employee sent out photos of a coworker’s stoma bag — what should I do?

A reader writes:

I’m having an issue with two of my reports. One of them, Jan, outed the other, John, about him having a stoma/colostomy bag. No one knew he had one. John did not know how Jan came to find out. Jan said she noticed it when she saw John reach for something on a shelf in the supply room. His shirt had started to come untucked and he pulled it up and tucked it back in. A picture of John at his home on porch shows him with the stoma bag visible. Copies were shared around the office and sent to some of our vendors and customers also. Our IT department found evidence on Jan’s computer. She said it was hacked at first but has admitted to being the original sender/sharer. She won’t say where the picture came from. John thinks it was from a drone or someone taking it on a hill next to his house.

At the first meeting with her to get to the bottom of this, she didn’t say why she did it, but has since said it was because John beat her out to lead a project she wanted to lead. John was chosen to lead because he was the only one in our company with experience in the relevant area. Jan was placed on the project exactly so she could get experience to lead one in the future. She was told this when she was put on the project. To have a lead with no experience would make no sense and be a huge waste of money.

I’m a lead and not a manager so I can’t discipline Jan myself. Our direct boss and the person above him have been on holidays for a family wedding and the Christmas season. I don’t agree with what Jan did at all. John won’t talk to her and kicked her off the project despite not having the authority to do so. He told me he’ll quit the project and his job before he works with Jan. I can’t speak to John about his actions because I am not management and because he is freezing Jan out and not getting in her face or yelling at her or anything. This issues is a mess and I don’t know what to do to resolve it.

Whoa. Jan is a horrible person, or at least has behaved like a horrible person. No decent person would think this was something to gossip about, let alone think it was okay to circulate a photo of someone’s stoma bag. And sending it to vendors and customers as well? Why?? Any normal person who received those photos would think the sender was deeply troubled, and the fact that Jan thought they’d instead join with her in mocking John (which I assume was her intent) is … well, it’s pretty sick.

That alone is cause to fire Jan. You can’t have someone on your staff who’s this mean-spirited and who’s harassing someone about a disability, let alone someone who then decides to drag your vendors and clients into it (!). But then you add in that she lied about it when confronted and claimed she was hacked before she admitted the truth, and you also have someone who’s willing to lie to your company about really serious stuff. There’s really no way to deal with this other than firing her.

I get that you don’t have the authority to do that though, so let’s look at what you do have the authority to do.

First, you should probably contact your boss right now to fill him in. Even though he’s on vacation, most bosses would want to know that this is happening so that they could weigh in on how to proceed. I know there’s often a high bar to contacting someone who’s on vacation, especially if you fear you’re going to ruin their time off with a mess like this, but really, most managers would want to know.

If that’s not possible, another option is to talk to HR about suspending Jan until your boss or his boss is back. They may or may not agree to that (it’s possible that they won’t want to take that strong of an action until your boss and his boss are back to weigh in), but it’s worth bringing them into the situation and seeing what your options might be. Explain that you’re going to strongly recommend to your boss that Jan be fired and that meanwhile John is rightly refusing to work with her, and point out that Jan has created a hostile work environment for John (use that term because it’s the legal term referring to harassment that’s based on disability, race, religion, sex, or other protected characteristics).

Aside from that, you should support John however you can. He shouldn’t have to work with Jan, and you shouldn’t give him a hard time about kicking her off the project. Even if Jan was essential to the work, you’d presumably find a way to move forward if she were suddenly unavailable (quit, hit by a bus, won the lottery, whatever), and you should do that here too. That’s the right thing to do both from a human perspective (you don’t want to force John to work with someone who so profoundly mistreated him) and from a business perspective.

And when your boss and/or his boss return, fill them in ASAP if you haven’t already — make sure to include all the details you included in your letter — and strongly recommend that Jan be fired. Despite not having the authority to do that yourself, you’re allowed to take a stance here, particularly as the team lead and the person who witnessed all this while they were away.

{ 943 comments… read them below }

  1. MuseumChick*

    WOW. There are four things to address 1) Jan taking the photo 2) How she took the photo 3) Sharing the photo 4) Her dishonestly. Just one of these alone would be enough to fire her in my opinion.

    This is significant enough that I would contact the people in authority even though they are on break. Keep Jan away from John and make it clear to her that nothing she did was ok and she will have to address with big bosses as soon as they get back.

    What a tool.

    1. 5 Leaf Clover*

      I actually think there’s a 5th thing that is very important: taking vengeful action when someone beats you out for a project. That ALONE would be deeply troubling in an employee or coworker, even if the action hadn’t been such a heinous one.

      1. Artemesia*

        Yes all 5 of these. She should have been suspended the day it happened and be fired as soon as people are back to fire her. This is a fireable offense on all 5 of the grounds listed above. IMHO there is no question at all here; she should have been out the day it happened. She should have no unemployment compensation. There is not the slightest thing here to suggest anything but removing her entirely from this workplace.

        1. Annonymouse*


          What the Hell was she trying to do?

          Embarrass the ONE person with experience in the area into quitting so she could lead the project?

          Get revenge for being “beaten” by exposing an embarrassing medical problem to everyone in his work network? Even though it was explained why?

          I’d say watch your back when firing this individual. If she could be so determined and ruthless about “taking down” a coworker who had done nothing to her but have different more relevant experience in one area, what is she likely to try and do to the company?

      2. Luna*

        Yes that mindset is so disturbing! Especially since it sounds like Jan had no justifiable reason to be upset- not that that would make it okay, but her excuse of being “beaten out” of the lead when there was a clear reason and explanation given to her, coupled with her being given the chance to gain experience to lead next time, makes her victim mentality and desire for revenge even more inexplicable.

        1. Ted Mosby*

          Yup, even if all she had done was be rude to John in a normal day to day way, I would still be thinking about firing her. Being bitter about not getting something that you don’t deserve, despite obviously not deserving it, and being explained to that this is putting you on the right track to learn something valuable and get you the thing next time, is a REALLY bad look.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Right! When you spell it out exactly like that, Jan sounds even more entitled and delusional, two traits you don’t want in an employee/coworker.

          2. Oranges*

            I will give them SOME grace to be upset because human emotions aren’t rational. But. This is not upset. This is full on cruel and vengeful.

        2. Pommette!*

          Super disturbing. And even if she had reasons to be upset, her anger should be directed towards the people who made the hiring decision, rather than to the person who was hired.

      3. MuseumChick*

        You are right, I hadn’t consider that. I think this letter short-circuited my brain its so bizarre.

      4. it_guy*

        There’s actually a hidden 6th thing. She is discriminating based on a handicap (medical condition). This is in it’s own way worse, because it is legally actionable by John. This is putting the company in a legal quagmire that I’m sure they don’t want.

        1. Struck by Lightning*

          Exactly. Even in my federal government jobs where workers have more protection than most US employees , this would be an immediate suspension followed by termination.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Yep, and if the company does not handle this appropriately, they risk a HUGE legal issue. I’m not a legal Dalek (“LITIGATE!”), but I would not blame John one bit if he went this route, especially if they do nothing and he ends up leaving because of her.

          1. JM in England*

            I am surprised that John has not already started legal proceedings on these grounds, as far as I can tell from the letter. Or perhaps he may be unaware that this option is open to him.

            1. fposte*

              In the U.S., his legal options will depend a lot on what happens with his employer and the clients.

              1. Princess Cimorene*

                LW wrote “holidays” for vacation, so I’m wondering they’re even in the US?

            2. MerciMe*

              Litigation is exhausting and not a guarantee of a positive outcome. He may be waiting to base his decision on how his managers react when they return.

            3. Kyrielle*

              For all we know, he has talked to a lawyer who has given him suggestions and talking points for how to handle this, knowing that litigation _is_ an option if it can’t be resolved another way.

            4. JeanLouiseFinch*

              The ability to sue the company will come from a lack of adequate response from the company, at least if the lawsuit is based on discrimination. The company will certainly be culpable if it does nothing because that would be tantamount to approving what the co-employee did. There are several other bases for liability against Jan, particularly as Jan has admitted that she did this in order to interfere with John’s employment, but any attorney will know that the “deep pockets” are the company’s and its insurer. Since the OP will probably need to tell the bosses, assuming they are going to fire this dirtbag, she should take John out to lunch (or some other private place of his choosing) and let him know the steps the company is taking to rectify this and to let him know he will never need to deal with Jan again.

        3. Huntington*

          It’s really hard to interpret what she did as anything other than “I want everyone to know he’s handicapped and thus a liability on their team/weak to work with/questionable for the role” or some bizarre thing.
          Why else would she do that?

          1. EvanMax*

            To embarrass him or make him look small (just for revenge purposes, not to get his job.)

            I feel like the person who does this is lashing out wildly, not calculating a way to get her victim out of the role so that she can take over.

            Either way, it is just as horrible.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              There’s a third variant, which is “I want to mortify him so horribly in front of all his co-workers and clients that he slinks away in humiliation, leaving the job open.” She might not have necessarily thought that everyone else would consider medical needs to be a weakness, but still have been actively attempting to remove him from the job, by making him so embarrassed every time he had to deal with the people who’ve seen those pictures that he might choose to leave rather than face them. This isn’t necessarily dependent on the clients and coworkers responding badly to John because he has a medical issue — we know that he had chosen, for his own reasons, not to reveal the information deliberately to his coworkers. Even if he didn’t see it as a negative thing himself, nor thought it likely that the people around him would, he might still feel uncomfortable with them knowing something that personal about him.

              Of course, I don’t see how ANY remotely rational person could’ve then conceived that she might ever have any chance at the promotion after pulling a stunt like that… but then, I don’t see any way any remotely rational person could’ve expected to keep her job after pulling a stunt like that. Presumptions of rationality are therefore not given. It doesn’t really matter what her reasons were. There really cannot be any conceivable reasons she might have had for doing this which would change the outcome: she is a horrible person with neither ethics nor business judgment, and she needs to go, immediately.

        4. Oh No She Didn't*

          Yes! Harassing him based on disability (a protected class) takes this waaaaaaay deep into emoloyment law nightmare land.

      5. Anony*

        Yep. I wouldn’t feel safe working with her knowing what she did to John. What will she do next time someone else gets a project she wants? What she did is so over the top vindictive that no one will feel safe working with her. And how will it be explained to the clients and vendors she sent the picture to? I’m not sure I would want to work with a company that sent out pictures meant to embarrass their employees.

        1. Collarbone High*

          I’ll be blunt — as someone with Crohn’s disease, if I worked for this company I would quit over this unless Jan is fired, and as a vendor or customer I would do everything in my power to get the contract canceled.

          1. Annabelle*

            Yeah, I have UC and I can’t really imagine being willing to work in the same space as Jan after this.

            1. fposte*

              Same situation for me, and I find it mindblowing that Jan apparently feels that a stoma is something so horrible that if people know you have one they won’t want to work with you. It’s like sending a picture you took of somebody else’s dick and thinking that the dick-owner is the problem.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                That’s one of the weirdest things (and there’s plenty of weird here) to me – she thought revealing John had a stoma bag was a way to bring him down? WTF?

                1. Myrin*

                  Yeah, exactly. I mean, I get that excrements aren’t usually a smalltalk favourite and even when you deal with them regularly and outwardly manner-of-factly, it is probably always going to be awkward and kinda gross, sure. But also, I hear about people having stoma bags relatively frequently and it’s not ~scandalous~ or anything like that, which clearly Jan thought was the case.

                2. Kyrielle*

                  I think more a way to make him feel small, exposed, or humiliated, than to bring him down. A stoma bag is “private” in most people’s minds, as any other form of excreting is. I don’t think this was a calculated plan to take his position or bring him down; I think she just wanted to make him feel lousy. *Maybe* she was hoping he’d be so embarrassed by it that he’d quit (similar to how someone might feel if someone sent around a picture of their private bits!). I doubt she thinks having the bag is a “problem” she’s exposing – it’s just that it’s private, and she’s stripping the privacy away to make him miserable.

                  Unless the text of her email says otherwise, I’d think this was less calculated to make everyone dismiss John, and more calculated to hurt John by making him wonder if *that* image was in everyone’s head every time they talked to him.

                  I hope that anyone who got that email and is aware of its source is freezing out Jan, and I also hope they’re doing their best to treat John exactly the same as they always have. What she did is horrible.

                3. Working Hypothesis*

                  Kyrielle, I agree that it looks more to me as if she’s targeting John’s feelings than as if she’s targeting the way other people think of John. I mean, granted that she’s already shown that she has zero judgment of how anyone else is going to take this sort of thing (or she’d have realized you can’t get away with something this horrible without being fired and shunned, even if she were still enough of an asshole to *want* to do it)… even with all of that, I can’t think she’d be actually expecting people to turn away from John just because he happens to have a medical condition. I think it’s more likely that she wants John to be miserable.

                  That said, I do wonder whether she might be targeting John’s feelings, not just to make him unhappy, but to see if she could provoke him into quitting because he doesn’t feel that he can face everyone knowing they know such a private thing about him. Not because *they’d* think it was a bad thing, nor because *he* thinks it’s a bad thing — just because there are matters personal enough that you don’t want to have to work with clients who know them about you.

                  I mean, when my front tooth broke off, and I had to have it replaced with an implant, I had about a week during which I had a big gap where it had been. There were two clients I had to see that week, and they knew that my tooth was false. I was never completely comfortable around them after that. I did keep working with them, and they were certainly never rude to me about it or showed any sign of thinking it was a big deal… they never mentioned it after the tooth was replaced. But I still felt awkward knowing they knew it wasn’t real.

                  So perhaps, she meant to drive him to quit by putting him in a position where he’d have to deal with the folks at work knowing that every colleague and every client he worked with knew his private business when he hadn’t chosen to tell them? I don’t know. It could be that, or it could be just that she was lashing out and trying to make him unhappy because that’s simply how she treats people who have the gall to earn something she has NOT earned, but wants to have for herself. Either way, it’s a sign of a seriously horrible character. I’m not sure whether I think it’s worse if it were a cold-blooded attempt to get the position she wanted, or just a gratuitous effort to hurt the person who had that position instead.

                4. Turtle Candle*

                  Yes, I think that it is entirely possible that her intended endgame was no more complex than “I want to cause John pain.”

              2. Abel*

                I have Crohn’s too. My worst fear has always been getting a stoma. Having someone broadcast my stoma is now my newest fear. Jan is a giant turd.

          2. Green*

            As someone who doesn’t even have Crohn’s (but has a brother with Crohn’s disease, who narrowly avoided a colostomy bag at 25 during a serious emergency bowel resection), *I* would quit my company unless a Jan who harassed a colleague about a colostomy bag was fired.

            1. Little Twelvetoes*

              I have never had a colostomy bag and do not know anyone close to me who does. And I would want to quit a company who did not fire Jan. I don’t think you need that close of a personal experience to be horrified by Jan’s horrible behavior! She needs to be GONE.

            2. Red 5*

              Same. In any even vaguely reasonable workplace this should be an instantly fireable offense on every level and I would be leaving even if I wasn’t the person she did it to. Not just in solidarity with John, though that would be a pretty strong reason for me since I have multiple disabled loved ones. But also because I have invisible illnesses and I prefer to control how much information about them is given and to who and it’s my right to do that. Somebody who would use a disability like this not only might do it to somebody else, but without her being immediately fired it’s something that other people might think is okay.

              If Jan isn’t fired, I can’t see any way this ends up except putting a target on the back of every disabled/chronically ill person in this office. And we have enough crap to deal with.

              1. Working Hypothesis*

                This. I have a totally unrelated invisible illness, and I wouldn’t feel safe in a place which allowed somebody to stay who had done this to their colleague either. But honestly, I think I’d feel the same even if I were healthy as a horse… because someone who will do this to a disabled colleague will find something horrible to do to a healthy one, if they get in her way. This is a demonstration of what she does to someone who gets — legitimately — what she wants but has not yet earned; and she’d find SOME way to hurt anyone in that position, whether they were disabled or not. It’s not a safe position to put ANY coworker in, because if they don’t have a medical problem she’ll just find something else she can use against them.

            3. Ruffingit*

              Same. I could never work for a company who would allow Jan to stay on their payroll. For me, this falls under “if you don’t get fired for this, what DO you get fired for?” Because seriously, if they allow this to go unpunished, then what else are people allowed to do to their co-workers? It’s just so wrong on so many levels.

            4. TardyTardis*

              My mother-in-law had a stoma bag before she died of cancer, and having pictures of that handed around would have destroyed her (and my father-in-law would have Gone Looking for whoever did it. Did I ever mention that he was trained in UDT in WWII?).

          3. Green*

            Oh: also, as someone who is also a client of other service providers and I received a “LOL, colostomy bag!” photo, I would report this all the way up my management chain if necessary, blacklist the vendor if I could, and report it to THEIR HR/Compliance.

            1. Red 5*

              Exactly. Any company where this isn’t immediately dealt with by firing Jan is one where I’d start to question their ethics and culture so deeply that I wouldn’t be comfortable working with them ever again.

            2. Amber T*

              OP, this might be out of your hands, but I’d be sure to follow up with your vendors and clients who received the email apologizing for Jan’s behavior, acknowledging it was unacceptable, and putting your support behind John 100%. I would have MAJOR doubts about ever working with a company that presumably supported this (and a lack of explanation would really seem like the company supports this).

              1. MCM*

                If I was the vendor / client that received this e-mail . . . I would be reaching out to upper management in concern. I would bypass my contacts with the company and head to the top. It would have to be someone that sent it to me, that had my contact information. I would be uncomfortable dealing with anyone of the individuals employed there.

          4. Justme*

            I have a loved one with a colostomy bag after fighting colorectal cancer. I would quit over something like that too.

            1. Jersey's mom*

              My Dad has had a colostomy bag for nearly a decade. The first year was hell for him.

              You have to figure out the right size bag, how to tape it to yourself so it doesn’t fall, keep the tubes in place, determine what foods give you gas – because if you eat foods that give you gas, it all goes into the bag, which expands, then you have to find a safe location to open the bag (which smells like gas) so it doesn’t burst, and determine the best bag and tube hookup which doesn’t leak (and smell), worry about issues that may cause you painful spasms that require you to go to hospital for immediate replacement of tubes (along with painkillers), determine what kind of tape best holds the bag to your skin (Dad is a duct tape fan, I get him patterned tapes), and buy shirts that drape enough to hide the bag. And let’s not get into bag protection during a daily shower. Let alone if he decides on traveling which includes altitude changes – like a balloon, the bag will inflate and disinflate when changing altitudes. A simple air flight can be fraught with issues.

              Every single person with a stoma bag deserves a medal for dealing with all the issues involved. And please, everyone who fears that they may need a bag in the future – this can all be overcome with family and friends. Be open and upfront with those closest to you. We schedule my Dad’s “bag time” along with my Moms “hair curlers” time. Yes, I know it’s not an equivalent, but it allows Mom and Dad to get their stuff done without uncomfortable “looks”.

              Screw you Jan. Drop dead.

              1. All Hail Queen Sally*

                This reminds me of a news story I heard of years ago back when TSA agents were being really aggressive with their pat downs at the airports. One gentleman was trying to tell the agent that he had a bag (urostomy) and the agent started yelling at him to shut up, and sure enough, the bag got dislodged, and the man had to clean up the best he could before his flight. No apology from the TSA agent either.

                Jan needs to be fired.

              2. Jules of the Riverside*

                My mom also had one for the last year of her life. She was an accomplished sempstress and tried to sew little lined bags to velcro into her clothes, with very limited success. I would like to be a big enough person to hope that people like Jan never have to learn that they are made of aging human flesh, but if that’s what it takes to learn some damn compassion . . .

              3. somebody blonde*

                Have you looked into Stealth Belt? My husband has a couple and he wears them all the time. They’re way easier and nicer than tape.

          5. SB*

            Same here, I have Spina Bifida and that comes – in my case – with incontinence. I have been bullied about this when i was in middle school and during my first year at high-school. At a workfloor? I’m out of there even if I wasn’t the target of Jan! What she did to John is outragious!

            1. Kewlmom*

              Also, makes me wonder what may have been on her hit list in the past. This behavior is so egregious that it would surprise me if it is the first time she has engaged in such mean-spirited and inappropriate tactics.

              1. Kelsey*

                Yeah, a person doesn’t go straight from “perfectly civil coworker” to “sending pictures of stoma bags” in one day.

          6. Kimberly*

            I think any decent person is going to have the same reaction. Jan should be fired. I also think the evidence should be turned over to John, so he can investigate possible stalking charges. It is scary to think she found his home, watched him either on a hill or by drone until she could get a picture, and then sent it around like that. That is pretty stalkerish. She will probably blame him for being fired – and who knows what type of revenge she might try after that.

            I don’t get why anyone in a modern age would think this condition is something you can shame someone with. That mindset is scary too. I’ve met people that still think any medical condition is god’s punishment and they are scary. They refuse to take basic precautions for things like allergies or people that are immune suppressed – because it is interfering with god’s will that they die. I can’t understand their mindset and stay far away.

            Finally, anyone that did anything other than report the photo should face some stiff consequences. The only ethical reaction to getting a photograph like that obviously making public something someone wanted to keep private is to report it.

            1. Gayle Davidson-Durst*

              “They refuse to take basic precautions for things like allergies or people that are immune suppressed – because it is interfering with god’s will that they die.”


              Just when I think I’m the most crusty, cynical atheist, something comes along that makes my jaw drop in astonishment.

              1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

                You don’t need to be atheist to have the same reaction. As a person who has allergies and religion I’m quite shocked because this is so awful and unusual. I would also think that if God wants someone to die, He could still arrange it without people being actively inconsiderate to them!

              2. Hari*

                I do know people like that. Not just Christians. Yeah, I had Christians tell me that my illness is for not believing in Jesus, but I had some New Age weirdo types tell me that my illness is punishment for being a bad person in a previous life. Lots of mean spirited weirdos out there.

            2. Oranges*

              Yeah, crazy gonna crazy. Fistbump of solidarity.

              (I was indoctrinated for 4 years in an insane christian school I think the stuff I know is common knowledge and am always shocked when it’s not)

          7. SineNomine*

            I am someone with UC. Or rather, I should say “had” because after a complete colectomy, you technically are cured of the disease since there is more inflammation. I had the surgery this summer after it became clear that this flare wasnt going to be stopped by medication any more, so my nightmare became reality and now I have an ileostomy. This whole story makes me feel sick. It plays on my worst insecurities and I can’t even imagine trying to deal with the fallout of it.

            1. PolarBearGirl*

              Hang in there. I had UC and had my jpouch surgery and take down 8 years ago. It is a bitch, but there is a huge online community of support.

          8. Hari*

            Yep. I have UC. I don’t have a stoma as of now, but if that happened to me, I would quit if the person who did such a thing wasn’t fired. Not only that, I would be looking for a lawyer. And Yes, if I worked with this company as a vendor or customer, I would cancel the contract and I would tell everyone I know that the company is corrupt and allows people who harass people with disabilities.

        2. Lady Phoenix*

          The fact she will invade someone’s house, what else will she do? Put a camera in the bathroom? Destroy their mailbox? Hack their computer or phone?

          She has demonstrated that she will utterly obliterate a person’s boundaries. I would feel so unsafe to deal with this witch.

          1. Ted Mosby*

            Yea, as disgusting as mocking someone for having a disability or illness is (and expecting others to join you and not be horrified that you would send this out?!) I feel like the stalking isn’t getting as much attention as it deserves. I would not feel safe working with Jan after this knowing how she reacts to people getting something she wants, and this in the best of circumstances.

            1. Frankie Bergstein*

              What does a colostomy bag say other than that a person is in possession of a human body that they’re caring for?

              I really am struggling with this being something worthy of mockery or a seen as a negative characteristic.

              1. MCM*

                I doubt that Jan could find anything professionally to complain about it in regards to John so she searched out for something else. I am wondering if she’s monitoring him so closely that she found this out while looking for something negative.

              2. fposte*

                You’re thinking like a mature adult. That’s your error.

                Since controlling our waste is a big developmental thing in humans, insulting people about their challenges in doing that is a go-to for some, especially for kids; given that it’s often a pretty fraught subject for the person with those challenges, it’s a taunt that can really hurt. Colostomy jokes abound, and colostomies and ileostomies have not historically been without stigma. That’s without even getting into the fact that so much swearing in many languages is rooted in the undesirability of shit. (You can see some of the complexity in that people are making plays on the concept to call Jan a bag of shit; that’s still using the concept as a pejorative.)

                It’s 2017 and we’re all adults or near-enough posting here, so that taunting impulse it’s not something we’d share, but it’s been around for a while and probably isn’t going to disappear any time soon.

              3. Ted Mosby*

                Idk if this was directly in response to me or more in agreement but I hope you don’t think I was implying otherwise? Just pointing out that the stalking is equally awful.

          2. Managed Chaos*

            This. It is all so over the top, but using a drone to get a picture at his house? I would probably feel like I needed a restraining order against her if she did get fired. If that’s what she’ll do over not getting a project she wanted, what will she do once fired?

            1. MCM*

              Couldn’t John get one now? The photo proves stalking & harassment. It would depend on the burden of proof required by that state’s laws. I think John should go full out — press charges with the police, restraining order if he can, grievance, etc.

              1. fposte*

                He’s not likely to get cops interested or a restraining order at this point, though. Harassment isn’t a crime in most jurisdictions, and a one-off picture that might have come from Google Earth isn’t likely to rise to the level of stalking.

