let’s say that Jane secretly has a broken leg. All the well wishes in the world will not put a cast on that leg and help it to heal. So in Jane’s mind the well wishes are meaningless. What she actually needs is help with that broken leg that no one knows about.
          Since not all of us are doctors, we can’t all fix Jane’s broken leg. Damn, we really want to but we can’t.
          If we put large amounts of our energy into wishing/wanting Jane’s leg to get better, we will be disappointed when we find out that the problem continues on unchanged.

          The point is that we have to accept the limits of our roles in other people’s lives. This can be very painful/humbling stuff.

          Your sis had two roles in Jane’s life. Initially she was Jane’s friend and a while a later she became Jane’s boss. The friendship waned and the went away entirely. So that relationship is over. This leaves the boss-employee relationship. Jane has made it very clear in many ways that she does not want your sis as her boss. This makes it tough for Sis to even use her boss role in Jane’s life to help Jane. At this point, the best thing your sis can do is to cut Jane loose so that she finds people that she (Jane) WILL allow to help her. Not everyone is for everyone. Additionally, sometimes people have to hit rock bottom before they realize, “Gee. I have a problem here.”

          Your sis tried on many levels to help. My thinking is that if we are trying to help someone and we, ourselves, become injured in the process then it is time to get out of the situation so others, who might be effective (or might be allowed to be effective), can get into the situation. Conversely, sometimes people’s problems are so big that it will take 15-20 people to pull them out of their problem. It’s unreasonable for us on an individual basis to expect that we can do it alone. We can’t.

  10. Jerzy*

    So much crazy in one person.

    It’s time to start looking into the steps to get this person fired. Everyone has some emotional baggage, but it’s never okay to unload on your BOSS, because it feels somehow “safe.” Your sister has made it a safe place for this person to dump all of her baggage on top of her, and that needs to stop.

    Please let us know what happens.

    1. Argh!*

      Transfer was my first thought since there was a prior friendship that could have made the behavior more likely. With a stranger, there would be less of an expectation of sympathy, and a stranger would be more objective. I’m glad to hear that was done. If there’s a problem in the new situation there’s no way your sister will take any blame.

  11. Anon4This*

    I am also a sexual assault survivor, but this confuses me. Is she never able to work with a male coworker alone without being ‘triggered.’ How can she even function at her job? Also, I’m not exactly sure how a cab driver is any different than a male staffer. I haven’t been in a cab with a divider outside of New York! So she’d still be in close proximity. Second, why was it the OPs sisters responsibly to get Jane home in the first place? Is Jane not capable of providing rides for herself? Is that not a part of being a working adult. From what is in this post, I can’t help but think Jane is simply manipulating her past trama to make OPs sister feel bad. OPs sister needs to go to her boss/HR immediately and then have the recommended conversation with Jane.

    Honestly, who actually thinks they can get away with saying things like this? And WHO gets so angry at someone doing such a nice thing as finding an ADULT a ride home? Insane.

    1. S*

      Please please can we not go down the ‘I was also assaulted so I know what is reasonable for every other person who was ever assaulted to feel, think and experience’ road? As I said above, there are a million reasons that particular male volunteer driving her could be triggering, that would not be issues with other men. Of course the threatening texts to the sister were unacceptable, and I agree with the advice saying to fire Jane but it makes me so sad to see people doubting that she was triggered just because it doesn’t make sense to *them*.

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        If there’s one thing that’s certain about what experiences *anyone* will find traumatising or triggers, it’s that nothing’s certain and it could be anything for any reason.

        1. caryatid*


          although i highly doubt the sister in this scenario suggested the volunteer male driver knowing that it would be a trigger for jane.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        Legally speaking though, she’s not owed any special accommodation as a result of being a sexual assault survivor. I mean, it’s good if her employer can work with her, but unless it’s so debilitating that she can’t function in her life, she’s not legally entitled to special treatment because of it. At the very least, she’d need to formally ask and it doesn’t seem like she’s done that.

        1. Artemesia*

          Exactly. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that this not be accommodated in such ways as allowing a cab ride. That does not authorize her to make death threats to her boss well after the fact. It is more worrisome that she did this much later than if it happened in an outburst at the time. The latter is poor impulse control but waiting a few days suggests a level of disturbance that is seriously dangerous.

          1. OfficePrincess*

            Agreed. Similar to the phobia discussion yesterday, a person can be given a little leeway in a moment of being triggered/panic attack/etc. However, once they’ve had a chance to get out of fight or flight mode, normal standards of behavior are required.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          It was nice of OP-Sis to accommodate her. But the proper response is “Thank you.” Not “I will destroy you for this.” Something I guess Jane is incapable of.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Bingo. Sis made a simple mistake. She quickly realized her mistake and took steps to correct it. Jane has become the very person that Jane herself fears. And this happens. It’s well documented in abusive families, in effort to avoid abuse the abused children continue on to be abusive themselves.
            (Again, not everyone and not all families. As I said upthread, I know some people who had horrible childhoods and went on to become outstanding people. We also see that in history, biography and so on.)

            1. Cactus*

              Jane has become the very person that Jane herself fears.

              I’ve been thinking this throughout reading this whole thread–in threatening LW’s sister, couldn’t she be potentially setting off another chain of PTSD triggers? Does she know what LW’s sister has been through? It’s really terrible behavior on Jane’s behalf, and makes it seem like she doesn’t care about anyone’s wellbeing but her own.

