my coworker has punched and kicked me under the table at meetings

A reader writes:

My coworker is becoming physically abusive to me. I need help ASAP.

I have a coworker who is the exact same career level as me, and we report to the same manager. She was very friendly and helpful when I started two years ago, but it has gradually gone downhill. We work in pretty close proximity in terms of what we do, so there’s a lot of stepping on toes, but I’ve tried to ignore it. In the last six or so months, she’s started stealing stories and posts from me (we’re social media managers/journalists), and again I tried to overlook it. She tries to play down everything I do, especially to my boss. We were in a meeting together in December with programming partners and I said something she didn’t like, so she not-so-subtly punched me under the table. (I had a bruise for almost two weeks.) I addressed it with her and was basically like “WTF, mate?” and she played it off. She’s done other annoying things here and there, but I’ve really tried to overlook things and just be professional, do my job, kick ass, and go home and forget about her.

Today, she got physical with me in a meeting again. We were in a meeting with different programming partners, and she was consistently talking over me, contradicting me, and outwardly lying to these partners about what we’re able to do for them. I stopped talking, looked down, and just started twisting my wedding rings back and forth (what I do when I get nervous), and let her talk. She then proceeded to kick me under the table — HARD — where it hit me in my thigh and is still stinging. I felt all the blood rush to my face and knew I was going to cry so I excused myself, said I had an emergency, and thanked them and let her wrap up the meeting.

The coworker is now texting me and IMing me being like “are you okay?” I wanna be like, “no I’m not okay. You f’ing got physical with me AGAIN.” But I don’t want to blow my top because then I’m no better than her. How do I proceed? My boss has been no help in the past, so I’m hesitant to bring it up with him.​

Oh my goodness — you are allowed to react when someone physically assaults you. That’s not making you no better than her — that’s having a normal, warranted reaction, and it’s one that you need to have, because this needs to stop happening.

Do two things:

1. Tell your boss immediately. Don’t downplay this, don’t wait to see if it happens again. Tell him now. Say this: “Jane has now physically assaulted me twice at work. The first time was in December, and she punched me under the table when I said something she didn’t like, and it left a bruise for two weeks. It happened again recently — she intentionally kicked me in the thigh under the table, so hard that it brought tears to my eyes. I should have left the meeting and come straight to you, but I was so stunned that someone would behave like that that I honestly wasn’t sure what to do. But I realize now that someone in authority needs to speak with her and ensure this doesn’t happen again. Can you do whatever is needed to ensure she doesn’t touch me again?”

You could also say, “I feel like I should also tell you that I’ve had ongoing problems with Jane in the past, including taking stories from me and (details).”

Your boss should (a) be shocked by this and (b) assure you that he’ll put a stop to it immediately. If he doesn’t, though, then go to HR and say what’s above to them instead. And mention that your boss knows and hasn’t done anything about it.

2. If it happens again, be ready to call her on it in the moment when it’s happening, in front of everyone. As in, “Ow! You just kicked me under the table, Jane, really hard — what are you doing?” She might deny it, but she’s less likely to do it again if she knows you’re going to call her on it in front of other people.

3. Consider saying something to her now. For example: “Twice in the last few months, you’ve kicked and punched me under the table at meetings. What the hell is wrong with you? I’ve talked to (boss) about this, but I wanted to say to you directly that you need to stop doing that. If you do it again, I will escalate it higher. I need you to agree not to touch me again.”

More broadly, something is up with your coworker, and I would give her a very, very wide berth. And keep your boss in the loop — your tendency to want to smooth things over and not call her out for her behavior is unfortunately making it easy for her to continue it. Speak up if there’s anything more from her, and that includes the work-stealing and anything else she tries.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 634 comments… read them below }

  1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    What the actual fluffernutter. WHAT THE ACTUAL FLUFFERNUTTER

      1. Lora*

        I would have screamed at the top of my lungs. I know I would have, because that’s what I do when startled or accidentally bump into something/someone and hurt something hard enough to bruise. She would have had some explaining to do. Holy moly.

        1. Nea*

          Me too. Training kittens has trained *me* to scream “OWWWWW” when I’m hurt to get them to back off.

          1. lowercase holly*

            haha, it’s trained me to yell, “NO. NOOOOOO. BAD.” probably too vague in this case.

          2. Pixel*

            How do you train kittens? My kitten counter-surfs whenever he thinks there may be something delicious or mildly interesting up there, and pounces on his older sisters repeatedly. A good thing he’s insanely cute.

            1. Jadelyn*

              I honestly think it’s the cutest ones that are the worst-behaved. It’s an evolutionary survival measure so we don’t murder them after the millionth time of getting our toes bitten when we innocently walked past a chair they were hiding under.

              Yes, I do have a really cute cat who is a giant jerk. Why do you ask?

            2. Tiny Orchid*

              Clicker training! Check out Karen Pryor’s books – I read “Reaching the Animal Mind” and now my cat high-fives, comes when he is called, and sits on his hind legs like a little meerkat.

            3. LJL*

              Leave noisy things on the counter for kitten to jump up against. Think metal bakeware or aluminum foil. With any luck, it should startle him enough to get him down of his own volition. But then again, her blindness was the only thing that got my counter jumping cat to quit…after about 14 years. :/

            4. SimonTheGreyWarden*

              Jackson Galaxy’s website has a lot of advice. I honestly didn’t find my two responded to clicker training, but they did respond to a squirt bottle. It was set to “mist” so not a jet of water, and more like a puff (that honestly rarely touched them), but they know which surfaces they are allowed on (beds, couches, back of chairs, bookshelf, actually almost all of them) and which ones they aren’t (kitchen counters and dining room table).

              1. FoodieFoodnerd*

                My bonkers kitty loves water squirts, but a blast of vinegar, and/or a puddle of it on the counter should instantly cure him!

                My furry monster would be miserably trying to clean it off hours later, but he sure lost interest in the kitchen counters.

              2. Psychdoc*

                I shook the water bottle before squirting it and my cat learned to stop the behavior at the Sound of the water noise. But, like you said, it doesn’t hurt them, just helps them figure out good vs bad behavior.

        2. Whats In A Name*

          I likely would have screamed as well. And it would have included some serious F-bomb dropping I am sure.

          1. The Optimizer*

            Yep, same. Probably screaming something like, “What the fluffernutter did you just hit/kick me for? What the hell is wrong with you?” so loudly that it could be heard in the farthest corners of the floor from the conference room.

      2. Amadeo*

        I cannot swear that I would not have done the same, especially the second time. The first time would have been the ‘freeze up’ reaction. “Did that really just happen!?”

        The second would have been one of a couple of things: The *loud* mid meeting call out (Why the hell did you just *kick* me!?) or knocking her out of her chair.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Yeah, I’d yell what I posted at her. Obviously, with profanity rather than delicious gooey dessert items.

      3. aebhel*

        I probably wouldn’t have actually taken a swing, but I almost definitely would have yelled ‘WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT!’ at the top of my lungs.

        Because seriously. What the fuck.

      4. snuck*

        I’d have kicked back.

        And got into a big ol’ round of footsies under the table.

        And next time I’d sidle up to her and place my hand on her knee. Squeeze while staring heavily at her and licking my lips.

        No. I wouldn’t. But it’s the kind of crazy this instills in me.

    1. snarkarina*

      I’ve actually been in a similar situation . . . but in my case it was a boss, and she waited until there were no witnesses. We were at a meeting discussing something with a potential client and my boss got the dates in question wrong. So I said, “no, actually we’re talking about the umpteenth…”

      Meeting proceeded as normal until we were walking back to catch the Metro to HQ – at which point she grabbed me by the arm just above the elbow (hard – there was a bruise) and said, “Never contradict me in public again.”

      Ultimately I left to work in a different department and she was let go after losing her security clearance, but being as it was my first “grown-up” job, I felt like there was nothing I could do even though I knew on an intellectual level it was wrong – and it also had a long-term chilling effect where it’s taken me almost 15 years to gain enough confidence to speak up, ask probing questions, and even disagree in meetings.

      1. anonimal*

        I was working in a restaurant and my boss came up behind me and grabbed both of my wrists and slammed them down on the pan I was working with. I quit about a week later. I was only 23 so that was the only thing I knew to do but I wish I’d done something more because I heard she physically grabbed other people when angry. The cycle of abuse can come to the workplace :(

        1. Anonymoose*

          What the WHAT?? Jesus, she was psycho. And restaurants are hella visible. She had some brass ones, didn’t she?

          And good for you for knowing that she was completely abnormal and out of line!

      2. AFineSpringDay*

        That happened to one of my colleagues with our weirdo former boss. He was supposed to give a presentation, she hijacked the whole thing, he tried to help when she had a memory lapse, and she accuses him of trying to make her look bad in front of other people. Good times!

      3. Not Her Favaretto*

        I had a boss who did similar. If we were in meetings where we disagreed or didn’t want me to say something, she would grab me by the wrists and shake me. Other times, she would put her hand in front of my face like to block my face (during times on a conference call).

        After nearly a year or two of this subtle abuse, I reported it up to her manager. They decided to sit me down and tell me that this was an at-will place of employment and I was welcome to leave at any time. My boss told me she would not change. We were eventually bought out by Thompson Reuters. Upon leaving the company, they complimented our relationship, especially how female-friendly my boss was and how well she’d mentored me. What a joke.

        If I could do it again, I would A) Call her out immediately. Imagine the embarrassment “OW! That hurts! Why did you grab my hand Giorgia!” and B) Report her immediately to HR and let the cards fall as they may.

        1. Anonymoose*

          ” Upon leaving the company, they complimented our relationship, especially how female-friendly my boss was and how well she’d mentored me. ” I just rolled my eyes so hard I gave myself a headache.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This is the type of story people point to when they make the general statement that companies lie. It’s everywhere, we see so much of it.

          2. Not Her Favaretto*

            Yep. Of course, I told HR the truth of what had occurred upon my exit. She had driven several other female team members away, even pseudo demoted one of my peers after she went on maternity leave (took her entire team and aligned them under a man when she came back). We had urged her to be honest during her exit interview but she feared retaliation from our boss (like I had experienced).

      4. A*

        Oh, jeez. I broke someone’s jaw for doing that once…but a boss? At a first grown-up job? That’s terrifying.

      5. Whats In A Name*

        I just had flashbacks to what happened when I mouthed off to my mother in public as a child. If a boss did this to me I would likely freak out to an unreasonable extent.

    2. wendelenn*

      “What the actual fluffernutter” is my new favorite phrase, and would make an awesome band name!

    3. LawCat*

      Yes. Pretty much my feelings too. I am just so aghast. It’s hard to even think straight about it and I’m just some removed stranger on the internet.

      OP, everything about this is so bizarre and not normal. Take care of yourself. You do not have to put up with this.

    4. Venus Supreme*

      WTF Wednesday indeed…

      I got a pit in my stomach imagining how she treats people closer to her. And her pets. (Hopefully she has none)

      HR needs to know about this immediately. This is point-blank violent behavior, and OP has the power to stop it in their workplace environment.

      1. Zweisatz*

        Actually, OP might not have the power to stop that. I just want to point that out so they don’t feel bad, if boss continues to not be helpful, they’re too small for HR etc. Yes, chances are good they can do something about it, but if it fails, it’s not their fault.

        1. Venus Supreme*

          Very good point. I didn’t think that out thoroughly. To clarify, I mean to say that OP doesn’t need to “shut up and put up” because in every moral sense, they are in the right and Coworker is in the wrong.

    5. MashaKasha*

      To everyone that said “I would’ve yelled at her” or “I would’ve taken a swing at her”, we all know that she’d react by looking at you all innocent and saying, “why did you do this? ARE YOU OKAY?” Next you know, the two of you are in HR and she’s explaining how she was in a meeting, minding her own business, when all of a sudden you yelled at or threatened her for no reason.

      Ugh, this woman sounds like a 3rd grade bully who never grew up. And to be honest, I never learned how to properly deal with third-grade bullies, and never thought I would need to as an adult!

      1. Whats In A Name*

        Agree 100%. I don’t think the yelling is a solution, I was simply saying (& got the impression others commenting were too) that my gut instinct when punched unexpectedly is usually a very loud “WTF?”

      2. fposte*

        Yes, I think that’s quite likely. It’s satisfying to think that a different response would have gotten the offender in trouble, but it’s quite likely it wouldn’t have, and that what she did on the spot wouldn’t change what the OP needs to do now.

        This is very siblingesque in its ability to rob the victim of a solid complaint strategy.

      3. Observer*

        Not when there is a bruise, as in the first case, and when there is a mark, which would almost certainly be the case in the second.

        1. fposte*

          Even then. The bruise won’t be at its full glory or even necessarily show in the moment, and a red mark is too easy to get accidentally. Control the narrative by talking to the boss on your own.

      4. Lissa*

        It’s also incredibly easy to say “oh, I would have . . ” But I find that a lot of the time, people who are so sure they’d react with violence or at least loud shouting actually freeze up.

        1. MashaKasha*

          That’s me, I totally freeze up when someone suddenly acts in a way I wouldn’t expect, or crashes my boundaries in ways I wouldn’t have predicted. Then a day later, of course, I come up with ten different ways I should’ve reacted.

          1. babblemouth*

            Yes, I would totally freeze up too. That happens in situations so weird that your sense of normal is completely lost, including what a normal response to such an extraordinary event should reasonably be.

        2. DuckDuckMøøse*

          On the other hand, sometimes your body just goes on autopilot, and just reacts. I had a co worker just do a finger flick on my arm, but she happened to hit a very tender spot, and before I knew it, I was up out of my chair and had grabbed her by both arms and was thisclose to I don’t know what. The only thing that diffused my automated reaction was the look of total terror on her face. It wasn’t a conscious reaction, it was a pain, fight-or-flight one. This is why you should never put your hands on anyone, for any reason, without permission.

        3. Michelle*

          In the vast majority of scenarios, I freeze up and simply have no idea what to do or say. I don’t *want* to “let things slide,” but I don’t know how to react when people are so bizarrely (IMHO) inappropriate. But if someone startles me or is physically violent, I react very loudly and dramatically. I scream, and if you hit me I hit back. Not intentionally, or because I think that’s the right reaction, but out of pure reflex. It’s even gotten me into trouble in the past. In middle school, I was suspended for fighting because another girl attacked me and I hit back without thinking.

          Of course, my husband and son both think this is hilarious, and routinely startle me on purpose just to hear me scream. (And I SHRIEK.) Hopefully they’ll start thinking twice after last time, when I was so startled I threw my phone across the yard.

      5. Anne (with an "e")*

        I agree with MashaKasha. The bully would very likely pull the innocent act. “What is your problem? I did not do anything to you, etc., etc.”

        Personally, if I had been attacked in this manner I would have probably cried and then been mortified about my unprofessional reaction. Just thinking about the situation is making me ill.

        OP, I am so sorry this has happened to you.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          And that is the exact reaction the bully wants you to have. The crying out in pain in my opinion is fine. Skip the mortified part. Do not wear the responsibility for other people’s actions. They are the idiots, not the recipients of the behavior.

      6. Not So NewReader*

        I respectfully disagree with all of you. It’s been an expensive lesson in my life but I finally learned that we have to call people out on their bad behaviors. Most of the time, their reaction is not what we would predict.

        If you go back and read OP’s letter, you can see where this coirker has been gradually accelerating her bad behaviors. Each time OP lets her get away with it, she keeps doing more.

        Ignoring the bully does not work. Period. It doesn’t work, we know this. OP you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, speak UP.

        Remember the rule of three, you see a bad behavior three times you have a pattern. A pattern needs to be addressed. When there is a pattern we no longer have the luxury of ignoring it. This person is showing you how they will continue to treat you, your silence means you approve.

        There are some behaviors that are so unacceptable, such as punching/kicking, that these behaviors can be reported on the first instance.

        I would recommend calling it out in the moment and reporting it. No job is worth this type of treatment.

        I see the concern that OP will get fallout from such actions. Then so be it, that is important information. This means OP’s choices are stay in a job where she is going to get beaten and management will not care or leave the job.

        OP, my stomach is in knots, I am feeling your pain. Very bottom line if you cannot get help with this, please leave the company.

        1. JessaB*

          Honestly the second time a coworker touched me there’d be a call to the cops and I don’t care if I got fired for it because seriously if the company advocates assault I would make it very clear that after I called the cops I’m calling the local news about the fact that I got fired for being physically assaulted (by an employee even,) that’s gonna be a mountainfull of bad press.

          Seriously, assault isn’t a case for HR, it’s a case for the cops…although I’d probably tell the grandboss that I am leaving the room to call the cops right after I’ve been kicked and btw, I am taking pictures every half hour with my phone until the bruises fully come up as evidence.

          And truthfully, I’d do that after the first contact, I doubt I’d wait for the second. And I realise I was raised by parents who believed that if you get hit, you press charges. Not everyone does that. I get that.

          But this is an adult who is to all indications mentally capable of understanding do not hit. I’d be more likely to mediate through HR if it was obvious they had a problem getting proper behaviour. (I am not in any way trying to call out the coworker here as having any disability, I’m actually saying that they don’t and if they DID I would probably cut them more slack than I would anyone else.)

          They’ve probably done it to other people also and I wonder if HR asked around they would find out this is the case.

          1. Klew*

            After the first assault the look I would have directed her way would let her know that this wasn’t over and then there would have been a conversation after the meeting.

            And, at the very least, after the second time, I would talk to an employment lawyer, or use the google machine, before telling my boss that he had better take care of it or I would.

          2. Kimberly*

            I would be filing charges also. I learned by 5th grade that people in power favor the bully because they gravitate towards power. When my parents threatened criminal charges and civil lawsuit against my bully, his parents, and school administration (Under Title IX because because of the sexual nature of his actions and threats) suddenly boys will be boys and she is asking for it stopped on a dime.

            I learned to stand up for myself. The first hit, she would have been told never do that again or I will call the cops. The second, I would have called the non-emergency line to file a criminal complaint. I’ve actually done step one with a co-worker who threatened to prove I wasn’t really allergic to peanuts. HR got involved and the campus cop told her she could be arrested right then for terroristic threats. I never ate anything she handled at potlucks.

            I also would have had a strong reaction to being hit. I genetic skin condition (related to the allergies) means my skin is painful and even a hug can be agony. That plus the history of bullying means I will tell someone off for something like this. Family, friends, and coworkers don’t take offense to me avoiding hugs.

            1. Somniloquist*

              I agree. I’ve threatened to call the cops on people threatening me with physical violence a few times and it really does have an immediate deescalation effect.

              The one time I had to follow through was enough to stop violent behavior from that person forever (this person was a relative so I still see them and we have a good relationship now).

      7. Mookie*

        This is my worst nightmare and why I end up being a yes-woman and a people-pleaser and a conflict-resolver because I am absolutely terrified of being gaslit like this. And it would work! People could actually pull this crap and win! Argh!

    6. Christine*

      I recommend filing a formal grievance and talk to her manager. This is uncalled for, and requires documentation with HR.

    7. Anne (with an "e")*

      Agreed, The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist, “What the actual fluffernutter. WHAT THE ACTUAL FLUFFERNUTTER.” Indeed.

      This is so bizarre. Wow, just wow!

  2. NoMoreMrFixit*

    That’s assault. If it happens again get the cops involved. You do not have to tolerate being attacked by a coworker. Definitely escalate this to your boss and HR asap.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      This. “If you physically assault me ever again, I will be pressing charges. That is a guarantee.”

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          I’d just call the cops now. Get a restraining order.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            No no please don’t do this before talking to your boss/HR. I’m not saying it’s right, but this will refocus the problem on OP when the problem actor is Jane.

            1. Justme*

              I would totally warn HR first (see other comment I made) but not warn Jane that I would if she acted that way again.

              1. Hotstreak*

                Not you specifically, but generally, I wonder if people would be reacting differently if it was a man kicking a women instead of a same gender attack. If true, it shouldn’t be the case.. these situations should be treated equally.

                1. Justme*

                  My comment stands no matter the sex of the attacker or victim. Since it’s a workplace attack, let your boss and HR know about it. And then call the cops.

                2. Jessesgirl72*

                  I actually almost assumed the OP is male. It’s “acceptable” for women to punch/kick men in anger and frustration. They won’t do it to another woman as often, because another woman is more likely to fight back.

                  And I would absolutely say the OP, regardless, should at least consider filing assault charges.

                3. Julia*

                  I assumed the OP was a woman because she said she twisted her wedding ringS as a distraction, and I mostly only know women who wear multiple wedding rings (i.e. an engagement ring with a plain band, or an eternity band on top etc.)

            2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              I don’t follow your reasoning. This is assault. It’s not drama to call the cops when you’re assaulted.

              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                I mean, okay, I’d call an emergency meeting with HR and my boss and say, Jane has assaulted me twice, I intend press charges and you need to do whatever you need to get in front of this. But at this point, I would be pressing charges.

                1. Alice*

                  I think that’s all they’re saying is, warn HR that this is what you’re doing so they can do whatever they need to do to get in front of this.

                2. Hotstreak*

                  HR doesn’t need to be warned ahead of time. Go to the police station, file a report, take photos, and bring a copy of the police report to the meeting with HR & your manager.

                  The rules of the workplace do not -replace- the laws of society, they are additional requirements alongside the law. (generally speaking, but definitely in the case of assault like this).

                3. MsCHX*

                  It is both a legal issue AND a workplace issue. I totally agree with TNMBOIS here. Go to HR/Manager NOW. That does not preclude you from filing a police report or requesting a restraining order.

                4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I’m not disagreeing that there’s a legal and workplace problem. I’m pushing against the exhortations that OP first talk to the police. I’m simply recommending she talk to her employer and HR, first, and then speak to law enforcement if she chooses. This is a sequencing issue, to me, not a “there’s only one right answer!” issue.

                5. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Totally agree with Princess Consuela Banana Hammock. The question isn’t what you have the right to do; it’s what will get you the outcome you want. If you go to the police without first talking to your boss and HR, you may be exercising a right you’re entitled to, but you will look like you don’t handle problems appropriately at work. I’m not saying that’s right; I’m saying that’s how it will be perceived.

                  Obviously there are limits to this, but based on what the OP has described, she’s far better off talking to her employer first.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                The issue is that if you don’t notify your company and go straight to assault + restraining order, it makes OP’s reaction look disproportionate because from the manager’s perspective it comes out of nowhere and with no warning (and although this is egregious, it’s not on the same level as an open, physical fight, which is what typically triggers a “go directly to the police; do not pass go” response).

