my staff keeps calling me when I’m off work, my anxiety caused a work problem, and more

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

1. My staff keeps contacting me when I’m off work

I am the assistant supervisor at a nonprofit animal shelter. I have a staff of about 18, with only 13 being scheduled a day for varying shift times. My issue is that when the supervisor and I are out of the office, whether that’s due to vacation, illness, or just regular days off, my staff constantly contacts me and the other supervisor. It’s mostly questions about things that could easily be answered/handled by someone else in the building, management or not. Sometimes it’s something urgent, but very rarely ever so. And sometimes it’s even at all hours of the day and night, like 3 a.m. to say they can’t make it to work in the morning, when there are clear guidlines on when they can contact us in that situation, which is at the earliest 6 a.m. Or they’ll contact us about schedule changes or switches, which is clearly something I cannot do when I’m at home.

I understand that I am their supervisor, but when they’re contacting me with issues that I can’t help them with while I’m not at the shelter, what am I supposed to do? Do I have to answer their texts and calls? I just wanted to know exactly what the precedent is on that and if I’m wrong for being annoyed that they can’t respect my personal time.

Working in an animal welfare organization can be very stressful, and it’s important for everyone (including supervisors) to have time to decompress. I don’t feel it’s unreasonable to ask that I’m not contacted when I’m off, especially when other upper management is there to address the situation. Am I being unreasonable here?

No, you’re not being unreasonable; this is a perfectly acceptable thing to expect.

However, you are being unreasonable if you’re expecting them to read your mind. As their manager, you need to clearly lay out your expectations about this stuff — as in, “When I am out of the office, you should contact Jane with questions about X and Fergus with questions about Y. The only time you should call me when I’m off work is if Z happens. Do you foresee any issues doing that? If so, let’s talk through them now.”

And then if they contact you when they shouldn’t, you say, “I’m off right now. Have you tried talking to a manager on duty?” and then you address it when you’re back at work — as in, “We’ve talked about what to do when you need a manager and I’m not at work. What went wrong yesterday that led to you calling me?”

That kind of follow-up is how you reinforce your expectations and get people to take them seriously. If you just keep letting people ignore the expectations you’ve laid out without having that “what happened?” accountability conversation later, you’re training them to think that it’s fine for them to interrupt you when you’re off.

2. My anxiety is causing problems at work

I have been working at my current job for a year. It is my first post-college job and my first full-time job ever besides an internship each summer I was in college. I struggle with anxiety and have worked really hard to make a good impression and keep my anxiety under control at work. It’s still causing problems though and has caused an incident I’m mortified and ashamed over.

I often stuggle with thoughts about people not liking me. I’m in therapy and on medication, but sometimes the thoughts overwhelm me and it’s one of the worst parts of my anxiety. The incident I’m talking about started when one coworker didn’t say goodbye to me when we were leaving for the day on a Friday. I obsessed about it all weekend. I tried to tell myself it would be fine because I would see her on Monday and she would return my greeting, but when I got in on Monday she wasn’t there and I found out she was off for the week. My anxiety went into overdrive even after a visit with my therapist. I was obsessing over what I did to upset or make her hate me.

Her pay stub had been dropped off at her desk and was still there because she was off work. I opened it so I could see her address and I went to her house. I don’t know what I was thinking and I didn’t have a plan. My coworker was angry. She came in even though she was on time off and told our manager and HR about me opening her pay stub and coming to her house.

I was reprimanded and sent to a different department to keep me away from my coworker. Everyone else knows what happened and I’ve heard people whispering and talking about it. I am mortified at myself. I’m not allowed to talk to my coworker or I would apologize for my behavior. She said she would call the police if I didn’t keep away from her. I can’t stop thinking about what happened and don’t know what to do going forward. I read your site every day and you are always non-judgmental and kind to people who write in about mental health issues. Do you have any advice for me?

I’m sorry you’re struggling with this — that kind of anxiety sounds really hard. Because this was a symptom of a clinical condition getting out of control, talk to your therapist and let her know that your current treatment isn’t working as well as you need it to. Say that the anxiety interfered with your life and work in a significant way, and ask what you can change up about your treatment to try to address it with more urgency.

And if you haven’t explained to your boss and/or HR that you’re in treatment and actively working to control your anxiety, that might be useful to do — not as an excuse, but as “I want to give you this context so that you know that I take this seriously and am working to control it.”

Read updates to this letter here and here.

3. Employee is upset I told her she couldn’t take an unpaid day off

I have an employee who has nearly used up all her holiday leave for the year. She recently asked for a week off which would include an unpaid day. I explained that we didn’t have enough staff to cover one of those days and also that unpaid days off should be requested for an emergency, as it is unfair to other staff who would also like extra days off but couldn’t afford to.

She has since then debated the issue, saying her boyfriend has already booked flights and she feels very unhappy at work. She has also recently had three weeks off recovering after an operation. I feel backed into a corner as I’d previously said no but that I understood her feelings. I don’t want my staff unhappy, but we have a set of policies so that everyone feels fairly treated. If I give in, how will it look to others? But also I know this employee talks about work negatively to other employees when they go for drinks after work. How should I respond?

The reason to deny the unpaid day off isn’t that it would be unfair to other staff who might not be able to afford their own unpaid days off. (People’s personal finances really shouldn’t enter into this kind of thing.) The reason to deny it is that, as you noted, you don’t have enough staff to cover on that day.

In general, if someone’s work and productivity is good, it’s good to be flexible with people. That’s part of how you keep good employees.

But in this case, there are coverage issues in play, so it’s reasonable to say, “We don’t generally offer unpaid days off, because we plan coverage assuming that you’ll be at work every day other than the X days you have in paid leave each year. We can do an unpaid day off in an emergency, but we wouldn’t generally do it to extend a vacation, especially if doing it would cause coverage issues.” It’s also reasonable to say, “We really need you at work. You’ve been out quite a bit recently — for understandable reasons, of course, but it doesn’t change that we do need you at work and not taking additional unpaid days off.”

And you can say, “I understand that you’ve already booked flights, but that’s why we ask people to get time off approved before making arrangements like that.”

As for her trash-talking work to other employees over drinks, the way you combat that is by being an aggressively good manager — transparent, fair, generous with feedback, setting clear expectations, addressing problems forthrightly, etc. Her complaints will hold a lot less water with coworkers if they can see for themselves how you operate.

4. What exactly is flextime?

I have just accepted a great new job offer and start next week. I’m taking a pay cut for this job but feel the future growth potential and amazing benefits make up for the loss in salary. One of those benefits is a flextime schedule. I know generally what this is and that it’s a pretty great benefit, but I’m confused about how flextime looks in action.

Does flextime refer to flexible working hours? Or does it mean you have the option to work remotely if desired? Will I have to establish my desired working hours ahead of time with my new boss? Or is it one of those things that I can just decide to work remotely the day of? I guess I’m wondering if it’s one of those things that I have to “ask permission” to utilize, or if the benefit of a flexible schedule is that I’m able to set my own hours and working location on my own terms.

Flextime usually means that you can pick your schedule as long as you’re there during certain core hours and working full-time hours. For example, you might decide to work 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. or 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. In some offices you can change it up every day, and in others you’re supposed to pick your schedule and stick to it. It doesn’t generally refer to remote work.

However, different companies use the term in different ways, and so you won’t know exactly what it means at your company until you ask. You can simply say to your boss, “Can you tell me how the flextime here works?” and “Do you prefer people work one set schedule, or do people flex their time differently from week to week?”

5. I don’t want to refer this stranger for a job

Somebody I don’t know personally recently reached out to me on LinkedIn and asked me to refer him as he felt he was a good fit for a job opening at my company, similar to the role I currently have. His portfolio link was broken, so I asked him for an updated link. I took a look at his portfolio and wasn’t impressed with his work, but I now realize that I don’t want to refer him because I don’t know him personally and can’t vouch for professional attitude or fit with the team. I don’t know how to backtrack since now he thinks that I will refer him based on his portfolio work, but I don’t want to be rude either. Is there a good way to gently let him down?

“My apologies — I was a bit on auto-pilot due to a hectic week, but now that I’ve had a chance to focus more on this, I realize that I can’t in good faith refer someone I haven’t worked with. But you’re welcome to simply apply directly, and I wish you the best of luck with it!”

He might still think that you changed your mind because of his portfolio but, well, you weren’t impressed with it. That’s part of the risk of he took in asking a stranger to consider vouching for him.

{ 697 comments… read them below }

  1. DataQueen*

    #2 – I am so sorry you are going through this. I also encourage you to go to HR and let them know as much as you’re comfortable with about your condition, your treatment plan, and the nature of your intentions with the incident. They might even be able to help with offering an EAP resource to get you additional or subsidized treatment! The way I’m reading this, your actions came from a place of kindness, but your disease chose to manifest that core kindness into actions you wouldn’t have chosen for yourself. So remind yourself that at the core, your intention was kindness, friendship, reconciliation – and your disease did the rest. The only thing you can do now is continue to take care of yourself, and kudos to you for recognizing that!

    1. Bagpuss*

      I agree with this. If you have not already spoken to HR about your medical issues and how they led to you acting inappropriately it would be sensible to do so.
      I think also it maybe worth considering whether you would feel comfortable with any of that information being given to your coworker, (Perhaps a very brief “[YourName] suffers from a medical condition resulting in extreme anxiety. She has advised that that was what triggered her actions in opening your mail and going to your home, as she was concerned that she had upset you and wanted to apologise / clarify. She has asked us to pass this information to you, with her apology, so that you are aware that this was a one off incident which she recognises was not appropriate, not part of a situation likely to escalate”)
      But obviously only do that if you feel comfortable with her having that information, and if HR agree that it would be appropriate in your situation.

      1. CityMouse*

        Would HR be willing to make that statement? That sounds like them making reassurance to coworker they have no basis to make. HR has no way of knowing if this was a “one off”.

        1. Thlayli*

          There is absolutely no indication that this is a one-off. OP has not indicated that she has changed her mental health treatment in any way so it is entirely possible this could recur (with this coworker or another) unless OP takes some urgent action to prevent recurrence.

          Alison’s advice is spot on – OPs first priority should be talking to her mental health provider to find some way to increase/improve treatment. I would also consider looking at other providers entirely.

          1. CityMouse*

            I think you articulated it better than I did. I don’t think OP is in a position to ask HR to do anything on his behalf here because he has given them no reason to trust him. He needs to earn trust from his employer and the best way to do so is not to make requests like the that seem to try to go around the no contact.

          2. Kate*

            Agreed: the first thing I thought was that #2’s treatment is not working. And this could actually be the opposite a one-off, because of the fallout from this incident, which is likely to make her even more conscious of how people at work are treating her. I think OP#2 should really try to get out of there. I would give the coworker a very, very wide berth and then get out of that company ASAP.

            OP #2, everyone makes mistakes. You’ll be surprised by how many people in the world are very compassionate, and how many are dealing with similar things. I hope you meet some of them soon.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          This would also make me feel paranoid as a coworker. Like, what doesn’t trigger OP? Am I a walking trigger? (I know that is not how anxiety works, but this is the pushback I often hear when folks interact with someone with anxiety who is not able to manage their response to their triggers, which sounds somewhat like what happened here.)

      2. Bunny*

        Hey, #2. Veteran of Extremely bad anxiety and depression here. I will not comment on your treatment. I will tell you about mine.

        There is a little beast in my brain that is hell bent on breathing fire and burning out the part of my brain that manages common sense.

        I found I had to go though several anti depressants to see which worked. I had to find the right psychiatrist, and it had to be an MD, to manage meds. I also had to talk myself off the ledge a lot. I still do.

        .Is this about me? Most often, the answer is no.

        .Thinking logically, is the person I think is angry at me even THINKING about me? Proabably not.

        .Can I think about this in 60 seconds? Look at your watch or phone timer and count. 60 seconds is a long time.

        .Can I write this out? I’ve kept a journal for over 35 years and no one reads it but me. You can pour out so much there.

        .Can I channel? Honey, I took up cycling, boxing, hiking…all the things I was scared to do. It helps. Now I just be myself but it took me 20 years to get here.

        Remember everyone is focused on themselves. We are a selfish species.

        That little beast is locked away by logic; he is fed by unreasonable emotion. Stop. Breathe. Say, not now, you stupid fire dude and wrap your hands and throw a jab or write an essay or go for a ride. Fire dude can’t keep up.

        1. Tobias Funke*

          I’m both a therapist and a member of the Anxiety Society and this is a fabulous post.

        2. Long time lurker*

          I am copying this comment to read again in moments where my anxiety is bad. Thank you.

        3. 2 Cents*

          Wonderful advice, and as an unwilling member of the Anxiety Society, I’m taking some of these for myself.

          I know it’s a Netflix show, but the main character on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt says at one point that you can tolerate anything for 10 seconds. Then you just move on to the next 10 seconds. It’s a silly show, but that advice has actually helped me when my anxiety tells me that I just can’t make it.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Something similar that helped me was a thing I read in Reader’s Digest years ago–a story about a guy who was stranded in the wilderness and injured. He got out and survived by taking ten steps at a time and only focusing on those ten steps. Then he would take ten more steps and only focus on those. He decided on a direction (following a water source, I think) and then he just went. Whenever I feel overwhelmed I think of this and tell myself, “Ten steps. Now ten steps more.” It also is a good mindfulness exercise, because you have to think about that moment and not what is ahead or behind.

            1. Angel*

              This is how I get through my new running program. I pick some landmark and tell myself I just have to run to that. When I reach it, I pick another landmark. On good days my landmarks are on the edge of the horizon. On bad days it might be the next store window. But just “reach this thing; that’s all” is so helpful for staving off the “THIS RUN IS SO LONG AND MY LEGS HURT AND I CAN’T BREATHE”.

              1. Bunny*

                I’m just starting a running program. I’m overweight, and wish…not to be. I’m going to remember this.

          1. Bunny*

            Lol, I just made that up. I was looking for a metaphor.

            BTW, OP, I’m a journalist who has to yell at the governor almost every day. You can do it.

            1. Another bureaucrat*

              Then I have another “thank you” to add. I’m especially thankful for journalists these days. You’re doing important work.

        4. Junior Dev*

          Great comment, as someone who also has anxiety.

          OP2, I want to emphasize three things I think you should do, as another person with anxiety.

          1. Tell your therapist what happened and make preventing future incidents like that a priority in your therapy.

          2. Write every day, in a way that is focused on debunking the lies of your jerkbrain. The Mood Gym program (use the Mood Space app if you have a smartphone) is good for this.

          3. Find an outlet to channel your feelings into. For me this is exercise, and I encourage you to take that up unless you know something else would be better. Something you can lose yourself in–running, swimming, biking, martial arts, roller skating. Something that will kick your butt so hard you forget about everything else. Do it at the same time every week and do it like your life depends on it.

        5. Cam*

          I call my anxiety a “Beast” as well. My motto is “Don’t feed the beast.” I repeat that to myself over and over again whenever I find myself starting to go down into a bad spiral. The beast loves those spirals and will only get bigger and, ironically, hungrier, the more I feed it. It’s helped me a lot to have this mantra to distract myself. I wish all of the best to you, LW. I hope your doctors and therapists can help you with your beast.

      3. Jamey*

        I don’t know about that statement from HR… There is a lot of stigma against mental illnesses. Hearing something like that may very well make the coworker feel more uncomfortable, more worried that it would escalate, scared that OP is “crazy”, etc.. ):

        (Please keep in mind that I too suffer from extreme anxiety and I am not trying to imply at all that I think those stigmas are okay or that the coworker would be right to think any of that! I’m just trying to picture how this could go and if a statement like that is meant to make the coworker feel better or ease her mind, that might not be what it does at all.)

        1. Anony*

          I think that the coworker is already scared. If someone tracks down your address and shows up at your house for no apparent reason, it is concerning and raising the question of whether this is the beginning of something larger. Being told that the person who did it realizes now that it was inappropriate and will not do it again (or try to make contact in another way) would be reassuring. Right now she is probably worried that the OP will still try to make contact.

          1. Jamey*

            But she might not hear “this person realizes now that it was inappropriate and won’t do it again” from that message. She might just hear “the person who did this is mentally ill” which could compound how scared she is about it due to the stigma against mental illnesses and the wide spectrum of people they describe.

            1. Chomps*

              Yeah. I have a history of social anxiety disorder and to be honest my response to that potential letter is “I’ve never creeped on people because of my anxiety, that’s not an excuse.” I realize that anxiety manifests differently in each individual and I am sympathetic to having an anxiety disorder, but I am not sympathetic to that being the excuse for doing something that’s so creepy and threatening.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            We also don’t know if OP will not do it again. I don’t think this is as reassuring as folks think it will be. A quasi-stranger showing up at your house because they opened your work mail is potentially terrifying, and it sounds like that was the effect on the coworker. Hearing that someone has a mental health issue that they do not fully have under control sounds, to me, like it’s more likely to stigmatize OP than it is to offer the coworker any peace of mind.

        2. Junior Dev*

          Yes and I understand OP knows what they did wrong so I’m not trying to pile on, but as someone who both has mental health problems and has been abused by people with mental health problems, you want to be very careful not to imply that abusive or creepy behavior is ok because it was motivated by mental illness. It would be useful to HR to know about the anxiety because it affects how the company responds to the incident. It would not be useful to the victim of OP’s harassment to hear the motivation behind it. OP needs to work on this problem in a way that places no responsibility on anyone they have harmed.

          1. anon for this*

            Yeah, this. I had a crazy guy (paranoid schizophrenic with a history of arrests and violence) follow me from my car to my work one day, and just get it in his head that we belonged together, and he started following me all around town and threatened my boss a couple of times. He ended up being involuntarily committed for several months, and I had gotten a different job by then, so I didn’t see him anymore.

            But the idea that his illness some how makes it “okay” or “not as bad” to violate huge personal boundaries is, in itself, terrifying.

        3. Trillian*

          The other problem with the statement from HR is that most people who have encountered boundary crashers have also encountered the helpful people who want to “fix the relationship” by pressing the person to “just give a little.” Having HR passing on communications might make the coworker start wondering what is coming next (and looking for a new job).

        4. Wintermute*

          I think you raise a very good point. You don’t want to turn this into them fearing for their safety, well any more than they already do because of the situation.

      4. Snark*

        “If you have not already spoken to HR about your medical issues and how they led to you acting inappropriately it would be sensible to do so.”

        What OP2 did crosses some big, fat, illuminated, flashing lines as far as professional conduct goes. Extreme anxiety is a really tough thing to deal with, and it would explain what she did, and even excuse it to a certain extent….but it was still such an incredibly unprofessional, borderline stalkerish thing to do that I don’t think the explanation undoes the act. So I think the time for privacy and discretion is long gone. I realize that this is the kind of thing a lot of people like to keep on the DL at work, but OP2 needs to be very forthcoming about why this happened and very transparent about what she’s doing to make sure this never happens again, ever, for any reason. And OP2 needs to make some concrete, real changes to make sure something like this never, ever happens again for any reason, and even if she has an anxiety attack this severe. I think they need to let HR and her boss know that she’s undertaken some aggressive changes in her mental healthcare, not just that she has anxiety and she’s sorry.

      5. Forrest*

        OP #2, do not do this. She’s requested no contact and HR was firm about that. Not only will HR think you’re not taking this seriously but if they do pass it along, it will most likely just upset the coworker more. She’s asked for no contact and if not saying good-bye results in you opening her pay stub and going to her house, she’ll wonder what you’ll do if she doesn’t respond to the apology.

        Leave her alone and be thankful you have a job still.

    2. Honest Question*

      >but your disease chose to manifest that core kindness into actions you wouldn’t have chosen for yourself

      I’m having trouble understanding this bit (sometimes I’m a bit literal-minded and don’t ‘get’ more subtle/complex languages, if you can call it that). I don’t see how what the LR did *wasn’t* an action she chose for herself? Since nobody told her to do it, she must have chosen it herself? I don’t want to sound aggressive but I’m having trouble wording it politely *and* trying to get across what I mean.

      1. EleonoraUK*

        The anxiety had her do something that she’d never choose to do if she wasn’t in an anxious stage – i.e. the mental health issue overrode her usual judgment.

        1. CityMouse*

          You have to be really really careful in drawing a line between actions that make you more inclined to do something and actions in which your judgment has been so impaired you are incapable of making judgment. While situations in #2 exist it can be harmful to misidentify #1 as #2. I know this is soap box-y but it is part of mental health stigma to paint all mental health issues as making one incapable of judgment.

          1. EleonoraUK*

            Oh absolutely – couldn’t agree more, I was just trying to clarify what I think they meant by the phrase.

            It’s a very slippery slope, and I think we can all agree that the OP was responsible, but probably did make some calls in the throws of anxiety that she wouldn’t have made on a good day, or she wouldn’t be as mortified as she sounds in her letter. It’s an explanation, not an excuse.

        2. Honest Question*

          I see. I have a mental issue of my own, but it’s of the ‘I am’ sort rather than the ‘I have’ sort, if that makes sense.

          1. Snark*

            Is it any more helpful to exhaustively dissect each others’ word choice and call each other out when our phrasing is insufficiently woke? Because seriously, this is becoming a major problem in these comments, and it’s off-topic and judgmental. If someone is expressing prejudiced, harmful, problematic sentiments, by all means call ’em out, but I think it’s time to stop wasting space debating semantics and give each other the generous benefit of the doubt.

      2. Dweali*

        think about it like if you’re inebriated. Drunk you might be willing to kneel in wet while puking in the bar toilet but sober you is sitting there while your doing the action going “man I hope this is clean water…so gross…tomorrow’s hangover is going to be so fun..etc”…I’m still responsible for the actions but anxious me is overriding “normal” me and all normal me can do is scream at myself in the background “stop..what are you doing…this is bad…etc”….or maybe I’m more weird than I thought and am the only one who feels like it’s 2 different versions of myself in one body

        1. glor*

          Oh, no, it’s definitely not you. Usually for me it’s “emotional me” and “logical me.”

          1. Dweali*

            Thank god, you have no idea…actually you probably do (and one less thing I can mark off my list of being anxious about)…the relief that it’s not just me :-)

    3. kms1025*

      OP #2 – I want to say this in the kindest way possible. Sometimes an apology only makes the one apologizing feel better, not the one being apologized to. Everyone screws up and makes mistakes and ideally is able to talk those mistakes out and apologize and move on with life. Sometimes though, mistakes are so harmful to the other party that the best thing you can do is abide by their wishes and vow to yourself to learn from this and never do it again. Talk to your therapist, share with HR if you feel that they need a little backstory, but please stay away from this co-worker. You probably risk further disciplinary actions if you attempt to contact them in any way as the company has already gone to certain lengths to separate you two. Learn from this, seek further treatment, grow from it and move on. Good luck to you.

      1. Howdy Do*

        Exactly, if I were the co-worker, I would feel like an explanation or apology (either from LW or through HR) is just more unwanted contact and would just extend my discomfort. It sucks for the LW that they can’t give their sincere apology but really the best way to make up for what they did is to continue seeking effective treatment and try and prevent doing anything like this to someone again.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This is one of those times where doing exactly what Coworker asks IS your apology.

    4. George Willard*

      On the “core kindness” line: I think we all have to be pretty careful about assuming that invasive behaviors and insisting that someone follow your rules of friendship/ever be your friend are any sort of kindness.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, I have a lot of sympathy for the OP but I’m not seeing that this is an action borne of kindness–it was reassurance-seeking behavior, which isn’t about the welfare of the other person.

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          That’s how I see it too. I am sure the OP is sincere in feeling mortified, but the entire incident was based on the OP’s anxiety-driven need to help *herself* feel better.

            1. Kathleen Adams*

              Depending on my previous impression of the OP, I’d be a. very nervous, b. traumatized, or c. absolutely freakin’ freaked out.

              Seeing as the coworker started calling for police intervention, I’m guessing she’s either b or c.

            2. Snark*

              Male or not, if someone opened my pay stub and physically came to my address to demand accountability after I forgot to say goodbye Friday afternoon, I’d be alarmed to the point of wanting to physically defend myself.

        2. Oryx*

          Yes, as someone who also suffers from anxiety that sounds similar to the OP’s this is most definitely reassurance seeking behavior.

          1. Anon55*

            Agreed. My husband is a surgeon and he had a patient start suffering from a type of health anxiety some time after he operated on her. Because there was the placement of a foreign object involved, the patient would get very upset thinking that it was causing some sort of problem/was malfunctioning/etc. This situation is obviously very different from the OP’s coworker in that it’s part of his job to answer calls at all hours and whatnot, so I can see why the coworker was so upset. In any event, as an anxiety sufferer myself, I’m wishing the OP all the best with their treatment and hope the situation improves for everyone!

        3. Blue Anne*

          Yes. Exactly.

          I have just recently taken the step of blocking someone on all social media. She was just trying to connect, but in a way that made me feel stalked and pressured. (And while she’s important to others in my life, she’s not someone I chose to have in my own life.) I know she has mental health issues and I have a lot of sympathy. But that doesn’t mean it’s my job to make allowances for her inappropriate behaviour.

          I totally get what the OP is going through, but I deeply sympathize with their colleague. This action coming from a place of kindness doesn’t make it less alarming.

        4. Snark*

          Agreed. I feel a lot of sympathy for OP, and for anxiety in general, but that doesn’t mean her actions were necessarily motivated by any essential kindness.

        5. Howdy Do*

          I guess this “kindness” distinction is less “she was doing it to be nice to the co-worker” which is obviously not quite accurate but more to clarify she wasn’t doing it out of anger and didn’t intend to attack the co-worker (but I don’t think that distinction would really matter much to the co-worker who was sufficiently freaked out regardless of the LW’s intent.)

      2. DataQueen*

        I guess the point I wanted to make was that the emotional goal was friendship, which is a kind thing, but the manifestation of that was in this reassuring behavior that her disease chose to do. Those things she did weren’t kind, but if she wasn’t struggling with mental illness, she would have gone about her problem – asking a coworker if their relationship was okay – in a ‘normal’ way. Mental illness manifests itself in a way that you can’t control, and the goal of therapy/counseling/medication/whatever treatment is to stop your illness from taking over.

        1. Snark*

          “I guess the point I wanted to make was that the emotional goal was friendship”

          Don’t see it.

          1. Susanne*

            No, it doesn’t matter that the “emotional goal was friendship.” If a woman wrote in to Alison and said, “For whatever reason, I neglected to say goodbye to my coworker Bob on Friday, and he opened my paystub, found my house and tracked me down,” we’d be advising her not only to tell HR, but possibly to call the police and inquire about a restraining order and take whatever self-protective steps are necessary. It’s a big problem for women that men believe they are “entitled” to friendship (and sometimes more) from women — it doesn’t become less of a problem if a woman believes she is “entitled” to friendship from another woman. I appreciate the OP’s anxiety, but she had a choice in the moment – to call her therapist and process her feelings, or to find a paystub and stalk her coworker.

        2. fposte*

          I don’t think I agree with most of this, though; the goal isn’t friendship, it’s to be well thought of, and if mental illness were truly uncontrollable that would mean a lot of people shouldn’t be in the workplace who really should be.

          I’m not saying it’s as simple as “Just say no”; anxiety drives are hard to negotiate, as are other emotional and cognitive distortions. But being completely unable to stop your anxiety from this kind of behavior is the exception and not the rule.

        3. Observer*

          I know that you are coming from a place of kindness, but in addition to what others are telling you, you need to realize something else. For most people dealing with extreme anxiety all of the reassurances that they really “can’t help it”, “didn’t choose this” etc. are counter productive. Because one of the problems with anxiety (and a number of other mental health issues) is that you tend to see things in the bleakest terms, and in term the least cognizant of your own abilities and agency. When someone like that hears these kinds of comments it really discourages the effort to change things.

          Dealing with anxiety is VERY HARD work. The main thing that keeps people going is the conviction that they will be better off if they get a handle on it and that they CAN somehow find help, even if it takes a long time and all that effort. Hearing that “you can’t help it” undermines that conviction.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yes, this. As someone with a different mental health diagnosis than anxiety, it makes me really anxious (no disrespect or pun intended) when people talk about “it’s the disease doing it.” It is often a crap ton of work to try to manage mental health issues and their manifestations. And those manifestations may be informed/driven by the diagnosis. But that doesn’t mean that people with mental health triggers are completely devoid of agency or responsibility.

            I am so sympathetic to OP, but I don’t think we’re providing the right kind of support if we try to excuse OP. We have to strike a balance between empathy, support, and accountability. There’s not been a pile-on because it’s clear that OP understands what they did was beyond the pale, and it’s not helpful to rub that in. But what OP did is such a severe boundary violation that I think they’re very lucky not to have been fired. If I were the coworker, I would be freaked the everloving eff out.

            JuniorDev said it really well upthread:

            as someone who both has mental health problems and has been abused by people with mental health problems, you want to be very careful not to imply that abusive or creepy behavior is ok because it was motivated by mental illness.

            1. fposte*

              Yes, to me there are a lot of parallels to the biting letter. I have a ton of sympathy for the grip of anxiety or the grip of impotent rage, but somebody who can’t keep themselves from doing this fairly extraordinary act is somebody whose future actions can’t be predicted to be safe.

                1. Observer*

                  Of course, no one is saying that this is something that cannot be changed. What they ARE saying is that until someone seeks out, finds and USES effective help / therapies / treatments, they are unpredictable in ways that are legitimately frightening for reasonable people.

                2. JarofBees*

                  I have no problem saying that people can improve behaviors with professional help, but since OP hasn’t received sufficient help to interact safely with coworkers at this point, my risk-averse inner lawyer is screaming “This person is a major liability/ risk to coworkers’ ability to feel safe in the workplace as-is.” In our VERY lawsuit avoidant office, we would strongly encourage her to go out permanently on disability and seek full-time mental health care. Again, we’re pretty extreme about safety- this would not fly or be necessary everywhere).

        4. Oryx*

          I don’t think we can say the goal was friendship. Instead, the goal seemed to be wanting to make sure the OP’s co-worker wasn’t mad at them. That’s not the same thing as friendship.

          I say this as someone with anxiety that mirrors the OP’s. My anxiety has at times put me in positions where I obsess over the littlest actions (or non actions) and infer “OMG so and so doesn’t like me” (this is why I hated dating). Even at work, where I keep very clear and distinct lines between professional life and personal life, I will worry about whether or not someone likes me — even when I don’t want to be friends with them. Hell, I don’t want to be Facebook friends with any of my co-workers but I want them to like me and to think well of me and in the past, sometimes my anxiety will read a completely innocuous situation as evidence that So and So doesn’t like me.

        5. Chomps*

          @DataQueen-As others have said, I don’t think the goal was friendship, i think the goal was to get the coworker to reassure OP that coworker doesn’t hate OP.

        6. So Very Anonymous*

          I get what you’re saying, but even “asking a coworker if their relationship was okay” because that coworker didn’t say goodbye to you on a Friday is still an overreach, and it’s going to make the coworker feel pressured.

    5. lost in my mind*

      and for those of us with no HR department?
      Do you know how difficult it is to actually get mental health care in the US?
      I had a massive meltdown last week and have been desperately seeking help since then to no avail…
      My next step is the ER but I’m afraid I’ll be taken into a looney bin …

      1. Janice in Accounting*

        I am so sorry you’re struggling. I hope you can find the help you need, and from personal experience I know how difficult it can be to find that help. Some faith-based groups offer counseling services on a sliding-fee scale, if that is an option for you.

    6. Free Meerkats (formerly Gene)*

      “Came from a place of kindness”? I don’t see how you possibly got that.

      This was totally self-reassuring behavior driven by inner feelings and thoughts that coworker didn’t like her and she’d “done something” to alienate her. With NO evidence beyond “She didn’t say goodbye of Friday.”

      Imagine it from the POV of the coworker. Relaxing at home on a week off, chilling with a cup of coffee or glass of wine, cat in lap, binge watching >show of choice<. All the sudden, a coworker appears at your door asking "Why don't you LIKE ME?!?!?!?!!!!! I had to open your paystub to find out where you live so I could track you down!” I’m likely over dramatizing here, but as the coworker has threatened to call the cops in LW2 comes near her and the way the LW describes her mental state, probably not by much.

      LW2 was SO far over the line here. It appears in her letter that she realizes this; but I don’t see anything to assure me that it or something similar wouldn’t happen again.

      The only advice I have for the LW is to echo Alison; your treatment regimen isn’t working, you need to do something different.

    7. nonymous*

      what might be helpful is a letter from OP#2 psychiatrist (a prescription writing MD) noting that this incident was caused by a medical condition and that (1) the MD is aware of and monitoring treatment/intervention and that (2) OP is taking necessary medical steps to address safety of those around them, but reports of troubling behavior can be passed along via supervisor/HR to MD as intervention.

      Speaking from my own experience with relatives and acquaintances who have faced mental illness, it is challenging as an observer to identify what intervention will help. I can only imagine that trying to navigate from the inside would be exponentially harder, and knowing there is an experienced professional that is addressing these issues in an objective manner may go a long way to demonstrating accountability.

      It’s definitely a tough cookie to balance the safety needs of staff with well-intentioned-but-scary interactions due to mental health issues. And I think it says a lot about the employer that they are choosing to walk the line of management instead of circling pitchforks to punish. This could easily be a fireable issue in many workplaces.

