update: my employees played a horrible prank on a coworker

We already have an update on yesterday’s post about the horrible prank where two employees made their coworker think she was being arrested for embezzlement, and terrified her to the point that she threw up from crying. Here’s the update, in which the letter-writer answers a lot of the questions that came up in the comment section yesterday. (In particular, people had a lot of questions about whether the coworker might have been targeted for her gender, race, or other type of difference in a way that could bring discrimination law into play.)

The incident had happened almost three weeks before I sent in my question.

Because there was speculation on the possible dynamics in several of the comments: All three persons involved, both pranksters and the prankee, are women. They are peers with the same title. The pranksters are both in their late 20s, and the prankee is in her mid 30s. One of the pranksters is the same ethnicity as me (Chinese-American) and the other prankster and the prankee are both white. One of the pranksters is gay, the other prankster and the prankee are not. As far as I am aware, myself and the three of them are all the same religion (Anglican). My other report was on a two-week vacation at the time and he had no knowledge of or part in the prank.

There were no other witnesses besides my three reports. The wife who they said was a police officer there to arrest the employee was not wearing any kind of uniform and she didn’t enter the building. She was standing by her navy blue car outside the building on the public street. The pranksters gestured to her out the window when they told the prankee she was police and she gestured for the prankee to come outside. She never spoke to the prankee.

Since she never dressed as or told anyone she was an officer, there is no way she can be charged with impersonation. The officers at the real police station I went to, the lawyer I spoke to about this, and the company lawyer looked at me like I had two heads when I brought up impersonation charges. They all agreed what happened was awful but the wife of the prankster did nothing illegal and the prankster pointing her once and saying she was an officer also is not illegal. The prankee was also never handcuffed, touched, taken anywhere, or stopped from leaving, so no crime was committed there, as per the police and the lawyers.

My reports don’t have access to money to steal, making the theft allegation part of the prank baffling (but I understand why the prankee was scared, given how new she was to our workplace). We don’t deal with money in our work. We work in the Compensation and Benefits section of HR. We tell employees what benefits and other compensations they are entitled to and that’s all. We do not have any parts in administering these benefits and we don’t work with the books, accounts, or payroll. All of that is done out of a different office. 

My boss, the executive director, and our legal division know what happened. Multiple voicemails and letters to the prankee from me, the director, and legal have gone unanswered and the letters were marked as return to sender. Her LinkedIn profile shows the job she had before and when she was in school, the school she went to, and a current job that is with another company. The company I work for is not mentioned on her profile anywhere, and anyone from the company who tries to reach out is not responded to. I have accepted she wants to be left alone, and the company lawyer advised all contact attempts to cease.

The executive director’s idea of disciplining my reports was to give them a talking to/lecture and to send a memo division-wide saying no pranks of any kind are permitted at work (without giving context since no one else knows what happened).

I am going to resign. I wasn’t sure at first but the more I found out about what happened, the more angry I got. I was also angry about not being able to fire the pranksters. I promised my other report a good reference if he ever needs it because he didn’t do anything. I was not sure about resigning without another job offer but my girlfriend told me I would feel better if I did and we could make it work on her income until I found one, so I’ve made the decision to leave.

I appreciate your answer to my question Alison. I am grateful to you and see I am not wrong to be angry at what happened. Thanks so much.

{ 418 comments… read them below }

    1. Jesca*

      It is so sad. All of it is so sad. It is like that intern who had a penis drawn on her cast. And this case was even worse! Psychological torture is wrong in any setting, but at work!? WTH? Nothing less than firing can really rectify this issue for me if I were employed there as well. I do not want to work with people who are that sadistic, and I do not want to work for a company that is that callous.

      Thanks for the quick update, OP!

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      Honestly wasn’t surprised to find out they were in HR. But I have a small sample size of HRs I’ve interacted with so YMMV.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        Me either. I’ve seem some pretty appalling behavior from HR at most of the companies I’ve worked at.

        1. Else*

          Yup. At Old-Academic-Job, an HR person with a lot of personal influence with the director but no actual official rank on a team managed to completely spike an entire department-wide evaluation effort by insisting on one very inappropriate change to a survey. Everyone else on the team had real expertise in evaluation and apparent rank, and explained the issue, but nobody could go against HR when it decided to throw its weight. HR can have power for good or ill, and sometimes it’s ILL.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I believe HR played a small but inglorious role in the Fired Because Someone Stole My Spicy Lunch letter. (HR was romantically entangled with the office lunch stealer.)

        1. Tara*

          I mean, that was almost entirely HR. If it hadn’t been for the HR person in that case, it would have been one rogue employee saying “She tampered with my food!!” and being shut down and told not to steal other people’s lunches. OP from there may never have known anything happened except that her food was gone.

          1. Candi*

            In that case, Lunch Thief and Bad HR were dating/bedding together, so objectiveness was right out the window. When Owner found out, they canned them both and took serious steps to make the LW whole.

      3. Bill Y*

        HR. Human Resources. Like employees are inanimate objects.
        What happened to Personnel (as it used to be called)?

        1. Chris*

          Even better, Bill, I spent the last ten years in marketing for a very large HR software provider. The preferred term from the provider side is “human capital management.” How do you like that one?

        2. sstabeler*

          ironically, the original idea was because companies saw employees as just a cost- the idea of calling it “human resources” was supposed to emphasize the fact that employees are in some ways as much of an asset as the equipment. Unfortunately, this had the side effect of making some bosses literally treat employees like equipment.

    3. LBK*

      Well, wait, they’re in compensation and benefits – that falls under the HR umbrella but doesn’t really have any ironic relevance in the way you’re implying. It’s closer to the payroll department than legal.

      1. Juli G.*

        I don’t know. I expect (and have no evidence to the contrary) that the benefits and comp team I work with have ethics and integrity, even though they don’t do the same work I do.

        1. LBK*

          As I said below, do you work with anyone that you don’t expect ethical behavior from? The OP is pretty explicit that they don’t really have access to do anything shady, which is what made the prank especially weird.

          Everyone’s flabbergasted reactions seem to imply that these are employees you’d have especially high ethical standards for just because they’re in HR, but it doesn’t sound like they’re in that kind of HR role (eg one that would assist in holding others to the company’s ethical standards).

      2. Ace*

        Particularly true on the UL, where the statutory background make HR often less focused on harassment/discrimination than UK HR.
        Its terrible behavior of course, but it is going to be more akin to “terrible behavior by the accounts payable dept.”

      3. periwinkle*

        At my organization, all HR employees are expected to adhere to ethical standards and professional behavior, regardless of specialization. This crap isn’t acceptable anywhere in HR (or anywhere else in the company).

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          At most companies, most if not all employees are expected to adhere to ethical standards and professional behavior. I think LBK’s point was that people seemed to think it was ironic/extra inappropriate that the people who were doing this were the ones you’d normally report this to, but that wasn’t actually the case.

          It was horrible no matter what, but it doesn’t have that extra layer to it just because they were technically HR.

          1. LBK*

            Right, exactly – I would hope there aren’t any departments at anyone’s company where ethical behavior *isn’t* expected. People seemed to be framing it as though these were the people you’d call in to handle the fallout from a situation like this rather than being the perpetrators, but I don’t think benefits people are held to any particular standard of behavior that’s higher than anyone else at most companies (especially since it doesn’t sound like this department has access to actually change anything, just view it).

      4. Barney Stinson*

        No…comp & benefits professionals should know better. I say that as a long-time HR practitioner.

        1. LBK*

          Literally everyone should know better. I don’t get why being in comp and benefits makes any special difference here.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Thank you for that, LBK. Ethical, professional, and compassionate behavior is not functionally-specific.

          2. sstabeler*

            it doesn’t as such- it’s the fact that comp & benefits is a speciality of HR, and HR professionals in general should be particularly aware of ethical issues.

            That, and at a smaller company, since comp and benefits is- hopefully- most of HR’s job (since discipline tends to be done by the owner/manager) it’s possible that if the company hasn’t thought things through, a comp & benefits specialist is all the company HAS for HR, even if a generalist would be better in that case.

      5. FormerEmployee*

        Imagine if these “pranksters” in compensation and benefits advised someone who just got diagnosed with a life threatening condition that they misunderstood how their disability insurance worked so they wouldn’t be compensated while undergoing treatment and unable to work?

        Their job duties are no different from any other function of HR and the fact that these individuals are in HR is as ironic as if they were in a different area of the HR Department.

    4. Alice*

      That was my first reaction to – i could see this in any other group, but HR is definitely supposed to know better. I agree, the fact that they were not terminated , or at the very least put on a lastchance notice (i.e. one more incident of any kind and they’re gone) is infurating. I don’t think i could continue to work in that environment either. good luck in your hunt. What will you tell prospective employers about why you left?

    5. Geoffrey B*

      I’ve been following some responses to this on Twitter, and so many people have been saying “Take this to HR!” If only they knew…

    6. Candi*

      And every single good HR person who reads Ask a Manager is horrified. The field does not need these kind of people.

      Although considering the higher-ups’ reactions, it shouldn’t be surprising that their HR contains toxic employees, or that they won’t give their manager power to fire such behavior. Reading between the lines, it seems that they may have overridden any disciplinary members LW wanted to use, such as the equivalent of scrubbing the outhouses.

      And I’m now wondering if the wife even KNEW what her dear wife was up to.

  1. Traveling Teacher*

    WOW. Just wow. Good for you for resigning. I’m so glad that the prankee already has another job!

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I’m proud of you, for what it’s worth. I still believe Karma will catch up to these two. They are too mean and/or ignorant to avoid screwing up again.

      Please be sure you explain to someone high up why you are leaving!

      1. Specialk9*

        Seconding on the “proud of you” for leaving. You are completely right, in all senses of the word.

      2. Zombeyonce*

        I want OP to tell the pranksters they can use her as a reference when resigning (if it’s not obvious why they’re leaving) and then tell people that call for references exactly what they did to the prankee.

          1. Joe in Frederick*

            Karma is about attraction rather than promotion, but sometime you gotta promote a little attraction. ;)

        1. JS*

          I don’t think that would be a good idea. I think legal action could be taken if OP told pranksters they would give them a good reference and then gave them a bad one. In some states its a misdemeanor if a misrepresentation results in a person not getting a job. OP couldn’t just make pranksters look bad they would have to tell the entire scenario that they weren’t fired and upper management gave them a slap on the wrists which could make a former employer question OP motives, especially since OP resigned. Of course this might scare off some employers but its not worth the hassle/risk to be vindictive and not good karma either. Besides I doubt pranksters would trust OP anyway if they resigned over this.

      3. Julia the Survivor*

        Explain to the highest up – owner/president/CEO etc. – after you get another job so he can’t screw that up for you… send him a link to the original thread. :D
        Assuming he doesn’t already know all about this… if so, he’s the problem.

    2. OverboilingTeapot*

      Any chance a threat to resign could get them fired, or at least seriously disciplined? And obviously keep looking for other work, because this place sounds toxic as hell.

      1. Amber T*

        I doubt it – if they’re down two people now, they’ll be desperate to keep anyone on board. But OP – Good for you!

      2. short'n'stout*

        Even if tendering a resignation lead to discipline for the pranksters, I don’t think that would be enough to justify staying. The fact that it has gone for several weeks without higher-ups even considering discipline points to a dysfunctional workplace that the OP would be better off out of.

        1. Gadfly*

          A bad decision acknowledged and dealt with can be worked with. Doubling down on bad judgement bodes ill for the future.
          This is doubled down, and then some.

        2. Yomi*

          Agreed. I think that the company has shown it’s true face here and it’s not something you want to deal with or contemplate any more than the OP has already had to. Walk away, head held high. That place will only get worse.

    3. DataChick*

      I’m more curious about what the prankee said in her job interview at the new place re: why she left!

      1. designbot*

        I’m also curious what LW will say. Something like, “I left over a disagreement about appropriate consequences for the wrongdoing of some junior employees”?