                OP doesn’t lose her ability to pursue law enforcement options by reporting this, first, to HR and her boss. But going straight to the police immediately refocuses attention away from Jane’s egregious behavior and puts a spotlight on OP’s reaction. Assuming OP wants to remain employed at this company, she holds higher ground ethically, professionally, and in terms of the optics if she follows a process that makes her look extremely reasonable and thoughtful about the process for reporting and escalating her complaint.

                1. Mishsmom*

                  PCBH is 100% correct. you want to keep the focus where it is deserved. it’s better to start with HR, then go further.

                2. Mike C.*

                  But if a legal authority (assuming area where legal authorities can generally be trusted here) has enough cause/evidence/whatever to press charges or enforce a restraining order, then it doesn’t matter that the boss didn’t see it coming.

                  I don’t understand this “refocusing” either, because it’s not like the OP can just summon the police at will and have them act at their beck and call.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @Mike, so you’re saying you think a person should call the cops, obtain a restraining order, serve that restraining order on their workplace and coworker, all before even notifying their workplace that their coworker has assaulted them?

                4. Hotstreak*

                  Getting caught up on which one happens first isn’t that important, as long as they both happen today or tomorrow. But she can’t *only* report it to her company – she needs to have photos taken of the physical damage & give a copy of the police report (or the case #) to her company.

                  As far as a restraining order, IINAL but my understanding is that you need a hearing, you need to have the other party served & given the opportunity to appear, and the judge will decide whether a restraining order is appropriate. Domestic violence restraining orders are different, but (and again IIANL) this is not a spousal or domestic situation.

                5. Allypopx*

                  To expand, OP probably wants to keep this job. Going to manager/HR first shows a priority for handling things through proper channels and not blindsiding her employer, which the employer is likely to appreciate and react more positively to then finding themselves suddenly in the middle of a legal dispute without warning.

                6. J-nonymous*

                  Going to the police first and going to HR second provides her with restraining order/protective order should her (very likely to be fired) coworker who has already been violent try enact more violence against the OP.

                7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  At no point have I ever argued that OP should not pursue her legal options. I’m suggesting that, in cases where an employer is sane, it is preferable to talk to your boss/HR prior to making a police report or attempting to obtain a restraining order.

                8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @J-nonymous, going to the police likely will not result in an immediate restraining order, and it offers her no greater protection than going to HR first.

                9. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

                  I’m not sure what order I’d do it in, but I would press charges. And if the boss has been no help in the past as OP stated, then yes, that probably means I’d press charges before informing anyone. Someone who will assault you in a room with other people is going to do something worse at some point.

                10. Boop*

                  @ Mike C. – no employer/HR department likes to be taken by surprise. The OP can and should report the assault(s) to the police, but as a courtesy she needs to let her employer know there is a problem and the actions she will be taking. Going to the police without letting the employer know there is problem does not give the employer time to investigate/resolve on their own, and potentially discipline Jane or take other action.

                  The “refocusing” PCBH talks about refers to the fact that it may look like OP immediately went for the nuclear option instead of pursuing other avenues to resolve. Just imagine the drama that this is going to create! Giving the employer a heads-up allows them to manage the situation to avoid drama, etc. Another reason that notifying the employer is a good idea: what if Jane’s reaction is to come into work and shoot OP (unlikely, but people do strange things, and Jane has already demonstrated a willingness to become physical)? If the employer has advance notice, they may be able to take steps to separate the two employees or set up safeguards.

                  OP definitely has the option to go the police, it would just be good employee manners to let the employer know some s$!t is going to go down.

                11. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @That Would Be a Good Band Name, there is nothing in OP’s letter that indicates the boss is aware of these issues, nor has OP reported the assaults to her boss.

                12. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Sorry, I take back the “awareness” comment re: the boss. It sounds like he’s aware of the bullying and backbiting. It’s unclear if he’s aware of the physical violence.

                13. Kathleen Adams*

                  I actually can’t tell what the boss knows. The employee says “My boss has been no help in the past, so I’m hesitant to bring it up with him,” but she (not sure of the correct pronoun here) isn’t clear that by this she means the punch in addition to the sneakiness. In fact, she sounds so demoralized that it’s possible that she’s thinking “Well, Boss didn’t do anything about the sneaky stuff, so he probably will shrug off the punching and kicking too.”

                  Now maybe not, but it’s possible, so, OP, if you haven’t talked about the punching and kicking with your boss, do so right now this very second. You’ll probably need to go to HR, too, because my God, but don’t assume that your boss will overlook your being PUNCHED and KICKED at WORK unless he actually has done so.

                14. Mike C.*

                  @Princess, what I think is that the OP needs to take care of herself first. Sure, things might be a little easier if she talks to her boss first but if she’s unable to or finds it easier to speak with law enforcement now, then that’s what she should do.

                  The inconvenience that might be felt by her management is no where close to what the OP is dealing with, so I really don’t think it’s going to be a big deal either way.

                15. Siberian*

                  I agree with PCBH’s points here. In addition, people should keep in mind that a restraining order isn’t something you just order up by going to the police. You have to make your case to a judge, who then decides whether one is warranted. In this case, I think it would be hard to demonstrate that it’s warranted, especially since a restraining order would likely make it hard for the coworker to go to work (depending on how large the company and building are). IANAL, but I would think a judge would want some very solid evidence that a restraining order is needed to keep the OP safe before possibly ending someone’s employment—and would certainly want to know that the OP had taken lesser measures, like informing the employer, before making this request. The abusive coworker’s behavior is appalling, unacceptable, and grounds for firing. I’d also agree that it’s assault. But the coworker isn’t following the OP home, waylaying her in dark alleys, stalking her, calling her repeatedly, etc. The moment the coworker’s behavior escalates to something like that, sure, file a report and ask for a restraining order. That’s what restraining orders are for. But in the meantime, informing HR and the supervisor are likely to be sufficient in making the behavior stop.

                16. Mike C.*

                  @Boop, if someone commits a crime against me, I’m generally going to report it. Management doesn’t have the moral right to insist or expect me to “keep it behind closed doors” or otherwise pursue their favored choice of alternative conflict resolution or whatever.

                  Furthermore, when it comes to something this serious, the employer doesn’t have some professional expectation to get the first crack at investigating or resolving the issue. Sure, they should be told at some point and they’ll likely find out everything once action is taken, which lessens the “surprise” factor even further.

                  Look, I’m not saying that the employer should be left out in the cold. I’m just saying that their “need to know first” isn’t really a need nor is it something they have a right to expect in all cases. The OP needs to protect herself first, and if by circumstance that means contacting law enforcement first, then that’s how it goes.

                17. fposte*

                  @Mike C.–Though calling the cops to your workplace *guarantees* a conversation with your superiors, so that’s not a good thing to do if that conversation is what you’re trying to avoid.

                  I get what you’re saying on the human level–that the OP’s been put in a bad place and what’s good for her is what matters here. But this is a workplace blog, and we’re going to also focus what would be the best moves for her from a workplace standard.

                18. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Mike C., it’s not about what the company is entitled to; that’s not at all a factor in what I’m saying. It’s about what is likely to get the OP the best outcome for herself. She presumably has more goals where work is concerned than just dealing with the coworker’s actions, and it’s smart to look at those as well.

                19. Mike C.*

                  Let’s go one more round.

                  Look, I totally understand that in the vast majority of situations like these, the employer is going to be the first to hear about it because it happened at work and HR is a whole lot closer than law enforcement. The employer will do stuff and the employee may or may not go further based on the situation. So long as the employer isn’t crazy or toxic, that’s fine. We’re in agreement here.

                  What I just don’t buy is this idea that “if they went to law enforcement first and they took action, therefore the employee is a drama llama”. Sure, it will be unusual that this will happen, but what that says to me is not “employee is a drama llama”, it says, “wow, this situation is so messed up that my employee felt the need to go to law enforcement before talking to me”.

                  I would take it as a managerial wake up call. Folks, you employ adults, not children. If they feel they have been pushed far enough that they sought law enforcement, you shouldn’t blame them or feel like they’re causing drama, you should work to understand why they couldn’t come to you first. It’s far more likely in my mind that there is a process or culture failure than the employee is simply seeking attention.

                20. Lursky McLurkerson*

                  Former police officer here. I agree that the OP should deal with her internal channels first. Filing a police report for simple assault/battery is not like filing a report for a car accident – i.e. there is more to it than just showing up at the PD, filing out paperwork, and getting a case number. Had I gotten then call, I would have shown up where ever the OP was (home or *at work*), taken her statement, taken the co-worker’s statement, interviewed potential witnesses (INCLUDING the company’s clients that were in the meeting), and taken photographs of any marks/injuries. Then, if I had probable cause as a result of this, I would arrest the coworker and take her down to the station for processing. This would have either happened at the office or the coworker’s home, depending on whether the OP made the report at work or at home. Battery in my jurisdiction is a violent misdemeanor, so the coworker would go to jail and probably miss work the next day. There is no “I just want a case number and nothing else” when it comes to battery.

                  This would be a huge disruption for the company, and I can imagine the panic it would cause if two uniformed officers suddenly showed up and started talking to and arresting people. OP’s workplace and HR would not appreciate that and it would be odd that she gave them no or little warning to prepare. Given that this wasn’t necessarily a malicious assault (no premeditation, no on-going harassement/threats) my recommendation would be for the OP to go to HR and see if the coworker is fired or moved. That would solve the problem without getting the CJ system involved. If they don’t, or if the coworker continues to contact the OP after the firing, then the OP should pursue her legal options.
                  Also, FWIW, protection orders (in non-domestic situations) are not something you can just ask for and get immediately. You have to fill out an application, set a court date, and go before a judge to prove that you need the protection. The process can take weeks and I bet a judge would ask if the OP if she has tried a remedy through her workplace rather than deal with the hassle. It might even be denied as not telling HR does not show that the OP has made a good faith attempt to stop the issue before getting the courts involved.

                  And finally, because this bothers me: “I don’t understand this “refocusing” either, because it’s not like the OP can just summon the police at will and have them act at their beck and call.”
                  Yes, yes it is. That is specifically what the police exist for – to be there whenever and wherever you need them. That is why we have 911. She can call and talk to an officer anytime, including after HR decides what will be done. I would just recommend the OP take photos of any injuries (with some sort of time/date verification) to preserve the evidence.

                21. turquoisecow*

                  Restraining orders aren’t easy to get, and they’re not always effective, even when you’re trying to protect yourself from an abusive (former) partner, who lives in another place from you and doesn’t need to interact with you.

                  Assuming OP goes to the police, what follows from there? Police may or may not arrest, but eventually OP and Abusive Coworker are going to end up having to work together: the police aren’t going to interfere in the workplace organization, or be able to monitor everyday actions.

                  The OP can’t really file a restraining order against a coworker – they work in the same building. Getting HR/supervisor involved will enable the company to handle this internally, which is really what *needs* to happen, regardless of whether or not police involvement happens. If HR/Supervisor are not on board with the OP’s perspective, nothing will change at the workplace. If OP goes to the police *first*, then what? The police come and arrest Abusive Coworker – who seems innocent to all other coworkers, to HR, to supervisor – and OP comes out looking like the bad guy. It’s better if OP goes up the company ladder and explains his/her perspective first.

                22. NLMC*

                  I agree. If this was one of my employees, I would fully support them going to the police if that’s what they wanted to do, but I would really like a head’s up on that. 1) So I can take appropriate action for the person who assaulted a co-worker. 2) So if the police show up I already know what’s going on and can give an answer to my boss, and his boss and on up the chain because there will be questions.

              3. Not So NewReader*

                I hope our society changes. Did we not learn with the sexual abuse scandals and other stories that some activities cannot stay inside an organization, they MUST be reported.

                OP, Alison’s advice will help you keep your job. So that is what you should do.
                I worked for a company where someone’s car was damaged deliberately. That person said they were calling the police. The VP told her “You can call the police OR you can have a job. You can only pick one.” She kept the job. She was not the only VERY angry employee.

                We need to change how we think about so many things.

          2. Kasia*

            Getting a restraining order against someone you are unrelated to can be pretty difficult, especially when that person is an employed woman who can come across as normal. It may depend on your jurisdiction, but we had video evidence of an assault along with months of harassment that led up to it. We couldn’t get a restraining order, but we were able to get the state to pursue an assault charge.

        2. Mazzy*

          See my comment below, I’m not sure what you think calling the police will actually accomplish.

      1. Mazzy*

        I’ve used the police a few times in the past. It is not a panacea for every type of problem. I’m not sure I’d get them involved for this, yet. At most, it’s going to cause a court date or two for the coworker, maybe a ticket, but there isn’t going to be any clear-cut revenge.

        Yes, a restraining order will help if you are in imminent danger, but that means the coworker can’t go to work. The police will enforce that strictly so you will look clueless if you just decide to do one and don’t tell your boss. Because that will mean the OP or the coworker will have to work somewhere else.

        If you get a limited restraining order, it just means the person can’t assault you – which they shouldn’t/can’t really be doing anyways.

        And you will have the DA calling you for months trying to get you to give evidence to up their case against your coworker.

        1. Mike C.*

          What’s the problem with the DA asking someone for evidence pertaining to the case against the person who assaulted them?

          1. Grits McGee*

            I think Mazzy is just trying to emphasize the potential shortcomings of utilizing the legal system as part of a plan to deal with Jane. For instance, if OP’s end goal is “Get Jane to stop, and move on/get back to work” (rather than “Get Jane to stop, and make sure she receives the maximum punishment possible”) then dealing with the police/DA/courts/etc may not be the best tool to achieve that.

            And sure, it may end up being that filing and following through with a police report is what needs to be done. But I think Mazzy is absolutely right to advise the OP on the full reality of taking that route.

        2. turquoisecow*

          Yes, exactly. Even if the OP goes to the police and is able to file a restraining order (which will not happen same day as the assault), it’s going to be difficult to enforce if they work in the same building, for the same company, and are expected to attend meetings together and be in the same room. The police (or a judge) cannot force the company to fire the abusive coworker, they need to be on the OP’s side. If police come randomly marching in and arrest the abusive coworker (assuming that’s what happens, which I doubt it would), then coworker ends up looking like a martyr. HR or supervisor calls OP in and demands to know the story.

          As others have said, the OP has to think of their long term future at the company. Assuming that he or she wants to stay employed there, the company needs to figure out how to deal with the abusive coworker – whether that means firing them, forcing them to go to counseling, moving them to another department, whatever. The police cannot make that happen. The police won’t magically make the abuse stop. Restraining orders are often not enough to stop abuse even when the abuser and victim are working in the same building everyday. It’s not going to stop anything now.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          Maybe it depends on your state. (I wonder if OP is in England?)
          My state you can get an order of protection which is a “refrain from”. So in your case, OP, it would be a refrain from kicking, punching, any physical contact.
          It would be a temporary order to cover the time between pressing the charges and the court date.
          IF the person violates the order of protection, THEN that causes another charge to be filed. Where the first charge might be an infraction, the violation of the order of protection could be a misdemeanor. In other words, the charges are getting more and more serious as we go along here.

          Yes, the DA might call you. But, not trying to be mean, this is not a big case to them. They have bigger fish to fry. So maybe they call you once or twice. Here we have speedy trial which is 90 days I do believe. Probably the court date will be 4-5 weeks out. So this is working into over a less than six week period you might get a couple calls.It’s not that awful.

    2. Alice*

      This. Do everything Alison says, and in addition to that, keep a written and time stamped record of every time Jane does something potentially illegal, like physically assaulting you. Hopefully your manager and/or HR will resolve this, but if not, you want that record on your side so you can get legal help.

        1. I am a tailors apprentice*

          That is what I was thinking. I may not drop my pants and flash my thigh to HR, but I’d be more than willing to duck into the restroom, snap a photo, and show that to HR.

          1. Newby*

            It also makes it clear that it wasn’t just a tap. If it leaves a mark it is very hard to minimize it.

            1. JessaB*

              Go into an office or the rest room and take pictures every half hour or so because the bruise will take awhile to show up properly. Also if your phone specifically has date/time type stamps make sure you have them set to be part of the title of the picture.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        The thought of OP getting hit even one more time has me on the edge of my chair.

        OP, decide you will not allow yourself to get hit again. Decide you will find a path through this.
        She has hit you two times, which is two times too many. It’s totally unacceptable. Period.

        1. JessaB*

          If nothing else get to the meeting after her and make sure you are not sitting in leg/arm reach

    3. Alex "Barney" Barnaby*


      This is not an HR issue nor a boss issue. If it happened to you on the street, you would call the police. If it happened to you at a restaurant, you would call the police.

      “This is assault. It is illegal, criminal, and beyond the scope of workplace disputes. If it happens again, my next call will be to the police and I will press charges.”

      1. Justme*

        But, I do think that Boss and HR should be kept in the loop with the fact that one of their employees is harming another employee at work.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Yes, otherwise she’ll get the old “why didn’t you tell us” routine.

        2. JessaB*

          Also because it’s highly probably the coworker has done this to someone else. Someone who reacts to people by punching, pinching, kicking, elbowing or whatever, is not usually going to do it to only one person.

      2. AnotherHRPro*

        Yes, this is more than just a “company” issue but it is also that. The OP needs to alert her manager and/or HR that this is going on so that they can try to resolve it (which could/should include terminating the co-worker).

      3. Retail HR Guy*

        I don’t know why you would think that something can’t both be a police issue and an HR/boss issue.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Very much agreed. I’m a little baffled by the insistence that this is a purely legal/criminal issue.

          1. Lana Kane*

            Agreed, and I am wondering if that’s not the first question that he police will ask: “Have you reported this at work?” Paper trails are important.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yep, it’s weird. The conversation also goes this way every time there’s anything remotely like this in a letter. It’s black and white thinking, I think, without accounting for anything beyond the criminal justice piece of this. And there’s more to it than that, as far as what will get the OP the best outcome from herself.

          And really, going to the employer first will probably swiftly delivery justice to the coworker anyway, because any halfway reasonable employer is going to make damn sure it’s dealt with, whereas in a lot of jurisdictions this isn’t going to be a top priority of law enforcement.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yes! And frankly, as fposte has noted below, the employer is going to be way faster at addressing the issue, assuming they’re competent (so if OP has told her boss her coworker punched her and he did nothing, she should escalate to HR and can preserve her legal rights).

            Getting a restraining order takes time. Pressing charges requires a DA to agree to press those charges. But stopping your coworker from assaulting you while those issues play out often requires your employer to intervene.

          2. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Probably because at some companies it would be swept under the rug, and even if the employer handles it well, if this abuse is part of a patter it would be good to file a police report on the assaults. But there’s no reason this should be viewed as black or white, that it has to be handled either by the police or the employer. The employer should be allowed to handle the internal part of it now because they can fire the person and bar them from the premises immediately, and then if there are criminal charges to be filed then that is a separate matter that can be handled at any time in the near future.

          3. Alex "Barney" Barnaby*

            At least in my experience, the few times in which I’ve had to deliver some version of this speech, the results have been immediate and extremely helpful.

            From the perspective of the assailant, it’s a benefit if you treat physical assault the same way that you would treat something like stealing your idea or talking over you in a meeting.

            From the perspective of the assailant, a calm, sincere desire to treat this exactly the way other assault cases are treated is tremendous motivation to stop.

            The OP also wrote this: “My boss has been no help in the past, so I’m hesitant to bring it up with him.​”

            I’m not engaging in “black and white thinking” to point out – correctly – that there are other resources for the OP to use, resources who aren’t going to run around downplaying this because they don’t want to rock the boat or whatever.

            1. fposte*

              I think it’s going to loom a lot larger on the workplace horizon than on the police horizon, though, so that’s another reason not to skip the workplace address. I also really like LCL’s suggestion of reporting it as a workplace injury, which is an alarm bell workplaces are often better at responding to.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I read that as her boss has been no help on more minor issues but doesn’t know about this one. If I’m wrong, I stand corrected!

              But if we’re in an even semi-functional workplace and I hear that you went to the police about this without looping anyone at work in, I’m not going to disagree that you had the right to do that — but I’m going to be pretty surprised and frustrated that you didn’t loop in work as well, and it’s likely to create a lot more drama than if you did.

              1. Kathleen Adams*

                It’s unclear to me as well that Boss knows about the punching. I think the poor OP is so demoralized (and no wonder, with a coworker who’s this much of a whack-job) that she’s coming to believe that Boss will consider sneakiness and *punching* as similar offenses. And maybe he will. But odds very good that he will not.

                1. tigerStripes*

                  Especially punching that leaves a mark. Absolutely not OK, and a boss who will put up with non-violent awfulness is likely to draw the line at physical violence.

              2. Noobtastic*

                So you make two phone calls. A call to the police and a call to HR. If they happen within minutes of each other, I don’t see that it matters which one came first.

                I’m for the two-pronged approach. Yes, get HR involved, but don’t make it all HR. Get the police involved, because this IS a crime!

          4. J-nonymous*

            From my perspective, I am deeply uncomfortable ceding to companies the responsibility for meting out justice (which is usually something we reserve for the state). Police in many parts of the world can be incompetent, slow-acting, sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic and many other forms of phobic and not pursue complaints made by historically marginalized groups. To me though, that’s not a reason to turn away from pursuing criminal justice.

            My issue with your initial advice, Alison is that it didn’t even mention seeking out police / legal protection from / charges against a batterer. Whether it’s intentional or not, it reinforces the tacit ways in which we conflate firings with justice and ask companies to act as governments.

          5. Mike C.*

            The issue I have is this idea that HR should always get the first crack. It’s not always going to work that way and in a dysfunctional workplace is a disaster waiting to happen.

            1. Observer*

              In a dysfunctional workplace, going to the police first could be equally disastrous.

          6. Elder Dog*

            Too often management will actively try to prevent something like this being taken to the police. It’s one of the reasons there are laws against intimidating people to keep them from reporting things to the police. Companies and managers don’t want to be embarrassed and will threaten people who report crime in the workplace, usually indirectly, but I’ve been outright told I’d be fired if I reported a stolen purse. That’s illegal. An assault is worse.
            In an ideal world, I’d take something like this to my manager who would bring in HR who would bring in the police. That’s how it should happen. But I don’t live in an ideal world, and neither does the OP judging from the reaction she got from management before.
            I’d take this to HR, and then file a police report if I trusted the company to be supportive, but I’d do it the other way round if I didn’t. And it sounds like so far, the OP’s manager has messed this up.
            There’s also the very real concern if the coworker is doing this to a relative stranger in the workplace, what is she doing at home? This requires a police report because the police are empowered to look into that where a manager or HR would be overstepping.