                1. SusanIvanova*

                  It might in California – I don’t know what the stalking laws are, but I do know they take them seriously here.

                2. HQetc*

                  FWIW, It’s really unlikely that the picture came from Google Earth/Street View. Their AI for recognizing and blurring out people is really pretty good. If the picture is clear enough for people to recognize that it’s John, it’s really unlikely (like vanishingly small possibility) that the Google AI wouldn’t have recognized it as a person and blurred the face before putting the image online. I suspect the same is true for stuff like the Bing and Yahoo street cams and other similar services (because there are legal issues that make companies care about this), but I’m not as familiar with that.

                3. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

                  It’s illegal in California to take a photograph onto private property and publish it without approval of the individuals contained in the photograph. Taking the photo isn’t illegal – showing it to another person is. That’s why paparazzi photos of celebs in their homes have stopped. It’s a BIG deal, and California isn’t even the most strict state. Hawaii has more severe penalties.

          3. many bells down*

            Yeah the fact that she *followed a co-worker home* to take what she clearly felt was a “compromising” photo of him … there’s just so so SO many things wrong with what Jan did I can’t even.

          4. JeanLouiseFinch*

            Yeah, the idea that she might have actually had a drone stalking this guy in order to do something like this shoots her from the classification of “horrible and stupid” and puts her in the category of “dangerously unbalanced.” Her employer needs to get rid of her ASAP and put this on her employment record as a “for cause” firing. In the mean time, the OP should go to HR, if possible and discuss the possibility of immediate suspension and being abruptly escorted from the building. They might even tell her that they will be giving the local police a “heads up” since she has shown that she is without any sense of right and wrong.

        3. Jadelyn*

          I’d be worried about the next time someone gets something she wants, too. Will she start slashing tires in the parking lot? Slipping laxatives into people’s coffee? Stalking? Threatening? Where does the company draw the line?

          (The answer is, right here, right now, BEFORE she has a chance to escalate.)

          1. Observer*

            This. Or stealing confidential information and sending out to competitors? Swatt the office?

            This sounds dramatic, but what she did was so over the line in so many ways, that you have to look at it a real possibility.

            1. fposte*

              Yes, it’s kind of like the biting the co-worker post that way. I’m sure there are things that Jan would never do, but once she’s done something so far over what most of us see as the line, I can’t guess where she’s drawing hers and what’s on which side of it.

          2. The Supreme Troll*

            It’s definitely not an exaggeration to think that there is not a limit to how low Jan would go, sorry to say.

      6. YpsiGuy*

        Oh, yes. Attempting to sabotage a co-worker in order to promote your own advancement? That would make the “what” of what she did completely meaningless. She tried to harm somebody in her own company to advance herself. I don’t see any appropriate response other than immediate firing. Everything else about what she did, or how she did it, is unimportant…or at least it would be if it weren’t so horrible on its own.

        1. Observer*


          It feels weird to focus on it because the whole thing is so outrageous, but really, it’s a HUGE deal on its own.

      7. Else*

        You’re absolutely right. LW, your boss probably won’t be happy to be contacted during vacation, but if they have any sense at all, it won’t be you they are upset with, and it won’t be John. It will be this unstable, vicious, bizarre creature who harassed her colleague about a medical issue and made the company look bad to outsiders out of jealousy.

        1. Middle School Teacher*

          Absolutely. If I were the boss, I would want to know while I have some time to think about this whole mess. Can you imagine coming back from vacation and walking into this office in an uproar, and being completely blindsided? OP, call or email your boss, today, please. For your peace of mind and theirs.

          1. Troutwaxer*

            Agreed. If I were the boss and walked back into this one blind, I’d be as angry at the person who didn’t inform me as I was about anything else.

            1. Else*

              Right! And give the boss the chance to do something about this before much time has passed since the evil deed.

            1. many bells down*

              I hit enter too soon.
              What I meant to say was, if the boss gets this info from the vendors and clients who got the photo, it’s going to reflect badly on everyone else that he didn’t get notified by his employees first. He may think people in the office covered for Jan, or agreed with Jan, and more of you might get fired.

              1. Amy*

                Yes! This reminds me of the brand-new-to-the-workforce employee who was coerced into leaving a note at a co-workers grave. She didn’t (know to) reach out to HR RIGHT AWAY and wound up being fired alongside her terrible boss. Don’t be fired alongside Jan because it appears you didn’t take action or alert your bosses on something this important.

        2. Red 5*

          Yes, this. It’s annoying to be bothered on your vacation, but 100% of the blame for this situation lands squarely on Jan.

          1. ReanaZ*

            I have bothered bosses on vacation for waaaaaay less serious stuff than this (and it was warranted then too).

          2. Engineer Woman*

            Completely agree. OP, please inform your boss. Any reasonable boss would want to know this and potentially take action even though on vacation.

            There’s lots of talk on AAM about worst Boss of the year, but if there was a ever a contest for worst Coworker of the year, I can’t think of who could beat Jan.

            1. Annonymouse*

              I believe you have forgotten about factory working Fergus who didn’t notify a coworker his wife was shot and in surgery because he didnt want to leave the cushy office job that day/ she deserved it cause she’s a cop.

              Both are terrible and should be forced to work together in a special place in Hell.

        3. Sterling*

          I supervise employees in a department of a college. While not a co-worker, a student did something so beyond inappropriate that the whole department was in shock. As the person in charge of the department AND student conduct I needed to be told. I was out of town and wouldn’t be back for nearly 2 weeks. It took a few days but finally someone called and I am glad they did. I couldn’t come back right then but I was able to call people and start the ball rolling.

          As management there are something so bag you just have to be told even if it is during a vacation or family event.

        4. LC*

          If your bosess and the HR department aren’t already involved they need to be immediately, and it begs the question who gave the go ahead for IT to track down the information?
          IT is involved in an investigation of employee conduct, vendors and customers have been impacted. Either call your bosses, or at the very least take some action with whatever HR staff and senior management are around.

          1. Beaded Librarian*

            I was wondering that myself, who gave IT the go ahead and who talked to Jan about it and if they are about to do those things are they able to do more? If so they should but BOTH the bosses should be notified ASAP.

      8. TootsNYC*

        This is actually the worst, in my opinion.
        And it’s shaded a bit by the fact that she was so unrealistic in what it was she thought was due to her.
        (since she didn’t have experience but had been put in a position to gain that experience)

        Alison often says that firing people shouldn’t be about punishment. It should be about the idea that you cannot trust them in the role going forward.

        And your company cannot trust this woman.
        She sent these photos to people OUTSIDE the company. What will she do the next time she doesn’t get her way?

      9. Observer*

        Yes. That, by itself, is just an incredibly bad idea.

        And, from the point of view of management it may even be the worst thing, even though it’s not inherently illegal. Essentially, Jan threw a major league tantrum meltdown in front of all staff as well as vendors and clients because she didn’t get what she wants. How can you work with a person like that?

        Even if all she had done was to make a scene using mostly office appropriate language in the midst of a meeting with clients and vendors, you’d be thinking of firing her. You simply cannot have some one who cannot deal with not getting what they want on staff. When you add the fact that she clearly tried to sabotage John (and the company), that makes her toxic, even if it weren’t such a legal land mine and horrible thing to do to another person.

        And, that’s your argument for keeping her off the project, and preferably suspending her till she gets fired. She’s not just awful and legal liability. She is also impossible to trust.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes. Jan absolutely needs to go. #4 makes her impossible to work with. #1–#3 demonstrate how far she’s willing to go to satisfy her own evil and selfish motives. Please do everything in your power, OP, to get her out of there.

      1. MamaSarah*

        Do we know how Jan got the picture? Sounds like several laws were broken here. Jan should be suspended immediately until the boss returns. Terminating her position is a must as she is a HUGE liability for the company. I think we have a clear example here of when toxic behavior crosses boundaries.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          Yeah, the whole thing overall is messed up, buttttt it also seems likely that she kind of stalked John to get that photo.

          Even I wanted to hide in the bushes and take pictures of my coworkers in their homes, I don’t know (or have a way to find) my coworkers’ home addresses (unless we’re friendly outside of work and I have been to their house for some reason).

          1. TootsNYC*

            addresses are often google-able. And I’ve lived in places where it’s just not that hard to know where other people live.

            1. Fiennes*

              True, but none of that makes it remotely better that she went to his house (or sent a drone) to take clandestine photos she thought would humiliate him. That’s just a measure of how hard she had to work to be awful.

              1. essEss*

                If she did use a drone on his private property to take the picture, that is illegal in most places.

        2. Anon for this*

          Is it possible Jan found a generic picture of a stoma bag on the net and photoshopped John into it? (Not that this would excuse the behaviour in the least, she still needs to be fired tout sweet).

          1. FelineMind*

            Maybe, but if he saw it and thinks she took it with a drone that means it’s him, shirtless on his porch, right? So it’s probably real. SO ICKY. This behavior, not his medical issue.

      2. Hildegard Vonbingen*

        I don’t understand what good this woman thought would come from her actions. Did she think it would make her look good? Did she think it would make her appear ready for a leadership position? Exactly HOW did she envision that what she did would advance her goal of being team lead?

        To believe that this could not be traced back to her computer reveals an astonishing lack of knowledge about how networks work. Did she think she’d get away with it? Apparently so, even though she used her company hardware, software and network infrastructure to send the material out. That’s some incredible stupidity right there.

        Leaving aside for a moment the sadism and lack of ethics she displayed, what she did reveals a level of stupidity, lack of critical thinking skills, obliviousness about how normal humans function and react (emotional IQ), obtuseness about how to deal with clients, and lack of tech savvy that, by themselves, would make her someone I’d want to get rid of.

        Tack on the sadism, dishonesty and lack of ethics this woman displayed, and it’s clear what needs to happen. I hope the returning managers fire her immediately, for cause, no unemployment, and with a negative reference (the bare facts would be damning if told to any future employer). I hope this woman realizes that she needs psychological help and that she gets it. Until she does, she’s unfit to work anywhere other than for an organized crime syndicate (a blundering one, at that).

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Nah, she even makes Fredo Corleone look like a genius. The crime syndicate wouldn’t touch this thundering loon with a 10 foot pole.

        2. Amber T*

          No way, organized crime takes care of their own. You turn on each other, you’re the first one out.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            They turn on each other all the time – that’s how Gotti was able to become head of the Gambino crime family and how he ultimately ended up in prison.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Yeah, what’s that saying–there is no honor among thieves. And mobsters, apparently.

              Way off-topic trivia: Gotti died in hospital here, of laryngeal cancer–we have the federal men’s facility. I’ve been inside it. In fact, he was in it the first time when my intro to crim class took our tour. No, we did not see him.

              1. fibee*

                Even though I know that means intro to criminology, my brain keeps reading it as Intro to Crime, and that makes me happy imagining an intro to crime class touring a prison “and here’s where you’ll go if someone snitches!”

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  I guess it kind of was, in a way!
                  That was a great class. The instructor was an alternative sentencing specialist (hence his ability to get us a tour of a BoP facility), and a really lovely and hilarious man. He taught my Victimology class too. I tried to find him re a writing question in 2009, and sadly I discovered he had died, far too young, of a heart attack. :'( RIP, Jack.

            2. Amber T*

              Fair point. Erm, how do I put this delicately… the organized crime syndicate that distant family may or may not have belonged too took care of its own above all else.

        3. RB*

          Do you ever wish we could hear from the perpetrators — awful though they may be — to get an insight into what possible thought process might have transpired? How do you go from not making team lead to destroying your employer’s and your co-worker’s lives?

          1. fposte*

            We do sometimes hear from people who have done bad stuff; it’s just that when you hear them directly, they seem more like people who have made bad mistakes than perpetrators.

            1. ReanaZ*

              We have gotten a few unrepentant ‘villians’. I think that’s the difference here, people writing in saying “I know I did bad stuff, how do I get past it” and “I got caught doing something people tell me was wrong, how do I avoid consequences while admitting very little fault”. Jan sounds like she’d be a latter unless she got some help (which I hope she does!).

          2. Amber T*

            Dear Alison,

            When I was unfairly passed over for a team lead on a major project, I stalked my coworker, took secret pictures of him using a drone, and outed his private medical information to the company, vendors, and clients we work with. I thought he would be so embarrassed that he’d quit, or that everyone would recognize that medical stuff is icky, so I would be made team lead. But neither thing happened! I’ve been kicked off the project, am being frozen out by my coworker, we’re potentially losing vendors and clients, and have to wait for my boss to return for disciplinary action. Did I overreact, or is this really not a big deal?

            1. Anony*

              I have a lot of respect for Alison and other advice columnists who can receive letters from people who are so over the line and seeking validation for their terribleness, and yet provide an answer that is thoughtful, constructive, *and* calls them out on their nonsense.

              I also think that it would be a truly heroic act of restraint to not just straight up respond to your example with a “what the ******* **** were you thinking?!”

          3. SusanIvanova*

            Well, we did get the manager who thought she was totally justified for not letting an employee go to her own graduation.

          4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yes! Sometimes we do get their perspective, but I do often wonder what goes through someone’s mind in situations like this.

    3. I See Real People*

      I’m pretty sure there is a law about taking someone’s photo and distributing it without permission. Jan should be fired immediately. John should look into criminal and civil charges against her.

      1. Artemesia*

        Actually there is not. You can’t use someone’s picture for commercial purposes without permission but you can take anyone’s picture and use it as you wish otherwise. If you rig a camera in a toilet stall where someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy, no, you can’t disseminate, but courts have not punished people who do ‘upskirt’ photos of women in public as they are in public (and yes that one is stupid). Courts have also upheld the right of a photographer to take pictures through someone’s apartment window with a telephoto lens and show them in art galleries.

          1. Normally A Lurker*

            Sorry, true question, why is it assumed in the UK? I don’t seem to see a place mentioned at all – did I miss something?

              1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

                I agree with “on holidays”, but “stoma bag” sounds totally normal to my USian ears.

            1. Normally A Lurker*

              I can see that. I work in the US and my boss in British though, so that wasn’t my first assumption with the language.

              1. Julia the Survivor*

                I’m American and I sometimes say “winter holidays” or “away for the holidays” – it’s simpler…

                1. Princess Cimorene*

                  but we dont say ON holidays in the US. Winter holidays or away FOR the holidays is different.

                  UK/Australia (and South Africa??) for example say ON HOLIDAY instead of ON VACATION. We say ON VACATION in the US.

          2. One of the Sarahs*

            If they ARE in the UK, and management doesn’t do something about it, the company will be liable if John goes to an employment tribunal for discrimination, bullying etc.

            (FWIW I didn’t read it as UK, as a porch is *usually* just a roof-let over a door, or at most a narrow thing, but we don’t have the USA culture of “sitting on the porch”, especially not at the front of houses. Of course, there could be some areas of the country where this is different, but because of our weather, it’s not a thing I’ve ever come across)

              1. Isobel*

                This has presumably only just happened, so I’m guessing Southern hemisphere, or at least somewhere warm enough for John to be sitting outside with his shirt off.

            1. MsSolo*

              We very rarely sit outside the front of our houses. It’s one if those cultural things with roots in middle class ideas of privacy, upper class ideas of how you arrange grounds, and working class houses traditionally opening straight on to the street. Net result: a porch is for hanging baskets, dirty wellies, and post you’re ignoring. Any chairs are purely decorative!

          3. AJHall*

            I don’t think it is the UK, which is extremely lucky for the company, because Jan was processing sensitive personal data in a manner likely to cause damage or distress (and which did cause damage or distress) and there ‘s just been a case where (even though again this was an employee with a grudge) the employer, a large supermarket chain, has been held to be liable for it.

            In addition to civil action for damages, breach of data protection currently laws has a maximum fine of £500,000 ($675,710) but it’s going up to Euro 20 million ($24,033,600) in May.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          Laws vary somewhat on that. There are also, in many places, anti-stalking laws relating that can apply to taking pictures of someone at home. In California, for instance, if the pictures were not taken from a publicly accessible place, Jan could be facing felony charges.

          Were I John, I’d certainly be talking to the police about that, and if they’ll take a report (whether it results in criminal charges or not), I believe I’d forward a copy of that report to HR.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Sure, but as Artemesia notes, a photo of someone on their porch is generally considered “public” for most States’ privacy doctrines. I have no idea what the requirements would be for the UK or other Commonwealth countries, however.

            1. Peter the Bubblehead*

              I think it would greatly depend on whether this was his front porch or – more likely – back porch well within his personal property. And if John has had a problem letting people know about his medical condition, I doubt he would be lounging around on his front porch in full view of neighbors, pedestrians, and passing motorists without his shirt on!

              1. Red 5*

                It also would depend on where the photo was taken from just as much as where the photo was of.

                I’m out of date on some of my info because I haven’t been a professional taking photos in a while. But when I was, the general rule of thumb was if you are standing on a public street/in a public area and you can easily see the person and take their photo then it’s allowed, and allowed to be published under specific circumstances (I was a reporter, so that part was important). But I couldn’t step a single toe onto private property without also then requiring the permission of the owner of the property I was standing in.

                But what’s notable here, and extremely important to the legal question, is the mention that to take the photo it seemed likely the person used a camera drone. The legalities on that are VERY murky right now, but they are frequently falling down against the photographers. And a lot of that is because of several reasons but largely that until recently we had a reasonable expectation of privacy that we wouldn’t have our picture taken by random other private citizens using tiny helicopters at any given moment in our lives.

                Then there’s airspace regulations, whether or not the drone was hovering over private or public property and is the airspace included in that…it’s messier. IANAL, but I would suspect the court would come down on John’s side and not Jan’s if a drone was involved.

              2. Curtilage*

                I had thought that for 4th amendment purposes, it was legitimate for police to take aerial photos of (for example) contraband growing in a suspect’s garden.

            2. Green*

              However, it could be tortious harassment or criminal stalking.
              If someone takes a photo of a crowd in Times Square and I’m in it, that’s one thing. If Google Maps drives by and catches me walking to my car, that’s fine. If someone came to my house, hide, and took photos for the purpose of harassing me at work, that’s a different story.

              1. SusanIvanova*

                And Google Maps blurs people’s faces – and anything else that’s vaguely face-like, to occasional hilarious results.

            3. Engineer Girl*

              Only if the porch was visible from the public area (like a street). If not, then there may be enough proof of trespass.

            4. Magenta Sky*

              It depends on where the photo was taken *from*. Not all front porches are visible from publicly accessible areas. If trespassing is involved to get to where the photo was taken, there are options to make the photographer regret the invasion of privacy. We do not have sufficient information to even guess, though, and it sounds like the letter writer doesn’t, either.

              And stalking laws vary a *lot* by location. The only way to get a meaningful opinion is to talk to a lawyer or the local police. The police charge less.

        2. Observer*

          Well, not all of the courts apparently agree on the “art” one. And even the ones who rule that way treat “art” as an exception. Jan does NOT have the excuse of “art”, so she’s on extremely thin ground.

          I’d be willing to bet the the UK has some rules of its own about this.

      2. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

        Depending on the local, but typically someone in public (even on their own porch) doesn’t have a right to privacy. So while creepy and despicable, this is most likely perfectly legal.

        If the picture had been taken through the window into his home it would have been an invasion of privacy, but a picture of him in view of a public street most likely legal.

        1. Rainy*

          The fact that she nearly has to have stalked him to obtain it should be grounds for firing even if it isn’t grounds for legal action. I’m pretty sure nobody with any sense wants to open that can of worms–if you condone an employee stalking another employee for revenge, what else will you let people get away with doing to their coworkers?

          1. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

            I think this is conflating two very distinct things.

            >Stalking in the criminal sense is very specific and based on the letter there is no evidence of this.
            >Looking up a coworkers address, driving to their house, taking a picture, and distributing it is absolutely a fire-able offense and should be treated as such.

            I was responding to the original post about potential criminal charges.

        2. nonegiven*

          If he was on his back porch and had a privacy fence, since he said it would have to be from a drone or from a hill near his property, that wouldn’t be visible from the street, most likely.

      3. Kimberly*

        If she trespassed or used a drone to cross onto his property he might have a case. If she took the photo from a place she had a right to be, and he was outside his home – taking and distributing the photo probably wasn’t illegal. Her motivations and harassment may change things. I started carrying this http://www.krages.com/ThePhotographersRight.pdf after a woman went off on me for taking random shots in my neighborhood for a writing project for my 5th graders.

        Just because it was legal doesn’t mean she isn’t a creep.

      4. Kimberly*

        http://www.krages.com/ThePhotographersRight.pdf *

        If she was legally allowed to be where she was when she took the photo, then taking the photo and even posting it wasn’t illegal. But still, she should be fired, and I think IT should give John copies of everything in case she escalates after being fired. This is a case of document document document because you might have to build a case for criminal charges.

        *I started carrying this with me after a woman threw a hissy fit and called the cops on me. I was taking pictures of different things for my 5th graders to use in a descriptive writing exercise.

    4. Jiminy*

      How about that she stalked him to get that photo? “My drone and I just happened to be passing by…”

      1. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

        Stalking usually has a legal definition as well. A one time event does not usually meet the legal definition of stalking. Again this is subject to local laws.

        1. MeMeM*

          I’m thinking that she probably had to come more than one time. What are the chances that she found him on the porch with the bag showing the very first time she decided to go to take a picture?

          1. Jill of All Trades*

            People were discussing whether this was a criminal matter in addition to it being a fireable offense.

      2. Anna*

        I think this is so egregious and gross, we don’t even have to take it to stalking to be horrified. It is terrible, full stop.

    5. Anon Accountant*

      I think her dishonesty would also be a good reason for someone to check her work. In my experience this level of dishonesty wouldn’t be a first time. Is there work she’s lying about completing, etc?

      She’s harmed trust and displayed notoriously poor judgment.

      1. Eplawyer*

        This was my thought too. What else has she done to sabotage John, the project or anything else she didn’t like? A full audit of her work and her computer are warranted.

        1. Sarah M*

          That is exactly what I was thinking, too. This was such an elaborate and time-consuming undertaking, I just can’t believe this was the first time.

    6. MCM*

      I haven’t read all of the comments, but John needs to go to HR himself and file a grievance. OP .. please recommend that he do so. My employer has the policy that all grievances must be filed within 30 days of the event. Your employer might have a deadline in place also.

      This is not something that can wait until your manager is back. This will also get the ball rolling towards her termination.

      John might also have legal grounds to file charges for stalking. If she’s made a point of getting the photo in such a sly way, she had to have been keeping an eye out in order to do so.

    7. Everything Bagel Fan*

      This is such a huge leap into stalking I’m trying to picture myself as John and honestly I would be tempted to get a restraining order… Jaw still on the floor…

  2. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

    Oh good grief. Yes, contact your boss now and have the conversation with HR.

    Jan was so far out of line

    1. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

      posted too soon….

      To continue, as a boss I would want to know about this even if I was on PTO so I could A. contact John personally to tell him that I was involved and he has every right to be upset and an investigation will be starting shortly if not already started. And B. to get HR in the loop to mitigate any retaliation plans of Jan’s and to get the discipline plan in place.

      This is absolutely something that warrants contact with the boss while out.

      1. Future Homesteader*

        Excellent point, any good boss would hopefully want to know so, if nothing else, they can assure John that this will be taken Very Seriously and that there will be Severe Consequences for Jan.

        1. Lisa B*

          At bare minimum, considering that the company’s CLIENTS received this message, that alone would warrant an SOS call to the boss on vacation. This is a crisis internal and external. I would give hell to the LW for NOT calling me.

          1. Everything Bagel Fan*

            This was meant as a vicious and hurtful move to embarrass John. So vile! I wonder if John has any legal recourse against Jan in civil court? Or what steps he could take if she isn’t let go?

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed. If I were on vacation and this happened, I would want to know ASAP. Frankly, Jan should have been placed on leave when her involvement first came out, but I’d want the ability to: (1) Fire her; (2) Speak to John; (3) Do damage control internally and with outside contacts.

        1. Lilo*

          Yeah, I’ve been the backup manager for a manager on vacation and they give contact info for emergencies.

          This definitely constitutes an emergency, in my opinion. This is the kind of situation that needs urgent resolution.

      3. TootsNYC*

        I consider “the M in my title” (for “manager”) means it’s part of my job to be interrupted.
        When other people need my input or intervention in order to be able to do their jobs, they should interrupt me.

        I absolutely would want a phone call about this on my vacation.

        I’ve handled things on vacation before: an angry source (when I worked on a magazine) whose product was miscredited and who was being an utter asshole (this ended up involving several phone calls for gather info, and a “back off” phone call to him); a reorganization that laid people off; a firing of my boss and hiring of someone else…

        This would rise to the level that I would need to know about it, even if I was in Hawaii or Germany.

        That’s why they pay me the big bucks.

      4. Feline Fine*

        As a manager, I would not want to come back from holidays to this. Give me the heads up now. This needs to be dealt with ASAP.

  3. chica*

    OMG!!! What the actual? And already, you have a strong contender for updates and the yearly WTF roundup . . . welcome to 2018!!!

      1. SophieChotek*

        Yes, my thought too. But then my concurrent thought was…and I already know I need an update for this one.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          Agreed. I will not be happy until and unless we get an update saying that Jane’s ass has been fired.

      2. Hildegard Vonbingen*

        Oh, come on. Do you think people who have normal work situations write in here just to post about how overall normal, unremarkable, and OK their jobs and bosses and co-workers are?

        I’ve worked in office settings for decades, so I know most are not professional versions of heaven (ah, if only!). But this is a highly selective sample of workplace situations, and it tends to skew negative because people are seeking advice about bad or tricky workplace occurrences.

