employee won’t come back unless her coworker is fired

This letter was originally part of a five-short-answers column, but it’s getting enough interest that I’m making it its own post. The other four letters that were originally bundled with it are now here. (Keep in mind that that’s also why my answer here is short and not as comprehensive as it might otherwise be.)

A reader writes:

I’m a manager. I’m having an issue with a two of my staff, Liz and Jack. They were returning from an off-site meeting and had parked in front of our building. According to Liz and other witnesses, there was a bird on the sidewalk and when it flew away Jack ran. Liz was less than a step ahead of him and he pushed her out of the way when he was running. Liz fell off the curb and got hit by a car that was parking. She ended up covered in bruises and breaking both bones in one forearm. Liz had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. The breaks were in the middle of her forearm and were so bad that Liz had surgery on her arm the next day and required a total hospital stay of four days.

Jack didn’t try to help Liz after it happened. He stood far away and came into our building as soon as the ambulance arrived. Jack told me, my boss and HR he has a phobia of birds and later produced a letter from his therapist stating he has been in therapy and treatment for ornithophobia and anxiety for over two years. He explained it was why he tried to run from the bird and said he didn’t help Liz after she got hit because the bird landed on the ground close to her. Understandably Liz is angry. She wants Jack to be fired. HR was wary of firing Jack when he has had no previous trouble and has a phobia and mental illness that rise to the level of needing treatment, and so am I.

When Liz found out that Jack wasn’t going to be fired, she quit. Liz was working on a few projects, and without her the could be delays and extra costs incurred. We have tried to get her to come back, but she refuses unless Jack is fired. Jack called her with HR present to apologize but she didn’t accept and yelled at him. With Jack’s permission, his phobia and mental health issues were explained to Liz but she says she doesn’t care. What should I do? I don’t feel comfortable firing Jack or recommending it given what he disclosed. I’m not sure where to go from here.

This sucks for everyone involved, most of all Liz, but it sounds like the resolution here is that Liz quit. You can’t make someone come back who doesn’t want to come back and — while Liz is absolutely entitled to be upset and angry and to refuse to continue working with Jack — you can’t let an employee dictate that another employee be fired.

And while reasonable people can certainly disagree on this, I think you’re right not to fire Jack, who apparently has a documented phobia that he’s in treatment for and who presumably didn’t intend to push Liz as he ran by her. (I should note that I’m reading your letter as saying that he was pushing past her to get away, not that he deliberately pushed her.)

I get that Liz’s resignation is causing problems for the projects she was involved on, but that would be the case if she quit for normal reasons too. That’s part of doing business — employees will sometimes leave at inconvenient times, and you cobble together a solution as best as you can. (In this case, that solution should presumably include ensuring that Liz’s medical bills are covered and a plan to ensure that Jack’s phobia doesn’t endanger anyone again.)

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 2,229 comments… read them below }

  1. my name is Rory*

    OP #1, that you for being patient and understanding with Jack and his mental health issue. I wish more bosses were asunderstanding as you are.

    I’m wondering how Liz could answer the “why did you leave your last job” question in future job interviews. There is no way for her to really do it without making herself look bad.

    1. Leah*

      She could say that her coworker pushed her into the path of a moving car and then received no disciplinary action.

      1. Mb13*

        Or “sadly because of an incident my coworker pushed me in front of a car and my arm was severely damaged. Returning to an office with that coworker was just too upsetting, and knowing that management didn’t disciplined him in any way didn’t help”. (Also the letter didn’t mention if Jack has apologized at all)

        1. Artemesia*

          He phoned in an apology from the HR office, as I read it. Sounds like a kid dragged by his ear to say ‘sorry.’

          1. Reba*

            I didn’t read it as a forced apology, but rather that the call was done with HR present because the whole situation was so sensitive.

            To me it makes more sense to have the apology call as a business thing rather than a personal call from Jack–though it sounds like Liz probably wouldn’t have responded calmly either way (understandably).

            1. Zoe Karvounopsina*

              Even so, it came pretty late in the process. He could have made a call with HR listening earlier on.

              1. JS*

                I disagree. This case is so sensitive I believe needs to be dictated by HR every step of the way. I would not want the employee to apologize without a witness either. More of routine policy than ear dragging, Liz yelled so obviously the conversation didn’t go smoothly and in order not to escalate further it’s good to have HR there.

                1. Gadfly*

                  Sounds like HR really screwed up by not having a conversation with Liz about what she wanted first, instead of presenting Jake like all that was needed was an apology…

                2. Chaordic One*

                  Yeah, I think HR screwed up. Even if they were well-meaning and not just trying to cover their butts, if Liz were to sue, I think she’d have a good case.

              2. Loose Seal*

                Was it late in the process? The OP didn’t indicate how long it was before the call took place. She was in the hospital for days and likely on pain medications that may have affected her mood and thoughts. If I were HR in this situation, I’d ask her manager to check on her a couple of times while she was in the hospital but I’d save Jack’s mea culpas until she was at home, resting more comfortably.

                No matter what HR and Jack did in this situation, though, would be seen as correct from 100% of us. If he goes to the hospital immediately, someone would say he did it to try to save himself from being fired. If he sent her a card, someone would say he was being a jerk because she couldn’t open envelopes given her broken arm. If Jack was fired, someone would say that the company is just trying to avoid being sued by Liz.

                This situation is so far outside common politeness and civility that no one would be able to “practice” how to handle it in advance. I’m sure Liz and Jack both are dealing with this the best way they know how.

                1. Amy*

                  I think this is one of the best and even headed responses I’ve ever seen. Especially the last part: “This situation is so far outside common politeness and civility that no one would be able to “practice” how to handle it in advance. I’m sure Liz and Jack both are dealing with this the best way they know how.”

                2. Brrrrr!*

                  @Amy: I agree. The amount of conjecturing on this topic that is happening is staggering.

                  “HR was with Jack when he apologized, so they must have forced him to do it!”

                  “Liz was able to get help right away, so obviously it wasn’t terrible and she is overreacting!”

                  A lot of what we are basing our evidence of blame off of is being presented to us by a third party who was not present during the event, and only has what was reported to them to relate in order to get advice on a crazy situation. But a lot of people in the comments seem to be using their own subjective experiences to point fingers at either of the people involved. So, I agree with Seal that they and the company are trying to deal with this situation as best as they can.

                  Liz has a right to be angry about what happened, but this is not a criminal court where we pass judgment on the accused. We are simply trying to help the poor manager who wrote in figure out what to do – and hopefully Liz and Jack can work the rest out between them, whatever they do.

        2. Snorlax*

          The letter mentions that Jack called her with HR to apologize but she didn’t accept the apology .

          1. Anna*

            I just want to note that no one is entitled to their apology being accepted. Jack apologised (begrudgingly it sounds like) for his part but Liz is not obligated to accept.

            1. Leigh*

              Why do you say begrudgingly? There was nothing in the letter to insinuate that he was forced to apologize. He went in and told his manager and HR what happened immediately after the ambulance arrived. Doesn’t it make more sense that HR advised and asked him to wait to reach out Liz? That they insisted upon being present for the call (which makes sense and protects everyone involved) I’m presenting this an option, of course it could have happened either way, but I wasn’t there and neither were you. So why immediately assume the worse? Just makes you sound biased

              NO one is saying that she had to accept the apology, but unless you know for sure how it happened, please don’t assume.

              1. Serahfim*

                It’s hard to tell the tone of a message in text form. For example, I hear this tone above as chastising and condescending instead of politely making a point, because instead of saying “I,” it repeatedly says “You”.

                1. J-nonymous*

                  It’s not altogether unwarranted if that is Leigh’s tone. Anna made a huge assumption and projected intent onto what was a single sentence from the letter writer. Some call outs are needed.

                2. Assistant Village Idiot*

                  I have run across the I/You distinction as informing politeness, but don’t find it persuasive. It seems to impose an artificial standard that doesn’t quite fit usage. I realise that this was a popular thing to teach in work trainings 10-20 years ago, but I don’t accept it.

        3. KHB*

          If the worry is that going into that much detail in a job interview would be too weird or distracting, could she say something like “I sustained an injury on the premises and didn’t feel safe working there any longer”?

          1. a big fish in a small pond*

            I like this too, but as an interviewer I would have follow up questions about what OP did to address and/or resolve the safety issues (because typically it would be OSHA issues, not a freak accident).

            1. a big fish in a small pond*

              (so OP should be prepared to answer that kind of follow up question)

              1. KHB*

                Sure. I was just thinking about how to give a good 10-second summary that didn’t require launching into the whole “Well, I had this coworker who was afraid of birds…” story from the start.

                But even if it was an OSHA issue (that the employer refused to resolve), that would also be a good reason to quit, wouldn’t it?

            2. Alli525*

              I would completely refuse to answer that question if posed to me by an interviewer, other than to say that the injury was in no way my fault, so nothing could have been done to address or resolve the issue. It’s not the average employee’s job to make sure that OSHA regulations are followed.

      2. Artemesia*

        This. I am pretty horrified that there is any excuse for pushing someone in front of a moving car and then ignoring them. If it was a kid and the kid was dead, would it still be fine, because ‘scared’? Heck, what if the co-worker were paralyzed for life. Running. Screaming. Hiding his head under his coat. All understandable. But pushing a co-worker under a moving car with no consequences. I hope the injured co-worker gets a great job.

        1. Mike C.*

          Working in an industrial manufacturing facility, this question absolutely horrifies me. I’m not trying to make light of a genuine mental health issue here (plenty within my own familiy) but there’s a line that’s crossed when you become a danger to others.

          Yeah, ultimately the OP shouldn’t fire the guy, but Liz isn’t wrong or unprofessional for making that demand. I hope the workplace paid for her entire care. I wonder if there is any physical therapy needed for such an injury, or even some issues arising from the mental/emotional trauma of the event.

          1. Mookie*

            even some issues arising from the mental/emotional trauma of the event.

            Seriously. The way this played out, it couldn’t really be predicted or properly managed, but it’s like textbook nightmare scenario and I feel for everyone involved. I hope Liz is doing well. Jack sounds like he’s been looked after properly, which is good.

            1. Josiah*

              Seriously. The way this played out, it couldn’t really be predicted or properly managed, but it’s like textbook nightmare scenario and I feel for everyone involved.

              That’s how I see it too. It’s a nightmare scenario and I hope that the company is doing everything they can to support Liz.

        2. Anonymous for mental illness*

          I completely agree. I say this as someone with a severe anxiety disorder and with a phobia, and I’ve definitely done strange things because of my mental illness. I don’t want to be callous or inconsiderate of his phobia. But that’s just shocking.

          You do not push someone in front of a moving car without consequences for it.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            To be fair, I don’t think he pushed her in front of a moving car. Because he pushed her, she fell off a curb and into the path of the car. Still bad, but not quite as bad as how you described it.

                1. AMG*

                  Because he pushed her. If he hadn’t, she would not have been hit by a car. Splitting hairs. I wouldn’t be surprised if Liz sues him. And I wouldn’t blame her.

                2. Melissophoebea*

                  Ultimately, his actions caused it. Having the intent would undoubtably make it worse, but he still owns the action.

                3. Not Rebee*

                  Yes, I agree. “Pushed her in front of a moving car” implies a deliberate intent for her to have ended up in the path of a moving vehicle – it seems like here there wasn’t even intent to knock into her, let alone knock her off the curb, or knock her into the path of a moving car.

                  Back in my college days (admittedly not too long ago), I worked in Residence Life as a Residence Assistant and I had a roommate dispute scenario that reminds me a lot of this. As part of my job, I was responsible for handling all roommate disputes – anyone requesting to be moved to a different room had to at least talk to me about the issue first. The issue at hand in this particular scenario? Freshman Girl claimed that her roommate (Other Freshman Girl) had thrown a mini-fridge door at her. Obviously, I was appalled… who on earth throws a mini fridge door at someone and (perhaps not less importantly) how did you even separate the door from the fridge so it could be thrown. Turns out that what really happened is that the fridge door fell off, an argument arose while OFG was trying to re-attach the door, and the door was angrily placed off to the side (in a way that probably was a small toss) to sit against the foot of FG’s bed, where she was currently sitting. Given that, clearly OFG did not throw a fridge door at her roommate…

                  While I am sure that Liz in OP’s post is telling this story like Jack pushed her in front of a moving car, there was no deliberate intent to do so from Jack (or so it seems). You therefore can’t treat this as something that needs disciplinary action – there was no malicious intent or general carelessness, and in any event this was outside of work. This scenario honestly just seems like an unpredictable accident from hell for all involved – and while OP doesn’t make it seem like it, Jack is likely quite distressed by events.

                  I think Alison nailed it here. Liz has quit, and since the event was an accident you really can’t allow her to hold your company hostage by requiring that someone else be fired before she comes back. The fact that she quit first and made demands later definitely doesn’t make it seem like she’s inclined to come back, and while yes this leaves OP’s company in the lurch, this is how it works sometimes in business. OP’s company – do what you can to help her out, do what you can to prepare better for scenarios like this, and then move on. Liz already has.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                It would not take much force to push me enough to knock me off balance so that I fall off a curb, which is what the OP said happened.

                1. a big fish in a small pond*

                  and it was unexpected, so the intensity of the force applied wouldn’t really need to be all that much…

          2. Amber T*

            I’m arachnophobic. Not documented like Jack’s phobia, but if I see a spider, reactions can be crazy. I have (accidentally of course) knocked into a coworker when jumping aside from a spider. Now I am tiny, and the coworker I crashed into was a big guy. It would take considerable force for me to knock him over. But if it was reversed? If he had been the one surprised over something and knocked into me? I would have gone down, and quickly.

            I didn’t read this as Jack running up to Liz and pushing her with his two hands, I read this as he was scared and running away, and accidentally bumping into Liz (as did Alison). It sounds like an awful accident.

            1. SadieMae*

              Yes, it all depends on exactly what OP meant by “pushed.” Did he shove her because she was in his way? Or did he just run blindly and bump into her? Especially if it’s the former…oof. I see why Liz is so upset. But panicked people don’t think clearly, and it sounds like Jack is mortified by his actions.

              I think I would still approach it as this company has – documenting that Jack is in active treatment, making sure he apologizes to Liz, and keeping him on with the understanding that he’ll continue in treatment and with plans in place to ensure nothing like this will happen again. And if Liz chooses not to return, that’s her decision. (I agree the company should make sure her medical bills are covered!)

              (And now I’m giggling, imagine HR drawing up diagrams for future car trips: “Here’s Jack at Point C. If a bird lands on the antenna of the car, Jack has two options. Escape Route X will intersect with Fergus at Point D, so Fergus will need to divert his path of ingress alone Route Z…”)

        3. Fiennes*

          A phobia is not “scared.” It’s a term that gets overused and thus trivialized, but a phobia is a genuinely crippling mental problem. I can see why Jack didn’t disclose it–who could guess bird phobia would turn into a workplace issue?–but the OP is correct to take it into account as they would any other mental illness/problem. Jack didn’t intentionally hurt Liz; what happened falls more into the category of “freak accident” than anything else.

          That said, I sympathize with Liz’s feelings. She’s been terribly hurt and traumatized, no doubt frightened too. If she no longer feels that she can trust or work with Jack, I think that’s pretty understandable, all things considered. IMO the OP needs to offer Liz an excellent reference and all professional courtesies, and then let her go. The issues they face as a result are just part of the cost of doing business.

          1. Gadfly*

            Well, my former VP did, and accommodations were made and all went well. And because of that being in place, no one got hurt when the owl at her window scared her out of her office–we all just got out of the way.

          2. jasper_red*

            Here’s the thing though, I know phobias are real and I sympathize, but it doesn’t sound like Jack made any efforts at all to help Liz or express any remorse for what happened. An apology forced by HR is not a genuine apology. It’s like a teacher forcing you to say sorry because you pushed someone on the playground. I wouldn’t trust him at all either and I’d quit with no hesitation because a workplace like that doesn’t seem to have your back.

            Also I would guess something like that falls under workman’s comp, but not sure.

            1. Forrest*

              I don’t know if it’s fair to say he made no effort to help – I think he may have thought considering his limitations, waiting until the ambulance arrived was him helping. There were other people helping Liz and he didn’t enter the building until the ambulance arrived. He didn’t have to wait and it’s not like standing in a spot far away is useful. But I think there’s recognition that he knew he hurt Liz. We also don’t know anything about any personal apology or if the HR apology was forced.

              1. Browser*

                I disagree. He had plenty of time to apologize after the bird flew away and chose not to. He has not shown any remorse for her injury and in fact has only defended his response.

                1. Forrest*

                  I have no clue how you’re jumping to him feeling no remorse. If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t have stayed outside with the birds. And it’s expected for him to explain why it happened.

                2. Amber T*

                  After the bird flew away, Liz was on the ground nursing a broken arm, in a lot of pain, probably crying. People were probably rushing to help. Jack must have realized he caused it. Sure, some people’s immediate reaction would be “oh my god I’m sorry!” and some people’s reaction would be shock, like “what the hell did I just do?” I don’t blame him for standing on the sidelines while it was happening. I don’t think we have enough information to know if the HR call was forced or not, but I don’t think it was.

                3. Anna*

                  You know when the exact wrong time to apologize is? When you’re in the middle of an emergency and someone needs help.

                4. Loose Seal*

                  @Anna: It’s possible he was apologizing in the moment. Most people would be saying something like, “Oh God! I’m so sorry!” But presumably Liz wasn’t in the shape to truly hear it, being in pain and likely in shock. Also, some people are better in emergencies than others. Jack was recovering from his adrenaline rush from his encounter with the bird and may have needed a few moments to comprehend what happened. By that point, it could have looked like to him that others had the situation well in hand. It’s also possible that he may have (probably correctly) read the scene and decided that Liz didn’t want him near her at the time. At that point, it would be selfish of Jack to insist on having Liz hear his apology.

                  (And I may be in the minority on this but I’ve always thought that, while people may feel compelled to apologize, it really is up to the one wronged to decide when they are ready to hear the apology. I’ve had way too many people in my life trying to Step 9 their way to salvation regardless of whether I was ready to hear it.)

                5. Loose Seal*

                  @Anna: And now I see I read your sentence wrong. I though you were saying he should have apologized right then and there while the emergency was still being handled.

                6. Similar thing happened to me*

                  I feel that it is wrong to assume that Jack would’ve been 100% back to himself just because the bird flew away. Although everyone experiences phobia slightly different, there are lingering affects after having a panic freak out like that. I doubt Jak would’ve been ok enough to even approach Liz.

                  I wonder though, if Liz already had some issues with Jack to begin with. A similar thing happened to me at my workplace, granted, my injuries were not as catastrophic as Liz (I fell down a flight of stairs after a co-worker freaked at the tarantula casually lying on the ground). My work was great about covering my bills and after I recovered, I had actually found it humorous. I wasn’t angry at him, just shocked.

                  My coworker actually avoided me for as long as he could because of guilt and because he felt a sincere sorry wouldn’t be enough to make up for it but that was pretty much all he could offer. (He did offer to help me with my work but I was recovered enough to do what wasn’t covered while I was out recovering so I didn’t see the need)

                  We’re still on good terms but I will always walk in front of him when we go up and down the stairs lol.

                  Although i understand Liz’s outrage i also find it hard to be on her side 100%. We’re all working adults and professionals, and unless there were other things Jack has done that has made her feel unsafe and this just topped it off, it seems like her options are eternal to just quit (and Sue as a intended I guess) or return to work after recovering. Or, like someone mentioned, get a good reference for the next job.

                7. Michelle*

                  Where do you see that? It says in the letter that he stayed away because the bird had landed near where Liz fell. How do you know when the bird flew away, and whether there was time to apologize in between that happening and Liz being in the middle of receiving treatment for her broken arm?

                  Amber says, “After the bird flew away, Liz was on the ground nursing a broken arm, in a lot of pain, probably crying.”

                  Where does it say that? Again, the letter says that after Liz was hit by the car, the bird landed right by her. How do you know when it finally flew away?

                8. RueBarbe*

                  The bird was still nearby, so he stayed away. “…he didn’t help Liz after she got hit because the bird landed on the ground close to her.”

            2. JeanLouiseFinch*

              Jack had better pray that this falls under workman’s comp. Otherwise, intentional or not, Jack is going to be sued for a pile of money. If it’s not workman’s comp, Jack’s insurance probably won’t apply and he will either spend all of his money on a lawyer, or empty his savings on a settlement. If it is workman’s comp, most states won’t allow Liz to sue Jack. I guess as an artist who needs the use of her arms, I can really sympathize with Liz. Any way you shake this, it sounds like she has permanent damage.

              1. JoJo*

                It is permanent damage. I had a similar injury 35 years ago and I still don’t have full use of my arm. Liz is completely justified in her outrage.

                1. Artemesia*

                  The wrist I broke 35 years ago means that I have a severely arthritic wrist now. The elbow I broke last year was surgically repaired and I have much of the use back, but it will probably always hurt, and have some limitations in range of motion. A double break that required surgery and plates is going to have lifelong consequences.

                2. Brrrrr!*

                  It’s not necessarily permanent damage just because what happened to you was permanent. Not only that, but what happened to you happened 35 years ago, so that means medicine has had 35 years to improve its treatment of all kinds of injuries, so if you had gotten the same injury today, you might not have the same problems.

                  Of course, I hope everyone notices my use of the word “might” since I have no way of knowing if this would be true or not, which is the same case for the incident involving both of these poor people. Many people seem to be conjecturing a lot on this topic, of which we have only a brief and very limited view of what actually happened.

              2. ScrappyCook*

                It’s not necessarily permanent damage. My husband had a compound fracture in both bones of his right arm from an accident caused by a good friend. Three days in the hospital and two surgeries. He has two plates and 14 screws. A few weeks in a cast and he is fine. It’s an awful experience, but the physical damage may be easier to get over than the emotional/trauma issues.

                1. Anna*

                  Yes. Don’t make the situation worse with no reason. My husband got a compound fraction to his wrist. He has a screw. It hasn’t impeded him at all.

                2. Judy*

                  And probably knows when it will rain from his injury, I get that from my hairline fractured elbow 14 years later. And needs to have extra screening if he flies.

                  And 10-20-30 years later it’s probably going to bother him, the trauma makes his muscles weaker. (One of my uncles had polio as a teen. You couldn’t tell it at all in his 30s and 40s. By his death at nearly 80 years old, he had lost the use of one arm and had a pronounced limp.)

                3. Anna*

                  Unless you can see the future, imagining what Liz COULD suffer as she gets older really isn’t a good idea. This doesn’t make her more sympathetic, she’s already in a pretty shitty situation.

                4. Amy*

                  I have years old injuries that if someone asks me about I say are fine now. A coworker tries to get me to tell the story about how I injured my elbow and I always end it with but I’m fine now. However, I do still have occasional pain and that arm is weaker it’s not something I make a big deal about but it’s not like there are no long-term repercussions from the injury.

                5. The Strand*

                  The important point though is that injuries *can* have long-ranging consequences once you settle into middle age and older.

                  The wrist I broke at 20, so far, has not developed the level of arthritis I was warned about. However, the serious ankle injury I got on the job a year earlier, at 19, was undertreated. I don’t know why I never got rehab for such a serious injury (6 months recovery time). Anyway, I now have permanent ankle instability. Rehab and more thorough treatment might have made a difference. I didn’t know that at 19. I do know that two decades later, because now the instability flares up more often.

                  Y’know… Doctors make mistakes – I had to shake my head at the comment that 35 years later the care is probably better. Many doctors do not adjust their practice as rapidly as you might think. Some of my doctor colleagues are more change-averse than anyone else I’ve ever worked with. There is an Atlantic article from last month called “When Evidence Says No, But Doctors Say Yes,” you may want to read.

                  It’s fine to want the aggrieved person to be positive, but I think we can also see why she might sue: in order to provide long term help for herself, if it gets worse. Especially if she doesn’t have single-payer or similar to ensure care for a lifetime.

              3. Judge Crater*

                I was waiting for a comment along these lines. No matter the resolution of the original issue, I think Liz has a very significant legal case against both Jack and her former employer. It’s really not a normal business occurrence to be pushed into the path of a moving car by a coworker.

                1. Retail HR Guy*

                  What case against the employer? Either it was considered to have happened at work, in which case workers’ comp applies, or it happened outside of work, in which case the employer isn’t involved.

                2. fposte*

                  Agreeing with Retail HR Guy that there’s not likely to be a case against the employer here, but I did want to say how exciting it is to see you’ve been found, Your Honor :-).

                3. Melissophoebea*

                  Did they (meaning Work) even pay for any of the costs of her medical bills? I didn’t read anything to give me that impressiom

              4. kab*

                She can sue workers’ comp, then turn around and sue Jack, workers’ comp will intervene to recoup its costs.

            3. Loose Seal*

              There’s the driver’s insurance and the company’s liability insurance too. I’m sure all the insurance companies will be fighting it out amongst themselves.

              However, I would bet that the company’s liability insurance people will tell the company not to pay any of Liz’s bills in advance because it might be seen as admitting fault.

              1. BWL*

                “However, I would bet that the company’s liability insurance people will tell the company not to pay any of Liz’s bills in advance because it might be seen as admitting fault.”

                Not necessarily. I think pretty much every state has Good Samaritan laws, in case law if not statutory law, that prevents this type of action from being used as evidence of fault.

                1. Loose Seal*

                  That might be. It’s another good action point for OP and/or HR: Discuss with your attorney if paying some of Liz’s bills is possible.

            4. Have Sprained My Own Finger Avoiding a Bug*

              It’s entirely possible Jack was still frozen and literally unable to move, if he truly has a document he’s in a phobia for. He also was probably literally not in his right mind.

              This is why you need to tread cautiously around mental health issues. If you’ve not had a phobia, it looks a lot like being “scared.” But if Jack had been scared in, say, an active shooter situation, we’d be having a totally different conversation. For a phobia sufferer, the fear can be exactly that intense. For a severe phobia sufferer, your brain is convinced that *your life or health* are in danger.

              1. Melissophoebea*

                I’m conscious of the fact that my fear is stupid (even if I wasn’t, my mocking family members have been drilling that into my head for years), even in the grip of absolute panic. Maybe I’m just a special case though? I wouldn’t know. A single bee sting wouldn’t kill me unless I had a severe allergy, but I’ve never been stung before, so I have no idea. I just know that even seeing pictures of bees up close makes me want to cry in the corner.

                1. Tab*

                  I don’t think you are a special case for knowing that your fear is ridiculous, even in the moment. I always do. It just doesn’t help at all. Its all a subconscious thing, and your consciousness can be there going “This is completely ridiculous, that’s just a bird” but your legs are running anyway.

                2. Simonthegreywarden*

                  I have a phobia of sharks so bad that I can’t swim in water over my head/where I can’t see the bottom. I know how ridiculous it is that this includes swimming pools. . I have no doubt. But I still won’t go off a diving board.

                3. Brrrrr!*

                  @Simonthegreywarden: I have a similar fear. I think the term for what you are describing is thalassophobia. (Also, if your username is referencing what I think it’s referencing, I have to applaud you :) )

                  @Melissophoebea: Of course phobias can be recognized by people who have them as being ridiculous, but that doesn’t make them any less debilitating. I hope your family will soon begin to understand what you are feeling instead of mocking you. Also, I can totally understand being afraid of bees – some people have dinosaur phobias (Thanks, Jurassic Park!) and they’re less likely to run into one on a daily basis. Phobias are just weird in general and we just have to respect that.

            5. Tab*

              Yea, this is where I am most on Liz’s side. The letter doesn’t make it seem like he was appropriately mortified. Even though I fall on the side of this is as much Jack’s fault as it would be if he tripped on a rock, I’d still expect him to be super sorry about it and that could be upsetting Liz.

              It is also possible though, that the letter writer thought that Jack’s mortifiedness was a given and just decided to leave it out for brevity because it wasn’t the issue she was having. It also doesn’t specifically say that HR asked Jack to apologize to Liz, just that he apologized while HR was also on the phone. Jack could have said he wanted to apologize and HR insisted they be in on the call.

          3. INTP*

            Except it’s really not a freak accident at all in the sense of being a really weird, rare convergence of factors that realistically will never happen again. If it were, I would say that firing people because a terrible thing happened and someone needs a sense of resolution is unproductive. But this happened because there was a bird outdoors, a person next to him on the sidewalk, and a car parking on the street. ALL of those things happen frequently on a sidewalk and this could easily happen again if Jack, by his own admission, has no control over his behavior around birds.

            I don’t think he should necessarily be fired, but the company needs to take this seriously and come up with a plan to prevent this from happening again. The next injury could be far worse than a broken arm.

            1. Monday*

              That issue stands out to me as well. He’s already in treatment, and yet this condition is clearly not managed adequately. Birds are always going to be outside, and work will always require intervals spent outside. How is the employer possibly going to ensure that this can’t happen again? I’m not saying he should be fired, but I don’t think this is a realistic expectation either.

              1. INTP*

                Maybe a plan could be developed involving safety steps, like Jack making an effort to stay 10 feet away from other employees when outdoors, letting other employees know to clear away from him if a bird gets into the building, checking vehicles for birds before Jack gets into them if he has to ride with other employees, etc? I think there are steps that could be taken to greatly reduce the safety risks, but a lot of managers and HR departments fall into the assumption that if something is related to a diagnosed condition they can’t bother the employee about it at all.

            2. Newby*

              I agree. I don’t think he should be fired, but there should be some disciplinary measures taken. He pushed a coworker in front of a moving car. The phobia does provide some mitigating circumstances, but it doesn’t make it an ok thing to do.

              I also think Liz is right to quit. I would not be able to work with someone who injured me that badly, regardless of why it happened.

            3. Elizabeth H.*

              Huh, it seems to me like it IS “a really weird, rare convergence of factors that realistically will never happen again.” Even if Jack has bird related freak outs at some point again, you have all of these series of events, like he happens to be in the right position to knock into somebody, she happens to be in the right position to fall off a curb, a car happens to be parking in that exact spot and happens to hit her, the injury happens to be that serious, etc. It strikes me as the perfect definition of freak accident.

              1. Chicklet*

                I work in a busy city with not a lot of parking. I am constantly walking on outdoor sidewalks near people parking, and there are quite often birds around. Basically, except for the person freaking out and knocking me over, this situation is actually exceptionally common. If Liz and Jack work in a situation even close to that, it could absolutely happen again.

                1. Elizabeth H.*

                  Me too though, I live in Boston, people drive like maniacs and park like idiots, we have tons of birds, tons of sidewalks, bike riders, I think actually exceptionally common is a HUGE stretch. Liz would probably more easily be struck by lightning than get knocked into a parking car by a coworker having a panic attack again in her life.

                2. AMG*

                  It makes you wonder though, given his obviously severe phobia. What if he is driving and a bird scares him, and he injures someone with his car? I guess my point is that he seems to no so affected that he is out of control of himself when triggered by being near a bird. And it’s not like birds are hard to come by anywhere.

                3. Chicklet*

                  Elizabeth H, I was saying every part but the getting knocked into traffic was exceptionally common. Walking on a sidewalk while someone parks nearby and birds fly around is an everyday occurrence for me, so I disagree that it’s “a really weird, rare convergence of factors that realistically will never happen again.” Jack is the only uncommon part of this equation. If he works in or near a city and has a phobic reaction that severe, the likelihood of him pushing someone in front of a car again is a lot higher than it would be for someone else.

                4. Chicklet*

                  To be clear, my point isn’t that Jack is a terrible person; it’s that this could happen again, and he needs to take as many steps as possible (increasing his therapy, only walking on the outside of the sidewalk so that if he pushes someone it won’t be into traffic, whatever) to make sure this doesn’t happen again. It may have been an involuntary reaction, but it also could have resulted in someone’s death if the situation had been even slightly different.

