when an employee is too sick to call in sick, my boss steals all the holiday gifts, and more

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

1. When an employee is too sick to call in sick

My employee, Fergus, is in poor health. Over the years, he’s taken time off for many serious medical issues, and recently took a few months off for cancer treatment. He had medical clearance to return to work, but his health seems to be worse than ever and declining.

Fergus lives with his his adult daughter (Jane), who drives him to work and back home. She picks him up on her lunch break every day, but sometimes Fergus is too sick or tired to even be roused by Jane. Sometimes on these days, Jane calls me to let me know that Fergus won’t be in … but sometimes she doesn’t. It’s the “sometimes she doesn’t” days that I don’t know how to deal with. Fergus knows that he can take basically unlimited sick days as long as he notifies me, but some of these days, there isn’t much he can do. Sometimes he wakes up after Jane has left, but his pain or meds make it impossible for him to operate a phone. (I don’t know why Jane doesn’t always call, but she isn’t my employee so I don’t think it would be appropriate to make her part of my solution.)

What is my best move here? Of course “didn’t feel like going to work today, too lazy to call boss” is hugely different from “medical condition made it impossible for me to notify boss I couldn’t work.” Yet I still need to know where my staff are at their scheduled start time! Sometimes Fergus has meetings with customers or other things and it’s hard to cover for him or reschedule without knowing if he’s running late, not coming in at all, out for the rest of the week, etc.

As a human person, I am filled with compassion for Fergus and my heart breaks to witness his suffering, as well as the financial strain this puts on his family. If I won the lottery, I would give them a million dollars and throw Fergus the best retirement party of all time. But as a manager who is unlikely to be rich any time soon, I am frustrated by his inability to notify me when he will be out and embarrassed when I don’t know when or if he’ll be coming in.

I don’t want to be the monster who fires a sickly old grandpa. But what we’re doing now isn’t working for me or the company. My boss has told me to deal with it however I see fit, and we don’t have an HR department for me to consult, so I’m at a loss. Help! What’s a manager to do? (For the record, Fergus came to us after retiring from a career elsewhere; he is an hourly employee and has no retirement or insurance through us that he might lose by quitting.)

Have you talked to Fergus about it yet? If not, that’s your first move. Explain that you want to accommodate him as much as possible, but that the one thing you need is to be alerted if he won’t be in because you need to arrange cover for him or reschedule meetings. Tell him that sometimes Jane calls to say he won’t be in, but not always, and ask him what he thinks will work so that you’re consistently notified. It sounds like you’re being really accommodating with him, and this is a reasonable thing to ask for to allow you to continue doing that.

If this doesn’t solve the problem, your other options would be restructuring his work so that an unannounced absence doesn’t cause problems (if that’s possible; it might not be) or talking to him about going on disability leave. But I’d start with the conversation. He might just not realize it’s causing issues, or might not know that Jane isn’t contacting you every time.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. My coworker is on an aggressive crusade about keeping the kitchen clean

So a few weeks ago a lady who works on my floor started a break room crusade — passive-aggressive notes on the fridge and microwave, aggressively pursuing people who left things out, etc. I didn’t think much of it because I’m generally conscientious about cleaning up after myself and I never thought the break room got that messy anyway.

I’m one of the only people who sometimes uses reusable dishes in the break room. I would always make sure to wash the dishes I used and stack them neatly on the counter to dry. Admittedly, sometimes when I knew I’d be using the same dishes the next day, I’d leave them out until then. After this lady’s crusade began, she came into my office a couple times to ask me to dry and put the dishes away, which I did. Kind of nitpicky, but not a big deal, or so I thought.

Last week, she emailed my supervisor, asking him to do something about my horrible messiness, saying that I was creating an unsanitary environment, not respecting the space that belongs to everyone, and generally making it seem like I was regularly leaving huge messes in the break room. My supervisor forwarded me her email, adding that he expected me to fix the problem because it would be bad news if he had to escalate it to the department head.

I was really surprised and hurt by this. I don’t feel like it was at all necessary to involve my supervisor over something so banal, especially before actually having a conversation with me about the conflict. Now I feel like my relationship with my supervisor has taken a hit and I honestly feel a little terrorized. I’d like to speak with my supervisor to set the record straight, but I’m genuinely afraid that doing so will have negative repercussions for my job. Any advice on how to approach this new, dumb workplace dynamic?

Your manager handled that really oddly. This would be a bizarre thing for him to escalate to your department head and would likely make him look bad if he did, unless your department head loves getting involved in petty drama. That said, I’d just email back and say: “Hmmm, this is strange because I’m vigilant about cleaning up after myself in there. I’ll talk to Jane and find out what the issue is, and will resolve it directly with her.”

But then … I’d just stop leaving your dishes on the counter in the break room. Your coworker sounds like she’s gone off the deep end with her crusade, but it’s true that it’s mildly rude to leave your stuff on the counter of a shared kitchen since other people might want to use the space for preparing food.

3. I want my coworker to stop touching my neck

I’m friendly with a lot of my coworkers, though I generally don’t see them outside of work other than at company-sponsored events. I have one coworker who’s a married man in his late 40s/early 50s (I’m a 30-year-old woman, also married) who I have friendly, joke-y kind of relationship with, but it’s always been professional between us. We stop to chat with one another once a day or so, tend to joke around a lot, and sometimes will run out for coffee together once every couple of weeks.

Lately, he’s developed a habit of walking up to me and grabbing me firmly by the back of the neck. This has happened three times in the last two weeks or so, and every time, it’s made me really uncomfortable. I’m not a touchy-feely kind of person, and I’ve never initiated physical contact with him. I’m fine with coworkers touching me on the arm, shoulder, or even hand, but this just seems weird or too intimate. (Or maybe I just have odd physical boundaries?)

It’s probably worth noting that I’m pretty sure, based on his overt friendliness and various comments he’s made, that he finds me attractive, although I don’t think any of his comments would get in him trouble with HR. I’m not really sure what to do or what to say to him. I find myself avoiding him, but we work in the same building and his cube is right next to my boss’s office — we can’t avoid running into one another. Do you have any advice or scripts I can use?

Just be straightforward! Any of these would work the next time it happens:
* “Hey, please don’t grab me on my neck. I don’t like that.”
* “Ack, please don’t do that.”
* “Hey, quit it with the neck grabbing. Thanks.”

This doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just be matter-of-fact, as if of course he’ll immediately stop now that he realizes that you don’t like it (since any decent person would). That will probably take care of it, but if it doesn’t, then you get more stern: “I told you to stop touching my neck. It’s really weird that you’re continuing. What’s going on?” (And keep in mind that any awkwardness or tension that results from this is 100% on him. He’d be the one ignoring a clearly stated boundary.)

4. My boss is bogarting all the holiday baskets from vendors

The main part of my job is to be a liason with external vendors for my company. At the holidays, I tend to get a lot of gifts and baskets. What I receive never violates any of our company policies for accepting gifts.

When I get the baskets I tend to open them up and ask fellow coworkers to take what they want. I take some things home, but generally these baskets are chocolate and those types of goodies so there is only so much a person can stand and everyone really enjoys having a look and getting to pick.

Last year, my boss (who is really quite bonkers in so many ways) called up all my vendors after the fact and demanded that all gifts be directed to her in the future. I know this because three of my vendors called to ask who she was as they had never met or heard of her before. She apparently told them that she pays the bills and not me so she deserves the gift. This isn’t even true — she is just a level above me, she is not an owner or even close to being senior management.

She did not tell me she did this, but with the holiday coming around again, I am not sure how to proceed. Should I tell all the vendors to send them to her? She will just whisk them all away and none of the other employees will get to share in the loot. It’s so stupid and petty in some ways but I feel like I am managing these relationships and that her doing this also undermines that relationship with the vendors.

Sorry to hear you work for a petty tyrant. Your boss is making herself look like a loon with a really bizarre set of priorities.

You’re not under any obligation to tell the vendors to direct gifts to her. It sounds like she did this behind your back and didn’t tell you to ensure the gifts are sent her way in the future, so I think you can wash your hands of this and just let it play out. If she calls them again, so be it — but you don’t have to do that for her.

{ 613 comments… read them below }

  1. The New Wanderer*

    OP2, the only way to win is not to play. I’d stop using any of the office dishes and bring my own, keeping them at my desk and away from the break room monitor.

    1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      Believe me, everyone know the kitchen cleaner person is over the top. If she sent an email to your boss, it was probably not the first one she has sent. Ask around, everyone on your floor must have a story about her.

      1. PB*

        This is very, very likely. However, OP’s supervisor seems to be taking her seriously, for whatever reason, so New Wanderer’s advice is a good way to avoid engaging in the situation.

        1. Jesca*

          Yeah, that is the crappy part here. Instead of the manager asking what is up, they are just basically just asking the OP to take care of it, or Else! It sucks when management doesn’t check the grossly over-stepping of other employees, but instead just gives in so they don’t have to deal with it.

          1. Anonymoose*

            It almost seems like a reaction someone new to supervising would do, to throw their (minimal) weight around. In fact, I would probably ignore his response completely and deal with the Kitchen Nazi directly anyway.

        2. Kathleen Adams*

          It could also be that The Great Break Room Kerfuffle is more serious (or is at least perceived of as more serious) than the OP realizes, and so the manager actually agrees with the break room monitor. There could be a number of reasons for this, reasons ranging from very reasonable (e.g., that dirty dishes are a much bigger and more consistent problem than the OP realizes) to slightly reasonable (e.g., the manager found rotten food on the counter one time) to just silly (the break room monitor is a loon but the manager has decided to ignore this or doesn’t realize the extent of the looniness). If this is the case, the manager is still mishandling it because he should just say clearly that he is siding with the monitor and explain why. But there is a possibility that the manager doesn’t perceive the monitor as being the loon that we all perceive her as being.

        3. J.*

          It could be that the break room cleaner wasn’t clear with OP’s supervisor what she was complaining about. I mean, “creating an unsanitary environment, not respecting the space that belongs to everyone, and generally making it seem like I was regularly leaving huge messes in the break room” isn’t the same thing as leaving a washed plate on the counter. If there legitimately are break room issues (which I am guessing is what sparked the break room cleaner to go off in the first place) and the break room cleaner’s e-mail made it sound to the supervisor like OP is the cause of real mess, then the response to deal with it doesn’t seem wildly out of line if that was all the information he had to go on.

          I like Allison’s advice because it clarifies what is going on without being defensive/making excuses and addresses that OP is going to handle it.

          1. aebhel*

            That’s my guess. If the manager is threatening to escalate this over a washed plate left out to dry (is there not a drying rack??), that’s nuts, but if he’s under the impression that OP is regularly leaving garbage, dirty dishes, and rotting food strewn around, that’s a little bit more reasonable as a response.

      2. Alli525*

        I don’t know – we don’t have enough information to know whether the Cleaner’s mandate comes from the top. In my admin days, I would get really frustrated by the filthiness of the shared kitchen and fridge, so I spoke to the C-levels and asked if I could be the one to throw out the food each week and deep-clean the kitchen when needed. They thanked me for even asking, and I got to do pretty much what I wanted (re-organize & clean, tossing out food/moldy tupperware/etc. at 4pm on the dot on Fridays, etc.), with gratitude from management, until I left the company.

        That may be why OP’s supervisor is taking her seriously. Or not! But Alison is right – it’s just bad form to leave dishes out all day and night in a common area.

        1. OverboilingTeapot*

          My old workplace’s kitchen was frequently disgusting. It was next to the conference room, and people would do food prep for meetings and forget (or “forget”) clean up. Once I came into the kitchen on a Monday morning to find a deli tray of cold cuts that had been left on the counter since Friday afternoon. Not a pretty sight. Not a pretty smell. But if the person holding the meeting was a VP, nobody would ever correct them.

          LW’s kitchen crusader would probably have had a heart attack.

    2. Jeff*

      I keep my own dishes, silverware and spices in my office. If I had a hotplate, sink and microwave oven, I would never have to leave!

    3. Anastasia Beaverhausen*

      We’ve got one of those too. I made the grave error of leaving behind ONE of those little carrot sticks (the ones that look like little matchsticks and come in a bag) in the drain stopper in the communal kitchen sink. He actually brought it down to my office and asked me if it was mine.

    4. Jennifer*

      Hear, hear on this. I would avoid the kitchen as much as possible and use my own dishes out of her sight. The drama ain’t worth it.

    5. crookedfinger*

      That’s what I do as well. I bought a mug and a water glass for myself, keep them at my desk, and hand-wash as needed. And when the kitchen gotcha-emails come around, I smile and think “not my problem!”

  2. The New Wanderer*

    OP3, shut it down now because he clearly thinks it’s okay and it’s not. You don’t have weird boundaries, he shouldn’t be touching you at all.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Seriously. WTAF. People I know and love don’t grab me by the back of the neck. It’s a total power move aimed to make you feel submissive or under his control (even if he’s not aware that that’s what he’s doing). Fergus is being icky, and whether he’s attracted to you doesn’t change how to deal with him.

      OP#3, you don’t have weird boundaries. Your spidey sense is tingling—listen to it.

      1. Steve*

        How could you possibly know his motives? Allison is right to address the action first, then if he continues it is him being deliberately wrong.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’m posting this right under Steve’s first comment so that hopefully people see it before continuing to debate with him — this debate with Steve is taking over the post so I’m asking that we leave it where it is and move on. Thank you.

          (Despite the time stamp on this, I’m posting it at 10:08 a.m.)

          1. Steve*

            So address the action. Why assume it is a “power move aimed to make you feel submissive” people can do dumb stuff be a use of ignorance, there is no need to instantly assume ugly motives.

            1. Mookie*

              It is a “power move aimed to make you feel submissive.” That’s a fair description of how such behavior makes people feel. His intentions don’t matter, but PCBH made it clear that he could be unconscious of the kind of message he’s sending in doing this.

              there is no need to instantly assume ugly motives

              There’s no need to touch people in this fashion — doing so assumes without asking that the recipient of the touch is welcome to touching, whereas in reality the default is no-touching in the workplace, and elsewhere, without prior consent — but there are consequences if you do it, anyway, and this is one of them. Don’t act ugly and people won’t think you have ugly ideas.

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                The places I can think of doing the rear neck grab to a standing person are:
                • Picking up a kitten
                • Steering a small child who keeps going off course
                • Playing the heavy crime lord in a TV drama

                1. Alli525*

                  My mother steered me around by the neck constantly as a child, and I hate it so much that NO ONE in my life is EVER permitted to touch my neck with their hands (significant others have SOME exceptions permitted, but usually not). It is 100% a power move and can’t be interpreted otherwise.

                2. Hillary*

                  When refereeing little kid youth hockey, you pick kids up by grabbing their jersey/chest protector between their shoulder blades to get them back on their skates if they can’t get themselves up.

                  I can’t imagine another situation where this would be appropriate.

              2. GotWings*

                I agree it is likely to make the recipient feel under someone’s power… But I don’t think it makes sense to say “intentions don’t matter” AND that it’s “aimed” to assert power.

                Intentions aren’t relevant, the aim isn’t relevant, all that matters is the behaviour is inappropriate and OP is uncomfortable with it.

            2. nep*

              No need to dissect and address his knowledge or ignorance or potential motives or whatever. (!!!!!) It’s wildly wrong and inappropriate, full stop, and the guy doing it has a true jerk streak, if not being a full-on jerk. It must stop, and upon the very first request by OP.

            3. SignalLost*

              Well, unless he does it to make peers, female superiors, and basically everyone in his life, it is a behaviour he is aware is wrong in an office contexts, so he’s choosing to do it for some reason. I’m choosing to assume he’s not the first real instance of a male bumbler and is absolutely engaging in gendered hostility and using a gesture that functionally demands OP’s submission

              1. Snark*

                And speaking for myself, the last month or so has made me REAL goddamn sick of the argument that goes “but how was he supposed to know that [REAL CREEPY THING] was REAL BAD AND AWFUL AND CREEPY? He’s just this goofy, maladroit guy and he grew up in Ye Olde 1960s and he thinks consent is some kind of French breakfast pastry and he thought maybe she was into it!”

                1. Allison*

                  when I was assaulted, people acknowledged that what the guy did was wrong, but maintained that he was a nice guy who didn’t know any better, because he was shy and didn’t have a lot of experience talking to women, and he just really liked me and didn’t really know how to properly make a move on someone. It took years, and countless other assaults on women in and outside the friendgroup, and at least one intervention, for people to realize that yeah no, he was actually a scummy pervmonster we couldn’t have around anymore.

                2. Snark*

                  Also, let’s just note how these scummy pervmonsters somehow manage to never “bumble” when they’re with any woman with the social capital to burn them to the ground. I bet this asshat would NEVER DARE to grab, say, a female CFO by the back of the neck, or a female department head. No, he just bumbles – in a FRIENDLY, JOKEY WAY HA HA – with the attractive, younger, more junior female coworker. What a coincidence.

                3. PlainJane*

                  So much this. I also hate the equally-popular corollary: “I just won’t interact with women, because I might get accused of harassment.” Seriously? If it’s that hard to get through your day without saying or doing something inappropriate (and pretty much anything remotely sexual is inappropriate at work), perhaps you shouldn’t be allowed out without supervision.

            4. Snark*

              Because grabbing someone firmly by the back of the neck is reasonably interpreted to be a power move aimed to make the target feel submissive. That’s how that action reads. So, either he’s so ignorant of boundaries that he’s being icky, or he’s willfully transgressing boundaries and being icky, but at some point, it’s a distinction without a difference. I interepet PCBH’s post as framing this in a way that makes it clear to OP that she’s NOT crazy, she’s NOT oversensitive or being insufficiently forgiving of this creepy dude, and her boundaries ARE being transgressed.

              I guess if he was just an idiot it’d make him easier to forgive? But the bottom line is, it codes as a dominance move, it’s wildly inappropriate regardless of his motives, and she shouldn’t second-guess noping out on it because he’s Such A Nice Guy and He’s A Jokester and He’s So Friendly.

              1. Decima Dewey*

                If he touched my neck like that, he’d be sorry. Between my startle reflex and how much I hate someone touching my neck, he’d be deaf in one ear from my scream.

              2. Hey Nonnie*

                It IS a dominance move. Unquestionably. There’s a reason why horse halters and bridles go over the head — control the movement of the head and you control the entire body. Great for handling an animal that outweighs you buy 1000 pounds; not great for interacting with humans who are supposed to be your equal. I cannot think of a single circumstance where someone would grab someone by the back of the neck for non-violent, non-controlling reasons. And if the guy is smart enough to hold down a job, he knows this too. Children know this — they will resist if someone tries to grab them this way.

                I’m a huge fan of cultivating a bigger-than-life startle reflex for inappropriate touching. Complete with loudly shrieking “OH MY GOD!” and jumping / flailing (bonus points if the flailing collides with the inappropriate toucher).

                This has the dual benefit of letting said toucher know that what he’s doing is NOT NORMAL, as well as a good old fashioned public shaming, but without making you look vindictive. You can’t help it that he startled you, after all.

                Like most girls, I was shamed out of “making a scene” when I was growing up, so I’m actively working on getting rid of the impulse to startle quietly. If someone doesn’t want a scene, they can behave themselves while in my presence.

            5. Akcipitrokulo*

              If you’re touching without consent, the burden of proof is not on the victim to prove ugly motives.

              1. Snark*

                And, like….motives DO NOT MATTER. I really don’t care about intent. It’s effect that matters. If you do something that speaks of ugly motives to the person you are doing it to, the onus is on you to apologize without reservation and never do it again, not on them to have a debate with you about whether they’re creepy.

            6. Jesca*

              I have to admit, in the current climate right now, comments like this are really grating on me. So, I am tempering my response as best I can.

              Stop trying to tell women how they should feel about unwanted, aggressive touching. Instead, start listening to what they are telling you! Women, by in large, feel this is an aggressive power trip move where the party grabbing is trying to dominate and show ownership. Women have been batting off men since they were children, and likely have the experience to trust their instincts. So instead of trying to continuously defend touching women, why don;t we just adopt an understanding that it really is never appropriate to be grabbing someone (unless they are pulling you out of the way of danger). It does not matter what their supposed intentions are. Not everyone that doesn’t hire a person with a black sounding name is conscious of their bias. And not every creepy ass man is aware that they are sexual predators. They think its fine, because people justify their behaviors for them. So lets all just agree and accept from here on out that grabbing a woman is very very wrong, and not make excuses for the person that is doing it. And listen to what women, the victims, are telling you!!! They find it creepy and aggressive and it makes them afraid!

                1. Jesca*

                  It saddens me that we live in a society where people are not instantly aghast by this type of behavior.

                  It is really really really not fair that the OP has to have this awkward conversation over something like this. My hope is that with these new discussions going on in this country right now, that people by in large start to recognize that sexual harassment and assault at work and in personal lives isn’t just restricted to the industries presented in the current news. It is also my hope that people begin to realize that sexual predators aren’t always some creep in a overcoat snatching you off the street. Most are much less overt and every single time, it starts with aggressive boundary crossing like this. Every man I have ever personally encountered who has eventually sexually harassed or assaulted to me or someone else has begun in this same exact manner.

        2. neverjaunty*

          You’re right. He could be imagining that he’s a mother cat and trying to pick the LW by the scruff to take her back to the nest.

          1. NorCalPM*

            Male cats also bite the back of the female’s neck during copulation. So as charming as your interpretation is, neverjaunty, it’s not the only valid comparison. The one I’m citing is considerably less charming, and seems to me (IF we’re going to “go there” with the cat comparisons) to be more applicable.

            I’m not much concerned about people’s motives when they do something to my body that I don’t want them to do (and that they darned well should know better than to do). I just tell the person to knock it off immediately, in no uncertain terms. Oh, your feelings are hurt because you get told to stop what you shouldn’t have done to begin with? Grow up, recognize you blew it, deal with your feelings like an adult, and learn from the experience. It’s not my job to make you feel OK about unacceptable behavior. It’s your job to stop it. Now, and in the future.

            1. Amber T*

              Yep, grabbing the back of the neck in cat signals “don’t move, I’m in control.” Obviously this is beneficial when a momma cat is taking their kitten some place, but it furthers why this is still a good explanation for what’s happening here.

              1. Amadeo*

                Yup. It’s basically a kitty ‘pause’ button and I use it on my own when I need them to be still, and it’s a restraint technique in vet med.

            2. Umvue*

              “Male cats also bite the back of the female’s neck during copulation”

              (o/t) Oh man, is that what my tomcat is up to when he wraps himself around my leg and bites??

              1. pope suburban*

                That might just be attempted murder, which…well, it’s at least less awkward?