        I don’t base my opinion of humanity on what I read in online comments sections or see on things like the Jerry Springer show, or of workplaces based on what I read here. I hope you don’t either.

        1. Jadelyn*

          We’re all very happy that you’re such an evolved specimen of humanity that you are unaffected by such thoughts, thank you for sharing, but I don’t think “what is wrong with people?” is an unusual reaction to have when the behavior is this egregious, and further, perhaps this is not the time or place to lecture people who are having the “wrong” reaction.

        2. Hildegard Vonbingen*

          Why the nastiness, Jadelyn? Personal attacks are pointless and don’t add anything to the discussion. Glad your attitude isn’t typical of the comments here.

            1. Statistician*

              Since you brought it up, I’m chiming in here. I for one agree with Hildegard. Anyone extrapolating from a sample of one to humanity as a whole slept through basic statistics.

          1. Snark*

            You got a snappy response for being exceptionally sanctimonious and condescending. Balance has returned to the universe. If that surprised you, maybe revise your tone.

          1. ChaoticGood*

            Hey, I feel all of ya, but … I vote we all step away from the comments section for a while – I can feel the “been online commenting too long” vibe trending here & even AAM isn’t immune to that

    1. AnonMinion*

      Seriously. I have never had such a jaw dropping response to a letter on this site before. Completely outrageous and horrible.

      1. Jadelyn*

        My jaw just kept dropping further and further, and my eyes got wider and wider as I kept reading. I just. What goes wrong in someone’s head that makes them think this is a good idea?

        1. AnonMinion*

          Same, just horrible. My brother had a stoma and a bag for years. I can’t even imagine how he would react had this happened. It is such a very personal and often embarrassing issue.

          1. Bea*

            My dad’s nurses always asked him if he wished for the room to be cleared while they checked his stomas while in the hospital. That information should show anyone without knowledge of them to get the idea they’re personal AF.

    2. Froggy*

      Yes! Jan is the 2018 Winner already for the most evil employee ever. As the spouse of someone with an ostomy pouch, I was horrified by Jan’s actions. But also impressed by John’s restraint and firm resolve to keep doing his job well without Jan on the team.

      1. Froggy*

        Clarification: “most evil” may be too much – there are far more evil things that can be done. But still Jan is selfish, immature, and a completely undesirable employee. I’d have a very difficult time hoping she could move on professionally in any career after this.

      2. AnonMinion*

        My brother had an ostomoy bag for years. I think most evil is fair. This is so horrible and outrageous!

    3. DaniCalifornia*

      That’s what I was thinking, can any coworker we hear about in 2018 be worse than this?

  4. BadPlanning*

    I am totally baffled by Jan’s motivation.

    And I think this is a “call your boss even if they’re on vacation” moment assuming they can be reached.

    1. BadPlanning*

      I mean, I get that’s she’s trying to embarrass and/or get revenge on John, but with pictures of his medical device?

      1. Ama*

        Yeah, my father has had a stoma bag for over a decade after surgery for GI cancer and if a colleague were to “expose” its existence all it would do is highlight that he’s a cancer survivor. Certainly if John wanted to keep this private it is a huge violation but the fact that Jan thinks this is something to be embarrassed or ashamed about is an extra layer of bizarre.

        1. TootsNYC*

          And John does apparently want to keep it private–because he has succeeded in doing so; everyone else was unaware.

          His discretion has probably been interpreted by her as shame, and since he never talks about it, she assumes that he’s ashamed of it, and also that it is something to BE ashamed of or embarrassed about.

      2. Annabelle*

        Yeah, that doesn’t even kind of make sense to me. It’s just weird, bullying behavior. Like, what was she even trying to prove? That he has an inflammatory bowel disease?

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I suspect she thinks it’s “gross” and is hoping it will gross out others, as well. She’s clearly trying to stigmatize him by suggesting he’s “diseased” or otherwise unwell. Her behavior is despicable and vile.

          1. Annabelle*

            As awful as that is, that makes sense. I guess I just generally think that most adults don’t resort to picking on people for “gross” medical conditions.

            1. Natalie*

              True, but this is a person trying to get revenge on someone because they got picked to lead a project over her. For totally understandable reasons, at that! She’s not in the “normative reactions” section of the venn diagram.

              1. Observer*

                True. Her behavior is just SOOO out there, that it’s not useful to look at how “most adults” behave.

            2. Beanie*

              This is the equivalent of a middle schooler announcing “Ewww everybody, John has cooties!” They might sometimes be vindictive and short-sighted, but most middle schoolers would still have more compassion or maturity than this.

          2. Rob aka Mediancat*

            Even if my reaction was, “Ew, icky,” I’m long since past the point where whether I find something icky determines my overall reaction to it.

            1. Alli525*

              Right? I would see something like a colostomy bag, and while my (first, internal) reaction might be “ew, icky” … my next reaction (internal OR external) is compassion and sympathy for someone who has severe medical issues.

          3. many bells down*

            Yeah, I think she thinks people are literally going to go “ew gross poop!” and then they won’t want to work with John. Which is astonishingly immature, but there you are.

        2. Sam*

          Yeah, I was particularly taken aback by this, too. Picking on someone because of a physical attribute screams tactic of a middle school bully. That she thought others would join her in belittling him for this is just…wow. There must’ve been prior signs of pettiness and poor judgement, surely.

        3. ClownBaby*

          My thoughts exactly…what is that crazy about having a colostomy bag? Reminds me of a time back in college when some guy tried to out my friend for having alopecia. No one cared (except my friend who broke down in tears) and it just made the guy look like an enormous jerk.

          I get that people deal with the unknown or abject in different ways. But this really speaks to her maturity level. Usually I am all for educating the un- or ill-informed before jumping to disciplinary action…but Jan crossed that line. This is grounds for suspension and/or termination easily.

      3. AnotherAlison*

        Right? Even thoughts like, “He’ll be so embarrassed that he will quit and then I will be handed the project lead role” seem unlikely. It can’t be anything but being cruel.

      4. Temperance*

        It’s akin to taking a picture of him pooping. So yeah, very embarrassing and likely something he wanted to keep private.

      5. Hildegard Vonbingen*

        No kidding! And to clients? All that sending out those photos would do would is give the company a black eye to the clients. Yeah, employers just LOVE employees who make them look bad to clients, possibly resulting in lost business. Of course you’d want to promote someone like that and give them more power so they could do even more…good?

        Jan is felony stupid.

      1. Hildegard Vonbingen*

        She probably does. But what is amazing to me is that she believes everyone else will see it the same way she does. She’s so convinced of it that she’s willing to do things that impact client relations and business retention. That is the epitome of reckless cluelessness. That is someone you want gone yesterday.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Sharing it with clients is the cherry on this whole situation. Not only did she try to humiliate a coworker out of revenge, using a medical condition the coworker has, with pictures she had to have resorted to inappropriate means to take, but then she SHARED IT OUTSIDE THE COMPANY! If I’d gotten that as a customer…I’m torn between “contact the company and ask wtf is going on” and “immediately end any business relationship”.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              For me, it would depend on how the company handled it. If they kept Jan on and only gave her a warning after this serious of an offense, I definitely would find another vendor. Disciplinary processes aside, some things are cause for immediate firing and this is one of them.

              If they handled it with a firing and a mortified apology, I’d probably stick with them if they were otherwise meeting my needs. But the problem for the company is that many customers would just be appalled by her actions and bail without giving them a chance to handle it.

              1. JessaB*

                Yes. That’s one of the reasons the bosses have to be told yesterday and IT needs to get a listing of everywhere that email went outside the company and let the bosses try and do damage control. The taking the picture and sharing it in the office is a firing offence on the face of it. It’s illegal based on disability. As Alison says it IS actually the definition of hostile environment that everyone usually gets wrong. But the fact that it goes outside the company adds another layer of OMG HORRIBLE to this. It’s not only going to cost her a job it may cost the company a whole lot of revenue and a very bad reputation going forward for hiring her in the first place.

                OP absolutely needs to call the bosses immediately they can get through to them.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Jan is a bully, plain and simple. There is no motivation that makes sense other than humiliating John. Jan just didn’t think it would get tied back to her.

    3. Fortitude Jones*

      Yeah, she really didn’t think this through, which tells me her irritational hate for John has reached the point of no return and she needs to be let go. No sane person would think sending photos of someone’s soma bag around to coworkers and clients would do anything other than make the sender look bad. Did she expect people to laugh or the clients to ask that he be removed from the project because of it? It doesn’t make any sense – logic fails her.

      1. Else*

        She’s dangerous to him, and possibly to others – what is she going to escalate to in an attempt to embarrass him? Will she try to grab it and yank it away from his port???

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Sadly, I could see her doing something like this if she hadn’t already been called to the carpet for the photo circulation. She sounds unhinged.

    4. Temperance*

      It sounds like she has some significant mental health issues. I’ve dealt with Jans in my life – although NOT to this extent! – and they’ll do whatever they can to sabotage a person who they think wronged them. She’s deranged and inappropriate.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Or if not mental health issues, significant character defects that make her impossible to trust or work with.

        1. Jen in Oregon*

          I would put my money on just a complete lack of character. I’m guessing that she thought this would be anonymous, and that John would quit in embarrassment. I don’t think she ever thought she’d be found out.

      2. YpsiGuy*

        May I politely suggest that “she is a horrible person therefore must have significant mental health issues” is not a helpful thing to say? Let’s not conflate the two things (being horrible and having mental health issues), which are almost entirely unrelated to each other.

        1. Annabelle*

          I agree. Lots of godawful people are simply that. Mental illness doesn’t turn you into a bully who mocks being for having a physical disability.

          1. TychaBrahe*

            No, not depression or schizophrenia or anxiety or OCD.

            But sociopathy is also a mental illness.

            1. fposte*

              I think it’s more a popular term; it hasn’t been used clinically for a long time, and it never was a standard usage.

              1. Annabelle*

                Yeah, that isn’t a diagnostic term anymore. Most clinicians consider it an offensive and outdated term for anti-social personality disorder, or conduct disorder if someone is referring to a minor.

        2. Temperance*

          I didn’t say “she’s horrible, therefore she must have significant mental health issues”, though. I pointed out that her actions are that of someone who is deranged and self-sabotaging, and that I’ve seen this behavior before as a symptom of severe mental illness.

        3. Hildegard Vonbingen*

          Yup, agree. I’ve known folks with various mental health diagnoses who have never, and my guess is would never, do something like this. Conflating being an incredibly stupid ass hat with being mentally ill is not a good idea. They’re independent variables.

        4. Green*

          People also confuse mental illness with personality disorders. While I don’t think we need to armchair diagnose, I do think this (the whole ordeal, from obtaining the photo, the plan, how it was sent out, etc.) is not something psychologically normal people would do without prompting.

          1. Annabelle*

            I don’t wanna derail, but personality disorders *are* mental illnesses. They’re just a specific subset of MI.

              1. Annabelle*

                It’s actually not. PDs are diagnosed and treated just like anything else in DSM. Please don’t go around telling people they’re not legitimate mental illnesses.

      3. Former Employee*

        If Jan has a mental illness, then the company needs to keep her on and John will have to deal with it or quit.

        Why would I even think that?

        This is why: Remember the bird guy who almost ended up getting his co-worker killed by pushing her in front of a moving vehicle? She wouldn’t come back to work unless the company fired the bird guy and the majority of comments were all about the poor guy being mentally ill and how it was unreasonable to expect the company to fire him.

        1. fposte*

          I think that’s a leap, both in your extrapolation from a weird one-off event at a completely different employer and in your summation of the comments.

        2. another Liz*

          The bird guy didn’t premeditate. He didn’t pmant the pigeon or deliberately time the push for when the car was driving by.

        3. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Terrible comparison. The possible existence of mental illness – and of course, in this letter it is entirely speculation anyway – is not some weird magic phrase that erases every other pertinent detail, context, and issue in a given situation. If you can’t distinguish between the two situations, you aren’t trying very hard. And I’m going to co-sign fposte’s comment that you did not accurately summarize the comments to that initial letter.

    5. Merci Dee*

      It’s seems, to me at least, that Jan was in revenge mode because she wasn’t asked to lead the project. So she had to do =something= to discredit John. I’m wondering . . . did she look and look and look for something that she could use to prove John was incapable of leading the project? Did she check out the quality of his work (“dang it, he really crosses his t’s and dots his i’s . . . .”)? Did she try to find out if he had any quarrels with co-workers (“crap, everybody in the building seems to like this guy . . . .”)? Did she start following him home to see if there were issues there (“shoot, he takes great care of his yard and even tips the paper boy . . . “)? I dunno — something about the situation feels to me like she absolutely couldn’t find anything else to use to destroy his character, so this medical condition was the only thing she could come up with to throw around.

      I freely admit that this is all conjecture on my part. I’m just quietly staring into space, imagining Jan hitting one road block after another in her campaign to smear John’s name, until all she’s left with is something so inconsequential that it only takes on major significance in her own mind. (And I’m not saying that John’s medical condition is inconsequential, because I’m sure it’s a major situation for him to deal with — just that I don’t think Jan is going to get the outcome that she was hoping for, because she looks like a raging dumpster fire for harassing a co-worker with such significant medical issues.)

    6. LT*

      Given the vein of similar posts about bosses on other types of leave and whether they should be disturbed, this is dire enough to raise to a boss even if they’re not on vacation. I commented on a different post about how I had to give notice I was resigning while my boss was on bereavement. What if this dysfunction occurs when your boss is on maternity/paternity leave, or out on bereavement, or disability, etc? Alison made a good point about reaching out to HR in absence of a boss.
      As for reaching out to your boss on vacation, you don’t have to dump all the details on them immediately. Just give the gist of the situation and why it required you to contact them while they’re on vacation, and then leave the option for your boss to contact you when it’s convenient for them. When I resigned, I prefaced my email to my boss by saying this was not my preferred way of notifying her, and that the timing sucked, but it was important enough that I needed to share it with her, and that I’d be available whenever it was convenient for her to call.
      It would be more unkind to wait until the boss returns before breaking news of this incident. And lastly, as if addicted to a drama or soap opera, can we see updates on this in the future?

    7. Isabelle*

      “Our IT department found evidence on Jan’s computer.”
      If the IT department was involved, who ordered them to do this investigation? The letter doesn’t mention it but I assume that HR had to be involved? Why didn’t HR immediately suspend Jan once the evidence was found?

      Regardless of whether the manager should be disturbed during their time off, this is not something that can wait. Don’t HR realize the potential legal liability and the urgency of this situation? They have a duty to John to make things right, and it starts with suspending Jan if they don’t want to fire her until her manager is back.

  5. Decima Dewey*

    And we have an early entry for “worst coworker of 2018.”

    Egad, who would out someone’s *medical condition* just because their coworker got to be the lead on a project?

    1. Lance*

      And all the worse, as pointed out above, for the fact that she could’ve gotten the lead for similar projects in the future, if only she’d not been a sad excuse for a human being.

      1. JM in England*

        Jan has not just ruined her chances of getting picked to lead future projects, she has annihilated them!!

      2. JessaB*

        Exactly, the whole reason she was on this project at ALL was to give her the experience following after John so that she would be prepared to lead her own project in the future. This was not a punishment “oh you can’t be a leader so go follow John and you’ll never amount to anything.” This was literally a chance for her to show what she could do, learn from John and get her very own project to lead.

    2. Nervous Accountant*

      Like. I just don’t get it. did she think that his medical condition makes him unfit for the job? How is that even relevant??? This is just so… I can’t even!!!!! What an awful person!

    1. Snark*

      OK, and now that I’ve recovered from the AHMAGAD, good grief, OP, stop wringing your hands. Get with HR, get with your boss, get with the goddamned CEO, and stand up for John and basic decency. Jan is so far out of the bounds of normal human social conduct, let alone acceptable workplace behavior, that you need to be thinking in terms of “how do I let people with decisionmaking power know this happened so we protect the company from this Costco-size sack of banana crackers” not “I cannot discipline her because I am but a team lead, what do?”

      1. neverjaunty*

        Hey, that’s really unfair. The OP isn’t wringing her hands, she’s asking for advice (as is the purpose of this site) in a situation she knows is horrible, but where she is in a lead-but-no-real-authority role and management is all out of the office.

        1. Snark*

          Sure, but my point was even if she has no direct authority, she needs to reframe this as “how do I engage everyone I can who does have authority” not “but I don’t have the authority to do anything.” It’s super easy for someone in the team lead position to fall into spinning their wheels when faced with a performance issue or a massively gross instance of misconduct, and she needs to not do that.

          1. SunshineOH*

            Exactly. Somewhere, somehow, there is some one who CAN do something. Find that person immediately, on vacation or not. I’d be ten shades of PISSED if this happened on my team and the lead didn’t call me.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yeah. When someone behaves this far out of the boundaries of basic decency, it’s normal for folks in OP’s position to be stunned and to not know how to proceed. Most of us (thankfully) don’t have experience with people who are this out of their gourds, and as a result, it can make it especially difficult to know the right way to respond.

          1. Snark*

            That’s fair. My intent with that was not “why are you stunned?!” it was more like “shake it off, there’s a war on!”

          2. Penny Lane*

            At the very least, it’s odd that the OP hasn’t seen fit to inform boss (even if on vacation) when highly inappropriate material was sent to clients/vendors. Leave aside John for the moment -there are major damage control efforts and they need to happen sooner rather than later. OP, I think you’re being way too passive here.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I don’t think it’s that odd. The boss was at a family wedding and then out for Christmas. I can see how—if you feel disempowered and flabbergasted by what’s happened—you may not know when or how to escalate an issue.

              I could be entirely wrong, but if I’m giving OP the benefit of the doubt, then I think OP is basically in the “freeze” reaction to fight/flight/freeze. It can be really overwhelming to try to navigate situations that are this batshit crazy when it feels like it’s above your paygrade and you don’t know who to speak to or if it’s ok to contact them.

              1. Fiennes*

                Also, we found out about this all at once. For OP, this information has revealed itself bit by bizarre bit, so weird and off-putting that it would be hard to know how to react at the stage where nobody knows who did it, or where Jan was claiming she was hacked, etc. Sometimes situations are much clearer laid out in one piece than they are during their complicated unfolding.

                1. OhNo*

                  Excellent point. It’s easy to see the scope of the nastiness when you have the whole thing laid out in front of you, but if you were introduced to it piece by piece it’d be more like the frog in the slowly heating water – never really sure if now is the right time to jump.

                2. OhBehave*

                  Once I learned about this, I think I would be stunned into disbelief. As more details emerged AND knowing that no one in authority was immediately available it would make me question the best way of handling this horrible situation. There is so much damage control to do here: the victim, vendors, customers, fellow employees. I am very hopeful the bosses will do the right thing immediately.

                  This is definitely a letter demanding updates!

              2. chica*

                agreed! especially if the OP would normally handle issues on his/her own. and most especially if company culture is strongly on the “we want you to enjoy your vacation and disconnect” side of the business. Which is a laudable thing! But I also agree with everyone that this is a call your manager kind of situation. Maybe the OP just needed a little nudge.

                1. Sam*

                  My office is definitely a, “Do not contact people on vacation unless there is literal death involved,” kind of place, which I really appreciate, so I would definitely hesitate to contact my boss mid-holiday. But if there wasn’t another supervisor available to turn to, I don’t think I’d have a choice.

                2. JessaB*

                  Sam, this rises to literal death, it could very well be the literal death of the company’s good name and contracts. It’s just not a human death.

              3. SheLooksFamiliar*

                ‘I think OP is basically in the “freeze” reaction to fight/flight/freeze. It can be really overwhelming to try to navigate situations that are this batshit crazy when it feels like it’s above your paygrade and you don’t know who to speak to or if it’s ok to contact them.’

                Exactly. Sometimes we have to have truly courageous conversations with our boss, our peers, and ourselves, and I hope the OP can have one with his/her boss. It has to be done. Also, this situation is so far out of the norm that I imagine everyone in the right paygrade will need some time to process.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      And it’s only the first Wednesday. I know that WTF Wednesday has been abandoned, but this is making it freaking hard, ya know?

  6. KimberlyR*

    Jan is a terrible person. As a bystander to the whole scenario, I wouldn’t want to work with Jan either. I hope OP takes the strongest possible actions available to her until the bosses are back.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      boss: “Jan, we are going to put you on this team so that you can gain the experience to lead in the future.”
      Jan: “Ok” (meanwhile, rubbing hands together and thinking, I’ll take over soon enough, if I can sabotage John, the lead will be mine, mine, mine!)
      Yeah, well, Machiavelli is spinning in his grave.

      1. Jules the Third*

        He is, because this is the kind of behavior he would not endorse. He gets a bum rap – _The Prince_ is actually a lesson in what to do with short term power if you want to lose long term – he admits it in a couple of letters and other books. _Discourses on Livy_ is much better, and actually useful political philosophy.

        1. Snark*

          Yeah, it was more of an epic, satirical troll of the ruling family of Florence at the time than it was an actual how-to manual. It’s political philosophy for fascistic, vicious losers.

      2. Hildegard Vonbingen*

        To give him credit where it’s due, Machiavelli was a lot smarter than Jan. So was the little white hamster I had when I was eight. Jan epitomizes something I’ve seen repeatedly in life and that leaves me SMH:

        A bad concept, poorly executed.

  7. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Alison comes down with firing. This is big.
    LW, please read her reply carefully. There is a lot of emotional responses happening now and I know you don’t want to simply knee-jerk react to “she was mean to him.” So again, read carefully and reflect.
    Jan created a hostile work environment by photographing and disseminating pictures of John’s body.
    That’s all. That’s enough.

    1. Karo*

      I don’t think this rises to the technical definition of a hostile work environment, though. That has to be severe and pervasive.

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            Although as was noted, “colostomy bag” is more common in the US, so this discussion may not apply.

            1. Anony*

              Even if it wasn’t creating a “hostile work environment” it has created a situation it has shown that she is vindictive and willing to go to extremes even if it involves persecuting coworkers and embarrassing the company. You don’t keep someone like that on your staff.

              1. RabbitRabbit*

                Oh, absolutely. I’m just saying the legal specifics may not apply, but she’s still an utterly toxic and unreliable employee.

              1. cutie honey*

                i think they meant the fact that LW used “stoma bag” vs “colostomy bag” means that they could be in the UK so the discussion of US laws might not apply

          2. Barney Barnaby*

            Yes, and…

            It’s pretty darn foolish to invite a lawsuit because you *might not* lose said lawsuit.

      1. Artemesia*

        Asking someone out is not harassment; pressing again and again to go out becomes ‘pervasive’. But pushing someone into the corner and sticking your tongue down their throat only has to happen once.

        This is in the latter category. Taking the pictures (which required some real intent and planning) and then sending them to clients and vendors, is about as ‘severe’ as it gets. This is a one off incident of severe harassment over a disability.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        If outing someone’s disability to clients, vendors, and coworkers doesn’t qualify as creating a hostile environment, I don’t know what would.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Disclosure by a coworker usually doesn’t meet the standard, unless the disability is considered to be particularly reviled (stigmatizing—I know).

          What she did was horrific and 1000% not ok, but it doesn’t have to violate the ADA to be a firing offense.

          1. fposte*

            It’s wryly funny–basically, she’s *trying* to create what would be considered a hostile work environment, and if she fails it’s because other people are decent.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I agree with Karo that this probably doesn’t rise to the legal standard.

        But she’s still worth firing. She doesn’t have to break the law to be unworthy of working with decent people.

        1. Annabelle*

          Could I ask you why this doesn’t rise to that standard? She’s essentially tormenting him because of a medical condition. Aren’t people with ADA-covered conditions a protected class?

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            They’re definitely protected! And Alison clearly thinks this meets the standard.

            The reason I suspect this doesn’t rise to the standard is because courts have (imo) set the standard unreasonably high for a “one-time” occurrence to be considered so severe that it creates a hostile work environment (i.e., alters the conditions of employment for the worse). Engaging in conduct that intends to torment and humiliate someone can certainly qualify, but OP’s description sounds like it could go either way.

            1. Anononon*

              Eh, depending on the response (or rather, if it’s a non-response), this is definitely a case I would take on. If management doesn’t do much, I think there’s a very strong case here.

            2. essEss*

              By sending it to clients, she was trying to jeopardize his project and contracts with clients. That sounds like it would qualify as ” alters the conditions of employment for the worse”

            3. Jesca*

              Well, I look at it like this. If management decided to not put a stop to it or didn’t find out for months on end, that would be considered hostile. Like hostility in the work place needs to be defined over a period time because the expectation is that the employer is supposed to stop it and fire the person after the first instance. If they do not fire her and she even remotely continues along these lines, then it is hostile.

              Her one time thing is a fireable offense not only because it is one of the most disgusting and misguided attempts at trying to publically shame another person that I have ever seen, but because if the company does do nothing AND allowed it to continue, they could find themselves in some hot water.

              Basically, John can’t sue right now, but if the employer does nothing, then John can sue.

              It wouldn’t hurt to point out to the dumb dumb here that she is a huge risk to any employer before firing her (God, I would tell her nasty ass that in a minute), but I doubt it will register in her brain.

      4. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        If this doesn’t fit the spirit and letter of a hostile work environment, I cannot imagine what does. Medical conditions are protected. If you mock someone’s medical condition, that can be considered creating a hostile work environment. Even if it’s just the two of them. If someone is afraid to come into work because she is going to be tortured by an office mate because of a medical condition, that is a severe treatment causing a hostile environment. If mocking office mate sends pictures to everybody in the company contact list, that’s pervasive.

