what if people abuse the new paid sick leave law, COO sends non-stop jokes about coronavirus, and more

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

1. What if our employee abuses the new paid sick leave law?

I’m curious on if there are concerns about employer protections for employees who potentially may abuse the new paid sick leave for coronavirus sickness. For example, I have a hypochondriac employee who frequently calls in sick as it is (have had previous discussions about perceptions on reliability). We have been extremely accommodating in working from home, etc. in situations where the person feels sick and needs to work remotely (our whole office is remote right now). My concern is that this person is already in negative PTO (we allow up to negative 24 hours before unpaid and overall give four weeks of PTO a year, which includes sick time), and is now communicating that they think they might have coronavirus.

The new rule indicates we would be required to pay 80 hours of sick time for people who might think they are sick. Our community is rural and has minimal cases, and I don’t want to discredit a potential issue if it’s legitimate. I’m just concerned that the employee is looking to not have to work and get paid in full, when we have already moved everyone to work remote, etc. and is out of PTO. As a small business, this is a large expense we have to bear that I find concerning, but at the same time I don’t want to be unreasonable either.

I understand why you’re concerned, given the history. But you’d have to give the paid sick leave. First, it’s now the law (if they’re quarantining on the advice of a health care provider and/or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis), and there’s no provision for “I think they’re overreacting or faking it.” Second, while it sounds like there might be a problem with this person and sick leave, a crisis like this isn’t the time to draw your line in the sand.

I often tell managers if you have a concern with employee, you need to address it pretty quickly, not let it fester. If you let it go on for a while, you can eventually find yourself in a situation where it’s suddenly much harder to address it — like a manager who puts off talking to someone about performance problems and finally gears themselves up to do it but the person has just announced that they’re pregnant or sick, and now the timing of that sort of conversation is going to look awful. Sometimes you need to be realistic that the way you managed a situation in the past will have a price in the present. In this case, the required paid sick leave might nudge you to really figure out what you need from this person and what you can and cannot accommodate … but you do need to give them the new leave required under the law meanwhile.

2. Our COO sends non-stop jokes about coronavirus

My workplace views the pandemic as something of a joke; I frequently hear higher ups brush it off dismissively or even laugh about it. But the main issue is that our COO has taken to sending frequent emails with serious-sounding subject lines that often claim to have some sort of tip or work-related information in them. However, opening the email and included attachment, they’ll always have some kind of jokey image that shows that our COO is, essentially, punking us. For example: an email that seemed like it discussed work travel opportunities turned out to be a blueprint of a floor plan of a house. These emails are sent to everyone in the company, but it is only other male execs who hit “reply all” to congratulate the sender on his wit (one replier commented on the lack of beer for the house). Another email from the COO advised that he had property values tips for us, but instead it was a picture of a house covered in toilet paper.

I get that he’s trying to be funny, but I feel like this would be better geared towards just his friends. I have no capital or standing at all, and I am leagues away from a high level exec — meaning I worry constantly about losing my job, having to interact with coworkers and contracting the virus, and how on earth I will pay my bills with my partner being laid off and we were already struggling to begin with. To me, there isn’t much to joke about, although I acknowledge that it could be humorous at another time.

What I really want is to opt out of receiving these emails. I fantasize about writing “unsubscribe” and hitting send (although I would never!). Knowing that I can’t change it, how on earth can I reframe this in my head to keep from screaming out loud the next time I get some bizarrely flippant joke email about the pandemic? He just. Keeps. Sending. Them.

Your COO and his buddies are unaware, I guess, that people are losing their homes and livelihoods and savings because of the current crisis, not to mention dying?

I mean, one of these emails, fine, whatever. But a constant flow, particularly from the upper echelons of your company, is obnoxious.

Any chance you can just set up a filter so all his emails go into a separate folder in your email which you can check every few days to make sure there’s nothing in there you actually need to see? (If he sends you work or you otherwise need to be responsive to him, that won’t work — but otherwise it’s your best option.)

3. My coworker won’t stop declaring his feelings for me

I work at a small nonprofit. I am one of three full-time staff members. I’d like to think I’m equally friendly and amicable with everyone on the team. One of the part-time staff (let’s call him Jack) has been with us for almost a year. A couple of months ago, he casually mentioned that he’d like to hang out outside of work. I deflected, jokingly saying, “I don’t have the time, I’m always working here!”

A week later, he broached the subject again. I tried to enforce a boundary (“I think it’s best that we remain work friends, not outside-of-work friends.”) Immediately after this — quite literally in the seconds after I rejected him — he ran outside to vomit. He was sent home for the day. I steeled myself for more workplace awkwardness, but tried to act as normally as possible.

A couple of weeks after that, Jack wanted to talk again about how he felt about me and about how I was sending too many “mixed messages.” It was the most awkward experience of my life. I told him I recognized how difficult it is to confess one’s feelings for someone and that I appreciated him as a work colleague, but that’s all. I hoped it would end there.

Then a couple of weeks later, he called me after hours and we had a phone call about the same issue AGAIN. I won’t go into details, but he used the words “primal urges.” I said, “Let me be clear. I do not want to date. I don’t want to talk about my romantic relationships at all.” I told him I would adjust my workplace behavior to reflect exactly how I feel. At this point, I stopped talking to him about anything other than work necessities. I limited contact with him whenever I could.

The general manager, with whom I am quite close, knows all of this. She all but told Jack if she hears any more of his crush on me, he’ll be let go. I’m happy she’s on my side, but the situation still feels terrible. I’m embarrassed. I no longer have a friendly relationship with Jack. I’ve definitely been freezing him out more and more. I feel like I can’t look him in the eye without him reading into my response as attraction. There is no formal HR department to handle this. It’s awkward and awful. What can I do?

The situation feels terrible because Jack ignored your clearly stated wishes and insisted on pushing what he wanted on you. (“Primal urges”?!) You handled things fine; you deflected politely at first, and then you were extremely clear when that didn’t work. You also filled in your boss, who is quite right to have a zero tolerance policy with Jack from here on. (Frankly, she also would’ve been right to fire him after that last phone call.) I’m hoping she explained to him that this is sexual harassment.

At this point, the best thing to do is behave in whatever way makes you comfortable. If you don’t want to look at him, don’t look at him. Limit contact to the bare minimum. The awkwardness is all his, caused by him, and if he feels uncomfortable with the natural consequences of his actions, that’s his to deal with and you don’t need to worry about it. If he causes any further problems for you — declaring his feelings again, soulful looks, resentful behavior, or anything other than being appropriate and polite — tell your manager so she can take action. The organization has an ethical and legal responsibility to act if this continues, and you should let them do that.

Read an update to this letter here.

4. I overheard discrimination in a job interview

I recently stopped at a well-known fast-food place while on a road trip. While ordering, I overheard an interview taking place. The interviewer was a 25-30-year-old man, and the interviewee was a 20-25-year-old woman. When the interviewer asked the woman why she wanted the job, she told him she needed the money because she was pregnant. Then she asked if her pregnancy would affect their hiring decision. The interviewer paused for a long time, then said something to the effect of, “No, probably not.” He then told her about a woman who got pregnant shortly after they hired her, and how she ended up quitting as a result. The interview ended shortly after that, and he didn’t seem too interested in her experience or answers to basic interview questions after that.

I am in law school. I desperately wanted to pull the interviewee aside and tell her she absolutely did not have to disclose her pregnancy during an interview. I also wanted to tell the interviewer that legally, pregnancy absolutely could not affect their hiring decisions. But I ended up doing neither of those things, and left soon after. On one hand, it’s not my responsibility to explain the law to people. On the other, I felt for the struggling woman and felt that as an interviewer, you need to have a basic grasp on hiring guidelines. What should I have done?

I don’t think you’re obligated to intervene when you overhear something like that, but I’m a fan of speaking up when you see something wrong happening, especially since you could do it without any risk to yourself.

Of course, if you interjected mid-interview, you’d risk making things uncomfortable enough that it could conceivably doom the interview. But once it was over, it would have been a kindness to pull the candidate aside to let her know it’s illegal for employers to factor pregnancy in to a hiring decision, and then to have asked to speak to the interviewer to deliver the same message. Yes, it’s a bit busybody-ish — but if that company is going to openly contemplate illegal discrimination right in front of customers, it’s reasonable for them to hear feedback on it.

That said, there are lots of wrongs in the world, and you don’t have to personally fix all of them. If you weren’t up to addressing this and just wanted to grab your fries and leave, that’s okay too.

5. Could I excuse myself from an interview after realizing a jerky acquaintance worked there?

Years ago, I had an abusive roommate from hell (truly). I have always had good relationships other than that, though.

I went to a second-round interview for a job I was applying for, and there was this former roommate, who I would have worked with on my team. I know I wouldn’t have been able to stomach seeing her every day, nor would we probably have gotten along. Would it have been okay to simply excuse myself from the interview on the spot and come up with a reason why I was no longer interested? If not, what would have been the most delicate approach? I sat through the whole thing, which was more than an hour, and never said anything, but I feel like I wasted my time (and the time of the others interviewing me) knowing I wouldn’t have taken the job.

It’s tricky to excuse yourself from an interview mid-conversation unless there’s an easy way to explain you’ve realized it’s the wrong fit (“ah, I hadn’t realized the job’s focus is so much X — I’m specifically looking to get away from X”) or if you’re being mistreated. Otherwise it generally makes sense to finish the interview, because the company might have an opening in the future that you want, or your interviewer might refer you to a contact who’s hiring for a job that’s more your speed, or so forth. It would be tough to say, “Oh, I’d never work with Jane, so let’s end this here.” At most you could have feigned some other reason for short-circuiting it (sickness, maybe) — but as long as this wasn’t an intense, all-day gauntlet of meetings, I think you were better off finishing the interview, as you did.

{ 669 comments… read them below }

  1. Butter Makes Things Better*

    Man, I wish I knew the name of the company whose management is sending jokes so we could publicly shame them — I just lost a colleague, and one of my mother‘s closest friends was just hospitalized with complications due to Covid the day after losing her husband, whom she wasn’t able to see until he’d passed and she’d tested positive. The helpless rage at the laughers is so palpable.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      No words for how horrible those emails are. And I am so sorry to hear about the losses of the people in your life.

    2. Doctor Schmoctor*

      I would reply to one of these emails saying my mother’s best friend just died of the virus, and three of my friends just lost their jobs because of it, and please stop sending these “joke”.

      None of that is true, but maybe, just maybe, it will make them feel like crap.

        1. Observer*

          Not necessarily – people can be very, very stupid.

          Someone I know texted me some stupid jokes and then a comment about how we’re all over-reacting to this “non-event”. I didn’t respond – I was waaaay too ticked off. Not 20 minutes after his last text he fond out that 2 people who he really looked up to and respected (one of whom was also a friend) had passed away the day before. No more stupid jokes…

          It won’t be real to them till someone they are close to gets hit really badly.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            “It won’t be real to them till someone they are close to gets hit really badly.”

            This. It is terminal lack of empathy: the inability to imagine oneself in another’s situation. This is nearly a defining characteristic of one of the two major political parties in the US.

            1. Human Sloth*

              Let’s not do this- “This is nearly a defining characteristic of one of the two major political parties in the US.”

            2. JSPA*

              I understand the frustration, but there’s a reason there’s a ban on talking politics here (and general side-eye on making sweeping statements about broad classes of people). And even if there were no reason, it’d still be Alison’s property, and those are her rules.

            3. KoiFeeder*

              Frankly, even a terminal lack of empathy doesn’t absolve them of this. My empathy machine is broken, but I still know better than to make awful jokes about a pandemic even if I lack the capacity to imagine being in other peoples’ shoes.

            4. PVR*

              I think more than a lack of empathy, it’s denial. It’s a whole lot easier to see this as a giant over reaction than to face the looming reality. And because of some of the characteristics of this particular illness—the long incubation period, the long illness, the deceivingly high percentage of mild cases with a seemingly low(ish) fatality rate, it is easy to overlook just how serious this is. The exponential nature of the spread alone is very tough to assess—because the numbers are low—right up until they aren’t. These people in denial make me angry too, but the truth is that in a few weeks, they will see just how serious it all is.

        2. Wintermute*

          That’s not true at all, necessarily.

          Humor is one powerful way people cope with difficult situations, especially grim/dark humor. It’s not wrong, per se, the problem is, just like the fact that some people are processing their anxiety by talking it out, it doesn’t mesh with people who have a different coping style. Someone who deals with it by compartmentalizing and trying not to dwell on it is going to suffer from being around people that are dealing with it by talking about it and processing feelings out loud, someone who deals with the stress with humor is going to be very off-putting to people who cope by helping others or by avoiding the topic.

          In these times I think we NEED to acknowledge that everyone is processing an unprecedented event in their own way, and have maximum tolerance and compassion for each other. But that includes self-compassion and saying “hey, I know this might be how you’re surviving, but take it someplace that it’s not shoved in my face” is very reasonable.

          1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

            Yes, and these memes are everywhere, and a lot of people do find them very hilarious. We’ve set up a specific chat space for sharing COVID memes at work so that people who want to see and share them can, but people can avoid them completely if they want to as well. We moderate for taste and so far haven’t had to remove any.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            That’s true, but “it’s no big deal, people are blowing it out of proportion” jokes aren’t dark humor. They’re dismissive.

            1. Tidewater 4-1009*

              I think there are two aspects to this.

              1. it’s denial – they can’t cope with reality so they’re dismissing it.

              2. I’ve spent the last 4-5 days trying to keep my friends grounded on Facebook. More than one has been panicking and making this even worse than it is, to the point where I’m concerned they’ll get sick from the stress.

              So jokes and memes can be attempts to stop themselves and others from spinning out. I’ve suggested to my friends, and plan to myself, post fun and good things to help us avoid having timelines full of horror and tragedy. Especially since social media is the only way we can see each other right now.

          3. Miss V*

            Agree completely with this.

            I’ve definitely been engaging in some gallows humor about this (while also taking it seriously and washing my hands, social distancing, etc). But I’ve also been careful who I make those jokes with/to, because I know some people would absolutely be bothered by them.

          4. JSPA*

            A house covered in TP isn’t a joke about the illness itself, but a joke about how we react to crises. A floor plan of a house as “vacation,” equally, isn’t denigrating people getting sick. In fact, it’s focusing on STAYING HOME, in a way that people who might otherwise push boundaries, can integrate.

            You may not be the target audience, but if it’s hitting right with the target audience, and encouraging them to do all the right things, it’s probably of overall benefit. The goal of “make sure even the blowhards normalize and subscribe to staying home” is, at the moment, far more important than “nobody who’s already feeling pain, feels it extra.”

            I’d save push-back for any jokes that positively reference actual travel; actual contact; actual sneezing/coughing on people; singling out asian people or people in scrubs or people in masks or people who are distancing for vilification or mockery; or other similarly dangerous or antisocial behavior. Not for “I deal with stress by making jokes that reference the source of the stress.”

          5. Serin*

            I’d almost make this a general principle — dark humor (except about very trivial things) shouldn’t flow from the top down. It’s more appropriate where statuses are equal enough that the other person can say “Could you not? You’re freaking me out.”

            1. KoiFeeder*

              “dark humor (except about very trivial things) shouldn’t flow from the top down.”

              I believe Gaiman has a quote about gallows humor only being funny if the joker is the one on the gallows? Something like “Gallows humor only counts when it comes from the gallows; otherwise it’s part of the execution.”

              1. Eukomos*

                Right, but in a pandemic we’re pretty much all on the gallows, unless you’re in a population that has a really really low incidence of severe cases. And even then, no one knows for sure that they won’t be the unlucky one. We’re all scared.

                1. KoiFeeder*

                  COVID is not the equalizer you think it is. That COO is more likely to be able to get effective care and more likely to get it sooner than his employees, because he’s more able to shell out for it (willing is another question).

                  Sure, we’re all technically on the gallows, but some of us are going to break our necks immediately, some people will slowly choke, and some people will slip the rope and be fine.

        3. Eukomos*

          That’s really leaping to conclusions. Some people handle bad situations with gallows humor. It’s not a great response, because it can be hurtful to people who hear it and do not cope in the same way, but it doesn’t make them monsters.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        In talking around with people, nobody yet knows anyone personally who has/had Covid 19. Rural America and Most Fortunate So Far. It could be that because their lives have not been touched by this crisis they think it is okay to make jokes.

        HOWEVER, I think this is the exact thing to do. Privately email the offending party and say, “Because of personal losses due to Covid-19, I respectfully request that I be removed from these email threads regarding Covid humor.”

        OP, you know what is in keeping with your personality. And you know your workplace better than anyone here. If this is just plain Not Doable, perhaps someone you talk with is also concerned about the emails. And perhaps this person has more capital built up. You could encourage them to say something about the emails.

        I have been that more senior employee who has been willing to speak up when more junior employees are not able or unsure. And the reverse is true also. I remember a time when the person I was working with pushed bad work through. I worked with an intermediary (a more senior employee) who had NO problem going to management. Management tore apart huge amounts of work and the employee had to redo it. Meanwhile, I was shielded, the employee had no proof I was the one who was concerned. (I was pretty young at that time and the bad work employee was known for her rages and we wondered if she would get violent.)

        1. EPLawyer*

          this is a great solution. I get your position OP, you need this job. But someone you trust does have the capital to push back. Try it and see.

          Of course, bros like this will just say Oh I was only joking, I didn’t mean anything by it. But its still highly inappropriate at a time like this.

        2. Butter Makes Things Better*

          This is a fantastic suggestion. Thanks for your willingness to risk being the voice of reason in your workplace.

        1. A Simple Narwhal*

          Is it a lie though? Their partner lost their job and they’re worried about how they’ll pay their bills. I know typically “personal loss” implies death but this is still a loss.

          1. KayDeeAye*

            I agree that “losses” is, under these circumstances, absolutely fine, but if this wording troubles the OP, she could hedge a bit more, e.g., “Because the COVID-19 situation has affected me personally” or “has affected my family.”

          2. RA*

            “Because people who are close to me have been personally affected by COVID-19” might be a better line to use there if OP doesn’t want to be misleading.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Sounds like the OP’s partner has been laid off. In that case, “affected me personally” is not untrue or even slightly misleading.

          3. Claire*

            Once I responded to an all-staff email with an inappropriate joke about OCD with, “I have personal experience with mental illness and given the size of our company, it’s quite likely that some of our teammates either have OCD or have loved ones with OCD.” OP could do something along those lines–I’ve been affected, and it’s possible that other teammates have been affected even more deeply.

    3. Queens native*

      I am so sorry; this is a story we will hear far too often.
      OP #2 – your COO is a total jerk. I depart from Alison’s advice – not even one joke is okay and suggests a total disregard for safety. That careless and ignorant attitude is what got us to where we are now. I pray for their souls.

      1. JayNay*

        these emails are completely tone-deaf. I’d be tempted to reply with the latest death / infection stats and something along the lines of, “Just saw another 800 died just last night in Spain, not sure I’m getting the joke.” #pipedreams
        honestly, if you’re a manager and someone on or below your levels does this, you better be on that. It’s beyond out-of-touch and gross.

        1. Texan In Exile*

          Yeah, I was trying to convince my cousin, who lives in a very rural area, that funeral homes are indeed “essential businesses” as he complains about economic slowdown. (You cannot choose your family.)

          I explained to him that someone is going to have to bury the dead and that right now, in Madrid, they are storing the corpses in the ice rink because the crematoria cannot keep up.

          This is not real to so many people. The best possible outcome would be that they get to say, “See! We were RIGHT!” because that would mean that very few people died. But I am not holding my breath. :(

          1. BeckySuz*

            I kept telling my mom that last week. I would love to be wrong about this and no one we know dies or is affected. But for now stay home!!! But my parents refused and now my dad has come down with a cough. And gee surprise now they are taking it seriously.

            1. Rainy*

              My sister and I both have asthma, my dad had congestive heart failure last year, and my mum has an autoimmune disease. My parents were pretty dismissive about all of this (except for my dad’s infernal conspiracy theory BS–gods preserve us from aging conservatives) until I reminded them that literally everyone in our immediate family unit (parents, two kids, their spouses) except my husband has at least one condition that would make getting covid a serious problem, if not a deadly one.

              Thankfully my parents took precautions as a favour to me until things got *so* bad that they could see it themselves.

          2. Claire*

            It’s one of the unfortunate realities about disease that if all preparations go well, it will look like we were overreacting. If we’re adequately prepared for, say, a hurricane, there won’t be much damage, but people still see the storm and can imagine how bad it could have been; not so with a virus.

        2. Adalind*

          You would think a manager would step in, but some think the same. One of my coworkers who has to still report to the office on rotation was harassed by at least 3 people in our department for being freaked out by being there and everything going on. Honestly it sounded like high school bullying. Her own manager did nothing and just feeds into it. It was insane to hear that coming from adults. She not only filed an HR claim but contacted my executive who called BS on the whole thing and is working to get it taken care of. This is really bringing out some of the worst in people.. I understand being stressed but there is absolutely NO reason to treat others like this.

    4. Mr. Shark*

      Yes, this is just too awful. Besides the fact that someone may already have been affected by it (or others close to the employee), just hearing about Covid all the time is draining. Most of the time when you are at work (even working from home), you are focusing on the job, and can temporarily take your mind off of what is going on in the world.
      These stupid jokes, that are barely manageable on Facebook or other social media, is completely unacceptable through work e-mail.
      I don’t know if it would help, but maybe you can at least approach your manager about it, and maybe your manager can push it up the chain to hopefully get these eliminated from All-Office e-mails.

    5. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      I’d bet money that the same dudes who are doing this also share other inappropriate stuff that is a bit less overt, but still upsetting to some people.

      The covid-19 crisis is making evident to all how obnoxious some people, often men with some power, have always been.

    6. James*

      I’ll be the Devil’s Advocate here: I get where the COO is coming from.

      I’ve got a friend that constantly posts jokes about the pandemic on Facebook. And I’ll admit that I’ve laughed at them a few times. That doesn’t mean we’re not taking it seriously–I believe his wife is making masks, I know he’s working with his church to help disadvantaged folks impacted by it, and for my part I’ve been helping implement control measures at my job site and my wife and I have done what we can to enact social distancing within our family. I haven’t lost anyone yet, but I have several family members at high risk, and live in an area where we know for an absolute fact that the virus is more wide-spread than testing indicates.

      The issue is, some people joke about dangerous situations to cope. I’ve made jokes about dangerous situations while there was still a really good chance that I and everyone around me were going to die immediately (excavator exposed a leak in a gas line in a plant where “gas line” could mean anything from compressed air to high pressure oxygen/nitrogen/hydrogen). The folks joking often are taking the situation very seriously–but after a while the pressure gets to a point where you need an outlet, and making fun of your opponent is a deep-seated human drive. It’s why we’re called Yankees, why the Democrats and Republicans are symbolized by elephants and donkeys, it’s trash-talking in sports. There’s even historical precedent for joking about plagues: see “Ring Around the Rosie”.

      The third or fourth time you get a limb sewn back together or you blown up or stranded in some hostile wilderness you develop coping mechanisms, or you go legitimately insane. One of the best coping mechanisms is humor. It’s easier on the liver than alcoholism, it’s cheaper than fast cars, and it’s more legal than hard drugs.

      Maybe this COO isn’t this type of person. Maybe he really isn’t taking this situation seriously. I don’t know him at all so don’t know what his mentality is like. But if he is the type to use humor to cope with dangerous situations he has no control over, well….I get it.

      1. Ann Onny Muss*

        I understand where you’re coming from. All the stupid covid memes and sharing them with friends have kept me sane, especially because I’m high risk and have friends and family in the same boat, and live in a state that’s getting hit hard. But you also have to know your audience. If the COO wants to blow off steam with his buddies, more power to him. But the memes, etc. shouldn’t go out in company-wide emails, because not everyone is going to appreciate or even like them the way the COO does.

        1. James*

          I think it depends on the company and company culture. If the company culture is one where dark humor is common, I don’t think it’d be that much of a problem. I’ve worked for companies where the culture was such that emails like this would get a chuckle, maybe a forward to a friend, then deleted. This is especially true if the company is relatively small.

          And remember, people ARE genuinely laughing. The COO may simply not be hearing that what he’s doing isn’t appreciated. If the only feedback you get is positive, you think you’re doing something good. In which case the LW should respectfully bring up their objections. (I should have made it more clear that I do think the LW should voice their reasons for objecting to the COO’s behavior. I’m not saying the LW is wrong; this may be a case where NEITHER party is wrong.)

          1. Alli525*

            This is about a power imbalance. Someone in the C-suite can make jokes like this with impunity, and underlings don’t feel they can speak up. The COO *is* wrong, maybe not for making the jokes (I wrote for a comedy magazine in college, we were just as puerile and offensive as you can imagine any group of 18-22-year-old aspiring comedians would be), but for not gauging his audience correctly.

            1. James*

              Agreed that he didn’t gauge his audience correctly. However, how does he know? His feedback has been positive thus far. I can’t comment on the power imbalance; I’ve worked in places where underlings were to keep their mouths shut and do their jobs, and ones where underlings routinely joked and argued with C-suite staff. Depends on the company culture, and we don’t really know the company culture.

              1. LunaLena*

                And apparently the COO doesn’t know his own company culture either, since he thinks it’s okay to send out emails like this to *everyone* in the company, during a historic-first situation where uncertainty and fear are being reported on constantly. Even if it’s not intentional and he genuinely does think it’s funny and everyone appreciates it, it’s still insensitive.

              2. I Teach Professional Ethics*

                “Company culture” gets trotted out a lot as a shorthand to explain and/or defend behavior that takes its cue from assumptions made about common valies/beliefs that are based on responses from group members who are most vocal – in this example, the people who are laughing at the emails. But used this way, the term becomes too granular to be useful both because it focuses on specific thoughts (“dark humor is part of our company culture”) and because it doesn’t take into account the values of those who are not able to object. Company culture isn’t about dark humor vs. only cat memes – it’s the broader picture of respect and consideration shown to all employees, and that’s why individuals laughing at the emails aren’t relevant here. Even in the most charitable interpretation, that the sender copes with stress through humor and has decided that it’s okay to share that humor, there is still disrespect being shown for the other employees: the sender thinks it’s acceptable to dupe someone into reading an email about a potentially upsetting topic by using a phony work-related subject line, the sender assumes everyone in the company wants to be an active participant in their own personal approach to stress, the sender believes everyone in the company will laugh at jokes about an illness that is causing widespread upheaval and deaths. The dark humor here isn’t the issue – it’s the culture of disrespect and lack of empathy the humor is cultivating. If that’s the culture you want to work in, fine; but don’t think for a second there won’t eventually be situation where you’re in the LW’s position.

                Or, the tl;dr version of this: “However, how does he know? His feedback has been positive thus far” or “And remember, people ARE genuinely laughing” are never good reasons to defend questionable behavior or poor taste in the workplace.

                (And the answer to “how does he know?” is “err on the side of caution and respect,” not “say whatever shit you want until someone complains.”)

              3. Claire*

                I would generally to err on not making inappropriate jokes or using dark humor unless you’re sure that your audience will appreciate it. Joke to your close personal friends! If you’re a stand up comedian known for edgy humor, go for it with your audience! However, if you’re talking to a large group and you don’t know them all personally, probably don’t.

        2. Wintermute*

          I’m with you, this is a way people cope, they’re not wrong, they’re not evil, they’re not even really being insensitive– BUT, it’s certainly appropriate to say “hey, this isn’t how *I* am coping so please don’t shove it in my face”. The same applies to people that are handling the anxiety by talking through their feelings, their worst-case-scenario fears and otherwise coping by talking about it all the time, they’re not wrong, they’re not evil, but if that’s not your coping style you can to some extent ask them to make sure it’s not infringing on your own coping mechanisms.

      2. snoopythedog*

        And as a COO he should have the emotional intelligence to realize that his humor has no place in office-wide email work chains where those below him without much power or social capital at work could be really negatively affected by his humorous coping mechanism.

        Context matters.

      3. Claire*

        I don’t disagree with your point, necessarily—I’m also a dark humor person—but when you’re talking to a large group, not all of whom you know personally, you have to rein it in a bit, especially when you’re in a workplace and you’re in a position of authority. He can make inappropriate jokes—about the Coronavirus or about anything else in his life—to his friends, but he should know better than to send them in All-Company emails.

      4. Blueberry*

        The use of dark humor makes lots of sense, but it doesn’t excuse sending these out to the whole company, especially a company large enough where he can’t know every single person personally. Is the company email list truly the only place he can possibly blow off steam? Does the LW just have to suck it up and increase her stress by absorbing his?

      5. Richard Hershberger*

        Stipulating to this as the COO’s coping mechanism, he is still going about it in a deeply stupid way. First off, it is not everybody’s coping mechanism.

        The very best that can be said for this guy is that he is taking advantage of his position of power to impose his coping mechanism on people who may find it makes their situation even worse. This makes him an abusive jerk.