            4. Tab*

              I think people in this thread are vastly overestimating how often phobia attacks happen. I have just as severe a phobia as Jack does, but to bugs. Bugs are far more ubiquitous, and yet, this severe a phobia reaction has happened maybe 7 times in the nearly 30 years I’ve been dealing with this phobia. It doesn’t just happen at this severity because you see a bird. It has to be under the exact right circumstances. There are different levels of fear that you experience and this fly-off-the-handle level is rather rare in my experience. He’s probably in a low-level of fear near constantly because of his phobia, but that level is not one that other people would even notice, let alone need to be wary of.

              Think about it this way: Fire trampling occurs really often. Lots of people are afraid enough when the building they’re in is on fire to run into people enough to knock them over. But those same people won’t be running away and knocking them over whenever they see a fire.

            5. Sarah*

              I tend to agree with this. What happens if he’s the one driving the car and a bird flies in front of it? If anything, it’s lucky the consequences in this case were not more severe (it’s very possible someone could have been paralyzed or even killed by being pushed into traffic). I’m not sure what the solution is, but if his phobia is so severe that he has zero consideration for the well-being of others when it hits, the company does need to try to deal with that in some way. Maybe a work-from-home arrangement until after he has gone through an adequate amount of treatment? I’m not saying this is his fault, but mental illness does not excuse behavior that hurts others — someone could have an untreated or poorly treated mental illness that caused them to scream at their coworkers, and I don’t think anyone would say that was acceptable just because they can’t 100% control it. And this is way worse harm than yelling.

          4. Artemesia*

            Yes he was terrified. And so he is entitled to push a coworkers into moving machinery in a factory? In front of a moving car? Off a cliff? If Liz were my employee my first concern would be finding her a safe space to work not just dismissing it as ‘oh well, disability, so whatever Jack did must be respected and excused and so too bad about Liz, bye. Maybe this business is small and there is no way to have Liz and Jack work in different buildings or very different spaces, but my first impulse would be to see if Jack could not be assigned a space far enough from Liz that she would not need to encounter him or put Liz far away from Jack (although that seems less fair) But I’d be bending over backwards to try to work something out for Liz. And Jack since he has no ability to direct his violence when frightened needs to be in a position where he can’t hurt someone else.

            1. Amy The Rev*

              It sounds like you’re reading some sort of intentionality in Jack’s reaction, based on your wording, “so he is entitled to push a coworkers into moving machinery in a factory?” and “no ability to direct his violence”…I’m asking this sincerely, because I think it may help me and others understand what you’re saying- did you interpret the letter to mean that part of Jack’s reaction was to become aggressive and intentionally push people around him? Because I think most of us (as well as Alison) interpreted it to mean that as Jack started to run, he accidentally knocked into Liz, who lost her balance and fell. It may just be semantics, but I’m not sure calling an accidental bump in the course of a startle reflex “violence” is productive or accurate.

              1. Manager On a Break*

                We can only go by the writer’s words. Nowhere was it said the push was accidental, or that Jack “bumped into” Liz. And it appears that he didn’t address it in his later explanation, either.
                What was said was that, according to Liz and others, he *pushed* her. And that she fell.

                Alison notes that she is reading the letter as if it wasn’t an intentional push. Sounds like you are, as well. Just know that “Accidental bump” is an interpretation. Doesn’t mean it’s a fact.

                Without evidence to the contrary, and by his own omission of explaining it later, I chose to interpret it the other way, and that pushing Liz out of the way was a conscious decision. Granted, the omission of explaining the push as incidental to the act of running away could be on the part of the letter writer. But who knows.
                If it read that he had explained and apologized for “pushing her,” specifically, perhaps I would feel differently.

                Instead his apology/explanation sounded more like a justification. So I translated that into, “I have a problem and I don’t expect to ever be held accountable for my actions, whatever they are. Yes, even though I never gave my employer the heads-up before now, and yes, even though I knowingly make the choice not to distance myself from others when in a high-risk-of-birds location like a parking lot.”

                And yes, I do realize that attributing actions to reasons “other than malice” is more the norm, here, but occasionally I like to play devil’s advocate. :)

          5. Amber T*

            +1000000 thank you! Phobias are not just being scared of something! I hate it when someone says “I’m ___phobic!” because they dislike something, or something freaks them out.

            Birds freak me out. Bugs are icky. I don’t like snakes. But I am arachnophobic – I will either freeze and be unable to move, or I will run away. Fight or flight kicks in. Heart rate majorly increases, shaking could start. It’s awful. I’ve had similar reactions to Jack and I really feel for him. I agree – this was just a really bad, unfortunate accident.

            1. Melissophoebea*

              I scream like a little girl and sprint like I’m running a marathon, or whatever my out-of-shape equivalent would be. XD

            2. Tab*

              I’m with you! I feel like so many of the commenters that are more vitriolic towards Jack have only ever met the “eek bugs are creepy” kind of phobic people, rather than the really severe kind.

            3. Halpful*

              TIL this :) I always thought overwhelming disgust (ie, very hard not to throw up if I have to look at/near it) counted as a phobia. I have a startle reflex, but after that I can control myself if I really really really *have* to. (I might be shaking after that, though. and my skin will get all twisty…)

            4. ThatAspie (who also has a phobia)*

              Yeah. I actually have only just recently been officially diagnosed with cyclophobia, even though I’ve had the symptoms for years (and, for a good portion of the time spent between onset and official diagnosis, thought it was somehow normal…until I grew up a bit and realized that it wasn’t normal, which is when I sought help, and that lead to a diagnosis.) It isn’t just “biking hard, me no want”, or even,”riding a bike is kinda scary”. It’s “I cannot ride a bike, because every time I try to climb onto one, I start getting intrusive images in my head of my own death, I get slightly dizzy, the only movement I can do is shaking, I can’t breathe properly, all my muscles tense up and start aching, and, even though I know, on some level, that my fears are completely irrational and unlikely to come true, I can’t stop this.”

          6. scarydogmother*

            His genuinely crippling mental problem doesn’t make Liz’s bones any less broken, her treatment any less expensive or her ordeal any less traumatic. Jack is a liability, whether intentional on his part or not.

            1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

              Would you feel the same way if Jack had an epileptic seisuze, knocked into Liz while shaking/falling to the ground, and then Liz very unfortunately fell into the path of a moving car? Its tragic and terrible luck, but I don’t think people would be reacting the same way.

              1. AMG*

                People aren’t debating the illness; it’s the fact that he pushed someone into traffic, intentionally or not. I legitimately don’t understand how this is covered by the disability angle. Have a fear of birds? Okay, fine. Pushing people into traffic, not so much.

                What if I had a compulsive rage issue? I can’t necessarily control getting angry but I can decide not to assault someone or break something. He hurt a person. He’s still responsible for that.

                1. Michelle*

                  And that’s exactly the point. You can control whether you assault someone. Jack could NOT control his panic-reaction anymore than an epileptic can control whether they have a seizure.

                2. AMG*

                  That’s actually the opposite of my point. He can’t control his emotion but he can control not injuring someone. I have seen many panic attacks, and had some myself but didn’t shove, hurt, or even touch anyone. He is still responsible for his physical actions if not his emotional and mental reaction.

                3. AnonymousNow*

                  @Michelle: Thank you!! I’m so happy for the people in these comments that actually understand phobias.

                4. AMG*

                  I understand what a phobia is. I also understand personal accountability. You can have both. Hopefully Liz will get a good lawyer and a jury that gets that as well.

                5. Anon for this*

                  I have no phobias, but I do have fairly serious PTSD that I’m in active treatment for. One of my major triggers is people touching my waist from behind – specifically, putting both hands on my hips/waist at the same time while I cannot see them.

                  At my last job I was making copies & standing at the photocopier – which is placed in just such a way that standing at it blocks access to a bookcase in the corner. A coworker (who I happen to be friends with) came up behind me, said excuse me, and put her hands on my hips – I guess to move me out of the way?

                  I reacted with such physical violence that she wound up flat on her back with a black eye. Apparently I went for her with my elbow, but I have no recollection of doing so – I literally have no memory of around 5 minutes after she touched me. I was in total panic mode and wound up in my boss’s office and taking the rest of that day and all of the following (which was Friday) as sick leave. As a result I did not apologize to my coworker until Monday.

                  Long story short, I wound up providing documentation of my PTSD and ongoing therapy to my work, they paid for my coworker to go see a doctor, and our entire office had a refresher course on appropriate vs inappropriate touching – it was determined by my grandboss that I’d been fine not disclosing my PTSD up to that point because my specific triggers are extremely unlikely to occur in a professional setting (after all, how often does a coworker touch your waist like that from behind, stroke your neck, or bite you?) – and my coworker/friend and I are fine.

                  While I absolutely can sympathize with Liz in this situation, Jack is also not to blame for his reaction. People are bringing up all sorts of straw man arguments here – we have no idea what Jack’s specific triggers are with regards to this phobia. He may be more or less fine with birds if they are not within a certain distance of him. He may be able to function if he’s in a car and they’re outside of it because of the barrier. Heck, he may have been startled by the bird landing or taking off. We are not Jack or his therapist so we don’t know the details of his issue and frankly I find this level of nit-picking and skepticism about his (documented! in treatment for!) disorder to be frankly disturbing and disheartening.

              2. Sarah*

                Er, but people with epilepsy actually DO have to put serious constraints on their behavior to avoid their disability from harming others. Such as, not being able to drive a car until the seizures are under control AND it has been a certain amount of time since a seizure occurred. That’s actually a pretty serious inconvenience that could seriously impact your work life, but as a society, we don’t just throw up our hands and say “Oh well, you get free reign to harm others since it’s a medical issue.”

              3. Hiker 1546*

                Yes, I would be reacting the same way. And who are any of us to “condemn” Liz for her reaction. So many of you are giving Jack the benefit of the doubt because of mental issues. Well, maybe Liz had a mental issue before this that caused a more severe reaction from her to this situation. Or maybe this situation caused a mental issue (e.g. PTSD) that is affecting her now. Just because you don’t like how Liz reacted doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t react the exact same way that she did if you ended up with broken bones from an accident.
                And to all of you who are trying to minimize the situation of broken bones in the future – – – my relative broke arm bones at age 25 and had no problems for about 30 years, then beginning in her mid-50s had all kinds of problems relating to those breaks. It’s not being on one side or the other, but trying to make the situation better for both parties – – as well as making Liz as whole as possible, both in terms of paying for medical care including follow-up needs AND future employment.

        4. Dizzy Steinway*

          We don’t know that he ignored them as opposed to being unable to help eg hyperventilating. None of us saw it, including the OP.

          I also think we can acknowledge that this was not a good thing to happen without trivialising phobias. They’re not just ‘being scared’.

          1. Anion*

            Exactly. He could have been hyperventilating. He could have been crying or huddled on the ground. He could have been standing there wailing, “I’m so sorry! God, I’m so sorry, Liz!” the whole time.

            I imagine the incident being rather like the time a spider landed on me and I accidentally threw my soda can in my husband’s face as I jerked and screeched to escape it. (Luckily he wasn’t hurt.) I don’t picture Jack deliberately flinging Jane into the path of a moving car, more like he moved fast, accidentally hit her, and she stumbled into the parking space where the car was pulling in. But that’s just how I’m picturing it.

            1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

              The other day a spider crawled on my foot while I was getting ready for work in the bathroom. I involuntarily shriek/screamed so loudly my partner thought I was very seriously injured. I had heart palpitations for several minutes afterwards. My partner, meanwhile, has a mouse phobia severe enough that she’s totally paralyzed when in a place where there is evidence of mouse activity. Phobias are not voluntary reactions. I know that the spider was harmless; I know my reaction was irrational, but I literally wasn’t able to act calmly.

              1. Anion*


                I’ve had to get used to spiders a bit, living in a very old house with lots of spaces for them to get in (the soda-can incident was years ago), but I would have shrieked at that, too.

                We had a mouse in our house a year or two ago, too. I spotted it around one a.m., woke up my husband, and we eventually caught it and released it. Or, well, HE eventually caught it and released it, because despite my pretty cool and calm reaction on first spotting it, once it started running around the living room I literally squealed and jumped into a chair like a cartoon woman in the 1950s. I knew that was silly, but…yeah. I couldn’t help it.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              Yes, could have been like this. I was standing on the beach once in Santa Cruz (in winter, when the surf is usually pretty high), with a friend. All of a sudden, the friend bolted without a word. I heard something behind me and half turned just in time to see a huge wave coming in, which picked me up off the ground and flung me onto the sand above the berm. Seriously, my actual feet left the actual ground. I could have been hurt; luckily, I wasn’t. Just wet and covered with sand. We went to his folk’s house and his mum helped me get cleaned up and explained the phobia. He did apologize, btw.

              Turns out this person had a phobia of waves and he saw it coming. Panic took over and he didn’t even think to warn me or grab my hand or anything. It was basically like, “Wave! NOPE!”

              I did learn a valuable lesson about turning your back on the ocean–namely, DON’T.

          2. Amy*

            This is my take on it. Phobias suck. A severe phobia can make you react in unpredictable and irrational ways, and the effects of that kind of panic linger for a bit–it’s not like the bird flies away and you suddenly are 100% normal again, hyperventilating or faintness or other symptoms are pretty common. He likely wasn’t trying to push her, and may well not have been in any shape to help much.

          3. MWKate*

            My mom is this afraid of birds. I can imagine her in this situation running away in a panic if she thought the bird was going to be close enough to touch her. She is ‘okay with’ aka able to ignore, birds when they are just flying around doing their business. Having grown up seeing her intense phobia of birds, I am sympathetic to Jack’s blind panic here and can see this being a natural reaction to being confronted with a bird. My brother and I grew up darting around on sidewalks to remain between our mom and any nearby birds.

            However. Even if he was unable to avoid instinctively running from the bird, and her being knocked over, he should have done more to apologize once everything was said and done. If he couldn’t immediately after the event, then once he was able to compose himself.

            1. Fiennes*

              I agree apologies were called for, but I’d caution against assuming that only a lack of remorse/feeling explains Jack apologizing on the phone with HR. Often after a litigible incident, lawyers insist on carefully structuring/monitoring any apology or interaction between the two parties. Either the company’s team or Jack’s personal lawyer may have absolutely insisted that this be the only time/method in which Jack apologized to her.

              1. MWKate*

                I guess I was thinking more, after the ambulance left and before he would have been contacting lawyers etc. I guess the letter writer doesn’t indicate much on what kind of remorse Jack felt.

                1. Loose Seal*

                  The letter writer wouldn’t know how much remorse Jack felt; only Jack knows that. The letter writer could know how much remorse Jack showed. But even then, people can feel remorse but appear stoic. Or people might not ever feel remorseful but can gnash their teeth and rend their garments with the best of them.

                  So does the amount of remorse Jack shows mean anything as far as OP and the company are concerned? Genuinely asking, here, since I’ve been truly startled by the number of comments that seem to think Jack should not only be fired but perhaps have his head placed on a pike in front of the company. Do people feel that there is a sufficient level of remorse that should be shown before an employee can be forgiven for an accident assuming the employee has no previous history of carelessness? Or will no amount of showing remorse save Jack’s job?

                2. MWKate*

                  The impression I got from the letter, was that the apology came after awhile and through HR. That may very well be inaccurate. I have sympathy for Jack – in fact I don’t think he should be fired. However, it is easier (right or wrong) to feel sympathy for someone who took steps afterwards to show they were remorseful for an accident like this. I understand some people can’t do that – or legally shouldn’t, but there really isn’t detail on what is reaction was aside from that later phone call.

                3. Browser*

                  “So does the amount of remorse Jack shows mean anything as far as OP and the company are concerned?”

                  No, but it means a hell of a lot where Liz is concerned.

                4. Loose Seal*

                  @Browser: Does it? Liz seems to have made it clear that there is only one outcome she will accept if she is to return to the company. She is furious as evidenced by her screaming when he attempted to apologize. She wants him fired as a punishment. Not, as many commenters are suggesting, because she’s afraid to be around him. (Note the OP did not say that Liz is fearful of her personal safety if Jack remains employed by the company.)

                  I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that Liz expected things to go her way and is likely shocked that Jack wasn’t immediately let go upon her demand. Now she’s doubled-down on it, possibly thinking her skills are more valuable to the company because OP mentions the outstanding projects and/or maybe because she doesn’t know how to de-escalate this.

                  If this were mine to handle, I’d give Liz paid time off until she gets medical clearance to return to work, which may include mental health treatment to deal with the trauma of the accident and her justifiable anger at Jack, the company, and fate. Then I’d give Liz an easy way to save face and let her walk back her ultimatum by telling her I was assuming that she said it in a moment of weakness caused by the pain, etc. of the accident and subsequent treatment. If Liz stood by her statement at that time, I’d treat her as per policy for employees who quit. I’d give her a good reference; since it seems that only she can keep certain projects going without delays, I’m assuming that her work has been satisfactory. But, sometimes when people tell you what they intend to do, you have to believe them. If she says she quits, then ok.

                5. Relly*

                  @Loose Seal okay, that last post of yours is ridiculously uncharitable. You imply that she’s spoiled and sulking because she “didn’t get her way,” like she’s a gigantic brat who is being Mean to Jack for no reason whatsoever.

                  She’s in pain and she’s been through an ordeal. And how do you know she’s not scared? Because she sounded angry on the phone? People get angry when they’re scared.

                  Assuming she wants to punish him out of sheer vindictiveness is a stretch, considering that she didn’t call the company up and demand he be fired. She found out he was still working, so she quit. She has that right. She’s not a diva throwing a tantrum.

                6. Loose Seal*

                  @Relly re: charitable. Uncharitableness is going around, I’m afraid. Bound to step in it sooner or later in this thread.

                  I think you’ve read into my post something I didn’t intend. When someone issues an ultimatum, I think it’s fair to say they want things to go their way. By stating that, it doesn’t mean I think she’s a brat. I do, however, stick with my assumption that she (like many people in this thread) truly thought that if she thought he would certainly be fired over this. And, like many in this thread, she’s incensed (and probably incredulous) that he’s not and she — the victim — is the one who’s going to be out a job.

                  I do think she’s angry rather than afraid her her safety, though, and I don’t mean to apologize for that stance. Surely, if she were afraid of working with Jack after this incident, when she was told that Jack won’t be fired over this, she would have told the OP that she was afraid. I think the OP would have mentioned that in the letter if it had happened because that does change things a bit. I mean, if you were really afraid for your safety, wouldn’t you say that?

              2. Pommette*

                That’s one plausible reason.
                It’s also possible that he feels that profuse apologies will put her in an uncomfortable position (feeling obliged to accept the apology; feeling responsible for coworker’s feelings of guilt).

            2. Atwood*

              But he didn’t run until it flew up off the sidewalk. Was he going to walk past it to get in to the building?

              1. Amber T*

                He might not have seen it if it was just chilling on the sidewalk, and only noticed it when it moved? If I see a spider standing still, I can kind of prep myself to get around it, but if it moves unexpectedly, that’s when the real fear kicks in.

              2. MWKate*

                I agree with Amber T – he might have been ok walking past it if he knew it was there and could keep an eye on it, or if was far enough away. There are birds everywhere, he has to have some kind of way to cope with being outside – but if he felt the bird was coming towards him I can see that being a separate issue.

                1. Loose Seal*

                  My issue with birds and other flying things — bats, large moths, flying squirrels, probably — is the flapping. My fear doesn’t rise to the level of phobia; it’s more of an exaggerated startle reflex rather than a fight/faint/or flight response. However, were I in Jack’s situation and I didn’t see the bird before it, sensing Liz and I were close to it, started to fly, I’d probably have hugely jumped and flailed my arms and, yes, perhaps knocked Liz off the curb. (The difference here would be that, while my heart would continue to knock at my chest, I’d likely be of a mental state to assist Liz immediately after the accident because I don’t have a phobia. As others with true phobias have mentioned, it likely wouldn’t be as easy for Jack to calm down and offer assistance.)

          4. The Final Pam*

            This – I don’t have a specific phobia but I do have issues with anxiety and I get panic attacks. If I have a panic attack I am completely unable to do anything. I hyperventilate, I cry, there’s no way I can do much of anything except wait it out or, at most, hurry to get to a more private place. If other people were helping Liz, I don’t think that him standing off to the side suggests much of anything other than panic.

        5. Cary*

          1) A kid wasn’t involved in this incident, and the co-worker is not paralyzed for life, so let’s not make this into a different issue.

          2) Having a phobia isn’t being scared. It’s an intense disabling fear that can rule and ruin someone’s life. You can go to this link to hear people talk about their phobia http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/phobias/#.WOR93hLyu8o

          3) This was a freak accident. In all likelihood Jack was so panicked and anxious that he didn’t see the car, or the coworker who happaned to be right behind him.

          1. Gadfly*

            Regarding 3) as long as that holds true as likely to happen whenever he sees birds, he remains a danger to co-workers who he won’t see and push into other things he won’t see.

            Blind panics are dangerous.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              It doesn’t sound like he ran because he saw a bird. She described it as him running because the bird was on the ground nearby and then took off. I’m not scared of birds at all, but I’ve been startled and flinched from a bird suddenly taking off near me, especially if it flies in my direction. I can see how, for someone with a phobia, that would trigger it. Yes, that kind of thing isn’t rare, but it doesn’t happen nearly as often as seeing birds.

              1. Anion*

                I feed birds in my backyard, on the patio in front of me as I sit in my little chair having a cigarette. Once a robin flew up behind me and landed on the edge of my laptop screen. I almost flung my laptop, I was so startled (and then felt bad, as it flew away). So yeah, it’s not like people can’t be startled by birds even without phobias, even when we feed them and talk to them like dorks all alone in our backyards.

                (The robin seems to have forgiven me, thankfully. He’s never landed on my laptop again, but he will come stand on the little low rock wall right next to me [less than a foot away], and look at me–pointedly, if I have not yet put out mealworms.)

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  He’s more polite then than bluejays, who can express their displeasure at lack of feeding very vocally (and I’m glad you didn’t accidentally throw your laptop!).

                2. Anion*

                  Lol, yes. There aren’t any jays here, but I remember them well from when I lived where there were. My robin, blackbirds, and sparrows are very well-behaved, even if they did get into the mealworm bag last night and strew them all over the patio. Sigh.

                  And thanks! I’m glad, too. :-)

                3. Anion*

                  Oh my GOD, the robin just flew up and perched on my laptop screen edge again, just now!!

                  The first time was almost a year ago, I never thought he’d do it again!

                  Sorry, I know this is OT, but for it to happen again today when I was *just telling that story a few hours ago* strikes me as slightly noteworthy, lol.

              2. K.A.*

                Yet, he did nothing to help her because the bird landed on the ground nearby. So, it wasn’t just the bird flying up startling him. He didn’t even try to help her and after hurting her so badly!

            2. BethRA*

              By that standard, so is carrying a backpack or a large satchel – you could just as easily knock someone over, or off a curb or subway platform by accidentally hitting them with your bag when you turn around.

              But we don’t ban bags, because outside of a freak accident, the worst that will usually happen is someone gets annoyed.

              1. Green Notebook*

                But if you accidentally bumped someone with your bag, you’d still be responsible. You’d be responsible for what is essentially an extension of your space, and that you are taking up more space and can possibly knock someone or something over.

                We don’t ban bags, but no one is saying to ban Jack. But you are still responsible for being aware of how your actions may affect others.

            3. Anna*

              So is blind punishment. This is a terrible weird thing that happened, but it’s so weird it’s unlikely to happen again, meaning he is not an imminent threat to coworkers.

              The logical conclusion to your suggestion is that he sit in his home and never leave for fear he may strike again. That’s what asylums used to be used for. No thanks.

              1. Loose Seal*

                I’m starting to believe that if we removed the mental illness reason for Jack’s bumping into Liz and replaced it with a physical reason of any kind with the exception of a purposeful shove, people would be kinder to Jack. I am more distressed by this realization than I am about the entire story. In my naïveté, I thought people were more knowledgeable of and understanding toward mental illness in this day and age.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yes. I’ve been mostly staying out of this since last night because it’s too much of a mess to even attempt to try (I’ve never seen so much speculation presented as fact here before) but this is my take as well.

                2. Going anon for mental illness talk*

                  I’m feeling this too. This actually confirms my gut feeling that I should never disclose mental illness unless I really need accommodation–there’s way too much entirely unsubstantiated fear and stigma out there, even among people who generally care about workplace equality and good management.

                3. Detective Amy Santiago*

                  Agreed. It’s really very disheartening and makes me SO incredibly grateful for the coworkers I have now and the ones I’ve had in the past who have been so kind about my panic disorder.

                4. AMG*

                  Well, that’s very compassionate and I love this reader base for their kindness….but what about Liz? She got badly hurt and I’m just honestly surprised to see the ‘accidents happen’ response. Illness or not, he is still responsible for that. You can feel sympathy for him and decide he’s a liability at the same time. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Also, his phobia did not cause him to hurt her. His reaction did, even if he did it out of fear. He did not ‘phobia’ her; he shoved her.

                5. Retail HR Guy*

                  Yep. Imagine if Liz and Jack were walking side by side and Jack had an involuntary muscle spasm due to a medical condition, shoving Liz. I have to think that the comments wouldn’t be as cruel to Jack in such a case.

                6. AMG*

                  I don’t see anyone referencing Jack in a cruel manner, or even debating that he has an illness.

                7. Detective Amy Santiago*


                  Plenty of people are saying he’s a danger, a menace, etc. Short of one person (that I saw), no one has said that Liz doesn’t deserve empathy and kindness. Empathy isn’t pie – giving some to Jack doesn’t mean that Liz gets less.

                8. AMG*

                  I agree that both deserve compassion. Not sure if he’s dangerous or not, but I sure wouldn’t be caught on a sidewalk with him.

                9. Green Notebook*

                  Most people commented on Jack not being disciplined are knowledgeable and understanding of mental illness.

                  And it if was a physical reason, then most likely the Liz and others would have known so they themselves can take reasonable precautions to keep safe. Or if they hadn’t known, then when an attack(such as a seizure) they’d be able to see the person unable to help.
                  The way the letter was written, it doesn’t look like Jack’s phobia was disclosed until after Liz quit, so even if she is usually more understanding; she could have just spent time thinking about a coworker pushing her into a car, not helping, not apologizing until after she got out of the hospital for no known reason. And finally getting a reason wasn’t going to change that accumulation of anger.

                  I really understand not wanting to disclose, I have a mental illness as well, but at the very least of I have disclosed when it is possible it could become an issue. People are sympathetic and empathetic to Jack, but this is a no win situation. On the one hand, if you don’t have any form of discipline, coworkers who don’t know of Jack’s phobia are now going to see him as the person who pushed someone into traffic, didn’t help, and didn’t get punished. If his phobia does get disclosed and he isn’t disciplined in any sort of way you can also create a stigma that those with mental illness are untouchable, that if you are near them and get hurt, they go unpunished. On the other, if you discipline too harshly, you can stigmatize the mental illness in a way you look like you are punishing the mental illness and not the action.

                10. Manager On a Break*

                  OK, to be fair, I didn’t read that he *bumped into* her. I read that, according to Liz and other eyewitnesses, he *pushed* her. In my mind there is a *huge* difference in those two actions. I can understand a phobias and being so irrationally afraid that you accidentally “bump into” something or someone in your attempt to get far away from the danger.
                  And then there’s the act of intentionally reaching out and shoving someone. What, for added flair or dramatic effect? These actions look different, and my (and others’) reaction to them is different.
                  Oh, and after the fact he produced a note and explained why he ran, and explained why he didn’t offer to help, but he never explained why he pushed her?
                  Now, I doubt very seriously that he acted with any intent that Liz get hurt. But, as it was described to us, it did in fact sound like the push was not merely incidental to his escaping a perceived danger.

                  On the one hand it sounds like Jack should probably be working in a bubble. Given how many birds there are, and how common this scenario would occur in some locations, at a *bare minimum* he should not place himself within a few steps of anyone when entering or leaving any building or car. Ever. *If* he’s the type to feel responsible or accountable for his actions.
                  Where I work, this could be an every day occurrence. Birds are everywhere.

                  On the other hand, it’s true that companies probably shouldn’t cave to ultimatums. I 100% agree with Liz never wanting to work or be around this person again, but the ultimatum probably wasn’t the best way to handle that. I do respect her opinion and decision to remove herself.

                  The company has made their decision as well, and they should live with it and move on. I will say that if Liz was a real asset and this represented a huge loss, I probably would have been very quick to offer her a 100% remote-work arrangement, if the type of work she does can be done remotely. Or from another branch/office if there is one. Compensating over-generously for any added miles or traffic, if any, of course.

                  Spot-reading through quite a few comments, I liked Meg Murry’s response from the 5th:
                  “At a bare minimum Liz should have been given as much time as she needed to recuperate, paid time off to go to physical therapy, all her medical bills covered, and the option to not have to work anywhere near Jack again. I agree that Jack should not necessarily have been fired, but I don’t think its unreasonable for Liz to ask that she not have to work with or interact with Jack again.”

                  Me, I feel bad for people with issues that are beyond their control, but I also feel bad for “everyone else.” And it baffles me how this turned into a poor, pitiful Jack-fest when he isn’t the one that sustained a life-changing injury and trauma at the hands of a co-worker.

              2. turquoisecow*

                Yes, thank you for saying that. He has a phobia. Once, this once, it resulted in him inadvertently injuring someone. However, assuming that he’s an adult, he’s gone through a good many years without injuring anyone. He’s walked in and out of his house, in and out of the workplace, and presumably in and out of many stores many times in his life. He’s also theoretically spent some time out of doors – although given his phobia, maybe he hasn’t spent a lot of time in parks or anything like that. Over the past however many years he’s been alive, if this is the first time he’s ever seriously injured someone, AND he’s working on it in therapy, I think people are going a bit overboard suggesting he’s a danger to others.

                All humans are a danger to others. What if someone is momentarily not paying attention, or is distracted by a noise, or has some other (physical) medical issue, which results in them hitting someone with their car, or bumping into them and knocking them down the stairs? It’s a bit extreme saying that person should never be allowed out in public again.

                As Loose Seal says, I’m disturbed by some of these comments.

                1. Serafina*

                  I agree that he wasn’t acting with malice or intent, but I think what a lot of commenters are (correctly) saying is that even a mental illness doesn’t excuse negligence when that negligence hurts someone.
                  Negligence is defined as breaching a duty of ordinary care. In this case, that duty of ordinary care means don’t push someone when you are trying to get past them. In this case, Jack broke that duty and caused someone major injuries.
                  It’s not a defense to say, “well, he’s never hurt anyone BEFORE and therefore he shouldn’t face any consequences from this!” I do agree that if nothing like this has happened before, that can be taken into account in deciding what discipline is warranted – but discipline IS warranted. Treating mental illness or any other disability as a “get out of consequences free” card when they directly result in harm to others does everyone else who suffers from them a terrible disservice by creating a greater risk to employers and coworkers and peers than there ought to be. That can cause a stigma and unwarranted resistance and fear to interacting with disabled or mentally ill persons just as surely as other stereotypes. (I.e. – “if we hire Person With X Condition, we’ll never, ever, ever be able to discipline him/her because of X Condition” is just as harmful a stereotype as “if we hire Person With X Condition, they’ll go crazy/have episodes/be unable to work because of X Condition.”)

                  Jack was negligent. He didn’t mean to harm Liz, but he did harm her – he pushed her, and the fact that he may have been in the throes of uncontainable fear doesn’t diminish the harm to her. Others have aptly pointed out, otherwise where does it end? If Jack dropped heavy machinery or leapt out of a vehicle he was driving to escape the subject of his phobia and someone died as a result? He and his employer would still be held fully responsible. Reasonable accommodation does not mean “all incidents stemming from the disability are excused.”

