my coworker is keeping a notebook about me, should I say something about my coworker’s self-harm scars, and more

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

1. My coworker is keeping a notebook about me

I have been at my company for over four years. I have a coworker who for the past two years has been keeping a notebook about me. He puts several things in there to account for his day, but I am the only coworker mentioned. I have been told he is keeping account of his day because he has been put on Performance Managements (fancy word for write-up) before because he does not meet his quota for the day.

My issue is that he puts in there when I take my break, who I talk to, how long I talk to them, etc. And often times, he puts that I take my break for several minutes when in fact I wasn’t on my break at all; I was called away to do other duties. I have brought up to management the fact that if he is taking account of his day, then why is my name written all over that book? He doesn’t mention any other coworkers’ break times or their whereabouts. (I know all this because he left his book out in another workstation and someone took a picture and sent it to me.)

He has been very unprofessional with me to the point where he’s dragging two other coworkers on the same path with him. He has “shoulder checked” me on a few occasions. I have brought this to management several times and they have done nothing about this. Is there anything I can do? It has been causing me a great deal of stress because it has gotten to the point where I feel like I’m being stalked. Is there anything I can do about this?

If your managers have even a tiny amount of sense, this is going to make your coworker look ridiculous and won’t reflect on you at all. I totally understand why this is aggravating, but the best thing you can do is to ignore it.

Your coworker has been warned that he’s not meeting expectations. The best thing he could do is to focus on improving his performance. Instead, he’s keeping a journal about other people. That is not likely to end well for him.

He’s presumably trying to make a case that if you’re not in trouble for your work habits, he shouldn’t be either — but as long as you’re doing your job well, I would try very hard not to worry about this. You’ve already talked to your managers about this, so they know it’s happening.

To be clear, they should tell him to stop and that they want his attention on his own work, not on yours. But since you can’t make them handle it that way, all you can really do here is to roll your eyes and ignore it.

However, the shoulder-checking is not in any way okay (and frankly is the more serious issue), and you absolutely have standing to insist that’s addressed, including going over your manager’s head if necessary. Instead of calling it “shoulder-checking,” call it “deliberate pushing,” because that’s what it is and that might help drive the point home that it’s unacceptable.

2. Should I say something about my coworker’s old self-harm scars?

I (a man if that matters) was talking to a coworker (a woman if it matters) and her sleeves were rolled up. As we were talking, I noticed a series of parallel white scars on both of her arms that are pretty clearly deliberate.

I’m a little bit unsure of what, if anything, I should do. On one hand the ones I saw are old and my one inclination is to say that people’s mental health histories are their own thing and are not something that is discussed at work, plus she might become self-conscious about the scars if she realizes I noticed them. But on the other hand, they’re evidence of unhealthy coping strategies and she might appreciate an offer of help (even if it’s just “hey you should talk to a doctor, here’s the number”). For what it’s worth, we’re in completely seperate departments with completely seperate management chains.

It’s kind of you to want to help, but you should leave it alone. They’re old scars, there’s no indication that she needs immediate help, and I’m sure she wants to be able to roll up her sleeves without having doctors’ phone numbers pushed on her (especially by people she’s not emotionally close to).

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Can I ask for advice from businesses that might be competitors in the future?

So I currently have a full-time government attorney job that I plan on staying in for about eight more years to get student loan forgiveness. I’m already looking forward to the future and have realized that I actually – really really – want to start a business of my own, and am specifically looking at something like a cat café and/or a bookstore (or a cat bookstore!). I would love to learn more about these businesses before I start one on my own and have been considering reaching out to owners and managers at these businesses to ask for informational interviews (which are super common in the legal field) and possibly the chance to shadow them at work and learn more about their business. I’m not entirely certain how to go about doing this, though, as these are of course, plans that likely won’t come to fruition for many more years, and I’m also essentially asking people for free help so I can then become their competitor eventually. Do you think this is a thing I could do without stepping on toes? And if so, how would I go about conveying this desire without putting my foot in my mouth?

Yeah, it’s true that it might not go over well to ask a business owner to coach you on how to become their competitor … so what about instead contacting a business that isn’t local? If your job doesn’t prohibit it, you might even be able to arrange a barter where you offer some limited amount of legal work (as an individual, not as a representative of your employer) in exchange for their time, depending on what kind of law you practice. (I’m told by commenters that was terrible advice.)

An alternative would be to try to get a very part-time job at one of the businesses that appeals to you, but that would be a significant time investment and possibly not practical.

4. Can I ask if my job is going to be phased out?

I’m currently about three-quarters of the way through a two-year contract with a board of a professional association in Canada. This is the second time I’ve had a contract with them, so it’s been over three years of work with this organization. It’s a very active board — I’m currently working about 22.5 hours a week, mostly on operations/member management, and they do the bulk of the budgeting, annual planning, financial controls, etc. The board is going through a strategic planning process, with an aim to reduce their workload, which I think is great. But they’re talking about taking on a staff person, probably someone like an executive director or an operations coordinator.

Should I ask what they’re planning for my role? I really like my job, and would hate to lose it. I have a good rapport with the executive committee, and I would like to be able to throw my ring into the hat, if appropriate, for whatever “next step” role they’re planning. It would be nice to know if they’re planning to keep my role and bring on another layer of management, and a relief to know that it will be phased out, just so I know. Either way, I don’t want to appear needy or presumptuous or out of touch, but if they are planning on eliminating my role, I’d like some notice (other than my two weeks of contract-mandated notice). It’s not a situation where I would quit out of spite — I would happily finish my contract — but is there any elegant way of asking what my future is here?

Absolutely! You can say, “Are you able to give me any sense of what’s likely to happen to my role under this new structure?” Depending on the answer to that, you can also say, “If it does turn out that my role will be phased out, I’d be really grateful if you can tell as soon as you know so that I can start lining up other work for once my contract here ends.” And if it sounds like you might be qualified for whatever new role they’re planning, you can also say, “I’d love to be considered for that, if you think I might have what you’re looking for. Is there anything I should do to ensure the board knows I’m interested?”

5. The hotel workers at a conference I have to attend are on strike

My workplace hosts an annual convention. This year, the hotel workers union from the conference location is holding a strike during the convention. I strongly support labor rights and workers’ right to strike. It troubles me that by working the convention, I’ll be complicit in undercutting the strikers’ legitimate demands. I don’t want to support the hotel over the workers, or the ‘scabs’ over brave people advocating for themselves. However, I don’t think I am in any position to show any helpful support. I don’t know what to do.

The organization I work for is, thankfully, an ethical one. I understand why they don’t want to cancel their annual conference–an event that educates and helps nationwide/worldwide professionals in the field. The organization officially has no position, no comment re: union strikes. Also, I have not worked with this business for long (less than 1 yr). I occupy probably the most unskilled, lowest-paying, most junior gig in the organization. It seems wildly inappropriate to advocate for canceling the conference or any solidarity of that nature. Especially since my job is the first I’ve ever had that allows me to live independently, have good health insurance etc. Personally boycotting the conference just seems like a good way to annoy my colleagues, and get out of their good graces without, y’know, impacting the strikers’ collective bargaining needs. Seems like it’d only hurt me or at the very least not help anyone. If I could afford to, I thought I might donate to the union to offset my participation in the conference, but I really can’t afford to.

The kernel of my rambling question is: Is there anything appropriate I can do as an individual to support workers’ rights in this situation? What do you think?

I’m throwing this one out to readers to see what suggestions people have.

{ 863 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    An update from OP #2 is here (he’s a mandated reporter and his job trains them to be on the lookout for coworkers too due to a hightened risk of suicide), which provides context for his question.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think it’s important to clarify that mandated reporting is not the same, however, as being on the lookout for coworkers who may have a heightened risk of suicide.

      In most states, mandated reporting—in the context OP describes—refers exclusively to reporting related to children at the school, because cutting can be a sign of child abuse, untreated trauma, or neglect. You’re typically required to report a child’s suicidal ideation if it includes a plan, but the responsibility is not analogous for coworkers unless you’re a therapist or the person has disclosed that they intend to hurt others.

      1. Kuododi*

        Actually, I am a mandated reporter. I can’t speak for all jurisdictions however, I have always been advised my responsibilities as a mental health professional include threat of harm due to abuse (physical, sexual, emotional), eminent risk of suicide. These issues as a mandated reporter apply to children but to “at risk” adults. (ie- elderly who are no longer able to do for themselves, developmentally disabled). Additionally, when one is working with the US military the concept of the mandated reporter is expanded to cover risk of domestic violence. Hope this helps.

      2. Lavender Menace*

        I’ve been a mandated reporter in three separate states and it doesn’t always refer exclusively to children at schools. Mandated reporters can be responsible for all kinds of vulnerable people, including elderly or disabled adults. And the interaction with children can definitely be not at schools.

        But I don’t think Alison was saying OP thinks they’re required to report; I think he referenced it only for context that they’re trained to look for this stuff, and that’s why they noticed.

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, definitely stay out of this. You don’t want good intentions to turn into concern bias or boundary crossing. Your coworker is probably well aware of the effects of self-harm, evidenced in part by the fact that these scars are old. These are not your monkeys to manage.

      1. Aveline*

        A good rule of thumb is not to ask strangers, casual acquaintances, and strangers about deeply personal matters.

        Even if you just want to help.
        Even if you want to show moral support.

        Your intentions do not trump their right to privacy and autonomy.

        Even with friends, you should not be asking unless the friend has signaled they are open to talking about the issue.

        If someone has not opened the door for you to ask, you should only ask if you are in the type of position of authority or responsibility where you must ask. Then, you need to do so in a way that causes the least harm possible.

        Curiousity and good intent are not enlightening enough.

        Yes, we need to all help others more. But we also all need to be kinder and more respectful of others.

      2. Elfie*

        I used to self harm too, but outside of my close family and counsellor, I’ve not told anyone else. I haven’t self harmed in over 20 years, so it’s very much not who I am anymore, and I would hate to have anyone ask me about it. I’m not even open about my depression, and I’ve been off work for about 4 months in the last 12 with that, so it’s very much more recent. Leave it be, OP2.

    1. PugLife*

      Yes. Absolutely do not say anything about these. They are none of your business. The fact that you can see them does not make them your business. She is entitled to roll up her sleeves same as anyone else without being subject to invasive questions or intrusive “trying to be nice.” This goes double because you work in different departments. And honestly, even if they were fresh, my answer would be the absolute same. It’s none of your business.

      *Spoken as a person who has extensively self harmed in the past and who has extremely visible forearm scars. I do not hide them and if anyone tried to tell me “hey I see your arm here’s a phone number for a therapist” I’d be pretty pissed. It’s my right to go about my daily life and exercise the same comforts that others enjoy, like rolling up my sleeves.

      1. Marzipan*

        #2, it’s kind that you want to help, but speaking for myself, my self-harm scars are over 20 years old. I don’t need a doctor’s number because I don’t need to see a doctor. Give your coworker the gift of acceptance instead, and just leave her be.

      2. PVR*

        there’s also a possibility they are not self harm scars no matter how suspicious it looks. I had a severe accident as a child and have several scars on my arm, one of which looks like a suicide attempt. Truthfully I forget the scars are there because it was so long ago. It bothers me when people make assumptions about my past based on that, especially when these scars symbolize to me my strength to come through that incident. I actually don’t mind when people ask about it, but not everyone with scars like that feels the same way—obviously they can represent something fairly traumatic. I would however be pretty mad if someone gave me the number of a mental health professional. So, as much as you want to help, let this lie.

        1. Delta Delta*

          Just coming here to add to this. I am friendly with a woman who had scars that looked like self-harm scars but were from a certain kitchen job she had (she explained and it made sense at the time but I can’t remember the details now). She’d often get asked if she needed help and finally she’d start saying that she needed help getting a better job that didn’t bang up her arms.

          1. Lora*

            Oh my goodness this.

            I live on a farm with large animals. I have plenty of scars, bruises (both fresh and old), sprains, strains, cuts and scratches, and am constantly asked about them. Between the rooster who had to be made into soup because he flew in my face with his spurs (ow), the 200+ lb. buck who REALLY did not want a tetanus shot and wasn’t afraid to toss me AND the vet tech into the side of the barn (uff ow), the doe who needed help kidding and wouldn’t let even the vet with the tiny hands touch her rear end (butted me in the chest, unh ow), worst of all the day I have to catch the barn cats and get them rabies shots (heavy leather gloves are insufficient), the vast catalogue of different types of wire fencing that constantly need repairs, the barn repairs with random 100-year-old nails sticking out randomly…

            1. many bells down*

              Oh yeah cat scratches especially. My daughter has a scar that certainly looks like she was cutting on her leg, but it’s from a cat that badly scratched her when she was about 13.

              1. Amber T*

                I was a dumb 12 year old who held a (large) cat up to the microwave because he was curious, then he freaked out when the popcorn started popping and leaped out of my arms, leaving me a long horizontal cut on the inside of my arm. That took some explaining to concerned middle school teachers. To this day I still have a thin white line that’s very clearly visible.

            2. AnonEMoose*

              I grew up on a farm…and I bruise easily and spectacularly. So I totally get you on this one. I’ve been stepped on, shoved against fences and barn walls, shocked by the electric fence, scratched by everything from hay bales to nails, and had to help a pig give birth.

              I’ve recommended to people that if they want to know what working with farm animals is really like, they could do a lot worse than to watch “The Incredible Dr. Pol” – it’s about this veterinarian in Michigan who does both large and small animal practice, and while they don’t go super egregious, it doesn’t hold back, either.

              Farming is hard, dangerous work.

            3. blackcat*

              May I politely suggest kevlar gloves? My vet uses them for parrots and aggressive cats. They come to the elbow.

              1. Lora*

                The vet tech brings these now when we have to do barn cat shots. But yeah, you’d think fireplace gloves, the serious kind you get to handle hot things and firewood around the wood stove would work, wouldn’t you? They don’t.

                1. AnonEMoose*

                  Super nerdy fun fact: under at least one set of the “Dungeons and Dragons” rules, a cat could potentially do enough damage to kill a regular person (not an adventurer, mostly, but your basic villager type). If you’ve ever had to handle a cat who really did not want to be handled or caught…you probably understand the reason the damage rules are written that way.

                2. Salamander*

                  As a feral cat wrangler, I can back up the kevlar. Welder’s gloves are good, too, though I find that I cannot get them in my size and I lose dexterity.

                3. Animal worker*

                  Salamander – try kevlar-lined leather police gloves. I started using these for animal restraint a decade or so ago and they are wonderful because they have much better dexterity than gauntlets or welding style gloves. You can add the kevlar sleeves to help protect your arms too. We use Rothco brand, from workinggear dot com. They aren’t for really big animal restraint, the gauntlets still have their uses, but for small/medium critters they’re gold.

                4. Salamander*

                  Thank you, Animal Worker! I will look into those. Small ferocious creatures are, well…small and ferocious. :-)

            4. Miss Annie*

              I used to live on a farm too. I took a goat horn to the nose the day before both a parent-teacher conference *and* a pediatrician’s appointment. Fun…

            5. MM*

              In high school, I fell off a rearing horse that then came down and landed with one hoof squarely on my inner upper arm. It didn’t break (incredibly–he was a big horse!), but I had a truly spectacular bruise. You can bet I got pulled aside by a teacher in school the next week when I raised my hand while wearing a t-shirt.

          2. HR Jeanne*

            I’ve had the same experience! I thought a coworker had self harm scars, but she was a baker and they were from bumping the oven when she put pans in or took them out. I was glad I never said anything. You are kind to want to help, though, but this isn’t really the place.

            1. anonforthis*

              Yup! I bake a lot and worked in a bakery and touching the edge of a hot baking sheet gives you a nice ol’ straight scar that looks like a slash mark. And because you tend to bump them in the same place, you can end up with some parallel burn marks.

              1. BookishMiss*

                Fellow former baker! Ovens definitely cause scars. I got to the point where I stopped noticing when I got burned until someone pointed out the blister to me, it happened so frequently. They’ve mostly faded now, but the ones that haven’t REALLY haven’t.

                1. AnonEMoose*

                  For several years, I had a scar on my hand from accidentally putting it against the oven rack while getting a cookie sheet out of the oven. If it had been on my forearm or wrist, I could see someone thinking that was a self-harm scar. It’s pretty much faded now.

                2. Artemesia*

                  I have done this more than once with the oven at home and it leave a straight scar on the forearm.

              2. pancakes*

                I have those. Not a pro baker, just a recreational one. Also have a lengthwise scar on one risk from recent-ish surgery to repair a fracture. And I have a cat. I’m sure at least some coworkers have imagined alternate scenarios to explain all this but thankfully none have tried to refer me to a counselor!

            2. Rebecca in Dallas*

              Yes, I have several scars on each forearm from my oven racks. :( I finally invested in oven mitts that come up to my elbows.

          3. Kathleen_A*

            Yes, exactly. A friend of mine had carpal tunnel surgery back in the early days when you ended up with big ol’ scars. They do look a lot like a suicide attempt.

            I bring this up not only to point out that just ’cause they look like self-harm scars, that doesn’t mean they are – but also to point out the dangers of making assumptions about other people. OP, I know you mean well and your feelings do great credit to your heart. But your heart also needs to accept that this is something you should not even think about involving yourself in. Save your suicide intervention tactics for someone who exhibits symptoms of depression NOW.

          4. Ruth (UK)*

            I played rugby for about 4 years and often had very suspicious bruising including on my inner thighs etc. I once had a doctor try to get me to discuss the domestic abuse they were certain I must be a victim of…

            1. many bells down*

              I literally walked face-first into the edge of an open door once. I had a line across my face and a black eye. But you can’t tell people “I walked into a door” without them thinking it’s a cry for help.

              My friend does roller derby and she has the same problem. That black eye was just an accidental elbow, not someone purposely beating her.

              1. froodle*

                I’m so glad it’s not just me… I was walking to work one icy day,chilly hands deep in my coat pockets. Lost my footing, couldn’t get my hands out in time to stop the fall, arrived at work with a freshly blooming shiner and a cut lip. A very nice co-worker came up to me at break answer me know nobody ever deserved to be hit by someone they loved. I was like, yeah people who do that are the worst of the wor- ooohhhh no that’s not what happened! I don’t think they believed me though. In their defence “I tripped and fell” does sound like a bad lie.

            2. Kj*

              I once had a medical emergency in the backcounty while backpacking. I was evacuted to a hospital. The staff was convinced I’d been abused, as I been hiking for days and crossing rivers and climbing rocks. I bruise easy, so I was a mess. I had to pretty sternly explain to them what I had been doing so they would focus on the reason I was there.

          5. Yay commenting on AAM!*

            My BIL is a pastry chef, and he often has bright angry red lines (and the scars they turn into), anywhere from half an inch to two inches long on his upper arm about an inch or two above the elbow. It’s from leaning over the ovens at work and burning his arm on the hot racks.

            But if you didn’t know that, you’d think he was cutting himself.

          6. AnonAsF*ck*

            Oh yah! I totally forgot about how often I got major burns (in a straight line) from working in a kitchen/bakery. Hot cookie sheets are the DEVIL.

        2. Ellex*

          I used to have a visible scar down my forearm that, to the average person, looks a lot like a suicide attempt. It is, in fact, just a cat scratch that wasn’t even particularly bad, it just left a scar that remained fairly noticeable for a long time. I didn’t mind explaining this the first few times, but after a while it got old.

          Years ago, I had a high school classmate who had considerable scarring on her arms from falling through a glass door. Every year she had to deal with a bunch of teachers who would press her on her apparent self-harm, and every year her parents would have to go to the administration to explain the situation all over again. One year a teacher went so far as to call CPS despite the administration telling them the circumstances and my classmate having no current injuries. While the teachers were just doing their job, it made her incredibly self-conscious.

          Basically, if you see active evidence of self-harm, that would be an appropriate time to say something. If all you see are scars, let it lie.

          1. Elemeno P.*

            I also came here to talk about cat scratches! None of them have scarred, but they look pretty bad while they’re healing.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            I used to work for a veterinarian. We joked that vet techs always wear long gloves to formal occasions to hide their half-healed forearms.

            1. Adalind*

              Yes! Scars could be from anything. I also second Dust Bunny. When I first started working at the vet the girls would joke – say goodbye to sexy arms! I work PT there now so when I go to my FT job they sometimes see various scratches and scars… luckily most know I work there so I don’t get any questions.

          3. PVR*

            My scarring is also from falling through a glass door. Thankfully my teachers never called CPS but I am now remembering how self conscious I was when I was younger. And some of the scars are arranged in parallel lines of the same length that look suspicious. It must have been the way the glass broke.

        3. MSMS*

          I have scars that look like I self-harmed on my forearms, but they’re from working for a year at a job where I had to cut down briar patches and other sharp things with a machete.

          There’s no way to get rid of the few deeper ones – it’s been over 10 years and they’re still there. I’m sure some people take a look at them and wonder or want to say something, but I really don’t want to have that conversation with anyone other than close friends.

        4. Theo*

          I at this very minute have five or six very visible cuts/scratches on my right wrist, and half a dozen healed ones on my left, that look EXACTLY like self-injury scars — because I handle rabbits! It’s worse this week because I’m building hutches, which means handling wire; and yes I learned my lesson about long sleeves but I’m not going to stop rolling up my sleeves at work because of it. I would be FURIOUS if someone I didn’t know offered me a doctor’s number; A of all because there are tons of reasons someone might have a series of parallel scars (hello, hardware cloth, hello, briars, hello, four-clawed animals who hate you personally when picked up), and B, people who self-harm are not stupid. They know what resources are out there just like you do. My spouse, who has a number of quite visible self-harm scars, would also be furious. You do NOT comment on people’s bodies. You do NOT decide they aren’t competent enough to know how to access help. If you have an EAP program, I guarantee she knows about it already if she needs it.

          (Additionally, I take [mild] issue with “unhealthy coping strategies”; most people who self-harm are doing so because it feels like, and may in fact be, the only way to cope, and I am firmly of the opinion that anything that keeps you alive, even if non-ideal, is acceptable. Self-harm and suicide attempts are not the same, and do not necessarily lead to each other.)

          1. Decima Dewey*

            When I worked for the Library for the Blind, a coworker had to have surgery for a repetitive stress injury. There was a long vertical scar on her arm after she came back to work, which could look like a suicide attempt if you didn’t know better.

            Coworker was blind and the repetitive stress injury was partly due to being led by a guide dog, FWIW.

            1. Gen*

              My mum had carpel tunnel surgery in both wrists at the same time and due to very skinny wrists they scarred badly. Despite telling everyone at work what was going on because she was out from a significant amount of time, she still had people spread rumours about a suicide attempt (and harangue her in supermarkets). It’s been over twenty years and the scars still look pretty recent. Generally if you can see people’s scars in casual conversation then they’re not worried about them anymore so please don’t make them self conscious all over again

          2. pancakes*

            A lot of people do comment on other people’s bodies! I mentioned my own scars above, but want to add that sometimes I have to have one arm bandaged all the way up to my armpit due to lymphedema, and nearly every time I’ve gone out in public with it, strangers have made appalling “jokes” about domestic violence. “I hope you got him back!” and that sort of thing. (The bandages are for compression but look similar to an old-fashioned cast). It’s amazing and appalling.

          1. blackcat*

            One time, my parents cat attacked another cat. I tried the bucket of water strategy. It failed. I then grabbed a towel and tried to pick up the cat. *He sliced my arm from wrist to elbow through the towel.* It was gnarly. Rather than have a foot long line of bandaids, I rocked a gauze rap from wrist to elbow for about a week. If it had been symmetric, it would have looked like a suicide attempt.

          2. BookishMiss*

            I have a nice one straight down the outside of my arm from a cat who suddenly decided that she needed to be Elsewhere, and my shoulders are a whole mess of welts and scratches from Velcro-kitties who hang on just for fun.

            I also have three very visible scars on my wrists from heart surgery when I was 3mo. I’m nearly 29. When people ask me about them, I just draw their attention to the massive zipper scar I have starting above my collarbone. It’s fun.

        5. anycat*

          i have a gnarly wrist scar from surgery that people often think is a result of self harm. it isn’t, but they sometimes look embarrassed after asking.

        6. SKM*

          Yes! My husband also has scars on his forearm from a childhood injury that are often mistaken for self-harm scars.

      3. Boo Hoo*

        Also to note, they could be other scars. Based ok his description not likely but I know people who worked in kitchens who have very similar scars and have been asked about it, for people not to believe it. My ex looked like he had hurt himself badly and they truly were from a pizza oven time and time again. Truly I doubt this is the case here but on top of you always needing to stay out of this, sometimes there are other explanations.

        1. Jadelyn*

          This, too – cat scratch scars can look a lot like self-harm scars, as they tend to be parallel lines and often happen on the arms. There are other reasons someone might have parallel scars on their arms.

      4. Dez*

        Yes to this. I used to self-harm and have some scarring on one of my forearms (and other places not immediately visible when clothed). I live in FL and don’t want to wear long sleeves daily, and only a few have noticed them because they’re white in color and blend in pretty well with my skin. But it does suck that they’re still a bit noticeable because that was 10 years ago and I don’t want to be seen for my past. It kind of sucks that I have to live with the consequences of my old coping methods. That’s me being hard on myself, and I’m not projecting that onto others who self-harm.

        Anywho, now that I got that off my chest, I saw the OP’s comment, and it’s totally understandable as to why he was initially torn about speaking to the coworker. I’m glad he came here and asked first. :)

      5. mintypins*

        AGREED. If someone gave me a phone number for a therapist after seeing my FIFTEEN YEAR OLD self-harm scars I would be pissed. Especially because I already have a therapist, thanks.

      6. Much anon*

        Steel studs and metal roofing make some wicked slices & scars too. I have some from remodeling my house 20 yrs ago the look just like blade slashes.

    2. Les G*

      This response has said it all. I’m hoping this will be one of those posts where everything who has something to contribute does it under a single post (this one?) because it’s hard to see how you could add to this. Don’t do it. Mind your own business. Done.

    3. Needaname*

      Agreed. Also, she knows (1) self harm is a thing some people see doctors about (2) how to google a doctor. Which she might well have done years ago and be fine now.

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        Yes, this. It reminds me of the (male) OP a few months ago who had a (female) colleague who seemed tired all the time, and he wondered if he should recommend that she drink coffee.

        I mean, I guess it’s good that they both wrote to Alison before offering advice. But come on, people. These are adults who operate in the world the same way you do – it’s reasonable to assume that they know most of the same things you do about how the world works.

          1. Matilda Jefferies*

            Link is in moderation, but if you search for “sleepy employee” on July 26, it’s letter #4.

    4. Flash Bristow*

      Absolutely this. The topic is completely off the table. I myself have the odd self harm scar; many of my friends have anything from a small scar to really badly messed up arms. But mostly these are old news, from a decade or two ago.

      Your co-worker surely KNOWS what it looks like (assuming it is blatantly obvious that the scars are self-inflicted rather than from, say, burns and skin grafts). It isn’t your business to notice or comment, unless they seem very depressed and suddenly out of sorts in the now, in a way that you genuinely think – irregardless of scars – that their current mental health may be affecting their work or their safety. If that ever happens, it is a whole different question as to how it might be handled.

      It takes many of us a good deal of bravery to expose scars, however they were caused – others really arent comfortable but have no choice, such as in a really hot summer – and yet others are so used to how they look, and comfortable in their skin, that they forget how it might look. In all cases, it’s kindest if you say nothing at all. If they want to discuss it they’ll let you know. And that also means no staring, no suggesting nice long sleeve tops for the season, or offering a really good cream you’re aware of – no comment at all unless their wellbeing seems genuinely at risk right here, right now, and then it should be handled the same as you’d treat anyone else in that challenging situation, regardless of anything you might know or deduce about their past.

      I’d like to add: I’m glad you came to AAM to ask and learn – that’s so much better for everyone than unwittingly blundering in! Best wishes.

    5. Anne (with an “e”)*

      I have similar scars. Please, OP, do *not* say anything to your coworker. Also, (I’m not saying you did this or would… but, just to be sure) please, do *not* mention her scars to anyone else. She does not need to be the focus of company gossip. Also, please try not to look or stare at the scars or otherwise do anything to shine a limelight on these scars. Thank you.

      1. Q*

        I agree. As someone with a giant scar on my neck from thyroidectomy surgery, I *really* hate it when I find people staring at it. You can’t see it until you’re a foot from me, but I’ve seen the shocked look on people’s face and can almost see them questioning should I ask how you got that. No I was not slashed in the throat, I paid a ton of money to get this scar. Thankfully all of my coworkers at my newer job do not ask me and are very polite.

        1. boo bot*

          “I paid a ton of money to get this scar,” accompanied by a withering look, would be an awesome response.

          Still sucks that people ask, though.

    6. JulieCanCan*

      Yeah just coming here to say the same – no need to mention or acknowledge the scars, she knows they’re there. I’m glad she’s comfortable enough not to hide them.

    7. Office Gumby*

      Two clues to tip you off that there is nothing you need to do or say to her:

      1. They’re old scars. There are no new scars. This says that while something happened in the past, nothing is happening now.

      2. She’s rolled up her sleeves and carries on. This says she’s over it and has gone on with the rest of her life, probably a happy one.

      Taking these two clues into account, why would you feel the need to say anything?

      1. Courageous cat*

        Seriously. I’m sorry but I don’t feel that these intentions are wholly good in light of these two things.

          1. pancakes*

            I don’t think anyone is necessarily reading cruel intentions into it so much as self-regard. The question of whether or not to say anything here is maybe more focused on giving the OP an occasion to feel good about himself than on effectively helping his coworker, since they’re not recent scars, and since she’s doubtlessly aware that self-harm is something she could maybe see a therapist about if she wanted to.

            1. Salamander*

              If I were a person who had such scars that the OP commented on…I would feel that the comments were invasive and possibly paternalistic.

    8. AemiliaJane*

      Adding my voice to this as another woman with old scars on my arms: let it be. I understand the desire to be helpful, but the best thing to do is ignore them and continue being a good colleague.

    9. Lilian*

      Adding my 5 cents: oh please no, I’d have serious doubts about your boundaries and judgment if you said anything.

    10. Lilo*

      My sister still has pretty clear scars from something like this from when she was a teenager and before she got her panic attacks treated. She over 30 and she’s been having it treated and well under control since she was 18. Saying something to her would embarass her and be if no good to anyone.

      Stay out of it.

    11. BritCred*

      Yeah, the offer of help of “hey you should see a doctor” would seriously cross boundaries and piss me off.

      Don’t ever presume you know anything about a co workers state of mind or have the right to push anything on them OP.

      And don’t think that you can watch those scars to look for new ones either and call it being a good co worker. Or anything else that started as a seed of the thought “she’s obviously had issues in the past so….”

      Best way to lose all respect and even lose a coworker? Assuming you have any right to comment or judge on their health, mental or physical.

      1. Glowcat*

        Agreed. Besides the fact that it’s none of his business, it’s quite obnoxious that he thinks she has “unhealthy coping strategy”: you need much more than “unhealthy coping strategies” to reach the point where you hurt yourself. It’s not something you do every time you are in a bad mood. It’s absolutely not a sign that she’s somehow fragile or unreliable.

