my awful coworker put us through something traumatic and now she’s coming back to work

Note: Contains mention of a suicide threat.

A reader writes:

I have been with my current job now for 10 years. It is a very professional and corporate setting. Approximately six years ago, Sansa was hired on. Sansa was very crude and what she herself would call an HR nightmare. She would openly make inappropriate comments in meetings and laugh at how funny she thought she was. The managers had a few conversations with her over the years, asking her to tone it down, but she never did. They mostly rolled their eyes and would say, “Oh, that’s just Sansa.”

She never treated work as work. It was a place for her to socialize. She treated all of her coworkers as BFFs instead of coworkers. She would put in 20 minutes of work and then explain to everyone how much work she’s done and then would go for a smoke break and then come sit at a random coworker’s desk to discuss her plans for that evening. At one point, we started keeping track of how many smoke breaks she went on. Her record was 14 times in an eight-hour shift. There were days I believed she was coming to work intoxicated, which I also shared with managers. Their response at the time was, “No, Sansa would never do that.”

There would be days she would leave for her lunch break and just never come back. Her attendance slowly got worse and worse until she was calling in sick at least three or four days a week with various excuses such as migraines, a friend passed away, her dog passed away (which wasn’t true as he is still alive and well), and various other issues. Her behavior on most days was inexcusable. She completely stopped doing the work that was assigned to her, which usually then ended up being placed on my plate, resulting in me working two to three hours of overtime each day to get everything completed. She never once thanked me for constantly picking up her slack. At one point, she took five months off for stress leave. We all hoped once she got back her behavior would improve … It did not.

One evening (approximately two months after she was back from leave), I got home from dinner with friends and saw I had 16 missed calls on my phone from Sansa. Right at that point, she called again. I shouldn’t have answered, but I did.

When I picked up the call, I could hear her sobbing. She was clearly very intoxicated. She told me she had spent the last week at home getting drunk but had told work she had food poisoning and not tell our boss. She then said she had tried to kill herself the week earlier, and was going to try again that night. The whole call, she was hysterical and shouting. She said she had a sickness and couldn’t help herself and can’t stop. I was not sure what to say.. I was not expecting this type of a call from a coworker who I was not even remotely close with. She suddenly said that she was going to call her parents and then hung up on me. I spent that entire night wide awake, crying and worrying that I could get to work the next day to have my boss tell me she did what she was threatening to do.

The next day, I found out she called seven different people on our team with the same threat. Once the managers found out about this, they called the police for a welfare check. They found her sitting at home, fine, watching TV. Work told her she needed to go to rehab or she would be terminated.

She has now been in rehab for the last three months. Her return to work is currently being planned out and she is back on the schedule in a few weeks. This makes me very anxious.

What I want to know is how I can ensure these lines don’t get crossed again. We all feel like she will come back and act like nothing happened, as she did with all of her previous episodes I am afraid she will come back and start acting like we are all her best friends again (I can’t press this enough, we were NOT close EVER). I want nothing to do with her. I do not want to speak to her. I know I sound awful for saying that, but I 100% feel like she crossed a line.

I grew up in a extremely alcoholic household. Both parents would get black out drunk on a daily basis. I am unable to sympathize with people who say they can’t help themselves because alcoholism is a disease. This is a trigger for me. I was diagnosed with a anxiety disorder when I was 16 and have had to work very hard since then to ensure I keep it in check. It is something I work on daily.

I am furious she called me and dumped all of this on me and my coworkers (who also were very disturbed by the calls). I spent several weeks trying to get over hearing those words (as my mother used to make calls like that to me all the time) and ended up needing to take a week off work to try and collect myself. I also ended up having to up my dose of anxiety medications in the weeks following the incident because I was a mess.

What is the best way to tell her that I need her to treat our relationship more professionally as we are not friends? I am afraid telling her we are not friends and that she needs to stay at her desk will trigger another episode from her. I don’t want to trigger her in any way, but I cannot have her crossing this line again. Seeing her name on the schedule again made me feel my stomach up in my throat. I have spoken to management about this, but I do not know how seriously they are taking this, as her behavior has been occurring for the entire duration of her employment here without any consequences, despite many complaints from other people on the team.

Or am I completely blowing this out of proportion and just being an awful person?

You are not being an awful person.

That call would have been incredibly disturbing for anyone to get, and so much more so for someone with your history.

I don’t want to discount the possibility that Sansa genuinely was feeling suicidal — we can’t know either way — but you’re entitled to want to remove yourself from this situation.

Frankly, it’s your employer that’s failing everyone here. They’re failing you and your coworkers by allowing Sansa to be disruptive and unreliable for so long, and for allowing you to get stuck with the burden of her work. They’ve also been failing Sansa by allowing her to behave like this for six years, which has allowed her to think her behavior is acceptable (because it’s been accepted) and by looking the other way while her behavior become more and more troubling (and troubled).

I hope they aren’t gearing up to fail everyone again.

You do have control over some pieces of this, though:

1. Block Sansa’s number on your phone. If she needs to reach you, she can do it through work channels. You’re not obligated to take after-hours calls from her, and it’s not callous not to want to risk a repeat of the previous one.

2. Set new boundaries with her early. When she returns to work, you do need to be polite and professional with her; you can’t refuse to speak with her about work things or freeze her out. But if she comes to sit down at your desk to chat, you’re busy and can’t talk. If she approaches you as a BFF rather than a colleague, you’re busy and can’t talk.

At some point you may end up needing to say more directly, “I will need some time before I can think about resuming a social relationship, and I hope you will respect that” or “I’m happy you took the time away from work to get healthy, but I’m not in a place where I can resume a social relationship.” Or even, “I’m glad you’re doing better, but I found a lot of your behavior last year upsetting, and I’d prefer to keep our relationship focused on work.”

3. Stop picking up her slack. If she stops doing her work again, let it go undone; don’t step in to pick it up, especially not if it means working overtime. You probably pitched in when her work wasn’t done because you’re conscientious — but by doing that, you made it easier for her manager to ignore the problem. Your management needs to feel the full weight of the problem, which means you shouldn’t go out of your way to mitigate it.

4. Give the whole situation as little attention and energy as you can. It’s natural to be aggravated by someone who’s behaving like she did, but when you start dwelling on it and doing things like tracking how many smoke breaks someone is taking, you’re making it even worse for yourself by letting it take up more space in your brain. I get why you and your coworkers did that — it’s infuriating, and sometimes you’re looking for confirmation that what you’re seeing is really as bad as you think — but this time around, resist the impulse. The less you dwell on any aggravations Sansa causes this time, the less she will impact you.

It’s also entirely reasonable for you and your coworkers to insist that your management tell you how they plan to manage the situation when she returns so it doesn’t devolve into what it was last time. It sounds like they were finally shaken out of their extreme negligence last time (thus their insistence that she go to rehab), and so they might still be in a state where you can get them to take your concerns seriously. But there might only be a small window of time for that before they return to their previous complacence, so speak up soon — and do it with a group of coworkers if you can so it’s harder to brush you off. Things you want to ask: What’s the plan for ensuring that Sansa doesn’t become as disruptive as she was before she left? How will they respond if she again shirks her work and leaves it for others to pick up? What’s the plan for ensuring she doesn’t flip out on coworkers again, and how should do they want people to respond if she does?

In all of this, it’s important to be clear that the problem isn’t that Sansa made a suicide threat (though that was understandably the most upsetting part for you). We want people speaking up if they’re thinking of harming themselves, and we need to be cautious about doing anything that would seem to squelch that. The problem is the disruption Sansa was allowed to cause for years leading up to that, and that’s what you should focus on with your management.

Beyond that, though, you’re allowed to put up whatever emotional or social boundaries with Sansa you need for your own mental health.

{ 359 comments… read them below }

  1. anonymoushippopotamous*

    Oh wow what a mess. I’m sorry OP! That’s pure emotional manipulation, which is dreadful. The only response to a phone call like that is either disengage entirely, or to call 911 and report the person’s whereabouts and location. Remember that you are not responsible for Sansa’s health.

    1. Mama Bear*

      Agreed. Someone on the phone threatening self harm is more than a layperson can deal with. Since she has a history, I would also keep the suicide prevention hotline number handy.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      You are not responsible! Please also note that IF she is sober and returns to work and is working a 12-step program with a sponsor, she may be trying to do the right things and be very new at doing it. May entail:
      1. Keep things drama free for everyone else
      2. Try to function and focus on her job
      3. Try to stay sober in the face of a lot of shame and embarrassment for her behavior.
      4. Has been told NOT to make her amends yet if she hasn’t worked the other 8 steps before it.

      She may come back a selfish, drunken turd. Personal growth takes time, and while it isn’t fair for you and your team to be generous and patient with someone who has been an ass, it may help.
      It may help her to stay sober, it may help everyone to get back on track, etc.
      Alison is right – you should not accept intolerable behavior from her either. My point is that she may be in the process of changing and it may not be visibly obvious for a while.

      Good luck and I’m sorry you’re going through this. I feel it – I have 28 years sober and I am not proud when I look back on how I treated others when I was at my worst.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          She could be. And that’s equally unacceptable. Personal growth and sustained sobriety doesn’t happen because you coddle people. I agree with Alison’s advice entirely. I am saying ‘detach with kindness’ and understand that OP might not see the entire picture for a while as Sansa sorts through her problems.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            OP doesn’t have to see the whole picture. The whole picture isn’t OP’s problem, and OP has made it very clear that they want no part of it, so there’s no reason they should need to see it. I agree that detaching means there’s probably a good deal one does not know, but that is okay… all the OP really needs to know about Sansa at this point is whether Sansa’s part of the work is getting done (by somebody who is not OP, and preferably someone who was assigned to it purposely rather than who was just left to pick up after Sansa), and that Sansa is leaving them the hell alone.

            Everything else falls under the Somebody Else’s Problem field and should be ignored as if unseen even if OP *does* end up knowing anything of it, because disengaging is the way to prevent Sansa from so grossly overstepping their boundaries again.

            1. Hills to Die on*

              agreed! Just saying that if OP expects an amends, immediate 180s, etc. it takes time. In the interim, boundaries are going to be good for everyone.

              1. selena81*

                I think it’s useful to get this kind of feedback from someone who was in the same boat. Like that Sansa might have picked up a show-don’t-tell approach to becoming a better person.

                As long as everyone is on the same page that OP is well within his/her (moral) right to say ‘i cannot support you in your journey and will block any attempt at non-work contact’

      1. The Mayor of Llamatown*

        She may turn out to be a not-nice person even when sober. A relative of mine went to rehab after quiet years of alcoholism. After using alcohol for years to mask their mental health issues, they have now spent years trying to adjust to living life without alcohol and there have been long periods of poorly-managed mental health manifesting as histrionics and attention-seeking behavior. Just because she is sober does not mean she will automatically, or ever, be a person you want to spend time with.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          Yes. Plenty of those in 12-steps programs too. And to your point, she many have problems other than alcohol.

        2. BTDT*

          IME the problem isn’t the alcohol, its the personality issues that accompany alcoholism. Make sure to set clear boundaries.

        3. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yeah, dry drunks can still have… issues. Sobering up is just the first step, IMO. (Source: Watching friends and acquaintances go through the process.)

    3. Anon4thisone*

      I think 911 is the way to go. Let the police take Sansa or whomever to the ER and they can assess the situation.

      1. Perpal*

        I thought USA was proposing a new 3 digit number for suicide/mental health crisis ie 988 but I’m not sure of the current status.
        I know sometimes I’ve seen pushback on forums for calling 911 because over the years there have been some serious mishandlings, but I also think those are pretty rare and if it’s a true emergency, emergency services are usually the best equipped to handle them. If you’re not sure it’s a true emergency, it still is appropriate to call and do your best to figure it out.

        1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

          I wouldn’t say that mishandlings are rare. Rather I’d say that the rate of something being mishandled goes up if they lack certain societal privileges (police react very differently to a suicidal black person than a suicidal white person, for example).

          And even if they’re taken to a hospital according to protocol, without the police randomly murdering or injuring the person, the protocol is not a gentle discussion about your mental health issues before going on your merry way. It’s an ambulance ride while restrained, to a hospital that may or may not accept your insurance (if you even have any), to a place that you cannot leave of your own volition and has total control over you, including when you wake up and go to bed, what you wear, what and when you eat, and how you spend your time. During your stay, you can lose work and be fired for not showing up, and now you’re unemployed with a huge medical bill. I completely understand why someone would be morally uneasy with involuntarily committing people.

          I helped involuntarily commit a friend of mine when I was 22. I did not make that choice lightly, and I did it knowing the risks involved. She was in the hospital for a week before she was released, and frankly I have no idea why she didn’t lose her job. She had an extremely difficult time in the hospital and had an enormous bill when she was released that she couldn’t afford, and her depression was caused, in part, by her poverty. I am 99% sure that because of her experience with the hospital, she chose not to tell me or anyone else when she was suicidal again, and that was the time she succeeded in killing herself.

          I do think that sometimes involuntary commitment is necessary, and I don’t know what else I could have done in the situation I was in at the time. But I think it’s a bad idea to dismiss legitimate concerns that people have about involuntary commitment as being rare, because even if all goes well, it can still be traumatic and have long-lasting effects.

          1. Massmatt*

            I empathize with your terrible experience and your comment gives much food for thought, but on a practical level what do you recommend a coworker DO when contacted by a work acquaintance (especially one who has a history of pushing boundaries) threatening suicide? It sounds like the LW got drawn into terrible drama for someone she was not close to and didn’t want to be close to.

            I probably would have blocked her number if she had given any signs of crossing this sort of boundary but wonder WTH would I do if this was a call out of the blue? Calling the cops or an ambulance might be an imperfect solution, but there don’t seem to be many alternatives.

            1. Adultiest Adult*

              You call the police and ask them to do a welfare check. It’s what we as professionals do all the time, if we cannot directly see the person. Is there potential for the situation to go badly? Yes. Sometimes I have seen it go badly. But–and this is important–the police are one of the only groups with the LEGAL authority to compel a suicidal or dangerous person to get the help they need. My sympathy for the previous poster’s tragic experience. It’s never easy to commit someone and live with the aftermath. But the risk of not doing so–moral and ethical–is so much greater, and the average person on the street is not equipped to make that assessment successfully.

              1. tri fold brochure*

                A family in my community called the police for a welfare check on their child in a similar situation — and it ended up with the child being shot and killed by the police. And they have spoken publicly on how awful it was that they asked for assistance — and now they basically feel like they killed their child by requesting a welfare check.

                1. Jane*

                  Same in my community. He was 12.

                  His parents called the fire department non-emergency line because they did not trust the police to handle it well and thought the firefighters would do better (African American preteen with mental health issues), but the department was closed so they called 911 and asked for the fire dept. Dispatch send a sheriff instead. He killed the child.

                2. Anon4thisone*

                  Awful. I’m so sorry that things like this happen when people are trying to get help. That is truly horrible for a child to die. Anyone to die who needs mental health help or help in general.

                  I called 911 on a coworker who was suicidal and they got to her in time and she got help before she finished the attempt. I never once considered that it could put her in danger. I learned a lot of things reading the comments today.

                  Seems like there’s no way to quite know what the right thing to do is.

              2. No Name #1*

                Having interned at a mental health organization, when they had to call 911 it wasn’t taken lightly and they did their best to try to encourage the person to go to the ER themselves or escort the person before making the call. That scenario however is obviously quite different than what the OP experienced for numerous reasons, but I’m making this comment just in case it provides insight on how compassionate mental health providers have handled these situations in my experience.
                Another difficult situation I’ve had to deal with is a couple of people I know have stated their intentions to complete suicide on Facebook statuses. In one of those scenarios I couldn’t reach my friends for half an hour and I was about to call 911 when she finally responded to me. Just recently someone else I know through mutual friends made a post clearly stating that they were going to end their life, and I reached out to their best friend who fortunately was also talking to the person at the time. I tried my best to support my friend who was talking to the person because it takes a lot of emotional bandwidth in those situations even when they’re a close friend, so I can’t imagine what the OP had to go through and the fact that she felt extremely traumatized makes total sense to me. I honestly have no idea what I would do or say in that situation other than calling 911, and I’m saying this as someone who has dealt with my own suicidal ideation that eventually led to me making a plan. In my situation, I can’t understand the coworker’s motivation to call her colleagues. The only reason that makes remotely any sense to me is that she felt lonely and wanted people to tell her that they value her and would be upset if she went through with her plan, but it’s still very inconsiderate for her to do that. The fact that she was belligerent on the phone makes it even worse. The only option I can really think of would be notifying a colleague who has a closer relationship with her.

                I can only speak for myself but I know as someone who has a mental illness that if I were to seriously tell someone that I was planning to kill myself, I would not be shocked if first responders came to do a welfare check. I can’t really speculate on this woman’s motivations but I feel like the fact that she called 7 different people and then seemed calmer when the police arrive shows me that maybe that’s the outcome she wanted. I think that the coworkers made the right decision by calling 911 (though if it was one of those rare cities with a separate mobile crisis unit that would be the way I’d go first). I completely agree with Allison that management dropped the ball on this whole situation and should have offered at the very least more support to the employees. Honestly I don’t know if this is a thing that workplaces do but think that the company should try to consult with experts who can help them come up with better protocols to address what was clearly a ticking time bomb before it reached a crisis that involved the other staff. Perhaps this is something that the other coworkers could come together and ask for.