                2. Gazebo Slayer*

                  @Serafina: Yes. Insisting Jack suffer no consequences because of his mental illness makes stigma WORSE, not better. It infantilizes or dehumanizes him by robbing him of any agency and presenting him as an uncontrollable beast to be feared that no one will protect you from – see Gadfly’s multiple posts on this topic. Or, alternatively, it positions him and other people with mental illnesses as special superior beings who are always in the right and whom you must never ever get angry at or you are a nasty ableist vindictive drama queen witch – which breeds resentment and hatred as well as fear. Either way, it does people like me no favors. (I mentioned my multiple hospitalizations for anxiety and depression elsewhere.)

                3. The Strand*

                  I’m with Sarah and Serafina’s comments on this, as well as Green Notebook…

                  People who have epilepsy can be a danger to others in certain circumstances, and that’s why they’re expected to avoid certain circumstances that they can control. My coworker had a seizure and drove her car into a divider, injuring herself and her passengers. She wasn’t arrested; but her license was taken away. That wasn’t punishment, that was protection.

                  Jack could be asked, as a condition of continued employment, to avoid and plan around certain situations where other people might be hurt by his phobia. Maybe he’s asked to use a back door or leave 15 minutes before or after others. Perhaps if HR had worked out some things that could be done, not punitive but protective, and then reassured Liz of these changes, she would have been open to returning.

                  Precisely because we should have compassion and logically view Jack as having an illness… We have to be careful about accommodation, while also protecting privacy. I can’t agree more with the misperception of illnessses as a “get out of consequences free card” and how that complicates the way others see it in the workplace. (It made me think about a bully in another department where I work, and how the bully’s victim believed, “I can’t say anything because this person’s in a protected class.” And that question has come up in this column – the person who can’t get any work done because their ill coworker is gone so much.)

                  I tend to think that accommodation is resented more the less it’s publicly understood as such, because people have no way of applying logic or compassion – or learning from the situation. They just make stuff up or assume the worst.

                  Speaking of the worst, I think HR’s actions here could lead to other employees’ wrongful belief, “This guy got away with pushing someone in front of a car, and the company did nothing.”

                  So they should have done something, not punitive – but protective. Without necessarily revealing anyone’s medical or other conditions. But to stave off the rumor mill and let employees know that this was being resolved.

                  Last but not least, Liz is now someone with a medical condition as a consequence of the event – maybe PTSD, which isn’t unusual after car accidents – and we should be showing her the same compassion given to Jack.

              3. Bleef*

                It’s interesting to me that this comes down to Team Freak Accident versus Team There Are Birds and Cars in the Parking Lot and It Could Easily Happen Again. I can’t help but be on the latter team! It’s not about a lack of sympathy for his phobia, but rather a common sense assessment of if the situation is likely to happen again. If he is still not at a place in his treatment that he can direct his panic in a non-harmful direction from others, then all other employees outside with him are basically in danger, as birds are likely to be flying, landing, taking off at any given time. He’s also a danger to himself, as he may run in front of cars himself getting away. It would be cruel to fire him or dismiss the seriousness of his phobia but if I were Liz, I would be pissed if I felt like my office was basically saying “he can’t help it so just forgive him and come back!” when the situation could happen again if she’s still expected ride places with him and be in the parking lot with him.

              1. Gadfly*

                Although don’t forget the very easily part. It matters, even when you aren’t hurt at all. because that is the part that wakes you up, makes you ill when you hear certain noises or see certain things…

              2. Mike C.*

                It’s a foreseeable consequence. When it comes to safety, you don’t just worry about what happened, you also worry about what’s likely to happen. Once you open the door to “getting run over by a car”, then likely repercussions leading from that are fair game.

            1. Forrest*

              Well, if we’re making up things, what if Jack pushed her in the race to save a kid?

                1. Czhorat*

                  What if he’d pushed a fat man in front of the car to keep it from running over Liz and the two kids? Works that still be wrong?

                1. AMG*

                  He could have been running to stop someone from pooping in a potted plant, or to prevent a witch from hexing another coworker. Or even going into a bathroom with another employee!

              1. Mike C.*

                Come on, when you’re talking about issues of safety it’s perfectly reasonable to think about possible consequences.

                1. Gravel*

                  Courts consider whether outcomes and damages are foreseeable in negligence cases.

                  In terms of employer liability, it also comes into play.

                  This isn’t just about what did happen, but what might happen if Jack continues to work there and be outside in the same area with co-workers.

                2. Forrest*

                  Yes, it’s perfectly reasonable to think about possible consequences for the thing that actually happened. Not make up scenarios that didn’t happen.

                3. Mike C.*

                  No Forrest, that’s not how safety planning works in the real world. Someone was hit and severely injured with a car. It’s perfectly reasonable to discuss the ramifications of those injuries being more or less severe.

                4. Forrest*

                  People are making up these scenarios to make comparable situations to what Jack did. They’re not trying to plan out emergencies plan for what happens if they did occur.

                5. Forrest*

                  That said, thinking up the consequences for using a kid as a human shield should probably be lower on the list than thinking how to avoid people needing to use kids as human shields.

                6. Forrest*

                  BUT if it’s cool to discuss these imagery situations – Liz being a kid for example – then why is it outline of line for me to bring up what would happen if Jack pushed her trying to save a kid? If we could look at the different possibilities for the person injured, why not the person who caused those injuries?

                7. Mike C.*

                  You’re not treating my point fairly. I’m only speaking towards the best practices when it comes to workplace safety and I haven’t mentioned children once.

                8. Forrest*

                  You’re not treating my point fairly either. If you’re all for preparing for possible work situations – which I agree with – those situations are not only discussed on Liz’s side. You need to discuss them on Jack’s side as well. Anything else is just an attempt to try to make Jack worse and honestly, you don’t need to try to make Jack worse.

                  Yup, talk about what would happen if Liz had died. But what would have happened if Jack was running to save someone?

                9. BananaPants*

                  An entire part of my job involves coming up with different event scenarios, considering probabilities of chains of events happening, and assessing consequences. Even a very low-probability scenario may be worth attempting to mitigate in some way if the consequence is really high (serious injury or death). In this scenario, there is the possibility that it or something similar could happen again if steps aren’t taken by Jack’s employer to ensure that other coworkers aren’t in the same position – maybe no one gets within 10 feet of Jack when outdoors, Jack isn’t able to carpool with coworkers, Jack needs to seek more intensive therapy as a condition of remaining employed, etc.

                  I don’t think Jack should be fired, but as someone who has dealt with mental health issues, I don’t think that having a mental health issue should be a “get out of jail free” card. Even though he didn’t mean to do it, the fact remains that he caused a coworker to be seriously injured. Hell, if I was to hurt myself at work through my own negligence or violating a safety rule – even unknowingly – I would be subject to disciplinary measures!

                10. Forrest*

                  “An entire part of my job involves coming up with different event scenarios, considering probabilities of chains of events happening, and assessing consequences.”

                  Do you only come up with one side of these scenarios? Because when I was working for an emergency response company, we looked at all the angles.

                  The company is able to determine how to prevent further incidences with Jack without commenters here resorting to the “What if Liz died????” Ok, well, she didn’t and what if something was different on Jack’s side? Or are we only allowed to play Devil’s Advocate with our favorite person?

            2. Anna*

              She also could have suffered absolutely no consequences saved a bruised ego or a scraped hand. If you’re going to go with what COULD HAVE happened, make sure you go in both directions.

              1. Mike C.*

                One direction requires a whole lot more planning than the other. Planning for “but nothing bad happened” is what I would call “the trivial solution”.

                1. Loose Seal*

                  Of course, depending on OP’s role at the company, they may not be involved in safety planning at all. So, we can go down that road, but it’s unlikely to be helpful to the OP.

                  If there isn’t a safety planning person at the company, then a direct action OP could take is suggesting they contract with one and take that person’s recommendations.

              2. Gadfly*

                There is a square they have you make in business classes. It is divided into quarters. They are 1) likely and severe, 2) likely and not severe, 3) unlikely and severe, 4) unlikely and not severe. You then graph onto this values assigned to possible happenings.

                Unlikely and severe is one that you still pay decent attention to and make plans for. And it is questionable if this doesn’t move it closer to the Likely square. Because it is now a known that Jack can be triggered by birds to lose all control. That could result in a co-worker just falling and having minor injuries. It could result in a coworker being seriously injured in innumerable ways (not just cars). It isn’t far out on the unlikely scale anymore, not once it has become a reality, not as long as Jack panics at birds remains a likely.

            3. The Strand*

              Actually, my first thought is that if Liz is an anxious type (as are lots of us; maybe 25% is a figure I’ve heard batted around), she might dwell on that aspect of it. I.e. “I had no control in the situation and could have been more seriously injured.” She could be more injured psychologically than even physically.

              Someone else with a different temperament might say, “Hey, I just faced a really scary situation. I need to take stock of my life.” And still another person might shrug.

          2. Browser*

            She’s not paralyzed for life, but the injury she sustained is one that will never fully resolve – she is going to be dealing with the repercussions from it for the rest of her life.

          3. Artemesia*

            She was in front of him and he pushed her aside. If you can’t aim your panic reaction so as to not hurt someone (she could have been killed easily in this situation of being pushed under a car, or paralyzed or had her life entirely ruined) the perhaps you can’t be around people. He took off running, he didn’t steer around her but bulled right through her pushing her into the street. If he can’t do better than this than he is a danger to all those around him.

            1. Elizabeth H.*

              It was an accident though. I doubt that he intended to knock into Liz and I doubt that he didn’t or wouldn’t care whether or not he knocked into her. I would think that even if Liz didn’t fall off the curb and get this serious injury, he would still be embarrassed, remorseful and apologetic that he had knocked into her.

                1. Elizabeth H.*

                  I’m just assuming that he reacted to this situation in the same way that any reasonable person would.
                  Any reasonable person would be apologetic that this happened no matter how or why it happened. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jack were even more mortified and apologetic than if he had knocked into Liz because he tripped rather than because of a phobia reaction. To my mind, it should be treated the same way as if he knocked Liz off a curb because he tripped on a rock or something. Or if he were having a seizure. It wasn’t on purpose. Even in the midst of a panic attack you still try NOT to run into people or objects to the best of your ability, this is like a brain stem level reaction.

                2. Aveline*


                  If someone, let’s call him Bob, had a history of seizures and didn’t take any steps to mitigate or he didn’t disclose and ask for accomodation, he could be in deep trouble.

                  There’s a reason the rules on driving and seizures focus on medication/mitigation and don’t simply let people drive if they have a history of seizures.


                3. Elizabeth H.*

                  @Aveline, but he wasn’t driving, he was walking on the sidewalk. I just don’t see this as something that realistically could be prevented by mitigation, accommodation, etc. It was a freak occurrence.

                4. Anon for this*


                  He’s in therapy for this issue. How, exactly, is that not taking steps to mitigate his phobia?

                  Hypothetically, say I have a severe allergy to pet dander and I cannot be around dogs or cats without having intense physical reactions. If I am employed in a typical work place without dogs or cats in it, do you believe that I should disclose and ask for accommodations immediately upon hiring, or would I be fine with keeping that issue private unless a situation arises such as a coworker needs to have a service animal or (as in a recent letter) my supervisor is so very cat-ified that they trigger my allergies? I’m guessing that you (and most of the people on this site) would go with the latter answer.

                  Presumably this is an indoor work environment. As such, Jack’s phobia could not reasonably be considered something he needs to disclose or ask for accommodation for – after all, most offices don’t come equipped with birds.

            2. Amy The Rev*

              I’m not sure where you got “took off running, he didn’t steer around her but bulled right through her pushing her into the street” from “Liz was less than a step ahead of him”, which is what the OP wrote. Sounds like she got knocked off balance by his startle reflex. It sounds like you’re assigning a lot more intentionality/deliberateness into Jacks actions than the OP made it sound like.

            3. turquoisecow*

              “If he can’t do better than this than he is a danger to all those around him.”

              That’s a bit extreme. He’s an adult, so presumably he’s spent 20-30+ years around people. Because he had a panic attack and accidentally knocked someone over, you now think he should be banned from interacting with other humans? Seriously?

            4. Michelle*

              “aim your panic reaction”

              Four words that summarize everything wrong with the comments on this letter.

                1. fposte*

                  Not by definition, though. You absolutely can have a panic attack and retain voluntary control.

                1. Sunglow28*

                  I have a needle phobia and despite cognitively understanding that a blood test could save my life, I basically blacked out, punched my husband so hard I gave him a black eye and somehow found myself in a parking garage still in a hospital gown. That is phobia. It is risking death to avoid a blood draw. It is punching a loved one to escape. It is FIGHTING FOR YOUR LIFE even when it’s unneeded. This is a real thing, and it too me years of cbt so I could get pregnant.

        6. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

          THIS to Artemisia, and I speak as someone who’s been hospitalized more than once for severe anxiety but has never PUSHED SOMEONE IN FRONT OF A CAR. Jack’s phobia does not entitle him to assault, severely injure, and endanger someone’s life. If I were his employer, I’d not only have fired him but I’d have asked Liz if she wanted to press civil or criminal charges and supported her in that if she said yes.

          And IANAL, but I wonder about the company’s liability if Liz decides to sue them unless they’ve already paid a fat settlement.

          1. Zillah*

            I don’t think anyone is saying that a phobia entitles Jack to assault anyone. Saying that it was an accident really isn’t the same thing.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              I am a llama, and from the facts of the letter, you simply cannot conclude that this was assault.

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Ha! I’m very sorry to tell you that I did mean that I am a lawyer. Someone here once guessed that IANAL=i am not a llama, and some of us liked that so much we started using it.

            2. Gravel*

              I am a lawyer. I have tried cases similar to this.

              It may or may not be assault. None of us can conclude this from the facts.

              It’s an issue of Jack’s mental state. We’d have to have a lot more data to say one way or the other.

              1. Zillah*

                I responded to “Jack’s phobia does not entitle him to assault, severely injure, and endanger someone’s life” by pointing out that no one is saying that a phobia entitles Jack to assault anyone. I am not and have never claimed to be a lawyer.

              2. Zillah*

                That doesn’t mean that anyone is suggesting that Jack’s phobia entitles him to assault, severely injure, and endanger someone’s life. There’s a difference between seeing this as an accident and saying that having a phobia that Jack is totally in the clear to either assault his coworkers or not put preventative measures in place to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

          2. JS*

            Yeah I wouldn’t be so quick to do all that. If Jack has been receiving therapy and diagnosed with a condition than the ADA likely prevents his employer from discriminating against him based on that. Even though his condition caused injury to another employee as it was an accident, I would consider his tenure and if erratic behavior was involved previously. Jack could likely sue just as much as Liz could. It’s a tough situation so as an employer the smart thing would be to remain neutral and sensitive to both employees.

            1. Doe-eyed*

              I am not an HR person, but I’m pretty sure that ADA accommodations only apply if you disclose that you have the need for an accommodation. You can’t wait until after a serious incident that the employer had no chance of mitigating and then go “ADA!”

              1. Katelyn*

                I see that, but I also see that a phobia of birds when working in a white collar job is not normally something that you need accommodation for. What would you even ask for from your employer?? I think the phobia is an additional layer of explanation for an accident, but it’s still accidental.

                1. Doe-eyed*

                  Well I mean realistically, birds are everywhere, even in cities. You don’t even have to ask for accommodations, you can simply say “look here’s the deal”. Becuase if I’m picking people for offsite meetings, the person with the bird phobia would likely not top the list.

                2. Just Jess*

                  Reply to Doe-eyed –

                  I hope you don’t mean that you’d use someone’s disability as a reason to not select them for career enhancing business travel. I could be misinterpreting your comment though. Do you mean you’d extrapolate that Jack shouldn’t be doing certain things or do you mean his disclosure would lead you to check in with Jack about going to offsite meetings?

                3. Doe-eyed*

                  Can’t reply and nest on this, sorry –

                  There are multiple kinds of travel, some career enhancing, others not. If I can avoid sending the employee who might throw someone under a car to a non-essential, off-site meeting easily handled by someone else, that’s going to be my first option. If there is a need or it is an opportunity vs. a duty, I’ll talk to them about their needs and see what we can do to accommodate them.

                  In our industry there are plenty of “grunt” meetings that serve little purpose, don’t accomplish much, and do nothing to enhance anybody’s standing, but someone from each group has to be there so they can say they filled us in on whatever is happening.

                4. Chalupa Batman*

                  I think Doe-eyed’s reasoning makes sense, but I can see why Jack wouldn’t disclose. Birds are seen as a silly phobia by a lot of people who don’t have it, and Jack has probably been teased or treated poorly when disclosing before. I doubt it’s never come up until now, and when people find out, it’s probably unpleasant for Jack. I’m not phobic, but have a greater-than-average distaste for birds, and people act like there’s something wrong with me because I find them annoying and nasty instead of cute and funny. Being legitimately phobic would be about 1000x worse.

                5. Ellen N.*

                  In every office I’ve worked in birds roost on the window ledges and sadly fly into the windows. I would think that someone with a phobia of birds would have to ask for a desk that’s not near a window. Also, the accommodation of warning coworkers to be several feet away from him any place where birds might be (which is pretty much everywhere outside) would be necessary.

              2. Retail HR Guy*

                Depends on the circuit. In the 9th circuit, it’s established that you can greatly misbehave, attribute it after the fact to a newly-disclosed qualifying disability, and be immune to any negative work action tied to your misbehavior.

                The case establishing this was a woman who freaked out at her boss, shouting, insulting, and throwing things. She was suspended. She then claimed the misbehavior was due to a disability. The company said too bad, it wasn’t disclosed until after your suspension and it isn’t reasonable to accommodate that kind of behavior regardless. They fired her. She sued. The courts said it was discrimination.

                In any other circuit, though, you would be correct that you can’t use the ADA as a defense after a misdeed.

                1. StartupLifeLisa*

                  Do you happen to have that citation? I’m considering law school & would like to read the case.

                2. Retail HR Guy*


                  I wish I did have the citation for you. I just tried to Google it but I didn’t remember enough details to find it. It’s a relatively well known case on the west coast, though, and I’ve seen it referenced by law blogs and mentioned by more than one of our employment attorneys (in different firms) so hopefully an actual attorney could weigh in. My remembrance on it was that the decision flew in the face of what other circuits have decided, but until such time as one of these cases goes all the way to SCOTUS the law here out West will just stay different than the rest of the country.

              3. AMG*

                Right–jack should not be allowed to endanger people any time his bird phobia arises. I can’t imagine ADA covers justifying pushing people into traffic. Poor Liz. I really do hope she sues him.

                1. Zillah*

                  He pushed her and she fell off the curb, where she was hit by a car that was parking.

                  That doesn’t mean that it’s not a problem, nor does it mean that Liz wasn’t seriously injured and has every reason to be furious! But it’s also not the same thing as pushing her into traffic.

                2. AMG*

                  I just feel like it’s an issue if semantics. Jack cause don’t her to get hit by a car.

                3. Zillah*

                  I don’t want to parse words, but I don’t think it’s just semantics. Pushing someone into traffic has some really specific and strong connotations.

            2. TL -*

              So I’m pretty sure nowhere in the ADA would they consider broken bones and assault a reasonable accommodation.

                1. Gravel*

                  It might be in some states. It really depends upon whether or not he had the mental state to know he was pushing her out of the way. That’s a question for a jury.

                  We don’t know enough about Jack and his mental state to know one way or the other.

                  Just b/c it happened quickly and in a panic may or may not absolve him of the mental state.

                  There are similar cases where someone pushing someone out of the way to escape someone chasing them have been convicted.

                  It’s all very fact specific.


                2. Gravel*

                  We do NOT know this one way or the other.

                  As a lawyer, I have seen cases like this (and tried a few) where it was deemed assault and some where it wasn’t.

                  It really turns on Jack’s mental state. Being in a blind panic helps, but I’ve seen people being chased or with phobias be found to have committed assault or battery when they shoved someone or barreled into them.

                  Everyone needs to stop saying it is definitively assault or it isn’t.

                  It’s not that simple.

                3. Lynxa*

                  I am also a llama (I LOVE THIS) and I am jumping in to second Gravel. It could possibly be assault, or it may not. The determination is fact-based and made on a case-by-case basis.

                  (And, honestly, in my state for assault all that’s needed is the intent to perform an unwanted touching.)

                4. Artemesia*

                  I am astonished that we are more concerned about Jack’s career enhancing travel than the lives of his coworkers or the hapless visitor he might be dispatched to pick up. You don’t let epileptic workers, work around dangerous machines or drive. Someone with a phobia so severe that an ordinary event causes him to lash out blindly and push someone under a moving car is not more precious than the person pushed under the car.

                5. Pwyll*

                  But you wouldn’t fire an epileptic who, in the course of suffering a seizure, knocked someone else over and into the street in the path of a moving car, either. And an epileptic suffering a seizure on the street is at least as foreseeable as a person with a bird phobia coming into contact with a bird on the street.

                  I don’t think anyone is saying that either person is more precious than the other. This was an accident, and I’m really struggling to come up with what kind of punishment would be warranted for someone who accidentally knocked someone over (at least as it’s described by OP, it’s not that Jack was grabbing her and trying to force her to get between him and the bird as much as he fled and knocked her over).

                6. AMG*

                  I have one–he has to pay for Liz’s medical bills, plus damages for pain and suffering. Also,, should have to compensate her for going without a salary while she finds a new job working with people who shove her into traffic.

            3. Spex*

              Surely there’s a difference between having a phobia and needing some extra patience or accomodation in the workplace, vs. having a phobia that causes you to do great bodily harm and being immune from repercussions.

              1. JS*

                He’s been in therapy for two whole years prior, he has coping mechanisms. All we know is when it flew away he ran, we don’t know if it touched him or flew super close to his face, dove at him while flying away, etc. That’s completely different than seeing a bird and flipping out. Furthermore, there are numerous of non mental health reasons why you could accidentally bump into someone or push them and they could get hurt that would happen in this exact situation. Mental health comes into play because you can’t discriminate against him based on that, he was receiving coping mechanisms up until that point with no incident (of course that impact depends on if he had been working their 2 months versus a year or more). I’m not saying it makes him immune, I’m saying the employer needs to be careful.

          3. Meg*

            Right. Phobia or no phobia, I’m sure this employer has a zero tolerance policy on workplace violence. What Jack did was workplace violence whether he intended it or not. A phobia is not a free pass to assault people, which is what he did.

            1. Natalie*

              That’s not really what any of those words means. “Workplace violence” doesn’t cover accidents, and accidents aren’t assault (assault implies intent).

              1. Jesmlet*

                This. Exactly. The way I read it, Jack pushed past her in his attempt to run away. This is not the same thing as shoving someone in front of a car. If Liz had tripped on Jack’s foot as he ran past her and had the same thing happen where she broke her arm, would everyone still be clamoring to see him fired? This whole situation majorly sucks for Liz and I would’ve tried to accommodate her so she’d never had to work with Jack again, but firing him just seems like an overreaction to me.

                1. Bangs Not Fringe*

                  But she didn’t trip, he pushed her. The intent may not have been for her to fall but that was the outcome.

                2. Jesmlet*

                  In either scenario, Jack doesn’t mean for Liz to get hurt but she does. I just don’t see it as a fireable offense especially coupled with the possible ADA stuff.

              2. Gravel*

                Well, we don’t know for certain whether he intended to push her or was even aware.

                People are coming down hard on both sides of this with not enough evidence to conclude.

                He could have been acting in a panic or had a phobia and still intentionally pushed her.

                I’ve seen cases like that occur.

                I would lean toward “accident” but I would never, ever be so certain without more facts.

                1. Marisol*

                  But what difference does it make whether it was intentional or not? Isn’t he liable for damages, regardless? It was his actions that led to the injury.

                2. JS*

                  I think its pretty obvious he didn’t intend to push her in front of a car (you would really need to gather a LOT of malicious intent evidence by his past interactions with her, etc to come to that conclusion). As far as his knee-jerk reaction of fight or flight, his “flight” reaction was to get the heck out of there obstacles or not.

                3. Loose Seal*

                  @Marisol, I would imagine the driver of the car might be just as liable for damages and/or charges. After all, it doesn’t generally matter why you hit someone with your car. The fact is, they did.

                4. Marisol*

                  @Loose Seal – ha ha I did forget about the driver! But the logic should be the same I imagine. You’re liable for traffic accidents regardless of your intentions. I’d think you’d likewise be liable for pushing someone into the path of an oncoming car, regardless of the intention behind the act.

            2. Apollo Warbucks*

              No this situation is not the same as workplace violence, not anywhere near close to it.

            3. Amber T*

              So when my coworker walked into me and made me spill hot coffee, giving me some light burns, that was work place violence? I think “work place violence” is turning into the new “hostile work environment” in this thread – it has a certain definition that we’re not quite getting.

              I don’t think anybody here actually think’s Jack stopped and thought “Oh man, a bird, I’m gonna push Liz in front of that car.” It was an accident. Now, does that mean he should or shouldn’t suffer any repercussions? That’s what we’re debating. But calling this work place violence is a bit extreme.

          4. Anion*

            If Jack had tripped on a broken pavement slab, fallen into Jane, and accidentally knocked her into the parking space, would you still think he ought to be fired for it?

            1. AMD*

              Presumably, then Jack would have immediately tried to help Jane and also apologized, which it sounds like didn’t/couldn’t have happened here.

              1. JS*

                People are so stuck on the immediate reaction of apology/help without taking into concern him not being in a mental state to assist anyone.

                1. Zathras*

                  The actual incident is more like Jack tripped, hit his head, and was too woozy and concussed to come to Jane’s assistance. He stayed on the scene long enough to see that she was getting assistance from someone else.

                2. BookishMiss*

                  Thank you, JS & Zathras. Panic like that means you’re not in any competent state to offer assistance. He stayed until he was sure assistance had arrived – that’s more than I may have been able to do, in his situation. Someone upthread said it well – empathy isn’t pie.

                3. Loose Seal*

                  What I’ve learned from this thread:

                  1. Never have a mental illness while at work.

                  2. Apologize for everything early and often.

                  I think that about covers it.

            2. Temperance*

              That’s a different scenario. He injured her, severely, and didn’t try to make her whole.

              1. Jesmlet*

                If he had tripped in an attempt to get away from a bird and knocked into Liz and continued to run away, would that be a whole different scenario?

                1. Temperance*

                  It’s slightly less awful than knocking her into the street into oncoming traffic.

                2. Jesmlet*

                  I’m having flashbacks to college where we discussed variations of the trolley scenario. Is it the hands on her that’s the source of all the outrage? If the outcome was the same but it was his foot or shoulder that caused her to fall and get hurt, would fewer people want to see him fired? Generally I’m siding with Liz, but specific to fire or don’t fire Jack, I’m siding with OP.

                3. Erica*

                  Yes, that would be different. Because “tripped on something” is a circumstance that can happen to anyone. Liz knows that people trip on sidewalks sometimes – if there’s an uneven patch in the cement, or they’re walking near the curb, she is, at some level, aware that there’s a risk involved. Even without that, she knows that people trip on their shoelaces sometimes, or on nothing. It’s not common, but it happens.

                  Liz did not know that “bird nearby” was a sign of potential physical danger to her; she had no idea that might cause Jack to do something erratic. And keeping that secret from her is what makes Jack the one in the wrong – not because he has a phobia, but because he has a condition that affects the people around him, which he hid from them.

              2. Anion*

                He didn’t knock her “into the street into oncoming traffic.” It was a parking lot, where a car happened to be pulling into the space where she fell. Had no car been pulling in at that moment, she likely wouldn’t have been injured.

                This did not happen on the side of a busy road. It was a parking lot. It doesn’t mean the accident was less bad, but let’s not act like he pushed her into the HOV lane on I95, either.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  You actually don’t know if it’s a parking lot. It says they were on the street (sidewalk) in front of the building, and a car was parking. That description could easily refer to a street or a lot. And the location doesn’t really matter much, tbh, except to determine whose insurance is responsible for Jane’s injuries.

          5. Backroads*

            This. This a hundred times. The company and the world cannot just sit around judging the results of Jack’s panic attacks.

            He pushed someone in front of a car. Consequences are needed.

            1. Jesmlet*

              I don’t think a single person is arguing against consequences. They’re arguing against firing Jack.

              1. K.A.*

                So the victim (Liz) is supposed to work with someone who greatly injured her and then stood by and did nothing to help? And what happens when a bird appears again? Who will be endangered next? Birds are everywhere.

                1. Anon for this*

                  No. This is not okay. This line of thinking leads to “people with phobias/disorders/etc should never be around other people” which is not okay.

                  Clearly Jack, as an adult who leaves his house, has a job, and is in ongoing therapy for this issue, has some coping mechanisms for this phobia that allow him to deal with the fact that “birds are everywhere”. There was something about this particular bird at this particular time that triggered this panicked reaction – I clearly cannot know, but I would guess that it’s likely that the bird flew in their direction or otherwise moved towards them or in a way that startled Jack.

                  I have PTSD. I’ve worked very hard in therapy to temper my reactions from “people touching me unexpectedly = panic/defend” to “people touching me in X, Y, and Z ways (all of which are unlikely to happen at work) = panic/defend”. I would ask you to please consider that there’s nuance to these situations and issues, and not go around making inflammatory statements like “Who will be injured next?”

            2. Retail HR Guy*

              By that standard, let’s punish the driver of the car, too.

              They should have stopped in time, but instead drove over someone. Consequences are needed.

              1. Loose Seal*

                Honestly, I’m surprised the driver isn’t getting some of the venom. Perhaps Liz is friends with them and knows that their part was an unavoidable accident.

                Or it could be that the driver has no known mental illness and, therefore, isn’t to be as excoriated by the commentariat as Jack is.

                1. Temperance*

                  This is unfair. The car was in the process of parking when he pushed Liz. It’s entirely jot the car’s fault. Then again, if the driver had mental health issues, he’d be excused.

                2. Loose Seal*

                  So? When you hit someone with your car, it doesn’t matter why you hit them. You don’t avoid getting a ticket or facing charges because a kid suddenly darted into the road and you hit them because it was quick and you couldn’t get stopped in time. When you are driving near pedestrians, on the sidewalk or not, it’s your responsibility as a driver to pay attention.

                  Granted, I was facetious with my last line but, given that the driver is the one that actually did the damage, there must be some reason why they are getting off so easily and Jack is bearing 100% of the burden. There are commenters today that I have always respected but now see a little differently because of their comments toward mental illness and/or about a person with a mental illness. I’m sure people see me as being callous to Liz and that’s fair. Because I certainly see them as being callous toward Jack.

                  I hope we can all agree that this is a horrid situation for the OP, who didn’t get a lot of help today from the comments. Instead, we all just hashed out the same points that I’m sure they have already in her office. They didn’t really get much concrete advice from us and I’m sorry about that, OP.

              2. Sarah*

                I would imagine the driver IS having consequences — if in nothing else, in increased car insurance premiums (and possibly they are partly liable too). The reason they’re not getting more discussion here is because they are not associated with the company, so the company isn’t involved in it at all — if the driver of the car were ALSO a coworker, I think it would be more relevant (also – even weirder!)

          6. Jady*

            Glad someone has said this. This seems insane that he wasn’t fired on the spot.

            Companies are required by law to make reasonable accommodations, yes. A reasonable accommodation would be letting him work from home and not travel. A reasonable accommodation doesn’t require allowing him free reign to endanger another employee.