  2. Sami*

    Oh OP#2: I’m so sorry you’re having such a difficult time with your anxiety. I sympathize because I know the struggle. Alison’s advice is excellent as usual. I wish you well.

  3. Ramona Flowers*

    #2 Being in a situation where people are talking about something you did sounds really hard given what you’ve told us about how your anxiety affects you. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.

    I don’t know what kind of therapist you’re seeing in particular, but it might be helpful to look specifically at coping mechanisms for situations in which your anxiety spirals – what can you do instead of obsessively seeking reassurance, which is what you were doing when you opened the pay stub?

    The problem with reassurance is that it’s kind of like an addiction. You might get a brief fix – say you worry that someone dislikes you, then you see them and they say hello – but that only lasts so long and then you’re back needing another fix of reassurance.

    I know it feels like reassurance will help. But it can be more helpful to find ways to deal with that craving for reassurance. For example, cognitive behaviour therapy can teach you techniques for this. Some people find it helpful to do breathing exercises or mindfulness-based stress reduction or make a self-care kit with helpful items, for example. The really key thing is not to focus on reassurance, but what to do instead of seeking it so you have more tools in your toolbox.

    We have a rule against armchair diagnosis which I am wary of breaking, but I did just want to mention that some people have these kinds of intrusive worries as part of generalised anxiety and some people have them as part of OCD – just because it would be worth checking if you have the right diagnosis and are getting the most helpful kind of treatment.

    1. TL -*

      I’m seconding going immediately to your therapist and talking about what happened and asking for more specific interventions or maybe a referral or deeper check-in. People forget to say hello/goodbye all the time and in your working life, there is going to be at least one person who doesn’t really care for you for no reason other than y’all don’t click.
      It’s an immediate need in your life to have coping mechanisms for this and this needs to be a focus of your treatment options. I would definitely talk to your manager and HR but also mention that you’re pursuing more aggressive treatment options, which can be “my therapist now knows this is top priority for me and this is all we’re working on.”

      1. Natalie*

        I may be totally projected, but when speaking to your therapist, OP, make sure you are giving specific details of what happened. They need to know to be able to help you. When I was getting anxiety treatment, I had a tendency to elide the facts of a particular incident or encounter and talk about the (generally incorrect) assumptions and conclusions I had made. After a while, my therapist figured out that she had to ask pretty pointed questions, but if she hadn’t I don’t think the treatment would have gone anywhere. Retelling the narrative your anxious brain has concocted for you just reinforces it, it doesn’t really help much.

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          And please rest assured that no decent therapist will judge you. They’re there to help you and the more they know, the more they can help.

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Oh, this is a good point. I realized a while back that therapy wasn’t doing much for me because one of my anxiety coping mechanisms is to fake being more okay than I am–I put on a shiny happy face so that people will like me, basically. And… I was doing it with my therapist, downplaying the ugly, painful things going on with me in favor of a likable shell. Until I was honest, even about the ugly, nasty, painful bits, the places where I didn’t behave well, the unlikable surly paranoid irrational parts of me… all my therapist could really do was tap on the shell. (It still takes me several sessions with a new therapist before I feel safe enough to drop the shell, but at least now I know I need to do it to get better.)

          1. Oryx*

            I really want to go back to therapy but I’m not yet at a point where I can drop the shell.

          2. Natalie*

            Yep, I spun my wheels for probably a year before my therapist learned to be more direct. In retrospect she and I probably weren’t the greatest fit that could have ever been, but after that first year it was at least productive in many ways, rather than just being an expensive chat session.

    2. Anonymous This Time*

      I think you need to talk to your therapist as soon as possible. You may need to try a new approach in therapy. There are some techniques that you can learn to help you deal with this type of anxiety and make it less unpleasant.
      I have several family members with serious mental illness and they’ve developed techniques to deal with symptoms that aren’t necessarily going to go away, but will negatively affect their lives if they act on them. One is to recognize thoughts that are likely to be a symptom of the illness and to wait a specified period of time before acting on the thoughts. During this time, you can determine whether those actions are something that is within the social norm. Another is to remove yourself from situations where you’re likely to behave in a manner (for instance, if this happens again it may be best to go home early) that would cause other people to become concerned. It sounds like you made the decision to open your coworker’s paystub and go to her house somewhat impulsively. Having yourself wait, say 24-48 hours before you take action may be helpful at avoiding these situations.

    3. The Queen of Cans & Jars*

      “The problem with reassurance is that it’s kind of like an addiction. You might get a brief fix – say you worry that someone dislikes you, then you see them and they say hello – but that only lasts so long and then you’re back needing another fix of reassurance.”

      Wow, I have never seen it described in this way, and it is 100% spot on.

      1. Liz T*

        Agreed. Especially sometimes, inevitably, we’ll encounter a person who doesn’t particularly like us.

    4. Ann O. Nymous*

      Totally agree with your last paragraph – I have mild, heavy-on-the-O-and-light-on-the-C OCD (used to be quite worse, but through therapy and medication it’s mostly under control), and the basic thought processes expressed in OP’s letter sound VERY familiar. Again, I know we aren’t supposed to armchair diagnose, but as Alison said, clearly her current therapeutic path isn’t working and I think it’s definitely worth asking a therapist about.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Last time armchair diagnoses came up, Alison distinguished between a brief suggestion based on the writer’s description of themselves (might be helpful to consider) vs of some third party (way too little info). And it really helps to be working off one’s own intimate experience with a condition like OCD rather than remembering having read something once about it.

    5. Jaybeetee*

      I very much agree with this idea – I don’t have clinical levels of anxiety myself, but I’ve dealt with some very stressful situations in my life that resulted in “spinning” – basically obsessively ruminating about the problem(s) and wearing myself down (and driving my friends and family nuts because I can’t think/talk about anything else) without really getting anywhere in terms of a solution. It’s an awful place to be, because even you know at a certain point it’s not good, healthy or productive, but unless you already have some techniques in place, it’s very hard to stop. OP2 and her therapist need to focus more on what to do when she starts “spinning” and can’t get the reassurance/solution she wants to a situation. I’m pretty understanding of mental illness, but I’d be freaked out to hell if a colleague actually came to my door because I hadn’t said goodbye to her a few days earlier. That’s a pretty serious spin, and she needs a way to put the brakes on that at least for her own well-being. It’s not a fun place to live.

    6. NPOQueen*

      And some techniques work better than others, you have to just try them and figure out what works. My therapist tried visualizations, breathing exercises, and meditation, but none of that worked for me. Then she gave me a smooth stone from her desk, and told me to focus on describing it to myself. I found that holding something physical and thinking about it’s physical characteristics took me out of the panic.

      OP, once I found out on a Friday afternoon that I’d made a $20,000 mistake. I fussed and fretted over it all weekend, thinking about how to tell my boss about my mistake. I almost sent him a text in the late hours of the night, when my anxiety is at it’s worst. Luckily I have friends who talked me down from that ledge, so your support group is invaluable, if you have one. I cried and fussed and fretted at them and they just listened, while being sure to give me logical, reasonable advice. I told my boss on Monday and it was barely a blip in his day. The things that bother us so much might not even be noticed by other people, and when your anxiety drives you to do something, remember to ask if it’s for their benefit, or your own?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It’s hard to find good solutions late at night. Lizard brain seems to be in high gear at that time of day.

        It’s actually useful to know this. While I do not have OP’s level of concerns, I have had life stresses. I made 9-10 o’clock at night my cut-off point for thinking about life issues because of Lizard Brain reasons. What happened next was surprising. I found that I actually enjoyed that time. I had an excuse to take a time out from all the crap in life. “Whoops, 9 pm. Well, can’t do anything about it now. No point to thinking on it. Get some rest and it might be clearer in the morning.” I typed it out pretty fast there, but it took me a while to actually believe it and do it. I had lots of fails before I started sleeping at night.

        Which brings me to my question, OP, are you getting any sleep? If I became that upset, I think I would not be sleeping, which, in turn, would mess up my thinking.

    7. Turtle Candle*

      Speaking as a sufferer of severe anxiety with comorbid panic disorder, this is spot on. And it’s not just that reassurances don’t last–you end up needing more and more reassurance for the same worry. One of the reasons that I got therapy was that at the beginning I would ask my husband occasionally if he was upset with my (my social anxiety manifests as a fear that people are upset with me and just hiding it really well, and I have an irrational terror of being disliked). That was bearable. But I ended up needing more and more reassurance more and more frequently until (this is embarrassing to admit, but true) I needed a lot of reassurance multiple times a day.

      Finally, when I said, “Are you upset with me?” one more time, he told me gently but very firmly that he wasn’t but that he would be if I kept asking incessantly. That was a turning point where I realized that my medication and coping mechanisms were no longer doing the job acceptably and that I needed a different therapist and more aggressive treatment. (Which helped immensely, thankfully.) Because it feels like the reassurances make you ‘better’ when you’re in that headspace… but they can actually be making you worse by giving you an unreliable crutch.

      1. anon for this*

        Seconded. I have some OCD and , for a while, I would lean on asking my husband things instead of doing my usual physical check (ex., telling myself, see it’s fine that you didn’t go check all the knobs on the stove and touch them to make sure they are off — because you just ask your husband every single night if the stove is off.) Took me awhile to figure out it actually wasn’t fine….

  4. AnonyMouse*

    #2 – I’m so sorry that you’re struggling with anxiety . I second Alison’s suggestion to talk to HR and/or your manager. You don’t have to give a lot of detail, but it would be helpful context. You might also add that you know you can’t talk to your coworker and will respect that, but ask if HR can convey your apologies (then leave it at that), if that helps you feel like you’ve done what you can to close the loop. I know this incident is mortifying — I’d feel that way in your shoes — but for now, focus on doing good quality work and being a good employee. With time, this will hopefully fade into the back of people’s minds, as you build a reputation for the great work that you do.

    Anxiety is a beast. Please be kind to yourself, and that includes not beating yourself up for this over and over again. I’m rooting for you!

    1. all aboard the anon train*

      I actually think having HR convey OP’s apologies might do more harm than good. Apologizing just so the OP can close the loop doesn’t seem genuine. The coworker said she didn’t want any contact with the OP, and I think reaching out with an apology, even though a third party, would disrespect her wishes and the situation she found herself in. An apology for the sake of the OP’s remorse, no matter how genuine the OP may be about it, puts the burden back on the coworker, and that’s not fair.

      If the coworker was unnerved enough to say she’d call the police if OP approached her, then there’s a good chance that she might not want someone speaking to her in place of the OP either. Apologies can sometimes be great, but sometimes they can make things worse, and if the coworker doesn’t want to hear or accept an apology (and honestly, they have every right not to), I don’t see that helping the OP’s anxiety. I don’t see it helping the coworker who has to deal with the OP trying to contact her again, either.

      The OP seems genuinely upset and knows what she did is wrong, but I think this is one of those situations where an apology has to be forgotten at the moment.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        +1. This type of loop is also not really possible to close and attempting to do so could actually escalate the OP’s anxiety.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          +2. It could also very easily escalate the anxiety of the coworker whose pay stub the OP opened.

          I don’t necessarily mean ‘anxiety’ in a technical sense here, but even if that coworker doesn’t have generalized anxiety disorder as a mental health problem — and she might; we wouldn’t have any way to know whether she does or not and neither does the OP — it can be pretty damn scary to have a random colleague show up unexpectedly at your house while you’re on vacation, and let you know that they found out your home address by breaking into your paycheck in the office!! The OP knows that they only did it out of a craving for reassurance due to their anxiety disorder, and meant no harm… but the coworker doesn’t necessarily know that, and doesn’t necessarily have any reason to feel certain it’s true even if told.

          The coworker may well be afraid that she’s being stalked. That’s not the OP’s intention, of course; but the problem is that anything the OP could do which involves ANY form of communication, whether direct or indirect, is going to reinforce that fear. Right now, the coworker has drawn a firm boundary: no communication. If that boundary is violated, the OP isn’t just the coworker who broke into her paycheck to find out her address and showed up at her door; they’re the coworker who did all that *and* then violated her boundaries when told to leave her alone.

          That looks even more like a potential stalker than the first incident alone does. And it’s really not the person the OP wants to be known as, around the office.

          The best apology a person can make to someone who feels that they were stalked or harassed is absolute silence, unless/until the coworker herself chooses to break it. She may do that someday or she may never do it; but either way, the OP needs to find a way to be okay with the whole situation despite a lack of closure via interaction with the coworker.

          1. Stellaaaaa*

            It’s also likely that the coworker had her own feelings about the OP even before all of this happened. It’s not one incident that happened to a bunch of blank-slate people. The coworker had already made the decision to not befriend OP, hence the lack of acknowledgement, which was either deliberate or accidental (which still indicates that OP isn’t on her radar as a friend). It doesn’t help that this story ticks off a lot of boxes for popular media depictions of stalking and serial killers. I am 100% not tarring OP with that brush, but I think he needs to focus on understanding the coworker’s reactions to his actions instead of trying to get her to change her mind. All she did was ignore someone for two or three seconds, and this was perceived as the loss of a friendship relationship that never existed in reality. I can think of quite a few SVU and Criminal Minds episodes that start that way. Again, I absolutely don’t think OP would have done her harm, but I think he needs to accept that he accidentally acted out a scenario that women are trained to fear. Insisting that he only acted that way because his mental illness is not under control…that’s not something that the coworker needs to know. It will just make her more scared.

            1. Ramona Flowers*

              Woah, how did you get from “didn’t say goodbye” to “decision not to befriend”?

              We know the coworker didn’t say goodbye. We don’t know why. Neither does OP, who needs techniques to cope with that not-knowing.

              I agree with some of what you say, but let’s not make assumptions. All we know is that they didn’t say goodbye.

              1. Stellaaaaa*

                I say goodbye to people I am good friends with. Based on the fact that she walked right by the OP without saying anything, we can presume that they are not friends and that she is not particularly interested in speaking with OP. It’s a neutral thing. I know many perfectly decent people that I am nonetheless not friends with.

                1. CityMouse*

                  I am particularly good friends (we spend time together outside of work) with a coworker but I don’t always say goodbye. Sometimes I have a train to catch or she is on the phone or whatever. It is totally normal.

                2. Tau*

                  Or maybe she didn’t hear or notice OP, or was in a tearing hurry or otherwise severely distracted and didn’t think on it until later, or had a horrible migraine and was afraid to open her mouth for fear of throwing up, or has a speech disorder and couldn’t get out the word “goodbye” until it was too late to be of use*, or…

                  There are a lot of reasons someone might not say goodbye on one specific occasion without needing to jump to “actively decided they didn’t want to talk to OP”. I don’t think encouraging the OP to extrapolate about the entire relationship from a single action is particularly helpful, considering what she’s said about her struggles.

                  * this one is a regular cause of what could easily be perceived rudeness/ignoring people on my part, FWIW.

                3. Stellaaaaa*

                  If you’re decently friendly with a coworker and feel the need to reach out to them outside of work, would you resort to opening their sealed paystubs and going to their homes, since in this narrative you don’t already know where they live? Or would you just shoot your work-friend a text message? Think about why OP was unable to send a text message. They simply were not close.

                4. CityMouse*

                  I agree, there is no indication coworker was friend with OP. But I doubt her choosing not to say goodbye was a conscious decision to not talk to OP or she had made a decision not to be friends with OP. At most jobs I have had default is friendliness but not outside if work friendship unless you become better friends over time.

                  Of course I don’t really think this matters at all. Coworker is in no way at fault for what OP did. There is no indication she has done anything wrong or mean in the slightest.

                5. AlsoAnon*

                  I understand what you’re getting at and don’t understand the reaction you’re getting. If OP had no other way to reach Coworker (anxiety or not) then it adds an extra layer of violation/weirdness to the fact that OP showed up at Coworker’s house during off hours. It doesn’t mean Coworker had a pre-existing hatred for OP or didn’t say goodbye on purpose. It just means there’s that much less familiarity there, which would make the situation even more disconcerting for Coworker. It seems pretty simple really….

                6. Kate*

                  Most people exchange pleasantries with all the people they encounter at work. It goes back to the “be nice to the receptionist” lesson that was so illuminating to the kid from last week who thought the CEO cost him his job. In this case, OP 2’s coworker didn’t exchange those pleasantries. There are lots of possible reasons why- she probably was just preoccupied with something. But it makes a lot of sense that a person experiencing anxiety issues would take that as a sign that the person hated them or was angry with them. And that would be the case even if she viewed that person as an acquaintance, not a friend. the letter doesn’t say “I thought she was my friend” or anything along those lines. The issue here is that OP took something very personally that probably wasn’t personal- not “perceived the loss of a friendship.”

                7. Susanne*

                  I call nonsense on that, Stellaaaa. Do you line up all your coworkers that you are friendly with and make sure you say goodbye to them every single day? If they are in the bathroom, or on a phone call with a client, do you wait patiently til they are through so you can make sure you say goodbye? What if you’re on the phone til the very end, and you have to leave at a certain time to make your train – do you take a later train just so you can go around and say goodbye to your coworker friends?

                8. Forrest*

                  I can easily see myself not responding to a coworker’s good-bye other than I don’t like them. Often I’m in my head, thinking about what I did today that I need to follow-up on tomorrow.

                9. Anion*

                  I don’t necessarily agree re saying goodbye to work friends, but I DO think that you’re probably much less likely to freak out when a co-worker you feel warmly toward shows up at your house than when a co-worker you don’t care for does the same.

                  If someone you like appears, you’re usually happy to see them, not demanding to know how they got your address.

                  Granted, the co-worker could have been fine until they were told about the paycheck stub (couldn’t the OP have gotten her phone number and called instead?), but even then, we tend to view the actions of people we like as being less creepy than those of people we don’t. Or we’re maybe more likely to forgive the privacy violation from someone we like, or at least forgive it to the point of not making a special trip to work while on vacation in order to officially complain.

                  I dunno, but that doesn’t seem like the action of someone who basically likes the address-finder; it seems like the action of someone who is not crazy about the address-finder to begin with, or is at least merely ambivalent toward them.

              2. Myrin*

                @Stellaaaaa, I feel like this might be a situation where you extrapolate from what you do to what everyone else does.

                I’ve been in dozens of situations where I didn’t say goodbye to people I’m friends with. Off the top of my head, these all happened several times: I was with a group of friends and said goodbye to them as a group, only later realising one of them wasn’t there and hence didn’t get a goodbye; I was ill and could barely walk straight through my headache, let alone see who’s left and right of me to talk to them; I was in a hurry and/or distracted by something unexpected and my only thought was to get to my destination; friend was at the other end of the building and I wasn’t going to hunt them down just to say goodbye; I went on my way and, for whatever reason, didn’t realise another person was there.

                In general, this is not a point I want to belabour extensively, but while it’s certainly important for OP to realise that she’s always going to meet people who simply don’t click with her, this particular line of argument places a weight on the importance of Goodbyes in particular that IMO 1. simply isn’t there and 2. probably is the opposite of helpful to the OP, who is demonstrably dealing with worrying about the intricacies of goodbyes as-is and doesn’t need comments of people telling her “well, if someone doesn’t say goodbye to you, it shows that they don’t want to be your friend”.

                1. Stellaaaaa*

                  Read my comment below. There are other tidbits on the fringes of the story that make me not doubt my inference that these two coworkers had virtually no interactions outside of the workplace and didn’t know each other very well after over a year of working together.

                  And yes, this is getting messy, but I find that other commenters’ focusing on resolving this one event as a troubleshooter to be missing the actual problem, even as it’s stated in the letter. The coworker didn’t say goodbye and OP had literally no way to get in touch with her and ask her if something was up. Do you have any friends or friendly coworkers who you have absolutely no way to reach outside of work? And of the coworkers whose numbers and emails you don’t have, would you feel comfortable saying that you are not particularly friendly with them? I think people are reading malice or negativity in my manner of saying that someone is “not friends with OP, shrug” when that’s not the tone I’m bringing to this discussion.

                2. Tau*

                  Speaking on my own part, I’m not ascribing any malice or negativity. However, I’m confused why you’re so insistent on deciding what the relationship between OP and coworker was before this. From my perspective, the relationship a) can’t be determined just from the information we have (I can easily imagine anything from “chilly but polite” to “decently close work-friends who don’t hang out outside work” from the events given) and b) is now irrelevant because it’s gone. Whatever they were before, the coworker no longer wants anything to do with OP, and OP needs to respect that.

                  I’m also with Myrin that this line of argument seems like it’s the opposite of helpful to OP, because it’s placing undue importance on both the original relationship between OP and the coworker along with the single isolated incident of coworker not saying goodbye – when both of these are things OP states herself she obsessed on to disastrous results.

                3. Lehigh*

                  FWIW, I have my coworkers’ phone numbers only because we have a phone tree. Aside from that, I would have no contact information on anyone I had not already made outside-of-work plans with–and if a coworker asked for my phone number without a specific reason for it, I think that would be weird. I also frequently do not say goodbye to everyone in the office with me, even if I like them very much.

                  I can see where you’re coming from but I think that people vary too much for these hints to be definitive. Some people are just more reserved than others.

                4. fposte*

                  I haven’t the slightest idea of how to reach most of my co-workers after work. I’m friendly with all of them at work–and I reach them at work, which is where I need to reach them. I don’t think knowing how to contact your co-workers out of work (aside from being able to send them email at their work email) is the norm you’re suggesting.

            2. Ramona Flowers*

              I mean, my grandboss didn’t say goodbye to me yesterday. I’m reasonably sure he just didn’t hear me.

              1. Stellaaaaa*

                I assume you are not friends with your grandboss? Does he regularly say goodbye to people he is close to? You’re not disproving my larger point. OP worried that the coworker didn’t like him, and it’s possible that she didn’t. What would have happened if she had answered the door calmly and, instead of alerting HR, plainly confirmed OP’s fears that she ignored him on purpose? What then? I see where the anxiety is a major factor here but I also see room to emphasize the basic truth that adult life isn’t divided up into FRIENDS and NEMESES. People don’t have to like other people. It seems that you don’t like me. I don’t think that’s a big deal or something to push back against. OP’s anxiety is wrapped up in finding ways to reassure himself that everyone likes him instead of accepting that some people simply don’t and never will.

              2. Stellaaaaa*

                I’ll clarify myself one last time because I can see how my comments are still a bit unwieldy. I think you can be on pleasant terms with someone without being fully friends with them or even actively liking them. In the absence of any other concrete information on this count and the fact that OP felt comfortable saying goodbye to her, I’m assuming that the coworker placed OP in something close to this category. Someone you’re familiar with but don’t really know all that well. The underlying reality that OP didn’t have her cell phone number or email address, was not even facebook friends with her, and had to resort to iffy measures to find her address, tells me that their dynamic doesn’t consist of anything more than a passing familiarity. Think about the amount of coworkers whose phone numbers find their way into your phone within your first year of working somewhere. I doubt you’re overtly friendly with all of them. You might actively dislike many of them. So imagine how you’d feel if someone who hadn’t even made it onto your facebook friends list showed up at your house. These two didn’t have any kind of interaction outside of the office, which is why I don’t think it’s weird to state that she probably did not consider OP someone she was interested in being friends with. This is why coping strategies are important.

                OP shouldn’t be thinking that the coworker only dislikes him because he showed up at her house. He should be thinking that it’s possible that she already didn’t like him, and that it’s not just about resolving the feelings around this one incident, so trying to explain or apologize is beside the point. It’s not correct to “blame” the end of a potential friendship on this one event, and I wouldn’t want the OP to focus on “omg if only I could get her to understand this one thing I did,” which is something that a lot of other comments are angling toward. Even if she did eventually forgive him, she might still decline to exhibit signs of liking him. She might continue to ignore him, and that has to be acceptable, because people are allowed to choose who crosses over from their work lives into their social lives.

                1. CityMouse*

                  I think the fact that coworker jumped to saying she would call the police suggests that OP may have made her uncomfortable in the past, potentially.

                  If OP has been seeing a therapist and isn’t making progress, OP might consider different/additional treatment. Anxiety or not, serious boundary violations can rightfully get you fired or arrrested. No reasonable accommodation includes accepting what happened in this letter.

                2. Stellaaaaa*


                  I think it’s possible too, but I didn’t want to be the one bringing so many gnarly ideas to the table. Even without diagnosed severe anxiety, people who are constantly on about, “But are you MAD at me? Do you like me? If you’re not my friend, that means you hate me,” are draining and inadvertently manipulative.

                3. Sarah*

                  I think this is actually really important. One of the things I talked about a lot with a former therapist when I was struggling with a lot of anxiety was, ok, let’s go down this “worst case scenario” spiral but really think about what are the practical things you’d do if that really happened. Like, if I got kicked out of my graduate program, my mind immediately went to “die homeless and alone” — and the practical reality is that I have a million supports in my life and that is not actually how I would deal with the real situation of getting asked to leave my graduate program. Thinking through the practical steps I would actually take and realizing it was not the end of the world was very helpful.

                  Or in this case, the worst case scenario is apparently “a coworker is mostly polite to me but ultimately doesn’t really like me.” Which, you know, sucks, especially if it’s someone you do want to be more friendly with. But practically, it’s also an okay thing to happen. I don’t personally love all my coworkers, or hang out with them after work, or 100% enjoy their company all the time. But I’m able to work perfectly well with them and we don’t have major workplace conflicts — we’re just never going to be that emotionally close.

            3. Sylvia*

              I agree that the coworker had her own impression of the OP before this happened, but I’m not seeing any sign of what that impression was. Forgetting to greet someone or not hearing their greeting doesn’t mean anything.

              1. Stellaaaaa*

                It only means that they aren’t close friends, is my point, and that the OP needs to address the component of his anxiety that makes him worry that people might not like him…because in real life, there are going to be many people who do not want to be his friend, for reasons both valid and silly.

                1. Susanne*

                  No, Stellaaaaa – I think what some of us are saying is that the fact that she didn’t say goodbye (or that the OP didn’t know her address) is NOT evidence that they aren’t otherwise appropriately friendly. I was friendly with most people in my office, but I wouldn’t have had a single actual physical address. I didn’t go over their houses and had no reason to. And even if I did, I’d get the address “in the moment” and promptly delete it afterwards.

                  I do get the point that it’s important for the OP to realize that not everyone will be her BFF in life and that’s just fine. But I don’t think it’s helpful to try to suss out whether *this* particular coworker was, indeed, a work friend, a neutral work acquaintance, or a coworker who actually didn’t care for her and for whom the lack of goodbye was a deliberate snub. It doesn’t MATTER because in none of those situations is just showing up at someone’s house even remotely acceptable.

                2. Howdy Do*

                  While I’m with everyone else that one single missed goodbye does not prove that the coworker has chosen to not be friendly with the LW, the fact that the LW does not have the phone number, personal phone number or social media friendship with the co-worker suggest not a particularly close relationship (since we figure the LW would have chosen contact through one of those means before showing up at the co-worker’s home.)

            4. paul*

              It sure doesn’t sound like they were friends; OP didn’t know where the other person lived.

              I’m not saying they don’t usually work together well…they may, they may not, who knows? But they don’t seem to have gone beyond casual work friends at most. So yeah, having someone where that’s the relationship unilaterally show up at my door would kind of weird me out.

            5. lost in my mind*

              Most people in my office do not say good night or good bye when they leave. Nothing more fun than realizing you are the last person in a very large very empty building, particularly when it is dark at 4pm and you have to walk 1/4 mile outside the building to get to your car.

              Really makes you feel part of the office.

            6. Jaguar*

              Hahaha, man. You should avoid using primetime police procedurals as guidebooks for reality.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yes. I think the impulse to apologize or relay apologies usually come from a good/worthy/laudable place, which is where I think AnonyMouse’s suggestion is coming from (although I agree with the rest of the note and its kind words for OP). But I worry about how apologizing through an intermediary could impact the coworker and about how it could impact OP. This is one of those circumstances where I think we have to step outside of default work norms when advising OP, because for better or for worse, OP’s conduct went way outside of default norms.

        Based on how the coworker reacted, it sounds like she may have perceived OP’s conduct as stalking-ish (certainly threatening to call the police means this is more than a run-of-the-mill boundaries problem). Apologizing through HR, then, becomes about OP trying to close the loop or make contact, which is not a good look after the employer went through the trouble of transferring OP in order to minimize the possibility of contact. On a professional level, trying to send an apology risks looking like OP really doesn’t get what went awry (i.e., not learning from mistakes), and on a personal health level, this could create a new anxiety loop for OP focused on whether HR relayed the apology and whether the coworker accepted it. That doesn’t sound good.

        I really want to endorse/second Ramona Flowers’ advice, upthread, about an immediate therapeutic (re)evaluation and reassessment of OP’s therapy plan. Of course therapy is a very long-term process and is not a linear trajectory of “anxiety/cured!” But it sounds like the current plan is inadequate if even with an intervening meeting, OP could not disrupt their fixation enough to alter or interrupt the anxiety feedback loop.

        1. fposte*

          Right, there’s a reason why restraining orders forbid contact through a third party as well.

        2. Kate*

          Even though OP clearly regrets what she did, I’m on the side of “no apology.” She said to leave her alone, and the best thing to do is respect that. If you apologize, you are at least a little bit doing it for yourself, because if you only considered the coworker’s feelings, you would leave her alone.

      3. HannahS*

        Well, I agree that an apology isn’t likely to help, but I think an explanation might. If I was the coworker, I’d probably be feeling more scared than angry. I don’t think that an apology via HR (OP is very sorry) would make me feel better, but if HR delivered an explanation (OP is struggling with anxiety, is getting help, is mortified, understands that it was wrong) plus reassurance (OP has been instructed to leave you alone, won’t be rejoining your team), it would go a long way to making me feel safer. I know that we don’t know the details and dynamics at play, but especially if OP is male and the coworker female, some follow-up saying “we know this was upsetting but this person is not planning to hurt you” could help the coworker recover from something that clearly really distressed her. That said, OP, if you’re not comfortable with the coworker (and by extension all and sundry; she’d likely discuss it with people) knowing about your mental illness and treatment, you’re not obligated to ask HR to tell her.

        You asked how to move forward; make your highest priority yourself and your health. Do your best to do good work in your new position, but don’t worry about “reputation rescue” right now. I don’t think you have to change jobs, but given how anxious you are about whether or not people like you, I don’t know that staying at the same workplace is your best bet. It’s like you’re now playing on Expert Mode. Like if you’re already worried that people talk about you behind your back, you might be better off at a workplace where calm-you and your therapist can reassure anxious-you that it’s unlikely and probably doesn’t impact you, rather than this workplace, where you know that, well, people are talking about you right now. I just worry that the rest of the anxiety spiral will be harder to back away from if you’re stuck with one foot down the slide, you know? But honestly, best of luck. This is not likely to become something you’ll ever laugh over, but the intense mortification will fade with time, even without any sort of closure.

        1. Enya*

          I like Hannah’s idea of an explanation from HR. The OP’s actions would have scared the holy hell out of me. I’d be wondering what they were planning next. An explanation from HR might help ease that anxiety.

        2. Em Too*

          I agree re explanation not apology. Of course we don’t know what’s been said to co-worker already but I’d also be scared. I think your suggested script above is great.

          At the moment, coworker is likely worried about anger/escalation from OP. Doesn’t sound like that’s going to happen – OP is clear it won’t happen again and is certainly not going to escalate. The more that can be conveyed to co-worker, the better for their comfort.

          1. Thlayli*

            Where did you see in the letter that “OP is clear it won’t happen again”? I don’t see anything in OPs letter to indicate that.

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, I’m not sure that’s something that can be said with certainty–the OP knows she shouldn’t but also knew she shouldn’t open somebody’s pay stub, and she’s still in the grip of anxiety about this.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I agree—my concern is that it’s not clear that this won’t happen again. OP knew all the consequences the first time and could not stop themselves. And although they are hopefully reevaluating their treatment plan, it doesn’t sound like the current plan was able to assist them.

              What’s clear is that OP feels terrible about what happened. But I don’t think it’s wise to make promises to HR or the coworker that cannot be kept.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                And if the coworkers was reassured that it would never happen again, and then it did, that would be far, far, far worse. Repeat offenses can take a person from “I feel scared but in control” to “I will never feel safe again because no matter what anyone says, this could just keep happening to me.” Better no reassurance at all than one that can’t be guaranteed.

        3. CityMouse*

          I disagree. Coworker was clearly scared and “my anxiety caused obsessive thinking” isn’t reassuring. Accommodation always ends at asking a coworker to be in danger or uncomfortable. From coworkers perspective, the behavior was scary and an attempt like that to explain comes across as excusing or could make OP’s rep worse. Best thing OP can do is fully 100% respect no contact.

          1. CityMouse*

            I will add, saying “this person isn’t planning on hurting you” is bad because a) how can you prove It? And b) it actually plants the psychological thought of OP harming someone. That statement could easily backfire.