          2. AntOnMyTable*

            I wish more people were aware of how this whole process works. Right or wrong the US does not believe you have the right to actively kill yourself. Saying you want to kill yourself for the shock effect or being dramatic is a very risky business because it can upend your entire life.

            1. Anon4thisone*

              Maybe I’m naive or haven’t come across people who are saying suicide attempts for the shock factor (the one person I experienced saying it was attempting) but it seems like it’s hard to tell what the right thing is to do. It’s also seems like it could be hard to tell if someone in manipulating or just saying they are suicidal. I read a lot of comments below this thread of people discussing people emotionally manipulating others with suicide attempts but I don’t know how someone could tell the difference between that and the person really being at the end of their coping skills/emotional pain threshold.

              1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

                In some cases, suicide can be used as the ultimate manipulative tool- IIRC, it’s not uncommon for abusive ex-partners to threaten to commit suicide if their target doesn’t come back, and also not uncommon for them to follow through on their threat. A layperson shouldn’t try to distinguish between types of suicide threats.

                1. Zillah*

                  yep. i had an ex repeatedly threaten to kill himself when i tried to break up with him. it was 10/10 a manipulation tactic. ugh.

                2. mdv*

                  My (now deceased) narcicisstic father would use a threat of suicide to control and manipulate me. When I finally said, “you know, if your life is so awful that you want to end everything, I would be very sad, but ultimately I have no control over how you live your life”, he never brought it up again.*

                  *I would never say this to anyone but him. Anyone else saying they want to commit suicide gets empathy and the suicide prevention hotline number from me.

              2. Steve*

                If you can afford the emotional cost to talking with the person, then you can ask if they have a plan, and a way/tools to carry out that plan. If they have the tools then you can tell them that they need immediate help, and how would they like you to proceed? Can they go to the ER or a therapist or friend right now, or should you call someone? If they have no plan then they still should get help but it’s a very different conversation without the same urgency. In many circumstances you can have a conversation with them, and you can be honest yet not take away their control. “You need help, and I am going to get you help, so which of these options do you want?” I took a class about this years ago with a police officer who explained that he had these conversations with strangers he met on the job, and they went surprisingly well. Suicidal people who talk about it want help, otherwise they would just do it quietly. You can talk to them (although never feel obligated to do so, as my comments are only suggestions).

                Note that I don’t think this conversation would be advisable at all for LW and Sansa. LW needs to prioritize themselves, and Sanza is not someone I would ever have a non-work conversation with.

          3. Perpal*

            I am so sorry to hear about that experience :( I really don’t mean to belittle it and others like it. I cannot find any statistics on how often this happens, but having worked in the health care system and (rarely, thankfully) needing to request welfare checks or admit people, I think most people working in the system are genuinely trying to help. I am also hopeful that there seems to be increasing awareness and attempts to put better options in place. I note in at least some of the news cases I can find on the worst examples, the shooting officer was actually convicted of murder.

            1. Zillah*

              it’s not that necessarily that people don’t genuinely want to help – it’s also about implicit bias and a lack of training (e.g., regarding mental health issues).

    1. juliebulie*

      Agreed. It shows that you take these threats seriously enough to let the professionals handle it.

    2. Secret Squirrel*

      Yes, me as well. If this behavior starts again where she’s threatening suicide call 911, 999 or whatever emergency services is in your country. OP you are not a bad person at all. I have great sympathy for you — I grew up with alcoholic parents as well, and frankly don’t have any patience for the selfishness that comes with alcoholism is a disease mindset like that makes it ok. You do what’s best for you. Don’t do her work, don’t socialize with her beyond what’s imperative and appropriate for work, and let her sink herself.

      1. Artemesia*

        It does an alcoholic no favors to tolerate this crap for 6 years. I had an alcoholic peer who finally annoyed people enough by not showing up for important responsibilities that management did something. They told him they would pay for rehab and he was required to take a leave and do that and if he succeeded, they would continue to employ him but if he did not, they would start the very complex process for terminating him for cause. He went to rehab. A couple years later his wife, then pregnant with a second child – they had a 10 year old daughter – told me that this had saved their family — he was now sober and so she had been willing to have the child she wanted and their life was so much better now that the boss had been insistent on treatment.

        As far as I know he stayed sober and enjoyed his kids and wife — the second child was a little boy so he had both a son and a daughter. Being intolerant of the behavior can make all the difference for some people.

    3. Emmie*

      I’d want to do that too. It’s tough if OP doesn’t know that person’s address. It’s also tough because a person’s first instinct is often to doubt ourselves. Should I really call the authorities? The answer now is yes, but we have the luxury of hindsight.

        1. Em*

          I can’t speak to everywhere — but I work in a role (EAP — sometimes people call us when they’re in crisis, which is one of the things we’re for) where I have had to call emergency services for clients, and not having an exact address has not been a problem, especially if they’re at home. I usually have a name and a phone number for them, and that’s generally enough for emergency services to locate an address from — they have access to things like driver’s license information, for instance. Even if you don’t have an address, call. I’ve done it with information as vague as “in a parking lot by the university campus, they say they’re in a car that’s white.”

    4. Kate R*

      I thought this too, but then when I got to the part about the history with her parents, it didn’t surprise me that she didn’t. She’s likely been conditioned to be skeptical.

    5. PlainJane*

      Yeah, as soon as she hung up, I’d have been on with 911. (Aside from helping Sansa, it would also help OP’s anxiety to not lay awake crying and worrying.) This is way outside the bounds of work, and didn’t need to be addressed through workplace structures that weren’t available.

      It was still an awful thing to do. I also spent a good portion of my childhood dealing with a drunken adult, and the levels of stress and interpersonal drama are extreme. Please also look into what help is available for YOU through your workplace in dealing with this.

      1. Artemesia*

        the one time I was faced with this situation, I ended up not calling the police because it turned out he was at his mother’s home and she was there — so I figured it was her problem. But it did convince me that the next time I was in this situation I would call 911. It is win win. If they are drama queens, it is a consequence that is unpleasant for them; if they need help, they get help.

        1. selena81*

          …If they are drama queens, it is a consequence that is unpleasant for them; if they need help, they get help…

          If they are genuinely depressed this helps them get into ‘the system’ of therapists and counseling (in my experience it’s hard both to get in and to get out of therapy).
          If they are the kind of person who threatens ‘to take some pills’ any time their coffee is too cold this is hopefully their wake-up call that suicide is no joking matter.

    6. Anon4thisone*

      Yes, even if they don’t know the address once you tell the police they have to look for the person and it’s the police’s job to find them. This happened once at my workplace (not all the drama, but the phone call) and thank goodness x100 my coworker got help. Thank goodness. I’m thankful every day for that.

    7. Alli525*

      Yes, and PSA time: this even extends to people who you believe may only be threatening suicide as a manipulation tactic. If, for example, your domestic partner is trying to coerce you into staying in the relationship by suggesting they will self-harm, that is still a valid reason to call emergency services. It’s an indicator that you care about their wellbeing but will not be held hostage by manipulation.

      1. Anon4thisone*

        Facts. Plus then it’s the police’s problem and they can take the person someone to be assessed.

      2. SOanonymous*

        I apologize in advance for this getting off track, as it is not relevant to the situation faced by the OP, but wanted to emphasize the importance of involving emergency services when your domestic partner begins to threaten self-harm. Based on personal experience, a suicide threat can quickly morph into a threat against the partner, and it’s a good idea to get the police involved before the gun is pointed at you (or before the beatings begin). /end PSA

        1. Wintermute*

          Thank you for this. It’s a very important perspective and people are often so freaked out they never put it together. Abusive behavior exists as a set of behaviors and what starts one place can end another with terrifying speed. Because of the amount of distress you face in the moment, the best way to react well is to consider what you would do ahead of time and have a plan.

    8. Sylvan*

      Yeah. That’s not always a safe option, but fortunately, it’s also not your only one. Many suicide/crisis hotlines are open to people who need to talk about someone else’s threats. You can call, text, or email them for support – and for them, calling 911 is a last resort. You may also have additional local resources.

      1. Anon4thisone*

        Huh, that’s good to know. I didn’t realize that you could call some suicide hotlines about other people’s threats! Thanks for the information.

        1. Coverage Associate*

          I have done it (called suicide hotline because someone else was calling me with suicidal ideation). It was helpful.

      2. Massmatt*

        I don’t doubt a suicide hotline could be helpful to ME to have someone to talk to about having someone tell me they’re going to kill themself, but how does it help the potentially suicidal person? It seems they are still likely limited to contacting emergency services or not.

        1. BBA*

          When you a call a hotline because someone else has said they are suicidal, the person you speak with can give you tools about how to support the suicidal person in ways meant to keep both you and the person safe. For example, they may tell you about a series of questions to ask the person to help determine how much risk they are at (e.g., do they have a plan? do they have access to, say, guns or pills, etc?), what is okay to say and what to avoid saying (some people are afraid of talking to a suicidal person directly for fear it might put ideas in their head), how to help that person get through the day or night, what longer term strategies might be available to the person, and other available resources for you and/or the person. (I used to be a person who answered the phone at a similar hotline that dealt with suicidality)

          1. BTDT*

            I don’t want that level of responsibility for a coworker. Calling 911 won’t end in involuntary commitment every time. Our local PD has a huge mental health division that does a great job with these types of situations. Let the professionals handle the suicidal person.

            1. BBA*

              I’m literally just replying to MassMatt’s question about how calling a hotline for someone else can help the suicidal person.

              Every one of us has to make decisions all the time about what we can and can’t do, what we can and can’t live with.

              For the record, though, calling a hotline can also help you think through what support you can give WITHIN the bounds of what you’re willing to do. It may include contacting someone who is capable/willing to do more for the person. It may include finding a ‘professional handler’ of suicidal people. It may include, in some cases, calling 911.

              Talking through these questions with someone trained in these matters and knowledgeable of a range of options can be helpful in these sorts of situations.

            2. BBA*

              Also… the above includes some of the ways in which calling a hotline when you’re not the suicidal person can still help the suicidal person.

              But beyond that, if you’re calling as a bystander,* YOU are the “client” when you call the hotline. The hotline should help you think through possible next steps appropriate to your needs and the level of involvement you wish to have. But the hotline would also be there for you to talk through your own feelings and thoughts. It would also be able to provide support for you, as someone who is also experiencing a traumatic event. And that support could look different depending on your needs and the resources available to you.

              So it’s not all about the suicidal person when a bystander calls a hotline. It’s also about the bystander and helping support them.

              * In my experience at least – different hotlines might operate differently.

        2. BBA*

          And just to add real quick:

          Calling the hotline yourself can also help the other person because talking through the experience with someone else can help put you in a better frame of mind to process things and negotiate the situation yourself.

    9. Jules the 3rd*

      If they’re white, yes.

      If they’re not white, in the US at least there’s a good chance that such a call will get them killed, and I would be very cautious about that.

      1. bluephone*

        I’m not trained in mental health (despite extensive personal experience with mental health struggles), I’m not trained in crisis response or medical emergencies, and I have a lot of panic disorder issues that cause me to shut down in “fight or flight” situations. I’ve learned the hard way that if someone is acting dangerously (and threatening suicide can fall under that depending on the specific circumstances), my brain may only get as far as “call 911” before I freeze up. It sucks but there we are.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Sure, we all react differently in emergencies, and no one can remember everything. But at least now you’ve seen that there’s circumstances where maybe it’s not the right thing, and maybe it’ll pop back up. Or not. I sincerely hope you are never in the position to find out, it’s very stressful.

      2. Actual Vampire*

        Do you have any advice on what to do instead of calling the police? I definitely wouldn’t want to call 911 and have someone end up killed, but I also wouldn’t want to not call 911 and have someone end up killing themselves.

          1. PlainJane*

            I called a hotline once when a customer made a suicide threat, and their response was “Call 911 now.” In a situation of emotional distance (you don’t know the person well or at all), the professional responders are in a better position to deal with it. As it turned out, the lady in question got help.

          1. Wintermute*

            an incredibly overblown one, and a dangerous one. For every one situation that ends up on the news where it may have made things worse there are thousands where it saved a life. Not letting the perfect become the enemy of the good is vital.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              In my area, there’s 3 black people dead in the last 18 months, in exactly this situation – someone called 911 for a welfare check and the police shot and killed the person they were checking on. And I’m not even in TX.

              Calling a suicide hotline or their family *may* be a better option. It depends on a lot of factors, like local police training and resources, the person’s coherence and history, etc. Random co-worker is not likely to know all these factors, family is in a better position to assess it.

              If I’d gotten that call and Sansa was a PoC, I’d have left it alone – Sansa said she was going to call her family next, they are better able to assess what to do next than I am, and police contact in my area is dangerous for PoC.

            2. Jane*

              No, this is not incredibly overblown, it happens all the time.

              Hell, in the small community I grew up in it happened to a teenage boy who’s parents called to get help.

            3. Zillah*

              but many situations where someone gets killed don’t end up on the news in the first place, and virtually no situation where the cops made things worse but didn’t kill someone does.

            4. Pommette!*

              It’s, sadly, not overblown.

              I can’t speak to the statistical likelihood of racialized people being killed or injured, rather than helped, by police responding to mental health emergencies. (Though the fact that in my small, fairly white town, a young First Nations man recently died in this way, and that this case received very little media attention, leads me to believe that incidents can be under-, rather than over-blown).

              But I can speak to the fact that being involuntary committed can be extremely harmful to people who struggle with suicidality. It’s often a humiliating, stigmatizing process that separates people from their support systems, and interrupts the care they may have been receiving prior to hospitalization. It can lead people at higher risk of suicide than they were before a call was made.

              Suicidal people don’t always attempt; attempts don’t always end in death; police violence is a real (if hard to calculate, and unevenly distributed) risk; forced hospitalization can aggravate mental illness… the fact is that the choice to call the police is often not an obvious one.

      3. Zillah*

        tbh, i’d even be cautious about calling 911 for white people in a mental health crisis – it’s definitely much less dangerous for them than for poc, but lack of training can often turn the encounter into something deeply traumatizing and unhelpful for them, too.

    10. Paperdill*

      I don’t think this is helpful, starting a discussion on what we think OP should have done. It’s not the question OP is asking.

  2. elanicat*

    Oh gosh, this sounds so much like someone I worked with a little over six years ago. I often felt held hostage at my desk because she would come sit and tell me all the disturbing things she was feeling, and describing extremely risky behavior, or times she was getting away with poor behavior at work–and I could tell she enjoyed my discomfort. I was young and thought I was being a bad human for not listening and trying to help her. She finally got fired because I documented every behavioral issue and every performance issue (slacking off on work, making endless mistakes that I had to to clean up) and had multiple conversations with my supervisor and HR. And then I got out. I was not okay continuing to work somewhere that had enabled an abusive coworker to wreak havoc for a full year and a half. This kind of behavior is exhausting and triggering, and I’m so sorry you’ve been having to go through this, OP.

    1. SusanIvanova*

      Oh, that takes me *way* back. I had a co-worker who did that to our team lead. He told her (yes, genders are relevant) that he was not her counselor and if she needed that much help she should go see one. She went to HR and claimed he’d told her she needed to get counseling or he would fire her. I got dragged in as a witness because I shared an office with the team lead – and then later when she escalated it to claiming sexual harassment from him (told you the genders were relevant).

      On reflection, we should’ve known something was up when she claimed she’d left *every* previous job because of sexual harassment, but it was the 90s and we were software engineers; it wasn’t completely improbable.

      All of this was just her way of flailing around because she was just not as good an engineer as she’d claimed.

      1. Julia*

        I (female) have been sexually harassed (touched etc.) by another woman at work. I’m not even sure it’s a rare occurrence, considering many of us probably don’t think it’s inappropriate when we touch each other. (Touching a pregnant woman’s belly comes to mind!)

  3. Trek*

    I think I would approach your boss and/or HR up front stating that you will not used and abused by Sansa, you will not put up with her abuse. Explain that you yourself have health problems that Sansa triggered causing you emotional distress and you had to seek treatment. You want them to understand that they need to provide you the same level of job protection and support that they gave Sansa.
    It would be great if all of you pushed back together as a group and no one covered for her for at least a year-force your manager to cover for her. Do not engage with her outside of work or share information about your personal life. Block her on social media and her phone number. Tell her directly you are not friends but you are willing to work with her if she can be professional. Which means her plans outside of work do not interest you and should not be discussed. Walk away from her if she forces the issue.
    Start documenting her breaks and work habits from day one. You may need this later and it’s better to start right away then regret not tracking later.