            If I were Liz I’d be throwing lawsuits everywhere.

            1. Retail HR Guy*

              Depends on where the company is located. The ninth circuit does require employers to refrain from any negative work action against employees as a result of a disability, whether or not the disability was disclosed in advance and whether or not their behavior was reasonable.

            2. Anon for this*

              So by that logic, the only jobs that people with phobias or PTSD like mine should take are ones that keep them at home?

          7. whichsister*

            My daughter has severe panic/anxiety disorder. And has been hospitalized multiple times. We often have this conversation. “You have an illness, but your illness is not a reason or an excuse to mistreat others. ”

            Where was Jack on day 2? When Liz was in the hospital? Yes, he has a phobia – an extreme fear that causes him to act what we may perceive as irrationally. But the realization that someone was severely injured should still bring remorse. Even if it was an accident. In the immediate afterwords, Jack was not remorseful. It wasn’t until the situation escalated that the apology came and that was only after he provided documentation to cover his own a$$.

            1. PlainJane*

              “You have an illness, but your illness is not a reason or an excuse to mistreat others.” Thank you. I also have a child with an anxiety disorder, and I teach him the same thing. I’m not taking a side on the “should Jack be fired” question (I’m not sure where I come down on that; I feel awful for both employees), just appreciating your approach. I grew up with a mentally-ill parent whose verbal abuse and other crappy behavior was always excused with, “But he’s sick,” rather than, “I won’t allow him to treat you like that.” It got old fast.

            2. Salamander*

              I have an anxiety disorder. I agree that it is not a reason or excuse to mistreat others. My intent or state of mind doesn’t matter – what matters to me is the effect of my actions on the people around me. I am responsible for what I do, whether I intended to do harm or not.

              I’m frankly shocked at responses to this question. I am floored that Jack seems to be getting a get out of jail free card for this and that there’s so much vitriol against Liz, who was literally an innocent bystander who got hurt. And that there’s an expectation that she shouldn’t be upset by this? Huh? She was a victim. She doesn’t *have* to dispense forgiveness to make everyone more comfortable.

              I’m honestly rethinking how close I’m following this blog in the light of the responses to this. I just…unbelievable.

          8. Amy The Rev*

            Since when did accidentally knocking someone off-balance due to your startle reflex become assault? I once accidentally hit my sister in the face when I didn’t hear her come up behind me and my arm flailed…did I assault my sister? Would she be entitled to press criminal charges? Would those charges actually stick?

          9. Erin*

            Even if it was an accident, Jack is still responsible for Liz’s injuries. There are as many mental health issues as there are people in the world. If Jack had another disorder and thought Liz was a giant chicken and pushed her into traffic on purpose would that excuse him from what happened? He needs help. Suspend Jack until he gets help and maybe Liz would be satisfied to comeback on a short term basis to finish up her work.

            1. Anon for this*

              I am utterly appalled by this comment and its unbelievably ignorant tone towards people with mental disorders.

              Comparing a phobia with a purely hypothetical psychotic break and hallucinations is like comparing baby carrots and ghost peppers. Other than them both being in the same general category of thing, they’re nothing alike.

              1. Erin*

                I grew up with a mentally ill father. One who would snap and punch people in the face at work and get fired. He is diagnosed as bipolar. Should others have to tolerate getting punched in the face for my fathers out of control illness? I don’t think people should have to tolerate being pushed into traffic because someone has an irrational fear of birds anymore than people should tolerate being punched in the face because someone can’t control their anger because of a chemical imbalance with their brain chemistry.
                People need to be responsible and take control of their problems or their problems take control of them and effect others.

                1. Loose Seal*

                  i must have missed where Jack has refused to take control of his “problem.” He’s been in therapy for it for years. He waited outside as close as he could until Liz was being helped by EMTs. He informed his manager about the accident as soon as Liz was secured in the ambulance. He has cooperated with his manager and HR. He allowed them to share his personal medical information with Liz.

                  What else does he need to do to show that he accepts responsibility?

                  I think you’re upset that the company didn’t fire Jack. But that’s not his fault. It’s entirely possible — probable, even — that Jack was not made aware of Liz’s ultimatum so you can’t even expect him to resign so that she has a clear field ahead.

              2. Loose Seal*

                Anon for This, I’m getting a strong whiff of “bootstraps” in this thread. I honestly didn’t think I could be more upset about the state of things lately. Turns out, I was wrong. People can be ignorant, dismissive, and cruel, of course; I knew that before now. I just didn’t realize that there is still obviously such a stigma about mental illness that people would recommend removing from society those who are suffering.

                I hope that, wherever you are Anon, people are treating you with kindness and respect simply because you deserve it. I find you incredibly brave to keep coming back to defend others with mental illness, especially since this casual talk about how people think those with mental illness should be (mis)treated must be hitting awfully close to home for you.

          10. Loose Seal*

            Really? You’d tell one employee that you’d support them in suing another employee while that employee was still working for you?? I find it difficult to believe that your company would continue your employment if you did so. You’d better be completely committed to Liz if you did that.

            Assuming the OP is writing about a U.S. company on U.S. soil, I’m sure Liz is well aware that she can file a lawsuit for just about anything. She doesn’t need your advice on the subject. I’m sure that wherever she is currently recovering has the Yellow Pages and she can choose from any number of the personal injury lawyers contained within it.

            Also, companies are aware that there is a potential for them to be held liable if accidents occur on their property. They carry insurance for these types of things. Those insurance companies have lawyers that specialize in dealing with this. That’s not where OP’s head needs to be right now. Yes, there may be an insurance settlement later and it may be a hefty one. But that’s not in OP’s purview as the manager of these two employees and isn’t, in my opinion, particularly helpful to speculate about.

        7. Czhorat*

          “Scared” is an incredibly dismissive way to describe a documented mental illness which, in this case, impacted Jack’s ability to function. You’d not do anything similar were it a physical illness.

          1. Gadfly*

            If he were in a powerchair and backed into her accidentally, pushing her into a car, because of his blindspots, I would expect him to be held responsible still.

              1. Erica*

                I would fire Jack because he’s proven that he can’t or won’t evaluate risks accurately. The obligation to make allowances for his phobia doesn’t extend to letting him harm other people because he didn’t want to tell people he had a disability.

                Think of it this way – what if it were a client he pushed, and not a coworker? What if the accident had cost them a large new project? The company probably would’ve fired Jack without a second thought – so sorry, dude, and we’ve got a nice severance package for you, but… can’t have someone on the team who drives off customers.

                1. turquoisecow*

                  In this ONE instance, he freaked out at a bird and caused an injury. As an adult, presumably he’s been outside and interacted with the public, or with his coworkers, thousands of times over the past 20+ years. You can’t say “He’s proven he can’t or won’t evaluate risks accurately” based on ONE instance. That’s flat out wrong.

        8. JS*

          But it’s different if the push was intentional or he just accidentally knocked her over while barreling out of the way. It doesn’t sound like he was trying to use her as a human shield by any means she just not knocked down while he was running away.

        9. Parenthetically*

          Thank you! This was exactly my thought. I have mental illness myself, so I am very sympathetic, but this is just a giant, giant WOW to me.

        10. Jessesgirl72*

          I hope Liz takes him to Civil court.

          She may not need to find another great job ever again…

          1. DCGirl*

            It’s amazing how many people think an accident is the golden ticket to riches. By way of comparison, I worked for a nonprofit that held its annual conference in a hotel with escalators. Two employees were riding down one of the escalators when it stopped. The employee in the rear lost her balance and fell into the other employee, then both tumbled down a few more stairs (they’d almost reached the bottom when the escalator malfunctioned) with the faller landing on the other employee, who sustained a broken arm. She was quite upset with the person who lost her balance and knocked her down. Ultimately, she received reimbursement for her medical bills and a modest settlement of $30,000. Being in an accident of any kind is not like winning the lottery.

            1. Saucy Minx*

              There is no settlement that will compensate for permanent severe injuries & chronic health issues, even though inflicted by accident.

          2. Jessie the First (or second)*

            “She may not need to find another great job ever again”
            Yeah, that’s not how civil liability plays out in the US.

            1. Artemesia*

              I know a lot of Llamas and have seen a lot of civil cases and it is rare for people to get adequate compensation must less get rich. Yes it happens, but it happens pretty rarely. I personally know of a case where a cop rear ended a person in a car because he was inattentive (totally his fault no question) leaving her with serious head injuries and cognitive long term issues and she still got almost nothing. I know a case where an ER didn’t diagnose an obvious aneurysm and sent the guy home where he died; it was operable if they had acted. They lost the malpractice case. so lots of bad things happen that don’t get compensated.

              1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                Exactly. Huge payouts are really rare.

                Also, I love that people are saying llamas now. Now when I read my daughter the “Is your mama a llama” book, we can all just say yes and move on.

              2. JKP*

                Exactly. I know someone who suffered severe permanent brain injury through 100% the negligence of the hospital treating him for a minor flu (they put him alone in a standing x-ray after he told them he was too dizzy to stand, then he passed out and cracked his head open.) During the trial, his lawyers were able to prove that the hospital staff changed their testimony between the depositions and the trial, basically lying in court. AND they altered the medical records after the fact to cover it up, which he also proved. The jury still sided with the hospital and awarded $0, because the defense pushed the story that everyone’s premiums go up if the jury awards money, even if they award money in cases where it’s justified.

            2. Loose Seal*

              Even if it did, it would take years and years to claim, after appeals and after the judge knocks down the jury’s award to a reasonable size. Liz is going to need to pay her medical bills as they come in if she wants to protect her credit. I understand she’s traumatized but unless she’s independently wealthy or has a partner or parents that will support her, quitting a job without another one lined up is not a great idea for her right now.

              Really, if she drops her obstinate stance, she’d be in the best possible place she could be if she stays in her current job. They will likely be incredibly flexible about time off for follow-up appointments and physical therapy while a new job wouldn’t feel obligated to. She’ll probably get a pretty good raise next time, if she stays with this company too.

              1. Relly*

                I don’t like that we’re characterizing her as obstinate now. She’s been traumatized, and she’s in pain. That doesn’t go away because this “isn’t his fault.”

                1. Loose Seal*

                  The problem is that, when you issue an ultimatum, you pretty much encompass obstinacy. If Liz had approached this from the point of how could the office help her return to work without having to work with or near Jack, it would be different. Instead, she closed off any other solutions but her own. It sounds like OP had talked to Liz a couple of times since she quit and Liz has remained firm in her stance.

                  Which is her right, of course! I’m not arguing that at all. But if you were Liz’s personal friend knowing that she will soon be billed for an ambulance ride, four days in the hospital, surgery, anesthesia, and who knows what else, would you encourage her to quit or to try to find a way to keep her current job — at least for a while — if she could work out a way to feel safe at work? I’ve been paying one hospital or another for the last 25 years after an accident. I doubt I’ll ever get it paid off. So perhaps I’m too realistic about medical bills to be so cavelier about employment. I mean, you could be right or you could keep a roof over your head.

                  (All my medical bill concern — and it’s a huge concern! –comes from my assumption that this took place in the U.S. If the OP comes back and says that they are in a country where they don’t pay at point of service, then I’m gonna have to revisit some of my comments.)

                2. Relly*

                  @Anon, ugh, those weren’t meant to be scare quotes, but I see they read that way. I wasn’t meaning to imply that it IS his fault. I was feeling like there’s a Greek chorus chiming in “but it’s not his FAULT” and feeling like, yes, awesome, let’s say that twenty more times because somehow that will make her arm unbroken.

                  It doesn’t read how I meant it to, but I wasn’t being sarcastic the way it sounded. I get that it wasn’t his fault. That isn’t the same as saying it’s not his responsibility, and I’m tired of the constant chant of “it’s not his fault” being held up as if it’s an impenetrable shield they absolves him and the company both of having to plan to avoid this in the future.

                  Sorry for giving the wrong impression. I see where it reads like scare quotes / mockery and I’m not even sure I’m explaining well what I actually meant, and I gave up on this post entirely for various reasons, but I’m sorry to have come off like I was blowing off his phobia. I wasn’t, I swear.

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Taking him to court will likely be expensive and is very unlikely to help her. Unless Jack is independently wealthy, most of Liz’s recovery would be sucked away in legal fees. And it’s highly unlikely that “She may not need to find another great job ever again”—this is not how damages or tort liability works.

          4. Loose Seal*

            How much do you think she can take Jack for? Most of us have a house/condo that the bank mostly owns and a car or two that we’re still paying on and, possibly, some savings and, if we’re super lucky, a 401k. So what assets do you think he’ll owe her once he cashes all that out? You can’t get blood from a turnip but perhaps she’ll feel justified by causing him and his partner to be bankrupted and forcing his children to live on the street. (I understand that a partner and children are not mentioned but since everyone else is speculating, why not?)

            If it’s a windfall she’s looking for, she’d do better to put her blame on the driver of the car. At least they likely have insurance that might cover her medical bills and possibly settle a small amount.

        11. Robin B*

          I agree. No excuse for his behaviour, and Jack should have made HR aware so that anyone traveling with him could be on guard.

        12. Susan*

          I am glad that I am not the only one who was thinking this. Yes, he has a mental illness and it sounds like it is very serious, but by him running in fear and pushing Liz out of the way, he could have killed her. He may not have intended for her to be hurt, but she was. Her injuries are super severe… the broken arm requiring surgery… no wonder she refuses to work with this guy. I can’t believe that there are some comments on here defending his actions. What if it was them who was pushed in front of a car and needed surgery? Would it still be ok because he has a phobia? A mental illness is not a free pass to severely hurt people. That is not a reasonable accommodation that a company should provide. Who knows though, perhaps they consulted with an attorney and were advised that terminating him could create a legal issue. I can’t wrap my head around how the company is handling this.

          1. Amy The Rev*

            Hmm, this doesn’t sit very well with me. I don’t think anyone in the situation has been given a “free pass to severely hurt people”. What if while walking next to each other, Liz had been suddenly stung by a bee (happened to me once, I call BS on the ‘dont bother them and they wont bother you’ thing) and in her reaction to that immediate, intense pain, had jumped a little or flailed her arm and caused Jack to fall into the road in front of a car. There’s obviously more nuance than that because a severe phobia has identifiable and (somewhat) predictable triggers (like being outside you can reasonably assume there may be birds around but it’s still possible to be startled/surprised by one), however a person’s reaction to a severe phobia isn’t as controllable as I think people on this thread are making it seem.

        13. Falling Diphthong*

          I am thinking back to the fake spider on the boss who has a spider phobia, and swore, and whether that was understandable with fight-or-flight grabbing your brain or a reaction you should be able to override. There I tend to come down on the first. (Also if you fling your arms up and whack the spider-deliverer on the nose–the lesson is not to put spiders on people and expect it to go well.)

          But if the spider phobia person didn’t just shriek or jump up but hurled an innocent bystander into the path of a moving car? (Or Mike C’s example of heavy machinery?) That seems to rise to the level where your mental illness makes you a danger to others.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            In that case, I think the onus would be on the person who deliberately chose to put a spider on someone’s shoulder, not on the person who panicked and flailed. Their reckless behavior (playing a trick on someone that they are reasonably sure would startle them) would have caused the accident.

            I am not a llama either but that seems reasonable to me.

          2. turquoisecow*

            Also, Jack, as an adult, has presumably interacted with humans (and birds) hundreds of times, and this is probably the first time he’s injured anyone. It’s certainly the first time it’s injured anyone at this job, or the OP would have mentioned it in the letter. To go from that to say that he’s a “danger to others” is a little extreme.

        14. Amy The Rev*

          From what it sounded like in the letter, and from Alison’s response, I don’t think the push was as deliberate as you’re making it sound. A better analogy I think would be someone getting a trampling injury in a human stampede of people running from a very real and present danger – since that’s what phobias feel like to a person who has them. Also, I don’t think there were “no consequences”- Jack likely feels absolutely terrible about what happened and will have to live with those feelings for a very long time, plus I’m sure this didn’t make him any friends at work. If you mean no punishments, that’s one thing (though I’m personally not someone who really agrees with the idea of ‘punishments’ in the workplace), but there absolutely were consequences.

        15. Tab*

          A phobia isn’t FEAR. It’s an irrational ridiculous condition that you can not help in any way and that makes it sometimes impossible to get out of situations when you yourself are in drastic danger. I’ve ended up in the hospital because I am a diabetic and when alone at home, a bug was near the bedroom door and I COULD NOT leave. It was not in anyway possible to get myself passed the door in order to get the food that I needed to live. I tried. I tried for HOURS. I tried even though I was nearly passing out from low blood sugar. I kept trying to tell myself that if I didn’t leave the room to eat something, or grab the phone for help I could die, but it didn’t matter. It does not matter.

          You’re being confused by people who are scared of things like spiders and call it arachnophobia because they need to stand on the other side of the room while someone kills it because it scares them. Phobias are extremely serious mental illnesses that people can’t help.

          It’s not okay that the woman got hurt, but its not okay to just presume that he made this choice to hurt her just because he was “scared”. He wasn’t scared. He was having a mental illness breakdown. His brain, in that moment, Did. Not. Work.

        16. Rainy, PI*

          I was hit by a giant van in a parking lot two weeks ago. I was on foot. I wasn’t even seriously injured (some bumps and bruises, ankle strain, bruised my face) but I’m still not entirely recovered emotionally from it. I was very badly shaken up. I think expecting Liz to work with the guy who pushed her into traffic is beyond the pale, personally.

        17. BTW*

          Your comment makes it sound as if what he did was intentional. Now I can’t know for sure but I can *almost* guarantee that he had no idea there was a moving car there. His body initiated a fight or flight response and you get tunnel vision. A phobia is also so much more than just being “scared.”

      3. Karen D*

        Yeah this.

        Alison, I will always think you give fantastic advice. But I really hope and pray you’re wrong about this one because injuring a colleague horribly, then refusing to even try to help her, seems to me to be so very, very far outside the scope of any kind of accommodation a company might be required to make, especially since there was apparently zero advance notice that this kind of thing might be an issue with Jack.

        If his phobia is this incredibly severe, then Liz certainly should have had the opportunity to refuse to travel off-site with him .. .because Jack is dangerous. Point blank. He’s a threat to the safety of anybody who might conceivably be in the vicinity of him and a bird, and there are as many as 400 billion birds in this world.

            1. hbc*

              Would you fire a person in a wheelchair for not hopping down the curb and picking her up? “Not helping when incapable of helping” is just not a fireable offense.

              1. Mookie*

                I don’t know that I find Jack a plausible ongoing threat nor do I think he should be fired (either for the accident, or for failing to assist Liz, or for failing to deliver the ‘right’ apology in the ‘right’ way), but this analogy doesn’t capture the right dynamic, as far as I can see.

                Being incapable of helping someone, as a bystander, is not a dereliction of one’s moral duties. It is not a failing, but a simple matter of fact. Accidentally contributing to someone being hurt — say, a wheelchair wheel went awry and Liz was intercepted — does not make one a threat. With the right combination of events, people, and circumstances, this could have happened to anyone. Jack has unpredictable reactions that pose a small risk to himself and others, because birds exist and don’t give advance notice of where they’ll be next. He needs to manage those risks, with accommodations where necessary and helpful, from his employer. But he’s also allowed the opportunity to do so.

                (I had an initial visceral reaction to this letter because something similar happened to someone I know, and for a long while I held an irrational but powerful resentment against this other person, a stranger to me, who was triggered into inadvertent physical violence. I regarded them as obnoxious and selfish, and viewed their inability to ‘properly’ apologize and grovel as haughtiness, rather than intense embarrassment and shame. For a moment here, years later, I HATED JACK for what that other person did and didn’t do. I indulged in revoltingly ableist fantasies I thought I’d long ago learned were cruel, unproductive, and selfish. But my counter-reaction is just as strong: irrespective of his intent, Jack deserves the support he’s getting. I am so sad for Liz, but this is a situation with no perfect resolution, and that really, truly, isn’t anyone’s fault. It just is what it is. Jack did nothing wrong, even if something wrong happened, if that makes sense.)

                1. Yogi Josephina*

                  Yes. This. ONE MILLION TIMES.

                  I am really, really disheartened by all the privileged, ableist outrage here mostly from folks who don’t suffer from phobias. If you haven’t lived it, you don’t get to judge it. And honestly, even if you DO have a phobia and are judging Jack harshly, fine, but your one differing opinion doesn’t cancel out the experiences of millions and millions of people across the world who suffer from this and don’t share your view.

                  Everyone is flailing and screaming about how “why should Jack’s mental illness be prioritized over Liz’s broken arm?” You can very easily flip that around – why should Liz’s broken arm automatically be prioritized over Jack’s illness?

                  I am also getting VERY tired of the trend lately that intent doesn’t matter AT ALL. I’m the first to defend that impact matters more than intent when it comes to most things, but THAT DOESN’T MEAN THAT THE PUNISHMENT FOR THE TWO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD ALWAYS BE THE SAME. In fact, most of the time, it shouldn’t be. My accidentally slapping someone with a flailing hand IS NOT THE SAME THING as deliberately punching them in the face, and it is ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS to assume that just because “the outcome is the same,” the same punishment is warranted regardless of whether or not there was malicious intent. NO ONE is saying there shouldn’t be consequences for Jack – but those consequences SHOULD NOT be the same as they would be if he’d done something intentionally hurtful.

                  Enough assuming the worst in people you don’t know with self-righteous talk about how “he doesn’t show any remorse!” As if you know, or understand, or were there. You don’t, and it’s incredibly arrogant to assume ANY of that about Jack just because you want to play judge and jury, or feel morally superior, or what have you. You have literally nothing to base that assumption on besides your ignorant non-understandings about how phobias work. I mean, the ARROGANCE in, “he didn’t react the way that *I* think is acceptable in this situation that I’ve literally never been in, so he’s a jerk!” Not to mention projecting things onto the situation that flat out didn’t happen, just to try and make him sound worse than he is (“he pushed her in front of a moving car!” NO.).

                  And also? I know no one wants to hear this, but life isn’t fair. And sometimes, THINGS HAPPEN THAT ARE NO ONE’S FAULT. Accidents are ACCIDENTS. And they just happen. And they suck, and they’re unfortunate, but sometimes, things go wrong when no one DID anything wrong. That’s a part of life. And I’m so tired of our constant need to place blame on people and “hold people responsible” bleeding over into territory that just flat out doesn’t warrant it. Sometimes in life, NO ONE IS AT FAULT. Even if something horrible happened, even if someone’s actions caused harm, the fact that it was an ACCIDENT by nature means that no one did anything wrong, and therefore punishment WILL and SHOULD be absent or very minimal. That’s just how things go sometimes in life, and we need to accept that not every unfortunate situation is something that warrants or calls for “punishment” and consequences just to satisfy our need for “vindication,” or to feel like something wasn’t in vain. Sometimes in life, things ARE in vain, and pointless, and arbitrary, and there’s no greater point or purpose. I know it’s human nature to desire “justice,” but there ARE circumstances in life where that’s just not how it works, accidents being just one example. You HAVE to allow for that in the world, and we can’t get so fixated on “accountability” and “fairness” that we try to apply it to situations where it just doesn’t make sense. This is one of those situations.

                  Attempts should absolutely be made to maximize the comfort of Liz and everyone involved – paying for all her bills would be ABSOLUTELY the right call, and if she is scared to work with Jack due to this and doesn’t want to come back, okay. A generous severance while she finds work elsewhere would also be a good move. There is no perfect solution that’s going to feel 100% “right” or “fair” to either party, but we have to stop treating accidents as though they’re crimes. They’re not, and therefore should not be judged and dealt with in the same manner.

                2. Amy The Rev*

                  @yogi josephina – I couldn’t put my finger on what it was that was irritating me/what I wanted to say, but you hit it right on the nose- sometimes life isn’t fair and sometimes things are no one’s ‘fault’. Also I agree re: intent. Heck, even the law recognizes that intent matters even if the outcome is the same (which is why we have different charges & sentence guidelines for premeditated murder, spur-of-the-moment murder, and accidental death/homicide). Thanks for articulating all of that!

              2. Karen D*

                That example has absolutely no bearing on the case at hand. In this case Liz’s badly broken arm was a direct result of Jack’s condition. Direct. Result.

                Whether or not he is ‘to blame’ is moot, when assessing the threat he poses. He loses control of himself and will run, regardless of the situation he’s in, who he has to shove aside or any other peril his running poses to others. That’s not a hypothetical. That’s the actual facts of the situation as it exists – giving Jack every benefit of the doubt. It’s not even “what if he hurts somebody?” He has hurt somebody. You can’t use hypotheticals to argue away significant harm that has already occurred, and it is disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

              3. NLMC*

                And trying to help with he is unable to could is actually worse than just standing off to the side.

            2. Chocolate lover*

              Being unable to help someone is NOT a threat. Plenty of people are not trained or able to help in emergency situations, that doesn’t make them a threat.

              1. Mike C.*

                The threat isn’t from not being able to help, but rather from pushing someone into traffic or more generally acting in a highly uncontrolled manner when surprised by the object of his phobia/anxiety.

          1. paul*

            That also doesn’t really make him less of a potential threat to people’s well being.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Just to be clear, I’m not saying that the OP is legally required to retain Jack. The OP would need to consult with an employer about their legal obligations here (and should not be taking advice on that from the comments section, because the ADA is incredibly complicated and nuanced and not always intuitive at all).

          1. Karen D*

            I understand, and I have only researched the law insofar as it applies to my own diagnosis (I have had a formal accommodation for severe ADD in the past; my current situation doesn’t require it).

            I am not really addressing the legal issues. I just can’t agree with the statements “you’re right not to fire Jack,” and “Liz quit. That’s the resolution here,” for a range of reasons that extends far beyond the bounds of the ADA (I’m not even sure OP is American, to be honest.)

          2. Gravel*

            Except that he did not disclose this until AFTER the accident. So the ADA is not the issue.

            Had he disclosed before, it would be a different situation.

              1. Opl*

                We don’t know they are in that circuit and the majority rule in every other circuit required disclosure before

              2. Aveline*

                We don’t even know if they are in the USA!

                If they are, and they are anywhere but the 9th, prior disclosure would have been required.

          3. Artemesia*

            I understand that it is complicated and also that Jack didn’t necessarily intend the outcome and that firing may or may not be possible. What bothered me is the idea that all the concern is for preserving Jack’s position and that Liz — well tough cookies, off she goes.

            I think the first concern should have been accommodating Liz and her need to be safe. Perhaps no resolution could be found in a small organization to keep her away from Jack (I could certainly imagine that she has developed a phobia or PTSD issue specific to being around Jack) but that should be the first step — ‘Liz what can we do to make you feel safe at work.’ It might come to inability to fire Jack hence Liz has to leave, but the first step should have been to accommodate her and be sympathetic to her situation not a knee jerk ‘poor Jack, no consequences at all for him.’ There are potential options short of firing Jack to keep them apart, maybe.

            1. Just Another Techie*

              Personally I’m just baffled that nowhere in the question, and only very little attention in the comments, has been given to “How do we make sure Jack doesn’t break another employee’s arm?” If I were one of Liz and Jack’s coworkers I wouldn’t want to ever travel anywhere out of doors with him, not even to walk across the street to starbucks.

              1. AnonAnalyst*

                Seriously. This struck me too. I hope the OP just left out the peripheral details for brevity, but if I had seen this as a fellow employee, I would be concerned about going somewhere with Jack where birds might be present (so, probably anywhere outdoors at the very least).

                1. Gadfly*

                  And that is only if coworkers know it is a bird problem–I wouldn’t assume that information would be disclosed. Instead, to them it might be a mystery and Jack could just randomly go off. If that is the case, I doubt many would want to be near him anywhere. Especially, ironically, places birds are least likely to be–enclosed spaces where the coworker would be trapped.

              2. turquoisecow*

                Because Jack is an adult, and so has presumably been outside, maybe with his coworkers, hundreds of times over the last 20+ and NOT hurt anyone. Assuming this ONE incident leads to him being a danger to himself and others is extreme.

                1. Bleef*

                  It kind of seems like people want to have it both ways. Some commentators want it acknowledged that Jack’s phobia response is completely outside of his control and in the moment he will do whatever it takes to get away from a bird. But then they also want to say that it’s highly unlikely he will have this kind of response again. Perhaps with treatment his responses will be less erratic and potentially harmful but as long as he and fellow employees are walking around where birds could be, it does seem like a possibility and not just a freak accident (it would be a freak accident to me if it happened somewhere birds seldom appear like inside the building or something, but there’s nothing freaky about a bird being in an outdoor parking lot.)

        2. Thlayli*

          Well put! If his phobia is that bad he should really have disclosed it for other people’s safety.

          Also, did he have a phobia of apologising?

          1. Mb13*

            I don’t know about phobias for apologizing but he might soon have a phobia of lawyers.

          2. Fiennes*

            Lawyers often forbid clients to apologize in a litigible incident, or insist on carefully structuring the time/form of the apology. This sounds like what happened here. If Jack apologized in this way bc either the company’s lawyer or his own insisted, it’s unfair to consider that proof of callousness or a lack of remorse.

            1. Gadfly*

              Which, while rational, is distasteful that he appears to be doing everything to CYA himself and it sounds like the person he caused to be severely injured and probably severely traumatized is just SOL/he has no responsibility to her. Distasteful enough to raise serious unethical/immoral sorts of objections, IMO. This is the sort of thing a professor assigns an ethics 101 class to debate or write papers on.

      4. Mazzy*

        Yes I’m 100 percent in liz’s side here. Just because she was so wronged. And hasn’t he ever noticed a bird outside before? There? Doesn’t his treatment give him some sort of way of dealing with them besides running away? What else would the therapy consist of?

        1. AnonAnalyst*

          Yeah, I’m also pretty confused by this. I’m really on Liz’s side because I think Jack was irresponsible not to disclose his bird phobia once there was the potential for it to become an issue at work. I understand if your job just requires you to be in the office, but once he had to leave the office for offsite meetings he should have spoken up. I mean, birds are everywhere. I just can’t think of a realistic way you could avoid ever seeing birds outside. If nothing else, it would have made Liz aware of the issue so she could perhaps alter her behavior when she was outside with Jack.

        2. MWKate*

          Having experience with people with bird phobias (my mom), for her the trigger is if she thinks the bird is going to come close enough to touch her. If, when the bird was taking off he thought it was coming at him I can see him getting this panicked. There is a difference between “I do this whenever I see a bird” and “In this instance I thought the bird was coming at me.” He might be able to ignore the birds just walking around and doing bird things but a sudden action like taking off could be startling.

          1. Matilda Jefferies (formerly JMegan)*

            Seconded. I also have a bird phobia, although not quite this severe. Last summer, I had a bird fly at me, and I responded by screaming, dropping my purse, and running into the middle of the road, where I tripped and fell. Luckily there were no cars coming at the time, because I would absolutely have been hit. As it was, the adrenaline after I picked myself up and started walking again took me almost a kilometre away before I really knew where I was or felt safe again.

            So, yeah, Jack probably didn’t expect or anticipate that particular confluence of circumstances. But now that it’s happened, we can certainly start anticipating it for the future. I don’t think firing him is the right answer, but there’s definitely a need to plan ahead for something like that to happen again.

            Full sympathies to Liz as well, because that must have been very traumatic for her. I can understand why she wouldn’t want to work with Jack again, and I hope OP’s company is treating her well after her departure.

        3. Gravel*

          He can have a phobia and still be a Jackass.

          If he knew this was likely an issue and didn’t try to mitigate, then yes, he’s a problem.

          The think that makes me dislike Jack is he didn’t disclose or do anything after the fact. Not immediately after. I get that.

          He seems to have done nothing until HR got involved. That’s not cool to me.

