my coworker owes me money and won’t pay it back, my coworker’s panic attacks are affecting my work, and more

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

1. My rude coworker owes me money and won’t pay me back

A coworker owes me a not insignificant sum of money and won’t pay me back. I realize it’s not wise to lend money to your coworkers but our situation was a little different in that I haven’t technically given her anything directly. Let me explain.

One of our office mates (we share an office with four other people) was celebrating a major professional accomplishment and invited us all over to her house. The Rude Coworker suggested we all spring for a nice gift for her and suggested a sum each of us should pay. I won’t give you the dollar amount since we’re not in the U.S., but it was about a week’s worth of groceries per person. It was quite a lot for my budget but I wanted to be a good friend to my friend, the celebrating coworker, and so I agreed. So the four of us agreed on a gift, and it so happened that it was available in an online store I have an account with, so I was the one who ended up ordering it. The other two coworkers paid me back immediately but the Rude Coworker didn’t. I asked her twice about it. The first time she said she didn’t have any money. I suggested she could pay me back with her next paycheck but we have since been paid, and still nothing. I asked her a second time and she said she didn’t have the money, in a bored and dismissive tone of voice. For context, she is well paid, wearing designer clothes and going on fancy vacations. She also buys takeout coffee every day. We are peers but because she’s so abrasive and at times bully-ish that most of our colleagues walk on tiptoes around her.

How do I get my money back? We do not really have a manager — we are all professionals who technically report to a coordinator but are left alone to do our work 99% of the time. I could really use the money right now, and it makes me really angry to essentially have to beg her to do the right thing.

Ugh, she’s being horrible. It’s possible that you may not get your money back because there’s no way to force her to pay you, but you can up your chances by being even more direct. Instead of just asking her for the money, say something like this: “Jane, that money was a week’s worth of groceries for me. I need you to pay me back as you agreed. Can you write me a check for the amount you owe me right now?” If she says she doesn’t have money or a checkbook on her, then say, “I really need the money paid back; I have bills I need to pay. Can you bring it in tomorrow?” And then you have this conversation with her every single day until she pays you back. There’s a decent chance that she’ll get sick enough of having to talk about it that she will, in fact, pay you back. (Right now, I think you’re using too light of a touch for the situation. You need to follow up on it every day; make it uncomfortable for her not to pay you back.)

If that doesn’t work, you can also try enlisting your other coworkers in shaming her. If all three of you sit down with her and say, “We agreed to each pay $X for a group gift, and Jane, we still need your contribution — it’s really unfair to stick to Miranda with the bill for your share,” she may be sufficiently shamed to actually pay you.

Jane sucks.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. My coworker has panic attacks, and it’s affecting my work

I share an office with my coworker. She has panic attacks. When she has one, I have to leave the office until the attack passes. If I’m there or she isn’t alone, the attack won’t stop. We work with financial information and can only do work with the computer inside our offices. When I have to leave, I can’t do work because my computer is in the office (we all work in offices with doors and there is no way for anyone to ever bring work outside of their offices), and when she is having an attack she can’t do any work. We are always behind on work because she has an attack every two or three days.

Our boss says if we don’t start delivering more work on time, he’ll put us both on a PIP. My coworker asked me not to tell anyone about her attacks. I don’t want to out her but I don’t want to end up on a PIP. There aren’t any empty offices for me to move to and there isn’t room anywhere else because everyone, including my boss, is already sharing. The last thing I want is to out my coworker. No one else here knows about her anxiety or panic attacks and she feels bad about disrupting our work. I don’t want to make it worse. But I also don’t want to keep getting in trouble or ending up on a PIP. I can’t think of any way to get my boss to understand without outing her.

Yeah, you’re going to have to out her. It’s not reasonable for her to insist that you leave your work space like this, and one of you needs to let your boss know what’s going on.

I’d say this to your coworker: “Because this is now affecting my performance and is at the point where I could lose my job over it, I need to talk to Bob about another solution for our office space. To do that, I’ll need to explain to him what’s going on. Would you prefer to talk with him yourself first? I’m planning to talk with him tomorrow, so I wanted to give you a chance to speak with him first about your panic attacks if you’d like to.”

But then you do need to disclose to your manager what’s happening, and quickly (because the longer you let this go on, the more it’s affecting your work and the harder this may be to come back from). This isn’t gossiping about someone’s private health information. This is letting your manager know about a major reason for your slipping work performance. It sounds like your choices are to do that or risk getting fired for low performance, and it’s not reasonable for your coworker to expect you to do the latter.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. My practicum contact is unresponsive

I was recently accepted for a graduate-level practicum at a local non-profit organization. The organization partners with two other organizations to run a direct service provision agency. My supervisor wants me to begin my practicum by shadowing the director, managers and frontline workers at this agency, to help inform the rest of work I’m going to be doing (research, grant proposals, program development, that sort of thing).

My practicum supervisor told me they had talked to a manager at the frontline agency about me shadowing there, and gave me that manager’s contact information to get things set up. But two phone calls and an email later (over the course of about ten days), I’ve had no response at all.

I’m starting to think I’ll need to tell my supervisor I hadn’t been able to contact the manager, but I don’t want to get that person in trouble. I can only image the weird dynamic the manager is in, having essentially three bosses, and having a practicum student foisted on them, possibly without the option to say no.

I’m assuming there are some significant dynamics at play here that have nothing to do with me, but at the same time I only have until the middle of August to finish my required hours, or my graduation will be put off until next spring (which isn’t the end of the world, but it would be a hefty speed bump.) I don’t want to cause or contribute to conflict, hard feelings, or overwork (which I have so much sympathy for, having lots of previous experience in the non-profit sector) but at the same time… I want to graduate! What is the kindest, most tactful way for me to approach this situation? I do know a frontline worker at the agency, but getting her help in approaching her boss seems like a really bad idea, so I haven’t said anything to her about this at all. My faculty supervisor is also an option, but I don’t want her to think I’m not capable of something as basic as making initial contact with someone.

Talk to your practicum supervisor immediately. This isn’t about getting someone in trouble; this is about letting someone who’s supervising your work know that you haven’t been able to do the thing they asked you to do. Say something like, “I’ve been having trouble reaching Jane about setting up shadowing — I’ve tried calling and emailing but haven’t heard anything back. She’s probably very busy, but since it’s been 10 days, I wanted to check with you about whether there’s someone else I should contact about it.” You could also ask, “If it takes a while to set this up, is there something else I could start on meanwhile, since I only have until the middle of August to finish my required hours?”

The idea here is that you’re not complaining about anyone; you’re alerting her that so far this isn’t moving forward (since she’s probably assuming it is), and asking how to proceed.

4. How should I follow up when friends introduce me to their contacts?

I’m a recent grad searching for a full time job. I’m lucky enough to have friends who know people in my field, and they’ve offered to introduce me to them over email (“Hi X, this is Y who I told you about, hope you’re doing well”). However, I’m not really sure how to follow up. I know I should include my resume and a thank-you, but what else? This isn’t something where I’m following up on a specific position, so I feel a bit unmoored in how to handle it.

I wrote back and asked, “What’s the outcome that you want from the introductions? In other words, what are you hoping the other person will do?” The answer:

That’s a great question. Pass me along to someone who’s looking for someone like me? My field is very word-of-mouth, so most jobs never make it to an online posting.

That’s the key thing here — if you don’t clearly state what you’re hoping they’ll do, your chances of them doing it go way down. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily ask them to pass your resume along; since they don’t know you or whether your work is good, there’s not a lot of incentive for them to do that (and even if they do, their referral won’t be very compelling since they won’t have anything to say about you other than “here is a resume”). So what about approaching them more as networking contacts — people who might be able to give you advice about building a career in the field? (And once they do that, they’ll be more invested and have a better sense of you, and might be more willing to pass your resume around.)

If you do that, when you contact the person after your friend’s introduction, you could say something like, “Jane, it’s so great to meet you. I just graduated in May from Rice with a degree in llama linguistics, and I’m hoping to talk to people already working in the field to get advice about how to build my career. Would you be willing to set up a short call with me and answer some questions about working in llama linguistics (or if you prefer, meet up for coffee)?” (But be sure your questions are real ones that you genuinely want answered; if you’re just asking questions for the sake of having something to say to them, that’ll be transparent and will feel like a waste of their time. Some ideas are here.)

If that doesn’t feel genuine, then you could just go with, “I just graduated in May from Rice with a degree in llama linguistics, and I’m looking for work doing X or Y. If you know of anyone who might be hiring someone with my background, I’d be really grateful to be connected with them. I’m attaching my resume here.” But that’s less likely to pay off than the first approach.

{ 775 comments… read them below }

  1. RG*

    OP #1: even if you don’t need the money, I’d still insist on Jane paying you back. I can imagine being extremely annoying about this – calendar invites, stopping by your desk all the time, multiple emails. I would make it my (secondary) job to be as annoying as possible.

    Jane sucks.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think I agree. Jane is being really horrid and pretty nonchalant about not repaying OP. I wouldn’t focus on her spending habits or speculate on whether she’s flush, but I would ask her to pay back her share every day, a la squeaky wheel. I’d offer her an installation plan, but I wouldn’t let the issue go.

      And, OP#1, I’d let everyone know she stiffed you if she continues to fail to reimburse her share of the gift.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        I suspect Jane will get really nasty about this. She’ll then LOUDLY complain about how you harassed her over “a few dollars”.
        OP, don’t let her nastiness stop you. These types use abuse as a way to get out of accountability.

        1. Les G*

          Folks on this site need to take a look at “Conflict is Not Abuse.” Your stingy coworker isn’t abusing you, she’s just being kind of an asshole.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            Conflict does not have to be a abusive at all. It can be calm and rational without rudeness. In this case the coworker broke her promise to repay and is also rude. I’d say being jerk is on the upper end of abuse. Maybe I’m getting old and am no longer willing to tolerate this stuff.

            1. Just Employed Here*

              Yeah, I agree. This is not a conflict in the “balanced” sense of Jane having an opinion/interest and OP having a conflicting opinion/interest. This is Jane abusing OP’s good nature and trust.

        2. Thursday Next*

          And the reply to “it’s just a few dollars” is, “right, it’s just a few dollars, so obviously you should have no problem repaying me now.”

          I agree, OP, you need to keep repeating your script, daily. Don’t justify or explain; just—“You agreed to this gift, I covered your portion, and now you need to pay me back.”

          1. Workerbee*

            Yes! I love that response, plus the repetition of the script.

            (I also think of it every time someone says, “It’s only $5 to chip in for this gifting-upward-extravaganza for Boss”–if it’s “only” anything, then hey, Someone, you can pay for my share, too.)

          2. neverjaunty*

            This. “If you don’t have the money, why did you ask us to lend it to you?”

            1. AMPG*

              Yes – this! Use this in your scripts as often as possible! “This particular gift was your idea, as was splitting the total four ways, so I took it on faith that you could afford your share. I need you to live up to your end of the agreement now.”

          3. OP 1 (for this question)*

            Well, I am the one paying off loans plus I earn less than she does (because of the way bonuses are structured – we are peers) so it’s more of a big deal to me than to the others.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              OP Listen to everyone who has said to ask her for the money back Ask her in front of the other CWs who contributed if/as often as possible as well.

          4. Fafaflunkie*

            So much this. If this amount is so insignificant to Jane, then why doesn’t she make whole to her obligation and pay OP? Jane is a word just as rude as her.

      2. Red 5*

        Yup, her spending habits, while annoying as all get out to you personally (I get it, I’ve been there) actually aren’t relevant to the situation.

        She owes you money.

        She hasn’t paid you.

        That’s all there is. Just focus on those two things, let the rest slide out of your mind and remember that whatever else there is there it’s for her to deal with, not you. You just need to get paid back.

        I’ve found giving people a deadline will sometimes help, “I need to get paid back by the 31st. Why don’t you bring in a check tomorrow, that’ll take care of it quickly.” And then every few days on the run up to the 31st you say “don’t forget, you have to pay me by the 31st!” Admittedly this works better with people who have some shame and sense of social responsibility. But don’t let it be open ended, that’s part of why it’s easy for her to mentally blow you off, it doesn’t feel urgent or like a bill. It’s just “oh yeah there’s that thing…”

        Again, that works best when people actually care a little bit, because usually the most you can bring against somebody are social consequences (can you believe Jane owed Jack all that money and then didn’t pay it back? Ugh).

        Actually, speaking of, I’ve also seen success with having somebody else apply the pressure. In a similar situation at my job, the person collecting the money was getting completely blown off by the person who owed. She was getting incredibly frustrated (rightly so) and so I offered to just email the person and go “hey, I was looking over this to make sure everything was balanced out and saw that you still owed some money towards the purchase. Can I get that from you this week?” She replied immediately and brought the money to me within the week.

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          Eh, I do think her spending habits are relevant here, just to show that she does have the money and is choosing to not pay back her coworker. It would be different if the question was, “How do I get my broke coworker to pay me back?”

          1. smoke tree*

            I think what’s even more relevant is that Jane was the one who suggested the gift and dollar amount in the first place. That implies that either she could afford it or this was all some elaborate grift (which I’m not ruling out).

          2. Rat in the Sugar*

            Eh, theoretically coworker could have all that stuff and still not have money–designer clothes could have been hanging in the closet for years or bought on consignment, fancy coffee could be bought on a giftcard from last birthday/Christmas, lavish vacations paid by family etc. If others are providing for her while she uses all her cash for student loans or whatever, it’s possible that she could be living what looks like a lavish lifestyle but still be broke.

            All of that is only a reason not to take her spending habits into consideration but NOT a reason not to ask her for the money back, just to be clear! To me, it’s not the spendy habits that’s relevant but the fact that buying a group gift was the coworker’s suggestion in the first place. She obviously had the money then, and it’s ridiculous that she’s acting this way and not reimbursing OP.

            1. Red 5*

              Yup, that’s exactly why it’s not relevant what she does and doesn’t have, because unless you’re looking at all her bank accounts/credit cards, you don’t actually know what’s going on and it doesn’t really matter because it’s her job to deal with her money and make sure she pays you back. It’s not your job to help her budget or figure out where she can find the cash.

              It’s annoying, it’s really annoying, but it’s not part of the actual problem at hand which is that she’s not paying you back. If she was not paying you back because she bought a designer handbag, you’re still as out of money as if she wasn’t paying you back because she was buying name brand yogurt instead of store brand. You also can’t look at a person and say “forget your stupid Starbucks and give me my money” because the end result of that is not you getting your money. So in the end, it’s relevant to how angry you are (because like I said, I’ve been there, I get it) but it’s not relevant to actually finding a solution. Her budget is her problem. She needs to get the money somehow, and it’s not your job to figure out how she gets it.

              The fact that the gift was her idea is relevant because it should absolutely be leveraged in the solution to the situation. Also, that would make me personally angrier.

            1. Earl Grey Fae*

              Ah true! At least OP won’t be stuck paying off a hotel bill that cost more than her yearly salary *shudders*

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*


            I would not trust a check from this person. Cash or electronic funds transfer via paypal/Venmo/etc.

            1. hayling*

              You can’t necessarily trust Venmo either–people can rescind their payment within a few days grace period.

              1. Source: I work there*

                You absolutely cannot rescind a peer-to-peer transaction through Venmo. You can file a claim if you pay the wrong person but you can’t just take money back that you sent to someone.

                There are different rules for goods and services transactions but for peer to peer, no, they can’t just take money back after sending it to you.

          2. Red 5*

            Yeah, you’re right, I just had checks in my brain because a coworker just paid me back with a check. But I trust that coworker, I wouldn’t trust this woman, cash or venmo (or the local equivalent)

      3. Jenn*

        An installation plan is a great idea. A friend of mine ordered Hamilton tickets for us and I had asked her if she’d mind if I sent her two checks and the dates I’d send them (15th and 30th of that month) and she was OK with it. I fortunately did not have to end up doing this but it was nice that she was willing to accept that method of payment and it helped me from having to pay a lump sum (that was also equivalent to a week’s worth of groceries for me).

      4. Someone Like Me*

        Yep, make sure people know about this. A co-worker stiffed me for $100 once. I’d lent him money before — many of us had — but this was the first time he refused to pay me back. I never got the money, because I left the job and moved to another city, but I made sure our colleagues knew what he’d done. The next time he asked them for a loan, they all said, “Uh, you stiffed _____ and were a total asshole about it.” Consequences are good.

        1. OP 1 (for this question)*

          Believe me or not my coworkers would think badly of me, not her – we are well paid and I would be judged for making a big deal instead of waiting patiently – the reason I want the money now is because 1. I have loans to pay off and 2. I am a reformed spender and am dreading putting groceries on my credit card and 3. I am literally paycheck to paycheck until I crawl from under that last car loan (long story but it was definitely a stupid decision to buy that particular car).

          1. Mad Baggins*

            Waiting patiently…for what? Her to decide that you need the money now? Why not just as Red 5 suggested and make up a deadline (or use a real car payment/loan one or whatever) and say, “Hey I need that money by Date. I’ve got a payment coming up and I need the money for that.” And follow up–if any other coworkers look at you like you’re making a big deal, well, “I’m anxious about this payment coming up, that’s why I really need this money.” (I realize it might not be so easy for you but your coworkers shouldn’t really be judging how you use your money, just as many commenters have pointed out why you shouldn’t judge hers)

    2. Bagpuss*

      Jane sucks.
      Give her a deadline tell her today that she needs to let you have the money tomorrow.
      If she doesn’t, tell the other people who were in on the gift, and follow up with Jane maybe send an email to all of them saying something like “Jane, as discussed, I need you to give me the $xx you owe for Ophelia’s gift. Henry and Selina have already paid their shares, and this was your suggestion in the first place. I can’t wait any longer for my money. Please ensure that I have it by the end of the day”

      I’m not sure that your boss can do much if Jane still ignores you but it might be worth speaking to her, not least as this must affect the working relationship between you and Jane, and probably, once they are aware of it, between Jane and your other coworkers.

      1. Yorick*

        I don’t think you should go to the boss with this. Managers are not there to handle personal issues between coworkers.

        1. Kelly O*

          This is very true. This is not work-related, even if it was for a coworker.

          If Jane still won’t pay you back, at some point you are going to have to consider it just gone. You have learned you can’t do this with Jane again, and you may have learned a valuable lesson about pitching in on gifts and what happens when it doesn’t go well.

          But at some point, you are going to HAVE to let this go. Either she pays you or she doesn’t, but I was always taught to not lend anything I couldn’t afford to give. It sounds super-cynical, but it does work.

    3. mimsie*

      Ughhhh Jane sucks so much! OP, I’m sure you may feel tempted to forgive the debt because it may feel awkward to be so confrontational. But remember *she is the one making things awkward, not you*. She is totally counting on you to roll over first. Don’t do it! Try to remember everyone here who is rooting for you when you look her in the eye and remind her politely, firmly, that she still owes you money every damn day until she turns into a decent person. Good luck!

    4. Nervous Accountant*

      Jane sounds like a grade A asshole. I’d harass and shame her as mentioned on here…a weeks worth of groceries isn’t cheap, no matter what amount it is.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        I’d probably send her a Youtube clip of the paperboy from Better Off Dead: “I want my two dollars!”

      2. The Rat-Catcher*

        Seriously. To each their own but I wouldn’t throw down that kind of money for anyone except spouse and kids.

    5. Isabelle*

      It’s very likely that Rude Coworker never had any intention of paying back this money from the start. People like that go through life taking advantage of the fact most other people are raised to be polite and feel awkward bringing up money. Keep asking for your money OP1!

      There is a much bigger problem than the money owed here. Someone who is so abrasive and difficult to talk to that coworkers tiptoe around her isn’t a good employee and it sounds like she is taking advantage of the fact there isn’t a manager around. A good manager would have dealt with her attitude.

      1. Demonsthenes*

        “People like that go through life taking advantage of the fact most other people are raised to be polite and feel awkward bringing up money. Keep asking for your money OP1!”


          1. Sparrow*

            I agree. Ask for the money back and be direct. Ages ago I got caught in a similar scenario but only a few dollars. I wrote it off and the next time I was asked to buy a gift with IOUs I declined. Lesson learned.

      2. Elbe*

        THIS! Other people being unfailingly polite is what enables her to be so rude. She’s taking advantage of the kindness of others.

        The LW should be as demanding as she can be. Showing frustration and disdain would also be good, “Jane, I don’t understand why it’s so hard for you to keep your word about this. You agreed to pay me back and that’s what I expect to happen.”

    6. I Love Thrawn*

      I don’t think she can be shamed, but I am sure she can be annoyed enough to pay up.

    7. AKchic*

      I am going to assume Jane did this on purpose in hopes that OP1 wouldn’t ask for the money back. Jane had no intention of paying back the money.

      Here’s the deal – keep bugging her. If the gift hasn’t been given yet, don’t let her sign the card until she pays. If the gift must be given, don’t let her sign if she hasn’t paid. She doesn’t get credit until that gift has been paid for. She can only take credit when her portion is paid for. Perhaps “oh, Jane wasn’t around to sign the card” after the fact.
      Still bug her to pay that bill. Daily. Twice daily if she leaves the office to go to lunch.

    8. GlitsyGus*

      You have good solutions here, along with Allison’s. Don’t be afraid to be a little annoying.

      Also, for the future, I have learned from similar experiences throughout life. My number one rule now is, ESPECIALLY for work based group expenses, I do not front money for other people. I am more than happy to, say, order the gift, but I will not cover other people and have them pay me after. They need to give me the money first. If they can’t give it to me before the “deadline,” then it doesn’t get ordered or someone else who is comfortable with covering orders it. I basically just make it clear I can’t front the cost and it’s never been a real issue. I’m usually even happy to cover taxes and shipping (within reason, obviously) if it means everyone pays me before I buy whatever the thing is.

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Isn’t it possible to accomplish #2 without outing the coworker’s specific condition? After giving her a chance to raise the issue with her manager, OP could disclose that there’s a health situation that precludes OP from accessing their computer. Surely the details aren’t necessary?

    1. LouiseM*

      I’d like to agree with you (since it feels so icky to disclose someone else’s health information), but it seems like this is such a specific issue that the OP’s coworker really needs to talk to the boss and work something out. If the OP is too vague, the time it takes for the boss to try different solutions could cost her her job.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I guess I’m wondering if describing the impact of the health condition would be sufficient (instead of outing the health condition itself). I don’t want OP to be placed on a PIP.

        But I think it’s ethically difficult to navigate between “if I say nothing I can lose my job” and “I am going to out a coworker’s medical condition against their consent.” I’m trying to figure out if there’s a spectrum of options between those extremes that can still meet OP’s needs.

        1. LouiseM*

          Honestly, if it came to it I would rather out this particular coworker’s medical condition than lose my job. That’s not a blanket rule and I wouldn’t feel good about it even in this case, but it seems like the coworker’s job won’t be long for this world either if the medical situation isn’t brought to light. Best case, neither of them is fired, but the way things are going it sounds like both will be.

          1. Dan*

            In that situation? I’d out my coworker in a heartbeat without a twinge of guilt. There are plenty of times to err on the side of keeping one’s mouth shut (that’s always my first choice when a “should I tell” question comes up), but this is one of the few times where the coworker realistically doesn’t have a reasonable expectation that OP would keep their mouth shut.

            Let’s be honest, if I want things kept a secret, I keep my mouth shut. And when X issue keeps someone from getting their job done, x issue is no longer your private business.

            1. Falling Diphthong*


              I can’t see “So boss, one of the people somewhere in the office has a health condition. When it flares up, I can’t use my computer. I don’t want to say any more” being the sort of thing that rolls off the manager’s back, with no PIPs.

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                How about, “Coworker asks me to leave the office a couple of times a week for up to two hours so that she can manage a health condition privately. This is obviously impacting my work in X ways.” And then if the boss asks more questions about the health condition, you can deflect to coworker. “I don’t feel comfortable talking about the details of someone else’s health, so I’d prefer that you talk to her about that aspect directly.”

                OP can keep it focused on the work impacts – the coworker is asking OP to leave a shared office for enough time per week that it’s affecting her productivity.

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  I would find it overly enigmatic in an ideal world. In one in which the coworker’s version of events might not match OP’s (frequency and duration of attacks; whether she told OP OP needs to leave their office for X minutes/hours when it happens) it has a lot of room to backfire.

                2. LSP*

                  This is what I was thinking. The only downside I see is if coworker decides she so desperately wants to keep her condition a secret that she denies OP’s story when Boss asks her about it. Of course, she could do that even if OP is specific about the health condition, so maybe that’s kind of a moot point. I think OP has every right to be as specific as she wants in explaining the situation to her boss, if she risks being fired over someone else’s medical condition.

                  If they are in the U.S., the coworker would be protected under ADA non-discrimination laws, but OP is not. OP needs to protect her own job.

                3. Kittymommy*

                  Off the top of my head I can see boss coming back and stating that the coworker should be leaving, not the poster. It’s such a unique situation, the reason does add needed context.

                4. Demonsthenes*

                  How about, “Coworker asks me to leave the office a couple of times a week for up to two hours so that she can manage a health condition privately. This is obviously impacting my work in X ways.”

                  Absolutely not; the reaction to that would be “why can’t you work out a regularly-scheduled time when she can ‘manage’ her health condition? Why does it take so long to manage?” Boss is going to think it’s something like insulin shots and blame the letter-writer.

                5. Observer*

                  So, you’re depending on the CW – who is willing to risk your job – to be up front with the boss when he asks. And that’s assuming that the boss is even willing to deal with it.

                  This is not gossip, nor is it actually “details of someone’s health”. It’s specifics about certain behavior that is being caused by an apparent health issue, that is having a major impact on the OP.

                6. Mike C.*

                  Most bosses would get really upset that you were following the direct of your coworker over the direction of the boss.

                7. bonkerballs*

                  I’m curious about the ADA situation because my understanding is you’re only protected if you’ve disclosed your situation or requested accommodations. Maybe that’s incorrect. If coworker has not gone and requested accommodations, even if now it’s brought to light to the boss that what’s happening is the result of a medical condition, can coworker still face consequences? For example, could the coworker be disciplined for forcing the LW out of their office for several hours at a time and majorly slowing down their productivity regardless of the reason? Because I can be empathetic to this coworker struggling with anxiety and panic attacks, but the way she’s been handling things at work is a big misstep and if I was the boss I’d be pretty pissed at both of them for thinking this was an acceptable and tenable solution.

                8. Genny*

                  I don’t really see how the following outs the coworker: “Jane has panic attacks every couple days. In order for her to get them under control, she needs to be alone. The attacks usually last X minutes, and I can’t be in the office during that time because it makes the attack worse.” Any further questions about the coworker’s condition can be deflected. “I don’t know what triggers the attacks, you’ll have to ask her.” “I don’t want to speculate on underlying health issues. You’ll have to ask her.” “I can only speak for my own work”.

                  I don’t really do subterfuge well, so I would personally avoid any sort of cryptic answer that only leads to more questions.

                9. Close Bracket*

                  “I’m curious about the ADA situation because my understanding is you’re only protected if you’ve disclosed your situation or requested accommodations”
                  Your understanding is correct. There is nothing the coworker can do about the past, but it is not too late for her to disclose and get some accommodations for the future.
                  “Off the top of my head I can see boss coming back and stating that the coworker should be leaving, not the poster.”
                  That is exactly what should be happening. Coworker cannot work during a panic attack, but what we have right now is neither OP nor coworker working during a panic attack. I think a good first step would be for OP to ask coworker to start leaving the office so that she, P, can continue to work without getting put on a PIP. If that didn’t work, I would tell coworker that either she talks to the boss or I do.

            2. Strawmeatloaf*

              Yeah, this sounds like something that coworker failed to disclose in her interview/when getting hired and it really has a problem of effecting other people’s work. That’s not fair to coworkers, and it’s not fair to people who might have to work with her in the future.

                1. Aeryn Sun*

                  And frankly there is a lot of stigma against mental health conditions. I have anxiety, panic attacks, depression that all affect me on a day to day basis and there is no way in hell I’m disclosing that – I wouldn’t be employed now.

                2. Luna*

                  She’s not, but she should have asked for accommodations once she started (in this case, her own office).

                3. Jadelyn*

                  At interviews, no – after you’ve received an offer or after you’ve started, and if you know you will need accommodations of some kind (like a private office), yes, it becomes appropriate to disclose. And at the point at which it begins affecting your coworkers (to the point of a PIP and possibly losing their job!), it becomes an ethical obligation to disclose that it’s a medical issue (even if you’re not super specific about what it is) and start the “cooperative process” of working out accommodations that work for everyone. Because the only alternative to that is to either leave your job, which isn’t fair to you, or to get other people disciplined and potentially fired by refusing to disclose that you have a medical condition that’s interfering with work (both yours and theirs), which isn’t fair to them.

                4. Girl friday*

                  I sound like a parrott today, but even with non-disclosure agreement and rights, a lot of these problems would be solved by having additional interviews with people before hiring. Many people self-disclose their health problems to me at work because of the nature of my work, but I don’t out them because if it’s true, it will show up any minute now: if not this week, then next week; if not this month, then next month. I’ve had people tell me things that weren’t true at that time and they ended up being true. I’ve had people tell me things that were true, and then they never went off their medication. So it’s really not my job to judge.

                5. PsychDoc*

                  Replying to Jadelyn. co-worker may not have been having problems when she started and therefore had nothing to disclose or accommodate. However, now that it’s a problem, co-worker needs to speak up and ask about accommodations.

              1. PhyllisB*

                Yes, I was wondering why the person with the problem can’t leave the office? Not to sound hard-nosed, but why can’t she leave and find somewhere to be alone to deal with her issue while CW continues with her work?

                1. TootsNYC*

                  And in fact, I think I’d simply refuse to leave the office.

                  Sure, she’s suffering, but her request is unreasonable, and maybe she will be forced to find a different coping method; maybe she’ll figure out some other place to go to be alone.

                2. tangerineRose*

                  Depending on the panic attack, the co-worker might not be in a position where she can deal with even getting up and leaving.

            3. EditorInChief*

              Yup. I would out her without a second thought. She is directly affecting my job performance and jeopardizing my ability to pay bills to take care of my family.

            4. Bow Ties Are Cool*

              Yes, coworker is hopefully entitled to accommodation and needs to ask for it rather than jeopardizing jobs which are not their own.