        It may well be that he is perfectly comfortable in his identity as an abusive jerk. Even so, this is stupid. He is training people to ignore his emails, with their serious-sounding business-related subject lines. I wouldn’t be stressed out by these emails, but neither would I want to spend any time reading them. Some people will stop even opening them, just due to their pointlessness. So what does he do when he has some actually relevant communication?

        1. Gumby*

          He may be an abusive jerk. Or he may be a little self-involved and thoughtless. He could actually think he is helping morale by keeping spirits up. I tend to go towards the explanations that assume good will on others’ parts first and then adjust as necessary if they prove me wrong. (It’s a “best construction on everything” thing which is, perhaps, too ingrained.)

          For OP, that would be trying one of the responses along the lines of “I know you are sharing things that you find helpful in dealing with the current crisis but I am finding it difficult to deal with because of [reasons] so please leave me off this type of email.”

      6. Panthera uncia*

        If your coping mechanism involves trampling other people’s consent, it’s not an acceptable coping mechanism.

      7. Mr. Shark*

        The workplace is absolutely not the place to use dark humor, and basically force that on an audience of which you are not personally aware of what they have been through and whether they have your own sense of humor.
        In addition, as I’ve stated higher up, some people are using work to get away from the constant bombardment in the news (and in memes) about Covid. It’s already difficult enough to focus on work and not think of it without having stupid memes being sent through office e-mail (which should be used only for official business anyway) by your COO.
        It’s really unacceptable and should be treated as such.

      8. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

        Yes. Same here.

        My friends and family have been sending Covid-19 & quarantine memes / jokes to each other. But we all take it very serious over here.

        We’ve been in a soft lockdown since march 14, the only reason we can go outside is to go to the store/Doctor/pharmacy or to take a walk/Run/ride a bicylce for a bit, so we do have some more freedom than other countries/regions about our movement. But if you abuse this, we will get a serious fine. We use humour to cope with this. The meme with the floor plan on where to spend the weekend was hugely popular on social media during the second weekend of our lock down here.

        Though, yes the COO needs to understand his audience as well and realise that yes share it with friends & family but not necessarily with co-workers and staff under him (and definitely not company-wide e-mails multiple times a day).

      9. chronicallyIllin*

        I agree that the humor is not, per say, bad on its own. I do think the COO should NOT be sending jokes out 1) company-wide and 2) with mock-serious subject lines.

        My work is sharing similar jokes to the ones described in the post, but we’re doing it in a dedicated social IM channel. It’s a channel which you can mute and never look at and you would not miss any work-related info.

        I really think the worst aspect of this is the bait ‘n switch where the subject lines are misleading. And, frankly, that kinda indicates that this is maybe more the sort of “gallows humor” that you get from people who aren’t on the gallows and don’t think they ever will me.

      10. JayNay*

        i am so beyond tired of people excusing other’s poor behavior with a lot reasons why “it’s not so serious” / “it’s just a joke”. Seriously, James, you’re posting on a thread about responses to a global pandemic with the opening line “I’ll be the Devil’s Advocate here”… Just stop. It’s 100% ok to ask someone to take responsibility for their behavior, even if that person is *gasp* a dude.
        Stop making excuses for a manager who should absolutely know better.

        1. James*

          Do not confuse explaining with excusing. I’m a scientist; my first instinct is to attempt to understand a system, even if I don’t like the system. You can’t change what you don’t understand. It’s a virulent modern fallacy that if one doesn’t immediately attack something one must agree with it; I was raised in an older rhetorical tradition.

          The OP has created a story in their head about why the COO is doing what he’s doing. That story may be true, but the letter leaves open a LOT of alternative explanations. Unfortunately humans stop looking for the correct explanation when we come up with a plausible one; it’s a serious problem that takes years to train people to even see, much less address. Those alternative explanations are worth considering. No, this DOES NOT mean that I or the LW has to agree with them. It’s to calibrate the LW’s response to be maximally effective. It’s been known since the Middle Ages that in order to convince someone of your conclusions in an argument, you must understand THEIR conclusions and reasoning.

          I fully agree that it’s 100% acceptable to ask this person to change their behavior. I said so later, but didn’t think to include it in my first post. But I’m the type who wants to have a target to shoot at. Guessing about the COO’s motives means that you’re going to be minimally effective; if you can understand the COO’s motives you stand a much better chance of convincing him that he is, in fact, acting inappropriately.

          This has nothing to do with gender. This has to do with epistemology.

          As for joking about a pandemic, no, I DON’T think that should shut down our ability to think critically about things. That includes Devil’s Advocate. See “Asking the Right Questions” for a full discussion on this topic.

          1. Claire*

            I understand your analysis, but shouldn’t you, as a scientist, understand that the OP has more data on her situation and the COO’s personality than you do, and thus expect that her hypotheses are more likely to be correct? You can bring up the idea that the COO might have reasonable motives, but you can’t decide that he does.

          2. Avasarala*

            Ah, so we’re just too young to understand that we need to understand wrong and hurtful behavior before we can justify opposing it, and in order to understand we need to hear it explained over, and over, and over, and over… When do we get to speak?

            The devil doesn’t need more advocates. We know why people like the COO think these jokes are funny. They don’t think it will affect them and they can buy their way to safety and security regardless of crisis, and don’t care about anyone who can’t. We understand it. We disagree.

          3. KAG*

            I agree with you and understand what you’re trying to explain. However, this is a time where emotions prevail. Just posting this to give you support because I know you’re going to get a bunch of blowback on your response.

            1. OP2*

              If “blowback on your responses” means “I don’t like people telling me I’m making stories in my head about something that legitimately bothers me and I’ll tell you that you’re wrong for saying so,” then yes, I’m going to provide blowback for that stupid, insensitive response.

              1. Resistance is Futile*

                Respectfully, I do believe you misunderstood James his explanation and it is my feeling that he didn’t mean anything wrong when he referred to “OP creating a story”. I mean, that is what we all do, all the time. He even said that your story could just be true, that your boss could be really insensitive and thinks this covid-19 crisis is just exaggerated by everyone. However, it might just be that your boss is trying to make a serious situation seem just a little less depressive. We don’t know it, just by you giving the facts as you presented them. We cannot see what is in your boss his head, context matters. How is the boss in general, how does he look at this crisis, how are his family and friends doing etc.
                Sometimes we have to take a step back in order to see the full picture, and not necessarily stick to the first conclusion we have.

                If I were in your situation, I would follow what Alison wrote and set up a filter. Or perhaps send a polite mail and ask not to receive those e-mails.

                1. OP2*

                  I don’t think I’m misunderstanding anything, and I’d like to ask people to stop trying to explain my situation to me.

      11. JSPA*

        Doctors are absolutely known for this.

        “It lands wrong with me / I can’t deal with this” and “How could anyone / it’s coming from a bad person or a bad place” are not the same thing.

        Acknowledging without judgement or reserve that it does help some people (to cope, to get with the program, to sort through their feelings, to redirect their frustration, to shout into the wind) is probably the best intro to saying, “but it’s doing the opposite for me, I need an opt-out.”

    7. Jules the 3rd*

      First – my deepest sympathy for your losses and sorrow.

      Second – this is probably an unpopular opinion, but I see these as mildly inappropriate but not horrible.

      I have seen the houseplan joke, it’s about ‘my travel plans’ being inside my home. I took it as encouraging people to stay home and treat the situation seriously. The TP one is targeted at people who are hoarding something that’s not going to be used excessively. Neither joke is dismissive of people who are ill, lost their jobs, or reasonably worried.

      I don’t share jokes at work because you never know how they’re going to land, but I don’t think that these are a signal that the execs are taking this lightly. There’s way more relevant signals, like are they letting workers wfh and paying them sick leave. I hope the OP’s getting exec support in exec actions.

        1. OP2*

          OP2 here. The execs at my workplace have in fact made multiple dismissive comments about the virus, stating it’s “not that bad” and scoffing at people who are worried.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            Ah! That really changes my take, thanks.

            Yeah, those execs SUCK. The problem is that dismissive attitude; the jokes are the clueless / tactless icing on the cake. You’re not at a position where you can push back effectively, so file it away and remember for when this is over. This is a big red flag to me, and you can do better.

          2. learnedthehardway*

            In this case, I would say a word to your HR representative / manager is in order. I would ask to remain anonymous, but would point out that the jokes are falling very flat and making the leadership team look out of touch with the concerns of the workforce, the fears people have for themselves / vulnerable family members, and the economic catastrophe that is occurring for a lot of people (including spouses and family of the employees).

            At some point, EVERYONE is going to have someone they know get ill, and at a minimum, be hospitalized. Until that happens, your company’s leadership team isn’t likely to get it on their own, but HR can put it to them in terms that cause them to at least realize they are damaging their business.

      1. Kes*

        Yeah, from the headline I expected something implying that the restrictions in place were silly, but those jokes don’t actually sound to me like they aren’t taking coronavirus seriously – joking about travel plans around your house suggests they are staying home and not traveling as directed.
        I suspect that in a time when we’re inundated with serious and sad news everywhere, they’re trying to keep people’s spirits up with a bit of humour. Obviously it’s not landing as desired with everyone, but I wouldn’t leap to ‘they’re totally jerks’ or that they aren’t taking things seriously overall in this case.

        1. LunaLena*

          Here’s the thing, though – it’s still insensitive. Let’s say you’re worried about losing your job and not being able to pay your rent or mortgage. Being reminded that “hey, you can still take a vacation… at home! Haha, isn’t that funny?” is not funny, it’s a reminder that you might lose your home. I realize the following is an assumption, but when you are in a position of power, with a high income and very little fear of losing your home, one tends to not think of such things being a problem for other people, and thus it’s easy to joke about these things and assume other people will find it funny too (especially if your friends are in similarly secure positions). Again, this is an assumption that I make because I’m a naturally very cynical person, but I would put my money on that scenario rather than “they’re just trying to keep everyone’s spirits up!”

          I would be more inclined to think they’re trying to keep spirits up if they actually included some actual useful advice or info, or included a positive message with the memes, but OP didn’t mention anything like that, so I assume the COO just think he’s being funny.

          1. JSPA*

            It’s a different sort of humor. Not all humor is “ha ha.” There’s groan humor (puns), dark humor (normally not great in the workplace, but far more normal in times of actual crisis), laughing through tears.

            Not everyone “gets” (let alone appreciates) those sorts of humor. That’s fine.

            But as a society, there’s something to be said for remembering that those bleaker forms of humor have helped people cope through past pandemics, pogroms, world wars, addiction, poverty, repression, starvation, incarceration, displacement.

            1. LunaLena*

              Oh, I completely agree with that. And I will admit I am a terrible perpetrator of both groan AND dark humor. But what the COO is doing is assuming that *everyone* is that way, and therefore it is okay to send out memes like that when others are in very real distress. That’s why it’s insensitive. Even I, who have put my foot in my mouth more than once and blurted out something inappropriate at work, wouldn’t send out company-wide emails (which takes a lot more deliberation than an off-the-cuff remark) with that kind of content, no matter how funny I think it is.

    8. Kat in VA*

      To be fair…

      insert LetterKenny fans’ echoing chorus of TOO BEEEE FAAAAAIIIRRRR…

      Some folks’ way of dealing with crises is to use humor, the darker the better.

      HOWEVER, this is a case of “know your audience”, and since your COO can’t know all the ins and outs of every employee who is receiving his jokes and memes, the best and most professional course of action would be to stick to texting them to people he is sure will appreciate them.

      I wouldn’t spam an entire team or department with Covid-19 memes even if they’re hilarious to me – because I don’t know who’s on the receiving end, whose spouse or friend or parent or sibling lost their job or may lose their job, who may be coming down with something and is terrified it’s The Vid, or has someone they know and care about who is sick, and the list goes on as covered by others in this thread. I do, however, send jokey memes to friends and coworkers who have indicated their approval and interest by returning said memes. And if they asked me to stop, I’d stop instantly. That’s just me, I’m not a COO.

      I think the suggestion to privately email him and ask him to take you off the list might go the best, if you’re professional about it. It sucks that even now, even in the midst of a pandemic, we can’t just go YO DUDE WHAT THE $%# but here we are.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        It is more than “know your audience.” He is going out of his way to make these look like important emails, using his position of power to impose his humor on the employees. It is like those horrid mandatory fun events that exist for the C-suite to congratulate themselves on how wonderful they are.

      2. Mr. Shark*

        1. It’s not appropriate to be sending joke e-mails out to all users at the office.
        2. People have the right to get away from the constant bombardment of covid information, and focusing on work is one way to get away from it. Getting e-mails that are from your COO and you assume are important doesn’t help.

        1. JSPA*

          1. This is “office culture” dependent. In good times, OP might want to search for a job that’s a better culture fit.

          2. This may be hyperbole, but I’m allergic to people conflating “it would be healthy and helpful if people could do/not do X” with “people have a right to do / not do X.”
          There is no such right in the US workplace (nor in most others, so far as I know). These jokes are not discrimination against or mockery of any protected class. It’s not even bullying (and in the US, for that matter, bullying isn’t illegal).

          Completely agree that it’s not “best practices” for managers to make people wince or cringe. But that’s…really as far as it goes.

          If an executive wants to risk their people feeling hurt, or feeling that they’re an ass, in exchange for whatever benefit they receive, they 100% have “the right” to send pictures of houses in TP with misleading subject lines.

          1. OP2*

            OP2 here – please don’t worry about my searching for a job that’s a better fit. That’s a separate story in my life, and I’m where I need to be right now.

            1. Tidewater 4-1009*

              Also every workplace has at least one jerk. If you get away from one, you have to deal with another.

              1. OP2*

                Having worked for half of my life now, I have found that to be true at every job, yes. I don’t know what that has to do with this, though.

                1. Tidewater 4-1009*

                  I just meant if you looked for another job because of this, the new job would also have a jerk to deal with.

                2. OP2*

                  No kidding the other job would have a jerk to deal with. I’m not new to the workforce, and that comment seems more than a little dismissive.

              2. Hound Fan*

                I understand that many people will deal with fear/anxiety with a macabre sense of humor and that is fine among friends/Facebook. The difference to me is the leadership role this individual holds and the fact that the COO is sending this out to all employees. The bar is higher for those in that position.

          2. LunaLena*

            Yep, and people 100% have the right to therefore think of that executive as an ass and/or call out that behavior. If you don’t want to be thought of as an ass, maybe try not to be one? It seems quite simple, and if your best defense is “well it’s not actually illegal,” then maybe you should think about your stance again. To quote XKCD, “someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you’re saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it’s not literally illegal to express.”

    9. Elizabeth West*

      I’m so sorry. :(

      I’ve seen a lot of memes on Facebook and sometimes Twitter—dark humor is a well-known way to cope. The people I know who are sending them are doing it for that exact reason and would be the first to step up if someone needed help or comfort.

      But at work, it is NOT okay. And anyone who isn’t taking it seriously (not my meme-ing friends; they totally are) is a big fat stupid jerk. Keep it on your personal feed, asshole COO.

  2. Celine*

    To OP #1 – The new law is very specific as to what a company must offer under specifically defined circumstances, so I would suggest you work with your labor attorney to come up with a procedure as to how to implement this new requirement that addresses this concern. Please also speak with your accountant as to the tax credits that will be available to help businesses with this expense.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      Yes, the tax credit is helpful. Where I work, they have instructed us that we can use this dedicated sick leave for anything related to the virus including child care for kids whose schools have been closed, etc. In fact, they are asking us to use this 80 hours of time first before our regular leave, specifically so we can get the tax credit.

    2. Artemesia*

      Alison’s advice was perfect here; the consequence of lax management is that when you have a crisis situation especially one involving health you are pretty much stuck for awhile. Next time, deal with a weak employee when the problem emerges.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        Op should of course follow the law, but I don’t think the law requires just taking employee’s word/self diagnosis that they have covid19. I think a doctors note/recommendation for quarantine can be asked for.

        1. BuildMeUp*

          In many places (in the US, at least) it’s difficult if not impossible to get tested right now, though. And I personally think requiring someone to go to the doctor at a time like this is unwise. If they have the virus, they will be going out in public and potentially spreading it. And if they don’t, they’ll be going to a place visited by many people who do have it, and could end up getting sick as a result.

          1. PollyQ*


            I think LW#1 should just let the employee’s hypochondria (if that’s truly what it is) go for the time being. Once the current crisis is past, the issue can be revisited.

            1. Quill*

              Yes, when the LW mentioned “hypochondria” I immediately thought that invisible disabilities and chronic illnesses that may or may not ever be diagnosed are equally as likely an explanation. Especially if the problem is “employee constantly takes sick time” not “employee is obsessed with sending out clickbait articles on five rare diseases and this one easy trick to detect them.”

              Also, Hypochondria is a mental illness: an excessive anxiety focused on your health. Right now, that’s not even a maladaptive behavior (especially given the possibility of asymptomatic spread of the virus) BUT if you already have an anxiety disorder about your health it is definitely going to flare up right now. LW really needs to wait this one out before getting to the root of the problem.

              Another thing for LW to think about: does your company have the sort of culture where this employee would potentially feel safe disclosing a chronic illness? Because if not, that needs to change, especially in these pandemic days.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                Yes! Employee may have invisible disabilities. I have had them for years and know for a fact that there are those who think I am “faking.”

                Fortunately (?) for me they are manifesting more physically these days so they are easier to see and I get hassled less, but if I had a nickel…

          2. Annony*

            He may not be able to get tested, but I would encourage him to talk to a doctor (telemedicine if possible) to have them give the recommendation and say if it actually sounds like COVID-19. I would worry that he takes the two weeks off now and then is unable to work later due to actually catching it (if he hasn’t already).

            1. yala*

              I mean, if that happens, that happens, but tbh, if WFH is possible when folks are sick, I don’t see why they don’t just try to switch to WFH for everyone (or most people) right now.

              I was pretty livid with our initial response before the shelter in place order, which was: “If you think you might be sick, or are immunocompromised, just use up all your sick leave and all your annual leave* and then we’ll give you some extra emergency leave.” That doesn’t really help to flatten the curve all that much, as a lot of folks can’t afford to do that, and also there’s no way of knowing if you ARE sick for two weeks for most people. Thank GOD the shelter in place order came down eventually.

              If WFH is possible, then it should be encouraged for all employees, sick or not right now.

              *the whole draining your annual leave thing really isn’t possible for a lot of folks, because we have a big chunk of annual leave taken out at the end of the year when the buildings are closed for holidays. If you don’t have enough to cover it, it’s leave without pay.

              Also, using up sick leave when you DON’T feel sick, but an actual pandemic is going around feels super chancy. As you say, someone could take their sick leave now, but then still get it later.

            2. Alton*

              This is a good idea in theory, but considering how unprepared the medical system in the US has been and how varied the symptoms can sometimes be, it’s tough. I called my primary care doctor a couple weeks ago because I was feeling unwell and was concerned since I live with an at-risk person. I was told to take some Tylenol. When I pressed the matter and stressed that I was trying to determine if I needed to be tested for COVID-19 or, at the very least, get some guidance on self-isolating and monitoring my symptoms, they didn’t really know what to say and had no advice for me. Maybe things are improving now, but I don’t have much faith.

          3. RUKiddingMe*

            Exactly. I am avoiding going to the doctor right now for other, actually very serious medical stuff that I really should be seen for, virus or not because I don’t want to overwhelm the medical establishment dealing with this thing.

            1. Rectilinear Propagation*

              This is something I’ve been worried about.

              I wish we had some guidance on what can wait and what can’t when it comes to medical issues that aren’t COViD-19. But that is going too far off topic…

              1. Ginkgo*

                I work in family medicine. Please check your health care web site and call your Dr; they should have plans in place for who to see, who to treat via telemedicine, and who can wait. Please don’t try to guess or stop treatment/tests, etc without consulting them. At the same time, everyone should call before going in for an appointment it lab tests.

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  Thanks for this.

                  Personally I’ve bern in email contact with my primary care and she has me doing some specific monitoring/dairying (I’m calling that a word) at home with instructions “if X get to urgent care immediately.”

                  I’ve also cancelled/postponed some non essential stuff (meet and greet with new a internal med, second shingles shot…etc) until things settle down a bit.

                  I’d feel better if I was on top of stuff as usual, but as we all know we’re not in Kansas anymore.

                  My biggest concern is people who 1) are ignoring important other than covid stuff snd conversely 2) those who are ignoring it as if life is just business as usual.

                2. Chinook*

                  There is an awesome symptom checker for Alberta Health Services that can help you decide if you should wait or book an appointment. It is a government site an based on questions a telehealth nurse would ask you.

            2. whingedrinking*

              Until two weeks ago, my doctor’s office had an extremely firm “no prescriptions provided over the phone” policy. I take a schedule II drug which under normal circumstances cannot be filled more than a day before it’s due to run out. It also can’t be prescribed with more than one refill on the script, or be given in an emergency by a pharmacist.
              I was beyond relieved to call for a doctor’s appointment last week and be informed by the voicemail that patients were to stay the fluff home unless it was an emergency. Prescriptions would be provided by means of phone appointments and faxed to the relevant pharmacy.
              I’m hoping this becomes a permanent change.

          4. Oxford Comma*

            I now have three friends who live in different parts of the country with symptoms. Two of them have underlying conditions. Two of them are over 60. All three have been unable to get tested.

        2. HMM*

          It actually says the opposite – that due to the current demands on healthcare workers, employees should not be asked to provide a doctor’s note. Their verbal or written reasons (that you then document should an audit be required later) suffices.

        3. Mystery Bookworm*

          The current recommendation in many places is to avoid going to medical facilities (where there are vulnerable people and stretched resources) unless your symptoms are unmanagable. I don’t think it would be responsible for OP to request this.

        4. AW*

          Please tell me you are joking about getting a sick note. Now is not the time to bother health care workers for paper work.

          Hospitals can barley cope with the number of people that need treating because of more serious symptoms, without be bothered by people with minor systems that just need to rest at home.

          All the advice I have seen is to stay home an a treat yourself and not to contact a doctor unless the situation gets worse.

        5. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I talked about this below, but for the employer to receive the tax credit to fund the paid leave, the employer does have to get documentation from the employee: the qualifying reason for requesting leave; a statement that the employee is unable to work, including telework, for that reason; the source of any quarantine or isolation order; and the name of the health care provider who has advised the employee to self-quarantine or written documentation from a health care provider advising the employee to self-quarantine.

          But many (most?) doctors are doing tele-visits now to avoid people coming in-person.

          1. Pretzelgirl*

            Prior to the new law, our company was offering 2 weeks sick time (in addition to what we have) if anyone in our home (or us an employee) tested positive. We didn’t need a note from a doctor. Just the test results themselves. We are in an area with 2 of the biggest health systems in the country, so test results come in online. Maybe something like this would be helpful? I would imagine most health systems deliver test results online, unless its a smaller rural hospital?

              1. AnonForThis*

                Yeah, asking for test results is absolutely unrealistic. I live in a major metropolitan area, and right now the ONLY people who get tested are healthcare workers with symptoms, or people over 50 with severe symptoms. That’s literally it.

        6. BWooster*

          I’d be curious to see how easy that will be to get. Offices where I am will not allow you in the door with symptoms and phone consultation appointments are booked solid for at least four weeks.

          I think employers should err on the side of not making employees’ lives more difficult because they didn’t fully manage their workforce when the country wasn’t in crisis.

          1. MusicWithRocksIn*

            My primary care doctor is actually doing calls now. If anyone is having trouble getting in on one of the normal medical call lines try calling your normal doctor and see if they will call you. You might get to talk to someone a lot sooner. My entire family’s health fell apart last week (luckily not Corvid) and we are all having to make due with seeing doctors in unfamiliar ways.

          2. anon for this*

            I did my consult online – I filled out a comprehensive survey that was reviewed by an NP. The result was you have a virus that may or may not be coronavirus, but you don’t qualify for testing (limited capacity and I’m managing symptoms fine at home).

            Given my travel over the last month I probably have/had it, my best bet is I was exposed in either an airport security line or a customs line somewhere in Europe.

        7. JM60*

          Doctors are going to be too busy with the pandemic. Don’t add to that by demanding a doctor’s note!

        8. Larvaldoctor*

          I am a doctor. We are so overwhelmed with the patients who are sick and many, many worried well. Many doctors are themselves sick or quarantined, depleting our numbers. Telemedicine is slow going. Overall, this is definitely a time to use doctors just for medical advice and not to help you triage business decisions.

        9. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          Please don’t waste doctors’ time getting paperwork to confirm something like this.

          Right now, we have more people getting sick, at the same time that there are fewer doctors, nurses, etc. available to care for them. Time spent on a telemedicine call to issue a doctor’s note is time that can’t be spent screening someone for whether they need to go to the hospital, or the legally required consultation before renewing certain prescriptions, or cleaning the office between seeing the patients who still need in-person appointments. (My nurse practitioner is currently taking vital signs herself, and cleaning the office between patients, because both the people who normally do that in that medical office are in quarantine.)

          It might be legal to ask for that doctor’s note, but it’s anti-social. Like going out to the store unnecessarily, it may be technically legal, but it could hurt other people.

        10. Observer*

          Nope. Even if the law allows it in theory, any employer that does this IS going to run into trouble, because doctors are refusing to go along with this. Many (if not most) doctor’s offices are telling people with symptoms of COvid19 to NOT come in unless they have severe enough symptoms that they might need hospitalization.

      2. Mystery Bookworm*

        I’m reminded of a recent letter in Dear Prudence where someone wanted to evict a difficult tenant. They had some legitimate reasons as I remember, but unfortuantely now is just….not the time?

        It’s terrible luck for people who were right at the precipice of making major changes (I know at least two people who’ve had to cancel weddings, which sucks) but unfortunately it is the reality of the current situation.

      3. Caroline Bowman*

        One thing OP1 could do is ask for *anyone* who thinks that they have Covid-19 to please video-conference in and take their temperature in front of HR or whoever is appropriate each morning for 2 days so that ”when we get audited later to be able to claim back the sick time, we’ll have documentary evidence”. This must be applied to everyone and must be made known as such. It won’t require the person to leave their house nor do anything strange.

        No temp ”well that’s strange, what other symptoms do you have?”

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No — an employer absolutely should not be making people take their temperature in front of HR! That would likely run afoul of the restrictions on medical exams of employees (and rightly so). The law already provides guidance on what documentation employers need.

            1. wittyrepartee*

              And like- look man, if someone really wanted to malinger they could just drink some coffee before this HR checkin. We’ve all seen ferris bueller.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                Or a hot shower. Or a reptile heat lamp. Or you could just break into the thermometer and fuck something up.

            2. Risha*

              This also presumes that the employee owns a functioning thermometer. Mine was giving me readings ranging from 95.5 to 97.2 when I was pretty certain I had a fever and 65% sure I had COVID-19. This sent me on an internet shopping quest that infuriated me, because it turns out 1. they don’t sell mercury thermometers (aka the kind of thermometer where you never have to worry about batteries and you’ll definitely know if it’s broken) in the US anymore, and 2. the electronic kind are almost impossible to obtain for under $85 a piece right now and the disposables are sold out.

          1. Caroline Bowman*

            then are they allowed to ask on what basis they feel they have the virus and if they even teleconferenced with a doctor or is it literally just ”I think I have it, so no work for me for the duration”?

            How would anyone ever verify anything?

            1. Cat*

              There’s a gap of about a million light years between asking if they teleconferenced with a doctor and making them take their temperature on a video call. Especially when plenty of people with COVID don’t have a fever but also just in general.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              As I wrote above, in order for the employer to get the tax credit, the employee would need to provide the name of the health care provider who has advised the employee to self-quarantine or written documentation from a health care provider advising them to self-quarantine.

              1. JSPA*

                Would using your insurer’s “dial a nurse” line work? Has anyone tried dial-a-nurse for this? In past experience, their default has been “see a doctor” / “go to the emergency room” for anything that has even remote potential to be serious, but under the circumstances, I wonder if the insurance companies (or CDC) are instructing them to do otherwise. They’re “medical professionals”…but I don’t remember if they’re allowed to give their names.

          2. I AM a Lawyer*

            For whatever it’s worth, the EEOC has said that employers may take employee’s temperatures in the case of a pandemic:

            “During a pandemic, may an ADA-covered employer take its employees’ temperatures to determine whether they have a fever?

            Generally, measuring an employee’s body temperature is a medical examination. If pandemic influenza symptoms become more severe than the seasonal flu or the H1N1 virus in the spring/summer of 2009, or if pandemic influenza becomes widespread in the community as assessed by state or local health authorities or the CDC, then employers may measure employees’ body temperature.

            However, employers should be aware that some people with influenza, including the 2009 H1N1 virus or COVID-19, do not have a fever.