          1. Amber T*

            We don’t know the timeline here, so I wouldn’t resort to name calling until/unless we know what happened.

            I’m imagining what would happen if this scenario occurred in my office. The immediate reaction would be – oh jeez, someone’s hurt pretty severely. Whoever witnessed it would stop work and seek to help the injured employee immediately. There would be a brief discussion of “someone call an ambulance!” Meanwhile, a crowd is starting to form, people are asking “what happened?” The employee is uncomfortable, in pain, probably trying to process what happened. The ambulance arrives and takes the employee away. The crowd starts to disperse. HR is on the scene because someone was just taken away by ambulance and they need to know what happened. They turn to the only employee to witness what exactly happened.

            I’m putting myself in Jack’s shoes – what would have happened if I pushed someone because of my phobia of spiders and they got injured? What would my reaction be? So I see what triggers my phobia and I go into a blind panic. In my case, my only “thought” (and I put thought in quotes because it really isn’t what I would be thinking, but literally just a reaction) is to get away as quickly as possible. In my panic, I knock into something. When I recover to realize my surroundings (which could take a minute, or could just take a few seconds), I realize my colleague is on the ground, pretty injured. People are coming out to see what happened, and I’m realizing that I caused it. Adrenaline from the fright is leaving me, making my reaction time slow. Before I know it, an ambulance is being called, and oh my god I caused this. People are focusing on my colleague, as they should be, and I can’t move because the reality of all this is hitting me. The ambulance comes and takes her away, and HR comes over to me and asks what happened.

            Is this what happened? Maybe, maybe not. But I’ve been in the blind panic mode, unable to do anything. Does that make me a jackass? I don’t think so.

            As for him not doing anything until HR was involved – I can’t imagine a scenario where HR wasn’t immediately involved, unless the work place is dysfunctional, which the letter writer doesn’t allude to.

        4. Kj*

          So, for a phobia, exposure therapy is the treatment of choice and the treatment with an evidence base behind it. In exposure therapy, you create a “fear ladder” of fears relating to your central fear, going from least fear to most fear. In this case, maybe seeing a picture of a bird would be on the low end, then watching a bird video, then touching a feather, then watching birds in real life through a window, then watching them not through a window, then being in the same room with a bird, then touching a bird. You work your way through the ladder with your therapist, using copings skills to deal with your new fear at each level. By then end of therapy, you should be desensitize to the cause of the fear. Depending on where Jack is on the ladder, he may not be able to tolerate birds outside near him yet.

          However, I’m also going to say, treatment for phobias are typically FAST. Like, can-be-cured-in-6-weeks-fast. Not all of course, but most phobias can be gone pretty quick with effective treatment. I’m surprised Jack has been in treatment for 2 years without being able to handle birds better. That concerns me.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            You don’t know how far Jack has come with managing his phobia.

            Nor is it accurate to say that phobias are always curable in a short amount of time.

            1. Kj*

              No, but it is very odd that two years into therapy this happened. And while phobia are not always curable quickly, the evidence base for phobia treatment suggests that the vast, vast, majority are treatable and with results in under a year or even much less. If Jack’s is not treatable, I would hope he would be informing his employer ahead of any possible interactions with birds (and birds are everywhere). We can’t know specifics, but we can make reasonable inferences. My post was a reasonable inference about most phobias and their treatment, based on evidence and research.

              1. Loose Seal*

                I can give you some reasons it might take this long:

                1. Jack’s insurance only allows a limited number of visits a year so he isn’t able to have enough sessions together for exposure therapy to have the usual quick resolution.

                2. His therapist quit, became ill, or otherwise had to close their practice in the middle of Jack’s therapy and it took Jack a while to find another therapist that he felt comfortable enough with to attempt exposure therapy, which does, for obvious reasons, require trust.

                3. Both Jack and his therapist felt as though he was sufficiently desensitized to his trigger to cease the exposure therapy and then this incident triggered Jack in a way that others hadn’t. Back to the drawing board, then.

                And probably lots more reasonable reasons that it’s too late in the day for me to think of now.

          2. Simonthegreywarden*

            Lol. I can watch shark week on Discovery, but I will never be able to cage dive around great whites. We’re don’t know how crippling his fear was. Maybe when he started therapy, he couldn’t even say the word.

      5. Mazzy*

        Yes I’m 100 percent in liz’s side here. Just because she was so wronged. And hasn’t he ever noticed a bird outside before? There? Doesn’t his treatment give him some sort of way of dealing with them besides running away? What else would the therapy consist of? At the very least he’s lax in the treatment

        1. Whats In A Name*

          Since he is still undergoing therapy my guess would be this is something they are working on. Have you ever been to therapy? It’s not a one and done type of thing and you can’t manage you issues 100% of the time after many visits, let alone just one or 2, it’s a process.

          1. Mazzy*

            I went for one thing and we got right down to business. Since this is a simple issue, if they “got down to business” right away I don’t see how it dragged on so long. And please don’t say it isn’t a simple problem, because it is.

        2. Oryx*

          Therapy is far more complicated than “Here’s some treatment! You’re healed!” It is a constant ongoing process and there can be backslides that depend on situation. So his treatment and tools may be fine in one circumstance but then something in another circumstance means the tools don’t work.

      6. designbot*

        She could easily be more charitable to Jack and less bitter towards the organization by just saying that in a panic a coworker caused a serious accident and she didn’t feel like she could work with him after that. Still completely true, but sounds less bitter.

        1. Mike C.*

          Why is it so important that she sounds “too bitter”? If I was throw in front of a car, had my arm severely broken and required half a week in the hospital and my employer didn’t have a plan to keep me safe at work I would be bitter as well.

          1. AnonAnalyst*

            Yeah, I imagine if I were in Liz’s situation I would be pretty frustrated. As INTP noted upthread, this was not some weird confluence of factors that is unlikely to happen again. As long as Jack is unable to control his reaction around birds, this might happen again. That wouldn’t instill confidence in me if I worked at this company.

          2. Jessie the First (or second)*

            Because sounding bitter in a job interview doesn’t help her, no matter how right you feel she is. The advice here for other really out-there situations has generally been to be matter of fact. There is a way to be matter of fact about this situation too. (And as you can see from these comments, there are intense reactions to the situation – you don’t want the interview to become about This Big Thing. You want to be able to move on with the interview, right?)

          3. INTP*

            I think Liz 100% has reason to BE bitter, but it’s generally not in someone’s best interest to sound that way at a job interview. Not because in this situation it isn’t understandable, but because the person making hiring decisions has a responsibility to choose a good person for their team, and they don’t know how much of the other side of the story you’re leaving out, or whether you will get over it and be a positive member of the team or stay so angry you bring a toxic morale element with you. Sounding positive and chipper for 30 seconds while answering questions about your previous employer is a good way to demonstrate that you can move past it with a good attitude.

          4. designbot*

            What Jessie and INTP said. Be as bitter as you like to your friends and family, just not in an interview.

          5. LBK*

            “Didn’t have a plan to keep me safe at work” seems like a disingenuous description of the situation. What are they going to do, hire a hunter to shoot any bird that comes within 100 yards of company property? I don’t think it’s remotely reasonable to expect them to have a contingency plan for a situation like this, nor do I think it’s reasonable to fire Jack to prevent any possible bird-related injuries in the future. Unless they conduct business outside often, this doesn’t seem like something you would have to plan for again.

            1. Speechless*

              Someone else in the thread had a manager with a bird phobia. She disclosed it. She asked people not to block her office door in case a bird at the window caused an attack. She made sure people didn’t walk in front of her in case she was triggered. People knew that if she was triggered to get out of her way. A plan to keep those working with Jack safe might have been not to have them outdoors with Jack. It might have been for them to know to walk behind Jack. It might have been for them to let Jack re-enter the building before they left their cars. The fact is Jack didn’t disclose so his company didn’t get a chance to do a risk assessment to see if any of those things were necessary or helpful. Now that it’s clear some of it might have been, he doesn’t get to wave a letter from his therapist saying you can’t be mad at me I have a phobia. He’s not protected (I’m given to understand as not my country not my rules but this is the impression upthread) because he didn’t disclose.

              1. LBK*

                I just can’t get on board with the idea that it should have been obvious to Jack that he should’ve disclosed a bird phobia while working in a white collar office.

                1. Mike C.*

                  You don’t have to. All you have to get on board with is the fact that there was a serious workplace injury and that there should be a serious discussion about how to prevent something like that from happening in the future.

                2. LBK*

                  I really don’t think I could have a serious conversation about how to keep one of my employees away from birds and/or keep my other employees away from him in situations where a bird might appear. There’s just no rational plan I think I could put in place to make that happen.

                  Sometimes accidents happen. Even severe accidents are still accidents. This isn’t comparable to the kinds of things you’re probably thinking of where someone’s injured by workplace equipment that they’re expected to use every day – in those scenarios, I obviously understand the need for harsh examination of any accident and discussion about a plan to prevent it from happening again.

                  But for something that’s so unlikely to occur again and that has so many variables that can’t be controlled (like the location of birds), it seems to me like having a talk about how to prevent it would pretty much just be for show, because there’s really not a lot you can do about it other than ask Jack to keep his distance from his coworkers when they’re outside.

                3. Late To The Party*

                  I work in a white-collar job in a building that includes a manufacturing facility with many large dock doors. Birds fly into the building all the time in the summer, and almost everyone who works in the office is required as part of their job duties to walk through the manufacturing area at some point. I can’t even imagine the injuries that an undisclosed bird phobia might cause in that environment. The point being, I don’t think anyone should assume that that they could not encounter an animal in a professional, indoor job.

                4. designbot*

                  I can see where you’re coming from if he had literally never seen a bird at or near his office before. For example if this was his first off-site meeting and he didn’t normally enter/exit the building in the middle of the day. But the first time he had to travel off-site or someone opened a door for some air and he found himself thinking “but a bird could fly in!!!” that’s when you know you need to say something. So while I acknowledge there may be a combination of circumstances that mean this is the very first time anything relevant has come up around the workplace… odds seem good that while this is the first actual incident it’s not the first time that this has been relevant at work, which would incline me to say he should have spoken up.

                5. Mike C.*

                  No rational plan? Someone with a similar phobia already discussed what works for them in this very thread. Just because you or I don’t have a specific accommodation (I certainly had no idea until I saw the post) doesn’t mean that one doesn’t exist.

            2. Mike C.*

              I don’t know what such a plan would look like. What I do know is that the most important job of management is to keep their employees safe from harm. This isn’t going to be discussed in most white color work because there isn’t a lot to worry about, but there was a serious, serious accident that caused lost work days. That management doesn’t have an answer for keeping that from happening again is troubling.

              1. LBK*

                But that’s my whole point – if no one here can seem to come up with a concrete plan to assure Liz that this won’t ever possibly happen again, I don’t think it’s reasonable to get angry at the OP for not having done that. And Liz doesn’t seem to want a prevention plan anyway, she just wants Jack to be fired, so it seems like a pointless argument.

                1. Gadfly*

                  We don’t know that is all she wants–that is her plan on how to make things right and protect herself. It is the job of OP and their HR to make counter offers that address her concerns. Which are reasonable concerns for someone in her circumstance to have. Even just being vindictive is reasonable even if not actionable.

            3. turquoisecow*

              Yeah, presumably as an adult, Jack has never caused injuries to anyone else as a result of his phobia, because most phobias do not result accidental injuries. Presumably, Jack and Liz had worked together (or at least for the same company) for some time, and this had not happened before. Presumably, Jack has not had this sort of thing happen in the past, or he would have mentioned it, and the OP would have mentioned it in the letter. It’s a freak accident, and thinking that there’s some risk it will happen again is a little extreme.

    2. DArcy*

      “A coworker shoved me into traffic and the company refused to discipline him for it because he claimed it was because of a panic disorder. While that might have been true, the bottom line for me is that I didn’t feel safe working there anymore.”

      Being unwilling to work with Jack after what he did is not an unreasonable action on Liz’ part. It’s understandable that the company can say that his actions were clearly not malicious so he doesn’t deserve to be fired; it’s equally understandable that the victim doesn’t have the emotional distance to do the same and has a right to prioritize her own needs over being “fair” to the person who assaulted her.

      1. Dizzy Steinway*

        Sorry to nitpick, but a phobia and panic disorder are not the same thing. Both are anxiety disorders, but different types.

        1. JessaB*

          Yes and one can have both. I have certain phobias and if those are triggered they also feed into my panic disorder. It’s just (sarcasm on) twice as terrifying. (Sarcasm off.) Many times the disorders come hand in hand.

    3. copy run start*

      I can’t think of a good way to spin it… maybe something vague is the safest bet for Liz. You probably don’t want to be remembered as the candidate who was pushed into a car because your coworker had a bird phobia.

      1. Mike C.*

        Well if employers are going to insist on asking certain types of questions they should be prepared to receive certain types of responses. Imagine all the women out there who leave a job because of rampant sexual harassment, what are they supposed to say when asked a similar question?

        1. JS*

          Not to get off topic but I wouldn’t even be honest here. A valid concern of job seekers is if they tell a potential employer they left because of sexual harassment/discrimination etc that they will be seen as a problem and a whistleblower (even if they are justified). It’s not right but personally I made up an entirely different reason why I was let go after I was discriminated against and filed an EEOC report against my employer. I took the serverance instead of suing (the amount they offered was an admission of guilt in itself) part of the serverance was neutral terms of dismissal so they didn’t bad mouth me and I didn’t bad mouth them. In Liz situation it’s different but I wouldn’t risk being seen as the problem employee who wasn’t sensitive to others mental health issues ( you never know how people will take the story). While I am on Liz side as far as not wanting to work with directly or travel or with Jack, her quiting all together to me is extreme and probably is the last straw in a string of job dissatisfaction. I can’t imagine being in a job I loved, paid well and then this happened and I end up quitting over it.

          1. Tab*

            People largely don’t understand phobias and how serious they are, so I could see her seeing it as not a freak accident that happened, but as more of an assault(as a lot of commenters also seem to be doing). If you feel assaulted, with the assailant getting no punishment, I could see them leaving for that reason alone.

            1. Erin*

              it was assualt, unintentional assualt, but he still pushed her and caused her serious harm. It doesn’t matter what his intentions were. People get fired all the time because of something they did or didn’t do was not intentional. If she were killed it would be manslaughter.

        2. Heatherskib*

          I was advised by a former interviewer to phrase it as a “Management conflict” cue eyeroll and me knowing better now.

      2. Gadfly*

        I don’t see how that hurts? It isn’t like it is likely to be a chronic issue going forward (that’s why she quit…)

          1. Mookie*

            Would something like “there was an accident on my employer’s property that made it impossible for me to feel safe returning there” / “I was inadvertently injured by a colleague and decided to move on” work, or does that just stoke additional interrogation? I can’t decide whether it sounds weird or implausible or not, because in some industries something this wouldn’t raise eyebrows, in others, it’d be unusual, and in still others, it’d be grounds for concern about Liz’s aptitude for work safety.

              1. ThatGirl*

                They may, but the point is to make it an understandable reason that she left her job, not to get across how horrible the whole thing was.

                1. Temperance*

                  I think she needs to get the message across about how egregious this incident was, though, to show that she’s not oversensitive. I’ve been “inadvertently injured” by a coworker in the past (was cut with a piece of glass because he broke a lightbulb above me while I was holding the ladder), and that’s not even in the same ballpark as someone shoving a person into traffic.

            1. EddieSherbert*

              I think it would prompt me to ask more questions. My brain would be like… What happened? Is this lady way overreacting to something dumb? Or did something terrible happen?

              I’d be super curious!

            2. NLMC*

              I’ve had someone tell me there was an accident at their previous job and it was too hard to go back to in an interview and that didn’t raise any red flags for me (there were others, but not that answer.) I wasn’t going to ask anything else about it, but she later told me that it involved her child, and the job was a car dealership. I don’t know what happened but not returning to the sight of a traumatic accident is completely understandable.

      3. Bonky*

        Wouldn’t bother me in an interview, and wouldn’t reflect on her badly; if anything, it’d make her more memorable. Sometimes I really worry about what the commenters here think is going on in the minds of those of us who interview!

        1. Audiophile*

          Yes but does it make her memorable in a good way? I think that’s what most people grappling with.

          1. Jesmlet*

            Right, I think if someone told me this, it would be in the back of my mind the whole interview and I’d likely forget the interesting professional things about her. The words “bird” “phobia” “car” “hospital” and “broken arm” should not be mentioned. Best to leave it more vague and then pivot into all the things you liked about the job and tie that into what interests you about the job you’re interviewing for.

    4. Mustache Cat*

      What? I would find “My coworker pushed me into an oncoming car” a perfectly reasonable explanation for leaving

      1. SadPanda*

        Who cares about Jack? Liz was severely injured and hospitalized!

        Phobia, whatever, he is *fine* and she needs to find a new job because coworker almost killed her.

        1. Caro in the UK*

          Put me in the pile of people who care about Jack AND Liz.

          I think I need to stay away from this post, because the trivialisation of mental illness is already really upsetting me.

          1. Katherine*

            Right. It’s possible to acknowledge that what happened to Liz was awful while also having empathy and understanding for Jack. The ableist comments here are very upsetting.

            1. Josiah*

              I think the part of the problem is that a lot of people commenting don’t understand how phobias work.

              People seem to think that having a bird phobia means that Jack always freaks out whenever he sees a bird. If that was true, they’d be right to consider his actions grossly negligent.

              Similarly, people seem to think that good therapy means that the phobia goes away and never matters again. It doesn’t always work that way, especially in the medium term. It’s often much more complicated than that.

              Disability in general is way, way more complicated than people usually realize it is.

              (And it’s also possible that Jack really is a jerk — I think that we don’t know one way or another from the facts we have. But it’s important to realize that everything described could happen without Jack being negligent or cruel.)

              1. Zillah*

                Yes. Pointing out that some assumptions about Jack aren’t reasonable isn’t the same thing as not caring about Liz. This was an awful situation, and in a lot of ways, there’s no good answer because there are multiple people in it who are dealing with serious health issues through no fault of their own and whose needs directly conflict with each other.

                I feel awful for Liz, because she’s had her life upended, been seriously injured, and may deal with chronic pain and/or limited mobility for years to come – so I totally get why she’s furious with Jack. I also have sympathy for Jack, because it sounds like he’s been trying to address this phobia for years and he’s still clearly got a long way to go, which I suspect severely inhibits his life.

              2. paul*

                I’m not seeing a lot of people flat not getting phobias (though there’s been a few); what I’m seeing a lot of us saying that it does not matter that he has a legitmate mental illness, if his reactions to triggers make him dangerous.

                It doesn’t have to be “pushed into oncoming car” to get someone hurt; pushed down stairs, pushed into anything that might injure them, hell it could be someone that’s got osteoporosis and breaks a hip in a fall.

                This *exact* set of circumstances is unlikely to occur again, but there’s enough circumstances where shoving someone out of the way in a panic is dangerous that it really is a safety concern. And that isn’t trivilizing a phobia.

                1. Josiah*

                  I’m getting the sense that you think that if this happened once, it means that he habitually panics and shoves people. That *could* be true, but it seems more likely to me that it isn’t. The description in the letter seems to me to be saying that he has never panicked a work in a disruptive way before.

                  What seems more likely to me is that Jack had strategies for managing his phobias that had been working and that he had every reason to believe were reliable. (Similarly to how people who have epilepsy can start driving again once they’ve had good seizure control for a significant period). And then it turned out that his strategy wasn’t as reliable as he thought it was (which also happens with seizure medications).

                  This kind of failure doesn’t necessarily mean that Jack was negligent, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that he is habitually violent. It’s entirely possible that Jack cares deeply about not hurting people, that he had a strategy he had every reason to think was reliable, and that he is now committed to finding a new strategy.

                  It’s very normal for people with and without mental illnesses to have safety strategies that turn out to be unreliable, for any number of reasons. This always needs to be taken seriously, and failed safety strategies need to be addressed in both an immediate and long term way.

                  What I’m saying is that there’s a big difference between being habitually violent and accidentally hurting someone because a safety strategy you relied on turns out to be unreliable.

                  I think that effective accountability is always context-dependent. I think it’s important to apply the right categories, and I strongly suspect that the right category here is “failed safety strategy” rather than something like “habitually violent person”. Those are different problems that need different solutions.

                2. Temperance*

                  @Josiah: this particular incident resulted in a serious injury to another person, and it could have been way worse. It doesn’t matter to me that Jack is working on it, if I was working with Jack, I would consider him an unsafe person to be around outdoors, and would do what I could to minimize that happening.

                  This is not to say that I don’t “get” mental illness, because I do understand it all too well. I’m going to prioritize my safety or my perceived safety over him.

                3. Anna*

                  Thank you Josiah. I think what I’m seeing a LOT of is the stereotypical positioning of mental illness with being dangerous. In fact many people’s comments are stating quite plainly that Jack is dangerous. I feel sick reading this vitriol.

                  Burn the witch? I think I’m done with this thread.

                4. Amber T*

                  I admit I was ignoring all of the hypothetical situations above because I didn’t think they were relevant, but now I have one of my own.

                  What if we took the phobia out of the mix? What if the situation was something spooked one person (I think it’s reasonable to assume that most people have jumped over something unexpected happening), and they they bumped into a second person, causing said injuries? I think the tone of the responses would be vastly different.

                  This is a scenario that is *unlikely* to happen, but *could* happen to anyone. I think there are a lot of people, including the OP and the people he/she works with, that are so caught up on PHOBIA and MENTAL ILLNESS = THREAT TO EVERYONE AROUND THEM. I think the issue the letter is (or should be) dealing with, is Jack caused an accident that resulted in Liz being injured – what should we do? I don’t think the phobia aspect is most important here.

                5. Kate*

                  @Josiah In my area an epileptic person with “good seizure control for a significant period” was driving, had switched epilepsy meds recently, had a seizure, and ran over two children who were crossing at a crosswalk. One will mostly recover, the other almost died and will spend the rest of her life mentally and physically disabled. I don’t think people with epilepsy should ever drive.

                  And I say that as a person with two mental illnesses and a minor physical condition that limits, thankfully also in a minor way, my mobility.

                6. Falling Diphthong*

                  Birds and moving vehicles are both often found near sidewalks. If anything, it seems likely to happen again.

                7. Gadfly*

                  Amber T–the difference is that while anyone can be spooked, Jack is someone who not only is spooked, he is spooked by something fairly commonplace under at least some circumstances, and when spooked does more than just startle–he runs and pushes and is in total panic mode. people who are simply startled don’t do that and so are far less likely to push people over, run into a dangerous situation themselves, etc.

                  It is like saying “anyone can step on someone’s feet if they are too close”. Well, true, but the odds go up and the possibility of serious damage rises if the person doing the stepping is in a powerchair. And so it needs to be addressed to reduce that possibility, especially once it has actually happened.

                8. turquoisecow*

                  @ kate as a person with epilepsy who has a VERY low risk of seizure, that’s almost as insanely over reacting as the people who think Jack shouldn’t be around people.

                  There are MANY types of seizures and MANY types of phobias and different reactions. There is little to no risk of most of us in both categories ever being a danger to anyone else around us. To say that either of us should not be allowed to drive, or should not be allowed to be around people is to move back to the dark ages. What happened in your situation and in this situation are both freak accidents. Kindly avoid punishing the rest of us by blatantly stereotyping based on your assumptions.

                  Thank you.

              3. Gravel*

                “And it’s also possible that Jack really is a jerk — I think that we don’t know one way or another from the facts we have. But it’s important to realize that everything described could happen without Jack being negligent or cruel.”

                This goes for both the “it was an accident” and “it wasn’t” crowd. We don’t know enough about his phobia to know if it is an excuse or if it’s an ongoing danger.

                All we know is how Liz feels about it.

                Could be he’s a jerk, could be it was totally accidental.
                Could be he will be an ongoing danger, could be he’s never likely to do this again.

                We simply don’t know.

                If I were OP, I’d want to focus on both Liz and Jack separately. Even if Liz goes away and does not sue, I’d be worried about Jack and for Jack going forward.

                If he’s a Jackass with an ongoing issue he’s not dealing with, then he’s an issue.

                If he’s a good Jack who is doing his best, people are going to judge him and punish him for this.

                It’s not simple.

            2. Speechless*

              I’d have a lot more empathy for Jack if he’d told his boss and or colleagues that a bird coming near him could cause him to uncontrollably panic to the point where he might shove them over out of his way. Then they’d have all been on the same page.

              1. Lissa*

                It is likely he did not realize this was even a possibility. Many many people have phobias, and there are examples on this very thread of people mentioning similar reactions, like somebody who said she shoved her coworker because of a spider, only in that case she was small and he was big so no harm done — should everybody with a phobia that might cause that reaction disclose? It is highly unlikely that even in Jack’s wildest dreams would he have thought this would happen.

                1. Speechless*

                  His situation must be bad enough that he’s seeing a therapist. Loads of people have phobias and don’t seek treatment for them so something must have triggered Jack to start off 2 years of therapy.

                2. Anna*

                  People see therapists for a lot of reasons. Can we stop bashing people with mental health issues?

              2. Anon for this*

                I have PTSD and react very very badly if people touch me by stroking my neck, grabbing me by the hips or waist from behind with both hands, or biting me. None of those are particularly likely to happen in a workplace scenario.

                And yet, one did. I wound up knocking a coworker/friend to the ground and giving her a black eye in the middle of an episode because she grabbed my waist from behind.

                I had not disclosed up to that point because it seemed massively unlikely that anyone would touch me like that at work. With regards to this post, most office environments don’t come equipped with birds, you know? And given that this is the first time this has been an issue with Jack at this job, it’s pretty clear that he can handle his phobia in a lot of circumstances – just not the one that, sadly, happened leading to this post.

          2. (another) b*

            Agreed – it was an ACCIDENT. And the people downplaying the mental illness/phobia is starting to piss me off. You don’t just “get over it.”

            1. Temperance*

              No, but a lot if people here are casting Liz in a negative light, and have more sympathy for Jack. He could have disabled her for life. At the very least, she has medical bills now and I bet he’s not even offered to pay.

              1. Meg Murry*

                Since the incident happened on work property when returning from a work function, this incident should be covered by workman’s comp and Liz should not have to pay any medical bills. (Assuming this was in the US, of course)

                That said, getting bills covered by workman’s comp and negotiating exactly what treatments and therapies they will and won’t pay for is often a bureaucratic nightmare.

                I haven’t seen anything yet in this post about how else Liz has been treated, and I wonder if not firing Jack wasn’t the full cause but rather the final straw. Was Liz given full time off with pay for the time she spent in the hospital, and assistance navigating workman’s comp? Or was she left in the lurch with something like “well, short term disability doesn’t kick in for X days, after which they’ll pay 60% of your salary, so you can use PTO to cover the time you had to take off. Here’s a giant stack of forms you’ll have to fill out about the incident. By the way, how quickly can you be back at work? If you don’t come back soon we’re going to have to pay extra costs for your projects being late, so we’ll need you and Jack to get on that right away.”

                At a bare minimum Liz should have been given as much time as she needed to recuperate, paid time off to go to physical therapy, all her medical bills covered, and the option to not have to work anywhere near Jack again. I agree that Jack should not necessarily have been fired, but I don’t think its unreasonable for Liz to ask that she not have to work with or interact with Jack again.

                1. Lynly*

                  Yes! I had this same “last straw” thought too. This is a highly complex case — one for an HR Legal rep versus regular HR employee relations — and there are ways to support both Liz and Jack with appropriate sensitivity through fact-finding and resolution.

                2. Jady*

                  I’m skeptical. I like my current job, but in Liz’s shoes I’d be demanding his head on a platter too.

                3. Retail HR Guy*

                  Whether parking lot accidents are covered under workers’ comp varies by state. Some states yes, some no, and some are gray areas in which other factors should be considered.

              2. Anna*

                I have seen very few comments that are bashing Liz. What I HAVE seen are people saying:

                Jack is dangerous. (Stereotyping people with mental health diseases as dangerous.)
                Jack is a jerk. (Assuming Jack feels absolutely no remorse.)
                Jack should have known he was a danger to coworkers. (Again, stereotyping mental illness as dangerous and blaming Jack for not protecting others from his inherent violence.)
                Because Jack sought therapy, clearly he knew his issue was big. (Stigmatizing seeking therapy and doubling down on the idea that if he is seeking therapy to mitigate his illness, he clearly is admitting he could be dangerous.)

                1. Kate*

                  Speaking as a person with two mental illnesses who has been on multiple medications and has seen multiple mental health professionals for treatment, Jack IS dangerous. Anyone who goes into a blind panic at a common sight and can’t or won’t control their reaction to it IS dangerous. That is a simple fact. That doesn’t mean all people with mental health issues is dangerous, and no one has been saying that.

                2. Relly*

                  Jack sought therapy ABOUT the bird phobia, according to the therapist’s letter. That means it is big.

                  Jack accidentally caused someone to be severely injured. The situation could potentially repeat. That makes the situation dangerous.

                  As someone who has spent decades in therapy, and thinks that most people would benefit from it, I assure you, I’m not castigating him for being in therapy. Or for having a mental illness.

                  This isn’t his fault, but it is his responsibility. Same as if I hurt someone because of my issues.

            2. fposte*

              I would say this is an area where “intent isn’t magic” factors in. I do have a phobia, so I’m not making light of them. But if your phobia is to something that’s commonly encountered without warning (birds are probably even more of a likely meet than dogs) and your phobia is so severe you can’t behave safely around other people in that situation, that is a big problem. I don’t know if I’d fire Jack or not, but I’d have serious concerns about him; there’s just too much birdness in daily life.

              However, I also wouldn’t fire Jack just because Liz wanted me to. In general, the answer to “Either he goes or I goes” is “We’d be sorry to lose you.” I’d made my decision about Jack independent of the question of Liz’s departure.

              1. yasmara*

                Right – I think Liz could reasonably have said something like, “I do not want to work with Jack again based on this traumatic event” and perhaps Jack could have been transferred to another area. If I were Liz, I don’t think I would want to work with him either, but at the same time I don’t see this as purposeful assault.

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  It’s entirely possible that it’s a small office that can’t accommodate them in different teams, buildings, etc, and Liz’s demand is based on knowing this–she doesn’t feel safe working with him any more.

              2. Gadfly*

                See, and I think Liz is perfectly reasonable to demand that, even if it isn’t something you can give her. The right answer would be to say as much but follow it up with trying to address her reasons for him to be fired and see if there is some middle ground that is acceptable. Like he’ll be told he needs to stay 500 feet away from you at all times and never assigned to work with you ever

                1. fposte*

                  I don’t think Liz is necessarily unreasonable to ask for that, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to grant it just because she asked. This is a situation where reasonable responses don’t necessarily all go to the same Rome.

            3. Gravel*

              There’s a difference between an accident I could have/should have taken steps to prevent and one I could not.

              If I’m driving down the road at 100 mph and get in an “accident” that’s very different than if I am driving at 20 and a deer jumps out in front of me.

              We don’t know enough about Jack to say anything about him.

              You can be pissed at me all you want, but a phobia is not an excuse to not take steps to mitigate any harm you might cause others.

              As someone who works with a lot of mental ill people and people with disabilities, it’s very ableist to just assume he’s not at fault AT ALL, under any circumstances b/c of his phobia. He’s not a 3 year old child.

              My clients get treated like they aren’t capable of being adults all the time.

              It may have been something totally outside Jack’s control, it may not have been.

              None of us here have sufficient facts to evaluate Jack one way or the other. We are not his therapists nor are we a jury.

              We need to stop focusing on him. It’s fruitless.

              It’s also not the point of the letter.

              All we have is how Liz feels.