        1. Autumnheart*

          It was also targeted specifically to affect John’s professional advancement and capacity. It wasn’t just making fun of his appearance. She did it in the attempt to prove he couldn’t fulfill his job duties.

      5. Apollo Warbucks*

        I would argue that this is such an outrageous violation of John’s privacy that even as a one off it event it is so serious to be considered hostile.

      6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Actually, you know what I just realized? It doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t derail the post/comment arguing over whether this meets the legal requirements for a hostile work environment.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          I think that is where OP is getting hung up. Is there a clear cut reason to fire Jan or is this just bad judgement? Well, it’s a clear cut reason.

        2. hbc*

          Yes, the time to debate the legal risks is after Jan is out the door. Worrying about discrimination, ADA, and hostile work environment at this point is like finding your hot water heater flooding your basement and sitting down to read your insurance policy rather than finding the shutoff valve.

        3. Detached Elemental*

          Agreed. As other people have said, this behaviour doesn’t have to be illegal to be a firing offence.

          The way I see it, firing offences are ones where the relationship between employer and employee is damaged beyond repair. If I were a boss, Jan’s lack of judgement, compassion, and decency mean I’d fire her in a heartbeat, even if she had broken zero laws with her behaviour. I simply wouldn’t want to maintain any kind of professional relationship with her, or have her representing my company.

      7. Penny Lane*

        Personally, if I were the boss, whether it rose to “hostile work environment” would be irrelevant to me – Jan has revealed herself to be a horrible person who mistreated another employee and created a bad situation with clients/vendors, and for that alone I’d be expecting her to clear out her desk by the end of the day and be gone. I don’t need to wait for legal rulings to get rid of a bad person on my team.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Jan has also proven that she is not trustworthy. You can’t any of you work with her in the future, not comfortably.

  8. cutie honey*

    “John won’t talk to her and kicked her off the project despite not having the authority to do so. He told me he’ll quit the project and his job before he works with Jan. I can’t speak to John about his actions because I am not management and because he is freezing Jan out and not getting in her face or yelling at her or anything.”

    I mean…..*john* is not the person whose actions you need to be discussing, tbh. sounds like he’s handling this pretty well, considering how horribly jan has treated him….

    1. DoctorateStrange*

      Yes, I’m a little surprised that the LW was questioning John’s behavior and not, you know, JAN’S.

      And I urge LW to follow Alison’s advice because this may affect how others will see the LW as a lead if they don’t adequately handle Jan. I would certainly lose trust in someone that didn’t respond immediately to an employee’s ableism and bullying, especially if I was to report to them.

      1. Kate*

        “Yes, I’m a little surprised that the LW was questioning John’s behavior and not, you know, JAN’S.

        To be fair, it seems the LW investigated the situation by questioning Jan and says she disagrees with Jan’s actions, but also says she doesn’t have the authority to discipline her. So I wouldn’t say she’s focusing on John’s behavior instead of Jan’s. The comments about John’s behavior made me think LW is framing this as a “sometimes we have to work with people we don’t like” situation. But what Jan did is truly egregious. Jan did not just do something bad or annoying. This was such a violation of John’s privacy. She needs to go.

        1. DoctorateStrange*

          That is absolutely true and a good point.

          I guess I was just surprised to hear more about John’s (understandable) reactions than how Jan’s behavior was after everything got revealed. I hate to think Jan will probably somehow act like a victim out of this hideous situation she deliberately caused but I wouldn’t be shocked.

      2. OhNo*

        It sounds like the OP is currently a little too caught up in the letter of the law. Technically OP doesn’t have the authority to discipline Jan, technically John doesn’t have the authority to kick Jan off the project, technically no one can say anything to anyone because they’re not management…

        There comes a time in every team lead, manager, or supervisor’s working life where they have to know when to shunt the rules off to the side and exercise their own judgement. I hope OP takes Alison’s advice and all the comments here as proof that their judgement of the situation (that this is horrible) is correct, and acts on it. Whether that’s calling the manager on vacation, or going straight to HR, or just telling John that this is a crap situation and you’ll support him 100%.

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      Agreed, John is being downright level-headed and calm about all of this. This is nuts! She managed to *spy* on him somehow to get that photo, then sent it both within and outside the organization?! Because she was mad she wasn’t a leader?

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Jan sounds like she’s got a few screws loose. She should have taken the opportunity to get in close to John so he could teach her everything he knows about the project, thereby getting goodwill from him and shoring up additional skills she could parlay into another project of her own in the future, but instead she decided to act like a comic book villain. I will never understand dumb people.

    3. Annabelle*

      Seriously. Can you really blame him for freezing her out? Managing a chronic health condition is stressful enough without some twisted person mocking you for it. They’re lucky John hasn’t quit already.

    4. VioletEMT*

      John seems to be acting in a reasonable and mature fashion. He should not be compelled to work with someone who did this to him.

      Also: HOLY COW. WTF, Jan?

    5. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

      Thanks for touching on this I agree.

      I think the LW is currently over their head right now and is in a bit of frantic damage control.

      It’s absolutely correct that the only conversation that she has with John right now is to assure him that she is doing all in her power to address the issue with Jan and the powers that be. John’s reaction is professional and about the best you could hope for in this situation.

      1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        Yes, this! If I were OP, I’d be worrying about losing John before the boss and grandboss return. I would be doing everything in my power to assure John that I will support him and advocate for Jan’s firing.

      2. LBK*

        I agree – I think the insanity of the situation is overloading the OP’s ability to see it clearly. In a vacuum, John’s actions would also be pretty unacceptable, so I can understand why she has a impulse to do something about his behavior as well, but in context his reaction seems perfectly logical to me and I think it should be supported.

      3. Safetykats*

        In the absence of any manager, someone should be delegated as acting. That person should be actively working with HR to make this right for John and implement damage control with clients and vendors. If somehow two levels of management are gone and nobody is acting, absolutely the absent management should be contacted ASAP. If managers don’t want to be on call when out of the office, they should delegate.

        If there is an acting manager and they are just unsure of their authority, the letter of delegation and company policy documents should spell that out. If they don’t, HR should be able to help with that as well.

        1. Hildegard Vonbingen*

          Great comment. Bad idea to leave the ship rudderless while you’re on shore leave…

        2. Jadelyn*

          That’s what I’m wondering – where the hell is the grandboss in all this? If boss is on vacation and something happens that can’t wait til they get back, you take things to grandboss. End of. Even if OP doesn’t have actual authority over the situation, *someone* does. Find that person and get them involved immediately.

        3. Massmatt*

          Right–Management needs to EITHER delegate power to act in their absence, OR expect that their vacations are going to be interrupted, it comes with the territory.

          But I feel there’s some piling on to the OP here, it sounds as though there was no delegation of management power and perhaps the culture there is vacation time is sacrosanct.

          This situation is so bizarre I can’t imagine not being shocked by it, and on top of that being a lead often means you get all the responsibilities and none of the power–or pay–of managing.

    6. Anna*

      Yeah, John’s response to being harassed by a coworker is not even open for discussion. Jan is the issue and John’s “authority” is not up for debate.

    7. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

      This is reminding me of the bird phobia letter where the employer was putting all the blame on the person who didn’t want to come back to work with someone who shoved her in front of a moving car.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I actually don’t think it’s that bad. I think OP is trying to report what a cluster this has turned out to be and the magnitude of Jan’s actions on John and those around him. This letter doesn’t have the judgmental “why is she so unreasonable?” tone that was pervasive in the first bird phobia letter.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Sorry, to clarify: It’s not great to try to “deal with John” because he’s really not being inappropriate. I just meant that I don’t think OP’s perspective is as bad as the bird phobia letter.

      2. Temperance*

        I’m going to disagree with you there. I think LW here honestly is in over her head with a straight-up unheard of situation, whereas Bird Phobia LW’s company was more or less re-victimizing someone who had been through a horrifying, traumatic situation instead of making her financially and emotionally whole.

        LW isn’t making things worse for John like Bird Phobia company made things worse for Liz. (Not blaming Bird Phobia LW here specifically, to be clear.)

    8. Jadelyn*

      OP/OP’s company should be glad that John didn’t walk out on the spot. A lot of people would have, and would’ve been entirely justified in doing so. Kicking her off the project and refusing to work with her is frankly quite mild as far as reactions to having one’s medical privacy violated in a vengeful attempt at public humiliation. John is not even remotely in the wrong here.

    9. This Daydreamer*

      Yeah, I think John is being very mature.

      Hell, if he wanted to take the low road, he does have a colostomy bag. He should be congratulated for not giving in to temptation.

  9. Brandy*

    She needs to be fired. Shes has shown that she will take revenge if things don’t go her way. To the point if intruding into someone’s personal life at home. Also she has sent this to clients/customers/vendors. A HUGE no-no. This could potentially (not will but ahs the ability to) cost the company in clients/customers/vendors.

    1. Caro in the UK*

      Yes there are so many layers to how bad this is. It’s maliciously bad judgement all the way down.

      1. Spelliste*

        Read that as “so many lawyers to how bad this is.” You probably could measure the magnitude of this issue in number of lawyers. It would be a lot.

  10. Ames.Names*

    Wait. These photos were taken of him when he was at home and he wasn’t aware? Something about that seems criminal to me.

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      If he’s on his porch, it’s creepy and weird but I don’t think it’s illegal, at least in the US.

      1. Hildegard Vonbingen*

        Probably not in the UK either. Those CCTV cameras are ubiquitous in the UK – all in public places. Much more so than here, actually. Apparently there is zero expectation of privacy when you’re in a public place in Great Britain (and I’m not implying that there should be).

        1. Bagpuss*

          Well, there are rules abut cctv cameras, and a lot would depend on whether the camera was covering the street, or someones house.
          So photos or film of someone in a public place are mostly legal, photos of film of someone in their own home or garden even if that is visible from a public place, may be more problematic.
          However, in the UK Jan’s actions could potentially amount to harassment of John, which is both a civil and a criminal offence.
          From an employment perspective, if John raises a grievance that isn’t dealt with appropriately, and he leaves as a result, he could have a claim against the company for constructive dismissal, and IIRC, damages for cases involving discrimination on the basis of a protected characteristic are unlimited, so a situation like this could be very, very expensive for the company if they don’t handle it well. Quite apart from the ethical and business issues.

        2. JM in England*

          A while ago, saw a documentary about CCTV in the UK. It was estimated that a resident of any large city appears on CCTV cameras an average of 300 times a day…

    2. Ames.Names*

      I’m in Canada, and I’m not sure of the law here, I still can’t help but wonder if there isn’t some sort of stalker law that couldn’t be looked at. I’m not sure why, but I find this part of the post exceptionally disturbing.

    3. Anom*

      I think if the person entered private property to take those photos it would be illegal. It’s legal to take photos of people out in public but trespassing is not legal. And I bet a good lawyer could argue that use of a drone (which is in a legal grey area in my city) on private property would be illegal depending on how high it was flying and airspace rights and such. But even if not illegal he could probably take the coworker to civil court for harassment and the company as well if it fails to protect him because this is harassment based on a medical disability.

    4. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

      In California, you absolutely cannot use a drone or long lens camera to take photos of people on their private property that you share. This is a very specific and strict law. Taking the photos? Legal as long as they aren’t published. But the instant that photo is shown to another person, it is illegal in California. And “publishing” is defined in California law as simply showing the image to another person. It doesn’t have to be uploaded to a website or printed and disseminated. Showing the picture on the back of the camera to someone else is considered publishing.

    1. Decima Dewey*

      It’s a bag to contain urine or feces after surgical procedures like a colostomy. You can never stop wearing it. Ever.

      1. I Didn’t Kill Kenny*

        This is not correct. While some are permanent, this device can be a temporary measure. I have a relative who had surgery for colon cancer and he needed the bag for a few weeks after surgery.

        It can be traumatic for some people and my heart goes out to John.

        As for Jan, What a disgusting excuse for a human being.

        1. Liane*

          Yes, College Son had one for several months, as an infant due to a congenital condition, and had some related issues up into elementary school. (He’s fine now, nothing but a couple weird scars.) And yes, this history makes me extra outraged on John’s behalf. Older preschoolers and then my son’s elementary classmates were capable of understanding a simple explanation of his problems and that they shouldn’t tease and so they didn’t. Which makes Jan stupider and meaner than a bunch of kids under 10.

          Yes, OP, I know you were probably so blindsided by Jan’s jerkiness that it was hard for you to figure out what to do or where to start–and this is so beyond the things you’d usually handle, I bet. But you checked with Alison–a very good idea. Now, please, get with your bosses today like she said! Not only don’t you want Jan having a chance to do something else slimy to you, John or anyone else–you don’t want the bosses finding out about this from a disgusted client or vendor. Especially one who has–or knows someone–with a similar disability. Or worse, finding out from social media.

    2. Inigo Montoya*

      It is an ostomy bag for either an ileostomy (small intestine) or colostomy (large intestine) to collect waste through a stoma (a hole in the lower abdomen). I had one for a short time while being treated for cancer. Mine was an ileostomy and I can’t imagine anyone appreciating getting a picture of it.

      1. Anonymouse*

        My Dad had a temporary colostomy when he had a perforated colon a number of years ago. I have a permanent ileostomy due to a congenital birth defect.

  11. ZSD*

    Good lord.
    After Jan has been (we hope) fired, should the company address this with the clients and vendors in some way? Should they send an apology on behalf of the company? Do something different? Do nothing?

    1. Corky's wife Bonnie*

      I was thinking the same thing. The vendors and clients must be thinking, “what kind of company are we doing business with?” They need to do some serious damage control on that front.

      1. ContentWrangler*

        I’m also wondering if there was any message along with the photo. Did the vendors and clients just get a random photo of a man sitting on the porch (would they all recognize Jon?) with a medical device exposed? Unless there was some kind of message, as a vendor or client, I might just think someone accidentally sent me a personal email meant for someone else….either way, it should definitely be addressed with an official follow up email.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          I agree. The company’s going to have to address this awkwardness with the clients/vendors presumably after they’ve canned Jan.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          This is an excellent question. I’m really curious to know if Jan included anything other than the photo.

      2. Else*

        Yes – I’d be extremely weirded out and leery of interacting with them unless I saw evidence that a) the company knew this was bad and b) they did something about it that would remove the sender of the creepy messages.

        1. michelenyc*

          One of my first thoughts is if one of their vendors/customers has already reached out to OP’s manager and have just not seen or heard the message yet. I know that if I received an e-mail like that as a customer one of the first things I would do is e-mail or call the whoever was in charge. With that said as OP’s manager I would be really angry to find out this happened from one of our vendors/customers and not from a lead.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Oh good point. I wonder if they emailed and the manager has been checking emails while on holiday. But if I were the OP, I would still get on the phone RIGHT NOW and let them know. It would look really bad if news like this came from a client and not the team lead.

    2. WellRed*

      For all we know, some of these vendors have reached out to the vacationing higher ups. Another good reason for the OP to contact them YESTERDAY and give them a heads up!

      1. Middle School Teacher*

        I think you’re right. I would be surprised if boss and Grandboss hadn’t already gotten several outraged calls and emails.

    3. Jadelyn*

      They absolutely should, yes. A simple email to everyone she sent it to saying something like “We want to apologize for the egregious breach of privacy and good taste, and would like to be clear that this was an employee acting on her own. That employee is no longer working here, and we wanted to reassure everyone that [company] would never condone that kind of behavior.”

  12. Future Homesteader*

    WOW. Just, WOW.

    What I don’t get is why on earth people think that a stoma bag is anything to be ashamed of or in any way interesting gossip? We actually had an issue at my last job with a mean girl type, and she, too, for some reason thought that making fun of a coworker (who had survived cancer and therefore had a bag) was both amusing and something to use against her. I mean…just…why? On so many levels, why??

    Pardon me, I’ll be over here turning purple with rage.

    1. Annabelle*

      Yeah, I don’t get it either. Most of the people I know with colostomy bags either have long-term GI issues or are cancer survivors. So she’s basically mocking him for not having an illness, which is horrifying.

    2. Artemesia*

      It is embarrassing because it is awkward, and it concerns bowel function which most people find very private. And it can be pretty miserable to manage. Lots of people who have these after cancer surgery or crohn’s disease surgery do their best of be very discreet about the process which is a tad icky as managing any serious bowel situation like IBS or crohns can be. I can see how a nasty immature jerk could pick on that as something to try to humiliate someone else about. Just horrible.

      1. LBK*

        I think you hit the nail on the head – she was trying to embarrass him. Which is even more cruel than if she’d, say, dug up dirt on him doing something unethical and exposed that; at least there could be an argument that even if she did it for the wrong reasons, he could have avoided the situation by not doing something unethical in the first place. But in this case, a medical issue is not a moral failing. It’s so disgusting and pretty much downright evil to try to use that to basically shame him out of his career.

        1. TootsNYC*

          she may have assumed this his discretion over the issue means he is ashamed of it, which makes it a vulnerability. If you’re keeping it secret it must be bad, is the reasoning.

      2. Casper Lives*

        +1 Yes, it’s about embarrassing John. My uncle has had one after a surgery for Crohn’s disease. I rarely see it because he’s embarrassed about this private medical issue as it’s about human waste. The same reason we don’t discuss our coworkers’ bathroom habits.

        1. Dancer*

          Indeed Jan was trying to embarrass him by essentially trying to expose his toilet habits to people with a further aim of trying to lower him in their sight. It’s a particularly petty, vindictive and unpleasant thing to do to a colleague.
          My Grandmother had a stoma after bowel cancer. She viewed it as private and personal so preferred not to mention it or have it discussed with people other than her daughters. I remember when the vicar tried to talk to her about how she was doing and Grandma shut her right down. Remembering again how difficult Grandma found some aspects of the situation, makes me incredibly angry at Jan for using this to try and bully a colleague.

    3. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

      I think what these bullies pick up on is the vulnerability the person with the stoma is feeling and prey on that. I agree that this is nothing that should be interesting for gossip but then again I am a grown up who doesn’t feel the need to bring others down to make myself stand out. It’s sad that there are people out there that do. Let me join you over there in the purple with rage corner!!!
      LW, call the boss. This woman is disgusting and deserves to be outed to the boss as the truly heinous person she is.

    4. Elizabeth H.*

      It’s not even interesting! It’s barely even interesting if it were someone you were close friends with mentioning it. Like you might feel glad that someone felt close enough to you to share some personal medical details, but then you’d probably forget about it. It’s so messed up to think that it’s something that would be a dramatic reveal.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        When one of my friends had bowel surgery and got a stoma and bag, it was very interesting to her friends! But that’s because deciding to have the surgery was a big deal to her and she hoped that it would help her spend less time feeling sick and in the hospital and would see some real improvement in her quality of life. Not because there’s anything inherently interesting about a stoma bag.

        Crohn’s disease sucks, y’all.

      2. ArtsNerd*

        Adding another voice to the chorus of thinking ths ‘outing’ is weirdly underwhelming, especially given how elaborate this whole project was. If I got that photo in my email without any context, I’d probably think it was some totally innocent thing, just mistakenly sent to me instead of its intended recipient.

        Unless of course, the nature of the photo made it clear that it was taken by someone spying!?!?!?!? on John without his consent. Then I would be hella confused for probably a good few minutes before the rage kicked in.

    5. oranges & lemons*

      I mean, Jan is obviously terrible and I’m sure John feels awful about being the target of this harrassment, but it seems like an incredibly boring thing to go to so much trouble to gossip about. To me, it’s kind of on par with circulating a rumour that John uses hearing aids. Why would anyone care?

      1. Jules the Third*

        Because a lot of people have issues with human waste. The most I would care would be a mild, ‘is there anything I can do to support you?’ but there are a lot of people who would consider this a big deal. A *lot*, especially in 1st world countries, which this probably is.

        Clearly Jan is one of them, and she thinks other people will care too. Also, clearly John isn’t comfortable with this exposure. It may just be because her intent to harm is so blatant, but he may also have some intrinsic discomfort with human waste. This discomfort is actually well within the bounds of normal human reactions, especially given the distance that modern sanitation puts between us and our waste, and the understanding we have of how many diseases can be carried in human waste (cholera, typhoid, etc).

        1. oranges & lemons*

          Yeah, based on the responses here, I am clearly underestimating how many people would find this information titillating somehow. I just can’t imagine having any strong feelings about finding this out about a coworker, unless I knew that it made a difference to their health or well-being.

          1. Future Homesteader*

            Right? I mean, I just find this so mundane! It’s obviously something personal/medical but I find nothing interesting or shameful about it. It’s not like John’s hiding a secret set of pterodactyl wings under his shirt. Now *that* would be interesting.

            1. Shandon*

              I don’t think the reactions of others is necessarily the point. I think John’s reaction is the point. She wanted to hurt him and she succeeded, regardless of how anyone else might feel, or not care, about his medical condition. It clearly mattered to him, and “outing” it, especially in such a way, will make him feel at least uncomfortable around co-workers and clients. That was the point.

    6. Arya Snark*

      Can we please pin or flag the post if the OP responds? I can only imagine the number of comments this is going to get and I NEED to know if there is an update.

    7. Elementary Teacher*

      I’ve had an ostomy for over 25 years (received when I was 12 years old). When I was in Grade 8 I had a horrible experience of two girls in my year mercilessly teasing me (they found out somehow – I certainly didn’t tell them). Like all things at that age, it was something a bully could hold over another person to feel powerful. Not gonna lie, that experience scarred me for life. I feel “Jan” has a similar maturity to my two 13-year-old tormentors and was probably expecting to be backed up by her coworkers in fellow mockery. I feel for John so much.

      1. SB*

        I’m sorry you had that experience. Some people are just cruel. I hope for them that they never end up with it but karma would be very sweet then.

      2. Dancer*

        I’m sorry you got bullied about it at school. Children can be incredibly horrible sometimes and Jan sounds like a school bully.

      3. This Daydreamer*

        Ugh. That must have been horrible.

        I think that’s a big part of why this is so upsetting; it’s too much like middle-school bullying. It’s that vicious, nasty, childish, and deliberately hurtful.

    8. Nancie*

      I don’t know if it’s the case in the UK, but in the US it opens up the possibility of hiring discrimination. Employing someone with a history of cancer can increase the cost of the company’s group health policy. I assume the same is true of someone with a history of Crones.

      1. MsSolo*

        Insurance isn’t an issue, with the NHS. I’m sure some companies probably offer private health insurance to show off how swanky they are, but I doubt they’re the kind where you’d find yourself in this situation with everybody up the food chain on leave at once.

        (however, some people with stoma bags require a disabled toilet to change them, which a lot of small UK employers may not have, so there’s a potential for discrimination there)

      2. Isobel*

        Well, in the UK people don’t necessarily have health insurance through their employer, so this is much less of a consideration.
        Though I wasn’t reading this as UK based because I don’t know anyone who has a porch they sit on, especially as the weather is hardly clement at the moment. Maybe Australia/NZ?

        1. Detached Elemental*

          I’m not sure the OP is in Australia because “porch” and “stoma bag” don’t sound Australian to me; we might be more likely to say “verandah” and “colostomy bag”. But there’s a lot of regional variation in Aus.

    9. Vendelle*

      Thank you for that comment! I have had a urostomy since I was 3 and while I used to be bullied with it, that stopped soon after my 12th birthday. I can’t believe any adult would actually think any kind of medical equipment or medical condition is ever in any way shameful or aomething to laugh at.

    10. Oranges*

      My Read: Because they’ve been marked as “other” and “sub-human” and therefore deserve humiliation when they beat “normal/good people” out of something they want.

      In her mind there’s “healthy people” vs “other DISGUSTING people”. She thinks they should be ashamed of their “inferiorities”. If I am correct then Jane needs to be fired and also needs some empathy. If she can’t empathize (for whatever reason) then she needs to have severe consequences to her behavior so next time she’ll act out of “enlightened” selfishness and not do something like this (even if she thinks it…. grumble).

  13. LadyL*

    Oh dear lord. There are so many parts of this I can’t even fathom; Jan must be seriously disturbed.

    How much time exactly did she put into getting that photo?? And for what purpose?? Did she think that John ought to be ashamed of his stoma bag?? Did she expect everyone who got the photos to turn to him and say, “Hey! We thought all your organs were working perfectly, you nasty organ function-liar! How dare you!” No, really, *how* did she think this was going to turn out???

    Jan has revealed herself to be absolutely untrustworthy and needs to go ASAP. Good god.

    1. Snark*

      “How much time exactly did she put into getting that photo??”

      Well, clearly, she FLEW A FUCKING DRONE TO HIS HOUSE TO TAKE A PICTURE OF IT, so I assume this was at least an afternoon project.

      1. LadyL*

        Did they know for sure how they got the photo? I read that as a guess, which means it could potentially have been even more absurd (like hiring a PI with a telephoto lens or something).

          1. EddieSherbert*


            (I’m personally imagining Jan hiding in the bushes near John’s house dressed in camo)

            1. Merci Dee*

              Funny. I was imagining her propped up in a tree in camo, a pair of binoculars pressed to her face, and a nest with mechanical warbling birds pinned in her hair. Peep, peep, peep!

        1. Wendy Darling*

          I own a telephoto lens because I’m a hobby photographer, so if I were ever to completely lose my ability to operate as a decent human being in the world I could theoretically take such a photo.

          Since I am not an earth-shattering asshole, I use it to take photos of wildlife.