        1. Emily K*

          Yeah, there is a lot of misunderstanding about cutting. It is not typically a precursor to suicide or an indication of suicidal thoughts. It may be an “unhealthy coping strategy” but so is binge eating or staying on the internet until 3am every night or compulsive shopping when you’re deeply in debt – it’s a thing a person under stress does to resolve their emotions, something they discovered elicits a dopamine response in their brain that calms the distress they’re feeling, so they become conditioned to use that as a tool to feel better…which is almost the opposite of a suicidal impulse.

          The reason people engage in these “unhealthy” strategies is typically because they *work.* Yes, there are better, healthier options out there, but “unhealthy” doesn’t equal “dangerous” and is too low a bar for it to be a stranger’s place to intervene. The fact is we live in a sick society and the majority of us probably have some unhealthy coping skills. This one is just more outwardly visible than a shopping addiction or chronic insomnia.

          Once OP understands that self-harm isn’t the indication of danger/suicidal ideation he may have misunderstood it to be, hopefully he sees how foisting unsolicited advice about personal/mental health on a loose acquaintance/near stranger in the workplace is not the right move.

          1. Jadelyn*

            This! I wish more people understood this.

            Back when I was actively self-harming, I would respond to people who tried to just get me to stop cutting without addressing like, my actual problems, by very bluntly saying “I can either hurt myself, or I can kill myself. Take your pick.” It might’ve been unhealthy, but the emotional release valve it provided was critical to my ability to stay *off* the ledge of potential suicide.

            1. Mom of a Former Cutter*

              This is really good to hear.

              My daughter went through a rough patch in college, and from afar I was worried sick. She’d called to get insurance info to see a therapist, so that helped assuage some of the panic, but so much of it was so invisible to me.

              (and she DOESN’T share; which gives me a huge load of guilt, bcs how bad a mom do you have to be for your kid to actively avoid telling you stuff, and I’ve always actively tried to be the mom who didn’t guilt you for screwing up, but of course it’s not about me, and sometimes kids don’t tell their parents about their troubles BECAUSE they like their parents and want their good opinion, so who the hell knows why she doesn’t share, and anyway it isn’t about me. And my emotions of panic, and worry, and resentment at being shut out, and sadness, and guilt are NOT hers to manage. But of course, our own reactions ARE all about us, and while that’s selfish, it’s also OK to acknowledge them to ourselves, even as we try our damnedest hide them from our kids….)

              She has thin, parallel scars on her shoulder, and when I mentioned them (“Oh, what happened here?” expecting “that tote bag strap” or “a spotlight in the theater,” she got defensive and sort of angry, so I dropped it. Her reaction made me assume it was cutting, which of course added another layer of sadness and worry. It also made me a little more alert to any signs of continued stress-relief, which I don’t think I see.

              But to hear that it’s a mechanism that WORKS makes it easier to live with my worry for her.
              So thanks for sharing that.

              1. Jadelyn*

                I’m glad my words helped a bit – I really hope she’s getting help and doing better.

                And if it helps at all, she may not be telling you because she doesn’t want to worry you, not because she doesn’t feel safe talking to you or anything like that. My mom and I are super close most of the time, and I trust her with all kinds of stuff, but I tend to downplay my mental health struggles and/or find other outlets when I want to talk about that, because I know my mom is a worrier and she worries enough about me as it is. I protect her when I can, by not giving her worrying-self more fuel to work with.

              2. Dee*

                As another former cutter I want to echo Jadelyn’s comment below and say it sounds like you’re doing great, staying attentive while trying to avoid giving your daughter another thing to be anxious about. Cutting was not the smartest coping mechanism in the world for me but I strongly believe it was ultimately less harmful to my body than a more socially acceptable cigarette or binge-drinking habit would have been. And hopefully it’s heartening to see so many former cutters announce themselves on this thread—seems like most of us ultimately find better ways to feel OK on our own, or simply stop feeling the need to self-injure once they’ve weathered the neurochemical storms of adolescence.

              3. JD*

                Hey, if it helps with the guilt… I’ve been actively suicidal (as in, had a method/date, didn’t actually make an attempt) and didn’t tell either parent. They’re good people, we’re on good terms. But overall we’re also not very….touchy-feely? Inclined to talk about very personal stuff with each other? And especially when someone’s a teen or young adult, it’s a time for figuring out who you are and how to solve problems without getting your parents to bail you out. Often parents are the LAST people a young adult will turn to for help and it has NOTHING to do with the parents being “bad”.

                (Also, sometimes a close relationship can make it harder to share very personal/emotional stuff. That’s why therapy works, precisely because it’s not an otherwise close relationship.)

                Your daughter was finding help from people who weren’t you (definitely the therapist, probably other people as well) and that may be hard to come to terms with but it doesn’t make you a bad mom, that means she was figuring out how to be independent. It’s GOOD for young adults to find people other than their parents they can get help from. If your daughter knows you’ll be there for her if she asks for help, and also that you’re going to be chill about her deciding to handle things without you… that’s really powerful. That’s one of the best things you can do for a (grown-up) child.

              4. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

                When I was in college, I hid most of my mental health issues from my parents because I loved them and didn’t want them to worry. They are great parents and I’m sure you are too.

          2. kitryan*

            Yes, this.
            If they’re all healed/old and she’s an adult, it’s her business.
            I have a set of 20 year old marks on my arm and they didn’t mean I was suicidal then and they definitely don’t mean that I am now.
            I would be offended if someone who hadn’t been in the same boat themselves took it upon themselves to try to ‘help’. Especially at this point.
            I’ve occasionally considered saying something to those who I can see appear to have the same sort of scars, as a sort of commiseration, but even then, ultimately, it’s not my business and I’ve never actually said anything.
            And as one can see from the many comments from pet owners/bakers/cooks/vets, vet techs and more, there’s a lot of things that look like self harm scars and aren’t.

          3. Lavender Menace*

            OK, wait a second though.

            I agree that OP shouldn’t intervene in this case, because the scars are old and the coworker maybe does not want to be reminded of a time in her personal life that was difficult.

            But while unhealthy does not equal dangerous…cutting and self-hamris dangerous. Cutting can escalate and the physical injury can put someone’s health and life in danger. Cutting is not really in the same bucket as chronic insomnia or compulsive shopping. And while self-harm is not necessarily directly related to suicidal ideation, a person who is harming themselves may be at heightened risk for suicidal ideation and suicide because of the cause of both those things (i.e., the mental and emotional distress that motivated the cutting in the first place).

            Cutting is absolutely an indication of danger – not necessarily suicidal ideation, but not something that’s totally OK and healthy either. That doesn’t mean it’s a coworker’s place to address it, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not an indicator of danger to a person.

    12. Dragoning*

      “You should talk to a doctor.”

      Likely, your coworker already has done so, given that these are old, and frankly, even if this wasn’t a mental health issue, how many times on here do Alison and the commentators point out you have no standing to comment on your coworker’s healthcare decisions.

      And yes, the fact that you’re a man and she a woman makes this worse, but this would be annoying and invasive no matter what the gender dynamic.

      1. Notasecurityguard*

        LW for #2 here. Glad for the permission to leave it alone as was my first instinct.

        Fwiw (added context) she’s a teacher and I’m an SRO (a cop but who’s in the school). Our training says when we spot that stuff on kids we should “start a conversation” with them (and we’re mandated reporters so it’s clear I have to kick it to the school psychologist) and they train us to be on the lookout for that kind of stuff with our coworkers due to the hightened risk of suicide (case and point in our 600 person department last year we had 2).

        But yeah thanks for the mental permission to ignore this

        1. Someone*

          In that case, she is DEFINITELY aware of the help available! (And her history might be somewhat useful in her job – she probably has a much better idea than most regarding how to treat someone with a mental illness).

          The line of thinking behind looking out for coworkers is well-intentioned, but, again, I fail to see what a coworker could actually do to help. Telling a self-harming coworker “you should see someone about this” is about as useful as telling a smoker that their habit is unhealthy, or an overweight person that they need to go on a diet. Figuring THAT out isn’t the problem – the problem is to follow through!
          So unless you have the kind of relationship where you can follow up on that, kindly hound them about how they should do something about it because YOU suffer along with them, too, talk with them about what which kind of help is actually useful and which makes matters worse, or even forcibly drive them to a place where they can receive the professional help they need – unless any of that is something your relationship allows, you will just come across as patronizing.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Yeah no…I’m going to push back on the idea that a coworker who smokes and a coworker who’s fat are the same level of unhealthy. Even though you’re using them both as examples of when NOT to get intrusively “helpful”, being overweight is not inherently an unhealthy thing or a symptom of any kind of unhealthy lifestyle, so please stop assuming that all overweight folks ~obviously know~ they “need to go on a diet” and just struggle with follow-through. I’m fat. I’m not dieting, not now, not ever, not because “the problem is follow through”, but because my body is not a problem needing fixed.

            Just…don’t use fat people as a prop in your arguments, please.

          2. Autoimmuned*

            I wish you would edit out the fat comment. That’s making a completely terrible assumption.

            I had an misdiagnosed auto-immune disease that caused a lot of weight gain. An overweight person could have that or another medical issue or being on medication that causes weight gain, actively trying to lose weight, etc. That comment is hurtful and making a huge assumption.

          3. AnonAsF*ck*

            As a self-harmer myself, I am torn.

            The habit itself is deeply personal and pretty shameful if others were to learn of it (nobody knows I do this; I am an adult professional of 20+ year who always wears sleeves). However, if I ever got to a place where I needed true help, I would hope someone would step up.

            That said, self harm – for me – isn’t about suicide or even true worrisome harm. It’s the equivalent of a caged animal rocking back and forth and hitting the bars over and over as a pressure valve (scientific fact: many animals have ‘self harm’ behaviors for self-soothing during stressful circumstances). Yes, I can actually harm myself but not to the point that I incapacitate myself (it’s more about control than anything…and I can’t control anything if I allow myself to die) – and I would never ever do it around another person, especially a kid. So that really shouldn’t be the focus.

            If you’re truly worried that she may be at risk, look at her other behaviors: does she look rested, has she lost weight, are her clothing options appropriate, are her bills paid, does she have a stack of outstanding parking tickets, etc etc etc. Those would be more obvious than an old scar – which frankly might not even be from self-harm. Shit happens, and I’ve had scratches from a damn cat that could look very ‘suicidal scar’ish, the little beasties.

            If her other behaviors are totally normal, leave her alone but maybe occasionally check up on her if you’re concerned, but keep your space. Also, I am not a professional mental health professional (that thought makes me laugh), so keep that in mind.

          4. Someone*

            Okay, so it seems I worded it wrong. Yes, I know overweight is more complicated that a proper diet or the lack of it. I meant it more the way that “going on a diet when overweight” is one of these common advices that are around everywhere, and that it can be presumed that a person, fat or not, has heard about it. That’s what I meant – that your advice is not going to be anything NEW to that person, at all.

        2. EOA*

          You’ve been getting a lot of implicit criticism here but I think your explanation here helps provide context. It’s completely understandable that you would want to apply the same thinking to a coworker that you are required to use for a student. And that you would need to give yourself permission to ignore because it probably feels like you’re going against everything you are trained to do.

          But a coworker is different than a student in that she is an adult. I would say that you should continue developing a collaborative relationship with her. And obviously, continue using that training and those instincts for the students. They are lucky to have you.

          1. Anon for stress*

            I’m just weighing in with the ‘don’t day anything’ camp. A member of my family self harmed over the last couple of years but had therapy to learn how to cope. It’s not something that should be addressed unless you know someone very well.

            1. Anna*

              I don’t agree that you have to know them very well, but I do think in this context, the OP can feel confident that it’s okay not to bring it up.

              1. Jadelyn*

                I’m with Anon for stress on this one, actually – it’s really not something you can bring up with someone you’re not close with. Mental health and self-harm are extremely personal and intimate topics (especially given the level of stigma that remains around those topics) and there are very few things in this world that piss me off as much as someone I’m not already very close to, feeling entitled to comment on my mental health – especially as it’s based on supposition at that point, what with the “we aren’t super close so I haven’t already talked to you about this” aspect.

                1. Lavender Menace*

                  I’ve been following this thread with great interest and, admittedly, a little bafflement. When I was depressed and suicidal, a comment by a random stranger quite literally may have saved my life – I ran into a student I did not know who saw me feeling sad; she asked me how I was, I admitted I felt depressed, and she warmly encouraged me to go to the student counseling center. I did, and that was the beginning of my road to recovery.

                  I’ve worked in college student services before, and our training was essentially to look for the signs and to bring it up even with students we weren’t very close with. I realize the relationship is different there – I was in a role that was explicitly tasked with helping students.

                  My current role is very different. And I realize this context is very different. But if I saw the classic signs of current suicidal ideation by one of my coworkers, it would be hard for me to ignore that.

                2. Ruthie*

                  One of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me has been when someone I’m not very close to reached out to me to see if I needed help after observing signs of my poor mental health. He revealed to me his own very difficult mental health, and admitted he recognized some of my behaviors, including the healed and very subtle self harm scars on my arm (my own husband has never noticed them). We were college students at the time and I was apparently noticeably unhealthy, so I can see how that’s different than this situation, but he was kind to me when I really needed someone to be kind to me and I will never forget that generosity. I guess the point is I disagree that checking in on someone is inherently wrong.

        3. Jessen*

          I suspect part of the difference is also – it’s going to be pretty rare for a kid to have very old scars. It’s very rare for children to start self-harming before teen years, so a child with marks on their arms is going to in most cases have pretty recent ones.

          But with adults, you have to remember as well that those scars often don’t fade. I have decade-old scars that are bright white and plain as day, and show no signs of fading. I expect in another 20 years I’ll have the same bright white scars. It’s been dealt with and I don’t feel the issues behind it are something I need help for now. If I did, as an adult I have more options (not just in terms of treatment either!).

          1. Alton*

            Kids also have much less independence as a rule. They often can’t seek help on their own without the support of their parents and other adults in their lives. Adults can make a doctor’s appointment for themselves if they need to.

            1. Someone*

              Yes, and schools are also supposed to take up the slack of some parents; monitoring the kids’ academic and personal progress absolutely is (or should be) part of working at a school.

              Besides, kids have less life experience and are still figuring themselves out. An adult is actually likely to have something useful and helpful to tell them that they haven’t been told before. But with another adult, the chances for that are really slim. I’d argue that an adult with a well-known kind of mental illness is actually likely to know much more about it than most.

            2. Jessen*

              Also a lot less options regarding general coping skills. I can’t tell you how much it’s helped that I can just…not be around hurtful people. Or decide to fix my favorite dinner and kick back with a game if I’m stressed out. Or even take a hot shower. Kids need to get permission to do things like that, and a lot of adults will treat a kid trying to cope as “acting up.”

          2. Jadelyn*

            Good point – I still have scars from over a decade ago, and they seem disinclined to fade any further. I haven’t actively harmed myself in at least seven years and my mental health is pretty well-managed at this point, so someone assuming I’m in crisis based on some old scars would be silly.

          3. Rainy*

            Also–I grew up on a farm and worked with dogs professionally as a young adult, and I have a couple of scars that people have mistaken for self-harming scars that are just…evidence that farm work and handling livestock marks you up sometimes!

            There’s one in particular on my right forearm that’s pretty distinct and very straight and I’ve definitely had more than one person ask if it was from a suicide attempt (which–rude!) but it’s from a dog scratch 25 years ago that barely broke the skin at the time it happened–and maybe bled 3 drops–but was in a spot that got stressed a lot as it healed and as a result built up a nice little scar.

          4. AnonAsF*ck*

            Oooh, I gotta stop you there. Kids self soothe with pain often. Think about the toddler that cries and hits his head on the crib over and over again because they want out. Don’t assume ‘self harm/self soothe’ behaviors all look the same. They’re organically found by the user over time (generally) and look different as they age: they just become more hidden. Crib hitter could be a cutter-in-the-garage-when-everyone-is-asleep once they hit 12 yrs old. You really never know.

            Please don’t assume kids aren’t self harming.

            1. Jessen*

              Even 12 isn’t going to be that long ago for anyone reasonably referred to as a kid. And I say this as someone who almost certainly started younger than that – I have a hard time remembering when exactly, but I’d say around 10 or 11? I’m just thinking that you’re really going to get at most around a decade, which is still old but not the timeframe that you can get for adults.

        4. Labradoodle Daddy*

          Your explanation here provides a lot of context for your impulse, and it was a good instinct to write in and ask.

        5. Parenthetically*

          Yeah, this gives me a lot of mental context for why you’d wonder if you needed to say something! In a regular office environment it’s a HELL NO, ABSOLUTELY NO. In this environment with your circumstances, you’re right, it’s still a no, just an “Oh, I see why you’d wonder, but still” kind of no.

        6. Detective Amy Santiago*

          With this added context, I agree that you don’t need to say anything, but it’s not a bad idea to keep it in the back of your mind and maybe make a point of checking in with this colleague on a regular basis.

          1. So anon for this*

            Hard disagree. She has scars that could be decades old and no indication she needs any kind of help. Put the scars out of your head and leave her 100% alone about this.

        7. Yorick*

          I think you shouldn’t say anything. But if you see signs of CURRENT distress from her or any other coworker, you can show whatever support you’re able to.

        8. squids*

          In this case, since she’s a teacher, I’d guess she’s actually supporting kids by having her scars occasionally visible. Demonstrating to them that self-injury is a thing that people do, and survive, and can move on from, and that they’re not irrevocably broken.

          1. Kaitlyn*

            Yes, exactly. So much of mental health stigma is feeling like you’re the only one to have ever suffered this way, and kids/teens especially can lack the language to identify or express shame or loneliness. Having old scars is a mark of something you survived, not are actively battling, and survivors have usually done some work to get through their shit; it’s role modeling to say, even in a subtle way, “Hey, you will get through this, you’re not alone.”

        9. Sylvan*

          That all makes a lot of sense! I can see you’re trying to do what’s right – but what’s right here is, like you thought, leaving it alone.

        10. Matilda Jefferies*

          Ah, that is helpful context, thanks for clarifying. I still think the advice to ignore is the same, but I will retract my “come on, people” comment above as your situation is more nuanced than I first thought.

          Thanks for writing in, and for taking the advice so calmly!

        11. Mia*

          Teachers are not students, though. I used to teach and I would actually have been genuinely frightened and afraid of losing my job if an SRO approached me about my mental health.

          Plus, please already stigmatize teachers for not being absolutely perfect and having any personal struggles. There was a a very recent incident in my district where a “concerned parent” called our local news station to report that a teacher had been in in-patient treatment, which they ran a story about.

        12. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Thanks so much for coming back to clarify! It sounds like the “adult at a school” part of your training may be bleeding into your “stay on alert for suicidal ideation in coworkers” training.

          Mandated reporting is not the same as being on the lookout for coworkers who may have a heightened risk of suicide. In most states, mandated reporting refers exclusively to reporting related to children at the school, because cutting can be a sign of child abuse, untreated trauma, or neglect.

          So it may help to shift your thinking a little bit about how to intervene if you see a coworker who you think may be in distress. It’s difficult to raise mental health issues or to suggest someone see a doctor without knowing someone a little better, and if they’re truly in crisis, a passing comment to go see a doctor may feel stigmatizing or discourage them from accessing care.

        13. blackcat*

          A history of mental illness does not necessarily mean a heightened risk of suicide. Old cutting marks aren’t at all a concern.
          I don’t have cutting marks but if someone found out that I had PTSD and then suddenly started telling me to talk to a doctor, I would tell them mind their own business and avoid them at all costs. I would assume that they were stigmatizing/stereotyping me based on my mental illness, which has been in remission for roughly a decade. This would go double for a dude doing it to me (I am female).

        14. Anon Anon Anon*

          I don’t know if this applies or if it’s already been mentioned, but I’ve found it can be hard to differentiate between self-harm scars and scarification as a body modification thing. The two can look similar. It probably wouldn’t be appropriate to ask, but for the sake of peace of mind, she could be into body mods and not have struggled with self-harm. Or there could be another explanation (unusual injuries, medical procedures, etc).

        15. Kat in VA*

          I know you’re getting piled on, and I can understand where the piling on is coming from.

          I also want to state that I appreciate that you notice and you are concerned. That noticing and being concerning has helped many a person in a bad situation that went on far too long before someone actually *noticed*.

          I don’t want to get into any more detail about my situation than that, but I think that LW#2’s concern was coming from a good place, whether misguided or not.

          1. So anon for this*

            I’ve had someone (not an intimate — my boss, actually) notice and intervene when I was in a (current, active!) mental health crisis, and I was and still am very grateful that someone noticed and cared. I also have old self-harm scars and if someone did to me what OP2 was considering I would be, well, very much not grateful. I’d be livid at the invasion of privacy and I’d be deeply sad about the reminder that these old scars are going to be with me forever. It would hurt, not help. And it’s honestly hard for me to imagine how anyone could think asking about clearly-old scars wouldhelp. I think this is very, very different from being concerned when someone is having problems now, and I think that is what makes it hard for me to see truly good intentions here, as opposed to just wanting to Do A Good Deed On This Person.

        16. PANTSorGTFO*

          Former cutter here- I’ve had some interesting reactions from coworkers who notice my (more than a decade old) self-injury scars. I personally don’t think about them on a day to day basis and haven’t for a long time, and I long ago decided I wasn’t going to be limiting my fashion choices because of them.
          If she’s an adult and not making any effort to hide them I would suspect they’re similarly far removed from her current life.

          Big worried eyes and over cautious Serious Conversations over scars that old are not helpful. A couple folks managed to say something that still respected me and my autonomy (hey I noticed your scars; they look pretty old and you seem to have your shit together but if you need xyz(to talk, help, whatever) I can abc (listen, recommend somebody, etc.) but it was pretty immediate after them noticing and they were pretty willing to let it drop at my “thanks, but I’m good now.”

          Basically all the evidence you have points to – she had a rough time a while back, she’s fine, and she’s an adult now so I think you’re safe in letting it go without comment.

    13. Pickles*

      Agreed, it’s none of your business. Especially if they aren’t actually self-harm scars. You don’t know, and you don’t know her well enough to say anything regardless.

      1. Arya Snark*

        Good point – I have a rather large scar on my wrist that I got while playing an overly enthusiastic game of tag as a kid. It very much could be looked at as a scar from a suicide attempt, however.

      2. Skweeks50*

        Agreed. I have about 20 or more small parallel white scars across each arm and wear short sleeves all the time. They are all from my cat who will unexpectedly bite me while I’m petting her. Multiple people including doctors have asked about them assuming they are self-harm scars when they are more defensive than anything.

    14. Debra Wolf*

      Definitely not something you should say anything about. It seemed to me to be a very odd question to have to ask. You may want to look at your own personal boundaries at work. Commenting on a coworker’s medical condition (whether explicitly stated or not) at work is not ok. Can you imagine going up to an overweight coworker and giving her the name of a weight-loss program, or going up to a coworker that smokes and handing him a referral for a smoking cessation program, without being asked? Unless someone is in imminent danger, you should not be commenting on coworkers’ medical issues, past or present.

      1. EOA*

        The OP explains above that he is a security officer in a school and a mandated reporter for students. It’s quite literally his job to ignore boundaries when it comes to student safety. It’s understandable that it would be difficult to turn that all off when it comes to a coworker, which is why he smartly asked AAM.

        1. Copier Admin Girl*

          I understand where you’re coming from. However, this coworker is a) an adult and not at all in the same position as a student, b) OP noted these scars seem old and has not expressed any concerns about their coworker’s present behavior or safety, and c) it would be highly inappropriate and jarring for OP (or anyone in general) to assume they know how to direct someone else’s mental health treatment and jump in so suddenly. My mom has worked in a similar job to OP’s for decades. I do see your point, I just think it’s important to clarify that having this type of job means it’s incredibly important to know when to “turn off” that instinct to jump in. I’m glad OP asked this community and I hope they do some reevaluation on their thought process.

          1. EOA*

            Not sure where we’re disagreeing. I didn’t say that OP should say something to his coworker. I recognize she’s an adult, and therefore his approach to her should be different than students.

            My only point in this response was to say that the admonishment and scolding that he should re-evaluate his boundaries doesn’t take into account that his job requires him to look beyond those boundaries when it comes to students. In short, given his role, I don’t think he deserves the scolding, even if I agree he should not say anything to his coworker.

        2. Notasecurityguard*

          Bingo! I’m essentially trained to and required to intervene in situations where most people are supposed to nope on out of there

          1. Mia*

            I think it’s still worth reflecting on your impulse to intervene in a situation where there’s no actual reason to. Self-harm scars often never fully fade, and the fact that your colleague felt comfortable enough to roll up her sleeves is a very good indicator that she isn’t actively self-harming. Assuming someone is in crisis because they’ve previously struggled with their mental health isn’t helpful and expressing that kind of sentiment would only serve to trigger shame and embarrassment.

            1. Lavender Menace*

              This is why he asked here. OP wanted to know whether his impulse was right or wrong. I get the people who are saying he shouldn’t say anything, but I am quite frankly kind of concerned at the idea that he shouldn’t have asked at all.

            2. Frank Doyle*

              But he didn’t have that impulse. His instinct was to say nothing, but he also thought it made sense to get an outside opinion as well. Which he has gotten, and which he agrees with.

          2. Rosanna*

            I think you were right to ask the question and no one should be making you feel bad for trying to get more information for yourself when you were not sure how best to report a colleague. Lots of peoples’ instinct here is to ask. I am a former self harmer with very visible scars and multiple people have asked me. I always cross my fingers that no one would ask me at work, if they did my instinct would be to lie and I would find it embarassing more than anything else. I completely get the instinct you have to want to help though and you are not wrong to ask. Just be on the look out more generally for any signal of current issue and make sure all staff know there is support available if they need it. It would have really helped me for there to be an explicit policy in place around mental health.

    15. Dizzy*

      Yes! All of this. I have visible self-harm scars on my wrist, and can’t really hide them at work. I’m really grateful none of my co-workers mention it, because it would make me feel awful and ashamed. And I’m pretty close to my coworkers.

      Along these same lines, I was really grateful when I was talking to a co-worker I’m close to about my bipolar, and a co-worker I’m not nearly as close to asked what we were talking about. She immediately covered for me, saying it was depression (a more socially acceptable problem to have). It was really cool of her, and I’m grateful. I work with kids and I certainly don’t need anybody thinking I’m unstable.

    16. Parenthetically*

      Holy crap yes, this is 100% NONE of your business, OP#2. You know nothing about this coworker’s life and you are not in a position to offer her any meaningful help or support. “Hey, you should talk to a doctor about that” is meaningless “advice” more designed to make you feel better than to actually help her.

      1. Whoops, forgot what my name is here...*

        His further explanation as to his role at his school as a in school officer above puts that into context. And he was wanting reassurance that his instinct to ignore was the right one. Was good he wrote in to ask before stepping in it.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Yep, I wrote this before I read his context, and trust he’ll take that into account. :)

    17. snarkarina*

      As someone that a great number of former self harm scars and now a great deal of self consciousness about them–and there’s nothing I can do but keep them covered all the time or hope people respect boundaries when I occasionally wear short sleeves in the summer. (I have thought about getting a tattoo over some of them, but I work with C-levels so an exposed tattoo would raise more eyebrows than exposed scars)

      I have had people ask, and I always answer the same, “old scars from a different time in my life.”

    18. Copier Admin Girl*

      +1. I have self harm scars on my wrists that I know people can see if they try. I appreciate the desire to help coming from OP’s comment and the seeming lack of judgment- that is kind. If someone told me though, “your old habits weren’t healthy, here’s a doctor’s number” I’d be affronted. Presumably I’ve never met this doctor, my past is just that: MY personal PAST, and I wouldn’t understand how someone could mention something so jarring, as if they know better than I how I should care for myself now.
      As some other commenters have said, I’m very open when asked. I’m ready to answer most questions because I realize that education about self harm is important, especially in a time when the taboo around freely discussing mental health is breaking down. However, making assumptions about how someone else should take care of themselves (when you’ve never discussed/ even noticed this before) and diving right in with your unsolicited opinion, is absolutely not okay. I think my language sounds harsh here so I apologize. I just don’t know how else to stress how inappropriate this would be.

    19. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I literally gasped “no!” when I read OP2’s question. Nothing good will come out of prying into this.

    20. Sylvan*

      Yes. Your care for your coworker and your awareness of self-harm are good, but the kindest thing you can do for someone with old scars is to mind your own business. :)

    21. Dr. Pepper*

      I must admit it was pretty jarring the first time I saw someone’s self harm scars. I’m afraid I stared at them a bit, though I tried not to. They were obviously quite old, and it was not my place to say anything so I didn’t. But I can understand how the OP would be taken aback seeing those type of scars, and from the letter I imagine that was the first time that had happened to him.

      And yes, everyone is right: do not bring up the scars under any circumstances. They’re just there, and like any other aspect of a colleague’s appearance, not for you to comment on.

    22. Paper Librarian*

      I came here to say this. One of my past student assistants had old self harm scars. I made a mental note about it, but never mentioned it to the student or to anyone. Sometimes noticing and saying nothing is the kindest action to take. I always understood them as a sign of how much this student had overcome. Maybe I’m wrong, but I would be much more concerned if someone had scars they attempted to hide.

    23. Clementine Danger*

      Agreed. And I would like to add, as a person with visible trauma scars, it’s possible to forget you have them. You get so used to the way your body looks that you become numb to the visible implications. I say this because I once unthinkingly left my scars visible in the workplace, and a co-worker gave me a bit of a look. It wasn’t until days later that I put two and two together and realized they saw the scars and drew (likely correct) conclusions. And in that moment, I was actually very grateful they didn’t say anything. Nothing good can come from that conversation. Nothing at all. I already know that most people will be sympathetic about the causes of trauma scars, so knowing that a co-worker would also be sympathetic… doesn’t actually change anything for the better for me, or for them. There’s nothing to be gained from it.

    24. JJ*

      Oh my gosh, this OP. There is so much to unpack. Regardless of intention, I found this letter to be paternalistic and presumptuous. They’re OLD scars and she’s functioning fine, she’s obviously handled it and doesn’t need you telling her anything about a medical issue she has that you know nothing about. The fact that you assumed otherwise means you probably need to do a little self-reflection, maybe check out Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit.

      1. Belle8bete*

        JJ, he is trying to determine if he has to do something. He is trained that he must take action if he sees this on a student, as part of his job. He isn’t being paternalistic, he is determining where his job boundaries end, and trying to be a caring person. We need people like that in the world

      2. Rumbakalao*

        I also read it this way. My assumption was that he meant well but something was guiding him to overstep- which his updates proves. He recognizes they’re old and doesn’t mention any signs that she’s still in a bad place, so there is no need at all to bring it up because he wants to be “nice.” And it being an unhealthy coping mechanism is irrelevant when, for all he knows, she stopped self-harming 8 years ago and has been doing quite well since.

        He’s not her dad, her friend, or her husband. He’s essentially a stranger. This is not pressing and none of his business.