      2. Wintermute*

        In exceptional circumstances, it’s best to be honest without embellishing or bringing your own personal judgement into the matter: “a junior employee pulled a ‘prank’ on a co-worker that lead her to believe she was being arrested for a serious felony, and carried on the prank until she was physically ill and quit on the spot. I was prevented from firing the prankster or any real consequences. At that point I had serious ethical concerns, but also practical concerns about how to be an effective manager when I had no disciplinary authority in any respect even for things that went well beyond the standards of professional behavior and it didn’t make sense for me to stay in that role.”

        There are some things that are so far beyond the pale that they are a legitimate exception to the “never leave a job without another lined up” rule– paychecks bouncing, harassment, illegal activity, gross violations of professional norms that would compromise your own ethics or reputation, etc.

        1. Polymer Phil*

          This is a really good example of when not to follow the “never ever ever disparage your last/current employer in a job interview” rule.

          1. sstabeler*

            That statement doesn’t apply with that phrasing anyway- it’s not “don’t say anything that could possibly be seen as critical of your previous employer” it’s “don’t start criticizing your employer more generally than is appropriate “- i.e. saying “I disagreed with the company sufficiently that I felt unable to continue working there” is fine. “they suck and you shouldn’t have anything to do with them” is not. (yes, I know it’s an extreme.)

  2. Katniss*

    Good for you for sticking to your principles, OP. It’s horrifying that the pranksters weren’t fired.

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      Second this. Good on you, OP. It’s not easy but I think you’re making the right decision. A slap on the wrist just isn’t enough here. Thank you for sending in an update.

    1. Rainy*

      There’s no way anything about this workplace is healthy, and I commend the young woman who summarily quit and found another job and the OP both for GTFO of that awful place.

    2. HR Jeanne*

      I’m so appalled that this happened in an HR department. That’s a ridiculously high level of dysfunction.

  3. JHunz*

    The executive director’s response is so incredibly underwhelming. I can’t imagine staying in a job where such an awful thing happened with no real consequences. Good luck in your job search, OP.

    1. FYI*

      Did the prankster’s REALIZE that they disrupted this woman’s life horribly? Were they in any way apologetic? Ashamed? Chastened? Was OP allowed to sit in on this “stern talking-to?” Will they realize that they’ve also disrupted OP’s life now?

      1. CoveredInBees*

        I’ve wondered about that too. My assumption is that the OP would have mentioned that they feel anything resembling remorse about how they treated her, but I don’t know.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Honestly, the Executive Director should be slapped upside the head and shouldn’t be in the business of executive directing. I want so badly to throw things at them.

  4. Zahra*

    You’re all in HR and the ED’s idea of punishment is a stern talking to? Yikes.

    So, now, what kind of script would be appropriate for the “Why did you leave?” question. My first instinct would be “The company values and mine didn’t align anymore.”

      1. Biff*

        As someone who has sort of being involved in interviews, I’d like slightly more than that from the candidate because I’d worry they’d bring some dysfunction to the team unless they added stuff like “I was very uncomfortable when my coworker was assaulted at the office by other coworkers, and the other coworkers kept their jobs. I felt it indicated that management was unconcerned with safety and morale. That didn’t mesh with how I felt a workplace should be.”

      2. Alli525*

        “Two of my direct reports assaulted another, to the point where the offended party quit on the spot. I was not given the authority to discipline them, and they were not disciplined at all, so as a result I had serious concerns about the company’s ethical direction as well as my ability to perform my job as a manager.”

    1. SignalLost*

      I think this is so awful and so out of the norm that OP can be pretty blunt about what happened (without dragging it out in a bad-mouthing way) and be completely fine.

      1. RVA Cat*

        “Two of my employees played a cruel prank on another that made her physically ill. They were not disciplined.”

        1. Cassandra*

          Right on, except I might not say “my” employees, as that elevates a giant (and unjustified) red flag against the OP. “Two employees in my area” would suffice, and doesn’t imply that the OP was supervising them.

  5. Robbenmel*

    Best wishes to you, OP! Truly, I mean that. You did the best you could to try to get the right thing done. These young people are awful, and I only hope they will mature and look back on this incident with the terrible guilt they deserve to feel about it.

    1. selina kyle*

      Not to split hairs but they’re “in their late 20s”. Not that age always measures kindness, but these folks should’ve known better.

      1. LKW*

        An acquaintance told the story of her engagement to her 40+ boyfriend. He said “I don’t want to be your boyfriend anymore” followed by 15 minutes of her crying and hysterics followed by “I want to be your fiance”. Mean people are mean. As soon as someone started crying, they should have known the prank went too far. They kept it going for their own twisted amusement.

      2. Interested Bystander*

        I’m only 21, but I already see that workplace pranks are almost never a good idea… except the classic workplace prank: If you didn’t lock your computer, I’m going to flip your screen upside down. (never done it to anyone. Had it done to me by someone in their 60s.)

    2. Observer*

      This has nothing to do with maturity. They are wing pullers, plain and simple. You do NOT grow out of that.

      If the world is lucky something will teach them that this is the wrong way to behave. But, I fear that a lot of people will be hurt till that happens, if it does.

      1. SamSam*

        That’s a great way of putting it – “wing pullers.” These are people who are amused by hurting another person.

  6. Salamander*

    I am glad to hear that the woman who was pranked got another job quickly. And I hope you get a new one quickly. I don’t have any advice expect to say that I think your heart is in the right place and that it’s shocking that the company didn’t deal with this. This is a horrible, horrible situation, and I wish you the best in finding a better job.

    1. Anne (with an "e")*

      And another +1
      I so agree with Salamander. OP, I wish you the absolute very best. You deserve it.

    2. Gadfly*

      I’m glad for the ex-employee too. As for the company, when you drive off an employee who is able to get another job VERY quickly that often means you just lost someone valuable.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      OP, you have ethics and you are very articulate under cross-fire. You are going to do well in your work/profession. You are an employee that GOOD employers value highly.

      The other two people? Not so much.

    4. Personal Best in Consecutive Days Lived*

      Absolutely. Good on you for taking a stand and quitting. Best of luck in the future!


    LW, I am so sorry. I have to say I am so impressed that you are resigning. That’s amazing. Please let us know what the response is when you tell them why.

    I am rather appalled at your company not doing more to reprimand employees that tortured another coworker. I would want to leave too. I am glad you have the support to do so.

    I wonder if after you leave it is worth sending a LinkedIn message to the woman this was done to, telling her you left because of the situation, and that you are happy to act as a reference?

    Good luck in your job search. Sending many good vibes your way.

    1. Berry*

      I think while a LinkedIn message might have good intentions, it probably wouldn’t be taken well: the former employee has made it clear by her actions (especially the return to sender letters) that she doesn’t want any association from this company.

      Better to just move on – maybe when the former employee has had some time they can look up OP’s LinkedIn and see they left soonish after the incident and reach out or something – but continuing to reach out to people that have made an effort not to respond doesn’t always end well.

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        That’s a fair point. I was just thinking she’d no longer be representing the company, so maybe it would be better received.

      2. Q*

        She doesn’t seem to need the reference anyway—she got a new job in less than three weeks! Wow. Plus, she’s not listing the job on her account, or, presumably, her resume either, at this point. So what good would OP’s word do in that situation?

        I’d just leave her alone.

        1. Specialk9*

          I’d want to know that the whole place wasn’t full of snakes, and that I had one potential professional reference from the snake pit if needed. I’d message once and leave it.

      3. pumpkin spice.*

        If I were in this prankee’s shoes, I may also ignore all messages from the company. If my former manager resigned because of what happened to me and sent me a LinkedIn message to say, “I am on your side, so much in fact that I left the company because of what happened and how it was handled, and just wanted you to know if you ever need a reference I’m here for you,” I’d probably appreciate knowing that.

        At the same time, I have no idea what kind of person this prankee is and maybe she’d be aggravated by a final attempt to contact her. I personally think I’d like to know if my manager quit and was contacting me as a person and not as a representative of the company who barely slapped the wrist of the colleagues who mistreated me.

      4. K.*

        In the prankee’s shoes, I’d probably read the message, think “Good,” and not respond. In the OP’s shoes, I’d probably send the message but not expect a response, and that would be my last attempt at contact unless/until the prankee reached out to me.

        1. Infinity Anon*

          I would agree that sending one message after leaving to say that they resigned over the incident could be a nice gesture. It may be ignored and should not be repeated though.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Me too. One final attempt to show her that at least I was on her side, but not expecting anything from it is where I land.

            The fact that the employee already has a new job indicates to me she’d been job searching for some time. That leads me to believe the speculation from yesterday stating she was possibly bullied the entire time she was there is correct.

        2. JessaB*

          Yeh, I think sending a neutral message “I quit over this, need a reference, here’s my contact info. Great on finding a good new place. Have a better life now because those jerks are out of it,” and letting it go. I would not expect a response, and that would be it.

          I think I would appreciate knowing OP quit over it, but since nothing changed at the company, I’d be leaving it off my resume like the subject here did, so I wouldn’t want nor need a reference from OP. But in case in the future someone said “OMG didn’t you work for X Corp?” I’d be able to haul out the OP as a reference for why I don’t put that on my resume.

        3. Yet Even Another Alison*

          The prankee may be mounting a legal case. The LW should document his/her intentions of discipline for the prankers and who communicated to the LW the “slap on the wrist” that was received as punishment (And the fact that the LW was overruled) I would advise the LW not to reach out to the prankee – the prankee most likely lumps the letter writer in with the prankers (not fair – but understandable) as the LW represents the company. The less that is said by the LW the better. The LW should get another job before he/she quits (much easier to get a job when you have a job) – the LW’s resignation abruptly without another job will be meaningless to this company – they have already demonstrated what they think about people and they don’t care – and COULD hurt the LW. Why take the chance of not being in the best position to find another job? LW’s desire to just resign without another job is understandable, I would want to do that too as I would not want to be associated with the organization either. I have just been around the block enough to see the shortcomings of the strategy. LW’s MMV. Best of luck to LW – and remember, nasty people get what is coming to them…..eventually.

            1. Jerry Vandesic*

              LW could be caught up in the case even if they aren’t a target. A former colleague was subpoenaed in a case involving another former colleague, and it was a real mess.

          1. Specialk9*

            So what? If there is a legal case, OP can be on the bullying victim’s side rather than the company’s. Because that’s the right side.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              Yes, but it will be easier to do this effectively if LW has documented everything they remember about what went down, how, and when — especially the parts they were present for but the prankee was not, such as the discussions with senior management in which they told LW that no punishment for the prankers was permitted beyond a talking-to.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            What legal case?

            That said, OP is probably fine. They’re not going to be on the hook, regardless of whether they make one last effort to contact the prankee. OP has the same risk of being subpoenaed (which is not the same as being sued) under no-contact and contact scenarios.

          3. Wintermute*

            There are certain situations where leaving is really not going to be held against you, this situation is egregious enough that it probably meets that threshold for a lot of hiring managers.

          4. moosetracks*

            LW has gone to police, attorneys, etc. on behalf of prankee. If the prankee tried to get LW involved in a legal case, it seems like LW has a great deal of people who can testify how LW has gone to bat for prankee.

            I think a message with zero expectation of reply would be a decent thing to do. In much more minor past situations of harassment that I’ve experienced, it would’ve been nice to know that people were on my side. And LW would be giving prankee the added vindication that what happened wasn’t okay – because when you’ve been bullied in the workplace it’s easy to feel like things are your fault/ you just overreacted/ you were the only one with a problem/etc.

            Regardless, really well done LW.

    2. Adlib*

      Agreed on all of that! I think it helps that OP is able to resign quickly instead of having to hold out until they secure another job. I think that makes it all the more, well, impactful (I hate that word but can’t think of another).

  8. RWM*

    I still cannot get over the fact that people *in HR* thought this was totally fine behavior ***and so do people in leadership***. It’s just troubling on every level and I don’t blame the OP for wanting out ASAP.

    Best of luck with your job search, OP!

  9. Myrin*

    I gotta say, that must be the most comprehensive update we’ve ever gotten.

    OP, you seem to have a good head on your shoulders and sound like someone others would like to work for – I wish you all the best for your job search and am sure you’re going to find something with a much better office culture. And who knows, maybe you’ll get the chance to do right by your former report some day and/or see these evil people get their comeuppance eventually. That poor woman is hopfeully off to better grounds by now and I’m wishing you all the best at getting there, too.

