my boss asks us to babysit a coworker with anxiety disorder

A reader writes:

A few months ago my small team (less than 10 people) was assigned a new manager who is the complete opposite of our previous manager, at the direction of the next level supervisor who wanted major changes. The previous manager moved on to better things. The changes have been pretty stressful for some of the team members who remained. One of my colleagues began to suffer from various health issues, and our new boss started asking us to watch her when our boss was in a meeting/out of the office and to call for emergency medical assistance if needed.

My colleague was eventually diagnosed with anxiety and is seeking treatment, but recovery will take some time, and in the meantime this person is still coming to work. The requests from our boss to monitor our colleague’s health did not stop.

I was told to look in on her occasionally to make sure she was still upright and be ready to dial 911 if she isn’t, and that she can’t be in the office alone in case she passes out. So because she sits near me, I listen for falling noises and peek in her cube from time to time. I don’t think all this is necessary but because it has been asked of me I’m really stressed out about it.

She even asked for one of us to come in on a day we were not scheduled to be in the office to watch my colleague.

I do not think that being asked to babysit a colleague’s health issues on top of being held accountable for meeting our project deadlines is fair to any of us, but my coworkers don’t seem to have a problem with it. I can’t continue to do this, though, due to my own past experiences with anxiety disorder which I have not and do not wish to disclose to our new boss.

Is our boss out of line here, or is this normal and I am being too sensitive? What is the best way to say that I can no longer participate in this monitoring of my colleague, without A) making it sound like I think she is completely out of line for asking this of any of us, or B) disclosing this is a problem for me in particular because of my past diagnosis, which I fear will only lead to or boss asking my colleagues to monitor me? I am having a hard time seeing this situation objectively.

Nooooo, it is 100% not normal to be asked to monitor a colleague’s health like this.

I mean, sure, it’s not unreasonable to say “Jane is dealing with a health condition that means it’s possible she could pass out — if that happens while you’re working with her, please call 911.”

But it’s not reasonable to ask you to keep checking on her to ensure she’s upright, and it’s definitely not reasonable to ask you to come in on your day off to monitor her, or to have this be a long-term plan.

Nor should you have to disclose your own history with anxiety in order to push back on this.

I would say this to your boss: “I’m not comfortable being asked to monitor Jane’s health status, and I can’t be responsible for checking on her while also focusing on my own work. I want to give you a heads-up that it’s not something I’m comfortable continuing to do.”

If your boss asks why, you can say, “I’m not comfortable having that responsibility for a coworker while I’m focused on my work. Of course if I see anyone in need of medical help, I’ll call 911. But I don’t want you to count on me to monitor how she’s doing.” You could add, “For what it’s worth, I really wouldn’t want my coworkers in that position for me either.”

If your boss continues to push the issue, or if you feel like you’re being treated differently as a result of setting this boundary, I’d consider looping in HR to let them know what’s going on and use the words “I’m not comfortable being asked to monitor a coworker’s health.”

{ 189 comments… read them below }

  1. Stephanie*

    Yeah, oof. You’re also not a doctor or therapist, so even if she did have an anxiety attack, would you know what to do even? (Don’t mean that in a condescending way.)

    You could spin your refusal as a liability issue, especially given that your coworker has documentation.

  2. Cath in Canada*

    I have to wonder if the coworker with anxiety actually wants all this attention and monitoring, or if it’s just something the boss assumes she wants. I’ve had some issues with work-related anxiety in the past too; I know everyone experiences anxiety differently, but in my case having other people notice and check up on me would have made me feel more anxious.

    Of course, if she’s passing out in the office on a regular basis then the wellness checks might be more warranted, but it’s not clear from the letter whether that’s actually ever happened.

    Perhaps OP could ask the coworker if there’s anything else that would help that’s less intrusive and less demanding on the OP’s time and energy?

    1. Kenji*

      I wondered the same thing – does the coworker know this is going on? It’s never happened with employers, but I’ve had friends who found out I had anxiety overreact (with the best of intentions) and treat me with kid gloves.

    2. College Career Counselor*

      If she’s passing out on a regular basis, then she should likely not be at the office and should be recovering at home. At the very least, if she is medically cleared to be at work, but there are ongoing issues, then reasonable accommodations should be made (that include something other than assigning co-workers to monitor her health).

    3. Jeanne*

      Yes. Is this monitoring really needed or is boss assuming that anxiety makes her a fragile woman with hysterics? I don’t think of anxiety as something that makes you pass out. (I could be wrong.) I think OP could say “I have no medical training. I don’t feel comfortable being responsible for her health. I’d like to concentrate on my work and I won’t be able to be an anxiety monitor.” I think this boss is way out of line.

      1. Cath in Canada*

        My understanding is that panic attacks make you feel like you’re going to faint, but you’re actually very unlikely to, because fainting is a response to low blood pressure whereas you experience high blood pressure during an attack. At least that’s what my doctor told me :)

        1. Isben Takes Tea*

          You can hyperventilate and pass out (it’s happened to me several times), but other than possibly hitting your head when you pass out, it’s not a 911-issue (though I completely agree that I would definitely call 911 on a coworker just to be safe).

          This just seems weird on all fronts. I like Alison’s wording, and would definitely push back, especially if they even hint at not wanting to pay you to come in on your days off.

        2. Gaia*

          We recently had an incident at one of our offices where a coworker suffering from anxiety passed out. His cubemate actually thought he had a heart attack because that’s what it looked like. Thankfully that wasn’t it, but it was still very scary for everyone involved.

          Some people will only feel like they are going to pass out. Some people will actually pass out.

          1. Kore*

            Some panic attacks feel like heart attacks – I had one at work a couple of years ago that involved my heart racing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and the kicker is that your brain is legitimately telling you “oh hey, these are your last moments, you’re going to die.” Luckily it was just a panic attack, but it was one of the most scared I’ve ever been.

        3. Cath in Canada*

          Heh, well maybe my doctor just told me that to calm me down when I showed up thinking I was having major heart problems. (If so, it worked!) I’ve fainted many times (not from panic attacks – I have low blood pressure and sometimes faint on planes or just for no reason at all), and hate the feeling, so I might have been fixating on that when I was talking to him :)

      2. Anxa*

        I have a very particular anxiety-related condition where I do pass out. Fortunately, it’s been a while at work. I have BII phobia, which for me presents as more of a general body phobia. Fainting is common with this specific phobia.

        I do have anxiety, too, and if I feel a twinge in my chest or can feel other symptoms of anxiety, it triggers my body phobia, which could lead to passing out. But passing out is not as rare as generally wanting to jump out of your skin.

      3. INTP*

        A true panic attack (which is a different thing from an episode of intense anxiety) could cause you to pass out, throw up, think you are experiencing a heart attack (this is super common), or other physical symptoms. Many people wind up in the ER with them without even realizing their symptoms are anxiety-related, thinking they are having a heart attack or another physical episode. But it’s not something that would result in death under normal circumstances or anything, and if someone is having them so frequently as to require constant supervision at work, they probably shouldn’t be at work in the first place.

      4. Alienor*

        I’ve had panic attacks in the past, and while they do come on fast, there’s still a little bit of buildup where you realize you’re having one and can seek help if needed. If Jane is going straight from sitting at her desk to falling unconscious on the floor, I’m guessing she probably has some other medical condition in addition to anxiety.

    4. Ama*

      Yeah, I’m curious if the coworker is actually passing out from her anxiety attacks or if it’s a misunderstanding (I could see her trying to describe what’s happening to the boss as “my heart starts racing and I feel faint” and the boss hearing “I could just pass out at any moment”).

      Either way, it shouldn’t be the OP’s (or anyone else in the office) responsibility to monitor the coworker. If the boss wants to make sure the coworkers’ treatment doesn’t get delayed because boss is out of the office that’s one thing, but that should be more along the lines of the boss saying “hey if I’m out of the office and Jane says she’s getting an attack it’s okay to take action without waiting for me.”

    5. Roz*

      YES! I came here to post this. I have anxiety and I’ve had some bouts while i the office. All I wanted to do was disappear, so the thought that my manager could instruct my colleagues to check-in on me is anxiety-inducting. This is not ever an approach I’ve seen work well with people who are anxious and in the midst of treatment.