                This is fresh in my mind because my cat decided, over the last couple of nights, that the belled toy she’s been ignoring for a month is actually TOTALLY FUN AND GREAT. It’s only got the one small jingle bell, but it makes a surprising amount of noise when a cat is employing the “wrap, bite, kick” method of hunting.

            3. Mallory Janis Ian*

              “It’s not my job to make you feel OK about unacceptable behavior. It’s your job to stop it. ”

              This. It’s not women’s job to make men feel OK about unacceptable behavior or to run through a list of every possible benign explanation before telling them to stop it.

            4. Erin*

              Roosters bite the back or a hens neck during mating in order to pin them down.
              I really wish more women would just slap a grabby hand away. And just say “don’t touch me.” Or “what the hell are you doing” Not too hard but like you would do to a little kid touching a hot stove. In college a male classmate reached for my breast and I slapped his hand away like that. And said “what the hell are you doing” it was almost like a reflex me slapping his hand away.

              1. Lehigh*

                I wish that was a common reflex, too. Unfortunately it often doesn’t take very many times of fighting back and failing to learn not to do it.

              2. Pennalynn Lott*

                Yup, the time I slapped a guy’s hand away and got shoved down onto a concrete floor (in a restaurant) in retaliation pretty much taught me that I’m better off (and much safer) when I laugh / talk my way out of those situations.

                Someone who is willing to cross physical boundaries (never mind social ones) has already proven themselves to be unhinged. I want to get away from them as quickly and safely as possible, not provoke them.

                1. Collingswood*

                  That sucks. Same happened to me when I pushed a guy away for shoving his hand between my legs (in public, didn’t know him). He threw me into a wall.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I’m not attributing any motives to him except to aver that his behavior is boundary-crossing. I explicitly state that the physical gesture has a problematic power dynamic to it, regardless whether the coworker intends to create, or is aware of, that dynamic.

            1. Corvid*

              So? It’s not forbidden to speculate about other people’s motives, and I would assume that interpretation to be very prevalent. There IS something problematic about the grabbing someone else’s neck, no matter which way you slice it. You usually don’t see coworkers doing that.

              Besides, not speculating about the motive… serves whom, exactly?

              1. Steve*

                Go ahead and think every thing that makes you uncomfortable is deliberate. It’s going to make your life worse not mine. It’s just a ugly way to approach problems. I think Allison had the exact answer, address the problem and see if it stops, which it will if the guy is decent. If it doesn’t stop he is a deliberate jerk.

                1. nep*

                  You’re not getting it. It’s not about needing to know whether something is ‘deliberately a power move’ or not. We don’t need to know that to know it’s wrong and he’s wrong for doing it and it’s got to stop — nothing more simple than that. Alison’s advice is spot on, of course.

                2. Purplesaurus*

                  Go ahead and think every thing that makes you uncomfortable is deliberate.

                  PCBH: (even if he’s not aware that that’s what he’s doing)

                  I don’t think you’re actually reading what people are saying. What exactly is your argument?

                3. Snark*

                  You seem real determined to give creepy dudes the benefit of the doubt, my dude. The point is not necessarily assuming it’s deliberate. The point is underlining for OP how not okay this particular gesture is, how right she is to be uncomfortable, and how valid the boundary he’s crossing is.

                4. Steve*

                  Someone said the guy was doing g a power move, and i said there is no way to know his motive from the letter. Allison’s answer did not depend on motive and was an excellent answer imo. The letter writers described the guy as kiND of a friend so why not start with thinking he is just ignorant. What is the downside of that? I think the downside of thinking all problems are intentional or uncaring is a sad way to go thru life. People here absolutely do not know the motive. As a ny have said the motive is irrelevant to the need for the guy to stop. So why push that there is an ugly motive? Never assume malice over ignorance is a proverb for a reason.

                5. Say what, now?*

                  Snark, I love that. But you’re right. It’s strange how people double down on defending creepy behavior. It’s ok to make a misjudgment about your physical relationship with someone provided that you correct course once they tell you that you erred.

                6. Jesca*

                  The onus is put solely on women to be the ones to prevent sexual harassment and assault through our victim blaming, “bumbling male” culture. Until that ends, I am certain women are the ones who define motive.

                7. Starbuck*

                  The fact that he did it in the first place without asking is already enough to make him a deliberate jerk. You have a weirdly high bar for jerkiness here.

            2. Blue Anne*

              Why are you so interested in defending the reputation of a man you’ve never met who is touching a woman in a way that makes her uncomfortable?

            1. Jennifer*

              Yeah, especially since I read an article about how strangulation is kind of a precursor activity to things getting more fatal.

          1. Winifred*

            We don’t even need to get into motivation and power dynamics. All that matters is that the OP doesn’t want it to happen, and that she has a right to control her own body.

        4. Corvid*

          It’s absolutely not out of line to advise someone to listen to their ‘spidey sense’ if a guy does something demonstrably creepy. Would he grab a manager by the neck? Or a male coworker? Most likely not. I wouldn’t spend all that time and energy to find an innocent motive when he does something way out of line – he doesn’t deserve that much goodwill. Chances are he’s being a creep.

          Not that that changes the course of action, necessarily.

        5. Katniss*

          Assuming a guy doing a creepy, invasive thing is an invasive creep is truly the crime of the century.

          Why are you so invested in believing this guy doesn’t have a gross motive?

              1. Steve*

                No one that I have read in any of the replies is arguing that the guys actions was appropriate. No one, certainly not me. You don’t know his motive. Some poster here said women get to assign motive, i guess regardless of whatever the actual motive is. Have you ever done something ignorant. Allison’s answer seems to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. At least in her advice on what to do. I just don’t understand why people want to assign a motive when clearly not enough information was given to know it.

                I am done arguing though. If people want to think evil of someone who did something inappropriate as the only motivation, so be it.

                1. nep*

                  I don’t want or need to know motive to know it’s wrong and needs to stop. Motive matters not a bit. Stop inappropriate behaviour. What is complicated about that?

                2. Hey Nonnie*

                  I’m genuinely curious: can you give me an example of a scenario where, absent immediate danger, you would grab someone firmly by the neck and your motivation for doing so was not controlling, aggressive, or violent?

          1. Steve*

            I am defending https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon%27s_razor . I think it is a healthier way to look at the world. There is no reason to assume deliberate ugliness on the part of the guy. Allison gave a great answer, I think and she gave a time line when it would be appropriate to think the guy was a jerk. I’m agreeing with everything Allison suggested.

            I was at a farmers market once and saw a bee. I told a women there a silly bee joke and she touched my arm when she laughed. Was that some kind of submission play? It is different only by degree from the op. I have never suggested lw should accept the touching or guy was in wrong. I just think it better to blame ignorance over ugliness until you know different.

            1. Fiennes*

              Except that people routinely give creepy men the benefit of the doubt in this situation to the point that actual criminal behavior gets excused. You know what’s a really ugly way to live? Having belligerent dudes defend creepiness right and left while ignoring your real experiences and even common sense.

              And NO ONE said all touching in all forms & situations is a power move, so spare us the straw men.

              1. Allison*


                I’m sick of “aww don’t be mad at him, he didn’t know any better” or “come on, he’s just playing around” or “he only did it because he likes you, you should be flattered!”

            2. Leenie*

              So, do you seriously think he’s doing this to the men in the office, or to his boss? If he’s only directing this toward women of equal or lesser power than him, there are inherently power and gender dynamics at play. It doesn’t matter if he’s consciously forming intent. The dynamics are there.

            3. Snark*

              Oh, FFS, you really are drawing a parallel between a woman touching your (male) arm and a male coworker firmly grabbing the back of someone’s neck? Are you seriously doing that? Sit down, Steve.

              Would you, personally, for any reason, firmly grab the neck of a woman who was not your significant other? I can tell you that I would not. I suspect that, ridiculous BS false equivalencies very much notwithstanding, you would not dream of doing so either. Cut the crap, my dude.

          2. Corvid*

            Ha, that reminds me of favorite tweets of the last week. “I’m an old-fashioned kind of girl. I want a guy to protect me like I’m the reputation of a guy he doesn’t know.”

            1. Specialk9*

              “I’m an old-fashioned kind of girl. I want a guy to protect me like I’m the reputation of a guy he doesn’t know.”

              Dying laughing… But also pissed at the world.

        6. Lady Phoenix*

          Who touches someone’s neck, let alone has a firm grip on someone’s neck? Who thinks it is notmal to come up behind someone and grab them by their neck?

          The first thing that comes to mind is serial killers, rapists, and muggers. Because that is a bery vulnerable spot and it is easy to incapicitate them.

          Do you REALLY wanna do something that instantly make most people think “serial killer”?

          1. Snark*

            I touch the back of my wife’s neck. Generally when sexy times are starting, because it’s kind of a sensitive spot, and a place that one generally only touches or kisses with someone with whom they are intimate. FUNNY HOW THAT WORKS

        7. Artemesia*

          IN my many decades no one has every grabbed my neck; I have never seen anyone grab someone’s neck EXCEPT when it was an aggressive dominance move and every time I have seen it, it has been directed at children. There is no motive that is not icky here. A shoulder, a hug, a hand or arm — all inappropriate but sort of common; grabbing the bag of the neck can’t be anything but a dominance move. And there is no interpretation of it that is not awful.

            1. Leenie*

              Well, he didn’t do the same thing to Putin, did he? He did it to the powerful woman in the room, and only to the woman. I’m not sure why you think Bush’s appalling lack of judgment in his behavior toward Merkel is a defense. That was gross, too.

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              This would be so much more convincing if you had an example of Bush grabbing a male leader by the back of the neck.

            3. Artemesia*

              Well he didn’t ‘grab her neck’, he massaged her shoulders. This was uncouth and yeah of course it was a sexist power play — you didn’t seem him doing it to Putin or Holland or any of the other male heads of state. It was a man has a right to handle women move. Grabbing the back of the neck happens when men want to force a woman’s head down for the obvious reason. It is not a gesture that has any innocent or friendly meaning. A hug might. An arm pat might. Grabbing the back of the neck is a dominance move always; there is no other explanation for it. And you know this guy never does it to his male co-workers.

              1. Laura*

                Back of the neck is the slave hold rather than the blowjob one. That’s usually the head. Just as awful, of course!

            4. Allison*

              “Can you believe Bush was ignorant?”

              Well, I believe he’s ignorant on so, so many things, but how does the president of the United Friggin’ States NOT know that that was inappropriate?

            5. Snark*

              I can believe he was ignorant of the obvious gendered, icky implications, but that doesn’t get him off the hook and it doesn’t make your argument any less icky.

          1. Gadget Hackwrench*

            I’m glad people are talking about arms and backs and things, because from OPs letter I actually thought I might have overly weird office boundaries. I don’t want my co-workers touching me without explicit permission at ALL aside from like, hand shakes, high fives whatever….

            1. winter*

              Yeah. I neither want them touching me without asking first (or making the non-verbal equivalent of asking) and I don’t want them standing/sitting too close either.

        8. Rainy, or will be*

          Ethology 101 bears in favor of Her Highness (Princess C. B. H.) Across mammal species, grabbing the neck aims at immobilising (1) the prey; (2) the female sexual partner. Check any animal channel or pack of dogs for validation. Martial art artists and combat experts might also concur. Basically, grabbing the neck submits the target to the control of the perpretator, voluntarily or not. Whether the perpretator does it conscioulsly or not does not change anything to the target of the behaviour. OP#3’s perception is warranted.

        9. Specialk9*

          Women absolutely know his motives without asking. I posit it’s not ever a woman thing – I know a senior manager who was fired for a similar move. This is a very sexual and overtly 50 Shades move, including the troubling nonconsensual aspects of that book that took it from fun D/s erotica to an abusive textbook. No co-worker should touch your neck, with any body part, as a general rule. The exceptions are so truly exceptional, and require an explicit request by the neck owner, as to be true exceptions that prove the rule. This is really serious and very sexual and aggressive and dominant.

            1. Specialk9*

              I don’t think it’s a stretch at all based on my life experience, but I will absolutely stop posting on the topic. Uh, after this one. :)

        10. Amber Rose*

          When I was in elementary school, I had a teacher who would go around grabbing students by the back of the neck and squeezing. He said it was his vulcan pinch or whatever, but it was so clearly a creepy demonstration of power.

          There’s a lot of nerve endings and important bits in your neck. I don’t know how many people have actually experienced being grabbed in this way, but it’s a very animal, basic message you get from it: move and I’ll snap your neck like a twig. It’s a power thing.

          Obviously, this coworker and that teacher were not going to snap anyone’s neck. I’m saying that the only message anyone gets from that kind of act is that you’re vulnerable.

          Just ask your local BDSM expert.

      2. Foreign Octopus*

        I agree with PCBH, it sounds like a total power move. There’s something really weird about being touched on the neck by someone you’re not intimate with, and even then I would hate it if my partner grabbed the back of my neck firmly.

        The next time he does it, OP, follow Alison’s script. Use your body and twist away from him. If you need to, raise your voice. Remember, you’re not the one making things awkward. He is. You’re just trying to return to the status quo.

        1. NorCalPM*

          My experience is that raising your voice is taken as a sign of weakness. Instead, I lower my voice, both in pitch and volume. I make eye contact and keep it, and it’s intense. I phrase it as a command, not a request (no “please” or “if you don’t mind”). I stand my ground, firmly planted where I am, and lean in towards the person doing the unwanted touching. I give the impression that I’m not messing around, that I’m the proverbial immovable object, and that I’m very serious (which I am). I’m very civilized and low-key, but very forceful. The perp is 100% in the wrong, and I am 100% in the right. I know that, and I want the perp to know that I know that. I’ve had great success with this approach. I recommend it.

          1. Katy Kat*

            The fact that this has become a “habit” is downright scary, I agree OP take back the power. And if he ever does it again or displays any other questionable behaviour escalate it immediately. If I saw a parent regularly doing this with their child I would keep a close look for indications that there was abuse going on. And if you have to escalate it and someone (bizarrely) questions the wrongness and seriousness ask to demonstrate. People have an instinctive avoidance to things touching their necks for VERY good reasons.

          2. Just Another Techie*

            Not a work situation, but related. I’ve seen lots of comments here along the lines of yours in the time I’ve been reading AAM, and it’s always sounded like great advice. So when someone made a completely inappropriate fat joke at a baby shower I was hosting in my home, I looked at the person and very calmly, in a low-pitched voice, low volume, but using my vocal training to make my voice carry without shouting, I said “Not in my home. We don’t make jokes like that here.” The person got silent and looked down and mumbled an apology. Conversation near us completely stopped for about 15 seconds, and then people carried on. It was eight thousand times more effective than losing my temper or trying to argue about why the joke was inappropriate. Just boom. Here is my power to stop the behavior even if the person still has no idea why it was wrong.

              1. nonegiven*

                OMG, I had my little boy burst into tears just from lowering my voice, when yelling the same words had no effect at all.

              2. Observer*

                If you have that down, this is the PERFECT place to use it. TELL him to stop it. And if he does not, straight to HR. Make it explicit that you are complaining about sexual harassment. His attraction to you, or lack thereof, is totally not relevant. The fact that he is doing this is the problem.

          3. aebhel*

            Same. I’ve had success with a very cold ‘do not touch me.’ Men who do this kind of thing are usually relying on politeness and the plausible deniability of ‘oh, I just didn’t know that would make you uncomfortable.’ Puncturing that illusion can be a very successful approach.

      3. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

        I cannot stand being touched on the neck. Someone did that to me once at work. I immediately stood up and said, “Please do not touch me in that way again.”
        It is a power move and intimate in a weird way that needs to be shut down.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          I’ve never had it happen two me, but I foresee one of two scenarios if it ever does:’
          1. If I’m sitting, I yell (because I probably have ear buds in and didn’t hear the person come up) while pushing my chair into the person as I involuntarily jump up and possibly spill my tea.
          2. If I’m standing, I yell, jump and throw elbows into the person’s ribs.

          Neither of the actions would be planned, but I have strong physical reaction to surprise.

      4. Blue Anne*

        Yes. Yes yes yes. OP, you are uncomfortable with this for a reason. Neck-touching is absolutely not okay.

      5. Kathleen Adams*

        I have seen guys grab each other this way, and it usually has a jokey, jockish kind of vibe to it…but it jokey or not, it really does seem to say “I’m more powerful than you.” The guy doing it might be joking about that, but that is, oh so clearly, the message, or so it seems to me.

        But joking or not, it’s absolutely inappropriate, and the OP has every right to shut it down. I would.

        1. High Score!*

          The fortune100 company I work for does not allow ANY physical contact between employees/ customers/ venders/ partners at all. Although they do make am exception for handshakes IF both parties are ok with that. Stuff like this is probably why.

        2. OP #3*

          Yep–I think Fergus is trying to be buddy-buddy with me, to pal around so to speak, but it comes off as really creepy to me because he’s dropped so many hints about my attractiveness.

          1. Say what, now?*

            That’s maybe another thing you should mention if you’re not liking the comments. You could say that it makes you feel uncomfortable to have your attractiveness mentioned in a professional setting. I’m not totally in love with that wording since dependent on how you interact outside of the office (if at all) he might take it as you saying that he should only make those comments in casual settings. Of course, maybe it doesn’t bother you at all. In which case, just ignore this.

          2. 42*

            That’s where my mind first went; he’s testing the waters to see how far he might be able to go, and where it might take him.

          3. Full Tilt*

            I’ve had married men do this kind of thing to me, act like they are friends and then get closer and slowly push boundaries to see how I’d react. The first time I was surprised, after that, I put a stop to things quickly, bc I’ve found some men who act like the most happy married perfectly nice guys want more.
            Tell him that friends don’t need to complement each other’s appearance and touch each other and it’s not appropriate for coworkers to do so.

      6. Amy*

        Yes! Touching people who you don’t have a touch-friendly relationship is generally weird and not a great plan, but grabbing the back of the neck is above and beyond even that to me. It’s not just a hand on the shoulder (which, again, even that can be creepy and inappropriate if you don’t have a relationship of some kind). The neck is a vulnerable area; grabbing it is a power move. As a society, the only times we touch someone’s neck are really intense intimacy or a serious threat. I can’t think of any time when grabbing someone’s neck could be interpreted as a casual or friendly touch.

        OP, please be very forceful about this. Fergus is way out of line.

    2. Emac*

      Absolutely. Those are not odd boundaries at all, and OP I’m really sorry he’s making you second guess yourself like that.

    3. Ramona Flowers*

      No, you don’t have weird boundaries to not want to have your neck grabbed or touched by a coworker. Why would you think that? If you feel weird, it is because another person is DOING something weird TO you.

      1. Susanne*

        OP – I mean this respectfully, but why hasn’t it occurred to you to actually use your words and say “No, don’t do that” or “Stop that!” Why do so many women who are otherwise assertive just clam up? What are you so afraid of? Why is being direct so hard?

        1. Katniss*

          1. There are a ton of understandable reasons here

          2. This isn’t the issue. I’d suggest examining your own assumptions if this is the first thing you jumped to.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            “A person just did a weird thing! I should smooth this over” is a totally normal human reaction. Moreso at work, where people are invested in being seen as low-drama and composed.

            1. Lance*

              Basically this. Being direct sounds simple, in theory, but at what point do people expect backlash? That’s why Alison gets questions like this in the first place.

            2. MasterOfNone*

              Thank you. My (older, male) manager told me in a staff meeting in front of the entire team (we’re a small office) that I was looking very fit and asked had I lost weight recently. I laughed it off and went back to talking about my work because it’s not polite to tell your boss to stop being creepy.

        2. Kalamet*

          It’s not hard for everyone, but there are plenty of reasons that OP might not have said anything. Maybe she’s struggling to overcome the idea that women need to be “nice”. Maybe she has social anxiety that makes her freeze up in the moment that it happens. Maybe she doesn’t want to hurt her friendly coworkers feelings.

          The fact that OP tries to explain away her own discomfort makes me feel like she thinks her reaction is weird or unwarranted, and that she’d be out of line asking the coworker to stop. But OP, it’s NOT weird to dislike neck touching, and Alison’s advice is great!

        3. TimTamGirl*

          To be clear:
          1. There is nothing respectful about that question.
          2. The reasons that subjects of bullying and abusive behavior do not (always/immediately) speak up to/against the perpetrators are many and varied, and have been well-documented on this blog and literally thousands of other sites, books, reports, studies, etc. If you sincerely want to learn more about this, you have endless options for doing so **that do not involve demanding justification from someone who is already uncomfortable and struggling and asking for help**. There is no ‘right’ way to respond when someone blatantly violates your boundaries and/or basic social norms. For more on this, I would invite you to google the ‘good victim/bad victim’ concept and how it is used to manipulate subjects and allow perpetrators to continue.
          3. LW: Do not let this or other similarly DISrespecftul questions derail you. You are the sole boss of your body, and you get to address this however works best for you. I strongly support Alison’s suggestions and those of many others here.

        4. blackcat*

          The one time, in high school school, when I politely told a (17 year old) boy to not come up behind me and touch me, he started doing it *harder.* And started calling me a by various words designed to demean me.

          It would have been better if I left it alone.

          Many women have similar experiences. Sometimes, it is better to suck it up than speak up. Speaking up can make things much worse, particularly when we are young. So even when we’re adults, and we’re in environments when we could reasonably expect people to handle things well, we’ve already trained ourselves to suck it up and not say anything. Saying anything doesn’t even register as an option sometimes.

          1. Lany*

            This exactly. Similar things happened to me in high school, as well as my younger years when my older male cousins would do the same thing. Better to quietly endure the pinch than to ask them to stop and end being pinned to the ground.

          2. Xarcady*

            This was my experience with my own brothers. My mother kept telling me that if I didn’t like what someone did, just politely ask them to stop doing it. Only that advice backfired with my own siblings. Once they realized I didn’t like them pulling my hair or calling me names or teasing me about my glasses or braces, they just did those things more. And hid it all from my parents. They called it teasing; as an adult I have realized that they were bullying me.

            And complaining to my parents got me the “you are just too sensitive” line, and was therefore no help.

            So, yeah, quiet endurance was the key to survival.

            1. Anonimuss*

              I’m so sorry to hear that, I went through very similar experiences as a child and it wasn’t until recently that I realized that while I may have never been bullied at school I was definitely bullied at home by my older brothers. To this day I hold it against my mother that she didn’t put a stop to one particular brother, she would always tell me to just ignore him. As an adult his behavior is incredibly inappropriate and self serving, still.

          3. Allison*


            I remember reacting to a creepy comment with “No. Not interested. Stop it.” and he didn’t get mad, he laughed. He LAUGHED. Either it made no difference to him how I felt about the comment and it just brought him pleasure to say it, or my reaction actually made it more fun for him, knowing he made someone like me feel uncomfortable. Some men are just weird and get off on making women feel weird.