            1. Observer*

              The odds of the police looking into the co0worker’s home life etc. based on this report hover somewhere around zero. So, if that’s your thinking, there is no purpose for the OP to go to the police.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Right. The best hope here is that someone at home sees coirker going to court for assault and decides to file their own charge. That is about as good as it gets.

          7. Katie the Fed*

            I’m trying really hard (as I do with most letters) to think of how I would handle this if I were a manager. If the first I heard about it was when the police showed up, I would be HORRIFIED. I would also really wonder how trust between me and the employee had gotten so bad that she couldn’t bring this to me. I don’t know how we could work together after that. I would assume she thought I was so bad at my job that she couldn’t come to me for anything.

            1. SystemsLady*

              Yeah I think a good thing to consider is that OP might have to deal with yet another uncomfortable management conversation if they go straight to the police, rather than taking a quick extra step (are you SURE you trust me?/etc.). It’d be a distraction from getting OP away from this aggressive person and probably not in the benefit of either party.

              1. SystemsLady*

                Especially because we know the answer to “do you trust me” is “not really” I should add.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              Or maybe the employee reported it because she thought coworker would hit the boss also. There’s that, too.

              I will say KTF, your people KNOW they can come to you. I always read what you write because you pay attention to your crew. This is in direct opposition to what our OP says, she says she does not know how the boss will react. He has failed to back her up before. You are in a different spot than OP’s boss.

        3. DMD*

          I’m skeptical about going to the police because I just don’t think there’s much they’d be able to do in this situation — based solely on the information presented. Apparently, this happened in a room with other people and it sounds as though the other people in the room had no idea the Letter Writer was assaulted. There’s a lack of evidence sufficient to sustain criminal charges. So, going to the police is likely to be fruitless. Going to HR is a more viable option because the workplace standard of proof for employment related matters is generally “more likely than not” versus the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in criminal court.

          1. Adonday Veeah*

            You’re right, the police will likely be able to do little in this instance. Criminal charges are unlikely. However, a report will be filed, so if she does it again, there is now a history. Not fruitless. But I do agree with those who recommend going to HR first (not necessarily instead of).

            1. JessaB*

              Also if there is a report on file, whether it went anywhere or not in terms of arrest/trial or whatever, and other people see that OP has reported coworker, you may have more reports coming out of the woodwork. This could be a pattern bigger than OP. So either way I’d make the report even if only to put it on record. If coworker never does anything else, the report will fall off the radar. If they do, then, there’s a history.

          2. Trout 'Waver*

            I’m not saying go to the police or don’t go to the police. But telling to the police can still be beneficial even if there’s no chance for a conviction. The police may have other complaints about her that this information may help with. It also gets the ball rolling in case there are future incidents. And, it get often make the person back off if they know they’re under scrutiny. Plus, reports help the police decide how to allocate scarce resources.

            This is especially true in incidents involving sexual assault. Even though a he-said she-said is unlikely to result in a conviction, it can strengthen past or future cases and help the police focus their attention on abusers.

          3. Marisol*

            I would go to the police as a way to signal to the coworker that the OP will not tolerate her bad behavior, rather than with the expectation that immediate legal consequences are meted out. The coworker is counting on the OP to be complicit in her abuse by not standing up for herself. Filing a police report sends the clear message to the contrary.

          4. Not So NewReader*

            The lack of sufficient evidence is something that legal folks need to thrash out. For us to speculate here, we really can’t. It could be that it has no bearing that no one witnessed it.
            I do think, OP, that you should take pictures of the bruise.

            You know, OP, odd things happen. For example, when charges are filed, police often run a criminal report to see if there is anything else in this person’s background- you know- “priors”. This person may have a hobby of kicking puppies or something. Never know what is going to come up on a criminal report.

      4. MsCHX*

        It IS an HR issue. Yes, it is a legal issue too. Because it is in the workplace, not a restaurant, the company needs to be notified as well.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          What do you mean by “the company needs to be notified as well”? Are you suggesting a legal requirement?

          1. MsCHX*

            No need to put words in my mouth. I’m not suggesting anything. I made a simple statement.

            Going to the police is time intensive and it is not a guaranteed automatic solution to OPs problem. A competent HR department would bring resolution much faster as far as OP is concerned. She may still file a complaint with her local PD. But the reality is, the PD is going to take statements and start an investigation. The OPs coworker is not going to automatically be arrested and jailed.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      I was going to say a clear cut case of bullying, but you’re totally right.

    5. Taylor Swift*

      I’m sure the police will drop everything they’re doing because somebody got kicked in the shins . . .

      1. MsCHX*

        EXACTLY!! I’m not sure what people think the police are going to do. They aren’t going to show up at coworker’s home and arrest them.

    6. GreyjoyGardens*

      Agreed! This is call the po-po time. Getting physical with your coworkers is NOT OK, unless you are physically restraining them from getting hit by a car or something. Yikes!

    7. Ray Butlers*

      I can’t believe you are the first person to say that. I would not hesitate for a second to call the cops and let them handle it. Period.

    8. Katie the Fed*

      What? No. There is no need to involve the police here. OP’s goal is to get the behavior to stop, and be safe. It’s 99% likely that she can accomplish that objective through the steps laid out above. If those actions don’t resolve it, then call the police. But the police as a first resort? No. They’re not there to sort out every interpersonal issue.

      1. LizM*

        This. I wonder how many of the people advocating calling the police have a lot of experience in the criminal justice system. I’ve experienced it from both sides (working for a defense attorney, and as a close friend to a victim of a crime) and personally, my goal would be my personal and professional safety. If those can be achieved by involving HR and my boss, that would be my preference.

        I am skeptical about what the police would do. Presumably, the report wouldn’t happen on the same day, and there were people in the room who presumably have no idea it happened, so it would be easy for co-worker to gaslight the victim, “oh, I just bumped you, it was an accident! Why didn’t you say anything?” Based on the facts that OP described, I’m not confident there is enough for an arrest, and my experience with police has been that this wouldn’t be a high priority for them. So OP really does need their boss and HR on their side if the goal is safety.

        If they go straight to the police without even giving HR or boss a heads up, OP also loses the ability to frame the conflict- the first time HR and boss find out there’s an issue is when it becomes a crisis (police are in the office arresting coworker, interviewing witnesses, including clients, etc.). Right or wrong, people don’t react well in a crisis. OP’s coworker sounds like a classic abuser, and abusers are really good at making themselves look good, and look like the victim. OP could easily lose track of the narrative in that situation.

        1. LizM*

          That is to say, it is absolutely OP’s right to call the police. However, they should understand what their goal is in bringing them into the situation.

        2. tigerStripes*

          Also, as Katie the Fed said, the boss and HR are going to wonder why the OP never mentioned this and went to the police first.

    9. Marisol*

      Personally, I would file a police report, but not get a restraining order. A restraining order does seem over-the-top for a few reasons, whereas just quietly filing a police report, and then showing the coworker, would send the message that the coworker’s abuses would no longer be tolerated. If the boss has so far refused to help, I am not optimistic about them helping now. Meanwhile, the coworker appears to be getting more brazen in her abuses, and the OP seems to lack skills for setting boundaries with her. Given that, I’d say it’s time to take decisive action. I don’t see how something like a discreet police report would make someone a “drama llama,” but were I in the OP’s position, and an employee in good standing with a track record of good judgement of good work, I would take the risk. I think there is more to lose by failing to correct the coworker’s bad behavior than there is in looking somewhat dramatic to management, and any political fallout would likely be short term, whereas a coworker sabotaging your work could last indefinitely. But again, I’m talking about just a police report, nothing else. And yes, I would loop management in on the situation. Another reason to file a report is that telling the boss, “I filed a police report against Jane” would seem to convey a lot more urgency than simply saying “Jane kicked me in a meeting.”

  3. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    This is workplace violence. It’s illegal. Mention that when you talk to your boss. And DEFINITELY speak to HR.

    1. fposte*

      It’s likely illegal, but we don’t actually know where the OP is located (the “WTF, mate” strongly suggests it’s not the US).

      1. tigerlily*

        Not really – that’s a quote from one of the biggest memes ever (the end of the world video – absolutely hilarious). Despite being over ten years old, I see it still getting quoted pretty constantly online, “WTF mate” especially. To me it suggests she was in high school/college in the early 2000’s.

        Though you’re right, we don’t know she’s in the US.

        1. fposte*

          Oh, I missed the meme and the memo, apparently. So I retract my reservation (and scurry off to find the video–thanks for the tip!).

          1. Hlyssande*

            Look for ‘End of World’, it’s hilarious. You’ve probably heard it quoted without realizing it.

          2. KG, Ph.D.*

            Your day is about to get infinitely better, because that video is AMAZING.

            “Alaska can come, too.”

        2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          Good point – even so, as other commenters pointed out, it is assault which I would imagine is illegal most places.

        3. Spring Flowers*

          That was in the “End of Ze World” cartoon, and the line was attributed to a kangaroo. It might still be on YouTube.

          1. fposte*

            I just found it (the related video was Charlie the Unicorn, so that pegged it culturally for me).

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              As someone who shares the eponymous unicorn’s name, that video arouses great rage in me.

              1. KG, Ph.D.*

                What, you don’t like when people call you “Chaaaaaarrrrrlllliiiiiiiieeeeeeeee”?

            1. anon for this*

              OMG, I needed this today. My DH and I still drop lines from this video and ZEN FIRE ZE MISSILES is one of our favorites.

              1. Annie Moose*

                One of my coworkers has a tendency to start conversations with “Okay. So.” Our other team member and I usually respond with “Here’s the earth. Dang, that is a sweet earth, you might say…”

                It’s funny, I’ve noticed people only a few years older than me are largely unfamiliar with that, whereas just about everyone my age knows it!

  4. Lobbyist*

    Take a picture of the bruise. Consider involving law enforcement and filing a restraining order.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      First talk to your boss/HR, though. Escalating to law enforcement, first, will look drama-making (even if it’s justified).

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        I agree, especially if you’re planning on staying at that workplace. Absolutely bring up the possibility of involving law enforcement if you want, but I really think talking to your boss and HR first is the best plan.

      2. aebhel*

        I agree with this as long as it’s not ‘talk to your boss/HR instead of the police’. OP should talk to their boss. They should also involve the police, regardless of how the boss reacts.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes. I have repeatedly clarified that OP can do both. I just think the sequencing matters.

          1. fposte*

            It also relates to the post from yesterday about the “no surprises” philosophy.

            (And of course, if your workplace doesn’t want you to call the police, that doesn’t mean you still can’t do it; that call is always up to you. But they’ve been notified about the problem.)

  5. Alice*

    I’m guessing you haven’t responded with “Jane, what the fuck, why did you just kick me in the thigh??? That hurt!” because A) it might be awkward or embarrassing for the whole room, and B) you don’t want to risk Jane escalating her behavior further.

    If your main concern is A: Trust me, everyone in the room will be on your side on this. No one is going to think that punching or kicking your coworker is ever appropriate. You are not making this awkward–Jane is, with her abusive and ridiculously out-of-line behavior. Don’t shield her from the inappropriateness of her action. It’s OK to call her on it and let her handle the appropriately-shocked reactions of everyone else.

    If your main concern is B: Jane isn’t the only one that can escalate here. Do everything Alison said. I’d also suggest keeping a written record of every time Jane does something inappropriate like this (ESPECIALLY anything that might be illegal, like physical assault!). If your workplace doesn’t resolve this for whatever reason, having that record might be very helpful.

    1. Jade*

      If she’s in meetings with outside clients, I wouldn’t call it out loud there because it would likely make the clients very uncomfortable, but maybe even get up and move seats or excuse herself and then talk to boss immediately.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        It’s no the OP that created the discomfort. There should never be any pressure on anyone to cover up violence of any type.

        1. Newby*

          I agree. Jane is the one behaving inappropriately in front of clients. The OP doesn’t have to make a huge scene, but calling out the behavior in the moment will make it clear that she can’t be sneaky by doing it under the table and get away with it.

        2. PlainJane*

          Agreed, but if the co-worker is an experienced bully, she’ll pass off the kick as accidental, and the person who makes a scene in the meeting will look ridiculous. I’d say call it out–“Ow! You just kicked me.”–but don’t yell or scream. Then follow up with the boss and HR (and police if needed). It sucks to have to think this way, but bullies are usually pretty skilled at excusing their actions and gaslighting their victims.

        3. Jade*

          You know, we’re sitting here debating whether or not OP should call out her bully as the abuse happens, when really the point should be that the abuse should be stopping before it gets to this point of another under-the-table jab. If I were OP, I’d tell my boss I refuse to be in proximity of the bully until something was done about it. I’d downright refuse to be a part of meetings with her or work directly with her. If the company gives OP a hard time about this (though I doubt they would), then it’s time to contact police or a lawyer. In retrospect, even the thought of attending another meeting with someone who had twice struck me is *ridiculous*.

          And as a side note, I don’t think this situation ends well for OP’s coworker. You can’t just assault someone and keep your job. She needs to be suspended, and fired upon an investigation. Even with coaching, this woman shouldn’t be allowed around to serve as a reminder to OP of her abuse.

          1. FormerLibrarian*

            Sorry to disagree with you, but I’ve been assaulted by a sort-of supervisor (different chains of command, but she was much further up in the hierarchy than I was), reported it immediately to HR, and got the brush off as soon as they found out it wasn’t sexual harassment. “You need to talk to her.” “You just misunderstood her.” I found out that she had a long history of chosing lower level staff on that nursing floor and harassing them until they quit or transfered. There is absolutely No Way HR didn’t know about it. I know that the previous unit supervisor did, but was no longer in a position to do anything about it.

            20+ years later and the b***h is still working for that hospital. Needless to say I left within a year. I also made sure everyone I knew knew that if they or a family member were ever a patient on that floor to refuse to let her be assigned to them. She was a crappy nurse as well as an awful human being.

            So I have to admit, my first response based on how thoroughly a multihospital corporation was willing to gaslight me is to say to hell with HR and go straight to law enforcement. Now, this may be a factor of hospital HR, since the other hospital I’ve worked at since then also had issues, including an HR director who lied to my face about some very easily verifiable stuff.

      2. Anna*

        The OP’s safety and well-being are more important than the possible discomfort of the clients. In fact, calling out the behavior in front of other people makes it more difficult for Jane to blow it off later, as she clearly did when she texted the OP to ask if she was okay. This is not the time nor the situation to worry about how other people may feel.

    2. Siberian*

      This also reminds me of Alison’s very safe advice that when someone else is behaving inappropriately, you’re not the one who is making things awkward when you tell them to stop. They’ve already made things awkward.

    3. BF50*

      Abusers count on the fact that the victim is not going to avoid making a scene and that instinct to avoid the scene is one of the things that perpetuates the cycle of abuse. :(

    4. Whats In A Name*

      Your comment really just made me think of one other scenario: outside clients.

      If they are meeting to drum up business and the client/potentinal clients witness the punch/kick (I mean, it was hard enough to make her jump and get tears) the company is probably going to lose business at some point. I wouldn’t want to sign a contract with a company whose employees physically assaulted one another at a pitch meeting.

      1. Jade*

        This is what I was thinking with my comment. It could make clients feel reeaaally uneasy and would possibly cause the company to lose business. Has anyone ever been to a store or restaurant and witnessed employees arguing (or just one-sided bullying, as in this case)? I have, and it’s made me stop going to certain places because it just left a bad taste in my mouth.

        But that gives me a good idea: OP could also say to her boss “I’m also worried that Jane could damage our relationships with our clients if they were to witness someone they’re trying to do business with striking a coworker in a meeting.” Hopefully OP’s boss would handle the situation without needing the threat of lost business, but the threat of lost revenue and a bad reputation never seem to fail to inspire action.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I think that it is important that OP say the kick was hard enough that she had to leave the room.

  6. MsCHX*

    “What the hell is wrong with you?” Yes. Please??

    As an HR person…please go to HR. Today. Now. Unless you’re unfortunate enough to have an HR dept that sucks (I know they exist and I’m very sorry).

    I cannot fathom this happening at work. You do not have to deal with this OP!!!

      1. 2 Cents*

        If so, and if the OP’s boss’ response is useless, I’d go to his manager to relay what happened. It’s inexcusable. We don’t have an HR department either, but I know who I could bring up serious matters like this if my boss wasn’t around or receptive.

        1. A. Non*

          Yep, the OP should definitely escalate this one until they get a response. Getting punched by a coworker is bad. Having a supervisor brush it off is EXTREMELY bad and should result in both the coworker and supervisor being fired. If they get brushed off by multiple people, the OP needs to talk to a lawyer to figure out how to proceed, because this is not permitted in civilized societies and the business may need a sharp reminder of that.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          OP could try explaining it and explaining to the boss. As a last resort OP could tell the boss that she needs to file a complaint with the police.

  7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Holy Toledo, batman.

    OP, it’s not only ok to raise this issue with your boss, it’s imperative. This isn’t an “acting no better than her” situation. She’s dragging you down into her web of crazy, and it’s making it hard for you to reorient. Take a step back and ask yourself, “is it normal in workplaces for people to physically assault one another?” Unless you’re a WWE wrestler or a professional athlete, the answer is a hard no.

    And I agree with Alison about calling out bad behavior in the moment. Right now your coworker is assaulting you because she thinks she can bully you into being quiet. It can be hard to call this out, but your coworker’s behavior is so odd that simply identifying it out loud (in a calm tone that conveys disdain or an “are you having mini-seizures, because that’s wildly inappropriate” feel) in the moment robs her of the power she enjoys when you’re silent.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      Seriously. A nice loud “OW!” followed by a shocked look and “Did you just PUNCH me to make me stop talking?!” could go really nicely here.

      It’ll be incredibly awkward, but I’m very interested in how she’d even respond (“no, I had a mini seizure just in my arm!!”).

      1. Myrin*

        I’d also like to add that if I were in a meeting and this happened, I would not think badly of the OP but look askance at the coworker unless she had a very good excuse. And if I were in more than one meeting with you, I’d definitely keep an eye on coworker to see what else she’s doing.

        So really, you’re not making it weird and awkward for others, SHE is!

      2. Newby*

        You could even just say “Don’t kick me” and continue with what you were saying. It doesn’t ask if she did it or if it was on purpose so she doesn’t have a natural opening to respond. If she does it again in the same meeting “Seriously, stop kicking me” and move away from her so that she can’t reach you.

        1. Tuesday*

          That makes sense, except that it sounds like Jane is punching/kicking enough to cause serious pain, and it’s gotta be pretty hard to respond so evenly when your leg is stinging from the attack.

          Which also makes me wonder how no one else in the meeting noticed this. I would think it would be difficult to punch or kick someone really hard under the table without some motion being visible above the table. All the more reason to call her out in the moment; there’s a good chance that the partners in the meeting are already wondering what just happened.

          1. Jamie*

            ITA. I’m trying to figure out the physical logistics of kicking someone in the thigh under a table hard enough to leave a bruise while maintaining physical composure above the table.

            Idk if this would have been the best course of action or not, but I’d have gotten up immediately without a word and marched right into my boss’s office with the full expectation the world stops until this is addressed.

            1. Clinical Social Worker*

              You’d be surprised what people don’t see because they don’t expect it. They might’ve seen her move a bit and thought “oh she is probably adjusting herself” and focused back on whatever was being said. Unless your mind automatically goes to workplace violence, and the violence itself is concealed by a table, it would be easy for your mind to dismiss.

    2. Kathleen Adams*

      I am not clear what the OP means by “My boss has been no help in the past, so I’m hesitant to bring it up with him.​” Does the she (I’m using female pronouns for convenience’s sake) mean that she told him about the punch and he did nothing? Really? Because if so, whisky tango foxtrot!?!? Or is the poor OP so startled and downtrodden by this whack-job of a coworker that she is conflating the sneaky behavior (lying, taking credit where none is due, etc.) with the violent behavior and thinking to herself, “Boss didn’t do anything about the sneakiness, so he probably won’t do anything about the punching and kicking either”?

      Because of course Boss should do something about the sneakiness, but even if he didn’t, that doesn’t mean he’s prepared to ignore *punching* and *kicking*. So, OP, if you haven’t told him about that sh…stuff, do so right now this very minute. Your coworker is very serious bad news.

    3. Trout 'Waver*

      Don’t throw the WWE under the bus! WWE wrestlers that don’t obtain consent before kicking their opponents are blacklisted from the profession. And they’re highly trained in the ways of doing it that cause as little pain and damage as possible.

      1. PlainJane*

        True! My husband was a small-time wrestler (think many levels below WWE), and he went to wrestling school to learn how to fall 10 feet onto a concrete floor without getting hurt and hit people with metal folding chairs without hurting them. I thought it was hilarious. The falling thing came in handy a few years later when he was working as a roofer and fell off a roof. Maybe wrestling school should be reimbursed by insurance companies as preventive care :-)

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I know it. I love how PlainJane connected the dots between wrestling schools and insurance companies.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yes, that’s true! I apologize; I just wanted to acknowledge that there are workplaces where physical contact is part of the job, but of course it’s typically heavily regulated and wouldn’t include a situation like what OP is describing.

  8. Future Homesteader*

    One more vote for thinking about pressing charges. I know it’s daunting and may not be something you want to do, but it’s an option. Because what she’s doing is literally a crime. And at the very least, take pictures if this most recent assault left marks.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      At the very least, maybe this knowledge will fortify OP to move forward to the boss.

  9. Mishsmom*

    OP, you sound like you’re used to keeping things quiet, keeping calm, making everything appear ok when it’s not. i was that way – learned it from early home life – things looking ok is more important than “making waves”. this is not that time. this is the time, awkward as you may feel, to stand up, to speak up, and not back down. this coworker has escalated her abuse and will continue unless she’s stopped. i’m so sorry you are having to deal with this, but it’s here in front of you – now is the time. sometimes we get so used to “taking it” that we forget we don’t have to. good luck!!

  10. WC person*

    I’m not in the law enforcement world, but isn’t that assault or battery (not sure of the correct term for something like this)? I’d be thinking about calling the police.

    1. my two cents*

      assault is the threat of harm, battery is the act of making contact and inflicting damage.
      so yes, both would apply.

      also, if it left a bruise this time, take a pic.
      document, document, document.

