my coworker responds to everything I ask him to do with profanity and “your mom” jokes

A reader writes:

Thanks to the great advice on your blog, I have gone from being a green, honestly unprofessional newbie to office culture to having considerably improved professional dialogue and interactions with my coworkers at the office I have been working in for over three years now. I paid especially close to your tips about communication (especially for those of us who are a little shy/awkward, as it were) and it’s really helped! …Except for the one person I work with more closely than anyone else, of course.

I am a Teapot Reports Processor and work in an office with one other person, a guy the same age as me (25), who is the Teapot Records Clerk. We both have the same boss, but I am largely responsible for supervising him and delegating what he does everyday. Our jobs are pretty closely intertwined — filing and all of that is on my job description in addition to what I normally do, and vice versa for him. We became friends pretty quickly and found in each other a mutual love of memes, music, stupid jokes, and being sarcastic 100% of the time. Normally this never got us in much trouble as long as we didn’t get rowdy, and we are still able to work in the same space doing our own respective things. I am a very high performer and always have been; it’s just my behavior that needed some serious tuning.

But lately, since I made a turnaround re: professionalism, he seems to be pushing back on everything I say and ask him to do more than ever. He will deliberately ignore things I ask him to do a certain way (“I’ll do it differently when someone tells me to”), gripes and complains loudly when I ask anything of him ever, and sometimes won’t even answer basic questions. (For example, one time I noticed he was covering overtime at the front desk and called upstairs to ask why — he responded to every variation of me asking “why are you still upstairs?” with “your mother” and would not give me an answer.) There’s also a lot of name-calling, which I know is all facetious and I don’t really get offended, but it does get grating to tell him “hey, I need you to do this report” and hear “shut up, bitch” in response, jokingly or not. It gets REALLY profane in here (I’m talking tons of F-bombs and the C-word, among everything else imaginable) and I am trying hard to curb as much of this as possible because this is just… not how anyone should be talking at work regardless of who can overhear it, ever. We all joke and rib each other here, but neither I or anyone else comes anywhere close to how off the cuff he gets.

I talked to our boss about it, and she advised me to sit him down and tell him what I expect of him and I have. His response to “I need you to know when to stop with the jokes and listen to me” or “I need you to ___, can you make sure that gets done” is “I need your mom to stop.” Hilarious. I tried to be more lighthearted like, “haha, no but seriously, can you ____” and “not to be a buzzkill, but will you ____” and that doesn’t really help either. I’ve had sit-downs with my boss and him about it and he just gave manufactured answers, which satisfied my boss, but not me. I’ve asked her how much I can push back against this behavior without it overstepping my boundaries, since I am not “officially” his supervisor, and she said I can do whatever I feel is necessary to get him to cooperate, but nothing is working.

My boss seems content to just tell me I’ve shot myself in the foot with this one as a result of too much joking around, and honestly she’s probably right, but I really want to believe there is a way to turn this around because there isn’t much chance he’s going anywhere soon. I don’t need this to be serious business ALL of the time, but this communication gap is frustrating at best, and his poor work ethic and refusal to do things I need him to do is dragging me and my department down. I’m worried I’ll never be management material if I can’t get this situation under control. I’ve had such good results with everyone else, but not this guy. Please help.

What is up with your horrid, horrid coworker?

I can’t tell if you think he’s truly joking around, but someone who sits in a meeting with you and your boss and promises to stop this and then goes right back to it and who flagrantly ignores your very clear directives that he stop … isn’t joking. He’s being hostile.

And your boss is telling you that because you used to joke around with this guy, now you might just have to accept that he’s going to call you a bitch, tell you to shut up, and refuse to answer questions or do his actual work?


That’s not reasonable, and that’s not how this is supposed to work. Does she not care that he’s being verbally abusive and presumably standing in the way of your ability to do your job?

I’d love to know what she meant when she said that you can do “whatever you feel is necessary to get him to stop.” Since you’re not his manager, there are only so many options you have here, and it sounds to me like you’ve tried the obvious ones.

I would go back to your manager and say this: “I need your guidance on how to handle this situation. I am not okay with Bob calling me a bitch or refusing to answer work-related questions. I have tried all that I can think of without having actual authority to require him to alter his behavior. I’ve sat him down and told him what I need, I’ve clearly stated that his comments aren’t okay, and I’ve been as direct as I can possibly be. Nothing has changed. When you meet with us together, he gives you respectful answers — and then goes right back to the same behavior once we’re out of the meeting. You’ve told me in the past that I should do whatever’s necessary to get him to cooperate, but at this point, what’s needed is for someone with authority to tell him this is unacceptable and to ensure it stops. I think he needs to hear that his job is on the line if he continues being abusive and unresponsive, but that’s not something I have the authority to say.”

It’s possible that you haven’t laid it out quite this starkly for her before, and that saying this will prompt her into action.

But if she won’t step in and handle it, then here’s what I’d do with your coworker:

* Do not say things like “haha, no but seriously…” or “not to be a buzzkill, but will you…” That’s you trying to appease him, and this isn’t behavior that should be appeased.

* Stop joking around with him entirely. Be stony-faced and serious. When he responds to your questions with “your mother” or any other ridiculous non-answer, look at him stony-faced and say “I need an actual answer.” If he still doesn’t give you one, then say, “Okay, I’m going to loop Jane into this” and then do so — as in an email cc’d to your boss that says, “Bob, I asked you X and you continually replied ‘your mother.’ I need to know X by the end of today.”

* Similarly, when he ignores your requests, send him an email cc’d to your manager that says, “Bob, this morning I asked you to do X. You first ignored me, then told me you’ll do it when someone else tells you to, so I’m looping in Jane here.”

* Ignore his griping and complaining. Literally tune it out. He’s looking for a response from you. Don’t give him one.

* If he ever says “shut up, bitch” to you again, walk into your manager’s office immediately, report it, and tell her you’re not okay with being spoken to like that. (Note: You said you think it’s facetious and you’re not terribly offended by it. Frankly, I think you should be, but if you want to give him a chance to stop on his own, you could first try warning him with, “If you ever speak to me that way again, I’m making a formal complaint with Jane.”)

I know that you feel like you’re supposed to handle this situation yourself and that it’s somehow failure on your part if you don’t — but you don’t have the authority that’s needed to deal with this guy. Your manager is the one failing by allowing this to continue, not you — so please don’t convince yourself that is some kind of lack of leadership on your part if you can’t successfully shut it down. It’s on your coworker and your manager, the two people who could actually change his behavior.

You don’t have a magic wand or an anti-asshole potion, and absent having actual managerial authority here, that’s what you’d need.

Read multiple updates to this letter here.

{ 388 comments… read them below }

  1. Sunshine Brite*

    I’ve worked in joke-y places with other young staff but no one found it appropriate to be dropping c-words left and right in addition to shirking responsibilities. Joking is reserved for when the work is getting done.

    1. Sunshine Brite*

      Not to mention blatant disrespect due to a lifestyle change. He shouldn’t be allowed to force you into maintaining what was a status quo. It sounds like he’s taken it so far the other way it’s coercive behavior at best, more towards abusive. Don’t let him manipulate you.

      1. The Grammarian*

        Yeah, this guy is being both disrespectful and unprofessional. I think Alison’s advice to use a serious tone and demeanor when you tell him to stop, along with reporting him, will be pretty effective.

      2. Emma*

        Yeah, wow. This is blatant disrespect and a power play on his part.

        And also, on the “it’s only joking” bit – jokes can be disrespectful and power plays too. Just because it’s joking (if it actually is, and isn’t dead serious with “joking!” used as a thin cover) doesn’t make it acceptable.

    2. Whats In A Name*

      I don’t think that “your mother” is ever an appropriate answer but if he was saying it AND doing the work that would be entirely different than what is going on – which to me is crossing the line into insubordination.

    3. TJ*

      I worked in a place like this — they used to have contests to see who could yell obscene words the loudest. This was in a medical office, with patients sitting in the waiting room.

      In hindsight, there was a LOT wrong with the way that place operated, but I was a teenager with no professional work experience, so I didn’t realize how bad it was.

    4. JustaTech*

      Exactly! My group is very inclined to joke around (some serious gallows humor some days) but we have a good working relationship *first*, then the joking. Like, it’s one thing to say “Hey, can you send me that thing” and have the other person say “no!” as they are sending it; it’s another thing entirely to then not send it.

      I don’t think the LW was wrong to have a joking relationship with Mr. Immature, it sounds like it was pretty normal (if a bit cuss-y). But everyone needs to know (or learn) when to tone it down, and how to work with it. That LW’s coworker turned up the inappropriate when LW got more professional probably means that the coworker feels threatened. And is a Jerk.

      1. Cafe au Lait*

        Yes. I have double barrel flicked off my boss. It was during a casual, goofy period of our day. (And also after she screwed up my count by saying “Fourteen, seventy-nine, two, twenty-28.) I would never ever think to do that type of thing during a meeting, or when she was trying to give me work.

        1. Beanie*

          I did something similar with a professor in college. It was a professor I knew well and this didn’t become our tradition until I was TA in grad school. We would both try to find the most subtle ways to flip the bird (rubbing the eye, adjusting the glasses) while the other was presenting data at a lab meeting or something to see if it could get a laugh.

          If this guy was getting things accomplished I’m willing to bet the OP wouldn’t have written in – they’re going to have to take charge either with this coworker or with management like Allison suggested!

      2. WorkingMom*

        Absolutely – if you’re going to spend 40+ hours at work every week, you ought to be able to enjoy your peers. I used to have a direct report that was very heavy on the jokes and sarcasm, which I generally appreciate. For a while there we had a good relationship where we were professional and he got his work done, but jokes and sarcasm were had and all was good. After a while, he started to take it too far. One day in my office I said, “can you take care of X?” (And the ‘can you’ was politeness, I am his boss.) He said, “No, I’d rather not.” I know he intended it as a joke, but I definitely didn’t laugh. I sat him down and explained that while I appreciate our ability to joke around, I still need him to understand “time and place.” Even at work, there are times when joking and sarcasm is acceptable and when it is not. When we’re at the water cooler chatting about our weekend, yes. When I’m giving you a project to work on? No.

        I wonder if this guy is reacting negatively to OP’s newfound professionalism, and feels slighted in some weird way? Like, they started out joking around as buddies and then all of a sudden OP got all business-like. And now he’s being a jerk. (OP did NOTHING wrong. Stepping up your professionalism at work is a great move. Way to go, OP!)
        Sounds like this guy can’t handle OP’s awesome new perspective at work.

      3. M-C*

        Let me just point out that Jerk -does- know when to tone it down. The fact that he acts all fine in front of the boss shows clearly that his behavior toward the OP is deliberately abusive…

    5. Koko*

      Yes, I totally get why OP is struggling to navigate this. It can be hard when you’re young and don’t have examples or guidance around you to find the happy medium between formal/all-business culture and frat-house culture.

      I work in a relaxed environment with a lot of jokes, but they never come at the expense of or criticize another employee. That’s rule #1, OP: In the workplace, your colleagues should never be the butt of a joke.

      Rule #2 is that work comes first and joking comes second. Like Sunshine Brite says, you can joke around all you want but you have to do your job. If the joking seems to be getting in the way of him doing his job, he’s breaking Rule #2.

      When either of these lines are crossed, you should feel comfortable saying very seriously, “Bob, I’m not comfortable being called a bitch. It doesn’t matter if you’re joking. I don’t mind profanity but I do mind it being directed at me and I have to draw the line there.” or “Bob, we are here to do a job. That means when I ask you for X, I need you to do X.”

      If you absolutely feel the need to soften it, I would go no softer than, “We share a similar sense of humor and it’s been nice to have someone in the office to joke around with occasionally, but that can’t get in the way of the job we’re here to do. You need to show me the same respect you would show any other coworker and follow through on the work that I need from you.

    6. Lemon Zinger*

      My first job out of college was in a young, fun workplace. Despite the ridiculous activities, costumes, kitchens, etc. NOBODY used inappropriate language, especially since everyone was constantly on the phone with clients.

      Now I work in a much more professional environment, but a couple coworkers are still learning the norms and drop an occasional “Holy Jesus” or f-bomb, but the supervisors are quick to point out that language like that is unacceptable.

  2. Stellaaaaa*

    Ooh yay, a small business where people think they can manage businesses the way they manage their friendships/social lives. No, you’re not stuck in a certain mode of interaction just because it started out that way. You can demand that someone stop calling you a bitch at work even though you probably can’t make that demand of of a casual acquaintance. I’m putting it in these terms because your manager is operating as if you’re dealing with an annoying cousin or friend-of- friend.

    1. Yet another Allison*

      I actually think a person can draw those boundaries in a social or family setting. It’s not easy and it can make an uncomfortable situation even more uncomfortable, but as Captain Awkward says, you’re taking the awkwardness created by that person and putting it right back in their lap, and it can be gloriously powerful-feeling to bask in that. And in fact, it’s almost easier to do when it’s an acquaintance or friend-of-friend, because it’s someone who should be pretty easy to avoid going forward, if needed.

      I hope no one ever feels stuck in a mode of communication that’s so blatantly disrespectful to them, although standing up for oneself is definitely a skill that takes practice and courage to use in a lot of situations.

      1. Less of a jerk now*

        Sometimes folks will be grateful you did, too. When I was muuuch younger, I had a roommate who was a good friend. He happened to be gay. Separately, my boyfriend spent a lot of time at our place. I would often jokingly call my boyfriend a gay slur. I think in my young and dumb mind, I figured that since I would never say it to my friend, and my boyfriend wasn’t gay, it was funny and didn’t “count”? Ugh.

        Anyway, one day my roommate called me out and said “It really bothers me when you use that word. Please don’t.” I was mortified. I think I sputtered a little bit and made an excuse, but pretty much immediately thereafter realized he was right, I was 100% wrong, and I apologized and have never, ever uttered that slur (or others) since. My friend listened patiently as I swore that I wasn’t a homophobe, accepted the apology, and things were back to normal by dinnertime.

        I’m really glad he took a chance on making me mad, because I was thoughtlessly being a real jerk. It made me look a lot more closely at humor I thought was “edgy” in general. Twenty seconds of mutual discomfort has led to 20 years of me being a wiser, less dumpster-fire-iffic human.

        1. CanadianKat*

          Thanks for the story! And kudos for learning the lesson!

          Inappropriate behaviour or humour is a bit like sex: both parties have to consent to it, and consent can be withdrawn at any time. By the same reasoning, it’s ok if two gay/minority/etc. people jokingly call each other a slur, but it doesn’t mean anybody else is allowed to call them that.

          Just because the OP once consented to colourful language doesn’t mean he can’t ask the coworker to stop. And if the only way is to withdraw consent to anything remotely inaproppriate with this person, – so be it. As Alison recommended – total seriousness. The OP can still be jokey with others, since their jokes don’t rise to this level of obnoxiousness.

          1. thebluecastle*

            YES!!! This! lol I literally just finished posting below saying the same thing. Absolutely agree with you.

          2. JenniThneed*

            FWIW, I think the OP is female, just based on “Bob” calling the OP “bitch”. This slur is so rarely aimed at men. But your overall point is a good one and I agree.

            1. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

              Actually, in my experience a lot of guys will “jokingly” call each other “bitch” because…it doesn’t “count” in their minds, or something? Like, I’m not calling you ‘bitch’ FOR REAL because you are A Dude and not A Lady and therefore I am not technically being a terrible person…

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Someone called me on a derogatory joke I made once and I was profoundly embarrassed (and enlightened) and I never ever did it again.

      2. Stellaaaaa*

        Not my point, and I think my intention in discussing small businesses in this manner (“treat it like a friend thing, not a work thing,” says the boss) was perfectly clear.

        1. Anna*

          “You can demand that someone stop calling you a bitch at work even though you probably can’t make that demand of of a casual acquaintance. I’m putting it in these terms because your manager is operating as if you’re dealing with an annoying cousin or friend-of- friend.

          Well, you did clearly say you cannot make the same request to a friend or relative like you can with a coworker. People just pointed out that you can, no matter who the person is or what the situation. I’m not entirely sure why you’re upset.

            1. Fifi*

              I don’t think anyone’s being pedantic; rather, I think your meaning was not as clear as you seem to think it was. I read your comment the same way others have done, as my first reaction was, “Yes, I absolutely can demand that of a casual acquaintance.” No pedantry was necessary to arrive at that conclusion.

            2. Kay J*

              What an unnecessary way to respond to someone politely disagreeing with something you said. Your comment is right there for everyone to read–we can all see that Yet another Allison had a valid addition.

  3. DeskBird*

    Wow. Just wow. This is so beyond the pale. If for some horrible reason your boss still doesn’t step in after all of that – then it might be time for HR. “My coworker calls me a B**** and the C word every day and my boss is not putting a stop to it” should get some swift action from a decent HR team.

    1. BobcatBrah*

      It sounds like he can’t separate the way you talk over Xbox Live versus how you talk in the workplace among friends.

      Considering how op and him bonded to begin with, I doubt he’ll be able to make the switch with her. He may very well be ok if he were in a department with different coworkers, but it likely won’t change around op.

    1. RVA Cat*

      This. Calling a woman the C-word is right down there with calling a black person the N-word. He should be fired.

    2. Grey*

      Gender isn’t specified here. The author could be a man. That doesn’t excuse anything but it makes it a bit less sexist.

          1. Grey*

            Calling a man a bitch is usually done jokingly. I’ve never had the courage to find out if a woman would find it funny.

            1. KellyK*

              I’m a sample size of one, but the answer here is a resounding “no.” (There are very specific situations with good friends *who are women* in which it would be obvious as a joke and probably amusing, but from a guy, I can’t picture any scenario in which I’d be okay with it.)

              1. SamSam*

                Other sample size of one – with a couple guys, I have an inside understanding with them that “bitch” can also mean “badass,” so for instance if my boyfriend responded to something tough I did or standing up for myself or a friend with “you go, bitch,” I’d find it funny. We also call some of my heels/boots “badass bitch shoes.” But it’s really a specific scenario, and involves a mutually established understanding of 1) an alternative take on the word and 2) me being OK with it. Oh, and I don’t actually work with any of them.

                I can’t think of any scenario where a guy could say “shut up, bitch” and I would find that funny. I also assumed the OP was a guy based on that (“ha ha it’s funny because I’m calling you a bitch, dude”)

              2. many bells down*

                “Bitch” doesn’t bother me in most circumstances, even when it’s meant to be insulting, because it usually only gets thrown out when I’m not catering to someone. Oh, I didn’t respond positively to your catcall so I’m a bitch? Yes, yes I am.

                But I’m fully aware this is a minority opinion and most women don’t feel this way. And at work, when I’m trying to get stuff done? Yeah, I’d be annoyed. I’m not “being a bitch”, I’m doing my job.

                1. JennifThneed*

                  Many years ago I saw a standup comic take on this word with an amusing acronym. She said something like “Are you saying You Bitch? Well, yes! You Bet I Take Charge Here.”

            2. Birdie*

              It’s a joke and all fine and dandy when my older brothers call me a bitch or very good guy friends but if a man (or women) at work said that I would not be ok with that.

            3. Jadelyn*

              To me, it depends 110% on the person it’s coming from and our relationship. My boyfriend, my mother and brother, and my one cousin who’s also a super close friend could get away with it, in the right contexts. Literally anyone else on the planet would get an immediate directive to do something unpleasant and anatomically impossible.

            4. Wwr*

              When it’s done in the Kevin Smith/Jesse Pinkman way, I have zero problems with it. But it’s really, really dependent on a specific tone that makes it obvious you’re more using it as punctuation than anything.

          2. OP*

            OP here – yes, I am a woman. His whole thing with the bitch and C-word and whatever started as a sort of shock value thing — he’s a very “dark humor” kind of person and while I don’t typically go that route I’ll laugh sometimes (underline sometimes… his current favorite is Sandy Hook jokes. Not my cup of tea to say the least)/not get offended so of course that came off as it being okay to keep doing it. So that’s pretty much his greeting first thing in the morning. “What up, bitch” as he walks in the door.

