my coworkers have a crush on my boss … and are taking it out on me

A reader writes:

I’m the executive assistant for a small company. I’m the direct support for the VP of human resources, “Dave,” who is very charismatic and likable and a generally nice guy. He’s also very good looking. However, he’s very professional with great business boundaries. I enjoy working with him.

Two managers in particular, “Karen” and “Nancy,” need to meet with him all the time. All. The. Time. Their departments aren’t undergoing any HR issues, they don’t have any staffing needs, and they’re not hiring or firing anybody right now. They call to schedule multiple meetings a week, drop by to see if he’s available for 1:1s when his schedule doesn’t have a single second free, and call him multiple times a day. Dave always routes them back to me to take a message or schedule them with him. Nancy gets angry with me when I tell her he’s not available and blew up at me last week that I’m “not his chaperone.”

Dave has noticed it and so have a few other execs. Dave’s been very clear about making both of them go through the same process other staff members go through to schedule with him. Just the same, other staff have started calling them his “fan club” and me the “bouncer.”

When I was working with the other assistants and operators on a training, word about his “fan club” had gotten around and one person mentioned that Karen calls me names and tells the other staff I’m in love with Dave and don’t want other women near him, which is why I never let her schedule with him. She even showed me a few emails in which Karen advised her department support professional to go over my head to see Dave and that I wasn’t the “keeper of his zipper.”

I’m not sure how to approach this. I’m more angry than I am embarrassed. I’m also bothered because the support staff report to me, and some of my staff have reported both Nancy and Karen as being difficult to work with and unpleasant in other aspects of the day-to-day, not just in regards to the Dave thing. Where do I start with this?

This is so gross!

If Karen and Nancy were simply trying to meet with Dave all the time, that would be annoying but manageable. Even then, though, at some point Dave would probably need to shut it down more firmly than he has. (Not that he’s at fault here! It sounds like he’s managing an uncomfortable situation pretty professionally — but needs to hear how it’s gone off the rails.)

But this is more than Karen and Nancy trying to get a weird amount of Dave’s attention. Blowing up at your for doing your job, calling you names (!), spreading rumors that you’re in love with him, and ever uttering the words “keeper of his zipper” in a work context is … ugh, so over the line and gross and violating. To you, and also to Dave.

It’s time for you to talk to him. It’s going to be awkward and uncomfortable, and you need to do it anyway. (Remember that the awkwardness is 100% on Karen and Nancy, not you.) He needs to know the full extent of what’s happening, how out of control it’s become, and how it’s affecting you.

If you’re hesitating to do that because it feels uncomfortable or you don’t want to burden him with this or you feel like you should be able to deal with it yourself … you still need to talk to him, for three key reasons. First, he deserves to know what’s being said about him so he can decide for himself how he wants to handle it. It’s not right to let this happen behind his back without informing him. Second, as your boss he needs to be aware that you’re being harassed and mistreated. Third, as the VP of HR, he has a professional obligation to intervene and ensure this is shut down — his job in the company requires it (and there’s a point where not acting will make people question HR’s competence, and how seriously HR would take it if someone else were facing similar issues).

So talk to Dave. Tell him all of it — the name-calling, the yelling at you, the rumors, the undermining you, all of it. And I’m sorry to say, you’re going to have to repeat the “keeper of his zipper” line because that makes it clear just how over the line this has become.

You can tell him you’re embarrassed to have to repeat all this, but it’s important that you tell him it’s happening, and that you tell him it’s at the point that HR needs to intervene and shut it down.

If Dave is as great as he sounds — really, even if he’s only sort of okay — he’s going to be grateful you told him and will deal with it so you don’t have to. It’s his job! Let him have the info he needs to do it.

{ 433 comments… read them below }

      1. MK*

        Or any other environment, really. I cannot think of a context where this doesn’t sound cringeworthy.

        1. Ice and Indigo*

          Supplier of findings for a tailor. Who’s working on a single project to create the world’s largest pair of pants. Maybe. But that’s about it.

          1. Amaranth*

            Diamond-encrusted zipper for a rock star jumpsuit? The whole thing is just…gross. I find myself curious what these women find to talk to him about multiple times each week, are they creating/inflating HR issues in their departments? At some point he has to take a stand and say he’ll meet with them once a week unless [insert criteria], and its email for the rest.

        2. Traffic_Spiral*

          Seriously, even in a sex club I’d be like “ladies, y’all need to take about 80% off the top there.”

          1. Rectilinear Propagation*

            I’m going to steal using “take about 80% off the top there” for telling someone they’ve gone overboard.

      2. Hills to Die on*

        How are these people not the laughingstock of the company? Good Lord – they need to go on a dating site, get a hobby, an increase in their workload if they have that much free time, or some other outlet. If I were their managers, I would wonder why they have time to bother HR all the time instead of doing their work.

        1. TootsNYC*

          they probably are, actually. But there are also probably people who think they might be a little bit right about the OP.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Yeah, that’s my thoughts on it too. They’re almost certainly a joke- but then again, doesn’t everyone know that businessmen sleep with their assistants?

            (to be clear, that last part is not something I agree with, just a common and gag-worthy stereotype. hurk.)

            1. Amaranth*

              My immediate thought was ‘especially if she’s attractive.’ Because this sounds like the cattiest cheerleaders ever, ragging on the smart girl who tutors the cute football player.

        2. Massmatt*

          I do wonder how this has gotten to be a widely acknowledged joke at the company and yet neither of these managers’ bosses have gotten involved. I think Dave needs to loop them in, and their bosses need to tell them to knock it off. Multiple HR meetings a week and “drop by’s” with no pressing issue are nuts. HR deals with sensitive material, how can you have confidential meetings and phone calls with these would-be work barflies hanging around?

          Anyone using hours of work time per week to go hit on someone in another department is someone with too much time on their hands and needs to be given more work to do.

          1. Rectilinear Propagation*

            It’s probably widely acknowledged among the support staff and other individual contributors but not management.

            1. Polaris*

              It’s also possible they’re not used to sexual harassment of this kind and either aren’t taking it as seriously as a man harassing a woman, or Dave (or some of the other men involved) are embarrassed about being put in this position and don’t want to call attention to it.

      1. Not Australian*

        Easier for the OP to show that to Dave rather than have to utter the words, though, which would be a relief if I was in her place.

        1. Sparrow*

          Yeah, if she has a copy of that message, I think I would frame it as, “Here’s an example of the kind of messages she’s sending to support staff,” and let him read it for himself. Because 1) awkward and 2) it’s SO gross and inappropriate I think it kind of needs to be seen to be fully believed.

          1. Well Then*

            Yep. I would be forwarding that to Dave faster than you can say “keeper of the zipper.”

          2. snowglobe*

            And seeing it in print make the point so much more clearly than just relating the story. That this is something that has become so normalized for them that they think it’s ok to put in a company email!?!

            1. Fikly*

              Yeah, there comes a point where people need to be fired for two reasons. The original behavior, and being stupid enough to put it in writing.

              1. Birdie*

                +1

                Yup, these ladies have officially gone of the rails of appropriate behavior. And encouraging their team to do the same? Buh-BYE, weirdos.

          3. Sandangel*

            I’m just picturing him reading that, and then looking at OP with eyes the size of saucers. There is so much going on there, I don’t know where to start.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          I agree, I think if she can get the person who showed her the emails to either forward them or print them out they will be extremely helpful. Comfort is not as important as making sure this is reported, but I imagine the meeting with Dave would be a lot more comfortable if she can speak as to the type of thing they are saying and then show the emails for the specific wording.

          Also–just want to say OP I think that “more angry than embarrassed” is the exact right reaction here! Nancy and Karen are the ones that should be embarrassed!!!

        1. Top Scallops*

          I just want you to know that “jiminy honkin’ CHRISTMAS” has me dying of laughter and I will also be using it from now on

        1. Birdie*

          And as the director of HR, he likely has Carte Blanche to access it.

          OP – please send us an update!!

    1. Tink*

      If you are uncomfortable repeating the comment, see if you can get a copy of the email. Let him read it for himself.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Honestly, I think handing him this email printed out has even more power than just telling him what it says. Makes it clear it’s not hearsay and you don’t have to say those words out loud to him.

        1. Annony*

          Yep. It is less embarrassing and more effective. It also shows that they are directing their staff to go around the OP to get to Dave, which is not what he wants.

        2. Great Grey Owl*

          I agree. It appears that Dave has noticed their behavior but he may not be aware of the scale. She should show him this and any other emails she might have. She should also point out the poor treatment that her staff has received as well from these 2 managers.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Agreed. OP can redact the staff member’s name if she’s worried about outing that person. The email is so awful that it speaks for itself.

    2. Lance*

      If that’s not making herself transparent as possible what she’s after, I don’t know what would. To think that these are managers thinking this is a perfectly okay way to go about things!

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Right!? Like, she would totally be in his zipper but for his assistant keeping her from it?!

    3. Anonnnnn*

      That appeared to me to be an admission of their intention. Which looks a lot like sexual harassment. I immediately thought about what it would sound like if it were a man talking about a woman’s skirt and just… no.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Exactly. Bringing his zipper into it makes it very clear what they’re interested in.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          I *think* it’s not harassment if it’s not being done within his awareness. It may become so once he sees that email, maybe.

          1. Nic*

            I mean, he may not be aware of the explicit comments and the way they’re blaming LW for doing her job properly, but it’s a safe bet that he already feels harassed by their constant and excessive demands on his time.

          2. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

            I think it’s harassment toward LW and the other support person because they are being subjected to sexual innuendo in a work context.

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It actually may be harassment of OP. Even if the comments are about Dave, exposing OP and OP’s coworkers to such a sexualized environment (and sexually charged comments), if prevalent enough, could also constitute sexual harassment.