        3. JessaB*

          Yeh, she can be subject to ADA/FMLA protections if she’s under care for things resulting from the assault, but she’d still have to begin the ADA process, you don’t just get accommodations, you have to ask for them and go through the process. Which she can still do if she needs to but that’s independent of the threat text. And even being under ADA accommodations would not protect her from actions against her stemming from the threat text unless there were some very narrow and specific mental health issues causing this, and there was a plan in place as part of the accommodation to have this stop ASAP.

      3. Anon4This*

        I’m not saying that she can’t be triggered, nor am I saying that I am the end all be all of knowing the appropriate way to react. I’m not. I’m not sure why I’m being attacked for asking a question. I’m not assuming she can’t work with men. I asked the question. I really don’t see the difference between my questions about Jane and the tone of the replies to my comments. Its hypocritical. I shared my past because it was relevant.

        I simply don’t understand. What’s the difference between not knowing the staffer and not knowing a cab driver? The point is how is OPs sister *supposed* to know what Jane’s individual triggers are? How is she supposed to know a staffer or coworker is not ok, but a cab driver is ok? It is *not* her responsibility to know. If Jane knew she was going to potentially have a problem, she needs to take care of it herself. Being a survivor doesn’t give Jane a license to manipulate a situation outsiders should have no business even knowing. Jane overreacted and is completely inappropriate. Period.

        1. S*

          “I am also a sexual assault survivor, but this confuses me. Is she never able to work with a male coworker alone without being ‘triggered.’ How can she even function at her job?”

          I wasn’t trying to attack you, but the above sounds really dismissive. If you know that you’re not the be all end all authority on sexual assault and triggers, then it should be pretty obvious, as many have pointed out, that there are tons of reasons why getting into a cab and getting a ride with a male volunteer are different situations. Also, nobody ever said that she could never work alone with a man. Going from ‘this one situation of getting a ride with this particular male volunteer’ to ‘how can she even function if she can’t ever be alone with any man.’ is a huge leap.

          “I simply don’t understand. What’s the difference between not knowing the staffer and not knowing a cab driver? The point is how is OPs sister *supposed* to know what Jane’s individual triggers are? How is she supposed to know a staffer or coworker is not ok, but a cab driver is ok? It is *not* her responsibility to know. If Jane knew she was going to potentially have a problem, she needs to take care of it herself.”

          There are many posts with many people explaining what the difference between the two ride options could have been. I don’t think anybody, and I know I definitely haven’t, has said that the sister should automatically know what Jane’s triggers are. I know I agreed upthread with everybody else who said that her reaction and texts a week later were totally unacceptable. But in the single instance of the drive, Jane did take care of herself. When presented with the option to get a ride with the coworker, she said doing so would be triggering and asked for a cab. The sister got a cab. I don’t know what Jane could have possibly done differently in the moment. As everybody, including me, has said, of course all the texts after the fact were unacceptable. There is no excuse for abuse.

        2. Ad Astra*

          Some people feel safer with “official” people like cab drivers, police officers, etc because they’ve obviously been checked out by some agency or company or whoever. Other people feel significantly less safe with “official” people because they have the means to cover up their actions and would likely win in a your-word-vs.-mine situation. It varies a lot based on the details of that particular survivor’s trauma.

          And while fear doesn’t typically function rationally, it does make some sense that she could be alone with a coworker at the office or something but not feel comfortable getting into the car with him. It’s also possible that she’s never needed to be alone with a coworker in order to do her job.

        3. Kyrielle*

          Jane overreacted. Jane was inappropriate. However, Jane being triggered is probably totally legitimate and real, and we can assume that *without giving her a pass on the subsequent behavior*, so I don’t see where it hurts us to assume that a) riding with that coworker was triggering and b) the cab ride was less-triggering or not-triggering.

          (And if you’re genuinely curious, there was speculation somewhere in here that I saw about various reasons why one might be triggering and the other not…none of which may be why it was true for Jane.)

          Of course, it’s also possible that Jane ended up in a cab and was triggered by that but too upset to make that clear, in which case of course she should have explained that when she calmed down; we don’t know. But in any case, I don’t think we need to criticize or question why the coworker was triggering but the cab was okay – Jane’s behavior *outside* of that one instance (and note that the subsequent texts days later are definitely well outside that moment) is actually far more egregious than what was described as happening *during* that moment, and can be addressed regardless of the question. I think sometimes the questions about “why X?” make other people remember times they’ve been questioned or belittled for what they react to, when really, a lot of it boils down to Brains Are Weird.

          (And I say that as someone whose fears – dogs and heights – are ones that are readily understood by most people, and thus go unquestioned. Despite the fact that I can trace the origins of both and both have unreasonable elements to them.)

        4. Not So NewReader*

          FWIW, because we cannot hear tone of voice it seems helpful to say “sincere question” or “not snark” to kind of give people the heads up that it’s an honest question.

          There have been a few times where I have used those phrases and I see others doing the same thing. I have been very impressed with everyone responding very patiently in those instances. It seems to help give people an idea of poster’s tone.

      4. Cactus*

        Thanks, S. I am also a survivor, and (like Jane, I suppose), riding in a car with a male acquaintance/stranger who I had not hired specifically for the purpose of driving cars would be far more uncomfortable than riding in a taxi. I don’t love riding in taxis alone (or taking public transit alone), but I can handle it, whereas the other would be pretty weird. (And the few times I’ve had to do so–which was usually someone guilting me into giving THEM a ride, not me accepting a ride–I’ve felt ANGER afterward.)

        Know what else I don’t like? Being touched by random people, especially on the back. I get all tense and squirrelly and red. Know what I love? Massages, from certified professional massage therapists. Triggers are weird.