            1. Rana*

              This. I had a guy creeping on me (while I was wearing my baby, no less!) and he was insisting on telling me creepy stories, and at one point I said something like “I’d really rather not hear it” and he immediately retorted, “I don’t care; I’m telling you anyway” and kept on going.

              (It ended up taking the whole bus’s worth of passengers to protect us from this creep. They were awesome, but I wish it hadn’t been necessary.)

          4. High Score!*

            This. Exactly this. After getting older, wiser and LOUDER, I took martial arts lessons. I learned to say things LOUD, i.e. DON’T TOUCH ME. I learned it was OK to hit them and be extra LOUD if my polite request was ignored. I taught my daughter to be assertive instead of nice. Growing up, I was always told to be a good nice girl, Get along. We shouldn’t teach our children that. Try too get along and be nice, sure… But then be assertive of that doesn’t work, or be violent. Its OK to fight back, but do NOT be a victim.
            I’ve had coworkers grab me where they shouldn’t, and I punched them or put them in joint locks and that crap stopped. If that dude touched my neck, I’d swing my chair and fist around and gut punch him hard.

            1. Kelsi*

              Goody for you?

              Not all of us want to enact literal violence, and we shouldn’t be expected to.

              I’m definitely for raising girls to be more assertive, but that doesn’t work without also raising boys to respect boundaries. Me raising my voice to the wrong man could get me fired, or doxxed, or assaulted, or murdered. It’s very nice for you and Susanne that you both seem to live in a world–by privilege or luck–where you haven’t seen this up close, so you can believe it only happens to other women–weak women who won’t just speak up for themselves, gosh! But that’s not a reflection of the actual world.

              1. High Score!*

                I’ve always survived by thinking, what would a man do in this situation, then doing that. I have seen it up close. My first husband was abusive, till I knocked out some of his teeth as he beat me up. It was then I learned that bullies stop when you fight back.
                I learned at work that when you loudly say “get your hand off my knee”, men back off.
                I’m not sure what sort of horrible circumstances that youre in, but use your options. Go to HR, go to the police, sue if you get fired for not allowing yourself to be molested. Are you in the US? There are laws against violating women, laws against sexual harassment especially at work. The more women who will stand up against this stuff, the less it will happen.
                I raised all my children male and female too respect the boundaries of others. And to defend their own boundaries.

              2. Say what, now?*

                I would agree it’s dangerous to escalate to that level of aggression that fast. And once you take a swing you’re the one facing assault charges. Of course, there’s a place for that. When you’re alone walking down the street would be a great time to be loud and physical if it came down to it. But I’m assuming that in an office there’s no need to get violent when you have other people to assist you.

                In the case of the OP, this is a guy who she is friends with and whose company she has enjoyed in the past. I think the first step isn’t yelling “DON’T TOUCH ME!” I think a firm and direct but civil “I don’t like that, don’t do it” should be step one.

                1. Alienor*

                  It seems with a good friend, you’d start by just looking at them like they were crazy and saying “Dude, what are you doing? That’s super weird, knock it off.” Then escalate from there.

                2. Say what, now?*

                  I can see the argument for being direct so that no one can make the assumption that you’re joking. When you’re jovial in tone, even just to project that you don’t want to be mean, people somehow think that you’re amused. Also, it’s weird to think that people can’t be annoyed and maintain a pleasant demeanor at the same time. But somehow the message is often undermined by a smile (intended to be kind).

                3. Kate 2*

                  Technically, if someone grabs you and doesn’t remove their hand after you tell them to, THEY are assaulting you, and hitting them falls within “self-defence”. As long as you 1) tell them to stop, and 2) don’t go overboard hitting them, you should be fine.


        5. SarahTheEntwife*

          It’s a very common reaction to freeze up when threatened. It’s also sometimes weirdly harder to speak up about something so out of the ordinary. If a coworker was playing music I’d have no problem saying “hey, Bob, could you turn it down?”, but if a coworker suddenly grabbed me I’d probably sit there for a few minutes going “wait…did that really happen??” and then it would feel so surreal to have to actually go up to another adult and say “please quit grabbing the back of my neck”. That’s just not something I’m supposed to have a standard workplace script for.

          1. FiveWheels*

            I don’t share the common reluctance to speak up and have always responded to physical boundary violations with shall we say “enthusiastic and physical self defence”, and even I find such completely out-there behaviour difficult to respond to in the moment.

            1. High Score!*

              Its very difficult to overcome your upbringing. I’ve trained and trained and sometimes slightly creepy stuff gets by me the first time or for the first few moments.

          2. NW Mossy*

            This absolutely happened to me when the head of my division (no longer employed here, for reasons unknown to me) walked into a meeting I was having with my female boss, lifted a lock of my hair to compliment my curls, and left. My boss and I are pretty dang progressive feminists, and we both just sat there for several beats after he left with “WTF just happened?!” looks on our faces. So, yeah, been there on the “wasn’t immediately on point with snappy shutdown” thing.

            1. Anastasia Beaverhausen*

              Something similar happened to me! I was standing in a circle of people discussing a work issue, and the controller, a male in his 50s (I’m female and was in my 20s) literally stopped the discussion, pinched me on the cheek, mid-sentence, to say “well aren’t you just the cutest thing!”

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            So much this. When someone does something boundary-crossing to me (but not as straightforward as like, a mugging), I literally lose my voice. I forget how to breathe and sound doesn’t come out, no matter how hard my logical brain tries to override my reptilian brain. A flood of adrenaline pumps through my entire body, and I go into rigid flight / fight / freeze mode. It can take me 10+ seconds (sometimes full minutes) to be able to speak, again. It feels so awful, because not only do I feel super threatened, I also feel trapped in my body.

            There’s a ton of literature on why women don’t speak up in situations like this. I think it’s more helpful to provide support and strategies for how OP can speak up than it is to question why she has not yet been able to do so.

        6. LadyProg*

          Maybe she froze, which is a very typical reaction to a WTF situation like this. I’m the first to speak up for myself for most situations that gavehave happened to me, specially as I get older and see more of this stuff happening to me and others, but it happening for the first time coming from someone who looked like was not a creep? It would baffle me and potentially freeze me as well.
          Besides, the tone of OP’s text shows she wasn’t sure it was inappropriate so how could she even react if she doesn’t know she should? Let’s not go where you’re going, it’s best for everyone!

        7. Q*

          Not OP, but:

          Women are afraid of standing up to men who push dangerous boundaries because they have proven they will cross one boundary, why not a worse one? It happens all the time. Men are terrifying.

          1. FiveWheels*

            I’m a woman and I’ve only recently realised that this is a common perspective. I’m very grateful to my parents for raising me as they did.

            Given that I, a short skinny woman, have never felt afraid of men, I’m not surprised that a lot of men aren’t aware of it. I’m not excusing boundary violators but I think it is possible to violate boundaries and not realise how serious it is.

            1. Specialk9*

              I’m glad you don’t have this experience (one I thought was virtually universal among women, so interesting to hear that it’s not totally universal), but most of us women didn’t learn to fear men from our parents, but from men who hurt or threatened us. We aren’t paranoid for fun, it’s good sense and hard won lessons.

              1. TL -*

                That’s…not quite true, actually. Women are very much programmed to live in fear of stranger danger: don’t walk alone, don’t walk at night, carry your keys out, be careful in the neighborhood, don’t live/travel alone, get a rape whistle/mace. Actually, statistics show men are much more likely to be victims of violent crimes, excluding rape and domestic crimes, which both tend to be perpetrated by people the victim knows.
                Women are taught all the time to be scared of strange men but to let things go for men they know, when in reality, the danger is exactly the opposite.

                Everyone started making comments about being careful walking when I moved out on my own, but nobody ever started talking about the dangers of men I knew crossing boundaries. Yet all my women friends that have been raped/assaulted were attacked by men they knew.

                1. PlainJane*

                  This. And in fact we’re taught to allow men we know to cross boundaries. “He’s just being friendly.” “Get a sense of humor.” “Don’t be so uptight and offended by everything.” That said, I’m not afraid of men in general, and I think acting confident and unafraid can deter some people who are looking for an easy victim. But it’s still not the victim’s job to prevent the incident, and it’s never the victim’s fault for not being assertive enough or saying the right thing.

              2. Kate 2*

                Agreed. My parents didn’t teach me to be afraid. Getting sexually assaulted and sexually harassed (the latter half a dozen times by different men) did.

            2. Indie*

              No, not all strange men are terrifying to me. Sometimes I’m walking alone at night and the guy will overtake, walk ahead, make sure not to crowd me or scare me. This type doesn’t sit right next to you on public transport either. He doesn’t stare.

              The guy who dogged my steps in a cornered space and propositioned me was a Shroedinger. Terrifying until he accepted my no.

              Keep in mind too, that women have been assaulted by charming, non awkward, well behaved, successful men and they have either developed a wariness of all or they just naturally have a better survival instinct.

            1. Katniss*

              Well…kinda. But it’s also kind of ALL men when we’re talking about men we don’t know well. Google Schrodinger’s Rapist for a great post about this. When you don’t know a man well, you have no way of knowing if calling him out on bad behavior will result in escalation and harm to your person. In that way, men in general are terrifying.

              1. Stop That Goat*

                Oh, I get the logic behind what you’re saying. It’s absolutely understandable that the less you know someone, the less you know how they will react to any given situation. That’s not specific to men though and I don’t think it’s a good idea to make general statements about half of the population.

                1. Delphine*

                  I am not nearly as wary around strange women as I am around strange men. I can’t think of many women who are.

                2. FiveWheels*

                  And I’m no more wary around strange men than women. This seems to be true of most of my close friends.

                  I was raised to be cautious, not fearful, and to respond physically to any threat to my person – either by running or fighting. Schrodingers Rapist is entirely alien to me. This isn’t virtue on my part – it’s just a mix of upbringing and genetics.

                  Part of the issue with “not all men” and “yes all women” is that there are lots of women, like me, who simply don’t see the Schrodingers Rapist paradigm. And I would guess that it’s a reasonably large subset, given that I and others get shut down very hard when trying to share our experiences in feminist spaces.

                  Schrodingers Rapist is a wide enough experience that it is a serious problem. But people who experience it often say it’s universal, which is factually inaccurate, alienating to many women, and probably causes a “boy who cried wolf” response in many men.

                3. Nephron*

                  Except in this situation and the other situations where Schrodinger’s rapist comes up are all when a man has already crossed some boundary. In this case the man has repeatedly touched the LW inappropriately showing a rather staggering lack of awareness, or actual intent to cross boundaries. The question now is will the man escalate if confronted and the not all men crowd often want us to assume the guy will not, when the risk associated with that assumption is more dangerous then assuming he will escalate. When faced with a man that has crossed an outer boundary it might be more likely he will back off when called on it, but if we are wrong the woman can face very dangerous consequences, while assuming danger beforehand does not increase the risk of bodily harm if we are wrong.

              2. Specialk9*

                Schrodinger’s Rapist is a great way to put it. Of course not “all men” but we can’t know until it’s too late, so we have to act at all times like you’re simultaneously safe and unsafe. Schrodinger’s Rapist is… Brilliant.

                1. Katniss*

                  It really shook me up when I first read it, because it spoke to so much of my experience. It also caused a massive online freakout from guys who were very offended and I won’t get too info my thoughts on THAT because it’s derailing, except to say it only solidified my belief in the concept.

            2. M.A.*

              Some men are not terrifying once we know them, but enough in the world are that for our own safety, “terrifying” has to be the default for strangers. It’s the unknown aspect of whether they are dangerous to us or not that is frightening, sadly. We have to err on the side of caution. Especially because if we don’t, we get blamed for it instead of them (“Well what did she think would happen?” “She made bad choices about who to hang out with,” etc.).

              1. Stop That Goat*

                I understand that women have to be particularly careful because trusting the wrong person can lead to some really horrible situations for them. That being said, calling all men terrifying is a bit of a stretch and we shouldn’t be painting any group of people with such broad strokes.

                I’m derailing though so I’ll back off.

                1. Artemesia*

                  When I was in college there was the UM rapist/murderer; when he was caught he was a blond gentle good looking kid and his MO was to give girls a ride. He was exactly the sort of person they would meet on campus and trust as a fellow student. I once dated a guy I had had several classes with and so ‘knew’. After someone saw me with him and told me about him, it turned out he was married and had a second woman pregnant and was trying to find an illegal abortionist for her, while starting to date me. Any guy we know slightly is an unknown and any of them could be your worst nightmare; it is just a risk women take every day that is foreign to men. Any nice seeming guy could be an abuser or worse.

                2. CleverGirl*

                  OMG stop it. Saying “men are terrifying” isn’t “painting men” with any type of strokes. It’s describing the way WOMEN FEEL toward men. Terrifying literally means “to cause to feel fear”. They aren’t saying “men are meanies!” or “men are violent and terrible!”. You don’t need to jump to the defense of men because women are expressing the fact that an unknown man is a wildcard and his potential for violence is terrifying. No one is calling men names. They are expressing the way they feel. Why don’t you stop and listen?

                3. Koko*

                  “Men are terrifying” is a statement about a group.

                  You’re reading it as, “All men are terrifying,” which is a statement about individuals in a group.

                  In parks they post signs that say, “Wild animals are dangerous. Do not feed wild animals.” They don’t write, “Not all wild animals are dangerous all the time, but some of them can be sometimes. If you run into one of the dangerous ones feeding them is a bad idea.”

                  The absence of “some” or “all” in the statement means it’s a general principle that applies to the group at-large, not a universal principle that applies to every individual within the group. These general principles are particularly used when giving advisement about how to proceed when encountering a member of the group whose personal details are not known.

                4. Stop That Goat*

                  I was dropping it but fine.

                  If I said that “Women are overly emotional” because I FEEL that way about women, I don’t need to clarify? It’s a statement about a group and therefore, individuals in said group shouldn’t be offended because it’s obviously not meant as ALL women? I disagree!

                  I understand that women have to make decisions in life that I don’t have to simply because they are women and more vulnerable to physical harm as a result. I also understand that the perfectly nice guy next door could secretly be a dangerous person. Coming from someone who was tormented and assaulted by women, it’s not specific to men though. Perhaps my own experience is coloring my view.

                5. Koko*

                  I would say that “Women are overly emotional” is an opinion, not a feeling (especially with the choice of the word “overly”) which I do think shades this slightly differently from a person’s factual statement of their actual feeling of fear.

                  But, playing along, if we drop the value judgment/opinion part in the word “overly”and you said, “Women are emotional,” then yeah, I’d probably agree with you. I have probably said the same thing myself at various times when counseling a man who doesn’t seem to understand a woman’s behavior. Women *are,* by and large, more emotional than men. People can argue over whether that’s nature or nurture but either way, it’s true.

                6. CleverGirl*

                  “Women are overly emotional” is not the same type of statement as “Men are terrifying.” As I explained before (and you chose to ignore?), “terrifying” is not a description of a stand-alone attribute of men, it’s a descriptor of the way men (more specifically their behavior and unpredictability) make ME feel. It would be more like you saying “Women are anxiety-inducing”, which I have zero problem with.

                  Your “women are overly emotional” statement is also loaded because statements like that have frequently been used to discredit, ignore, or gaslight women, so yes, it’s going to upset people.

            3. rldk*

              any man who’s pushing boundaries are terrifying, regardless of any other qualities, and ANY man who does so can become terrifying, no matter how nice or safe they seemed before. Please don’t bring Not All Men into this.

            4. BethRA*

              I was wondering when #NotAllMen would show up.

              I would hope that the recent #MeToo explosion would have made people – men in particular – aware of how pervasive and widespread sexual abuse and harassment are for women, and what a tremendous impact those behaviors have on how we are able to move in the world. Please keep that in mind the next time you hear people – women in particular – talking about their experiences with unwanted contact, etc., and maybe just maybe, think about just listening rather than trying to police the conversation.

              1. FiveWheels*

                I saw, I think, just one MeToo in my Facebook feed. I wonder if there at groups of women for whom Schrodingers Rapist is a real and constant experience, and those for whom it’s baffling and alien, and there just isn’t much contact between the two.

                When I first read Schrodingers Rapist I thought it was ridiculous, as did the friends I mentioned it to, and was amazed it was a real thing. #YesAllWomen is massively alienating to women like me, who think, “if this guy is violent ill break his nose”.

                1. Alienor*

                  Well, I’m sure there are people who have different experiences, because it’s different even for the same woman at different times. If some dude approaches me now, at age 46, I assume he’s either going to ask for directions or money (or possibly even do me a favor, like the guy who knocked on my window at the car wash a few weeks ago to let me know that one of my tires had a bulge in it and I should probably get it fixed) because that’s what usually happens. When I was 16 and got catcalled and followed every time I left my house, I assumed any man who approached me was going to harass me, because that was what happened 99 percent of the time.

                2. BethRA*

                  You know, I’ve never been held up at gunpoint or mugged, nor has anyone in my immediate circle. I still manage to believe people who say it’s happened to them, and not be dismissive when people talk about their experiences with that kind of situation.

                3. Lany*

                  I am extraordinarily jealous of your life if you have never been cat-called or touched accidentally-on-purpose or had a guy react in a very negative way when you rejected him. It sounds amazing to have never experienced that.

                4. Observer*

                  I’d be willing to bet that you know a lot of women who have experienced some significant harassment in their lives, but are not willing to talk about this publicly for a number of reasons.

                  As it happens, ONE of the reasons that people don’t discuss their experiences is precisely the discussion happening here – “why didn’t you just tell him to stop?”, “*I* would have blah, blah blah.” “Wow, you are the ONLY person I’ve met who had this happen to them.” (No, probably not, and I don’t want to be treated like a zoo animal”, “What did you do to invite this?” etc.

        8. NorCalPM*

          I’m pretty forceful as a woman and have no problem shutting down this type of behavior the first time it occurs. But you know what? We’re not all alike. It is difficult for some people (men and women alike) to be direct and forceful and clear in these types of situations. You need to recognize that.

          Your expectations are unrealistic. You know what you are willing and able to do. You do NOT know what others are willing and able to do. You do not get to tell people how to feel or how to act in such situations. If you don’t know that, it’s time you learned.

          I repeat, we are not all alike: by temperament, by life experience, by the circumstances we’re dealing with, to name just a few of the important variables. Your question betrays your perhaps subconscious conviction that all people are just like you. They’re not.

          1. mrs__peel*

            “You know what you are willing and able to do.”

            And not necessarily even that– lots of people are SO SURE that they’d do [x] if a certain situation ever happened to them, but when it actually *does* happen in real life they freeze up or do something entirely different.

            In fight-or-flight/ stressful situations, a lot of human responses are unpredictable and almost automatic. Freezing up in response to threats is VERY common, and it’s impossible for anyone to predict with 100% certainty how they’ll react until that happens.

        9. Say what, now?*

          Sometimes we second guess ourselves. “Was that weird? Maybe I’m just over-reacting. Well, the moment has passed and hopefully it doesn’t happen again.”

          Then it happens again and we think “Oh, wait… there’s the weird thing again only I didn’t speak up last time! Maybe I shouldn’t this time since not saying something last time was basically okaying it.” (It’s not okaying it to say nothing; it just means that you needed time to examine the thing intellectually. It’s ok not to have a reaction prepared for every eventuality.)

          Please, don’t make OP feel bad for not being prepared for this to happen to her. Why on earth would she have a stock answer for some man she thought was kind grabbing her by the neck?

          And OP, if this gets weird, please remember what Alison said. This is not your fault. He did the weird thing and any awkwardness from the weird thing is his fault.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Not only is this sort of reasoning normal, but if we’re going to get along in large groups, often large groups of strangers, “that was weird but a one-off so I’m going to ignore it” is something that should be frequently deployed. Speaking up at the Exact Perfect Right Time is an art a lot of people struggle with–but that doesn’t mean “always the first instant you notice something weird, loudly call attention to it” is a universally great response.

          2. Artemesia*

            During my college days and later my career, the norm was that women put up with and tried to adroitly avoid this kind of behavior; it was career suicide to ‘report people’ or make a fuss. And thus women learned to blame themselves. My first thought when the big name in my field assaulted me — literally trying to rip my blouse off when he gave me a ride back to my hotel was ‘how could I have been so stupid as to not see this coming; why didn’t I know he was on the make.’ It never crossed my mind to tell any authority. And when I shared my shock with peers it was ‘oh didn’t you know about Larry?’ I was not local and so didn’t know. It was totally on women to protect themselves and often that meant foregoing opportunities a man would jump at because it would put us in a vulnerable position like going out for a drink to talk about our work. Read the stories of women in DC, in the military, in corporations who essentially lost their careers when they stood up to men harassing or assaulting them.

            1. Say what, now?*

              Thankfully, there’s a cultural shift right now even if it’s temporary. I hope this change is lasting so that no one else has to hear “oh, you didn’t know about Larry?”

              1. Full Tilt*

                I hope the “cultural shift” isn’t temporary. Women (and men) who are abused, pushed around, disrespected or touched when they don’t want to be should feel comfortable speaking out and putting a stop to it.

        10. anon for this*

          So, what happened to me recently was nowhere near as bad as this, but I (a grad student) was stopped in a hallway on campus by a male faculty member I’d never met who proceeded to unsolicitedly “give me a hard time” about something in the way that some people (translation: @$$holes) do, then grabbed my elbow and told me “I’m just joking!”

          Believe me, I wanted to tell him that he had no right to touch my arm, but I figured it would be a bad idea to piss him off, so I just gave him a blank stare and walked away.

          See, this happened in the music department, so I figured he might be on the music faculty. And if he’s on the music faculty, then he knows my orchestra director and private teacher and other people I’d like to maintain a decent relationship with, and the more time I spend doing music at this school, the better the chances are that I’ll interact with this guy again and he’ll figure out who exactly I am. For him to realize “Oh, so Jane Warbleworth is that girl who gave me a weird look that time” is not ideal, but it’s preferable to “Oh, so Jane Warbleworth is that girl who totally freaked out on me.” And I don’t want my relationship with the department poisoned by my having overreacted to this guy (which is what it will be, in his head).

          Because let’s be clear: there is no reaction that makes me come out looking good in the eyes of that person, someone with more power who already thought it appropriate to treat me that way. There’s nothing I could have done to flip the narrative in his mind from “I interacted innocently with a student and she got all weird about it” to “I touched a student without her consent and she was justifiably not happy”. When he grabbed my arm, I had already lost.

          (Now imagine this happening to you when it’s your job, not your hobby — which has never happened to me, but I figure it’s like this but worse. Not to mention that it’s happening repeatedly in LW’s case, as well as with a more intimate part of the body.)

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            This is a really good explanation of why “Always be putting up a very visible fuss the moment anything goes a little off” is actually NOT the default most of us use in real life. That behavior is often not rewarded.