            He honestly is pretty misogynistic, I hear a lot of the “get in the kitchen” jokes and when I tried to tell him how I saw the Ghostbusters remake and thought it was funny he cut me off with “you mean FEMINAZIbusters???” I did respond harshly to that one with “You know what, you can keep your sexism to yourself, I don’t want to hear it” and he rewarded that by not speaking to me for the rest of the week. Good stuff.

            1. JMegan*

              rewarded that by not speaking to me for the rest of the week.

              Sounds like the best possible outcome for you, actually. What a tool this guy is.

              1. RVA Cat*

                Sandy Hook jokes?!?! I was already convinced this guy is a complete tool, but what human being thinks the mass murder of little children is funny?

                1. WorkingMom*

                  Wow. Yeah… with this new information. This guy is the bottom of the barrel. I have a pretty disgusted look on my face just reading this. I’m sincerely sorry you have to work with a person like this.

                2. Dust Bunny*

                  Oh, $#!, no. That’s not dark humor–that’s just wrong.

                  This isn’t “pretty misogynistic”; it’s straight-up misogynistic. This guy has gotten WAY too many passes on his behavior already. Your supervisor needs to act on this, and you need to follow the advice given and stop giving it wiggle room. My place of work would have fired him ages ago.

            2. Cheese*

              Ohhhhh my god. You have an iron will for handling this for even as long as you have. Please get your boss involved as Alison suggests. People who act this way need to learn they can’t get away with it.

            3. Rafe*

              Wow, knowing this — it’s just inexplicable to me how your manager can continue to explain it away, either in her mind or to you. (Of course, once you explicitly told her you’ve found it unacceptable/inappropriate/offensive and had tried to deal with it on your own, that should have been her cue anyway.)

            4. Purest Green*

              I’m sure his silent treatment truly was rewarding for you.

              I know Allison mentioned reporting it immediately when he calls you one of those names again, but I’d also address it with him head on in the moment and tell him to stop.

            5. Myrin*

              Are you sure he isn’t secretly three toddlers – or maybe two-early pubescent teens – stacked in a trench coat?

              1. Hankie Enlightenment (formerly Sarahnova)*

                Dude, I have never yet met a toddler who was nearly as unpleasant as this guy.

              1. Grey*

                And your manager deserves to be reported as much as he does. No one should allow their employee to endure that.

            6. BuildMeUp*

              Oh, wow. Your coworker is a sexist jerk, and the fact that you’ve laughed it off in the past doesn’t mean he gets to keep doing it after you’ve asked him to stop. And the fact that he responded like a child with the silent treatment when you called him on it? Geez.

              Please, please feel free to stop laughing and pretending his garbage isn’t offensive. It might feel like you’re avoiding awkwardness by brushing it off, but he’s the one creating the situation. This is all on him, and you shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable because your coworker is an idiot.

              I think your best options in direct response to him are:
              1. If you’re not talking about work and just having a casual conversation, just turn and walk away when he starts saying things like that.
              2. When he makes a “get in the kitchen” joke, etc., calmly ask him, “Why would I do that?” Keep asking why, saying you don’t understand what he means, etc. Eventually he will either have to admit he’s being a sexist jerk or back off
              3. If you tell him to stop and he pulls the “you just don’t have a sense of humor/you’re too sensitive” card, just agree with him. “No, I don’t have a sense of humor, and I’d like you to stop.”

              1. Julia*

                I agree with 1 and 2, but for 3, I think OP should go with “you don’t get to define what’s funny” or something similar instead. It just kind of rubs me the wrong way that she should tell this guy she doesn’t have a sense of humour.

            7. HannahS*

              UGH THIS GUY SOUNDS AWFUL. I absolutely HATE “feminazi” and “grammar nazi.” Like, do you think it’s hilarious to be compared to genocidal machine that rounded up my family and shot them? At work, no less? It’s not funny or ironic. I’ve found that a lot of times “dark humour” is code for “I’m a jerk, but you’re supposed to think it’s hilarious, so you’re not allowed to complain or be offended, what do you MEAN I can’t say that I have constitutional rights how dare you.” Ugh. Alison is right, this is hostile.

              1. Jadelyn*

                “dark humour” is code for “I’m a jerk, but you’re supposed to think it’s hilarious, so you’re not allowed to complain or be offended”

                YEP. This x1000. That’s exactly what that’s meant in every situation I’ve ever encountered it in.

                1. Koko*

                  I think there is another type of dark humor that isn’t offensive. It’s usually self-deprecating, like, “Don’t worry about me, even if I die alone and no one finds my body for a while at least my cats can eat my face in the meantime.”

                  I also have to admit that I laughed at the meme that went around Facebook a while ago with a picture of Stalin and the caption, “Dark humor is like food. Not everyone gets it.”

                  Granted, if Stalin was a current leader and threat I wouldn’t find the joke funny because the joke would be at the expense of the people he was starving. But because it’s a historical event the joke comes off more as a criticism of Stalin than laughing at the misfortune of his subjects.

                  For me that’s usually the line when it comes to making comedy out injustice or oppression: the joke needs to skewer the oppressor or point out how absurd the injustice is. Not make fun of the people being harmed by it.

                2. AnonEMoose*

                  My “go to” responses to being called a bitch are: “And your point is?” or “You say that like it’s a BAD thing!” Usually flummoxes the offender long enough for me to make an exit.

                3. AnonEMoose*

                  Dark humor can be like that, yes. I do think there’s a type that’s more of a coping mechanism, though. Some things are difficult enough to deal with, especially on a regular basis, that dark humor is the only way to keep going. If you can laugh at something, even a little, you can distance yourself a little, and get through it. So, you might see that kind of thing with law enforcement or other emergency responders, medical personnel, etc. I describe it as “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” humor.

                  If it spills over beyond those very specific circumstances, it can be toxic and horribly inappropriate. But sometimes…just sometimes…I think there’s a place for it.

                4. Crazy Canuck*

                  I disagree. While dark humor is like any other kind of humor and can be used to offend someone, it can also be used to cope with the metric ton of crap that life can dump on you. This goes triple for fields where dealing with the darker side of life is common, like ER docs, cops, morticians, etc.

                  I personally think dark humor is like a kid with cancer. It never gets old.

                5. Jadelyn*

                  To clarify, the coping type is what I’ve referred to (and heard referred to as) morbid humor, rather than dark humor. To me, those are two very different terms – dark humor tends to be jerks being jerks for shock value, while morbid humor is people snarking at the ways in which they themselves are messed up from trauma or other things.

                6. aebhel*

                  I enjoy dark humor, but the key word here is HUMOR. You have to know your audience. People like this dude use it as an excuse to spew every horrible thing that wanders through their heads, and then act like babies if anyone doesn’t find them funny.

                  LW, definitely stop the nervous ‘don’t want to make this awkward, haha’ response.

                7. Candi*

                  There’s “if you don’t laugh you’ll cry” humor (as a paramedic first aid/CPR trainer once called it), and “I’m going to use dark humor as an excuse to be a terrible person.”

                  LW, you can set fresh boundaries.

                  If your boss won’t handle it, go to HR. If you don’t have an acting HR person, go to the grandboss.

                  This guy is a lawsuit waiting to happen, IMO.

              2. Ann Furthermore*

                I have stricken the word “Nazi” from my vocabulary because my company has an office in Germany and I work closely with many people there. Also because it’s a horrible word to use. When my daughter was little I started making her pick up her toys every night before bedtime, and my husband started calling me the “Toy Nazi.” I laughed about it at first, but then told him he had to stop using that word. When he asked why, I said, “Because I work with a lot of people from Germany, and I’m afraid that I will say that word without thinking on a conference call or something. I’m not sure what would happen if I did that, but I’m pretty sure it would involve HR.” He kind of rolled his eyes, but he saw my point, and stopped using it.

                1. Myrin*

                  I’m pretty sure I’ve told that story before on here but yeah, I’m German and I remember that the first time I ever read the word “Nazi” being used casually on an American website I was so taken aback and appalled and shocked that I actually had to get up and walk away from my computer for a bit.

                  So yeah, I (and probably every other German out there – not to mention German Jews!) would indeed react extremely unkindly to someone saying something like this on a conference call, so good on you for nipping that in the bud!

            8. Lauren*

              I grew up in a different generation, but this to me could never be humor. And it’s not; those words are offensive. Someone above was right, that using the C word to or about a woman is no different that using the N word to a black person. (Why some don’t think that is beyond me.) So why is the former acceptable to you and the latter–I am assuming here–would not be?

              I wouldn’t accept it at all, and I would at this point I would say to your manager, basically, it’s him or me. In much more polite terms of course. I believe Allison’s advice perfect but you may want to keep what I said in mind as a hidden foundation, the line you will or will not accept.

              1. OP*

                No, I agree, at least to an extent. I guess it’s a lot to do with the framing. If someone were saying this to me aggressively, with the clear intent of hurting me/starting a fight it would bother me a lot, but as a joke from someone I know, it gets a pass? I dunno. The same definitely wouldn’t hold true with the N word (although I’m white so that word is just not for using ever in general).

                My boss’ whole thing is that I’ve let this happen for so long acting like it was fine and only just decided I want to draw a line and say stop now, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to. It was never pleasant to begin with, now it’s just grating, like sandpaper against the same spot over and over – it’s raw now.

                1. SamSam*

                  Your boss is a jerk. “I was new and didn’t want to make waves, but I’m getting tired of dealing with it. Regardless of whether he’s done this in the past, it’s still not OK or appropriate.”

                2. Jadelyn*

                  Your boss is being an enabling jerk. Consent is not permanent. You brushed it off before – and had reasons to, because newness, your own lack of professionalism, trying to get along with everyone, etc – but that does not constitute a signed contract awarding this guy permission to be a misogynist jerk to you in perpetuity. That’s not how that works, and someone needs to remind your boss of that. Do you have HR support you can go to if your manager still doesn’t act after you talk to them again?

                3. Moonsaults*

                  Your boss is begging you to sue the company. I’m not kidding you, this is illegal and you do not have to put up with it because you “allowed it to happen” at first. You have every right to say “no, stop” at ANY TIME during an interaction. Talk to the labor department. Immediately.

                4. blackcat*

                  Are you by any chance in the UK? I know the c-word doesn’t have the same weight on the other side of the pond.

                5. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think it’s pretty unlikely that the EEOC would take this on. But the OP could certainly escalate it over her boss’s head within the company and might find someone who takes it more seriously than the boss seems to.

                6. Erika*

                  Your boss sounds like a rape apologist to me. “Oh, you were okay with fooling around but then somehow the guy raped you? What were you wearing? Did you consent to anything?”

                  Sounds pretty misogynistic to me, honestly. Is there anyone above them too?

                7. Observer*

                  Your boss is wrong. You ALWAYS have the right to withdraw consent for things like this.

                  Ask her this: If you had been doing a fist bump each morning, would never be allowed to say “no more”? If you had been buying him coffee every week, would you be required to keep doing it even though you decided you’d had enough? If he’d been giving you a “friendly” slap or “pat” on your rear each morning, would you be allowed to tell him to stop, or would you be required to allow him to keep on touching or even hitting you?

                  That’s just the rudeness part. As for refusing to do what he’s told, since when does it make a difference if you’ve ever allowed him to get away with that or not?

                8. thebluecastle*

                  So maybe I’m off base with this but in my mind this is a lot like consent. You get to say no at any point if you become uncomfortable even if you were comfortable/tolerant of it up to this point. Also, this does appear to be a form of harassment. Or at least a hostile workplace, maybe not in the legal sense (seriously no idea there) but definitely in the comfort level sense. If this guy were “blatantly” sexually harassing you (side note: I actually consider this to be sexual harassment or at least gendered harassment because of the misogynistic words/attitude/reactions to you but I realize it may not look or feel like what most people commonly consider to be sexual harassment), coming on to you, touching you or making inappropriate comments about you and/or your personal life you would absolutely be able (and should) push at any moment back even if you “just dealt” with it up until that point.

                  I don’t know about you but for me personally as a (Millenial) woman I know I was raised not to make a fuss or upset people so I’ve put up with a lot of annoying/sexist behavior over the years because I was trained not to “rock the boat” and I didn’t want to upset anyone or hurt their feelings. Go ahead and upset them. Rock the damn boat. He clearly doesnt give a crap about your feelings. You deserve a workplace free of hostility and your boss is 100% wrong. You get to say no and push back as soon as behavior makes you uncomfortable. Good luck.

                9. Meg Murry*

                  OP have you directly said this to the Teapot Record Clerk? Something like “I know when I first started I never said anything or laughed it off when you did things like call me b*tch or answered work questions with jokes like “your mama”. But it’s never been ok with me, and I should have said something then. This is me saying it now. The way you talk to me is not ok, and I need it to stop. That doesn’t mean we can’t joke around sometimes, but I don’t think you calling me b*tch is funny – it’s just rude.”

                  I’ve worked in fairly casual workplaces where joking around was pretty common, and we would often prank each other or do things like others have mentioned like say “no” jokingly when someone asked us to do something (but then do it anyway), etc. But it was always clear that if someone said “don’t do that” or “ok, no joking around, we’ve got to get XYZ done and I’m not in the mood” everyone would respect that and do what it took to get the job done.

                  OP, do you have ANY authority to do anything if the clerk continues to talk to you like this? Because if not, and your manager refuses to deal with it, I think in the short term you need to figure out how to do your job with minimal interaction with the clerk (email him instructions rather than talk to him, push things back to your manager to deal with) and look for a new job in the long term.

              2. BobcatBrah*

                As far as the n-word, it’s become acceptable to use because rap is almost universally popular among millennials. I’ve had it explained to me that ending in -er is racist while ending in -a is friendly.

                1. Mustache Cat*

                  No, this is not true. White people should never use any variation of the n-word, regardless of age or affinity for rap.

                2. blackcat*

                  Uh, no. White millennial with a diverse friend group here (I’m an older millennial, but still under 30… barely), and I would never, ever use that word.

                  Nope. I do see/hear the distinction between -er and -a uses among Black people (eg Larry Wilmore using the -a version affectionately at the Whitehouse correspondents dinner). But white people should never use either, ever. My (Black) close friend would not appreciate me affectionately calling her a n—a, and we *do* make racially charged jokes together that might offend other people (eg, in playing a game she’ll say “I want to be black [referring to game token]. Not that I have a choice.” Me: “You could be green.” Her: “Naw, alien impersonation is for white-folks.” Followed by her handing me the green token).

                3. A Cita*

                  Rap is universally popular among GenX ers as well. It is never, ever ok for a white person to use any form of the N-word. Seriously, just look at popular culture where white actors etc used the N-with an-a-word and see the (justifiable) flack they’ve received. Paltrow is a good example. She thought her super close friendship with JayZ allowed her to use that word (I think it was in a tweet). Nope.

                4. Mags*

                  NO. It is unquestionably not acceptable ever. That is a word that disparages an entire race of people, and unless you are a black person* who finds power in taking the word back (emphasis on “back”) it has zero business being in your vocabulary.

                  *It should be noted that not all black people are comfortable with that word even from other black people and a great deal of us have never even considered using it. So there is no excuse whatsoever for non-blacks to utter it.

                5. Koko*

                  Yeah not to pile on but as a 31 yo white woman who LOVES rap music, I would never say that word.

                  I like to use “bitches” as a stand-in word when I’m rapping along because it has the same internal vowel sounds and same number of syllables.

                6. Amadeo*

                  Heh. I am white and had a black friend and coworker who was a little un-polished as far as her personality went also explain this distinction to me and tried to get me to use it with her. I enjoyed her company and we had some good conversations but I pretty much admitted to her right off the bat that I was never going to be comfortable using that word, even with just her, even with her express permission. I just couldn’t.

                7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Chiming in—no, it’s not appropriate among millennials to use that word with either an -er or -a ending, especially if you are not Black. I’m a woman of color on the “cusp” of Gen X and millennial, and most of my friend group won’t even say that word when it appears in a song they’re singing along to or in any other medium of art (poetry, literature).

                8. Cordelia Naismith*

                  When I was getting my teaching degree, we watched a video (a segment from some news magazine show) where a high school teacher was suspended for doing exactly this — calling his black students “n—-a.” In the video, he defends himself by using this argument — saying it with an “-a” ending is okay and not the same as “-er.”

                  Hearing this old white dude say that just came across as cringeworthy and so far out of touch with reality as to be on Mars. It was not good. I didn’t buy that argument from him, and I don’t buy it from other people. We white folks just need to not use any variation of the n-word.

                9. seejay*

                  I had a young white 20-something use the n-word around me with the -a ending and try to give the same justification.

                  A thousand times nope. Not ever. Never ever. Only white people try to argue that there’s some acceptable way to use it. That word has horrid disgusting racist connotations rooted in slavery and oppression and only black people are *ever* allowed to use it, if they choose to.

            9. DeskBird*

              This is just so extremely not ok. My mind is boggled that your boss – a woman – is letting you get harassed this way. Does she overhear this stuff? Even back before you were objecting to this stuff and were playing along I feel like she should have shut it down.

            10. SamSam*

              Oh God, not OK! Too many people into “shock humor” are such trolls with people’s emotions. I can have a morbid sense of humor sometimes, but calling your female coworker “bitch” to her face is 1) trying too hard to convince everyone that you don’t care about “PC” work culture, oh look at how alternative and cool I am and 2) telling people that you don’t give a s— if you hurt their feelings.

              I had a sit-down with a friend once who liked the c word (“it’s just useful sometimes to convey strong feeling”) to tell them, look, when you use the words c—, n—–, f—–, etc other people including me hear “I don’t care if I hurt other people, and I don’t care if they think I hate them.” It doesn’t matter if that’s not your intent – it’s what you’re saying with just one word.

              And guess what? He stopped. He still catches himself about to say certain words, but he’s a reasonable person who doesn’t want to unintentionally hurt other people. Your coworker clearly does not fall into that category, and should not be getting a pass from management.

              If your manager won’t step in, is there anyone fulfilling an HR role in your company? Mine doesn’t have an HR, but we do have a Controller. Or there’s a President I would go to. Your coworker is a liability to them and if they don’t understand that, I see it as a red flag for you and would be careful.

            11. Jadelyn*

              So with the additional details of gender, his refusal to stop it goes from being “irritating bro-ishness” to sounding like this dude has problems being subordinate to a woman and feels free to deflect, defy, and otherwise do whatever he has to to “put you in your place” and make himself feel like an “alpha male”.

              He’s a raging douchenozzle and you absolutely have a right not to be subjected to that at work, regardless of what your previous dynamic with this guy was.

            12. robot*

              oh my god

              He makes Sandy Hook jokes?

              On top of all his other unconscionable behavior, he jokes about dead children. AT WORK.

              I want him to be fired.

              1. OP*

                Oh yes, that and much more. He goes to, I don’t know, it must be darkhumor dot com and just reads them off to me sometimes. I’ll admit the odd one does make me laugh, but most of the time my response is a pained “oh my god” which I guess he finds hysterical. When I’ve had enough of it I typically just cut in with a different subject or use the program connected to my desk phone to call myself and pretend to take a call.

                1. BuildMeUp*

                  Wow. Is it possible to give him no reaction when he reads those things? I know it’s hard to not respond when he’s saying disgusting/offensive things, but since he’s obnoxious and is clearly enjoying getting reactions out of you, could you stay as blank-faced as possible and either not respond or tell him to stop, or just change the subject right away?

                2. NW Mossy*

                  This is the moment when you pointedly take out your noise-canceling headphones, don them, and don’t give him another glance. You don’t even need to say anything – just give him the direct visual of “I am taking steps to not hear you at this time.”

                3. Mustache Cat*

                  This is completely unacceptable. Please, please shut these down. Ask him not to read these to you. Instead of “oh my god”, say things like “Why would you say something like that?” “That is awful” “It really says something about you that you find that funny. Please stop.”

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Hmmm, yeah, it sounds like part of the problem might be that you’re continuing to try to have a semi-social relationship with him, which is opening the door for him to continue treating you poorly across the board. I really think you need to end that part of the relationship and go to a work-only mode with him. You don’t joke with him, you don’t talk socially with him, you only engage when you need to for work — which frankly is a more than reasonable response to the incessant verbal abuse he’s been doling out.

                  I think by continuing to allow a semi-social relationship with someone who spews rudeness at you, you’re signaling to him that you’ll put up with it (and with this guy, possibly lowering his respect for you as a result — you’re teaching him that he can mistreat you and you’ll still chit-chat with him).