    2. anonanonanon*

      OP said nothing about Jane not being able to work with a male coworker, and I don’t think it’s fair that people have started throwing that idea out there, especially since people so often use it to belittle victims of sexual assault and their triggers as a way to tell them to suck it up and move on with their lives. Just because someone prefers to take a business transaction with a cabbie over a ride from a male coworker (and maybe they don’t even know this coworker), it doesn’t mean they’re incapable of working alone with men. Assumptions like that don’t benefit anyone.

      That’s not to say I agree with Jane’s actions, because I definitely don’t, but everyone’s triggers and experiences are different.

      1. Charityb*

        Agreed. The core problem isn’t her trauma or her past; it’s that she is extremely aggressive and disrespectful to her coworkers. It actually doesn’t even matter what her reason is or whether it’s a good reason or a bad reason. The OP’s sister definitely doesn’t want to go there; getting into an argument about what’s reasonable for a sexual assault survivor to feel only distracts from Jane’s own (rather shocking) misconduct, and honestly people have been far too patient and deferential to her already.

      2. Green*

        I wouldn’t question sexual assault survivors’ triggers individually, but we already know that Jane appears to be emotionally manipulative and abusive based on other actions and her subsequent response. It would be fair if OP’s sister questioned (to herself) whether this was part of that pattern, but in the end it’s not relevant to the advice from us whether this was a “true” trigger or not.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I have not ever been assaulted, but I know that I have had male coworkers that I would never get in a car with. In some cases maybe they were creepy, but in other cases they could not drive worth a crap. Even with removing the part about sexual assault, there still might be reasons why people (either gender) would refuse to get into a car with a particular coworker.

        1. Julia*

          This. Or, maybe she’s afraid of them using “but I did you a favour” to pressure her into something?

  12. Susan*

    Jane sounds like she has some personality disorders, Borderline, Narcissistic, Histrionic, or a combination of the all. These types are manipulative whiners and you will never win. Learn how to spot them before you hire them.

    1. AnonAcademic*

      Please, don’t encourage discrimination and stereotypes based on mental illness. There are people who have those personality disorders who work very hard in therapy to overcome their illness. It is certainly fine to screen out job candidates who have attitude problems for whatever reason, and the overlap between people who have work performance issues and those who have personality disorders might be high, but I don’t believe it is ethical or legal to preemptively screen out candidates based on lay diagnosis of a PD.

      1. AnonyMoose*

        “Manipulative whiners” is a terrible way to categorize a huge number of people that already have a hard time as it is. Dear lord.

    2. neverjaunty*

      You don’t spot these people from third-hand accounts on the internet, and in any case, it is entirely irrelevant whether Jane does or doesn’t have some kind of diagnosable mental illness.

    3. Tara R.*

      Well, this is a gross way to talk about people with mental illness. There are an awful lot of awful people out there without any form of mental illness whatsoever.

    4. OfficePrincess*

      You can’t screen someone for a personality disorder via resume and interview, nor should you try, but you can watch out for BEHAVIORS that are red flags. Not everyone who is manipulative has a mental illness, some people are just jerks. The difference is that jerks don’t seek help.

    5. caryatid*

      while jane is absolutely a huge problem of an employee, we have no way of knowing if she has any diagnosable mental illnesses, and that’s not something we can ascertain over the internet.

      also, being an asshole makes you an asshole. being mentally ill doesn’t make you an asshole.

    6. CQ*

      How rude. I have Borderline, and I would never behave this way at work. People with mental illnesses are not all “whiny manipulators” (which I find really hurtful, so thanks for that), and terrible people do not all have mental illnesses.

  13. HRChick*

    I am really disappointed that they transferred her instead of terminating her. Then again, I’m of the mindset that threatening to “destroy” someone is an automatically firable offense.

    1. NickelandDime*

      I’m feeling a lot of sympathy for the team that has to accept her transfer. This will be AAM’s next letter…”New internal hire from another team destroying mine.”

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Been there, done that. My crappy boss didn’t back me up. Guess who’s gone now? (hint: neither of them)

      1. fposte*

        Then has your sister put down the boundaries Alison suggests? Including removing texting as an allowable method of work communication, which is a biggie? I’m a little concerned that you’ve been describing actions taken and none of them are this employee being dealt with by her manager.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Yes, and has the manager gotten involved?

          It is likely time for your sister to speak to an employment attorney at the same time she keeps pressing HR and management to act on this. If it is “extremely hard to fire someone” at her work because they are conflict-avoidant weenies, then the path of least resistance for them is going to be to fire or transfer your sister.

          1. fposte*

            Which manager do you mean? I meant the OP’s sister, who is the manager. I don’t think Sister should go to her own manager at this point–there’s too much risk of it being seen as asking somebody else to do Sister’s management work for her.

            1. neverjaunty*

              Probably Jane’s manager, but seriously, this isn’t “Jane is a jerk”, this is “Jane is issuing threats to me and getting her husband involved”.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  *headdesk* Right, I mean somebody else higher up in the chain. Because this is way beyond “my direct report sassed me”.

    2. SevenSixOne*

      But that’s sadly not unusual. At my first job, I worked with someone I’ll call “Casey” who had multiple appalling issues (health, emotional, behavioral, hygiene, you name it) + a whole bunch of seriously tragic events in the recent past. Casey had been with the company for years had always been a mediocre-to-terrible employee (Working with Casey usually meant more work than working alone. I can think of at least four times when someone had to put out a huge Casey fire, including one that was an ACTUAL FIRE!), but management refused to take any real action besides transferring Casey to another location when things got bad.

