my boss’s angry husband calls multiple times a day for her

A reader writes:

I work in a customer service type role where I routinely deal with people face-to-face and also answer queries on the telephone, and I am required to be considerate about taking calls if I have customers waiting in line to talk to me. The working environment can be very busy but it’s something I was enjoying … until now.

My manager has come into our department from another part of the company. She is very friendly and behaves professionally, she’s not overly familiar or aloof, and she strikes a good balance between trying to be everyone’s friend and keeping a sensible working distance. Working with her has been great.

However, since she started in our department four months ago, her partner, Fergus, has called daily to speak to her. Then his daily call became multiple times daily. Now it’s almost on an hourly basis. He isn’t calling Jane’s personal phone, which is required to be in a locker, but on the helpline our customers use. The helpline I operate. I find myself speaking to Fergus far more often than I would like.

I dread answering the phone now because I know it’s going to be him, and it’s making me frustrated that I have to keep a customer waiting while I answer the phone to this guy who asks the same questions multiple times daily — “Is Jane there? Why not? Put her on the phone, will you? Why not? When does she get back?” He doesn’t sound anxious, he sounds angry. It is taking all I have to not get snappy with him back, and I am aware that because I answer the phone at a publicly accessible desk I have an audience of customers waiting to speak to me and I want to come across as professional and considerate to them.

I have gently said to Jane on several occasions that Fergus has been calling a lot, and she looks uncomfortable and has said that she will talk to him. If she has talked to him, it doesn’t show. He does not stop calling. He is obsessed with her whereabouts and why she might be away from our department and unable to take his calls.

I’m getting quite concerned for Jane that Fergus is deeply controlling and insecure, but I don’t know what, if anything, I can do to help. Talking to Jane hasn’t made the calls stop, and I don’t know if this is something I should try to address with her again or go over her head with it? I just want to never hear from Fergus again, and I’m worried that Jane is trapped in an abusive relationship.

Are Fergus’s calls something I just have to accept as part of operating a phone line that anybody could call, or so I have some standing to insist that this stops? And what about Jane and my worries about her being abused? Should I mind my own business?

You’ve told Jane that Fergus has been calling a lot, but have you told her how much? That it’s hourly and he insists on knowing why you won’t put her on and when she’ll be back? And, importantly, have you told her he routinely gets angry with you when you say she’s not there?

That’s all information Jane deserves to have. (Can you imagine if your partner were doing this and your coworkers felt too awkward to tell you? She needs to know.)

Frame it as a request for guidance: “Can you let me know how I should best manage Fergus’s calls? He’s now calling the helpline almost hourly, and he sounds angry when I say you’re not available. He questions me about why you’re not there and when you’ll be back, and meanwhile I have customers on hold and waiting at the desk. How would you like me to handle it when this happens and when he seems angry?”

It’s possible Jane hasn’t realized the extent of the problem and that she’ll deal with Fergus once she does. In fact, if they’re not in an abusive relationship, that’s highly likely — so try this first, because if she’s not able to get him to stop once she knows the full extent, that’s much more of a problem.

If it continues after that, I’d seriously consider having a discreet conversation with someone else in your company. Who that should be depends on your options, but someone in HR could be a good choice. Or, if there’s someone senior to Jane who you have good rapport with and who has good judgment (someone who you trust to help Jane, not make this worse), that’s an option too. Explain what’s been going on, that you’ve informed Jane, who is an excellent manager who has always conducted herself professionally (that’s important to emphasize when you’re sharing something like this), that you’re concerned she may not have the power to get her husband to stop, and that meanwhile you’re fielding near-hourly angry calls from him.

Ideally that person would then have a discreet conversation with Jane about how she and the company can best handle this, including things like whether it would make sense to block Fergus’s calls or empower you to tell him he can’t continue calling, etc. (It’s important to note that if there is abuse going on, Jane will be the one who knows best what the safest approach will be; other people can inadvertently put her in danger by making those choices for her.) And ideally they’d also offer to help connect her with any resources she might need and ask about how the company can make work safe for her and whether there’s other help they can provide.

This is one where you shouldn’t mind your own business. Talk to Jane and then, if your sense is that she needs help, talk to someone else too.

{ 417 comments… read them below }

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yeah. Same. It’s one thing to deal with a nuisance caller as a business; it’s another thing when it’s your manager’s spouse and they’re behaving in scary and abusive ways.

      1. Sue*

        Not just Jane, but her coworkers could be in danger too, especially if they break up. I consider this a safety issue which MUST be reported high if Jane won’t do something. Her husband needs to be blocked by phone & from entering the workplace.

        1. Observer*

          The issue is not that Jane “won’t”. She’s clearly a professional, so if she CAN do something, she will. The real issue here is CAN’T.

          This situation scares me. The man sounds highly, highly unreasonable. If talking to Jane doesn’t help, you KNOW that you have a problem.

          1. Erika*

            “The issue is not that Jane “won’t”. She’s clearly a professional, so if she CAN do something, she will. The real issue here is CAN’T.”

            Thank you for pointing this out.

        2. Artemesia*

          This. This is the guy who brings an AK47 in and takes out the department looking for Jane. I think this is an emergency and I probably wouldn’t wait or just talk to Jane. It won’t be just Jane if this guy goes off. The security staff needs to have a very clear Fergus plan and be ready to execute it.

          1. pope suburban*

            I would also encourage our letter writer to be more attentive to her own safety when leaving/arriving at work. I hate that I have to suggest this, but having worked for a company that employed and then terminated an employee with violent tendencies (Due, in no small part, to his rampant theft that I discovered and revealed to our employer), I’ve also done it. I’m not a personal-security expert, but I did my best to avoid walking to my car alone, I parked in highly visible areas, and if I felt I needed to I would have my husband come meet me (We were fortunate enough to live close to my office) if no one else was going to be around when I was leaving. It sucked to have to deal with and I strongly disapprove of the way my company failed to handle multiple people’s security/safety concerns, but it was worth doing because safety is important. I don’t want to panic LW or doom-monger, but it is prudent to think more about safety, and maybe consult actual experts on the subject. I feel for Jane, LW, and everyone else dealing with Fergus; this kind of stress and fear is horrible and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

            1. Em*

              Agreed. This is a real possibility. I once worked at a place where a woman’s husband actually came and slashed the tires of the a man who worked in our and left a scary note, because he was convinced that his wife must be having an affair with him… they were definitely not (and yes, I know for sure). After her husband started lurking in the parking lot and harassing other staff members for information about the “affair,” we had to call the police on him again.

        3. MommyMD*

          OP has already told Jane. Nothing changed. I agree it’s a general safety issue. She needs to go over Jane’s head.

          1. Tom (not THAT one)*

            But, as Alison stated – did she explain the frequency and the tone of the calls?
            If not – or when in doubt, do that again – but also state your worry. If dismissed, and there are no changes, or Jane gets a haunted look – then you choose. Ask, if she needs help, or go a step above.

            I would also take Pope Suburbans comments and tips to heart – given the climate in the US that ‘shoot them all if i`m angry’ is happening almost weekly (from what we see in the news anyway) – I would use a cliche: Better safe than sorry.

            From OPs post, either Fergus is extremely insecure, or extremely controlling – and i`m sad to admit that option 2 is the more likely. As a short fused male myself (though my anger results in either me hiding in a corner with a good book (Terry Pratchett, in case you wonder) or in some agressive cleaning of my kitchen. (When angry, kitchen looks spotless and almost brand new – at least anger there is good for something).

            This guy though, sounds like his anger would be physical – by the demanding tone on the phone and the frequencey.

            To OP: best of luck, and wisdom, in dealing with this scary person. I do not envy you.

            One thing – would it be an option to get (temporarily) a male colleague, preferably with a strong deep voice – to handle the phone? Sad to say, but sometimes a male voice does deter the more angry people, who might see a female voice as ‘weak, and there to be commanded’.

    2. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I wish I didn’t agree with you. My shoulders are still all tensed up, and I fear for Jane. I’ve seen her husband’s behavior before and it was not a good situation for the spouses in question. Unnerving.

    3. wittyrepartee*

      I think we should note that it’s totally possible that this person is no longer Jane’s husband, and might never have been her husband.

      I lived in an apartment where we’d regularly got flowers and increasingly unhinged letters written to a former tenant. At some point the man sending these gave his full name in a letter, and I was able to find him on Facebook and figure out who the intended recipient was and contact her. At her request I sent the letters to her new address in case she needed to make a legal case against him, but apparently she had only briefly met this person. One day I came out of my apartment building and found him hanging out front. That was a weird day.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          Oh! Hanging out, very much alive. He had found a film production company that was filming in front of his target of obsession’s apartment. I was quite concerned that he was going to sneak in after someone and knock on my door.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          Yeah. I could imagine it being humiliating and awkward for her to tell her coworkers “Actually that’s my totally bonkers stalker/ex”.

          1. Tom (not THAT one)*

            To be honest – in this era of ‘metoo’ and the increasing awareness of violence against (usually) women – it might actually help to say this. Make people aware, take note of their surrounding, and with so many now with smartphones – potential evidence gathering is easy.

            1. wittyrepartee*

              Yeah, overall for society it’s better if we talk about these things. It’s just really hard to do so when you’re in the thick of something like this. No one wants to see pity in the eyes of their coworkers.

      1. Zennish*

        I once bought a house, and started receiving letters from the state penitentiary addressed to the former owner, going on about how the writer (obviously an ex) couldn’t wait to get out and see her again. That was fun.

        1. Devil Fish*

          Why are so many of you opening mail that isn’t addressed to you like it’s nbd? What am I missing here?

          1. wittyrepartee*

            In my case I got three letters with no return address and a bouquet that sat around until my neighbors got annoyed and left it at my apartment door, and I wanted to see if I could figure out who to forward it to. No regrets.

            And in the other case it was literally their house that they owned.

        2. Massmatt*

          I knew someone who got mail from someone she didn’t know who was in prison! And he refused to say how he had ever gotten her info. He sent a couple letters, increasingly sexual. That was creepy!

    4. AKchic*

      Very much so.

      Whether he’s just insecure or not isn’t up to the LW to decide. He is already clearly hostile and a nuisance caller. Jane has not managed to curtail his hourly (!!!) calls and interrogations (!!!!) and that warrants a more in-depth conversation.
      Be very blunt about it with Jane. Tell her the questions he is asking. If you can quote them, do so. She needs to know exactly what he is asking, and how he is fishing (because he *is* on a fishing expedition).

      My first ex-husband was like this. It was miserable for not only me, but for my coworkers because we only had one phone line for our branch, and 70% of the phone calls on my shift were him. No matter how many times I told him not to call, he would still call. He would even show up, with our kids in tow, and sit in the dining area with them as a customer (management wasn’t going to toss out a paying customer, and he knew it) and glare at any male customer I interacted with. It was not only embarrassing, but it was unprofessional. He knew exactly what he was doing and he *enjoyed* the control he was exerting. He knew it could get me fired and he was happy that he had that kind of control over my life.

      I recommend keeping a call log of all the times he calls. Document how long each call takes, whether or not Jane was available to take the call, how many questions he asked (if you can document each question, great, if not, don’t worry about wasting that time), how many other calls were coming in at the time, and how many people were in the lobby/desk area at the time that were waiting on you. It helps to measure just how much time and effort you’re wasting by fielding his multiple calls a day, might give Jane some ammunition in case she needs it, and if he isn’t abusive and just really an insecure person who needs a push to focus his energy elsewhere, having hardcopy evidence of how annoying he is might get him to stop.
      **For the record, I do not believe he is some well-meaning, insecure person who uses his wife as a crutch. I do feel that he is abusive and Jane is his victim.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        It’s an abusive action even if he’s doing it for a benign reason (I don’t believe this at all, but let’s say he’s recovering from a traumatic brain injury and this is a symptom that he and the doctors are working on quelling). Like- it’s still horrible for Jane, even if he’s not intentionally trying to menace or control her.

        1. Mid*

          That’s a really important distinction for a lot of different issues—even the the intent isn’t malicious, the impact is negative and it needs to be fixed. If you have anxiety and need to call your partner 17 times a day, while you aren’t trying to be abusive and controlling, the impact is exactly that. If you have depression and can’t manage to clean your portion of the household dishes, your intent isn’t malicious but the negative impact is still not okay.

          1. Tinuviel*

            Agreed. If he called hourly in a panic and crying wondering where she was, this would still be excessive and not OK.

        1. Duvie*

          I agree. Let the data drive the decisions. “Fergus calls here way too much” won’t resonate with management in the same way that “I spent one full hour today dealing with eight calls from Fergus, inconveniencing 17 customers who were waiting for service” will. And OP should look after her personal safety as well. If Jane has to tell Fergus he can’t call any more because OP complained to management, OP may become another target for his anger.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            Data is well and good (I’m a total dataphile in my professional life), but feelings and instinct should also be explicitly spelled out for Jane too. Jane needs to understand that this isn’t just a time burden to LW, but that it is making her increasingly uncomforatble. I think this already could be esclated to HR if she wanted to. That said, I think having another frank discussion with Jane is something that I would personally do so that I felt like I was doing my due diligence, but it’s already passed my bull$hit level of acceptance.

            Also, is there a way to change out the phone unit for something with caller ID? That way if he is getting excessive, the LW can just let it roll to voice mail?

            1. Tom (not THAT one)*

              Or just if they have his number – get the phone company or local IT to provide a list of number 12345 called X times today with an average call length of 3 minutes.
              That kind of hard data – added with the feeling of OP – could be all that Jane needs to act, or to seek help

      2. Patricia Britton*

        Yes, a call log is a great idea. Jane can even use it as an exhibit if she files to take out a restraining order on him.

      3. Kivrin*

        Are your calls recorded? If so, you may want to find out how to save some of the recordings and/or transcripts in case this does get escalated.

      4. Gazebo Slayer*

        “Management wasn’t about to toss out a paying customer, and he knew it.”

        Reason #987 why “the customer is always right” is actually a terrible idea. I’m so sorry this happened to you, and that your ex was such a piece of shit and your employer was so spineless.

    5. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

      This happened to me in college. My abusive boyfriend repeatedly called the place where I did my work study. Someone ended up calling the police, and that was the wakeup call I needed to leave. Which was not easy. I hope Jane is OK.

    6. Snickerdoodle*

      I was going to suggest seeing if the company can put domestic abuse helpline stuff in the women’s restroom or something; that’s been suggested here often as a discreet way of helping women out of abusive relationships.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      This is so hard, for Jane and for OP. No advice beyond what’s been shared, just sending good vibes and wishes to everyone in this.

  1. FormerFirstTimer*

    Oh, wow. I’m having a really hard time believing that this can be anything other than an abusive relationship. No rational person calls their SO at work that often unless there is an ongoing emergency, much less gets angry about not being able to speak to them once an hour while that person is AT WORK. Honestly, even if it’s not an abusive relationship, it’s still really, really outside the realm of reasonable.

    1. Sharkie*

      I can’t imagine calling my partner once an hour at work and speaking to their coworkers like this. Heck, I feel bad if we text during lunch. This is not normal at all!

      1. FormerFirstTimer*

        Even if I wasn’t at work, if my SO called me that often, we would need to have a serious conversation about boundaries and how dangerously close they are to being my ex-SO.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        AND HOW.
        I have had days where I’ve had to call my other half more than once for some snafu or other — and I apologize for interrupting him. I couldn’t imagine interrupting someone else’s JOB to reach him on top of that.

      3. Lx in Canada*

        My boyfriend and I text throughout the day, but of course we know that if one of us can’t respond, it’s probably because we’re busy with work (and class, for him). This is the farthest thing from normal.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      My husband had a coworker whose girlfriend was a teacher. She’d be able to use her phone around 3PM so she’d call him *constantly* until he got off at work around 6PM. If he didn’t answer, she’d keep calling until he did.

      I don’t even know what you’d talk about that many times! I couldn’t do that because I’d have nothing to say!

      1. TimeTravelR*

        Just had this conversation with a co-worker. We very rarely text or email our partners, and even more rarely call. We’re both working! Who has time for that?!?!

        1. Miss Fisher*

          I used to work with a guy who’s fiancé stayed at home with her child who had disabilities. She had Bluetooth and they were on the phone with each other the entire 8 hr shift. YOu would think you would get tired of being around someone or listening to someone constantly.

          1. Chaotic Neutral*

            My husband and I were not quite here, but close to in constant contact for the first five years of our special needs kiddo’s life. Husband traveled for work a lot and I was home all the time with a sick and primarily non verbal kid. Talking all the time (10+ phone calls a day) kept me sane. He was in a position where it wasn’t a big deal though and I would certainly never call any number but his direct line.