    1. Emmie*

      I wish OP all the best too. I can see why the OP was so aggravated and wants to quit. I applaud that commitment to OP’s principles.

    2. Cassandra*

      Yes, indeed. Best of luck with your job search, OP. May you meet an amazing opportunity as quickly as your integrity deserves.

      You handled this as well as you possibly could given the constraints you were dealing with.

    3. fposte*

      Yes, the OP has clearly been thinking very thoroughly about this situation. Understandably, as it’s a tough one to understand in so many ways.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Grace under fire, for sure. I admire OP for how she is so together and in control of her own thoughts. OP shows good mental clarity in the midst of sheer chaos.
        Thank you, Alison, for providing a forum that people like OP can connect with others for support and added insight. I can see your words were very meaningful to her.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed. OP also sounds like they acted out of a deep sense of integrity grounded in human decency and basic ethics. The update is sophisticated and thoughtful.

  10. PhillyKate*

    They are in HR and did this?!!!!! Baffling. Sounds like an HR nightmare to me.
    Poor prankee….it sounds like she found a new job. Hopefully she is much happier and secure there.

  11. Five after Midnight*

    I commend the OP on taking the high road and resigning over this horrible incident, and I hope that the OP finds another job quickly. Speaking from experience, it is not an easy task finding a new role when unemployed even if the resignation is for ethical reasons.

      1. Foreign Octopus*

        Ooo, yes, do this. Don’t go into details, obviously, but maybe something along the lines of “upper management and HR fail to take personnel problems seriously”. I’m sure other people will have better scripts.

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          I’d get more detailed than that. “Personnel problems” is vague enough that it could be referring to anything, and I know I take anything that vague with a grain of salt when reading Glassdoor reviews.

          I’d mention something about hostile work environments because that’s more of a red flag and still calls out bad behavior without getting too detailed about what transpired.

          1. Cassie*

            Same. I’d mention hostile work environment/bullying and the perpetrators getting nothing more than a talking to.

          2. Not a Morning Person*

            Remember, “hostile work environment” has a specific legal meaning. This was bullying and it was hostile, but it does not qualify as “hostile work environment.”

            1. all aboard the anon train*

              I know that, but I don’t think most people do, nor do I think they immediately think of a legal definition when they use/hear the term. My point was more that saying hostile work environment is going to send up more red flags to a potential employee than something as vague as personnel problems.

                1. Irene Adler*

                  I would use “abusive work environment”. Then go on to say “Instances of employee bullying are not curtailed by management”.

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  “Toxic” or “extremely toxic” might work but then from an environmental perspective that also has specific meaning.

                  I think that saying, “This is a place where people treat each other so awful that some employees end up vomiting at work.” That might cover it.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I agree with Irene and Not So NewReader. Better to use a description like “toxic,” “dysfunctional,” or to say the employer lacked sound judgment. “Hostile work environment” has such a specific meaning that it really does muddy the waters precisely because people widely know and don’t know it’s a term of art.

                4. Julia the Survivor*

                  This is far beyond dysfunctional, and I don’t think toxic comes close to covering it. It was deliberate abuse and emotional assault. Say something like that.

              1. Frank Doyle*

                Yeah, don’t use a misleading term that you know is misleading just because most people won’t realize its misleadingness.

            2. Cassie*

              It’s a descriptive phrase, being suggested in the context of a review on Glassdoor. Law doesn’t get dibs on all the adjectives used in every context.

              1. fposte*

                If you don’t know better, sure, then it’s a mistake people make. If you do know better, it’s being dishonest to use a term to suggest illegal behavior when that’s not what was happening. (I suspect it also makes your review likelier to be taken down, but I don’t know Glassdoor’s policies.)

                1. Brisvegan*

                  Also, in my country and perhaps others, this might come close to defaming management, ie being a clear but false implication that they allow breaches of anti-discrimination law. No idea about the LW’s jurisdiction or the USA.

                  It would be more accurate and less defamatory to use a more accurate description.

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  One could add parenthetically that the word is in the general sense but not in the legal sense of the term.

                  My concern here is that so many words have a narrow legal definition as well as a broader general use, we could almost prevent people from speaking because of their concern for accidently using a legal term.
                  I would hate for people to stop speaking up about wrong doing. I remember a time when lots and lots of wrong doing got swept under the carpet. I enjoy living in a time where we can talk about these bad actions.

            3. Wonderfully Confused*

              I agree with this statement. Although we all know what “hostile work environment” would be referring to if we ever discovered the Glassdoor review for this company, but to someone who has never read this story may take that phrase by it’s actually definition. Maybe use something along the lines of “cut-throat environment,” but in a more eloquent way.

              LW/OP, I commend you for taking the high road and not compromising your ethical views in this situation. I sincerely hope you find a job quickly and that it will have a better work environment than your current company’s.

              1. Jaintenn*

                I’m on the side of not using the term “hostile work environment” here, partly because it serves to perpetuate the misuse of the term.

                I think OP should leave a Glassdoor review, and use specific coded language so that AAM readers will know if they should ever stumble across it and steer very clear. Obv we would need to come to an agreement on the specific language…

            4. Jennifer Thneed*

              I like the phrase “the work environment was hostile”.

              someone who re-writes sentences a lot

              1. Candi*


                Also, from wordhippo:

                Hostile, synonyms: adverse, antagonistic, harsh, hateful, inhospitable, inimical, intimidating, mean, nasty, bellicose, malevolent, malicious, malignant, spiteful, viperous, virulent, vitriolic

                Only the applicable ones to this case, of course.

          3. Wintermute*

            I second this. I’d simply say an employee was assaulted by other employees and management actively blocked attempts to hold them in any way accountable. That conveys the full seriousness of the situation without bringing in any judgement.

        2. Tableau Wizard*

          I’m not sure why OP couldn’t go into details. Obviously it wouldn’t be anonymous, but it’s so egregious that it would be tempting to just blast it out there.

          1. Trig*

            Yeah, I don’t think OP is trying to preserve relationships here. I think this is a time to be candid, so they know exactly what the effect of their mismanagement was – they lost two good employees. Trying to tip-toe around and imply stuff isn’t going to send a clear message.

            1. CBH*

              This is what I was trying to get at for asking if OP told the higher ups his reasons for leaving. I can’t believe that the higher ups in the company would be so naive to brush this under the rug (apparently they are but I’m hoping hard working OP gave them a dose of reality).

  12. Artistic Noob*

    The victim likely felt that she was faced with an unusually hostile work environment. This is no prank. It’s straight up workplace bullying.
    I am sorry your workplace insisted on treating it lightly. Good luck with your next job (and to the prank too). You are a good person,

  13. Lumen*

    OP, the decision to resign says a great deal about your integrity. I am glad you are in a position where you can choose not work for or with an organization that did not treat this with the seriousness it deserved.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Honestly, I’m just pissed off after reading both of them. I need to read something about interview advice or go back and re-read the one where the OP gets a service dog…

        1. patricia*

          I had not seen Hoopagoo before. But OMG I’m glad my office door is closed so no one could hear me laughing like a loon. Thank you for posting!

        2. Hills to Die on*

          Oh my GOD how did I ever miss this the first time around? I am happy again, happy in knowledge and that I am with my tribe here at AAM. You are truly my people.

        3. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Thank you for linking that. It made my day.

          (and I also hate peeling potatoes with a passion)

        4. Kvothe*

          This needs to come with a warning….I should’ve closed my office door before reading because I’m about to pee myself from trying not to laugh out loud.

        5. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

          I just TRIED to read this out to my husband, and I just collapsed in hysterics towards the end of the last paragraph. I can’t breathe, I’m crying, and he still doesn’t know how it ends because the giggles start again every time I try to get past “hoopagoo”!
          Thank you, it’s been a hard day at work and yesterday’s original post and this update was verging on heartbreaking, so I needed this laugh. Can we get this story on prescription?

        6. Candi*

          Dang, I wish I’d been around then. I would’ve told her that if you boil the potatoes first, most of the skin will come right off. You then boil them a bit longer to make them nice and hot before draining and mashing.

          Yes, she is not the only one who hates peeling potatoes.

          1. Marillenbaum*

            I’m low-key convinced that half of why my mother had kids was so she could have us do the things she hates doing around the house, like sweeping the floor and (you guessed it!) peeling potatoes.

  14. clow*

    OP you have my utmost respect for walking away from this company. The best they can do is give these awful people a stern talking to? really? that is an awful company to work for. The fact that they really dont see this for what it is is very telling. I hope you find a better place soon OP, and I hope the victim of this does too.

  15. K.*

    I’m happy that the prankee found another job so quickly and that she has washed her hands of this terrible company. I hope her new job makes her happy, pays well, and has nice coworkers who understand the difference between pranking and psychological torture.

    I commend you for quitting, OP. I can’t speak to the financial piece of it since I don’t know you or your girlfriend, and I take unemployment very seriously (I know firsthand how hard it is) but I DO know that a company that lets this kind of thing slide is one that I personally could not work for. I would resign too, be public about why, and give no notice. I’d consider that bridge burned because they burned it with their behavior. I think your girlfriend is right that you’ll feel better about the situation once you’re gone. Best of luck in your job search.

    I’m mad as hell that these people aren’t going to face any consequences though. Really, really angry.

  16. Miss Elaine e*

    Thanks for the update, OP. Best wishes on a quick, successful job search.

    Just curious, did the two who committed this awful deed show any kind of remorse, either before or after their “disciplining”? I ask so there can be done hope for humanity….

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      Maybe. I can’t rememberbthe other terrible bosses except for the one that let her crew go out drinking and left one employee doing little work. But I wouldn’t lost her because she DID get fired and she is turning over a new leaf.

      1. Candi*

        Also, Alison establised with graduation boss last year that if a boss tells on themself -oblivious or not- they don’t go on the voting list. She wants them to continue to write in. Which makes sense. Maybe they’ll learn not to be a bad boss, like Exclusive Workplace boss did.

  17. Sara without an H*

    OP, you’re a better person than I am. I’d be tempted to stay and become The-Boss-from-Hell just to make life miserable for the pranksters. Lots of good ideas in the AAM archives…

    Good luck on your job search, and I hope you find something much better quickly.

    1. nep*

      I reckon that’s tongue-in-cheek to some extent. Surely OP is better off spending her talents and energies in a positive space and toward constructive work and outcomes, rather than spend even one more breath on these losers.

  18. Hal*

    “The officers at the real police station I went to, the lawyer I spoke to about this, and the company lawyer looked at me like I had two heads when I brought up impersonation charges.”

    I agree with them. This was never going to be pursued as a criminal matter even though it was definitely a very cruel thing to do.

        1. El*

          Nothing silly about trying to cover all the bases and making a good faith effort to actually cause there to be consequences for this horrible prank!

        2. Anna*

          No, not really, since we didn’t know in what way the girlfriend impersonated an officer and it’s not exactly clear to everyone where the line is drawn between just a bad choice and breaking the law. I know that when the OP said that, I pictured the girlfriend coming into the office and pretending to arrest the employee. It’s fair for the OP to have asked around about it since, as I said, it isn’t always clear where the line is.

        3. Brittasaurus Rex*

          Disagree. I’m glad that OP actually tried to do something instead of behaving like everyone else at that company.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I don’t think OP was silly—I think they were responding to (in my opinion, inaccurate/misguided) advice from the commentariat so that their bases were covered. I understand why someone would want to err on the side of vetting everything, even if some of those suggestions seem unlikely.

        5. Wintermute*

          It was also clever of the LW because if this does end up in court, and the return-to-sender letters and total noncommunication are indicators that might be the way the original victim is headed with this, it provides very strong evidence that can be used to show the LW was in no way involved in the situation.

          Now for a myriad of reasons I think that even in event of a suit it would be meritless in the legal sense, and even if found to have merit the LW would not have any type of liability, but it’s never a bad thing to follow up on all the loose ends.