      At nearly every job I’ve had since, there’s been a Casey– someone who management refuses to fire for Complicated Reasons. It sucks!

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        ” including one that was an ACTUAL FIRE!”

        I don’t want to de-rail, but I think this needs more details – maybe in the open thread this week? Pleeeez?

          1. Chinook*

            “You mean actual fire isn’t normal in the workplace?”

            I thought it was but my current set of coworkers have pointed out that it isn’t. I like these coworkers.

      2. KR*

        My own Casey story here… When I was a teen, I worked at a certain coffee/doughnut shop that’s extremely popular in New England. There was an employee there, E, who had worked at and been fired from every other gas station and fast food restaurant in the area. She swore at the customers, refused to do parts of her job, cussed out other employees and a whole other range of things that would have gotten anyone else fired the moment they did them but the most my mediocre manager ever did was suspend her for two weeks (they were two very calm and wonderful weeks). It was so infuriating.

        1. Serin*

          The spouse used to have one like that — with so much longevity that they used to say that, quite literally, she’d started her job when Hitler still had three months to live.

          No one ever fired her, but eventually someone managed to persuade her to retire.

  14. huthut*

    “I am so hurt that I want to destroy you.” This is a threat and she needs to be fired. Aside from everything else, this alone means she has to go. I’d be worried about retaliation/revenge once she’s fired, but it needs to happen right away.

  15. Observer*

    Just a thought. Jane sounds like she could use therapy. In a very real way, that’s not your sister’s problem, but it’s something to keep in mind as it may have an effect on how HR handles (or fails to handle) the situation. Your sister needs to document Jane’s behavior very carefully and in a way that makes it clear that the issue is her work performance and lack of minimal appropriateness. eg Threats (“I want to destroy you”) is not something you have to put up with, even as an ADA accommodation. When Sis says “I need you to stop talking over people in meetings” she should probably add the line “Because it’s disruptive” / “because it shuts down important discussions” / whatever. Short but clear that this is not a “style” thing or Sis’s personal preference, but a performance issue. When Jane responds by effectively refusing to do what she was asked, and in a rude and unprofessional manner, the issue is that she is refusing to remedy performance issues. etc.

    Many organizations are too scared of dealing with anyone who they think might cry discrimination. But the law does not protect bad and disruptive behavior. So, you need to document the misbehavior, and where possible what you have done to accommodate any issues even though Jane has not formally asked for accommodation. So your sister would want to document the fact that when Jane brought up that she was triggered by the suggestion to ride to the airport alone with a guy, she was accommodated by having a car service arranged.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      concur 100% – hopefully the company has an EAP they can refer Jane to. We can do that when it seems like someone’s cheese is starting to slip off their cracker.

  16. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    A tangent, not intended to suggest disagreement with the content of your response:

    Are you sure that “plenty of managers” don’t text with employees? This seems like something that might have changed in the time since you were directly managing staff (my apologies if you still are). I’ve noticed that these days managers tend to do some texting (updating me on locations of meetings, checking on the status of something if they aren’t in the office, etc.) and expect/are ok with staff doing the same.

    1. Charityb*

      While it’s definitely common, there are still a lot of people who don’t and it’s reasonable to have that as a boundary (especially in cases like this). Some people don’t get reimbursed for their cellphone and don’t want to use their personal minutes or data for work-related stuff. Some people keep work stuff off their cellphone to make it easier for them to “unplug” after hours. Some companies that work on litigation related issues discourage doing work stuff on your phone because it could make the contents of the cellphone open to discovery in a court case (who wants lawyers thumbing through all of their personal text messages?)

      I totally agree that there’s nothing wrong with it and that it’s common to do that, but there are enough managers and employees that don’t use texting that it would be easy to impose a policy like this without being too weird.

      1. JessaB*

        Yeh my big thing about work on my phone would be archive and discovery issues. I actually do not keep anything on my phone. Not texts, emails, etc. if something is important I email it or forward it to my desktop account. I even delete the phone logs after making calls. So no, I’d not be happy with having to worry about corporate issues with disclosures and discovery.

        Also I’ve had a lot of friends with issues where the company pays nothing toward their phone bill and then practically insists on factory resetting their phone if they quit, even if everything on it belongs to them. No thank you.

        You want me to use a phone for work and it’s critical to the business you have two choices, buy me one and pay the bill, or pay the bill for me to add a second number to my account so I have a separate phone.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      Same here. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have my managers abuse this means of communication, but my last three managers have all texted me (usually for an emergency).

      1. JessaB*

        I don’t see the issue in an emergency, or when it’s part of the call out process or something. But as a rule I just don’t love texting for business purposes, because really, I find it hard to do it as a thing. The voice thing always makes mistakes, and I’m not very good at typing stuff on my phone keyboard, and having one of those bluetooth keyboards sort of negates the idea of texting being easy and spontaneous.

    3. AVP*

      I think this could go either way. My own managers are frequent texters, which I don’t mind, but some of my friends think it’s odd to be contacted that way, and their companies never use it.

    4. Nom d' Pixel*

      Even within our department, there is a lot of variation. No one within my group texts each other, and I don’t have the cell number of my boss or any of my direct reports. However, there are some groups that constantly text each other. People literally cannot go to the bathroom without being texted about something.

    5. MommaTRex*

      I’m in for the “going to be 5 minutes late for our meeting” kind of texts, but not the kind that actually involve work issues or personal (or personnel) issues.

    6. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m not saying it’s a majority of managers (but it wouldn’t surprise me if it is), but yes, absolutely plenty of managers do not. I actually was talking about this with a group of managers recently and there was lots of variation. It’s definitely not weird to say you don’t want to use text to communicate.