            1. Lady Heather*

              The comments are not merely about Dave – it’s also about the OP being in love with Dave to the point of not letting him meet with coworkers.

              I don’t know if gossiping about a coworker’s wanting-to-sleep-with-the-boss constitutes sexual harassment (it should, IMO).

              I initially thought it was also a sexist thing – before I realized that if OP were male, Karen and Nancy would probably assume that OP is in love with them and is therefore keeping Dave away from them.

      1. Beth*

        Yep, that’s where my mind went also. If this isn’t sexual harassment, it’s certainly inappropriate sexualization.

    4. Reality.Bites*

      In medieval times, that was a very important position in the King’s court.

      No one understands why though, as the modern zipper wasn’t invented till the 20th century.

      1. The Rafters*

        It was the Groom of the Stool or other similar titles. As you might imagine, such a person was privy to a great deal of information about a king, had to have been enormously trusted by a king and would arguably have been one of the most powerful in a kingdom.

        1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

          The Groom of the Stool wiped the royal bottom. Unless Karen and Nancy are into some kinky stuff, I dont think that’s what they had in mind!

          1. Alexandra Lynch*

            Not quite. He helped the king with any wardrobe adjustments (depending on the era, things laced/tied on more than buttoned) and handed him a cloth to clean up with, and poured water for handwashing and handed him a towel to dry his hands on, and then made sure that the contents of the chamber pot went to the Royal Physicians so they could keep an eye on the king’s health. (Actually carrying the pot was delegated. But the Groom of the Stool gave the order.)

      1. starsaphire*

        “IKeepMyOwnZipperThanks” would be a way better choice. For anyone who’s considering it.

            1. TyphoidMary (...my username seems in bad taste now)*

              ok Wintermute you’ve busted out a Shadowrun reference and a linguistics fact in this thread. I formally offer my friendship.

            2. Amaranth*

              Thank you! Though I’m not sure what it says about me that I seriously needed a phrase for when a word is overused to the point it stops looking like a real word.

            3. Faith the Twilight Slayer*

              Thank you! I do this with words all the time, say them over and over again until they just lose all of their original meaning (being laid off gives you plenty of time to do EVERYTHING, EVER). I’m glad to know there’s an official term, which means my kind of crazy is not a crazy of one.

        1. Lierre*

          I was thinking “Keeper of No One’s Zipper.” Because the original phrase is just so, so wrong.

      2. Keeper of His Zipper (2)*

        Her’s your $10. But I rarely use the same name twice, so I’ll happily concede.

        1. Veronica Mars*

          First time reading AAM I threw up in my mouth a little… and there’s been a LOT of gross lines in the letters over the years.

    5. LunaLena*

      I have to admit, I ran and got my breakfast and tea as soon as I got to “chaperone.” And then I got to “keeper of his zipper” and forgot to eat until I got to the end of the letter.

    6. Artemesia*

      WOW This needs to be laid out clearly to the boss and HE needs to have meetings with each of these women (who will be smug and thrilled when they get the summons) in which he makes it clear that he is NOT available for other than essential meetings, that their specific behavior has been in appropriate, that you have been instructed to not schedule meetings with them for him without his explicit approval and that he is appalled at the backbiting. He also needs to make it clear to them that if he hears comments like ‘keeper of the zipper’ ever again it is grounds for termination. And then he will probably need to fire them unless this changes very dramatically very fast. He also needs to let them know explicitly that if there is any gossip about you doing the job he has asked you to do or harassment that that is ground for dismissal.

      I think you need to meet with him and clearly lay out what is happening including spreading rumors, criticism of your gate keeping, the whole ‘fan club’ thing, and keeper of the zipper. AND equally importantly I think you need to briefly outline what you hope he will do including making a warning about this behavior very explicit and that it is grounds for dismissal. Time for hinting and tact and subtly ended at least a zipper ago.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        I think ‘keeper of the zipper’ might be grounds for firing. And that lets the other one know just how serious the issue is.

      2. Nic*

        I’d argue that LW’s grandboss (the head of HR) needs to have those slapdown meetings with them, rather than LW’s boss. They shouldn’t get even the smallest satisfaction of spending time with their target.

        1. Yorick*

          Not sure, but the VP of HR might be the very top HR person (I assume VP refers to the company, and not the HR department)

        2. Random IT person*

          Why not both?
          Or CEO or whomever is in charge of ‘Dave’ as well.

          Bonus: Upper management is informed about the ‘culture’ these two have created.
          (Hostile? Maybe – harassment – for sure!)
          Bonus: these “ladies” do NOT get one on one time with Dave – even if it is for being chewed out!
          Bonus: Witnesses to whatever is being said, discussed etc.

          The negative here is that this costs time from higher ups, which they should not have to spend if these “ladies” were even a little bit professional.

          Also, if these ladies were men – i think this would be a clearer case of sexual harassment. For me, with the name calling, suggestions and putting them in writing (mail)… how much more do you need.

          LW – please – talk with Dave – and do let us know how this goes.
          I do second the idea to get a copy / print of the email – as that is basically damning evidence of serious misconduct – and grounds for a PIP or outright forced termination of contract.

  1. Jennifer*

    Sigh. It’s fun to have a work crush when 1. You keep your mouth shut about it if it’s a person you can’t date at all. At least while you’re at work. 2. You behave like an adult and not like a middle-schooler.

    Please talk to Dave. I get why it’s awkward but he needs to know. This isn’t your job to handle. You don’t have the authority to shut them down.

    1. starsaphire*

      Yep! I always have an Office Crush; but that person simply features as a reason for me to bother taking the extra five minutes with my hair, or bothering to put aside the shirt with the spot on it for a nicer-looking one. If the Office Crush (or anyone else!) ever finds out about your crush, then you totally have lost the plot.

      These women are gross and I hope there are appropriate consequences for their harassment of OP and Dave.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yes! When I was single it was super fun. I’d sometimes gossip about it with a girlfriend that didn’t work there but that was about it. It made going to work more enjoyable than normal.

        1. allathian*

          I hear you. Innocent crushes can be a lot of fun.
          But the way those women who have a crush on Dave are behaving is far from innocent. It’s gross and Dave needs to know so he can put a stop to it.

      1. Jennifer*

        You can have a crush on anyone you want, granted they are a legal adult. As long as you keep your mouth shut, who cares what their role is?

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I agree with you on this. If you happen to think the VP of HR is easy on the eyes, that’s not a problem in and of itself. The problem is that these people have allowed their “crushes” to morph into something super creepy and possessive which is very, very not okay.

        2. Kali*

          I went back to uni at 27 and had to develop an office crush on one of the lecturers because anyone else was vastly inappropriate.

    2. WorkIsADarkComedy*

      There’s an extra issue here. Given Dave’s position in HR and the fact that Dave is the object of these creeps’ fantasies, and perhaps is being sexually harassed, does Dave need to recuse himself and let someone else in HR handle it?

      1. snowglobe*

        I was wondering the same thing! How does the Head of HR deal with an investigation of sexual harassment when they are the one being harassed? They may need to hire an outside consultant.

        1. OrigCassandra*

          I think if there’s general counsel on staff or on retainer, that might be Dave’s first port of call, possibly in a three-cornered meeting/handoff with whoever manages the creeps. Counsel should know how to keep things as they need to be. I agree that an outside HR consultant might be needed here.

          I also agree that this is sexual harassment and must be stopped, up to and including firing the guilty.

          1. Yorick*

            I don’t think the second HR person would be called VP? It’s not like there’s a president of HR. He’s probably one of several VPs who are in charge of a department. But I could be wrong, of course.

    3. Miranda Priestly's Assistant*

      I have work crushes all the time! But the key is that *it shouldn’t be more than a crush*. You don’t pursue the crush. You don’t do anything. Some people take things way too far.

      1. Vicky Austin*

        I wouldn’t go so far as to say you should *never* pursue your work crush. If your crush is your supervisor or subordinate, yeah, then, don’t pursue it. But if you work for different departments, and only cross paths once in a while, and you and they are both single, go for it!
        I’m glad my dad pursued his work crush. She’s my mom! They have been together over 40 years now.

  2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    Like when Idris Elba joined the Office.
    But it’s your life.
    Please do as Alison suggests and let us know how it goes!

    1. Special Agent Michael Scarn*

      I immediately thought of Kelly and Angela constantly going to Charles’ office.
      “YES, CHARLES? YOU WANTED ME?”
      Less funny when it happens in real life though, yikes!!

  3. boobs magee*

    Karen and Nancy are creepy and inappropriate. Dave needs to know, especially about that disgusting zipper comment.

    1. Zona the Great*

      Ha your user name makes this so much better. Even ol’ boobs magee can determine appropriate boundaries so certainly Nancy and Karen can too (totally not directed at you, real person behind the awesome handle).

  4. Wing Leader*

    Do you work in a high school? Are Karen and Nancy cheerleaders? Is Dave the quarterback?

    For real though, you need to explicitly (not graphicly, just not beating around the bush) tell Dave what Karen has been saying. If he’s the sort of boss you say, he will take serious action to shut them down. This is nuts. (And I sympathize with you as I once worked fairly closely with an attractive boss, and I got similar comments, though it never got nowhere near this bad)

  5. saje*

    So totally over the line … ick. And, LW, I hope you can come back with a good update! And by that I mean good results for you, not just entertaining reading :p

    1. Classic Rando*

      My headcanon is that Dave has OP call them to finally set up a meeting, and they get all excited and haughty about it and then he and his boss/ their bosses just demolish them over their behavior.

      1. valentine*

        Bonus if they complain about OP before anyone can explain the reason for the meeting.

        Weird that they want staff to book (unnecessary?) meetings with Dave, but I guess they think anything that chips away at OP’s monopoly is a win for them.