            1. SignalLost*

              And c) someone showing up at my door to deal with their mental health issues, at the expense of my boundaries, my privacy, my mental health issues, my peace of mind, my comfort in my workplace, my relationship with all my colleagues (who are extremely aware of OP’s actions, possibly because I told some of them) is, in fact, someone harming me. There is exactly a zero percent chance that, were I the coworker, I would take any of this calmly and with compassion. Particularly if it were explained to me that it was the result of anxiety. It was the result of anxiety and stress that caused a suicidal individual to show up on a colleague’s doorstep, with a gun, at midnight one night, too.

              1. George Willard*

                Absolutely this. If we heard this from the other side, this would sound really, really terrifying. I’m sorry that the OP feels out of control and I know what that feels like, but that doesn’t erase the damage done.

            2. Turtle Candle*

              Yes. Except in very specific circumstances, unasked-for reassurances are usually more alarming than reassuring. For one thing, if I did think you were a person who might hurt me, I’m also probably going to think you’d potentially lie about it, and for another, as you say, it puts the scary idea of further harm in my head when it might not be there otherwise. I once had a guy offer to buy me a drink, and I say no thank you, and he said, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to put roofies in it or anything.” I wasn’t actually even thinking about that possibility before, but now I certainly am!

          2. Katie the Fed*

            And honestly – as understanding as I am of mental illness (having struggled with anxiety and depression myself) – that’s not my problem if I’m coworker in this case. I don’t need to know why, I just need it to never, ever, EVER happen again.

        4. Myrin*

          Yeah, I agree, although this seems like one of those situations where there are two opposing actions that can be taken and for some people, A would be the way to go and for others, A would be the exactly wrong thing to do and would in fact backfire spectacularly. In the coworker’s shoes, personally, I’d probably be confused and angry, but not scared. I’m also someone who appreciates knowledge and honestly, if I never heard anything of that incident again, I’d probably start wondering if they’d found out that OP had malicious intentions towards me and want to now shield me completely. I would 100% appreciate someone telling me that she has an anxiety disorder or simply an illness that caused her to act the way she did and would probably even approach OP afterwards and tell her that I understand and that I’m not mad anymore. However, that’s me, and I’m not that coworker, and no one can know what the coworker would prefer or not so I think this is a bit of a “beetween a rock and a hard place” situation and I don’t have an answer.

          1. CityMouse*

            I guess I actually have some ancillary experience in the field because one of my parents is in the pediatric mental health field and it doesn’t change my perspective to know OP has anxiety. Some kids respond very well to treatment and therapy. Some times my parent would have to get up in the middle of the night because a patient had been arrested. My experience tells me behavior, not doagnosis, is what matters. It doesn’t really affect coworker’s perception of safety and given mental health stigma could even backfire.

            1. Myrin*

              Yeah, that’s what I meant with the “two opposing actions where for some people, A is exactly right and for others, it’s completely wrong”. Being told about the anxiety issue would definitely affect my perception of safety if I where the coworker but that’s not going to be the case for everyone, as your and others’ comments show. It’s a difficult situation.

              1. CityMouse*

                Yeah I guess it wouldn’t even register as a safety data point for me, maybe an asterisk and footnote below the table. My experience says there are both nice and not nice people with anxiety issues, just like everyone else. Digging through my personal info to find my address is gonna scare me no matter what.

          2. Temperance*

            I would feel violated and frankly scared in coworker’s shoes. If she explained it as mental illness, I would be no less scared. I would worry that I became a target.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Exactly. Knowing there’s a mental health “cause” doesn’t ameliorate the stress for the coworker—it just makes the entire situation seem more volatile/unpredictable.

              But it also makes the coworker responsible for managing their feelings about OP’s conduct, and that’s not ok. OP’s behavior was absolutely, 10000%, big-flashing-bold-red lights not ok. What is the coworker supposed to do with knowledge of OP’s diagnosis? There’s no certainty that this won’t happen again, the coworker has no idea why they became the target (or if they’ll remain a target), and it’s bad form to complain or say something because then the coworker might look able-ist or offensive?

              I think it’s important, here, to focus on the behavior and for OP to take the burden/responsibility of focusing on the cause and treatment. We shouldn’t transfer that load to the coworker.

          3. Sam*

            If OP is going to disclose to HR anyway (both the condition and what she’s doing to better control it moving forward), could she just give permission for them to share that info with Coworker and let HR move forward with that if they thought it would be helpful? I realize that this assumes a rational HR person and that this might open the door for more anxiety since she may not know what HR does with the info, but I wonder if it would be less anxiety-producing than *asking* that Coworker be told and then fixating on how Coworker took the news.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              This is me just thinking out loud—I apologize if it sounds stark.

              My immediate reaction was that if I were wearing my manager hat, a report disclosed their mental health diagnosis, and then gave me “permission” to share it with the coworker, I wouldn’t share it. I’m not going to disclose people’s disabilities to their coworkers, and a blanket consent is not going to make me feel that doing so is a good idea. Between the privacy risks, the ADA risks, and just the high likelihood of information getting out (once you disclose to the coworker, you have no control over their disclosures to others), it just seems like an even more fraught problem.

        5. all aboard the anon train*

          I actually disagree about an explanation. That runs the chance of trying to justify it. It’s similar to people who say, “I’m sorry, but”, which is the last thing a victim wants to hear. Explanations for bad behavior are in that same category, and are a different form of closure for the OP that puts more stress on the coworker.

          Honestly, I’ve seen a lot of personal views in this thread, but I think if the coworker wants to know why it happened, she can ask. Otherwise, it’s burdening the coworker with more information or feelings than they may want. If she wants to be left alone, then having HR give her an explanation of behalf of the OP may make it seem like HR is siding with the OP and trying to justify her behavior. Apologies and explanations are often giving with the intention of relieving the perpetrator of guilt and making the victim feel like they need to accept that apology/explanation for bad behavior.

          I think the best case is to leave it alone unless the coworker brings it up again. The coworker wants no contact with the OP, and I’m assuming that includes an explanation.

          1. fposte*

            You make a really good point that the co-worker has agency here too. People who don’t have information and want more can do something to change that; people who do have information and want less can’t.

            (I also think there’s no real indication that the co-worker doesn’t know why this happened already, so we may be overfocusing on something that’s a moot point.)

            1. all aboard the anon train*

              It always really bothers me when people act like victims don’t have agency. It’s always a lot of “they need this” or “do this for them” or saying how they’d act instead in that situation of asking the victim what they want. I know that it’s hard in this type of situation where we don’t know the coworker’s reactions or feelings, but I think everyone should remember that she’s said she wants no contact with the OP and she’s capable of asking HR for more info or an apology if she deems one necessary.

              1. Just Another Techie*

                Also, what to tell the coworker would be great advice if the person writing is was in HR. But the person writing in isn’t HR or management, they’re the person who opened the paystub and showed up at a coworker’s home. And really the only correct advice to give them, vis a vis contact with the coworker, is “don’t.” She asked for no-contact. Not honoring that request is absolutely a no-go for the LW, regardless of what else we advise LW to do about their therapy, anxiety, job hunting, etc. And requesting contact via a third-party (like HR) is violating the spirit of the no-contact request.

        6. Observer*

          I don’t think that any explanation would help. For one thing, even if the OP were confident that it wouldn’t happen again, why would the coworker share that confidence? All she knows is that, at best, OP exhibited drastically bad judgement. Why would she trust their judgement in the aftermath? And that’s assuming that she trusts their intentions – which she would be justified in not trusting. After all, it’s in their interest to say something like that.

          What makes it even worse is that the OP hasn’t really given any indication that this won’t happen again.Of course, it’s possible that they’ve already mapped out a solid plan of action, but didn’t mention it because they didn’t think it’s relevant to the question being asked. But, based on the letter itself these is no reason at all to believe that it won’t happen again, and actually reason to believe that it might.

          Also, I think there is good reason to think that any approach by the OP, directly or not, to the coworker could get them fired.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Yeah, I tend to agree. I spent years working with folks with all types of disabilities. It taught me to look for action plans and check to see if the steps of the plan were being followed.

            I think if Coworker wants any more info, she will ask. And that info could go like this: “OP realizes what she did was wildly out of line and steps 1, 2 and 3 were taken. Steps 4 and 5 are in process.” The description of the steps can be very brief. The whole statement could be just a couple of sentences.

            There are no certainties in this world. Anywhere. All we can do is work at things. And that means all of us. Coworker can chose to find some comfort in the fact that things are being worked on. If OP’s coworker is having difficulties because of this, then the company can offer EAP counseling or cover a few counseling sessions for her.

      4. Junior Dev*

        My abusive ex used apologies to worm his way back into my life and continue harassing me. When I stopped answering his calls he started getting friends to ask what kind of accountability I wanted from him. I told the friends, “if he feels guilty he can talk to a priest or a therapist. I want him to leave me alone.”

    2. Stellaaaaa*

      If OP finds a way to pass communications on to the coworker, that would just reinforce her worst impressions of OP. OP opened their coworker’s “mail” and went to her home. There’s a reason for those actions but they aren’t justifiable. The last thing the coworker wants to hear is OP’s reasons (she will hear them as “excuses”) for why these actions are usually scary, but it’s completely totally different when OP does it. Every person who crosses boundaries repeatedly thinks they’re the only one with pure motivations – that’s what makes this stuff so scary to the person it’s happening to.

      Most people don’t get closure or the opportunity to explain themselves as often as they would like. Most people also don’t always get the opportunity to turn a non-friend into a friend, especially at work. These are lessons that everyone needs to learn to some degree.

      1. Em Too*

        Yeh, it’s not going to be closure and co-worker isn’t going to be a friend. But letting co-worker know you’re *not* making excuses, you know it was the wrong thing to do and these are the steps you’re taking to ensure it won’t happen again? Co-worker could benefit from knowing that, I think.

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          No, a coworker who has established boundaries and wants NO CONTACT will not benefit from OP finding some way to circumvent those boundaries. To be blunt, if someone opens your private in-office mail and shows up at your house to ask why they didn’t acknowledge you in a passing moment, you can probably already guess that mental health issues are involved. She already knows that OP has some things to work on. Violating boundaries to say that you know it’s wrong to violate boundaries and you’ll never do it again….except this one last time I swear! ….no good can come from that.

          1. Em Too*

            Oh, I absolutely meant HR to explain to them – OP should definitely not contact directly.

            1. CityMouse*

              It is common part of no contact to include no contact through intermediaries. HR will very likely not want to do that either. Best thing OP can do to reassure coworker is to respect the no contact. Talk is cheap and honestly, a verbal guarantee is useless here and would not.likely reassure coworker.

              1. Marvel*

                I have to agree here, in the strongest terms possible.

                I have been the victim of unwanted contact by people who “meant well,” but who had scared me, violated my boundaries, and made me feel unsafe. It does not matter how justified the contact may seem, how much you think it may benefit the victim, how much you think it might bring “closure”–if someone asks for no contact, you give them NO CONTACT. Period. That is how you communicate that you did not/do not intend to hurt them: by respecting their wishes. Anything else shows the exact opposite. Closure, meanwhile, is something you give yourself. Your victim cannot give it to you.

                OP, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with what sounds like horrible anxiety. I also have anxiety that contributes to occasional inappropriate behavior, especially in my close relationships (abandonment issues ahoy). I hope you and your therapist can work out a more effective treatment plan.

                1. Tuxedo Cat*

                  Me too. They always have reasons to contact me that they seem to think will benefit me. The reasons just scared me more. Going through others to contact the victim is also something that has happened to me and is super scary.

              2. Lora*


                Co-worker’s boundaries need to be respected. End of story. They don’t want anything to do with OP. The only thing they want to hear from HR is that the company is taking steps to ensure that this never happens again ever, that their privacy is a priority, and to whom they should report an incident if anything does indeed happen again. I cannot emphasize this enough.

                Have known many boundary-violators, and used to be married to one. It’s extremely not fun and makes you feel disrespected as a human being on an extremely fundamental level. Even my physically abusive ex will tell you to this very day that he Meant Well and was just trying to have a conversation with me and he’s terribly sorry. So I don’t blame the co-worker for not wanting any contact whatsoever.

                OP, please speak to your therapist about how this is creating serious issues for you at work. Being transferred away from someone who has requested no contact from you is serious business, and I wouldn’t be surprised if your boss reacts to another incident with a pink slip or suggesting a leave of absence until you’ve got this thing better controlled. And here’s the thing that would worry me as your boss: people forget to say Bye to each other ALL THE TIME. Sometimes they are busy and distracted. It happens. There will be a great many other similar things that happen on a daily basis, where someone doesn’t say hello to you or cuts your conversation short at the coffee maker or snaps at you because they’re having a tough day. And there’s not going to be a darn thing your boss or HR can do about that, it is normal work life. They’re probably asking themselves, how likely is it that this will happen again?

                1. Anne (with an "e")*

                  Also, considering that people are definitely talking about this, I’m fairly certain that it’s not just the bosses who are worried. I’m sorry to tell you this, OP, and I do not want to sound mean or harsh, but if I were one of your coworkers I would be walking on eggshells around you. I would be concerned that the slightest thing might somehow trigger you. Here’s the thing, just because someone doesn’t say hello, goodbye, or whatever often doesn’t mean anything. It truly doesn’t because sometimes people don’t hear you, or they don’t see you, or they have something else on their mind, or a million other things. Also, just because someone *does* say hello, goodbye that doesn’t mean that they like you. For example, I hello and goodbye to people all the time at the store, at the post office, at restaurants, etc. I say hello, goodbye to people who are complete strangers. Saying goodbye, hello is a social norm that the OP is reading way too much into. Thus, when the OP opened the coworker’s private mail and then went to their residence those actions were just very, very extreme over something that the majority of people see as incidental, minor, and forgettable. If I were one of the OP’s coworkers I would wonder what incredibly tiny incident would set off the OP again.

                  OP, my advice is 1. Seek help as others have suggested. 2. Keep your head down and focus on doing the best work that you possibly can.

                2. Turtle Candle*

                  Your last point is something that I wanted to note too. There are a lot of things that can trigger a destructive anxiety attack (I speak from experience; I have acute anxiety myself), depending on the person. The fact of the matter is that the more common your triggers, the more aggressively you have to approach this. If you’re triggered by spiders or a particular song playing the radio or the smell of a certain brand of dish soap (the last one is true of a friend of mine), your chances of running into it at work and having an acute anxiety attack is nonzero, but low. It’s still good to get on top of it, especially if your response is likely to cause harm (even accidentally) to people around you, but the imminent importance of it is low, and it’s probably something that can be accommodated fairly easily. (My friend with the dish soap issue mentioned it discreetly to her manager, who send a generic, “Due to a medical issue for one of our employees, please don’t use Dawn Lemon Scent to wash your dishes in the break room. Other dish soaps are fine.” Easy accommodation. “No toy spiders or spider-themed desktop backgrounds at work, please” is a similarly easy accommodation.)

                  But when your trigger is something like “So-and-so left without saying goodbye to me” or, worse, “I got a vague impression that so-and-so dislikes me”–the latter is both common with social anxiety and almost impossible to quantify let alone avoid–it’s really not something that can be accommodated, and it’s also something that’s likely to keep coming up repeatedly. And while I have a lot, a lot of sympathy f0r people with severe anxiety (it’s something I’ve struggled with my entire adult life), it’s also frightening to feel like any little thing you do might set someone off–forgetting a hello or a goodbye, having brief RBF that’s interpreted as “she’s mad at me,” a slightly ill-worded statement into which much is read, etc. This is bad enough if the response to setting them off is a crying jag or something like that, but when it’s as frankly alarming as opening someone’s pay stub and going to their house… I’d be frightened too. I’d be frightened not just if I was the coworker who it happened to, but if I was anyone else who heard about it, because I’d wonder if it was going to be me next.

                  So to make a long story short: yes, aggressive therapy, leaving the coworker strictly alone (no communication even through intermediaries), and I hope you can get it under control, LW.

              3. Onyx*

                It seems like one option would be to give HR a written summary of the information the OP is willing to share and thinks the coworker might want to know (e.g., that the OP understands the actions were completely inappropriate, they were related to an anxiety disorder, and the OP and his/her medical professional are aggressively prioritizing treatment options to prevent future issues) and explicitly give HR permission to share any of the info in that document *if* the coworker wants to know.

                It’s possible that the coworkers doesn’t want to hear any of it. It’s also possible that the coworker would like to know that the OP is actively working to avoid further incidents. It might be helpful for HR to have the ability, but not the obligation, to relay info on how the OP is addressing the situation.

                1. Wintermute*

                  I’m afraid I really can’t agree on this for a few reasons.

                  1: You can control the message delivered but not how it’s received. They may hear “Unfortunate person suffering a terrible illness that made them make a very poor choice” or they might hear “mentally unbalanced person that’s an active danger not only to me but to everyone that works here”, you can’t control which it is. And what’s more, you can’t control how vocal they choose to be about their opinion on the matter. Given society’s messaging around mental illness the possibility of the latter is somewhere between possible and likely depending on how educated on such things the coworker is.

                  2: As others have mentioned now isn’t the time to be asking for favors from HR, or asking them to be proxies to violate a no-contact request so that you can “explain yourself”.

                  3: The co-worker was (rightfully) freaked out and feels extremely violated. Time may make that better, but time is most likely the only thing that can reduce the feelings of violation and broken boundaries.

                  4: At this point it’s not about the letter writer anymore, it’s about the victim. At this point any action except exactly what was recommended and keeping their head down and being as good at their job as possible has a nonzero chance of further repercussions. Especially if it’s seen as attempting to avoid responsibility or diminish things.

                  5: like it or not you are an ambassador for all you are. It’s not fair, but people that have mental illnesses have an obligation not to further the stigma of mental illness by blaming their poor behavior on their diagnosis.

            2. Stellaaaaa*

              No HR either. I actually have a restraining order against someone, and there’s a reason why this person isn’t allowed to contact me through friends or family members. You’re not honoring “no contact” if you’re still controlling the situation by making sure that the victim of your actions is not free of whatever message you think is just so important. “No contact” isn’t about making OP feel better about what he’s done. It’s supposed to make the coworker feel safe. OP doesn’t get to have the last word on this one.

              1. Anon Accountant*

                Same here. There is definitely a reason with no contact orders that absolutely no contact, even through third parties, is allowed. And I’m thankful for that as are many others.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                I am not sure apologizing would make OP feel better, it doesn’t for everyone all the time.

                More to the point, there are times in life where we cannot apologize for whatever reason. And we have to learn to live with ourselves. Honestly, that can be waaaay harder than someone else making amends with us. Resolving internal conflicts and putting things down in a peaceful place is a huge thing for many people. One tool is to vow never to do this again and work out an action plan to prevent a similar situation. It’s a tool, not a cure. It’s step toward reducing internal warfare.

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              No! HR should not contact them either. Contacting someone through an intermediary is a violation of a “no contact” request. It doesn’t matter if OP goes through HR—OP needs to leave the coworker alone.

              The issue here is that the coworker hasn’t asked for OP to give her an explanation, and she’s indicated she doesn’t want one. Forcing one on her not only re-violates the already-trodden-over boundaries issue, but now it draws the employer onto OP’s “side.” And for what purpose? It’s not giving the coworker peace of mind—it’s making OP feel better about upsetting the coworker, which sounds like another round of reassurance-seeking behavior that feeds the anxiety monster.

              I’m worried that some suggestions are applying “normal work norms” to a very abnormal situation (the abnormality being OP’s behavior, not OP’s diagnosis). If we reorient how we think of the issue from the coworker’s perspective, I think it becomes clearer that efforts to contact the coworker—even using third parties—is not ok.

          2. Kate 2*

            Strongly, strongly agree. All too often, and I think in this case, explanations and apologies are for the person who did it, not the victim. It makes them feel better.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          Em Too –

          The best way OP can show she’s not making excuses and is taking it seriously is to seriously respect the coworker’s wish for no contact. Period. The coworker has her boundaries and sense of safety seriously violated here, and it doesn’t matter why it happened. It jus needs to not happen again.

          1. Em Too*

            I’m not conveying thoughts very well. As coworker, I think I would feel more scared having no info beyond what I’ve seen, than having this happen and HR giving me context as set out in the letter. (I’m seeing it as HR passes on info rather than OP contacts via HR, if that makes sense.)

            But looks like I’m in the minority. So, probably best not.

            1. EleonoraUK*

              You and me both :)

              The way I respond to a crisis is with information – if I can understand it and map it, I feel calmer. After the London Bridge attack, I realised other people have very different coping mechanisms – ones completely opposite to mine, even (i.e. avoiding the news as much as possible).

              Perhaps the way forward is for HR to have the full context and permission to share it, and to offer it up to the colleague if they would like to know. They can then make their own call.

            2. all aboard the anon train*

              The thing is, though, we have no idea what side the coworker falls on. If the coworker wants more information about why it happened, she can ask HR. If she doesn’t, then having HR unexpectedly come to her with an explanation might unnerve her more and make her feel like she’s being forced to accept a justification or apology.

              This is such a personal situation and we have really no one of knowing how the coworker would act or what she wants, so pushing our personal views and how we’d react isn’t really helping with advice for the OP.

              1. EleonoraUK*

                I don’t see why showing different scenarios isn’t useful – if nothing else they show the OP that this is a delicate situation in which it’s hard to predict how someone will response.

                I do agree, though, that it’s 100% not for the OP to push, if that wasn’t clear. But I do think it could be beneficial to proactively give HR leave to discuss it with the other party if they would find it beneficial to know more.

                It’s a clear ‘don’t share this yourself’, but there’s a way to use HR as an intermediary that could help the colleague if they’d like the info, or prevent her from being upset by it if she doesn’t.

                1. Observer*

                  I disagree. There is a very real danger to the OP in urging them to go to HR with this – there is a REALLY good chance that they would see it as the OP trying to get around the no contact directive, and could really endanger their job.

                  If the coworker has given HR any indication that she’d welcome some insight or information, HR knows where to find them and get more information.

                2. EleonoraUK*

                  I disagree, the OP can use her words and make it clear to HR she isn’t trying to excuse things or make contact, but that if at any stage more info on her anxiety could be useful, she’s happy to share more detail, and leave it at that.

                  I don’t think your version would work because I doubt HR can ask the OP about medical details without getting in some very hot legal water.

                3. Observer*

                  The OP can use her words all she wants – HR could easily see it differently.

                  As for asking to OP for medical information, they don’t need to. They most definitely CAN ask an open ended question about her health and circumstances, as they relate to the OP’s behavior, such as “Coworker can’t understand why you would do such a thing. Do you have any information that you think would help to reassure her?” There is no legal issue with that. It’s not a fishing expedition, it’s a direct response to behavior that the employer has complete right to address.

                4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  If OP came to me with this request, EleanorUK, even “using their words,” I would consider terminating them on the spot. In fact, I’m 99% sure I would.

                  OP blew through all normal boundaries of conduct. Now they’ve been instructed not to contact the coworker, and they’ve been transferred physically and to a different department to make that no-contact provision possible. The coworker has threatened to call the police if OP violates norms, again.

                  If OP then comes to me (HR) with an “explanation” or “apology” that they want me to determine whether or not to pass on to the coworker: (1) I’m not passing that information on—the coworker has already made her boundaries and wishes clear; and (2) I’m going to think OP really doesn’t understand what they did wrong and that they are not capable of changing their behavior or “getting” it.

                  And #2 is going to make me think it’s more of a liability—not in the legal sense, but in the morale, enforcement of healthy boundaries, and normal work relations sense—to keep someone who is incapable of controlling their behavior (i.e., by trying to “send a message” through an intermediary). It does not translate as a kindness or service to the coworker. It reads as ignoring the coworker’s boundaries again in order to engage in reassurance-seeking behavior that transfers the burden of managing OP’s anxiety from OP to OP’s coworkers, including HR. The coworker does not want contact with OP—we should not encourage OP to pursue contact.

            3. Observer*

              I’m actually someone who is reassured by information. One of the problems here, aside from all of the other issues that others have mentioned, is that while *to us* this sounds like useful information, the the coworker, it’s not. It CANNOT be because the coworker knows with certainty that the OP crosses some fairly major boundaries over minor events. And, if that’s the case what is to keep the OP from lying about their situation? And how is the coworker to know that even if the OP is telling the truth, it’s going to help? OP is already in treatment and it hasn’t helped (from the coworker’s point of view.) So all the coworker gets is a bunch of verbiage that may or may not be true, and may or may not be accurate. That’s not information.

              1. EleonoraUK*

                For what it’s worth, I think the information could be useful. Knowing you have a non-violent colleague who made a singular stupid decision and has no pattern of doing this would be less scary to me than, say, finding out my coworker was a convicted stalker with psychopathic tendencies who’d harmed people in the past. Without the information, the coworker has no way of knowing what she’s dealing with.

                Doesn’t have to change how the coworker interacts with the OP one bit, but could give the coworker some peace of mind. It would be up to the coworker, in my view, to explicitly request further info from HR, it shouldn’t be pushed on her, but if there’s a chance it could help her, it seems like a kindness to share the detail with HR.

                1. Rat in the Sugar*

                  “Knowing you have a non-violent colleague who made a singular stupid decision and has no pattern of doing this would be less scary to me”.

                  I think what Observer and others are trying to say is that you WOULDN’T know you had a “non-violent colleague who made a singular stupid decision and has no pattern of doing this” because you wouldn’t trust this colleague to tell the truth about prior patterns or whether this decision was indeed singular. The coworker would still feel like they didn’t know what they were dealing with.

                  Truth and information are not the same thing, to quote an old sci-fi novel–this is the truth of OP’s situation, but it’s not useful information for OP’s coworker.

                2. EleonoraUK*

                  I think I missed the bit where it became the automatic assumption anxiety sufferers are most likely liars as well. That seems like a dangerous slippery slope. Over one incident. (If we go by the normal AAM standard of taking the letter writer at her word.)

                3. fposte*

                  @Eleanora–I don’t read Rat as doubting the OP or saying what you suggest about anxiety. I read Rat as saying, reasonably, that the co-worker is not in the same place as we are, and that the co-worker will consider the fact that the OP’s comments may 1) come from the same distorted thinking that led her to do this in the first place and 2) may come from self-interest.

                  A lot of stalkers swear they’ve never done anything like this before, and it’s very often not true. I can simultaneously believe the OP and also believe that the co-worker would be reasonable not to.

                4. nonegiven*

                  OP is Schrödinger’s stalker and the only way to prove that she isn’t is to never go near or communicate in anyway with coworker, ever, not even by intermediary.

        3. BananaPants*

          Nope. Hypothetically speaking as the coworker I’d be livid that someone I work with opened my pay stub (thus learning my pay rate) to find my home address, and then showed up at my residence because I didn’t say goodbye to her when I left work. That’s such a major over-step and boundary violation that I wouldn’t care WHY she did it – I just wouldn’t want to have further contact with her.

          1. Chinook*

            Honestly, my pay rate would be my least concern if someone read my pay stub. There is enough information on there to steal my identity as well as, through my deductions, know some personal details about me. If you know how to read it, there is a lot of information on there, which is why the pay stub is confidential.

            Showing up on my door step would confirm for me that they don’t understand boundaries and I would be triple checking my credit check. And considering moving and changing my phone number. But, then again, I am more paranoid than most (the side effect of living with a cop and former intelligence operator).

        4. Observer*

          Except that the co-worker will never know that. Because 1. by making contact after being asked for no contact the OP is showing that they STILL are not respecting boundaries. and 2. All of these things are just words that the OP could be saying because that’s the “right” thing to say, not because they are true.

      2. EleonoraUK*

        I don’t know, I think the OP’s colleague may actually get some relief from knowing the OP suffered what is essentially a medical issue at the time. I’d prefer to know my colleague did something that crossed the line in the midst of an anxiety spiral, and would probably have some of my anger abate, as opposed to the defensiveness and anger that would come from feeling like my privacy had been intruded by someone with no boundaries (which is the most unkind reading of what happened, but could very well be the one the OP’s colleague went to).

        Also, as much as what the OP did clearly isn’t OK, it feels like a bit of an overreaction on the colleague’s part. If my colleague turned up at my house with my pay stub, I’d be very angry they’d looked at my financial information – and that would be communicated loud and clear – but I would be more confused than angry that they’d turn up at my house, and the situation altogether would make me concerned they weren’t doing OK, as opposed to angry. I wonder if the colleague has her own baggage that made her respond the way she did.

        1. Thlayli*

          I totally disagree. As someone else pointed out, coworker has probably figured out for herself that OP has a mental illness. Having that confirmed is not by itself going to make coworker feel safe.

          The only thing that might make coworker feel safe is if there was some way to assure her that OPs illness was being effectively treated to the extent that OP definitely will not behave in that manner again. And unfortunately that does not seem to be true.

          And implying the coworker was only scared because of her own “baggage”? Seriously? What op did was incredibly scary. I would be scared if a coworker opened my mail to find my address and came to my house on my day off. It’s totally normal to feel scared in that situation. That’s a scary situation.

          1. EleonoraUK*

            Wow, I didn’t mean to upset anyone, or offend – that’s quite a punchy response you’ve got there.

            I’m not implying the coworker was only scared because of baggage, or that it somehow diminish the OP’s responsibility. I was merely trying to understand why they may have responded in what I view as quite an extreme fashion, and you clearly don’t see the same way.

            Baggage or unpleasant encounters in the past could be one explanation. That doesn’t mean the colleague doesn’t have the right to feel however she feels, just that I don’t understand where they’re coming from and was trying to come up with reasons one might respond more strongly than I think I would, which I’m pretty sure is allowed.

            From my point of view, coworker turning up at house, once, presumably not making a lot of sense at the time – weird and unnerving, and I’d like some answers, but I wouldn’t be threatening to call the cops and demanding she doesn’t go anywhere near me at work ever again.

            1. Thlayli*

              Don’t worry – Im neither upset nor offended. Also I have usually heard punchy used as a compliment describing writing as brief and to the point so… thanks I guess; that’s generally what I aim for in my writing.

              To your main point – I have no idea why you think it is an extreme reaction to threaten to call the cops when someone steals your mail to find your address and then shows up at your house uninvited. I’m pretty sure most people I know would actually call the cops in that case, not just threaten to do so. I think coworker acted in a very calm and fair manner. But we are allowed to disagree on that. I think it’s really great that you would not be scared by that sort of behaviour, but I think you are probably the exception there.

              1. EleonoraUK*

                I meant punch in the ‘foreceful’ sense, but happy to have it stand as a compliment!

                I think your second paragraph is the crux of it – we’re clearly coming at this from different angles. You don’t understand why I would think it’s a bit extreme, and I don’t understand the response.

                I would just… tell her she needed to go away, that there wasn’t anything we needed to talk about outside of work, shut the door, and pick it up with HR and/or the colleague afterwards, and make it very clear that needed to not ever happen again, because it was weird and unwanted.

                Of course, it’s all academic and who knows how I’d respond to it in the moment, it just doesn’t scare me that much on paper. I may be reading the letter wrong but it sounds like the OP turned up at her colleague’s door trying to find out if she’d upset the colleague (boy did that backfire). I’d feel very differently if she showed up angry or threatening or aggressive.

                1. Sarah*

                  Honestly, I think there is also a gender element here. I am a woman, and if a female coworker showed up at my house acting strangely, I would probably be weirded out but not necessarily calling the cops-level of scared. If a male coworker showed up in the same manner — especially someone physically larger than me, especially if I happened to be home alone — I think it’s quite likely I’d call the police right then and there, and would just overall feel more threatened and scared.

                2. nonymous*

                  At first I thought that the threat of police action was a heightened response, but really the co-worker is being incredibly appropriate. OP#2 is responding to a threat of restraining order with “how do I apologize now?” instead of “yikes! better stay away from that one”.

                  So while I agree that Police!Action! may be over the top if, say OP#2 is the garden-variety boundary-pushing busybody, it appears to have been the exact tone to take so that OP#2 will back off.

            2. Thlayli*

              I think I may have figured out how to explain it to you:

              Showing up at the house is not necessarily scary in and of itself (although it could be if eg OP is a big man and coworker is a small woman), but stealing mail and going to the house is so far outside the normal reaction to someone not saying goodby me that it immediately raises the concern of in what other ways will this person react unusually to everyday occurrences.

              For example if I were coworker I would be thinking “If OP steals my mail and stalks me when I forget to say goodbye, what would she do if I accidentally spill my coffee on her?” Theres no way I would ever feel safe with someone who reacted in such an extreme (and possibly illegal) way to such a tiny thing as not saying goodbye.

              1. always in email jail*

                ^YES. It is scary because it is so far outside the bounds of normal/accepted behavior, that you don’t know what else they may do.

              2. CityMouse*

                I have a coworker who was stalked and I honestly wouldn’t give a flying fig if I learned his obsessive behavior was the result of mental illness except to think he should be locked in a mental facility rather than jail. What he put her through was terrifying. OP made coworker feel unsafe in her own home. I can’t see caring why.

              3. Lehigh*

                I agree with you overall but I really don’t think size has much to do with it. My husband is a big guy and if a small female coworker of his showed up at the house to make sure he still liked her after he didn’t say goodbye one day…honestly, I’d be completely freaked by that.