    25. :-)*

      I wholeheartedly agree

      #2 Please don’t say anything at all about the old scars you’ve seen. My SIL also did self-mutilation when she was a lot younger and she still feels ashamed about the old scars on her arm. During summer (when it gets really hot) she always wears long sleeves so people won’t notice them (she also fears that it might cause her to lose her job if they are visible/noticed by boss or co-workers, I always tell her she shouldn’t feel ashamed and that it would be ridiculous that this would cause her to lose her job. I tell her that it just shows her past and that she has evolved from that and put it behind, but it is still sensitive for her).

    26. Ms Cappuccino*

      I agree that you should stay out of this since they are old scars.
      However your gender is irrelevant here. The advice would be the same if you were a woman.
      Anyway it’s kind of you to be concerned about others.

  3. Chloe*

    I think it would be worthwhile contacting the union organising the strike to express your support. While it would be more satisfying to boycott the conference or donate to the striking workers, letting them know they have support and solidarity in the broader community is also a powerful thing.

    1. Artemesia*

      I live downtown in a big American city with hotel strikes currently — maybe the town the writer is visiting — I often walk by these hotels and when there are strikers I always give them a thumbs up when I walk by there picket line. It is a small sign of solidarity — I can’t boycott, I live here. But it does seem to be well appreciated by the strikers.

    2. PhD*

      This happened to my field’s annual conference this year as well. The organization running the conference is fairly pro-labor, and so they contacted the union reps to see what would be an acceptable course of action. Many participants voiced concerns about having to cross picket lines. In our case, the union informed the organization that they did not want participants to boycott the conference and that they should not feel uncomfortable crossing any picket lines. I am not sure if this is an an unusual case!

      1. Slanted & Enchanted*

        We host a annual conference and I can confirm that we’ve got signed contracts for about five years out. We have a small conference — some businesses contract their conferences ten years out. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve never had an ongoing strike during one of our events, because this would cause distress for our attendees and exhibitors.

        These types of events aren’t nimble–there’s no way to easily move your conference of hundreds or thousands of people to a new location. Plus, I don’t think our event insurance would cover the losses if we voluntarily canceled the conference because of a strike, not to mention the ripple effect this would have on attendees’ existing airfare and other prepaid travel expenses. As a conference organizer, you’re in a bit of a catch-22 unless you deliberately select cities that aren’t unionized, which isn’t the best approach, either.

          1. J.*

            Thanks for sharing this, pancakes! It’s something people can plan for but a lot of folks don’t think to.

            OP #5, even if there’s not too much you can do at your level to stop the train this time, you can definitely advocate to include strike insurance clauses in your future conference contracts! That signals to unions AND companies that you take workers seriously and support them.

      2. Sarah N*

        This was actually the case for my org’s annual conference too (although I did not attend as I was on maternity leave). But folks from our conference did contact union leaders and have a conversation about it. They were told the union was not asking people to boycott the hotel at that time, but they did ask everyone to decline the “don’t wash my sheets/clean my room daily” option and to tell them why when we checked in, to raise costs for the hotel (which was easy for people to do and I think a clever way to keep putting pressure on them). Another year, there was a looooong union battle at a different hotel, and our org was able to use it to get out of our contract and move the event to a different hotel. So, with enough lead time, this can work. But, that’s probably over your head and it may be too late for this year. But if you have good rapport with someone higher up, you could mention it can be an option.

      3. Sciencer*

        I’m going to a conference that will be held at one of these hotels as well. We got an email from the conference organization about it explaining why they won’t be cancelling or changing the location, but expressing their understanding of people’s concerns with the situation. They set up an impromptu “discussion” about the matter for one evening during the conference, so it’ll be interesting to see what comes of that.

      4. gmg22*

        It happened to mine also (last month), but in their case they were actually able to negotiate moving the meeting venues and getting the hotel to agree that last-minute lodging cancellations would be OK with no charge. I think that was a pretty unique achievement, however, that most organizations would struggle to replicate.

      1. jman4l*

        I don’t consider staying at a hotel where the workers are on strike to be crossing a picket line. You aren’t going there to do replacement work

        1. Mookie*

          Consumers are frequently, but not universally, asked not to cross picket lines. The LW can inquire about this specific demonstration with its organizers, if she wishes, and ask about their preferences.

          1. Ren*

            Hotel arrangements to host conferences are typically organized months, sometimes years, in advance. FFS, the OP’s company — when the workers weren’t striking — was supporting the livelihoods of the workers by choosing to give its business to the hotel. Frankly, if the OP can’t see this and really has a problem with his/her company still having the conference, OP should quit in solidarity. /s

            1. Postdoc*

              The conference was organized before the strike and most likely the company cannot get out of the contract without penalty. It also does not seem likely that they would be able to find another hotel to host the conference on such short notice. Regardless of where their sympathies lie, they don’t really have much choice.

            2. Kate*

              This is an inaccurate understanding of the purpose of picket lines, which have always been about workers asking customers to help them demonstrate their power to management by temporarily disrupting business.

          2. WellRed*

            No they are going there because they made their arrangements there AGES ago, as did all the attendees, etc. We just cancelled an event due to weather and a state of emergency and are still untangling the insurance mess.

          3. Still Here*

            Or possibly the union is making unreasonable demands. Before taking sides take the time to get some background and understand what is being disputed. I’ve seen management screw workers over and I’ve seen unions drive businesses into the ground.

        2. pancakes*

          It is crossing a picket line. The distinction you’ve identified is between crossing a picket line and being a scab/strikebreaker.

      2. LilyP*

        This would be relevant if the LW had any control over the accommodations and was choosing to cross a picket line, but they clearly don’t.

        I think contacting the representatives to express your support and ask if there’s anything you can do to help would be best thing they can do in the situation. If you can’t afford to donate maybe you can volunteer, help spread the word on social media or something.

      3. Mystery Bookworm*

        Isn’t crossing the picket line a reference to people who continue to work during the strike? I don’t think it’s really relates to customers.

        Presumably they’re trying to get the hotel to change its policies, not put it out of business, so I think having some customers on their side is likely to be helpful. Maybe OP can ask the strikers for suggestions about what sort of support they need most.

        1. lamuella*

          “Isn’t crossing the picket line a reference to people who continue to work during the strike?”

          I think it depends. Strikes are often accompanied by concurrent consumer boycotts. So for example when McDonald’s workers in the UK went on strike there was an associated campaign telling people not to eat at McDonald’s during the one day strike action.

        2. Oscar Jeff*

          It most often refers to replacement workers, but it’s technically used for anyone crossing the picket to do business with the employer while the workers are on strike. The point of a strike is to put economic pressure on the employer, and pickets might be strategically placed to discourage particular groups other than replacement workers from crossing the line if that will create a greater hardship for the employer. For instance, pickets at a loading dock entrance so the employer cannot get the deliveries it needs if deliverymen refuse to cross the picket line, or at a store’s customer entrance to discourage customers from crossing to make purchases. (Although some of that type of thing is illegal under US labor law. I’m just using as easy illustrations of why the concept of crossing the line isn’t limited to replacement workers).

        3. ThankYouRoman*

          As the daughter of a union member, my dad never went on strike, thankfully it wasn’t necessary.

          However any time we saw a picket line, we boycotted the establishment in solidarity. They can just find replacement workers but the consumers being made uncomfortable about knowing the company is in a labor dispute drives their cause the most.

        4. J.*

          It’s called “crossing the picket line” because workers walk in a line with signs and usually informational flyers outside the building. The goal is to stop work happening in that establishment. Crossing that line and going into the building demonstrates that you support the company more than you’re willing to stand with the workers.

          It’s not a metaphor, it’s literal. You sometimes even see the Teamsters refusing to deliver to the building during a strike bc they would have to cross the line.

    3. Flash Bristow*

      It’s a tricky one. My initial response was to show up with coffees and doughnuts for the picketers, but I’m not sure whether that would be accepted as the kind and supportive gesture intended, and a chance to have a brief friendly chat on your break, or whether they’d say “whats the catch?”

      I favour trying to befriend people if possible – as long as its genuine of course, and you won’t be offended if the picketers give you a suspicious brush off. But that at least should be a clue that hey, you tried, not your monkey, move on.

          1. valentine*

            OP5 can’t safely support the strikers while representing her employer. OP5, a business can’t both be ethical and not pro-union strikes. You probably don’t have any excess at the moment and the strikers get that. If you don’t reach out to the union, see where you can support your own community in organizing.

            1. KC without the sunshine band*

              I disagree. There are situations where it is ethical not to support a union strike. It depends on the reasons for the strike, and if you actually agree with that stance. Sometimes, you may not. Like all politics, there’s more under the surface that the OP may never know. OP, go with your gut. I like the idea of coffee and donuts, as kindness in any situation is a winner. If it is ill-received, that’s not on you.

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          I agree. OP 5, you’re not in a great position to do anything major, but if you can stretch your budget to bring some coffee or baked goods to the strikers along with some supportive words, I think it will be appreciated. I know it was when I was n strike. I also like the idea of having a frank discussion with your manager about your concerns and maybe seeing if you can stay in another hotel and just cross the picket lines to attend the conference.

          1. T. Boone Pickens*

            I’m not sure about broaching the topic with the manager. OP mentioned they are new to the organization and low on the org chart meaning they have almost zero work capital. Talking to the manager seems risky to me as it’s highly unlikely we’re going to get the desired win here. I however, wholeheartedly agree that LW should reach out to the striking organization and see if there is anything he/she can do to help the cause (donating time, money, etc). I also echo the suggestion of coffee & donuts if LW can afford it.

            1. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production*

              I agree that it’s risky, and only OP can know whether the risk is worth it for them, in their situation, but just raising with one’s manager is a pretty low-key way to assert “hey, this is something I care about” and that is an important thing in labor relations. If everyone just said, to their manager, that they support the strike and wish the conference were at a different hotel, those are messages that move up the hierarchy and influence how leadership thinks about these things. That’s part of how you put pressure on as a worker… and it’s something that can be done in literally any sector, in any job. It’s the easiest thing in the world for an organization to continue having a conference at a hotel in a labor dispute with its workers; it gets much harder if leadership *knows* that their staff supports their fellow workers.

              People are reluctant to exercise this kind of soft power, because of the risks involved… which is exactly how the whole system is designed. That’s the outcome that the bosses want. The only way workers can get their fair share of revenue is by banding together, even across companies and industries. And that involves a bit of risk. I get when people in extremely tenuous situations can’t take those risks, but there are tons of people who dramatically underestimate their power and overestimate their risks.

              1. Psyche*

                It also depends on the situation though. It can come across really naive if they try to pressure the company to cancel an important event that they are already on the hook for financially in order to show solidarity, especially if they are in an unrelated field. It makes it look like they either do not understand how much work goes into running conference or that they value the workers’ labor negotiations more than they value the central function of their organization. There are cases where this might make sense but there are many more where it doesn’t.

                If the event does not yet have a contract or is smaller and easier to move then it might be worth objecting and would not be making a value statement about whether the workers’ labor negotiations or the organization’s mission are more important.

        2. PhyllisB*

          Me, too. (Former telephone operator here.) Our strikes/picket lines were always in August, so cold drinks were always welcome. If anyone had brought us drinks and doughnuts we would have been very grateful.

    4. Miri*

      This was going to be my suggestion as well. You might even explain the situation and ask for their thoughts on it – if they’re hotel workers it won’t be the first time something like this has come up!

    5. Linda Evangelista*

      I also just attended a conference in what is probably the same city – org wasn’t contracted with the hotels in question, so I’d shout some encouragement and well wishes as I walked past. I’m impressed its still going on, they’ve been going 24/7.

    6. SongbirdT*

      During breaks or on her own time, LW can always join striking members on the picket line. You don’t have to be a member to hold a sign!

      1. Pulgasari*

        We were on strike earlier last winter and hot drinks and encouraging words were both much appreciated. I am based in UK so not familiar with US law, but I personally think it’s a huge ask to suggest the OP either raises it with their manager or quits in protest. If the OP was more senior, though, I would absolutely be advocating that they raise it in their organisation. Maybe nothing would change on this occasion, but maybe the discussion might feed into future policy changes (eternal optimism strikes again).
        And if it can be afforded, even a small donation to the striking organisation is useful.

        1. Lamb*

          The LW explicitly said they couldn’t afford to donate; we should take them at their word.
          And the way they said it (start of their career, would like to donate but can’t afford to) specifically sounds like it’s not a matter of “can’t afford to give $500” but of “can’t afford to give $5”, so maybe someone has an idea to show support that costs $0, because even “donuts and coffee” (especially for enough strikers to staff a hotel) can be more than some budgets can hold

    7. Elle*

      Maybe ask that the company make a donation to the union in question?

      I don’t think its necessary to remove your business from the hotel. Asking your company to hurt another company in a way that also hurts your own company financially is a pretty big ask, and not a hill I’d die on. Its kind of ‘none of their business.’

    8. halmsh*

      The OP should contact the union too to find out what action they want people to take! Generally speaking, do not cross picket lines as a non-scab individual unless you know what the workers’ ask is. I recently participated in an anti-gala picket where we wanted supportive people to go into the gala so they could advocate for our asks and keep our demands in people’s minds! We didn’t want the donors to not donate, we wanted them to leverage their power to get management to recognize the works and pay them better!

      It’s also worth noting that you can call the hotel and make your anger known – even if you can’t change what your company is doing, let them know you will withhold your business in the future. Public pressure, even on a small scale, makes a huge difference. You can advocate for trusted colleagues to do the same.

      Recently, Third Coast Conference (for people in podcasting and radio) in Chicago was faced with this dilemma. Members and attendees refused to attend and called the Festival organizers and the hotel. The hotel ended up offering to accept the cancellation of the fest and the rooms with full refunds, but in the end, the collective pressure led to the workers winning the strike! So they ended up not having to move the conference (more here

      For everyone talking about their conferences being scheduled years out, know that just threatening to cancel can be the push workers need for a win! You are underestimating the push of just *saying* you’re considering cancelling.

  4. phira*

    #2: My partner has self-harm scars from almost two decades ago, and he’s so tired of people treating him like he’s a danger to himself RIGHT NOW that he will not go sleeveless or shirtless, not even at the beach. They’re old scars because it happened a long time ago. He survived, he got the help he needed, and he’s healthy and fine today and has been for years.

    Treat her scars like any other scars–marks on her skin that don’t mean anything. Plus it really sounds like you don’t even know her very well, so talking to her about it would be super inappropriate.

    1. Doggies Everywhere*

      Agreed. I have a history of self harming, and I’d be very uncomfortable if a coworker were to address my old scars. Also, if someone were to address my scars at work, I’d be very worried about other people overhearing or even my boss finding out and how I’d be treated at work. That was something I worried about at my last job where people didn’t separate personal life from work life and had little understanding to mental health. Only a very select few know about my history of self-harming, and I’d like to keep that matter private, so I wouldn’t be surprised if your coworker feels the same way.

      1. Temperance*

        My sister, who I talk to daily, has these. I don’t bring them up, ever, and she is my SISTER. A not close colleague should be quiet.

        1. Nox*

          Can we get a pinned post with op2’s updates on how he’s a mandatory reporter and that’s where the question had come from?

          Cause people seem to keep missing that detail when they go at them still with this be quiet stuff.

          1. Labradoodle Daddy*

            Yeah, plus I’m getting the strong impression that he’s looking to have his instinct NOT to say anything validated, because it goes against his job training.

          2. MsChanandlerBong*

            But that doesn’t really matter, does it? Mandated reporters are supposed to make reports on behalf of children, senior citizens, people with disabilities, and other “vulnerable” populations. AFAIK, reporting old self-harm scars on a coworker would be outside a mandated reporter’s purview unless that coworker belonged to one of these vulnerable groups.

          3. Dragoning*

            A lot of people commented before he said that. If you look at the time stamps, this way a very early comment.

          4. Someone*

            When I comment, I usually haven’t just the LW in mind, but also everyone else who reads this site. While my comments address the LW, I want also everybody else to understand the reasoning behind my string “NO”, and my comments are written accordingly.

          5. Temperance*

            That doesn’t change anything for my comment. Mandatory reporters deal with children, not adults. I would say this if he put it in the letter, even.

              1. Pinky Pie*

                As a mandated reporter, this is an adult who doesn’t have a disability that is profound. She is not part of the group that you would be obligated to report on. The most you should say is something to the effect of “I know unsolicited advice is seldom welcome. I noticed you had some scars. I’m here to listen if you want to talk about it, but if you don’t that okay. The school has a number that you can call if you need help.”

                1. kitryan*

                  Nope, don’t say that either. Say nothing. If there’s any other sign of stress, then address that – and maybe ask if she ever wants to talk anything out, you’d be happy to listen – if and only if 1) that’s true and 2) there’s recent stress.
                  Otherwise old scars are just something from the past.
                  I’d be so insulted if someone pulled that on me. It’s like: ‘I found your LiveJournal from when you were in college and I read it and you seemed sad. Want to talk about it?’

          6. Courageous cat*

            Not only should OP2 have included it in their letter if it was that relevant, but I don’t think anyone’s missing that detail, since he should indeed still be quiet.

          7. Jadelyn*

            You’re assuming that the context will actually change our responses, and I know I at least still have the same response regardless. So he’s a mandatory reporter. Cool. My response is still back off, drop it, leave it alone, she’s not one of the kids under your care, don’t treat her like one.

    2. Parenthetically*

      A dear former student of mind battled self-harm for years, and is now in a much better place. That’s a part of who she is, but yeah, she wears long sleeves even in the summer because she’s REALLY done with having That Conversation with concern trolls who treat her like she’s made of glass the minute they see the marks.

    3. Trout 'Waver*

      I have humorous stories about my scars that I’d be happy to share. But I agree that it would be totally inappropriate in OP#2’s context or in your partner’s context.

  5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, I have a jerk streak, and I would be mighty tempted to mess with your creepy coworker. The mature solution is obviously what Alison has advised, as he’s already sabotaging himself by focusing all his attention on you instead of improving his performance. But here are ideas if you, too, have a jerk streak:

    When he “shoulder-checks” you, I would loudly say “Ow!” or “Whoa, what gives?” Or you can ask him—very sincerely—if he’s ok, because it seems like his depth perception is way off and he may want to have his eyes checked. Another option is to pull a Jim to his Dwight. Make cryptic notes while looking like you’re meaningfully taking notes on a creature in the wild (obviously don’t do this if it would interfere with your productivity).

    1. Les G*

      None of this seems particularly jerky to me, to be honest. Making some sort of shout of surprise is a pretty natural response to being bumped into (which is what this is, although in this case it’s intentional).

    2. JulieCanCan*

      I don’t think any of your options sounds jerky. I thought of a LOT worse.

      The physical thing needs to be addressed ASAP – please speak to whoever you know will deal with your coworker appropriately. I’m confused about how that’s happening without consequence – has anyone else witnessed it? What do you say/do immediately after it happens? Isn’t that something that he should be terminated for doing, like, after the very first time it happened? Why does he still work there and why on earth does he think it’s something that people in the working world do? The only time it *might* be acceptable is if you two were close [work] friends and this was part of your greeting or joking around with one another (which you’ve made clear is definitely not the case.)

      Good luck OP – this would make me dread going to work – it sounds frustrating and not something you should have to be dealing with.

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        I suspect that the ‘shoulder check’ approach has been deliberately chosen so that the coworker can claim it was a accident. I would think that OP might need to also find a way to address that defence.

        1. valentine*

          I wonder if the managers mentioned OP as a good example and if OP is a woman and this guy is planning to claim gender discrimination. OP1, two years is too long for both stalking and performance management. He’s escalated from stalking to poisoning the well to assault. What’s next? I’d not have lasted this long without someone removing him from my orbit and telling him they’ll fire him if he doesn’t leave me alone.

        2. Aveline*

          Even if it was accidental, dude should not be in 10 feet of her given his obsession with her.

          Simple. He’s told to stay away from her.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Right now, the OP should try to maintain a buffer space of a couple of feet whenever possible, so at least if he keeps doing it, it’s obvious to everyone that he’s going out of his way to assault her.

            And OP, remember, one of the legal definitions of assault in most places is “unwanted physical contact”. When you talk to HR or a manager, I would suggest saying that he’s making unwanted physical contact despite repeated requests to stay away from you and not touch you. Especially with HR, that should put them on high alert if they have half a brain between them.

            I would also document what you actually did for two or three times that you can prove that his notes are wrong (about being on break when you were doing something else), while it’s still fresh in your mind. Showing that he’s making baseless, biased assumptions in even a couple of cases undermines pretty much everything he writes down.

            1. Colette*

              I would not recommend that the OP start her own documentation. She hasn’t been asked about it, and it’s unlikely she will be. And ultimately, it takes her time and energy away from doing her own job.

              1. The Cosmic Avenger*

                I’m not suggesting a similarly comprehensive journal; as I said, she should document two or three times when she has hard proof that the assumptions in her stalker’s journal were way off base, like working away from her desk instead of taking too many breaks. If anyone higher up doesn’t know the stalker’s history and takes his allegations seriously, it should only take a couple of examples to show that his journal is full of suppositions and assumptions of the worst on her part, and it might easily save her job.

                1. Colette*

                  If he’s been taking notes for 2 years, the odds are pretty good that she won’t be asked about the specific entries she knows about and has prepared for in advance – and honestly, if someone immediately had an alibi for an accusation like that, it would seem more suspicious than having to think about it.

                  And if she’s at the point where she needs to document so that management will believe she’s doing her job, she’s working for a place that is pretty messed up.

              2. Sacred Ground*

                I would absolutely document it as evidence for the police the next time he escalates his physical aggression, and for the subsequent lawsuit against the employer for allowing their employee to physically assault another employee.

              3. epi*

                This is not good advice in a stalking case. Stalking victims often need to provide a lot of evidence of the pattern of behavior in order to get the situation resolved.

                Stalking victims also tend to have trouble recalling the relevant events in a chronological narrative. This is probably due to both the effects of the stress of the situation, and their evolving understanding of what was going on (at least some of the behavior will have occurred before the victim decided they were being stalked or harassed).

                The OP should keep their photos of this book, with backups if possible. They should also write down what they can remember about incidents where this person assaulted them, if possible, or other incidents that made them feel uncomfortable or surveiled. If there are people they spoke to about the behavior or how it made them feel at the time– especially if they felt distressed or afraid– they should write down who that was and what they said. Save emails and screenshot texts.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Seriously. Most workplaces have a zero tolerance policy on this type of stuff.
        I’m afraid your manager isn’t taking this seriously at all (either behavior).
        If he’s in a PIP, though, usually those have a time associated with them, often 90days, and you either improve or you’re out.

    3. AsItIs*

      I like the “Whoa, what gives?” response. Also “Hey, why did you hit me?” and “Stop assaulting me” (loud enough for others to hear). Because he IS assaulting you, so please don’t soften it as a “shoulder check”.

      And push management. “Dwight is still keeping notes on my every move. Either he’s been ordered to do it by management or he’s moved into stalker territory. Which is it? If it’s the former, I would like to know why. And if it’s the latter, why is management allowing him to stalk me? “

      1. Carlie*

        Absolutely. If the journal is part of his PIP, I can’t imagine why he hasn’t been told putting you in it is inappropriate and to stop now. This is obsessive stalker behavior, whether he realizes it or not, and management should be taking it seriously.

        1. Life is good*

          Yes, the journaling about the OP’s every move is creepy. I can’t believe this isn’t being dealt with by the employer. Isn’t this a form of harassment? I couldn’t function at work if this were happening to me. The shoulder checks should be enough to get this guy fired. Maybe I’m off base here, but I think management sucks at this place.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            Not harassment, but its definitely a massive distraction to his PIP, I’m sure. His manager has failed that team considerably.

            As for being a jerk, I would totally respond to the shoulder check with ‘What gives? Are you drunk or are you’re intentionally knocking me over? This is, like, the third time this week, Dwight.’ and then I would patiently and calmly wait until he responds or walks away, making sure there are witnesses.

            Nobody messes with my shoulders, yo.

      2. Zip Silver*

        You know, I’m going to buck the prevailing opinion here. It doesn’t seem like the coworker’s stalking OP.

        What I get from the letter is that the coworker obviously has a problem with OP (hence shoulder-checking, which is a super high school thing to do), and that he’s keeping documentation on issues that he finds wrong with OP. While it sounds creepy from the other side of it, commenters have endlessly said on AAM to “document document document” on other pieces of advice so there’s a paper trail for HR, and I’m thinking that may be the more likely case here.

        1. EPLawyer*

          I’m with you here. He is doing the “But Suzy does it toooooooo, see I have all the documentation” thing. For which a sane manager will say “It’s not your job to police Suzy. ” Perhaps that conversation has occurred and he is not listening. He is on a PIP after all. Clearly he is not someone who gets it.

          The physical contact is more worrisome. I am afraid the management is taking the position that he is on his way out anyway so why bother to correct this thing too. But this is not he is not filling out the TSP reports properly. This is assault. I’m in the loudly exclaim the next time he hits you camp.

          1. Decima Dewey*

            And if coworker isn’t making his targets, the extraneous information on OP in his journal is likely to prompt the response: “How much time did you waste tracking OP’s every move, real or imagined.”

          2. Aveline*

            This is a case of lawsuit waiting to happen.

            If LW is hurt by this dude at work and retains counsel, it’s going to be very difficult for the employer to claim they weren’t responsible and couldn’t have prevented anything happening.

        2. Blue Anne*

          Yeah, I think he’s just hit BEC with this letter writer and is documenting their every move.

        3. Smarty Boots*

          No, the “shoulder checking” is NOT just a super high school thing to do. He’s physically touching OP’s body in an unwanted and clearly aggressive way. It’s completely inappropriate at work, especially since OP has made it clear it is unwelcome and has even pulled in their manager about it. WTF is wrong with the manager, is my question.
          He might not be stalking OP, but he’s clearly gone past “just another a*hole” behavior and right into “pull in HR yesterday.”

          1. asdfasdf*

            I agree. Unless it’s accidental – which is not the way it looks here – it is very serious. I wouldn’t say to Dwight himself, just go to HR and management. Whenever someone is behaving threateningly towards a coworker, that is warranted.

        4. Psyche*

          Usually when people say to document something, it is someones actions towards them. I haven’t seen anyone advocate tracking someone else’s hours and breaks unless it is tracking times that they had to cover the work because the coworker was not there. It is never a good idea to insert yourself into situation unrelated to you. Even if you are right you look bad. In this case, I am wondering if management hasn’t said anything to him because they consider what he writes about the LW irrelevant and they don’t see the need to spend any effort correcting him if they are planning to fire him.

          1. LJay*

            I can see situations where he would think that it was related to him though.

            Maybe he thinks there is some sort of discrimination going on – whether gender based or some other sort (we don’t know the races, religions, ages etc of either person in the letter).

            In that case he may be trying to document what he perceives as unequal treatment – he’s been written up for lack of productivity, so he’s going to document that the OP is just as unproductive as he is but hasn’t been written up. There’s several things wrong with that, but I can see where the thought is coming from.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              Exactly, so they may see him as a sue threat and are trying to ignore it (which is wrong because surely they have their own documentation of his performance but a lot of companies are paranoid and just bury their head in the sand instead)

        5. Jadelyn*

          We have never told people to “document document document” on someone else’s unrelated work schedule. “Document everything” advice is for when someone is taking action *toward you* in some unwanted or inappropriate fashion, so that you have supporting evidence when you ask TPTB to step in and help you, not so that you can say “But Mom, you don’t punish her for it!” when you face consequences for your poor performance.

          In fact, in similar situations where people have complained about coworkers getting to leave early, the advice has overwhelmingly been “nunya beeswax, MYOB and move on”.

        6. epi*

          You’re wrong about that, and you should look up the definition of stalking before claiming that it’s not happening here.

          Keeping surveillance of another person, without a legitimate reason to do so like being a PI, is textbook stalking behavior that is part of the legal definition in many jurisdictions.

    4. Dwigt*

      OP should absolutely Jim to his Dwight. Put one finger to your ear and concentrate intently, then nod to yourself and make some hasty notes. When your manager/another nearby person gets up from their desk, whisper to your watch, “The eagle has flown, I repeat, the eagle has flown. Delta bravo is a go, over.” Ask Dwight what time it is in Cambodia, and when he tells you, mutter, “That’s odd… but that would mean…” then urgently get up from your desk.

      1. Cosette*

        I was thinking too that perhaps OP should say loud enough “well, time for my smoke break” while really going to a long meeting (where her attendance will be noticed and perhaps even on record). Then co-worker can document OP’s hour long “smoke break” which can be easily verified as actually at a meeting, so co-worker looks like they are now just making stuff up!

    5. media monkey*

      yes, i think i would say loudly “i’m going to lunch now Fergus”, “i’m taking my break now fergus” to make it clear that i knew what he was doing. he sounds dreadful.

    6. Rebecca*

      Regarding the shoulder checks: this person is a bully, pure and simple. One shoulder check I could pass off as an accident, as in, the person wasn’t watching where they were going and walked into me accidentally. 2 not so much, and the way it sounds in the letter, this is not a one off thing. I’d be sorely tempted to put him on his sorry behind the next time he tries it. The physical pushing bothers me as much as the journal keeping.

      1. Psyche*

        Running into someone accidentally does happen, even multiple times. If he were apologetic, did not only target the OP and otherwise got along well with the OP I would think it was accidental, even if he did it a few times. However, since it is targeted, he has an obvious problem with the OP and does not seem at all apologetic or embarrassed, I would not believe even one time was an accident.

        I had a coworker who seemed incapable of being aware of his surroundings. He ran into EVERYONE, including his boss, multiple times. Every time he looked surprised that someone materialized in his path and was very apologetic about it.

        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          If your coworker wasn’t a he, I’d think you work with me. I also run into file cabinets, chairs, doors, walls, etc. which is even more embarrassing than it sounds because I instinctively apologize to whoever.whatever I ran into.

          1. Noobtastic*

            I apologize to inanimate objects, too! Because the “Sorry, I didn’t mean to” is true and instinctive.

            I also shush inanimate objects when they make noise in an otherwise quiet environment. Such as doors closing during the night, while I’m on the way to the bathroom. Way to wake up all the sleepers in the house with my loud “SHHHHHH!” after a door not-quite-so-quietly closed. But on the other hand, if anyone should hear a door not-quite-so-quietly close during the night, and it is NOT followed by a loud “SHHHHHH!” then we know it’s a burglar. Because I’m not the only one in the family that shushes inanimate objects. My parents taught us kids well.

        2. Noobtastic*

          As a person with a decades-long struggle with dizziness, yes, a person can bump into other people multiple times, completely on accident. But if this cow-irker does not IMMEDIATELY follow the bump with some form of apology, it ain’t no accident. It’s assault. Treat it as such.

          I’d be sorely tempted to give it a count of five (to give him ample time to apologize, and/or confirm his intention to hurt you), and then drop everything, so that I can follow him around, yelling, “DWIGIT! WHY DID YOU HURT ME, DWIGIT! YOU DIDN’T APOLOGIZE, YOU JUST HURT ME, DWIGIT! WHY DID YOU HURT ME, DWIGIT! DWIGIT! YOU HURT ME, DWIGIT! WHY DID YOU HURT ME, DWIGIT?!” And continue until management actually notices. Then, you have a choice. If they have your back, stay and see if they’ll deal with the rest of Dwigit’s issues. If they don’t have your back on him assaulting you, then it’s time to take your *productive* ass elsewhere, and tell them exactly why.