      2. CountryLass*

        Would be even better if OP sounded grumpy or peeved whilst booking it… They’d really think they had got one over one her then!
        But they seriously need to be shut down. This is offensive to both OP and Dave, personally and professionally.

  6. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Wow… just… wow.

    OP, I am so sorry you are going to have to have such an awkward conversation. See if you can get copies of any of those emails that the other assistants mentioned so that you have proof to present.

    And if Dave doesn’t handle it, then you need to escalate to whoever he reports to.

  7. GoodDawn*

    I NEED a status update on this, please! We often hear about how men cross the line, but women are often just as crass and guilty of sexual harassment.

      1. Jennifer*

        Agreed. There are many women who are guilty of workplace sexual harassment but anywhere near the same numbers, especially when you consider that men have the most power.

        I hate it when people use stories like this to say “See! Women do it too!” when it’s not the point.

      2. Daffy Duck*

        I’m a woman. Yes, women are often crass and guilty of sexual harassment.
        They get away with it as men often don’t report (there is a huge cultural bias that men “like it,” just as there was towards women in the 1950s). This isn’t a thing that only goes one way.

      3. MonteCristo85*

        I don’t think anyone is contending that it is on the same societal extent as MtF sexual harassment, but it is 100% happening. I’m not sure if you are misreading this as “women are just as often” instead of “women are often just as”.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Clearly women can sexually harass, but it’s not in anywhere near the same numbers. I don’t want this to derail, so let’s leave it here!

    2. No Tribble At All*

      I wouldn’t say just as often. But this is a good example (??) of being just as crass. Hooray?

    1. Ewpp*

      And, (please don’t remove my comment), it’s too bad you are going through this but thank you Op for the distraction.

    2. Random IT person*

      Same here.
      But – i want an update that is the best possible outcome for LW and the team.
      This will probably mean a transfer or exit of both offenders.

  8. ZSD*

    Gross gross gross. I would never refer to anyone as anyone else’s “keeper of the zipper,” in a work context or not.
    Also, the choice of the names Karen and Nancy rather than something like Emma and Katherine makes me think these women might be in their fifties. Is that the case? I mean, this behavior wouldn’t be excusable from 20-somethings, either, but it’s particularly weird from managers (managers!) who have been in the working world long enough that they should definitely understand workplace boundaries.

    1. But what if ...*

      Not quite (or at all) exactly the same, but what if you were in a costuming department, and you needed to replace a zipper, and didn’t know where to go to get a replacement? I can see myself saying “Oh, you need to talk to Natasha. She’s the keeper of the zippers.”

      1. ZSD*

        No, I realize they’re pseudonyms, but I assume the names were chosen to reflect their age group.

      2. Amy Sly*

        “Karen” in particular has become internet short-hand for a 50-something [w]itch with an entitled “I need to talk to your manager because you’re not breaking rules and even laws of nature if necessary to properly cater to my whims.” So yeah, anytime you see a Karen in an advice question, odds are that’s not her real name. Of course, the average Karen is 50 something, which is probably how the association got started.

          1. Amy Sly*

            Meaning absolutely no offense, but my hunch is that Karens will disappear before the meme does. Using a tool like http://rhiever.github.io/name-age-calculator/ you can see that the average Karen is between 51 and 65, which, plugging into a life expectancy generator, suggests that barring a massive revival in popularity Karen as a name of living people will virtually die out in another 30 years.

            Meanwhile, name association memes like Elmer – cartoon hunter, Adolf – dictator, or Kermit – frog, have been going strong for 80, 80, and 50 years respectively. So sorry to say, you’re probably stuck with it. Annoying name associations happen because of events outside your control. Ask my 34 year old sister who was named after our great-grandfather Hillary.

            1. Vicky Austin*

              My mom’s two best friends in high school were named Karen and Nancy. They graduated in the early 1960’s.

          2. KoiFeeder*

            It’s probably not. I’m sure you’re a perfectly lovely person, but as long as people continue to believe that the customer is always right even if it violates the laws of corporate and nature, there will be a Karen.

            1. antigone_ks*

              But as name popularity changes, I expect in 20 years we’ll see more of “don’t be such an Ashley!”

          3. Golden*

            I’ve seen my name used (among a few others, so not as bad as Karen) as a meme for millennial anti-vaxxers that run essential MLM ‘businesses’ and have kids named McKynnleighanne, so I feel your pain.

            1. Traffic_Spiral*

              Oh, we call those ‘Huns’ because they’re always calling women ‘Hun,’ – especially in their scripted reach-out message to try and sell you their newest MLM.

              1. Wintermute*

                Exactly, anti-MLM activists and people making memes about pushy or inappropriate MLM victims use ‘hun’ as a generic, but if you need a placeholder name “Attila” works.

                Sadly because of disgusting behavior with people trying to capitalize on fears of the pandemic to sell their MLM crap, there’s a LOT of memes out there right now too.

                1. Arts Akimbo*

                  Ew, gross. I shouldn’t be surprised at anything humans do anymore, and yet they find ways to further disappoint me.

          4. Artemesia*

            One of my best friends is a 70 something Karen who has been horrified to discover that her name is synonymous with jerk. She is a flake, but not a jerk.

          5. Middle Aged Karen*

            As a 48-year old Karen, I hear ya. I’m afraid to ask to speak to a manager even when I have every right to complain to a manager, just to avoid being a cliche.

          6. Another Karen*

            I, too, am a middle – aged Karen, but lean towards socialism and treating service workers like the heroes they are.
            You are not alone, Karen.
            Definitely tired of this meme, but am otherwise pretty privileged, so I generally suck it up.

          7. Vicky Austin*

            My real name is Becky, so I feel your pain. At first, I thought it was funny when people asked me if I was “Becky with the good hair,” and I responded, “I assure you that I have never met Jay-Z!” But now it’s getting old, and really don’t like the connotation my name has taken on. I’ve considered going by Rebecca, but I’ve been Becky for so long that it’s hard to switch now.”

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Their ages are irrelevant. Their behavior is childish, and I’ve seen just as many older people act like high schoolers at work as younger, less experienced in the work force employees. Their ages don’t make it any more or less terrible or creepy.

      1. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

        Yeah, and as a 50-something woman, I’m always irritated when we feel the need to speculate about their ages as a factor. I get that when you’re in your thirties, fifty seems unimaginably old and must therefore be out of touch. Age isn’t a factor. Cultural awareness and education are.

        1. ZSD*

          No, I wasn’t saying that 50-somethings are out of touch. Quite the contrary. I was saying that 50-somethings should be expected to know better, i.e., to be more *in* touch with workplace-appropriate behavior.

          1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

            But this isn’t about workplace appropriate behavior, it’s about appropriate HUMAN behavior. This isn’t about thinking it’s okay to skip out 5 minutes early if you’ve finished your work, or not understanding the culture. This is about treating people with respect. As I stated above, age is irrelevant.

        2. Fikly*

          -1, because you complained about your generation being stereotyped and then turned around and stereotyped a different generation.

    3. Yorick*

      I think people just pick common names for pseudonyms in their stories. So maybe OP is an age where people are commonly named Karen and Nancy, but I don’t think we can assume that Karen and Nancy are any particular age.

    4. Julia*

      I’m not sure the ages matter. But since they’re both managers, I assume they’re not fresh out of college and should have had some exposure to workplace norms…

      1. Vicky Austin*

        And even if they were fresh out of college, they’d still be old enough to know better.

  9. Jedi Squirrel*

    Karen and Nancy need to not be managers anymore.

    It’s also possible they need to not be employees anymore. They obviously have no idea about appropriate work boundaries. What the hell else are they doing that’s inappropriate?

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      All of this. Not only are they sexually harassing Dave, the damn VP of human resources of all people, but they’re also engaging in a smear campaign of his assistant because she’s making them follow HR protocol. These two need to find new jobs.

    2. EPLawyer*

      Oh they need to not be employees. It’s kinda buried in there, but OP is hearing from reports that the managers are difficult and hard to work with their staff.

      The sexual harassment and grade school behavior are bad enough, IF they were doing their own jobs well. But they aren’t apparently even doing that.

      This is one of those — how do these people even still have jobs situations.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Oh, yes. I read the letter thinking that Karen and Nancy might soon get the 1:1s with Dave that they so desperately want. There will also be a cardboard box involved. At least, that’s what I think needs to happen.

      1. Liane*

        Uhm, shouldn’t there be 2 cardboard boxes?

        PS: I have caught myself thinking, not for the first time this year (yikes), “Maybe the 2020 Poll should be Worst Coworkers/Employees?”

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          All the cardboard boxes!

          And a second poll for worst coworkers sounds great to me.

      2. AKchic*

        Considering the special attention they so desperately wish to lavish on Dave, I think it would be in Dave’s best interest to have an impartial 3rd party in those meetings, so the 1:1’s wouldn’t be so… intimate.
        So, yeah… they wouldn’t be the 1:1’s Karen and Nancy are envisioning at all.

          1. palomar*

            Dave is the VP of HR. I’ve never worked for a company that had anything higher than VP for individual departments. So Dave probably IS the head of HR.

            1. Dragon_Dreamer*

              I have to wonder if that is part of the reason for their “crushes,” they figure that no one CAN punish them without looking retaliatory.

              1. Amaranth*

                I think all their effort goes into coming up with excuses for the 1x1s, and they aren’t thinking of consequences because they don’t think they are doing anything wrong. No higher brain function involved.

      3. Impy*

        Actually I really hope there’s someone else available, and Dave doesn’t have to handle his sexual harassers himself.

        1. AKchic*

          Maybe, since this is such an extraordinary circumstance, they can hire an outside HR contractor to come in and handle the issue? It would show impartiality, and keep Dave and LW’s hands clean, as well as show the rest of the staff who have been hearing the gossip (and may well continue to hear gossip / rumors) just how serious the company is about sexual harassment.