                5. CanadianKat*

                  Interrupt him when he starts tellin/reading a joke. Any kind of joke. Or as suggested above – get headphones (or even earbuds – it’s more for show) and plug in when he starts.

                  It’s hard, but it’s a bit like disciplining a kid: their behaviour may be funny, but if you laugh (or smile, or show any sign of appreciation), it will continue. You have to be 100% serious that it is not acceptable. Clear signalling.

                  You’ve noted that you’re both 25. Well, pretend that you’re 55 when you’re around him. Would you feel this language is remotely appropriate in that case? Would you feel you have to share his jokes? If you wouldn’t as 55-year old, you shouldn’t as a 25-year old either.

                6. Meg Murry*

                  Don’t just say “oh my god”. Shut him down. The next time say something like “I don’t want to hear those jokes, I don’t find it funny” and then anytime after that when he tries again, cut it off immediately.

                  You don’t need to be polite about this, especially since it’s not in the slightest work related (unless you are, I don’t know, copy editors for a dark humor site or something).

                  This guy doesn’t get subtle cues like you saying “oh my god” and he enjoys getting a rise out of you. While you shouldn’t have to do this, it sounds like your boss isn’t going to shut him down either, so you need to do it directly and in the moment. Or if you can’t, stand up and walk away as soon as he starts, go to the bathroom or to get a drink of water to compose yourself, and prepare yourself to tell him to stop as soon as you get back.

                  OP, this guy is a jerk, and trust me, he knows that what he’s doing is wrong and that you don’t like it. Please understand that I’m not trying to say this is your fault for not shutting it down earlier (no one should ever be harassed like this, it’s not ok, period), just trying to give you some tools to work with since it sounds like you are asking for help and that you aren’t getting it from your boss.

                  Does anyone else sit near you and hear him talking like this? If you tell him to stop, will they also back you up and tell him that’s enough, they don’t want to hear it either? Or is it just the 2 of you around when he does this stuff? Does he call you b*tch in front of your boss, or does he only do it when she’s not there? If he knows enough to not do it in front of your boss, then he can control the behavior and is choosing not to. If he treats everyone that badly and your boss hasn’t shut it down, your boss is a jerk and you need to move on ASAP.

                7. Turtle Candle*

                  Yeah, seconding what others have said–don’t deflect, and definitely don’t give him what he wants (the pained response that he finds funny). Interrupt. Say “Nope!” or “Not appropriate” or “Not listening to this”–something clear and firm. And then put actions to your words: put on headphones, or walk away, or something else that ends the interaction. Don’t try to talk to him about another topic: the message needs to be “as soon as you do something inappropriate, chat time is over.” (Honestly, it sounds like chat time needs to be over between the two of you in general, but especially in this situation.)

                  He knows that what he’s doing bothers you, and that is why he is doing it. He finds bothering you hysterical, apparently. And that’s reason enough to end social time between you two, probably forever.

                  (To be clear, I’m not blaming you for this response. It’s something that most of us, but especially women, are culturally trained to do–to try to make things less awkward. But it’s backfiring. Let the awkward go sit on his doorstep for a while.)

                8. dragonzflame*

                  Yeah, I think he’s getting just enough reinforcement from you to keep doing it. Like in dog training – you keep intermittently rewarding, the dog is more likely to do what you want it to. Or as I tell my students, it’s like a slot machine, you keep putting in the coins on the off chance that this one will be the jackpot.

                9. silence*

                  Is he doing this on a work computer or his own device? if it’s a work company and you have any kind of internet use policy you can probably get HR / IT involved

                10. aebhel*

                  I’ll admit the odd one does make me laugh, but most of the time my response is a pained “oh my god” which I guess he finds hysterical.

                  Don’t laugh, and definitely don’t give him that pained response. It’s exactly what he wants.

                  Be boring, instead. Ask him ONCE to knock it off, and if he doesn’t, put your headphones on and ignore him. Don’t smile, don’t act offended. Imagine you’re dealing with a small child who’s having a tantrum (because really, you are). Just don’t engage.

                11. Nonyme*

                  In any of the places I’ve worked that would be inappropriate use of the internet, for non-work-related reasons. It’s one thing to check facebook or your email on your break while not disturbing coworkers. It’s quite another to go on a website with highly inappropriate content and then read it out loud while (I’m guessing) he’s not technically on a break, deliberately distracting you from your work.

                  From a social standpoint, he’s looking for a reaction and it seems you’re giving him one. It’s a game and he’s having great fun at your expense. About the only way to stop this without involving effective management is to stop giving him the response he wants.

                  (I would probably simply stare briefly over the top of my glasses with a frown at someone who behaved this way with me, shortly followed by returning to whatever I was working on, but this works best when you don’t have a history of past Fun Responses that he knows he can provoke from you.)

                  From a work standpoint, it’s just flat out inappropriate, in ways everyone else has outlined. Doubly so since he’s not doing work when you ask him to. He knows he has your number and that you can’t make him stop. He is getting a reaction out of you and that is probably his goal. He’s a bully as well as a jerk.

                  Honestly? At this point? I would be tempted to record him (and be sure to record yourself asking him to stop in unambiguous terms) and then take it to HR. Any good HR person should be able to address this swiftly. (His browser history should back up that he’s repeatedly accessing inappropriate sites, too.)

                  If recording him (any smart phone should be able to do this) is not allowed by company policy, I would try to work with HR and say, “Look, I know you probably need some clear proof this is going on, and just how bad it is. The next time he starts up, I am going to call you from my computer and you should be able to hear him in the background — and his reaction when I tell him to knock it off.”

                  If they don’t address it, I personally would be looking for another job.

                12. Troutwaxer*

                  Note that if you want to record him, you’ll need to research the laws in your state which cover making a recording. Some states require that both parties consent to a recording, and there may be civil or criminal penalties available to the other party.

                  IANAL, but you may need one before you can safely record your coworker.

              2. The Other Katie*

                Yeah, this literally made me throw my lunch away, it gave me such a pit in my stomach. He thinks a slaughter of children is funny? I can’t even.

              3. OhNo*

                Same. Maybe it makes me a bad person, but I’m hoping this one gets an update in a few weeks saying that he’s been kicked to the curb. There’s dark humor, and then there’s being an asshole. This guy falls firmly in the latter category.

              4. Junior Dev*

                My coworkers at one point joked about Harambe the gorilla and said stuff like “they should have shot the kid instead.” So I am sadly not surprised.

                1. Lindsay J*

                  Ugh, I heard so much of that.

                  And so much “well, it was their own fault so they deserve it” about the parents of little boy that was killed by Alligators in Florida a couple days later.

                  Making a arguably poor decision does not mean you deserve to have your toddler die.

                2. Junior Dev*

                  Not to mention the fact that children are separate people from their parents, and shouldn’t suffer for their parents’ mistakes…and that most parents have moments of lapsed attention sometimes, and it’s through sheer luck their child isn’t hurt.

                  It’s just awful. I don’t know what’s wrong with some people.

              5. Allison*

                Was he not in the workforce during Sandy? Because I was – granted, it was my first job, less than a year after graduation and I’m 27, so I guess OP’s coworker was still in school. My office, only a few hours away from the town where the shooting took place, was absolutely heartbroken. Someone fled the office because he had a family member at the school. Some people were crying, others were in shock, it was a dark day where we were so devastated by the news hardly anyone could get work done.

                Don’t joke about that at work.

                1. Mander*

                  I was at work, in Denver, on the day the Columbine shooting happened. I don’t think anyone in my department was directly affected but yeah, I don’t find anything to do with that remotely funny.

            13. Erika*

              This guy sucks. This reminds me so, so much of a former employee I had who would CONSTANTLY tell me to smile. I was this guy’s boss and he still thought this was okay (like I need to be grinning at my computer all day for no durn reason).

              I tried telling him a couple times to knock it off, explained why I found it offensive and he kept doing it until the day I told him in no uncertain terms that he needed to stop saying that or I was going to have to write him up for sexual harassment. Never happened again.

              PLEASE go back to your boss and demand that someone does something. This guy is terrible and your boss needs to do something about it; you shouldn’t have to put up with someone this sexist at work. There’s enough of it everywhere else.

            14. Vin Packer*


              It sounds like you were hoping to just get the jokes back to a level that was enjoyable to you, that with the right words from you maybe he’d learn how to be cool and you could retain a coworker relationship you valued.

              Unfortunately, he can’t be cool. So, it’s time for Alison’s nuclear approach, I think.

              I’m sorry. It’s such a bummer when dudes can’t figure out how to have fun without being sexist assholes.

            15. fposte*

              I am offended by how utterly weak his ostensible wordplay is. I don’t even get what that would mean. Wouldn’t Feminazibusters be, like, Rush Limbaugh?

            16. Ultraviolet*

              I really want to emphasize Alison’s advice that you tell your boss explicitly, with concrete examples, what he’s doing. Tell her that he calls you bitch and c-word, that he tells you to get back in the kitchen, that he tells Sandy Hook jokes. And tell her how often it happens. It’s possible that hearing it all laid out together will set off some alarms in your boss’s head related to her training on sexual harassment and hostile environments. (I’m not arguing whether it actually rises to the level of harassment–I’m not a lawyer, but as I recall that’s a surprisingly high bar. But hearing it all stated directly could, as Alison said, make the boss realize she needs to stop it.)

              I think it would also help if you started replying to him by saying, “Bob, please don’t make sexist jokes.” “Bob, please don’t tell me Sandy Hook jokes.” “Bob, please don’t call me a bitch.” Especially if you end up bringing this over your boss’s head, it will help to be able to say that you’ve told him that explicitly. And if that’s the only reply he ever gets from you, he might end up getting bored and not trying anymore.

                1. Ultraviolet*

                  @ginger ale and Camellia — I put “please” in there because OP seems interested in keeping the relationship fairly friendly and might find it easier to say these things with a nicety like “please.” I don’t see it as a big compromise. I am definitely imagining it said in a tone of voice that is firm and authoritative and unruffled. If it comes out as pleading or exasperated, it’s likely to feel weak.

            17. super anon*

              I’m sorry… Sandy Hook jokes?!

              Call me old fashioned but I can’t even begin to fathom how you would joke about twenty 6 & 7 year-olds dying in a horribly brutal and violent way, but that’s just me.

              Anyway, for some constructive advice, I read on here once an amazing way to reply to people who say insanely racist/sexist/generally egregious things to you: “Are you telling me this because you think I agree with it?”. I’ve used it before on a coworker who loved saying insanely racist things to me on a daily basis, and it worked incredibly well to get her to stop. I also like a good “wow.” and then nothing else after.

            18. Cordelia Naismith*

              Okay, he is definitely not joking then. You need to shut this down every time it happens. Don’t laugh it off, and don’t use softening language. Stop joking with this guy — just be completely stonefaced and serious.

              You also need to make sure there are some real repercussions for him the next time he’s insubordinate to you. If you don’t have the authority to put him on a PIP (or whatever makes sense for your office), then please ask your manager to do it.

              I am not a fan of your manager either, btw. They have given you responsibility without authority — an absolutely terrible position to be in. And then they haven’t backed you up and tried to put it all back on you when you asked for help with this guy! You have my sympathies.

              If your manager isn’t willing to lend you their weight and help you enforce reasonable boundaries with consequences for this guy, then — I hate to say it, but I think you might be better off looking for another job. I don’t see you being able to turn this around without either the authority to enforce your directives or your manager doing so on your behalf.

            19. seejay*

              I just recently dumped a very close friend of seven years (male friend, I’m female). One of the major influencing reasons behind it was because I was fed up with his sexist, jerk attitudes towards me.

              My partner that I’ve been involved with for six years finally said to me “I never said anything the entire time but I never understood why you were friends with Fergus. Everything you said about him just smacked of him being a rude, condescending sexist asshole to you.”

              And he was right. The entire time I was friends with Fergus, he was a sexist jerk. The problem was that he didn’t *start off* as a sexist jerk, so I didn’t see it initially. And after a few years, as it came out more and more and got worse and worse, it was easier to just ignore and gloss over and pretend he didn’t really mean it because I wouldn’t be friends with a sexist jerk, would I???

              Except I was. I was “best friends” with a guy that treated me like garbage, talked down to me, interrupted me, was rude and condescending at best, gaslighted me for a bad abusive relationship I’d been in before (that he had *no* context of other than he just automatically sided with the guy in it) and supported any man in men vs women arguments on basis of gender alone, no matter who was right.

              OP, your coworker is a grade A asshole. It is not “dark humour” to joke about children being murdered, call you sexist and derogatory names, cut you off and insult you over a movie all because his man feelings are upset because OH NOES THEY PUT WOMEN IN IT. Please stop making excuses for him, the way I tried to ignore and be blind to how my best friend was really a nice guy underneath. He was an absolute ass and my life is so much better now that he’s not in it. Rope your manager in and get them to stand with you on getting this jerk in line and stop making excuses for his bad behaviour.

            20. Elizabeth West*

              This sheds a whole new light on his ramped-up assholery.

              Also, I think you need to use the words “harassment” and “hostile work environment” the next time you go to your boss or HR (if you have one). Make it official. What he’s doing rings all those bells.

            21. BananaPants*

              OK, this guy is officially a garbage human. You need to draw a very firm line in the sand; in your shoes I would totally disengage from non-work related conversations so as not to encourage him.

              We live close enough to Newtown to know an adult child of one of the adult victims, and to have a family member in law enforcement who responded to the massacre and was involved in identifying DEAD SIX YEAR OLDS. I cannot comprehend ever telling a “joke” about Sandy Hook. It horrifies me and if a coworker thought that was OK I would be complaining as high up in the company as I could go.

              1. BananaPants*

                And not to harp on it, but one of our kids is a 6 year old first grader who gets to do lockdown drills at school. The thought of someone JOKES about a lunatic slaughtering innocent school children *literally* makes me feel ill.

              2. aebhel*

                Honestly, if I heard a “joke” like that, my response would probably be… very loud and very profane.

            22. oh123*

              Have your phone out and video him saying “What up, bitch” and get other things on video as well. That may come in handy at a later date, esp. if there are many many such videos. You may want to respond to “What up, bitch” with “What did you just say?” said in a bland, neutral voice, repeatedly, and get that all on video. It would be really hard to defend if it were shown to others, should that become necessary…

          3. Rafe*

            Not always. I just took the “your mother” comments and the OP’s description of being a high performer — “it’s just my behavior that needed some serious tuning” — and their initial “mutual love of memes, music, stupid jokes, and being sarcastic 100% of the time” while not being rowdy, all as suggesting male bonding. Of course it might not have been at all. But it sure read that way.

          4. Annonymouse*

            Especially the “Shut up, b****!” Comment when OP asks a work related question.

            It strikes me more as something you’d say to a woman. Normally when guys call each other bitch it isn’t snapped out like that.

  4. Myrin*

    Aaaaagh, one of my biggest pet peeves strikes again! Not the “your mother” thing because I can’t even with that, but the “well, you behaved in X way towards person when you first met so now you can’t ever behave in a non-X way towards them ever again”. I just want to do a noodle arm dance in front of these people and sing-song “People are allowed to change their behaviour and opinions! It doesn’t have to remain stagnant forever! People are allowed to change their minds and have that respected!”.

    1. Pix*

      + a millionty!

      This this this this THIS. As someone who deals with teenagers, this is the FIRST and BIGGEST lesson I’m trying to hammer home. Just because you said yes once does not mean you have to say yes forever! You can always change your mind! Something that wasn’t upsetting before can BECOME upsetting! YOU ARE ALWAYS ALLOWED TO CHANGE YOUR MIND.

      OP, try to keep that in the forefront of your mind. The only person’s behavior you can control, ultimately, is YOUR OWN. You are not responsible for anyone else.

      I’d start (personally) by writing down as many incidents as you can, and agree with Alison’s suggestion of looping in Jane every. Single. Time. Maybe if Jane realizes just how pervasive this is, she’ll bring the hammer down.

    2. Emlen*

      I just wanted to openly appreciate the visual you gifted us here. “Noodle arm dance” is still giving me stifled-laugh tears many minutes later.

      1. Myrin*

        Thank you, I aimed for a humourous tone here (see, bro? It can be done without being a jerk!). I actually do noodly arms quite often in real life, especially when I’m agitated, so the dance is 100% something I would actually do.

          1. Myrin*

            I’ve never seen Spongebob so I wouldn’t know (although I believe it does exist there from gifs I see sometime), but I imagine it like this, only in dance form.

    3. A Non*

      There’s also a vast difference between a “mutual love of memes, music, stupid jokes, and being sarcastic 100% of the time” and calling a woman a b**** and a c*** when she asks you to do work tasks and then refusing to do the tasks. WORLD of difference. Participating in the first does not at all invite the second. I am aghast and astonished that the LW’s manager doesn’t see this. The LW mentions downthread that the problem employee is the child of another employee, I wonder if he’s being protected.

  5. Mike C.*

    I despise coworkers like these. Jokes are supposed to be funny, not be demeaning or hurtful or get in the way of doing your job.

  6. HeyNonnyNonny*

    You say you became friends when you started working together– are you close enough to explain your behavior change to him? He might be pushing back so much because he feels like he lost a friend, or maybe he thinks it’s part of the joke, or any other number of reasons. And while he should be able to act like an adult, it might be fair to acknowledge that your dynamic changed drastically.

    1. OP*

      OP here – I actually have told him about it. We both used to bond over “this place sucks, I want to quit” but I eventually came to find… you know… that I actually like it here and don’t want to quit (and I think a lot of the reason I thought it sucked is because of listening to/participating in negative talk like that). I told him about it and he basically said I’m crazy. He talks all the time about how he wants to quit, but he hasn’t done it yet because he doesn’t know what he wants to do instead – but, you know, this place sucks and I’m not here because I want to be, blah blah blah. He’s actually the son of an admin here and has been here a year or so longer than I have, working part-time because he was going to school. But he graduated, and isn’t doing anything outside of work, but still only comes in part time because he “doesn’t want to be here full time, I’d go crazy and kill myself.”

      Explaining that I was trying to take things more seriously and work my way toward a management position just got a response like “good luck with that”/”that’ll be the day”. I think the only thing I haven’t done is specifically explain to him why I’m asking him to do X instead of being like haha, hey, when you feel like it can you get around to doing X? I just sort of feel like I shouldn’t have to spell it out. I said do X. I just said it without sounding like a doofus. Not that hard (except apparently it is).

      1. HeyNonnyNonny*

        Aw, man, well that sucks. It sounds like you’ve handled both the friendship and the work relationship really maturely and in a really considerate way. I hope you can get this resolved with him!

      2. Observer*

        You are right. You’ve said everything you need to.

        I think Allison’s advice here is your best bet. Lots of luck with this guy.

      3. TJ*

        Does your manager know that he wants to quit? Maybe she can push him in that direction. Or have him do it involuntariy.

        1. OP*

          She does know, although probably not to the full extent because she can’t overhear the constant heavy sighs/”I just want to go home”/”I don’t want to be here”/”Just kill me” commentary that I am subject to everyday. He did make a few halfhearted attempts at interviewing at other places but didn’t want to take those jobs even though he got a couple offers. When he was asking for the time off to go to the interviews, our boss casually asked where he was going (since he usually doesn’t take time off unless it’s to go to Vegas or something else fun, I think she joked “Vegas again?”) and he brusquely replied “JOB INTERVIEW.”

          We were all pretty taken aback. But if it ever came up between them again I didn’t hear about it.

          1. Julia*

            If your Boss doesn’t even mind the way speaks to HER, you have a bigger problem than your co-worker. (Not that he doesn’t suck A LOT.) Poor you.

      4. animaniactoo*

        Q: As far as you know, does his mom have any idea that he acts like this at work?

        Not saying you should involve her, because that would be completely inappropriate, just looking to get a gauge on how “accepted” this is from his family culture.

        1. Observer*

          I’m not sure it would be inappropriate. Here is the thing – if he is there because his mother is working there and she seems to be protecting then she’s already inappropriately involved. At that point, it’s legitimate to loop her in. On the other hand, if his mother just happens to be working there, and stays out of that, then I agree that she shouldn’t be involved here.