            Because the CDC and state/local health authorities have acknowledged community spread of COVID-19 and issued attendant precautions as of March 2020, employers may measure employees’ body temperature. As with all medical information, the fact that an employee had a fever or other symptoms would be subject to ADA confidentiality requirements.”

            1. Observer*

              That guidance is ONLY relevant to situations where someone is actually coming to work, and the employer wants to verify that it’s safe to have that person in the facility.

            2. Cat*

              This is a good example of how being a lawyer means you’re not always right on the law, for the reason Observer states.

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I have the virus. Whilst I worked on days 1-3, by day 3 that contribution was a one-line email explaining that I was sick and wouldn’t be working … and it took ten minutes to compose, with a closed-eyes break in the middle. A daily checkin would be torture (and nunya). For reference, my country has an official DIY sick note to prepare online.

          Some people will take advantage. Some people will be sicker than they have ever been. Some people will fall into both those categories in turn.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            You are typing more lines now… and you are reading AAM.

            Can we take that as a good sign for you?

            I wish you speedy recovery.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Thanks for paying attention!

              I had a noticeably worst day on Saturday but am still more ill than in any previous illness, even with a mild case.

              Mostly I am raging, at people blithely going about outside their homes still doing as much as they CAN and not restricting themselves to only what they MUST.

              I know I’m banging on – and I’m boring myself at least as much as anyone else – but it feels important to me now.

              (I am normally a wordy, quick thumb-typist. This has taken f o r e v e r to compose and type.)

                1. Gaia*

                  It doesn’t sound snarky. I was hoping this was the case but didn’t want to assume.

                  I am right with you on constantly going on about how selfish people are who don’t take this seriously.

                2. Quill*

                  If there was ever a time to forgive someone for potentially being short, it’s now. Get well soon, General!

          2. Batgirl*

            Same here with being well enough to work; it’s been up and down. Also, my employers who are normally pretty strict on sick documentation don’t even want the DIY sick note. My head of department emailed those sick and well alike to say she appreciated we had caring responsibilities/home schooling/illness to contend with and to just do what we could. I honestly think she’s got more work from us than if she’d made us feel paranoid about appearing extremely ill.

        3. Lucy*

          Omg. Apart from the weird surveillance culture aspect of that, thermometers are often faulty/used incorrectly

        4. Tinker*

          Wouldn’t require the person to do anything strange?!

          I have questions about how you are defining “strange” here, because that idea seems plenty strange to me.

        5. Hiring Mgr*

          Some companies have instituted a “cough committee”, where the supposed “sick” person coughs a few times on a Zoom call, and the committee judges whether or not the cough sounds Corona-like or not.

          This is better than a temperature check as thermometers can be manipulated. /s

        6. Tidewater 4-1009*

          I get sick as often as anyone else, and I’ve had a fever twice as an adult.
          I’ve had pneumonia three times in 20 years without any fevers.
          A doctor who says “you’re not sick because you don’t have a fever” is showing his or her incompetence.

        7. JSPA*

          Some people present first without fever or cough, but rather dramatic GI misery (top end and/or bottom end and/or severe pain in between). Longer lag time to end of process (recovery or otherwise) on average–17 point something-or-other days, if so.

          Which is to say, anyone who’s feeling poorly ought to be staying home, no immediate documentation needed / post-facto documentation accepted. Violent digestive disturbance (not to mention toilet flushing) also create droplets (or even aerosolize), no matter how well people are washing their hands.

        1. EPLawyer*

          What if they really are sick? Also this is not the time to be laying people off. It’s more optics than anything else. But short of egregious conduct like actual stealing not “time stealing” no one should be laid off right now.

          As Alison said, the time to deal with the problem employee was when this first started. Now is not the time to suddenly figure out someone is a problem and deal with it. Too much else is going on.

          1. High Score!*

            Many small businesses and some large ones are laying off good people bc they have no choice. While it’s great to keep people if you can, if the money is not there to pay people to not work then what else can they do?

            1. JSPA*

              Laying off or furloughing people, broadly, because there’s no work for them to do, is one thing.

              Singling out someone for use of sick leave for what they say or believe to be COVID, isn’t that.

          2. Yvette*

            True, also I am not too sure about the way the OP is using hypochondria, for example I say that my husband is a hypochondriac because anything that comes along he wonders if he could have it, but it is really just silliness on his part, he doesn’t go running to the doctor, he doesn’t alter his lifestyle etc, it is more of a jokey stay away from web.md thing. (No honey, it’s just a rash, I doubt you have the flesh eating virus, no honey, being tired in the middle of the day when you were up late the night before does not mean you have sleeping sickness) Then there are people with a true diagnosis of hypochondria from a Dr. (remember this guy https://www.askamanager.org/2017/07/my-employee-has-hypochondria-and-is-annoying-all-his-coworkers.html ) He had a true diagnosis, couldn’t help himself from hurtful, bizarre behavior, and truly believed he had whatever it was he imagined, no matter how outlandish. Someone like that would be protected by the ADA.

        2. Nic*

          Because a) they have no proof except their own suspicions that employee is a hypochondriac. What if they just haven’t wanted to disclose a chronic illness, or what if they have an undiagnosed chronic illness or immune weakness that leads to them getting sick more often than most people? A lot of people don’t like disclosing disabilities/chronic medical conditions unless they have absolutely no choice, because they get discriminated against for it.


          1. Quill*

            Yeah, also disclosing a chronic illness – you often have to get diagnosed first, and with autoimmune stuff that’s notoriously hard to pin down. Especially depending on the employee’s demographics because the “typical” presentation of a disease may not always be the most common one, just the easiest to identify, and influenced by genetics.

            1. Nic*

              Exactly. When people have autoimmune illnesses or other similarly hard-to-identify chronic illnesses (some of which don’t as yet have an agreed upon pathology or etiology, just a name and symptom list, even after fifty years or more in the scientific literature!), on average it takes them four years (and six doctors!) to get a diagnosis. And that’s just on average; I’ve heard of people who’ve spent ten years or more searching for an answer to what’s wrong with them, all the while being denigrated and discriminated against by doctors, coworkers and relatives who think they’re making a fuss over nothing or faking it.

              LW1: be certain before you get tough.

              1. Quill*

                Yeah, the first time I visited a doctor who listened to my arthritis and then said “what you’re suggesting for your medication changes isn’t a treatment for fibromyalgia” (after being told that my BONES are the wrong shape, something that’s been documented in multiple ex-rays and isn’t, you know, a typical ’cause’ of fibro) i made a vow to never have an appointment with her again. I had to go along with it for the time being to get perscribed my normal meds for other stuff.

        3. Mary*

          I genuinely don’t know if this means “lay off” as in make redundant, or “lay off” as in “leave them alone, this isn’t the time or the place”?

          1. High Score!*

            I mean lay off. I work for a big company and if this goes on for too long, we’ll get furloughed. Lots of small businesses give no choice but to let go of good employees that they wish to keep bc they don’t have the funds to pay them. So, yes, it is ok to let go of money drain now. I’d the business doesn’t survive then*all* the employees lose theirs jobs

            1. Nic*

              Then you cross that bridge when it comes to that necessary point – based on job performance, not whether you as a non-doctor think they might be faking absences – and not before. Because you don’t as yet have evidence of hypochondria; just a suspicion based on someone getting ill unusually often.

            2. JSPA*

              1. great incentive for sick people to come into the office. Or, if teleworking, to job search, as soon as the economy recovers, and trash your company on GlassDoor.

              2. presumably a solid lawsuit if the person has COVID, and you fire them not only for the direct result of a health issue, but for that, now.

              3. Company reputation: if I knew where you worked, and that this was policy, and it’s continuing be implemented in that way, now, I’d be rushing to find an alternative provider. For whatever goods or service you provide.

              Business is full of situations where in hindsight, you wish you’d done something earlier, because now you’re in a window where it’s awkward. This is one of those times, for laying off someone in a targeted manner for taking excess sick leave, when they have / are claiming to have COVID.

    3. Nye*

      My concern would be that if this employee claims unnecessary leave now, and then later gets coronavirus, what happens? The two weeks paid is largely a public health issue. You want people away from work / other people when they’re contagious. Maybe not as big of an issue if this particular problem employee is already set up to WFH, but this seems like a potential issue caused by people abusing the new policy.

      I like the idea of a teledoc diagnosis, if that’s something included in the employee health plan, maybe requiring that on a case-by,-case basis if possible. But I don’t think there’s any way to guarantee that nobody will take advantage of the system.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        I am not in the US, but does the new law have a maximum amount of sick leave time associated? Because if that’s the case, and the employee gets sick later, they would presumably have used up the legally mandated time and have to take time off unpaid.

        Which could be a good point for OP to mention to this employee – “okay, by law you get XX days paid sick leave associated with COVID-19. Do you want to begin that paid time right now? Because when it elapses, you don’t have any regular paid time left, and we don’t want you to end up in a financial bind.”

        1. Nye*

          My concern in that situation is that the employee wouldn’t want to / couldn’t afford to take unpaid leave, so would come in to work sick if symptoms were mild. (Or return to work before the contagious period is over.) Again, not a big issue if the job can be done 100% WFH. But if not, a much worse outcome than simply that someone has cheated the system for a few weeks’ pay.

          1. Harper the Other One*

            Good point – and I also agree that I’d rather have someone “take advantage” than come to work and spread the virus.

    4. Chinook*

      If the abuse involves faking a doctor’s note, the charges of fraud are possible. Ontario had one employee fake a doctor’s note stating they had COVID in order to get paid sick time, which resulted in the McD8being closed and staff quarantined. She has since been charged with fraud and criminal mischief and called out by Premier Ford (though I don’t think named, maybe locally?) as an example of what will if caught.

      1. Chinook*

        Plese note that they took the employee their word and only responded so having after having proof of fraud. I think right now is a good time to trust your employees’ judgements but be prepared for consequences if someone is later proven to be lying and abusing the system.

        After all, if you are sloppy enough to get caught in this type of fraud, you can5make the arguement that you are usually an upstanding employee. But this should happen AFTER the dust settles. We need to err on the id of caution because even hypochondriacs and fraudsters can catch COVID and spread it around.

  3. Chelle*

    #2 — your COO is an ass, I’m sorry. If you use Outlook and if these messages are set up to go to some sort of mailing list, you can set up a rule to say “move messages from COO to trash unless my name is in the To or CC box,” which might fix the problem.

    1. Jenny*

      You could also set up a filter for it being from COO and the email having an image in it, I think.

      1. Zephy*

        That would probably work as long as the COO’s signature bloc doesn’t have images in it. Otherwise, everything will get filtered.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Op2, What is your relationship with your manager in between? If it is good try going to her for help…and you do not even have to mention the 800 pound frat boy in the room:
      “You know those jokes from Fergus? I’m finding they are affecting my productivity. I need to think about work when I am at work. Is there any way you can think of to address this?”

    3. Amethystmoon*

      There is also a keyword filter option, at least in the newer versions. For example, you could do keyword “coronavirus” or “COVID” or “virus” and send them all to a folder, and then you can also mark them read. I believe you can also combine that with a sent from rule, so there’s less risk of getting official communications about it.

      1. Steve*

        I created a filter once for the VP of a separate but related group. This was years ago. The only emails I ever got from him were jokes and memes. And he was diagonal enough from me that he never emailed me directly. So I just set up the filter to auto-delete them.

  4. LegallyBrunette*

    LW 3: Echoing Alison’s assessment and advice – if there’s any further inappropriate behavior from your coworker, tell your manager about it without any hesitation or guilt. You handled everything appropriately and were clear about your personal boundaries.

    From details here, it seems like he crossed the line from normal social behavior to sexual harassment during the “mixed messages” conversation. You had clearly already declined his offer to socialize outside of work, and that message was clearly received at the time, given his reaction. He should have taken it to heart (rather than gutturally) and ended it there.

    1. Artemesia*

      Well to be fair she only told me ‘no’ and then ‘very firmly no’. so mixed messages.

      1. valentine*

        You’re not the one who made it weird, OP3, and the GM’s response should make any decent HR proud.

        You don’t have to hear people out, not even colleagues, especially if they’re behaving inappropriately. You can cut them off (“And we’ll have to leave it there” or “I’m going to stop you there”) or even hang up (mid-word, so you’re really hanging up on yourself, if it matters). If your phone logs forwarded calls (because you want proof), forward his calls to your work number. If there’s a work need for him to call your personal phone, especially after hours, maybe he can call your manager, instead.

      2. Relly*

        “You said ‘no,’ and then ‘no,’ and ‘no’ again, but I really wanted it to be ‘yes.’ I’m so confused!!!”

        1. Ice and Indigo*

          ‘I mean, you didn’t quit this job and move cities to get away from me, you even spoke to me politely! What am I supposed to think?!’

        2. Kaitlyn*

          It occurs to me that “mixed messages” often means “the message I wanted to receive is mixing with the message I actually received, and now I feel bad and don’t like it. So…this must be your fault?”

          1. Crivens!*

            Yup. There’s a great Yes Means Yes article about this entitled Mythcommunication: It’s Not That They Don’t Understand, They Just Don’t Like The Answer.

            Men understand no. Some often just choose to ignore it when it’s coming from a woman who isn’t doing what they want.

          2. Stormy Weather*

            This. I also assumed that he was one of those jerks who think eye contact = flirting.

            1. Heffalump*

              Not as portable as a halberd, but presumably the OP knows which would work better for her.

              Jack is entitled to his primal urges, but she (or any given woman) is under no obligation to gratify them.

          3. JSPA*

            So well put.

            See also, “the version of you I have in my head said something different, and it felt more real and right.”

            See also, “I have never felt desire like this before, and don’t recognize it as something I could generate myself, so you must be doing something to provoke it.”

            He’s not in control of his perceptions and feelings? He dang well better be in control of his words and actions. If someone is too delusional or too high on their own hormones to function in society, they should not be interacting with others. Frankly, he should probably have been on LWOP some time ago, at minimum.

      3. Quill*

        Some guys seem to think anything short of running them out of town with a polearm is an indication that a lady might want to duck them.

        The venn diagram between these and guys who want to have a conversation after two refusals about their “primal urges” is just a circle.

        LW, I realize that social distancing may have solved this problem for you temporarily, but if you have any members of the Society of Creative Anachronisms handy, ask to borrow a halberd. (Not that it’s your responsibility to run him out of town with it, but it DOES help keep people over six feet away.)

          1. Quill*

            For heavy duty whole man disposal, you can commission a trebuchet from my brother, whose graduation party included a pumpkin chuck.

        1. Uncompf*

          OP3 here.

          Despite all the fear and uncertainty COVID has brought, I’m actually really relieved I don’t have to see him right now. All this time off might just work in my favor . . . more time to practice my halberd wielding skills!

    2. Maddy*

      I think he should be fired now. She said no more than once and he kept pushing. It’s at the point where she feels extremely uncomfortable at work. How much further does it need to go?

      1. Mookie*

        This, and I’m none too happy with a manager that “all but” told this guy he’d be immediately fired if he did this again. Why be indirect about this (particularly for a man who tries to use “mixed messages” to justify his aggressive, predatory pestiness)?

        1. Works in IT*

          Seeing if being told that he will lose a job as a consequence of his actions will do anything to stop him and make him realize that ignoring a woman’s opinions when they conflict with your own is wrong, and actually really insulting to the coworker he supposedly likes. Although, he seems to have interpreted it as “if I harass her outside of work hours it’s okay”.

        2. Observer*

          This is true.

          The only reason I didn’t mention it is that the OP can’t control what the manager does. But, OP, please understand that if he pulls anything further, you have a right to expect her to fire him even it wasn’t “clear” to him.

        3. Tidewater 4-1009*

          He seems more young and stupid to me than predatory. I remember this behavior in high school – both mine and others.

          1. Observer*

            Young and predatory are not mutually exclusive. Far from it.

            This IS predatory. And if he’s old enough to hold a job, he’s old enough to learn to rein it in.

          2. Alton*

            I don’t know if he’s being intentionally predatory, but his behavior sets off a lot of alarm bells for me that sounds like more than just immaturity. For one thing, most people don’t get so upset by the mildest of rejections that they run away and vomit. Also, the fact that he seems to believe that the OP is giving him mixed signals is a red flag in my opinion.

            1. Tidewater 4-1009*

              The mixed signals sound like wishful thinking to me. I used to do that in my late teens/early 20’s.

          3. JSPA*

            We’ve all been 14, so many of us have probably lived through the intersection between “the age of magical thinking” and “the age of raging hormones.” (Neither of those things are gender-specific.) Also, the “age of blurting.”

            But you need to get over at least one of those to function in the workplace.

    3. Jopestus*

      Some people do take basic kindness as “mixed messages”. I have a “friend” that is just like that and is always complaining why nobody is attracted to him.

      Well, maybe speaking about something else than hating being without a partner to women might be a start. Okay, I am going to stop before I start projecting too much.

      1. nott the brave*

        I’ve read this elsewhere as something of a meme, but it really feels truer and truer as the days go by: a lot of guys interpret basic human kindness as explicit interest because they can’t imagine being nice to someone they wouldn’t want to date.

        This is in no way the fault of OP3 for being a decent, warm person. It’s on Jack for insisting his will upon them despite repeated and firm denials.

        1. Myrin*

          I will never be able to wrap my mind around that – I’m friendly to others because I don’t want to (depending on the specific situation) make them feel bad or sad or intimidated or like an outcast or condescended to, not because I have any kind of romantic or sexual interest in them. I honestly can’t imagine going through life like that!

          (And further, are these guys then just… rude to everyone but those who fit into their narrowly defined group of “dateable”?)

          1. Shirley Keeldar*

            Perhaps not always rude, but I’ve definitely know heterosexual guys who just don’t seem aware of women they aren’t attracted to. One guys (friend of a friend) was notorious for reintroducing himself to women he’d met several times if they weren’t on his “I’d really like know you horizontally” list.”

            1. Old Biddy*

              These are usually the same guys who think that women can have sex with whoever they want to whenever they want to or that women have it so easy with dating.

            2. smoke tree*

              Oh yeah, there is definitely a group of straight guys out there who pretty much do not register the existence of women they don’t want to sleep with. One of these apparently was afflicted to the extent that he chucked a bunch of big rocks out a two-storey window right where I was standing. Did not register at all.

          2. Quill*

            Depends. The one I had the misfortune of befriending in college was capable of behaving like a human and a colleague to women as long as he was already dating someone else. When he was unattached he was a girlfriend-seeking missile of “that means you’ll think about it, right?” and “We still hang out so that must mean I can change your mind,” and “if you don’t do sex and romance that means you won’t care if I kiss you, right?”

            I had to watch the rest of that season of anime alone or with the dude friend who took “netflix but no chill” seriously.

          3. Claire*

            I vividly remember being in college and telling a male acquaintance that something he said was misogynistic and offensive to women and him saying, “Why should I care? I’m gay.” It blew my mind that this guy openly admitted that he thinks the only reason why men respect women is that they’re interested in quacking. Kind of wanted to warn any potential future boyfriends that he wasn’t being nice because he valued them as people.

            1. Quill*

              Blegh. Most of my friend group is queer and few are cis men, but there’s always gotta be one… and this is inevitably the guy whose boyfriends end up needing you to coach them on how to dump him.

          4. Avasarala*

            I’ve had men go out of their way to inform me that I am not their type (ie not the race they’d prefer to be dating). I did not express any interest in you, bud…

        2. My coworker made me sign a cast on her crotch*

          Funny when I was younger, I thought guys who were nice to me were interested in me. It’s not that I would treat men like crap but I was ignored by so many unless they were interested. Color me shocked when I mistook a friend’s attentions for romantic attention. But yeah I’ve seen that meme and it’s gross (not the meme but the fact that people are like this)

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Slight variation of this: I was so thoroughly either mocked or (mercifully, mostly) ignored by men that when one took a sincere, non-sexual interest in me it was terrifying. I didn’t know this was a thing until I was visiting friends and a male friend of theirs asked a general question about something about which I happened to know quite a lot, and then got really interested in whatever I had to say about it. Genuinely, non-patronizingly, interested. I expected him to be nice because my friends were nice, but realizing that he was actually listening to me triggered a really bizarre not-quite-panic situation.

            1. Quill*

              I may have been spoiled spending my teenhood in theater because guys paying attention to what I said was overwhelmingly a case of “she’s the house manager, listen or suffer the consequences.”

        3. Not So NewReader*

          Warning for mention of childhood trauma.

          Sadly, there are more than a few people who for [reasons] conflate basic kindness and desire for an intimate relationship.

          A current friend is in recovery from this misinterpretation. He was molested starting about age 5 and his accidental learning from those events was that sex equals love. He did not get to see or did not understand this thing called brotherly love or even basic kindness/civility. Yeah, he ran with a rough crowd- they weren’t brotherly nor civil. Some people are so starving to see basic kindness and civility, they don’t get to see it very often. They don’t know what it is when they finally see it. This also happens to women.

          My friend has progressed so far that he now talks about what happened and how he got himself turned around. Since he is pretty open about what happened I have to believe that he is in a much better place now.

          Punchline: the problems can run deep here, OP and it is NOT up to you to fix them. And you do not have to tolerate the behavior. NO means NO period. That is the extent of your role here. My friend had to hit that hard line a couple times and then he realized he needed to learn something. The people who drew that hard line will probably never know their role in changing my friend’s life as this is a story that took years to work through. If this guy gets fired, OP, then so be it.

          1. Tidewater 4-1009*

            That’s what it was like for me too, growing up in an abusive family in a fundamentalist area. When a man was nice to me I thought he was at least potentially interested in dating.
            It took a long time to fully understand these nuances and that I should do the opposite – don’t assume a man is interested unless he says so.

          2. JSPA*

            This is an important point.

            You can label a behavior at completely unacceptable, and insist that it be labeled as such and dealt with as such and documented a such, without writing a damning (or an exculpatory) backstory for the person doing that 100% unacceptable thing.

            Keeping a laser focus on the behavior is actually very freeing, and more helpful (as far as moving forward) for all concerned.

            “Person was let go for X” as opposed to “person is an X” is just as much fair warning, but also gives person a chance to change. “Person was let go repeatedly for X” / “person was let go for repeatedly X-ing” is just as clear (and much less open to “but I’m not like that / you’ve never seen me do X” subterfuge) than “Person is a known serial X-er.”

        4. gotta get by*

          My opposite-sex partner and I were very close platonic friends for years before starting a relationship. I know know he was briefly interested in me when we met in college, could pick up that I wasn’t interested in dating anyone (I worked 40+ hrs a week on top of full time school), and we settled into a genuine, not sneaky-gross-trying-to-secretly-date-me friendship where we met each others dating partners, celebrated each others’ life achievements, and shared common interests. Circumstances did eventually end with us being in a now long-term relationship but I honestly cringe at anyone like this guy seeing our story and thinking “See! He got out of the friend zone so I can too!”

          Nah dude, you’re a creep and you’re missing the point of genuine friendship.

          1. If the devil were to explode and evil were gone forever what sort of party would you have*

            I can attest to that where I mistakenly believed the first guy who was friendly to me wanted me and I was crushed he didn’t.

            I come from a culture where if a woman smiles at you, she’s interested. A common saying is that “if she laughs, she’s yours.” (translated) So women are socialized to be unapproachable and rough to strangers (but still take on alllllll the emotional (and physical) labor at home) lest if she’s too nice, men will approach her. Sadly, that line of thinking has led to horrible things I don’t want to say here, but….yeah. Honestly I thought this was a strictly “people from my culture” thing but the more I read on facebook and here and on the internet, and meeting people, it seems like sad incel transcends all cultrual boundaries.

          2. Richard Hershberger*

            Then there is the distinction between recreational flirting and flirting with intent. Another commenter mentioned the Society for Creative Anachronism, so I will go there. The SCA is rife with recreational flirting: flirting because flirting is fun. But it also has a lot of flirting with intent. Understanding which is which is an important social skill.

            1. Kathlynn (Canadian)*

              my response was about people mistaking kindness in general for flirting, not specific to the LW’s situation, as the reply I’m commenting on was also a general “guys are bad for thinking kindness is flirting/attraction”

          3. Avasarala*

            Sure, flirting is hard and reading people is harder! I don’t think anyone faults a misstep or two. The important thing is to give clear Nos and when you get a No you Back. The. F. Off.

      2. Mookie*

        Personally, I don’t anyone at their word with these justifications. I think by their own actions it’s clear they know exactly what message is being sent; they just don’t like that message and are actually demonstrating how socially savvy they are, not “awkward” or confused at all, by using strategies that work on women, who are socialized to be gentle, accommodating, kind at all times, and more respectful of other people’s needs and desires than their own. These dudes want a date and don’t care how they get it.

        1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

          This 100%, and your comment further down thread about it not mattering whether OP is attracted or not, he’s just trying to obligate her into acquiescence. Guys who pull this crap are not hapless romantic victims, they know *exactly* what they’re doing.

          1. JSPA*

            Those…are not the only two options, though.

            Not So NewReader’s example is also relevant.

            Heck, Captain Awkward herself is very clear on how she was a serial FeelingsMail and “my feelings are a sign of this being a thing” offender for years, before she caught a clue, applied herself to the topic, and came out the other end with amazing clarity. The (mostly) dudes who write in to Dr. Nerdlove are often doing what they’re doing “with intent,” in the sense that they’re not sleepwalking, but it’d be a huge stretch to claim that all of them “know what they are doing” in the sense of, “they know they are causing misery for another human being.”

            There are also manipulators of all stripes who absolutely do this as a challenge, or a game, and they literally know exactly what they are doing. That generally requires a level of detachment that’s not really compatible with upchucking from nerves, dashed hopes, confusion, or whatever was going on in his head and gut, that day. None of which makes it romantic, or OK, or anything else good.

            When people are delusional in other ways, we don’t say, “Oh, they’re doing it on purpose.” There’s something seriously wrong going on with him. Exactly what, we do not actually know. We should not presume to know, based on the actions of other people who are not him. The “why” is almost* entirely irrelevant to how OP or OP’s manager should proceed.

            The asterisk being, if the combination of delusion / compulsion plus anything that suggests a potential for violence are strong enough, in combination, that they feel a need to bar him from the premises or get an armed guard.

            1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

              I’m not sure I follow?

              My comment above in response to Mookie isn’t about “knowing they are causing misery for another human being”. Or how self-aware they are, how consciously considered their actions, why they do it, or how nefarious their intent.

              If a man is emotionally intelligent enough to capitalise on a woman’s socialisation to be kind and accommodating by using guilt as his strategy on her, then he is emotionally intelligent enough – by very definition – to understand even a soft “no”.

              Men who do this understand refusal perfectly well, they just don’t respect refusal.

              They operate in a system where a woman’s “no” is simply less valid than their entitlement to “yes”, and “mixed messages” is output code for DOES NOT COMPUTE, PRESS Y TO CONTINUE.

              So, of “two options” – no, they are not the hapless romantic victims they paint themselves out to be. They are in fact savvy operators who know *exactly* how to bend social loopholes to their advantage, regardless of how intentioned they are or how intentionally they do it.

        2. Yorick*

          Right, he got the rejection so clearly that it made him vomit. So how were there “mixed messages?”

          1. Tidewater 4-1009*

            He didn’t want to accept it, so he looks for signs she didn’t mean it or changed her mind. And he thinks he sees them, but it’s just her being civil.
            I used to do that because of the environment I was raised in. The gap between what my parents said and what they did was so big, I got the impression words didn’t mean anything, so I looked for other indicators of what was really happening.
            Hopefully this guy will reach a point of understanding OP meant her words and he needs to respect that.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          Bingo. And Jack is using this to the hilt.

          LW, you don’t need to feel guilty at all about this. Dollars to doughnuts the “mixed signals” of which you’ve been accused are normal coworker civility that he’s turned against you.

          Also, I am unspeakably creeped out by the “primal urges” part. I’m probably way overthinking it but that sounds like a set-up for denying responsibility for his own actions, which is . . . not good. Very not good.

          Don’t feel guilty, and keep your boss apprised of the situation and any further intrusions from this guy. If he won’t stop and loses his job, that is on him. Full stop.

          1. RVA Cat*

            This. He needs to be fired, but first priority needs to be the OP’s safety. His behavior is giving me some serious stalker vibes. “Primal urges” sounds rapey AF.
            At least the current situation gives their manager the out to frame it as a layoff – which could help him not escalate against the OP.

            1. JSPA*

              Or geeky AF / gets his lines from badly captioned animé (e.g.) or old Brian Aldiss, rather than actual human beings.

              Not to imply that geeky AF and rapey AF are positively or negatively correlated; could be either one or both. Or some third thing.

              I’d be careful of handling this by layoff. If layoff would normally at that company mean not only “eligible for rehire” but “first in line for rehire,” OP ends up with that hanging over her.

              It’s probably also safer for all concerned if the guy leaves under his own steam, powered by extreme embarrassment and strong words from the manager as to how his path towards advancement is almost certainly blocked by his incredible lack of boundaries.