          1. Natalie*

            Yep, my spouse bought a drone for Christmas for a similar reason, but we will not be using it to spy on coworkers! It’s just for nature videos.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        My thought was that she happened to find a photo from Google Earth or something. If she actually flew the damn drone out there herself that ramps this up to an even higher degree of WTFitude than I was originally thinking.

            1. Wendy Darling*

              I once cut into an onion to make dinner only to discover it had somehow been rotting from the inside out and the center was completely foul. This is like that. (This also revealed it as the source of the vague bad smell in my kitchen, which I feel is also a good metaphor for this situation.)

              1. Jules the Third*

                Heh – Steven Brust built a whole book around the different ways an onion can go bad, and how people deal with it. _Yendi_, if you like well-written fantasy and can find it.

                1. Quacktastic*

                  +1 for the reference and series recommendation! (I’m a longtime lurker but have only commented here maybe once, and have been considering changing my username here to Sethra Lavode if I end up commenting more frequently. )

            2. Snark*

              Like the ones where the center is already rotting and mushy but the outside just looks bruised and moldy?

              1. Wendy Darling*

                Oh man my onion looked fine — maybe a little old, like I was gonna have to throw out the outermost layer, but otherwise fine. Then I sliced it in half and YARGH. Had to send Mr Darling to the store for a new onion.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            You mean you don’t regularly look up your coworkers on whitepages dot com, then Google Earth their houses, then compare who has the biggest house and wonder why he is doing so much better than you are, and then figure out how you can get a picture that will humiliate him so you can take over his job and possibly the world, bwahahahaha?

          2. Natalie*

            Oh, that doesn’t seem to so weird to me depending on how long they’ve worked together, what the office culture is like, and/or the size of the community. I’ve known where a number of my coworkers lived, for various reasons. I just don’t use that information to take pictures of them.

          3. JB (not in Houston)*

            While this isn’t terribly common in most workplaces, where I work, we have an address and telephone list of every employee. I don’t know why. I think it’s weird. But I have access to the address of every person at the office.

        1. SallytooShort*

          Yeah, it is probably from Google Earth. Someone I know had a Google car drive by while he was smoking a joint in the backyard. So, that image of him is there if you do street view of his house. (We teased him about it because we are his friends. No one is circulating it around his job.)

          But she had to be looking up his home address to the point of getting visuals. So, she’s still totally unspeakably out of control.

          1. fposte*

            But surely if it were Google Street View people would have found where the picture came from by now by looking it up themselves, so it wouldn’t be a mystery. There was IT with enough of a head of steam to research the email; I can’t imagine nobody checked Street View for the picture. (I’m assuming we’re thinking that she cropped the watermark out, too.)

            1. Blue Anne*

              I dunno, if someone sent me a picture like that my first thought wouldn’t be “Oh, let me go check if it’s from the Google Street View of this person’s house”, even if I had his address.

              1. fposte*

                I’m not talking about the people who received it; I’m talking about the people at the company who’ve clearly been questioning Jan as to the provenance of the photo and checking her computer trails, and about John himself. Right now they’re all mystified as to where it came from and John thinks it may even have come from a neighboring hillside. I think 1) that and the drone theory suggests it’s from a higher angle than the Google car and 2) it would be really weird if they’d gotten to that level of speculation without considering Google.

          2. Adlib*

            Yesterday a friend of mine on Facebook (former coworker) proudly posted a Google Street view of himself giving the car the double finger. He’s an interesting individual.

      3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        There’s the Snark we know an love. It took both hands to reattach your jaw, so your typing was delayed!

  14. Dotty*

    Seriously??? This is nuts, who would even think to do that? It would be awful enough if she’d just circulated it internally but to send it to external contacts could be damaging for the company. Absolutely contact your boss even on holiday! I actually had one of my team contact a client with something inappropriate (they’d complained and he contacted to call them liars and various other names!) while I was off – because no one let me know until I was back in a week had passed before I could contact the client and do damage control

      1. Snark*

        Honestly, if something like this happened on my team, and someone didn’t call me IMMEDIATELY when I was on vacation to give me a heads up, I’d be considering disciplinary action agaist that person too. I’d be contacting grandboss and grand-grandboss too.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Seriously this. I really hope that this letter hasn’t been sitting in Alison’s ‘to be answered pile’ for a while because this LW needs to take immediate action.

        2. Aurion*

          If the OP is not well-versed in managing or leading people, I can see not being sure whether to call the boss and grandboss. I think disciplinary action against the OP would be way harsh.

          But OP, consider this our blessing to contact your boss, grandboss, and HR, because holy cow you guys have a mess to clean up. Jan sent it to customers and vendors?! Put it up in the goddamn breakroom?! What the actual F.

          1. The Other Dawn*

            I agree. I think a lot of people struggle with whether or not to contact the boss while they’re away. If someone hasn’t been told, “contact me about these very serious matters, but wait until I get back for these unimportant matters,” it can be hard to make that decision; I’ve certainly been there myself.

            1. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

              When I was new to managing, my rule was if I have to contact HR or Legal, my boss got a quick call too. Most times it was a simple “Hey got a situation -brief explanation-, called HR/Legal and are working with them. Currently under control, but thought you should know in case they pull you in.”

              I never had a boss yell at me for disturbing them under these circumstances.

              This is also one of those times where it’s easier to work for a company with a ‘call on vacation’ culture. As a boss, I always tell my reporting managers to call me and will let them know if I am totally out of cell contact.

          2. Snark*

            I guess I’m assuming that as part of being team lead, there was some kind of a conversation about “and if you’re acting as supervisor in my absence, and you have a major performance issue or something happens that potentially affects company interests, for godsake call me immediately.” But maybe that didn’t happen.

            1. Aurion*

              Sadly, I have seen team leads thrown to the wolves (i.e. their jobs) with about a day of training so the guiding conversations on How to Manage was…inadequate, to say the least.

              Even OP’s uncertainty about whether to talk to John about his reaction (which is totally justified) speaks to OP’s inexperience, in the “oh god, I totally understand why John is furious, but he’s not technically allowed to kick Jan off, is he?” way.

        3. Elizabeth H.*

          Same. I am really shocked that the boss AND the boss’s superior weren’t contacted immediately. My workplace definitely tends toward being pretty lax about not contacting people on vacation (people at the director and dean level often check email on vacation) so it’s possible this office has a very strict culture surrounding it – but still this is crazy. If I were the manager I would be completely horrified that this happened and nobody attempted to contact me, especially if it involved clients!

        4. Genny*

          I agree, though I think the timing matters a lot. For instance, if shizz started hitting the fan the day after I left for my PTO and was swirling around the office for two weeks until I got back, I would not be at all happy with whatever supervision I left, including team leads. If it happened 2 days before I got back, I would be upset and explain to my managers my future expectations, but there wouldn’t be formal consequences.

        5. Sara without an H*

          Moi, aussi. I once had an employee fired — for very good reason — while I was away on vacation, hiking in an area with no internet access. Fortunately, my boss and grandboss did what had to be done, and grandboss briefed me by email, so I knew the whole story as soon as I got close enough to civilization to get wifi.

          I would have been appalled if the whole situation had been allowed to fester and nobody told me until I got back to the office.

      2. Adlib*

        Yes, my boss is a higher-up, and he has been on vacation and still is for 2 more weeks or so. He said I could always contact him with anything that needs his attention, and he’ll respond. It comes with the territory.

    1. Liane*

      To our sorrow, I am sure, we now have a concrete example of where the bar is for Contacting Someone on Vacation: “An employee pulls an evil a–h-t stunt that opens the company to Bad PR, Lost Business/Valued Employees, and Legal Woes, but the only person who has any chance of fixing it is on PTO, then call them NOW.”

  15. ArtK*

    This is totally outrageous. What sends it completely over the edge is the fact that Jan had to take some positive (and difficult) action to get the photo. A drone or some other “spy” method?
    Summary of Jan’s sins:
    1) Violating John’s privacy by taking/getting the picture
    2) Further violating by sending it to anyone and everyone
    3) Lying about it
    4) Doing this as some sort of petty revenge for losing out on a project

    Any one of those is a fireable offense. Jan desperately needs help.

    OP, Alison is right about interacting with John. He’s doing the only thing that he can do about this (other than quitting or retaliating in kind.) Let him lead his project the way he wants to lead it — Jan-less.

  16. Mike C.*

    One other thing!!


    Times/Dates/Witnesses/What happened. Even if you can’t fire Jan personally, you can get all the paperwork ready for your boss/HR to do so.

    1. Mike C.*

      One other thing –

      When you contact your manager, have a list of options for things you can do to mitigate what Jan has done. For instance, Alison suggested putting Jan on leave until the manager gets back, but maybe come up with a few alternatives and some responses (if needed) for the rest of the coworkers and your vendors, etc. Present it as “I have a few options I can do right now if you think they’re appropriate”.

      What that does is allow your manager to quickly decide what to do, delegate it to you/HR/etc to get it done and then the manager can go back to their vacation without having to seriously interrupt what’s going on while actually managing this serious problem. Then why they get back they can take care of it completely.

      Otherwise you’re going to call them and they’ll have to figure out mitigation strategies or possibly even cut the vacation short. The latter might happen anyway, but as a lead I think you’re in a safe position to suggest possible ways to keep it under control.

      In short, if you come to someone with a serious problem, it’s always better to have some solutions on hand as well.

      1. Purplesaurus*

        Great ideas. Plus it would give OP more authority to execute since she’d have her manager’s approval.

      2. Mints*

        Firing Jan will have to wait, but OP can suggest suspension, or taking away all her projects, or probably lots of things that make sense in context

      3. AMPG*

        And once this has all settled down, if the OP has any standing to bring up an overhaul of “chain of command” protocols with management, it would be a good idea. When upper management is away, someone should have the delegated authority to do things like suspend an employee for egregious actions.

        1. Mike C.*

          Yeah, the lead (or some other delegate) should be treated as a temp manager. My employer treats this as a way to train future managers.

      4. A.N. O'Nyme*

        Oh yes, excellent suggestions. Especially the documenting part – make sure everything is covered.

      5. fposte*

        I would say conversely, though, that if you don’t have mitigation ideas right now (they might be above the OP’s paygrade) don’t wait to contact the bosses until you have them. Speed of informing is more important than its quality right now.

        1. Hildegard Vonbingen*

          Agree. This is no time for paralysis by analysis. Anyway, the problem is so clear and compelling that any competent manager will know immediately what he/she wants to do. Not much gray area here, is there?

      6. Green*

        ALSO: there are times when you should exceed your authority if your boss is unavailable. This, along with physical assault, is one of those times. If I had even the semblance of authority, I’d send Jan home for the day (or until whenever boss is available) or go to boss’s boss. This is absolutely not something that should fester as long as it has without managerial visibility to it.

        1. fposte*

          On the authority front, I’m wondering who initiated the IT investigation. Did they take it on themselves to do so? If so, that’s a good indication of an appropriate response in the absence of the boss.

      7. HappySnoopy*

        Great ideas, Mike C. I’ve been screaming document document in my head since reading this (between natural what the… reaction).

      8. LT*

        Oooh good point. I was thinking “give the boss just enough notice that justifies why you’re reaching out to them on vacation, and leave it up to them to contact you.” But I also agree that it would be more constructive to offer some solutions, and to not just be a person who only brings up issues without suggestions of resolutions.

  17. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Jan needs to go immediately, and her actions shouldn’t be up for debate here.

    A stoma bag isn’t all that different from a back brace or a prosthetic foot or any other medical device one would wear under her clothing. (Quite frankly I’m confused as to why this detail would be a point of gossip? ridicule? shame? I don’t know what Jan was going for here, but it doesn’t matter.)

    Jan’s actions aren’t just about what vendors would think or John kicking her off a project; her actions are about singling out someone with a physical abnormality because she didn’t get an assignment she wanted. It’s no different than if John were Muslim or Asian or transgender.

    Rarely are workplace issues axiomatic, but this truly is one of those scenarios.

    Your employer needs to understand not only the legal risks here but the moral and ethical ones. How they respond here will tell you everything you need to know about their priorities — good and bad.

    So, yes, please interrupt that vacation.

    1. Mr Grinch*

      People get made fun of for prosthetic feet and back braces, too. I always get made fun of my strangers for wearing my wrist braces. Haahahah, look at the cripple out in public!

      Jan is still trash but let’s not pretend her actions are rare and hard to understand.

      1. Caro in the UK*

        I agree. I’ve seen a disturbing number of people be disturbingly cruel to others. I’m not surprised at all that a stoma bag is something that someone like Jan would pick on.

      2. twig*

        I’m sorry that you have to put up with this. It’s not right.

        I’ve done my time in wrist braces (tendonitis) — but I was lucky that it was temporary.

      3. Pennalynn Lott*

        Holy heck, you get ridiculed for *wrist braces*??? If I’m standing in a long line next to someone wearing them, I might say, “Carpal tunnel?” depending on the level of conversation we’ve struck up. Most likely, though, I’d just discuss the weather because wrist braces are so absofreakinglutely normal.

        Gah, people are malicious, immature idiots.

        1. Red alert!*

          Lol @ people not knowing that people with medical devices draw WAY too many comments from the public. For example, virtually all young people with mobility aids of any kind are regularly (sometimes daily) accosted by strangers telling them that they shouldn’t be using it because they’re too young / will get deconditioned / can be healed by god / etc.

    2. Snark*

      “A stoma bag isn’t all that different from a back brace or a prosthetic foot or any other medical device one would wear under her clothing.”

      It isn’t and it is. Given societal taboos around feces and its excretion, a lot of wearers are deeply uncomfortable with them being general knowledge.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        This. This is exactly what I came here to say.

        Stoma bags are only about excrement. And that is majorly icky to some people. And waaay too many people have no sense at all that other people think differently than how they do.

      2. Annymaus*

        People with stoma bags often get a dose of the shame and discomfort around incontinence, too. They deal with a complicated intersection of internal and external feelings related to the human body’s waste production. Which makes it all the worse, since Jan’s little photo trick is probably a lot of John’s worst fears come to life.

        1. SB*

          “since Jan’s little photo trick is probably a lot of John’s worst fears come to life.”

          I have no problem mentioning here, anonymous on the net, that I am permanent incontinent (bowel and bladder). However, it is my worst fear that other people *i know* will find out. I have mentioned it to close friends, but workmates, people I occasionally see when in leisure mode…(not even all my familymembers know that I have it, I have a big family) But it is one of my worst fears (next to having “an accident” around other people, even if they were to be a few of my best friends… I would be so embarrassed!

  18. The Other Dawn*

    I have nothing to add, as I agree 100% with everything Alison says. Jan needs to be fired. As a manager, there is absolutely NO WAY I would keep someone like this and if she can’t/won’t be fired, I’d never trust her again. Ever. And if my company kept someone on like this, I’d likely be looking for another job. John needs to be supported in any way he can. It sounds like he’s doing nothing other than freezing her out, and rightfully so.

  19. OlympiasEpiriot*

    Yup, contact your boss. Now.

    Jan has behaved in a horrible way and I, too, would freeze her out of a project if she had done that to me. I might be doing more than that.

    She has done huge harm to your company not only by being so evil to another person internally but also by sharing it outside the company. If I were a client or vendor to a firm and got something like that, I would be loathe to keep working with the firm.


    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      PS: Jan cannot be trusted. She cannot be worked with. She will be bigoted and evil again to others.

      Protect John however you can. He must be supported in this.

      1. Snark*

        This is someone who I would consider a significant risk for harming the company’s interests in retaliation, using basically any means or methods available to her.

        1. OlympiasEpiriot*

          Oh, yes. But, her actions are beyond the pale. Considering how public she tried to make John’s medical condition, I think very publicly filing a counter suit if she tries to do any legal shenanigans would be entirely appropriate. The vendors and clients have to know that she’s out and being kept out and John has to know the firm has his back. If I were involved, there would be NO gloves on for this, no matter how many metaphorical bags of frozen peas I needed for self-care after.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Also a great point.

          OP – please suggest that all of Jan’s access to EVERYTHING be disconnected ASAP while this is being investigated or whatever.

        3. Aurion*

          Agreed. Hell, if I were the OP, I would request HR/legal/to immediately put Jan on unpaid suspension and have someone physically march her out the door. If OP doesn’t have the authority and standing to immediately kick Jan’s ass out the door, suspension should (I hope) be within the purview of HR or legal for something as egregious as this.

          She spied on John’s house. I don’t care if it was via drone or private investigator or carrier pigeon, that is astronomical levels of vileness and I feel gross just thinking about it from the other end of the internet.

          1. Penny Lane*

            I think the “she spied on his house” is a red herring and irrelevant to the matter. It wouldn’t have mattered if John had had a public photo on FB where the bag was visible and she chose to download/send that. The sending of the picture in an attempt to mock/shame is the “sin” here, IMO. Where she got the picture isn’t the point. I agree it’s an extra layer of bad if she spied, but it’s trivial. The sending of the picture is the fireable offense.

            1. Fiennes*

              It * might* be trivial — in a scenario in which coworkers’ addresses are easily available, or it’s a small enough community for people to know where each other live, etc. If, however, Jan did something like access personnel files that shouldn’t be open to her in order to get that address, that’s not trivial at all.

          2. Bagpuss*

            Yes, and if she doesn’t have the authority to ut her on unpaid suspension, suspending her to get her out of the office would be appropriate.
            I’m in the UK, – here, you’d normally have to continue paying someone while you went through the disciplinary process and then fired them, and while that firing might be very fast in cases of gross misconduct, if the LW doesn’t have that authority then suspending Jan with pay until someone who does has authority may be the best option. It’s no worse for the company than if Jan was off on holiday or sick, but it can stop the situation escalating, and it would probably be possible to get IT to lock Jan out of company systems and limit her ability to do anything further.

  20. Myrin*

    Wow. Jan really does sound “deeply troubled”, as Alison put it.

    There is so much wrong with this scenario, I can’t even wrap my head around it – the lengths Jan goes to just because she’s been denied a certain (temporary) leading position (with the reasoning being soundly explained to her, even); the fact that she somehow got photos from John’s home; the fact that she brought client and vendors into it like wtf (and presumably someone now has to clean up that mess holy moly); the lying and denying; and honestly, what I find weirdest of all, the fact that she thinks a stoma bag is such a scandalous and/or embarrassing thing that it’s somehow worth making such a ruckus over. I wouldn’t support her actions no matter what she found out about John but a stoma bag is just such a benign thing, I can’t even understand her motivation here.

    It sucks that you don’t have any authority here, OP, but good on you for being on John’s side – I hope you’ll be able to follow Alison’s advice and support John in whichever way you can.

  21. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

    If I were a vendor or a customer and received this photo my inclination is to contact the company and ask that Jan be fired or limited in her access to us. This screams of such bad behaviour that no other option is reasonable. The idea that Jan thinks that other people would join her in mocking a disability is incomprehensible.

    1. TwinCitiesHR*

      +1 I was thinking the same thing! If a vendor or customer sent me something like this I would contact their boss immediately!

    2. Grey*

      I assume that Jan sent out this photo anonymously. If she’d used her real name, there would be no reason for IT to investigate for the source computer.

      1. Else*

        That’s true – but they knew that it came from this company. This is even worse – all they know is that it came from the company, and they have no way to know which of their employees is the creeper they might be interacting with. I think the LW’s company needs to be able to tell them that they’ve identified the source, know that the behavior was unacceptable, and that the source was fired. Not removed to work in the boiler room even, but fired.

    3. Manager Mary*

      Absolutely. OP needs to contact management like yesterday, because it is likely that a client or vendor has already done so.

      1. Chinook*

        Exactly. And if I was that customer or vendor, I may give the company the befeit of the doubt for a day or two delay in response because of the time of year (around here, general business grinds to a halt between Christmas and New Year’s and can be slow the week after as everyone gets back from vacation). But if I didn’t hear an appropriate response by Monday, I would drop them.

  22. CMDRBNA*


    This is…absolutely insane. I 100% agree that Jane should be fired. “Outing” someone for having a medical device like a stoma is profoundly cruel (firstly, using a medical device shouldn’t be a cause for shame, but it’s also no one’s business but your own and your doctor’s), and the lengths she went to get that photo AND THEN SHARE IT WITH YOUR CLIENTS? No way.

    If I were a client on the receiving end of a picture like that, I would seriously reconsider my relationship with your company, because at the very least it indicates something is really wrong with 1. that employee and 2. your workplace culture, especially if that employee remains an employee.

    Jane is so incredibly beyond the pale here, I both want to and don’t want to know her thought process.

    Actually, something sort of similar happened at a previous job – we had an intern for the summer, and someone in a different department took it upon themselves to start Googling him, and found a post that was part of a photography project from his college in which he mentioned struggling with depression. She then emailed a screenshot to a bunch of coworkers mocking him for…having depression? I guess?

    She was a profoundly nasty person, and I responded to her that it was 100% inappropriate for her to shame someone for having a mental illness (I also have chronic depression). She tried to come up with some half-assed excuse about how she wasn’t shaming him for being mentally ill but for being public about it, which is bullshit.

    People like her and Jane are gross.

    1. Myrin*

      As if it were somehow shame-worthy to be public about mental illness. If anything, I’d say we need more people who are open about that sort of thing so that it gets normalised and de-stigmatised. (My younger sister has several mental health issues and is extremely open about them for that exact reason; to our honest surprised, everyone so far has reacted really wonderfully to it, which is a trend I’d like to see continue.)

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I agree. So many people who are close to me are on medication for depression, anxiety, etc. Other people I know struggle with PTSD…you name it. And the only thing wrong with that is the negative effects it has on them and sometimes on those who care about them. Stigma is definitely part of that. We need to be able to talk about mental illness. We need to understand that having a mental illness is just that – an illness, and make it ok for those we care about to reach out to us for help and understanding. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and someone who is being public about it deserves recognition of their courage, not shame.

      2. CMDRBNA*

        I’m very open about mine, including having been hospitalized for it, but I’m fortunate that I’m in a position where I can be open about it. I’m not in an industry where I have to worry about it jeopardizing my job.

      1. CMDRBNA*

        She eventually quit after having a falling out with her department director – that whole department was a cluster. I’m glad I didn’t have to work with her. She was just a deeply miserable person (she had a very fraught relationship with the father of her young child) and was not managing it well.

    2. Wendy Darling*

      I mean really with very few possible exceptions NO ONE SHOULD EVER BE PUBLICLY SHAMING ANYONE FOR ANYTHING AT WORK. I don’t even think Jan ought to be shamed — fired with a bad reference? Yes. But not shamed. (I suppose if someone was abusing children in the conference rooms I might change my mind but short of that like… seriously?)

      People can just be revolting.

      1. Penny Lane*

        Well, I’d shame a coworker if he participated in, say, the Charlottesville demonstrations on the neo-Nazi side.

        1. Evan Þ*

          At the least, I’d be very hesitant about that. We had a letter several months ago where someone was shamed and almost fired for that… except it was mistaken identity; she hadn’t been in the demonstrations at all.

      2. Janice in Accounting*

        I disagree–I think Jan absolutely should be shamed. She needs to be made to realize that decent people don’t act like this.

        1. fposte*

          And she will likely receive consequences in her employment that make that point clearly. Shaming people tends to make the lesson less likely to take, and it also would end up ironically normalizing that part of her own behavior.

  23. Mb13*

    When you loop in your boss make sure to include the fact based on John’s comments, the photo was especially violating as it required someone to spy on him in his house. While its not a guarantee that Jan herself took the photo, the fact someone monitored him to get that photo is especially distributing and goes to show to what lengths Jan is willing to go.

    1. RVA Cat*

      This. Plus John now has reason to feel unsafe as she knows where he lives. Someone this unhinged could be a physical threat to John or his family.

  24. NW Mossy*

    OP, there’s a lot of “I can’t” in your letter, but you have more ability than you think here simply based on your standing as a colleague and fellow human being. You can say “Jan, I think what you did to John was cruel and hurtful.” You can say “John, I understand why you don’t want to work with Jan after what she did.” Even if you don’t have firing/discipline powers in your role, you can still use your words to express what you think of the situation to the parties involved.

    I’d go so far as to argue that it’s essential to do this if you aspire to become a manager in the future. Managing is about the “hard power” of firing/discipline to some degree, but the true managing work often gets done via the “soft power” of influence through discussion. By taking this on and expressing candidly that Jan’s behavior is Not OK and extending support to John in his mistreatment by Jan, you’re giving voice to the sort of place you want to work in and the kind of professionalism you believe in. You can fight for that without a title or powers. Do it. Do it today.

    1. ContentWrangler*

      I super agree. You may not have the power to fire but no one is stopping you from professionally and calmly telling Jan that was she did was inexcusable as an employee and as a human being and that you support John’s decision to not work with her.

      1. Penny Lane*

        This is reminding me of the post where a coworker had used a racial slur in front of boss’ wife, boss’ wife was subsequently cordial but frosty and the LW was concerned about boss’ wife’s behavior, not the person who created the awkward in the first place.

        This is a mess entirely caused by Jan, and you should mince no words in telling her that you are disappointed in her as an employee and as a human being. And I would be nothing other than icily polite to her from here on out. No laughs, friendliness, etc. Business communication only. Let her squirm.

        1. CMDRBNA*

          Yup – I feel like we see a lot of questions where the situation is “Person X did a terrible, horrible thing to Person Y and now Person Y isn’t friendly to Person X…how do I get Person Y to stop being unfriendly???” I don’t know, maybe deal with Person X?!

