boss accused me of faking a panic attack to get out of a meeting, coworker is taking over my social life, and more

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

1. My boss accused me of faking a panic attack to get out of a meeting

I’m diagnosed with panic disorder. My boss knows about it — we have an informal arrangement where I can leave early for appointments with my psychiatrist/therapist and make up the time working from home in the evenings. Luckily, it hasn’t affected my work to an extent where I’ve needed to disclose the condition to anyone else. My panic attacks usually happen when I’m at my desk, so I can quietly step out of the office for a moment and cool down without anyone knowing.

A few weeks ago, I had a panic attack in an important meeting. My boss, his boss (our team lead), and I were discussing an urgent cross-departmental project. Our team lead lost his temper and started screaming at us, and that triggered a panic attack. I managed to say “I’m having a panic attack. Can you please give me a minute to collect myself?” They let me have the time, and we finished the meeting later. They were understanding; my boss said that he understood, and if I need to take any time off, he’d explain to his boss.

But the next day, my boss told me I was being written up for disrupting the meeting. I tried to dispute it, by explaining that I had a panic attack which I couldn’t control. My boss’ reply was that he thinks I faked the panic attack to get out of the meeting and doing the work, and that it doesn’t matter either way, because I disrupted a meeting, wasting his and our team lead’s time.

I feel like my boss totally crossed the line here. I think he’s in the wrong for writing me up for a health condition I can’t control, especially after telling me that it was okay, and even more wrong for accusing me of faking it (since if he thinks he faked it, that definitely influenced his decision to write me up). What can I do to protect myself?

They think you faked a panic attack to get out of a meeting? I’ve been in some pretty awful meetings, but that’s ridiculous and insulting.

I don’t know whether your panic disorder meets the conditions to be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (it would depend on the details of how it impacts you), but either way, it’s pretty likely that your company isn’t going to be thrilled to learn that one of its managers is accusing someone of faking a medical condition and disciplining someone for said medical condition. I think HR is your next step here because if they’re at all competent, they’re going to step in and squash this. If they don’t and you want to explore other options, the next step would be to talk with a lawyer, who would be able to give you more tailored advice. That said, if your relationship with your boss is otherwise good and this feels like an aberration, you might judge that it’s worth more to you to preserve that (unless this starts to be a pattern, in which case that calculation should shift).

Read updates to this letter here and here.

2. My coworker is taking over my outside-of-work social life!

I have a great coworker who I began inviting to casual get-togethers with friends a while ago. For what it’s worth, he’s very smart and nice and my friends and I do like seeing him. However, he quickly got my friends’ contact information and is becoming a pretty constant presence in my social life, whereas I prefer to have more separation between work and home. Also, now he has started to see my friends without me, to the point that he is sometimes evasive when he tells me his plans so as to intentionally exclude me from social events. I feel like I have lost control over my personal space and also my enjoyment of what was previously a good working relationship. Short of going back in time, how do I put these boundaries back in place?

I don’t think that you can. I totally understand why you want to, but you can’t really control this kind of thing, at least not without coming out of it looking pretty bad. You introduced him to people who it sounds like he clicked with, and now they’re forming their own relationships with him. The very most you could do is discreetly mention to one or two of your closest friends that you sometimes want to hang out without having someone from work there, or arrange plans yourself and say something like “let’s keep it just you and me.” But beyond that, all you can really do is chalk it up to a lesson learned.

3. I’m afraid a mutual contact will tell my new job that I quit my last job without notice

About four years ago, I did something stupid that I am very ashamed of that is coming back to bite me. I had been working in a small nonprofit that for various reasons was not the right fit for me. Instead of resigning the respectful, professional way, I quit via email with no notice. I know, it was a horrible thing to do and I will never do something like that again! This organization is based out of a big city about an hour away from my town, so I didn’t think I’d run into anyone from there again and I thought it could remain a skeleton in my closet.

However, about a year ago, I started working for a large nonprofit in my town, and it turns out that the person who my old job had to hire to replace me (who now works in a different organization) sits on a committee with several of my colleagues from my new job and my boss! This committee is very actively involved in my department, planning community events and such. At a meeting several months ago, I unknowingly sat next to her and upon introducing ourselves, she (nicely) brought up that she knew who I was! Needless to say, I was mortified but tried to act as friendly and polite as possible. Since then, I have tried to avoid situations where I might see her but it isn’t always possible. The last time we were at the same place, I tried to stay occupied and engaged in conversation with other people to avoid interacting with her.

I really love my new job and organization and am making a good name for myself there. I had been a volunteer there for many years before starting as staff so they know me well and know I am committed to the cause. But I am terrified that this girl will say something to somebody and ruin my reputation. Can you please give me some advice for how to handle this situation both right now, and in the future if my colleagues and boss were potentially to find out? Do believe me when I say that I have changed and would not do this again!

It’s true that it’s possible that she’ll say something. But you’ve been working at your new job for a year now, and they have a lot of data from that year to judge you by. If you seem reliable and professional, that’s going to carry a lot more weight than a story about how you quit your last job. They’re also likely to think that there could be more to the story that they’re not hearing (like that there was a reasonable cause for leaving without notice, which your replacement wouldn’t necessarily have all the details on).

This is the kind of thing that can really bite you if it comes up during the hiring process, but is much less likely to be an issue once they already know you and you’ve established a good track record with them.

4. Could I have salvaged this hiring situation?

I am currently employed but have been searching for a new job for the past year. (There are few options in my area and I’m not willing to relocate.) While working at Nonprofit A, I collaborated with Nonprofit B on several projects and, as a result, have made a handful of contacts there. When a position opened up at Nonprofit B, I was thrilled! The position aligned so closely with my career goals and was a much better match than my current entry-level position. (I should add I have been working in this industry for eight years, moving up from part-time and taking time off for a graduate degree.) When I mentioned to my contacts that I noticed the position was open, they eagerly encouraged me to apply.

Well, I submitted my application, and a couple months went by without a word. Then I received an email on a Sunday night inviting me to interview over the phone that week. I was unfamiliar with the name on the email and did a little research. I realized it was an outside firm helping them hire. I responded the following day around noon (after checking my work calendar and less than 24 hours after receiving the original email) with my availability that week. Several hours later, I received a follow-up email and the person informed me that he no longer had time to talk to me that week. I asked if there would be more interview slots available the following week (and hinted that I had colleagues at Nonprofit B). He told me that he would contact me if he found more time.

I never heard back from him and according to my colleagues, the organization finished the hiring process and hired another candidate. I’m still searching for a new position several months later and I’m wondering, is there something I could have done differently? I keep kicking myself because I imagine this all could have been avoided if I responded to his email more quickly. I’m sure there were many applicants, but I was qualified for the position and felt I would have been a great fit, especially considering my proven track record working with the organization’s staff.

You responded to the email in a perfectly reasonable amount of time. It’s possible this guy is a crappy recruiter who chooses candidates based on who he gets ahold of first, but that’s bad hiring and it would be out of your control. It’s also possible that he just ended up moving forward with candidates who were a better match (keep in mind that being qualified for the job doesn’t mean that you were the most qualified).

Ideally, though, you would have reached out to your contacts at the organization and made sure they knew you were applying, and that although the recruiter had reached out to you originally, he ended up telling you that he no longer had time to talk. If they felt you were a strong match who should be interviewed, they could then intervene, or at least pass that along to the hiring manager, who could intervene. (If you did that, I’d take the lack of interview as a sign that they just didn’t think you were the strongest match of all their applicants.)

5. Do I have to list references on my resume?

Is it necessary to list personal and/or professional reference on my resume? I’ve seen good examples of resumes, one on your site, sans that info. Is it necessary? Would the hiring manager ask for them if/when they wanted them? It seems like something asked more on an application than a resume. Most of the jobs I’m looking for are home-based, so I don’t know if that makes any difference in adding the references or not.

Do not put your references on your resume. They don’t belong there, and employers will specifically ask you for them at the point that they want them.

Don’t even put “references available upon request.” It’s assumed that you’ll provide them upon request. Use that space for more important things.

Also, leave personal references off your reference list altogether, unless some weirdo employer specifically requests them.

{ 248 comments… read them below }

  1. LeRainDrop*

    #1. I feel ya! One of the partners in my group was an absolute mean-girl bully, and I was her target for quite some time. One time she knocked on my door, which was only shut because I was on a very tight deadline, and came in my office in order to pick a fight about another girl in our group. I asked her if we could talk about it later because of the work I needed to finish in short time, etc. She kept pushing the personality conflict issue, trying to stir up clique dynamics, until she eventually started yelling at me. I began to have a panic attack and was having trouble breathing and managed to ask her if she would please leave my office so I could get back to work. It then took nearly an hour to get my breath normal, stop crying, and re-focus. Anyhow, I was later told by her boss (she was Golden Child) that I had been insubordinate to ask the partner to leave.

    1. MommaTRex*

      I think anyone who is getting yelled or screamed at deserves the opportunity to call a time out! (panic attack or not)

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I had a colleague a couple years ago with a notoriously bad temper. A couple times in small meetings he started yelling at me for whatever reason and I just responded to him like I would a toddler: “I can’t continue talking with you if you’re yelling at me. I’m going to wait until things have calmed to a more reasonable level.”

        1. Bibliovore*

          I had a supervisor who was a screamer. This would trigger such a reaction in me that I would be shaking from the interaction and couldn’t comprehend a word she said. I went to a therapist who recommended exactly what Katie the Fed said with the addition of – “When you raise your voice that is all I hear and I cannot comprehend what you are trying to say” She did stop yelling at me.

      2. J.B.*

        YES!!!! Of all the things that burn me up this is the worst. What the holy heck is the boss thinking disciplining this employee rather than the screamer?!?!

          1. Revolver Rani*

            And I wonder if that is the key to what is going on here. The boss’s boss is the one who disrupted the meeting – not the OP. Perhaps the boss’s boss is embarrassed by having done that and the boss is now trying to get the OP to take the fall, so that boss’s boss can save face. It sounds horrendous. With or without a diagnosed panic disorder, no one should have to take the fall for someone else’s bad temper.

            1. Ama*

              Yeah, that was my first thought — that the boss’s boss (BB) is putting pressure (direct or not) on the boss to dismiss OP’s panic attack so BB doesn’t have to feel like he was out of line.

              But yeah, OP, I’d start looking if possible. Even without the panic attacks, a place where bosses scream at you in meetings and then blame the reactions of the people who were screamed at is not a good workplace.

              1. AMG*

                This!! If he’s writing you up, that’s a sign to me that the relationship isn’t salvageable. Definitely go to HR, but then go home and update your resume.