                You don’t have to be big (or male) to be scary. Any size person could have a gun, for instance, not to mention the hundred other ways you can kill or harm someone bigger than you, or what a sufficiently unhinged person could do to your pets, your property, etc…

                1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

                  Agreed. I had a much milder than this but still unnerving interaction with a woman at work recently where she overstepped some boundaries and then accused me of something the HR (who would not tell me what it was, only that it was unfounded and I should just give her space). Nothing has come of it, but the behavior was unusual enough that it put my hackles up. And this is a tiny middle-aged woman we’re talking about. Given the context I would probably threaten to call the cops if she came to my house.

                2. Thlayli*

                  I agree with you – I think it’s scary no matter what. The “big man/small woman” aspect was just an example to show why the act of showing up at the house might be immediately scary. And yes even small women can (and do) carry guns.

              4. MMDD*

                Yes, exactly. As patient/kind/accommodating as I am with mental illness, if I were OP’s coworker here I would be on eggshells for a long time and frankly angry. I have a young child at home and an incident like the one we’re discussing here would make me question not only my own safety and security, but now also my child’s. I would absolutely want OP and I to be in separate departments, and less than zero contact from anyone regarding the matter ever again.

            3. BeautifulVoid*

              From my point of view, coworker turning up at house, once, presumably not making a lot of sense at the time – weird and unnerving, and I’d like some answers, but I wouldn’t be threatening to call the cops and demanding she doesn’t go anywhere near me at work ever again.

              I think my reaction would be the same, but that might be because we’re missing the part of the story about what happened when OP was at the coworker’s house. Now for some people, that doesn’t matter, because just the act of opening the coworker’s mail and showing up is enough to make them feel anxious or threatened — which is totally valid. But for me personally, I think I might respond differently to someone who showed up on my doorstep tearfully asking why I didn’t say good-bye to them, as opposed to someone screaming the same question at me.

              Prior history might have factored in, too. The vast majority of my coworkers, past and present, if they showed up at my house despite not previously knowing where I lived and weren’t acting overtly threatening, I’d probably think the same thing you wrote – “weird and unnerving, and I’d like some answers, but I wouldn’t be threatening to call the cops and demanding she doesn’t go anywhere near me at work ever again”. But I can definitely think of one former coworker who, although she never threatened me or anything, if she showed up at my house, I’d be on the phone to the cops so fast, her head would spin. (But that’s another looooooong story….)

              1. Anne (with an "e")*

                Another thing we haven’t been told is what time the OP showed up at the coworker’s house. IMO, this is could important. Was is after dark? Presumedly it was after work, but when exactly was it? If it was at 11:30pm that makes a difference.

                If I were the coworker, I would definitely not like having the OP show up at my house unannounced at any time. However, I’m not certain if I would want to call the police unless it was fairly late.

            4. Observer*

              What people are trying to tell you is that the coworker’s response is NOT extreme at all. What the OP did was a major boundary violation, and classic stalking behavior. The fact it was due to mental illness only tell the coworker that “Hey this person has a problem that makes them incapable of acting within normal boundaries.” Which leads to the inevitable and unanswerable question of “Does this person have ANY boundaries? What other outlandish things might this person do?”

              1. Wintermute*

                I think you raise a really good point. And I’d like to tag on that outward behavior can stem from a number of underlying causes. Anxiety can make someone act like this but so could an actual potentially dangerous delusion that they have a deep, meaningful connection, or paranoia, or any number of other causes. It’s one reason on this site we’re not allowed to speculate about diagnosis, because the same outward behavior could be caused by a dozen different underlying mental conditions. You can’t know just from the behavior in isolation.

                So they’re playing the mental “is this harmless but creepy or am I in danger?” game, a game no one comes out well from.

            5. Forrest*

              “I was merely trying to understand why they may have responded in what I view as quite an extreme fashion, and you clearly don’t see the same way.”

              I can’t figure out why you think asking someone who violated your privacy in order to track you down to stay away is an extreme reaction. I’m wondering how you would categorize the OP’s actions if you think that’s extreme.

            6. Chomps*

              @EleonaraUK-Right, that’s how you would react, but that doesn’t mean it’s how others would react or that they are wrong for reacting that way.

          2. CityMouse*

            Yeah, I have seen a trend in general, including on this board, to try to downplay the seriousness of things done by someone who has a mental illness or act like the recipient of the behavior overreacted when they get scared or upset. But that is actually harmful to people with mental illness. Showing up at someone’s house like that is very scary particularly if LW has manifested obsessive behavior in regards to the coworker. If LW does stuff like that again, LW could get arrested.

            1. Thlayli*

              I agree with you citymouse. I feel very sorry for OP that her mental illness caused her to behave that way, but it is not helpful to either OP or other people struggling with mental illness to say “oh well, you’re mentally ill, you’re allowed to do things outside social and legal norms”. That just reinforces the belief that mentally ill people can do anything at any time and there’s no way to control it. And that just fuels the fear. Demonstrating that you can and are controlling it will reduce the fear.

            2. EleonoraUK*

              I’m not trying to downplay or make the colleague in any way the bad guy, or excuse the behaviour because it’s driven by a mental illness.

              My comment was purely based on the fact that I don’t think I’d respond that way, and I was trying to understand why someone might, including speculation about other drivers that could be at play.

              It’s becoming inescapably clear to me that I’m in the minority on this one :)

            3. Temperance*

              I am always shocked when I see bad behavior excused or minimized due to mental illness. The bird attack letter really shocked me (in a bad way).

              Showing up at someone’s home, uninvited, when you don’t have their address, is threatening and scary. I think LW knows the optics are bad, and she probably won’t do that again.

              1. InkyPinky*

                This. Thank you. I empathize but I too am bothered by the trend to work so hard on being sympathetic to mental health issues that there’s very little empathy left for the victim and the impact on them. Actions matter.

                I feel for someone with anxiety, but if it were me on the receiving end, being told that the person can’t control themselves isn’t any more comforting than someone deliberately doing this. The end result is the same – you’ve altered my life and my sense of safety, etc. (And in the bird letter, caused me physical harm, pain, money, etc.) And all these things just because I happened to share an office with someone I’ve otherwise not invited into my life.

                1. Bella*

                  It’s overcompensation, typically by people who don’t have any experience with mental illnesses. On one side is the group that demonizes us and on the other the group that deems we aren’t responsible for any of our actions. Both versions are dehumanizing.

                2. Sylvia*

                  I agree with you and with Bella. It particularly stands out to me in posts about anxiety, because that is the mental illness I am (unfortunately) experienced with, but it’s a noticeable trend.

                  Empathy for people with mental illnesses is wonderful. Empathy for others around us is just as important.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Empathy for people with mental illnesses is wonderful. Empathy for others around us is just as important.

                  Of course! But empathy for the former doesn’t indicate lack of empathy for the latter (this was something I saw in the bird post too — that people were assuming that empathy for Jack meant lack of empathy for the coworker). Empathy isn’t a zero-sum game.

              2. paul*

                People were acting like it was ableist to be reluctant to work with someone who hospitalized a person. WTH?

                This isn’t as immediately extreme, but it’s still a pretty major boundary violation and yeah, from a neutral third party perspective it looks stalkery and checks some red flags you know? OP’s probably (99.999%) harmless but the coworker can’t know that for sure.

              3. Gazebo Slayer*

                Yeah, I was disgusted by the response to the bird letter and all the cries of “ableist” and such.

                I agree with Bella that it’s often problematic ally behavior (speaking as someone who’s dealt with significant anxiety and depression myself) – but I also sometimes see people who seize upon their own disabilities as a magic get-out-of-jail-free card and seem to see other people with similar issues as a special class of people whose interests automatically override those of all you mere ordinary folks.

                1. Elizabeth H.*

                  I was disgusted by most of the replies to the bird letter in the opposite way. Leaving tolerance of mental illness out of it, I thought everyone who thought this situation was likely to happen again was being deliberately sensationalist and ridiculous. It was like the textbook definition of a freak accident.

                2. Kismet*

                  Elizabeth – it is perhaps worth pointing out both that birds are everywhere, and the guy with the phobia actively shoved his coworker. He reacted violently to a common trigger. I’d not want to be around him, either.

              4. Kate 2*

                Me too! I have two mental illnesses and it infuriates me that people are trying to use them to excuse bad behavior, which makes people think that sufferers behave badly in general, which causes problems for those of us with mental illnesses who don’t! And it is usually “allies, people without mental illnesses who think they are helping when they do this.

            4. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I haven’t seen people here downplaying the seriousness. People are taking it as a given that of course this was very much Not Okay, and proceeding from there. No one (from what I’ve read so far) has told the OP not to worry because what she did wasn’t a big deal. But the OP doesn’t need to be browbeaten; she’s already mortified. You can be kind to people without endorsing what they did, especially when they already know what they did was wrong. (Same thing with the biting letter last week – being kind to someone who’s already mortified doesn’t mean you’re saying their behavior was okay.)

              1. CityMouse*

                It is more the idea that coworker would be okay with it if she understood what about LW’s anxiety. It doesn’t change the facts of what happened and the coworker would not be a bad person to not be reassured by it.

                1. paul*

                  Yeah, exactly. I don’t feel the need to browbeat OP; they know they screwed up. But I think that expecting “oh I have a mental health issue that manifest this way” to make an OP feel better is a bit…much. I think it’s, at best, ineffective and at worst very counterproductive. I mean hell, being told that someone’s got a mental health issue that manifest in them obsessing about being friends with you wouldn’t reassure me at all.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Oh, I’m reading that as just a difference of opinion on what would help the coworker feel safe, not a downplaying of the seriousness of the OP’s actions.

                3. fposte*

                  @paul–yes, and I think that the co-worker pretty much already assumed that the OP has something atypical going on that made the unacceptable feel necessary, so I’m not sure what new information this would provide.

                4. CityMouse*

                  I guess the early comments pushed disclosure and I just think it is a risky move and I don’t like the implied message it sends to the coworker.

                5. paul*

                  I kind of think it does downplay the seriousness of this sort of boundary violation because it expects to be OK because of the OP’s mental health and puts the onus on the coworker. I don’t know, maybe I’m being kind of hard on that, but it’s a dynamic I’ve seen in relationships IRL a few times and it bothers me.

                6. Myrin*

                  I agree with Alison. Or, at least, that’s what I meant with my earlier comments and I actually thought I was pretty clear, but maybe not.

                  The conversation started when someone said “Maybe it would help the coworker feel better if she knew about OP’s anxiety” and some answered “ugh, no, that’s not help at all or maybe even make it worse” and others said “yeah, I can absolutely imagine that”. There is actually no outcome to that because we don’t know what the coworker would prefer. But I can definitely say that minimising what OP did didn’t even cross my mind, nor did my (and others’) comments try to “push” HR or whoever to disclose the anxiety. It was merely a data point provided.

                7. Turtle Candle*

                  I think that the reason I’d not want to be told the reason, personally, is that I’d feel as if there was some pressure on me to respond ‘appropriately’ to the explanation. Like, I’d feel like as a Good Person(tm) I would be expected to go “Oh, well, if it’s an illness it’s not their fault, bygones are bygones, I’ll totally work with them again.” So I think that even in a situation where an explanation/apology would be okay, it’d be very important to make it clear that there was no onus on the coworker to be ‘understanding’ or etc., and that there would be no onus on them to change their behavior based on the new information.

              2. EleonoraUK*

                Once again – I hope I will one day have Alison’s eloquence.

                What I’ve been trying to say – badly – is that I figure the coworker may feel safer knowing the OP takes this very seriously, was getting treatment, has realised that said treatment is not working as well as it should, and is actively adapting treatment to improve the management of her anxiety, because she is mortified and keen to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.

                The coworker has probably likely figured out there’s a mental health issue at play, but knowing someone is actively looking to manage it better would make me feel safer in the coworker’s shoes (because for all the coworker knows, this is an un-managed mental health issue, which is a little scarier to me).

                The OP should absolutely respect the coworker’s wishes and not approach her, but she could share this information with HR, who can then share it with the coworker if said coworker is interested, or not all if they are not.

                1. nonymous*

                  I said this upthread, but wanted to repeat here as well. I think that any statements of accountability to HR (whether or not it gets shared with coworker) will carry more weight if it includes a letter from a licensed medical professional. Separate from respecting coworker’s boundaries, OP#2 needs to regain the trust of their employer and this would be demonstration of positive action and being accountable. Pragmatically, it gives HR more resources should OP#2 fail in their revised treatment plan.

                2. fposte*

                  @nonymous–I get that in a citing-your-sources kind of way, but I think it’s too much of an outlier in a workplace–it suggests exculpation in a way that’s too close to “Please excuse Jane for her behavior in social studies last week; signed, Jane’s mother.” They’re not likely to disbelieve her statements about her anxiety even without a note–it’s pretty clear something’s really wrong–and it’s not like the doctor can promise it won’t happen again. If the OP wants to raise an ADA discussion, that’s another matter, but even there you don’t need a doctor’s note to start it.

          3. GraceW*

            If the LW’s mental illness is so strong as to control his/her actions, I’d wonder why the company was still employing the person, if I were the co-worker. Just like the guy who shoved his colleague into a car. Having HR tell me that the person is seeing a therapist and has promised to not contact me again wouldn’t be all that reassuring.

        2. Temperance*

          I have the kind of “baggage” that makes me a bit wary of people with poorly controlled mental illness, and I own that. It’s not unreasonable for anyone to be afraid of someone who snoops to find your address to show up at your house, though. I would consider it quite normal.

          1. Annabelle*

            Yeah, this. I have a couple of mental health conditions, including anxiety, but I would be absolutely terrified if an acquaintance decided to just show up at my home unannounced.

        3. Katie the Fed*

          “I don’t know, I think the OP’s colleague may actually get some relief from knowing the OP suffered what is essentially a medical issue at the time.”

          Ehhhh. A very, very similar scenario played out in the bird phobia letter and the victim was decidedly NOT moved by the mental illness. And frankly I think that’s a lot of burden to place on someone – to understand your mental illness when they themselves are recovering from a major boundary violation.

          I don’t think what the colleague did was wrong or indicative of any baggage whatsoever. I would absolutely report someone to security who did this. No question whatsoever. We also don’t know the sex of the OP which might be a factor – I’d probably be more upset if a male coworker did this than a female one, but either way it would be getting reported.

          1. Sam*

            I agree with you, and I also think one can simultaneously empathize with a having a mental health condition and feel personally violated. If (and that’s a big “if”) any information is going to get indirectly passed on to the coworker, I think a “here’s what I’m doing to get the situation under control” message would be far more effective than a simple explanatory one.

          2. EleonoraUK*

            Oh I agree that it wouldn’t make it all right, and it’s not a reason to forgive or forget, just an explanation.

            I was purely thinking selfishly, I’d rather know that I have a colleague with anxiety who got obsessive over thinking they’d upset me and came to find me to try and make it up to me (inadvertently making things way worse), than say, a stalker obsessed with me personally. I’m not doing very well putting the difference into words, I think I’d just feel differently/better knowing that, which is the only reason I think it would make sense for HR (not the OP) to share that detail.

            It doesn’t in any way require a response or a difference in attitude from the colleague, it’s just that if it were me, I think it would make me feel a bit better to understand what happened in more detail.

            This is kind of how I tick, though, and I wholly appreciate another person might have the complete opposite reaction. When scary or upsetting things happen I tend to want as much gruesome detail as possible, because it makes me feel like I have a better handle on things, which calms me.

            And yes, ‘baggage’ was badly phrased – I meant to say that there may be more to the story, either for the colleague personally (i.e. if you had been stalked before you’d presumably respond more strongly than if you hadn’t – not saying that’s the case, just drawing up different scenarios) or further detail to the actual situation in which the response would make more sense to me (i.e. giant male vs small woman, or turning up with something that could be perceived as an offensive weapon or god knows what other variation).

            I think it’s clear my notion of how I think I’d respond is the outlier here, which is totally fine – very happy to be the odd one out, I was just trying to understand a response that didn’t inherently make sense to me, but clearly makes perfect sense to other people.

            I think I’d just… shut the door, and have a chat with HR afterwards to work out what on earth was going on there and where to go from there.

            1. TL -*

              If it helps, I probably wouldn’t be at call the cops either – I have a high scare threshold; that’s just me.
              But if one of my friends called me in the coworker’s situation, I would absolutely tell them to call the cops if they felt the least bit scared or uncomfortable. And they would tell me the same thing.

            2. Shirley Keeldar*

              I get what you’re saying, and I feel similarly–I’m someone who is reassured by information and exaplanations. (I usually say information is the antidote to fear.) So, yes, if I was OP’s colleague and had it explained to me (by a third party) that her behavior was the result of an illness which she is actively managing, I’d feel better than I would if I just experienced the behavior with no explanation for why someone would do something so outside of norms. It’s definitely interesting and enlightening to see how many people feel differently, and that “strict no contact” is all that will help.

              1. Liz Lemon*

                I’m the same way–I’m always relieved to have more information and context. It took me a while to realize that wasn’t universal.

            3. Simone R*

              Yes, I agree with you as well. It probably wouldn’t change my opinion of the situation at all, but I would want to know.

            4. Thlayli*

              Hmm, I think I see your point. Like you I have a strong desire to understand why things happened. So if I were coworker perhaps I would feel a teeny bit better knowing some details of the OPs illness and what triggers it (and more importantly what doesn’t trigger it). However many people wouldn’t feel any safer just knowing this. It’s pretty obvious from the facts of what happened that op has a mental illness that is not well managed. Most people wouldn’t care about more detail than that – and if coworker were the type of person who wanted more detail she probably would have asked hr to find out why. Giving her more detail unasked for will probably just upset her more.

              What might actually make coworker feel safer is if OP takes steps to effectively manage her illness and can then report back to hr that this is now under control. However to say it is under control/will not happen again at this stage is premature since op apparently has not (yet) made any changes to her treatment regime.

              The best thing op can do for her coworker, her other coworkers and herself is to take this as a wake up call that the current treatment regime is insufficient and take Alison’s advice to reassess her treatment needs.

              1. EleonoraUK*

                Oh absolutely – ideally the information the OP would give to HR to be shared with her coworker at their discretion would be, “I have anxiety, I was getting treatment and believed it was under control. I’m mortified by this incident, completely aware this isn’t OK at all, and it has made me realise that the anxiety isn’t as well controlled as I believed. As a result, I’ve spoken to my therapist and am now receiving different treatment to help manage this, and am doing everything I can to ensure this never happens again.”

                But she should absolutely 100% respect her coworker’s wishes and not approach her directly, or even ask that the information be relayed to the coworker. I think the only thing OP can do is make the information available to HR to share if useful. If her coworker is like me, it may help them, if they couldn’t care less about the information, they don’t have to be told by HR.

                1. Thlayli*

                  I think we are pretty much in agreement actually. If op actually does change her treatment and manages to get the condition under control, she can then report back to hr that the issue is being dealt with. At that stage it MIGHT make the colleague feel safer to be told the situation (via HR). However telling colleague now would not be likely to help because you would essentially be saying “op has a mental illness which is not under control or well managed. She is continuing the treatment that has not been working very well and so may continue to act in this irrational manner.”

                  That would not be reassuring to coworker at all!

          3. always in email jail*

            I agree, I don’t think it would be helpful. She asked to be removed from anywhere near the coworker and will call the police if contacted again, it doesn’t sound like she wants an explanation. Also, to be honest, she’s probably already surmised that mental illness is at play from the moment a coworker showed up at her door while she was on leave to confront her for not saying goodbye once…

            1. Temperance*

              I’m kind of perplexed by all of the comments that are suggesting that explaining this is related to mental illness will somehow calm the coworker. I’m in a situation where someone shows up at my house to determine whether I like them or not. I figure that something is up with my colleague, and I don’t care what that is, because I feel violated and frankly scared.

              I get told that it’s not a big deal because my colleague is mentally ill, as if that makes it better somehow.

              1. Myrin*

                The only people who have said that “explaining this is related to mental illness will somehow calm the coworker” (myself included) did so to say that this would be their own reaction; I haven’t seen anybody not acknowledge that it’s probably still better to not have anyone contact coworker at all or that this is a situation different people react differently to. However, I do see several comments behaving like it’s absolutely mindblowing and impossible for someone to feel better about the incident knowing the whole picture when there are people right here saying that yes, indeed, they’d prefer this course of action, but it’s clear that not everyone does.

                Also, this really does seem to depend on the original reaction upon OP’s turning up at the house. I can pretty definitely say that I wouldn’t at all feel scared unless I’d had previous scary interactions with OP or OP behaved threateningly and aggressive in that moment. If that were the case, I’d absolutely not feel consoled by knowing that an illness made her act that way – my reaction would be “WTH? OP showed up here, yelled at me and tried to grab me and push into my house (or whatever), what do I care what her motivation was?!”.
                But absent all of that, if OP just showed up and stood there and said stuff I didn’t understand, I’d be quite weirded out and probably be like “Um. Go away, please?” and scratch my head about wtf just happened. In that situation, which I’m assuming is close to what went down here although I obviously have no way of knowing, I’d feel quite relieved to know that this was caused by anxiety.

                1. EleonoraUK*

                  Myrin, you’ve put into words much more eloquently what I’ve been trying to say.

                2. Turquoise Cow*

                  Same here. If I’d had only small interactions with the OP before and they showed up awkwardly at my door, I might be a little creeped out, but if they didn’t act threatening aside from that, I’d be confused. I probably wouldn’t be terrified and ask for no contact, but I also wouldn’t go out of my way to be around the OP afterward.

                  If they have had previous situations where it seemed OP was obsessing over (the coworker) then I (in coworker’s shoes) would be more upset. But in this case it doesn’t seem like OP’s obsessive behavior was individual specific. An explanation of that would make me feel better. Again, still weirded out, but not personally threatened.

                  Everyone is different, it seems.

              2. Red Reader*

                YES. I do not give two shakes WHY my personal boundaries were not only crossed, but tap-danced on by someone wearing golf spikes, because *I didn’t say goodbye to someone one afternoon*. There is absolutely nothing that improves my now-irreparably-negative opinion of the coworker after they invade my privacy (not okay), show up at my house uninvited (definitely not okay), and tell me that it’s because they thought maybe I didn’t like them (are you even kidding me). I’m not at police-calling levels (though I might well be if it happened a second time), but I’m sure to hell at “do not come anywhere near me or my belongings or my house ever again, and let me make this perfectly clear, I DO NOT LIKE YOU OR WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH YOU SO YOU CAN STOP WONDERING.”

                There is nothing that anybody — coworker, HR, or anyone else — can tell me that is going to change that.

              3. Liz Lemon*

                As I read it–it’s not about telling the coworker that the OP has mental illness, so much as it is about telling the coworker that the OP is in treatment for their mental illness. The latter would be comforting to me, but the former would not.

                That being said, I think the variety of responses to the suggestion make it clear that sharing this information would not be universally comforting and should therefore be avoided.

                1. Thlayli*

                  Knowing they are in treatment would only be reassuring if the treatment were working… which it doesn’t seem to be (at least not well enough).

                  I think the people advocating that coworker be informed of the mental illness/treatment are making an assumption that op will access increased/improved treatment and then the coworker can be told that the situation is being dealt with, which for many people would be reassuring. But that assumption is not borne out in the letter. The original letter gives no indication that op is considering changing her treatment regime at all. And for most people being told that someone is mentally ill but is not taking sufficient steps to prevent recurrence of scary behaviour would NOT be reassuring at all, so disclosing at this stage is kind of pointless.

          4. fposte*

            I’m also not really seeing a useful differential here. I think it was probably clear from the encounter that the OP wasn’t coming with the intention of hurting the co-worker, and once you get past that, I as the co-worker wouldn’t really care whether it was anxiety, romantic interest, or whatever; it’s distorted thinking that led to an invasive behavior and I have no idea what will stop it.

            1. Liz Lemon*

              I think it was probably clear from the encounter that the OP wasn’t coming with the intention of hurting the co-worker

              It’s clear to us, because the OP has walked us through their thought process, but I don’t actually think that was clear that the coworker sees it that way, especially as they threatened to call the cops.

              1. fposte*

                What I mean is that the OP didn’t show up with a gun threatening to kill her co-worker. That’s not the same thing as saying the co-worker couldn’t have felt threatened or, for that matter, wasn’t in genuine danger.

            2. Em Too*

              This is my issue – I am not sure it would be clear that the OP wasn’t intending to hurt, *and isn’t now intending to return to hurt*, without some of the context in here. With the context, I do believe that. But others clearly differ.

          5. BananaPants*

            Frankly, I would probably call 911 and file a police report if a coworker had opened my paystub to find my home address, then showed up on my doorstep because I didn’t say goodbye to her when leaving the office. That just sets off SO many alarm bells in my head, especially as a mother of young children.

            1. Elizabeth H.*

              Do you really not see calling 911 and filing a police report as a bizarre and excessive reaction? What would you report in the police report? What harm has been done to you? Is there any suggestion of imminent harm to your children if something like this happened? I feel like there’s such a climate today of being afraid of and reactive to the slightest unusual occurrence. Opening the paystub is the worst part and most objectively reportable (to your company). Having a coworker show up at your door because they are obsessing over a social interaction that upset them is really strange and not okay, but it’s far from criminal.

              1. Kate*

                I don’t think it’s bizarre or excessive at all. When you think someone wants to harm you, you don’t wait for them to do it before you take action to stop them. ESPECIALLY when you realize that someone knows where you live. This situation is so unusual that it would be reasonable for the coworker to jump to quite a few conclusions, many of them with scary outcomes for her.

              2. Temperance*

                Nope. I’m an attorney. Here’s the situation from my perspective: I have a coworker who is stalking me – which, BTW, is how I would feel if someone snooped at my paystub to find my home address to ask why I didn’t return her greeting – and I know that the best way to protect myself is by taking legal action and compiling evidence for a restraining order. The first step is to file and obtain a police report.

                1. Elizabeth H.*

                  I think it’s a huge leap to say stalking. I think the coworker overreacted. This doesn’t make what LW#2 did normal or acceptable but my genuine opinion is that coworker overreacted and that you would be too if you got a restraining order based on this one incident. I’m not even confident one would be granted (none of us here can know this for sure, that’s my personal opinion). I’m imagining this like if it happened to me with the coworker I feel the MOST weirded out by and I still can’t imagine calling the police or filing for a restraining order after this single incident.

                2. Temperance*

                  Really? In this particular scenario, someone with poorly-controlled mental health issues has become fixated on me and has shown up at my home. I’m terrified, because that’s a scary thing to do to someone, and I want to protect myself from future interactions.

                  You are probably right that a restraining order wouldn’t be granted on this one terrible incident, but I would absolutely file that police report to start a paper trail.

                3. Elizabeth H.*

                  I don’t think I’m unusually brave and I realize I’m not going to change anyone’s mind so I’ll leave this here, but I don’t really understand being “terrified,” especially by a fellow woman. It is super abnormal behavior but I feel like I would understand what was going on from the context. I know a lot of people with anxiety/compulsivity issues. I even had a friend of mine who was really into me “stalk” me in high school. (He would ask me to hang out all the time, show up at my house at random occasionally to lend me a book or something, and sometimes if I was out or wasn’t responding to his calls he would call my friends’ houses to see if I was over there or they knew where I was) I was creeped out but never terrified and I never in a thousand million years would have called the police or asked my parents to do so and I feel like if I were describing it here people would tell me to get a restraining order. It wouldn’t have been the right thing to do. I realize that the details of the LW’s mental health condition and specific motivations wouldn’t be disclosed in detail to the coworker like it has been to us here, but I feel like some of it would be obvious from context. I feel like this is part of an overall trend of decreasing tolerance of behavior that deviates from the norm, and leaping to fear, paranoia and police involvement, the same kind of thing like when people call the police when they see kids walking home from school unaccompanied.

                4. Kismet*

                  “this is part of an overall trend of decreasing tolerance of behavior that deviates from the norm”

                  A good trend, frankly, when the norm being violated is “don’t snoop through a casual acquaintance’s mail and show up at their house just because they didn’t say goodbye.”

                  I don’t like the sense I’m getting from your comments, which is that women have no right to feel threatened or take steps to protect themselves. I especially don’t like the sense that if a person can throw out “but I have a mental illness!” then they get a free pass on engaging in alarming behaviors.

                  Calling the cops because my coworker randomly showed up at my house, when they shouldn’t know my address, so I could reassure them I did still like them is absolutely reasonable and not at all like calling the cops because I saw some kids walking home from school. One is an explicit boundary violation, the other is not. How is this hard?

          6. Kate*

            Key words: “at the time.” OP’s condition is chronic, so it’s not “at the time.” It’s not as if she did this under the influence of a weird drug that she immediately stopped taking. If I’m the coworker, I just want to hear why it won’t happen again, and if the condition still exists, I’m not convinced it won’t.

            1. fposte*

              Right. This isn’t “She didn’t know it was wrong and she knows now.” She did it for reasons that still obtain.

            2. EleonoraUK*

              But if she had a pattern of getting this extreme she’d have probably mentioned it, and I think it’s worth the coworker knowing there’s no pattern (if there isn’t). I’d feel more secure knowing this was an outlier for the OP.

              The OP does of course need to ensure she gets the right treatment to ensure this doesn’t happen again, and as the coworker, that’s further information that would help me feel more at ease.

              It doesn’t erase anything that happened, but knowing the likelihood of it happen in again are low and getting lower due to better treatment would help me in the coworker’s shoes.

        4. Roscoe*

          #3 Assuming this person is an otherwise good employee (and nothing says the contrary except that they have used up all their sick leave and talks negatively at work over drinks) then I’d give them the unpaid day. Asking for an unpaid day off seems more than fair here. I mean if you know they are taking off, couldn’t you offer someone else OT or some other benefit to cover for them? Also, when a manager won’t let you take a day unpaid, it looks REALLY bad. Like you look very unflexible. Because surely you would let that happen for certain things. If she was supposed to come back and her flight got delayed, if she just got sick, if she had a family emergency. Likely you would find a way to make it work. Now you can definitely tell her its a 1 time thing. You can even bring it up at a staff meeting that it’s not going to be a regular occurrence. But let her have the day.

            1. Sarah*

              Yeah, I think you can’t expect a business to offer overtime pay or other perks to cover unpaid leave. Of course it would be different if there were a serious emergency — which the OP already said, that they absolutely allow unpaid leave when there’s an emergency situation. But “I want to go on vacation and didn’t plan properly” is not an emergency.

          1. Observer*

            Well, you cut people some slack when things they can’t control happen. But you don’t have to do that when people have the capacity to PLAN their activities.

            And, yes, it’s inflexible. But paying someone overtime costs more than paying someone’s salary – remember that overtime is 1.5 of regular salary. So that’s a real cost. And, requiring overtime is not something a good manager wants to do, anyway, for a whole host of reasons.

            So, yes, it’s inflexible but it’s being dictated by the circumstances.

        5. Chinook*

          ” I think the OP’s colleague may actually get some relief from knowing the OP suffered what is essentially a medical issue at the time. I’d prefer to know my colleague did something that crossed the line in the midst of an anxiety spiral, and would probably have some of my anger abate, as opposed to the defensiveness and anger that would come from feeling like my privacy had been intruded by someone with no boundaries ”

          I am the opposite -knowing that this was a symptom of a mental illness would give me reason to wonder if it will get worse before it gets better. While most people with a mental illness are of no danger to anyone other than themselves, those who do harm others have to start somewhere and stalking (whether intentional or not) would be a first step. The only way to show that the fixation has stopped is to maintain no contact through any means, which the coworker has already requested (and is being kind by not doing so via a court order)

          1. teclatrans*

            Right. “Medical issue at the time” is incorrect. “Ongoing issue that may or may not be under control now and which might drive future actions” is freaking terrifying in regard to someone who stalked you. I can’t see how this is supposed to reassure coworker.

        6. Susanne*

          If I were the victim here, I would personally get NO “relief” from knowing that the OP has a mental illness that apparently makes it impossible for her to control her actions.

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            Part of being a human living in a society with other humans is tolerating other people’s differences and disabilities, even if they make us uncomfortable sometimes.

            1. Kismet*

              Part of being a person with a disability that results in you stalking a coworker or otherwise causing another person harm or distress is managing that disability. You don’t get a free pass to abuse people and walk all over others’ boundaries just because you have a disability.

  5. Ramona Flowers*

    #3 I once heard about a really interesting study where they found that, if companies didn’t offer paid sick leave, people called out more often as they figured it made no difference to the company’s bottom line and didn’t understand the other impacts.

    1. Susan*

      That reminds me of something I read about a daycare that had a problem with parents picking up their kids late. They implemented a fine for late pickups, thinking that would be an incentive for parents to be on time, but it actually increased late pickups. The theory was that the fine made parents feel like it was ok to be late, since they were paying for it, instead of feeling guilty about being late. It seems like the study you heard about could be a similar situation, because if the sick leave is unpaid, the employees don’t feel guilty about calling in sick because they feel like they’re covering the cost (even though logically, you would think unpaid sick leave would be a deterrent to calling in sick).

      1. Tuckerman*

        I worked at a daycare where we did this. The daycare charged $2/minute. Staff got $1/minute of that.
        Parents rarely came late. And if they did, it wasn’t super frustrating for staff, since we made good money for it.