        2. Dynamic Beige*

          I’m not saying you have to run tattling, but considering he probably got this job in some part to being the son of an admin, I would think they might like to know how he is behaving at his job. If this kid was my son, I would be extremely embarrassed. And more than a little angry.

          “You know, Admin, working with your son these past X months, I find it distressing that he is so unhappy here. He’s constantly making remarks about how he wants to quit. He’s constantly using language that I find to be extremely unprofessional. I really wonder how he’s ever going to get another job with his negative attitude about everything.”

          Same thing with the coworker:

          “You know, Coworker, recently I’ve been making an effort to behave more professionally around here. I know you haven’t liked that but I really don’t want to be a $JobTitle for the rest of my life. I’ve figured out by watching people around here that my reputation is based on large part by what people think of me and are willing to say about me to others. Which comes down to how I perform my job, treat others and interact with them. You’ve got to think that if *I* don’t like being called a C-U-next-Tuesday, do you think that anyone else would? Would that be an appropriate thing to call Jane or your mother? Because I’ve just got to say that if anyone asked for my input on whether you should be brought on full-time here, I wouldn’t be able to say that you would make an excellent addition to the team.” [insert a lot of whinging about how he wouldn’t want to be hired there] “And if you’re that unhappy, why do you stay here? You’re never going to figure out what it is you want to do if you stay somewhere that makes you miserable. If you’re this unhappy, I don’t understand why you’re not moving heaven and earth to get out.”

          Odds are, there is some sort of agreement between this guy and his mother that he can’t just stay in the basement all day and play video games now that he’s graduated from school. If his mother(?) the admin helped get him the job, it’s also entirely possible that he’s never had to search for a job and doesn’t know how to do it, let alone deal with the “fun” of being rejected.

          1. N.J.*

            The son is an adult, albeit an unprofessional one. Involving his mom in any way is unprofessional. He is responsible for his own behavior, period. Yeas, I’m sure the mom would be embarrassed to know what a jerk her son is, but she is not responsible for his behavior and I can’t see any way where an effort to involve her would turn out well for the OP.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Yeah, this. It would be super unprofessional to speak to his mom, especially if they’re not even in the same department or supervisorial chain.

        3. OP*

          From what I understand, Clerk and Mom don’t discuss work at home. Clerk lives in a sort of back house from the rest of them, and even when they are in the same place they don’t bring it up because they’d rather leave that stuff at the office. They also don’t work all that closely – Mom sends filing down to Clerk sometimes, and if he’s helping with reports he might bring a report up to her, or he might transfer calls to her if he’s covering the desk, but that’s about it. She’s above him hierarchically, but doesn’t manage him in any way. Since they’re so hands off, I figure it probably would be a weird move to involve her.

          Also, for the record- I’ve seen Mom outside of work and she is similar to Clerk re: humor and habits, but at work she’s great. Very professional. Shame he can’t pick up some tips from her.

      5. Catalin*

        Regarding the ‘kitchen’/misc. woman jokes, I found a similar situation several months ago. Our admin is a male. I am a female. I sit directly outside of the boss’ office for practical reasons as her right hand woman. He sits next to me. Everyone in the department was clear on the roles, but people still make assumptions/’forget’ at times.
        A male coworker nearby started sliding back into assuming I’m the admin plus other lines like “what’s for lunch?” One day he asked me what was for lunch and I replied, “I don’t know, (GUY), go make me a sandwich.”

        All forgetting has stopped.

      6. BobcatBrah*

        Do you have out with him outside of work?

        If so, try sitting him down and telling him that how y’all act outside of work is one thing, and how you act at work is another. Cutting up when you’re at a bar or playing Xbox is different than cutting up where you make money to live on.

        1. OP*

          No, we never hang out. We actually joke that he “colleaguezone”s me – I’ll say “we’re friends” and he goes, no, we’re colleagues! Ha ha! But I’m actually kind of glad because I don’t want to make it weird and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t either, so that’s fine. Sometimes I wonder if he forgets that though- I met his friends at a couple of our holiday parties when he brought them as guests and now he regales me with stories about all his friends and their quirks and adventures like I’m part of the gang.

            1. OP*

              Yeah… this post is definitely making me see this isn’t working, it never did, and it definitely isn’t going to moving forward. It was peachy when I was content to act like a dork all the time and didn’t really care because I didn’t want to be here anyway, but I’ve had a major change of heart (which in a large part came from reading this blog and realizing how good I have it, in spite of the odd issue… like this one) and there need to be more changes.

              We had a coworker I was “friends” with in the same way leave recently, and she was replaced by a very nice, professional older lady who has since completely revamped the office the last person was in. At first I sort of felt bummed that she was immediately changing the way Friend had it, but I quickly saw that it was a HUGE improvement and her system works great for everyone! And I think it needs to be like that here too. Clerk, his department, myself and how we relate to each other, etc–all needs a major revamp. And I need to make sure my boss knows it, because so far I’ve been afraid to be the bad guy and shake things up for Clerk by telling her/saying she needs to get involved. But no more.

          1. NW Mossy*

            He’s doing an awful job of “colleaguezoning,” but he’s indirectly hit the issue square-on – he isn’t your friend, and never was. He’s a terrible co-worker with boundary issues. Had he actually been your friend, he would have knocked it off when you asked him to ages ago.

            And really, it’s 100% OK that he’s not your friend, because he’s awful. You don’t need to be friends or even friendly with awful people. Direct and professional because you’re co-workers, sure, but beyond that, you owe him doodly-toot in terms of attention or respect.

      7. One of the Sarahs*

        Hope it gets better for you OP, even if it gets uncomfortable on the way to better. You don’t need to justify yourself to him, and I hope you get the career path you want.

      8. Dust Bunny*

        Of course he hates it there: With that attitude, he’ll never get anywhere.

        I think I was recently friend-dumped by a guy who was much less sexist but still like tihs dude in the sense of hating his situation but being unwilling to do anything about it, and blaming others. We fell out when he decided that the world “has it in for cis white guys” and that’s why he can’t get ahead. No, it’s because you didn’t finish school and keep taking sketchy jobs that don’t require anything of you. And then, in a pretty delicious case of irony, cluelessly accused me of buying into the “victim mentality” that women are judged by a double standard.

        1. Hankie Enlightenment (formerly Sarahnova)*

          The level of self-absorption and delusion it takes to believe that “the world has it in for cis white guys” is just…wow.

  7. GigglyPuff*

    It’s gone way to far. I understand the hesitancy and the slight explaining away his behavior, but this is no longer acceptable. I mean it’s great when you meet someone you like at work, even better when you meet someone in life you can be your full on sarcastic self with, I’ve learned to bury/temper my natural sarcasm because that’s what you do when it makes other people uncomfortable. Please realize this guy has moved beyond sarcasm and joking around into hostile, even when you think he might be joking, he’s probably seeing that you think it’s still a joke and is recognizing that he can get away with the behavior more often.

    It’ll be difficult and hard, but please don’t let this go unresolved.

  8. Junior Dev*

    Oh, the IRL meme culture…people at my work make a lot of pop culture and internet jokes, and don’t seem to always understand where these comments cross the line. There was one day where everyone was talking about a meme that has clear ties to white supremacists and saying some pretty awful things.

    I talked to my boss and one of the team leads about how uncomfortable it was making me, both the culture of saying offensive things in general and a particular meme that made fun of people with my disability, and apparently a talk was had to tell people they need to find a way to de-escalate things. This led to some discussions when I was driving people to lunch about what sorts of conversations are offensive and why that’s important.

    I also realized that the culture was such that I felt pressured to fit in and said some pretty cringey things myself. That’s why the boss’ attitude is alarming to me–it’s not ok to require someone to have been perfect at all times before taking their complaint seriously.

    I don’t think my experience applies directly to OP because in my case there were a lot of people who just had never really thought about how their words might affect others, whereas OP’s coworker seems openly hostile. I must say it all sounds pretty sexist–making offensive comments and treating the target as over sensitive, refusing to listen to her requests. (I’m guessing OP is female based on the words he is calling them, I apologize if I’m wrong.)

    These comments have no place in the workplace and it baffles me that the boss doesn’t get that.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Yes, the meme culture. It’s like when I had to explain to my kids, when they were growing up, that not everything they see touted as funny in a sitcom is funny in real life; that some of the things they hear people saying to each other in sitcoms hurts people’s feelings or makes them angry if you say it to them in real life.

      Now it’s the memes in the workplace, and some people are too immature to realize that not everything they read as a meme translates into “funny” when said directly to someone in real life. My current direct report is driving me crazy with his lack of insight about this. He thinks that he is making clever, snarky jokes, and he is just acting inappropriately left and right. I have called him on it in the moment; I’ve had a talk with him about the overall pattern. I just don’t think he gets that he is doing anything wrong. He probably thinks that because he is a young, “cool” (to himself) guy and I’m a middle-age woman, that he is just cooler and hipper than me and I don’t “understand” him because of middle-aged stodginess. I’m about to get to the point with him where I ask him, “Do you want to help people in a polite, non-snarky way, or not?” and if his displayed answer continues to be “not”, I’m going to work on transitioning him out of here.

      1. OP*

        Yeah, there is definitely a Proper Execution Of Memes here that he misses the mark on a lot. Like, we had a picture of Liam Neeson from Taken with the phone, and the caption “If you don’t return the files you check out, I will find you…” taped up above a sign-out sheet and even our stick in the mud building director saw it and laughed (as did everyone else who saw it). But then he took that down and replaced it (without giving me any warning) to the Kermit drinking tea with “I can’t f** do my job if you don’t bring the files back… but that’s none of my business,” or something like that, and I was mortified. It was censored that way, but still. Too far, Clerk. Too far. So now we have no memes posted because we can’t have nice things.

        Looking back, I probably should have just not let it happen in the first place, but of course I didn’t know back then he was going to take everything too far.

        1. A Non*

          Hindsight is 20/20. I had a terrible internship where I learned almost nothing about computers but a whole lot about sexual harassment. I handled it very poorly at the time. (Including telling the victim that she was an easy target in a lot of ways. Holy crap, one of the most cringe-worthy moments of my life.) But it also proved to be a master course in inappropriate workplace behavior and how to deal with it. I’m not exactly glad I had that experience, but I sure learned a lot of things early in my career because of it, and I’ve been able to deal with subsequent problems fairly easily. (None of the subsequent problems I’ve run into have been nearly as severe. I suspect this will be the case for you as well.) All that to say, if you’re feeling like a pile of fail right now, don’t worry. You are going to be a badass when this is over.

          (Also, the Taken meme was awesome! Good idea.)

        2. KG, Ph.D.*

          Ack! There’s a WORLD of difference between those two memes! Yikes.

          You seem to have gained a ton of self-awareness recently. I went through a similar period of my life a few years ago, and I found it really hard to recalibrate some of my friendships and working relationships. It actually culminated in the end of a few (previously) important relationships in my life, including with someone who had been a mentor to me for many years. It was sad and frustrating, and it left me feeling really…out of my element? Discombobulated? Something. It took a while for the new maturity and insight to feel like a positive rather than a burden. I totally understand your hesitation to put your foot down with your crappy coworker, but you’re in the right here, you’ve tried being nice and accommodating, and it’s time to set some serious boundaries and stick to them.

        3. DeskBird*

          This reminds me of the time my date and I came back to my freshmen dorm after a first date with a guy I had really liked for awhile – to find that while I was gone my roommate had put up HUGE poster of an aborted fetus on the door. It was so mortifying that my brain shut down. He read the horrified panic on my face just fine – but I still tried to pretend the next door down was my door and confused my neighbors. I really regret that I did not have the backbone and self awareness to march in there and tell my roommate that this was not ok and had to come down – Instead I just stopped inviting people over.

        4. LCL*

          And for the future, to help set a more mature tone, don’t use memes for work instructions. You can post the funny ones in your office on your things, but not as instructions. You never know how people will take them, I find the Taken movies really offensive, and would find that meme much worse than the Kermit one which is funny and direct and my kind of humor. But I wouldn’t have posted either for that application.

          1. Junior Dev*

            Yeah, a movie full of violence and racist stereotypes is probably not the most appropriate.

            A lot of memes that seem innocuous have really messed up origins. Or involve making jokes about something like violence, which isn’t as stereotypically portrayed as offensive–I think because it seems so obviously distasteful that it’s hard to know what to do when someone jokes about it.

            I grew up around an abusive relative who would make “joking” threats of violence. It terrified me, which was the goal. I now *hate* when people say stuff like “if someone messed up their TPS reports again, I’ll kill them!”

            Idk, side tangent, but I’m not a fan of the violent memes either. Frankly I would much prefer a work environment where the jokes are on the level of “working hard or hardly working? Hahaha!” Than one where people don’t think twice about making hurtful jokes. I can joke with my friends and watch all the raunchy comedy I want on my own time; I can’t shut out my coworkers completely if I want to do my job.

            1. Noobtastic*

              How about Sean Bean, as Boromir, saying:

              “One does not simply walk away with a file.
              Check it out properly and return it promptly.”

        5. JayemGriffin*

          Okay, I thought the Liam Neeson one was funny, but I did also make a “Keep Calm and Call ” meme and posted it on my cubicle. (I work in tech support.)

  9. abankyteller*

    I’m sorry you’re working with a 14-year-old boy, OP. You seem to genuinely like this guy otherwise and care about this, so I’d try once more to sit with him and say “listen, I don’t want to maintain a stuffy office and I do enjoy sharing memes and witty banter when our work gets done, but I want to succeed in this company, and I need for our work to get done. I need you to be responsive when I have work questions, and we need to cut out the outright profanity. Jane has been looped in on these issues but I’m hoping I can nip this in the bud before she needs to talk to you about it.” Or something more pointed like Alison suggested of course!

    I’m pretty aghast that someone would think they can behave this way at work.

    1. RVA Cat*

      The thing is, he’s a grown a** 25-year-old man, who should know that work is not a frat house.

      I’m giving him some serious side-eye for the misogyny. I get that OP thought they were friends, but Bob’s hostility makes me think he is not good with consent. Being just co-workers seems like a reasonable and safe boundary for OP to maintain with him.

      1. starsaphire*


        I mean, I have an opposite-sex co-worker that I joke around with… *outside of work.* In the car, or at lunch off-campus, we can swear, diss one another, share dirty jokes/memes, whatever.

        At work? At work, we don’t do any of that. We address one another respectfully, talk about work and ONLY about work, and speak and behave professionally. Because we’re adults, and we like our jobs. And we both get that.

        Mr. “Your Mother” is just an asshole.

        1. Noobtastic*

          At one point, my father, mother, sister-in-law and I all worked at the same place, every Saturday (Sister-in-law was employed, while the rest of us were volunteers).

          We called each other by our (same) last names, because everyone there called everyone by their last names. We were able to enjoy working together, of course, but we also knew that we had to be professional and treat each other, and all our co-workers and clients, with the same level of respect, regardless of our relationships outside.

  10. MM*

    Can you tell your boss or HR that you have spoken to your co-worker but their behavior continues and is creating a hostile work environment for you? Also are you and this person the same gender? I’m wondering if any gender discrimination is at play on co-workers part.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      We just did our harassment training here and what this guy is doing pushes every single button. If the OP’s situation were one of the simulation videos, people would be breaking the keyboard to answer “Could this situation be harassment?” with YES YES OMG YES.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The spam filter is just weird and unpredictable in what it flags sometimes. Also, if it’s ever briefly down, it will send everything submitted during that time to moderation.

            The thing is, getting sent to moderation is not some terrible fate. The vast majority of the time, I see and approve things within minutes. It’s really not a big deal!

  11. "Computer Science"*

    Ooh, I really love the “I’ll change when someone tells me to.” Me. I’m telling you to change. Explicitly.

    1. Lefty*

      Yes! I was coming in to say something about this… I’d wan to say, “I am telling you. This needs to change to that, now.” And then I’d follow it up with an email: “As discussed today, the process of THIS will need to be THAT starting immediately.” OP is someone who is telling you to change it, office dude!

  12. the gold digger*

    You said you think it’s facetious and you’re not terribly offended by it

    The first time someone at work ever said “Shut UP!” to me, I was stunned into silence. I mean, it worked – I shut up, but I thought it was so, so rude. I learned later that it had become slang (yes, I am not too much in touch with popular culture, I guess), but even now, 15 years later, I find it horribly rude. Even when it’s said as slang for “You must be joking I cannot believe that this news is too shocking for my ears I can’t hear it,” I find it rude.

    I for sure would not be happy with “bitch.” Only my cat is allowed to call me that and that’s only when she wants the Red Dot and I am ignoring her.

    1. AP*

      Me too! I have a coworker who is really smart and I respect her, but she says this all the time when something surprises her and it’s really startling to me. I get that it’s just meaningless slang and a habit of hers, but oh man, every tim eshe yells “SHUT UP!” during a meeting I’m shocked for a second before I can pick back up.

    2. PK*

      Seriously, this would get under my skin immediately. I’ve never once had someone tell me to shut up at work. I like to think I’d react calmly but that might be an ‘Excuse me…what did you say?” moment.

      1. fposte*

        I think she’s talking about the incredulous exclamation. “I won the lottery!” “Shut UP! You did not!!” I don’t hear it the same way I do “Shut up!” as a command, but I definitely understand how that’s not an automatic differentiation.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          One of my coworkers says, “Quit!” in place of that. Her tone is like, “Oh stop; you did not.” The first time she said it though, I paused, thinking she wanted me to shut up and go away, ha ha.

    3. animaniactoo*

      My husband is, but only when I’ve done something like hunting down where he hid the new Terry Pratchett (of which there will sadly be no more) and stolen it to read before he can.

    4. TootsNYC*

      My children taught me this–those are nuclear words. When they were little kids, their daycare workers taught them that there is NOTHING worse you can say. Not even “stupid”–which is the F-word for little kids.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Ha. One of my friend’s kids came home and said, with wide-eyed disbelief, that one kid had told another kid “the S-word”. She meant “shut up”.

    5. Aurion*

      I think the key is delivery. “Shut UP!” barked like an order would startle me and feel rude as hell, but the way I hear it is usually wide-eyed, a little slack-jawed, disbelieving/incredulous laughter, and the delivery was usually “shut up” with some laughter or “shuuuuuuuut uuuuuuuuuuup” with the same. When not barked like an order, it feels a lot milder. I think one of my coworkers pulls this off well, and I know a friend of mine back in school did as well. It never felt like disrespect or an order.

      But, y’know, the people I mentioned are also decent people, not misogynist pigs.

    6. SamSam*

      This isn’t new, though – Elaine was doing the “shut up!” shocked reaction back on Seinfeld in the 90s. The good news is it might be too old and young people will stop doing it :)

        1. The Grammarian*

          It’s a pretty mean show…and it made a lot of people think they could be funny like that, but it actually comes off as peevish or awful. (My first time watching it was last year.) I’ve heard “get OUT” as a variation on “shut UP.” Anyway, people should be more cognizant of their communication styles and differences at work…and just respectful in general.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            The characters are terribly mean, but that made the finale extremely satisfying. :) I like it much better than Friends. That show makes me want to gouge out my eyes with a fork.

  13. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Either your someone’s boss, who can delegate, discipline, set expectations, manage, etc., or you’re not.  There is no middle ground.  As a former participant in this nonsense, the only conclusion I’ve ever come to is that upper management wants to possess all the authority and none of the responsibility.

    You’re not really his boss.  That’s why he has zero incentive to do anything you say.  

    I’m not defending him, but I work at a large employer in a visible role.  My boss’s requests and my job duties are my top priorities every day.  I tend to blow off non-boss people on a case by case basis because a majority of the time those people can do those menial tasks themselves, usually because I’ve already shown them.  (Seriously, I get a copy and paste request at least once a week.)  I certainly don’t treat them the way this guy is treating you though.

    AAM’s advice is a good idea because it puts the onus of managing this guy right back where it belongs: your boss.  For every item that isn’t done, copy both of them to let her know that.  If she comes back to you and asks why X, Y, and Z aren’t done, you can honestly say that you’ve asked him to do it, everything you’ve tried hasn’t worked, and you lack the authority to either discipline him or fire him.  (That last part is true, right?)  

    Escalating it into the boss’s hands is the next logical step, and you should say that in such a way that assumes she agrees with that sentiment.