          1. Julia the Survivor*

            As an analyst/researcher I think it was smart to at least ask the police about this, and the attorneys also. The rule I live by is always check the source! Especially with legal things, they get so twisted! I would have done the same thing. If possible, OP should document the responses in case there is any legal action in the future.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I agree with you Liz T because there is a subtly here. OP spread the story about as she went looking for help. So now other people are aware.
        In talking with lawyers, I have learned a lot about the goings on in the community. The stuff that never makes the papers and never makes the courts.
        OP has planted seeds. Although her subordinate may not benefit directly, in the future other people may benefit as people are aware there are problems in this organization.

        OP acted in sincerity and earnestness. Unlike most of the people in her story here.

      2. Candi*

        Examing your options is never a bad thing, even if they don’t pan out.

        Plus, grapevine.

        Considering the wife was outside standing by the car, I wonder if she knew what was going on. If someone involved me in a prank like this, especially without my knowledge… well, the seventh level of hell wouldn’t let them escape me.

        (I’m reading Dante’s Inferno. Seventh is violence against others.)

        1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

          I think the wife must have known (after all, she “she gestured for the prankee to come outside”) unless her spouse told her some other story to cover why they were going to work to get the prankee.

          That part still worries me. Did they actually have something even more heinous planned? If the prankee had actually gone outside, what would have happened? I don’t think that the fact the wife was not wearing a uniform to impersonate a police officer necessarily means that they didn’t have something more horrible planned.

  19. SaraV*

    OP> Thank you for standing up for what’s right, and following through by high-tailing it out of there. (HR?! H…….R?!??!?!)

    Best of luck to you in finding a new and better job quickly!

  20. nep*

    A good talking-to, huh? Yeah, that’s constructive.
    Tolerance of abhorrent behaviour — this is one thing that is so wrong with, well, society today.
    Executive director is a dick.
    Good on ya for resigning. Cannot imagine staying on there.
    Still think the offenders and company should be publicly shamed.

        1. Julia the Survivor*

          I think it would feel good, but the company would come after whoever does it and try to punish them, probably with lawsuits. Maybe even violence. There have been cases where corporations tried to physically stop whistleblowers and such.

  21. Lizabeth*

    This is where Glass Door comes in handy even if it’s a generic “don’t work here” type of comment without the details.

  22. I've been there*

    OP, DON’T RESIGN (yet). It’s way harder to find a job when unemployed and having to explain all this values-didn’t-match stuff may sound like YOU were fired. Find another position first.

    1. rldk*

      I think this is a case where OP can be a bit more specific than “values didn’t match” when new employers ask, and when it’s explained, new employers will think of it as a *feature* that OP was honorable enough to leave a place like this so quickly.

      Plus, OP said they’ve already resigned so this advice is kind of unhelpful now.

      1. Serin*

        Either that, or the manager doing the interview will say, “Wow, so you really made a big deal out of nothing,” and that … will be useful information to have when deciding whether to take a job.

    2. Another thing*

      I absolutely agree – I have multiple people in my life right now who are really struggling to find work despite being highly qualified with sought after skills (teacher, data analyst) and we live in an area where the economy is excellent and unemployment rate much lower than the national average. Search while you’re employed (but feel free to do the bare minimum at your current job).

    3. Anna*

      I think it’s okay for the OP to do what is best for them and their well being and scare mongering about how hard it’s going to be to find a job isn’t going to help.

    4. I've been there*

      Scare mongering? What a strange thing to say. When job hunting while unemployed, you have to convince prospective employers why you are unemployed, and also they are afraid you’ll take any job even if you are not a good match. This puts you in a very defensive position and I would not recommend it if it can be avoided.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I do not mean any disrespect to what you have been through, however, OP might land okay here. We really cannot say for sure either way. Since the person closest to OP is saying get the hell out, that might be the correct answer for OP’s givens. For other people quitting with no new job might be the wrong answer. No way to tell for sure.

      OP if you keep your chin up and know that YOU know your actions were right for the setting that calm assuredness will help you to go forward.

      1. Julia the Survivor*

        If she decides to stay till she gets another job, she can make life hell for the monsters while she’s looking. :D

  23. kas*

    What a detailed update! If the prankee really did get another job I’m happy for her. I could never face the pranksters again if they did something that extreme.

  24. Sarah*

    I hope you get a wonderful new job, with firing authority. It would be awesome if there were AAM job network to help LWs who resign over issues of integrity find new jobs…

    I’m upset the pranksters didn’t face consequences, but I suppose many cruel people don’t.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Ever wonder why some people end up with no one coming to visit them in the nursing home?

      Some folks just have the bad luck of being the last surviving member of their family and it’s no reflection on the life they had led.
      Other folks it’s a direct result of the life they have led.

  25. Naruto*

    In some ways, the worst part of this is the response of sending a company-wide memo, stripped of context, that just says pranks are not permitted. It’s gutless and bad management.

    1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      Don’t forget the stern talking-to! That’ll learn them.

      I feel like this is the management equivalent of vague-blogging.

    2. Antilles*

      I honestly don’t even understand the point of sending the company wide memo, unless it’s some vague attempt to avoid future liability. Like, what exactly is the memo going to accomplish?
      >The employees who never have pulled a prank ever will read the memo and shrug it off without a second thought like other trivial office memos (“oh joy another memo; I hope this one is more useful than the one last month on proper usage of the dishwasher…no, no it’s not. okay, back to actual work.”).
      >The employees who pull pranks but only minor acceptable ones are going to wonder why it’s such a big deal to get a company-wide memo – since they don’t know the context, they’re going to read that memo with their own frame of reference and not understand why the company is being weird about this (“seriously? is hiding a stapler really worthy of a memo? lighten the heck up”).
      >The actual prankees…well, if they didn’t *already* get the message, a generic company memo isn’t likely to be The Difference that suddenly makes them realize this was over the line (“seeing someone vomit and two employees leave and the personal sit down talk with the legal department didn’t really faze me, but now that there’s a generic memo, we better take this seriously!”).

      1. OverboilingTeapot*

        Maybe the story will get out and the pranksters’ reputations will be ruined? That would be nice…

        1. nonegiven*

          The story will get out and employees in other departments will know HR won’t have their backs in reporting bullying.

          1. Wintermute*

            That might be destructive in the short term but that’s a piece of information that’s really, really nice to have. If I was an employee in a totally different department from theirs I would still be looking for a job right now, hard. This company has shown they can’t be trusted to have their employees’ backs even in the most aggressive and unacceptable situations.

            It really is a case of “if not now, then when WOULD be a time you’d actually fire someone? would they have to hit someone? would that even be enough?”

          2. OverboilingTeapot*

            Dang, I hadn’t even thought of that, but it does seem just as plausible in this toxic workplace :(

      2. Kiwi*

        There’s another category: people who pull pranks that straddle the line of what’s ok. If OP’s workplace has those people, they’re likely to read the memo and decide to rein it in a bit.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah. I am not into creating policies or issuing office-wide passive-aggressive memos when a manager could solve the problem by managing.

    3. a1*

      Yes, this. Plus now one department/group of four is now down to 2 people. It’ll be confusing to others. At least others that work/worked with this group.

  26. alana*

    GOOD ON YOU. Quitting is incredibly brave. I realize the advice is never to get too specific about why you left, but I think a little specificity here might not hurt — “they mishandled a case of workplace harassment so egregiously that I felt I could no longer continue to work there” is a true reason that few are going to question in this climate.

  27. Cobol*

    This is at OP, but others too. I know it can be tough to stay at a job, but it is sooooo much easier to find a job while working. It can also look like a layoff/involuntary separation down the line.

    If your principles tell you that you need to resign, then I would never suggest not to, but if you can stomach hanging on for even a month or two while you’d look, I recommend it.
    So sorry this happened.

  28. DoctorateStrange*

    I really want to think the pranksters at least felt guilty for what they did, but human beings have a way of surprising you with how awful they can be.

    1. nep*

      Perhaps, but I highly doubt it. Does someone who can concoct and do such a thing have the character to feel remorse about it? Doubt it.

      1. DoctorateStrange*

        Too true, all I know is that even if I was not the target of the prank if I was a coworker that witnessed at least the consequences of their actions, I would lose so much trust and respect for them as employees and people.

        I’m glad the prankee got to move on though. I wish her and her mother the best.

    2. Aurion*

      If they can concoct a prank with such breathtaking callousness? No, I don’t think they’d feel remorse until beaten with the Chair Leg of Truth.

      Sadly, since management is so underwhelming, I don’t think that lightbulb moment is coming anytime soon.

      1. DoctorateStrange*

        I really don’t blame the letter writer deciding to resign if their higher-ups behave like this. Imagine what other “funny pranks” Tweedledee and Tweedledum might do in the future since it’s not a “big deal.”

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Seeing OP react in this manner kind of gives me clues as to why the prankee acted the way she did.
          She was probably able to deduce that nothing would be made right in this situation and she would be better off putting all her energy into taking care of herself and her mother.
          We can’t teach people who refuse to learn. It’s a waste of our time.

    3. Tuxedo Cat*

      I don’t think they do. This took some planning, let alone coming up with the idea. There were so many places for them to think “Gee, this is going to be hurtful” and yet- they didn’t.

      1. DoctorateStrange*

        I’m actually wondering if they did this prank because they KNEW management wouldn’t do much to them as consequence.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        “Gee, our coworker is vomiting because of what we are doing. Maybe we should stop. Naaaa…. keep going.”

    4. Alton*

      Hard to say. Sometimes people realize they’ve done something wrong and sometimes they’re good at justifying their behavior to themselves. It can be common for bullies to think that what they did wasn’t so bad.

    5. Hiring Mgr*

      Of course it’s possible..If they truly thought it was just a silly prank and didn’t understand how it could get so out of hand, then it’s within the realm of possibilty that they could feel guilty. People do horrible things all the time and sometimes they wise up and are remorseful.

  29. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    “The executive director’s idea of disciplining my reports was to give them a talking to/lecture and to send a memo division-wide saying no pranks of any kind are permitted at work (without giving context since no one else knows what happened).”

    This is so unsatisfying. I’d tell everyone…everyone…what these two did. I’d name names. I’d tell the cashier at the local coffee shop, I’d tell the food delivery person, I’d tell the groundskeepers, I’d tell the security guard at the bank down the street…everyone within walking distance of the building would know. Under normal circumstances, I don’t think pranks gone wrong would warrant this, but this “prank” was so bad that it no longer qualifies as a prank at all. I hope they know why you are resigning and that they should beware that their reputation may precede them at other employers for the rest of their careers.

    1. Tuxedo Cat*

      I agree with this too. Everyone should know so that they can watch their backs around these two.

      It just boggles my mind that the company would want to keep them on. You could never trust them again to not do this thing, and I don’t think I could ever take their word to be honest. I’d be waiting for their “gotcha” moment.

      1. nep*

        Yep — employers need to know that with either one of the offenders, they’d be taking on one big fat liability. Honestly I hope karma is real.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Ten years from now OP will be the hiring manager at The Company Everyone Wants To Work At. And across her desk will come two applications, Prankster 1 and Prankster 2. And OP will say, “These two worked for me and let me tell you what happened…”

  30. Agatha_31*

    Good for you and your gf, OP, in your response to this. I hope you and that pranked employee both find something much better as soon as possible!

  31. Anna*

    I am so sorry the leadership isn’t taking this more seriously, OP. I hope you find a new job quickly. Clearly you would be a good addition to an HR department.

  32. CR*

    Would love to know what company treats their employees this way, if there’s a way to OP reveal what it is without reprecussions.

  33. Work Wardrobe*

    Wow. The callousness of this whole situation is breathtaking.

    Way to ruin someone’s life, stupid prankers and bosses. Hope you’re all proud of yourselves.

  34. Mimmy*

    I read the original post yesterday but did not think I had much to add after seeing 900+ comments. But wow. Thank you OP for the quick update and clarifications. Best of luck to you as you move forward into a healthier work environment.

  35. depizan*

    Wowza. I’m glad the young woman found a new job (hopefully with coworkers who are not sadists), and I wish you, OP, good luck on your job hunt. May you also find a new job without sadistic coworkers!

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Imagine setting the bar so low, that one needs to specify that their future co-workers should not be sadists. These two are really something special. Grr.

  36. Matilda Jefferies*

    Aw. I wish more real-life stories had happy endings, where the good guys get rewarded and the bad guys get their comeuppance. I’m sorry this one isn’t more satisfying, particularly with regard to those two jerks.