      A supportive environment is not the same as an intrusive and paternal environment. Support allows me as the anxious person to maintain control of the situation and learn how to implement my own coping/healing mechanisms. A paternalistic environment supports the idea of dependency and victimhood – at least in my case. It basically says to me as the anxious person that I can’t manage on my own and that I my own knowledge of my anxiety is not valued enough to trust.

      Honestly, it should be the person making the call on how to inform/involve coworkers. This whole thing is just…. no.

      1. OP*

        Our new boss is an extrovert who probably believes asking everyone to be a team and help watch her is being supportive!

        The colleague seems to enjoy the attention but now I am starting wonder if she is just trying to go along with it to get by.

        1. Gaia*

          Ugh I’m sorry but I get so irritated when people slam on extroverts like this. Your boss’ behavior is not because he is an extrovert any more than someone else saying “no one ever speak to Jane! She has anxiety!” would be because they were an introvert. In both cases it would be because they are an ass.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Doesn’t sound like the OP was slamming her boss for being an extrovert? I took that as saying boss is an extrovert and “let’s be a team and do team things” is something an extrovert is more likely to do, so maybe that’s why the boss is doing this. That is, it sounded like the OP was giving “he’s an extrovert” as a way of saying the boss is *not* an ass, just clueless.

            1. OP*

              Boss is loud and proud about being an extrovert and announcing this is the reason we do so many things differently than we used to, go team, etc.

              1. TL -*

                That’s not due to being an extrovert. That’s due to being a bit of an ass.

                70% of people are extroverts and 99% of those 70% don’t act like that.

                1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                  Right, but this is boss’s self evaluation, so OP is taking that into account – maybe boss thinks this is something an extrovert SHOULD do and if boss takes pride in being an extrovert, they think they should do this.

            2. TL -*

              It read to me like a bit of a slam against her boss for being an extrovert, especially since his extroversion really isn’t the problem here.

              1. OP*

                I know all extroverts are not like that but every stereotype has real people who fit it. The boss is one.

                1. TL -*

                  …I would emphatically not agree that every stereotype has someone who fits it and I would also not say that your boss’ behavior as you’ve presented it falls under the extrovert stereotype.

                  But again, his extroversion isn’t the problem here, even remotely. His judgement is.

                2. Gaia*

                  Seriously. Stop associating his bad behavior with how he gets his energy. Stereotypes are ugly and certainly do not always have real people who fit it.

            3. INTP*

              @JB, that’s how I took it too. Not “extroverts are pushy and misguided,” but “Boss is a major extrovert, so his emotional needs include a lot of attention and vocal social support, and sometimes he forces that on others.” (I think it’s a given that people in general tend to read other people’s emotional needs through the lens of their own unless they possess good emotional intelligence and make an effort NOT to do that. I’m sure I’ve left someone in need of support feeling neglected before because I was giving them the space that I would need as an introvert, kwim?)

              1. Gaia*

                If you read the follow up comments from OP it is clear they have issues with extroverts. This whole extrovert vs introvert is crap.

                1. Saturn9*

                  If it’s such crap, why are you so dead-set on making an issue of it?

                  OP said Boss claims his extroversion is the reason behind recent office culture changes. Boss is the one forcing all the extrovert-stereotype BS, OP was relaying what Boss told OP. You’re inferring insults where there were none.

                2. OP*

                  The people whose feelings are hurt because the word extrovert appeared in this context should really be arguing with my boss, who makes these claims. Not repeatedly attacking me. This is ridiculous.

        2. INTP*

          I feel like it’s possible that she doesn’t want to go on STD, FMLA, or whatever leave would apply here, and this is the weird, misguided solution from a boss who is worried about liability to the company if she gets hurt (or maybe genuinely worried about her health, who knows). So that if she wants to be at work, she has to play along. If she has a panic disorder and not just generalized anxiety, the fears that she might keel over at any moment could be warranted, but if they are, she probably shouldn’t be at work.

      2. halpful*

        “A supportive environment is not the same as an intrusive and paternal environment.”

        That’s a wonderful point. :) One of my recurring fears is that someone might come along and revoke my adult-ness somehow, and I wouldn’t get to control the little things that mean a lot to me that many people don’t understand (like clothes that don’t set off sensory issues). When my therapist, or a doctor, offers me information but makes it clear that I’m allowed to make the decisions and I won’t be punished for making the “wrong” one, well, it’s such a relief I sometimes cry. :)

    6. Allison*

      “but in my case having other people notice and check up on me would have made me feel more anxious.”

      YES! Sometimes it helps to let someone know I’m spiraling, sometimes I need to tell someone if I’m having really bad physical symptoms (like “I’m about to throw up” or “I feel like I’m going to pass out”) if only so there are no surprises, but other times if I’m on the verge of tears I don’t want anyone to notice, because the second someone goes “awwwww omg what’s wrong????” I start crying, and then it’s embarrassing.

      And there are times (many times) where I’m ashamed of my anxiety, and I worry that an attack will lead to a breakup, firing, or friends cutting me out of their lives.

      1. Roz*

        Yes! The crying thing happens to me too. The minute someone asks I burst and I much prefer to do that in private so no one has any ammo to judge me negatively for “not being able to control emotions”

    7. OP*

      I hate to sound heartless but I’m having a hard enough time with my own anxiety being triggered by this. I need to do my work and take care of myself. I don’t want to become even more involved in the situation than I’m already being asked to by my boss.

        1. Marisol*

          Yeah, and even if it *were* heartless, I’d say it was a justified attitude. She’s your coworker, not your child.

        2. OP*

          Thanks. Several commenters suggested I ask my colleague what she wants/needs in the way of support and I do not think it would be healthy for me to engage further. But I should not be ashamed of taking care of myself. I do wish her well and hope the professional help she is getting will be beneficial.

          1. Anon for this*

            I agree with you there – asking if she needs something might be a nice gesture, but it’s also a lot of emotional work on your end. Take care of yourself.

          2. Violet Fox*

            Making sure you are okay and dealign with your own anxiety is not heartless. You need to take care of yourself and not be expected to do emotional labour that you aren’t able to for other people.

            Allison is very right, it is also very much not a good idea in general for you to be an a position of monitoring a coworker’s health. Having a non-health professional do that is just a bad idea all around.

          3. Marisol*

            honestly this whole issue makes me feel gross. it is boundary-less. if you don’t want to engage with a coworker in that way, you have no obligation to. the boss seems to be confusing being extroverted with having no boundaries. if she were in financial trouble and needed to borrow a hundred bucks, would people be saying you should loan it to her? it’s just yucky to me. i don’t have anxiety issues and this gives me the creeps.

            1. OP*

              Thank you that gets to the heart of it I think. It’s wielded as a weapon that proves boss knows best. It’s exhausting.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        You’re not heartless; this is like being on an airplane that suddenly loses its cabin pressure. You have to put on your oxygen mask, first, before you can help others put theirs on. Right now, your boss is asking you to put someone else’s mask on, first, and it’s understandably adding stress to an already distressing situation. You have to prioritize your health and safety, and your request is totally reasonable and within bounds. No need to self-shame.

      2. Annie Moose*

        It’s okay to take care of yourself! Especially in a situation where it sounds like your coworker doesn’t even need this level of monitoring–there’s no reason to feel guilty or anything like that.

      3. Roz*

        You have to manage your own anxiety and by putting up a boundary as Alison suggests is not heartless, it’s taking care of yourself.

        I’m learning this but the more I create healthy boundaries, the easier my anxiety seems to be to manage.

      4. Anna*

        Even if you didn’t suffer from anxiety, this is a lot to put on someone. It’s not fair for you to have to keep an eye on this and it’s a disservice to your coworker.

      5. Tuxedo Cat*

        There’s a saying: “don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm.” I think that applies here.

      6. nonegiven*

        >I’m having a hard enough time with my own anxiety being triggered by this

        ADA accommodation? Can your doctor recommend that you not be involved in the situation because it triggers you?

      7. INTP*

        That’s 100% normal imo. You are not a medical professional (I assume) so being left in charge of a coworker’s medical well-being is going to be nerve-wracking for you, because you aren’t qualified for that. And even if you were a medical professional, that would be a job in itself, not something you could be expected to multi-task.