    1. Allison*

      I’m inclined to agree. There are times when it’s appropriate to ask a coworker to do something, but generally speaking, if you’re not in a position of authority over someone you’re not really in a position to tell them what to do, even if you’re *sure* something is best done your way. I often bristle at my coworkers telling me how to do my job. There’s collaboration, there’s taking the lead, and there’s managing someone you’re not really supposed to be managing.

      But you’re right, even if you don’t like someone telling you what to do, there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle it. The right way might be to ask why they feel the need to manage you, or ask your boss if they feel it’s appropriate, or say “I’ll help you with that today, but going forward I’d like you to handle it yourself – it’s very simple, I can show you how if you’ve forgotten.”

  14. JMegan*

    Good grief. I agree with Alison – this is definitely your boss’ failing, not yours. She’s the one with the authority to manage him, and the responsibility to make sure you have what you need to do your job, and she is not doing either of those things.

    I would have the serious talk with her that Alison suggested, and if she doesn’t step up immediately, then I would start looking for another job. It sucks that you should have to, since it sounds like you really love it otherwise. But honestly I don’t see another way out of it unless she shows that she really has your back on this, and it doesn’t sound to me like she does.

    Good luck, and I’d love an update when you have one.

  15. Amber*

    If all your attempts to fix this still don’t work and your manager doesn’t do anything and he continues like this, I’d start job searching. Being around this toxic behavior will start to break you down and like an abusive relationship, it will be harder to tell what’s normal and what’s not.

  16. A non name today*

    Our office is pretty laid back and jokey. Our team deals with horrific content on an hourly basis, and sometimes the best way to deal with it is in a way that would be inappropriate just about anywhere else. But calling each other the c word or bitch? Or refusing to answer a co-worker’s work related question? I just asked and they were horrified.

    If we had someone who did, I’d put an immediate stop to it. Even with all the previous joking we’ve done, that would cross such a disrespectful line, it would have to be addressed.

    1. Jadelyn*

      Exactly. Having a fun, shit-talking, jokey environment can work – so long as everyone knows where the boundaries of that are and respects it.

      My team talks SO MUCH SHIT behind closed doors, but when we’re on a conference call or dealing with employees we clean it up and behave like responsible professionals. Similarly, I’ve gotten to be a close friend outside of work with one of the IT guys, and MAN do we say some really inappropriate crap to each other when we hang out on the weekends – but in the office, we behave ourselves (or at least share our inappropriate memes very quietly or via texts rather than IMs on the office network), and even on the weekends when we’re hanging out we occasionally reaffirm before saying something particularly outlandish, “we’re still off the clock here, right?” Although I think that last is probably more him than me, because I’m HR and he can’t quite forget that or needs the reassurance that I’m happy to set that aside when I’m off work.

  17. Moonsaults*


    I work in construction for lack of a better word and whereas I hear a lot of “f this” and “f you” flying around nobody would ever call me a bitch or respond with something like “your mom” comments. So this guy is a piece of trash and he’s being allowed to be horrible for some reason unknown to me.

    You are going to have to be prepared to leave that position if you need to because unless you want to step this up to a bigger boss or push for actual disciplinary action, you’re truly fighting a losing battle here. This sounds like a weirdly toxic place where someone who should be reeled in is being let run free for no reason that I can see from this. Is he related to someone?

    I can imagine what happened was you worked in a very lackadaisical office and you read this blog, you learned a lot of amazing advice that’s suited for a truly professional atmosphere. By using those tools, you insulted him in some way. You pushed his buttons and he’s like “Now OP is a stuffy jerk who thinks they’re better than me and my trash behavior, I’ll show ’em!!” Which is now being met with resistance and your supervisor is like “LOL well yeah, what to do what to do?” It sounds like your supervisor wouldn’t mind if you just drug him out back and boxed his ears at this rate because that’s the kind of business they’ve got going on over there o.O

    1. the_scientist*

      I just wanted to second this comment. In functional, respectful workplaces you can absolutely joke around and use sarcasm and dark humour and profanity…..but everyone understands that there is a line that you do.not.cross.

      I work with firefighters and paramedics a lot, who tend to joke about things that I imagine most people would find pretty un-funny. I also work with a lot of people who use profanity liberally. I have never once been called, or seen anyone else be called a See-You-Next-Tuesday or a b*tch. That is on the other side of the line, where it’s no longer a joke; it’s a personal attack. And it’s completely unacceptable in any context, never mind a work context.

      This coworker isn’t joking, he’s being a misogynist asshole and using the tried and true “GOD, can’t you TAKE A JOKE?!” deflection to manipulate you into backing down.

      1. Moonsaults*

        I’ve learned a lot about the “gallows humor” that the medical field use to keep themselves from losing all their marbles from all the trauma they’re surrounded by. It’s about shutting it off and doing your work, while still having compassion and understanding!

    2. blackcat*

      +1 to causal/profane workplaces not being disrespectful

      As a grad student TA, wrangling other grad student TAs, I have experienced a very casual work environment. I have, actually, gotten a “your mom” response to a comment. I think it was “There are some good aspects of this worksheet, but I’m worried it’s too easy and won’t challenge the students.” and I got “Your mom is too easy.” I gave a “are you kidding me” look to the offender, who immediately said, “Ok, so what changes do you recommend?”

      The line is different in different workplaces, but reasonable people will pick up on “No, really, we need to work” cues. Just among grad students (never in front of the undergrads we teach), there are plenty of f-bombs, references to drug use, general potty humor, etc. As the only woman in the group, I am often treated as “one of the guys.” But I’ve never been called a bitch, let alone a c***. There are no sexist jokes. When something needs to get done, it gets done. People are respond seriously to the requests of others, even if the response starts with a “your mom” joke.

      The problem here isn’t the profanity or being casual. It’s the coworker being a disrespectful asshole.

      1. Moonsaults*

        I really want to stress that being ‘one of the guys’ is not and never means a free for all in the “most offensive things you can think to say”, which is what the OP is giving me the feeling is going on here. My head is going to explode as the woman who has always worked with all men, had roughneck uncles growing up and can hold my own in just about any situation I’ve come across. There’s still a huge requirement of mutual respect for one another, it’s not funny when you’re just being a POS gutter trash human.

        1. JessaB*

          Exactly. There’s profane and sometimes gross and sometimes OMG this would be so inappropriate if someone outside the group heard it (medical humour anyone?) and then there’s rude, nasty, personal insult territory, and that’s not on, no matter how casual the place is.

  18. Myrin*

    Also, as someone who happens to be 25 as well, most of my cohort grew out of this behaviour more than ten years ago. He sounds like a whiny 13-year-old, not like a grown man with a job.

    1. BPT*

      Right? Also, “your mom” jokes? Is this 2001? Even the least offensive jokes he makes aren’t even funny because he’s about a decade and a half behind.

  19. JMegan*

    I disagree with the idea that he’s joking, or genuinely thinking that you’re playing along with him. If he really were joking he would a) do the work anyway, despite the sarcastic comments, and b) knock it off when you asked him to. The fact that he hasn’t done either of those things suggests to me that he’s actually quite serious about his intent, and his joking tone of voice is only for the sake plausible deniability. “Geez, OP is SO SERIOUS! I was totally going to do the work, and she should have known that I was just joking when I called her a bitch! She used to be fun, and now I can’t work with her at all!”

    Shut it down, OP. Or rather, get your boss to shut it down. And if she can’t or won’t, it’s time to get the hell out of Dodge.

    1. MC*

      Agreed – this is NOT passive. This is aggressive behavior framed as joking as an excuse to be an asshole. Do as AAM advises, start the paper trail. Every time he calls you a bitch tell him outright “I have asked you not to call me a bitch. Please stop.” Then go to your desk and email him and copy your boss “I am reiterating that today you called me a bitch and I requested that you stop calling me a bitch. This needs to stop immediately.” Every. Damn. Time. If nothing else it will put your terrible boss on high alert that she needs to get this person under control. If she threatens you or your job, put in writing “I am confirming that you will handle this issue appropriately and that you would prefer that I not report incidents like this to you in writing.”

    2. SamSam*

      It’s the Shrodinger’s D-bag principle! He says a comment that might be seriously hateful or might be a “joke” depending on how you react to it. And seconding your comment that if he was joking, he’d say “your mom” and then follow up with just doing what you asked. “Do you have the Teapot report?” “Your mom has the Teapot Report” *ding* (email magically appears a moment later with the Teapot Report)

      1. JessaB*

        And also if you say “Hey the ‘Your mom’ stuff is way overline,” a decent person will quit the “your mom” stuff. They understand the difference between casual trash talk and “these words are hurtful.”

        1. fposte*

          Even if it’s not hurtful, it’s a freaking waste of time. I’m not going to put up with asking twice for everything I need.

          1. OP*

            That was my major issue with it honestly. He says “your mom” to everything, I’m over it, but that day our boss, the director, and everyone in charge of us were out at an off-site meeting and it was more or less my responsibility to figure out what was going on. After the fifth or sixth “your mom” I just hung up on him because I wasn’t getting anywhere and was either going to lose my temper and yell or … lose my temper and yell later on.

            The following week on Monday I did ask him, “Hey, so what was up with the front desk thing” and he told me (and it was a Bad Thing that I needed to tell my boss about, so it was right for me to know) and I said “I wish you had told me that in the first place instead of saying your mom eighty times.” He gave me the silent treatment for an hour for the scolding.

            1. Cordelia Naismith*

              That isn’t even a scolding, though. That is the mildest possible reaction anyone could have to something like that.

              I can’t even with this guy, and I’m only reading about it second hand.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                My thoughts exactly. He seems to be attempting to train the LW to feel mean for anything less than joyous embracing of his stupid, obnoxious jokes. LW, that wasn’t a scolding, it wasn’t mean, it was, if anything, too mild. The fact that he can’t handle even that much pushback without resorting to sulking is a bad, bad sign.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      He’s not joking. He’s stonewalling/rebelling. It’s delivered in pseudo-joke form but there is no actual joking here. He’s telling OP that he doesn’t give a flying flip about her or their work and he’s not going to do anything she asks. But there is nothing good-natured or friendly here.

      OP may have to choose between being coworkers and being “friends” (such as they even are. I would not call this friendship, though) because this can’t be both at this point.

  20. animaniactoo*

    I talked to our boss about it, and she advised me to sit him down and tell him what I expect of him and I have. His response to “I need you to know when to stop with the jokes and listen to me” or “I need you to ___, can you make sure that gets done” is “I need your mom to stop.” Hilarious. I tried to be more lighthearted like, “haha, no but seriously, can you ____”

    Do not be lighthearted. Do be pointed. “Bob, that’s exactly the kind of thing I told you needs to stop.” You tried the soft message. It was worth trying. It got you exactly nowhere. That means it’s time to stop trying it and be direct without laughing anything off.

    You might also have a “come-to-jesus” about the reason you have changed and are no longer participating. “Listen, I know that I’m not joking around the way that we used to. I’ll be honest, having that dynamic with you was a lot of fun. But I realized that it was hurting me professionally because, as we both know, so much of it is wildly inappropriate in the workplace. I’ve stopped because I’m just at the beginning of my career and I don’t want to limit myself before I’ve even gotten off the ground. So in the office, I need to be a professional and I really need you to respect that.”

    1. animaniactoo*

      Okay, you posted while I was taking my sweet time writing and posting this (cuz, uh, talking to my boss when she’s by my desk is a small priority), and I see you’ve already gone the route of the last paragraph, so ignore that.

    2. Nea*

      Thing is, we already know that he doesn’t feel he needs to respect OP and OP’s goals. So I’d change the final line of an otherwise excellent script to “So in the office, I am going to behave professionally and protect myself when you do not.”

    3. KarenD*

      As I’ve been reading the replies, I was thinking this but then I kind of backed away from it as I read the OP’s updates and thought about it.

      From OP’s description, ThisGuy doesn’t give a rat’s patoot about what she needs. Or what she wants. It just doesn’t matter. Any atttempt to convince him to be a nicer or better guy because it’s virtuous is pretty much a lost cause.He’s trying to cast OP as a sellout (I’m sure he has more profane terms than that.) Complaining about trying to be more professional just plays right into the twisted little narrative he’s building – he doesn’t think being professional is a good thing, and never will.

      Alison’s advice is really the only way to go here. Stone-face him. No reaction to the profanity except to say “stop that.” NO response to the misogynistic/dark jokes (though it’s OK to be friendly with him if he’s actually behaving.) No slack on his attempts to blow off work that he should be doing.

      The most I would say to him on an interpersonal level about his behavior is “I’m done with you.” Don’t be drawn further than that … Just “I said I was done. Go do your work.”

  21. Dee*

    It sounds like he might be one of those guys who had mentally slotted you into the “cool girl” spot, meaning someone who’s not over-sensitive and doesn’t get offended at things that are “just jokes”, when those jokes are basically just an excuse to be a misogynist jerk.

    Regardless, this is ridiculous. This is your workplace and his. You don’t talk to people like that at work, even if you think you’re just being funny. And it sounds to me like he’s gone beyond trying to be funny.

    1. OP*

      I get that sense a lot too actually and used to be really grateful for it. I play video games and drink on the weekends and… idk, do “guy stuff” and I don’t think he’s used to having female friends like that either. It was relieving being treated like “one of the guys” and not constantly being worried that he was going to hit on me or something (if anything ever goes in that direction I’d just shout “don’t make it weird” and it stopped). We had a good camaraderie and there are also aren’t a lot of “cool folks” our age here. But after 3 years of this it’s just kind of exhausting.

      1. May*

        Playing video games and drinking are not “guy things”! They are interests that humans of all genders have! The thing about “cool girls” and being “one of the guys” is that you’re expected to never be offended by sexism or misogyny and should let guys do whatever offensive shit they want because if you don’t then you’re a buzzkill. Men don’t like to think of themselves as being sexist (usually) so somebody pointing out that there is an issue with their attitude or behavior towards women can make certain kinds of dudes very defensive in a way that closely resembles the “People who point out that racism exists are the real racists” mentality.

        In my younger days I lived with four guys and got somewhat sucked into the “cool girl” mentality so I absolutely understand where you’re coming from but I hope you can learn from this that the “cool girl” is an inherently misogynistic concept.

        1. Purest Green*

          Yes, thank you! The gamer culture seems particularly bad about their desire for a mythical, sphinx-like creature with the body of a woman and the head of a man who not only participates in the gender-appointed “cool things,” but also does not participate in unacceptable feminine activities and possibly denigrates them as well, all while being totally thick skinned about offensive behavior (and it’s not only sexism either). That creature does not exist, at least not for very long.

          1. fposte*

            The rot at the heart of the “cool girl” myth is that it’s the woman without needs. Because god forbid you have expectations of people in your life.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              OMG all of this!

              It’s the tomboy sister of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: It’s all about men hanging with women who ask nothing of them and encourage their most sexist impulses.

          2. A Cita*

            Right. And one of problems with wanting to be the “cool girl” and feeling like “really grateful for it” is that you’ve now internalized sexism. It’s on par with taking “you’re not like other girls” as a compliment. It’s an implicit agreement that there’s something inherently wrong with being a woman; that it’s lesser to being a man. And who wants to be less than?

          3. Annie Moose*

            Yesssss and an important part of this is that you now have to look down on women who aren’t like that. I used to be this person, until I was trying to explain to someone why the Fake Gamer Girl memes weren’t sexist and offensive… and successfully managed to argue myself into realizing they WERE sexist and offensive.

        2. Turtle Candle*


          And one of the things about… oh, about feeling like you’ve ‘earned’ your way into the ‘boys’ club’ by acting like the cool girl and doing, I don’t know, stereotypically male things, is that it’s a double-edged sword. It can benefit you, sure, if the guys generally treat women pretty badly. But there’s always the unspoken threat that if you are insufficiently cool or act ‘too girly’ or break any of their unspoken rules or they just get bored of you, that you can be booted back out into the category of ‘just a woman’ and be subject to treatment at least as bad as other women do–and often worse.

          It took me a long, long time to realize what a trap it was to try to be less ‘girly’ so you could be ‘one of the guys.’ I shouldn’t have to become an honorary man to be treated with any kind of respect; even if it works, it’s wrong, and it basically never works forever anyway.

      2. Aurion*

        I have a lot of male-dominated interests as well. I can out-nerd guys on specific topics, I can bicker and joke with the best of them, and my wise-ass attitude definitely gets me slotted as “one of the guys” more often than not.

        But there’s a big difference between “hey, you’re one of us” and “hey, since you’re one of the guys I’m going to flagrantly insult you and everyone of your gender and you’re going to take it because you’re cool, what, can’t you take a joke?”. The former is liking you for your personality regardless of your gender. The latter is specifically disrespecting you and other women using the veneer of “just joking” and “cool girls are supposed to take it, because they’re the exception and other women are stupid/shallow/what have you.”

        My male coworkers are people whom I can professionally rib and joke with. They are also the ones who loudly say “gross” in my defense when someone condescends to me on the basis of my gender. Jokey and respect are not mutually exclusive.

        1. Jadelyn*

          The latter is specifically disrespecting you and other women using the veneer of “just joking” and “cool girls are supposed to take it, because they’re the exception and other women are stupid/shallow/what have you.” – YES. “You’re not like other girls” isn’t a compliment, it’s a threat; it’s saying “I choose to exempt you from certain types of misogynistic behavior on my part, but if you object to any of the misogynistic behaviors I continue to direct at you, I’ll retract that exemption and you’ll bear the full brunt of all my misogyny (plus some extra for daring to defy me).”

          The kind of camaraderie that comes from “not like other girls” is super conditional. It’s nothing you can rely on. It’s a tool to keep you in line, nothing more.

          1. fposte*

            So well put. Any time you’re being singled out as an exception while the group you belong to is being denigrated, it’s a divide and conquer move.

            1. Aurion*

              I’m a little bit more forgiving of “you’re not like other girls”; I don’t think it’s great, but can be a bit more toward neutral (not at neutral, but a bit closer) if it’s said as an observation in very specific circumstances.

              “Hey, since you’re one of the guys I’m going to flagrantly insult you and everyone of your gender and you’re going to take it because you’re cool, what, can’t you take a joke?” is shitty behaviour, characterized by the thinly-veiled insults and the expectation for you to take it. I can’t think of any circumstance where it isn’t shitty.

              But I have been told “you’re not like other girls” by an ex, as an observation to my interests, which skew toward things that are heavily male-dominated. Obviously it’s not great because the culture of said interests practically make a sub-hobby out of consciously or unconsciously excluding women and girls, but it’s a little less rage-inducing when meant in isolation. And, well, we were pretty young, and he was respectful and open to me calling him on his crap otherwise. In rare instances, I think that phrase can be meant as an observation of a girl or women bucking the trend, so to speak.

              But past the age of 23-25, “you’re not like other girls” still grates in its tone-deaf-ness, even when taken in isolation in the best possible way.

              1. Aurion*

                In other words, now that I’m not 23-25 anymore “you’re not like other girls” is not a compliment and I wouldn’t take it as one. But back then, neither he nor I interpreted it as an insult or attack, even if in the greater context of society it’s not a good thing to say. But that specific instance or usage is something I’d chalk up to follies of youth, which is very different from the blatant crap in OP’s letter.

              2. Dust Bunny*

                I’ve only ever heard “you’re not like other girls” from men who knew %#!-all about women (mostly because they were stuffed full of ego and preconceived ideas and were obsessed with women as WOMEN and not as people).

                I have a lot of “girly interests” and several “less-girly” interests and I know plenty of women who share my “less-girly” interests, if men like this could take them seriously in the context of those interests. But they don’t.

                1. Aurion*

                  That’s a fair point. Even in my example, he was only 21-22 at the time, so hardly an expert on women or girls anyway. I will admit that both he and I were idiots of varying stripes at that age :) I might be remembering some things more fondly than warranted as well.

                  I’m thinking about this again today… Even with the best possible interpretation, without accompanying insults, “you’re not like other girls” is at best a less offensive statement but not an inoffensive statement. It is still less rage-inducing and more “dumb things young people say” to me, but in the greater context of society it’s still not okay. I don’t know if I was very clear on this yesterday.

                  I probably shouldn’t have written that previous comment; in rereading it I sound like an apologist. Sorry about that.

