my employee is hassling coworkers about their clothes, their language, and her feelings

A reader writes:

I hired a new team member, “Jane,” six months ago. She’s competent and diligent, but now that she’s coming out of her shell, her rigidity around her idea of professional norms are quickly alienating her team members as well as other people on staff.

* She complains about women colleagues’ workwear for being too revealing. It’s not.

* She is offended by cursing in the office — she is firmly against it to the point of lecturing other employees. There’s a sales environment in our office and the occasional profanity or swear is common and fine here.

* She is very thin-skinned and takes personal offense at seemingly everything. She has been offended by people asking her to repeat something she said, at being given a solution to a problem that she brought forward, at other colleagues having personal conversations around her, but not including her — pretty much all normal, innocuous interactions in a workplace.

People here are in their late 20s-50s for the most part, and we have a good rapport among our team members, but I do see them pulling away from Jane because she does take a lot of energy to deal with. Everyone is busy with work, and it’s a lot for one coworker to be consistently on the verge of tears after every interaction, asking for private meetings to discuss how her feelings were hurt, and no one wants to be lectured because they dropped an f bomb in an open office, or a woman decided to wear a skirt that falls above her knees.

One team member, Margaery, has been a constant target of Jane’s lectures. Margaery has a lot of stock at this company because she’s results-oriented and her projects are highly successful. She also uses profanity (not in a customer-facing role) and wears trendy clothing, not inappropriate, but more daring than Jane’s conservative/modest dress. Jane has made it clear that she thinks Margaery is slutty and unprofessional. This flies in the face of 1) our company culture, in which Margaery is fine and normal and 2) reality — Margaery has been working in this field for longer than Jane, and Jane could learn a lot from Margaery’s professional brand, particularly when it comes to building productive and lasting relationships with many different kinds of people.

Jane constantly asks how she can move up the ladder and get a promotion. Her work is fine, but she’s losing credibility among her colleagues and Margaery has already been to HR to discuss the “gendered harassment” she receives from Jane. I know as a manager I’ve messed up by letting it get this far. At the beginning, I considered it to just be a minor interpersonal dispute until many employees came forward with complaints about Jane. I understand now how that was wrong, but I don’t know how to manage her I’ve had previous conversations with Jane on focusing more on her work and less around policing the clothing and language of those around her, as well as assuming positive intent before feeling insulted/slighted by normal work requests and she seems to understand but then goes back to her old behavior. It is also hard to have these conversations with her because she always goes back to “this hurts my feelings.”

At this point, I’m worried that we’re heading towards a PIP, and I’d like some language and coaching actions to avoid that, particularly around her issues with policing women for their bodies, clothing, and language. I’m a 30something male and maybe this isn’t even the right tack for me to take.

First, for Game of Thrones fans, I want to say that when you sent me this letter, you named Jane “the High Sparrow” and referred to her that way throughout, which I think is hilarious and apt, but I changed it to Jane so as not to baffle people who don’t know the books or the show.

Anyway … To handle this well, you’ve got to be prepared to fire Jane. That doesn’t mean that you’ll end up needing to, but you’ve got to believe that what she’s doing is so toxic and disruptive that you’d be willing to fire her if it doesn’t change. Being clear on that in your head will help you take the right actions here and convey the seriousness of the situation when you talk to Jane.

Because it is serious, and it is something you should fire her over if it continues after clear warnings. Margaery is right that this is gendered harassment, and you cannot allow it to continue. (Imagine if a man on your team were constantly complaining the clothes of professionally dressed women on your team were too revealing. It’s super gross and offensive. You need a zero tolerance policy for it.) It’s also really disruptive for Jane to be constantly taking offense at innocuous actions and for coworkers to be asked to do so much work to manage Jane’s feelings.

You said you want to avoid a PIP, but why? It sounds like you’ve tried talking to Jane about the problems, and that hasn’t worked. A PIP can be the next logical step to make it clear that the problems are serious and could threaten her job if she doesn’t change. A PIP isn’t supposed to be punitive; it’s supposed to ensure that an employee is very, very clear about the problems with their work, what must change, and when that must happen by. That’s not something to avoid when previous conversations haven’t worked; that’s a tool to ensure Jane doesn’t continue to miss the message, which is very much in her best interests. (That said, I might argue that with something like this, where it’s about conduct rather than work quality, you could skip the PIP and just do a clear final warning followed by firing her if the problems continue. But many organizations require PIPs regardless, so adapt accordingly.)

However, I do want to check how clear you’ve been in these previous conversations. You wrote that you’ve talked to her about “focusing more on her work and less around policing the clothing and language of those around her.” If that’s how you framed it to her, you do need to be more direct. “Focus less on this” leaves a lot of room for her to think she can still do some of it.

Instead, you need to be clearer: “You cannot police the clothing and language of people around you. At this point, your comments on colleagues’ clothes have become harassment. There can be be no more — none. As for language, I want to be clear that the culture in this office is one where occasional profanity is fine. You can hold whatever beliefs you want about profanity, but you cannot chastise people for using it in your earshot. If you decide you can’t work here knowing these things are part of the culture, I of course would understand that. But as long as you’re here, you cannot chastise your colleagues about clothes,  language, or anything else. Period.” (You could add, “If someone says something out of the ordinary that makes you uncomfortable, you can talk with me or HR.” I’m hesitant to open up that outlet, but you don’t want this to be misinterpreted as, for example, “don’t report harassment.” So for now let’s just focus on getting her to stop hassling her colleagues.)

You also need to say: “As part of your job here, I need you to manage your own feelings professionally, which means staying pleasant and calm with people even when you’re unhappy. When you do X and Y (name the specific behaviors she uses when she’s offended by something), you distract other people from their work and make people wary of coming to you for things they need to do their jobs. If you are upset by something, you can take a short break or raise it with me in our next weekly meeting, but you cannot do X and Y or ask other people to meet with you about your feelings.” (Note this gets away from the language you were using earlier about assuming positive intent. That’s a good place to start, but at this point you’re better off focusing less on what she’s thinking/feeling and more on how she’s acting.)

And then you need to talk about consequences, so that it’s clear this is serious: “We’ve talked about these issues in the past, but I haven’t seen the changes I need. I want to be clear with you that these issues are serious, and will jeopardize your job if they continue. I’m hoping this conversation will be enough to resolve this, but if not, the next step would be a formal improvement plan, where we’d need to let you go at the end of it unless you make these changes.”

Don’t sugarcoat. Be clear, direct, and explicit — this cannot continue and these are the consequences. You’re doing no one any favors by dancing around it.

{ 616 comments… read them below }

    1. RUKiddingMe

      Thirded…or maybe fourthed?

      Either way I agree…pleeeaaassseee send an update at your earliest possible opportunity.

    2. I wrote this

      I’m still catching up on the flood of comments on my letter, but thank you to everyone who responded.

      I dropped the ball on this one because I was uncomfortable stepping into a conflict on women’s wear and “ladylike” conduct in the workplace. I have unconscious gender bias that I have not confronted and I’m now working on it through a management course at my company. I submitted this question to Alison last week and shortly after was tapped by HR for a conversation on managing Jane out of the company. She has been given a 60 day runway to depart with a written code of conduct that she needs to follow.

      The suggestion that others made to personally apologize to Margaery is a good one, and I regret that I haven’t already done that. I’m going to do this today.

      1. Jadelyn

        I’m really glad your HR is taking this seriously, too. Although, the fact that they reached out to you proactively makes me wonder if Margaery put in a formal complaint about Jane. Especially the “written code of conduct” bit for in the meantime – that’s the kind of thing I might expect as a response to a harassment investigation.

        1. motherofdragons

          I believe she has, per the letter: “Margaery has already been to HR to discuss the “gendered harassment” she receives from Jane.”

      2. spaceygrl

        Curious what the impetus for HR reaching out to you to manage Jane out of the company was. E.g. was it just Margery going to them or were there other complaints? (Not that there need to be more, just wondering!)

      3. Flash Bristow

        What’s a runway? Are you saying she has 60 days to improve or else – or is it that she is leaving in 60 days, end of story? In which case, how does it work – I’m guessing she won’t just walk off in a huff because she will get severance pay / unemployment benefit if she accepts but nothing if she quits?

        Sorry, I’ve never heard the phrase before, and I’m curious as to the practicalities.

        I’m certainly glad to read your update. Shame HR had to come to you rather than you getting Alison’s reply and being able to proactively go to them with a strategy, but that’s just bad timing I guess.

        Please do keep us posted – I’ll be interested to know how the mood of the office changes – both now Jane’s on this runway, and when she’s eventually gone. (And whether Jane bitches to all and sundry that she’s being picked on just for trying to maintain some decent standards…)

        Finally good for you to acknowledge that you could have done better, and to ask for help to improve things. I hope your chat with Margeary is productive and reassures her that you’ve got her back and things WILL improve…

        …good luck with everything.

        1. Lily in NYC

          I’m not sure if I read it correctly, but I think she was fired but given 60 days to stay while she looks for a new job (we often do that here). And that she has to follow the rules or else she won’t get those 60 days.

          1. AnnaBananna

            This is exactly it. Being ‘coached out’ basically means that the employee has been told that they’re no longer going to be in the role but they have enough time to get their affairs in order.

            This is a perfect update and I upload both Maegery and your HR.

            1. AnnaBananna

              LOL that’s applause, not upload. I can’t even blame my phone, that was my brain doing autocorrect.

      4. Busy

        Ah so, here is the thing. I think its great you saw your mistakes here and owned them. That’s great. And I think you are aware of how it can make you look since it took so long – and HR ended up having to come to you about this issue as opposed to the other way around. Not to mention how your reports feel.

        So a great way to kind of turn this around would be to go back to HR and recommend from them a new yearly internal training on harassment and what that really looks like. A lot of training material out there, particularly sexual harassment material, its circa 1990 out of date. So I don’t think you are in a minority in missing this, and it will give you some major credit spear heading the institution of this new training.

        1. OscarJeff

          Spearheading an effort to institute additional training may make OP look good…but why must everyone else be subjected to additional training absent clear indication it’s needed just so OP can recover from his mistake? This kind of thing really grates at me. Additional training for everyone should be instituted when the need is widespread and the new training can effectively address that widespread need, not simply b/c someone who made a mistake wants to send the message that he really cares about this issue.

          1. Wintermute

            I don’t read it as punitive. I read it as “too often, the existing materials were basically hilariously bad examples of sleazy guys given women back rubs and putting playboy centerfolds on their walls and salacious-looking women giving male employees quid-pro-quo advances and that’s not the modern face of sexual harassment. We should update our materials so that we teach people to recognize the new state of the law in the area, including gender role conformity harassment, clothing policing, refusal to meet with people of the opposite sex, and other ‘hot topics’ in the field.”

          2. Dove

            Additional training means that it’s fresh(er) in people’s minds what harassment (especially sexual or gendered harassment) can look like, and that it’s not necessarily male-on-female. And OP doesn’t necessarily have to go “we need this”, he can go “considering that I had such trouble recognizing this harassment for what it was in time to deal with it properly, in a way where Jane might have been able to stay with the company, it occurs to me that other people might also struggle to name that sort of behaviour for what it is and deal with it accordingly”.

            It doesn’t even need to be a whole extra set of training, it can be rolled into any other harassment training that’s done on a regular basis. (And if there isn’t training done for that regularly – that’s worth spearheading an effort to fix it.)

          3. Ego Chamber

            It grates on me too. I worked at a company where they hired a dude who harassed literally all of the women of childbearing age, anything from inappropriate comments to inappropriate touching to sharing food off our plates in the lunch room and then saying “Thanks for the lunch date!” and trying to hug us (barf).

            HR responded—after at least a dozen complaints—by giving the dude a week off (paid) while they did an “investigation” before firing him. Then they gave everyone a full day of training on how to recognize harassment and how to avoid “unintentionally” harassing our coworkers.

            Including all the women who had been sexually harassed by the dude who got a free week of vacation at the job where he’d worked (and been harassing us) for 2 whole weeks. It did not go over well.

          4. J

            If the “need is widespread”, then that means the issue has gone too far. Better to get ahead of it than be reactive.

      5. AnonEMoose

        It sounds like your HR department is doing a great job on this one, OP, and I give you a lot of credit for recognizing that you should have taken action sooner. For what it’s worth, I think this is something a lot of newer managers, especially men, would have trouble recognizing as bullying and harassment right away.

        This is for a couple of reasons. Partly because most people, when they think of sexual or gender-based harassment, do think of opposite genders – inappropriate touching, comments, etc. And partly because, a good chunk of the time, while both girls and boys get bullied by both girls and boys, girl-on-girl bullying has tended to be distinctly different from boy-boy bullying, or even boy-girl or girl-boy bullying.

        Girl-girl bullying can take more the form of the kind of things Jane was doing – criticizing another woman or girl’s clothing, makeup, appearance in general, saying that she’s “too sexy” (aka “slutty”), too aggressive (aka “bitchy”), and so on. In this style of bullying, nothing about the target is too small to escape notice, nothing goes without comment/criticism. And to people not familiar, it can look a lot like a personality or interpersonal comment. But it’s incredibly insidious and damaging, or can be. If Jane had targeted someone less confident or less willing to stand up for herself… I’m glad this got reported, that HR is handling it, and that you, OP, are recognizing where you could have done better and are taking steps to make sure you do better if something like this happens again.

    3. kitty

      Was an attempt ever made to ask the problematic employee what was bothering her? Yes, some people are jerks, but often when people act out it’s because there’s a problem. Maybe a little empathy would have helped this woman.

      1. Elizabeth West

        Empathy is nice, but she still has to behave professionally in the office. The OP is her manager, not her counselor. It seems she was unable to do that even after the OP talked to her several times. And it sounds like the OP was trying to soft-pedal it anyway, which obviously didn’t get through to her.

        1. RUKiddingMe

          Also I’d throw in that OP says he was in a mindset of what is “ladylike” behavior. I really hope the training touches on why “ladylike” is such a bad standard.

          It probably won’t though because it’s still do ingrained in our culture as a model of the way women are *supposed* to act. I would recommend OP does done Googling on that subject.

          1. Another Sarah

            I read that as he didn’t feel it appropriate as a man to launch himself into the argument when Jane’s complaint was about Margaery not being “Ladylike” enough, not that he thought the behaviour was unladylike
            I can understand that hesitation, and I think it actually does him a bit of credit that he didn’t want to do the wrong thing – but obviously doing nothing wasn’t the solution either and hopefully training can help him address that

      2. SarahKay

        I’d agree that a little empathy would have helped Jane, but not in the way that you mean. I would say what’s needed is for Jane to have empathy for her coworkers, so that she’s not harassing them.

        If it was just her objecting to the swearing I’d have more sympathy for her, although I think she’d have got a lot further by asking people nicely not to swear, rather than telling them off. If she’d done that most people would probably have made a good-faith effort to accommodate her, even if not always succeeding.

        However, she harasses others on their clothing choices and then takes offence at far more innocuous behaviours and comments from her co-workers – at this point I have no sympathy for her at all.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD

          This is a good point. Alison tends to recommend approaches where you say “This is a weird quirk I have, would you please try not to do that around me?” If Jane had been reacting to the swearing in that way rather than a shaming/virtue signaling way, she would probably have been met with an entirely different outcome.

          1. Ego Chamber

            I know you were talking about the swearing but all I can picture is someone saying “I’m sorry, but—and I know this is weird—I have this thing where I can’t stand to look at people who are dressed like whores, so would you mind trying to dress a little bit less whorishly around me? Thaaanks!” (It feels very Regina George, now that I think of it.)

            1. Seeking Second Childhood

              (Side note: I managed to avoid that entire TV series… and now fear I should watch it as career research!)

      3. Batman

        Honestly, it doesn’t matter. It’s not your colleagues’ responsibility to give you support or therapy. Those are things for friends, family, and therapists or counselors to do. I agree that people sometimes act out because they have a problem, but Jane has a clear pattern of getting offended and defensive about things she shouldn’t be getting defensive about. Being empathetic toward her would not help the situation.

        1. Pomona Sprout

          I agree that expressing empathy for Jane wouldn’t have helped. When someone thinks they have the right to police, criticize, and throw fits about the actions of everyone around them, even people they have no authority over and those who have seniority over them on the institutional food chain, they need some hard lessons about appropriate behavior in the real world, not a pat on the head.

          As I read the letter, I found myself wondering if Jane had ever even had a job before. I have never heard of a workplace where her behavior wouldn’t have been considered way over the top. Things like dress and language norms are established and enforced from above, not by individual employees trying to dictate each other’s behavior. Who doesn’t know that? #rhetoricalquestion

      4. Red5

        I’d maybe agree with this when it comes to the language issue. But when you’re dealing with gender based harassment (or, really, any harassment), I think the best, most appropriate strategy is to Shut. It. Down. I’ve been in too many situations where I’ve raised concerns and been told, “Well, maybe they didn’t mean it that way.” Or other responses that show management “empathizes” with the harasser. It just sends a signal that this kind of behavior will be allowed.

        1. Auntie Social

          And isn’t it funny that you’re supposed to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who refuses to do the same for you?? Yep, that just shows it’s going to continue.

          1. AnonEMoose

            So much this. I was the target of Jane’s style of bullying from about ages 11-16 or so. I’ll most likely never resolve all of those emotional scars.

            But as bad as the bullying itself was, almost worse was being told (or having it implied) by the adults around me, things like: “ignore them and they’ll stop” (spoiler alert: THAT NEVER WORKS), “well, maybe if you tried to fit in a little better,” or “they’re going through [insert thing here]; you should be understanding.” Which left me feeling completely unsupported, like the bullying was my fault somehow, and that everyone cared more about the bullies’ feelings than about mine.

            The suggestion to have empathy for Jane…and not, apparently, for Margaery…who is the person who did nothing wrong here…sounds just like all of those adults. It doesn’t matter why Jane is doing this. It needs to stop. It needed to stop awhile ago. And Jane needs to understand that this is absolutely, completely unacceptable.

            If Jane stopped the behavior and then chose to find a therapist to explore why she felt the need to do this, then good for her. But Margaery…and the OP…do not owe Jane “empathy.” The most they might owe her – IF she stopped the behavior and ideally apologized, would be the opportunity to demonstrate that she can do better.

      5. Observer

        Empathy is important, sure. But what does have to do with expecting a basic level of civility? And what could be bothering her that would make hassling people about their “revealing clothes” and “foul language” a reasonable reaction?

        Even if there were something to be empathetic about (she’s having a hard time dealing with the discovery that her standards aren’t universal, eg) you can’t let that over-ride the basic behavioral problem. The most you could do is “I understand that this is a major adjustment. But this MUST stop. NOW.”

      6. VictorianCowgirl

        Empathy is for victims. Do not confuse it with forgiveness. Asking a victim to have empathy for their abuser is starting a slippery slope to using her reasons for bad behavior as excuses to allow it to continue. Jane is not a child and can learn to speak to what is bothering her in a professional and adult manner. In no way is it appropriate to coddle someone who is acting this way and expend precious empathy to someone who will only use it against you.

      7. Another Sarah

        Acting out would be behaving uncharacteristically or unusually badly. This was a continued pattern of bad behaviour, starting from essentially when she took the job. I see no reason to assume this woman was anything other than just a jerk.

        As an aside, empathy is a basic requirement but I would argue that not excusing Jane’s behaviour is showing empathy to the victim of Jane’s behaviour, Margaery. Why should Jane’s need for understanding why she picks on people trump Margaery’s need to live her life without being picked on?

      8. Light37

        Jane repeatedly harassed another employee using gendered slurs, and has managed to annoy everyone else with her complaints. At this point I think the person who needs some empathy is Jane, and she needs to apply it to others instead of scolding them.

      1. Lilly

        It doesn’t matter what was bothering her. She was harassing her colleague. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t like swearing. The culture of the office allows it. The absolute gall of this woman! If she wants to control the environment that much, then she should teach elementary school.

        1. M&Ms fix lots of Problems

          NOOOOOOOO!
          Jane sounds like she was/is power trippy. Please do not inflict that on children, and especially not elementary-aged children. That would be like making the bully the teacher, and what is that going to teach the kids?
          (Personally aggravating peeve of mine after dealing with a teacher who I think definitely had bullying tendencies. Said teacher was one of my older child’s teachers. She is recovering, but we’re still trying to get her back on grade level because she was too busy protecting herself to fully apply herself to learning. We actually got a variance to put her in a different school to avoid any chance of having him again.)

          1. Flying Fish

            I just want to say that I love your username. In my office we call M&Ms “happy pills”.

            1. M&Ms fix lots of Problems

              Thanks. Comes from something my dad used to say when sneaking M&Ms to me as a kid when I was upset.

        2. Kimberly

          NO! There are enough bullies employed as teachers. We do not need more. I say that as a teacher.

          1. M&Ms fix lots of Problems

            Glad I’m not the only one who thinks this is horrible. And I agree, there are enough there already don’t add to the bully teacher ranks.

  1. Moray

    I think you also need to clue in your other employees that you know that Jane’s behavior is unacceptable, and it’s being addressed. And that reporting her noncompliance back to you is not “tattling.”

    And maybe that they should feel empowered to shut her down in the moment if that’s something they’re comfortable doing–not that this is something you’re asking them to do, but if they choose to it won’t be seen as inappropriately confrontational or aggressive.

    1. Magenta

      I agree, letting it go on this long has given everyone the impression that Jane’s behaviour is acceptable when it really really isn’t.

      1. Falling Diphthong

        And people could be reasoning “Well if management won’t do anything about Jane, then finding a Jane-free office is the solution here.”

        1. Laurelma01

          Jane might run your star employees off if this isn’t resolved.

          You could also approach that during the PIP that you wonder if she’s a cultural fit for your organization. Not in writing, but that you wonder if she would be happier working in a more conservative environment.

          1. Busy

            This all actually happened where I work! Only it was a dude!

            So people would report his very sexist behavior, but it didn’t seem like anything was done. But over time, he at least stopped interacting with most people (if not stopping the sexism itself), to the point where I have to assume he was spoken to and given some level of warnings.

            The honest truth is, the sexism is so deeply ingrained in him that I am not sure he will ever be able to learn his way out of it. And he is by in large not the only one here. The company I work for designs large equipment (bigger than you can ever imagine) and used to manufacture it. When they closed the factories and turned more towards engineering, they kept a lot of the workers and transitioned them into office jobs. The problem is, shop floors, particularly shop floors of massive metal working applications – particularly shop floors where the sons and grandsons came to work- are horribly sexist, misogynistic places historically.

