updates: the nameplate drama, contract-to-hire, and more

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

1. My company says if you have a problem with someone, confront the person within three days (#2 at the link)

After seeing my question published and talking to a close friend at work, I felt kind of empowered and did a few things. First, I privately emailed back our COO and asked him to clarify on the Three Day Rule. I explained in my email I understood the thoughts behind this rule, but I wanted to share that with some things people would feel more comfortable with speaking to HR rather than directly with the person. Since our office is small, I’d consider myself close enough with the COO to voice these opinions, and I think he felt similarly because later that day he came to my desk and apologized for the email wording. He said that if by any means a serious offense occurred or in his words “if anyone inappropriately touches you” please go to HR. He wanted to clarify that the rule was meant for work projects and personality conflicts, and he clarified to the company later that day by amending his email.

Secondly, I did end up going to HR the next time they were in- office. I work with a lot of men similar to my age, and they are aware of what’s been going on with this co- worker. I’m grateful to these guys since if I ever needed to go back to this person’s office they would go with me, or if this person came to my desk one of the guys would come by and hang out too. I am aware that with the male co- worker I mentioned, I am not the only woman in the office who has had these weird and uncomfortable experiences and with more young woman being hired I didn’t want anyone else to experience this and I was getting tired of being jumpy at work. HR was sympathetic to my situation, but (as I thought) because nothing specifically related to sexual harassment or harassment occurred they were limited in what they could do. HR did say if I was willing to confide in them who the person was, they could mention to this person’s manager that they were disrupting work flow occasionally (like asking for my personal email at work) and were being careless with company property (like crashing into my chair with the mail cart). I didn’t end up supplying a name because I felt uncomfortable doing so and was afraid of any potential clashback from this person. But a benefit to an open office concept with all glass meeting rooms, I did see this person see me and walk by while I was talking to HR.

I’m not 100% sure what happened after this – and we’ve hypothesized anything from therapy, he got a girlfriend, someone talked to him – but the weird encounters have since slowed. Instead of daily weird encounters, it’s petered down to once a week or every other week. Literally right before writing this email, I walked past him in a hallway and went past with no small talk or acknowledgement. I know that’s not a huge win, but it’s better than before! The guys in my office continue to form a sort of “big brother” protectiveness when he’s around and that makes me feel more comfortable. He occasionally will run out of his office to say bye still and since it’s winter here, last week he ran out of the building to tell me I had “the cutest earmuffs he’s ever seen” but I took a page from the commenters and just pretended I didn’t hear him and kept going!

I’m not quite sure at this point where if I can influence things to be better or worse, but I have a lot of great scripts! So thank you everyone and stay warm this winter!

2. Is contract-to-hire worth it?

You were kind enough to publish my letter as an Ask the Readers segment a few months ago, and I wanted to provide an update.

Luckily, this one has a very happy ending – today I was informed that they had sent an offer letter to hire me on full time, and Ingot ANOTHER RAISE, which is amazing – it looks like I’ll be making double the salary from my old job, plus better benefits, which is *awesome*!

I want to thank the readers for their thoughtful comments and advice; they brought up some really valid points that I honestly hadn’t thought of, and gave me some good prospective. If I ever do this again, I’ll definitely have some good points to go off of!

I really love my coworkers and the job – it challenges me in new and productive ways, and I’m super excited – I feel super blessed, God is good!

Thanks again for publishing my letter, and to your always-on-point readers!

3. Nameplate drama (#4 at the link)

I appreciate you publishing my letter and all that commented. I wrote my original letter in haste so I apologize if I wasn’t clear. Most of my coworkers were upset. A few commenters were wondering if Jan was misunderstood. She is not. Jan collected the name plates as a trophy of people who quit or were fired. She has been vindictive and insulting to others for years. She phrases her insults as “jokes” and no one ever addressed it. Luckily, she works from home 3 of the 5 days a week and has taken more of a back office role so there isn’t as much contact with the rest of team.

You were right that there are a lot of issues in my department in general and the reason why things like this happen. The head of our department visited with Jan at her desk and laughed about her collection. Some years back, another director saw it as inappropriate but he was only temporary. As soon as he left, the name plates went back up. A number of us, including a director were hiding nameplates of people who left. As for why the director didn’t do anything … I don’t know. Our management team style is defend and deflect. They refer to themselves as “leadership” but they’re not.

The admin assistant for head of our department spoke with him and Jan was told to take down the name plates and picture. She had displayed a picture of most recent manager that had quit since we hid his name plate.

There are still problems and my department has been under review for over a year to see if we will be kept, closed or sold. I’ve stayed because the overall company is great, it’s just my department. We have new leadership above head of my department, so we’re hopeful. I am also being paid retention and spot bonuses to stay thru the end of 2020. I have great 1 on 1 reviews and management is working with me to move me to next step in my career. I’m finding it is best to work with my management for benefit of my career. I credit you, your blog & commenters for getting thru the crap. Thank you!

4. Is it too early to ask about how we handle vacations around the holidays? (#5 at the link)

The day you posted the response, I went to my boss to clear my holiday plans with him and it was totally fine, and he appreciated me letting him know months in advance! That being said, I just got back to work after working from the west coast for two weeks. It was awful! I had to get up super early and I definitely don’t feel like I enjoyed my holiday time as much as I should have, and I definitely wasn’t as productive (not that there was that much to do, anyway). I feel very lucky that I work for a company that is so flexible with remote work but I probably won’t be doing this again. I’m sure a lot of other people would be really into that option but it turns out it doesn’t work for me, and now that I know that I can plan my time off much better.