        4. B.*

          I know someone who was like this. He absolutely should have known. He still says he didn’t. As I understand it his brain was making up but what ifs for him. There are a lot of complicated reasons for that, including the one touched on by not so new reader above, which at the time he hasn’t done the work to proceed. It doesn’t matter because he should have known, and nobody was obligated to give him leeway because of it.

          But on a larger level I think it’s good to recognize that even if people should know and seem to know what they’re doing they might not. In order to make the world a better place where there’s maybe a little less of this.

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        Is it really projecting when we’ve all seen the pattern way too many times?

        See: like, half the Captain Awkward archives…

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I’m not defending him because he’s clearly in the wrong here, BUT based on the letter IMO OP was not 100% clear. It sounds like she was trying to let him down nicely instead of just being direct and telling him she wasn’t interested in dating him, and he took her language to mean he still had a chance.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        If she had spoken to him once, maybe. This has happened MULTIPLE times – one of which where she said “I don’t want to be outside of work friends” – and he has used the phrase “primal urges” which is NEVER going to be appropriate speaking about a coworker. The problem here is not OP’s choice of language.

      2. Perse's Mom*

        I don’t see how this could be taken as anything other than 100% direct.

        “Let me be clear. I do not want to date. I don’t want to talk about my romantic relationships at all.” I told him I would adjust my workplace behavior to reflect exactly how I feel. At this point, I stopped talking to him about anything other than work necessities. I limited contact with him whenever I could.

      3. LegallyBrunette*

        The first conversation where LW laughed it off wasn’t a clear rejection, but the second conversation was 100% clear: “I think it’s best that we remain work friends, not outside-of-work friends.” I’m not sure how you’re reading “you have a chance” into that statement.

        1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

          Oh, if only we could have a sub-thread dedicated to times when dudes read “you have a chance” into 100% clear “no” statements! I think we’d crash Alison’s blog.

      4. Yorick*

        The second time he asked, she said no clearly, and he was so upset by the rejection that he ran outside and vomited. There is no way he wasn’t sure whether she wanted to date or not.

      5. Uncompf*

        OP3 here.

        You’re totally right, I really didn’t make myself clear the first time. I guess I figured he’d get the hint then? I’ll even acquiesce the second time – my tone was light and friendly despite the sentiment. I really wanted to pretend it never happened and sweep it under the rug!

        If I had known how he’d react in the weeks following, I would have been very direct from the start. Ugh.

        1. Ice and Indigo*

          Don’t blame yourself! Most reasonable people can take a hint, and reasonable people who miss hints can still accept a clear ‘no.’ You did the normal thing: brushed him off gently and indirectly at first to spare him embarrassment, then got direct when that didn’t work. If he was reasonable, it would have.

          1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

            This. He misinterpreted your responses because it wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear. He likely would have misinterpreted any response you made.

            1. Starbuck*

              To be clear, I don’t think he “misinterpreted” at all – I think he knew exactly what OP meant, certainly by the second time, but he chose to disregard the message because he thought he could wear her down and change her mind. So done with giving guys like the the benefit of any doubt.

        2. KRM*

          I mean, the first time you were basically nicely saying “thanks but no thanks”, and any normal person would have gotten the message that “OP doesn’t want to hang out”. Even the second time if you sound light and freindly–you’re saying “hey, we can work together, but that’s it!!” with your tone of voice AND your words. And FWIW I’m pretty sure the vomiting was manipulative. And his “mixed messages” FOR SURE is manipulative and shows he understands the situation perfectly and is just trying to guilt you into spending time with him.
          Don’t beat yourself up for being nice the first time. An actual real nice guy would have heard your ‘no’ and been pleasant to work with. This guy should be fired.

        3. Part Time Poet*

          This letter really raised a lot of my concern for the OP. There are enough cases of men escalating their behavior and are a danger to the woman who turned them down and either relentlessly stalk them or kill them. I know I sound alarmist, but I am alarmed because he has continued to escalate what he wants and is not taking “NO” for an answer and continues to behave like a wounded animal. There is no way for this type of person to have any self-awareness whatsoever about HIS behavior and make the correction and behave properly. This is classic behavior of the sociopath as he has zero concern about how his behavior is wrong and how it is affecting you. I think he should be fired and you should be very careful of when you are out and about. He probably has been stalking you online and knows way more about you than you think. The fact that he called you after work to go over your answer again, after you clearly stated no more than once, is a huge red flag.

          Please, please be careful.

          1. Starbuck*

            Yes, I also found his level of persistence and ignoring her very clear “no” to be pretty scary. I would never feel safe around that guy again.

        4. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

          I’ve been caught in a similar loop before, worrying that I could have been more direct from the start.

          But… women just don’t have these kinds of situations with respectful, normal, well adjusted men. And even if we did, it wouldn’t matter at which point we were clear, because jerks like Jack don’t listen to a hard “no” regardless of which point in the timeline it’s delivered.

          Your expectations and actions were absolutely reasonable and well socially-adjusted in this situation; his were not.

          This situation is 100% not your fault in any way.

        5. another Hero*

          Being polite with the first no and clear with the second is perfectly reasonable, and I’m so sorry this nonsense is going down, and at this stage it is absolutely acceptable to eat him.

        6. Camellia*

          Please be very concerned about this behavior. Be alert for stalker-type activities from this person, ESPECIALLY if he does get fired over this. Calling you after hours, physically vomiting after rejection, talking about ‘primal urges’, are all rather extreme behavior. Honestly, I’m concerned about stalking/attacking actions from this person.

          1. Nic*

            Agreed. Plus his insistence that your acting normally around him at work is a mixed message. It’s not. You should be able to work with people – acting normally around them – without them taking it as a super secret sign that you “like-like” them.

            I honestly worry that if/when he gets his head around the rejection, he’ll turn around and try to use OP’s new behaviour of ignoring him and pretending he doesn’t exist, as a sign of unprofessionalism that means she should be fired, or as gossip fodder for the other part-timers (“she’s such a b*tch to me! For no reason – all I did was ask her out!” and so on).

        7. Blueberry*

          This kind of situation is designed to make you second guess yourself. This is not your fault and you do not deserve any of it. A kind rejection (such as your first and second) can only be twisted into encouragement by deliberate misinterpretation.

          We are cheering you on and hoping for your safety. Good luck.

        8. Aquawoman*

          You are taking on too much responsibility for this (and if you don’t already read Captain Awkward, I’d recommend it). It’s your responsibility to deliver the message–which you did. It’s HIS responsibility to understand the message, which he didn’t. It’s HIS responsibility to deal with his own emotional issues that arise as a a result, which he didn’t. Talking about your “mixed messages” and his “primal urges” is assigning you mental/emotional labor which is not yours to do.

          1. Aquawoman*

            And actually, I’m going to clarify a little bit on the “your responsibility to deliver the message” part. Even if the message was unclear, it was actually HIS responsibility to back off because this is a work situation and fostering a positive and nonhostile work environment should have been his first choice.

        9. Observer*

          Please don’t take the blame on yourself. The first conversation was just a hint – a pretty clear on, but still..

          The second conversation? No, that was as clear as you need to get. You don’t have to take on the demeanor of an ax murderer to be taken seriously. You said something very direct and it’s on him that he’s calling it “mixed messages.” And, by the way, he’s lying if he says that he didn’t understand what you REALLY meant, because otherwise he would not have been throwing up when you said it. And they you had ANOTHER conversation and he STILL called you after hours. No, this was NOT ever about you not being clear enough!

        10. Koala dreams*

          There is nothing wrong in being friendly and polite. Most people would prefer a friendly and polite work culture. His refusal to take no for an answer is 100 % his responsibility. He heard you and decided to be mean. And who knows, maybe he would have done the same things no matter what you said. Sadly there are no magic words that make harassers stop harrassing.

        11. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          I’ll even acquiesce the second time

          Sorry, OP, hard disagree: You were *PLENTY* clear and direct the second time.

          I’m sorry, you’re dealing with a pretty terrible situation where someone isn’t respecting your reasonable and clear boundaries that you communicated very clearly. I’m disappointed your manager didn’t fire him after the third incident.

      6. Nic*

        OP was maybe unclear the first time when she said she was too busy – but even then, most people would have taken it as a polite brush-off.

        The second time? Was clear. “We should be work-friends only” is a direct no. Still polite but no mixed messages.

        The third time? Was extremely clear. “I’m sympathetic for you putting yourself out to confess an attraction but while I appreciate you as a work colleague, there’s nothing more than that” is a direct no.

        It should not have got to a fourth time, and it is absolutely not down to OP that he did go that far.

      7. BluntBunny*

        If she wanted to date him she could ask him out herself. This is what invalidates all the ifs and buts of her colleague. She knows he is interested in her and nothing romantic/intimate had happened and if that bothered her she would do something to change that. He asked to see her outside of work and she said no she hasn’t shown any interest in getting to know him further outside of work. I think she should have gone a step further in the last conversation to say “you are making me uncomfortable I am now not even interested in speaking to you at work”.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          If she wanted to date him she could ask him out herself.

          What a concept. Creepy Boundary Crossing Dudes Everywhere, *READ THIS*

          No, seriously, read this. It’s brilliant. Also, it’s basic social skills, but that’s okay, we have remedial courses for a reason.

      8. Observer*

        Your “not defending him” reads EXACTLY like defending him and blaming his victim. Which is a problem all on its own, because even a soft no should never open anyone up to the kind of behavior he’s been subjecting her to.

        It’s particularly gross because it’s factually incorrect. On conversation #2 the OP said “I think it’s best that we remain work friends, not outside-of-work friends.” That is a crystal clear statement that she is NOT interested in dating him. So clear, in fact, that “Immediately after this — quite literally in the seconds after I rejected him — he ran outside to vomit.” It’s hard to make the case that his language comprehension is so bad that he didn’t understand what she was saying anyway. But when he vomited as a result?

        Conversation #3 had the OP telling him that she “I recognized how difficult it is to confess one’s feelings for someone and that I appreciated him as a work colleague, but that’s all. I “ How much more clear does she need to be in order for this to be “clear enough”?

        And after that he STILL called her after hours and tried to make his “primal urged” her problem!” What exact magic set of words do you require of someone to keep them from being subjected to that?!

        1. Chris*

          I really think the “being more clear” concept gets taken to ridiculous extremes. I was the letter writer whose male coworker wouldn’t stop staring (1/11/13). He had coworkers talk to me on his behalf — and I responded that I don’t date co-workers. I eventually went to my supervisor who bungled it and said I needed to be more clear. Finally the guy moved on (to a new co-worker who was more amenable…) but until then it was a lot of stress and energy taken away from work.

      9. PVR*

        But letting down people easy is something we all do to be polite and help others save face—and not just in romantic situations. We do it with friends, we do it at work, we do it when the PTA asks us to head up a committee and we offer to bring cupcakes to a bake sale instead. Deflecting kindly is a very normal part of being human.

    5. Snarkastic*

      Ugh, this whole scenario skeeved me out and, if I were the OP, I would want this guy gone yesterday. Blech. I would hate to have to continue to work with him. I hate that so many people have to continue to work with the creepos that harassed them!

    1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

      Oh he’s giving me primal urges alright. Urges to slap him in the face with a heavy bag of cheap ass rolls.

      1. Felix*

        OP knows her co-worker better, but this actually made me nervous for her safety. It really makes Jack sound a little dangerous. If he does wind up getting fired, OP should keep her manager in the loop and document if there are any further interactions with him outside of work. Maybe mentally prepare for the fact that she may need to call the police.

        1. Anonymous for this*

          This is what happened to me. I was incredibly straightforward about the fact that I was not into him, and they let him go when he kept saying things like, “Well, okay, but what if you actually ARE interested?” (No. Not even close.) We didn’t speak for years – then it suddenly turned into stalking and I had to go to the police, which was frightening because I didn’t know how they would treat me. Fortunately, they were receptive and thoughtful about it.

          1. Uncompf*

            I’m so sorry for your experience. Getting stalked is terrifying. I really hope my situation doesn’t come to that, but I can’t deny the thought hasn’t crossed my mind. At the moment, the situation is simply very uncomfortable, not scary.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          I had the same thought: That sounds like a set-up for “I couldn’t control myself” and/or “she drove me to it”.

        3. BeckySuz*

          Yeah I was skeeved out by his language. Talking about primal urges really does feel like he’s sort of setting up some kind of situation where he assaults her and it’s somehow out of his hands or not his fault.

      2. SG*

        LOL about the “cheap-ass rolls” :). Usually I think the inside jokes used on AAM are way overused and typically not very funny, but this was hilarious! Thank you!

        1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

          Cheap: on sale because they were baked yesterday. I’ve kept baguette out overnight that could have been weaponised. (Plastic bags, not paper bags my friends, unless you want to bludgeon your gums/knives/bin liners)

          1. KoiFeeder*

            My brother was once screwing around in the bakery at the grocery store and smacked me with a day-old baguette. Knocked out a baby tooth.

            1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

              I hope you won’t think less of me that this made me snork my beverage…! Stale bread: the arsenal’s quiet underachiever.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                Not as long as you don’t think less of me for taking the bread, shrieking “For Vengeance,” and chasing him into the frozen foods aisle!

                (more seriously, though, definitely don’t think less of my dad for letting this happen- he trusted my brother and I far more than we deserved)

            1. The Rural Juror*

              This thread is making me laugh so much! Freeze your cheap ass rolls to use in self-defense!!!

    2. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

      I know right. “Primal Urges”? Man, even he was otherwise awesome and you were in the market for a nice guy, that would kill the romance quite dead.

      Also, where does a guy so anxious about being turned down that he literally vomits get the audacity to keep pestering the same woman?!

      1. valentine*

        where does a guy so anxious about being turned down that he literally vomits get the audacity to keep pestering the same woman?!
        I’m thinking the vomiting was to go big and go home, to make OP3 feel something that would benefit him and to bank for a future time when Everybody Knows and he can point to it as how bad he had and/or how much of a bad guy they are for rejecting him.

        1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

          Bingo. Unless someone witnessed the chunks exiting his mouth, I’m skeptical that he *actually* vomited. I think it’s far more likely he put on a show to cover his embarrassment and go home (not hard, do the action, spit a bit). And now he’s figured he can also use the guilt to manipulate. “See what you made me do..? I couldn’t control it, it’s your fault.”

        2. Ice and Indigo*

          I don’t know; it’s not impossible that he did get sick. He’s clearly very hung up on the LW, and not brilliantly well-adjusted. But there are two possibilities: either he was lying for sympathy, or he’s got some emotional issues, and they both add up to the same thing: he needs to stop bothering the LW. It would be more comfortable if it was untrue, because getting a liar fired feels less bad than getting someone with anxiety issues fired, but from a work standpoint, it doesn’t have to be untrue for him to be sexually harassing LW. It makes it sadder, but LW still has the same right not to be pestered like this.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            The maladjusted thinking steps in when a person thinks is okay or normal to go vomit after being rejected. It does not matter if the vomit was real or if it was a show, either way it is Not Normal behavior. It’s not normal to actually vomit. It’s not normal to think that fake vomiting is okay. Either way, his thoughts here are off-track.

            1. SarahTheEntwife*

              Vomiting due to anxiety isn’t normal in the sense that it’s a maladaptive reaction, but it’s a fairly common occurrence in people with anxiety disorders. Even if you realize it’s “not normal” and are really embarrassed by it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

              This is not to in any way defend the coworker, who is creepy and wrong and harassing, but if the first instance was the only thing that had happened, I’d say “wow, that guy must have some serious social anxiety going on; I hope he gets help and doesn’t beat himself up too much over it”.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                Right – if he’d stopped there, it wouldn’t be a conversation with mgmt and a letter.

              2. WFHHalloweenCat*

                Thank you for pointing this out! Not all anxiety attacks are breathing into a paper bag panic attacks. For me, I get incredibly nauseous and throw up when I’m anxious and sometimes it’s so bad I can’t eat for days. I hurled when my finace proposed to me! All of this to say, I think it is incredibly possible Jack tossed his cookies. But that does not excuse the rest of his behavior, nor is having an anxiety disorder mutually exlusive from being a total creep.

                1. Ice and Indigo*

                  Yeah, I’ve gotten sick from anxiety or distress a few times. But if it happened because of a romantic rejection, I’d keep that to myself, because it’s a private experience and they just told me they don’t want to get that close to me.

                2. Claire*

                  Tw: mental illness, discussion of emotional abuse

                  Yeah, I have some serious issues with bipolar disorder and PTSD and a few years ago, I genuinely wanted to kill myself after a boyfriend broke up with me. It wasn’t a manipulation thing, it was very real to me, but it still would have been abusive for me to tell him that that was how I felt, because it would have most likely made him feel like he had to stay with me. It really did hurt me deeply, but ultimately, that was not my ex-boyfriend’s responsibility and it would have been wrong of me to tell him that the break up made me suicidal. It’s possible that Jack really did get physically ill after being rejected—that doesn’t mean that OP is blameworthy, and I’m suspicious of his motives if he actually, explicitly told her that her honest rejection made him sick.

                3. KoiFeeder*

                  Oh, for sure. My anxiety does that too, I once had a school nurse accuse me of bulima because I was hurling every time I had a test. But I also desperately try to keep people from finding out because people knowing that I panic-puke increases the chance that I’m gonna hurl. I’d probably have thanked her for being honest, excused myself, and hurled somewhere as private as possible.

                4. PVR*

                  But I’m going to bet that when you do vomit due to anxiety, you are discreet as possible and would, say, run to the bathroom if possible, instead of outside so everyone knows about it.

          2. Observer*

            because getting a liar fired feels less bad than getting someone with anxiety issues fired

            SO for starters, NOTHING the OP is doing could 8remotely* be considered getting anyone fired. The only on getting John fired, if it comes to that, is John himself.

            For another, it doesn’t matter if he’s a liar, someone with diagnosed anxiety or both. The bottom line is that his behavior is totally and completely out of line – bad enough that he really should have been fired already. It doesn’t matter WHY he is being this way, the person “getting fired” is a major league jerk who is behaving in a way that makes him unfit to be in the job.

            1. Ice and Indigo*

              I’m not blaming the OP or excusing Jack. Just acknowledging that you don’t have to have unmixed feelings for something to be necessary – in this case, reporting Jack.

        3. Mookie*

          Bingo. Every trick in the book with this guy, again demonstrating he knows what he is doing and is consciously and deliberately escalating at every turn.

      2. Wombats and Tequila*

        It is reminding me of an issue I had with an employee a couple of years ago. He had a pretty serious mental illness which he was managing well. Then he got a crush on a coworker, and the resulting endorphins made him so happy that he decided he could stop his meds abruptly. Within a few days, we had to fire him and call 911 because of his suicide threats.

        An adult who gets that level of wound up over another person is not well.

        Not to excuse either one of these people. I
        Yeah, I have felt the sting of rejection quite a bit, especially when I was young and my social skills were pathetic. Even when I was stupidly over analyzing someone’s behavior in order to decipher the mysterious mysteries of the stunningly obvious, never did I ever just assume that the intensity of my feelings entitled me to any level of access to that person. That’s what makes this behavior just plain *wrong*.

        1. Uncompf*

          OP3 here.

          “Even when I was stupidly over analyzing someone’s behavior in order to decipher the mysterious mysteries of the stunningly obvious, never did I ever just assume that the intensity of my feelings entitled me to any level of access to that person.”

          THIS. This is Jack to a T. In the phone call, he complained to me that people aren’t direct about what they want and that it’s so hard nowadays to figure out what people actually feel. He basically admitted to reading into all my verbal and body language for clues.

          Jack is very clearly an emotional, somewhat insecure person. I know he’s upset about me giving him the cold shoulder. I’m trying to be sympathetic to him thorugh this, but the throwaway line about his “primal urges” has me hung up on the gross implications.

          1. kt*


            Sorry, just talking to my younger self.

            He may not know it himself, but this is manipulation, and it serves no one well. Don’t be sympathetic about it, don’t try to remain cordial, don’t try to be polite, just *protect yourself*.

            1. Uncompf*

              Okay, okay, message received loud and clear!

              Several commenters have mentioned this situation being manipulative and gaslight-y. I didn’t recognize it as manipulation in the moment – and my inclination is that neither did Jack, but who knows. I’m going to start documenting any unsavory interactions as they come.

              1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

                Definitely document and definitely report any future problematic things he does to your manager. It’s one thing to misread signs and ask – that’s common enough among the socially awkward. But once you said no, it is astonishingly improper for him to continue. And you’ve made your no very clear.

              2. Jaybeetee*

                So, there’s a key, under-discussed aspect of abusive behaviour of all types: Most people don’t see the abusive things they’re doing as abusive.

                Jack is probably not sitting at home twirling his moustache, thinking of ways to manipulate you. He probably is some variation of “sad puppy”, he may well have mental health issues. He might genuinely see everything he’s doing as normal interaction. He probably genuinely sees you as the problem here. But, de facto, he is manipulating and harassing you.

                It took me way too long, and a couple too many bad relationships (romantic and otherwise) to realize it wasn’t my job to understand other people’s motives, much less “fix” them, especially when I was getting hurt in the process.

                Jack is doing things that hurt you. You don’t need to analyze or understand or parse his motives. You don’t need to cater to his demons. His demons are his job. You’ve been clear enough, you’ve done enough. Now it’s his job to listen and respect your boundaries.

              3. Observer*

                I think it’s manipulation. But it really doesn’t matter if that’s true or not. Because he’s wrong anyway.

                Please document EVERYTHING that has happened till now, as well as any other interactions. And if he calls you out of work, tried declaring his love, or complains about your behavior, bring it to your boss. And insist that she either take FIRM action (ie firing her) or you are going to the Board (if they are competent) or the police.

                It’s quite possible that the police won’t do anything. But, it might shake her up enough to make her actually take action. And it also creates a paper trail with the police if he further escalates.

          2. snoopythedog*

            OP3, as someone who had a similar situation with a coworker, keep giving him the cold shoulder and doing what you need to do to protect yourself. The second you are nice to him, he will interpret this as you liking him and the whole cycle will start again.

            I used to work in a grocery store and a coworker in another department asked me out twice, despite me saying no and I had a boyfriend, I wasn’t interested. It escalate to him asking if maybe we would just do a threesome because really wanted to be with me (ick). I wish younger me had gone to my managers for help with this situation. I started ignoring him and my coworkers shamed me for ‘making him feel bad’ because ‘he’s just trying to be nice’. The second I started not ignoring him, BAM, more unsolicited requests.

            To be clear, this is not about you and what you could be doing differently, this is 100% about him not being able to listen to women. You do NOT need to be sympathetic to him. It will not help him. You need to continue to set very clear verbal and non-verbal boundaries. No conversations alone. Continue with very clear communication (“this makes me uncomfortable” “i am not interested”) and continue looping your manager in on this.

            I always think of that Taylor Swift quote from her lawsuit against the DJ who groped her; if your coworker gets fired it will be because of “the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions. Not min[yours]”

          3. Paulina*

            Problem is, giving someone like that any sympathy just turns into more “mixed messages”. An explanation that they didn’t understand is only really that if it’s a one-and-done explanation: Sorry, I was confused because we get along so well, now I know you’re not really interested I’ll stop.” And then they stop! Otherwise, it’s a hook for sympathy and more personal (non-work) contact. The mixed messages line is also a very standard line, used in many situations where the messages are not mixed at all; sometimes it’s actual misinterpretation due to wishful thinking, sometimes it’s because what you’re really saying and doing is being completely ignored.

            The object of their affections is not the right person for them to get sympathy from for their dashed expectations. They need to get that from someone else.

          4. Nic*

            But you were direct.

            His misinterpretation of your acting professionally in wanting to get along with a co-worker? His odd idea that if you didn’t recoil in horror and avoid him like a diseased zombie ever after his initial query about going out with you, then it must mean that you were teasing him (or testing him) and he just needed to ask again? His inability to determine that not all liking of people has a sexual element? That’s not you being unclear; that’s him projecting what he wants on top of other people saying differently.

            And it’s his responsibility to stop doing that, not yours to change your behaviour. No means no, even if someone wants it to be yes.

            1. Uncompf*

              Maybe? He has tried to initiate friendly conversation several times, all fairly innocuous topics, like my favorite TV shows. I’ve detached and promptly dismissed all these attempts.

              But then again, maybe not. The GM told me later she actually pointed that out specifically. He apparently seemed surprised at her remark about my comfort, like he hadn’t really considered it.

              1. Observer*

                Keep disengaging. And please tell your GM that she needs to stop “discussing” this with him. She needs to TELL him “Leave Uncompf alone. Stick to work topics only.” And she needs to be ready to fire him.

          5. Rainy*

            I’m going to be honest: the less sympathetic you are to Present Jack, the bigger a favour you are doing for Future Jack, because he’s going to end up in a situation where he either hurts someone or he ends up scaring someone so badly he gets hurt.

            And the primal urges shit tips him from Schrödinger’s Rapist into Probably Would Be A Rapist If He Could Get His Shit Together, for me.

        2. Lorac*

          “Even when I was stupidly over analyzing someone’s behavior in order to decipher the mysterious mysteries of the stunningly obvious…”

          Aww man I just cringed because that was totally me as a socially oblivious 18/19 year old. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a better way to describe how awful I was back then. I’m just lucky I got it out of my system as a dumb teen than have it follow me into a professional work environment.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My hackles went up when he ran outside to throw up after being told no. But to continue pushing the subject after that, bringing up “primal urges”, no less!

    4. Wintermute*

      The ONLY time mentioning “primal urges” to a co-worker is alright is if you are bonding over your shared love of failed 90s fighting games, and you somehow have multiple copies.

  5. Jessen*


    Let me guess, the mixed messages here is “you said no but you’re still existing in a manner that I find attractive”? Or at most “you said no but treated me with basic courtesy, which I have decided means you actually want me”? You have my sympathies! He’s going out of his way to look for some sign that you didn’t really mean what you said, rather than taking you at your word. That’s not on you to fix – you told him clearly and it’s on him to stop trying to find ways around that. Still awkward though.

    1. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      “you said no but treated me with basic courtesy, which I have decided means you actually want me”? Ugh- what is with guys like that? I’m so sorry you are dealing with the-guy-you-can’t-get-rid-of. There are some guys you can’t just be nice to because they look for and interpret the slightest common courtesy as a sign that there is a remote possibility that you like them back. Guys like that need to realize that their persistence is off putting and creepy.

      “Yeah, sure I’ll go out with you because you wouldn’t leave me alone and even turned your inappropriateness around on me, accusing me of sending you mixed messages…” said no one ever.

      1. valentine*

        said no one ever
        Some people give in because fighting is so exhausting and they’re very much alone in it.

        Patricia Arquette married Nicolas Cage after he stalked her and faked parts of a quest meant to stop him.

        1. Nic*


          This (what follows) is not a rape story, but I’m not going to give details of what did happen either:

          I said I didn’t want to be walked home five times before I gave in, thinking I could ditch him outside my university dorm. Then I said thanks for walking me home and goodbye – and it turned out that he had an eidetic memory and had memorised my buildings entry code. Then I said goodbye again as he took the keys from my hand and unlocked/walked into my room.

          I kept on saying no and goodbye and you should go home now in various forms, until I was too damn exhausted to keep on going and my brain couldn’t decide whether either starting to scream hysterically or never saying anything again was the best option. He didn’t seem to notice any of it. And I had a chronic illness which exhausted me faster.

          The next morning, after he’d finally gone, I locked my door and kept my curtains closed, and kept the bulk of our friends-group between us for a WEEK so he couldn’t get within touching distance, before he finally cornered me to say that we were incompatible and he thought we ought to break up.

          He sent me a Valentine’s card in the Spring.

          A year after it all started, I found out from a friend of a friend that he’d been telling people we went out for a month before he dumped me for being boring.

          He was the Missing Step in our friends-group. I’m not sure if anyone actually really liked him that much in retrospect, but all the girls knew not to get anywhere near him when we were having a puppypile-on-someone’s-bed-for-a-video night, because when the lights were turned off, there would be wandering hands over our bare feet if we got too close.

          A year after I left university, he was diagnosed with an illness and a friend gave him my phone number, thinking I’d be able to talk to him about disability issues. After I put down the phone, he texted me “It’s OK, I’ve broken up with my girlfriend.”

          (The funny thing is, he never actually asked me any questions. He just assumed he could tell me what we were doing and that was what I would want too. And he didn’t listen when I said anything different. But there was no violence and I had no experience of people not listening to me, so my brain just blue-screened to the point where I could not figure out a way to get away simply because the whole situation was just so illogical that it should not be happening… I spent years blaming myself for causing my own distress by not communicating clearly, before I realised I DID COMMUNICATE CLEARLY – and it kills me to see OP self-blaming in a similar way.)

        2. Jaybeetee*

          There is the occasional story out there of “he asked me out/proposed to me six times, he wore me down and I finally agreed!” Usually told as a laugh, but also… Cringey?