    1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

      I really like the suggestion of going all together to speak with the bosses and ask what they are planning to do, before Sansa is back. It could also allow them to bring their own suggestions: I’m sure OP was not the only one traumatized, but everyone will want to deal with her in their own way.
      I don’t agree that she should immediately start tracking Sansa’s breaks and performance. It’s nice to give her the chance of starting clean, even if maybe she does not deserve it. Plus, tracking is unhealthy and will only make OP feel worse.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Start documenting her breaks and work habits from day one. You may need this later and it’s better to start right away then regret not tracking later.

      This flies directly in the face of Alison’s spot-on advice to the OP to no longer let Sansa live rent free in her mind. The OP just needs to shut down any non-work related conversations with Sansa before they begin and go on about her own business. Sansa’s comings and goings are not her concern. If Sansa’s work isn’t getting done and OP’s own work becomes impacted by this, then she can go to her manager with this information and tell the manager that something has to give here because now her unreliability is impacting the business’s bottom line. But other than that? Nope, not OP’s problem.

      1. Amy Sly*

        Agreed. Email the managers every time Sansa screwing around has created a problem for you. Keep a master list so that if the managers continue to fail to manage you can take it to HR or grandbosses/great-grandbosses with proof you tried.

        But beyond that, don’t pay attention to her socializing, smoke breaks, leaving early, or dramatic comments. Practice “Sorry, I’m too busy to talk” to escape her. It’s not your circus, and she’s not your monkey.

        1. Mama Bear*

          Agreed. Create a paper trail for work issues (like Sansa not being available or passing off work) and try not to worry about her breaks and schedule otherwise. OP should feel no guilt if OP says no to a work task that Sansa tries to pass off.

          I hope that Sansa’s time away has been productive for her and she’s gotten the help she needs. But I don’t blame OP for being wary.

        2. Caroline Bowman*

          I’d go further, I’d say ”Sansa, I don’t want to chat outside of work tasks” and leave it at that.

          Definitely do not do anything she leaves undone. Just don’t. I know! But who will do it? And what will happen? Nothing. Nothing will happen. She will be accountable. The end.

        3. Kes*

          I agree, better to ignore Sansa where possible, raise it to the boss if she is causing problems for you (including trying to pawn off her work), and if the boss tries to pass her work to you, don’t just accept it and work overtime, push back upfront that you won’t have time to take it all on and ask what you should prioritize, and if things beyond that drop, let them.

    3. Me*

      As someone with mental illness I always encourage people to exercise caution about choosing to disclose that at work. There are people who will use it as an excuse to dismiss real problems, not to address them. It’s wrong and it’s bs but it happens. This is true even for people who don’t have mental illness but choose to seek professional help to deal with any number of things.

      OP doesn’t need to give any personal reasons why the employer needs to deal with Sansa.

      1. Susie Q*

        Agreed. Even if OP didn’t have mental health issues, Sansa’s behavior is still insanely unacceptable.

      2. Karia*

        Yes. It is unfortunately possible that the employer won’t hear “Sansa triggered my anxiety,” and take it seriously, but instead decide they don’t have to take OP’s (very real and understandable) complaints seriously – after all, OP has anxiety!

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Agree times 200. Your complaints about this cohort stand on their own quite well. You don’t need to say that personal history makes it worse for you, even though it does. I think you were thinking of that as a motivator to make the boss move/do something.

        There are other motivational tools. I am a fan of using specific numbers, such as x smoke breaks yesterday or y minutes in personal chatter with you the day before or z number of errors on Task A. I know you are being steered away from keeping track of what she is doing. So you could limit the numbers you collect to things that JUST involve your own interactions with her. This way you aren’t looking around to see what she is doing, you are only focusing on how she interacts with you.

        This could look like: “She came over x times today to tell me about her dead dog. She spent Y minutes telling me about the animal. I told her z times that I had to focus on my work.” Then you conclude with, “This type of conversation is distracting and takes away from my ability to focus on my work. Since I asked her to let me go back to work z times, and she did not, I am asking you as the boss to speak with her. I have gone as far as I can go with this.”

    4. Observer*

      Start documenting her breaks and work habits from day one. You may need this later and it’s better to start right away then regret not tracking later.

      No, they don’t need to do that. It’s not their concern if she spends all of her time painting her nails.

      The only thing that they should document is every time the boss asks them to do something she was supposed to do, every time something she failed to do had a negative effect on their work, and every time she behaves inappropriately TO THEM (eg refusing to go away when told that someone is working, yelling at people, making bigoted “jokes” or comments etc.) The rest is just extra work for the OP, who is already sufficiently stressed.

      1. Pommette!*

        Hard agree.

        Tracking Sansa’s break is both a burden on the OP (who does not want, or need, to be monitoring her coworker’s behaviour), and an activity that could be perceived as persecution or harassment. OP is not responsible for Sansa’s work or mental state.

        Document only the ways in which Sansa’s behaviour directly affects you.

    5. Temperance*

      I would strongly recommend that OP not describe Sansa’s behavior as “use and abuse” to her superiors and to HR. I do think that it makes sense to ignore Sansa and set boundaries if need be.

      I do agree with blocking her on social media and her cell phone, though.

    6. It's mce w*

      Part of me wonders how much management was aware of Sansa’s previous work behavior.

      1. Amy Sly*

        This conjecture is based on nothing more than my experience, but my theory is the team has had a series of bungee bosses (“Hi, I’m new, let’s change everything, and now I’m getting promoted somewhere else!”) who didn’t really pay attention to what was going on with the dynamics or only got started laying documentation for a PIP before they left, and meanwhile the higher levels of management just accept that of course the department isn’t going to be running on full efficiency with constantly replaced bosses.

  4. OrigCassandra*

    OP, you don’t mention what you’re doing and have done to take care of YOU in all this.

    I’m definitely not saying you should have — it’s tangential at best to the question, ergo none of our business! But speaking as a child of an alcoholic myself, I hope you have a Team You and all the best and most appropriate support structures for yourself. You absolutely deserve them.

    As always, Alison’s advice related to the workplace situation is excellent. I would only add that it’s good you and your coworkers appear to be on the same page around this. If it does turn out to be necessary to confront management and/or document any ongoing derelictions from Sansa, you likely won’t be alone. Definitely share the Sansa load; don’t carry it all by yourself.

    1. vampire physicist*

      seconded – I don’t want to state the obvious, so feel free to ignore, OP, but I wonder if an Al-Anon group (or other groups for family members of addicts) would have some resources and support. Sansa sounds especially difficult to deal with, but I would expect that it’s unfortunately uncommon for people with a history of alcoholic parents or partners to be thrown into professional situations with coworkers, clients, or industry acquaintances whose behaviors can be triggering.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Going to an open meeting and getting some with how to ‘detach with kindness’ would not hurt. Note that kindness does not mean giving her a pass on her behavior. It also doesn’t mean telling her to get the eff out of your cube. Just be polite, professional, and hold her accountable.

    2. Batty Twerp*

      I just want to repeat and emphasis Alison’s first sentence in her response:
      You are not being an awful person.
      Nothing about what you have been through, are feeling and thinking makes you an awful person.
      (just the fact that you think you might be is proof you’re not)

      You need to look after you. Don’t let Sansa take up any more of your headspace.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      FWIW, OP, I gasped out loud as I read your letter. I totally feel you. My father was a drinker and he was the good parent. My ability to empathize got used up and burned out.

      You are very wise to plan out now what you will do to handle things as they come up. This will help a lot. Line up some go-to responses and actually use them.

      Please know that good managers DO NOT volunteer their staff to help rehab someone. Please understand that the bosses indeed are putting an unjust burden on all of you. They just signed you all up for something and you had no say in the matter. I bet no where in your job description does it say you will help people rehab. Hang on to that thought.

  5. lemonbalm*

    This is such a terrible situation all around! OP I am so sorry you and your coworkers went through this. Your managers should be providing you and your colleagues with a lot more support.

  6. Alex*

    Any chance you could bold the “Note:” at the top? I somehow missed it. (If you can’t, that’s fine but I thought I’d ask.)

    1. OrigCassandra*

      Alerting on the serious substance abuse discussion might also be a help to some. (I’m okay, but it was a hard letter to read for me for that reason.)

  7. Amy Sly*

    It’s definitely a judgment call on whether to keep with the “Sansa Screwups” tracker. On the one hand, Alison is completely right that the more you think about her, the more you will be frustrated with her and the bigger the problem will seem.

    On the other hand, if you approach your managers (as Alison suggests) with a demand for Sansa to be managed properly and they don’t, having documentation of her bad behavior will be useful if you need to go above their heads. Frankly, she should have been fired years ago; that the managers didn’t then suggests they’re likely to not manage her properly now. That being said, any “Sansa Screwups” list needs to be limited to those things that directly relate to completing the department’s work. e.g. “4/21: Sansa promised X would be to me by 2:30 so I could complete Y. I had not received X by 5.” “4/22: Still no receipt of X. Z has now been delayed because I could not complete Y.” “4/23: Customer called about W. Could not assist them because only Sansa knows about W and she did not respond to emails, phone calls, and could not be found on site.”

    After all, the smoke breaks and socialization would just be annoying instead of a real problem if she was actually getting the work done. Reporting her smoke breaks will just come off as tattling; reporting how she’s harmful to the company will make HR and grandbosses ask some very pointed questions of the quisling managers.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Track that sort of thing — how it impacted your work. Had to work 3 hours of overtime to complete TPS report which was Sansa’s duty this week. Do not track her smoke breaks, time spent chatting with others or her attendance. Keep it very much how it impacts YOUR work.

      But honestly I would go to the Boss and HR first before Sansa even comes back. They cannot accomodate Sansa to the detriment of the rest of the team. Not even the ADA requires that. Oh we can’t fire her she has a disease. No you can’t fire her while she is in rehab — but you can put on her a very strict policy when she does return with zero tolerance. ONE slacking day and she out of there. She hasn’t earned the right to occassionaly be non productive.

      1. Amy Sly*

        Oh, yes, I agree they should go to the boss and get a clear plan on what they’re doing to make sure this isn’t going to happen again. But just like Sansa needs to prove herself a worthwhile employee, the boss needs to prove himself as a worthwhile manager. Keeping track of Sansa’s screwups gives both OP and the grandbosses the data to prove whether the boss is doing his job.

    2. NW Mossy*

      In this scenario, management isn’t falling down because they don’t have proof. They’re falling down because they’re not acting on what they already know. This applies to both Sansa’s direct management AND her upper management.

      The OP is well past the point of diminishing marginal returns on gathering proof of Sansa’s misdeeds, and going to upper management with a list of 200 Very Serious Problems instead of 100 Very Serious Problems isn’t the change that will tip the balance.

      Also, upper management at this place has to be really awful for the situation to have gotten this far. Even if they see nothing of Sansa’s behavior, they should at least be paying enough attention to payroll to have picked up on her poor attendance and OP’s overtime. The fact that this hasn’t triggered questions from them to Sansa’s direct manager(s) leaves me skeptical that they’ll have some kind of revelation over OP’s documentation, no matter how meticulous.

      1. Amy Sly*

        The documentation isn’t to prove whether Sansa was terrible before going to rehab. Whether the management always knew and just didn’t want to act until the suicide drama or whether they were recklessly negligent in not knowing about Sansa’s behavior until then, they are now aware she was terrible and acted on that information by demanding she go to rehab in lieu of dismissal.

        The documentation is to determine whether Sansa has improved after coming back from rehab. If she has, great! If hasn’t, OP’s direct manager needs to know. If she hasn’t and yet is still around after a reasonable test period (say 3 months) that suggests that OP’s direct manager also hasn’t improved. OP can then take her documentation to the upper management and lay out that Sansa is still costing the company and by extension so is OP’s direct manager.

        1. NW Mossy*

          Thing is, it’s not the OP’s job to monitor her boss’s performance – it’s upper management’s deal. They’ve already demonstrated that they’re falling down on that job, and trying to take it over from below is a losing battle.

          1. Amy Sly*

            Maybe trying to be proactive is doomed to failure. My personality is that I would still give topping from the bottom a try, but I grant not everyone feels the same way.

            Like I said in my first response, it’s a judgment call. If tracking it would just keep Sansa constantly in OP’s head but she isn’t willing to do anything with the data, then it’s a bad idea. If OP would feel more empowered by tracking and has the relationship with a grandboss or great-grandboss that would let her throw a cowardly, incompetent manager under the bus, I’d say go for it.

            At the first sign that Sansa is reverting to her old ways with impunity, though, I’d recommend OP start job searching. Maybe someone will listen to OP, but if they don’t, she’ll have wiped out, if not overdrawn, all her social capital.

  8. It's mce w*

    I agree that you and your colleagues should collectively approach management and really talk to them about how Sansa impacted your office environment before her absence and how all of your well-being and work schedules will be impacted going forward. They need to set up guidelines for Sansa and that her behavior needs to change without furthering adjusting yours.

  9. Hiring Mgr*

    Don’t know when this was written, but are you and your company working remotely now? This might make her re-entry less painful since you won’t be seeing her in person, and you’ll have some time to gauge whether she’s back to her old ways or not

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      If you are remote, OP. Only answer calls that come through during work hours. Honestly, let her go to voice mail.

    2. Temperance*

      This is a good point, but I have to say that there might be an issue beyond just her past bad habits in that she actively traumatized many of her colleagues. I honestly can’t understand why they’re bringing her back.

      1. allathian*

        They offered to pay for her rehab in lieu of dismissal. I expect there’s an obligation to take her back once she’s completed her rehab. But management needs to make it very clear that they won’t accept any nonsense from her from now on. They haven’t proven themselves very competent so far, though…
        But OP needs to protect her mental health first. I hope you’ll block Sansa on any non-work social media and devices and only accept work-related calls from her during working hours on your work phone.

  10. LGC*

    …yeah, LW, you’re not off base with this. I’ve had a couple of Sansas in my life. I don’t doubt they’re troubled, but that doesn’t mean they’re not being absolutely terrible to the people around them.

    You definitely get to set hard boundaries with Sansa – just because you’re her coworker doesn’t mean that you have to be emotionally available to her. Maybe I’m reading into your letter, but given your childhood I guess part of your anger is that you feel like you’re being dragged back to that place. (Definitely not all or even most of it, but some part of it.)

    Also, I can’t help but feel that Sansa isn’t the only issue. When a situation gets that bad, there are usually systemic failures.

    1. Actual Vampire*

      I wish LW had offered some explanation as to why they like this job or why they want to (or have to) stay. Management sounds awful and the amount of overtime LW is working is absurd. Maybe LW doesn’t want to allow themselves to get pushed out by one bad coworker. But honestly, LW… try a thought experiment to see what the pros and cons of looking for a new job would be. You could literally walk away from this situation and never see Sansa again. Even if you aren’t actually able to leave your job, try mentally divorcing yourself from Sansa. She doesn’t have to be “my coworker,” “my friend,” “my acquaintance.” She can just be “a person I see at work sometimes, huh it looks like she’s acting weird today, but that’s not my problem, hmm I guess I’ll head to the kitchen to see what kind of pastries Bob brought…”

      1. LGC*

        So I had to read it over again, and I think that part of it is that she’s been there longer than Sansa has – she’s been there for ten years, Sansa has been there for “only” six, so you’re right that she might not want to be “pushed out.” But what still jumped out to me on second read is that…most of the letter is about Sansa, but the more I think about it, she’s just the “symptom.” Sansa could become the coworker of everyone’s dreams when she returns, and it still wouldn’t change the fact that for years management at LW’s company was derelict and hasn’t acknowledged that at all.

        That said, if LW doesn’t want to leave the company…could LW ask for a transfer away from Sansa? I mean, it’d risk seeming a bit precious. But I don’t see any way she can (or should) continue to work directly with Sansa.

  11. Free Meerkats*

    One thing to add to Alison’s #3, if the managers tell you to do her work because she’s not doing it, tell them you can’t do her work and your work, your manager needs to prioritize which gets done. And even if you’re getting paid overtime to do her work, don’t. Put as much of Sansa’s work burden on management as you can.

    And the way I handled excessive smoke breaks by a coworker was whenever Bubba would step out for a smoke, I’d stop working, pull out my book and start reading. He’d come back in, I’d put it away. When it was noticed and I was asked, I replied, “If Bubba isn’t working, I’m not working either; we get paid the same.” Bubba no longer was allowed to take a smoke break any time he wanted and had to do it only on official breaks.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Put as much of Sansa’s work burden on management as you can.

      Yup. This is the only way they’re going to get it.

    2. LifeBeforeCorona*

      I wasn’t a smoker but I used to go outside with the smokers. If they got an extra break, then so did I.

      1. SweetestCin*

        Same. Took some folks who didn’t know me a long time to realize that I didn’t actually smoke, was just friends with some who did.

      2. KAG*

        Please join me! You’re more than welcome. Just – please don’t talk to me, because I use my smoke “breaks” to try to think my way through a problem that I haven’t been able to solve while sitting at my desk in front of my computer with all the distractions. (Note: I’ve quit smoking, but am still struggling to find a replacement for these brainstorming sessions).

        1. LizM*

          I walk around the block or make myself a cup of tea or coffee when I need to get up from my desk to think through something.