      1. LCL*

        I am one of the don’t use text for business people. I have told my work group that frequently, and when I send an email asking for response I state ‘no text responses’.

      2. J.B.*

        My boss will text me, but only in unusual situations (such as one of us being at a conference and we need to complete something). It’s definitely not standard operating procedure.

        1. AW*

          Same here. I’ve had managers who never texted me at all and the ones that have did it only because calling and email weren’t an option at the time (they knew I was driving and didn’t want to distract me).

      3. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        With my team, it’s individual. My cell is personal but I have unlimited text, so I’m willing to receive texts at any time. Some of my team members will text if they are taking a sick day or have a quick question while I’m in a meeting, others will email or wait till I’m online or at my desk.

        I have some team members with whom I’ve never had a text or cell exchange. Because of the power dynamics, I tend to leave it open to them to text me instead of initiating a text – I don’t want anyone to feel compelled to adopt my behavior if it’s unwarranted.

      4. olympiasepiriot*

        I’m in a pretty organizationally-fluid company (there is a strict letterhead but not always a strict hierarchy of flow of management during a project) and we DON’T use texts except for brief messages that will squeeze through a network bottleneck (like someone’s in a tunnel with short bursts of connectivity). Big spread in ages here, but most are tech-friendly. Some of our oldest are the earliest adapters in general.

  17. Michelle*

    “I need to stop before I unleash everything I have ever wanted to say to you,” and “I am so hurt that I want to destroy you.” These are threats and I would fire her immediately. It’s obvious she needs some kind of help.

  18. Donna*

    “I am so hurt that I want to destroy you.”

    This is a threat.
    I’m sorry that HR does not take this seriously, but I’m glad that your sister does and has taken steps. I would take HR up on their offer of a transfer. It probably will not stop Jane’s behavior, but it will make the lines less muddy. (As in, now she won’t be able to say that she has to speak to your sister because she’s her supervisor. She will have no legitimate reason at all to contact your sister.)

    If it were me, I would also visit a police station. Depending on the city, sometimes you can talk to a police officer and get a feel for how worried you should be about this and what your options are if the behavior continues.
    I lived in a small city and had a situation that involved one of my children. The detective I spoke with was very knowledgeable and gave us a lot of perspective on what had happened and what we should do next. When dealing with organizations (in your sister’s case, her workplace, and in my child’s case, the school) if you can say that you’ve discussed it with the police and they see cause for concern, sometimes the organization will take the situation more seriously.

    1. MashaKasha*

      Wanted to say something along the lines of your last paragraph, but wondered if I was being 0verly paranoid. Jane knows where OP’s sister lives, and Jane’s husband is supporting Jane every step of the way. Combined with everything else that OP has shared in the letter and on this thread, that scares me TBH. Are there any precautions OP’s sister can put into place in case Jane does get fired, doesn’t take to it kindly, and decides to take it out on OP’s sister?

      1. Donna*

        I guess that depends on how OP’s sister feels about guns. But even if she is opposed to them, learning self defense and having a home security system are good things for everyone to do.

        Dogs are good security systems too. I feel much safer with my dog in the house. (Although I’m not sure why–he isn’t much use. Sometimes he can’t even be bothered to bark. Maybe a creeper would trip over his sleeping body in the darkness?)

        1. SL #2*

          Hah! My neighbors have a pitbull mix and he looks so ferocious… but he’s a sweetheart and cries whenever the toddler accidentally kicks or trips over him. He’s not the greatest house guard, unless you’re another dog!

      2. RVA Cat*

        Actually we don’t know if Jane’s husband is actually supporting her since these were text messages – it could have been Jane using his phone – but I agree that the OP’s sister does need to take the threat seriously.

        This may be paranoid, but once it comes down to firing Jane, it may not be a bad idea to have OP’s sister’s boss due it while OP’s sister is away on vacation.

        1. JessaB*

          You know I never thought of that. You’re right, you can say for certain it came from the husband’s phone, but not that he personally sent the text. Yeh.

    2. Ad Astra*

      Well, it could be a threat. It doesn’t have to be.

      My mother shares some traits with Jane, and when she was at her worst point she would say things like “I am so hurt that I want to destroy you” to my dad or my grandma or whoever she was upset with. It wasn’t a threat; it was more of a… dramatic overshare. One of my mom’s big problems, and likely one of Jane’s problems, is that she has no idea how to set or respect boundaries. She thought the right thing to do was always to express herself, to tell people exactly how she felt, and then she’d be genuinely surprised that people were creeped out or even legitimately frightened by the things she said. I remember her doing lots of intense, scary drawings as a way to express her anger (normal) and then showing the pictures to the object of her rage and saying “This is what you did to me” (not normal).

      Now, if Jane is my mom in this situation, she’s going to need a lot of help developing coping mechanisms, reading social cues, building strategies for healthy communication, all that good stuff. BUT, if Jane is really me in this situation, she’s got a better prognosis: I used to manipulate people and overshare my feelings in creepy ways when I was upset because that’s all I’d ever witnessed growing up; that’s how I thought you were supposed to communicate with people. But, because I don’t have the same complicated mental health issues that my mother has, it was possible to un-learn these habits and start interacting with people in a healthier way.

      Maybe none of this has anything to do with Jane’s problem, but the behaviors seemed too familiar not to chime in.

  19. Aglaia761*

    Isn’t HR’s core responsibility to the employer? Can the OP’s sister come up with ways to frame Jane’s continued employment as a detriment to the company?