            1. Tom (not THAT one)*

              But there you have a legitimate need to be in more than average contact.
              And, being parent of a special child (as I am, btw) means you have some more concerns than parents of a ‘normal’ child would have.

              I have the “issue jackpot” of being on the spectrum myself (Asperger), have a son with the same, and my wife has a chronic depression. There are days we call more often (2 or 3 times) and between we use Whatsapp or text messages.

              My employer is flexible (does not care how often I call – as long as my work is good) so there i`m lucky.

              But – I seriously doubt such is the case here.

      2. FormerFirstTimer*

        That would be so annoying! I really think things like that are more of a boundary/control issue than having anything to say.

      3. Antilles*

        I don’t even know what you’d talk about that many times!
        Me neither, at least on a regular basis. On occasion, sure. Maybe there’s an emergency where you want to call and give regular updates/get regular reassurance or maybe today is super-crazy interesting…but definitely not as a common practice.

      4. Arya Snark*

        Right? My SO and I text/speak on the phone rarely during the day and it’s usually limited to variants of him asking me if I need anything on his way home and me sending him pictures of our dog.

        1. Turquoisecow*

          Same here except pictures of our cats. Some days are slow and we text more often but usually he’s working and I don’t want to bother him. It can wait until he gets home.

        2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          Yup, exactly. Husband’s texts to me are “Homeward bound” and mine to him are “Sleepinest puppy. (picture)” with very few exceptions.

        3. emmelemm*

          Same, I mean my partner and I text at least 3-4 times during a day, mostly “How’s your afternoon?” to give us a chance to vent if it’s been terrible. But if the only way I had to communicate with him involved someone else answering the phone as an intermediary, the number of times I’d speak to him would be life-and-death emergencies.

      5. Filosofickle*

        When my brother was married, he and his wife talked on the phone every 1-2 hours. I never understood it!

      6. Dust Bunny*

        My boyfriend is retired and wouldn’t call me during the day unless it was an emergency. We talk in the evening if we don’t see each other, but, good lord, how much can two people accumulate to talk about in 24 hours??

        1. Dan*

          Some people have the ability to just talk without having anything to say. My ex was like that. My ex stayed at home (no kids), and she would talk my ear off the minute I got home… and that was after we got the “don’t call me at work just to chat” thing under control.

          After a long day at work, what I really wanted was some time to unwind, but nope, I had to be the sounding board whether I liked it or not.

        2. Archaeopteryx*

          For people in healthy relationships, it’s hard to think of what someone might have to call their partner about that many times a day. However for abusers, there are lots of reasons- interrogating them about who they’re seeing and speaking to, forcing their victim to re-litigate old arguments and emotionally appease them, and just generally keep them so worn out from handling their abuser that they don’t have the bandwidth to think about how to get free of their situation. Often times, taking that call or listening to screaming voicemails is a calculated decision to prevent an even worse outcome if they ignore it.

        3. Zillah*

          Definitely not what’s happening with Jane, but sometimes people aren’t talking about anything in particular that happened – it’s just banter. (I have one friend I do this a lot with – we don’t talk constantly, ofc, I’m just saying that conversation isn’t necessarily about the previous day.)

      7. Vemasi*

        My sister calls me every day on her drive home from work. I get off work about an hour and a half before her, so I’m almost always available. Honestly, I don’t have to say anything! She just likes to have someone to complain about the traffic to. Occasionally I have something to add, but I could honestly mute myself and she wouldn’t notice.

        But the insistence of SO’s to call and keep calling, obsessively, gives me goosebumps. I’m very independent and I can’t imagine that level of controlling behavior. Jeez.

      8. Jayn*

        When DH and I were dating (long distance, in college) we were in pretty consistent contact. MSN, texting, in-game chat, private Vent, public Vent, occasionally even the actual phone (he really ran up my bill during his senior project). But we also respected that we had times when we were out of touch, and none of this went through an intermediary. I still text him semi-regularly at work but it’s to his private cell, and I don’t worry if I don’t get a quick (or any) response because I know he’s got other stuff going on.

    3. Agnodike*

      It could be an abusive relationship, or Fergus could have something else going on that interferes with his ability to respect boundaries – dementia, a severe mental health crisis of another type, or uncontrolled substance use are three that come to mind right away. Jane is probably dealing with a lot at home right now, but guessing what exactly the issue is with isn’t really that helpful to the OP – or to Jane. From OP’s perspective, it doesn’t actually matter whether Fergus needs to talk to Jane RIGHT AWAY because he believes he’s being followed and persecuted and needs her help, or because he’s really drunk and has lost the ability to wait to call her, or because he’s abusive and controlling. What matters is that OP secures their workplace against his intrusions and, if they feel comfortable to do so, offers non-judgmental support to Jane in doing what she needs to do to manage this situation.

      1. MsClaw*

        Another possibility — they are going through a separation or divorce. It may be that he’s trying to talk to her at work because they aren’t talking outside work and/or because talking at work encourages them to be at least somewhat civilized to eat other or because she’s ducking his calls.

        Ultimately, whether he’s controlling, having a tough time with an ornery toddler, drunk, angry about who gets to keep the lawmower, etc, the OP needs a strategy for handling his calls (or for not handling them) and does not need to care why he is put out.

        If you can see who’s calling, maybe just don’t answer his calls. Is there a message box if OP doesn’t answer? Or answer with a brief ‘Hello Fergus, Jane isn’t available. I’ll let her know you called’ and then disconnect. Do not argue with him or give details or have a discussion.

      2. Quill*

        No matter what the problem is, the workplace needs to have a plan for dealing with this that does not punish Jane – whether that’s blocking his number from the help line and making a security plan, or something else I’m not qualified to speculate about.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          +1

          It doesn’t really matter *why* he does it, it’s still a problem for the OP and the work place. *How* they handle it does somewhat depend on the *why*… but at the end of the day, it has to stop no matter what the cause is.

          1. Parenthetically*

            “*How* they handle it does somewhat depend on the *why*… but at the end of the day, it has to stop no matter what the cause is.”

            EXCELLENT addition.

        2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

          Would the workplace not have a process in place for receiving and dealing with borderline abusive calls, regardless of who was making them?
          I’ve never been in a call centre environment, but I was taught (previous job 10+ years ago, so it’s out of date techniques) words to use when the caller is being angry and abusive, because no one deserves to be spoken to like that.
          (The two worst calls I ever got involved very angry abusive language, and the second one turned out to be a wrong number! After the first one left me in tears was when I was given the advice for dealing with future calls, but it should never have gotten that far in the first place)

          1. Jaybeetee*

            I still remember training for a call centre I worked at, where the pay was also quite low. Our trainer told us the procedure for handling/ending abusive calls, and specifically said, “$8/hour is not enough money to have to listen to someone screaming or swearing at you.” He was very clear that absorbing abuse over the phone was not part if our jobs.

            1. Karma*

              The last call centre job I worked we were not allowed to hang up on the customer under any circumstances – if they were abusive we could escalate the call to a supervisor but we’d have to wait for one to be available most of the time. Early on in my time there I had a customer call me the c-word and say he was going to kill me and I panicked and hung up – luckily my manager was very reasonable and told me not to worry about it but according to the rules I should have stayed on the line with him.

              1. SadieMae*

                I had a customer service job years ago and we were not allowed to hang up on a customer for any reason. We had only one supervisor, and if she wasn’t available, we just had to let people cuss and yell at us while we calmly replied, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that,” etc. One guy in particular would regularly call and chew me out for no good reason; I think he was just an angry person who wanted someone to yell at. I would literally spend a half hour sometimes on the phone with him while he cussed at me (and I mean cussed – he called me a c-word a few times!)

                One day I was sitting there listening to him, feeling furious and shaky, and all of a sudden I fainted dead away. Woke up with worried co-workers standing over me. He thought I had hung up on him when I dropped the phone, and he called my supervisor later – and also HER supervisor – to bitch about it and demand I be fired (I wasn’t).

                Two weeks later I happily found out I was pregnant – and that explained the fainting!

            2. Alice's Rabbit*

              When I worked at a call center, not only were we not allowed to hang up, we were incapable of doing so. We had a computer with a headset, and the computer auto-called the next number as soon as the current call ended. But we had no way to hang up.
              If a customer got abusive, we had to wave our supervisor over, he would plug in his headset and listen for a bit, and then he would have to log in to hang up the call.
              If he was busy with another call, we just had to sit there and take it until he came over.
              Is it any surprise that, despite leading the team in sales while I was there, I only lasted two weeks?

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      The only alternative explanation I can think of is unbridled and unmanaged anxiety, but as you noted, it’s still really outside the realm of reasonable.

      1. MistOrMister*

        I also thought about anxiety. Or maybe a neurological issue of some sort. Something like alzheimers or dementia where the person might realize they’re forgetting things and get scared or mad over it. I really don’t know enough about either of those to speculate, but an increase in either might possibly explain why the calls are becoming more frequent.

        That’s not to say the partner isn’t abusive, but there could be a medical reason, which is why I like that Alison’s advice points out a way to get results if the relationship isn’t abusive.

        1. JSPA*

          I had a friend whose spouse had early onset dementia. One stage of the process was rather like this.

          A relative became briefly, similarly demanding during a particular medical treatment: a combination of chemo brain, high doses of corticosteroids, whatever else was in the cocktail, fear of everything they were in treatment for, and innate problems with processing social filters added up to frequent, demanding calls in search of basic “who/what/when/why not” information, which was then quickly forgotten. A colleague in another department had a TBI after a bike accident, and apparently went through months of something semi-similar, calling in to work in confusion and frustration (despite being on medical leave) before it tapered off.

          Anger, abuse and controlling behavior are sadly common, but not the only thing that can trigger brusqueness and violation of social norms.

          “Is there anything it would help me to know” might be part of my approach to Jane. Not that she’d be obligated to disclose, but she might feel better being given a way to frame the situation.

      2. Zennish*

        I thought about anxiety too, as I have experience in the past with someone who had serious anxiety issues, and would freak out and call (and call and call…) repeatedly if they couldn’t reach their spouse. The anger makes me think it’s more likely a control/abuse thing though. The anxiety presented as fear or panic, not anger.

        Of course even if the reason is more benign than outright abuse, it isn’t any less worrying or disruptive for the OP.

    5. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

      I have a friend whose partner has extreme anxiety and is out of work. He’s not abusive but does call this frequently. That being said, I think in 99% of the occasions, this is aggressive, stalkerish, abusive behavior.

      1. sacados*

        Yeah, and more importantly — in the context of whether OP should take action, it doesn’t really matter.
        Regardless of Fergus’s intentions or potential anxiety issues, any time OP spends dealing with him is time she is not spending talking to actual customers (aka doing her job). So someone at the company needs to help OP figure out how to make it stop.

    6. Abuse isn't always spouses...*

      My now-husband, then boyfriend actually had this issue when he was younger at his first job after graduating university. Except no one took it seriously because it was his mother.

      His mother was extremely abusive, narcissistic with a dollop of martyr on the side. She would verbally and sometimes physically abuse him, take every penny he earned through various manipulations. When he moved out after university she ramped up enormously. She also was a major control freak and would call him multiple times a day “to make sure he is really working”. The phone calls finally stopped when the office blocked her number, because he had his work number changed, so she couldn’t call, but instead she would call the main line at least 2x an hour or even show up in person looking for him if she couldn’t get transferred. She even let out the air in his tires a few times overnight to prove that he needed her help to be a successful adult. I guess he was supposed to call her for help instead of figuring it out on his own?

      However, he was put on a PIP for allowing personal relationships to impact his job, and when he tried explaining, he just got eye rolls and “it’s just your MOTHER, man up”. It really ruined his reputation at his very first job.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Wow, that sucks so much! An amazingly similar circumstance and a picture of what NOT to do if you’re a business owner or manager.

      2. Massmatt*

        There was a letter not too long ago from someone who had a cousin who had terrible helicopter parents come to work at their company, the LW was concerned how it would affect their own reputation. Alison and the commentariat said it wouldn’t or shouldn’t, but in a follow up the LW found out it had, a supervisor had passed them over for an opportunity because of the splash effect of someone else’s bad parents. Sad but true that victims often get blamed/punished for their abuse, and other innocent parties as well.

    7. Snickerdoodle*

      Right? Who on earth even has that kind of time? The title alone suggests that there is zero chance this isn’t abuse. Her uncomfortable reaction and the fact that the calls didn’t stop make it even more certain. Ugh ugh ugh. I feel like this is going to escalate in a horrific way. :(

  2. Sharkie*

    Oh Yikes. This is so not good. OP Alison’s advice is solid, please speak up. This is not ok behavior. Is it possible to have his number blocked if this continues?

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I was wondering, too, if framing it in terms of a harassing caller and would be better received by management. “Fergus calls the main line hourly and angrily berates me on long calls, he is not a customer and has no questions or comments about our services. It is impacting customer service [describe.]”

      1. Sharkie*

        Or even have it forwarded to a mailbox. I am afraid that maybe that would make him angrier and escalate. Poor Jane.

        1. Just a thought*

          Yes – this is why involving Jane in the solution is critical, whether it’s OP or the trusted authority OP reaches out to. As Alison said: “Jane will be the one who knows best what the safest approach will be; other people can inadvertently put her in danger by making those choices for her.”

    2. Just Elle*

      My mind went to telling Fergus “Sorry, there is a new company policy that I can’t take personal calls at this number, so I can’t transfer you or answer these questions” (so that he doesn’t know its about him personally).

      Obviously, I’m very concerned for Jane’s safety and health. But I feel like there is something else not getting enough importance here:
      LW has a right to a workplace where she is not living in fear of her boss’ spouse.
      She has a right not to be smack in the middle of this messed-up relationship. I know that Jane will likely know what is safest for Jane, but LW also gets to decide what actions she needs to take to make LW’s job safe and sane for LW.
      And I think she should approach management about the more broad theme of the complications of answering personal calls at work when there are customers waiting.

    3. Wednesday Adams*

      Yes, I was wondering what Alison’s advice would be to the OP on how to handle his calls in the interim while they’re internally trying to sort this out… can she screen his calls? Not sure how the system is set up. He’s going to keep calling while she figures out how to escalate.

    4. Elbe*

      If this is an abusive situation (and it sounds very likely that it is) blocking is actually not the way to go. Someone needs to keep track of how often he’s calling and if it’s escalating.

      If he’s blocked and he’s being redirected to a mailbox, he could be leaving angry or threatening messages that someone needs to flag.

  3. Drew*

    I really like Alison’s advice here, particular the part about giving Jane the chance to take the lead in dealing with the problem and asking how you should handle Fergus when he calls, but also the part about going above Jane in case it doesn’t abate.

    I would also ask Jane (and then HR or whomever) how you should handle it if Fergus shows up at the workplace, especially after you’ve been empowered to stonewall him on the phone. I would hope that you have a panic button of some sort at your desk anyway, but I think it’s smart to prepare for the possibility that Fergus will escalate from angry hourly phone calls to angry unplanned visits.

    I’m sorry. This sounds so awful to deal with.

    1. Jamie*

      I would also ask Jane (and then HR or whomever) how you should handle it if Fergus shows up at the workplace, especially after you’ve been empowered to stonewall him on the phone.

      Really great point, as once someone with abusive control issues is thwarted things can escalate quickly.

      And I guess that should technically be “assumedly abusive control issues” but I’m having a really hard time coming up with any other explanation for this behavior. And given that he’s not masking his anger when dealing with strangers …my stomach hurt reading this.

      1. boo bot*

        How about, “behaviors that are identical to those exhibited by people with abusive control issues”?

        As you say, I have a hard time coming up with another explanation for his behavior. Even if the rest of their relationship is sunshine and roses… this alone is so bad.

      2. Just Elle*

        Abusive behavior is abusive behavior. There is no magic classification where somehow some way someones pattern of abusive behaviors finally add up and push him over the invisible threshold into a capital Abuser.

        This is abusive behavior, plain and simple. Even if Jane is a bad person who is constantly out banging the cable guy and leaving her infant unattended to do so…. normal, healthy, non-abusive adults do not respond by calling their partner’s work place every hour to angrily inquire about her whereabouts.

        1. Jamie*

          I agree. And if someone is abusing you you’re in an abusive relationship, regardless of what the root cause is (medical, substance abuse, stress, whatever.) The abuse and control warps the dynamic regardless of why.

          1. Just Elle*

            Agreed x1000. Plenty of people drink like fish, are ravaged by PTSD, or come from horrifying family backgrounds… all without behaving abusively towards others. Abuse is always a choice.

