my boss keeps pretending to punch me in the groin, my reference got a weird phone call, and more

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

1. My boss keeps pretending to punch me in the groin

My manager keeps pretending to punch me in the groin when I walk past. This happens at least once on every shift. I have asked him to stop doing it more than once, as it makes me jump back and I suffer from a back injury, so it can be quite painful. He laughs about it when he does it, and I am sure he does it in jest, but he refuses to stop doing it. He simply laughs and says he would never actually hit me there, but it’s automatic to jump back out the way.

My friend who is a store manager in another store informs me that because of where he aims, it can be deemed as sexual harassment. Is this the case and what is the way forward?

I don’t know that it would qualify as sexual harassment (although maybe it would), but it’s obnoxious and not okay and needs to stop.

If you want to try one more time with him, ask to meet with him (so it’s not right in the moment after he’s done it, which will hopefully convey that it’s not all part of his “joke”) and say this: “I’ve asked you repeatedly to stop pretending to punch me in the groin. I have a painful back injury that’s triggered when I automatically jump back when you do this. You are aggravating a medical condition, and I’m concerned we’ll end up with a workers comp claim since it’s happening at work. I don’t know how to say this more clearly: It’s not funny, it’s aggravating my injury, and you need to stop.”

If that doesn’t solve it or if you want to skip that step, go over his head. If you have corporate HR, go there. If you don’t, try a regional manager or whoever is above him. Use the words “harassment,” “medical condition,” and “potential workers comp.” Any even mildly competent company is going to prioritize their legal well-being over some dude’s desire to fake-punch other dudes in the groin.

2. My reference got a weird gushing call from a hiring manager

I recently applied for a couple of jobs and let my references know via email that they might be contacted. My resume isn’t super impressive since I’m quite young and inexperienced, but I do have a very cool mentor as one of my references. This person is a bit of a star in our industry, and during one of the interviews I did recently, the hiring person commented on the connection, asking me how I knew him. I feel like the interview went well otherwise, and I had a good feeling about my chances of being hired.

A few days later, my mentor called me and I could tell he was irritated. He said they’d just had a rambling, uncomfortable phone call with a total stranger, who eventually admitted they worked for one of the companies I’d interviewed at. My mentor wasn’t annoyed at me, but was extremely weirded out by what he said was a long, gushing phone call with some hiring manager who only got to the point and mentioned my interview when my mentor got angry and forced it out of them.

My mentor made it sound as though the hiring person just called to say they wanted to discuss the mentor’s work, and to even gauge if the mentor would be interested in collaborating with them. He said they were waaaay too familiar and seemed to want to just chat, basically, until my mentor outright asked how they got their number, and they were forced to say it was from my resume. My mentor urged me not to take the job if I got an offer, and even suggested that he’d be offended if I considered working for a company that had been so weird and unprofessional to him.

The company hasn’t contacted me again since, so this may not even be a dilemma that needs solving. But I wanted to get your opinion just in case; would it be dumb or naive of me to accept a job with this company after they pissed off one of my references? I agree with my mentor that the fanboy phone call was out of line, but I also don’t believe that my mentor has the right to ask me to step away from what could be a good opportunity.

Honestly, since I wasn’t in the call, I’ve started wondering whether it could’ve just been a normal reference check phone call that my mentor responded badly to?? Maybe the hiring person was just being overly friendly and didn’t get to the point. I’m definitely inclined more towards believing my mentor’s take on the call though.

Unless you know your mentor is prone to really odd interpretations of things, I’d assume his read on the call is correct.

I mean, it’s possible that the hiring manager intended this to be a normal reference check but wanted to gush first — but it doesn’t sound like they even got to the reference check piece of the call … and instead were hoping for an in to work with your mentor. That’s really inappropriate and out of line!

But I don’t love your mentor implying he’d be offended if you took a job there. He’s right to urge you to proceed with caution, because this manager sounds awfully sketchy … but that should be about looking out for your interests, not taking offense that you didn’t listen to him (if indeed that’s what it would be). Ideally he would have just urged you to do some serious due diligence on this person and the company and bring real skepticism to that process. Hell, I’d be fine with him telling you this is a massive red flag and you shouldn’t take a job there. But “I’ll be upset if you take this job” shouldn’t be part of it.

3. My employee never apologizes for mistakes

I’m a new manager of an employee in his first year out of college. He’s a great employee and has impressed people at all levels of the company and has received recognition for his good work. There is one thing recently that has been driving me up a wall and I can’t tell if I’m being overly sensitive: for big projects with tight turnarounds he will turn in work that is wrong in major ways (not just typos), and when I point this out (or sometimes am forced to fix it myself) he will thank me for the correction but not apologize for the error.