            5. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

              Agree, sounds like the LW has kept the confidence of the officemate, however that ends when it affects the LW’s livelihood. The LW isn’t running around telling random people for the fun of gossiping, they are telling their manager about something that is legitimately affecting their job.

            6. Amaryllis*

              Same. Sorry not sorry, your privacy does not take precedence over feeding my family.

              Frankly, the fact that this has snowballed into a possible PIP and coworker and is still scrabbling to hide her problem makes me disinclined to offer sympathy. She is aware by now that she is affecting OP’s livelihood.

              1. SarcasticFringehead*

                I’m extremely sympathetic to being in a situation where your brain is telling you you’re broken and there’s nothing you can do to fix it and you have to hide it from everyone because if they find out how broken you are they’ll [hate you/fire you/laugh at you/etc.]. I would be sympathetic all the way to the boss’s office, where I would absolutely out the coworker if I had to, because without a job, I can’t treat my own mental illness.

                1. Dust Bunny*

                  That ends at your coworkers’ noses, though. You can’t ask them to jeopardize their own jobs to save yours.

            7. Specialk9*

              I’d present it this way, so your boss knows you were worried about medical privacy and that’s why you haven’t spoken up yet.

              “I haven’t known how to handle this, and know that we can get in trouble legally for talking about private medical issues, especially since she asked me repeatedly not to talk about it. I think as her manager you would be able to talk about the specifics of her private medical issue with her, and you likely know the rules better than I do. But basically she has a medical issue for several hours, 2-3 times a week, and she needs privacy to handle it so I need to leave the office. I can’t get work done while I’m outside of the office, and with this frequency, I’m having a hard time getting everything done.”

              Your being concerned about medical privacy is good, although the application here was overly broad, and it makes it clear you were trying to be conscientious instead of being a slacker or trying to hide things. Your manager will likely be annoyed that you let it go this long, but that’s a good reason, and it can be solved with a bit of education (unlike many other problems managers deal with, eg laziness).

          2. Girl friday*

            If it’s against the law to disclose, then losing a job might not be the worst consequence that could happen. There needs to be medical documentation of the issue provided by the coworker, so it’s not just, “oh, When so and so is around I get woozy.” That could be due to many factors: other people who were just in the room, perfume, ventilation… This is all very mushy considering we’re talking about people outing people and possibly losing their jobs or eventually getting sued.

            1. Girl friday*

              I wonder if it’s possible, knowing it’s not, to say to your coworker the next time she’s asked you to leave because she’s going to have a panic attack that you’re required by your supervisor to stay in the room for at least 1h30 minutes for the next month in order that the situation be adequately documented, unless of course she’d like to go to your supervisor with the appropriate documentation and handle it herself. Then proceed to take copious notes until it becomes distressing, staying in the room a little longer each time, also making it clear that you can’t do your work and documenting that as well. If it becomes untenable for her, then just stand up and say “I think I’ve documented enough for today,” and excuse yourself. Do this as long as it takes to have sufficient documentation, or until she resolves the issue herself. I know she’s not wrangling for a private workspace, and I’m not advocating torture. If she appears obviously ill, the policies for workplace illness should be followed.

              1. Girl friday*

                Including calling nine-one-one if necessary, some would say you are helping people to help themselves and thereby doing a service. But be kind and never appear skeptical!

        2. Friday*

          I’d feel not good about outing a coworker’s medical condition too, but given the immediacy of the situation with that PIP, if I were the OP I’d absolutely do it tomorrow, and probably approach the situation with coworker with an “of course as you know I’m being threatened with a PIP so obviously it’s time we explained to Boss what is happening, so would you like to do it or should I? It must happen today.”

          Of course this may very well bring on a panic attack… so on second thought, op should probably just go ahead and tell the boss. Nothing about this situation is good, but hopefully the end result is Op keeps her job as does coworker, and coworker gets work accommodations and a better treatment plan with her doc.

          1. Anne (with an “e”)*

            I think the OP has been incredibly accommodating. However, I keep thinking, if I were in the OP’s shoes *I* would also start having panic attacks over this. I am the type of person who cannot stand to fall behind at work. If I had to leave my computer several times a week to accommodate a coworker, and then, on top of that have my manager begin to think I could not do my job, you better believe that *I* would not handle the situation well. I would be in panic mode. I would be freaking out. Not only is the OP’s job on the line, but so is their reputation.

            OP, maybe I am old, but, IME, one person’s rights end where another person’s begin. It sounds like the coworker deserves accommodations, however, YOU deserve a chance to a. do your job without your workflow being interrupted, b. keep your reputation intact, c. not go on a PIP, and d. keep your job.

            Also, please I would really like an update about this.

            1. Marley*

              I can’t imagine putting up with it for so long, honestly.

              Once it happened more than once, time to figure out a solution that doesn’t involve leaving the office.

              1. Hera Syndulla*

                This. I wouldn’t say saying anything when it happens once every three-four months or so, but in this case it happens every week… an entire different situation

              2. Lil Fidget*

                Yes to be honest, the second time this happened was the time to start addressing this. Although I do deeply sympathize.

              3. PlainJane*

                I was thinking the same. Asking a co-worker to leave her workstation and be unproductive is not a reasonable accommodation–but a reasonable accommodation likely could be found if she followed the appropriate process to request one.

            2. Greta Vedder*

              “one person’s rights end where another person’s begin.”

              Agreed (and I myself have anxiety and have had panic attacks).

          2. TardyTardis*

            “My colleague is a werewolf, and refuses to leave the office on full moon nights when we have to stay late during inventory”–so if being a werewolf is an ADA protected medical condition, other accommodations need to be made so inventory can still get done on a timely basis.

        3. Artemesia*

          If I am the boss and I hear some blather about a ‘medical situation’ preventing me from doing the work, I am going to assume you are blowing smoke. How could it if it is not your own illness? This is absurd. The co-worker needs to be the one leaving the office and finding a quiet corner. The OP is throwing herself under the bus right now. This should have stopped the second time it happened. ‘I’m sorry but I need to get my work done, you will have to deal with this somewhere else.’ And if it then prevents work because it is so disruptive then was the moment to talk to the boss. The OP has no responsibility to keep secrets for an ineffective co-worker. Not her monkey. If it were a health condition that did not affect her well then of course it would be unethical to out her, but she is not obligated to throw her own job away to cover up a co-workers failures to get the job done. HIPAA doesn’t apply here even slightly. There is no ethical obligation to secrecy in this situation.

          1. Dan*

            The ADA could potentially apply, but I would think that it would take a very skilled lawyer to argue that the OP would have the burden of leaving the office and not getting work done to be a “reasonable” accommodation under the law.

            1. Just Employed Here*

              And even if that were the reasonable accommodation, then the OP’s boss would know about it, have agreed to it, and know why OP isn’t as productive as expected. Right now, she just think she’s lazy or ineffective.

            2. SarahTheEntwife*

              Yeah, a reasonable accommodation here seems like it could be finding the coworker a private office space, or getting one or both of them a laptop (I assume that’s why the LW can’t just take the computer with her? If there’s more nonmoveable equipment she needs that gets less feasible.)

              1. Tricksy Hobbit*

                I work with disabilities services at Teapot University. In order for OP’s coworker to claim ADA, it has to be documented and submitted to HR. An employer/college can’t implement reasonable accommodations if they are unaware of the situation. Op, I would follow Alison’s advice. If I were in your place, I would have a VERY hard time disclosing it to the boss, but I need my job. Please tell her what you plan to do, and give her an opportunity to tell the boss herself, but no more than a day or two.

                The co-worker is most likely asking OP to leave so she can calm down in private. Does your office have a quiet place/ meditation room? If so this might be a better option for her instead of you leaving the office.

                Please send an update!!

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  It doesn’t have to be documented, but it does have to be disclosed. If the coworker has not disclosed the condition and the company is not on notice (it’s not, yet, but will be if OP outs their coworker), then the ADA doesn’t attach.

            3. Observer*

              The ADA probably DOES apply – or would if the CW had disclosed their disability. But the OP is not the person who has that burden, in any way at all.

              No lawyer could ever argue that the ADA requires that the OP keep this a secret from her boss, much less that she risk her job over it.

              1. Lil Fidget*

                Yeah from what I understand, ADA would offer no protections to this OP, and OP could be fired for poor performance even if the coworker ends up being proactive about securing protections for herself. So OP really needs to act here and get out from under the cloud of their bosses’ suspicion.

            4. Foxy Hedgehog*

              Wow, I don’t think the ADA creates any obligations for the OP at all.

              The OP does not need to make accommodations here, the employer does. If employer asks OP to get out of the office during panic attacks, that’s one thing. But the person having the panic attack isn’t allowed by ADA to just tell a colleague to stop working. That might end up being the “reasonable accommodation” that the employer decides to make, but that is up to the employer, not to the employee.

            5. Greta Vedder*

              Disability rights is my area of expertise, and I believe that any accomodation that places undue hardship on your coworker to the point that it is affecting their own work is unreasonable. As others have said, a reasonable accomodation would be to give her a private office.

            6. Greta Vedder*

              P.S. I’m curious to know how this issue is resolved. OP, please send an update when you can.

            7. Safetykats*

              Correct – reasonable accommodations do not affect the ability of other people to do their work. A reasonable accommodation in this case might be a private office for the person with the condition – as they have the need for privacy to manage it. Requirung somebody else to leave their joint office, therefore making them unable to do their work, is NOT a reasonable accommodation. For that reason, OP should actually never have agreed to it, and should really stop doing it now. What OP’s office mate has done here is to arrange their own unofficial accommodation, completely outside the system, and it is an accomodation that is really inappropriate. With due respect to everybody’s sensitivities about confidentiality, OP really has to either break confidentiality and explain the situation to her manager, or start refusing to leave the office in order to force her officemate to find a solution that doesn’t jeopardize the OP’s job. Ideally that solution would be a formal disclosure and request for accomodation, but OP can only control her own behavior, not her office mate’s.

              OP – please just try telling your office mate hat you can’t leave the office any more for this issue, as it’s jeopardizing your job, and so she will have to find another solution. You can then suggest disclosing the condition, which is likely to get her a private space. This puts you out of the loop, which honestly you never should have been in – as the conversation requires is between your office mate and her manager.

            8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              The ADA doesn’t apply, yet. The coworker has not disclosed their condition, and the employer is not on notice. If OP discloses the specific symptom (panic attacks), then the employer has an obligation to begin the iterative accommodation process (but they have to be careful because they can’t treat a person as someone with a disability without that person agreeing to that labeling).

            9. Specialk9*

              @Artemesia “If I am the boss and I hear some blather about a ‘medical situation’ preventing me from doing the work, I am going to assume you are blowing smoke. ”

              Really?! That would very much not be where my mind would go. I’d be surprised, because I sure wasn’t expecting that, and I’d want to know more, but that would give me the heads up I needed to talk to Panic Attacks directly and figure out what’s going on.

            10. Disappointed Cubicles*

              I don’t think a coworker (IOW someone who is not the boss) would have the responsibility of deciding on and implementing “reasonable accommodations” ever. And doubly so when the accommodations are actually *not* reasonable and are being kept from the actual boss. The employer and employee are the ones who would have to be involved in ADA accommodations of any kind.

              I don’t think the suggestions to make some kind of cryptic half-disclosure about the problem are a good idea either. That could very easily blow back on the OP, especially if the afflicted coworker remains determined not to tell the boss what is actually going on. It also might not be a good idea to let the coworker have first chance to tell the boss. The OP has been very accommodating, but this has to end and it sounds like the OP has to be the one to talk to the boss. If this boss is worth anything at all, he/she will know how to handle it discreetly. It’s affecting others in the workplace to too great an extent. Going on a PIP and losing your job should not be required.

          2. TL -*

            Yes, this. OP, from now on, if your coworker has a panic attack, you need to tell them to leave the room and deal with it somewhere else.

            I’ve known multiple people who have had panic attacks at work and they all understood that they needed to go somewhere else to have it (a machine room only they used, going for a walk outside, hiding in the bathroom – there are options here.) You need to get really firm with her. And if she doesn’t want to leave and spends a whole day having a panic attack while you get work done, that’s between her and her therapist. It’s not on you.

            1. A*

              Depending on the degree of the panic attack coworker may not be able to (I have seen people literally slide to the floor in a hallway because of panic attacks, go to the ED, etc).
              I absolutely agree OP needs to go to their boss and encourage their coworker too, because there are lots of things that can be done for panic attacks (medications, cognitive therapy, etc) but OP can’t really manage that or tell their coworker how to handle their panic attacks beyond “this coping mechanism is not sustainable and we need to tell the boss to work on a better strategy/accommodations”

              1. fposte*

                Yes, I agree she can’t tell the co-worker how to manage her panic attacks and really, really shouldn’t do it. That’s for family and LOs; it’s inappropriate with a co-worker.

                She can and should, however, tell her co-worker that she herself will no longer be leaving the office. It would be okay to say “X space is always open if you’d like to find a quiet spot” if OP thinks it would be helpful, but the main point is what the OP needs to do, not what co-worker should do.

                1. TL -*

                  I meant more like, “I’m staying here; you can leave if you need to but I have to get work done” rather than “the way to manage this is by you leaving”

                  but I worded it incredibly badly.

            2. Fiennes*

              One problem with this is that, at least in my experience with panic attacks, calming down isn’t about being in “a quiet place.” It’s about being in *my own space,* and trying to collect myself there. That said, there are different ways to deal with it—I’ve often found it useful to get in my car—and it’s past time for OP’s coworker to learn alternatives that don’t endanger her job and OP’s.

              In this case, I feel like nothing but the real facts are going to make it clear to the boss what’s going on. Euphemisms would normally be kinder, but here I think the truth must out. It may impact the coworker badly—but otoh, it may lead to meaningful accommodations for the coworker. And anything is better than two people getting fired.

            3. bonkerballs*

              When I have a panic attack, that’s literally not possible. I’m not able to think to myself “hmm, I”m having a panic attack, better get somewhere out of the way.” Nope, I can’t breathe, I can’t move, there is no rational thought to making my situation more palatable for anyone else.

              This is beyond OP being firm with her coworker or making decisions of how this works out, this absolutely needs to go to the boss. It’s an itchy situation, have to out someone else’s medical condition, but really your coworker should have done this a while ago and gotten real accommodations and not your current popsicle sticks and duct tape workaround.

              1. fposte*

                And I’ve had panic attacks where I’d be perfectly capable of doing that. They’re pretty variable.

                1. bonkerballs*

                  Sure, but my point was that TL’s “if your coworker has a panic attack, you need to tell them to leave the room and deal with it somewhere else” is just not a reasonable response as for many, many people that’s just not possible.

                  And quite frankly, just having the coworker have her panic attacks somewhere else doesn’t fix the problem. It seems to me the OP and her coworker were spoken to *together* about their collective performance, so if the coworker is still off somewhere having panic attacks every couple of days, that’s still on of the two of them out of commission for the equivalent of almost an entire work day and the boss still not knowing why.

              2. Louise*

                Yeah I once had a panic attack in an airport that had me collapse on the floor hyperventilating in the middle of the baggage claim area. If I had the ability to move myself to a more quiet area, trust me I would have. Panic attacks are just SO hard to manage once they hit, and everyone’s needs are super different. It’s really just not as simple as “hey you gotta move.”

              3. Specialk9*

                I really appreciate everyone sharing their experience with panic attacks. I don’t know much about that experience and I appreciate the education.

            4. Kelly O*

              I have anxiety and panic attacks. Even in my worst case, and I realize everyone is different, I am not completely disoriented and unaware of my surroundings. Quite frankly my first instinct is to get out of wherever I am. And yes, I get everyone is different.

              But OP’s office mate is not only jeopardizing her job, she’s got OP on a PIP because she can’t say out loud what’s going on. When you have these problems it’s important to develop solutions for handling them, especially if they happen in public.

              A therapist can help this person too. She needs to use the tools available to her to deal with this, and that starts with admitting she has a problem. If she can’t admit that to herself and at least deal with it that way, then the OP is going to have to go to the boss and just say “Jane is dealing with a condition that forces me to leave the room. It’s making me less productive for X, Y, and Z. She does not want to talk with you about this, but since I’m having X issue because of it, I felt I needed to come to you.” (Seriously, lay it on thick with the “what advice do you have for dealing with this” angle with the boss.)

              Your goal is to get off the PIP. Not helping Jane deal with anxiety and panic disorder. At some point, cynical as it may sound, you have to take care of yourself first. Because how are you going to explain this at your next job? I got on a PIP because my coworker had panic attacks and I had to leave the room but wouldn’t tell my boss what was happening? That’s not going to fly.

            5. Panic Attack at the Disco*

              The next time the coworker has a panic attack is *NOT* the time to address this. It needs to be a quiet, supportive conversation when the coworker is not having a panic attack, and coming up with a plan for how she can deal with it without impacting LW’s job. That conversation could be the same one where LW tells the coworker that she is going to have to tell their boss, but it definitely cannot be during or immediately after a panic attack.

              At the end of the day, the only real solution is for the coworker to tell their boss and have management/HR come up with reasonable accommodations. If coworker fesses up about the panic attacks, it will probably save both of them from PIPs. But that could take some time, and maybe the coworker isn’t aware that she is affecting LW’s job so much.

              1. Friday*

                But in all honesty, the conversation itself could bring about a panic attack. That doesn’t mean OP can’t proceed with telling the boss, even though to the obviously compassionate OP it will seem cruel at the time. OP’s job is on the line; she shouldn’t rely on coworker to fess up at this point in time.

                1. Panic Attack at the Disco*

                  That’s very true. I’m not advocating that LW leave it all up to their coworker to tell the boss, just to be kind in their timing/approach. If it were me, I would feel bad about betraying my coworker’s confidence, but would have told my boss as soon as my boss expressed any concern about my job performance. And I say this as someone who suffers from panic attacks, and has had them at work.

          3. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

            Woah, that’s some harsh phrasing!

            Do I agree with Alison’s advice? yes!
            But I still have a lot of sympathy towards the struggling co-worker, and the fact that the LW is trying to be considerate to her co-worker.

            1. TL -*

              You can have sympathy for someone and still tell them they can’t disrupt your working life with their panic attacks. The OP needs to set some hard boundaries, and the first one is that panic attacks mean the coworker leaving the office.

              1. I make the other side panicky*

                Someone in the throes of a panic attack is highly unlikely to be capable of leaving the space they are in, both mentally and physically. When I have a panic attack, I can’t think of anything more complex than trying to keep breathing!

                1. I make the other side panicky*

                  And frankly, that’s not the OP’s call to make. They get to say they can’t/won’t leave, but they can’t force their colleague to either.

                2. TL -*

                  Then the coworker can sit there and have her panic attack (preferably quietly) but the OP is not leaving the office.

                  The coworker’s panic attacks are not the OP’s problem to provide solutions for*. The OP’s job is.

                  *Small, reasonable accommodations, like stepping outside for five minutes every once in a while, or toning down a naturally hyper speaking voice to an “indoor voice” would be fine.

                3. Excel Slayer*

                  Honestly, TL, I don’t think you understand panic attacks very well. ‘coworker can sit there and have her panic attack (preferably quietly)’… panic attacks are not a thing one can control.

                  I agree that the situation is untenable and needs to be dealt with, but we should believe the OP when she says the panic attack won’t stop if she doesn’t leave the office.

                4. TL -*

                  @Excel Slayer – I believe the OP, too. I just don’t think the OP should consider her coworker’s panic attacks her problem. If the coworker has panic attacks all day three times a week, that’s not on the OP to fix and it’s certainly not on the OP to prioritize over her job. So the coworker needs to be told (probably more kindly than I am wording) that OP isn’t leaving anymore and the consequences of that are the coworker’s to worry about.

                5. Rosemary7391*

                  I do wonder why it is that leaving the office helps and if there is a way to acheive that without the OP leaving. For instance, would drawing some sort of partition across so that panicing coworker can’t see OP help? Or OP putting on (noise cancelling?) headphones so coworker knows they can’t be heard? If that helps it would be much less disruptive to OP’s work.

                6. Excel Slayer*

                  Both of those might help, certainly.

                  I think it’s really up to the OP to go to their manager right away and see the best way to get it sorted though. I don’t think it’s on OP to start having to try and sort it herself and potentially have her work disrupted even further, or feel any guilt about her co-worker’s panic attacks (it’s not a nice thing to expect her to sit through). I honestly think the best option is giving her manager a clean description of the entire thing, who’s going to have way more power to sort this out.

                7. Rosemary7391*

                  Oh yes, that wasn’t meant as a substitute for going to the manager. Just a bit of encouragement that there might be an easily workable solution.

                8. Observer*

                  TL – The OP is not going to be getting any work done when her office mate is having a panic attack of those proportions.

                  “I’m not leaving, you figure it out” requires either childishness or magical thinking. It just does NOT work.

                  On the other hand, that’s a good reason to tell the boss.

                9. TL -*

                  @Observer – the first time I saw my ex have a panic attack, I could easily have gotten work done. I didn’t even realize it was a panic attack; I just knew something was really, really wrong because I knew him. He hid them from his family for nearly a decade – while he was living with them.

                  They’re hugely variable.

                10. Rat in the Sugar*

                  @TL–sure, it’s possible that coworker’s panic attacks are quiet enough to work through. But as you yourself, they are indeed hugely variable. What if coworker’s panic attacks aren’t like the ones your ex used to have and actually are disruptive? I used to get attacks sometimes working in a restaurant, and would be very noisily gasping for air for several minutes (the attacks made me feel like I couldn’t breathe). I’d always end up with a crowd of coworkers thinking I was having an asthma attack or something. Even if they knew I was actually fine I can imagine the noise would be very hard to work through.

                  I think there’s too much variation in the form and intensity of different individual’s attacks to give specific advice to OP on how she should handle it. I think it would be best just to go to the boss ASAP so everything can be laid out.

              2. Engineer Girl*

                It’s really hard to have sympathy for someone that’s willing to cause harm to others for the sake of their own reputation.
                The coworker is asking OP2 to make herself look incompetent for the sake of her own ego. She’s doing that when she’s not having a panic attack. It’s really narcissistic. Coworker is making it all about her.

                1. Engineer Girl*

                  To emphasize – no one should be harming another. The coworker needs to accept personal accountability.

                2. Parenthetically*

                  This is too harsh. OP doesn’t need to feel disdain or anger towards her coworker, or ascribe childish motives to her, in order to take appropriate steps here.

                  You don’t have to be a narcissist to be worried about discrimination of the type which happens toward people with mental illness and disabilities every day in the workplace.

                3. Dragoning*

                  Anxiety disorders don’t automatically vanish when one is not in the active throes of a panic attack. Coworker is probably terrified of people knowing.

                  Don’t make this situation workable, but I highly doubt Coworker is doing this on purpose.

                4. Iris Eyes*

                  Dragoning I was thinking in the same direction. The coworker’s desire not to tell is just as much a symptom as the panic attacks. Which doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be told. It means that in all likelihood the co-worker’s anxiety over the information being known is exaggerated.

                5. Engineer Girl*

                  It’s not about the not telling. It’s that CW is expecting OP2 to bear the entire burden of this whole thing. That absolutely is selfish.

                6. Kelly O*

                  This. Exactly this.

                  This coworker, while suffering from a condition I empathize with, is actively making her office-mate look a fool and has them BOTH on a PIP.

                  I don’t understand why we are glossing this over. It’s not like they just had a talk. PIP. Most of the time that is office-speak for “at the end of this 90 days I hope you have your resume ready.”

                  It’s rude and inconsiderate. And again, how is this going to be explained in the next interview when they get to the inevitable “why did you leave your last job?” question.

                7. fposte*

                  @Kelly O, mainly–I think the OP is mirroring some of what we do with the comments, in that she’s overly throwing her support to the person in the most visible distress. While it’s good to sympathize with people in distress, they’re not more important than the others in the situation, and OP has lost sight of this.

                  I mean, even if the OP weren’t getting in trouble, this isn’t what she’s getting paid to do, and her being behind is causing trouble for other people who have their own problems to manage. Anxiety sucks, but it’s not fair to make accommodating it more important than getting the job done.

                8. Delphine*

                  It’s not “ego”…the stigma against mental illness is real and affects the people who have mental illness most. Add anxiety to that equation and how is it surprising that the LW’s coworker is afraid of disclosing her condition? Look at your own callous response.

                9. Engineer Girl*

                  The coworker is the callous one. She’s willing to dispose of the OPs career to cover her issues. The coworker is not taking ANY responsibility in this.
                  Mental illness does not give you the right to harm others.

                10. Specialk9*

                  I don’t find it at all hard to feel sympathy for OP’s office mate. I feel huge sympathy! I ALSO think she’s being selfish, and OP has the right to make a reasonable boundary. But that’s a statement with an ocean of empathy behind it, because having debilitating frequent panic attacks at work would SUCK. I’m not sure why you think that loving boundaries have to be harsh and devoid of empathy.

                11. Engineer Girl*

                  Empathy and sympathy are different things I can empathize with CW over her debilitating issue. I have no sympathy for her willingness to throw OP2 under the bus.

                12. SophieK*

                  I live in panic attack land myself. For the most part nobody can tell I’m having them, and my best sales day ever was one looooongggg panic attack.

                  It’s nobody else’s problem but my own.

                  While I do realize that others become temporarily disabled rather than what I do, I’m suspicious that this woman is having panic attacks at all. I think she’s maybe wanting to have the office free for other purposes–chatting online maybe?

                  OP, I’d approach the boss about your coworker wanting to have the office to herself for two hours at a time. If it’s legit she can see about ADA and FMLA. If it’s not they can see what she’s up to on her computer.

                13. SE-No*

                  I agree with this honestly. I mean, she’s not doing this intentionally, but mental health issues are like having pets. If my pet messes on your carpet, it’s not my fault at all, but it is my responsibility to clean up the mess. OP2’s coworker is not taking responsibility from what we can see in the letter.

              3. Lilo*

                Exactly. This is a “don’t set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm” situation. Right now she’s done so and is risking her job as a result. Also, the boss can’t do anything to accommodate a condition that is undisclosed so coworker is setting herself up to fail to. This cannot go on as is.

                1. Decima Dewey*

                  If the situation doesn’t change, OP and her coworker will both be on PIPs, they may both end up being fired, having to explain being fired during job hunting, and face having a lousy reference as well. All for something that is not OP’s fault.

                  OP has to tell their boss, or get her coworker to do so. Empathy can only go so far.

              4. Excel Slayer*

                Oh yes, of course! You’re right, it could well be as simple as that. I definitely think a workable solution can happen.

              5. Kittymommy*

                Yes, I mean I have a lot of sympathy for the coworker. I cant imagine how difficult it must be. But that sympathy is definitely tempered with the fact she is deliberately placing the OP in a very bad position. As soon as the boss started commenting on work being affected and mentioning PIP, the coworker should have explained the situation to them.

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  “As soon as the boss started commenting on work being affected and mentioning PIP, the coworker should have explained the situation to them.”

                  This. The fact that CW is aware of the potential PIP and hasn’t already stepped up to inform Boss of her situation, and the fact that OP was only trying to be helpful and isn’t in fact a crappy worker is selfish.

                  Sorry, I have all the sympathy in the world for CW however often times we have to do that which we don’t want to do. As adults we and do whatever because it’s necessary.

                  In this situation CW needs to suck it up and disclose to her boss because her continued silence is deleterious to OP’s employment/livelihood. Anything less is unconscionable.

          4. I Love Thrawn*

            I was also wondering why the OP has to be the one to leave when this happens. And frankly, being the suspicious minded person that I am, I also wonder if there is something coworker is doing with that financial information when she’s left alone like that. That’s a huge chunk of time.

            1. Sarah M*

              Bingo. That’s the first thing that came to mind once OP said they worked with financial info. FWIW, I had (still have?) PTSD, and have had to deal with regularly-occurring panic attacks for years after the event. I understand every person is different, but the requiring OP to leave the cubicle multiple times a week did initially strike me as a bit odd but I didn’t get concerned until that was subsequently paired with “we work with financial info on our computers and I have to drop with I am doing”. Hmmmmmm.

            2. Louise*

              Wow, with comments like these I’m not surprised coworker doesn’t want to disclose what’s happening. Panic attacks can be that severe and can last that long. I don’t think that excuses her putting OP’s job in danger, but leaping to her defrauding the company is a big leap and certainly doesn’t feel encouraging to open up.

              1. Anonymosity*

                Yeah, I can’t imagine anyone in the throes of a panic attack being able to do anything sneaky. Unless they’re fake, but I assume the OP has seen these attacks begin and it’s really hard to fake something like that consistently. OP also did not mention any suspicions of that nature and we’re supposed to take letter writers at their word here.

                1. I Love Thrawn*

                  I have no doubt the attacks are real. I’m just wondering what else she might be doing.

              2. I Love Thrawn*

                I am sympathetic to the co worker’s needs but she is definitely putting herself ahead of OP. Why didn’t she disclose to the boss at the time of boss talking to them that she had these attacks? And frankly, if she knows her job is in danger, and maybe lost one somewhere else, and conveniently has access to those resources… having mental and/or emotional issues do not make one a saint or above suspicion. Her actions are seriously screwing with OP’s work rep, how much further might she go to protect herself?

              3. Specialk9*

                She didn’t specify in the letter how long they last, just the frequency (once every 2-3 days). I had thought it was 2-3 hours every 2-3 days, but on checking she didn’t give a length.

          5. nonymous*

            Honestly, I could see a lot of supervisors putting LW #2 on PIP for letting this go on so long, regardless of how they handle the CW. Not because she is making accommodations or keeping CW’s secret, but that she did not keep her boss in the loop regarding her hands-on time at work.

            It’s one thing to be flexible with scheduling duties, for example if she did tasks in another part of the building or took a lunch break when CW needed the room. But once she had exhausted all alternative duties and CW still blocked access, that would have been time to speak up. “Hey Boss, I don’t have access to computer. I’ve completed all non-computer tasks but still need to do XYZ. What should I do?”

            Part of the problem is that LW#2 chose a route of accommodation that does not fall within reasonable workplace practices. She could have kept the CW’s secret by figuring out a private way of configuring office space or identifying a private space CW could go to while recovering. But even if LW#2 discloses now, there will be a question of why she extended herself in this way, and there may be negative consequences.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              Yeah, I’m extremely sympathetic to how hard this is, but as the boss I would be annoyed to discover that my employees had some kind of secret pact that was preventing work from getting done, and that nobody had looped me in on something that was disrupting work.