            1. Teapot Lover*

              hi here! recently escaped an abusive relationship myself and have been reading a lot on the subject lately.
              it’s a common misconception that medical issues/addiction/stress can cause abuse. They can’t. In fact, abusers generally benefit from their abuse (that is why they continue to do it). Substance abuse is often intertwined, but it is not a cause of DV (neither is mental illness, by the way), and there really isn’t a correlative relationship between DV and mental illness/addiction/stress/etc. Read “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bandcroft if you want to learn more :)

              Okay I’m getting off my soapbox now!

          2. A*

            hi here! recently escaped an abusive relationship myself and have been reading a lot on the subject lately.
            it’s a common misconception that medical issues/addiction/stress can cause abuse. They can’t. In fact, abusers generally benefit from their abuse (that is why they continue to do it). Substance abuse is often intertwined, but it is not a cause of DV (neither is mental illness, by the way), and there really isn’t a correlative relationship between DV and mental illness/addiction/stress/etc. Read “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bandcroft if you want to learn more :)

            Okay I’m getting off my soapbox now!

    2. M. Albertine*

      Yes, the pattern of escalation is concerning, and I want to second that warning about needing to be prepared for Fergus to start showing up.

    3. Purt’s Peas*

      YES, this is a very, very good point. This is the kind of thing people look back on after workplace violence and say, yeah that was the first sign.

    4. Tinybutfierce*

      100% seconding that there needs to be discussion about and a plan in place about how to handle him showing up. I mentioned this elsewhere down-thread, but I had a former employee who left an abusive relationship while working with me. The day after she left him, he started calling our work phone incessantly when she stopped responding to him at all on her cell; when he got no response from the work phone, he showed up at the store and we had to call the cops to remove him.

      I had ZERO idea how to handle the situation at the time, but in hindsight, I absolutely wish I’d had the knowledge to make any safety plan in advance of that happening.

    5. Det. Charles Boyle*

      Recently took an active shooter training at my company and this whole situation raises red flags for me. I’d escalate this immediately and make sure security knew not to let this man in.

      1. J*

        I took an active shooter training this morning (do we work together??), and, yeah, red flags. Absolutely escalate and tell security. (And I say this as someone who is generally profoundly skeptical of the whole “If a person exhibits even just one of these eighty thousand potentially concerning behaviors tell your supervisor” line that’s standard in these trainings. Fergus is not well.)

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Speaking of red flags: if you live someplace that has red flag laws allowing police to take away someone’s guns if they behave in a threatening manner (Oregon comes to mind) tell the authorities about Fergus’s stalking behavior. I don’t have any idea whether it would rise to the level required, or even whether Fergus has any guns of course, but it’s good to start building a case.

    6. TootsNYC*

      For one thing, if this were any other problematic frequent caller, you’d absolutely ask Jane how to handle it.

      You’d tell her all the info (how often, the scope of questioning, the anger levels), and you’d ask her for a script and for permission to cut the call short.

    7. Artemesia*

      I think you are beyond ‘letting Jane handle it’ when he is calling angry every hour. Security needs to be involved. You don’t want to be saying ‘why didn’t someone do something’ AFTER he comes in violent and armed.

      1. Anonymeece*

        I think in this case, it’s more about letting Jane take the lead, rather than handle it. As Alison pointed out, a company can do more harm than good if they unilaterally decide to block his calls or do something. What if they did that, didn’t inform Jane, and then he shows up and Jane is frightened because it was unexpected?

        No, it’s not acceptable, and the company doesn’t have to allow it, but letting Jane know the problem and saying, “This needs to stop. How would you like us to handle it?” lets Jane know that the company has decided on an outcome, but Jane knows that it’s happening, gives her some control over the situation, and can give guidance on how to do achieve that outcome in a way that doesn’t put herself or the OP in danger.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          +1 For Jane’s own safety, she should be in the loop and aware of what changes the company is planning to implement with Fergus.

  4. otterbaby*

    If she previously worked in a different department, I wonder if this all has happened before and was perhaps escalated at the time? It may be that HR is already aware of the issue, but not that it’s repeating itself on your helpline.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I was wondering if this was part of why she was transferred, if this department is less accessible than her former one–maybe the company hoped his harassment would die down if she didn’t have a direct line.

      1. Mama Bear*

        That is a good question. Jane doesn’t owe the OP an answer to that, but it would be interesting to know.

    2. !*

      Good lord, I hope this is not the case of one department’s solution to an ongoing issue. I hope that OP can get a resolution here, whether from Jane or other management.

  5. Burner*

    I’ll make a plug here for the National Domestic Violence hotline here. You can call, describe what you’re seeing, and ask for guidance. They have really good advice for bystanders and third parties. I know because I’ve had to make that call. https://www.thehotline.org/

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Yes, this. I was going to suggest something similar. Please proceed with caution, OP. This is frightening.

    2. not neurotypical*

      Yes, please call them *before* implementing Alison’s advice, as they may have additional insights about how to word this when talking to Jane as well as whether/how to loop in a superior who might inadvertently punish her for the abusive behavior of her spouse.

    3. OhBehave*

      Yes. OP do not implement anything until Jane knows the frequency and intensity of these calls. She must be informed of the steps that will be taken in house so that she can protect herself. Imagine telling him that the new policy forbids personal calls but she’s not aware you will be telling him this. He becomes further unhinged. Tread lightly as you do not seem to be dealing with a reasonable person here.

  6. kittymommy*

    Co-sign to everyone else. This is screaming some sort of abusive relationship. I agree with Alison, see if you can talk with someone else in the organization, likely HR (but maybe not). I really hope Jane can get any assistance she needs (and that the LW can get a solution to her dilemma as well).

  7. Ashley*

    I know I’m probably being a little reckless here in making assumptions about people I don’t know but I truly believe her husband is abusive and is deliberately trying to get his wife fired. If i was the OP I would just immediately put him on hold when he calls in and keep him there until he hangs up or accidentally hang up on him a lot.

    1. FormerFirstTimer*

      I was wondering the same thing. It could be a tactic to isolate her, which is classic abuser behavior.

      1. valentine*

        Especially because it’s a customer line, I would’ve reported it to, and then above, Jane long ago, and OP shouldn’t keep it tied up instead of asking someone to intervene. (Though Fergus will hang up and call back soon enough.)

    2. Parenthetically*

      “deliberately trying to get his wife fired”

      Wouldn’t be surprised.

      “immediately put him on hold when he calls in and keep him there until he hangs up”

      Yeah no I’m not going to stoke the wrath of a potential abuser if I can help it.

      1. chronicallyIllin*

        “Yeah no I’m not going to stoke the wrath of a potential abuser if I can help it.”

        I mean, everything except giving them exactly what they want (total control over their victim) will stoke their wrath, ime.

        1. TootsNYC*

          and all THAT does (giving them what they want) is teach them that they can GET what they want, so they’re even angrier the next time they’re thwarted.

        2. EPLawyer*

          Yes and no. ANYTHING and EVERYTHING can set off an abuser. However, some things definitely will. Stonewalling him will definintely be in that category. And its not OP who will suffer. When Jane gets home she will get abused for “allowing” her subordinate to put him on hold.

          This is why Alison said check with Jane as to what she wants done. She knows best what will definitely set him off and what is not guaranteed to do so.

          1. chronicallyIllin*

            That’s very right.

            I just generally think that it’s important to avoid thinking of abusers as if you can really placate them, especially if you aren’t the target. (Targets of abuse are more likely to understand what limits the “fawn” self-preservation response will have in the face of a specific abuser)

    3. Eillah*

      I understand the reasoning, but there’s potential that Jane would suffer some pretty awful consequences if this is the tack OP chooses to take.

      1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

        There’s also a potential that OP could face some unpleasant consequences, as I assume there are standards that apply to answering helpline calls that do not include “hold and ignore caller”. I totally get the impulse, but OP getting a reprimand or losing their job will not help Jane.

        1. Asenath*

          I would have thought that even on a helpline, you can cut off a call as soon as you realize it’s not from a customer – just say something like “Bye” or “This isn’t a personal phone line, so I’ll have to hang up now” – and then hang up immediately, no discussion. This, of course, in addition to the suggestions about reporting specifically how bad it gets to Jane and, if needed, to someone higher up.

    4. RC Rascal*

      Great point. One of our customers was forced to fire a key employee and manager when her newly ex husband continually showed up at the business causing problems. The business had a retail arm, where employee worked and were husband was a nuisance. The business did try to deal with the situation, but when the situation continued to escalate they finally fired her. Most likely that was his strategy all along.

        1. boo bot*

          Yeah, that seems like a situation with a lot of other solutions, unless you consider his behavior to be her responsibility.

          What would they have done if a random man with no connection to any of the employees had started showing up causing the same kinds of problems? Whatever the answer is, they could have done that.

          1. valentine*

            What would they have done if a random man with no connection to any of the employees had started showing up causing the same kinds of problems?
            Probably fired her, because that’s easiest.

            1. Devil Fish*

              Likely. I worked somewhere that fired a woman because she was “too pretty” and it was “distracting everyone” because she refused to “do anything about it” (situation: a pack of gross high school dudes who would come in every day and hit on/harass her without buying anything … but we couldn’t kick them out because what if they decided to buy something? Then they’d be customers!).

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                My GOD that is despicable. Repeating what I said about how “the customer is always right” is a terrible idea.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            The reality is that these people don’t care about the law, they’re following their instincts and that’s why they’re so dangerous. Getting a restraining order is so unimportant to anyone with a stalker tendency. So yeah, you can call the cops but this kind of “bringing the cops into it, let the cops handle it” stuff, is what ends in mass shootings in the workplace.

            1. Marthooh*

              …this kind of “bringing the cops into it, let the cops handle it” stuff, is what ends in mass shootings in the workplace.

              Do you have any evidence at all that this is true? Examples of police involvement leading to workplace shootings? Because this sounds like bs to me.

              1. Jamie*

                Not Becky, but I read her comment as saying just relying on the cops rather than also being proactive as an employer or victim is a problem. Stalkers don’t care about restraining orders, and letting the cops know is no substitute for a company having an action plan for dealing with potential violence in place.

                1. Devil Fish*

                  Fair point but it’s a lot easier for a business to get and enforce a trespassing ban than it is for an abused individual to get a restraining order against their victim and this company’s action plan appears to be firing the victim just like her abuser wanted rather than making even the slightest attempt to support their employee.

                  (I’ve worked retail. We had to deal with this shit sometimes. We dealt with it, we didn’t help the abuser further isolate the victim.)

            2. But There is a Me in Team*

              I have to respectfully disagree, after 15+ years of working with DV survivors. Protective orders and/or the police aren’t always able to do something right at the moment, or ever. Conversely, though if the police and courts don’t know, there’s 100% chance they can’t help, and no paper trail. Many people are finally arrested or convicted when they reach the harassment “threshold” the law requires in their state. Formally reporting abuse is one tool in the tool box. Stopping these ding dongs usually requires most or all of the tools at some point.
              Each case is individual, as is every person’s experience with police. it’s simply not accurate to say that law enforcement will worsen any particular situation.

            3. Massmatt*

              I disagree. Many mass shooters have a history of domestic violence and other outbursts that were NOT escalated, either to police or mental health resources. For so many the sad aftermath includes variations of “why didn’t someone DO something?” and “why didn’t anyone see the warning signs?”

              What alternative to bringing the police into it would you recommend?

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yes. Considering that the ex-husband worked for the company’s retail arm, they should have begun by firing the ex-husband.

        1. nonymous*

          This was my experience when I had a coworker with a controlling husband as well (retail). The guy would come in and hang out when she was working, and bring their infant daughter as well. He wasn’t buying anything, didn’t add anything to the ambiance and distracted coworker. She was told to ask him to leave. Manager asked him to leave unless he was a legitimate customer (i.e. paying full price). He would come back when manager was off duty. He wasn’t angry like the guy in OP’s letter – when staff pointed out the security cameras and said we couldn’t make an exception b/c we would get in trouble he left the store (but sat on a bench immediately outside).

          I genuinely think there is this awful place where the DV victim is not ready to ask for help and they engage in enabling actions. And all the policies that are in place won’t help at that point, like when my coworker defended her husband’s right to sit on the mall bench. The store had limited options b/c security couldn’t/wouldn’t ask him to leave, she didn’t have a restraining order, and he didn’t respond to people in authority telling him to stop lurking. I suppose the store could have tried to file a restraining order, but that’s a huge burden to place on a company with a whopping 20 employees.

          1. Devil Fish*

            It’s much easier for a business to get an individual banned for trespass in a way that’s legally actionable than it is for an individual to get a restraining order. The business doesn’t have to explain why they don’t want the person there or prove anything except that the person was in the building and has been asked to leave. (This is how it was explained to me by the store manager who did after a guy got a little too vocal about his “right to free speech” meaning our cafe was now his soapbox and just try to stop him.)

      1. Librarian1*

        That’s awful. Domestic violence victims shouldn’t lose their jobs for being victims of domestic violence.

      2. RC Rascal*

        Customer wanted to ban him from the retail establishment but was unable–either she was unwilling to get a restraining order, or his behavior didn’t qualify in the state they were in (Oklahoma). Not sure which. They solution was to fire her.

        1. faces*

          Calling that a solution makes me about as angry and worried as this letter does. They gave a win to an abuser and washed their hands, saying what else can we do.

          1. Autumnheart*

            What else can they really do? They can ban the guy and get a restraining order, which has no practical effect. They can call the cops and hope he gets arrested. Aside from that, what? They have more employees to think about than the one who’s married to this person.

            1. valentine*

              They have more employees to think about
              Right. They sacrificed her to protect everyone else and the business. As long as there’s anything you can be extorted with, the abuser has the upper hand.

              1. tra la la*

                Yep.

                This kind of thinking also gives the victim a DAMN good reason not to share what’s going on with anyone at work. If they know it could get them fired and they need that income towards, say, being able to be financially independent of the abuser, then they keep their mouth shut… and oh, look, further isolation for that person. Abuser wins on that count, too.

            2. pancakes*

              Why “aside from that”? A retail store calling the police on someone who repeatedly visits the store to harass an employee or customers is perfectly appropriate.

            3. Massmatt*

              They can demand that he leave, and call the cops if he doesn’t. An encounter with the cops discourages most, a couple probably 90%+. If it continues, the POLICE can escalate the situation plenty, more than the abuser.

              This is just cowardice and/or laziness by the business.

        2. Not Me*

          They could have said he was trespassing and had him removed.

          Employers have a responsibility to protect their employees from harassment both from other employees and from customers/clients/vendors. Firing an employee because someone from outside the company is harassing them is a very quick and easy way to lose a lawsuit.

          1. Devil Fish*

            What kind of lawsuit? I’m seriously asking because this seems like one of those things that should obviously be true but somehow there’s no law to back it up.

            If the harasser doesn’t work for the company and isn’t a customer or client (like in the letter or in the situation at the top of this chain), isn’t that where the company’s (legal) responsibility ends?

            1. Not Me*

              Straight from the EEOC website:
              “The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.”

              Firing an employee who makes a good faith complaint of harassment from a customer (or vendor, etc.) would be an easy sex harassment and retaliation claim. Quickly followed by a right to sue letter.

              1. Aitch Arr*

                Harassment in the colloquial sense is not the same as in the employment law sense.

                To be legal harassment in the employment law sense, the stalking/harassing of the employee would have to be because of a protected category,

        3. LJay*

          The employee doesn’t need to get a restraining order.

          Assuming they are a public company, they can refuse service for any reason other than for being a member of a protected class. Being a creepy stalker who is loitering is a reason.

          The company can refuse service, ban him, notify him that he is no longer welcome on property and that if he does not leave or if he leaves and returns he will be considered to be trespassing, and then if he doesn’t leave or if he returns call the cops on him for trespassing.

          When I worked in an amusement park we had to do it all the time for all kinds of reasons (line cutting, repeated violations of smoking in non-smoking sections, verbally berating employees, failure to follow safety rules). It helped that we had our own security staff, and it didn’t often escalate further after we had trespassed them from property.

          I guess things might be different if you work someplace like a library or a department of public works or a government employment center or something.

          But for a normal retail establishment you can refuse service and refuse entry to anyone for any non-discriminatory reason, and definitely for harassing one of your employees while they are on the job, whether they have an outside relationship or not.

          (Though I guess it would be different if she was protesting having the guy removed from property or something and couldn’t be reasoned with. Which I can definitely see happening in the throes of an abusive relationship.)

      3. Mel*

        This is exactly what I’m concerned may happen to Jane. While she’s excellent professionally, I can imagine that if she is unable to stop her husband’s belligerent behavior it might come down to having to let Jane go for the safety of the rest of the organization.