          I’m not saying this is what LW *should* do. Just what I would be sorely tempted to do. Still, LW absolutely should take that physical assault to management and see if they will have her back, or not. Even if she decides to stay, she needs to do it from a position of being fully informed about her position.

    7. ellen*

      My boss had me “keep a notebook”, sort of, on a coworker of mine. The circumstances were such that she was, on a daily basis and in a two person department, driving other people out of our little sub-department (ummmm… think preparation of clay for the eventual construction of teapots – we had nothing to do with design, and our two jobs consisted of her preparing and cleaning the clay and me weighing and portioning it out according to written work orders) I was hired for the position while she was out on leave and I was trained by the prior person in my position to work in both positions, because there is both overlap and sometimes coverage issues. She was driving people away by changing what she insisted were the guidelines for the clay – this clay was too wet, or that clay was set aside in the wrong container. She felt that these complaints were severe enough to go directly to any of a number of people who might be considered above us and would complain viciously about how “Bad” I was. So they had her “retrain me”, even though at this point she seriously HATED me, for reasons that I don’t understand at all. (she comes from a not-local culture and doesn’t speak the local language that well, and this is NOT the first, second, or third time this has happened to someone in my position) .
      MY job, and my notebook, was to document every word and gesture that she did, so that there would be no more questions about the “right” way to do things. It was the MOST uncomfortable three days of my life, and she ended up kicking me out of the room by noon on each day to do other tasks, BUT I did manage to get notes on each, individual part of the job from start to finish.
      Now, over a year later, when she complains about my work, the boss says that SHE trained me, so SHE can’t complain, along with sometimes showing her my notebook with all my notes and asking if this is what I had done, and isn’t this what I was told, by her, to do! I kept a printed copy of the notebook at my desk (where I am doing my different from hers job) and any time she says I’m doing something wrong, all I have to do now is open the drawer, where I keep a printed copy of the notes.
      My department has stopped grinding through employees, we now have three stable employees to cover the 14 shifts a week (two every day of the week) and have done for 6 months.
      She is still a jerk and still will take the time to bitch at us and at our bosses, but no one listens to her any more. Not a GREAT solution, but until she retires or dies, probably the one we will go with. THe notes in my desk disappear on a regular basis, so I print up a new copy and keep it in my locked locker, just in case.

      1. Radio Head*

        ohhh-kayyyy?! I mean, that sounds like a big mess in all possible ways. But I don’t see how it’s relevant or helpful to the OP – the situation, the notebook and its purpose are all entirely different here. The only similarity is that you took notes in a notebook. Which people do all the time, in lots of ways for lots of reasons.

        Can you elaborate on how you see this as relevant info for the OP?

          1. Myrin*

            This is really not about nitpicking others’ experiences (if that is even a thing), it’s about whether a comment is at all relevant or contains actionable advice for the OP, and I’m with Radio Head in thinking that between this comment and the letter, really the only overlap is that both experiences contain someone writing something down in a notebook.

          2. Yorick*

            I agree with Radio Head here. Writing careful notes about the training you receive from a coworker is totally different than journaling your coworker’s movements.

        1. LCL*

          I think it’s relevant to OP in that it’s a compare and contrast thing. OP’s coworker is keeping a notebook on OP for his own selfish purposes, and is justifying it by saying management requested it. ellen was keeping a notebook because her management requested it to solve a problem in the work group, not for selfish purposes. It will help OP keep her point focused by having an example of a functional job notebook vs a nonfunctional one.

          One of Alison’s rules for this blog is for replies to stay on topic, the rule doesn’t require posters to justify each posting as to why it is on topic. Nobody is stopping you from doing that in your posts, if you believe that the best way to respond.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          I took it as they’re suggesting the Op document back at the coworker because it may probe fruitful one day.

        1. Ellen*

          I felt that the language divide and the cultural challenges might be part of why she hates me. Did I step on toes? Accidentally offend her? I’ve been told that her culture tends to look down on overweight people. I am morbidly obese? (Is there a culture that doesn’t look down on the seriously morbidly obese?) There’s SOMETHING going on, and I don’t understand it, and I can’t really ask. Where the notebook thing might be relevant is what if the guy was asked to take notes on things (maybe his views on breaks are a little too fluid, and he was suggested to pay attention to what other people did and he took it way past the line?) Certainly, I felt like a hell of an ass doing what I was told, and i carefully checked with her at the end of the day to make sure that what i wrote down was right.

          1. Noobtastic*

            There are some cultures, even today, that do not look down on very large people. However, they are almost all small countries, and not part of “Western” culture. Various of the Polynesian island cultures, for example, tend to either not look down on very large people, or actively prefer them.

            Some people in “Western” culture have taken the “Western” ideal of thinness to such an extreme that they actively hate, and mean to harm, anyone who is larger than a size 10. I don’t know if this co-worker actively hates and means to harm large people, but such people *do* exist, and if Ellen can’t think of any other reason for this co-worker to hate her, and yet knows by co-worker’s actions that co-worker does, indeed, hate her, size is a good an explanation, as any. And sad to say, some cultures do actively hate large people *even more* than “Western” culture, in general, dislikes them. Some cultures are violent toward large people, in general.

            Don’t get me started. I’ll pull us waaaay off topic. Suffice it to say that I agree with Ellen that a culture clash, mixed with sizeism, is a likely scenario for why her hateful coworker hates and wants to abuse.

      2. WellRed*

        Ellen, this sounds like an exhausting way to work and your boss sucks and is not doing his/her job.

    8. Temperance*

      This isn’t jerky. I would do all those things, plus start writing everything he did in a notebook.

      1. JB*

        Yes, they need to very loudly draw everyone’s attention to it the instant it happens. Shrugging it off and ignoring it is sending the message that it is okay, and he will only escalate the behavior to see what else he can get away with.

        If he tries to claim it was an accident, tell him to eat shit. Then be just as loud and assertive next time it happens. We’ll see how many “accidents” it takes before the people around you catch on.

        It is assault, this guy is a mental degenerate, and if the employer won’t take it seriously OP may have to force them to decide which of them the boss wants to keep.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          I agree – I think she should draw loud attention to ALL of the things he does to her. When he shoulder checks her say very clearly “Hey – that is the third time you have shoved me this month! You need to stop doing that!”. When he is making notes in his notebook when you are leaving the room or arriving “Are you recording what I’m doing again? Because I find that very creepy. Please stop doing that”. Every time. If you have friends in the office see if you can’t get them to call him out too. Social pressure is a wonder.

    9. Boo Hoo*

      If it were me I’d get super rude “hey Fergie I’m going to the bathroom now in case you want to note that”.

      I once had a horrible boss ask for a minute by minute account of my day. So I gave it, exactly.

      10:30am-10:34am. Bathroom
      10:34-10:35 walked to desk
      10:35-10:40 updated this list.

      Jerk never asked for that again.

      1. boo bot*

        Haha, I hope you updated the list after every task! (actually, that could quickly become an infinite loop!)

      2. Noobtastic*

        But… how long was peeing? Pooping? How long did it take to wipe? Did you have to wipe more than once? How much time spent flushing? Did you immediately pull up your pants and walk out, trusting that the plumbing did the job, or did you turn to check? (I always turn to check because growing up, you had to, and sometimes had to shove stuff along with a handful of toilet paper before flushing along, because plumbing is not universally efficient, and now it’s a habit to check, everywhere I go.)

        You should have divided up your bathroom break into at least three or four sections. He said minute-by-minute. Heck, you could have had a one-minute timer going, to remind you to write down everything you did during that minute.

    10. Jokey jokester*

      I would be a little jerkier and next time he shoulder checks op I would say in a loud voice “Stop, The next time you try to look down my shirt and touch me I am going to HR, I have let it go because I thought you would take the hint but this is too far Stop now.”

      Or if you are at work after he leaves or can stop by after dinner consider loosening his mouse, not unplugging it but loosening it or his keyboard. Hiding his coffee or water bottle (not near your desk, but maybe leave it at an empty desk or by the copier or if he leaves his dishes in the sink just throw them away. Get a honey packet and put a little on a paper towel and touch his phone with it, or leave the headset off the hook and dial and hang up to some strip clubs so it is on the ID when he gets back.

      1. T. Boone Pickens*

        The inner dramatic actor in me wants to tell OP #1 to work on their flopping skills (if you watch soccer/football or NBA basketball you’ll know what I mean) so the next time jerk face co-worker decides to bust out a shoulder check, you take a tumble.

        The mean spirited jerk in me wants you to find a giant empty box and leave it on his desk with a note that says, “Was cleaning out my garage, found this and thought you might need it.”

        Also, I advocate you try to find this guy’s notebook and have it ‘disappear’.

        Thank you for indulging me. I’m sorry that you’re in a crappy situation.

        1. Rockie*

          The weightlifter in me (I’m literally a little old lady) says, tighten up your core, set your back and let the jerk bounce off you. I’ve actually done this in a crowd, this one big dude was protecting/shepherding his wife and he shoulder checked me twice. I set myself and waited for the third one and when it happened he almost went down. He looked at me all wide eyed but I earned his respect. Best day ever.

          1. Pomona Sprout*

            I am a little old lady, too, and I am going to file this strategy away in case I ever need to use it!

        2. teclatrans*

          We had a tiny basketball player in high school who was a master of this, she absolutely flew when someone ran into her. OP, this approach could be pretty effective if anybody else is around. Don’t absorb the physical shock and brace against it, let it move your whole body. This will make the offense much more visible to coworkers.

    11. Ashlee*

      There is over 300 comments already so this may get buried but I had a coworker who keep a book about everyone. As in each employee had a page with their name at the top and notes about when they came in, when they had break, who they talked to, when they left for the day.

      I found it one day when I was in a storage room trying to clean and organize it. It was behind a box sort of wedged between the steel frame of the storage shelves and the wall. I fully admit that I read everything she had wrote about me and skimmed the other pages. The handwriting was very distinctive, so I immediately knew who it belonged to- a department director who was extremely nosy and gossipy.

      I waited until she was at lunch, sitting at a table with all her pets, strolled in and dropped the book on the table in front of her. I said “I found your book.” Walked out and she never said a word to me or my director because she knew she had been caught. If I see her as I come in, leave or go to break, I pointedly look at my watch.

      1. Noobtastic*

        If I knew how to do it, I would imbed Orson Welles doing the slow clap, right now. Because I can’t think of words to express my admiration right now.

    12. Alex the Alchemist*

      In my head, I have a very satisfying image of OP going the Regina George route: “Why are you so obsessed with me?”

      (Obviously don’t do this.)

    13. Troutwaxer*

      I think you should take the issue of notebooks and shoulder checks to either HR or the highest management you can reasonably speak to about workplace violence. If nothing is done, get another job ASAP. If you do end up getting another job, I wouldn’t speak officially to HR – there’s no point in touching off the local nutcase – but I would quietly Glassdoor them a couple weeks later.

    14. Mary*

      If you have the opportunity to acquire the book, then do so and trash it. I have done this in the past. Searching through a co-worker’s drawer with a colleague, looking for a piece of office equipment when we came across a dairy which listed our times when we were a few minutes late etc. We had a good laugh, then dropped it in the trash. Never ever heard a word about it… (This was a receptionist who after I had left work ill one day, kept calling my name over the intercom to take calls, because I had not told “her” specifically I was going home ill.)

    15. Ophelia*

      I’d personally be inclined to pull a World Cup move and fall over whenever he shoulder-checks me (I realize this is both petty and ill-advised, not to mention physically problematic for some people but STILL).

    16. JS*

      I wouldn’t be a jerk about it. As long as the coworker is using that for documentation purposes only and not to specifically get OP in trouble. The fact is you likely don’t know the circumstances the coworker is under. It could be that another coworker, boss or someone is reporting him and he is getting in trouble for behaviors everyone else is doing, specifically OP (if they have identical roles).

      I was once in a kind of similar situation. As a salaried employee in advertising, we had official “9-5” hours but since we had to be on call at all hours had semi-flexible day schedules so we ended up working more like 6-7 hours a day in office rather than 8 as our boss said it was OK if we didnt have work to do and left early. My coworkers complained to my boss (he worked in another office) that I came in late and regularly only worked 6 hour days and that it looked like I didn’t have enough work to do. Since I had suspected this might be an issue I documented it that my coworkers regularly took 3-4 20 minute water cool breaks a day, took full hour lunches, ran errands etc, etc. I on the other hand did come in about 30-45 min later than everyone else but never took a break other than to go to the restroom and grab lunch and come back to my desk. The issue wasn’t me not having enough work but everyone else not using their time wisely and socializing rather than working. Since I did document these things I avoided myself getting a heavier work load.

  6. Otto Didact*

    OP2, I think it’s important to reiterate in very strong terms that your coworker’s scars are in no way your business. You would only do harm by bringing them up in conversation.

  7. AcademiaNut*

    For #5, I can definitely see why the workplace won’t cancel the convention. If they’ve got people coming from across the country who have already booked plane tickets and hotels and arranged their work schedules for the trip, cancelling for anything short of a natural disaster (like the hotel being underwater) will seriously damage their reputation, and possibly destroy the convention going forward. And really, they’re making the same calculation the OP has made, as she’s not willing to risk her job and work reputation by boycotting the convention or making a fuss about it.

    So I would say that there isn’t really anything she personally can do now that doesn’t come with a cost that’s she’s not willing to pay. The best thing would be to keep it in mind, and when she can afford to do so, donate to a relevant organization.

    1. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

      I agree. I work in an industry that regularly has small to very large conferences in hotels that people plan their entire year around and are major (and sometimes required) events. Short of the building burning down they would not cancel over a strike, nor could they easily be moved. I wouldn’t consider them to be unethical for continuing to hold the conference due to a strike. That conference would probably lose future attendees for doing such a thing.
      I also wouldn’t want my employee working at the conference to be distracted by the striking employees to the point of boycotting it.

    2. Catbert is my hero*

      I will also add that the organization would suffer a serious financial loss by cancelling – it is likely on the hook for all of the room nights and food and beverage commitments, plus having to refund registration fees. Many organizations could not afford to do that and still remain open.

      1. spock*

        Thank you. I understand why a company wouldn’t cancel their event but “it would be too expensive” is a reason, not a moral justification.

        1. Nonprofit Events Planner*

          If my small nonprofit were to cancel or move our annual conference due to a strike, the financial ramifications would destroy us. We would be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars- room nights, F&B minimums, refunding attendees, cancelling staff travel, etc. While I applaud ComNet for being able to make a last minute venue change, the reality is that many (if not most) groups do not have a spare $300k+ to do this.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            I hear you.

            AND organizations need to make these kinds of decisions all the time, and money can’t always make the decisions for us.

            There are endless opportunities to accept donations from institutions that do harm to the communities we serve and are using us to paint themselves in a better light; should we accept them? We could raise the cost of participating in our programs so they are financially self-sufficient; but then only well-off people could participate — should we make that change? And so on.

            The last organization I worked for had a deep reckoning about whether to continue accepting contributions from a particular family foundation (created by the founder of a company that has been destructive to the people we were serving). We did end up deciding to accept the ongoing contributions because without them we wouldn’t have been able to stay in business — at least not at the scale that we were working at that time. I don’t know if it was the right choice, but I sure was glad that we talked about it in the first place.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I think that the OP could go to whoever is organizing the part of the conference that involves contact with the hotel and say, “I just wanted to give you some feedback; I’m really uncomfortable with crossing the picket line at the hotel. I don’t really have a choice, of course, but I thought I’d let you know. If there are a few of us who feel that way, maybe you can pass on the discomfort to the hotel. Maybe it’ll be part of what gets the two parties to negotiate an end to the strike.”

  8. Otto Didact*

    I honestly think OP1’s situation is a lot scarier than Alison seems to and I’d be real concerned if it were me (doubly so if I was a woman).

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’m of two minds, because the behavior is objectively unnerving and problematic (and makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up). But it could also just be jerk behavior that will not escalate.

      1. Otto Didact*

        I could file it under “jerk behavior” if it was gossipy emails or something about OP2’s work habits, but it’s a private notebook that OP2’s coworker only saw by accident. That plus the domineering physical contact makes it particularly concerning in my book.

      2. neverjaunty*

        He’s kept a notebook of her every movement at work for two years, and that’s just the part she knows about. And now he’s escalated to violence. Management is doing nothing. When, exactly, is the OP allowed to feel unsafe and to do more than try to pretend it’s not happening? It’s 2018 and we’re still pretending that if you wish very hard bullies will leave you alone?

        1. Legl beagl*

          +1. I would encourage OP1 to contact the police and a lawyer since the company is stonewalling.

            1. Info*

              On the other hand, some jurisdictions have dedicated stalking units and people in county and district attorney’s offices that are well versed in these things. The best way to find this out is to try calling a gender violence agency in the OP’s area. The attorney advice is very good. I learned too late that had I had an attorney during the investigation and prosecution of my own, I might have had better treatment from the prosecutor’s office. The police in my case were good.

            2. Info*

              It’s important to note that some jurisdictions have dedicated stalking units or officers in their PDs. It’s true that in some jurisdictions police don’t do anything with these cases, but to just say that and leave it with no other suggestion is not spectacularly helpful.

        2. Info*

          Thank you for this. Stalking is something people don’t know a whole lot about, and the various ways it can happen – there are something like 2o different activities that can be involved. There are classic markers of stalking in this case, and it should not be ignored. There’s already assault happening, which is an escalation.

          OP, if you find it helpful you can look here for information since you explicitly mention feeling stalked. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to with the information, but sometimes just having some knowledge can give us an advantage:

        3. RJ the Newbie*

          I completely agree. This has been going on for far too long (TWO YEARS??) without management directly addressing his behavior and his constant vigilance is workplace stalking. IMO this is a separate issue from whatever reasons he placed on his PIP and should be treated with urgency.

        4. Parenthetically*


          The hair was standing up on my arms reading it and I’m really surprised there hasn’t been more “HOLY HELL, OP1, DOCUMENT, THIS DUDE IS GOING TO PUNCH YOU” kind of response.

        5. Dr. Pepper*

          If this has been going on for YEARS, I think we’ve passed the point of “he’s only making himself look bad”. I could see that argument if the guy had been journaling about the OP’s work habits for a couple weeks, but this is frankly ridiculous. Has he been on a PIP or whatever for that long? Why is absolutely nobody even slightly concerned about his behavior? He’s behaving like a super creep, and now he’s escalated to bodily contact. And the OP is supposed to ignore it and hope it goes away. *sigh*

        6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think this may be reading in feelings/positions that are not what I advised?

      3. Dust Bunny*

        The body-checks are definitely over the line, and the fact that management has not shut down the notebook ridiculousness makes me feel like the OP is not getting the backup she should have, which is exactly how middle-school-level absurdity escalates into something worse. And the fact that it’s been going on for TWO FREAKING YEARS and the dude is still employed there.


        And his supervisors have not put a stop to it. That is not good. The fact that it’s ridiculous doesn’t mean that it’s not mentally stressful for the OP and she deserves to have it shut down.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yeah, the timespan on this struck me as well. TWO YEARS is a LONG time for management to have done nothing and I doubt they’ll do anything unless OP is willing to complain about the unwanted physical contact, which could open them up to a lawsuit. There’s nothing like a threat of litigation to get higher ups to finally pay attention to bad behavior.

      4. Neptune*

        I think that yesterday in the post re: the coworker who had joined a hate group as a “joke”, there were a lot of very insightful comments about this cultural Thing where men are constantly offered the benefit of the doubt regardless of their actual behaviour.

        This behaviour has already escalated. It started with this guy secretly monitoring OP’s work patterns, breaks and tone of voice on a daily basis for two years, and has now escalated to him doing that and also shoulder-checking her. Maybe I’m just on edge because of, like, the world in general right now, but I personally don’t really feel he deserves the assumption that that’s as far as he’ll take it and no further.

        (And even if he never does take it further, the behaviour as it is now is enough to make the OP say outright that she feels stalked. Making your colleague feel stalked in their place of work goes beyond “jerk behaviour”, IMO.)

      1. another Hero*

        OP even said “I feel like I’m being stalked.” It /could/ all be about proving OP is worse at work than the coworker, but I’m not sure that’s how OP is experiencing it, and I’m not entirely comfortable with the assumption, though I understand where it came from

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          Also, stalking doesn’t have to be about a romantic fixation. Stalking describes the behavior, not the motive. The motive isn’t really the important part of the stalking.

    2. This letter is a little scary*

      Yeah. It would be extremely alarming to think of someone paying intense stalker-like attention to my every move, keeping detailed notes about me, misrepresenting my work, and focusing on me rather than attempting to save his own job. Add in unwanted and negative physical contact and this seems to be a total red flag situation.

      1. sacados*

        Also… this didn’t really register the first time I read it but — TWO YEARS.
        If the person is supposedly keeping the notebook as part of attempts to manage their quota/account for their day …. Does that mean this low-performing, problem employee has been on some form of a PIP for two years and still has not been fired?!
        That’s kind of nuts and sends up some red flags about managment in this place as well.

      2. Doggies Everywhere*

        This entry reminds me of the story from not too long ago of a woman whose (male) coworker wrote a journal entry every day about it. He obsessed over her, in a very unhealthy way. When she got a new job in a different city, he sent her all the journals about her to “convince” her to stay (even camped out in front of her apartment when she was visiting the other city), and when that didn’t work, he attempted to kidnap her. Luckily the police were involved and he’s now in jail. She posted some of the journal entries somewhere, and they are very, very creepy. I think any person keeping a journal on anyone is a huge red flag.

        1. Book Badger*

          That’s EXACTLY what this post reminded me of and I came to the comments to mention it if no one else already had.

      3. KayEss*

        The “focusing on me rather than attempting to save his own job” is the part that raises the hairs on my neck… if he does eventually get fired, he may continue his fixation with correlating the OP with his job status and attempt to retaliate against her.

        1. Neptune*

          I agree. It’s really alarming to me that he’s obviously drawn a connection between his job security and OPs behaviour at work, when those things have nothing to do with each other. If he gets fired, is he going to accept that it was it because of his own performance issues? Or will it be “I can’t believe they fired ME when THAT BITCH JANE took TWO FIFTEEN MINUTE BREAKS ON THURSDAY 27TH AUGUST 2017!!” and whatever follows on from that? There are so many cases of men harming women because of things in their own lives that they’ve decided are somehow the woman’s “fault”.

          1. Info*

            That is a common stalking technique, to imagine or impute relationships that don’t exist. This notebook-keeping indicates that coworker has constructed a mental model of relationality in which some connection between OP’s behaviors and his exists when there is no possibility that is a real thing. That means that in his mind, possibly, they are in some sort of relationship to each other that OP is not aware of and has not actually participated in (understand that “relationship” does not have to be romantic). That is very dangerous.

        2. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Management super duper wicked sucks though if they have let him continue doing this for TWO YEARS instead of firing him early on. And I have little faith in them knowing that the journal entries are incorrect with regards to his writing that OP takes breaks when in fact OP is leaving their desk to go to meetings that the coworker (rightfully so) knows nothing about.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      I read it very differently. I think the coworker is keeping track of the OP so they can “prove” that the OP isn’t working hard either. Then they can claim that they are being treated differently.
      There’s a couple of problems with this mind thought:
      – It’s about the volume of output, not the amount of time spent working. OP is making target, coworker is not.
      – Coworker is spending so much time tracking that they can’t get all their work done.

      The shoulder checking is a problem. I wonder if coworker somehow blames OP for getting them in trouble? But I like PCBH response of yelling out “OW!”.

      1. Gaia*

        This is how I read it. This seems like someone who, upon being told they are fired, wants to be able to say “ha! you can’t! Other person ALSO DOES THING” and then show the notebook full of proof that instead of doing his job, he was live tweeting his coworker’s day, analogue version.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, that’s how I read it too. The OP actually sent me a sample of what’s in the notebook, which I cut for space, but here’s what she sent:

        -15 patients
        *slow day
        *caught up on previous days work
        -no Jane moral was high

        -14 patients
        *13 patients 1 bill
        -Jane took back to back breaks
        *Each over 15 minutes
        *Might have been 3
        *Her last break seem pretty long but didn’t actually clock it.

        -14 patients
        *2 were bills
        – 6:30pbx
        – slow day
        *Jane sounded rude to Consuelo
        *sound close to her hanging up

        1. Otto Didact*

          That’s a little less concerning in terms of stalking, but it’s still clear that the coworker is perpetuating a grudge that has led to minor violence.

            1. Nita*

              Yes. That bit really sticks out. I think he’s definitely obsessed with OP. It doesn’t matter if he thinks he “loves” or “hates” her, but it’s a problem. I also don’t believe he’s on a PIP… there is no way he could be on a PIP for two years straight. I suspect that management has invented the PIP thing so OP would stop complaining to them, and that no matter what she tries they’re going to keep sticking their head in the sand.

              I do hope there is someone above them and OP can go over their head, but bad workplaces are often rotten all the way down from the top. At the very least, she should document everything she can, and be ready to file a harassment complaint with the police if this guy escalates things.

              1. JustaTech*

                I’ve known people who were on a PIP for two years. It means management isn’t using the PIP correctly, but it does happen.

            1. Shark Whisperer*

              I really don’t think it is. Have you heard of the DASH Risk Model? It was made by the National Stalking Advocacy Service and if you go by the DASH, this situation basically meets none of the criteria for stalking.

              1. Info*

                I’ve been stalked at work, I cannot disagree more. There is nothing to be lost if the OP takes measures to protect herself or think about what might make her feel safer, but everything to lose if she doesn’t do some self education and think about what might make her feel like she is doing what’s best for her safety.

                1. Butter Makes Things Better*

                  Info has it right here, esp. with OP having nothing to lose by taking protective measures. I worked at a college radio station where a guy stood watching me do my show for five minutes. Nothing there, right? Except perhaps that it was out of the norm; no one else had ever gone out of his way to pay that close attention to me. Within days, he’s calling and hanging up on me. Then leaving letters at my door. Then one day, he’s laying in wait by my house so he can follow me to my other job at a cafe and then hover over me while I’m there.

                  My point is that OP has much more evidence of this guy’s unwanted fixation on her, and now he’s escalated to pushing her. People are getting hung up on stalking vs. not stalking, but it’s clear he’s targeting her, and she should do whatever she can to protect herself.

                2. Info*

                  I had no idea I was being stalked until I was describing something to a coworker who told me flat out that was happening. It had been going on a long time by then and I had NO IDEA except for a weird feeling in my tummy sometimes. Someone had to tell me! I credit that person with my continued existence, because I just had no idea what stalking can look like.

                3. Butter Makes Things Better*

                  Thanks, Consuela, me too. I hope OP pays attention to her fear instinct, and the commenters who can see it in her letter, and does whatever she can to look out for herself.

                4. Butter Makes Things Better*

                  Info — exactly. We don’t and won’t always know what it can look like. Regardless of the legal definition of stalking, the action of one human targeting another takes many forms that don’t necessarily conform to set words on a page. What OP is seeing in her colleague is *what he’s willing to do in a public place where his behavior is supposed to be tied his ability to earn a livelihood* and it’s still so way over the line. Violence, obsessing … who knows what other thoughts and impulses he’s harboring in private?

        2. JamieS*

          I realize this is frustrating for OP but the ridiculousness of those entries had me cracking up. At him, not OP.

          I’d like to think he’s headed out the door but since he’s apparently been doing this for a couple years and still has a job there my hopes aren’t high.

          1. Myrin*

            Yeah, that’s actually the thing that astounds me most about this letter – on the one hand, he was put on perfomance plans (so it’s not like the higher-ups are at least aware of sub-par behaviour on his part), but on the other, here OP is with a prime reason to do something about him and yet they… don’t take that chance at all?

          2. Washi*

            Yeah I have to admit to chuckling at the sheer idiocy of his “documentation.”

            This sounds cavalier for the OP’s safety since so many others have a different take, but my impression from the letter is that he is an a**hole and bully who should be fired, but I’m not getting the sense that he would escalate to stalking OP if he no longer worked at the same company.

            Either way, I’m not sure it changes the advice, since Alison is so right that the pushing is unacceptable and she should escalate her concerns. If she suspected stalking, I’m not what other actions she would take?

          3. Noobtastic*

            I know, right? What does “Back to back breaks” even mean? She left for 15 minutes, came back, tagged her desk, and went back for more break time? And then “maybe” a third time, but he didn’t bother to clock that one?

            Maybe she took lunch inside the building, and was chatting with a friend, and said, “Oh, yeah! I brought that book I wanted to lend you. It’s at my desk. Let me go get that. Be right back!” and got the book, and then went back to the break room?

            Or maybe, she’s having a bad digestive system episode.

            Or maybe, she’s in back to back meetings. See, THAT I understand. I’ve had days like that. One on one with Fred, followed immediately by team meeting, followed immediately by take this to Joe, followed immediately by call customer and make nicey-nice as only you can, so that they will still be sweet and open when the new salesperson gets up to speed and can actually make the sales call, and please don’t let us lose this customer, too, thanks a lot, Harvey.

            I’ve had entire days where I only saw my desk for five minutes in the morning, and only half of the things were actually scheduled on the calendar, because I was the “official” fire-putter-outer. Yeah, my boss recognized that as part of my job, even though they couldn’t actually have “fire-putter-outer” as an official job description. But, yeah, totally had days like that.

            Back to back breaks? Actual breaks? I cannot fathom that. And if it did happen, it’s not co-worker’s business to report or record that, anyway.

        3. KayEss*

          I didn’t read it as traditionally stalker-y either, but seeing the entries… that’s a pretty disconcerting level of obsession mixed with petty bile. I’d be worried that if something DOES happen to his job, he might retaliate against the OP because he’s so fixated on some nonexistent connection between her performance and his.

        4. CM*

          This is what I thought it was, too, but I don’t think that precludes it being dangerous. I think the reason it seems disquieting to me is because it’s part of a larger pattern of hostile behavior. (Like, we all get that he’s not keeping notes about her because he thinks she’s an awesome role model and he wants to learn her ways; he’s keeping notes because he thinks she sucks and he’s building a case to prove it in a way that he probably hopes will harm her.)

          I would argue that the situation is already violent if he’s slamming his body into hers on purpose, but I have an uneasy feeling about its potential to escalate into MORE violence from here. Especially when he learns that there are no consequences for his behavior. And especially because it sounds like he’s now getting validation from a couple of other people.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Exactly. These things are not happening in hermetically-sealed separated compartments; a guy who has being weirdly obsessing over the OP’s work for two years has escalated to hitting her. Pretending they are separate and she should just roll her eyes about his work diary is ridiculous.

          2. Dr. Pepper*

            Yeah, I agree. This is not normal in the slightest, and the potential to escalate is high. He’s already making physical contact and getting away with it.