    2. Mookie*

      I do doubt he actually cares whether she’s genuinely attracted to him. He’s just trying to find a loophole that will “obligate“ her to acquiesce.

    3. Batgirl*

      I think the LW knows intellectually it’s not on her to fix, but wants some way to manage the awkwardness of “I can’t look him in the eye”.
      I’ve had a similar situation and took to looking at his nostrils/eyebrows/hairline. Worked a treat!
      Other things she could do are: ask the boss to limit their interactions for a while, have a ‘let’s just keep it businesslike’ or ‘Im not really up for chitchat’ script ready if he starts up with anything. She’s clearly not responsible for managing it and all she needs to do is find is a way of feeling comfortable.

      1. Uncompf*

        Thank you, I’ll try looking at his forehead, that just might alleviate some discomfort.

        I feel oh so validated reading Allison’s response and the comments on this thread. I thought these kinds of things happened in sitcoms, not to me!

        1. Tidewater 4-1009*

          I would be careful about looking at him in any way that he could interpret as eye contact. I think you should make sure you don’t make eye contact or any facsimile of it, because he will probably take it as encouragement. I would keep my face turned away as far as possible.

          1. LilyP*

            What? OP should look wherever makes *her* feel most comfortable without trying to manage this dude’s feelings or reactions. If he “takes encouragement” from f’ing eye contact enough to bring the subject up again he should be fired and it would be entirely his fault. If it makes him feel sads they will be his sads to manage with his friends/therapist and not the OPs problem.

  6. In DC*

    Hey Alison! One important addition for #1 is that while the business is required to provide the leave, they should also be eligible to be reimbursed by the federal government for the cost of providing leave under the new law. I believe the IRS is still setting up the system to apply for reimbursement, but the business should definitely track how many hours the employee takes under this specific provision and how much they paid towards this employee’s wages and health care during this time. They may be able to recoup those costs.

  7. Heidi*

    Re: Letter 2. I’d be willing to bet that you COO has always been kind of a jerk with a puerile sense of humor. The pandemic just gives him the opportunity to show it off. I’d keep ignoring. It’s tempting to call out his jerk behavior, but he is not going to see the error of his ways and become a mature, empathetic human being if you do. More likely he’ll get defensive and blame you for being overly sensitive and humorless. Sorry you have to deal with this guy.

    1. Alex*

      One thing we did was to set up a Team in MS Teams that we called “Social”, where we put a few channels, including one for “humor” – people do these jokes to take their mind of how serious all this is, not to prey on the ones more affected than themselves I think, so it is a (misguided?) way to redirect your thoughts to something that could be considered funny, when you can’t get the topic away from it.

      For what it’s worth, the exact same jokes have been posted widely within my company, and people genuinely laughed about them at the time.. currently the hot topic of discussion is how to do home-brew yeast (shortage)…

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        I use inappropriate/gallows humor all the time as a coping strategy myself, but this doesn’t seem like an appropriate thing for the CEO to be doing. Almost nobody else in the company has the standing to tell him to knock it off if its’ not welcome, and he’s likely to be in a much more financially stable position than a lot of the people reading his emails.

        1. Quill*

          Yeah, there’s a difference between “people making the best of it and also memes” and “dude who doesn’t take this seriously subjecting all his subordinates to his recycled memes and hot takes.”

          People making the best of it is, for example, people posting photos of their “coworkers” (pets) and song parodies about washing your hands. I’ve actually seen the “work travel plans for 2020” meme with the rooms labeled. (“Island of Kitchen” etc.) but all of those are in a context of recognizing that this is a real threat and that most people are going to be similarly wandering their dwellings, either working remotely or unable to work.

          Bottom line: COO is punching down on his people, AND using his authority to do so.

          1. Cat*

            That doesn’t sound like what he’s sharing though? The joke about vacationing in our houses is suggesting everyone is staying home. I’m not suggesting it’s a good idea to email them company wide. But “punching down” seems like a stretch. It sounds pretty similar to the other things you name.

            1. Quill*

              The reason I drew the “punching down” conclusion is that he’s sending these like serious business emails. Were he trying to lift spirits he’d be far more careful about giving them subject lines and formatting that were more in keeping with “let’s raise morale!”

      2. Heidi*

        I think part of what makes this problematic is that these “jokes” are being disguised as 1) real work-related emails that are 2) from a real person of authority within the company. This forces the humor on people beyond the COO’s immediate circle of friends that would find it funny and into a mixed work group where some people will be affected by the pandemic. The power differential also creates problems. The OP clearly does not find these jokes funny, but doesn’t feel safe pushing back against this behavior. Other employees may even feel pressured to laugh to get along. It’s fine to make these jokes on your own time, but bringing them into work was unprofessional.

        1. Nic*

          Agreed. If the COO had “morale-boost while we all hunker down and work from home” emails that were clearly separate from “company news and new instructions” emails, I don’t think this would be a problem. I don’t think his humour would feel so importantly inappropriate, because it would be easy to ignore them unless you want a chatty, informal COO “brightening” your day.

          I wonder if there’s a polite way to suggest to management – rather than asking to cut the dark/inappropriate humour totally – that the emails are a little confusing at present and could the COO have a designated “Today’s fun for the day” email, as you wouldn’t want anyone who’s just suffered a COVID-19-related loss to get caught out by a joke when they thought they were opening an essential job-related email.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, humor is a perfectly reasonable coping mechanism and I’ve seen similar memes making the rounds on facebook. For a lot of people cooped up in their houses, jokes like the ones mentioned in the letter that focus mostly on our weird new stay-at-home reality and are a reasonable release in my opinion…

        BUT company-wide emails from the COO are NOT an appropriate outlet for that sort of humor!!! Especially in a form that makes them look like they might be genuinely important emails.

        1. Kes*

          I agree with this – the jokes themselves aren’t necessarily problematic to me, but the way of sending is not great – a general social messaging channel would be fine, but emails from a higher up to a wide distribution, especially that look like they could be serious, is not the best venue for this.

      4. Mr. Shark*

        The jokes are coming down and seem like official news, which is one of the big issues I see here.
        The other is that e-mail is not really the place to be sharing jokes, office-wide, especially from someone in a position of power.
        Besides the obviously blindness to people’s situation, it increases the constant overload of covid information.
        I get tired enough of covid memes on FB and other social media. I certainly don’t want or need to see them at work, in official e-mail.

  8. Giant Squid*

    (TW: Discussion of death)

    I’ve shared both of the jokes mentioned in that article around, as well as several Corona beer jokes…and several much darker ones. I have several risk factors, and much of my extended family has almost all of them and isn’t taking this seriously.

    I’m nearly 100% certain that I’ll lose family from this, and there’s a decent chance that I’ll lose one or both of my parents, in-laws. There’s a mild, but still scary chance that I’ll lose my own life, to the point where I’ve been reviewing my life insurance contract. I’ve begun to worry about how I’ll say my goodbyes to my wife if I do get sick and need to go to the hospital.

    You die alone with this virus–they don’t let anyone in to visit you, at least once things get overwhelmed. I worry about getting cell reception, or not knowing the WiFi password, or not having the strength to video chat. I worry about being okay but falling asleep, and my wife worrying that I’m dead. My wife has a myriad of health issues and I deeply worry about her if I die. I worry about the life insurance company trying to fight paying, and her ability to fight them. Honestly, I’m full of dread that these next few months are going to be the last months of my family’s life, and might be the last months of mine.

    Humor is just how some people cope. Some things are horrible to think about, and humor is a natural painkiller. I would never want someone to be hurt by those jokes though–so I’m going to stop broadcasting those, for one. I suppose I’m trying to give the alternate perspective–it’s natural to be offended by these, but you shouldn’t assume that people who make these jokes aren’t affected by this crisis or taking things seriously. I’m terrified of dying, terrified of losing family, and joking about it is my own way of handling it.

    I never realized how it would come across to other people though. I appreciate your perspective, LW. I also think that, if filtering doesn’t work, you can push back a little bit.

    Say something like “I appreciate the humor to keep spirits up, but these jokes are starting to hit too close to home for me. Would you mind putting something in the subject line so that I can filter these for when I’m ready for them, or share them in a more private setting?”

    I mean, it sounds like it would be best for them to be filtered straight to your trash. This is just a script that I think would help and minimize risk for yourself.

    1. MK*

      Yes. Frankly I am surprised that Alison and few who commented so far rushing to ascribe horrible motives to this guy, as well as the OP stressing it is his male colleagues who like these jokes. I am flooded with these sort of things in all platforms and from people of all genders, ages and socioeconomic status; they are not trying to be brutal, more likely they are dealing with their own stress. Personally I am indifferent to this, what I do find nerve racking is the disaster talk: everyone will lose someone, the economy will collapse, the internet will collapse, our salaries will cut, the health system won’t be able to manage. I have muted several social media groups because endless discussions about how the pandemic will change the world for the worse was giving me stomach pains, and when I tried to be a more moderate voice of reason I was accused of being insensitive. I figured these people find it useful to express their worries and opted out.

      But then again I can do that because it doesn’t affect my job. The only real fault I find with this man is that he is being thoughtless in directing the jokes towards a bunch of people who might not want to hear them and who might not be able to opt out. But it might help the OP to think of him dealing with pandemic the best way he can and being incosiderate anput it instead of some jerk rich guy who finds the whole thing hilarious, even if the latter is true

      1. Jenny*

        It depends what you know of the person doing it. The person at my workplace who got in trouble when his coronavirus jokes crossed a line is generally immature and has previously made workplace-inappropriate jokes while under no stress at all. There’s gallows humour, and then there are edgelords who if it wasn’t Corona would be making offensive jokes about something else.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        Yeah, I wouldn’t share jokes at my job. I did show the ‘weekend plans: house’ joke to my husband, to amuse and to reinforce that we need to actually stay at home and limit errands / those ‘just one thing’ trips to the grocery store.

      3. Blueberry*

        The only real fault I find with this man is that he is being thoughtless in directing the jokes towards a bunch of people who might not want to hear them and who might not be able to opt out.

        This, plus disguising the jokes as legitimate work emails so they can’t be avoided or filtered out, is sufficient to be a jerk. Abusing power is being a jerk and this is an abuse of his power. No one here would care if he were trading these jokes with his friends; the problem is that he’s inflicting them on people who cannot say no.

        TBH, what shocks me about this discussion are all the people [viewing themselves as temporarily embarrassed C-suite residents, maybe, who would one day get to send emails out like this?] who keep explaining the concept of dark humor, as if that were at all what LW or anyone agreeing with her had a problem with.

        1. Cat*

          People can disagree with you without being idiots who think they’re temporarily embarrassed c suite members. Come on. I said repeatedly I think it’s a bad idea. But I also think the language used here to describe it is extremely hyperbolic. Sorry.

          1. Blueberry*

            If you identify with a COO so much that you’re willing to scold his lower level worker for disliking his constant stream of jokes *disguised as work emails* I think that shows who you identify with more and think you’re more like/more likely to end up being like.

        2. Giant Squid*

          “who keep explaining the concept of dark humor, as if that were at all what LW or anyone agreeing with her had a problem with.”

          There have been multiple commenters who take issue with joking about the pandemic, period. Also, I would say there’s a difference between dark humor and gallows humor. To me, gallows humor means that you’re describing something close to home. I wouldn’t have dared joke about the virus when it was contained in China. Now that my state has a climbing daily death toll and overrun hospitals, I’ve been joking a lot more. Gallows humor, to me, means you’re on the gallows.

          I’m not trying to explain dark humor, I’m trying to explain that there are people who use that kind of humor even when they have skin in the game *as a coping mechanism*.

          1. Blueberry*

            ” I’m trying to explain that there are people who use that kind of humor even when they have skin in the game *as a coping mechanism*.”

            And also water is wet? Besides, who has more to lose, the LW or the COO? I’d say the LW is closer to being the one on the gallows here.

            I shouldn’t have to say this, but I too have laughed at some of these jokes with my nearest-and-dearest and ALSO I wouldn’t at all find them funny coming from the COO of my company with titles that make them look like work information. I don’t think the COO’s desire for hilarity trumps the LW’s frustration, and I think saying so sets the COO as a more important *person* than the LW, based on who has the more [considered-to-be] important job. Which is what someone could conclude if they identified more with the “sort of quality” who is a COO than people in lower level jobs.

          2. Blueberry*

            My first reply evaporated, which is probably a good thing. I had to go find my eyes anyway, after they fell out because I rolled them so hard when you explained the concept of a coping mechanism.

            You can tell any joke you want to your nearest and dearest and I don’t think anyone here would stop you even if we could. But to say that the COO’s coping mechanism should override the LW’s comfort (since the COO is sending these jokes, titled as important work emails, to people such as the LW who cannot object) is to say that the COO is a more important human being than the LW because he has a higher level job. Whether or not the LW can in practice get the COO to stop I don’t think she is wrong to have an opinion about what he’s doing that is not “I will take what my betters give me without complaining.”

            LW, if you get this far in the discussion, I would be bothered by these emails too. Good luck, never mind who else here would tell you to STFU or not.

            1. Giant Squid*

              “But to say that the COO’s coping mechanism should override the LW’s comfort”

              I never said that, or anything remotely close to that. I never even said it was a coping mechanism for the COO–I just saw multiple comments were people were saying how horrible the floor plan joke was, and misinterpreting it, saying real estate prices. My comment, at the time, was only meant to provide an alternative mindset for why someone might share those comments–a mindset of fear and taking the virus seriously.

              When I replied to this letter, the *ONLY* context was that the COO posted the travel plan joke. The OP has since clarified that COO is a garbage person who isn’t taking this seriously and has resisted letting people WFH. Maybe that was obvious to you from the original letter–it wasn’t obvious to me. All I saw was someone who had done exactly the same thing I did being assumed to be evil, etc. And he is evil–but from the context, I took it as people saying *I’m* evil. I was defending myself, not the COO.

              ” I rolled them so hard when you explained the concept of a coping mechanism.”

              I know you, and everyone who reads this blog understands what a coping mechanism is. From the comments at the time I commented, it seemed like people were assuming that someone who jokes about covid isn’t scared of it or affected by it. I probably misinterpreted those comments–people here have a high emotional IQ and catch things I don’t.

              I’m not trying to victim-blame or anything like that. I just initially saw a possibility that the COO wasn’t garbage, which ended up being wrong.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      These jokes are inappropriate full stop for a workplace email, though. Lots of people use dark humour to cope with difficult things, but that doesn’t make an all staff email the best outlet for it.

      I hope you and your family pull through this healthy and safely; this is a lot to deal with all at once.

      1. BuildMeUp*

        Yeah, the COO isn’t sending them to friends – he’s sending them to his subordinates. And I think in the context OP describes, where her company is generally not taking the pandemic seriously, that makes it even worse.

        Giant Squid, I definitely understand your perspective – dark humor can be a really helpful coping mechanism. I think as long as you’re sending things to (non-coworker) people who respond in kind or who you know appreciate that kind of humor, you should feel free to continue! Or if you’re unsure, you can always send them a quick, “Hey, this type of joke helps me feel better, but if it doesn’t do the same for you, just let me know!”

      2. StrikingFalcon*

        There’s also an extra layer of inappropriateness in that it’s coming from the people who will make/should be making decisions about social distancing at that workplace. And there’s another layer on top of that if this is a workplace that could operate remotely but isn’t doing so. It’s not the appropriate attitude for the decision holders of a company during a global pandemic. It’s also incredibly tone deaf for upper management (who is presumably paid well) to be making the prospect of losing houses (to the people they pay not as well). It’s inappropriate on so many levels, and very different than dark humor between friends or family members in similar situations (although even there, you want to make sure they are coping the same way you are if you send people those things).

        1. Giant Squid*

          That’s a fair point–subordinate relationships are totally different, and I hadn’t thought of that.

          I want to say though–the floor plan joke (if it’s the one I’m thinking of) is usually presented as “Trying to pick out travel destinations!”. The joke being that most office workers are shelter-in-place and travel-restricted, so the farthest you can travel is to your kitchen or bathroom. The joke doesn’t make sense if you’re not taking shelter-in-place seriously. Joking about losing houses…that’s punching down to an absurd degree.

          1. Cat*

            Yeah I’m guessing that’s the joke and it’s pretty innocuous. It is tone deaf to send it to everyone but calling the guy a sociopath, abusive, etc. is pretty over the top. It’s not making fun of people dying. It’s a joke about the fact that we’re all stuck in the house which is, indeed, pretty weird. I wouldn’t even call it gallows humor. Same with a picture of a house TPed and a joke about real estate prices.

            1. Marthooh*

              A frat boy mentality in the C suite combined with social approval from a crowd of brown-nosers might be difficult to distinguish from abuse. Bullies don’t always think of themselves as bullies.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                But the joke itself is supportive of working from home / needing to stay home. Calling it abusive, or even frat boy, is a stretch.

            2. kittymommy*

              That joke has been all over my Facebook. It didn’t even occur to me that was the reference here.

          2. StrikingFalcon*

            Thank you for explaining the floor plan joke, I hadn’t seen it. I still maintain that if the workplace could go to remote work and hasn’t (and the OP expressed concerns about interacting with colleagues daily, which suggests they haven’t been able to work from home whether they could or not), it demonstrates that the upper management isn’t taking the virus as a real threat (or at least gives that impression). Likewise if upper management can work from home and workers at OP’s level can’t, it feels like rubbing that in.

            And it sounds like the toilet paper one isn’t directly dealing joking about losing houses either, but given the subject line he gave the email, to someone concerned about paying their mortgage I still think it comes across as very tone deaf. It’s not punching down to he same extent as a joke directly about losing houses, but it still just feels off.

            In a less serious situation, I don’t think the jokes would bother me as much, but people potentially stand to lose so much from this, and upper management has a responsibility to deal with the situation with by taking it seriously and doing what they can to protect their employees. And these jokes run counter to the message and attitude I think they should be projecting.

          3. OP 2*

            OP here – a few people have taken to “explaining” the floor plan joke to me in this thread, but that was never the issue. The joke is pretty clear that it’s saying you can only “travel” to the rooms in your own house. Just wanted to clear up that I do get what the joke is supposed to be.

            I also enjoy dark humor, but I barely know the COO and when I hear execs say that the virus isn’t a real threat or isn’t that bad, plus get a string of memes/jokes/whatever about it, it doesn’t really land well. I like humor.. when something is funny. If aunt Linda wants to put this on Facebook, that’s one thing. But feeling like higher ups at work think there is no threat and assume that we must agree, well, it’s just not that amusing, and it gets old fast to have to go and delete the emails all the time.

            Also, work has not been supportive of people working from home. So I do feel that the attitude behind this affects people.

            1. Cat*

              So to me your last paragraph is the key. If everyone was working at home this would have more of a “we’re all in this together” feel as opposed to “hahah we’re making you endanger yourself.”

              1. The Rural Juror*

                You’re right, Cat, that’s a HUGE difference. A thing we say a lot at work is, “It’s not necessarily what you say, it’s how you say it.” We usually say that before someone has to deliver some negative updates…but it fits a lot of situations.

                OP 2, I’m sorry you’re having to deal with these “jokes.” These days have been stressful enough as it is! Your COO is an ass.

            2. Giant Squid*

              Thank you for clarifying, that changes everything…and I’m infuriated on your behalf. All of the people I know taking this seriously are sharing these jokes in a “wow this sucks because it’s a slow disaster” way…it hadn’t occurred to me that “It’s just a flu bro” idiots could share the same jokes and have a different context.

              I would block the COO’s emails. I mean, have you ever gotten an action item from your COO? Just filter those straight to the trash and rely on word-of-mouth to learn if any are actually important. Granted, if you’re a smaller company then there’s a legitimate chance the COO will have action items.

              1. New Jack Karyn*

                Hey GS, I really appreciate you not only talking openly about where you’re coming from in this (your original comment), but also your willingness to reassess your opinion when given new information. Thank you, and I hope you and your family come through this all right.

            3. Blueberry*

              “Also, work has not been supportive of people working from home. So I do feel that the attitude behind this affects people.”

              FWIW, given the jokes you’ve cited, I am sadly unsurprised to hear this, and I think you’re right.

              (And I’m sorry people have been explaining the jokes to you as part of dismissing your concerns, as if because you have a lower level job you have no brain.)

                1. Blueberry*

                  You are totally welcome. I am hoping for the best for you, not least that someone can catch the COO’s ear and get him to set up a Slack channel or something instead of the email blasts!

              1. Giant Squid*

                “given the jokes you’ve cited, I am sadly unsurprised to hear this” — that really sounds like you’re interpreting these jokes as dismissing the dangers of covid-19 or the importance of shelter-in-place and social distancing.

                I mean, in the context of not letting people WFH they definitely are, but I’ve also seen these jokes shared in responsible spaces, and I don’t know how you knew from the original post that the COO was a covid denialist. Abusing authority–yes, that’s been explained and I get that now. I just don’t understand how you were able to infer from the original post that the COO wasn’t taking COVID seriously.

                “as if because you have a lower level job you have no brain.”
                I’m absolutely perplexed by the level of malice you’re assigning to people–and unless I’m misinterpreting, assigning to me.

                I have perceived other commenters (not OP) as interpreting these jokes as being dismissive of covid. I don’t interpret them as inherently dismissive (though they’re being used that way in OP’s workplace), and have tried to provide my interpretation. One person thanked me for explaining the joke–are you assuming that all of my comments are directed at OP?

                I provided my own perspective because people were assuming that people who joke about covid aren’t affected by it or aren’t taking it seriously.

                1. Blueberry*

                  I could tell you about the experiences that have given me the background to be reasonably certain that a powerful person who would inflict jokes like this on people who can’t tell him not to was also unlikely to be taking the situation seriously, but I don’t really feel like having you tell me my life didn’t happen. You seem to be passionately invested in the right of people to tell any joke anywhere at any time to any audience no matter how captive, and the likes of me will not be able to get you to reconsider this policy. There was an example in the comments I’m tempted to direct you to, but I don’t think I want to be even the tiniest bit responsible for having you argue with someone else about a painful period in their life. You can feel free to enjoy being an edgelord all you want — no one can stop you. But you will have to live without my particular blessing on it.

                2. Giant Squid*

                  @Blueberry (Replying to myself since I can’t reply to your comment yet)

                  “I could tell you about the experiences…but I don’t really feel like having you tell me my life didn’t happen.”

                  I believe you. I lack a lot of life experience, and as I said, a lot of people seem to have gotten a context that I didn’t. That lack of experience is also why I felt the need to explain the joke–we had the same information and came to different conclusions, and I tried to understand them.

                  My original comment was naive, and I but I wasn’t trying to be dismissive. Before I heard the COO was being dismissive, I had assumed that the OP could tell the LW that these jokes were causing harm, and COO would cut it out. Very naive, I know–and I see that now.

                  “You seem to be passionately invested in the right of people to tell any joke anywhere at any time to any audience no matter how captive”

                  I’ve condemned this COO every time it’s come up. I specifically said in my original comment that I would be much more careful about the audiences I tell these types of jokes in. I specifically said that I didn’t think about the authority issues–I’ve never held any kind of authority, I’ve only been out of college for 2 years. I’m 26. Not that that’s an excuse–but I’m ignorant, not malicious.

                  “It sounds like COO and his broskis have a sadistic streak.”. –I understand the COO is sadistic and enjoys lording power over people. The way I read this in the morning though, was “Anyone who makes jokes like these is sadistic”. So I way overshared about my own fears to try and show how I’m not sadistic.

                  “…argue with someone else about a painful period in their life.”
                  I’m ignorant and bumbling, but I’m not insensitive. I’m sorry you’ve gotten that impression from me, but I know how to read a room at the very least, and I’m not going to start an argument with someone sharing their story.

                  On a similar note…can you stop trying to get digs in at me every other comment?

                  “And also water is wet?”
                  “I had to go find my eyes anyway, after they fell out because I rolled them so hard when you explained the concept of a coping mechanism.”

                  I regret sharing as much as I did in my original comment–it was derailing and not helpful. Multiple paragraphs could have fit into a few sentences. But I mean, when you start attacking specific sentences that I make as just being so stupid I shouldn’t have wrote them, that hurts. I’ve been refreshing this page an unhealthy amount today, just waiting for you to make fun of me for worrying about my wife getting my life insurance payout. Not that you’d do that, but personal attacks put me, and a lot of people on edge. That’s not helpful. If you think I’m a lost cause and I’m arguing in bad faith, then what’s the point of even replying to me?

                  Just…can you stop seeing me as a jerk, and an instead an idiot? I fully admit I’m way too emotionally invested in this, but it’s because I focused on the joke aspect instead of the authority and captive audience aspect. Again–ignorant, idiot, not a jerk.

                  If you do see me as a jerk then again…what’s the point? If I’m just trying to win some argument, then I’m a waste of your time. I’m really just trying to learn though.

        2. Fikly*

          And, on top of all of that mess, he’s disguising them as important work-relevant emails to trick/force his subordinate employees he has power over into reading them. That’s so abusive.

      3. AcademiaNut*

        Yeah, it’s the combination of sending it to your employees, sending emails that look serious until you open them (so they can’t avoid them), and the general attitude of not taking the epidemic seriously.

      4. Rexish*

        Yes. There are tosn of jokes that I find hilarious when my bestfriend sends it to me. Same joke from my manager would not make me laugh. There is also a difference if my manager sends the joke work email or to our Private team what’s app Group. And this has an added layer of makin it soudns like a sirious email so you cannot skip it.

        1. Quill*

          Yeah, there’s a certain amount of intimacy needed to respond well to jokes that push at boundaries.

          For example, my college friends can respond to complaints I make about my arthritis and intermittent limp with “I didn’t even notice you had feet” (Based on a now decade-old in joke, which did not initially involve my joint problems) but from anyone else that wouldn’t fly.

      5. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, all-staff emails should be kept professional. My coworkers and I have made occasional dark and/or sarcastic jokes verbally, among small groups, but OMG never in writing in an all-staff email!

        I work in an academic library. There was an elderly patron who invariably called on Friday afternoons or the day before a holiday. Then he died. The joke in my department was that if I ever got a phone call from beyond the grave, it would be from him. But we wouldn’t have written that and sent it out to the whole institution!

        (He never called. Or at least he never called me. My supervisor was alone at the office for a couple of hours one day during Christmas and somebody called the department phone number. She didn’t pick up, but joked later that she’d gotten my call from Dr. So-and-so.)

      6. Mr. Shark*

        yes, exactly! I don’t know why people are discussing dark humor and how appropriate it is. That’s not even the issue.
        It’s that the guy is using work e-mail to distribute these dark humor jokes. It’s inappropriate use of business e-mail in the first place, especially as it’s disguised as legitimate business. In his position, he’s supposed to be a leader and provide real-life, help to the people receiving this office-wide e-mail. Instead they are getting recycled jokes that everyone on social media has seen multiple times.
        It’s unacceptable and unprofessional.
        Besides being tone-deaf, people may want their work to take their mind off of what’s going on all day. Getting recycled jokes reminds them of what is going on and can take away from their work focus.

    3. FaintlyMacabre*

      I get gallows humor. My sense of humor is dark. But I also learned as a teenager, after making a joke about bowling balls after my uncle had holes drilled in his head to relieve the pressure from his ultimately fatal brain cancer, that there is a time and a place. A dasrkly humorous email going out to your entire work team is never going to be the right place.

      1. Doc in a Box*

        Agree. I use a lot of gallows humor to get me through the day, especially now. But you have to know your audience. The sort of thing I’d text to my close friends who are also in medicine is very different from the sort of thing I’d send to my highly anxious elderly mother, or post on social media — and I’d never, ever sent out a department-wide email with “humor” in it.

        Unless your literal job is being a stand-up comedian, this is not the time or place for hyuks.

    4. rudster*

      I wouldn’t worry about the life insurance not paying. The only real criterion for a payout is whether you are actually dead, which is a fact that beyond question in virtually all cases. Disputes virtually never occur, except in extremely rare and unusual cases, such as you having gone missing entirely (lost at sea, for example), possible suicide during the exclusion period (usually 2 years or so), death from inherently high-risk activities that are excluded in the contract (base jumping, etc.), or war/terrorism (though even those exclusions were widely waived after 9-11). As my insurance agent put it many years ago, in contrast to your disability insurance, don’t worry about your life insurance company’s customer service rating – you’re either dead or you’re not – there’s not really much “service” involved.

      1. Ariaflame*

        Various TV shows had plot points where I think suicide also invalidated it but I don’t know if that’s true.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            The first two years often seems to be the limit of the exclusion.

            My husband passed at home. A “helpful” family member told me I probably would not get the insurance because no one witnessed his passing. People have all kinds of interpretations and no idea what they are saying.