    5. Jax*

      Except hanging up on a help line — or even just something as minor ashanging up before the customer does, even though the call has ended on both sides — can and does get service or call center employees fired all the time.

      1. TootsNYC*

        This is where the OP needs to talk to whoever is in charge of the help line–Jane, I’m guessing, but also anyone over her head even remotely connected to evaluating her performance.

        She needs to come up with an approved plan, even if it’s just a friendly, “Jane’s here, she’s just really busy right now. I’ll write down that you called at…it’s 10:13 now, right? I’ve got to go, I have customers waiting. I’ll give her the message, but I know she’s swamped, so she may not be able to get back to you until much later.” And then hang up.

        Get Jane to approve your script, and try to make it as neutral and friendly as possible.

      2. juliebulie*

        He’s not a customer, and as long as he’s on the line, he is tying it up and preventing a real customer from getting assistance.

        1. valentine*

          Some employers will say he’s always a potential customer and want to appease everyone except their employees.

    6. GooseTracks*

      This is why it’s important that Alison included the part about NOT assuming or deciding for Jane what the best solution is. Jane is the expert on her own situation, and if she is being abused, she must be consulted on how to address this. Of course, management needs to put safety precautions in place for all the employees and customers – Jane can’t dictate policy here – but her perspective and knowledge (that no one outside the situation has! no matter how much it’s tempting to think you know better!) is necessary for anyone trying to help her stay safe.

      1. Wintermute*

        I agree in partial principle but disagree in part.

        Jane needs to be consulted, but she’s a potentially unreliable narrator here. She’s being abused most likely and that is actively skewing her sense of normal and damping her danger senses.

        Jane needs to be PART of the conversation, but LW has a right to feel safe too, it’s not just about Jane! Their employer has a duty to keep everyone safe and the right to keep their workplace running. So even if Jane’s instinct is accommodation, which it might be because she’s learned that always doing exactly what he wants avoids a fight at least some of the time (though never all the time) that may not be practical, the employer has a right to put the customer and other employees into the equation and decide “he cannot be tying up the line for customers that rely on us, and he can’t be scaring my other employees” and have him trespassed from the property and his phone number blocked, even if that makes things harder on Jane.

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The problem with sticking him on hold indefinitely is that lots of phones don’t let you do that. It will ring back after 60 seconds of on hold time most often. And it also ties up that line for customers, since it’s a help line for customers that he’s abusing. He’s already circumventing the “no phones” rules that the employer has for employees.

      If there’s caller ID and she knows it’s Fergus, if the phone system allows it, she should be able to send it to voicemail but it sounds like since it’s customer facing, they wouldn’t want her to do that option either.

      The OP isn’t in the right place to make these kinds of decisions either, given her CSR role. Most places don’t let CSR’s choose to terminate calls unless it’s really extreme circumstances.

    8. Mother of Cats*

      Everyone is saying they fear he could be the type to come in armed. If they’re right I fear having him angry at OP is the worst thing that could happen as OP is on the front line for customers in person as well as on the phone. She needs to keep putting the calls through to Jane or politely explaining Jane isn’t there and can’t be reached and taking a message.

      Then she needs to do as Alison said and give Jane a more detailed account of Fergus’s calls and ask how Jane wants him handled. If they don’t stop or she gets the sense from Jane that Jane is in trouble here or can’t stop the calls, she needs to go over Jane’s head. Ideally as Alison said to another member of the management team higher than Jane but in her chain of command who might be able to tackle this with Jane as this needs to stop but if you’re scared how can we help rather than Jane being disciplined or let go if she’s in trouble at home.

      But I’d stay away from OP getting involved to the level of messing Fergus around on purpose by hanging up or putting him on never ending hold when this is not her circus, and I would stay away from angering Fergus more for both OP and Jane’s sake in case he is the type who will someday arrive in person. This is not something OP needs to be any more involved in than ‘I just answer the phone and unfortunately Jane isn’t available but I’ll let her know you called’ or whatever else the process is for calls for people who can’t take them right that minute.

      1. valentine*

        I fear having him angry at OP is the worst thing that could happen as OP is on the front line for customers
        Great point.

        I don’t know that OP can minimize the risk. To Fergus, just the fact that Jane is never right next to that particular phone makes OP an interloper who’s conspiring with Jane and deliberately keeping her from him.

        I’d like to see an update for this one.

    9. Sharrbe*

      That’s a good point. I suspected an ex of trying to do this to me a long time ago. Would call me at lot and try to have highly personal conversations that I couldn’t participate with for obvious reasons, even after I told her that this couldn’t happen. She would also want me to come home for emergencies that didn’t turn out to be emergencies. One time when she dropped me off at work, she yelled after me “I hope Fergus doesn’t give you a hard time today!” right in front of the open office window that she knew was his because I pointed it out to her previously. Just weird things. Fortunately the relationship ended.

    10. 5 Leaf Clover*

      Your suggestion that he wants to get her fired is one of the only answers I can think of to my big question about this letter: why isn’t he calling her cell phone? (The other, of course, is that she has her cell phone off or blocking him during work hours.)

    11. OhBehave*

      I get the temptation, but she is not dealing with a reasonable person. Horrible advice that will escalate his anger.

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    If you go to someone else other than Jane, and you really need to if this continues, be very careful about who you pick. Here’s why:

    The whole point of requiring employees to leave personal phones in lockers is so that you don’t get distracted or roped into stuff that’s on your personal phone, right? So when Fergus calls the business customer service line, the one that serves your customers, he undermines that rule on purpose. He wastes your working time because you’re taking paid time to deal with him, your employer’s resources because he’s using their phone number, your customers’ time because they wait longer for what they’re entitled to.

    If you go to someone who is heavily focused on the business bottom line and nothing else (as opposed to the real problem you outlined), then things will go wrong. The focus will be on Fergus wasting resources and merely stopping him from using the phone. If it goes that way, make no mistake, he’ll find some other way to bug you guys or Jane gets fired or whatever. None of which deals with the problem at a root level because this is not solely a work matter.

    Remember it’s in Fergus’ best interest to know Jane’s whereabouts at all times so her getting fired may work in his favor.

    I would pick someone who will understand *all* moving parts here, not just the business’s bottom line.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I was going to advise OP to stop indulging his calls, which may obviate the need to go up the chain.

      For example: “Hello Fergus. As you know this line is for our customers, and I cannot take personal calls on this line. Thanks for understanding! [click].” The tone is cheery and matter of fact, and then OP doesn’t have to get involved in a back and forth with him. Part of why he’s calling is because he feels like his questions are being answered (Jane is either there or not there.) If he cane get the information he wants through the customer service line, he’ll move on to another method.

      But also definitely take this to HR as a workplace safety issue. I’ve posted guides to safety planning for DV for employers, and I would bring a copy of one with me to any meeting with HR. Treat and frame it as a workplace safety issue instead of a personal issue, because it is.

      1. ArtK*

        As others have pointed out, unilaterally cutting Fergus off could result in much worse consequences for Jane. She *must* be part of the solution.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Of course she should be part of the solution. But OP should also consider methods to discourage Fergus from getting what he’s seeking through the customer service line.

        2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          Yes, and what if Jane says, “Oh no, you can’t cut off Fergus, he’ll hurt me!”

          The business still can’t have Fergus hogging the phone line and harassing their employee, because they have a responsibility to whoever is on shift managing the phone line, and a responsibility to the customer.

          1. Wintermute*

            That’s why we’re saying Jane needs to be PART of the solution. But obviously the employer has a duty to keep everyone safe, LW included, and LW has the right not to be subjected to someone else’s abusive relationship dynamics by proxy (right now Fergus “gets” to abuse them both, after all and they’re powerless to stop him), and of course a business has a mission to execute on and they have the right to serve their customers and not have their employees time monopolized by this creep.

            Looping Jane in and including her input is the ethically right thing to do, because this affects her and potentially her safety. Obviously they can’t set the business on fire to keep her warm, but they can ensure she’s made aware and able to have input into the process of coming to a solution that meets the business’ “musts” (must keep LW out of this, must be able to serve customers) and Jane’s safety both as much as possible.

      2. Drew*

        If Fergus were just clueless about how his calls were interfering with OP’s work — for example, if OP said, “Fergus, Jane’s in a meeting and I can’t connect you right now” and Fergus said, “Oh, sorry, please just tell her I called!” — I might agree with this advice. But Fergus is getting angry that Jane isn’t available, which changes the dynamic. If OP starts hanging up on him, that anger is going to fester and it’s likely to start including the OP herself, rather than just as a Jane-surrogate.

        I think OP has to be concerned for her own safety as well as Jane’s, and hanging up on someone with known anger problems is not a good idea.

      3. Denise*

        I agree with Princess Consuela’s example. The helpline is for customers only. Period. It’s a company rule, not the op’s and not Jane’s. Stating this to Fergus is matter of fact, professional and simple. If he calls for a personal matter, just tell him you can’t accept personal calls on the customer helpline and he will need to leave a message for Jane on her personal phone. That actually circumvents the need to put Jane in the situation where she has to be the one to confront Fergus, which, if there is something more dangerous at play, could make things worse for her. Further, it avoids embarrassing Jane with HR and possibly jeopardizing her job (though that might ultimately be unavoidable).

        It is not OP’s job to figure out how to manage the risks in Jane’s relationship. Yes, Fergus will likely keep hounding Jane in some way, but that is Jane’s responsibility to resolve, not the OPs. OP can stick to doing her job, which, in this case, would help keep the matter impersonal and diffuse the negative energy.

        1. ArtK*

          While it may not be the OP’s responsibility to manage Jane’s relationship, as a human being, it behooves the OP to not do something with the potential to get Jane (or someone else in the company) hurt when (not if) Fergus escalates. Taking a “not my job, man” attitude is both callous and dangerous. The OP should do *nothing* about this without concurrence from Jane and the company. Period.

          1. Denise*

            No, it’s not a “not my job” approach. Instead of making the issue personal, she maintains the true rule that she cannot take personal calls on that line, period, and enforces that boundary. That’s the company rule and that is the rule that she is already supposed to be following. That has less of a chance of escalating the situation–because it is impersonal–than continuing to entertain the calls and actually giving him information on Jane’s whereabouts, whether it comes from Jane or someone else.

            Saying, “I’m sorry, but we can only take customer calls on this line,” is far less escalating than “I’m sorry but Jane has asked me to tell you not to call her here” or whatever other script is formed that puts the OP in the inappropriate position of becoming the messenger from Jane to Fergus.

            1. Not Me*

              Most abusers don’t apply logic to their abuse. Cutting off Fergus in any way without Jane’s approval could be very dangerous to her. The reason given to Fergus won’t matter very much to him.

              1. Denise*

                Jane does not have control over her personal situation, which is why Fergus is not respecting normal boundaries despite the fact that Jane already apparently spoke to him about this. Jane doesn’t have control over Fergus’ actions, so her approval or lack thereof is not going to make a difference to what he does or doesn’t do.

                This is fundamentally a company problem, as there is an individual calling for non-business purposes and putting an employee in the position of having to mediate a relationship issue for another employees. The company needs to first figure out how to enforce it’s boundaries, beginning with the rule that personal calls will not be taken on the helpline, and then escalating it to call blocking and possibly police involvement for harassment if necessary.

                *Separately* someone in HR needs to refer Jane to counseling or DV resources so that Jane can find the perspective and support she needs to handle her personal relationship. That is not OP’s responsibility, nor the company’s.

          2. Wintermute*

            That’s a dangerous misconception there. An abuser is not rational, ANYTHING YOU DO INCLUDING NOTHING can cause “someone to get hurt”. Jane invited this into her life, LW did not consent to being a part of their abusive relationship dynamics and it’s perfectly okay if she wants to nope right out. It’s laudable if she wants to help, but she owes nothing to anyone except her own safety here.

            Concurrence from Jane might just not happen. Jane might be perfectly okay with this, or not ready to rock the boat, if her wish is they just put up with it that might not be practical and it wouldn’t be fair to the LW. the company might have entirely different ideas about what’s expected of LW here, to protect their customers and mission (and bottom line).

            Someone else being in crisis does not mean you are suddenly a nonentity without the right to needs, feelings, a sense of security and safety, and a stress tolerance threshold of your own.

      4. EddieSherbert*

        I think this is a good script (especially when combined with talking with Jane about how this should be handled – Jane might appreciate OP having a suggested course of action already).

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        There are activities the employer can undertake that Jane cannot. It’s not reasonable or responsible in a potential DV situation (where the risk of workplace violence is high) for an employer to abdicate their responsibility to protect their employees from foreseeable risks.

        1. VictorianCowgirl*

          Exactly this. I’m dismayed that there wasn’t a policy for OP to follow in place for dealing with an abusive/aggressive/angry caller and a set script for not allowing personal calls on the line. I wonder how the behavior of the husband would have been affected had the calls been handled properly from the beginning.

          These guys have a way of smelling out “plots” against them. So now that OP’s behavior on the phone may change, the husband will know it’s in response to him, and not just the set policy.

          I fear for Jane and wish her the best. OP, you also need to look to your own safety. The advice of calling the domestic hotline is excellent, and company policy needs to be set now.

        2. Snarkus Aurelius*

          Precisely. He is hurting the company directly and indirectly. So they have to do something. but given the delicate circumstances whatever that is has to involve Jane because it could affect her home life as well.

      2. Observer*

        You’re making a lot of assumptions in that short statement.

        Firstly, you don’t know that Jane “won’t”. Most likely it’s “can’t”.

        Secondly, the workplace does have options that Jane doesn’t. Like calling the police if he shows up to the workplace.

      3. EPLawyer*

        We don’t know Jane won’t. She can’t tell him to stop calling her at work for her own safety. BUT, she can work with her employer to set up a safety plan and minimize his disruptions. She needs back up.

        The first thing an abuser does is take away the victim’s power. So when the physical abuse actually happens they feel helpless.

        By including Jane in any solution, she gets some power back. Plus it is not just her standing up to Fergus then.

      4. Wintermute*

        Tresspass him from the property, block his number, and tell him to stop calling in or police will be involved?

        Also, at oldjob we had a vaguely similar stalkery situation and before they enacted a tresspassing ban and communications block they upped security from one unarmed guard to two armed guards and kept the extra security for a month (we had a contract so it was easy to have it switched), HR heard about it Thursday afternoon, by third shift the extra guard had arrived and our normal guard had been replaced with one that had firearms training. I was actually super impressed I’m sure the cost was not trivial but the threat was credible and they weren’t leaving us hanging in the breeze.

    2. KimberlyInOhio*

      Phone bans are not necessarily to keep people from being distracted. Phones are banned from a lot of areas for security reasons. For example, the call center floor in my building is locked down for PCI compliance. No cellphones, cameras, MP3 players or the like so people can’t record or photograph sensitive information.

      1. Girl Alex PR*

        Same. I work for a defense agency and we can’t have personal phones (even our work phones have the camera disabled), or any devices that store information – USBs, MP3 players, etc.

  9. Isabel Kunkle*

    Agreed with everyone. Fergus needs to be dumped and, frankly, put on an extreme protection order ASAP. Seconding FormerFirstTimer that there’s no way this *isn’t* abusive.

    1. Shiny alolan raichu*

      The time Jane will be in greatest danger is when (hopefully) she ends the relationship (if indeed there is a relationship to end). It’s up to Jane to decide when she can put measures into place to keep herself safe, and she’ll need help to do so.

      Source: been there done that.

    1. Future Homesteader*

      Yes, even if you just keep this to yourself for now, it could become important later. Documentation never hurts!

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      This is a great idea. It will be helpful for the OP to make the case that his calls are a capital-P Problem, and may well be helpful for Jane later down the line if she needs to take action against him. Plus, it seems at worst benign — it can’t really hurt to do it, other than taking an extra few seconds here or there.

    3. Parenthetically*

      Yes, document! TBH, OP, if I were you I would assume this is going to escalate to police involvement, since it has already escalated. Having a record of the calls and their contents could be a big help.

    4. Name of Requirement*

      The company can probably track the calls systematically if they’re from the same number as well, if it comes to that.

    5. TootsNYC*

      If this were any other problematic repeat called, you should do that exact sort of thing. You need to define the problem.

    6. A Non E. Mouse*

      Definitely start your own log now; but also check with IT – they might have call logs that would allow them to see how often X (and Y) number (where X and Y are numbers he usually calls from) have called that help line.

      This is especially important if there are people that cover the OP’s lunch and breaks – there are likely calls occurring that the OP doesn’t actually deal with, since she is on break/lunch.