  25. NicoleK*

    Oh wow. I hope Jan never gets into a position where she has power over other people. At least until she comprehends how horrible her actions are.

  26. The Ginger Ginger*

    On top of being a horrible human being, don’t let it slide below your notice or your reporting that Jan is actually causing a legally hostile work environment, as AAM has said. You cannot allow an employee to be harassed because of a disability, and that is exactly what this is. It’s creepy, stalkery (where the heck did she get that pic?), cruel, and actual, illegal harassment. And the fact that she’s expanded the harassment to also include clients and vendors? Yikes. This is just seriously egregious on all fronts. Contact your boss immediately. Try to get her suspended through HR in the mean time (and maybe your boss can help with that while she’s still out). But Jan’s put the company in a legally tenuous position, and that cannot be treated anything but seriously.

    1. Liane*

      I just remembered, there was a question a couple years ago from someone with a disability–maybe a type of dwarfism?–who had a jerk coworker who kept taking pictures of her. Disappointed but not surprised that there is another creep like that running around.

  27. Joie de Vivre*

    If I was a vendor or customer who received the picture, and found out Jan was behind it- I wouldn’t want her as my point of contact.

    1. a1*

      Yeah. I might even start my next call or meeting with the vendor with “I’m assuming you’ve fired Jan…”

  28. Countess Boochie Flagrante*


    I am so far beyond appalled that I’ve started and deleted a half-dozen comments because they simply can’t convey the extent of my horror. This is hands-down HORRIBLE, to the degree where ‘Jan’ may join ‘Percival’ in our list of Names for Bad People.

    This is absolutely a ‘call your boss on vacation’ scenario. As Alison pointed out, this is a legal issue due to Jan deciding to mock John’s disability specifically, and since she decided to involve outside parties, it’s also an enormous reputational issue. This needs to get handled ASAP, and your boss is probably going to have to be on the phone with those outside parties doing damage control as well.

    1. Snark*

      Yeah, I think we need to retire “Jan” as a name. She is now legend. May she be fired from a cannon into a pen of starving hyenas.

  29. I Didn’t Kill Kenny*

    This is beyond sick. I can’t even.

    If I were a vendor who received this photo, I’d be stunned to find out Jan still worked there.

    Yes, contact your boss AND HR immediately.

      1. Nox*

        Yeah I would of dumped the company, not cause of the person’s disability but the lack of oversight and heartlessness that would allow someone to transmit such images without feeling bad. I wouldn’t be interested in paying the salary of such savagery.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Although, it is unclear if there is any context with the photo being emailed around. The vendors may not have opened it.

      If someone unknown to me emailed me a blank email with a photo attached, I would delete it without opening it. (I’m unclear if it was sent from her work email since IT searched her computer, but maybe it was but the search was because she claimed to be hacked. I’m defaulting to the assumption that she sent it from a throwaway email address.)

      If I did open the email and the picture, I might be scratching my head and assume it was a hacked spam email, even if I did know the sender’s address. Would you recognize John? It seems like it would be zoomed in if it captured the bag, but if this is someone I see once a year and I have no context for the email, I might not realize it was John.

      I’m thinking that as a 3rd party vendor, the only way I automatically assume that this is a cruel email from one employee of a customer about another employee of that customer is if she wrote text in the email like, “Check out John’s medical device. Yuuuckkkk.”

  30. Anonymous Poster*

    Alison’s right, and it sounds like you’re in a tough spot because you don’t have the formal authority to address this.

    Ideally, Jan would no longer be welcome on the company’s premises, and you would be talking with John about how how seriously the company takes Jan’s actions and what support can be lent to him in the meantime.

    That’s why the two prongs are necessary: Loop in management immediately, and if unavailable, HR, and try to suspend or fire Jan. Jan has proven that she is not someone you would want working on your team, and this isn’t a one-off event of bad judgment: She has repeatedly shown bad judgment through her continuing actions here. Try to feel as little guilt as you can, because reasonable people may make a major screw up once, she not only did that but kept doubling down on it. She lost her own job on her own.

    Also remove Jan as much as you can from the project she’s supposed to be working with John on as things churn through. Hopefully your company is agile enough where this won’t be necessary, but do whatever is in your power to make sure Jan knows what she did is Not OK and her job is likely not going to be there for her. Also make it clear that you will share these events with reference checkers, so she knows that she needs to find employment without people calling and asking you about her performance.

    As for John’s actions, it’s important to keep in mind that no one is an emotionless automaton. John is upset and embarrassed, and his relationships with his clients are now awkward because people know very intimate details about his health. I’d urge you to cut him some slack, and be sensitive. Work with him and see what you can do to help control the damage. But also keep in mind, reasonable people (and most people in this world are reasonable) will see the emails and pretend nothing happened while deleting them. They don’t want to know, and it’s not a reflection on the victim, but the email sender.

    Best of luck.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      John is upset and embarrassed, and his relationships with his clients are now awkward because people know very intimate details about his health. I’d urge you to cut him some slack, and be sensitive.

      Yes!! John needs empathy and understanding right now. In a perfect world having a medical issue would not be a cause for personal embarrassment, but we aren’t in this world, and he’s understandably feeling very uncomfortable and exposed right now. You don’t have to baby him but do understand that this is a very, very personal attack on him.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I agree. And I think to the extent possible, OP should “pick sides” (i.e., John’s side). I suspect John feels isolated right now. The fact that he hasn’t said or done anything more severe to Jan is a serious testament to his professionalism and self-control. He should be supported right now, especially because he has done nothing wrong, even in cutting Jan from the team.

    2. Snark*

      I’m kind of aghast that OP is even considering making this a John problem. No, my dear/dude, you do not need to be worrying right now about whether John has the authority to refuse to work with her, you need to be protecting your employer’s interests, client relations, and reputation. And protecting John.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          You know that handful of letters that are like “something bad happened to my report and they just left the office and never came back to work and when we asked where we could send their last paycheck/box of personal items they sent us a cease and desist letter from their lawyer that said they’d get a restraining order if we ever contacted them again, also they have moved house, disabled their personal email address, and disconnected their phone”?

          This is how that happens. If John had done that I would be like, well, that is 100% totally understandable.

          John gets a gold star for not 1. punching Jan in the face or 2. going into embarrassment witness protection.

          1. Hildegard Vonbingen*

            No, he does not get a gold star for not punching Jan in the face. No sensible person would do that. You DO NOT escalate to physical violence.

            I hear this sentiment expressed frequently in the comments here, and I hope, I really hope, it’s a joke. Because punching someone in the face is criminal behavior. And it’s wrong, unless you’re repelling a physical attack.

            John is being a professional and a decent human being. That all by itself is commendable, especially under the circumstances. Punching Jan in the fact is undoubtedly something he wouldn’t even consider. Nor would I. Nor should anyone. Can her ass, make it for cause, give her no grounds for collecting unemployment, and make sure any future job reference call get treated to a full recitation of the facts. And support John now as the competent, rational, professional and thoroughly wronged individual he is (booting her off the team was the right thing to do).

            1. serenity*

              I don’t see comments advocating physical violence in these comments on a frequent basis, so let’s not go straight to hyperbole. But yes, it’s not something anyone should ever recommend (though I don’t think Wendy Darling doing that at all).

            2. Snark*

              There’s a difference between hyperbolistic references to personal violence used for humorous effect, and actual assertions that physical violence was acceptable. C’mon.

              1. Lissa*

                True, but the former can escalate to the latter really fast, and can read similarly to some people, especially when there are multiple people saying that. I’ll be honest and say I have felt uncomfortable with some of the comments along these lines in the past myself, though I realize it’s also a brain thing I have that means I do take things more literally.

                Still when you have like a dozen people saying “I would have punched her!” “She’s lucky she didn’t do that to ME!” and so on it can read like this would be a normal behaviour.

          2. Managed Chaos*

            He has nothing to be embarrassed for. He has acted perfectly rationally. She should be embarrassed for showing what a terrible person she is.

            1. Wendy Darling*

              He has nothing to be embarrassed for, but having nothing to be embarrassed for doesn’t stop people from being horrifyingly embarrassed as a result of other people’s bad behavior, like, all the time. I’m impressed by his fortitude, I don’t know if I would have been able to be as professional.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think OP may be falling into the false equivalency trap, where in an effort to be “fair” or complete, you try to demonstrate problems on both sides. That’s problematic for many reasons, but it may be helpful for OP to hear from others that they don’t need to see “both sides” when one side brings a nuclear bomb to a community potluck.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Yeah, no, John was the victim. Period. Point blank. There is no ‘fair’ or ‘seeing both sides’ in this situation.

        2. Snark*

          Snarking aside, I think it also may be OP framing this as an issue between two people that’s having effects on the work – which is easier to view as a “both sides” issue.

          1. LBK*

            Yeah, exactly; it seems like the most immediate issue that falls into the OP’s purview is “project has ground to a screeching halt due to John refusing to work with Jan on it” so that’s the problem she’s most focused on because she doesn’t have the authority/it’s not her responsibility to handle anything else. And in that narrow context it is an issue that the project isn’t getting done, so the OP just needs to figure out how to get it going again as best as possible without Jan’s participation, whatever that may entail.

        3. LBK*

          Completely agreed – I think people need to cut the OP a little slack here re: her comments about John’s behavior. When something so insane happens it can be really hard to see things clearly from the inside, even though to us as neutral readers it’s so blatantly obvious. Getting a third-party perspective is the whole reason to write in to an advice column, let’s not condemn her for it.

          1. Lissa*

            I agree and I also think that the OP might have felt they needed to present both sides objectively for Alison to make a decision. I see that a fair amount!

        4. Liane*

          The only valid use of “Fair” in this instance is “It is FAIR for Company to send a *Strong Message* to John, Jan, all other employees, vendors, and clients that Company comes down HARD on mean, harassing acts.”

        5. Liane*

          The only place “Fair” has in this situation is, “It is FAIR that Company comes down *hard and fast* on Jan, to send a *strong message* to Jan, John, their other employees, vendors, and clients that Company has zero tolerance for meanness and harassment.”

    3. I Didn’t Kill Kenny*

      I don’t think I’d warn her about references. I’d be hoping for the opportunity to share Jan’s heinous behavior with the entire world, not just potential employers, including photos of HER being escorted off the premises.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        If she expects a non-shockingly horrible reference she’s even further off her rocker than I thought.

        1. This Daydreamer*

          “A reference?! For Jan?! BAHAHAHAAAHAAAAHAAAAAA!! *gasp* BAAAAHAAAAAHAHAHAHA!! *ahem* Sorry, but I can only confirm dates of employment and job titles. And send a link to the YouTube video of security dragging her off the premises.”

    4. Anonymous Poster*

      I really didn’t get the vibe that the LW was blaming John or really anything along those lines. I got the impression that she was a surprised by how John reacted in the moment rather than, “Oh my goodness, now John is a crazy person too.” Looking back I can see how that last paragraph might come off harsh, and it really wasn’t intended that way. Please read it more like, “Just keep in mind John is likely embarrassed (rightfully or wrongly, it’s likely true) and people don’t react emotionlessly in the moment when things like this pop up. Just give him the benefit of the doubt for his initial strong reaction, and focus your efforts on addressing Jan’s horribleness.”

      Please all, don’t be so brusque and read too much into what the OP posted about being surprised by John. The OP isn’t looking at doing anything against him based on the letter, and there’s too much reading into it to get that conclusion.

  31. Sara*

    Poor John. His privacy was violated in multiple ways, I am glad he took a stand and kicked Jan off his project. He should have to work with someone who somehow secretly photographed him in the privacy of his own home to embarrass him. What the hell was she thinking?

  32. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    So. You have an employee that was so upset she didn’t get a position that she, without consent, took a picture of a colleague at his HOME and shared it with clients, vendors, and the rest of the office? WITHOUT the medical aspect this is deeply, deeply concerning.

    Go to HR. Notify your boss. What Jan did is not okay. This is so far beyond the line for okay that a space shuttle would be needed to see that line.

  33. Star*

    I don’t know if the OP is in the USA or not (some phrasing suggests otherwise), so there may need to be some due process before Jan is (rightly, it seems) fired. This awful behaviour towards John surely falls under gross misconduct or similar, though the company would still need to show that there’s been an investigation.

    So first steps would definitely be to contact the higher ups who can set things in motion and, if possible, go to HR. Jan is completely and horrifyingly out of order.

    1. peachie*

      I know “at will” employment can be problematic and bad for employees, but man, I would be SO glad for it in this situation.

      1. A Different Jan*

        Yes, it’s interesting how at-will is used against those of us who haven’t done anything more offensive than wear a shirt the boss doesn’t like the look of, but it doesn’t seem to apply when serious jerkishness like this is taking place! Talk about easy targets. (Not that I’m blaming the OP, just the logistics of her employer).

        This Jan is evil and I am embarrassed to share the same name as her.

  34. Archie Goodwin*

    I’m really curious if Jan has expressed any remorse in any of this. I mean…it’s academic, really. She should be fired, no holds barred. I just want to know if she understands just how far BEYOND acceptable this is.

    Asking for my own sanity, really.

    1. Amber T*

      If I had to guess – no. It would be one thing if it were a spur of the moment thing… like she saw the bag and shouted out to everyone in the office about it. But when you have to carefully plan something out like this (finding an address, probably waiting a while to get a good picture, using a drone (?!?!?) to take said picture, planning who you’re sending this “incriminating” picture out to, including clients…). There were so many opportunities for her to realize “you know what, this is probably a really awful idea.” I would not be surprised if this was just her “sticking up for herself” for John “taking away” her opportunity to lead.

  35. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox*

    I am so baffled by Jan’s actions. They’re obviously inappropriate on an unbelievable level, but also…what were her expectations? Everyone involved is (presumably) an adult, not a 10-year-old who wants to shun people because of physical differences. I just can’t figure out the line of thinking. “Oh, this person has a medical device necessary to live. I’m sure other people will want to treat him poorly because of this.” Just…what?!

    1. Jaybeetee*

      I’m guessing when you’re at the point of secretly taking a photo of someone to disseminate as part of a vengeance plot because they were given a leadership role in a project…you’re probably beyond the point of considering other peoples’ POVs. She probably assumed everyone would perceive it the same way she does.

      1. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox*

        I’m generally a pretty empathetic person — to a fault at times — and can usually at least think of why someone might think a certain way, even if it sounds crazy. But occasionally, I come across situations where my brain is just like “Does not compute. Error. Error.” This is one of those.

    2. Temperance*

      Jan has actually admitted her thought process. Then again, I speak her language and can translate.

      It’s probably like “John pissed me off because he got the project I wanted” + “John pulled his shirt down when his ostomy bag showed a little” = “the best way to make John feel as craptastic as I do is get a photo of the bag and make sure as many people at work see it as possible, because that will cause him the most emotional pain”.

      1. Spicy Spice*

        Yep, it’s the emotional thought process of a toddler. “I feel bad because of John, I will make John feel bad.” I doubt there was any further thinking than that.

  36. Sled dog mama*

    Are we having WTF Wednesdays? Or did Alison make this one up to mess with us? That’s the only things my brain can come up with.
    Jan should be gone, absolutely call your boss and your boss’s boss. This would be a call them situation if the picture had only been internally circulated the fact that it left the company makes it worse (now it affects everyone at the company) and they need to know yesterday.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      We are not having WTF Wednesdays! We are, however, possibly seeing the result of my mail having accumulated during December when I was running fewer letters and more updates (and thus some of the most interesting stuff is getting concentrated in the first week that things are back to normal).

      1. Snark*

        So you’ve been sitting on this for a bit? Did you periodically reread it and cackle? “Oh my god, they’re going to BONKERS over this one.”

      2. Troutwaxer*

        Allison, I’m curious: How do you handle stuff like this, which is clearly time-sensitive, in real time? Do you answer letters for the OP immediately then post them a couple weeks later, or do you engage in some form of triage where you post the letters which are most time sensitive first?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It varies. Sometimes if I see something in time and have the time to reply right away, I will. But definitely not always since that would mean I was on call 24/7 and that’s not sustainable in the long-term. I used to try to do that and I started to feel myself burning out (and neglecting other parts of my life), so I made my peace a while ago with the fact that the nature of writing an advice column means that I’m not not going to be able to respond to everyone seeking help, or to always respond in a timely enough way for it to help them (although if I do publish later than is helpful to them, hopefully it will still help someone else).

          Anyway, this letter arrived on Dec. 31. I actually thought it had sat longer than that!

          1. LT*

            This IS helpful! Maybe it could go in the FAQ/Ask a Question/How to Comment page, since I’m sure readers think of this often (as in, how long does it take an average post to be seen and to receive a reply?).

  37. beanie beans*

    I hope John has already taken steps to go to HR or get a hold of his boss. If the OP doesn’t feel like they are in a position to go to HR or call the boss on vacation, they can at least encourage John to do that. Offer him some solidarity in how serious the situation is.

    1. AnonMinion*

      Yes, just came on to ask this as well. PLEASE send an update, I am just sick thinking about what poor John must be feeling.

      1. Anonymous Annie*

        Yes, an update would be good.

        This is such cruel and invasive behavior. I don’t see any other solution but termination.

  38. Amber Rose*

    Some people burn bridges.
    Other people blast the bridge and the surrounding country from orbit with high powered lasers.

    I can’t comprehend the kind of person who would think of doing something so horrifying and disgusting and then just going to work after and explaining it like it was justified. This is the kind of thing that should drive you into hiding after changing your name and getting plastic surgery or something.

    Anyways, your company is facing some massive backlash. Time to talk to someone higher up immediately so they can formulate some kind of response.

    1. Naomi*

      You know, I don’t feel particularly sorry for Jan, because she’s brought any consequences on herself, but I feel a certain schadenfreude at how hard she shot herself in the foot. If she had just done her work and taken the opportunity to learn from John, she’d have gotten what she wanted (a chance to lead this type of project). Instead… well, blasting the bridge from orbit is right.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yup. I know this is uncharitable, but I hope that by doing this she’s effectively blacklisted herself from the industry.

        1. Purplesaurus*

          Uncharitable? Nah, I’m picturing Jan silhouetted in the center of a crowd of people, all turning their backs on her and walking silently away.

      2. Amber Rose*

        Shot herself in the foot so hard she hasn’t got any feet left. It’s unbelievable. Not that I’m doubting the letter but… I’d have a hard time believing it even if I received the pictures myself.

        This is what we’d call dismissal for just cause.

    2. Deathstar*

      “Some people burn bridges.
      Other people blast the bridge and the surrounding country from orbit with high powered lasers.”
      … while they’re still standing on the bridge… [ie Jan]

  39. Goya de la Mancha*

    What. the. actual. F…

    Seriously Jan. WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!? I’m having a hard time figuring out exactly what her expectations were of this?? I mean, take out the fact that this is a medically needed item, what was the intended goal? Did she think that this would discredit his work in some way? If she sneaked a picture of him picking his nose instead – gross/weird, but not going to undermine his work if he’s a good worker. Did she send a comment with the photo? Just the photo? SO MANY QUESTIONS!

    I feel like most normal/sane adults who received this email would either figure it was “sent all” by mistake or be highly questioning Jan and the company as well.

    1. A.N. O'Nyme*

      I don’t think “what the f” quite cuts it here. I don’t think anything can properly describe this situation.
      But yes, this might also reflect badly on the company, which is all the more reason to inform boss and grandboss ASAP, and/or going to HR.

    2. Temperance*

      I commented similarly upthread, but my hunch is that she’s angry with John for getting the project she wanted, and then she noticed that he didn’t want his ostomy bag to show when he fixed his shirt, so she put them together and decided the best revenge would be to sneak a photo of the bag and send it to as many people as possible to humiliate him and cause him emotional pain. Some people react badly to normal life upsets, like not getting a project, so they respond by attacking others.

      She more or less admitted her thought process to LW, but it requires a lot of mental gymnastics to understand.

  40. nep*

    I am impatient for an update on this one — an update that says Jan is out out out. Fired. Gone.
    How horrible.

    1. AnonMinion*

      100% agree. If she is not fired, I can’t even imagine! She MUST be fired. I am not normally one to say get a lawyer, but I hope John can sue her for this extreme invasion of privacy.

  41. Rock Room*

    To paraphrase Joey Tribianni, Jan is so far over the line that she can’t even see the line. The line is a dot to her. There is SO MUCH wrong with what she did. It is all a mess, but what really gets me is that she sent it to clients. WHO DOES THAT? This is not an “error” that can be overlooked. In addition to being vicious and mean spirited, it shows a fundamental lack of judgment and character. Definitely call the boss on vacation and support John anyway you can. Here’s hoping the boss takes swift and decisive action; otherwise, good employees and clients will begin abandoning ship. Were I a client, I would 100% refuse to work with Jan in any capacity, not just because she’s a human dumpster fire but also because she has such poor judgment that she cannot be trusted.

    OP, please send in a follow-up!

  42. ResuMAYDAY*

    I also think some outreach to the customers and vendors who received this photo is required. If I had an arm’s length distance with a company and got this photo, I would think EVERYONE at this company is nuts and would seriously consider killing that relationship. However, if that awful photo were followed up with a letter or email from a company head that gave a sincere apology and a promise that this was a rogue employee who was fired for her actions, I would consider it an odd, but isolated event.

  43. Lynca*

    You don’t need to speak with John about his actions at all. Your concern needs to be alerting whoever was left in charge, HR, and your bosses if you can reach them about what Jan did.

    I can’t imagine that someone isn’t present with some kind of delegated management authority or that contact information wasn’t left in the event of a emergency. I feel like this qualifies. At the very least someone needs to be documenting what she did because this is stalker levels of crazy. How does she even know where he lives to do that sort of thing?!

  44. Girasol*

    Could OP suggest to HR that they should arrange to have someone responsible for the company’s image send an apology to customers? The company brand needs protection, and it would reinforce to HR how serious a matter this is. I’m with all of you that Jan should be fired, if not for her evil behavior, then at least for the fact that her judgment is so far off that she can’t be a useful employee. What did she imagine that she could gain with this tactic? It seems like a disgruntled-employee trick that one might do on their way out the door but she didn’t leave.

    1. Anonymous Poster*

      I didn’t think of this, but you’re completely right. There is a lot of damage control that needs to be done to everyone Jan blasted this out to. Something along the lines of:

      “Company is embarrassed and angry that one of our employees took it upon themselves to share sensitive images of one of our team members with our valued vendors and customers. This behavior is not tolerated, and the responsible party is no longer employed with us.

      Company is proud to employ the best and brightest people, regardless of their health, but we clearly were mistaken with this particular person. They do not share our values. We are sorry that you were affected by this, and we will do our utmost to support our affected team member.

      We look forward to your continued business, and value our relationship.

      Director/CEO/President, Company”

      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        I really like this.

        May I copy this and save in case I need it ? (oh how I hope I never need it)

        1. Anonymous Poster*

          Heaven help you if you’re ever in a situation where this is useful!

          I don’t really mind, but keep in mind that it’s such a situation specific thing, it would require heavy editting before sending it out. The key is being specific about the incident, but short and supportive of the offended party. That way the recipients know you aren’t blasting out some crummy form letter, but addressing this specific awful thing. And I’m sure there are some PR folks on this forum that would do you much better than this I whipped up off the top of my head.

      2. Temperance*

        I like this idea, but I might take out the piece about the photo being of a “team member”. I might call it an inappropriate photo.

        Otherwise, because human nature is what it is, you might end up outing John as the guy in the photo when it might not be clear.

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          Right. Even if it were or weren’t obvious who the photo was of, I think it would be more appropriate and polite to be more general. I think a message should be more general and say something like “We are deeply regretful that one of our employees, last week, deliberately acted against the company’s interests by choosing to distribute an inappropriate photograph to several of our clients and vendors.”

          You could even say “what they believed to be an inappropriate photograph” or “sending a message that demeaned the company’s values” or something like that. It sort of depends on if the photo was accompanied by text or contextualized in some way by Jan. If it was just the photo and no text it might make the situation weirder to describe it.

          1. mscate*

            agreed, I gotta say as a journalist, if I got wind of something like this, its so appalling and offensive I’d want to name and shame in the hope it never happens again

          2. Olive Hornby*

            I agree–and if there was no context in the original email, “inappropriate photo” could be read as suggesting that having a colostomy bag is itself inappropriate. Not in HR, but my inclination would be along the lines of: “We are saddened that one of our employees chose to send a cruel and mocking email last week. This person is no longer employed by Teapots Inc.”

            1. Temperance*

              I really like your word choice. It removes the shaming element and puts blame squarely on Jan.

    2. EddieSherbert*

      I think is a great idea that should be implemented ASAP.

      I’d be pretty unhappy with Company is I was a customer that the image was sent to from a Company email – it literally has nothing to do with our business and seems to be mocking a disability. I am so not interested. And, if I was a customer, I would no longer trust Company’s judgement if there was no followup or acknowledgement of what happened (plus, I’d probably call in and complain, or share my experience in a review online or something).

  45. LCL*

    (Not addressing how horrible Jan is, words fail me.)
    OP, since you are the most in charge at the moment, you should be doing damage control. My experience with people as callous as Jan is they will take the scorched earth approach when called on their misdeeds. So take away her ability to do any more damage to your company, but don’t do anything to affect her pay, which could become lawsuit material. Contact IT now and have her network account disabled. Any company programs that she can write to, including company email, have her access cut off. Have all emails sent to her corporate account bounce and forwarded to you. Take away her company laptop and phone, if she has them. She can shuffle papers or clean out the warehouse or whatever to get her hours and her pay.