    But OP, it sounds like you really went to the mat for the “prankee.” You literally did everything you could to make it right, including talking to your boss, the ED, a lawyer, and the police. I think after all this, you can leave with your integrity intact, knowing that you did your absolute best to resolve an un-resolvable situation. You’re exactly the kind of manager I would like to have, and I wish you the very best in your job search.

  37. Comms Girl*

    I read the original letter and I was too baffled to comment – this was beyond anything I’ve ever heard.
    OP, I’m glad you’re moving on – even if you don’t have anything lined up and have to make do with your partner’s income for the moment, I’m sure you will be getting into a much better work environment in the future. This was beyond toxic. The way your superiors acted was really nothing more than a slap on the wrist for such a sick idea of a joke.
    I’m also glad the prankee found a new job, and I hope she’s doing fine. I sincerely hope karma gets the pranksters one day – high school is supposed to be over when you’re in your late twenties, and a total “mean girls” attitude and such lack of judgement won’t pay off in other work environments or aspects of their lives (or at least I hope so).

  38. Persephone Mulberry*

    Thanks to the OP for sending this in as an update and not just responding to comments (900+…I probably never would have seen if the OP responded). Good on you for walking away from that train wreck and best of luck in finding a new position quickly!

  39. Elizabeth West*

    I feel so bad for the victim of this heinous crap. Since the job was so short-lived, leaving it off her profile likely won’t hurt her. The company’s response is lackluster AT BEST. At worst, it’s grossly insensitive and enabling, and frankly, chickenshit.

    OP, you’re making the right call by leaving.

    1. OverboilingTeapot*

      I cannot fathom a company that would learn that employees were cruel enough to make a new colleague cry, double down on the cruelty, and show such astonishingly little empathy and common sense, and not at LEAST make it extremely clear to them that a single toe out of line ever again will result in termination. Any privileges–telework, flextime–should be revoked. The company’s choices are indefensible.

      1. tigerStripes*

        And if they aren’t going to fire them, suspend them for a week or 2 without pay – that might get their attention if nothing else does.

  40. Former Retail Manager*

    No doubt I’m in the minority on this, buuuutttt, I’m mostly taken aback at the gullibility of the prankee. New to the workforce or not, how gullible is this person? It would be like pranking someone and telling them they’re being arrested for shooting someone when they don’t own a gun. The whole premise of the prank was just ridiculous and unbelievable given the nature of all of their positions. It is almost unimaginable to me that one would immediately respond by bursting into tears and crying to the point of vomiting. And who would believe that a random person outside standing by a navy blue vehicle is the police? At least one uniformed officer and/or one marked police car are present during a majority of arrests. And why would the co-workers know that she was being arrested before she did? Law enforcement doesn’t tip off your co-workers before they come, manager maybe, but not co-workers. The glaring obviousness of untruth just goes on and on. My 17 year old, who is an admitted airhead most of the time, knows better. I am amazed that an individual with a college degree could be so gullible.

    While I agree the prank was in very poor taste for HR professionals, or anyone for that matter, and discipline is warranted, my best guess would be that they assumed she would never believe them or catch on to the prank pretty quickly……or they did it because she is irritatingly gullible regarding a whole slew of other things as well. Again, not justification for the prank, but you have to wonder what motivated them to choose such a far fetched prank to begin with.

    Regardless, glad the prankee has moved on. And I guess if OP really feels that moving on is necessary, then I’m glad that’s in the works as well.

    1. Kiki*

      >I am amazed that an individual with a college degree could be so gullible.

      Did LW say the prankee had a college degree? I don’t remember that being mentioned.

      Also, I know people with PhDs who are academically brilliant but not the brightest when it comes to common sense.

      1. nonegiven*

        LW said she was just out of college, although if she was older than the prankers, she had probably worked her way through college slowly, while working retail or food service part time and taking care of her mother.

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      If you have been sheltered enough to not realize that people sometimes get falsely accused of serious stuff, then I guess you’ve been lucky to this point. It is incredibly distressing to get falsely accused.

    3. Leatherwings*

      You’re definitely in the minority. You’re looking at this from a rational, unemotional third party perspective, and the prankee didn’t have the benefit of that position. She was told she was getting arrested and had no time to think it through this way. AND add to that that she was clearly under some stress at home with the bit about the sick mother and you’ve got a perfect storm of someone who (understandably) panics.

      Demanding that others act in a certain “rational” way when faced with something serious – regardless of likely it is that the serious thing is happening – is really tone deaf.

      1. Lefty*

        Also, she was told this by people she presumably trusted (however misplaced we now know that trust was) and that she likely respected! These were her coworkers- ones with seniority who probably trained/coached/delegated work to her- not some random voice over the phone or random person entering the office.

    4. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster*

      It’s basically the same (and VERY common) scam pulled by crooks who call people up, pretending to be the IRS, claiming that you owe money. I had a guy call me and yell at me on the phone, telling me that I was a VERY BAD PERSON and that the police were ON THEIR WAY to my house because of my crooked dealings with the IRS, and I could only stop this if I sent money NOW. Even though I knew all along it was a scam, it was still horribly unsettling and stressful, and I could totally see how they could easily get to a more trusting person — many people will automatically listen to an authority figure, no matter what that figure is saying.

      1. Aurion*

        And also familiarity with the pranksters tend to lend more implicit (however undeserved) trust compared to phone calls from strangers.

        Objectively, yeah, maybe the prankee was naive. But given her circumstances I can’t blame her for it. And naive or not, her coworkers were the height of callousness to engage in such an extended prank after the prankee got visibly upset.

        1. tigerStripes*

          “naive or not, her coworkers were the height of callousness to engage in such an extended prank after the prankee got visibly upset.” This!

      2. Archie Goodwin*

        I had a guy do that to me too, once. I told him off and hung up – he proceeded to call me back about eight times in the next hour, returning the call every time I hung up, and try to bully me into paying. He even got a co-conspirator to pretend to be a police officer.

        I actually had fun with it, but I can see how someone could be bullied into submission. Especially with the second call – one call is just, “Oh, it’s a scam.” Two calls suggests that maybe they’re serious, whoever they are.

      3. Matilda Jefferies*

        I made that exact comparison below, before I read your comment. Sorry about that, should have hit refresh before posting!

      4. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Those people were leaving messages on my parents machine for a while. My brother called back one day and trolled them. They stopped calling.

      5. Anna*

        My former boss had this exact thing happen to her and she had to get another perspective from someone else to make sure she wasn’t going nuts. She’s an educated, intelligent, skeptical woman who got sucked up into believing a scam for a few minutes before she came to her senses. All it might have taken is slightly less world experience and she could have easily sent off money to satisfy the fake IRS.

      6. DumbQuestion*

        My friend got one of these. Joke was on them because she worked at the IRS, so that didn’t go over too well.

    5. No Smoking Sign*

      Oh good, there’s the awful victim-blaming comment this whole mess really needed, just to put the cherry on top. :((((

    6. Delphine*

      While I agree the prank was in very poor taste for HR professionals, or anyone for that matter, and discipline is warranted, my best guess would be that they assumed she would never believe them or catch on to the prank pretty quickly……or they did it because she is irritatingly gullible regarding a whole slew of other things as well.

      If it was the former, they likely wouldn’t have allowed it to go on as long as it did, and certainly would have stopped once their coworker became hysterical. I can’t speak to the latter, because the implication seems to be that the coworker was somehow asking for it if she was, in fact, “irritatingly” gullible.

      Their motivations are irrelevant, and when speculation takes the form of “what part of the coworker’s behavior might have warranted such treatment” it’s best just not to speculate…

    7. Matilda Jefferies*

      Well, she was new to the job, compared to the other two’s 5+ years. It’s reasonable to assume that she had been told and to go to them with any questions as she was learning. So she had been trusting them to know the job better than she did.

      She was probably under a lot of stress already due to her mother being sick. Chronic stress lowers your problem-solving skills, your coping skills, and pretty much everything related to executive functioning in your brain.

      Also, Wikipedia says this about cognitive dissonance:

      In A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957), Leon Festinger proposed that human beings strive for internal psychological consistency in order to mentally function in the real world. A person who experiences internal inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable and is motivated to reduce the cognitive dissonance. This is done by changing parts of the cognition to justify the stressful behavior, by adding new parts to the cognition that causes the psychological dissonance, or by actively avoiding social situations and contradictory information that are likely to increase the magnitude of the cognitive dissonance.

      TL;DR, people who can’t reconcile the external world with what they know in their brains, will change their thinking in order to reduce the dissonance. Even if it doesn’t make logical sense, and especially if their functioning is reduced due to other reasons like stress.

      People fall for “pranks” like this all the time. The “CRA scam” (and its American equivalent, the IRS scam) works because people respond to it. Not everybody, not all the time, but often enough that the scammers keep doing it. Victim blaming isn’t helpful to the people who fall for these scams, and it’s not helpful to the OP or her former employee.

    8. K.*

      “It would be like pranking someone and telling them they’re being arrested for shooting someone when they don’t own a gun.”
      People get arrested, tried, convicted, and serve time for stuff they didn’t do all the time. Just today I read a story about a Black man who served 43 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit (his conviction is being overturned but he still has to post $2K bail). I’m a Black woman – if I were being pranked like this, I’d know I hadn’t done it but I also know that there’s a big chance that folks simply would not believe that I hadn’t done it.

      1. I'm Not Phyllis*

        I read about this as well – horrifying. No matter what happens, that man will never get back those 43 years, not to mention all of the intangible ways he was changed by that experience.

      2. Cleopatra Jones*

        And the thing is…even if you aren’t convicted for the crime, you still have to make it through until you’re proven innocent. With a sick mother, she may be financially stretched as far as she can go, now imagine having to find money for an attorney to fight for your innocence. Most people would absolutely crumble under those circumstances.

      3. One of the Sarahs*

        The Guildford Four, Maguire Seven and Birmingham Six are classic examples of innocent people being convicted of heinous IRA crimes, just because they were randomly Irish, from a UK perspective (the IRA even made it explicitly clear that the Guildford bombing was done by a different set of people, with evidence, but that wasn’t enough to help them).

        1. Deejay*

          And those cases were compounded by “We, the authorities, can’t admit we made a mistake even though we obviously did, because that would undermine public confidence”.

          Then there was the Hillsborough disaster, where people died due to police incompetence and were then lied about by those same police to blame the victims and cover up the mistakes.

          And to top it off, at one time the U.K. government planned, in the case of people who had been falsely convicted, to deduct the cost of keeping them in prison from their compensation. The reasoning being “Since they shouldn’t have been there, why should the state pay for it?”

          If you really believe the oft-quoted saying “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about” is true in all cases, you are provably wrong.

    9. CoffeeLover*

      I agree with you mostly. And I bet a big part of the reason these pranksters aren’t getting a harsher punishment is because it is so unbelievable given the circumstances. The higher-ups are thinking, she should have known it was all a ruse. Honestly, I thought this was so much worse than it actually was, comparing the original post to the update (like I thought there were handcuffs and cop uniforms involved… and that she was in a position where this was even plausible). I think the majority of people would see through this pretty quickly, like they see through a Nigerian prince scam.

      That being said, plenty of people fall for those scams (enough to encourage them to continue anyway). There are a lot of gullible people in the world. There are even more people that panic in these types of situation and while they would be able to see through it in a calm situation, totally lose that ability in the moment. Anyway, we would never say it was the victims fault for being convinced by a scammer – it’s definitely on the scammer (as it is on the prankster).

      Overall though, ya she did kind of overreact. I bet the reason she’s dodging the calls is because she feels really embarrassed for overreacting (no, she shouldn’t feel this way, but I bet she does). It would be hard to walk in with your head held high after cry-vomiting in front of coworkers for whatever reason. That doesn’t excuse the pranksters. This was a bad idea and not the kind of stuff you pull at work. But I don’t think they’re monsters for thinking she would catch on quickly and have a laugh with them. They should have stopped when they saw she was upset, but people in the comments are acting like they locked her in the storage room for an hour or something.