      2. BananaPants*

        It was a study done in Israel, I believe – I think I read about it in Freakonomics? I read the actual study and IMO a flaw in the design was the very low cost of the fee relative to the standard daycare cost and lack of any more serious consequence to chronic lateness…effectively, parents were buying themselves an extra chunk of child care time for just a few bucks a day.

      3. Iris Eyes*

        At all the daycares I looked into the cheapest rate was $5 per minute for late pick up, the most common was $10 per minute. That’s $600 per hour for one kid!! I can’t imagine that not being motivating.

        1. Jaydee*

          Yeah, that’s the thing. If you pay $150/week for daycare and your kid is there an average of 45 hours a week, you’re paying $.05 per minute. Make the late charge $1 or $5 or $10 a minute, and it is 20x or 100x or 200x the “regular” rate. That’s incentivizing.

      4. HisGirlFriday*

        BananaPants and Susan are right — it was written about in Freakonomics, and it was a daycare in Israel. For several weeks, they just tracked late pick-ups, then they implemented a fine, and late pick-ups actually went up because parents were figuring they could just pay for the extra time their kids were in daycare.

        Then whey they took away the fine, parents were still late, because they had determined that the incentive to be on time wasn’t worth it enough.

        Link to follow in separate comment.

  6. nnn*

    A possible option for #1: In addition to clearly designating who is replacing you when you’re out of office, you could also introduce a rule that only your replacement is to contact you when you’re out of office – everyone else should go through your replacement first.

    Then you can ignore the phone unless it’s you’re replacement calling.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      I wondered if there’s clear documentation in place about what to do in these situations that you can refer people to.

      1. LizM*

        I agree with this. In my office, we have a clear delegation of authority memo. If manager is not available, go to manager’s deputy. If deputy is not available, go to Jane. If Jane is not available, go to Jack, etc. We have a handful of senior staff on the list, and rotate it every quarter so that someone else’s name gets moved to the top of the list. It’s clearly posted. The expectation is that the person in charge is the one who makes the call on whether an issue is one that they can handle, or whether we need to contact the manager or deputy. There are some things that automatically get sent to the manager, but those are actually pretty rare, usually it can either wait until she gets back, or the acting manager has the authority to handle it.

    2. all aboard the anon train*

      The way the letter is worded makes me wonder if there is another supervisor who is replacing the OP when she’s out of the office. I got the impression that OP and the other supervisor were sometimes out of the office at the same time, and there were no other managers in the office. If that is the case, it’s still annoying that the staff is contacting OP, but it does explain why they might be doing it.

      Though, I could have wildly misinterpreted the letter.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        Either way, I’m also wondering if the OP has really clearly and directly said everything they’ve said in this letter to their staff.

        Also… working in a stressful or demanding job can sometimes make people a little regressive in how they interact with management – so managers can end up feeling like kindergarten teachers shepherding small children. Sometimes it can be helpful to look at things like peer to peer support to help people cope with stress at work. Just a thought.

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          Definitely. When you’re part of a staff in a non-managerial role, sometimes it can feel like you’re overstepping if you make decisions without asking your manager first. I think OP also needs to clear up what the staff needs to ask her about and what they can do on their own. That would probably bring a good portion of the contact down.

          1. Marzipan*

            Yup. It’s also important that the staff know what they are and aren’t empowered to do without managerial input, and that the way you/other managers react to times they do act without calling supports this.

            I’ve seen scenarios in some workplaces where staff would get a very critical response to decisions they took without consulting a manager – they hadn’t done anything daft, their managers just had a very ‘the only right way to do this is my way’ attitude. Those staff members naturally became incredibly wary of ever applying their own initiative to any problem or situation, because basically whatever they did they were going to get bollocked for it. (‘Why did you call Bob in facilities to have the heating fixed? That was very inappropriate. Calls to Bob should go though me.’) I’m not seeing anything in the letter that’s especially suggesting that’s the case, but it’s something to be alert to and double check isn’t in play at all, in addition to the other steps suggested.

            1. Lora*


              When I hear, “but you should have told me first!” coming out of the mouth of someone who has never ONCE helped me or provided useful input or done anything to suggest that telling them would be a beneficial thing to do, I do an internal eyeroll and Bless Your Heart. I’m going to tell people who are helpful and thoughtful and not micromanaging jerks when there’s a decision to be made or when I’ve made a decision. So, on the plus side – your staff sees you as someone they can come to with problems, who is open to helping them out, who they trust.

              I would definitely start by being explicit about who to call when you’re not around and who can make what decision, but if they persist in calling you after you’ve re-directed them consistently for 6-8 weeks (approximately how long it takes to make a new habit), it may be time to ask why don’t they want to come to the person you’ve designated for help.

            2. Xarcady*

              I was thinking along these lines, as well. It might not be the OP, it might be another manager, but it is something to look into–are staff allowed to make decisions, or do they get in trouble for acting on their own?

              I recall a function I attended several years back, where the person in charge was clearly a micro-manager. Her staff followed her around like ducklings following the mother duck. There was a problem with the tickets for lunch, one that in my organization just about anyone could have approved the very obvious solution. But instead, a staffer had to find the boss, who was insisting on dealing with each question from each staffer in the order they arrived. So half an hour after the problem emerged and 20 minutes after lunch should have started, when the staffer in question was still waiting to ask the boss what to do, a very hungry, very upset group of people stormed the dining room and demanded food.

              The boss was very upset with the attendees, but her own system and her own need to deal with every single little detail were the cause. This was a weekend long event, and people pretty much stopped asking questions of the people from the organization running the event, and just started taking issues to the staff of the hotel where the event was held.

              This was my introduction to the perils of micro-management. I’m not saying the OP micromanages, but there is something in the way her organization runs that is making people check constantly with their managers. In addition to Alison’s advice, it might be worth looking into what’s going on behind the scenes to cause this.

              1. zora*

                Omg, I wonder if that was an event with my OldJob!!! That is exactly how events went there, the director is a complete control freak and has gone though 6 event coordinators in 18 months because they just refuse to let anyone make any decisions. It’s totally a cultural thing, though, the entire organization is like that.

                She also turns every little snag into a Huge Issue Indicative Of You Completely Sucking At Everything, so when a coworker did a tiny minor thing she didn’t like right at the beginning of a major conference, she took that person aside in the middle of the hotel lobby and lectured her about it for a full 45 minutes, right as hundreds of attendees started to arrive and the line was filling the lobby many times over. The person she was yelling at was the only one “Allowed” to check people in, but it was more important to dissect the issue that had happened than get conference attendees registered.

            3. Iris Eyes*

              The micromanaging could also be a legacy issue from former management either here or at previous jobs.

              Sometimes giving people a specific and limited area of responsibility i.e. Susan you are now kibble queen I need you to do X and Y, you have shown that you know what you are doing and I’m now deputizing you to handle questions about Z, if Q happens then get me or Manager involved. Then make sure to enforce that whether you are there or not. If your people are trustworthy trust them and make sure that they know they are trusted. In a lot of cases that should help build their confidence and quality of life, which will in turn build your confidence and quality of life.

          2. k.k*

            Great point. If the animal shelter is like the ones I’m familiar with, a lot of the non-managerial roles are fairly low paid positions so it’s made up of a lot of people that either don’t have much work experience, or have worked a lot of roles where they didn’t have much autonomy. That may be contributing to the feeling that they need to run everything by management.

        2. Grits McGee*

          This- when I was working in a customer service position, I almost always went to my managers first because, although we had pretty clear policies, managers had a decent amount of latitude to bend them, and I really didn’t want to make a decision/enforce a rule and then have to backtrack later because a manager didn’t have my back. OP1, this situation may have no relevance to the type of work you do, but it may be worth it to consider if there’s a history of employee decisions being questioned/overturned or if your employees feel empowered to make judgement calls and be supported in this by you and the other manager.*

          *Within reason, of course.

      2. OP #1*

        You didn’t misinterpret! That is pretty much what’s going on. However, there are managers that are there when the other supervisor and I are not. I think they may be afraid to talk to them for some reason, and so they contact us.

        As I said, we do need to make a written policy on this and make sure it is followed.

    3. LS*

      “It’s mostly questions about things that could easily be answered/handled by someone else in the building, management or not” In many of my past jobs, *who* can help with *what* is fairly invisible to new or junior staff. If there is someone in a supervisory role on every shift and/or the process to get issues resolved is very clear, you should be seeing a lot less of this.

      1. Sarah*

        It might also help to have a really clear “flowchart” sort of thing posted in a few places that outline the most common situations people may encounter. Something like:

        Questions about A, B, or C? Write them down on in this log with your information and a manager will respond by you next shift.
        Questions about D or E? Ask a coworker.
        If F or G happens, that’s the time to call a supervisor, no matter what time of the day or night.

    4. AdAgencyChick*

      This is an excellent idea, because then you need to give highly detailed instructions on what to do while you’re out to only ONE person. Deputy Jane gets told, “If X happens, refer them to Joaquin. If there’s a question about Y, let them know they’ll have an answer when I get back. Call me only if Z.”

      Everyone else gets told, “I’m taking PTO, so I won’t be answering email or phone. Please see Jane while I’m out.”

    5. cncx*

      having a designated contact person who was “allowed” to contact someone on vacation is how my former boss handled it, and how a good friend’s current team handles it- the replacement decides if it is worth contacting the absent person or not. it was also expressly said at my former job that work calls from any extension other than Official Replacement would not be answered.

    6. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I think this is a great comment.

      LW #1 needs to make sure that there is a very clear chain of command when she and the other supervisor are out of the office. And whoever is highest in command on site should be the only person reaching out if there is a problem they can’t solve.

      1. OP #1*

        Agreed! We really need to establish this with the staff and make sure they know and understand the chain of command.

    7. paul*

      That’s a good idea and it’s helped out a lot here. We implemented it a few years ago.

      The catch is though you have to understand your replacement may not always handle an issue the exact same way you would, and be OK with that.

      There should *always* be a designated “person in charge” on site at any given time, and they should be the one to make the call to contact here. And you should understand that sometimes they may make a call differently than you would.

    8. nonymous*

      why not just direct staff to an org email/phone? If OP#1 wants to use personal cell for mobility purposes, they can just forward the desk phone. People can still call/email at their leisure, but OP#1 will respond when she gets to it. No texting! if they need that type of interface, set up a slack channel.

      1. nonymous*

        followup: if OP#1 is on vacation or leave (or just moves on to another org), it will be much easier to transition this system than the current one.

    9. OP #1*

      Thanks for answering my question! And I agree, I think we do need to create an actual written policy about this situation, talk to everyone, have them sign it, and follow through when the policy isn’t being followed.

  7. I am not a lawyer but,*

    #4 flextime really really varies. In my last govt agency it meant anyone could work 5 – 8 hour days one week and 4 – 8.75 hours the next to have 1 day off each 75 hour pay period. At my new agency it’s for management only and I still haven’t figured it out but they get one day off every 4 weeks. And if anything happens to mess with the schedule its back to 8-4 M-F until the next quarter starts and using annual time to make up for imbalances. If I have to watch the clock I’d rather look for the same thing each day, not wonder if tomorrow is the day you start early or stay late.

    1. always in email jail*

      In my agency, we use it to mean comp time that you have to use or “flex” within the pay period (if you’re exempt) or within one week (if you’re not). so say you’re asked to stay 2 hours late on monday. You have the rest of the pay period to choose a day to leave two hours early, or come in an hour late and leave an hour early, etc. It’s not available in every situation, though.

      1. Brett*

        That’s how the agency I used to work for used it as well, comp time that had to be flexed within the same or next pay period. (Which was really not a great plan, because anything that caused an 80+ hr week was not likely going to stop within three weeks.)

        1. always in email jail*

          YES! This was our main argument against it as well.. anything that required us to work a significant amount of overtime was not going to be magically resolved before the end of the pay period.

  8. Ramona Flowers*

    #4 See if there’s a written policy explaining it. If not, do ask as it’s different everywhere.

    I have a flex schedule and the way it works is I need to be there during core hours from 10am-4pm, with a lunch break. I can start any time from 8am and leave any time up to 7pm. I don’t need to agree this in advance but there are days when I have to be there at specific times as I’m scheduled for things that require coverage. If I work over my hours I can leave earlier at other times or take time off.

    I love this because I don’t have to worry about getting to work for an exact time or get stressed if my train is a little late. I can stay later on days when I have more to do and leave earlier on days when I don’t. It’s great.

    1. Marzipan*

      I’d add to this – even if there is a written policy, discuss it with your manager to see how it operates in practice. I’ve known organisations where flexitime exists but isn’t used in some departments, either because the operational requirements are different and whoever wrote the flexitime policy had no concept of that, or because someone senior on that department just doesn’t approve of flexitime irrespective of the fact it’s on the books for the wider organisation. So, see what’s written down – but also find out what happens in practice.

      1. Matt*

        I have flextime with core hours 9 am – 1 pm. In fact we have a “late” culture – most people will arrive minutes before 9 am and routinely schedule meetings for 5-6 pm (and generally expect everyone to be available until at least 4 pm or so …), so it would raise eyebrows if someone would make use of flextime to the extent of e.g. working from 6 am to 2 pm (which would be technically legal according to our policy).

        1. CityMouse*

          I have flex time that basically means I can work 80 hours within two.weeks within particular times Monday through Saturday. But my work is highly individual and I still correlate my hours generally with my supervisor.

        2. Sandy*

          It’s too bad that that would raise eyebrows!

          We skew early in our office, and one of my coworkers does exactly that- 6 am to 2 pm. His wife takes the kids to daycare and school, and then he has time to get home faster work and do school pickup.

          I’m kind of jealous, but then I remember 6 am at my desk…

          1. Oryx*

            Ha, yes, I have coworkers who are able to leave pretty early during the day, which makes me jealous, until I remember that means they got to work equally early in the morning and yeah, no thanks.

          2. Chinook*

            I think the fact that being the only early bird would raise eyebrows is too bad for an entirely different reason. Around here, being able to start work at 7:30 am means the computer servers are not overloaded and most of the programs are running quickly. I can tell most of the others who use them are late workers because, after 1 pm, the systems run so much more slowly (to the point that I work on other stuff in the afternoon). Being one of the few people who works opposite of every one else definitely has its perks.

      2. AdAgencyChick*

        Completely agree. OP has already accepted the offer, but this is something I’d have wanted to understand (and get in writing) before accepting, especially since a pay cut was involved.

      3. Samata*

        Yes, definitely discuss individual department practices. This has never happened to me, but a friend left a position she was in for 15 years because she needed more flexibility in scheduling; her new job told her working from home 2 days a week was an option for employees and they could change weekly as long as cleared with boss.

        Her 2nd day on the job she asked if they could work something out so that her 2 days could be the same each week…to which her new boss replied “oh yes, I know in the interview we said that was the company policy, but in our department specifically we have amended it to 2 times per month.” I guess he just “forgot” to mention it in the interview. She moved on a year later and still HATES the gap on her resume.

      4. Life is Good*

        At my old dysfunctional workplace, Flextime was touted as the best benefit ever. In order to be approved for it, you had to get buy-in from all your co-workers. There were so many toxic personalities in that office. Those people wouldn’t ok a coworker’s plan for fear that that person would be getting a “better deal” than they were. So…..nobody got to work a flexible schedule. Even though it was on paper as a benefit, no one got to do it.

    2. Rookie Manager*

      My previous flexi-time jobs have worked just like Ramona’s. I found it a brilliant way of working and it definitely made managing health/traffic/life in a morning easier for me. One flexi-time tip I’d suggest is to try snd keep in positive hours. This means if you have a slow day or it’s great weather or you aren’t feeling ‘it’ one day it’s ok to leave early and not feel stuck at work.

      Enjoy, it’s a great benefit.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        Further to which, it’s worth checking how far you can go into positive or negative hours. Mine is two days either way so I can leave early in those situations and make it up another time.

        I don’t think I could ever go back to having an arbitrary start time.

      2. Tau*

        Banking hours was the BEST. I ended up put on a project where we had to hit precisely X hours every week because of billing and I fiercely missed being able to bank time every week thereafter. Especially the ones where I worked 2 hours later than usual on Thursday in order to be able to leave early on Friday, and the ones where I took a 1.5 hour lunch break on Friday (mainly spent twiddling my thumbs) because I’d accidentally built up too much time.

        1. Tau*

          Oh yeah, I meant to say definitely keep in the positive. Back when I was able to bank I tried to keep at least 1-2 hours in the plus always in case of a bad day or an emergency.

      3. Chinook*

        Also, please ensure that you keep your electronic calendar as up to date as possible to show when you are in the office, It makes it much easier to book meetings with others when you can see when everyone is actually in the office.

    3. Purplesaurus*

      My flex time is 7am-3pm. My coworker in the same role likes the 9-5 schedule. Though shift work isn’t a thing for us, it has worked out well for one of us to handle stuff that might pop up early and one for later tasks.

      In a previous job, flex time meant that I could work a few ten hour days and leave early on a Friday, as long as the hours added up for that pay period.

    4. Elemeno P.*

      I have a similar schedule to this. I generally arrive and leave around the same time, but I vary it each day depending on the weather/post-work activities/pre-work appointments. As long as I do my work, attend my meetings, and work 40 hours, they don’t care about the specifics.

    5. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      In theory this is how my job works, but in practice core hours aren’t really enforced – we are supposed to work 40-48 hours a week which for some people means working 6:30 to 2:30 every weekday and for others rolling in sometime in the pm and making up hours on the weekend. I appreciate the flexibility as there really is no need for us to all be in at the same time.

    6. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, I was pretty spoiled at my last job that we could basically work any time between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. as long as we were there between 10-2. And while most people stuck to their same basic schedule most days, it wasn’t a problem if someone showed up a little earlier or later than usual. At my new job, there are still flex hours for some departments, but it’s between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., most people start by 8 and you’re pretty much expected to stick to your schedule.

    7. Govt Atty TX*

      At my govt agency, flextime means two things: (1) you have the option to work regular 8 hour days, or 9 hours days with every other Friday off, or four 10 hour days and have every Friday off, and (2) that you get to pick the hours you work so long as you arrive between 6-9am and leave between 3-6pm. BUT we have to have that schedule set; we can’t switch it up from day to day or week to week. So, for example, my co-worker works 7:30-5:30 and takes every other Friday off, while I work a standard 8:30-5:30, and our assistant works 7-6 and takes every Friday off (we all have to take an hour for lunch). We do not get to come in at 9am one day and 6am the next; we are expected to be here the same hours every day.

    8. Turtle Candle*

      Yep, it varies a lot. At a past workplace, you could set your own schedule but you had to stick with it, or get changes cleared with your manager. At my current workplace, as long as you work a reasonable numbers of hours and don’t miss meetings, you can show up and leave whenever you want, make up time on the weekends, whatever. Do ask!

  9. Bea*

    #1 You need to make sure you’re empowering people to make decisions on their own. It sounds like they’re scared to make decisions without a supervisors “go ahead”. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you did anything, it could be someone before you or someone else along the line giving them the feeling they cannot do things on their own.

    I know this because I have had this issue with my direct reports. I have started encouraging them to make a lot of basic decisions that they were asking me about every single time otherwise. You praise their problem solving skills and let them know you trust them to run the show without you. You let them know exactly what’s an emergency to call you about and what they can just go ahead and do without any fear that they’ll be reamed out when you return that things weren’t done a very specific way.

    I’m in a particular position where I can’t always refer someone to someone else about some office related things, so I don’t have the ability to say “Jane can answer that for you”, so I’m coming at this from that angle. If you can just direct them to ask someone else that’s on duty, by all means you should do that!

    1. Beezus*


      In addition to empowering people to make basic decisions and giving them guidance on when to call – it helps me a lot to give people clear direction on what to try before calling, and what information to provide when they call. “If the reporting macro doesn’t work, first check to make sure the server is connected to the network and its Outlook connection is working correctly, then try clearing the cache and restarting it. If neither of those things work, disable the Outlook notification feature and run it in test mode while you observe it. Then call me and tell me what step it’s getting hung up on, and give me specifics on any error messages you see.” Once I provided that direction, I stopped getting calls like “The reporting macro isn’t workingggg and I don’t know what to doooo”, and then dropping everything to troubleshoot it, or spending an hour on the phone talking them through basic troubleshooting. Now I get 90% fewer calls, and they’re more like “The reporting macro isn’t working, and the troubleshooting steps didn’t work. When I ran it in test mode, I got a runtime error between Step 4a and 4b.” That’s enough information for me to evaluate whether I need to step in directly, or give them another step or two to try, or dispatch someone else to help – and any of those things is a two minute call, instead of an hour. Things are SO much better for them and for me.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      Ooh, good observation! I see this a lot with people who are at their first non-retail, non-food-service, non-call-center type job. Often (not always) in those industries employees aren’t supposed to so much as breathe without managerial sign-off for fear of getting written up; if you’ve come from a situation where you can’t even take a bathroom break without someone’s approval, let alone make a workplace decision, you get in the habit of checking every little thing with the Person of Authority.

      If that’s the case, encouraging them to use their best judgment (and being understanding of the occasional slip-up, if it happens) can make a huge difference in not getting asked questions all the time.

  10. Sash*

    Re: #1 – why does OP answer their phone—at 3AM no less? Make voicemail/email/texting your friend and never ever pick up your phone when it’s inconvenient!

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Because OP doesn’t know if they have to answer, by the sounds of it. And the answer is no, you don’t have to and you should stop, but that alone won’t solve the problem.

    2. Stellaaaaa*

      Some people leave their phones on at night because they don’t want to risk missing emergency calls from friends and family. There may also be certain workplace emergencies concerning the animals that OP really would have to know about right way. If employees are working late-night shifts without management present, it makes sense to be theoretically available. Regardless, if your phone is on and it wakes you up, you’re going to answer it.

      1. Kheldarson*

        “Regardless, if your phone is on and it wakes you up, you’re going to answer it.”

        I dunno, depends on the number for me. I’ll be taking a nap and mom calls? I look at the phone, let it finish, mute it, go back to sleep. Lol!

        That said, some phones have programs that allow you to set designated ring throughs. So OP could mute their phone but still have mom/dad/spouse/whoever ring in.

        And then leave a voicemail message telling the workers to call the appropriate person.

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          I don’t want to get too in the weeds here, but even just thinking about my own emergency contacts, if I allowed certain numbers to bypass my “do not disturb” setting, that would be my mom, my 2 brothers, my sister, and about 10 friends who I would jump to help in any emergency. At that point, I might as well just leave the phone on, since I want to be accessible to people calling on those people’s behalf. Why allow my sister’s cell to get through but potentially block the hospital or anywhere else where I’m listed as an emergency contact? And to get back to the substance of the letter, I think there are probably animal or employee-related situations where a manager absolutely needs to be reached. I don’t feel it would be right to have employees working regular shifts where management would never, ever be accessible. The point is that the employees need training in which situations warrant a call, not that they shouldn’t be calling at all.

      2. Sash*

        You’ve misunderstood my point, or I wasn’t clear. I’m not saying OP should ignore calls (that may be an emergency.) rather, let ALL CALLS go to voicemail -and listen to them right way and decide the level of (or non-) importance, thus, to call back or not. Instead of wasting time talking to, thereby encouraging, non-urgent calls, OP can take 10 seconds to hear the voicemail and act as they see fit. If there IS an emergency, there’s no difference between talking to the employee when they call, and talking to them 20 seconds later after hearing their voicemail. Better yet, tell them they’re never to call you off hours but must text you the specific info.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It sounds like OP leaves her phone on for legitimate emergencies, but staff are abusing that access by calling for non-emergencies that do not qualify on the very short list of “reasons under which you can call me at 3 a.m.” I think redrawing and reinforcing the boundaries, as Alison notes, will go a long way to quashing that.

      But I’m very sympathetic to OP#1—I am an extremely grouchy/trollish version of myself when someone wakes me up at an ungodly hour with a non-emergency.

    4. GermanGirl*

      My Android 7 phone has a do not disturb setting where you can configure that the first call of anyone goes to voicemail and if they call again within 15 minutes the call gets through. You could make your voicemail text say as much. “Hi this is GermanGirl, my phone is currently mute, but if you have an emergency, just hang up and call again immediately to let my phone ring.”
      Hopefully, people will think whether they have an emergency or not before calling again.

      1. Kyrielle*

        My iPhone will let me do this too. I can set specific numbers to ring through on the first try, but everyone else gets me only if they call back.

    5. Chinook*

      At an animal shelter, emergencies can and do happen at all hours, whether it is a fire in/around the building or animal control picking up a larger than usual number of creatures. Plus, once you have a certain level of authority, you do have to be available for real emergencies, even if they only happen every couple of years.

  11. Simone R*

    #1, Is it possible that your volunteers aren’t expecting an instant response but operating in the mindset of they’ll send it when they think of it and you’ll get to it whenever? In my old job, we had to send our manager end of day reports about things that went wrong, even though he wasn’t around so he’d have a heads up. Maybe formalizing a way to get incidents and questions passed onto you at the end of a shift instead of people telling you things individually when they happen might help.

    With the contacting a ridiculous times to let you know about time off, I can sort of see the logic in that situation. “Oh, I’m up and feeling sick at 3, I know I won’t be able to get in and I don’t want to wake up at 6 so I’ll just let them know now so they’ll know instantly at 6.” Is there a less disruptive way you could give people to let you know information like that? Otherwise I agree with Alison that you have to be clear about the boundaries!

    1. Bagpuss*

      I wondered about this.

      I think it would be helpful, if you haven’t already done so, to talk to your staff to give them clear guidance (for instance, explain that because there are occasionally emergencies that *do* require a 3 a.m. call, you can’t turn off or mute your phone, so please don’t make /send non-emergency calls/texts outside working hours)

      Consider having a cheat-sheet somewhere prominent identifying which kinds of situation do count as an emergency and who to ask / what steps to take if you are not there .

      Finally, if you have already done those things and people are still ignoring your requests and disturbing you when they shouldn’t, push back y redirecting them. So if someone calls when they shouldn’t, bout an issue which doesn’t need your input,. your response becomes “I’m not on duty at present. You need to follow the procedure and speak to the person on duty today.” then follow up by speaking to them the next day to remind them that calling you was inappropriate. By redirecting you make more work for them, as they call you but then have to go and find the right person any way. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking “well, since I’;m already awake I’ll deal with this, it’s less hassle then trying to get them to follow procedure” but if you can make it less rewarding for them to disturb you, so it becomes more effective for them to ask the person on site, then you should see the interruptions reducing.

      Combine it with positive reinforcement. Avoid criticising decisions made without you. Praise stuff which is done correctly in your absence. Encourage people to think for themselves wen you are there – rather than immediately giving a decision, ask for their input and then either endorse their suggestion, or comment on the positives but explain why you would recommend something different. Hopefully that way, people will begin to feel more confident in making decisions without having to come to you.

      Would it be possible to designate a single point of contact for times when you are out, so that that person can contact you but you can ‘mute’ everyone else?

    2. Elsajeni*

      Yes, for texts and especially for texts about whether they’ll be out the next day, this is what I was thinking — “If I send a text, she’ll be able to see it right away when she gets up and I can just sleep.” And honestly, I’m kind of on their side; if you’ve been up all night puking or taking care of a sick kid, it sucks to have to wake back up at 6 am just to send a text at the approved time. Would it maybe work to set a policy like “Call about emergencies; text about anything else” and set your text alert to silent overnight?

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Yeah, this is where I am specifically on the calling-out front; a better alternative for that would be to accept, say, emails as a call-out method.

    3. paul*

      Yeah, we’ve been told to text in whenever; I’ve send texts in at 3 or 4am if I wake up puking. Boss has said that’s fine by her and it means I can go back to sleep and not worry about it.

      I might look at your notifications on your phone; turn your text to silent, leave your ringer on for callsa nd use calls for emergencies?

    4. Decimus*

      I was also wondering if the call-in sick policy is unduly restrictive. It may be one of those policies where you must go in or get written up unless you’ve spoken in person with a supervisor, so they’re calling in at 3am when they’re sick so they don’t need to worry “well what if I can’t reach Jane at 6:45 am before my shift begins?”

      If it’s sick calls that is the problem you may need to rethink your approach a bit – can they email in sick, for example? Even if you need to know before the shift begins (to obtain coverage) can you get an email on your phone? That might be less disruptive.

    5. OP #1*

      That’s possible, but I feel most of the time they expect us to be available. We have some guidelines in place, I just think they need to be more clear and we need to be more direct about our expectations in these situations.

  12. MissGirl*

    I hired on at my job two months ago and they talked a lot about flex time in the interview. Last week we were reminded that leadership wants to see our IMs all activated at 8 am not 8:15. So much for flex time.

    What they mean is occasionally you leave early or come in late if you’re also willing to come in early and leave late.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Yeah, that’s not flexitime. We don’t have flexi here, but it’s how we operate if you’re late or need to finish something at night. We’re not customer facing, and isn’t expected to happen, but yeah, train gets delayed it’s not an issue.

        You can also work with manager to arrange hours. I do 8-4.e0 instead of the usual 9-5.30. My colleague gets to do a half hour lunch and leave early to catch her bus.

        None of that is flexible time :)

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This feels very “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    2. Another person*

      Right, it’s best to ask what it means and also how it is applied in the office! Most places it means you get to set your own hours as long as core hours are covered. But in one office I observed for certain people it apparently meant flex for your office’s needs, as in you stay late until the work is done, and then you get to take a long lunch the next day, or call in sick the last day of the pay period so they don’t have to pay you overtime! And then those people looked at me like I had two heads for actually working my approved flex schedule because to me it meant something different.

    3. bohtie*

      I feel this! We had flextime at my job when I started, once you were off probation. When I got off, I asked my boss about it, and literally like two weeks later they pulled flextime from the entire department. (Apparently the timing was a coincidence but I like to tell everyone it was my fault.)

    4. Sibley*

      My management is confusing comp time, flex time, and general “I’m a professional, let me set my own hours within broad guidelines as long as my work is done.” End result? No flexibility and they don’t trust me.

      Won’t they be surprised when I give notice?

    5. INTP*

      This is more in line with the ways I’ve heard companies use flex time, which I’ve just learned today is not the standard definition apparently.

      The way it’s used by the exempt portion of my office is that if you work overtime, you get that time back later in the week instead of working it all unpaid. So if they have to come in for 4 hours on Saturday they might get to come in after lunch on Monday. Which sounds unexciting compared to all of these other flextime discussions but I’ve worked at plenty of places where any required overtime was strictly in addition to your scheduled hours, so it’s a perk for sure.

    6. Matilda Jefferies*

      Yep. I had a job where “flex time” meant that you could start any time between 7-9 and work 8 hours. But 9:00 was the absolute limit; any start time later than that was not okay. The explanation was that because they were already being so generous by allowing people to start early, they had extended their flexibility as far as it could possibly go. *sigh*

  13. Lady Blerd*

    #1 is an issue for me, I always tell my staff that they can call me if they have questions but I find that sometimes they don’t do some basic search for answers before calling me (or more accurately, sending me an IM). When I go back I will start writing up SOPs for some of the stuff I do and a list of resources to get their answers from. Not everyone has a mind for analyzing processes and figuring out who they should consider contacting so I may as well put it in writing.

    1. Hekko*

      I’m not a manager, but we are a small company and I have a role that includes many different tasks and most of them just have to be done whether I’m there or not – so someone fills in for me when I’m on vacation. I always tell the person to call if they have a question only to find out after I return that they decided to solve something on their own and made a mess.

      This year, I left my colleague with a sheet with instructions on who to contact when there is goods to be picked up or shipped. She lost the sheet the second day of my three-week’s vacation and never called – luckily she got the shipping company right so the people there just forwarded the e-mails to the correct department. But I could have told her where to find the sheet to print in out again, it would have taken me all of three seconds…

      1. Lady Blerd*

        I understand you but it is becoming more obvious to me that tjis does not encourage people to think for themselves and learn. True your employee could have made a mess but she did not.

        Being irreplaceable is a good way to a burn out. I’d rather fix a mess when I get back to work.

        1. Hekko*

          I’m the only one in my role in this company and all my colleagues have their own, different work. I don’t find it effective to train my colleague in every single issue that might come up, especially since she won’t use this knowledge again until next year. I would honestly appreciate it if my colleagues did call with the most pressing questions (yeah, this one was more funny than messy), though year after year we disagree on what is an issue with which they should call and what can wait.

          Guess I’ll take some advice from here and make a worksheet with most important processes and how-to-dos. And then e-mail it to her.

          Being to some extend irreplaceable is the price I pay for working in a small company, I guess. It still suits me better than working for a corporation. I grumble, but am mostly happy. Am probably happy for the grumbling it gives me.

    2. Allypopx*

      I usually start with “where have you already looked?” or “what have you already tried?”

    3. Adlib*

      +1 Your last sentence. That right there. I’m about to go on a Friday – Tuesday vacation, and my out of office message will have several links and contacts listed in it because people are willfully helpless sometimes.

    4. Snark*

      “Not everyone has a mind for analyzing processes and figuring out who they should consider contacting so I may as well put it in writing.”

      You’re not wrong, but I think this is a reasonable expectation of any functional adult.

      1. Lady Blerd*

        In a perfect world yes. But I am realizing that it’s likely that we are not all wired for that. Just like some folks are not good at basic algebra and no amount of teaching will help them figure it out.

