4 updates from letter-writers (the coworker with panic attacks, interviewing with hair loss, and more)

Here are four updates from people who had their letters answered here in the past.

1. My coworker has panic attacks, and it’s affecting my work (#2 at the link)

I decided to talk to my coworker to give her a chance to tell our boss before I talked to him about it. I planned on being matter-of-fact when I talked to him and I wasn’t going to say anything awful about her. She said she was already feeling anxious before I told her. She had a panic attack less than an hour after our conversation. I didn’t want to get put on a PIP so I did leave but I went to our boss and told him my coworker was in distress. He asked if she needed an ambulance but she didn’t want one. It was covered under our insurance and she knows it is but she made the choice to not have an ambulance called.

I didn’t say anything bad about her but I was honest. He told me not to leave if it happened again because the onus was on her and not me. The next time she had one I didn’t leave. I found out she was telling others they had to leave their offices so she could be alone. She told at least two people from one office her boss told her to ask. A memo went out saying she isn’t allowed to tell anyone to leave their office. It didn’t mention her panic attacks and I don’t think many people knew why she kept asking. She was allowed to leave our office without being put on a PIP because of her attacks but all the offices were full and she didn’t want to go to the lunchroom or the bathroom because they aren’t totally private. She was told to go in the meeting rooms but they have frosted walls and the doors don’t lock. After my boss talked to her she told me to leave our office once but I said no.

I don’t know details but she was let go or resigned not long after our boss and HR talked to her because she kept telling me and other people we had to leave even though the boss said we didn’t. There was no other place for me to move to because all the offices were full and everyone is sharing already. Like I said in my letter I left because she wanted me to. If I didn’t leave she would yell or throw pens or markers at me. There was a comment questioning why I would leave her alone when she was having an attack but I only did because she wanted me to.

I want like to thank you, Alison, for your advice because it was bang on, and all of the people who commented to help, especially C.J Jones, Nope nope nope, and Princess Consuela Banana Hammock for the responses of support. I am thankful because your advice helped me save my job. I was able to talk to my boss and mitigate the PIP situation and my boss and HR were helpful once they found out about the yelling, name calling and throwing. They helped me realize it was not acceptable. I do feel badly for my coworker but I am grateful I didn’t lose my job and my boss was understanding.

2. Resigning when my boss is on an overseas trip (#3 at the link)

I did end up getting an offer for the job — literally two hours before my boss was due to board his flight. I debated calling him then and there to let him know, but ultimately decided to wait a couple of days to confirm everything with the new company. I actually ended up emailing him my resignation because calling presented too many logistical problems, and I’m really glad I made that decision because it gave me way more control over the situation. I was really anxious about resigning, even though I’d been dreaming of that very moment for months!

I gave my boss two weeks notice, which I assumed was standard, but HR told me that my contract actually stated I was meant to give four weeks. I was honestly baffled, and because this was my first experience resigning from a professional job I had no idea if I’d accidentally made a huge blunder in telling my new job I could start in two weeks. I checked over my contract and it did state that we needed to give four weeks, but it mostly referred to employees who were on a monthly pay cycle, which I was not. I was really nervous that they were going to try and make me stay four weeks (which I really didn’t want to do) and that I was going to have to leave the job on bad terms. I was also nervous about telling my new job that I might have to delay my start date.

In the end I managed to sort it all out (possibly the most adult I’ve been thus far in my life) – I negotiated a three week notice period with my old job and held firm on not staying any longer. This meant I would be there to hand over my projects to my boss once he came back from Europe, and I didn’t have to burn any bridges. When I called my new job, they were a bit disappointed that I couldn’t start straight away but ultimately understood the need to stay and help my old job transition properly. I’ve been at the new job now for a couple of weeks, and I really like it – the people are lovely and the work is much better. (And the first thing I did when I got my offer letter was check the notice period – it’s two weeks, but I doubt I’ll need to worry about that for a long time!)

This may all be second nature to most people, but as someone new to the workforce who started in a fairly dysfunctional workplace, I had no idea how to handle all of this and was really appreciative of your advice! Thank you again for answering my question!

3. How can I find out what skills an employer is really looking for?

I was not in a great place emotionally when I wrote that letter, and your response and the feedback from other commenters drew me back to a much better mental state of graciously accepting the nonsense, the unpredictability, and the seeming injustice of the job search as inherent parts of the process and not some cosmic wrong that had been done to me. I stopped feeling sorry for myself, thought carefully about my professional contributions over the years, rewrote my resume, and revamped my cover letter style. I have been invited to interview for 3/4 of the jobs I have applied to since getting my head on straight and each of those interviews has been successful (as in, the search committee chose me as their top candidate but in the salary was either too low or the funding for the position vaporized as they were preparing to formally make the offer). But, finally, I received an offer (that came to fruition!) for a job that will allow me to grow in exactly the direction I want to grow over the next several years. Here’s my favorite part: it’s with the company that initially rejected me because they assumed I didn’t have the right experience. And it pays about 10% more and offers more opportunity for development than the job I originally applied for!

In retrospect, I pursued this job — and opportunities to address any doubts the hiring committee may have had — a little too aggressively and probably gave away some of my salary negotiating power, but who cares? It’s still a BIG step up for me and I am escaping an extraordinarily toxic environment in which I was overworked, burned out, egregiously underpaid, and coping with an unstable, gaslighting boss. (Some readers assumed I had been unemployed for 7 years. I was working the whole time, but I was working outside my field and salary range and was being exploited because my skill set was above what was required for the job).

Two lessons I’ve learned: (1) Don’t get so eager that you show your hand too early in the process and, more importantly, (2) Life is funny, so you might as well have a sense of humor.

Thanks so much for your help and your candor!

4. Interviewing with hair loss and a turban (#5 at the link)

I wrote in about a year about regarding advice on addressing (or not) my appearance during potential interviews as at the time I was wearing full-head scarves/turbans to cover hair loss due to lupus. I’m happy to say that the comments were really helpful and encouraging — as it turned out, by the time I was actively applying and interviewing, my hair had grown back enough to make it appear a “choice” with a super-short multicolored style.

I’m now about 7 months into a new job that is demanding, challenging and so far is full of potential – it was also my first successful negotiation over salary, thanks in great part to advice on this site. I am also pregnant (!), which I discovered right as I started my job. My managers have been supportive and thankfully New York’s new state law is allowing me to take 6-8 weeks off when that time comes.

{ 245 comments… read them below }

  1. Hills to Die on

    Great updates! I am especially proud of the OP with the panic attack coworker who was screaming and throwing things at her. That’s just waaay too much. Good for you for standing up for yourself.

    1. Future Homesteader

      That was way worse than the initial letter made it sound…yeesh, kudos to OP for being calm and advocating for herself. And kudos to management for dealing with a particularly sticky situation.

      1. Goya de la Mancha

        Yes! I figured there was just a lot of hyperventilating and maybe crying to deal with. But items being thrown in my general direction?! Nope, nuh uh, no way, not happening – an office is not the place for your 5 year old temper tantrums because you’re not getting your way (no matter how much distress you are in at the moment).

        1. AnnaBananna

          Exactly. I get panic attacks (more than I like to admit to myself, frankly) and my behavior is nothing like hers. I don’t throw things. I feel like I can’t breathe and then get intensely paranoid, making me want to get out-out-out of wherever I am. I spend a lot of time in my car when it happens (safe, quiet, etc). I would never try to kick anybody out because part of the anxiety is hiding it from others.

          Her behavior…it really doesn’t sound like anxiety.

          1. grey

            I too get some panic attacks and yeah; it doesn’t sound like anxiety (though who knows?). Is it bad that my first reaction/thought was – is she getting people out of their offices so she can manipulate the system somehow? (Stealing, etc….)

          2. Violet

            I’ve had panic syndrome, and if anything, it is complete tunnel vision. I can’t fathom interacting with another person to the extent of throwing pens. I’m usually hyperventilating and thinking I’m dieing, not capable of any sort of awareness of other people. That being said, every person’s medical issues are different. But no one should have their work place massively interrupted by another person, like in this situation.

          3. Annonymouse

            I can see how wanting to hide can manifest this way – forcing the other person out of the office. (as the letter pointed out no private spaces and maybe she takes public transport so hiding in her car is not an option)

            But it isn’t reasonable to throw things, put someone else job in danger or enforce your will that inconveniences to a ridiculous degree for your accommodation.

            I’m talking about the letters here with the OCD woman that made the whole office only wear symmetrical outfits, including jewelry, and line up for the bus in alternating genders.

            And the workplace that allowed the employee who had depression take off up to 16 weeks a year off … at the cost of his coworker never being allowed to call in sick and having their preapproved holidays always cancelled.

            I’m glad OPs work was compassionate but reasonable on this.