              1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

                Yes to this —–> it’s very ableist to just assume he’s not at fault AT ALL, under any circumstances b/c of his phobia. He’s not a 3 year old child.

                I think that’s the thing that is frustrating me the most with the comments on this today. Jack’s phobia, documented and legit, shouldn’t be the focus. HE HURT SOMEONE. She was hospitalized. She required surgery. She is angry. From the letter it also appears that while an apology was given little else was done. I feel like there are all kinds of excuses being made for a man who didn’t even acknowledge his phobia in the workplace until it HURT A COWORKER! He can still have a phobia and be wrong.

          3. The Final Pam*

            Absolutely this – I think this is a bad situation for everyone involved. But yeah, the trivialization I’ve seen is upsetting. This is why people don’t disclose their mental illness with their jobs.

          4. Kate*

            Except a lot of people with mental illnesses, like myself, are pointing out that mental illness is no excuse for bad behavior and that Jack should have disclosed his bird phobia and need for accommodation as soon as he started working there.

            Birds are everywhere. Unfortunately for Jack, he is going to need to disclose his phobia at every place he will ever work, but that is necessary to protect his coworkers, and keep more people from getting pushed in front of moving cars. Birds land on the sidewalk, and fly off from there all the time.

            If Jack chooses to walk on the sidewalk and/or has to cross it to get to his office’s entrance, his coworkers need to know to stay away from him at this time.

            1. TheX*

              Although I’m not on Jack’s side (or of anyone else for that matter), I disagree. It’s very likely that his episodes of phobia make him run for his life and definitely NOT push “people in front of moving cars”.

          5. Tab*

            Same here. I actually called my boyfriend crying over this because some of these comments are just horrifyingly insulting and cruel. Who cares about Jack?? I care about him. Anyone who has seen anyone with an actual phobia even near as severe as his obviously is cares about him. I’m certain that he feels near as traumatized by this incident as Liz does. I would. Especially if then I’m having to worry about her demanding I get fired for something I could not control and apparently coworkers who might think, as some of the commenters here have alluded to, that I am some kind of maniac that is dangerous.

        2. Forrest*

          She needs a new job because she quit her job.

          Yes, it’s awful that she was hurt and thankfully it wasn’t worse. But unless they work in a bird house, her life is not at a continuous risk – in fact, it’s less so because now she knows not to be around him outside. Do employees have the right to demand their coworkers share their mental health histories with everyone because there may be a risk and they should know?

          The OP didn’t say she asked for any accommodations – not traveling with Jack, moving to another area so she doesn’t see him as often. She had options to use while looking for a new job rather than quitting without one lined up.

          1. Gadfly*

            She shouldn’t need to be the one asking and trying to figure it out while recuperating. That is a management fail.

            1. Forrest*

              So she can ask for someone to be fired but not how the employer will accommodate her while keeping Jack?

              1. Mookie*

                It depends on when and how she said that, though, doesn’t it? If a reasonable amount of time had passed, the employer should have already had a rough plan in mind to do just that. If not, they should have countered that they’d work something out, accommodate her by certain means in the meantime, and finalize a plan as soon as possible.

                1. Forrest*

                  I’m not seeing the logic in “Liz shouldn’t have to ask for an accommodation.” One, she has to because how else would the employer know they needed to come up with one? And two, she did, in fact, ask for a type of accommodation – for Jack to be fired.

                2. Gadfly*

                  Basic common sense should have had them offering her something/expecting that there was a good chance she wasn’t going to just be willing to shrug and move on.

                3. Forrest*

                  Basic common sense would also say if Liz thought about it enough to say she wanted Jack fire, she had some time to think of alternatives.

                4. Forrest*

                  I mean, I’m not going to claim I’d know what I would do in that situation but people are not a giant hive mind and common sense would dictate that upon hearing Jack’s condition, an employee may be willing to work something out besides he must go or even if they want to work something out at all. People come with all kind of viewpoints and there are saints out there that would understand it was an accident and may be able to move on without any accommodation.

                5. Forrest*

                  Anyway, regardless, she needs a new job because of her decision. Unless it was intentional, I don’t think its fair to blame Jack for her decision to quit without a job lined up. He’s to blame for putting her in the place to make that decision but not responsible for her choosing that route.

                6. Mike C.*


                  Liz shouldn’t have to ask for an accommodation because the primary concern of a manager should be the safety of their employees. The fact that she didn’t feel safe enough to come back to work is the fault of the manager, full stop.

                7. Forrest*

                  So people need to ask for an accommodations for their medical conditions but the employer should just guess what Liz wants? She can ask for him to be fired but the suggestion that she ask for an alternative accommodation is out?

                  By this logic, Liz should have never asked for him to be fired in the first place. Let the employer volunteer if he’ll be fired or not. But she did say what she wanted first, so it doesn’t sound like she subscribes to this idea of not having to ask for an accommodation.

                  People are just upset that the employer felt they couldn’t accommodate what Liz wanted and Liz decided that there was no other option she wanted.

                  Either way, Liz choose to quit.

                8. Mike C.*

                  @Forrest – It should certainly be a conversation between affected parties, but that doesn’t absolve a manager from their primary responsibility for safety.

                  And frankly, I think folks need to understand that Liz is clearly and justifiably angry at the harm that was caused to her. As I’ve said a few other times, she has every right to ask for that, but not the right to expect it to happen.

                  Also, this idea that it’s “her choice” really, really minimizes the situation. She’s clearly afraid of being hurt again. She’s not making the choice to quit out of spite or capriciousness, she’s making that choice out of fear of further harm. That’s not a choice.

                9. Forrest*

                  Saying that Liz has the ability to ask for accommodations – which she did by asking for Jack to be fired – is not absolving the company from their primary responsibility for safety. They’re two completely different things. Thinking that Liz could request an accommodation – which, again, she did – doesn’t mean the company is scot free if they decide that they can’t meet that accommodation.

                  I see no one is saying that Liz doesn’t have the right to be upset or even that she doesn’t have the right to make this demand. People thinking that Jack shouldn’t be fired doesn’t mean they think Liz is out of line. Again, you can feel for everyone in this letter – Liz, Jack and the company. It’s not difficult – you don’t have a limited amount of empathy.

                  Liz made a choice. Period. She shouldn’t have been put in the position to make that choice and it sucks that she had to – which I said. But if you ask for something and that party can’t fulfill that request, then yes, it’s your decision to make it or leave it. I get Liz was/is upset and scared and she shouldn’t have had to be in that position but I’m not going to discount her autonomy in the choice she made.

            2. Artemesia*

              This. They should have proactively planned to protect her from being around Jack before she was even out of the hospital (does everyone not realize how serious something must be to be hospitalized in the US if it is here? They do major surgeries as outpatient procedures. Hospitalizing for 4 days is unusual) When she came back upset about Jack and wanting him fired, they should have already thought that through and had a plan for her to not be anywhere near him at work; if possible he should have been reassigned to another building or floor or whatever. Perhaps that would not have been enough for her — but I didn’t get the feeling that any real concern had been shown for protecting her. It all seems to be ‘he couldn’t help it, so suck it up.’

              1. LawBee*

                protecting her from what? A freak accident? Because that is ALL this is.

                Look, it sucks for Liz, and I do feel for her. But Liz wasn’t asking for accommodation, she wasn’t asking to “make me feel safe” – she wants Jack fired. I get the rage, but no – she does not get to make that choice for the company. The choice she does get to make is to either stay at the job or leave the job.

                1. Mike C.*

                  Every employee has the right to be safe in their workplace. That she didn’t use the right magical words doesn’t change this fact.

                  And yes, any even that causes lost work days should be investigated and have a plan to prevent it from ever happening again. That’s just best practices when it comes to workplace safety.

                2. Kate*

                  Um, no, it’s not a freak accident. Birds, sidewalks, people and cars, are together all day long, every day. Birds are everywhere, especially in cities, people have to use cars and sidewalks to get around, buildings generally have sidewalks around them and cars near them, birds roost on buildings and hang out on sidewalks.

                  Encountering birds at work was not unexpected or a surprise for someone with a bird phobia. Jack should have known better and taken steps to protect the safety of his coworkers, like telling them about his phobia, or walking in front of any group.

              2. Anna*

                Jack is not a dangerous beast walking around inflicting violence on people and I resent the number of comments on here feeding into the “mentally ill people are violent” bullshit. People who suffer from mental health diseases are more likely to be victims of violence, not cause it.

                1. Kate*

                  No one is saying that, I, a person with two mental illness, am not saying that, but a person with a blind panic reaction to a very common thing, IS dangerous.

                2. Mike C.*

                  Jack’s reaction sent a coworker to the hospital. That has nothing to do with population level stereotypes.

                3. Anna*

                  How often has Jack had a reaction to a bird that caused harm to someone? It seems only once. That means he does not pose a danger to anyone unless we’re willing to say that a random confluence of factors coming together means anyone can be a danger to others. I’m not willing to make that leap.

          2. Speechless*

            She’s this injured because Jack needed accommodations and didn’t ASK for them. By doing so, he put his colleagues at risk and Liz was the victim of that decision on his part. Liz has less than zero responsibility here and shouldn’t face recovering from major surgery while possibly in fear of her life as she works with someone who PUSHED HER IN FRONT OF A CAR! At the time she had no idea why he would even do that and now that he has, it’s ok she’s afraid of him, even if he couldn’t help it due to his debilitating fear of birds. She really shouldn’t have to come to work in fear for her life because she still works with Jack while also recovering from the major surgery she only had to have because Jack pushed her in front of a car.

            1. Guy Incognito*

              This x1000! Jack is absolutely at fault here, phobia or not. I don’t understand why people are minimizing his involvement because he has a phobia. That’s no excuse! And I say this as someone who suffers from mental illness.

              1. BananaPants*

                Me, too. I don’t see why Jack is getting a free pass from so many, and Liz’ pain and suffering is being minimized.

              2. Jesmlet*

                The issue is it’s being treated as so black and white, like the only two options are fire Jack or let things stay as they are. Liz is the one who created that false dichotomy. That’s why people are minimizing his blame, because they don’t feel like it’s a fireable offense.

                1. Speechless*

                  The manager who wrote in is only concerned about getting sued by Jack (given to understand he can’t because he didn’t disclose) and missing deadlines because Liz won’t come back while Jack is still there. She didn’t ask ‘Should we be moving Jack to another department’ or ‘What should we do to make Liz feel safe to come back when she says she can’t work with Jack ever again?’ I guess my vehementness that Liz is the one that deserves our support not Jack is because the letter writer clearly cares about not missing deadlines and not getting sued by Jack in that order and Liz’s situation is some distant fleck of nothing way way below those two things. It sounds like the fact Liz might sue them once the extent of her recovery is clear is a situation which never occurred to them.

                  For the record though, it’s Jack who has the undisclosed phobia and Jack who did the pushing, so Jack is totally to blame. He has mitigating circumstances but he’s still the one who pushed a coworker so he is totally to blame for Liz’s fall. I think the company might want to look at other outcomes like we offer Liz her job back on the proviso that while we’re not firing Jack, we have moved him to another team where his work does not require him to go outside during working hours and where she will not have to interact with him ever again.

                2. Jesmlet*

                  I don’t think OP is not concerned about Liz, just not concerned to the point where they would fire Jack. If there was a third option here like bringing Liz back and moving Jack to another team, that probably would’ve been mentioned.

                3. Amber T*


                  “When Liz found out that Jack wasn’t going to be fired, she quit… We have tried to get her to come back, but she refuses unless Jack is fired.”

                  OP says she tried to get Liz to come back. She doesn’t mention how, but it’s all possible that the questions you pose were asked, and Liz refused. As Jesmlet said, Liz created the false dichotomy. She’s saying “it’s him or me.” And I don’t think OP is just worried about getting sued for firing Jack. Sure, ADA could (and honestly, should) be a factor, but Jack has had no previous trouble. The problems OP is immediately facing are – what to do with Jack, and what to do about the projects Liz had been working on, which she asks.

                  Alison said in a letter yesterday that she’s not a fan of firing someone for a single incident unless it truly warrants it, and she explains in her response why she thinks it doesn’t warrant firing. It also doesn’t sound like firing Jack was even in consideration until Liz brought it up, which is also problematic.

              3. Kelly*

                Given how gender and perceptions of mental illness are co-related, it’s telling that the manager is giving Jack a pass for something that he disclosed after he shoved a female co-worker into traffic. The manager and their employer should be hoping and praying that Liz doesn’t sue them and Jack as an individual for damages and loss of income. Liz at the very least has PTSD from the incident and how it was handled.

                As a woman, I am aware of how gender plays and has played a role in perception and diagnosis of mental illness. Men are more often easily believed and seen as more credible when they have symptoms, but women still sometimes are seen as hysterical and oversensitive. I’m very much getting that from how the company is protecting Jack and not understanding Liz’s reaction. Liz is not being hysterical here – she has every right to be angry and upset.

                1. Anna*

                  That is bullshit. Gender is not playing a role in this. Liz does have a right to be angry and upset; Liz does not have a right to give the company an ultimatum. That’s not how being an adult person works and ultimatums almost never turn out in favor of the person giving them.

                2. Retail HR Guy*

                  There is nothing at all in the letter indicating sexism played any role in anything, or that Liz now has PTSD.

                3. LawBee*

                  I don’t know where you’re getting this interpretation. Liz has set forth a “him or me” option, and that is not her call. Period. She, an employee, does not get to dictate who works at the company.

                  You are 100% correct in that Liz has every right to be angry and upset, but not for your reasons. I don’t see anything in this letter indicating any kind of gender bias or mental health bias. And you can’t go diagnosing PTSD from a third-party letter writer. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t.

                  And he did not shove a female co-worker into traffic. He pushed her aside and she fell onto the street and was hit by a car. Not the same thing.

                4. AnonEMoose*

                  I had this thought, too, Kelly. It does seem to me like Liz is being expected to do the emotional labor of understanding that Jack “couldn’t help it,” and “being the bigger person,” and all of those other things women are told we “need” to do. I do wonder if the reaction would be the same if the genders were reversed, or if both Liz and Jack were of one gender.

                  I’m not saying (and I don’t think Kelly is saying) that gender dynamics are a huge part of the equation here. But I do wonder if unconscious bias is playing a role in how Jack is being treated vs. how Liz is being treated. Jack may not have been entirely in control of his actions, but Liz is essentially the victim in this situation. As such, I think she deserves more consideration than she is getting.

                  I’m also stuck, a bit, on the mental illness aspect of this. Because I do know that most people who struggle with mental illness are far more likely to be on the receiving end of violence than to be the perpetrators of it. And yet, Jack’s actions resulted in a serious injury to Liz; one that may well affect her for life. She has every right to be angry, and to not want to be around Jack. And that’s not about his illness, it’s about his actions.

                  If someone did something that resulted in a severe injury to me, I’m not sure I’d really care all that much what the reasons behind it were. Maybe somewhat, it might help me forgive them? But definitely not in the immediate aftermath.

                5. Loose Seal*

                  Institutional sexism is a thing, yes, but one can’t assume from names where the two individuals fall on the gender spectrum. So it’s kind of immaterial to the discussion which one is more perceived to have the most sexism levied at them.

                6. Anon for this*

                  While it’s certainly possible that Liz has PTSD as a result of this accident, you are not Liz and you are a mental health professional that she is working with. Your declaration that Liz at the very least has PTSD from the incident and how it was handled is incredibly out of line.

                  As a woman who has PTSD I’d like to ask you, sincerely, to not make wild off the cuff impossible “diagnoses” like this.

              1. Katelyn*

                What accommodation could he even be given if they work inside at a white collar job? (it sounds like they were returning from a meeting?) I’ve worked in many offices, and none of them have had birds on-site, even accidentally!

                1. Judy*

                  As an engineer with a 20+ year career at 4 companies, I’ve always worked in buildings that have manufacturing facilities with big bay doors for unloading materials and loading products. Birds inside the building is normal. Every year or so, a bird finds its way into the office area.

                  I had a raccoon pull up a ceiling tile and look down on me once in an office. And don’t get me started on the mice. I’ve heard the late shift here has had a few deer running through.

              2. A grad student*

                Possibly ensuring he was away from coworkers while outside, because birds are quite common in most places? They probably don’t HAVE to go together to offsite meetings, so they wouldn’t have been so close together when the bird landed. A bit inconvenient, but it beats feeling responsible for a coworker’s 4-day hospital stay. I think what’s upsetting me about this is that while in that moment, Jack may not have been responsible for his actions, he could have taken precautions to avoid being in that moment to begin with by accepting his own limits and making the appropriate arrangements to avoid being a danger to others. Surely he knew how he responded when a bird was around, and that birds are commonplace?

                1. Anna Pigeon*

                  This. So much this. Having a mental illness does not mean you are not responsible for the harm you cause others, especially when you have made no effort to make reasonable adjustments to minimize the risk of foreseeable harm.

                  Jack knows he has a bird phobia; he knows he reacts unpredictably when he sees a bird. He knows he is in a situation when bird contact is likely, and does nothing to minimize the risk of harm to others by keeping his distance. He was negligent.

                  My mother is severely mentally ill, and I suffered as a result as a child. The attitude from some posters that forgiveness should be automatic because the inappropriate behavior was related to a mental illness is dismissive of the pain suffered by Liz, by me, and countless others. I feel for Jack, but I’m also very pissed off at him.

                2. fposte*

                  @StopThatGoat–unless they’re a team of traveling salespeople, a “travel on your own” dictum isn’t going to isolate him from his co-workers in regular daily life.

                  However, I suspect that Jack either didn’t know he was likely to react in a way that endangered and harmed somebody or is so phobic he couldn’t even bring up the subject, so advance notice really wasn’t likely here.

                3. Detective Amy Santiago*

                  @Anna I

                  I don’t think anyone is saying that forgiveness should be automatic. In fact, if I were in Liz’s position, I would likely have difficulty working with Jack again.

                  However, that doesn’t meant that I think Jack is a villain or deserves to be drawn and quartered over this incident.

              3. Ginger*

                That’s what I’m wondering. I work in an office building with a lot of windows. We have many different kinds of birds that fly around our parking lot and building, including a couple of really large red-tailed hawks. I’m on the 5th of 6 floors and our building has an L shape, so I get a pretty good view of them when they land on the roof of the other side of the L. I find the hawks quite fascinating, especially when smaller birds get feisty and dive bomb them, but if someone came to me (I’m in HR) and asked for accommodation for a bird phobia, the only thing we could do is move them to an office or cubicle with no outside view. However, other than providing a reserved spot close to the building, there’s nothing we can do about bird exposure when they are outside where this incident with Jack and Liz happened. I feel bad for everyone involved.

            2. Batshua*

              What kind of accommodations would Jack have asked for? If his only phobia is birds, it doesn’t make sense for someone who is not likely to come into regular contact with birds to ask for accommodations. It doesn’t surprise me that it’s never come up before.

              1. Speechless*

                There is a list of them up thread where someone else had a boss with a bird phobia. She made them all aware if a bird came near her, she would run. She asked that no one walk in front of her in sitautions where birds might trigger her phobia. She made sure no one ever stood in her office door so that if a bird startled her at her office window, she had a free shot at the door of her office. She made them all aware that she couldn’t control her fear response to birds. Everyone could be more on guard around her in situations were birds could trigger her. That’s what can be done to help in this situation.

              1. Thlayli*

                What should have happened is this:

                “OP: jack and Liz, I want you to go offsite for a meeting
                Jack: can I speak you you privately. (In private) well I’ve never brought this up before but I have a phobia of birds. It’s not safe to be near me when there could be birds around. Going offsite obviously has a risk of bird encounters. We should make this safer by doing x, y, z which are things I have worked out with my therapist in the 2 years of therapy I have been having.
                Op: yes that’s fine no problem we can totally accommodate your mental illness and thank you for being reasonable and taking appropriate steps to protect others.”

                I don’t know what are reasonable accommodations for this specific circumstance. However I would assume any suitably qualified phobia therapist should have considered this within 2 years.

                Another commenter mentioned that she used to work with someone with a bird phobia. The phobic person had a range of coping/mitigation strategies which included being a certain distance away from other people out of doors at all times. That seems reasonable to me and is not particularly onerous for jack. It would even be easy to hide from other coworkers e.g. “Jack will meet you there and he has to go elsewhere after the meeting so you will have to take separate transport”.

          3. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

            She quit her job because she was required to be around someone who had endangered her life. After the trauma she suffered, who knows what seeing Jack makes *her* feel?

            Liz was essentially forced to quit her job for her physical and emotional safety. IANAL, but the phrase “constructive dismissal” comes to mind. Someone who quits because of a workplace hazard (whether that hazard is poorly maintained machinery, sexual harassment, or Jack’s uncontrolled behavior) is not quitting of their own accord, and at least in my state that counts as involuntary for the purposes of unemployment insurance.

          4. Mike C.*

            She needs a new job because the OP did nothing to ensure her safety when she was ready to return. That’s completely different from just up and quitting without notice.

            1. Amber T*

              OP says “we have tried to get her to come back…,” she doesn’t explain how, but just saying that the OP did nothing is pushing it.

              1. Mike C.*

                “Nothing to ensure her safety” is the key point I’m trying to make here. If there’s new information that’s fine, but the OP didn’t mention safety at all in their letter, when it should be the paramount issue of consideration.

          5. Anon today...and tomorrow*

            All of these comments defending Jack and his phobia are maddening. There was recently a letter that Alison responded to where the office was asking employees to accommodations for the employee with OCD. The general consensus seemed to be “Reasonable accommodations should always be made but it’s not reasonable when another person’s mental health issues negatively impact co-workers lives.” This man knocked a co-worker out of his way and into the path of a moving vehicle. That’s pretty negative. On top of that, the employee with the mental health issue failed to disclose it so no reasonable accommodations could be made prior to something like this happening. It wasn’t up to Liz to make arrangements prior to heading to the meeting, it was on Jack at this point as he was the only person aware of his issue. It shouldn’t have fallen to Liz to be reasonable when she wanted to come back to work. She’d been pushed in front a moving car. Jack and the office management should have worked something out. From the letter it looks like Liz is behaving reasonably given what happened to her. Jack should have, at the very least, been written up for the accident. He should be punished, not for being phobic, but for not revealing this ahead of time to have accommodations put in place for when he would be outside during working hours.

            1. Jessie the First (or second)*

              You are conflating very different issues and concerns in your post here.

              “Reasonable accommodations should always be made but it’s not reasonable when another person’s mental health issues negatively impact co-workers lives….This man knocked a co-worker out of his way and into the path of a moving vehicle. That’s pretty negative” – No one is saying that knocking people out of the way and injuring them is an accommodation. It is what happened in the past, but is not an accommodation going forward. If that is an accommodation he actually claimed to need (“I must be allowed to knock people around, even if they fall and get hit by a car after”) then sure, that would not be right and the company does not have to allow it. But that is not the actual issue because after the accident, presumably he will be seeking *other* accommodations and not claiming that pushing people is one of them.

              “Jack should have, at the very least, been written up for the accident. He should be punished, not for being phobic, but for not revealing this ahead of time to have accommodations put in place for when he would be outside during working hours.”
              Written up for not disclosing a disability is not acceptable, actually. Legally, it is not okay. You are not under any affirmative obligation to disclose disabilities. You are not required to ask for accommodations. And as he seems to have gone for a few years without incident, I think it is fair to say he believed his phobia was not an issue at work. So no, he can’t be written up for having but not disclosing a disability.

              I absolutely think that OP should not simply be satisfied with “he’s got a phobia and is in treatment, so that’s all we can do.” I think now that it has affected someone so drastically, they need to work out some new plan/safety measures with Jack. They can evaluate whether the safety plan is workable for them or not. I’m hoping they have done that, and not simply thrown their hands in the air because they don’t know what else to do – that’s negligent (colloquially, not making a legal judgment), and would be based on a big misunderstanding of the ADA.

              1. Tau*

                Written up for not disclosing a disability is not acceptable, actually. Legally, it is not okay. You are not under any affirmative obligation to disclose disabilities.

                Thank you for this. Cold shudders were going down my spine at that comment, as a disabled person who hasn’t disclosed to their employer.

        3. BananaPants*

          That’s where I am. He shoved a coworker into the path of a moving vehicle, he made zero attempt to assist her after she was hit by said vehicle, she wound up hospitalized and undergoing surgery (maybe incurring large medical bills) because of it. In her shoes there’s NO WAY I’d be willing to work again with Jack regardless of his phobia, so I’d be job hunting as well.

          I certainly hope the company paid 100% of the medical bills that Liz incurred, offered her paid time off/disability coverage to recover, and perhaps even offered a settlement for pain and suffering. She did nothing wrong.

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            Sure, she did nothing wrong. But neither did the company. So why would they pay out more than any other workers’ comp claim (assuming workers’ comp even applies under these circumstances in their state)?

        4. Jesmlet*

          He is not *fine* and a phobia is not “whatever”. You can have sympathy for both without minimizing the other’s feelings or situation. I could just as easily say, “Broken arm/surgery, whatever, it’ll heal and she’ll never have to worry about it again. He needs to go to therapy regularly because of a mental illness that has him terrified of something he has to see every day”

          Ugh… the last time I felt this angry about so many of the comments was that one where the woman brought her sick kid to work.

        5. Loose Seal*

          She doesn’t “need” to find a new job; she is choosing to find a new job.

          He is not fine. Not only does he have a phobia of something that is very commonly encountered, he has the guilt and shame of knowing that he hurt someone.

          Plus, she was not “almost killed.” A broken arm does not a corpse make.

          1. LBK*

            Agreed on all accounts. Surely we can have a modicum of sympathy for someone who unintentionally caused serious physical harm to a coworker; obviously sympathy for the victim of that harm as well, but I’d think this incident would be pretty psychologically scarring for Jack.

          2. Mike C.*

            Her “choice” is for the sake of her personal safety.

            Also, it’s only luck that she wasn’t more severely injured. Had that been a less attentive driver or a heavier vehicle, it could have been a whole lot worse. You can’t disregard that so trivially.

            1. LBK*

              But it’s also (bad) luck that there happened to be a bird there, and that they were positioned in such a way that his reaction knocked her over, and that there happened to be a car there. There are situations you encounter probably every day where things could’ve been a lot worse if X were true. Hell, any time you get in car you’re at risk for serious injury.

              If he’d just tripped over his shoelaces and knocked her over, would you still feel the same way? The only way this is any different is if you assume that this could’ve been 100% prevented if Jack had gotten his phobia cured, and I don’t think that’s reasonable or fair. How many steps back through the cause and effect do we go before we’re comfortable not assigning blame?

              And the big question I keep coming back to: why does this matter to how the OP should handle the situation?

              1. Loose Seal*

                I agree. I also wonder what if we found out that Liz has osteoporosis that she refuses to treat and consequently sustained a bad break when others might have just been bruised and winded. Would it now be Liz’s fault that it’s a huge issue now?

                Again, it doesn’t matter to the OP and we could “what if” all day (and we are, as far as I can tell). I think for the OP, my advice would be this: Give Liz room to walk-back her resignation after she has healed a bit. Go ahead and list the position, have someone Liz trusts get her personal stuff together and deliver it to her (assuming Liz is unable and/or unwilling to come to the office to do it herself), and talk with Liz about the reference you’re willing to give for her.

                But as the injuries heal and her trauma subsides, she may regret having said “he goes or I go” and it would be kind to let her walk that back and not refer to the ultimatum again. I’d chalk it up to pain, fear, anger, pain meds, and more fear and let her ease herself back into the job if you haven’t already filled it.

                1. Aveline*

                  “Eggshell plaintiff”

                  You take your victim as you find them. If they unexpectedly fragile, too bad.

                2. Loose Seal*

                  Is that really a thing? I am both amused in a “you learn something new every day” kind of way and saddened in a “hate that it happens so often there’s a name for it” way.

              2. ZTwo*

                The thing this (intense) comment section really helps the OP with is knowing that, regardless of what happens, this is something all the other employees will have strong feelings about. I suspect this was already known, but it’s essential to have a plan in place on how to respond when people (inevitably) ask and talk about it. It’s especially important to give managers coaching on how to handle people’s feelings on it even if they don’t explicitly ask about what happened.

                I’m not sure if Jack has only disclosed his phobia to Liz or if it’s now known in the office. And while I think people shouldn’t need to disclose their mental illnesses to coworkers, if it’s not known it will look like Jack pushed Liz over for no reason and then stood by and did nothing. If people are never informed otherwise, that’s going to make Jack’s working life incredibly difficult (even disclosing can still make it difficult–see this thread–so I can’t say what the answer is, only that I would rather be known as the accidental injurer over the intentional injurer).

                Basically, I’d consider rehiring Liz a lost cost and make sure she’s treated well (the reference you would have given before, severance, worker’s comp, whatever). Instead I’d focus on:

                1) Making sure Jack has the support he needs to continue to work with coworkers who are almost definitely gossiping about him and possibly very wary of him.

                2) Make sure that people understand that this outcome wasn’t about not caring about Liz’s safety, lacking empathy for what happened to her, or not taking her concerns seriously. There are undoubtedly people who are going to feel like someone got hurt and the react was CYA (again, see this thread) and it’s in your best interest to mitigate that as best you can because that could kill morale and retention.

              3. Caleb*

                If he’d just tripped over his shoelaces and knocked her over, how would that change his criminal and civil liability?

                A lot, I’m guessing.

                But, magically, his bird phobia means that his employer could face ADA violations for any punitive action.

                1. LBK*

                  We’re not arbitrating a legal case here, though. The OP isn’t putting them on trial, just trying to figure out how to navigate the situation as it is now, and as it stands I don’t see a reason why the law would be the best guide.

            2. Loose Seal*

              Well, the car was pulling into a parking place, as I understand it. So while she was severely injured, it’s not like she was pushed into the freeway. And plenty of people are responding like she was. Personally, I’m a bit mystified that no one is blaming the driver of the car that hit her. They were pulling into a parking space where people were walking on the sidewalk ahead of them. Surely they would have been very attentive because of that, going very slowly and keeping an eye out while having their foot right on the brake. Does Liz want that person fired because they could not stop before hitting her?

              I’m also a bit baffled that any reasonable person thinks this is a personal safety issue for Liz. I mean, I get that Liz thinks that was but she’s had a severe trauma. Mike, do you think that this convergence of events is likely to happen often enough to cause someone in the company to genuinely fear for their personal safety or are you just advocating for Liz here? I mean, sure, the company could move the parking spaces so they aren’t next to the sidewalk and/or install those concrete bumpers to prevent a car from going forward. And I guess, they could have every employee disclose phobias and their reactions to triggers and then have seminars on how employees can protect themselves when working closely with someone who might panic. Firing Jack is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making Liz feel safe enough to work there. And if it turns out Liz has traumatophobia? It’s like a phobia-mobius at that company!

              1. JHunz*

                Being hit by a car at any speed is life-threatening. They are multi-ton hunks of metal and plastic, and will knock an adult human off their feet at practically a crawl. It takes a relatively minor change in positioning in an incident like that for the force of the impact to be on her head, which is would likely be permanently disabling if not immediately fatal.

    5. A.*

      Did I miss it, or was there no mention of the OP taking steps to ensure that no employee would be put in this position with Jack again? Why on earth would Liz come back without any assurance she wouldn’t be sent to an off site meeting again with Jack where something horrifying like this could happen again, or have to witness it happen to a coworker? I think her “out” is this awful thing happened and her employer would not take steps to make sure it never happened again.

      I don’t think Jack should be fired, he has a legit issue. But some change needs to be made so no employees are in the position where they could be pushed into the parking lot by him going to or coming from a meeting.

      1. Shabang*

        I have to wonder if Jack had let his employer know of the “legit issue”. An employer cannot accomodate issues if it isn’t made known.