        Maybe that is how you could bring it up to your manager – “Because I have no medical knowledge, I really don’t feel comfortable taking care of someone who might be in medical danger at any moment. I don’t know how to recognize the signs that someone might lose consciousness, or what to do besides call 911 if they do.” If it feels comfortable, throw in a point that it wouldn’t be good for the company if Jane did get hurt and it was apparent through all of this that the company knew she was in medical danger and allowed her to continue working. When he keeps asking you to do it, keep repeating that you just don’t feel safe looking out for her well-being and don’t think it would be fair to Jane for you to commit to do that.

        At the end of the day, either this is all completely unnecessary and they need to stop ruining productivity to do it, or Jane really IS liable to keel over at any moment, and she does not need to be at work. Sounds like tough HR decisions might need to be made, and instead of making them people are just forcing ridiculous responsibilities on you.

      8. BTW*

        I get this 100%. Sometimes talking about anxiety or dealing with others’ anxiety just triggers your own. As a fellow sufferer, distance yourself if you have to.

    8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed, and it sounds like it could be somewhat stigmatizing for the coworker (here it sounds like coworker disclosed that she has anxiety, but if she hadn’t, new manager’s approach seems like a super inappropriate “resolution”).

    9. Anon for this*

      Agreed, having people check in on me can feel like I have to manage their anxiety about my anxiety, as well as managing my own anxiety. Anxiety squared!

      This is really something that should be handled exclusively by a health care provider.

    10. Rebooting*

      This. I disclosed an anxiety disorder at my last out-of-the-home job, and it resulted in one of the managers I disclosed it to shouting across the office “are you panicking, Rebooting?” at random intervals throughout the day, which was obviously not something I wanted; what I’d actually said was “hey, sometimes I have panic attacks, and if you see that happening, what’s actually helpful is giving me space to deal with it rather than freaking out, so here’s a head’s up about what it looks like”. Sometimes management does stupid stuff in response.

  3. paul*

    Depending on your boss you might try to tactfully tell him it is out of line. Particularly assuming you’re not medical or mental health professionals, he’s asking you to monitor someone’s health? What on earth?

  4. KellyK*

    Oh, my gosh! That’s totally unreasonable. In general, if someone is ill enough that they need regular monitoring, they’re probably not well enough to be at work. There’s a difference between having generalized emergency procedures and putting people in charge of medically supervising their coworkers. *Especially* if this is a long-term thing.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      How is the employee getting to work? If they are really at risk of passing out at any second, then I hope they aren’t driving themselves!

          1. jm*

            Yeah, walking or taking public transit would not be safer for the individual, but it would be safer for other drivers on the road — i.e. other drivers would be at risk if the individual passed out while driving.

            I have a co-worker who has a serious heart condition, and she’s passed out at work a few times. She also drives herself to work. It’s pretty scary…what’s worse, the last time she passed out, the only reason co-workers knew she was down was because they heard a loud bang when her head hit a filing cabinet. It was really, really awful. I feel terrible for her, but also nervous that she’s on the road every day.

            1. michelenyc*

              I worked with someone that was dealing with a chronic illness and one day she decided to talk Valium before getting in her car to drive the 10-15 minutes to work. By the time she got to work she was barely able to hold a conversation. I told her she need to go home and to find someone to drive her or take a cab (this was before uber). I was so afraid she would hurt someone when she said I am fine I can drive I went to my director so he could put a stop to that. We finally convinced her to let someone drive her home and someone else followed to drive the other co-worker home.

              1. neverjaunty*

                It likely is not. Normally other people’s health is MYOB, but I would be looking into reporting this.

  5. Elizabeth West*

    The hell?

    If Jane is in such dire shape she can’t stay conscious throughout a workday, maybe she needs to take some medical leave. The coworkers aren’t responsible for this. Even in first aid/CPR training, they tell you you have a choice whether to help or not!

    Does the company have enough employees to qualify for FMLA?

  6. Thalia Al Ghul*

    I can’t even begin to imagine this nonsense. This is how employers get sued. It’s not the responsibility of her coworkers to monitor/baby sit her. Sounds like this woman shouldn’t even be working right now but if you insist on having her in the office then by all means, hire a nurse to watch her. And we all know if her work suffers because she’s playing nurse to another adult, they won’t hesitate to fire her. Ridiculous.

    1. Lana Kane*

      Or blame the OP and the other employees if something happens to the coworker and they don’t respond correctly.

      This is way too much responsibility to place on you and your team, OP.

      1. INTP*

        Exactly. Of course OP is having anxiety problems herself if she’s being made responsible for the health and safety of a coworker she has been told could collapse at any moment! It isn’t heartless, it’s normal and compassionate, because she doesn’t want the coworker to be injured but she isn’t actually qualified to stop that from happening.

        Plus, I imagine there could be a legal or Workman’s Comp related nightmare if Jane really was seriously hurt and these accounts of people being asked to make sure Jane is upright and conscious all the time made it apparent that the company knew Jane’s health was at risk and allowed her to continue working. (IANAL so I don’t know how that would play out, I’m just guessing that it could be a mess.)

  7. JessaB*

    I’d also want to know if this is changing how the boss looks at this employee. Are they being denied work or opportunities because of this?

    This just screams disability discrimination in a very bad way. If this employee specifically asked for this, it would make much more sense to choose one or two people and let them know the employee requested this. Otherwise waaaaay overstepping here.

    And although I usually don’t say things like this, Alison, I’m a little (waves hands really vaguely,) not liking the use of the word babysit here in the title of the post. It, in my mind, kind of infantalises the employee in question. One usually babysits infants or small children after all. Maybe check in on, monitor, or look after?

    1. N.J.*

      The thing is though, by asking coworkers to monitor the mental or physical health of another adult, the boss is in fact, asking them to babysit as the other coworkers are being made the responsible parties and the locus of control for the situation is being removed from the worker with anxiety and being placed with the coworkers. You could call it caretaking, I suppose, but might as well call a spade a spade and say it is babyditting, because that’s what it is. The boss has infantilized the worker by removing the worker’s responsibility for taking care of her own health and requesting and negotiating reasonable accommodations to remain in charge of her own health while at work. Since this is beyond the typical “here’s what you should do in an emergency if your coworker passes out” type of directive, the responsibility for the worker’s health is now in the hands of the coworkers as caretakers or babysitters. The reason this terminology is bothering you, I would guess, is because you are right–it reduces the worker with anxiety to a “child” someone who doesn’t have responsibility for her own health and strips her of agency and control. That’s why babysitting is the correct word to describe this situation. It’s insulting both to the worker with anxiety and the coworkers being made to “babysit.” It’s insufficient to use terminology such as “check-in-on” because that doesn’t sound like what is happening here…

    2. Annie Moose*

      Yeah, I can see if the employee and boss worked out some sort of plan, and a couple of coworkers were asked if they would be OK with helping out or something (although I agree with the comments which point out that if she’s really in danger of needing 911 called for her any minute, she probably isn’t well enough to work). But this, especially when coworkers aren’t being asked but are just being told to take on responsibility for someone else’s health, and the person who they’re “monitoring” may not even have asked for (or need) the help–that’s different!

    3. Michaela T*

      I had the same reaction to that word when I saw it in the title, but I agree with N.J. that it unfortunately it works it context.

    4. INTP*

      Even if the employee did ask for this, it would absolutely not be fair or reasonable to ask of a coworker. The coworkers are (I’m assuming) not medical or mental health professionals, and have their own jobs, so asking them to watch over the health and safety of a coworker is completely unfair to them and to Jane both. A team announcement that there’s a small chance Jane might pass out and if this happens to please not be alarmed because it’s probably a panic attack but call 911 just in case would be appropriate, but nothing further than that. (If the coworker requested that the company hire someone specifically to supervise her, or suggested that she be allowed to bring her own caretaker to work, that could be a viable solution.)

  8. Newby*

    I have a health problem that causes me to pass out and at first it was very poorly controlled. My boss and I agreed that I could not be at work alone because it was a safety issue. However, this meant that my hours were restricted to times when other people were already planning to be there (basically normal working hours) and if they left, I left. I never asked anyone to stay longer or come in when they did not already need to. It is unreasonable to expect other people to change their schedules around this. Also, we had an open floor plan, so no one ever had to check on me and most didn’t even know that I wasn’t allowed to be there alone.

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      Yeah. I think this is out of line because the condition is anxiety. I think it’s okay (though poorly executed) as a reasonable accommodation to other conditions IF the employee requests it. We have a hard of hearing employee. She is requested to not be alone on the floor so someone else can notify her if someone walks in or there is some other issue that requires her attention that she can’t hear.