      1. MuseumChick*

        OMG, this is a good point. Her asking if you are ok can be used as evidence. KEEP EVERYTHING.

        1. fposte*

          If this were in the US, it’s not all that likely this would get prosecuted at this point, though, so I wouldn’t lean too hard on this approach.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I agree, but I think it’s worth saving everything, anyway, so that OP has a thorough record to share with HR.

            1. MuseumChick*

              Exactly. And, if she does end up having to contact the police, the more evidence the better to show how long this has been going on.

            2. fposte*

              Yeah, I totally agree on the sharing with HR. I just worry when people get really invested in law as a corrective or punishment in a situation where the law in practice isn’t likely to offer much of either.

              1. paul*

                Yep, and you see that a lot (including on this blog).

                What she’s doing is almost 100% certainly criminal pretty much anywhere in the US, but it’s not likely to get prosecuted.

                Also, victims do not “press charges”. They file a complaint and the prosecutor’s office decides if there’s enough evidence to press charges. It’s a fairly important distinction. Cops will frequently ask if someone wants to press charges/have charges pressed (I’ve been asked it) but that’s mostly to see if a victim will cooperate (since prosecuting someone when no one’s willing to cooperate is a lot harder).

                1. BF50*

                  I know someone who was charged, and convicted in a similar situation in the US. Just saying. He punched someone at work. The other guy was asking for it. Literally.

                  “Your a black belt? Punch me!” “No.” “Aw, come on, punch me.” “No” “Seriously. Punch me.” “Ok.”

                  It was years before the guy who did the punching got a corporate job again. In his case there were witnesses, but the OP has those texts.

              2. LQ*

                This is incredibly important. Don’t rely on law enforcement because while this is illegal, …there’s a lot of illegal stuff that happens and gets reported and nothing happens. HR should be much more invested in resolving this situation than law enforcement. (And that may depend on a whole bunch of things like country, county, city, pd, etc etc.) But just saying oh call the police isn’t actually a solution to this.

                1. JessaB*

                  The point of going to law enforcement isn’t always to have a person arrested. It’s also to make a record of something that happened, because if it happens a 3d time, having that first police report means a lot more than not having it. “See I called and made a report on x date and they didn’t find enough evidence to arrest or prosecute at all, but when I made the second report and had pictures and stuff, well that was different.” See also “She hurt me and when it got around that I’d called the cops, four other people made reports as well.”

                2. JessaB*

                  ETA – in cases of abuse it’s very often the first person that gets the story to the cops who is believed (even if that’s bad police work, it happens, people are human, they’re going to hold any later reports up to the first one and see what makes sense. )Otherwise they think it’s sour grapes or mutual something.

              3. Not So NewReader*

                While OP may not see any big satisfying outcomes this case could very well go to court in my state.

          2. MuseumChick*

            This would probably be classified as Simple Assault. Since this just happened yesterday and she can still take photos of the injury, seek medical attention etc I don’t see any reason why this wouldn’t have a chance of being prosecuted if the OP choose to file charges.

            1. fposte*

              Well, again, speaking in the US even though I don’t think that’s where the OP is–because DAs don’t prosecute every possible case that comes to them.

              1. MuseumChick*

                But they do prosecute simple assault cases. At this point we have to reason to believe it would not be prosecuted.

                1. LavaLamp*

                  Yeah, this wouldn’t even be considered a jury trial you’d just go to court and be called before a judge. Consequences would be based off this persons prior history, and whatever the county deems appropriate like say X months of probation and anger management or something.

                2. fposte*

                  I’m going to leave this particular rabbit hole after this comment, I promise :-).

                  They don’t prosecute all simple assault cases, though (they’d actually be battery in my jurisdiction). Somebody punched somebody they know but have no domestic relationship with, with no medical effects and no witnesses, isn’t a big winning case. Where I live now the cops would come out (not sure if they would in all jurisdictions) but they’d quite possibly just give the co-worker a talking to and tell her not to do it again; the police docket bears out that arrests aren’t often made in a case like that. Even if she’s arrested, odds of prosecution vary by jurisdiction, but this just isn’t something a DA is going to leap on.

                  I’m not saying the OP can’t call the cops by any means; I’m saying that I think HR is her best and most important move here.

                3. MuseumChick*

                  @LavaLamp, yup. Plus, as others have said, it creates a paper trail if this person tries anything again.

              2. pescadero*

                Very true – but probably the biggest determiner in whether or not it does is persistence of the victim.

                If you keep calling, talking to the local newspaper, donate to the prosecutors campaign, talking to the local news expose show, etc., etc. – your case will probably be prosecuted.

                Here in MI recreational trespass is a big issue – and one where prosecutors are often disinterested in prosecuting… but folks who are involved with local government and make a squeeky wheel of themselves get it done at a lot higher rate.

                1. LKW*

                  But in this case that would be counter productive to getting a safe workplace. It is highly likely that the company would insist on no publicity.

              3. Not So NewReader*

                It’s really a bad plan for DAs to decide not to prosecute cases too often. It tends to send our systems into meltdowns.

                It’s important for OP to keep a level head and think about what strategy will give her the best outcome and get results.

                However, the basic information you need to know OP, is when you go to the police, they have a fair idea of what charges will stick and what charges won’t. It could be that the police won’t even start a case. Once they do start it, it’s because they think the DA will follow through. So my punchline is, the DA is a secondary hurdle. Your real hurdle is the police.

            2. Taylor Swift*

              It is probably totally dependent on the resources of the local law enforcement agencies. Where I am right now? No, kicking somebody in the shins wouldn’t be prosecuted. They have way too many cases to deal with and not nearly enough staff.

          3. a*

            Okay, but prosecution and jail for the offender are not the only reasons to file a police report or document evidence. At minimum, it starts a trail on Violent Jerk Coworker and provides an external source of documentation if, god forbid, this situation escalates.

            I think OP should start with her boss and HR, to be clear, but OP should not be discouraged from using all legal protections available to her just because it might not result in immediate jail/prosecution for the offender.

            1. MuseumChick*

              +100. Excellent point. Not that I think anyone here was intending this, but it’s important to remember that one way of silencing abuse victims to to discourage them from reporting the abuse.

            2. paul*

              I don’t think she should be discouraged from contacting the cops; I do feel it’s appropriate to temper people’s expectations of what will actually happen when they contact the police, and I feel it’s appropriate to encourage also pursuing other actions.

              It feels like folks often expect that if they contact the law, problems will magically vanish in short order and that just ain’t the case.

              I’ve been assaulted a few times, and none of them are in jail (at least for that particular thing) after all.

              1. MuseumChick*

                That’s fair. I do wonder if this co-worker has a record. If this isn’t the first assault she’s committed there us a greater chance she will have a greater punishment.

              2. fposte*

                Yeah, that’s my concern right there. I think bringing the cops in has some merit, but it’s not likely to be the punishment people hope–or, more importantly, a solution to the OP’s problem.

                1. Elder Dog*

                  But it will leave a report on file so when Violent Coworker assaults somebody at the grocery store, she will be more likely to spend a night in jail, and go before a judge who will assign her to get some help.
                  Jail or Nothing aren’t the only possible outcomes of calling the police.

                2. a*

                  fposte, who here is saying police = instant punishment? With respect, I think that’s making some unfair assumptions about people’s reasons for suggesting that.

                  There are scads of police reports out there that don’t by themselves result in charges or jail time, but can still end up being useful as evidence later on if the offender continues to offend.

                  As I said above, I think the boss/HR needs to be OP’s first stop, but it might not be the *only* stop that’s helpful to her.

                3. fposte*

                  @a–a lot of people are saying that the police is the important part for the OP. But going to the police isn’t likely to make the OP’s daily work life improve, and I’m presuming that’s a big part of what’s important to her since she wrote into a workplace advice column.

              3. a*

                Sure, but (at least in this comment thread) I didn’t see any wild-eyed “her ass is going to be in JAIL!!” type of speculation. I understand not wanting people to think law enforcement is an insta-solution, but the other side of the coin is that being overly discouraging about the other options/solutions people DO have is a different flavor of unhelpful.

                1. MuseumChick*

                  Yeah, it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth to discourage an assault victim from pressing charges. Again, I don’t think any poster has bad intentions, just that it is a very common why to silence victims. Plus, Evil Coworker could have a long criminal history of all we know. That would be a strong determining factor in how the police would processed.

                2. PlainJane*

                  And if she’s a bully rather than someone with a history of violent rages, getting a talking-to from a uniformed officer is likely to scare the crap out of her. Most bullies are cowards who hurt people who seem like easy marks. Reporting her to the boss and HR, then calling the police sends a strong signal that you aren’t an easy mark.

      2. New Window*

        General question, and as much for general conversation as for this specific letter:

        In a situation like this, would it be possible to reply in a certain way could be helpful for documentation purposes? Or is it generally best practice to not reply?

        1. JessaB*

          If you did it in the moment and I mean within a reasonable time of getting the txt from the person “I’m not okay you kicked me. It left a bruise.” Might work as a response, on the other hand it’s highly likely the coworker would then turn that around with “what on earth do you mean I kicked you? Are you nuts?”

          So I dunno. But I do know that if you’re answering so as to have something to show either HR or a cop, it would need to be really, really close to the time the txt was sent. If you were outside an hour (maybe you didn’t get it right away, or were too furious to even type,) I wouldn’t do it.

          Also if you’re like me and usually delete your txts? I would not delete ANY from anyone that come after that because then you’d be accused by whoever you took it to of wrecking the timeline.

  11. Jessie the First (or second)*

    Professionalism does not require that you endure abuse. It never requires that. You can and should address it directly and forcefully with the coworker, your boss, and HR. And for what it’s worth, it also does not require that you ignore efforts to sabotage your own work; you can call that out too. How you call it out varies with the circumstances (and usually would not involve HR – just the coworker and your boss), but you can address it. You don’t have to pretend it isn’t happening.

  12. Temperance*

    LW, I would like to point out that it’s a common misconception that when we react to attacks or abuse, we are just as low or bad as the person doing the attacking. This is simply not the case. There’s a lot of bullshit thrown at victims that one should take the high road, etc. etc., but seriously, don’t.

    I think it’s absolutely fine, and imperative, for you to fill your boss and HR in now. Your coworker sounds frankly unhinged, and you need to document the hell out of this before she does something worse to you or destroys your rep.

    1. Mike C.*

      Yeah, this is really a great point. No one should have to stoically take whatever life throws at them with no reaction.

    2. zora*

      Also, there’s a difference between calmly (but firmly) speaking out and asking someone to stop, and “Taking the low road.” Hitting the person back immediately would not be a good idea, but there is a HUGE SPECTRUM between that and telling someone to stop doing something that causes you pain. It’s not all or nothing!!

      1. PlainJane*

        This. I get so sick of people talking about how a conviction “ruined his/her life.” Assuming the conviction was just (which isn’t always a safe assumption), the convicted person is 100% responsible for the consequences, not the victim or anyone else involved in making the conviction happened.

        1. fposte*

          Though (and I realize this is risking a derail so I’ll let it go after this) the effect is not always proportionate to the offense even if the conviction was just.

  13. Kezi*

    I had a coworker like this years ago. Use the word “assault”. Tell the manager and coworker that if the assaults continue, you will file a police report. Heavy rotation of the words assault and police. In my case, the manager and coworker were brushing it off as “playful” and me as “sensitive”. Call it what it is and make sure it’s clear the police will stop her if management doesn’t.

    1. MuseumChick*

      Yes, this. Use “assault”, other key words “police”, “medical attention”, “physical injury”.

      So you say to your boss, “I have something very serious to report. Jane has physically assaulted me twice now. Both times it has left serious bruises. This last time was so bad I had to go to seek medical attention. This needs to stop, if it doesn’t I will have to contact the police for my own safety.”

      Or something to that effect

      1. fposte*

        But we haven’t heard that the OP did have to seek medical attention, so she shouldn’t say that if it’s not true.

        1. MuseumChick*

          That why I added “Or something to that effect” and she could seek medical advice for the most recent assault.

      2. LKW*

        Would this come under whistle blower or anti-retaliation guidelines?

        Could the OP be punished for threatening to bring the police into the situation?

        1. fposte*

          It wouldn’t be whistleblower because those are pretty specific guidelines. However, if she’s fired for calling the police that could constitute a wrongful termination in violation of public policy.

          However, that fact on its own doesn’t get the OP anything; it just means if she decided to file a lawsuit there might be grounds.

      1. Kezi*

        Sadly, no. Manager was pretty much on her side and was even apologizing to HER that I was being so sensitive about her “teasing”. Owner was on my side (or at least on the side of not having the police show up). I left within 6 months. Rumor has it she tried it with a new hire who was willing to hit back.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          OMG. Well, be glad you no longer work with these people anymore.

          This would have gotten her immediately canned at my company – we have a zero tolerance policy for violence.

        2. Ramona*

          In what world is hitting someone to the point of *bruising* just teasing?! Glad you left that place. Don’t know if you have another job yet or not but I hope you get/have a decent workplace now.

          Wonder if the new hire got in more trouble for hitting back if the rumour was true. I want the rumour to be true but in my experience, the defendant gets in more trouble than the perpetrator if they hit back.

    2. JessaB*

      I would make it very clear that touching me is not playful. I don’t care if you think it’s fun, I do not. So do not touch me unless I am literally on fire and you need to put me out. And yes I am sensitive, I am sensitive to people TOUCHING ME. So stop.

  14. Anna*

    You’re being abused and the “are you okay” as if nothing happened is gaslighting. Please tell your boss or HR. This is not okay.

    1. May*

      I’m pretty sure she’s asking only to cover herself, like she’s a caring person and not 50 shades of crazy.

      1. HungryBeforeLunch*

        Or she’s been told before and she remembered she’s “not supposed to do that.” Behaviour like this starts early – my daughter had a classmate that would hit her, my daughter would protest and the classmate would counter, “that really didn’t hurt.” I watched the same classmate get excited at a birthday party and in her excitment, bash another attendee with the birthday present she was going to give, making the other girl cry and the classmate was confused as to why everyone was upset.

        Do not be gaslighted. Do not put up with this. It hurts. And remember that it will take a lot for her to change as she’s probably been doing this a long time.

  15. Random Landom*

    I find it hard to believe that its as aggressive as OP is saying. Other people would have DEFINITELY noticed if someone kicked or punch you that hard under a table.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      We generally do not undermine or question OPs on their perception of reality, per Alison’s rules.

      Given that the OP is facing a serious and dangerous situation, minimizing her experience or calling it into question is bad practice, and it doesn’t help address the issues she’s raised.

      And substantively, you’re wrong. It’s entirely possible to hit someone so hard that it causes bruising or other distress without others noticing.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Ha, thanks, all. :) I was trying really hard to reign it in, so I’m glad it read that way.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Not to mention different people bruise differently – I bruise easily and have taken a small hit (like stubbing a toe) and been surprised to see later that I have an intense bruise.

      2. SQL Coder Cat*

        “It’s entirely possible to hit someone so hard that it causes bruising or other distress without others noticing.”

        Especially in the case of someone like the OP, who is trying to keep her cool and act professional in the face of some highly unprofessional behavior.

        As a woman in a male-dominated field, I have learned to keep very tight control of my facial expressions. Someone could absolutely punch me hard enough to leave a bruise and my face would never show anything. If the OP has a similar ‘game face’, others in the meeting could easily miss the interaction or, if they notice it, decide they must be overthinking things because OP didn’t visibly react. Most people would be hugely uncomfortable with the idea that someone would do that to a colleague, and so would want to pass it off as playful as opposed to painful.

        OP, insisting on basic human decency from your coworker is not overreacting or sinking to her level. You have the right to not be assaulted, and what your coworker is doing is criminal. Get HR and your boss involved today, and if they aren’t responsive, call the police tonight. The common thread with physical violence is that it tends to escalate. Protect yourself, and best of luck to you.

        1. Jady*

          Unrelated, but I just want to say I’m impressed with that kind of self control (you & OP). I lack any of it. I’ve yelled out without intention multiple times in public because something hurt. I can’t control it at all.

          I’m almost curious how dramatically different this kind of situation would go were it someone like me instead of OP. I’d unintentionally yell loud enough that easily half or more of my current male-dominated office would hear. And for bonus points I bruise heavily, easily, and quickly.

          So yeah, that would be interesting.

          1. SQL Coder Cat*

            It really depends on whether or not I’ve got my game face on. If I don’t know anyone’s behind me and they tap me on the shoulder, I’ll jump and squeak. During a meeting, though? 50% of my attention is on making sure my game face is on- I have ‘Resting B**** Face’ so I have to make sure I’ve got my professional smile firmly in place.

          2. winter*

            I definitely noticed that I get stabbed less by dentists when I don’t keep a tight lid on my expressions of pain. So as a person who’s trying to lose their game face again: stay as you are.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Wow. That does not reflect well on your doc.
              But I can’t count the numbers of times I have been called everything from a baby to a b!tch for crying in the ER. I guess the people in that ER had never seen a crying patient before.

              Yes, ORDER me to stop crying, call me names, that will work. NOT. So much for professional skills.

              1. winter*

                Ok, that’s terrible as well and yes, there are a lot of people in medicine who are surprisingly incompetent at dealing with human pain … given their profession.

              2. JessaB*

                And through my tears the next words would be “Patient care advocate and head nurse on this rotation NOW” because I don’t put up with that and if I’m unable to advocate for myself because I can’t talk at the time, believe me once I get my meds and are up in a room resting and finally have movement back, I’d still be calling the advocate and head nurse.

      3. Leslie Knope*

        100% PCBH. You are amazing. Victim blaming is never okay. Also I have an awful habit of hitting the columns supporting our conference tables and bruising my own toes (I still haven’t grown into my feet). And, no one makes a comment. I think it’s entirely possible that things can go down without people commenting. I’m also a master of the dead pan face (as a female in the workplace) and I’m quite sure that a dragon could come flying in and my biggest reaction would probably be a single raised eyebrow.

    2. Leatherwings*

      1) We don’t know that they didn’t notice.

      2) There’s absolutely no reason to undermine or question the OP in this situation. This is a serious issue regardless of how hard she was hit.

      3) This is in no way constructive for OP.

    3. my two cents*

      eh, we had a finance manager in our tiny office of 14 people that was like that.
      Most of the time, she was 100% fine. A little bumbling, even. She would plop herself down in the chair in my office and very slowly tell me very (very) long stories about her cats.

      But, if something angered her? Holy wow, did stuff hit the fan… She had punched monitors and raised her fists at people. When she was finally walked out of the building, she had then gone on to write a scathing email to headquarters (in Europe) talking about how ‘everyone was against her’ and something about ‘mob mentality’ – that we were ganging up on her to run her out of the office, and then went on to list a number of mostly-untrue ‘offenses’ that each one of us committed ‘against’ her.

    4. Prismatic Professional*

      This is unkind to the letter writer. It is aggressive enough to leave bruises. Alison asks us to take letter writers at their word.

      As an aside – people may have noticed, or may not. Attention is a very complex thing distractions work extremely well (magicians cash in on this).

    5. Aunt Margie at Work*

      OP. Read the above comment. THIS is the worst that can happen to you. You won’t be believed. That’s OK. It’s an obstacle, not an end. It is not worse than being kicked or punched by a coworker who is systematically sabotaging your career. It’s just part of the whole thing that you unfortunately have to deal with.

    6. Parenthetically*

      OP: “I’m being physically assaulted and abused at work.”

      Random Landom: “Mmmm, yeah, I don’t know if you actually are? Like prove it? Like maybe you’re definitely almost lying?”

      FOH with that victim-blaming.

    7. Volunteer Coordinator in NOVA*

      Even though I totally take the OP at their word, does this even matter? Even if she pinched her, it was in an aggressive manner that upset her and isn’t appropriate in the workplace (or anywhere really). Even if I thought I noticed something like that in a meeting, I would probably convince myself I was mistaken because I wouldn’t believe that someone would actually kick or punch a coworker in any sort of professional environment!

    8. Kezi*

      People might have noticed. In my case, everyone knew about it when a coworker would slap, pinch or kick me, but wrote it off as coworker being “playful” and me being sensitive.

      1. Viola Dace*

        This exact thing happened to me. We had a young woman in the office who did this. She was especially fond of grabbing the skin on the back of the upper arm and pinching HARD. She came up to me from behind once and did this…it hurt and left a bruise. But when I went to my manager (no HR), I was the who was criticized for being over sensitive and not “playing along”. The behavior is so out there that OP is at risk for coming across as over reacting. And if OP is a woman…ugh. All the hysterical woman BS could come into play.

        1. Michelle*

          Someone pinching me like that would cause me to physically retaliate as an automatic response to pain. My brother learned that the hard way the day he walked up behind me and whacked the back of my head with his palm. He thought is was funny until he was looking up at me from the ground with a bloody nose. He hit me and my immediate response was to turn and punch. He never hit me again.

        2. Pixel*

          Goodness. The ONLY, and I mean ONLY, touching not frowned upon in a work environment is a hand-shake, a very slight tap on the shoulder if you are trying to get the attention of someone deep in their headphones, helping someone up if they slipped and fell, or a hug before one of you leaves for a holiday or for good. That’s it. There are a few exceptions – if you’re in a professional dance troupe, go ahead and do those lifts, but that handsy co-worker better find a job at MMA if punching and grabbing is her MO.

        3. JessaB*

          Luckily they never did that to me. Back just before we were married, Mr B moved down into my house (we were north and south long distance,) and I’m hearing impaired, he accidentally came up behind me whilst I was washing dishes and startled me. There was a window over the sink. I elbowed back, turned and made for a belt and collar toss to put him out of the window. I had not heard him come in and had no idea someone else was in the house. Luckily he has good reflexes he backed away from the elbow. And when I realised it was him I stopped.

          I accidentally came up on his blind side (one good eye,) and he almost clocked me one. We learnt to make noise and he learnt to make SURE I knew he was there.

      2. SarahTheEntwife*

        Or they could have just thought it was an accident and not realized how hard it was, if they noticed anything. I’ve accidentally kicked and been kicked by coworkers tons of times, in a minor “whoops, I thought you were a table leg” sort of way.

    9. A. Non*

      So do you react this way to domestic violence, too? Or is it because the OP is female presenting (re: wedding bands)?

      1. Lissa*

        Could also be because it’s two women. A lot of people downplay this type of thing when it’s two women, treating it like “mean girls” or silly playfulness, “catfighting” (ugh!) and other stuff. I find this is especially true if the aggressor is small or cute in appearance. “Teehee, my tiny little fists couldn’t do any *damage*!”