  14. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, I am giving your employee so much side-eye. She maxed out her holiday leave, wants to take an unpaid day when there’s inadequate coverage, and somehow it’s now your problem that her boyfriend booked flights before she obtained authorization for the unpaid day? Assuming you did not make her use up her paid holiday leave for her recovery for surgery (i.e., she also had paid medical/sick leave), my tiny Grinch heart is not super sympathetic.

    Again, assuming you do not have a terrible policy regarding medical/sick leave, I think you should breathe deep and come out of your corner. If your employee is unhappy because of the unpaid leave day, then I think you have to be ok with the fact that she’s going to be unhappy about it. But if she’s unhappy because of other issues (and this is just the icing on the cake), which sounds like it may be the case, then I would ask her what those issues entail so that you can determine whether there’s anything you can/should do. She’s now complaining to you and to her coworkers, which either means there are legitimate, unresolved problems that you can change; there are legitimate, unresolved problems that you cannot change; or this job is no longer a great fit for her and is eating away at her morale (and possibly her peers’ morale, depending on her whinging).

    But I think you have to separate her general unhappiness from the unpaid leave issue, because while she may be focused on the unpaid leave request, there’s not really anything you can do on that front. Also, try not to let her debate the issue with you if you really cannot (or should not) waive the policy for business reasons. Alison’s scripts are perfect—remember that if it’s non-negotiable, then it’s better to shut this down early.

    1. kittymommy*

      My grinch heart has little sympathy for this as well (with the same exceptions) to the point where I’d be very much wanting to say (though likely wouldn’t) that there is a very easy fix to such unhappiness at work, simply that the employee no longer needs to work there anymore..

    2. Sal*

      My Grinch (jaded?) heart is assuming that the employee had to use PTO after surgery and didn’t have sick time. And maybe the vacation was even booked before surgery, which could have been unplanned surgery? But I know that I could very well be wrong :)

      1. Allison*

        I know someone who had to max out her sick time and vacation days before medical leave would kick in, so maybe she did have to use some of her vacation for the surgery and/or recovery.

        1. fposte*

          If you mean FMLA, it’s pretty standard to require people to use up their paid leave concurrently.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes, as fposte noted, this is a really common requirement, as is requiring you to exhaust your paid leave and having that time overlap with your FMLA time. It sucks when you have to use holiday leave for medical reasons, which is why I carved out a caveat. But I also acknowledge that many (maybe even most?) U.S. employers who are FMLA-covered do require employees to do just that.

          I just think that it depresses morale when you may need an actual vacation/break but cannot take one—paid or unpaid—because of time spent recovering from a major medical procedure (which is not a vacation or break or recharge period). That’s why it’s my Grinch-exception; I would be sympathetic to someone who missed out on all of their holiday leave because they had to use it on the 3-week medical recovery.

      2. Applesauced*

        That was my interpretation as well.
        If so, it’s unfortunate that all her PTO went to sick leave and not vacation (and a good reason to have them separate!) but she’s not handling the situation well.

      3. OFTF*

        When I had emergency surgery in January, I had to use two sick days and two vacation days. I get only six sick days a year, so I didn’t want to use four and have only two left for the remaining 11 months. If my recovery had been more than four days, I definitely would have had to use my vacation time.

      4. Anonnn*

        I would have some sympathy if there was inadequate sick time and the employee had to use PTO for the surgery, especially if it was unplanned. But that sympathy would quickly decrease if the vacation was booked before the surgery to begin with because that means the employee still made plans and booked tickets before requesting the time off. Like Alison said, “I understand that you’ve already booked flights, but that’s why we ask people to get time off approved before making arrangements like that.”

        1. Sal*

          Ah, that’s true. I’m coming from my experience where I can work my schedule around as I need to a pretty good extent, so if I was denied time off it would really be because they wouldn’t let me go a day in the hole. But since this is a coverage issue, seems her job is probably not like that.

          I travel a lot and when I’m booking flights I move the dates around to get the cheapest ones I can. If I had to decide on my exact dates of travel, then wait for my manager to approve it before booking, the flights would go up hundreds of dollars and I wouldn’t be able to take the vacation anyway. But my manager has never denied a day off, ever, to anyone. Of course, we don’t abuse that and request days when we know we can’t be out – it’s a two way street. I don’t think I could ever go back to a rigid (or coverage-based) job!

      5. Jady*

        Yeah, important distinction here!

        I work in IT and I had to have emergency surgery few years ago. I had to use up all of my remaining sick leave, AND my remaining PTO, and then I was still in red. I wouldn’t be allowed a paid/sick day off for nearly a full year.

        I ended up leaving that company a few months after I returned to work, and I had to write them a check for the days I ‘owed’ them due to my leave. And no, I didn’t quality for any kind of short term disability.

        So if the employee was in my type of situation – good reviews, does good work, had no other choice but to use up all their paid leave – yeah, I would have been pretty angry if the boss wasn’t willing to try working with me.

        But all of that said – I agree they shouldn’t have booked the trip before working that out.

      6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think you’re likely right, which is why it’s the “exception” to my Grinchiness! :)

    3. Another person*

      I think the employee’s attitude toward her job is a far bigger problem than the unpaid day off. One day is just a day, if no one is going to die (I’m assuming they aren’t nurses or paramedics or something like that) the coverage problem can be dealt with. So I’d just let her have the unpaid day because she’s going to be horrible and toxic if forced to pay to change her plane tickets to come to the office instead. She’ll probably just call in sick to undermine her boss anyway.

      Whatever problems she has with her job should definitely be addressed when she returns for the sake of everyone involved.

      1. Another person*

        Oh and if she’s not otherwise a stellar performer (situation is outlier) and this problem wasn’t caused by not having enough sick leave I’d probably write her up for insubordination.

      2. Chinook*

        “One day is just a day, if no one is going to die (I’m assuming they aren’t nurses or paramedics or something like that) the coverage problem can be dealt with. ”

        Yes and no. If it is a job that requires coverage for the company to function (whether it be receptionist, salesperson or mechanic), no one may die if it goes uncovered, but it also may mean that the company may as well close up for the day because nothing meaningful can be done. Our employers do not exist to just give us money – they still require to run to make money and perform the service they are created for. If everyone else’s vacation was preapproved based on the fact that employee was going to be there and now this employee won’t be there, then she needs to suck it up or convince another employee to cancel their preapproved plans.

        Just because you want (but not need) time off, doesn’t mean you get time off. And a pre-paid plane ticket is most definitely a want and not a need.

      3. BeautifulVoid*

        She’ll probably just call in sick to undermine her boss anyway.

        Glad I wasn’t the only one who thought this. OP, she’s already made up her mind that she’s not coming in to work that day. Plan what you can for coverage now, and decide how you’re going to handle her afterwards.

    4. Naruto*

      Yeah, I think you need to deal with her general unhappiness, but that’s separate from this leave conversation (which Alison covered well, I thought). “Why are you unhappy here? Let’s talk about what we can do about it.” And then if it persists, and it’s not just the fact that she’s unhappy but also that she’s complaining a lot to coworkers and creating a toxic environment, “This kind of constant complaining that you’re doing is harmful to morale and the work environment. If there are workplace issues I want to discuss them with you, but I need you to stop complaining to your peers all the time.”

  15. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#5, the great thing about being a stranger is that you don’t at all have to refer other strangers for jobs. Especially if you’ve never had a conversation with that stranger and are not convinced their experience makes them a strong candidate. Don’t sweat this too much.

    1. Julianne*

      Agreed! I recently had a bizarre situation where a stranger filled in my name and email address on a reference form that sent me an automatic email prompting me to complete the reference. (There is no chance it was someone I know using a different last name – the only people I know with the applicant’s first name are people I don’t know well enough to provide a reference for beyond “She has a pulse.”) The reference form indicated what type of position the stranger-applicant was seeking, and it’s not even the area in which I work!

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah, it feels like a gumptioning tactic or a PUA tactic (send someone a reference request because they’ll feel too guilty to say no). Hopefully that was not what happened and it was a bizarre freak accident, but otherwise, I am not going to lose sleep over someone randomly inputting my info and banking on the idea that I’m too socially uncomfortable to let them hang.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      I was going to say the same. You don’t need to say yes just because they asked! Or even because you said yes before you had a chance to think about it. You owe this person exactly nothing – maybe an explanation of why you changed your mind, but only if it’s really, really easy for you. Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with ghosting in this case. Your time and emotional labour are valuable, don’t just spend them on every person who happens to find your LI.

    3. Hey Nonnie*

      My response to strangers asking favors on LinkedIn (or any other social media network) is to reply saying “I’m sorry, you’ll have to remind me, I don’t recall how we met?”

      Funnily enough, I never get a response to that….

    4. babblemouth*

      I’m actually confused what the advantage would be here anyway. If I refer someone for a job, at some point the hiring manager will end up asking me “so, when did you work with Fergus? How was it? What were his strengths?” If my answer is “oh, I don’t know him, he’s just a guy who messaged me on LinkedIn once” I will be on the receiving end of some serious side-eye. Whatever advantage Fergus previously had will immediately disappear too, so there’s nothing in it for him.

  16. Willis*

    #1 – Depending on your relationship with the other supervisor, it may be worth talking to them and, if they’re experiencing similar issues with the calls (which it sounded like from the letter), developing a strategy together about how to handle questions when you’re both out. A united front and consistent reinforcement of the approach from both of you may make it easier for staff to know what to do and get their behavior to change more quickly.

  17. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    #2 – I don’t have any advice other than what’s already been given. Just want to add that I completely understand and sympathise. Sending you all the good thoughts and luck, I hope things start looking up for you soon. (Okay, one piece of advice: don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s easier said than done, that’s for sure! If you can, try to keep in mind that you’re doing your absolute best, that there’s another problem going on here, and you’re doing all you can to solve it. You’re not a bad person at all, there’s just something going on and you need to find the solution. That’s all. Good luck.)

  18. OrangeYouGlad*

    #5 – not referring a stranger
    One of my self-proclaimed “personal rules of adulthood” is that I can say yes and then change my mind and say no.

    For whatever reason growing up I thought if I said “yes” to something that meant it was written in stone. I had given my word and I had to stand by it…even at great discomfort or inconvenience.

    Turns out…nope! I can say an accidental “yes” and then get back in touch with that person and retract that “yes” for a “no”. For ANY REASON.

    This might not be something you struggle with OP but for me, I had to give myself permission to say “no” even when it upsets or disappoints other people. And I’m MUCH happier because of it.

    It’s like Brene Brown says: “Choose discomfort over resentment”. I would much rather be uncomfortable for a quick minute sending a “just kidding – no, I’m not doing that” email than resentful for days-weeks-months because I did something I didn’t actually want to do.

    1. Myrin*

      Yes exactly! If you do have trouble with saying no or changing a yes to a no, OP, I’d actually say that this is the perfect opportunity to practice – you don’t know this person and there aren’t going to be any repercussions, personal or professional, for denying his request.

    2. Marvel*

      This is a great comment–thank you for the reminder! I still have issues saying no, especially when I’ve already said yes.

    3. Kitten*

      I really need to learn this one, especially when I make a spur-of-the-moment decision that would cause me problems down the line. I like the idea of giving myself that permission from the start rather than agonizing and drawing it all out.

    4. CM*

      Agreed. Personally, Alison’s script feels too apologetic to me, as if you owe this person something. I would just say, “I’ve decided I’m not comfortable referring someone I don’t know, but here’s the link to submit your application online. Good luck!”

  19. TNG*

    #4 – Like Allison says you can really only find out what a company means by flextime by seeing the policy and talking to the people. I say talking to the people as well because I’ve worked places which had flexible policies on paper, but where the culture was such that nobody ever used it.

    In my old job flextime meant you could choose to start work any time between 8am and 10am, then work 8 hours + lunch from wherever you started. They made occasional exceptions, but generally they’d prefer you to keep to the same hours every day so everyone would know where you are. So pretty good, but not a high degree of flexibility.

    In my new job their flextime policy is that any flextime request should be responded to by thinking about ‘why not’ rather than ‘why’. Meaning that managers are encouraged to sign off on any flexible working arrangement unless there is a good reason not to do so. For me that currently means working half days three days a week and the freedom to review both the total hours and the hours on each day at any time. Lots of others work from home one or more days a week and flexible arrangements are so common that nobody seems to bat an eyelid if you keep strange hours provided the calendar is kept updated.

  20. CityMouse*

    For LW5, it is 100% okay to say no. It is frankly weird as hell to ask for a referral from someone you do not know. From your letter you asked for samples and it doesn’t say you promised a yes. I do think Alison’s script is smart because if you tell him.his portfolio is bad he may resist or want feedback and I don’t think you want to prolong this connection. Maybe i t is different in other industries but the first request seems off to me.

    1. bookish*

      Agreed, it’s weird! The whole point of a recommendation is that it’s coming from someone who, um, at the very least knows you from Adam. Preferably someone who’s worked with you???

      If I were the letter writer, I’d say just that – they’d get a better recommendation letter from someone who had actually worked with them and knows them.

  21. sanbikinoraion*

    OP #3 yes she has been dumb by booking flights before checking. But is there no way you can offer her the opportunity to work the extra hours the weeks before and after to make back the day?

    Because, if I was in her situation, I would simply take the holiday and call in sick on the inset day anyway — you might as well try and get the extra work out of her.

    Anyway, if you’re in a position where one employee taking a day off (sick or unpaid) leaves you without vital cover, you need to reorganize how you work to mitigate that risk.

    1. Liane*

      Having her work the hours another week is very likely to be illegal, in the US at least. If she is hourly, those extra hours worked in another week would have to not only be paid in that same week’s check but paid at 1.5 times her usual wage. Even if she is exempt there may be laws or company policies against this.
      Aside from the law, OP needs Worker to do those 8 hours as planned, not an extra 8 hours some other week. That it what coverage means.

      1. fposte*

        I think it’s overstating things to say that it’s “very likely to be illegal”; it’s not if the OP’s exempt or if any hours over 40 are paid OT, both of which are common things. However, I’m with you on the coverage needed is the coverage needed.

        1. Liane*

          Yeah, I didn’t word that well–thanks for the assist. I do think the employee is probably hourly though.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I just didn’t want people reporting their companies to the DOL for mandatory OT :-). I’m with you that if rearranging was going to solve this, the OP probably would have done that.

    2. paul*

      that doesn’t help with the coverage on the day of. And frankly we don’t know what all else is going on; are other people off? is it a huge all hands thing happening?

    3. Thlayli*

      A better option might be to say “if you can find someone to cover for you then you can have the day off”. But you need to make sure then that she is not putting pressure on other people to cover.

      I think a lot depends on whether she was forced to use her paid leave for medical reasons or not. I don’t get sick pay in my current job and I used up a lot of my holiday pay when I was sick earlier in the year. I’m considering taking a couple of unpaid days at Christmas and I’d be pretty upset if my boss denied them and didn’t even give me the chance to look into other solutions (like swopping cover with coworkers).

      On the other hand if those 3 weeks were unpaid leave and she has also used up her paid holiday days then I would be disinclined to acquiesce to her request.

    4. Observer*

      And in many workplaces that would get you fired. In most others, it would absolutely get you in trouble.

      1. Megan Johnson*

        Agreed. Calling out for a day that you requested off and had denied…. whoo. That’s not a small thing.

  22. purple wombat*

    For #3, I’m curious… What should the manager do if the employee still doesn’t show up that day? I’ve known people who decide to do that when they don’t have a day approved.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Well in this case it’s probably a non-issue because the leave was for an entire week. And a lot depends on my relationship with the employee, but if I suspected they were abusing the system I would request a doctor’s note. Which I’ve never done before but in this scenario I would.

          1. DaisyGrrl*

            In this scenario, I would also look at *where* the doctor writing the note is. If in town, accept. If not, and there’s no reasonable explanation for it, then discipline time. Reasonable explanations would require proof that illness started before the day in question, and proof of previously arranged travel home that would have allowed the employee to work that day.

            1. Coming Up Milhouse*

              How are you defining ‘in town”? I work in one town, live in another and my provider is two towns over. Just curious because I run into this a lot where the doctor’s notes are from different towns but still within a reasonable geographic location.

              1. not really*

                this person has already indicated they’ll be flying somewhere on vacation. Any reasonable reading of this comment thread wouldn’t include “next town over.”

              2. Natalie*

                I’m assuming DaisyGrrl is thinking of whatever city the OP’s employee is going to for her vacation. I suppose it could be the next town over but it seems unlikely since it would be pretty easy for her to come back for that one day she doesn’t have PTO for.

              3. Just Jess*

                This is just a very gray and fuzzy area. I fully believe Katie the Fed already gave the final answer “A lot depends on my relationship with the employee.” We’d all do our best and favoritism and bias would be unacknowledged factors.

              4. DaisyGrrl*

                Sorry, my language was imprecise. I should probably have said “local” instead. Since the employee had booked plane tickets, I would be looking for evidence that the medical appointment happened locally to the workplace rather than at the vacation destination. Since “reasonable” flights/distances/etc. can vary wildly depending on geography, the manager would have to use some discretion.

                In this case, the LW was told that tickets had already been purchased and would require an extra day’s absence. Since the leave request was refused, I would want the employee to demonstrate that they would have been capable of showing up to work had they not been ill.

        2. CityMouse*

          That would be fantastically stupid. You’re just asking to get fired doing that. Sends a hard message of “I am willing to lie”.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If you’re not positive it’s a lie, you use this as impetus to watch them very, very closely going forward, because someone fitting the profile described by the OP is going to give you plenty more reason to take action if you pay attention.

        4. Oryx*

          It would be profoundly suspect if an employee just happened to get sick on the same day they wanted off and had previously been told no.

          1. nonymous*

            I’ve been in that situation. I just came into work all sniffles with my sickie kit and they sent me home after a couple hours. The manager just needed to know that I wasn’t frolicking like I had originally intended. (I also thanked her for denying the original vacay request because it would have sucked to be sick while traveling.)

      1. bookish*

        Especially after she straight up told her manager she wants to take even more time away from the job because she’s not happy with it? It’s almost like she’s saying “I don’t want to work here.”

          1. les autrui*

            I think this is what bookish is referring to:

            “She has since then debated the issue, saying her boyfriend has already booked flights and she feels very unhappy at work.”

        1. Oryx*

          That didn’t happen. The employee “talks about work negatively to other employees when they go for drinks after work.” That’s nowhere NEAR the same thing as telling your manager you want more time off because you don’t like your job.

          1. les autrui*

            I think this is what bookish is referring to:

            “She has since then debated the issue, saying her boyfriend has already booked flights and she feels very unhappy at work.”

    1. Allypopx*

      That’s definitely a fireable offense, especially if it’s been a back and forth like this.

    2. Liane*

      Best case:
      boss won’t trust you any more, even if she doesn’t discipline you–which probably means no more plum assignments, you work every holiday, you get a lukewarm or bad reference…
      AND your co-workers rightfully resent you for making them work harder, maybe even having to come in on their day off–which means forget about any favors like trading shifts and so on.

  23. kms1025*

    #3 – I am not sure what advice to give you? In my experience, when you flat out deny someone time off, you immediately have a conflict. They want something, you say no…conflict. It’s a bell you cant unring. Your reasons should be sound, business reasons that are easily explainable and understood. I am not saying there are not times where it’s perfectly reasonable and appropriate to deny a request. But was this one of them? Were you possibly annoyed at the amount of time she has already missed? To use the reason, as Alison pointed out, that others can’t afford to take unpaid leave has nothing to do with this situation. For instance, if she had never asked off and if on the day that this employee was requesting, she was sick and called off, you would make some sort of accommodation to continue operating because you would have to…it wouldn’t be ideal but you would do it. Sometimes, in my humble opinion, you have to do that when employees are asking off too. It may not be ideal but in the long run it might be worth it for morale reasons. In this case, possibly sit her down and say in the future all such requests MUST be preapproved, but that you will make an exception this one time only. I think it will be worth it to you in the long run. If there are other issues going on, be sure to address those separately and in a different meeting so things don’t become muddled. Time off is tricky. As a manager you don’t have a lot of control over budget so you can’t offer more money. But time off is almost as important as pay to many people and I’ve found it makes a huge positive difference to be as flexible as possible with time off requests.

    1. fposte*

      You went somewhere different than I thought you were going :-). So I’ll say that it’s okay to have a conflict–sometimes what the employee wants isn’t something the job can provide, and that’s acceptable.

      I think this is more about the employee being unhappy at work, period, and I don’t think giving her the day will solve that problem, so I’d make sure I had a basis for giving her time other than avoiding conflict or keeping the employee happy.

  24. MuseumChick*

    #1, this is what I suggest, next time you go on vacation have a staff meeting/send out an email to every and say “I will be away from the office from X date to Y date. If you have a question about A, B, or C contact Jane. If you need D, E, or F contact Fergus.”

    That way everything is laid out clearly. Then, DO NOT answer your phone.

    1. Liane*

      But these people aren’t just doing it when OP is on vacation, they are doing it on her weekly day/s off.

      1. MuseumChick*

        That doesn’t change the core of my advice. There needs to be clarification on who they should be talking to during those time. Clearly, they don’t know so it’s the OPs job as a manager to provide that information. And if it continues to speak with in offenders individually.

  25. Katie the Fed*

    #2 – I think I would tell HR about your condition, but also try to find a new job. I think it’s going be very hard for your reputation to recover from what happened, and that has the potential to contribute more to your anxiety if people are talking and whispering about it. It’s going to be a very hard thing to recover from in your current workplace, and I think a fresh start would be best for you, obviously with continuing your treatment as well.

    1. Dot Warner*

      I agree. OP, unfortunately I don’t think this is something you’ll be able to live down.

  26. MNBVC*

    Honestly I’m really surprised at the response to #2. If it was the co-worker who wrote in about someone they worked with turning up randomly at their doorstep after violating their privacy in such an outrageous way (opening a paystub? Seriously?!) I’m sure people would be advising a restraining order – especially considering the OP has mental health issues – what would their next step have been? If the co-worker was on holiday would they have broken into the house to find travel plans and track them down?

    Honestly, I get that the OP has anxiety, but actions have consequences and this action made someone else feel unsafe. There’s only so much you can be given leeway for.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      OP #2 is already respecting the restrictions placed on her and hasn’t spoken to this employee since. How is reminding her of just how terrible her actions were going to help her? She knows that already.

      1. Natalie*

        Given their tendency to spiral, reading dozens of comments about how terrible their actions were is probably going to hurt, in fact.

      2. Snark*

        My read is that OP2 is focused more on “can I apologize more and smooth all this over so coworker and my boss aren’t mad at me anymore” than on “how do I salvage my job and career” and I think a lot of people are reacting to that.

    2. MuseumChick*

      If the co-worker wrote in we would have less information than we currently have. Which does change the nature of the advice given.

      Personally, if I was the coworker I would have had just as strong if not stronger reaction. The LW seems to get what a huge over-step this was and is, thus far, respecting the boundaries placed on her. Now, if she were to violate them, in anyway, even minor, again that would be whole different story.

    3. CityMouse*

      We address the problem in front of us. For coworker, speaking to security and no contact is the right call. For OP’s manager a write up, taking steps to reassure coworker of her safety and watching OP is the right call. Both of them appear to have done so. OP is the one who wrote in. What does he need to do? My opinion is get more intervention in his anxiety can keep his nose totally clean at work and respect no contact.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Exactly — we address the problem in front of us. If the coworker has written in, she’d get different advice, since she’s in a different spot. We can’t tell the OP to get a restraining order against herself.

        I’m so curious about this reaction that I’ve seen in a couple of places on this post, that people aren’t being harsh enough on the letter writer. What exactly do you think the response should be? Berating her?

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Concur. This is someone suffering from anxiety – no doubt she already feels PLENTY of guilt about it and knows it was wrong. Continuing to tell her exactly how bad it was does nothing to help her or the situation – it only helps commenters feel better.

        2. SL #2*

          It feels (to me) that in an effort to be kind(er) to the OP, some commenters are suggesting that she take actions, like asking HR to deliver a message to her coworker, that are a definite no-no and would probably just infuriate the coworker even more. It feeds into OP’s need for reassurance that caused the whole problem in the first place. OP’s need for reassurance does not supersede the coworker’s comfort levels.

          1. CityMouse*

            I think that is part of why I am concerned people are downplaying OP’s issue. I don’t want OP to feel bad but this is really serious and some of the suggestions coming from a nice place (“ask HR to explain to her, it would make me feel vetter”) could possibly have very negative impacts on LW.

        3. Aphrodite*

          Are you sure the OP is female and the victim (I am assuming) is also female? Genders make a difference but to me only a bit. As some and maybe many people here have also experienced, I am a woman who has been stalked by a male who was so sure I had led him on–and I barely even smiled at him once–that he stalked me like crazy. It was beyond frightening and didn’t stop until the police visited him and, I suspect, kind of ran him out of town. The trauma lasted for years and even to this day I am somewhat wary. And nowhere near any social media.

          When I first read this I was very angry at the OP and not the least bit sympathetic. I still feel this way and reading all the sympathetic replies to the OP appalls me. (That’s why I haven’t said anything to anyone until now.) I understand the OP’s reasons, sort of, but haven’t changed my feelings. All my sympathy goes to the co-worker.

        4. Temperance*

          For me, it’s more of a general commentary on the tendency to downplay serious actions that are a result of mental illness. It’s not about being harsh or berating someone who seems to have a lot of remorse for her actions, but more how sometimes the group will act as if a person with mental health issues has no control over their actions, so whatever they do is automatically excused. I also think that might be harmful to people with mental illness as a whole, because it perpetuates the idea that people with mental health issues are not independent adults with free will.

          In this letter, it’s also clear that the LW has suffered some serious consequences for her actions. She’s been taken off of her team, and has been forbidden from speaking to the coworker. She knows that everyone at work knows.

          1. Kismet*

            This, along with what Observer said. There are comments, most notably by Elizabeth H but also others, that are flat-out stating that the way the coworker reacted was wrong and ableist, and those commenters are excusing the OP’s actions as somehow okay due to their anxiety.

            People aren’t coming down hard on the OP. They’re coming down hard on those comments.

        5. Observer*

          Maybe I’m missing the responses you are talking about, but it seems to me that people aren’t worried that people are not being harsh enough. Rather there seem to be some people who seem to be minimizing the issue or providing advice that could actually harm the OP because they don’t seem to understand the seriousness of the issue.

          The OP doesn’t need harshness, just really strong encouragement to find a therapeutic approach that keeps her from spiraling out of control again. And encouragement to NOT try to apologize even indirectly. That feels wrong, but it’s unequivocally the right thing to do.

    4. fposte*

      There was a really nice comment on Captain Awkward last week that I thought applied here as well–we’re not the jury, we’re the fire brigade.

    5. Amtelope*

      If OP #2’s manager wrote in, I would recommend firing OP #2. Their behavior was so far over the line of what’s acceptable and safe that I don’t think giving them a second chance is a good idea.

      But for OP, I think “talk to your therapist now, this is a serious problem” is the best advice. If it’s feasible for the OP, I would also recommend discussing with their therapist whether taking FMLA leave would be a good idea until they feel more in control of their behavior. It’s one thing to be unable to control feeling anxiety over something minor like a coworker failing to say “goodbye.” It’s a much more serious problem to be unable to stop yourself from opening their mail and driving to their house, when you know (or should know) that those are unacceptable and threatening actions.

      1. MuseumChick*

        Agree with this. The specifics of the advice change with who in the situation is asking for advice.

      2. Lora*

        +1. Because here’s the thing: it is 100% normal that in the daily workplace events, someone will forget to say Bye to you. Someone will cut a conversation short at the water cooler. Someone will be having a bad day and snap at you. Someone will be distracted and not say hello. Someone will forget to cc the email to you. This sort of thing happens so very routinely that I’d be thinking, “and how do you plan to deal with this tomorrow? and Wednesday? and Thursday?”

        Being transferred is a huge deal. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a last step before handing out a pink slip or at least suggesting a leave of absence while you get things better controlled (a friend of mine calls her anxiety the Hamster Wheel). When your therapy isn’t working well enough that it’s affecting your job, that’s a very big deal which needs to be conveyed to your therapist and dealt with posthaste. I know if OP were my employee I’d be having a serious talk about the terms of a medical leave of absence of some sort, because this just canNOT happen again. And yeah, people will talk and you won’t live it down at this company, but you’re also not going to do a whole lot better if the same thing happens at your next job.

        Do not contact the co-worker. Do not ask HR to contact the co-worker. The co-worker doesn’t care about your intentions, she cares about your behaviors, and by asking someone else to contact her after she has requested No Contact, that’s demonstrating that you don’t respect her request, or think that her request/feelings shouldn’t matter as much as your apology.

        1. Chinook*

          “Being transferred is a huge deal. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a last step before handing out a pink slip or at least suggesting a leave of absence while you get things better controlled”

          OP, if you are reading this, please see the transfer as your supervisor looking out for you because it would probably have been easier for her to fire you. Instead, she saw what happened for what it was – a mistake made by you that you are now mortified by and will do everything not to repeat.

          It is a gift to you showing that you are valued by your organization.

          They want you there.

          Now is the time to work with your therapist to get better control of your symptoms both short term and long term to show them that the risk is worth it.

          1. Amtelope*

            Or perhaps it’s the first step toward firing, by an organization that’s resistant to firing people on the spot. I don’t think it’s useful to the OP to frame a serious disciplinary step as being “valued by her organization.” It’s not a gift, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the supervisor sees this as “a mistake” that the OP will “do everything not to repeat.” It’s possible that the OP can live this down at this organization, if this behavior is never repeated. It’s also possible that the OP can’t.

            I agree that it’s important for the OP to work to get control of her symptoms. But I think she needs to approach this work situation as “I am on VERY thin ice and must avoid repeating this behavior or I will be fired,” not “My employer wants me here!”

    6. Bella*

      How would it help this particular letter writer to tell her that her coworker should have taken a restraining order out on her? Or to emphasize the seriousness of her actions? It seems she’s well aware. She needed advice on what to do next and that’s what people have given her, with the compassion any person deserves.

    7. Mustache Cat*

      How much do we have to browbeat the poor letter-writers around here? The letter is positively dripping with remorse. I don’t particularly feel the need to add to her burdens.

      And yes, I see that commenters above are downplaying the significance of her actions. I wish they wouldn’t, but frankly that happens with every single letter received. No need to be shocked by it.

      1. Kismet*

        “The letter is positively dripping with remorse.”

        Not really. The letter is still downplaying the OP’s actions – note she doesn’t say much about how the confrontation at the house went down – and the OP isn’t remorseful so much as still in the grip of wanting reassurance from/about this. Even the penultimate line, about how Alison is so good about mental illness, is the OP looking for reassurance that what she did wasn’t so bad because of her anxiety, and she’s looking for a way to still get what she wants from her victim.

        She’s ashamed, not remorseful, and she’s only ashamed because it bit her on the ass.

    8. George Willard*

      I’m surprised by some of the responses to this too. Most of the comments that are reminding people “hey, this is very bad and serious” aren’t directed toward the letter writer, but to other commenters who are minimizing the effect this action had on the coworker. I, too, really appreciate the Captain Awkward comment fposte cited, but the fact is we’re not all giving private advice to one person, and when someone publicly writes something that brushes aside the potential impact of fear of a coworker and intrusion into private information (salary! home address!), it’s pretty normal to say, “hey, let’s dial it back here.”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        So that I understand this point of view, are you saying that my response should have told the OP how unacceptable her actions were, when she clearly already seems to get that and seems to feel terrible?

        I tell managers all the time — when someone messes up and gets that they messed up, you don’t need to drive that point home for them. That part is already done. You focus on what to do now to clean it up and to keep it from happening again. If someone doesn’t seem to get it, then that’s when you focus on explaining it to them — but you don’t need to do that part if they’ve already done it themselves.

        1. George Willard*

          I hadn’t brought up your answer at all, which I think made perfect sense as a response to the LW. The comment section includes a variety of other perspectives. I’m sure you don’t like people getting too meta about the comment section (and I’ve certainly been in forums before where “discussing the boards on the boards” was grounds for shutting down a thread), so I’ll rein myself in here.

        2. Myrin*

          Completely agreed. I remember that this came up in the comments before – and not just recently but like, two years ago – where some commenters seem to understand every comment that doesn’t start off with “I don’t agree with [action] but [xy]” as an implicit endorsement of [action] whereas others think the point has already been made (most often in the original response) and focus on [xy]. It’s like with the recent biting post. Biting a coworker is so outrageous and the OP clearly understood that and how horrible it was of her to do that clearly not every single commenter needs to start with a disclaimer of “I don’t support people biting their coworkers”.

        3. Ellen N.*

          I don’t think the letter writer does understand the gravity her actions were. She says a lot about how mortified she was and a bit how upset her coworker was/is. She doesn’t express any sympathy for how terrified her coworker must have been at being stalked. She also doesn’t seem to appreciate that the coworker, her boss and HR are going lightly on her. She writes that the coworker was angry but doesn’t mention being thankful that the coworker didn’t call the police. She writes the details of the actions taken to make the coworker feel safe coming to work, but doesn’t mention that in most offices she would have been fired.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I don’t think the absence of those things indicates she doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation. It’s really hard for people to know what details to include in a letter here; they include what seems relevant to the question they want to ask, but then they get criticized for including too much, and they get criticized for including too little.