          4. Len F

            I agree, this stuck out to me as well. I’ve had panic attacks before, and they were closer to “I can’t cope, oh **** I feel like I’m going to die, ” than “I’m going to scream and throw things at people”. But hey, IANAP(sychologist) and the OP’s coworker isn’t my client…

        2. Specialk9

          Oh my gosh so much worse! OP must have been really compassionate to hold those details back. But it really does change the advice from ‘poor thing’ to ‘that’s just not reasonable’.

          I’m so glad OP was not the one who got laid off or fired!!

      2. Jadelyn

        Seriously – I had no idea that the coworker was getting aggressive at OP like that if they didn’t leave, that’s wild. I have some sympathy for the coworker, I get panic attacks from time to time so I know how awful it is, but it still doesn’t excuse *throwing things at people*!

        I just hope she’s getting treatment somehow now. It sounds like she badly needs professional help to manage her disorder.

      3. Alton

        Same here. I was picturing a situation where it was just awkward because the co-worker was visibly distressed. Not name calling and throwing pens! I’m sympathetic to people who are trying to manage health problems (including mental illness) at work, but “managing” includes being considerate of your co-workers and making a good-faith effort to participate in reasonable accommodations. Telling people to leave their offices, keeping them from doing their work, and throwing stuff at them isn’t acceptable.

    2. Murphy

      I’m kind of amazed she was even able to do that! When I have panic attacks (which are rare for me) I feel like I’m struggling not to pass out. I could never yell and throw things!

      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        Same here on the panic attacks making me feel like I’m going to pass out thing.

        1. Justin

          Yeah, on the rare occasions (knock on wood) it’s happened to me, I am not really talking and making demands and so on and such.

      2. panicattack

        Yeah me too, I literally think I’m dying/having a heart attack and I can’t imagine being able to even ask anyone to leave the room much less anything else mentioned

      3. Ginger

        I have them too, and same thing, I can’t barely speak or breathe. I can’t imagine being able to do all that while having one!

      4. Amber Rose

        I have had both kinds. Depending on what’s causing my problem, I may shut down, or I may cry and lash out viciously at anyone nearby. It took me a long time to forgive myself for what felt to me like ridiculous anger issues but were very much the fight part of fight or flight.

        It’s been a very long time since I had one that bad though, and even back when I was undiagnosed and untreated it was pretty rare, and I never threw things at people. I sometimes threw things at walls or the ground. It only happened when I felt literally trapped in a corner though.

        1. Working Hypothesis

          It sounds as if, when somebody else is in the same room with this person, she probably does feel trapped in a corner. I sympathize.. like many people here, I’ve experience panic attacks and they’re argue. But it’s still not ok to throw things at people! Good work, LW, on getting it handled.

          1. Amber Rose

            Yeah, and I sympathize with that, but usually if I feel trapped I’m the one that leaves. I don’t really get how locking oneself into a tiny office would help with a trapped feeling. I get wanting privacy, but there are limits.

            And those limits are well before the point where you start throwing things at coworkers. Or anyone really, but particularly not coworkers.

            1. Cherith Ponsonby

              Can’t speak for the LW’s coworker, but for me it’s to do with having control over my environment – if I lock myself into a small space with nobody else around, then I can focus on myself and get calmed down, whereas if I go outside then at any moment someone could come up to me and I’d have to be sociable when I just don’t have the forks to do it. And it’s completely irrational, like I can be in the middle of the desert with nobody around for miles and I’d still feel all tense and socially armoured up.

              I’d be more inclined to hide under my desk than throw things at a co-worker, though. Or hide in the ladies’ bathroom. I’ve spent far too much time in ladies’ bathrooms over the years.

            2. Working Hypothesis

              It sounds as if this co-worker has tried the “leave and go somewhere else” route, too, but there’s nowhere else in that office to go which lets her feel safe. Which, as you said, I sympathize with; but it is ultimately her own responsibility to deal with, not her co-workers. Throwing things is not okay; lying about the boss ordering people to accommodate her is not okay; making it impossible for anyone else to do their work to the point where they get written up is not okay. If she can’t handle her panic attacks without resorting to these tactics, she really needs to leave that job, which is obviously not able to offer a workplace which is well suited to her, and find one which will let her work in a private space of some kind (either an individual office with a locking door, or remotely).

        2. Thomas Merton

          I can manage to tell some one to shut up, I’m having a panic attack, and that’s as far as interacting with other humans goes. Throwing things is past me at that moment, but the attacks are never the same for everyone.

        3. Julia

          Thank you for sharing that. I have similar issues once in a while and couldn’t really categorize them, so your comment was really helpful.

      5. Jadelyn

        Right? I had one so bad this past weekend I honestly though I was having a heart attack – but even so, I definitely didn’t have the coherency or energy or will or whatever to yell or throw anything. How even?

      6. Anonymosity

        Mine start with the ‘fight’ part instead of the ‘flight’. It almost feels like I’m angry. If it’s allowed to progress, I get to the can’t-breathe part.

        I finally learned to tell the difference between my panic attacks and if I’m actually getting angry–the latter is much more controlled. They happened when I was much younger, and yes, I did throw stuff. I’m not sure why, unless it was a defensive reaction.

    3. AnotherAlison

      Yeah, that sounds more like fits of rage than a panic attack. Even with an underlying medical condition, I don’t think there is a reasonable workplace accommodation to be found for that.

      1. Lilo

        A reasonable accommodation would never mean that coworkers have to be subjected to verbal or physical abuse.

      2. Hills to Die on

        I think there’s a good amount of overlap, so I wonder if it isn’t some kind of panic caused by anger type of thing. Regardless, totally not okay.

      3. Anonnynonnyhey

        I can mayyyybe relate to this. I have experienced sensory meltdowns that I thought were panic attacks for a long time. It was part of a (then) undiagnosed condition, and I had had a previous doctor guess that I was having panic attacks–they definitely have some common elements (sudden onset, feeling utterly out of control, physical symptoms/shutdown, post-attack exhaustion). However, there was also a real temper tantrum feeling to them, which never quite jived with what panic attacks were described as. I recognized that these attacks (while thankfully, pretty rare) were 100% unacceptable, but it took me awhile to get them under control.
        Now that I have diagnosed and am treating the underlying cause, and most importantly can recognize my triggers, I do have a few accommodations that I ask for (extremely rarely). I may press a rather sudden pause on conversations or situations when I feel I am in danger of reaching sensory overload. I may take an hour or two of leave if I am feeling particularly mentally unwell. And occasionally I may need more time than average to get comfortable with a “trigger” task (such as presenting to a group of people) before accepting responsibility for it.

        I am extremely fortunate that my close relationships and my employer are understanding. I recognize that this would be a dealbreaker for many people. Fortunately I know that with my weaknesses I do have some better-than-average strengths that help sweeten the deal.

        1. Cat Owner

          Yes! I have a similar thing – for years I had what I thought were panic attacks but turned out to be sensory overloads from mixed or hypomanic bipolar episodes. I also had actual panic attacks and the panic levels were similar so I didn’t differentiate them or realise that the hyperventilation was basically the main thing that made panic attacks panic attacks. When I’m in an especially self-hating mood I call them tantrums. They are pretty horrible.

          Luckily I for some reason rarely seemed to have them at work or school (nothing that I couldn’t go to the bathroom with to calm down) all of the bad ones have been at home – the other “lucky” thing for me is that they are very self-directed and I’ve not done much to other people except be short (not great, but easy for the relationship to recover from) or upset them from seeing me clearly distressed.

        2. Lucille2

          I appreciate your comment. My sister has similar type panic attacks, but maybe they’re sensory overloads. I really feel for the coworker as well as the OP in this situation. OP shouldn’t have to be put in the middle and she did the right thing, but I get the feeling the boss and HR didn’t really handle this well. It seems CW needs to manage her affliction and her place of work is not a healthy environment for her right now. I feel like CW should have been able to consider a leave of absence before facing termination. I respect that OP wouldn’t and shouldn’t have that level of detail. But it really bothers me when someone ends up losing a job over an uncontrolled medial condition.

      4. sap

        Yeah, I have panic attacks when deliberately woken by other people that can involve me blacking out and being violent (PTSD thing), so these credibly still sound like panic attacks to me…

        But the solution is to get her panic attacks managed/figure out a private space for her to go to, not for her to throw something at people nearby, even if that’s a component of her panic.

      1. irene adler

        Yeah. Shocking, isn’t it?
        I’d be on the phone to the police if a co-worker were throwing things at me (with genuine intent to do harm).

            1. Specialk9

              Because it was a marker or post-it. It’s utterly unacceptable, but one reports to the manager, not to the cops. Police have real things to deal with.

              And because it’s a medical / mental health thing. Cops murder people like that far too often. Police are only the solution when you’re actually in danger.

              1. MakesThings

                I agree fully with Specialk9. Calling the cops over someone throwing a marker is not a real thing that people do. And if they do, they’re assholes.

                1. Rosemary7391

                  I dunno – they’ve escalated through yelling to throwing small stuff, is there a good reason to think they would stop there? I’d obviously attempt to remove myself from the situation first, but I’d think it reasonable to call for help if you couldn’t. Plenty of throwable things in offices that could do actual damage.