      Plus, if there are logs, it’s cold hard facts – not opinion about “too many calls”, but actual data (X calls lastly a total of XX minutes a day).

  10. TotesMaGoats*

    I had to deal with this with my first boss. She was the perfect boss. Really. Except her husband had clinical dianogiss level mental health issues and they were in the midst of a divorce. (Married a long time, she was at least 65.) I didn’t know an actual diagnosis but probably dementia combined with other things. I would get multiple screaming phone calls a day to my personal line. She told me to not give any information on her location and to hang up. I was not obligated to speak to him at all other than to say “i’m not at liberty to disclose that information” and hang up. It was sad because that wasn’t his personality prior to this and his funeral was bittersweet given the last few years of his life and how he treated his family.

    OP-Tell Jane in detail what’s going on and how it’s impacting you doing your job. This may need to escalate to HR for your own protection.

    1. Heidi*

      Thanks for bringing this up. While people have been quick to see signs of abuse, there could be a cognitive or psychiatric problem happening here. Jane is still the person who likely knows the best course of action, so I would go to her before getting others involved and possibly forcing her to divulge a personal health situation to her employers.

        1. valentine*

          It’s still abuse, and still potentially dangerous.
          Yes.

          In some states, the business could report him for harassment and, if he called from a different state, that would involve federal laws.

          1. Heidi*

            Having an illness does not excuse bad behavior to be sure. However, knowing that there may be an illness involved changes my expectations for how various interventions are going to play out. For instance, telling someone with dementia that you don’t give out personal information or that their calls are being recorded (which have been suggested in the comments) are probably not going to be effective deterrents because they simply won’t remember. For the OP, letting Jane know that this is happening and giving her the opportunity to make her own decisions about how to best proceed (which may include asking HR or others to intervene) is respectful of Jane’s situation whatever it is.

            1. Devil Fish*

              Counterpoint: It’s important to set limits with dementia patients because they won’t remember. There’s nothing wrong with telling them what the boundary is over and over. The point isn’t telling them so they’ll remember next time, the point is setting that boundary in the moment.

  11. Dr.S*

    This is very disturbing and could put people in the workplace in danger. In my province Bill 169 lays out requirements on employers to have policies and procedures to address workplace harassment and violence, including domestic violence. It’s really important for the writer to talk to HR about this. Jane’s husband is being abusive and is bringing that abuse to the workplace and it’s important to not treat this as a private matter–that’s how domestic abuse festers because people don’t think they should say anything.

  12. cmcinnyc*

    “other people can inadvertently put her in danger by making those choices for her”
    It SOP for abusers to interfere with a partner’s job and ability to hold a job. Before you speak to HR, talk to Jane about a script YOU can use to get off the phone. If you have a Caller ID that shows Fergus’ number yet again, do you have an iDivert button or way to shoot that straight to voicemail? (My work phone has that option/not everyone’s does.) If you can’t do that, is Jane OK with you saying, “I can’t take this personal call right now, I have customers waiting.” That will not really help Jane, but if you can have the power to end those calls at least *your* job won’t be disrupted along with hers.
    But yeah, there’s no mystery here. What Fergus is doing is abusive and out-of-line. Even if it’s the *only* thing he’s doing, it’s enough. But don’t make choices for Jane. She has to figure out her own safety and strategy herself. There are a thousand factors you can’t know, and you could land her in serious danger if you (or HR) try to manage this for her.

    1. justcourt*

      “But don’t make choices for Jane. She has to figure out her own safety and strategy herself.”

      Abusers don’t just pose a risk to their partners. This could potentially become a workplace safety issue. The business and OP absolutely get a say in how the situation is handled.

      1. earl grey aficionado*

        I don’t think anyone is saying that the business and OP don’t get a say. But that say needs to be proportional to the danger they face compared to Jane. This situation is absolutely more dangerous to Jane right now.

        1. justcourt*

          I just wanted to point out that there is more at issue here than Jane’s safety, which is what most commenters are commenting on. LW wrote in for advice for him/herself. Part of that advice is how to protect/accommodate Jane, but LW is also being impacted.

      2. cmcinnyc*

        I agree with you actually. But the choices the OP makes need to be choices *for the OP* not for Jane. If I am the OP and I can’t get Jane to deal with the 20 abusive calls from her husband a day, then OP can escalate that *for herself.* It’s people deciding they’re going to tell off the abuser or do something on the victim’s behalf without the victim’s knowledge/agreement that I’m cautioning against.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Before you speak to HR, talk to Jane about a script YOU can use to get off the phone.

      with any other problematic caller, you’d do this anyway. So do it with Jane. When you approach her, just ask her what she wants you to do to handle this, but give her full information.

  13. TimeTravelR*

    I had a co-worker who had a wife that would call frequently. One time I had to put her on hold to see if he was in another office. When I came back and said he wasn’t in, she basically accused me of lying. (yes, because I am going to cover for your no-account husband… mmmmmhhhmmmmm…)

    This was the same woman who was literally waiting outside our (secured) building with her hand out on payday. (Before direct deposit,… now I picture her at the ATM at 1:30 am on the 1st and 15th waiting for that payroll to drop into their account.)

  14. Tinybutfierce*

    This immediately set off all the alarm bells for me. A former employee/now-friend of mine had been in an abusive relationship while she worked with me. After several months, she finally dumped him out of sheer terror; the day after that, he started blowing up the phone at work because she wouldn’t respond to him on her cell, and when that didn’t get a response from her, he ended up showing up at our job, bursting in the door SCREAMING at her. We had to call the cops to remove and ban him.

    OP, definitely talk to Jane and be as direct about the situation as Alison instructed, and definitely be as kind and supportive as you can to her. Even if it’s not an outright abusive situation, she may be deeply embarrassed that anyone else has to be exposed to her husband’s behavior and worried about how it might reflect on her. Let her know you’re Team Jane, and ABSOLUTELY 8000% loop in someone else higher up you can trust to also be on her side if it continues.

    Sending you and Jane both all the good vibes.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah this sounds like it’s progressed very far along the spectrum of domestic abuse/stalking. He is probably calling because he suspects she is cheating or trying to get away from him, and it’s another way to control her. It is a very sad and frightening situation :(

      1. Tinybutfierce*

        Yup. He can’t get to her on her personal phone, so he’s reminding her that he still has access to and control over her, even when she’s physically away from him at work. I witnessed so much of the same with my friend (who thankfully got away for good after some police involvement and a restraining order that actually worked). I hope the OP, Jane, and everyone else at their job is able to stay safe, and that Jane is able to get help ASAP.

    2. Jamie*

      The most dangerous time for someone in an abusive relationship is when they are leaving. Escalation can be fast and terrifying.

  15. Snark*

    OP may not be allowed to end a call, but I think it’s also appropriate to say, “Fergus, this is a helpline for our customers, and we cannot take personal calls for employees here,” or just “I can’t help you with this,” and hang the hell up on the bastard.

  16. Sloan Kittering*

    I would love the company to come up with a blocking solution that just circumvents this whole thing. “I’m sorry John, it’s not our policy to share information about the whereabouts of our staff” – after which his calls get automatically filtered or sent to VM and never checked, or similar. OP at least needs a firm shut-down script that reveals nothing and makes it not her fault or the employees fault.

    1. Jamie*

      If they implement something like that Jane needs to know before hand, otherwise this falls into handling this in a way that could make things break very bad for her.

    2. hbc*

      Yeah, that’s where my mind went. Put it on someone high up in the org. “The CEO told me that I’m not allowed to pass on personal messages.” “The new company policy is to route all personal and solicitation calls to voice mail, and they may even block phone numbers that call more than five times in a week without a business purpose.”

      There’s a risk that he’ll lean on Jane to quit and work somewhere that lets him harass better, but it sounds like the only alternative to that is OP continuing to receive bad behavior in the hopes that it will make things better for Jane, and that can’t be a long-term plan. Especially with someone who appears to be escalating.

      1. Wintermute*

        That’s why I think HR needs to be involved, I presume LW isn’t the ONLY person that ever works the phone ever (I mean they have to go to lunch sometime right?) and if they’re lying about a nonexistent policy and get caught out, that just ends super bad for everyone, LW and Jane included, LW has now potentially gone from “coworker of Jane” to “that ****** who is helping Jane cheat on me with Joe Rando Coworker” in his warped mind.

        Enacting an ACTUAL policy would be a prerequisite here, and frankly every employer should have a policy because these things do happen, estranged relatives, actual emergency calls, abusive partners, non-abusive partners with issues, criminals, identity thieves, social engineers, all kinds of people that pose a challenge to the organization or a potential safety risk can call in, having clear guidelines on dealing with them is important for any organization that talks to the public (in some places outside the US it’s a legal obligation, including a domestic violence plan)

    3. Parenthetically*

      I think with ALL of these “shut him down” options, OP and the company need to be incredibly clear about next steps, because he’s going to escalate further. What do we do as a company if Fergus, enraged that he’s not able to get through to Jane any more, starts showing up at the office? What are our policies regarding DV and obligation to report to authorities and protecting Jane’s job? OP has the chance to ask these questions NOW, before Fergus shows up threatening to break someone’s arm if he doesn’t get to see Jane this second.

      1. Tinybutfierce*

        This x infinity. Jane’s husband has already escalated on the phone, he’s not going to take kindly at ALL to his attempts to contact/control her being denied in any way.

    4. Mr. Tyzik*

      When I worked in a call center, we had this policy of not giving out locations, last names, or shifts. This was in the 90s so info was harder to find, but we had customers showing up at our (unadvertised) front doors, waiting for specific reps.

      If we had strangers come to us, I can only imagine how many angry spouses.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I mean, that was the standard policy at my first retail job. If anyone asked about the work shift or location of another employee, we weren’t allowed to share or disclose it because we had concerns about stalking and about former partners of employees with histories of DV. I suspect HR has a standard line they would like OP to use, and they can likely do that in consultation with Jane (but note that the script would be the same even if this were not Jane, but rather, any rando who called excessively).

      1. Wintermute*

        This is a great policy not just because of domestic violence but a host of other reasons. Estranged relatives that are estranged for a good reason, people that think the employee cheated or wronged them somehow (craigslist sale gone wrong, side gig troubles, car crash, etc), legal issues (was a witness to something or filed a complaint, someone is trying to serve them legal papers and catch them at work to do so, etc.), there’s tons of reasons that some outsider to the organization could have less-than-honorable intentions in trying to locate an employee. It’s an employer’s obligation to safeguard their employees.

    6. Harper the Other One*

      That was actually the policy at one retail place I worked: you were never permitted to tell ANYONE on the phone if someone was on that day/when they’d be in. No, not even if the person swears they’re Mom/best friend/partner. They were very strict about it and it applied to everyone.

      It will be trickier to implement this now because Jane’s husband will guess that it’s likely because of him, but it’s a reasonable enough policy that it’s worth considering.

    7. Aquawoman*

      A policy like that is not really workable or fair to the other employees. People need to be reachable in minor emergencies–kid got sick at school, ailing parent is in the ER, spouse had a work emergency and needs you to pick up Fido at doggy day care, whatever.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        It’s possible to refuse to disclose whether someone is present and still accommodate that, though. Where I worked, if someone said it was a emergency you took a message and the manager would take it to the employee (if they were in) and say something like “Hey, Mr. X called to say your son was sick.” At least once the employee’s response was “Mr. X is my ex, not my child’s teacher.”

  17. Jessen*

    I would also recommend reading the post in the AAM archives titled “dealing with domestic abuse in the workplace”, including the top comment. It has some good strategies you can use in order to make things safer for her if she’s being abused, without explicitly making it about her if she hasn’t reached out. A big part of it was having and making people aware of domestic violence policies in general, in a way that communicates it’s an issue the workplace takes seriously and isn’t going to blame the victim for.

  18. Zephy*

    I’m trying really hard to come up with a context in which this isn’t abuse. Like, maybe Fergus and Jane are independently wealthy and a couple of big ol’ pranksters, and this is a fun game they play to pass the time where Fergus calls Jane’s work and is rude and hostile to the CSR on the pretense of needing to speak with Jane, just for funsies.

    But here on planet Earth where I live, there’s basically no way that Fergus is not abusing Jane. I won’t speculate as to the exact nature of the abuse, because it doesn’t matter. Just because he doesn’t hit you doesn’t mean it’s not abuse.

    1. Burner*

      Some sort of chronic, severe, dramatic illness. Special needs child. That stuff can be stressful to handle and change by the hour. Not saying this is good behavior on Fergus’s part but it is another explanation. “There’s an emergency at home, I’m stressed, I desperately need my wife’s support.”

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        This doesn’t sound like it’s the case though. When LW mentioned it to her boss, the boss said she’d talk to him and looked uncomfortable about it. “I’ll talk to him about not calling so much about his chronic/severe/dramatic/illness, our special needs child, etc.” seems like an odd response if they’re actually experiencing something this stressful.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          We’re too far from the situation to make that assessment (odd response) accurately.

          We’re too far from the situation to speculate on it effectively.

          The reminder about abuse not always showing as a physical mark is always good.

          1. Caramel & Cheddar*

            I’m not trying to speculate, just pointing out that the information in the letter itself seems to not jive with the theory that Burner was proposing. I think familial stress resulting in excessive phone calls to the workplace is definitely a thing that can happen, but we’re not given any information in the letter that suggests this is the case for this particular person unless you’re seeing something there that I’m not.

      2. remizidae*

        You can’t expect your spouse’s support every hour when they are at work, though. Maybe for rare emergencies, but it’s not an emergency if it’s happening every day.

      3. FormerFirstTimer*

        If it was a situation where the caller needed to be able to reach Jane at any time for something like a chronic illness or a special needs child, that’s one thing and I’m assuming Jane would take the necessary steps to ensure she was reachable and/or let OP know that there was a situation. Also, if you are so stressed you need to talk to your spouse and know her whereabouts at all times, you should probably see a therapist to learn better ways of coping than putting your SO’s job at risk.

        1. many bells down*

          Yeah I am also not supposed to have a phone on me while I’m at my volunteer job. But there have been times where I needed to be reachable (two kids with chronic health issues) and those days I’ve gone to my supervisor and gotten permission to keep my phone with me, as long as I only take calls in employee-only areas.

      4. londonedit*

        If it was a one-off thing, or it happened very occasionally, and if he wasn’t getting angry every time, you could maybe understand it and/or attribute it to an acute family emergency. These things happen. But a pattern where he’s escalated and escalated over time to the point where he’s calling every hour and being demanding and angry with the OP when he calls? Nope.

      5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        But if there’s a reason to need to be that readily available, you could most likely get an accommodation to have your phone on you.

        And then it’s also going to go back to the fact that you don’t have the right to be an a*hole due to stress, sickness etc.

      6. Pomona Sprout*

        Burner, I don’t understand why you are trying so hard to find a way to frame Fergus’s behavior anything other than abusive. Please stop. This kind of excuse-making is not conducive to helping Jane, keeping the OP safe, or finding a solution.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I was reading it from the perspective that this is a guy that likes abusing “the help.” I’ve worked for people, and unfortunately known people socially, that loved to be cruel to helpdesk techs, servers, receptionists, or anyone that was in a “lower class” position. They would seek out opportunities to abuse these people.
      In this case, he may think that the OP is fair game since she works for his wife. And the wife may know about his tendencies and that is why she was uncomfortable with discovering that it was happening to the OP. It’s possible that it isn’t a domestic abuse situation, the manager may be embarrassed about her jerka$$ husband.

      1. FormerFirstTimer*

        I think it seems really, really unlikely that a grown man would call his wife’s work multiple times a day just to get his rocks off by being mean to the person who answers the phone. Even if that was the case, it would still point to being an abusive situation because he is clearly trying to interfere with his wife’s ability to do her job.

    3. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah, I do think it’s almost certainly abuse, but the only other context is if the husband has some kind of mental disorder that is causing him to act irrationally needy (I know OP said “he sounds mad, not anxious,” but I wouldn’t assume I can always tell how someone else’s anxiety/ocd or whatever looks like?). However, this wouldn’t really change my advice. And also, law of parsimony.

    4. Pernk*

      While this certainly is suspicious for abuse, in a way it doesn’t matter, because the thing to do is stop giving any employee information over the helpline. The abuse angle matters in that it’s probably reasonable to say to Jane “this thing your husband is doing, it’s pretty weird and not normal. Are you ok?” Ultimately it will be up to Jane what to do about Fergus (meaning, OP/work cannot force her to leave him etc, that’s going to be on her and it may take her a long time to decide if and how to do that), the main things one can do at work is to try to support her, normalize what is normal and point out what is not normal/not ok, and try to make work a safe space.