          3. It's Pronounced Bruce*

            I worked with someone like this, and for every time I talked to management and they either shrugged or told her very passively to be more considerate, she got worse. Each incident reinforced to her that her current behavior would be accepted, so she would escalate it little by little to try and find that upper limit. She felt in some way that I was responsible for everything she didn’t like at the job, but this included things like one time she went after me because the fire alarm had gone off when she was already in a bad mood after being given an extra assignment by a supervisor. Almost never anything that had any relation to me whatsoever. She had this weird idea that I “got away” with things, and I’m not really sure where it came from, but that made her funnel all her other grievances at me. And yeah, it was a gradual process over years.

            It sounds like that’s what’s happening here, too. This guy is having issues at his job and he’s decided that the LW is getting leeway that he isn’t, making them a focal point for his frustration and anger. They (management) have tolerated the skulky note taking and the overt hostility, now he’s experimenting with making aggressive physical contact with the LW. This is very very similar to what happened to me. It’s not going to end there, and it seems like their management is not going to do anything that could potentially shut it down.

            I wish I had better advice, but I ended up just having to change jobs. I gave up after I went up the management chain about it not being taken seriously, then talked to HR, and in all cases was told that I was probably just misinterpreting her intent and that they couldn’t substantiate any of it anyway.

            1. Noobtastic*

              “So, HR, just checking, here. He’s taken notes, daily, about me, making me feel increasingly uncomfortable. He’s manipulated other co-workers into acting mean to me. He’s actively escalated to physical assault against me on more than one occasion. I just want to know, exactly what IS the line he has to cross before you decide he’s gone far enough to actually do something about it? Is there a minimum limit of blood shed, or will broken bones do? If he brings a gun, will that be sufficient, or will he have to actually brandish is about, while screaming death threats? Or will you still not do anything until he actually fires it at a living person?”

              1. It's Pronounced Bruce*

                Well their line was “we can’t substantiate that ____ actually happened, she says the two of you just had an argument and we think you can learn to get along.” My work also suddenly started quietly being moved around such that we had less contact, but they pretended this was for unrelated reasons.

                What I understood this all to mean, though, was “we’re pretty sure this did happen but we’re afraid you might sue us or go to the media with a negative story about the company, so we’re gonna insist that we did an investigation and found your story to be false while also quietly separating you as much as possible to minimize the odds of this coming back to bite us in the ass.”

          4. Ladybugger*

            Agreed. Brosef is testing his boundaries and finding that there are no consequences for either monitoring OP or physically assaulting her. He has already escalated. That makes it likely he will continue to escalate. We can’t say how bad it’s going to get, but this raises a LARGE, FLUTTERING quantity of red flags that need to be dealt with with police and HR.

        5. Lilo*

          I am not remotely reassured by this. Not at all. These comments combined with the physical aggression are scary. The fact that management isn’t taking this seriously would make me job hunt.

        6. NotoriousMCG*

          No Jane, morale high?? Like his morale is solely tied to her being/not being there?

          I’m on the this feels creepy and unsafe train. Someone above mentioned him continuing to associate her employment with his if his is terminated, and I think that is likely. I also think that the fact he is so fixated over such a long period of time makes everything worse.

              1. Temperance*

                I feel like we need to close the comments now, because you just said literally everything that can possibly be said.

          1. Noobtastic*

            I agree. That’s why I actually think it would be better for LW to leave this job before JerkBoy is fired. If she’s gone, he can’t (effectively) blame her for his bad job performance, let alone getting fired. Sure, he *can*, but it’s a lot less likely, and a whole lot safer.

            If asked why you are leaving the job you have? “Well, management did not seem to care about my safety.”

        7. Mookie*

          This reads like sonebody who was once given general advice to “document everything” but never bothered to find out when to do so or why, and now he thinks he can work his way out of a PIP by doing daily surveillance on a third party to prove he’s only the second worst team member.

          People work really long hours trying to skive off, and this is a great example of that. I hope they cite excerpts from his diary when he asks why he was fired.

          1. Aveline*

            That might be true but for the shove. That’s personal and directed at Jane.

            She’s not just a mechanism for saving himself, she’s a target of his anger.

          2. Temperance*

            Eh, he only does it to Jane. That makes it scary for her and potentially dangerous, especially if he has already escalated to physical violence.

            1. Sacred Ground*

              Exactly. He’s going to make himself look bad? To whom? Management? They don’t see his current bullying as a problem.

        8. Aveline*

          This level of obsession plus the shoulder checking makes me gravely concerned what he will do to Jane if fired. Or what he will do if she reports him for the physical assault.

          As someone who has worked with victims of stalking, I am concerned. I see an ongoing pattern of obsession, escalation, and now violence and boundary testing.

          She needs to force this issue. Or it will get worse.

          If management and HR does not respond to the shoulder checking, she needs a lawyer ASAP.

          He should be fired. If the won’t do that, he needs to be told to stay at least 5 feet away from her at all times. If she’s in the hall, he has to wait.

          If they won’t do that, OP should look for a new job because her employer doesn’t care about her physical safety.

          She has a right to zero unwanted physical contact at work. She has a right not to be assaulted in particular.

          Yes, it is assault. It doesn’t have to result in serious injury to be wrong morally or legally. The unwanted contact plus the fear/dominance/control is bad enough.

          Also, it doesn’t have to meet the legal definition of stalking for his behavior to be problematicaly obsessive.

          So, let’s just say he’s obsessed and he’s had unwanted physical contact with her.

          He should be fired. If the company won’t or can’t do that, they need to take concrete steps to protect her.

          Also, I hope he doesn’t know where she lives or could have access to that info. His behavior strikes me as the type that might – might – turn nastier.

          1. Aveline*

            Pa Jane, if you read this, make sure and have friends with you In the bathroom and getting back and forth to your car after you report him.

            Men like this can sometimes act quite violently when they are countered.

            Yes, that may be an overreaction. But better an overreaction fo an event that doesn’t happen to an under reaction and he gets violent.

            Hint: he’s already been violent with you.

          2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

            I 100% support the gut feelings of OP — this is grossly inappropriate monitoring of a coworker’s activities on a level that while “on the surface” looks like it’s not a big deal, is absolutely creepy and now becoming physical intimidation. It has gotten increasingly intrusive and aggressive over time and there is absolutely no reason to believe that somehow this coworker will suddenly change his ways.
            Abuse does not always leave bruises.

          3. Noobtastic*

            You know what really gets me about this? I mean REALLY gets to me? If he were a rock star employee, and could do no wrong, because they don’t want to lose his awesome productivity, then I could see how they would choose him over her (not agree with it, but totally see it happening, all the time, in the real world). But he’s acting out AND he’s on a PIP for poor performance.


            They’re wrong on both performance *and* moral counts. They’re not just wrong, they’re stupid.

            OP, if you can get out of there, get out of there ASAP, because even if they do fire this guy, they have shown themselves to be colossally bad managers/HR/business-people.

            And I have actually forgotten what yesterday’s shenanigans were, because I am now so obsessed with this. Safety, OP! Safety!

        9. RJ the Newbie*

          This is disturbing. The comments seem innocuous, but the fact it’s part of two year continuous action from LW#1’s coworker is very unnerving.

          1. Noobtastic*

            I actually find the sheer banality of the sample provided to be even more unnerving than what I had originally imagined.

        10. Info*

          Just because these entries look petty doesn’t make them not indicative of stalking. There’s clearly an emotionally evaluative aspect to them, and frankly, no one should be keeping a notebook on someone for 2 years without their consent. Even if there were a supervisory reason to, one assumes that would be laid out clearly in a discussion. And to re-iterate a point made elsewhere, what he intends is not necessarily as material in a diagnosis of stalking as the OP’s reasonable and explicit statement that she feels stalked.

            1. Butter Makes Things Better*

              Agreed. So many of us are trained to downplay our feelings of feeling unsafe that when someone — especially an OP who sounds like she’s trying to contextualize this in as harmless a way as possible — actually articulates “I feel like I’m being stalked,” that fear should be taken super seriously. This is The Gift of Fear stuff (Gavin de Becker; a must-read, esp. for workplace violence, where there are usually red flags all over the place beforehand, if people allow themselves to see them as such vs. explaining them away, as is being done in the OP’s case, and in the comments) all the way, particularly with the escalation to violence.

              OP, please please listen to the people who are urging you to seek the police and legal action. Two years of feeling unsafe in the workplace is two years too many.

            2. Elle*

              Exactly. Just because OP didn’t do a super spectacular job of explaining all the nuances of *why* she’s feeling stalked, doesn’t mean she isn’t. I tend to trust peoples’ guts. It would be one thing if the guy acted completely friendly and normal but kept this log. But she’s been interacting with this guy for 2 years and gets a stalker vibe from him? I’d trust her. After all, another coworker agrees this guy creepy to the extent he/she was willing to snoop in his notebook and send it to her.

              That said, the notebook entries made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. The way they were so clinical, like a scientist recording mouse activity, freaked me out.
              I had a friend who got fired after her manager kept a notebook of all her shortcomings and his feedback to her for 6 months. Even that felt like such a complete and gross violation and his notebook was far less creepy to me than this one is.

              1. Nita*

                Yes – and by the way, it seems his obsession is obvious enough that others have taken notice. Someone took the time to photograph that notebook on his desk and give Jane a heads-up.

        11. Red 5*

          Okay, so I actually do keep a work log of my day. And I do have several frustrating situations at my current job where other people not getting things done is affecting my performance metrics and what I’m supposed to be judged on in my review. I am not keeping this log because I’ve gotten in trouble, it’s 100% for my own use because it helps me to look back to write my own self-evaluation as part of our general review process each year. And also because it helps me to get through the fog of imposter syndrome when it hits.

          I have never, not one single time in the three years I’ve been keeping this log even ONCE mentioned another person. MAYBE at the most it was “finished up report for Jane.” Or even something like “did favor for Jane.”

          I am all for keeping a journal/log of work stuff for a number of reasons. I could go on for an hour about useful it is. Said log should basically never mention other people because that’s not useful. This guy needs to stop yesterday. While I agree that this feels like “I know you’re mad at me but see what SHE’S doing…” at the same time, these entries aren’t actually direct rebuttals that would be useful for him in that case. He’s not tracking their metrics in the same way (I did 12 patients, she only did 10). So in the end, whether that’s what he’s telling himself or not, this is just a list of grievances so he can complain about somebody that he’s fixated on, probably because he blames her in some way for his performance/work issues. And that very much CAN become her problem, whether it should or not, especially if there’s bad management involved.

          Still probably best to address the escalation to physicality first, but this dude is unhealthy on SO many levels.

        12. Parenthetically*

          For TWO YEARS, though? That’s… insane. Completely. It’s so far beyond a petty grudge and it’s completely ludicrous that management just brushes it off. OP needs to be looking for a new job 18 months ago.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            My question is… has this dude been on performance management for two years? If so, WHY?! That is supposed to be a short term solution that either results in an improvement or a termination.

        13. The Other Dawn*

          Yeah, that really sounds to me like he’s taking notes so he can try to make the case that OP isn’t a good/hard worker in the event he has further disciplinary action. “Why am I on a PIP? Look what Jane does/doesn’t do!”

        14. Smarty Boots*

          I would agree with you, EXCEPT that he does it every day and has been doing it for a long time. It’s inappropriate, and whether or not we might think it is just dopey, the OP is creeped out and feels like they’re being stalked. In addition, this guy is shoving the OP (unwanted and aggressive physical contact). It’s the two things together (the journal entries AND the shoving) that make it particularly concerning. If it’s “harmless” then he can stop it easily. If it’s not harmless, best to address it now, before it gets worse.
          OP, do not discount your feelings about this.

        15. Neptune*

          Alison, unless you or OP have removed a lot from the entries I don’t find this very reassuring at all. These entries are hardly documenting his own work at all except in very short, bare numerical terms – “14 patients”, “13 patients 1 bill”. The comments on OP are about half or more of each entry, and are tracking her breaks, work output and even tone of voice in an obviously negative way – “no Jane morale was high”, “sounded rude” etc. There’s far more personal, emotional content about Jane than anything that could constitute a legitimate work log, and I find these entries really unnerving.

          1. Neptune*

            Sorry, hit submit too soon – also, the fact these appear to be daily entries over two years really takes this from ‘resentful coworker’ to ‘stalker’ for me.

        16. Where’s my coffee?*

          Since the log mentions patients…

          If the OP works in a US facility accredited by one of the larger health care accreditation bodies, they generally include the expectation that behavior like this (even if it doesn’t rose to the level of harassment, etc) is not allowed. (The thought being that intimidation or disruption between coworkers can and does create harm for patients.)

          1. Anon Anon Anon*

            I agree. They should be taking it seriously in case this person also poses a threat to patients. This behavior says something about his judgment and his attitude towards other people.

        17. KillItWithFire*

          Its *probably* not a major safety issue, but I wouldn’t bet on this not splashing back onto OP!

          I have absolutely had it happen where a manager isn’t interested in the drama and just says “well Jane, for simplicity sake please stop doing these things, i know its all fine but optics”. Given that their manager doesn’t want to deal with his crappy behaviour I’d be concerned.

          1. Info*

            This is not “drama” and Safety Issue Level has already been attained. Several stalking survivors have commented here with some useful information-possibly at some risk, I might add-to make clear just how unsafe this is. This comment is incredibly minimizing.

        18. No Secrets Please*

          Allison, please reconsider your response to LW1. As someone who was stalked for 10 years, what she has experienced (including what he’s written in his journal), rises to the level of stalking. Please Google “Katie Blanchard” to see what a male co-worker like this can do.

        19. Anon Anon Anon*

          I think it’s hard to tell where he’s coming from and it should be treated as potentially serious in case it is.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I read it the same way, which is the only reason I’m not as worried about stalking. The use of physical violence, however, is extremely concerning.

        1. Butter Makes Things Better*

          The thing I don’t understand is how one can separate the violence from the daily and specific, emotionally tinged observations of Jane. They’re of a piece, they’re not discrete events at all.

          1. Parenthetically*


            This guy is tracking Jane’s work/life/interactions in a highly unprofessional and angry way, AND his interactions with her have escalated to physical violence. Both of those things have happened and are happening.

        2. neverjaunty*

          These are not separate things. The violence is an escalation of his hostility.

          Did I fall through a rip in the space-time continuum this morning? I’m starting to feel like I woke up in the 1980s when “oh, you’re just being dramatic, ignore him” was the advice du jour about bullies, creeps and stalkers.

          1. Butter Makes Things Better*

            neverjaunty, I feel the same way. It seems like this could be an entire chapter in How to Succeed Without Hurting Men’s Feelings, except substitute “Feel Safe” for “Succeed.”

          2. Nita*

            It’s never changed. Whatever laws the US has on the books about stalking, they seem pretty toothless – it seems to be incredibly hard for the victim to prove, and even if reported will likely result in no action. AAM has had so many horrifying threads about victims who had to turn their entire lives upside down over years of stalking, and who got precious little help from the workplace and the authorities.

            1. yvie*

              100% this. It surprised me that people took the shoulder checks (and yes, absolutely terrible & shouldn’t be happening – should be fired) more seriously than the two years of obsessive behavior. I’ve been stalked, and this kind of behavior would have me screaming for HR and then probably a job change.

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I’m definitely not saying that! I don’t think OP is being dramatic or that they should ignore their coworker’s behavior. I’m pretty pissed at OP’s managers for failing to address the issue or fire this guy, and OP should not have to work with someone so unprofessional and off that their hostility seethes out of them.

            This guy is obviously not well and is fixating on OP in ways that are, at a minimum, bullying and creepy. Because OP’s managers are brushing this off, I think OP has to be strategic about escalating their response (and I do think they should escalate their response). IMO, the first step is for OP to change the frame by loudly naming what’s happening when it’s happening (e.g., calling out the shoulder checks, pointedly commenting on when they’re leaving for a meeting or to grab coffee and telling the coworker to write it down properly). Once the frame changes, if this guy continues or gets worse, OP should escalate to things like formal complaints that are much more direct about naming his behavior, enlisting a lawyer, etc.

            1. Labradoodle Daddy*

              I think this is absolutely *awful* advice on how to deal with a stalker. Pissing off someone with an obession with you? Awful idea. Not immediately letting management know that an employee is assaulting another? Awful idea.

              Just…. bad bad bad advice all around.

              1. Butter Makes Things Better*

                Yes. And the guy already *has* gotten worse. Encouraging OP to wait until it gets even more worse than indulging his impulses to lash out in the hallway at her before escalating is not good advice.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  That’s not at all what I’m saying or what I’ve said! I’m really concerned that y’all are so upset about what OP’s experiencing that you’re not engaging fairly with advice that comes from a different frame or set of assumptions.

                2. Butter Makes Things Better*

                  Princess CBH, I’m specifically looking at this from your post: “Once the frame changes, if this guy continues or gets worse, OP should escalate to things like formal complaints that are much more direct about naming his behavior, enlisting a lawyer, etc.”

                  I just don’t think waiting until after she’s reframed this for unrepentant management to file “a formal complaint and enlist a lawyer, etc.” is the way to go. The time for escalation on OP’s part is now. Not later.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  The part I’m finding a bit frustrating is that I’m not saying OP should wait to address the problem—I’m suggesting a series of actions that address the issue, some of which allow OP to act unilaterally, and some of which require continued complaints to HR/management (and escalation of those complaints). Right now OP sounds disempowered and frustrated because management is so unresponsive. My goal is to give OP concrete actions that are 100% in their control, in addition to time to assess what happens in response to those actions, in order to formulate a more targeted escalation of actions. My hope is that immediate intervention may resolve what management has refused to do so far.

                  I would never encourage someone who is being shoulder-checked and meticulously observed to “wait and see” if it gets worse.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                The issue is that he may not be a stalker, and OP has already let management know he’s being physically violent with OP.

                It’s not strategic or wise to start from the most dangerous interpretation of what’s happening and to structure a response from that basis. OP’s managers have already failed to take this seriously. So OP either has to help them understand why it’s serious, or they have to enlist outside help. My advice is based on helping OP’s management understand why his behavior is problematic.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @Labradoodle Daddy:

                  It’s pretty much just you and Butter Makes Things Better, so I respectfully disagree that I’m the problem. It’s not misinterpretation—you’re reading in specific attitudes in the least generous light possible and then bastardizing what I’ve actually written. That’s wholesale rewriting to create a strawman.

                  I get that we can’t expect to rely on our prior commenting history or participation to inform how people read our comments. But you’re construing comments in a manner inconsistent with the norms for the commentariat.

      4. Turquoisecow*

        That’s how I read it also, because in my childhood there were many cases of things like this. “Joe, stop doing (x behavior).” Joe: “But Jane is doing it too!” Or “But Jane is doing (y behavior), isn’t that also bad!”

        A good parent/teacher(manager?) will point out that we’re talking about you now, not Jane, and maybe even that there might be reasons for Jane doing (behavior) that you don’t know and don’t need to know.

        (I’m thinking of the interns who protested that a coworker was wearing inappropriate shoes, not knowing that there was a reason for it because they didn’t need to know. In that case they weren’t also wearing inappropriate shoes, but they wanted to.)

      5. heatskitchen*

        I read it the same. I’ve also had colleagues do this and the point is exactly what you said. How do they have enough time to track what a coworker is doing? Managers need to have that discusion.

    4. bunniferous*

      I was thinking this as well. If I were OP I would start job hunting, stat. Because I could see this escalating.

    5. JulieCanCan*

      I definitely feel the same – whether OP is a woman or man, I don’t understand how the perpetrator is getting away with being physically aggressive with a coworker and not being fired.

      I keep thinking I read more into it than what has actually occurred, because what I read is pretty egregious. How has the stalker/note taker/pushing coworker kept his job for so long? Why hasn’t he been escorted out of the office immediately?

      So many questions. OP please make sure to post again with an update, hopefully telling us your note-taking coworker is no longer working at your company.

      1. JulieCanCan*

        OMG just read the notes from Alison’s post…OP is a woman??!!??!!

        How is this man shoulder-checking a WOMAN and not being fired??

        I assumed OP was male, and the physical aspect was still bad. But a male coworker physically pushing or checking a woman? WHAT??!!

        1. Cambridge Comma*

          I’m not sure the fact that OP is a woman is such a big issue here. I think physical agression is a big line to cross at work irrespective of who the victim is.

          1. Aveline*

            Um, are you in the USA? I’d so, have you not read about the number of times men snap and kill women who just happen to be around them?

            Yes, any form of workplace violence is wrong, but she is specially at risk as a woman from a man who has already targeted her for physical attack.

            Shoulder checking anyone is wrong. But, as a woman, she’s statistic lot more at risk of a horrible ending to this.

            1. Stardust*

              That’s very true in general, but JCC specifically only talked about a man shoulder-checking/pushing/getting in physical contact with a woman (as opposed to the situation as a whole), and I presume that’s what Cambridge Comma is refering to. JCC’s comment is a bit too much “fragile little women” for me, and I assume CC picked up on that as well.

              1. Washi*

                I also didn’t get that from JCC’s comment. When I first read the letter, I instinctively imagined two men because I’ve only personally ever seen shoulder-checking as a way that one man might be aggressive to another. (And again in my experience, usually that same man would be aggressive toward women just differently – looming over, standing too close, talking over etc.) I think it’s the extra power imbalance inherent in the gender difference that makes me perceive a man pushing a woman as more alarming than a man pushing another man.

              2. TootsNYC*

                what part of “I assumed OP was male, and the physical aspect was still bad.” did you miss?

                One of the things that makes physical aggression from a man to a woman so very alarming is that we have a cultural prohibition against men hitting women. So when a man breaks that taboo, it’s REALLY serious.

                True, we also have a cultural tolerance of men hitting their wives, but that’s actually what makes this very alarming–it’s physical aggression (bad) from a man against a woman (bad) who is not in a relationship with him (bad).

                1. Zillah*

                  I agree. There’s a base level “this is never okay” for some behavior, but some details can make it worse – kind of like how it’s never okay to call your coworker names, but “you’re a stupid f****** b****” is way worse than just calling someone a jerk. Hitting someone is never okay, but there’s a societal backdrop here that makes a man being violent against a woman way worse.

          2. Aveline*

            Also, I just did some quick googling and checking OSHA. Men are most st risk if they are in occupations that put them in the path of strangers in isolated settings. Taxi drivers, delivery men, etc. Women are most at work from their coworkers.

            So, yes, gender does matter.

          3. P*

            As much as I prefer it when gender doesn’t matter; taken in the context of society as a whole, a man shoulder-checking a woman has vastly different connotations than shoulder-checking a man. I mean, it’s a bad thing either way, but there are more potentially mild implications for men-men (ie, it’s just part of some weird masculinity show) than for men-woman. A man deliberately physically shoving a woman without provocation indicates levels of aggression that’s not usually considered culturally acceptable, and makes one question how much more unacceptable they will be next.

        2. Anon Anon Anon*

          Yeah. Shoulder-checking. It should be the same regardless of the genders, but culturally in the U.S., it’s definitely a thing that men do to other men and not to women. I’ve been shoulder checked by men before and it always came across as more bullying and threatening than if it was a guy doing it to another guy.

    6. Lena Clare*

      I agree – and it’s escalating too, which is not a good sign.
      I would definitely speak to management about the deliberate pushing, and then take it from there.

      1. Aveline*

        Escalating and boundary checking.

        One might be able to deny the journal eateries are dierected at her. But the shoulder check? She’s a target.

        I really, truly, think LW needs to speak to a local expert in violence and lay out his behavior.

        I’m not an expert, but I’ve seen the end result of these patterns a lot.

        Truth is, you can always look back in horrible cases and see the antecedents. They all start with minor physical violation that gets brushed off by victims or authorities. They all start with the perp being obsessed with the victim.

        Not all of them involve physical stalking.

        AAM spent a lot of time in the journal. But that isn’t the main issue. The obsession plus the shoulder check is the thing that we should be spending time on.

        She’s a target, not merely a point of comparison to save himself.

    7. Office Gumby*

      After reading the sample notes below, I can see how this could be considered not stalking. Still, it does have a touch of the obsessive. Why was Jane singled out?

      However, the shoulder-checking *IS* escalation. Things are getting worse. Aggressive physical contact like that does need to be reported. Every single time it happens, it must be reported.

      1. valentine*

        It’s stalking unless he’s tasked with monitoring her. It would be bad enough to mentally track her movements, but recording them and his feelings about them, for years, sounds like the early part of a murder documentary. The “Get out of the house!” portion where the audience knows where this is going but not a single person has told this fiend off or shunned him. No one wants to make waves and they’re possibly relieved they’re not his target.

      2. Aveline*

        It really doesn’t matter if it’s stalking. Obsssion plus unwanted physical contact is enough.

        He’s waving all sorts of red flags. Company is refusing to see them.


        1. Aveline*

          One of my favorite quotes: it’s impossible to see red flags if you wear rose colored glasses. Through rose colored glasses, red flags just look like flags.

        2. Red 5*

          This is the part that worries me the most actually, that her company seems to be plugging it’s ears and hoping this will go away. THAT is the biggest red flag that she should be looking for another job, in my mind. With a dude like this, you can come out the other side if you’ve got people who have your back, specifically your supervisor and somebody in HR.

          She doesn’t seem to have that, and even if this situation resolved in some sort of satisfactory way, do you really want to work for somebody who wouldn’t deal with this and help you?

      3. neverjaunty*

        The OP feels like she is being stalked by this dude and has every reason to feel that way. Could we please not do the thing of ‘I have reviewed all the evidence and objectively determined that your feelings on this matter are incorrect”?

        1. Butter Makes Things Better*

          Tell it, neverjaunty. We have brains that think and we’re trained to think our way out of problems, but our bodies are still equipped with animal senses that send us any number of responses to the physical presence of potential threats (hairs on the backs of our neck, a sense that something’s not quite right, even if we can’t put a finger on it, etc.). We’re often taught to ignore those instincts/signs for the good of the group, but they’re there to protect us. If OP’s two years’ worth of experience with this guy has resulted in her writing into AAM and saying she’s feeling stalked — she’s being pushed in the hallway, ffs — that should carry all the weight.

    8. Blossom*

      Yes! Same! This is terrifying! And he’s been doing it for TWO YEARS. It seems unlikely that he’s been on Performance Management that whole time. OP1 needs to talk to HR or something, and someone with both authority and common sense needs to seize and read that notebook, because I doubt anyone has been to date.

    9. Debra Wolf*

      Agreed. I can’t tell if the writer is male or female, but if female, this behavior is even more troubling. It’s harassment, and if the writer is female, potentially harassment based on gender. If management refuses to do anything, it’s time to contact an employment lawyer. It always amazes me when employers continue to allow situations that could potentially expose them to legal liability.

    10. Labradoodle Daddy*

      Yeah, and my suspicion is that this situation is being interpreted by the commentariat *very* differently between men & women.

      1. Myrin*

        Do you mean with regards to the genders in the letter or with regards to the genders of the commenters?

          1. Myrin*

            Ah, gotcha. FWIW, AAM’s readership skews heavily female in general, and many of the commenters seeming to see this “as a less serious problem” are regulars and female (I’m one of them, btw. I’m seeing this as more serious than Alison but less scary than some other commenters, but that’s probably because of my personality more than anything else.), but I get your general point.

            1. Washi*

              Yeah, I’m a woman and initially saw this as a bullying issue more than a stalker thing. That said, reading the comments, I can definitely understand where the commenters are coming from. Sometimes a man will look at me like I am a fellow human and sometimes a man will look at me in a way that makes me profoundly uncomfortable – not just where his eyes are pointed, but the whole “vibe.” If OP is feeling a creepy/stalker vibe from him, I agree with the others that she should pay attention to that feeling.

    11. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*


      My first thought was, “it’s highly unlikely that he’s been on a PIP for two years straight”. Even if he has, he’s not keeping tabs on OP because of the PIP.

      It really is scary. I would not feel safe in my workplace if this was happening to me. Was going to write that I cannot believe the management is blowing it off, but sadly, from witnessing abusive coworkers in my own workplace, I can. (The one I’m thinking of finally was fired, but it took over a year of constant back and forth with HR from multiple people, and he was fired for work performance, not for his abuse of his teammates.)

    12. Hey Marina*

      I’m like 85% positive this is my friend who I encouraged to write in (as I’ve been an AAM reader/lurker for years and always found her advice super helpful!).

      If not, then I guess my comment is the same. But hearing my friend talk about how her male co-worker gets away with doing the bare minimum of work (and creepy stalkerish habits) and working her to the bone has infuriated me for years. I would recommend getting the hell out of dodge. OP #1, your employer has shown no interest in fixing the situation, and honestly you have enough years of experience to go somewhere else where you won’t be targeted or deal with this horrible person.

    13. Phoenix Programmer*


      This reminds me of stalky man who was a coworker under sucky manager. This guy would:

      Track my comings and goings and report to leadership.
      Set traps for me – literally lie to me ask me to complete something based off paper he gave me then complain to leaders that I messed up his work.
      Sabatoge my work on the server.
      Yell at me.
      Follow me on Facebook and linkedin even though I refused to friend him.

      It never escalated to him touching me but I am a tall strong woman who can frequently out wrestle my 5’11” husband so 5’7″ stalky had no chance and knew it.

      Sadly I never saw it that way and management let it go on for years. Until I finally got a new boss – also male – who after stalky coworker tried to get me in trouble again named it “stalky has an unhealthy obsession with you!”

      How right he was. I left that role over five years ago and moved 1000s of miles away but stalky coworker STILL trys to friend me on Facebook and Linkedin and still is following me on Facebook and I found out that he will corner my friends from that place and try to get details about me even today! Soooo weird.

      The fact is management and Alison is a bit too focused on the documentation being a managerial non starter and not looking at the pattern and escalation from this coworker. It’s not healthy!

  9. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#5, is it at all possible to move the conference? I was on a planning committee for a national conference in which we ate $80K in order to move to a more ethical location. Of course, many organizations cannot afford to do this (especially because hotel contracts are often multiyear or negotiated well in advance), but it may be an option.

    You could also have a frank discussion with your manager. For most employees, your employer cannot (legally) force you to cross a picket line or fire/replace you for failing to cross a picket line. Ideally you wouldn’t be put in the position of picking between working the conference and crossing the line, but I’ve found that managers will often tell you what they think if you’re transparent about your conflict. They may not back you up, but they’ll usually signal what the repercussions could be.

    Ultimately, only you can decide how to balance how you feel about the prospect of crossing the line v. signaling support in other ways. I’ve certainly put myself in disfavored positions or earned bad will by refusing to cross a picket line, but I made those choices knowing that I could incur backlash. But that was a decision I had to make for myself (many of my coworkers decided differently), and it’s a decision that not everyone has the freedom to make.

    1. another scientist*

      OP, you can absolutely donate to the union or a workers rights organization.
      In my logic, complaining to hotel management (ideally corporate headquarters) about anything that goes wrong at the convention might put them under more pressure to negotiate with their workers. Basically, kicking up a fuss for problems that arise purely from under-staffing due to the strike. Maybe someone else can speak to whether this is effective.

      1. SamC*

        I’m surprised more people aren’t recommending TripAdvisor reviews.

        Talk to the people picketing about what they want from management. Write a 1-star review for the hotel on whichever website you’re comfortable with that has some sway (tripadvisor, google, yelp) that mentions how terrible your stay/conference was and drops a couple of the workers’ demands in there.