        1. a*

          Reminds me of an episode of Friends where Joey’s girlfriend wouldn’t stop hitting him because she didn’t believe she could hurt anyone.

    10. Rache*

      Level of aggression isn’t even required to be documented. The coworker TOUCHED the OP in a way that was unprovoked and unwelcome. Twice! End of story.

    11. LoiraSafada*

      What a gross post. This kind of ‘reasoning’ is how abusers escalate and get away with their abuse.

    12. Leslie Knope*

      This comment is in the same misdirected thought process as asking, “OP, what did you do to make your coworker punch you?” Not okay.

    13. Emily*

      I mean, OP said that the kicks and punches were hard, painful, and left bruises, and I think we should trust her on that. I also think it’s entirely possible – especially since OP said that she was trying very hard to maintain her composure in the meetings – that people didn’t notice, or that if people did notice, they also didn’t know what to do.

      But even if her coworker had hit and kicked her very gently, that’s still assault and needs to stop immediately.

      1. 2 Cents*

        I can’t imagine what I’d do if I thought someone in a meeting kicked or punched someone else (with intention to harm) while I was at work. Probably be stunned.

    14. hbc*

      Dude, I can totally kick or punch someone that hard under our conference table and not have the motion noticed if I timed it right. It’s not difficult if you’re at one end of the room and everyone is looking at someone at the other end. The kick I could probably do with all eyes on me if it wasn’t a rolling chair.

      I now feel the need to clarify that I’ve never physically injured anyone outside a sports arena, and even then not on purpose.

    15. Lee*

      I’m not sure we have enough information to say it wasn’t aggressive, but I do understand your line of reasoning. You have 2 females with similar job duties in a competitive kind of dual role, and one has kicked (could it framed as accidental?) the other under a table. There was also a first incident where the female merely questioned being kicked with a “WTF” (perhaps indicating to the other female this wasn’t up to the level of assault). Witnesses were present at both incidents, and yet on one has told the OP they witnessed an assault or reported it to HR.
      This is just not the picture one imagines when one thinks of a coworker physically assaulting another.
      And while I don’t think this is the case, it’s certainty easy to bruise oneself and then report to the police that the other female nemesis in her office, with a similar title and role, is attacking her and needs to be arrested, thus eliminating the competition. Again, I don’t think this is happening, but an unbiased party could certainly see that, so the OP might want to make sure she has enough proof.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, it really is, and I don’t think most people would land there. And I really want to push back against the notion that the OP has to have a bulletproof report before telling an authority what’s going on. All the proof she needs to report is a reasonable account of the circumstances.

          1. Tinker*

            Yeah, I have the sort of brain where I tend sometimes to say “and then I saw words appear on my screen in the form of a message that said event processing had started” rather than “event processing started” while remaining open to other potential interpretations of the experience of my senses, but I tend not to tell my coworkers too often that “either event processing started, or I was in a chatroom with fast-typing gnomes who were creating an imitation of a shell interface to the system under test”.

            It might not be fair since I’m not unbiased (possessed of a surprisingly large amount of internalized homophobia, for instance), but my spread of initial interpretations of “A comes to me saying that B kicked them and here’s the bruise” would be more along the lines of “to what degree was the kicking of A intentional” rather than “did A intentionally inflict harm on themselves in order to get ahead at work by framing B for a crime”, unless additional evidence arises to suggest the other interpretation.

      1. hbc*

        If you’re going to use “female” so many times where it’s completely irrelevant, you might as well say “catfight,” “hysterical,” and “time of the month” while you’re at it. Just in case someone missed the point.

        1. Mookie*

          Feeeeeeemales compeeeeeetttttttingg. Men never do that. They live in a constant state of bro-solidarity.

    16. MashaKasha*

      They might have if they were paying close attention to what’s going on under the table. But odds are, they were looking either at their laptops or at a presentation being projected on a wall. Either way, they would most certainly not be on high alert trying to see if there is any kicking and punching happening under the table! So, yes, entirely possible.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, and I’m used to small crowded tables where people are always bumping into chair legs and each other–it wouldn’t occur to me that any noise from beneath the table was, for God’s sake, punching.

    17. Not So NewReader*

      Well, Random, of course you can believe what you would like to believe, you have that prerogative.

      I will tell you this. My mother got kicked while square dancing (cowboy heels) and that bruise NEVER healed. It was still on her leg when she died 40 plus years later.

      People with leg problems can have double, triple or more the pain levels of people without leg problems.
      I know the a small bump to my legs could reduce me to tears, I would not be able to stop.

      OP, I believe you.

    18. SimonTheGreyWarden*

      Coworker, please quit kicking other people under the table. It’s rude, and it hurts, and it’s also assault.

  16. Murphy*

    I think I would have yelled “WHAT THE F?” in the moment. Maybe not the most professional reaction, but that’s how shocked I would be if someone assaulted me in the office. Wow.

    OP, definitely tell someone immediately.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Yeah, I don’t think I would have been able to control my reaction to something like that.

    2. Jady*

      I definitely can’t control my reactions to pain! I’ve (unintentionally) yelled in public before. Half my office or more would easily hear me if it happened today.

      I’m almost curious how differently this situation would be if OP did yell every time it happened.

  17. Grits McGee*

    What I find most worrying is the post-meeting text. She knows what she did and she knows why you left, and at that point she’s just trying to manipulate you. Watch, watch, watch your back OP and if you’ve got a work Team Me, get them to circle the wagons. Good luck and stay safe.

    1. Kim*

      OP, I’m so sorry this is happening to you. Grits McGee makes a good point here. I’d consider sharing these texts with boss/HR when you discuss this.

      Also, I hope the support you’re getting here is helping you stand strong in knowing that you’re right to take action! This behavior is never ok, and you are certainly right to protect yourself.

    2. Big Red Jeep*

      THIS. Obviously co-worker knows she effed up and is trying to cover her rear. Seems scarily manipulative – definitely document ALL OF THIS, from the injuries to the followup texts. Ditto the good luck and stay safe.

  18. TeflonMom*

    Ouch – if that had happened when I was younger and stupider that probably would have been my last day on the job, because in my book that’s a reason to throw down in a conference room, visitors be damned.

    But now I’m older and have more responsibility, so I would skip the fight that she’s clearly begging for, alert her that any future contact will be reported to the cops, but also put HR on notice that it’s happened twice. That puts them on the hook as well, and should help motivate them to get rid of her faster.

  19. NW Mossy*

    Oh, OP, this is awful. Jane abandoned professionalism long ago and is veering ever closer to an assault charge, which is not something that should be tolerated at any workplace.

    You should absolutely do all of the things that Alison has suggested, first and foremost. After that, you can also consider applying a healthy dose of Professional Frostiness. It takes some practice (I tend to talk to myself in the car to rehearse these types of things), but delivering statements like those Alison suggests in her #3 in a tone that suggests your tongue wouldn’t freeze to a flagpole in winter can sometimes be helpful in reclaiming some of the strength and confidence Jane’s trying to take away from you with her behavior.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Elizabeth West, you are on fire, today!
            (see what I did, there? ;) )

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Dude, they suck now that they’re hot. I was into Professional Frostiness before it got cool.

  20. The Mighty Thor*

    What the effing EFF?!?!

    This is crazy! What the hell is wrong with this co-worker?!

    Also, perhaps police should be involved? Assault is a pretty serious deal

  21. LCL*

    Report it to the boss. Do whatever your job’s process is to report an on the job injury. Then go to urgent care, or some medical professional that will see you that day for an OTJ injury and tell them you are seeing them for an OTJ injury. It doesn’t sound like a serious injury, but you want the documentation. For the next few days, take selfies of your injury that you would be willing to show to someone else, it will probably bruise and bruises sometimes take a few days to reach full colorfulness.

    This is one of the few things that would get you fired with no second chance at my government job. The person would be put on paid leave while it was investigated, and if found to be true they would be gone.

    And to repeat what Alison said, stay far far away from this employee.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah—I think it’s wicked smart and wouldn’t have thought of it.

      1. LCL*

        Thx. Workplace injuries get attention from management because they cost the company money. Usually there is company policy on how they should be processed, so the OP won’t have to do the follow up herself.

        1. Michaela T*

          Exactly, I was going to jump in and suggest the OP submit a workers’ compensation claim. Injuries (in this case contusions plus possible psychiatric) from workplace assault should absolutely be claimed.

    1. lawyerkate*

      So, this is an interesting strategy but I’d like to build on it and make some additional recommendations. Here is what I would suggest.

      The most important thing you can do for yourself – aside from telling HR, stat – is to document everything you can in as much detail as you can.

      1) Report to your boss and HR right away what is happening. You have the right to a workplace free from harassment and placing them on notice, in detail, IN WRITING, is critical. The writing is to create a record to protect you later, should that become necessary.

      2) Speak to an attorney in your city or state right away who focuses on employment discrimination and harassment. The company can be subject to civil liability for Jane’s behavior. Jane can also be held liable in a civil context.

      3) If you choose to also call the police and file a report against her and request that charges be pressed, be aware that ultimately, you do not get to decide whether she’s prosecuted – the District Attorney’s office (if you’re in the US) evaulates the matter and ultimately makes the final decision. She’d most likely get a fine and community service for something like this – *maybe* minimal jail time if she’s done something like this in the past.

      4) If you choose to report this as a job-related injury, do as LCL suggests, including photos.

      5) Make a log with specific dates and times of each incident you can recall with Jane – including the stealing of work product, because that is part of the harassment. Print and save as much documentary evidence as you can – emails, texts, conversations over apps like Slack, etc.

      6) This is NOT your fault. Something is seriously wrong with Jane, which is neither your problem nor your responsibility to analyze or correct.

      1. fposte*

        Now you’re making me curious–in the U.S., is it established that you have the right to have a workplace free from non-discriminatory harassment? And what are you thinking the OP would be getting compensated for, and would it be likely to be enough to be worth a lawyer’s taking on contingency?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There’s definitely no federal law protecting you from non-discriminatory workplace harassment, and I don’t know of any at the state level either. Kate, what are you thinking of specifically?

          1. lawyerkate*

            Ah, rats, I apologize, everyone. I’m thinking of a specific strategy I’ve used in the past with cases where there was also a protected class element at issue – which as you rightly point out, AAM, is discrimination-based. I am in a employee-friendly jurisdiction where there are loads of theories of recovery.

            I made an inferential leap here that wasn’t warranted based on the information presented in the question because it so closely tracked factually with +3 similar situations of which I’ve been aware over the years.

            I can haz coffee? :( Ugh, really, I apologize, team.

            fposte – I think it’s worth a conversation, *not* because OP should consider pursuing any sort of civil action, but because turning these issues over with someone licensed in OP’s state in order to help OP fully understand the range of options and the particular merits of doing/not doing a particular thing can clarify OP’s thinking. I am not recommending that OP file a suit- litigation is supposed to be a last resort, not an opening gesture.

          2. JessaB*

            I’m not sure if physical violence is the same. I mean I would frame it not so much as harassment but as “she hit me, you know she hit me, you didn’t do anything to keep her away from me, she hit me again, I’m calling the cops.” I think the workplace has a requirement to keep you PHYSICALLY safe. For all I know it’s an OSHA thing not an harassment thing. I wouldn’t ever call it harassment. I’d call it a safety issue. And if framed well with lawyer good with publicity I’d probably be able to gouge some settlement (maybe x amt of pay or promises about references or both while I find another job,) out of them. And yeh that might poison some wells for me in other companies, but if they don’t get “I was assaulted and they let the assailant remain at work within reach of assaulting me and she did it a 3d time, and they did noting so I sued,” then I probably don’t wanna work for them.

            And yeh OSHA is wishy washy on whether it’s strictly against law but their site is pretty clear that there’s some vague responsibility here once the office is on notice. Mostly to do with interpretations of court cases that are about “protect from harm.” It’s incredibly vague and there’s very very little to no casework on it, but it’s strong enough that I’d roll the dice and take my chances if I knew I was leaving the company anyway.

            TL;dr – harassment law NO. safety law MAYBE.

            disclaimer IANAL but I worked and did research for a few, and it’d take some squeezing on the OSHA side and with the current administration I doubt it’d go anywhere mostly because they’re pro management not pro labour. But in any other administration I’d take a run at it that way.

    2. JessaB*

      Not to mention that a bruise can be bad. Mr. B had a bruise on the top of his foot and it turned into an awful case of cellulitis. It was NOT a good thing. I would absolutely go to HR and put it on record that I was hurt in the office because if it DID become a problem, you need that record as well as the cops (if you reported it,) for the workers comp case.

      This is another way to frame going to HR because “possible medical claim.”

  22. Application Development Manager*

    I agree with Alison. Call her out publicly!!

    Here’s what I would do:
    1. Report to HR in written format AND cc you boss, calling out the fact that you laready reported this to him.
    2. Then talk to this a$$hole colleague and tell her next time she tries this you are going to raise stink about it publicly and the end result will not be ok.
    3. If she still has the balls to try assaulting you again, make a public outcry in front of other people so there are witnesses.

    She is being a bully, and you are letting her be one.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Hey now, let’s not blame the victim for their attacker’s bad behavior. I agree with you on all other points, except I’d add that OP should speak to her boss prior to notifying HR that she already reported it to him (it doesn’t sound like she’s done that, yet?).

    2. Anna*

      The OP is not “letting” anyone be anything. The OP is asking for help because they don’t know what to do and thought that calling out the bully was being petty, which is not at all the case. Let’s try a bit harder not to blame the victim here.

      1. Aunt Margie at Work*

        This is the part that struck me (sorry for the word choice, but it fits best). OP doesn’t want to make a fuss. That indicates a lack of perspective. Her workplace normal is Definitely Not Normal, but she is so deep in it (two years of wearing away, manipulation, slowly growing aggression) that she can’t tell anymore. The frog in the boiling water…

        1. Die Forelle*

          I agree with your point, and also think that many girls and women are socialized from a very young age not to make waves or make a fuss, and it is really hard to overcome that programming.

    3. Agnodike*

      She is not “being a bully.” She is assaulting the OP. Nobody is responsible for the crime someone else commits against them, and telling them they are is a pretty awful thing to do.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      When I was really young, I told my father there were monsters in my dreams at night.
      He said, “That is because you let them in.”
      Baffled, I said, “But, daddy, I did not say, ‘here, Monster, here Monster’.

      He paused and nodded.

      “That is right you did not give them an invite. BUT you did not tell them to go away either!”


      While you did not invite this person to bully you, OP, she just picked you, you are unfortunately charged with the responsibility of telling her to Stuff It. And this can be done by talking with the boss and/or HR. It’s up to us to tell someone we are having a problem. I told my father. Granted, he could not enter my dreams and fix it for me, so he told me how to do it. You came here, told Alison you were having a problem. Now you are ready for the real thing, you are as prepared as you will ever be to go tell the boss that you are having a problem.

  23. MuseumChick*

    1) Document your injuries. Photos of the bruises for example. Makes sure they are dated. Also, see a doctor to have them looked at and keep the documentation from that.

    2) (Echoing Alison) IF she ever does this again, react in moment, loudly, “OWWW! Jane, did you just kick me????” Yes it will be awkward for people in the meeting but it will be more embarrassing for her.

    3) If you boss doesn’t take this seriously please escalate this. Heck, I would consider contacting the police if this happens again. This is assault.

    1. Leatherwings*

      +1 to all of this, esp. the documentation.

      OP, I’d also avoid this woman like the plague going forward. You are under no obligation to put yourself in a situation where you might be physically assaulted. Don’t sit next to her if you can avoid it, only talk to her when you need to, leave the building at different times, etc. This woman is off and you shouldn’t have to deal with her.

      1. MuseumChick*

        Another poster mentioned this above but I wanted to add it down here as well. OP, KEEP THE TEXT MESSAGE. They can be used as evidence, both with your boss and if you do end up have to contact the police.

    2. A. Non*

      Re #2:

      You are not doing anything wrong by saying something loudly in the moment! You are not the one making it awkward. I recommend checking out Captain Awkward’s advice on gaslighting and handling things wildly outside of norms, because Jane has gone so far beyond, really. Protecting yourself from her is not wrong and does not lower you to her level– and think of it like that, please, because it’s true. Saying something in the moment, making people aware, is protecting yourself.

    3. JessaB*

      I would not say “why” because that gives Jane an excuse to be all apologetic about it being an accident. I’d probably use “Jane you kicked me very hard, too hard for it just being you moving your foot. Why?” I’d be really really specific that I thought there was NO way for this to be accidental.

  24. ArtK*

    OP, while wanting to smooth things over and play nice speaks well of you, it’s actually hurting you. The assault, of course, is horrible and must be dealt with ASAP. There are other bad signs as well. You say that you are journalists, but she has stolen work from you. That’s wrong no matter what the profession, but plagiarism is a very serious ethical breach in journalism. Take steps now to protect your work. Don’t share drafts with her. E-mail things to yourself so you have time stamps in case she tries to claim that you stole her work. Change your passwords and don’t share them. Lock down permissions on shared storage. Collaborate with her at the absolute minimum to do your job.

    Minimizing your accomplishments to the boss is another, if lesser, sin. From now on, promote yourself and your work. Make sure that the boss knows what you’ve done. If she does it in a meeting that you’re at, say things like “Actually, Jane, I did these other fifteen things as part of that project” or “Jane, I prefer to tell Boss what I’ve been up to, there’s no need for you to say that.” Whatever is appropriate for the situation.

    Good luck, and keep us informed!

    1. New Window*

      Perhaps a helpful way to think of it, OP, isn’t as a dichotomy between “Playing Nice” and “Playing Dirty,” but “Playing Nice” and “Playing Protectively Respectful.” What ArtK suggests are completely reasonable actions to take. It doesn’t violate any professional norms, and most importantly, it allows you to act in a way that gives your own work much more respect. At the same time, you can act in a super frosty professional way that does not show disrespect, but it leaves less room for your jerk coworker to trample over your boundaries.

      And +100 to the suggestion about promoting your work. If it goes against an ingrained teaching of “Don’t brag! Don’t boast!” it can be hard to start that habit. I would suggest looking through the archives here for subjects about self-evaluations; it’s hard for a lot of us, but if you frame it in terms of, “My work is valuable and I have the right to talk about my accomplishments and what I am doing well,” that can help get around the feelings of not wanting to “brag.”

  25. animaniactoo*

    1) Yes, to call out it out in the moment, absolutely.

    But 2) She will attempt to play it off again. This is the part where I seriously advise you to role play this with somebody and practice. Because you’re going to need to be ready to counter that and it will be a lot easier if you’re not fumbling around figuring out what to say – or saying them for the first time. Some good things to say:

    “Jane, I find it hard to believe that a kick that was THAT hard could be accidental.”
    “Jane, I don’t care if you didn’t mean to kick “that hard” – don’t kick or hit me at all, not even lightly to get my attention, not ever again.”
    “Jane, I don’t care if you think I’m making too big a deal out of this, I need you to understand that it is a VERY big deal for me and I need it to stop immediately.”

    These would also be good things to say when discussing this incident with your boss/HR.

      1. zora*

        Or at the very least, practice in the mirror. Seriously, it sounds weird, but it really helps!

    1. A. Non*

      She might also go, “I was just joking/kidding, don’t you have a sense of humor?” and definitely be prepared for that– the minimizing is a thing that abusers do. Do not accept it. If it tries to get downplayed as ‘Jane’s just joking’, “I don’t have a sense of humor based around assault” is a good response, but do it in a flat and serious tone of voice.

      1. animaniactoo*

        There’s also “I do, and that’s not funny to me. I don’t care if it’s funny to you, I’m not okay with it.”

        1. Natalie*

          This is a circumstance where I like the broken record technique: just keep repeating that it needs to stop, rather than getting dragged into a discussion of whether or not she meant it, or is joking, or, or, or:

          Jane: “But I didn’t mean to hit you so hard.”

          LW: “Okay, but I still need you to stop.”

          Jane: “It’s funny! What’s wrong with you, don’t you have a sense of humor?”

          LW: “I guess not. I still need you to stop.”

          And so forth.

    2. animaniactoo*

      Okay, now that I got the immediate first-line-of-defense comment out of the way….

      OP, it took me a very very long time to realize that when we are young, we are socialized to get along. To be peacemakers and smooth things over and share your toys, etc. This is especially true if you’re a girl. We are taught not to make a fuss, but rather to not contribute to the fuss being made. Particularly when in company with others, a crowd, any sort of “formal” setup like you know – the family holiday celebration, etc.

      I learned. I learned this lesson so well that when I was a young teenager taking public transportation, I was so proud of myself for figuring out how to keep myself from being molested (further) by turning sideways and sticking my elbow out so that they offender could not get his crotch anywhere near my rear.

      What we are generally not socialized very well on is when it IS time to make a fuss – and how to do it. Loud and unapologetically. With facts and clear boundary drawing. That moment is when you are being physically assaulted. No matter what. Often when you’re being verbally assaulted as well, but physical no matter what.

      And see… what I know today, is that what I REALLY wanted to do was to look over my shoulder and say loudly “Pardon me, would you mind getting your [bleep] out of my ass?”

      Because… it was about more than denying access. They knew very well what they were doing. And I didn’t want to just deny them access today. I wanted that attempt to backfire on them SO HARD that they felt nervous about trying it again.

      Jane knows what she is doing. She may have all sorts of logic for why it is justifiable or appropriate or understandable or reasonable. You can’t care about that. You need to care about you… and protecting you in a way that makes it harder for Jane to attempt it again. So you need to make her move backfire on her, to prevent her from having power over you that isn’t hers to have. It’s no one’s to have. So you do what you need to do to defend that. You can do it calmly and firmly. But do it. Right then, in the moment, where there is less chance of “escaping” any consequences.

      And yes, it is far more important than whatever meeting you’re in. Because that meeting? That crowd? Is why she thinks you won’t make a fuss. They’re witnesses. You can use them to your benefit and take away her ability to hide behind them. And you can defend that to anybody who tells you that you shouldn’t have made a fuss in that situation. “I am not okay with allowing someone to physically assault me because we happen to be in the middle of a meeting/speaking to [____]. It is a matter of my personal safety, and I will not sit silent for that any more than I will while a fire alarm is going off.”