  19. Batgirl*

    Of course, this depends on Jane’s own guidance when you raise it, but I might try leaning in, rather than brushing off, since it could be dangerous to exacerbate him. Something like saying in a very concerned, attentive way: “Is it an emergency? I am sure I could get her away from (boss/clients/meetings) If I can describe to them the emergency”. If he demurs, just say “As soon as I can get her away from (people who are neither you nor Jane) I will tell her.” Sound like you take him seriously, log everything, tell everyone.
    Also is caller ID possible?

    1. TootsNYC*

      I think that just opens the door for him to lie that it’s an emergency every time, and then disrupt Jane’s day.

      But I think it might work to give him partially what he wants. To say, “Yes, Jane’s here, but she’s really swamped today, and corporate comes down hard if we take personal calls. I’ll leave her a message and tell her you called again. I know she hasn’t had time to even pick up your messages from 9:50 and 11:10, but i’ll mark this one as 12:30, and put it on the stack. I’ve got to go know–I have customers waiting. Bye!”

      1. OhNo*

        Agreed. Don’t give him more control or influence than he already has. Frankly, even telling him whether or not she’s available is a step too far in my opinion.

        When I’ve worked front line customer service in the past, there have always been firm policies about sharing information about coworkers. You never give out names. You never give out any information about whether someone is in or out, or their schedule for the day. And you never promise anything on someone else’s behalf – not even “she’ll get back to you as soon as she can”.

        In case it helps the OP, the response to this behavior in the places I’ve worked would be a quick, “Looking for Jane? I can put you through to voicemail” and then putting him into VM on a line no one ever checks. If he makes any demands (go find her, what’s her schedule, etc.), he would get nothing but a bland “I’m afraid I’m not able to do that” or “I’m afraid I don’t have access to that information” on repeat.

        “I don’t know” is a good self-defense strategy if you’re on the phone with someone. That or blaming company policy were always my main go-to when someone got angry on the phone.

      2. Sloan Kittering*

        I don’t really like that solution because it gives him too much information: that Jane is receiving the messages, that you are doubling down on her after the first one (meaning, more incentive for him to keep trying) and that she’s “ignoring” him, which means he will likely take it out on her. I think an information blackbox is more helpful, just being extremely boring and flat, where he’s not gaining any information or traction – ideally he either does not know if his messages are reaching her at all, or is explicitly told that they won’t. He won’t stop being abusive and may escalate, but that’s kind of beyond OP’s control, and it could hopefully reduce the frequency of this specific behavior.

    2. cmcinnyc*

      I would warn against giving this guy ANYTHING, because abusers remember and use that stuff. All these workarounds that might be effective in relatively normal situations with relatively reasonable people become merry-g0-rounds in an abuser’s hands. Don’t give him anything to work with, nothing.

  20. It Me*

    OP, would it help for you to reframe this issue in your head so that it’s not “Jane’s husband keep calling” but “an aggressive non-customer keeps calling” and try to imagine what you would do if this harassment was coming from a random. That framing might make you feel more comfortable about taking it up the chain.

    Obviously Jane is involved and from the sound of it you’re right to be concerned about her but there is also a real threat to both you and the business if the harassment continues/escalates. I think if this was just some guy you might already have done more than just mentioning to your manager.

    1. It Me*

      I didn’t mean that to sound like you should disregard Jane in all this by the way! Obviously this is incredibly concerning and she deserves support I just know that if it was me I might feel uncomfortable about “telling on” Jane’s husband and separating out his behaviour from their relationship might help me to escalate this to the level it needs escalating to.

    2. TootsNYC*

      This was my thought as well.

      Simply approach this as though it is an ordinary problem, and then see what shakes out for the abusive part.

      If it were any other problematic caller, you’d keep records of when the calls came, how long they lasted, etc. And you’d ask your boss for permission to brush them off, and for an approved script to use when you do.

  21. Tinycheeses*

    When I worked as a receptionist the company policy was that I could not give any personal information about employees to anyone who called. I couldn’t even confirm if they were in the office or not. I would just say something along the lines of “I can’t say” or even more explicitly “I can’t give you that information” and then I would transfer the call to that persons desk line or to HR or the office manager depending on the question. Is there someone higher up then you who you could transfer the calls to? Or have Jane tell her husband that due to new company policy the customer service line can no longer give out personal information? It might also help to transfer his calls to HR or another person in the office so he learns that he can no longer get information from you and someone else can see how frequently he’s been calling.

  22. Jules the 3rd*

    ugh – hard questions day today, between this one and the bullying one earlier.

    My deepest sympathy and internet hugs to everyone dealing with horrible people.

  23. tra la la*

    This could really backfire, though, because you’re signaling to him that if he manufactures an “emergency” he can get Jane out of whatever legitimate work thing she’s doing.

    1. Batgirl*

      Yeah, there are risks which may make it unsuitable. You’d have to know your workplace, but at mine the word emergency would make a peg to hang a solution on, even if he went for it. I’d rather be flagging up ‘Oh hey PtB, we have an employee’s husband who is manufacturing an emergency every hour! What do?’ than let it rumble along under the radar. Or, worse have him come in on the rampage making a real emergency. I’d want to see how far he’d take it before that point, in safe mode.

  24. No Name*

    Based on what you’ve written, this is an abusive relationship. It doesn’t have to be physical abuse to be abusive. He’s controlling. Jane is uncomfortable with it. And it’s not ok. I was in a similar boat in my relationship when I finally had a breakdown and saw a counselor who named what was going on. I was too scared to admit to myself what was happening. It took an outsider to force me to face it and to address it with my partner. We’ve been working on boundaries and it’s gotten so much better. The constant monitoring has stopped. The ability to breathe has returned. But I had to be forced into recognizing what was happening and learning to push back for things to change. Jane might need a similar push. Good luck.

  25. CommanderBanana*

    Oof. All the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. OP, please talk to Jane and lay out exactly what is happening, and it’s not a bad idea to start documenting these calls too. I work in DV and this behavior (harassing a victim at work or actively interfering with their job) is unfortunately very common – and violent partners also put their victims’ coworkers at risk.

    1. Jamie*

      It might really help Jane to see her workplace take this seriously, which I agree they need to do for the safety of their employees.

      In abusive relationships it’s very common for your idea of normal to become dangerously skewed. What everyone else can see as red flags the victim might see as not that bad because their partner has done much worse. You get desensitized to the control issues. For example you can find yourself explaining, matter of factly, why you drove an extra 5 miles today rather than stopping to wonder why the hell you’re tolerating your partner tracking your movements by your odometer.

      Jane may well be embarrassed by being asked about her husband’s behavior at work, but the real conversation about how the company needs to act on this behavior with a plan to protect the safety of other might be jarring enough to help her see it differently.

      Or Jane might defend her husband as someone who would “never do that” and think her company is totally over reacting. But just as others need to keep Jane in on the plans so she can protect herself, the company will have to hold firm on protecting everyone at work if she tries to dismiss the potential threat.

      No matter how smart, professional, fair, kind…whatever Jane may be, if she’s in an abusive relationship (and I don’t see how this can be read any other way) it’s a mindf*ck that’s hard for others to understand.

      1. Product Person*

        In abusive relationships it’s very common for your idea of normal to become dangerously skewed. What everyone else can see as red flags the victim might see as not that bad because their partner has done much worse.

        Another excellent point!

  26. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Purely functional/academic question here, but why is Fergus calling the helpline? Does manager not have a phone? Did she not give her her extension? Can OP not transfer him immediately?
    I know these punt the problem to Jane, but ultimately it is her problem and she is ignoring it. She did not talk to him, because he has not lessened or increased his calls. He has not made snarky comments indicating he was “told people complained about him trying to reach his wife.”

    1. chronicallyIllin*

      They aren’t allowed to have cell phones on them during work, and I imagine Jane’s role is one that doesn’t need a professional phone number.

      It’s also possible she DOES have a personal line and he CAN call it, but he’s still insisting on calling the customer line either because she’s not answering that phone, or because he’s deliberately trying to get her fired.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I know someone who could not get a retired family member to stop calling him at work. He requested a new extension, and refused to give out that phone# to anyone except his wife and daughter.
      And then his daughter was visiting family member and she suggested daughter call dad at lunch to say hello…. and she got the phone# from call history.
      In his case, the retiree is “just” lonely and garrulous and has low boundaries so he is safe to let all calls go to voicemail and reply from his (home) email saying “What’s up? I can’t take personal calls at work, and our phone system transcribes voice to text and I can never understand your messages. Just email me here.”

      1. Civilian Linetti*

        Wow, that’s horribly manipulative. “Call your dad at lunch just to say hello (and I can get his new number.)”

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I get the feeling he’s using the line that he knows has to be answered, since it’s the help line. Calling her extension just probably dumps into voicemail if she’s readily trying to avoid talking to him.

    4. Observer*

      She is not allowed to have her cell phone at work, so that’s why he can’t reach her directly.

      and she is ignoring it.

      You don’t know that at all. The fact that he’s upped the frequency does not mean that she hasn’t talked to him. As for his “not making snarky comments”, assuming that he would is a HUUUUUGE leap that’s totally not reality based.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        I know that he is still calling and Jane is not addressing it with OP. It is still a problem for OP and Jane is not giving any guidance to OP about what to say or apologizing to OP for the problems it’s causing. Jane is pretending it’s not happening.
        “totally not reality based”
        Well, it’s not happening now, I agree. It is just a theory, I agree – but a theory very much based in reality. If the target of someone’s harassment can’t be reached, the harasser will attack the perceived obstacle. If the idea that husband would not verbally (or physically) direct his ire at others then all the people commenting that the coworkers should be scared of him coming to the office are also take a huge leap not reality based.

        1. Observer*

          Well, he actually IS directing his ire at the OP. Which is why they wrote Allison. What’s not based in reality is the assumption that he would specifically make snarky comments to the OP about being told not to call so often.

  27. blackcatlady*

    Because your job seems to involve a good bit of answering customer calls are (1) they recorded? you know when you call service numbers there is usually a pre-recorded blurb saying this call may be recorded. Or (2) a way to get a daily caller ID log? Especially if the call is recorded you have a record of the nature of the calls. But a daily log will give you a record of Fergus call frequency. Hope Jane can get out of the relationship. If the calls from Fergus escalate to nasty I think you have to involve a manager or HR. And if the level rises to threatening go to the police.

    1. juliebulie*

      Hearing a “some calls are recorded to ensure customer satisfaction” message while on hold might make him think twice about the frequent calls. (Maybe.)

  28. MistOrMister*

    Boy, I am really in the minority here, but I don’t think based on what OP has said that Fergus is automatically abusive. It is possible that there are medical issues or something else at play here. Some are saying that Jane looking uncomfortable at being told Fergus is calling a lot is a sign that she doesn’t want to admit abuse. Any maybe it is. But maybe Fergus has a known condition that is on the decline and she doesn’t want to discuss it with coworkers and that is why she looked uncomfortable. Maybe she’s seeing a change in him and is trying to get him to see a doctor to discuss it and was uncomfortable that things have reached the point where other people are noticing a problem. I am not at all trying to minimize the dangers of abusive relationships, I just don’t believe that there is enough to say for certain that this is what is going on. I like the suggestion of telling Jane exactly how many calls are coming in and how Fergus is acting during them. It’s possible that he doesn’t act that way with her and she would be appalled to know that he’s bombarding OP with hostile questions about her whereabouts. I also like letting her help control the narrative in the event that he is abusive, in order to keep there from being extra fallout on her. I wonder if something as easy as saying there is a change to policy and employees can’t take personal calls other than for emergencies. Or to implement a system where they can only call back during break or something. But then, I suppose that would be inconveniencing everyone just to keep Fergus from hassling Jane and OP so maybe neither of those are the way to go.

    1. blink14*

      I thought this as well. I think the other potential option could be that they are separated or in the midst of a divorce, and he’s really angry about it.

      1. pancakes*

        Being angry for an identifiable reason doesn’t transform harassment or abusive behavior into not-harassment or not-abusive behavior.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      . . . it doesn’t matter, though, because his constant calling is a problem regardless of the root cause, and Jane needs to be looped in so she can begin to address it by whatever means are appropriate.

      1. MistOrMister*

        Yeah, I agreed in a comment on someone else’s post that Jane definitely needs to be looped in. I’m actually a bit surprised that it’s reached the point of him calling every hour and yelling and OP not having mentioned that to Jane. I can’t fathom how one could do their job with that happening every hour.

    3. ToS*

      Cognitive decline is a faint possibility, however, in the horse-zebra-unicorn range, it’s a zebra-worthy consideration.

      Even when people are ill and in mental decline, abusive behavior is traumatic and needs to be addressed.

    4. Observer*

      It is possible that there are medical issues or something else at play here

      Which does not mean that the behavior is not abusive.

    5. AutolycusinExile*

      I’ve seen a couple people now mention illness, etc. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter.
      Doing something for an understandable reason doesn’t make the action inherently acceptable. This is why blaming shootings on mental illness is so infuriating – it *doesn’t matter* why they’ve done what they have, they *still hurt people*. If someone is able to hurt people because of a medical condition, that isn’t something that should be brushed off. They need urgent care or protection around them to stop that from happening at all.

      Maybe they are getting a divorce. Maybe he has late-stage dementia. Maybe he’s an asshole. It… really doesn’t matter. The end result is the same: he is engaging in frighteningly abusive behavior, towards both Jane and OP, and it is not acceptable for their employer to allow this to continue further – regardless of why he started doing this to them in the first place. The root cause is not within their control here, and is therefore irrelevant.

      1. Observer*

        Exactly this. I get frustrated when people start jumping to causes, even when they are likely, when it really doesn’t change the advice.

        1. Parenthetically*

          it really doesn’t change the advice.

          Precisely. (Though in this scenario, I think OP and the business really need to get their ducks in a row and prepare for escalation while working out a plan to help Jane, because failing to do so exposes a lot of people to danger.)

        2. MistOrMister*

          In my mind there is a difference between someone acting the way Fergus is just because they’re a controlling, abusive jackass and someone doing it because of an actual issue such a dementia, a brain tumor, what have you. It’s certainly not acceptable in either case, but if you know it’s something outside the person’s control, then at least the situation can be handled with compassion. I’m not sure why anyone seems to be taking my origina post as me saying it’s ok that Fergus is acting this way. I don’t think that at all.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        And if it is something like Dementia, this is a sign that he needs long term care put into place. He shouldn’t be left home alone if he’s that level of fear.

        So in the end, it all boils down to Jane needs to know all the details to what’s going on so she can get him the help he needs if it’s not an abusive situation.

    6. nonymous*

      It would be totally reasonable for management to say that since Fergus has exceeded reasonable expectations for the number of personal calls incoming that all future calls from him be passed on to the supervisor. Then it can be treated with the sensitivity the scenario deserves – whether Fergus is an abusive/controlling spouse, experiencing cognitive decline, or something else.

      And honestly this is what OP should be asking for. You’re right to say that family/friends of the rest of staff don’t seem to be abusing this privilege, and it’s not worth cutting the whole team off (allowing this kind of perk can help tremendously in a low-paying job). However Fergus is causing a problem and OP can ask her management team for additional support. And Jane deserves accommodations if she is facing DV or FMLA issues.

    7. Parenthetically*

      “I call my wife’s place of work hourly, in a rage, and demand to speak to her despite knowing that she is not immediately available” IS ABUSIVE BEHAVIOR, regardless of what other things Fergus may or may not be doing.

      I don’t think based on what OP has said that Fergus is automatically abusive.

      Then you have a far too narrow definition of abusive behavior, or you are misreading other commenters, or both. Regardless of what “medical issues” are at play, his behavior is still unacceptable.

      1. MistOrMister*

        I didn’t say his behavior was acceptable. I said it is possible thay he is not abusing Jane. His treatment of OP does not necessarily mean he treats Jane the same way when he gets a hold of her. For all we know after yelling at OP, he is sweetness and light when he talks to Jane and deals with her at home. I agree that his actions are not appropriate, but frankly while I would be willing to say that Fergus is being abusive towards OP, the arguments here are that he is abusing Jane. And I stand by my assertion that there is not enough information provided to say that one way or another.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Especially given how many dbags out there are awful to “the help” but pleasant to people ‘on their level’, you’re right that it doesn’t mean he’s doing that to her.

          It sounds like he’s found a workaround for their no-cellphones policy and nobody has specifically told him to knock it the ef off for whatever reason. Maybe it’s abuse or maybe Jane just doesn’t want to “start a fight” even if that fight is just him being utterly obtuse to the fact that Jane isn’t available for a GD reason.