              1. Specialk9*

                I’d also be annoyed… unless it was HIPAA / PII training applied too broadly. I’d then be a bit exasperated, but I can solve that issue with coaching on the exact limits of privacy in the workplace.

                I’m not sure how I’d handle the subordinate who had a medical issue and coped by getting co-workers to keep an elaborate secret from me. I’d want to be sensitive to the struggle, but also not want to trust someone who coped by being sneaking and getting others to hide things. If it weren’t a job that required so much trust, maybe. If it were a job that allowed remote work, maybe.

              2. Girl friday*

                Yes, this. Idk how noone has noticed her absence. If she had billed them for the work around time spent working at home to catch up, or gotten in trouble for not being in the office for long periods of time, this would make more sense. Their supervisor might even be in trouble for not being on top of the mismanagement of this.

            2. Jadelyn*

              I agree that that’s a “coaching situation” as they say, but I don’t think that would rise to the level of PIP for OP. We would be having Conversations about it and making sure that OP understands how to tell when they need to stop managing an untenable situation and go to their manager, but I wouldn’t put someone on a PIP over it.

            3. AKchic*

              This is what sticks out for me too.

              LW should have been speaking to her boss by the second week of this issue because (not sorry) if you’re spending 4-6 hours a week away from your work because of a coworker’s mental health issues and I’m still paying the both of you to not actually work – not only do I need to know about it, I need to be doing something to keep at least one of you productive, and I need to be keeping track of these hours and coming up with some sort of work-around for the both of you.

              I don’t know if the coworker is utilizing actual care to help deal with her mental health issues or not, but obviously she needs more help than what she is currently receiving if she is still having such major attacks as many times a week as she is. This is something that can be worked with, but only if management knew about it beforehand.
              I’d be upset with both of them for various reasons. The coworker for not telling me sooner so she could get a flexible schedule set up so I’m not paying her to deal with her anxieties and keep a coworker out of her job; and the LW for not coming to me sooner and getting paid to do nothing for hours on end during the week.

              1. Specialk9*

                It could be 15 minutes, 2-3 times a week, they didn’t specify. Though I’m inclined to think it’s at least an hour, if OP is getting this backed up.

            4. A.*

              Yes if I was the OP’s manager, I would be wondering what she has been doing for all those hours where she was supposed to be working? The sooner she tells her manager the better.
              I may be especially callous but I would have gone to my manager to request assistance after the second or third panic attack prevented me from doing my work. After the second panic attack, the coworker should have disclosed and requested accommodation. I’m not going to lose my job in order to protect someone else. Especially when it may work out that the worker gets to stay with an accommodation and OP get put on a PIP when she cant justify all the missed time at work.

              1. Panic Attack at the Disco*

                In LW’s defense, they may not have done that due to a misunderstanding of ADA. I had a coworker who had a traumatic brain injury, and I told my boss that it would be really helpful for me if he took over some duties that would also take away some of the pressure I know he felt after coming back to work from his injury. Even though my boss agreed that this new role would be a better fit for him, she couldn’t do anything because of his injury unless he asked for accommodations. I’m assuming that LW thought this was not only kind to their coworker, but an accommodation she needed.

        4. INTP*

          I think if OP gives the coworker the chance to disclose first that solves the ethical problem. The coworker would have the chance to share in whatever level of detail she wants and control the information given. If she refused have that conversation, knowing that OP’s job was at stake, I would say OP is free to explain the situation however she feels is best, because she gave the coworker the opportunity to look out for her own privacy and the coworker refused.

          1. INTP*

            Also, vagueness can backfire by just prompting questions and a lot of confusion. (Why can’t Jane to have her health episode in the bathroom? If it’s not a bathroom issue why do you have to leave the room?…) OP is already on thin ice as an employee with a history of not getting her work done for no discernible reason and her boss may already not consider her 100% credible because of that. And she’s in this situation by going along with the wishes of this coworker. So OP has a practical reason to disclose more than the bare minimum here, which makes it ethically more defensible to share whatever she needs to share.

          2. Detective Amy Santiago*

            As someone who has experienced panic attacks in the workplace, I agree with this completely. I’ve relied on coworkers to help me through some severe attacks in the past, but I would never let anyone get reprimanded for helping me.

            I understand the stigma surrounding mental illness and can understand why the OP’s coworker is hesitant to be open about her struggles. Unfortunately, this is an untenable situation.

          3. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

            If I were OP, I’d also point out to Coworker that the thing is already “out” – their reputations are suffering and there’s talk of a PIP. They’ve got a narrow window of opportunity, however, to shift the narrative from “those guys are incompetent” to “ah! there’s a medical issue that we can likely accommodate while also raising productivity.”

          4. Luna*

            I would not trust this coworker to be honest with the boss, and at this point I think OP should just go straight to the boss to make sure that he is given accurate information. OP’s job is at stake so she has the right to make sure the boss has whatever level of detail is needed to address this.

            1. Jadelyn*

              I’m with you. I’d probably give the coworker a heads up – but only *right* as I’m headed in to talk to the boss. I’d be concerned that the coworker would try to downplay it to the boss, and would leave OP still holding the bag – “Lucinda says she only asks you to leave once every couple of weeks and only for about a half an hour. That still doesn’t explain why you’re away from your desk so often or why you’re so far behind.” – and you don’t want to be the second person to speak in a “he said, she said” situation like this, because then you look defensive and it undermines your credibility.

            2. A.*

              Yes if she gives a head up, the coworker may minimize how disruptive the panic attacks have been or make it seem like the OP did not have to leave the office during those times. Tell your boss first then gives the co-worker a heads up that you talked to the boss.

        5. Observer*

          I don’t see any way for the OP to be able to do this that works. Alison gives some good wording below, but the problem is that her boss is likely to say (and with good reason) “Well, you don’t have to leave just because she says so! You have work to do.” At which point, the OP is going to have to explain WHY she really NEEDS to leave.

          I don’t see that the OP has an ethical obligation to keep this secret. She’s not in a service provider relationship. Nor did she come by her information in a way that is in any way ethically compromised. And she would not be randomly sharing this information or gossiping, which WOULD be ethically problematic. She’s sharing this information because there is a practical and very significant need.

          Not only do I not see an ethical violation on the part of the OP, if there is an ethical violation, it’s on the part of CW, who is placing the OP’s job in jeopardy.

          1. fposte*

            I think what’s happening here is some unintentional forced teaming. The co-worker has convinced the OP that her loyalty is to her co-worker first and the job second. And it’s really not.

        6. Kathleen_A*

          I just don’t see *how* to inform the manager – of something that he or she truly needs to know – without giving some reason why the coworker has to be alone in the office for X hours per week. The roundabout wording that has been suggested is good and very compassionate, but it asks more questions than it answers. If I were the manager, my mind would run *wild* with speculation, and that’s not a desirable outcome.

        7. Clorinda*

          A co-worker has no HIPAA (sp?) obligation to keep someone’s symptoms confidential–symptoms they have directly observed and that affect their own work. OP needs to explain it just as they did here; the wording was clear and non-blaming and the consequences were thoroughly laid out.

          1. Specialk9*

            Yeah, HIPAA almost surely isn’t applicable here. OP isn’t in a position to have privileged medical information, like a doctor or medical portal company.

        8. Kelsi*

          I don’t know. The reality is, OP’s coworker is asking for unofficial accommodations from the coworker when she should be asking for official accommodations from the boss. OP is being kind and compassionate by leaving the office during her attacks, but the responsibility for creating this accommodation really isn’t on OP’s shoulders. If the coworker wants her not to tell the boss, then she has to accept that OP can’t leave the office and lose valuable work time. And if she needs OP to leave the office, one of them needs to tell the boss.

          In short, it sucks to have to tell your boss about a medical condition, but if you need accommodations, you do need to at least tell the boss that you have a condition and what accommodations you require.

      2. Brick in the Wall*

        The minute the coworker made it her problem (get out of the office while I have my attack) it’s not “private” anymore.

      3. KellyK*

        I think she can describe the effects of what’s happening pretty clearly and redirect the boss to the coworker if he wants more details about her health information. Coworker has a health issue that crops up suddenly, about X times per week on average. Because she recovers faster if OP leaves the room, that’s what she’s been doing, it takes about & amount of time, it’s putting them both behind. Unfortunately, the fact that she needs to leave the room does hint pretty strongly that it’s mental health related, but I still feel like this is better than explicitly saying she has panic attacks.

    2. BRR*

      I’m not in love with any phrasing I could think of but the lw should probabaly avoid disclosing the condition out of respect. Then it’s going to be up to the colleague how they want to handle it.

        1. BRR*

          I was kind of all over the place with commenting on this thread wow. I meant in this comment disclosing the specific condition when talking to their manager but definitely speaking up.

          1. Lilo*

            The problem is that being vague isn’t going to help anyone. Coworker should really disclose so.the workplace can help her without torpedoing the work of another person.

            If OP is vague, it will just lead to speculation and further prying, assumption of something ridiculous. They have both been threatened with a PIP and potentially losing their jobs. They want to stay, time to put all the cards on the table.

          2. Jules the Third*

            I don’t think you can discuss the issue without being specific. Think through those scripts:
            OP: “CoWorker (CW) asks me to leave our shared office for x time y days a week, and that slows me down”
            Mgr: Then don’t leave the office
            OP: CW is really insistent
            Mgr: Figure it out between you

            OP: CW says I have to leave our shared office because of CW’s medical issue
            Mgr: What medical issue?
            OP: Could you discuss that with CW? I’m not comfortable discussing their medical issue
            Mgr would then be either totally dismissive or talking to CW for details, in which case they’re outed anyway.

            There’s no way to discuss this and seem believable without outing the CW. Alison’s compromise of giving CW a chance to discuss it first is the best compromise available.

            Mental health problems suck, and are hard to deal with. You have my sympathy, OP, and so does your CW.

            1. This sucks but*

              ^^ I agree with this. OP’s credibility is already suspect with the boss. That isn’t fair, but it’s how it is. Anything she says to the boss that is not absolutely specific and clear in explaining the apparent performance problem is going to be dismissed as a BS excuse and not the boss’s problem.

              Warn the coworker if you want to, give her a chance to have the conversation with boss first – but boss needs to be told immediately exactly what is going on, and if coworker won’t do it today then OP has to do it. It’s not an ideal situation – of course no one wants to out another’s medical condition, especially a mental health condition – but most unpleasant situations are not ideal, and OP has already accommodated as much as she can without help from the boss.

              1. Artemesia*

                A sort of scary thing here is that because the OP has been working to ‘cover up’ the co-workers issue and also leaving her alone with financial information, she has already really blown it on her responsibilities to the work and boss. She might not save her job by coming clean now, but it is the only chance to save the job. Covering up something like this to the extent of not doing the job is the sort of thing kids do; a responsible employee would not be hiding an inability to work because of an office issue from the boss. It may be too late for this OP to salvage their job even with honesty; it will certainly be too late if she doesn’t sit down with the boss and lay it out.

                1. Airy*

                  I’m not sure leaving her alone with the information is an issue; I didn’t get the impression they’re supposed to be monitoring each other or that if OP was legitimately out of the office, for example, at home with the flu or on a business trip, someone else would be assigned to that office so CW wasn’t alone. That just seems impractical. If I were the manager I’d have something to say like “You let this problem run on for far too long before telling me. I understand you were trying to be kind but if anything like this comes up again I want you to bring it up without delay.” I mean, hopefully the manager is also kind enough to recognise that OP messed up in a situation she was unprepared for, rather than being irresponsible or negligent.

            2. eplawyer*

              It’s not gossip. It’s not speculation. It’s a very matter of fact conversation. “CW is having panic attacks 2 or 3 times a week. When they occur, I have to leave the shared office. That is why I am behind on my work. What can be done to accomodate CW and ensure the work is done?”

              Because unless CW is going to pay OPs bills when they both lose their jobs, OP has to inform the boss what is going on. This is actually affecting the functioning of the office. It is VERY MUCH something a manager needs to know.

          3. Temperance*

            Being weird and vague about it after LW was told that her job is in jeopardy just makes her look worse, IMO. “I can’t tell you why, but I have to leave the office for several hours each week because Jane needs me to due to a medical condition.”

            That sounds so weird.

            1. Kathleen_D*

              So weird. So very very weird.

              And *baffling*. My reaction might include “I need to talk to CW and find out what’s going on,” but it would definitely include “WTF is going on in that office? And why is OP being so peculiarly mysterious and obscure?”

      1. Sam.*

        In an ideal world, I agree, but OP had tried this and it’s now jeopardizing both of their jobs. I think the coworker gets to decide *how* this info is disclosed – whether she or the LW does it – but it has to be addressed. If the coworker was the only one impacted, she could decide she’d rather keep it hidden and than keep her job, but it’s completely unreasonable for her to make that decision for LW.

    3. Stellaaaaa*

      Unfortunately you don’t always get to keep things secret when you’d want to. When your private issues nearly cost someone else her job, you lose the right to demand privacy.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I suppose the OP could say, “Jane asks me to regularly leave the office for two hours (or whatever the amount of time is) several times a week, because of a medical condition she’s dealing with. I’ve tried to be accommodating, but it’s clear that it’s affecting my work because I don’t have access to my computer during that time. Is there another solution here so that I’m not losing computer access?”

      But I think it’s very fair for the OP to tell Jane that she needs to speak to the manager about it today or she’ll have to do it herself.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I like that approach and script. And under either script, I agree that OP would be in the right to request that Jane disclose the issue by [deadline] or OP will.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, as long as it’s [very very short deadline]. OP’s dangling here if this doesn’t get sorted out ASAP.

          The downside of the deadline is that it’s quite likely to freak the co-worker out on its own, which is one of several reasons I’d be okay with the OP going to the manager without waiting, even though I agree that advance notification is preferable.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Totally agreed! The deadline should be something like “by COB today.” I guess I’m more comfortable with the co-worker being freaked out as long as they were put on notice.

            1. fposte*

              Part of my concern is whether the OP could be comfortable with the co-worker being freaked out. If so, OP, she’s going to be even more freaked out if she gets fired, so please don’t let her response stop you from doing what needs to be done here.

        2. Chinook*

          I like this script too because OP is taking responsibility for the known problem while explaining why it won’t be happening in the future (basically, a personal PIP). Yes, she has to out her colleague’s medical issues, but this is the only explanation she can give as it is the truth.

      2. Bagpuss*

        I think the issue with that is that the employer may require further information. So while I think that would be a reasonable wording to start with, I think OP needs to recognise that her manager may well require more information, so she needs to be prepared for that, and to explain what specifically has been happening.

        I agree that OP should let Jane know that she will be speaking to their manager about her *own* position.

        I personally would speak to the manager even if Jane also does so, if Jane has been keeping this a secret I would not feel confident that she will give the manager the full picture so I would want to speak to the manager myself. Hopefully that would be on the basis of “I know Jane has spoken to you, and explained that she has been insisting that I leave the room for around x time, twice a week, due to her medical issue, which has been why I have been falling behind in my work . How would you like us to address this”

        1. HarperC*

          Yes, I could see the manager suggesting that she not leave the office if there aren’t enough details. I’m afraid OP is going to have to be more explicit.

          1. Nanani*

            Also it probably looks like OP is just walking out of her office goofing off for several hours a week, to anyone who doesn’t know what’s up. Which is everyone but OP and colleague.

            1. bonkerballs*

              Well, and essentially that *is* what’s happening, even if there’s a reason for it. OP doesn’t mention how long this has been going on, but if it’s more than a week or two (and it sounds to me like this has been going on for a *while*), boss is probably going to be pretty confused about what this wasn’t brought to her attention way earlier.

        2. Luna*

          Yeah, OP can tell Jane that she is going to let the manager know, and Jane can talk to him herself if she wants, but either way OP also really needs to speak to the boss to make sure he is given accurate information. My trust in Jane to be honest about this is zero.

      3. TL -*

        I think the OP needs to disclose it’s panic attacks, because otherwise the boss is probably going to push back, hard – why would the OP think it’s okay to leave for 2 hours multiple times a week? Why not just send the coworker to the bathroom or buy air freshener? (it’s hard to think of anything that would require spending two hours of out office beyond gas, frankly.)

        I’m sorry that the coworker is getting outed, but at this point, the OP’s priority needs to be herself. I think there’s a very good chance that the boss will tell her there was no acceptable reason for this to continue as long as it did (assuming this hasn’t been going on for only a week or two), so the OP needs to be as clear as possible on why she wasn’t able to deal with this appropriately when it first arose.

        1. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

          Yeah, she needs to say “panic attacks where Jane requests that I leave the office so she can be alone.” If I were the boss and heard something vague about a “health situation” I would 100% assume it was smelly farts and that the onus was on OP to suck it up. That would make OP worse off than she is currently.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              I think OP needs to be ready to disclose if her boss is doubting her explanation, but she doesn’t necessarily need to disclose it from the get-go. It depends on her boss. Being vague is an ok place to start, if the OP has qualms about immediately telling the boss it’s panic attacks.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Yeah, I think this is where I land. Start with a focus on the impact of the health condition on OP, and if pressed, disclose the nature of what’s going on.

                (For the record, I would never assume smelly farts, but the suggestion made me laugh a little.)

        2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

          I think that rather depends on the boss (something that only OP can judge here).

          I have worked with bosses who would have pushed ME for further detail on coworker’s condition, regardless of my ethical dilemma; and I’ve worked for bosses who would have discretely asked coworker for more information, on a scale all the way from “what exactly is your medical condition?” to “I don’t need the details – what accommodations do you need?” And both categories contain bosses who may or may not disclose the fact that I told them.

          I’ve worked with someone who had a panic attack in the bathroom – it wasn’t as secret as she had hoped and there is a third party who became aware of it – so it’s possible that more than just OP and CW already know about the panic attacks.

      4. Observer*

        Alison, you’ve been a manager. If someone has come to you and used this script would you really have accepted that the person needs to leave the office. Or would you (kindly, but firmly) tell them that the CW is going to have to find a different solution? It’s not like most people are going to easily recognize how this is reasonable thing to do.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Nope, and the point isn’t that the manager will say “oh, ok, carry on with what you’re doing.” The point is to get the conversation started about what’s happening and what to do instead.

          I offered that script because people asked if there was a way to do it, but I continue to think my advice in the original post is the better way to go.

      5. Mike C.*

        I’m really, really bothered by the fact that folks are perfectly fine with leaving the possibility of leaving this coworker alone in a room while they suffer from a serious medical incident. This goes against the most basic of workplace safety practices and that seems like a much, much larger issue than what’s being discussed here.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I admit that I’ve been slightly baffled by the “I need to be alone” comments because my panic attacks are worse if I’m alone. Of course, my panic attacks tend to make me feel like I’m going to pass out and I’m afraid that I’m going to hit my head/get hit by a car/be trampled by a crowd/etc and if someone is with me, those things seem less likely. But I also understand that everyone’s anxiety is different.

        2. KellyK*

          Unless the person is self-harming, panic attacks aren’t dangerous, though. I think it’s reasonable to believe an employee who says that they’re more able to recover from a panic attack when alone. She’s not driving. She’s not operating heavy machinery.

          As someone who has the occasional panic attack (though luckily never at work), I’d be pretty mortified if someone insisted on staying with me “for my safety” while I cry and hyperventilate.

          1. Airy*

            Maybe not, if they come on so often and last so long. It doesn’t sound as if she’s managing her condition effectively and the fear of being found out is probably exacerbating it.

        3. TL -*

          A crisis that happens multiple times a week isn’t a crisis; it’s just a normal state of being. You can’t get all that worked up about it anymore.

          1. Louise*

            Wow, TL I suggest you do some reading on mental illness and anxiety. Just because YOU don’t think it rises to your definition of a crisis doesn’t mean it doesn’t FEEL like a crisis while you’re in it.

            1. Kate 2*

              TL wasn’t saying that, they were saying that Coworker has been dealing with the panic attacks for a long time, months at least by the sound of the letter, and thus this isn’t a “crisis” in the way that a heart attack is. In other words, something dangerous, life-threatening, and requiring immediate medical treatment.

              1. Louise*

                But what I’m saying is that it does feel like that to the person having the panic attack. People go to the hospital thinking they’re having a heart attack when actually they’re having a panic attack, so even though it may be “common,” it can literally feel like you’re dying — when you have a panic attack, it’s partly your body responding as if you’re in a life or death situation when your brain knows your not, which of course manifests differently for everyone. Telling people who have panic attacks that they’re not a crisis because they happen often and that people shouldn’t get worked up about it is ridiculous and borderline offensive and could encourage people to not seek help because, we’ll, they’re not actually having a crisis.

                I don’t agree with Mike C that someone needs to watch coworker; not all panic attacks are helped by other people being present. That doesn’t excuse coworker’s behavior AT ALL, and coworker needs to step up and take control of her mental heath so that it doesn’t affect others, but saying “oh that’s not actually a crisis because it happens all the time” is not an effective way to encourage that, nor is it particularly respectful to people who struggle with anxiety and panic disorders.

            2. TL -*

              Something can feel like a crisis and not be *my* crisis. If you have panic attacks several times a week, they are not a crisis for me anymore and I’m not going to treat each one like a crisis, regardless of how you feel when having them.

          2. Observer*

            So if someone has seizures multiple times a week, it’s ok to jut walk out because they can’t serious?

            In this particular case, Mike C happens to be wrong, because the CW knows what she needs, and she needs to be alone. But the essential idea that someone who is having a medical problem probably should not be left alone is sound, no matter how often it happens.

            1. Mike C.*

              No, I’m not actually wrong. If you’re at work and a coworker is having a serious medical issue, you tell someone, you get assistance.

              That’s it. No ifs, ands or buts. If you start carving out exceptions then you risk leaving someone who actually needs help.

              1. Temperance*

                You actually have no duty to render aid to any person, barring some preexisting relationship, like parent/child, teacher/student, etc.

    5. INTP*

      It would be hard to fully explain why the OP can’t be in the room during the health episode and why the health episode is taking place in the office (versus a bathroom, etc.) without giving any detail. And this isn’t a preemptive heads up about a possible issue, OP is already fighting to her job and needs to be able to explain fully why she thought the team player move would be to leave her office even though there was work to finish.

      I think the ideal scenario is that the coworker chooses to be accountable and disclose herself, sharing whatever level of detail she wants while making it clear that she asked OP to leave. But if the coworker won’t do that, OP should share whatever level of detail is needed to save her job and reputation. Being transparent about exactly what is happening would probably accomplish that better than being vague.

      1. BRR*

        But I think the LW can be vague about the condition itself and then it will be between the boss and coworker. It’s just swapping out medical condition for panic attacks.

        I agree that the ideal scenario though is the coworker discloses and I think there’s a good shot of that happening.

        1. INTP*

          I’m assuming that if OP is the one sharing what is going on, that means she’s given the coworker an opportunity to do so and coworker has refused. In that case, coworker had her chance to control the information, and OP is free to use whatever wording or level of detail she feels would best explain how she got into this situation. If OP feels more comfortable just being straightforward than trying to figure out how to word things vaguely but still convey the needed information, OP should be straightforward. I think we also need to consider that OP isn’t in the most credible position with her boss as someone with a history of not getting her work done and under the threat of a PIP. She may have to be more transparent to be believed than someone in a better position with their boss, so being vague might not be her best move. (Also as her boss I’d be a bit peeved with her for not bringing this to my attention before work went undone, and I’d want to feel like she’s done covering things up for this coworker.)

          1. Mad Baggins*

            This is a good point. Boss sees 2 workers in a shared cubicle missing deadlines, threatens both with PIP, 1 comes forward to say the other is the reason. How does the boss know OP isn’t throwing her coworker under the bus to save herself from the PIP? A vague “medical condition” might not cut it. Plus the boss might not agree to the current arrangement of accommodations if it means work isn’t getting done.

          2. lazuli*

            (Also as her boss I’d be a bit peeved with her for not bringing this to my attention before work went undone, and I’d want to feel like she’s done covering things up for this coworker.)

            Yes, this! I’d be annoyed that neither of them had been being honest with me in the first place, so more obfuscation would be upsetting.

        2. AcademiaNut*

          If this were occurring pre-PIP threat, I would suggest that – going to the boss, saying that you’re kicked out of your office for an average of, say, 6 hours by your office mate, and you need help figuring out how to keep your productivity up when you don’t have access to your computer. Then it would be up to the coworker whether they gave more details or refused to say more.

          But the OP is at risk of being fired for poor performance. I worry that vague references to having to leave her office due someone else’s undefined medical issues will sound like a poorly thought up excuse, and undermine her credibility. I like Alison’s option – tell her you’re telling your boss what’s going on tomorrow morning, and she has the rest of the day to come clean first.

          Personally, I would keep a coworker’s medical confidence even if it resulted in her being put on a PIP – it’s her choice if chooses privacy over accommodation. If it’s affecting my work, and I can address it strictly on performance, without medical details I will. (for example – the coworker is not doing tasks that I need for my own job). But I’m not going to risk my own job to hide someone else’s work problems. This is is such an odd situation, and has gone far enough, that I think the only way to deal with it is to be direct about what is happening.

          1. BRR*

            Oh I definitely think the first step is for the LW should tell their coworker that they’re telling their manager tomorrow and the coworker has until end of day to do it on their own. It’s if the coworker doesn’t say anything does the LW need to say panic attacks? That’s the only vagueness I’d say is ok. I literally only mean telling their manger medical condition instead of panic attacks when describing the situation. It’s then up to the coworker if they want to disclose or ask for an accommodation or not say anything and likely lose their job. But after speaking to their coworker and possibly manager, the LW is focused on improving their performance and keeping their job.

            1. INTP*

              If my employee told me “medical condition” with zero details, I’d want to know why this medical condition requires one person to be out of the room, and why the person having the medical issue isn’t the one leaving. These aren’t good employees that have earned trust, they have a history of not getting work done and have just admitted to not doing work for large periods of time on a regular basis. I would want a lot of information before deciding whether to trust them going forward, and to figure out what kind of accommodation I might be able to make. So basically, I think that being vague about the condition will only result in a lot of follow up questions, and I think it’s fine if OP wants to be straightforward from the start to minimize that. Coworker should get a chance to disclose first, but isn’t owed any consideration in how the information is shared if she refuses to do that.

              1. BRR*

                That’s true and all very good points. At the end of the day I do think the OP is well within their rights to disclose, I’m just very uneasy about it. The coworker put the OP in an awful position. I feel for the coworker but she didn’t handle this well at all.

              2. Rosemary7391*

                Would it be a good idea for OP2 to also say something like “I realise now that I should have addressed this much sooner, and won’t make that mistake again”?

                1. TL -*

                  Yes, the OP should say that. And saying it’s panic attacks is going to help, because the boss will (presumably) understand why the OP had such a hard time addressing this – most people find panic attacks very confronting and immediately go into “do whatever to make this go away” mode.

                  That’s why the OP should disclose, because the only reason she’s let it go on this long is that it’s understandably difficult to set boundaries with someone panicking constantly.

                2. Sam.*

                  And I think most people would consider, “I was really trying to be respectful of coworker’s privacy, but I see now I should’ve said something sooner,” to be understandable (if not ultimately acceptable) context.

                3. Half-Caf Latte*

                  Yeah this for me was the sticking point. In my head, OP’s boss is a reasonable, AAM-reading supervisor who has already had the “I’m concerned you aren’t delivering, what’s going on?” And “I need you to meet deadlines, can you do that” conversations.

                  If they’ve already had these conversations before discussing PIP, OP needs to really own that not disclosing sooner was an attempt to be a team player and accommodate a peer. If it’s applicable, I’d also stress that at first the incidents were less frequent or CW assured me that it was a short term problem, but now it’s escalating.

                4. Falling Diphthong*

                  Agree with Half-Caf–probably admit you should have raised it sooner in any case. But especially if this was not the first time the manager said there was a problem with your work output.

              3. Narise*

                I also would tell my employee to come find me the next time this occurs. I would want to see what’s going on for myself.

                1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  Yikes, that is icky. The CW isn’t part of a circus, panic attacks aren’t performances, and running over to watch her just so you can see what’s going on isn’t okay. If you are the boss, instead of demanding the right to watch a panic attack in progress like it’s some kind of tv show, have an adult conversation with your employee.

                2. Lehigh*

                  I think that response is a bit harsh to Narise; it sounds to me like they want to verify that it’s actually happening as described (not an excuse because of a PIP). I do agree that it would be better & more professional to require an ADA process with doctor’s documentation.

                3. The Ginger Ginger*

                  I don’t think that’s what Narise meant, and that’s a super harsh reading of what was said. If you’re a manager who is notified that one of your reports is experiencing a medical incident (which is what this is), then yeah, you’d need to go check on it. “See” is a vague verb here, but a good manager would go make sure CW was as all right as possible, and keep track of how long OP is being kept out of the office. It’s not treating CW like a sideshow. It’s more unreasonable to expect a manager to hear about an ongoing medical issue and just shrug about it and go back to work the next time she’s informed CW is actively having a panic attack. Unless CW and Manager have actually had a serious conversation about it, and Manager is aware what accommodations have been agreed on. Long term, there needs to be a plan for how to handle these, and that HAS to involve the Manager being informed when these attacks are happening, if for no other reason than to have an idea of how often OP is being displaced (and I can’t imagine CW is doing meaningful work during these attacks, so Manager should be aware how much time is being lost for CW too).

                4. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  She says that she’d want her report to “come find me the next time this occurs” so that she can “see what’s going on for myself.”

                  That sounds like asking for proof by watching to me. Narise, if you meant something other than actually wanting your employee to come get you so that you could watch in real-time, I apologize.

                5. Chinook*

                  “Yikes, that is icky. The CW isn’t part of a circus, panic attacks aren’t performances, and running over to watch her just so you can see what’s going on isn’t okay”

                  I disagree because the OP wouldn’t be showing off the CW’s performances but, instead, a) showing her boss that the OP isn’t making this up and b) giving the boss an opportunity to see why it is interfering the OP’s job.

              4. Jesmlet*

                Exactly, and the only way to find a workable solution and an accommodation that will work is if the manager understands the full nature of the issue. This far down the road, I don’t think it really matters who provides the details.