    1. a different Vicki*

      This might be time to keep paying her but not let her on the premises at all: someone who would do what we know she’s done might respond to that sort of reassignment by throwing away or damaging things that should be kept, or go into the company break room and complaining about John, the letter writer, and everyone else she thinks is mistreating her.

        1. LCL*

          This is the kind of situation that cries out for administrative leave. But if OP doesn’t have disciplinary authority, she probably won’t be able to make it happen.

      1. AnonMurphy*

        Yes, and while she’s on suspension, revoke all access to IT resources. She’s already proven to be a huge risk.

  46. Lady Phoenix*

    Jan showed that she is vindictive, dishonest, and cruel person. For all the reasons, she should be fired.

    I would call and email your bossess immediatelt on the issue. You can send this to voice mail if you’re worried about disrupting the marriage. But this is an emergency situation that require inmediately action.

  47. OperaArt*

    You don’t need to speak to John about his actions, other than to tell him you will support him in any way you can.

  48. Sunshine Brite*

    A mess indeed! How awful of her. She’s cyberbullying a medical problem. That’s so juvenile and cruel. If I were John, I’d consider seeing if this meets restraining order criteria since she knows where his house is.
    IT is already involved. Get HR involved and since your boss and the next level is gone right now – reach out to your boss’s boss’s boss. It would be rare for someone getting in trouble for escalating through the chain when something like this has happened and you don’t have the direct authority to act yourself. Or consider another on the management team.

    She either took the picture herself or got someone else to, sent it, lied about sending it. All in some vindictive, manipulative perceived revenge move even though she was set to gain valuable career experience. John’s actions here are protective and do not require emergency intervention like Jan’s.

  49. neverjaunty*

    OP, isn’t it interesting that Jan just so happened to pull this stunt when the bosses were away?

    You do neeed to contact them immediately, and emphasize that in addition to her behavior being awful to John, she took a wrecking ball to the company’s relationship with vendors and customers. Even the World’s Okayest Boss would want to know that immediately.

    1. Roja*

      I thought the same thing. Like, what a “coincidence” she just happened to send this when not only one but both bosses are gone!

    2. This Daydreamer*

      Now, now. There’s no need to be paranoid about her motives.

      Oh, wait. Never mind. It is not possible to be paranoid about her motives when they’ve already proven the worst.

  50. Temperance*

    I think the comments about how a colostomy bag isn’t that different from other medical devices are well-meaning, but misguided. We know why this is supposed to embarrass John, and why what Jan did was nasty and shocking. Going to the bathroom is *supposed* to be private. It doesn’t matter how he does it, it’s reasonable that he wants and expects privacy with something this sensitive. It’s kind of akin to a coworker sending a drone to your house (!) to get a picture of your butt while you bend over.

    Fighting stigma is one thing, but by feigning confusion about her motives isn’t going to do it.

    Jan sounds frankly disturbed and unhinged. I think you need to call your boss/bosses ASAP, even though they’re on vacation, because this is something that will impact the business. It’s bad enough that she send this photo to colleagues, she apparently also sent it to clients and vendors. If I was choosing a business to give money to, one where nutjobs send private photos of coworkers they get mad at for whatever reason wouldn’t be my choice.

    1. Tuesday Next*

      Unhinged is a very good way to describe Jan. She sounds like a bunny boiler.

      This is so far over the line – taking revenge on a colleague *for something he never did* – trying to humiliate him because of his medical condition – sending it to customers and vendors – lying about it when confronted. Any one of those alone would be a red flag, all together it’s Krakatoa.

      1. Temperance*

        No joke, “bunny boiler” is exactly what I thought of while reading this letter! If you think about the steps she took to do this, like spying on him for unknown amounts of time at home to get the photo … yikes. She needs to be fired and her photo given to security so she’s banned from the building.

    2. Genny*

      I think those comments are less about why a stoma bag might embarrassing for John (I think it’s obvious why any given medical device/prescription/therapy/ etc. might be embarrassing) and more about what Jan possibly thought she would gain from doing what she did. Maybe she thought John would quit from the embarrassment, but any reasonable person, upon receiving such a message, would delete and immediately pretend they hadn’t seen a thing. John is naturally embarrassed as any of us would be, but to everyone else the picture only makes Jan look bad.

  51. AnonMurphy*

    I simply don’t understand, on a molecular level, what circumstances would lead a person to behave like this.

    Hope this works out for you OP. It’s definitely understandable to not know WTF to do in a situation like this but you have to report it.

    1. LBK*

      Amen. Unless you’re in the mob or you’re a character on Scandal, nothing at work is worth doing something like this to someone.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I know–if I put a situation like this in a novel, somebody would probably scoff at it for being too unrealistic.
        “Nobody does that.” “OH REALLY????”

  52. CatCat*

    Wow! Unbelievable! I can’t imagine *anyone* wants to work with Jan anymore. Not at the company, not the vendors, and not the clients. If I worked for any of these, I’d be incredibly icy toward Jan. If I were a client, I’d be downright hostile toward the company. This definitely needs to be escalated. John’s not likely to be the only one to walk away if Jan is kept around. Rightly so. Wow. Just awful. Something is seriously morally wrong with Jan and likewise with the company if they don’t fire her.

  53. Minnesota*

    I am a boss, and this is a situation where I would absolutely want anyone in my organization to find me or otherwise make sure this situation is addressed immediately. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate good judgment (one of the most important characteristics for any employee). In addition to bringing in HR, consider looping in your legal team. In my (very large) organization any of our legal leaders would be all over this to make sure that HR takes appropriate action quickly.

    1. Snark*

      Y’know, I hadn’t considered legal, but…..yeah. General counsil wants to know about stuff like this.

  54. Grey*

    This blog has conditioned me to be unsurprised if Jane keeps her job.

    You can can call your coworker a bitch and make sexist jokes every day and keep your job. You can push a coworker in front of a moving vehicle and keep your job. You can dress as your coworker for Halloween and keep your job…

    1. AMPG*

      You can neglect to tell your coworker that their spouse is undergoing emergency, life-threatening surgery and keep your job.

    2. AnonMinion*

      I agree. I think a lot of followers of this site disagree with me, but I am still SHOCKED that the LW who racked up a bunch of credit card debt on the company card kept their job. It is absolutely insane to me! After that update I feel like people can pull almost any stunt and keep their job.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        Yes that one still shocks me too. And it makes me question the company who didn’t let that OP go. Even though he confessed to what he did it’s such a trust violation.

          1. Candi*

            I suspect the only reason they kept him (at first) is it was the only way to get their money back. People make less than $20,000 a year, and it was specified the company could not pay that bill all at once themselves.

            After that, I think the reason they kept him is because he busted his butt to regain their trust, and he was a known quantity, so they were a little twitchy about replacing him. Although I bet he has to submit anything and everything for reimbursement because they, rightfully, would not let him near another company card.

    1. Troutwaxer*

      On one hand, I’d love a “worst coworker” award, but I also think that might be “punching down,” so perhaps it’s not a good idea.

  55. LawBee*

    Wow. Three days into 2018, and we have a top contender for Worst Employee. And also Worst Person. Jan is HORRIBLE.

  56. KateMo*

    In addition to being the world’s worst human being, Jan may have harmed the company’s standing- this could cause them to lose clients and vendors (because they think they’re getting spammed, they think the company employs a sick f&ck who would send out a picture like that, etc. Add that to the list of reasons Jan should be out on her ass by the time I hit “submit.”

  57. Admin Amber*

    As a client, I would have pulled my business from that company ASAP. I do hope management acts appropriately and the immature mean-spirited person is handed his or her hat.

  58. Lumen*

    The fact that John did not immediately quit is a credit to his character and his loyalty to your organization. I could not work in a place that tolerated this sort of behavior against me to any degree. Jan is a terrible person and not worth the paper her checks are printed on. Lose her.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      Or poor John really needs the paycheck. He’s probably job searching now and is going to leave ASAP.

        1. Anon Accountant*

          Exactly. My aunt (we live in same house) has cancer and a stoma/colostomy bag. Her medical supplies for the stoma bag are very expensive even with insurance.

          1. InsuranceQAnon*

            Can I ask this, I know this thread is a day old so people may not check, but I know insurance coverage in the US is largely dependent on the employer (i.e. the employer covers (part of) the cost and then there may or may not be a co-pay or out of pocket pay right away), but when an employee is insured by the employer, do you still get to choose the insurer or this this entirely handled by the employer side? I seem to have gathered that what is covered by the insurance depends heavily on the employer, rather than on the insurance company.

            Forgive me, I’m in Europe and I would probably be as confused by other European systems already, so I’m thankful for any explanation.

            1. fposte*

              You almost never get to choose whoever you please as the insurer; some employers, like mine, may have contracted with more than one insurance plan, so you can choose whether you want, roughly, a plan that costs less but limits your doctor choices or a plan that costs more but allows you to go to whatever doctor you want.

              1. InsuranceQAnon*

                Aha thank you very much for your response, this provides some much needed perspective!

            2. JB (not in Houston)*

              It’s mostly driven by the employer. Employers usually have one plan that they offer to their employees. I’m sure there are some exceptions, but everywhere I’ve worked and everywhere anyone I know has worked, that’s been the case. The only sort of exception I’ve seen is that my brother works for a state government agency, and for his dental plan, he could choose between two different plans. What is covered is usually not determined by the employer–meaning employers don’t normally say “I want a plan that covers X but not Y.” Usually it’s more of choosing a plan by balancing what the employer will pay, how much employees might be asked to pay, and what the deductibles will be, and they try to choose a plan that, given the balance, will cover the most. Of course some employers, especially churches/religious organizations, don’t want plans that cover specific services, like birth control. But for the most part, employers don’t customize a plan for their employees based on what it does and does not cover.

              This is all based on my experience and that of the people I know, but it may not be true generally. People with more expertise, please feel free to correct me on anything I’ve said that is not standard.

              1. InsuranceQAnon*

                Thanks! This is really interesting to know/learn. It also sounds really complicated, but I’m sure it’s a lot easier if you’re on the inside.

  59. MilkMoon (UK)*

    … If this unhinged, cruel excuse for a person isn’t fired for this, I hope every other employee resigns on the spot along with John.

    1. SallytooShort*

      Sorry that wasn’t very constructive.

      OP I completely empathize with you being in a situation where you have a leadership role and confronted with something that is just OTT in absurdity and cruelty when you aren’t even technically in a position of power.

      Your confusion on how to proceed is normal. I hope you know that the extreme reaction to Jan’s actions isn’t against you in any sense.

      And, honestly, hopefully your bosses will fire her. But we’ve seen time and again here that bosses don’t always do that when they should (bosses sided with the employee who mocked a new hire as a Halloween costume, bosses sided with the employees who pranked a woman caring for her sick mother with being arrested for embezzling.)

      So, that you don’t want to take an action your bosses won’t ultimately support is normal. So, you need to document everything. Every conversation. Her “explanation” (retaliatory behavior.) And you need to loop them in ASAP.

  60. nnn*

    I’m mindblown that a person can have been a functioning adult for long enough to reach a position that they’re being groomed to be a project lead, and think that others would think less of a colleague to having a colostomy bag and legitimately think that they will join her in “Ha ha, he has a colostomy bag!”

  61. Anonono*

    Who takes a photo like that at a person’s house? Full disclosure, my close friend and I take and share funny and strange photos of things and people we see. A coworker with such a stigmatizing medical condition though?

    There’s a line, and it’s different than going “hey, look at this weird outfit/person/thing” with one other person. I still can’t get over that she distributed the photo so widely! This is like laughing at a person because they have to use crutches.

    1. Database Geek*

      That’s still a jerk thing to do … people with disabilities or other issues that you might think are weird don’t exist for your amusement.

      1. Jules the Third*


        Really, other people’s choices are not here for your judgement. Recording (a picture) and mocking them to anyone is a jerk move. Be kind. Stick to non-humans.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Yes, I’m trying to give them the benefit of the doubt since we don’t have much info here, and it may not be what it sounds like. But based on what’s suggested by the wording, it’s definitely not a kind thing to do at all.

          1. Hildegard Vonbingen*

            We have plenty of info here. I’m not up for giving Jan the benefit of the doubt because, in all the ways that matter, there is no doubt. The only help she needs from her employer is help finding the door. The rest of the help she needs is on her to find and use. And I hope she does. But she should do it as an ex-employee of her current company.

            1. Database Geek*

              I believe JB is talking about Anonono taking pictures and sharing with their friend as they described above.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                Yes, exactly, thanks for clarifying for me Database Geek. I’m talking about Anonono, not Jan, for whom we have plenty of info to know she’s way beyond unkind and should be fired.

    2. SallytooShort*

      As was said above it was probably a Google Earth image. They sometimes capture people like that.

      Although that might be wishful thinking because if she’s physically stalking him as well as online stalking him it’s really taking it to a genuinely scary place. Not just horrifying.

      1. Temperance*

        Google Earth *did* catch my SIL leaning in to her car to get something out of the back, so it’s theoretically possible, but it sounds like she admitted that she did it all.

      2. Fiennes*

        I don’t think we can say it was “probably” Google Earth. Is Jan supposed to have googled his address in the hopes maybe GE photographed something embarrassing? While not impossible, it seems extraordinarily unlikely. (GE caught me on my porch, and I’m … sitting. The end.) If there had been no recent grievance between Jan & John, maybe I’d buy this more. But Jan has admitted she was angry and wanted to get back at him. She wanted something embarrassing, immediately. Nobody’s vengeance plan starts with, “I wonder if Google Earth maybe caught something!”

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          I have known people who looked up the addresses of people they knew and used Google Street View to look at their homes. If people do this to someone they know just for the heck of it, I can’t think why they wouldn’t do that with people they don’t like. Sometimes if you really dislike someone, you obsessively try to learn as much as you can about them–I don’t, but I had a former boss who would drive past the houses of people she didn’t like periodically, sometimes for no apparent reason, sometimes to try to glean info from what she could see. Plus, if you’re trying to dig up dirt on someone, I assume you start with what you know. If she knew his address or could easily find it, it would make sense to me that she looked up his house in the hopes it would lead to something that would lead to something, and she “lucked out” by getting that image.

          I’m not saying that’s the most likely scenario, but to me it is *at least* as likely as using a drone.

        2. SallytooShort*

          Googling someone when you are angry is infinitely more likely than buying a drone to photograph their home in their mere hopes they might get a shot that would be embarrassing.

          1. Max from St. Mary's*

            I dunno, a lot of people already have drones. At my niece’s wedding last year there were three guests who volunteered their drone cameras (camera drones?) to take pictures, so Jan may have already had, or at least had access to, a drone. The fact that she admitted seeing the stoma at the office before she sent the picture makes me think she did more than use Google earth.

        3. fposte*

          I would like to think it’s Google Earth, but I’m skeptical too–as I said above, I think somebody would have figured that out already if it were the case, but the origins of the picture still seem to be a mystery.

        4. Candi*

          “John thinks it was from a drone or someone taking it on a hill next to his house.”

          This indicates this was taken from an angle and position that isn’t consistent with Google Street Views.

          Besides, if I had that kind of equipment and saw that truck, I’d have the bag covered or be inside faster then the Flash.

          I’d also like to point out that around my neighborhood, front porches are very rare. Porches, patios, and such are all in the BACK of the houses, not easily or at all visible from the street. Some you would need a drone to see. Whether it was a front or back porch depends entirely on the construction of the house. (Heck, John’s house might have both.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I’d be super careful about that–you have no idea who else might see and copy the pictures, unless you delete them right away, and once it gets out you can’t get it back.

  62. Anon Marketer*

    Usually I have something far more insightful to say, but today I just have to offer, “WOW, just WOW. Who even does this?”

  63. Chris*

    I’ll be blunt and to the point. The original response is exactly correct. There is no excuse for this. If something like this happened in my team while I was on vacation, I’d expect a phone call, not an email, no matter what time it was where I was at. OP may not have that comfort / trust level with their own manager.. but this crosses so many lines of acceptable behaviour that it needs to be dealt with yesterday, if not sooner.

  64. Snark*

    So leaving aside the aghast rage…..this is why my employer killed the concept of the “team lead.” It’s perfectly ridiculous to give people just enough authority to oversee work without giving them any other kind of management authority, such as the prerogative to act independently on performance issues, assess performance formally, and intiate HR actions. That has potential to put them in all kinds of awkward situations – not just like this, but how do they effectively deal with insubordination, performance issues, missed deadlines, attitude problems, you name it? Team leads hate being team leads, because it’s all the downsides of management without any of the benefits or empowerment. I get it, I get it – it’s like getting a whole new manager without having to promote someone, raise their pay, or change their title. Leaving aside whether that’s a valid motivation, the headaches it causes later on down the line are worth a 2% raise, as this case demonstrates. Just don’t do it.

    1. SallytooShort*

      I think a Team Lead makes sense under normal circumstances. They are there to oversee quality and make sure a consistent product is being put out ASAP. Typically a manager is available if the Team Lead needs to raise issues of performance or behavioral problems or if you find out one of your teammates is a sociopath literally stalking a man to mock his disability.

      1. Snark*

        But if they’re overseeing quality and consistency, then they need to be empowered and trained on how to act on those issues. Because, as this letter demonstrates, the boss isn’t always available – and you can’t be spinning your wheels because you’re not empowered to actually do anything.

    2. Aurion*

      Cosigned. I think the only time I can see a “team lead” sort of position if it was part of the training to be an actual manager. That is, we don’t give you actual disciplinary authority because we don’t want you to accidentally muck something up, so disciplinary actions/performance assessment/etc must all go through and be signed off by the supervisor or manager above you. But if that were the case, the “team lead” title is useless; it should be implicitly understood that New Boss (with the appropriate supervisor/manager title) is in training and thus Grandboss is reviewing and signing off all actions until New Boss learns their ropes.

    3. only acting normal*

      In my job, “Team Lead” is the first layer of management, and they do have the power/responsibility of initiating discipline and HR processes. *However*, for some unknown reason none of our management layers are actually called managers… which has just occurred to me and is now weirding me out.

      We do have “Project Managers” who work alongside “Tech Leads” neither of whom have any power over people f-ing up their projects. Fun times. :)

    4. Student*

      “Team leads” with managerial responsibility but no actual authority are actually a common legal technique to shelter a company from all sorts of legal problems.

      They obviously dodge minimum wage in environments where that is relevant. Less publicly known, though, is that they also allow companies to dodge or minimize a host of legal complaints about things like harassment. If your “team lead” is harassing you or allowing you to be harassed at work, the company is in much less legal trouble than if your official “manager” does it – a mere employee doesn’t represent the organization in the same way that actual empowered management does. So, if most employees have a “team lead” as a functional, day-to-day task boss, and that “team lead” doesn’t have real manager power like hire/fire authority, then the organization has to deal with more serious legal challenges much less frequently (because most of the workforce doesn’t interact with “real bosses” with any regularity), and can settle any claims regarding bad behavior from the team leads at lower cost.

  65. Rae*

    This sounds so outrageous it seems fake. Actually unfathomable this could happen in a working environment. Hmm doubting the truthfulness for sure.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      We take letter writers at their word here. Also, there have been enough stories about assholes in the workplace that it’s not hard to believe someone would stoop to this level.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      You don’t believe that people can be this horrible? Must be nice to live in your version of the world.

      Also, does it really matter if the letter is real? The advice is still solid and can be useful to one of the many people who reads this site.

    3. o.b.*

      It totally also sounds fake that someone could have a secret button installed under their desk that instantly locks their office door, and yet…

      1. Snark*

        Yeah, if you haven’t been living among forest monks since mid-2017, it should be pretty clear that every time you think “nobody could possibly be that awful to someone they work with,” somewhere out there someone’s like “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED” and then defiles a potted plant.

        1. Gayle Davidson-Durst*

          This just made me laugh out loud (which is the cynical self-protective post-2016 version of rocking and weeping in the corner).

    4. Candi*

      Please visit the Darwin Awards. Verified stories of completely bizarre occurences, some of which make Jan look tame by comparison.

  66. Not Australian*

    Meanwhile, John should be taking legal advice; this is not just a workplace matter, and in fact it could – if it’s in the UK as people seem to think – fall under the heading of ‘stalking’ or some of the relevant internet regulations. And since Jan’s done her level best to bring the company into disrepute, she should be getting her P45 any minute now.

  67. Emily*

    She wasn’t just trying to mock him, she was trying to prove that he wasn’t healthy enough to lead the project himself and she was the better option. It’s a sneaky, underhanded trick and it should get her fired. As someone with more than one stigmatizing medical conditions, I can attest to having my own health used as a factor by other people why I shouldn’t have the lead or a significant role on a project, so I can see that happening here. I hope he sues.

    1. SallytooShort*

      I disagree. She was saying “John literally sh!ts himself.” (Which is not at all an accurate way to describe it. But that’s what she’s trying to get out there.)

      It was both mocking and presenting herself as the younger healthier alternative. But it was mocking too.

      1. Marthooh*

        Emily said “She wasn’t just trying to mock him…”, so there’s nothing in her comment for you to disagree with.

    2. LBK*

      I honestly don’t think her motivation rose to that level of concern trolling, I think she straight up just thought this would embarrass him so much that he’d quit or otherwise retreat in a way that would make her look better.

    3. Temperance*

      I actually don’t agree with you here. I think it had nothing to do with his perceived health, and everything to do with public humiliation for someone that she thinks bested her. I mean, I don’t think colostomy bag = so unhealthy one is not able to function is a common thing, but I could be wrong.

      She saw a part of the bag when his shirt moved, and was so curious or obsessed or something that she went to his home (!) to take private photos (!!) hoping to catch a glimpse of the bag. That’s horrifying … because it means that she somehow looked up his address and either camped out until she saw what she wanted or used a drone to do so.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I think Emily’s comment says that it’s both. She says he wasn’t *just* trying to mock him–i.e., she was trying to mock him, but also this other thing.

    4. Purplesaurus*

      I think this assessment is just as valid as what others have theorized. But I don’t know that it matters why she did it, because the end result is the same.

    5. Marthooh*

      Emily has an actual medical condition that has actually led coworkers to treat her actually badly, so maybe her opinion is worth listening to. Rather than, you know, dismissing it out of hand.

      1. LBK*

        I’m not disagreeing that that’s a thing that happens, rather that in this particular case I’m not sure I see anything to suggest that Jan was attempting to discredit John’s fitness for the job. I would expect her to use a more targeted approach, eg going straight to management for a discreet conversation if that were her intention. Such a broad distribution of the photo without any kind of accompanying message seems like plain old public shaming.

  68. Anon Accountant*

    She should be fired. I realize you don’t have the authority to do this but they better fire her.

    That’s awful behavior and poor John. Managing a colostomy bag is difficult enough and to do this? Horrible

  69. Marie*

    If this is in the UK (some of the wording makes me think it is). Jan’s actions could fall under hate crime laws. Also this is an imminent PR disaster due to the photo being sent to clients. If I received such an image from a company I worked with I would not judge John but I would judge the company the implication of this photo being sent is that they are nasty, dysfunctional and mock people with medical problems. Unless I quickly received an email apologising and explaining the person involved had been fired. I would be rapidly considering changing to a competitor as soon as possible. Waiting until your boss gets back may be too late if several clients decide to go elsewhere because of this.

    As for John, the fact he didn’t react more shows how professional he is. He has every right to refuse to work with someone who stalked him and sent his private medical information to everyone. Saying he has frozen Jan out as if it is a bad thing is not very kind to John, who is the victim. Please show him support.

    I am also curious of Jan’s thought process, did she somehow thing this would make her lead on a project? I assume she didn’t mean to get caught but was she hoping everyone would laugh at John until he quit? Did she even think at all? Either way if I was in charge I’d fire her immediately she has already shown irrational cruel behaviour when she doesn’t get her way. Don’t give her time to do more damage.

    1. Anon Today*

      Not sure if it’s a hate crime as the law can be kind of woolly (UK here) but as someone who lives with a Crohns sufferer, I’m well aware that their lives can be made hell if they work in an office full of immature morons. ‘Jokes’ played on my friend include a 9-pack of toilet paper as a Secret Santa gift and keeping a tally of toilet visits.

      Action needs to be taken against Jan. In my friends case the people teasing her weren’t even reprimanded because the company culture was ‘its just bants, don’t be so sensitive’ but then that company is full of bees and my friend needs to get out.

      Also I’m surprised the OP can’t at least suspend Jan, I thought team leads could do that? Or does it depend on the company?

      1. SB*

        “‘Jokes’ played on my friend include a 9-pack of toilet paper as a Secret Santa gift and keeping a tally of toilet visits.”

        Really? That’s jut cruel.

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      OP if you are indeed in the UK I suggest you talk to both ACAS and the Equality Advisory Service for advice. You can ask anonymously.

    3. MsSolo*

      Bearing in mind the BBC has run several articles in the last couple of weeks about living with a stoma bag, I feel like this is poised to go viral should any of the clients want to share (on John feels the company hasn’t taken it seriously and wants to shame them for their handling of it).

    1. Hildegard Vonbingen*

      Ah, to be thirteen, stupid and deranged! Cue the cute and whimsical sound track…

      I was thirteen once. So were my friends. So were you, right? This kind of behavior is not youth-related. It’s about character, judgment, and functional intelligence (as opposed to just IQ points).

      1. Radio Girl*

        My point was that such impulses are immature.