        Also see if you can stay at a nearby hotel that’s not on strike and go back & forth to the conference. I did this recently by accident (didn’t realize the conference hotel had a strike but had booked a hotel that was cheaper anyway) and was happy I did.

          1. MentalEngineer*

            It’s perfectly honest. I have a worse experience as a guest when I know the person who cleaned my room is underpaid, irregularly scheduled, and gets no medical benefits while working a physically demanding job.

    2. JamieS*

      Really? I’ve heard about not being able to fire striking workers (not sure if applicable in all states) but I’ve never heard of it being illegal in most states to fire someone not directly involved in the strike for refusing to cross a picket line to get into a place of business.

      1. Asenath*

        It’s actually illegal locally for strikers to prevent the employer from carrying on business – which includes stopping customers from crossing the line. Or members of other unions – there’s more than one union in my workplace. I belong to one; if one of the others is on strike, I have to cross the picket line. The rules are quite clear. I can, of course, be very nice to the strikers and bring snacks if I want. But I have to cross, and they can’t stop me.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Labor law protects your right not to cross a picket line, as well as your right to cross a picket line.

      2. Antilles*

        I’ve never heard of it being illegal in most states to fire someone not directly involved in the strike for refusing to cross a picket line to get into a place of business.
        I hadn’t heard of that either, so I did a quick Google search. Take this with every ounce of salt and cynicism that you’d normally apply to any “Google Expert”, but the tl;dr version appears to be that it’s legally similar to if YOU were personally part of the union that was striking.
        1.) If you’re a member of a union yourself, refusing to cross the line into the business is considered a sympathy strike and gets the same legal protections. Presumably your union will back you up in this, because duh, of course they will. Note that there could be a clause in your specific union contract that prevents you from participating in “sympathy strikes”, which puts you back to “yes they can prevent you” territory.
        2.) If you’re not a member of any union, you still have a legally protected right to refuse to cross the line…but exercising this right is the same as exercising any other workplace right: If your employer pushes back, it’s all on you to file a formal complaint with the labor board, document your case, probably hire an employment lawyer, and so on. Probably not practical for most people.
        3.) The legal protections state that they can’t actually fire you…but they’re allowed to hire workers to replace you, which moves you to a “permanently replaced” status wherein your job has been replaced but the next time they hire, you must be offered the job.
        4.) If you’re classified as a supervisor/manager, you’re not covered by the relevant law (National Labor Relations Act) period, so none of the above items are relevant to you; your employer can force you to cross that picket line if they’d like.
        5.) As Asenath mentioned below, strikes are not allowed to prevent the employer from performing their business – the picketers are allowed to stand around the building, they’re allowed to yell at you, they’re allowed to wave signs at you…but they cannot prevent you from entering the building or threaten physical harm.

    3. Holly*

      I would hesitate to do this, especially from a worker’s rights position. I think it’s great that the company chose a hotel *where the workers are unionized.* It’s possible that by switching from where union members are on strike, the conference would be at a hotel where workers aren’t unionized. That’s not pro labor at all.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Implicit in my suggestion is to go to a unionized hotel that is not on strike. When we moved our conference, it was for labor and other reasons (recent passage of laws discriminating against serving LGBT populations), and we moved to a unionized hotel that was not on strike.

    4. Wintermute*

      I think you misunderstand the NLRA slightly. They cannot stop themfrom protected labor activities, but refusing to cross a picket line for another company probably wouldn’t fall under that protection and, absent collective group action refusing to perform your work (such as attend a work conference) is always a fireable offense.

      The way I read the letter the writer doesn’t have much political capital and doesn’t want to jeopardize her job over this, and I can’t blame them really.

  10. tra la la*

    I said “NO” out loud when I read OP #2’s letter. OP #2, you don’t need to say anything. I understand your concern, but by airing that concern you’re putting your coworker in an awkward position. They don’t have to discuss their scars or their mental health with you, particularly if you’re not someone they know well. Just let it go.

    1. Jules K*

      This is so true. In my experience, comments about my scars from those I know only casually is incredibly unhealthy. In fact, even offers of help based on fresh cuts during a relapse often do me more harm than good if they come from somebody I’m not close to. It makes me feel as though those who’ve seen evidence of my cutting don’t respect me, and that shame makes me even more likely to continue to spiral. Please, stay out of it.

      1. Quoth the Raven*

        This so much.

        I still self-harm (as unhealthy as I know it is) during my worst days, and in my experience I am more likely to do it after people I am not close to, or people I am close to but who, in spite of coming from a good place, say something that makes me feel ashamed/desperate/inadequate/helpless. It makes me feel like, at that moment in time, I’m reduced to those cuts, scabs, and scars — and offers to help can also feel patronising sometimes. For these reasons I probably wouldn’t take it well if as coworker brought them up.

        Plus, as others have already mentioned, there’s the chance they are not self-harm scars. I once got a nasty cut and the accompanying scar from a razor my dad left on the bathroom window sill (it went through me like butter when I pulled the window close), and my partner has several small scars on his arms caused by his cats.

        1. Relly*

          I still self-harm (as unhealthy as I know it is)

          Hey, from someone who has been there: this reads like you’re beating up on yourself for self-harming. Please don’t.

          You are coping the best way you know how. (For some of us, it’s the only way we know how.) That isn’t weakness; it’s you, finding a way to deal with all of your pain. And that in itself is a good thing. Unfortunately, the way you cope also causes you physical pain. That’s bad, not because it’s Unhealthy or because of what anyone else in the world thinks, but because you deserve love and warmth and you deserve coping methods that don’t hurt you. And it’s not even “bad” so much as suboptimal. Less than ideal.

          Until you find methods that don’t hurt you, do whatever it is you need to do to get by, and don’t beat yourself up for it. You’re surviving. That’s what matters.

          1. Someone*

            Eh, I don’t think Quoth the Raven meant it like that.

            Speaking as someone who does self-harm occasionally, during bad times… there’s…, well, there’s bad times and good times. During good times, I don’t beat myself up for being someone who sometimes self-harms, I just see myself as being unfortunate in that I have some really unhealthy brain chemistry. During bad times, I can still feel that kind of logical thinking somewhere in the back of my head… but it’s like a switch has been turned, and I’m unable to really believe these logical thoughts. During bad times, my brain is a raging storm of of self hate, anxiety, doubt and worthlessness that drowns out every last bit of rationality.
            It’s a switch, and if I talk about the way my mental illness makes me think, that doesn’t mean I think like that all the time.

            Most of the time, I can own my mental illness and talk rational about, and a coworkers comment wouldn’t bother me much (though I would still consider it extremely inappropriate and would accordingly think very, very little of them). But there are those times when that rationality is taken away from me and even the smallest piece of criticism (or something that could be taken as criticism) would send me further down the spiral.

            So I think what Quoth the Raven means is, mentioning an acquaintances old scars: really inappropriate, mentioning an acquaintances fresh scars: really inappropriate plus potentially harmful and likely to make matters worse.

            I honestly can think of nothing a coworker could do to help me – the possible situations are: I’m actually fine at that time and don’t need help, I do need help but am already getting it, I need help and and am in such a bad place that the only way to get me to get help is to forcibly drive me there – i.e. a job for someone who is already really, really close, like e.g. my boyfriend.

            The situation where I need help but don’t know I could get some just doesn’t exist, not as an adult. Self harm is such a classic of mental health issues that I don’t really see how an adult in the western world would not know about it – if anything, I know MORE about the help I can get, because I’ve researched it so many times!

            So unless this is about someone you are really close to, yeah, stay out of it.

      2. Snarl Trolley*

        “and that shame makes me even more likely to continue to spiral”

        Well put and hard same.

    2. Red 5*

      I don’t self harm, but this made me think about a sort of delicate balance I tend to walk at work myself.

      I’m not mentally healthy but I’d rather present that way most of the time because it helps me remind myself that I’m not a anxious wreck of a human who can’t do anything right, so if something made me think the cracks WERE showing, I’d not be happy about it and that would make me more upset. I want to know that I can put it in a box and get my job done because it’s important to me that I figure out how to do that and how to cope in that way.

      I have a therapist and a spouse and a family I love who supports me. I go to them when I need it. And thankfully right now I have a job where they’ve been supportive in so many other ways that I do feel like I could say something like “I’m just not doing that well mentally right now, but I’m working on it. What I need from you right now is X, if that’s okay.” But I would only ever go to them if I had a concrete step I needed them to take, not just anything in general.

    3. Sacred Ground*

      Indeed, it’s poor form to ask anyone about any scars unless you already know them well. You’re potentially asking someone to relive a painful memory for your curiosity. I don’t think it matters whether the scars are from long-ago self harm, a car accident, a surgery, or a war wound. It’s a physical disfigurement and evidence of past trauma. The only polite thing is to ignore it, just like if it was a birthmark on her forehead. If they bring it up, fine. If you’ve known them for a long time, maybe fine. But if they don’t mention it, you don’t mention it. (Also, this is just talking about old scars. If these marks were freshly healed wounds, that’s a different situation.)

  11. Claire*

    I immediately read “shoulder checked” as looking over your shoulder to see what you’re doing, rather than physically pushing. If I’m reading it right, you might have to approach this as part of the note-taking problem – unless he’s invading your personal space.

    Was I the only one who (in this context) saw “shoulder checking” as more invasive monitoring? Either way, seriously inappropriate behaviour. :( Sorry you have to deal with this.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I definitely read it as physical pushing, but perhaps because I was associating it with “checking” in the hockey sense?

    2. sacados*

      No, I’m pretty sure “shoulder checking” means literally bumping into someone/pushing them with your shoulder as you go past.

    3. neverjaunty*

      Y’all must be from warm climates. “Checking” with a part of the body comes from hockey and means hitting somebody with a body part (shoulder, hip) as you pass them.

      1. RG*

        Nah. I’m from a warm climate – while I don’t think we use that exact term down South, a lot of us would probably imagine the push a football or basketball player would give an opponent on defense.

        1. Red 5*

          Yeah, I live in warmer temps and I put it in a sports context in general but not exactly hockey. I think it’s a pretty universal aggressive move in sports?

          1. neverjaunty*

            I’m sure the move itself is sports-wise, I’ve just only heard it described as “shoulder checking” or “hip checking” as a hockey-originating term (if that makes sense).

      2. Anon Anon Anon*

        Right. It’s a thing that guys do to other guys. Sometimes it’s a serious thing that means, “I have an issue with you.” Other times, it’s more of a joke. It really depends on the guys and the context and how it’s done. It might be regional. But on the rare occasion that a guy does it to a woman, there’s a really gross “punching down” tone to it because it’s such a jock / bro / man to man sort of thing to do.

    4. Tiara Wearing Princess*

      I, too, thought it NESN looking over her shoulder to check her work. Maybe the OP will clarify.

      If it’s physical contact, I’d dramatically scream, throw myself on the floor and writhe in pain.

      1. Gaia*

        What the coworker is doing isn’t at all funny, but I LOL’d hard at this because it is 100% what I would do. There would be a dramatic throw to the ground, theatrical screams of pain and confused/horrified/betrayed expressions worthy of an Oscar.

        1. CryBaby*

          Crying is not a terrible idea, really. I don’t cry at work, so if my coworkers saw me in tears/fighting back tears after someone knocked into me, they would be concerned. If it happened again, with the same dude knocking into me again, I think people would take that really seriously.
          It’s somewhat manipulative to deliberately cry like that, but this is such an over-the-top situation which is basically being ignored. I think OP would be justified in drawing a little extra attention to this: especially the physical, small scale violence.
          This tactic would probably only work for women, which sucks.

      2. Temperance*

        No, it’s definitely a physical attack primarily used in hockey. No need to ask for her to clarify, it’s in the letter that he’s shoving her.

      3. Gyratory Circus*

        I wouldn’t throw myself on the floor, but I’d definitely yell. I’ve got an autoimmune disorder that involves my blood clotting functions, and someone hitting me with their shoulder could cause me to end up with an ugly bruise, even if it didn’t seem especially hard to someone else. If someone did that to me deliberately, multiple times? I’d consider that assault.

    5. Vendelle*

      I had the exact same thought you had on the shoulder checking. I only understood it correctly because of Alisons response to that part of the letter.

    6. Artemesia*

      Shoulder checking has a meaning and it isn’t about looking over someone’s shoulder; it is possible she meant that, but the common meeting is a blocking blow to push someone aside.

      1. Anon Anon Anon*

        I thought it was when a guy walks past another guy and shoves him sideways using his shoulder. This is what it means where I come from.

    7. Dwigt*

      I read it this way too because of course no company would receive reports of someone hockey-checking a colleague and do nothing. Right? /s

    8. anonymous5*

      I wondered about that…but even the “read over shoulder” interpretation is **creepy AF** and not okay. And the physical interpretation (which I think it is) is completely over the line.

    9. LQ*

      I totally read it as looking over someone’s shoulder and checking their work that way.

      I’ve also heard it as a physical thing like hockey checking, but here I read it as over the shoulder checking work. I have a coworker who calls it shoulder checking so I totally when there first.

    10. LurkieLoo*

      I’ve never heard shoulder checking to mean anything BUT a bump into someone with your shoulder. It’s popular among school bullies (passing in halls) because it can be done in a way that makes it seem like the victim might have walked into you. From the outside, it looks enough like an accidental collision that if it’s not directly witnessed, the bully can pretend it was just a mutual accident.

    11. TootsNYC*

      Interesting! I googled “shoulder checking” and got tons of pages about looking over your shoulder to check the traffic behind you as you’re driving.

      But I also immediately assumed “shoulder-checking me in the hallway” meant that aggressive shoulder bump.

      1. TootsNYC*

        But Urban Dictionary has this:

        Top definition
        shoulder check
        The act of intentionally bumping another person’s shoulder with your own shoulder as you walk past them. It is meant as a display of open aggression or simple disrespect depending on how roughly the shoulder check is performed.
        Janet shoulder checked Denise on her way out, hoping for a fight.

        AND it has this:

        The act of looking over one’s shoulder, for a second glance at someone who caught your eye.
        Dude, that girl just shoulder-checked you; why don’t you say, “Hi”?

  12. RUKiddingMe*

    OP2: This is a very not your business thing.

    That you are male and she is a woman I think does matter. Saying something/helping will come off as paternalistic/white knighting.

    Women do not need males to “save” them/offer unasked for advice, etc. You have your own lane, stay in it.

    1. Belle8bete*

      His job actually lends more context than his gender…I wish he’d just said the part about being a mandated reporter for this situation regarding youth.

      Basically, if this was a youth, he is heavily trained to report it. He is getting confirmation that it’s not his issue if it is an adult. Personally, I think a lot of folks are having a bit of a knee jerk reaction to a guy who hasn’t done anything wrong…

      However, he really should have asked a superior about this…simply asked “Hey, if I see xyz in a adult coworker, do I need to do anything about it?” He would surely learn that the answer is “no, that’s not part of the mandated reporting.” I’m also a mandated reporter, and if you aren’t sure on something, ASK.

      Then the issue is if he should say something because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. We all have made it super clear that we wouldn’t suggest saying anything, that it wouldn’t do anything positive and alot of negative, and that it’s completely unnecessary. But I don’t think it’s reasonable to lob all this additional scorn on the dude.

      1. Fish Microwaver*

        I agree. He seems to be coming from a place of concern and is seeking advice. He hasn’t actually said anything to the coworker.

  13. Seal*

    #2 – Without knowing the specifics, how can you be sure your coworker’s scars are self- inflicted? They could well be the result of an injury or surgery that happened to leave a badly-placed scar. Regardless, unless your coworker decides to share how she got her scars, they’re really none of your business.

    1. Anonomo*

      I have scars from an accident as a child and dont want to explain my uncle is a drunk who tripped over his dog and knocked a grill on me because there is a surprising number of people who think Im lying.
      LW2 if you really feel compelled to do *something* be a sincerely nice human, not just to people with visible scars, but to everyone you can be nice to. You never know when a kind word/small politeness/curtesy could be the one thing in a persons day that was good.

      1. Quasimodo*

        Omg yes! In my case, there is AMPLE and visible paper trail stating that the guy who gave me my visible scars is just… not well. I can’t even follow his logic, but it appears that somehow he decided *I* have spent the lasting few centuries exerting mind control over the planet and thus singlehandedly causing mass human rights atrocities.
        I’ve had people threaten to lock me up and throw away the key when I’ve tried to explain that.

        1. Anonomo*

          People can be so intent on seeing only what they want too, Im so sorry youve had that first hand too! I hope youre in a better situation now <3

          1. Quasimodo*

            Unfortunately not but I have since befriended several attorneys (by chance) and the next gaslighting douchebag to try to have me incarcerated or labeled with some extreme mental health diagnosis, is really going to be sorry they did.
            He’s a man, I’m a woman and apparently the Bible says that gives him the right to beat the hell out of me.

      2. Some kind of substandard Freddie Mercury*

        Wow! Sorry about that! My mother abused me when i was a kid. I got my last beating when i was 19. That’s when she injured my knee to the point that it needed stitches. I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone. So i put some bandage on it and ignored it for 3 days, hoping the wounds would close. Well, they didn’t. I ended up going to the hospital. The surgeon was grumpy about having to stitch an old wound and asked me what happened. I didn’t know what to say so i just mumbled something awkwardly. He accused me of getting injured while being drunk. Ugh. I was speechless. How i wish i could turn back time and defend myself. I guess my point is – don’t assume anything about people’s scars.

    2. Notasecurityguard*

      LW2 here.

      I’m a school resource officer so they train us to spot that stuff in the kids is the short answer. Longer answer is they’re a series of straight white lines about an inch and a half long running nearly parallel down both forearms from the elbows to the wrists. As my grandfather was fond of saying “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s probably not a rattlesnake”

      1. Scarlet*

        Sure, but… she’s not a kid so it should be assumed that she can take care of herself. Whatever the setting is, if a coworker offered me unsolicited advice about my mental health, I’d be seriously pissed off.

        1. So anon for this*

          Exactly this. I think it is rubbing a lot of people the wrong way (me included) that “they are kids and she is an adult and deserves to be treated like one” even needed pointing out.

      2. Aveline*

        Yes, but you work 8n a school and deal with people who need your help.

        This is the case of two adults. One of whom is not in a role where he should get involved.

        Further, if a kid has those scars, they typically can’t me more than a few years old. In an adult, they could be decades old. So bringing them up is not only not going to help her, it could harm her.

      3. Red 5*

        I think it’s kind of you to be concerned, and you could very well be right about it. But as others have pointed out, you don’t know enough about the situation (the scars could be 20 years old and she’s been in regular therapy for decades and has all the help and support she needs) to make too much of it.

        Also, it seems like your school cares enough about their students to provide training to you and the other staff, which means that this co-worker also would probably have access to that information and the resources that are provided so that they can be provided to the kids. If nothing else, hopefully your school has an employee resource program that they promote regularly which would have that kind of info and so your coworker likely already knows where to go, if they’re in a place where they want or need additional help.

        I agree very much with Anonomo, especially in your position as a school resource officer. I think that your instinct to help could serve a lot of people if it’s turned outward in a general way. Making sure that people see your kindness and heart will help to make them comfortable and will help them in ways you may not ever see, but will make a huge difference throughout your community. It also means you’ll be seen as someone who truly cares, and that is what leads people to open up more than anything, and will give you even more chances to help people when they ask.

        1. Notasecurityguard*

          Lw2 here. Point of clarification, my department provides that training. I have no idea what training they give to the teachers vis a vis all of that

          1. Belle8bete*

            Notasecurityguard, did you ask your manager or trainer about this (without mentioning the name of the coworker, of course)? I mean, you pretty much got your answer here, but in the future, you should just go to whoever is above you and get clarification if you are unsure.

          2. ScienceTeacherHS*

            In my state, teachers have mandated suicide awareness and prevention training. More than half of states mandate training and most of the rest at least encourage training.

      4. Pollygrammer*

        Please please please don’t say anything to her. In her position, I would full-stop never want to speak to you again.

      5. I'm A Little Teapot*

        LW2, I have a scar that is about 6 inches long that traces between my elbow and wrist. For the first couple years, it was red and angry looking, and stuck out. Badly. You know how I got it? By picking my cat up and removing her from a situation where a “nice” guy was trying to pet her, and the cat was NOT having it. So instead of the “nice” guy getting bitten, I got scratched. That “nice” guy did not understand he’d done wrong. No, he wasn’t “nice”. He was an idiot, and was trying to prove that he knew my cats better than me, when he’d met them 30 minutes before.

        Your efforts to be “nice” could do harm. Cut it out. There is a time and place to intervene. This is NOT one of them.

      6. Ceiswyn*

        And what is it that you think you are actually in a position to do about the ‘duck’?

        In your letter, you give an example of suggesting she should talk to a doctor. Do you genuinely believe that this is helpful advice that she has not been given before? What do you expect will be achieved by saying this to her?

        I know from your other comments that you are a mandatory reporter, and therefore it seems that your logic is ‘I have to do something. This is something. Therefore… I must do this?’

        Congratulations on realising that that logic is deeply flawed :)

        You don’t have to do ‘something’, you have to do something helpful. Embarrassing a grown adult by drawing attention to old scars is not helpful; patronising a grown adult by giving them a suggestion that they WILL have already considered is not helpful; letting a grown adult go on peacefully with their life without having highly emotional past events constantly dragged up by colleagues IS helpful.

        Sometimes, the most helpful thing you can do is ‘nothing’. If you genuinely feel compassion for your colleague, then do that.

    3. Sylvan*

      Self-harm scars can be fairly clear, depending on the method of self-harm. Not many surgeries leave a series of parallel, straight, thin lines.

      1. Kuododi*

        Actually I have scars on my forearm which look exactly as you describe. They are from a home visit with a family counseling client who had a very rambunctious dog who had been cooped up in a tiny one room apartment. Long story short. The dog jumped on me in his enthusiasm and I would up with long parallel scratches on my arm. This resulted in my current white scars. If someone were to be so presumptuous as to start pushing mental health referrals to me bc he believed I was self harming….. I can’t promise I would be terribly calm in my response. Back when I was heavily involved in Martial arts, I would wind up with serious bruising bc of sparring and/or weapons class. ( Prone to bruising). More than one person questioned if I was being abused and wouldn’t take me at my word when I explained the situation. Scars or bruising, this dude is essentially a stranger and needs to stay out of her business.

        1. Sylvan*

          Okay. I’m glad to hear your scars aren’t the result of self-harm. I agree that the best thing he can do is to mind his business.

  14. MKT*

    #2 – I have a series of white, parallel scars on both forearms that are all kitchen burns (I am accident-prone!). So don’t assume, even out of kindness.

    1. Quickbeam*

      I have a single deep acne scar on my shoulder that looks like a cigarette was put out on my skin. I’ve had people assume domestic abuse. It was out of kindness but I wear high necklines to prevent awkward conversations.

    2. Notasecurityguard*

      LW2 here: Huh I didn’t even think that they could be kitchen related. Like my forearms are a mess of scars (most are clumsy, one was from where an ex tried to stab me, some are work related) but they’re all different lengths and different directions and on the outsides.

      But yeah if they could be kitchen scars I can definitely ignore them and not feel like I’m not doing my job

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        By not bringing them up to your co-worker, you’re not “not doing your job.” As I understand from your other comments, your job is to bring this kind of thing up with kids when you see signs, right? Your co-worker is not a kid. Her scars are old, which means that the likely assumption is that she’s had some kind of help along the road, and she rolled up her sleeves, which likely means she’s not ashamed. In your place, I would probably assume that she’s in her current role to help kids who are in the position she herself was in. That assumption might also be wrong, but I still wouldn’t ask her about it.

        In other words, she’s not one of your charges, she’s a colleague. It’s a different relationship. Your training wants you to be aware of self-harm and other behaviors in young people who don’t have resources or support, not in grown adults.

      2. Anononon*

        In your comments, it looks like your looking for justification to be able to ignore the scars, that you need an excuse to do so (or you would otherwise be negligent). No justifications or excuses are needed here at all. The scars have nothing to do with you, so it’s nothing you need to agonize over. No duty to act exists here.

      3. HGG*

        It doesn’t matter if they ARE scars from self-harming, it’s still not your job to say anything to her about them. At all. Ever. It would be horribly inappropriate!

      4. LurkieLoo*

        It might not be his job, but I imagine as a cop additionally trained and on the lookout for exactly those shapes of scars, it’s hard to just turn that off. You’re talking about a person who has been trained and worked to be extra observant then further trained to be extra observant about THIS EXACT THING. I don’t think it’s likely an easy thing to just ignore abuse (self or externally inflicted) on a person because “it’s not my job” to look at anyone older than 18/19.

        In this particular case, the advice might be to look the other way (because of the type and age of scars), but how many times on here have there been letters from people who suspect abuse. The comments don’t say “not your job.” The comments usually say “here are some resources you can share even though you are not obligated to do a darn thing.”

    3. Lilo*

      I worked in a bakery and got these nasty burns on my forearms one where the gloves ended but my stack of hit oans was still hot enough to burn. The scars faded but u could see the burn looking like a slash.

      1. Red 5*

        Yup, when I was working at a bakery I ended up with a long burn on my forearm that faded into a thin scar on my wrist that was very conspicuously placed. It was there for a long time after I left that job, so I know it probably raised an eyebrow or two.

    4. TotesMaGoats*

      Ditto. On my honeymoon, I dropped a hot iron and caught it by the cord. It swung back and got me right on my wrist on the inside. Worst burn I’d ever had at the time. It would have looked “suspicious” for a long time.

    5. Trout 'Waver*

      Ugh, I know exactly what you mean. I’ve gotten that burn several times from the inside-top of the oven. They’re always the same length and shape. Fortunately mine didn’t scar over.

    6. anonymousandbored*

      +1 my husband has long deep scars on his wrists – they look like self-harm, they’re not. My cat is a serious jerk, and bite the crap out of him one night.

  15. PugLife*

    OP 5 – make a donation, as large as you can afford, to a worker’s rights group that is supporting the striking workers. From your eltter, it sounds like you don’t have the capital to skip the conference, let alone have it cancelled or moved. It’s in your best interest to go, and to support them in a different way.

    1. Obelia*

      I agree, and it’s okay if (as your letter suggests) you can’t afford very much. That is the most practical option.

      I don’t think you necessarily need to think of it as offsetting your participation in the convention – the workers are not striking against the customers, you didn’t choose the venue, and you aren’t crossing a picket line in the sense of breaking the strike, because you don’t work there. Here in the UK I’ve had to go through picket lines on numerous occasions, either because it wasn’t my trade union who called the strike, or because it was a strike against another employer and solidarity strikes are illegal here. That shouldn’t mean you are seen as supporting the management. My rule of thumb is that if there aren’t obvious other ways to show support (which there might be, if they are handing out stickers etc) you can always at the least be polite and, where possible, friendly to the strikers as you go by, and inform yourself as much as possible about the dispute so that you can comment fairly and helpfully about it if it comes up in discussion.

    2. halmsh*

      Ask the union in advance what you can do!! They’ll tell you their talking points and what will be most supportive.

  16. LJay*

    For #2, I really wouldn’t say anything.

    If you had something meaningful to contribute, maybe. But it seems like you really don’t, here.

    It seems like she’s probably figured out more healthy coping strategies, since the scars are old. Either she’s found a new way of dealing with things, or removed the previous source of distress from her life. Either way it’s something she’s already addressed.

    And I am pretty sure that telling her she could talk to a doctor or a psychologist about the cutting is not going to be a new revelation for her, either.

    1. Snarl Trolley*

      “If you had something meaningful to contribute, maybe.”

      Honestly, I’d argue that in any professional setting, even reaching out with a “meaningful” sentiment is crossing a very significant line. If it was a casual acquaintance and the situation arose outside the workplace, I agree that there maaaaaaay possibly be something he could say that would offer empathy and connection (although personally, I can’t think of anything I’d accept from anyone that wasn’t a close and trusted friend or loved one on such a personal topic, but of course, YMMV).

      1. Someone*

        I agree with you – if they are self-harm scars, they arose from a situation where the coworker wasn’t thinking rationally. So either that someone is in a good place at the moment and well aware that this isn’t normal thinking and help is needed, or they are in a bad place and think they deserve that pain or whatever. In the latter case, it’s extremely unlikely that a casual acquaintance could do or say anything that wouldn’t make matters worse (personal comments are a really great way for making people feel self-conscious). Unless that person is a really hard-core loner with no social network, you should leave the helping to people who are close enough for personal calls, visits at home, and driving that someone to the hospital. Unless you are able to monitor the effect that your “help” has on that person in a reliable way that’s appropriate for the relationship you have, you might well do more harm than good.

        (speaking from very personal experience here – I wrote a more detailed comment somewhere up the comments).

      2. LJay*

        Yeah, I was just thinking about my own experience here, and I can definitely see that most people wouldn’t like it, regardless.

        For me, if a coworker I had decent rapport with said something like, “Hey, I noticed your scars. I used to cut, too. My therapist was really helpful to me – supportive and non-judgmental. I don’t know if you’re looking for any recommendations, but I can give you the name of the practice and her number if you want it.” Well, I would find it a bit odd, and a boundary overstep, and I wouldn’t take them up on the offer, but I wouldn’t think badly of them for offering, either.

        If it was just, “Hey, I saw your scars. You should call the EAP,” or, “There’s a psych clinic on the corner of West and Main I think” or “Have you considered getting help for your issues?” I would think badly of them, because I am an adult and I am capable of looking up basic bits of information for myself and duh, of course I know that cutting isn’t ideal. And making a simple suggestion like that makes me think that you think that I am less than capable.

        I also haven’t cut in close to 2o years, so I would likely be looking at them as misguided more than anything else, and I could see it being more upsetting/triggering for someone who it is a more recent thing.

    2. Needaname*

      Exactly. You have no extra wisdom, resource or access that she doesn’t have. In fact you know much, much less about the situation than she does. Kudos though for checking yourself and asking Alison.

  17. Geoffrey B*

    OP2: before offering unsolicited advice, it’s worth asking oneself “how likely is it that this person has already heard and considered the option I’m about to suggest?”

    I would suggest that it’s very close to 100% that she has already either talked to a professional about this, or thought about it and decided not to.

    1. Scarlet*

      “it’s worth asking oneself “how likely is it that this person has already heard and considered the option I’m about to suggest?””

      This is great advice.

    2. Zen Cohen*

      And also LW#2, who are you to determine what are and are not “unhealthy coping strategies”? That is veering straight into mansplaining territory. In many contexts self harm, while can be considered a valid harm reduction strategy for an individual in crisis.

    3. Joielle*

      Yes! My spouse has a chronic illness and the number of times relative strangers have offered unsolicited advice is astonishing to me. Like yeah, he has heard of acupuncture before, thanks. I know it’s meant kindly, but it comes off as so condescending.

      1. SigneL*

        yes, sometimes people at the gym will offer me advice. I say, ‘Oh! are you a physician? Because my orthopedic surgeon says…” and they slink away.

    4. MatKnifeNinja*

      I worked a coworker who was actively self harming. These were wounds that were covered with decent size dressings on the arms and other places. The person didn’t hide them with shirts/long pants.