                  I’m also not sure I like the idea of trying to make folks feel guilty for the failings of the police – if you call the police and the police officer commits murder, that really shouldn’t be your fault, all the more so if the situation is barely serious enough to warrant police attention… that effort would be better directed at fixing the police IMO, not people who are already in a tricky situation trying to decide if they need police assistance.

    4. bluephone

      Wow, yeah, any sympathy I had for the panicking coworker (which was limited to begin with) totally dissolved when I got to the OP’s “she throws markers at me if I don’t leave” update. And I have panic attacks! Bad ones where I can go catatonic. I’ve been to the ER for them because it really felt like a heart attack. And yet somehow, I manage to NOT put my coworkers’ jobs in jeopardy or whip office supplies at them or scream at them to get out. Imagine that.
      Mental illness or not, OP’s coworker is an epic-level jerkface and I’m glad OP doesn’t have to deal with that anymore.

      1. Working Hypothesis

        I have three semi-separate reactions to this whole thing:

        1) The panic sufferer is genuinely sick and I have sympathy for how they’re feeling, even if not for how they’re acting.

        2) The job and the panic sufferer are not a good fit for each other. There’s no accommodation this particular office can make which will both satisfy the needs of the panic sufferer and not cause massive disruption in other people’s work. They’ve tried. This means the panic sufferer really needs to be getting another job; one where she can have her own private space (either in an office which is able to offer her an unshared room with a locking door, or remotely).

        3) The panic sufferer is ALSO a jerk, for trying to make her illness everybody’s problem to solve except her own. In the moment, she might honestly not be capable of more coherence than to their things at people; but after the first time in her life when that happened (whether that was at this job or elsewhere), she needed to be VERY proactive about finding ways to handle her own meltdowns that didn’t damage anybody else. Instead, she not only throws things at people whenever they don’t go away as she requires, she has also tried to demand that everyone else’s work stop (to the point of getting them into disciplinary action) whenever she needed privacy, and then lied repeatedly to others about the boss supporting her demands.

        These are all things which could have, and should have, been presented by the panic sufferer thinking through what *she* could do — including, if necessary, quitting that job — to ensure that her needs were met without anybody else having to contort themselves well beyond the limits of reasonable accommodation. Instead, she’s repeatedly and consistently taken the position that it’s everybody else’s duty to solve her problems *for* her… and this attitude extends even to the times when she’s not actually having a panic attack at all, or she would have apologized profusely for what she did when she was out of control, and then spent some of that time working out a strategy to make sure she didn’t do anything like that ever again.

        Instead, she appears to totally ignore the matter when she’s not having an attack, and then do whatever it takes to get her needs met, at anybody else’s expense but her own, while she has one. That’s beyond not-OK; that’s entitled ass behavior.

        1. Ellex

          I think you’re spot on: the illness that causes the panic attacks and the being a jerk are two separate things. You can have a legitimate mental illness and also be an asshole. People who have a mental illness but aren’t assholes apologize for their behavior and try to work out an accommodation with others. OP’s coworker may well have a mental illness – but they are also a jerk.

    5. designbot

      I felt conflicted with this one. I’m glad the OP was able to shed the perception of underperformance once people realized what was happening, but I’m sad that somebody seems to have gotten fired for having panic attacks. On the other hand, I can’t really think of a reasonable accommodation for an organization where everybody shares offices and work can only be done in their offices so ultimately this seems like maybe it really was just a very bad fit for her. Hopefully she’ll be able to land in an environment that’s more conducive to getting this under control for her.

      1. Temperance

        She wasn’t fired for having panic attacks, or what she called panic attacks. She was fired for attacking her colleague, apparently repeatedly, and for ignoring a directive from management that she not oust people from their offices.

        She was given options.

        1. Lilo

          She also, based on the first letter, wasn’t meeting performance standards. That alone is a fireable offense.

          1. Kittymommy

            Yeah, I remember thinking there was a whole lot to that letter, hearing about the yelling, cursing, and throwing if stuff…. Nope.

      2. sap

        Yeah, it sounds like she was fired for ignoring direct orders from a supervisor, and also like she was refusing to engage in the interactive discussion to find a reasonable accommodation (just ignoring your boss and refusing to even TRY the meeting rooms/bathroom before rejecting them is…not how you do accommodations).

      3. Specialk9

        I had those same feelings. Oh my gosh yes she had to go, but darn I hope she figures this stuff out in a better way.

      4. Working Hypothesis

        I think it’s both that she really isn’t a good fit for this office and there are no reasonable accommodation it can make for her, but also that she made zero effort while she was not having an attack to solve the problem in a way which didn’t dump all the responsibility for it on everybody except herself. She didn’t just throw things at her coworker (!!), she lied to everyone about what the boss had said, and she neither got her own work done nor allowed anybody around her to get theirs done.

        And she didn’t appear to think any of this was a problem… she kept going this way for quite a while without using the time between attacks to work out a way she could deal with her own problems instead of dumping them on her colleagues. That’s just being a jerk, not being sick. Decent people who lose it to the point of assaulting somebody take whatever steps are necessary after they return to stability, to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

  2. Cassandra

    Happy for all of you, OPs!

    OP1, the throwing of things is new and shocking info. Very, very, very not okay. I’m not surprised that once that detail came out, boss and HR did an about-face. I’m glad you’re free of this situation.

    OP4, so glad to hear you’re in a great place now. My mother struggled with chemo-induced hair loss, and I was thinking of her as I read your original post.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz

      OP1 was way more compassionate to her coworker than I would have been. If my coworker had been throwing things at me, you can bet I’d have gone to the boss the first time it happened. And for sure would have mentioned it in my letter to AAM. I hope OP1’s work life is a million times better now.

      1. DArcy

        I wouldn’t even have gone to the boss, I would have called police and then gone to HR with the police report in hand. Being physically assaulted is crossing a line that I will not tolerate, and no one else should either!

        1. Specialk9

          If you’re in the US, I hope you reconsider this. The police kill people for being unarmed but deaf or mentally retarded, at an appalling rate. That’s not something you want on your conscience when just talking to management is a reasonable step. It’s not at all ok to throw a marker or post-it, but that’s not actual physical danger.

          1. Anon Anon

            Please do not ever use the phrase mentally retarded again. It is offensive. The correct term is intellectually disabled.

            1. Specialk9

              Oh thanks! I thought it was the proper term. I don’t use it as an epithet, but I will start using intellectually disabled. It sounds nicer too.

            2. Dweali

              Might just be because I’m in health care (or my general area in the US) but “mental retardation” is a phrase we consistently use and not just diagnostically.

    2. OP4

      OP4 here – thank you! It’s amazing how much hair plays into our vision of ourselves, especially as a marker for health and ability.

  3. Antilles

    #2: I gave my boss two weeks notice, which I assumed was standard, but HR told me that my contract actually stated I was meant to give four weeks.
    For the record, two weeks definitely is the standard in the US…but then again, it’s also standard to not have an actual *contract* in the US either, so it seems likely that the two things are tied together. (Unless you’re not in the US at all, in which case, you should probably chat with local friends/family/etc and get a better idea as to the cultural expectation on how much notice people typically give.)
    But regardless, it seems like the resolution was probably the best solution for all involved – your new job was fine with waiting another week and you were able to leave things in good standing with ex-boss and ex-job.

    1. hayling

      Agree that having anything about an official notice period is not standard in the US. “2 weeks notice” has just become engrained in our brains for some reason, but it’s mostly a “best practice.” Don’t be too hard on yourself, OP, nobody really knows how to “submit a resignation” or any of that stuff in the beginning.

      1. drpuma

        Yes on not knowing how to submit a resignation! My 2nd job out of college (but, like, 7th job ever) asked me to submit a formal letter of resignation and I had to google what that would look like. Everything else had been a quasi-formal conversation with my then-boss.

    2. MK

      This doesn’t sound like a contract to me, though; there would be no reason for the OP’s contract to state how much notice is required by employees that fall into a different category than the OP. Maybe it’s an employee handbook?

      1. Observer

        Yeah, I was thinking “employee handbook”. Ours does require a certain amount if you want your accrued time paid out.

      2. A username for this site

        Yes, I have worked places where the employee handbook says that all full-time staff must give four weeks’ notice, so they can hire a replacement before you depart.

        I have yet to see it enforced, because those places were also incredibly unprofessional and dysfunctional, which is why staff were running for the exits and they were trying to stop them from doing so by requiring an extended notice period.

          1. Antilles

            Almost certainly not.
            You can assume that the new hire is going to need/want to provide two weeks’ notice at their current place anyways, so that means the company’s entire hiring process needs to run start-to-finish within two weeks – posting the job, collecting resumes, scheduling interviews, making an offer, getting it accepted, etc. That’s a pretty huge expectation in most cases unless you either get really lucky with the first couple candidates (possible, but not particularly likely) or you’re willing basically hire the first remotely qualified person who walks in the door (dumb).