      1. Ellie*

        No, she’s dodging the calls because her co-workers were bullying, callous d-bags. She was new to the workforce, stressed out with a sick mother at home and this “prank” put her in melt-down. The co-workers ARE monsters for not stopping with the prank when they saw how upset she was!

        1. fposte*

          I’m in fact rather impressed with the victim’s style here. This is the “You are dead to me” move that we all think we’d pull off with jobs or romantic partners and so seldom do. She went home, never spoke to them again, got another job, and erased them from her professional past. That’s superb icing.

      2. nep*

        Wow. Really don’t know what to think. Sounds like one of the offenders. I hesitate to respond because your comment is so ridiculous as to be a hoax.
        I highly doubt she’s ‘dodging’ calls because embarrassed — She’s absolutely right not to want to have a thing to do with anyone who’s part of a company or personnel that would inflict this.

        1. Anna*

          Exactly. Not only were the pranksters incredibly cruel to her, on top of that if she did agree to contact them and ask what consequences they faced, can you imagine the sheer rage and disbelief she would feel if they told her, “Oh, they were given a stern talking to, so don’t you worry. They know what they did was wrong!”

          No. She is not embarrassed. She is probably righteously angry and making sure her safety and sanity are preserved.

        2. CoffeeLover*

          Nope, it’s a genuine comment. I just think there’s a big disconnect between the reaction to the prank here and the reaction to the prank in reality. There’s a reason the pranksters weren’t fired. That reason is that the higher-ups don’t think it’s as big of a deal as the people that are posting on this site. While I don’t disagree that it was a horrible idea, I do think the other side of the coin (the side that says it wasn’t actually that bad) is valid. Given that we really don’t know all the details, I think we can say it’s possible these pranksters aren’t the devil in thinking this joke could have gone over in a less-dramatic way. That it was slightly bad judgement and not evil intention at play here. And their plausible deniability comes from the fact that the prank was so unbelievable in the first place.

          As for the embarrassment comment – maybe that’s just a personal perspective. I would never want to see or interact with anyone that saw me cry-vomit ever again… Even if it was totally 100% the other persons fault I did it. But I don’t even like to cry in front of people so there’s that. The reason I thought it could be the case here is because the prankee didn’t even wait to find out what the company did about the pranksters. She doesn’t even know if the coworkers were disciplined or not. She went radio silent before she could.

          1. McWhadden*

            They continued the prank after she started crying and asking to call someone for her sick mother.

            And nothing about it was all that unbelievable. Plain clothes police officers usually investigate felonies (another way the OP here is hilariously clueless about the world why calling others naive), she was new and didn’t know if it was possible to access financial stuff, she had no reason to know she was working with sociopaths.

            There is no “reality” where it’s not a big deal.

          2. nep*

            I think a person would be so overwhelmed — with this added to the stress of caring for a sick parent and being in a new job and more — as to not give a second’s thought to ‘oh, I wonder whether those bad girls have been disciplined? that might make me feel better.’

          3. Julia the Survivor*

            CoffeeLover doesn’t understand what it’s like to be emotionally abused. Maybe one day it will happen to him and he’ll find out. Emotionally it’s the same as being physically abused. Emotionally it’s as if they told her lies about her having committed a crime, grabbed her, hit her, and tried to imprison her. :( :'(

      3. Jaguar*

        Some people are going to react like this. You need to know your audience. I have friends and former coworkers who have pulled pranks like this (this actually sounds really lazy and half-hearted in this update) on me, with me, etc. It’s a bonding experience when you know the person won’t react badly. But so many of the details are missing here (how far did they push the prank, did they keep going after they realized it was going sideways, were they apologetic and comforting when the coworker went sideways on it, are they regretful about what happened, etc) that dramatically change the context of it – and they just shouldn’t have done it without knowing the coworker better.

        1. Anna*

          They did keep going after they realized it was going sideways. As the OP said in the original letter, even after the person started crying and threw up, they continued on.

        2. nep*

          Maybe it’s some people’s idea of bonding. Not everyone’s — not even a prank with no potential bad outcomes. Just the idea of a prank among professionals at a workplace = all-around bad. My take.

        3. nonegiven*

          They pushed it past crying, past vomiting, right up to the victim begging to call someone to look after her mother. That’s pretty far.

      4. Observer*

        They were jerks for not realizing that most people would NOT find this funny. They are horrible people for not stopping the minute that they saw that she was taking it seriously.

        If you are correctly describing the thinking of the higher ups, then the company is even more toxic than I thought.

    10. McWhadden*

      “It would be like pranking someone and telling them they’re being arrested for shooting someone when they don’t own a gun.”

      Look through some cases of the Innocence Project and then try to claim a person can’t be arrested for a shooting if they don’t own a gun.

      The justice system is not always fair, innocent people are convicted, and most people know that.

      You come off incredibly naive about the way the world works.

    11. Kyrielle*

      Nope. So many shades of nope. I hear you: I’m surprised she fell for it too, since her job didn’t give her access to money. But did she know, with absolute certainty, that there wasn’t some system she had access to (but hadn’t used) where this could happen? Almost certainly not.

      But it *doesn’t matter*. If your joke’s victim is sobbing hysterically, you END THE FLAMING JOKE and tell them. If they sob to the point of vomiting, you do the preceding and offer GROVELING APOLOGIES.

      Otherwise, you are an abusive, bullying, ass-hat. As these two are.

      And if, instead, you know the person is gullible, and you take that as a license to *bully them to the point of hysteria and vomiting*, you are…an abusive, bullying, ass-hat.

      Kids in school are not allowed to treat others (even others who might be exceptionally gullible) this way.

      Why on earth should it be tolerated in adults in the work force?

    12. Student*

      Spoken like somebody who’s never had a bad experience with the justice system.

      As somebody who’s had the police hold a gun to my head, even though I committed no crime nor did anything that anyone could consider a crime (the police officer merely found me annoying and wanted to make me shut up and sit down – I was eight years old at the time and playing too loudly near him), I know from experience that you are the naive one. One always hopes the justice system will be just – but people with experience in it know it can easily be misused by the powerful for their own ends.

      I’ve also been accused, unjustifiably, of stealing from a job. When it happened, I asked the manager to take reasonable steps to clear my name, they took those steps, and it became obvious to all that I did not take any money. I was able to respond calmly in the moment because this was an expected part of the job that I’d already thought through (cashier, accused of giving back too little change on a large bill). I was still stunned, upset, and more than a bit tongue-tied when it actually happened. I admit to doubting myself in the moment – I was tired, so did I actually screw up giving a substantial amount of change back to woman accusing me of theft? I am sure that in that case I was also lucky that the woman accusing me of theft was not running a scam, but had actually made a simple mistake herself; if she had remained adamant that I had stolen from her, instead of eventually finding the missing cash in her purse, I am sure the police would’ve been involved and I likely would’ve been asked to submit to an unpleasantly invasive personal search. Even if I was cleared of wrongdoing, that would’ve colored the perception of my management and they might well have fired me just to be on the safe side.

    13. Maya Elena*

      Your points are valid, but might be hard for someone under pressure to see in the moment- much like being put on the spot foe any reason without warning.

      A therapist may point this out to prankee in a kind way to help her develop resiliency against future pranks, for example.

      BUT the prank was still mean spirited and in poor taste, which I don’t think you deny, and deserves punishment.

      1. Brittasaurus Rex*

        “Develop resiliency against future pranks”? What a horrible career you envision for her.

    14. Umvue*

      I would have definitely fallen for this, because it would not have occurred to me that people who work with me every day might have such low regard for my feelings that they’d think this kind of stunt would be funny.

      1. PlainJane*

        Exactly. When people do something wildly outside the norm, many of us are too shocked to rationally think the situation through. That’s why so many people freeze when they’re groped or harassed.

        1. pandop*

          I have attended some ‘personal resiliancy’ courses recently, and the tutor mentioned that there is a view in psychology now that in addition to fight or flight, our first evoultionary defence mechanism might have been to freeze. It may well have been been hardwired into the human brain for millennia.

    15. SarahTheEntwife*

      I have no idea what goes on in a real arrest other than the obligation to read someone Miranda rights. However, I do know that people get arrested for things they haven’t actually done *all the time*. And I’m another college-educated — graduate-educated even — person who’s very gullible. It’s something I can moderate with a lot of effort but it isn’t something that just goes away no matter how many critical thinking skills classes I took. It in particular won’t magically go away if I’m presented with a sudden horrifying shock that makes me go into fight-or-flight mode because the possibility of there having been some sort of horrible mistaken identity is not actually impossible.

      1. Pmort*

        Actually you don’t need to be Mirandized when you’re arrested – only if you’re going to be interrogated.

    16. OverboilingTeapot*

      Yeah…”poor taste” and ~sadism~ are not the same thing.

      They didn’t stop the prank when she started crying uncontrollably. Nobody with a shred of empathy could possibly do that.

      1. paul*


        Like…if they’d started this and apologetically backtracked as soon as she freaked out? Then it’d be a come to Jesus talk time with ’em *still* because OMGWTF epic bad judgement how can you trust them in anything requiring discernment again–and that’s at best. But continuing until she was crying and puking? Yeah, no, that’s just sadism.

    17. what's my name again?*

      In my first job out of college, I was accused of something much more minor, (it turned out to be a misunderstanding between and my boss, who turned out to be a cocaine addict (long story). Having been bullied in the past, I was terrified for quite some time later that I was going to be fired.
      I can well understand how someone could be that gullible. If the prank victim had stresses in her past, in addition to trying to make good on a job and also trying to take care of her mother, it can be very easy to fall into the trap. (Especially if the victim was of a temperament of St. Thomas Aquinas in yesterday’s original post — that is, a type much more inclined to think the best of those around him or her.)

    18. Erin*

      I hear you, and your rational is very logical, but it’s believable to me. I was very, very naive about the work world right out of college. And if you don’t have a lot of interaction with the police I could see how that went down the way it did as well.

    19. LBK*

      Apologies if I missed someone else noting this but I don’t think anyone’s pointed out yet that per the original letter, the victim had a sick mother she needed to care for. You think someone with that kind of serious life stuff going on might be a) generally pretty emotionally raw, and b) really sensitive to jokes about losing her livelihood and not being present to care for her parent?

      I agree that generally, most people’s reaction to something like this would probably be skepticism rather than an immediate meltdown. But the bullies (presumably) unknowingly hit a sore spot, which is why these kinds of big pranks are such a terrible idea – you never know what button you’re going to press. And it’s even worse that they doubled down once she was clearly not taking it as a joke.

      1. Julia the Survivor*

        My first reaction would be “Oh my God, what kind of hell is being put on me now?” I would probably get so upset I wouldn’t be able to think rationally for at least an hour or two. Why? Because I have post-traumatic stress from growing up with verbally and emotionally abusive and neglectful parents in a fundamentalist city. My father was always accusing me of things I hadn’t done, as an excuse to abuse me. My mother pretended none of this was happening so she wouldn’t have to deal with it. When I went out into the fundamentalist city, I had to fend off arrogant people who tried to force or manipulate me into joining their church and living by their rules. It was a nightmare of disrespect and abuse. I left at age 22 and moved to a big city, and overcoming the PTS has been a big life project. I’m 55 now. In my 20’s and 30’s I might have seemed gullible or clueless because I didn’t track very well, and had learned the habits of obliviousness and denial from my mother. That did NOT mean I deserved more emotional abuse!!!
        You never know what a person has been through, and that’s why everyone should be treated with respect and compassion! :/

    20. Flossie Bobbsey*

      Yeah, no, for all the reasons already mentioned. Just to highlight a few:

      (1) The prospect of her ill mother being alone was a real issue with immediate consequences if she had to go into custody for who knows how long, regardless of whether of she rationally knew that the charges eventually wouldn’t stick.

      (2) Assuming that the “pranksters” truly meant it as an innocent and obvious “joke,” the moment her eyes began to well up with tears should have been the moment the “joke” was over and she was let in on it – instead of allowing her to progress to weeping, vomiting, and asking to call someone. The fact that they let it get so far before backing down is NOT consistent with their professed belief that they were only being harmlessly funny.

      (3) Your shooting/gun analogy is so out of touch with the reality of our current society that I won’t add to the responses about it.