        1. Newby*

          I don’t think it really matters why someone is passing out. Regardless, the accommodations should be minimally disruptive to coworkers.

  9. AndersonDarling*

    Would it be out of line to ask the employee if they know everyone was told to babysit her because she could pass out at any time? Either she knows and can give a bit of insight, or she has no idea and will be mortified this was said about her.

  10. Catalin*

    What the WHAT? Check on your coworker because she might pass out from anxiety? Not epilepsy, low blood pressure, diabetic issues, but anxiety? Anxiety is a serious condition, and I’m not in a position to know, but is it something people regularly faint from? Has the worker in question been fainting? Does she even want to be checked on? It would be very unnerving for me if coworkers kept randomly peeking through my door to check my health. It seems like that would exacerbate the anxiety.

    1. Roz*

      Yes if you are in a full-blown panic attack you can pass out. I have at work. Was taken away in an ambulance – super embarrassing!

      It’s important to remember there is a difference between the normal anxiety everyone experiences from time to time and the powerful anxiety that comes with a disorder that is debilitating and affects your regular functioning to such a degree that treatment is required.

      But yeah the whole situation of having others check on her is way out of line and very inneffective in cases of anxiety disorder from my experience.

        1. Lana Kane*

          If you pass out, you could hurt yourself on the way down (even if it’s not random). So it’s not just watching out for fainting, but making sure she doesn’t hit her head or something if she falls.

    2. Betty in Bedrock*

      I know I thought I had anxiety, now I question since mine is nothing compared to this. Ive never passed out or came close to.

      1. nonegiven*

        General anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobia disorders, post traumatic stress disorder. Then there is a range of mild to moderate to extreme in how it affects your daily life.

      2. LN*

        I’ve had awful, debilitating panic attacks, but never passed out from them. Everyone’s different.

      3. halpful*

        Like others have said, there’s more than one way to have anxiety. :) Yours doesn’t stop counting or being “real” just because someone else’s is worse or more visible.

        I didn’t believe I had anxiety for ages, and I still get a twinge of doubt when people talk about panic attacks – my anxiety typically manifests as internal stress or sudden crying or mutism or intense itching or something. I’ve experienced a much more physical/stereotypical form of anxiety now (dexedrine side-effects, oh joy), and it’s bloody inconvenient in the moment, but the silver lining is that it made me much more aware of when anxiety was trying to screw with me.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It’s 1000% possible to pass out from anxiety (and does not always require that you hyperventilate, first). I just want to nudge all of us to be a little gentle when assuming that certain conditions are/aren’t normal for folks who may not be neurotypical. OP’s boss could be jumping to conclusions, but let’s also just assume for the purposes of this post that fainting may be an issue OP’s coworker is experiencing as a symptom of her anxiety.

    4. Manders*

      It can happen, but by the time that an anxiety disorder gets so bad that you’re in danger of regularly passing out, the situation is dire enough that you really need to be working with a health professional to figure out what you can and can’t do safely. There’s not much an untrained coworker can do for you at that point, beyond calling an ambulance if you whack your head on the way down.

    5. INTP*

      My guess is that the employee has a panic attack disorder, which is different from generalized anxiety and could definitely result in her passing out or experiencing other major physical symptoms with little warning. It’s actually pretty common for people to go to the ER for a panic attack thinking that they are having a heart attack or other major physical event, with no idea that it’s anxiety related. It’s definitely possible that the concerns and accommodations are medically legitimate (or possible that the boss is being super weird). Not reasonable to ask of coworkers in any case, but potentially medically legitimate.

  11. AAM Newbie*

    Honestly I wouldn’t take this request too seriously. If she has an emergency it’s a given to call 911 but I wouldn’t go out of my way to monitor her everyday. That is very time consuming and would distract me from doing my daily duties. If I was the coworker I would feel like it’s an invasion of privacy and would make me even more anxious.

    1. OP*

      I wish I could just blow it off and ignore it but unfortunately these requests seem to be triggering my own previously well-controlled anxiety.

      1. Anna*

        Anyone being asked to take on the care of a coworker’s health in such an intrusive way would feel anxious about it; it’s no wonder you’re anxiety is flaring up.

        1. else*

          It’s even worse because you have a similar condition – how would they treat YOU if they knew? Not in a way that you would find at all helpful, which you now know for sure. Also, you’ve been able to manage and adapt to your own anxious tendencies without having the kind of issues this coworker has – but for me, just the sight of her having so much trouble would make me worry that my own anxiety would develop in a similarly debilitating way. In case you couldn’t guess, I also have a tendency to cycle anxious during stressful periods. I’m so so sympathetic to you for this one, dear OP.

      2. LeRainDrop*

        I can totally see where you’re coming from and how this would cause you greater anxiety. I’m so sorry. I think Alison’s advice is very good.

    2. Lissa*

      This would be impossible for me to ignore or push away — I”d constantly be thinking in the back of my head “what if Jane passes out…should I go check on her? Oh, I’m so resentful about having to do this…what if she’s lying unconscious right now and it’s all my fault?” Like worrying I had left the oven on but all day…

  12. irritable vowel*

    Based on personal experience, it sounds like this woman maybe suffers from panic disorder, which triggers the fight or flight response to such an extreme degree that you *feel* like you’re going to pass out (but rarely do). Then the fear of fainting (or vomiting) becomes part of the panic attacks, and it’s a vicious cycle. I wonder whether this woman is truly at risk of fainting or whether this is all due to a miscommunication between her and your boss. (Employee says: I have panic disorder and it makes me feel like I could pass out sometimes. Boss hears/thinks: This employee is at risk of passing out due to her disorder, we must monitor her at all times.)

    Is it possible to talk with your coworker about this? As someone else mentioned, she may not even realize that you’ve all been assigned to monitor her. I know you don’t want to reveal your own anxiety disorder to your boss (or anyone at work, probably), but because of it I think you might be able to approach this with her in an understanding and nonconfrontational way without getting into your own stuff. If it turns out that she really is at risk of fainting (ie. there is an established pattern of this actually happening), I agree with the others that she should be considering medical leave. But it may not be an actual issue at all.

  13. OhNo*

    Okay, question: is this kind of monitoring something that your colleague actually needs/wants? Or is it something that the boss just decided she needs/wants?

    Either way, my first stop would actually be the coworker. You don’t say in your letter whether or not she is aware of the boss’ edict, but I’m guessing that she isn’t. Or, if she is, it may actually be contributing to her anxiety! So tell her what’s going on first, make sure she knows, because she is absolutely going to be the most effective at getting this to stop (by contacting HR and saying that she’s being treated differently b/c she has a documented health condition).

    Then go to your boss and say that you’re not going to do it anymore. If your boss has any response other than, “Of course that’s okay, I completely understand,” I would walk straight from there to HR to let them know what’s happening. Something doesn’t smell right here, and I’m thinking HR is going to want to nip it in the bud.

  14. Terra*

    Is it possible the LW is taking her bosses request too seriously? They definitely shouldn’t be asking/requiring anyone to come in when they aren’t regularly scheduled in order to monitor another coworker. I could see an argument that if you’re in the next cube over or otherwise the closest person to your coworker the boss possibly asking you to keep an ear out if you hear someone/something heavy fall and then check the co-worker/call 911 as necessary. It’s still not a great idea but it’s at least more reasonable.

  15. OP*

    Thanks for the suggestions on ways to word my objection to this monitoring, it helps a lot! My colleague has not actually passed out at work yet but she hasn’t been shy to talk about how bad she is feeling and even seems to be enjoying the extra attention.

    Personally I would be mortified to draw attention to myself that way! I actually suggested to her that she consider taking some time off since we have a generous leave and benefits program and FMLA but she won’t.

    I actually used the word babysit because that’s how it feels.

    I realized when I wrote in that this situation on top of all the other stress from the management change is causing some issues for me so I’m going back to therapy myself now.

    1. michelenyc*

      I know others were offended by using the term babysitting but I would feel the same way you do.

      1. Tex*

        Yes. Some people are prone to heart conditions, but they don’t get monitored on a special basis. I like to think all coworkers would keep a general eye out for one another.

    2. Isben Takes Tea*

      That is . . . weird. Every person I know who deals with severe anxiety doesn’t like talking about it and the idea of other people noticing it exacerbates it geometrically.