        11. Matilda Jefferies*

          “Fight or flight” is not the only option. Some people negotiate, some people try to smooth things over, some people freeze up. These responses tend to be (but are not always) divided on gender lines.

          I had a scary situation when my son was a toddler, when he slipped off the platform they use for little kids in swimming lessons. He was flailing around in the water, and I was too far away to help – but I also couldn’t yell at the instructor. I froze. Fortunately, there was another mother beside me who was able to yell, and everything worked out fine. But in the most stressful situation of my life, when my child was in actual danger – I froze, and couldn’t help him.

          Not everyone responds by using their words when they’re surprised or stressed. Not all brains work the same way, and it’s not helpful to anyone to tell them how they “should” behave.

          1. ClownBaby*

            I just read an article yesterday, though I don’t remember where or even what about…only that the comments on it made me sick and I had to close the browser as soon as possible… that some people experience something similar to tonic immobility. They can’t process what is going on around/to them so they just can’t do anything.

            That swimming story is terrifying. I am so glad your son was able to flail. I used to be a swim instructor/ life guard in college and the year after I graduated a child drowned. There was video of it, no flailing just sinking without a splash. Lifeguard was texting. The head swim instructor was sitting in his office. I hope those parents got a huge settlement, even if they did though, it wouldn’t be enough. After I heard about it/saw the video, I started giving pro bono swim lessons. It breaks my heart if someone over the age of 4 doesn’t know how to swim or even float.

        12. Starbuck*

          And why is it so hard for this guy to keep his hands to himself? What was he thinking, touching someone’s neck without their permission? Don’t kids learn that in, like, kindergarten? YIKES SUSANNE.

    4. paul*

      yeah. You can *always* tell someone not to touch you, that’s an easy call.

      And thinking it’s OKto touch someones frigging neck…ew. That’d freak me out

      1. Geoffrey B*

        Seriously. I am a peaceful person, but if somebody pulls crap like that on me I’m prone to lash out reflexively.

    5. Bagpuss*

      OP#3 – you do not have odd boundaries. That is strange and inappropriate behaviour.
      Also, even if you *did* have unusual boundaries, so what? It’s your body and you get 100% of the votes about what kind of physical contact is OK.

      It’s totally appropriate for you to tell (not ask) him not to touch you in that way, and to escalate if he doesn’t immediately, and permanently stop.

      1. nep*

        Great point. Boundaries weird, according to whom or to what random scale?
        I get to define my boundaries.

      2. annejumps*

        As Captain Awkward might say, he’s the one making it weird. It’s okay to put it back on him and make *him* uncomfortable, therefore.

    6. mimsie*

      At first I thought you were going to say someone was lightly touching your neck, like tickling, to get your attention. But *grabbing*?? No, that is too close to assault and needs to be firmly nipped in the bud. Use Alison’s words, don’t hesitate, don’t be apologetic, he’s being completely inappropriate and actually kind of an asshole.

      1. nep*

        A guy lightly touches or tickles my neck at work — he’s going to get his arm twisted away and slapped. No. Way.

        1. LavaLamp*

          My freshman year of high school, one of my new friends liked to come up behind me and pretend choke me. I freak out when people touch my neck generally; and I asked her to please stop. Reason she’s still a friend? She apologized and stopped.

          My junior year, one of my teachers had a habit of running his hands through my hair when he walked by. I find people touching my hair to be weirdly intimate and asked him to please stop; which he did. My guy friend was sitting next to me and started telling me “he’s not hurting you, why you complaining?” but my teacher stopped him cold and gave him the people’s bodies are theirs and they get to have their own boundaries speech.

          1. nep*

            Bravo (sort of) that teacher. I mean bravo for that reaction and affirming that people define their own boundaries. But touching your hair in the first place — weird. It is intimate and not a thing for a teacher to do. Ick.

            1. blackcat*

              Ick is my first thought.

              The only times I initiated physical contact with students were hive fives & handshakes and safety issues (eg I once pulled an oblivious kid out of the way of a truck on a field trip). My male colleagues broke up a couple of fights, which I think is also appropriate and falls under the safety reason.

              Anything else? Nope! No touching students! It was fine if they hugged me, but I was never going to hug them (and I did have one conversation with a particularly enthusiastic hugger that warning/consent was needed. I was much smaller than him, and the couple of times he unexpectedly hugged me, he nearly knocked me over. I said something like “I am happy to celebrate your test grade! But please ask before hugging, or at least stretch out your arms first. Otherwise, it’s more of a tackle.”). Even with much younger kids than I taught, it’s generally inappropriate for a teacher to touch a kid unless it’s genuinely necessary for some reason. And hair-touching is just super creepy.

              1. Specialk9*

                Whoa, yeah. My face was all ‘errrrk’ reading that! Toddler hair stroke? All good, babies need affectionate touch. Past preschool, you keep your teacher hands to yourself. In your hair?? It makes me shiver.

      2. Decima Dewey*

        “lightly touching your neck, like tickling, to get your attention”.

        How about tapping me on the shoulder instead of touching my neck? Or saying “Hey, Decima.”

    7. Awkward Introvert*

      I feel for OP #3. I was hoping the commentators had some more tips on how to handle these things because I’ve had similar issues. Usually I’m in such shock that someone would violate my personal space that a freeze up. And then it seems awkward to respond later so I don’t when I know I should.
      I’ve also had the situation where I thought I was just work friends with a man. And then they assume that since I was nice to them I’m interested in them romantically. I will never understand why some men make that jump in judgement. I usually just end the friendship and avoid.

      1. Say what, now?*

        It’s ok to not respond in the first instance. A violation of boundaries is a shock and can take you out of the moment. Who has time to prepare stock answers for every possible interaction? But remember that you not having the words in place the first time doesn’t mean that you’re accepting the violation. It means that you are taking time to assess what the violation meant to you and whether you’d like to allow it in the future or shut it down. If you want to shut it down, just do so the next time the boundary is crossed.

        You could say something like: “Hey, I’ve noticed that you’ve started stroking my arm recently. It’s not something that I’m comfortable with and I’d like you to stop.”
        Or you could say something more general like “We seem to have developed a more physical aspect to our friendship but I like to reserve physical contact for people I’m in a more intimate relationship with. Thanks for understanding.”
        It doesn’t matter that you didn’t say something the first time. If they come back at you (which would be super weird) just say “I was treating the initial contact as an outlier and allowing for the possibility that it wouldn’t happen again. But now that it’s become a pattern of behavior I feel that I must say something.” Easy as pie.

      2. High Score!*

        Be bold, say “do not do that.” if they do it again, pretend you are addressing an unruly 3rd grader with a hearing problem, “I told you before, do not touch me.” the important thing is to be loud. LOUD. Mostly men will covertly try things, they are looking for men women, they do not want to be outed. The louder you are, the less likely it will happen again. You don’t owe anyone politeness. And take some self defense classes, great for confidence.

        1. Lany*

          I took a self defense class in college and was terrible at it. It actually made me less confident in my ability to defend myself physically.

          1. High Score!*

            I was terrible at it too, almost quit several times. Took me way longer than everyone else to learn anything. I stuck with it, and eventually got better, and eventually got good enough to defend myself against larger opponents. Maybe the self confidence came from having to work so hard and long and figuring it out even tho it didn’t cone easy.

            One thing that is easy to do that will make life easier is calling things out, “do not put your hand on my whatever..” loudly enough for other co-workers and hopefully HR to hear.

          2. Specialk9*

            This isn’t really a physical self defense situation, because that would be inappropriate escalation.

            In general, though, I recommend krav maga. They teach you self awareness that keeps you from looking like an easy mark (for example, on the street I always **stand tall** and watch around, and if a group of guys on a sidewalk splits up to pass me on both sides – flanking me – I casually step into the street).

            And they teach you that you’ll never ever start anything, but if someone else does, you will do whatever it takes to be able to run away.

            Krav is perceived as super macho and intimidating, but in my experience it’s actually a lot less so than other martial arts, and the male students tended to be respectful and matter of fact with women students.

            A semi-facetious but still useful book is “Cheap Shots, Ambushes, and Other Lessons” by Marc MacYoung.

            1. Full Tilt*

              I like martial arts too. You don’t even have to use them, just knowing you have that power can make you feel more powerful.

        2. Say what, now?*

          I think this jumps the gun a bit. A stranger doing something, yes be loud! Someone without the wherewithal to know that they shouldn’t touch a stranger they’re just a predator.

          But a friend who crossed a boundary who just needs to be told it’s a boundary deserves the benefit of being treated like someone who just made a mistake. If they ignore what you’ve said, it’s a different thing. Then get loud. Also, let your mutual friends know that you’ve had your lines crossed and been ignored when you asked those lines to be observed. It’s doing a great service to other women to let them know that their boundaries won’t be respected by this person.

      3. OP #3*

        “I’ve also had the situation where I thought I was just work friends with a man. And then they assume that since I was nice to them I’m interested in them romantically. I will never understand why some men make that jump in judgement. I usually just end the friendship and avoid.”

        This has happened to me more times than I can count. I’ve actually stopped being friendly with men I don’t know, which is sad, because I’m usually a really friendly person. I’ve mostly reverted to polite and professional, and if a guy gets a little too friendly, I go into “coldly professional” mode.

        Once I get to know him a little and have determined he’s a safe person, I can be friendly. But it sucks that I can interact with all men the way I can with all women.

        1. Indie*

          Same thing happened to me and my co worker then embarrassingly took hold of my hand like we were a couple at a work party (after just one sorta friendly conversation). I didn’t say anything (in shock); just excused myself and fled, but I later asked him how he could fail to notice my stiffened expression, corpse-like body language and complete absence of consent. He just mumbled a denial of the entire thing.

          Later one of his male friends told me he does this all the time because he believes ‘keno’ or initiating touch shows his dominant or ‘alpha male’ status and that the woman who sorta likes him will like him more for it, even if she is initially surprised. Nope.

          Another female co worker said “he stares at me until I feel like prey”. Tldr: it’s not you who’s misstepping socially or professionally.

            1. Indie*

              *Nods*. The worst of it was he seemed really cool (for years) from acquaintance-distance. It’s the hard-to-spot ones which make you wariest.

    8. Miranda*

      Short story: I had a friend in college who had different boundaries (more touchy culture in general), he made the mistake of touching me somewhat like this guy is touching you. I have had martial arts and self-defense training (sadly out of practice now) and immediately reacted to remove myself from his grip, he got mildly injured in the process and looked a little scared – I apologized for the injury, he never pushed my boundaries in that way again and we remained friends. Now to the point, the reason I was able to react without thinking is because my self-defense training includes ways to break neck/head holds/grabs. I never got much past beginner, but that was among the first things taught. Your boundaries are NOT weird if you do not want to be touched in a manner that is commonly enough used to assault that it’s among the first things people are taught to defend against! These days the only people who go near my neck are close family who are being sweet and giving me massage – which is also not generally appropriate for work colleagues, no matter how friendly. So, to reiterate, you do NOT have weird boundaries, he does.

    9. Fishgal*

      Agreed, other than accidental collisions I can’t think of a single job where my coworkers have touched any part of my body. Admittedly I’m quite jumpy and prefer much larger personal bubbles than most but still.

    10. Mockingjay*

      #3: Coworkers (or managers) should NOT touch other coworkers, unless it is to shake hands. Period.

      *Side note, last month my team had a random conversation about hugging after a multiday meeting. There are only three women on the team (until recently, just me). My project lead (male) asked the women about hugging goodbye versus shaking hands. He was surprised when I said I prefer the handshake. I pointed out that hugging puts me in a publicly intimate position rather than professional. He got the point.

    11. Kelsi*

      And honestly, even if you did have weird boundaries, THAT WOULD BE OKAY. Not wanting to be touched in a certain way is always, always okay, regardless of whether it’s a majority way to feel. Plenty of people never want to be touched at all, and that’s also fine!

    12. Diamond Minx*

      OP3 – the first thing I thought when I read your letter is that grabbing someone by the neck like that is a dominance move. It is not an uncommon action in the BDSM community for a Dom to do this to a sub (who they have consent from). I can’t even begin to express how not ok this seems to me. I would ABSOLUTELY not be ok with this in a work setting with someone I do not have a physical relationship with and totally agree with shutting him down. Heck, I would find it unprofessional even if it was someone I was in a physical relationship with if it was being done in front of coworkers or strangers.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I’m glad I’m not the only one who had this thought. My partner and I have a D/s dynamic in our relationship and this is a move he deliberately and specifically uses on me, at home, in private, to get me in a particular headspace. It is absolutely 100% a physical expression of dominance and control over someone. And in that context, I love it, because it’s something I’m enthusiastically consenting to – but if a particular type of physical contact can be mistaken for BDSM-related foreplay, it shouldn’t be happening in the workplace. (Unless you’re a sex worker who does BDSM-related stuff, I suppose.)

        1. Specialk9*

          “If a particular type of physical contact can be mistaken for BDSM-related foreplay, it shouldn’t be happening in the workplace.”

          Words to live by!

      2. OP #3*

        Thank you for this comment–really validates my sense that something very inappropriate is going on with this guy’s behavior.

      3. anon for bdsm*

        Yep–as someone who identifies as a sub, I love having my neck grabbed (with, you know, a partner I trust, in a consensual context) because it’s got such a strong power dynamic built into it, it gets me into a really nice headspace. It’s definitely not something I would allow anyone to do outside a consensual partner!!!

  3. Emily W*

    Re: numbers 2 and 4, I’m guessing that if your manager has that bizarre of a reaction (in the former) or that petty of an attitude (in the latter), this isn’t the only time they’ve been a bad manager to work for…..
    It might sound like a small thing to others, but those are genuinely things that would make me at least start to look around!

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Same, actually – these don’t sound like small things. Especially number 4, which is just incredibly mean-spirited and weird.

      1. Foreign Octopus*

        Mean-spirited, weird, and completely demoralising.

        She must have come across like a spoilt child demanding extra presents to the clients?

        (Anyone else get the Dudley Dursley vibe?)

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          “Mean? Or weird? Or mean? Or weird? … Wait, both at once!!!”

          I cannot begin to imagine a client having a positive reaction to this. It’s exactly the sort of weird move that loses you customers because they don’t need a vendor who can provide that extra bit of crazy, aggressive confrontation. (“Any gift baskets of pears go to ME!” “Who the heck are you?” “ARYA’S BOSS! I WANT THE PEARS.”)

          1. Cassie*

            Gift basket food is usually odd, too. I’m picturing this lady Scrooge McDuck-ing her way through an office piled high with weird nut mixtures, stale Pepperidge Farm cookies, and bologna sticks.

            1. Catalin*

              Scrooge McDuck-ing is now an AAM term, and should be used as often as possible. SUCH a great descriptor for the irrationally greedy!

              1. TardyTardis*

                I’m afraid that I was kind of like that when the Transportation department got in a shipment of real French chocolate truffles, and I had never had any more before. My tongue said ‘I have never had this wonderfulness before, why is that?’ and I made ridiculous excuses to bug them about invoices. Then I found them in a catalog, and stopped all that (because now that whole package is mine, all mine! Mwa ha ha ha….).

                But whole baskets, really?

          2. Anion*

            Yeah, if I was a client in this scenario, and wanted to send a gift to that person with whom I have a lovely business relationship, and then suddenly got a phone call from some strange woman insisting that my gifts must be sent to her instead… I’d be asking my lovely-business-relationship friend who that woman’s boss is and how I can get in touch with them, because they should know they have on staff someone who thinks this type of astonishing rudeness and greediness is acceptable (and is willing to take something from her employees for her own personal gain, as well).

            As the client I would be *deeply* offended on several levels about this. It would be a huge deal for me. Like, telling-Arya’s-boss’s-boss-that-I-will-take-my-business-elsewhere-if-it-doesn’t-stop huge. A company that condones this behavior isn’t the sort of company I want to do business with.

      1. Kalamet*

        The food stories really got me too. I don’t understand how people get so entitled and clueless. These stories do relieve my social anxiety, though – I may be awkward but at least I’m not THAT bad. :P

      2. NorCalPM*

        Well, most people aren’t, I think. We hear mostly about the bozos here. I keep that in mind as I read these stories and posts. And I walk away from reading this site feeling grateful for all the people I know (the HUGE majority of them) who are just decent human beings. They’re the folks a lot of us just take for granted. This site reminds me not to do that.

        1. As Close As Breakfast*

          It also gives me perspective on the relative weirdness of my own coworkers. Like, Coworker is weird, but they’re not demand-all-the-gift-baskets weird. So there’s that.

  4. Aphrodite*

    OP #2, you said that “sometimes when I knew I’d be using the same dishes the next day, I’d leave them out until then.” Do you mean unwashed? And where were they left? Did they take up counter or sink space? Were they rinsed or dirty And does the building have any issues with ants, cockroaches or other bugs?

    I am very fussy about my kitchen cleanliness so I do not use our kitchen at work. It is kept neat and clean as far as I can tell, but sponges are not changed, people don’t always wash their hands as thoroughly as I do, and things may not be as clean as I like. So I bring my food in my dishes with my silverware and take it home. Others are more comfortable in a shared work kitchen as long as it is kept clean. If you leave dishes out somewhere you are inconveniencing someone. I know I wouldn’t like it at all if I came across your unwashed dishes waiting for the next day. You need to start considering your workmates (including this woman who may or may not be going overboard in her reaction; I don’t think she is) and take greater care to clean up every time you use it.

    1. Lissa*

      It sounds like OP is washing the dishes, just leaving them to dry on the counter, from the wording used. “She came into my office a couple times to ask me to dry and put the dishes away, which I did.” Surely if they were unwashed that would be what’s mentioned.

      I do personally think it’s overreacting to get someone’s supervisor involved over something like this, personally…it doesn’t really sound like anything here is egregious, and if one person’s overall cleanliness level is much higher than everyone else’s, I think it’s going to be a losing battle to try to change that.

      1. Hmmmmm*

        As a former OM, the escalating to the supervisor thing is a bit of a red flag. Either clean co-worker is a nutter, which could be true, or the OP might be way messier than they think they are. I can’t tell you how disgusting and messy some people who were convinced they were “not really using the kitchen” were. Or they were convinced there was some mysterious “they” whose job it was to clean the kitchen. From their POV they were doing their own dishes. From mine they were leaving rotting gunk in our sink that did not have a garbage disposal. Or getting water all over the counter and the floor and not wiping it up. I don’t think most people realize that cleaners typically do not clean out the coffeemaker or get gunk out of the sink drain or stuff like that as part of their contract.

      2. Specialk9*

        Aphrodite, the complaining woman is absolutely way overboard. A clean dish drying on the counter overnight may be mildly annoying to someone with pathologically tidy tendencies, but it’s not escalation worthy.

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      I thought they said they wash them but then sometimes leave them out if they know they’ll use them again.

      I am going to disagree with you and say this woman is indeed going overboard. Leaving dishes out on a counter is perhaps mildly irritating, but not worth getting so bent out of shape that you email sometimes supervisor in a fit of exaggeration.

      1. Just employed here*

        To me it sounds like the complainer is indeed overreacting (as is the supervisor), but that the OP could easily solve this by just putting the dishes away straight away.

        Not every interaction with every decent person is always 100% sensible and nice — maybe the supervisor was just having a particularly bad day. If there are no other problems between the OP and the supervisor, I wouldn’t take this as a red flag about something. And as for the complaining colleague … well, every office has one of those people, in my experience.

          1. Just employed here*

            Exactly, and I think the solution is to keep doing that (even if they think it shouldn’t be necessary, which is the vibe I get from the letter), and not react to the overreactions.

        1. Samata*

          I think the OPs bigger concern is actually the now tainted image the supervisor has, not the logistics of the dish washing/putting away. it’s just such a weird thing to be on the supervisor’s watch list for.

          1. tigerStripes*

            I think the OP should talk to the complainer and find out if she’s have a problem with anything other than the clean dishes being left to dry. The e-mail indicates that there might be something worse, and maybe the OP is being blamed for something that the OP didn’t do. After talking to the complainer, it might be worthwhile e-mailing the supervisor saying something like ” and I discussed this, and it turned out that the issue was that I had set clean dishes in the kitchen to dry, and she was concerned.” or “it turned out that the unsanitary mess was actually caused by someone else.” Either way, it will let the supervisor know that the OP is dealing with this and (probably) that the complainer overreacted.

    3. Mike C.*

      Wait, you believe that this is ok behavior? You think getting management involved with this is appropriate? That chasing people down and yelling at them or leaving unprofessional notes is ok? She’s clearly misrepresenting the scale of the problem and in the process interfering with the manager-employee relationship. The only time I’ve ever “aggressively chased someone down” was when their safety was at risk.

      She’s seems to be nothing more than a petty tyrant trying to appear useful rather than doing more meaningful work. There are a million different ways to get people to be accountable that don’t involve the above tactics. Like talking to the OP first. Or maybe not exaggerating things to the manager.

      My floor has like 8 kitchen/break areas and we’re somehow able to keep them all clean without resorting to this sort of thing.

      1. Aphrodite*

        I don’t think her escalating the issue was okay and in fact I recognize she may be a petty tyrant. (Lord knows I’ve worked with a few over the years.) However, I thought the OP should see if perhaps underneath her actions were some valid complaints. If so it’s worth looking at that before taking other actions. If she feels she’s fine and is not bothering anyone else then yes, the woman’s actions have gone beyond annoying and Alison’s advice is excellent.

        1. Lance*

          Oh, I imagine there’s certainly some valid complaints spread throughout… but how she’s handling them is in no way the correct way to do it. That’s the crux of the issue here.

      2. kittymommy*

        Yeah, taking this to a supervisor is ridiculous. I mean I get that leaving a lot of dishes out to dry for days can be annoying. Currently our kitchen has about 4 or 5 cups, 2 plates, bowls and several utensils drying that have been there for 2 and a half days. None of them are mine but I’ll put them up before the weekend hits. Yeah, it’s irritating but come on, it takes more work to go to the boss (and via email no less) than the 30 sec of shoving them into a cabinet.

    4. Kiki*

      “I would always make sure to wash the dishes I used and stack them neatly on the counter to dry.”

      Pretty sure she meant she left them washed on the counter given the preceding sentence.

      1. Just employed here*

        Still, that’s something I’d do at home, not in a kitchen I’m sharing with people I am not related to. (I wouldn’t mind other people doing it, but I know many people do mind, and would default to putting stuff away vs. pissing people off.)

    5. TL -*

      Leaving dishes out is inconveniencing someone, perhaps (they could have a designated dish-drying area) but the appropriate response is to move the dishes out of the way and then have one conversation about it: “Hey, I have to move your dishes a lot to make my sandwiches. Do you mind making sure they’re put up when you’re done?”