    21. Observer*

      Wait, even assuming that you are 100% correct that the prankee is 100% annoyingly gullible, what does that have to do with the behavior of the pranksters? They set out to SERIOUSLY scare her. When they succeeded, and she started crying they didn’t stop and tell her it’s a joke. No. They continued on till she was vomiting! How does her being gullible, even “annoyingly” make this anything less than horrendous? It’s not as if they actually had to take even the SMALLEST shred of trouble or effort to stop this.

      But according to you, being “annoyingly gullible” is such a crime that when someone takes significant time and effort to scare them silly, and CONTINUES to the point where the person is PHYSICALLY ILL and WORRYING FOR HER ILL PARENT, that’s nothing more that “poor taste”. It’s not sadistic, or cruel or even mean. Because “she annoys me.”

      I hope you are a FORMER manager in ANY context.

    22. bridget*

      So what if she was some combination of naive, gullible, or trusting? Gullible people don’t deserve to be intentionally traumatized any more than the skeptical do.

    23. Jayne*

      Our local police department has detectives, who wear plain clothes. They are the ones to investigate financial malfeasance. One of their unmarked cars is navy blue. The only indicator that they are truly police is that they are armed and have their badges on their belt. Neither of these would be visible if they were outside. Most likely they would be at the interview asking questions about the “missing money”, but if your only encounter with the police is through television shows, I can imagine that you would be taken in. Especially if you are under stress.

    24. Alton*

      The prankers may have thought she’d see through it and recognize the ridiculousness. But there are a lot of factors that affect how people react to stuff like this, and while being savvy can help, it’s hard to know *exactly* how you would respond if you found yourself in a position like this. It’s a lot easier to be smart about stuff like this when you’re on the outside looking in.

      People have different experiences and personalities. I spend a lot of time reading about cases where people were falsely arrested/convicted or were assaulted by police, so I’m very aware of stuff like that. And while I realize I have white privilege that makes me less likely to be targeted in that way, I have to say that being exposed to so many of these cases has made me very wary of the justice system. I’m also a goody-goody who’s always feared getting in trouble. So I would probably react more strongly to being accused of a crime than some people. Factors like stress and how much you trust the source of the information can also make a difference.

      A lot of people are also very trusting of authority, which isn’t a good thing. But again, it can be hard to know ahead of time how people are going to react.

    25. Elbe*

      The details in the update made me feel better about the pranksters only in the sense that it’s more likely that they didn’t expect the level of reaction that they got from the prankee. It makes it seem like it could be super poor judgement as opposed to outright cruelty.

      It also makes it seem less premeditated. Before, I thought that they had gone to the trouble of finding a believable police uniform or badge and that the ‘officer’ had been standing right there to presumably drag her away in front of everyone. I’m glad, for the prankee’s sake, that there were no witnesses.

      Still, the original letter sounds like they continued the prank even after she threw up. It’s still unclear what the timeline was.

      1. El*

        Actually – no. It was premeditated. The prankee started crying and they did not stop with the prank – in fact, they doubled down on it until she actually physically threw up – that is not “super poor judgement” – that is sadistic.

    26. Mrs. Fenris*

      Yeah, NOPE. I would have truly lost it if this happened to me. I (like a lot of people here) work in a field where I have to really watch details or I could end up on the wrong side of several agencies. I also have a real phobia of being trapped anywhere, including jail, and I have told people before that if I ever end up in jail, I will kill myself at the first opportunity…not even kidding. I ordered, um, something from a gray-market supplier a few years ago, and I got a very frightening phone call from someone claiming to be law enforcement. It took a few minutes to realize I was being scammed, but seriously, my life flashed before my eyes for a bit.

    27. Not So NewReader*

      If we recognize that a person has a given vulnerability it is up to us to act in a responsible manner toward that person.

      With insight comes a higher level of responsibility. Pranksters 1 and 2 failed on this point in an epic manner.

      1) The prankee did not write in for advice. OP did.
      2) OP cannot fix the prankee’s vulnerability.
      3) It’s not a crime to be gullible. In some instances using people’s own gullibility against them DOES work into a chargeable crime. While prankee might be termed gullible, prankee also seems sincere. I’d rather deal work with a gullible yet sincere person than a workplace bully any day.
      4) When we stop protecting the vulnerable folks around us, we ourselves will be in grave danger also.
      5) We are all vulnerable folks. We can sit at our computers and type away, thinking “oh that would never happen to me” and probably be right. This does not mean we are safe. There are always “gotcha’s” in life. Always. These are things that come along when we are not thinking, not in our full presence of mind and these things get us.
      If we expect empathy for our own setting then we MUST display empathy for other people’s settings.
      6) We can empower people to work through their situation or we can label them with some label. We have a choice.

    28. Candi*

      FRM, do you know one reason why (good) cops get twitchy at people who own guns but do not have a gun safe, gun cabinet, or other method of solidy securing them?

      They’re easier to steal. Break into the house when no one’s there, steal the gun (and possibly ammo), commit the crime, ditch the weapon.

      Or buy the gun black market. Or 3-D print one if it’s for just one use. Or if it’s an impulsive crime, they may grab an available one. (Rant about irresponsible gun owners.)

      I’ve read a lot of true crime and criminal history in my life. The number of accused innocents across time and history is frightening. Some of it is tunnel vision; this person must have done it, and they try to warp the evidence to fit the suspect, instead of finding a suspect that fits the evidence. And some police, detectives, DAs, etc., are scum who should not be working in those jobs.

      Ever see the move Holes, where the main character is wrongly convicted? A _patent attorney_ takes about ten minutes to uncover the evidence that wouldd have exonerated him. This is scary, because it happens in real life.

      I’ve spotted scams, BUT -part of my crime reading involved learning about scams. If you don’t have a background of at least cursory education, AND you trust the people telling you the lie, it’s horribly difficult to spot.

      Don’t blame the victim. It’s wrong and extremely rude.

      1. Candi*

        Oops, forgot about machine shops where you can make a gun from scratch, Saturday Night Specials, and zip guns.

    29. Observer*

      I don’t know if you are following responses to your comment, but if you are, I’d like to point out that this comment is incredibly ironic. You are calling someone out for supposedly being hugely naive, but your arguments are the very definition of naive.

      For one thing, as others have pointed out, people get *convicted* of crimes surprisingly often. Arrested? It happens ALL THE TIME. The idea that you are not aware of this is just hard to wrap my head around. Yeah, a somewhat sheltered white upper – middle class living in a homogeneous area might not have encountered this reality. But anyone else? If you are black, have black friends or live in a difficult neighborhood then you haven’t gotten out of your teens without running into this issue. If you are an adult reading the news on a semi-regular basis, you have to know about things like police shootings of innocent people. I’m not talking about edge cases, I’m talking about people who did NOTHING that should have led to them being shot. (And yes, in some of these cases, the police officers involved may not have been terrible people, but the victims were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.) Or cases of high profile trials or investigations where it turns out the the person on trial really IS totally innocent. And that’s just the high profile stuff. There is SOOOO much evidence of arrests of people who really couldn’t have done what they were accused of, that claiming that it’s a ridiculous idea comes off as willfully naive.

      And, that doesn’t even touch on the possibility of having grown up in an immigrant community. If your community is from most of Eastern Europe, most of South America and large swaths of Asia, you’ve probably grown up with a background of fear of the police who can arrest you for the most ridiculous of reasons. Truth of accusations is purely optional.

      1. Oranges*

        Stress is funny. Enough of it and you’re challenged at your job. Too much, burnout. Too little ennui. Same thing might happen in some of these interactions. Too little and the cop is unaware. Too much and the cop sees things as threats that aren’t really threats. Just enough and the cop gets heightened awareness without the irrationality. This was in “Blink” and I have found that author a bit… sensational. I never got around to checking it.

        Mmmmm… science. It makes me happy.

  41. OlympiasEpiriot*

    Glad that poor woman is out and in a new job. Glad the OP is leaving. Not glad about how this is being handled.


  42. nep*

    OP, if you feel like responding: Does this ridiculously poor behaviour/management on the part of the executive director (ie keeping these offenders on board with barely a slap on the wrist) surprise you, or does it align with how he/she has worked in general?

  43. anon4this*

    OP- Its interesting, I didn’t think there was any real legal action that could be taken when I first read the story. It seems the additional details you gave support that.
    Our world is becoming increasingly litigious and when reading the comments from yesterday, it sounds like all the commentators wanted some perceived notion of justice because someone got bullied. I’m not sure the law exists to monetize individuals because their feelings were hurt…even intentionally. Maybe it is now, though, I’m no expert on petty crimes/torts.
    Also, your company isn’t making a big deal of this because it’s bad for business to draw this out and the victim left and never came back, refusing to communicate. Letting every worker know could create an uncomfortable working environment, when this situation only involved a few people. By sending that memo out, they are letting the pranksters know this will be not be tolerated in the future. I guess my point is, at this stage (3+ weeks since incident and zero response from the victim), the company is looking out for it’s best interest, as it probably should. They haven’t been sued (yet) and the victim has moved on to a new job.
    You obviously have every right to quit and you may be able to find a new company which perceives consequences/ethics the same way you do, but office politics exist everywhere and most companies will try to perpetuate, even at the expense of someone’s feelings.

    1. nep*

      Well in any case, at least the OP knows all she needs to know about this company and executive director: zero principles, zero integrity.

    2. Student*

      The company’s best interests would be served by firing the two perpetrators. Instead of losing two wrecking ball employees, the company is losing two sane employees.

      Since one of those departing employees is the boss, there’s a non-trivial chance that one of the insane employees is about to be promoted to an HR management role…

      1. Kyrielle*

        One sane employee; I don’t think the victim would come back no matter what was done. That said, getting rid of the two wrecking ball employees and all the liability and possible future incidents they bring with them would be the best step *even after* the OP quit. They’re better off with a department of one (the one who was on vacation) and maybe a temp if needed, than having those two in the mix.

    3. beanie beans*

      I disagree – getting a talking to and sending out a vague memo does not send the message that this kind of behavior would not be tolerated. To me it sends the message that perpetrators will be protected in order to protect the image of the company.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        To me it shows that prankee made the correct judgement call on that one and, in turn, OP made the correct call.

    4. Ellie*

      This is not anything to do with hurt feelings! This has to do with making someone very new to the workforce and stressed out at home with a sick mother think she was going to be arrested – to the point that the victim was not only crying hard, but ended up vomiting! The perpetrators had the ability to stop the nonsense when they saw how badly their coworker was upset – but they didn’t.

    5. Aurion*

      This is way above hurt feelings over temperature wars and fish in the microwave. These two pranksters have demonstrated a clear disregard for their colleague, to the point of causing true emotional distress and quit her job. If the pranksters don’t even have basic respect and decency toward their colleagues, is that conducive to a good working environment?

      Legal grounds aside (the lawyer section of the commentariat have covered that), these two are crappy people and crappy workers–especially since they’re in HR and should’ve known way, way better. They can and should be fired on those grounds alone.

      1. tigerStripes*

        Yeah. These aren’t people I’d want to work with or having work with me – they don’t seem like people who can be trusted or people who have even an ounce of empathy.

    6. ArtK*

      It’s also bad for business to keep employees who show that kind of extremely poor judgment. These two are lawsuits-in-the-making, just like a known sexual harasser.

    7. Observer*

      Actually, by doing nothing but sending out a meaningless memo, the company let the pranksters know that this WILL be tolerated. A “stern talking to” accompanied by no practical action is acquiescence, and will be seen that way.

      They don’t have to tell the whole world what happened. All they need to do is to fire those two, or at least discipline them severely. No one else needs to know why. If they REALLY don’t want to discuss it, they can just not contest their attempt to collect unemployment.

    8. Not So NewReader*

      Two people terrorized an employee into quitting- walking off the job.
      Company solution: “It’s okay.”

    9. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      OP may want to leave the ED a copy of The No Asshole Rule when resigning. The company’s best interest is not served by keeping callous and seemingly remorseless bullies on staff.

    10. Candi*

      anon4this, please read the archives, including comments. There are MANY stories of how management handled many levels of poor employee behavior with a memo and/or a scolding.

      There are no stories of it ever working.