                That said, I think OP needs to have a serious conversation with her coworker to feel her out on whether or not she can have that conversation with the manager herself, or maybe even together if she needs the emotional support there. But if her sense is no, I would go to the boss and disclose fully.

                1. Narise*

                  Jesse the first- my comment was in response to the OP being vague about a medical condition preventing her from working. If she won’t tell me what is going on I would request for her to find me the next time this occurs. It’s the only way to identify the issue and address it if no one state’s what it is. And no I am not icky.

          2. Tuxedo Cat*

            That’s what I’m thinking too. Being vague sounds like she’s making up an excuse.

    6. Engineer Girl*

      The coworker is asking the OP to self harm so she can keep her secret. That’s selfish and unreasonable.
      This thing needs to come out so it can get accommodated. Hiding it hurts everyone.

      1. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

        It reminds me of that LW that panicked over not getting a ‘hello’ and showing up at the co-workers home, scaring the co-worker really badly.. (I think that was what happened?)

        The intentions and the underlying causes matter, but they don’t mean that someone is absolved of all consequences of their actions. And especially since these aren’t “good”/beneficial actions for the co-worker. It’s self-harm, as you say.

        1. ElspethGC*

          I remember that one. I think the OP hadn’t had a “goodbye” from a coworker and was freaking out that they’d somehow offended her, but convinced themselves that they’d get a “hello” the next morning and it would be fine – but then coworker wasn’t there the next day/next couple of days so OP showed up at their house. It was one of those letters where I really did feel for the OP, because I have friends with anxiety and I know how badly it can affect people but at the same time the actions taken because of the anxiety were impacting other people and that’s not okay either.

          Same as this one. I’ve seen friends in the throes of panic attacks. It’s *terrifying*. And for all of them, a factor in being able to talk themselves down from the brink of a panic attack is being able to sit alone with no-one talking to them or being close to them (especially being behind them), because otherwise their brains freak out that the person nearby is a threat. It’s a visceral thing. But when it’s impacting another person so badly that it could get them fired (!) something needs to change. Everyone I know with a mental illness or some form of neurodiversity would back me on this – it’s an explanation, but it’s not an excuse.

      2. Mom MD*

        I straight up tell her no, I’m not moving. I’ve got work to do. The second time this happened would have been the time to shut this down.

        1. Sarah*

          That’s not especially helpful now though, since OP didn’t do that and is now in a different situation. Depending on the type of panic attack, even if the OP had refused to leave they may still not have gotten a lot done because they were distracted/thrown off. What the OP can do now is follow Alison’s advice and make sure their boss is looped in one way or another ASAP.

    7. Nursey Nurse*

      My concern is that the manager will respond to OP’s disclosure by taking more punitive action, not less. Right now he just thinks she’s an inefficient worker. After she talks to him, he’s going to know that she’s been working less than a standard day two or three times a week for so long that she’s being threatened with a PIP without saying a word to him about it. If she’s hourly and not clocking out for the time she’s not working, he could view this as fraud. Even if she’s salaried, she could be violating a policy about needing to use PTO for recurrent periods of absence during the workday.

      OP, your heart was clearly in the right place and you were trying to do right by your coworker, but you need to protect yourself now.

      1. INTP*

        This is a good point. I was thinking that it would be better for the boss to have the details about what is going on so they know that OP isn’t incapable of working at a normal pace, just in a weird situation, but I’ve got to admit that I’d be pretty peeved about it not being brought to my attention sooner, before work went undone. A much less understanding boss might punish or distrust OP for willingly leaving the office and not sharing what was happening. Or a regular boss, if OP is hourly and these banishments from the office last for hours.

        If OP thinks that would be her boss’ reaction, the best move is probably just to stop leaving the office upon request and get her work done no matter what. If that means coworker is having a panic attack all day long, coworker can figure out what to do about that, but OP shouldn’t have to take a fall.

        1. TL -*

          This is also a solid option – OP, depending on how young you are and how understanding your boss is, you may want to spend a few weeks getting all your work done, ignoring coworker’s panic attacks, and reset the boss’ expectations for you, then go talk to the boss.

          If you’re pretty young, you’ll get more understanding (this is pretty difficult social/emotional work here!) and if your boss is sympathetic, they might be willing to just hit reset instead of being peeved.

          1. heather*

            That will just make it look like the OP is slacking and has pulled her socks up after being told off, which does nothing to repair her reputation. She needs to explain the situation to her boss and then get the work done.

            1. fposte*

              I’m afraid I agree with this. I do think that the OP is going to take a hit anyway and it’s to some extent fair, because this wasn’t a good way to deal with this, but she needs to be direct and communicative now that it’s gotten to this point.

        2. Julia*

          Even if OP is hourly, she’s not “not working”, she’s at work and can’t do as she pleases because her co-worker doesn’t let her stay in the office. It’s still time work should pay for.

          1. Lilo*

            But she isn’t doing what they intend her to do. If my computer isn’t working, I am supposed to tell someone. OP should have told someone her office was unusable asap. Maybe the first time was understandable but by the third, OP should have been trying to find a way to keep.working in that time.

            1. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

              Unfortunately, the second or third time this happened would have been the time to alert the manager. Since the situation has developed to the point where OP’s job is in jeopardy something has to be said NOW.

              1. Lilo*

                Yeah, I don’t want to.scold the OP because it’s coulda shoulda woulda at this point. But it is a reminder for everyone else that these things are much better with right out of the gate. It may be too late for LW already and she has already hurt herself substantially.

                1. Anon for now*

                  Yeah. This is a tough situation, but by trying to accommodate the medical condition without going though official channels, she has really put herself in a tight spot.

              1. Lilo*

                It is not unreasonable to discuss how to handle things like this from the beginning for the sake of OP and people reading this forum. No one is scoliding OP but if this kind of thing comes up for her or others in the future, people should know that this was not the right way to handle this.

              2. Artemesia*

                Since she doesn’t have a time machine disclosing the co-worker’s condition will not be enough though. Since she shoulda dealt with this about the second time it happened and didn’t she now has to deal with the fact that the boss is going to see her as both inefficient and insubordinate for hiding a serious problem of productivity. (and that doesn’t even deal with the fact that perhaps financial information has been jeopardized) SO she needs to both disclose the situation frankly but also have some language that acknowledges that she should have come to him sooner, that she realizes this was a mistake and that she will not allow something like that to happen again. She is in a deep hole here and probably doesn’t have any credibility with the boss. She doesn’t want to be seen as making lame excuses, hence no vague ‘reasons’ but a clear description of the problem is in order. I would not let the co-worker be the only point of contact here; she has already made it clear that lying is better than getting protection for her disability. The OP needs to protect herself.

          2. INTP*

            Unless her coworker is physically blocking her from the office, the OP did have agency in this situation and made a choice to prioritize a coworker’s comfort and needs over staying in the office to do her work, and to prioritize a coworker’s privacy over telling someone why work wasn’t getting done. I think this decision was made out of compassion and I don’t want to blast OP for it by any means but her company might not see this as a situation where she really had no choice but to stop working and leave the room. (I don’t think they’ll try to dock her pay because legally that would be a mess, just be very upset that something was preventing her from doing any work for hours on a regular basis and she never told anyone. Some companies take time theft very seriously.)

          3. Jesmlet*

            Yeah this isn’t a matter of coworker not “letting her stay”. OP chose to leave every time and has to understand that depending on the boss, she’s not going to be completely off the hook once he knows what’s been happening. This simply turns an issue of incompetence into an issue of bad judgment, which while less severe is still an issue.

        3. Observer*

          The problem here is that it’s probably close to impossible for the OP to get work done if someone is having this kind of panic attack. So, it’s not going to help.

          1. fposte*

            I think some people can have panic attacks you can work with and some people can work in the face of all kinds of things, but I think you’re right that the OP isn’t one of those people; either way you end with “management should be looped in fast.”

      2. sap*

        It seems like there’s no way the boss doesn’t find out that OP hasn’t disclosed this. If OP doesn’t say anything and just starts staying in the room, boss is going to find out about the panic attacks when coworker has a more severe medical event, or starts going to the bathroom to have them for two hours. It’s better to tell the boss immediately rather than continuing to hide it.

      3. Lilo*

        Definitely a good point and a reminder for people in the future that this needs to be disclosed sooner rather than later.

        For instance, I am pregnant and dealing with “morning” sickness (what a misnomer, more like “suddenly at random times” sickness). So far it hasn’t been enough to affect my ability to do my job, but if it does, I will end up talking to my boss. She can’t make allowances for what she doesn”t know about.

      4. Observer*

        This is not fraud, and a *reasonable* manager is not going to react that way, although I could see them being intensely annoyed. (That’s why I think the suggestion of a preemptive apology is a good one.)

        If the manager is that unreasonable, then the OP is really up a creek. There is no way for her to get her productivity up to where it needs to be as long as the CW is having these panic attacks, even if she refuses to leave the office. So, all in all, her best bet is to just tell the truth. Because at that point if someone actually tries to treat it like fraud, their legal department is going to laugh them out of the room. (Unless the place is one mess of dysfunction.)

        1. Lilo*

          I don’t think it is fraud, but as a manager myself, I would be annoyed if an employee of mine was having a serious issue that affected his or her performance and they did not tell me about it until I had to have a serious talk with them. I put a lot of work into training and worry about the stats and performance of my trainees. I try to pivot tactics and provide help for people who are struggling. But I can’t do anything when I don’t have the relevant info.

          Fraud, no. Upset? Absolutely.

          1. Observer*

            I agree that the manager is likely to be upset. And the only way to deal with that is to tell the manager NOW and apologize. The manager is still likely to be upset, but if the OP makes it clear that they understand the problem and won’t let it happen again, that might mitigate it to some extent.

      5. SpaceySteph*

        Yeah agree with this. In some places, I unfortunately think this would result in getting punished in some way for timecard fraud for the 2 hour “breaks” I was taking while on the clock. OP has been put between a rock and a hard place on this one, and there may be fallout from waiting so long.

    8. Nacho*

      If I was the boss, I would need details. You can’t just say “there’s a health situation, so I’m behind on my work and you’re just going to have to deal with it” without elaborating. You could be lying. The condition could have a reasonable accommodation I could take to lessen its impact.

      1. Blue*

        Would this vaguer wording work for you *before* it became a performance issue? Like if the second time it happened, OP said that a medical issue was disrupting their day and she was concerned that it was going to put her behind, would she have had more leeway?

        1. Lilo*

          I think it would have worked maybe the second time.coworker had a panic attack. But now there is a performance issue, boss needs full disclosure.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I don’t think the vagueness helps at all. “There is a health situation. So I’m behind.” First assumption is that the speaker is sick. Oh, no, it’s someone else. In the office. Then why are you behind? “Someone else’s health situation means I can’t work. I don’t want to go into details, just let you know why I’m behind. The health situation.”

          Don’t tell your boss about a problem with a game of 20 questions even if it’s the first they are hearing about it. If he’s at PIP stage, firing is going to look awfully appealing compared to a guessing game about what the problem is.

          1. Parenthetically*

            I don’t think that’s what you’d say though. I think you’d say, “Estelle is having a recurring health emergency that is impacting my ability to get my work done for X hours a week. I realize I should have come to you earlier, but I was trying to protect her privacy at her request. At this point it’s having too great an impact on my productivity, and, obviously, my job security for me to continue not letting you know what’s at the root of the problem. I’m not a doctor, and I don’t want to get us into ADA trouble, so I obviously can’t answer questions about the exact nature of her illness, but these emergencies happen X number of times per week lasting about X minutes and she insists that I am out of our shared office for the duration. I am obviously more than happy to work with you and Estelle to come up with a long-term solution to ensure we can all get our work fully accomplished.”

            1. neverjaunty*

              There really is no reason to be vague, though. The boss is going to have to find out what the condition is. If the co-worker won’t discuss it then LW has to.

              1. Parenthetically*

                Sure, I basically agree, and I think it would be OK for OP to just come out and explain what’s going on, but I also understand OP’s reticence about discussing someone else’s mental health and I think there’s a way to avoid saying “she’s having panic attacks” without being as vague as “it’s a medical issue and I refuse to say more,” kwim?

                1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

                  I’m sure I’ll get all kinds of disagrees for this, but here goes. There’s a huge difference in the discussion between an employee and their manager regarding causes for a performance problem and running around the office whispering that the office mate has MH issues.

                  The MH problems that the OM is experiencing is not the OP’s responsibility to manage or hide and I think it’s damn unfair for the OM to have put the OP in this position in the first place. Having a MH problem does not give someone leave to negatively affect others, which is what the OM is doing here and has been doing to the OP.

                  I am not saying or implying that the OM is doing this deliberately or intentionally and I have empathy for the OM, but that doesn’t negate the affect that they are having on the OP. They had to know the impact that they are having on the OP.

                  Unfortunately, because I know how hard this is, it’s only the OM that can fix this, either by disclosing to their manager or reviewing treatment options (I’m makes the assumption that they are already doing this and current treatment is not working.. (again I understand that this isn’t a quick or easy process)).

            2. Observer*

              and I don’t want to get us into ADA trouble, so I obviously can’t answer questions about the exact nature of her illness,

              Sorry, that’s nonsense. And even a reasonable boss is going to find that REALLY annoying. The ADA doesn’t come into play here, nor does the OP have any legal obligation whatsoever to protect the CS’s medical information. Saying this will make the OP look like an idiot or like she’s playing games and making excuses. Not a good look.

              1. Jesmlet*

                Yeah just a general rule of thumb and a huge pet peeve of mine, please don’t cite the ADA or HIPAA if you don’t understand what they entail.

              2. Friday*

                I would say “panic attacks” for sure – the boss is already ready to fire both CW and OP after all and being vague is annoying. Honestly, since OP’s job is on the line, it would be actually pretty wise for OP to share specifically what happens during CW’s attacks because OP has been putting her own job at risk by accommodating CW to an abnormal extent and it would help OP’s case for boss to hear the humanity behind her reasoning. From what I read here, panic attacks are acute, crippling, overall pretty embarrassing for the person having them, and probably a bit terrifying for others to watch and not be able to help.

      2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        I agree with this the OP is already behind the 8-ball with this situation. It should have been brought to their manager’s attention early. Certainly when it was apparent that this isn’t a ‘once in a blue moon’ occurrence.

        To be frank, as a manager I’d be suspicious that both are colluding on a plan to get out from under a PIP.

    9. Glomarization, Esq.*

      OP has no duty of confidentiality to her co-worker, but she does have a duty to pay her bills, keep a roof over her head, and put food on her own table. Time to tell the boss and let the boss figure out how to solve it.

    10. Thursday Next*

      This is a tough one. But here, coworker didn’t verbally confide in OP and ask OP not to share the information. The coworker manifests the anxiety, prevents OP from doing work, *and* disclosed her condition and asked OP not to share it.

      OP wouldn’t be disclosing information she only knew because her coworker told her; OP would be describing what she sees and how the coworker demands she respond.

      Referring to an “unspecified health condition” isn’t going to work as an explanation in any case—it’s so vague it can be discounted, and that will reflect poorly on OP, who is already on thin ice.

      1. TL -*

        I don’t think it’s as complicated because Coworker is making her anxiety attacks the OP’s problem.

        It’s one thing if Coworker comes in and has a panic attack before work starts 2-3x/week and the OP sees and feels uncomfortable – I would certainly ask if Coworker was okay, and probably gently suggest a hotline or something, but it wouldn’t be my problem and there would be no reason to loop in anybody else. But this situation is Coworker saying, “Hey my panic attacks are your problem too!” and I think that gives the OP the right to do what she needs to do to solve the problem, up to and including disclosing the panic attacks.

        1. Thursday Next*

          Oh yes, I completely agree. Because OP has seen the panic attacks, and has had her own work compromised, she has much more standing ethically to report it to her boss. And at this point, I think she has to.

      2. Demonsthenes*

        “This is a tough one.”

        On the contrary, it’s extremely simple. The letter writer needs to have a detailed conversation with her boss. She really needed to bring it up a lot earlier, because by delaying, she risked cementing a false impression that she’s not working, but it is what it is. She needs to have it *now*.

        1. Thursday Next*

          Sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not emotionally charged, and therefore tough.

      3. A.*

        I agree. If I observe my coworker having fainting spells at work, I am under no obligation to keep it secret. If the fainting spells are affecting my work I will absolutely go to my boss to ask for help. Even if my coworker begs me not to say anything.

    11. Audiophile*

      As someone who shared an office space with someone and was forced to leave the shared space many times over a month long period, this wasn’t due to a medical condition, I wish I had said something sooner. To those outside our shared office space, it just looked like I was spending a lot of time not working. When I finally did say something, one of the first questions was “Why didn’t you say something sooner?” The issue was resolved pretty quickly after that, but the damage had already been done, it looked like I wasn’t productive or doing my job.

      1. Agent Diane*

        This made me wonder what OP is doing during this locked-out time: hanging around the tea point? Reading a book? Playing Pokemon Go? Because to a boss unaware of the problem, all of those look like slacking off.

        I agree with others’ advice here with one additional thought:
        1. OP should tell CW they need to speak to boss about this, and that OP will be doing it tomorrow.
        2. OP tells boss the following day or if step 1 has caused a panic attack then OP gets the boss there and then.

        It’s not nice to make CW’s panic attack worse by fetching boss, but it moves things away from sounding like an excuse to showing the extent of the problem. There is no pain-free, guilt-free way out of this situation.

        OP: I’m really sorry your compassion has led you to this point. I hope it gets resolved soon.

    12. I Love Thrawn*

      What makes me uncomfortable is, will panic person tell the truth, or throw her compassionate coworker under the bus? I’m not entirely sure I’d trust her about this.

    13. Johan*

      OMG the boss has said in no uncertain terms that the OP is on her way to being FIRED. That’s what a PIP is — basically the last paperwork in place to fire you unless you somehow overcome and meet every single performance goal on the list (and they can still say you’re fired anyway).

    14. Demonsthenes*

      The letter writer must be the person to explain to her boss exactly what is going on. If she gives the office mate the first bite at the apple, she risks the office mate putting a gloss on the condition to make it appear the condition is significantly less problematic than it actually is.

    15. Observer*

      The details are ABSOLUTELY necessary. Any reasonable boss is going to be highly skeptical that someone else’s health condition is affecting the person complaining to the point that they can’t get their work done. The only way for the supervisor to understand what is happening is to explain that CW is having attacks that she can’t recover from unless OP leaves the room. Since that’s a rather uncommon thing – you don’t need to leave the room if someone is having an allergy attack, or asthma etc. – the OP needs to explain why this is happening.

      I also think that the CW doesn’t really have the standing to ask the OP to make the effort to keep it quiet. We obviously have no idea of what measures the CW has taken to resolve the issue. But at this point we DO know that she’s not gotten to the point where she is managing effectively, and even though she “feels bad” about the disruption, she is effectively placing the burden of her panic attacks on the OP. You can’t put your burden on someone without their consent and then expect them to bear that burden with all of its fall out and also put in extra effort to keep things private.

    16. Kms1025*

      Op #2: why is it that you have to leave the office? Why can’t the coworker leave and find a quiet space (restroom maybe)?

      1. Jesmlet*

        Just guessing, but in the throes of a panic attack, entering a public space may simply not be a feasible option

        1. fposte*

          Or this is her preferred management and she was able to obtain it, and didn’t look further than that.

          1. Loose Seal*

            That was my thought. I could easily envision a scenario where the CW asked the OP to leave when having her first attack and that worked out. So they just stayed with that “plan.” I’m sure the CW never thought that she was asking the OP to neglect 10-15% of her work hours; the arrangement just happened organically and, until the boss put them on PIPs, neither thought to see if there was another solution.

    17. Laurel*

      OP wouldn’t need to disclose this if OP had went to management early on. Now that she is in process of being put on a PIP, she is going to have to disclose why she is not doing her job and she can’t do that to any degree of believability without disclosing what she knows. OP lost credibility with her boss when she didn’t get her job done, so now a vague response will look like an excuse.

    18. The Southern Gothic*

      Going against the grain for a moment, I’m wondering what would happen if the compassionate co-worker simply refused to leave the shared office the next time an attack happened.
      Would the compassionate co-worker’s safety be at risk? Probably not. Would the co-worker suffering the attack have to recover and collect themselves with another person in the room? Yes.

      I bring this up because if the boss hears about this from both workers involved and takes what they have to say with credibility, the boss may bring this up as a solution.

      1. Observer*

        Would the co-worker suffering the attack have to recover and collect themselves with another person in the room? Yes.

        Actually, quite probably not. The boss may bring this up as a solution, but it doesn’t matter – it almost certainly won’t work. But at that point, having it out in the open means that the OP is not the person who is going to lose their job over this.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          And it may be that this kind of “tough love” is what the office mate needs. Right now the LW is bending over backwards, enabling the office mate to not inform management of her condition. If the LW refuses to leave, and continues doing her work, it might force the office mate to have the discussion she needs to have.

          1. Observer*

            At this point, it’s too late for that, because in the best case it still going to take time to make this work. And that assumes the EVERYTHING falls into place.

            The OP NEEDS to get this in the open, then there can be some discussions of ways to handle it.

            If we’re talking about “though love” and forcing conversations, the most likely way to get that going it to go to the manager and tell them about it!

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Oh, I didn’t mean *instead of* talking to the manager. I mean *in addition to.*

      2. Delphine*

        Would the compassionate co-worker’s safety be at risk? Probably not. Would the co-worker suffering the attack have to recover and collect themselves with another person in the room? Yes.

        That’s not how these things work. I don’t imagine the coworker has gone to the trouble of inconveniencing the LW and asking them to leave the room for fun.

        1. fposte*

          I think there’s a grain of truth in this, in that this sounds like a management approach that’s going to make anxiety worse over time rather than better, but I agree that panic attacks generally aren’t something that you can just choose to collect yourself out of.

    19. else*

      I think she has to give the details or it won’t make sense, or the blame will fall on her. It’s unfortunate that this is being caused by a health situation, but bottom line is that her officemate’s condition is negatively impacting her and the business in ways that she can’t prevent without assistance from management. The fact that this issue is medical does not give her the right to cause harm to the OP. And she IS causing harm. I think giving her the chance to talk to the boss first or with the OP is the best OP can do ethically while still taking care of herself.

    20. Good, Cheap, or Soon. Pick Two.*

      I think the best way to avoid the OP outing the medical condition would be to go to the person with the medical condition and say, “We need to resolve this. I can give you until COB to address this issue with the boss but, if he continues to feel the need to mention a PIP, I will speak to him myself. If I need to do that, I will tell him that I am forced to leave our office multiple times a week for several hours at a stretch due to your medical needs.”

      I say medical needs is because the coworker is clearly not managing her medical issues. As someone who suffers from panic attacks? My doctor would tell me that having prolonged episodes that frequently means that my disorder is clearly not well controlled and that we needed to look at other treatment options. It also avoids the word condition, since that implies that you know it is a condition (as opposed to disorder, disease, episode, or injury). If the LW doesn’t know, down to the specific detail, what her coworker does to get the panic attack under control, it also serves another purpose. The term is wishy-washy enough that, with the right inflection, she can imply that she just didn’t stick around to find out what a “medical need” looked like, thus getting around any further questions about what is going on with said coworker.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, bring this up to your supervisor sooner than later. Oftentimes practicum sites have explicit expectations and responsibilities they must fulfill to remain a host site. If they’re not able to appropriately staff you or include you at this time, you need to know now so you can line up an alternate placement, and your program needs to know so your supervisor can have a come to Jesus talk with the host. It’s not about you causing trouble, and it would be much worse if you continued to wait or had to delay graduation (!) because the host organization was disorganized.

    1. OP3 (it rhymes!)*

      To clarify, do you mean I should talk to my practicum supervisor (which I will, it’s the first thing on my to-do list for tomorrow), or my supervising professor as well? My school is very helpful and has a lot of supporting guidelines for undergraduate practicums, but not so much for graduate students. Which is wonderful for supporting creative and interesting practicums, but it doesn’t provide much in the way of quality control. But I think you’re right, giving my professor a heads up is probably a good idea too. Especially now that I can say, “here’s what I’m doing to address the situation.”

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Both, especially your professor! And I would let your prof know what attempts you’ve made that have gone unanswered.

      2. Blue*

        Yes, send the email, even if it just says, “I’m having X problem and doing Y to address it. I just wanted to give you a heads up that this was happening in case it becomes an issue.” You may not be asking them to do anything right now, but if you do need their help later, it’s better if they already have some context.

      3. Artemesia*

        It is common for students to procrastinate on something like this and not get it done. So it is imperative that your supervising professor as well as the site supervisor know this immediately, preferably within a week of the inability to connect with the individual you would be working with. More than a week is a real problem and at least both these people need to know. Otherwise the assumption is that you goofed off and maybe sent an email or made a call and let it slide; half the time that is the correct assumption so you want to make sure they don’t think it of you. And like #1 this week — waiting to make this clear to relevant actors is as serious as the problem itself. You never want to hear ‘why didn’t you come to us sooner.’

  4. Dane Joe*

    For letter #2 I agree with Alison’s response and think the OP needs to tell her boss what is going on. But I’m confused about one thing in the response: The OP says she can’t move to another office because there is no space available and everyone is already sharing. So why would the OP tell the coworker she’s going to talk to the boss about moving, or bring it up at all? It’s clear there is nowhere else for her to go and it’s not an option or she would have moved or at least asked about it. The whole issue is that there is nowhere else for her to go.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Because that’s the boss’s call to make. Sometimes people think stuff like this won’t be possible, but once a higher-up hears what’s happening, a solution is found. The OP needs to talk to the boss and lay out what’s happening, and then it’s up to the boss to decide what to do from there. Maybe the office-mate can swap with someone who currently has her own office. Maybe the answer will be for her to work from home. It’s hard to say from the outside, but the boss will have a bunch of options to consider (that the OP couldn’t implement on her own).

      1. Dane Joe*

        The OP indicated everyone (including the boss) is already sharing so there isn’t anyone who can switch to give the individual with panic attacks an office to herself. They also indicate work cannot be done or taken outside of a person’s office so working from home is completely out of the question as well. If work could be done outside of someone’s office she wouldn’t have a problem with not being able to get work done.

        1. LouiseM*

          Maybe three people can share an office. Maybe the panic attack coworker can be moved right next to a lactation room (which seems impractical unless nobody in the office is currently lactating, but it’s just off the top of my head). Maybe there are a lot of possible solutions nobody’s thought of. Why are you so intent on shooting down this one?

          1. LouiseM*

            Also, if at some point the coworker does seek an ADA accommodation for this (which it seems like she should), the office will be legally required to at least *try* to find some way to work this out. So it’s not an unreasonable request that they do that before the law comes into play.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yep. Sometimes things that wouldn’t be authorized under normal circumstances (like working from home) come into play when it’s an ADA accommodation.

            2. Bea*

              This is assuming if working alone will allow the coworker to do her job. It’s not clear that sharing an office is triggering the attacks, it’s just that they happen and the victim of the episodes is unable to have anyone around. It appears the sufferer then doesn’t accomplish enough because they’re both in warning about performance issues.

              If you’re unable to work and stay up to standards with your reasonable accommodation they can justifiably terminate her regardless of the disability.

              Then she’s faced with can she hold down a job at all? Can she seek being put on SSI, etc.

              1. sap*

                If she can work from home, she can probably be authorized to work an extra two hours late on days when she has a panic attack to make up for lost time. The whole point of the ADA is to let the medical professionals and people with experience living with the condition tell the employer what workarounds would allow them to complete all or substantially all of their normal duties. OP has no way of knowing whether there are such workarounds because OP is in the financial industry and is not a doctor, so OP shouldn’t be making determinations about whether there are effective accommodations are available to the coworker, since she doesn’t have the expertise to even know what effective accommodation would look like.

                1. Lilo*

                  That is also why coworker needs to disclose. I have done an ADA accommodation for someone I supervised and it clearly required him to be open about his disability and what he needed and how those needs changed as his condition did. You can’t accommodate an undisclosed condition.

                2. sap*

                  Yes, that’s true, but there seem to be a lot of commenters making the inappropriate assumption that there’s no potential accommodation.

              2. Anon for now*

                That is a separate problem though. Right now the health issues are causing two people to fall behind on work. Whether a reasonable accommodation can be found for the coworker is something that the company, the coworker and their doctor will have to work out, but moving the coworker to her own office or working from home will at least eliminate the effect on the OP.

                1. Anon for now*

                  It is also possible that they can redistribute the work so that the coworker doesn’t deal with materials that must stay in the office.

          2. Julia*

            Or if they have departments that don’t need as much security as finance, they might be able to shuffle people around so that someone who can work outside their office shares with the co-worker.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Again, sometimes people assume there’s no solution, but the boss is able to come up with one or authorize one their staff assumed wouldn’t be possible. The OP doesn’t have to figure out the solution before talking to the boss. She just needs to tell her what’s going on so they can figure out what to do from there.

          1. Mike C.*

            This goes for a lot of different work situations to be honest. Just because you yourself cannot think of a solution to an odd or difficult problem doesn’t mean that one cannot be found through research, consulting and so on.

            1. Loose Seal*

              Exactly. This is why I hate working for the kind of bosses that say you can’t come to them with a problem if you don’t have an idea for the solution.

        3. Demonsthenes*

          You are missing the point. The workaround isn’t the letter writer’s concern. It’s her boss’ concern. LW’s concern is protecting her job.

        4. Artemesia*

          The key thing here is that this is not the OP’s problem. You would be surprised what flexibility there is sometimes when the boss needs to solve a problem. This is not the OP’s call to make. I once had the department head literally make me a new office out of space used for another purpose because he didn’t have an office that met the needs of my responsibilities; I told him ‘this is what I need in order to this, this and this for the department and the proposed space doesn’t work for that. Full stop.’ He called in contractors and built me the office I needed. He needs to be managing this situation; she doesn’t need to be hiding it like a kid whose best friend wet the bed on the sleepover.

    2. Sam.*

      It’s also possible that someone does work that *can* be more mobile, in which case maybe they’d be a better candidate than OP to share that office. That’s context maybe only a higher level person would have.

      1. LCL*

        Even with everyone doubling up on space, there are a lot of workarounds and reconfiguration that can be done to rooms if a need arises for another cube, or office, or private space, or work station. Or alternately, look at the human factor and adjust or stagger schedules. I’ve seen it happen virtually overnight; it requires management taking charge of the process.