      Cleaniness Woman is being unreasonable. If you find a kitchen that is not yours too gross for your personal standards, than don’t use it. You are not in the right to enforce your cleanliness standards upon a group eating space. Especially if the kitchen is fine by most standards – which is sounds like this kitchen is, if Cleaniness Woman is going after minor things like crumbs and clean dishes.

      1. Purplesaurus*

        Totally agree with your first paragraph. I was about to reply similarly. There’s no reason to involve a supervisor/manager in this.

      2. Otto Didact*

        OP #2 here. A big part of why I’m so bothered by this whole thing is that the response I would have expected from a reasonable person is the single conversation you describe in your post. Also, I really do think the average person would not consider our break room to be so messy that it needed a cleanliness crackdown in the first place.

      3. Amy*

        This is where I fall on this. The clean-kitchen tyrant is being unreasonable (and so is the supervisor, honestly, in threatening to escalate further), but it’s also rude to take up counter space in a shared kitchen even if the dishes are clean and you might use them again later. Use the kitchen when you need it, clean up to a reasonable standard, and get out of there (including your stuff) so other people can use it.

    6. ClownBaby*

      I think there is a middle ground. The lady is for sure going over board…but at the same time, if she grows a bit lax on the/her rules, it opens the playing field for the actually messy people.
      “Oh, you can leave your dishes out if you are going to use them the next day” could quickly turn into everyone leaving dishes, silverware, mugs out…clean or not clean.

      Every Friday at 3, my company’s self-appointed “kitchen monitor” empties the communal fridge and throws out any unlabeled food. Anything in lunch bags is put on the counter until 4:45. If it’s not claimed by then it will be thrown out too. After receiving so many complaints, she stopped this rule…only to have rotting food and spoiled milk crowding the fridge after 3 weeks. The rule came back, and the complaints slowed down.

      Emailing the manager was was out of line though.

      1. Natalie*

        I mean, maybe? But that doesn’t mean this woman’s crackdown is remotely necessary to prevent kitchen anarchy. If and when everyone start leaving their dishes on the counter all hours of the day, deal directly with that problem.

    7. Matilda Jefferies*

      100% agree that the coworker is overreacting, and this doesn’t need to be reported to anyone’s boss. (And for the boss to threaten to take it to his boss? Seriously, people.)

      But at the same time, I also agree that it couldn’t hurt for OP to check her own perspective, which is what she’s doing by writing in here. Aphrodite’s list of questions is great. The only other thing I would add is if other people are also leaving their (clean) dishes on the counter for the next day. This is the kind of thing that doesn’t scale well, unfortunately. It’s fine if OP is the only one leaving them, but if other people have started doing it as well, then there could be a lot of dishes on the counter.

    8. Otto Didact*

      OP #2 here. To answer your questions, I meant that I’d leave the clean dishes on the counter, not (in my opinion) taking up too much counter space, and to my knowledge the building doesn’t have any issues with bugs. I’m honestly perfectly happy to immediately dry and put away the dishes and I do see why it would be annoying for other people, but I still think this lady’s reaction has been petty and unnecessary.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        Is there space for a drying rack? I’ve found that no matter how much you try, there’s always a little dampness on a dish, and I’d rather it air dry a bit than pick up a plate from the clean stack and discover it’s still wet. Or worse, stacked drinkware. Ew.

    9. Jennifer Thneed*

      I throw out gross sponges when I find them. If that leaves the kitchen without a sponge, oh well, it should have been replaced already. Gross sponges are smelly because they’re germy and they should be replaced every so often.

      (At my house, I alternate 2 sponges so that each one dries completely between uses.)

      1. Anion*

        Ha! I keep a “dirty” sponge and a “clean” sponge. The “dirty” sponge is used on dishes that have oily/gunky/greasy-type foods or whatever stuck to them–like, a bowl that held butter, which I’ve wiped out with a paper towel but you know the bowl is still greasy, or pot I made alfredo in or tomato sauce in and the inside is still reddish.

        After those dishes are washed with the Dirty sponge and rinsed, they are then washed again with the Clean sponge, which is only used on, well, things that have been rinsed or pre-washed clean.

        After a few weeks, I toss the Dirty sponge, replace it with the formerly Clean sponge, then get a new Clean sponge entirely. (The bonus here is that because the Clean sponge doesn’t touch fatty/staining-type foods [until it becomes the Dirty sponge], it lathers better and the soap lasts longer.)

  5. Five after Midnight*

    #3 – I hope I’m overreacting here, but to me, “grabbing [a woman] firmly by the back of the neck” screams “you are mine and don’t you forget it”. It reminds me of handling animals. It’s a power differential gesture, as in: I own you. It’s a serious breach of personal boundaries even in a equal-partners consensual relationship because of its implication.
    As I said, I hope I’m overreacting, but this needs to be shut down quickly regardless using Alison’s script. Further, I would suggest slowly withdrawing from the “friendly, joke-y kind of relationship” and keeping it strictly professional. My perception is (especially given gender/age description and LW’s take (“he finds me attractive”)) that this has a potential for further relationship creep (movement, not person).

    1. JamieS*

      Agreed. I’m biased by my own experiences on this but neck grabbing strikes me as very dominant behavior and needs to be nipped in the bud if for no other reason than that.

    2. The Other Katie*

      I agree, especially since it’s grabbing, not just touching. Just a touch on the back of the neck would be annoyingly and inappropriately intimate for a co-worker, but a grab is something else entirely.

    3. ChurchLady*

      OP needs to listen to her gut (and the collective hive mind here). Grabbing by the neck is NOT OKAY. We all know it. Stop caring if the aggressor is “made uncomfortable” by calling out this behavior.

    4. Humble Schoolmarm*

      I had a friend in high school that used to love to do this to me and, I suspect, loved how freaked out I got about it. It only ended when I got really angry and blew up at her. It’s bad enough in a teen friend relationship, at work it’s pretty horrible.

      1. Teen Jerky Friend*

        I forgot I had done this to a couple friends when I was 13/14 until I read this comment. I think maybe at that age I did get amusement out of their reactions – me at that age was a major jerk and didn’t understand boundaries or how to read non-explicit signals and tended to think everyone was in on the joke unless explicitly told otherwise (I’d like to blame how my sister and I related to each other for my jerkish behavior, but honestly, it’s a poor justification. I was just a jerk.). It’s unlikely I was that friend of yours, but on the off chance I was, I’m so sorry for my behavior then. I’d change it if I could go back in time.

        1. blackcat*

          Most 13/14 year olds are jerks at least some of the time. Most of them grow out of it reasonably quickly.

          1. Teen Jerky Friend*

            Based on what others tell me, I’m pretty sure I did grow out of it quickly. Still, it felt worth apologizing if Humble Schoolmarm actually was one of those friends of mine.

            1. Humble Schoolmarm*

              Were your initials N.N and do you love art and elephants? Lol! We would have been more like 15-16, which made it a little weirder. I guess inappropriate neck pinching is more common than I thought!

              1. Teen Jerky Friend*

                No, wrong initials, was never really into art, and I like elephants but not so much that it’s a notable trait.

                And yeah, guess it’s more common than I thought, too!

    5. blackcat*


      That move is generally used among mammals animals to assert dominance. It is not unreasonable to assume that something similar is going on here, consciously or unconsciously.

      1. JustaTech*

        It’s a dominance thing and it’s a known boundary violation. Kids are taught early that you don’t touch other people’s necks (“don’t put the baby in a headlock, Amethyst!”) because you neck is just too vulnerable. So it’s not like this is some kind of new rule.

        Seriously creepy vibes.

    6. Old Admin*

      To add to the creepy ick factor, various mammals initiate mating behavior with neck bites/holding.
      OP#3, please shut that creepy behavior down immediately, this can get very disturbing quickly.

    7. Thlayli*

      Agreed this is a very aggressive action and seriously creepy. Definitely call him on it. Sounds like he is girlfriendzoning you.

      1. NorCalPM*

        I’ve never had a boyfriend treat me that way! Dominance moves from a guy make me mad – they are not sexy or attractive. They are a huge turnoff. If that’s how this guy “girlfriendzones” someone, he’s creepy down to the bone, because that would indicate to me that that’s how he treats even the woman he loves and is intimate with. Yuck.

          1. Specialk9*

            Yeah. Even if your INTO that kind of thing, it’s a strictly ‘negotiate first and thoroughly’ kind of thing.

    8. OlderThanDirt*

      A long time ago I (an Easterner) was in work training in Colorado and went to a bar with a group. The bar played country and western music and a great guy that I liked invited me to dance (the two-step?) and when we got out on the floor, he took my hand and then facing me, put his other hand around the back of my neck. Anyone here remember Urban Cowboy? I think they did it there too. I had a little quiet freak-out. “What, what are you doing?” And then I saw that other people were dancing that way. I explained that I couldn’t do that, but if he could put his hand on my back, we were good to go. We did that, and we were fine. He probably chalked it up to weird women from PA, but I’ll never forget having him just casually reach up and grab me that way. Even though everything about the moment said ‘friendly dance move’ I just could not stand it. Nope, nope, nope. And someone doing it at work?! Full-body shudders. Sweet guy, though, and you could tell because he stopped INSTANTLY.

        1. OlderThanDirt*

          Go to images.google.com and search Urban Cowboy two step and you’ll see a picture of him with his hand on her neck.

    9. AnonAnonAnonBATMAN*

      Not going to argue, but as an example of that behavior, I have a great uncle (in his late 80’s I believe) who is a neck grabber. He may also hold your upper arm or shoulder. He leans in really close to tell you stories, but he’s ALWAYS done this. Admittedly, yes, it can be weird and uncomfortable. I’m lucky enough that because it is him, who is the sweetest old man in the world, it doesn’t bother me.

      That’s just to say that OP should definitely address it with him, but I don’t think his intent is malicious or a power-move. It could be innocent and oblivious behavior, and I don’t want to color this stranger’s description with negative presumptions.

      1. nonegiven*

        I just remembered this story.

        DH had a friend, he decided he must be nearsighted and just refused to get glasses. The guy would get in his face to talk. Back away, he’d advance, back away, he’d advance until there was nowhere to go. One day DH grabbed the guy by both ears and kissed him on the mouth. He kept his distance after that.

  6. LadyCop*

    #4 In my line of work, especially with how many countless overnights under my belt…I sometimes feel like I have to become a bit of a vulture with snacks/goodies/freebies.

    But never on this planet would I do anything that would let on that I am (like asking things be directed to me, or take all the goodies home) …mostly because I too can only stand so much, even if the habit of being on the look out can be hard to break.

    Boss is goofy…and probably planning to re-gift. Or she’s a Hoarder. Or both. Ick.

    1. ClownBaby*

      Yeah I was definitely getting the “re-gift” vibe. Either that, or she wants to look like the office-giver…the one who shares her gifts with the employees.

      A vendor once brought me a cheesecake for my birthday…I tried to sneak it home…but the receptionist started telling everyone that I got it, so I felt obligated to share. Ever since then, I just share everything. I don’t think I can get away with hoarding or re-gifting.

    2. MissDissplaced*

      OP said she whisks them away, so it sounds like Ms. Greedy wants them for her own uses and regifting.

  7. namelesscommentator*

    OP3 – I have a similar problem in that I can’t stand people touching my back. The woman who has been doing it is senior to me, and sensitive to how she’s treated in the office – so correcting her behavior is always too uncomfortable for me to do in the moment – even though I should have every right to limit how I’m touched and when.

    In the past I’ve almost hit coworkers flailing at the sudden touch – it feels really traumatizing to me to be touched when I don’t anticipate it and have a fight response. Almost hitting a coworker accidentally usually opens the door to say “I find it really unsettling and can’t always control my reaction – please don’t touch my back again.” But I’ve never been able to gracefully open that conversation without a flailing incident (and my flails are…. pronounced – once I actually did hit a coworker in the face. We both felt awful afterwards.)

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      I’m really sorry you’re going through this.

      Would it be more reasonable to approach the woman in her office or a private space and explain how uncomfortable her touching your back is making you? Don’t wait until the moment to address it.

      I once lived with someone who would constantly knock on my door at all hours and come in when I was working because she didn’t like to be alone. I found the intrusion so stressful and boundary violating that I found it difficult to sleep because I kept expecting her to come in. Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore and went to talk to her in her room to explain that when my door is shut, it’s not an invitation to come in and I need my time alone. She was apologetic and never did it again.

      In some ways, it’s better to address it after the moment because you’re calmer and your heart rate isn’t going through the roof. You’re more likely to have a reasonable conversation.

      Of course, if she continues afterwards then that’s another problem that you should take to HR, but you’re not responsible for managing her reactions to you enforcing your boundaries.

      I hope things get better.

    2. Bagpuss*

      Could you say to her “I’m really sensitive to people touching my back – to the extent that I do react physically – I did have a experience where I accidentally hit a co-worker in the face, because of my reflex reaction to being touched. I’d hate to hurt or startle you, so could I ask you not to touch me, particularly on my back?”

      I don’t think you should have to explain or apologise as it is a perfectly reasonable request, but given her seniority and sensitivity maybe framing it as ‘please accommodate this quirk of mine’ rather than ‘ please stop with the weird touching’ might work.

    3. SignalLost*

      I have A Thing about being touched on the neck. Someone I knew and liked touched my neck at work once. The resultant hard elbow to the gut got her to apologize and rethink her behavior. I felt absolutely no guilt over it, as I didn’t choose to trigger the reaction or have it. You do not need to beat yourself up over your startle reflex. Anyone who makes you feel bad about an involuntary action is someone worth limiting contact with.

      1. Alli525*

        I do too – one of my high school “friends” (I didn’t like her much, but she was in our social circle) put me in a headlock once, just for “fun,” and my first instinct was to chomp down on her arm as hard as I could. Fight or flight is a wacky thing. I didn’t draw blood, thankfully, but she never so much as touched me ever again. From then on I have been VERY clear with people that touching my neck will always result in Bad Things Happening.

        1. SignalLost*

          Yeah, I have also bitten people who touch my neck. It’s a super bad idea to invade *anyone’s* personal space like that, and the consequences are all on the invader. Because, if I know you well enough, I will explain about the neck thing, but I really don’t lead with it. It’s so easy to assume adults keep their hands to themselves in professional contexts!

    4. K, Esq.*

      Vagueness can work here. “Hi X, I have some back issues that are aggravated by being touched. If you need my attention in the future, please touch my arm or say my name. Thanks.”

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        I’m just struggling to understand *why* anyone would want to touch a coworkers neck… I like my CWs just fine, but I’m perfectly OK with never touching them.

  8. Ramona Flowers*

    #1 What a difficult situation. I have a few practical suggestions to make, just in case they’re helpful.

    You mentioned Fergus being unable to operate a phone. Does that include texting? Is it at all possible to have an arrangement where he texts something to you – perhaps it doesn’t matter what, like maybe just any one letter of the alphabet he can type – and you agree that means he is calling in sick that day?

    Or could you decide on some cutoff points – say decide that Fergus only has meetings after Time, and if you don’t hear from him by Earlier Time you’ll cover or reschedule his meetings?

    Also, what do you say when Jane calls? Is it possible she finds it stressful using the phone (lots of people do) or that you may have sounded frustrated when she calls? From now on when she calls, maybe make a point of thanking her in a really kind and gentle voice?

    Or perhaps driving back to work sometimes takes too long and she doesn’t have time to call. Could you let Jane know you’d be okay with her texting (as it’s better than not knowing at all) which might help if it’s phone phobia or traffic problems.

    1. Knitting Cat Lady*

      Hmm. Too sick to text could mean: My hands shake so much I can’t even hold my phone.

      There are a lot of medications that do that.

      I always have a slight tremor. It gets worse if I’m tired or forget to eat.

      Sometimes my hands shake so much that typing in any way (phone, keyboard, etc.) results in a garbled mess.

      And if Fergus is on heavy duty pain meds it is quite possible those knock him out when he takes them.

      I accidentally took my night time meds in the morning on Monday. Just opened the wrong end of my pill sorter when lurching in the general direction of the bathroom. One med has sleepiness as a side effect. Luckily for me we had an all employee meeting that day. It really doesn’t matter if I fall asleep in the back when there are ~1500 people attending!

    2. Foreign Octopus*

      I like the idea of a cut off time.

      If you don’t hear from him by an hour after he’s meant to be in, for example, then consider him absent and reassign work appropriately. Obviously, have a sit down chat with him first but it sounds like you’re being a very helpful manager at the moment.

      1. HannahS*

        Yeah, I think that’s the likeliest solution. If he’s asleep or too groggy to contact and the OP doesn’t want to rely on Jane, I think that’s the way to go.

    3. lucky cat*

      Maybe there is an inexpensive technology solution. Siri and the like can make calls to contacts with voice activation. Get him a $100 android phone (if he hasn’t got a smartphone), set up work as a contact. Maybe set up a weekday reminder/alarm just before your “let work know that you are coming, otherwise we assume you aren’t” cutoff time. The phone lives by his bed or wherever is most convenient. Then all he or his daughter have to do is go, “OK Google, close reminder” and “ok google, call work.” No hands needed.

      1. nisie*

        this is a good idea if his voice is okay. If Fergus has talked to an occupational therapist, he or she might be able to make other suggestions.

    4. Jaybeetee*

      My concern, based on the letter, is that Fergus’ issue seems to be loopiness/sleepiness from medication, as opposed to tremors or an issue with his voice. The OP states that sometimes his daughter can’t wake him up in the morning. Not so much that he physically can’t operate a phone, more that he’s basically low-key delirious and not even thinking about work. Assuming it can’t be arranged that Jane notifies his job more consistently, a cut-off time of “if you’re not here by X O’clock, we’re assuming you’re not coming in and covering your work” might be the best way to go. I do overall agree with Allison’s advice though, to talk to Fergus about possible solutions.

    5. #1 OP*

      HELLO! This is OP #1.

      Unfortunately “unable to operate a phone” generally means in any way shape or form. Fergus has a variety of joint and muscle conditions that affect his hands and arms (among other areas), and on bad days, he really, truly can’t do anything without assistance.

      When Jane calls, I thank her for letting me know and I say something along the lines of “please let Fergus know we are thinking of him.” Generally, she sounds frustrated. This is just my interpretation, but I think Jane is near the end of her rope. Fergus requires a lot of care on bad days and Jane is his only caregiver. So in my head, what happens is that Jane uses her whole lunch break every single day to drive Fergus to work, and some days when she spends 10 minutes fruitlessly trying to rouse him, it pushes her over the edge and she gets frustrated and storms out without calling. I hope that doesn’t sound judgey–I don’t mean it to be. I cannot imagine the challenges of providing full-time care to a sick family member, on top of working a full-time job, and I certainly wouldn’t be thrilled about forfeiting my lunch break to pick up someone who won’t get out of bed, even if my logical brain knew they couldn’t help it. So I’m kind of hesitant to even offer a suggestion like “shoot me a text” because I don’t want her to feel like she has one more thing to handle, ya know?

      Cutoff time for meetings is an excellent idea–I will implement that as soon as Fergus returns! Since his only transport is Jane and she works a pretty set schedule, we can pretty safely assume that if he’s an hour late, he won’t be in at all. Thanks for the suggestions!

      If you have any good vibes to spare, send them out to anyone struggling with illness and pain and those who love them. This whole experience has made me so grateful for my and my partner’s good health and functional bodies. :/

      1. JKP*

        If he’s well enough to come in and work, then presumably he’s well enough to use the phone. Maybe instead of having him call in sick, reverse the expectation and have him call in before coming to work with an ETA on when to expect him. Then if no phone call, you know he’s out sick. And if he’s late, you’ll know when to expect him. And then it’s not Jane’s responsibility to call, but his.

        1. #1 OP*

          Someone else made this excellent suggestion as well. Thanks!! AAM readers are so smart and helpful. :)

      2. Discount 2 cents*

        If there are Respite care associations in the area they could take some of the pressure off Jane. There are also various senior ride programs (some even all volunteer) popping up all over. Also I know that Medicare does provide home health aides in certain situations and it sounds like Fergus would absolutely qualify. Obviously this isn’t really your business, but perhaps there’s a website or brochure you could direct Fergus to without too much involvement/research on your part? And maybe a support group for poor Jane? Far too many people fail to realize how draining caretaking is no matter how much you love the patient.

        1. Mimmy*

          Another transportation option is paratransit services for people with disabilities. I use the statewide service and I see older people using it all the time. In my state, one service is provided by the statewide transit agency; then, there are county-level services that each have their own set of rules. It might be a bit more responsibility than Fergus or Jane are willing to handle because you do have to schedule your rides within a certain time frame and cancel rides in advance (my services requires no less than 90 minutes notice) if you can’t make it or don’t feel well.

          (Sorry if this is off-topic, but I wanted to put it out there as a suggestion)

        2. mrs__peel*

          FYI, Medicare typically only covers home health aide services if the person is homebound and also receiving qualifying skilled nursing/therapy visits at home. (Which would exclude most people who are still working outside the home). But it’s worth at least looking into all the options.

      3. Phoenix Programmer*

        Late to the party but I would consider flipping the script here. Fergus calls or texts by x time if he is coming in and if you don’t get that message assume absence and reschedule his important items.

      4. OverboilingTeapot*

        Lots of good vibes! You sound incredibly caring, supportive and empathetic, especially in your take on Jane. I feel for both of them, and I hope things improve.

  9. Nobody Here By That Name*

    OP #1: when you say he can’t operate a phone do you mean entirely or is it possible for him to text? Maybe a potential solution would be for him to have a quick and easy text he could send you when he’s not coming in. Even if it was something like a single word, like “sick” or a letter or two, like “sk”. If your contact info was programmed in to be easy for him to pull up and then he didn’t have to type much it might be doable. (I do something similar when my migraines are too strong for me to communicate.)

    Alternatively, does him not coming in happen often enough that it’s worth setting up something to automatically say he’s not coming in unless he stops it? I’m thinking here of something like an email with delayed delivery. Set it for, say, 15 min after he normally comes in. If he comes into work he can re-set it to same time next day. If he doesn’t, then you get the email even if nobody else was able to contact you.

    1. callietwo*

      If texting works but long texts are out, a few keyboard short cuts could be a solution. I use *keyboard shortcuts a LOT.. I use “&&” for my first name “&&&” for my last.. (&) for my address (D) for my city for example.) I’ll use initials for people’s name along with a Z.. so Franny Fruitcake would be FFz as a shortcut, I don’t use just FF in case I actually want to type FF .

      So maybe OS for out sick and IL could be for “in late” RSC for ‘reschedule please’..

      *I use keyboard shortcuts for pretty much everything.. on my iphones, ipad, my personal macbook and even my office window’s machine. It’s a bit labor intensive to set up each one since I have a lot of uses for them; I even have shortcuts for hashtags I use a lot in social media.