    Has OP’s sister clearly said that Jane needs to be fired to HR, or did she go looking for advice on how to manage the current situation? As in what should I do? Because it seems like HR chose the path of least resistance for them when given the choice. I wonder what would happen if she said “Jane is a detriment to the company and she needs to go. How do we go about terminating her?” Being a supervisor means that the company has evaluated her capable of managing other people and making decisions regarding the staff under her management. Begin as you mean to go on. Jane needs to be terminated. Every decision and discussion from now on should be geared towards moving Jane towards the door.

    I agree with another poster that it would be wise to consult with an attorney just to get an idea of what type of documentation will strengthen their hand. But in the meantime, you can’t go wrong with Allison’s advice to address each outburst in the moment and document everything.

    Also sending those text messages to email would probably be a good idea: There is an app called SMS to email for Android and you can update forward messages to email in iOS

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes. You have to ask HR the right questions to get the right answers. In this case, it would be, “I feel unsafe and this employee is threatening me. (details) She’s also proved unmanageable, exploding when given feedback and becoming abusive. I’d like to start the process to fire her. What will that entail?”

  20. KR*

    Wow. This employee is very out of line. Good luck to your sister. I agree that she really needs to cut off any personal ties to this employee. If she really was a friend to her, she would be a reasonable person at work.

  21. Sans*

    “I will just have to stop telling you how I feel, since you never listen.” ????

    Sounds like my overly dramatic teenage daughter, who equates disagreement with not listening. Not acceptable in the teen, much less a fully grown working adult.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I am just trying to picture telling a boss this.
      This one would have flown by my the first time I heard it, too. I would not have known where to begin. It’s helpful to take these one-off type of remarks and build responses- even if it’s in the aftermath of it all. Build a plan so that you are not caught off guard by that particular remark ever again.

      “We are not here to discuss feelings/emotions. We are here to do a job” [respond directly to the statement, state area to be focused on]

      “I was talking about X. You need to be sure to do X when you do Y and Z. Going forward will you be able to do X with Y and Z?” [Go back to the current issue and restate the current request]

      “A boss’ job is to make sure employees are familiar with company rules and know what their immediate tasks are. This does not require a discussion of feelings and emotions.” [set boundaries, this is what to expect]

      The one drawback is the longer you allow something like this to go on, the harder it is to rope it back in. That is when I got more nervy in squelching things within the first few times I heard them. It’s just so much easier to put your foot down early on.

  22. Gene*

    I am SO tired of the “You triggered me” excuse. I understand trigger situations/words/noises/etc, I have one or two myself, but that’s not an excuse to lose one’s shit.

    As I see it, “You triggered me” is no different than “You were wearing a short skirt and deserved to be catcalled.”

      1. Kelly L.*

        +1. I feel like I’ve “encountered” this* more in hand-wringing thinkpieces than I have in real life. Way more, since I can’t actually think of a time I’ve encountered it in real life, and I’ve been working on college campuses, where the handwringers claim it’s especially rife.

        *”this” meaning losing one’s shit over triggers, not the having of triggers at all.

        1. Ad Astra*

          Hmm, yeah. Even online, I only see people getting really intense about enforcing trigger warnings. I never see people trying to use “I was triggered” as an excuse for bad behavior. Literally never seen it.

        2. Jillociraptor*

          I work at a university with a reputation that would suggest that it would fuel The Atlantic think pieces on this to the end of human existence but…

          I’ve never seen someone request a trigger warning or claim being triggered in a loud, aggressive or rude way.

          I HAVE seen dozens of supposed actual adult human beings throw an actual temper tantrum at the suggestion that they alter their behaviors in small ways to help accommodate the needs of others.

          1. MashaKasha*

            This is interesting. I read the Atlantic think pieces and was properly horrified. I have a son in college, so I asked him how much of that was happening at his school, and he said “zero”.

            He goes to a low-ranking state school, (which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds), so I assumed it was only the expensive, private, elite schools that had this problem. Apparently not, huh!

            I would be very happy to find out that this whole issue has been blown out of proportion.

            I think that most of us have some kind of triggers, they’re a legitimate thing, that we learn to cope with, with or without professional help; and that manipulative people like Jane are also a legitimate thing that exists. There’s a small overlap where manipulative people heard the term trigger and started using it to manipulate others, as manipulative people do. Because they’re more vocal than the rest of us, it might at times appear to, say, an Atlantic author, as though everyone is complaining about being triggered by everyone else. Hopefully this isn’t in fact the case.

        3. Brisvegan*

          I have never seen it as an excuse for bad behaviour.

          I teach in a Uni. I teach areas of law that includes a lot of cases involving sexual assault and other violence, many of which include pretty graphic descriptions of the assaults. I give ‘content notes’ eg xxxxxx case involves domestic violence or yyyyyyyyy case includes a detailed description of a sexual assault. I tell students that they have to understand the judicial reasoning in the case. I also explain that the content notes are there so that students who may be distressed by cases can employ strategies to deal with the content of the case. (I usually acknowledge explicitly that a significant percentage of a class of adults is likely to have experienced or witnessed sexual assault and other types of violence.). I have had survivors of sexual assault and severe domestic violence thank me for the heads up, so that they can cope with content instead of being blindsided.

          I have never had anyone argue that they don’t need to do the coursework or act in any way like Jane.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I was a crim major, and we had similar warnings in classes where the instructors would be showing some pretty graphic material (crime scene photos and the like). I didn’t see anyone act that way either, though a couple of people did have to cover their eyes. Not me, but if it were that bad, I would have just politely excused myself so the rest of the class could continue.