I know women have a tendency to over-apologize, and I am absolutely one of those women. Additionally, management in the company is typically very hands-off. Should I be speaking up about this? Is he actually being rude, or do I just have a bruised ego?

An apology isn’t necessary here; he didn’t personally wrong you. If he’s acknowledging the correction graciously and incorporating your feedback for next time, he’s covering all the bases he needs to cover. If he’s not incorporating your feedback next time, that’s an issue you’ll need to talk about — but that’s different than whether he apologizes.

Of course, there might be times when it would be wise for him to apologize when you need to spend time fix his mistakes, but not to the point that you should tell him that; asking someone to apologize to you is usually a weird thing when you’re their manager, given the power dynamics in play. (Asking someone to apologize to their coworkers is different.)

4. Can I apply for a job with an org I approved a massive grant for?

I currently work as a government grants administrator, and am leisurely searching for another position. I’ve just seen a new open job that I’m really interested in — good location, I’d be a good fit for it skills-wise, and it’s with a nonprofit I feel really strongly about (and have volunteered extensively with before at another location). However, the nonprofit is one that I work closely with in my current position. I reviewed and approved the organization’s grant application, and trade emails with the director every other week or so in the process of administering the grant. I know for a fact it’s one of the largest grants this organization has ever received, and the position they’re advertising for is likely a result of them ramping up their fundraising efforts after this win.

All that being said, would it be super weird/immoral/unprofessional to apply for this position? My friends insist there shouldn’t be a problem — it’s not like I can yank the grant money if I don’t get the job! But frankly, I could make their lives very difficult (not that I ever would!), and that’s not even getting into the optics of approving a massive grant and then jumping ship for that organization.

Ugh, yeah, I’d very hesitant to apply If you were just working with them closely but not approving their grant money, it would be fine. But the fact that you’re the person approving their grant and have a lot of control over their funding makes this really sticky. You’d put them in a position where they’ll feel obligated to interview you at a minimum, and where they’ll very likely worry about what rejecting you could mean for the relationship and possibly their funding.

At most, I think you could say something to the director like, “I saw you were hiring for X. What a great job! If I didn’t worry about my current job being a conflict of interest, I’d apply for that in a heartbeat” … and see how she responds. But I don’t think you can ethically push it further than that (and even with that, I worry about it being perceived as pressure).

Updated to add: I just saw you wrote you’re government. I’d been assuming you worked with a foundation or other nonprofit grant-giving entity. In the government, you can’t apply even if they encourage you to — it’s really verboten (and in some jurisdictions illegal).

5. How do I list a bunch of short-term consulting work on my resume?

I finished grad school in 2017 and, due to my husband’s job which moves us frequently, I decided to try my hand at consulting. I’ve been fortunate to have a steady stream of clients, but it’s an unpredictable field and I’m constantly on the look-out for work. We are moving to a large city for my husband’s job that is also a hub for my industry. We’ve decided to settle for the next three to five years, so I’ve decided it’s time to go back to full-time work with a single organization (I worked for three years in between undergrad and grad school, so I do have experience in a more traditional work setting).

Here’s my problem: I have a lengthy list of clients with short-term projects, some of them only lasting a few months, so my resume is very long with around 10 organizations listed in the last three years. I have these grouped under a “consultancy” heading on my resume and I do offer an explanation in my cover letter, but I’m worried that a hiring manger would quickly glance at my resume and get the impression that I’m a hot mess. I don’t even want to get into what a pain filling out online applications are.

I’m very proud of this consulting work and I’ve gained so much over the last three years by working with different organizations, managers, and teams. I’d like to make this aspect of my work history really shine. Do you have any suggestions for how to change the formatting of my resume or how to better present this work history?

If I’m reading correctly, you’ve made the consulting work a whole separate section of your resume, so it look like 10 separate jobs in that section. Instead, treat it as a single job in your main employment section. Imagine the way you’d list if you’d done all this as an employee of a consulting firm — you’d list it as a regular job, with details about each project, right? You can do that here too. For job title, use “Consultant” (or similar) and then list the work you’ve done as a consultant as bullet points under that job. It’s going to look much more cohesive and less messy.

{ 326 comments… read them below }

  1. Observer*

    #4 – Please do not apply for the job. People talk about the “revolving door” for a reason.

    You have influence on their grant, for the current year and going forward. That is going to create pressure for them. On the other hand, your application to them will create at least an appearance that you might be trying to curry favor with the in order to move into the private sector with this organization.

    Not a good look in either direction.

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      Would there be a Conflict of Interest? Based on the circumstances I would imagine so.

      1. Katrinka*

        Yeah, I think it would be. I’m pretty sure government jobs forbid you from taking a job with a vendor, contractor, or any other entity that could appear like a quid pro quo.