            We now have mandatory company harassment training, so I am hoping something there hits home with a lot of these guys.

            But the moral drop as women thought they weren’t doing anything about it was real, long term, and had consequences.

            1. Elizabeth West

              I wish I had found this site when a new sales rep at OldExjob (a woman) was being relentlessly bullied by the other reps (men) about her looks (she was fat). She quit after only a couple of months. I had no idea then that I could submit a complaint myself even if I wasn’t the target of the harassment. It definitely would have been dealt with after we were bought out by a Swedish company. But I didn’t know that at the time.

              I doubt a complaint would have had any effect before then. Several of the reps had also come into the office job from the shop floor. The sexism was very much entrenched. My supervisor and I were both so stressed out in general from that job that we both sought therapy.

          2. AnnaBananna

            She’s clearly NOT a cultural fit, and frankly based on her continued beahvior and entitled attitude toward well established cultural norms, I don’t think she will ever change. I used to have a Jane on my own team and I eventually had to lay her off because her mouth just ostracized everyone in the office eventually.

            And calling another colleague slutty? Are you KIDDING me?? She would have been on a PIP as soon as I got word of this.

            I do disagree though that some large testimony about how LW is going to sheriff this out and that they’re all free to come to her with issues is necessary. And in fact may make it much worse, as it could instigate far more conflicts in the long run as folks feel deputized. But I do think when folks come to LW seeking guidance, informing THAT person to feel comfortable to professionally push back would not be amiss.

            Jane sounds like a real piece of ….work. I too would love an update.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood

              Search for “I wrote this” — there’s already a same-month update.

        1. RUKiddingMe

          Absolutely because Jane is absolutely, actively perpetrating gendered harassment. Management needs to shut this down today. It needed to be done already. Jane should never have done it after the first time Margaery complained, but here we all are.

          OP talk to Jane today and tell her to stop immediately with clothes policing and telling other women that they are “sluts” etc. That is so beyond the pale of anything that should have been allowed to go on for even one moment even if you did think it was just a personality clash or some such thing.

          Personally unless a PIP is required I would make this conversation her final warning. “You need to stop the gendered harassment and language policing immediately and manage your own feelings without needing to involve coworkers. Make it a sustained thing. Consider it part of your job. If you can’t do thins, or if it happens even one time after this meeting, we can consider this your last day.” If your company requires a PIP, then get it ready to go before bringing her in to the meeting and then put her on a PIP.

          1. NerdyKris

            Yeah I don’t think OP is understanding how much danger she’s in right now. She’s allowing the sexual harassment to continue. If Margeary gets tired of this, she’s far more likely to find a lawyer than quit.

              1. Amber T

                Doesn’t matter if OP is male, female, or non-binary (nor does it matter if Jane is either). Margeary is being picked on due to her gender, which is a protected class.

                1. EOA

                  While true, the OP specifically mentions that he is a male in his 30s, so AnonAndOn Original was most likely just pointing that out.

                2. Lucy

                  It matters because he says that’s why he hesitated to act sooner.

                  But it shouldn’t matter going forward, agreed.

                3. KimberlyR

                  It does matter because OP doesn’t feel comfortable having this conversation because he is male. This is something that OP needs to face and address, since it needs to be shut down whether the manager is male or female. So while the actual advice regarding Margeary and Jane applies no matter what gender is being targeted, it does matter that OP allowed it to go on because of his gender.

                4. Rectilinear Propagation

                  NerdyKris just referred to the OP as ‘she’.

                  Everything everyone else has said is true but the primary reason AnonAndOn is pointing it out is because the comment they’re replying to got OP’s pronouns wrong.

                5. Janie

                  It also matters as a sheer matter of respect. When someone tells you their pronouns, use them.

          2. cmcinnyc

            A lot of businesses miss this if the harrassment is woman to woman. Getting shamed for being young, having breasts, having nice hair–this is a daily event for so many women at work *from other women.* When coming from men it tends to be job-threatening. When coming from women it tends to just make it miserable to be at work. Don’t let your ace performer have to deal with this another minute.

            1. VictorianCowgirl

              Yes this is such an apt comment. I’m too old now to experience it anymore I guess, but so often as a young woman I was on the receiving end of these shaming and weird jealous comments from women that made the workplace feel so threatening and unsafe.

              1. Morning Flowers

                It’s not even only in the workplace — never in my life have I had a man tell me my (always large, now HH-cup) breasts were immodestly covered or the like. It was the mother of the groom who went out of her way to treat me differently and quite rudely when I was in a dear friend’s wedding party, and her behavior was so bad — and importantly, so *unwarranted* — that my friends took great pains to make sure I knew they disagreed with her and weren’t going to let her give me any more s**t over the sin of having big boobs. (We even joked about buying me the most revealing dress possible to wear to the rehearsal dinner, but obviously had no intention of doing so — I wore and had always intended to wear an appropriate dress.)

                Women absolutely can and do harass other women, and the word “slut,” stated or not, is how they generally do it.

                1. Human Sloth

                  Bless your heart. Beside the slut shaming, it also seems that there is an idea, within the more judgmental population, that the larger the cup size the lower the IQ. Both issues are obscenely ridiculous.

                2. JJ Bittenbinder

                  I hate this so much. Good friends you have, and an absolute pox on that woman for trying to shame you for something over which you have absolutely no control. Actually, even if you had specifically chosen to have your breasts augmented to the size they were/are, she had no right to treat you like that.

                  If that were my mother, I would have been absolutely mortified, but not too mortified to call her on her behavior and shut her down.

                3. VictorianCowgirl

                  What! That is horrible. I’m so glad your friends circled the wagons. Would that woman ever tell a man his pants weren’t ‘dressed’ properly? I doubt it. Yes we learn early on that quite often the only ‘sisterhood’ that exists is that we make for ourselves.

                4. LunaLena

                  Ooooh yes, so true. As I was reading this letter, I kept flashing back to the time in high school when I was chastised for playing a Shania Twain CD in our journalism room (for the record, I asked everyone if it was okay first, since this was long before MP3 players were even a thing). One girl was offended by the lyrics “mens’ shirts, short skirts” and said I needed to turn it off. I was very shy and non-confrontational back then and was stunned into a lack of response, but fortunately the third and only other person in the room spoke up and said there was nothing inherently offensive about short skirts. The album continued to play after that, with only a couple of grumbles from the other girl about “don’t see why you need to wear a short skirt to have fun.”

            2. Lissa

              Yes very true, and I think it’s easier for non-savvy people to not realize the issues, because of how normalized this is, and how this dynamic is often presented as comedic/not really harmful.

              1. VictorianCowgirl

                Absolutely, I was in my late 30s – early 40s before I fully realized the extent.
                Just the other day my Aunt was tsking at a couple of young women walking by in short shorts and tank tops. It was 96 degrees outside. She didn’t tsk at the young man walking by in running shorts and nothing more. We had a conversation about it. By all rights the man is wearing less clothing but no slut shaming for him? I hope to see a more realistic conversation about sex and its relationship to morality evolving. Maybe this is getting off topic :)

              2. Librarian of SHIELD

                I agree. A former coworker of mine was being harassed by a supervisor (not her supervisor, but one from an adjacent workgroup), and she couldn’t get her own supervisor to take it seriously because he dismissed it all as “girl drama.” Since the cultural understanding seems to be “women and girls are always catty and mean to each other,” it’s really hard to get an authority figure to step in and solve the problem.

                1. Busy

                  That is past sexist and is breaching misogynistic territory. Misogynistic land is an awful and scary place, and I hope that the culture at your job can change soon – before something really awful happens.

                  Also, let it be known, that even in manufacturing (where this is so ripe) this stuff is becoming less acceptable. I really can see a lot of change happening society wise there.

            3. Gadget Hackwrench

              The worst gendered harassment I ever received was from a woman. It was less a slut shaming thing in my case than an “insufficient performance of femininity” thing. She was on my case to wear makeup, because not wearing makeup wasn’t “respecting” myself or “caring about how I present myself” and that I would feel more powerful and feminine if I wore heels instead of oxfords. She went so far as to take off her own shoes and try to force me to “just try it,” because she was sure if I did I would never want to go back. She also hinted repeatedly that I should grow out my short hair and give skirts a try.

              Lets be clear. I wasn’t a slob. I was just dressed in pants and a shirt and flat shoes without makeup. I’m the IT guy. (So was she, but she didn’t last.) I had to move fast to attend to computer issues all around the building and crawl into tight spaces or sit on the floor fairly often. But you couldn’t convince her that I was dressed for my job. Nope. Not wearing makeup and heels was just sooooo unprofessional.

              1. motherofdragons

                I’ve only ever filed a sexual harassment complaint against a woman, and I was pleased that it was taken as seriously as it was. It definitely took me a little longer to realize it for the harassment that it was, because it was coming from a woman, and once I knew I needed to report it I was very ready to address pushback/doubt. Happy that I didn’t experience any from that particular HR staff, though.

              2. VictorianCowgirl

                What nonsense. Honestly. I’m glad she didn’t last.
                I hope OP is reading all of these to give him a better idea of how insidious and damaging this type of thing can be.

              3. Nobody Nowhere

                I get a mild form of the same thing from a lot of people, mostly at work. I don’t like most traditionally “girly” things, like kids, crafting or making sure everybody else is happy at all times.

              4. Curmudgeon in Califormia

                Ewww, ick. I get that type of garbage sometimes. My response is often to double down on the non-performance of femininity, but I’m ornery like that. (A suit and tie can make those type of people’s heads explode.)

                1. TardyTardis

                  I would *love* a suit and tie, were it not it would look like I was channeling the Penguin…It’s difficult to find truly professional wear for someone who is short and round, and that’s for both genders.

              5. Tom

                Oof. Sounds like you ARE dressed for the job.
                Crawling below the server room floor to find that elusive pink Cat5 cable wearing a dress and heels? Nope. Sweatpants and sneakers – and a strong shirt – that would be professional.
                Dressed up as if you are going to a fancy party – not so much.

                Glad she didn`t last. Wouldn`t have made a good fit with IT guys either.. sounds like she was ‘look at me, i`m pretty’ types. They get boring pretty fast.

                1. TechWorker

                  Can we please not go the other way either? I totally agree everyone should dress practically for their role and that this particular person sounds awful/rude, but the mere fact of wearing high heels and make up does not and should not exclude you from being capable of working in IT.

                2. Seeking Second Childhood

                  Amen to what TechWorker said.
                  I know a brilliant female manufacturing engineer who “loves being a girl” –her words. She restricts herself to slacks because her job sometimes requires repairing equipment. Her outlet is flashy jewelry and heels — before she got recruited away from this company, she made a point of finding heels that met the safety-shoe requirements for use on the shop floor. (Low chunky ones — but still heels.)

            4. Something Clever

              Yes, this does happen a lot. Sometimes it’s dislike, sometimes it’s jealousy, and sometimes there is a fear that one female who “looks bad” reflects on all women in the organization.

              I had a female employee in her 50s complaining to me about the eyeliner on a woman in her late 30s. The eyeliner was winged, slightly Egyptian looking, and unusual in our organization. But the younger woman’s performance was excellent, and the eyeliner just wasn’t an issue. I told the older woman to knock it off.

            5. dramalama

              I think it’s because on a very basic level we still think of sexual harassment as some gross horny boss chasing a secretary around a desk. When you start to think of it as being more about power and sexually humiliating another person, slut-shaming as a form of sexual harassment really clicks into focus.

              1. Busy

                Yes. And this is due to those 90s sexual harassment Dupont videos – and we just don’t realize it. Remember: sexual harassment wasn’t even really a “thing” until the 90s and bills were passed (much like stalking, interestingly enough).

                Recently I watched a doc on the 90s and omg. Growing up then, I knew all that stuff, but the flat out casual hatred of women was real. It was present in every day interactions. Today, it seems bizarre.

                I think from that, a lot of people probably 30 or older “see” sexual harassment like they aren’t behaving like Howard Stern towards women so its cool, and they miss the not the more subtle sexist things – like being too afraid to get involved in “girl drama”. Companies need to update their training material.

                And THANK GOD I never had to argue how absolutely awful Howard Stern was with a significant other like I had to watch my mom do growing up.

                I mean seriously, remember that!!?!?!

                1. LunaLena

                  Anyone remember those old Beetle Bailey comics where the old married general was constantly scheming to put the moves on his hot blonde secretary? For some reason I always remember one strip where he plans a party as a distraction so that he can get her alone. I often wonder how those jokes would be received today.

                2. pancakes

                  I’m old enough to remember the 90s well, and don’t at all disagree that sexual harassment was poorly understood & there was a *lot* of misogynistic humor, but there are so many reasons why besides / in addition to corporate training videos. People’s views on gender, sexuality, and how to behave appropriately are shaped by friends, family, acquaintances, community, cultural diet, etc., for decades before they’re old enough to be shown corporate training videos. It’s not as if people hold off on forming personalities or gender politics until they start their career.

                  It’s very ageist and misplaced, too, to speculate that being over 30 has something to do with this. I’m 42, and a great deal of the most influential work on these issues was led by people older than me. “The male gaze,” for example, isn’t an idea invented by millennials or gen-z; that was popularized the year before I was born. “Take Back the Night” marches, likewise, started growing in popularity when I was a toddler, and had a resurgence when I was in high school. Many, many people have been putting in the work of building awareness and organizing around these issues for many, many years. Many of them are well over 30.

                3. Batman

                  What pancakes said. I’m 34 and I grew up in the 90s (literally, I was turned 6 in 1990 and 16 in 2000) and a lot of my understanding of sexual harassment and stuff came from women quite a bit older than me. 30 isn’t old and it’s not a universal cutoff for being out of touch.

          3. Laurelma01

            PIP and a formal write up the next time she lets her morality come forth at the expense of others.

          4. Kat in VA

            I can’t even imagine my reaction if someone in a professional setting – male or female – ever called me a slut in earnest due to my attire.

            I like to think it would be swift, decisive, and business-appropriately assertive. What a horrible thing to do to someone – attack their moral character due to their clothing.

            I’m big busted – things that would be reasonably unnoticed on the smaller-busted set tend to look, well, more sexyish on me (think of wrap dresses or fitted tops or even shell tops). I’m wondering if there’s a component of that as well.

            Someone a while back at my current job made a comment to another person about how I dress to “play up” my bustiness. Nothing short of a painter’s smock or a full length cloak is going to play them down. It’s not like you can put them in your purse or something while you’re at work. When I was told of the “play up” comment, the person relaying it to me said that I would look busty even in a turtleneck sweater.

            Some of Jane’s perception and judgment might be based on body types, is what that outburst was supposed to mean. Which makes it even more egregious.

            1. Blunt Bunny

              Yes, I have an hour glass figure and there really isn’t anything I could wear that would hide that. You can see the shape of my breast in a vest, T-shirt or jumper doesn’t really matter. Same with my arse, it’s equally noticable in trousers, skirts and dresses doesn’t make a difference.

            2. LJay

              Yeah. I would need like that lead smock the dentist uses when they give you x-rays to hide my bustiness.

          1. Laurelma01

            I think that Margaery should file a formal grievance if that procedure is in place with your employer.

          2. Akcipitrokulo

            If I were Margaery I’d have called my union by now and deciding whether to take legal action or find a new job. (or why not both?)

            OP – you need to reassure Margaery today that her concerns have been heard, actions have been taken and she will not be subjected to this again.

      2. NerdyKris

        And putting OP on the hook for a sexual harassment claim by not stopping the behavior.

        1. Hills to Die on

          Exactly. OP, I understand that you didn’t know how to shut this down, but you should have been far more proactive. I would be worried about doing damage control and building your reputation up after you deal with this Jane stuff. I wouldn’t give Jane one smidgy inch of room to act like a priggish primadonna harasser ever again. And handle your business fast from here promptly.

          The good news is that now you do know – so go get it. Good luck to you and please come back to give us an update.

    2. MuseumChick

      I agree. It’s human nature. If you don’t observe a problem employee being addressed, it can be easy to assume management isn’t doing anything about them. Even if they are behind the scenes. Signalling to them to come to you if Jane continues to behave with way will let them know that you are in fact dealing with the situation.

    3. Jules the 3rd

      I think reaching out to Margaery is appropriate, but not a general discussion. That gets too others too much into Jane’s work situation. To Margaery, I’d say, ‘I hear your concerns, and they are valid and serious. I didn’t address this firmly enough before, but I consider this to be unacceptable. I will address it with Jane, and I’d like you to let me know how it goes from your point of view.’ And follow through with another meeting with Margaery in a few weeks.

      Because this is gendered harassment, and it has to stop. You have to stop it. You have the power and the responsibility to make Jane stop, whether through working rules or firing.

      Good luck, because it’s hard to deal with someone who’s crying at you (and yeah, Jane is weaponizing those tears…). Managing can be hard sometimes, but you’ll be doing the right thing to address it.

      1. Michaela Westen

        Not a few weeks. A few days at most.
        It sounds like Jane is hassling Margaery daily. A few weeks is way too long in that case.
        Even better, tell Margaery, “Let me know right away if Jane hassles you again.”

        1. StaceyIzMe

          It sounds like she needs to be told/ held accountable to some version of “don’t SPEAK to Marguery except as absolutely essential to your role… email is preferred where possible”.

      2. PersephoneUnderground

        Yes – if she cries you must continue the conversation. I’d ask if she’d like to take a moment, but then continue as if she weren’t crying after that. Possibly offer a tissue, and say something kind but firm like “I know this is hard to hear, but it’s better that we get it addressed to give you the chance to improve and keep your position.”

        I’m an involuntary crier (and a woman) and I always apologize and ask the person I’m meeting with to continue. That’s how someone not using it for their advantage acts. So treat her that way – give her a moment to collect herself and a tissue, but *do not drop the conversation*.

        1. Flower

          Same – I cry when frustrated and stressed, and I hate it, but haven’t yet figured out how to control it successfully, so I just either ignore it or if it gets more than a couple tears, apologize and then try to ignore.

        1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis

          Tears are manipulation, and let’s not forget, OP is *male*.
          You’re going to have to power through this one OP. You have my sympathy – women who resort to tears to get men to do what they want (both in and out of a work setting), really do the rest of us no favours. You *will* be doing us some favours by nipping it in the bud and managing her. If necessary, out of the door.

          (And I’m adding my vote to an update as soon as there are any major changes!)

          1. Spencer Hastings

            To be fair, there are plenty of women who use tears to get women to do what they want. It’s not necessarily a Thing that Women Do to Men (see also: the phrase “feminine wiles”), sometimes it’s just a “look how put-upon I am (pretending to be)” thing.

            1. Polaris

              It works on all genders because making someone cry equates to “I have hurt someone and therefore I am a bad person” in our heads, and it’s really hard to train yourself out of that, especially because empathy is a good thing in most cases.

          2. Mary

            There are also women who just naturally cry when we’re angry, upset or frustrated and really WANT managers who will just calmly give us a minute and then carry on where we left off, rather than freaking out and trying to end or exit the whole conversation as quickly as possible. By learning to deal with tears, you’re both rendering them ineffective as a manipulation tool AND supporting people who aren’t using them to manipulate.

            (This was the fascinating and infuriating thing about Tim Hunt’s comments about working wit women: women crying when they were upset of frustrated because the science didn’t work were “overemotional”, but his total freak out and inability to cope with a normal human response to frustration was obviously ~rational~ and ~unemotional~!)

          3. Fact & Fiction

            Yes, many of us have involuntary tearing up responses when angry or frustrated. And believe it or not, plenty women do have neither the need nor desire to “resort to tears to get men to do what they want.” The appropriate response is the same whether the woman is crying to manipulate or having an involuntary (and believe me embarrassing) physiological reaction.

            I just think this is a very harmful stereotype to perpetuate. The fact that SOME women purposely resort to tears to get men to do what they want doesn’t mean that this is what’s happening with the vast majority of us.

            1. No Tribble At All

              Agreeeee. I don’t “resort to tears” to get men to do what I want…. I just cry. Because I’m frustrated. And it makes me tear up. Maybe Jane really is that sensitive that she’s crying at every comment. OP, she might not be crying /at/ you, just crying. Steel your nerves!

          4. LegalBeagle

            This is a sexist stereotype and really has no place here. Very gross comment.

        2. ket

          This is not fair. The tears may or may not be “manipulation” — and it *doesn’t matter*. Your response should be the same: kind, firm, direct. Witness the involuntary criers who have responded and tell you how they want to be dealt with. Offer a tissue and otherwise ignore.

          1. Deranged Cubicle Owl

            This. I rarely cry, but when I get really angry, or frustrated, or (feel) humiliated, I cry sometimes and I hate it. It is completely involuntary and this makes me feel (even more) humiliated. So ignoring it (after giving a tissue or so) is the best response.

          2. Mamma mia

            I’m surprised by the amount of people here saying that they’re “involuntary” criers. I’m sorry but I just don’t buy it. It sounds like people who justify yelling by saying they just talk loud. Which is also bullshit. Crying is wholly unacceptable in the office. Period. If you “need” to cry, excuse yourself to the bathroom. I would be completely uncomfortable if an employee started crying and just expected me to carry on as if that was normal behavior because guess what? It’s not.

            The only time I can think it may be ok is if you’re (a) very young and don’t really know what being professional is (b) you’re being told you’re getting fired (in which case, who cares if you cry? you’re already leaving lol) or (c), you just heard that your kid got run over by a bus or something. Anything other than that, just suck it up and be professional. And yes, I’m a woman, if that at all colors your reaction to my comment (which it shouldn’t).

            1. Not A Manager

              Are you able to prevent yourself from blushing when you’re embarrassed or flushing when you’re angry? Having an increased heart-rate under stress? Sweating if you’re under pressure?

              If you can’t control all or some of these bodily reactions to intense situations, why do you assume that everyone can control tears?

              If your response is “well **I** can control my tears so therefore everyone can control their tears,” you might want to check that.

            2. Janie

              Once I almost started crying because the light switches in my kitchen were wrong.

            3. Lilly

              You don’t live in their bodies. You don’t know. Why doubt to doubt? The Commentariat here is pretty reliable; why not take them at their word? This specific skepticism perpetuates misogyny.

            4. tangerineRose

              I tend to cry when I’m angry. I really, really don’t want to cry when I’m angry, but I’m likely to. I don’t do it on purpose. I don’t know why anyone would assume that I and others would lie about this.

              1. Magenta

                I used to do that! It really annoyed me because people thought I was upset and I thought it made me look week.