      Remember – you are not the person who created the situation. Jane did it when she hit you. Jane is the reason the situation exists. Not because you defend yourself. Jane.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Yep yep yep to all of this. I feel like I’m constantly talking with my junior high and high school students about stuff like this, and telling them that if they’re in public, they have no obligation to be polite to gross, creepy, intrusive people, because the gross, creepy, intrusive people are the ones making the situation awkward and uncomfortable, knowing that people, especially women, are socialized not to make a fuss. (In less-public situations, they obviously need to do whatever they feel safest doing.)

        1. Paige Turner*

          Thank you for doing this. I missed out learning this when I was a teen and I wish I had- I’d actually love to support some sort of formal class about this kind of stuff for teens/young adults about sexual harassment and general assertiveness, but that’s kind of another topic.

      2. Jules*

        I told my daughter that no one has the right to lay their hands on her or attempt to hurt her. This came after an incident at school where a boy had strangled her and she didn’t fight him off until she can’t breath. Before I worry about my child hurting someone deliberately. Now I am telling her that, she doesn’t have to put up with anyone putting their hands on her in a way which makes her uncomfortable. Just for the record, she is 6 and the boy is in elementary after school program with her.

        We can no longer teach our children to suffer in order to keep the peace. They have rights too. Male or female.

        1. Emmie*

          Oh, wow. What a nightmare. My heart goes out to you and your daughter. You are right to encourage her to speak up.
          I don’t think that strangulation is a normal six year old boy behavior. What on earth must he see to emulate that frightening behavior?!

      3. New Window*

        Every word of this. This is something all of us can take to heart, not just the OP.

    3. LQ*

      This (and the follow up comment) are incredibly helpful. I’d only like to add that when role playing or talking about it be aware (or ask the person role playing with you to be aware of it for you) of ….”it’s ok” behavior. Things like laughing, smiling, hands in lap twisting, making yourself small behaviors. Things you are doing because you don’t want to cause a scene, because you want to make things ok, because you were taught and socialized to be a peacemaker (read the whole long thing from aminaniactoo again!) Those things, the laugh and the smile and the it’s ok body language are so well trained that they become instinctual, so you have to really fight against those in these moments.

      Not “It’s not ok you need to stop that immediately.” and then smile or nervous laugh. And honestly I know for some people (yo) the physical behavior is harder to stop than the words. It’s not super hard to say “You have to stop.” But to say that with a serious straight face and without laughing and backing down to “no I’m kidding” when someone pushes back and goes “you’re such a bitch and you can’t take a joke”. That’s a huge challenge. So try to be aware of those physical actions and the demuring things that make the standing up not work well.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, this is all excellent. A thing I found really freeing was to realize when liking each other is off the table, so you don’t have to try to make her like you (and it’s okay for you not to like her); she already doesn’t like you, and she’s not going to.

    4. AJ*

      +1 – Role playing is an excellent idea. Find a friend who is good at acting or willing to be intimidating. I’d say find someone to play your boss too. Practicing what to say will be really helpful. Even if you don’t need to use your new skills (hopefully your coworker just gets fired straight away!) role playing will help you to feel more confident about the situation.

      1. winter*

        In my experience, the person doesn’t need to be good at acting. Your brain will supplement the stress of the situation on its own ;) What I find important is to rehearse different scenarios, the worse, the better. Your friend should throw all the excuses, accusations and threats you two can come up with at you.
        Knowing that you’ve trained for the worst (if unrealistic) scenario will provide a lot of strength.

        1. JessaB*

          And the more you train yourself the easier it is in the moment. Because seriously people always freeze and an hour later go “why didn’t I do or say x? Geez now I’ve thought of the response.”

          More practise means that you have a ready response and your OMG this is happening? Did that happen? Brain is ready to go yep it did and this is the thing we do/say.

          It’s like a little being taught “Say hello to Aunt Dottie,” or “Remember to say please.” Your brain files those things as Aunt Dottie comes in oh yeh I say “Hello.” etc.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      “Whether you were joking or not joking is irrelevant here. It has no bearing. The bottom line is the same. You must stop hitting me. Now.”

  26. DataQueen*

    This happened at our workplace (not to me) to a young girl who was new to the workplace and the abuser was a woman she supported (not her manager, but her job was to support a team of people). She didn’t know what to do, but mentioned it to her manager as a, “I’m really frustrated with Jane… she did x y and z, and the other day she even hit me when she thought I wasn’t paying attention to her.” And her manager flipped out, took it to HR, and Jane did not work here much longer. They actually didn’t let her go over that… but they moved her desk far away and documented it as strike #8573498 against her. The poor girl that it happened to – she had no idea what to do. Not that you should ever doubt whether someone hitting someone is appropriate, but if it’s your first job and you don’t want to ‘tattle’ on someone… I can see why it’s terrifying.
    OP – Tell your manager! You don’t deserve that! Even if it wasn’t physical assault, she is trying to bully you. But the fact that she is hitting/kicking you is not acceptable!

  27. Corky's wife Bonnie*

    I agree with everyone above about taking this to HR as well as your boss. If you don’t have an HR, then you must speak to your boss pronto by saying you need to have a meeting to address a very serious matter and it cannot wait. I would also mention about contacting authorities as others have suggested. Hopefully mentioning authorities will make him/her take action.

  28. paul*

    Preventing someone from hurting you is not “being no better than them.” That’s a godawful moral equivalency. Don’t draw it.

    If someone is attacking you, *protect yourself*. If someone tries to stab me to death, and I shoot them (to make an extreme case here) am I “no better than them” because I declined to let them stab me? Hell no. Same thing applies here, just not at lethal force levels. You’ve got a person who is using physical force to bully you. Call her out, protect yourself, and complain to your boss. And the cops.

    1. ArtK*

      Far too often, the idea behind “be the better person” gets taken to such extremes that someone gets hurt and there are no consequences for the other person.

      OP, you aren’t stooping to Jane’s level if you speak up and take action. There is *nothing* wrong with insisting on her sticking to social and professional norms. *She* is the one who is wildly out of line. Telling her to behave and enlisting authorities to enforce that is *not* a bad thing. It’s not making waves — she is the one making the waves. Don’t let her get away with it. If not for yourself, for her next victim.

      Anybody who criticizes you for speaking up and taking action is someone whose opinion you don’t need to bother with. They are enablers, probably because they are uncomfortable with conflict. They are the ones who allow bullies to continue to act up, as long as *they* aren’t victims. Remember: You’re not creating the conflict, she is.

      1. Cordelia Naismith*

        Yes, exactly. I mean, I completely understand the impulse to keep quiet because you don’t want to cause a fuss. But you have to remember that you’re not the one causing the fuss, OP — your bullying co-worker caused the fuss by punching you. If you speak up and things get awkward and uncomfortable, good! Your co-worker should be uncomfortable! But it’s all on her, not on you. This isn’t something you should just suffer in silence.

    2. Solidus Pilcrow*

      Preventing someone from hurting you is not “being no better than them.” That’s a godawful moral equivalency. Don’t draw it.

      So much this.

      Lets put the bare facts together:
      * Co-worker hits/kicks you hard enough to leave bruises.
      * You speak a few words to the relevant authorities (boss, HR, maybe police).
      Who comes out looking ‘better’ in that scenario?

      If you falsified purchasing documents to frame her for embezzlement, told falsehoods to the boss/HR/police, keyed her car/slashed her tires, ran her off the road, or took some other revenge, *that* would be “no better than them.” Telling your boss about an abusive co-worker doesn’t even come close.

    3. Observer*

      Preventing someone from hurting you is not “being no better than them.” That’s a godawful moral equivalency.

      Thank you for that!

  29. BethRA*

    Just want to reiterate that your coworker and her behavior is not normal, and not remotely ok; and unless you plan on hitting her randomly (as opposed to say, in self-defense), you are VERY MUCH BETTER THAN HER.

    I’m sorry you have to deal with this.

  30. The IT Manager*

    Being professional does not equal being a (literal) punching bag.
    Being professional does not equal being quiet and accepting attacks from your co-worker.
    Being professional does not equal making no waves thereby not standing up for yourself.

    If you had shouted at your co-worker to stop hitting you, you’d still be better than her since you did not resort to physical violence like she did.

    Personally I think you have a skewed view of what’s professional and good – it does not mean taking abuse silently and keeping up appearances when things are effed up.

    1. Mike C.*

      Yeah, it’s an easy trap to fall into when so often folks are so focused on being as passive and “professional” as possible.

  31. Michelle*

    Get up out of your chair and go talk to your boss and/or HR RIGHT NOW. You absolutely do not have to take this and reporting her does not you as bad as her. She is a bully and she is physically attacking and injuring you.

  32. RainyKeyboard*

    Wow. I am so sorry this is happening to you OP. I applaud your attempts to remain professional and not allow this person’s drama to envelop you and affect your productivity. However, this coworker has crossed the line. In fact, she has gone so far over the line that we are all shocked and appalled. There is no shame in going to your manager for help when you have tried everything to resolve a situation and it’s continuing to deteriorate. As a manager, our job is to support our employees and ensure the path is clear for them to succeed. Your path is completely and absolutely blocked at the moment. Blocked by your bully coworker.

    Give your manager a chance to address this, but if there’s no action, please go to HR as well. Don’t wait. Take care of yourself OP.

  33. Mustache Cat*


    Also—in these kinds of posts there are ALWAYS boatloads of people making profoundly unhelpful comments like “Well I would have transformed into my alter ego and thrown her out the window” or “If she did that to ME my martial arts training would have kicked in (lol)” but ignore them! This is so bizarrely out of the norm that most people would be stunned by shock. There’s no reason to believe that anyone else would have acted differently.

    1. RainyKeyboard*

      Agreed. And the thing is….this didn’t come out of the blue. Normal one day, kicking her the next. This was a slow sinister ramp-up over time of what this person could get away with, and slowly acclimating the OP to her unique form of abuse. So…now the OP is finally able to realize – holy crap! This is physical abuse! The reaction of the OP seems completely reasonable to me. Luckily she’s now realizing the situation she’s in and how messed up it is. Now is the time to take charge of the situation and do something!

      1. starsaphire*

        This this this this this. The bully is grooming you to be her punching bag.

        This is _not_ your fault, and you are _not to blame_ for not reacting before now. None of this is your fault, not even a little bit.

        Get into a calm place, write everything down, save the texts and photograph the bruise. Then go to your boss, calmly explain what happened, etc., just as AAM suggested.

        I am so sorry that you are going through this! This is a horrible situation, and that co-worker needs to receive the full consequences of her actions/choices.

        1. Lana Kane*

          “The bully is grooming you to be her punching bag.”

          Something that stood out to me is that the last kicking incident happened while the OP was wiggling her wedding bands, which she describes as something she does when she’s nervous. Dollars to donuts, the bully knows that this as a “tell” of vulnerability for the OP.

      1. Tomato Frog*

        Personally, every time there’s a letter like this, I study it a bit in the hopes that doing so will help me NOT have a freeze/silence response if a similar thing ever happens to me.

    2. Agnodike*

      Right?! I probably would have frozen at the time and then tried to minimize the incident, because I’ve been socialized my whole life to believe that advocating for myself is “making a fuss” and “stooping to their level.” But that’s just me. (Oh, wait, no it’s not…happy International Women’s Day!)

    3. LQ*

      Thank you. Yes.

      OP you are NOT wrong by not responding in the moment the way that people are commenting here that they would have. Even if they would have all done exactly as they said, that does not mean you did anything wrong. Your behavior here is above reproach. You have done exactly nothing wrong. Nothing you have done was wrong or incorrect or unprofessional at all. You did a great job by asking the question. Listen to the answer, some of the comments are deeply helpful. But you are 100% not wrong in how you responded to this. You can do more going forward and you can take action. Nothing you did was wrong. You didn’t have to scream or kick or do anything in the moment. You are not in the wrong on any of this. (Did I say that enough times? You are not in the wrong.)

    4. Lissa*

      +1 million. OP, your reaction was entirely normal, and my guess is that it would be the reaction of many people who think they would have physically lashed out or screamed at her etc.

  34. Stephanie (HR Manager)*

    I don’t have any additional advise, but in the line of supporting what Alison had to say and reassuring you that this is a serious problem, I wanted to let you know I had a physical reaction to reading your story. I’m flushed and upset. I’m so sorry this happened to you.

  35. Anonymous Poster*

    You are in a workplace, and you do not have to put up with being physically assaulted.

    Go to your manager immediately, and if that does not work, go to HR. I’d expect your manager to immediately take action. You may not know the details of what ends of happening (In the companies I’ve been with, these sorts of disciplinary actions would have been handled confidentially), but I’d expect something along the lines of, “Thank you for letting me know and I will take care of this. Let me know immediately if anything like this ever happens again.” You may even get a, “Let’s meet in a week and talk about anything new you may want to discuss and what’s been going on.”

    This is loony and you are not loony for wanting an immediate end to it.

  36. Imaginary Number*

    Unfortunately, you’re going to need to be prepared for Jane to downplay the whole thing to your boss. She will almost definitely try to make it seem like you’re overreacting and try to make it seem like the kick was more along the lines of a foot tap: something totally normal a coworker might do to warn someone else that they’re saying something incorrect to a customer (assuming the two coworkers are on good terms.)

    I would emphasize that this has happened before and that she tried to downplay it this time.

    1. Amadeo*

      This is also something I’d be worried about after reporting this to Boss and HR. Save that text if you can, document the resulting bruise, and be prepared to go over Boss’s head if she downplays it to them and they believe it. I also agree with Alison, in the meantime (maybe after you’ve reported it to Boss, but before having to go over Boss’s head) let this co-worker know they aren’t to touch you again – even if they think it’s just a foot tap to get your attention. And if possible don’t sit beside them in meetings, heh.

  37. FlyingFergus*

    I am new at my company. One long-term co-worker sometimes says things in meetings that are so shockingly rude that I can’t believe no one calls her on it. But I don’t say anything, either, because I’m following everyone else’s lead. People are conditioned, especially in groups, to look to others on how to respond in uncommon situations and to also pretend everything is fine, as if ignoring something bizarre will make it not have happened and spare everyone embarrassment.

    All that is meant to explain that I understand why OP tried to overlook her co-workers behavior and “behave professionally,” but OP, your coworker is way beyond saying rude stuff in front of others. She assaulted you and it makes me angry that your boss dismissed your concerns. Please do escalate this to HR if you have a good HR, and if you’re worried about causing a scene, don’t be. Your coworker is counting on you keeping quiet so that she can continue her behavior. She is the one who is behaving unprofessionally (to say the least), not you by informing HR.

    1. anon for this*

      At OldJob, a manager was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a meeting with her team to share the news. One particularly insensitive person asked “are you going to have to get your boobs cut off?” Several people went to HR after the meeting though no one called her on it in the moment and I think it’s because of the fact that is was so shockingly inappropriate.

      So, yes, I agree with your assessment.

      1. AllTheFiles*

        I think most people tend to stare at the individual in shock at those times. Usually they wait and play it over a few times before complaining to the proper parties.

        I was absolutely that person before, but I got annoyed and noticed that some bamfs (imho) would react with something along the lines of “What a rude thing to say!” or “How inappropriate!”. I now try to be that person if it comes up, which luckily I’ve worked around good people the past few years. For whatever reason those two seem really hard for people to deflect, or really do anything other than apologize or go silent. They’re not about to get into a monologue about why saying something WASN’T rude or why it ISN’T inappropriate, whereas if you say something like “really?” they just start talking about how that wasn’t what they meant etc.

        1. Anonymous 40*

          My favorite response in those situations is a dead stare and, “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

          1. Noobtastic*

            I like “I need to get my ears checked, because you could not POSSIBLY have said what I just heard.”

    2. JessaB*

      This is why in an emergency all the responder training as well as Red Cross training for civilians specify that you actually point to a specific person and say “call 911 or 999 (depending on where you are.”) Because the crowd stands there and believes someone else is doing it. So you make absolutely sure to avoid the crowd response and make a person responsible for a task.

  38. Alistair*

    De-lurking to say Speak Up when it happens! Bullies love silence, it lets them get away with their crap.

    I Spoke Up in a class in high school. My bully had been escalating his tactics until one day he punched me in the back. Not hard, but that wasn’t the point. I very loudly told him to quit hitting me. He got kicked out of class, and eventually dropped it. I hated doing that to a teacher I liked a lot, but the end result (a fun class without my bully) was worth it.

    Yes, it will be awkward, but remember, she is the one initiating the problems. She is the one making the awkwardness. You have a right not to be bullied or assaulted at work!

    Good luck, be safe, I hope it all works out well for you. Lurk mode re-engage!

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      This is very good advice. OP, your silence the first time taught your co-worker that you will not do anything about her outrageous behavior. I’m not saying that to place blame on you, but to help you understand that you need to change that dynamic. Your response to her actions need to change in order for her to change her actions. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE report this. You can not allow this to continue. You are dealing with a person who is operating outside of normal behavior and you don’t know where this might end up if you continue to turn the other cheek. I do not want to scare you, but this could be warning signs for potential work-place violence. Clearly your co-worker does not understand that any violent behavior at work is not allowed and is never appropriate. Because of this, you need to assume that the behavior will continue and may even escalate, if it is not stopped.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It’s part of the job. Teachers have to exercise control over the classroom. Bosses have to exercise control over the workplace.
        All you are doing OP is asking your boss to do his job. If you came to me and expressed regret about having a complaint, the first thing I would tell you is that “THIS is part of my job. Your request is totally appropriate and you have come to the correct person.”

  39. In Lou Of*

    If you’re comfortable with it, show your boss the bruise. I would also take pictures of it. :( I am so sorry. How awful.

  40. Gene*

    Everyone here is (rightfully) focusing on the physical assault. But you also said this:

    started stealing stories and posts from me (we’re social media managers/journalists)

    If there is any way you can do all your writing/editing in protected documents, you should start doing that immediately. Only you and your boss (if he needs to approve them) should see your work product before it is publicly posted. Don’t give her the opportunity to steal; your work.

    Though, once you properly report the battery, that shouldn’t be a problem anymore.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I think this is a really important thing too, and I like the idea of finding a way to defend against this.

    2. 2horseygirls*

      ^ This is another avenue of bullying.

      In a perfect world, the lovely scene at the end of “Working Girl” would play out, where Oren Trask asks Katherine Parker, “Where did you get the idea for Trask to buy out Metro? The impulse . . . ?” Your co-worker would not have an answer, because she stole your ideas.

      Your co-worker is not only physically assaulting you and undermining you professionally, she is isolating, then gaslighting you (by texting and asking if you are ok – she is setting up her defense “Why would I assault OP and then ask her if she’s OK”). Remaining silent will only further isolate you in the workplace, and it plays havoc on you psychologically. I was there, and it was debilitating.

      This is NOT your fault, in any way, shape, or form. Bullies pick on those they *think* will not defend themselves.

      I would go straight to HR, ask them to call your boss down to their office, and tell all of them at the same time “I am leaving for the rest of the day. I am going to the hospital to have the physical assault I was just the recipient of documented by the authorities, and to file a police report. I do not expect to be docked in sick, vacation, or personal time for the rest of this day. I will be back in the HR office at 8 a.m. (or whatever time you normally start), and we will discuss what is going to be done about the ongoing physical harassment and professional misconduct that I have been on the receiving end of for ____ (insert period of time).” Then go to the hospital and the police station.

      After the meeting, I would start taking home any personal items you have at work, lest your co-worker decide to destroy them “accidentally”. It also helps you distance yourself from the workplace, and makes it much easier to pick up your purse and leave if it comes to that.

      When this is over, I strongly recommend reading “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin deBecker. It is an excellent book that gives a lot of credence to listening to your instincts.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Applauding for the Working Girl reference! “Get your… what did you call it?” “Bony ass.” “Bony ass out of my sight.”

    3. Tex*

      I would report all of it to HR/Boss because it seems to be an escalating pattern of bullying. Also, if OP can show the rough drafts of the story (word document back ups, notes, etc.), that’s more evidence that the abuser has been taking advantage of OP.

  41. the.kat*

    LW, this sounds very scary and I can see myself in your descriptions. It can be really hard to speak up when things are this entirely wrong, but you need to know that the wrongness is not your fault. If you need permission to stop smoothing things over, this is your permission. You’re allowed to look out for yourself first and that’s going to require making this behavior stop. It’s not good or right for you to be hit as a part of your job.

    Talking to your boss is a good first step. I would also suggest not letting Jane physically close to you again. This can be awkward, but let her sit first at meetings and put a chair between you.

    1. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

      +1. After reading, I definitely pictured myself in your place. It’s very evident that this bully is escalating matters. First she steals your work and tries to gaslight you, now she’s upped the game with physical violence. She needs to be stopped ASAP!! You need to report her to your boss and notify him that you will be taking the matter to HR. If your boss and HR have a “wait and see” attitude, then I would remind them that they (The Company) can be held accountable because they are supposed to provide a safe environment for you in which to work. Also, if you can, find out if she has bullied anyone else at your company (or in your department). And as was also suggested, keep as much distance between you as you possibly can. And if all of that fails, then I think you should definitely get law enforcement involved. I feel so bad that this is happening to you and hope it stops soon.

      1. Troutwaxer*

        The only thing I’d add to all this might be, after you’ve reported this to your boss, (plus your boss’s boss if your boss gives you a hard time) and also reported this to H.R. and called the police, and after you have taken a picture of your bruise and sent it off site, you might arrange for an employment lawyer to write a nasty letter to your place of employment.

        Also, I thought that the advice about protecting your work by mailing it to yourself, was very good. I assume that you also know about “poor man’s copyright” and can send something to yourself by certified male.

        Lastly, (and this might not be my greatest-ever idea,) you might take a daily picture of your bruise as it develops and print the picture out every day. Then you can leave the picture on your co-worker’s desk every day (assuming that she it not fired.)

        1. Troutwaxer*

          Sorry. This ended up posted in the wrong place. I’m not sure how that happened.

  42. LawCat*

    What? What!? WHAT!?

    Definitely escalate to your manager. As others have said, document these incidents and keep additional documentation (not just of the physical attacks, but also the petty undermining).

    I’d practice asserting yourself in the moment. Best with a friend who can act as “Jane,” but also okay to practice on your own. Practice not being afraid to call out firmly and loudly when someone physically attacks you. “Ouch! You kicked me! Don’t do that! What’s wrong with you?” Any excuses or whatever she offers, “No, don’t you ever touch me again. This is the 3rd time you’ve done this and if you ever dare touch me again, my first call will be to the police.” Let it get super awkward if it happens in front of other people. That’s on her.