        Also, taking OP at their word and believing they don’t want to cause any more harm to their coworker-how will coworker feel when her unmanaged issues result in OP being fired? That added guilt probably won’t lessen her panic attacks. It will reinforce the idea that she is powerless.

  5. Watson*

    Re: response #1, I don’t think I’ve seen a personal chequebook in at least 10-15 years. Cheques (or checks) aren’t really a thing outside business here in Australia these days!

    1. LouiseM*

      Plenty of people still use checks where I am from! It’s not common for personal situations, in my experience, but the point is the coworker must have some means of transferring money to the OP, and she really should, like, yesterday.

    2. Daria Grace*

      If the OP is in Australia, the person she’s dealing with most likely has a internet banking app on their phone or at least be able to log into their internet banking on a work computer. My coworkers settle money we owe each other for social expenses and gifts using banking app transfers frequently

    3. BRR*

      I don’t think the method really matters in the response, it’s about being direct and asking for repayment. The lw can provide any option that they want like Venmo.

    4. Kuododi*

      DH and I still have a checkbook for the very occasional bill that is not set up to be paid for online. (I would guess probably 95 percent of our financial obligations can be attended to online, the rest have to be paid by check or money order.).

        1. Anonymosity*

          I pay my yard guy by check. I prefer to pay him in cash, but I don’t usually have any and he isn’t great about giving advance notice when the weather is iffy.

    5. all aboard the anon train*

      I still have to pay my rent via check. And I have a lot of friends who refuse to use Venmo or similar apps so they send me a check when they pay me back, which is kind of annoying since I then have to make a trip to the bank and my bank is so far out of the way (they closed the branch near me).

      But regardless there are so many online methods of paying someone back that the coworker really has no excuse.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        You need an app from your bank. My credit union apps both use the camera feature to electronically deposit the checks. I haven’t been to the actual bank in years.

      2. Anon when I talk about my job...*

        If you have Venmo you probably have PayPal, and PayPal now lets you deposit checks within the app. (Free of charge to the consumer, as long as you can wait for your funds to clear… they also do instant fund availability but there’s a fee attached to that service.) it’s already available for some users if not all, and will be rolled out to all PP app users soon if it hasn’t already. Could save you a trip to the bank.

    6. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I just wrote a check today! But it doesn’t matter if it’s a check or not — it can be any method they want. It just needs to happen.

      1. PhyllisB*

        I write about three checks a month. Two a month to my church for my tithe, and one for my grand-son’s doctor visits. (The office charges a fee for debit cards) and random charity donations. I just had to order some new checks. It’s been over three years since my last order. :-)

    7. Bea*

      Online banking usually has bill-pay features. My bank doesn’t charge for it. I paid my mom back that way since she doesn’t like electronic transfers and her CU has no branches in my area.

      Paypal is also an option.

      I have a checkbook. Some places still charge extra to use a debit card or won’t do an e-check here.

    8. Jen S. 2.0*

      I’m trying my level best to eliminate cheques* from my life, but I have just a couple of stubborn life elements where a cheque is what works. I haaaaate using cheques, but end up having to write one a few times a year. Ugh.

      Funny: I belong to an organization where writing a check is what’s often easiest for membership dues and event tickets and such. I so often forget my chequebook that I have had to find a workaround. What do I do now? My 78-year-old mother belongs to the same organization, she ALWAYS has her chequebook, and one of my bank accounts is linked to hers. I transfer her the money, and she writes the check. (Then she snaps at me to remember my chequebook, I look guilty and shrug, and then we repeat the cycle all over again six months later.)

      *I’m American and live in the US, but check (verb) / cheque (noun) makes so much sense to me that I’ve decided to adopt it.

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        (although clearly my iPad is in protest about the use of “cheque,” and autocorrected several times. Ugh.)

        1. WellRed*

          I am in the US and it’s check and checkbook. I thought cheque was either old fashioned or European. Must be regional thing.

          1. SignalLost*

            It’s British/Canadian/Australian English. Jen S indicated she’s adopting that spelling solely because she likes it.

      2. Amy*

        I have to head over to my bank today since I’m going in for a C section on Friday and apparently the county office at the hospital only takes checks for ordering the birth certificate. I literally haven’t written a check since we refinanced our house 7 years ago.

    9. WS*

      I’m Australian and I see 4-5 a week at work because I work in a rural area and many farmers still use them. 10 years ago I’d see 4-5 a day, so it’s definitely on the decrease, but definitely still a thing in some places. Personally I haven’t had a chequebook since 1997, though.

    10. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

      They aren’t a thing at all in Sweden!

      In fact, a lot of businesses don’t even accept cash as payment these days.

      1. Natasha*

        Yep, I came here to lol at this. I’ve lived in the UK for 6 years, and I’ve laid eyes on exactly two cheques in this entire time — a tax refund and once when I had to pay the NHS £10.

        Point remains, though. Every country has some easy way to get money from person A to person B. (We just bank-transfer each other, which I gather from context is a low-tech version of Venmo?)

        I once had a co-worker owe me the equivalent of a week’s worth of groceries, and I eventually had to let it go, because it ended up destroying our friendship and then our entire work-social circle. At the time someone said to me that any time I spot anyone money, I should think of it as a gift rather than a loan. At the time I was livid, because it was all so unfair, but I’m now much more careful about buying things on behalf of other people, and I’m much the happier for it. OP1, your co-worker is being incredibly rude and you should definitely be as direct as possible to get your money back, but this might be a life lesson, because people can be really weird about money.

    11. Chocolate lover*

      I still use checks occasionally. I wrote one for a copayment for a health appointment with an individual practitioner who doesn’t have electronic payment. I have a sibling who rarely goes online so I send him a check sometimes for gifts (if I’m not going to see him in person soon. ) My dad NEVER goes online, doesn’t own a computer or cell phone, and will give us checks for gifts.

    12. Baby Fishmouth*

      Yeah, Canada also just has Interac e-transfer nowadays, which is essentially just emailing money to someone. Suuuuuper easy – and now banks make us pay $1+ per cheque, so it’s cheaper to just e-transfer money. Although I think the older generations still stick to cheques quite a lot.

      And OP1, if you are in Canada, you can actually request money with most banks using the Interac feature, which would send requests to Jane’s email asking her to complete the transfer, which might help (although Jane sounds like she would probably just ignore it, so do everybody else’s suggestions too).

      1. Nanani*

        Also in Canada – the only time I use cheques is to set up auto payment with a new thing. But that first cheque is still required. *eyeroll*

        1. Chinook*

          But in Canada, most banks now let you print off a void cheque from their online portal for just this purpose. :)

    13. Laurel*

      We just bought a house and have been remodeling and the majority of small companies working on our house (Drywall repair, painter, deck repair) as well as our new Vet, Church tithes, and I’m sure others only take check or cash. We both have direct deposit so we never have cash or at least not enough cash to pay for things over say $60.

      1. Laura H*

        So I don’t carry cash often. I do carry my checkbook and my debit card.

        Rarely is that a problem. And while I will never put my bills on automatic pay or solely use online banking- if needed I’d probably be able to make the switch relatively easy. But yea, I’m super predictable about what I’ll pay by check.

        I’d be MORTIFIED if I forgot to pay someone back. Jane needs to repay you yesterday!!!

    14. Media Monkey*

      the last cheque i wrote was to pay for antenatal classes. my daughter is about to turn 10! very few cheques in the uk either any more.

    15. Amaryllis*

      Several of my utilities charge a “convenience fee” for paying with credit cards or ACH transfer, so for as long as I want heat and water there will be checks. Welcome to the future in BFE. *ppft*

    16. Artemesia*

      We had not used checks for years and then moved to a big northern city when we retired and suddenly there were a whole bunch of things we had to have checks for. The US is generally behind on financial technology, but I was still surprised after years of doing everything on line or with credit cards that there were situations where I needed to use checks.

      1. Anonymosity*

        Yeah, we only got chip-and-pin cards a few years ago, at least in my backwoods state. You should have seen people’s faces in the UK when I handed them my chipless debit card in 2014. Luckily, they could just run it as credit and it worked.

  6. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesInYourHouse*

    OP#2, why isn’t your co worker leaving the area? Must her attacks be handled in the office or can she go out to her car or something? I agree with Alison–your boss has to know. She’s endangering both your jobs. While she may be able to go to HR and get accommodations, I doubt you could.

    1. Bea*

      This is my reaction as well. I understand needing to be alone, my attacks make me flee to seclusion so I would just bolt to my car or a bathroom stall.

      Everyone is different of course so I’m assuming the coworker freezes and locks up. So she can’t leave.

      OP, you’re kind and thoughtful but do not let this end in your demise. You have to take care of yourself and not risk your livelihood over her situation. You’re being threatened with the first step towards termination, don’t fall on this grenade for a co-worker. Think of how the next job interview will go when you explain why you separated from the company.

    2. Marie B.*

      I read it as there is nowhere else private for her to go. I could be wrong and I feel for OP #2 and agree with Alison they need to tell the manager, but it sounds like all the space is occupied by others and if she’s like me and doesn’t own a car the office may be the only private place for her. It doesn’t mean she should get to look OP #2 out of course.

    3. Namelesscommentator*

      I presume it’s because she doesn’t want anyone to know, so she needs the privacy of the office.

      Or because she’s unable to once the panic attack starts.

    4. I make the other side panicky*

      I have panic attacks. They come on very suddenly, and by the time I know what’s happening there is no way I would be able to move to another space. My vision greys out, my heart is racing, I feel like I am being smothered and can’t breathe, I start trembling violently, I sweat, and I feel like I am dying. It happens within seconds. I am certainly not able to think rationally about moving to another location, nor am I physically capable of doing so while the attack is happening.

      Expecting the colleague to move somewhere else mid-panic attack is unreasonable to me.

      1. kay*

        I’m not sure if it’s a lot more unreasonable than asking her coworker to leave her own office every couple of days

      2. Mom MD*

        If she can ask her coworker to leave, she can move herself. Panic attacks are horrible but not life threatening and she’s about to cost someone their job. There’s no accommodation that says other workers must leave the workplace.

        1. Sarah*

          It’s very possible that she had a conversation with OP2 when she wasn’t in the middle of a panic attack explaining what they were and asking the OP to leave when they happen. And even if she didn’t gasping out can you please leave is very different than going to your car or the bathroom while hyperventilating and crying or many other symptoms of panic attacks.

        2. straws*

          This isn’t necessarily true for everyone. As someone who used to have uncontrolled panic attacks, squeaking out a partial sentence was possible but unfreezing myself and physically moving was not. That said, the OP’s coworker needs treatment, not seclusion. This isn’t acceptable behavior, regardless of the reason.

      3. Aeryn Sun*

        This – I get panic attacks too and moving to a new space is rarely possible. I have similar symptoms to you – I feel like I’m dying, my heart races, I start crying uncontrollably, and I pretty much just have to sit and wait it out. There’s no way I could move to a new location during that.

      4. Anon for this*

        But presumably you do something when you have a panic attack, yes? Like take medicine? You have some sort of way to address it.

        The LW’s co-worker is being really irresponsible here–she needs treatment, if she’s not getting it, and to be upfront with her employer about about it to get accomodations.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          When my panic disorder was at its worst, I would take a ‘rescue’ medication during acute attacks, but even that takes 15-20 minutes to kick in, so it’s not like there are instant solutions.

        2. Aeryn Sun*

          I take an overarching anxiety medication and avoid caffeine (since that triggers panic attacks for me) but if I get one I pretty much just have to sit and wait.

          That said, while the coworker should be helping LW in making sure they can get their work done, it’s impossible to say from this whether or not the coworker is getting treatment. Treatment for mental health stuff can take a long long time – nothing is one size fits all, and often people have to try multiple medications or multiple approaches to find one that works for them, and it often takes a long time for a medication to set in before you can determine if it works or not (my anxiety/depression meds took about 6-8 weeks to kick in).

        3. PsychDoc*

          Even if meds aren’t a good route for whatever reason, there are behavioral techniques, and CW is having these so frequently that she should be learning preventative steps. My solution to my panic attacks, is to let myself freak out for ~5 minutes (hyperventilating, crying, etc). By getting the reaction out instead of stuffing it down, I can then be done with the worst of it, incorporate other coping skills and then calm down and move on. Yeah, it sucks, and I’d really rather not do it in front of others but when it’s the sort of thing you live with, you have to learn to incorporate it into you live rather than asking others to adjust theirs for you.

    5. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

      That is an excellent point. The whole thing could end with the OP out of her job and the co-worker kept on and accommodated because it’s a medical issue.

    6. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

      Yeah, there’s no chance I’m leaving my office for two hours multiple times a week on her behalf. I’m very sorry that she’s got anxiety issues, but that doesn’t excuse her from being a grown-up and letting her manager know that she needs accommodations. The OP needs to be a grown-up too because letting herself be pushed around by her officemate and not doing her work kinda is worthy of a PIP. Yes, I get that it’s not completely her fault, but if work isn’t getting done, and neither of them is willing to let management know that there’s an issue, that’s on them.

    7. MJ*

      And what if there were 3, 4, 5 other colleagues in the room? Would they all be in agreement about leaving the room to accommodate their coworker – and not tell their manager? Of course not. The OP has done what she can, to the point of potentially losing her own job. It’s time to come clean, while also saving one’s own skin. I wouldn’t put it past the coworker to throw the OP under the bus to save herself.

  7. LouiseM*

    OP #2, I suspect your sympathy for your coworker’s problems may be clouding your judgement about what needs to be done here. If I were you, I would feel terrible too, because her life must be very difficult. But the bottom line is, this person has a major, possibly untreated condition that is preventing you from using your office for a significant amount of time *every other day*. This is not a tenable situation, and her desire to keep this completely private is just not reasonable when it’s affecting someone else so much.

    1. else*

      Yes, exactly. This is not workable. If it’s affecting work, and it is, the panic attack sufferer needs to talk to her manager about how to handle that rather than letting it harm her office-mate. If she’s a reasonable person, she’ll understand – it is not reasonable for her to expect the OP to suffer because of her desire for privacy about her condition. She may not even realize at this point how bad it has been for the OP or what kind of impact it’s had on her.

  8. Marie B.*

    Why would OP #2 talk to the manager about moving offices when it is clear from the letter there is nowhere else for her to move to? She does need to explain to her manager to protect her own job but asking to move would be off the table.

    1. Artemesia*

      Minions don’t make that call. You would be surprised what bosses can do when they need to sole a problem.

  9. LouiseM*

    OP #1, my blood is boiling! I would be so frustrated and angry if I were you. One piece of advice when you confront your coworker is to avoid mentioning her expensive vacations and coffee habit. Yes, I understand why it feels like a slap in the face, but despite this situation it’s still not your business how she spends her money. It’s only your business that she’s still holding on to *your* money. Go, get it back!

    1. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

      I still get peeved remembering a co-worker who announced she bought an expensive gift for our boss’s birthday and wanted x dollars from everyone to help pay for it. I gave her less than half of what she asked for, it turned out that she never told the boss it was group gift. I found out much later when co-worker left/was fired and my boss and I were having a talk. My boss was mortified but we were able to laugh about it.

    2. MicroManagered*

      I think the details about what she spends her money on were thrown in there to illustrate that she’s clearly not unable to pay it back (and indeed, if she were unable, she should have declined being part of the group gift to begin with!).

      1. Murphy*

        Yeah, this. I imagine if it looked like Rude Coworker was hurting for cash, the situation might be a bit different. (Not that OP wouldn’t rightfully want their money back, just that you might approach the situation a bit differently.)

      2. Tuxedo Cat*

        That’s how I read it, too. People sometimes are more sympathetic if they other person is hurting for cash.

      3. Luna*

        Yes, exactly. If the coworker was struggling financially I might have some sympathy for her, but not only did the coworker suggest the expensive gift in the first place but she also clearly has the money to pay LW back, she just doesn’t want to.

        I once lived with someone like this and these types of people are the worst. Don’t feel bad asking for your money, LW!!

      4. lulu*

        This. It was just mentioned for context, which I appreciate as a reader. I don’t think the LW is likely to mention it to her coworker.

    3. Mikasa*

      The coffee habit is the most important to me. She claims to have no money for OP, but can buy coffee every day. She could skip some days and save money to pay OP back if that’s the case.

      1. OP 1 (for this question)*

        OP 1 here.
        I won’t mention the coffee – I just wanted to give some context.
        I do believe she might be broke – it’s just that paying me back is clearly not her priority, and she’s not even nice about it. I would be less frustrated about it if she were at least apologetic.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I think you should asking for it back in $5s and $10s. About what a coffee would be. Ask every other day. And make a chart or a calendar, and keep track “so we both know.”

        2. Jennifer Thneed*

          I had to do this with 2 books I lent to an acquaintance a gazillion years ago, when we were both in college. Those particular books were precious to me and were *not* class texts. I didn’t see them again…

          Two quarters later or so, I had her in a class again, and I started asking for my books back. She kept saying she’d bring them, and not bringing them. I don’t even know if she had buried them in mess, hoped to keep them forever, or what. Didn’t matter to me. That class met twice a week, for 10 weeks total. I asked her for those books At Every Class Meeting until she finally brought them back to me. And yes, I still have them, 3 decades later.

  10. epi*

    OP3 sounds like they are in public health or social work. Having worked in the former and been a coordinator, they should not feel bad about not being able to make contact.

    A lot of advanced level forcing someone to respond techniques require you to be in their organization, be willing to go to your or their supervisor, name drop, or a combination. There aren’t really secret email scripts to make people pay attention to you, but that students are supposed to know somehow.

    Speaking from experience, with this many people and organizations involved even a pro would expect it to take some effort to make contact and get started. I understand the impulse to wait, but realistically emails older than a couple days with no out of office reply should be considered lost forever, and repeated or escalated. No one will blame you for not making contact and the worst thing you can do is continue to wait.

    1. OP3 (it rhymes!)*

      Good guess! I appreciate hearing that this maybe isn’t all that uncommon. This isn’t what I expected to be learning, but it’s still an important part of any job in my field, so I guess it’s better that I’m learning it now (while I still have the excuse of being a student!)

      1. epi*

        It definitely is not uncommon! And a useful job skill to know when to escalate. One of the very first things that happened in my first job out of school was that I was supposed to get input from a department head who never responded.

        Busy people expect and appreciate the reminders, or else they are weird. And I’m sorry to say you will run into people who respond better to faculty than students, or managers than staff. One thing that won’t happen, unless they are truly messed up, is them getting mad that you reached out to others when you didn’t get a response after repeated attempts. Also keep in mind that many of the people you are working with had to do their own practicum, and understand the time pressure you are under. No one expects you to delay other academic milestones over one placement.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        This isn’t what I expected to be learning, but it’s still an important part of any job in my field.

        So many useful work lessons start out this way.

      3. Ama*

        If you want to soften things when you speak to your supervisor, you could always say “I’m having difficulty getting a hold of Jane — do you know if maybe she’s out of the office or on deadline (if deadlines are a normal thing for your field)?”

        I work in a job where I quite frequently need responses from very busy people and I find that expressing some awareness that they might have other things on their plate (whether I am asking my own boss for help or talking to busy person’s admin) tends to make the tone of the conversation more collaborative — “how can we work with this busy person to get this done” instead of “this person still hasn’t done this thing- I don’t know what to do!”

    2. paul*

      I once had to CC mutual board members to get a higher up at another agency to respond to some fairly critical request from ours…I felt icky doing it, so I ran it by my manager first, but at some point you’ve got to be able to press on someone.

  11. INTP*

    OP2: Your boss is going to have to learn about the panic attacks from someone. You will be fired over this if another solution can’t be found and you aren’t obligated to do that for a coworker’s secret. (I’m not trying to be alarmist – getting fired is just the typical consequence of not meeting a PIP and I’m assuming that if you can’t meet current goals you also couldn’t meet PIP goals.) If you don’t want to out her yourself, you could give her the chance to tell the boss herself before you tell, exactly as Alison suggests. That way, she isn’t surprised and she can be the first to share the information.

    I think it’s best for you if your boss understands the context of your low productivity, but if you simply can’t bring yourself to out her and she refuses to tell, another option is to simply stop leaving the office when your coworker has panic attacks, and use whatever means you can to tune her out and focus (headphones, etc.). That way your productivity can return to normal, and save your job, though without the benefit of letting your boss know that it wasn’t your fault it was low. It might feel mean to your coworker, but it would be her choice to let the consequences play out instead of disclosing her condition. You don’t owe your coworker both a private room to have panic attacks in AND secrecy about it, especially not at the cost of your job!

    1. Okie Dokie*

      Agreed. Let her know up front you will no longer be leaving the office as it is jeopardizing your job. It is then up to her to adapt or discuss with the boss what can be done.

    2. neverjaunty*

      But if the LW doesn’t talk to the boss, they will have believed the PIP was appropriate and that has long-term consequences, even if everything is smooth sailing going forward.

      1. INTP*

        That’s why I said that I think ideally, the boss should have this background information. I was suggesting saying nothing but staying in the room to improve her work as an alternative only if she can’t bring herself to out the coworker, or she’s concerned the coworker will lie about the situation, or there is some other reason she can’t tell what’s really going on. I just wanted OP to know that she can still save her job even if she can’t muster up the courage to spill everything.

      2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        Maybe the PIP was appropriate since it would be what changed a situation that was unproductive into a productive situation? If it hadn’t been for the PIP, the status quo would have remained.

    3. Jennifer Thneed*

      I want to know why the coworker can’t leave during the panic attack.

      (It might really be impossible. I don’t have panic attacks and haven’t seen one happen. If someone knows that this is impossible, please educate me.)

      1. Weak Trees*

        Late, but happy to weigh in!

        Obviously, they vary from person to person, but in my case, they can come on quite suddenly, and with no obvious trigger. I hyperventilate, which causes me to shake violently and my muscles to tense to the point of being unable to move any of my limbs. If CW has similar attacks, it may be that she’s actually immobilized for that period of time.

        (Which is still no reason to make OP bear the responsibility of managing the episodes…)

      2. PsychDoc*

        I can generally move during my panic attacks, though prefer not to if it’s an option. I appreciate that CW wants to be alone during them, but this really is such a frequent problem that that’s not feasible. And panic attacks do stop the body can’t sustain one for more than about 20 minutes at a time before passing out (which, as long as you don’t hit your head on the way down, isn’t a problem – physically speaking). Now, being in a panic attack for 20 minutes can be exhausting, and it feels a lot longer than it is, but OP has been accommodating for long enough and needs to put their is job at the top of their priority list. And I say this as someone who both had paid attacks, and works as a psychologist, and has a ton of empathy for the sufferer.

  12. Lunita*

    LW3, don’t feel bad about approaching your faculty supervisor or even the frontline worker you know. I’m sure this type of thing varies by industry, but a couple of emails and calls isn’t a lot over the course of 10 days. Phrase it as Alison recommended but definitely let someone know you’re having difficulty getting a response!

  13. Poliva Ope*

    It’s ridiculous that in the year 2018 a company would have people stuck in front of a desktop computer with their butt in the seat and not allow them to take work outside of their own office [nevermind the building]. Working from home or having a laptop to bring outside of the office should be allowed and encouraged. At least then she could get some work done while locked out of the office.

    1. Bea*

      You totally glossed over the security risks involved. It’s absurd to be so salty about not being able to work remotely. It’s finance, there’s often legal ramifications for not having confidential information secured. Legalities aside risking financial information for the sake of “boo hoo I’m chained to a desktop, how unpleasant for me, it’s all about meeee” is poor judgement.

      Not all jobs are mobile. Deal with it by not having one with the requirement. Jeez. I’m so over this excessive entitlement wank.

      1. Les G*

        We posted at the same time, but I’m totally stealing “entitlement wank.” Reading some comments on this website you’d swear folks think the number one issue facing workers today is that their bosses only let them work from home twice a month.

      2. Mom MD*

        This new age entitlement is horrible. It’s not just in the workplace. It’s permeated society. I exist, therefore I deserve everything my way.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Nothing new age about it. You could find entitled people in any era. They didn’t complain about being able to dial in remotely on their laptop, but remove the tech cues and you wouldn’t be able to put these complaints in their correct decade.

          1. Not So Recently Diagnosed*

            I also think that people get “entitled” and “refusing to settle for the status quo and pushing for better in the future” confused on a regular basis. Don’t like how things are and think we as a people deserve better? ENTITLEMENT!

          2. Artemesia*

            I find these complaints laughable in a country in which labor has virtually no rights. The US provides low wages for most, poor benefits for most, very short or sometimes nonexistent vacation breaks for most and yet people who want any sort of flexibility or accommodation are ‘entitled.’ We are the most cowed people in the developed work when it comes to workplace entitlements.

        2. McWhadden*

          If this were a new thing why are Baby Boomers the most entitled group of people on the planet?

          1. Zombeyonce*

            It’s unnecessary to generalize about a group of people that just happen to be from the same generation. It doesn’t help this discussion one iota.

        3. Lady Phoenix*

          Mom MD, it seems that whenever something involves someone younger, you are quick to blame the younger generation and call them “entitled”… and never do that when someone older uses their age to make themselves feel entitled.

          I find this behavior extremely toxic and blame out wrong. EVERY generation has their spoiled brats and jerks: baby boomers, gen x, millennials. They all have people they feel the are owed something because of age, progress, etc.

          Please stop insulting the younger generation.

          1. Zombeyonce*


            Thinking younger people are spoiled is a tradition going back millennia:

            “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” -Socrates

          2. Specialk9*

            Especially since New Age is a 1970s-80s phenomenon. So… 50 year olds are entitled brats?

            But also, yeah, suuuuuper lame to make ageist generalizations based on individual behavior.

      3. Nita*

        Speaking of security risks, I hope OP is locking her computer before she leaves the office for two hours! I mean, 99% chance the coworker isn’t using fake two-hour panic attacks every couple of days to get into OP’s information (I think I’ve been reading too many thrillers), but on that 1% chance…

        1. Janice in Accounting*

          This is EXACTLY what came to my mind first. Is she *really* having panic attacks (which I know are real things, I have had them myself), or is she doing something she doesn’t want someone else to see? But either way the advice is the same: go to the manager ASAP and let the manager handle it.

          1. smoke tree*

            I don’t want to be skeptical about someone’s medical conditions, but I do think it’s an issue for someone who deals with such secure information to have no oversight for hours each week (and possibly access to the LW’s computer as well). If nothing else, this would have prompted me to go to the boss earlier, and the LW might want to be prepared for it to come up when she explains the situation.

      4. Anonymosity*

        They clearly don’t have decent security protocols, then. My last job was in a financial services firm. Our customers were banks and we were allowed to work from home, move around the building, etc. We had physical security (badged areas), a strong VPN (rotating password tokens, and you couldn’t even access anything outside the network without it), and even within the network, people were restricted from certain kinds of client information. Plus, we had regular security training that covered everything from email phishing to social engineering.

        If employees can’t even leave their desks to do the work, they probably need some kind of upgrade. And what happens when someone is sick and doesn’t come to work? I assume their officemate would be left alone with their own work. Would this be considered a problem? Are there no audit procedures in place?

        I understand the space restrictions, but I’d give it some serious side-eye if they’re handling sensitive information and not securing it other than “You can’t work on anything away from your desk, not even in a conference room within the building.”

    2. Les G*

      Did you miss the part where they handle financial information? What would really be ridiculous is to expose folks to identity theft just because some folks think everyone needs to work from home.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      There are several industries where physical security is required. Finance, defense, some types of law investigations, etc.
      Some industries even have a no WiFi rule.

      1. Lilo*

        I know that my workplace also does not allow telework until the new person has had a certain quality metric over a certain period of time (it is like 6 months). I do not think that is unreasonable either.

        1. DaisyGrrl*

          Yeah, in my organization telework would not be permitted for someone who is about to be placed on a PIP. You have to demonstrate that you can do the work to the expected standard before you can work from home.

      2. Tuxedo Cat*

        I know a few social science research places that will not allow people to access data off-site. It might be overkill but they take people’s privacy and the potential ramifications of data being leaked very seriously.

      3. Airy*

        I do court transcription and while it’s done remotely from the courtroom, it has to be done from the transcription service office for privacy reasons. Which I’ve always been rather pleased about, as I don’t want work to taint the haven that home should be and I definitely don’t want to be pressured to work from home so they can save on office space or something.

    4. INTP*

      It’s because she’s handling secure information. A stolen laptop or insecure home wifi connection could result in identify theft or fraud for the company’s clients. That information needs to be kept in a physically and digitally secure environment.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        How often do we hear about the highly technical industrial espionage technique “Hang around bar near office; gather any electronic devices people forget”?

          1. Beaded Librarian*

            They don’t allow it to be an option now because it happened several times in the past. Mostly to Apple, or at least it was most widely reported when it happened to them. Likely because they are fairly polarizing

    5. Bagpuss*

      There are lots of reasons why that may not be practical. OP works with financial information so security is probably a major issue, and at the moment, the employer *doesn’t know* that there is a problem with using a desk top. OP also said that there isn’t any other space available, even if she had a laptop, she might well not be able to work as efficiently if she’s then reduced to sitting in a corridor or breakroom.
      Also, there are lots of jobs where the work is not exclusively online or on a computer; if you are also having to deal with paperwork or phone calls etc, then being able to take a laptop out of the room may not work, as it may not solve the problem of your working needs.
      It certainly wouldn’t be practical for me, in my job.

    6. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

      I’ve done assignments in the defense sector, and had to lock up my computer and phone during meetings.
      I got VERY good at taking notes by hand…

      1. Lilo*

        There are special classified data computers for government or defense and you can bet they are never connected to Wi-Fi or taken away from their stations.

    7. Espeon*

      I’m sorry some people are responding to you in a needlessly nasty fashion Poliva. That happens around here unfortunately.

      1. London Calling*

        I don’t see nastiness, I see people explaining why working from home or remotely isn’t always an option. And I’m sure that if the commenters concerned feel they *have* been rude, they can apologise on their own behalf.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        The letter explicitly states why the work cannot be done remotely; people are allowed to point out that declaring the solution is to toss all financial security regulations to the wind is really impractical.

      3. Laurel*

        Informing someone that the information they are giving is incorrect is not nasty or needless. Disagreeing with someone is completely appropriate and informative. If that is something you can’t handle you really shouldn’t be on the internet.