            2. Ani*

              Right. The top boss is almost certainly the one who perceived the unfolding of events as borderline or outright insubordination, especially if, as the OP said, it was an important meeting involving the assignment of work to the OP, which the top boss saw as the OP ducking. OP needs to act quickly with HR to be clear there is a diagnosis because otherwise it sounds like the top boss has zero patience and has indeed considered this a step toward possible termination.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Right? The boss was totally cool with it until it had an impact, so to speak, which is when he should have had her back the most. I really hope she disputed or will dispute the write-up because that’s ridiculous. Would they have written her up if she had vomited?? I mean, stuff happens.

    2. LW #1*

      Ugh, I’m so sorry that happened to you. It’s ridiculous how people treat us when we have panic attacks. With how stigmatized psychological conditions are, why would anyone lie about it?

      Incidents like these are why so few people are willing to talk about their conditions.

      1. wanderlust*

        I think people who don’t suffer from that type of condition sometimes don’t understand what a panic attack is like. My husband used to suffer from panic attacks and has GAD, and until I learned more about it, it was hard for me to understand the severity of what was happening and how impossible it was for him to control. For most people, “panic” is just a more heightened form of anxiety that can be alleviated by rational, calm thinking. Panic attacks obviously aren’t like that, but I think that could be why your boss didn’t take it more seriously.

        1. OwnedByTheCat*

          After reading this question this morning i was reminded by my ex boyfriend who asked “do you think that maybe going to a therapist is the reason you have such bad anxiety and panic attacks? how can talking about it that much really help?”

          …we broke up a week later. No joke.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Aw, that’s brilliant. I mean, that’s how they keep you as a patient, right? By causing the actual thing you’re seeing them for?

        2. manybellsdown*

          I’ve got a weird condition where my body sometimes overreacts to even moderate amounts of alcohol by flooding me with adrenaline and triggering a panic attack. Usually in the middle of the night. It’s totally physical and beyond my control. I can go to bed happy and mostly-sober and wake up at 4am with one. My mental state is irrelevant to it!

          1. LK*

            Can you tell me more about this? Sounds suspiciously like something my partner is dealing with and we haven’t been able to find much information.

            1. manybellsdown*

              Honestly, I’m not even sure it’s something with a name! My cardiologist is the one who (I guess) “diagnosed” it. His theory is that because I have really low blood pressure, my body sometimes overreacts to the depressant effects of alcohol by bombarding me with adrenaline. I will wake up in a cold sweat, heart pounding, and violently nauseated – but it doesn’t happen every time I drink, and it doesn’t seem to matter how much I’ve had. It’s happened after 1.5 beers in a 4-hour period, but I’ll drink 3 beers sometimes in the same time frame with no problem. Vodka will almost always cause it, even if I’ve only had one small cocktail the whole evening. So we’re not sure what the other factors are.

                1. LCL*

                  I have a similar reaction to vodka. Not as strong, no panic attacks thank God, but waking up with a pounding heart, headache, sweating. I don’t know why, conventional wisdom has it that brown liquors (rum, whiskey, etc) are more likely to cause this but I am fine with them.

    3. Brandy in TN*

      What is it about women that make them be so mean to each other like this? Men don’t do this near as much. I’m finally in a job where everyone gets along (amazingly) and there is no in fighting but I have a family friend going thru a very hard time and the mean girls at work just try to make thing worse for her.

      1. neverjaunty*

        There’s quite a bit of irony coming into a thread started by a male team lead screaming at the OP, whose male boss then disciplined her, and making remarks about how terrible women are.

        1. Cats*

          +1 – “Mean Girl” isn’t a problem with women, despite the name. It’s a problem with popularity, gossip and social status, which may manifest differently in men, but isn’t less of a problem.

          Please don’t perpetuate the idea that women have a particular problem with cattiness and gossip.

        2. VintageLydia*


          This type of behavior comes from men, too, but it doesn’t have a pithy vocabulary around it (queen bee/ mean girl/catty/girl fights/petty gossip…)

          1. Brandy in TN*

            Heres the deal I read LeRain Drop and was relating in my head about how my family friend is being treated at her work.

            1. Leah the designer*

              Men are just as bad for being yellers and screamers. He have a couple of men who pitch fits at my workplace anytime something doesn’t go their way.

              Then there are the two-hour yelling matches because some bit of information is communicated and no one seems to know whose responsibility it was. Oh and we have two days to finish the project build and ship out so it will make it to the show on time.

              Ok, it doesn’t happen that often, but thank got I’m on the front end of the projects cycle and I don’t have to deal with that nonsense.

        3. I'm a Little Teapot*

          Thank you, neverjaunty! Aside from the obvious sexism issue, it always mystifies me when people go on about how awful women are to work with because a significant majority of my bad bosses and coworkers have been men. Anecdote != data, but…it that a weird and unusual experience?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I strongly prefer that we not get into whether bad bosses/coworkers are men or women, anecdotally or otherwise. It’s as problematic as making those comparisons by race or religion, and it reinforces the idea that there are gender patterns to this stuff at all.

      2. LW #1*

        Everyone involved in this story is a man, actually. My team lead’s a very “traditional” type of guy, and I could very easily imagine him thinking “that big guy is saying he had a panic attack? What a wimp!”

        Honestly, I have my suspicions on why my boss rolled over and is coming down on me even when his boss’ behavior is questionable at best, but those’ll be saved for the hopeful happy ending follow-up.

        1. WildLandLover*

          I’m sorry this happened to you. I think the team lead was WAY out of line. No one should be screamed at in a supposedly professional environment. I don’t have panic disorder, but if this would have happened to me, I probably would have started crying. Your team lead and your boss are both jerks.

        2. RVA Cat*

          My gut feeling from the info you’ve provided is that your team lead – let’s call him Ramsey – is super toxic and bullying the whole office. I hope you have a happy ending soon, say either he’s gone or you’ve moved on.

          1. JessaB*

            I see what you did there. Giggle. But yes, it’s not on to have a toxic screamer in the office at all and it’s wrong to punish the one who either has a panic attack, or just needs to leave because hey yelling is bad and they need to regroup.

      3. Liana*

        That’s rude, sexist, and untrue. And for the record, my office is entirely women and it’s one of the most supportive, encouraging offices I’ve ever worked in. Society loves to build up this idea of women constantly competing and sniping at each other, but it’s not a gender thing, it’s a people thing (as we have seen by countless anecdotes as well as many, many posts Alison has made in this blog where the people in the letter are men behaving badly).

        Confirmation bias is a real thing, and if you already have the idea of the “mean girl trope” in your head, you’re much more likely to notice, and comment, when women are behaving badly then when men are.

  2. The IT Manager*

    #2. It sounds like you and your co-worker want the same thing – you each want to hang out with your friends without the other. Maybe he’s feeling the awkwardness of too much personal time with a co-worker, but he really clicked with your friends so he’s making plans with them without you.

    This sounds like a personal problem and not a work one. There’s no way you can makes demands on who people hang out with without appearing controlling and juvenile. “He was my friend first,” “you can’t be friends with us both,” etc.

    1. Artemesia*

      My best friends are people we met through someone else; the first couple are still friends but we do a lot more with the other couple.

      If you don’t want to socialize with workmates then don’t introduce them into your social circle. Once you do, it is out of your hands. Facebook has made it all so awkward — in the past we just wouldn’t know.

      1. Al Lo*

        So true. Sometimes I like to think back through the evolution of my friendships, and it’s really, really weird. Evolving relationships can get so complicated (and not necessarily in a bad way) that it’s really strange to look back and trace the threads of who met whom and when, and sometimes it sucks for a little while when those relationships are changing and the friendships are shifting. Hopefully it doesn’t suck forever, and hopefully everyone’s richer for the experiences with each other, but friendship can be strange.

        There’s “Mike,” my high school ex-boyfriend and “Sarah,” the high school friend who met Mike while he and I were dating and we all hung out together, and then they got back in touch years later and got married. (And incidentally, are now divorced, and I haven’t been in touch with either of them in years.)

        There’s “Amanda,” whom I met via email through Sarah, the same friend from above (way back in about 1998, when meeting online wasn’t nearly so common) — and then I was in Amanda’s wedding, and she and Sarah had almost lost touch by that point, 10 years ago.

        There’s “Leslie,” my college roommate, who introduced me to “Hannah,” who, through me, met the Amanda from the story above. I don’t think Leslie and Amanda ever met, but Amanda went to school in Hannah’s city, and they became friends through me, mostly, and now they trade Facebook stories about their kids.

        A bunch of those relationships can all be traced back, in some way, to a high school friendship with someone I haven’t seen in years; and all that to say, these threads are funny and tangled.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I once traced pretty much everybody I know to a favor I did for someone during my freshman year of college. I didn’t even like this person, she was awful to me, and even at the time I was like “Why am I saying yes to this?” If I hadn’t volunteered to do it, though, I’d know completely different people, because at the event, I met this guy I ended up dating and have lost touch with, and then it was that guy’s new girlfriend, a year later, who introduced me to some people sort of adjacent to my current friend circle. It’s so weird to think about.

        2. Nervous Accountant*

          I think it’s nice, I always get a kick out of how small the world can be.

          I don’t know, Im missing something, I just don’t see how this is a bad thing in any way? Its…so ridiculous and juvenile to be upset over it.

          1. Agility*

            We all get upset about different things. What’s “ridiculous” and “juvenile” to one person can be a huge deal to another.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I don’t think it’s ridiculous and juvenile (and please don’t talk about letter-writers here that way!). I think it’s a really common emotion in this situation, although there’s just no reasonable way to act on it.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            I don’t know—I’d be pretty upset if I introduced a new friend to some people and they quit hanging out with me to hang out with him. If they were still doing stuff with me, then I probably wouldn’t care, but if they totally dissed me and then it was all about the new person, I seriously doubt I would want to remain friends with them.

            1. AMT*

              Yeah, and there’s the added bonus of not being able to get away from the coworker while socializing with non-work friends! I can understand feeling upset if I thought the coworker was only going to be invited out with my friend group occasionally (and only when I’d invited him), but then my friends started inviting him to everything.

              It’s the same reason it can be weird to work with family. You have to be able to leave work behind, and if your coworkers are also your social group, that’s a problem.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I can’t say I’ve worked with very many people I’d want to hang out with on a regular basis. Only a few in years of working.

                In a way, it’s like not dating at work–if you get sick of them or they get sick of you, how do you escape!?