  44. Nita*

    OP, thank you for the update. So glad to hear that the victim has moved on and already found a new job – and disappointed, but not surprised, that she’s apparently not planning to sue. Good for you for leaving as well. With the additional information, the prank sounds slightly more like a case of abysmal stupidity (at least maybe the “cop wife” wasn’t actually aware of her role in it…), but the top management response is as good as saying that what happened is A-OK.

    Hopefully word will get around the office after that vague “no pranks allowed” email. Emails like that tend to cause a lot of curiosity and in my experience, eventually everyone finds out what set them off through the grapevine.

  45. small jar of fireflies*

    Hooray! She wasn’t going to get murdered!

    It’s a low bar, but still.

    I hope your job search goes as swiftly, OP. You can do better than this workplace.

  46. Cleopatra Jones*

    It would be like pranking someone and telling them they’re being arrested for shooting someone when they don’t own a gun.

    The thing is…not everyone gets to live in world where the justice system works evenly and fairly. The prison system is almost brimming over with people who have been wrongly convicted of crimes. Honestly, you don’t know her background, she could have had a relative (or several) who has been wrongly arrested and convicted of a crime. Believe or not, this kind of stuff happens to poor people (of all races) a lot. So you can’t assume that she’s going to immediately brush it off as a prank.

    Also, they didn’t let up on the prank so her immediate reaction was of panic because honestly, how many of us wouldn’t have panicked? I don’t work with money but if someone pulled this kind of prank on me, my initial reaction is going to be….’shit, my family can’t afford a good attorney to prove my innocence.’ It’s not going to be that I’m innocent and have nothing to worry about. Then it’s going to go down hill from there until I cry-vomit, too.

    1. Nita*

      This. Also, trying to imagine myself in this situation – if I was told I am being arrested, and I knew with 200% certainty that the charges couldn’t possibly be real – it wouldn’t matter. My first thought would be about what happens THAT SAME DAY when I’m not there to pick up my kids from day care. Apparently this was the “prank” victim’s case as well – it wasn’t so much the charges, which she insisted couldn’t be true, but the fact that she was caring for her ill mother and panicked thinking she wouldn’t be there that night. I feel ill just thinking about it.

      1. Flossie Bobbsey*

        I completely agree – I felt/feel ill thinking about that poor woman’s panic in that moment about what would become of her sick mother. To allow someone cry to the point of vomiting is absolutely sick and malicious. This was a horrible and cruel ordeal. The OP’s reports and higher-ups honestly seem irredeemable unless there’s been evidence of remorse, and I commend the OP for resigning given the boss’s response.

        One thing I would like to know that wasn’t included in the update was whether or not the “pranksters” (if you can even call them that) were remorseful or stood by it as “funny.” I’m guessing the latter as the OP probably would have included that detail if they felt horrible and realized their grave mistake.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Agreed. Pranksters and TPTB in that company have never had anyone dependent on them for care. They have no idea what it is like to care for an ill family member. It shows.

    2. McWhadden*

      And why would anyone automatically think co-workers you barely know are pranking you?!

      The police arrest people for things they turn out to not have committed far more often than co-workers prank people with that sceneario.

    3. Candi*

      I wouldn’t say the system is brimming -most stats I’ve seen run about 25%, which I’ll give a 10% margin of error, up to 35, because I work that way.

      That’s still way too freaking high. It should be a humans-are-imperfect-and-make-mistakes 1-2%.

      I think what some people are missing is you can be arrested for being a suspect. They don’t have to have solid evidence you did it; they just need enough evidence to get a warrant/bust you on the spot. There’s a serious difference in the level of evidence between ‘get an arrest warrant’, ‘DA goes forward’, and ‘reasonable doubt’.

  47. Aphrodite*

    OP, I commend your courage in resigning over this. (And your girlfriend’s unwavering support is awesome!) I wish you the best of luck and hope you end up in a great situation where your ethics and caring will be shared with others. If you are willing, when you have the other job, would you consider sending in an update to let us know. Thank you–and best wishes!

  48. Fiona*

    Thank you SO much for the update and like everyone else, kudos on having the principles and fortitude to leave. We’re all rooting for you.

  49. another Liz*

    OP, look into unemployment. This is going to vary widely by state, but if you quit with “good cause”, you might be eligible. It may be a long shot, but it’s worth asking about.

  50. I'm Not Phyllis*

    OP I hope you can take some comfort that you, at least, did all of the right things in this situation. It was poorly, poorly handled by your superiors but that wasn’t within your control. You should have had the authority to deal with your own staff appropriately, but since you didn’t – you did the best thing you could. Good luck on finding something new!

  51. Billy Banker*

    Not surprised to see this coming from HR. Some HR peeps are on bona fide power trips and take pleasure in disciplining or intimidating rank and file workers. I worked with an HR director who enjoyed firing, even manipulating the situation so she could fire.

    And they know just enough to keep it legal.

  52. PB*

    Oh goodness, OP. Thanks for the update. Resigning without a job is tough, but I might well do the same in this situation. I’m so sorry you’re going through this, and sorry for the prankee that this happened to her. I wish you and her the best.

  53. John*

    Quite the fallout from one dumb, misguided, mean-spirited prank. Hopefully karma will take care of the two pranksters. It’s a little weird that the victim ceased all contact with company. I would have been at least very tempted to give them a piece of my mind, but oh well.

  54. i'maskingamanager*

    Thank you for this update. I am horrified that this actually happened in an HR division of your company. I think your HR people made a very poor decision in the level of discipline they decided was appropriate. My HR department is a great place to work with professionals who understand their jobs and aren’t afraid to do them. . Our team was all in agreement that the pranksters should have been fired.

  55. Jesmlet*

    Add this incident to the list of reasons why I’d never accept a job managing people without the authority to fire them. This is absurd and good for you OP for standing up for decency and common sense.

    1. DumbQuestion*

      I have a running list of Job/Interview Things in Notes. I’m adding this to it because…yeah.

  56. The Smile on a Dog*

    Hey OP, good for you for standing up for what you believe in. Best of luck to you in your job search. You will land someplace that deserves you.

  57. Snek*

    I really feel for the prankee because that experience is going to stay with her for a very, very long time. If I was in that position, I wouldn’t be able to trust anybody on any of my teams from now into the distant future, and when we spend so much time at work, that’s going to be incredibly exhausting.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      That prankee is a very strong person. Can you imagine having such a nightmare of a workday, walking off the job and with in a few weeks surfacing with another job? That is some great inner strength going on there.

  58. I Didn’t Kill Kenny*

    I really hope this incident comes out to the general public. The gutless management deserves it.

  59. LadyCop*

    Yeah, totally tried to point out that it did not seem like a crime had been committed…despite the awful behavior. Now with more info, definitely not a crime.

    Kudos to the OP for resigning. That takes courage and strength that I don’t even know if I could muster. I don’t even know if my close personal friends would do that for me, let alone a boss. For what it’s worth, I hope the prankee gets appropriate closure from this, seeing as she has suffered some form of short term PTSD. I am blown away by this one.

  60. Candi*

    Hey, LW? I know money is tight, but try to be picky about your next job so you can stay there long enough to get multiple solid references, so you don’t have to touch this place at all.

    You and your partner are awesome for your stand on this.

    I’m glad the bullied worker found a new job so fast. That’s major levels of awesome.

    Aaaaaaaaaand the higher up’s response tells me why she won’t touch communication from that company.

  61. Akcipitrokulo*

    I am so sorry that they are being so ridiculously bad on this one. I think from previous post it’s obvious this is not normal, or acceptable.

    I’ve also got a lot of admiration for you in taking this stand by resigning – while too late now for this case, hopefully it may make them take it seriously next time. I hope you soare no detail at exit interview and/or make it very public why you’re going!

    Oh, and glassdoor the hell out of them!

  62. SRMJ*

    I really want to know what the pranksters said about their motivations. And do they realize the gravity of their actions? Do they now feel bad? What was going through their heads in the first place? Do they know they’re bullies? I’m so curious!!

  63. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    Wow. Thanks for the update, LW! I called it wrong on the genders of the abusers, but it was definitely not a “prank”, but targeted abuse. I’m sickened that those responsible can just go about their merry ways. I hope with all my heart they see some consequences for their (obviously, not one-time) behaviour some day, or at the very least, get “pranked” like they did their poor victim.

  64. ss*

    Personally, if the company won’t do the right thing on their own, I think that’s when some publicity might be needed to shame them to do the right thing. I’m sure a local newspaper would be interested in this incident.

  65. I've been there*

    OP, Please start your job search and test the market before you quit. It will really lend itself to improving your position that way. And if you quit first, think of karma- you’ll be out job hunting, while the two dimwits who caused the whole thing still have their jobs!

  66. AlwhoisthatAl*

    OP, you are great. Your “sense of honour” is absolutely bang on, I think you show a high degree of courage and morality. Don’t worry about finding another job first, leaving now is correct while this affair is still current and let everyone know exactly why you are leaving.
    I have resigned without having another job and it was the best thing I ever did. The sense of freedom and having done the right thing is fantastic.

    Actually what you really need is a glorious sunset to ride off into…

    Total Respect

  67. Noobtastic*

    Here are my rules for workplace pranks:

    1) Only the person being pranked’s laughter is relevant. If the prankee does not laugh, the prank is wrong. Even if every other person in the building laughs.

    2) The prank should not take more than five minutes away from work time. Take all the time you want, on your own time, to set it up, but the actual pranking, reveal, and laughter, should not delay work.

    3) “Punch up,” never down. You may prank regardless of rank, but not in a way that puts them down. Nothing derogatory or degrading at work, even if you know that particular person is OK with it outside of work. Your co-workers are watching, and it affects the whole culture, so never punch down at work.

    4) Nothing permanent. Everything should be able to quickly and easily be moved back to the way it was before the prank (see rule #2). If the prankee chooses to keep a memento of the prank, that is their choice, but they should in no way be forced to see a reminder even ten minutes later.

    5) Know Your Audience (and per rule #1, the prankee is the audience!). This means that you have to stick with what works for that person, in particular, and tailor your pranks to make that person feel appreciated by the act. “Aww, they really know me,” not “Aaaaaah! They know my phobias!” or even “Oh, no! We had no idea they’d react that way.” If you cannot predict a smile as the natural consequence of your action, don’t do it.

    6) Use pranks as morale boosters, as appropriate, and remember that you are there to work and get the job done, not to play juvenile pranks just for kicks.

    7) Never volunteer someone else to do something that you don’t know they can do. Not everyone can afford to bring treats to the office, even if they left their computer unlocked.

    8) Avoid collateral damage, such as offending co-workers, clients or customers who witness or hear about the prank.

    9) Do not waste company resources on pranks. Spend your own time and your own money.

    10) Pranking should be an “opt-in” situation. Don’t assume someone will be cool with being pranked, even if all the other rules are followed.

    And finally, if your prank cannot meet these ten criteria, do not pull the prank at work.

  68. Pranked*

    On the subject of horrible office “pranks” my coworker once wrote a letter to me purporting to be from my estate agent claiming that the owner of the house I was in the process of buying had received a higher offer and was withdrawing acceptance of my offer.

    I am 24 and I this was my first house and I had already paid a fair amount to the solicitor which I knew I wouldn’t be able t to get back so upon reading the letter I had a massive public panic attack in the office (she played the prank on company time using company resources). I was left humiliated and frankly traumatised and the person who did it has suffered no consequences. I still have to sit opposite them every day and it sucks.

    I would have quit but I now have a mortgage to think abut (thankfully I did get the house!) and income stability is currently more important to me than hurt feelings.

  69. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    Late, but I wanted to thank you for standing up for what’s right. We need more people like you in the world. I’m glad you have the ability to quit now. Hope you find something better soon. I also hope you can one day let the employee know you were on her side.

    I’m still disturbed by them trying to get her to leave the building. It sounds like this wasn’t very well thought out, so they might not have planned to do more than say ‘psych!’. Still, it’s creepy.

    Good luck and let us know how things work out for you.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      And you were right to talk to the police and bring up the issue of impersonation. I’m honestly surprised the police didn’t take it seriously, since a lot of people are duped this way. Either way, you were right to try and thank you again.

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