          2. Cordoba

            I doubt they give the employee 4 weeks notice so they can find another job before being fired.

            1. Akcipitrokulo

              It would be a two-way notice period though? So for something like gross misconduct, no, but just letting someone go, then I’d expect the contract to say notice or pay in lieu of notice.

              (Most places I’ve worked would give you the month’s wages and be done if it came to letting someone go.)

              1. Specialk9

                I’ve never heard of that in the US.

                The org is being unreasonable so I’m not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

                I was given 2 days when laid off. Other people were escorted straight out. 4 weeks is an invitation to inserting malware or to workplace violence.

                1. Akcipitrokulo

                  This is true – but contract should lay it out if there is one?

                  In any event, it sounds like OP is well out of it!

                2. Antilles

                  If you have an actual *contract* specifying required notice (not an at-will agreement or the like), it’s actually pretty standard – if the contract requires X weeks of notice, it goes both ways.
                  However, it usually *also* allows the company, at their discretion, to provide you with an equal sum of pay in lieu of notice – rather than keeping you employed for the next 4 weeks of notice, they just write you a severance check for 4 weeks’ pay. This allows them to avoid all the various concerns (malware, violence, taking clients, etc)…and honestly, it’s probably a better deal for the employee in question too since you still get the money, but can now spend all 40 hours a week on your job hunt.

        1. hbc

          Heh, my dysfunctional boss put 4 *months* notice in my contract as part of my promotion. I said, “You know that’s totally unenforceable, right?” There weren’t even any associated penalties, so it was extra dumb.

        2. Namelesscommentator

          It’s (legally) unenforceable. You cannot force somebody to work for you against their will, it’s literal slavery.

          But you can ask for longer notice in the employee guide, and mention it on all background checks, etc.

          1. Sarcastic Fringehead

            I’ve also seen employers use vacation time payouts as an incentive – you only get paid for your unused vacation time if you give at least x weeks’ notice (although even then I’ve only seen two or three weeks). (This only applies in states that don’t legally require employers to pay out unused vacation on termination.)

          2. Akcipitrokulo

            But (at least in UK) if you don’t work out your notice period you can be sued for any damages resulting from a breach of contract.

            However… most companies wouldn’t bother as it’s too much hassle. Exceptions might be if they did take a substantial hit because of X time-sensitive thing.

            And another however… they might not sue you… but getting another job when you didn’t work out your notice without agreement from your current job? It’s going to be difficult with that reputation.

      3. Akcipitrokulo

        It’s in my contract – but virtually everyone has a contract here, so it’s just one of the standard boilerplate clauses – hours, pay, holidays, notice period.

    3. Specialk9

      Am I the only one thinking that job was being out of line?
      “No, 2 weeks isn’t ok, you HAVE to give us 4, that’s the rules.”
      “Oh, I looked at the rules and they said 4 weeks only applies to people in another category.”
      “Don’t quote my own rules at me, just do what I say.”

        1. Working Hypothesis

          Yeah. Yikes. That would be enough to make me seriously consider saying, “I’d really like to work out my two weeks’ notice here, but I can’t do that if it means being badgered into doing things I’m not actually responsible for doing. Can we talk about what I can do with the to weeks I have, to leave my work tied up as neatly as possible so that the transition goes smoothly?” and leave the implicit “… or do I need to leave with a lot less notice then that because you won’t stop being unreasonable?” hanging unspoken in the air.

  4. Washi

    I’m curious about what obligations the company had toward the coworker with panic attacks, if there hadn’t been the additional issue of throwing and name calling, which is what I assume got her fired. If there really are no offices available for her to go into, should they have converted a meeting room to be more private? (Which would have ended up being necessary if any employees needed to nurse, so that seems like it would have been a good move regardless for the employer.)

    1. Falling Diphthong

      I think this falls under disability accommodation being something the employee has to request, not the company propose.

      1. Lilo

        Yeah I supervised a person who had a condition that affected his ability to type. We were constantly working with him, but it was on him to keep us appraised (such as when one computer aid system wasn’t working and we had to help him switch to another). Coworker here seems to have never disclosed.

        1. Specialk9

          In the US, ADA accommodation for a medical condition must be reasonable and not an undue hardship.

          I’m not sure how they could rent more space without it being an undue hardship and significant expense. A more reasonable person than this could maybe find another solution, but she was being unreasonable and impacting everyone else on a regular basis.

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        Well, if they’re aware of it, they have to enter into an interactive discussion about whether it can be accommodated and how. The person doesn’t have to formally initiate it themselves.

        1. McWhadden

          Thank you, Allison. The interactive discussion is crucial to ADA law concerning employers and is often missed in the comment discussions on ADA. It’s not as easy as saying a person’s request is or isn’t reasonable. You have to try to *get* to reasonable through a genuine discussion.

          Of course, there are a billion other legitimate reasons to part ways here. So, it’s not so much an issue.

        2. Working Hypothesis

          It sounds as if they did enter into an interactive discussion once they found out about it, offering the meeting room or the ladies’room as the possible private spaces they had. She refused both and insisted that the only possible solution was for somebody to vacate their office (making it impossible for them to get any work done) every time she needed privacy. Then she lied to get co-workers about the boss supporting her demands that other people leave their offices.

          I don’t think there was a reasonable accommodation this office could’ve made; from the sound of the space they had available, there was no way for them to provide her with a private office (permanently or temporarily every time she had an attack), and she wouldn’t accept any other solution. But aside from the fact that there wasn’t a reasonable accommodation that could be made, this employee doesn’t appear to have been willing to be reasonable about the whole matter even when she was not having an attack. She considered lying about the boss’ orders, not getting her own work done, preventing other people from getting *their* work done to the point where they were in danger of disciplinary action over it, and physically assaulting people to be good enough ways to handle the problem that she didn’t send the time between attacks setting herself up so she wouldn’t do these things the next time. Being ill isn’t her fault, but how she handled it was, and how she handled it included making it everybody’s responsibility to deal with her illness except hers.

      3. sam

        I’m not sure that’s the case in all cases – if an employer finds out about a disability, refusing to propose/provide even the smallest accommodation because “they didn’t explicitly ask” isn’t necessarily the best look(!), but in any event, any accommodation needs to be reasonable, and the employee needs to be willing to work with their employer to find a solution – not lie to other employees about what their boss said and completely disregard the comfort and safety of other co-workers, up to and including what amounts to abusive behavior.

        It sounds like this employee was unwilling to find any solution that was anything other than maximally disruptive to everyone else.

        1. Madeleine Matilda

          An employee may not always want an accommodation due to a disability. I work with a hearing impaired person. Our office makes ASL interpreters available, but it is my co-worker’s choice when she uses them or not. Sometimes people don’t want to appear singled out due to a disability.

          1. stitchinthyme

            There may not BE an accommodation for some disabilities. I’m hearing-impaired, too, but as my issues didn’t start until I was an adult, I do not know ASL, so an interpreter would do me no good. I have hearing aids and I can mostly get along at work by occasionally asking people to repeat themselves. The ones I work with most closely know about my hearing issues and I have never had to make a formal request for accommodation, mainly because I manage okay, and anyway I wouldn’t know what to request.

          2. stitchinthyme

            And anyway, if you have a disability that causes you to throw things at your coworkers, I’m not sure there’s much they can really do to accommodate that.

          3. hbc

            Yes, but then their job isn’t protected when they don’t get information in meetings and whatnot.

        2. Lioness

          But they didn’t refuse the smallest accommodation.

          She was allowed to leave without being penalized. She had the option to go to the bathroom, lunchroom and meeting rooms. And while not completely private, is much more than being refused everything. She just wasn’t allowed to kick anyone out of their own work office.

          1. Julia

            I understand wanting to have a panic attack in private, but considering she already went around everyone’s office and tried to throw people out, it’s not like her attacks are a secret at this point.

            1. Batty Twerp

              That’s the bit the confused me – she would go to OTHER PEOPLE’S offices, and throw them out just to have a panic attack? Or was she legitimately visiting another person’s office when the attack happened?
              I admit to being a bit lost when I read this first time, and it may have a logical explanation, but my sleep addled brain turned this into “Oh, I’ve been told I can’t kick OP#1 out of our shared office; I’ll go and visit Jane and kick her out of her office so I can panic in private.”

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Alison is right—disability accommodation is interactive. Once an employer is put on notice and the condition falls within the statutory definition of a disability, the employer is required to initiate a discussion re: accommodation within a reasonable timeframe. An employee doesn’t have to say specific magic words or make a formal request for the ADA to apply.

        All that said, we’d need a lot more information to determine whether the coworker qualified for ADA accommodation. I think it’s safe to say she was offered reasonable accommodation but refused it. An employer has to provide accommodation if someone is deemed to have a disability, but they’re not required to grant the very narrow accommodation that the employee prefers.