        I have been in treatment with my therapist for punching people in the face. This gets triggered randomly when people are near me. I have a note from my therapist confirming this. I haven’t bothered to tell anyone this. I punch someone at work. I pull out note, ex-post-facto and use it to explain my actions.

        Sorry. Maybe I’m incorrect, I am not a lawyer, but it seems reasonable that pulling out a note after the fact is a bit of a sticking point for me. Maybe if I mention to my therapist that I am late to work, take extended lunch, feel an overwhelming need to wear bedroom shoes and a G-string to work, and get it documented, then I can pull out a letter after the fact and never be fired for – well, anything I can get my therapist to document that we talked about.

        I am not making light of having such issues. Maybe I’m wrong, but if a company is supposed to “reasonable accomodate” issues, they are supposed to be aware of them. Before something occurs.

        1. Mona Lisa*

          I think this is a false equivalence. Your “issue” of punching people in the face is triggered by being near people, which is something that is likely to happen over the course of your workday and should be reported to HR as a possible issue by exposure to your every day tasks. Jack’s issue is ornithophobia. Unless he works directly with birds or outside where he is likely to come in contact with the animal he fears, he has no real reason to disclose a mental health issue because it is incredibly likely the issue will never arise in his place of work. It sounds like Jack and Liz happened to be outside for a few minutes of transition (car to office), there happened to be a bird, and Jack’s phobia was triggered by a situation that was incredibly unlikely to occur in the first place.

          I am very sympathetic to Liz here, especially as the person who was physically injured, but this was a freak accident. I think Jack waiting to apologize with HR was actually a better move because they were able to get a handle on the situation and document the apology and Liz’s response. The company should offer Liz some kind of compensation and make every effort to help her secure new employment by being a glowing reference. There should also be a discussion of how they intend to move forward now that Jack’s phobia has come to light.

            1. Mona Lisa*

              But he was hired to work in an office, not outside. It’s highly unlikely that he spends most of his time around his co-workers outside. It’s possible even that this was the first time he’d been outside in close proximity to a co-worker. If I do 99% of my work indoors and then sometimes travel to meetings, which require a total of 5 minutes roundtrip walking from the car to the office, and until now, all of that outdoors time had been conducted alone, why would I inform my employer of a phobia that only is triggered by an animal that lives outside?

              1. Kyrielle*

                This. At my previous job, it would never have occurred to me to disclose a phobia of birds if I had one. I nearly never was anywhere outside with coworkers – when I was, it was usually random chance.

                At my current job, if I had that phobia, I’d have to disclose it for sure – we have multiple buildings here that we have to walk between, and a pond that the geese like. I got (my whole team got) hissed at by a territorial goose on Monday on the way to a meeting.

                1. Mona Lisa*

                  Thank you. Yes, at OldJob, I would walk maybe a minute from the office door to the parking lot, and it was incredibly rarely in the company of my co-workers. We had off-site properties (campgrounds) that I never visited. Had I this phobia and was required to visit the off-site locations, I would definitely have disclosed the possible issue, but for the office job I actually held, there was absolutely no reason my co-workers would need this information about me.

                2. turquoisecow*

                  Even then, I might not disclose. Firstly, phobias are embarrassing. I don’t want my coworkers to make fun of me for being afraid of geese. Secondly, maybe there’s a longer route I could take to get into the building, or I could just run past them really quickly. If I thought I could handle it myself, and it didn’t affect my work inside the building? I don’t see why my boss needs to know.

                  For the record, I don’t have a bird phobia, but geese can be aggressive, and I was somewhat nervous walking past them into my old office, where geese nested regularly and sometimes walked across the sidewalk.

              2. Anon today...and tomorrow*

                The very moment he was asked to go off site for this meeting with other employees he knew that he was at risk for a bird encounter. That was the moment when he should have disclosed the phobia, not after he’d pushed an unsuspecting co-worker into the path of a moving vehicle.

            2. LawBee*

              I am literally never within five feet of a bird unless I’m at the pet store, and I live on the coast where they are everywhere. Come on. Someone with a bird phobia isn’t likely to be triggered by a bird in a tree eight feet away, but by one that is close enough to cause fear.

          1. Browser*

            It’s not an unlikely situation at all. Birds are all over the place outside and if he’s going to panic when he encounters one he needs to TELL PEOPLE THAT so they can stay out of range.

          2. A.*

            The company does need to make some kind of plan going forward. The ball is in their court now that the issue is known. When they hire Liz’s replacement, are they planning to send the new person to off site meetings with Jack without warning, business as usual, while the coworkers are whispering “does she know”? “Should we tell her?” Are we going to see a new letter a few months from now from Liz’s successor?

            1. Mona Lisa*

              I completely agree that the employer/manager/HR should come up with a reasonable accommodation for Jack now that they are committed to retaining him. I just disagree with the fact that Jack was somehow acting maliciously or purposefully withholding critical information by not declaring his phobia.

        2. my two cents*

          But on that theme Jack MAY have already asked for ‘accommodations’ such as not being seated near a window to avoid any bird collisions while working. If Jack had told anyone in the company about seeing a therapist, particularly so if he had also mentioned ‘phobia’, I’d imagine that’d count as some sort of ‘disclosure’.

          If the two had an otherwise good working relationship, this would quickly get lumped under ‘awful accident while at work’ and presumably they could have worked through it. The idea that she immediately quit, and then tried to hold the management to firing Jack, signals to me that there may have been other interpersonal issues between the two of them.

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            Yep. The EEOC and the courts play fast and loose with what counts as disclosing a disability to an employer. Oftentimes telling a coworker counts, which is pretty messed up given that the company becomes responsible for knowing about something that management and HR never had actual knowledge of.

    6. Lynne879*

      I don’t think Liz would look bad by saying “I quit because my coworker with a phobia of birds pushed me into a moving car and he wasn’t punished for it.”

      1. Loose Seal*

        Well, I admit I’m a horrible person sometimes but if Liz said that in an interview with me, I would think she looked pretty bad. I’d probably refer to her as “The Bird Lady” as I was discussing her candidacy with the other interviewers and/or her potential co-workers. And I would absolutely think that Liz was the type of person who made mountains out of molehills and was generally an ass to work with. I agree with you in advance that my assessment of her and her situation is both mean and hateful but, just predicting in advance, is very likely what I would do and think in that situation.

        And my reaction would be as described because: 1) “I quit because my coworker with a phobia of birds pushed me into a moving car and he wasn’t punished for it” sounds so unbelievable that I’d think she made it up. I only hope that if that’s what Liz says, then HR or whoever is giving her reference tells the entire story and doesn’t just give dates of employment, etc. and 2) I don’t think adults should use the word “punished” when talking about other adults. This is the part of that sentence that would make me assume Liz is a pain to work with.

        If Liz does decide to look for other work, I think she should think long and hard about what to say. She is unlikely to keep the bitterness toward Jack and the company out of her voice for a while, at least while she’s still in treatment for her injuries. (I’m not blaming her for this but it is unlikely to score points in an interview.) Even though it is a true story, she is not likely to be able to pull off a one-line summary of it in a professional way and it’s such a sensational story that telling the entire thing would seriously distract from the rest of the interview.

        She’d be better off saying that she’s been wanting different responsibilities/a better promotion path/new challenges/etc. than to tell the bird story. If she’s still in her cast while at interviews, she could say that while recovering from an accident, she thought that now would be a good time to put out feelers and she came across this job posting and it seemed to be a good fit because of blah, blah, etc.

        That was a long response for something that doesn’t even pertain to OP. Except that I hope that if Liz does choose to quit that OP and HR and any other potential references discuss with Liz what they are planning to say when potential new jobs call for a reference. If everyone agrees to tell the same tale, it will sound more reasonable and sympathetic rather than salacious and gossipy.

        1. Tuxedo Cat*

          I could see someone thinking she made it up or at least want inquire further with the OP or someone in HR. If the OP is likely to be called, they should maybe think about how to address this in a way that doesn’t make Liz sound like she made or exaggerated the story and in a way that doesn’t make her sound heartless all while making sure the OP’s office doesn’t sound heartless too.

          Writing that out- wow, that’s a huge task.

        2. Nicki Name*

          It seems like she could leave the bird out. “My co-worker injured me in a panic attack, and due to the way it was handled, I don’t feel safe in that office anymore.”

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          “My coworker pushed me into traffic due to a mental illness. I didn’t feel safe continuing to work with him.”

          1. Loose Seal*

            That is technically what happened. However, your word choice makes it seem like it was purposeful and not accidental and that it was shrugged off by the company.

            If Liz chooses to say your exact words and then the interviewer calls HR, say, to confirm, what do you think will happen to Liz’s credibility at that potentially new employer? They are going to be told that, in reality, a coworker had a panic reaction to a phobia trigger and bumped into Liz, inadvertently pushing her off the sidewalk and into a car that was parking. Remember how I said I’d think Liz was an ass to work with because it looks like she’s the type to make mountains out of molehills? Now I’d have proof that she’s at minimum a drama queen — remember, as an interviewer, I don’t know her or the extent of her injuries and I’m likely to believe her reference’s story more than hers — and I’d likely move on to consider other, less fraught, candidates.

            Regardless of how good it might feel to describe the event your way, it’s probably better for Liz in the long run, to be able to appear to be looking forward — i.e. what I can do for your company — rather than looking backward as she interviews.

            Y’all, I get that Liz is traumatized and I also get that many, many people feel for her in this situation. (I do too. I just don’t think that Jack’s actions rise to the level of a firing offense, as described by the OP.) But if Liz Googled this issue, she’s gonna find this thread. Do you really want to encourage her to blow her credibility at a time when she is likely going to need a good job that will let her have time off to go to follow-up appointments and will pay well enough for her to cover her medical bills until insurance decides it’s going to pay?

            1. Alice*

              Perhaps Liz wants to screen for workplaces where four days in the hospital isn’t considered a molehill and being concerned about safety after breaking your arm isn’t being a drama queen.

              That said, you’re right that it will be important for Liz to try to keep an even and professional tone. “I was seriously injured at work and decided to move on after the accident” seems like a turn of phrase that might pass muster with people who have different opinions about the incident.

            2. Caleb*


              You get run over by a car and then come back and tell people about what mole hills are.

            3. Lynxa*

              He may just have just bumped into her, or he may literally have shoved her out of his way and into the path of a car in his panic to get away from the bird. We don’t know that it was inadvertent.

              I had a friend claw up my neck and chest trying to get away from a spider because she was in such a panic she didn’t realize she could go *around* and thought she had to go *through*. While she didn’t fully realize what she was doing at the time, it was not inadvertent.

            4. Falling Diphthong*

              As others have said–four days in the hospital is a molehill?

              I didn’t say Jack should be fired. We know absolutely nothing about how he feels–whether he is drowning in remorse or resentful that Liz embarrassed him by falling wrong. We don’t know how the rest of the office feels about working with him going forward, which would probably be a significant factor in whether the company should fire him. (I think not telling anyone that he had a severe phobia that could cause him to barrel right over anyone in his path is enough cover for the company, if they want an excuse to fire him, which it doesn’t seem they do.)

              I do think Liz has every reason to plan to not be in a position where he can knock into her again. Even if people like you sneer “drama queen” at her for viewing a smashed arm and near death as some sort of ‘thing.’

              1. Loose Seal*

                I’m pointing out how an interviewer who doesn’t know Liz or this story might interpret your one-liner. So yeah, when someone says “pushed me into traffic” when they really meant “knocked me into a car that was in the process of parking and couldn’t possibly have been going more than a couple of miles per hour”, I’m going to have an issue with their tendency to exaggerate. As Alison frequently says, interviewers only have limited data when making a decision. If there are two semi-equal candidates, it would be natural to choose the one who hasn’t already raised your eyebrow.

                I’m not certain where people are getting “near death.” According to the letter she was no nearer to death than anyone else that day. That’s the exaggeration I’m referring to. Even if it turned out that Jack, with malice aforethought, shoved Liz into oncoming traffic, she was not “near death” or surely it would have been mentioned in the paragraph where OP detailed the injuries.

                1. Tippi Hedren*

                  @Loose Seal. It is absolutely breathtaking the amount of mental gymnastics your are engaging in because you feel a personal affinity for Jack’s mental illness. And you seem to have very little patience or empathy for Liz’s physical and mental state. The actions of her coworker resulted in a traumatic experience for her! Full stop. Imagine looking at Jack everyday and recalling the trauma of the injury. Why is her fear response irrational and his to be worked around? She was quite literally nearer to death that day because 3,500 pounds of metal and plastic hit her in such a way to snap her bones. Your response is for her to be a good girl, don’t get mad, consider Jack’s feelings, and not make a mountain of a molehill in future interviews. By your own turn of logic that you applied to Liz, Jack should have sucked it up and realized that he was not in any danger from an innocuous bird (I’m not saying that’s the case, I’m just saying that you are really in the can for Jack)

    7. Minister of Snark*

      “I was injured on site due to the actions of a coworker and I wasn’t comfortable returning to the workplace.”

      I don’t think that would make her look that bad.

  2. Leah*

    I’m not sure I agree with your response to #1. Yeah it’s a documented illness, but he pushed another employee into the path of a moving car. I really don’t think that there would be any ADA issue with firing/disciplining him- allowing assault to go unpunished is far beyond a reasonable accommodation. Maybe firing might be too much but just having him apologize is way too little.

    1. copy run start*

      IANAL, but doesn’t assault require some sort of intent to harm? Based on what we know, Jack was not trying to hurt Liz. He reacted out of fear (that is documented) and happened to unfortunately push Liz into harm’s way.

      1. Artemesia*

        So I see a gunman approach and I am terrified, so I pick up the 4 year old and hold him in front of me as a shield. Okay? Not assault. Because panicked?

        1. copy run start*

          I’m not going to debate wildly different scenarios with you, especially not ones using children to up the horror factor of your strawman argument. We can discuss the presented situation or nothing at all.

        2. LN*

          Okay, this is a stretch and you know it. Deliberately picking up someone to use as a human shield isn’t the same as accidentally knocking them over in the process of running away. He should have been more careful, but phobias don’t often allow for anything but a knee-jerk reaction.

        3. Forrest*

          I think you may know that since you keep having to resorting to using kids in your scenarios you’re reaching a little bit.

          If you’re arguing that what Jack did is bad and worth firing him over, then the age of the person he harmed doesn’t matter.

        4. Mookie*

          He didn’t knock Liz into the bird to protect himself. The physical contact was accidental, in the course of fleeing, and not intentional.

          1. Speechless*

            That very much depends how you read the letter. To me how it’s worded says he pushed her out of his way. Not that he bumped her as he brushed past. Now, I appreciate that he likely didn’t know who he was pushing or care in that moment due to his panicked state, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t deliberately push her out of his path, just that he did so without much or any conscious control over it. That isn’t an accident, it’s still a deliberate act on his part, it just means his actions and emotions were not under his control at that time due to his mental illness. We don’t allow people with other mental illnesses to go around harming people and blaming their conditions. It’s up to the person with those illnesses to inform their management what accommodations they need and to also manage their conditions well enough to keep the general public safe from them.

            If Jack was walking through a city square and a pigeon landed next to him, and he pushed over an old lady as he ran away, and she broke her arm, would we all be saying oh poor Jack should just get away with a forced apology because he couldn’t help it? No, everyone would be saying that Jack needs to pay for her medical bills and were it my grandma, I’d be saying Jack needs to be up on charges. His inability not to push people over while he runs away from whatever he’s afraid of is not the responsibility of the people around him. It’s HIS.

            1. Mookie*

              Again, I’m responding to an analogy about someone intentionally using a child as a shield. The OP writes that Liz was separated from Jack by less than a “step.” The language is quite clear. Nothing suggests a deliberate action and, anyway, intent doesn’t necessarily absolve people of responsibility.

            2. ThursdaysGeek*

              Right. The example of Artemesia was not that helpful, but Jack did have a responsibility to manage his disease in such a way that he doesn’t accidentally hurt others. He doesn’t have to tell the company, but keeping his distance from others, making sure he has a safe exit route while he is outside – he could have done that and did not. Perhaps he thought his disease was under better control, and the bird surprised him. But he did have a responsibility too, and he failed in taking adequate precautions. Being separated from someone else by less than a step, while outside, is something he could have known could be a problem, even if he thought the only danger was jostling the other person.

            3. Saucy Minx*

              Yes, I too have been wondering about the safety of all the people outside this building who are not Jack’s CWs, & people elsewhere that he may have occasion to be. His work cannot oblige him to acquire coping mechanisms in their behalf, so it’s to be hoped that he will get more helpful therapy than he now has & apply it generally rather than just for the benefit of current CWs.

        5. LawBee*

          That is an utterly ridiculous strawman argument. Accidentally knocking someone down who fell into the path of a car is not the same thing as deliberately grabbing a child and using him as a shield, and you know it.

        6. Amy The Rev*

          I think a better analogy would be you’re in a crowded space and there’s a gunman, and as everyone is fleeing, someone gets jostled and falls and sustains a trampling injury. Would the person who caused them to lose their balance be considered negligent in some way, for not taking care to avoid jostling other people as they flee? Would the crowd be negligent/at fault for not remaining calm in the face of danger? I’m deliberately using the gunman analogy because 1. you introduced it, and 2. at least for me with a phobia of bees, in the moment, when a bee is within 10 feet of me, it really does feel like my life is in danger (I’m also allergic to bees, so there’s that, too). I’m terrified that one day I’ll be driving and a bee will somehow get into my car, I honestly don’t know if I’d be able to stay calm enough to be able to pull over safely, because it’s (thankfully) never happened before.

      2. Gadfly*

        Which still, legally, can be charged for things like negligence. And there are hosts of civil things she could file for besides criminal.

        1. Mb13*

          I think pitbuls are supper cute dogs. But if a pitbul bites you, it doesn’t matter that it has been abused, you have a problem. And that problem is a bating pitbul. As such it doesn’t matter that Jack has a mental disorder, you have a problem. Luckily the other coworker solved the problem (though I feel like she’s the real victim here. Hopefully her next job will be fantastic)

          1. Forrest*

            Yes, but you can’t put Jack to sleep. So why is the automatic solution to fire an employee with an documented medical solution that has a “problem” that can be worked around?

            1. Doe-eyed*

              Well for one, the documentation occurred after the fact. If the employer had known about it before the fact, Jack may not have been sent to offsite meetings in uncontrolled environments, especially given the possibility he may have his phobia triggered and nearly kill someone. He exposed the company to financial burden (workman’s comp for Liz) without their knowledge or consent.

              1. Forrest*

                He’s not legally required to disclose his health to his employer. If Jack felt that he couldn’t manage his condition in uncontrolled environments, he should have told them. But he’s not required to do so and he may have felt he was in 100% control. Again, if this is the first time it happened and/or a very rare occurrence, Jack shouldn’t have his career limited because of a condition covered by the law.

                Everything is an uncontrolled environment for the most part and everybody exposes their company a potential financial burden.

                There are people who may react badly to a car back firing because it sounds like a gun to them. Are they required to give their company a heads up?

                1. Forrest*

                  How do you define “likely”? Once a week? Twice a year? Once every five years?

                  We have no information here about how common this is for Jack.

                2. Gadfly*

                  But how many of us are likely to panic in response to common stimuli so badly that we run away, pushing over anyone in our path? Sure, lots of us startle and might shriek or jump–but how many are running and pushing people over? (For common occurrences, not gunmen and escaped lions or alien invasions…)

                3. Forrest*

                  Well, depending on how long Jack’s been at the company and that this appears to be his first incidence…maybe as likely as him? I mean, if you have a guy who had one incidence in that two years he’s worked there, I think that may put him at the same risk factor as other people. In fact, his risk would be less because they know about it and can prepare for it and the fact that it’s so common and this is the first time it happens would actually put so comfort on it.

              1. Forrest*

                Are we really concerned that this will be a weekly occurrence?

                They know that they should keep their distance from him outdoors. Or ask him to keep his distance. I’m not seeing why this is a complicated problem to deal with going forward. ( That’s the key phrase.)

                1. TL -*

                  Honestly, I think once is too much. Even if it’s an accident (and it was), one incident that lands another employee in the hospital for emergency surgery is one incident too many.

                2. Forrest*

                  By that logic, he can’t and/or should never hold a job. And god forbid if any other employee causes an accident.

                  You can’t predict accidents. That’s the very nature of accidents. You can prepare for them and learn from them to prevent it from happening again. And I respect your thoughts on it but I don’t agree that Jack should lose his job over it.

                3. TL -*

                  @Forrest No, “Once is too much” means that if it happens, you get fired because it shouldn’t have happened in the first place, regardless of the reason it happened. It means you don’t get a second chance. It doesn’t mean you have to stop existing in public or can’t get another job.

            2. Gadfly*

              Can it be worked around when the problem now is that another employee cannot be reasonably expected to work with him or be anywhere near him? Depends on the size of the building, I guess…

              1. Forrest*

                Yup. But we’ll never know because it doesn’t appear Liz was settling for anything less.

                1. Forrest*

                  I think if you’re at a “him or me” point, it’s safe to say not much would change that.

            1. TheOriginalMags*

              Please do not perpetuate breed discrimination either! Why would you specify pitbull here??

            2. Anna*

              We are animals. We just seem to have more highly functioning brains.

              Although today I’m seeing that as more a working theory than a given fact.

          2. A Teacher*

            Please don’t stigmatize a breed of dogs or compare them to a human with a phobia! Breed discrimination is very real and very alive in the US and totally not okay.

            1. Anion*

              Dog breeds are and were deliberately created by man to do certain things or behave in certain ways (or in some cases look certain ways). Getting a retriever because you want a dog who will love retrieving things, or not getting a malamute because you don’t want a super high-energy dog, is not “breed discrimination.” If I say “Pointers point,” that is not “breed discrimination.” Using Belgian Malinois for police work is not “breed discrimination.” Those dogs were bred, those breeds were deliberately created, to do certain things, have certain traits, and behave in certain ways. Is a Pug exactly like a St. Bernard which is exactly like a Cocker Spaniel which is exactly like a Pekingese?

              The person comparing dogs to humans here is you, by referring to defining breeds by their man-created in-bred traits as “discrimination.”

              This is all very OT, can we not leap all over someone for mentioning a dog breed?

      3. Observer*

        In this context, I don’t think it matters. The reality is that if someone poses a danger to others, that’s a bona fide problem, and an employer has the right to act on a genuine safety issue.

      4. Turanga Leela*

        The rules about proving assault are different in different states, and “assault” can mean either hitting someone or deliberately scaring someone, depending on which state you’re in. But from the letter, it’s not clear whether Jack meant to push Liz or whether he accidentally pushed her out of the way as he fled. If he didn’t mean to push her, then punishing him seems extreme, just as it would be extreme to punish someone who was jogging outside of work and accidentally bumped into a coworker.

        I don’t think calling it an assault is helpful here. This isn’t limited to this situation—I think a lot of the time bringing in legal terminology doesn’t do much to clarify things. It makes sense to me that the employer wouldn’t punish Jack for something he didn’t mean to do. It also makes sense that Liz wouldn’t want to work with Jack after the incident.

        1. Turanga Leela*

          Also (forgot to say this): the ADA can get complicated. It’s not obvious that the company could discipline Jack without creating ADA issues. I don’t practice in this area, so I really wouldn’t want to say either way, but I think it’s a mistake to dismiss the employer’s ADA concerns out of hand.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Agreed re: calling this assault in the legalistic sense is not helpful, and also agreed that there could be legitimate ADA issues at play.

          But although we can debate whether OP#1 should have fired Jack, I don’t think it’s super helpful/useful in answering the question regarding whether or not to cajole Liz to work (I think the answer to that is no; she quit and the matter is closed).

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Yes, I agree: the question seems to boil down to “how can we get Liz to come back?” and at this point I think the best answer is “don’t try.” Even granting that it isn’t Jack’s fault that he knocked her in front of a car, it’s perfectly reasonable that Liz doesn’t want to work with him after that. (And, LW, please don’t give her a bad reference based on this, even if it is an inconvenience. I assume you wouldn’t, but just in case–this is very far from a usual case of ‘quit without notice.’)

            1. Tuckerman*

              Right. I think the question should be, how do we support Liz through this transition?

          2. Blue*

            This. There are separate issues here — how to handle Jack (it sounds like the company — and presumably police? — decided this was an accident, that he has a documented phobia, and already made a choice on whether to impose disciplinary action). And then how to handle Liz, the victim of the accident who quit and has issued an ultimatum that the company fire Jack.

          3. CM*

            No, don’t cajole Liz to work. Apologize profusely and give her a severance package and cover her medical bills.

      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        With the caveat that the definition of the tort of assault varies significantly by jurisdiction and is often conflated with battery. Generally speaking, the intent requirement is intending to instill the fear of being harmed or causing “offensive or harmful contact.” Harmful and offensive contact have a pretty broad meaning.

        All that said, you’re probably in negligence territory for any civil action, and probably are looking at some form of misdemeanor assault (i.e., physical contact that a person knew or should have known would likely cause harm).

      6. GraceW*

        And then after she was injured he did nothing. How does this man walk on a public street–any time he’s outside, he might see a bird close to him. I think his actions are deplorable and he’s lucky Liz didn’t sue him.

        1. Anonymous for mental illness*

          You’re right that walking on a public street would be hard. Phobias have a pretty big impact on your life. That’s actually part of the diagnostic criteria for them.

          Not to defend Jack’s actions, by the way, just responding as someone with a phobia to a comment about phobias.

          1. Mookie*

            He’s allowed to exist outside in public. He is not imposing his phobia and anxiety on people or using it as a weapon. It was an accident. Anyone can be startled into accidental physical contact; nothing precludes this from happening to anyone. His inability to apologize at the scene does not suddenly make this a crime or him a selfish person. Nothing he was doing — walking — was reckless. You cannot mitigate against every possible, tiny risk and it’s unreasonable to suggest that he should do what no one else can.

            1. Temperance*

              This is not totally correct, in any way. He knows that he has this mental health issue, and he has the burden of protecting the public from his outbursts. Same logic has been used when people with intellectual disabilities harm others in public; it’s part of being in society that you don’t hurt others, and you are financially on the hook when you do.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                That’s true, but I don’t think “reckless indifference” is an accurate description of his mental state.

              2. Mookie*

                Everyone is equally obligated to protect others from inadvertent reactions. He does not have a special burden to do that.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I understand that what he did invokes really strong feelings of contempt or anger, but I don’t think it’s fair to belittle Jack for “doing nothing.” Phobias that inspire this level of a panic response are real, and if a bird was indeed near Liz, then I don’t blame Jack for being in the throes of a panic attack that prevented him from “doing something” in the moment. I do wish he had apologized of his own volition, but perhaps he felt extremely ashamed by what had happened and didn’t know how to raise the issue with a coworker who was justifiably enraged.

          1. Speechless*

            What he could have done was ask for the accommodations he needed to make everyone including himself safe before this happened. If his colleagues had known this was possible they might have walked behind him, put him next to the curb, let him go into the building before or after them. There are all kinds of things Jack could have done in advance of this which would have prevented his colleague needing surgery because he pushed her in front of a car and it broke her arm.

            1. Mookie*

              His employer cannot wrangle birds or make them disappear and, presumably, he sometimes has to leave the office and that requires walking. He has no obligation, legal or ethical, to disclose a phobia and anxiety to his employer in this scenario.

              1. Speechless*

                Ok, but now he DOES have responsibility for his co-worker’s injuries. If she sues him she is very likely to win. If she had known not to walk in front of him outdoors where birds live this wouldn’t have happened.

                1. Sunflower*

                  Ok then she can sue. People sue people for accidents all the time and she can do so. It doesn’t mean Jack should be fired.

              2. I'm Anon for this too*

                OK, so just let the coworkers beware, they may be working with someone who has a secret disability that could harm them. No. The rights of the mentally ill must be balanced with the rights of others in the workplace. The seriously hurt co-worker is the victim here, not enough sympathy is is being shown for her in my opinion..

                That said, Jack’s illness is a tough one. Birds are everywhere. He could work at home and attend meetings remotely, I suppose. I can see and hear birds from inside my house though. I don’t assume Jack is an asshole who doesn’t care that he caused his coworker serious pain. But he should want a plan in place to avoid, as much as possible, this type of situation happening again. Including intense desensitization therapy.

                I say this as someone who has lived with anxiety and depression for decades, and who has a bipolar child. I do not allow her to use her bipolar diagnosis as a reason for mistreating me.

                If I were the hurt co-worker, looking at Jack would trigger something like PTSD. So let her go in peace OP. Its a shame that the victim here has to find a new job, but you cannot have them working together now. If you can structure the work so that these two would have minimal contact, maybe she would go she would go for it. Or a consultancy arrangement.

                Good luck to all involved.

              3. The Final Pam*

                And honestly, given the stigma mental illness still unfortunately has I can’t blame anyone for not disclosing that to an employer.

            2. Trillian*

              I can understand why he would not disclose. People do not get phobias. If this is a long-term phobia, he has probably experienced shaming, mockery, advice, and pranking. Worse, I expect, because he’s male, and men aren’t supposed to be ‘scared’. He misjudged, grossly, but the rest of us have to do better and make it safe to disclose these conditions.

              That said, if I were Liz, I would have quit, too. I would have been furious if my employer’s self-interest led them to push me to come back before I was both physically and mentally ready to face someone who had, even inadvertently, injured me. Liz saying fire Jack may be Liz’s way of shutting down the pressure, since she knows they won’t do it. Or it may be a “prove you give a damn” challenge. This required sensitive and compassionate handling of both parties, and it seems to me that it has been driven entirely by legality and self-interest.

              1. Anon for now*

                This +. If anything the comments here are making me wary to disclose my phobia. My god, if this is the way my co-workers would respond to my phobia of roaches, I’m never disclosing it.

                1. cercis*

                  Sadly, I think you’re wise not to disclose it. I had a coworker who had documented that she was seeing a therapist for her phobia of bugs (I don’t know if it was a specific bug) and yet coworkers were allowed to get away with placing plastic bugs on her desk and other areas of the office where she’d see them and freak out. In a healthy workspace, the coworkers would have been disciplined, but it didn’t happen.

                  I’ve seen similar in other offices where the coworkers just had a strong startle reaction. It was seen as a form of team building for the other coworkers to pull pranks involving the trigger (whether a plastic bug, paper airplanes aimed at the worker, sudden loud noises, etc) and laugh at the response.

              2. Nelle Jefe*


                While I can understand why he’d be reluctant to disclose, I think this illustrates why it’s better in general to disclose. I have a fish phobia, and I have always made sure that my coworkers (I do field work that could put me into contact with fish) and hiking buddies are aware of it, just in case something like this comes up. It definitely sucks that there are people who would use phobia knowledge as a way to be cruel to coworkers, but for me, that would be a reason to not work in a particular place.

                The fact that others know about my phobia helps enormously, because I don’t have to put up a brave front and possibly be startled into a panic situation — I can talk about it ahead of time with those around me, which tends to give me much better coping strategies in the moment, both reducing the chances of a panic response and giving others information that helps them protect themselves and me if they see a potentially triggering situation.

                I tend to bring it up in a light, self-deprecating way, and so far I’ve never had a truly terrible response from anyone I work with. Some light teasing, perhaps. I’m sure some people have rolled their internal eyes at me. But it makes a world of difference knowing that I can just say, ‘When I get in the water, I’m going to yell at fish. Deal with it,’ and that’s exactly what they do. (I do a lot of ‘Hey fish! Get away from me! No fish, stay away!’ — it helps.)