        I do understand what this is about. I’ve just never seen an adult do anything like it before. But having taught teenagers, I have seen similar behavior.

  70. M*

    Before you talk to your boss, I hope you take some time to reflect on your own feelings about working with Jan in the future too. If I was in your situation, I’d be defensive on John’s behalf, but also I’d probably be telling my boss that Jan’s actions were so invasive that I’m no longer comfortable working with her any longer as well. She has permanently damaged her reputation and her integrity to the point where I would have doubts about her ability to do any work, especially client facing work.

  71. CMF*

    Jan’s delusional to think that photos of someone with a colostomy bag would elicit anything but sympathy for that person. I’ll be scratching my head about this one for a while, hoping she gets what’s coming to her. What a vicious vile person.

  72. strawberries and raspberries*

    I’m literally stunned by this. If I were the manager with firing authority, I don’t care WHAT I was doing- I would be PISSED if no one told me about this ASAP. This is some sick shit that Jan did. It’s absolutely bullying, there’s no question it creates a hostile work environment in the truest sense of the word, and although we can’t diagnose from letters, the level of grandiosity and impaired judgment to think that anyone else (colleagues! VENDORS! CUSTOMERS!!!!) would see this as anything but mean-spirited, vindictive, scary behavior suggests some kind of serious disturbance. I really hope that OP can prioritize validating for John that this is absolutely not okay and that he’s their key focus right now, and that they can issue some version of the excellent email above making clear that they do not endorse this behavior and that Jan is GONE.


  73. [insert witty user name here]*

    In the immortal words of Dr. Perry Cox (from Scrubs): “People are bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling.”

    1. [insert witty user name here]*

      …to be clear, in this situation, that statement only applies to Jan, NOT to OP, John, or anyone else at the company (depending on how it gets handled)

  74. Lady Phoenix*

    Things that are ok to call off work boss about:
    1. Big thing gets destroyed
    2. Big thing gets stolen
    3. Big thing gets hacked
    4. Person is severely harassed and/or assaulted

    1. This Daydreamer*

      7) Employee turns out to be evil enough to attract various demons to the office, and possibly even bedbugs, roaches, and people who endlessly lecture others on their diet, and that you’re going to have to expense the services of an old priest and a young priest and you need to know the billing code for a crate of dried sage and sweetgrass and how do you temporarily disable the smoke detectors? Oh, and I hope everyone’s having a lovely holiday.

      1. Wandering Anon*

        I just found this comment and laughed my a** off. Well played, daydreamer. I have had this coworker and always wondered what was done to exorcise them…

  75. CBH*

    If this is a repeat I apologize – my original post times out… I second this for worst employee ever. Is it too soon to start an update request list for 2018?

    Wow just wow, Jan has some nerve. She needs to be let go immediately. I almost feel like Jan has a narcissist personality (Just from your average person knowledge, I’m not trained in diagnosing) – intentionally harming someone to get their way; the timing of their attack while big bosses are out; showing no remorse.

    What gets me is that it seems like the company was trying to help Jan advance in her career. What did Jan hope to accomplish – her coworkers no longer trust her and most likely her reputation is done. Nobody is going to want to work with her again. I hope Jan is fired immediately. Unemployment will be denied. I definitely think the bosses need to be contacted. They are in higher up positions and need to expect that emergencies will happen while they are gone; some emergencies need to be dealt with ASAP.

    Very few letters get me steamed and ticked off. Keep us posted OP.

  76. Falling Diphthong*

    What the ever-loving hell?

    If Jan had stopped at the gossip around the office, then maybe you would wait for the bosses to get back and then discuss firing her–I can see bosses tilting each way on interrupting the vacation for this. But the minute she
    a) Dragged in your clients(!!!) and vendors(!!!) OR
    b) Did this from a work computer(!!!!) believing there was no way anyone would figure out it was her(!!!!)

    … it went to notify the bosses, right now, they want to know. Because (a) is trashing your company’s reputation, and (b) is just so stupid anyone who thought they would get away with it should be instantly fired on general principles.

    You want them to hear it from you before a client emails them with “What the ever-loving hell?”

  77. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

    For the record, this situation is why I really hate ‘Lead’ positions. FFS… you either trust someone enough to give them personnel responsibility or not. Don’t put people in the position to have to deal with these kinds of messes without having the authority to deal with them.

    It’s also why I have a ‘Manager on Duty’ rule in my department. There is always someone with the authority to handle situations (Thank God, I’ve never had anything this crazy come up). They may not have the authority to fire someone from a different team than theirs, but they have the authority to start the investigation and know when and who to call.

  78. Penny Lane*

    OP – this is the equivalent to “there was a fire in the factory and it burned down to the ground” message that of COURSE boss should hear about. When this is all over, I urge you to think long and hard about why you are so hesitant to disrupt the boss on vacation for an issue of this magnitude.

    Also when Jan said she did it bc she was upset John got the lead on the project, what did you say? How did you react?

  79. JamieS*

    Wow. Letters like this really make a person appreciate their non-scumbag colleagues. Even the really annoying ones.

    1. Goya de la Mancha*

      Seriously. I feel the need to go give hugs to my monstrously nosy co-worker and my exceedingly incompetant co-worker – they could be so much worse.

      1. London Calling*

        Does put into a lot of perspective my colleague whose only sin as far as I can tell is not knowing when to shut up and the one who STIRS HIS COFFEE REALLY LOUDLY. Even the one who was written up for harassment looks pretty benign next to Jan.

    2. This Daydreamer*

      My lovely coworker (seriously) who somehow convinced our boss that I was really upset at taking overtime (that I had volunteered for) is hardly a blip on the radar anymore.

  80. Cary*

    This is so far out of the bounds of what is normal and such a huge violation that I wonder what other crap Jan has been pulling. Once you pull the trigger on Alison’s advice I suggest you start looking into Jan’s email, financial transactions and computer files. You don’t turn into a nasty, boundary violating asshole over night and they’ll be more wreckage along the way.

    1. Samata*

      Yes! this, so much this. Who knows what other things might be lurking out there that no one has found out about yet. I know some people have out of character moments and lapses of judgement but this is so egregious it can’t be that. It just can’t. It’s unfathomable.

  81. Matt*

    There are horribile people, and then there are Horrible People, those whose conduct is so utterly egregious that they deserve their own separate “Worst Co-Worker of the Year” vote here. Jan definitely falls into the latter category.

    1. RB*

      Totally. I know we’ve had Worst Boss of the Year but have we ever had Worst Co-worker of the Year?

  82. Goya de la Mancha*

    AMA sure knows how to kick off the New Year….I mean, voting is usually reserved until December, but I think Jan has “worst co-worker” vote from just about everyone?? I’m fearful as to what someone would have to be subjected to in order to top this!

    1. Hildegard Vonbingen*

      I’m fearful of what someone would have to do on the job to BEAT Jan for the title of worst co-worker of the year! Somehow, I just know there’s a story out there, featuring a morally bankrupt and incredibly stupid employee, that could do it (shudder).

  83. miyeritari*

    everyone has already said useful commentary, so i am merely adding: what the faaaaaaaaack. how is it possible someone is so rude and inconsiderate. holy buckets.

        1. RB*

          Oh, sorry, I found it. It’s in the Categories section on the right. I’m a little afraid to go there.

  84. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I just had a thought — someone obviously authorized IT to investigate where the photograph came from. Wouldn’t that person have the authority to at least suspend Jan? Someone higher up must know what’s going on. I wonder if they’ve already contact LW’s boss and grandboss.

    1. fposte*

      Ha, I had the same thought upthread. I was wondering if IT took their own initiative on this out of sheer rage.

      1. Goya de la Mancha*

        I would give that IT person a raise….if I were in any position to do so, which I’m not…

  85. Hildegard Vonbingen*

    Haven’t read all the comments, but I’d add that Jan’s network access needs to be taken way immediately. She’s already used it to send out material that negatively impacts the company’s reputation with clients. Don’t give her a chance to do more harm. Take action NOW. That’s still another reason to contact management right away, so they can authorize this.

  86. LizB*

    Everyone above has thoroughly covered the call-boss-fire-Jan-ASAP aspect of this question, so here’s what I want to know: LW, have you heard from any clients or vendors who received the picture? (I don’t know how much you interact with them.) What on earth are they saying about it?

  87. Newt*

    OP, I am so glad you wrote in and I really hope you take all of Alison’s advice immediately.

    I also want to highlight something Very Important. Please reframe John’s ultimatum in your mind:

    “John won’t talk to her and kicked her off the project despite not having the authority to do so. He told me he’ll quit the project and his job before he works with Jan. I can’t speak to John about his actions because I am not management and because he is freezing Jan out and not getting in her face or yelling at her or anything. ”

    John absolutely has the authority to inform you that he cannot and will not work with someone who violated his rights and boundaries (and possibly trespassed or broke the law depending on how the photo was obtained) and attempted to pull some sort of weird shaming/revenge petty crap based on his physical disability and his assistive device. He absolutely has the right to say that he will not work with someone who engaged in extreme retaliatory action against a coworker out of jealousy that he – rightly due to his experience – got chosen as lead over her.

    There’s nothing about his actions that you need to address with him, and unless your managers are highly dysfunctional I cannot imagine they will disagree with your decision if you fully and unequivocally back John up on this and keep Jan off the project at minimum until their return. (Although absolutely you should inform management immediately that this has happened, preferably after talking to HR and attempting to get Jan at least suspended pending investigation upon management’s return).

    This is such a flagrantly abusive and inappropriate thing that Jan has no defense and I will be astounded if she isn’t fired as soon as someone with authority to do so is available. Jan is not a safe person for anyone in your company to work with as she has proven she has no concept of acceptable limits and that she considers it acceptable to attempt sabotage against coworkers. She is incapable of being part of any kind of team environment and definitely not fit to represent your company to clients in any capacity.

    1. Newt*

      *forgot to add*

      Also, even if you need to wait for management to return to get the firing or suspension formalised, you absolutely need to get Jan’s system access, account access, network access and client contact access revoked and it needs to be done yesterday.

      This woman was willing to send your clients this photo over something as minor as *not getting to be lead yet but still getting a place on the project with development for leadership in place*. She is absolutely the sort of person you should be concerned about as she could well go full nuclear assault over the possibility of disciplinary action.

  88. Middle Name Jane*

    Nothing much to add that hasn’t been said already. Jan needs to be fired as soon as possible, and I hope HR is able to suspend her or otherwise take some disciplinary action until the manager returns. Jan’s actions are so egregious, this is the definition of the kind of emergency to contact a manager on vacation. OP, please don’t wait! The manager needs to know about this right away.

    I hope John is able to take some kind of legal action against Jan. If it were me, I would feel so personally violated that just her being fired wouldn’t be enough.

    I hope we get an update on this story.

  89. Brett*

    I’m going to approach this from the team lead perspective, without the ability to discipline, and what I would do (as a team lead myself).

    Jan should be fired, so treat her time now as if she is on limited time:
    * Stop her current work.
    * Assign her nothing but knowledge transfer. Even if she does not get fired for this, assume you will lose her some day soon and make sure that everything she knows is transferred to someone else on the team.
    * Anything she would normally transfer to John, assign to transfer to yourself and one other team member.

    John deserves the safety of not working with Jan.
    * Respect that and affirm that his action to kick Jan off his project was preserving his own safety to operate
    * Back his decision to do that regardless of his or your authority to do so. You should be telling this directly to John.

    To preserve that safety:
    * Jan is kicked off John’s project.
    * Jan is kicked out of meetings with John (she should be on knowledge transfer anyway).
    * Even for meetings organized above your level, ask the meeting organizer to kick her out.

    Support John’s work:
    * In the interim until boss gets back, assign someone else from your team to temporarily support his project.
    * If needed, take up extra slack so that John can have that temporary extra person.
    (As a bonus: Pick this person based on your best option for a permanent replacement for Jan’s role.)

  90. Justin*

    So. Remember how we thought it would be hard to top 2017?

    By the way, there are bullies, and there are spiteful people, but a spiteful bully who has enough time and money (or whatever) to plan this and execute it? (Also, John thinks someone took the pic. It could be her, but if it’s not, WHO HELPED DO THIS.)

    I think we’ve all had moments where our judgment lapsed. “It’s not fair!!!” Yeah fine. Go have a drink with your friend and think about getting a new job if you feel that way. I get that. But for that to turn into 5, 6, 7 bad decisions is a whole nother level of awful.

  91. Nita*

    There are so many things wrong with this I don’t know where to start. OP – your question was how to handle this since you don’t have authority to fire Jan. Unless your boss is out for weeks, there’s probably no need to involve them yet with anything beyond a short email heads-up. They’ll presumably be back very soon. However, in the meantime, do you have HR that can take action? Do you have the ability to suspend Jan and forbid her from coming into the office pending a disciplinary hearing? Her lack of judgment is so massive that you can’t possibly have her in the office, likely doing further damage, even if you can’t fire her outright.

    And I don’t see how you can want to put pressure on John to keep Jan on the team, if only because she’s just committed a massive act of cyber-bullying against him. You’re really thinking of the wrong kind of damage control here.

  92. Delphine*

    I, too, would freeze out a coworker who violated me because she was angry that I was placed on a project instead of her. Frankly, that’s the least I would do.

  93. Tuesday Next*

    Besides the sheer awfulness of Jan, this is a potential PR disaster for the company.

    OP, I hope someone in your PR / Corporate Relations / similar department is speaking to your clients and vendors about what happened.

  94. Violet*

    I am trying to understand this from Jan’s perspective and this is all I can come up with:

    “I should have been in charge of that project, not John! How can I convince everyone of this? I know! I’ll expose his medical issues to the world, which will prove he is unable to be the lead. Everyone will apologize to me for not making me the lead and they will take it away from John, who will cry in shame.”

    In other words, I just can’t wrap my head around what other thought process one would have to behave this way. :(

  95. CBH*

    I admit I haven’t read all 500+ comments yet. It seems that we’ve covered a good percentage of the comments about Jan. I’m trying to look at things from the victim’s side of things. Aside from letting Jan go (we all agree that is a must), how can the company even make things right with John? clients? Everything I think of feels slighted in comparison.

    For example someone mentioned showing John empathy and support. I totally totally agree with this, but how? I mean if you send out a memo or have a meeting about John’s situation it brings up something extremely personal for John again. If you contact clients and vendors it just appears like you had no control over your team.

    I almost feel like Jan’s actions are bringing what appears to be a well respected company, down a few pegs big time.

    1. fposte*

      I think it looks more controlled if you send a message to your clients than if you don’t, though; you dn’t want to have an bad employee and look like you’re not doing anything about it.

      If I’m John’s manager, I might loop John in on this in a way that I wouldn’t necessarily for other interpersonal situations to see if there’s anything else in support we could do, but communication with staff and clients is pretty much de rigueur here, because the alternative is a seemingly embarrassed silence.

    2. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

      You HAVE to contact the clients and vendors. This isn’t something that can just pass unnoticed. For John’s sake (and the company’s reputation) the company should condemn Jan’s actions in the strongest possible words.

      1. CBH*

        I totally agree with you. I’m trying to think of the most professional manner it could be brought up. I feel like this whole situation has caused a lot of hurt for John and embarrassment for clients that every solution (maybe wording or form of contact is a better way to say it) is not going to support John or community relations.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Depending on the specifics (if the email had John’s name or other details, it would have to be better than this), I would go with something like, “Recently, you were sent a picture by one of our employees, which was inappropriate, not business-related, and the sending of the image was in violation of our company ethics. We apologize deeply to you and to the person in that image. The employee who sent that image is no longer with our company.”

          Of course, first you have to fire Jan, to be able to say that last. (And really, someone who is better with words would phrase it better, but those are roughly the points I’d try to cover. Unless John *wanted* to be named in the email, or *was* named in Jan’s email, I don’t think you name him in the follow-up. But you don’t have to in order to communicate that the wildly inappropriate jerk has been removed and the company does not condone actions of that sort.

      2. Wendy Darling*

        I think if I was one of the clients/vendors I’d feel a lot better if I got a prompt followup email apologizing for Jan’s horrifying behavior and letting me know she was no longer with the company.

        I know some people don’t think you should be public about having fired people but I’d have serious reservations working with a company I knew employed someone so willing to be petty, vindictive, and cruel in public. Like, god forbid I cross Jan and she looks up my address and takes photos of my family or puts dog poop in my mailbox or something.

    3. Nita*

      Good point. The company must absolutely show John support like, yesterday, instead of taking the mindset that he should be the bigger person and keep Jan on the team and “let’s all get along.” This isn’t something he should just get over – I don’t think it will seriously affect the way any reasonable person sees his performance, but it’s such an invasion and personal attack, and Jan may have even had someone spy on him…

      And yes, someone needs to contact the clients ASAP. At this point, the best thing to restore their confidence would be a message along the lines of “we sincerely apologize, and the employee that did this has been disciplined/fired.”

      1. CBH*

        Nita I like your comments. I keep thinking that it seems like no one is taking action (understandably) til the big bosses get back. As OP said his/ her hands are tied. There is no backup plan when a fire needs to be put out. But in the few days interm of waiting, you have a obnoxious employee who probably thinks things aren’t that bad since they haven’t been repremanded. Jan might even think all she is getting is a slap on the wrist and maybe even that well deserved team lead promotion! And you have a wronged employee who is probably thinking my company isn’t helping me in any way with this huge invasion of privacy; there is no support for John. John probably has a few awkward days at work. The clients can probably see through the bs but would probably still question the company’s integrity and stability. Everything is in a very weird and uncomfortable limbo.

  96. Autumnheart*

    On the positive side, if Jan is still in the office while management is away, imagine how brutally uncomfortable she must feel. You know everyone in the entire company is glaring daggers of doom at her for being so horrible.

    1. Tabby Baltimore*

      I can *wish.* I have to say my money’s on Jan feeling not one bit uncomfortable. In fact, I’ll bet Jan’s is the kind of personality that is probably feeling pretty good right now: she’s managed to get a LOT of people focused on her “problem,” and is probably even enjoying the (negative) attention. I hope I never have to work with someone even remotely like her; she is a deeply worrisome personality, as others have said more colorfully.

  97. Lady Phoenix*

    How appropriate Jan tried to leak someone using a stoma bag…. because she certainly is a big bag of shit.

  98. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

    If I was an employee at this place and found out that Jan wasn’t fired for this… I would seriously start looking for a new job, because the company and I obvious wouldn’t be sharing the same values.

    I’m shocked and appalled beyond words.

  99. whosthat*

    OH MY GOD. I had a temporary ileostomy when I had surgery and treatment for colon cancer. I had a stoma and used a stoma bag for about 9 months. I CANNOT BELIEVE that someone would be so mean and cruel as to do this. If someone had done this to me I would have sued them, the company, and anyone else I could think of. . I think it is a violation on so many fronts–ADA among them. This person should be iimmediately fired, no ifs ands or buts.

    1. AnonMinion*

      I 100% agree. I am not typically one to say sue but OMG I hope he sues her for everything she has got. And if the emplyer does not step in immediately he ought to sue them too.

  100. Sled dog mama*

    I shared this with my coworkers over lunch and the universal reaction (granted this was a room full of medical professionals) was WTF?

    1. Sled dog mama*

      I reread my comment and realized it didn’t come out the way I intended. I shared over lunch because we are medical professionals and poop is a pretty normal conversation topic over lunch for us

  101. whosthat*

    As for the victim, please include him in the discussion about what, if anything to do about what was sent to vendors and clients. He has a right to be involved in that decision. If this had happened to me, I am not sure what I would want the company to do, but I know I would not want them doing anything that they had not discussed with me.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I feel like the company needs to address it in some capacity. They don’t have to identify John, but from a PR standpoint, if they don’t say anything, it’s going to cause issues with those business relationships.

      1. fposte*

        Yup. Unfortunately, the company can’t simply do whatever John wants in response; it has to take effective measures as a company.

  102. cataloger*

    I now have this image of John as having super-hero level of confidence, with the first project meeting going like this:

    John: So, about these reports. We’re looking at a deadline of…
    Jan: I’m here!
    John: You’re off the project. Get out.
    Jan: You can’t do that!
    John: It is done. For these reports…
    Jan: You’ll be fired!
    John: Whatever. Our deadline will be…
    Jan: I won’t stand for this!
    John: Does anyone else hear that noise?

    1. Candi*

      Like that scene from the first Independence Day movie.

      Preseident: You’re fired.

      Former Secretary of Defense: You can’t do that.

      Aide: Well, he just- did.

      Since John can’t fire her (I bet he wishes he could), kicking her off the project is the next best thing.

  103. Someone else?*

    I understand the hesitation on whether or not to contact boss and/or grandboss when they are on vacation. But contact people on vacation and do nothing surely aren’t the only options? *Someone* has to be on call with both them out, someone above OP with managerial authority. (Perhaps great-grandboss?)
    I’d go to whoever that person is. Explain the situation to them, explain that boss and grandboss are out. And let them decide whether to call boss or grandboss, or perhaps they will deal with it themself.
    There are appropriate times to jump the chain of command, and something this outrageous would seem to warrant it.

    1. The Supreme Troll*

      Unfortunately, though, there may very well might not be (at least they might see themselves as too far removed from Jan and John that they would feel indifferent to what happened). I think the OP, as a lead, is probably viewed as the assistant manager of that department.

      Alison’s advice is excellent, as usual. The OP should should follow those points, and, yes, this merits contacting the boss (even if he is on vacation) because it is a very serious situation.

      1. Candi*

        The picture and who-knows-what-text went to vendors and clients. If the great-grandboss, etc., are indifferent to the PR effects, they have lima beans where their grey matter should be.

    2. Genny*

      If you do go to someone higher than your boss though, you absolutely need to loop in your bosses below him. No boss wants to come back from vacation and be blindsided with this magnitude of a problem.

  104. Sara without an H*

    OP, if someone on my team did anything this awful, I would want to be notified ASAP, no matter where I was vacationing. If you haven’t already done so (I haven’t read all the comments, so you may have already updated us), do it now.

  105. Observer*

    I know that I’m repeating some things, but I’m trying to put together a coherent reaction.

    1. Boss needs to contacted THIS MINUTE. You have a major PR disaster on your hands, and someone at the very top needs to do damage control. If your boss is truly unreachable, you need to talk to whoever is the “acting” replacement.

    2. Why are you even thinking about talking to John about his reaction? And what relevance does his authority level have? If he were doing harmful things, that would be one thing. But he’s simply refusing to work with someone who did something very terrible to him. You don’t need “authority” to refuse to work with someone who treats you like garbage. And you don’t “speak to them” about it either. You SUPPORT their not working with someone who treats them like garbage.

    If the aggressor were someone that you might want to keep, then you would have to find another place for the. In this case, you just need to figure out how to keep her from harming anyone else.

    3. Understand that Jan poses a significant risk to your company. Her behavior is atrocious on many fronts, and each one on its own poses a serious problem. Together? It’s like something out of a bad soap opera.

    4. Please understand that a calm and measured reaction to this is not admirable or normal. John would rather quit his job than work with her for VERY good reason. What Jan did is not just something to disagree with – it’s something that should shock and disgust. Being professional doesn’t mean turning off human emotion (or not looking beyond the basics of managing a work team).

  106. Bow Ties Are Cool*

    Holy buckets. Yes, get in touch with a boss if at all possible, and HR either way, immediately. This is harassment based on disability, not to mention a whole lot of extremely unprofessional and vindictive behavior. And someone above Jan (your “lead” status might be enough for this bit, but clear it with an actual manager first) needs to contact every client and vendor she sent that stuff to, apologize on behalf of the company, and assure them the matter is being dealt with.

    Also, John is a bigger person than I. In his position I would have taken her down (verbally) in front of everyone we work with, every time I saw her stupid face.

  107. RB*

    Geez, are we going to have to start a category of “Wow, just wow” letters this early in the new year? I hope this is not indicative of things to come.

  108. Anecdata*

    Thanks for recognizing how totally unacceptable Jan’s behavior is; and looking for ways to address it.

    I agree about this rising to the “need to contact Boss even though she’s on holiday” threshold – but if you aren’t able to get a hold of her; are there multiple team leads (ie, other folks at your level) that you could collaborate with? Deciding as a group that “Jan isn’t working on Jon’s project” will help send a stronger message to the rest of the team that this is of course NOT OKAY, and provides strength/cover in numbers for when you do go to your boss (and makes it so Jon isn’t left dealing with this alone).

    Another option would be to pull in /any/ manager – the highest person you can contact; even if not in your reporting chain (HR, as Allison suggested, would be best; but if it’s a small company without HR; I’d literally go to the CTO if necessary). Because this is so serious and potentially so damaging to your company (legally; and reputationally!), /anyone/ halfway reasonable-minded in management should want to know about it. Let them know that your boss and boss’ boss are both out; and you weren’t sure who else to go to.

    1. Em Too*

      I like this last point – anyone who’s at the level of your boss or above. Get them to lend their authority to what is most needed (ie suspending Jan at the least).

  109. Strawmeatloaf*

    Definitely make sure you’re talking to John too! He may or may not know how far this has gone, but hopefully no one is treating him differently because of it. And if they are, I’m not sure what I would do (I’ve never been a manager) but you should probably have a meeting discussing it if it IS that big of a problem that he’s being harassed by others about it.

    Oh no, he has a medical device that no one has seen until they were sent a picture of it! Look, what the bag does is important, but also, no one really likes to look at poo (some people do, and some people need to like doctors and others with certain medical conditions). It’s not surprising that it was hidden and