            There was only one picture that freaked me out in our homicide class–it just happened to be of an exact thing that makes me shudder, and I did say,”Whoa!” when it came on (and everyone laughed) but the instructor said it freaked him out too, when he was prosecuting the case.

            1. Brisvegan*

              I worry about putting people on the spot in class, so I always give a heads up online and record my classes, so that people can choose to watch at their own pace at home or avoid classes if needed. Fortunately, I can also usually skip most really nasty facts and get to the legal issue.

      2. Gene*

        Yes. The two most recent were at Worldcon; one in a relatively private setting (small get together of people who see each other only at cons). The other was a world-class shit-losing exhibition in the main lobby area with the “You triggered me!” at max-scream. At least a couple of hundred people around; near as I could tell, the trigger had something to do with food, they were at a snack bar table.

        1. AW*

          the trigger had something to do with food

          You mean like an allergy? Because now I’m picturing someone giving someone else something they knew they were allergic to. I can see someone whose allergies are life-threatening freaking out over that.

          1. Gene*

            I have no idea, I didn’t see the beginning, just the major blow-up from about 50 feet away. It was epic.

          2. Pennalynn Lott*

            I’ve seen people lose their sh*t in a private Facebook group dedicated to fitness because other people were posting pics of their low-carb, paleo-ish homemade meals. Apparently a few people felt “triggered” by the food photos and thus were forced to binge-eat because someone was showing off the delicious homemade dinner they’d made. It devolved into a huge mess with one side demanding to be protected from pictures of food and the other side saying that pics of healthy homemade meals are appropriate for a fitness group.

      3. AnonForThis*

        I did encounter it with my ex, who used it in a very manipulative, destructive manner – particularly because his triggers were important and mine were a result of my general deficiencies. It was an excuse for him to act abusively.

        It’s not common, though, IMO.

    1. Allison*

      I’ve been sexually assaulted, and I do have triggers. They suck. BUT I know not to get angry at someone for triggering me without knowing it. You can’t possibly know what everyone around you has been through and what everyday word, phrase, song, smell, etc. might bring up an unpleasant memory for them.

      You’re not responsible for what happened to you, but you are still responsible for how you treat others.

      1. So Anon*

        Triggers suck so much. The worst happened when I went to a comedy gig, the story being told really really got to me I’ve never felt anything like it and it wasn’t even that bad it was just to close to home and the atmosphere in the room was super intense. It’s hard to deal with but lashing out at people isn’t appropriate.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        This. I have one trigger I only encounter in intimate situations, and if I feel like I’m going to encounter it, I say “This upsets me; I’d rather we avoided it.” I have never had any guy so far not understand that.

    2. LBK*

      I think the whole idea of a true trigger is that it does cause reflexive, relatively uncontrollable behavior, so I don’t think it’s necessarily an invalid explanation for bad behavior. However, I think you do have some responsibility to at least try to control it, to seek treatment for it, and to do damage control if there’s an incident. I’d expect the same from any other medical issue that potentially interfered with basic life interactions like going to work.

    3. Tara R.*

      Well, if someone grabs you from behind and you deck them reflexively because you’ve been assaulted, that’s a bit different from catcalling. Clearly, Jane’s behaviour is off the charts here, because the inapproriate behaviour happened outside of the moment. But yeah, some behaviour can be excused by “I was triggered”. That’s why veterans who wake up strangling their wives after a combat nightmare aren’t in jail for attempted murder.

        1. Tara R.*

          But even if they did, an involuntary reflex triggered by PTSD is going to be a pretty solid defense.

          1. fposte*

            To attempted murder, yes, because that involves intent. To assault, no. You absolutely can go to prison for a PTSD response.

              1. fposte*

                You could certainly use that in your defense in the U.S., too. But it’s a crap shoot whether PTSD would be considered to be sufficient or whether they’d buy that was what was really happening, especially given that that’s not usually an isolated instance of violence in the household in such cases.

    1. OP*

      I read AAM every day and I LOVE updates. I’ll send one for sure! Hopefully it won’t be the usual “nothing changed and I found a new job.”

  23. Donna*

    This is a bit of a tangent, but I am curious what happens when one employee takes out a restraining order on another employee who works at the same location. In a situation where one employee continues to harass the other employee outside of work and HR refuses to act, how would something like that play out?

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      In my state, the court decides how close the two can be. Then it is up to the employer whether to accommodate it or fire one of the two people. We have a victim of crimes protection act in my state but that is more to prevent employers from firing people for taking a day off to go to court or for having an ex that is calling the employer. A restraining order is also not a conviction of guilt. They are different standards. So, having a restraining order against you doesn’t mean you did it. As part of the court process the court would be informed that the two parties work together and the court would decide what it considers appropriate contact. If your employer orders you to break it and you do you still have criminal repercussions. Likely if you got fired for refusing to break a restraining order (that had REASONABLE terms) (you can’t be in the same room) you would likely have a good wrongful termination case. Getting fired because a restraining order had unreasonable terms (you can’t be in the same building) your employer would likely be in the clear.

      Look at Chris Brown and Rhianna. The court there made exceptions for them to be at award shows and other similar events together but he had to stay x number of yards away from her.

    2. fposte*

      There’s actually some decent guidance on the protection order at work issue in several online venues, since it’s unfortunately not an uncommon situation. I can’t tell whether you’re asking for general guidance or are asking if your workplace is supposed to be doing more than it is. There’s no specific “You must do X” guidance, but certainly employers should be doing their best to ensure that 1) contact is as limited as possible and 2) the petitioner has support for the necessary time off and some understanding of possible effects on her work performance. (Some states have anti-discrimination statues for victims of domestic violence that may be relevant here, too.)