          1. Arts Akimbo*

            I like the idea of using in-house counsel for this. I really think a lawyer ought to advise them in handling this.

      4. Nic*

        As satisfying as that would be, I think the cardboard box meeting needs to happen with Dave’s boss, not Dave – otherwise I could see them trying to sue for unfair dismissal on the basis that Dave was too personally involved in the situation!

  10. River Song*

    Yeah, this is no innocent office crush. The keeper of the zipper line is so blatantly disgusting, he deserves to know. That’s not wanting one on one time to look at his handsome face, that’s like… planning their sexual conquest or something. Its gross.

    1. Wing Leader*

      Yeah, I’m not sure if this would qualify as sexual harassment against Dave, but it’s toeing the line.

      1. NerdyKris*

        It’s definitely still sexual harassment because it’s making the OP uncomfortable. You don’t have to be the subject of the comments to feel harassed, and even then, they are directly stating that she’s in an inappropriate relationship with her boss.

      2. MonteCristo85*

        Can it be sexual harassment just to be forced to listen to this kind of talk? I mean I’d be weirded out and disgusted if anyone talked about anyone like that in my presence (or in my email) at work.

          1. Ice and Indigo*

            Yeah, I’m not a lawyer but I would have thought there was a case that OP is being sexually harassed. They’re trying to sexually harass Dave, and OP’s getting caught in the crossfire.

        1. Risha*

          According to my company’s yearly sexual harassment training video, it definitely is. That’s actually one of their example scenarios (a woman constantly discussing her personal life with friends at work while uncomfortable coworkers are forced to overhear her), only even worse.

        2. LKW*

          Same, my annual “don’t be a dick” training makes it very clear that these kinds of unwelcome comments are inappropriate and could result in termination of the speaker and any manager who does not deal with the situation appropriately.

        3. Wintermute*

          Yes, it absolutely can. One common misconception about harassment is that you must be the target, or must be in the affected class (as in a white person cannot be in a hostile environment because two co-workers of another race are being subject to racial slurs, or a man can’t be harassed by a man’s comments to a woman) but that’s not true. Any inappropriate comments of that nature can create a harassment situation for any witness, you don’t need to be a target and you don’t need to be of the targeted protected class.

      3. Oranges*

        Totally is sexual harassment. The expression of harassment is usually different when it’s women aggressors because social conditioning.

      4. Casper Lives*

        Chiming in to agree it would be sexual harassment per my company’s annual training.

      5. emmelemm*

        It’s definitely sexual harassment against Dave. If talking in an ogling manner about the buttons on a woman’s shirt would be sexual harassment (it would), then talking about a man’s zipper, in any other context than “your fly is open” when it actually is, is sexual harassment.

      6. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

        By my company’s recently issued annual harassment training, it’d qualify.

      7. Yorick*

        I mean, “keeper of his zipper” sounds like they’re trying to meet with him for sex but for OP, so I’m guessing their behavior counts as sexual harassment (either this or something else they do)

    2. Mama Bear*

      And think about it this way, what if it was him saying such to or about them? Everyone would be incensed. Harassment can go both ways.

    3. Roy G. Biv*

      Yes! Dave is being objectified and harassed, even if not directly to his face. It would be wrong is he were doing it to another coworker, and it is wrong because it is being done to him, by proxy. And the OP is suffering for it.

      It also makes me question if the two managers have some sick little competition going on. “I had a six minute face-to-face meeting. What did you get?”

  11. Mama Bear*

    Comments like “keeper of his zipper” and “chaperone” indicate that this has crossed a line at least in their heads and needs to be shut down. I also think that Dave being informed will help him do that, and if I were him, I’d start with not having 1:1 meetings. Surely another HR staffer can sit in on meetings with those two until they get the hint. If they complain, well, they’ve abused the privilege.

    1. Cartographical*

      Yes, this. Dave is at risk for retaliation from them if he becomes the villain of the piece. This kind of behaviour puts everyone at risk, especially people in OP’s position. Being envied for being the favourite — or perceived as the favourite — of a popular executive makes it very difficult to be taken seriously if you become THEIR target. (Speaking from experience.)

      I do wonder about the work culture being so sexualized, though. If the problem employees are at the heart of it, they need to be fired. If they aren’t, they probably need to be fired and some changes need to be made. Dave needs to be doing a better job but he can’t do that without the information.

      OP, you should be screen-shotting & documenting like mad, and you should be in Dave’s office yesterday.

      This isn’t a you problem, personally or professionally! It’s not even a Dave-the-human problem. This is a culture/harassment issue that needs to be shut down ASAP, no matter who the target it. Dave-the-exec is the one who needs to act.

      If it helps, try to separate things out. You, the professional, are aware of sexual harassment of two people, OP & Dave, by two other employees. Dave-the-exec has the job of addressing it immediately as it’s affecting your ability to do your job and tainting the corporate culture.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        +1. They made up one narrative (OP being in love with Dave and jealous of them), what’s to stop them from making up another (Dave coming on to them in 1:1s)? Definitely bring other people in.

      2. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

        Yes, if this were Dave writing in as the HR VP, he needs impartial backup either with his boss, another HR VP, and/or Legal. It’s a horrible situation that needs to be shut down immediately.

    2. LCH*

      although they are managers, maybe they have a supervisor? who should definitely sit in because WTF.

  12. DerJungerLudendorff*

    …Are you sure you’re not trapped in a badly-written romance novel?

    These people are acting ridiculously. And Dave needs to be informed and shut this nonsense down.

    1. I edit everything*

      More like a literotica story. Even badly written romance novels (and I’ve seen a few) aren’t this bad.

    2. Youth*

      If this were a badly-written romance novel, it would turn out that Dave was crushing on OP all along.

  13. Count Boochie Flagrante*

    Ew. EW. That’s disgusting and Karen and Nancy should both be ashamed of themselves.

    I’m not entirely sure I like that comment about him needing to shut this down more firmly, though. That feels a little like putting the onus of dealing with sexual harassment on a victim of it. Is Dave really the only person who can shut them down on this? If I’m reading the letter right, Karen and Nancy themselves are not HR managers; I think perhaps having their own direct boss rein them in might be better than putting this on Dave to resolve. He still has to be looped in, given his HR function, but this shouldn’t be on him to fix.

    1. Sharbe*

      Very good point. Dave should be informed of the extent of it, but he should not have to handle it himself.

    2. NerdyKris*

      It’s Dave’s responsibility because he’s the VP of HR. Not because he’s the victim. He’s the one with the authority to put a stop to it. This came up before with a LW whose direct report was harassing her. Even though she was the victim, she was also the one who needed to put a stop to it as a manager.

      1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

        My point was it doesn’t sound like Karen and Nancy are Dave’s direct reports. If there is someone else with authority, such as their direct boss, that seems like a better solution.

        Obviously, if Dave is their boss as well as being the HR VP, then that’s a moot point, but if the burden doesn’t have to be on him, then it shouldn’t be.

        1. NerdyKris*

          But he’s ALSO the VP of HR, and has a responsibility to handle these complaints. Plus it’s his direct report being harassed as well. He needs to rope Karen and Nancy’s managers in, but it’s not putting the onus on the victim to expect the VP of HR to take direct action when he becomes aware of harassment. It’s his job to do so.

          1. learnedthehardway*

            He should rope legal into the discussions as well.

            Ideal solution is that Karen and Nancy are hauled into meetings and let go. That does need to happen – they’re so far over the line of acceptable behaviour that doing anything less is condoning sexual harassment. What’s good for the gander is good for the goose, in this particular case.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I think this is a good point. Dave shouldn’t have to be the one to deliver this message when he’s their victim.

      2. James*

        Even if he’s VP of HR, he shouldn’t have to be put in a position where he has to confront his attackers. At least in the company I work for, we have an anonymous hotline for reporting such things, and the rule is that if you’re the victim of harassment someone else ALWAYS handles the case. This protects all parties involved, even the harasser–it ensures that whatever is done is done properly, not out of a spirit of retaliation or out of fear of retaliation.

        Think of it this way: If Dave fires these people, they could claim that his response was over-the-top and that he failed to follow the appropriate processes or whatever. Dave’s GOING to look bad, they are GOING to resent him, and they may try to attack him or the company in retaliation. Either Dave gets to fight for his career for the next five or ten years, or he’s not willing to do so and is lenient towards these people. That undermines HR and company policies, the attackers will blow it off as “The company made him do it, but that’s not how he REALLY feels”, and the situation will only get much, much worse.

        Best course of action is to have a third party handle this case. At bare minimum a third party should be brought in for any conversations about this between Dave and his attackers, and should be involved in any disciplinary action taken.

    3. AppleStan*

      Except he is the VP of Human Resources. Even if he himself does not do the actual “shutting down,” the onus is on him, as the VP of Human Resources, to make sure that it *is* shut down. He can delegate that work to others who have direct authority or someone else with authority within Human Resources, but it definitely is on him to take those actions, as it would be inappropriate for OP, as Dave’s assistant, to turn to anyone else but Dave.

      Remember, this is not just sexual harassment against Dave, who, for the most part, doesn’t know what’s going on if OP’s knowledge is completely accurate. It’s also about harassment of OP by Karen and Nancy…who else is OP going to report the problem to? And it would be incumbent on her manager to ensure that it was shut down, no matter who her manager was.

  14. Ali G*

    The irony here is that Karen and Nancy think the LW is the reason they can’t have a shot at Dave.

    1. Wing Leader*

      According to them, Dave is locked in office and baying at the moon as he waits for his beloved Karen and Nancy to come rescue him, while LW sits firmly outside the office, doused in diamonds and rubies, a victorious smirk on her face, and with the key to his office hidden firmly in her bosom.