      2. Felicia*

        I’ve also met all of my best friends through other people (sometimes there are two levels of other people). One of my friends, let’s call her A, I met her through B, and we really hit it off, and then B got super jealous and told me to stop hanging out with A without her, because I was “stealing her friend”. Never mind that A can make her own choices, and so could I ,and I still hung out with B. B eventually got super hung up on the stealing her friend bit, so now, I don’t talk to her and neither does A, but me and A are closer together.

        B also seemed to forget that I met her through our mutual friend C, who I knew from work, and she knew from college, so if anything, by her logic, she would have been stealing me as C’s friend. (though I am also still friends with C, so it’s all ridiculous)

      3. Jen*

        Yes, this is a lesson I learned the hard way. I had a birthday party and invited a bunch of work friends and a bunch of friend friends. One work friend really bonded with another friend. They started hanging out. The work friend then quickly became a work enemy (telling other people I wasn’t doing my job, telling the boss I was being lazy, etc.) and then I still had to see this person out all the time for personal fun. It was impossible. Fortunately eventually her craziness became apparent to my friend and they stopped hanging out but it was a long road to that.

        1. Oryx*

          +1, I have gotten friend requests from every member on my team. Declined each and every single one.

        2. Judy*

          Or when your coworker is now real life friends with your friends. So you see group photos of your friends and your coworker.

    2. Preux*

      MTE. Sounds like he’s scheduling time with the friends and without OP2 because he doesn’t want to spend all his time with a coworker either.

    3. MashaKasha*

      There’s no way you can makes demands on who people hang out with without appearing controlling and juvenile. “He was my friend first,” “you can’t be friends with us both,” etc.

      +10000. My ex-husband met pretty much all of his friends through me. After our divorce, a lot of them took his side (even though it was an amicable divorce and there weren’t really any sides), stopped inviting me to social gatherings, and continued inviting him. Guess what? this happens. We all grew in different directions over the years, and they probably feel that they now click with him better than they click with me. Good for them! I guess I could lose sleep over the fact that they were my friends first fifteen years ago, and he wouldn’t even know them if it wasn’t for me, but that sounds like too much work…

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      Yeah, this is so true. No advice, but I can relate. About ten years ago, I was working at a place that was big on happy hours a couple times a week. I invited a super good friend of mine, who I used to work with, to happy hour and everyone loved him (and it didn’t hurt that he usually picked up the tab). Well, the company started struggling (and part of this was my manager’s fault, and long story but I should have had her position), so she laid me off, and kept her friend who I had trained extensively, who was very inexperienced (but super sweet). They continued getting together and going to happy hour and that really hurt, since my very good friend was basically hanging out with this woman who stabbed me in the back, and they were all having fun while I was job searching…
      But, that company went out of business completely about six months later, my friend moved on to something else, they stopped hanging out, and everything was back to normal with my friend and I a year or two later.

    5. Anna*

      I think part of what’s making it weird is if the OP is reading the co-worker right, when they ask about the co-worker’s plans and he gets weird about it. It probably feels like the co-worker is cutting the OP out of the relationship with their friends. I think if the co-worker just owned it (Thank you for introducing me to Bruce! We totally hit it off and are getting together to play pool) instead of getting cagey and weird, it wouldn’t feel like OP is having their life taken over.

      Also, yes OP, ask your friends to hang out without co-worker. It’s okay to do that.

  3. MommaTRex*

    OP #3 – If she was hired after you left, she might not even know about the manner in which you quit. Or even if she does, she might not really care enough about it to mention it to anyone. However, if she notices you avoiding her, it might become more prominent in her mind. So relax and don’t worry about it so much.

    1. JR*

      This is OP #3. Thanks for your comment! It was a small organization so I’m quite certain that she knows how I quit, but I think you’re right that its probably not a big deal to her – at least not enough to bring it up to someone. Thank you for the reassurance!

    2. JR*

      Your comment just got me thinking about how to go about acting naturally when I see her. Would a friendly “Hi, how are you?” be appropriate and sufficient? I do think it might be uncomfortable to engage in any more conversation beyond that.

      1. Yetanotherjennifer*

        That’s fine. I’d keep away from the topic of the common job, but I think avoiding her would not be good. It would add to or create a negative impression of you. And keep in mind that all of this is coming from you: you are embarrassed at your past behavior. I didn’t see that she had done anything to indicate she has ill feelings towards you, so you want to be careful not to put anything on her that doesn’t belong. If she is being friendly and cordial then you should assume things are fine and treat her as any other person in the group. Don’t worry until you have something to worry about.

      2. Mookie*

        She’s not an adversary and you don’t have to walk around on eggshells in her presence; you quitting did not injure her such that she’s been planning her revenge against you for four years. A lot has probably happened to you both since then, and she may not even recall what your former employer disclosed about your resignation. She’s somebody in your industry who has clout and experience and who is acquainted with your colleagues and boss. You don’t have to pursue a further professional connection with her, but there’s no reason to fear one or fear running across her now and again and freezing out a stranger as you’re doing is going to look odd and make you feel, in the long run, even more uncomfortable.

        1. Mookie*

          Also, she threw you a cue when she introduced herself, and that cue was friendly and warm and non-judgmental. You’ve done nothing wrong, and your reaction is totally understandable, but it’s time to move on. Your guilt about what happened sounds burdensome, but sometimes there are toxic workplaces (or workplaces or bosses or jobs that are irredeemably toxic to us personally) and sometimes we have to prioritize ourselves over performing professional niceties. It really is okay. You’re in a good, healthy position. Chin up.

      3. The Cosmic Avenger*

        If it helps, I’ve seen some people do some amazingly short-sighted and self-destructive things, and unless they were actively trying to drag other people down with them, I usually was hoping for them to figure their life out, and recover and then learn from that blowout. We don’t know that that is what this former coworker is thinking, but you haven’t seen any evidence to the contrary, so it’s not an unreasonable assumption.

      4. b*

        Just pretend you don’t know anything about it. That she’s just any old person. If she brings it up again it’s really weird. Your job now has nothing to do with your previous experience.

      5. Bwmn*

        I completely get that it’s embarrassing and would prefer to be a situation you could hide from forever – but given that you’ve stayed in the same industry, the more you can push through this socially and professionally, I think the better you are. It may just be in that your head you have big sirens flashing “OLD ORGANIZATION OLD ORGANIZATION” – but there are loads of other professional and small talk topics. There’s the committee’s work, there’s traffic and the weather, etc.

        I think if you are perceived as actively avoiding her then it just draws more attention to yourself. For better or worse, many nonprofit communities are known for being a bit gossipy and if you can be friendly and professional then it becomes a nonissue. Avoiding her may just make her wonder “why won’t this person talk to me, what’s up with her, maybe I’ll start talking about it to other people”.

    3. Pwyll*

      I agree, you should treat her as friendly as anyone else at these events and not worry so much about it. You should definitely stop avoiding her though, that gives off the wrong cues. If she drops another hint about her knowing how you left, I think it would be perfectly reasonable to say something like, “I’m really embarrassed by the way my departure happened. It’s something I’ve learned from, and I really do wish everyone well at Job 1.” And then I’d change the subject and never go back to it.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This is great. Good wording.
        OP, maybe this is the worst thing you have done in life, but it may NOT be the worst thing she has seen other people do. In other words, she can’t figure out why you are avoiding her because it’s just not that big a deal in her mind. Wouldn’t you be shocked if she said something like, “Yeah, a couple other people walked off the job there, too. It’s pretty well known there are some problems there.” She might show you some empathy in some manner.

        Another thing to consider is that she is part of a group that you belong to also. This means that her job requires her to make the best of the group that includes YOU. So just as you feel you should get along with her, she feels the same way about you.

        Many of us step in some crap at some point. Next time the situation could be reversed and it could be you who has to forget about someone else’s misstep. Some people make big mistakes that they go to jail for, and, OP, yours is that not on that level. Don’t let it eat at you.

    4. JGray*

      I have to agree. I would also add that if it were me and since this person was your replacement I wouldn’t put much weight into what she was told and is now repeating. Unless this person actually worked with you and was present when you actually quit all they have it hearsay. In the last job I had I did everything right but had a supervisor that had only been with the organization for 10 months. He really didn’t care about how things had been done or want understand anything- his only focus was to change everything. I think he was probably actually happy that I left because now he could get things done the way he wanted without question. Well I heard from my old coworker that he spend 2 months training my replacement which essentially amounted to badmouthing the way I did everything. My only saving grace for this job is the fact that the supervisor I had for 5 years loves me and can be my reference.

  4. Doriana Gray*

    OP #1 – My original comment was going to be, “Your boss is an ass,” but then I re-read your letter. It’s possible your boss believed you had an attack, but the team lead didn’t and, thus, told your boss to write you up for wasting their time. It doesn’t make sense otherwise if your boss has never before had an issue with accommodating and being understanding of your condition. To suddenly flip and write you up for it? That sounds like outside pressure to me. But then that leads me back to the whole “ass” thing because your boss, knowing the situation and you personally, should have pushed back and defended you if that is indeed what happened.

    OP #2 – You just got Eve Harringtoned. That never feels good; I’m sorry :( Next time, if you really do want to maintain a healthy distance between work and your home life, keep your boundaries in place. You can still be nice to coworkers – just on company time.

    1. Bookworm*

      +1 for your All About Eve reference.

      Although, FWIW, I have at least two good friends that I originally met through colleagues – and I’m fairly certain I’m no Eve Harrington. At the very least, I have yet to become a famous Broadway star.

    2. LW #1*

      I agree with you! My boss and I don’t get on too well, but he HATES paperwork in any form at all, and I can’t imagine him saying he’d take some heat for me if he didn’t mean it, because, again, we’re not exactly best friends. But on the other hand, it’s almost a sick running joke in our department at large that team lead is immune to HR complaints (no stories in case someone I know is reading this, but I’ve related them to friends at other companies, and they think he’s completely ridiculous). So from that, I can see why he’d roll over and go along with team lead but he’s still an ass.

      1. neverjaunty*

        I am boggling at the idea that “Our team lead lost his temper and started screaming at us” is considered acceptable in the first place – let alone that you would be written up for reacting poorly to it!

        1. Xarcady*

          The way I read it, it was the team lead who disrupted the meeting by losing his temper and yelling at everyone, not the OP for reacting to that display of temper.

          The team lead might be upset with the OP–because the OP’s panic attack put his unprofessional behavior in the spotlight.

        2. WildLandLover*

          Yes, this! Adults should not be screaming at other adults in meetings. Sounds like the team lead is not an adult.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Spineless. That’s really a shame. I mean, it sounds like there was no compromise, boss could have just spoken to you about it but the write-up is stupid and over the top. Boss’s boss sounds like he just has a giant ego and how dare you disrupt his rant.