{ 151 comments… read them below }

  1. JJ*

    #1 Ugh, yuck I HATE the dudes who do this stuff, it’s always *just* under the radar enough for them to be like “it was totally innocent!” if confronted. Could one of your bodyguard guys pull him aside and explicitly be like “hey, I’m sure you are just being friendly, but you need to lay off with following LW to the parking lot and [whatever else] because it’s coming across as creepy.”? In my experience, those types of dudes are either truly oblivious to social cues like you ignoring his compliments, or they’re actual creeps who willfully “miss” those cues on purpose.

    1. Kes*

      I do wonder if one of the guys did make some kind of comment since he did back off a bit. Unfortunately, better =/= good and he probably does need things to be explicitly laid out to fully change

      1. valentine*

        it’s always *just* under the radar enough for them to be like “it was totally innocent!” if confronted.
        Someone can still tell him flat to leave her alone. I think his role makes it easier to stop him, including via removal.

        Could one of your bodyguard guys pull him aside and explicitly be like “hey, I’m sure you are just being friendly, but you need to lay off with following LW to the parking lot and [whatever else] because it’s coming across as creepy.”?
        The bodyguards don’t need to soften their language and doing so would hurt OP1 because it’s agreeing with him and naming her as the problem, whereas a plain “Cut it out,” and unwillingness to listen to justification says they are on Team OP1.

        Because the COO responded well to feedback about his directive, I think it’s worth reporting the guy to him. The male phalanx isn’t sustainable and is falling short, as the aggressor still hunted her down as she left.

        1. Jeffrey Deutsch*

          I assume you mean after asking him what happened, hearing his side of the story (and either he agreed with what she said or after listening to him you find her more credible) and not getting any context that would make those acts permissible (for example, he ran out to her in the parking lot because he’d almost forgotten to tell here there was a meeting first thing the next morning).

          Then yes, by all means make it crystal clear he needs to cut it out. That kind of behavior is creepy, no two ways about it, and even if he feels it’s just being friendly he needs to cut it out.

          But why go out of your way to be harsh, especially if he may have just missed the social signals and meant no harm? Phrases like “I’m sure you are just being friendly, but” and “coming across as” are just the proverbial spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. They do not “name” anyone else as the problem, they just assume good intent on the recipient’s part — which actually helps him comply because you’re (1) giving him a good name to live up to and (2) reducing his incentive to argue and resist.

          “You need to lay off with [X, Y and Z]” is the message. And it’s still there, crystal-clear.

          1. revueller*

            You might be surprised by how many men hear “I’m sure you’re just being friendly…” and think “Yeah, I’m being friendly! I’m not the problem!” Or “..it comes across as creepy” and think “Well, I don’t *mean* to be creepy, so I’m not the problem!”

            You’re also giving a lot of benefit of the doubt to someone who has made multiple women, not just OP, uncomfortable with his behavior. It got to the point where *other men* are noticing that he’s behaving creepily around women. That’s a big deal.

            1. Jeffrey Deutsch*

              You might be surprised by how many men hear “I’m sure you’re just being friendly…” and think “Yeah, I’m being friendly! I’m not the problem!” Or “..it comes across as creepy” and think “Well, I don’t *mean* to be creepy, so I’m not the problem!”

              I think if you’re still saying “You need to lay off with [X, Y and Z]” that message comes through.

              But I’ll take your point under advisement

              You’re also giving a lot of benefit of the doubt to someone who has made multiple women, not just OP, uncomfortable with his behavior. It got to the point where *other men* are noticing that he’s behaving creepily around women. That’s a big deal.

              I believe everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt. It’s quite possible for someone to just not fit in and for multiple people to feel uncomfortable around them. (That happens especially often to people on the autism spectrum.)

              In any case, it’s just plain wrong to assume (1) someone did something, not to mention (2) that it was intentional, simply because someone else — or even multiple someone elses — said so. Nothing to lose by hearing both sides, and lots to gain. Time enough to act once we have all the facts.

          2. Etc.*

            It’s disingenous to not take letter writers at their word. OP1 did not say that he ran out to tell her there’s a meeting first thing in the morning — she said he ran out to tell her goodbye, and to compliment her earmuffs. If he had a legitimate, work-related reason to follow her to the parking lot, let’s assume that OP would have shared that with us. (Also: email is a thing. If there had been this mythical morning meeting, he could have emailed about it rather than follow her out to the parking lot.)

            Why give this guy the benefit of the doubt when he’s the one violating social norms and making multiple people uncomfortable?

            1. Jeffrey Deutsch*

              What you call disingenuous, I call only fair.

              We’re not talking about how we should discuss this here, when nobody knows who’s being accused anyway so there’s no harm done. We’re talking about how the other people right there should act.

              Oh, and lay off the condescension please. We’re posting here, we all know email is a thing. What we don’t know is whether the accused actually had her personal email address — only that he asked for it.

              Some people creep deliberately, others creep mistakenly. They need to be stopped, albeit in different ways depending on the intent.

              And others misunderstand others’ behavior, fudge or out and out lie. And they need to be stopped too, again in different ways depending on the intent.

              Multiple people feeling uncomfortable about someone does not necessarily make pne the villain. It means the situation is worth investigating. And if after hearing all sides we find he did inappropriate things, we can make him stop — harder or softer depending on how deliberate he was.

              As Oliver Wendell Holmes pointed out, even a dog distinguishes between being stumbled over and being kicked.

    2. Half-Caf Latte*

      Dude is actively counting on HR to say well none of these things individually is that bad so we can’t help.

      They absofreakingloutely could say – you have a pattern of unwelcome interactions with younger women employees – cut that shit out, but apparently won’t.

      Side note: what sort of Occam’s Paisley Tie is this HR wearing that asking for personal contact details explicitly to contact you outside of work about non-work related matters is “interrupting workflow”.