      1. KimberlyR*

        This is the most amazing description and I just had a full-on mental image of the scene. Thank you!

      2. embertine*

        Yes! In my mind, LW looks like The Evil Queen from Once Upon A Time (complete with giant spiky neck ruff), and poor Dave is left to bash fruitlessly against the glass of his fishbowl prison as a single perfect tear runs down his handsome, handsome face.

    2. Amy Sly*

      I’m just trying to figure out what the two of them are planning … sure, Karen and Nancy may see LW as their enemy, but if she wasn’t playing gatekeeper, would they start sabotaging each other? Or are they trying for menage a trois?

      1. AKchic*

        It may very well be a “lighthearted” competition right now, because they are being thwarted; but should they undermine LW enough, and LW not get support, and she decide to leave? What happens when there is no gatekeeper? You’re not wrong to question whether they would start sabotaging each other, as they have no problems sabotaging a colleague (LW) and have no problems being difficult with other staff members (the other assistants).

          1. AKchic*

            They could separate that section too, if they truly wished. They just have to agree on how to divide it.

    3. Fikly*

      They seem very confused by the concept of an assistant’s job responsibilities including managing their boss’s schedule, as he requests.

        1. AKchic*

          To borrow a phrase from Pepper Potts – “… and I take out the trash” *looks at guest pointedly*

      1. Impy*

        It’s kind of like the sales people that purport to be very confused by the fact that you aren’t putting their queries through to your MD, even though the MD has specifically asked you not to do that. I once had one snap at me, “Can you not just put me through!” And be very put out by my very calm, “No.”

    4. LKW*

      Yes! It’s as if they can’t accept reality and so therefore have created the OP as some kind of Grecian Oracle demanding answers to riddles to pass the gate.

      Bring the concern to Dave and HR. This is ridiculous and the office is no place for this kind of behavior. I can’t think of any place where this would be acceptable; maybe a toddler/cookies in pantry kind of thing. Maybe.

    5. Impy*

      There are people like this. “If it weren’t for their evil spouse / partner / best friend / gatekeeper who’s just sooooo evil and controlling, Dave and I would be together and in love!”

      While Dave is either oblivious or cringing in the corner and said gatekeeper is either trying to stop the crusher from embarrassing themselves / trying to protect Dave / considering a court order.

  15. CatCat*

    Gawd. They’re both being inappropriate, but Karen is especially over the line. I bet if they get rid of Karen, Nancy will get with the program.

    So sorry you’re dealing with this, OP. I hope you get a resolution that where you can have an environment with adults behaving like professionals rather than snotty, immature brats.

  16. Sharbe*

    Wow. If Karen and Nancy were men and Dave was a woman, there wouldn’t be a question that they should be fired, would there? Imagine “keeper of his zipper” being “keeper of her skirt/underwear/bra”. They need to be fired. What they’re doing is harrassment, both towards the LW and indirectly towards Dave. They need to go.

        1. Fikly*

          Yes, but the point is that there would be a question of whether or not the man would be fired all the time, because quite often they are not fired for the same behavior described here.

          1. JSPA*

            The statement was a “should.” You’re arguing against “would.” Many a “should” never converts to would / will / was. Many needs are never met. But that’s a failing, not a negation of the original “should.”

            1. Fikly*

              But plenty of people (mostly men) would argue that they shouldn’t be fired for this. People thinking this is not something people should get fired over is a big part of the reason people don’t get fired for this. It’s not always because it’s hard to prove.

              It’s both a should and a would.

  17. Free Meercats*

    These women are so far over the line. If I were Dave, I’d be simultaneously horrified and incredibly amused at the KotZ title.

    Though if I were in the LW’s position, I’d have a desk nameplate engraved that says “Keeper of the Zipper” and put it on my desk when I saw Karen coming just to see the look (hopefully of horror) on her face.

    1. NerdyKris*

      That would be a fantastic way to get in trouble herself. You can’t answer sexual harassment with your own sexual harassment. That just makes one more person who needs to be disciplined.

  18. Duvie*

    “The Keeper of His Zipper”
    I’m envisioning a small but tasteful bell jar, perhaps with a traditional walnut base, protecting a nice #5 metal stamped zipper and a lovely brass plaque. Do keep it dusted and polished, eh!

    1. I edit everything*

      Year by year, a tooth withers and falls off, and if the zipper dies completely, he’ll be stuck as an HR VP for all eternity. Only the devoted attentions of Karen and Nancy can save him from the cruel hag that LW clearly must be, she who has cursed him for keeping reasonable professional boundaries.

        1. smoke tree*

          I am all in on the vision of singing filing cabinets and ring binders ushering Karen and Nancy into a magical conference room filled with onboarding paperwork that’s been accumulating for decades.

  19. Morticia*

    Karen and Nancy should definitely be disciplined in the exact same way men would be if they were doing it to a woman VP of HR. If they have such a poor understanding of boundaries, they probably shouldn’t be allowed to work with people at all, let alone manage any. LW, really hoping for a happy update for this one.

  20. Jennifer*

    Also the writer says she was shown emails with inappropriate comments about sent by them. This is proof especially if it was done on the company emails to show harassment and disregard of following the chain of commands of rules. It takes the burden of proof off the writer.

    1. DJL*

      I am so looking forward to an update on this post. (I suppose it would be out of line to ask for a picture of Dave?o)

  21. AndersonDarling*

    This exact scenario happened to a friend of mine. A manager kept insinuating that Friend (Admin Asst) was hogging her manager(VP) because they were having an affair. The manager was constantly saying inappropriate things to Friend, but no one ever witnessed it. Friend documented everything, but felt no one would believe her. But one day the manager made an inappropriate comment in an email. Friend took the email, and all her notes to HR and the manager was fired a few hours later.
    I remembered this when I read the “keeper of the zipper” line. Karen wrote her own death note by putting her inappropriate comment in an email. Saying harassing things is one thing, being bold enough to write it down is absolutely nutters. It shows how invested Karen is in this fantasy and there is no way she can be a competent manager if she plays games with staff.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Ugh, it sucks your friend had to wait until the manager screwed up before she felt she could report it, but I’m glad to hear she was taken seriously and that the right action was taken almost immediately!

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Karen is so invested in this that she is not able to see putting it in email was a really dumb idea. I have to believe that this type of remark is deemed normal for her group that she works with.

      OP, I am interested in the person who showed you the email. I am sure tech can retrieve the emails if need be but perhaps whoever confided in you would be of even more help here somehow? This person is more of a friend/ally to you, by showing you this.

  22. Panthera uncia*

    Congrats to Karen and Nancy for their giant brass cahones. Harassing the VP of HR, with written proof, is quite something.

  23. Ann*

    This is a bit off topic, but I wish people would stop using “Karen” as the default nickname for awful women. I feel bad for women named Karen.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It was always my generic male stand-in, not specifically for bad guys, although I rarely use it myself anymore so others may have assigned a new meaning to it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree — society doesn’t need additional ways to denigrate middle-aged women. And notice there’s no male equivalent. I should have changed it in the letter.

      1. Amy Sly*

        Eh, it’s not a denigration of middle-aged women. It’s assigning a label to the character that every customer service employee has seen: an adult old enough to know better being an entitled jerk when employees follow policies and don’t cater to their every whim. Sure, that person is often presenting as female, but that’s because women shop more and use more services like beauty and self-care where they can be rude to employees.

        There are other characters too: the Chad (obnoxious frat boy), the negligent mom “parenting” hellions like Anne yesterday, the elderly person so penny pinching Lincoln’s on a diet who can’t stop complaining about how expensive everything is these days … “Karenish” behavior just happens to show up quite a lot.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          “Sure, that person is often presenting as female, but that’s because women shop more and use more services like beauty and self-care where they can be rude to employees.” That is not the reason. Sure, we get the occasional Chad, but generally speaking these kinds of labels get applied to women and not men. I’m fine with having a label for this (usually white, in the US at least) type of person, but having labels for women who do this kind of thing but not for men is quite, quite common, and not just in the US or Western cultures.

          1. KaladinSB*

            I believe that’s because when men dinit they’re just labeled as “asshole,” rather than getting a specific name.

            1. Amy Sly*

              I think the fact that men’s names don’t go through nearly the same boom and bust cycles as female names has something to do about it too. The top 10 boys names in 1880 were John, William, James, George, Charles, Frank, Joseph, Henry, Robert, and Thomas. Four of those names stayed on the top 10 list for 130 years. Meanwhile, the female list goes through fads, resulting in most everyone knowing an 80 something Ethel or 60 something Susan or a 40 something Kimberly or a 20 something Brittany, and almost no examples of that name outside that age range. Certain female names are tied to generational trends in a way that men’s names haven’t traditionally been, though I wonder if that’ll change as boys names become as trendy. I wonder what we’ll associate with Liam, Ethan, Noah, Mason, or Jayden.

        2. somanyquestions*

          No. It’s assigning a label that is also a lot of women’s actual name. Stop acting like it’s some service to humanity and this behavior needs THIS name. It’s actually kind of cruel. Seriously, how can you defend this?

      2. JustaTech*

        Maybe we (here at least) could try and pick some names that are really out of style now (Opal? Nan?) to use in place of these very common but generationally-bounded names?

        Or names that are *so* common across generations that they’re not so closely tied to a specific generation? (Elizabeth? Sarah?)

      3. Gumby*

        It’s interesting that we are seeing it as a middle-aged woman’s name. The three people who I actually know named Karen are an aunt in her early-70s (I think), a co-worker in her early 30s, and a mid-20s teacher. I know it’s a thing (vaguely, I am not up to date on most pop culture), but it is so removed from the actual Karens I know that I don’t associate it with them at all. Of course, if I were named Karen, I might have a different take on it!