    2. Sara without an H

      I’m curious about that, myself. Suppose the coworker didn’t yell and throw stuff, but had briefed her boss herself about the panic attacks. Is this a condition that would require accommodation? And if so, what would be appropriate? (I’m assuming all parties live and work in the USA.)

      1. Lilo

        It really depends. The requirement is reasonable accomodation, but that doesn’t mean being able to not complete the work given to you (as coworker was here) or affecting the ability of coworkers to do their jobs. If she had asked for a quiet space from the beginning, done her work, and reasonably disclosed and not abused coworkers, this would be an entirely different conversation. But those facts are just so different it hardly is worth mentioning.

      2. soon 2be former fed

        If a mental condition meets the definition of disability in the law, the accommodation discussion can begin. The employee’s doctor could make accommodation recommendations, and there are websites with suggested accommodations for various conditions. Not all conditions can be accommodated in every workplace, that seems to be overlooked in these ADA discussions. The law requires you evaluate the situation, but accommodation is not guaranteed. I’ve Been under ADA for many years.

        1. soon 2be former fed

          Oh, and the bottom line is the accommodated person must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with the accommodation, at an acceptable level.

    3. Maddie

      No employer has to accommodate aggressive and physically abusive behavior. Someone who cannot or will not control that behavior has no business in the workplace.

    4. Ask a Manager Post author

      If there wasn’t the name calling and throwing things, they’d have a discussion with her about what accommodations might work. But in many cases it would be legitimate to say that an accommodation that required her kicking her office mate out of their only available work space would not be reasonable. It might be that they’d have to give her a separate space to go to though, if one were available. But it really depends on details. If this is work that can only be done during certain hours (like dealing with customers, for example), it’s reasonable to say no to accommodations that would have her not working for significant portions of the day.

      1. SaffyTaffy

        I once worked at a school whose HR team thought that “reasonable accommodation” for a project manager’s bipolar disorder was to let her scream and throw things. She couldn’t throw things AT people, but she was allowed to throw them in her office at the walls or floor, in view of people. That was what she asked for, and when new employees were invariably terrorized and went to HR, they were told M was allowed to do those things as part of her accommodation.

      2. Working Hypothesis

        The LW said that everyone in the office including the boss already had to share… it doesn’t sound as if they *did* have a private space they could give her. And they’d already offered her the meeting room, etc, which were the only non-office spaces they had. I just don’t think there exists a reasonable accommodation that *this* employer, with *this* space, could make for *this* particular employee… even if she hadn’t been throwing things at people, lying about the boss’ directives, and not getting her work done or letting anybody else do theirs. There’s just too little overlap between what she needs and what they have.

    5. Madeleine Matilda

      In the US at least, the reasonable accommodation process is supposed to be a dialogue between employee and employer. The employee requests an accommodation and suggestions solutions and the employer may agree or suggest something else. The accommodation has to be something that is reasonable for the employer to provide. For example, if I work as a nurse caring for patients, requesting to telework full time because of a health issue wouldn’t be a reasonable accommodation. If I am hard of hearing, providing a video phone for me could be a reasonable accommodation. In this instance, we don’t know if the person with the anxiety attacks asked for any accommodations. From the two letters it doesn’t sounds as though the company had any suitable space she could have been assigned to use, but theoretically had she asked, perhaps something could have been done. Although in this case, I wonder if her anxiety would have made it difficult for her to even ask for any accommodations.

    6. Antilles

      That’s a tricky one.
      You need to provide ‘reasonable’ accommodations for employee’s medical conditions…but the employee still needs to be able to actually do the job. If the panic attacks were bad enough that she couldn’t do any work even when left alone (not 100% clear, but seems likely), then it’s possible that there isn’t a reasonable accommodation that works.

    7. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

      I think the employer did try to reasonably accommodate her — she wouldn’t be penalized for leaving her office and she was given several reasonable options for an “alone” space to go to, but she kept insisting that she needed to be alone in one of the offices. I guess they could have at least put a lock on the one of the meeting room doors but who knows how feasible that is (the way it was described I’m picturing a frosted fish bowl type room with a glass door and glass walls, so maybe not easy to add a locking mechanism). But I’m also so suspicious (in general by nature) that her only acceptable solution was for others to vacate an office in a financial institution. Each office might be double occupied for reasons other than space limits and this is something the employer can’t accommodate for security reasons.

      1. Kes

        Agreed, it reads to me as they did try to come up with what options they could that didn’t involve kicking people out of their offices – just none of them was enough for the coworker.

      2. GlitsyGus

        I also have a feeling that she got herself into more than a little hot water by telling other people that the manager said it was OK for her to ask them to leave their offices when he had quite specifically said this was NOT OK. That is lying, and most manager are not really stoked to hear their reports are lying about what their instructions were or directing others to not do their assigned work and leave their office because of the lie.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if that was what really made things go south for the employee. They were trying to find an accomodation, but instead of working with them and figuring something out, she just continued to do what she wanted and forced employees other than her office mate to move by lying to them and berating them if they didn’t do what she wanted. That sounds like a fireable offense to me.

        I’m sympathetic, but as a person who also has panic attacks, part of being a grown up is working with people like your managers to find solutions to issues, not just demanding the entire world conform to your desires.

        1. Working Hypothesis

          Thank you! I thought I was the only one who fastened onto the lying about the boss’ directives and wondered how much that played into the firing. Frankly, if it didn’t, it should have!! That is very much not behavior that can be tolerated in an office — the manager gets to make these decisions, not have them co-opted by somebody else who claims their authority for it.

    8. Tina

      As an employment defense attorney in a state with very liberal accommodation laws beyond that of the ADA, I winced at this (but we don’t have all of the facts – OP wouldn’t necessarily know ALL of what employer and the employee with panic attacks discussed). I doubt it’s an issue under the ADA, though.

    9. Bea

      It took awhile and some dialog between managers and the employee. I certainly hope they contacted their lawyer to watch their backsides.

      If you physically can’t do your job due to a medical disability, the ADA isn’t going to save you. She was losing so much time, even a personal office only means she’s less stressed out riding the storm out. She’s not working…

  5. Detective Amy Santiago

    What a great bunch of updates!

    OP #1, I am so glad that you spoke up. It was really unfair of your coworker to put you in that position (and I say that as someone who has a panic disorder and has suffered numerous panic attacks).

    OP #2, We were all new once! I wish I’d had a resource like AAM when I was early in my career.

  6. iheartcoffee

    I am puzzled by the experience described by the panic attack. I suffer from panic attacks – the first one in my therapists office! The symptoms I get make me think I’m dying/about to have a heart attack and I couldn’t even imagine throwing things or yelling as I think I’m dying right then and there. I’m wondering if the person is suffering from something other than panic attacks…if she’s able to scream and throw stuff. My symptoms mirror: https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/panic-attack-symptoms#1

    1. Clorinda

      I wonder if it’s a really terrible, bad, uncontrollable feeling, and the co-worker has self-diagnosed it as panic … but it doesn’t really matter what it is, and we can’t speculate our way to the truth.

    2. SarahTheEntwife

      Panic in some people can manifest as extreme defensiveness/anger. It’s still Not Ok in a workplace (or anywhere directed at people who aren’t actually threatening you), but it happens.

      1. Hills to Die on

        Yes; I have had this type before. It isn’t something people are commonly familar with.

      2. I'll think of a clever name later...maybe.

        My panic attacks are nearly always extreme defensiveness / anger as well as a need to move away from where I am (my flight instinct kicks in hard when I have a panic attack!). That being said – I have never lashed out a coworker the way the OP’s co-worker did. I do remember once having an attack at work and a well-meaning person put their hand on my back in an effort to soothe me. I pulled away and barked “Please, don’t touch me. Give me space for a few minutes!” I remember wanting to say so much more, but I was able to rein it in because I was at work. After the fact I did apologize and my co-worker accepted it so it was all good.

        1. iheartcoffee

          Not sure if this falls in line with a clinical diagnosis of a panic attack (see link). Definitely doesn’t mean you’re not feeling panicky though and reacting based off of it :).

          1. Sarcastic Fringehead

            Could we please assume that everyone here is an expert on their own mental health and that they’ve done their own research?

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Yes, thank you. I don’t want people saying “you do” or “you don’t” have any particular medical condition here. We’re not each other’s doctors, and even WebMD links don’t change that!

          1. Marvel

            I have PTSD from childhood abuse and this is EXACTLY how my panic attacks often manifest.

            But, as others have said, they are no one’s responsibility to deal with but mine, and reasonable accommodation does not mean it’s okay to lash out at people.

          2. cleo

            Yeah, that was my thought. I have PTSD and anxiety and in certain situations my fight/flight/freeze response is all about the fight. And I feel COMPLETELY justified in whatever I say or do because I think (actually my parasympathetic nervous system thinks) that I’m in mortal danger.