      3. Anna*

        Even if it was the team lead who is pressing the matter, definitely still follow Alison’s advice. There’s absolutely no excuse for being written up for a medical condition.

    3. Mando Diao*

      Can OP1’s boss defend OP without revealing that OP has disclosed a medical condition? The scenario you’re laying out was my guess too: Team Lead doesn’t believe that the panic attack was real and demanded that the boss write OP up. I can see how OP’s boss may feel like he doesn’t know what he’s allowed to say.

      1. Colette*

        If that were the concern (which I don’t believe is an issue), he could say “yelling at people is inappropriate, and many people react poorly when you do it.”

      2. misspiggy*

        OP disclosed her medical condition in the meeting though, by saying she was having a panic attack.

        1. L McD*

          Having a panic attack doesn’t mean you have an anxiety disorder. It’s possible some people picked up on it because if you’re able to identify a panic attack immediately it’s probably not your first rodeo, but disclosing a single acute panic attack is definitely not the same thing as disclosing a chronic anxiety disorder.

          1. Vulcan social worker*

            The OP said she has panic disorder, which is a specific DSM diagnosis. Not that I think the DSM is the end-all, be-all of mental health, but if you’re asking whether she had a bona fide anxiety disorder, it certainly sounds like she has been diagnosed with one by a mental health professional.

            1. BuildMeUp*

              I think L McD is saying that the people in the meeting know that the OP had a panic attack, but may not realize she’s been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and that this attack wasn’t just a one-off.

            2. Not me*

              It sounds like OP said in the meeting that she was having a panic attack, though, and of course did not launch an explanation of her overall diagnosis. Someone who didn’t quite get that she was, you know, preoccupied by trying not to hyperventilate or throw up might have thought that the lack of other explanation was a red flag for “faking it.”

              1. Vulcan social worker*

                Yeah, that makes sense. I was reading it as what she disclosed at all as opposed to in the meeting. Rereading the letter I see that her boss is the only one who knows. I wouldn’t expect her to say more during a panic attack than that she was having one!

                1. Not me*

                  I can see the other way a little bit, too, and no worries, I didn’t read your comment that way. I’m pretty much thinking out loud about why someone would hear “panic attack” and think that it was a poorly-executed fake.

            3. cataloger*

              Right, but I think the distinction L McD is making is that OP knows she has an anxiety disorder, but she did not disclose that condition at the meeting just by saying she was having a panic attack.

            4. TheBeetsMotel*

              I think part of the problem is that the phrase “panic attack” has, like so many psychiatric words and phrases, been commandeered into common parlance. “My wedding arrangements are giving me a panic attack”, for example, when describing normal responses to stress and anxiety. Therefore, legitimate sufferers are assumed to be either faking, being dramatic, or the condition itself isnt taken very seriously, leading to eye rolling.

              It sucks and it’s totally unfair, but you see this happen a lot; the word is downgraded to everyday use, therefore the condition is, in the minds of some, downgraded to something non-serious. See “depressed”, “bipolar” – even “migraine” (physical health conditions aren’t immune to this nonsense either!)

          2. Velociraptor Attack*

            On a similar line of thought, I’ve heard “panic attack” used very colloquially so it’s possible that could play into someone else in the meeting not thinking it is valid.

            Of course this is all moot because the entire situation is ridiculous.

  5. Tinker*

    “Our team lead lost his temper and started screaming at us… my boss told me I was being written up for disrupting the meeting [by leaving].”


    1. LW #1*

      Team lead’s been at the company for around thirty years and apparently weathered HR complaints before this. He’s not going anywhere. I think he avoids a lot of flak that he’d get for his conduct by almost exclusively hiring fresh college grads who don’t know how to assert themselves in a workplace environment yet.

      1. Tinker*

        Yeah, so the organization is enabling that behavior. As is your boss, it seems — at least on this occasion. Even so, usually if one is going to say that a meeting was disrupted by an incident involving lost tempers and screaming, it’s the person who lost their temper and screamed who disrupted the meeting. That it doesn’t apparently work that way in this case is… troubling.

        1. Camellia*

          Something similar happened to my daughter. She worked in a bank and her boss’s boss was known to go into people’s cubes and yell loudly at them, and sometimes throw pencils. The first time he did it to her she talked to her boss about going to HR. Her boss replied that she could do that if she wanted to but all he could say was that others had done so in the past and they were gone and this guy was still there. So instead she just found another job as quickly as she could.

          I quizzed her about the pencils – was he throwing them AT people? She said no, he would throw them to the side. Otherwise I was going to suggest she choose an incident right before she left and call the police on him for attempted assault. That would have been lovely to see.

      2. blackcat*

        I don’t respond well at all to being yelled at (calm, critical feedback, I’m good with). I didn’t grow up around people who shouted, and my only real experience with being shouted at was in an abusive relationship. So yeah, like you, I’d have a panic attack.

        You handled it more gracefully than I would have.

        If I were you, I would become LW #3–I’d quit over email. Not that that’s a good thing!

        I think the more appropriate response is to look for a new job. It sounds like the lead isn’t going anywhere…

      3. MashaKasha*

        Wow that sounds like a very toxic work environment. yes, if that’s the case (and especially if what Doriana Gray’s comment above is saying is true, and your boss wrote you up because he caved in to the pressure from the team lead)… time to polish up your resume and start looking.

      4. LabTech*

        I think he avoids a lot of flak that he’d get for his conduct by almost exclusively hiring fresh college grads who don’t know how to assert themselves in a workplace environment yet.

        Uhg, I really wish this would stop being a hiring strategy. (It definitely rings true for my first job out of college!) As if getting a job as a recent grad isn’t hard enough, having Toxic Boss as your very first reference, and Toxic Job short stint on your resume is a recipe for hard times.

      5. Seattle Writer Gal*

        I worked at a place where one of the art directors (a middle-aged man) would throw a tantrum anytime you questioned his artistic choices. I tried complaining to HR about it once and the woman literally replied, “oh him? ha ha!” and shrugged.

        It’s despicable how this kind of behavior is not only rampant, but enabled, and then only for people of a “certain rank” within the business.

        1. DropTable~DropsMic*

          This is what “missing stair theory” is about. I won’t link the original article because it concerns sexual topics, but it is a great article and I encourage non-squeamish adults to look it up. The metaphor is about a creaky old house where a staircase is missing a stair, and the house’s residents have learned to jump over it, and if a guest doesn’t realize the stair is missing and falls and hurts themselves, the people who live there will blame the person who fell for failing to jump rather than fixing the broken stair.

          Likewise, people in an organization (family, community, what have you) will bend over backwards to accommodate a toxic person while blaming anyone else who fails to do so rather than confronting or firing the toxic person. It’s awful, it happens in all sorts of circumstances, and it messes up the entire culture of the organization.

    2. Knitting Cat Lady*

      My thoughts exactly.

      Team lead was throwing a tantrum, OP asked to leave the room for a bit to gather themselves.

      And OP is the one who disrupted the meeting?

      That’s Insane Troll Logic. Look that one up on TVTropes at your own peril.

        1. VintageLydia*

          It’s always polite to warn before you link to TVTropes because I’ve yet to meet someone who hasn’t then been sucked in for several hours immediately after looking it up :P

    3. Boo*

      That is exactly what I came here to say.

      If HR aren’t up to scratch I would honestly consider filing a formal grievance and if necessary going to tribunal about this, and that isn’t something I say lightly.

    4. Artemesia*

      I don’t have panic attacks or an anxiety disorder and once when a boss yelled at me and threatened me over doing something that was ‘the way it had always been done’ in our department without having directed me to do it differently I did have this almost indescribable physical reaction which I am guessing from what I was reading was a panic attack. It was terrifying — and I am someone who has stood up to unreasonable behavior from a boss in a meeting and generally doesn’t get pushed around. But this was terrifying somehow. I would think if you have a diagnosed condition that it would be ADA protected and cause for going to HR — although it sounds like the HR here is toothless and this guy is a known abuser who is tolerated.

      1. JessaB*

        Yep, you probably had your first panic attack. Hopefully you won’t have a second. Having panic disorder is, as you figured out, a really really really scary thing. I hope you’re all right now and it was a one off. Zen hugs if you’ll take em. For some people they feel like they can’t breathe, some they feel like their heart is going to break out of their chest or they get so shaky they can’t stand up any more. Some people get that all and worse because those physical reactions can trigger other disorders (asthma attacks, migraines, etc.)

  6. Bookworm*

    OP #3

    I understand your fear here, but you mentioned that:

    a) four years had gone by

    b) she was your replacement (not your boss or anything like that)

    Honestly? She probably did hear of your unprofessional departure. But smart, reasonable people generally understand that their are multiple sides to a story and that you don’t take all your data points from only one. Also, most reasonably people have better things to do than stir up drama that’s long since been laid to rest. It would reflect on her too if she started bringing up old grudges from past jobs.

    This might be a good reminder, however, to think about how you would approach this topic if it were ever to resurface. Probably short and sweet is best, e.g.: ‘I was young and scared of quitting. I’m mortified that I behaved in that way and can tell you that I’ll never do it again and I never have.’

    1. JR*

      Thanks for the input Bookworm! I think I have been so busy stoking the fires of my fear that I hadn’t realized that it would reflect badly on her to bring it up and would make her look gossippy. She seems like a mature, professional person so I’m sure she realizes that. I appreciate the reassurance and advice!

      1. Bookworm*

        And for the record? No judgements from me. I honestly think my Dad forcing me to go back is the only reason I didn’t just quit one of my jobs by ghosting. The last two weeks can be horribly painful.

      2. LC*

        When I got hired to my current job, my coworkers told me that the person I was replacing just up and quit in the middle of a really busy time for the department – she just cleared off her desk, emailed her resignation, and left her security badge on her desk, which caused the alarm to go off as she left the building.

        When I was told this, I was pretty shocked at the unprofessional behavior, but after being incredibly unhappy in this job for over 6 months… I totally get it. I would still never leave the way she did, but sometimes I feel like she was living the dream taking off and never coming back.

        Anyway, who knows, maybe this lady understands why you did it!

        1. JessaB*

          Yes, a lot of people I think would wonder why on earth someone left so precipitously rather than think OMG unprofessional, especially if they already have a year of working with the OP and the OP has been really professional. I would not default to “terrible employee quit with no notice for no reason at all,” without having more info.

          Also it’s possible that the new person isn’t even sure if the person who quit is the same person as the OP or even remembers the name of said person. “Sara quit with no notice,” is not the same as “Sara Smith” quit, for instance, they may not even know the OP’s whole name.