                It has mostly stopped as I have got older, but now I cry more in general! I only have to see a trailer for a film about a dog and I start sobbing. This also annoys me, but it at least seems a little more of an appropriate context.

                I’ve only cried at work publicly once and that was 15 years ago in another life, I quit that job as soon as I could get another one lined up. About 5 years ago I fired someone for the first time, but waited until I was on my way home to cry about it.

                1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before

                  I cried at work once- the day after I was suddenly dumped by someone who (from their words & actions) I had thought was as head over heels as I was. I was super discreet about it and my manager was very understanding.

                  I’m also an angry crier, which wouldn’t actually bother me except for the people who think I’m not MAD, but upset (and believe me, I have to be REALLY ANGRY before the tears start) and it feels so condescending & patronizing when they get all solicitous AND the #%*@! MEN who all assume I am trying to manipulate them or make them feel sorry for me, and use their resentment at me “game playing” to totally dismiss my concerns about whatever it was they did that got me so riled up in the first place.

                  My angry tears are ACTUALLY much more akin to those safety valve radiator caps that let out all the steam when your radiator overheats so it doesn’t rupture, and they should feel effing LUCKY I am crying instead of punching them in their goddamn face.

            5. confidante's inferno

              There’s a big difference between “performative” crying and a genuinely uncontrollable tear or two rolling down your face, accompanied by a slightly shaky voice. You ever feel yourself “well up”? That’s what it is, and it’s completely involuntary.

            6. 'Tis me

              I asked my manager if we could have a little chat and sobbed so much I exhausted all the tissues I had brought with, was still a snotting mess, and he needed to lend me his hanky, once. I had asked to talk to him to let him know my husband was dealing with serious mental health issues, and I was worried sick about him and couldn’t guarantee it wouldn’t impact on my performance at work. I couldn’t control sobbing myself into a mess, I was trying to proactively address the issue before it became a work issue…

              When he announced to our team a year or so after that that he was leaving us, he glanced over to me to see my eyes a’brimming as I was trying to silently get my response under control; that time I was at least silent and non-snotty with it, and if he hadn’t looked over at me I could probably have just nipped to the loo after to splash cold water on my face and regain a bit of control… But he was an awesome manager and is still somebody I consider a friend. His support had helped to make work a safe, sane space at a time when I was really struggling personally. My replacement manager is also great, and luckily the husband managed to find the right cocktail of meds to give him back control of his life, we have two kiddos now, I no longer need work to be somewhere I can go to breathe relatively freely…

              But yeah, nobody was in immediate peril or intense physical pain, and I was at work sobbing uncontrollably as if the world was ending, because I was terrified that the world as I knew it *was*.

            7. Schnookums Von Fancypants

              “I’m surprised by the amount of people here saying that they’re “involuntary” criers. I’m sorry but I just don’t buy it.”

              Luckily for the rest of us your consent for factual information is not required.

      3. LQ

        I agree that a general conversation isn’t good, however stopping it when it happens is.
        If the OP overhears something they should speak up, and they shouldn’t hesitate because Jane might cry. The next time Jane makes a comment about the clothes or the language OP needs to cut it right off at the knees. “Jane, that is not appropriate professional behavior here and will not be tolerated.” Because that will let people know it’s not ok and it is being taken seriously.
        “Jane, commenting on your coworkers clothing is never ok, you cannot do that.”
        “Jane saying shit is perfectly acceptable here, insulting your coworkers is not, you cannot do that.”

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I agree, and I think OP needs to apologize to Margaery and let her know OP is going to handle this. OP also needs to let other employees who have complained know that OP is taking this seriously. And OP may want to coach folks on how to shut Jane down in a firm but professional manner. I’m sure Jane will go into teary-emotional-manipulation-land when folks do so, and OP needs to help their employees know that they can walk away from the interaction after shutting it down and that OP has their backs on this.

      Jane is being a nightmare employee and office Dementor. It is 100% unacceptable to police your coworkers’ clothing. It is 100% unacceptable to make coworkers attend long, derailing, and unnecessary one-on-ones where you tell them their very normal, innocuous behavior hurt your feelings. It is garbage person behavior to reduce your female coworkers to “sluts” in your mind, to try to control them through harassment, and to target them for your misplaced (and sexist) sense of propriety.

      And Jane is absolutely engaging in gendered harassment. Better yet, because Margaery has informed HR and OP, the employer is now open to legal liability if Jane continues to harass Margaery.

      I strongly suspect the value of Jane’s work product does not outweigh Margaery’s value added, OP’s reputation, or the employer’s legal costs. Jane is a literal walking liability, and she needs to understand how very close she is to termination.

      As Alison highlights, OP needs to really take a look at why they want to avoid a PIP and whether a final warning resulting in termination for any transgression/backsliding is a more appropriate approach. Speaking personally based only on what OP has written, I would fire Jane.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        Agreed 1000%.

        I’ve generally been a top performer and I’m willing to put up with a lot if I know that it’s being handled or at least there is an acknowledgement that there is a problem.

      2. gwal

        No offense, but framing the value of Jane’s work product as relevant in measuring out how much of a reprimand she should receive seems inappropriate. What she’s doing isn’t acceptable, whether she’s mediocre or amazing.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          No offense taken! I agree that what she’s doing is 100% unacceptable, regardless of her performance.

          The note about the value of her work product is in case OP is disinclined to PIP/terminate because of the extra work OP would have to put in. I wanted to be very clear that Jane’s behavior has a tangible, measurable cost to Jane’s coworkers, OP and OP’s employer—it’s not just “minor interpersonal dispute.”

      3. Blunt Bunny

        Exactly, Jane is happy to degrade other people but when her colleagues have legitimate feedback she plays the victim. She’s a hypocritical manipulator happy to fish it out but not tske it.

    5. Public Sector Manager

      If the advice is that the OP should tell the team the OP is addressing Jane’s issues, you really can’t violate Jane’s trust like that. Good managers praise publicly and criticize privately. Confidentiality is part of the art of being a good manager. The other employees will know something is being done when (1) Jane stops doing what she’s doing or (2) Jane is no longer with the company.

      Also, there is a redemption element for employees who are going down the PIP route. You want to give them the realistic opportunity to improve. Addressing or even hinting at Jane’s problems with the rest of the team will only demoralize Jane and not give her a fair shake at rehabilitation. Even though Jane is in the wrong here, it’s only fair to give Jane the opportunity to improve, especially when the OP, as Jane’s manager, has condoned Jane’s conduct.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        “Praise publicly and criticize privately” is a good general rule, but there are exceptions. In cases like this where you’ve let something go on a long time, you have to let people know you now see the problem and it’s being addressed, both so that (a) you can tell them to come to you if the problem continues (since you won’t see everything) and (b) you have a shot at retaining people who might have started job searching because of it.

        1. StaceyIzMe

          Perfectly put! Overdue for resolution is a different category than an issue that isn’t so entrenched and so harmful to the team/ organization.

        2. Working Hypothesis

          I would think you can still criticize privately, in the sense that your direct communication with the problem employee is conducted in private. That’s a separate thing from telling other employees that the issue is being handled (without giving them specifics of how it’s being handled; just that you know unacceptable behavior has been going on and it is being made to stop), no?

      2. LQ

        The problem is that it appears (because, let’s be frank, it has been) ok with the OP to treat a coworker this way. That the OP needs to stop, immediately. And just Jane changing slowly, privately, overtime will not demonstrate that it is not ok at this work place. You’ve just bred a ground for this to continue to happen. Jane could have changed for a million reasons that would not be because the OP said knock that shit off. So next time it happens OP needs to say knock that shit off and move on. It still gives Jane space to improve, and it shouldn’t be an attack on Jane’s character, but just as “not ok” statement. Without it the OP continues to condone it every time it happens.

        You don’t wait for private to tell someone not to call their coworker a slut. You WHOAH, that is NOT acceptable language, immediately.

        1. StaceyIzMe

          Exactly, because that kind of bullying warrants a more direct “no, we don’t do that here” than other kinds of workplace errors. (And because not doing it/ not having done it loses a great deal of credibility for management in the eyes of observers.)

      3. designbot

        I think there’s some grey area where a manager can say, “Hey, I’m taking this issue really seriously and have let Jane know that this is unacceptable. I realize that this problem was already pretty entrenched by the time I saw it, so could you let me know if you’re seeing a continuation of this behavior?”
        It’s not gossiping, it’s enlisting someone more central to the issue to be on the lookout for you.

    6. Johnny Tarr

      How would you recommend going about this? I understand the need to tell people that Jane has been warned and OP wants to know if her unacceptable behavior continues. I’m having trouble seeing how to do that. It appears that nearly everyone in the office would need to know, not just one or two people. Should they have a meeting with everyone except Jane? An email to everyone except Jane? Individual conversations with everyone except Jane? I can’t imagine discussing it with the whole office, Jane included, and I can’t imagine the whole office discussing Jane without her being there.

      1. Mr. Shark

        I agree that it has to be addressed, but I agree that I’m not sure how you get that message across to the whole office without individual conversations with everyone or some weird office meeting with Jane sitting there as the obvious target of the conversation.

        1. Moray

          I think the latter would be okay. If you have meeting and talk about workplace bullying, gossip, inappropriate behavior policing, etc, you don’t have to mention Jane by name. And if everyone knows that Jane is the target…well, it’s because she’s the one behaving abominably. And then at least the other employees will hear “yes, we’re (finally) taking this seriously.”

          1. Falling Diphthong

            I would find it really irritating to take an hour or 2 out of my day to enact “the meeting about not being incredibly irritating to your colleagues” like it’s some broad problem rather than one person.

            Also, the one person meant by “hey people” so often concludes that it can’t possibly be about them, as all their actions are well thought out and reasonable.

            1. Green great dragon

              I don’t think it’s quite that meeting. It’s a short meeting to emphasise the behaviour isn’t OK because the victims need to hear it, not the meeting at which the behaviour is addressed (which is a 1-1 with Jane).

              1. Busy

                Yeah this isn’t a team reprimand. This is a team “I recognize that this happened and I am letting you know we do not tolerate it” meeting.

                Like if someone stood up and shouted The Most Racist Slur at another person, you would expect management to issue some kind of statement lol. Like you can’t just let this go.

            2. JJ Bittenbinder

              Yeah, I agree that this is not the way to handle it. There are many hours of my time I can never get back because I had to sit through a “general meeting” on tardiness or documentation or the importance of meeting firm deadlines….while the person who was always late or had terrible documentation or never had their work done on time left the meeting thinking, wow, wonder who that was about.

        2. Daniel

          Is there any reason it can’t be individual conversations? The OP didn’t mention how big the team was. (It’s possible it’s big enough to make it impractical…but maybe not.)

          1. VictorianCowgirl

            They would really only need a series of 5-10 minute conversations with each person. I would hope to see private conversations if I was employed at this workplace.

      2. Drammar

        If the OP has regular one-in-ones with the rest of the staff I would think that would be the time to tell them. If those meetings don’t exist or are less frequent than weekly, I’d make time to discuss with each person with the next few days. Margaery first. Details that violate Jane’s privacy are unneeded — just that the situation is being addressed and a request to be kept informed if no changes are forthcoming.

      3. Lupe

        I think it has to be one on ones, as you certainly shouldn’t be revealing who has made complaints to HR, as a meeting without Jane will probably do. It’s also easier to make your apologies and assurances to the staff personal in a one on one setting.

        You do also want to stop people ganging up on Jane, which a big meeting acts as a bit of a catalyst for

      4. Burned Out Supervisor

        I think when it’s a case of Jane harassing one person (or even couple of people) specifically, you can acknowledge the complaint and say “Thank you for bringing this forward to me. I will investigate and address it right away.” Then, after you’ve told Jane to knock it off, go back to Margaery and privately say “I just want you to know that I have addressed the issue you brought forward and I would like you to let me know if you have any additional concerns.” You don’t have to get into specifics, but just let that person know that you are working on it and that you welcome additional feedback. It doesn’t hurt to check in with that employee in a week or so and solicit it directly. That shows the person you’re committed to being an active participant in correcting behavior.

  2. deesse877

    I have been a bit of a Margaery in the past–i.e., good at my job, but not perceived as such by some people because they disapproved of my gender presentation. (Their specific objections were “feminist” rather than modesty-oriented, but the effect was the same; gossip and bad opinion made life harder for a while.)

    Oddly, I found that a procedural change that required co-workers to observe me (and thus see that I was good at my job) made the BS about clothing stop immediately–like turning off a light. I agree that OP needs to draw lines in the sand for Jane, but she may wish to consider also saying or demonstrating–maybe sometime down the road–that Margaery is good at her job.

    1. LaDeeDa

      “I found that a procedural change that required co-workers to observe me”
      Can you elaborate on what this means?

      1. deesse877

        I don’t want to out my industry, but basically, a new part of our performance reviews involved peers shadowing eachother for significant chunks of time. What I do involves working in parallel with others, rather than collaboratively, so people literally did not know what I did all day other than the bare outlines of my job description. I get the impression that sales can be similar.

    2. Scarlet2

      Except OP has the power to shut this down, so they should just go ahead and tell Jane that her behaviour is unacceptable, full stop. OP doesn’t need to “justify” it by showing that Margaery is good at her job. Honestly, even if she was a mediocre employee, nobody should be allowed to bully her.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder

        Honestly, even if she was a mediocre employee, nobody should be allowed to bully her.

        +100

      2. LadyProg

        Exactly. Whether Margaery is good at her job or not, she does not deserve the comments she’s getting. It misses the point if we have to justify “she’s fine because she’s good at her job”.

  3. LDN Layabout

    Ah, who hasn’t met a Jane? They care so much about their own feelings and no one else’s.

    OP, you talk about Margaery’s stock, but be aware the more Jane does what she’s doing? Yours is plummeting.

    1. MicroManagered

      OP says very clearly he’s aware he has mishandled this situation.

      I know as a manager I’ve messed up by letting it get this far. At the beginning, I considered it to just be a minor interpersonal dispute until many employees came forward with complaints about Jane. I understand now how that was wrong, but I don’t know how to manage her.

        1. Eeyore's missing tail

          I think the OP has probably has a pretty good idea. He’s admitted that he misjudged the situation and is now trying to fix it. And he’s reaching out for help. I think we should try to focus on helping find solutions than telling him he’s not doing his job.

          1. LDN Layabout

            It’s less telling them they’ve done a bad job, but telling them they have two problems: Jane and the rest of his team.

            They could follow Alison’s instructions to the letter and still have a team who think it requires multiple people complaining and notifying HR to get them to manage.

            1. JJ Bittenbinder

              Well, offer a solution then. Telling OP his stock is plummeting and he’s likely to “have a team who think it requires multiple people complaining and notifying HR to get them to manage” isn’t particularly helpful if you’re not going to offer some strategies for mitigating this. He can’t invent a time machine and travel back to when it started and cut Jane off, so what do you think he should do?

              1. Hiring Mgr

                I think LDN is just trying to get the OP to reframe it a bit which in itself can be valuable.. Not every comment has to include a specific solution

              2. LDN Layabout

                I think he should go with using STREET SMARTS.

                But seriously, there’s some good ways of doing it in comments above and from Alison re: it being one of the few times where criticise in private doesn’t hold on.

                Part of the reason I didn’t offer advice is because there isn’t much the OP can do, but they do need to be aware of it, it’s a show not tell situation. It’s going to take for the team to feel on an even keel with the manager, even once the Jane situation’s been dealt with.

                It’s the usual reputation recovery scenario, people won’t just believe you saying it, they’ll need to see you being responsive to issues similar to this in the future.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.

        “At the beginning, I considered it to just be a minor interpersonal dispute”
        I think this is something that OP should review as well. Margery told manager that Jane is criticizing her. How much of “interpersonal dispute” fell into the “well, Jane is new so she will figure out who the key players are soon enough.” And how much was, “wow, Margery sure doesn’t like another woman coming in challenging her.”
        Because that could be why you let the two of them drag this on so long that Jane thought you approved of her overstepping and began to criticize others. At which point OP realized, hey, this isn’t two women vying for top seed, Jane is out of control.
        And now that Jane is out of control, she manipulates OP by crying.

    2. CM

      Yes, this is an essential point. It’s not just about how the OP handles Jane — it’s that everybody else on his team is seeing that he’s tolerating Jane’s behavior. It’s good that he now understands that he mishandled this by dismissing it as a personal problem, and wants to deal with Jane differently. But I think he should openly tell his team that he recognizes this behavior isn’t acceptable, that he’s let it go too long, and that he will not tolerate it going forward. Not in those words, of course, but I think having 1-on-1 conversations with Margaery and anyone else who complained would be warranted, and also if Jane is making these comments in a group setting like a meeting, he should shut them down in front of everybody instead of having a gentle conversation with her later. His team needs to see that things are going to change and that this won’t be allowed to drag on forever. Or soon he won’t have a team left, except Jane.

    3. WakeRed

      These situations are tough, but it is such a bummer to see managers mishandling them (like OP has done here) and letting their direct reports complain about feelings rather than saying, great but actions matter more. OP has my sympathies, we’ve all had moments managing people that we’re not proud of; I’m hopeful he’ll follow Alison’s advice. Margaery at least has the support from HR, but I’ve seen it be completely deflating and in worst case scenarios traumatizing to go through months of this with your boss not standing on up for the right/good/legal! thing.

  4. Jennifer

    Jane is reminding me a bit of Karen. The woman who showed up at her boss’s dad’s funeral and asked him to sign contracts while he was standing next to the casket with the pallbearers. She either doesn’t understand why the things she does is offensive or she does but just doesn’t care. What finally got Karen to change her behavior was a complete dressing-down from the boss after the funeral incident. I think someone needs to have a similar come to Jesus conversation with Jane or they need to fire her.

    In some companies, if she were a man, she may have been fired long ago.

    1. RUKiddingMe

      I wouldn’t jump too quick to the “if she were a man …” conclusion. Way, way, way too many males go on literally for years doing this without even so much as a simple conversation telling them to knock it off, much less facing any consequences that have any kind of teeth. It’s getting better, but it is far from “good.”

      1. Jennifer

        True. That’s why I said, “in some companies.” I do know that some men are allowed to get away with bad behavior for decades.

        1. RUKiddingMe

          Oh absolutely I understood “some.” I was just pointing out that until extremely recently many, if not most males would have only been slightly reprimanded.

          When I say “slightly” I mean like “dude, these females are sensitive so be careful what you say because they might take it the wrong way and *ruin your life.*”

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I do think it could be helpful to OP to evaluate Jane’s behavior, however, by imagining Jane’s behavior if she were James, a cis-dude. It’s so obviously wrong that reframing it may help OP better understand how severe and Not OK this is.

        And although it’s true that many men have gotten away with this behavior for years, Jennifer’s also right that in some companies, Jane would have been fired by now.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.

      I speculate about that. If Jane were a man, would OP have thought that Jane/John’s initial overstepping with Margery was “interpersonal conflict” or new guy not staying in his lane. If Jane were John and got emotional when OP said you need to stop commenting on coworkers’ appearance, would OP feel overwhelmed and give the power to John?

      1. Jennifer

        I think if John had done this, the OP would have immediately registered how creepy and offensive this behavior is. I think she’s gotten away with it for so long because it’s brushed off as “she’s just super conservative.” Now, it is true that the OP may have had even more difficulty resolving the situation because they may have felt more intimidated, but I think the behavior would seem more sinister.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.

          Agreed. I feel the gender dynamic is a significant part of this. If John did this, it would be creepy. If Jane does this, well, she’s conservative (defined as a woman who judges other women harshly) so Margery needs to adjust and accept. If she doesn’t it’s because she doesn’t like Jane, not that she doesn’t like being attacked by Jane.

          1. Jennifer

            Exactly. Either way, it’s gendered harassment. I do think sometimes it’s less scary, at least for me, when it comes from a woman because I don’t feel physically intimidated. I mostly just feel really annoyed. But either way, it’s wrong.

      1. Collarbone High

        I’m about Angela’s size, and that line just killed me. I still think about it whenever I’m clothes shopping and burst out laughing in the middle of a store.

        (I also thought, wait, is that actually an option?)

        1. Jennifer

          I’m glad I’m not the only one that thinks of funny things and randomly starts laughing.

        2. shep

          I’m also about Angela’s size, and it likewise cracks me up! I haven’t shopped at the American Girls store, but I’ve DEFINITELY purchased clothes from the kids section. (I am an adult woman, but the allure of Pokemon and Star Wars shirts that fit me (and also happen to be in the boys department) is TOO STRONG.) I also bought a legitimately nice-looking summer dress from the girls department once. I think it was a 10-12, which, unless I’m wrong, indicates general age ranges they should fit?

          1. Hey Karma, Over here.

            You need to be careful, some of the modern doll outfits are as flashy as Gap Kids.

          2. Elizabeth West

            I have to buy those in the men’s department since I’m so tall. There are some seriously cute shoes in the kid’s section, though–I wish my feet were small enough for some of them.

            1. VictorianCowgirl

              Same here – I can’t get away with buying junior’s sizes at all since I’m almost 6′. Also, Banana Republic stopped making Talls. :’O Their sales section was my work wardrobe savior. Oh, well.

            2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before

              I’m tall too, but until I was in my late 30s I could fit into size XL girls tees from Target. Now, my boobs are just way too big and I really miss it!

          3. Scarlet Magnolias

            I had a co-worker who had an adorable dress in fabric printed with newspaper stories about kittens!

    1. Anonyna

      That’s who I was thinking of too!! I’m drained just imagining working with that, ugh.

    1. LDN Layabout

      You can deal with problem employees.

      Dealing with them when they have an ineffectual manager is much harder.

      1. Magenta

        It should never have got this far, managers who let this kind of thing go on are saving up trouble for the future.

        About a year back both I and another manager had trouble with team members behaving badly, gossiping, judging others, complaining, basically acting like they were still at school. I confronted the issues head on, told the team members responsible to grow up, I was firm, but softened the delivery with a bit of humour. The other manager is very conflict avoidant and basically hoped the issues would disappear, they did to an extent, but mostly because my team would no longer join in.

        Now though my team is working well, people get on and work well together. Her team has huge issues with the behaviour of the team member who caused the issues last year. She thinks she can do no wrong because she has previously been allowed to behave however she wanted. The other manager now HAS to deal with the behaviour because it is having an impact on her team’s efficiency and morale. She is having huge issues, her boss and HR have had to get involved and the manager’s reputation has been severely impacted.