      1. Temperance*

        Seriously. My husband has an anxiety disorder, and he’s definitely not looking for extra attention, or special treatment, and he also doesn’t make it anyone else’s problem (including mine). Most people with MH issues are pretty reasonable and not diva-ish.

      2. Anon w/ Anxiety*

        Anxiety affects people in different ways and some of us feel like we should discuss it more openly to help de-stigmatize it. Not to say this situation is acceptable or that this person is handling their anxiety in a work-appropriate manner. But I feel it’s important to avoid stereotyping people with any mental illness–as with anything, we’re not all the same.

        1. Isben Takes Tea*

          Definitely true–thanks for pointing this out. I guess I was mainly thinking of someone actually having an anxiety episode.

        2. Anna*

          I think with all medical conditions, there is a certain type of person who relishes in discussing it and bringing it up and reminding people of their condition constantly. Whether it’s a mental health illness or a physical illness, I’m sure we’ve all met that person who starts a lot their sentences with takes on “Well, if it weren’t for my [insert illness here] I’d do X and Y, but I just can’t.” I’m not talking about the person who is matter-of-fact about it; I’m talking about that other person.

      3. Manders*

        I’ve known some people with anxiety disorders who bring the subject up frequently, and others who really do not want anyone but close friends to know about their mental health struggles. But yeah, this person seems pretty far outside the norm, especially because OP says she’s been offered plenty of time off to rest and recover and she’s not taking it. You can’t force someone to get help if they won’t help themselves.

        To me, it sounds like OP’s boss might be making a big deal out of this because she also wants this employee to take some leave and stop putting everyone else in the office on edge. It’s a bad way of going about it, but that could be what’s going on in the boss’s mind.

        1. Manders*

          Also–it’s very common for people with mental illnesses to struggle with interacting with someone else who wants to talk about feeling sick or bad all the time. I’ve definitely backed off on a few friendships because a friend’s desire to tell me every detail about their mental health was making mine worse. I once had a coworker who would vent to me about her problems for hours, and my anxiety got so much better when she finally quit.

          OP, if you can, try changing the subject or excusing yourself from conversations when she starts talking about how she’s feeling. That might lower your own stress levels a bit.

        2. OP*

          I don’t know if leave has been offered to her by management; I suggested she pursue it because I know it’s available from our employer. But if she doesn’t want to, nothing to be done about that.

          Whatever the boss’s thought process is, the end result is that I’m the one who doesn’t want to be here!

      4. LawBee*

        My bff has chronic anxiety disorder, and will happily discuss it with anyone. It’s part of her campaign to destigmitize it both in the eyes of the general public, and to combat her own feelings of shame. Different people respond in different ways.

        And someone can be both diagnosed with anxiety and also really love being the center of attention – if that’s not one of the triggers, then I can see a certain type of personality enjoying the added attention.

        1. Nancy Raygun*

          Yeeeeep. I’m the please-don’t-look-at-me-when-I’m-anxious-because-I’ll-cry type, but I’ve had a few (former) friends who seemed to feed off the attention it brought them. That’s a whole other struggle in itself and I’m not saying people like that are inherently bad or divas or whatever. It’s just a really bad match for me because it causes me crazy anxiety too. I’m down with destigmatization too, which is why I’m glad I can talk about it here, right before my therapy appointment…

        2. Anon for this*

          Yeah, I don’t really like talking about it, but I do for a few reasons.

          1. Because I want to reduce stigma like your friend.
          2. Because I can’t “pass” as a person without an anxiety disorder. Sooner or later, the truth is going to come out.
          3. Because anxiety disorders are relatively common mental illnesses, a lot of people have said that my openness about it made them comfortable talking about their own issues.

          And, like you said, genuine mental illness and attention-seeking aren’t mutually exclusive. And sometimes people are just really, really bad at getting their emotional/social needs met while they’re dealing with anxiety.

      5. TL -*

        One of my good friends has pretty substantial (but well-controlled) anxiety and she talks about it. It’s part of her life; if she’s having a bad anxiety day she talks to people about it to help her get through it. If you’re close to her as a friend, you’ll know she has anxiety and how she would prefer you to respond to certain situations.

        There’s no glee or enjoyment of the extra attention, but it’s also part of who she is and there’s no reason for her to hide or downplay it. And I think it’s quite an excellent way to handle it.

        1. AnitaJ*

          Is…is that me? Am I your friend?!

          Just kidding, but I actually do this a lot, and so does another close friend of mine who has severe anxiety. I don’t bring it up all the time, but if my anxiety or depression or eating disorder comes up in conversation, I’ll speak openly about it. I’ll also reach out to a friend or two if I feel anxious and need a touchstone. I don’t like the attention but I do want to promote open dialogue and try to eradicate the shame stigma.

      6. else*

        Yes. It feels private. But – maybe they can work themselves out of it by talking through it? I am able to self-talk myself out of it sometimes that way. Maybe they need to do it out loud.

        Or, of course, maybe they are just enjoying feeling special and cared for, and are indifferent to the fact that they are gaining this by burdening others inappropriately. It’s definitely possible – presume sincerity unless presented with evidence otherwise, but having a disability or mental illness does NOT mean that someone is a good person. Or a bad person. Those things are not correlated.

    3. TL -*

      I wouldn’t spend any brain time wondering if your coworker is enjoying the attention or not, or judging how she handles her anxiety, or comparing it to yours.
      Warranted or not, that’s just going to stress you out and take you straight to bitch eating crackers mode with her, when your problem is really with your boss. Set your boundaries with him, and if you see your coworker talking about it, just walk away and remember as long as you’re not involved, how she deals with her problems is her business.

  16. Kay*

    Wow did this bring back flashbacks. I was in a similar situation, except my coworker was a member of a religion that did not allow medical care, so calling 911 was not an option. (Management was of her same religion and had specifically instructed us to do nothing; the job was at a place attached to the church, so this was ok per their policies.) I lived in fear every single day that I would see her in physical distress but not be able to do anything. It happened many times and I still get a knot in my stomach thinking about it.

    1. AAM Newbie*

      Wow, I’m not sure how I would react in a situation like that. Our first instincts is to call for help when in distress.

      1. KellyK*

        I don’t want to say “Quit” in a cavalier way, but that sounds like a pretty big dealbreaker to me. If you are literally required by your employer to stand around and do nothing while your coworker has a medical emergency, that’s not a good place to work, and I don’t think I could stay somewhere like that in good conscience. I also wonder about it from a legal and liability perspective. If the employee’s religious beliefs forbid medical treatment, she has every right to refuse care, but it’s not her employer’s or coworkers’ place to make that call for her.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          The legal issue is likely different, though, because the employer here is a religious organization with the same belief system as the employee. In most states, there’s no affirmative obligation to call 911.

        2. Marisol*

          Yeah, I think I would probably disregard that request honestly. If I’m not a member of her religion, then I don’t feel obligated to abide by its rules, and there may well be legal liability I’d have to face if I did–what if a family member who is not a part of that religion decides to sue me? Or criminally prosecute?

    2. OhNo*

      Good lord. I can guarantee you that if I was in that situation and saw a coworker in distress, I would absolutely forget that I wasn’t supposed to call 911. my brain does not do well with unusual instructions when I’m in panic mode.

      I wonder what they would have done if you had called 911 for her? Would they have fired you?

      1. Amy the Rev*

        If they were JW (no blood transfusions, for example) or Christian Scientist (certain procedures such as bone setting are allowed, but many medicines are not), for example, they often wear a medic alert bracelet, so that EMT’s and doctors know what they do/dont consent to if they’re ever injured/rendered unconscious in public…I’d call 911 anyway and then tell the EMTs. Doctors are often trained for how to accommodate these requirements to the best of their medical ability.

  17. Beth*

    Not to get too meta, but I wonder if perhaps the manager herself has an anxiety disorder. I have anxiety disorder, and something that I sometimes find triggering is when someone I am close (physically, or emotionally) to is having health issues. When my partner had the flu, I spent pretty much every waking moment being worried about him. Obviously, not a great way to feel! I wouldn’t be surprised that if the boss felt this anxiety — hence, asking others to check in on this staff member when she is out, to ensure that nothing happens to her.

    1. OP*

      Wow that’s a thought. I do think my boss is overreacting, maybe the boss is triggered too. I know I’m sure triggered by this being asked of me.