    2. Sunflower*

      I just want to second all of this. When someone has information about us that we don’t want someone else to know, it’s easy to get into a frenzy regardless of what the setting is. It’s helpful to remind yourself that most people are worried about themselves first and foremost and will avoid getting themselves into trouble as much as possible.

      Also if I was this person, I would assume your current employer either knew how your last job ended or if they didn’t, it’s because they didn’t care enough to ask.

  7. MillersSpring*

    #1 Does your boss truly know what a panic attack is? I did not, until I had one myself. It can feel like a heart attack with racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, etc. He may think it’s merely a mental state of mind.

    I agree that your next stop should be HR. Your boss probably got embarrassed and peeved that you had to leave the meeting with HIS boss and is punishing you with this “write-up” nonsense.

    1. J.B.*

      I have family members with panic attacks/panic disorder. From the outside it is not obvious what is going on. But the person is purely in fight or flight. I am really amazed that OP was able to calmly say something about it.

      1. fposte*

        Once you have a few you can learn how to ride the wave. It’s the first one that’s really going to freak you out.

        1. Amadeo*

          I’ve had two, ever, in my life, the last one just recently (and definitely the worse of the two) because of a medication. Straight out of the blue like a thunderclap in the car, on the way home from work. No reason. Fortunately after the first couple of seconds I realized what it was, or I definitely would have ended up calling someone to come get me from the side of the road.

          If you were looking at me and didn’t really know me, you would never have noticed there was anything going on.

    2. MashaKasha*

      I had anxiety attacks when I was in one of my relationships (he was needy and controlling and I was running myself ragged trying to meet his needs. eventually he left and the anxiety attacks stopped on the same day.) No it’s not fun. I’d wake up in the middle of the night struggling for breath! Or I’d be driving and all of a sudden I’d have trouble breathing. It was pretty scary. And mine were probably on the milder end of the spectrum! Maybe the boss does indeed think that OP1 having panic attacks means “oh, OP1 feels panicky, no big deal”. In that case he needs to be better educated about them!

    3. Not me*

      It sounds like the boss had some understanding of panic disorder previously, but I’m still also wondering about this. He might not have learned about the physical side of it, at least.

      Which is funny, because panic attacks are diagnosed based on physical symptoms, but okay.

    4. mander*

      Indeed, some of us learn that we have a tendency to have panic attacks because we end up in the emergency room thinking that we are having a heart attack.

      Generally speaking, they are terrifying experiences with very prominent physical symptoms, and in my experience anyway, very little warning or connection to whatever is happening in the environment. I had them several times per day during an overall stressful period of my life, but there was almost never a specific trigger — usually I’d be cruising along, absorbed in my work, and suddenly I would start to hyperventilate, my pulse would be racing, I’d break out in a cold sweat, develop an intense pain in my left arm, etc.

      The idea that I would be able to fake something like that is absurd.

      1. JessaB*

        Exactly, unless you occasionally have the kind where you start to sweat like crazy or hyperventillate, it’s really not something you can tell by looking at someone. Taking their pulse or blood pressure, sure, but many attacks don’t look like anything at all, many of the symptoms (the racing heart etc.) are not visible at all.

  8. voyager1*

    Let’s just cut to the chase, screaming at someone is unprofessional in probably 99.9999% of civilian jobs. So yeah your Team Lead is wrong and jerk. I am gathering this is an office and of course not a war room plotting to save the free world or lives were in danger in some other way….

    Your boss probably had to write you up because Team Lead made him/her to because your panic attack pretty much embarrassed them because their terrible unprofessional behavior caused it and made them look like a jerk.

    But if you want to push this it is all going to be based on what you have documented with your HR about this condition. If it is just you have an understanding with your boss, you don’t have a leg to stand on sadly.

    I am firm believer people raise their voices and scream because they can’t communicate something without controlling their emotions. Screaming at someone at work just lacks any professionalism and frankly maturity.

    Sorry LW you dealt with it.

    1. LW #1*

      I work in a very low stress office job that has zero interaction with the public. Occasionally we have to work extended hours, but the job is as far as you can get from being in the military or working in an ER.

      The unofficial agreement with my boss always felt a little shaky – he dislikes paperwork in any form. I suggested that we make it official or document it in some way a couple of times, but each time he said that it wouldn’t be necessary. In retrospect, it feels like he might’ve insisted on that in case a situation like this did come up.

      I’ve met with my therapist since the write-up incident, and he said he’s fine with writing a letter detailing my diagnoses and the length of my treatment (started way before this incident). Would this be worthwhile, or would it be too little too late?

      1. neverjaunty*

        When somebody tells you that paperwork on something important ‘isn’t necessary’, what they mean is they don’t want you to hold any cards. I can understand why you would not have wanted to push this with your boss, but yes, your instincts are correct that he is trying to avoid any pesky documentation that might get him in trouble.

        Honestly, this sounds like an incredibly dysfunctional workplace. If it’s somewhere that your team lead is allowed to engage in behavior that would greatly upset someone who doesn’t have panic attacks (let alone someone who does!), you’re punished for it, and your boss refuses to have any written evidence of his agreement with you, that’s not just a pain, that’s seriously damaging to you.

      2. Kora*

        If you’re planning to talk to HR, I’d get that letter written up; it can’t hurt and it might help, especially since you now know you can’t rely on your boss to have your back on this once other people get involved.

      3. Zahra*

        Did you have email conversations about this? If yes, it’s documented. It may not be formally and officially documented in the HR system, but your boss cannot deny knowledge of your panic attacks.

        1. misspiggy*

          Also, the OP said to an entire meeting that she was having a panic attack after being screamed at. That’s plenty of evidence, because it’s not reasonable for anyone to assume she was faking. Only a very dysfunctional HR team would refuse to take action if she made a complaint.

          1. JessaB*

            And many people would NOT want the documentation considering the social issues with medical issues that are considered psychiatric in nature. It’s not outrageous to casually mention to the boss, then have to document later because someone complains (I worked in one place for two years and had to document at that point because a fellow employee complained I wouldn’t do x task, and he was asked to do it for me. When I couldn’t actually do that task at all.) In my case however boss was on my side and just said get me paperwork so I can cut him off about this.

            In the OPs case it’s perfectly reasonable to NOT mention needing an accommodation until something comes up when you need one. IE “I need an accommodation because when I was yelled at unreasonably I had a panic attack and boss wrote me up for this,” so we need to stop this from happening ever again.

            In a way it’s like someone who needs glasses, but their eyesight suddenly gets worse and now they need a super large monitor with large print. They wouldn’t have gone to HR going “I have glasses I may need an accommodation in the future,” if they never needed one til then. Same with panic attacks, if you have the kind of attacks that have triggers (rather than the sudden unexplained ones,) you wouldn’t mention it officially if your office never really triggers your panic up until now.

            It’s not at all out of line to say “I talked to boss informally about my panic disorder in the past, it finally happened that something – Charlie screaming at me, triggered a panic attack, boss had a fit and wrote me up, I need to have an ADA discussion so this never happens again and if possible with documentation from my doctor have the write up pulled. But in any event going forward, being written up for having an uncontrollable panic attack cannot happen in the future, thank you.”

            The mere fact that the ADA discussion didn’t happen prior to the attack does not mean it’s going to be an issue per se.

      4. Kenzie*

        Now is probably the time to insist that everything get written up/documented/filed with your boss and HR about your anxiety and panic attacks so that you are better protected in case something else happened.

        Stress to your boss that although the ‘unofficial’ agreement seemed to work before, but with the incident that just happened, you feel the need to fill out all of the paperwork and bring a letter from your therapist so that everything is documented for the future.

      5. Kyrielle*

        You may want to touch base with HR *before* getting the letter, or at least be aware you may have to go back to your therapist and get whatever formal forms they need filed for this.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Yes, but it might not be in the right form / format, and might include too much or too little information. Which is why touching base with HR first and asking “What documentation do you need from my therapist?” might save a return trip otherwise needed to dot i’s and cross t’s and all that. That’s not to say that presenting the letter first isn’t a valid approach, just that it may still mean a return trip for more specific documentation (and/or may give HR more info than they actually need about the condition, in order to accomodate it).

      6. Stranger than fiction*

        Yes, do it. Even if it’s true nothing ever comes about by going to HR, at least they’ll have it in your file. And if this crap ever happens again and they let you go, it’s documented in case you need to fight the termination or what have you.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT GIVE THEM YOUR ONLY COPY OF ANYTHING. And if there are any emails about this with your boss, then forward them to your personal email so you have them later if you need them.

      7. Anderson*

        For me it is very clear that he is avoiding on purpose to have any document of the agreement.

        You should at least get it on an email and hopefully he will reply it giving his ok.

        And it is definitely the time to show him all the documents you have from your therapist, and perhaps you even should give it to him via EMAIL because then again you will have it digitized and that is a valid evidence!

  9. anon attorney*

    Hi #3, I can understand why you are embarrassed but I wonder if avoiding this woman is going to make it more rather than less likely that she might become a problem? I think I would try to interact with her in a low key and natural way at these events and just let the reality of your present self replace the image of your younger self. Avoiding her is understandable but in a sense almost reinforces the idea that you are somehow shameful, rather than conveying you have moved on and are confident and acceptable. The idea of prepping a brief explanation /apology is great. Arm yourself with that, and most importantly forgive your younger self. We all make mistakes and you have learned from yours which is all anyone can ask of you. Good luck!

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Yes, it sounds like you are still running away. You can take control of the situation and remove that big fear. Next time you’re in a meeting with her, don’t run from her, but go to her. If the old job comes up in conversation (and you could even bring it up if you wanted), tell her how embarrassed you are for what you did, what you’ve learned since then. In other words, you’re not the same person. And by no longer hiding from her, it shows her that you really are not the same person.

      And, after that, there should be no awkwardness. The topic has already come up, you were in control when it did, and it doesn’t need to come up again. You’re past that, and you both know it.

  10. Heather*

    OP 1, Thank you for not being afraid to speak up about mental illness! I get panic attacks too and people have no idea how hard it is to work while your body is reacting like you’re falling off a cliff. They assume you’re being dramatic, which can make the symptoms worse.
    Like I once had a boss who triggered an attack by yelling at me. I tried to step out of his office to compose myself, but he kept insisting I come back. So I sat there visibly shaking and sweating. It was awful. So I wish I could be as upfront as you and say hey, my body wigs out sometimes deal with it, but the stigma forces me to hide out in the bathroom. Good luck going to HR, I hope he gets a lesson in sensitivity.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      Ugh, it’s just the worst feeling! And to me, the worst part is the “hangover” afterwards. I feel anxious and depressed for a full day after a panic attack. Thank goodness I don’t get them very often. I really feel for LW1 and am completely disgusted by her boss and team lead.