      The party line at work was as long as there wasn’t a biohazard situation, everyone was to say nothing. If the person was bleeding through a dressing, we could ask the person to go change it. (where you could see the blood seeping through to the other side).

      It wasn’t because my boss was this woke, understanding individual, he flat out didn’t care and didn’t want to be involved. His opinion on people who self harm was nasty and negative. For the person, it was really a blessing the boss didn’t open his yap. Nothing supportive would have come out.

      OP they are old scars, and you honestly don’t know how they got there, I would pass on saying anything. If you can see them, so can everyone else. If the administration isn’t fired up about it, I’d follow their lead.

  18. Cathie from Canada*

    Regarding the strike, would it be possible to stay in a different hotel and still attend the conference sessions? At least that way you would not be spending money yourself at the hotel, though you would be crossing the lines every day. I wouldn’t think your employer would care which hotel you stay at as long as you can attend the conference.

    1. k*

      That was my opinion as well. I would also be uncomfortable staying at the hotel, but understand it’s not always feasible to just not go/try and cancel.

  19. Casper Lives*

    #3 I’m sure you know your job, but I’d be very cautious about any bartering. A lot of government attorneys are forbidden from taking on outside work. You might look into small business social groups or finding a mentor through a social group, like a women business owners group if you’re a woman.

    1. Space Turtle*

      Yeah, I was really surprised by Alison’s answer to this one. You’re suggesting they do free work in their role for their employer to help inform their future business? Sounds kind of fireable to me.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Not in their role for their employer! Of course not — you can’t do that. Separately, on the side, in their capacity as an individual, not representing their employer. Obviously if their employer doesn’t allow it, that’s a no go, but plenty of employers would (maybe not government though; that could obviously be a sticking point). I’ll clarify in the post.

        1. Legl beagl*

          I am sorry but this AAM is giving terrible advice. Many attorneys who are looking to leave to law try to set up informational interviews. Unhelpful contact often offer little help and then ask for free legal advice at the end of the interview.

          Say you’re a white collar worker. If your hair stylist asked for a couple of pointers about, say, finding a job as someone’s PA, you wouldn’t demand a free haircut/styling in exchange. So why do you think it’s appropriate for lawyers to work for free, especially female lawyers?

          Honest pay for honest work. If someone has done work writing contracts for you, pay them. Otherwise you’re just doing what our president is so notorious for, i.e., stiffing people.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Bartering is a thing. Money is not the only acceptable way to pay for something, if both parties are happy with a trade.

            The OP is talking about approaching busy business owners who are strangers to them and asking for a significant amount of their time — not just a few pointers. They need to be able to offer something in return. Money is one option. A barter is another. I just checked and there are articles from loads of law practices and state bars talking about how lawyers can barter their skills in exchange for everything from web design to accounting, so it does indeed appear to be a thing that some lawyers do. But if it’s not something the OP wants to do, they needn’t. (We have no idea if the OP is a woman or not, btw.)

            I pay the lawyers who do contract work for me. But if one said, “Hey, would you be up for trading an hour of contract review for an hour of (whatever),” I’d absolutely consider it.

            1. Sue*

              When in private practice, barter was common but I would never do any side legal business without malpractice coverage and a government attorney is very unlikely to have that as there is no need.

              1. AnonAtty*

                100% this. An attorney who has relevant expertise and the structure of a firm (and relevant insurance) is completely different from a government attorney. Having an additional client when you already take clients is a HUGE difference from going to having no clients (or technically, just the government as your client) to having extra individual clients.

              2. Llama Lawyer*

                This. I though AAM was way off in this one. Super risky to perform legal work without malpractice. If an issue occurred, you could get sued (with no insurance to cover!) and could even potentially lose your license or other punishment for practicing privately without malpractice coverage.

                1. Aveline*

                  Yes, there is a lot more to this than AAM or laypeople realize.

                  I hope they listen to the practicing or retired attorneys here.

                  Also, I don’t know about you, but how the heck would you report that income on your tax return?

              3. Aveline*

                I have to ask where you live where this is common for solo practitioners. I Have practiced in multiple states and have friends who have practiced in multiple states. I don’t know of anyone who is actually ever done this once, let alone as a repeated practice.

              4. Delta Delta*

                A billion percent this. Government lawyers are encouraged to do pro bono work (which may not be appropriate for a business, although perhaps for a small business it would). However, it’s always risky to advise people without the benefit of malpractice insurance. Suppose OP barters for an hour of work or does some appropriate pro bono work, and ends up making a mess. Then there’s no insurance to cover that mess.

                Also, before anyone jumps on me about pro bono work, the American Bar Association and many state associations suggest each lawyer do 50 hours per year of pro bono work. Not required, suggested. And it is regardless of gender.

                I also can’t help but observe that OP is 2 years in to a 10 year job (for the loan forgiveness which may or may not be a thing by that point, sadly). There’s a ton of time to get involved in local trade organizations, do networking, make a business plan, acquire cats, etc.

                1. AnonAtty*

                  Weird, I was steered away from pro bono work. But my field is super niche to the point that it would be impossible for me to provide legal work in my field of expertise without running into the relevant government agency.

              5. Plain Jane*

                Yes, I worked in a government law office and the attorneys did not have malpractice insurance so they couldn’t do things like this because the risk was too great.

              6. Joielle*

                This was my concern too. I won’t even give legal advice to family members without malpractice insurance, let alone an actual for-profit business.

            2. MK*

              Alison, I cannot speak for the U.S., but bartering is really not a thing for lawyers in any of the cultures I am familiar with, as opposed to pro bono work. In my country it is against the Bar Association’s rules; a lawyer can work for free (for charities, for relatives/friends/people whose face they like, for someone who cannot afford representation, for someone whose case/cause you really believe in), but not in exchange for services or goods.

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                Bartering is common for private-practice solo attorneys in the US. However, you still have to pay taxes on the fair market value of what you receive in exchange for your services.

                But I agree with the other posters here that a government attorney would lack the malpractice insurance and likely the skills necessary to help a small business.

                1. Aveline*

                  Um , I’ve practiced in three states and had a friend who did it in 10. Neither of us think it’s common. It may be allowed, but it’s not common.

                  Perhaps it was back in the days when family physicians also accepted chickens as payments.

                2. Anon From Here*

                  Solo attorney happy to provide some anecdata that I’ve never bartered. The only time I know a colleague did it, it was early in their career, the item they bartered for was a big-ticket item (a luxury car), and that colleague has since shown themselves to be kind of shady and I avoid interacting with them and never refer work to them.

                3. Trout 'Waver*

                  By common, I mean ~1/year, not as routine payment.

                  One attorney I know helped a country club incorporate in exchange for waiving membership dues. Another helped a neighbor with an uncontested divorce in exchange for landscaping work. Another I know provided criminal law services in exchange for car detailing.

                  In all 3 cases, though, there was a preexisting positive relationship. It’s not like they’d barter with some random guy showing up off the street.

            3. Aveline*


              Please listen to the attorneys, particularly the female ones, telling you this is a bad idea.

              Please listen to our experience and expertise.

              Yes, bartering is ethically allowed in some states. But that’s a minimal floor of permissible, nor a measure of whether it’s desirable or smart to do.

              I don’t know of a single case of bartering for legal services that worked well. I do know of a few that resulted in bar complaints. That resulted in discipline.

              My state allows it, but I just checked my state bar database of ethics opinions. Yeesh. Bad, bad, bad.

              Also, since you are not an attorney, you really don’t have the knowledge to know whether or not that’s sufficient for something to be allowed. Checking the state bar rules is not enough and it concerns me that you think it is and of publish this on the site where people respect you and follow your advice.

              Hint: at a minimum, you’d also have to read through all the state ethics opinion’s and the state statutes to really understand whether or not it allowed on paper or allowed in practice. These are quite a few things that my state bar technically allows, but no lawyer would ever do because of ethics opinion’s, disciplinary proceedings, or contradictory state or federal law.

              You looked at one factor in what is a far more complex, multi factor analysis that can, and should, really only be done by a licensed attorney.

              1. Anon From Here*

                Yeah, just because a state licensure authority allows bartering for legal services, it doesn’t mean that a number of lawyers actually choose to do it. I know that some states don’t require lawyers to carry malpractice insurance so long as they inform their clients — but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to practice without malpractice insurance in place.

                1. Aveline*

                  And just because the state bar allows it, doesn’t mean a lawyer can legally do it.

                  My state bar has some vestigial rules they haven’t changed bc the legislature, state SC, or SCOTUS have said “um, no.”

                  A state bar is not the only body that says what a layer can and cannot do.

                  States license them. The state bar or state SC can discipline them and set rules.

                  Caselaw also matters.

              2. Aveline*

                Plus, there are malpractice issues and scope of representation rules, as have been stated.

                Then there are the rules in written engagement agreements in some states. They can be difficult enough with a discrete a presentation and flat rate cash payment. Reducing a bartering agreement to writing can be difficult.

                Also, bartering is usually only for something measurable. What she would be getting in return will be pretty nebulous.

                How does she measure when she’s been “paid” by the other side?

                What I’d theres a dispute. How does she measure I’d the other side has performed?

                How does she pay taxes on that income? Because it is income that has to be reported.

                Bartering is expert-level legal practice, not for beginners or casual practitioners.

              3. Belle8bete*

                What does female have to do with this comment? I’m not saying anything against your comment, but your opening line is confusing to me. Did I miss something?

            4. Marion Cotesworth-Haye*

              Apologies for piling on, Alison, but as an attorney in private practice in DC, with lots of contacts in the field that have done both government and private practice, I have to agree that bartering for side services is a really bad idea (and one unlikely to get approved by the government employer unless its pro bono and specifically authorized). Legal representation carries all sorts of ethical duties that do not end when you reach a specified number of hours (even if you specifically agreed to trade a certain number of service hours), there are serious insurance ramifications, and a government attorney with two years’ experience is extremely unlikely to be qualified to provide the type of expertise a small business owner of this type would need. I’m normally 100% on board with your advice, Alison, but this is not a good idea.

              TL;DR version: This bartering suggestion has serious ethical and legal risks — OP, I would strongly recommend another (really, any other) path.

              1. Aveline*

                Even a lot of paid, discrete representations morph into more because your ethical duties take you places you couldn’t imagine beforehand.

                There’s a reason why most state bars have heaps of opinions on “limited scope of representation.”

                I used to do some limited representation in my area of expertise. I don’t anymore. If you’re not willing to hire me for the full representation, you need to find another lawyer. That may sound harsh to the clients, but I found that there is no such thing as a limited representation in my area. It always morphs.

                Also, no matter with the client understands in the moment, they can, and usually, will, come back later on and say that You failed to warn them about something that was outside the scope of representation.

                So if you’re doing something other than a standard, full representation, You either have to document so much that it becomes a full-time job or run the risk of exposure for things that you didn’t take on responsibility for and weren’t paid to do.

            5. Aveline*


              My case is going to be called soon and I don’t think I can get back to this today.

              I’m sure other attorneys for pipe in here to let you know that this is generally not good advice..

              However, I did want to offer some practical suggestions for your benefit and that of the letter writer. Well she cannot use her legal knowledge to barter, nothing says she can’t use those skills she acquired in becoming a lawyer in a barter situation. What do I mean by this? Most lawyers are trained how to analyze things and to write in a certain way. This may not be what you or the general public consider expert writing, but it is generally useful in corporate and other business settings.

              So, she can’t offer to review contracts or provide other legal services. She can offer to write documents or presentations or review them.

              I know quite a few lawyers who paid the bills by doing tech writing or editing in business contexts prior to making it as lawyers.

              When I started out, I made extra money writing and polishing breifs for other attorneys but I also made money doing presentations and document work for some corporate contacts.

              (Don’t judge my writing ability by my posts here. These are off the cuff remakes, similar to casual conversation. This is generally true of most layers I know. It’s a form of code switching).

              LW needs find opportunities like this.

              I would also strongly suggest that she talk to older female attorneys in her area. There may be other career paths within the law that she might actually enjoy as well as other career paths were she can use her skill but get outside of the legal practice.

              If she hasn’t been going to local bar events, she needs to start. Most lawyers over 40 have contacts outside the legal arena. Well all know people who jumped ship. So she will find sympathy and possibly also find help.

              My current state bar offers mentors to anyone who has practiced less than five years. An amazing number of the mentors are women in their 40s and 50s.

              Also, she could reach out to her law school and see if they can help. It is in their interest that her transition works. Because they need her to do well for their own statistics.

            6. AnonAtty*

              Alison, it looks like pretty much every attorney who has weighed in has said this is a bad idea. As a government attorney myself, I really think this is bad advice. You should consider editing your response here.

                1. AnonAtty*

                  Thank you. I just want to say that your willingness to reconsider makes you an exception among advice columnists (and human beings) in the most positive way. It makes your advice much more trustworthy than average.

            7. Another government lawyer*

              I would absolutely consider bartering my legal services IF I were insured. As a government employee, I don’t have to buy insurance, so the outside work that would be covered is pro bono legal services provided through a specific program run by an NGO. This means that I can’t even volunteer to provide free legal services to local community organizations (such as my kids’ not for profit school or afterschool programs), unless they qualify for the program.

        2. AnonAtty*

          Because of the ethics issues, it really isn’t a good idea, particularly of you’re employed by the government in a relevant field.

          Attorneys generally don’t work on this basis because creating an attorney/client relationship isn’t that simple. You have pretty clear duties once that is created. This side work, if you botch it, 100% can lead to a legitimate bar complaint.

          Also, frankly, someone who has been a lawyer for two years and doesn’t work in a relevant field shouldn’t be trying to do this. As I get into below, there can be restrictions on a relevant field if you are a government attorney. The chances of her handling it competently are low, and she wouldn’t have a mentor or supervisor to help or oversee her work for a side for. An inexperienced attorney is in no position to barter.

          Bartering may be common in other fields, but this situation sounds like a bad idea for an attorney.

        3. Grits McGee*

          Obviously I don’t know the specifics of OP’s workplace, but my experience as a US federal employee is that I had to get written permission from my supervisor and my agency’s ethics office just to volunteer for another organization. (The process for paid employment is even longer.) One of the big concerns was that they wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to be doing work for this other organization that was similar to my official job duties. I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but I think OP really needs to thoroughly investigate this before reaching out to business owners, and be prepared that the answer from her government employer may be “No”.

        4. Holly*

          I know you put the caveat if it’s allowed by their employer, but it is extremely likely – even if OP is a government lawyer at the municipal level – that there are conflict of interest rules or rules regarding representation. I am not allowed to represent *anyone* other than specifically cleared pro bono work by my employer. Also, as others mention, government attorneys usually do not have malpractice insurance as there is no need, so that’s another risk.

          What I would actually recommend to OP – in addition to the great advice of social/professional networking groups – is that OP look into public service/loan repayment program qualifying jobs in government agencies that govern small businesses/consumer affairs. OP would have their public service attorney job but be able to learn a lot more about the ins and outs of running a small business.

    2. Glomarization, Esq.*

      As an attorney in private practice, I have never offered and would never offer to barter my legal services in exchange for anything. Cash money only and a representation agreement on paper. There is just no other way to keep everybody on the same page as to the scope of work, my commitment, and reasonable expectations as to the result.

      Never mind the prohibitions around side gigs when you’re a fed employee, and never mind being a fed lawyer.

      LW#3, I think you can go down a pretty ordinary networking path. Look up the local Chamber of Commerce and/or other local resource to research neighborhood business associations. Then attend a few meetings (a lot of these are open to the public because they’re public or quasi-public and have some kind of taxing authority) to get to know the local participants. Guaranteed there will be some cafe or shop owner who’s a frequent flyer or even a member of the board. Introduce yourself and see if you can’t meet them for coffee sometime.

      I’m sure other attorneys, especially those working for the government, can suggest how ordinary business networking should be done to avoid breaking any rules.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        As an attorney in private practice, I have never offered and would never offer to barter my legal services in exchange for anything. Cash money only and a representation agreement on paper. There is just no other way to keep everybody on the same page as to the scope of work, my commitment, and reasonable expectations as to the result.

        Theoretically, couldn’t one have a representation agreement even in a bartering situation? I.e., you’ll give me four hours of consulting time, and I’ll give you four hours of my own expertise?

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          To clarify, I’m not really thinking about the appropriateness of this particular LW taking on a client, given their circumstances, but just in general, the idea of bartering for legal services when someone already has that type of legal practice.

        2. Anon From Here*

          I’m with Aveline on this one. My 4 hours won’t be the same as their 4 hours, and there’s too much room for disagreement later on as to how everything should be valued. Reducing everything to a dollar figure makes it more hands-off and less personal, better for everyone all around IMO.

            1. Aveline*

              This is why I refuse about 10% of the people who walk in my door. Even if I can help them, my risk exposure is too high.

              If I take cases I shouldn’t, I may help that one person, but at the expense of others I could help.

        3. Aveline*

          Theoretically, yes. Practically, not typically feasible. Too many other rules that come into play.

          Even if the state allows it and there are no other impediments (eg, ethcisal opinions, disciplinary procedures, case law , state statutes on bartering), this is something that should ever be done by a newbie.

          This isn’t driving a bicycle. It’s driving a fighter jet.

          Whether or not this might ever work ina very specific set of circumstances, it is a very bad idea doe LW given her experience and circumstances.

        4. AnonAtty*

          It really isn’t feasible. Say there’s a secondary that comes up.or the legal work otherwise ends up being a lot more complicated than you thought. There are ethics issues involved regarding the scope of your representation. You can try to limit it, but there are definitely some concerns there and you could end up in trouble with the bar if you give someone 4 hours of work then abandon them in the middle of a mess.

          It really isn’t a good idea.

      2. Indefinite Contract Attorney (who won't be indefinite on Monday)*

        My father is also a private attorney. I know he has represented folks who were unable to pay cash money BUT the arrangement was very specific and could be quantifiably valued. IE: Draft a will in exchange for half a pig from the client’s farm (ham all winter long!). Updated the will in exchange for a basket of eggs. And he definitely maintained the attorney-client relationship, it wasn’t based on hours of work but was laid out by the same way as any engagement letter would have been.

        But that’s very different, I think, than the nebulous exchange of “information about businesses” because it can be specifically valued, he held malpractice insurance, and it was a line of work that he had been doing for some time and had proficiency in. He may have discounted and exchanged his services for something other than cash money, but it was acknowledged for what it was and handled the same way as any other exchange of products of value.

        Sidebar, I’m so glad all these other attorneys jumped on to weigh in. The malpractice issue alone can destroy LW#3’s career. If the LW thought student loans were bad, they’re nothing like an uninsured malpractice case OR being reported to the bar for practicing law without insurance. Way way way too much at stake.

        1. Anon From Here*

          Thank you for putting into my mind the nightmare scenario of being hit with an adverse malpractice settlement, getting disbarred, getting fired, losing the public-interest deferment for six figures’ worth of student loans, and then never being able to practice law again. (And I’m saying that as someone who just recently arrived at debt-free.)

          1. AnonAtty*

            Yeah I don’t know a single attorney who would be cavalier in this situation. Protect your nice benefits, protect your law license.

          2. Indefinite Contract Attorney (who won't be indefinite on Monday)*

            I’m sorry to say it, but you’re welcome. Better to have that seed of caution than be in real trouble!
            (And congrats at being debt-free!! WOW that must be an amazing feeling!!!!)

            1. Anon From Here*

              Thanks. Lots of help from family, network, and sheer blind luck of circumstances. I can’t attribute it all to bootstrapping and frugal living. Tons of people with stories similar to mine who missed just one of the lucky breaks I’ve had.

  20. LJay*

    For #1, if you’ve brought the shoulder checking part to management, and they’ve done nothing, it’s time to escalate. It’s physical assault. It shouldn’t happen in the workplace. And anyone in charge who hears it should be horrified and acting right away.

    If your manager has done nothing, go to her boss, go to HR, whoever, until they get this sorted out.

    And don’t minimize it, or indicate that maybe it could be an accident somehow, or anything like that.

    This is just as bad as if he were shoving you with his hands.

    If one of my employees were doing this to another person they would be fired.

    And especially when someone is on an improvement plan already, most of the time management would be happy to have an easy reason to show this person the door.

    I think this is a way bigger issue than his Harriet the Spy impersonation. The notebook, while weird, is probably not flagrantly breaking any rules. This almost definitely is.

    1. Lena Clare*

      Yes, yes, yes! I absolutely agree that it *is* something to be worried about, sorry OP1. It is escalating – that is the worrying thing about this.

    2. JulieCanCan*

      Totally agree – this guy should not be working there anymore.

      Also, OP’s management or HR sucks – they were made aware of physical aggression towards a female by a male at their organization and didn’t do anything about it? This blows my mind. Maybe if we were talking about servers in a restaurant this could be ignored once or twice because full-on collisions can occur between servers in close quarters. I was accidentally shoulder- checked/pushed/tripped and stepped on when I waited tables on Friday and Saturday nights (and back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth.) But I could tell it was never intentional and the other person was always apologetic. We’re definitely not talking about a restaurant and there is absolutely NO EXCUSE for this type of physical contact whatsoever.

      1. Sparrow*

        Violence in the workplace is wrong. It is not more wrong directed from a man to a woman than it would be from a man to a man or a woman to a woman.

        1. Katniss*

          Definitely! But there is a social context to a man escalating violence towards a woman. Between MeToo and increasing awareness of men murdering women for imagined offenses, I think this is why people are fixating on the gender dynamic.

          1. Washi*

            Yes, I’m very open to potentially being wrong on this, but if a cis straight man shoulder checked another cis straight man, that is not ok and the aggressor fired, but I wouldn’t think it was likely that the aggressor would go on to stalk and harass the victim. I think it’s more about power dynamics – I’d be more concerned about a white man pushing a black man or a cis man being aggressive towards a trans man than if it felt more like peer-to-peer aggression.

            I’m worried about getting off topic here though, since the genders are what they are in the letter, and I’m not sure how this changes the advice.

        2. Labradoodle Daddy*

          No one is making the argument that it’s not as bad when it’s done to a man. Its that it’s EVEN WORSE when done to a woman.

          Aka it’s not very bad/not that bad
          It’s bad/even worse

          1. Sally Ann Fortescue-Blythe-Jomney*

            You do realise that you are directly contradicting yourself, right?

            “No one is making the argument that it’s not as bad when it’s done to a man.” vs “Its that it’s EVEN WORSE when done to a woman.”

            That second quote means the opposite of the first one. So yes, you ARE saying it’s not as bad when it’s done to a man. And that is horsepucky. It’s wrong, regardless of whether the victim is a man or a woman.

            1. Temperance*

              No, what Labradoodle is clearly saying is that when the victims of workplace violence are female, the violence ITSELF tends to be even worse than acts of violence against a man. Because a dude checks another dude into a wall, he doesn’t spend 2 friggen years stalking the other dude. Male violence against women is about fear and intimidation and stalking in a way that it just isn’t when dudes beat up other dudes.

              1. Labradoodle Daddy*

                Not quite what I was saying, but I do agree with you. Let me try another way: a bad hangover can be god awful. Cancer is infinitely worse. That doesn’t mean a hangover still isn’t awful.

            2. Nephron*

              Social context does matter though, like a previous letter about a practical joke going badly the fact that practical jokes were normal in the office mattered as a joke going to far in that office is different than a conservative, no joking is the norm having a practical joke that went too far.

              A man shoulder checking another man is something you can be socialized to view as normal, my high school had a lot of football players that did it to team mates on game days. A young male employee thinking this was something you could do to another guy is bad, but could be a socialization issue. A man shoulder checking a woman is not normalized in any social context I am aware of. Both are assault and should be a firing offense, but one is further outside of the norm.

    3. Butter Makes Things Better*

      100% This is alarming on all levels, and I would either be getting out of there yesterday and making damn sure police and lawyers were involved.

      Also, if the guy does finally somehow get fired, OP’s company security (and employees, so they can look out for themselves) should be warned to be on high alert in case the guy returns to the office or lot afterwards. He’s already shown he’s willing to escalate to violence.

    4. Snickerdoodle*

      I just came here to say I LOVED Harriet the Spy when I was a kid. I kept notebooks and tabs on what the neighbors were up to, but that was kid stuff done out of curiosity which I outgrew and stopped doing, not a grown ass adult with an axe to grind. And, you know, I never shoved my neighbors around.

  21. Gaia*

    OP5, I don’t think there is anything you can do. You are not in a position to influence the conference location or whether or not it goes forward (and the company is not wrong for going forward – I would be livid if I registered for a conference and, at the relative last minute they cancelled or changed it for anything short of “the location is no longer safe to occupy.”).

    All you can really do here is support worker’s rights in whatever way makes sense for your situation. Donate, sign a petition, spread the word (generally, not about this specific strike) via social media, etc. I am sure no one in that strike group would want you to risk your job and your financial security over this. And if they do, they are seriously not in line with what normal people would consider appropriate.

    1. AnotherSarah*

      I disagree, and I wonder if you’re working for an org where my annual conference is this year (where the hotel is on strike). If this is about any of the Sheraton hotels (on strike in a number of major cities), I’ve had good luck with contacting the union and seeing what you can do. And in my org, a number of us pulled out of the event and will meet in alternate locations. So my advice is: talk to the union and see what you can do to help; talk to your manage and let them know that you would prefer not to cross the picket line, and consider it ethically problematic to do so, and call the hotel daily. If you can’t join the picket line yourself (that is, if you can’t afford to lose your job and don’t have protections yourself), then it’s going to be a judgement call, but there are other things you can do. This seems like a good point to push back as a group as well–surely people attending the conference also know about this, and are wondering what they can do.

  22. Reliquary*

    OP 5, last month in Chicago the Third Coast International Audio Festival was set to be held in a hotel in which the workers went on strike. The conference attendees heard about the strike at the last minute, but through social media and a hastily assembled Google doc database, local organization members were able to organize local alternative housing and even offsite session/workshop hosting for attendees who refused to cross picket lines. If memory serves, the strike was resolved on the second or third day of the conference, but I do have lots of friends who hosted conference-goers in their homes for a night or two. So my suggestion is to organize alternatives to the hotel, perhaps starting by contacting fellow conference participants, and identifying local organization members who can begin looking for potential local venues for sessions/workshops and arranging for alternative housing options, either in other hotels, or by matching local hosts with conference attendees.

      1. Jen RO*

        If I thought I was going to attend a conference in a hotel and ended up staying with a stranger… no, that would not be amazing at all, it would be very unprofessional.

        1. NotoriousMCG*

          This was for people that had ethical issues with crossing the picket line – nobody was forced to participate, people still stayed in the hotel.

    1. Annie Moose*

      OP has worked for their organization for less than a year and self-describes their position as “the most unskilled… lowest-totem-pole gig”. There’s nothing in the letter that suggests they have any input into the organization of the conference at all, or that they have any place whatsoever to make these kind of moves. This is great advice for someone who actually is running the conference, but is not something that a mere low-level employee has any standing to do.

      1. Reliquary*

        This alternative workshop/housing plan was accomplished by conference-goers, not by the conference organizers. This was a grassroots response to organizers refusing to act ethically and move the conference so that *all* pro-union conferencers could attend the sessions they’d paid for/signed up for/were presenting.

  23. Where’s my coffee?*

    LW1, explain the situation in clear, direct and not downplayed terms to your HR leader or site manager or whoever is in charge. If the situation is not corrected, go to the police.

    I know this sounds like a dramatic overreaction but I once had to fire an employee who was engaged in identical behavior, and let’s just say that it then came to light that there was even more troubling stuff he was doing that she wasnt aware of. This is not just “coworker who chews too loud or microwaves fish at the office.” Better safe than sorry.

    1. Radical Edward*

      YES. I came here to make the same suggestion. Never, ever shrug this sort of behaviour off. A member of my family worked with a person very much like this (decades ago) who, when fired, came back the next day with a gun. Because nobody thought he was ‘really that bad’.

    2. Snickerdoodle*

      I agree, and document the HELL out of everything, especially the physical incidents, because this WILL escalate. His behavior is going unchecked now, and you have management content to look the other way rather than address a serious issue that would be a fireable offense in most companies, which tells me this situation will become worse before it gets better. Document, document, document, and then take that documentation to the police. They may already have a history on him.

      1. Butter Makes Things Better*

        Frankly, I’d be worried for my safety if I was
        OP’s colleague, and I’d be furious if a) his
        behavior wasn’t made public so I could be alert around him; and b) that my company was downplaying this. Also c) in downplaying the violence against OP, the company is making easier for others to not report similar violations. No. Just no.

    3. Where’s my coffee?*

      In my case I remember how embarrassed the girl was who reported it, but I was so glad she did. He was also monitoring this young woman’s home (and another female coworker) and her social media, amongst some other things, none of which she knew until his computer was searched. He was later arrested, although whether it was due to this or other stuff I don’t know.

    4. AnotherSarah*

      Agreed–you say it feels like stalking, so treat it like stalking. If it’s just your coworker misusing his PIP-assigned journal, good. If not–you won’t regret bringing it up.

  24. inlovewithwords*

    OP5, if you can’t donate yourself, what about creating a GoFundMe or something to do some fundraising for the money you’d like to donate to the union?

    Also I second everyone’s comments about conference maybe finding an alternative venue..

  25. Tessa Karlov*

    OP5, if this is the conference center I am thinking of (Go Sox!) then perhaps it would be possible to have your work switch the hotel booking to one without any disputes with its union, as there are many hotels in the area.

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      Unless this is a very small local thing, conferences usually have to book space upwards of a year in advance. I’m assuming that this one is happening within the next couple of months (otherwise there would be more of a chance the strike would be over by then), so switching is likely to be nearly impossible logistically.

    2. SamC*

      I avoided that Boston strike by staying at a slightly cheaper hotel within, like, 2 blocks of the conference hotel. My employer didn’t bat an eye because it was saving them a couple bucks, and there wasn’t a concern about me getting to things promptly in the morning. I feel like this might be an elegant solution for the OP.

    3. Holly*

      I just want to add that IMO attending a hotel with a union dispute is preferable to a hotel where the union workers are not unionized. Not all hotels have unionized workers.

    4. Annie Moose*

      OP is a very low-level employee, from the information they gave in the letter. The odds that she has any input whatsoever into the running of this conference is not high.

  26. Professional Cat Herder*

    OP5, in addition for what others have said, you could advocate for notifying conference attendees of the strike so they can change their hotels if they choose. I understand not wanting or being able to cancel the conference last minute, but I can imagine a number of organizations that would want their staff to change hotels for various reasons, even if they still attend the conference.

    You could take the stance that one way or another, this strike could cause damage to your organization’s reputation and that it would be best to get ahead of the issue and ensure attendees aren’t taken by surprise.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      If it truly is a major conference, it’s likely that the convenient hotels are full or prohibitively expensive. That’s been my experience, at least.

    2. AnotherSarah*

      The organizers should check if they have a force majeure in their contract. They may, and then pulling out might be quite a bit easier.

  27. Raven*

    OP1, which season of The Office are you living in? Because that sounds like some very Dwight-ish behavior on your coworker’s part.

  28. Sarah*

    #5 – can you an alternate hotel to stay at at the bare minimum? Although that would still involve crossing the line daily at least you would not be spending money there. Personally, I would not cross the line/attend at all. The hotel worker’s right to a livable job is no less than my own, and crossing the line, for me, would be violating some of my closest held beliefs.