            Hopefully no one reading here is facing such a situation with a loved one. I’d like to say, whatever the setting is that caused the loss, please check with the actual insurance company and do not assume, nor listen to “helpful” family members. Some companies have outstanding records for taking care of their customer’s families. We saw this with the WTC and we will probably see it again.

            In a similar vein, if you are helping someone who has had a loss please help/encourage them to contact the company directly.

    5. Mookie*

      Gallows humor is effective, maybe even morale-boosting and a bonding exercise when the it’s the victims of and those most vulnerable to falling victim of the crisis being treated satirically. The upper echelons of society are not “immune” here, but they comprise the most privileged and cushioned, the ones with exclusive access to the resources that increase the likelihood of their survival and decrease the likelihood they will experience poverty, paucity, and life-altering financial hits. Carnival works to relief tensions precisely because of the role played by the oppressed. This, on the other hand, is just spoiled dudes chortling at despair.

      1. LabTechNoMore*

        Yea, I’m very big on gallows humor myself, but have learned through this pandemic that not everyone is, and try to modulate accordingly. Recently, I’ve been joking about going bar-hopping and clubbing when asked about my weekend plans (in a shelter in place state where all the bars and restaurants are closed). And come up with more absurdly ridiculous social activities the more they go along with it. Maybe that’s more escapist humor than gallows? It’s my way of coping with a difficult time, but realize it can be really hurtful to some, and tread lightly.

        1. LabTechNoMore*

          Also a good point about privilege. My particular demographic is less at risk, and I already had it. (Probably – the test wasn’t available at the time but doc said it probably was.) So I’m at a safer distance, so to speak.

      2. Elenna*

        I enjoy gallows humor too, but yeah, definitely not something you should be sending to subordinates who won’t feel comfortable saying “please leave me out of this”. Also not something you should be disguising as actual work emails, wtf???

    6. Jackers*

      Was coming here to say this. And I say this as someone who did lose a family member last week to the virus. It’s a horrible thing and we are heart-broken, but I need humor in order to get through it or I will go out of my ever-loving mind from the stress of it all. The main difference though is that I only sit on my couch and share the jokes/memes with my husband. No one else. This guy could be a jerk or just clueless, and hopefully it’s the latter and someone could delicately point out to him that it’s not in good taste to continue to share them as he can’t know how people are being personally impacted.

    7. Gaia*

      I get it. My grandmother almost certainly has it (we can’t get her tested) which means my grandfather probably does too (or will) and my mother who is their caregiver also likely will. One of them is almost certain to die due to their underlying health issues.

      I also love dark humor and, among friends, I might laugh this off. But at work, my one escape from my constant fear for my family? I’d lose my shit if my boss or co-worker was sending me daily emails joking. It doesn’t matter their intent. Keep it out of work.

      1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

        Know thy audience. We’re all entitled to our coping mechanisms, but we are NOT entitled to push them (whether dark humour, obsessive catastrophising or whatever else) on others. Patience for friends, family, close coworkers going through the same thing, fine. But in general it absolutely needs to stay out of the workplace for sensitivity’s sake.

        For whatever it’s worth, I’m sending you internet stranger well wishes for the health of your family.

    8. Jam Today*

      Oh come on. Humor may be how *you* cope but it is definitely not how *I* cope and it certainly is not how every employee at a given company copes. This is inappropriate in a work environment, full stop. It may be OK within a group of friends that you know very well, certainly well enough to know if they, their family, or their other friends have gotten sick or died so that you can stop saying awful things to them.

    9. Falling Diphthong*

      This sort of humor works well within a small group who know each other well and bring all that shared context to interpreting it; it falls apart when forwarded on outside the group. I think it’s analogous to the dark humor that gets the staff through on the pediatric cancer ward–you don’t share the latest dead kid joke with the family of your patients.

    10. Generic Name*

      The CEO of my company has been sending these same jokes out under the subject line “chuckle of the day”. I know her heart is in the right place; my company is doing all the right things to weather this and is looking out for employees’ mental health. That said, I wish she’d stop sending the jokes, if only because I hate how all of public life is devoted to this damn virus and I want to laugh at something not virus related.

      Of course, it doesn’t rule out the COO being a jerk though

  9. Knitting Cat Lady*


    Sadly, many guys seem to think that a woman showing common courtesy means that the woman is totally into them.

    People in customer facing roles (cashiers, waitresses, etc.) are hit especially hit hard by this.

    It’s quite disgusting, really.

    Pair this with the common RomCom trope that ‘No’ actually means ‘Try harder to win me over’ and you get guys like this dude.

    Please, people, take people at their word when they say that they’re not interested in you that way!

    1. valentine*

      a woman showing common courtesy means that the woman is totally into them.
      If this were true, wouldn’t they be with the first guy who ever hit on them, or, if that person dumped them, the next guy? Why would there be any single girls or women?

      Are they missing this piece or do they have an even more illogical answer for it?

      1. Anonny*

        You tell them women have rich inner lives not related to men and they’ll be like “citation needed”

      2. DerJungerLudendorff*

        Obviously all those other dudes are just dirtbag Chad’s who cannot understand the heart of a Woman.

        Unlike them, they’re true Nice Guy’s who unraveled the mysteries of the feminine mind, and can read the subtle signs that tell you What Women Really Want, and the only reason they’re single is because Women Have No Taste Dammit.


    2. Nee Attitude*

      I was recently explaining to a friend of mine that, in my experience, men (in a general sense) are taught that there is no expectation whatsoever that they be nice (kind) to people (women especially) unless it benefits them. I compared it to walking into a car dealership and having the salesman offer to get coffee and a donut for you. He’s not doing it because he just wants to treat everyone respectfully; he’s doing it because he wants to sell you a car. This really helped my friend to understand why men kept hitting on her; jerks will use the societal expectations of women against them in order to get what they want.

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        I had a conversation about exactly this recently with someone where we had passed by a social media thread where a bunch of dudes were confused and downright irritated about why women thought Billy Porter is so amazing, and love his style and his persona and his attitude.

        Me: “It’s because women can like and support a man for reasons other than wanting to have sex with him.”

      2. Knitting Cat Lady*

        There are certain subcultures in the male sphere which I won’t name, that don’t think women are actually people with agency and their own wants and desires.

        These dudes treat women like vending machines. They put in special tokens and a relationship will fall out.

        In their minds, they are entitled to a woman’s attention, love, and body.

        If you want to plunge the depths of this cesspool, look up David Futrelle’s blog ‘We Hunted The Mammoth’. Expect to be angry a lot.

        1. Jopestus*

          I am going to call those people fake and nonexistent.

          Why? Because I want to retain my sanity and I don’t want to rip my beard out for idiots in the internet.

          1. DerJungerLudendorff*

            Just don’t do it in front of their victims. Or else you have joined the Jerkpack Invisible.

          2. Gazebo Slayer*

            So, since the (yes, real) existence of these creeps makes you uncomfortable, you’re defaulting to telling the woman who told you about them that she’s lying?

            That is disgusting, and I hope you realize why.

          3. Quill*

            Unfortunately, the very presence of your beard is why you’re able to be surprised by these people. Being female on the internet will turn at least one up eventually… these days being female in real life is a pretty good guarantee of it too.

        2. EPLawyer*

          “These dudes treat women like vending machines. They put in special tokens and a relationship will fall out.”
          This is the best explanation of the situation I have ever heard. If they just use the right combination of lines and actions Boom, women will fall all over them. Not.

          But I get Jopestus attitude. If you want to not just punch every guy in the face on sight out of principal, you have to pretend these jerks don’t exist, unless dealing with one.

        3. If the devil were to explode and evil were gone forever what sort of party would you have*

          I’ve joined too many Facebook tag groups that show the ugly side of men.

          A common “joke” is that in the AITA threads, men will say “my partner gained 5 lbs/doesn’t pay attention to me/wont’ do the sex thing I want, AITA for not liking this?”

          Whereas womens posts are more like “AITA for eing upset that my male partner punched me in the face?”

      3. Entry-level Marcus*

        As a man I find this generalization extremely offensive and untrue of all the men I know.

        1. Ice and Indigo*

          ‘Certain subcultures’ isn’t a generalization, it’s a reference to specific groups.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Please don’t “not all men” here when she specifically said not all men. Why not instead be an ally and speak out against the men who *are* in the group she’s describing?

          1. Entry-level Marcus*

            Look, I agree the guy LW3 was dealing with is a creep and we should support women in that situation, and that such situations are far too common.

            But I feel completely justified in feeling offended and hurt by the sweeping generalization made by the person I responded to. Yes, they didn’t literally say “all men”, but taking what they say at face value, they are saying that at least 50% of men are selfish sociopaths (not caring about treating people well unless it benefits them).

            I know it’s not exactly equivalent, but imagine an LW writing in about a manipulative female coworker, and somebody commented the following:

            “I was recently explaining to a friend of mine that, in my experience, women (in a general sense) are taught that there is no expectation whatsoever that they be honest (truthful) to people (men especially) unless it benefits them. This really helped my friend to understand why women kept manipulating him”

            Isn’t that hurtful to women, and completely out of line? I know men aren’t oppressed, but that doesn’t change the fact that such sweeping generalizations are hurtful and not conducive to good dialogue or societal change, or the spirit of this blog’s comment culture.

            All that said, I respect your right to moderate the comments as you see fit, so this will be my last post on this topic, I won’t argue it further.

            1. Knitting Cat Lady*

              So, me saying that there are ‘many guys’ and ‘certain subcultures of men’ is somehow equating to at least 50% of men?

              Did you dislocate something reaching that far?

              I’m a firm believer in the arsehole quotient. In that a certain percentage of the population are arseholes, no matter the gender.

              How they express their arseholiness is often gender specific.

              And the behaviour as described by OP is overwhelmingly expressed by men.

              That is not a ‘sweeping generalisation’, it’s a statement of fact. We have data on this…

              1. Entry-level Marcus*

                I was responding to Nee Attitude not you. Did I respond to the wrong comment? Yours was much more careful.

          2. Observer*

            This is not a “not all men” thing, though. It’s simply not true that “men as a general thing” are taught that they don’t have to be decent to people.

            There may be some subcultures where this is true, and others where it’s true specifically between men and women, but it is NOT true as a GENERAL thing. I don’t think that this kind of toxic thinking helps anyone.

            1. Observer*

              To be sepcific, I’m responding to “men (in a general sense) are taught that there is no expectation whatsoever that they be nice (kind) to people (women especially) unless it benefits them. “

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t think we need to be coy about the fact that women are disproportionately in this situation, vastly so. (And indeed, the LW is a woman.)

    3. Liane*

      It’s not just Rom Com tropes, but also the tropes in all those “Gotta Win Them Over/Back” song lyrics. NEVER mistake the plots or lyrics for Wise Relationship Advice.

      The coworker’s behavior is just awful.

  10. short'n'stout*

    #2, my first thought when you mentioned your lack of capital is: take the issue to someone who does have the standing to raise this with the COO, like your manager, or a colleague that COO respects. Surely there would be someone like that in your workplace who shares your concerns.

    Or, get your colleagues together as a group to raise the issue with either the COO or someone that the COO is likely to listen to. Alison has some advice on this site on approaching employers as a group – I’ll put the link to the article in a followup comment in the unlikely event that it causes this comment to be spam-trapped.

    1. Willis*

      Yeah, if OP has a decently reasonable manager, I think it’s possible to ask if there’s a way to opt out of the “joke” email list and maybe point out that a lot of people don’t enjoy humor about a stressful situation. (…And that’s using the word humor generously. I don’t even get how punking people to look at a blueprint is a joke, but I’ll just assume I’m missing something there…)

    2. tamarack and fireweed*

      I think this is excellent advice. It may not work, if the culture is too rotten from the top, but it’s worth a try to find someone semi-senior who treats people well independently of seniority and privately express how wearing and inappropriate these “jokes” are.

      One hope is, of course, that by the time this appears this company’s leadership will have had an encounter with reality.

  11. Ludo*

    #5 personally I think it would have been satisfying to say “oh I would never work with jane” and then leave

    1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Satisfying in the short fun? Maybe? Like, extremely low probability maybe. Since Jane works there (and who knows, maybe Jane is a superstar there), Jane would get to control the narrative (“Ugh, yeah, OP5 was super bitter about the fact that I took one teaspoon of their one pound bag of sugar.”)

      And…that’s assuming the interviewer even told Jane about it. Much more likely that the interviewer would just blacklist OP5 as a drama llama and move on.

      1. OP#5*

        They would have, but I definitely would never have gotten that job anyways. I’m pretty sure after the interview was over she badmouthed me like crazy.

  12. Nee Attitude*

    #3, If you haven’t already, start ignoring his calls and block his number. Additionally, it might even be a good idea to no longer respond to his work emails (even legitimate ones) and just forward them to your boss if you can do so.

    Since your boss is aware of his behavior, it would be the perfect opportunity for her to limit his ability to contact you for any reason. This man needs to be fired immediately; behavior like this can not be fixed.

    1. Maddy*

      Yes! Why is he not fired? He’s already escalated to calling her at home! How much further does it need to go? Ignoring this and having her avoid him in the office is not the answer. It’s tacit approval that the company doesn’t see this as serious. She said no and he kept at it. So now she’s uncomfortable and going out of her way to appease him. This is harassment and he needs to be fired now.

      1. valentine*

        it might even be a good idea to no longer respond to his work emails (even legitimate ones)
        It is not. TPTB probably won’t sever their work ties, and OP3 could end up the odd one out. If the guy stops and keeps his nose clean, OP3 will have to keep interacting him and possibly deal with things like team lunches. Even if the team knows what he did, they may be the type to want to get along with everybody/think he would never/believe in second chances/not care and just want OP3 to get over it.

        Harassers who stop don’t necessarily get shunted off beyond reach of you.

        1. Nee Attitude*

          At this point, he’s a harasser who hasn’t stopped. She’s already indicated that her boss has threatened to fire him over his harassment; and she didn’t have any problem interacting with him while he remained professional. At this stage, she would be protecting herself by having her boss screen her emails from him.

          1. valentine*

            she would be protecting herself by having her boss screen her emails from him.
            It’s an odd ask I wouldn’t expect approved. It’s not sustainable and means OP3 isn’t doing part of her job.

            1. valentine*

              Reading the emails also keeps OP3 in control. No one else has as much to lose, no one else can assess her risk the way she can, and this just isn’t something to put on a colleague. Not knowing how many emails there are or how many the middle person missed or skimmed allows them to take on more importance and space than they may merit.

    2. TimeCat*

      For the law student: this is something that’s going to happen a lot over the years. You’re going to see or overhear something and cringe. It’s sort of attractive to be a lawyer batman, swooping in, but it’s really not a good idea. Don’t go around giving unasked for legal advice. It’s murky ethically, for one. It’s unlikely to be well received (it comes across as a form of policing), and if it’s not your specialty area you could get over your head fast.

      Best way to help others with your law degree is to join your clinic or pro bono organization.

    3. Old Admin*

      I need to add OP3’s already is displaying stalker behavior. Please consider legal step and speak to a lawyer (cease&desist letter, contact local police on non emergency number rtc.)
      Be safe.
      (Yes, I had a stalker who progressed to murder threats.)

        1. valentine*

          Asking a lawyer to act could cause trouble for OP3 with the employer and Jack. Prior to that, I would ask police or a security expert to advise on where Jack is on a timeline to violence and how likely it is a C&D or other intervention letter would lead to him escalating.

            1. Batgirl*

              I would definitely consider locking down your contact details and social media so he can’t reach/surveil you. I don’t know if this guy is going to turn into a stalker on you, but not only is radio silence advisable for that, it will just make you feel better to know he’s stonewalled on that front.

      1. Cats and dogs*

        I came here to say the same thing. I am worried about her safety and think she might consider a restraining Order if anything additional happens. This should also help get him fired. But then I guess I also worry about revenge.

    4. The Other Dawn*

      “it might even be a good idea to no longer respond to his work emails (even legitimate ones)”

      No, there’s no reason to not respond to work emails or to have the boss screen them first. If there’s something personal, like the coworker’s romantic feelings, buried within a work email, then she can bring it up to the boss. Otherwise, no.

      1. An Actual Fennec Fox*

        Agreed! OP needs to stay professional and keep doing her job. If something is problematic, she can forward that to her boss. Otherwise, boss will think she has two people who can’t act professionally on her team.

        1. Nee Attitude*

          I stand corrected. The screening should occur only for emails, etc., that are problematic.

    5. RoseMai*

      This guy sounds creepy enough that I’d make sure I was never alone with him and would be watching my back when I left for the day.

      OP#3, I’m not in your shoes so I can’t know, but he at the least doesn’t respect your boundaries at all. Repeated harassment and calling you after work referencing “primal urges”? Red flags, everywhere. Listen to your gut and don’t worry about politeness- if he’s walking towards your car, lock your doors and drive off!

      1. Quill*

        Make sure he doesn’t follow you to the parking lot.

        See: all of Allison’s previous letters dealing with workplace sexual harassment.

    6. Uncompf*

      OP3 here.

      Thankfully Jack is more of a front-of-house worker while I’m more back office, so email communication is quite limited.

  13. Anon for this*

    Honestly, LW1, I obviously have no way of knowing this, but from my vantage point your employee comes across as possibly struggling with mental health issues based on their pattern of absenteeism. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and taken a lot of random sick days (I don’t really think I constantly have the flu, it’s just easier to claim a stomach bug than to admit you’re paralyzed with depression and aren’t reasonably going to be able to function that day), the coronavirus has levelled me after having my conditions under control for a couple of years. The thing is, there are a few things that can exacerbate anxiety pretty consistently: uncertainty, isolation, lack of control, increased stress, loss of social supports, loss of routine, reductions in physical activity.

    Now, imagine all of them happening at once. Then add trying to avoid being a burden on the health care system, fear of going to your doctor’s office, fear of going out to pick up your prescriptions, fear of being turned down if you call a telehealth line to get anti-anxiety meds you desperately need in times like this but that you know are controlled substances and they have no history with you so will be understandably hesitant to prescribe them. Then add potential increased conflict at home (is anyone else so over working from home next to their spouse right now??), concern about high risk family members, no child care, and financial issues, and it’s just a hot mess.

    Yeah, he could just be a slacker and taking advantage. He could also be high risk from a condition that up until now hasn’t required a workplace accommodation (like asthma) and, out of fear for his life, is resting anytime his condition starts acting up. The compassionate thing to do would be to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s dealing with more than he’s letting on, as many of us are.

    1. chartreuse polecat*

      +1, reading the AAM letters/updates on the coworker with health anxiety who ended up needing to be hospitalized due to his condition, Ronald, maybe? would be worth doing for some perspective on what the employee is going thru.

    2. chartreuse polecat*

      (if they’re even suffering from health anxiety at all, and not something else that LW1 is misreading as health anxiety)

    3. DerJungerLudendorff*

      Yeah, this is a real possibility.

      And just in general, we’re in the middle of a plague. This is not the time to start questioning if people are protecting themselves too well. Your work isn’t worth dying over.

      1. Venus*

        The employee has the option to work from home. In this case the question is not “Where should the employee work?” but rather “Is the employee well enough to work, and if not then what leave do they take?”

    4. J*

      A great point. I do think there may be underlying anxiety issues to consider. Overall I think the underlying issue is that’s it not a good fit for us, but now is not the time to address. Thank you for your insight.

    5. Kathlynn (Canadian)*

      Yeah, I’m on leave from work because of my asthma. Plus my anxiety was spiraling, making it hard to work (no work from home possible as a cashier). Luckily enough being at home is enough to cancel out most of the anxiety for me, since one of my biggest concerns was breathing at work and customers reaction to me wearing a mask the whole time (a dust mask, not a medical mask). Since I’ve had lots of bad responses to it, including a month ago, just as Covid-19 was starting to acknowledged as a big problem. Am I worried about money? absolutely, but I will do what I need to in order to make it through this.

      1. Quill*

        My anxiety leveled out when we went into shelter in place, but it’s not health related. No need to be hypervigilant when it’s just you and the plants!

        That said if my favorite take-out places around town are still around when this is over I’m not going to cook for myself for at least a week. mmmmm, basil thai curry…

  14. Aggretsuko*

    I’m impressed that the boss is willing to fire Jack. Most places he’d stalk you, the office would be fine with it, you’d have to get a new job…

    Seriously, you’re doing the right things. I hope he gets fired someday. Ughhhhhhh.

    1. Maddy*

      Well they haven’t done it yet and the phrase “all but told” is unfortunately not very clear to a person who has already proven he doesn’t listen. Soooo he hasn’t been fired after being told no 3 times and he’s already contacted her at home and created an uncomfortable work environment for her. I don’t have much faith that anything by the company is going to happen

    2. Starbuck*

      Jack should already have been fired after the “primal urges” sexual harassment call… Boss has left LW in the terrible situation of having to wait for further harassment for action to be taken, when it’s pretty clear he’s not going to stop and will likely escalate. So she gets to have that hanging over her head while she’s trying to get work done in her harasser’s presence. Ugh indeed.

  15. short'n'stout*

    OP#5 – as Alison said, you did the right thing by going through with the interview. If they make an offer, that’s the time to diplomatically explore the extent to which you would be required to interact with Jane, and maybe even give the hiring manager a heads-up about her prior behaviour. Who knows, maybe she has a pattern of this sort of thing in the workplace as well.

    1. UKDancer*

      Agreed. I had something similar when I applied for a particular job and discovered one of the interviewers was a former colleague with a radically different working style and with whom I did not think I would be able to work. I asked in general terms about structures and discovered she was actually the manager for the post in question (despite not having been named on the advert).

      I went through the interview to the best of my ability. Once I got home I intended to withdraw my application but they rejected me first. I was not sorry.

      I think it’s definitely better to go through the interview and then either withdraw or work out a plan for what to do if offered the job.

      1. Junior Assistant Peon*

        I agree with your thinking. It’s likely they noticed your enthusiasm for the job was lukewarm. I’ve been advised that when you see red/yellow flags during an interview, you should still try to sell yourself like crazy, and wait until you leave to think about whether to decline the offer. Sometimes, you’ll see a yellow flag but decide you still want the job, but you’ve already sabotaged yourself by thinking it over during the interview.

    2. OP#5*

      Thanks. They never would have made me an offer though. My previous roommate was at the interview and I’m 99.9% certain she told them how horrible she thought I was the moment I stepped out of the interview. We hated each other and those feelings never went away. The interview was a complete waste of time because I was never being hired. She was well-respected there and they would have taken her word for anything she said

  16. Fikly*

    #2: He’s gaslighting you. You haven’t been sending mixed messages at all. You’ve been extremely clear. You do not need to change your behavior at all. You’ve done nothing wrong. He’s done everything wrong, and is sexually harassing you.

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      LW3 knows this, but Jack does not. LW3 has been basically polite and professional and decent to Jack in business contexts, and he is doing his best to read this as romantic interest.

      Note also that this is because Jack, apparently, likely would have shunned and punished and ridiculed and retaliated against and been evil to LW3 in the inverse context, because that’s apparently his idea of how you behave — at work! — toward someone you’re REALLY rejecting. Ugh.

      1. Fikly*

        I’m not sure she does, because she’s talking about how she’s adjusting her behavior to accommodate his insistence that she is sending him mixed messages. It’s certainly valid to do that if she needs to do that for her own safety, but she does not need to adjust her behavior in any way because it implies something mixed to her soon-to-be stalker.

        1. AMT*

          I agree. It sounds like LW3 somewhat blamed herself for not behaving coldly to him immediately after his declaration of love. But I imagine if she had done that, he would have just accused her of overreacting or playing hard-to-get. There was no way for her to win.

  17. Caroline Bowman*

    Re OP1, yes you do have to pay this worker, but you can of course say that you will require as much documentation as can be provided and that when testing becomes available (I appreciate it isn’t now), that if they test negative, of course the pay will not apply.

    In other words, investigate the law fully around how much verification you can rightfully ask for before just saying ”okay here’s the dosh”. This should be applied to all workers, obviously, and rigorously enforced in absolute fairness.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You definitely cannot say you’ll revoke the pay if they test negative; that would be illegal. The law requires up to two weeks of paid leave if you’re unable to work because (a) you’re quarantined (via a government order or on the advice of a health care provider), and (b) you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis. It doesn’t matter if you later test negative.

      That said, in order to receive the tax credit, employers are required to have documentation in support of the leave request — specifically, the qualifying reason for requesting leave; a statement that the employee is unable to work, including telework, for that reason; the source of any quarantine or isolation order; and the name of the health care provider who has advised the employee to self-quarantine or written documentation from a health care provider advising the employee to self-quarantine.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Sometimes it is appropriate to permit retrospective documentation. That is, “we will ultimately require this paperwork to complete the record, but I don’t need it RIGHT THIS MINUTE”. If an employee fails to provide it at all, you deal with that failure separately.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I don’t know if that would work. The main reasoning behind the law is that employers will not ultimately have to pay for the leave. Yes the employers pays for it for now and later they receive a tax credit equal to the cost of the leave from the government. If the government requires certain documentation to qualify for the credit, you give an employee 2 weeks of paid leave and they later do not provide the documentation the employer will not qualify for the credit. If they get denied it probably won’t happen til April 2021 during tax time, by then it would be to late to do anything about it really. I think securing the federally required documentation is important before the leave get approved.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            I follow your logic, but my chief concern is with getting infected individuals out of circulation so (1) they won’t infect anyone else and (2) they can recover.

            If the paperwork is required for the funding, it should be secured before the funding is applied for. But does that mean it must be secured before the employee can enter quarantine? That seems uncautious and unsustainable.

            I want people to feel able to quarantine if they show symptoms. That does need a willingness on the part of employers to encourage and empower their employees to go home NOW and sort the fine print in due course. (It needs a boatload of other measures too, certainly!)

            1. Rockin Takin*

              Also- the healthcare system is chaotic right now, so it’s not likely someone is going to get the documentation in a timely manner.

              I spent 2.5 days panicking trying to get a hold of my OBGYN office to get a letter for my employer to tell them I needed to work from home because I’m pregnant/high risk. They were so overwhelmed at the office that it was tough to get through to a Dr. And they aren’t dealing with COVID cases.

        2. Observer*

          Yes, but in this case the results of the test are not relevant. Because if the person is being told to stay home by his doctor, then it doesn’t matter if he actually does have Covid19.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        What my employer is asking I if you are wanting to take the government provided COVID sick leave (and only if you are asking for the government provided extra leave) please do the following:
        1) go to the local hospital’s COVID symptom tracking link and perform the tracker and screen shot the final results (which do indicate that the tracker is run by the hospital)
        2) call in under the normal requesting process adding that you are wanting to use COVID leave
        3) email the screen shot of the symptom tracker that you did earlier to your supervisor

        They have said they are hoping this will meet the requirement, but are not sure. They are also wanting to not overwhelm local telehealth system either.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Sorry, posted and then thought of some other things to add.

          1) they are sending home for telework every single person they can as technology to do so becomes available

          2) they have taken the initiative to email everybody the link to the symptom tracker to use

          3) they have specked up on extra sanitizing supplies for the people they haven’t been able to get home yet (and also had the building add an extra cleaning time from the cleaning staff to make sure the bathrooms have plenty of paper towels and soap)

          Is it perfect, no, but they are being really understanding and trying to work with and meet all of us as employees where we are.

    2. Ferret*

      Adding on to Alison’s comment the reason it is illegal is that it is an absolutely awful idea which would have massive negative effects on containment efforts even if testing wasn’t a massive mess in the US.

    3. Rosalie*

      Please stop commenting on this. You clearly do not understand the law, nor what it’s like yo have this disease. You are giving dreadful ‘advice’ and lying to people, whether deliberately or accidentally through your incompetence and ignorance. Please, stop. You are not helping. You are actively hurting, in fact.

    4. Lonely Aussie*

      Sounds like a brilliant way to have mildy symptomatic people come to work because they can’t risk the negitive test.

      1. Caroline Bowman*

        where I am there is no commuting of anyone, all the schools are closed, work from home unless essential services, so the notion of a mildy-ill person commuting is moot. Then again, once you’re out of sick leave / paid leave, it’s gone, so you are then of course off work and necessarily isolated (we aren’t even allowed off our properties except for groceries and medical appointments and there are road blocks to enforce this), but not paid.

        A person who has exhausted all of their sick pay then is unpaid, but they are at home, by law.

        1. Lonely Aussie*

          Where I am, there’s still essential worker’s working. Still farmers tending to stock, truck drivers delivering goods, still supermarkets and servos and pharmacies open to provide food. And of course health care providers.
          A policy like the one you proposed would mean Shazza the hospital cleaner who lives pay check to paycheck and who woke up that morning with a slight headache and a sore throat would think long and hard about the various risks. She can’t afford to lose two weeks of wages, if she calls out, later tests negative to covid19 because it’s a throat infection or something and her company refuses to pay her then she’s stuffed financially. Especially if it’s something she’d usually work through normally so wouldn’t be burning sick leave. If she goes to work and is positive for the rona then she’s at risk of infecting people there.
          What does she do? Call out knowing that those two weeks or more weeks of potentially of lost income are enough to send her under? Go to work and risk passing it on? Remember, she’s had mild symptoms at this point that could be a whole host of other illnesses. I would not like to have make a decision like that.