        1. Avi*

          For my part, of the two Karens I have known one was the living embodiment of the meme. Bottle blonde, bigoted, middle-aged and capable of refocusing any event she’s involved in on how it personally offends her. It’s actually a bit creepy just how exactly she lives down to the stereotype associated with the name.

          The other one also flips a bit too easily into ‘get me the manager’ mode, but is otherwise a lovely person. Her I feel kinda bad for.

      4. itsjustanothergirl*

        There kinda is… not as prevalent as a Karen, but Kevin seems to be making some strides. Though I think a Kevin is more incompetent than ‘Let me speak to your manager’.

        1. Amy Sly*

          Know your meme says origins are unclear; perhaps Karen from the Goodfellas, perhaps “You can’t ask people why they’re white, Karen” from Mean Girls. It took off as a meme in 2016.

      1. Chereche*

        My name is Karen as well, and, yeah, as soon as I saw the name in the letter I sighed and almost did not read it. It’s past tiresome now, moreover since I check absolutely none of the stereotypes, but I also reluctantly accept that the name is now part of the Internet culture and try not to take it personal (though, when my depression ramps up I end up feeling as if all the Karen hate is directed at me personally but that’s an entirely different matter).

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Small consolation but the Karens I know IRL, have been some very nice and very special people. It’s been a privilege to know them. Without putting to much thought to it, I can think of 6 Karens right now and I think that most people would agree they kind and hard-working folks.

        2. MOAS*

          Honestly, when I see Karen, the first thing I think of is Karen from The Babysitters club.

          I do feel bad for every woman with that “I want to speak to a manager” haircut. I mean its just a hairstyle.

            1. BSC Reader*

              There was definitely a Karen…she was Kristy’s little (step)sister, and was the star of her own series, the Little Sister books. In the fandom, she’s known as incredibly annoying.

              1. Lizzo*

                Ah, I did not read the Little Sister books! Just went and looked them up on Wikipedia…yeah, definitely Karen. ;-) Thanks @BSC Reader for the clarification!

    2. migrating coconuts*

      yeah, people who aren’t named Karen probably think it’s no big deal. But those of us who ARE named Karen, are pretty much sick and tired of seeing our names maligned.

      1. Aphrodite*

        How about Fanstine? It’s a seventeenth-century British woman’s name–and probably not much used these days. So AAM could have Fanstine and Fergus.

      2. It's Rebecca, actually*

        Speaking as someone else whose name (well the diminutive, Becky) has been used for a while now as a disparaging stereotype of a certain kind of white woman, I get the gut reaction to seeing your name turned into a mean-spirited meme. But I invite everyone who bristles at “Becky” or “Karen” or “Chad” to consider this a very small taste of what it’s like to be publicly lumped in with a bunch of random other people because of something most of us had no control over (our given names), and viewed negatively because of the stereotypes others hold about people with that name. That’s what people of color deal with alllllll the time, in many more circumstances and with much higher stakes than what some of us contend with when we see our names used as a sneering joke.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Thank you – I was trying to think of a way to say that people with ethnic names don’t have it a whole lot better. And, whereas the Becky/Karen/Chad memes are a recent occurrence that will hopefully blow over in another couple of years, these people have had to deal with it all their lives.

      3. Artemesia*

        My mother wife of John and mother of John felt the same way about how people referred to toilets.

  24. Not a Blossom*

    What. The. Actual. Fork? I have nothing useful to add except that I hope the OP provides an update!

  25. Audrey Puffins*

    The implication that these women seem to believe they would have unfettered access to the “zipper”, if LW weren’t there… ugh, it makes me genuinely nauseated. They need shutting down asap.

    1. Oranges*

      That feeds into the horribly damaging sterotype of men always being “up for it”. In college there were at least a couple females I knew who had issues when their BFs said no. Think pressuring the BFs and/or crying about how they must be ugly….

  26. jamberoo*

    Ha ha. Imagine their excitement in receiving a meeting request from Dave, only to arrive and have all their grossly unprofessional conduct fanned out in front of them for explanation.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      If I were Dave I would drag in witnesses to this conversation, perhaps his own boss and the boss for these women.

      This seems like it’s so entrenched that any meeting he had on his own would boil down to, “OP, is turning Dave against us.”
      I think that is the thing that is so concerning to me, it really sounds like this has been going on for a while and has become accepted as normal.

    2. LCH*

      First thing he should say, “please explain your meaning of ‘keeper of the zipper’?” MAXIMUM DISCOMFORT!

      1. jamberoo*

        Right?? Like what’s your response to that?
        “She’s doing her job by blocking us from seeing you when we want your attention!”

  27. Dorothy Gale*

    “Keeper of his zipper” makes me think that one or both of them are in fact sleeping with Dave.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          +1000 – this comment is just as wrong when directed at a man as it would be if Dave were a woman and the two harassers were men. Nowhere did he give an indication that he is “enjoying the attention”.

          1. AKchic*

            Right?
            The fact that he seems to avoid them would indicate the opposite. He is not entertaining their calls or drop-ins. He is still requiring them to follow protocols and seems to be avoiding their attentions. That is not the actions of someone who is “enjoying” or even seeking out this kind of attention, “affections”, or harassment.

      1. Wintermute*

        Yeah, no, that’s not how sexual harassment works. In fact, mentally reverse the genders and see if what you said wouldn’t be wildly offensive and being part of a serious problem in society.

        Men have just as much right to bodily autonomy as women do. period. And they have just as nuanced feelings about romance/relationships/sex as women do. Implying they don’t is incredibly damaging.

      2. Nic*

        I really don’t think there’s any grounds to assume that!

        If he were enjoying it, he wouldn’t have asked OP to make sure that they follow the normal procedure in approaching him for an appointment and don’t get more than their fair share of time. Sounds to me like he’s doing everything he can to (politely) avoid them.

      3. James*

        NO. No no no no no. NOOOOOOOO.

        Would any sane woman enjoy men showing such “attention”?

        As a heterosexual male, the way these women are behaving would creep me out very deeply. This isn’t friendly/”mildly flirty but office appropriate” behavior, this is STALKER behavior. The way these women are behaving would make me wonder just how far they’re willing to go, and whether my safety is at risk. Obviously they don’t recognize standard office, or even social, norms, so it’s hard to tell where the line is going to be.

        I’ve had a woman do something like this to me in the past (high school). Turns out she had a mental illness and was arrested and hospitalized for what she did to the next person she was fixated on. This sort of “attention” can very quickly escalate to violence.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      If that is the case, then that will become apparent in short bit.

      I would be very surprised. Dave and OP sound like they conduct themselves in a professional manner.

      1. Julia*

        This. If they were actually sleeping with Dave, wouldn’t they have his private contact details and wouldn’t he be giving them some of his private time? Or at least tell them to stop being obvious at work, or tell OP to let them in? And wouldn’t Karen and Nancy be fighting each other instead of OP?

        Dave is not sleeping with those women, and it’s gross to assume he is, or enjoy this “attention”.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      And that’s part of why this is so damaging and egregious – because people DO get that idea when there is NO BASIS in fact or in the events that would lead them to believe that the sexual harassment victim was “asking for it”.

      And honestly, to come to that conclusion is just gross.

    3. Jedi Squirrel*

      There is absolutely no basis for this comment. No, no, no.

      Please stop thinking like this.

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      This. Men can be the subject of sexual harassment too. If the genders on everyone were changed everyone would immediately recognize that Dave as well as OP are being subjected to a hostile work environment based on sex.

  28. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    Sorry you have to deal with this, OP. Some people just can’t come to work and do their jobs. They always have to cause trouble for someone. On the bright side, these two are dumb enough to leave a paper trail. Hand over the evidence and enjoy the show. Good luck to you and Dave.

    1. Auntie Social*

      And so dumb they don’t see that Dave is redirecting their flirting like a matador redirects a bull. If you keep asking to talk to D, and D’s assistant is the one who gets back to you–you have your answer. Dave talks to the people he wants to talk to.

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        Right? It’s really obvious but these two are so self-absorbed that they just don’t get it. So much secondhand embarrassment just reading OP’s letter. What gets me is that this is actually normal for higher ups. They’re so busy that most people are often dealing with the assistant. And you have far more chance of getting some time with the higher up if you behave yourself.

  29. Cheesehead*

    I am with all of the others in the collective “Wow”. And even though it’s not relevant, I just have to wonder what Karen’s and Nancy’s end game is in this whole thing? I mean, if they each have crushes on him, it’s weird that they’re such a….team. I mean, what if they got their wish and the OP gave them full access to Dave’s time? What would they do….parade around Dave like a harem with veils and fans? What are THEY trying to do? Together, that is, as a team, not individually. I mean, if they had a true crush on him, wouldn’t the other one be competition? Yet it seems as though they’re working together in this smear campaign against the OP. I thought for a minute that maybe they just wanted promotions or something and were working together toward that goal, but the zipper comment makes it seem like more…..skeevy.

    And put me in the group who REALLY wants an update to this one. Like, a detailed update of what goes on during the inevitable conversation with Karen and Nancy.

    1. starsaphire*

      That’s an interesting point. In murder mysteries, where this stereotype comes up as the two middle-aged spinsters who are both crushing on the local vicar, they are usually bitter rivals.

      I wonder what the deal is — perhaps it’s some sort of gross competition?

    2. Ellery*

      In my experience, mutual crushes tend to bring women together into agreement instead of cause competition. This is just my experience, of course, I am sure there are women who compete against each other, I just think it is often more bonding than media likes to portray.

        1. LunaLena*

          Yes, this. Now if one of them were to actually start going out with Dave, all bets would be off. But until then, there’s a delicate balance of “I don’t have him, but neither does she, so there’s still a chance!”

    3. Oranges*

      They’re bonded right now over the struggle of getting to his… zipper. But if one of them actually did become tangled, then I’d imagine fireworks. Most of the time common crushes are a way to bond with women.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        …when they were in 5th grade.