    1. Former Hotel Worker*

      This would be my thought as well. The conference space is already booked, but if OP sleeps, eats, drinks etc elsewhere then at least they have a say as to where their own money goes during the strike.
      Venue hire is one source of revenue but hotels do expect a lot of extra custom from these additional sales during conferences, so this would have an impact if enough people do it. Could also potentially explain the situation to others, neutrally point out the strike and alternative accommodation if people want to support it, but this would be venturing into political territory and would have to be done with great care in a non judgemental way, if at all. These kinds of situations do bring out differing responses and opinions in people. Thank you for your support of the hotel staff and minimum wage workers.

  29. Space Turtle*

    #2 This could be me, except mine aren’t parallel and are a bit too faint for anyone to be sure of what they’ve seen. White scars can be really old scars – mine are from about 20 years ago. Alison’s answer is perfect.

    While you mean well, the fact you said “unhealthy coping strategies” (and not “distress” or “having a really difficult time”) suggests you’re probably not quite the right person to talk to her even if this was needed. Because it’s a huge leap to assume this. Self-harm isn’t a ‘healthy’ coping strategy but sometimes people do it because it’s the least-worst thing they can do to cope at the time. You don’t have the context to tell that. It’s not as simple as self-harm = unhealthy.

    And talking to a doctor isn’t necessarily going to help – there is so much stigma around self-harm that sometimes people are judged or refused help however much it says on paper that they shouldn’t be. I was treated terribly by medical professionals because I “did it to myself”. I was 16 and living in an abusive home I should have been removed from but never was.

    You say: “plus she might become self-conscious about the scars if she realizes I noticed them”. With respect, she’s already self-conscious. Why do you think you are the first person to notice?

    It’s kind of you to want to help but you need to leave it.

    1. Maolin*

      Spot on. I think he means well, but it would sound very much “mansplaining” the way he’s suggested approaching it even though I’m sure that wasn’t his intent. And it could very well have made it oh so much worse if she were actively struggling or made it super awkward if she is in recovery. Kudos to him for checking first.

    2. Ceiswyn*

      I once went to a doctor because my workplace environment and personal situation were so bad I was running away to cut myself in the loos.

      Once. I will not be doing it again. The doctor just looked at the scratches on my wrist, said “Well, it wasn’t a serious attempt, was it?” (hey, you try cutting yourself with a blunt cheap penknife and see how far you get!) and told me that the waiting list for counselling was 4 weeks and I could cope. This went onto my medical notes as a ‘supportive chat’.

      I went home in tears, quit my job the next day, spent six months unemployed, and spent a number of years full of shame at my weakness and failure.

      Fortunately all my old scars have gone now, because if there is one thing that would cause me serious distress, it’s for some complete rando to bring all of that rushing vividly back.

      1. Artemesia*

        Mental health care in the US is really dismal. I had a crisis recently with a family member that was making me deeply anxious and the only facility with psychiatrists who take my insurance in my area did not have an opening for 5 months. I have managed to find and pay out of pocket for a therapist who has helped me learn to cope, but if I were suicidal or had not been able to pay for some of my own help, I’d be long gone by the time I could have seen someone.

        1. Maolin*

          I’m so sorry about your experiences Ceiswyn and Artemesia. I’m in healthcare and know full well how bad mental healthcare is in the US, even with those who should know better.

          Artemesia, you may already know this but in case you or someone else reading doesn’t, if you’re in crisis and suicidal, you do not have to tough it out, waiting for months for an appointment – the emergency department of any hospital has to assess you & help keep you safe. They will not turn you away. It’s not always ideal and there are some doctors or nurses that might respond how Ceiswyn described, but it will get you faster access to a psychiatrist that can help get you into treatment or fast track an appointment (which is part of why there are months-long waiting lists). Also, the suicide hotline number is 1 800-273-8255. <3

  30. Space Turtle*

    #3 I don’t think you’ve had very good advice here (sorry Alison). Informational interviews may be common in your field, but having a job isn’t the same thing as running a business so it’s not necessarily possible to make such a direct comparison. If someone runs a business their time is money. The issue is less about you being a future competitor and more about them having plenty else to do.

    Good ways to find out about a particular type of business: relevant industry publications and blogs, professional bodies, professional networking groups, talks and workshops, etc. Why don’t you read some interviews or articles about people who’ve started these types of businesses?

    1. MK*

      Also, I am sceptical about how much the information you get today will be relevant and helpful 8 years later.

    2. Hey Nonnie*

      For what it’s worth, cat cafes (in the United States) are non-profit cat rescue organizations, and there is a thriving community around cat rescue. If you approach an existing cat cafe, they may very well be looking for volunteers, and they could at least point you to resources. They will not view you as a competitor — there will always be more cats than rescues, and will welcome another ally in keeping cats out of kill shelters. Those who run cat cafes network a lot, so I don’t believe they’d take offense at your interest.

      As for an approach, personally I’d just pay the door fee to hang out with the cats, and talk to the counter staff about volunteering while you’re there. Plus, you’d get to hang out with cats.

      That said, cat rescue is hard work and long hours, so be sure this is what you want.

      (If you’d like some insight into running a cat cafe, follow The Catcade on Instagram. They’re very transparent about their work.)

      1. Turtle Candle*

        In my area, the cafes themselves are for-profit businesses that partner with nonprofit cat rescues. (Not unlike, say, a PetSmart having an adoption area run by a rescue but attached to the for-profit store.) Volunteering for the cat rescue “arm” of it would be perfectly legal and most likely welcome, but might not teach you much about the business arm. (But still potentially useful, especially as regards specific challenges of running a business involving live animals!)

    3. Glomarization, Esq.*

      TBH the “For Dummies” books are great sources for how to get a small business or a non-profit up and running. I recommend them to my entrepreneur clients all the time.

    4. CM*

      I would try to get to know people who run local places you like, frequent those places, and chat with those people about their business. You’re thinking about maybe doing something in eight years, so I doubt most people would see you as a competitor. They know that even people who are committed to doing this right now are unlikely to successfully see it through.

    5. TootsNYC*

      also, many cities have organizations (the Jaycees, Chamber of Commerce, etc.) that work with retired business executives (and sometimes paid staff) to mentor or advise people who want to start their own business.?

      Seek those out.

  31. Rosie*

    Hi OP3, I think you might well find people are willing to help. If you were planning on opening a very similar business to someone else on their doorstep that’s probably a bad idea anyway, so I don’t imagine you’re thinking of that. If people are in the next town over or further away they might well meet you for a chat. Sometimes ‘a rising tide carries all ships’, knowledge of things like cat cafes increases their popularity so they might be happy to have another business nearby. Good luck!

  32. Maolin*

    I just wanted to let OP #4 know I’m stealing “throw my ring into the hat” as I love the visual of putting my hand into a fedora full of beautiful rings and plucking one out, and its owner is chosen. But I get to keep the ring!

    The other way I’ve always heard the expression, “throw my hat in the ring,” conjures an image of a bunch of Stetson cowboy hats being thrown like frisbees into a rodeo arena. I don’t like country music or rodeos (blasphemous as a native Texan, I know) so I’ve avoided the expression at all costs and cringe a bit when others use it.

    1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      Just because I have an interest in etymology – the phrase “throw my hat into the ring” comes from boxing – back in the days where it was a dodgy backroom betting event (as oppposed to the flashy trashy betting event nowadays), a challenge would be made to the boxer by the next man throwing his hat into the ring.

      Personally, I like throw my ring into the hat too – it’s a much prettier image!

      1. Maolin*

        Thanks for the refresher! I think I’d heard that at some point along the way, but it was long after my mental image formed as a child growing up in Texas where we all got to school on horseback, ate beans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and square-danced in PE every. Single. Week. :oD

    2. Joielle*

      I thought of a carnival game! Like tossing a ring around a bottle, but into a hat. Either way, I agree, the idiom is delightful.

    3. Videogame Lurker*

      I thought it was more like a bunch of bowler hats being tossed into a fight ring during prohibition days, actually.

      Rings are prettier and generally of higher value.

    4. OP4*

      Uhh, gotta admit that this is less a function of my poetical brain and more an outcome of trying to balance full-time toddler care on top of my part-time job. Sometimes the brain crackles in funny ways.

      1. LeRainDrop*

        I envisioned your expression as people throwing colorful teething rings into a magic top hat. It was a lovely image!

    5. Smaltowngrl*

      Thank you!!! Went all the way down the comments to finally find one that would pick up the new expression! CHANGE APPROVED!!

  33. Io*

    2. They may not even be self-harm scars. One of my friends had an accident where they were hung up in barbed wire, and the scars look a lot like the ones cutters get. She has had to make a habit of bringing it up because a lot of people will be well-intentionedly weird about it.

    1. Mongrel*

      I’ve seen a lot of bakers with “ladder” scars, comes from pulling the trays out of the oven and getting their arms in the way.

  34. Quasimodo*

    OP2 – not all “clear” self-harm scars are actually that. I have a very visible and disgusting scar that looks like I tried to hang myself (among others). I didn’t self-harm. It’s the result of a physical assault. Everyone knows what happened and how traumatic it was for me, but several times *a week* I have to listen to some loser in the local industry community, at my kids’ school, or in my extended family drone on about how ugly and offensive my scars are. I’ve been asked to stay away from schools, churches, and social events because my scars are so grotesque. Supposedly I was once removed from consideration from a very good job due to my scars.
    I’ve heard ALL the condescending, faux-concern, “Is everything OK? Are you well?” infantalizing bullshit of your letter. In the slim chance you are actually looking to help this woman, the way you express it doesn’t make you look good.
    How about this: You don’t have to LIKE someone’s physical appearance but how about trying to get to know the person inside. THEN make decisions about whether you (a random person) need to insert yourself into her life.

    1. Fish Microwaver*

      This is unnecessarily harsh on the OP, who seems to be coming from a place of kindness.
      I’m sorry you have had such a terrible experience.

      1. Quasimodo*

        That’s your read. The fact is OP does not see past her scars and his savior-complex feelings of smug superiority.
        Newsflash: people with scars/physical differences don’t owe anyone a f*ing explanation. Especially when (like OP) they don’t see a person beneath the scar tissue. His paternalism is really gross.

        1. D*

          I freaking love you. His paternalism is gross and your bluntness is refreshing. Head nod of recognition.

  35. AnonAtty*

    For LW3 -I am an attorney and have worked in government. A lot of government attorneys work hobby jobs because the hours allow it. I have a good friend who runs a side business making custom clothes and teaching sewing classes. So if you are interested in the field, try getting a weekend job in what you are interested in. There was an articke about a used bookstore in my area that was purchased by a former employee.

    I personally do not like Alison’s suggestion of free legal work. Reason being, if you’re a government attorney, you may have the exact same prohibitions I have had – you can’t petition the government or conduct any legal work relevant to your agency. But if you are like me, the one area you know well is the very niche business conducted by your agency (law firms may recruit you for this later). So offering legal advice in the area in which you would be an expert is a potential ethics violation. If you do go this route, pre-clear any and all work with your agency’s ethics line first.

    However, I am skeptical this even makes sense. Most businesses aren’t going to let a random person do legal work for them and if you aren’t a business lawyer (or say, real estate lawyer), I wouldn’t hire you. I wouldn’t hire myself to do things like permits and contracts. I theoretically could and I did take a business law class, but it just isn’t my practice area.

    On the other hand, I remember reading this one article about this couple who opened a cafe and failed miserably. And one thing that stuck out was that the couple had not worked in food service before and were unprepared to do the basic grunt work of the business themselves. Businesses are hard, many like you describe fail, and the difference can be someone willing and able to put in the basic work. For a cafe, that means dishes, cleaning, inventory, etc. The businesses you mentioned both look cool on the outside but are both low-margin that require a lot of physical work. If you don’t know the basic grunt work, you would fail fast.

    Eight years is a very long time and a lot can change. I recommend trying this as a part time job in the weekends if you want this.

    1. Holly*

      I completely agree – this is the first time I don’t feel like the AAM advice makes sense. It’s a great idea to suggest working for a small business part time to get a sense of what the grunt work really entails, on top of the other great suggestions like networking groups, reading/research.

    2. CoveredInBees*

      In some government agencies, they go even further and prohibit any outside practice of law. You’d have no malpractice coverage, regardless, and if the scope of the work suddenly needs to change, you’re stuck in a difficult position, particularly if the cafe owner doesn’t have more to barter and doesn’t want to pay for the time.

  36. Lily*

    Strikes are most effective during busy times (because the employer is struggling to keep work done, and so the pressure of a strike is bigger). So I don’t see the problem with the conference?
    Telling the striking posts that you are on their side is a nice idea.

    1. jack*

      Management cares about the bottom-line. Strikes are effective when revenue is negatively impacted AKA people not staying at your hotel.

      1. Sacred Ground*

        Excellent comment, especially about new owners of restaurants having no prior experience working in restaurants.

        I’d suggest the OP binge watch a season or two of Kitchen Nightmares. It seems to be the case in about a third of the episodes that the owners bought or started a restaurant with zero experience beyond eating out regularly and a vague idea that it was just something they always wanted to do. Within a year, they’re working around the clock for free, six figures in debt, on the verge of losing their homes, and the stress of it all is destroying their families. On the show it almost always works out, but in real life Gordon Ramsey is not coming to the rescue.

        I’d never consider buying or starting a cafe without at least some experience managing one. With a cat cafe, I’d also want to gain some experience in pet rescue management as well, since this is basically mashing up two unrelated business models together.

      2. Sacred Ground*

        Yeah, that’s why busy times are more effective. The point is to disrupt the business and to get public attention. Which decreases revenues when they’re expecting an increase. And puts public pressure on them to negotiate, even if only to avoid losing customers. If the place isn’t busy, striking doesn’t cost them business since they don’t have much to lose during slow times.

  37. GreatLakesGal*

    I’m from a traditional union family.

    I would go to my boss and explain that I can’t cross a picket line, and offer to do any support work/hold down the fort at the office work necessary as an alternative.

    I would fortify my courage my singing “There Once was a Union Maid,” to myself before the meeting!

    1. Emi.*

      Can you stand it, workers?
      O tell me how you can!
      Will you be a lousy scab
      Or will you be a man?


  38. cncx*

    OP1, if this person is already on a PIP, raising the issue with the shoulder checking to your manager or higher up could be one of the nails in the coffin. I also see nothing wrong with a big “ow” as it happens.

    Otherwise, i had a coworker do the same to me, taking notes on my life minus the physical violence, and she got fired. I know some organizations move slowly, but the clock is already ticking for this person if they’re already on a PIP.

  39. Rayne*

    OP 2 – As someone with old self harm scars up my arms, I would feel INCREDIBLY awkward if you were to bring it up to me. This is a medical issue and between your coworker and their doctor. It’s definitely best to just ignore them

  40. Glomarization, Esq.*

    LW#3, the attorneys (including myself) have weighed in on the lawyering part of this. I’d like to weigh in on the entrepreneurial part of it. Source: I’m a lawyer for entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations, and I’ve been on the board of a local chamber of commerce in a large U.S. city.

    Eight years from now, you won’t be competition for these businesses. Remember that a huge percentage of small businesses fail within their first year, and the number is even larger for restaurants and cafes. So networking with these business owners is seriously unlikely to threaten their business.

    But don’t beg the question that it would threaten their business at all. Neighborhood business owners tend to really believe the aphorism that “a rising tide raises all boats.” They want new businesses to come into the neighborhood, even ones that may seem competitive. Someone comes to the block to buy some clothes, maybe they’ll stop at the shoe boutique three doors down. Someone goes to the cat cafe, maybe they’ll stop at the pet trinkets store, too. And then perhaps they’ll stay for dinner at the restaurant on the corner, and all this time they’ve paid the parking lot a few dollars more … and the local chamber of commerce gets a little more taxes, and next year they can go ahead with the sidewalk and lighting improvements.

    TD;DR: don’t worry about competition. Go forth and network and educate yourself. P.S. don’t barter your legal services.

  41. Kathryn*

    OP5, I am a union member and did event organizing for an ethical nonprofit when a similar issue arose. There may not be much you can do this time (but check with the local to make sure), but it is relatively simple to add dispute disclosure and strike escape clause language to event contracts. Unite Here even has sample language for your firm to incorporate.

    I asked for this policy change when I had been just a year or two at my organization, and we adopted it right away. It actually protects your employer from losing an event due to strike, and I’ve never had a hotel refuse to sign a contract that includes this language. I wish you all the best and applaud your solidarity.

  42. Labradoodle Daddy*

    OP2- Your instinct is incredibly kind, but your execution would be overstepping boundaries. The kindest thing you can do for her is treat her as the competent, healed professional she is.

    1. Labradoodle Daddy*

      One more thing– I know this wasn’t your intent, but as someone with mental illness I find it frustrating when people suggest I see a doctor. I’m a grown adult, I already know that/have probably done that. I understand the impulse comes from a good place, but sometimes it can feel hurtful. Food for thought.

  43. Roscoe*

    For #5, I say do nothing. I support labor as well, including the right to strike. That said, I’ve read on some workers demands in the past, and lets just say that I don’t think ALL of them are always warranted. Sometimes there are very logical reasons why they aren’t getting what they want. But I digress on that. Point being, this isn’t “you” supporting the hotel, it is your company supporting the hotel. And its supporting them in the sense that canceling or trying to find another venue this late in the game is probably cost prohibitive or will look bad. I think if you reframe this in your mind, it may look better. Like, if you were vegetarian for ethical reasons, but your company purchased meat for team lunches for the non vegetarians. You are necessarily compromising your values, your company just has different ones.

    However, if you feel really strongly, maybe what you could ask to do is make sure you have the freedom to do other things outside of the hotel. Like if you get free breakfast (not as part of the conference) maybe they’d be willing to let you purchase breakfast somewhere else while you are there. And then you don’t order room service or go to hotel bars or anything else not directly related to the conference. That way the things that ARE your choice, you are controlling

    1. Kate*

      Just curious: what does it mean to you to support labor when you view yourself as the arbiter of what union demands are appropriate? Wouldn’t supporting labor mean to trust that they are the best judge of the conditions they want to fight for in their workplace?
      Good idea to refrain from patronizing the hotel to the extent possible.

      1. Roscoe*

        I mean I don’t give a blanket “labor is right, management is wrong” line of thinking. I support their RIGHT to unionize. I support their RIGHT to strike. I just don’t always agree with their reasoning to strike or their demands. Wanting certain things and reasonably being able to get certain things aren’t the same.

        Here is an example. Taxis in Chicago went on strike basically about wanting the city to limit the number of ride shares in Chicago. (Its more complex than that to be sure, but it kind of boils down to that). I can sympathize with them, but I don’t think they are “right”. In fact, their situation is one of their own making in a lot of ways. Uber and Lyft give, in my opinion, a better service. So while I’m fine with them striking to get their voices heard, I don’t necessarily agree with their demands, and I had no problem crossing the metaphorical picket lines to get an Uber that day.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          I agree. Supporting a right doesn’t mean one agrees that people should actually use that right every time they do use it.

        2. Sacred Ground*

          So, what other professions with notoriously long hours, great personal risk at a decent but not great wage do you think should be replaced with untrained and unregulated amateurs and dilettantes at starvation wages? Not yours, I’m guessing. Mine, you’re fine with it. Thanks for your support, comrade.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            Personally I prefer cartels and monopolies at 3 times the market price.

            Or maybe nuance is possible and there is middle ground.

            1. nothing free about free markets*

              seems like you prefer cab companies that pretend they aren’t cab companies because they have apps

        3. Roscoe*

          @sacredground, see I really didn’t want to get into a debate about that particular situation, it was just an example.

          So, honest question, do you assume that labor is ALWAYS right and management is ALWAYS wrong? Or do you try to read up on their demands before making a judgment? I try not to be absolute about anything and I always try to learn both sides before I make a decision.

            1. Roscoe*

              I mean “right” is a relative term I guess. But my point is, managements reasons for not doing certain things (and I”m not referring to workplace safety or something like that) are sometimes very valid. You have to look at all sides of something.

          1. J.*

            If the situation is so bad that people are willing to walk off the job and lose those wages (and in the case of an authorized strike, more than half the workers voting to do that), then that means it’s extremely bad and yes, I am always going to side with the workers.

      2. Roscoe*

        Or maybe another example is like freedom of speech. I support your RIGHT to speak without prosecution from the government, that doesn’t mean I agree with everything you are saying.

  44. Q*

    OP#1-it sounds like this coworker is on their way out, and would love to drag someone down with them in their misery. The notebook issue is way weird but the shoulder checking really raised red flags with me. To put it in context I had a female coworker actually try to do this to me. She was an ex gang member and did not function very well in an office setting. Apparently she was angry I had asked her to turn down her metal music, and she responded by trying to check me multiple times when I passed her in the hall. I ignored it and focused on staying professional, and she was fired pretty quickly. Be the proffessional you are and don’t let them involve you in their insanity.

  45. Miss M*

    Although I understand Alison’s response, I feel like it’s a bit dismissive. If you feel like you’re being stalked (and I don’t know if it’s legally considered that but lord, it sounds mighty obsessive) and also this man is physically pushing you with his body?? I would have escalated the crap out of this. Similar behavior (no shoulder checking, but obsessiveness, and physical boundary crossing) happened to my sister and her coworker. Over the course of a year, it eventually escalated to him following her to her car and showing up at her home. But people really brushed it off as “Ah, that’s weird, but do your best to ignore it.” She has to go to HR multiple times and then escalate it to the big boss when she let them know she would be going to the police about it. He no longer works there, or bothers my sister, but I wish they had taken care of it sooner!

  46. ScountFinch*

    OP #2 – I applaud you for writing in before approaching your co-worker. It shows your empathy and desire to respect her. The best thing you can do is be a good co-worker and treat her as you would any survivor of a serious health condition – with no comment. Just be there as a good co-worker.

    Thank you so much for writing in & wanting to to the right thing. It shows that your heart & head are both in the right place.

  47. Trish*

    OP3, I am at the tail end (no cat pun intended, I think) of what you’re thinking about. I worked in-house as an attorney for 14 years before quitting my job and eventually deciding to open a yarn shop (which will happen at the end of the month, woo!!).

    I spoke with several other yarn shop owners outside my state; all are a few hours drive from me, so the chances of us being considered competitors are slim. Everyone I spoke with was happy to share information, even down to specific financial details. In addition, I’m a member of several private Facebook groups for people who own yarn shops, and people there are similarly helpful. (Of course, in such a group, there’s a possibility another member is associated with a shop with which I would compete, but that hasn’t been an issue.)

    And I have to chime in with the others who are concerned about AAM’s suggestion to provide legal work in exchange for information exchange or the like. Opening yourself up to potential liability that comes with the attorney-client relationship, especially when you don’t carry malpractice insurance (I assume you don’t, since you’re not currently self-employed) is a terrible idea.

    Good luck with your plans! I miss my nice paycheck but have no regrets about my decision. Fingers crossed my shop is successful and I hope yours is too!!

    1. P*

      I would think other shop owners would actually like to talk with people who are planning to open similar shops to try to coordinate how NOT to directly compete; in a niche like cat cafes it seems like there’s a value to having a certain density too (ie, if you are the only cat cafe within 1000 miles, most people won’t know what a cat cafe is. But if you have one every 25 miles or so, people who like cat cafes will know about them and try to look up their local one, etc. Maybe?)

    2. Red 5*

      Is there any chance your yarn shop is going to be in the Washington D.C. area because I love yarn shops ; )

      I’ve noticed the same dynamic with small businesses. They love to help other people who have the same dream, and they might even tell you “well, I’ve got this part of the area covered, but you know what my customers keep asking for? This other thing I can’t do, there might be a market for that!”

      Best of luck with your store! If it’s not considered rude to promote in the comments, I’d love to follow your instagram. My IG is just nothing but pretty yarn shop photos and I always need more.

    3. Joielle*

      I have no advice on this topic but just wanted to say congrats, Trish! That’s so exciting! I’m a terrible knitter but I love yarn shops anyways :)

      1. Trish*

        Thank you!! I’m really enjoying it, am busy All The Time, and can’t wait to open! And, to get back to AAM-related territory, I’m hiring two part-time employees! All very exciting stuff.

    4. LJay*

      This has been my experience as well.

      I’m not looking to open up a shop, but I’m on several board gaming forums and have seen people come and seek help for their to-be-opened, or already existing and struggling board game cafes and local game stores. And I’ve seen existing owners offer up help and information. Within the community, we want to see these businesses succeed, because if they’re not local they’re not competing with you directly, and by increasing the visibility of the type of business, and maybe bringing some new people into the hobby that might go on a trip and stop in your shop someday, they’re helping you out in the long run.

      Same with working in an Old Time Photo Studio. Local competition was intense and sometimes less than friendly. However, the purpose of the member organization was to help the industry as a whole grow, and helping out new shops was part of that. One of the biggest names even sells pretty much everything you need to start your own shop as a side business – they’ll sell you the costumes, photo printers, etc in kits.

      I think as long as the business is local and experiential, you’ll find people are eager to help. I mean, for a cat café, board game café, old time photo studio, etc, you pretty much need to go into the location to get the experience. You can’t pet the cats over the internet. You can’t get your photos taken in costume over the internet. So anything over like a couple towns away is too far away to draw people on a regular basis, and not a competitor.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Hey, LJay–would you be willing to share any of those forums? (My email is in my signature)

        I’ve considered suggesting my church host a board-game night one night a week.

    5. NoLongerYoungButLotsWiser*

      Congratulations on opening your business! Just in time for small business Saturday?
      Hint around as to which coast… I’d love to point a knitting friend of mine to the shop if you are in the vicinity of say, oh, Boston….

      1. Trish*

        Thanks! I’m planning a soft opening for small-business Saturday, with the official grand one the next weekend.

        Neither coast, actually — right in the middle of the country in Kansas City.

  48. JB*

    OP5 — To be clear, my assumption is that OP’s business is entirely unrelated to the hotel, the striking workers, or the hospitality industry in general. If this is correct, then OP needs to clearly understand: No one gives a shit.

    OP’s business doesn’t have a dog in the fight. The labor dispute means nothing to them. It’s just bad luck that the venue happened to have a strike at the time. OP’s business has no interest in who is ‘right,’ nor do they care one bit about the outcome of the strike. OP is not “complicit in undercutting their legitimate demands.” The only thing OP is “complicit” in is showing up and doing OP’s job.

    And OP is 100% correct in thinking they will end up looking like a nagging, obnoxious, whiner. I’m trying to imagine my newest, most junior employee just walking up and saying, “Sir, I don’t feel like working today because I want to show moral support for a squabble I have no stake in and impacts our business in no way whatsoever.” That employee’s career would probably be short and unpleasant.

    1. Holly*

      I have conflicting responses to your comment – on the one hand, I think it’s inappropriate to debate OP’s moral stance on this, which is a legitimate one to have. On the other hand, I agree that OP needs to understand the risk how any actions related to her stance will come off to their workplace especially considering limited capital of OP’s position.

    2. Nephron*

      I don’t think you understand how labor disputes work or the bad press your business can get. Not crossing a picket line in solidarity is a traditional way of showing support as a consumer, because you are showing the company that they need those workers and the press is bad for them. You don’t march in picket lines to not be noticed. If workers just wanted to show how essential they were they would just do a work stoppage. I had a high school teacher who changed a honeymoon to Hawaii to a train trip through Canada because the baggage handlers at the airport were on strike.
      Millennials are also having an increase in their support and membership in unions so the adults that are going to be the decision makers at companies and be the main consumers for the next few decades are currently more likely to side with the union. Not many people are going to view a company unfavorably for avoiding a striking business because if you don’t care about crossing picket lines, you are indifferent to people not crossing a picket line unless it directly effects you. But, those that support organized labor are not indifferent so they become the squeaky wheel in need of oil. This is the same reason many companies now support LGBT, it is not that they had a moral awakening they just ran the numbers and figured out who is the larger demographics spending money and more people will support a business that comes out for LGBT than will boycott for being pro-LGBT.

    3. jack*

      OP’s business is patronizing the hotel, so they 100% are involved with this dispute and many many people give a shit. A “squabble I have no stake in” – the dignity and well-being of your fellow workers is absolutely something you should have a stake in.

      1. Sacred Ground*

        Also, the public image of your company can be harmed if it’s seen as supporting the hotel by crossing the picket line. That’s picking a side and supporting it, no matter how neutral the company may think itself. Depending on the popularity of the strike, this could backfire. Secondary boycotts are a thing.

    4. AnotherSarah*

      I don’t think this is necessarily true–see the Third Coast comment above. Especially if OP’s job is for a membership-based organization, stuff like this can make a HUGE splash. It is in my org, and the org itself is looking baaaaaad for not responding to member concerns.

    5. Neptune*

      Honestly, this comment really comes across as though you personally don’t give a shit about labour issues and consider OP a “nagging, obnoxious whiner” (nice) and assume that everyone else feels the same. I mean, you are probably correct that OP is not best placed to raise this issue at this stage in her career, but it’s not the case that no company could possibly give a shit.

  49. The Ginger Ginger*

    OP 5, one of the things you can do is express support as you talk to other people at the conference (in a professional manner, if it won’t be damaging to you). What I mean by that – guaranteed, there will be people complaining about this; how it’s loud/inconvenient/stupid/whatever other ridiculous thing. You can at least, not participate or be a sounding board for that, and could even respond to criticisms by saying briefly, “I support workers’ right to organize and advocate for themselves.” + subject change to conference topic. You’re hands are a little tied here, but you can still be supportive.

  50. Cordoba*

    It’s worth checking whether the people working the picket line even *are* the Union workers in question.

    About 5 years ago I had a similar situation during a work conference in a major Northeastern city and was not sure how to approach it. I’m a situational union supporter, and did more research to see exactly what they were striking for.

    A few minutes of Googling revealed that the “strikers” on the picket line at this place were neither union members nor people who worked at the conference center; but rather folks that the union had hired (at minimum wage) to do the picketing for them. I personally confirmed this by asking one of the hired strikers.

    At that point I had no qualms about crossing their picket line, and also little sympathy for the union in this case. If the LW is worried about not supporting the union it’s worth checking whether the actual people there even *are* the union.

    1. Essess*

      This is true… when I was in college one of my classmates had a job where he was hired just to walk picket lines for the union when they strike. I’ve always felt that was dishonest and makes me distrust when I see a union strike line.

      1. halmsh*

        This is not a typical practice – oftentimes, a union strike includes both employees of the organization they are striking against and other people who are part of the same broader union, but may work for the union or work for another employer whose employees are unionized with the union. But those folks come to be supportive of their own volition, it’s called solidarity. So maybe check your assumptions on this.

        1. Essess*

          Your assertion does not change the fact that the classmate did not work for the union in any other branch… the ONLY job that classmate had with the union was to walk picket lines, and when he was on the picket line he was ordered to claim to be a picketing employee. I don’t need to “check my assumptions”…. I am basing my distrust of this on actual knowledge, not assumption. There may be (and probably are) actual employee picketers, but I know for a fact that this ‘fake strike