        2. Sylvan*

          It’s the same where I live… Plenty of people working in essential services (like the people selling groceries or providing medical appointments) are the mildly sick people who are in a catch-22 right now.

        3. Kathlynn (Canadian)*

          So who is running the stores, medical facilities,or manning the road blocks if there is no commuting?

        4. MCMonkeyBean*

          Key parts of your comment:
          “unless essential services”
          “except for groceries and medical appointments”

          There are still lots of people following the law who are not at home 100% of the time.

        5. Wander*

          That’s not the case everywhere, even places with a number of active cases. My mother’s county has hundreds of cases, but her (non-essential, non-remote) job still requires her to be there. There’s no shelter in place order there, and I don’t think there will be any time soon. Should there be? Sure. Is there? No. In my area, there’s a shelter in place order, but it’s not being enforced.

          Also, essential workers are still people. I’m in essential healthcare, and my job can’t be done remotely. I know several of my coworkers are at-risk from this, and I know several others live with family members who are at-risk. That knowledge is just from social conversations before the pandemic hit; there are quite possibly more people I work with everyday (essential people, people who have to come in) who are higher risk that I just don’t know about, because it’s none of my business. The responsible thing to do, the right thing to do is not to come in if I get sick right now, even if it’s minor. Minor for me could be deadly for someone I work with or someone they love. Studies have shown people can be asymptomatic or just mildly symptomatic while still spreading it, and on a personal anecdotal level, I know a family with it whose members are ranging from horribly sick to just kind of ill to no symptoms at all.

          To be honest with you, it sucks. I’m off work for two weeks because my spouse is sick with something. Is it coronavirus? Maybe. It could be. It’s certainly prevalent in the area we’re in, and his (essential infrastructure) job can’t be done totally remotely, so up until this point, he’d been going in and interacting with other people, at least one of whom was visibly sick. It might also be something else. His symptoms all match up, but it doesn’t tick every box, and it’s minor. We’ll probably never know for sure, because testing here is restricted to people who need high level care, and that’s fortunately not the case with us right now.

          In any other circumstance, I would be at work. I would like to be at work. I worry my boss thinks negatively of me not being in. I worry my coworkers are being overwhelmed with increased demand and people abruptly being out for two weeks at a time. I worry that whatever’s happening in my house right now is unrelated, and later sickness will come up again and I’ll be faced with either potentially infecting my coworkers or going unpaid for 2 weeks. (The longer it is, the more I worry that one particularly.) How many times can I do that? How many times can my coworkers? Making the call to stay home was easy this time, but it won’t be in the future, and it wouldn’t have been if being paid was contingent on a positive test. (Though, to be forthright, my company is too large to be affected by the new law, so my leave is using vacation days. I’ve been there long enough to have built up a lot. Most of my coworkers haven’t. I do think a lot would make the choice to come in, and I cannot really blame them.) None of my bills have stopped. Even the local companies that have temporarily stopped disconnects have been clear that the money will still be owed in the future.

          The answer is more and faster testing, but that’s not something I have control over. I know a lot of places do have that, and I’m happy for them, but unfortunately it’s not universal. We have to act with what we have now.

          I know this novella is only tangentially related to the original question, and I’m sorry about that. It’s just that there are a lot of essential workers who commute, even in shelter in place areas, and these decisions do actually impact us. Healthcare, infrastructure, grocery workers, production workers, delivery drivers, undoubtedly a thousand more I’m forgetting – there are millions of people who still have to go into work right now, and everyone of them could get sick or get someone else sick. I’m sure there are some people who will use this crisis to get time off. I’m also sure there are many, many more who are just doing their best, trying to balance between what they need to survive (amazing how so many essential workers are underpaid) and what everyone else needs. This is not the time to assume the worst of people and punish everyone for it.

    5. Lucy*

      I hope you aren’t in charge of HR policies anywhere :( Requiring ‘as much documentation as can be provided’ right now is socially irresponsible and in any case puts stress on a sick employee.

      1. Quill*

        It would be an overreach in a case of seasonal flu, here it’s actively working against public health. Corona is NOT the only disease circulating at this time and we don’t yet know much about what effects other respiratory viruses could have on your ability to fight it off, other than the obvious one that seasonal flu and even colds have sent people to the hospital with pneumonia or bronchitis before. Testing negative for corona doesn’t mean a person is 1) well 2) not at greater risk of catching it if they do come in 3) able to access an appropriate amount of health care for what they do have 4) safe to interact with your other employees.

        Bottom line: the pandemic puts strain on hospitals and all health care provides and we will probably see an increase in overall deaths due to non-corona respiratory infections this year just because there are too many patients, not enough respirators, and a decrease in available resources and care as we try to prevent spread. Don’t fucking waste a doctor’s time on paperwork, don’t nitpick people’s protective measures by insisting that they ‘prove’ they’re sick or at risk, and don’t play the “I think my employee may be abusing sick leave (because I cannot imagine personally needing this much sick leave / I saw them outside so they must be ok / if they can be on facebook posting photos they can’t be sick)” guessing game.

      2. Liz*

        Speaking as a European who is currently self isolating, “as much documentation as can be provided” in many cases equals zero. In my country, you may be advised to self-isolate over a government medical helpline. There is no documentation because those medical workers are inundated with calls, and will be for some weeks, and aren’t wasting valuable time and resources on paperwork. Their priority is getting people to stay home if there is even a small risk. Also, people are being advised to self-isolate even if they have NO symptoms but have come into contact with someone who has, because this also prevents potential cases. Employers can hardly demand medical evidence apertaining to a third party. A lot of employers are just going to have to go on trust here, and give people the benefit of the doubt.

        1. Lucy*

          Yep, it’s an extraordinary situation and employers need to aim to be as relaxed as they possibly can at the moment, not add to the level of burden and risk. If I call a medical helpline just because I need a note for my employer, someone else who may be particularly vulnerable is less likely to get through.

  18. Not Australian*

    ‘Primal urges’ – the excuse offered by every male who has ever decided that his intense desire to fornicate is far more important than anyone else’s desire not to be fornicated with. This guy needs to understand that ‘no’ means ‘no’, whether it’s delivered with a smile or a swift kick to the lower organs. This kind of behaviour can escalate if it isn’t stamped out firmly.

    1. Ice and Indigo*

      I’m wondering if it’s a phrase current in some creepy internet community. Not gonna research that, though.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I don’t hear it so much now that I am “old” but younger me used to say, “I have urges too. I have an urge to slap you.” Then I would hear, “No, you don’t understand!” to which I said, “NO. You are the one who is really not understanding. It’s taking every cell in my body not to slap you. If I can control that, so can you. If you don’t understand then you have woefully under-estimated my need to slap you.”

      1. AMT*

        On a similar note, there’s a passage in “Why Does He Do That?” (a book about abusive and controlling men by Lundy Bancroft) about abusive men excusing their violent behavior by saying that they “lose control.” He asks his readers: does this man lose control in front of police officers? People he wants to impress? Big guys who could beat him up? Does he break his *own* belongings?

        It’s the same with so-called “uncontrollable urges.” Does he hit on attractive lawyers and judges in court? Does he sexually harass women at work in front of everyone, or wait until he’s behind closed doors so there’s plausible deniability? Does he do it to his boss, or confine his behavior to his subordinates? If he demonstrates any hint of concern for his own well-being and reputation, he’s being strategic, not “uncontrollable.”

  19. tamarack and fireweed*

    #1 – I want to take a strong position against the “but what if they abuse it?!” argument. A well-designed program will reach the people it is targeted for, and it should be evaluated and adjusted according to this criterion. Every program will have people who try to take advantage. That’s just a fact of life. Designing it so that it is impossible to abuse will impact those who it is made to benefit, so the safeguards are necessarily not completely watertight. You give yourself the means to identify and remove the (few) cheaters, and make absolutely sure to treat the (many) legitimate beneficiaries well and without casting suspicion.

    Alison is right to point to dealing with problems as they come up, in a timely manner, much reduces the pain later on.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*


      There will always be SOMEONE taking advantage. But what the world really needs at the moment is for vulnerable people (medically, financially, socially, whatever) to experience minimum barriers to being able to self-isolate appropriately. Better have someone indulgently eating cookies and playing WOW on the company dime, than force a sick person to risk a continued commute / workday etc.

    2. Fikly*


      Sometimes things are abused. Sometimes innocent people go to jail. That is, objectively, not what we want, but we still have trials and convict people and put them in jail. Just because sometimes the system fails doesn’t mean you throw the system out.

      1. Uhtceare*

        I agree with your point, but I think you’ve got the analogy backwards–bad actors taking advantage of a system that is loose enough to benefit the vulnerable is the _opposite_ of innocent people going to jail. It’s guilty people being let go. Innocent people going to jail would be a system that’s so tight no one can abuse it but no one can benefit either.

        (It’s also built into the theory of UK-derived criminal law as “Blackstone’s ratio”: “it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” Ben Franklin upped that to 100 guilty for 1 innocent, but the point remains. It’s not always borne out in practice, of course, but it’s the reason for ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, jury trials, all of it.)

        1. Fikly*

          I forgot to include the part about innocent people going to jail because they were framed.

          I’ve got a concussion, my brain is losing bits.

    3. High Score!*

      All this is true, but many small businesses are laying off staff. In this circumstance, where they know they have a slacker, I don’t think it is unethical to lay off said slacker. Many small businesses have been forced to lay off good employees. Why keep the slackers? Keeping slackers also ruins office morale and then productivity overall.

      1. Fikly*

        But small businesses!

        If a small business cannot afford to stay in business within the bounds of the law, the small business should not be in business. They get enough special abilities to treat employees badly.

        1. Sylvan*

          Could you not? There are probably a good number of people reading this who have lost their jobs and/or their businesses. (This is probably going to be the end result for my parents; “luckily” for you, they have no employees.) A business being unable to survive a huge crisis doesn’t mean it’s… not successful enough to exist in the first place?

          1. Fikly*

            Why are businesses in a special category when people aren’t, though?

            If there is no safety net for people, why should there be one for businesses?

            While this is a huge crisis, right now it’s been, what, six weeks? A business that cannot survive a six week loss of revenue is not successful enough to exist in the first place.

            People are told that they shouldn’t expect “handouts” from the governemnt, that they are responsible for coping with emergencies. That’s what emergency funds are for. But businesses are a special exception? Why?

            1. Sylvan*

              I don’t see what most of this has to do with my comment, honestly. You seem to be expecting me to answer for a bunch of statements I haven’t made and don’t agree with.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              People are reading here who are seeing their businesses and life’s work wiped out. It’s not okay to tell them their work shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

              1. Fikly*

                People are reading here who are seeing their jobs that they’ve worked in for however long disappear because the companies they worked for didn’t prepare properly. It’s not ok to tell them it’s totally fine for the company’s to have no plan in place to prepare for a crisis.

            3. smoke tree*

              I mean, I work for a small arts organization, and while it takes longer than six weeks to sink us, we don’t have a basement full of cash to pull us through the possibility of months without reliable income. I suppose you could say many arts orgs and non-profits don’t deserve to exist, if that’s the rubric you’re using. (For what it’s worth, I also don’t have any problem with individuals receiving handouts from the government.)

        2. Pescadero*

          Laying off all the employees (or even firing them) in order to stay in business is completely within the bounds of the law.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Too many times I have seen the companies that cry, “What if they abuse x or y?” were the first companies to abuse their employees.
      I don’t see anything to indicate that this sounds like OP’s company. But it is a good thing to be aware of that people can connect these two dots together.

      Dealing with things in the moment is not only good advice for businesses but it’s good life advice also. I see a couple shingles come off of my roof, it’s better to find someone to replace the shingles than it is to wait and have to find someone to replace an entire roof/wall. Problems are so much easier to deal with in their infancy.

    5. Harper the Other One*

      I have been talking about this with my husband because we are in a very rare and lucky position. My work is already remote and is unaffected by COVID-19; his can be done from home and his income will not be affected. We have kids but they are handling school closures well and we are able to work without interruptions. And yet we will benefit from several of the initiatives in our country because they are blanket stimulus plans intended to get help to lots of people quickly.

      Are we the sort of people these programs are meant to help? No. Is it worth it to screen people like us, who are comparatively rare, if it means delaying assistance to the people in need? Also no. We will be making donations with the unexpected funds, and we’re also paying someone who provides services to our son while the closures are in place. But even if we kept every dollar, it’s STILL better to get the money in the hands of people in need.

      1. Gaia*

        Same. I’m frustrated that the stimulus will help me, someone completely financially neutral as a result of the pandemic. But I understand that any effort to screen me out would delay help to vulnerable populations. So I’ll just do what I can to redirect the funds to the intended areas and be grateful that for once I’m not in the target group and have the ability to do so.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I would not feel frustrated about getting a stimulus check. The stimulus is not entirely about helping in need, it is part of it, but it is about infusing cash into the economy. Part of the hope is that even people that didn’t lose their jobs will spend it at local businesses, online, in the market etc…

      2. Koala dreams*

        With a stimulus check, as long as you actually use it for something, it fullfills its purpose, no matter if you buy something for it or give it to someone who needs it more. Now, if you framed the check and put it on your wall, then it would be a shame, because then it doesn’t actually stimulate the economy.

    6. WorkingGirl*

      I’d argue that a system that allows 100% of sick people to get paid leave, and say, 5% of healthy people “taking advantage”- whether that’s dealing with mental health, caring for family, or whatever- is a far better system than one where 50% of sick people get paid leave and 0 healthy people “take advantage.”

    7. Jennifer*

      I totally agree. People are overly concerned about policies like this being abused. If a few people take advantage, so what? Most people who are using this truly need it.

      1. Quill*

        In general, anyone who’s going to “abuse” this policy is ALREADY pushing boundaries on other things to determine what they can get away with. People who are going to skive off work or skirt the line of their benefits aren’t going to just start because a new benefit is introduced.

  20. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    re 2, “(If he sends you work or you otherwise need to be responsive to him, that won’t work — but otherwise it’s your best option.)”

    I think actually LW2 should consider diverting ALL his emails to an ignorable folder, and ignoring them. Diligence would suggest a filter layer either (1) asking a trusted coworker for notification/forward of anything actually requiring reading eg new information, policies or provisions or (2) directing the email program to show only those emails directly to LW’s inbox and not those blasted to _All or _Location.

    If something gets missed, that’s because of the signal:noise ratio, and LW can calmly say she mistook it for the kind of joke/meme she is deliberately avoiding just now.

    It’s inappropriate for a C-level exec to spam you all with social media fluff in a work medium, especially disguised as real work, regardless of the precise subject matter. It would certainly give me doubts about the judgement and decision making of such an executive.

    1. EPLawyer*

      It’s coming from the COO, not Bob in accounting. She cannot say Oh I just ignored an email from the COO because I thought it was a joke. OP also clearly stated she needs the job and has no capital to spend on this. Someone with a lot of capital maybe might get away with just ignoring someone that high up. Newbie with no capital definitely cannot.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        If she’s that lowly, does she routinely receive direct instructions from the COO? I agree it’s a risk, but I think filters mitigate the risk. And at the moment there’s a risk to her productivity and wellbeing that needs to be addressed.

    2. James*

      I’ve done this before. A former CEO had a bad habit of emailing the whole company a few times a day. The stuff was sometimes interesting, but mostly irrelevant to my work. What do I care what some project in Sidney Australia is doing, especially if it’s in a completely different sector of the company? I mean, the CEO wasn’t a bad CEO, he just did things differently than I was used to.

      What I did was exactly what you said: I made a rule in Outlook that sent everything from the CEO into a separate folder. I checked once a day when I could, once a week at minimum. Never missed anything truly significant, as the important information was passed along through our managers anyway. Once I reached out to someone because of these emails (I had a skillset they needed), but never heard back.

  21. Sharikacat*

    LW#4, this becomes a regular issue in fast food places. Not that they openly discriminate in hiring, but that you have relatively young people in positions of authority. For a list of reasons, a significant number of fast food employees turn out to be young adults. Part of it is the self-perpetuating stigma (that fast food is for high schoolers and demeaning to an adult to work there, so the largest available applicant pool turns out to be young people). It’s a high-stress, low pay, low gratitude job, so turnover is a problem.

    This sometimes means that the responsible 20-something with evening availability becomes a shift leader. Responsible yet still naive to a lot of things- such as questions you can’t ask during a job interview. While they legally can’t weigh the candidate’s pregnancy when deciding whether to employee her, let’s not pretend it doesn’t happen. Difference being that other people know not to say that out loud.

    I think the interviewer might have welcome the feedback. He probably didn’t know what he had done was illegal and wouldn’t want to put himself in a bad position going forward.

    1. TimeCat*

      Also she said she wanted the job because she was pregnant and wanted money. And that she raised it herself. There 8s a difference in her pregnancy being a red flag and the way she answered that question being a red flag.

      The comment about management at fast food being terrible and is very accurate. When I worked fast food, my manager would show up high all the time, then sit in the back office and occasionally come out and scream at us about something.

  22. LGC*

    Hi, LW2! I’m from New Jersey, which means two things:

    1) My area is currently getting hit extremely hard by this epidemic
    2) I am extremely profane when I put my mind to it

    If you would like me to set your employers straight – possibly by showing them photos of the carnage at the community hospital in my town – I would be more than happy to assist in that.

    I can see some sort of joking – even here, we have a lot of people telling jokes about toilet paper and stuff (although those have slowed down a bit in lieu of Tiger King jokes lately), and honestly I cope with uncomfortable situations by telling jokes. But I also wouldn’t send all-staff emails about it because I at least make some attempts to maintain appropriate work boundaries. I normally try to avoid suggesting this, but…dude, honestly, bail, because when this hits your area – and it will – I can absolutely predict how your employer is going to react to it (“it’s like the flu!” “You’re not old, you’ll be fine!”)

    Apologies for vomiting all of that up but I’m pretty upset that people are still taking this not seriously.

  23. TimeCat*

    For the law student: this is something that’s going to happen a lot over the years. You’re going to see or overhear something and cringe. It’s sort of attractive to be a lawyer batman, swooping in, but it’s really not a good idea. Don’t go around giving unasked for legal advice. It’s murky ethically, for one. It’s unlikely to be well received (it comes across as a form of policing), and if it’s not your specialty area you could get over your head fast.

    Best way to help others with your law degree is to join your clinic or pro bono organization.

    1. Delta Delta*

      As an actual lawyer and professor of law, I did an audible sigh when I read the sentence starting “I’m in law school.” Great. Someone’s in law school. That does not make her a lawyer, and should make her aware that practicing law without authority is a great way to a) give incorrect advice and b) cause actual harm to the hearer of the advice, which can set her up for professional responsibility complaint(s) and/or future licensure issues.

      So here’s my advice to this person: you seem passionate about employment discrimination. That’s a great area of law to pursue. Use your opportunities to learn how it works and if it continues to be your interest, make that a focus of your future career.

      1. TimeCat*

        Yeah I don’t want to be alarmist but it is just a terrible idea from a legal ethics perspective.

    2. High School Teacher*

      Agreed. I found that question to be very paternalistic and almost a bit condescending? Like, the mentality of “let me help these poor people who don’t know their rights.” I would just stay out of it.

  24. Alias hidden for this*

    Oh man… I had a combination of 2 letters here- stalky “enamoured” flat mate. Police were sympathtic but couldn’t do anything about a flat mate stalker since there are very few physical boundaries, I had to move out and get my stuff later, with 2 friends… 10 years later it still haunts me. I had alarm bells ringing when I read that he called her after work, and the thing with primal urges worries me- LW3 knows the dude, but that would be the point for me to be ready to go to the police. Not sure how it works where LW lives, but in my case I was at least able give them a heads up about the situation, so if I contact them in the future they already have a record. Should I have had much firmer boundaries to start with? Probably yes, so I commend LW 3 for telling him no straight away. Should flatmate have not treated the real estate market for students and young profesionals as a hunting ground for his primal urges? Definitley yes, and that is the starting place for any shit that hit the fan later.

  25. Female automotive engineer*

    I never understood men like the one in letter 3. The woman told him no…multiple times. She’s obviously not interested or she would’ve said yes the first time. Wouldn’t he rather date someone who actually likes him??

    Question for men (or anyone): how would you want your date to describe you in a conversation with her friends?
    1. “I’m so excited to go out with Jack tonight, he seems like a really cool guy and he’s smart and I’m happy he asked me out!”
    2. “Yeah, I’m going out with Jack tonight. He just kept asking and asking and it was really awkward but I finally agreed to it because I felt bad for him.”

    I am a woman at a very male dominated company and have been in OP’s shoes a few times. Like her, I also try to be equally friendly to everyone but it’s really uncomfortable when it’s mistaken for flirting.

    1. TimeCat*

      I don’t think a guy like that actually cares what the woman in question thinks. He just wants his object.

      1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        He might care what she said to his friends, or her male friends or relatives (even guys who don’t comprehend that women can have male friends do know that many of us have brothers and fathers). He’s counting on/assuming that if he did pressure her into going out with him, she wouldn’t tell his friends that she doesn’t like him or want to be with him. “Hello, friend of Jack’s. I’d rather be home working on my taxes, but he doesn’t care that I don’t like him.”

        Though he’d probably spin that as “See, LW, that’s why I like you, such a sense of humor!” because we already know that he doesn’t believe that she means it.

        1. Uncompf*

          Here’s another detail I did not include in the original letter because of word count concerns:

          Jack recently (shortly before we closed due to COVID concerns) spoke with another male employee about the situation from his perspective. The other employee mentioned Jack’s hurt feelings to the GM, who in turn told him that Jack’s story left out some key details, namely how recent and repetitive Jack’s advances were. Apparently, Jack spun it so it seemed like this happened once a long time ago.

          This is how I know the cold shoulder treatment is upsetting Jack – because he’s telling his coworkers about it.

          1. Female automotive engineer*

            Wow. Jack sounds gross and immature. I’m sorry you have to deal with him.

          2. kt*

            “This is how I know the cold shoulder treatment is” seen by Jack as an obstacle to overcome by manipulating your coworkers into making you feel bad about being clear with your boundaries, so that you can be worn down into acquiescence to his wishes by peer pressure that isolates you from your colleagues’ support.


          3. Observer*

            Good heavens! Please document your head off – and put stuff like this in your log.

            Also, your other coworker is either a jerk or an idiot. He should absolutely NOT have gone to the GM about Jack’s “hurt feelings”.

          4. Camellia*

            “Jack recently (shortly before we closed due to COVID concerns) spoke with another male employee about the situation from his perspective. The other employee mentioned Jack’s hurt feelings to the GM…”

            This recent?? WHY HAS HE NOT BEEN FIRED????

            1. Camellia*

              “He” meaning Jack, not the employee who went to the GM. I’m glad he did, it’s keeping the GM involved, but again – why is Jack not fired yet?!?!?!?

          5. PVR*

            This is also escalating behavior. He is now not only manipulating you, but manipulating the situation around you. Please please please be careful.

    2. Fikly*

      He’s not interested in anything going on in a woman’s brain. That’s irrelevant to him.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        It’d probably be news to him if he were told that women *have* brains. He sounds like one of these guys who see women as vending machines. If you insert enough persistence and primal urges, sex should fall out. I don’t even know what he means by “mixed messages”, though. He keeps being told no. There’s nothing mixed about that. Unless he’s, again, one of those guys who think that women play hard to get? What a creep.

        1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

          Mixed messages = your “no” is curdling with my pantsfeelings. You need to add more “ok” to this peñis colada, woman!

    3. Scarlet*

      Well, take a look a romantic comedies for this answer. How many times in those cheesy hallmark movies does the man make a move over and over and over again, only to eventually win over the girl? Some guys have been lead to believe this is romantic, and what women want.

      Hell, I’m a woman and I thought it was romantic and would love it if it happened…. until it happened lol. I had to learn from actual life experience on that one. Perhaps this guy is the same way.

      1. EnfysNest*

        Yeeep. This stuff is all over our entertainment and it’s really not good in real life.

        (Spoiler: In real life, when you [me!] decide to “give the guy a chance” because he wrote you a love song and played it on his guitar in the movie theater parking lot under the full moon, despite having told him you’re not interested in dating anyone because you’re moving away in a few months… just results in two really awkward weeks leading to an awkward breakup and it all just confirm why you had originally wanted to make the decision not to date in the first place.)

        But our movies and TV shows give us all sorts of bad examples that absolutely 100% should not be replicated in real life – love at first sight, dating an employee, fake engagements, literally begging for a date, asking out your server at a restaurant, etc. etc.

        1. Junior Assistant Peon*

          A lot of guys like Jack don’t have any real-life experience, so everything they know about dating is from movies and TV. It’s pretty easy to mistake friendliness for interest when you have no baseline to know what interest looks like.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I cannot stand romcoms because of this. Took me years to figure out. I saw a movie on TV the year after we moved to the US (late 90s), which I then thought to be a wholesome coming-of-age comedy. I liked it so much that, 15 years later, I found it on DVD, bought the DVD, and watched it again with my then-SO. We both cringed through the whole movie. I had not realized it when I first saw it how overall creepy it was (though it does have its good moments, and those were the ones that stuck in my memory while I forgot the rest.) The movie, if anyone is curious, is Eight Days a Week. The one good scene is when the main character has a chat with what he’d thought was the crazy neighborhood lady and finds out that she’s really cool, fun, and very well-adjusted; and a few more similar scenes with his other neighbors. But the whole romantic plot is absolutely horrifying.

      3. annakarina1*

        It also doesn’t help when the guys in those movies are usually cute and way more charming and likable than the real-life guys who try this persistent attitude. It’s why James Marsden in 27 Dresses can get away with popping up everywhere that Katherine Heigl is and worming his way into her heart, but a guy who does this in real life would be told to fuck off or be blocked or get served with a restraining order.

        1. James*

          That’s probably another contributing factor. If he’s seen better-looking men have success with these tactics, he may (somewhat reasonably) assume that these tactics are acceptable. People are inconsistent in these matters; the same action can be viewed as creepy or endearing, depending on the recipient’s views of the person taking the action.

          Part of dating is finding someone who communicates affection in a way compatible with your way of doing so. It’s tricky and difficult, especially since it’s a topic our culture doesn’t allow us to discuss very well.

      4. James*

        Ugh. That and the notion that “If the man travels for work he doesn’t love his family and his wife should leave him” make romantic comedies painful for me to watch. They’re basically two hours of being told “You’re evil, you don’t love her enough, you deserve to die alone”. (Yeah, I’m exaggerating, but honestly, with some of them, not by much).

        1. KoiFeeder*

          Yeah, I get you. It’s turning out that there aren’t as many jobs where travel is mandatory (safety inspectors are still SOL) as I would’ve said there were just a few weeks earlier, but people still need to have a job to do things like “eat” and “have a house” and that sort of thing.

          (Although I may be coming at this from the wrong context- for a period of time, my dad had to do work trips to Disney and took his family with him, which was glorious.)

    4. James*

      Some guys view this as a negotiation. You have two different views; let’s try to find common ground. It works in most areas of life, after all.

      Some guys think they aren’t being given a fair chance. They think that if you date them, you’ll find that you really do like them. It’s a mere difference of opinion, which again happens all the time in most areas in life, so they apply those techniques to dating.

      Some guys get so infatuated they stop thinking. That can be really, really bad; I’ve helped a few women escape men like that (and I mean that in the literal sense: we kept the women separate from the man long enough for her to get away).

      As others have pointed out, this is exacerbated by many aspects of our society. Rom-Coms provide a very distorted view of what a healthy relationship is; so do sitcoms (on-again/off-again is a REALLY bad idea in real life).

      I was fortunate to have a lot of sisters. I grew up around women my age–not just my sisters, but their (often very attractive) friends. I never had a chance to learn to treat women as objects; they were just people. I’ve had a few women comment on the fact that I don’t talk to men and women differently in professional settings, which always surprised me; I never knew you COULD talk to men and women differently.

  26. Delta Delta*

    #2 – I actually think the most telling part of this letter is the fact that OP is constantly in fear of losing her job. Something tells me that between the weird tone set by the c suite and the culture of fear (apparently) this isn’t a great place to work for a whole lot of reasons.

      1. OP2*

        It was meant in the context of me being worried about being laid off due to coronavirus. I have so many friends and family who have lost their jobs because their workplaces are shut down. Right now, I’m essential, but I’m not essential-essential, and if they need to save money then I’m sure to be let go.

        1. Giant Squid*

          I’m sorry you’re worried OP, and I hate that you’re having to deal with this at a new job. I didn’t mean to derail with my original post–I was up late and in a weird mood.