        This really sounds like grammar school stuff. And yeah, see it in high schools also.

  30. Rey*

    How dehumanizing for Dave, as if Karen and Nancy think the only reason he has for being at work is for them to ogle him (instead of realizing that he actually has a job to do!) If they were genuinely interested in him as a person, they probably would have picked up on the normal cues that he is totally booked up at work and that they’re making it harder for him to do his job. Geez!

  31. Not really a waitress*

    “Keeper of the Zipper” is such an epic turn of phrase, I am horrified that it is involved in this scenario. I think OP is being sexually harassed they are spreading the rumor that she is sleeping with the boss. I am a female who worked in a mostly male manufacturing environment and I basically should have owned that place. You would not believe how many of my male coworkers I slept with (if you believed the rumors.) Personally, I am surprised I was able to walk.
    She is in a hostile work environment. She can’t do her job effectively.

    And yes, the names Karen and Nancy do bring the image of two women with mirror image haircuts like the mom from Kate plus 8.

  32. Lindsay*

    This is terrible! I feel for OP. From what she says about her boss he will have no problem taking control of the situation. I look forward to the follow-up!

  33. Auntie Social*

    Wouldn’t it be great for Karen to get a call from the LW to come to Dave’s office, have her get settled (“Dave will be in in a minute, have a seat”), then have her boss and the LW come in with Dave to talk to her about his zipper??

  34. Holy Moley*

    OP: as an executive level assistant I know its an icky conversation to have BUT you have to remember that your boss will 1) have your back and 2) needs you to tell him about things that are happening in the organization. I frequently have to give my high level boss a heads up when things are brewing inside the company that he isnt privy to based on his level. If he is a good boss, and I suspect he is, then he will appreciate you being forthright about these personnel issues especially if it affecting your work and the other staff.

    1. emmelemm*

      OP, this is a good point. Part of being an executive assistant is that you hear/see things your boss simply doesn’t, and sometimes you’re exactly the right person to bring those issues to your boss.

    2. I Love Llamas*

      This is a really good point. BTW, OP, I am so incredibly sorry that you have to go through such an awkward situation. Just remember you are not the problem or cause. Good luck!

  35. Elizabeth West*

    Hoo boy, that zipper comment is the last straw. Coupled with all the rest, that would have me running straight for HR. No warning; formal complaints all around.

    Can you say sexual harassment, boys and girls? I knew that you could.

  36. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I interviewed a fellow for an executive role with our firm, and he was a Dave – well known in the field, polite, easy to talk to, and a real head-turner. Walking him back to my office, women stopped what they were doing, jaws dropping, and watched him with the most undisguised…admiration? We were making small talk and I didn’t think he noticed, but I cringed. Once he came on board, OurDave introduced himself to those very women, excitedly telling them about his fiancee and their wedding plans, and how he hoped she’d get to meet ‘the nice ladies at work.’ That stopped most of the swoony behavior.

    OP, my point is, I’m willing to bet Dave already has a clue who has carbonated hormones, but he really needs to know how the staff are treating and talking about you. Part of his job is to shut it down, firmly and directly. Plese, tell him and, if you can, show him what these two are doing. The man you described will respond appropriately and quickly, and shut it down completely.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      The letter says that he has noticed, so it seems he likely knows that they have crushes and are being inappropriate in their attempts to get meetings with him–but he probably has no idea how far it has gone or the terrible things they are saying about the OP.

  37. AKchic*

    LW really should bring the email and a list of issues that she has both had reported to her from the other assistants, and her own issues with Nancy and Karen to Dave.
    If I were Dave, I would be discussing it with either the head, or the rest of the c-suite; but I would want them both suspended immediately so I could do a complete investigation. I would want to interview their reports, all of the admin staff, have IT review emails to see if they have been emailing or IM’ing each other about LW or “me” (Dave), as well as any emails/IMs sent to other staffers about it.

    It may be that only one needs to be fired, but really, I think that both should be let go. They have both crossed lines that make it difficult for me to trust them in any position of authority / power within the company again, and I wouldn’t even be able to trust them around men they have seniority over if I thought they might be attracted to him/them. I’d always be worried about the liability. I would always be concerned that they would feel like any “no” signals being given off aren’t “no’s” and that if any guy expressed an interest in another woman in the office was coveted by Nancy-Karen, then the other woman would also be a target of Nancy-Karen’s smear campaign, much like LW has been subjected to. Again, the liability / risk is just too much, and I don’t for one second think that a stern talking to will in any way reform these two. They will merely stop being open about it at the office, will switch to texting on personal phones (if they are somewhat tech savvy), and will probably start a frosty glare / passive aggressive campaign against LW instead (it’s pretty predictable).

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Totally they should go. What if the company hired a handsome direct report to work for one or both of them? I shudder to think.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Agreed. Since they are so intense I seriously doubt they will stop if told to stop. Given the frequent points of contact it’s amazing they get any work done at all. Probably their respective departments would be happy to have, you, know, actual managers.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I agree with all of this except I think someone other than Dave needs to handle that investigation. People might hesitate to be honest directly to the victim’s face.

      1. AKchic*

        I actually think you’re right about that. I think this merits hiring an independent HR contractor to come in and do the investigation. It signals that the company is being 100% impartial while still being fully committed to their sexual harassment policies. Yes, it will cost the company some money, but in the long run, it will probably save them money because who knows what kind of talent they will lose with Nancy and Karen chasing valuable people away, or what kind of lawsuits could pop up because of them.

      2. staceyizme*

        Agreed. He shouldn’t HAVE to investigate this. It’s revictimizing him. Even if he hasn’t been privy to the worst of the conduct, both he and the LW have suffered an egregious violation of boundaries.

  38. AnonAnon*

    What makes this even better is he is the VP of HR.
    This should be a slam dunk.

    Good luck! I know this is an awkward conversation but I think you will be pleasantly surprised how well this goes.

  39. Jh*

    Are these ‘women’ really 15 year old girls? I mean… Last time I heard of that kind of immature conversation and behavior was when I was in highschool (all girls) and girls were crushing on our 26 yo science teacher!

    Next time they give you crap, tell them HE TOLD YOU to handle their requests this way and if they have a problem with it then they need to talk to him.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      OP, it’s fine to tell Dave his plan for you to handle their requests is backfiring and it’s time to build a different approach.

    2. Camellia*

      Um, they keep TRYING to get in to talk to him, that’s part of the problem. I don’t think this will address the LW’s issues.

      1. Jh*

        Um liek maybe they need him to say it to their faces. He is being a child by not dealing with this when he is aware already. It is not her responsibility. He is her boss.

    3. Vicky Austin*

      I also had a crush on my favorite male teacher in high school, and I knew better than to act like that around him. In fact, I went to great lengths to hide my feelings for him.

  40. TootsNYC*

    Poor Dave!

    Normally he’d go to the head of HR, who would call these women in, lay out the problem, point out how awkward it is for their target and tell them that if it doesn’t stop immediately, they will be fired.

    But he’s the head of HR.
    I guess he still gets to do this, but it will probably be seen more as a personal rejection and less as “an authority in the company laying down the rules.”

    1. Heidi*

      On the other hand, he probably won’t be telling himself that he needs to wear baggy clothes to stop the harassment. Still annoyed about that one from today.

      1. Camellia*

        Although, given the current situation, perhaps he could tell himself to wear a mask so they can’t see much of his handsome face.

        And yeah, the baggy clothes thing made my head explode. I had to deal with this, my daughter had to/still has to deal with this, and I suspect that my eight year old granddaughter will STILL have to deal with this. Blech.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          That didn’t go so well for the phantom of the opera.

          (Yes, I know, his face is canonically not handsome, but look. He’s really handsome in a lot of adaptations.)

  41. Guacamole Bob*

    Alison, would it be okay for OP to lay out these things in an email to Dave if she really can’t deal with the awkwardness of the face to face conversation? At least a “I need to discuss this with you, here are examples A, B, and C” kind of prelude to the meeting? Or is that not really an option here?

    Because Dave needs to know, but that sounds like a seriously painful meeting. And if I were Dave, I might want to react in private and get myself together before actually discussing this with my admin.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes! In person is best (imagine the awful sinking feeling of receiving that email) but email will do if that’s the only way it’s going to get done.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There is! To me, reading that email alone without any of the warmth you get from an in-person conversation seems worse — starker, and just … ugh. But I wonder if others agree with that.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            Probably depends on the people involved and their respective ages and genders and the power differential between them. Having a young junior staffer have to report this in person to a much older senior colleague would be worse than some other combinations.

          2. Undine*

            I agree, there’s more nuance in a conversation, more opportunity to get a feel for what’s going on. But maybe OP can send an initial email and then signal she is open to further conversation “I expect you will want to talk to me right away, and I’m open to that. I just found this so difficult that it felt easier to start with an email to break the ice.”

            1. Traffic_Spiral*

              I agree. Getting it in an email lets you digest it in privacy, get over your first kneejerk ‘WTF’ feeling and compose yourself for the in-person meeting.

    2. AKchic*

      And by emailing it to him, it gives LW a chance to bcc her own personal email so she has proof she has reported it, in case nothing gets done. Not saying that is likely to happen, but I think it’s best to CYA at all times.

  42. Bostonian*

    #3 in Alison’s response is really important here, OP. It sounds like this harassment is well known in your department/org, so that makes it even more critical that you report its full extent so that others are aware that HR takes these things seriously so that everyone is comfortable reporting similar behavior when they see/experience it.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Most companies I’ve worked at, they would already be out if the genders were swapped. As it should be in both cases.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Considering that we literally just a few hours ago got a “you need to wear baggy clothes so that the men don’t make crude comments about you” situation? Your experiences are not universal. That being said, yes, this is a booting offense. If you want a collective crush to giggle over, choose the guy in the nearby coffeeshop or the office next door or something.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I Wrote This. did say “most,” not “all.” I took that comment to be intended to support the idea that it’s pretty egregious harassment.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I took that comment to be intended to support the idea that it’s pretty egregious harassment. Yes! Thank you!