    2. INTP*

      You know, that’s a possibility. One thing that I have noticed amongst people with anxiety who already have personalities that border on controlling is that when their anxiety flares they will become super controlling of situations and people, far past the point that they actually need to be. This could be a situation that the boss is latching onto as a coping mechanism.

      I don’t think it matters if the boss really has a disorder, of course, and there are plenty of people that just genuinely are weird and controlling like that without a pathology. But now that you mention this as a possibility, it makes a lot of sense to me.

  18. Fluke Skywalker*

    Oof. I experience anxiety myself, and for me, knowing that my coworkers are monitoring me would actually make my anxiety worse. But everyone is different! It sounds like, from OP’s reply, that the coworker knows this is happening, which adds to the mess. If it’s really so bad that she needs constant monitoring, she probably shouldn’t be at work. If I were her manager, I’d want to see that she’s been medically cleared to be there. Yikes. What a messy situation, OP.

  19. Anonymous in the South*

    My son also has anxiety and panic attacks but no one is asked to monitor him or check in on him. His boss is aware of his situation and she took it upon herself to learn the signals that one is coming and she steps in if needed. My son would be mortified if coworkers were asked to “watch” him. He is on meds and doing very well and hasn’t had an episode in a while.

    I 100% agree that the boss should not be asking anyone to watch the coworker. If she passes out or has an episode, I’m sure coworkers would call an ambulance or whatever.

  20. NW Mossy*

    Years ago, I worked with someone with a serious medical condition that made him vulnerable to a sudden episode that could require immediate medical attention. He handled it in a very sensible way by making people aware of the situation and being very clear about what he needed. His ask of his colleagues was that if we noticed him slumped over or otherwise appearing like he wasn’t aware and alert, we should try to talk to him; if he didn’t respond, we should call 911. Thankfully that wasn’t ever necessary in the time that I worked there, but his forthright communication and clearly defined request for support made it easy for the rest of us to feel like we were helping him in an appropriate way without being more than was reasonable to expect from his workmates. It was just a college part-time job for me and it was a little scary at first to realize that I was working with someone who could quite literally die suddenly on the job, but in retrospect, the lasting impression was of someone who knew how to handle a tough personal situation in a well-thought-out and reasonable way.

    There are definitely ways to handle sudden-onset conditions at work that can help the affected person continue to be productive and still provide a measure of support, but constant monitoring isn’t really one of them. It gives the illusion that the affected person will be perfectly safe, but in reality, co-workers need to do normal things like their own jobs and relying on them to be a safety net has an uncomfortably high potential to fail. I’d be seriously concerned about the employee having that kind of reliance, and the company’s risk if the worst should happen.

  21. Leafy Greens*

    Yup. Coworker in my department is prone to fainting/concussions (as a result of the fainting) and has in the past either not gone to the hospital or chose not to tell workpeople if they’ve been to the hospital from concussions. (This doesn’t directly affect our work). Once when Boss was leaving for the day, she told me to check on Coworker in case they were acting dizzy or anything. I felt like it wasn’t my responsibility to make sure Coworker was in proper functioning order before I could focus on my own work… and luckily this situation hasn’t been an issue in a while. It also doesn’t help that Boss has told me she considers Coworker like one of her own children. Coworker and I are the same age. *major eye roll*

  22. animaniactoo*

    fwiw, I *don’t* have a background of anxiety issues and this kind of being “responsible for” co-worker would make me anxious!

  23. Kms1025*

    There are relatively inexpensive monitoring devices, worn like a pendant or a watch, that allow the user to press a button and call for EMS help if they feel faint, fall, etc. For a person who falls and is completely unconscious, there are devices with “fall monitors” built in that will automatically make the call without the need for user interaction. Much preferable than babysitting an otherwise capable adult.

  24. Gaia*

    This is why we instituted a lone working policy last year. No one can be alone in the office at anytime without having notified a group of selected individuals (all managers) of their start and stop times so that if they don’t alert someone to when they leave…someone can follow up to ensure the safety of the worker. This started after someone with a medical condition was working alone and had an episode resulting in them being alone and in danger for several hours.

  25. Christine*

    I’m wondering about the confidentiality issue. It’s possible that your coworker has applied for interment FMLA or accommodation under the disability act and you wouldn’t be aware of it. The supervisor shouldn’t be sharing this information in my opinion or asking you to monitor your coworker. Employers are supposed to grant reasonable accommodation that is not a hardship for the business. As a co-worker you are not going be aware of what’s HR & management is doing. You’re just cognizant of what effects you.

    I’m wondering if your boss was asked to keep on eye on the situation and basically passed the responsibility on to you in an extreme sense versus a more workable one. We all have work related stress, your boss has just succeeded in adding another layer to it. I wish you the best & let us know how it works out.

  26. Audiophile*

    This seems like a bad setup for everyone involved.

    It can’t be pleasant for Jane to have coworkers randomly peer in on her. And I imagine it might have the reverse effect and make her more anxious thinking “when is Louis going to pop in to check on me?”

    This is definitely something OP should push back on.

    At a previous job, we had someone pass out on shift and no one knew until after they’d recovered. Since radios were already in use their, there’s not much that could have been done anyway. They ended up letting the employee go for health reasons.

  27. Kimberly*

    It sounds to me like the boss is trying to accommodate the co-worker, but has no idea how to do this. I also wonder along with all the others if the co-worker is aware medical information has been made public. It sounds like an emergency plan might be in order.

    I am very public about a potentially deadly set of medical conditions – because it includes a skin contact allergy to peanuts. I’m a teacher – teachers live on chocolate – most US chocolate either has peanuts/peanut oil or is manufactured in a place that uses peanut products. I have an emergency plan. It is simple and to the point. It is on an index card. The front office, nurse, and grade level team members have a copy. I also keep a copy in my purse and/or backpack. My gym has copy because of people’s habit of eating peanuts for protein before or after working out.

    Kimberly’s Emergency Plan
    1. Epi pen is in “teacher pack” on waist. (In purse if not at work)
    2. Administer epi (We have training every year because of kids who have them)
    3. CALL 911 and then call or send staff/student to front office to notify them of call and where you are in school.
    4. Call Kimberly’s Sister (Sister’s name and phone) and cousin (Cousin’s name and phone)
    5. Give card to EMT’s (The back of this card has a brief bullet pointed medical history that is also great for handing to the Triage nurse )

    My co-workers love this. It gives the info they need in an emergency.

    1. KR*

      +1 This reminds me of info-cards for people who are blind or hearing-impaired to give to people who may not know sign language or recognize their disabilities. Similarly, a friend who is very diabetic has a large tattoo on his arm (where EMTS would go to put an IV) that makes it obvious he has diabetes and I think lists his blood type since that’s his most pressing medical issue.

    2. bearing*

      In college one of the faculty members in one of my work spaces was a Type I diabetic. His office had a very clearly worded sign on it, which he had put up himself, explaining what a diabetic emergency could look like and what any bystanders could do to help him in the event that he appeared to be experiencing one, for example, where to find his emergency stash of sugar in his office, and what signals might mean that it was time to call 911.

      I always thought it was a really smart thing to do.

      But the important difference is that it came from the affected individual himself. He “owned” it. It was his decision to make his coworkers aware of his health issue in the hopes that, should an emergency occur, they would want to help him with the best information possible. It wasn’t imposed on the others by a third party who might not even know the best course of action.

    3. Charlotte, not NC*

      Your school lets you keep an EpiPen on your person? The ones in my area use their “zero tolerance for substances” policies to make everyone keep their meds in the nurse’s office. It’s a recipe for disaster. Glad to hear your district is sensible!

      1. BTW*

        This is insane! An EpiPen is a life saving measure. That could be the difference between life and death! Are they crazy?!

      2. Nancy Raygun*

        When I was growing up my school that this policy too. After having a few emergencies at recess and being unable to get myself to the office to get my meds, I started keeping meds on me anyway. Some administrator tried to suspend me for using my own medication on myself without spending 15 minutes in the office proving I needed it. I grew up in CLT, I can’t believe they still do this crap.

  28. seriouslywtf*

    Honestly, I am just impressed the employer recognizes and cares about her anxiety. In my experience, every time I have tried to broach the topic of my anxiety disorder with employers it’s met with a “sure you’re stressed, who isn’t?” sort of attitude that is completely demoralizing.