        4. Observer*

          I think that your response isn’t the issue in the least bit – you didn’t downplay anything. In fact, I think your advice was perfect, because it DIDN’T downplay the issue even though you didn’t condemn her either, and you told her that she needs to do something about her treatment.

          The problem is all the people who advised asking / suggesting to HR that they “explain” things to the coworker or who implied that the OP isn’t entirely responsible and that maybe the coworker is overreacting, and might “understand” if she only knew etc.

          It’s not the OP that all of these comments are directed, and not you either, but other commenters. And I feel bad for the OP reading all of this, to be honest.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I still don’t know what to do about disagreements in the comments section that make me frame things in a way I wouldn’t to the OP. I try to still keep the OP in mind, but I do worry that we can end up having a misleadingly asymmetrical response to a behavior if people who think a thing was really bad hold themselves back more than people who are agreeing or just more focused on supporting the OP.

            Come back, hildi! Tell us how to do this!

          2. Turtle Candle*

            For me, it wasn’t even that advice per se (although I also disagree with it) but the implication in a couple places that the LW did what they did out of a sense of kindness or friendliness. I believe that those implications were genuinely well-meant, but I can say from long experience that one of the most dangerous things that someone with a destructive coping mechanism can do is to convince themselves that they’re using that coping mechanism for someone else’s benefit. “I’m just doing it because I care so much” is a hard, hard thing to shake–harder by far IME than “I’m doing it to reassure myself/resolve my anxious spiraling” and I think it’s not good for that to go unchallenged. My own social anxiety didn’t begin to improve until I fully accepted that I was doing what I was doing not so much out of concern for others but in an attempt to protect myself from pain.

            The problem is that there’s really no way to express that without sounding harsh to the LW, because it’s basically, “Don’t talk yourself into believing that you did this for the other person, because you did it for yourself.” It sounds like an accusation of selfishness. I don’t think it is–it’s just an honest statement of how anxiety works–but it can sound like it’s harsh and mean. Same thing goes for implications (which I have seen very little of here, but sometimes have seen in other similar threads) that whatever-it-was was “not so bad” and that’s why it’s forgivable. When something is pretty bad, the sympathetic urge to reassure someone by going “oh, they probably overreacted a little; I wouldn’t be scared of a coworker showing up at my front door” can feel like a kindness but actually do harm.

            Like fposte, I’m not quite sure what to do about that, though. Pushing back feels really mean–“you were doing it for yourself, and it totally is pretty darn bad”–but not pushing back can be problematic if it means that minimizing (even with sympathetic intent) stands unremarked-upon. I don’t know. It’s hard.

          3. Stardust*

            I guess what I don’t understand is why anyone would read any of the comments as an advice to HR–HR didn’t write in, the LW did, and she can hardly go to HR and advise them on anything. She can give them a full explanation of what happened and they can choose to do whatever they want with it, but that’s it.

            And like other commenters said above, they were speaking about how THEY THEMSELVES would prefer to have the situation explained if they were the coworker and suggesting that maybe the coworker feels the same way (or not!). And I don’t see anything wrong with suggesting that different people have different preferences, especially if your own opinion is a minority one and thus unlikely to be executed anyway. I guess I just don’t understand what’s so bad about saying “FWIW, I’d really like to have that information if I were the coworker”.

            1. Observer*

              Because 1. They are implying (and in one case even said explicitly) that the coworker’s response was out of line and 2. they are encouraging the OP to do something that has an extremely high risk of bad outcomes for the OP.

              Also, it’s interesting that the only people who are making these suggestions are people who don’t really understand what it’s like to be victimized like this nor how mental illness works.

              1. Stardust*

                How do you know that the people making these suggestions don’t have experience with being victimised or having a mental illness?

                In general, I feel like you’re not really reading what is being said. I see, like you say, one commenter saying that the coworker might have overreacted. They also later said that that was poorly worded and didn’t come across they way they’d intended. However, I see like two or three comments vaguely encouraging the LW to approach the co-worker but all the others are saying that IF ANYTHING, it should be done by HR. But like I say in my other comment, most I’m reading has people saying “how THEY THEMSELVES would prefer to have the situation explained if they were the coworker” which has literally nothing to do with encouraging the LW to do anything or with minimising the co-worker’s reaction and experience.

  27. Katie the Fed*

    #3 – Very few things annoy me more as a manager than people making vacation reservations before they get leave approved, and then trying to use that as leverage to get it approved. Luckily I’ve gotten it tamped down by being very clear that you get no special consideration if you booked flights already – leave requests are approved based only on coverage needs.

    I would focus on that with this employee. I don’t think a single unpaid day off is a huge deal and it’s something I would allow if scheduling wasn’t an issue.

    1. Allypopx*

      Saaaame. Or “my boyfriend/mother/aunt bought me plane tickets so I HAVE to go.” I’m dealing with something like that now where a managers mother is coming to surprise her and demanding she take time off work even though she’s been told multiple times how inflexible said manager’s schedule is and how she needs more notice.

      Anyway, tangent. But yeah you can’t let yourself be bullied into approving coverage because arrangements have been made, otherwise the vacation approval process falls apart because they can just book flights and say they’ll be gone.

      1. Kitten*

        Oooh, that one sounds tricky, Allypopx.

        I do find it frustrating how little respect some people seem to have for other peoples’ working lives. I changed jobs two weeks ago and was struggling to book some leave for a Ball we’d arranged. My friend rudely suggested that the new place ‘had to honour pre-existing arrangements regardless’ which, while possibly true, wouldn’t have done much good for my first impression there.

        It might be annoying to not be able to arrange surprise visits / vacations, but it feels a little selfish, to me, to damage a friend or relations work reputation by refusing to take their work commitments into account when booking things.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I’m down with that — on the caveat that requests get reviewed/approved in a timely fashion. Stringing employees along and then penalizing them because they made the choice between taking the risk of non-approval and paying double for their plane tickets… that’s a different matter.

      1. Matt*

        Yes, this. We once had a policy in place that any vacations would be approved only one month in advance. Luckily this was worked around by my direct boss who would collect vacation requests earlier, sign them (meaning approval, although still “inofficial”) and put them in her desk, to forward them to HR when the prescribed time of one month in advance arrived.

      2. cncx*

        yes. i still think the employee in OP3 is milking it a bit, but i have been on the other side where leave requests would not get approved for MONTHS and by then all the cheap plane tickets were gone ,etc. (this was not in a service job where schedules were week to week or month to month or where there were coverage issues like in shift work). i have definitely had to just bite it and buy tickets and cross my fingers for the fall out a few times at an old job.

        so yeah, i am all for the hard line from managers if they also process vacation requests with the expected turnaround. (not saying OP3 has done anything wrong either, just agreeing that it is give and take).

    3. Teapot Librarian*

      Tangentially, I requested leave for last Thanksgiving three months in advance (we had a family celebration that weekend as well as the holiday), in response to which I was told that the supervisor (not my direct boss) wouldn’t approve any leave until one month in advance. I re-requested leave at a month in advance, and the supervisor said she wouldn’t approve until 2 weeks in advance. Then in a staff meeting she implied that not all requests would be approved. If I had waited until two weeks in advance to buy plane tickets for a cross-country flight the weekend of Thanksgiving… oof. Thankfully it all worked out.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I had a very similar experience. My family saved up for an expensive Christmas vacation for everyone, and to make sure I got the time and knew when to reserve plane tickets, I put in my request at the beginning of summer. My manager (who was a real glassbowl for a whole host of reasons beyond this) told me flippantly that he wasn’t going to even review the request until 2 weeks before the request date.

        At that point, I decided that I was going no matter what, and if he tried to deny the request, I’d simply quit. This was a part-time retail job, and if I waited until 2 weeks before to try and buy plane tickets to Disneyworld, each leg of the trip probably would have cost more than I took home in an average month from that job. Not to mention that my family had to know if I would be coming along well before that point, because we rented a house for our two weeks there — they needed to know how big of a house they needed to rent!

        1. Liane*

          I know (in)Famous Retailer has a bad reputation for how it treats workers, and that isn’t entirely unearned. BUT, it didn’t play these c****y schedule games, probably because it was done by a computer 3 weeks ahead. Your availability could accommodate odd things like off “every first weekend of the month” or “3rd Tuesday” and you could make requests online for days off several months in advance, paid or unpaid, & managers would immediately get a notice to approve it. Being sensible, I took a work friend’s advice to check if dates were approved or not and printed the page showing the approvals in case I had a problem, and there never was one.
          You also didn’t have to find coverage when you asked off ahead, unless it was less than 3 weeks away when the schedule was already up. (And no we didn’t have to find coverage if we called in sick or for an emergency on the day)

        2. Oryx*

          I don’t know if “glassbowl” is intentional or a typing error but it might be my new favorite thing.

          1. fposte*

            I think it’s a Carolyn Hax-ism. (The Washington Post apparently won’t even let articles use the word “butt,” so you can imagine the need for a workaround for stronger stuff.)

            1. nonegiven*

              I saw a comment section, I can’t remember where, the word ‘documents’ was redacted to ‘do***ents.’ I had to read it a couple of times to figure out why it was like that.

      2. Allison*

        That’s a good point, sometimes it’s really tough to arrange travel on short notice. In school we were told not to book flights home until we knew our exam schedules, but some people went ahead and booked them anyway because if they waited they’d either have trouble getting a spot on a plane, and/or the ticket would be super expensive. So you’d always have people going “but I can’t take the exam Thursday, my flight leaves on Wednesday!” I also remember someone asking me to delay moving into an on-campus apartment because she had to move out a few days before her flight and she’d have nowhere to go, and she was hoping I’d let her stay there a little while longer. Super awkward situation.

        1. nonymous*

          this happened all the time in college. The general trend was that whomever needed the accommodation had to sleep in the living room surrounded by all their boxes, and treat the house to a nice meal (and/or pay $50 – 100, depending on duration)

      3. Ann O. Nymous*

        Yeah, thankfully my office is very flexible and pro-vacation so I don’t have an issue, but I can’t get my vacation officially approved until 4-6 weeks out. I usually tell my boss when I know something’s coming up and ask if it’ll be an issue, and she’ll say it’s fine and to submit it for official approval much closer to the date. However, plenty of workplaces aren’t as chill about it as mine is, and waiting until a month out to book plane tickets can be REALLY cost-prohibitive, especially around holidays. I think it would behoove most employers who don’t approve time off until a month out to reconsider that strategy as it can really screw people over. All of my family is across the country and my in-laws are a day’s drive away, so it would SUCK if I had to pay out the butt for last-minute tickets home for Christmas, drive a 20-hour round trip in like, 3 days because I couldn’t get time off, or worse, be priced out of going home for Christmas, or made to cancel/eat my ticket costs because my time off was denied. If my time off gets denied, my husband and I are spending Christmas without our families.

      4. Katie the Fed*

        I usually have a deadline I set for leave requests for holidays, about 6-8 weeks out so I can get a decision in. If they submit a leave request after that, I’ll do my best but no guarantees.

    4. Judy (since 2010)*

      But you then need to respond promptly to those requests in a decisive way. My current manager needs prompting to respond to the requests, and then the response is “That should be OK.” After nearly 3 years, I believe that’s just the phrase he uses to approve vacations, but the first few times I wondered if he approved it or not.

    5. Applesauced*

      For long vacations (say… 3+ days ish) I’ve had very good results mentioning then as soon as I start planning (so 1-3 months notice) as a “I plan to take a week off in early/mid August, the exact dates TBD – do you anticipate any conflicts?” conversation with my project managers.

        1. anonymouse*

          right?!?! i am a workaholic and also work in an environment where it’s very easy to get buried if you’re out even a day, so i generally don’t take more than 1 day off at a time. it helps with short term mental health (avoiding burnout) but it does nothing for long term wellbeing. everyone deserves a week or two off a year for overall wellness. (whether or not you can afford to GO somewhere is another story, but EVERYONE deserves a vacation and 3 days should not be considered long!) i’m training myself to take time off and just trust that it will be ok, because you do not really relax/decompress/get out of the work mindset with just 2-3 days off!

      1. Sydney Bristow*

        That works well for me too.

        My boss loves super advance notice and my family tends to plan vacations 6-12 months in advance. My boss will approve any vacation unless he knows of a big crunch time arising during the requested time. But since he doesn’t normally know about those that far in advance, I’ve never had trouble getting my requested days off.

        I still tend to not book tickets until after getting it approved, but if it is far enough in advance I’ll do it and just deal with the monetary consequences if for some reason my request is denied. I don’t think I’d even mention that I booked tickets already, let alone try to use it as leverage.

      2. Some sort of Management Consultant*

        3 days is a long vacation?!
        Jeez Louise.

        I told my bosses the same week I was taking the Friday and following Monday off (though I had scheduled it in our online system before that)…

        As for actual longer vacations, (and I’m European so I acknowledge that the US system is not like ours)
        I’d tell them 1-3 months in advance if I was going to be off for more than a week outside common vacation times. Other than that, the assumption is that everyone will be off for 2 weeks at Christmas and 4 around July.

    6. Yzma, Put Your Hands In The Air!*

      Question: Last week, I asked my supervisor for taking the week after next off. The reason is because my family goes on vacation to the same place every year; I had told them, repeatedly, that I couldn’t afford to go this year (had a lot of personal issues, and recently separated from my husband). However, I just found out last week that my family still had an empty room for me! So I emailed my boss (as we usually do time-related requests in writing), and explained that situation to her, but I asked if I could work the Sunday of that week, and come back in the Saturday at the end of that week, and just miss the work days. OR, if she didn’t want me to do that, if we could discuss other options which might make it feasible. When writing it, that, to me, made it okay because I wasn’t in any way demanding time off; I was asking her if there was a way to make it work so that I could go with them for most of the trip. Does this seem wrong to you all?

      FWIW, my supervisor agreed to let me work Sunday and/or Saturday and take the week off, and seems fine with it, but I’m curious if I made a genuine faux pas in even asking this late in the game, or by explaining why I was asking this late (which is because I didn’t know my family had saved me a room).

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Seems fine to me. Managers should be flexible, especially for good employees, and sometimes things come up at the last minute that you couldn’t have planned for in advance. There’s nothing wrong with asking, as long as you make it clear you know it might be too late to accommodate it.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        I don’t think so. I accommodate all kinds of last-minute requests. Where it can get tricky is if everyone else is out that week, or it’s right around the holidays. I’ll do my best, but understand that I might not be able to support it.

      3. Yzma, Put Your Hands In The Air!*

        Thanks for the answers, Alison and Katie! I did check my supervisor’s calendar, and the calendar of my immediate coworkers, prior to even asking about the time off, and saw that no one else was already scheduled off for that week. And I definitely phrased it as a request, and asked if there was any way for it to be possible for me to go, it was nothing like “Oh, by the way, I just found out I’m going to be out the week of ___.” But I’ve not been a supervisor, and wanted to make sure I wasn’t unintentionally being an annoying/obtuse employee by asking about it.

    7. NPOQueen*

      I will admit to booking flights and asking permission later. To be fair, it was $450 from the US to Japan, so oops, my finger slipped. I did, however, build in enough time to cancel the ticket if I needed to, since airlines have a 24-hour cancellation rule. I would have understood if my boss didn’t approve me taking a week off when I asked two months in advance, totally. There just wasn’t time to sit on it and think about the deal, it was gone four hours after I booked it. But most times, people have far more time to ask in advance about vacations.

      1. fposte*

        I also think it’s fine to do that as long as you’re willing to silently take the risk; what you don’t do is bring it up when you’re asking for the time off as a reason why you should get to take it.

    8. ThursdaysGeek*

      Just last week I bought tickets while my boss was on vacation. It was a sale and the prices were good. However, I’m not at a job where coverage is an issue, I have plenty of vacation time, and I won’t be leaving until next February. When I informed my boss, I was apologetic at not getting approval first, but I also didn’t expect him to have a problem with it. He didn’t, fortunately.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I think that’s fine. What I’m talking about situations like:

        “Hey Katie, I need the week between Christmas and New Year’s off.”
        “Sorry, but half the team already requested it off and we don’t have enough coverage if you’re out”
        “But I already bought tickets! I have to take this trip – my mom is expecting me! I’m sure you can approve it!”

        Um, no.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Yeah no, I would never do that! And if I did, I would expect my boss to shut that right down.

  28. Oryx*

    Our flextime works like Alison outlined. Officially it’s a “pick a schedule and stick to it” kind of thing, but unofficially there’s a lot of day to day leeway as you long as you get your 40 hours a week. To that end, if we have some extra hours in a given week we can leave a little early during that same pay week.

    1. Yzma, Put Your Hands In The Air!*

      This is often how flextime works at my job as well. But we have to fill out an “alternate schedule” form, have our supervisor sign it, and turn it in to HR. Then only supervisors/managers are allowed to have two of the schedule options (there are four total). But in actuality, my work hours are 9 AM – 5:45 PM, with a 45 minute lunch. My first supervisor, and my current supervisor was/is awesome about letting me work whenever I could to make up time (and not have to use leave time). The one in the middle kind of sucked about that, but overall it’s worked out well for me.

  29. Susan*

    #1 – I work at a job where we have 24/7 coverage, but the managers only work normal business hours (Monday-Friday dayshift). We have a schedule for the designated “manager on duty” during off hours. This includes not only managers, but also some non-managers who are given temporary managerial authority when they are the manager on duty. If we have to contact a manager for any reason during off hours — an urgent question or problem on the job, calling in sick, etc. — we contact the manager on duty (who occasionally needs to escalate the issue to a manager who’s not on duty at the time). I think this really helps the managers to have time to themselves, because they’re rarely called during off hours except when they’re on duty (well, it sucks for them when they’re on duty, but at least it’s just one out of six weeks). Is there any way you can implement a system like that?

  30. Murphy*

    #1: I worked at an animal shelter and we had a protocol of who to call for what (and in what order, if the first person you called was unavailable). This was mostly for after hours. Unfortunately, the work doesn’t stop in that field, as you know, so there were often after hours calls necessary. When we were open, we had a designated substitute manager who was supposed to made decisions when there was no manager on site (these were smaller more logistical decisions that didn’t necessarily require a manager.) I’d say have a policy and lay it out clearly. If you’ve already done it, have a staff meeting and do it again. Provide written copies. Be really firm.

    1. Perse's Mom*

      Former shelter worker, also!

      If calling in, we had in-shelter lines to call and leave messages, which were checked by the first person to arrive every morning in each area.

      If a medical issue beyond the usual sniffles or runny poop, the kennel staff alerted the medical staff who were working.

      If a medical issue the medical staff couldn’t handle (so more of a medical emergency), the medical staff called the staff vet. If the vet determined the animal needed to go to the emergency vet for care, she called the ERV to alert them and explain the situation.

      Beyond those few issues, I can’t think of any good reason to call someone when they’re out of the office. If it’s a question of organization (nobody else knows where Vital Object X is kept) or trust (Sue knows how to do Z, but Mary would rather call the boss than have to ask SUE of all people…), those are things that need to be tackled on a wider level.

      (Shelter work can be *incredibly* dysfunctional. Personality clashes, anxiety disorders, martyr/savior complexes, compassion fatigue, and burn-out were all par for the course at Old Job.)

  31. Adlib*

    I think OP #2’s office needs to be more careful with pay stubs. Anywhere I’ve worked where they physically handed them out, they would not pass them out to people on vacation/PTO for security reasons. It should not be left on a desk. I know this is not something for the OP to address, but their office needs to be better about that.

    1. Coming Up Milhouse*

      If an adult cannot leave something alone on someone else’s desk that isn’t addressed to them, there are bigger problems at hand.

      1. Adlib*

        Agreed, but this is exactly why it shouldn’t be left out. You can’t assume that people will behave appropriately at all times, unfortunately.

      2. Kyrielle*

        Agreed, but some adults do – not just anxiety as in this case, but also depending on how secure the office is, what services are from outside providers…leaving it on the desk is really not secure.

        At my last job, it probably would have been safe – we were writing public safety software and most of us had been background checked repeatedly for various clients according to various protocols. On the other hand, the janitorial service hadn’t been, and the janitor we had for a while brought his teenage kids with him (sometimes they helped him, sometimes they sat in the break room doing homework – I only know this from occasions where I was working late enough to overlap with them being there). So would a paystub have been secure on a desk, in the open?

        Probably. But why do it when it’s fairly easy to avoid the issue?

      3. Observer*

        True. But the problem is that you don’t always know about the problem till something happens. In my office someone turned out to be a major snoop. No mental health issues but no respect for people’s privacy. So she snooped in a co-worker’s pay stub. She wound up getting fired for other stuff, but this was the first sing of some real toxicity.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Yes! Pay stubs have enough information on them that I’d be rather concerned about identity theft.

      1. Natalie*

        They shouldn’t… Social security numbers and bank accounts numbers are generally obscured. But they may well have information people don’t want shared – salary, garnishments, etc.

    3. Liane*

      My boss at one job had direct deposit and they left the envelopes, whether it was the DD stub or actual check (!) on your seat if you weren’t there. “Kevin” suddenly started having overdrafts and it turned out to be a one-off glitch where he got a check! He had to tear apart his cube to find it ( he did), because he hadn’t noticed it wasn’t just a stub so tossed it on his desk. Company covered the fees and Kevin always opened those envelopes after that.

    4. Snark*

      I think they need to stop issuing paper pay stubs and join the rest of us in 2017, where things like .pdfs and electronic timesheets exist for a reason. There is ZERO reason to be issuing paper time stubs or, heaven forbid, paper paychecks.

      1. Beancounter Eric*

        Agreed, except there is always the person who just wants a paper check, and will yell loud and long enough that Payroll relents.

        When I had payroll as one of my duties last decade, I would preferred to have everyone on direct deposit with electronic pay stubs. We had a couple of people who were hiding money from their spouse, who didn’t trust banks, who just liked paper checks.

        1. nonegiven*

          I thought DH didn’t have DD available. It turned out, he liked to give me the check so I would go to the bank to deposit it and get him his cash. I promised he wouldn’t have to use the ATM by himself and now he has DD.

      2. Coming Up Milhouse*

        I have direct deposit and can see my stub in our time tracker online yet I also get a printed copy hand delivered to me before payday for review and sign off. I dont get it.

  32. GigglyPuff*

    #1 It seems like you really need more firm/documented policies in place. For example, if both managers are out at the same time, is there someone who could be designated team lead, and that person is the only one allowed to call either manager during work hours? Clearly document who people should go to for certain questions, like who is the person who fixes things, like a basic list of job duties and post that in the work area.

    I know it’s also different but when I worked at a dog boarding facility, it was very clear the manager’s cell phone number was for clear emergencies only: dog sick/bitten bad enough for to be taken to the vet, someone not showing up for the shift after a set amount of time, etc. When I first started there was more leeway with the front of the house, I know they’d call with issues like billing or immediate customer complaints, typically when the manager would be working later that day. But apparently after years of no vacations and getting calls when he was on vacation, they finally made someone the assistant manager. That way when he was on a vacation, he didn’t get called at all.

    Also is there a reason people need to call your cellphone when they are calling out? I don’t know if you do shift work or have set hours, but this seems like something they could call the phone at work and just leave a message. That way if you or whoever the person is charge can handle it when they come in the morning.

    Definitely lay down the ground rules, document them so people know, possibly formally and a list/checklist format, and put them somewhere easy to access.

  33. Elspeth*

    In regards to #2, why the assumption that OP is female? All the comments refer to OP as “her” or “she.” I think we do ourselves a disservice by not acknowledging the gender dynamic which is potentially in play.

    1. anon for this*

      Alison typically uses female pronouns when the gender of the OP is unknown and we’ve all picked up the habit.

      1. Elspeth*

        Ah, thanks!

        Still, I think my original point stands. If a woman came to my house, I would be far less likely to call the cops than if it were a man. Unfair? Probably.

        1. N.J.*

          There are certainly gender dynamics at play in a situation like that, as with many circumstances in which physical safety is extrapolated from the physical size or potential intimidation factor of the parties involved. However, if the IP shares their gender in their letter I think I recall they Alison will share that. So assuming the letter writer didn’t stress their own gender for whatever reason, I think there is much more value in Alison’s practice of using female pronouns when our society defaults to male pronouns. It’s a small reclaiming of language that doesn’t set up male as the standard/default and everything else as the outlier. I actually LOVE that Alison does this. I’m sure if gender is important to the situation at hand the OP will bring it up in the comments or someone can start a side conversation about how they think gender dynamics would affect this interaction. Just sharing my opinion, I think we would be doing ourselves a disservice to discontinue using something besides male as the default, but to each her own.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            My favorite thing about doing this: There are a bunch of studies showing that when people picture a generic manager (or most anyone with authority), they picture a man. I’ve had a handful of readers say that after years of reading AAM, when they picture a generic manager, they now picture a woman.

            1. Elizabeth H.*

              I 100% do now! My generic manager image is always a woman. (Incidentally, in my work career I’ve had 7 different managers, 2 men and 5 women . . .) I started reading AAM before my ‘professional’ career really started, in 2011, so it’s influenced my image of the workplace a ton.

            2. YaH*

              I know my mental images have definitely taken on a more flexible gender assignment. I also no longer refer to adult women as “girls”, thanks to you.

    2. Zoe Karvounopsina*

      Because, while many sites default male unless otherwise specified, Alison defaults female, and asks that we do the same. I completely agree that the gender dynamic could be in play, but while we don’t know, female it is.

      1. Elspeth*

        Truly, I appreciate the point about default voices.

        There’s been a lot of discussion a sympathy for LW, but no questioning of whether or not the person whose privacy was violated is safe. Alison’s advice is fair- talk to HR, etc., but I am very leery of the concern lavished on the LW since anxiety is not an excuse for, dare I say it, stalking.

        1. fposte*

          That person isn’t here, though, and neither is their HR or manager; the OP is. This is where the “having a conversation in our host’s living room” precept Alison has mentioned applies–we’re talking face to face with a already upset person, we’re definitely not encouraging her to do things that would make the co-worker less safe, and we can’t communicate with the co-worker.

          Are there actions you’d recommend the OP or her HR take that haven’t been mentioned yet that would help protect the safety of the co-worker while also being helpful for the OP to know? That could definitely be useful information.

          1. Elspeth*

            A leave of absence, for one. A demonstrated commitment to treatment would be good for establishing that LW s appropriately concerned about these actions.

            Yes, LW is here. And we are in Alison’s living room. But one of the things I have always found so valuable about the comment threads on AAM is the generally pragmatic understanding of workplace politics. My concern about “talking face to face with an already upset person,” is that we are not acknowledging the underlying issue, which is that an illness is not an excuse for something that is completely unacceptable.

            It’s not my intention to poo-poo the collective kindness from which I have often benefited in the comment threads or to cast aspersions on the excellent advice Alison provides. My goal here is to point out that this situation raises a number of red flags, of which the LW seems to be aware, but unwilling to act upon a concrete way.

            1. fposte*

              I guess I didn’t see those as being absent from the conversation–people stated up front that therapy clearly isn’t doing what it needs to do and that FMLA is something to consider here. Maybe we’re struggling with the fact that when the conversation gets this big the things that are only said a time or two don’t necessarily loom as large. But the OP already knows that what she did was wrong, I don’t think it’s fair for OPs to get the harder stuff hammered on by multiple people, and I don’t think the hammering makes an optimal outcome likelier; I say that as somebody who has sympathy for both people here, but definitely more sympathy for the person who got invaded.

              OP, I agree with people who say that looking for a new job might not be a bad plan for you; not just because people at this workplace will view you in light of this incident but also because I suspect the situation is just adding layers to your anxieties and increasing your impulse to seek reassurance. That might also help serve as the period at the end of the sentence for you that you’re looking to an apology for, and it would likely serve as the apology you can’t give face to face to your co-worker.

            2. Amtelope*

              I also think a leave of absence might be a good idea. The OP’s behavior was invasive and scary. If the OP was unable to control this behavior, I think they’re not in a place where they can function in the workplace until they make some changes — more/different therapy, more/different medication, or whatever it takes to get back in control. I know stepping back from work may be financially difficult, and I’m sorry about that, but it’s not okay to be in the office when your behavior is threatening to your coworkers.

            3. Katie the Fed*

              A leave of absence would probably be unpaid (it would be where I am). Not everyone can afford 3 months of unpaid leave and therapy.

              1. Amtelope*

                Not everyone can afford to be fired, either, but I would have no reservations about firing someone who exhibited this kind of stalking behavior at work. A leave of absence might make it possible for the OP to return to work safely. If the OP isn’t in a place where it’s safe for her to be at work — if there’s a chance that this kind of threatening behavior will continue — then a leave of absence would be a better option than being fired for cause, or continuing to cause harm to her coworkers, or winding up the subject of a restraining order/call to the police.

                And I’m not necessarily suggesting taking 3 months off — even a couple of weeks, with intensive therapy/review of medications in that time, might go some distance toward showing that the OP is taking the safety of others seriously.

        2. Emi.*

          I think the LW realizes that anxiety isn’t an excuse, though. That’s part of why s/he wrote in.

        3. Zoe Karvounopsina*

          Oh, absolutely, and if I were OP’s co-worker, I would be so freaked out.

    3. kc89*

      I’m more confused by all the comments in this post calling that OP “he/him” when as far as I’ve seen we have no indicator of their gender and this website typically defaults to “her/she”

  34. Coming Up Milhouse*

    #2: This would be an immediate fireable offense in my company. You opened something that was not addressed to you and then showed up unwarranted at a co-worker’s private residence. While I understand you have anxiety and are receiving treatment for it, this could be considered harassment and is not covered under the ADA.

    You may want to consider a leave of absence to get your health in order. This would also demonstrate your commitment to getting better and moving past this. I would also consider looking at other employment; your reputation took a huge hit here and it may be tough to recover in the long run.

    #4: FlexTime
    I hate when employers say one thing and do another with FlexTime.I feel that those who are salary should get flextime as long as they are present for core business hours. Saying you have FlexTime but then following it up with “you need to be here at XXX and leave at XXX” isnt flex time.

    TBH: It’s an outdated concept that was a great buzz word to attract those to a business in hopes of a flexible work schedule.

  35. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    1. My staff keeps contacting me when I’m off work
    With regard to the call-outs, you’ve said you don’t want to be contacted before 6am for those — but what is the deadline where someone will be considered a NCNS if they don’t contact you? What is their window to get in touch with you in the morning? You may want to consider establishing low-priority, non-time sensitive contact items such as ‘sorry, won’t be in’ as going through email rather than calls. Someone who is ill may make the ‘not going in’ decision at an odd hour of the morning — that’s when I’ve done it pretty much every time — and asking them to set an alarm to contact you, when what they really need is uninterrupted rest, is a bit unreasonable.

    2. My anxiety is causing problems at work
    You’ve had a lot of people weighing in on this already, so I don’t know how much I can say that hasn’t already been said. Get with your therapist ASAP and specifically talk through how you handle spikes. However it may be working for you on a day to day basis, your therapy is not functioning in this specific regard, and you need it to.

    3. Employee is upset I told her she couldn’t take an unpaid day off
    Overall, I don’t think you’re handling this wrong at all. But one thing I would caution is not to consider her recovery time after the operation in terms of your employee being an absentee. Did the time for that come out of the same bucket as her vacation time? If so, I’d urge you to go easy on her on the unpaid day, because it genuinely does suck to have a medical emergency eat up all your PTO for the year. Recovering from an operation isn’t the same as actually taking time to relax and unwind.

    However, that the tickets were already purchased shouldn’t be an argument in favor of approving the vacation unless you sat on the time-off request without approving/denying it for an extended period of time.

    1. Alastair*


      Yeah I thought it was odd to bring up surgery when discussing her pto use. It came across a bit judgy.

      1. WellRed*

        That was judgy but not as judgy about the comment that not everyone can afford to take unpaid time off. I think the OP does not like her employee.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t think that was judgy. She said she’s trying to be fair to everyone. I think it’s misplaced concern for the reasons I wrote in the past, but I don’t see it as judgy.

        2. SpaceySteph*

          Agree with all of you. I’ve been struggling with #3 because while the LW is in the right, she also seems… wrong.
          “We need coverage on that day” is really all the information required to say the employee can’t have her vacation time approved, and all of the other info the LW provided actually weakens her position because it makes it seem like not approving the vacation is punitive.
          If my manager told me that I couldn’t have a day off because I’d been out on medical leave and/or I couldn’t take an unpaid day because my coworkers might not be able to afford it… well, I’d probably be talking trash about my manager at happy hour too.

          That said, “but I’ve already bought plane tickets” is an obvious attempt to force the LW’s hand and you shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists.

      2. Anony*

        I didn’t think it was judgy but rather an explanation for why she had used up her PTO and why it is particularly hard to accommodate her request now.

      3. Oryx*

        I don’t think it was judgy, I think the OP was merely trying to put things in context, especially with regard to coverage.