  43. HappySnoopy*

    The part that really stuck me is Alison’s last comment. If you are still hesitating to take her advice, please don’t. You and Dave are in HR. If this was happening to anyone in any other dept and they didn’t or couldn’t approach their boss about it, they wouldn’t think HR is an option because of this history.

    As you’ve seen, the gossip goes around, and while it reflects on the two bad managers, not stopping it may reflect on your dept and prevent others from thinking they can reach out

    1. AKchic*

      LW is in HR. As soon as someone gave LW the head’s up, technically, that is a report to HR, even if it wasn’t “official”. It’s time to treat it as such. It was an informal report.

      1. Middle Aged Karen*

        My org’s harassment reporting requires that anyone at a supervisory level who hears about the alleged harassment follow up on it- report to HR or the Ethics hotline, etc. As a de facto supervisor of other support staff, LW could be seen as having an obligation, not just a right, to report this to Dave.

  44. emmelemm*

    Well, if you wanted something that could distract us from the coronavirus, Mission Accomplished!

  45. Airy*

    This rapidly went from “Well, this is embarrassing for Karen and Nancy, or sure SHOULD be” to “oh damn dual-angle sexual harassment alert what a pair of massive creeps.”
    This really does sound like swift firing territory, they have been carrying on disgracefully for too long and it’s setting an awful example of what one can get away with in this office.

  46. Not So NewReader*

    OP, there have been a few times where I have had to have a difficult conversation with a man. Who wants to talk about this stuff with a cohort? No one.
    The last time was my own boss. A customer was harassing him. I should say, I saw it as harassment because of this person’s history of interactions. The situation by itself could have been ambiguous. So I had to explain why I felt it was harassment. ugh.
    I opened the conversation by saying that I really appreciated how he worked very hard at not saying anything that could have a double meaning to it. He picked his words carefully all day long. (While he had other foibles, he got this one right.) In this step, I set the foundation for what we would be discussing and I let him know up front where I stood on the subject.

    He said he was impressed and happy that I noticed it and I appreciated the effort. This guy never, ever said anything that was even slightly ambiguous. Not all people (men and women) in our company put forth this level of effort.

    I said, “Because you work hard at remaining professional, I am kinda of ticked off by what a customer said to you the other day. I want you to know that I thought you handled the situation in an exemplary manner.” Then I went into what was said and I expanded on why I felt it was harassment. The poor guy turned beet red. I felt so bad, but we had to have this talk. When I saw the embarrassment come up on his face, I restated the earlier stuff. “This is so not you, so not anything you are about. And you handled it in an exemplary manner.” Notice I am repeating myself at this point.

    The red checks dialed back and I knew we could talk. I said, “I don’t want any trouble for you on something as unfounded as what happened here. I would be willing to sign a statement witnessing what I saw and talking about your very professional handling of the situation if you think that it is necessary.” There. Now he knew why I opened the topic and what the goal of the difficult conversation was.

    He was very appreciative. And he decided that he was going to go over the situation with his own boss and he would get back to me. It took a bit but he came back with an answer. No, he said, but he really appreciated my willingness to discuss the problem and to vouch for him.

    Kind of have a little outline of what you want to say here, OP before you start the conversaton. For something like this, I line up 4-5 talking points the night before. The next day when I go into work, I know where I am going with the conversation before I even open the conversation.

    1. “I have a difficult subject to talk about and I want you to know up front that I see you as 100% professional in this regard.”
    2. State problem.
    3. Restate what you just said in step 1. “This is not you. This is not anything you are about.” These types of statements.
    4. Goal. For your setting I would say something like, “I think there is a problem here that you should be aware of. Additionally, I am now getting hit by the fallout from this situation and *I* am requesting help with this matter on my own behalf, also. It has been going on for a while and it is getting worse.”

    The hardest part is stating the problem, because that can get graphic. If you had printed copies of the emails you could hand the copies to him. If this is not doable, I might be tempted to type up some of the comments to have ready to hand to him, if I could not get a better idea going on. Don’t forget he will have to explain this to someone else, so it might be easier for him to have the comments written out so he can reuse the list in conversations that he needs to have. He, too, might find some relief in not having to say these things out loud.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      This a great guide for how to handle to conversation. I’m glad thing worked out well for you, and I hope things work out well for OP and Dave.

  47. PlainJane*

    Jeez… when it’s the HR director being sexually harassed, who does he report it to? Especially when it’s second-hand harassment through his assistant? It’s gross, and it will be an awkward conversation to have. Maybe Dave can talk to Nancy and Karen’s direct supervisors?

    This is seriously skin-crawly behavior.

  48. 42*

    OP – unsure if this has been said before (didn’t read all the comments) but do a gender switch in your mind, and imagine if Dave was an attractive woman, and some men were accusing you of being the ‘keeper of the bra hook’.

    Dave (HE *IS* HR fercryinoutloud) needs to know, as matter-of-factly as you can muster.

  49. LizzE*

    Whoa, this is pretty similar to a situation I was in not too long ago. I was in a split EA role/project coordinator role until 18 months ago, spending half my time supporting the head of marketing and communications. (Now I just devote my time to marketing/comms project management.) He, like Dave, was charismatic, personable and attractive — and had quite a few female admirers, though his were mostly external stakeholders than internal staff. There was a lot of crap said about me too and people were entitled enough to think they could go around me to get to him, but I was pretty firm with how I handled his schedule and requests.

    That said, I never had a situation as severe as what the LW is dealing with in regards to Karen. That is massively mean-spirited and she is obviously projecting, big time.

  50. Alice Watson*

    Because these two would have a chance with the boss if only the Admin got out of the way? I mean, what’s their endgame here….keeping meeting with him for fake and unnecessary reasons in the belief that being present in the same room often enough will spark his attraction to one of them rather than him thinking he has a few crazy stalkers in the office? This whole thing is so bizarre!

  51. Penny*

    While its probably best to have another party present (like legal counsel or another VP) during the conversation with Karen and Nancy, would it be beneficial for an employer to record this conversation on camera? Most states would require Karen and Nancy to consent but I can’t help but think that these two are crazy enough to twist words/actions with even a neutral party present.

    Seriously, I need to bleach “keeper of his zipper” from my brain

  52. X. Trapnel*

    Firstly, I’m sorry you’re going through this OP.
    Secondly, I hope you’ll update us that your situation has been rectified.
    I’m a dairy farm worker. My first job was with an older divorced farmer who was drop dead handsome. I was a younger woman trying to make my way in farming at a time when there weren’t that many women out there as actual farm workers.
    All the ladies in the district had a crush on my boss and they could be incredibly aggressive about pursuing him ( these were married women too, go figure). I copped so much flak from these “ladies” over the years I worked for this guy. Nasty comments along the “keeper of the zipper ” line, tales put about that I was sleeping with him etc etc. Small rural communities are hotbeds of gossip and I found myself totally ostracised by these women. This ostracism even extended to my kids.
    I loved the job, the cows and the boss was a decent chap to work for, but that whole experience has left me pretty scarred.
    All the best OP and I hope you get it sorted out.

  53. Observer*

    This makes me understand people who laugh from embarrassment. This is just . . . wow doesn’t quite seem to cut it.

    In addition to what Allison says, there is another reason you need to talk to Dave. You say that they are not only taking it out on you, which is bad enough. They are also taking it out on lower level support staff. That’s just another whole level of not ok – it is NEVER ok to take out your frustrations with someone on their support staff. That would be true even if they had a legitimate issue with you, never mind a situation where their issue seems to be based on an alternate reality.

  54. Jay*

    They ought to have some kind of employe exchange with the letter writer who’s HR told her she needed to wear baggier clothes because her perfectly reasonable business attire was “too distracting”. Karen and Nancy would be GREAT cultural fits over there ;)

  55. Miranda Priestly's Assistant*

    Pretty sure what is happening to the OP could be considered sexual harassment/gendered bullying. This is so over the top not okay. Being accused of sleeping with her boss, pulling her into weird non-existing relationship drama. Just no. How do such immature people get hired anyway?

  56. DKMA*

    If I was this guy and had to deal with these women who were being so obvious about this I would be THRILLED to have an “I can’t believe you actually sent this over email” excuse to shut them down.

    They did this over email! Can you imagine what else IT will find when they search through for other examples. Dave will be so appreciative if you can bring this to his attention in a way that is professional, but clear.

  57. Anon for this*

    I’ve worked with a Dave (yes his real name was David).

    One day a colleague of mine came and dragged me out of the building for coffee. Apparently she and I were the only two women on the floor not sleeping with Dave (in a five woman floor, so he was sleeping with THREE other women whom had all just stormed off for the day), and they’d all found out about each other on this day. Later on the same day his “real” girlfriend rang and so she just left a post it on his computer saying “Your girlfriend rang” but not which one. Had us in stitches for weeks. The thing is we had NO IDEA before it all blew up. Dave seemed a bit sleezy for my liking but others would have seen it as friendly and charismatic. Could this be the case for your Dave?

    The thing is if Dave knows that this is a problem and is using you to police it he shouldn’t. He should sit them down and tell them he is busy, and manage this himself as it sounds like he has more authority to do that or go over their heads. It’s a looming harassment case one way or another. Tell Dave what is going on and then ask him to resolve it. If your Dave is like my Dave it doesn’t change this course of action.

    And if your Dave is like my Dave go out for a drink with a mate and laugh yourself silly and then start job hunting.

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