      If the violations of the order are occurring outside of work, can you clarify what is it you want HR to do? They can certainly support the petitioner in reporting violations and in allowing time off to talk to the police. But they’re not required to fire a respondent. So mostly they’re stuck with the in-between stuff.

    3. Argh!*

      I remember this happening at college and there was a particular stipulation for one class the two were both in. They had to sit at opposite sides of the classroom.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Restraining orders can be written to fit the situation.
      In your example here, the defendant could be ordered to remain x feet away from the protected party while at work. Then outside of work the order of protection could be a “stay away” with “no contact allowed”. The defendant would have to stay away from the protected party and not contact her by any means.

      This is an example, the are many ways a situation can be handled. Judges are used to all the various options and can usually select an option that will fit the setting of the two individuals.

  24. Apollo Warbucks*

    I thought this might me Wednesday when I read this, WTF is going on there? Jane wants sacking and fast her behaviour is completely out of line and can not be tolerated in even the most dysfunctional work place.

  25. AJS*

    I think the male employee who volunteered to drive Jane really dodged a bullet. Who knows what crazy life-ruining accusations she might have come up with?

    1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      Yes, because all sexual assault victims make up stories about people assaulting them all the time.


      1. Observer*

        No, because NON-victims DO make up stories (or have false memories…)

        This woman is a lunatic, and given her totally unreasonable behavior and accusations, I have no problem believing that she could make something up.

      2. MashaKasha*

        What do *all sexual assault victims* have to do with this one crazy person? I think it would be a more constructive use of our time if we limit this discussion to Jane, and yes Jane does sound crazy and vindictive enough to could have done something like that.

  26. Allison*

    “I should not have to tell you what’s wrong if you don’t know”

    Even reading this, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. I will never understand why so many adults refuse to use their words.

  27. AnotherHRPro*

    OP: If your sister goes down the path of addressing Jane’s performance assuming it may result in a PIP or termination (which she should do), her boss and HR will be looking for documentation of performance issues, direct feedback on those performance issues and clear and reasonable performance expectations established identifying that there will be the consequences if those performance expectations are not met.

    I would recommend your sister take some time to pull together a memo to file that outlines (with dates) specific performance issues, relevant conversations and feedback provided to date. Going forward, she should make a habit of documenting these conversations. This does not have to be fancy or particularly time consuming. Sending an email to herself that summaries performance feedback conversations is a great way to document these things. Something like: “Today I met with Jane to discuss the inappropriate text messages she sent me on DATE. I explained to Jane that sending these types of messages to me or other coworkers is not acceptable and will not be tolerated going forward. Jane was initially argumentative during our conversation and initially justified the text messages, however she did agree that should not send messages like this in the future. I also discussed Jane’s general unprofessional communication style and how she has been very defensive when responding to feedback. I explained to Jane that I expect her to (whatever the expectations are), that performance in this area is currently not meeting expectations and that she needs to improve in these areas immediately as this is a requirement of her job.”

    Your sister may also want to summarize conversations after meeting with Jane and send those summaries to Jane via email. This helps to assure that Jane and your sister both understand what was discussed. Something like: “As a follow up from our conversation today, I have summarized our discussion below. (Include summary.) Jane, as we discussed I expect your immediate attention to these areas.”

    1. LBK*

      I might even skip the email to herself and just do the follow up to Jane, since that serves the dual purpose of documenting it for HR’s purposes and makes it unequivocally clear that Jane is aware of the issue.

  28. Argh!*

    EAP referral is a must if there is such a thing there. Also, saying you want to destroy someone is a threatening message and deserves a formal write up and a day or two of administrative leave. Sis needs to get with HR ASAP to develop a plan.

    1. lampshade*

      Yes, I was going to suggest actually that there be something along the lines of: I am willing to give you a leave of absence for x amount of time so you get the help you need or if you prefer not to do this then a performance plan needs to be put in place.
      Mental illness is a real thing and many of us have daily battles but this crossed over to uncontrolled or unaware of the consequences of behaviors. I doubt there is much a friendship left at this point but the respect we should show to each other as humans shouldn’t be forgotten, particularly when someone is suffering.

  29. Lizzieb*

    What’s bizarre to me is that Jane pitches such a fit over the mere SUGGESTION that she ride with a coworker- she wasn’t even required to do it, and was accommodated immediately! Was the OP’s sister supposed to be psychic and divine that riding with a coworker would be a trigger?

    1. caryatid*

      well, i think it is legitimate that Jane may have been triggered. but what is NOT ok is for Jane to threaten, berate, or abuse her boss for making this perceived “mistake”.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Yes. “because if you actually loved me you would be able to read my every thought and anticipate my every need. Obviously, you don’t love me.” sigh.

  30. Saucy Minx*

    Since Jane knew she could not stay to the end of the workshop, it was up to her to make whatever arrangements she required for her journey. Conscripting a CW or ordering a cab for Jane’s benefit was not her boss’s responsibility, although asking her why she needed to skip out early could well have been.

    1. Granny K*

      It sounds like she’s depending on her friend/boss for a lot more than just emotional support. This woman needs some counseling, and perhaps to grow up a little.

  31. JamToday*

    If I got the “I want to destroy you” comment, I’d call building security (or the police, if no security exists) and have her escorted out. Game over, no arguments, end of story. There is a bright line, she crossed it, her words represent a material threat to the safety and security of the person she sent it to.

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