      OP, I have so much side eye for your HR.

      1. Well Then*

        Seriously! It’s utter BS that HR says they can’t do anything about this. If they wanted to, they would. The problem is that there’s no will to intervene.

        1. MelonHelen*

          I think the problem is that LW didn’t feel comfortable telling HR *who* was doing this. How can HR address it in any form, if they don’t know who’s causing the problems?

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            She wasn’t willing to say his name because the options they gave her were all bad. Further, the meeting was in a glass-walled meeting room. Creepy Guy walked past and saw her in that meeting.

            HR booted this one.

            1. valentine*

              what sort of Occam’s Paisley Tie is this HR wearing that asking for personal contact details explicitly to contact you outside of work about non-work related matters is “interrupting workflow”.
              If reporting, I would frame it as impacting my work so they don’t essentially say, “Sounds like a personal problem” or “Just let him down easy.”

              If the cart is an identifiable detail, OP1 may not have mentioned it. The full spectrum is important to report, as is the age difference. Also, I wonder if it would help to say, “He needs to stop. How do we accomplish that?” and to drill down with, “Are you saying I have to tolerate him following me to my car and crashing the cart into my chair?”

              1. valentine*

                If the cart is an identifiable detail, OP1 may not have mentioned it.
                Completely missed that she did mention the cart!

                So. What does the company policy say? If it’s as high a bar as HR feels they need, that, too, is worth discussing with the COO.

      2. Jeffrey Deutsch*

        Excellent point. Many HR departments/other folks in authority tend to “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil”. And bullies and predators know it and use salami tactics*.

        [*] Aggressing just a little bit at a time, so no individual incident seems worth the bother but collectively doing quite a lot.

    3. Archaeopteryx*

      The classic opportunity for “If it’s not a big deal, Fergus, then you won’t mind stopping.”

    4. Anonys*

      OP1, I think the fact that you needed another male coworker with you to even feel comfortable going into this guys office is pretty bad! And you’re still having uncomfortable interactions about once a week.

      It’s true that none of the individual instances here seem super duper creepy, but you and your coworkers are reading his behaviour as very uncomfortable, so it’s definitely reasonable to call him out on it! Of course HR can’t do much, if you don’t tell them who is bothering you and I know from experience it’s really really hard to speak up in those situations that aren’t very obviously wrong but leave you feeling uneasy. BUT it’s important to say something nonetheless. You don’t need to directly tell him he makes you uncomfortable, you can just respond to individual instances – “Please don’t run out of your office to say bye to me again, it’s unnecessary and makes me jumpy” “Please don’t crash into my chair again, it’s startling and intrusive”. Since your other male coworkers also find this guy creepy, surely they’ll back you up, if there’s any pushback on his part.

      Also, I’m interested, does he not do these things/behave differently, whenever a male coworker comes to your desk to “protect” you? I also don’t love that whole dynamic of “Oh, we need to go protect her” instead of them actually calling the behaviour out. I get that it makes you feel more comfortable, but it really shouldn’t be necessary and seems to be getting in the way of the issue actually being resolved.

      1. Anonys*

        If addressing it doesn’t improve things, I would also escalate to his manager (maybe as a group), describe that he is interrupting the workplace with childish antics, that you have asked him to stop directly, but he is ignoring your pleas. Your office might want you to handle personal conflicts on your own, but sometimes it’s not possible and you have a right to work undisturbed and have your personal space respected.

        1. Batgirl*

          I really like the idea of pushing back as a group, because this guy is operating in a way where he expects no organised push back. He knows HR is useless; he’s happy to run roughshod over implied individual disapprovals.
          I think being a protective ally, or being a polite non-scene maker, is a good thing initially; you’re waiting for due process to take over. But when everyone is permanently uncomfortable and there is no system, these men and women have to admit they need to be more organised allies.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        “I also don’t love that whole dynamic of “Oh, we need to go protect her” instead of them actually calling the behaviour out.”

        Agreed, Anonys. If they really wanted to be protective, they would tell the guy to knock it the eff off.

        1. Anonys*

          Exactly! I also wonder, are these guys her peers? Might she supervise one of them one day or the other way round? By thinking of her peers as kind of “big brothers” it feels a bit like she is making herself small compared to them (not sure how to phrase this). Men should support and stand up for woman but the male protector is quite a patriarchal concept.

          This might not be an issue in this particular case, but I would slightly worry of putting myself in that role of “needs protection” as a woman in the workplace. It CAN start to affect how people view your professional competence and authority, if they see you as their protectee.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Patriarchal concept: yes, that is exactly what was bothering me about this situation also. It might not be, but if it is that is irritating in its own right.

          2. Hmmm*

            Thank you Anonys. The big brother line made me nervous for her ability to grow in her career. The potential for a perception issue down the line is very present with the protector attitude. Plus it re-enforces the idea that women should have to change their lives to “stay safe” rather than society – in this case the company and her male peers – calling out the perpetrators.

            1. Anonys*

              Yes! Protection from those with more power in society can be necessary in the short-term, but in this case it’s also enabling the status quo. Men who really want to support women, fight for a word in which they aren’t in need to male protection.

              If she ever wants to move into a supervisor role, the reality is, it will really undermine her that she needs a male escort to enter a certain coworker’s office. Have other women in the office adopted the same strategy? This situation needs to be addressed.

    5. Quill*

      Most of the guys who are oblivious will apologize profusely if you give them a flat “stop that” and everyone else is pretty much purposefully obtuse.

      1. Anonys*

        One of the problems is that OP doesn’t seem to have ever said anything like that to him. It’s hard and uncomfortable and women are conditioned not to, but it’s necessary that she finds the strength to do it.