    1. Rat Racer*

      Ha! I had the same reaction. I’ve had some fire-breathing monster bosses before, along with some inept and kooky ones, but I’ve never met a manager who asked colleagues to take responsibility for each other’s health or well-being. The writing on the wall at every job I’ve had has been “If you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen. PS you’re lucky to be here.”

      1. BTW*

        This. I had my first brush with panic attacks and severe anxiety (I had mild anxiety for 7 years prior but nothing to worry about) only 3 weeks into my new job. My first panic attack came while I was driving and I commute to work so it was a recipe for disaster. I started to not be able to drive. Went on meds then spent a week and a half in bed adjusting to said meds. They didn’t fire me and I was honestly surprised. Turns out, my managers husband suffers pretty badly so she completely understood where I was at and worked with me through it. I’m still there almost a year later.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I worked one place where the people I supervised had the responsibility to tell me if something was happening to someone. That was it, their responsibility ended once they told the supervisor. Fortunately, I could send them to get more help when necessary. So they just did those two things, told me and got more help if I asked.

        It made for a very different environment that what OP is talking about. OP, that has to be stressful, there is no way it cannot be stressful.

        If someone is going to be assigned to watch another person then the Watcher should have training in how to take care of the Other Person if there is a problem. I would tell the boss this too. No training, no dice.

        If I were in your shoes, OP, and I could not talk the boss out of doing this, I would build my own plan that I kept to myself. Here is what I would do: I’d check on the coworker as asked. IF I found something going on, I would say, “Do you want help?”. If she says yes, then I would call out very loudly, “We need assistance over here, right now.” Drag other people into the mix ASAP. Decide that you will not handle the problem alone.
        If she is not responsive, you say the same thing. When people come, you tell the first person who gets there, “She’s not responsive we need to call 911.” While you are waiting for help, you say to her (even if she is unconscious) “It’s okay, Jane, it’s just me and I am going to get us some help here.”

        Now maybe you have a good friend at work. If you do, see if you can enlist your friend to keep an eye on each other and back each other up. Yes, a buddy system. The two of you watch her together and bail each other if there is a problem. It can be a relief just to know someone is committed to backing you up. And you can be a relief to them in the same way.

        None of this answers your question of how to get the boss to understand. My point here is to give you some food for thought in case you can’t get the boss to understand.

        I do believe we have some responsibility for our coworkers under normal conditions. I believe that we have to report things sometimes and other times check on things that do not make sense. This is just in the general context of a any workplace. We don’t ordinarily think about finding a coworker in a pile at the bottom of a long flight of stairs, nor do we think about the possibility that a coworker might be locked in a freezer. But these things happen and I think we do have an obligation to check or send someone to check on a person if we think some thing is wrong. I have gotten some people ticked off by saying this, but I mean it in the context of once every few YEARS, we see something that is off and we check.

        But it might help you, OP, to realize that under ordinary circumstances some of us do check on people once in a while. The boss has made this in to a big thing. I agree with others that he may be exasperating her problems and he definitely is antagonizing your discomforts. I hope you can get him to see it from a different perspective.

  29. AtomicCowgirl*

    Is the colleague aware that her health issues are being shared with the rest of you? If she’s shared medical information with the company, normally no one but HR would be aware of it with the possible exception of the manager and only if it is relevant to the manager’s ability to appropriately support the employee. If this is the case, there’s a potential HIPAA issue.

    This is a completely not-normal, not-okay situation for you or your colleague or the rest of your peers at work. Were I in your position I would immediately seek input from my HR group.

    1. Candi*

      Judging from previous discussions, not HIPAA, since no medical personnel are involved.

      This type of situation wouldn’t mean there’s no violation of other privacy laws. Some states started passing medical privacy laws back in the 70s, after all.

  30. sssssssss*

    With the increased media campaigns for mental health awareness, this boss might be trying to be compassionate and understanding and accommodating…but this kind of accommodation is not the the way to go. Employees are their to do their job and not be caretakers for their co-workers, unless that is what they are hired for; and if so, they are no longer co-workers but caretakers.

    A service dog might work wonders for this person (provided no one is allergic to dogs…).

    My concern is that since OP has noticed that her co-worker seems to be enjoying the extra attention, once OP stops paying her that extra attention, will that trigger new issues for her?

    This is just a bad idea all round.

    1. James*

      I agree. I knew a man who got really bad–debilitating–anxiety attacks, and was on medication that was eve worse in some ways. It took him and his doctor a while to work out the right dosage, and the side-effects were…bad. Blacking out and waking up in a different building, freaking out and running from blankets, that sort of thing. His roommate used to ask me to help, because I could at least calm him down. I can definitely understand a boss wanting to do something to help someone experiencing these problems.

      I also agree that the boss is seriously off-base in their attempt. It’s one thing to voluntarily check in on someone like this, it’s another to tell others to come in on their days off!

      I’m not sure about the “enjoying the extra attention” thing. I don’t know these people, so can’t say for certain. However, interpreting motives is tricky. Someone with debilitating or nearly debilitating anxiety probably isn’t going to give off the normal social cues, either, which further complicates the issue. That said, if I knew I had a serious problem and people were going out of their way to make sure I was okay, I’d appreciate the gesture (or at least not blame the people following the orders from On High).

      This is something to get HR in on. You need an outside perspective, a mediator, to help figure out the best path forward. It sounds like everyone has good intentions (with the possible exception of the person with panic attacks), they just don’t know how to get to a good solution.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I have family members who seem to enjoy the extra attention from all the medical drama. The one thing I can think of is that other people DO energize us, we can pick up the energy of another person. Let’s say I am having a ho-hum, average day. Sue comes in and says, “hey I have this really funny story!” and she gets me roaring. I am going to have an uptick in energy levels just from listening to Sue. It’s reasonable to assume that someone who is a compassionate and active listener could energize a person who is struggling with issues. If OP has ever mentioned to her coworker that she has similar problems the coworker could perk up at the news that she is not alone.

        OP, maybe you can start a trend at work. When she starts talking about her stuff, tell her, “You know that is just the thing to talk over with your doc/therapist.” And then change the subject after that. It’s a redirect. If she starts the conversation, you tell her where to take it. (Okay you nicely tell her where to take it.) Then you change topics.

        I have gone as far as telling people, “I really lack the quals to offer anything of any significance here. I think you ought to check with a doc. (go right into new topic) Did you get the Smith report yet? How is that going?”

    2. fposte*

      Service dogs are great, though psychiatric service dogs aren’t cheap.

      Some people with anxiety have Emotional Support Animals, which can be helpful but aren’t covered under the ADA and your workplace doesn’t have to accommodate them. (Your apartment usually does have to, as do airlines, because they’re covered under different laws.)

  31. Geneva*

    I have an anxiety disorder and if I knew my boss was asking coworkers to babysit me, I’d be pissed. Yes, the symptoms suck and can sometimes be alarming for people who are unfamiliar with anxiety (versus usual nervousness), but treating her like a fragile piece of glass isn’t going to help. I totally agree with AAM about telling your boss that you’re not comfortable with doing that. You can even frame it in a way that makes it about her instead of you…something like “I’m sure Arya feels self-conscious about her medical issues already, and I’d hate to make her feel uncomfortable. Plus, she’s assured us she has a great treatment plan…” you get the idea.

    1. TL -*

      But we don’t know if the coworker is okay with it or not – she might like knowing people are checking in on her. If boss has already talked to coworker that will backfire super fast. Better that OP make it about herself and her discomfort.

  32. Rat Racer*

    This is the 3rd (or even 4th?) post I’ve seen published here about co-workers being asked to go waaaaay above and beyond the call of duty to help a colleague in ongoing psychological distress. Each time I read one of these, I’m like “No, this can’t really be happening, can it?”

    I mean, I’ve had some pretty dysfunctional managers before, but this strikes me as truly bizarre. Maybe because my dysfunctional managers were more likely to recommend getting out of the proverbial kitchen to anyone who could not take the heat.

    Also – I can’t help but wonder what kind of desk job triggers regular anxiety attacks. (Please don’t jump on me for that – I don’t mean to be dismissive; am genuinely curious what would cause them. Deadlines maybe?)

    1. Rat Racer*

      Sorry – self-editing too late: my incredulity is NOT aimed at the OP. I’m just baffled that this happens – and in more than one office.