  11. Mike C.*

    OP 3:

    Call me crazy, but I don’t think you committed as terrible of a sin as you think. You didn’t no call/no show and as an adult you presumably had a reason to make the business decision you did. It’s not a stupid, horrible or unprofessional thing to leave a job with no notice in and of itself.

    If I were you I’d take a deep breath and continue doing well where you are.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      Yeah, I’m here.

      It’s problematic at reference stage because it could lose you a job you’d otherwise have gotten. But it’s not a terrible sin, and I’m speaking from the other side where I’ve had it happen to me. Managers deal with it because that’s what we’re paid to do.

      I think this many years later you should let yourself off the hook for it.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      Point of clarification: I do think it’s unprofessional, but I don’t think it’s a horrible sin to have done and unprofessional thing at one point in your career. I don’t think it should carry years of guilt or a mark of shame or anything.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Totally agree. That said, I know (from experience) it’s hard to let yourself off the hook! And honestly, it might be worth a session or two with a therapist to work through some of it. Bad feelings stuck inside your head can fester when they might not out in the open.

    3. Graciosa*

      I think that Alison and the commenters who tell you to take a deep breath and stop panicking about this are right – but yes, it is a serious problem and I wouldn’t have hired you if I found out about it in time.

      This scenario is pretty close to what we warn people about in telling them not to do this – the world is smaller than you think, and it’s pretty risky to behave poorly and assume no one will ever find out.

      But yes, you can get (mostly) past it by building up a good long track record of reliable performance in another job and acknowledging the issue the next time it comes up. I think you should focus on that rather than directing your energy toward a past you can’t change (or trying to fulfill a self-imposed quota of guilt).

      Good luck.

      1. Anonyhouse*

        Why exactly is this such a horrible thing that people deserve to lose jobs over it? Employers let people go all the time without any notice or even professional notice. Sometimes they lie about the reason before and afterwards.

        I really don’t understand where this double standard comes from.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*


            It’s both professional and the right thing to do, to give 2 weeks notice if you leave a job OR pay 2 weeks severance (minimum, depending on years of service), if you let someone go.

            Just because we’ve had people leave unprofessionally, without proper notice, doesn’t mean we get to be unprofessional with the next person we have to let go.

  12. Katie the Fed*

    OP #1 –

    I wonder if you can also work with your therapist to discuss some strategies for dealing with others if these types of incidents crop up again?

    Before people jump down my throat – I know that it’s a medical condition and you can’t control your response to it in the moment.

    HOWEVER, it’s not a condition a lot of people truly understand, and the word “panic” doesn’t help with that. What it sounds like to a lot of people is that you can’t deal with stress or normal frustrations, even if they say they understand. And I don’t know that you’re doing yourself any favors by telling people details in a situation like that. You wouldn’t announce to a room that you’re having a Crohn’s flare-up, right?

    So I think maybe a better strategy in the future would be to just excuse yourself from the meeting, like you’re going to the bathroom, and then use that as an opportunity to collect yourself. You really don’t need to tell everyone the details of why you need to excuse yourself unless they ask later. Just go collect yourself and return. Then you don’t have to worry about whether or not they take your condition seriously, or ask them to modify their behavior to assist you with your condition.

    1. J.B.*

      I agree, but work on getting out because if team leader is bulletproof this isn’t going to get better.

    2. Erin*

      I agree with this. “Excuse me for a minute” or “I’m sorry I need to step away for second” is nice and vague and gets the point across.

      1. Sadsack*

        Yes, but this might seem wrong to the person higher up who happens to be screaming at you. How would this be viewed differently in that person’s eyes? I agree that the person shouldn’t be screaming in the first place, but that is the type of person you are dealing with.

      2. esra*

        That would be better, but at least with my experience with panic attacks, isn’t always an option. A few years back I was getting them during a particularly stressful time, and basically all I could squeak out was “Panic. Panic!”

    3. neverjaunty*

      I would hope nobody would jump down your throat for recommending the OP work on some pre-prepared coping strategies ahead of time.

      That said, this is the kind of workplace to run away from for people who DON’T have panic attacks.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I know–if my boss did that to one of my coworkers, I’d be looking myself. Because it would only be a matter of time before something ridiculous happened to me.

        1. Doriana Gray*

          Yup, that’s why I left my last position. When my manager reamed one of my remote colleagues on the phone for 30 minutes in earshot of our entire floor, I decided then to get out. It didn’t matter that we’d had a generally pleasant working relationship until then – she was unprofessional and unhinged, and I refuse to work for someone like that.

    4. Mimmy*

      This is a very solid point – I too was thinking maybe she didn’t need to actually mention she was having a panic attack. It is hard in the moment – I don’t have panic attacks but do occasionally lose it when I’m heading into sensory overload. I’m not sure about panic attacks, but when I get overloaded, it usually comes on pretty quick, leaving little time to even think.

      While the OP’s boss and team lead handled this situation completely wrong, it is still an excellent suggestion to work on strategies for future incidents because something tells me that this team lead is not going to change any time soon.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        ” I don’t have panic attacks but do occasionally lose it when I’m heading into sensory overload”

        Me too – it’s only recent I’ve been able to even identify this. It’s usually when people are talking over each other or interrupting me a lot – I get really overwhelmed.

    5. Winter is Coming*

      I second the therapy recommendation. I have a family member who has improved dramatically over the past 6 months from seeing an excellent therapist. It’s a relief to see!

    6. Case of the Mondays*

      I have Crohns and I do tell people (at times) that I’m having an attack. That is because adults don’t understand when other adults can’t wait to use the bathroom. If I’m in a meeting and need to step away at an inopportune time it can be seen as rude or immature. I even had one professor once say “this is an hour long class, I don’t expect anyone to leave during it.” In that case I give people a heads up. “I have a medical issue and use the bathroom frequently. I also can’t wait when I need to use it. If I get up at an inopportune time, I’m not being rude.”

    7. LW #1*

      Yup, I think this is a totally reasonable suggestion! We’ve been working on it a bit, but unfortunately I’m not at the point where I can keep my composure when my job is being threatened by a superior – either directly (the write-up) or indirectly (furious screaming team lead).

      It is definitely one of my goals though.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        FWIW – I have some anxiety issues and sometimes when people are acting truly crazy, I can try to step back and look at them with detached amusement, like watching a gorilla at the zoo banging on the glass. I don’t know if you’re at that point, but it might be worth trying. It’s kind of fun.

      2. DropTable~DropsMic*

        I’m really sorry you are going through this. I also have an anxiety disorder and mine also gets triggered by the way people treat me at my job.

        I hope you never feel like there is something wrong with you for not being able to respond calmly to that sort of treatment. I’ve had a lot of conversations with my therapist tha basically amounted to “just because you have xyz mental health problem doesn’t mean you’re being unreasonable/that Thing should be tolerable.” I do hope you’re able to find some good coping strategies, but some things are truly unacceptable, and the behavior of these people you work with seems like one of those things.

  13. J.B.*

    OP 1 – I would tend toward going to HR in this case and getting more in writing. At least if they do write you up in the response to that. At least then you will have something to fall back on for the next screaming fit and incorrect response.

  14. Roscoe*

    For #2, Alison is right. There is nothing you can do here. Trust me, I’ve been in this situation from both sides.

    When I was that work friend who “took over” someone’s social life, I had no idea it was a problem. I thought we all had fun, but apparently the co-worker was silently getting more and more angry about it. His brother would even invite me out at times. My friend was never not invited though, but he didn’t always come. After we stopped working together, he ended up just ending the friendship one day out of the blue. This guy had some other emotional issues, so it made it a bit easier to deal with. But it still sucked. The reason he liked hanging out with me (fun, friendly, outgoing) became the reason he ended up hating me.

    Not necessarily work friends, but I’ve also had other friends I’ve introduce into the group then they are just ALWAYS there. As much as I like the person, I sometimes wanted to hang out with my friends without them. I even started to form resentment. I started to understand my former friends issues and why he was so angry about something that I wasn’t intentionally doing. BUT, I had to let this anger go. I just have to think about the fact that I was angry with him and my friends for wanting to just hang out with people they enjoy. Thats not a fair thing to be mad about.

    So the only thing I would recommend is to on occasion just say “I need a break from work now, so I’d rather not invite Jim out today since work may come up”. Thats fine now and then, and most people would get it. Too much more than that, and you’ll start to look REALLY petty

  15. Amo for This*

    OP #3…we had a person who quit in a similar manner several years ago. He quit via email bragging that he was on a private jet with his new employer. It was unprofessional. But, the thing that gets remembered the most isn’t the way he quit, it was that he used the job as a way to network with other employers. It was his behavior on the job that tarnished his name, not the way he quit. The way hew quit makes most us chuckle. So I wouldn’t worry about it. It wasn’t very professional to quit that way, but I agree with AAM if you did good work while at the organization that is what is going to be remembered and important.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I’ll second this. A couple of my predecessors just quit one day. It does not bother me that they walked. What bothers me is the STAGGERING amount of errors they made that I am still correcting after three years. I spend zero time thinking about how they quit the job. I don’t think you have the problems with errors in your work, OP. It’s much easier to forget something that happened in one moment. It’s harder to forget something that happened over and over for months or even years.

  16. TotesMaGoats*

    #OP1-Wait. You got screamed at and wanted to leave the room and then gotten written up for disrupting a meeting? I would run away as fast as possible. That’s not a healthy environment. And how on earth do you write someone up for disrupting a meeting when you are getting screamed at? (Ok, I know technically you can write people up for whatever you want but this is just, I have no words.)

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      I think Katie the Fed nailed it. Some irrational workplaces expect people to “deal” with it. Law firms come to mind. You are supposed to be able to sit there and be someone’s emotional punching bag and just roll with it. Stepping out shifts that balance of power. It is totally irrational. Like you are a teenager that came home late and your parents are yelling at you. You don’t get to say “yeah, I don’t want to listen to this. BRB.” In law firms, it is a bit of a master/slave dynamic. You sit and take your punishment. One prior bad boss felt that if he didn’t see tears, you didn’t “get it.” We didn’t work out.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It’s also like this in retail and other jobs. Being screamed at is part of the job, if you leave the room, yeah, you will get written up for walking away. It’s pretty normal in many environments.

        It can be very difficult to convince people that screaming is not normal/professional/acceptable. If you say it gives you headaches or an upset stomach that would be because you are weak, not because the screamer is over the top. (No, I do not agree with this, I am just saying what I have seen and been told.)