        1. LDN Layabout

          I’m guessing her team is going to be dealing with much worse turnover issues than yours soon too~

          1. Mimi Me

            I worked for a company where one team member was allowed to behave like a middle schooler and management did nothing. It was only after 3/4 of the team gave their notice that the upper management stepped in to find out what was going on. They pulled us in for one on one meetings to try to find out how to stem the bleeding and even though we all pointed out the thorn on the team and what had been going on, they did nothing. I put in my notice the day after the management concluded their investigation in the matter and nothing was done. I hated middle school. I wanted no part of reliving it in my 30’s. By my last day all but the one employee had given notice, including one of the managers.

      2. Sunny

        The OP wrote in because he sees where he went wrong and wants to get a handle on the situation. I think we can stop the blame game.

    2. Lena Clare

      Yes, and I definitely would revise the opinion of “good at her job”. Being good at your job requires being able to work with others, which she seems incapable of doing! Also, she has no boundaries. Ugh. I hate it when people have no boundaries.

      1. Fortitude Jones

        Right. Like Jane, I too don’t like excessive cursing in the workplace and I often look around and see people (not just women) inappropriately dressed; that said, I keep it to myself. I never go to management to complain or tell the person I’m silently judging that I’m doing so – doing that brings nothing but unnecessary drama. More importantly, I recognize that everyone isn’t me. Everyone doesn’t have to live how I would live, dress how I would dress (fabulously, thank you!), or speak the way I speak, that’s what keeps the world unique. People just need to mind their own business. If someone’s dress or language isn’t causing you work problems, then let it go.

  5. MuseumChick

    Personally, I think ever stronger and more blunt langues is need in a situation like this. Something like, “Policing your co-workers clothing, language, etc. is not your job and needs to stop immediately. As do the comments questioning how Margaery got promoted. It’s gotten to the point where your behavior, well, it is harassment. If one more incident happens I’ll have no choice but to place you on a PIP. I want to be straightforward that if I don’t see significant changes from you it could effect your employment here.”

    Remember this line from Alison: “Don’t sugarcoat. Be clear, direct, and explicit.”

    1. pcake

      Exactly that. And I’d throw in that Margaery got promoted because she is excellent at her job.

      1. MuseumChick

        Yup. Now, from the sounds of it, it’s likely Jane will have a bad reaction to this message. But, OP, you need to stay strong. Maybe even send Jane home for the day to think about if she will be able to modulate her behavior the way you are asking.

        1. De-Archivist

          Yes, she’ll probably cry. She may get loud. OP, you just need to prepare yourself for it. Ask her if she needs a moment to compose herself, but don’t use softening language to undermine how serious this issue is. Do be prepared to send her home if she needs the time or space to think about how serious this is.

          1. Jules the 3rd

            +1 to all of this. Saying the words ‘your behavior is harassment and must stop’ is important.

            1. Yvette

              Yes, there can be no soft language. Not “please try not to” but “you must not”

          2. JustaTech

            Do you think it would help to give Jane a written or emailed copy of what the manager is saying, in case she is so upset she doesn’t hear or doesn’t remember the specifics of what the manager said?

              1. Yvette

                But if this is not part of a PIP, it might not be a bad idea. Unless I missed it, the OP does not seem to have forcefully and seriously addressed things with Jane and that should happen before a PIP.

                1. Daniel

                  Yeah, OP hasn’t addressed the issues in more than a trivial way. But I guess my idea is that what OP would say in that meeting, is the same as the prose of the PIP. Not word for word, but the topics and level of seriousness would all be the same.

                  (All of this is out of my immediate experience. I could be wrong.)

            1. Not On My Watch

              Absolutely. And not because she might be too upset to hear. These types of meetings, where clear direction is given, should always be followed up, or presented in the moment, in writing. (If for no other reason than to confirm to Margaery’s lawyer that you took steps.)

            2. fposte

              Yes, and that’s pretty standard–follow up in writing after any meeting like this.

            3. NW Mossy

              Also, drafting that document is often super-helpful to the manager to organize their thoughts and plan out how they’ll relay the message to the employee. I know my tough conversations go much better when I do a full write-up ahead of time, even if I’m the only one that ever sees it.

                1. Daniel

                  And not just in times of conflict–there have been tons of time where I’ve been trying to answer a complicated/important e-mail where I printed it out, marked it up, wrote notes, and used that for the reply. Just physically looking at it on the paper made it easier.

                  Also, it sounds like there’s consensus that a follow-up e-mail after the meeting is worthwhile, so I’ll acknowledge that such is worthwhile, on top of the PIP.

          3. une autre Cassandra

            I am a fragile flower who cries REALLY easily (and lives in fear of either appearing to deploy tears as manipulation or, even worse, inadvertently actually throwing someone off by crying), and I implore the LW and managers everywhere: don’t be put off by tears! We still need to hear whatever it is and we will survive it. Either we’re crying because we haven’t yet mastered the art of Not Crying, but still hear you and appreciate the feedback—or we’re drama monsters trying to deflect criticism, in which case you shouldn’t feel bad at all about hurting our feelings.

            1. ohgeeeeeez

              so totally co-signed! I was once put on warning at a job for a legitimate reason (legit-ish, it was a canvassing gig), immediately started crying, and asked my supervisor to just ignore my tears. I was 19!! Jane sounds like a drama monster for sure.

            2. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)

              Yes, this. Some of us cry annoyingly easily–annoying to myself, most of all, because this also happens when I’m alone, depending on what I’m thinking about. “Do you need a tissue?” is helpful, and the offer of a glass of water can be as well, but there’s no point trying to “process” why I’m crying, because it just seems to be how my brain and tear ducts work. It doesn’t usually mean I am more upset by XYZ than someone else would be, and it certainly doesn’t mean I disagree with what I’m being told. I would love to be able to just nod and calmly say “OK, I won’t do that again” — but I mean it just as much as someone who could say it calmly.

            3. Psyche

              Yes. Ignore the crying. Whether it is genuine or not is irrelevant. Maybe offer a tissue or ask if she needs a moment before proceeding, but don’t get derailed.

            4. Amethystmoon

              Yes, I agree. Crying is not always manipulation. People have no idea how someone’s childhood was and what kind of things can be triggering.

              But having said that, Jane definitely needs to learn how to keep her opinions to herself about what other people wear and say. There are other ways of dealing with that kind of stuff. She can go out with her friends after work and gripe about it. She can get a paper diary and gripe about it at home. But it’s not good to gripe about things like that at work, where others can hear you.

        2. RUKiddingMe

          Particularly because Jane will probably start crying because OP hurt her feelings by telling her to knock it off.

      2. Moray

        This. “In addition to her excellent overall performance, Margaery behaves appropriately with her coworkers, which is a requirement for promotion. This is the last time I’m going to discuss her with you. There is going to be no further questioning of her behavior, dress or qualifications, with anyone in this office. Is that clear?”

      3. AKchic

        Exactly, because when you mention that you want the questioning of Margaery’s promotion as well as her clothing and language policing to stop, Jane is going to assume that it’s because she has hit the mark of her target and that there was merit to her words after all, and the male manager (OP) is worried he will be exposed. This will give her more gossip fodder, so don’t be surprised if she tries to play that angle afterward and doubles down. (I’ve worked with a few Janes over the years… it never goes well)

        I recommend having that PIP ready to go, but ultimately, be prepared to escort her out the door with her personal effects in a box.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy

      While Jane’s behavior is for sure totally inappropriate, I don’t see that she’s questioning how Margaery got promoted — it reads (to me) that Jane is questioning how she (Jane) can get promoted herself? Though I could be mistaking that.

      1. MuseumChick

        I just re-read it and you might be right! I think the language is a bit unclear but after reading it again I think your read is more likely what was meant.

      2. AKchic

        Ultimately, the policing of Margaery’s clothing and language is an undercutting of Margaery’s judgement and ethics in the workplace and an attempt to bolster Jane’s instead. She could very well use it as an example of why she deserves elevation to Margaery’s status, or higher, so I would definitely read into her gendered harassment as also being a manipulation towards her future promotion ability.

      3. designbot

        That’s how I read it too. It’s always annoying when someone who’s actually doing really badly at their current job continues to press for a promotion, but I wouldn’t take it as any more than that. Somehow this seems really common to me, maybe it’s the thing where they’re too ignorant of what doing a good job looks like to see that they aren’t doing one.

    3. kittymommy

      I’d probably go with “You will not…” rather than “cannot”. At least to me it comes off as much more final and not open to any discussion.

    4. Observer

      I think I missed something – I don’t see where Jane questioned why Margaery got promoted.

      Not that it makes anything ok – Jane is wildly out of bounds. But, discussing Margaery is not really productive here anyway. The OP needs to make it clear to Jane that what Margaery wears is NONE OF HER BUSINESS. Neither is anything else about Margaery unless it directly affects her ability to do her job.

      1. MuseumChick

        Red Reader above also pointed this out. I think I misinterpreted that part of the letter.

    5. User 483

      I think I would go more blunt at this point, especially if I was Margaery. It would be more along the lines of “Jane, knock it the fuck off.” Let Jane be the one to go to HR if she has any actual real complaints.

      1. MuseumChick

        Oh if Margaery were writing in I would give similar advice. The bottom line is everyone needs to stop coddling Jane and start being very blunt and direct with her.

        1. designbot

          Agreed, everyone needs to respond to her attacks like, “Jane, this is not relevant to our work and I’m going to need you to refocus.”

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      All of this + Moray’s script.

      And don’t be swayed or derailed by tears or complaints of hurt feelings, OP.

    7. MuseumChick

      A couple more thoughts I had for the OP: Be sure HR and your own boss know this talk is happening. Jane may try to claim you said/did something during this talk to get you in trouble. Giving them a heads up beforehand can do nothing but protect you. If she doesn’t full on start crying but get’s defensive you can say something like, “This is an example of the behavior I’m talking about. As you manager it’s my job to give you feedback, especially in a case like this where the behavior I am seeing is so problematic. Are you willing and able to change this?” ( Any edits welcomed to this)

      1. AKchic

        Personally, with the issue of gendered harassment happening, and Jane’s propensity for bringing her feelings into things, I would be recommending to OP that he bring in a second manager or preferably, an HR person to this meeting to both lend gravitas to the situation and to be a witness to it so Jane can’t try to embellish the narrative later on.
        Preferably, HR would sit in since a PIP and gendered harassment are being discussed.

        1. ArtK

          I agree. This is one of those places where a witness is essential. HR would be the right folks, since they have a vested interest in preventing a harassment lawsuit.

    8. Traffic_Spiral

      I’d go further and conclude with actual rules.

      “So what I want from you going forward is this. Firstly, no comments on any woman’s clothes. Maybe in a few months when you’ve salvaged your reputation you can compliment people, but you’re so far in the red right now that you need to cut it out point-blank. I don’t want to be trying to figure out if your latest comment was well-meant or snide. No talking about what anyone in the office is wearing, period.

      Secondly, no lecturing people about swearing. If you hear something you really don’t like, send a written report to HR and we’ll look into if it merits further attention. But like the clothing issue, you’ve been harassing and inappropriately policing people for long enough that you’re getting a full-time ban for the time being.

      Thirdly, you need to work on not taking offense to everything. People aren’t trying to insult you when they answer your questions or ask you to repeat something. We clear?”

      1. MuseumChick

        A couple of things I would alter just a bit, 1) “no commenting on anyone’s clothing,.” Rather then just making it about other women’s clothing. 2) “No lecturing people about swearing or policing their language. If you hear something that falls into an extreme category, like racist language for example, it is NOT your job to confront the person. You will report it to HR or myself.”

        1. designbot

          In that vein, I would start with a broad reminder about what is and isn’t her job. “It is your job to produce high quality chocolate teapots and chocolate teapot accessories. It is your job to work with your colleagues to achieve that goal, and to be helpful to others in It is not your job to police the language, dress, or demeanor of your coworkers.”

    9. Michaela Westen

      “Don’t sugarcoat. Be clear, direct, and explicit.”
      This is for the employee as well. It makes perfectly clear what she’s doing wrong when softer language may not have.
      There is nothing worse than being fired and not understanding why. Use clear, direct, and explicit to make that clear. Then if she chooses, she can work on that. It could change her life.

  6. Anonynony

    Her behavior would be laughed right out of the building if she were in my deparment…! I do hope your other employees know she is WAY out of line and they need not respond to her in any other way than “Wow…” and walk away. This definitely does not sound like the right environment for her at all, so perhaps the kindest thing (all around) would be to help her leave…

    1. Antilles

      Given that Jane’s new and the rest of the employees are intentionally withdrawing from her, it sounds like the other employees DO realize she’s way out of line with company norms and are basically ignoring her…but they’re probably also internally irritated at OP for not addressing this issue.

  7. Philosopher King

    If I were Margaery, I’d be polishing my resume. And maybe talking to a lawyer.

    1. Justme, The OG

      What exactly has gone on that is illegal and in need of a lawyer’s interaction?

      1. Observer

        Being called a slut for wearing the the “wrong” clothes is almost certainly sex-based harassment, and that’s illegal. Given the Margaery has already gone to HR about this and has explicitly called it out in those terms, the OP has zero choice but to act on it, because of the DOL or a lawyer get involved, the company WILL lose.

      2. Lazy River

        Harassment on the basis of gender where management is aware and hasn’t stopped it.

      3. Daniel

        I don’t know if Jane was been pervasive enough to merit a sexual harassment lawsuit, but it’s possible she has been.

      4. Sarah N

        It depends on exactly what Jane has said, but certainly if Jane is actually saying “I think you are slutty” to a colleague on a regular basis, that is sexual harassment.

      5. De-Archivist

        In the US, she would potentially have a case for sexual harassment in the workplace (Title VII) and an EEOC complaint, particularly if management was aware of the gender-based harassment – as OP is – and didn’t stop it.

      6. LB

        An employer has a duty to investigate, prevent, and correct sexual harassment by an employee. Conduct that is sufficiently frequent can create a hostile work environment, and per OP, Margaery is a “constant target.”

      7. RUKiddingMe

        Gender based/sexual harassment. At least in the US, and yes even if they are both women.

      8. Magenta

        Treating someone less favourably on the basis of sex.
        Margaery is being bullied for her clothes, Jane would not do this to a man.

      9. Jules the 3rd

        Gendered harassment (eg, ‘that woman is not wearing enough clothes’ when she is, ‘Margaery is a slut’, repeated over time) is illegal. Hostile work environment based on a protected status (gender).

        However, assuming the US legal system, how the company addresses it is what decides whether a lawyer / EEOC complaint would be effective.
        1) Company (in the person of OP) shuts Jane down = all good
        2) Company does nothing about Jane but continues to promote Margaery: Probably not enough to get a hearing. But Margaery’s got a case, and filing an EEOC complaint could lead to a settlement / problems for OP.
        3) Company does nothing about Jane and Margaery doesn’t get every promotion / raise she asks for: You’re in range of a legally viable case because you can’t prove that the harassment didn’t harm Margaery’s standing.

        In reality, Margaery won’t get far with a complaint unless multiple execs are caught making similar comments in writing (which does not appear to be the issue), but no company likes the legal hassle of dealing with complaints.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I don’t think it’s accurate that a complaint won’t get far unless multiple execs are caught making similar comments in writing. That’s not the standard for a sexual harassment claim, and vicarious liability has already attached because HR and Margaery’s line manager have been given notice.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Also, harassment is actionable without Margaery being passed over for promotion, etc. The legal standard is different if it’s an “individual acts of bias” claim v. “changed conditions in the workplace as a function of unlawful harassment” claim.

        2. Parenthetically

          “unless multiple execs are caught making similar comments in writing”

          I am not a llama, but this does not seem like the correct interpretation of the laws.

          1. Indigo a la mode

            It delights me to imagine PCBH and other AAM commentors as llamas. Thank you for that.

      10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        This is definitely a legal liability. Sexual harassment (which includes gendered harassment of people of the same gender) is illegal, and it sounds like it’s pervasive, constant, and that the management know it’s happening and have failed to do anything to correct the issue. The longer it goes on, the better Margaery’s EEOC complaint will be.

        1. fposte

          Yes, it didn’t sound like the OP realized the yawning legal chasm that was opening up under him. This isn’t just a matter of poor management if he doesn’t act.

      11. Jessen

        The bit where she’s been repeatedly targeted by a coworker for being “slutty”. That’s sexual harassment, even if it’s coming from someone of the same sex. It doesn’t have to be motivated by sexual gratification to be illegal harassment.

      12. EtherIther

        It’s certainly not necessary, but Margaery is experiencing discrimination based on being a woman, which is illegal most places.

      13. EEOC Counselor

        I am an EEOC counselor for the federal government. This would definitely be considered sexual harassment. The agency for which I work would be just as concerned with the OP’s behavior as with the harasser’s. As others have noted, the fact that she knows about this and has not handled it is extremely problematic and could result in disciplinary action for her. I don’t mean to be harsh to her, but she should get help from HR if she feels like she is in over her head.

        1. Yikes

          Yes. I used to do Title VII litigation as an attorney in private practice, and agree this is already at the point of illegality, not to mention the point at which Margery could hire an attorney and leverage a significant settlement or severance package.

  8. Batgirl

    I think it’s also worth revisiting the issue with Margaery and making sure she knows that there is zero tolerance on women being policed. I’d apologise for the delay and reassure her that you want anything else to be immediately reported – unless you want to lose her.

    Be aware of the other extreme when going zero tolerance with Jane; she genuinely may not know professional norms but honestly it is a kindness to tell her that it’s unacceptable! Use that word.

    Warn her that participating in harassment will get her fired. Asking people to play therapist and manage her feelings will get her fired. Having unprofessional feelings about stuff that isnt even any of her business will get her fired. Even the most patient office in the world will fire her eventually. Besides who wants to be patient about harassment and sexism?

    1. Observer

      How are you going to let her know that there is zero tolerance? The OP’s actions clearly show otherwise.

      Now, clearly the OP knows that something needs to change – but they REALLY need to get into the Zero tolerance mind set. Once he gets that clear in his own head, and actually DOES something about it, then he can talk to Margaery and and tell her that he realizes that he messed up but going forward action IS being taken.

      Acknowledging that he messed up won’t make him look bad – we all mess up and it’s not too late to do something about it.

      1. Vemasi

        I think it’s a bit off base to say OP hasn’t done anything about it. He has had conversations with Jane about this behavior.

        But as you say, he has to move from talking to warning, and adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards Jane’s behavior moving forward. And once she is on a PIP or as-good-as (“You will not do this anymore.”), alert Margaery (and anyone else who complained) that their concerns have been addressed and formal steps are being taken.

        1. Parenthetically

          He’s had vague “hey, not cool, cut back on it” kind of conversations, presumably in private, which have had zero effect on Jane’s behavior. From Margaery’s perspective, he’s done nothing.

          1. Observer

            Yes. And he’s still not sure if he should even be directly addressing the issue of the clothes policing and wants to avoid a PIP.

            That’s why I mentioned the mindset. He needs to realize that this is a BIG, FAT, HARD NO and act accordingly.

            1. fposte

              Yes, I’d ask him why he’s trying to avoid a PIP–they’re part of the management arsenal and you should be able to use them when they’re appropriate. But I think reading Alison’s answer and the comments may be an effective paradigm shift for him.

  9. Daniel

    I sort of assumed, when OP said he was worried that Jane was headed for a PIP, that we was worried about having to *deliver* the PIP and dealing with Jane’s feelings afterward. I get that, it’s bound to be an awkward conversation, but it sounds like you guys are dealing with that already, and nothing is changing.

    I’m a fan of giving the PIP instead of a final warning, since it provides for a single, unambiguous document about what Jane needs to change and when. I don’t think there’s any avoiding a PIP (or a firing, frankly), but Jane absolutely needs to be told that what’s she’s doing isn’t OK, especially with respect to Margaery.

    And do it soon; it sounds like you’re at risk of losing one of your best employees over a harassive coworker.

    1. Sara without an H

      I, too, would go with the PIP, especially since OP hasn’t been clear with Jane that her behavior is unacceptable. But the PIP should have a short timeline (2-3 weeks max) — Jane can either change her behavior or she can’t. Dragging out the process will help no one.

      1. Daniel

        Yup, agree with the time-frame. And the OP has to be ready to act if Jane improves for a couple of weeks and then backslides.

        1. Jules the 3rd

          Yes, the PIP needs to include language about ‘resuming this behavior after the PIP is complete will lead to immediate termination, not another PIP.’

          1. AKchic

            Yes, exactly. PIP’s completion doesn’t negate the need for the behavior to stop.

    2. Angwyshaunce

      Your first point may very well be correct, considering that Jane gets upset when she has no rational reason to be. If she were to receive direct, negative feedback, one could only wonder what an uncomfortable situation that would create.

    3. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD

      I agree. If Margaery is already at the point of going to HR with a gender based harassment complaint we are way past the warning phase and into PIP territory

    4. IL JimP

      I view the difference between a warning and a PIP being for a PIP it’s about a performance issue specific to the job whereas a final warning is about behavior. Both are usually written out on what needs to happen.

      In this case, Jane is definitely a behavior issue and I would probably use a final warning.

      I get that some companies require a PIP no matter what but if you have the option then go with what best represents the situation.

      1. IL JimP

        let me just add that either one is a final step

        Final Warning – stop this behavior or you’re fired
        PIP – improve your performance or you’re fired

    5. Decima Dewey

      My thought is, if OP presents Jane with her PIP and Jane threatens to quit, OP should accept her resignation. No backsies.

      1. AKchic

        Absolutely. Let Jane deal with the consequences of her actions and emotions. No more babying, no more coddling. Jane needs to manage her own feelings and why anyone would entertain her with these private meetings about her feelings (i.e., on the clock therapy sessions where Jane uses her feelings/emotions as a weapon to browbeat her colleagues) is beyond me. That needs to stop and she needs to find an appropriate outlet for herself.

      2. Daniel

        “[…] if OP presents Jane with her PIP and Jane threatens to quit, OP should accept her resignation.”

        One can dream…

        Finally, the PIP should have provisions about treating coworkers with civility and respect. It can’t just address comments about attire and language. Otherwise I’m afraid that this could morph into hostility over other subjects and toward other people. It could anyway, but it’s another thing to point to.

  10. pcake

    The OP might consider that by telling Jane to stop, she is protecting everyone else in the department from Jane’s awful and unreasonable behavior.

    I wonder why so many letters here seem to be managers that want to avoid upsetting or hurting the feelings of people who upset and hurt the feelings of many, all the while making it harder and less pleasant for the rest of the staff to do their jobs. People like Jane can make formerly great employees dread getting up in the morning because they have to deal with criticism, negativism and lectures.