    2. #1 OP*

      Sadly, no, he generally either cannot be woken up at all or is in so much pain that he cannot use his hands or arms at all.

      Others have suggested just setting up a cut-off time… if Fergus isn’t in by X:00, we assume he isn’t coming up. Arrange all appointments to happen well after X:00 so we can reschedule them in time. I think we’ll stick with that as it seems to be the simplest. Thanks for the suggestions!

      1. Anion*

        Is there a time the night before when he knows he won’t be able to make it? Like, maybe he could text when he’s about to take his pill, no matter what time of day or night. Or if he feels pain coming on or reaches a certain level he can/should text you then to say he won’t be in the next day.

        Presumably–and I don’t mean to sound judgy or sharp here–he can still use his hands well enough at some point to open the pill bottle/container or work the faucet to get a drink to take the pill with or whatever. So there has to be some point where he’s still able to use his hands enough to hit “send” on an auto-message (or any of the other excellent suggestions above) but knows that in X number of hours he’ll be unable to, or will be too groggy.

  10. coffeeandpearls*

    #3- I once accidentally flipped a student worker because he came up behind me and grabbed my shoulders. I thought it was my friend/co-worker. She would sometimes do that to try to spin me in my chair and I would pretend to pull at her arm, no actual force used. Very dumb sounding, and it was! Anyway, I was sitting in a swivel chair, and I guess the physics of it were just right that when I reached behind me to grab what I thought was my friend’s arm and the student didn’t pull back like my friend would have- he went flying. He wasn’t hurt, thank goodness! We both got teased for it the rest of the year.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I was going to advise #3: If you don’t already have an instinctive strong physical reaction, like ducking and covering your head or flinging your arms out, it could be helpful to develop one. It’s another means of returning the awkward to sender–because grabbing your neck is really weird and should be shut down.

      Tell him to cut it out, but if he doesn’t learn in exactly one try, a more dramatic, eye-drawing reaction from you–rather than the freeze-and-smooth reaction I think many women go to automatically–will make it less fun for him.

      1. CM*

        I would like to develop an instinctive physical reaction, since I tend to freeze up. Any advice on how to do that?

        1. NorCalPM*

          Take a self-defense class, and practice. Might work. Practice is key, so your response becomes automatic. Making something automatic takes time and lots of practice. Good luck!

          Also, when it comes to getting physical with people, titrate the dose. You usually don’t have to draw blood, cause bruising or abrasions, or break someone’s nose to get them to stop doing something to you that violates your boundaries. Usually.

          I grew up in a rough neighborhood, and I’m a woman. I can and have gotten physical with guys and prevailed. But I’ve never wanted to do more damage than was necessary. In a white-collar setting, for me at least, it’s almost always been enough to be verbally forceful (accompanied by the right body language, tone of voice, eye contact, and stance).

          Practice is fun, BTW!

        2. Rainy, or will be*

          Training. Repeat the move until it is ingrained in your muscles. Check the Karate Kid movie for details, or join an Aikido class (Aikido is about avoidance, and not violence, but it is efficent).

          1. Lady Phoenix*

            I would ask a trusted friend or family member to help “create” some the situations. First just staging them so that you can practice procedures, and then maybe more “surprise” moments to work on your reaction time.

            Like I said, do this with someone you know FOR SURE is not going to actually harm you.

        3. Emi.*

          Practice, practice, practice! Take a self-defense class, and then drill regularly with friends and family. It does become ingrained in your muscle memory!

        4. SusanIvanova*

          Ditto on all the self defense suggestions. I used to teach karate, and a couple of my fellow upper-rank students (who really should have known better) thought it would be funny to jump out at me as I came around a blind corner. Popped one in the face and just barely pulled it, and had my leg up to kick the other one. Total reflex.

          Then there were the kids at the skating rink who thought it was funny to stand just behind people practicing figure skating moves. Oops! As I pulled in my arms to do a spin, I just happened to elbow one of them right in the gut.

  11. sacados*

    #4- In cases like this, I’m a really big fan of just taking people at their stated word and refusing to acknowledge any passive-aggressiveness or subtext. (Ex: if someone tells me it’s okay to do X but with a tone meant to indicate that it’s really not okay and I should back down– if they don’t want the thing to happen, they need to say so in as many words, not try and make me read their mind.)

    In this situation, it sounds like Boss never told the OP directly about the gift redirect order. So I would just pretend I had never heard of such a thing and operate exactly the same as last year. If one of the vendors remembers being told to send gifts to Boss and chooses to do so, fine. But otherwise, “Boss hasn’t mentioned to me anything about changing the way we handle gifts, so please feel free to operate as you always have.”

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*


      Also, I gotta say – if I was a vendor who received that call, I would be seriously put off and tempted not to send a gift at all.

        1. JulieBulie*

          Isn’t coal expensive? I think I’d just send the sock.

          And then I’d have one sock fewer to wash.

      1. k.k*

        A call like that would tempt me to not send a gift, and put a damper on my opinion of the comany. It’s not the most serious infraction but it would always be in the back of my mind.

      2. BeautifulVoid*

        This. Aside from everything else Alison and the others have already said, it’s just tacky.

        A couple years ago, my boss was worrying that her holiday gift basket giving had gotten out of hand and was wondering if/how she should scale it back. Stuff like “Firm ABC didn’t really give us a lot of business this year, but maybe it was just a slow year for them and I’d like them to use us in the future” and “Firm XYZ is really small, but I’ve known the owner for 20 years and it would be weird not to send them a basket”, and so on. Imagining her receiving a phone call like this is making me giggle, and unless it was a huge client, I bet said phone call would make her gift basket decision really easy.

      3. Samiratou*

        Yup, I would find it super weird, too. I mean, gifts are to be acknowledged by a thank you after the fact, never anticipated or any sorts of demands made on them. I learned that as a child, ffs. I’m not sure I’d hold it against the LW, assuming we’ve already had a good relationship, but if I could I would probably send some sort of crappy (but flashy) thing to boss and a nice gift card to the LW for having to deal with such a nutjob for a boss.

      4. Just a thought*

        I feel the expectations and flow of this is different in a sales-related role. I used do media placements for an entertainment company, and it was my job to work with ad managers trying to sell space in their networks and materials, and I also was responsible for evaluating and having the final say in the adoption of some very major company tools.

        At the end of the year, they sent gift baskets because it was their way of reminding us that they existed, and the gifts could sometimes get absurd (tickets and travel coverage to a ski lodge, or floor seats to a basketball game) — it was about showing off and playing for favor.

        If they got a call from my boss that things should be directed to him, they’d just go “yup, okay,” tick the box, and do so. Gifts ARE expected. Some of the smaller, more homey agencies I worked with (my favorites) would have been more put off and ended as with the OP’s experience (getting calls), but the others wouldn’t’ve batted an eye.

    2. callietwo*

      When I worked as Admin/Receptionist at a small manufacturing company, the vendors always gave me gifts.. they said I was the one that determined whether their call/visit made it past the front door/switchboard and wanted to make sure I remembered who brought the nice gifts.

      I checked with the boss and they shrugged.. if it was a food gift, I shared but if it was a tangible gift (I had been given nice keychains, mugs, pens, even a wallet with a fun logo), those I was allowed to keep as they were “clearly meant for the hardest working person in the place”, per boss. But I always felt they saw it as a way to keep me happy without having to do anything themselves.

      When one vendor started bringing more personal items such as a silk scarf with a designer logo, and a lovely watch with a bracelet band, I felt obligated to reject those because it weirdly personal and intimate. Damn that scarf was gorgeous though.

    3. CM*

      Agreed, I’m also on the “listen to the words people use” train.
      If Boss complains, OP#4 can just act completely oblivious, like, of course these are treats for sharing, we get them every year and always share them, why would anybody ever think otherwise?

  12. Not A Manager*

    OP #1 – Change the default assumption. Have Fergus text you EVERY DAY that he’s planning to come in. If he doesn’t text, you assume he’s not coming and you plan accordingly. It sounds like you are okay with fairly short notice that he’s not attending (like when his daughter can’t rouse him for his ride to work), so you should be okay if he texts when he IS leaving for work. If you don’t hear by then, assume he’s out sick.

    1. Em Too*

      Yes, or a text whenever he is or may be running late so if he’s not on time and hasn’t texted you know he’s not coming in.

      1. Mary*

        Great idea. It sounds OP1 that you are very caring for Fergus and his awful health issues. This solution would help everyone.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      This is the first thing I thought of, too. He can make it part of his morning routine, and he can do it in just one or two characters.

      OP, since his daughter drives him, ask him to text you every time he gets settled in the car. If the commute takes 40 minutes, just have him text “40”. Or a car emoji. If you don’t see that by close to his usual start time, you know he’ll not be in, or is running very late. It may not remove all uncertainty, but it’ll reduce it quite a bit.

      And if his commute is quite short, ask him to text as soon as he’s awake, before he starts getting ready to leave for work, and ask him how long it usually takes from the time he first gets out bed to the time he leaves the house. It sounds slightly invasive, but you’re trying to find a way to accommodate him when many employers wouldn’t, so it shouldn’t be a difficult ask.

      1. RB*

        It was pointed out later that Fergus has been in the work force for 60 years, so that would make him at least 76. He may not text — some people don’t. But I’m not saying it’s not worth asking him about that.

  13. Matt*

    #2: we have a lady like this in our department – the office kitchen police, she will watch over the dishwasher being loaded “correctly” (and rearrange the dishes in it), as well as the separation of garbage in the correct bins. I don’t think she’s ever contacted someone’s supervisor about this though. I call her the CDO (Chief Dishwasher Officer).

    #3: this would be my worst nightmare. I’m startled extreme easily by being touched even lightly from behind on the shoulder or so (what seems to be generally accepted in society) – my classmates at school had a lot of fun with me as soon as they found out about this as you might imagine. Honestly, someone grabbing me on the neck would probably give me a heart attack someday.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      I will admit that I often do a light one-finger tap on the back of strangers when I need to move behind them or have them move out of the way and they don’t hear me asking (like when they’re by the door on a crowded bus and are wearing headphones, but also other situations). Do you have any suggestions for other things I could do to get their attention when it ‘s very time sensitive and speaking doesn’t get their attention (so I don’t miss my stop)? I’d prefer not to give people heart attacks during my commute.

      1. Future Homesteader*

        I feel like commuting is different. You should be aware of your surroundings on the train, especially if you’re standing near a door/in the exit path. If you’ve tried asking, I think you’re well within your rights to tap someone. Definitely nicer than a shove! And I say this as someone who is extremely jumpy and hates being touched. Because I also spent six years commuting on the MBTA in Boston.

        1. Delphine*

          Seconding this (also an an MBTA commuter)–the circumstances are different when using public transportation. I’m expecting to be jostled and poked and packed like a sardine, so a gentle tap asking me to move (especially when I might have headphones on) isn’t bothersome at all.

          1. Else*

            There’s also a huge difference between touching someone lightly somewhere normal such as on the shoulder or upper arm versus somewhere that is usually much more intimate like the neck. It is common to tap someone on the shoulder or arm to get their attention, it is NOT common to touch someone else’s neck.

            1. Matt*

              Better late than never: as the one who brought this up originally, I agree with the others on this point. It’s a different situation in public transport than in the office. I expect to be pushed, shaken around, whatever on a full subway train, I try to be attentive to my surroundings (that’s why I could never turn into a “smartphone zombie” as so many others), therefore it wouldn’t startle me so much. When I’m in the office, concentrating on my work, this would be entirely different, and I jump if I’m unexpectedly touched ever so lightly.

      2. winter*

        As I’m very touch-averse, I do what I’d find most acceptable if done to me: I go for tapping on the outside of the upper arm – no lingering, as far away from any “weird” body parts as possible and not on the back so they can at least potentially see it coming.
        Of course, people vary and it still might not be optimal for some.

      3. OverboilingTeapot*

        If there’s any way to either jostle somebody’s bag or backpack, or tap them a bit with mine, I usually take that option–they get the message that they need to move and they’ll figure out why/where, but I’m not touching strangers :)

    2. LA*

      Oh lord. I’m just thankful we have a dishwasher and maybe half of my colleagues actually put their dishes into it instead of leaving them in the sink. Another coworker and I are pretty much the only ones who actually bother to run/empty it each week, which would be annoying, but, dude, the dishes get washed, so the bigger issue is solved.

      I mean, it makes sense to be picky about how they’re loaded if it’s your own dishwasher at home, but jeez, just be grateful the dishwasher is there and the dishes are making it into it!

      1. Zombeyonce*

        I don’t think the dishwasher loading problem will ever be solved. I’m pretty sure that marriages have been ruined over the right and wrong way to load the dishwasher.

        1. SusanIvanova*

          With modern dishwashers, anything short of putting glasses in right side up or nesting bowls is “right”.

          1. Zombeyonce*

            Not according to my dad. He had very specific dishwasher loading schematics in his head and he’d get angry if you loaded it “inefficiently” in any way (that only he could see) but wouldn’t just do it himself.

          2. nonegiven*

            I just got a dishwasher and I’ve already blocked the detergent cup. I’ve had to rewash a few things. I looked at the manual but they only show loading place settings. I’ve got pot and pans with lids, big bowls, cat food dishes, ziploc containers. I don’t know what I’m doing.

      2. hugseverycat*

        I’ve been known to rearrange a work dishwasher or two in my time. That being said… I don’t complain about it. I just do it, because I want to and it makes more sense to me to have the dishes loaded straight so you can fit more in them, and then I can feel quietly superior as well. It’s a win – win situation.

        1. JessB*

          This makes me think! I often rearrange the dishwasher at work because dishes are sometimes just balanced on top of an already full load, and won’t be cleaned properly when it’s run.
          BUT I do complain about it. Your comment has got me trying to reframe that, to think of it as helping my co-workers out and doing what I can to help the company. And quietly feel superior.

  14. The Other Katie*

    OP#1, maybe you could ask Fergus to schedule client meetings in the afternoon if possible? That way it should be clear whether he’s coming in or not by the time a meeting arrives, which should at least make that aspect of it all easier to manage.

    1. CM*

      Or is it possible for Fergus not to to have any work that requires pre-scheduling, and have everything he works on be more flexible?

      I guess OP#1 has probably already thought of that, so another option would be to always have a backup available for anything Fergus needs to be scheduled.

      1. #1 OP*

        Unfortunately Fergus does some specialty work with clients. It isn’t usually a big deal to reschedule, but avoid meetings altogether isn’t really feasible. But many folks have the same suggestion to schedule everything well after his scheduled start time, so that we can reschedule if needed without too much hassle.

        Thanks for weighing in! :)

  15. Blue Eagle*

    #3 neck: Here’s an idea from grade school that may work for you. At our Catholic grade school there was one nun that would pinch her students. Kathy Jones told her mother about the nun pinching her and Mrs. Jones told her that the next time she was pinched to let out a blood-curdling scream so that it could be heard down the hall to the office. And Kathy did just that.

    Guess what. That was the last time that nun pinched any of her students that year. If it were me being harassed the way this fellow is harassing the OP, that is what I would do.

    1. Alli525*

      I second this. I live in NYC and therefore only use public transit, so I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what to do if someone grabs my ass. My current plan, if I don’t think a quick elbow jab backward is appropriate in the moment, is to yell loudly “WHY ARE YOU TOUCHING ME? I DON’T KNOW YOU, GET AWAY FROM ME.” I’m done being too embarrassed to speak up.

  16. Nico M*

    #4. Manager is a thief.

    Tell the vendors. They may have a solution.

    Suggest vendors address gifts specifically. Big baskets are “to ALL the team at ….” smaller gifts are “ to Kath and Kim, accounts payable”

    3. Any allies above you?
    What if the gifts were sent to a more senior, nonthieving, person? They then pop down and play Santa. With much “ho ho ho” and “isn’t it nice to share”

    1. MK*

      She is petty, but she is not a thief. She did not take any of the gifts given to the OP for herself; what she did was tell the vendors “next time, you should give them to me instead”. The vendors don’t have to do that (though it’s possible they feel they can’t refuse), but if they comply, the new gifts will be hers to take, though procured by a certain coersion.

      1. Red lines with wine*

        Theft by coercion is still theft. She’s taking what is in almost all cases intended for an entire department or company for herself. I don’t really see how that’s defensible.

        1. Alli525*

          The gifts are for the company, I think. Office gift baskets are a weird grey area, and I personally believe that C-levels and top management should stay far away from those things (because they presumably have enough money to buy their own fancy cheese straws) and let us peons have this one small thing… but this isn’t theft, not even a little.

          1. Red lines with wine*

            “She will just whisk them all away and none of the other employees will get to share in the loot.”

            The gifts are intended for the company. What part of this is not theft? The LW is not the thief – the person taking them is. What am I missing here?

          2. nonegiven*

            Gifts are not for the company or they’d be sent to the CEO or the board. Gifts are for their contacts at the company.

    2. AnonAnonAnonBATMAN*

      It sounds like from the letter that the vendors send them directly to OP, because they work directly with OP. They are likely, then, sending them as a personal thank you to OP. OP is kind and shares the gifts with her coworkers.

  17. Lilianne*

    #4 Jaw-dropping. I don’t know if this the same in other countries, but I know in the country I work in this may make vendors reconsider working with my company. We would need to apologize to all of them and also involve higher management.

    1. H.C.*

      Ditto on possibly letting her boss know, since it hurts team morale, confuses & possibly negatively impact vendor relationships and may even violate the org’s gift-receiving policy (esp since she’s taking the entire holiday package instead of sharing the wealth across the team.)

    2. Interviewer*

      At my company, I would have passed along the notes on the conversation to my higher ups, and I’m 100% sure management would then step in and reprimand the boss for making veiled threats to vendors. It wouldn’t matter if she was the decision maker, if she approved payments, mailed the checks, or none of the above. No one is allowed to abuse our vendors like that.

  18. Foreign Octopus*

    #3 I really feel for you. I went through this experience with someone I used to work with but instead of my neck, he’d grab my waist and really sink his fingers in (I’m nice and comfy). I felt violated and sick every time it happened and he would do it in front of customers. I remember going home and just sobbing (I was a teenager at the time) and my dad was so furious that he stormed up to the store I worked at and confronted the man, who was in his sixties. He said that the next time he touched his daughter, he would beat the living hell out of him. He did not say this in a quiet voice. He said in so loudly that it was all anyone could talk about for the next couple of weeks. When I came into work the next day, everything went silent and everyone was so kind.

    Dad told me the next time anything like that happened that I was to use any kind of method I wanted to get them off me and he’d come bail me out of jail if necessary.

    Doesn’t help in your case (unless you have someone to bail you out) but I just wanted to let you know you’re not alone in having experienced this.

    1. Christmas Carol*

      Sounds like you drew a winner in the Dad lottery. Awful thing to have happen, but isn’t it great to know that Dad always has your back.

      1. Foreign Octopus*

        Thanks Christmas Carol (and Mookie). My dad is pretty great. He’s still learning about some things (i.e. he’s still occasionally making the odd joke that’s a little on the nose and he doesn’t recognise a sexual assault I experienced as a teenager) but, overall, he is pretty fantastic. Had there not been a butcher’s counter between the two, I’m sure that afternoon would have ended differently.

    2. OP #3*

      Holy cow, this is AWFUL. I’m so sorry this man treated you this way. So glad your dad showed up and made a scene.

  19. Rebecca Anne*

    OP #5: Something similar happened to my dad when he was still working. He was a purchasing manager at a manufacturing business and dealt with a lot more companies and vendors than anyone else. He used to get some very nice – but slightly odd – presents at Christmas (a crystal truck with 40 foot trailer comes to mind). It ranged from boxes of chocolates, to whole salmon, to biscuits, to slate clocks with the vendors logos on them.

    Anyway, his boss, the MD, got a bit miffed at this and decided that it was a morale issue for the factory floor. The actual factory floor didn’t have an issue with it because if it was edible, Dad brought it into the main break room and opened it up for people to take what they wanted. Again, you can only eat so many sweet things before you get tired of them.

    But, oh well, now every gift received went into a Prize Pool, and a raffle was done on the last day of the working year (usually about 1pm on Christmas Eve). Some of the companies that dad dealt with found out what was happening and started adding his name to the gifts (see the crystal truck, with dad’s name written along the bottom of the 40ft container replica). But the MD didn’t budge and these went into the prize draw as well – which made the people winning the gifts feel very odd. It’s one thing to win a generic tin of biscuits. It’s another to win a thing with other people’s names on them.

    Eventually, when they learned that he wasn’t getting the gifts – which came from the MDs boastful emails rather than from my dad – they decided not to send the gifts to the factory any more. Instead they either didn’t send anything or sent it in secret to dad’s house. All in all, it was very odd all around. Even the floor staff found it very odd.

    I do remember that first Christmas, the MD totally managed to score the Waterford Crystal mantelpiece clock that he’d had his eye on. Not dodgy at all…

    1. hbc*

      I’ve got to say, I think that’s very different (unless the MD actually rigged the raffle.) Deciding that one person–especially the one who makes decisions about vendors–shouldn’t get extra benefit from his position is pretty common and understandable. Your dad might be a stand-up guy, but it can absolutely look like a kickback or bribery. For even the most well-meaning person, it’s easy to slide into “Well, their prices are a little higher, but they’re really nice to work with.”

      We raffle off stuff like that at our job, and there could very well be a firing involved if we found out that a purchaser was hiding gifts by routing them to their house.

      1. Ainomiaka*

        This is a good point. I’ve worked at places where ethics policies would require all gifts be shared or returned. The vendors would be putting me at risk of firing or at least discipline in the above example. Which is why the manager in the letter seems so weird. Asking it to be sent to the team-fine. Asking it to be sent to her? Looks like she’s asking for a bribe.

      2. Rebecca Anne*

        Pretty much the whole staff did think that the MD rigged the raffle.

        The vendors were more miffed about the gifts being redirected than dad was.

        I can see how it could be a bit sketchy but … Yeah. Course, this was back in the ’80’s and ’90’s. I’ve found looking back that the rules were a lot leaner back then than now.

        1. Ainomiaka*

          Oh I wasn’t trying to imply anything about your dad. We just had to do a lot of “appearance of impartiality ” rules. Though, frankly, the more we get rid of gifting as a part of business culture the better I personally think it would be for everyone.

    2. Specialk9*

      I would have to return all of those gifts. Our ethics department is really clear, as have been all my companies. I’m not sure this story is situated in your head quite right because it’s your dad, but it sounds like he was pretty far over the line. We have fired 2 VPs that I know of for taking gifts from vendors like this.

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

      I just really want to see the crystal truck. Sounds like a masterpiece of weird decorative stuff.

  20. Candi*

    3: your coworker is being a jerk, even if he doesn’t realize it. It is perfectly okay to shut him down.