        Alison’s advice from the original letter is spot on:
        “As for your coworker … I do think your first step there is to tell him directly to stop, if you haven’t already. If it doesn’t stop after that and it feels creepy rather than just annoying, you could escalate it at that point — but start with a direct “please stop doing this.” (Especially as whoever you escalate it to is likely going to ask if you’ve done that yet.)”

        The reality is, once OP has asked him to knock it off firmly and politely and he continues, it will be taken much more seriously by HR and management. Right now, as evidenced by HR’s reaction, there is some ambiguity as to how bad the individual instances of this guy’s behaviour are and there’s room for “he might not know how it’s coming across and that it’s unwelcome” ( usually BS). Once he’s ignored the reasonable request to stop, it become much more clear-cut that he’s deliberately harassing her.

        1. Impy*

          One of the main reasons we’re conditioned not to is by the way some men react when they’re told no. In experience they don’t “apologise profusely”, they bluster and make excuses, or get angry and get their revenge then or later. An annoying man is less hassle than a violent or vindictive man, so let’s not pretend this is purely a case where women need to find their words.

          1. Anonys*

            I do agree with you. Like I already said, I think he most likely knows what he’s doing and won’t stop. But as Alison said, the reality is, that HR and management will not get involved unless OP addresses the issue with him directly. Not saying its fair, but that’s it’s most likely her only option. Also, she does have the backup of her colleagues who will hopefully step in and say “no, you need to knock it off” if he tries to make excuses or get angry at her.

    6. Sleve McDichael*

      This letter brought back some really bad memories for me of a guy who was doing very similar things, everything so small that any individual event seemed tiny and petty, carefully crafted so that he had full plausible deniability. It came to a head one day when in a room with twenty other people he came and stood right in front of me and wouldn’t leave. Every time I tried to move, he got closer so I couldn’t move without touching him. It got to the point where I was pinned up against a wall, panicking. People might say I could have just left but that would make a scene and I was supposed to be there. It was like fight or flight kicked in. So I’m ashamed to say, I kicked him in the shin, just like a ‘Go away’ tap. And do you know what he did? He smiled and kicked me back, hard. It was as though he’d been waiting for the opportunity to get physical, and I’d inadvertently given it to him. I hate to admit it, but the tears of pain started the waterworks and I started to hyperventilate. I was escorted out and it was all put down to a panic attack, unrelated to him. I tried harder to avoid him after that but everything he did was so small, even put together it didn’t sound like enough to tell anyone about. He TERRIFIED me. He left a year later and I could not have been happier.

      I have no advice, I’m just confirming that it’s real and it happens. Now I’m going to go have a shower.

      1. No Name #1*

        I’m so sorry to hear that. Did you have by any allies or people you could confide in at your office? And was he senior to you? To me that crosses the line into sexual harassment, that is just very menacing behavior.

        1. Sleve McDichael*

          Thank you No Name #1.

          It was all just little things, so I really struggled to put it into words. It just felt so childish, like going to your Mum and saying ‘He looked at me! Make him stop!’ Then after I kicked him in the shin I felt I lost all the high ground anyway. I was kept silent by shame and embarrassment, which is why I’m kind of glad OP has protectors, even if that’s problematic in a different way.

          He wasn’t senior to me. I’d like to think nowadays I’d say something to an authority, but I still can’t think what I’d say.

      2. SD*

        Every time I tried to move, he got closer so I couldn’t move without touching him. It got to the point where I was pinned up against a wall, panicking. People might say I could have just left but that would make a scene and I was supposed to be there.

        If anybody reading this today runs into this situation, there is a solution. Don’t keep backing up. This is the behavior of the cat playing with the mouse, which is ever so much fun for the cat. Refuse to play the part of the mouse. Don’t back away. Address it directly: “Jim, why are you crowding me? You need to back up.” “Jim, do you realize you keep moving closer and closer to me? It’s very uncomfortable, and, you know, a little creepy.”

        Making a “scene” where he is idiot and you are the sane person is perfectly OK.

        1. Sleve McDichael*

          Yeah, I did say ‘Go away Jim’ and ‘Stop it Jim’ but that did exactly nothing and I wasn’t brave enough to let anybody hear or cause a scene. I should have. I think I was afraid of looking petty. But you’re right that I should have been firmer. Anybody in this situation in future, don’t be afraid! The Sleves will believe you!

          1. Clorinda*

            It’s that feminine socialization. “Be nice, don’t make a scene.” These predators count on us behaving ourselves like nice ladies and not yelling “back the f*** out of my face, jerk”–which is why he retaliated so strongly against the kick. He needed to put you in your place. We need to learn to be rude.
            I’m very heavily socialized myself and could never yell at someone. I could probably bring myself to refuse to back up, though. But I am not a young woman new in my career, either.

            1. Arts Akimbo*

              One thing the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt tv show did that I liked was modeling a woman who yelled “NO, I DON’T LIKE THAT!” when someone touched her in an unwelcome way. We all need to train ourselves to yell and make a scene, and to draw attention when we need help!

      3. Close Bracket*

        Wow, I am so sorry. I was going to cheer when you said you kicked him, and I am still kind of cheering that you kicked him (disclaimer: violence is never justified and all that rot). I’m sorry he was such an ass that you kicked him in the first place and I’m sorry that he escalated in kind. I’m glad he left, and I hope he steps on a LEGO every day until he dies.

        1. Sleve McDichael*

          Thank you so much for your support! We were young, so while he is one of the people I have known who I find it hardest to forgive, I do hope he’s grown up and embarrassed by it all now. I wouldn’t hold it against him if that was the case.