    1. OhNoNotAgain*

      I had to assert myself to a workplace bully when she got physical (not nearly as bad as what the OP is going through)– she would walk by my desk, hit me with papers on the head and “jokey” carp like that. When she flicked me really hard on the back one day, I got angry–I said to her “Do not touch me again!” She tried to play it off. I reiterated that I am completely serious. She hasn’t touched me again, although I’m still her metaphorical punching bag. Bullies do pick the one person who they think won’t “fight” back. In my experience, I’m the only one she’s nasty to and it comes in waves–it’s not constant so I have to address it when it comes up. This person is also a coward–She backs down when called out.

      OP’ s situation is so bad that she absolutely should escalate this to HR and bring all the documents she can.

  43. May*


    I think OP should call the cops, get a note from the doctor and see a lawyer. That’s assault. OP, please, consider filing a report after talking to your boss.

  44. Mimmy*

    Dang OP! I probably would’ve yelped right there! (I’m not very good at hiding my instinctive reactions).

    I’m not sure about calling the cops, as many others have suggested, but I would DEFINITELY mention this to your boss right away. Taking pictures of the injuries is a good idea too.

  45. Mongoose*

    OP–I am so sorry this is happening to you. Please bring this to your boss and HR asap. I went through a lesser degree of physical abuse at my job when I was in my early twenties. I didn’t report it for almost a year and HR used that against me when I finally did. The, “it cannot be as bad as she’s saying or else she would have reported it earlier” logic was applied and the only action that was taken was to put the offender and I in the same room and have my boss and boss’ boss tell us to get along or else.
    Be safe, OP, and best of luck to you.

  46. Lionheart*

    Speaking as a woman here, I find it interesting that the OP’s coworker and ALL of the other examples mentioned in the comments are about women. Are women more likely to physically abuse their coworkers? Or are they just more likely to get away with it?

    1. Leatherwings*

      Alison just typically uses she/her pronouns for most OPs, so commenters do as well. And we have quite a few context clues here that both actors are women.

      But that really doesn’t mean we can make accurately or fairly make broad claims about genders, and doing so isn’t helpful for OP anyways.

    2. fposte*

      Or women are less likely to get away with it, since men might suffer more for complaints about an under the table kick.

    3. NW Mossy*

      It might simply be that OPs and commenters skew female. If the readership of the site is more heavily weighted towards women, it wouldn’t be surprising to find that they’re overrepresented in the stories told.

    4. Lissa*

      I’ve seen this play out with guys, too — “joking” headlocks, arm-punches etc. The other guy doesn’t want to say anything for fear of looking weak. I have seen this dynamic play out really similarly among two men or two women, but with their own special “flavour.” I mentioned above, but often conflict between women is dismissed as “drama”, it’s assumed women (especially little/cute women) couldn’t physically hurt someone, etc.

  47. J-nonymous*

    I disagree with Alison’s advice. Call the police and file a report against her immediately. She’s done this twice. This is not a workplace problem for managers alone to solve. This is assault. It’s illegal and Jane deserves to be brought up on charges.

    You can, in parallel, inform your workplace about this – but we should not treat our workplace managers and HR departments as if they’re a criminal justice system. They aren’t. They’re not trained in this. They’re trained to handle workplace matters (and sometimes inadequately).

    1. J-nonymous*

      Um, my poor use of pronouns makes it sound like I want you to file a police report against Alison! That is not the case :) I meant Jane, of course.

    2. Leatherwings*

      Good HR departments actually are trained to handle physical abuse between employees. And while I think calling the police is a good backup option, it’s unlikely to result in prosecution. HR might fix this issue by firing the coworker if OP goes to them first.

    3. MuseumChick*

      The only problem I see with this is that the OP has (from what I gather, could be wrong) no evidence of the first assault. Since the second assault was today she could gather her evidence (photos, doctors, report etc) and press charges if she wanted to. And, as you say, let her work know in advance what she is doing.

      I do think she should talk to her boss and HR ASAP and based on their response she can choose to press charge against her co-worker or not. Like, if this co-worker is immediately fired I would personally feel that was enough justice for me.

      1. J-nonymous*

        @Leatherwings and MuseumChick, since you made similar points:

        I understand that firing someone feels just. Personally, I feel we (I’m American, so I am speaking in broad terms of American society) are far too accepting of letting people lose jobs for criminal behavior – but I do understand that it feels like justice (and it eliminates the problem, so win/win for the individual).

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Why should a company retain an employee who physically assaults another employee?

          1. MuseumChick*

            I think J-nonymous means is it shouldn’t stop at firing, charges should be filed as well but most companies will just let the person go and not seek to have them legally prosecuted.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Oh, I apologize—I very much misunderstood. Thanks to you and MuseumChick for clarifying.

        2. Allypopx*

          There’s a difference between firing someone who gets arrested for drug possession and firing someone who assaults a coworker during work hours. One of those is a work problem.

          1. J-nonymous*

            I’m not sure where you’re drawing the distinction. I actually believe American drug enforcement laws are ridiculous, but that’s not the point of the conversation.

            What I meant to say is that we (again, society at large in very broad terms) tend to equate someone losing their job for illegal behavior as justice without pursuing the matter in the justice system. Loss of job != criminal prosecution.

            1. Allypopx*

              I misinterpreted your comment as saying that criminal behavior wasn’t cause for someone to be fired, which I agree with, if the criminal behavior does not impact job performance, which this would. That’s what I was responding too. Your actual point is well taken.

        3. Observer*

          In some cases, that’s good enough though. A lot depends on what else is going on in “Jane’s” life. Losing her job could be the thing that causes her to get mental health / addiction treatment, if that’s what she needs. It could also be the thing that gets the people around her to push back in useful ways. Getting fired for cause can have a lot of ripple effects, that sometimes are too harsh. But in a case like this, they could be just what the situation needs.

          Not that I am especially averse to calling the police. But as a practical matter, if her workplace is reasonably functional, she’ll probably get faster, and for her, better results if she starts with her employer.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        No evidence of first assault except she brought it up with her manager and they blew it off.

    4. The IT Manager*

      I don’t think calling the police will result in the co-worker being arrested immediately. And while I agree it is assault this is small level of violence not currently ongoing compared to many other more pressing police reports. It may not even be prosecuted. That’s not a reason not to do it, but it means that calling the police won’t necessarily result in any more immediate action than telling your boss or HR should. Start there.

      1. MuseumChick*

        I still don’t think we should discourage the OP from contacting the police (if that is what she chooses to do). Yes, it could lead to little or nothing but it could also 1) Being to establish a paper trail if this ever happens again. 2) For all we know the co-worker has done this before, which would effect how seriously the police handle this.

        100% agree her Boss and HR need to be in the loop.

      2. Erin*

        Based on my own experiences in my own state, you’d be surprised, although I’m not a lawyer/police officer/etc so this could vary from state to state. But if she took pictures of the bruises I’d say she almost definitely could get her arrested.

        *Should* she is another matter. I definitely think she should raise this to the boss first, HR second, and then if that doesn’t go anywhere and the abuse continues, then the police.

        Definitely get a picture of the bruises/damage if this happens a third time. Just in case.

  48. Amber Rose*

    Speechless from shock and horror.

    And that’s coming from someone who worked with dudes who thought it was funny to punch/kick each other in the crotch as a “prank.”

    Actually wait no, as a safety person I do have one additional thing to add to the excellent wave of advice: basically every workplace I’ve ever been in has a strict no tolerance, written policy against workplace violence/harassment. If this coworker tries to downplay this as just a tap or whatever, and you have a version of this policy, bring it with you. Ours in particular makes mention of unwanted physical contact. Don’t let yourself be convinced that this is not unacceptable and appalling behavior.

    1. Allypopx*

      Excellent point. Check your employee handbook. Most have at least a CYA clause to show they enforce a safe workplace.

  49. Rex*

    OP, I am late to comment so this might get buried, but I am worried about you, given your reactions to your co-worker’s abuse. I think it might make sense to call an abuse hotline to talk about what happened here, and think about how you reset your sense of okay behavior.

    This is so wildly out of line that I’m concerned that you might be vulnerable to something like this happening again, and that you might have a hard time taking the steps Alison and others have recommended (that I agree with!)

    1. 2horseygirls*

      ^^ x 100. You need to talk about your feelings with someone who will listen, and can counsel if you want.

  50. Critter*

    Holy moly.

    I’m so sorry this is happening to you. You DON’T deserve this, it is NOT normal behavior, and addressing it head on is NOT sinking to her level. She barely has a level.

    I wonder if there’s anyone, perhaps a normal friendly coworker, who could help OP through this? Considering they didn’t say anything the first time around, I feel like they might need some backup. This is assault for crying in a cup.

  51. Feathers McGraw*

    To reiterate a point others have made: doing something about this doesn’t make you ‘as bad’. Decicing to go and punch her in the head in revenge (ie not automatic self-defence? Bad. Tripping her in the hall? Bad. Reporting someone for behaviour they chose to do to you, that you did not choose to have done to you, is not bad. That’s like blaming a window for breaking because someone throws a stone at it.

    1. paul*

      I wouldn’t even consider punching back, hard, to be immoral. Unproductive probably, but not immoral. I’ve got very little patience for people that use petty violence to intimidate others and feel like that’d count as preventative self defense (not legally, but just morally).

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Oh so grammar school me pulling my desk away from the bully as she tipped her chair back and rested on my desk was BAD? Oh. okay. I won’t do that any more.

      Many of us do think about tripping the bully in the hallway. We don’t do it. It does give us momentary relief however.

      What you really need here, OP, is enduring relief, that is, this has to stop.

  52. C in the Hood*

    And what’s to say that Jane isn’t doing this to someone else, past or present? Please do speak up. Jane needs to be stopped.

    1. fposte*

      That’s a really good point, OP. If you aren’t sure if you can bring yourself to do this for your own defense, think about other people you might be helping.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Errmm it’s not really her responsibility to protect other people, only herself. Yes that’s a noble impulse, but sometimes just speaking up for your own rights/safety is hard enough without that additional pressure. Just something to keep in mind.

      1. fposte*

        For me it can go either way. It’s not your responsibility to speak up for other people, but it can be a motivation for those reluctant to speak up for themselves.

        1. Agnodike*

          I think that’s true, but I also think that whether or not that’s a positive thing depends on your perspective and what you think the most important outcome is. If the most important outcome is stopping the offender, then yes, it’s good to motivate victims with guilt, even though that might make their own experience more difficult. If the most important outcome is supporting the victim, then no, it’s not good to do so.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t think it’s simply guilt, though; it wouldn’t be for me, anyway. I might think I’m not worth the effort or the trouble, but that other people are, so if it was just for me I might not want to make waves, but I’ll make waves on behalf of others.

            1. Agnodike*

              I do see the point that you’re making, but I don’t think we can avoid the fact that the message “Even if you don’t think you’re worth defending, think of all the others you could be helping” both feeds into and is fed by some pretty unfortunate social attitudes that we might justly hesitate to reinforce.

          2. Observer*

            Also, right now the OP seems to be a victim of the notion that it’s “not nice” to push back too hard on someone who is hurting her. Understanding that she’s potentially not doing this only for herself helps to reframe this to not have to worry about not being “nice” enough.

            1. Agnodike*

              See, here again I disagree. I think it EXACTLY reinforces the idea that it’s “not nice” to advocate for yourself; it just provides the OP with an alternative to self-advocacy that falls under “niceness.” Women get taught from a very early age that it’s good to help others and bad to help ourselves, and that’s a huge problem. We can’t counteract that message except by counteracting it. Telling people it’s OK to rock the boat if it’s in service of others can really reinforce the message that it’s not OK to rock the boat to protect ourselves.

              1. fposte*

                And I really disagree, but I think we can do that from points of goodwill on both sides.

              2. Observer*

                See, I’m more pragmatic than you, I guess. I want her to feel like she can take action, even if it’s for the “wrong” reason. To me, that’s more important than insisting on purity of motive.

                In practice, once she starts advocating for herself, she’s likely to change her attitude. That’s a common reaction to actually doing something. It changes your attitude in many cases.

                Or she’ll start looking for ways to “justify” advocating for herself in other situations, rather than just taking whatever injustice is going on. That’s not ideal, but still better than rolling over.

          3. Not So NewReader*

            I think that it can be a useful tool for motivation and for clarity.
            Sometimes if we think of X happening to others we immediately see how unfair/wrong it is. Where as we might be less apt to see it for our own setting.

            Sometimes this happens because we KNOW the person. “Oh they had a rough life or they are having a bad time or the boss is a meanie to them” etc. Familiarity does this, we start drawing up reasons and trying to see it from their perspective. In doing so we lose our own perspective in the process.

  53. AcidMeFlux*

    “she’s started stealing stories and posts from me”… This, as well, is worrisome. Also I think if OP brings evidence of this to the attention to the higher-ups, her complaints of physical abuse will be shown in a context of other bad behaviors, and might be taken more seriously.


    The next time she kicks you in a meeting, call her on it right then and there and then write an email to both your boss/HR immediately afterward of what occurred as well as stating this is not a first time thing. Also, don’t sit next to her. Don’t be afraid of her.

  55. De Minimis*

    I’m sorry you’re going through this. The crappy thing is that people take advantage of how grossly inappropriate this type of behavior is. It is so shocking that when it happens to you, you don’t know what to do because you can’t believe that someone would do that in the workplace.

  56. RianDiem*

    Wow, this is probably the most insane thing I’ve read in a while on this site. Alison’s advice was spot on. I’d like an update OP.

  57. LadyPhoenix*

    I’m surprised AaM didn’t say this, but you should feinotely keep a log with a date/timestamp of all the times she as harassed you, stolen your work, and ASSAULTED YOU. And make sure you bold the llast one in red and include the injury (and bruises) to build a case.

    Then keep the log on your person at all times. A small journal that fits in the pocket is the best, so that your coworker from hell doesn’t try to steal it.

    And if your coworker tries to attack you, make a scene. “Ow! Why did you punch you!” “Why did you kick me!” You might get an accident excuse the first time, but it will most definitely her from doing it the next time.

    1. LadyPhoenix*

      And while chances are, the first wound has recovered, Please take a picture of your current injury when you bring this to the boss.

      I also HIGHLY recommend looking up Captain Awkward’s website and check out the Abuse tags. She has some great advice about
      spotting the warning signs and strategizing ways to combat abusive people and their poison.

  58. Alton*

    This is why I don’t like how children are sometimes taught that they’re responsible for dealing with bullying on their own. A lot of people aren’t good at differentiating between a personality conflict or fight that people need to work out diplomatically and serious bullying/harassment/assault, and that creates toxic ideas such as that seeking help when you’re being harassed or assaulted makes you weak or immature.

    Being assaulted by a coworker isn’t normal, and it’s serious enough that bringing it up to your boss is absolutely justified. Sometimes a strong reaction is warranted.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I think that’s 1) a way for people who aren’t good at handling confrontation (or discipline, in the case of children) to excuse themselves from doing so. And/or 2) they don’t realize how serious it actually can be.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Parents who were bullied, tend to raise kids who get bullied.
        It’s the lack of skills. A parent can’t teach what they don’t know.

        If I had kids, I would have been sitting with book after book to learn how to teach my kid how to deal with what is out there.

        1. Julia*

          I’m not sure I agree with this because there are so many factors to being bullied. For me, it was because I was smaller and younger than everyone else and a bit weird. Who knows if my future child will be small, skip a grade or be weird in a way that’s seen as uncool that year?

    2. MashaKasha*

      And then, if they do try to follow this advice and deal with bullying on their own, they’re the ones who get in trouble for “attacking” the bully. You’re right. There’s a line after which you need to reach out to others.

  59. LavaLamp*

    Oh op. I feel so awful for you because I’ve experienced something similar as a teenager in middle school. I ended up assaulted in front of a good 20+ people and nobody did anything until my mom called the school (I was fourteen). The only difference is the person who hurt me was a dude and he liked me.

    Please tell someone. You don’t deserve this. I cam imagine you probably feel anxious about going to work. You probably stressed out which can have a negative impact on your work. You’re not Joe Ledger so you definitely have the right to expect not being hit or in any way hurt by a coworker while at work.

  60. Lisa*

    Isn’t it also illegal for a company to knowingly allow one coworker to abuse another? If they try to blow it off time to call a lawyer.

  61. Forever Anon*

    OP, please know that if someone does something that makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s ALWAYS okay to say something (even if it’s something small like a coworker always takes your pens). I think your best bet is to email your boss (for the paper trail) and if that gets brushed off, go to your HR department (with photos of the bruises if your coworker left more). I’m rooting for you!

  62. Siberian*

    In addition to everyone else who is saying you should report this to your supervisor and HR, I’d also like to add that you should physically stay away from this person. Don’t sit next to her in meetings. Don’t be alone with her in rooms (leave immediately if she comes in). Avoid her in the hall. When my ex assaulted me during our divorce, I evaluated that he was mainly a passive aggressive person, and I just stayed out of arm’s reach, wouldn’t meet him alone anywhere, etc. That would not have been sufficient in other circumstances, but it was in this case.

  63. Whats In A Name*

    This has me so up in arms I am going to comment before I read. This stood out to me glaringly:
    But I don’t want to blow my top because then I’m no better than her.

    If you are not punching, hitting, pinching, slapping or otherwise assaulting her you are overwhelmingly better than her, by leaps and bounds.

    I probably wouldn’t be comfortable calling her out in front of people but I definitely agree with Alison you need to address it with both her and your boss. It’s unacceptable.

    And quite frankly I can’t believe you had the ability to not react with “What the F^@k?!” really loudly when she kicked you.

  64. I'm Not Phyllis*

    Alison’s advice 100%. The only thing I would possibly do differently is loop in the boss and HR without giving her another chance. You asked her not to do it again after the first time and she still did so to me this is already escalate-to-HR-worthy. The stealing your ideas and generally showing you disrespect may be for your boss to handle, but the physical assault is completely HR-worthy.

    And yes to calling her out publicly if she does it again.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To make sure it’s clear, my #1 was also telling the boss immediately without waiting to see if it happens again! Definitely agree with that.

  65. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    Oh my God, what is WRONG with some people? I am so sorry this has happened and really wish I could shoot lasers from my eyes right now. This is disgusting behaviour.

    In addition to the excellent advice you’ve received, please also do not tolerate anyone who says that this is not a big deal or otherwise doesn’t take you seriously. I’m hoping that won’t be the case and everyone will be as horrified as we are. Just in case, please remember that this is not okay, it’s not your fault and you don’t have to put up with it for any reason.

    Sending you all the good thoughts. This post seriously brought me to tears, honestly, who raises people like this.

  66. Observer*

    I haven’t read all of the comments, so what I’m about to say may have been covered.

    OP, you need to re-frame your thinking.

    Since when is self-defense the same as assault? Even physical self defense, much less verbal. You need stop worrying about whose level you are “sinking” to.

    Also, stop ceding the conversations, meetings and work narratives to her. When she says X and it’s wrong, correct her. When you do something and she tries to take the credit, correct the narrative with whoever she said it to. Also, don’t let her see your work till it’s posted. And document your head off.

    Tell you boss clearly what is going on, especially the hitting part. If you don’t get clear and immediate action, go to HR. Again, be very clear and explicit. And, regarding the physical stuff, take pictures. Then decide if you want to go to the police about what’s already happened. If you do, let HR know that you are doing this. If not, DO tell them that you expect this to stop and that if you are hit again, you WILL go to the police. And follow this up with an email, either way.

    Here is the bottom line. Your coworker is acting like a jerk and thug. Pretending like it’s not happening does not make you classy or “better” than her or anything like that. Not being a jerk makes you better and more classy than her. Defending yourself and calling her on her behavior does not “lower” you, nor does it in any way equate to jerkish and thuggish behavior. So, do what you need to do to protect yourself and your work, and hold your head high.

  67. Addison*

    OP, definitely speak up, Alison is spot-on… I also recently experienced a lot of workplace harassment although thankfully none of it got physical (I’m the LW on the Rude Gaslighting Your Mom Jokes Clerk saga) and her advice there really helped me as well, as all that is over now (yay) but at the time it was honestly just the Worst thing. It affects your life at work and outside of it too.

    I know how it feels, it’s kind of hard to speak up because I think we are sort of conditioned to try and brush it off – oh, I don’t want to make a stink when this person is obviously just messing with me/it feels juvenile to run to my boss about this like kids on a playground “teacherrrr, co-worker is hitting meeee”/feeling like you’re tattling or just not doing something right because you can’t make it stop all by yourself, etc. But your boss and/or HR have an obligation o do something about it. It’s their job to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen and stops immediately, not yours (beyond speaking up because they cannot read minds and even if it feels so big and obvious to you, people clearly aren’t noticing enough to act first). Also, you are never ever ever ever under any circumstances required to tolerate abuse from anyone, ever, at any time, especially not like this, you’ve done nothing wrong so please don’t let your coworker gaslight you and make you believe that there’s something YOU have to change. There isn’t (again, aside from speaking up). This person is a lunatic and you’re definitely better than they are by speaking up about it and asserting yourself, it’s not “sinking to their level” at all to take a stand about it.

    Wishing you all the best and hoping this gets resolved quickly! Everyone here has your back so please stay strong.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      I remember you! It’s good to hear from you and that you’re out of the situation <3

    2. TheFormerAstronomer*

      Oh! I’m so glad I read through all the comments to get to this update. So glad to hear that that saga is finally behind you :)

  68. Girasol*

    We were told in workplace violence class (yes, it’s a thing!) that any violent incidents or peculiar behavior that made us feel unsafe were to be reported immediately. Often after incidents of workplace violence, we were told, management discovers that coworkers had seen considerable odd behavior that might have provided a warning, but no one spoke up until it was too late because they believed that they ought not tattle.

    1. motherofdragons*

      This is probably true for harassment, as well. I was recently sexually harassed by a stranger who was an employee of the agency I was visiting on a work assignment. I immediately set about reporting it to the offender’s manager and the agency’s Personnel department. Along the way, multiple people who knew her commented something to the effect of “Oh yeah, I’m not surprised. She’s always doing and saying weird things to people.” Which prompted me to ask, “Then why the f*** is she still working here?”