    You could be doing him a favor. My reaction would be A) shriek, B) take a swing at him while trying to turn around, C) A and B. This would be reflexive and NOT good for a continuing professional relationship. (There’s a long, bad story involved, but this is about you.)

    4) to quote a past Alison line, your boss is a loon. Another line: your boss sucks.

    There’s past letters and comments where bad bosses were taking all the gifts the givers meant for the office and parceling them out as favors or Christmas gifts among favorites, friends, and family. There’s even a couple of swiping party platters for their personal parties.

    In any case, if vendors call again, it would be perfectly reasonable and a service to both their company and yours to make the organizational hierarchy clear. So much confusion can take place otherwise. }:)

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      A guy I used to work with thought it was hysterical to sneak up on women at the copier or coffee pot – always women, never men, funny how that works – and stand behind them, just inches away. The woman would back up and a personal body part of hers would make contact with a PBP of his, and he thought it was the greatest thing ever. Asking him to stop, complaining to management, yelling at him – none of it worked.He wasn’t touching anyone with his hands, right? Nothing to complain about.

      One of my teammates finally had enough. He sidled up behind her, and she took one very solid, heavy stomp, er, step backward on his foot. While wearing high heels. I think she broke one of the smaller bones in his foot, and he was in a cast for several weeks. He complained to management, and she told them, ‘How was I supposed to know he was behind me? He wasn’t touching me or anything…’

        1. Lady Phoenix*

          Which is best for foot stomping? Stiletto or wedge heel?

          I would think something big (like a platform shoe or hedge heel) would bring hella pain from the weight, while the stiletto is good at small bones and pressure points

      1. OverboilingTeapot*

        I’ve broken a bone in my foot, and it’s very painful. Your teammate is my hero. But I can’t believe your management didn’t do anything.

  21. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

    Thanks for that. Reminded me I didn’t get our vendor gifts completely in motion yet, so I did that just now. Thumbs up.

    Here’s my *appalling* story that I remain APPALLED by to this day and has forever colored my impression of the person involved. I have told the story 100 times within my industry.

    We send gifts to key customer service reps who work our account at key vendors. Because of the nature of our business, our team works with the reps daily and these reps are make or break for our customer’s orders being printed and delivered properly.

    One year (10+ years ago and I still hold a grudge), we did a really elaborate food basket. We assembled them ourselves – huge galvanized tin (huge) filled with Trader Joe’s. Our thinking was (besides how hard can it be — answer, harder than you think), our CS rep in each supplier could get to be a hero and share with the other people in her company (like the *factory* workers!) who help make us successful. This mostly worked except…..

    One major vendor, I found out very quickly through back channels, the owner of the company saw the tin and immediately confiscated it for herself. Now lemeee tell you. First, the company has close to 500 employees. Second, we do close to a million dollars a year with this vendor and I have never spoken to the owner of the company ONE time, so this is not mom and pop where mom thought “oh, maybe they meant to put my name on the card” or “well I have such a close personal relationship with this account, it makes total sense I would steal this basket meant for the people who do the work, of course”

    And then! She had the nerve to write a thank you email to me! The thieving woman! I just didn’t reply. All of the things I wanted to say wouldn’t have been good for business.

    Still steaming. Will probably rant about this on my death bed. :-)

    1. Susanne*

      Your thinking was spot-on – please share with the many people behind the scenes that make the work happen. Did you put on a note to that effect? Many vendor baskets we receive have a note directing us to share with the whole team (recognizing that the vendor may not know everyone on our team).

    2. Specialk9*

      I mean, it’s tacky and a bit greedy, but “appalling” is a bit pearl-clutchy. It actually IS her company, and the whole point of a gift from a vendor is to keep relations good, so objective achieved (with a bit of side-eye). Your control, as with all gifts, ends with releasing it to the recipient.

      1. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

        Can’t agree. We’re the customer. We sent a gift that took us a decent amount of money and way too much time and effort. That gift was for the maybe $20 an hour person who busts her butt for us daily.

        Now we send $50 Visa Gift cards so it is easy for the rep to just slip in her purse before 3 homes 3 Mercedes comes and takes it from her.

  22. Susie Cruisie*

    OP4 I guess I thought it was customary for all food gifts to be shared by all staff, put out in a common area type of thing. After all, many people contribute toward the good relationship with vendors that bring in those gifts. I say this because your post says you take some things home with you. While the vendor addresses them to you, it’s because you are the point of contact, not because you are the intended sole recipient. If it was meant for you specifically it would take on a whole ethics issue of if your business can be bought with gifts (or at least that’s the impression it gives). Everywhere I have worked employees look forward to the holiday season when those gifts start rolling in. Sometime we wait until we have a few built up and then open them all for an impromptu buffet. I know with this arrangement, there would be heck to pay if someone from management tried to take the gifts for themselves. And then any non-food gifts went into an end of year raffle. Just a suggestion.

    1. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

      IMO, there’s not a one size fits all policy and at Wakeen’s, I’d never ask people who received individual gifts from vendors to turn them in for raffle. Were the gifts of substantial value, that might merit some thought, but generally, the people who receive vendor gifts are because they have established a relationship with that vendor and done work that both the vendor and we benefited from.

      In another company, maybe the recipient is just the name on the mailing list, and I can see the argument there.

      1. Susie Cruisie*

        I understand your premise at Wakeen’s, and I see your point. My experience, however, has been that truly personal gifts, the result of an actual personal/professional relationship, those gifts are given outside the winter holiday season. Even so, those are usually in the form of branded coffee mugs, baseball caps, notepads, etc. Not anything anyone really, REALLY wants anyway. When I was a child, my father (who was the head of purchasing) received a big console TV from a vendor, which was actually delivered right to our home. In retrospect, this was a questionable gift and now that I work in HR, I would expect my employee to divulge such a gift and expect to either decline it or turn it over. It looks like bribery and questionable ethics. And would create an outrage among non-vendor facing employees, who don’t have the opportunity to have something sent specifically to them.

        1. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

          HA, yeah, nobody is getting TVs.

          Maintaining our vendors is often stressful and time consuming, and frequently a daily or weekly job. It’s not just an initial purchasing decision. If Wilma has steered our stuff through 17 Vendor X crisises in year and Vendor X sends her a set of glasses at the holidays, Wilma is more than welcome to accept the gift.

          Our people do a pretty good job. If Vendor X addressed the package to Betty by mistake, Betty would give the box to Wilma, “good lord woman you earned this”.

          One way we make sure “everybody is included”, btw, is we do not allow exclusive vendor luncheons on site. They buy for everybody or they buy for nobody, which means sometimes nobody but that’s a rule.

          1. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

            p.s. the business benefit to Wakeen’s is that Wilma HATING Vendor X isn’t good for us. ;)

    2. a Gen X manager*

      TOTALLY agree, Susie Cruisie. I was surprised how OP4 feels entitled to the gifts personally (the boss is blatantly ridiculous and petty though). OP has the relationship solely because of the employer’s (not boss) business. OP also seems to completely ignore the fact that other people are in fact contributing to that client/vendor relationships – just behind the scenes (and are often the thankless jobs that go unrecognized like accounting and HR). If the gifts were only for OP it would be personal in nature and sent to OP’s house.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I don’t think she does feel entitled to the gifts personally, though. She immediately shares the contents with her co-workers, which is the right thing to do in my opinion. The boss is getting involved out of some weird sense of workplace dominance.

      2. Kalamet*

        I didn’t read entitlement in OP’s letter – it seemed like she was asking how to handle her vendor relationships after her manager demanded the gift baskets. And it sounds like she *was* sharing the gifts with the staff.

        These are gifts, so I feel like the vendor should send them to whoever they want (assuming it doesn’t violate the company gift policy, as OP says). All of that aside, the manager’s actions could do real harm to the relationship with the vendor and the reputation of the company. It’s a weird thing to do.

      3. Stone Cold Bitch*

        Well OP4 opens up the baskets and tells coworkers to pick what they want, that doesn’t read as entitlement to me.

        I’ve gotten a few gifts from suppliers over the years (mostly edible things like sweets) and usually we just put the containers in the lunch room or open plan office for anyone to enjoy.
        We encourage people to take stuff home because after a day or two things just tend to sit there and go dry.

        1. KC without the sunshine band*

          Yea, anything immediately edible goes in the break rooms. We always encourage people to take it home too. If one of the purchasers gets a jacket or some other such thing, it’s up to them if they want to keep it or give it away to another employee, no pressure.

          The only oddball gift we get is a box of frozen meats from one supplier. We part it out into family packs for four people and draw names. It’s usually enough for 4 employees (out of 23). Sometimes a “winner” will invite others over for dinner. It’s never been seen as a bad thing here to my knowledge.

    3. Antilles*

      Everywhere I’ve ever worked, the sharable gifts like a fruit basket or box of chocolates are usually left out in a common area (e.g., break room), though the actual recipient usually grabs their favorites as the open the box before setting it out.
      Non-food gifts which can’t be split are entirely up to the recipient – if it’s something you want/can use, then you keep it, no questions asked, no judgment. But if it’s something you don’t want, then you can either regift to someone in the company or send an office/department wide email “X is up for grabs” and figure it out from there.

    4. Natalie*

      While the vendor addresses them to you, it’s because you are the point of contact, not because you are the intended sole recipient.

      This really, really depends. At my last office we got a lot of holiday gifts, and certainly some of them were probably meant to be shared in the office (popcorn tins and such). But others were clearly meant for the individual they were addressed to – three bottles of wine or a set of tickets addressed to three individuals among the 10 that work in the office are pretty clearly directed to those specific people.

      And for what it’s worth, with the food towers and such not we had no problem with people taking stuff home. That may have been because we were a small office and always got way more food that we could reasonably eat at work.

      1. Anon for This*

        That’s the way it is in my organization. We have a few staff members who work extensively with vendor’s and when something shows up from that vendor to that staff member, it’s typically intended for the staff member. Whether that is something edible or non-edible. Most edible things do get shared within a department or organization wide, but not everything does. I guess I’ve never cared if a co-worker gets a gift from a vendor and they chose not to share.

    5. Samiratou*

      I have one vendor I work with who sends gifts. They used to be of the tchotchke variety, so no big deal, but they’ve stepped up their game. The last couple years they’ve been addressed to my boss (different bosses, we re-org’d). One year it was one of those big M&M dispensers with a 10lb bag of M&Ms. Then-boss kept that on the table in her office for sharing (she moved to a different position. I don’t actually know what happened to the dispenser). Last year it was a gumball-style machine on a pedestal. That was refilled periodically but has sat empty for awhile. I’m a bit nervous about what they might send this year. We’re running out of space…

      We don’t get enough stuff from vendors to be worth a raffle, so unless they’re obvious things to share, people just keep the tchotchkes they get, or toss them on the mail room table for someone else to grab if it’s not something you can use (I think the only thing I got that I ever kept was a portable charger.).

  23. Miss Elaine e*

    I just wanted to commend the OP of #1 for the compassion shown to Fergus. No one involved in the situation has it easy, yet the OP and the company are hel
    Fergus to survive and have something to do outside of cancer treatments. Thanks for not kicking him to the curb!

    1. nep*

      Yes, OP1. You are to be commended for your compassion and decency. (And I hope you do win the lottery — a million for yourself and a million for Fergus.)

      1. #1 OP*

        Thanks, all! I am glad that my organization has given me the free reign to keep him on board through all this. I have worked for many places where policy was king and he would have been kicked to the curb long ago. If any of you win the lottery, I give Alison permission to release my email address to you so you can get in touch with me. ;)

  24. Knitting Cat Lady*

    #4: I started out thinking: ‘Who would be petty enough to do something like that?!

    Then I remembered my uncle’s second wife. Who is way more than petty enough to do something like that!

    My uncle used to own an advertising and PR agency. He founded it with his first wife, my dad’s late sister. Second wife worked there on and off. My uncle is retired by now and has sold the agency. My mum still works there.

    Second wife fucked up a major customer event. She needed all hands on deck to fix things. By the time she was freezing out my mum, because my mum refused to take her shit. So she categorically refused to ask my mum for help. So she wanted the intern to help. Only intern was out sick. With a doctor’s note! So she had my uncle call her to demand she come in anyway.

    Intern’s response: ‘I’m puking and shitting more or less constantly. I’m SICK.’

    Then she switched off her mobile.

    Another time second wife demanded that intern come to work instead of SITTING HER EXAMS!

    And come to think of it, she DID constantly take vendor gifts for herself!

  25. Erin*

    #4.- I might suggest to vendors that they send the basket to the office, and not you specifically. Then they’re likely to go out in the break room for all. Probably better than directly in your boss’s fridge!

    1. Ruthie*

      I intellectually understand that it’s common for a decision maker in an office to receive a gift and for them to be the sole person to benefit from it, but as someone who has only worked in government and nonprofits where this would be considered completely inappropriate or unethical, I just can’t wrap my head around it. Gifts we get for the work we do go to everyone. Period. A good friend of mine has a dad whose an executive for a large, household name brand. He was showing me pictures of the massive suite the conference hotel upgraded him to since he gets final say over location. I guess I’m a bleeding heart, but I was completely horrified to think that the wealthiest person on the team gets a free suite.

      1. a Gen X manager*

        YES! Once you have a “value” or “dollar figure” limit for allowable gifts it is a very slippery slope. All vendor gifts should be communal or not accepted.

      2. Susanne*

        Well, you can’t share an upgrade to a hotel suite the way you can share a basket of fruits, nuts, and chocolates. I don’t see what’s wrong about a hotel upgrading a frequent visitor. Same principle as frequent flyers, no? Is that really a “gift”? It’s not a gift when United gives me choice seating.

        1. SignalLost*

          Whether it’s wrong or not, in some industries, that is perceived as a kickback – a benefit to the employee to ensure that employees of XCorp continue to stay at AwesomeSuites. In other words, a bribe, violating the RICO Act, if I recall the last mandatory training I did on it in 2007 correctly. Flyer miles are a bit of a different issue, and at least some places, using your own flyer miles for an upgrade is fine but being invited by the airline to sit in a different class of seat is not.

          1. Bored IT Guy*

            When I worked in hotels, our group contracts usually included something that for every X number of room nights booked as part of the group, we’d give them a free room, or a free upgrade to a suite at the “regular room” price. The group could assign the rooms however they wanted – sometimes the “free” suite went to the meeting planner who had put the whole event together, sometimes to the highest ranking executive of the company, sometimes to the top sales person, etc.

            1. SignalLost*

              Yup, I worked at a place that did guided international tours where for every ten people we signed up, the org got a flight/room/meals for one. It’s actually funny to me how much variance there is across companies on what’s allowed and what’s negotiated and what’s negotiable.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        To me, these sort of holiday gifts would so obviously be going either to the front-facing person with whom someone interacts, or generically to the office and all the support staff who you assume make this relationship run, even if you don’t personally know the name of whoever keeps the invoices straight.

        Initiated by the customer/client, a gift addressed to “Wakeen’s boss” would seem like a weird attempt to smarm favor, like the job applicant who sends a plant. Initiated by the boss who has decided the tubs of caramel corn will solve the catering for her home holiday party, it’s just bizarre.

      4. Specialk9*

        I mentioned this up thread, but one of my companies fired 2 VPs for murky vendor kickbacks like this.

    2. Samiratou*

      This would depend on the size of the office. I work at a large corporation. Stuff has to be sent to a person or they won’t get delivered. Vendors work with particular teams or projects so it’s reasonable to send them to the person they spend the most time with, or they’re manager, if they know who that person is. But it all depends, really.

      Most people get that stuff like that things that can be shared should be shared, but LW’s boss sounds like her own brand of crazy, so whaddyagonnado?

  26. zaracat*

    #3 – That is weird and inappropriate and I’d be shutting it down damned quick. “I don’t like being touched like that, and I need you to stop”. No further explanation is necessary. And I wouldn’t be saying it more than a couple of times before escalating it to a formal complaint of harassment if he didn’t stop (it would definitely be considered harassment under those circumstances in my workplace).

    OP 3 mentions that this is a fairly recent thing. That tends to make it a little easier to shut down. This sort of behaviour may be particularly awkward to speak up about if it started fairly innocuously and has gradually escalated, or you were okay with it for a while and now you aren’t, because you may face pushback that “you were always ok with it before”. Doesn’t matter. Barring a specific work-related need for physical contact, you get to decide who touches you and under what circumstances, and you get to change your mind any time.

  27. AMY LOO*

    OP #4 I think maybe you are weirdly possessive of the gift baskets yourself. You refer to them as yours that you are so kind to share before taking home, but I have never worked in an office where the recipient actually thought they were for them, personally. These should be considered as for the office. Maybe your boss is actually trying to share more equitably. I don’t think it is fair of you to predict she is going to take them all home, or assume her motives. Maybe she thinks you are the one who is weirdly petty, and is trying to correct that. Heck, maybe even others in the office have complained to her about your hoarding and her solution was to say, all gifts should be sent to the boss because she can then make them office property.

    1. Kalamet*

      I don’t know. Maybe OP is hogging the gift baskets, but maybe this is standard in her office / industry / role. We don’t really have enough context, and it seems like a stretch to say that the manager is acting reasonably. I’m surprised to see so many people going after OP on this one, but maybe I missed something?

      If OP’s manager was concerned about gift basket etiquette, she could have spoken to her directly about it. Instead she emailed vendors (that she’d never contacted before!) and demanded all of the gift baskets. That seems more entitled than anything OP has done, from the information we have.

      1. Kalamet*

        I just did a reread, and this stuck out to me: ” She apparently told them that she pays the bills and not me so she deserves the gift.”

        The manager’s motives seem pretty clear to me.

    2. Akcipitrokulo*

      This is second year – the Boss didn’t share last time, so it’s reasonable to assume won’t this time either!

    3. Not So Super-visor*

      I was thinking the same thing. Is there any possibility that the boss is asking that the gift baskets be redirected because she is getting complaints from other employees about the goods being cherry-picked over before you share?
      As an example, I once worked for a small manufacturing company. Every year, we had a vendor who sent a few specialty cheesecakes from a local bakery. They were typically sent to the lead in the department that managed the vendor contracts, but they were always shared. One holiday season, everyone was looking forward to this delivery. People kept asking about them but they never showed. It turned out that there was a new lead in that department, and she had just taken the cakes home with her. People were in an uproar, but she assumed that it was ok since they were addressed to her. From then on, all gifts were sent to the President who then distributed them to various departments or would create a company raffle for the items if wasn’t something (like food) that could be split up.

      1. a1*

        She DOES share them. Why do so many people keep missing this part of the letter?

        When I get the baskets I tend to open them up and ask fellow coworkers to take what they want.

        Not only does she share, it sounds like others get first dibs.

        1. Anon for This*

          She does what I think is very normal.

          Where I work edible gift baskets often stay and are shared within a department. Or at the very least they are not put in the communal kitchen until the people in the department have had an opportunity to take what they want first. I know I don’t have a problem with a group that has worked with a lot of vendors keeping goodies that are sent to them. I’m not entitled to this sort of thing just because we are employed by the same organization.

        2. oranges & lemons*

          Yeah, I don’t see why so many people are being uncharitable to this letter-writer. The boss sounds entirely selfish and unreasonable based on the description–if she really thought the letter-writer should distribute the contents of the baskets differently, she should just talk to her about it, not go behind her back to grab them for herself. The letter-writer is the one who’s concerned about her co-workers’ morale.

        3. Gingerblue*

          I do not understand these responses at all. So many lately seem determined to snarl at the OP no matter how much they have to contort the letter to find something to complain about. It’s the main reason I would never write in for advice.

  28. LoiraSafada*

    Grabbing someone by the back of the neck is 100% a power move, and if it were me, dude would be pulling back a stump next time. That is incredibly out of line.

      1. DArcy*

        If someone grabbed me that way at work, I’d for sure deck them, call the police, and press charges for assault.

  29. nep*

    #3 — Alison’s exactly right, of course. You’ve got to shut it down now — be direct. It’s wildly inappropriate to say the least. For me, any touching in the workplace is inappropriate. We had a director who liked to grab the shoulders; he was a shitty director overall and I think it was his very poor shot at showing ‘see I’m chummy with my staff and they love me.’

    1. Mrs. Fenris*

      I had a coworker who liked to walk up behind people and massage their shoulders for a second. Yes, he was male and I only saw him do it to women. It was so weird that I wondered if he was just going for “chummy.” Probably not, though, because I was truly a little afraid of this guy. (He did get fired, but not for that reason-he was a horrible mix of incompetence and arrogance and all of his peers basically approached management together. The day he got fired was one of the happiest days ever at that company.)

      1. blackcat*

        The pictures of George W Bush doing this to Angela Merkel (and her “WTF?!” response) capture this sort of interaction so perfectly.

  30. I totally don't know anything about this*

    Re #1: There are some tech solutions that may work depending on available tech and comfort level. One of them is to use geofencing and rule that if Fergus is inside the fence at a certain time then send a text that he won’t be in.

    Another is have an app that’ll send a text at a certain time of day unless it has been cancelled for that day.

    1. Automate it!*

      This really sounds like the best solution if he has a smart phone — maybe IT could even help set it up, since it would be for work. If he does not have a smartphone, is it viable for the company to get him one?

      This really strikes me as a case where some sort of automation is the answer. If tech is really not an option, what about having him confirm that he is coming in by 1pm, or whenever else makes sense to know for sure?

  31. Sandra Stout*

    Here’s my thought: the first time someone does something like grab your neck, say something. The FIRST TIME. “Please don’t do that1” or “Ow! That hurts!” or whatever. Once a pattern is established, it is harder to break.

    1. nep*

      Yes. But stick with the direct ‘don’t do that’.
      ‘Ow that hurts’ not quite direct enough, and almost sounds like the grabee thinks she needs to give an excuse for not wanting this ridiculous and offensive thing to happen. (And grabber might think OK to do it more gently the next time.)

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Two things:
      First, speaking up the first time, in the moment, is something that people can require time to train themselves into. Both because of conditioning that it’s their role to smooth, and because of experience (as cited upthread) where speaking up informed the neck-grabber that they’d found a way to get a reaction, and it made things worse.

      Second, sometimes people do weird things that are actually one-offs. Deciding not to burn social capital by making things awkward right from the start is a normal human response.

      We talk a lot about that instinct to smooth the social waters, but it’s actually a critical thing to baseline social functioning in large groups–if everyone is always instantly sharing what they didn’t like, it’s a lot harder to get anything done. When to speak up and when to let it go are bits of fine social calibration with a lot of variables, not an easy “always be immediately sharing” call.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yep. It’s very very common for someone to, say, make a joke that falls flat and they internally go “oh crap that sounded much less offensive in my head, I’m never doing THAT again” and everyone just moves on an it never occurs. Or like that letter from a while back from the person who was mortified because she accidentally hugged her boss (IIRC she thought he was inviting a hug but he was in fact holding the door open). Ignoring the first incidence of weirdness in case it’s a fluke/misunderstanding is social lubrication, and it’s sensible to do in many situations where you want to wait and see if the issue is really an issue.