        2. Sleve McDichael*

          Also I had to come back and say I never looked back on that guy and felt anything other than slightly sick but I’m still giggling at your comment so thank you :)

        3. Observer*

          (disclaimer: violence is never justified and all that rot).

          Nope, it’s rot for a reason. Self defense DEFINITELY justifies “violence”. The ONLY question is whether it’s going to work.

      4. Mary*

        Sleve, if it helps to hear this, you do not need to feel ashamed for having kicked him OR for crying. This is a legitimately terrifying situation: the fact that he was doing it, and the fact that no one noticed it came to your aid.

        When someone violates the social contract like this, your brain is absolutely rationally responding with fight and flight. It is completely rational for your brain to be thinking, “if he’s capable of this, what else is he capable of? Is the next thing that he puts his hand on me intimately? Is the next thing that he hurts me?” He’s shown that he enjoys scaring you and that he doesn’t see you as a person: everything you did was a *rational* reaction to a terrifying situation.

        And look, it worked—you got away from him without greater harm. I am sorry he did that to you and I’m sorry your work didn’t do more to support and protect you, but *you* did everything perfectly in an intolerable situation.

      5. wayward*

        In a situation like that, would grabbing his groin area and squeezing as hard as you could be an effective way to persuade him to give you more space?

  2. Kes*

    #1 – I can see why HR doesn’t feel it rises to a level that they can do more than talk to his manager (especially for offsite HR contractors) but it sounds like you’re still in a bit of a missing stair situation which is unfortunate

    #3 – It definitely sounds like your department is dysfunctional and the company knows it… any chance of moving to another department within the company, since you said it’s a good company overall? If not, I would definitely at least be doing some research/putting out feelers since it sounds like the future there is in doubt, so you’ll be in a better position if you do need to get a new job

    1. Observer*

      I can see why HR doesn’t feel it rises to a level that they can do more than talk to his manager

      Why? There is a pattern of really problematic behavior here. Why can they not SHUT IT DOWN?

        1. Mommy.MD*

          Yes. It’s too vague for HR. “Someone is bothering me” does not give direction to an investigation. They need to know who they are looking at.

          1. Observer*

            Except that that’s not what she told them. She specifically told them about crashing his cart into her chair, chasing her down in the parking lot.

        2. Observer*

          No. They were not going to address it anyway. They said that if she told who it is, that they would “mention” to his supervisor that he’s “careless with company materials” and that “he sometimes interferes with workflow”.

          They won’t talk to his manager about his behavior, in terms of actually addressing the actual issue, whether she tells them who it is or not.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Yup – HR indicated they were going to punt, so OP declined to possibly make things worse for herself by giving up Mr Creepy’s real name.

            Meeting in a glass walled room (where everybody can see the meeting) and downplaying creepy’s actions as carelessness and interrupting work flow. Who wants to bet that if she had given a name they would have gone straight to creepy’s manager and connecting the dots of who complained would have been way too easy for someone bent on retaliation. And I have to say I’m not confident from either of these letters that OP would get protection if it was needed from HR.

            It comes down to knowing the environment and people – OP does and we don’t – so let’s not judge her for deciding that naming names with this HR wouldn’t be a good call.

      1. No Name #1*

        I think that in addition to the fact that OP won’t say the creep’s name, HR probably feels as though it has to be addressed with him directly first before they put consequences in place. I don’t blame OP for not naming him- it can be tricky to navigate “getting someone in trouble” with workplace politics because there can be retaliation. I had a coworker who didn’t sexually harass me but he verbally harassed me- he’d curse me out without any provocation and did a bunch of unprofessional things. This was my first full time job and I was right out of college/very inexperienced which he preyed on. Eventually my supervisor spoke to the executive director about it and he was suspended for two days without pay, which just led him to become more resentful. He was also related to the ED so him getting fired wasn’t an option.

        If you have a particularly trustworthy coworker who has fended him off for you in the past, maybe you could see if he could talk to your harasser. I would only ask someone who I was sure would be okay with it and would handle it maturely because otherwise it could be weird to ask someone to confront him for you. You can also just start by responding to the annoying/creepy things that he does to you as they occur and hope that if you do that enough he’ll make the connection that he’s irritating you across the board.

    2. Blueberry*

      He’s running a cart into her chair and following her to her car. I really hope her HR can do better than wait until he physically assaults her to consider it “serious enough”.

        1. Observer*

          That’s not true- they explicitly told her that it’s not harassment, and that they are not going to treat it as such.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        What are they supposed to do, though, is they don’t know who the offender is?

        Don’t get me wrong; I do NOT like the way HR responded to this this, and I understand the OP’s fears about blowback. But I still can’t help wondering exactly what OP thought they were going to be able to do without knowing who the problem employee is.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I think that if they were taking it more seriously, she might have named him. Because they were not doing so, she didn’t feel that naming him was worth the risk to herself.

          Can you blame her?

          1. ampersand*

            This is how I read it, too. She’s not naming names because they essentially already said they won’t help.

          2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Agreed – I think if there was indication it would be handled, she would have named him – but they way they decided to punt – sorry, I’m not naming names in this environment.

  3. Heidi*

    I have mixed feelings about the first letter. I’m glad the OP has allies at work, but I’m not happy that the environment is such that she needs allies at work. The OP mentions that none of the behavior has escalated to the level that HR would intervene, but this employee obviously makes her (and others) uncomfortable in a way that the male colleagues feel they need to defend against, and he repeatedly disrupts her work and intrudes on her attention for non-work related comments. I’m also not reassured by the idea that he might have a girlfriend right now and has de-escalated the behavior. I mean, what’s going to happen when the girlfriend ends the relationship?