      3. Workerbee*

        Same! I’d either chat with them or take a book and sit on a chair or lean against a wall, whatever. Sometimes I got weird looks, as if it was such an alien thing to also want to take a break with others. After awhile, I just became one of the gang. And it’s true what they say about all sorts of fascinating inside info being discussed, no matter who was in earshot. It’s as if people think there’s a code of silence. Playground rules again for adults.

        I was more cavalier about my health at the time and wouldn’t put myself within the smokers’ cloud these days.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      Don’t you work for a muni, though? (I may be incorrect.) That seems like a type of environment where that would work, but at my job, a direct approach would be received better. Management already knows Sansa is difficult and hasn’t managed it well. Subtle changes in OP’s work probably won’t be addressed, either. Honestly, I think the OP should just leave when she can. I had a childhood friend with issues like Sansa’s. She was fired from everywhere she worked. This place is not well if they bring her back.

      1. Free Meerkats*

        I do. But the techniques apply most places; advocate for yourself, allow (force) the managers to set priorities where an unmanageable workload exists, don’t do others’ work for them just because they are slacking.

  12. MissDisplaced*

    That’s terrible and it was honestly pretty terrible your employer let this behavior go on.
    You are under zero obligation to be “friends” with this person. Purely keep it work-related only. And whatever else you do, DO NOT DO THIS PERSONS WORK for them. I don’t care how much it needs doing, or what Sansa’s excuses might be, don’t do it. Sansa was lucky to be given another chance. The ball is firmly in her court to change or not.

  13. school of hard knowcs*

    Ugh, Ugh, Ugh.
    You have proven you are strong, you have survived much worse with your family. This isn’t family. This is business.
    1 Anytime Sansa comes to your desk to chat, listen to her first sentence, stand with a piece of paper(if it feels stronger have a 2 inch filled folder) in your hand as you say, I can’t chat right now and walk away. You DO NOT have to chat or confront. Sansa isn’t your responsibility. Any non work thing she says, use the time honored ‘WOW’ or ‘that sounds different’. THEN WALK AWAY.
    If Sansa not getting her work done impacts your work. EVERY SINGLE TIME, email your manager and say ‘This hasn’t been completed, let me know how you want it handled’ It is their job to fix this.
    Sansa will change her ways, things will get better.
    Sansa won’t change her ways, management will, things will get better.
    Sansa and management are stuck in the past, you will make other choices, things will get better.
    Do not give her head room, focus on work. You have tools and whole slew of people here rooting for you and understanding how really horrible this is. Keep talking to us.

  14. JohannaCabal*

    Listen to Alison. Behavior from people like this is why I keep quiet about my own mental conditions at work. I know it’s irrational but I’ve been around my own share of “Sansas” to know that it makes it much harder for those of us with mental illness who do good work. Therefore, I stay in the shadows.

  15. kittymommy*

    I’m so sorry about his LW. Both my parents were alcoholics (my dad died of it my mom got better a couple years before she died) and both were neglectful and (at least to me emotional and verbally) abusive. I have diagnosed PTSD from my childhood. I could not deal with this at work. I would not be able to have a lot on interaction with this person. And, like you, I would have a lot of difficulty having sympathy for this. I know I should, but yeah, it’s just not really there. I can hope they get better without being actively around them.

    Maybe your office will let you (and your colleagues if they want) have little to know interaction with Sansa? Or move your desk away from where they will be (honestly Sansa should probably be in the manager’s line of sight or close by based on her past actions of not really working) I mean I could probably co-exist with her as long as there wasn’t a lot of engagement.

    Not a lot of suggestions but please take care of yourself and, if you can, try to get a support system outside of work to help you cope with this.

    1. Batgirl*

      ” I know I should”
      Nah, why on earth would anyone feel sympathy for someone who doesn’t care about their impact on you in return? I honestly don’t get why that’s an expectation at all.
      “I can hope they get better without being actively around them.”
      I think this is the extent most people can go to. You can’t care about a co-worker more than they care about themselves.

  16. Hedgehug*

    I’m not sure you need to say anything to her? Her slew of poor behaviour should be addressed by management to her upon her return, laying out the boundaries. It would probably be best if you could all come together as a group before she returns, and have a conference meeting about what you dealt with previously, and it will not be dealt with again. (and by “together”, I guess…a zoom conference?)
    Management should be the ones telling her to stop chatting at co-workers’ desks, stop messaging coworkers after hours, do your damn work, co-workers will not be picking up your slack anymore, etc. etc. etc. Since your bosses majorly failed all of you before, they are 100% responsible for setting boundaries with her and not putting the burden on you to do that.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      Agree. OP, you are not her friend. You do not want to be her friend. Telling her how she affects you is more of a friend situation. It indicates you want the situation to change. You don’t want the situation to change. You want her actions to stop. You need to speak and act in a way that clearly shows you are not her therapist/adviser/friend.

  17. B*

    Is there any room for worker’s compensation in this? This is a significant strain on the staff she is impacting and it seems as though the company overlooks that piece. If you are having lasting impacts it seems appropriate that this could be an option.

    1. ...*

      Worker’s comp is for when you are unable to work due to injuries, so I don’t think this would qualify. Thought its an interesting thought to consider OP not being able to work safely due to Sansa’s disruptions and how a court might handle that. (probably only interesting to me bc my dad is a workers comp lawyer though!! haha)

  18. Jonno*

    I feel bad for OP and there’s some great advice here. But, how…how in the world did a worker who acted that way stay employed for that long? I’ve seen people fired for farrrrrrrrrrrrr less.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      The “Sansa” at my old job had no disciplinary action taken against her that I knew of because the manager we had at the time thought “she had to tread carefully because Sansa’s alcoholism was covered by the Disability Discrimination Act” (I have no idea how true that was but if there’s anyone out there from the UK who does know that, I would be interested to know). Popular rumour had it that Sansa had something on our manager.

      1. Batgirl*

        That really does not sound right. You can’t knowingly allow an employee to be under the influence at work as it is against the law and could see the employer prosecuted under health and safety laws, so legally risky to turn a blind eye. Addiction also isn’t classified as a disability under the act unless it’s caused one. Equally, you wouldn’t be firing them for ‘being an alcoholic’ but for disciplinary-level actions with all the warnings that usually entails.
        Employment law probably does require the employer give time off for treatment if it’s disclosed and requested, but there’s no way there’s a ‘do what you like’ free pass attached to that.

        1. Cordoba*

          What law requires people to be sober at work?

          Sure, some specific *jobs* such as pilot, surgeon, or forklift operator may well require somebody to be sober while working.

          But as far as I can tell an office worker or similar being under the influence in the workplace is (generally speaking) not illegal. Some employers even provide booze at the office. They don’t get shut down and prosecuted by the Drinking at Work Police.

          1. Batgirl*

            No, it’s not a police matter! You can also drink at work sometimes (like at a social occasion) or on your lunch hour. In many UK industries that happens. However employers can be prosecuted by the health and safety executive if they fail in a duty of care towards their employee or others. A major piece of HSE advice is to be on the lookout for people coming to work drunk and to tackle it. They would not look kindly on that being ignored if anything subsequently happened. The HSE applies to offices as well as more dangerous workplaces

          2. old curmudgeon*

            It may not be illegal in a court of law, but if the employer has a formal policy manual that is each employee receives (and signs for), and if that policy manual states “Employees may not report to work under the influence of any intoxicants, nor may employees ingest intoxicants while in work status,, and violation of this policy will result in immediate termination,” that gives the employer all they need to proceed. In the US, at least, an employee fired for violating a workplace rule like that has zero chance of getting unemployment compensation in the state where I live, and I suspect probably also in most or all other states.

            The thing that baffles me is why more employers don’t put clear, defensible policies in writing, requiring each employee to sign an acknowledgement that they have received the written policies and that they understand policy violations can be cause for termination without notice. That protects both sides, in all honesty – an employee knows where the lines are that cannot be crossed, and an employer can readily terminate the Sansas of the world without waiting for them to traumatize the rest of the company for years.

        2. EvilQueenRegina*

          Honestly, I think people did have doubts about it at the time (was about 11 years ago) but I don’t think anyone knew for sure how true it was. This manager also really didn’t like anyone going over her head – for example, once while she was on sick leave following surgery, an article appeared in our employee newsletter claiming our team was facing significant cuts. It wasn’t entirely accurate, but we didn’t know that at the time and knowing Boss to be out, someone contacted Grandboss about it. Grandboss copied Boss in on the response and Boss sent a nasty email to the person who went to Grandboss. So yeah, she had created an atmosphere where we felt it was difficult to go over her head on this one.

      2. F*

        Addiction to alcohol is one of the specified exclusions in the Equality Act 2010 (which rolled various pieces of discrimination legislation into one act and added additional grounds of discrimination). Medical conditions caused by the addiction, such as liver damage. can be a disability, but they would have to be considered separately from the addiction itself.

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          From the timeline, this act would have come in right in the middle of the problems with this employee – it started becoming noticeable in 2008, went on throughout 2009, then she stopped coming into work in May 2010. I think it was about October or November 2010 when we were told that “she wasn’t coming back”.

      3. File Herder*

        (Not a lawyer, cannot comment on individual cases.) Addiction to alcohol is one of the explicit exclusions from the Equality Act 2010 (which rolled several pieces of discrimination legislation into one and added new grounds of discrimination). Medical conditions caused by the addiction, such as liver damage, could be disabilities in their own right, but would have to be considered separately from the addiction as to whether they met the criteria for being disabled within the meaning of the act. There’s more detail (along with the more hair-raising exclusions) at sections A12 to A13 in the guide in the link. There is also the “reasonable adjustment” requirement, as in the adjustment has to be reasonable given the resources that the employer could be reasonably expected to have – allowing someone to wreak a reign of terror on their colleagues because “they just can’t help themselves” is not necessarily a reasonable adjustment that would be required by the Act, whereas giving paid time off to get treatment for a not-excluded medical cause of bad behaviour might well be considered a required reasonable adjustment.

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          Interesting, thanks for that – sounds like ex-boss did have more scope to deal with this coworker than she used to claim at the time. Instead, she used to turn a blind eye to the no call no shows, the slurring and smell of alcohol, and the increasingly implausible explanations for absences such as the broken foot that she was running on faster than would have been medically possible. (It was pretty blatant).

    2. BEEPboop*

      My theory is that management knows about something awful that is explaining this behaviour. Which is why they are supporting her by welcoming her back. My whole family died in the same year and I was a wreck and didnt tell people for a year that didnt have to know.

      1. Observer*

        That’s not an explanation. They don’t have to tell people about Sansa’s private demons, but they DO have to manage the behavior in a somewhat reasonable fashion. They have not come CLOSE to that.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, I can pretty easily let them off the hook for retaining her, but I can’t let them off the hook for letting her rampage through the department unchecked.

    3. Karia*

      We had someone like this who was incredibly aggressive. She verbally abused her colleagues, slammed the desks, ranted all day. One of the final straws was her screaming at a sales director. She kept her job for so long because she was friends with the CEO.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        And she was probably very good at being friends with the CEO. Abusers work hard on building social shields. I’m not as familiar with addictive behavior, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a lot of the same ‘hide it from people with power and be extra nice to them’ behavior.

    4. Megumin*

      In my previous dept, the “Sansa” in question had been employed at our university a long time (~20 years), and he had a lot of institutional knowledge, which was extremely helpful for his job (data reporting). However he was a colossal jerk and a bully, and no amount of institutional knowledge or tenure should protect behavior like that. He’s still there though…but I got out and went to another department (and my happiness at work increased 100x).

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Many employers are spineless when it comes to terminating someone with documented illness. They’re more scared of a possible lawsuit, which is extremely short sighted.

      You can legally terminate someone with these health issues. You just can’t do it simply because they “might” do something. You have to do what you can to accommodate them.

      Accommodations don’t include “allow them to disrupt everyone” or “allow them to do no work.”. She’s shown she’s not able to work a reasonable schedule or communicate in an acceptable manner with others. The performance issue is really all they need.

      But again. Spineless management means they’d rather bury their heads in the sand.

    6. Workerbee*

      In our case, it was ineffective management, and that’s the kindest way to speak of it. It was far easier for them to put the onus on completing all the work and dealing with the behavior on those of us at the same food chain level as our Sansa.

      The only way I solved this for myself was to take the first viable opportunity out, which at the time was a job opening under another manager for tasks I’d done in the company before. I knew I was qualified and that gave me the oomph to hide my intense desperation to get the heck out and secure the role.

      Our Sansa only left the company when she soon after applied for and was accepted into another manager’s team—citing lack of appreciation and support from the team I’d left!—and then somehow thought that meant she didn’t have to show up for work nor call in for three days straight while working out her notice period for the old job. That finally got her: HR policy. She was fired from her old job and apparently, once you’re fired from one job in a company, you don’t (easily) get to keep your new job, either. At least, that’s how it was there. She clearly didn’t know that.

    7. JB*

      She probably threatened them with something and management isn’t willing to call her bluff. The fact others are covering for the work she’s not doing limits the case against her.

  19. FellowACAP*

    OP – weighing in as another fellow adult-child-of-an-alcoholic whose parents also made this type of suicide-threat call – Sansa is not your responsibility, and her reactions are not your fault. As you said, you don’t have a relationship with her. Worrying about your actions setting off another episode is similar to if someone frowned at her at the grocery store and set off an episode – totally on her own management of her mental health condition and not at all related to you. I know how hard it is to un-internalize the impact chain. This is 1000% an impact of upbringing and I’ve been there too. If you haven’t already, I would read this book:
    It’s pretty old but it connects a lot of thought patterns that I know I didn’t realize were related to my parent’s choices.

  20. BEEPboop*

    Okay so like, doesnt anyone notice that it sounds like Sansa was having a legit no shit mental breakdown? I think of course OP doesnt need to be responsible for this, but something seems to be going on where management may know a lot more about what is going on here and why they tolerated this and are welcoming her back. This sounds like a person who was hurting deeply and has tried to get better and is being welcomed back at work. If she had cancer and was barfing all the time nobody would bat an eye, but this person who is clearly self medicating and does have management welcoming her back – become on guys.

    1. Me*

      Yes she does sound like she may have something going on. No she can’t inflict it on her coworkers.

      To your example, if said employee with cancer was barfing on people and their desks all the time, that would have to be addressed.

      I have bipolar. I am sympathetic. I don’t get a pass on making other peoples lives difficult nor do they not get to have their feelings about my bad behavior. OP has every right to have feelings and to ensure they do not have to deal with that again.

      1. BEEPboop*

        I just think it’s like you cant predict a seizure or something either. I hope OP tries not to judge someone who desperately reached out and is infact being returned to work after treatment. They dont know what triggered the breakdown but it seems like management does.

        1. Secret Squirrel*

          OP doesn’t owe Sansa anything beyond normal and standard workplace professionalism.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          It’s not just one thing, it’s a pattern, and that makes a difference.

          The phone call was just the last straw – people were tracking her work time before then. If the phone call had been the only thing, it’s very likely that even OP would be more sympathetic, as it wouldn’t remind her so strongly of the *pattern* OP saw growing up. But the pattern is that of someone whose illness is not under control, and it is not OP’s job to deal with that.

        3. Massmatt*

          “ They dont know what triggered the breakdown but it seems like management does.”

          I disagree. The simplest explanation is probably correct, and from the evidence in the letter it seems most likely the management is incompetent and/or spineless. The LW went to management with concern that Sansa was coming to work drunk (when she showed at all) and was told Sansa wouldn’t do that”. It’s like the manager was saying “who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” They have let this problem go on for YEARS and not dealt wit( her terrible behavior. They don’t get the benefit of the doubt here, that train left the station six years ago.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      Yes, I also felt a little bit of sympathy for Sansa because there is obviously something not right with her life.

      But that doesn’t mean that she has a right to make everybody else’s life a living hell, either. And really, OP’s company is NOT managing this very well at all. In fact, it sounds like they’re just ignoring it. If Sansa does have an issue that management knows about, then they really need to do a better job of not letting it affect their other workers. This is how you lose good workers.

    3. Ann*

      I imagine if you had cancer and “barfing all the time” you would not be allowed to continually barf in your coworkers’ cubicles and on their front door.

      Acceptance and awareness of mental illness does not mean that others should have to bear the burden of the mentally ill person’s behavior. I’m tired of this argument.

      1. BEEPboop*

        I meant the barfing thing as a co parson to several cigarettes in an 8 hour period – compulsions are real and so is stress. It’s no excuse! But you know what I mean?

        1. Temperance*

          The shirking of her responsibilities at work is just part of the problem, though. It’s not JUST that she took constant cigarette breaks instead of working.

    4. Amy Sly*

      I agree that it sounds like Sansa may have had a breakdown. At the same time, she’s not been managed properly for six years. Some outside stress may have caused her to hit a breaking point, and if so that’s probably why she was given the option of going to rehab instead of just being dismissed like she should have been years prior.

      None of that changes her offensive comments and her abdication of her responsibilities that had been going on, again, for years. Nor does that give her carte blanche to inflict her undone work and problematic, even triggering, behavior on OP.