            But the diagnosis doesn’t really matter here. The situation is that (it seems to me anyway) someone is trying to manage their mental health by controlling their external environment – and I have done that. One of my go to strategies for managing my PTSD used to be trying to convince those closest to me to never do the things that triggered my PTSD. With exactly the results you’d expect (it didn’t work). The problem with that approach is that a) it’s not fair or practical and b) it doesn’t actually address the underlying, internal roots.

            I have so much empathy and sympathy for the co-worker with the panic attacks and I also think it sounds like this was not the right job for her right now. I sincerely hope that this is the wake up call she needs to get more help, because it seems like whatever she’s doing to manage her condition isn’t working.

      3. Socks

        Yeah I get very, very snippy when I’m anxious, and it’s a toss up if I shut down or just get frantically angry when I panic. I don’t think I’ve ever thrown anything at someone, but I’ve absolutely flung stuff away from me with force and felt compelled to, like, break things. My fight or flight reflex is just very fighty. I think we forget that fight IS one of the available fear responses? It’s still not cool to throw things at people, but I don’t agree with the speculation that that couldn’t be a normal part of a normal panic attack.

    3. Chaordic One

      I’m also puzzled by this. When I have had panic attacks I just sat still at my desk and quietly shook for about 5 minutes until it passed. It wasn’t great, but no one in the office even noticed.

    4. AnotherAlison

      Agreed, however, I’m open to the idea that the coworker had a different diagnosis and “panic attack” was the more mundane verbiage used to keep people from judging her based on her diagnosis.

    5. Observer

      I don’t think that this is either relevant or theoretically useful to anyone such as the coworker.

      Not all panic attacks manifest the same way. So trying to second guess someone because their described symptoms don’t match yours is useless.

      And it’s irrelevant because it doesn’t really matter what the actual diagnosis is, if she even has one, and why she was doing this. The fact is that she was acting in a totally non-work appropriate way, abusing her coworker and effectively refusing to work with the company on finding a workable accommodation.

      1. I'll think of a clever name later...maybe.

        Thank you! As someone who frequently has panic attacks that are not the “norm” I appreciate this comment.

        1. Socks

          Yeah it’s definitely bugging me how many comments here are basically “well I would NEVER behave so badly as a result of MY mental health issues, I have this exact same problem but *I* have the good sense not to inconvenience people with it, in fact that would never even OCCUR to me”. Like, that’s awesome, but other people have different experiences from you sometimes. Doesn’t make their behavior acceptable, but can’t you just be glad you don’t feel compelled to behave that way and move on?

          1. Temperance

            People like OP’s coworker, though, are furthering stigma about how mentally ill people are unstable, dangerous, and irrational. I’m not “glad” that my anxiety doesn’t manifest in ways that lead me to harm people, or that I feel like it’s okay for me to throw shit and scream at coworkers because I have that dx so much as I am utterly disgusted that any adult human would find those actions reasonable.

            1. Socks

              I said her behavior wasn’t acceptable. I just don’t think it’s helpful to throw people under the bus for even feeling compelled to act badly in the first place (as some comments have done), nor should one feel morally superior for having good behavior if they’ve never struggled with the impulse to do otherwise. If your mental illness has never manifested in symptoms that have hurt other people (at least before you managed to get them under control, because no one develops perfect coping mechanisms the instant they develop symptoms), that is a function of luck on your part. You could just have easily gotten unlucky.

              I obviously don’t think throwing pens at people is okay, but the attitude I’m describing has gone beyond condemning that, and into the territory of questioning her diagnosis entirely because they have never felt angry during a panic attack at all.

              1. me

                There is a clinical diagnosis for what a panic attack is. I think people are only saying that the behavior described doesn’t seem to fit.

                1. Like what even

                  …okay but literally no one knows that except coworker and their therapist. undiagnosing on the internet is just as bad as diagnosing.

                2. Observer

                  And that’s totally inappropriate.

                  1. Because not all panic attacks work the same. So claiming that the coworker is lying because her behavior doesn’t match what someone has seen is out of line.

                  2. It’s not relevant, and does nothing to change perception and potential for stigma.

              2. Marvel

                All of this–thank you.

                We can’t know if the coworker “really” suffers from panic attacks or not, and it’s true that the phrase is sometimes used flippantly. But not only is anger/lashing out a known symptom of panic attacks, it’s actually a pretty common one. I’m surprised so many people with formal diagnoses don’t know this! But I guess if it’s never been an issue for you, there’s no reason why you would know.

      2. iheartcoffee

        OH heavans no! That’s why I included the WebMD link :) But beyond that, people should definitely be diagnosed by a clinician though before saying they are having panic attacks or self-diagnosing in any way.

        1. Observer

          And this is a perfect example of why even good doctors are not so excited about people who diagnose themselves from places like WebMD. That list is incomplete. And you could have some of the symptoms on that list and still throw a temper tantrum.

    6. Nah

      Health conditions manifest differently in different people. Even more so with mental health conditions. Doubting her condition based on your own experience is insensitive and unhelpful, especially since you don’t actually know her life.

      This is how we end up with “but you don’t seem depressed” “my cousin’s neighbour had anxiety too but they were able to blah blah why can’t you”‘ “if you have this condition shouldn’t you be a genius” “are you sure you have it? I think you made it up”

    7. Ladysplainer

      Exactly. I have panic attacks too and have NEVER been violent. I have been physically assaulted by assholes who thought they could get away with it due to said attacks, but that’s another story.
      I highly doubt that’s your coworker’s real or only issue.

      1. I'll think of a clever name later...maybe.

        I once hit my husband so hard I made him cry during one of my panic attacks. I did this in front of our kids. I was not myself. It’s not a moment I am proud of. There were a lot of factors that played into my reaction, but the reality is I was very violent to the person I love most on this planet in the midst of a panic attack. The responses in this thread about how “I just shake / sit there and cry / feel panicked and rock” are not my experience with anxiety and panic attacks at all. Every person responds in their own way and assuming that the co-worker’s reaction was not real or is something else is not fair.
        I do agree that the co-worker behaved inappropriately for the workplace, but let’s stop with the assumptions that something else is to blame here because her panic attack doesn’t meet webmd criteria.

        1. me

          Were you clinically diagnosed as having panic attacks? There’s a clinical definition and a therapist is capable of diagnosing. No doubting you have anxiety issues…

          1. BF50

            Are you trying to diagnose another poster? This comment seems really inappropriate to me.

            On a separate note, the speculation at actual diagnosis of the letter writer’s former coworker is not helpful or relevant to the letter writer.

            1. Ladysplainer

              So… I didn’t offer a diagnosis. Others have. I said that due to my being known to have panic attacks, I’ve been physically assaulted a few times by people who thought they could get away with it (oh she’s lying, you know she has panic attacks… except our home security camera caught everything) or who felt that I deserve it for being mentally ill. One person’s assault was so bad I wound up needing emergency surgery for my injuries.
              The point is not everyone with a mental illness is violent. I’m angry that OPs coworker perpetuated that stereotype, when it sounds like she wasn’t stating a complete diagnosis. She’s putting others in danger.
              Sorry that my comment offended you though!

              1. FFS

                You have absolutely no way to know what the co-worker’s diagnostic status is, and making assumptions like this is invalidating, ignorant and hurtful. Please stop.

                I’m sorry you’ve had bad experiences, but comments like yours are not actually helpful.

              2. BF50

                I am sorry that horrible things happened to you.

                I was actually replying to the post by “Me” implying that the poster “I’ll think of a clever name later…maybe” does not have panic attacks when she specifically said she does.

                She is a person who is likely actually reading your the response, unlike the letter writer’s coworker.

                No one has any way to know from a few sentences written anonymously that she does not have panic attacks and as FFS says below it’s invalidating to imply she doesn’t know herself.

          2. Marvel

            I have been diagnosed, and my panic attacks also manifest this way. I have PTSD from childhood abuse.

            Mental illness is not always harmless. Sometimes symptoms actively cause harm to others, and it’s painful and horrible for everyone involved. But the fact that it is a symptom of a mental illness does not mean people have to put up with the behavior, and it’s the responsibility of the person with said illness to get treatment so that they are able to avoid harming others.

          3. FFS

            I have a clinical diagnosis. I have panic attacks which include aggressive violent outbursts.

            Can you PLEASE stop trying so hard to invalidate other posters experiences now? Or do you want me to send over my medical records?