      4. Bea*

        Oh come on. She was flippant about the noted security risks associated with remote access and was responded to regarding that issue. As someone entrusted with data that can ruin lives if some nefarious person gets the information, you have to accept the duty of protecting it in some cumbersome and specific ways.

        I hope you never have to fight to clean your credit report when a security breach happens and all the pain emotionally and financially that comes with stolen identity. Maybe having seen victims of an often preventable crime would show you who to be apologising to right now. Or maybe not, since we’re just a pack of wild internet jerks who lash out at people who want change to benefit one person’s personal choices instead of security to protect thousands.

        It’s true, it’s 2018 and we’re still watching people endanger others so one person gets the freedom to do their job at whatever setting they fancy the most.

    8. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

      Considering that it’s easy to find stories of peoples’ personal, medical or financial information being left behind in public spaces, cabs, dumpsters, bars etc. I want the person handling my information not to have the ability to remove it from the workplace.

    9. Observer*

      That’s just not true. There are situations where remote work creates significant issues that are costly to work around.

    10. Gaia*

      I am all about encouraging people to work remotely when and where possible. But it isn’t possible in all roles and it isn’t appropriate in all instances.

    11. bonkerballs*

      Considering neither the OP or her coworker have approached the boss about this situation, we don’t know that that isn’t an option. But in order for it to become an option, they have to ask for it first.

    12. Student*

      It’s a private network that is not connected to anything outside of the private network (like the general public internet). This is very common when dealing with sensitive data. Financial, business secrets, etc. It’s a very effective way to prevent sensitive data from ending up in a competitor’s hands, or a thief’s hands, or to prevent any number of major/minor hacking incidents that could have a significant negative business impact. It’s pretty common in specific industries.

      It’s obviously not as big of an issue for the many industries that don’t have sensitive information, like your local coffee shop. And there are many businesses that SHOULD implement similar security procedures, but get away with not doing so for various reasons (like major retail outlets that get hacked, lose the sensitive credit card info for millions of customers, and cost their customers money and time to deal with the resulting credit card fraud).

  14. NowFreelance*

    OP1, it’s entirely reasonable to insist on money up front for shared gifts like this in future. I would give people a deadline, and then decide when the money is in what to buy, not the other way round. What you’re describing is so common (and aggravating!), that it’s pretty normal practice to do a collection then buy a gift.

    In the event that you don’t manage to get the money back, I would let everyone know she hasn’t paid you back, and I’d refuse to do the organisation/purchasing again, and bring that up as the reason why when you’re asked to. You don’t owe her any obligation of secrecy over this.

    1. MW*

      I think letting the rest of the office know is a good move. Rude Coworker suggested the gift herself and then reneged on paying. I would not be surprised if Rude had made a big deal out of giving the gift and her being the one who had the idea, neglecting to mention she didn’t pay for it. The recipient should know that Rude didn’t pay!

  15. Espeon*

    Urgh OP2 what an utterly shitty situation for both of you.

    How long has this been going on for? As someone with anxiety and a history of panic attacks, I suspect your coworker is not dealing with something. That something may well be an unsuitable workplace too. Everyone is different, but I started having panic attacks in my late teens, and once I’d learned that’s what was happening to me I was able to extract myself from the situation that tipped me over the edge (a horrid tutor at college – I gave up the class). I didn’t have another spate of panic attacks for a decade, when I started having them on the commute to a job I hated in a really oppressive environment (which was finance too, btw). Sometimes panic disorder is less easily navigated (insofar as quitting a class or job is easy of course), but… they can’t go on like this, for their own sake as well as yours, they’re really in a spiral.

    I think it would be graceful to allow them the opportunity to out themselves to the boss first, and get the accommodation they obviously need(!), but if not then you’re within your rights to do it; no decent person would expect a colleague to go down with them because of their medical condition, so hopefully it won’t come to that.

    1. TL -*

      I don’t think it matters why the coworker is having panic attacks – if they’re running coworker’s life and she’s okay with that (or on the path to getting control of it but not there yet) that’s the coworker’s decision for whatever reason and it’s fine.

      It’s not okay for them to be running the OP’s life. That needs to stop.

        1. TL -*

          I don’t think speculating as to why the coworker has something going on is helpful. The OP isn’t suffering from a lack of sympathy but a lack of ability to set good boundaries.

      1. Julia*

        It’s also entirely possible that the co-worker is trying to address the panic attacks, but hasn’t found a solution yet. The doctors she has seen so far might have not taken her seriously, who knows?

        1. TL -*

          yeah, that’s why I added “on the path to getting control of it but not there yet” – though if Coworker is doing that, I would hope the OP would be kept in the loop.

      2. MuseumChick*

        I agree. This is The Sheelzebub Principle a la Captain Awkward. Basically, it doesn’t matter why a person is doing X when X was a huge negative effect on you and there is no sign of it ever changing. You have to ask yourself how long you are willing to put up with X.

    2. Kate*

      For OP#2 it doesn’t matter why the co-worker is having panic attacks that is something that the co-worker needs to address and possibly the manager but not OP. At this point OP has let this go on too long to give the co-worker time to talk to the boss, OP needs to be in the Boss’s office explaining herself now. If the boss is starting a PIP there is likely more information that OP didn’t share about performance, like that she has already been talked to previously about work not being done on time and or up to par.

  16. Namelesscommentator*

    OP2 is making me curious if there are disibity accommodations that could be in play. The coworker likely has a solid case to not be fired over this (or at least a shadow enough to scare employers away from it) but OP would have no such protection.

    I would give her a heads up tomorrow that you need access to your workspace through the workday, and she needs to either make that a possibility or seek help from management to make it possible.

    1. Bea*

      It all boils down to reasonable accommodation. Being unable to work for so many hours you can’t preform your job duties isn’t reasonable. Unless she is eligible for FLMA but even even then, you run out of time.

    2. Lilo*

      Disability accommodation requires disclosure. I did an ADA accommodation and the handbook I had listed duties of the employee, supervisor, and our ADA representative (I work for a large organization). The duties of the employee included explaining the limitations and working with my org to accommodate them.

      Coworker cannot, upon being fired go, “Oh but I have a disability you didn’t accommodate that I didn’t tell you about”. It doesn’t work that way. If she wants protection and accommodation, she needs to disclose.

      1. Anonymosity*

        Yes, she absolutely does. I had to disclose during a PIP meeting. I didn’t want to, but the terms of the PIP were directly affected by the disability. It didn’t save my job, but they did try to work with it until it became clear that I couldn’t perform it the way they had changed it even with accommodation.

        I wish I’d said something before that, actually. It ended up looking like I pulled the ADA card just to save myself, and that wasn’t the case at all. If she waits until she’s getting fired, it’s too late then.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          And coworker will be facing having panic attacks without insurance to help her help herself.

    3. Jesmlet*

      There’s nothing legitimate that protects the coworker from being fired if she hasn’t disclosed, and it’s on the boss and the company to find a solution once they know, not on OP. If you’re suggesting that the current situation is based on an existing accommodation, I think that’s very unlikely because the boss would be asking if there are better ways to manage the disability rather than threatening a PIP at this point.

  17. Sabrina*

    OP4, I’ve had a lot of friends and family members pass my contact information on to people trying to get into my field. That first script is excellent, I would happily meet with anyone using it. It’s a great idea to do this even if they aren’t going to pass you on to people hiring, they may know ways to get experience or network you haven’t considered. Good luck!

    1. Sally*

      I am so good at helping other people with their resumes, but when it comes to my own job search, it has been way more difficult than I expected. I’m job searching for the first time in over 15 years, which doesn’t help.

      I’m not at the beginning of my career, so I have been unsure about what to do with the contacts my friends introduce me to (over email). However, I am relatively new to the area, so I am now thinking that I can ask local people if they’d be willing to talk to me about our industry in this area.

      For people like my mom’s friend, who lives across the country, I think I would just use the second wording that Alison suggested. I appreciate their willingness to help, so I don’t want to not contact them.

      I would appreciate any other suggestions commenters might have!

    2. zora*

      I am currently working for a company with a very niche field that has a limited number of candidates with specific credentials they are looking for. My boss often gets emails like this just reaching out, and she always either sets up a call, or passes them on to someone else to chat with them about their interests and goals. These have even led to hiring them for our company directly, but worst case is connecting them with some other organization that might be hiring.

      You should totally use Allison’s script and prep your short talk about what you want to do and a short list of questions in the event that you do get any calls or coffee meetings set up. It definitely varies by field, so be prepared for the chance that this might not get you any substantive connections, but there is no harm in giving it a try!

  18. JanetInSC*

    As a person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, who is also on meds (which are very helpful), I could not let someone lose their job because of MY health issues. I am angry that OP1’s coworker is not willing to fall on her sword. If it had happened once, okay. But several times????? No, no, no. That person needs to come clean with the boss and also make sure she has seen a doctor. (She may even need to apply for disability.) If the coworker will not do what is morally right, then OP1 has absolutely no choice but to tell the boss everything. (She probably should have had the talk with her coworker after the second incident, and then talked to the boss.)

    1. Cheesehead*

      Yes, that’s what I was thinking. OP2 needs to inform coworker of the fact that she may lose her job b/c she’s been accommodating the coworker’s panic attacks. This is a very REAL problem and coworker really needs to go to bat for the OP with the boss. Not just disclose her own condition that led to this, but really emphasize that the OP was only trying to help her at her request, and was trying to be a good coworker. Ultimately, the OP has to say to the boss “I was trying to help c/w but I realize now that I should have brought this to you before this”, but I think that would have a lot more weight if c/w also says to boss “I didn’t want to disclose this and I begged OP to help me but keep it a secret. She’s been so great about it and I don’t want to see her fired just because she was trying to help me.”

    2. Bella*

      I can understand CWs fear of their manager finding out about their panic attacks. I was in a very similar situation and had to resign, so unfortunatley there is a real possibility of CW losing their job.

      However I agree that OP should not lose their job over this. They have been incredibly compassionate so far but this is not their problem and it’s not one that CW can hide forever. The kindest thing I think the OP can do is let the CW talk to the manager about their problem on their own terms but if they are unwilling to do that then the OP has to protect their own job.

      I certainly have a lot of sympathy for CW but this is not a situation that continue. They need to start asking for help or making changes in their work life. The more proactive and upfront about it they are the more sympathetic and helpful people are likely to be. People are more likely to help people who are clearly trying to deal with their own problems as opposed to people who hide from them or expect others to solve them.

      1. JanetInSC*

        “People are more likely to help people who are clearly trying to deal with their own problems as opposed to people who hide from them or expect others to solve them.”

        So true! The co-worker would probably succeed in a work-from-home position while pursuing medical solutions and disability. Obviously, the panic attacks are not going away and the present situation is not helping her. (Both employees are losing 4-6 hours every week. Any boss would be concerned.)

  19. Probably Nerdy*

    At my ex-job, two calls and an email over 10 days with no response would equal “You clearly haven’t tried hard enough to reach them.” I’ve been told to go to some ridiculous lengths to reach people.

    Such as:
    calling twice a day, cc-ing the boss on all emails, showing up unannounced multiple times a day, calling personal cell phones (intended to be used for emergencies), and all of the above while people are on vacation. And if it still doesn’t work then it’s still my fault. Somehow at my last job before that one, people were adults and actually responded to other people like fellow humans. At this job, I had a coworker tell my boss that he didn’t answer my email because he “didn’t feel that my level of effort warranted a response” and my boss lectured me for not calling him instead.

    Thankfully I quit 2 weeks ago!

    1. Yorick*

      Really, 2 calls in 10 days is probably not much at all if the person is busy away from her desk. If I had a lot of voicemails to follow up on, the person who wants to shadow me for her graduate practicum is going to seem like a low priority. The next call or email should include that the deadline to finish all requirements for the course is August.

    2. Naptime Enthusiast*

      2 calls and 1 email over 10 days really isn’t a lot. In my experience, that’s a gentle reminder, not a “I need to get in touch with you ASAP to keep this task moving”. I just checked my voicemails and have several from when I was out of the office, but each phone call was followed up with an email with everyone else involved CC’d so 1) I knew how much visibility this was getting, 2) everyone could see my Out of Office notice, and 3) I could work on it remotely rather than waiting until I got back to my office to listen to the voicemail and call them back.

      Of course this varies between companies and industries, but really I would be annoyed if I assigned a task to somebody and after 10 days nothing was done on it because they couldn’t get in touch with the person *and didn’t tell me sooner*. I understand OP’s situation is different in academia, but if their work is at a standstill I would want to know that.

    3. Teapot librarian*

      I once did get a resolution to an issue after more than a month by showing up unannounced at the person’s office, but that certainly shouldn’t be a default effort that is expected, especially if you’re not in the same building! (As in my case.)

    4. OP3 (it rhymes!)*

      Oh gosh, that gives me anxious feelings just reading it! I’m glad you got out.

      I think work history is biting me in the butt a bit here too… I had a job a few years ago that ended so awfully I’m still half expecting interactions like this to spiral into a similarly terrible situation. It takes a while to unlearn the knee-jerk “everything is terrible and it’s all my fault” response.

  20. Traffic_Spiral*

    LW1, Interesting that the lady both recommended the amount AND refused to pay up? I’m guessing she was hoping to be in charge of the money and keep some of it. Anyways, definitely go broken-record on this bitch. Every morning “hello, X – where’s my money?”

    1. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

      Or put Rihanna’s , “Bitch Better Have My Money” as your phone’s ring tone.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I like this.

        It’s a weird situation. I could see “I don’t have any cash, and do we really track such piddling amounts?” as a play, but CW is trying to claim the amount is too large and she just doesn’t have it.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        I would definitely be playing that on my computer every time she entered the office.

    2. KHB*

      Totally agree that Rude Jane is being really awful here, but can we please not resort to misogynist slurs?

  21. Jessica*

    OP2, you didn’t say how long this has been going on, or how long the individual episodes tend to be. My perspective on this is probably colored by long experience managing a severely understaffed team, which means a lot of stress and demoralization for everyone and a lot of extra work for me at the direct expense of my personal life. But if I found out that two of my employees had not been working a significant amount of time that they’d pretended to be working, and that this had been extensive enough to drag down operations to the point they were both about to get PIPped (which as a manager means I’m anticipating more annoyance and time spent dealing with the PIP process, anticipating the huge further amount of time and effort I might be having to commit to recruiting their replacements, and contemplating rearranging all kinds of things around this problem), I would be deeply unhappy with those workers. I certainly would no longer perceive them as trustworthy or having good judgment.
    I’m being blunt with you about this to make the point that the question isn’t whether to fall on this grenade for your coworker–you already have. It’s just how serious the injuries are and whether you can be saved. I agree you should give her one day to talk to your manager. If she doesn’t, you should do so frankly, but if she does, you still need to do so. As your manager in this situation, I’d want to also hear from you to verify the coworker’s account and hear what on earth you were thinking and why you let this happen, and that talk would contribute to my thinking about you going forward.

    1. Its just me*

      I agree 100%.

      If I were their manager, I would want to know two things from the OP: 1) why did you allow this to go on for so long; and more importantly, 2) what has the OP been doing during that time away from her desk. Hopefully the OP has been focusing on activities that still bring value to the organization.

    2. Flinty*

      Definitely agree with all this. This reminds me of a situation I had with one of my direct reports as she was nearing the end of her one-year contract with us. I told I understood that she would be job searching, and that since the last month or so of her time with us was likely to be quiet, that I would be happy to discuss flexing hours/schedule adjustments if she found a different job that wanted her to start right away. Around this time, her uncle died, and I again offered her flex time/time off, etc, but she told me she didn’t know him well and it was ok.

      Soon after, she started having some serious performance problems – being very late to meetings, turning in shoddy work, missing deadlines, etc. I asked her if everything was ok, she said yes, she would improve, no accommodations needed, etc. It was only in her last couple days that I heard from a friend in the field that this person had taken a job at her company part time, been working there when she had told me she was working off-site/at home, and had shortly gotten fired from that job for the same performance problems I was noticing. When I brought all this up to the employee during her final review, she was SHOCKED that this would affect her review and reference because “but I told you my uncle died! and you said I could flex my hours!”

      I say this to illustrate that first of all, your manager may be frustrated with you for keeping quiet for so long, but also that, as long as your manager is not a horrible person, it’s way better in the long run to be honest, because that is what earns you trust and accommodations.

    3. Sarah*

      I agree Jessica, OP#2 you knew you were not getting your work done, how long were you planning on letting this go? Were you leaving at your regular time each day? In Finance especially, not getting your job done on time is very close to not doing it at all. I feel for you in this situation, I wouldn’t want to tell about a co-worker’s medical problems either. This is definitely going to be a life lesson for you, you need to make sure your work is done on time and done well. If you have something that is stopping the process you need to stay late and finish. If it is a regular occurance you need to let your manager know so you can work to determine a resolution. You have really put your job and reputation on the line here. At most you are in the process of losing your job for not doing the work, and at the least you now have a reputation of not pulling your weight honestly I’m not sure which is worse. You need to be in your managers office now, let him know that you know you have made grave errors in judgement, and would like to discuss the issue at hand. Tell him your officemate has panic attacks regularly where you have to leave your office so she can recoup and you need management to help determine how you can move forward. You really messed up here so don’t make excuses, give management facts, apologise and learn from this. If it was me I would plan on staying late and working through the weekend until my work was completely caught up, and for the foreseeable future I would work to get everything done before the deadline.

  22. Mom MD*

    She’s never going to pay you back and she doesn’t care. Be professional with her and nothing more. No more paying for anyone else in the future. Either they pay up front or they are out. This money is gone.

    1. Antilles*

      You might be right that she never will pay OP#1 back…but it’s still worth at least *attempting* Alison’s solution of “ask clearly and directly over and over, while also telling the other people involved”. Even if you don’t end up getting the money, it at least gets RudeCoworker a deserved helping of judgment.

    2. foolofgrace*

      I’m afraid I agree with Mom MD. That money is gone. It happens, live and learn. Too bad the other contributors won’t help to make up the shortfall, but that’s not going to happen and probably not even reasonable. But if I were one of the others, I might offer.

    3. MLB*

      I agree but I’d still be a thorn in co-worker’s side to try and get it back. Then if she actually does give it to you it’ll be like a bonus.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yup. If I gotta see your thieving ass every day and be reminded that you owe me money, you better bet I’m making that your problem as well.

  23. Mom MD*

    I’d out Jane. Jane is being unreasonable and is close to costing someone their job. You don’t get to act any way you want at work especially at a cost to others.

  24. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

    LW2, so you mean to say that the coworker is having panic attacks multiple times per week?! I don’t just feel bad for you, I feel nearly as bad for her! That just sounds terrible.

    Someone needs to tell management. I would prefer that it would be her, all things considered – and if I were you, I’d offer to give her your support when she discloses (if she wants it), but also reiterate that this must be disclosed, as this is something where she needs formal accommodations to be functional. (One of the closest scenarios I had to deal with is that when my project went all-digital, management had to reassign one of my employees because they reasonably felt that the computer monitors were making them sick.) But also – I didn’t read the entire comment thread, but you’re both women in finance, right? (Or at least, she’s a woman in finance.) I think part of her fear is that she’ll lose her job if people think she’s “crazy.”

    Maybe she’s really not suited for the job (if she’s having multiple panic attacks per week, I think she should take a sabbatical at the very least, but I’m not a doctor). But if my guess is right, that has to be going through the back of her mind, and that might be why she doesn’t want to disclose. You might have to force her hand, because everyone’s right – this is affecting you at this point. (Imagine if she was epileptic and having major seizures multiple times per week at work – or if she had poorly controlled diabetes and was getting sick a lot at work because of it.) But she can’t go on hiding it like nothing is wrong, because everyone already knows there are issues.

    (Disclaimer: My type of employer is unusually sympathetic to people with disabilities. Obviously, we’re not casual about discussing personal health information, but I also recognize it’s far less fraught where I work.)

    1. neverjaunty*

      There’s no “might have to”. The co-worker is jeopardizing the LW’s job. All the sympathy and understanding has to get put on pause when the result is “my co-worker is about to get fired too because she accommodated my anxiety”.

  25. Irish Em*

    OP1 I had a coworker who stole from me and 50 of our colleague, in total she got about three grand from us, in tiny amounts. I’m out €64 as are the other 50. The Gardaí wouldn’t prosecute because “It’s only sixty quid”. The company refused to sack her because “we should have known better” and she threatened to sue.

    This same coworker had also not paid any rent for about 6 months. My colleagues found her landlord and told the landlord the date each month we get paid and the time her shift would end on that day each month. The landlord showed up and the Thief had to pay current and back rent.

    All of that wall o text to suggest that if you know the day Jane gets paid, go to her and pester her to pay you back. “You’ve been paid your wages, now, as we agreed you would at the time of the purchase, you need to pay me back.” At least that way you’ll know she hasn’t blown it on a designer handbag or whatever and if she refuses she’s an ass.

    1. Workerbee*

      I feel for you, dealing with that coworker, plus the unconcerned Gardaí, plus the unmitigated gall of the coworker THREATENING TO SUE. And the wimpy company. What great life lessons this imparts. Ugh.

      1. Irish Em*

        Yyyep. I was Deeply Unimpressed when the Garda laughed me out of the station the day I went in to make my statement. Some of the fifty-one hired a private investigator who found out that at her last job, she had worked at the Hospice, she had been robbing from the dying and their families. And their HR was too afraid of her solicitor to refuse a reference when our HR checked it. She was a piece of work with a brass neck.

        Hopefully OP1’s coworker will see reason, stop being an ass and not end up a known thief.

  26. Detective Amy Santiago*

    OP#2 – Where do you go/what do you do when you’re leaving the office?

    1. Laurel*

      Yes this, and how long has this been going on. If it has been going on for very long the OP is labeled as the office slacker, since it appears she is taking 2 hour lunches and not doing her work.

  27. MuseumChick*

    OP 1, if your co-worker keeps saying she doesn’t have the money you could try the follow script:

    Rude Coworker: “I don’t have the money.”
    You: “Ok then let’s discuss a payment plan. I will need X amount per-week. That will pay off the debt in Y weeks. Do you have X amount now or will you bring it tomorrow?”

    OP 2, this is a sucky situation all around. I agree with Alison, you need to talk to your boss but give your co-worker a chance to do so first. You want to be kind of firm. Even if she begs you not to say anything you have do what you need to do to protect your job,

    1. Lil Fidget*

      It’s true, every loan shark knows that something is better than nothing, if that’s the best you can get. Even the IRS does this sometimes.

  28. Get Back To Work!!!*

    OP#1, I would ask for the money on the day you all get paid. This could be a case where your coworker is trying to keep up with the Joneses but yet is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Which is by no means an excuse!!

    1. XF1013*

      Agreed! It read to me like Rude Coworker’s responses about not having money could have been truthful. I know plenty of people (including my younger self) who blow their paychecks quickly on things like designer handbags, leaving only enough money for takeout coffee and other small frivolous expenses. Rudeness aside, it might only be possible to get the money from her on payday, or via a payment plan as suggested above by MuseumChick. It’s not right that OP1 should have to go to such trouble, but it might be the only effective approach.

      1. Elbe*

        It could be the case that Jane doesn’t actually have the money, but I doubt it. Someone who intended to pay the LW back but can’t would at least be apologetic about it. This person apparently just acted annoyed that the LW asked again.

        Either way, though, asking on a pay day could at least help to take away that excuse. It can’t hurt.

  29. PM*

    OP2, is there someone in HR you can talk to? I’m a little surprised that your boss isn’t digging in to understand the root cause of the problem before jumping to a PIP. Terminating two people who share an office for performance at the same time seems unusual and as a manager I’d be more curious about what is going on in there.

    HR may be able to help you, your boss and your coworker come up with a better plan. Having this out in the open may be hard for your coworker but it could be a lot better than getting fired for underperforming.

    1. Flinty*

      I was imagining that the manager had already been asking what was going on, but because the coworker and OP are trying not to disclose, hasn’t gotten any good answers. If I were managing two employees who were being unproductive while not giving a reason why or improving in any way, I would also be considering a PIP!

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I imagine the manager thinks they’re chatting and goofing off. If they were in first grade he’d make them swap desks with other people. (Who would then seethe at being punished for being good and quiet workers, but would be six and couldn’t do anything about it.)

    3. More cream than coffee*

      I would think since OP2 is leaving the office for long periods of time, and it sound like both are leaving and coming in on their regular schedules that management is rightfully assuming that they are bad employees. I would say most of the office notices that OP is leaving a lot and with work not getting done they are most likely the office slackers that everyone is complaining about.

  30. Temperance*

    OP2, do you have to leave the office, or has she asked you to? I’m wondering if you can pop on noise cancelling headphones and just power through your work. At this point, she’s put your job in jeopardy so she can’t reasonably request you to keep this a secret any longer.

  31. Anonyme*

    Why doesn’t the coworker in letter #2 take her panic attacks to the bathroom like a normal person? I’m only partially kidding – I occasionally suffer panic attacks too, and I hide out in the bathroom or my car until I can pull myself together. The last thing I want is for anyone to know I’m having one. Announcing you’re having a panic attack and expecting your coworker to leave the room is ridiculous and borders on attention-seeking, in my opinion.

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah. I don’t want to be a dick, but go cry in the bathroom like the rest of us!

    2. ‘non for this*

      Wow, this comment is so unbelievably out of line. Calling someone abnormal because of how they handle a panic attack and then claiming they’re doing it for attention? Comments like this are what prevented me seeking help for years. I really hope you reconsider this line of thinking or reflect on how heading it might affect others who have a mental illnesses that manifest differently from yourself.

      1. Student*

        It is abnormal behavior. It’s not a sufficient or appropriate coping strategy to deal with a significant health problem – just like somebody with the plague can’t come into work and cough all over everyone’s door handles.

        This faulty coping strategy is causing both the person with the panic attack the OP very serious workplace problems.

        I understand you want to protect the humanity and dignity of the person having panic attacks. That is a wonderful and laudable goal. This kind of indignant huff you’ve generated doesn’t really help the person with the panic attack, though – I contend it’s actually pretty harmful. What you’re actually saying sure sounds like you are trying to legitimize the self-harming and other-harming behavior of someone with a mental illness. People with mental illnesses do not need to have self-harming behavior defended – they need exactly the opposite. People with mental illnesses also need to figure out coping strategies that don’t harm others around them.

        If you allow the person with a mental illness to do this kind of harmful behavior, out of some misguided attempt to be “accepting” of mentally ill people, there are very bad consequences for everyone. Normal, reasonable people will end up shunning the mentally ill person in self-defense, because no one is willing to address and stop the problematic, harmful behaviors. The mentally ill person will continue to self-harm. Instead, you have to draw firm but compassionate boundaries that minimize and prevent harmful behavior from impacting others, while still being as kind and accommodating as possible to the mentally ill person so they can progress/get treatment/etc.

        Anonyme is offering a coping strategy that works for her as she suffers the same mental illness, and is dramatically less likely to impact co-workers. Please don’t try to shame her or shut her down like this in a misguided attempt to “defend” the mentally ill.

  32. The Original K.*

    A former coworker never paid me back his contribution to bereavement flowers for another coworker and I’m still a little annoyed about it, and it was $6. (I was persistent, he said every day he “didn’t have cash and doesn’t use apps,” and eventually we were all laid off and we don’t keep in touch.) I can only imagine how I’d feel if it were a week’s grocery budget. Be a squeaky wheel about this, OP1, and don’t stop until you get your money.

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Yeah, this is the coworker you reply to “Ok, I can get it from you after lunch when you have time to hit the ATM.”

  33. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

    Not sure if my previous comment went to moderation, but…LW2, I think the best course of action (if you’re willing to do it) is to tell her that she needs to let your boss know, and offer to provide whatever support she needs – whether it’s being in the meeting with her, reminding her to do it, or something else. Again, you don’t HAVE to offer, but it might make things easier and more likely to happen.

    But also, she really needs to do this. Or someone does. And this needs to happen soon. I agree that if this doesn’t happen within a day or two, you can explain what’s going on with some of the scripts provided by other commenters.

    Finally – I almost feel worse for the coworker than LW2 (and yes, I will acknowledge that she is being selfish in hurting LW2’s work because of her anxiety disorder). It sounds like they’re both in finance, and I can imagine that she’s afraid of the consequences of revealing she has a mental health issue (especially as a woman). I hope that your company is understanding and willing to accommodate her, LW2, but unfortunately not all workplaces are good about that. Hopefully you’re at one of the good ones.

    1. Nonsensical*

      I actually have no sympathy for Op2’s coworker. I have had medical conditions that were impacting my work. Eventually I went on FMLA and took care of them. It is not up to her coworker to manage someone else’s mental illness. I would have more sympathy if she was managing it. But she is clearly not.

      1. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

        Maybe sympathy isn’t the right word, and the coworker is definitely being a jerk. And LW2 is getting really screwed over by their coworker’s illness.

        But…I feel bad for BOTH of them. LW2 MIGHT LOSE THEIR JOB through no fault of their own. But the coworker is dealing with panic attacks severe enough that she’s incapacitated multiple times per week for hours at a time. She’s not dealing with her issues well, if at all, but I wouldn’t want to be either of them.

        1. Specialk9*

          Yeah, it’s weird how people have to have NO SYMPATHY in order to condemn her actions. Aren’t we all here to learn to be better managers? Isn’t that a core skill? Empathizing with the human who’s screwing up, and still drawing clear firm and reasonable boundaries.

          The panic attack co-worker is clearly being selfish, and I side-eye her hard… but I can acknowledge her humanity and pain while pointing out that the behavior is unacceptable.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        We don’t know what the coworker is doing to try and manage her illness. It took me the better part of a decade to get my panic disorder under control and that was actively working on it with a combination of therapy and meds.

        Which is not to excuse what is happening at all, but I think you’re being rather harsh.

      3. Delphine*

        You can still have empathy. It’s great you have it all together and it’s worked out beautifully, but you have no idea what the coworker has or hasn’t tried.

  34. Doc in a Box*

    OP#1 : I am dealing with a similar situation. I have been sending weekly emails for the last 3 weeks, no response. (The person who owes me money is in a different office, so I don’t see her every day.) I’m going to give it one more week, then rope in my boss and her boss on the emails.