      1. BEEPboop*

        I doubt the veracity of “years” – because the kind of enabling that would require outside of obvious nepotism or financial dependence, even the worst business owners dont tolerate drunks. Seriously I do believe there is more to this story. I hope this young woman is able to rebuild her life. Its sounded like a dozy.

        1. Amy Sly*

          We are enjoined to talk OPs at their word.

          Moreover, this kind of enabling is not so crazy to cause my incredulity. We get stories all the time about coworkers who don’t work and managers who don’t manage. It reminds me of a coworker I had at a corporate office for a multi-national bank — she bounced from manager to manager and team to team, spending most of her time socializing, very slowly learning the new processes, and after about a month in place, taking enormous amounts of FLMA time in random amounts and at random intervals (I’m talking on the order of four or five months every year) that prevented her from being assigned any task that had to be done consistently or any project that required intensive work. This of course meant she always had more time to socialize. She was enabled by the fact that many of the managers were more busy in climbing the corporate ladder than getting the best work out of her; they’d allow her to join the team, in spite of her reputation, to increase their own responsibilities or happily allow her to transfer to improve their productivity numbers. The few other managers were too worried about looking like they were punishing her for taking FLMA.

          There has never been and will never be a system that cannot be abused by sufficiently manipulative and/or sufficiently apathetic people. And the bigger the organization, the longer it can take for anyone to notice just how badly the system has been abused.

          1. BEEPboop*

            No wonder people with mental illness fall through the cracks… She reached out for help and is coming back. How long does she have to pay for making a mistake and being ill?

            1. Observer*

              She didn’t reach out to anyone who could do anything for her.

              The issue is not that she is ill, but that she has repeatedly created problems for other people. The OP tells us that this has been going on for 6 YEARS! Just because you don’t want that to be true, doesn’t make it false. You simply cannot accuse the OP of lying and then accuse them (and everyone else who has the audacity yo actually believe them) that they are horrible people who are punishing someone who got sick.

            2. Temperance*

              She didn’t make “a mistake”, and we don’t actually know that she was “ill”. What she did hurt people, and that just can’t be swept under the rug bc mental illness.

              1. Sylvan*


                I’m mentally ill and I empathize, but yeah. You don’t really get to hurt people and then expect them to act as if you didn’t.

                (Also, Sansa isn’t the only person whose mental health should be prioritized. All her coworkers need consideration, too.)

            3. Amy Sly*

              Dude, I have mental illness myself. I have been suicidally depressed myself. I have been sent a letter from my county mental health department that even though I was unemployed and suicidally depressed, I was not eligible for treatment. (I guess they decided the world would be better with one fewer lawyer.)

              I still didn’t call up multiple classmates from my last group project in the middle of the night and tell them about wanting to commit suicide. I emailed my favorite professor who was able to talk me into getting help.

              Maybe Sansa reached out for help. Frankly, if the detail that “[the managers] called the police for a welfare check. They found her sitting at home, fine, watching TV.” is true, the mental illness in question isn’t depression, but Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Munchhausen’s Syndrome, or another sociopathic-type ailment.

              1. MayLou*

                I don’t think it’s quite as cut and dried as this. I had a very bad patch last year and had suicidal ideations/impulses at times. At other times I was watching tv totally fine. Actively wanting to end your life is usually a short burst of feeling, in my experience. (Wanting not to be alive can be a low-level background hum while still functioning apparently normally.)

                I agree with all the rest of your comment though. It isn’t unreasonable for OP to be wary. Sansa has not yet done anything to earn the benefit of the doubt that she previously had and destroyed.

                1. Amy Sly*

                  As the poster says, “If you keep asking others to give you the benefit of the doubt, they will being to doubt your benefit.”

                  And like I said, if that detail is true. My experience was that when that strong of a depressive episode hit, I might have been found later watching tv, but puffy bloodshot eyes and crying-induced sniffling — not to mention the state of my home’s cleanliness and personal hygiene — would have given lie to notion that I was “fine.” This detail almost certainly got filtered through the grapevine, so “the police found her and she was fine” could have meant that she had been very upset but hadn’t hurt herself or that she’d put on a manipulative performance for attention. I trust that OP is telling the truth as she knows it, but without having been there herself, it’s hard to know what was meant.

            4. un-pleased*

              CONTENT WARNING:

              As someone who has lost a family member to death by suicide, I don’t find the arguments you are making helpful. Sansa’s boss and certainly her coworkers are actually under no obligation to set themselves on fire to keep her warm.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*


          Drunks are indeed tolerated. I’m glad you haven’t seen it. But yes, it’s a thing.

          1. Temperance*

            Yep. My MIL worked with a woman who was a really bad alcoholic – she drank brown Listerine while on the clock, and stuffed the empties in her locker – and she lasted for years while actively being sick and drunk on the job.

            1. Secret Squirrel*

              It’s most definitely a thing. Managers are afraid to address this behavior. I worked with a guy who would get blinding drunk at lunch and either pass out at his desk for the afternoon or get belligerent and start picking fights with coworkers. It took three years and a new boss to finally get rid of him. My own father was drunk at work for 20 years before he got finally got fired, and it was only because there was a major leadership change in the company that wouldn’t put up with his bs.

            1. Pomona Sprout*

              To be fair, I don’t think anyone is calling alcoholics drunks. Saying someone is drunk is not the same thing as saying they ARE A drunk. “Drunk” is a condition that results from ingesting too much alcohol, and describing someone as drunk when they’ve obviously has too much to drink is descriptive, not offensive.

              You could use a different word, such as inebriated, but “Fergus came to work inebriated yesterday” means exactly the same thing as “Fergus came to work drunk yesterday.” Neither is better or worse, and it could be argued that using a word like “inebriated” rather than “drunk” is tantamount to putting lipstick on a pig.

              As an adult child of an alcoholic, I may be a little biased, because I heard my father and his AA buddies refer to themselves and each other as “drunks” all the time. 12 step programs rend to stress calling a spade a spade, not trying to dress up a bad disease with pretty words.

              1. Pomona Sprout*

                I just read back through some of the replies here and realized there some instance of referring to alcoholics as drunks. I apologize for misspeaking. I still don’t find it offensive, though, and I don’t feel like I need to apologize for that. Am I being insensitive? I honestly don’t know. I just know that I don’t have a problem referring to someone whose drinking is affecting their behavior, their relationships with others, and their ability to function as an adult human to an extreme degree as a drunk. I also know for a fact that my recovering alcoholic dad would have agreed. I am truly sorry you find it so disturbing.

          2. NW Mossy*

            I’ve seen it happen too. It will not surprise you to learn that tolerating the negative impact of an alcoholic employee’s behavior on the business and other staff was merely one facet of pervasive poor management in that particular establishment.

            I’ll say this too: it’s a rare sort of managerial/business-ownership training that teaches you how to deal with an employee’s debilitating substance abuse problem and/or mental health crisis. It doesn’t surprise me that when faced with it, some people simply fall into paralysis because they literally don’t know what to do.

          3. Not So NewReader*

            Worked with people who doused themselves in cologne to cover the smell. Without too much detail, some folks drive big rigs in this condition. Yep. They do.

        3. StellaBella*

          Sansa has been a poor employee for six years. She should be put on a PIP when she returns and fired if she does not do her work.

        4. Myrin*

          Just as an anecdotal point – the assistant manager at the store I work at has been terrorising literally everyone but the boss there for thirteen years. And the reason for that? Not nepotism or financial dependence, no, it’s that my boss is a total wimp who can’t have a hard conversation to save her life; she would sooner watch every single one of her other employees leave than to actually manage her second-in-command.

        5. Jedi Squirrel*

          even the worst business owners dont tolerate drunks

          Then I doubt very much whether you have had very many jobs. There have been alcoholics at most of the places that I’ve worked. Some were highly functioning. Some were not. Some were>/i> the boss.

          I have worked in a lot of difference places in my time and seen a lot of different things. (I could write a book.) Yes, I feel some pity/empathy for Sansa but gross generalizations like this do not help OP.

        6. Elizabeth West*

          Oh my dear BEEPboop.

          I have seen problematic people who stayed in their jobs for literal years. We have had umpteen letters about this. It happens. Many, many, many commenters have told stories about jobs where they’ve seen this happen, where managers didn’t manage or were afraid to, or were friends with the person, on and on, forever and ever, amen.

          Where there are people, there will be failures. In this case, as in many others, the failure of Sansa is compounded by the failure of management and HR to do their jobs.

        7. Massmatt*

          This comment is naive and/or a celebration of denial.

          We get many many letters here from people complaining about very serious work problems that go unaddressed, or addressed ineffectively, for long periods. It’s a thing.

          You seem to be taking pains to explain away and excuse Sansa’s behavior. This is not helping the LW. Or Sansa, for that matter. Sansa did not write in for help, one of her coworkers did.

    5. Observer*

      You are really comparing “barfing” to mistreating others and making suicide threats?

      Also, if the issue is that Sansa has terrible things going on in her life and she needs to be supported, it’s up to management to deal with that and find some way to not put the load on others. When the OP needs to work extended overtime for years to make up for Sansa’s not doing her job, and needs to deal with the fall out, that’s a failure on Management’s part, and no one needs to give them a pass on it.

      1. BEEPboop*

        Again I was comparing barfing to compulsive cigarette smoking which is a solid indication of mental illness. Apparently sansa trusted her coworkers enough or needed them enough she had a mental breakdown and included them and management is welcoming her back. Idk. Be a karen.

        1. Observer*

          Interesting response.

          So, you’ve decided that the OP is not telling the truth because you’ve never seen anything like it. And then in defending someone against what you claim is prejudice you decide to use a decidedly misogynistic term. Got to love it!

        2. Temperance*

          Observer is correct and you’re straight up wrong here.

          I obviously can’t and shouldn’t diagnose Sansa with a mental illness, being that I don’t know her and am not qualified to do so, but I will say that there are plenty of people with mental health issues who threaten suicide as a manipulation tactic and who are not truly suicidal. You’re fortunate that you’ve never experienced it, I guess, but you really should listen to people who have.

        3. EventPlannerGal*

          Wait, sorry, you’re saying that smoking a lot is an indication of being mentally ill?

        4. New Jack Karyn*

          I gotta say, I read this: “Idk. Be a karen.” and had a kneejerk reaction of “Watch your mouth.”

          If this were one incident of Sansa spiraling and going off the deep end, we’d have more sympathy for her, while still recognizing that her actions affected LW and her co-workers. We’d maybe suggest that LW try to find some charity in her heart despite her own background and mental health struggles.

          But this is not that. Sansa has been allowed to run wild for years, and there’s no evidence that anything of substance has changed. LW is right to hold her at arm’s length, and disengage from helping Sansa in any way.

    6. Temperance*

      You’re absolutely ignoring Sansa’s impact on her colleagues, though. Management failed the rest of the staff by allowing her to push her work off and for her to not actually do work when she was around. The failure to address her actions in calling people with fake suicide threats is a massive, massive failure.

      If you’ve never been on the receiving end of such behavior, it’s traumatic in a way that you just can’t understand. It doesn’t matter why she was doing these things, it matters more that she did them, and that she hurt people. I have a relative who acts like Sansa minus the booze, and if she had called me after hours with that claim, I would have called 911 immediately, reported her to management, and then blocked her number in my phone.

      1. BEEPboop*

        I think I di understand the impact of this because I have a similar past where something like that would be super traumatic. I’m not minimizing the impact on OP. Im saying that there is a reason Sansa is coming BACK to work and to be kind to her. What happened was obviously not something that is appropriate for work and it takes a lot of courage to go back. That’s all. I’m being kind to someone who had a mental breakdown. I’ve been in the shoes where management was 100% on board and aware what was happening in my life and my petty coworkers did not.

        1. Temperance*

          I think that the insinuation that OP and her colleagues are “petty” is super unkind, actually. You are minimizing the trauma that Sansa inflicted on OP and on her colleagues, and are prioritizing her wants or needs over theirs. Generally, we give writers the benefit of the doubt, which you have not done at all.

          I don’t think it takes “courage” for Sansa to go back to work. She has a pretty good situation there; she can basically do whatever she wants, do the minimum amount of work, leaving her colleagues to pick up the slack, and she faces almost no consequences.

        2. Massmatt*

          Your “kindness” is reserved for Sansa only, who I point out again IS NOT THE ONE WHO WROTE IN FOR ADVICE. The LW, on the other hand, you accuse of lying and being petty. And now we know why.

          If you had a similar experience at work (similar to Sansa’s, that is, not the LW) and found coworkers were not receptive to your coming back, perhaps you should examine how your behavior affected THEM and what could be done to help THEM, as opposed to dismissing them as petty. Addiction is not a license to treat people like crap, people who get treated like crap are allowed not to like it, or the person who treated them like crap.

          Alison asks us to be kind so I’ll leave it there except to say I’m glad we are not coworkers.

    7. Batgirl*

      Mmm. Possibly she “has tried to get better” but equally possible is “I only got treatment when my feet were held to the fire and will half ass it all the way”. You don’t know which way an alcoholic’s rehab will go; only time will tell. OP isn’t worried about having a newly professional, appropriate co-worker return with her shit together, she’s worried about the possibility of the alternative, especially since her employers are incredibly negligent and have been letting OP clean up after her for years.

    8. CupcakeCounter*

      But we don’t know that.
      What we know is drunk Sansa called a bunch of people repeatedly until she got a reaction. We know that management ignored poor performance for years and placed the burden on the other employees to clean up after Sansa. We know that she was forced into rehab at the risk of losing her job, not that “she is trying to get better”. After years of being manipulated by Sansa, there is a reason not one of her colleagues jumped to her aid when she cried Wolf yet again.
      My friend’s mom is a Sansa and she does have a mental illness…narcissism (clinically diagnosed).

      Your theory makes sense if there was a clear path of spiraling or a sudden change but it sounds like there have been issues with Sansa since Day 1.

    9. Jules the 3rd*

      Also, dunno if you’re a new reader or something, but a large portion of the commentariat have talked about their mental illnesses, the impact on work, etc. We know the struggle all too well. There’ve been multiple posts and discussions on how to manage them – if Sansa had written in, the comments would be (a little) different, focused hard on ‘get professional help, asap, and try to keep it away from work.’

      But Sansa didn’t write in, and OP deserves to hear, regularly, that this is not her job. This is not hers to fix. OP deserves a safe place to work, and does not have to spend hours of overtime for years, covering for someone else’s problems.

    10. TechWorker*

      Yeah, Sansa sounds awful & I think coworker is well within her rights to not want to be involved. But calling multiple people to tell them that you’re going to kill yourself does likely indicate a serious breakdown – the fact that by the time police got there she was okay doesn’t really make the breakdown less serious… I’m not sure any of the situation would be less stressful or traumatic for coworkers had Sansa actually harmed herself.

    11. KoiFeeder*

      Hi, I have a severe autoimmune disorder that caused damage to my gastrointestinal system, resulting in me throwing up all the time!

      As it turns out, if you throw up on people, you get in trouble. Sansa may have been having a mental breakdown, but she had a mental breakdown on her coworkers. I would get Super Fired™ if I had a job where I threw up all over my coworkers when there was a trash can right there.

      Look, I can’t make it to a trash can all the time. I don’t control my digestive system. But I keep a barf bag with me, and I try my best to not make it a problem for the people around me. That’s what people are supposed to do in a society.

  21. BEEPboop*

    Last thing I’ll say is thank God she was able to get some help. She felt she could trust you. She drunkenly called people at work to ask for help. Thank God she got it.

    1. Ermintrude*

      Or, she decided for whatever reason that instead of talking to someone who she had a personal relationship with for succour, she traumatised a bunch of colleagues.
      I’ve lived with siblings with mental health and behavioral issues; one came home and announced she was thinking about how to kill herself and that her sister would be glad. I called emergency services and both ambulance officers and police officers talked with her and assessed her, she didn’t go to hospital and left a couple of days later. Two weeks later her sister forgot to keep taking her medication and actually attempted suicide while I wasn’t home. Later I talked with the sister who’d tried to kill herself, she told me her sister had done the ‘I want to kill myself’ thing to her a few weeks before she’d told me and our other housemate that.
      My friend got better and could see how she’d got to the point of suicide, and was grateful that she’d gotten help. ‘Sansa’ was using talking about suicide as a ploy for attention and sympathy. I can’t know exactly what went through my Sansa’s mind but in the weeks and months afterward I felt manipated and angry that my Sansa could use something so serious to get the attention and fuss she craved. I reflected back on her other behavior and frankly I didn’t feel that she deserved the benefit of my more sympathetic interpretation after that.
      OP’s Sansa strikes me as previously irresponsible and enabled. If she really was concerned, she could have gotten help at any time in the years before she ended up pulling what seems to me like a deranged stunt on her colleagues.
      I hope both Sansas are doing better but we don’t have to assume they’ve lacked agency in their behaviour.
      Apologies for the long comment. This letter put me right back there in memory.

      1. Ermintrude*

        Also, it is admirable that you see that someone can be hurting. The issue is when that empathy is abused.