    8. AKchic

      To me, it sounds like the “Fight, Flight or Freeze” response varied to Fight once she felt trapped and watched because there was someone in the room to witness her panic attack.
      For me, with some of my attacks, I do have the terror/doom feelings, combined with a racing heart, shortness of breath, dizziness, feeling like I’m out of control, and chest pains. Throw in a 6’1″ tall 16 year old repeating over and over again “Mom, where is this? It was right here. Mom? Mom. Mom? Mom. Really. I need this. Can you find it? Do you know where it is? I need it. I want to do X right now.” (the thing he wants: something that was in his room for the last 3 months that you saw the day you bought it, and you still don’t even know what it does or what it’s for. You’ve never seen it since. His item, his responsibility. He is not accepting “I don’t know, go look” for an answer) Add in a 9 year old trying to talk over the 16 year old with “Hey mom, I want to play on the trampoline. Can I invite the girls next door over? Can I go play on the neighbor’s trampoline? Can C come over? Can I go to C’s house? Can I have a cell phone? C has a cell phone? Mom? Mom. Mom why can’t I have a cell phone yet? G, J, M and E all have cell phones. I need a cell phone.”
      Now… remember… you’re still disoriented. You’re trying to get things done and you have this vague sense that you’ve forgotten something (oh yeah… it’s your name), you want everyone out of your damned room because it is getting smaller by the second. Whoops, you’ve stepped on the cat who just LOVES to lay down behind you (because that will get it through to you that she needs attention!), and hey! the dog realizes you’re home! Time to sing you the song of her people! Let her vocalize all about *her* day on top of the cacophony already going on.
      Now your chest is really tight. You can barely breathe. Tears are starting to form. Your phone is ringing and its grandma because oh, you didn’t stop by today, why didn’t you stop by today, she was really looking forward to you stopping by today (time for the daily guilt trip, even though you stop by 3 days a week), to remind you that she’s mad you didn’t quit your job to take care of her 24/7 without moving in with her (yet still afford everything). The urge to scream “STFU and GTFO of my room so I can change my clothes” is strong. Sometimes… yeah… sometimes I am not a good person and things fly out of my mouth.

      (This has been an Evening Panic Attack at AKchic’s House. Thank you)

      Yeah… see why some people’s Fight response kicks in? For others… the Fight Response is faulty and hair-trigger.
      It honestly doesn’t matter though. This person’s way of coping is to not cope or at least doesn’t appear to be utilizing any real coping skills to mitigate their panic attacks.

      1. SaffyTaffy

        I spent my whole childhood and young adulthood believing that I was responsible for my mother’s temper tantrums, because “sometimes she is not a good person and things fly out of her mouth.” I learned that love means being screamed at for wanting hugs. I learned that I am a black hole of need and nobody could ever love me. That lead me to choose abusive partners and destructive behaviors until I almost died.
        Please, please make sure you’re getting the support you need to be a supportive and functional member of your family. You deserve to feel better.

        1. Temperance

          Just commenting to commiserate with you, and to say that I hope you’re doing better. I am all too familiar with the “it’s your fault that you made your mother abuse you” line of thinking.

          I am thankful that I have had great romantic partners, but I’ve destroyed many friendships by assuming that people didn’t actually like me, so I put no effort into it. Stupid.

      2. Specialk9

        Thanks for explaining that. I’ve had just enough of that, with my neurotypical-in-that-way brain, that I winced hard at that. But also, funny way to describe something really hard!

    9. Bea

      The violent outbursts remind me more of severe PTSD symptoms.

      Which is tragic and leads to devastating things. It’s what leads many people to become homeless because they can’t hold down jobs because of the issue.

      I’m starting to feel more sympathy kicking in with this realization but still we as just untrained individuals can’t fix it for them and certainly can’t be put in danger.

    10. Cho Chang

      These kinds of symptoms are more common in PTSD-induced panic attacks, in my experience. I’ve seen it in one woman who I knew who was struggling with rape trauma, and one of my friends was injured by his father, a war veteran, while trying to calm him down during a panic attack. The woman’s behaviour was very, very similar to OP’s coworker– she needed to be alone to feel safe, and stuff would start flying around the room if that didn’t happen very quickly after an attack started. It was heart breaking, but she’s doing much better now thankfully.

    11. MassMatt

      Nit to be flip, but a poster further up the thread hit the nail on the head when suggesting the coworker suffers from being a jerk in addition to whatever other condition she has.

      Really, children learn not to throw things and name-call in kindergarten.

      The OP showed remarkable restraint in giving the coworker every benefit of the doubt, to the extent of nearly getting put on a PIP.

  7. EPLawyer

    OP1 — it’s one thing to be understanding of a co-worker’s panic attacks. But when it escalates to actually throwing things that crosses a boundary. No more understanding if you are PHYSICALLY ATTACKING ME. I’m glad you were able to explain things to the boss so your job was protected. The bosses gave her a break by not putting her on a PIP because of her condition. She threw that chance away by ignoring instructions to not make her problem other people’s problems.

  8. Lilo

    I missed the yelling, name calling, and throwing in the original. That just sounds like abusive behavior and there is no justification for that, no matter the condition. I am glad OP is out of that situation, that was untenable.

  9. Maddie

    Throwing things at you is a complete deal killer. She should have been fired, no matter the circumstance. That behavior does not have to be accommodated. It’s battery.

    1. Antilles

      The updates are one of the coolest things that AAM does differently from most advice columns – getting to see just how the advice worked out is really informative in and of itself!

      1. Inspector Spacetime

        Agreed! I would love love love to see Captain Awkward updates, for example. Ah, well.

          1. Antilles

            That makes sense given the subject matter – most people would probably feel a lot more comfortable providing updates on the job-related issues of AAM than the kind of serious interpersonal issues that CA deals with.

          2. Detective Amy Santiago

            I totally understand why, but I really wish the person who had the coworker trying to join her trip to Japan had written to you instead because I am dying for an update on that!

            1. EA in CA

              I remember that letter too! Made me kinda side eye a couple of work friends whenever they were overly interested in my private 2 person only vacation to Mexico next year. I would love an update on that one.

      2. Wicked Witch of the West

        I love the updates also.

        Two I would really like to see: the Feb 6,2017 letter about the employee who knowingly brought her child with norovirus to the office and infected many people. And the Sept 7, 2017 letter about the woman who was almost fired for attending the white supremacist march, when she was at a funeral in a different state.

        1. Hills to Die on

          I still really want to know about those as well as the one where the boss mandated that all employees check to see if they were a match to give his brother a liver transplant or be fired.

          1. Stormfeather

            For me, I’d still like an update on the girl who quit because she wasn’t given time off for her own graduation (and the boss who wrote in wanting to chastise her). Although I doubt we’d ever get one since it was the boss writing in.

        2. Mainly Lurking

          I’d like an update for the one from 27th April 2017 about the office who had raised a lot of money to help a staff member with a premature baby, and the person who was taking the money to the bank died in a car crash. It was all so heartbreaking, and I hope they managed to find some kind of resolution.

      1. Toads, Beetles, Bats

        I maaaay have just squealed out loud. Will look forward to these, as you get to them.

        1. LG

          Oh man! I love updates, this is so exciting! AAM gives such good, thoughtful, practical advice–and the commenters often have great suggestions too–that I really love to hear how it’s gone for folks!

      2. Detective Amy Santiago

        Is one of them from the LW whose boss & father were trying to get her to go to couples therapy? I think about her a lot.

      3. AAM Addict

        Any chance that we could get some updates on weekends? They’re things you don’t have to write, they wouldn’t take up space during the week that you’re using to answer more questions, and they’d help us addicts get through two days with a little more than just the open threads. :D

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I’ll think about that! Traffic is much lower on weekends, so my hesitation is just that far fewer people will see them and I know people like them. The “surprise me” button at the top is good for addiction though!

  10. SarahTheEntwife

    “He asked if she needed an ambulance but she didn’t want one. It was covered under our insurance and she knows it is but she made the choice to not have an ambulance called.”

    Not to diminish the inappropriateness of what was going on, but hospitalization really isn’t normally necessary for panic attacks, especially if the person knows it’s a panic attack.

    1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

      Yea, that was a bit silly. I imagine that during a panic attack, she isn’t really thinking clearly so asking her if she wants an ambulance wasn’t really going to lead to a reasonable answer even if she does need an ambulance. I’m more surprised that the supervisor didn’t call one anyway just to cover the business in case of liability.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago

      Yeah, god, if someone had called an ambulance every time I had a severe panic attack… OY. I know they are going to pass even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment. However, this is why I always preferred *not* to be alone during them. Because then if I did pass out or something, there would be someone else to call for help.

    3. Bea

      Since they’re frequent and her reaction isn’t thinking she’s having a heart attack, I agree.

      I’ve seen people personally needing an ambulance because their PA resembled a heart attack or stroke. Those medical bills are terrifying.

    4. GlitsyGus

      I’ve worked in warehouses and such and at some places you cut your finger and they ask you if you want an ambulance. Some workplaces have it as a policy to help cover their liability should there really be something wrong that isn’t presenting in the moment. It’s probably overkill, but some places figure better safe than sorry.

    5. chickaletta

      Speaking as someone who works in an ambulance billing department: Insurance generally will not cover an ambulance if it is not medically necessary or if the person could have arrived safely at the hospital by other means. I want to be really clear that if you think you may need one, please call an ambulance, it’s better to end up with a bill rather than with permanent damage or worse that could have been prevented with immediate and quick medical attention.