          1. MistOrMister*

            I hadn’t considered the angle of people who are nice to their equals/superiors and crap to perceived underlings. Given that OP mans the help line, Fergus certainly could see them as low man on the totem pole. Tsk.

            No need for a cell phone when you can call 500 times a day! I hope OP talks to Jane and they can get a plan in place that works for everyone. I would be beyond frustrated with dealing with Fergus as OP. And whatever is going on between them, I can’t imagine Jane would be pleased at the disruption he’s causing.

  29. Elder Dog*

    Having had to deal with this sort of thing several times in the past, I feel so sorry for Jane. It’s too late now, but having dealt with this before, the best way to handle it is to nip it in the bud.

    Anytime someone calls for someone else on a business line the person answering needs to say, I’m sorry this is the customer service line (or company line or whatever) and we’re not allowed to make or take personal calls on it and I can’t help you find her. Then hang up. Every time.

    If it’s an emergency the caller will say so. The caller may say so anyway. But in that case tell them you will have whoever call them back and hang up.

    If someone is screaming or sobbing, use your judgement, of course, but there’s too much of this kind of controlling spouse/significant other behavior going around to give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s not just dangerous for the spouse. It’s dangerous for the co-workers as well.

    I just saw something yesterday (in an article in The Atlantic) that said the third most common cause of deaths in the workplace (behind falls from another level and vehicle accidents) is homicide. That’s frightening enough to insist people need to call home themselves even if it is an emergency.

  30. Elbe*

    The LW may want to ask Jane if she is able to take an “I don’t know” approach. Generally speaking, offering information about a coworker’s location and movements is not something most people should be doing for a caller on a help line.

    If Fergus is unable to get info from the LW, he may stop calling.

  31. Fiddlesticks*

    It’s 2019. Why would a family member keep calling someone on their work land line, to begin with? Surely Jane has a personal cell phone, if not a work cell phone as well.

    1. Fiddlesticks*

      Never mind, I just re-read the LW’s letter and realized I missed the part about her personal phone being required to be kept locked up. Sorry!

      1. !*

        Yes, but still, wouldn’t she have a direct company phone line Fergus could call instead of the Customer Service line? Unless he is calling her line and she’s just not answering, so he’s restoring to calling the other?

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Maybe she doesn’t, if this is . . . the building next to ours is a warehouse and supervisors don’t work at desks all day, so they’re not immediately reachable by phone. Or maybe they’re as strict about personal calls on company phones as they are about personal cell phones.

        2. FormerFirstTimer*

          I was wondering that too. If this is specifically a customer helpline, wouldn’t a company have another, non-helpline number to be used?

        3. Risha*

          I’m a consultant/system developer and I have a phone on my desk, but I have no idea what its number is. I only rarely interact directly with a client, and only once in the 3+ years I’ve been here by anything but email, so I only use it for calling into meetings.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I am left wondering about the fact managers are also supposed to lock up their phones though…that’s so strange. Usually it’s just floor staff, yuck.

  32. Chaordic One*

    I was in a similar situation some years back when, working as an admin assistant I had to fill in for our receptionist. The caller was one of the business partner’s wives. When I would tell her he was in a meeting, she’d want to know who he was in a meeting with, and she’d get mad if you didn’t tell her. (I tried to say I didn’t know, but I did slip a couple of times and tell her the names of the other partners and/or employees he was meeting with.)

    If he wouldn’t or couldn’t answer the phone, she’d want us to page him over the office intercom, but often he still didn’t respond, and the she’d be all, “Page him again and say it’s wife on the line.” They didn’t have an H.R. at the time. (H.R. duties were handled by the partner whose wife called all the time. Some time after I quit they created an H.R. position for the child of a different partner.) The people answering the phone were always getting criticized for how they handled the calls, either we were rude to the wife, or we were embarrassing the partner by paging him. It was always something, but we never really received any guidance about what to do.

    Maybe I’m projecting a bit here, but it seemed to me that the wife seemed to be especially jealous when he was in a meeting with a woman. A couple of years after I quit the job I learned from a former coworker that the partner’s wife had been having an affair, but that they were still married. Weird, huh?

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I’ve seen this from both sides! Abusive partners are often fixated on the idea that their victim is cheating on them – often this is patently ridiculous, but it is used as the reason why he needs to constantly check in on them or control them. At the same time, a non-abusive partner who correctly suspects that they are being cheated on can seem unhinged if their partner is lying/gaslighting them by claiming there’s nothing going on when they know something is going on. However, it’s kind of irrelevant to OP in terms of the advice. This husband can’t be allowed to keep up this behavior, and it’s probably going to take intervention from more senior forces to get OP out of it.

  33. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

    Can you blame cutting him off on some nebulous authority? “Corporate has forbidden us to take personal calls on the help line,” sounds very plausible.

  34. ToS*

    Since this involves calls, and most of us are familiar with the “this call may be recorded”, perhaps OP can request that all of her customer calls will be recorded until this resolves.

    It’s important to point out that THE CALLER is the problem, not the employee. They are grown. They have choices.

    What would you do if this was a stranger fixating on an employee? Yes, involve the employee, and transition to not accepting inappropriate behavior, and supporting safety.

    What does the company do with problem callers after reviewing the situation? Recording the calls would provide something for the company to review. Provide a script: this phone line is not for that type of information, please contact the person on their personal phone. Next, as mentioned yesterday/an hour ago: [first script] if this continues [inappropriate use of the phone line], we will take appropriate action. [he will ask] you can close with “I am ending the call now” or “I’m transferring you to another extension” [no details, and connect to someone who handles security/difficult people after debriefing]”

    So, also, having boundaries can be a strategy. Do not give angry caller information. Angry caller can and will use it against you. Stick to your process. Do not ask the caller for details. Do not accept details that are not related to work – divert. It’s possible Angry caller and Professional employee are, or will be divorcing or breaking up. It’s not an acceptable reason to inappropriately use a phone line.

    I’m presuming the targeted employee can access support through HR – specific resources, possibly EAP or benefit-supported health care.

    OP should not go this alone, and should also seek support as this is in the area of creating secondary trauma. There is some empowerment in moving the problem caller on to people who can make a plan for resolving it, as well as awareness of procedures for dealing with over-the-top callers/clients.

  35. !*

    Hi OP, I think you should give all the specifics to Jane again but also let her know if the calls don’t stop that you will have to go to HR (or whomever) to report improper use of the customer service phone line. No one knows the situation at her home, and it’s really up to her to deal with that, but in the workplace this cannot be tolerated. And perhaps, if someone starts the conversation, Jane will be able to get the help she needs (as necessary). I am really curious, you work for a company that has ONE phone line? None of the managers have their own phones/lines? Do you ever transfer calls to Jane from Fergus or is that not possible?

    1. Observer*

      Whoa! That’s a very blamey attitude to take.

      Jane is not misusing the customer service line. Fergus is, and you really have no way to know if she’s on board with it or not. But given how unreasonable he’s being with the OP, it’s pretty clear that he’s not a reasonable person who is going to stop just because his wife asked him to.

      1. Koala dreams*

        Just because he isn’t going to stop on his own it’s important to bring this up to someone higher up in the company that can put a stop to this.

        1. Observer*

          Oh, I agree that this needs to be brought up with someone. I just think it’s incorrect to assume that “Jane is misusing” anything.

      2. !*

        Not blamey at all, I would hate to be in the situation OP is in and they need assistance how to handle the issue, if Jane can’t direct OP, getting someone else at a higher level involved will be key here. With regard to misuse of the customer service phone line, I did not direct that at Jane, but Fergus. And I agree with the other posters that OP should not engage with Fergus at all, just the same script each time he calls, no information provided, and a confirmation of the number being used for customer service inquiries only.

      3. nonymous*

        I’m not reading ! as blaming Jane. I think in a lot of DV situations the abuser is really good at convincing the victim that they are right, and that the third party is being mean (and will also blame victim). By telling Jane “Hey, Fergus is calling X times a day and his behavior isn’t cool so I’m going to loop management/HR in.” If the org has a process for handling callers who are being inappropriate, they can also tell Jane what the process is (ToS has a good script).

        What this does is help Jane form an accurate narrative about what is happening. Fergus is calling hourly. Fergus is getting angry/abusive with customer service reps. Fergus is not listening to requests from the employer to stop the behavior. None of these are acceptable actions, and Jane needs to hear that. The first link about how to deal with DV in the workplace is a good read on why reinforcing reasonable norms is so important.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          It sucks because this is exactly what the abuser WANTs to happen, and often times it will: the company will figure that Jane should be cutting this off, and when she “won’t,” they fire her to get the problem to go away. That’s exactly the goal of the abuser, because now his victim is more dependent on him, looks worse in custody matters, and is less likely to leave.

          1. nonymous*

            I don’t think I’m being clear. By a coworker or company saying “Hey Fergus is acting inappropriately” and “Here is what we are doing to stop Fergus’ calls: script and escalate”, it sends the message that (a) Fergus is wrong and (b) there is a process (not Jane) to stop Fergus and (c) Company/peers support stopping Fergus’ behavior. Maybe it will empower Jane. At least it will stop OP from having to deal with Fergus on her own.

            That is not victim blaming. Naming Fergus’ behavior as inappropriate and having a policy for dealing with it does not make it Jane’s responsibility. Note that if Jane were running around telling coworkers to ignore the policy of handling these abusive calls, that could be a disciplinary issue, but it is not the discussion here.

          2. Anun walks into a bar*

            I’ll second that Fergus is being held accountable.

            The employers are all hopefully getting more aware of DV, but even more important, stands up for their process: managing an inappropriate caller.

            Ain’t nobody got time for Fergis’s mess. He best calm down and start calling places to sort out his anger, and get right with all that’s good in society.

  36. Rose N. Krantz*

    I would also pitch to Jane the possibility that you just stop giving Fergus any information. Every time he calls, you can’t put him through to Jane and you can’t give him information about where she is. “No, I’m sorry, she’s not here! I’m sorry, I don’t know where she is!” Once he’s not getting what he wants from spamming your customer line, he may taper off or stop.

    I recognize that he IS her partner and that he could one day have a legitimate reason for needing to get in touch with her, and that this is the only way since her private phone has to be locked up all day, but my feeling is that if you’re going to be abusing systems, then you suffer consequences, including the potential that the system won’t be there for you to use legitimately anymore.

  37. LGC*

    Oh man. This is legitimately one of the most bone- chilling letters I’ve ever seen here. Like, yeah, the rule is to not speculate, but he is calling you HOURLY in a threatening manner. LW, I’m almost as worried about you as I am about Jane.

    At the very least, please see what you can do to keep yourself safe. He’s already escalated his behavior, and I’m having serious trouble imagining a valid reason why he would go to those lengths.

  38. Koala dreams*

    Letter Writer, non-customers using the phone line to bully you at work by frequently making angry phone calls berating you for not knowing your manager’s exact location IS your business, and you do have the standing to bring it up to your manager, to HR and if needed, to someone above your manager. This is about your safety at work, and it’s not less important because this person abuses other people too. Sadly some bullies target custom service employees because they know their victims have to answer politely. I know there are awful customer service employers out there that require employees to keep talking to abusive callers, but a good employer would empower you to cut the calls short and hang up. It’s also possible to block their phone number and ban them from the store. I hope you feel encouraged to bring this issue up to your manager and other people at your company.

    1. Koala dreams*

      Sorry, I just realized I didn’t address the fact that the bully is a relative of your manager. I don’t think it changes the situation. You still deserve a safe workplace free from bullying. However, it might make it harder to deal with, since your manager is stuck between her duties as a manager and her personal situation at home. Maybe you will need to involve HR or someone higher up to get this resolved if that’s the case.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yeah it just stinks it’s her manager’s husband, because the person OP would usually go to with a harassing caller is her boss. It makes it more awkward to raise it (but OP should definitely raise it, and elevate it as necessary, because I do think this person may escalate and the boss may downplay the risk for complicated reasons).

  39. Buttons*

    This situation is scary. Not just for Jane but the OP as well. Jane sounds like a professional, and if she was able to stop the calls she would. It sounds to me like she can’t, and that is worrisome. My instinct if I were OP is to cheerfully reply to Fergus “No, I am sorry, she is not in. I will let her know you called!” and hang up. But I do worry that could escalate his anger, and someone who is willing to treat the person answering the phone the way he is treating OP could be capable of more. Sigh. What an awful situation for OP and Jane.
    OP, good luck and keep us posted!

    1. nonegiven*

      > “No, I am sorry, she is not in. I will let her know you called!”

      No, don’t say she is not here, say she is not available.

  40. Mama Bear*

    I know someone who was married to a man who was irrational and would do things like stalk her on campus to ensure she was really taking night classes and not stepping out on him, and then he twisted it to be she must be dating a fellow student. There was literally nothing she could have done to appease him because he’d always come up with another twisted accusation. Her success was threatening to him because it meant she didn’t depend on him as much. Same may be true for Jane. People like Fergus aren’t going to take reasoning. I would work with Jane on a script to get him off the line quickly. OP and Jane may also need to confirm with building security how to handle it if he comes to the office or escalates. I hope for Jane’s sake that she leaves him. He sounds controlling and abusive.

  41. Lime Lehmer*

    The better reply might be” Jane is not available to come to the phone right now”, rather than “she is not in.”

    But that does not address the issue that Fergus seems angry and controlling and OP fears escalation.
    OP should probably speak clearly and directly to her manager as Alison suggests, but also plan on talking to HR or high level management if the calls do not resolve themselves within a few days of speaking to her manager.

  42. cosmicgorilla*

    Ok, I have a question. A lot of commenters have suggested continuing to trot out the “I don’t know where she is” line. Given his reactions over the phone, would it be better to say instead “she’s in a meeting” or “she’s helping a customer”? If he is trying to check up on her whereabouts, I just worry that “I don’t know” will allow his crazy to spin out of control and imagine she’s somewhere or with someone Not Approved by his Royal Controliness.

    I know that he’s not likely to be easily reasoned with no matter that the response, but “I don’t know” just seems like it’s fueling the fire.

    1. Observer*

      No. The OP needs to not be giving Fergus any information. “she’s in a meeting” or “she’s helping a customer” or anything else will just get a torrent of demands for details – and may also wind up causing problems when Fergus demands details from Jane when she gets home.

    2. Sloan Kittering*

      This is why I think something like, “Our HR has told me that I’m not able to talk to you about our employees locations anymore. Unfortunately, this line is for customers and I’m going to have to ask you not to use it to ask me these questions anymore,” (and then screening the calls after that) is better than either “I don’t know” or “she’s busy right now.” But, whatever Jane and the superiors think is probably the best idea, as long as they don’t tell OP to just keep dealing with him.

      1. The Third*

        Do not explain, own your power, especially if you have the employer’s blessing.

        It’s better to answer “we’ve reviewed the protocol for this business line, and we don’t process personal calls during work hours. We can identify callers and repeated calls will result in consequences to the caller. This call is ending now. [End call]

        It might take one call, or three, but the point has been made.

        Something slightly less harsh works for squabbling older children who are smart enough to try other ways to reach a parent.

    3. Pernk*

      I think it’s best to make it clear OP /cannot give this information/ because this is not the correct avenue to get it. Say nicely this is a helpdesk line and does have a product question (or whatever is the appropriate use of this line). Give ZERO answers about Jane or Jane’s whereabouts.

  43. Star*

    While I agree with the advice overall, I’m honestly massively uneasy that this answer includes “if” this is an abusive relationship, at least twice. There is literally no other reason for someone to behave the way the husband is. None.

    1. Star*

      I meant to add, if someone can come up with a plausible alternative explanation, I’d be happy to consider it.

      1. Jaybeetee*

        This is one of those “intent vs impact” things. The “impact” is abusive, regardless of the intent.

        Many – even most – abusive people don’t perceive themselves as abusive. In the abuser’s mind, their behaviour is entirely justified (there is literature to this effect). They might call that behaviour “abusive” if someone else does it, but tend to do a lot of “yeah, but it’s different with us, because XYZ.” There tends to be a lack of insight – many abusers truly believe the things they tell themselves too, and never examine what’s running under the surface for them. They tend to blame their partners, and tend to truly believe that if their partners just “did better”, they wouldn’t “have” to do these things that other people, who don’t know the situation, might mistakenly believe to be abusive!

        With that in mind, there’s a lot of stuff that can lead to abusive behaviours other than “psychopathically seeking to destroy your partner’s life.” PTSD and addiction were mentioned above, dementia, traumatic brain injuries, and a number of other untreated mental illnesses can also result in abusive behaviour. There was a letter here awhile ago where a woman struggling with anxiety opened her colleague’s paystub, got her address, and went to her home. The fact that she didn’t have malevolent intent doesn’t change that her behaviour was waaaaay off the rails. If her anxiety had manifested into calling her partner hourly at work, and freaking out if she couldn’t reach him – that’s still abusive behaviour, even if it’s about her anxiety, as opposed to an active plot to monitor him. She’s still monitoring him if she does that.