    2. James*

      People underestimate how important desk jobs are. I mean, about six months ago I was on a call with a few congressional aids on a project that I did some paperwork for (I was still recovering from a nasty illness, too, which made it even more fun). Not standard, sure, but the principle applies to a lesser degree: desk work carries a lot of liability. And desk jobs frequently involve or influence decisions that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Misplace a decimal in a monthly financial statement and things get hairy really quickly. That sort of thing can get to you.

      Plus, anxiety attacks aren’t necessarily rational. I’ve seen people get panic attacks from someone changing a seating arrangement, yet absolutely love horror films. It all depends on the person.

      1. Rat Racer*

        Agreed. I’ve worked exclusively at desk jobs (except for that one time when I had to play substitute hall monitor at a highschool #TheTimeIGotFired), and I can definitely relate to the stress. But I think you’re point that panic attacks aren’t triggered by rational events resonates even more.

        I was practically apoplectic when my computer died while I was on deadline, but other than that it’s hard for me to recall a specific event that would trigger a panic attack – if I were prone to them. But I suppose that’s the point: if you’re not prone to panic attacks, it’s harder to imagine what would cause them.

        1. BTW*

          In my case, I wasn’t necessarily prone to them. I was driving one second then the next I was sticking my hand down my shirt because my heart was pounding so fast and so hard I thought it was going to pop out of my chest. Then came the nausea then the dizziness and white knuckling the steering wheel trying with everything I had in me to not pass out and kill myself and everyone around me. That graduated to numb arms and legs as I was making my premature exit off the highway. It was the scariest thing I have ever experienced.
          Previously I thought that I handle stress fairly well. But, I was in the middle of a DIY build of our first home and just started a second job. I’ve had little bouts of anxiety previously but never bad enough to warrant any concern. I guess it was all too much and my life completely changed that day.

    3. LN*

      Literally anything can trigger a panic attack. It is not always something a neurotypical person would perceive as stressful or anxiety-inducing. A sound, a song, a smell, a certain word, a picture, anything that triggers a memory that puts you into fight-or-flight mode. One time, a close friend said something very sweet to me, and it triggered an hours-long panic attack because it was very reminiscent of something my abusive ex would’ve said. It’s not the sort of thing that you can apply logic or common sense to, if you don’t know the intimate details of someone’s life.

      1. MashaKasha*

        Agree with “anything can trigger them”. The only time in my life I had anxiety attacks on the regular (several times a week every week for months), they were being triggered by my then boyfriend. They stopped the day he left. Only other times I’ve had them was when my dad had his second heart attack, and after he was diagnosed with cancer. I can easily imagine job stress causing an anxiety attack. Most desk jobs are pretty stressful, because what you do impacts your employer’s bottom line, a client’s bottom line, customer retention etc. so, if you do something that has the potential of messing up any of those things, things can get really stressful really quickly. Add to that the office politics, which is stressful in and of itself. Add to that the at-will employment situation, where you know you can be escorted out the door at any second and lose the income that your family depends on, as well as your and your family’s medical insurance, and no one would owe you a reason why.

    4. Panda Bandit*

      Anything can cause a panic attack. At an old job of mine I’d get panic attacks because I felt trapped. It was a toxic environment and they were piling more hours on me and I couldn’t say no. It was pretty soon after college and I had no savings. I was applying for other jobs but getting nowhere.

      I did leave eventually and I haven’t had an attack in years. I would never ask anyone to take on my anxiety as their responsibility. It’s up to me to manage it, and my doctors, because they’re getting paid to help.

    5. Not So NewReader*


      Toxic bosses/coworkers.
      Unrealistic deadlines.
      Unrealistic deadline with threats of termination.
      Lack of necessary resources/information.
      Lack of support/training.
      Regs that change.
      No notification of the reg changing.
      Unnecessary but mandatory redundant paper work. Fill the same info on ten different forms and ship it to 25 different people who do not need to know.
      Bosses who have no idea what you do.
      Customers who think they are your only customer.
      Customers who think you should be fired because they don’t like the color of the shirt you are wearing.

      I have missed a 100 or so.

      You get most of this in retail/restaurateur work and there is more of a physical drain as well as the mental/emotional drain. The physical drain comes in part because the jobs are very physical.

      1. Candi*

        Corporate personnel who are out of touch with the realities of the front line.
        Said corporate types putting one entitled customer’s word above the statements of the staff and manager of a location. Bonus points if they’re doing this in the name of customer retention, when the math sows that between refunds, freebies, discounts, and labor, the customer is costing the company money.

  33. MadGrad*

    I haven’t had a real panic attack in a few years and will freely talk about my own (pretty well-wrangled) issues, but the idea of someone checking on me all the time at work in case/ seeing me in a low point just makes me want to curl up and diiiieeee… It’s bad enough with someone I know intimately! Like someone seeing you throw up all over the floor; you can’t help it, but dear God NOOOO.

  34. BTW*

    Anxiety disorder over here as well. I would be *mortified* if my boss did this to me. On both ends. As the sufferer and as the coworker. This is an absurd request and I’m shocked that your boss has even asked this of you. I would not hesitate to say something about it. It’s not your job to take care of her.

  35. Salamander*

    As an accommodation, would it be possible to get the anxious employee one of those medical alert alarms or a panic button? I have no idea how that could work in practice. But I’d personally be a lot more comfortable listening for an audible alarm if a person runs into trouble than peering into her office every fifteen minutes. It would allow the OP to relax and know that things are okay unless someone hears an alarm…sort of how we assume that the office isn’t on fire if a smoke detector isn’t going off.

  36. La*

    OP, as someone who’s anxiety since I was three years old, I totally understand why this situation is triggering for you. If I were put in this situation, hearing my boss tell me to keep an eye on my co-worker and watch for her passing out would translate into: “Make sure that this thing you have absolutely no control over doesn’t happen! And if it does, you are the only person on the planet who can do anything about it!”

    If you yourself didn’t have an anxiety disorder, I would advise to try to push this out of your mind, focus on your work, and let other people monitor her since it sounds like the monitoring is actually unnecessary. But with anxiety, this mind frame simply doesn’t work so I’ll second Alison’s advice and say talk to your boss about how you’re not comfortable doing this, and get the assurance you need that you are not responsible for your co-worker.

    I’m glad to see from the comments that you are following up on your own self-care by pursuing therapy again. You mentioned encouraging your co-worker to take leave because your company has a generous leave policy. If you find your boss to be unhelpful or you find that even with assurance, your anxiety is still higher than is manageable, might I suggest taking advantage of that generous leave policy yourself to spend some time away from the situation and get grounded? I know taking leave to manage mental health problems isn’t the best tool for everyone, but it’s something that you control for yourself.

    1. OP*

      Yes a couple of people suggested I am taking this too seriously, but when my manager asks me to be responsible for something like that, that’s exactly what I hear. It’s doubly frustrating to have this take time and energy away from my actual work, which I am also responsible for completing at the same time.

      I hope it doesn’t come to me needing to take time off, but it is a relief to know I have that as an option.

  37. politiktity*

    Her response reminds me of my dad, and is the main reason I started to pursue therapy in addition to meds. (Because I could tell that my coping mechanisms were learned from him, and were clearly maladaptive, rather than helpful)

    Basically he thinks that a diagnosis of anxiety is something to ignore, because it’s all in your head. Not a powerful disorder that can wreak havoc on your body if it’s not managed. I can imagine him coming back to work “No need to worry about my fainting. It was just anxiety, nothing serious.”

    It’s nice that your boss is taking the diagnosis seriously. But I agree that you can push back on the limits and usefulness of his proposed solution.

  38. Ruffingit*

    WTF? The woman has anxiety, not cataplexy. As someone who has an anxiety disorder and works in the field of mental health, this just seems way beyond what is necessary regarding this co-worker’s medical issues. I would absolutely talk to the boss about the over the top request to watch the co-worker. It just seems unnecessary.

  39. Tiny_Tiger*

    I have to wonder if your colleague is even aware that your manager is requesting this of you and your other coworkers? Speaking as someone who does have anxiety issues, that would drive me up the wall and make it more likely that I would get an anxiety attack if people continuously checked on me. Not to mention, the constant checking could be intrusive to his/her work as well. Definitely go to your manager and explain that you and none of your other coworkers are medical professionals or babysitters and shouldn’t be treated as such. You can definitely add in that this may not be what your colleague wants either and could possibly trigger his/her anxiety rather than make him/her feel comforted.

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