      However, the ambulance is not a taxi ride to the hospital. Sometimes I’m surprised at the percentage of the population who believes it is. I once saw an invoice returned with the note: “These charges are ridiculous!!! Next time I’ll take an uber!!!!” Um, yeah, exactly.

      1. Specialk9

        I used to ride an ambulance in a very poor neighborhood. For people without insurance, an ambulance often really IS treated like a taxi. (One patient memorably called after each visit to a client, then tried to bargain is into the city hospital, and if the local hospital was open and we had to go there, he politely declined transport. Fair nuff!)

        But here’s the thing. We don’t have a social safety net in this country. Under those circumstances, it’s not unreasonable to find the free loopholes and use them.

        I did wish some people were more *polite* when using system loopholes, but realistically they are often the same people who got systematically shat on by authority since before birth… And it was my job as a professional to care for people the same whether they were polite or not. (Though I’ll admit that idea was rare in my toxic-masculinity fire house.)

    6. Koala dreams

      I was surprised about the comment about the ambulance. Where I live, the psychiatric hospital is often separate from the ER, and an ambulance typically only take you to ER, not the psychiatric hospital, and the ambulance can also refuse patients. So it would be pretty pointless to call an ambulance if somebody had a panic attack. In some places you can call an on-call nurse who then can check on the ill person, or you could call a taxi for them to go to the psychiatric hospital (or home, if they are well enough to not need the hospital).

  11. Observer

    #1, I and SOOO glad you spoke to your boss. Your co-worker sounds like a piece of work. I really sympathize that panic attacks are rough and she’s not choosing to have them. But, she was making choices and some of them were just not right. It’s her business if she chooses to endanger her job, but trying to pressure others to endanger their jobs is another whole issue. As for yelling and throwing things that’s a firing offense right there.

    I hope this is a wake up call for her that she REALLY needs to get some help in getting a handle on her issues.

    You handled things really well. It can’t have been easy.

    1. Hills to Die on

      Performance Improvement Plan. Usually a last step before you are fired. Not medical at all.

  12. Cake

    I missed OP4 when it first appeared but I have full alopecia and wear a simple black headscarf 100% of the time and have for many years… as long as I’ve been in the working world actually! I sometimes worry what people will think when I interview, but I never address it, assuming that if I am matter-of-fact about it, others will be. No one has ever asked me about it in a professional context and I got the last 2 jobs I interviewed for :)
    That would be my general advice, but I have an easy answer if asked and I’m not sick/don’t look sick, so that makes it easier.

    1. Trout 'Waver

      Honestly, I’d assume it was some form of religious observance, which would make me doubly not ask about it.

      1. Cake

        Yes, I assume most people who see me think “cancer” or “religion”. I do not miss working in public-facing jobs as a young adult and getting asked if it was the former on a regular basis. A surprising number of people in public actually know what alopecia is and will ask me.

        1. not really a lurker anymore

          Kevin Bull, an athlete on American Ninja Warrior, has alopecia so it’s mentioned every time he runs a course. That’s probably done a decent amount of public awareness messaging.

        2. Specialk9

          Yeah I’d assume religion or medical and not ask. I do comment when someone’s scarf is pretty though, if I know them.

    2. OP4

      OP4 here – this is helpful. There’s a decent chance of my hair loss returning, so I’m keeping my stash of headscarves and turbans just in case. I really appreciate your perspective and lived-experience, especially in the interview context. Thanks!

  13. Chaordic One

    OP 3, I’m so glad for you. I believe you when you say, “I was not in a great place emotionally when I wrote that letter.”

    It can hard to deal with all the usual job-search frustrations (misleading job-descriptions and advertisements for open positions, and the biases that interviewers have and read into your resume and cover letter). Sometimes there may be a bit of gas lighting going on, too, which makes you doubt yourself. I’m so glad you were able to get your head together and get through it.

    1. Specialk9

      Yeah that was a really nice update. We’ve all been really frustrated and sometimes we way things we later reverse on. But that takes maturity so good on OP!

  14. Bones

    I hope OP1’s former coworker finds peace. Regardless of how it affects others, that sounds like an awfully stressful way to live.

  15. Quake Johnson

    It took me a minute to figure out “Nope nope nope” was somebody’s name in letter #1 haha.

    That said, Great to read these updates from everybody

  16. Yvette

    #4 CONGRATULATIONS WITH EVERYTHING!!!!!!!!!

    (and prenatal vitamins + prenatal hormones tend to make for good hair growth

    1. OP4

      Thanks! :) I’m all over them! Pregnancy also reduces lupus flares so it’s been a nice year so far!

    1. Temperance

      I am wondering if LW left it out because it was probably easier to get neutral advice without including the piece about her coworker being abusive towards her.

    2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

      I thought that because the LW was leaving the room previously and trying to be as accommodating as possible that the yelling and throwing things wasn’t happening. And then when she started to refuse to leave, the CW escalated to yelling and throwing things to get her to leave.

  17. Bea

    I’m so relieved for you #1. I was scared you were going to go down with that burning ship. I didn’t see any mention originally of the physical and verbal abuse you were also dealing with. My sympathy for her is at gutter levels, health issues are no excuse to be violent and putting others at risk.

    You did the right thing and I hope you’re taking care of yourself after that trauma.

  18. Akcipitrokulo

    Feeling a bit uncomfortable with some comments on OP1 … yes, unreasonable to put up with, and no argument that allowing another member of staff to be assaulted is a “reasonable accommodation”! but the idea that “it’s not really a panic attack if she throws things because I have panic attacks and don’t throw things” is not good. People have different types of panic attacks (mine are of the “shut down and try to keep breathing and hope no-one notices that heart about to stop pumping” quiet type) … but it’s dismissive and invalidating to say that it’s not a “true” panic attack.

    1. Wandering Thoughts...

      I don’t think the responses are ‘that’s not a panic attack’; I read the comments as ‘that’s an unreasonable level for a panic attack to elevate to and expect coworkers to just accept it’.

    2. Specialk9

      The first few comments I read in that vein sounded more like the ‘hey this may be a misdiagnosis, which might help get better care, it was that way for me’ but Panic Attacks isn’t reading this so not sure how helpful that is (other than for the commentariat)… But then yeah it devolved into unwarranted skepticism.

    3. Temperance

      I think it’s more people who have anxiety issues and haven’t ever hurt another person because of them are concerned that people might read it and link violence/dangerous behavior with panic attacks. That’s how I read it, anyway.

    4. cleo

      Yeah. Me too. I think it gets tricky with discussions of mental illness online. There were some nuanced discussions talking about the fight/flight/freeze response and how some panic attacks can include fight reactions. But there were a lot of “well, I’ve never done that / I’d never do that” type comments that aren’t really that useful.

      I have SO MUCH sympathy and empathy for the co-worker. I have anxiety and PTSD from childhood abuse – I have a really strong fight response (hyper-arousal) and a really strong freeze response (hypo-arousal) and they’re both unpleasant. And I have tried to manage my condition in a similar way to the co-worker – by trying to control my environment instead of working on the underlying interior causes. But it didn’t work – it just meant my world kept getting smaller and smaller. Getting diagnosed and finding effective treatment has been a long journey, but it’s made a huge difference in my life.

      I think it was absolutely the right decision for her to resign / be fired – this obviously wasn’t the right environment for her. I sincerely hope that this is the wake up call she needs to get more help, because it seems like whatever she’s doing to manage her condition isn’t working well enough. I wish her luck and healing.

  19. Nox

    I’m sorry but panic attacks or not the second anyone gets physical with me you are going to be restrained if possible and the police are gonna get called. I got 0 tolerance for anyone touching me violently – I saw an above comment state they struck their spouse hard enough to make them cry. I don’t know how that man didn’t call the police. That is absolutely unacceptable.

    Good riddance.

    1. MakesThings

      Not every human is in good working order. In most cases, the police aren’t a solution to a mental health crisis. I have no idea if the commentor’s husband left, or what they did to heal the situation, but it’s not all cut and dry like that.
      You’re also displaying a pretty common behavior, where people say exactly what they’re going to do in another person’s place, and then insist on it. You may or you may not, but you’ll never truly know what you’ll do until you are in that place.

    2. Specialk9

      I replied above to someone else, but I hope you’ll reconsider this, at least if you’re in the US. There is a tragic and ongoing trend of cops killing unarmed and nonviolent people who are deaf, retarded, and mentally ill.

      Police are not the answer when someone is not actually a threat to one’s safety, because OP doesn’t want to carry on their conscience “she threw a marker at me, so I called the cops and they killed her.”

      She did exactly the right thing – told management, and they dealt with it.

  20. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    With apologies for my delayed response, I think you did an amazing job, OP#1. The fact that your coworker was throwing things at you and yelling completely changed my feelings about the approach, but it sounds like you did everything right and went out of your way to be compassionate. I’m really glad that your managers also realized the difficult situation you were in and realized that progressive discipline was not appropriate in this case. I hope your coworker gets additional help so that she stops abusing people and lying to them—it sounds like her symptoms are far out of her control right now.

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