          2. A Cita*

            I mentioned the parallel with “you’re not like other girls” above before I read these comments.

      3. seejay*

        Agreed with the other comments. “not like other girls” was a compliment in your 20s, it’s not when you get out of that age range. Seriously. I’m another one of those “not like other girls” girls that played paintball, video games, RPGs, MtG and all the other “cool boy stuff” from my teenage years into my 20s (and still do in my 40s), and even went into a career in STEM back when university classes were 1 girl to 20 guys. Yeah, you want to be that cool girl that isn’t like all the others and the guys think it’s awesome, but when you hit a certain age, you realize it’s just guys being sexist jerks and you’re grinning and ignoring it and letting them get away with it.

        Essentially, they want you to do all the cool things (play video games and be cute/hot) but not do the uncool things (stand up for yourself). They want you to be the verbal punching bag as they act like absolute douches. In one of the more extreme cases, I actually had to withstand one of my male friends using me as a whipping board at the paintball field and when he left bruises and welts on me, got told “if you want to play out here with the guys, you need to take it like the guys”. Which meant I had to suck up him whipping me with a plastic cleaning tool that left 6″ welts on my thighs. And yeah, I didn’t want to be the “girl” that bitched about it so I did. You know, if they wanted to run around beating the shit out of each other intentionally, they could, but I should have been able to say “no, you’re not doing that to me”. It’s one thing to take the shots in the game that’s *part* of the game, another to be intentionally hit by someone that is doing it “as fun” as a form of hazing and then told to suck it up when what he was doing was way out of line and abusive.

        So yeah, you can like things that are “cool” and have male friends and be that “cool chick” without being verbally abused by a sexist gross pig. You have at least 6 women here who are telling you that you do *not* have to go through that. We all did and it sucks and it’s not necessary. You still might do it, cause sometimes you have to figure it out on your own and that’s not a bad thing (I’m notorious for learning stuff the hard way) but do remember, there’s lots of women out there that like video games and “guy stuff” and these aren’t owned by guys anymore (and they actually never did own it, I was playing video games and shit in the 80s), they don’t have a monopoly on it.

        You don’t have to put up with it. Ever.

        1. Julia*

          That sucks. I feel like the guys you describe would have called a guy complaining about extreme roughhouding some pretty rude things as well, though. Luckily it’s not all men (ha), but it still really blows.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        OP, no offense, but he doesn’t sound like he’s your friend (or that you two are friendly), and he doesn’t sound like he’s joking when he acts out and calls you sexist things. He sounds like a raging assholic who has been able to get away with bad behavior because of slack oversight from y’all’s boss coupled with your desire to be friendly. I don’t say that to blame you for his behavior—he is so far over the line, he could be on a different continent—but I flag it because I think laughing it off tacitly conveys that you’re ok with him speaking to you the way he has been.

        From your description, it sounds like he’s trying to “put you in your place” and demean you, not joke around. I think the sooner you realize that he’s not your friend and never was your friend, the easier it will be to put together an action plan for dealing with him. There’s a difference between dark humor and poor taste, and he’s clearly hanging out in the “poor taste” side of the pool. Don’t validate his bad behavior by trying to be friendly with him. Be cool and polite and direct when dealing with him, channel the same energy with your boss, and if your boss continues to slack on this, speak to someone higher up the chain who would take this seriously. If he does this with you, and you’re his “friend,” I can’t even imagine how he behaves around other women.

        1. seejay*

          This is how I eventually distanced myself from my ex “best friend”. When I realized that his behaviour and personality really were so far over the line and not just joking, I started pulling away, being cool and polite, and putting distance in the relationship (I had reasons I had to stay in contact with him at the time).

          There was a lightbulb moment of when I did realize that his behaviour *was* totally wrong. There were small signs and things that made me uncomfortable, and it seems like the OP has been getting those little niggling feelings for awhile and this letter to AAM is probably the big glaring spotlight so *hopefully* this will be the push she needs to make the step. It took a huge leap of faith for me to make the decision to pull the plug on my friendship with the jerk once I had the “AHA” moment, but once I did and take the plunge, it was a huge sigh of relief and now my world is a much better place. I hope she can get there too cause there’s no room in anyone’s life for dealing with this kind of toxicity.

      5. Student*

        This is a classic control tactic over women. It’s been effective for many years, but it’s a huge lie you’re buying into. It’s an attempt to divide us by saying, “You’re wonderful and special – all the OTHER women are boring fat dummies and *insert other gendered insult of the day*, so of course you should be on MY side and AGAINST all those women who aren’t as special”.

        In reality, there are lots of women like you who like to play video games and drink on the weekend. Millions of us, really.

        This tactic hems you into behaving in a very specific way – violating a couple of “gender norms” to appeal to guys by indulging the guy in something he likes, but not violating enough of them to actually threaten their dominance over you in any way.

        This guy’s constant mocking of you now is a direct response to you gaining some authority over him. He’s undermining you, all while trying to convince you he’s doing that because you are “special and not like other women”. He’s trying to push you back in your box, where you indulge him and entertain him but don’t threaten his masculinity. He’s keeping up the “special” treatment to deter you from seeking out the support of other women who might clue you in. From one video-game-loving woman to another – get a clue! He’s not your friend, he’s your frenemy; he’s insecure and unsuccessful and desperately trying to push you down back underneath him so you go back to feeding his ego. Sounds like he’s succeeding brilliantly with you. Wake up, and stop thinking other women are “other” instead of just like you, stop thinking you’re some brilliant unique counter-culture rebel for letting a guy call you a xunt constantly, and get focused on what’s good for you and your career.

        1. seejay*

          THIS THIS THIS.

          You are not a special snowflake. Seriously. There are millions of us that:
          * like video games
          * love horror movies
          * love dumb action movies with explosions and car chases
          * like super hero movies
          * drink ourselves stupid on the weekends
          * play RPGs/CRPGs/CCGs
          * play/watch sports
          * swear, tell dirty jokes
          * wear jeans and sweatshirts and sneakers and dress like tomboys
          * ride motorcycles/dirtbikes/motocross
          * insert whatever other male-dominated hobby you can think of here

          and for added bonus, we are not all gay (if you think these are hobbies that you can only have if you are a butch lesbian). There is nothing wrong with that if you are, but again, this goes back to the whole stereotype of the magical unicorn / special treatment of there are no straight pretty girls that fit this unique box. This myth insists that the only women in this niche are “boring, fat, dummies or gay butch lesbians, but you’re not, you’re special”.

          There are many of us, including gay, straight, bi, whatever, and we have to stop letting these sexist jerks divide us into thinking that some of us are unique special snowflakes “just for them”. There are millions and we need to stop with the division.

        2. aebhel*

          Harsh, but accurate. There are millions of women out there who drink and cuss and dress like slobs and play videogames, who watch dumb shoot-em-up movies and collect Star Trek memorabilia… we’re not unicorns. Most of us just choose not to hang out with psychopathic man-children like this dude, which is probably why he hasn’t met any.

  22. AP*

    It seems your coworker is trying to justify really terrible behavior by pretending everyone is having fun, but that’s not true. If you’re not having fun and he is, not everyone is having a good time.

  23. Murphy*

    Wow. Joking around is cool and all, but this definitely crosses a line. I’m sorry OP. I agree with everyone that you’ve handled this well and done all you can. I hope you get more support from your manager

  24. Pwyll*

    This is another one of those situations where the behavior isn’t going to change until it becomes painful for Clerk to continue doing it (and in some case, becomes painful for boss to ignore). That means following the latter part of Alison’s advice: when he refuses to do anything, shooting an e-mail to the Boss. When a deadline is approaching (or passed), reminding boss of your e-mail and saying, “I’m not able to do x if Clerk doesn’t cooperate. Please let Clerk know I need him to do y and I’ll have x done right away.” Repeat ad nauseum until Clerk removes himself by quitting, or boss goes absolutely insane and finally starts addressing the issues.

    1. seejay*

      After reading the post and comments from the OP, I want to bathe in it. :( This guy skeeves me the hell out, he’s the type of guy I actively try to AVOID online because I know he’s the type to get the 4channers and anti-women brigade out after you for daring to talk back to him. >< I block these dbags on Twitter without even engaging.

    1. Dynamic Beige*

      You would be living on your own personal island somewhere, laughing hysterically.

      Just make sure the anti-asshole potion wears off after a certain period of time — built-in obsolescence!

      1. Joseph*

        Would you want to intentionally make it wear off though? Because abusing planned obsolescence kinda makes you…well…

  25. Whats In A Name*

    This is beyond fathomable to me. I can even believe your boss knows and is allowing it to continue.

    Sounds to me like he is harboring some kind of resentment over you being peers who hated the job and were each others outlets to peers with different perspectives about said job to you being peers on paper only.

    It sounds like you have some management-type responsibilities over him without the ability to actually handle the mans child-like behavior with disciplinary action so he is just pushing every button possible because essentially you can’t do anything and your manger has shown they won’t either.

    Alison, following up on a comment I made earlier. Could this be insubordination to some extent since he is essentially ignoring direction? Or does that even matter if the manager won’t do anything about it. Anyone else know?

  26. Lady Blerd*

    OP, your friend is not joking with, he is blantantly disrespecting you and doesn’t give a crap what you think. Your boss is being a d*ck for now stepping in. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, believe him when he calls you b*th or a c*nt and that is unacceptable. If he doesn’t listen to you then yes, it’s time to dump him on our boss’ lap to deal with.

    1. Lady Blerd*

      Now that’s I’ve read OP’s addendum below, I have to take back my comment about her boss not stepping in. But yes please OP, for your own sanity, you need to loop her in next time she offers. It is not your burden to fix him on your own. I don’t think there’s any actual friendship here to salvage so at the very least, now you need to reestablish a proper professional relationship.

  27. Lauren*

    He’s not joking around with you and that can be seen by the fact that he doesn’t joke around with your mutual boss in the same way. Unless he uses these same words and phrases with everyone–underling, peer, bosses–he is using them to demean and belittle and embarrass and humiliate others.

    Completely and totally unacceptable.

  28. Loopy*

    All I can say is I hope OP takes the advice and comes down hard on this guy (using the tactics Alison recommended like copying boss and immediate reporting). I can see how this won’t be fun, especially if the environment is just the two of them alone all day.

    I can easily imagine how miserable working every day might be when this guy decides to label OP as the bad guy and and he may become pretty miserable -or worse- to work with.

    With someone this immature I would brace myself for this to be exponentially difficult and possibly closer to a worst case scenario in how he chooses to react, but it’s so so important.

    Good luck OP, we are all cheering you on.

    1. Katherine Sherman*

      Yes definitely. This is also a power situation. The guy liked the old way of doing things. He had a buddy in his behavior and now he doesn’t. Now he’s got no cover in being unprofessional and is being asked to change. So he’s trying to force the dynamic back to where he wants it. It’s going to get worse for a little. But it will never get better otherwise.

      OP, good on you for the professional and personal growth. I hope you realize how valuable a skill it is to be able to recognize and change your behavior this way. Alison’s tactics are great. Use them. Also, I’ve noticed that with behavioral issues it sometimes helps convince a reluctant boss to act when you detail how the bad behavior negatively impacts your work duties. As in “Guy, I need you to tell me why you are at the front desk because I have to be able to fix any larger issues so we can get X done.” “Guy, you cannot use that meme because it negatively impacts our relationship with department X.”

      Your boss SHOULD see “guy calls me the c word” as reason enough to act but some people regard behavior and work product as separate. They aren’t. Help your boss see that.
      If it doesn’t work, take the excellent skills and commitment to improvement you’ve got and take them to a company that will appreciate them properly.

  29. Collarbone High*

    This is a really good (and fascinating) question, because the LW’s problem is something that a lot of otherwise good advice doesn’t take into account — resolving an interpersonal problem in a mature fashion *requires all parties being mature and interested in resolving it.*

    Good advice columnists always recommend having a calm, candid discussion with the other person, which is of course light years better than being passive-aggressive, or bottling everything up. But that presumes the other person will take part in said discussion. For me, advice like “talk to your dad about how those comments make you feel” is an unachieveable ideal, because he simply says “I’m not talking about this” and turns on the TV. This is a similar case — no amount of excellent communication skills or workplace professionalism is going to help when the other person simply responds with jokes and non sequiturs. And this situation is, in many ways, harder than a relationship situation, because in that case, the person trying to solve the problem could choose to sever the relationship. LW can’t divorce or cut contact with the co-worker (alas).

    I once worked with someone a bit like this, and I compared it to playing tennis against someone who didn’t bring a racket, doesn’t know or care how to play and instead of returning your serves, simply throws the ball around the court. LW is trying to play tennis and co-worker is just grabbing balls out of the can, throwing them at LW and declaring he scored 50 points.

    As usual, the advice here is spot-on (especially the part about putting a stop to the “shut up, bitch” — that’s atrocious) and I’d love to hear an update from the LW on how it plays out.

    1. TootsNYC*

      LW can’t divorce or cut contact with the co-worker (alas).

      Yes, she can. She can quit. She can take her top-notch skills and her new, more positive and more professional behavior, and go work for someone else.

      And when she gives notice, she can say to her boss, “I went looking for work elsewhere because I was tired of working with this guy who doesn’t pull his wait, says rude stuff, refuses to follow the directions I’m allowed to give him, and has a negative attitude all the time. And since you wouldn’t rein him in, I figured the only way to get away from him was to quit. Thanks for teaching me so much–I know you’re going to miss my skills and work ethic when I’m gone.”

      1. Myrin*

        I’m really angry for OP that this is the case because she says in her comments that she actually likes working at the place whereas douchebag coworker actively hates it, so it would actually be perfect if he quit. But really, while he is the huge arsehole in this scenario, it all hinges on the manager – coworker could be an arse all he wants, if the boss actually backed OP up, he’d either have to deal or not be there any longer. But yeah, it annoys me that this might culminate in her leaving when she’d actually like to stay (although it’s obviously questionable if she’d want to stay in the long(er) run with a boss who “manages” like that).

        1. Collarbone High*

          Same — I should have said “without quitting” but I’m hoping the resolution doesn’t involve her having to quit a job she likes.

        2. Moonsaults*

          The bells all rang at “douchebag doesn’t like working there” and that he’s the son of an admin, working there part time while in school. So this dbag got a job on mama or papa’s hardwork and has been given the kid gloves approach because of it as well. He’s doing all this to try to get fired and he’s working really hard at it too, only to now have OP’s boss being a wimp who won’t pull the trigger because it’s going to cause the parent of this idiot to flip their lid as well.

          It’s obvious and this is the kind of guy who has no initiative to fix his own misery by going and finding another job somewhere that he may not hate so much. He probably has one of those personalities that just despises having to work at all and at least here he can be a total jerk and keep getting paid. My head hurts so much wrapping my mind around what is happening, the OP is just in the middle of the hellfire and nobody is going to help pull her out.

    2. Collarbone High*

      This got me thinking more about my racket-less co-worker, and one thing I noticed was that this behavior came out when he’d blundered and knew his position was undefensible.

      Him: “We should make a plastic teapot! People with kids would love that. It would be a best-seller.”

      Engineer: “A plastic teapot would melt when you poured in boiling water.”

      Him, embarrassed and desperate to deflect: “Your mom would melt.”

      This guy sounds similar — he knows he’s not supposed to be working overtime, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on so he tries to send the conversation spinning off in another direction. It’s exhausting to be constantly chasing down the stray balls/dragging the conversation back to the topic at hand and he’s learned that most people will just give up.

  30. TootsNYC*

    Our OP wrote, in one of her replies:

    He’s actually the son of an admin here and has been here a year or so longer than I have, working part-time because he was going to school

    I would imagine this is why he thinks he can get away with this. And it’s possibly why he hasn’t been spoken to before.

    So if I were the OP, I might ask my boss, “I understand he’s the son of Shirley from Accounting. Does that mean that no one will ever speak to him about either the fact that he doesn’t actually do much work, or that he’s so offensive? I’m wondering if he’s un-reprimand-able. Is this a battle I’m going to have to fight, or behavior I’m simply going to have to put up with? The answer is important to me. Working with him affects how well I’m able to do my job, and it affects how I feel about it.”

    And if she hems and haws, I’d be looking for work elsewhere. (when asked why you’re leaving, you can always say, “I’ve been finding the atmosphere negative lately; I want to work somewhere that people are enthusiastic about their jobs.”

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I think it also needs to be pointed out to Spectacularly Wimpy Manager that this behavior is ILLEGAL IN SO MANY WAYS. OP may not want to make a formal complaint or involve any legal eagles, but that doesn’t mean the next person he does it to won’t.

  31. Chickaletta*

    Sounds frustrating. For what it’s worth, OP, know that the types of relationships built on verbal one-upmanship and comebacks never last. I had a friend in my college days where we were constantly making sarcastic Chelsea Handler type jokes all the time. It became exhausting, and once we started to mature and conversations toned down, we found ourselves bored with each other. I think most friendships that start off like this tend to fade over time.

    I’m just saying that because it seems like you’re trying to save the friendship and keep on your coworker’s good side, and you’ve done some reasonable things to maintain the friendship while changing your work behavior (“not to be a buzzkill” comments, looping him in on why your behavior has changed, etc). But if he’s going to be adamant about staying in 12-year old boy mode, then it’s fine for you to move on by taking a harder stand. Friendships fade, it’s a fact of life.

  32. Hotel GM Guy*

    I have an employee like that: 23, Aspergers, spouts memes and inappropriate jokes all the time. It’s a quirk that wouldn’t be acceptable in a customer facing role, and I’ve had to talk to him multiple times about what is and isn’t appropriate in real life interactions, but he’s in a department of one and this is his first real job and I don’t think he’s ever had much social interaction offline so I feel sorry for him.

    So far he hasn’t done anything along the lines of sexual harassment or discriminatory, he’s just been awkward, and if it ventures into that territory then I’ll cut him loose.

  33. shep*

    Wow. I’m female and am totally fine with dark/obscene humor, but among VERY specific people–i.e., those that are intelligent, not *actually* misogynists or bigots or socially tone-deaf, and who keep this kind of thing OUT of the workplace and polite company.

    OP, you are doing everything right and this asshat is persisting in asshatery, and you’re getting shockingly little support from your boss, and still all I can say is just. wow.

    And I hope you don’t have to put up with this for much longer.

  34. Michelle*

    Nope, nope, nope. I don’t care who he is related to and or how long he has been there, you DO NOT get to call me a bitch or the c-word. Tell him once, and I mean only once, that he is to NEVER call you that again, and if he does, get up every. single. time. and go to the manager/boss and tell her. When you ask him to do complete a task or get you X report and he says “your mama” or cusses you, do the email & cc’d suggestion by Alison. Every. Single. Time. I think that’s the important thing, you can’t let him get away with it at all.

    And your boss sucks if she thinks you have to put up with it because you tolerated it when you started. People are allowed, and often do, change their minds about what is offensive and/or unacceptable. Sounds like your boss doesn’t want insist Mr. Ass to be a decent employee ( and human) because then she will have to actually manage the situation and his mom might start kicking up a fuss. I wonder if call his mom a bitch and a c—? If his mom actually has the gall to ask about it, I would tell her plainly that her son is calling me a bitch and a c—. Do you allow him to call you that and do you think it’s acceptable that he speaks to a woman that way??

    1. N.J.*

      I’m a bit confused by your comments. This employee isn’t related to anyone else at the company and there didn’t seem to be a mention of his actual mother being involved in any way. The “your mom” references are related to a particular joke pattern that involves insulting the mom (real or imaginary) of the person you are “joking” with such as the old “your mamma is so fat” jokes or just responding to any question with “your mom” which serves the same tactless function as the “your mamma” insult jokes.

      1. Myrin*

        OP says in her comment at 11:30 “He’s actually the son of an admin here”, so his actual, literal (I assume) mum works at the same place.

        1. N.J.*

          Fair enough, I didn’t see that comment. There is still no indication, as far as I can tell, that the admin who is this employee’s mother is involved in any way in their department or in her son’s work behavior or activities. I would still point out that Michelle’s comment is confusing, because it’s bringing in considerations and dynamics that don’t seem to be at play here. I don’t recall seeing a comment that the mother was going around defending her son’s behavior or fighting his battles for him, which would be an additional level of unprofessional behavior. So I guess I was confused because I didn’t seem the comment mentioning the mother and I am finding it hard to imagine that the mother would be playing a role in any of this, since the OP doesn’t mention that in her letter??