        It looks to me like Screamer was not done screaming and when OP would not put up with the screaming, Screamer raised the steaks. This is more, “How dare you walk away or ignore me?!” than anything else.

        1. LCL*

          Yup. Though the person in my job that is a screamer is not a supervisor. She told me more than once that I was being condescending and disrespectful because I wouldn’t sit there and be yelled at.

      2. Renee*

        This is true, and that’s why I will never work for a law firm again. My last firm’s partners had a reputation for being really nice and caring but behind closed doors this was still the dynamic. In my community, the culture is inherently toxic. Combine that with a saturated workforce, and it’s peanuts for a lot of abuse. My life improvement since escaping is immeasurable. I was terrified of leaving because it was what I knew, but it was a lot easier than I expected when I actually did it.

  17. DesignGeek*

    OP 2: I can actually really empathize with your coworker. I moved to my current city a year and a half ago and knew NO ONE. My office is not super young (I’m in my early 20s) so I got to know one of the few other younger people in my office very well. I’ve been introduced to all her friends since she went to school in the area and have made a lot of my friends through her. I often feel bad, like I’m “using” her but I do really enjoy her company as well and I try very hard, perhaps too hard, to never make her feel like
    I’m poaching her people. It’s silly and stressful but I really love the people I’ve met, though not all of them have been directly through her. I can understand your desire to keep the two spheres of life separate but take it as a compliment that were the connector in this situation. I think there’s something wonderful about people who bring new friends together.

    1. MashaKasha*

      but take it as a compliment that were the connector in this situation. I think there’s something wonderful about people who bring new friends together.

      This is an excellent point!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        And OP could be a connector person and not even realize. We need people who help us connect to each other. When I was in my twenties I did not know anything about the concept of connector people. I had a couple family members and friends that would stop by work. At that time, I had a very cool boss who enjoyed meeting them. He would see them around town and they would stop and chat with him. He enjoyed that. Later on he said that he got a big kick out of how my friends and family all knew each other. That should have been a clue for me. Well, yeah. I introduce cool people to other cool people. It just seemed like a good idea. It was at least ten more years before the idea of being a connector ever even dawned on me.

        A friend of mine is a serious connector. He had a party and invite his FB friends…. all 1000 of them. Yes. 1000. Some people enjoy or even need to create something that is bigger than themselves.

  18. Dasha*

    #1 I’m sorry and I wish some people had more understanding about anxiety, panic attacks, and mental health in general. I think you need to go to HR and hopefully your condition is covered. If this is a pattern or it can’t be fixed, I hope you have the option of looking for a better work environment.

  19. A Nonny Mouse*

    Only time I’ve quit a job without notice was also via email. I’d quit the job under the advice of my psychiatrist that I beat it the hell out of there given the job’s stress levels and the effect it was having on my bipolar disorder. The office was incredibly disorganized, the managing partner was all over the place (my favorite was when she left me a handwritten note on my desk one night berating me for, among other things, not printing double-sided to save the trees).

    Technically I’d given two weeks’ notice already but the situation deteriorated to the point where I was having daily panic attacks, not sleeping, and my blood pressure was skyrocketing. I was scheduled to start my new job immediately after my notice period, but I didn’t want to start in that kind of physical and mental condition. So I emailed one morning and said that under the advice of my doctor, I would not be returning to the office. Admittedly, I kiiiiiiiiiiind of fudged that since my doctor didn’t exactly tell me to quit early, just to get out of the job as soon as possible, but my parents were taking a drive to Florida over the course of a week and invited me to go. I thought it would be a good break in between jobs, and restorative as well, so I just… didn’t come back.

    Over the course of the next week, the managing partner sent me three emails to my personal email address again berating me for quitting without notice, leaving my coworker to do my job, betraying her, “breaking our bond which she protected in ways of which I was not aware,” and accusing me of betraying the trust of another former employer who she knew on a social level whose divorce I’d discussed with her (at her prompting). Okay, I admit that last thing was not the most professional thing to do, but neither is, you know, emailing a former employee at home to berate them for quitting. That’s part of the cost of doing business and even if they do it without notice, well, you’re not ENTITLED to notice, it’s just a thing that’s considered a courtesy.

    She also withheld my final paycheck by a month, to “make sure my time was entered correctly.”

    That said, I’ve been at my current job for over two and a half years, and they didn’t call her for a reference, of course, because at the time I was with her, she was my current employer. When they finally heard this whole story, well into my employment, they laughed about it and said they could understand why I quit without notice (and, as it turns out, I’ve heard through the grapevine that she’s had four people quit the exact same way after me…)

    So, yes, current employers with whom you’ve established a relationship will often understand that there is more to that kind of situation than meets the eye. I wouldn’t be too concerned.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      “I’m sorry, I didn’t write you a formal resignation letter because I was saving trees.” Oh boy, if she could only see all the trees we kill at this place.

      I too once quit my job on the spot via email one morning (called and left a voicemail too, but my boss never called back since he got the email). However, this was a Sales environment where when someone quit, they pretty much expected you to leave immediately so you no longer had access to the leads.
      I know he didn’t hold it against me, too, because we’re connected on LinkedIn and he sometimes endorses me (although by now he probably doesn’t even remember how I left anymore). Anyway, water under the bridge.

      1. JessaB*

        I quit once in person. I was young and it was a lawyer’s office, he had asked me to get him a file and I couldn’t find it. I walked in, happening to have papers in my hand, he grabbed them (I mean snatched them right out of my hand in a huff) and yelled and screamed at me that “these weren’t the files.” I told him I couldn’t find the file, and he screamed some more. I told him my father didn’t get to scream at me like that and quit on the spot.

        While cleaning out my desk I found out that the other secretary (who hated me,) had the things locked in her desk in a drawer to which I had no key and did not sign out the file or otherwise indicate she had it. He kind of sort of non apology apologised, I was actually the better worker but she’d been with him forever, I said nope, and left.

        I went on an interview the next day and literally had to call my mother (I lived in a basement apartment in my parent’s house, and she’d worry) and explain that I would not be coming home as early as I told her, because they hired me on the spot and I had to work.

        But yelly screamy outrageous bosses are in my opinion the kind in the post email world (mine happened in the 70s) you quit on from a distance.

    2. Panda Bandit*

      That was scummy of her to hold onto your final paycheck. Most states have laws about when final paychecks should be handed out, usually the next scheduled payday. If a job is dragging the process out you can sic the Department of Labor on them.

  20. Jerzy*

    OP #2 – If you’re worried that your friends are now choosing to hang out with your co-worker instead of you, and that you’re somehow losing your friends, this is something that needs to be addressed with them. It has nothing to do with your co-worker. Maybe he’s someone who has a hard time making friends on his own, and you were gracious enough to open a door for him.

    I’m someone who has struggled to make and keep friends. In general, I have terrible taste in friends, and have ended up friends with a lot of not-nice people. In a former job, my manager also did stand-up comedy, and some of use from the office would sometimes go and see him. One time, a friend/co-worker brought along another friend of hers to the show. My co-worker then had to leave early due to a family emergency, so her friend and I ended up hanging out. Now, I’m closer with this person than even my former co-worker, though the three of us will still hang out together, and sometimes just two of us. I know they do things without inviting me, and I don’t always invite both of them to come along to things either. It’s no big deal. There’s room enough for all of us to be friends in our own ways.

  21. Erin*

    #1 – This sentence stood out to me: “My boss’ reply was that he thinks I faked the panic attack to get out of the meeting and doing the work, and that it doesn’t matter either way, because I disrupted a meeting, wasting his and our team lead’s time.”

    He basically acknowledged the possibility that you were not faking it and said *that didn’t matter.*


    Not to mention, your coworker lost his temper and started screaming at the team. If people were acting professionally, as they should in an office environment, you wouldn’t have even had the panic attack to begin with. Although I would not put too much emphasis on the other guy when you go to HR – I’d keep the focus on your medical condition – but still, that cannot go overlooked.

    Even if for argument’s sake you did “disrupt” the meeting, so did he! Did this man get written up as well? If I’m reading this correctly it looks like he’s your boss’s boss, so probably not. Of course.

    This whole thing is disgusting. HR and higher ups definitely need to know about this. Good luck.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Yes. The “you’re faking” has no point since Boss would have disciplined OP either way – it’s just a gratuitous way to shame and attack OP.

      1. NYer*

        How do you fake a panic attack? Whether it is a medical panic attack or just panicking because she was being yelled at, both are legitimate reasons to leave the room.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              Yep. Apparently he was only familiar with grand mal type and accused her of having a panic attack and trying to get out of work. Since she couldn’t respond to his prodding (but she could hear everything going on around her) he got more pissed and started poking her with something… This was at work and she told me later and I reported it to the fire chief who said he’d look into it and talk to the guy bla bla.

        1. neverjaunty*

          I agree, but Boss clearly didn’t know or care; he just wanted to pile crap on OP rather than acknowledge the team lead is the problem.

      2. Sally Sparrow*

        The “you’re faking it” is really just insult to injury meant to make OP feel even worse. Especially since Boss said it didn’t matter where OP was faking it either way.

    2. Jennifer*

      I strongly suspect this kind of thing would happen at my office–whatever your reason for anything doesn’t matter as long as things don’t look 100% perfect. Hell, I got written up for having a whopping headache coming on during a meeting and thus I didn’t look perky and it “disturbed” people.

      1. Erin*

        It *disturbed* people? That is disturbing. Mind your own business and concentrate on the focus of the meeting, not on how perky other people are looking. Geeze.

        1. Jennifer*

          Yeah, I know, like, why wouldn’t you ask if I was feeling sick or something if I looked that terrible?

    3. LW #1*

      Well, I met with HR and it didn’t go too well. My boss is kind of a “rising star” in our department, so I think they may be afraid of doing anything that gets him mad. It’s sad, since my company loves to put out statements proclaiming how diverse and inclusive they are.

      I’m going to try and get a meeting with a higher-up in HR, or someone in our legal department. I work in a fairly large company, so I’m sure that I will be able to speak to someone who has some sense. I’m going to email Alison an update once I get a happy ending to this situation, even though it looks like that’s going to be me leaving the company. It doesn’t seem to be a good idea to give continuous updates on this, but right now I’m pretty mad and want to get this off my chest.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m pissed off on your behalf. Definitely look into ADA and whether it might cover you, so that you can use that language with the next person you meet with.

        1. LW #1*

          I’m incredibly pissed. I’m just restricting all my swearing and rage to texts with my friends where it won’t get public. My therapist is an older guy with a lot of experience helping people with workplace issues, so we’re going to work on wording a complaint to a senior HR rep or legal department associate at my next session. It’ll be very thorough.