    2. ...*

      In my experience people who behave this way with co workers/strangers/non close friends is because they have absolutely exhausted every last granule of tolerance they can out of their actual friends and family and are just ready to move onto the next person to keep endlessly taking from. Regardless of that though, hopefully the help she got took and things can move forward!

  22. Cordoba*

    Absolutely block Sansa on your phone.

    If it flies at work, I’d also set some email rules up where even work messages from her only come through during office hours.

    If this means that someday when she is having a rough evening and “needs” somebody to talk to she can’t get in touch with LW then too bad. It’s not LW’s problem that Sansa can’t be trusted to use grown-up communication properly, and it’s not LW’s responsibility to attend to the mental/physical wellness of a co-worker anyway.

    1. BEEPboop*

      I seriously doubt this person wants to interact with anyone she reached out to during an emotional breakdown. Shes probably so ashamed.

      1. lyonite*

        I really appreciate your positive view of Sansa, but there is also the chance that she was using the threat of suicide as a way of manipulating people/seeking attention, and if she hasn’t done some hard work in recovery, then shame isn’t going to be on the table. And maybe I’m wrong! But it’s something that happens often enough (and has happened to the OP specifically), that it’s not unreasonable for the OP to worry about resuming their old dynamics.

      2. Cordoba*

        Maybe or maybe not. Sansa’s behavior to date doesn’t indicate an abundance of self-awareness or capacity to be ashamed of her actions.

        The good news is, if LW blocks her then LW never needs to find out. Sansa can Sansa however she chooses, and everybody else can minimize the impact of that to the greatest extent possible.

      3. Windchime*

        Yeah, the Sansa in my life (a relative) isn’t usually very ashamed. We go through the cycle every year or so, and until the last cycle, I would always decide to let bygones be bygones. Well, not anymore. I’m done. And my life is a lot better for not having to answer her calls for money, attention, threats of self-harm, etc. My responsibility to her is that of my responsibility to any other human; that is, if I hear or see that she is contemplating self-harm, then I call 911 and let the professionals deal with it. That’s their job, not mine.

      4. allathian*

        Frankly, this isn’t the responsibility of Sansa’s coworkers. They have the right to cut Sansa right out of their lives for their own mental health.
        You have a lot of empathy for Sansa, but I hope you also have some to spare for OP.
        But frankly the whole problem could have been avoided earlier if management had intervened.

  23. Psychiatry graveyardshifter*

    [Further discussion of suicide attempts here]
    Quick reading of the situation by a former nightshifter in psychiatry: with some similar types of behaviours (and likely conditions), people get what we call “secondary benefits” (not in English, sorry if this is a weird translation) from the drama that they cause and attention that they get. For instance, some patients we had would regularly make suicide attempts and part what led them to it were the attention they were getting from medical staff, other patients, first responders etc. (This is not to say that they were malicious or manipulative in their behaviour or that it was the sole motivation. They were in fact often not conscious initially that this was playing a part. Their distress, anxiety and other triggers for self-harm were of course the main reasons they would hurt themselves. They were most of the time not consciously trying to get our attention). So it was crucial for us to respond to these acts with minimal emotion to cut that “secondary benefit”. Not being cold or rude but patching them up and calling an ambulance with the same polite and calm attitude that we would have when giving them a pill for a headache, like this was nothing out of the ordinary, and not feed the discussion by asking why they did this, being effusive in demonstrating compassion for their situation, etc.
    I think in this situation, a similar attitude would to an extent work with such a person: not being rude, openly irritated or distressed (easier said than done sometimes, I am aware), but calm and completely neutral with one-syllable responses to whatever drama the person comes with before moving on to the “I am swamped and can’t talk part”. It might be important to note that these “secondary benefits” come from both positive and negative emotions (someone yelling at them or being super friendly can work weirdly very similarly). Once you show the emotional range of a chair, people seeking an emotional connection will overlook you.
    And yes to the suggestion of blocking her number but if somehow OP still hears about suicidal thoughts, then it is important to delegate the responsibility for this person (that she is attempting to put on the person she is calling) back to the professionals: so confirming the location of the person, saying your will call emergency services, hanging up and then calling said emergency services and passing on all relevant information.

    1. BEEPboop*

      This 100%. Be harmless not helpful to people with mental illness. Be kind but dont offer support you are not able to provide.

        1. BEEPboop*

          I thought your post was fantastic and just wanted to agree and sort of give my input back. :)

        2. BEEPboop*

          I went through a little mental health hiccup myself several years ago, re: grief. It’s really true that people trying to help you without understanding what that means can complicate things to the point of harming the person you’re trying to help. Like trampling grass. Does that make sense?

          1. Psychiatry graveyardshifter*

            It absolutely makes sense :). Sometimes you even end up “managing” the people who want to help or get really perplexing reactions, such as people minimising the pain of someone out of their own fears for the person they love. And it’s normal in a way. As a society, we often do not talk very openly about some emotionally complex topics such as grief or a chronic mental illness and so even the most well-meaning people can act in completely inappropriate ways, because they are seldom handed a manual for this, or have a personal similar experience they can build their response on.

            1. BEEPboop*

              I was given a lot of time off for bereavement from my supervisors and a lot of leeway and other coworkers were not aware of what my actual workload was or why I was being given what they thought was special treatment. I granted didnt go bug people while they were working but I was AT work during times when it wasnt so much about me completing tasks but them wanting me to be there so I could feel better after drastic loss. That was an amazing employer (a college in canada where I was support staff) but some of the coworkers I was around did not understand at all because they didnt have all the information. Idk .

    2. fposte*

      This is a really helpful, non-blamey reply, and I especially like the way you talk about the validity of secondary benefits.

    3. Amy Sly*

      With my depression, I occasionally have to fight the temptation to exaggerate my symptoms, particularly as they relate to self-harm, when moving/changing insurance/changing doctors. Experience has taught me that suicidal depressed people get to talk to a psychiatrist within a week or two; non-suicidal depressed people have to wait for 3-4 months.

      1. Psychiatry graveyardshifter*

        That’s a very different situation, I would argue. Taking into account how to describe your symptoms to get the help you need in a timely fashion (3-4 months is not a reasonable timeline!) sounds quite legitimate to me. Not only because the low availability of psychiatric help is not yours to solve right now, but also because a significant part of people suffering from depression tend to downplay their symptoms and assess their well-being as better than it actually is.

        1. Amy Sly*

          Lately, I’ve been going with “I can wait that long if you can give me a refill on my meds that’ll last until then.” I’m not suicidal now; I will be if I run out for a month or four!

          1. Psychiatry graveyardshifter*

            Wow yes of course! Getting a refill on the medication sounds like the bare minimum before an appointment.

    4. Batgirl*

      I think this is a wonderful way of explaining that misplaced sympathy is actually quite a dangerous thing. Lots of people instinctively feel awkward and uncomfortable when being pulled on for sympathy but they feel like a bad person if they obey those instincts. Not at all.

  24. anon for this 1*

    I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this OP.

    I’ve dealt with this with both a partner, parent, and coworkers. It is all encompassing and was a huge source of anxiety for me, too, so I understand your sense of dread. Firm boundaries (Alison’s suggestions are perfect) are so very necessary, but also very difficult to uphold, so I hope you’re getting lots of support from friends and healthcare providers to help you through this.

  25. Massmatt*

    This is at least as much a management problem as it is a Sansa problem. This behavior has been going on for SIX YEARS? You (and who knows who else) have been working extra hours to do her work in addition to your own, while she wanders around the office chatting and taking emotional dumps on all of you?

    Where the hell has Sansa’s manager been, and where has THAT manager’s boss been through all this?

    OP you describe this as a “professional environment “, honestly I am not seeing that at all. I have seen fast food joints run by cokeheads managed better than this.

    1. Karia*

      Yes. Apart from anything else, Sansa being *intoxicated at work* – not hungover, but still drunk – should have been the rehab incident, not the more severe issue later.

    2. Delta Delta*

      I think, though, that sometimes problems can start and not seem like problems, and then sort of gradually grow into bigger problems. Because it’s gradual sometimes it’s hard to see what’s happening. That could be the case with Sansa. It started with 1 cigarette break per hour and a missed deadline here and there. That becomes normal. then it’s more frequent breaks and more people picking up the slack. Eventually it all becomes what’s normal.

      That’s not to say the management hasn’t been remiss in its duties. I just can see how it happened, and it wasn’t until the wheels entirely came off that anyone realized what was happening..

    3. Koala dreams*

      That was my thoughts too. I don’t mean to downplay what Sansa did, but at the same time I feel very critical toward management. That Sansa got extra time off isn’t in itself a problem, the problems are making people work overtime for long periods instead of hiring a temp or another employee to deal with the extra work, and allowing the inappropriate comments and other bad behaviour.

    4. ...*

      Literally hit the nail on the head there with the fast food ran by cokeheads comment. I’ve seriously seen better management in that situation!! Truly!

  26. Karia*

    I am quite surprised that both Sansa and her counsellors / rehab centre think it’s a good idea for her to go back to the same place at all. There’s the shame and embarrassment to contend with, plus the job itself may have been a trigger for her. It seems like it’d be far better to make a clean break and, I’m not sure, make amends later? Although it just occurred to me that her rehab is likely through her work’s health insurance.

    1. Jean*

      It may have also been framed by the employer as “you keeping your job is contingent on you successfully completing this rehab program.”

      1. Karia*

        Yes, I see it could be the motivation for her. I guess I thought health insurance might be a factor because I personally wouldn’t want to go back in her situation.

    2. Ronda*

      i had a co-worker that boss sent to re-hab. she came back and sadly relapsed and was let go (I think that was all part of the deal). I would think life would be easier on a person coming out of rehab that had work to return to.

      she was not a sansa for me, I liked this girl and was friendly with her, i do hope she got her act together

      1. Karia*

        I can certainly see that perspective Ronda! I was just thinking of a man I used to volunteer with. He was in recovery and said he had to leave his job to get better. Of course his role was high pressure, and involved out of hours socialisation, neither of which are very conducive to avoiding alcohol.

  27. Anon4thisone*

    TW for suicide situation.

    Am I the only way who was low key shocked that the coworker called 7 people and not one of them called 911 until the managers did the next morning? (Or did I read that wrong?)

    I had a coworker call me at 6am asking me to pick up her shift. When I asked why she said she was suicidal and then hung out, I called the police and they found her in time. She was attempting.

    1. Observer*

      They might not have had the necessary information. They also may have heard the same kind of thing that comes up here a lot – NEVER call the police for a welfare check because the police will inevitably mess up and probably harm the person more than whatever danger they are in. If the police are going to go in, guns blazing, whenever doing a welfare check, it’s crazy to call them for one.

      1. Anon4thisone*

        That’s a good point. The police is my town are very good and trained in mental health. They take a mental health counselor with them if the person isn’t already out on another call. I never even thought of that angle.

        I’m just glad this coworker did not end up attempting like my coworker. I’m sure my response is colored by my experience of my coworker.

      2. ...*

        Wow I’ve never heard that before. So what should you do if you think someone is in danger or hurt and unable to get help at their house? This thread is honest to gosh the first time I’ve ever heard of NOT calling 911 or an emergency service for a suicidal person or a welfare check and I have worked in mental health for multiple years. Don’t anymore though maybe I am out of the loop on the new procedures?

        1. Observer*

          A lot would depend on the specific circumstances. I’d probably call the police in most cases. But it would not be the automatic action it would have been when I was younger. I’ve just heard too many stories of “welfare checks” done bad – deadly bad.

          I’m going to post a link in my reply to a story a few months ago that made the national news.

        2. Squidhead*

          I think the reasoning is that *sometimes* law enforcement is not the best-equipped to handle a mental health crisis and might interpret the person’s behavior as threatening. If a perceived threat will be met with an armed response, it’s unlikely to end well. Unfortunately, stereotypes and unconscious bias magnify this and situations involving visible minorities/foreign-language speakers/people who are not neurotypical/etc… can cause more trauma than benefit (up to and including death).

    2. Annie*

      OP and her coworkers were under no obligation to call 911. Honestly, I’m not sure if I would have called 911 in OP’s shoes. Like OP, I have a history of dealing with manipulative jerks who have mental health/substance abuse issues and it can be really tricky when this kind of situation comes up because you have no idea how serious the person is, but you do know that they want your attention and giving them what they want can get you more involved in the situation than you want to be.

      1. Anon4thisone*

        Guess I just didn’t have that experience. I’m sorry that it happened to you. That’s horrible to go through.

        I’m glad that the coworker in this case didn’t end up attempting suicide like my coworker.

      2. Karia*

        I can understand that – I read on Captain Awkward though that even if people are attention seeking, she suggested calling ER. If they’re faking? Well maybe the embarrassment teaches them a lesson. If they’re not? They get the help they need.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        Ugh, yes. I got sucked into something recently that everyone seemed to be aware of but me. Thanks for the warning, y’all! :P

      4. Atalanta0jess*

        “under no obligation” is tricky. My feeling is that if someone tells you their life is in danger, and there is something as low-stakes as calling 911 that you can do to help ensure that isn’t the case, you should do that.

      5. allathian*

        I guess it depends on the jurisdiction, but in some places if someone threatens to kill themselves in your hearing (or calls you and does so) and you don’t call emergency services, you could potentially get sentenced for negligent manslaughter if they do succeed in killing themselves. Same thing if you witness an accident and don’t call emergency services, although that’s harder to prove. But these days it’s easy for the authorities to track down the last person or people someone tried to call, although it’s less easy to prove someone was threatening suicide on the call.
        I’m not in the US and here the police don’t routinely carry firearms. Tasers yes, and they can be lethal for people with a heart condition. But firearms are usually only used in things like hostage situations or similar.

    3. Temperance*

      My experience in dealing with a person like Sansa in my personal life is that they often use suicide threats and unreasonable behavior as a manipulation tactic. If I got a call like that from someone who made my life worse (and I have), I would call 911 and then peace out, but I can absolutely understand why someone who has been traumatized by similar behavior in the past wouldn’t be able to do so.

      She also clearly wasn’t actually attempting at that time.

      1. Anon4thisone*

        I’m sorry that people in your life manipulated you through suicide threats. That is truly horrible.

        Hard to know if someone is actually attempting suicide so I always air on the side of caution. I would also call 911 and peace out. (likely by turning off my phone and blocking the number.)

      2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        I think Captain Awkward is where I first saw this framed as, Suicide threats as manipulation–“if you leave me I’ll kill myself”–are the manipulative person threatening to kill someone if you don’t do what they want. That’s serious, it’s probably above your pay grade, and it doesn’t mean you have to do what they want.

    4. Buttons*

      I was shocked by that too. They sent a wellness check the next day? That is sad and disappointing.

    5. Batgirl*

      Well OP was worried enough to be awake all night so I think her reaction was more shocked than shocking. Don’t forget what a terrible trigger this was for her. Equally, just because an emergency call wasnt mentioned didn’t mean it didn’t happen. The welfare check could have been an additional step; we dont know what her coworkers did do or could do. The way I read it was that Sansa was very much in charge of the conversation and not in the mood to be checked up on or to reveal her address. She also said she was calling her parents for support after she got her airtime with OP, who would be far better placed to help out but who were probably just invoked to dissuade OP from doing anything to interrupt her other calls.

      1. Buttons*

        I don’t care who the person is, stranger , neighbor, friend, coworker tells me they are going to kill themselves I am calling 911 to have them checked on. It is the responsible thing to do for a fellow human. If the police come and she says she is fine and has help, then ok.

        1. Not All*

          Cops in some places I’ve lived are FAR more likely to shoot someone who is suicidal than help them. You’re lucky you’ve never lived anywhere like that.

          1. Anonymous for this*

            There’s a reason it’s called suicide by cop. They don’t have the balls to do it themselves, so they get the police to do it for them. I say this as someone whose uncle committed suicide and whose half-brother is a paranoid schizophrenic. I wouldn’t be surprised if he committed suicide by cop nor would I blame the police. I saw him pick up an old school 30+ inch television and throw it across the the room at his mother. He has an episode, and he is unhinged.

        2. Batgirl*

          Yes. As I said they probably did just that and the welfare check was extra, since a coworker wouldn’t have an address or get police feedback.. so I don’t understand?

    6. It's mce w*

      Also, some people react differently to scenarios. They may have been in shock or blanked out on what to do.

    7. blackcat*

      Though it is infrequent, it can happen that police well checks can exacerbate the situation or that the person can be injured or killed by the police. It’s far more common in communities of color. OP or Sansa may be in a group historically mistreated by the police, or in an area where they do not trust the police (some police departments are just particularly bad, no matter who you are).

      1. Anon4thisone*

        True. My comment (above in thread) was based on my experience and my police department. I had a coworker who did attempt and the police did help her in time so I’m glad my coworkers and I called the police. I honestly didn’t even think when I called 911 if the police would make it worse, I was just worried that something would happen to her.

    8. Koala dreams*

      I was also surprised it took until the employer called the police for there to be a welfare check. Though I didn’t understand quite what happened. Was the police unwilling to go out, didn’t anyone have the address until the employer checked at the office, some other problem?