          1. Michelle*

            In *my* opinion, I think the manager is avoiding dealing with the the male coworker because it might cause hard feelings with the mother. Of course the mother may know how her son is and doesn’t care. It has been *my* experience that if a child and parent work at the same place and the child gets disciplined/reprimanded/fired, it can cause the parent to be upset about it and possibly confront the person they feel is responsible for it. I find it hard to believe the man can act like described at work and his mother not know.

  35. Mae*

    OP, I think you need to first own your part in this before proceeding with any discipline. To an extent, we teach people how to treat us. And while you did not ask for this to treat you this way, you did set a precedent for a joking environment in the beginning. After acknowledging that, that’s when you can say he’s taken it too far and talk again with your boss using the dialogue Allison suggested. You’ll have your accountability by admission here which any reasonable boss (though that’s questionable) would appreciate when trying to put a stop to situations like this. I’ve been exactly where you are and to me, it’s all about trying your best to fit into industry “culture.” (I won’t play industry guessing games, but I did leave an industry that was just like this for a number of reasons.) Good luck.

  36. OP*

    Hey guys, OP here – I just wanted to say thank you to Alison and all of you for the advice and support. This has honestly been plaguing me for the better part of a year (well, I guess technically three), but I’ve only started cracking down on it in the last few months. I was a little hesitant to send this letter because it just seemed so dumb and absurd, especially once I tried putting it into words. Like… your mom jokes? Really? Ugh. But it’s good to know I’m not way off base or insane for finding this obnoxious.

    A couple quick things… I have been going to my boss about almost every incident since the last few months, such as the “I’ll do it different when someone tells me to” thing–I gave Clerk silence in response and went straight to Boss a couple minutes later and told her “I asked Clerk to do X because of Y reason, and he said ____. Is it not enough that *I* told him? Do you need to tell him?” and she said no, you should be able to tell him. Her advice, if she ever gives any, is to discuss it with him seriously and then “wait and see how he does.” When that doesn’t work it becomes “Do I need to get involved?” which I’ve admittedly balked at because I kind of wanted to be the one to handle it myself. As I think I indicated in the original letter, I thought it made me look less capable not to be able to get this under control, and also I didn’t want her getting involved to be seen as a “running to mom” type of reaction. Honestly, I’m thinking I need to involve the next step above my boss, but that person is a little difficult to talk to so I’ve been reluctant.

    Also, we do have HR, but they…’re… not great. They don’t answer my calls or emails over simple questions like whether my sister can come to the holiday party with me or if they want a copy of my doctor’s note–I just give that all to my boss and she has to field it for me (because of course they take her calls). So I haven’t really counted on them as an option.

    I really like the idea of looping my boss in constantly, though, and I may even start CCing the director as well. I just think the records department could be so, so, so, SOOOO much better if we had someone who actually wants to be there working in it, or at the very least, someone who will do what they’re told. We have accreditation inspectors coming to this location soon and I’ve been trying to whip Records into shape with very little luck. But hopefully with this advice that will change! I’ll be sure to send along an update if (when??) anything changes.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      When that doesn’t work it becomes “Do I need to get involved?” which I’ve admittedly balked at because I kind of wanted to be the one to handle it myself.

      So… she’s actually offering to handle this for you. If you’ve been telling her no or seeming reluctant, that’s part of the problem. Start saying yes. Tell her explicitly that she does need to get involved, both with individual instances and with the broader pattern.

      You don’t have the authority to handle this yourself; that’s not a failing on your part. It is going to be a bit of a failing on your part if you don’t recognize that though :)

      Also, we do have HR, but they…’re… not great. They don’t answer my calls or emails over simple questions like whether my sister can come to the holiday party with me or if they want a copy of my doctor’s note–I just give that all to my boss and she has to field it for me (because of course they take her calls). So I haven’t really counted on them as an option.

      That stuff isn’t going to be high priorities for most HR departments. I wouldn’t judge how they’ll handle this based on how they handled those. You’ll likely find that they respond very differently if you send an email with the subject line “Official Complaint of Harassment.”

      But give your boss the chance to solve it first.

    2. Amtelope*

      Before you involve your boss’s boss, I’d try saying “yes” when your boss asks you “Do I need to get involved?” Right now you’re saying “no,” so she may be assuming that you’re able to handle the problem on your own. But you can’t, not because you aren’t a competent person, but because you’ve tried asking politely, and you don’t have the authority to enforce rules when he refuses to do what you’ve asked. The next time she asks “Do I need to get involved?”, try saying “Yes, I’ve tried asking him to [do what I ask him/stop treating me rudely/etc.], but he’s refused. I do think you need to step in.”

      1. Aisling*

        Why would she do that? It would be beyond inappropriate for his boss to ask his mom to handle a situation that is going on at work. It’s his manager’s job to manage him in the workplace, not his mom’s. Even-and especially- if his mom works in the same place.

    3. Serafina*

      Good luck, OP. I agree with the other posters that it’s time to end all overtures and indicators of friendship with this dude because he clearly can’t or won’t comprehend the difference between a social and workplace relationship (and why the heck would you want a misogynistic creep as a friend anyway). You might also start calling him out, coldly and sternly with each comment.

      “Your momma is xyz”
      “That is inappropriate. Stop. I’m giving you an instruction. Do you understand?”


      “Hey, OP, you’re a b****/c***/etc, inappropriate joke”
      “That is inappropriate. Stop. ”
      “Waaaah, you used to be fun, OP!”
      “I don’t care what I used to be and I don’t care what I used to do. I’m giving you an instruction and I’ve told you to stop using that language/joking about that subject/etc.”


      “I need you to do the xyz task this way.”
      “I’ll do it that way when someone tells me to.”
      “I’m telling you to. Are you being insubordinate or are you going to follow my instruction?”

      Also, write it down and make sure he sees you documenting. Communicate with him via email if possible in your work environment, and push him for an answer if he tries to dodge it.

      Email from OP to Him: “Please do xyz task this way by Friday.”
      If he fails to respond, repeat. “Per my previous email, I instructed you to do xyz task this way by Friday. Please confirm that you understand.”

      Be frigid, be hard, be the kind of b**** that he finds so threatening. If he continues to be insubordinate, escalate.

      1. Izzy*

        Not that is an excuse for the abusive language, but – is it possibly no one has explained to this guy that you do have the authority to direct him to do tasks, and to do them a certain way? when he says “I’ll do it differently when someone tells me to,” could he mean “when someone with some authority tells me to”? It sounds like a confusing role you’re in. You’re not his boss, but, you sort of are, if you can tell him what to do. If she hasn’t done so yet, it might be helpful for your boss to spell out to both of you together (so you know, and he knows, and he knows you know he knows) what your working relationship is and what you have the right to ask of him or tell him. He’s being awful about it, but if he sees you as a peer he may be challenging your right to direct him. Or he may be saying he doesn’t answer to you, as in the front desk incident where he effectively refused to answer to you. If he does in fact answer to you, he needs to know it.

        1. OP*

          Yes, this is it exactly. It’s why I went to ask her specifically, “How much authority do I specifically have here? I’m not trying to cut in on you, being the boss and all, but I am usually the one that delegates and manages him, so I want to know exactly where I stand.” It doesn’t say anywhere in my job description that I’m in any way his boss, but the daily workings here have made it so, at least informally. I know he struggles with it because we’ve always been on the same level before, and I guess now it looks like I’m trying to move a step above him, but the thing is… I always already sort of was, I just didn’t act like it.

          I don’t have any authority where it counts, like PIPs or firing or anything like that, I just oversee what he does. And honestly, I don’t really need him to OBEY ME and say yes ma’am or no ma’am to every little thing, just… some basic acknowledgement of what I need from him would be nice. Ask question, get response. Give direction, see it followed correctly (if only so when he screws up it doesn’t fall back on me, because it often does).

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It sounds like one thing you need to do is to ask your boss to make it clear to him that you have the authority to delegate work to him and that she expects him to be responsive to you.

    4. Turtle Candle*

      From what you’ve said throughout the comments, it sounds like this guy really enjoys winding you up and getting a reaction out of you. A lot of it, frankly, reminds me of what my little brother would do when we were five and six years old–I mean, god knows my brother didn’t say ‘bitch’ and so forth or make mass murder jokes, but the way he replied to your questions with “your mom” every time reminds me so much of a little kid repeating everything you say until you want to pull your hair out, or the way my brother would say “no you!” to everything until I ran screaming for mom to make him stop. Or doing the “I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!” thing in the backseat of the car.

      I think it’s telling that he continues his behaviors when you continue to engage him (you keep asking why he’s up there, he keeps your-mom-ing; you keep reacting with appalled laughter or disgust to his jokes, he keeps reading them until you make up an excuse to disengage), but switches tactics to silent sulking when you actually enforce a boundary (by telling him to stop without softening it or laughing, or by going to your boss for help). He’s continuing to annoy you because it is fun for him. And let me be clear: the part that’s fun isn’t telling the jokes, or “jokes.” It’s spinning you up and watching you react, like a five-year-old livening up a car trip by driving his sister crazy (only worse, because even my brother at five knew better than to get into any really insulting terms–and it’s telling that a five-year-old was more sensitive and mature!). Your attempts to keep things cool by softening your responses and repeating yourself is not just not working, it’s actively counterproductive, because he’s getting what he wants.

      You’ve said a few times that you set a firm boundary, or didn’t soften something, or involved your boss, and he replied with the silent treatment. That’s actually a sign that those are the right things for you to be doing. Get your boss in on the loop immediately. Speak clearly and firmly and shut him down. If he sulks, that’s his problem. Right now, he’s doing this stuff because it’s fun for him, and has no real repercussions of any kind. Make it not fun. Get your boss in and (hopefully) set some repercussions for bad behavior. He’s going to sulk because you’re, in effect, taking away his toys–but he has proved that he can’t be trusted to play with them.

    5. Marisol*

      Referring the problem out when it’s necessary to do so IS handling it. It’s not handling it by *yourself*, but it is handling it *appropriately*. This is one of those judgement things where you have to learn how to do less; it’s paradoxical but doing less can make you look *more* competent. Whereas, overfunctioning can make you look inefficient and insecure, among other things. (Compare a calm, elegant executive with a frazzled, overextended one. Who has more credibility? Who is more likely to get promoted? Not that you are frazzled, but it does sound like you are overreaching a bit.) To paraphrase what I think I read in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits book, if you take care of what’s within your sphere or influence, that sphere will expand.

      Also, so far I don’t think I’ve gotten any love for my suggestion of the blank stare when people say inappropriate things (I’ve suggested it a couple of times on this site) but I’ll mention it again. The next time you ask this idiot a question and he answers with “your mother,” try just looking at him (or keep holding the phone receiver if you’re on the phone) and say nothing. Silence like this usually makes the other person very uncomfortable. I mean, is he going to say, “your mother” a second time? He’d sound really foolish if he did. He’s waiting for your response, so don’t give him one.

      I’m not saying “ignore him” when he acts offensively; I’m saying, keep a relaxed gaze on him, while saying nothing, as if you are waiting for him to finish his sentence; as if he must have more to say because so far, he’s making no sense. But don’t make a perplexed face either. Just gaze with a neutral expression. You can always follow up with a retort like, “I need an answer” after several seconds if you feel the need, but you won’t lose any power by slowing your reaction time. Creating an uncomfortable silence will only help you.

      You might not want to do that if he calls you a bitch because that really does need to be called out (e.g. by explicitly saying, “don’t call me that”). But I have a feeling that this tactic can be very effective with his other, less egregious offenses. For example, when he says, “I’ll only do that if someone else tells me to” you look at him gently and unflinchingly, neutrally, and I can almost promise you he’ll start to feel uncomfortable and then do what you say, or at the very least, he’ll be less inclined to give you flak next time. Sometimes people, especially women, rush to respond to someone’s statement and look weak in the process, when the more powerful action to take is to wait before speaking. (As a bonus, this also gives you a moment to decide what to say in response, which doesn’t ever have to be clever, by the way–it can be just a perfectly boring restatement of what you just said.)

  37. AnonMurphy*

    I haven’t read all the comments, but in my experience the line here is your co-worker’s unwillingness to put aside the joking when there’s actual work to be done.

    I am a 35-year-old, MBA-owning female technical program manager in a software company. I have a great relationship with my counterpart, our operations manager, who is a late-30s guy. There have for sure been times when he’s, say, poked fun at my awkward wording or pushiness in a meeting, and I’ve actually responded (with a grin), “Hey, F*&k you, Coworker. He grins back and we move on to the next item. However, our regular relationship is characterized by mutual respect, having one another’s backs in all situations, and common goals.

    All that is to say, I think there’s nothing wrong with ‘your mom’ jokes, F-yous in the workplace, and so forth. I’ve seen firsthand how you can have highly functional relationships in that environment.

    Your coworker is using this language to be avoidant, definant, and disrespectful. Regardless of whether you’re truly peers, you should feel empowered to do what you need to to make it stop. I would tend to try to solve this using a variation of the patented Sars (of Tomato Nation fame) method of being loud, clear, and unafraid to speak up – and that goes double if you’re a gal like me. (Bellowing on the 5 train “WHY is there a HAND on my ASS?”). Look your coworker in the eye and say ‘I need to to communicate like an adult now’. Call the behavior, out loud and directly. Don’t be afraid of causing a scene – coworker is already doing that. Then, if that still doesn’t work, continue to document and put consequences on it (like you’ve been doing by going to your boss).

    Hope you can work your way out of this one! It sounds like possibly coworker is already a lost cause in terms of ‘getting it’ but don’t be afraid that you’re the crazy one.

  38. Critter*

    One thing jumped out at me that I’d like to note – especially in a work environment, there is a difference between friendS and friendLY. They aren’t the same. A friend is someone that you could, for example, call for help if your car broke down, or to feed your cat while you’re away. Someone you’re friendLY with is simply someone whom you get along with, but they’re not necessarily someone you can count on in that way. Most of the time, coworkers are people you’re friendly with, and it usually stays that way (and in many cases ought to). When you first began working together, you became friendly. You are not friends.

    I think this is 100% on your manager. Since you are responsible for supervising him and delegating his daily tasks (daily?? that seems excessive) you ARE his de facto manager, although you have no real power to take definitive action here. Your manager is avoiding managing him and dumping it on you without giving you the tools to do so effectively. No bueno.

    1. KarenD*

      I don’t think either applies in this case. They may at one time have felt they had something in common. It’s pretty clear that he now despises her, and that his actions are often just pure aggression.

      And I can get into this guy’s head a little on why he’s become so vicious. He thought OP was what he defined as a “cool girl.” Which, as several posters deftly pointed out above, he defines as someone who is magically able to reflect his sensibilities, his emotions, his interests and his disaffection at any given time.

      Immature, non-self-aware people like this react extraordinarily badly to disappointment. They can’t deal when their expectations don’t match with reality, especially when they are expecting their “girlbro” to justify and validate their own bad behavior. At a guess, he treats OP much, much worse than he would have treated someone who interacted with him in a professional, mature manner from the start. By maturing and growing into her duties – and clearly surpassing him in every way that counts – she hit him right in the boybox and he is punishing her betrayal. Signs of discomfort, pleas to stop it – they are the reward he’s seeking.

  39. BeenBurned*

    I was in a very similar situation when I was just starting out. I had a coworker who loved to be a smart-ass all day long, and because we’d started out as friends and my authority wasn’t as clear-cut as it should have been, I had a very hard time with putting my foot down. So I’m going to give you some tough talk. I know people have pointed out the ways in which your boss is part of the problem, but what I’m hearing in your letter is that you are not taking what the boss is giving.

    Your boss told you that you can do “whatever is necessary to make him cooperate.” That is a grant of authority! No matter what your title or the org chart says, your boss has given you clear permission to take charge of the situation. So you need to get over the fear of being the bad guy here. If he gives you the silent treatment, but the job is done, what is the silent treatment hurting? If he gives you the silent treatment and the job doesn’t get done, you’ve at least covered your butt by doing what your boss expects and taking charge of the situation.

    The next time the situation comes up and he doesn’t do something or doesn’t answer a question when required to, I’d say, “Listen, Fergus. I know I may have been a part of starting this problem because I played along with all the games before. But that stops right now. I’ve spoken to Jane and we’ve both agreed that any more behavior that obstructs my ability to do my job is not going to fly. Be as sarcastic as you want to be, as long as that doesn’t interfere with me – or you – getting the job done. Is that understood?”

    Be firm. Be forceful. Do not let him get away with it. If it happens again, cross your arms, say “We discussed this”, and silently stare him down until he acquiesces. Because if you don’t get a handle on this, it’s you who will look bad to your boss. She’s made her expectation that it’s something you can handle clear. Handle it.

    1. JMegan*

      I think it’s also worth asking the boss for more information. Presumably OP doesn’t have the authority to fire the jerk, so Boss doesn’t literally mean “whatever is necessary.” She means “whatever is necessary, within certain boundaries,” so it’s worthwhile for OP to find out what those boundaries are.

      Also, it couldn’t hurt to remind her that you’re new to managing, and you may need some specific direction on how to do it. Say “I’ve done X, Y, and Z, and that hasn’t worked – what should be my next step from here?” I mean, I think the next step is for the boss to take over, but definitely tell her that you have done everything YOU know how to do, and let her know that you need some managing as well.

  40. Lils*

    OP, part of being a good worker and management material is being able to “manage up”…that is, knowing when to loop in your boss and knowing how to handle it when your boss isn’t doing what she’s supposed to. Any boss will always be stronger in some areas than others, and some bosses are just terrible. You can often get what you need from your boss through reminding, presenting solutions, being extra-prepared for meetings, documenting incidents, etc. Yes, ideally you wouldn’t have to do these things, but by doing so you’re facilitating your own success and that of the organization. Keep being strong and insisting this situation needs fixing, OP! And please give us an update.

  41. Turtle Candle*

    One thing that I have found intensely useful is to just full-on embrace the ‘humorless feminist’ title. Sometimes people work so hard to try to be ‘chill’ or ‘laid-back’ or ‘friendly’ that they will put up with practically anything rather than risk being called cold, or being accused of having no sense of humor, or whatever. And IME, this is especially bad with women, who have often and in many ways been trained to put other people at ease–even when that boils down to “haha, no, of course I don’t care that you called me a vile epithet and made jokes about my body and its functions!”

    So it can be intensely powerful to take (some of) the power out of those accusations. I will always remember the look on a classmate’s face when I said, “…you know what, yes, sure, I’m a humorless feminist. And you’re still wrong.” He so clearly expected that to be his trump card, that as soon as I was faced with ‘be agreeable or you will be labeled humorless’ I would immediately backtrack to agreeability–and when I didn’t play by that script, he was at a loss.

    I say that because a lot of what you’re doing, softening the message with “haha but no seriously” and whatnot, reads to me like you’re trying to set a boundary while still keeping it friendly and light. But this is not a friendly or light situation. This is horrible for everyone involved–even tangentially; if I even heard a coworker being treated like you’re being treated on a regular basis, it would make me sick with stress–and it is far more important that you make that clear than that you demonstrate a good sense of humor or chill-ness or something. Be un-chill. Embrace the un-chill. This is not a situation that you should be chill about; quite the opposite.

    1. JMegan*

      Why yes, I *am* a humourless feminist, and you still can’t call me a bitch. Please have the Teapot Report done by the end of the day.

    2. Marisol*

      Awesome. Double down on the humorless feminism!!!! (I’m so sick of that expression “doubling down” but at least I get to see it in a feminist context here!!)

  42. Brooke*

    As a fellow-high performer subject to childish and offensive behavior by fellow employees, I empathize. I don’t have authority over these folks either and am trying manage my desire to appeal to our shared manager with a fear that I’m being too negative, whiny or self-important.

    God, it’s hard.

  43. S'more*

    OP, just curious, when you think back, was he actually doing a better job, completing tasks, doing things as asked before you set boundaries, or has his performance always been below par, work left un-executed or done incorrectly?