    1. Laurel*

      I would think using your work email to get your money back could backfire on you. She needs to go to her desk every day when other co-workers are around and speak in a normal voice (loud enough for others to hear but not screaming) and ask if she needs a payment plan if she cannot afford to pay for what she requested.

    2. Nonsensical*

      Your boss and her boss are going to ask why you didn’t call or IM or go in person if they’re in the same office.

    3. Yorick*

      Don’t rope the bosses in. This isn’t work related and you and coworker need to work it out for yourselves.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Honestly, as a (small) manager, I would totally want my reports to come to me with this. Taking money from each other in the workplace causes huge rifts which damage cohesion and productivity. Tell me, let me make them do it, then you can take all the time and energy you would have spent being pissed about this and begging for repayment, and put it into your job. Also, the office leech learns to keep his grifting out of the office, and the problem’s solved.

    4. Jennifer Thneed*

      How far away is that other office? I”m guessing it’s in the same town, or you wouldn’t have been handy to borrow from? Do you have time to make a little visit to her desk?

  35. Musereader*

    OP#2 Honestly, I would be calling my boss in to see next time she has a panic attack, especially if she has one when you ask her to tell your manager herself, may seem a bit mean or drastic but at this point it is your job on the line and you cannot have this going on any longer.

    Also, where have you been going when not in the office – I cannot imagine that nobody has noticed you leaving several times a day or wondered why you were hanging around in the hallway, your manager probably knows this is why your productivity is low but will have no idea why you leave the office, so can only address the productivity.

    1. Xarcady*

      This what I was going to say.

      OP2, your absences from your office have undoubtedly been noticed, by coworkers and your supervisors. If you are hanging out in the break room or anyplace else for extended periods of time, that’s been noticed, too.

      There’s a good chance your immediate supervisor thinks that you are deliberately leaving your office and not working for hours every week. Because no one knows why you are doing this, it looks really bad.

      You really do have to tell your office mate that you are going to talk to your supervisor about this. Give her one chance to talk to the supervisor first. Give her a clear deadline–no more than 24 hours. And then, whether she has spoken to your boss or not, go and explain everything.

      Your office mate should not expect you to jeopardize your job for her medical condition. She needs to deal with this without dragging you into it. She is in a tough place, that is true. But people with disabilities (and it seems as if this is severe enough to count as a disability) need to learn to advocate for themselves and get the accommodations that they are entitled to.

      1. Demonsthenes*

        “Give her one chance to talk to the supervisor first. Give her a clear deadline–no more than 24 hours.”

        No, don’t do this. She may put some gloss on the situation that’s favorable to her, not to you. You need to get out in front of this situation. Go straight to your boss.

        1. JanetInSC*

          I agree (and I’m on disability and have anxiety issues). Your coworker is sick (and that’s very, very unfortunate) but she’s also thoughtless.

        2. Anon Accountant*

          Completely agree. And I’ve had several panic attacks and they’re scary. I would talk directly to the boss and not give coworker a chance to gloss over it either. She’s affecting your livelihood.

    2. Delphine*

      You don’t need to turn her into a circus attraction to address this. Have a conversation with her and with the boss. People having panic attacks are not something to gawk at.

      1. Mad Baggins*

        Yeah, maybe instead of “Hey boss, it’s really happening,” OP can call and say, “Hey boss, she’s having another panic attack, what should I do for the next 2 hours?”

  36. [insert witty username here]*

    OP#2 – I have a feeling this is not going to be a popular suggestion, but I would NOT give your coworker the opportunity to talk to your boss without you present. You deserve to know how this situation is discussed as it pertains to you*. I am not assuming she would do anything to intentionally undermine you, but she might unintentionally downplay the situation, which is going to make you look worse. You have unfortunately been put in a crappy situation. I would tell your coworker that you have to lay out the whole situation with your boss in order to explain what’s been happening and prevent you being put on a PIP (and possibly fired!!) and she’s welcome to be part of that discussion or you can talk to your boss one and one, but make it clear that either way, you will be discussing this with your boss.

    *I am not saying you are entitled to probe into more details of her medical condition, but insofar as it’s affected you at work, you deserve to know what information is being conveyed and be able to confirm, correct, or add additional information.Again – I am not assuming malice or that the coworker would intentionally throw OP under the bus! I just think OP needs the opportunity to stand up for herself.

    Please don’t feel bad about this – you are describing a situation that you have witnessed and has affected your work and hers. This is not something that she told you in confidence that has no bearing on anyone’s work – that would be much different. I know it feels crappy, but please remember you’ve handled this so far with great dignity and compassion, and can continue to do so – just not with any secrecy.

    Best of luck to you! Please give us an update when you can.

    1. BuffaLove*

      I agree. If the coworker has not already outed herself to the boss, I highly doubt that she is going to suddenly lay all the cards on the table just because of the PIP threat. OP needs to control the message and make sure the boss knows the whole story.

      1. Nonsensical*

        I am guessing she doesn’t realize how much it is really impacting people around her.

        1. Gotham Bus Company*

          I suspect that she DOES know (but might not care) that her panic attacks have put OP’s job at risk.

          1. fposte*

            I think of anxiety and panic disorders as being kind of like drowning responses where your desperation can take down your rescuer. It’s not that it’s deliberate; it’s just your brain doesn’t really give you room to get beyond the basic impulse.

            1. JanetInSC*

              I absolutely agree fposte with your assessment of panic attacks. However, when she’s not having a panic attack, she should have talked to her boss. Instead, she’s taking her co-worked down with her. That’s not okay.

              1. fposte*

                No disagreement there. It’s one of those things where it can absolutely be driven by your disability and still be unacceptable in the workplace.

  37. Goya de la Mancha*

    #3 – “I just wanted to verify that I have the correct contact information for Jenny. I’ve been trying to reach her for the last week or so and haven’t heard from her. Is her phone number (555) 867-5309, email”

  38. Goya de la Mancha*

    #2 – “It sounds like your choices are to do that or risk getting fired for low performance, and it’s not reasonable for your coworker to expect you to do the latter.”

    As someone who deals with attacks, finding out someone lost a job (income, ability to take care of themselves/loved ones) BECAUSE of me, would give me the WORST panic attack. I understand how she’s feeling about not wanting the world to know (especially a superior), but it should NOT be affecting your work as well as hers.

    1. Gotham Bus Company*

      Not everyone is considerate of others. In this case, the office mate probably expects OP to keep the secret at all costs — ESPECIALLY at the cost if her own job.

  39. Brick in the Wall*

    Panic Attack:
    Yeah, this isn’t going to sound nice, but if your office mate is having an attack every 2-3 days and you can’t be in the office while its happening, you need to do something for YOURSELF. She is clearly not helping herself–whether that be see a doctor, go to HR and request a private office, talk to your boss, etc.
    I worked with someone similar for awhile (Susan). She had the same problem–would constantly have these debilitating attacks and insist that everyone clear out of the cubical area while they were happening. Everyone felt bad for her…but it seemed the more sympathy and understanding we gave, the more the attacks happened. Finally our boss asked what was up because he noticed that we would all be gone for an hour or so. Kallie (the most outspoken of us) told him and he offered to move Susan to a cubefarm that was unoccupied except for some storage boxes. Susan claimed that wouldn’t be fair because she wouldn’t have neighbors. The next time it happened, boss told her she was moving in a week. She begged for one more chance and promised to get some help with them. Guess what…panic attacks stopped after that. I don’t know if she went to a doctor or what. But we were all very suspicious about how the frequency of these things happened in relation to the amount of attention she was getting.

    1. Delphine*

      I wish people would take more care when sharing stories about people with potential mental illnesses and the things they imply with those stories.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        There are mentally ill people, dickbags, and mentally ill dickbags. You can’t ask people to stop telling the truth just because you don’t like the implications.

      2. Legal Beagle*

        I wouldn’t let someone (jerk, mentally ill, or mentally ill jerk) get in between me and my career by forcing me out of my office 2-3 times a week. The “implication” in this tale is that Susan was enjoying the sympathy from her co-workers being forced to leave the area. Maybe she was, maybe she wasn’t, but I would also question this especially if it was happening with such frequency that it was disrupting operations.

        The “attention whoring” is unacceptable in any work environment and may also be another sign of a different mental illness.

    2. Specialk9*

      So the OP’s co-worker is likely faking for attention? That seems like the least probable answer, though I guess it’s possible.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Well, there’s “faking” and there’s “indulging.” I’d bet the person in BitW’s story was doing the latter. She had mild anxiety attacks and didn’t get the medication or treatment necessary, or make the effort to get herself to a quiet place (restroom, supply closet, etc.) because it was easier to go “ok, everyone clear out” every time she felt poorly. Once she had to handle her own shit, she did.

        Now, that’s not to say she completely cured herself through tough love or that every mentally ill person is just choosing not deal with their illness and would rather make it everyone else’s problem, just that this one particular person had a lot of available coping mechanisms and chose not to use them so long as she was allowed to deal with her issues by making it everyone else’s problem.

  40. EJB*

    OP #1: I’m of the mind that you will not get your money back in this situation– if you do get it back consider yourself lucky!

    I’m surprised no one else has mentioned (that I can tell) but in the future– if someone suggests a gift that you can’t afford (even a share of it)– quickly chime in, express excitement to participate, and suggest something cheaper! Trust me, you’ll be surprised at how quickly others will jump in and agree to the cheaper gift. It’s likely that you weren’t the only one significantly burdened by the cost of this gift.

    I know some will say to avoid these situations altogether but I’ve found that you start to look like a real buzzkill if you don’t participate in gift-giving for major life events for coworkers. The thing no one tells you is that most reasonable people do not expect extravagant gifts from co-workers– it’s really the thought that counts.

    1. Oilpress*

      I think the general rule should be to not front your coworkers money. Don’t purchase the group gift until you have pooled the actual money. Avoid signing up to be someone else’s bank altogether.

      As for workplace gifts in general, I agree that extravagance is excessive. Just taking someone to lunch is what we usually do because no one goes to work to spend money.

      1. EJB*

        Absolutely! A lot of other people suggested that so I didn’t mention it. I was just surprised no one brought up redirecting the type of gift. That happens all the time in my office and as best I can tell there are no hard feelings over it. If someone still really wants to get the pricey gift they can do it on their own.

        Speaking of lunches– I do prefer those to gifts personally! Gifts aren’t great in tiny apartments.

      2. GreyjoyGardens*

        Lunch, and a nice card signed by everyone, are the best! I’m not comfortable with giving out *expensive* gifts (as opposed to token gifts, or taking someone to lunch, or giving them a card) because not everyone can afford to chip in for an expensive gift. Especially when the rank and file are asked to chip in to get Scrooge McDuck, the grandboss’s grandboss, something oh-so-spendy, of course there will be ill will.

        And then there’s favoritism – when Dany gets a gift but Jon doesn’t for the same occasion or work effort or or – that creates hard feelings.

        Make people feel appreciated – that’s important! – but don’t spend tons of money to do it. Unless you’re talking raises and bonuses!

  41. Legal Beagle*

    #2: Why not just put on some noise cancelling headphones and do your work? Who is telling you to leave? The coworker? I understand you want to be sympathetic, but it doesn’t sound like she’s sympathetic to the fact that her problems are affecting your livelihood. Go to your boss. Explain the situation before she can get there and make up some story about how you go to the bathroom for hours on end (or something). Tell boss, “Coworker tells me I must leave the office when she’s having a panic attack. These attacks are very frequent (2-3 times a week) and I cannot work elsewhere. What should I do?”

    Then, when Coworker has her next attack, put on your headphones, do your job, and if she complains tell her you can’t afford to be put on PIP for missing deadlines.

    Sometimes, hardball must be played.

  42. Bookworm*

    #1: I’m really sorry. This sort of happened to me years ago, except with a roommate. It was a series of small things (covered delivery of food for dinner for just the two of us and we didn’t want to go outside, little things) that snowballed. I didn’t have witnesses or in writing (because we were friends/roommates!) but like you we had people in common who knew about this.

    I don’t know if this would be a route for you (or even possible depending on your state) but it got to the point after a few years and constant excuses every time I asked that I threatened to take her to small claims court. Our friendship was over at this point and I gambled that just me doing this would get her to cough it up and it did. I had tried every other excuse: I needed the money, it had not been a gift or payment but a loan, I had one of our friends (who would have known the most about the circumstances) to intervene, etc. None of it worked until I threatened small claims court.

    Hope this might give you some ideas. Really sorry you’re going through that and hope it works out in your favor.

    1. Specialk9*

      Which is funny, because of how hard it is to actually collect, even if the small claims court judge rules in your favor.

  43. I'm A Little TeaPot*

    #3 – Mental illness is a real thing, and it can be debilitating, and I will (and have) cut people a lot of slack when they’re trying to get things under control. However, it’s also incumbent on the sufferer to get treatment. If someone knows they’re having panic attacks frequently but does nothing to get help to treat the problem, then they’ve lost the privilege of slack.

    Talk to your boss. You don’t have to say that it’s panic attacks, but you do need to make it clear that your coworker is having a medical problem and they ask you to leave your office while they get it under control, and that’s why you’re behind. Give your coworker some notice that you’re going to do this to be fair, but don’t let them manipulate you out of it.

    1. Lady Phoenix*


      You get a lot of this from the dating world. Partner with autism/depression/anxiety/mental disorder expects their partner to twist and turn more than a salt water taffy during yoga to either care for the person or deal with their problem… while the person eoth the disorder does absolutely NOTHING to care for themselves, or uses their disorder as the chainball to keep the partner with them (like making suicide threats or threatening to hurt somone/themself).

      1. Nonsensical*

        Phoenix, I really feel like you’re comparing apples and oranges. As someone that struggles with PTSD and depression, it is not fair to generalize this.

        I also have family that does nothing about their mental disorders. But this isn’t the same thing as dating and quite frankly, in a relationship it is a give and take situation. If you’re dating someone with these struggles, then yes the partner should help them but they also do need to help themselves. But a dating relationship is nowhere near the same as a working one.

        I am not going to continue this tangent and get this thread off track.

        1. I'm A Little TeaPot*

          I agree that a dating relationship is very different from a working one. I think you’re getting hung up on semantics however. If someone suffering with a mental illness doesn’t make serious, ongoing efforts to treat/control their illness and instead expects others to just bend around them, that’s a problem regardless of the nature of the relationship, and at a high level CAN be generalized. The specifics of how this plays out or how much you might be willing to accommodate someone will vary of course, but the basic problem remains the same – a person isn’t doing what they need to for best health and is expecting others to enable them.

          Nonsensical (love your name!), I hope that your loved ones start taking steps to address their illness. If it applies, please know that it isn’t healthy for YOU to be subject to mistreatment by them, and you are under no obligation to accept mistreatment, regardless of the relationship or circumstances.

        2. Lady Phoenix*

          I am sorry that my comment may have brought up bad stuff. I was harassed by several people for essentially going nuclear on a dude who had… something (not stated)… who also had rape fantasies of me and wanted to make them real if we ever met.

          I guess my point is that there are some people that use their problems to harass others or to imprison them, when that is really a terrible thing to do. I can understand needing support… but when that support requires threatening the health/livelihood of someone else, that is where the line is drawn.

          OP2’s coworker is threatening their job to keep her disorder secret, which makes them a jerk.

          Just like in dating, expecting the SO to be a therapist (that doesn’t get paid) or a punching bag is wrong too.

          1. Nita*

            Agreed. Sorry you went through that. Over here, several years of emotional (sometimes physical) abuse by a mentally ill family member, and I’m still shocked that the rest of the family did not see fit to say to this guy even once “you are being an a-hole, no one treats other people this way.” It was always on me to be the policewoman of the family, keep the guy in line, and make sure he knew that if he tried to hit anyone he’d have to deal with a very small, but very angry teenager who is not afraid of him. Surprise surprise, it didn’t treat the illness (that came much later with medication and therapy), but my efforts did sink in and at least no one got beat up on a regular basis. It would have been really nice if the other family members had also tried to enforce at least some basic standard of behavior, mental illness or not.

            1. Lady Phoenix*

              This wasn’t work. He was part of this online community I was in. Although I had a huge group that supported me and to this day are vocal about it, a small group were also very vocal about me “not giving him a chance” and hsing my story to wave this flag about how the community was ableist and toxic (nevermind that I have autism too, and yet I was supposed to just deal with it and treat him nicely).

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                Wow, that is misogynistic garbage. I’m sorry you had to endure that, and it would still have been wrong if you didn’t have autism. Disabilities are not a license to abuse other people with impunity.

    2. Aeryn Sun*

      That said, you don’t know how/if they’re getting things under control. It can take months, if not years to figure out a solution. Mental health isn’t one size fits all. My first medication worked wonders for me (because my sibling also uses it) but it can take months for medication to begin working and for you to know if you need to try something else, up the dosage, etc. We don’t know if the coworker is trying medications, seeing a therapist, etc, and depending on where they live it might not even be feasible to do that (therapist visits near me are frequently $200 and don’t accept insurance).

      1. Lady Phoenix*

        I understand that. I understand it takes time to really manage these issues.

        I’m just really saying that having these doesn’t mean the person is allowed to be an abusive, selfish donkey. The coworker is being a selfish donkey that pretty much wants OP to risk their job for their issue, instead of realizing that maybe hogging the office space for long hours of the day might be a big problem.

        Especially since they can always go to the boss and say, “Hey. i have a panic disorder. Would it be possibly to grant me accomdations?” Now the OP has to do it for them to save their own buttocks.

    3. OP3 (it rhymes!)*

      OP#3 here – Thank you for your answer, and to all the kind commenters who added their perspectives, it gave me some very helpful scripts that I implemented today. I used a combination of ‘did I get the contact info correct?’ and ‘probably busy, is there someone else?’ It turns out the contact recently left the organization, so I was never going to get a response. My practicum supervisor has suggested an alternate route to help get my hours back on track, and it’s looking promising. It helps that I’ve been able to say, to both the organization and faculty supervisors, that in the meantime I’ve been taking W course, attending X training, speaking on Y panel, and attending Z conference.

      The additional context to my question is that a few years ago I had an absolutely wretched work experience which really impacted my perceptions of interpersonal communications at work, my own sense of self-efficacy, and blurred the line between being polite and being ignored. I’ve done a lot of work to fix these perceptions, but it’s a work in progress, and I was overthinking about wanting to reach out more so I was doing “enough” but also worrying that I was overdoing it and alienating people who could be important players in my practicum experience, and basically fretting myself into immobilization that I was simultaneously doing too much and not enough.

      I know it’s a relatively simple solution, I just needed a bit of a nudge to get me out of my paralyzed panic zone. So thank you!

      1. OP3 (it rhymes!)*

        Okay, looks like I still have some work to do on figuring out the whole nesting comments thing, sorry!

  44. OlympiasEpiriot*

    OP2…while I agree with everyone here giving advice on how to talk with your boss, I’m also getting tingling over

    “We work with financial information and can only do work with the computer inside our offices.”

    You work with financial information, she’s shutting you out for hours at a time frequently. Are you double-checking your information you’ve entered? Is your security good? I’m not in bookkeeping or accounting, so I don’t know what could happen or not happen or if my concerns are totally out there; but, I keep coming back to this in the letter.

    1. Natalie*

      I wondered about that too, especially given how panic attacks actually work. The idea that it would never end is… well, let’s say implausible.

      1. The Ginger Ginger*

        At the peak of my anxiety diorder, I had panic attacks that last 6-10 hours. So they’re possible. In fact, it took me forever to sort out they WERE panic attacks because everyone talks about PAs as short duration. I’ve never had a short one in the 10+ years I’ve been dealing with them. So it’s not necessarily implausible that the coworker is having them for two hours. Though, it could also be that they’re short, and CW is spending a lot of time in “recovery” or something. Doesn’t really solve OPs problem to know that, but yeah, long ones are a thing in my personal experience.

        1. OlympiasEpiriot*

          Damn. I am so sorry.

          And reading that makes me certain that the co-worker REALLY needs to tackle this for her sake and also all her colleagues. I mean, this is bad enough. What if it gets worse? What if something happens to her during the time she’s shut the other out of the office?

          1. The Ginger Ginger*

            Oh for sure. Having sustained and frequent panic attacks at work is just not tenable work-wise, and in CW’s personal life, this has to be really, really rough. I was “lucky” that mine tended to occur at night, so not AT work. But even then, for a long time I was really worried I’d never hold down a full time job or live on my own because I was so tired during the day. (I do both now :) so that’s nice). So I have all the sympathy for CW. But CW needs to seek medical treatment (while she still has insurance – hopefully), and OP has to come forward with this. Like I said, it’s not tenable. OP can’t feel responsible for CW seeking or not seeking treatment and any fallout related to that, which…is kind of what’s happening right now.

        2. Natalie*

          Oh, no, maybe I was taking it too literally but the coworker says the attack will never stop if they aren’t alone. A forever panic attack isn’t a thing.

          Anyway, regardless of what’s actually going on with the coworker this is clearly an unsustainable solution for everyone involved.

      2. OlympiasEpiriot*

        I don’t know much about panic attacks, so I can’t speculate on that; but, shutting someone out of their own office for more than a few seconds (like to tuck a shirt back in if someone’s had to adjust their bra or something like that — and even that should happen in the restroom) for any reason short of a boss firing someone or an emergency that involves EMTs seems shady from my perspective and that sentence kept drawing me back.

      3. TL -*

        My ex had anxiety attacks that lasted for days and sometimes weeks and the one panic attack I saw lasted for at least an hour. And it was very quiet – I didn’t realize it was a panic attack until I was talking it over with a friend who also has anxiety.

  45. PuppiesKittensIceCream*

    I’m so angry for OP#2. Why can’t the coworker who has panic attacks go to the bathroom (or leave the office to find some other private space)? That’s what I do.

    1. Nonsensical*

      Completely agree with this. I used to have horrible headaches that led me to crying. I always hid in a bathroom or somewhere I could compose myself. It is not on the co worker to be the one making these accommodations!

    2. Delphine*

      Not everyone is the same. What you do may not work for anyone else. These types of comparisons are unhelpful.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        True. But the issue is that the current situation is not good for the coworker or the OP. It’s all but the polar opposite of a reasonable accommodation.

        1. PuppiesKittensIceCream*

          Exactly. This situation really bothers me because I feel like it’s this type of unreasonable behavior that helps perpetuate mental health stigmas.

      2. PuppiesKittensIceCream*

        But the panic attack sufferers behavior in this scenario is unreasonable and has caused harm to their coworker. If you’re an independent adult it’s your responsibility to figure out how to manage your condition without harming others.

        1. Louise*

          Yes, but those coping mechanisms are something that would likely need to be figured out with a therapist (which not everyone can afford) and is in no way as simple as just choosing a different action the way you might when you’re not having a panic attack.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            True, but it’s really unfair to LW2 to have to leave her office for hours at a time, and CW has no right to demand LW2 jeopardize her job.

  46. Lady Phoenix*

    OP1: make it very clear that you want your money back. Make known that when she walks into work, she will have you to deal with until she pays up. And let the rest of your coworkers know so that they can back you up AND to keep their own wallets safe when Ms. Moocherson tries to ask money off of them.

    If it was a dollar or whatever it costs of soda or chips from the vending machine, I would tell you to let it go… but if this was an expensive gift and she didn’t cough up her share, she better expect the debt collectors to cone in for their due.

    Just don’t go to Stewie Griffin when you demand for your money back.

    1. Fafaflunkie*

      +1 for the Stewie Griffin reference.

      “Where’s my money? Where’s my money?” Poor Brian.

  47. Anon for this*

    OP2: I can’t imagine putting up with it for so long, honestly.

    Once it happened more than once, time to figure out a solution that doesn’t involve OP having to leave the office.

    I say this having shared an office with someone with mental health issues, and as someone who had her first major panic attack upon losing a job.

  48. Lady Phoenix*

    OP2: Inform your coworker that you are going to the boss since your job os at stake. Whether she decides to come with you or not doesn’t matter, but what does is that you will be covering your own butt. She can’t expect you to take the fall for her porblems, and if shendoesnthen you need to protect yourself and keep your distance.

  49. Nonsensical*

    #2, your coworker is being unreasonable. Her condition is likely covered under ADA but only if she discloses it. You need to disclose it because it is not about her, it is about your job! Her current way of getting accommodation isn’t working. Quite frankly, she clearly needs more helping managing a condition that isn’t being managed well (whether that is meds, counselling or such). It is not your job to accommodate her, that is HR’s decision on how to handle it.

    Or maybe this job or situation just doesn’t work for her. Either way, you need to tell your boss. And that is coming from someone who does have accommodations and uses ADA!

  50. I See Real People*

    I have learned hard lessons on being the gift/money collection person a couple of times over the years. One time, it was my boss who put me out by about $75! Now, anywhere I work knows that my policy is to never be the person collecting for a gift, nor being the person to go buy the gift. I like the ‘individual gifts’ policy, or as I call it “BYOG”!

  51. boop the first*

    There’s not a lot of options here. You can either
    a) Be fired
    b) “Out” your coworker
    c) Stop leaving the office

    Maybe you’ve only tried one option so far? Personally, I think the choice you’ve been making (a) is the scariest sounding one!

    1. Artemesia*

      Nope. She only has one option now. The others were possible at the beginning but now she needs to go see the boss and lay it out and not give the co-worker a chance to poison the well first. And she needs to apologize for delaying and acknowledge she should have come to him sooner, but was trying to be sensitive to the co-worker’s needs. There is no other alternative when she is on the cusp of being fired.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        Absolutely!! Especially the part about “should’ve come to your sooner and I apologize for not talking to you about this sooner”. And zero more chances for the coworker. I’m sorry for her condition but she needs to take steps to manage it better or the company can work with her to accommodate her needs.

  52. Nope, nope, nope*

    Someone being directly affected by the mental illness of someone else has zero obligation to set themselves on fire to keep that person warm. If someone has mental illness it is up to them to deal with it. OP 2 you need to go to your boss. Contrary to what many in society will tell you, your coworker’s illness is NOT your problem. She shouldn’t be allowed to affect your livelihood and you are not wrong here. She can’t walk all over you and use mental illness a reason why.

    1. Louise*

      I actually think society has made it pretty clear that no one is responsible for anyone else’s mental illness. There’s a very intense stigma against mental illness and a huge lack of any sort of structural support, and there are plenty of people in this thread saying that OP does not need to take responsibility for her coworkers panic attacks so I’m not gunna lie, it’s a little hard to read your comment as coming from a place of good faith.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        On the contrary, many times you’ll see a demand for sympathy. That gets equated with turning yourself inside out for the mentally ill person. I can’t tell you the number of times psychologists demand support for their client. At the same time they do nothing to protect others from that clients actions. They demand others stand in the line of fire while they themselves stand safely on the sidelines.
        Part of the stigma has to do with the harm that many mentally ill cause to others. Until that issue is addressed, the stigma will always be there.
        Unfortunately, the path to healing doesn’t come until that person is held accountable.

        1. Louise*

          This is a WILD generalization of how psychologists treat patients, and it strikes me that this has maybe been your personal experience? And you do realize that folks who can afford a psychologist are in the minority of mental health sufferers? And that society overall gives incredibly little actual support to folks with mental health issues?

          And actually, the stigma about how mental illness harms others has a lot more to do with folks who are mentally ill being made to feel a burden to others, are painted as violent, or as a drain on society. Comments like yours bolster that stigma, not combat then.

          Personal responsibility is real, and I firmly believe that folks who are mentally ill and can access mental health resources should do so, particularly when symptoms start to affect others. But to prentend that there’s the culture that somehow privileges people with mental illness is, sorry, utterly ridiculous.

        2. Engineer Girl*

          Yes. It is based on my personal experience with a bipolar/BPD sister.
          The number of times I heard “it wasn’t THAT bad” was beyond counting.
          The number of times I was told I should be sympathetic? I lost count.

          1. Specialk9*

            Ah, this explains why you often seem so harsh and strident on that whole genre – I was taking it as a profound lack of empathy, but it sounds like you’re super sensitized to overlooked collateral damage, and your empathy is with the people in what was your situation. Good to know!

      2. Kay*

        I’m not the person who posted this but I agree with them. I’ve seen numerous examples here on AAM (the bird phobia, the jealous boss, the person with anxiety who went to their coworkers home) where the person who was hurt was slagged for speaking up about being hurt, not accepting apologies and being mean to the person who hurt them. It’s much more common than your post indicates. In this case the coworker wants the OP to keep their secret at the expense of their job. It’s not right or fair.

        1. Louise*

          I don’t condone the coworker’s behavior at all.

          The commentariat of this site is not society, and acting like they’re the same thing helps no one.

    2. Leslie knope*

      This is a bad comment and you should feel bad.

      But seriously where do I get access to the magical society where people don’t blame the mentally ill for their moral failures?

  53. C.J. Jones*

    I’m amazed at how often people who aren’t mentally ill are made to feel like they are obligated to accept someone who is mentally ill hurting them, and being made out to be the bad guy if they say anything about it.

    1. Legal Beagle*

      You can thank Tumblr for that. Where getting help is seen as a weakness, and the more “self diagnosed mental illnesses” you declare, the more awesome you are. Sadly, these are not kids, but college age folks.

      1. KellyK*

        I’m not sure generalizing about college-age people, people with mental illnesses who haven’t been able to get a diagnosis, or people on Tumblr is at all helpful. Especially since seeing getting help as a weakness is a much more “old school” train of thought.

        1. Legal Beagle*

          My point is these aren’t middle school kids giving themselves labels to be “curious.” These are adults who firmly believe they are “angel-kin with BPD.” When someone suggests, “I think you should talk to someone about that…” they are rebuffed with “you must accept me for who I am!”

          1. Specialk9*

            Either you choose to hang out in a very precious sub-sub culture and have somehow genuinely come to think it’s universal, or you’re deliberately using a handful of occurrences to smear millions of people.

        1. Legal Beagle*

          Yes but Tumblr makes it “cool” to announce how you decided you are a unicorn-demi-fox with BPD (borderline personality disorder.) Because y’know, claiming autism was too 2010.

    2. Nita*

      I think, at least in personal relationships, it’s a matter of the stakes being really high if you put an end to the behavior by shutting the person out of your life. They could be in bad enough shape mentally that they will end up dead or homeless. Or, you call the cops on them, and they get shot. That’s really a lose-lose situation and there are no easy answers – and I’m not sure that “you just have to put up with it so they don’t die” is the only answer, it’s just that the alternatives are also pretty bad.