  69. Sprinkled with Snark*

    Do you know how many women have punched me or kicked me, under the table, sitting next to me, in plain view, while out in public, etc? I wish I could say . . in high school! . . . in grade school! . . . in college! But the truth is, an embarrassingly sad number of women think THIS is appropriate communications. We even see it all the time on TV – -it’s supposed to be a great comedy moment! Jane says the wrong thing and Mary kicks her in the ankle. Mary says to some guy, “You know, Jane likes sci fi too, you two should talk,” and Jane punches her in the arm. I m absolutely opposed to violence of any kind, so I will always say something about it to me so called “friends” who think this is a normal, and I always get the “Are you serious?” reaction. Not just for the ladies, but time and time again we see wives slap or punch their husbands too.

    So, I have to ask you, do you REALLY think the very best way to handle this is to immediately call 911?
    911: Emergency Services, what is your location?
    Caller: I’m at my desk. My co-worker punched me in the leg under the table, and it left a mark.
    911: Do you need an ambulance?
    Caller: No
    911: Is the person still there? What are they doing now?
    Caller: Sitting at her computer typing.
    Now I know that some of you are going to tell me it’s assault and you must immediately call the police and all that, but is that he BEST solution? What are you going to do if Jane, while being interviewed by the police officer says, well, yeah, I kicked her but I ALWAYS do that and it’s fine. It’s never been a problem before, everybody does it, I didn’t even do it that hard, she kicked ME first! Everybody was there at the meeting so if it hurt so hard why didn’t she even say ow? Jane can really turn this around and make you look completely irrational. Your co-workers, while they will agree that no one should be punching anybody at work, will also say, Really? She called 911 for THAT?! You will NEVER get a restraining order for that. There are women who are harassed and RAPED by someone they know and even then they can’t get a restraining order.

    What Allison is saying is some REALLY good advice in this situation. Go to your supervisor/manager and say, this is NOT okay with me, and this is NOT some stupid game that girls play. AND the other stuff Alison advised too. And THEN see what your manager will do. One conversation from him to her may be all it takes and you two can then begin to communicate like adults. Because the reality is, for far too many women, this IS just a stupid game. You want to come across as a professional at work, an adult who knows how to handle herself in these situations. Jane has handled this very badly, but unfortunately, just ignoring what she’s done and never bringing it up with her that this is NOT okay with is not a good approach either.

    1. moss*

      Maybe not call 911 but she can certainly call the non emergency police line, have the police come to the office, and file a police report. A good coworker will not question her credibility on that.

  70. Lori*

    Document, document, document.

    Take photos of bruises. If you go to HR, create a paper trail. Email HR after meeting with them to reiterate what was discussed. Send a copy to your personal email. Tell HR you are seriously considering going to the police. These things could help protect you from getting fired. DO NOT go to the abuser first.

    This person is not to be trusted. If she’ll assault you to stop you from SAYING something in a meeting, she won’t think twice about firing you to save her own ass.

    1. Troutwaxer*

      And print out each email, take them to your car ASAP, and save them in a file at home.

  71. Sylvia*

    I have nothing to add to Alison’s great advice. I just wanted to say I’m sorry you’re dealing with this, OP! You don’t deserve being hit and kicked whenever someone’s irritated, and there’s nothing wrong with trying to stop it.

  72. textbookaquarian*

    Wow. I would have been in my boss’s office demanding action after the first incident. I have a bleeding disorder and bruise very easily. So not only would this be physical assault, but a potential medical situation as well.

    Please don’t wait any longer, OP. Seek help from whomever you need to to deal with this now.

  73. Jade*

    My 2 cents here on the idea of speaking to the abusive coworker: I would take it to boss/HR and let them have that conversation instead. File a formal complaint so it is recorded in this woman’s file should anything more serious happen. Don’t engage her. Tell your boss you want to be physically separated from her and don’t want to work with her directly until their investigation is over. This woman sounds a little… unhinged. Confronting this bully in any form could provoke her into worse violence or harassment. This happened to my sister at a job she took last year. One of her coworkers would make snide comments to her about not doing her job right, sometimes raising his voice or being really cruel. She would just walk away and ignore him. One day she decided to stand up for herself and told him to mind his own business. Her coworker then threw something across the room and screamed at the top of his lungs that he was going to beat the ^@&$ out of her. She left and quit over the phone the next day.

    1. Noobtastic*

      Another reason not to confront the bully, directly:

      Someone who is already gas lighting you is going to continue, when confronted.

      I once confronted someone, who had physically assaulted me, and by the time that guy was finished, he had me apologizing to him, for being “too sensitive.” Because, in his logic, he would never have hit me, in the first place, if I weren’t too sensitive and gave him the reaction he wanted, so he could “have some fun.”

      Uhhhhh… What? There is some serious time-travel fridge-logic going on there, but yeah, it put the stops on me, because I had already been manipulated into apologizing to him for being hurt by his assault.

      Don’t confront the bully!

  74. Daffodil*

    One thing I haven’t seen discussed in the comments so far is that this happened in front of outsiders, and it sounds like the OP is feeling extra pressure to not react in the moment because of that. Honestly I think that should influence things the other way – outsiders make good witnesses.

    It’s likely that they saw the assault, but when the OP acted like it didn’t happen they followed her lead and did the same. Your coworker’s behavior is likely already harming the organization’s reputation with them – I know I’d be extremely reluctant to work with a partner when I’ve seen one of their employees physically assault another one. You’re not going to make things worse with them by speaking up.

    You deserve help and protection here. Anyone else who was in the room should be willing to describe what they saw to your boss and/or HR and/or the police if asked. If you’re assaulted again and you yell, they should be on your side. Their presence is a bad thing for the person committing assault, not for you.

    Good luck. I hope this coworker is fired ASAP. You deserve to be treated with respect and kindness in the workplace.

  75. Sybil Fawlty*

    I’m so sorry, and I have no advice that hasn’t already been given, but this was shocking to me. You certainly do not deserve this treatment!

    I am losing faith in humanity, this is just bananas. Alison, is there any way you could start including some positive stories? Maybe a brag post about how colleagues or managers did things right? Or were just decent human beings? I know there are a few but maybe more to balance out the awful stories? Just a thought.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      People tend not to write in seeking advice when things are good, so I don’t get many of those! But the open thread is a good place for it.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          I love this idea. How about “tell me a story about an awesome coworker who did something great?”

        2. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

          Yes please! A good boss or even a good-workplace-experience-in-general post would be wonderful.

    2. Isobel*

      I do enjoy the positive updates and sure, an occasional best-thing post would be nice but I will ALWAYS click through a Worst (Coworker, Boss, Interview, etc.) post first. I love the weird stories and bizarre situations that come up here as well as the everyday challenges.

      Don’t go getting too sunny on us. Conflict makes the story.

  76. Minister of Snark*

    I had a coworker who would talk over me during meetings when she decided I was done talking. And when that didn’t work, she would “accidentally” kick me in the shins under the table, because there were only so many pieces of the “attention” pie, you see, and if I had one, it meant I was taking hers.

    I would stop talking when she talked over me, giving her my professional cut-a-bitch face, and when she stopped talking I would say, “Are you done? Great, as I was saying…”

    And when she kicked me, I would yelp, LOUDLY, “You kicked me! Why would you do that?”

    I basically worked to make it so uncomfortable for the people around me to ignore the behavior, that the social pressure was too much for Coworker to continue doing it. She could pretend she ‘accidentally’ kicked me once or twice, but after that, it became very obvious what she was doing. People eventually started saying, “Here, Minister, why don’t you sit next to me.” Because it was uncomfortable for them to witness a grown ass woman behave like a third grade bully.

    In your case, I would definitely follow Allison’s suggestions.

  77. Anonymous 40*

    I want to reinforce something Alison said in her reply:

    Your boss should (a) be shocked by this and (b) assure you that he’ll put a stop to it immediately. If he doesn’t, though, then go to HR and say what’s above to them instead.

    There are a lot of bad bosses, unfortunately. If yours doesn’t react the way Alison described, don’t take it as a sign you’re overreacting. You’re not. Go straight to HR. It can be very easy to see a boss as a model for a model of how to behave in an unfamiliar situation, especially when you’re already feeling unsure of yourself. When you go to speak to your boss, be prepared for the possibility that he may minimize or dismiss your problem. I’m not saying it’s likely, but be aware that it’s a possibility so that you’re not taken by surprise if it happens. Have your next step ready in your mind before you start that conversation, and if it doesn’t result in the reaction you need, go straight to your next step.

  78. MadGrad*

    I’d even push you to be harder on her than recommended. Do not respond to her until you’ve talked to your boss (do so ASAP, with pictures of bruises if you have them) and HR. Do not engage, do not play her game, refuse all talk with “I am busy right now” until that’s taken care of. Once you have, tell her in no uncertain terms that she does not ever touch you again, even on accident. Don’t ask, don’t try to understand why, just tell her you won’t tolerate physical assault at work and that your boss/hr is aware. If she tries to start anything, do not engage (and I mean as coldly as you can, not a polite deflection). Frosty reception and bare minimum communication unless/until she gets her act together (in every way, including stealing your work). You do not owe your heart to the person trying to cut it out.

  79. Purple Jello*

    Just thought of something: how do we know she hasn’t done this to anyone else? It’s such shocking behavior, it’s not surprising that you’d freeze up in the moment. It’s like you have to train yourself ahead of time to decide to react by yelling at her. I think most people would freeze and not do anything in the moment, then be reluctant to say something later or report it.

  80. Rocky*

    Can I share a good story of speaking up? My case was nothing like as serious as being punched in a meeting. A representative of another agency is very quick to criticise other agencies’ work but doesn’t produce much of his own. In one meeting I’d updated on a process that my agency was responsible for, that was going slowly for various annoying but unavoidable reasons. He didn’t say anything, just leant back in his chair, crossed his arms and sniggered. I asked in a calm, gently puzzled tone “Sorry, Clem, why are you laughing? Did I miss a joke?”. He immediately sat back up to the table and took a more ‘respectful’ stance. After the meeting he came and apologised, explaining that he was frustrated by the slow progress. That gave me a chance to say “I’m frustrated too, but showing my frustration doesn’t help the work get done”.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      This is really good advice. I’m definitely remembering this one as it happens quite a bit. Nicely handled!

  81. Some Person*

    Hey, OP. Look at all these comments from people supporting you and being shocked at what happened to you. This is how normal people react when they hear that a person assaulted another. Whatever you do, don’t normalize this, it’s all kinds of messed up. And do speak up. I understand it can be intimidating (I tend to freeze, too) but bullies feed on our silence. Disempower yours.

  82. Narise*

    Do not sit next to her again. When you speak to your boss state ‘No matter the outcome I will never sit by her again.’ And yes demand someone move so you don’t have to sit by her.

    1. Rick Tq*

      Absolutely! As long as you work in the same office never, ever, ever be within contact distance of her if you can help it! If she moves chairs to corner you again just continue moving away and don’t let her corner you in private (bathroom, stairwell, elevator, etc.)

      Also (as stated higher up) don’t let her see your work in progress, lock her out of your files on the network (as much as you can) or don’t post work on the network until it is complete and posted.. Emailing files to yourself may also help with documenting your progress and your coworker’s theft.

      Out in the parking lot you have more leeway, and a better possibility of rapid response if you call 911 that you are being stalked by someone with a history of violent behavior at work…

  83. Not So NewReader*

    My wise friend helped me with this type of stuff.
    He said that people start out small. They do little things to us to test the waters. If we say nothing then they move to something a little bigger. If we continue to say nothing, they move on to even bigger things.
    At some point it is no longer a choice, we have to speak up or do something. We have to protect ourselves. Look at it this way, you would not let yourself run out food/fuel/clothing, right? Why. Because it’s necessary for your quality of life. Well the same holds for basic respect. Every human being is entitled to basic respect. You wouldn’t kick someone under the table, I bet the idea never occurred to you. It’s okay to demand that people give you the same level of respect you give them. This is normal.

    A rule of thumb my wise friend shared was the rule of three. You see something once, it’s fine to let it go. You see the same behavior twice, this is a heads up, a warning. You see that same behavior a third time, you now have a pattern. When we are able to notice a pattern, that is when we should speak up.
    There are exceptions. If someone is hitting you or taking your things or damaging your things, these are good solid exceptions. You can move forward the first time you see it.

    In my own life experience, I am continuously amazed at the numbers of times I have said NO, STOP and the behavior stops. I would say it’s about 90% of the time. See, most of us do not realize that we have power. We tend to picture ourselves on the losing end of the story. Reality is that we are NOT on the losing end. Reality is that we CAN speak up and we can say NO, STOP.

    Because this has gone on for a bit, it is going to he harder for your coworker to realize you just said NO, STOP. So you may have to go back to the boss/HR. Keep following the story until it is brought to a resolve. Don’t give up, you are in the right here. I hope the hundreds and hundreds of posts here convince you that there are good people all around. And these good people instantly recognize unacceptable behavior.

    Let us know how you are doing.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      Yes, exactly. Your friend is right. It’s good to give people a chance, but there is some behaviour that shouldn’t happen at all. The first time needs to be the last time.

      And yes, saying ‘no, stop!’ works miracles! People may have laughed at me for standing up for myself, but they backed off.

      Thanks for this post.

  84. snuck*

    I’ve only read the first hundred? Two hundred comments…

    And haven’t seen this issue raised… there was partners in the room. I assume the OP means clients, that this is happening in front of clients… and if you are pitching ideas they might be product pitches and contracts may not yet be in place.

    To me this raises an issue… I agree wholeheartedly that Jane needs to be reported, managed, kicked in her own nether regions… BUT… there’s clients on the line. If you press charges there’s a good chance those clients will become involved and be asked to make statements, and this may or may not work in your professional and/or hostile interaction resolution with Jane. If the partners say “Well… we didn’t see or hear anything” to the police… then OP winds up risking a LOT more than if it’s just down to Jane and OP in the managers office.

    Should Jane get away with this? NO. Should the workplace sweep it under the rug? NO! Should having clients in the room mean Jane gets leeway/permission to be a brute? NO…. But… it does suggest that the professional handling of this needs to be considered. If it was a pitching exercise, and potentially very large or important contracts are on the line… it could be worth handling it in house at first if you can, rather than getting the “partners” and police involved.

    As for Jane and her PMs? I’d send her one back saying “Please only contact me in a professional capacity.” and NEVER sit in a space where she can hit you again, sit back from the table so she can’t kick you, and ask for your manager to assign you to different work teams where possible ‘until this is resolved’. Never… ever… meet with her alone or with a stooge of hers. See if a friend can walk you to/from the building for a while, or if you can work different hours/locations. Often abusers up the ante…

  85. Saucy Minx*

    As fposte mentioned, it can be easier for some of us to defend others than ourselves.

    Many years ago I was hired as copy editor for a marketing company. One of the graphic designers had the social skills of a junior high kid. The second week I was there I encountered him & one of the account managers chatting in a hallway, & he reached out & gave her upper arm a hearty pinch. She didn’t react, but I did, telling him to stop that, & that he was hurting Lobelia. He said it was all in fun, & I pointed out that Lobelia wasn’t laughing.

    Sad to say, three years later I had to report him for continued unwanted sexual language in my presence, which it won’t surprise you all to hear that I had for many months deflected or ignored when possible.

    It was easy to speak up in the moment for Lobelia, but I got trapped in my “Surely he didn’t mean that!!” disbelief in my own case.

  86. Noobtastic*

    My first reaction was to press criminal charges. This is assault and battery!

    This goes beyond HR and into Police territory, IMO.

  87. Carynz*

    Oh my gosh! Who acts like this! Yes do something now! Do everything! She cannot abuse you!

  88. Candi*

    LW, I’m going to tell you the same thing I tell my teenage daughter.

    You have permission not to be ‘nice’.

    When someone hurts you, it is fine to ‘make a fuss’. Defend yourself.

    You do not have to like everyone, and they do not have to like you. Respect is more important.

    Again, respect is more important than being liked. You can respect someone without liking them.

    This coworker does not respect you, and you have no reason to respect them. She is not acting professionally.

    I know one of the things that is confusing you; she used to be nice to you. My abusive ex was nice to me at first. It’s called grooming, and is one of the ways these people screw with your mind.

    Talk to your boss, talk to HR. I personally would talk to a lawyer about the feasibility of filing charges; they’ll be in a better position for your location to figure out what the best options are.

    You are not wrong. Not to have your work stolen, not to be hurt. You are not wrong.

  89. IANAL (I Argue Nightly About Llamas)*

    I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments, so I’m sorry if I’m repeating something that’s already been discussed to death.

    I really want to talk about OP’s assertion that telling Coworker, “No, I’m not okay because you assaulted me and I have a bruise, you butthead” is “the same” or “no worse” than Coworker’s behavior.




    I see this logic in political circles a lot: “if you call (people of insert extreme ideology here) jerks, you’re just as bad as (people of insert extreme ideology here).” With a different word than “jerk,” of course. There is this two-wrongs-don’t-make-a-right idea that people have about certain things that are blatantly untrue. No, it’s not a great plan to fight fire with fire, but sometimes that is the only option you have. Sometimes it’s not about using a wrong to make a right, but about standing up for yourself.

    OP, do not believe ANYONE who tells you that standing up for yourself is “just as bad” as assault. It is not.

  90. Straight Outta Wittiness*

    Hey everyone! OP here. I wanted to respond before but I’ve been traveling for work.

    Thankfully after I wrote to Alison, I ended up getting the nerve to talk to my boss about it and he was able to convince me to not only go to HR, but to confront “Jane” head on. I filed an incident report with HR and it’s gone on her file. Apparently due to her not-so-great performance reviews, plus this, she’s in some hot water. When I confronted her, she said she “didn’t realize she had kicked me that hard”, made other excuses, and essentially refused to apologize. I have since distanced myself from her and am only working directly with her when absolutely neccesary.

    Work has been abuse free since filing the complaint! Here’s hoping it stays that way!

    1. Straight Outta Wittiness*

      OP here again. I just finished reading everyone’s comments and I just wanted to say THANK YOU for all the support, great advice, and just general kindness that you guys have shown me on this post.

      As I said in my comment above, I did talk to my boss and honestly, I’ve never seen someone’s eyes bug out of their head so much, he was definitely shocked that this was happening, and immediately wanted me to take it to HR. After I took it to HR, “Jane” kept persisting and asking if I was okay and showing up in my office with chocolate and coffee to (I assume) try and distract me from her wrong doings. I refused her peace making attempts and confronted her, and as I said above, she definitely exhibited gaslighting behavior by making excuses, refusing to apologize, and not taking accountability for her actions.

      I have distanced myself from her and thankfully have a good bit of work travel coming up, so I won’t be having to deal with her and that is a huge relief!

      1. Rick Tq*

        OP, consider what may happen if “Jane” is fired while you are out on business travel. With her aggression and gaslighting you might want to get any personal belongings under lock and key or out of the office entirely before you leave.

        I’d also want HR to add a ‘no contact, no trespassing including the parking lot’ statement to her termination paperwork so she can be removed by the police department if she shows up again. We don’t know how much “Jane” may escalate if she is fired, better to be prepared for the worst. I’d also say this is a case where HR *should* notify you directly if/when “Jane” is fired so you can be on your guard.

        Good luck, it sounds like your boss and HR have made a start at cleaning this up.

  91. heatherskib*

    I had this happen once- a coworker got angry with me when I suggested that we hold a second session at a conference to allow access for everyone who needed the required class. She grabbed me hard by the arm in front of our boss, who did nothing. Fortunately years of martial arts training taught me to be very calm in these situations. I told her she was hurting me and she could remove her hand, or I would do it. I followed it up with an admonition that if she ever touched me again she would regret it.
    In this situation, I would have looked immediately at her the first time and told her that hitting me is not acceptable and reissued the warning about EVER touching me again.

    The hardest part is remaining calm and deadly serious while you stare people down.

  92. Casuan*

    OP, what an awful situation!!
    Other than to say I also think you handled this very well- not everyone would be as confident or quick to tell someone to stop talking as you did, I can’t add to what others have already commented on what you should do from here, although I do have a few comments & questions.
    [sorry if these have been already answered; haven’t yet had time to read all comments]

    *to be clear: Regardless of his intent, at best the intern demonstrated questionable judgment & the worst is that it was horrid & damaging to many individuals & to the businesses involved. My comments are meant more as a debrief [to learn about what went right & wrong] & not as accusations or a defence of the intern.*

    >I’m curious as to what prompted your intern to make the joke. Was it spur-of-the-moment or might someone have mentioned 9/11? Was what your intern said definitely a joke, or might it have been a conspiracy theory? [Of course, either is inexcusable.]
    >Whatever the cause, perhaps he was nervous & trying to fit in…? Did you brief him on what to expect & how you expected him to participate in this meeting?
    Even if you had, based on Intern’s past behaviour you couldn’t have predicted what he would say as small talk.
    >What was Intern’s reaction after you told him to be quiet & during the aftermath? Did he seem appropriately concerned or was he dismissive? Did he understand why this was so damaging to everyone involved & why it was a firing offence?
    >In retrospect, do you still think Intern was as professional as you originally thought before this meeting? Did your colleagues have the same impression as you, or are you hearing stories to the contrary?
    It seems that you still haven’t recalled any red flags, which makes his inappropriateness all the more puzzling…
    I’ve learned some things from your letter, Alison’s reply & the comments I have read, which I admit has caught me off guard [in a good way]. Thanks to all for that!

    If anything, OP, I tend to think anyone who witnessed or knows of your actions that day will have more respect for you, not less!

  93. Hari*

    I worked at this record store at the mall about twenty something years ago. The boss was horrible and crazy. I was terrified of him. He went on one date with this girl who worked at a bank branch in the mall. She thought he was psycho, so she didn’t want a second date with him. When I was putting up stock, I overheard a security guard telling my boss that he was to stay away from the girl. He got mad at one of my coworkers and slammed him against the cassette wall. I wound up quitting when he threw something at me and it hit me in the face. He had changed the schedule without telling me and I came in “late.” He screamed and called me the C word and actually THREW a VHS tape at me, hitting me in the face and leaving a mark. As I tried to leave, he grabbed me and shook me.

    Fast forward to one year later: Evidently the regional bosses caught wind on his behavior and fired him. Crazy boss grabbed a bunch of things from the work place, took them to his apartment and set them alight and throwing the them off the balcony. Cops were involved and he was put away somewhere.

    How the hell do people like that become General Managers?

  94. RHoftD*

    I have had the same experience for over two years, constant psychological bullying, single incidents that are childish but vindictive but collectively became a very serious issue when recently physical contact was involved. My coworker recently made the grave mistake of thinking he could carry over his behaviour from the protection his position offered within the company, thinking I was a weak easy target into the real world. He now fears and knows where the real monsters lurk and so do this those around him.

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