        I had emergency surgery last year and was out of the office for a week. This required my co-workers covering for me. After already asking them to covering for me, I would not feel comfortable coming back and then being all “Oh hey! Going out of town again! Have fun covering for me again!” This isn’t a case where the vacation had been booked in advance of the surgery and it’s just bad timing so the employee needs to be cognizant of the fact that a) they used up their PTO and b) the manager is well within their rights to deny time off if it’s going to effect coverage.

        1. fposte*

          That’s a really good point that this isn’t just about whether this employee gets time or doesn’t; it affects her co-workers too.

        2. SarahTheEntwife*

          Yes, this. Other coworkers may not have been able to take even paid vacation because they had to cover for the employee’s surgery, which is unavoidable but then it’s less reasonable for her to then ask her coworkers to cover yet again so soon for something that isn’t an emergency.

          1. Toph*

            Yeah, that’s how I interpreted the OP’s bringing up the medical issue too. It ties in to the coverage issue.

    2. CMart*

      Your suggestion for #1 is great, and your critique hit home very deeply for me.

      I worked at a restaurant with no way of contacting management except to call the actual restaurant once someone was physically in the building (ie: 6am). If we had to call out suddenly we had to give them 4 hours lead time to find us coverage (assuming we hadn’t found it ourselves), which for a lunch shift meant calling repeatedly at 6am until the opening manager made it into the office.

      I will never forget the agonizing hours spent watching the clock while actively miscarrying until it was an appropriate time to call in. An e-mail system would have been a kindness for all of us, including my manager who had to talk to someone in a great deal of pain explaining an awful situation.

  36. Alastair*

    For the 3am call outs I would see if your own policies are causing this.

    OldJob required call outs 2 hours prior to your shift AND required speaking with a supervisor.

    You better believe I would call my supervisor at 3am on her cell when I have been up sick all night since I did not want to set an alarm and drag my exhausted dehydrated body out of bed at 6am to call in.

  37. NicoleK*

    #2 People have already given you good advice so I won’t focus on that. It appears that you’re in the early stages of your career. It is possible to bounce back from this and have a successful career. My coworker has moderate anxiety and she’s constantly worried about people not liking her, manager being mad at her, or getting fired. One time, our manager was held up and didn’t show up to a meeting. Coworker’s first instinct was to believe that our manager was mad at her and that was why she didn’t make the meeting. That’s when I realized that it was not low self esteem or a confidence issue, but an anxiety issue. Yet, she is successful in her job, well liked by her colleagues, and well liked by her clients.

  38. Natalie*

    For OP #3, for whatever it’s worth, saying you’ll have coverage issues for one day out of five does sound a bit like an excuse. Particularly if you’ve already said the person can’t take an unpaid day because of an illogical policy. So your employee might be grumbling because they think you’re being disingenuous. I’m not saying it’s out of the question for you to have a real coverage issue, but it probably warranted a bit more explanation since you are okay with the person taking 80% of that week off.

    Obviously they screwed up and aren’t handling this well, either the original vacation request or their complaining since then, but as discussed upthread they aren’t the one writing in.

    1. Roscoe*

      Agreed. If you are able to get coverage the other days, I can’t see how this 1 day is the tipping point

      1. Kyrielle*

        If coverage is possible all but one day, it’s entirely possible that one or more coworkers already took that day off, bringing them to the minimum. It doesn’t seem fair to rescind someone else’s PTO to provide coverage here either. (Unless they proactively volunteer, but that’s not something I’d want to ask anyone to do. It is actually something I might volunteer to do – a lot of my vacation lately has been scheduled things, but in a more typical year I like to take three-day weekends just because and make progress on things at home. Those can easily be rescheduled.)

        I don’t think the fact that there’d be an unpaid day should be a reason to deny time off. The fact there will be coverage issues, however, seems like it would be.

      2. Anony*

        They could have a “first come first serve” policy when it comes to days off. If other people already requested the time off, they might legitimately not have the coverage needed for that day to approve another one.

      3. Amtelope*

        Because she can’t get coverage for that day. If there were coverage, I wouldn’t die on the hill of preventing the employee from taking an unpaid day. But the LW says she doesn’t have coverage for one of the days, and in many jobs, you can’t take vacation (as opposed to genuine emergency leave) on a particular day if that will leave the employer understaffed. That’s not unusual.

      4. Natalie*

        To clarify, I’m not questioning the coverage issue – I was thinking about my own office, where often a lot of people will take a Friday off, so someone asking for the whole week might only be able to get Monday through Thursday. My issue is that this genuine coverage problem might not be obvious to the employee, so then it just looks like their manager is grasping for reasons to deny an unpaid day off.

      1. Natalie*

        Of course, I’m not saying the coverage issue isn’t legitimate, just that if it wasn’t explained a little bit it might *appear* illegitimate. Perception matters, especially when the reasoning isn’t crystal clear from the outset, and poor perception might be part or all of the employee’s attitude.

  39. Shan*

    OP#2 – I sympathize and just wanted to say that you may also want to take a look at the bigger picture here. Are you in a position that feels right for you? One where you can earn a decent living and still manage your anxiety, resulting in a good quality of life? Or would you be better suited to a different kind of work, one possible less stressful or more flexible in some way? I say this because I have suffered from major depression and it’s taken me about 15 years in the working world to realize that work in some fields is not going to allow me the time and space to manage my depression. For example, anything public-facing is liable to stress me out and throw me into an episode. So I do desk work in the bowels of an office. And it suits me just fine. Just wanted to throw this out there as a reassurance that you could create a life for yourself that allows you to get exactly what you need. It may take some trial and error and be horribly frustrating along the way, but it can be done. *hugs*

    1. Snark*

      In my experience and observation, reassurance-seeking behavior finds a way regardless. OP2 will basically always have coworkers, or a boss.

      1. Snark*

        Also, frankly, I think you’re erring on the side of treating OP2 as the victim here, and they’re really not. They’re the victimizer, and while her anxiety/obsessions may explain a lot, I think some comments here are getting really close to treating abusive, boundary-crossing behavior as sympathetic or justifiable because it’s motivated by a mental illness.

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          I find it sympathetic. Not justifiable, as nobody who did not either a) have serious anxiety/compulsivity problems, or b) deliberately intend to cross boundaries and frighten/alarm their coworker, would do something like that. But I do feel quite sympathetic. OP2 didn’t want to behave like this and wouldn’t have chosen to if she felt she had control over it. It’s a mental health problem. Everyone has a duty to manage their health problems so that they don’t infringe on others’ rights and personal comfort, and she did not succeed in doing that here, but this was a very serious mistake rather than a deliberate attempt to victimize. It’s possible that it would have been very hard for OP2 to predict or suspect that she could do something like this. I think using the word “abusive” is a huge overreach, and that in general this term is increasingly overused.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t disagree, but I think deliberate attempts to victimize are rarer than we imagine, and that we do run a bit of a risk of empathizing only with the person whose strong emotions we know about and not those we don’t (as with the biter letter).

      2. Thlayli*

        I think you may be reading more into this comment than is there, snark. Shan did not say anything g that justifies OPs behaviour, in fact Shans comment isn’t specific to OPs current situation at all. Shan is pointing out a more general issue/concern and giving general advice that applies to many many people – try to find a situation that suits you whatever your personality/abilities/disabilities.

        Op (and everyone really) should absolutely give some thought to the kind of role and level of interaction in particular types of jobs and consider whether another job might suit her and her situation better. It’s not an answer to the immediate situation but it’s great advice nonetheless.

    2. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      You make an excellent point. I can deal with the public on a very limited basis before my issues begin to surface and learned to stay away from work that involved working closely with people. I’m fortunate that in my current job I can be visible yet busy enough to forgo the interactions that drive me frantic.

      1. Oryx*

        Years ago, when I was looking for my first librarian job, I interviewed for a cataloging position. One of their questions was about how librarianship can be very customer service oriented and cataloging is not and would I be okay with that.

        I don’t remember my exact answer, but it was something along the lines of “I don’t like people.”

        Surprisingly, I was asked back for a second interview. I didn’t get the job, but I still work in the field and have a little cube where I can hide from the world and just do my work and it’s lovely.

  40. Dust Bunny*

    LW1: I know you say there are policies in place, but have they been clearly laid out to all employees (including having them in writing somewhere accessible), and are the people who are supposed to be in charge when you’re not there actually capable of being in charge?

    I used to work for a veterinarian. This was less of an issue because there was always a vet present and it was clear that we would defer to her, but one vet was the owner and had the final say in policies. The rest of them were very hands-off. But they weren’t good at making sure policies were made clear to new hires (and I would bet that you have some not-inconsiderable staff turnover), and the staff assigned to be “supervisors” weren’t always the ones most capable of making objective decisions or most willing to put in some extra effort, and it wasn’t always clear who was acting supervisor at a given time. And some of their policies conflicted: We couldn’t call before 7:00 in the morning, but we also had to notify before our shifts started. Well, my opening shift started at 6:00, so if I woke up too sick to come in . . . when was I supposed to call? (They had a lot of other absurd policies, too.)

    1. paul*

      plus, at least IME, paid shelter staff outside of managers tends to skew young/inexperienced which is something to consider.

  41. MCMonkeyBean*

    #4 – “Does flextime refer to flexible working hours? Or does it mean you have the option to work remotely if desired?”

    At my job it means both of those things. We have a flex time policy but we are only able to take advantage of it during certain times of the year, as it is to make up for our busy periods that can get a bit hectic. It provides us with two options: you can choose to work 4 10-hour days and take Friday off or you can choose to work from home on Fridays.

    #3 – Do you have a combined sick/vacation PTO system? If so, and your employee had to use up most of her leave recovering from a surgery, I think it would be a real kindness to work with her on this vacation. She obviously should have cleared it before her boyfriend bought tickets, but if you can manage it (and the fact that your letter includes the phrase “if I give in” leads me to believe it IS possible) it would be very nice.

  42. Volunteer Coordinator in NOVA*

    For OP#1, I totally get the burnout that comes from working a service agency so this is a totally reasonable request for your staff. At my last job, I was terrified to answer my cell phone when I was out of the office because people were always calling me on my time off to share issues with me that I had very little control over and it would just spike my anxiety for hours.

    Two ideas for you. Create a guide for employees on who to contact in every situation. I think people just want to take the easiest path to get their answer questioned so they contact you directly instead of having to figure out a solution so you’ll need to create a workaround for this behavior. You’ll also to let know the people who you put in charge of those issues that they have the power to answer questions and provide solutions and if they don’t know, they need to tell the person that they’ll contact you by email/text/phone and they’ll have an answer by this date. Something else I found helpful at jobs that where there were people on various schedules is an internal communication system where people can post things that happened that day that others may need to know about, questions or to keep a record of a situation. We used yammer but there are a lot of different systems that you can use. The benefit of this is you can instruct your employees to post on there and tag you and then when you are back in the office, you can answer them. This can be helpful for employees who may not have their own work email and it also allows a bit of group learning as people may see a question on there from another employee that they didn’t know the answer to. Whatever you decide to change, just stick to it and enforce it as that is probably the biggest key to change!

  43. paul*

    OP #1: There are a lot of things to look at. We used to have issues like this at work and it was an iterative process to fix it.

    There were several steps we took:

    First, during our hours of operation there is *always* a designated person in charge. They are the ones that make the call to contact a supervisor.

    Second, develop as many SOPs as you can. Are there some questions/topics that are most frequently an issue? Hammer on those first. Are you getting calls about intake questions? About if it’s time to call a vet for a shelter animal? Building maintenance? Identify the 2-3 most frequent things that you’re called about and start with those.

    Third: Clearly define the person in charge’s authority. This may not be uniform across all positions/people, but they should clearly know what it is. What calls can they make? If they’re in doubt they will probably call you, so you have to be clear. The corollary to that is that you really have to respect their authority that you granted them. If they see you chew them out for calls that they made that were within their power to make, you’ll undo any progress.

    Fourth: set your own policies on calls/text. I’d really look at letting people email or text in when sick at all hours; set your text notifications to silent or off or w/e. Tell people to use text/email for XYZ things, and call for ABC things.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      This is a really great comment! OP, if you take anything away from this comment section, I hope it’s this.

  44. CBH*

    OP#3 I think you need to be prepared that your employee has already checked out. With or without your approval they seem determined to take this trip. There will probably be a “flight delay” on the trip that, oh my is extends the trip to the time frame of the original trip. Have you considered having a chat with the employee when they get back stating how you see they are unhappy. If they really are causing such issues in July most likely they will be leaving at some point or causing more issues during the year. Can you use the mentoring tactic (or scare tactic if appropriate) that you would be happy to help them with a career path even if it’s not at this company. Maybe have HR involved in the talk. Let them know this is not acceptable and their actions are putting them on thin ice. To me it just seems like employee is trying to back OP into a corner and is planning on moving on. OP I think you need to be prepared for this, cross train other employees.

    1. Kiki*

      Eh, not necessarily. Even with repeated reminders my boss will not approve vacation requests for months at a time. Sometimes his official approval comes the Friday before the vacation request is set to start, and you obviously can’t book airline tickets with only 3 days notice. It’s a know your office/manager sort of deal.

  45. Anon Anon*

    #1 — One of the things I would do after you’ve set the expectations is not answer the phone when an employee calls. Then you can listen to the voice mail message and determine if you think it’s important to respond (okay I might leave this tactic until after you’ve followed all of Alison’s advice as it probably sets the tone better to start). I suspect one of the reasons that your employee’s have gotten into the habit of always calling you and the other supervisor when you are off is because you answer and help them. So it becomes the default.

    #4 — I think many companies talk about having flex-time when really it just means that they don’t hyperventilate if you are 10 or 15 minutes late in the morning. Where I work they talk about how we have a flex schedule, and that our core hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., but the expectation is that you are working at least 40 hours a week (as there is always someone who wants to show up at 8:30 a.m. and leave everyday at 4 p.m., after taking a 90 minute lunch break on a regular basis).

    Our work-from-home policy is very different and doesn’t apply to all employee’s.

    1. Toph*

      Our work-from-home policy is very different
      This right here is the thing! I don’t know what the situation is in OP’s case, and was a little surprised they didn’t ask about the policy before accepting the position, but at my current company we’ve had a recent rash of people conflating work from home with flextime, and they are not the same thing. We have many 100% remote employees but we do not have flextime. We’re expected to be working specific hours (with occasional exceptions for meetings that might be scheduled at odd times). Several new hires apparently decided remote=flex and would just disappear or not show willy nilly and it took a while to figure out they’d assumed they had flexible schedules. I know many people hold the opinion that if you’re exempt and get the work done, who cares, but if there is one piece of advice I would give to applicants it’s: confirm the employer feels that way, don’t assume. And don’t assume remote=flex. Some companies may offer both or cover both in the same section of their handbook, but these are not inherently the same thing nor necessarily tied together.

  46. Rebecca*

    #2 – It just occurred to me our pay stubs arrive in a window envelope with our full names and addresses showing through the window. I imagine this makes it easier for payroll, but it presents a security concern. In my office, though, if we’re on vacation or out of the office on payday, our manager holds the pay stub at her desk until we return and ask for it. But, if we’re in the office, and maybe in the restroom or getting coffee and she hands them out, she’ll just lay them on our desk. Which is OK, but in a case like today’s, our address would be visible and if there were any potential stalkers, they would easily be able to see the address at a glance unless the manager placed them face down.

    We investigated just having the pay stubs available online @ ADP, but we don’t have secure printers here (everyone uses the same communal printer in a room down the hall, so no way to print and ensure you’re the only one who sees it) and not everyone has printers at home. So we continue to get paper pay stubs for our direct deposits.

    1. Natalie*

      I think the idea that someone’s home address would be private is a quite recent one, and definitely not universal, though. Addresses are pretty readily available through any number of channels.

      1. Blue Anne*

        Yes. If you give me your full name and pretty much any other identifying information – like what state you live in, general age range – I can almost certainly find your address online in about 3 minutes.

      2. Temperance*

        At my workplace, you can look up a person’s address in our database. HOWEVER, it would be hugely overstepping to open their paycheck and to go to their home. (Obviously.)

      3. Coming Up Milhouse*

        So you’re ok with someone showing up unwarranted at your home? You’re really going to downplay letter #2 for this point?

        1. nonegiven*

          That used to happen all the time.

          Nowadays, I don’t answer the door without knowing who it is and mostly, them having called first or been invited.

          1. AMPG*

            This is a good point – our norms around showing up unannounced at the home of an acquaintance have completely changed in basically one generation.

    2. Some sort of Management Consultant*

      A side question from a European:

      In many countries, addresses are public information unless one opts out (or has a protected identity).

      Anyone can go to any number of websites and look up my phone number and address, if they know my name. Like a phone book and I know those exist in the US ;)

      Taxation data and any car or property ownership is just as public if a little more cumbersome to find.

      Isn’t there a online equivalent to a phone book in the US?

      1. Blue Anne*

        Not exactly. But there are a lot of alternatives. (Hi! I’ve worked in collections in both the UK and the USA.)

        There are phonebook type websites which are pretty useful, but most of them have been put together by algorithms and are sort of guessing at finding the right person. If I’m googling around for Persephone Clearwater, I will probably come across one of these sites which will tell me – hey, we found a Persephone Clearwater in that state, we think she’s about 54 and related to Alotious Clearwater and Jennifer Clearwater. It will probably have a phone number or address, which you may have to pay for. I did use those sometimes when I was working in collections and got a lot of “How did you find this number?!”

        If you own your home in your own name, and I know what county you live in, I will be able to find your address from the County Auditor website – assuming there aren’t tons of other people with your exact name who own homes in your county. So this is more effective for a Persephone Clearwater than Bob Brown. Taxation data and car ownership aren’t really available, though.

        If you’re registered to vote at your current address, you’re basically just giving your address away free with a 10 second google. Possibly even your party affiliation.

        If you own a business, I might be able to find you through the state’s business registration website, if you haven’t taken any steps to disconnect your personal information from it. Same if you have a website, just running a whois has gotten me a lot of contact info in the past.

        So there’s a lot of stuff, but it’s not nearly as central as in most European places.

        1. Kyrielle*

          If you google my first and last and my city, the top result will include me on its page as the first possibility. It will give you my middle name, my husband’s name, my mother’s name, my last several addresses including where I went to college…. I assume the full report if you have an account with them might give more.

          It will, of course, also give you an email address that is not and never has been mine.

      2. Chinook*

        “Anyone can go to any number of websites and look up my phone number and address, if they know my name. Like a phone book and I know those exist in the US ;)”

        In Canada, not if you have a cellphone and no landline. Phone books are only for numbers associated with a physical address. I just googled my number, which I have had for 7 years, and the only information I find associating it to me is what I gave out as president of a local volunteer organization. It doesn’t even show which town I live in.

      3. nonegiven*

        If your landline is listed, it’s often in the phone book.

        My landline has been unlisted for decades, they would have to pay a service for it or have someone who knows me tell them.

        The county tax rolls are online. If you know someone owns property, you can usually find it.

    3. Snark*

      That’s an issue for the employees to resolve. You don’t need a secure printer available to everyone to adopt ADP paystubs; my employer has dozens of people scattered all over the country at client offices and we have no idea what their printing situations may be. But it’s fine, because most people never print them off anyway.

      1. Natalie*

        True, I never printed one out – sort of defeats the purpose of having them digital in the first place! People can always download copies if they want an offline backup.

      2. NoHose*

        I think once it goes online, some ppl may print but I would encourage staff not yet familiar with electronic pay stubs to instead download them, save them temporarily on a personal drive and then email the stub to their personal email address, Dropbox, etc.

        For a while, I did print them off, but man, that’s a lot of paper after a couple of years. Now I open, review, download, save and email it to my personal address.

        I am desperately trying to remember when was the last time I had a paper pay stub (other than from the temp agency for the first pay) and it’s been a loooooooooooong time. Most use an online HR/payroll system or even ePost (by Canada Post).

  47. Bigglesworth*

    #1 – One of the best managers (if not the best so far) that I’ve had was in retail. Long story short, I transferred in from a different district and didn’t actually know what the correct protocol was for a lot of stuff. One of the first things she told me was, “I will do my absolute best to not call you on your off days, because I expect that you will do your absolute best to not call me on my off days.” She was also a yoga teacher, writing a book, and was a single mother, so her free time was pretty much non-existent. Her philosophy was that retail is what she did, not who she was, and that her time away from her stores recharged her so she could be a better manager. She was in charge of multiple stores and each store had an assistant manager and after them the next person in line was whoever had the most experience after the managers. There was always one of these two back-up people in the store at any given time. If they did not know the answer and a manager at a surrounding store was unable to help, only then were we allowed to call in. It sounds like it took a long time, but it really didn’t. The process was so incredibly streamlined, we all knew what to do, and we enforced it with each other so that it become second nature. For this, and for so many other reasons, I would say she is one of the best managers that I’ve had so far in my working career.

    If you don’t have something like this in place at your shelter, you may want to figure out how to incorporate it. It was truly a lifesaver for me and especially for my manager.

    1. OP #1*

      I feel that we do have a similar chain of command, but I think most of our staff is either unclear about it or just unwilling to go to these other managers or team leads for whatever reason. I think we just need to make it clear who needs to be contacted, and see why there is an issue with that being done.

  48. Candy*

    #1 – If there are clear guidelines on when your staff can contact you and your staff are still calling with questions about things that could easily be answered/handled by someone else in the building you might want to look at how those guidelines are being conveyed.

    Especially if you have a lot of part-time staff or volunteers, you want to make sure you aren’t relying on staff ‘just knowing’ what the proper procedures are or receiving these guidelines by word-of-mouth from other employees (which could turn into a game of telephone and new staff could end up getting very different info than you intended)

    You need to have a clearly visible contact list next to the main work phone that clearly states who to call/for what reason/and when.

    ie. For shift changes contact XX at XXX-XXXX between 9-6pm. For runaway dogs contact XX at XXX-XXXX anytime. For everything else check the Staff Manual for procedures. etc etc.

  49. Elizabeth H.*

    Re. #1: I don’t get why it matters whether someone calls or texts before 6am? Are these phone calls or texts? Are you expecting emergency calls, and because of that you always check/answer? DO you get emergency calls that you regularly answer? If you don’t actually get emergency calls, then can’t you turn your phone off or do not disturb, or just choose not to check any correspondence until the morning. If it’s that you are awake anyway and are annoyed to be confronted with non-emergency work stuff when you’re not at work, then I would think just ignoring it would be easier.

    1. Blue Anne*

      If the OP is using their personal phone (which I kind of assume, given that it’s a nonprofit) it does make a difference. I wouldn’t turn my personal phone onto do not disturb at night, and would definitely answer it if it woke me up at 3 AM – what if my grandmother is in the hospital?

      1. Blue Anne*

        Come to think of it, this was how I ended up telling a client he would need to call back in a few days because I was, at that moment, being zipped into my wedding dress.

  50. EmKay*

    #3 “She has also recently had three weeks off recovering after an operation.”

    Don’t conflate medical leave and “time off”. They’re two completely different things.

  51. Tedious Cat*

    OP #2, if I might share from my own experience…

    In school and in college, we often have teachers and/or student affairs looking out for us in regards to various issues, including mental health. When we enter the workforce, it’s on us, though we’re rarely explicitly told that. It was a very rough transition for me, a person with anxiety issues and a craving for reassurance that had been pretty indulged by my teachers. I ended up having to flatly be told (at an age much older than you) that my anxiety was impacting my work and my relationships with co-workers. (And there was a LOT of “does she like me?” tied up in that in a way that really isn’t appropriate for the workplace. Work isn’t really supposed to be social in the same way that school is.)

    Anxiety brain will lie to you all day. As others have said, I recommend sitting down with your therapist and figuring out strategies to keep anxiety brain from taking over — cognitive behavior therapy is a wonderful tool. It’s also possible that you may not be gelling with your current therapist and a new one might be a better fit. The sooner you can put together coping strategies that work for you, the better it will be for your career and, more importantly, your quality of life.

    I see so much of myself in you, OP. I don’t think my anxiety will ever completely go away, but I’m proof that people can learn to manage it so it’s me, not anxiety brain, running the show. You can do this.

    (I will add that once your anxiety is under control and you’re up to a job search, it might be a good time to start job-hunting simply because having a clean slate is so valuable for peace of mind and establishing new, healthier habits.)

  52. Chatterby*

    Flextime is like “Business Casual” –no one is exactly sure what it is and it changes based on the company.

  53. Volunteer Enforcer*

    OP 2, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this and can empathise as a fellow anxiety sufferer. I don’t know if your work culture allows for this, but it might be worth talking to colleagues who you especially trust / get on with / feel close to to get it off your chest. I’d also try developing your coping techniques to avoid your anxiety getting completely out of control. You’re doing the right thing by taking medication and seeing a therapist. Best of luck to you.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      I don’t know if confiding in her colleagues is the way to go here. Even those who are empathetic to her issues (and not all of them would be) would probably feel at a loss as to what to do/how to help her, and it would put them in an awkward position. Her colleagues are not mental health professionals, and it sounds like many of them are quite young too. Op needs to work with her therapist on ways to cope with her anxiety before it escalates to “open my colleague’s confidential documents and go to her house”.

      1. fposte*

        In fact, I think it’s the way *not* to go; the OP already has trouble keeping her anxiety from affecting her workplace, and if I were her manager I’d be very concerned to hear that she was now relying on colleagues for therapeutic confession.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          I’m afraid that if someone brought this to me in the workplace, as a coworker, I’d feel pressured in a really uncomfortable way to be their workplace buddy to sort of keep them stable–which isn’t my job–and I’d worry what would happen if they decided some day I was mad at them if I made a funny face or forgot a greeting or something. It seems like a bad road to go down.

    2. Observer*

      Don’t put that kind of pressure on your coworkers. There have been a number of letters over the years from people whose coworkers had similar problems, and those coworkers were leaning on them for support. It creates a lot of problems, and really really doesn’t solve anything.

  54. Amy*

    #2: Dealing with clinical anxiety is so hard, and I really empathize with what your brain is doing to you here. But speaking as someone who also has the anxiety jerk brain thing going on–you have to to find ways to manage it without forcing it on others.

    It’s not fair maybe, but most people don’t get how our brains work. Most people hear ‘anxiety’ and think something around ‘nervous’ or ‘stressed’–they don’t really get what clinical anxiety is like, so probably won’t give you much slack when it affects your interactions with them. In this case, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if your coworker took ‘my coworker snuck my pay stub to get my address and then showed up at my house’ and saw it as ‘my coworker is potentially stalking me’ or something similarly frightening. If you continue to let your anxiety lead you to act in unacceptable ways, this kind of thing is likely to happen again, and it’s going to continue to hurt your reputation and ability to function, in the workplace and in the world.

    And functioning is important!! Which means you really have to find a way to manage your anxiety that won’t include this kind of thing. That might mean finding ways to be less anxious; however, it might also mean finding ways to redirect your behavior when anxious, or learning to sit with being anxious or panicked about something without letting it force you to take actions you wouldn’t otherwise take. It sounds like you’re already working with a therapist, which is great; hopefully they can help you with this process. (In my personal experience, therapy hasn’t done much to get rid of anxiety, but has helped me develop coping mechanisms to manage it in productive ways rather than ways that hurt my ability to function.)

    If you have any concern that your anxiety may impact your work again (whether it’s your actual work, your interactions with coworkers, etc.)–consider whether it’s worth notifying HR and getting some accommodations on file, at least until your work with your medical team starts to help more. There are upsides and downsides to that kind of thing, and you should consider what’s best for you.

  55. C.*

    #2 – I don’t like employing blanket statements, but a friend of mine is also in therapy and she shared something that her therapist said that continues to stick with me in both my personal and professional life: “feelings are not fact.” I hope you’re able to get the treatment you need, but if you feel yourself slipping at all, maybe try reminding yourself that your feelings (or how you’re reacting) about a certain situation does not mean that it’s the objective truth of the matter.

  56. Jaguar*

    OP 2:

    I can’t say I’ve read through every comment responding to your letter, but I’ve read a lot and kinda skimmed the rest and I can’t see that this has been asked.

    Do you logically understand what’s alarming about what you did? I can’t tell from your letter than you do or not. As I’m sure you know, mental illness makes it significantly harder to judge what’s reasonable action to take and what can be helpful is being able to break things down logically, since logic is something you can at least grab onto. A paystub is personal information, so opening it was pretty seriously wrong. Additionally, tracking down personal information on someone without their consent is incredibly invasive. People will have varying levels of acceptance of either of these behaviours, but they’re the sorts of things that you should treat at the lowest common denominator. If, out of ten people, six wouldn’t be alarmed by a coworker showing up at their house without warning (or opening their paystub), you still need to treat all ten that way. Think of it more as right people have that they might not be upset about having infringed but that you need to respect as a baseline anyway.

  57. Menacia*

    OP #2 – In response to your query, I want to cut right to the chase, I would hope if you have these feelings again that instead of acting on them, you call someone (your therapist, family member, friend, etc.) who can help you move past the feeling of doing something you will regret (as you are doing now). Thankfully you did nothing to harm your coworker, but you have indeed scared her enough that she is threatening to call the police should you show up at her house again. Anxiety, as others have mentioned, is not logical, so you have to be able to use the tools from therapy or take the suggestions offered here, to get a handle on it before it escalates to this level. Which is what I’m wondering is part of the issue, if you feel yourself starting to get anxious, what do you do? You need to learn to derail the anxiety before it derails you.

  58. Narise*

    For OP #2 this reminds me of the Golden Girls episode. Rose was obsessed with everyone liking her. And when a co-worker didn’t like her she did everything she could to make him like her. She ended up giving him a cat because his dog died and the cat attacked his bird. He finally had to agree to be her friend so she would leave him alone because friends do what friends want.

  59. Anony for this!*

    OP #1, I feel your pain! I too work in animal field and *used* to get ridiculous calls/texts at inappropriate times or my days off. Here’s how we’ve been handling it at my job:

    1. Classify what constitutes an emergency and what doesn’t. Eg, dog medical could be an emergency, but food inventory discrepancy is not an emergency.

    2. Non-emergency info always needs to be communicated via email or whiteboard, never by phone/text.

    3. Clear communication flow chart: go to supervisor for routine operations/medical; call our 24/7 medical on-call person for dog emergencies*, and contact department director if supervisor or medical consult unavailable.

    4. Just before your days off, send an email: “I am off duty for the next two days. This is the chain of command; work through it before attempting to contact me.” And when people contact you, call them out on the spot: “what did first (second, and third) person in chain say?” and “this is not an emergency. Please send it to me an email or leave a note on our whiteboard.” Then met with them when you next work together and tell them to stop contacting you on your days off — this direct communication and follow through post-incident made a big difference at my job.

    Good luck! Working in the environment is really stressful and we all need time to decompress!

    *Dog emergencies: our medical person put together a handout classifying illness/trauma into 3 categories: level 1 (routine, low level, can wait – like goopy eyes or dirty ears), level 2 (diarrhea/vomiting, bloat), and level 3 (hit by a car, bleeding that will not stop after 20 minutes direct pressure, etc). Level 1 stuff can always be communicated whiteboard or email, level 2 is worthy of calling until you get in touch with someone, and level 3 is “take dog to vet immediately.”

      1. Anony for this!*

        Also sounds like you have a big staff! What kind of communication system do you guys typically use to communicate across shifts?

  60. Observer*

    #3 You have a legitimate issue with coverage. Assuming that you’re timely in responding to leave requests, the fact that your employee bought a ticket already is not your problem

    But you totally undercut yourself when you say that you won’t allow people to take unpaid non-emergency vacation because it’s “not fair”. Bluntly put, that sounds like something out of kindergarten. And it’s at that age that kids (should) start learning that not everyone has the same thing all the time. Since you are not dealing with kindergarten children but (hopefully) functional adults, you need to drop that idea totally. It sounds like you either treat your employees like a bunch of unruly children who need their relationships micromanaged or you’re just making excuses. I’m not saying that you are *actually* doing either. But that statement is absolutely going to sound that way to the person who asked for leave.

  61. Erin*

    #2 – You sound very self aware and intelligent. I’m confident if you find the right therapist and the right medication you’ll be well on your way to working everything out. I admittedly don’t know from experience, but I’d imagine these things take a little trial and error to find the right balance.

    I do think you need to be at least a little bit transparent about what’s going on with those who need to know, though – they can’t understand unless they know. I’d suggest coming up with one, maybe two, sentences that sums it up so you’re not dwelling on it and risking getting emotional. Maybe something like, “I want you to know that I’m mortified about what happened, and let you know it was the result of severe anxiety that I’ve been dealing with. I’m working with my doctors to figure out a more adequate treatment plan for me.” Or, maybe less personal than that – whatever you’re semi-comfortable sharing. But the idea would be to acknowledge it briefly and then move on – let your actions speak louder than your words going forward from there.

    Whatever route you decide to take I wish you the best of luck!

  62. Niccola M.*

    OP2: I have OCD. I haven’t heard anyone specifically mention exposure therapy, but I’ve found it to be very helpful. If you’re up to it, I would ask your therapist to go full throttle on it instead of tiptoeing into it.

    You got into to this situation because you have a compulsion to apologize, so I would talk to your therapist before, at the very most, apologizing through HR (in a “if she asks” way).

    Good luck.

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