      But… short of that, I do think mental illness should not be used as an excuse to hurt others.

    3. Lehigh*

      It’s very strange the way, culturally, we relate to mental illness.

      I feel like in meatspace admitting to mental illness feels like the shameful thing still, and conversely on the internet everyone is mentally ill and if you aren’t you’re supposed to be responsible for everyone else’s mental health somehow.

      Oh, for a sane middle ground. Which I think is found here, most of the time! And some other places. But overall…it’s a fraught topic.

  54. Mike C.*

    I’m really disappointed in all the folks that think it’s perfectly fine to leave someone alone in a room while suffering from a serious medical issue.

    What the heck folks?

    1. Glomarization, Esq.*

      The impression I’m getting from the letter is that the panic-attack co-worker is asking/requiring to be left alone in the room.

      1. Lehigh*

        Me, too. Her coworker is asking for what she wants, the OP is taking her at her word that she knows her own condition best. And since the OP is not in a medical field, if it were me I’d probably either take the ill person at her word or insist on calling someone with medical training. I don’t feel qualified to say, “No, you shouldn’t be alone. I will stay here and supervise your medical event.”

        1. Specialk9*

          Exactly. “No no no, I know better than you despite knowing nothing about it, and even though you’ve spent years becoming an expert” is not a good look.

          1. Mike C.*

            Seriously, you guys have no clue what you’re talking about when it comes to workplace safety and I’m legitimately afraid you or someone you work with will be seriously injured because you clearly haven’t been trained well in this area.

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              You’re assuming that this would be the reaction to *any* acute health issue, and that is really not the case.

              Example: I doubt they’d leave someone alone who was having a seizure or broken leg.

      2. Mike C.*

        So what? I’m talking about the/any coworker. You don’t just “do nothing”. You tell someone. You check in on them.

        This is basic, fundamental best practices when it comes to workplace safety.

    2. Kate*

      Its a panic attack, not a heart attack. Panic attacks get worse when the person having them cannot calm down OP is most likely doing what her co-worker has told her she needs to get it to stop quickly.

        1. Specialk9*

          What on earth are you talking about?! I keep my medical issues a secret from almost EVERYONE at work. My managers included, unless I need something specific, and even then they only get a little bit of it.

          Oh. Wait. Sorry, you were doing one of those unmarked /s jokes. I get it – we’re always talking about medical privacy, and you were joking like we should all do the opposite. Got it, that’s funny!

    3. Katniss*

      If I’m having a panic attack, most of the time I don’t want anyone around me but my closest friends and family. I would WANT to be left alone.

      (What the coworker is doing here isn’t okay, though, just saying the OP isn’t doing anything dangerous by leaving the panicking person alone when that’s that the panicking person has told her to do)

    4. Temperance*

      Her office mate is an adult, and it’s not like there’s anything LW can do to make it stop.

    5. Kathy*

      Different people need different things. If she’s discovered that that’s the best way for her to cope, then it would be wrong to stay in the room if she asked you to leave. I certainly wouldn’t want to come back to myself after a panic attack with 6 or 7 people hovering over me. I’m not condoning Coworker’s behavior, but I am saying that there’s not a one size fits all course of action here.

      1. Mike C.*

        What so really frustrating about these responses are the misreading and the assumptions being made.

        I never gave specific medical advice for the person dealing with the panic attacks. I never said that they needed to be babysat or surrounded by several people.

        All I said was that it should be repeorted and they shouldn’t be left entirely alone. That’s it. I’m not speaking from the perspective of someone suffering from a panic attack (this is something everyone here keeps missing), I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who finds their coworker dealing with a serious medical issue.

        What folks aren’t understanding here is that when it comes to issues of workplace safety, you need to make sure that safety is paramount, that trainings are clear and simple and so on. You always tell someone. You don’t leave people alone for extended periods of time.

        Respect is of course important, but if you let the fear of embarrassment overcome a sense of even telling someone what’s going on, the risks are catastrophic.

        1. Specialk9*

          The reason everyone is missing your nuance is because you’re being dogmatic, and implying you know everything and we’re all id10ts.

    6. Rusty Shackelford*

      And I’m disappointed that you chose to lecture people on this. What a sad day for us all.

      1. Les G*

        Don’t you love how folks suddenly become medical experts as soon as they have an opinion?

        1. Mike C.*

          Don’t try and equivocate “workplace safety advice” for “medical advice”.

          I never said a thing about how to treat someone, I said that leaving someone alone goes against all best practices for workplace safety.

          But hey, if you want to score cheap points rather than deal with what is actually a very serious issue, I can’t stop you.

    7. KellyK*

      As someone who’s had panic attacks, I find it deeply humiliating for anyone other than super close friends and family to see me in the midst of one. I would never screw over a coworker by kicking them out of a shared office, especially multiple times a week, but if I tried to retreat to my car or the bathroom to cry alone and someone insisted on following me, I’d be both mortified and angry.

      It’s not a heart attack. It’s not a seizure. What adverse health outcome are you expecting to happen as a result of a panic attack that could be avoided if someone stayed with the person having one? Injury from passing out is the only risk I can think of, and that’s pretty well mitigated if they’re already sitting down.

      1. Mike C.*

        Serious medical issues are almost always humiliating. That doesn’t mean you keep it a secret or otherwise act like nothing is happening.

        Has no one in this thread ever dealt with workplace safety issues?

    8. fposte*

      Mike, a lot of people know this issue better than you. That’s why they think it’s okay.

      (I would also say that “serious” and “emergent” are very different things, and that there are plenty of serious medical issues that it’s fine to leave people alone with.)

      1. Mike C.*

        Actually, I see an incredible amount of ignorance when it comes to the issue of workplace safety in this thread. A stunning amount.

        1. Specialk9*

          So… You expect to lecture people, arrogantly and insultingly, based on all the training you’ve had, but don’t like anyone correcting you, based on all the training and experience they’ve had? Hmm.

      2. Mike C.*

        Actually, I see an incredible amount of ignorance when it comes to the issue of workplace safety in this thread. A stunning amount.

        I’ve had tons of training in this area and it doesn’t matter what the perfeeance of the employee is – if a coworker is having a serious medical issue, you report it.

    9. Louise*

      Probably because the only person who knows how they best cope with a panic attack is the person having th panic attack and their therapist.

      1. Mike C.*

        I’m not speaking from the perspective of the person having the attack, I’m speaking about all the folks who think at fine to just leave them there and say nothing.

        I was explicit about this. Come on.

        1. Friday*

          You know, I actually get what Mike’s saying. Upthread, folks were kind enough to share their specific panic attack situations and it involves things like can’t move, can’t communicate with anyone, falling to the floor, trouble BREATHING…. if I were a manager or hell, just a coworker and saw a coworker experience these things especially the breathing, it’s paramedics time. Getting it “wrong” on someone especially like OP’s CW who has opted to not share what’s going on with her to anyone other than OP, is dangerous. Let the paramedics make that call. Remember, heart attacks are deadly, especially for women, and if someone has what they think is a panic attack because they get them frequently but this ONE time it’s actually a heart attack and shoos their coworkers away….

          And if CW has an unwanted ambulance ride, at least it’ll get her in touch with medical professionals who can work with her on her treatment. She may be untreated currently, or there may be better options for her. This would start that conversation, and it’ll help get her ADA accommodation on the books at work.

          Acute medical issues can be embarrassing, of course. But you do what you have to to save lives, and unresponsive people cannot waive consent, even if they’re looking at you wide-eyed – if they can’t MOVE or SAY in any way that they decline medical treatment, then medical treatment it is.

    10. Not a Mere Device*

      It’s because a lot of people are aware of medical issues where that’s exactly the right thing to do: for example, often people who are having a migraine want to be left alone in a dark, quiet space. (If you’re worried, make sure the person can reach a phone–but don’t insist on keeping them company.)

    11. Weak Trees*

      Mike C., the thing is that, which panic attacks obviously vary from person to person, they are not actually a “serious medical issue” across the board.

      In my case, I hyperventilate, which causes me to shake and sweat and my muscles to contract, twisting my limbs into grotesque positions (think That Guy dying of bonitis in Futurama). It’s exhausting, humiliating, scary to witness, and in absolutely no way a danger to my health or safety. For those reasons, I would never, ever want a coworker to witness it.

      If the coworker experiences anything like this, there’s absolutely nothing wrong (from a health/safety standpoint) with OP leaving her alone – that’s the coworker’s perfectly reasonable choice to make. The only thing completely unreasonable here is the professional toll the situation is taking on OP.

  55. Granny K*

    LW2: I’ve known some folks who’ve had regular panic attacks and they ALL have medication prescribed to get them out of it. Panic attacks are a big deal and if she’s have 2-3 a week, she could die early from a heart attack if she’s not careful. In fact if she’s truly having panic attacks and having that many per week, IMO she should be on disability until she get’s a handle on her issues.
    Your options are to A) tell your boss and feel guilty about ‘outing’ your coworker or B) not telling your boss and feeling guilty when your coworker has dire health consequences not dealing with her panic issues (plus you may lose your job). There is no ‘win win’ here. Please tell your boss.
    Would love to hear a follow up letter to this. Hang in there and keep breathing.

      1. fposte*

        There is some research suggesting a higher correlation than normal of heart attacks and heart disease with panic disorder, but the causation is far from simple or clear (interestingly, the risk of death from heart disease was actually found to be slightly lower).

    1. KellyK*

      How she deals with her health issues to avoid long-term consequences is totally separate from how she deals with them at work, and how you and your boss make sure that you’re still able to get done what you need to get done. You need to talk to your boss because your own job is on the line, not because you think or hope it will prompt her to get her issues dealt with. I really want to stress this, because if it weren’t affecting OP2’s job, telling the boss (or anyone) out of some desire to “help” the coworker would be extremely inappropriate.

  56. yet another Kat*

    OP#1 If I were you, I’d look up Jane on any payment apps you use (venmo, cashapp, etc) and request the money on there as well. That way, she can’t say she doesn’t have a check or cash on her. You could bring it up when you remind her, like “Hi Jane, I noticed you haven’t responded to my venmo request, do you think you could just whip your phone out and do it right now?”

  57. Sled dog mama*

    Allison could you please please try to get an update from op2? Both because I think a lot of people want to know the outcome and because I think it would be beneficial for everyone to be able to read a story about someone handling a “my coworker has and issue that could be accommodated if disclosed”

  58. KellyK*

    LW2, I have a lot of sympathy for you and your coworker both. Panic attacks suck, especially when they’re affecting work this badly. And not being able to get your own work done because of someone else’s health issue also sucks.

    Unfortunately, I think Alison is right, and you’re going to have to tell your boss. I agree 100% that you should let your coworker know and give her the chance to be the one to do it. (It is possible that she’ll have a panic attack when she hears this, and I want to pre-emptively reassure you that that’s not your fault. Nor is it hers. It’s just a crappy thing some brains do in response to stress.)

    If you worked on different things, and you could pull your performance up by just staying and working through her panic attacks, and leaving it to her whether she hides in the bathroom to calm down, or tells your boss what’s going on, or something else, then I’d say to give her that option. But it sounds you both share a set of tasks, such that if she’s behind, you’re behind.

    I wouldn’t disclose anything about the specific nature of her illness. I’d just say that she’s been having health issues crop up that have been hurting her productivity, and that you’ve been leaving the office because it helps her recover faster, and that’s why you’re both behind. Explain that you’re committed to making sure your productivity improves, and that a different seating arrangement might be really helpful. I wouldn’t answer questions about specifics of her illness if at all possible. A possible script might be, “I don’t want to share a coworker’s personal health information, so I think it would be best if you discussed that directly with her.”

  59. RUKiddingMe*

    Regarding OP2: I realize that this is coming from my own paranoia, but I wouldn’t give her the option of a “do you want to first because I am going to tomorrow…” type of a heads up. My reason is that I don’t trust not being thrown under the bus if she speaks to Boss first. Again, I know that’s my personal paranoia speaking so YMMV.

    What I would say is something like “ Just to let you know…”

    “I am totally sympathetic (and I am) to your anxiety issues, but it has crossed a line where it is threatening my livelihood, my security, and the my ability to support my family.”

    “This is an unacceptable situation for me, therefore I am going to be speaking to Boss because I am not about to be put on a PIP or lose my job due to something I have no control over —particularly as I have been very understanding and cooperative with your needs.”

    Then I would set up a time to talk to Boss at the very first opportunity and explain the situation, in detail in terms of how long this has been going on and why my own work output isn’t up to par.

  60. Louise*

    I feel such sympathy for both LW2 and her coworker. Mental health is so challenging to deal with, especially in the workplace, but there comes a point where you have to take responsibility for your behavior and not use mental illness as an excuse, which it seems coworker is really doing. I think that’s a big part of the differing responses to this letter and the other standalone today about the person coming back from a really rough patch.

  61. BatmansRobyn*

    OP 5– One thing you could also do is scope out your field’s corner of various social media platforms, if there’s any sort of presence (there usually is, even if it’s a small one). In my experience it creates a vehicle for more organic conversations, so that when you DO make the awkward online handshake connections from your real-life network, you already know what people in the industry are talking about so you can ask good questions and seem up to speed on what’s happening in your field.

    It also serves as a networking tool in its own right–someone I met as a college student in the comments section of a sports news site hired me when I finished grad school all because trash-talking about fantasy football created a relationship where the mentoring came about naturally and almost by accident.

  62. Observer*

    I’m a bit taken aback at how many people expect the OP to protect their coworker from disclosure of the problem. There is absolutely no legal issue here. And even from an ethical point of view, it really makes no sense to imply an sort of obligation of confidentiality.

    On the other hand, aside from the fact that the OP has every right to protect themselves, there is also the simple fact that as long as the OP is “protecting” their coworker, they are getting paid for several hours a week where they are not able to work, without the consent of their employer. How is that ethical?

    1. KellyK*

      Because there is a huge stigma to mental illness and even if the coworker is able to get an accommodation or better medical treatment and bring her work performance back up immediately, having her boss know she has a mental illness could cost her her job. It can also become fodder for office gossip. At least, that’s the angle I’m coming at it from. The OP’s absolutely has a right to protect themselves and not take the fall for the coworker, but that’s only the case because the panic attacks are severely affecting the OP’s work.

      I look at disclosing someone else’s mental health issue (or any other stigmatized health issue) as extremely serious and very much a “last resort.” In this case, the OP may not have a choice if they want to keep their job, but that doesn’t make it something to do cavalierly.

      I don’t think anyone’s arguing that it’s ethical to not work or that there’s any legal obligation of confidentiality. I also haven’t seen anyone suggest letting this situation continue.

      1. Observer*

        All good and fine. But at this point, the OP *IS* facing the loss of her job! And that’s on top of the significant ethical problem posed by her not being able to do her job a any sort of reasonable level. Given that reality it is not in any way cavalier to disclose the reason. It is far more ethically cavalier to ignore those realities and expect the OP to protect their coworker at such a price.

      2. Student*

        They are at risk of getting fired. Getting fired is a lot worse than getting gossiped about at the office water cooler.

        The mentally ill co-worker is about to lose her job anyhow. If she gets fired for disclosing a mental illness, at least there are avenues for her to pursue to get help – legal recourse for a wrongful disability-based firing, or disability benefits if she legitimately cannot work with her current condition.If she gets fired for never making quota, she probably won’t even get to file for basic unemployment benefits.

        1. Specialk9*

          Yeah, everyone gets that.

          I haven’t seen one person say to keep on keeping the secret. The only debate is how thoroughly to reveal the situation.

    2. Specialk9*

      Uh, that’s not even remotely what I’m reading in this comment section? The overwhelming majority is saying to tell the boss, with many people saying yes, but maybe find a way to have the details come from a boss-coworker discussion.

      1. Observer*

        They ARE advocating that the OP not reveal what is ACTUALLY happening in straightforward language, because somehow the OP has some sort of obligation to hide the facts. Sorry, that’s unethical and unfair.

  63. OP 1 (for this question)*

    OP for Q1 here.

    I feel really embarrassed to bring it up again – I am afraid of being judged for not having enough savings to be able to wait til she has the money. Last time I said, okay, pay me back with the next paycheck but we had one in the meantime and she didn’t say a word. Thing is, it’s probably a small sum for her (for real) but a lot of money for me (since I am paying off loans) and I’m just ashamed of letting her (and others) know how much of a difference this sum makes for me.

    She has this habit of asking pointed questions in a dismissive tone of voice and then turning away in the middle of my response which makes me feel embarrassed and frustrated. I worry that even if I get the money back I’ll feel like a loser afterwards.

    I am normally quite assertive but it’s harder when you don’t like a person – it’s hard to not let the frustration show.

    1. Elspeth*

      OP1 – you have no reason to be embarrassed – actually, your co-worker should be the one who feels ashamed! Obviously, she has a “brass neck”, because she doesn’t care about the fact that she’s basically conned you out of money even a little. I hope your other co-workers know about this and as Captain Awkward says, “return the awkward to sender!”

      1. Specialk9*

        I’m not proud of it, but a coworker who lived a conspicuous high life (subsidized by parents even well into her 20s) borrowed money from me and wouldn’t pay it back. Someone came around asking for money and I told them X owed me money and would pay for my share. She did. We never discussed it, and she never borrowed from me again. (We also weren’t friends, but we were never going to be anyway.)

        Ok, I’m a little proud of it, just because at that time I was so timid about this kind of this thing, it was unusually strong of me. (Not tactful or optimal, though!)

    2. Observer*

      You have nothing to be ashamed of. And you also don’t owe her any explanations. Just tell her that this is a significant amount of money and she needs to pay you back. Don’t let ask any questions – and if she does manage to speak over you, refuse to answer. “This is not relevant. You owe me the money. Please bring it in tomorrow.”

    3. Elbe*

      I don’t know Jane, but I’m willing to bet that she absolutely does have the money. She’s not paying you back because she thinks that she can get away with it. She knows that if she can make you feel bad enough, you’ll let it drop.

      Even if you were rolling in cash, I’d want you to demand repayment just on principle because people like this are just bullies. I think that you should mentally re-frame this as a situation about justice and holding a jerk accountable.

      Also, you can learn from her approach – being dismissive and showing disdain work wonders on people. If you don’t want to share info about your financial situation, try these, if you can:

      “I can’t imagine why you’d suggest a gift you can’t afford. I really need you to keep your word here.”
      “You agreed to pay me back, so that’s what I expect to happen.”
      “Co-worker #1 and Coworder #2 paid me back long ago – you’re the only one letting this slip.”

      You don’t have to be super polite to someone who is blatantly rude to you.

    4. RUKiddingMe*

      OP your finances are 1) nothing to be embarrassed about and 2) not relevant. Even if she owed you ten damn cents, the fact of the matter is that she owes you the money, has owed it for a while, is refusing basically to pay you back, and is a gigantic asshole about the whole thing. You don’t need to disclose anything about your financial situation. She owes you the money. Full stop.

      Here’s your script:
      Day 1:”Where’s my money?”
      Day 2:”Where’s my money?”
      Day 3:”Where’s my money?”
      Day 4:”Where’s my money?”
      Day 5:”Where’s my money?”
      Etc. until she freaking pays up.

      1. Fafaflunkie*

        I’d go further with Jane (hey I work with non-paying customers at work; I know the drill):
        Day 1: “Where’s my money?”
        Day 2 9 am: “Where’s my money?”
        Day 2 1 pm: “Where’s my money?”
        Day 2 5 pm: “Where’s my money?”
        Day 3 9 am: “Where’s my money?”
        Day 3 11 am: “Where’s my money?”
        … repeat every 2 hours until 5 PM.
        Day 4 (CC everyone) hourly 9am-5pm: “Where’s my money?”
        Day 5 (CC everyone) half-hourly 9am-5pm: “Where’s my money?”
        Each susbsequent day afterword: (keep CC everyone halving the time interval each day–the coworkers will get extremely annoyed with this constant barrage of emails flooding their inboxes:) “Where’s my money?”

        Hopefully it doesn’t have to go that far to get Jane to fulfill her obligation and pay up.

    5. RUKiddingMe*

      OP practice this:

      *Remove the spaces in the link before trying to view it*

      https: // ZomwVcGt0LE?t=10s

    6. Kiwi*

      “It’s not a lot of money, so can you bring it in tomorrow?”

      If it’s not a lot of money to her, then she should find it easy to pay, right? You don’t have to say it’s a lot to you. You want paid because she owes you the money, and that’s totally reasonable, even if you didn’t need it.

    7. Falling Diphthong*

      OP: Let your frustration show.

      And I type that as a mild-mannered person who nonetheless has seen a lot of truth in Cap’n Awkward’s geek social fallacies. This is awkward because she knows that making things awkward is a good way to get people off her back–a normal person would have said “Right! Thanks for reminding me; here you go.” You need to hand the awkward right back to sender–yes, it’s awkward if I show up at your desk every day telling you I need the $50 (or whatever amount)–the way to make it stop is to pay me back. Don’t have it this morning? You can go to the ATM at lunch. Or write a check. Or Venmo. Or whatever method of handing me the money I spotted you.

      Incidentally, a lot of friend groups have this person, for a time–the one who suggests going to a play and after someone else buys four seats together suggests “amongst people like us, these amounts just slide back and forth and it evens out” even though they are NEVER the person who paid for everyone else’s play tickets.

    8. ronda*

      do you have small claims court?

      you need to ask her everyday and document what you say and what she says — keep an log document (date, what you said, what she said) and at some point email her asking for the money and attach the log document.

      Also be sure to do this asking in front of co-workers because they need to know about this first-hand, not from you mentioning it to them. She and none of the others need to know that this is a lot of money for you, they need to see that she is a deadbeat.

      when she ask you about the document, tell her it is evidence for you small claims case.
      then if she doesnt pay, file a small claims case… also include a claim for court costs, etc in it as well as the debt.
      You need to cause her more trouble than she can possible imagine.
      If you get a court judgement, she probably still wont pay, so that is when you set collection companies after her (they take a good bit of the money, so you still won’t be getting much of it back)

    9. Good, Cheap, or Soon. Pick Two.*

      Don’t make it about needing the money. Don’t even make it about not being able to wait until she has the money. The best defense here is a good offense. If you’re worried about being judged and she tries to make you feel bad, all you have to do is turn this around.

      “If this is so small, then it isn’t a problem for you to pay me back immediately.”
      “I’m so glad you feel that way, it means you can settle the debt today.”
      “Well, if that’s the case, you’ll have cash in hand by end of business, won’t you?”

      If she doubles down, keep pushing. Don’t let it work. Always bring it right back around to the money and use her own words to do it. If she dismisses it as not a big deal, it’s not a big deal for her to go and get the money. If she doesn’t see why you’re still on about this, you don’t see why she’s taking this long to pay you. Why are you being so petty? Why is she being a deadbeat? If she tries to change the subject, the word you’re looking for is “hm.” It’s incredibly effective because you can deliver it in a variety of tones that all boil down to “Oh, you really think you can pull that off?” Remember, she should be ashamed. She’s the one in default on a loan. You’re the injured party. Don’t fall for the gaslight.

    10. Jenny Next*

      OP #1 — it’s really hard to deal with a sociopath. And that’s what she is. She deliberately engages in behaviors to make other people feel small, stupid, embarrassed. She probably took lots of credit for the wonderful gift, too (after originating the idea and sticking others with the bill). She’s not a normal human being — she’s a manipulator. “Rude” isn’t an adequate word for this kind of scam artist. She’s more like a Bernie-Madoff-in-training.

      You’ve gotten lots of great advice here, and I hope you can find the courage to get repeatedly in her face until she gives in. It may seem like sinking to her level, but you shouldn’t feel bad about not being polite to her, because she’s counting on other people paying for her expenses rather than going through the trouble of being assertive. And it is hard! I tend to favor slinking away myself, so I understand your reluctance.

      Can you enlist the other co-workers in this? I happen to think you should also loop your manager/coordinator in, even if this person can’t do much, because if she’s doing this to you, I’ll bet she’s done it to lots of other co-workers, too.

      Good luck!

  64. Elbe*

    LW #1’s situation is particularly awful because JANE SUGGESTED THE GIFT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

    If someone felt pressured to agree to something they couldn’t afford and then struggled to come up with the money, I could be at least a little sympathetic. But because it was her idea, this just sounds like a straight-up scam. Jane wants that social benefit of giving someone a nice gift without actually having to pay for it.

    I agree with the other comments that this type of behavior is likely standard for Jane. She’s banking on other people being too polite to call her out on her bad behavior.

    1. OP 1 (for this question)*

      OP-1 here.
      I do think she will pay me back *eventually* when she is flush again. The maddening thing is having to wait for it and remind her so many times. It’s almost like a power struggle – she brings takeout and coffee for herself every day and yet makes me beg for my money back. She frequently makes remarks about making other people do what she orders them to do (her wording) and I think she is too proud to ask nicely for an extension of the loan. It wouldn’t sting so much if she were apologetic about it.

      1. Good, Cheap, or Soon. Pick Two.*

        I can not stress this enough… stop begging. Put the breaks on the begging. This is not something you need to beg for. You are entitled to that money and this is no longer a power struggle. If you need to rephrase it in your mind, she is a five year old who has run amok for too long and needs a firm hand. Time to lay down the law. Wait until she is in a public place, walk directly up to her, use an absolutely firm voice and stop asking. I mean it, this is not a request. This is not a negotiation or even something she has wiggle room on.

        “Jane, you have had enough time to get the money you owe me together. I expect the cash to be in my hand tomorrow.”

        Turn around and walk away. If she tries to engage you at any point, repeat. You’re done with the drama. No more games, no more gas lighting, no more bullshit. Just repayment. This is how we handle manipulators. You don’t give them room to get their act going.

      2. Narise*

        Also add these words when she says she doesn’t have the money or shrugs about paying you back. ‘I never took you for a thief before.’ When she objects state ‘You are intentionally not paying back money for a gift you wanted everyone to buy and that you already took credit for purchasing. That’s stealing.’

        I also like the other suggestions of letting the team know that chipped in that she won’t pay you back. Next time there is a collection for a group no one should let her contribute even if she wants to give the money up front.

  65. Elbe*

    I’m sympathetic to the LW’s co-worker who has panic attacks, but she’s also getting a bit of a side-eye from me.

    If the boss told them that they’ll be on a PIP in the future, she KNOWS that this is affecting the LW’s work. She knows that it’s threatening the LW’s job. Continuing to ask for privacy about this is just putting pressure on the LW and delaying the inevitable. She has to disclose her condition to the boss and get accommodations.

    The LW should go to the boss ASAP and explain the situation. The LW should make a point to note that she wanted to tell the boss earlier but was worried about disclosing a co-worker’s medical information.

  66. like really?*

    People in this post have called OP#2’s coworker a liar, an attention seeker, and accused her of fraud. Like, I don’t condone her behavior at all and think OP absolutely needs to do what she’s gotta do to protect herself, but if you’re surprised that people are scared to reveal mental illnesses at work, uhh, responses like these are exactly why we don’t like to talk about this stuff.

    And as someone who’s been struggling this month about how best to cope with a recent mental health flare up at work, this whole comments section is not giving me a lot of hope.

    1. Specialk9*

      It feels like a bit of cherry picking for the worst comments. The vast majority of people here are criticizing her for the decision that is not related to mental health – that she’s selfish to be putting a coworker’s job at risk in order to keep her debilitating and frequent attacks secret – even after she knew the manager was talking PIP for the coworker. Yeah, that’s really crappy behavior!

      It would be a really different response without the part of her knowing the secret could get her coworker fired. It would be really different if she were writing in and wanting to do the right thing. But that’s not in the letter. We’re not objecting to the panic attacks or even the manipulative secret keeping, it’s the choosing harm to the coworker for her benefit.

      You’ll notice that upthread I’m mostly chiming in on her side, so I feel like I can push back on your characterization.

      We can both have empathy for the genuine struggles that people with mental illness face, AND also name selfish behavior for what it is.

      Plenty of people with mental illness on the thread have said exactly that – with the reminder that it actually does further harm to promote the idea that one cannot act honorably with mental illness.

    2. Observer*

      Well, no. Most people are reacting this strongly because she is knowingly endangering a coworker’s job! And she seems to have no concern about anything but her privacy.

      It wouldn’t matter if this were the ANY other condition – people would still be flipping out. (Find the Norovirus post for an example.)

  67. LadyCop*

    #2 “The last thing I want is to out my coworker”

    No. I imagine the last thing you want is to lose your job. Alison hit the nail on the head. My PTSD has caused some relationship issues at work for me, especially in the past. But letting it threaten your job (and no doubt hers) is not just something to ignore for the sake of principle.

  68. OP3 (it rhymes!)*

    I meant to post this as its own comment, apologies for the duplicate!

    OP#3 here – Thank you for your answer, and to all the kind commenters who added their perspectives, it gave me some very helpful scripts that I implemented today. I used a combination of ‘did I get the contact info correct?’ and ‘probably busy, is there someone else?’ It turns out the contact recently left the organization, so I was never going to get a response. My practicum supervisor has suggested an alternate route to help get my hours back on track, and it’s looking promising. It helps that I’ve been able to say, to both the organization and faculty supervisors, that in the meantime I’ve been taking W course, attending X training, speaking on Y panel, and attending Z conference.

    The additional context to my question is that a few years ago I had an absolutely wretched work experience which really impacted my perceptions of interpersonal communications at work, my own sense of self-efficacy, and blurred the line between being polite and being ignored. I’ve done a lot of work to fix these perceptions, but it’s a work in progress, and I was overthinking about wanting to reach out more so I was doing “enough” but also worrying that I was overdoing it and alienating people who could be important players in my practicum experience, and basically fretting myself into immobilization that I was simultaneously doing too much and not enough.

    I know it’s a relatively simple solution, I just needed a bit of a nudge to get me out of my paralyzed panic zone. So thank you!

    1. Specialk9*

      Awesome, good on you!

      I sometimes have those moments. I’ll be explaining something that’s SO frustrating, and then realize, oh, if you were telling me this, I’d ask if you did X… Oh hey maybe I should go do X. Sometimes we all need a bump out of our rut to see the other paths.

    2. Observer*


      It’s worth noting that the agency is very much at fault here. Firstly, they should have let the people on the school’s end know that the person left. Secondly, they should have set up an auto-responder and / or automatic forwarding to her email address.

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