    1. MuseumChick

      I think its human nature. We instinctively avoid conflict (most of us anyway!) It’s never a good feeling when you have to have this kind of talk, however justified with someone.

      1. mark132

        It’s a biological/evolutionary thing. Avoiding conflict allows us to not get killed and perhaps propagate, at least in millenium past.

    2. LDN Layabout

      We know why, the OP even admitted. They thought it was an ‘interpersonal issue’ and far too managers think their responsibilities end at ‘is the work being done?’

    3. Sara without an H

      I’ve known a few male managers who could be clear and decisive in dealing with male misbehavior, but were rendered speechless and ineffectual whenever women acted out. I’m not a psychologist, so I won’t even try to explain it. Leftover baggage from childhood, maybe?

      1. Ralph Wiggum

        The male manager may also be more hesitant to call out misbehavior by a woman in order to avoid perceived sexism.

        1. AKchic

          There is that.

          However, I’m also considering the issue that in this case, he may be concerned that Jane would weaponize her tears against him, as she has weaponized her feelings against the rest of the staff and he is unskilled at how to handle such an attack. Most people aren’t equipped to handle such things. The workplace isn’t where one would normally console a crying person, especially one you’ve just chastised and then told *not* to hold coworkers emotionally hostage.

      2. Batgirl

        I can understand some men being a bit wigged out by having to say that female dress is inappropriate; a bit like telling a French person to work on their grasp of their own language. But that’s not even the message, it’s ‘Her dress style IS appropriate; your behaviour is not’

      3. LCL

        I’ve seen this also. A woman employee who is aware of this and acts out, paired with a man employee that doesn’t know how to deal with it, can make the office environment awful for everyone who works their. I have faith in OP, though, because he has recognized it and has asked for help to stop it.

    4. That Girl From Quinn's House

      I’ve had to manage employees whose behavior is this sort of deviant from professional norms. It’s very easy for them to use their wounded act of “My feelings are hurt/Your behavior is offended me” on boss’s bosses and HR, and if you as a manager don’t have a robust support system, they are going to get you “in trouble” for being mean/unsupportive/not getting along with an employee, or at least, enhanced oversight as the boss and HR fear nuisance lawsuits and discrimination claims.

      It is very easy for that ire that’s targeting others to be redirected towards targeting the boss.

    5. BRR

      For your second paragraph, I think the usual reason is because it’s “easier.” It’s less of a headache in the short term to placate Jane than having the difficult conversation with her. I don’t think it necessarily applies here though. The LW knows they made a mistake (and kudos to you LW for admitting it). But the cumulative headache in the long run will be much bigger than if the manager deals with Jane.

      1. fposte

        Yes, it’s an easy trap to fall into. There are also probably days where Jane is fine and it’s sooo tempting to say to yourself “Well, it looks like she’s pulled it together so I don’t need to address this after all.”

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I think it’s because a lot of managers don’t get support/training in having difficult conversations with troublesome employees. It takes an emotional toll having to discipline or fire or intervene with the Janes of the world.

      That doesn’t mean managers should avoid those responsibilities (although many do), but it’s understandable that folks sometimes overlook these problems when they’re focused on avoiding the stress/negativism.

      1. fposte

        Yes, absolutely. Honestly, I’m pretty breezy about such things when I post here, but face to face it’s really hard to say “You are currently not working out, and that has to change.”

    7. IsbenTakesTea

      I think that culturally, we’re socialized to be “nice” above all else as children, especially women. “Play nice” and “be nice” are almost always in reference to making sure your behavior doesn’t make someone else upset.

      It’s something many of us have to be explicitly trained out of, especially if we’re going to start managing other people, but so few managers ever get that explicit training.

      1. Always Anon

        I’m curious — is there training out there for this, or books about it?

        Signed, Someone who is way too nice sometimes

        1. fposte

          The book Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office might be a good place to start.

        2. TeacherLady

          I’ve found “When I Say No, I Feel Guilty” to be really helpful for recognizing situations where I need to be more assertive, and starting to learn how to be so. (In practice, it’s extremely uncomfortable, even though in theory, it makes total sense.)

          It’s a bit out of date/a dense read, but I’d recommend it.

        3. IsbenTakesTea

          Probably! I’ve gotten almost all my “don’t-be-nice-be-direct” training from this blog and Captain Awkward’s blog, but I believe Alison has also recommended books like The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense at Work by Suzette Haden Elgin and the ones others have mentioned here (I could have got that book reference somewhere else, though).

    8. the_scientist

      I’m a new manager and I’ve been reading a lot about the concept of “Radical Candor” (and the book of the same name, which is great!), which is basically the idea that if you are a good manager, you need to care personally about your employees (their professional development, etc.) and challenge them directly. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, Radical Candor says that it’s not actually a kindness to soften really important feedback because it prevents employees from understanding the true impact of their behaviour. So in this case, not only is OP making things worse for his other team members, he is actually ultimately hurting Jane here — while her feelings are undoubtedly going to be hurt initially, if she truly has no idea of acceptable workplace norms, being very direct and very clear about the way her current behaviour is harassing, sexist, and uncalled for allows her to reflect and change her behaviour. And Jane needs to learn.

      Not that this changes what the OP needs to do, but this might help him get over the aversion to having the hard discussion with Jane.

      1. JB (not in Houston)

        “it’s not actually a kindness to soften really important feedback because it prevents employees from understanding the true impact of their behaviour” Yes, Alison has said this many times, as have other commenters, and it’s definitely true. There’s a time for softened language, but this kind of situation is not it.

    9. Flash Bristow

      Exactly.

      “The needs of the many… outweigh… the needs of the few…”

  11. The answer is (probably) 42

    I really like Allison’s script for talking to Jane about how she manages her emotions, but I would specifically use the word “demeanor” when discussing this issue. Someone like Jane is going to hear “I need you to manage your feelings” and immediately jump to “they’re telling me how to feel”. So I think it would be useful to make it explicitly clear that what she needs to get a handle on is her outward reaction and behavior, regardless of how she feels about it internally. Feelings can only be controlled so far, especially with personalities like Jane’s who are always just a few words away from a meltdown. But she needs to learn how to differentiate between what she feels and how to interact maturely and present a professional demeanor.

    1. Sarah N

      Yes! She can absolutely feel however she likes — luckily no one has invented a mind-reading machine for bosses yet. The key is how she CHOOSES to behave.

    2. Naomi

      Yes! OP, you mention that when you try to address this with Jane she redirect the conversation to “this hurts my feelings.” The answer to that is, “You can feel however you want, but I expect you to behave respectfully and professionally.”

      1. Observer

        Exactly this. Your feelings are yours and no one’s business. But your BEHAVIOR? That’s the manager’s business, and you NEED TO REGULATE THAT.

    3. Professor Ma'am

      I totally agree with this. “Feelings” is to broad a term and has a bit of a gender bias (like saying women get ’emotional’). Feel whatever you want but the action in response to those feelings needs to change.

    4. Jules the 3rd

      Agreed! I think it might even be ok for OP to give suggestions on how she can manage her demeanor (‘Say excuse me, step into the hall or bathroom, and take some deep breaths until you calm down. Do not announce your emotional state or that you are doing this, just say excuse me.’ ) .

      iirc, there’s a post in the past about ‘I always cry when stressed, how can I stop that’ that had a lot of suggestions for managing demeanor.

  12. Peridot

    I promise you this is driving your other employees round the bend. They want to get their work done, and instead they’re having to spend half of their time worrying about Jane, avoiding Jane, trying not to offend Jane, and bitching to each other about Jane.

    1. Auntie Social

      Jane is the definition of ‘officious’. I feel for her co-workers/victims.

  13. Falling Diphthong

    Margaery has already been to HR to discuss the “gendered harassment” she receives from Jane.

    And what happened? Because it sounds like Margaery followed the proper channels, and maybe the result was HR told you, and you told Jane to spend less time complaining about Margaery, to which Jane responded by shaving 5 minutes off the weekly total?

    1. Observer

      Whatever happened so far, the OP needs to realize that he NEEDS to take quick and effective action at this point – up to and including firing, because if Jane takes this further (and it sounds highly likely to me that she might), the company is going to be on the hook. No one can claim that they “didn’t realize”.

    2. Sustainability

      Margery came to the OP first and he dismissed it as an interpersonal issue. Then Margery had to go over OP’s head to HR because OP didn’t take her seriously. Then OP found out Jane had been doing it to others too. Then OP realises his own backside might be on the line.

      Please get in front of this ASAP and then start believing women when they say they are being harassed.

      1. Kat in VA

        Yes, the initial reaction smacked of, “Oh, those women being catty to each other again!”

    3. Polaris

      OP replied upthread (under “I wrote this”) – Jane’s been fired, but has been given 60 days to find a new job and wrap everything up.

      1. nonegiven

        That 60 days should be contingent on Jane keeping both her opinions and feelings to herself.

  14. Sarah N

    Great advice here. I also think it’s important to just go into the meeting knowing that Jane is, yet again, going to claim hurt feelings, possibly cry, etc. and prepare in advance for not backing down. I’m a professor so I have a fair amount of meetings with students where they can get emotional about a grade, etc. I find it’s really important to stay empathetic but firm — obviously you don’t want to be shouting at a crying person (not that you would ever shout at people!), but you can acknowledge their feelings and still communicate the message. For example, “I can see that you’re upset and I empathize with you, but I still cannot allow harassment to continue in the office. Can you agree to the plan of making no further comments about colleagues’ clothing or language choices?” and then hand over a tissue. I think preparing for the hard conversation in advance is key to maintaining a consistent message throughout, which — as Alison notes — is in everyone’s best interest. If you don’t communicate clearly, Jane risks being fired due to her behavior, and you also risk losing excellent employees like Margaery who are likely competitive for other jobs and unlikely to stay somewhere that they are facing repeated harassment that is essentially ignored by management.

    1. Jessen

      I was going to suggest the tissue box as well! It’s a good way to communicate acknowledgement that the employee is upset without letting it interfere with the message you need to get across. (As a bonus, I think a lot of people who want to improve but tend to involuntarily cry also appreciate it.)

    2. Kelsi

      Man, as someone who cries easily when I’m emotional and can’t turn it off, there is no kindess greater than continuing to be direct and professional and address the issue.

      I cried once (years ago!) when my bosses (I was split between two departments) had to speak with me about an issue. They were totally right, and it was an issue I wanted to correct, but it’s never easy to hear your boss is unhappy with your performance. I know they were trying to be compassionate, but they wanted to pause the conversation to let me cry/offer sympathy and it made it wayyyyyy more embarrassing for me (and also, putting the conversation on hold won’t make me less emotional–I’ll just cry again later! Let’s try to get through it now!)

      I know that probably isn’t what’s going on with Jane and she DOES want to derail the conversation, but I just wanted to say that Sarah’s method is also really good for cryers acting in good faith. (Because trust me, I wish I weren’t crying just as much as you do!)

  15. Sara without an H

    Hi, OP: First off, why are you so hesitant to manage Jane? I doubt if you would let a man get away with this stuff, so why the hesitation here? If you’re afraid of doing something that would be considered sexual harassment or discrimination, I suggest you sit down with your HR person and discuss strategy.

    Alison’s script is a good one. I would just add, focus on the unacceptable behavior and don’t get lured into a discussion of Jane’s motives and feelings. She will probably try to steer the conversation away from her behavior and toward how awful you’ve just made her feel. Don’t fall for this.

    You admit that you’ve let this go on too long. Please hear me when I say this: you need to get on top of this situation yesterday if you want to salvage your own reputation in your company. Your staff are complaining, and Maergary has already been to HR. What will you say to your own boss if Maergary leaves due to Jane’s harassment?

    You’re a manager. So manage. Now.

    1. AnotherJill

      This. It sounds like you have somehow framed this in your head as “women’s issues” and out of your hands. Instead, you’ve let stand an environment where one employee is essentially bullying others for their (appropriate) clothing and behavior.

      1. Magenta

        Some people have a belief that women are naturally “bitchy” and so allow this kind of bad behaviour to continue when it needs to be stopped.

        This kind of mindset is sexist and causes real harm, especially to women.

        1. KTM

          Yes – I’ve run into this before and it was so frustrating. I was Margaery with a track record of solid performance and no history of issues working with others. We get a new (female) employee around my age who starts clearly targeting me (jealousy? threatened? I don’t know). I bring my concerns repeatedly to management after me trying to protect myself on my own and am eventually told they think it’s basically both of us that are the problem. What?!

          1. smoke tree

            Yes, this might not be the case for the LW, but I do think it’s a common dynamic where male managers are hesitant to step in when there’s a confrontation between women. I think it comes from both dismissal of women’s conflicts as serious and legitimate, and the trope that women are always competing with each other and never get along.

        2. dumblewald

          Omg don’t even get me started – this attitude has always been the bane of my existence. Men scoffing dismissively anytime I reported bullying behavior by another woman like “ugh…girls being catty again”. So I deserve this just for being a woman?

    2. AKchic

      YES.

      Don’t let Jane shift the focus.

      “Well I feel…”
      “That’s not what we’re discussing. Your behavior while on the clock is…”
      *cue tears* “You’re hurting my feelings!”
      *hands over tissues* “I’ll allow you a minute to compose yourself. We’re not discussing your feelings, we’re discussing your actions.”

      OP needs to ensure he has an HR representative or a second manager in this meeting with him who is aware of the situation and will back his play here, otherwise this will probably be a very messy and unproductive meeting.

      1. Parenthetically

        Yes! “We’re not discussing your feelings, we’re discussing your actions.” EXACTLY.

    3. Courageous cat

      See, this is essentially what I said in the post from the day before about this very thing (imo) and someone acted like it was unreasonable. People need to realize the urgency in getting on top of situations like these – it’s really vital to everyone in the company who works with them.

  16. LawBee

    oh and this: “I’m a 30something male and maybe this isn’t even the right tack for me to take.”

    Dude, if more men held people of all genders accountable for sexist gendered harassing bullshit, the world would be in a better place. Don’t leave it up to the women to fight this battle alone, even if the person being awful is another woman. Lock this DOWN.

    1. Magenta

      Also it is specifically his job to deal with this behaviour and challenge the sexism he has allowed to continue previously.

      1. CommanderBanana

        Right? Like, if you don’t want to manage other people, one idea is to stop being a manager that has to manage other people.

    2. MuseumChick

      ^^^^THIS SO MUCH. What Jane is going is 100% sexist, gendered harassment. It’s sadly common for women to do this to other women.

      Let me, as an official representative of the Female Community tell you: Holding Jane accountable is the 100% right thing to do.

    3. cmcinnyc

      YES, PLEASE! Honestly, nothing will ever change if decent men decide this isn’t their territory and just back away. If you are manager, this is your responsibility to manage, male or female, gay or straight, cis or not. It’s not on the victims to manage this themselves, please.

      1. StaceyIzMe

        I think it might even help to reverse the genders in the example. Here we have a male manager and a female “problem employee”. What would most of us say to a female manager who didn’t move with enough force of authority and speed to address a male “problem employee” exhibiting the same behaviors? (Commenting on the clothing choices and language choices of coworkers inappropriately, targeting/ bullying one same gendered coworker for some unknown reason, using machismo or extra sensitivity to excuse his actions?) It wouldn’t go over well.

    4. Richard

      OTOH, considering his identity and its role in this situation shows more thoughtfulness than some managers would have. Many a man has stumbled head-first and unaware into situations where the gender dynamics aren’t simple and made things messier than they started.

  17. CatCat

    Oooh, OP, at some point Margaery (or another colleague) is not only going to be at the place where she has HAD IT with Jane, but also she will also have had it with you and the company. *Best case* scenario for you and company if you don’t address Jane’s behavior is that Margaery quits and you don’t hear from her again. That’s a pretty crappy best case scenario.

    I think you have the tools and advice to address it though! I hope Jane can get it together and in any event, I hope you update it.

  18. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana

    Is there any coming back from this for employees who have been given final warnings on behavioral stuff? Can anyone point me to some Alison advice on this (seriously, asking for a friend)? Leaving isn’t an option for said friend; they want to make it work.

    1. WellRed

      If your friend doesn’t heed the warning, the decision to leave may not be up to her.

      1. LDN Layabout

        I’d also say, if it’s gotten to final warning territory? They need to be beyond reproach in that category.

        For example: a friend was hailed up on being late. They were routinely in at 10/11. They had to haul themselves in to always in before 9, for a long period of time. The leeway the rest of the team had? She had to earn it back.

        1. Michaela Westen

          I’m not HR or a manager, but I feel your friend needs to be beyond reproach in every way, as much as possible. Never anything questionable. No arguing, gossiping, negativity in any form. Show a good attitude, always be helpful and supportive. Complete all assigned work to the best of her ability. Follow directions to the letter. Write them down if necessary and double-check the notes before handing in each project.
          I do this and it’s very helpful.

    2. Antilles

      Sure, it’s definitely possible to come back from behavioral stuff like this.
      I don’t have an Alison link on this, but really, I’d say the biggest key for is to simply take the criticism to heart and calmly attempt to understand how you’re coming across and what you (not someone else) can change in your reactions/behavior. But in order to do this, you have to accept the warnings and concerns honestly and with an open mind – no defensiveness, no arguing, no excuses/justifications, no blame-spreading.

    3. fposte

      The question management will have is that if leaving isn’t an option, why did the behavior persist to the point of a final warning?

      The specifics of what they could do will depend on what the behavior is. In some cases it can help to be proactive with a manager and draft a bullet-point plan of how they’ll make sure the problem doesn’t recur, but if the problem was something like sexually harassing a colleague or picking fights or lying about work, I think a document risks making it look like it’s a struggle for them to avoid things that really aren’t hard for most people to avoid. If it’s something where an EAP makes sense, they should start the EAP process. I think there could be room for initiating a private commitment with their manager, but “final warning” suggests the manager may have gotten such a commitment before.

      Another possibility is if they can keep their head down and keep it together long enough to negotiate a smooth transition, including an acceptable reference, to another job where they can start fresh.

    4. MsSolo

      Ultimately, it’s going to depend on whether the changes required are clear and measurable (not just ‘be less of a grump’ etc) and whether the friend can follow the instructions. It’s the sort of thing that a person can make work in terms of not getting fired, but there’ll still be long term repercussions even if they do change their behaviour, and whether those are something that can be overcome is going to depend heavily on the workplace culture. In an ideal world, taking on feedback and making a positive, permanent change is something that should demonstrate a capacity of personal growth and a commitment to the job that can actually leave people with a more positive impression than someone who just gets by all along, but we don’t live in an ideal world and if the behavioural issues are being exacerbated by a toxic workplace it’s probably better to plan an exit strategy either way.

    5. Observer

      It depends on the company. In a reasonable company, if your friend hasn’t totally burned the bridge – sure it’s possible.

      But, your friend is going to need to change their behavior IMMEDIATELY and significantly. It’s really that simple (although not necessarily so easy.)

    6. HQB

      For your friend:

      (1) Immediately and completely stop whatever they have been given the final warning to stop (or start whatever they have been given the final warning to start). Comply entirely with the final warning. And that truly means 100%, not just most of the way there. Do this as professionally as possible – don’t mope around the office because you can’t do whatever your managaer has told you is problematic. Don’t try to weasel around the rules, either. If you aren’t supposed to comment on what people are wearing anymore, for example, don’t eye their outfit and give a tiny shake of the head. Just don’t let their outfit register at all. If you can, try to change the way you frame this in your head. Don’t tell yourself “I can’t believe they won’t let me do X!” Instead, tell yourself “It’s unprofessional to do X, and it’s hurting my career. Doing Z instead is definitely the way to go!” How you frame something will affect how easy it is to do it, and how effectively you can do it. If you need to see a therapist or life coach or mentor to figure out strategies to change your behavior and attitude, please do so.

      (2) After a few weeks of adhering totally to the behavioral standards, go to your manager and say something like “Thank you for being clear with me about my behaviors X and Y. I realize now how much of a problem it was, and I’ve been working hard on changing both my behaviors and my attitude. I hope you’ve been able to see that, and I want you to know that I am committed to this moving forward, and I apologize for my previous actions.” Do not attempt to justify your previous behaviors, don’t say “I apologize for my previous actions but I really did feel that…” It’s not relevant and will make your manager think you aren’t committed to the change, because you are still defending the unwanted behavior.

      (3) Have what you said be true. Be completely committed to both stopping the behaviors and to changing your attitude about them – that it is healthy and professional to stop, and you will not go back to your previous behaviors.

      (4) If you have other deficits at work, it can help to address them simultaneously, so your manager sees more positive things coming from you.

      This is not guaranteed to work, but it will give you your best shot. Good luck.

      1. Sarah N

        Awesome suggestions! I will also add: NO RULES LAWYERING. This is not a time to follow the letter of the law but ignore the spirit. Really do some thinking about what the issues were that led to the warning and what the suggestions are from your manager, and comply with those things BROADLY, not narrowly. Like, if the issue was not completing work tasks on time due to being distracted by texting/phone use, it’s not good enough to just put the phone away but end up distracted by conversations with the person in the next cubicle. The person would need to reduce all sorts of distractions and also actually get things in on time. Etc.

        1. fposte

          Oh, good point. Friend may need to choose between proving themselves right and keeping their job.

    7. NW Mossy

      Not Alison, but I did have an employee come back from the brink on behavioral issues and get back to good standing. Here’s how she did it:

      * After our Very Serious Conversation and the HR documentation that came with it, she sincerely reflected on the feedback I was giving her about what behaviors weren’t working and needed to change.
      * With a small amount of support from me, she developed a detailed plan of action – what behaviors she was working on changing, what she expected herself to do, and what measures she would use to assess her progress.
      * On her own time, she read up on working relationships and how to have good ones.
      * She checked in with me every week on progress and to get more feedback.

      Taken together, she demonstrated to me the key elements of successfully completing a PIP or similar – understanding, commitment, and execution.

      It stands out in my mind not only because she did just a good job of turning it around, but also because of what she told me a few weeks in that I’ll always remember. She said, “Mossy, it’s weird, but I’m…. happier. I feel better. Even my life out of work is better. I never expected that.” I carry this story with me every time I have to give tough feedback, because you just never know when it can be a catalyst for someone to find something new and better within themselves.

      1. Jules the 3rd

        This is a great story, and actually an interesting theme for Alison to take on sometime.

      2. Lance

        And the key points throughout all of this is that all of the efforts made were on her. Even the support; for even the fact that you gave it, I’d have to assume that it was something she asked for, not something that you simply gave on your own without such an ask.

        All of this is on the friend to fix, and they need to do their best, ASAP, to fix it.