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I agree with you 100%, Heidi. That guy needs to GO. Bad enough he’s treating one colleague this way, but more than one??? Ugh.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      My feelings about the first letter are not mixed at all. HR’s messing up and Creepy Guy needs to go.

      He’s not a bumbler to joke about–Hey, Fergus only forgot his coffee mug once this week!–he needs to straighten up and fly right.

    3. Batgirl*

      I so agree with your first sentence. The entire office can see the issue, but since HR can’t (or won’t), OP’s peers are having to do HR’s job for them.

      1. JJ*

        “OP’s peers are having to do HR’s job for them.”

        I feel like this is a potential opportunity…the creep is taking up more than OP’s company time, maybe management/HR would care about that? Everyone going in as a group like “he is still bothering me” “yeah, it’s obvious so we have to stop what we’re doing to intervene because SOMEONE has to” might be more effective?

    4. Caliente*

      To me, part of the problem is that OP need to make this more serious herself. To feel satisfied with “well the guys are flanking me so its all good” would be a no go for me. OH HELL NO. Women can exist in this world without having to be escorted through it by some dude.

  4. Playfulfish*

    #3 – I work in an agency that has an appenticeship program which is tough and not a good fit for everyone. Someone on my team washed out of the program and some weird lady nobody really knew came by asking for his desk name tag. ‘What for?’ ‘Oh, I collect them from people who leave.’ We hid it from her and she was nick named ‘The Bone Collector’ from then on.

      1. valentine*

        Has anyone tried relocating the collection? I mean, it’s on display, yeah? It’s company property, so, you can take it from her and move it within the building without that being theft. Team up and take them down like Caesar.

        1. Sharikacat*

          The nameplates would ostensibly be thrown out or possibly stored and re-used if another “Fergus” comes around (though that one feels far less likely), so if the collection were to mysteriously vanish, who is to say they were truly stolen and not just thrown out per normal procedure?

          Relieving Jan of her collection feels like liberating the captured souls of the dead. If I knew I could get those nameplates away from her without being caught, I’d definitely do it; she doesn’t deserve to have them.

  5. Observer*

    #1 – I’m going to b very blunt. Your HR is incompetent. What you described DOES rise to the level of sexual harassment and if allowed to continue could open the company to liability. Also, it does not need to be illegal for HR to be able to put a stop to this.

    HR should not have offered to “mention to his manager” that he sometimes is disruptive. What they should have offered to do was to TELL his manager that he’s behaving inappropriately with staff and that he NEEDS TO STOP. Because even aside from the sexual harassment issue, crashing carts into people’s chairs is TERRIBLE behavior against another employee even if all of the equipment in question were slated to be junked the next day anyway.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I agree with you 100%, Observer. And even though it’s less than it was, once a week is still a ridiculous amount of uncomfortable behavior. I can’t believe he was doing it once a day, but even once a week is too much. In reality, of course, it should be NEVER that he is making you feel this way.

      OP, I hope maybe you feel empowered to make him stop. I’m sure you’ll get the expected “Oh, I was only joking/it’s not a big deal” nonsense that guys like to pull off in these situations, but maybe you’ll also get the result you want: for him to leave you alone.

      1. MuchNope*

        Too bad OP can’t menacingly state that what she is about to say is completely a joke, then threaten this guy with remedies legal and/or otherwise if he doesn’t knock it off, then walk off laughing. Preferably with her backup dudes witnessing and laughing at the ‘joke’ too.

        1. JJ*

          Yeah, it sounds like any sort of subtleness either genuinely doesn’t work on this guy (due to obliviousness, lack of being able to pick up social cues, some misconception that they’re “playing a game” together, etc) or he is actively counting on her being a pushover to keep harassing her. She need to be direct with him and also with her manager that she needs to restrict all contact with this dude to the bare, cordial minimum and then freeze him out the rest of the way.

    2. WellRed*

      I agree HR sucks and am afraid OP has normalized this too much. However, I also don’t know what HR could do if she won’t name the guy, and frankly, it sounds like it’s pretty obvious to others who he is.

      1. Observer*

        Well, if HR had taken it more seriously and indicated that they would actually take strong action, then maybe the OP would have decided to share the name. But given the way they were downplaying it, I totally understand why the OP didn’t share.

        Also, given how public his behavior is, HR may actually have some obligation to do some investigating of their own.

          1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

            Is this a situation like they show on cop shows, you have to explicitly ask for a lawyer. “I think I’d like a lawyer.” Is not stating I want a lawyer. HR is pushing the responsibility onto OP. “You have to give us a name to Investigate. “
            Which does not even address “so if you want to speak up and say you feel uncomfortable, well, we aren’t going to say that. We are going to dance around it, with words like workflow and resources” So you are going to look like a crazy anti social person who doesn’t like chit chat and good natured jokes. But hey, it’s up to you.
            PS: apologies for random capitals. My phone sucks.

          2. Blueberry*

            Of course they can — they can investigate. They can, say, ask Wakeen if he’s seen anything amiss in the office, giving him an opportunity to mention that he’s seen Fergus hassling OP#1 and that several of their coworkers are trying to guard her from him. There are ways to conduct such investigations — I did a spot of Googling to see what was out there and found quite a few resources available.

            And even before that they could have made it clear that they would investigate, they could have refrained from downplaying OP’s reports so that she could tell them.

            1. Mommy.MD*

              Who are they investigating? Every male? That’s not how HR works. If she wants it to be addressed she needs to give a name.

              1. New Jack Karyn*

                And they need to have these meetings in offices that are not visible to random passersby. HR was unprofessional here.
                There was a pattern of conduct that they could have addressed. They did not offer to do so. They made mealy-mouthed statements about ‘disrupting workflow’ and being careless with company property (wat).
                Zero indication that they would address the actual problem, or that they would protect her. Why should she name this guy?