        I spell this out because with the person with whom I experienced just a smidgen of emotional abuse (and thankfully never anything like in the letter) – he would grasp onto any “special pleading” he found for those behaviours, any kind of “but it’s okay to do if it’s XYZ situation.” And while I know no one here is condoning what Fergus is doing, saying things like “Maybe it’s not abuse, maybe it’s [other problem]” sort of paves the way to people saying, “Oh, well when *I* call my partner hourly at work and want to know where they are at all times, it’s different!” It kind of implies that there are circumstances where such behaviour is “okay” – when apart from rare emergencies, it really never should be.

        All this to say Star, I’m not disagreeing with you! I’m just seeing these sorts of conversations all over this thread, and wanted to drop this point here.

        1. LGC*

          This comment needs to be stickied somewhere. I think that’s what bothered me a little about the response – even if Fergus doesn’t have bad intentions, the effect is to menace the LW and Jane. So even if he’s not a capital-A Abuser, he’s still behaving in an abusive manner. (And he could still be dangerous.

          Unfortunately, there isn’t really a word for “he’s being abusive unintentionally.”

        2. wittyrepartee*

          Most abusers are, on the inside, people in a lot of emotional pain. That sucks, and it’s good to incorporate the idea that not all harmful people are mustache twirling villains. However, that doesn’t mean that we excuse their behavior.

  44. Anontoday*

    I don’t have much to add other than my own experience with this. My (now ex) husband would call my work phone numerous times throughout the day. If I didn’t answer (bc I was in a meeting, in the restroom, whatever), he would FREAK OUT and accuse me of sneaking out to hook up with a lover. I did not have any lovers. I was working full time and the mother of 2 little kids. There was no time, energy or the desire for a lover. He would also accuse me of having affairs with men at my place of employment. There were no affairs. He would also want to know what we were having for dinner. He never physically abused me, but the level of control he tried to exercise over my life was pretty terrible.
    I hope Jane is okay and gets herself out of this situation. The LW should definitely notify HR or upper management today and keep a log of dates and times the husband is calling.

  45. Andy*

    There is someone reading these comments right now who is realizing that they are abusive
    There is someone reading these comments right now who is realizing that they were abusive
    Whoever you are: you can stop. You can stop hurting the people in your life.
    Stop.
    There is someone reading these comments right now who is realizing that they are being abused
    There is someone reading these comments right now who is realizing that they were being abused
    It is not your fault. There is help.
    The National Domestic Violence Hotline:
    1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224

    1. Remizidae*

      I would add that this sort of controlling and surveilling is not okay *even if* your partner is having sex with someone else. So often our society tells us that people with nonstandard sex lives deserve to be mistreated…

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        This sort of controlling and surveilling is not ok *no matter what* your relationship is with the abuser and no matter what their relationship is with others. Romantic partner, co-worker, neighborhood acquaintance, friend, family, random stranger.
        – They should not call you insulting names
        – They should not create problems for you at work
        – They should not grill you about where you were and who you were with (except parents of minors)

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      When you’re on a help desk, you can’t just let the phone ring. And if there is a way to dump it to voicemail, you better have permission because a lot of places would fire a CSR for that.

  46. gsa*

    I will readily admit that I have not read all 318 comments.

    Is the OP the only one who feels like she’s being bombarded with the, “Where is Jane?”
    calls?

    I will see if I can get through all the comments, however if Fergus is calling rapidfire Jane cannot be the only one who picks up his call.

    Good luck OP, don’t make Jane’s problem your problem.

    gsa

    ps: alison green, when you publish a letter, do you alert, email, or otherwise the OP that you have answered their question?

      1. gsa*

        Sloan Kittering,

        Cool, I did not know that. I hope the original poster is following this thread. It’s gone a little whack a doodle, and there are some very good comments here.

        I also hope her coworker Jane’s situation is not as dire as many posters have suggested.

        Thank you for your kind response,

        gsa

  47. staceyizme*

    Wow, this is alarming. Jane doesn’t need another chance to address this. She had her shot. Do whatever it takes. Document. Go over her head. Cut the call short. Tell him you have to go and disconnect. Be consistent in setting these boundaries. Because- wow- he’s over the line. ( And out the door and down the road and on to the interstate and over into the next land mass…)

    1. Nicotene*

      This is exactly the opposite of what Alison says, which is that if you suspect abuse you need to work with Jane because she knows the situation and her own safety best. If you do something unilaterally, even if well intentioned, that could absolutely set somebody like this off. Jane is the best in the best position to know if this guy will kill her, kill you all, or just go away if challenged. Also abuse victims don’t really need more people telling them they aren’t capable of making their own decisions and don’t know what’s best for them. That’s their abusers message.

    2. MistOrMister*

      Jane actually doesn’t seem to have had a chance to address this. OP says they just told Jane that Fergus has been calling a lot. OP does not appear to have told Jane that Fergus is calling hourly every day AND being combative. I could understand if OP felt unsafe and wanted to talk to HR or a grandboss about the issuse, but I also think it would be doing Jane a kindness to let her know exactly what is going on. Maybe she would handle things differently if she knew how bad they were. But as long as she doesn’t know, she can’t be deemed to have had a fair chance to quash the problem.

  48. JRC*

    A lot of effort being put in for Jane here but why should her subordinate be expected to play defense? I agree with the folks who say go over Jane’s head, life’s hard enough without having to be your manager’s protector and/or cop abuse from their spouse.

  49. Pernk*

    OP, this sucks. In the meantime, maybe take a page from “the gift of fear” (stalker section); make these calls deeply unsatisfying for Fergus. Run it past Jane first but perhaps just responding like a nice broken record “I’m sorry, this is a customer service line, do you have a question about our product?” will take away the ability for him to try to engage in surveillance this way.
    Are the calls recorded? That would be nice too.

  50. Essess*

    I would have a private discussion with Jane and say “Fergus gets very angry at me on the phone when I tell him that you’re not available. If he ever shows up in the office in person and you’re not available, what should I do if he behaves the same way to me in person?” This emphasizes to her that his behavior is making you feel threatened and worried. If she does have the ability to stand up to him, this might be enough motivation to make her more proactive at getting him to stop. If she doesn’t have the ability, at least you’ve publicly demonstrated that you feel threatened and so if it continues it would be reasonable for you to have a discussion with HR or her supervisor to give some advice. At my office, we had a similar issue with a potentially threatening person, and for about a month we kept the front door locked and there was a plain-clothes guard standing near the door to let people in.

  51. Concerned*

    A lot of people are saying that Fergus could be abusive but he could sound agitated for many reasons.

    A few years ago, I was being stalked and it went on for years. I ended up emigrating as the harassment laws where I lived at the time meant that the stalker could get away with it quite easily. Consequently I was a nervous, anxious, raw nerve ending. I would constantly call my spouse and shout down the phone because I couldn’t handle even seeing a strange car on my street. Anyone listening would easily have thought I was abusive from the way that I carried on. I cringe thinking about it. Maybe Fergus is anxious, depressed, concerned or maybe he is abusive. We don’t know. All we know is that he sounds angry and calls a lot.

    I agree with the poster who said to document everything he says and every time he calls so that Jane sees the extent of the problem.

    1. Observer*

      I’m sorry you went through such a rough time. But, that doesn’t really change the fact that Fergus’ *behavior* is abusive. Your experience doesn’t show otherwise.

      Best case, you were dumping your fear on your husband. If you were doing this hourly, then you were being abusive. If you were yelling at other people, you were being abusive as well. Same for grilling either your husband or his co-workers for specific details of his schedule.

      Yelling at people and grilling them for details you’re not entitled to, on a regular, basis is abusive behavior. Even if it’s due to legitimate issues, it’s abusive. The OP is not responsible for whatever Fergus’ problem is and what Fergus is doing IS abuse.

  52. Letter Writer*

    Thank you for answering my question and thank you to the commentariat for all your insight.

    To answer some frequently asked questions:

    Jane does know the frequency of Fergus’ calls. She doesn’t have a business line of her own for me to redirect any calls to, he can either call our Customer Service Desk to try to get Jane or he can call the outside line for reporting absences/sicknesses. Since there’s no chance of getting Jane on the phone on the sickness line it’s probably the reason he’s not tried that.

    I work in a team of twelve and two of us are on shift at any one time, and Jane works core hours of 9-5. My shifts cover the same hours daily, and overlap with Jane’s, so the nuisance calls from Fergus affect me and a couple of other colleagues more than the others, but I was recently on annual leave and the colleague who covered me (usually takes the desk after Jane’s core hours so has never experienced Fergus before) was horrified at Fergus’ behaviour, so at least I’m not alone in my concerns.

    Jane very rarely answers the phone herself, she deals more with the face to face customer issues, so Fergus doesn’t even get an intermittent reward for his efforts.

    I’m actually in the UK, so the violence aspect (particularly the gun issue) didn’t even register with me. We don’t work or live in a particularly rural area, so I would be surprised if Fergus had access to a firearm (Hot Fuzz was not wrong about farmers and farmers’ mums packing in the countryside!) Thank you for raising that issue though because I hadn’t even considered it being an issue of personal safety. While gun crime is low, knife crime is rising and that is a serious concern for me now.

    Before the letter was published I did have an opportunity to ask Jane if everything is ok, and ask her what she would prefer me to do about Fergus’ calls. We have the ‘this call may be recorded’ pre-recorded line, but the content of our calls aren’t actually recorded, just the number and the duration. Jane just kept apologising for the calls and said she would speak to Fergus again. (To no avail.)

    As much as I like Jane, I can’t take any more of Fergus, and now I’m afraid for my personal safety, so my only option now is to take it further.

    1. Pernk*

      Sorry OP.
      It’s worth reporting above you; again I suggest putting forward the solution of not giving Fergus any info on his wife (or any caller any info on an employee) when he calls. Make Jane aware in advance; you note that he does not call the other line because he doesn’t get anything from it.

    2. embertine*

      LW, I think you’ve handled this beautifully – you’ve made sure Jane is aware of the seriousness, she is possibly unwilling but more likely unable to do anything about it, so it’s time to escalate. When you do report it to HR or the higher ups, please do emphasise that you’re concerned for Jane and the bosses need to work with her to find a solution, one that doesn’t involve firing her as a) she’s good at her job and b) if this is abuse that will make her even more vulnerable.

      1. FormerFirstTimer*

        Yeah, I think emphasizing your concern is a good idea because there are so many ways this could end badly for Jane. Now that she has made it clear she either won’t or can’t (doesn’t really matter at this point) I feel you have the absolute right to escalate this. You don’t have to be a doormat for anyone, let alone your managers crazy husband.

    3. Observer*

      I agree with the others – you have to kick it upstairs.

      I would ask for three things. Firstly, permission to just never put him through and to not give him any information. In fact a standard script that you can use like “I cannot give you call to Jane. And I’ve been instructed by management not to give out her information to anyone, including you. Have a good day” Hang up.

      Secondly, is there a way to actually record the calls? Perhaps there is a way for you to kit a “record” button so that it doesn’t need to be a situation where the system is recording ALL calls.

      Thirdly, some sort of safety plan. If you have a parking lot, that needs to be well lit. Security needs to know that he’s not allowed in the building. etc.

      1. Semprini!*

        I wonder if it might be better to tell him “We have been instructed by management not to give out information about employees to anyone, including their spouses”?

        It seems to me that if he feels it’s personal, that might be more likely to make him angry (and therefore make him take it out on Jane and/or go storming into your workplace) than if he thought it was a broad company policy. (I mean, he’s probably not going to be calm and content even if it’s a broad company policy, but I think it being personal would make him more angry.)

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          Enh. He’ll find something to be angry about, regardless. Trying to fine-tune the precise words to avoid the explosion … that’s actually what abused spouses/children often do. Walking on eggshells kinda stuff. (That said, I agree it’s better to make it company-wide and impersonal. If nothing else, it will sound better to the people waiting in line who get to hear the phone call.)

  53. CK*

    I experienced something like this when I was in college 20 years ago, I wasn’t the victim, it was a coworker. We worked in a department store and the sales floor had phones all over it that had its own outside line that could be called in on, each phone had a consecutive number, like 555-1234, 555, 1235, 555-1236, etc. Her husband would call each extension in a row until she answered one, every night she worked, at least 3 times a night. If someone else answered, he would hang up and go to the next number. It was insane. If for some reason she did not answer after he made the circuit of numbers he would then show up at the store and stalk around until he saw her and then would just leave without approaching her. He was huge too. Finally management stepped in and told her this had to stop, she quit a few days later. Shes fine now, she did leave him and seems to be living a great life now(we are FB friends) but it was terrifying at the time.

  54. GM*

    Might be worth writing down the time/date everytime Fergus calls. Could be useful in the future or as evidence to Jane/HR

  55. Amy*

    LW, is this job worth your life? Have a very clear answer to that question in mind before you do anything else.

    Why do I have the feeling that Fergus was a problem in Jane’s former department at the company? It’s interesting that Jane’s been transferred to customer service, which (no disrespect to CS) is typically a lower-rung department in a corporate environment.

    In how many ways must LW tell Jane that Fergus is calling too much? In all likelihood, JANE ALREADY KNOWS and is using LW as a buffer.

    LW absolutely cannot rely on the company acting prudently to protect her safety and that of her coworkers. This is the US corporate environment we’re talking about. And this may sound really harsh, but LW is within her right to put distance between Jane and the ticking time bomb chained to Jane’s ankle, by any means necessary.

    LW, please waste no time in ADVISING (not asking) HR and Jane’s superior as follows, IN WRITING:

    1) Fergus is calling the company helpline multiple times a day to talk to Jane, and sounds angry. If you have his phone number, put it in the email. They’ll have the call logs already, and if they don’t, they’re bozos.
    2) LW has advised Jane that Fergus is calling a lot, and no action has been taken.
    3) Going forward, for LW to feel safe at her job, LW needs to be able to transfer Fergus’s calls to security. Till then, she’ll be putting him on hold when he calls, since he is eating up company time with personal business. (LW probably shouldn’t do this in reality, because it will certainly enrage Fergus further that Another Woman has the audacity to ignore him. But it’s a good thing to tell outsiders because it may force their hand.)
    4) Brook no efforts to make you backpedal on #3. Personal safety doesn’t respect corporate etiquette (which as a group, USians really need to realize that it’s a tool, not a set of laws).
    5) Make a mental list of people who can serve as references who aren’t in this chain of command.

    Give the company a week at the very outside to put #3 into motion. They probably won’t.

    If they do nothing, time to start taking sick days, I think. A doctor’s note might be able to get a longterm disability package in motion, if LT disability is an option: the job has become inherently stressful, no? And finally, LW should consult with an attorney to see if she can quit and go out on unemployment.

  56. Alice's Rabbit*

    I had a long- distance boyfriend like this once. Had to know where I was and what I was doing and who I was with, every second of every day. He wanted me IMing or chatting on the phone with him every moment he was available, even if I was in class or at work.
    If I didn’t answer immediately, he would call my apartment and demand that my roommates track me down. One of them started getting really angry at me about it, which really didn’t help matters. In fact, her anger left me incapable of believing that the other roommates were legitimately worried about me.
    He got me fired from my job, due to his constant demands.
    He accused me of cheating on him, among other things, because otherwise I wouldn’t be unavailable to talk constantly. He tried to convince me to drop out of college and move across the country to live with him… in his dorm. He said horrible things about my family, trying to ruin my relationship with them so I wouldn’t have anyone else to rely on. And the negging! Ugh!
    It took me more than a year to free myself from his abuse. What finally turned the tide was finding, while cleaning out some folders to use for the new semester, an old handout from my high school days about abusive relationships. It had a list of behaviors common among abusers before they turn to physical assault. He ticked off every single item on the list.
    At that point, I knew I had to get out. It took some time, but I did.
    Unfortunately, my best girl friend from back in high school wasn’t so lucky. He’s convinced her that I was evil, but that she shouldn’t even hear me out, because that would be asking her to choose sides. Now, he’s isolated her from her family, her religion, made her quit her job, knocked her up… she has no support structure except him.
    So please, OP, make sure that no one makes Jane feel like this is her fault, or that you’re angry, etc. That would only make it harder for her to reach out when she does need help. If no one in HR has a lot of experience handling this kind of thing, I strongly recommend reaching out to a nearby battered women’s group, and asking for advice on how to handle him.

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