      3. Natatat

        This is a great story. And perhaps it could help give a manager who is hesitant/avoidant about addressing an issue the push they need to address a problem. Beyond the other reasons that a manager should be addressing an issue with an employee, these difficult discussions can actually be a huge benefit to the person. It can improve their future job prospects and perhaps their life in general.

    8. I'm A Little Teapot

      Change the behavior, immediately. After a bit of time (to allow things to cool down – so maybe a week), have one conversation/send an email/something that says you know you were in the wrong, you regret it, you’re committed to changing, and you apologize.

      Then continue with the improved behavior, permanently. The combination of the acknowledgement, commitment, and apology will buy you some time in the short term, but the changed behavior is what will really make it stick. Backsliding will not be given a grace period.

    9. Naomi

      Presumably the warning came with a description of the problems with your friend’s behavior, and what the manager wants them to do/ stop doing. Your friend needs to commit to making those changes–and then stick to them over the long term. (We see a lot of letters here with variations on “I spoke to my employee about their behavior and they temporarily improved only to backslide a couple of weeks later.” Your friend’s boss is going to notice if they can’t sustain the improvement.)

    10. PB

      It’s possible, yes. This is something Alison has addressed before. I’ll post a link in a follow-up post. The advice the others have posted is good. Your friend needs to correct the behavior immediately, and show long term, sustained improvement. That said, it’s not 100% that it will work, but it’s their best shot.

    11. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana

      Thanks to all for your thoughtful replies. Part of the problem of the behavioral stuff is she said/she said – one person is saying my friend did X when that absolutely didn’t happen although certainly my friend is not totally innocent in all aspects. I’ll pass this on; thanks again.

      1. Lance

        Then what your friend needs to do, effective immediately, is make themselves innocent in this. Don’t contribute, don’t engage; keep her manager in the loop to ensure that she both remains clean-handed, and her manager knows she is, as well as what’s going on.

        1. Michaela Westen

          If possible, she should not speak to or be around the other person without witnesses.

    12. JSPA

      Yes, I’ve seen it. Depends whether the PIP / Final Warning was meant as corrective, or purely a required formality before the firing, though. Which you frankly don’t control.

      Generally the person has to eat crow (this is a heartfelt “thank you” to the manager, an expression that they’d been woefully ignorant of the proper norms, have done their research and soul-searching, feel like an absolute chump, know they have to change, don’t expect any further leeway or feedback, and plan to steer so far away from any borderline that there will be no question about their commitment to a permanent change. It’s not the worst thing to say that, even if they ultimately can’t keep you due to the weight of past actions, you hope they will accept your thanks for telling you something you badly needed to hear. (Firstly, because it’s true, and secondly, because they’re still your manager, and they’ll still get recommendation requests from future potential employers.)

      Next, back off to “nothing but business, wear a bland smile” for months, before adding back any expressions of personality or opinions–and those, only after they do another soul-searching, to realize whether they have the awareness to do so safely.

      Follow the lead of the manager, and have the manager sign off, on whether to make direct apologies or reparations to the people affected. They may prefer that no more be said, or to see less of you.

      If you’re someone who was “raised by wolves” in terms of norms, got attention for “edgelordy” behavior or judgementalism, and you didn’t inherit or develop whatever circuits are required for robust self-awareness and awareness of when you’ve crossed a line, you pretty much do have to stay far back from edges, ongoingly. If you just unthinkingly carried a bunch of personal assumptions into your professional life, and are not usually clueless, you may be able to express yourself more, over time–but NOT in the same ways that got you into trouble before. We’re not going for, “now that I’m valuable, will you put up with my crap?” here.

      Even if any of your stuff is extreme enough to merit a diagnosis and accommodations, it’s still on you to work on managing your effect on others to the degree that you can do so.

      If they do have to let you go, don’t go away bitter, or with two middle fingers raised! This has some parallels to the end of what had previously been an abusive relationship. Just because the abuse stops, doesn’t mean the relationship will now be trusting and loving, and will continue. (The abuser can’t just be stopping the abuse as another tool that creates obligation to remain.) The fact that you improved doesn’t turn every past action into, “no bad, no foul.” Or even, “we can be friends.”

      Flying right at work is something that you need to do, and will continue to need to do, whether or not it can repair the past damage.

  19. Dot

    If Jane doesn’t get a grip or get gone you’re going to lose Margaery and other good people. No one with choices is going to put up with a coworker who “makes it clear she thinks she’s slutty” and management that coddles them forever.

    1. R

      Yes, it’s really not acceptable to target a person for their clothing which is within the office dress code and make it a hostile work environment for them.

      1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before

        It’s not acceptable for them to target people for clothing OUTSIDE the office dress code either.

  20. animaniactoo

    Specifically – you need to make it clear to Jane that the company does not consider Margaery’s clothing to be unprofessional and does not have an issue with cursing when she is not customer-facing. And if the company doesn’t consider these things to be a problem, Jane has ZERO right to take any stance about it that involves repeatedly commenting on it or discussing it with anyone.

    She can discuss such things with her manager as notification that she thinks there’s a problem and that’s the end of it no matter what the result is. However she feels about any of that is something for her to manage herself, without discussion in the office. It is not her co-workers job to manager her feelings about this, it is hers, entirely.

    No one is asking her to dress or act like Margaery, so if that’s a concern in any way, she should put it to rest. She is fine to continue to dress how she’d like and keep her speech free of profanity. But she’s not allowed to continue to try to make them change their clothing or speech. The most she can ask for (and if this portion is not happening, you SHOULD take her side on it) is that when people speak to her that they refrain from cursing.

    Among other things, you might present to her the idea that she is concerned with what they have done to hurt her feelings. But she is repeatedly hurting their feelings with her comments on things that are perfectly fine and acceptable by company standards and respecting someone’s feelings is a two-way street.

    1. Jules the 3rd

      Yes on most of this, but nah on the ‘she’s hurting their feelings’ conversation. Professionalism is about the ability to focus on work and only include feelings in limited, appropriate ways. Opening up a ‘they’re hurt too’ can of worms puts the focus back on feelings. Jane needs to focus on professionalism.

      It’s fine to be available to employees for positive things, or as a first level response for negative ones (ie, ‘that sucks and I have sympathy for you, do you need some time off to deal with it?’), but anything beyond that needs to be saved for an EAP / therapist / friends / partners / family – people outside of work.

    2. Mimi Me

      Even if the company had a dress code that Margaery was guilty of violating, it is not Jane’s place to police that. Jane needs to keep all thoughts, feelings, and ideas of how other people should dress to herself while she’s at the workplace. It’s also not Jane’s place to police the language of others. I agree, that if Jane was cursed at or uncomfortable with cursing in conversation then she should have the opportunity to request that – but she should be advised that this would only be in 1:1 conversations. Conversations where she may be present as part of a larger group – meetings, break room conversations, informal work conversations, etc – would not apply.
      I really don’t think any focus should be placed on feelings – either Jane’s or her co-workers. The focus should be on what is appropriate behaviour in this workplace. This workplace doesn’t seem to fit Jane’s idea of what it appropriate to her, and honestly I’d see no issue pointing that out to Jane and letting her know that the workplace has no plans on changing to fit Jane’s idea of what’s appropriate. She either needs to be okay with falling in line with what the company deems acceptable or find another position elsewhere.

      1. Clisby

        If I understand you correctly, I disagree with this: “… if Jane was cursed at or uncomfortable with cursing in conversation then she should have the opportunity to request that – but she should be advised that this would only be in 1:1 conversations.”

        If anyone actually curses AT Jane, she has every right to object in the moment, to the manager, and to HR – and she should. It doesn’t sound like that’s happening, though.

        1. Elsajeni

          I think the “only in 1:1 conversations” part is referring to “uncomfortable with cursing in conversation.” In addition to not wanting to be cursed AT, it’s within reason for Jane to say “I really hate cursing and would appreciate if you would try not to curse when we’re talking,” but that’s limited to direct conversation with her; she doesn’t get to set or enforce that standard for every conversation she might be present during.

    3. Batgirl

      Yeah, even if Margaery was coming to work in a bikini its really insubordinate of Jane to make herself the de facto boss. After specifically being told not to!

      She doesn’t have the training or the people skills and would make any such matter worse. Besides which; your beeswax, Jane – mind it.

  21. Trek

    If I was Jane’s coworker and she tried to have multiple meetings with me about her feelings I’m sure my response would be ‘I don’t give a @#!’ and I would walk out of the meeting.

  22. Camellia

    If you had said you hired Jane only two months ago I would have thought you hired the Jane that just left us then. We had to endure Jane for 3+ years because management would not deal with her. It was horrible and people did leave. Please deal with this NOW, even if you have to fire Jane. Your people will be forever grateful.

    Also, if you were involved in the interview, try to determine how you can detect these people in the future – what questions you could ask, and so forth.

    1. Sara without an H

      Calling Jane a “bad hire” is putting it mildly. But, after the dust settles, OP should probably rethink his hiring process to avoid getting a Jane 2.0.

    2. Tabby Baltimore

      Oh, wow, great point. And consider trying to find someone who still works there who was on Jane’s interview committee to find out if a record’s been kept of what questions she was asked (i.e., maybe it wasn’t that the interviewers were ineffectual, but that the questions were).

    3. Michael Valentine

      We had a Jane too. I knew almost immediately that she was going to cause trouble, as did other employees in my group, and my boss wouldn’t address it head-on. It took 10 months of misery for my team, and one really bad action on Jane’s part for her to be fired. It’s been hard to trust my boss ever since. Boss did at least make some changes to recruiting, and now she includes me or my teammates in the interviews. But we’re now dealing with an under-performer, and she won’t do anything about it. Thankfully, I love my job otherwise!

    1. Lobsterman

      This feels a lot like the Dan Savage letters which are responded to with “DTMFA”, “Dump the [expletive] already”

  23. LB

    If Margaery has already complained about sexual harassment and the office hasn’t taken measures to stop Jane’s behavior ASAP, they’re opening themselves up to a lawsuit.

    1. The Katie

      The OP replied upthread that Jane is being managed out of her position. Also, it’s been about a week since the OP wrote in, so they’re doing something.

  24. R

    The fact that Margaery is going to HR and has been a long time successful employee should be a huge red flag. I worked with someone like this, who felt the need to cause huge amounts of drama and make themselves the focus of attention. If he was having a bad day he would go out of his way to rile up other coworkers and get attention. When ignored for behaving like a child, he would end up complaining to our boss we weren’t talking to him. Our boss wasn’t a good manager and did nothing. He was eventually pushed out by another department and took a demotion for another job in the company. Jane needs a huge wake up call but unfortunately she may not change, and ultimately is just not a good fit for the job.

  25. Anon Accountant

    If Jane starts to cry during your meeting don’t back down!! Offer to meet in 5 minutes or something but don’t give in. The tears are manipulative and don’t let her crying end your discussion.

    She knows the crying and emotional fits are manipulative and she uses those to get what she wants. Don’t give in!

    1. Not On My Watch

      Agree about not backing down. Disagree that crying is necessarily manipulative. Some people just… cry.

      “I see that you’re upset. Would you like to take a minute before we resume? There is still quite a lot we need to discuss.”

      1. Johnny Tarr

        Oooooh. If she were crying with the purpose of being manipulative, saying “There’s still quite a lot we need to discuss” is quite steely. I like it.

      2. Anon Accountant

        I meant that Jane is using her crying as a manipulation tactic. My wording wasn’t clear.

        1. Not On My Watch

          Understood. Just realize that that might not actually be the case. Persevere nonetheless.

        2. Close Bracket

          > I meant that Jane is using her crying as a manipulation tactic.

          You don’t, and can’t, know that. All you know is that Jane cries. You can’t read minds, so avoid ascribing intention.

          1. fposte

            Yeah, I think it’s tempting to make Jane into a villain of all stripes here, but we have no idea of she’s manipulative, and just because we’re mad at the behavior we know about doesn’t mean she sucks in every other conceivable way.

          2. Lilysparrow

            If she’s crying because people are asking her to do her job, and repeats it because it made people avoid asking her to do her job, that is manipulation.

            She may be so dysfunctional that she can’t even recognize her own pattern. She may be so chaotic and reactive that she’s not “intentionally” doing it, because she’s incapable of forming a clear intent.

            That does not make the pattern of behavior any less manipulative.

    2. Ah, curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal

      Everyone has feelings, sometimes something goes spectacularly wrong when you are vulnerable and there are tears. It happens. But the average person acknowledges them and asks for a few minutes or apologizes instead of steering into it.

      But you are so so right about her using it as manipulation based off the fact Jane has meetings to talk about how someone hurt her feelings. If someone at work tried to talk about how I hurt their feelings by asking them to do something, I don’t think I’d be able to help myself from (verbally) actually hurting their feelings.

      1. StaceyIzMe

        It’s interesting that Jane is focused on the currency of “good” as she defines it (no profanity, extra conservative dress, giving her time and attention due to her “feelings”). Maybe a simple but forceful heads-up that she’s trading in the wrong currency would help. At work, outcomes, collaboration, professionalism and timely successes form the currency of “good” that move things forward. (Honestly, that’s true in life too. Nobody wants extra drama.)

    3. Kelsi

      I mentioned this somewhere upthread, but I’m a cryer (crier? idk) and the kindest thing someone can do for me in that situation is continue. I mean, they can ask if I’d like to take a minute (as long as it’s okay when I say “no, I’m sorry, it’s an automatic reaction, please continue”) but I don’t want them to TELL me to take a minute or spend time waffling or comforting me in hopes that I’ll stop.

      I can’t stop, I’ll try to keep it as non-disruptive as possible (I’m talking tears leaking from my eyes, not full-on noisy sobbing), let’s keep going because waiting doesn’t make a difficult conversation easier or my tear ducts better behaved.

  26. Rusty Shackelford

    “Focus less on this” leaves a lot of room for her to think she can still do some of it.

    Yeah, I worry that you’ve been giving her the impression that all of this nonsense isn’t her job, or isn’t the most important part of her job, but it’s still someone’s job. Your message doesn’t need to be “you’re not the one who should correct Margaery,” it needs to be “Margaery is FINE and you need to stop HARASSING HER, and if there were anything inappropriate about her wardrobe or behavior we would not have YOU be the one to correct her, so you just need to full stop, period, end of story.”

    And I am *very* curious about the result of Margaery’s conversation with HR. At this point, if you don’t want to lose her, I think at the very least you need to apologize for things having gone so far, and tell her you are putting your foot down with Jane starting immediately, and ask her to let you know if Jane’s nonsense continues. Normally I don’t think other employees need to know when a peer is being “disciplined,” but in this case, Margaery is Jane’s victim and has been for some time, and she needs to know that she’s being taken seriously. Finally.

  27. Karyn

    I want to add that just because you are a man doesn’t mean you can’t exercise your managerial authority here. I understand and appreciate that you are probably trying to be conscious of the ingrained power disparity between men and women, but this isn’t about that. Just because you’re managing a woman, or that part of her issue is the clothing women wear, doesn’t mean you’re not within your rights to discipline and/or discuss this with her.

    I’ve always felt that if I want to be treated no differently than a man, I need to accept whatever professional coaching or discipline a manager doles out, so long as it’s the same discipline or coaching that a man would receive in the exact same situation. Equal opportunities and equal treatment are just that – equal. A male manager shouldn’t be afraid to exercise his managerial power to spare my feelings, or simply because the harassment is by a woman about a woman.

  28. Utoh!

    I read revealing *workwear* as “footwear”…and was imagining her being offended by toe-cleavage…

    Anyhoo, yes, as everyone has said, shut this down asap…!

    1. Cheesehead

      I did too! I was like….footwear? But whatever. And I just kept on reading. :)

  29. CommanderBanana

    LW, if this keeps up, Margaery will quit and probably some other people will quit, and it will be your fault. I have worked in more than one office where one person caused good employees to leave because management chose not to deal with it. You have the opportunity to handle this, and you need to.

  30. Observer

    OP, you need act because Jane is being totally inappropriate. But I just wanted to add something. This is someone who seems to be utterly and completely out of touch with the world, in general.

    As a Chareidi woman, I can tell you that my dress code includes skirts that fall below the knee. It would still never occur to me to consider (much less CALL!) another woman a slut for wearing a short skirt. What I’m saying is that even in circles where modest dress is a thing, it’s possible to subscribe to that, while still dealing reasonably with the norms of the rest of the world. Remember, you don’t care what her opinion is, you care about her behavior.

    Not that you should address that with her directly, as that’s her issue to deal with. But for yourself you should understand that this is a sign of a broader problem. Considering how serious the direct issue is, you need to consider how potentially toxic she is. If you can’t rein her in FAST, know that cutting her loose is going to save you a LOT of grief down the road.

    1. fposte

      It made me think of the “I accidentally called my boss’s daughter a whore” letter. And even that letter writer, whose views of women I disagreed with strongly, understood that it was not appropriate to share that view out loud.

      1. Lance

        I still very much wish that that wasn’t the only thing they’d understood… but at least it’s some progress.

  31. Engineer Girl

    OP, I’m going to rip on you a bit and point out a gendered problem you missed.

    I considered it to just be a minor interpersonal dispute until many employees came forward with complaints about Jane.

    This is a gendered response, especially coming from a man. They accept that women will have spats as “normal” behavior. And they do nothing about it. You are acting out a stereotype. It also allows female on female bullying. If a woman is having a problem with another woman then there is a problem. And isn’t it funny that the target is one of your most competent employees? And by your own acknowledgment, Margaery is a high performing professional.

    So why did you ignore her? Why did it take the complaints of others to make her complaint real?

    You acted in a gendered manner. That’s why Margaery went to HR. You’ve lost her trust and you deserve that.

    The only way you’ll get it back is to stop Jane in her tracks NOW. Put her on a PIP now. Tell her she will be fired if she doesn’t stop. And tell her that she needs to adult up and stop making others responsible for her feelings.

    1. blueberrypie

      I really like this. I didn’t think of it myself but reading it it really resonates with me.

      1. Engineer Girl

        Yup. Treating a high performing professional like a 12 year old girl is pure misogyny.

    2. R

      I wonder if the HR complaint included it’s been brought to her manager’s attention and nothing was done/changed. At this point Jane’s continued misbehaving is a direct reflection on the OP.

      1. Lilly

        Well, OP’s snap judgement of “lady drama” is also him behaving badly. Furthermore, even if it were two drama llamas mutually at fault for engaging in interpersonal conflict, the manager should still step in because it is inappropriate and unprofessional.

    3. CheeryO

      Totally agree. I give OP props for writing in, but the instinct to dismiss this kind of issue is problematic.

    4. IsbenTakesTea

      Absolutely. I was wondering why this line made me uncomfortable, and you nailed it, Engineer Girl.

    5. Dust Bunny

      Dear god, this. I had a job a billion years ago where most of the employees were young women, and HR such as it was left me to mediate spats, but wouldn’t back me up (I was a “supervisor”, though with no real authority) because girls will be girls, I guess. It was infuriating.

    6. AKchic

      All. Of. This.

      From his initial inclination to ignore it, to his hesitation to get involved, to his questioning on whether its even his “place” to handle this whole issue smacks of genderism.

      If you can’t manage women, you can’t manage. Period. End of.
      You’ve already signaled to Margaery that you are an ineffective manager and she had to go above/around you to get a problem even put on your radar. A problem that multiple people are having and have brought to your attention. If I were HR, or upper management, I’d be side-eying this whole situation. If I were Margaery or any of the other staff, I’d be watching what happens and updating my resume (if I hadn’t already updated it and started passively job hunting).

    7. Parenthetically

      This is a gendered response, especially coming from a man. They accept that women will have spats as “normal” behavior. And they do nothing about it. You are acting out a stereotype.

      QFFT. Fck yes to all of this.

    8. RB

      Thank you, Engineer Girl, I was trying to figure out why that part bothered me so much and you’ve nailed it.

    9. Blinded by the Gaslight

      YES!!! THIS!!! Dear god, I have been bullied by so many asshole women (thanks, libraries), and then had that compounded by managers (both male and female) who didn’t do a damn thing about it, chalking it up to “you just need to learn how to get along/make it work with Bully” or “I can’t do anything about a she-said, she-said.” ARGH, NO. If you have a high-performing employee who is complaining about being attacked at work, trust them, and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. And for the love of god, don’t “all sides” this, or force everyone to talk about “workplace civility” when it’s really just one person doing all the attacking, and the victim is standing up for themselves. Bullies cry “bullying!” when Targets are really just setting boundaries. You have to look at the whole situation. And if you find yourself more concerned with avoiding “setting off” the bully or “causing more drama” simply by addressing the situation, then you are part of the problem. DITCH THE BULLIES! Otherwise, you’re telling the Target and all of your other employees that that their safety and success at work is less important than your and the Bully’s comfort. That’ll inflame the Bully’s behavior, and you’ll lose good employees.

      1. VictorianCowgirl

        Yes! Bullies will cry bullying!!! When a no-perfume policy was instigated at a previous workplace in response to a female coworker who was spraying it in my face to give me migraines, she threatened a gendered harassment lawsuit on the basis that only women wear perfume.

        I should have nuked that job from orbit.

        1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before

          Only women wear perfume? My friend who runs her own perfume business would laugh hard at that one.

  32. Dezzi

    Jane’s behavior is a lawsuit waiting to happen–and right now, OP, so is yours. You’ve received complaints that she is harassing your other employees, you’ve observed her harassing your other employees, and you’ve done nothing to stop her. I guarantee at this point that you don’t know the full extent of what she’s doing, because your other female employees have pegged you as someone who won’t listen to them/doesn’t care, so reporting to you isn’t worth their time/the potential damage to their own careers. Once you’ve dealt with Jane’s behavior, most likely by firing her, you’re going to need to do a lot of damage control with your other employees. Over the last six months you’ve shown them that you aren’t willing to protect them, don’t value their safety at work, and don’t take their complaints seriously. It’s going to take some serious effort to restore their faith in your capabilities as a manager, and rightfully so. Are you prepared to do that work?

    1. cmcinnyc

      This is an issue where I work. Men think there is no harassment. The fact is, they haven’t been trusted with the information. Because when they get the info, they’ve dismissed it. What OP needs to know is that if a woman is talking to a man about gendered harassment she’s getting in the office, it’s probably at the point that she’s very serious about doing something about it. And you treated like a “first time” complaint that wasn’t that big a deal. It’s very hard to talk about this stuff with guys at the office *at all.* You are not our first choice. So if you’re hearing about it, it’s bad. For the future, know that if someone raises this with you it’s already on blast.