              2. Blueberry*

                They’re investigating the office and what’s going on in it. That’s where they start.

                The thing is, HR has not made it clear that she’s remotely safe giving a name. As it stands he could very well retaliate and they won’t back her up at all.

                And anyway, it’s interesting how as a society we always end up talking about what the victims should do, as if perpetrators committing harassment were as inevitable as the weather.

              3. Marthooh*

                What HR wants to investigate, apparently, is cart abuse. And work slowage. “Can you tell us who it is that’s endangering company property and lowering overall productivity? No? Welp I guess there’s nothing to be done then!”

                1. Sharikacat*

                  He-said, she-said disputes puts things in an awkward area for HR. There is no 100% clear answer on if the coworker is being intentionally creepy or just oblivious., which is why HR doesn’t want to act on that. But damaging work property is a very black-and-white issue where they can proceed with the full knowledge of being correct.

                  This is why Capone went down for tax evasion and not, y’know, all of the mob activity.

    3. CupcakeCounter*

      My old company actually added behavior similar to what creepy was doing to their “respect in the workplace” annual training. Find of filled in the void of normal and “not technically” sexual harassment (but really kind of was just not the stereotypical definition).

  6. Mid*

    Because I’m petty, if your department closes, I would make sure to take Jan’s nameplate.

    Honestly, I’d probably take it now and hide it forever. But that’s not a good idea. It would just be satisfying.

    1. The pest, Ramona*

      I’m even more petty I guess. I would find a way to go in to Jan’s office (on one of her work from home days) and remove ALL the name plates (including Jan’s) and get rid of them. And then be totally innocent of the knowledge of what happened to them…

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        The rare situation that is improved by monkeys in the air ducts–they provide plausible deniability.

    2. Jennifer*

      Yes, please take a nameplate and get a picture of her blown up. Tape them both up by the front door. Bonus if you take a picture of the whole display and text it to her with the peace sign emoji.

    3. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      I think that the best idea I’ve ever heard. Like Greta Thurnberg can suck it. Mid gets the prize.

      1. Sacred Ground*

        “Like Greta Thurnberg can suck it.”

        WTF? Did you mean to include this completely irrelevant piece of nastiness or do you perhaps suffer from a form of written Tourette’s, where you just can’t stop yourself from typing whatever you’re thinking, no matter how irrelevant or inappropriate?

        Also, you can suck it too.

          1. Greta Admirer*

            Yes, what does the mention of Greta Thunberg have to do with anything? Am I missing some kind of joke?

        1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

          I took the Greta line to mean “Mid’s idea is great; I thought Greta has some remarkable astute things to say, but she’s nothing compared to Mid!” in a tongue in cheek way.

    4. Chaordic One*

      In most places where I’ve worked, when they have nameplates, they are offered to the departing employees to take with them as souvenirs. I did have a state job where we were ordered to physically destroy the nameplates by cutting them in half. Supposedly it was a state law.

    1. Fibchopkin*

      Yep. Not gonna lie, while I’m happy that the OP has some advancement opportunity, this update bummed me out. Really wish it had been more along the lines off “I was up front with my director about the way that Jan’s general attitude and behavior, and her particular habit of collecting the nameplates of former employees, adversely effects my team. She was immediately put on a PIP and eventually let go.”

  7. Free Meercats*

    For #3, Since Jan works from home 3 of 5 days, on one of those days all the nameplates need to disappear into the dumpster, buried deep, the day the dumpster is picked up. Then just stonewall. “I don’t know where they are.”, repeat that phrase over and over. Totally true, they are no longer in the dumpster and you have no idea where it went.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      I’d be tempted, but you know Jan would probably raise a fit about security and thieves and the like.

      1. Jennifer*

        How would it be theft if the nameplates don’t belong to her? They are supposed to be discarded after someone resigns anyway so throwing them away is just doing what needs to be done.

        1. Mommy.MD*

          They could be construed as company property and not up to OP to throw away. Could turn into trouble and not worth the risk.

  8. Mommy.MD*

    Some weird work guy following me out to the parking lot would have gotten a piece of my mind the first time out and been reported post haste to HR. With a warning that it creep bothers me again, trouble will follow. Women are conditioned to “be nice” with creepy behavior and shrug it off. And we instinctively know when it’s creepy.

      1. Mommy.MD*

        Several years ago a creepy mail guy developed a weird crush on me. I literally never spoke to this creep. He’d pepper me with compliments. He said something slightly suggestive to me one day and tapped my shoulder and I said loud and clear get away from me! Management took note. He never came near me again and avoided me like the plague. Just thinking about him makes my skin crawl. But I understand the dynamics of her being afraid to speak. I think it may not resolve itself until she does. The first time this guy followed me to the parking lot I would have reported him. Cut it off at the start. And told him to stay the eff away from me outside the office.

  9. New Jack Karyn*

    Wait, this conversation with HR was in the open, or in a glass-walled meeting room? Where Creepy Guy walked by and saw her speaking with HR? Also–the cart thing was about being careless with company property?


    This is a whole lotta nope.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      “Also–the cart thing was about being careless with company property?” Right? Talk about missing the forest for the trees, HR.

      1. Half-Caf Latte*

        Jeeeeeez I missed that because I was already so pissed for OP reading the update.

        “I don’t appreciate being referred to as company property, but thank you for the concern for my well-being after I was crashed into” and let HR explain that they were actually talking about the cart and not her.

      2. pentamom*

        My read is that HR (wrongly, incompetently) thinks they can’t nail the guy for harassment or hostile environment, so they’re being “clever” by reframing it as “careless with company equipment,” “workflow,” etc. so they have an excuse to reprimand him. They think they’re being smart, but it’s really dumb.