    9. AnotherLibrarian*

      I always thought, as someone with personal experience with mental illness, that I would have no trouble asking someone if they were considering suicide and/or calling 911. As it turned out, when I actually had to these things the decisions were not clear cut at all.

    10. Turtle Candle*

      It is a very common piece of Internet advice to only call the police if there is a violent crime actively in progress right in front of you, and maybe not even then, because the police may exacerbate the situation (especially if the person in question is a vulnerable population).

      I think it’s sometimes stated in very black-and-white terms that I would not myself agree with, but I could see people going “I can’t call for a welfare check; they will forcibly institutionalize her/arrest her/kill her.”

    11. Not So NewReader*

      You and OP both made the right decisions for your individual situations.

      We often see LWs comment here that they did not include this or that detail because the letter was getting too long. It could be some coworkers called each other to figure out if others thought 911 was necessary. Something happened because by the next day they quickly pieced it together that all of them had gotten a call.
      From my own experience I might not call because of contacting a friend who is also a MH professional and seeking their advice. But in a different set of circumstances I might skip that step and go directly to calling 911.

      Here with our current OP I think that Monday morning quarter backing isn’t going to help and OP seems pretty upset already with out more weight being added. Additionally, it could be that OP got to thinking, “I guessed the correct answer the first time, but how many more times can I guess correctly?” And that caused OP to write to Alison, to get a plan. Caring can come in odd packages. I think for OP to write Alison shows a form of caring for everyone involved in this story, not just Sansa.

      1. Anon4thisone*

        Yes, I agree with you that we can never know the whole situation. I don’t blame OP (or know them of course irl) for their decisions. I also did not mean to imply that I blamed them by expressing my surprise on the lack of 911 call. I was surprised that it seemed like when I read the letter that 7 people didn’t call 911, not specifically the OP.

        As pointed out above by others, maybe someone did call 911 or maybe they live in an area where the police would make things worse. I also learned some today about how the police can make situations worse and in some situations it’s best to leave well enough alone.

    12. SarahTheEntwife*

      She had told the OP she was going to call her family next, so in that situation if it was someone I didn’t know well, I’d probably just be happy she was calling a more appropriate person. Her family also would presumably know her address, and be better able to tell whether she needed emergency services.

  28. Hiya*

    “ They’re failing you and your coworkers by allowing Sansa to be disruptive and unreliable for so long, and for allowing you to get stuck with the burden of her work. They’ve also been failing Sansa by allowing her to behave like this for six years, which has allowed her to think her behavior is acceptable (because it’s been accepted) and by looking the other way while her behavior become more and more troubling (and troubled).” I personally would phrase it this way to the boss. Instead of “what are we going to do about sansa” or “sansa is disruptive. Tell them how the company is failing the other employees by rug sweeping Sanaa’s behavior and how it is failing the company as well.

    1. JB*

      Since they have a record of ignoring Sanaa’s issues, no one should have any confidence in their ability to deal with legitimate problems other employees may have. Something serious could be laughed off a “good ‘ol Rebecca at it again” or “that Bob”, and get far worse for being unaddressed.

  29. Claudia*

    I’m sorry you had to deal with that, OP. I dealt with something similar last year- my boss (who I had been friends with before she hired me- what a mess) was having a complete mental breakdown and completely destroyed the morale and productivity of our site. Enough employees reached out that she was forced out on a temporary “special project” and I was given the temporary reigns of our site. After a few weeks of her new “special project” she threatened suicide, and got forced into a mental health facility for a week by her family. After that, she was on an extended medical leave while she went through a rigorous outpatient program. During this time, she texted and called me repeatedly, forcing me to carry her emotional load on top of the stressful situation of running our site and trying to fix the mess she left behind. On one occasion, she called me while I was at work and told me if I didn’t come to her home and stop her, she was going to commit suicide, and that her 4 year old son was currently barricaded in the closet sobbing because she was freaking him out. I didn’t have a car and she lived in the boonies so I had to spend $70 one way to get to her and then the rest of my day was spent talking her off the ledge. I felt like I couldn’t involve the authorities because she insisted she would lose custody of her son, and then truly would end it.

    I felt personally responsible for her mental health, and her life, and was in the verge of a breakdown myself from the stress.

    She came back to work after many months, and lasted a grand total of 2 weeks, constantly sobbing in her office all the time (and forcing me to be there with her talking her up instead of running our site) and also her tearing me apart to our team (she apparently felt threatened that I had run the site well and the team were happy with me) before she quit with no notice. She ended up cutting our friendship off, despite everything I did for her over the months, because I had decided to draw some boundaries for my own mental health, and I’m honestly so happy she did.

    Sorry, this ended up being a novel- but I wanted to let you know that you aren’t alone in this very bizarre and stressful situation. And honestly, half a year outside it being over, everything is wonderful. Things will turn up for you too!!

    1. Temperance*

      I’m so sorry that you went through this.

      If this happens again, call the proper authorities and let her deal with losing custody to her ex. This is traumatizing for a child to deal with, especially one who is so little.

      1. Claudia*

        Thank you. And yes, absolutely. I learned my lesson 100%. I will always call the authorities in the future if someone includes me in a situation like this again. She seems to be doing better now (which I am happy about, regardless of my very mixed emotions about her as a human) but I so worry for her son :(

        1. Coffee Bean*

          You’re a good person, Claudia. You went out of your way to help, and you have compassion for the little boy in the middle of this situation. And I suspect these are traits that you carry into your leadership of the team you managed.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      (she apparently felt threatened that I had run the site well and the team were happy with me)

      Well, jeez! Not hard to see why. Ugh! I’m sorry I guess that she was in such dire straits, and probably couldn’t help it. But goodness. It’s a terrible thing to pull someone else into your breakdown. I hope in the end she got the help she needed.
      Was the job truly that stressful? Or was it just a multitude of other personal things making her unable to focus on work?

      1. Claudia*

        The job was honestly not terribly stressful. It had its own stressors, of course, as does any job, but nothing that would warrant a breakdown like this under normal circumstances. She had other things going on in her life outside of work, plus some narcissistic tendencies which would not allow her to take blame and grow from things (But rather truly feels like she is a victim in all things), which both really fed this situation. She to this day blames my company for her breakdown, despite the fact that they did everything they could to keep her employed and (more importantly) insured- which means that the issues that caused the breakdown have been pushed down and not resolved. I really worry for her in future because I feel like this will be a cycle unless she can figure out how to break it, which will include taking personal responsibility, which is not her strong suit- but I’ve also taken big steps away (plus her cutting me off!) so I try not to think about it too much. This whole thing taught me that you can’t light yourself on fire, to keep someone else warm (especially when that person keeps stepping in a walk-in freezer despite you setting yourself on fire, so it really isn’t helping in the long run)

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Thanks for the update. I was curious because sure, there are certainly some workplaces that are so bad as to cause mental health issues. But then, other times it is due to the person and issues outside of work that drive the work issues.

          In this case, it sounds like the company really tried to give her the time off she needed, but it wasn’t enough.

          I don’t know why, but some people just don’t seem mentally fit enough to handle work of any kind. Like, the very idea of working causes such stress and mental angst, they simply shut down/break down. It’s a hard concept for people to grasp and understand. Sometimes it’s a temporary thing caused by a specific event (like a divorce), but with others it’s a lifelong thing with no specific reason, which makes you wonder why. You know it’s not their fault, but It’s hard to fathom sometimes.

  30. cmcinnyc*

    Ooooo I worked with a Sansa for several years and it was so draining. After THREE rounds of very similar to what OP describes above, I instituted what I call The Nonsense Protocol. Sansa would come over and ask how I was, I answered Fine! or Great! or Busy! ONE WORD. Because Sansa does not care how I am or what I’m doing or will do or have done, she just wants to start a conversation because she’s bored. When Sansa pivots to her stuff (always), again, ONE WORD reactions: Wow. Huh. Interesting. Hmm. Because Sansa has zero interest in anyone. She is so terribly, deeply caught up in her own drama. The Nonsense Protocol works for email/messaging, too. Be the most boring person in the office as far as Sansa is concerned. I felt a lot of concern for our Sansa–a lot of us did–but she put a few of our jobs in jeopardy with her shenanigans more than once, gossiped maliciously, and was exhausting, absolutely exhausting. Not one of us at the office was qualified to help her. I hope she’s doing ok but…she’s probably not.

    1. Temperance*

      This is actually a really good tactic – those of us who deal with Sansas in our personal life call this “grey rocking”. You basically don’t feed their need for drama and emotion, and you bore them and they leave you alone (sometimes).

  31. Observer*

    OP, you’ve gotten some good advice.

    One more thing:

    You do need to make this management’s problem while protecting yourself. So, you limit the number of hours of overtime you work – several hours each day is insane, and you just do NOT do it. Make your boss tell you to do her job EACH time, and then tell them what you can and cannot do in a reasonable amount of time. And, if you are non-exempt you do not work ONE HOUR off the clock. Not even ONE MINUTE. They need to pay you for every minute you spend.

    1. KRM*

      100% this. If you need report X to finish draft Y, and she doesn’t get it to you, you simply say “I haven’t gotten X yet” and if the reply is “well you can do report X yourself”, you then say “okay but draft Y will then not be done until 2 days from now.” Don’t bust your butt for this. Simply add up the normal working hours and tell them “this is when it will be done”. Hold firm. If they ask why you were able to do it before, you can tell them that you found all the overtime you had to work to do this before has become too stressful and you’ll be working normal hours from now on.

  32. Bookworm*

    No advice from me, OP. Just that I’m sorry you went through that and I hope the future is better and she somehow exits your life.

    Good luck. I hope you might update us. Please take care of yourself.

  33. NightOwl*

    I have a few questions – many posters have suggested OP and coworkers go to management to ask how the situation will be handled when Sansa returns. Couldn’t there be a potential problem with that since it involves medical information (even though it seems Sansa is more than happy to let others know what is going on, management may be limited in what topics can be discussed with others)? How can OP frame the discussion to focus on work and output vs behavior around Sansa’s medical situation? Also, would it be possible for management to support the OP and team members to avoid calls from Sansa at off hours due to potential medical info, under the impression that they didn’t want Sansa to disclose/for Sansa’s protection, assuming, of course, Sansa doesn’t need to communicate with the rest of the team for work-related issues off-hours?

    1. Amy Sly*

      What people want to know is whether the “That’s so Sansa” offensive comments at work, the failure to perform assigned tasks, and any after hours harassment will be dealt with the way that they should have been on day 1. That doesn’t require going into any personal medical history.

      “Managers, as you know, Sansa has been doing these inappropriate behaviors (XYZ). Per the employee handbook, this is the prescribed disciplinary procedures. Will Sansa’s behaviors be addressed by these procedures? Will you be making arrangements to more closely observe Sansa? If we observe these behaviors in the future, how will we inform you?

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      Nah. It’s not about her diagnosis or her treatment. It’s about her behaviors.

      LW might tell her boss that she’s blocking Sansa’s number; if Sansa needs anything work-related, it’s email or IM.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      “Couldn’t there be a potential problem with that since it involves medical information…”

      Just talk about the behavior. “Sansa screamed at me three times this week for a total of 42 minutes.” Describing the behavior stands on its own just fine. No need to talk about medical issues.

      ” How can OP frame the discussion to focus on work and output vs behavior around Sansa’s medical situation? ”
      OP: Sansa was at my desk five times this morning talking about her dead dog. I am having difficulty focusing on my work because of these interruptions. I asked her to leave five times and she came back a sixth time. I am asking you as my boss to step in by telling Sansa to focus her conversations on the work we are doing. I have tried saying this myself and I am not reaching her.

      “would it be possible for management to support the OP and team members to avoid calls from Sansa at off hours due to potential medical info, under the impression that they didn’t want Sansa to disclose/for Sansa’s protection, assuming, of course, Sansa doesn’t need to communicate with the rest of the team for work-related issues off-hours?”
      Let’s back up here. It’s not up to the bosses to protect Sansa from disclosing her own medical information to her cohorts, period. So let’s skip that part entirely.
      Since the group has already discussed an event that happened on off hours, that conversation has been opened. Really, bosses cannot tell people what to do in their off time. Maybe? they could suggest to call 911 or put a block on their home phones. Probably the most the bosses can do is tell the employees to report serious events that they see happening DURING work hours.

  34. bluephone*

    Oh gosh I’m so sorry, OP! You’re right to be angry and apprehensive! Trust me, NOTHING you say or do will “trigger” Sansa to threaten suicide again, even if it’s a legitimate threat. That is very much something within her control, NOT yours (and I say this as someone who’s suffered from suicide ideation in the past, lost loved ones to suicide, experienced other loved ones attempting suicide more than once, etc). Please do not take any of Sansa’s emotional issues onto yourself; it is very much NOT your or your coworkers’ responsibility. She is very capable of getting help especially since your company hasn’t turfed her for–and they had many, many, MANY legitimate reasons to do so. I’m side-eyeing them big time that they let it get this far and are bringing Sansa back.
    All the (virtual) hugs for you and your non-Sansa coworkers <3

  35. Bopper*

    If someone threatens suicide, call 911 on their behalf.
    If they are really going to commit suicide then they will get help.
    If they are doing it as a power move, they will cut it out.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I had to do this once. I didn’t know if the person was really going to do it or not, but I am not equipped to deal with that, and I was not about to take that chance. Would do again.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      After years of work experience and personal experience with many different empty threats or fake ailments, I concluded this is the route to go.

      Play a straight game. Take people at their word and react accordingly. Yeah, you can lose a few friends this way, but why would you want to keep playing a game or worse yet keep worrying? I had a friend who was talking about her inlaw abusing (the inlaws own) children. I tried suggesting getting some help. No, no, no. All of the sudden this issue was less of a deal. So I said, “Don’t tell me the name of your inlaws because I WILL report it.”
      And that was the last time I heard about the supposed child abuse.

      OTOH, people who are actually looking for ideas will react very differently. My aunt found herself in a conversation with her boss regarding self-harming. This was difficult as the boss was not a nice person at all. My aunt very carefully chose her words and suggested phone numbers or places to check for help. To my aunt’s amazement, the boss wanted her to write down what she just said. The boss put the paper in her purse. My aunt never mentioned it again.
      A while later, the boss came back with a follow up conversation. The boss had called one of the places my aunt had mentioned. It turned out they were very helpful and the boss was doing better. The boss did grow a little less mean but not a lot. But the boss said over and over for years that she credited my aunt with saving her life.

      Give a straight answer to a situation. Expect the person to be responsible for what they are saying.

  36. Delta Delta*

    I’m going to show some empathy for Sansa here while adding my 2 cents for OP to keep herself moving forward productively. In my work I often have overlap with people who need to go to rehab for substance abuse and co-occurring disorders. It very much stands out to me that Sansa went to rehab for *three months.* This is fairly long; it suggests to me she had a significant therapeutic need beyond what most people do (14-21 days). I will also 98% guarantee that Sansa a) knows she was out of control; b) knew at the time she was out of control; c) feels absolutely horrible about this; and d) is probably incredibly embarrassed at her behavior. And it’s also worth considering that Sansa will probably relapse in some way as she moves forward. It’s common that relapses happen.

    That said, it is entirely fine to establish boundaries so that OP is not having contact with Sansa other than clear work contact. It is also entirely possible Sansa will try to apologize to OP and the other coworkers for her behavior. It is fine to accept the apology, but that also doesn’t mean the relationship needs to be anything other than purely professional. And telling Sansa what that boundary is may be the best for both. It may also be beneficial to have that same conversation with the management team – what you’re willing to do (or not). I don’t think it helps at all to dwell on the 14 cigarette breaks per day; that was a flag missed by management. Keeping the situation focused on productive moving forward will probably be best.

  37. Bopper*

    Another thing you could do is talk to your co-workers about socializing with Sansa…

    “I am glad Sansa got help but I am no longer going to spend time chatting with her at work. I think will say things like “Sorry, Sansa, I don’t have time to chat, I have to get the TPS report done.” or “If you need to talk about that, I think the EAP team would be better.” Also I will not be doing any of Sansa’s work anymore. I think it would be more effective if we all did something like that.”

  38. Ermintrude*

    I’ve experienced the horror of hearing someone speak of their own suicide. It’s traumatic in itself, even if nothing comes of it. Virtual hugs and empathy to the OP and anyone else who has experienced this, or especially anyone who was in that mindset personally.

  39. Schnapps*

    So I went through a similar thing in my most recent previous job. We were a pretty tight team and one team member started coming in late, calling in sick regularly, and would come in smelling alcohol. She’d take extended lunches and not the be same when she came back.

    Eventually, with the support of the org, she went off to rehab and she was good for about 5 years. Then she relapsed, and it was the same thing over again: calling in sick, being generally inconsistent, and it became a pain when she’d call at all hours of the night. My breaking point was when she went off on me the day after she had a full on seizure (brought on by the booze). She was taken to the hospital and then sent home once stabilized. The next day, we were told about it and they brought in the EAP people for us. I had forwarded her phone to me in case there were any work-related calls. One came from the hospital and I advised them to call her cel. Then her mother called and I picked up, introduced myself, and let her know that coworker wasn’t in and was probably at home. Her mother said some not very nice things about her (along the lines of “I hope she learned her lesson”) and thanked us for supporting her daughter. Later that afternoon, coworker called me, obviously drunk, and was very upset that I had told her mother to call her at home. I just kept repeating that we were concerned and thought that was the best way for other people that cared about her to get ahold of her. She eventually slammed down the phone on me (and yay for open office situations and being right by my department head’s door).