    2. Michaela Westen

      Yes. In my office we’re expected to work independently and keep the place running without a lot of hand-holding.
      My boss hired an admin who treated me like an enemy. She said she’d give/tell my boss things and didn’t. She acted like I was committing a crime if I needed to see him and wouldn’t give me any info about his availability. She seemed to be trying to make me look bad to my boss, but I was never sure if it was deliberate or flakiness.
      I handled it by going directly to my boss for most things and telling him if he had instructed her to work with me and she was not. I ended up confronting her twice about her attitude, and I’m pretty sure one of my colleagues did too. After more than 3 years, she got better but was still unfriendly. I never found out why she treated me this way. I asked, but she wouldn’t tell me.
      So you see all my colleague and I did to manage her without ever going to the boss and saying, “she’s causing trouble and interfering with my work, do something”. It never reached that point.
      When a good employee comes to you with this, she has already tried everything she can do and it’s still a problem. She needs your help.

  33. Ralph Wiggum

    OP, please notify your manager about the situation, as well. Firing your employee is a likely outcome at this point, and I’m sure your manager will want to avoid being caught of guard by a surprise firing.

    Also, I recommend reaching out to your HR team for advice. Since there’s harassment at play, they’re best aware of what actions you need to take to protect the company.

  34. CM

    The way Jane’s treating Margaery isn’t okay and needs to stop, but that doesn’t mean that none of Jane’s feelings or needs matter. She’s obviously very unhappy.

    From my POV, the OP has a responsibility to Margaery to make Jane’s harassment stop, but also a second responsibility to Jane to figure out whether it’s posssible to broker a better relationship between her and the company. Like, try to find out why she’s unhappy in her present position and whether there are realistic ways to change it. (People don’t repeatedly ask about paths to promotion when they’re thrilled with their current job, and they don’t repeatedly ask to talk about their feelings when they feel respected). It may turn out that there’s no way to give her what she wants, or that everything she wants violates someone else’s rights, but don’t assume that without investigating more. You have an employee who doesn’t fit in and is lashing out at people — there are sometimes things you can do to help that other than just telling them to stop lashing out.

    1. Lance

      Personally, I think I might save that sort of talk until after some improvement has been made; thus showing Jane can make improvements on this (horrible) issue without having a carrot dangled in front of her. That might just be my own preferences knowing that people can and may relapse once they have their carrot, though.

      1. une autre Cassandra

        Yeah, maybe pursue this if Jane does a 180 and you end up wanting to keep her, but I’d be careful to avoid framing that implies there’s a transaction afoot. I could see a Jane type coming away from that conversation believing she’s conceding something (her “right” to bully Margaery/be the profanity police/center her feelings in all interactions) in exchange for promotions and consideration. Instead, Jane must understand that immediately ceasing her harassment and bullying is the baseline for decent workplace behavior—not some magnanimous concession on her part that will earn her the status she wants.

    2. Jules the 3rd

      meh – I don’t agree. I don’t think it’s OP’s responsibility to dig into Jane’s feelings. That’s for a therapist / family / external support system. If Jane wants a different role, it’s fine to discuss ‘what it takes to get a promotion’ or ‘I feel overwhelmed can X come off my plate’ but if you do that as part of the ‘stop harassing people’ conversation, there’s just too big a chance of muddling the message.

    3. anonymous 5

      I’m not sure I agree about the company having a responsibility to find out why Jane is unhappy in her current position. It doesn’t sound as though Jane has established any kind of reputation at this company that would suggest that her current behavior is anomalous, or that a change of xyz is all that she needs to be a stellar employee. And frankly, even if she did have a good reputation built up, that doesn’t put the onus on her employer to figure out why she’s acting a certain way. This isn’t a parent who needs to figure out the best way to reach a kid who doesn’t know any better than to act out. Jane cannot be allowed to continue behaving in the way she’s behaving, regardless of the reason. Once she establishes that she’s remediated her behavior, *then* she can take up with the employer about things that would make her happier.

    4. Observer

      Nope. Full stop.

      There is nothing here that the OP can reasonably “broker” here. She may not be happy, but the fact that she dissolves into tears at the drop of a hat is not an indication that she’s not being properly treated, but that she has an issue of her own. And what’s there to “broker”? People have to start policing their language around her? Dress to please her? That’s just totally not reasonable.

      Sure, the OP should be open to dealing with anything that is a genuine issue – and don’t dismiss bad behavior as “interpersonal clashes”. So if someone is being rude to her, not providing necessary information or resources, etc. deal with that. But that is a totally separate discussion. It’s not “if you behave we’ll fix these problems” or “we’ll fix these problems and in return you need to stop misbehaving.”

    5. Me

      Jane is unhappy because Jane is roundly disliked because of behavior Jane is choosing to take.

      Jane isn’t a victim here.

    6. Michaela Westen

      IME with people like Jane it’s not about the job, it’s their life and issues that make them this way. From what we know here I think she was raised in a very controlling environment, possibly abusive, and that would account for her being so sensitive and following the example of being controlling. She was raised in a culture or religion that demands women dress modestly – this usually indicates a high level of chauvinism.
      IMHO what would help her most is a good therapist and to get out of the controlling chauvinist environment if she’s still in it.

      1. Engineer Girl

        This is completely fabricated and there is no mention of it in the original letter. Let’s leave religion out of it.

        1. Michaela Westen

          Always in my experience people with attitudes like Jane’s toward the way women dress is based in religion. I’m not saying we should discuss, but it would be inaccurate to ignore this possibility.

          1. Engineer Girl

            If your experience allows for this kind of bigotry then perhaps it’s time to see a little more of the world. I’ve seen the “slut” and “whore” labels used far more in secular circles.

      2. Not So NewReader

        In general, unless an employer offers a service of helping individuals acclimate to a workplace, this is too much to ask of a supervisor or boss.
        In most jobs it is assumed that people will acclimate themselves to roll with what is going on. If they cannot find a way to do that then they move on.

        This is not an exception. OP has described the culture of the workplace and it is up to Jane to adapt or leave.

        Jane’s reason that “it hurts her feelings” does not hold water because she is actually hurting other people herself. Additionally, Jane’s behavior could cause the company legal hassles. It would be good for someone to explain to Jane that what she is doing could cause HER to have legal issues.

    7. Lilly

      Nope, Jane gets no consideration here. Can you imagine this prudish pos as a boss! Employees would quit en made!

  35. Jessie the First (or second)

    “At the beginning, I considered it to just be a minor interpersonal dispute”

    I would love to hear more about this. What was “interpersonal” about it? “Interpersonal” makes it sound as if it’s two people who who have mutual issues they are both responsible for and that they need to work out themselves. But what you describe is one employee lashing out with personal insults against another, who is acting professionally. Why would that ever be an “interpersonal” problem to ignore, instead of an employee problem for you to manage? I guess my worry is that you chalked up the insults to “women gonna be catty, what can I do?” and spread the blame inappropriately (to the target of the insults) even though you had no reason to think the target of the insults was actually doing anything wrong. As you work through this whole thing, please take a little while to really think about that – has any part of your reaction, your unwillingness to stop such problematic behavior, been influenced by unconscious biases towards women? By an instinct to dismiss a problem a woman might have as feelings-based/not important/catty/etc?

    1. Guy Incognito

      This is an unnecessarily harsh take, and you’re being unkind based on the gender of the letter writer.

      Perhaps the manager simply thought it was interpersonal, and the two would handle it like adults? He even says “at the beginning” which means before it escalated.

      Redirect your anger. This could also be solved by Jane not being cruel to her coworker, not the manager who is trying to find a way to make sure he doesn’t have to fire anyone.

      1. MissBliss

        I disagree. This is not unnecessarily harsh– it’s not even harsh. Jessie the First’s comment does not read to me as angry. Jessie talks about their own concerns without saying that’s definitely what’s going on (“I guess my worry is…”) and respectfully asks the LW to consider whether they have unconscious bias against women that is impacting their decision making process. That’s not unkind.

        1. MissBliss

          Additionally, not to derail, but accusing women of being angry when they’re just… not, is itself sexist. I don’t know if Jessie the First is a woman, or if you assumed JtF was, but that’s definitely how I read your comment.

      2. fposte

        I’ll split the difference, in that yes, I favor people resolving interpersonal issues themselves when possible, but if an employee is making inappropriate comments about other employees’ dress or deportment, that is absolutely my responsibility as a manager to shut down.

      3. JB (not in Houston)

        You could be right in your interpretation of his letter, but so could Jessie the First. The OP says, “At the beginning, I considered it to just be a minor interpersonal dispute until many employees came forward with complaints about Jane.” From that language, it’s a reasonable possible interpretation of his words that he thought that Jane’s telling Margaery her clothes were slutty was just an interpersonal issue until he learned that Margaery was not Jane’s only target, like as long as conflict is only involving (1) words and (2) two people, it’s just an “interpersonal” issue he doesn’t need to step in and address. If that’s the case (and we can’t know for sure from the letter), then Jessie is right that “one employee lashing out with personal insults against another, who is acting professionally” should never be considered merely an “interpersonal” problem to ignore, and the OP messed up in thinking so.

        1. Observer

          That’s true. But why would you consider such an inappropriate thing just an interpersonal issue that Margaery needs to deal with? That should have been addressed the first time it happened.

          If you someone had used a racial slur, would you consider it “just” an “interpersonal issue” that the victim needs to resolve with the person who used it? What if the person had used a gendered slur that was more broadly understood as an unacceptable slur (eg c***)? What if someone made a threat?

          There are some things that need to be addressed right away, BEFORE you get a pattern of complaints. Both calling someone a slut, and the policing should have been shut down RIGHT AWAY. It’s a perfectly fair question to ask why it wasn’t.

          1. JB (not in Houston)

            I’m not sure if that was supposed to be a reply to me? I was saying that Jessie the First’s comment wasn’t unreasonable. In other words, I agree with you.

            1. Observer

              What I was trying to get at – and I agree that it this should have been one level up – is that even if it’s true that the OP thought that the original comments were “just an interpersonal issue”, that’s the kind of comment that should NOT be considered that way. And that “expecting [Margaery] to act like an adult” in this context makes no sense.

          2. Someone Else

            My interpretation of what the OP was saying (and I may be wrong in that) is that he initially thought Jane and Margaery had a personality clash, literally over style, possibly not knowing the actual wording used by Jane toward Margaery. But then more people came forward not only with complaints of how Jane behaved toward them but possibly also more details about the types of stuff Jane was saying. If so then while he did a lot wrong since…the initial reaction that it was interpersonal, depending on how vague his info was, might not have been preposterous.

        2. Parenthetically

          he thought that Jane’s telling Margaery her clothes were slutty was just an interpersonal issue

          Yep, that right there is NOT an “interpersonal dispute” at all. It’s Jane attempting to substitute her personal standards of modesty for the company’s dress code, and doing so via wildly unprofessional, inappropriate, sexist attacks. It genuinely blows my mind that ANY manager could seriously reflect on the events of a day in which it came to his attention that one coworker called another a slut (a SLUT!!) for how she dressed, and decide it was really fine that he didn’t do much because it was “a minor interpersonal dispute.”

      4. Jessie the First (or second)

        I’m not angry, Guy. I’m simply asking questions about OP’s initial response to dismiss as interpersonal this employee problem – it would not be unusual for a manager to decide a problem is “interpersonal” when it reality the problem is a specific employee that needs to be managed better. I asked OP to take a bit to think it through, because there could be unconscious biases in play for OP. I didn’t accuse him of anything, and I don’t know what information he had at the beginning of this and what info he might not have had. I don’t see at all where you are getting anger in my response. (Is my stating that an unconscious bias might be underlying this issue part of your reaction here? Not accusing the OP of that – asking him simply to examine, so that if that’s an issue, he can address it and not repeat the problem.)

      5. Jessie the First (or second)

        “you’re being unkind based on the gender of the letter writer”

        Also, gender of the letter writer isn’t part of my response, either. Anyone and everyone can have gender-based biases – for example, Jane (a woman) has a very much front-and-center bias about gender and how women should behave. Noting that the OP should step back and consider whether any gender-based bias informed his own view on how he managed the situation is not only not harsh (that’s a pretty fundamental aspect to managing) it’s also advice that applies to managers regardless of gender (or race, or nationality, or religion, or …. or… or…)

      6. Name Required

        I don’t see Jessie the First as being unkind, unnecessarily harsh, or angry. How in the earth are you getting that from this genuine series of questions, that the OP should seriously consider?

        Seems like you’re taking the comment a little personally …

    2. Batgirl

      I read it differently in that ‘What he described’ is his conclusion AFTER getting more intel. I assumed that initially he had sparser details that sounded more like “interpersonal issues”. Like Jane claiming she’s being snubbed because she’s an odd duck or has profanity directed at her etc.

      Besides, even if the description of when he found out what is chronological he’s totally held up his hands to getting it wrong.

    3. Not So NewReader

      Eh, I think we can step back here for a moment.
      OP did indeed write Alison for advice. So OP is well aware that he needs to bring in some help for himself.
      When I first started supervising, I did not know where to draw my lines. NO one tells you this stuff and you learn on the fly. My wise friend taught me about the rule of three. You see something three times you have a pattern and you need to deal with it.
      This was so very helpful to me. Back in my newbie days things were not they are now. We lacked the vocabulary to describe what was wrong and what needed to stop. My idea was to take each behavior and make a general statement about it. “Leave Mary alone about her clothes. We don’t talk about other people’s clothing here unless it is on fire.” (We worked around hot machinery.) OR “Stop mimicking Tom. We don’t make fun of people here and that will not be tolerated.”
      My pattern was address the specific situation then state the guideline to use going forward.

      I assume that OP will remain as a supervisor or boss. I can say first hand that you only need to go through this type of thing once and it is a lesson well learned. I never let stuff like this go again.

      I can add, OP, that the sooner you address then the less of this you have to deal with. Addressing it early does work. People know what is expected of them.

    4. WakeRed

      I agree with you, because if for the most part the OP trusts his workers and has decent rapport with them (which it seems like he does!), it’s weird to not trust them to raise something that’s important and thus investigating a bit more.

  36. Elsewhere1010

    Dear Jane,

    We don’t care how you feel. We care what you do.

    Signed,
    The Adults in the Room

    1. Bears Beets Battlestar

      +1
      Feelings shouldn’t matter at work. Yes, be pleasant and professional, but unless someone is harassing you, leave your feelings at the door.

  37. Kendra

    This is a great response, Alison!

    But after hearing about Jane, it seems pretty clear to me that once manager discusses with her, she is again going to freak out and start crying. Maybe she’ll even report him to HR for bullying her! Oh the suspense.

    1. ArtK

      This is why the suggestion has been made to have HR in on the conversation. That way there’s no “he said, she said” ambiguity.

        1. fposte

          HR is in on this, though, because Margaery has gone to them. And manager really doesn’t need to loop in HR every time they have a hard talk with a sensitive employee.

      1. MuseumChick

        Someone upthread made the great suggestion to have either another manager or someone from HR sit in on the conversation that the OP needs to have with Jane. That will help protect him.

  38. Dust Bunny

    I think the fact that So Many Feelings are involved makes a lot of people hesitant to address bad behavior. The criticisms of coworkers’ clothing and language are clear-cut, but when you get into “they hurt my feelings by not including me in a conversation”, you’re dealing with something that obviously needs to be shut down but is nebulous at the same time, I guess because you can’t tell somebody how to feel and telling somebody how to experience and express feelings seems weird, even when it’s necessary.

    But Jane is way the heck out of line here. What did HR do with Margaery’s complaints?

    1. Observer

      I guess because you can’t tell somebody how to feel and telling somebody how to experience and express feelings seems weird, even when it’s necessary

      The key thing here, though, is that you really do NOT have to tell them how to experience their feelings. You only have to tell them what BEHAVIOR is acceptable and what is not. You don’t need to address their feelings at all.

        1. Not So NewReader

          You kind of have to train your brain to address what you actually see.
          “I understand that when Bob did not say good morning to you, it hurt your feelings. What I am addressing is your actions, you can’t hit Bob over the head if he fails to say good morning. Feel whatever way you want about his lack of good morning greeting, but do not hit him.”

          Stupid example, I know. But kind of gives an idea. Just because we kind of understand why a person did something does not mean it is okay to do it.

  39. Wing Leader

    First off, thank you for that first sentence Alison. I recognized Margaery but wondered where the heck Jane came from, haha.

    As for the rest of the letter…eesh. It’s really, really not okay that Jane is implying that her female colleagues are “slutty” just because they dress differently than her. All of her behavior is uncalled for, but that one really struck me as especially bad.

    In the era of MeToo and with women constantly fighting to be treated as equals by their male colleagues, let’s please stop judging women for what they wear (I mean, unless she’s coming to work in a G-string and pasties but if not, then this is a no-no).

  40. Jules the 3rd

    Hey OP, I hope you read all the comments, there’s a lot of good advice. I dunno if it’s good, but here’s one more bit for you: It can be hard to deal with behavior that is so far out of the norm, and frnakly, early-30s is still pretty young in your career. Don’t beat yourself up too bad, but use this to dig hard into your thought processes and future actions.

    Harassment is a form of abuse. Many people don’t know how to deal with abuse, because it’s not a familiar mindset. As a manager, you’re going to see this again, and have to deal with it again, so it’s important to identify what you saw here that was different from normal ‘interpersonal disputes.’

    For example, Jane’s focus on personal attributes / behaviors that don’t affect work is a huge red flag.

    It’s one thing to have someone say, ‘Joe is regularly late on his reports which puts me behind.’ It is fine for employees to talk about that to each other or with you. It’s also ok to encourage employees to work it out between themselves when it’s work-environment that impinges on their space, like loud music / speakerphones in shared offices. You might even have a case for supporting Jane if the swearing were, say, loud yells in a shared office, though I’d address the volume not the content.

    But non-work related, not impinging on Jane – the right answer is always, ‘Margaery / other target is a valued employee operating well within company culture, your statements are inappropriate, please stop making them and focus on your work.’

    Good luck, Jon.

    1. fposte

      Yes, I agree. And I found it really helpful when, with the aid of AAM, I realized that getting along with other people was part of the job. It means that when I manage somebody’s behavior, I’m still managing their work–it’s not a separate thing that I have to earn the right to talk about.

    2. Bostonian

      I think this is a really helpful comment because it’s clear OP missed the signals that this was more than an interpersonal dispute. I’m not going to add much more, because Jules gave some great examples of what kinds of problems employees should work out between themselves.

    3. Elizabeth West

      Absolutely. And I want to point out to the OP that realizing that he handled it poorly and reaching out for advice is the hardest part. Now that you’ve dealt with this, you’ll be able to recognize it when you see it again and you’ll know how to step in much earlier.

  41. Megan

    Oh HELL no. She should be fired today, without warning, for treating a coworker like that. That’s absolutely unacceptably insane and horrific.

  42. Clementine

    I can’t see this as a salvageable situation. All of the coworkers who have been victimized by Jane are not ever going to feel comfortable with her, so they all have good motivation to leave and probably will when they can. If my some miracle, Jane miraculously straightened up today, there’d still be lots of distrust from before. Does Jane have to remain as an employee?

  43. Bloodsucker

    As I read this one question comes to mind: how old is Jane? I ask this because I have seen the “my feelings are hurt” come up a lot with people in their 20s/early 30s and its maddening. Other than telling her to “toughen up Buttercup,” I have no advice to offer and I hope you can find a way to work it out.

    1. AnotherJill

      It’s a manipulation tactic. Run roughshod over others then when called on it, tear up and protest that your feelings are hurt.

      1. irene adler

        Kinda wonder how Jane would have reacted if Margaery had burst into tears, saying “you hurt my feelings!” as Jane was giving her an earful regarding her clothes and what not.

      2. Sunny

        Manipulation hidden behind “delicate constitution” and “modest appearance.”

    2. Dust Bunny

      I’ve seen it across the age board. One of the worst ever was a woman who recently retired from my current place of employment. It can get really entrenched and since it’s such a pain to deal with, it seems like a lot of people never give it up.

        1. LCL

          Yes. It’s not age exclusive. I have had an experience similar to Dust Bunny’s mentioned above. It is something people learn from their family. And men also do it, though the presentation is a bit different.

            1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before

              My husband worked with a guy that would cry when he got reprimanded or written up.

              Of course, he was one of the worst employees, and pretty awful as a human being too. Absolutely no one missed him after he finally got canned.

            2. Gazebo Slayer

              Sometimes men use both rage and tears at once. I can think of some potentially politically controversial public examples!

    3. Parenthetically

      Nah, come on, let’s not play the “snowflake millennials” card. I’ve met people in every age group who are vicious with others but turn fragile as soon as anyone makes the slightest criticism.

      1. Environmental Compliance

        +1000.

        Age has nothing to do with this. TBH, I’ve met many more women my mother’s age that pull this than my age.

    4. Kettles

      It’s not an age thing, it’s an abuse tactic.

      Person who is horrible gets called out and responds by sobbing and saying how terrible they are in order to manipulate you into apologising to them, even though they are in the wrong. It’s classic.

  44. Spock's Raised Eyebrow

    Everything Alison said…and if Jane is still using the word ‘slut’ to describe Margaerey, that needs to be shut down immediately and with no room to misinterpret.

  45. Sick of Workplace Bullshit

    I haven’t read the comments so I don’t know if this has already been addressed, but OP, you said you’re a man and Jane’s issues are with women. Be very careful you don’t dismiss more things with any of your staff as “interpersonal issues” just because they are happening between two women. This is an interpersonal issue of Jane’s, but that doesn’t make it not worthy of your time or attention because two women are involved.

    1. RB

      Yeah, that is something I’m worried that he still doesn’t get. Engineer Girl also did a good job of articulating this, above. This is such an old, infuriating story. How many more of these do we have to hear?

  46. Falling Diphthong

    I think this starting at the six month mark is interesting, because that would normally be the rough guideline for when you might have some political capital built up at work to try and change stuff that bugs you in the first couple of months. Except that Jane is wildly off-base in her estimate of both her capital and whether these issues are where it make sense to burn all that capital.

  47. JSPA

    In general, I am in favor of asking an out of touch Jane, “on what basis do you believe you has the insight or authority to police tone at the office.” Here, howerver, it might be dangerous, if she brings up religion, and puts you at risk of seeming discriminatory, on that basis, in firing her. So after you go through the instructions, I’d finish with a grand clarifying statement:

    “Perhaps there is some manual, set of articles, fiction book, movie, or even some other workplace you’ve experienced, that has led you to believe that there’s only one standard for workplace norms. And that a lot of people here are failing to meet professional norms. And that part of your job is to help people realize what they’re doing wrong. And that discussing feelings is a standard part of a work week.