    3. BadPlanning*

      Sometimes you’re so surprised that the moment passes and then it’s awkward.

      I had a coworker who once did the “guide me with a hand on the back” while a group of us went out to lunch. It was a brief touch and by the time I thought, “Ugh don’t do that” it seemed too late. I did resolve to say something if it happened again — as I’d be over the initial surprise. Lucky for me, it seemed like a one off (and I didn’t really walk around with him generally).

    4. Natalie*

      That’s all well and good, but once the first time has passed it’s not very helpful as far as advice goes. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like a lot of people already struggle plenty with speaking up after they’ve already allowed something (actively or passively). They don’t need more reinforcement of the idea that the first time something happens is the only effective time to shut it down.

  32. SamKD*

    OP #3 “grabbing me firmly by the back of the neck” is an act of power/dominance. Period. Regardless of the ages or genders of the people involved.

  33. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP3 – you are not over-reacting, you are not being unreasonable and he is being completely out of order and creepy. You will be absolutely in the right in shutting this down very firmly.

  34. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP1 – is there some way of making it the other way around? Like an email that is sent unless he deliberately cancels it?

  35. Artemesia*

    The boss who takes all the holiday swag is just one of those bosses that has people looking for a new job. Why are the guys who make the most, the least generous? At my husband’s firm, the gift boxes were put out in the break room and everyone could choose and take home some of the pieces; everyone was good about taking their share and it was always fun to have him arrive home with a box of nuts or a little box of chocolates or whatever from the gift basket. There were some clients who gave the partners gifts in particular, but those were sent to their homes. For years we got a honey baked ham from one client. It costs nothing to share the goodies with the staff and creates such good will.

    1. DDJ*

      Our VP gets all of the gifts at the holidays and the first thing he does is come into the work area and say “Treats from vendors, everyone get in here and take some of this.” Although it’s ALWAYS food. So that makes it pretty easy. And then if there’s a really nice basket or something, we talk it over and find out if multiple people want it after it’s empty, or if no one wants it. I’ve ended up with some really nice baskets that way!

  36. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

    OP4: If I were a vendor and I got a weird call like that, it would have the potential to damage the relationship. I likely wouldn’t send gifts again. This might be worth escalating above your manager, especially if anyone who calls you seems upset by it. Not because of no gifts, but if you have a vendor cutting you a good deal that could end up being put in jeopardy because you manager is straight up kookie dooks.

    To those saying OP4 sounds entitled, everywhere I have worked, the person who manages the relationships that resulted in awesome gifts always got first “dibs” on the goodies in the baskets then shared the rest. Based on what she wrote, that sounds like exactly what is happening. She takes what she likes then shares the rest. I see nothing wrong with that. Can we not jump on her for getting a small reward from the people she directly manages relationships with when she is in fact sharing the goodies?

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      This. Who gets the caramel corn once it arrives is a minor point compared to how vendors will react to calls saying “Hi, I’m Wakeen’s boss. Yeah, the guy who pays all your invoices. Stop giving him the caramel corn, and send it to me instead.”

    2. RB*

      People were actually criticizing the letter writer? That’s nuts. Maybe they don’t know how this sort of situation usually works. The person who is the middleman between the company and the vendor is the one doing all the work and usually managing the relationship. They get the basket. And she is already doing everything correctly by sharing it.

  37. Green T*

    OP3. I’m sometimes uncomfortable telling people to stop behavior that is bothering me. If you are uncomfortable saying something to him, practice saying it when no one is around. I do this at my desk when no one is around or sometimes in the bathroom stall. Makes it easier for me to do it when the moment arises.

    1. BadPlanning*

      Yes, I have done this. It really helped and I was able to say something really awkward (that needed to be said). It was hard for me to say outloud to myself so I knew I really needed to practice it.

  38. rosiebyanyothername*

    ohhhh, #3 made me just physically squirm. Touchiness bothers me in general, but there seems to be an extra element of creepiness there.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Probably because the neck is such a vulnerable/delicate area. Like PCBH was saying above, it’s a power move.

  39. Stellaaaaa*

    OP1: I understand that you don’t want to inconvenience Fergus or Jane, but keep in mind that they are inconveniencing you and your whole staff, even though it is not their fault. If Jane is listed as Fergus’ emergency contact, I think it is acceptable for you to call her and check in if Fergus doesn’t show up. That is exactly what emergency contacts are for. I also agree with other commenters about having a cut-off time after which you redirect Fergus’ work to other employees.

    Jane may feel that her dad’s post-retirement job is inessential and doesn’t need to be treated as a legit job. I’ve seen that attitude in family and friend groups when a retired person decides to, say, work in a bookstore two days a week. That might be something to filter into your approach when you talk to Jane.

  40. Tafadhali*

    OP3: Neck-touching is a HUGE no-no for me — I hate it when my *dad* does it, and he is really the only person I give a pass to on that. When other men have touched my neck unexpectedly I have more than once instinctually put my hands up and swiveled around so quickly that I hit them in the face (the Angela Merkel, as I think of it), which would make me very embarrassed in a work setting but which I feel is honestly a natural response to that kind of uncomfortable touching.

      1. Lady Phoenix*

        Funny you mentioned it. Steve tried to use it as an excuse to grab someone’s neck. *facepalm*

    1. Emi.*

      I do the head down, shoulders up, elbows out reflex, or if there’s a hand on the front of my neck I have the fastest chin-tuck in my jiujitsu class. I think it’s a good way to return the awkward to sender–it’s like the “Why would you do that?” of body language.

  41. Boredatwork*

    OP #3 – This is 100% not okay. Your coworker’s should never touch you. I would have had a strong and vitriolic reaction my now, something that screams do not touch me. Recoiling in disgust usually works. Obviously, Allison’s suggestions are great but if he doesn’t respond to reason, try recoiling and giving him one of those dude really looks.

    I had a very senior male manager think it was funny to sneak up behind people and do something similar. The first time he did it to me, I literally screamed and told him sternly not to frighten me ever again. He apologized later and it never happened again. Men typically don’t enjoy the site of a woman looking repulsed by their touch.

  42. BadPlanning*

    OP #3 — I had a coworker who started shaking the back of my chair as a greeting. Like grab the back rest and shake it around. This first time, I was so surprised, I didn’t say anything. After that, I said, “Hey Coworker, please don’t do that. I really don’t like it.” (I can’t remember if I had to say it once or twice).

    Fortunately, while said coworker was a little socially awkward, he wasn’t a jerk and stopped doing it.

  43. Stop That Goat*

    #3 I don’t think you are being unreasonable at all but ultimately, even if you were being unreasonable, awkward or weird, it doesn’t matter. It’s your body and you have ultimate rule over it.

  44. stitchinthyme*

    At no job that I’ve ever had in more than 20 years is it remotely okay to ever touch your coworkers in any way except for handshakes or if someone is having a medical emergency and needs to be helped. *Occasionally* I’ve hugged a coworker on their (or my) last day at a job, but that’s reserved only for ones I’m especially close to. Aside from that, you just Don’t Do It. I mean, accidental hand brushes (like if you’re both reaching for the same thing) happen sometimes, but neck grabbing? Nope, never appropriate.

  45. DiscoTechie*

    Gift Basket fun…we get a variety of gift baskets from suppliers, etc. They without hesitation go to the break room where the whole staff feasts upon them, they usually last a day or two. We got a normal looking basket with a tag and started in on it, nobody thought anything of it till someone came in and read the tag, “Thanks for your business this year, Paul! Happy Holidays.” We all realize there is not one Paul that works for our company of 130 people in a few different offices. By this time the basket has been thoroughly consumed and there’s not putting it back together. The perils of working in an office park I guess.

    1. BadPlanning*

      I have an amusing picture in my mind of everyone munching away and someone asking in muffled full of cookies tone, “Wait, who’s Paul?” and everyone pausing mid-bite.

  46. Annie Mouse*

    I’m one of those people who doesn’t mind hugs/shoulder squeezes etc at work (but don’t expect everyone to be the same about it obviously), in fact there are times that they are greatly appreciated, from both those at the same level as me and those slightly higher up. Or from random people in the same line of work (there are some situations where a hug followed by a cup of tea is the best way to deal with the immediate aftermath).
    But the idea of someone putting their hands on my neck like in #3 makes me shudder, as someone said it’s far too much of a power play. I’m quite comfortable with the shrugging it off quite violently and giving a hard stare (à la Paddington) which seems to work most of the time, far more than sticking up for myself in other ways.

    1. Annie Mouse*

      I meant to say in there, my job is one where being in situations and positions with colleagues that would otherwise be awkward is relatively common, I’ve been physically climbed over and squeezed past many a time by colleagues, so that might colour how I feel about hugs and things.
      There’s also a sort of expectation during training that we will get ‘hands on’ with each other to varying extents as that is the only way to practice certain things like patient assessment and the use of certain bits of equipment. It’s not impossible to learn it without practicing on each other but there’s a massive difference in confidence in exams between those who have and those who haven’t.

  47. NewBoss2016*

    LW3, I feel for you, and you need to shut this guy down. I view the neck grab as so possessive and demeaning. I’ve run into this same thing twice and it really ticked me off. I stopped by my mom’s office to take her to lunch, and her boss (who makes Michael Scott look like a saint) put both hands on my neck and did the ol’ neck shake how ya doin routine. I shrugged him away so fast, and jumped up. Little did he know I’d just been in a freak accident and was finally healing. My neck hurt for MONTHS after that crap. I was livid.
    Now my husband all the sudden started doing this one handed neck grab while we are walking around shopping. I’m thinking OMG just pee on my leg and mark your territory already because it looks like you are marching your property around the store. I made him stop :)

    1. Tiny Soprano*

      I even get cranky when I see a dude doing this on the street. Go you for shutting that crap down!

  48. LiveAndLetDie*

    OP4, I am stunned that she would call the vendors and make demands about gifts. It is the height of rudeness to EXPECT gifts, let alone make demands about them! Goodness.

  49. Librariana*

    About #3:


    According to this article, there have been cases where grabbing a neck can be prosecuted as forcible touching, but only “without the express consent or acquiescence of the person being touched.” So if you let them do it, it is not forcible in a legal sense. You probably don’t want to escalate it that much, but what he is doing is not just creepy, it could be prosecuted as a crime under certain circumstances.

  50. JD*

    The dishes thing is a bit nit picky but this is not your home. You should be putting the dishes away regardless of if you intend to use them the next day. It wouldn’t annoy me but this isn’t your own home to do as you see fit.

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      “This is not your home” sums it up really well. OP kept noting that s/he didn’t think she was being unreasonable, but the fact is that she was leaving dishes out that could and likely should have been put away. While of course a plate on the counter is not the end of the world, and I agree that the coworker has a case of Montessori run amuck, always putting the dishes away and not cluttering the shared counter is the more thoughtful action, and would solve the whole thing without having to rationalize anything.

      There are things that aren’t unreasonable that still aren’t the most thoughtful and considerate choice in shared spaces, and it often isn’t your opinion that matters about what is the line for reasonable behavior.

      See also: various gym locker room behavior, including (but not limited to): sitting naked on the benches (I don’t care where you sit naked in your own bedroom), wandering about naked for hours on end while taking loud phone calls and contemplating life (the human body is not a shameful thing, but you can happily be a nudist on your own property), using the communal blow dryers for your, ahem, northern and southern hair, clipping your toenails, et cetera, et cetera. Yes, it’s a place where it’s acceptable to bathe, be unclothed for a reasonable amount of time, and do a certain amount of grooming, but … it’s not your home and it’s a shared space.

  51. Gypsy, Acid Queen*

    OP# 2: We had a weird dynamic in our own kitchen and I just ended up keeping my dishes at my desk until I was ready to clean them. Sucks to have dishes and food near you, but that may be the way to stop her if your stuff isn’t “clean enough” to her liking.

    OP#3: I’ve actually had this done as a “get your attention coz you don’t see me” type thing and was intended to be a harmless touch, but I went BANANAS on the person who did this. I have a choking (on foods or by outside forces) phobia and anything touching my neck exacerbates it. Literally, if a shirt collar is too tight I will get weird. Honestly, I think a “hey please don’t do that, I have a thing about stuff touching my neck and it makes me react very badly.” SHOULD be enough. Crappy people will try a “hurrr what about jewelry or turtlenecks” but we can hope he isn’t like that at all.

    1. JD*

      I agree with dishes at your desk. Just due to the nature of a large office and dishes running out I had one of those little picnic sets (plate, bowl, fork, knife, spoon) that I just used and kept at my desk afterwards.

    2. peachie*

      Same here! Why is this so common?? My workplace is generally normal and functional, but we had all our dishes, mugs, and flatware taken away by our CFO in a fit of anger 2 years ago and never got them back. (It was, like, a mug and a fork left in the sink overnight sometimes, nothing egregious.)

      1. JD*

        Don’t get me started on employees ganging up on me and saying they didn’t feel comfortable at work because I made sure to keep the kitchen clean and it was clearly my domain. I am so sorry I kindly cleaned your mess and never once said a word about it. No good deed….

    3. nonegiven*

      I’ve broken the neck of every t-shirt I have from grabbing them and pulling them away from my throat.

  52. bobstinacy*

    #3 makes my skin crawl.

    Touching someone’s neck is such an intimate gesture that even without the power dynamics it’s really gross. Maybe it’s my Canadian personal bubble, but unless I’m close with someone they better not touch me anywhere but my shoulder blades or the outsides of my upper arms. Everything outside that is them claiming a level of intimacy that I did not agree to.

    Sounds like he’s either very bad at flirting and needs to back off, or he’s grooming you and needs to back off. Remember that no one is going to think that you’re weird for not liking your neck touched, as you can see from this thread most people would be uncomfortable with what he’s doing. Feel free to use the scripts, especially in front of others. Social pressure might make him more mindful of how he’s behaving.

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      You are not the only one. Neck grabbing freaks me out because it reminds me of strangling or lynching/hanging. If I ever got into kink, I will definitely have to tell me partners that my neck is a no spot.

  53. Run By Fruiting*

    Literally all four of these just require direct conversations with people. Doesn’t have to be emotional, just fair and direct, “help me understand…” the end.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Direct conversations for all of them, yes. But I think “help me understand…” is really only appropriate for #2 and #4. For #1, the employee who is sometimes too sick to call in, it’s more of a “how can we work this out together” conversation.

      And for #3, the neck grabbing – yes to the direct conversation, but a hard no to “help me understand.” There’s nothing to be understood here except that the OP doesn’t like it and wants it to stop. The conversation should start and end with “don’t touch me like that.” And if it doesn’t end there, the next conversation is with HR.

      1. Run By Fruiting*

        Eh, I would actually still use it for #3 as a way to point out how ludicrous it is that she even has to say something! “Help me understand why you think this is appropriate.”

    2. #1 OP*

      Hello! This is OP #1. We have spoken about it directly, but neither of us were able to come up with any great solutions. Fergus has been a professional for going on 60 years… he is definitely well aware that his current situation is not ideal! Fortunately AAM readers are smart and provided me with several workable solutions. :)

  54. AlwhoisthatAl*

    #4 – Ask your vendors not to send any gifts but contribute to a charity instead, and send the card acknowledging the donation instead.
    (heh heh)

  55. Horrified*

    Apologies if I’m the only one who feels this way, but Alison, is it possible to have your posts as single letters/comments rather than some posts which have multiple letters/comments.

    I’m really interested to read comments for some letters, but when there are multiple letters – and esp when comments get derailed – I find it hard to scroll through and find comments for the letters I’m interested in. Today, I’m really interested to hear input on Letter #1 which is a fairly heavy and sensitive topic and I could easily skip the Kitchen monitor discussions………..

    Love Ask a Manager. I’ve learned so much here. Thank you.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That would be nine posts a day on most days, but more importantly, it would mean a lot of questions that get answered now would no longer get answered (because they don’t really make sense for a standalone post) .

      I know it can make commenting unruly, but the majority of readers here actually don’t comment — and I want to make sure that the posting format works well for them too.

    2. Emac*

      Try collapsing all of the comments (there’s a link at the top of the comment section that lets you do that). Most people use a new thread to respond to each letter, so you can skim through to see which threads address the letter you’re interested in that way.

      It sometimes works too to do a Find using a number sign and the number of the letter (i.e. #1) to find threads about that letter.

    3. patricia*

      For this purpose, I find collapsing replies to be really useful. If the first post is Kitchen Police, you can just collapse and move to the next comment. Makes moving through them much quicker and identifying what you want to read easier.

  56. Kat*

    I admit that today at work I got really grumpy about how gross the kitchen was. Like there were visible finger-marks on the tap and sticky spilled things on the counter and it was just horrible. I think I’m coming down with a cold and I know it’s because some colleagues sneeze over things and don’t keep things clean. I get that in this instance the colleague was overly aggressive about taking action but I really don’t blame her. No one at work is there to tidy up after anyone else and when it keeps happening you get truly fed up. Adults in a workplace should put things away when they’re finished and be considerate. Just stop leaving stuff out.

  57. OP #3*

    OP #3 here. Thank you, Alison & commenters, for your advice!

    Every time this guy has grabbed my neck, it has caught me off-guard and I end up freezing in the moment. And I’m a conflict-averse people-pleaser, so it’s tough for me to say no to pretty much anyone. So I think the thing to do is to practice a response and know what I’ll do/say in the moment in case he ever tries this again. (Which, let’s face it, he will.)

    I’ve also started scaling back my interactions with him. Frankly, I don’t enjoy being around him because I’m always on edge, afraid of what he’s going to do. I still run into him but I say hi and don’t pause to talk for long at all, and when he stops by my desk, I’m suddenly VERY busy.

    I totally get the dominance thing–it feels really demeaning in the moment regardless of what his intentions are. And it’s too intimate for me. The only person who gets to touch my neck is my husband, and even he wouldn’t do something like this is in public.

    1. OP #3*

      Also, for anyone thinking that this guy is just the awkward type who means well: he’s not socially awkward. He gets on fine with his coworkers and would never do this to, say, a woman senior to him. I’ve noticed some small signs that he crosses boundaries, but he’s definitely not on the spectrum or anything like that.

      1. Lady Phoenix*

        You havr noticed the small, waving red flags… they arenthensignsnyou are entering red country. Tell the dude to stop and — frankly — get HR and the manager involved because this is assault.

    2. Rick Tq*

      OP3, consider starting self-defense training to develop a reactive response to the neck grab instead of just freezing. There are techniques that could put your attacker (and he is!) in an arm-bar in the blink of an eye, and being able say “I was startled and reacted instinctively” should answer any questions on ‘why did you attack him, he just touched your neck?’. Aikido, Jujitsu, and Krav Maga are schools that might be helpful.

      This guy also needs a hard bright line about physical contact. You should also document with him, CC: your respective bosses and HR that his neck grabs are unwelcome and need to stop immediately.

      1. nep*

        If anyone were to say ‘why did you attack him? he just touched your neck’, that would be a huge and important insight into the person saying it.

      2. Lady Phoenix*

        Our teacher told us a simple one:
        1. Tilt your head so that your chin is to your collar. This prevents the attacker from having access to your airpipe
        2. Raise both hands forward and up, almost like an l-shape.
        3. Quickly turn away, this will break the actual choke hold
        4. Strike while the attackers hands are away. The best move is a palm strike in the nose.

    3. Just Leave Me Alone*

      I’m sorry you’re experiencing this, OP #3. No one should have to feel this way at work. I have a senior coworker who makes me similarly uncomfortable (thankfully, no neck-grabbing, but he’s shaken my chair, called me “kid,” touched my arm, roughly grabbed things off my desk, etc.). I feel simultaneously nervous and angry every time he approaches my desk and it’s awful! These power-play dynamics are often subtle and difficult to articulate to others, and I applaud you for sharing your story so we can all benefit from Allison’s advice! I hope you have the opportunity to set boundaries with this loser in the very near future.

    4. RB*

      I’ve managed to develop a habit of jumping back slightly and acting startled if someone touches me unexpectedly. How you use this can depend on the situation but you should be able to pull it off after a couple of tries.

      1. Laura*

        Neck grabbing is a BDSM slave hold, just in case no one else mentioned that. Beyond horrific to do this at work!

    5. Laura*

      He’s picked you. He knows you’re a “conflict-averse people-pleaser”. He’s a predator. Practice with your husband and scream really loudly ‘in shock’ the next time this happens.

  58. AP*

    On vendor gifts: I work in a large marketing department and we get tons of edible gifts during the holidays. Generally everything goes in the break room and we all enjoy. We are a very large client for a particular vendor, and they send these beautiful charcuterie trays from a popular market in our city. It’s seriously lovely and everyone looks forward to enjoying it.

    Last year a group of about four people decide that they are going to take the basket before anyone knows its arrived, bring it into the conference room and have a private lunch. The idea is that everyone has a taste of each thing, not that you tear it apart for your lunch! It was such a bummer and most of the good stuff got eaten by this small group. I also know that everyone found out that this happened, and I our chief operating officer thought it was really unprofessional. Which it was! And it actually changed the way I view this group of people!

  59. meat_lord*

    “Lately, he’s developed a habit of walking up to me and grabbing me firmly by the back of the neck. This has happened three times in the last two weeks or so.”

    YIKES. My skin is crawling.

  60. Mimmy*


    He had medical clearance to return to work, but his health seems to be worse than ever and declining.

    I know it’s not what the OP asked about, but this part really stood out to me. It’s taking every ounce of self-discipline to not suggest that you outright question this. But I wanted to put it out there.

    Anyway, definitely start with Alison’s suggestion to have a discussion about the issues the lack of notification of absences is causing and perhaps implementing some the ideas the commentariat offered. You are awesome to be willing to accommodate him as much as reasonably possible. I wonder if work from home is a possibility?

  61. Hamsa*

    Since I haven’t read or seen 50 shades…any chance this happened in the book or movie? Maybe, he saw it and thinks grabbing by the neck makes Women hot. Maybe this reinforces why BDSM rules should’ve been followed in the stories, BDSM rules require consent. There are reasons why grabbing the neck is a power/control move, it’s just inches to the throat and you can do serious damage as both carotid and jugular are accessible from there. Address the move, set your boundaries, escalate when necessary!

  62. Kelli*

    Different people have different standards of kitchen cleanliness. This co-worker sounds crazy (I just don’t use communal kitchens because people are gross) but you probably shouldn’t leave your dishes on the counter.

Comments are closed.