          I hope things improve for you.

    1. Blueberry*

      This. I’m a bit mystified by the people in the comments deliberately ignoring this clue.

      1. James*

        Mostly because it’s not really useful information at this point in time. Most low-tier workers are worried about exactly this right now. My wife is, many of my friends are, some of my colleagues are. Most of these people work in well-run companies, but if the company gets shut down they can’t afford to pay workers. And folks low in the hierarchy generally have little to no political capital by the nature of their jobs. That being the case, the statement doesn’t offer any insights into the workplace–not beyond “LW is working during a pandemic”, which we already know.

        At least for me, it fell under the heading “Reasons these jokes are offensive” rather than “Reasons this workplace is generally problematic”.

        1. Blueberry*

          Yeah, but you seem to be bending over backwards to say that because we do not have a signed affidavit from the COO saying “I like being terrible to people and I wax my evil moustache daily!” that it’s impossible that the LW has reason or right to be upset.

          I know you’re going to cite logic, but the thing is, logic is a system, and can be constructed to give whatever results one wants by including and excluding operations and/or particular pieces of information.

      2. OP2*

        It was meant in the context of me being worried about being laid off due to coronavirus. I have so many friends and family who have lost their jobs because their workplaces are shut down. Right now, I’m essential, but I’m not essential-essential, and if they need to save money then I’m sure to be let go.

    2. OP2*

      It was meant in the context of me being worried about being laid off due to coronavirus. I have so many friends and family who have lost their jobs because their workplaces are shut down. Right now, I’m essential, but I’m not essential-essential, and if they need to save money then I’m sure to be let go.

  27. Damn it, Hardison!*

    LW#3, you have handled the situation beautifully. Jack is the one making this awkward, and you should not feel that any of this is because of something you did or didn’t do. I don’t have anything to add to the good advice that other have posted, but wanted to add my voice to those telling you that you are doing great and wishing you the best.

    1. revueller*

      Came here to say exactly this. I realize, OP, that you feel like you’re the primary instigator because you have to freeze out Jack. “I feel like I can’t look him in the eye without him reading into my response as attraction,” as you said.

      Jack is actually the person who made this about him. You truly have nothing to be embarrassed about. He can control himself, but he’s choosing not to, and now he has to deal with the consequences.

  28. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    Covid related memes? Yes. My mobile is full of them, but I come from a nation that’s used to major crisis every 10-ish years, so gallows humor is second nature.
    Covid related jokes in corporate email? Hell no!

  29. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    (Long rambling story) I had a Jack in my first job, in the home country eons ago. I was 22 in my first job out of college. I worked on a 15-person team with maybe half the people on the team being men, our boss was 40, everyone else (except for one, older man) was in their early 30s and had been working on that team together for 10+ years. He was 19 and his both parents worked at the same place in upper management positions. Mind you, I had a serious boyfriend (who is now the ex-husband and father of my kids) and we were waiting for him to graduate, move in with me, and get married. Everyone at work knew about it, including Jack. Didn’t matter. Jack kept hitting on me and not taking no for an answer for the entire two years that it took for my future husband to finish school and to move to my town. Like I said, it was eons ago and in a work culture that was a lot more sexist and less professional than one in the US today. Nonetheless. *Everyone* on my team was on my side and had my back at all times. We had a company holiday party the first year I worked there and the guys on my team told me not to worry, they would watch Jack and make sure he wouldn’t be any trouble – and he wasn’t. Only person on my team who kept taking Jack’s side and shaming me for telling Jack no was the one older man. There’s always one. No one listened to him or took him seriously anyway. I’ve got to say that Jack evolved and grew more professional as the time passed (probably under the influence of my teammates), eventually he got over his crush, became friends with my husband, got married himself, had a child. His mom approached me on the street a few weeks before we left for the US, asking if we could give our children’s crib to Jack before we left. So in the end, Jack’s children and my children ended up sharing the same crib, lol (Obviously not at the same time or in the same place, but I still think it’s a cute touch.) OP’s Jack is a lot worse than my Jack though. My Jack never mentioned “primal urges” or “mixed messages”! I am so glad that OP’s manager is supporting OP so strongly in this, and that Jack is in real danger of losing his job over his antics (as he should be). I think it really helped my Jack situation to stay under control that my teammates and my boss were all supporting me in that situation, and Jack knew it.

    1. valentine*

      By continually hitting on you, Jack was a problem. Your husband shouldn’t have befriended him, which kept him in your orbit, and his Jack’s mom (did she not know about the harassment?) was out of line.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I meant, we all became friends and Jack became the family friend. The whole crush thing went away like it’d never happened. Guess Jack grew up!

  30. Scarlet*

    For OP #1 – Let’s imagine your employee is faking it this time, and you let him have the two weeks off. Then, a month down the road, he actually does get coronavirus – how awful that would be for him to not have the sick time to use.

    Perhaps you could pitch this potential scenario to him and see if that changes anything.

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      OP could try that, my sense from the letter is not that OP thinks the employee is outright faking it, but rather the employee genuinely thinks they have the virus even if they don’t.

  31. Tom78Palomino*

    Regarding #2, the COO sending emails with jokes about the virus. I had a similar experience. At my job there is a group email account that is used to communicate IT related stuff. I’m not IT, but was included in the list since sometimes information I need to know is emailed.

    One time a person sent an email out with information regarding training. Someone replied back stating the benefits of a lesson on the bible and how beneficial it was and that the information never went out of date. I was so mad I saw red.

    I sent a REPLY ALL email back, it said “I would appreciate it if we kept what is supposed to be work emails, work related.” Immediately I received several emails from folks saying “Thank You!” and the sender sent a reply all email back apologizing.

    OP, you should email the COO, tell him you are trying to concentrate on work and would prefer not to receive emails that are not related to work.

  32. Student*

    2: An effective and mostly bullet-proof way out of these emails, below. If it’s not an option available to you yet, unfortunately, it will be very soon.
    Reply to all:
    “My relative/friend is dead/hospitalized/quarantined with COVID19. As you can imagine, I’m in mourning/shocked/very worried for them. Please take me off the COVID19 joke email distro immediately. Since it’s so close to home for me, I find it disruptive to my work and can’t enjoy them in the spirit you undoubtedly intended. Thanks.”

    Had my first acquaintance die of it this weekend. Had a relative get quarantined almost 2 weeks ago. At this point, you probably know somebody – ask around. By the end of next week, you certainly will.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I’m sorry for your loss. I hope it is your last.

      Unfortunately some people think it’s not real until it’s on the doorstep – or literally through the door.

  33. Observer*

    #1 – Is your guy a slacker or a hypochondriac? If the former, then you need to start managing him. Not just in terms of the sick time he takes, but in general.

    If, on the other hand, he really is a hypochondriac, you need to drop the bit about him trying to game the system. That doesn’t mean that you can’t start managing him better, but it changes how you approach it. Because if he really is a hypochondriac and you treat him like a slacker who is trying to game the system it’s likely to backfire on you in a lot of ways. Instead be empathetic, but also be clear about what you need from him. You need to be more direct than you have been. From what you say this is not close to being just a matter of perception, but of his actually not being present as much as you actually need him to be. That is what you need to focus on.

    It will be harder to ramp this up and you’re not going to be able to challenge him on the Covid19 leave, in all probability. Given that he is able to work remotely, though, he probably won’t be able to get leave without claiming more significant symptoms. And, to be honest, at this point this is not your biggest problem. So, bite the bullet on this, but take this as a sign that you need to start managing him a bit more strongly.

    And, having a chat with your lawyer on how to handle this is probably a good idea.

  34. MissDisplaced*

    1. What if our employee abuses the new paid sick leave law?
    Unfortunately with this employee you will have to pay the sick leave if they think (even wrongly) they are sick. All you can try to do is keep encouraging the WFH though.

    2. Our COO sends non-stop jokes about coronavirus
    Maybe I’m stupid (or brave) but I would have no problem replying to the COO directly and saying something like.
    “Covid-19 is really not a subject to joke about any longer. Can you refrain from sending these to the entire company?” or “Constant jokes about Covid-19 are no longer funny.” or something of the like. But it depends on where you stand I know.

    3. My coworker won’t stop declaring his feelings for me
    I’m so sorry Jack is being this way. Ugh! The problem is HIS not yours. Know you did nothing wrong.

    4. I overheard discrimination in a job interview
    I don’t know there was anything you could’ve done in the moment here.
    However, I would be tempted to write to the company in question (addressed to HR) and identify the store location and describe what you overhead. Obviously, you don’t know names and are not bringing a case, but telling the company about this behavior means that they do need to conduct additional training with their store managers about interviewing and potentially discriminatory hiring practices.
    [For the record, I don’t think this sounded intentionally discriminatory on the part of the store manager (there is nothing inappropriate asking someone why they want the job), but more like they were uninformed on how to respond.]

  35. Observer*

    #3- I’m going to add one thing to Allison’s advice. If he calls you after hours make a note of it, but do NOT talk to him. If he calls you from a different number to get you to talk to hum, HANG UP ON HIM, and make a record of the fact that he tried to trick you into talking to him. Then take it to your boss. (Also, put together a detailed log of all of the events so that if, or when, he gets fired and tries to sue the organization over this you have a clear accounting of what happened. Yes, including the details of that really awkward after work conversation.)

    You don’t need to be close to her, for her to fire him over this. At best, he’s being an entitled and juvenile jerk.

    1. blackcatlady*

      Second the motion – DOCUMENT every single interaction. Keep emails in separate folder. Keep a record of all phone calls. If Jack continues to be inappropriate (!!??***) and is not fired go to a lawyer or police or both. This is harassment.

  36. Batgirl*

    I’m confused by OP1s concern that their employee is ‘a hypochondriac’. In normal times it would be annoying to have someone overestimate mild symptoms ..but everyone is being asked to do just that right now.
    Then further down the letter the OP seems to imply that the absences are planned deliberately to ‘not work and get paid’ rather than involuntary anxiety (which is still a health condition, just not a physical one.)
    But if the employee were the sort to skive off work, surely there would be other performance issues to address instead?
    Honestly, it seems like the OP couldn’t possibly know the true status of their employees’ health and just has to err on the side of caution that it could be coronavirus.
    Looking at the employee’s overall reliability and pattern of absences is for another day. For the time being, don’t penalise someone for being overly cautious/anxious in a crisis. Especially when you don’t even know that’s the case.

  37. Coverage Associate*

    For #1, first, my employment law friends have been working so hard since this started, and a lot of that is preparing guides for all their clients, even for the public parts of the firm website. So this could be a very inexpensive consultation.

    Second, does the law require 2 weeks leave at the first report of symptoms, or is it up to 2 weeks? I get that the employer can’t require a diagnosis because of problems with testing, but it sounds like seeking medical advice is a requirement. So, couldn’t the employer approve leave in increments? An initial couple days to get in touch with a doctor, then whatever the doctor recommends? My work health insurance waived copays for telemedicine for this. I get that the employer may have to accept “telemedicine is not an option. My doctor’s office won’t see me. They said that the safest thing is just to stay home,” but the employer can at least require that conversation, it seems.

  38. Arctic*

    Getting tons of joke emails at work is always annoying. But there is nothing offensive about those jokes. These are just joking about the reality of life right now. They aren’t even dark humor.

    I’ve seen some pretty offensive and disgusting jokes out there about Covid-19. Some things, like politicians suggesting grandparents should die for the economy, I wish were jokes but nonetheless disgusting. Joking about travel plans just isn’t.

    1. Batgirl*

      I agree that these jokes don’t really qualify as gallows humour or sick jokes. I’ve seen these jokes in a (small scale) social context and wasn’t offended.
      However I think it’s a combination of privilege plus inescapability that’s irking the OP. A rich(er) dude is essentially saying to quite a diverse audience “My house and lifestyle are so safe I can joke about them” and “This is all I have to worry about”.
      Plus there are lots of people who don’t want to discuss Coronavirus at all, but can’t opt out because it’s the boss.
      Yet another example of something that can be fine socially, yet inappropriate for work and definitely inappropriate if your power level excludes pushback or opt outs.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      They’re just poorly timed and executed it sounds like the COO probably also tells “dad jokes” and laughs at every one.

      These are meme’s that my elderly family members are sharing on Facebook every day. They really are taking the virus seriously, self isolating and all that but it’s their way of being all “Ha ha a fort of toilet paper though.”

      1. Fikly*

        They’re not just poorly timed. As soon as they were hidden as work emails with important information, they became nonconsensual.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Oh please, you’re going over the top on that one. Stop the over reaching, you’re going to pull something.

          1. Fikly*

            So, you’re ok with getting an email with a subject line from the CEO that makes it look mandatory to read, but contains sexually explicit jokes? Or jokes about murder? Or racist jokes?

            Because that’s what is happening here.

          2. Kiwi with laser beams*

            OK, swap the big, scary, serious-sounding word for something like “bait and switch”. The fact remains that the COO is making it look like important work information, which makes it harder for the workers to filter out, and that adds another layer of crappiness to it.

    3. Fikly*

      Being tricked into reading jokes that are triggering for someone’s mental health is offensive. You not finding the joke offensive does not mean they are not, and are not horrifying for some people. Some people, for example, are now trapped at home, quarantined with their abusers.

      By disgusing them as important work emails, this person is taking away people’s ability to consent to being exposed to those jokes. That’s horrifying and abusive.

  39. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope*

    Oof, OP3, I have been right where you are. At my last job I felt like I went through a sudden period of intense beauty or something, because I had two guys do this to me within my first few months on the job (one actually got fired because it turned out he was hitting on every woman he came in contact with – it was his second week on the job).

    I had one guy that kept sending me messages on Facebook and Instagram, even after he got fired for other reasons. I felt like a jerk, but I just ignored him. They weren’t all outward but it was obvious he was trying to be flirty. When I saw him in the building, I’d be extremely brief – nod hello and otherwise go silent. It was SUPER awkward but he brought it on himself. I think that’s an important takeaway – you’re being awkward BECAUSE of his behavior.

  40. AnxietyandBlood*

    Op1: I’m not generally a hypochondriac but I am currently made of anxiety and 100% convinced this is the end times and we are all going to die. You can’t claim to to know his mental state right now. Let him do what he needs because soon, it won’t matter anymore.

  41. Sharon*

    For letter #5, you absolutely can end the interview at any time, for any reason. I once answered an ad for a “financial analyst” role. When I went to the interview, it was a guy trying to recruit people to his MLM scheme. I just said, “Sorry, this isn’t for me” and left.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      When I look for jobs, I look for ones that do not require 24/7 on-call support. I ended one phone interview halfway through, because the job suddenly turned out to have on-call responsibilities – none of it had been mentioned in the job ad or during my HR screen. I apologized for wasting their time and wished them the best in their search. Back when I *was* in an on-call job and was looking to get away from it, I had an interview that ended five minutes in. The hiring manager asked why I was looking, I told him “to get away from on-call”, and he said “then you’ve come to the wrong place” and ended the interview right there. (It was set up by a recruiter, in the recruiter’s office that we both had to drive to – the recruiter had left those details out when talking to both of us apparently.) Parted on good terms both times! (And never worked with that recruiter again.) My son walked out of an MLM recruiting “interview” last year; his was for a “sales” role. They had like 40 more people at the interview though, so I assume they continued with it after he left (blech).

    2. OP#5*

      I’m the OP of #5. The position was for a teaching job for high school mathematics, so it’s not exactly the type of job the principal would have known other contacts for, since teachers don’t network the same way let’s say, someone in finance or IT might. Also, I’m almost positive that after I walked out of the interview, my former roommate had a mouthful to say about me, so I’m pretty sure they had a negative view of me from what she had to say and wouldn’t have kept in contact with me based on that.

  42. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Your COO needs to keep these memes on Facebook where they begin and should stay. I’ve seen both of those numerous times there.

    RE: “Abuse of sick time”, I’m going to tell you what I’ve told my managers who are worried about this. It’s not up to us to diagnose people. Hypochondria can actually be debilitating given it’s effects on a human’s mind and can manifest into a lot of things.

    If this is effecting their job, you need to address that. If you’re only mad because now you have to pay for it, that’s a different story. Every system gets a minor amount of abuse. It’s up to you to know if you want to pay for it or not, it’s another reason to think to let someone go if they’re simply not living up to your standards. But leave the sick pay and the laws out of it, the laws are there to protect the majority who only use it for what it’s for!

  43. Employment Lawyer*

    1. What if our employee abuses the new paid sick leave law?
    Probably nothing you can do. There will definitely be abuse but the government has decided that you’ll have to carry the cost. So be it.

    If you’re really worried you can fire them, so long as you are careful not to do so in connection with any protected conduct, but it sounds like that is a risk based on past issues, so I’d use a lawyer.

    3. My coworker won’t stop declaring his feelings for me
    Sounds like he’ll stop soon, right? This is low-level bad action on his end which doesn’t require immediate firing, and the business is handling it properly.
    This: “The general manager, with whom I am quite close, knows all of this. She all but told Jack if she hears any more of his crush on me, he’ll be let go.” is a textbook response.

    All he needs to do is to stop. That is not a hard request. If he gets fired, that’s on him, not you.

    5. Could I excuse myself from an interview after realizing a jerky acquaintance worked there?
    If it’s only an hour, suck it up and stay.
    If it’s a whole day, use the first half-hour politely and then explain that you think this is not a good fit, thank them for their time, and politely leave.

    1. Fikly*

      Um, say what now? What indication is there that this guy will stop soon? How is sexual harrassment when he has been told repeatedly to stop something low-level that does not require immediate firing?

      How is the business handling it properly by not directly telling him he will be fired if this behavior does not stop? This guy is continuing his behavior (and escalating it!) after repeated direct nos. So “all but telling him” is not telling him anything at all.

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        What indication is there that this guy will stop soon?

        Did I misread? I am seeing this post as the manager saying “stop or get fired,” which is precisely what they are supposed to do unless it’s a “fire immediately” kind of thing. To the degree there’s any holdup, i read the post to imply that the holdup is coming from the employee victim. So it will stop one way or the other–either because he stops or because he leaves.

        “How is sexual harassment when he has been told repeatedly to stop something low-level that does not require immediate firing?”

        Most obviously, even if he WAS “told to stop” it does not involve fear of physical harm, physical contact, quid pro quo, force, nudity, significant amounts of objectively offensive conduct, etc. It isn’t good by any means, but it’s quite low-level as these things go. Trust me most of these are a lot worse.

        Also, you summarize this as “sexual harassment when he has been told repeatedly to stop.” But factually, at the trial level, your “told to stop” includes things like ““I don’t have the time, I’m always working here!” and “I think it’s best that we remain work friends, not outside-of-work friends.”

        Are those actually how requests to stop work, as used by normal people? Yup. Normal people do not speak legalese. But are they winnable? Nope. A random juror is VERY unlikely to qualify those things as “told to stop”, much less “harassment,” once a competent defense is raised.

        1. Fikly*

          Someone being told to stop a behavior is not an indication that they will stop a behavior. This guy is, in fact, escalating.

          Something doesn’t have to come to the level of a lawsuit to be a fireable offense. Sexual harrasser is not a protected class. And for all we know, this is an at-will state.

          How many times does someone have to be sexually harassed for doing nothing more than their job before, in your mind, it’s gone beyond “low-level?” Gross.

    2. Wintermute*

      If you’re an employment lawyer then surely you realize that several months (judging by the number of “a couple of weeks later” statements in the post) multiple calls to her outside the workplace, and repeated requests for him to stop are all indica of “pervasive conduct”, which is one threshold for legally impermissible sexual harassment and a hostile workplace.

      In addition depending on the content of the “primal urges” conversation, that could very well qualify as a “severe” event which would not require it to be pervasive or long-standing.

      You’re way off the mark on this one. If there is such a thing as “low-level” then it is firmly limited to those “can’t really prove intent” kinds of compliments and plausibly deniable actions. This is not low-level in fact it is textbook harassment. She has done everything right, he’s done everything wrong: his conduct is clearly unwanted, a reasonable person should realize it is unwanted, and he has been directly told to stop and refused– all of that points to the fact this is rapidly sailing into already squarely in hostile workplace waters, if it’s not there already. They should have already fired him, frankly, and still requiring them to interact with one another is NOT handling it “appropriately”, if he’s not fired he should at least not be in a role where they interact whatsoever.

      That said, you are correct that one more comment, of ANY kind, even approaching the shadow of the line and she needs to go to the boss, and he should absolutely be fired, and it will be no one’s fault but his own.

    3. Rectilinear Propagation*

      I feel like you don’t appreciate the threat being made with “primal urges”. Dude who won’t leave her alone implied that he can’t control himself. That is not low level and there’s no reason to believe he’ll stop now.

    4. Observer*

      “Low level”? Really? It was BAD to start with. But the minute he called her after hours and tried to put his “primal urges” on her, it went to defcon 10.

      This is actually very odd coming from a lawyer. Most lawyers will tell their clients to stop behavior like this IMMEDIATELY because it’s much safer from the legal point of view. And it’s a good idea, because there is absolutely no legal or moral reason NOT to. Even to the point of firing. In the US, at least, you generally can easily fire someone for this kind of behavior.

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        Well, we’re talking sexual harassment here, so pretty much everything is in this range south of forcible rape. Phone calls and pushiness by a coworkers with no result is low-level in a relative sense. Remember, this is a field where plenty of people are basically forced to sleep with the boss to keep their job.

        A lot of people here seem to be imagining that an employment lawyer is supposed to automatically assume everything the victim says is 100% correct and also make every assumption 100% in their favor. But that’s not what we do. Not everything unpleasant or unwanted is illegal!

        Sure, if I was representing the employer (which I don’t actually do as part of my work) I’d be saying ‘fire him”. Quick to fire, slow to hire, and all that. (And cynically, I suspect you’d all be yelling at me then, too, which usually happens when I say “fire away”, because people also seem to think a job is some sort of right.)

        But here I’m answering a question asked by an employee. Whaddya want, a lie? This would be a marginal case.

        You can all avoid that if you want. I’m probably risking getting tagged again for “blame the victim” here, but if you want to sustain a legal claim it really helps to be blunt and clear. Politeness is the death of many a lawsuit.

        As they say: “No” means “No;” and “do not ever call or text me me again or I will report you” means just what it says. But “I’ll be busy every night in 2019 and unable to see you, not sure what I’m doing but I’ll be busy” does not mean “No” much less “never call me again”, at least not in a lawsuit with a competent defense attorney. Nor do most of the other polite ways to say “no.” Not even if the speaker is thinking that or intending it.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’m not sure why there’s so much shock coming from the crowd that a lawyer doesn’t see much of a case here.

        This dude is SKEEVY AF and I’d fire him if he worked for us because just no, I don’t play with it.

        But in reality, the case is very shaky. As described above by Employment Lawyer. There’s no “Stop. I said no.” involved. There’s just weird gross advancements and stupid sayings like primal urges.

        But you need a LOT to prosecute sexual harassment. Look at the JUDGES who have credible charges against them that are let to go on the bench for a life term. Look at the politicians.

        And if you leave the “VIP” status out of it, how often do you see actual assaults get thrown out because of lack of evidence. I know of one story where a woman was sued and destroyed for “slander” because she couldn’t prove that she was actually harassed by supervisors and they said she ruined their reputatins by dragging them to court.

        You have to be careful with what you assume will actually be a court case, let alone win the case. It’s left up to humans to make these decisions. Many humans who are vile like the OPs coworker who would be all “Well what were you wearing, why didnt you tell them no, why did you make excuses and give him hope?”

        It’s gross. The system sucks. But there’s no case.

        1. Fikly*

          I mean, sure, it might not rise to something you can prosecute, but employement lawyer is saying it’s not a fireable offense, which um, no, it’s totally something you can be fired over. Sexual harrasser is not a protected class.

          1. Employment Lawyer*


            Of course they COULD fire him. I have a relatively low tolerance for BS and if I represented employers (which I don’t) he’d be gone.

            The question is really whether they HAVE TO fire him, which they don’t. There’s plenty of conduct where they call a lawyer and the response is “that person needs to be gone by lunch.” This conduct is much more minimal: The employer is well within its rights to give him a final warning.

    5. OP#5*

      I’m almost positive my former roommate talked sh*t about me after I left the interview, so it was a definite “no”, I was never getting hired for this position, nor did I want the job after seeing her there. It was about 2-3 hours.

  44. Jaybeetee*

    LW3: I also had a Jack over 10 years ago at my uni job. Part of the issue is our phone numbers were all posted on a list for the purposes of shift-switching and such (didn’t occur to any of us 20 year olds that could be a problem!) Soooo he had my number before we even physically met, and he called me about switching a shift.

    Later on we did work directly together, and I was friendly with him (and, uh, casually dating someone else at the same workplace). Turns out he was of a culture where it was mostly unacceptable to talk to other genders socially, so I was nearly the only female human he spoke to outside his family. He developed the creepiest friggen crush. He literally proposed. Not asked me on a date. Said he was in love and wanted to marry me. That his family was rich, we could move to his home country and I wouldn’t have to work. Interspersed with comments about how I needed to lose weight and he needed a “quiet” wife. Yikes.

    Anyway, while I consistently told him no, I was an idiot and never got really firm about it, not ever reported him. One day my cell phone actually died while I was trying to get him off the phone, and it was the best thing that could have happened. He completely froze me out and didn’t speak to me again the rest of the time I worked there.

    LW, don’t be me. Keep your manager in the loop, don’t pick up if he calls after hours. He might manufacture work-related reasons he absolutely needs to talk to you. Keep your manager in the loop, don’t take the bait. You deserve to be able to go to work every day and not have to worry about things like this. What he’s doing is wrong and out of bounds.

  45. Blueberry*

    LW#4, since your letter came up with some that’ll have a lot of reactions, I wanted to comment to you and thank you for caring and not wanting to see injustice go by. Since you’re still a law student you don’t have the full toolbox needed to combat it yet, but I wanted to encourage you (as a random Internet fruit) to maintain this drive towards justice for when you are a full-fledged lawyer. I predict you’re going to do a lot of good.

  46. What the What*

    I had a Jack in college. I thought we were friends, and enjoyed our friendship. When he asked me out on a date, I declined. And then it got weird. I thought we could just return to being friendly, but if I was so much as polite to him, he would ask me out again, and then accuse me of sending mixed messages. So I became cold. He asked why I wasn’t his friend anymore, to which I replied that we couldn’t be friends because he kept asking me out. He then lamented that no girl ever wanted to date him even though he was so nice, and maybe he should just kill himself. I told him I hoped he wouldn’t do that, (and so that I wasn’t sending mixed messages) but I did not like him or want to date him.

    He then wrote a 5 page letter and sent it to my address, detailing everything wrong with me and everything right about him. Saying I would regret not dating him, and that he drove past my apartment every day. There wasn’t an overt threat in the letter, but I was both annoyed and concerned about it.
    I told a mutual friend about the letter and weird behavior and told her to warn me if he was going to be at any social gatherings, so I could avoid going.

    Later, she told me that she talked to him and the letter was no big deal. She said he had told all of our mutual friends that we had slept together and broken up and that I was being a really mean B—. I told her, “But you know that’s not true.” She said, “I believe you, but most of our other friends believe him, but think he’s kind of helpless and pathetic, so you should probably just be nicer to him, because everyone thinks you’re in the wrong for sleeping with him and then turning cold.”

    The entire thing was incredibly confusing and disappointing. Life moved on, and I made new friends, but the whole situation made me afraid to be “too nice” to a man, lest I send mixed signals. It also made it a lot harder to trust new friends – I was worried that male friends were just looking to sleep with me, and I was worried that female friends couldn’t be trusted to have my back. I also never let a man down gently after that. He was not the last guy to call me a cold B—–.

    1. Blueberry*

      UGH, I am supremely sorry your group of friends treated you so badly. I hope they all regret it.

  47. Koala dreams*

    #1 The current pandemic and the lack of health care resources means that many people will have to call in sick without having the corona virus. It’s just impossible to test everyone with symptoms, and so we as a society have decided to rather have people with symptoms stay at home, and not risk them going to work and spread the corona virus. (Or for that matter, go to the waiting room in the hospital and spread it to people there.) Maybe they have the common flu, the common cold, or, as in this example, a totally unrelated illness that doesn’t even spread to co-workers. If you can see it as doing something good for society, instead on focusing on the history with this one person, maybe it gets easier for you.

  48. HoneyBadger*

    OP #3, I deal with these types of situations between college students. I had a student who treated one of his peers like this last year–he told her he had feelings for her, and when she politely explained that she didn’t feel the same, continuously insisted that they needed to “discuss” or “resolve” the situation, when, from her point of view, everything was resolved. I’m seriously wondering if this is the exact same person (long shot, but the timing lines up)…In any case, continue to report his communications with you to your supervisor, and don’t feel a bit guilty! People like this know exactly what they’re doing, although they may pretend otherwise.

Comments are closed.