  22. Pwyll*

    LW3: Similarly, I once went to a conference where we were put into small groups of 5 people for the entire day. In my group was the woman who my company had fired and who I replaced (and they fired her in an incredibly rude and unprofessional way, but they were simply fed up with her). We had nametags with company names on them, and we both knew that the other knew who we were. It was awkward for the first hour, but then she asked how my boss was. I said fine, and she said that she was very unhappy there and embarrassed in the way that she let that affect her work, she hoped I was happier in the position, and that she was in a much better place now (but hoped she never, ever saw anyone she knew from my company ever again in her entire life). After that, we got along just fine.

    Moral of the story: we all do unprofessional things. It’s how you treat people now that you’ve learned from it that matters. So, address the elephant in the room and treat her kindly when you bump into each other.

  23. Kassy*

    #1 – I know it’s early, but I want to submit either your boss or your boss’ boss for Worst Boss of the Year. Writing you up for a medical condition?? That at least one person had prior knowledge of? And you told them exactly what was happening?

    Also, Erin above me is right in pointing out the absurdity of saying “it doesn’t matter if it was real.” Of course it matters!!

  24. Jerzy*

    OP #1 – I’ve had a boss accuse me of faking a migraine, and more than one coworker I was certain thought I was faking/exaggerating my migraines. It sucks. I always think, “well, how about I just stick this ice pick behind your eye and see how well you can work.” You probably wish you could sit on their chest and see how well they can work without being able to breathe and see how well they can concentrate. It’s frustrating when people can’t see beyond their own experiences of illness to allow for other people’s medical conditions to seem legitimate.

    I hope you look for a new place to work. With team leads who get to screaming in the middle of meetings, this doesn’t sound like a place for someone who suffers from panic attacks. Your health has to take precedent.

  25. AnonyMiss*

    Small addendum to #5 – some employers DO require personal references, and not due to any weirdo status. These are usually government employers that need an extremely extensive background check (law enforcement, prosecution, CIA, etc.) where they want to talk to people who know you socially as well. When I got my job in prosecution, the background check was extremely stringent: I needed 3 professional references, 5 personal/social references, the names and contact to all my extended family as well as anyone I have lived with or worked for since I was 15, etc. They also had to come out and stake out my front door for several days at random times, seeing who’s coming and going, and they talked to all of my neighbors as well. Thing is, I work with extremely confidential data (to the point where I’m not allowed to tell my spouse about what I see): I see people’s multi-state criminal history sheets, I talk to crime victims, I handle actual evidence (as in, go down to the police station and take pictures of seized guns, drugs, etc.), I’m allowed inside the restricted areas of the jail, so they wanted to make sure I’m not going to grab a bag of coke and run, or incite a jail riot!

    But other than this, most reasonable employers wouldn’t need social/personal references.

      1. AMT*

        I interviewed for a social work job at a nonprofit earlier this week whose application form asked me for two professional and one personal reference. I’ve worked in social services for several years at various nonprofits and have never been asked for a personal reference. I’m guessing this is an anomaly? Why could they possibly want that?

        I’m remembering a detail from a NY Times article a few years ago about abuses of intellectually disabled people in state care. They wrote about a guy who killed a young client. He’d been fired from several jobs for misconduct, but they didn’t call his former employers–only his references, who were all relatives! (The job I applied to, by the way, is working with intellectually disabled people.)

        1. Observer*

          There is good reason to call personal references. Of course ONLY calling personal references is stupid, but given the policies that so many workplaces have about not giving out information, you can often get more information from non-work references. Also, for certain types of jobs, personal references are very useful. In some jobs knowing that “nothing seems to faze her, even when everyone else is having hysterics” or “he projects this sense of gentleness” can be very, very useful information. And, you are unlikely to hear that from a professional reference.

      2. Retail Lifer*

        Every job I’ve ever applied for (obviously mostly retail, but also in other fields) has asked for references, although few have actually checked them. There’s usually a spot on an application for them.

      3. AnonyMiss*

        I actually had to submit to this at roughly the same time as interviewing, well before they made a final selection… I guess they had been having a really hard time finding qualified applicants who can also pass the background check, so they want to do the brunt of it before they even come as far as giving you a conditional offer, and start figuring out a timeline.

  26. boop*

    #1. Tsk. And yet it is still common practice to favor hiring/promoting men because “women are too emotional”.

    1. LW #1*

      I’m actually a man. I could definitely see my boss’ boss (the team lead) going “what a wuss!” in response, though. That whole toxic “men can’t show their emotions” thing.

      But now that you say that, it makes me think about how the team lead is probably HR immune. He’s said a few nasty things to a lady on our team who went on maternity leave (the most professional person on our team, even!). She’s not on our team any more, no surprise. They’re said “jokingly”, but it’s my opinion that you really can’t joke about sensitive matters with someone who’s taking a paycheck from you.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*

        Ugh, yeah, I’ll bet this jerk would hold it against you even more because you’re a man. Showing emotions is sooo “unmanly” – except, apparently, for screaming irrational rage.

  27. newlyhr*

    OP #4 it’s also possible that the recruiter would not have earned a fee had you been the selected candidate, since he/she did not source you. Some recruiting contracts are non-exclusive that way. It’s a crappy reason and very unprofessional of the recruiter, but it does happen.

  28. Judy*

    #5: I usually have a separate page prepared for references. The header looks like my resume with name, contact information, etc. I put a section just like a resume section called “References.” I then list each reference with:

    Why they’re a reference (direct manger at Teapots, inc from July 2006 to February 2010 )
    How to contact them (it may be phone, email, etc. I ask my references how they wish to be contacted)

    I offer to give this out at interviews. I will also send it out if requested.

  29. asteramella*

    LW #2, it sounds like you and/or your social circle are under the influence of some Geek Social Fallacies. Link to follow.

  30. ThursdaysGeek*

    #1 – “he thinks I faked the panic attack to get out of the meeting and doing the work”

    So, are you trying to get out of the work? In addition to all the advice about the panic attack, make sure your boss knows you’re not trying to avoid work. That makes the accusation even less credible.

      1. LW #1*

        Yup, this is correct. We were having an issue with a big project that I’d been working on for a while already. I was able to figure out what was going on and fix it once I calmed down — big surprise that I was able to get more done, and quicker, without someone screaming at me, right?

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Definitely. But if your boss indicated you used the panic attack to get out of work, make sure you’ve pointed out your successful work on the project, and that the temporary interruption didn’t keep the work from being done. And yeah, I think everyone works better without being yelled at, so boss’s boss is the one slowing things down. :)

        2. Panda Bandit*

          Yeah, screaming is not a good way to motivate people.

          Good luck with therapy and everything. I used to get daily panic attacks but I haven’t had any in several years.

          1. LW #1*

            I’m so, so glad to hear that. They’re absolutely awful and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone — not even my jerk boss for accusing me of faking it. I’m gonna join you in the panic attack free club soon!

  31. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    My husband and I had a tense conversation this morning about just how awful it is to resign without notice, catalyzed by this post.

    I once had an employee resign without notice. It was awful. One of the worst days of my career. It devastated the project she was working on; the pool of potential replacements was incredibly small; and I had worked hard to make the job work for her. Because of that, she is absolutely on my personal blacklist. If I heard about a friend or colleague considering her for a role, I definitely would give them a heads up.

    My husband thought I was being unreasonable – years have passed, she’s likely a very different professional at this point (the job she resigned without notice from was her first job after college; it’s been 5 years). He pointed out that my impression of her was colored by more than just how she resigned. After I left that organization, my replacement – who had worked under me while I was there, and who was outstanding – also resigned with very little notice, because she had a job offer with an inflexible start date. I would absolutely hire her again; she is one of the best people I’ve ever worked with.

    So, as Alison says, the other knowledge people have of you is what matters.

    1. JR*

      Hi, OP#3 here. I agree, it would be a major inconvenience for an employer, and especially a nonprofit, to deal with employees leaving without notice. That’s why I feel terrible now for what I did. For what its worth, I would encourage you to cut this person some slack. Maybe she hasn’t changed, but maybe she has. In my own experience, I definitely have. I now have a young family to provide for and am grateful for the opportunity to be working in a field I love. I really, really hope that no one from my old organization has a personal vendetta against me, in the form of blacklisting me from employment in the industry (of course I am understandably blacklisted from ever working at that particular place again. I get that!) If that were the case, I’d be relegated to working low wage customer service jobs or moving far away, and I don’t deserve that. Apart from that one unprofessional thing I did, I am a good person, a good worker, and have small kids to provide for. Maybe give this ex-employee of yours the benefit of the doubt and let her succeed in her career, just in case she has changed too? Just my two cents :)

      1. Bibliovore*

        I have behaved badly. I have had positions that were not a good fit and hung on too long. I have left jobs with some notice but not enough to pass over essential information and/or train new occupant of the job. I am pretty sure through my own inaction/or stupidity caused harm to organizations. That said…looking back. I have apologized for my unprofessional , egregiously ignorant behavior. Sometimes years later. At a professional conference took someone aside and said- I am so embarrassed but I realize now was a horrible position I put you in through my actions. My world is a small one and I have had these opportunities with everyone of my former supervisors. There is no one I need to cross the street to avoid in my professional life. Alison- is there any reason that OP #3 couldn’t own up to the mistake and move on?

  32. HRChick*


    I had a yelling manager much like your boss’ boss. I also have panic attacks. That was one of the worst times of my life.

    It didn’t help that he was a department director and government employee with a direct manager he only saw once in a blue moon.

    Like you, reporting the abuse seemed to do nothing. It was a regular thing (and not just for me) to have to retreat to the bathroom. I can’t tell you how many times I let one of his employees’ cry it out with me. It was just THAT stressful.

    In the end it took the RIGHT person reporting it at the right time. One of my coworker – a tough man with 20 years with the marines and many deployments under his belt – got a new job. As part of our off-boarding process, he had a meeting with the command director. Evidently he had a panic attack and complete emotional breakdown in the director’s office even talking about what our manager did every day.

    After that, they demoted my manager and took away and supervisory duties from him. He was still there when I left but they had essentially deconstructed his department and put him is a closet.

    Even if you are not planning on going to HR, please keep records on any time something like this happens!

  33. Bea W*

    Panic attacks aside, I feel like anyone who excuses herself from a meeting where people are being screamed at is totally justified. You weren’t the one who caused the disruption. That meeting was long past being disrupted when the team lead lost his sht and started screaming at people.
    If course you had a panic attack! DUH! Your boss is being a jerk.

  34. Helena*

    Thanks for the good advice! I’m glad I asked about the references! I had a feeling it might not be a good idea to include them! xx

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