    Yeah, she didn’t even remember that conversation. It was after that, I put up a wall. When she came back to work a few days later, I was professional and courteous but that was it. We didn’t go for lunchtime runs or road trips anymore because I didn’t want her getting any closer to my personal life. She comes across my facebook feed occasionally and she looks happy and healthy, but I have no interest in pursuing any sort of relationship with her.

    OP, you are allowed to protect yourself – that is part of your self care. You need to keep feeling safe in and if not taking her calls and dealing with her on anything other than a professional basis is what you need to do, then do it. Her behaviour has nothing to do with you. And I’d encourage you to talk to someone if you’re not already. This stuff is HARD, and you have a right to be angry and upset about it. Just remember: you are setting a boundary and it is YOUR boundary and you have control over it. If she tries to cross it, you have the power to say “No. Stop.”

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      The power and the *right* to say no. It’s OK to choose not to become personally involved with Sansa. Totally OK! This is true even without having childhood trauma associated with alcoholism – everyone has the right not to become personally involved with their co-workers. You have to be courteous and professional with them, but you are not required to do more than that.

  40. StaceyIzMe*

    You have someone with executive function issues (emotional in inappropriate ways and seems unable to remain at reasonable levels of emotional balance). Your management seems unable and perhaps even unwilling to use good managerial practices with her (such as moving her into a PIP for attendance and NSFW humor that she’s been allowed to engage in open endedly). The impact to you has been significant. Giving it as little energy as you can sounds like a good maintenance plan. That said, you should look for the nearest exit and take it at the earliest opportunity. There are places where management isn’t this dysfunctional and where HR, employee assistance and simple good practices prevent things from escalating to this level. I feel sorry for your coworker. She doesn’t sound happy or even functional. But you need to consider your own quality of life at work and act in whatever way seems most prudent, sustainable and aligned with your values. Good luck, because this does sound like an exceptionally difficult situation that’s further exacerbated by the lack of any reasonable attempt at resolution on the part of your employer.

  41. Perpal*

    OP, I hope you got paid extra for overtime! If not, definitely do not pick up her slack. If so, only pick it up if the money is worth it to you. Document if sansa’s work ethic negatively impacts you; and I agree if it feels safe to do so preemptively lay out your concerns about how sansa was problematic to work with before and what will management do if she does the same things again. Definitely block sansa’s number.

  42. Arts Akimbo*

    TW: suicide threat

    When I was a Freshman in college, a guy I barely knew called me up the week of final exams and said he was going to kill himself. I had no idea what to do– stayed on the phone for probably an hour and a half trying to talk him out of it. Then I called a suicide hotline to ask THEM what I should do, probably stayed on with them for another hour of them trying to ask me why I was taking on this emotional burden (I was wayyy too unaware of my own patterns in this regard) and I probably sounded at the end of my rope, myself! Didn’t know where the guy lived, couldn’t call for a welfare check.

    Anyway, I was so upset that I couldn’t sleep for a long time and it nearly tanked all of my finals. I could have been flunked out of school because of someone else– someone who BARELY KNEW ME– choosing to involve me in his drama. I really do believe he felt bad, possibly even suicidal, but WHY. CALL. ME. (And no, he wasn’t secretly in love with me, not that would excuse anything.)

    OP, I feel for you in this situation, and I am casting EPIC side-Eye-of-Sauron at your management. Try to be the most polite Grey Rock ever with Sansa, and do try to push your management as a group with your coworkers to develop an action plan. They have put your mental health in crisis with their inaction. They need to know that they did this, and they need to make concrete plans as to how they will never do it again.

  43. SuperAnon*

    What advice would anyone give the manager in this instance? I inherited a Sansa (while nothing quite this egregious). I know her inability/refusal to perform is impacting the team – both in terms of morale and workload. However, I’ve been engaging with both Sansa and HR for *months* to no avail. I can’t exactly tell the team that so I’m sure some of them may think I’m failing as a manager. However, I spend a ridiculous amount of time dealing with Sansa-related stuff – talking to her about her performance and how it needs to improve, seeking action by HR, apologizing to the other departments for the delays she’s causing, trying to triage what *has* to get done (either by haranguing Sansa or reassigning to other team members), trying to reassure the team (while maintaining her privacy) that I’m just not ignoring it.

      1. SuperAnon*

        I can’t unilaterally do that but have been pushing HR to get her on a PIP for months.

    1. Amy Sly*

      Make a list of pros and cons of having Sansa as an employee. e.g.

      Don’t have to fire her.
      Don’t have to irritate her patron.
      Don’t have to hire someone else.
      Does X amount of work.

      She needs to do X+Y work, and I have to get other people do Y.
      Lowering team morale because of increased workload.
      I can’t do my own job because of how much Sansa managing I have to do.
      Destroys my credibility with my team.

      I assume you’ve done what you can, but nothing has improved. I’d just build a business case using your pro/con analysis to take to your management and HR regarding her. “This is about what’s best for the company. I need an employee who can do this, this, and this, and Sansa isn’t providing it. We’ve given her plenty of opportunities for improvement but she has not improved. As such, we cannot let our natural sympathy for her override our responsibility to our other employees. Replacing her will require someone with these needed skills, which will require a job search of this long at this salary and this much training, with the goal of having someone without Sansa’s problems in place by such and such.”

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Can you drag your own boss into this mix? It sounds like HR needs to hear more than one voice complaining.

      I worked one place with the male version of Sansa. But his behavior left people afraid. I had to do something, quickly. We targeted his predictable tardiness. Tardiness was unacceptable and that was common knowledge. We said “The next time you are late you will be fired.” Sure enough, he was late a few days after that. Done. Over.

      You don’t have to fix everything in the world, you just have to take care of your own department. I have worked with some rough people and I did agree that this guy was scary. I had to skip the part about how he might need help, etc. I had to protect the crew. You don’t need to fire on the basis of every rotten thing this person has done, all you need is one totally unacceptable action.

      1. SuperAnon*

        My boss is aware/onboard and supports my efforts to get Sansa on a PIP; she has pinged HR as well about why nothing is happening. It’s frustrating to say the least. Before I was a manager, I always assumed that managers with known problem employees just weren’t willing to do what it takes to address the issue. Now I see that’s not necessarily the case and it’s made me quite cynical about HR.

  44. Former friend*

    I had experience once where a friend called and said she will end her life. The first time she didn’t do it, but I was totally disturbed. At the time I didn’t know what to do. Later in therapy I learned that some people use “I will kill myself” for attention and the best thing to do is to call 911. So, next time she did this, I told her I’m calling 911. Guess what? She didn’t want the attention because all of her neighbors would know she is nuts. She never did that again. We are just acquaintances since then.

  45. SadieMae*

    I would add that when Sansa returns, you will all likely be pressed by management to accommodate her slacking off/emotional inappropriateness/etc. for at least a while because she’s just out of rehab, getting her feet under her, etc. I’m a recovering alcoholic, and I know for the first few months of sobriety I had a lot of cognitive trouble and emotional lability. It’s very common. And yes, even if Sansa really makes an effort to improve, she may need extra supports or time off as she transitions back into the workplace.

    However: It is not the job of you and your coworkers to provide these supports or to accommodate bad behavior. It’s your bosses’/managers’ job to make those arrangements and hold appropriate boundaries with Sansa. They may want to put her on a part-time schedule for a while. They may offer to cover counseling costs, etc. But that’s on them, 100%. You shouldn’t feel either morally or professionally obligated to do any of that.

    Also: Sansa may try to use her recovery not only to guilt you all into doing things for her, but to use you as endless 24/7 sounding boards, because after all, she’s going through a difficult time! And, if she is indeed getting and staying sober, that’s true, she is going through a difficult time. But remember that she has other options for people to talk to and get support from, not just family/friends but people at recovery meetings! That’s what the meetings are for! That burden shouldn’t fall on you – and it’s healthier for Sansa to understand that up front.

  46. The Supreme Troll*

    OP, Alison’s advice was spot-on point, and I’m really sorry that you and your co-workers have had to deal with Sansa’s crap for so long. I’m truly wishing you all the best in this situation. There isn’t much more that I can add, but take care and stay strong.

  47. Librarian1*

    Wow. I missed this earlier today and I just wanted to say that I’m so sorry you had to deal with this and management at your company is horrible.

  48. JB*

    Unless it’s one harmless quirk that isn’t making people unproductive, never dismiss it as “oh, that’s just Sansa.” It means her selfish and unproductive behaviour is excused as not a problem and she continues to do it. If anyone uses that excuse or says boy will be boys, they need a new approach.

    Based on the poor judgment and inability to recognise any kind of boundaries she needs serious mental help, and the managers indulging her have made the problems far worse.

  49. Brightfire*

    First, I want to say that I am so sorry that you had to deal with this.

    Her behavior is absolutely not acceptable. It’s manipulative. She crossed major boundaries by putting you all through this and frankly I’m shocked that she would even want to return.

    I am sober and in recovery. Last summer, I tried to kill myself twice in a month. Texted my family goodbye and went to go kill myself but passed out before I could even do it. My family had no idea who to contact, so they called my work and coworkers to find out where I lived. I continued to drink for about a month after getting out of the hospital. I was then homeless, my car had been repoed, boyfriend had left me. I was a drunk mess.

    I probably would have kept drinking if my manager hadn’t sat me down and flat out told me she loved me but she was firing me if there was one more issue. I cried and then started going to AA. I’ve stayed sober since then and am grateful to not be in so much pain as I was then. I still work at the same place and love my job and managers. I never would have gotten help if people hadn’t let me hit bottom.

    The kindest thing that anyone did for me was to love me, hold their boundaries and let me hit bottom so that I could then get sober.

    *I have since made many friends in recovery and this next section is very much my own opinion based on my experience and what I have seen in other people*

    Since this rehab has been forced, I very much doubt that this is her bottom. She may very well come back ready for a new start but I highly doubt it, based on what I’ve seen in friends. But I am hopeful that this might be the beginning of her hitting bottom. And from there, a new start. It took multiple falls for me to really hit bottom*

    Sooo let me say this. Let her hit bottom! Hold your ground and boundaries. Do not pick up her slack. Hold her accountable! It is the kindest thing you can do for her and for yourself.

    And if I were in your shoes, I legit would have like zero interactions with her, or at least as few as possible. Those phone calls were manipulative AF. Being there for her is not your job and you should not feel obligated to do anything for her when it comes to workload or for manipulative phone calls. I would absolutely put pressure on management to do something.

    I got kinda rambly there but I hope you can get something out of this. Anywho, I am keeping you both in my thoughts and I hope this all works out for you

  50. ynotlot*

    I should have heeded the trigger warning and not read this.
    No one is ever responsible for someone else’s suicide, but why on earth wouldn’t you connect her with a suicide hotline, contact her emergency contact, or get the police to do a welfare check? These are not unknown resources and require almost zero effort from you. Why blame her for her suicidalism? Do you not get this is a serious medical emergency that she couldn’t control?
    This letter could have been written about me. It would all be lies, but that’s the story that my backstabber enshrined in office legend. I never bother to explain because I know no one will believe me.
    Someone who is suicidal is terrified, confused, and frightened. I actually can’t believe you would write this letter. It’s upsetting to me. Should she have called you? No – many people do things they shouldn’t or don’t intend when they are strongly considering taking their own life. Were you injured by it? No. Was this a personal affront to you because your parents were alcoholics? No.
    Being suicidal isn’t “bad behavior.” It’s an extremely urgent, serious medical emergency that is not the person’s fault who is suffering from it. Try to think what you’d want people to do if it was you who had lost control and wanted to die. You’d want them to call your emergency contact ASAP, not do nothing and then tell the internet how stressed they made you feel. The only person who did the right thing in this situation is the person who called for the welfare check.

    1. ynotlot*

      People always say “I wish they would have given me a sign, I had no idea.” “Why didn’t they ask for help before it was too late?” and then when people show a sign or ask for help, it’s “this person threatened ME with their suicide and they’re too toxic to speak to anymore” and now the suicidal person has lost a friend at their most vulnerable time as well. If you want people to not commit suicide, maybe don’t cut them out of your life when they confide in you that they’re considering it. If they come to you for help, even if it’s not done gracefully, maybe consider that they are turning to you as someone they feel might have the ability to help. If you don’t want to help, call the police or their emergency contact. DO NOT just leave them to die and never speak to them again.

    2. ynotlot*

      I think I’m actually done with this site. It’s possible to have business acumen and also be sensitive about mental health. This type of question and answer is why there are still so many workplace suicides. Imagine if someone had a heart attack and their coworker wrote to an advice column, “My awful coworker put us through something traumatic.” That is literally how stupid this sounds.

      1. Annon*

        The OP was asking how to handle the situation when she gets back. I think that’s fair.
        Additionally, it looks like the call was simply the last nail so to say. This girl sounds like a hot mess. Why should her coworkers get roped into her issues? Call family or friends. Dont call 7 different coworkers. That insane. I cant believe that.

        1. Freeway*

          Right. I’ve suffered from suicidal depression from the age of 11 and I don’t feel Sansa was behaving any differently from her office persona. I have sympathy for the OP and the other coworkers.

      2. virago*

        The OP’s comment is right below yours.

        She says that she didn’t call 911 for two reasons:

        1. She didn’t have her co-worker’s address.
        2. OP’s brother died by suicide when OP was 16 and OP’s brother was 14. The subject of suicide justifiably triggers OP, and OP shuts down. (OP said that she couldn’t get any words out of her mouth when her husband asked what Sansa had called about.)

        1. virago*

          When I said, “The OP’s comment is right below yours,” I meant to address that to ynotlot, not to Annon.

  51. Original Poster*

    OP here!

    From some of the talk I hear going around the floor now that Sansa is back on the schedule… they might possibly just be bringing her back long enough to be able to fire her as they need to do it face to face, and could not legally while she was still seeking help. I honestly do hope that is how it all ends up going as the closer her return date gets, the worse my anxiety is.

    I do see alot of comments about why I didnt call 911 for her… I not only did not have her address (why would I?) but I was so shocked by the call I shut down. One thing I did not mention in the original letter was I lost a sibling to suicide when I was 16 and he was 14. The whole subject really affects me and I just shut down. My husband tried to find out what Sansa said on our call but i was so out of it after, I couldn’t even form a response.

    I do hope this really helps her, but as some other comments mentioned… she may be just as awful as a person sober as she was drunk. What I mentioned in the letter wasn’t even HALF of what she has done at work. She has repeatedly groped several women on our team cause of their “nice rack”, slaps peoples asses as they walk past her desk and my personal favorite, sends screenshots of messages she is exchanging with guys on dating sites which include very incorporate photos. She once sent me a topless photo of herself asking me to tell her if its hot enough to send out.

    1. ....*

      How does she still even HAVE a job here? Just on the stuff that happened BEFORE the call. Wow.

    2. bluephone*

      Jesus H McGee, that is horrible! I really hope your workplace comes to their senses and gives her the boot, OP. You very much handled this as best as you could and you are never responsible for Sansa, or anyone else’s mental health and addictions. Ignore the few comments criticizing you for not “rescuing” Sansa or whatever. I honestly doubt Sansa was ever suicidal and it wouldn’t surprise me if she pulls this like, 3 more times because she knows it gets her out of facing responsibility putting down the damn bottle for 5 minutes.

    3. Anonnington*

      Woah woah woah. Yeah. I’ve been through all of that stuff too, but not from the same person. Women should not sexually harass. It’s bad to grope people regardless of your gender. Same with sending nude photos of yourself. People need to come to terms with this.

      Anyway, I completely relate to shutting down after the phone call. I’ve had people threaten suicide to me before. It was really upsetting. I had a similar kind of reaction.

      I found this letter and Allison’s response to be really helpful. If I’m ever in that situation again, I’ll calmly disengage and call 911. In my case, the difficult part is that the person often tries to get me to keep talking to them, threatening to end their life if I end the conversation. When you’re shocked by what is happening, it can be hard to remove yourself enough to say, “This is not my responsibility. There are emergency services for this.”

      To anyone reading this who may find themselves in a similar situation – you don’t need to know the person’s address. If there is a true emergency, 911 operators can often get the address associated with the phone number, or even pull the mobile phone’s location data. If there is reason to believe that someone’s life is in danger, which would apply here.

      OP, thanks for your letter. I hope they deal with this appropriately.

  52. Vermont Green*

    Here in Vermont closings have been pretty strict. However, as of this past Monday, “non-essential” employees working in one- or two-person offices have been allowed to return to work (as well as outside construction workers). It’s not just the easily-sanitized office that’s the problem, of course. It’s also the cooties you may encounter during your commute. I sure hope you won’t have to receive clients, but if you do, you know the drill. Best of luck and good health to you.

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