    If he’s always been this way but it became more apparent when you set boundaries….that means one thing.
    If he’s doing it in retaliation to your boundary setting….that sends another message.

    But I’m going to let others who are better at detailing how businesses/people should work explain, cuz there are reasons I’m self-employed!

    1. OP*

      That’s honestly a hard question to answer. In some ways, the guy is a lifesaver – he can do reports if I need backup and generally knows how to send them out where they need to go. He fills in at the front desk for breaks, and can do full days up there if the receptionist is ever out. He does storage runs for the boxes of filing going in and out, which pretty much no one does ever because it’s far/a pain/etc. And of course he takes care of all the filing, which I could never in a million years imagine having time to do.

      But at the same time… the reports he does are rife with mistakes, the same ones over and over, and while he does sometimes ask “hey, I’m supposed to X, right?” he completely lacks initiative and will either just drop something and not do it because he can’t figure it out, or do it wrong. He has a horrible demeanor at front desk (flat stare, aggravated tone of voice – he’s not the customer servicey type at all and doesn’t care to be). The filing is a god dang mess, papers everywhere and folders everywhere and BOXES everywhere, I go wild just walking back there and seeing what a mess it is. And the refusal isn’t anything new. Our boss addresses him, the director addresses him, the VP freaking addresses him, and yet it seems like no matter how much something is addressed it doesn’t change, and it absolutely baffles me. Also, he’s constantly on his phone, looking at vines or memes or texting or whatever. The way our office is laid out, our cubicles are back to back so I can’t see him and neither can anyone else from the outside unless they come into our office and walk around to his side. He could be here all day and no one would know it unless he stepped out into the light, and I FULLY believe he uses that to his advantage for goofing off… and yet I’ve been railing about rearranging the cubicles (for reasons other than just what Clerk is doing) since I got here and nobody’s budging.

      Up until recently I’ve always defended him because of the help that he is, but it’s just been crashing down more and more the longer this all goes on. His work isn’t great, his attitude is terrible, his ethic is non existent. Records is as much my jurisdiction as Reports, and it kills me to think how much better it could be if only we could bring someone on that wants to do the work and isn’t so difficult to train. Whenever I try to introduce new things or change the way something’s done with Clerk… well, we’ve heard that story here already, and it’s so demoralizing that I just would rather do it myself than fight that battle forever.

      So… short answer? It’s always been bad, but it’s getting worse and worse the more I try to fix it.

      1. JMegan*

        He sounds like a nightmare, honestly. Your first paragraph sounds to me like a pretty basic job description for a records clerk – I’m not disputing the “lifesaver” part for you, but it also sounds like anyone who sits at that desk would be performing those same functions. And there are hundreds of people (at least!) who would be more than willing to sit there and DO their jobs, without whining and complaining and moaning about it.

        I know you probably don’t have the authority to fire him and go find one of those people. But just in case you need further confirmation – this guy is horrible, your boss is not managing the situation appropriately, and it’s definitely a problem for you to be concerned about. No need to minimize it – it really is that bad.

      2. seejay*

        You can’t fix a jerk that doesn’t want to be fixed.

        You sound like you know your way around memes and the more questionable side of the internet. Do you really think arguing with trolls online will make them behave better?

        You, dear girl, have the real life version of a troll working in your office. Dude ain’t gonna change no matter how much you argue with him. He’s going to keep hurling those slurs at you until you mute (ban) him. Then he’ll probably argue about how his freedom of speech is being suppressed because he’s not being allowed to spout his terrible opinions in public and Twitter (you) are making him shut up.

        He’s a terrible person, he needs to deal with consequences of his actions and so far he’s not getting any and continuing to barf all over the internet (office space). Someone needs to banhammer him.

      3. Aurion*

        OP, if he were good at all his tasks maybe this would be an employee worth coaching. I say maybe because you’d have to draw that line.

        But by your admission, he doesn’t do any of his tasks right. He’s a lifesaver with his reports…except his reports are rife with errors. He does the filing, but it’s a mess with papers everything. He fills in for the front desk…except he’s terrible at it, and has a terrible attitude. You haven’t listed a single task that he is good at. And he’s a misogynist ass on top of it.

        Maybe you don’t have the authority to fire him, but frankly, on top of poor job performance and his attitude, this isn’t an employee you should go out of your way to keep. Even if he does clean up his misogynist attitude (unlikely), the fact remains that he is bad at his job.

        I think you’d be better off if you build a case to your boss to fire this guy. Get someone else who will help you clean up your Records department, not this dead weight.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yes. If someone is genuinely very, very good at their job, but is unpleasant to be around, it can be worth trying to coach them into acceptable workplace behavior. And if someone is lovely and hardworking but just not very good at their job, I’m totally sympathetic to trying to salvage the situation.

          But this person is bad at, as far as I can tell, every significant task of the job, and is beyond unpleasant. He’s a lifesaver in that he’s a warm body who occasionally does some tasks that you need (and does them badly), but that means that almost any other warm body would be an improvement.

          It’s clear that LW doesn’t have the authority to fire him, so that’s not on her, but I would strongly second building a case with the boss to fire him. And if that’s off the table… it might be time to start looking elsewhere. A job that tolerates someone who is both untalented and an asshole is not somewhere you want to be long-term, IMHO.

          1. zora.dee*

            Yeah, you should stop defending him, he’s NOT a help. The existence of the position is necessary, but if you had someone in that job who could actually do the job competently, it would be saving you even more time than he is. It has nothing to do with his job performance.

            I think you should start talking to your boss about the specifics of his terrible job performance and what it would take to let him go and get a replacement. List out the ways he fails to execute his duties correctly in a given month, and see what she says.

            And then, seconding what Turtle Candle said, if they make it clear that letting him go is not an option, start looking for another job.

      4. annejumps*

        Did you say you’d been there for three years? I might say it’s time to move on to another opportunity.

  44. SallyForth*

    You need a defibrillator moment. People don’t realize that defibrillators don’t really fix a heart. They stop it cold so the heart can find its beat again.

    Don’t be nice. Don’t explain. Don’t apologize for past goofing around. Just say, loudly, “Stop that right now. Your behaviour is unprofessional.” Document it. Then give the documentation to your manager if it happens again.

  45. Crazy Canuck*

    OP, if you want to get him to stop, can I suggest using a tape recorder? Not subtlety, but whenever he goes off on one of his ‘jokes’, try pulling out your phone, fire up a recording app, and visibly record him. Then when/if he asks what you’re doing, just say in your most deadpan voice, “I’m documenting your illegal behavior.” IME one of two things will happen, he’ll either clam right up or he’ll turn it up to eleven. I suspect he’ll do the former, but either is a win for you. A female friend of mine had a vaguely similar issue once, and she claimed HR and management wouldn’t do anything with just a written complaint, but a five minute recording of him screaming obscenities at her for ‘daring to record him’ got him canned pretty fast.

    Just check your state/local privacy laws first. As a general rule, people have very few privacy rights at work, and assuming you have your boss’s blessing, you should be in the clear. There are definitely places where that is not the case, so I strongly recommend googling privacy laws in your state before doing this.

    1. LCL*

      I see this escalating to physical violence really quick. If you choose this tactic, be prepared for a major incident. I can’t even claim I would be mature if faced with this, I just might pour cold water on the recording device.

      1. Crazy Canuck*

        That’s a fair point. I’m a big dude with scars on my face that look quite intimidating. I have learned to make a conscious effort at work to project a pleasant mood, as my unhappy face is apparently terrifying. As a result, I didn’t even think of someone trying to take a phone out of my hand.

        I still advise the OP to record some of these conversations. She should use her own judgement on whether it is safe for her to do so publicly or if it is safer to do it discretely. My advice on double checking privacy laws before doing do still stands as well.

        1. Troutwaxer*

          Or maybe just record a long conversation and play it back for him if that’s legal in your state. Once he hears how he sounds he may just come to Jesus.

  46. crazy8s*

    YOu have a greater responsibility here. While you might be “ok” with some of what he’s doing–it’s unprofessional and other people will not be OK with it. there are agreed upon workplace standards and he is violating them. You have to let him know that this behavior is unacceptable period.

    1. SallyForth*

      This is so true. Nobody wants to find out that their department has a reputation as the goof-off department or the potty-mouth department.

  47. Tiny_Tiger*

    I’m a huge proponent of the “dead-pan monotone” responses, and frequently make use of them in my office when either my coworker or boss starts to irritate me with their joking (happens more with the coworker than boss). But as far as your manager who ACTUALLY has authority over this guy… WOW! Just WOW! After how many repeated times of having you and your coworker in the office to discuss his inappropriate behavior and this is still an issue that all the advice she will give you about it “Do what you feel you need to”?! My first reaction after hearing that would be “Fine, I feel he needs to be fired for repeated explicit, inappropriate, and harassing behavior. I’ll go tell him right now.”

  48. Serin*

    I believe that this guy is being pointedly hostile because (1) he objects to you having the authority to demand things from him and (2) he objects to being “colleaguezoned” (urgh). In other words, your “proper role” in his world is to be his girlfriend, and if he doesn’t get that, he’s certainly not going to put up with you trying to be his supervisor.

    1. seejay*

      Given the way he seems to talk about women (the crack about FEMINAZI Ghostbusters, calling the OP the C-word and bitch), I’m inclined to think he probably is not overly happy that he’s also really pissed off that a woman has a managerial role over him.

      Dude is a walking-talking poster meme for workplace sexism. :|

  49. Anonymousse*

    I wanted to put in my two cents on the idea that the coworker is “jokingly” calling the OP names, so somehow that doesn’t count. That’s what my ex-husband did, for years. He’d call me a name and then when I said please don’t do that, he would say he was only joking and I shouldn’t be so touchy. For years. Only after I got out of that relationship did I see how completely messed up that was. OP, don’t buy into that line.

  50. Clever Name*

    I love a good “your mom” joke, and I’m trying to introduce “that’s what he said” to the world, and I use both at work. But I get my stuff done and generally don’t joke around like this when I’m giving or receiving assignments (your mom gives and receives…argh!). Okay, maybe I do a tiny bit, but usually if someone makes an inappropriate joke while we’re working, we laugh for a few seconds and then move on. And it doesn’t interfere with getting work done or assigning tasks. I do think it’s possible to be able to show this kind of sense of humor at work while also being professional, but it takes a lot of emotional intelligence to know the audience and the situation. Your coworker clearly doesn’t have the requisite emotional intelligence to get away with this. Were I in your shoes, I’d say to my coworker, “I’ll come back later so we can discuss this when you’re ready.”

    1. OP*

      Oh god, I think I hear “that’s what she said” more than the your mom jokes. I make them sometimes too, I’ll admit, but being able to draw the line is such a big issue. The more extreme stuff needs to stop, the frat humor can only be tolerated so much, and when it’s time to stop, it’s time to *stop*.

      I will say one thing though- he doesn’t talk like this outside of our office where other people can hear it. In fact he doesn’t talk at all really. There aren’t many people our age working here, and he evidently decided from the getgo that all these people suck and are boring and not worth talking to because the majority are married/have kids/do “bougie” things like take trips to exotic places and… have designer dogs, I don’t know. He’s an edgelord. But he certainly doesn’t greet any of THEM with “what’s up c***”, so.

      1. Trillian*

        ‘Course he doesn’t. Because he’d be shut down so hard it would hurt.

        So he has control. This is not someone who does not know how to be appropriate.

        He is not your friend. He’s toxic. He wants you back in the loser zone. I’m sorry, but there is no going back. Involve your boss. Best outcome, he’ll push her and earn himself a firing.

  51. Student*

    You are never going to move into a management position at your current place of work, given current circumstances. At minimum, both your boss and your other co-worker would have to leave first; by then, your reputation as being a door-mat to a slack-jawed idiot will likely be cemented with anyone above your boss who’s taken notice of you.

    Move on somewhere else. Sometimes, in order to get a second chance, you have to restart somewhere fresh. Best of luck!

    1. Marisol*

      I disagree with this. First of all, she’s only 25 and everyone has a learning curve at their job. She hasn’t done anything wrong; she is simply young and inexperienced. No reasonable company would hold something like that against anyone. Second of all, we don’t know what kind of reputation she has at this firm or how promotions are structured, so there isn’t enough info to make this assessment. It sounds like her boss does have her trust, or she wouldn’t have functional authority over the coworker in the first place. So there is a management role right there. Higher-level managers mentor their direct reports all the time, and are often privy to their shortcomings, and while the boss is not handling this situation perfectly, it doesn’t sound like the OP has lost credibility with her either, since she is receiving the boss’ guidance. So at a minimum, she has her boss’ goodwill and we have no idea how those above the boss on the org charge perceive her. Since the OP says she is a high performer, it’s reasonable to assume they perceive her as such.

      Thirdly, women have to deal with sexism in all aspects of their lives. While the OP may decide it is best for her to move on, and that is her call to make, it is not practical to give this kind of advice at this juncture, especially when the OP has asked for help in moving past it. “Here’s some sexism, you better go somewhere else!” Yeah, that’s really not realistic. At a minimum, it would be useful for the OP to use this situation as a chance to practice setting boundaries before moving on. Because wherever we go, there’s more sexism.

      Fourth, I object to your characterization of the OP as a “doormat,” and indeed, that smacks of sexism to me. She’s a young person who is learning. She does not deserve an uncharitable characterization like that.

      You’re basically making unwarranted assumptions, and insulting the OP. Instead of helping, it’s more of a smackdown.

  52. Anon attorney*

    I am pretty laid back and will say things in the office that I probably shouldn’t. But (a) there is a difference between saying “f*** this” and “f*** you” and (b) I can’t imagine allowing anyone to refer to me as a bitch or a C*** at work or anywhere else without there being serious consequences. There are jokes and there are jokes. I wonder if you are so concerned about not wanting to appear humourless or uptight or any of the other misogynistic labels the world likes to throw around that you are afraid to draw line here? Don’t be. Being accused of being humourless or a buzz kill or whatever is survivable. Disrespect on this level is undermining. You do not have to tolerate this crap. This internet stranger gives you full permission to kill his buzz comprehensively and permanently. Good luck!

  53. Narise*

    Document document document. Date and time off every instance and every conversation with your boss. After a week try to discuss again with your manager and if no response go to HR or to her boss.

  54. Lady Phoenix*

    First off OP, I want to say that none of this is not your fault. Just because you tolerated his shenanigans in the beginning DOES NOT MEAN you have to deal with them now. Your supervisor can eat a ton of dicks for their comment.

    Second, your coworker is 100% pure, unadulterated, inarguably, complete, and utter trash. This guy uses “humor” as an excuse to be a miserable human being and exude that stink to anyone who gets close. So now it is time to block that misery out.

    When he calls you a B or a C, you shut that crap down in a second.
    “You will NOT call me that name ever again. The next time you call me or any woman in this office those words, I will have you reported. Do you understand?”

    When he says you’re being sensitive/pc/feminazi/whatever, reply:
    “You are not funny. You’re behavior is rude and offensive. Do not speak that way to me again.”

    When he mentions Sandy Hook, drop this little bit:
    “About 20 parents have suddenly lost their children. About 20 parents had to bury their YOUNG children. Not only that, but 6 school faculty members sacrificed their life to save as many children as they could. This is not funny, this a mockery to an absolute tragedy. Don’t you ever make jokes like this again, or else I will report you.”

    And then start documenting EVERYTHING. Document every time he made a terrible comment towards you, every time he refused to work with you, and everytime he makes a repeatable mistake. Also, consider document your supervisor too for their comment and any previous comments. Once you have enough, you can probably take this to HR or the Boss and explain that you have a serious sexual harassment case.

    This guy may call you a super bitch now, but let him. Afterall, dogs can bite back.

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      And this is what I get for posting super late at night.

      I meant to start off by saying that it is not your fault that you are being abused by your coworker and your supervisor. Just because you accept this bullshit before doesn’t not mean you are not allowed to have a change of heart or mind after a period of time.

    2. aebhel*

      I wouldn’t even explain that much wrt Sandy Hook. Having known a lot of guys like that, OP is not going to twinge his sense of empathy by pointing out exactly what it is he’s joking about. He doesn’t have a sense of empathy, and he knows exactly what he’s joking about; that’s the point. I can almost completely guarantee that bringing up the magnitude of the tragedy will be a stepping stone to him making an even more appalling joke about it.

      Just say, “I don’t want to hear it, and if you don’t stop right now, I’ll report you.” And then do exactly that.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah–I’ve known guys like this, and chances are good that when you say “20 parents had to bury their young children,” he’s going to use that as a springboard to interrupt with another joke, and he’s going to file that issue away in his head as something to use more frequently, because he will have sensed having potentially struck a nerve. He knows he’s being hurtful; that’s why he’s doing it. He thinks making you have a pained reaction is funny, so he’s hurting you on purpose for the lulz.

        That’s why I wouldn’t recommend anything more than “Don’t speak to me that way” + complete disengagement. You can’t educate this guy, because his problem isn’t ignorance. It’s malice.

    3. Crazy Canuck*

      I agree with the first two points, as well as the documenting suggestion, but I would recommend not burning your political capital making a formal complaint about a joke. Unless you have a personal connection to the Sandy Hook tragedy that makes it personal, complaining about a joke will weaken your far more real and valid complaints regarding the insubordination and personal insults. An ice cold, “That isn’t funny” without any further reaction would be my recommendation instead.

  55. OP*

    Hey, OP here again with a brief update…
    Today Clerk is off, and I figured now was a good time to strike, so I gently segued some chatter with my boss onto the subject of Clerk. I expressed feeling that I haven’t been making much progress with him and am discouraged, and then went on to say that I feel he may resent my change in attitude/behavior, as his pushing back and attitude seems to have shifted to outright aggressive toward me ever since. I brought up the namecalling and profanity. She was visibly shocked (her eyes went from wide to WIDE when I said he calls me b*** and c***, respectively). This was of course the first she’d heard of it, because I was more interested in addressing the work issues than the personal ones (and also didn’t want to get him in trouble), but this post has quickly made me realize that his performance issues are NEVER going to change so long as this behavior continues. It was also sort of painfully cathartic admitting that it troubles me because I’ve seriously internalized that (“he’s just joking, you guys!”).

    The three of us are supposed to meet after the monthly staff meeting tomorrow to discuss it, with me doing the majority of the talking and our boss there to facilitate as needed. Boss also says she’ll likely have to involve HR which is probably a good thing, even though I did cringe a little. It’s tough business but it’s gotta happen, so hopefully things will go well and we’ll actually be able to get to the heart of the issue. Boss really impressed me by saying that she can’t allow this to continue either way… as you can probably tell I sometimes feel that I’m on my own with a lot of this stuff, and she’s also pretty laid back, so it was good to know that she took it seriously and has my back.

    I’ll most likely write in to Alison with a proper update afterwards/once something changes. Wish me luck!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is great progress, and seems to affirm that your boss does want to help but just needs to be looped in!

      I want to note, by the way, that a coworker calling you names like that IS a work issue, not a personal one. It’s interfering with work, it’s creating a terrible work environment for you and others, and it’s potentially creating liability for your employer. You did the right thing by laying it all out for your boss! (And it sounds like she agrees.)

    2. Adlib*

      Wow, great news! What a relief to have her in your corner. I do look forward to further updates, but I am glad that you were able to address it with her and have action taken.

  56. Troutwaxer*

    Speaking as a guy, maybe I should add one final thought: I have a gut feeling that Clerk has not ever had any kind of decent, older male in his life. Assuming that he stays with the company, it might be worthwhile to see if there’s an older male who can act as some kind of… not a mentor, so much as an example of non-toxic manhood. I suspect its a matter of “too little, too late,” but you never know.

    Personally, I’d fire the young man – losing his job might cause him to reassess – but since he’s the relative of another person who works at the firm, corporate politics might demand a softer approach (to which I say “feh!”)

  57. Milton Waddams*

    It sounds like Mr. Internet hates his workplace (perhaps it has workplace culture problems?), and thought he found someone who understood him. It sounds like he is reacting to your newfound interest in TPS Reports with denial — “If I only double down on the jokes, things will go back to how they were before!” I’d expected anger and bargaining before all is said and done.

    Maybe an obvious question, but have you tried asking him why he is acting out? As a manager, sometimes it is the obvious questions that are most important yet least asked.

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