    This may be uncomfortable to hear, but none of those things are true.

    Part of my job today is to let you know: your coworkers present as excellent employees. Our workplace would not dream of criticizing their mode of dress and style–nor yours. It is highly inappropriate, and even illegal, to make the comments that you have been making about other people’s clothing and style choices. You don’t have to mean it as harrasment, for it to meet the legal definition. Doing so is also disruptive, and being disruptive is unprofessional. You have asked what you can do to move up. If you want to move up here or anywhere else–in fact, if you want to remain in a job, instead of being fired–the absolute minimum requirement is to respect and not harass your coworkers. The next minimum requirement is to do your job well, and not make it harder for your coworkers to do their jobs. This includes, no assuming authority that you don’t have, to call them away from their work to discuss hurt feelings. Another minimum requirement is to understand that your personal preferences are yours; they are not workplace norms. Another minimum requirement is to understand the basics of how a workplace functions. It is very rarely a coworker’s job, or a subordinate’s job, or the new person’s job, to give unsolicited feedback to people. Because I am your manager, it is my job to tell you that your behavior has incrementally veered far off-track. I need to see a major redirection of your energies back onto the correct track.”

    1. fposte

      I think the sentiment is legitimate, but I see two problems here. One is that I wouldn’t start with a question, because it intimates that the subject is up for discussion when it’s not, and I don’t care about the answer, I just want the behavior to stop. The other is that the information needs to be compact enough for her to absorb in a sitting when she’s emotionally heightened, so a lengthy speech is going to fly right over her head. You can use this text in the followup email, but the face to face should be punchy bullet points.

      1. Not So NewReader

        Yeah, never open with a question like that unless you have 4-5 hours of nothing else to do but listen to her.
        These folks have a knack of going on and on. Next thing you know you are talking about something a boss from five years ago said and something grandpa said when employee was age six. The conversation will totally drain you.
        I had a person who wanted to work in my area. I said he had to get his productivity up. I thought that was pretty clear. Noooo… it was 45 minutes in the office explaining that he had to get his productivity up and listening to “but why?” and “but I am” and so on . I said I was done discussing it and I walked out.

  48. The Man, Becky Lynch

    The other employees are gems for just going to HR and filing their own complaints. I love them, I adore them, I want to give them snacks and hangout with them. If someone tells me to watch my language or ever would tell me that my feet are inappropriate, when we are fine with open toed shoes in the dress code, my response would be perfectly clear as to where they shove their opinions. You get to tell me what to do if you sign my paycheck or you are put in that place by a person who signs my paychecks. You can ask me nicely or give me a “this makes me uncomfortable, would you please refrain from that kind of profanity?” and I will be happy to adjust to a point but I will make you cry if you want to overstep boundaries and intrude upon my person, I won’t curse at you but I will tell you exactly how little I value your opinion and to never speak to me unless it’s about work or else it gets escalated and I will gun for your job.

    Funny though…people don’t tend to test me so I’ve never had to go there. Try me, Jane. Come for me, I am ready.

    1. Not So NewReader

      You and me both.

      But I think that experiencing a Jane or two helps a person to get to this point.

  49. LQ

    I think after you make it through this and Jane’s behavior is completely shifted into the realm of professional and out of gendered harassment, OP, you need to stop and look at yourself and your team and think about if you are short changing your work by assuming people will work it out. Are you avoiding other conflicts that you should really be managing head on? Is Sally late frequently but you told Jack he should just build more cushion into his estimates rather than talking to Sally? Does Jack routinely stroll into meetings late and disruptive, but that’s just Jack? Any time someone says “that’s just how someone is” you need to really stop and think about is it professional behavior? Does it need to change?

    Not everything needs a PIP (this one does) sometimes you just need to be clear with people, “This behavior isn’t working because of this outcome. I need you to achieve that outcome.” And work with them on what to change. Really sit down and think about it because it’s likely this is part of a pattern and that this is a good step in growing as a manager, but it’s going to be work. Good luck.

    Deal with Jane…today.

  50. Argh!

    Document every conversation about this that you have with her! That means following up with emails to her to be sure your points get through.

    And the points would be:
    She doesn’t get to police office culture.

    She wouldn’t appreciate being called a stuck-up prude, so she shouldn’t name-call others.

    Moving up would mean demonstrating a reality-based understanding of human nature.
    If work is getting done and she’s the only one offended, then it’s her problem to solve, not yours.

    And thank you, Alison, for changing the name to Jane. I have avoided Game of Thrones so completely I’ve never even heard that name before!

    But I’m not averse to cultural quotation, so perhaps Jane needs to hear “Get thee to a nunnery!”

    1. AKchic

      Problems:
      We can’t tell Jane not to shame someone for a moral/sexuality-based issue and then do the very same thing (on the opposite end of the spectrum).

      When we tell Jane that “it’s her problem to solve” we need to be specific in the language that it’s “her problem to solve within herself” or “her personal issue to work out”, otherwise the language leaves it open to interpretation that she just needs to fix her wording/approach and continue to go at Margaery and other coworkers to continue trying to get the results she wants without offending them.

      1. Auntie Social

        I agree that when someone is as officious as Jane you shouldn’t leave anything open to interpretation. “You have no standing to correct anyone’s wardrobe. DO NOT mention anyone’s choice of attire to them.” “Your personal beliefs do not dictate others’ behavior. You are not the morality police. Judgmental comments will no longer be tolerated. Not one. If you find that you cannot work with people who sometimes wear shorter skirts, tell me now.” Then you say you’re writing this up as a PIP, if you want, because this is so serious that you want a record of it, and to see some vastly improved conduct shortly.
        I think she’ll quit.

      2. RB

        Your first paragraph’s a little confusing. Are you suggesting that the manager should not make Jane feel bad for her behavior, when that’s exactly what may be necessary to stop her mistreatment of others? Are you making an equivalency between Jane’s mistreatment of Margery, and a manager coaching his staff on proper workplace behavior?

        1. AKchic

          Sorry, no. I’m just trying to say that we can’t tell Jane not to slut-shame while prude-shaming her. As in Argh!’s comment of: “She wouldn’t appreciate being called a stuck-up prude, so she shouldn’t name-call others.”
          My point was: don’t use that example, and avoid using any kind of moral-judgement language because it looks like a tit for tat and really, it’s not going to get anyone anywhere. Jane will already be feeling attacked, defensive, and very much in her feelings (that she’s being told don’t matter in the workplace). She will feel more attacked, and feel like it’s a judgement on her (i.e., “why don’t you loosen up a bit, because we all think you’re a repressed prude who needs to get some action”) regardless of if it was meant that way or not.

  51. Not One of the Bronte Sisters

    I don’t know how Jane got hired here, or imagined she wanted to work here. It’s like Church Lady goes to work at Lizard Licks Towing. But however poorly she fits into this company’s culture, it is not okay at any place of employment to police other employees’ dress, language or anything else unless you are their manager.

    And oh, for a manager who refrains from automatically labeling a possibly genuine workplace issue as an “interpersonal dispute!” If there’s harassment, it’s a workplace issue. If there’s bullying, it’s a workplace issue. If it’s even Jane dumps work on Margaery, or Jane inappropriately acts as though she’s Margery’s supervisor, it’s a workplace issue. Why did Margaery’s complaint get ignored until other employees complained too?

    And no, I don’t see this situation as salvageable. Let Jane go clutch her pearls somewhere else.

    1. Evergreen

      I think there’s a lot of room for error if the OP were to prioritise office culture to this extent; hiring for ‘fit’ all to often means ‘people like us’. And if an office is predominantly barbecue lovers, or runners, or white, or male, or straight, that can mean ‘fit’ or ‘culture’ excludes vegans, people with a physical impairment, people from non-white backgrounds, women, the LGBTIQ community etc.

      The situation may still be salvaged if Jane stops policing the office – it’s not necessarily a write-off!

  52. StaceyIzMe

    This is SO bizarre! She needs hand holding on a regular basis over her feelings? Others must dress like her, speak like her, act like her AND admire her uncritically in order for her to be “okay” in the office? That’s a Too Tall Order for most people. It’s too bad, but this one sounds like it could have been nipped in the bud early on. It might still be salvageable. When people have personal baggage, (which seems to be the case based on behaviors quoted here), they sometimes have to work harder to self-regulate or self-govern appropriately. I think you can tell her exactly what you expect not to see, exactly what you have seen- and then spell out the consequences for not meeting the bar. You can also offer some resources, if you have them. But it’s really up to her to get her act together and it sounds like she is sucking all of the air out of the social-work-colleague space with her antics, drama and oversensitive ego. I feel rather badly for her coworkers.

  53. mark132

    If I were Jane’s coworker, I would be extremely tempted to “bait” her. Basically engage in perfectly acceptable behavior that sets her off. Anything to get rid of her.

    (I know, passive aggressive behavior is a bad idea).

    1. AKchic

      Oh, I certainly would too. But I am not known for my perfectly kind, professional, behavior.

  54. RB

    Oh, man, you really need to shut this down ASAP. This has really put me on edge and brought back memories of my own struggles. These sorts of people are truly toxic to the workplace, probably more so than what you realize, as a man.

  55. JoJo

    Did Jane really call her coworker “slutty” — or is that the OP’s projection on Jane? Because it seems entirely out of character with everything else the OP described about Jane.

    I’m frequently disappointed with how rabidly anti-conservative this forum is. Seriously. The bias is strong here. I cannot imagine that comment would just pass if the writer clearly weren’t obviously … liberal.

    1. KP

      Either Jane said it or yes, it’s a way to smear Jane as a prude and a bigot while pretending to be more progressive.

      1. Lilly

        Jane is a bigot and a pride regardless of whether she said or just intimated “slut.” It’s inappropriate to police coworkers on anything that is outside of company purview. She actually has the right to be prudish bigot—in her mind. She doesn’t have the right to expect/shame colleagues into believing her beliefs. It’s the mission work, not the content of said mission work, that makes her a huge asshole.

    2. SpaceySteph

      Its unlikely she said the word “slutty.” But I don’t doubt she uses coded language that means slutty, like “leave something to the imagination” or “inappropriate” or “have respect for yourself” or that thing about buying cows.

      It is not an anti-conservative bias to say that one employee policing another employee’s style of dress and language is unacceptable.

    3. StaceyIzMe

      I’m not sure that’s a “liberal” or “conservative” thing. It’s more of an “unkind, socially incompetent person” thing. Most of the advice seems to boil down to “don’t be inappropriate”, which involves crossing boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. I guess that both liberal and conservative (and everything else on the spectrum) can clutch their pearls about certain issues. But in the workplace or in society generally, I don’t want to contend with someone else attempting to limit reasonably common, accepted behaviors because they find them uncomfortable personally. Barring actual harm, these behaviors aren’t within the purview of a random self-appointed moral authority. That’s true irrespective of the label the complainant wears or the topic of disagreement.

    4. Tea Fish

      If you can’t adhere to the rules of the discussion and take the letter writer’s at their word when they describe their situations, maybe this ~rabidly anti-conservative~ forum isn’t for you. Hilariously, you are the only one bringing political leanings into this– there is no indication anywhere in the letter as to whether Jane, Margaery, or the OP have a liberal or conservative bent, and associating Jane with being conservative indicates that you are buying into some truly unflattering, awful stereotypes about conservative people.

      1. TyphoidMary

        Yes, it’s interesting that this commenter made the association of “policing women’s presentation=conservative,” and that people pushing back on policing are being “anti-conservative.”

        1. dumblewald

          Yeah – I identify as liberal and have lost count of the number of self-identifying feminists who are guilty of the same type of gendered harassment towards women who present stereotypically female. To paint all the people criticizing Jane’s behavior as anti-conservatives is quite strange.

    5. Observer

      Please. This has nothing to do with “anti-conservative bias”. I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist, but this is NOT an example of that.

      The OP describes some specific behaviors, and they are just totally out of line. Let’s assume that she never used the word slut. It’s still not ok for her to lecture other staff about their language that their manager has no problem with nor to complain that other women’s clothing is “too revealing.”

      And I also don’t see why you think that the use of the word would be out of character. People who regularly complain that other women’s clothes are “too revealing” actually DO use that kind of language. A lot.

    6. Wing Leader

      Wow, your comment is really out of line. We have no idea what political party the OP is, and it doesn’t matter.

      And I don’t know if Jane actually said “slutty” or she just implied it or what…but it definitely doesn’t sound out of character for her to me, based on everything OP said.

    7. Sunny

      “Obviously… liberal? How so?

      Rabidly anti-conservative? Back up this claim with examples, please.

    8. Batgirl

      Does it really matter whether she just implied the word slut or said it straight out? I mean the latter would be ‘and slurs are completely unacceptable and will get you fired’ but then so will being the hemline police with a tape measure and proper language.
      So I don’t think it changes approach much.

    9. Lilysparrow

      I am pretty darn conservative in my personal life, but I know how to be civil and not push my personal convictions on people, especially at work.

      I could also think of probably 26 different ways of calling someone a slut (or any other name you like, were I so inclined) without ever using the word, but being perfectly clear about my intent. I don’t, because that’s a nasty way to treat people.

      Whether Jane used the word slut, or whore,or streetwalker, or some euphemism, or whatnot is irrelevant. The LW is clear that Jane is disparaging her co-workers to their faces and passing moralistic judgments on their characters. Which is not her place. Ever.

      And especially not at work.

    10. Librarian of SHIELD

      I was brought up in a conservative environment, and I can attest that there are indeed people in the “modest is hottest” bunch who call women sluts and whores when they dress “immodestly.” I have heard it with my own ears. I have heard it from people who object to swear words, even. It’s not impossible that this happened, and we’re asked to take letter writers at their word.

    11. Not A Manager

      I’m curious as to why you equate “be polite and mind your business” with “liberal,” and also why you think that’s a bad thing.

    12. cheluzal

      Guarantee she never used the word. Jane sounds exhausting, and I would never pull the stunts she is, but hardcore cursing openly every day would bother the heck out of me. Apparently, that’s never inappropriate though…I hope Jane finds a job she fits at better.

      1. Elspeth

        Also, how do you know Jane never used the word? Even if she didn’t, it’s obvious she used a derogatory word or phrase to refer to Margaery’s apparel.

    13. JSPA

      1. We are asked not to question direct reportage from OP’s. Seems strange to assume that OP is lying or mistaken or misrepresenting when it’s a quote.

      2. There’s no earthly reason to conflate ” needy, boundary- challenged, self important prig” with “conservative.” If you’re conservative yourself, why on earth would you want to claim her as one of your own?

      The answer would be identical if the new, out -of- place wild-dresser were shaming the buttoned-up coworkers in a generally tight-laced office, and telling them to show more skin.

    14. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before

      If it’s “rabidly anti conservative” to push back against people who think it’s OK to police women’s clothing/other people’s language, then the world can’t become rabidly anti conservative fast enough for me!

    15. Ralph Wiggum

      I agree that this forum has a liberal slant that occasionally manifests as anti-conservative.

      But I strongly disagree that liberalism vs conservatism is manifesting in this case.

  56. Yikes

    As has been said above, OP is already implicated in illegality, and frankly the fact that an HR complaint wasn’t enough to get him to see that suggests HR is also failing to take this seriously. I used to do Title VII litigation, and while I’m no longer a practicing attorney and this certainly is not legal advice, it does strike me not only that Margery already has enough for a successful EEOC claim, but certainly has enough to leverage into a settlement or severance package for herself.

    On the point of managing an employee who manipulates through emotional outbursts, my wife used to work at a private university where she managed an employee who would fly into rages, then file HR complaints based on his wildly creative version of what had happened in the meeting where he lost his temper. A successful tactic they used was that they began always having him meet with two supervisors, and also began (with his knowledge) filming all of his meetings. The emotional manipulation/outbursts did not occur on camera. So particularly because the specter of litigation is so real in this instance, I wonder if filming the meeting with Jane might be effective. I would certainly also present Jane with a typed document stating in no uncertain terms that her behavior towards Margery must cease immediately.

    1. Sunny

      Yes, if you want to give Jane one more chance, have her sign the document that she agrees to change her behavior NOW or out she goes.

      1. Auntie Social

        That’s the PIP—I acknowledge that I can no longer X, Y, and Z, etc.

  57. MaureenC

    OP, in a way your inaction isn’t just unfair to Margaery – it’s unfair to Jane. If you had, early on, slapped down an edict of “you are not the fashion or cussin’ police; STFU or else” then Jane might have corrected her behavior and might have even salvaged some sort of functional working relationship with her co-workers. Now, though? Anything short of “I just realized I had an enormously problematic adolescence; I’m going to take two weeks unpaid to deal with some stuff” and then returning a dramatically different person is unlikely to repair the damage.

    Also, you should probably contact a lawyer about how to apologize to Margaery.

  58. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw

    I know OP’s name for Jane was “the High Sparrow,” but frankly I’m picturing Septa Unella. “Shame! Shame! Shame!” [rings bell]

  59. dumblewald

    Am I the only one who is kind of shocked at the OP’s lack of action? Like, I know that non-confrontational managers are a thing, but given that the OP acknowledges that he isn’t acting enough, I’m just…surprised. He literally allowed a hostile employee to bully one of his star employees, plus everyone else, for a long period of time. I won’t be surprised if she or anyone else quits!

    1. dumblewald

      Also, as other commenters pointed out, that Margery went to HR and the OP still didn’t do anything it seems.

    2. Working Hypothesis

      Yes, this.

      I really try to be sympathetic to the LWs here — they’re all asking for help, and that’s what they should be doing when there’s something they don’t know, after all. They all want to do better. But I am occasionally baffled by the things which come up as questions. “I don’t really know whether I should be interfering to stop my worker from slut-shaming other workers to the point of unlawful harassment and bringing work frequently to a standstill in order to hold meetings about her own hurt feelings. As a manager, should I actually consider, y’know, MANAGING here, or just leave it until one of my best workers leaves and sues the company?” doesn’t look like a particularly difficult one to me!

      1. dumblewald

        Yeah – I always try to give letter writers credit for writing in to ask for advice, because goodness knows that the world is filled with people who don’t even have the awareness to realize there is a problem in the first place. I think if there is anything advice columns have taught me, it’s that humans have a knack for normalizing crazy behavior, no matter what it is!

      2. Not So NewReader

        If a person doesn’t know, then they don’t know.
        I will say that one of the reasons I read here is because questions get answered. Dunno if you guys have looked at the open forums, some of the questions are …. well.. not hard to answer. But if a person does not know, then how else do they find out? I have seen people ask stuff that I have wondered about and never found an answer.

        In my jobs the scariest subordinates were the ones who never asked questions. I knew it would just be a matter of time and something would go hugely wrong. I have had a person ask me everything from very simple question to very complex questions sometimes with in five minutes of each other. Questions are a spark. They seem to ignite other questions.

        I also see here that OP’s question got a lot of comments. I think most people who have read down through can honestly say they learned something today, because the comments are rich with information, opinions and ideas. So there is that, too.

        1. Working Hypothesis

          Oh, I agree that they should be answered; people who don’t know but are trying to learn are miles ahead of people who don’t know and don’t realize that there exists a problem. I didn’t mean to suggest that they ought not to write in when they don’t know… I was just *surprised* that they didn’t know.

      3. No Tribble At All

        OP clearly realizes that a problem exists, but he vastly underestimated how significant of a problem it is. He’s writing in for help because he doesn’t know how to solve the problem.

  60. His Grace

    Please be prepared to fire her (or start the process). She is crossing lines that should not even be thought about crossing.

  61. Mina, The Company Prom Queen

    Ugh. The Self-Appointed Morality Police is a cousin of the Self-Appointed Hall Monitor. Do people like that realize nobody likes them?

  62. KH

    I would not be at all surprised if Jane says her therapist suggested she have all these meetings to soothe her feelings. Maybe even that she should be allowed to police clothing and cussing as “establishing boundaries”. Therapists often have no f***ing clue what a workplace looks like for people who aren’t therapists and actually have to design/manufacture/sell teapots instead of talking to people about their private lives.

    1. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)

      Jane might claim that her therapist said she should do those things whether or not the therapist said anything of the sort. If so, it might be as Jane said, or it might be somewhere only vaguely in the same ballpark: maybe the therapist saaid “telling people they can’t curse at you is useful in establishing boundaries” (and then Jane possibly missed, or ignored, the difference between cursing at her and cursing in a room that she happens to be in), or recommending that sort of conversation with Jane’s family or friends rather than coworkers. People sometimes misunderstand or misremember what their therapists said, or even lie about it–people who go to therapy are just people, and not everyone tells the truth.

  63. Introvert girl

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate and ask about the swearing. Are you sure it’s just some random usage of swear language? I’m talking from my own experience where I had to have a talk with my team lead and when that didn’t help with his supervisor to make a very young coworker stop swearing. It wasn’t about the language itself (like: I f***d up.) but the context. He was stating things like “I would f***k that b***. about people in the office and even about our CEO. Because only our team could understand the language he was using (we’re an international company with multiple different langue teams) he taught no one could understand. Our manager was shocked and had a talk with him. The swear language stopped.

    1. Elspeth

      I think we can take the LW at his word that the swearing is occasional, and not directed towards individuals.

  64. Laurelma01

    OP … not meaning to throw you under the boss on this one. This is an issue that should have been addressed during her probational period. Be it 3 months, 6 months or a year. Easier to get rid of someone during that time as a bad fit. This is going bite you back I hate to say. But you are aware that you dropped the ball, which is a great credit to you. HR and your manager are going ask why you assumed it was a personality conflict and failed to address it.

    Please let us know how this is resolved. Hopefully once you talk to Jane and put her on PIP — assuming that this is play, that she’s past the probational period — she may find a job elsewhere.

    1. Observer

      Well, it couldn’t have been addressed then, because it wasn’t a problem then. According to the OP, this problem started when she “started coming out of her shell”.

  65. Luna

    I almost want to answer every complaint this Jane brings foward — her hurt feelings because somebody gave her a solution to a problem she brought up, is not dressing to *her* standards, etc — with a super blunt, “I don’t care.” But that would be incredibly rude… though perhaps giving her a taste of her own, rude medicine would shake her awake.

    I do hope that you, as the manager, have a papertrail of complaints that have been brought up, as well as meetings you have had with her, proving that this was a known problem and measurements have been taken to hopefully improve, but they are not working.

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