        1. MarsJenkar*

          Is it possible for a Hostile Work Environment (legal term version) to be caused by one person? Because if so, that’s the language I’d consider using with HR here, since this guy’s behavior seems to tick the boxes otherwise.

            1. Marthooh*

              Yes they can. They can proceed to say “Sorry we didn’t take your complaint seriously, let’s start again.”

            2. Observer*

              HR told her that they were not going to do anything even if she told them the name. They told her explicitly that they can’t do anything regardless because “because nothing specifically related to sexual harassment or harassment occurred” they “could” not do anything.

  10. Kate R*

    “Wait, this conversation with HR was in the open, or in a glass-walled meeting room? Where Creepy Guy walked by and saw her speaking with HR?”

    Right?!? Suppose OP did give up his name, so HR goes to his manager, who then goes to the employee and says, “HR told me there have been complaints that your behavior has been disruptive, so I need you to change this.” Is it going to be a big leap for Creepy Guy to think, “It must have been Jane who I saw just a little while ago having a meeting with HR in the GLASS-WALLED OFFICE”?

    1. Kate R*

      Hmm, now I understand these nesting fails people have been having. This was a reply to New Jack Karyn.

      1. valentine*

        I think it happens when replying to the last comment you see. You can be sure you’ve clicked reply if, next to “Leave a Comment,” there’s a red underlined “Cancel reply to comment”.

  11. BadgerBadger*

    #3 – the nameplate drama.

    How about calling it “The Wall of Freedom”. All the time. Make it into someplace that everyone wants to aspire to. Free from the crazy. Best of luck!

    1. SlenderFluid*

      Yes, loiter near the wall, dreamily saying things like ‘I’d forgotten it was so long since Karen moved one. I wonder what she’s doing now?” And when Jan says ‘Be careful, or it will be you up there next’, clasp your hands together, look at her all starry-eyed and gasp ‘Really? Do you really think I have it in me?’

  12. SweetestCin*

    Letter 1 is a hard no from me and a giant wet raspberry to the HR department. What do they need this character to do prior to actually saying something?

  13. raincoaster*

    As someone in a field where contract-to-hire is common, I’m seriously heartened to hear this particular conclusion.

  14. Koala dreams*

    #1 I wonder if you and the guys that have witnessed this creep’s behaviour can go together as a group and complain to HR or to a manager. Or maybe one of the onlookers can tell the creep to stop next time they see him? He sounds like the kind of person who targets women and is less likely to do something bad to a man.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I almost wonder if one of the guys did have a chat with Creepy, but instead of quitting he’s laying low until the other guys back off.

      Also, given how lame HR’s handling of this has been – meeting in a glass walled office for all to see (and possibly hear) it’s no wonder OP didn’t feel like they could name names. This situation won’t get better until HR takes things seriously enough to have the conversation someplace actually CONFIDENTIAL. Sorry, a glass walled area isn’t confidential at all.

  15. Xl*

    #3 reminds me of a supervisor I used to have back when I was training at my first air traffic control facility. Whenever he would wash someone out from training, he would take the hand loop (like the thing on a camera you can attach around your wrist) from their radio headset and attach it to his own as a trophy of sorts. He referred to them as his “scalps” and when I got assigned to his crew, he showed me his collection of a dozen or so of them all clipped to his key switch and warned me that he was always on the lookout for more scalps—then did the one of those “Indian war crime s” where you shout and move your hand in front of and away from your mouth.

    It was not a fun crew to be on, as you can imagine.

  16. Crabby Patty*

    Jane the name plate collector sounds like a screeching ball of messed-up crazy.

    I cannot begin to articulate how I loathe the Janes of the world.

    1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      I like that phrase.

      In my field we have contractors or consultants who are on long term contracts with clients. Could be 2 or 3 years, or longer. We are also kinda like permatemps except not trying to become perms. We are already perm with our consulting companies.

  17. Nee Attitude*

    I just love that no matter how rude, crass, mean, inappropriate, abusive and/or vindictive someone is, there’s always someone willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and insist that it was all a misunderstanding. It makes me think that there are some people who are either in deep denial or have not a shred of empathy to offer someone else.

  18. Maggie*

    The Jan nameplate displayer is burned in to my memory. I was so excited to see an update! …but then it had no consequences for Jan and I was bummed. OP 3, I see you commented again… is that an update to the update?? Did they finally take the nameplates down??

  19. Jarissa*

    I want to push back on the people saying (in regard to OP#1 a.k.a. Kes) that HR could not have anything because they don’t know who the perpetrator is.

    The guys of similar age in the office know what’s going on with Mr. Creepy. They know enough to act any time they see him attempt to approach her.

    Yet, in all this time, HR has not noticed a thing?
    When Mr. Creepy has victimized multiple women?
    When Mr. Creepy’s attempts to force compliance include physical impact?
    When multiple male peers know Mr. Creepy is being a creep, and attempt to dampen it by interrupting their own work to get in the way of Mr. Creepy’s goal?
    Mr. Creepy doesn’t do this to men, we note, which means *he knows it is not a thing he should do*.

    Human Resources has the authority to do something about creepy personnel behavior. They haven’t spoken to Mr. Creepy, they haven’t advised Mr. Creepy’s manager to redirect his nonsense, they have not approached any of his victims for a quiet talk *without glass walls for pity’s sake* about whether she feels like she is unsafe or needs someone to step in. They’re waiting around for someone to be *so creepy* that someone *makes* HR act on it.

    And even then, they’re only offering to waggle a finger and make “tsk tsk” noises in Mr. Creepy’s direction!

    I feel like a more accurate description here is that HR has been choosing to “not know” all along.

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