            3. AD*

              This is asinine. What plausible workplace accomodation could someone seek with a bird phobia? And this happened outside, not in an office.
              As others have said, feelngs of anger towards Jack are understandable, but the reflex to point fingers at someone with a documented phobia is a little cruel (and that is accepting that what Liz went through was awful).

              1. Gadfly*

                Well, how about starting with not requiring him to be outside on anything work related so the birds don’t trigger this?

              2. Lablizard*

                Off the top of my head, I would restrict off site travel and meetings as much as possible. If he is not outdoors on business, there is less chance of bumping into birds in the course of his duties.

            4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I disagree—this approach focuses on how to punish Jack as opposed to determining how to prevent future harms. Presumably, until this point, Jack’s reaction to his phobia had not caused another person this level of physical harm. If he had been able to prevent catastrophic consequences in the past, it makes sense that he may not have disclosed or sought accommodation because he thought he had it under control. And I don’t support requiring individuals with mental illnesses to out themselves to their employers in order to show they’re “deserving.”

              Now that OP knows that Jack has less control over his reaction than might have been assumed, the focus should be on future prevention, not on beating Jack over the head for having a mental illness and for failing to disclose it.

          2. NW Mossy*

            It’s also quite common for people without a mental-illness diagnosis to find themselves unable to help in a crisis medical situation. Not everyone can remain cool-headed and spring into action to assist, or has the necessary skills to be of any use in so doing. And perhaps most of all, any of us who’ve never been a close witness to something like this (and I include myself here) can’t really know for certain how we’d react.

            Long story short, I don’t think we can definitively read malice into Jack’s non-action after the injury, and I also don’t think we can per se attribute it to his phobia.

            1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

              Agreed. My only phobia in life is a crippling fear of zombies. My MD thinks I’ll be okay with this unless there’s a zombie apocolypse otherwise I avoid places and things where I know I might run into someone dressed as a zombie. TV shows, movies, and any kind of costumed event are carefully vetted. I once saw a movie that had a zombie movie trailer and it freaked me out so bad that I literally climbed over my husband in a blind panic to get out of the theater.

              While this is my only phobia, I can let you all know that I am not a person you want with you in a crisis. My flight or fight almost always reverts to flight in any kind of stressful situation. A co-worker sustained a pretty nasty knee injury at a company I used to work for. She hit the ground crying in pain, everyone rushed forward except me, I ran in the opposite direction. I usually “come to” a few seconds later which was why I kept running and got to a phone to call 911, but it’s not always a sure thing. It’s weird to me what stressful situations will trigger the flight. My daughter fell once and was immediately caught by my husband and soothed…I ran. My daughter fell another time, couldn’t breathe and passed out…I ran in like a boss and handled it.

              Jack may not be my favorite person but his lack of response is too ambiguous to read into here.

            2. Carolyn*

              “It’s also quite common for people without a mental-illness diagnosis to find themselves unable to help”

              This is an excellent point and I agree completely. We have all heard of “fight or flight”, but there are actually 3, not 2 responses … the 3rd is “freeze” – there is a certain percentage of the population that simply shuts down in a response to danger or emergency. Has nothing to do with mental illness, it’s their natural response. Additionally, there are plenty of people who think that their best contribution is staying out of the way so that “someone else” can step in … even if there really isn’t anyone else around.

        3. Mustache Cat*

          Calling his actions deplorable is far too much. I think it’s clear that he did not do this deliberately, or even with conscious input

        4. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Yes, how dare he have a debilitating mental illness that he is seeking treatment for.

          From the way it’s described in the letter, this wasn’t just him seeing a bird close to him and freaking out, this was a bird flying deliberately at him, triggering his phobia, and resulting in what sounds like a panic attack.

          1. caryatis*

            Haha, I don’t think the bird “flew deliberately at him.” It just flew. Let’s not blame the bird!

            1. Anion*

              Hey, you don’t know! Birds remember faces! I bet it knew just what it was doing.

              Maybe this is just the beginning… *cue theme music to “the Birds.”


              1. Dankar*

                And crows “hold grudges against those who’ve wronged them” according to one study this past year.

                1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

                  Interesting. Crows creep me out. I grew up near a beautiful and famous cemetery and there were always crows hanging about. I’d have to walk by this cemetery nearly every day and was also on edge (see above thread re: my phobia of zombies) and those crows would always watch me walk past the fence from their perch on the tombstones. I once asked one to warn me if a Zombie was coming. First time I saw a bird laugh.

                2. oranges & lemons*

                  I was glad to see this study, because this happened to me! I walked too close to a nest one time, and for a couple of years afterwards, I kept getting dive-bombed by crows all over the city.

        5. JB (not in Houston)*

          It’s unlikely that his phobia is triggered every single time he sees a bird close to him. Indeed, in this case, that’s not what happened.

      7. paul*

        You can sue for bodily harm that *didn’t* arise from assault though. People sue for injury incurred in accidents all the time.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Absolutely. Assault – no. Negligence – yes. I imagine Liz will be pursuing legal action against him and the company, as she should.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t think the actual lawyers have weighed in here yet (though I may have missed it), but given that the company apparently had no preknowledge of risk, I’d be surprised if she had a case against the company; and of course if it ends up under worker’s comp, that will limit her remedy against them anyway.

      8. DArcy*

        No, assault doesn’t require intent.

        Under “normal” circumstances, pushing someone into traffic the way Jack did would be aggravated assault and/or attempted murder. Under the unusual circumstances which the OP describes, he’s only guilty of “regular” assault and battery, plus failure to render aid. In some states, he could also be charged with failure to render aid.

        1. Dweali*

          Your definition of assault is most likely specific to state and locale of where the incident occurred….at least if you’re trying to use it in the legal sense and not the colloquial sense

        2. Yorick*

          Any crime requires intent, or a willful negligence. Bumping into someone so that they fall into traffic would never be considered assault.

          (I understand some people are interpreting the letter as that he deliberately pushed her, but that’s not what my interpretation was)

        3. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Actually, if we want to get super technical, assault is making a threat and battery is the act of physically harming someone. And both actually do require intent.

          Jack could possibly be charged with negligence or reckless behavior.

          1. Gravel*

            “Actually, if we want to get super technical, assault is making a threat and battery is the act of physically harming someone. And both actually do require intent..”

            To get even more technical: That depends on the jurisdiction and whether we are talking criminal or civil assault.

            As for intent….depends upon what type of crime or tort. “Intent” also varies by jurisdiction.

            He may or may not have had “intent”. We don’t know enough to say one way or the other.

            We can’t tell from the letter what, if any, crime or torts were committed.


            1. Aveline*

              “We can’t tell from the letter what, if any, crime or torts were committed.”


    2. misspiggy*

      Yes – how can having a phobia be used to justify assault? Being in treatment doesn’t seem to be relevant if Jackson management of his condition is so poor.

      I think Liz is being very reasonable in not wanting to work with Jack, although demanding he be fired goes beyond what she has a right to request. If Liz had asked for Jack to be moved that might have been more sensible – I wonder what the response would have been then?

      1. Forrest*

        But you don’t know if Jack’s management is poor. One bad moment doesn’t mean he’s not managing to prevent 500 other moments.

        1. Starbuck*

          True, but it seems reasonable to assume that if one bad moment has already occurred, another is possible (perhaps likely) in the future.

          1. Forrest*

            I didn’t say otherwise. But you’re still talking about a potential future incidence that will (hopefully, if the company has a clue) have some kind of work around to prevent it.

            1. Starbuck*

              The fact that it’s already happened seems reason enough for legitimate concern. And the only way the company can guarantee this won’t happen again is by firing Jack. If I knew one of my coworkers had put someone in the hospital, I certainly would not expect to see them at work the next day (or ever again).

              1. Forrest*

                I never said it wasn’t a legitimate concern. Why would I say the company should create work arounds to prevent it from happening again if I didn’t think it was legitimate?

                There are a lot of mistakes people make that you can guarantee won’t happen again by firing that person. There was a letter a while ago about a guy who put scissors on a friend’s chair and he was injured. Should he be fired too?

                1. Starbuck*

                  I’m thinking of the travel booker who was fired for sending her boss to the wrong country. Just a mistake, and it probably never would have happened again- but she got fired and the commentariat seemed to be in agreement that was a reasonable course of action. The cost of that mistake was probably similar to the hospital bills Liz is going to end up with.

      2. nonegiven*

        We don’t know where he started 2 years ago. He may not have been able to tolerate seeing a picture of a feather on a hat 2 years ago.

    3. Anons*

      I agree. Pushing someone off a curb leading to serious injuries is a huge deal. It doesn’t matter if he has a phobia.

      I would have a hard time working with Jack after something like that. I’d probably have a hard time working at a company where all Jack suffers is a forced apology while I’m in pain, having to deal with a broken arm (which can make many basic tasks difficult), and possibly stuck with the financial costs.

      I’d be filing a workers comp claim against the company and/or suing Jack.

      1. Leah*

        It just occurred to me that Jack didn’t even pay for her hospital bills. The more I think about this the angrier I am. I have a mental illness that can cause me to be extremely upset, to say the least, and I would fully deserve and expect to get fired if I pulled something like this. OP, just because we have mental illness does not mean we are morally deficient and cannot face consequences for our actions. I know you probably don’t think that, but allowing violence in the workplace to go unpunished simply because the perpetrator had a disorder (which, if so severe to cause harm to others, should have been disclosed earlier) sends that message.

        1. Dizzy Steinway*

          I think Jack could really do with having strategies in place for while out in public where he might see birds. (Also, two years is a long time to be treated with so little improvement – maybe he needs a new therapist.) Not least because if she had died, he could have ended up in prison.

          1. Wow*

            That’s…pretty judgemental. Maybe give Jack the benefit of the doubt and don’t judge people for whom anxiety is a plus-two year issue.

            1. Dizzy Steinway*

              Sorry, you misunderstood me. I know anxiety can be a long-lasting issue. I’m not judging Jack. But being in treatment for a phobia for over two years and still having this strong a reaction suggests he’s not getting effective treatment. I’m judging his therapist, not him.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Very much agreed. The problem here is that Jack isn’t receiving adequate support to cope with common, everyday occurrences that are going to continually trigger him. Pushing someone in front of a car is a pretty bfd.

                1. JessaB*

                  I think the “pushing someone in front of a car” is a bit I don’t know how to phrase this but Inflammatory? He ran and bumped into her, she went off a curb, he is still panicking so his flight response is on utter high. I’m not even sure if he would have been aware that she had been injured or that if she called after him for help, he even registered her voice. Now I agree, he needed to apologise, and I agree asking her back with him still there is an absolute no-go unless you have another location you can send him to where she won’t have to see him. And YES he should be the one who is moved and inconvenienced by this mess.

                  But I mostly think that a lot of people are presuming he was in complete control of himself when he just wasn’t. That he was self and situationally aware which he probably was NOT. This was an accident not an on purpose.

                  I do fully support though that the office not argue a bit about this being a worker’s comp claim and her medical and therapy bills should be paid. Also a good reference and NOT fighting unemployement. Or maybe I’d talk to the corporate lawyers and question how to phrase a severance agreement, since it’s a big deal for her and HER fears, not to come back to a place where she can’t trust her coworkers. She was obviously a valued employee before this horrible thing happened to her. I think she should be treated as one.

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  You’re right—I should have been more careful with my language. In my head I’ve been thinking of this as more of a shove, but it’s absolutely possible that this was a small “bump” that had big consequences.

                  I think this was an accident. But I also think it’s going to happen to Jack, again, and hopefully he’s getting effective therapeutic support to find ways to be able to cope more effectively with his phobia. But it’s also possible that the phobia is so deeply ingrained that traditional coping strategies are not effective for him.

                3. DArcy*

                  The OP explicitly states that he didn’t run and bumped into her, he shoved her directly into the path of a car that was pulling up to the curb to park and so close that the driver was unable to stop before hitting her. So yes, he very literally pushed her in front of a car and that is not “inflammatory” at all.

                  That he was not in complete control of his actions is what decreases this from aggravated assault and attempted murder to the far less serious offense of simple assault and battery. He’s still guilty of that, and it’s rather disturbing that OP seems to think it’s unreasonable of Liz to be traumatized by a situation where she was nearly killed by a coworker’s actions.

                4. Hrovitnir*

                  If we’re nitpicking wording DArcy yes, he *pushed* and didn’t *bump* but he also pushed her “out of the way” and she fell off the curb in the way of a car, not “he pushed her in front of a car”.

                  I don’t feel I should have to specify that I don’t think this was all OK because obviously I don’t. I just disagree vehemently with the vitriolic responses I’m seeing here.

                5. Zillah*

                  @DArcy – The OP said:

                  Liz was less than a step ahead of him and he pushed her out of the way when he was running. Liz fell off the curb and got hit by a car that was parking.

                  That is not explicitly stating that he shoved her directly into the path of a car so close that the driver was unable to stop before hitting her. I don’t want to parse words, but at the same time, the scenario you’re presenting brings to mind a violent push directly into a car, and while it’s possible that you’re right, it’s not what the OP explicitly said. We also have no idea if Liz was “nearly killed.”

              2. Chocolate lover*

                We have no idea where Jack started though in terms of severity of his phobia, so there’s no way to measure how far he has or has not come. Two years is also not necessarily a particularly long time in terms of treating some people and some phobias, and it’s not for anyone else to judge the efficacy of his treatment.

                1. Dweali*

                  Exactly…how many other instances has his therapy cause him to avoid…this is definitely a situation that he should speak with his therapist but to automatically say he needs to find a new one is extreme

                2. Jesmlet*

                  Exactly, clearly he has enough coping mechanisms to leave his house every day and go to work. There are plenty of people with phobias who aren’t able to do that. Unless you’re Jack or his therapist, you shouldn’t be judging the efficacy of treatment he’s receiving.

              3. JS*

                People In successful treatment can have relapses or breaks. Besides I’m sure phobia treatments are effective if the bird is nearby it overhead but would account for the bird zooming by close to someone’s head or diving at them or touching them. If he freaked out enough to run after receiving therapy for 2 years it’s highly unlikely he just saw one sitting on the sidewalk and flipped out. You cannot judge his doctor or call his treatments unsuccessful. Especially since the same knee jerk reaction could have come from someone who is highly allegeric to bees and Liz being knocked down anyway.

            2. Mike C.*

              Someone ended up in the hospital because of Jack’s phobia, so it’s not judgemental in the slightest to point out that his current coping methods may not being enough to help him. Because clearly it isn’t.

                1. Relly*

                  Intent isn’t magical. Just because I didn’t intend to punch that guy when I flailed my arms won’t make it hurt any less when I smash his cheekbone. Similarly, it being an accident doesn’t un-break her arm.

                2. Speechless*

                  He pushed his colleague out of his flight path without regard for her because he just had to run from his phobic reaction. Now I’ll take on board what people are saying about not being able to control your reaction to a phobia. But, he’s been in therapy for 2 years and is still a danger to the general public whenever he sees a BIRD. I’m not judging what he’s phobic of at all, I know phobias aren’t rational. However birds are everywhere. Pigeons, seagulls, sparrows. There is no way to avoid seeing birds while you are out and about in public. Jack needs to take some bigger steps toward coping skills. He cannot shove people going about their business out of his way no matter how panicked he is, and certainly not into cars. I just double checked and the letter says Liz and other witnesses indicate Jack shoved her, causing her to fall off the curb into the path of a car. He didn’t shoulder bump her as he dodged past. He shoved her. He then didn’t make an apology as soon as he was physically able to, HR had to make him do so. Normal people would be MORTIFIED that they had hospitalized a colleague with a broken arm and many cuts and bruises. The company is taking a rather cavalier attitude toward the risk Jack presents to the rest of their staff, even if they can’t fire him due to accommodations. Maybe Jack needs a different start time to the rest of the team so he is safely ensconced in the building before the rest of his colleagues are trying to USE THE SIDEWALK. Leave aside the fact that he’s got a mental illness and it’s real and he’s has to live with it. Other human beings also need to use the sidewalk to get to work without worrying their colleague is going to run off in a blind panic and push them into the path of a car over seeing a wild animal which will be prolific and uncontrollable in pretty much every environment humans inhabit. I don’t blame Liz in the slightest for not wanting to go back to work here and I think Jack did assault her, no matter his reasons. There is no justification you can give me which will make me say it was ok he put his hands on her and pushed her over into the path of a car. I don’t care what inspired that. It’s not really an accident. It might not have had malice or forethought to harm, but he pushed someone. He didn’t brush past too close. He pushed her. Not ok and Liz doesn’t deserve to suffer the pain of her injuries or worries about paying her bills or feeding her family for the crime of WALKING ON THE SIDEWALK!

                3. JB (not in Houston)*

                  @ Relly No, but in the law we have different standards for acts that are accidents vs. intentional, and for a very good reason

                4. Relly*

                  @JB it does, yes, but we’re not talking about the law here — we’re talking about whether or not it’s reasonable to say that Jack and/or his company needs to do more to prevent these events from reoccurring.

                  I’m not saying to punish Jack. I’m saying that, once someone’s arm is broken, we need to have a real conversation about safety.

                5. LawBee*

                  “But, he’s been in therapy for 2 years and is still a danger to the general public whenever he sees a BIRD.”

                  There is nothing in this letter to indicate that Jack is a danger to the general public just from seeing a bird. If he was that easily triggered, he wouldn’t be able to leave his house or watch television. Come on.

                6. Forrest*

                  “But, he’s been in therapy for 2 years and is still a danger to the general public whenever he sees a BIRD.”

                  Yes, birds are indeed very common, so the fact that this is the first time this has happened shows that he’s no more of a danger than anyone else with a managed mental health plan. Having a well managed plan doesn’t mean nothing ever happens and if it only works 99.5% then you need a new one.

              1. AD*

                Frankly, none of us are in a position (from this brief letter) to make a qualitative assessment of Jack’s therapy

                1. Mike C.*

                  Liz ended up with broken bones and a trip to the hospital. Maybe commenters on the internet can’t give a complete assessment of the treatment, but I think it’s fair to say that this doesn’t look good.

                2. Forrest*

                  Well, yea, if he’s in treatment to work on his need to push people, it would look bad.

                  But just because he has a management plan that has one known incidence of failing doesn’t mean it’s not a good management plan. Nothing works 100%.

            3. Dizzy Steinway*

              PS I work in mental health. I’m not judging. Just flagging that there is effective treatment out there and Jack doesn’t seem to be getting it.

              1. JessaB*

                This. And I don’t think at this point I’d have a problem telling that to Jack. There should be a new ADA process going and finding out how to support him without endangering anyone else is going to be a big part of that interaction. He absolutely needs to understand that even if he can’t get over the phobia (and some people never do,) he need adequate coping mechanisms to prevent himself from hurting others.

              2. Whats In A Name*

                But what if he is. What if 2 years ago he could barely leave the house and now he is working a job and walking back from meetings on his own.

                I realize that is a huge speculation on my part but I don’t think we have enough context to diagnose the effectiveness of Jack’s therapist.

              3. Jesmlet*

                As someone who works in mental health, you probably shouldn’t be speculating on someone’s progress based only on a couple paragraphs from a coworker’s perspective.

            4. Leah*

              I have OCD and it has been rather severe, though with intensive treatment it’s gotten better. It still comes with a great degree of anxiety. My colleagues that I work with closely are aware of my condition.

              I am very judgmental of how Jack handled this, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be.

            5. Mb13*

              He pushed a coworker infornt of a moving car because he saw a bird. That’s I think counts as clearly not handelig it well. Not to dismiss those suffering from mental illness, but it’s not an all purpose shield that gets people out of dealing with any consequences.

          2. Gadfly*

            Seriously, if you are that panicked when you see birds, it is on you to figure out how to not injure people. And if it is that bad, you need to talk about accommodations to help manage that long before you severely injure a coworker.

              1. Mike C.*

                Having a mental health issue does not excuse harming others. I’m not sure why you aren’t acknowledging this.

              2. Dizzy Steinway*

                It sounds like you’re maybe taking this line of discussion personally. But someone can understand mental illness and also point out that there are times when we might need coping strategies – and that a professional may not be helping someone effectively. If someone sees no improvement in a phobia after two years, they need a new therapist.

                Most people with mental health problems are not dangerous to others, but Jack evidently does need some strategies for being around birds as he may also be putting himself at risk of harm.

                1. Dweali*

                  If he has had another reaction like this (hopefully without the bad outcome onto someone else) then I agree he definitely needs to look into different treatment options as well as a different therapist BUT if this is the first extreme reaction he’s had in a while (compared to his baseline pre-therapy) then finding a new therapist may not be necessary

                2. Kj*

                  Agreed! Just my opinion here, but phobias are a pretty quick fix in therapy, generally speaking. I’m also be concerned that maybe Jack isn’t doing his therapy homework- phobia treatment always has homework to work on phobias between sessions and if a client is not progressing, it can be a sign that the client’s isn’t doing homework. But a therapist can and should address that as a clinical issue. I’m concerned from what I’m reading that maybe Jack wasn’t taking his phobia seriously or that the therapist wasn’t taking an effective approach or maybe something else. But something is off about this.

              3. Leah*

                No. If you have a mental illness you have a responsibility to do as much as you can to keep it from affecting others.

                If you had a contagious illness, it might not be your fault and could be out of your control, but you still would have a duty to try not to infect others.

                1. Karen D*

                  No. If you have a mental illness you have a responsibility to do as much as you can to keep it from affecting others.

                  This has always been the way I’ve handled my own situation. I did everything I could, including therapy and medication. Then I asked for the accommodation I needed to get me the rest of the way. Jack did seek therapy; that’s good. But if his phobia was that severe, informing his employer in advance would seem to be mandatory, from a practical and moral standpoint even if it’s not strictly required by law. I am not saying that Jack should have said “Oh by the way, I might push co-workers into the path of oncoming cars” but “I completely lose control of myself” is certainly something his employer needed to know.

              4. Anonymous for mental illness*

                Jack’s panic isn’t his fault. Jack’s decision to push Liz, though, is.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @AdamV, I know you’re not saying this, but the way you’ve framed your response implies that people with certain mental illnesses lack the capacity to make conscious decisions.

                  I understand that you mean that Jack may have been in fight-or-flight mode, but let’s reframe the issue slightly. Let’s say Jack had PTSD with respect to certain loud noises, a car backfires, and Jack gets triggered. Would that absolve him of causing significant and potentially life-threatening bodily harm on another person? No. OP approached the situation with tremendous sensitivity to Jack’s challenges. But it’s entirely reasonable to let OP know that having a phobia does not insulate an employee, nor does it provide a reasonable basis for letting behavior that caused grievous physical harm to another person slide.

                2. Anonymous for mental illness*

                  Adam V: That’s true. Panicking definitely wasn’t a conscious decision, and running probably wasn’t, either. At the same time, when he needed to run, was that the only way to do it?

                  I’ve had that fight-or-flight reaction to anxiety triggers myself. I’m overall sympathetic to anyone who goes through that. But I think there is a little room for choice or accountability; there is room for considering an adult at least somewhat responsible for pushing somebody in front of a car.

                3. Mookie*

                  @AdamV, I know you’re not saying this, but the way you’ve framed your response implies that people with certain mental illnesses lack the capacity to make conscious decisions.

                  I disagree. Adam didn’t mention mental illness nor did he say anything about Jack lacking a normal human capacity. Everyone, at some point in their lives, has acted unconsciously without reason and intent. There is no reason to treat Jack differently here. Having a trigger does not imply abnormal capacity for self-control.

                  Likewise, Adam didn’t mention absolution. Sometimes, as you say, intent doesn’t matter in cases of negligence. Again, Jack can be treated here like anyone else. He recognizes that he has a phobia and anxiety, is in the process of treating it, and was not being negligent by being outside.

                4. Jesmlet*

                  When you accidentally touch something hot, you don’t think to remove your hand and then do it. I think what Adam is saying is this may be more in line with an autonomic nervous response to acute and unexpected stress. Jack probably did it without it even registering in his brain that it was happening until after.

              5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Hard disagree. Individuals with mental illness are not absolved from taking responsibility for the foreseeable consequences of their actions. It’s fine to sympathize with Jack and to want him to receive support, but it is not reasonable to frame this in terms of “fault” because that’s not the problem, here. The problem is an inability to cope with one’s phobia. That doesn’t make Jack a bad person, but it also doesn’t make it ok to push people in front of moving cars as a severe panic response to one’s phobia.

                1. Mike C.*

                  Yeah, this. Of course I want Jack to get help, but that doesn’t exclude Liz from being safe as well.

                2. Lablizard*

                  It isn’t his fault but as an accommodation, if I we’re him, would request solo travel or no travel. The odds of something like this happening again are slim, but birds are out there.

                  I am not sure how this would have gone down if it hadn’t been a co-worker who was knocked into traffic and instead a stranger walking by. Lawsuit with the company paying because he was on work travel, perhaps? Maybe something more serious of the stranger was convinced the push was deliberate? Now that I think on it, maybe no work travel is the wisest course?

                3. AD*

                  Seeing a bird right in front of him when he just happened to be outside, right next to Liz, was a foreseeable occurence?

                  Hard disagree with you there.

                4. Xay*

                  Seeing birds outside is not an unforeseeable occurrence. Walking next to someone or in a group is not an unforeseeable occurrence.

                5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @AD, your description is not an accurate characterization of what I said. I specifically said people are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their actions—that’s a legal standard. It has nothing to do with the bird, but rather, with whatever consequences might flow from Jack’s reaction to a situation that triggered his phobia. Again, it doesn’t matter what his intent was or that the phobia might be uncontrollable. It also doesn’t mean Jack is being deliberately cruel or careless.

                  A reasonably foreseeable consequence of pushing someone into the street, among other things, is that that person may be hit by a vehicle.

                6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Actually, upon reflection I think it’s totally foreseeable that if you’re outside, it’s likely that there will be birds and those birds may be near humans.

                  But parsing things to abstraction isn’t really helpful when it comes to figuring out how to move forward.

                7. AD*

                  @Princess You’ve characterized a really unfortunate accident as a foreseeable occurrence, which continues to make no sense to me. So all due respect but I’ll push back again. You’re more than welcome to take a hard line with Jack, if you want to. But the chain reaction described in the letter (Jack is surprised by seeing the bird, bumps/pushes/hits Liz aside unwittingly, Liz falls down, a car that is parking hits her) is not a foreseeable series of events on anyone’s part.

                8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  AD, I think you would find an entire body of case law that disagrees with you.

              6. Gadfly*

                Actually I have a LOT of experience, professional and personal and as an activist. And it is a big deal in most of those circles that if you have a disability of any kind, unless it is one that prevents you from being responsible for yourself so that you need a guardian, you need to be responsible for making sure your needs are known and that you are doing what you need to do for yourself to avoid doing things like this.

              7. Mira*

                I have had experience with mental illness. A mental illness is like any other chronic illness – it’s on you to manage your illness and minimise its impact on other people. In fact, it shouldn’t be impacting other people at all, but I accept that that’s not always possible. But that’s why we have treatment – and if two years of treatment still have you reacting that badly, then it’s on *you* to recognise that your treatment is not being effective, that you may pose a danger to others, and take steps to prevent that.

                I won’t debate whether or not he was in any shape to help her on the spot – he may not have been, if he was in the full grip of panic. But I admit I would be a lot more sympathetic if Jack had firstly informed his employer of his issue – come on, he has a bird phobia and birds are everywhere! It was only a matter of time before he came across a bird when out with a coworker or even by himself on company business.

                He should also have offered to pay for Liz’s medical bills, and sent her a heartfelt apology of his own accord, instead of having been made to do it by HR. His behaviour all-round screams out that he just didn’t care. And THAT, to me, is the real trouble-marker.

              8. Mira*

                Also, this may be a bit black and white – but putting this out there so there’s some perspective. If having a mental illness excused you from harming others, we wouldn’t lock away violent schizophrenics and psychopaths when they hurt other people.

              9. Relly*

                I have a mental illness. Having the mental illness isn’t my fault. If I hurt people because of my mental illness, that is my responsibility.

                Please do not act like people with mental illness are incapable of being held accountable for their actions. It’s insulting and infantilizing.

              10. Stitch*

                As the daughter of a pediatrician specializing in developmental issues and someone with a compulsive disorder, I find it appalling that people see this as a sort of get out of free card. My compulsions are mine to deal with and hurting someone else, no matter the reason, would not be okay. Phobias or not he is an adult who cannot severely injure others like that.

              11. jasper_red*

                So it’s perfectly acceptable to push someone in front of a car because of their mental illness? That’s certainly an interesting perspective to have.

                1. Josiah*

                  No one is saying that this is perfectly acceptable. What some of us are saying is that it could be an accident, and that accidents are different than assault.

                  It’s like — I think some people are reading this as similar to road rage, where someone gets really angry and decides to try to hurt someone with their car. I think it may be more like making a split-second driving mistake and accidentally hitting another car.

                  When people make split-second driving mistakes, or a coping strategy for avoiding panic fails, it shouldn’t be taken as a serious character flaw.

                2. jasper_red*

                  Okay, I see what you’re saying (I think the comment I was trying to respond to was more strongly worded than that though)…I don’t think the initial incident is a character flaw but rather his actions afterwards that speak to his character. Not even immediately afterwards but in the days that followed.

                3. Josiah*

                  I don’t think the initial incident is a character flaw but rather his actions afterwards that speak to his character. Not even immediately afterwards but in the days that followed.

                  I think that there’s a lot we don’t know about his actions in the days that followed, and the context for them. I think that there are a lot of possibilities, which have different implications. It may well be that he’s a jerk who doesn’t care who he hurts, but that’s not obvious from the information we have.

                  I think that it would be completely terrifying to be in that situation, and that there’s no clear good reaction.

                4. Xay*

                  I think a lot of people are using intent to minimize the outcome. Regardless of Jack’s intent, someone was seriously injured as a result of his phobia induced reaction.

                  You can have sympathy for Jack’s situation and acknowledge that he is directly responsible for Liz’s injuries. And just as Jack is coping with his phobia, Liz is coping with a broken arm and probably her own trauma and resulting mental health issues. Jack’s phobia doesn’t change the impact of his actions on Liz.

                  I understand why the company wouldn’t fire Jack and why Liz would refuse to return. But long term, the company does need to consider how they can accomodate Jack and what assistance they can provide to Liz.

              12. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                Dude. People in here who have mental illnesses are coming down on the side of Jack being culpable for his actions. Mental illness is not a ‘get out of responsibility free’ card.

              13. Temperance*

                Okay, no. This is not how it works. If you have mental health issues, it’s still on you to not impact others. He harmed another person quite severely, and we shouldn’t dismiss the seriousness of that just because he’s got a diagnosis.

          3. Tuxedo Cat*

            I agree with having better strategies… If he doesn’t, how will the work place handle this? Birds are really everywhere. If I had to go somewhere with Jack, I would be concerned for my own safety.

        2. Chocolate lover*

          We don’t know that Jack isn’t contributing to her medical bills.

          And “pulled something like this ” sounds like he did it intentionally, which is not the case.

        3. Dweali*

          We don’t know if the company or Jack are paying/not paying for any hospital bills. Just like we don’t know if Jack will end up facing a civil suit….none of that pertains to the OP’s question or is necessary info (and for the parts only affecting what Jack may or may not pay is none of OP’s business)….

        4. Kate*

          Yes!!! As a mentally ill person, the infantilization of the mentally ill is really getting to me in this thread. I might need to stop reading soon.

      2. mreasy*

        Absolutely fire a worker’s comp claim, and sure, sue Jack as well. But what you don’t do is quit your job and say you’ll come back only if another coworker is fired.

        This is a difficult situation for everyone, especially Liz. And Jack may feel ashamed and persecuted by the rest of the staff, as well. Perhaps he’s a