        1. Angelinha*

          I think you could apply but you’d have to be open with your government employer about it, recuse yourself from administering their grant and probably not work on it for at least a year (at least that’s what it is in my state) once you got the job. So you may not be totally “not allowed” to apply but in practice it’s probably easiest not to, since you certainly couldn’t apply without your employer knowing.

        2. Brett*

          The restrictions are normally placed on the vendor/contractor/etc rather than the employee.
          The employee can apply and even accept employment without penalty, but the new employer would likely lose any contracts or grants and have to pay a penalty on top of that.
          (At old job, which admittedly had weird rules around this, the penalty was equal to the previous or new pay of the employee, whichever was greater, on top of losing any existing grants or contracts.)

      2. Smithy*

        Yeah – especially for a government grants administrator role, I’d be doubly careful to read your employee handbook/conflict of interest pieces.

      3. Aquawoman*

        I’m a fed and to apply, we’d have to remove ourselves from any projects with that entity.

    2. No Idea What To Put*

      Not only that, but the appearance for the nonprofit could be that they promised her a job in exchange for the grant.

      At the very least, OP needs to talk to the ethics officer for the organization.

        1. Angelinha*

          Not necessarily, depends on the government’s conflict of interest rules! There are definitely laws about this but they may not all point to a hard no, depending on what level of government and what location.

          1. Anonapots*

            Right, but this might be one of those gray areas where the law doesn’t really cover it, but “appearance of” does. Even if the law says it’s okay, it may appear to have been tit-for-tat and that has a way of creating just as many problems.

          2. Sabine the Very Mean*

            I do this exact work and this has never ever been brought up. There is no rule and I do think it happens in my state (someone leaving the state to work with one of our grantees). I have never thought about this before. Interesting.

    3. TardyTardis*

      If I tried that in the Air Force, it could go one of two ways–a) senior enlisted would get to do it, b) an officer would go to prison (remembering a certain COCESS contract very, very clearly).

  2. Dan*


    I disagree with AAM on this one — I don’t think you can even make a passing comment to the director to see how she responds. If you ask her this on the spot, you’ll catch her off guard, and won’t get a good answer (no matter what it is). And it may not even really be the director’s call as to whether this is an issue. (So no matter what she says, she could be wrong.) Furthermore, your conflicts of interest aren’t so much with the non-profit or itself, as much as they are with your government job and the taxpayers.

    I work in a field where it is customary and routine to hire subject matter experts from the federal government, because there is no private-sector equivalent. When that happens, there is a one-year “cooling off” period where the new employees are forbidden from any contact with the government sponsors. There really can’t be any *appearance* of back scratching. It’s not the demonstrable presence of a conflict of interest that matters, it’s the mere perception, and in that case, the perception of a conflict most certainly exists.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I assumed the OP works for a foundation or other nonprofit grant-giving entity, but yeah, if she works for the government, it’s absolutely a no-go (but I also think she’d know that, so I suspect it’s a foundation or similar).

        1. Dan*

          Just so future readers are aware, AAM updated her answer in the main post *after* I wrote my top-level reply.

  3. bananab*

    #3, I’m a male over-apologizer that has to try really hard to overcome this. It’s almost certainly deliberate because thanking people for pointing out your mistakes is kind of unintuitive. My only comment is that, given the above, this dude is very likely taking the corrections way more seriously than is obvious, possibly more than is appropriate. It’s not necessarily a brushing off.

    1. 'Tis Me*

      When I was 20, I responded like that (“Thank you for letting me know. I’ll make sure to remember that in future”) to feedback, making a conscious effort not to take it personally but to view it as constructive and information I needed to do a better job in future, and my manager there got annoyed at one point after I’d been there about 2 months and raised his voice at me and said I wasn’t taking responsibility with that response… But it was a pretty toxic workplace and I was basically there because they had cottoned on to the fact that student placements were the closest legal thing to educated slave labour available.

      I think since then I’ve tended to apologise as well…

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Agreed. I too trained myself to say some variation of “thank you for pointing that out” and it has served me well.
        It keeps me from taking things personally, reacting emotionally. I feel I am more receptive when I say this, and I feel like it’s easier on the conversation if I end up being right. The person doesn’t have to apologize back to me. Because it’s not an argument, it’s a discussion.

      2. twig*

        Okay, this reminds me of my ex — who would point out things that I had done (or failed to do) that he found hurtful. I would apologize and tell him I’d try to do better- then he’d get mad at me for not “Acknowledging” how I had wronged him. Like, that’s what I thought I was doing when I apologized???

        There’s a reason he’s an ex.

    2. Dreiberg*

      Yep, agree. I feel that people who say thank you when corrected tend to be more receptive to feedback, since if they’re offended or dismissive it’s unlikely they’d say thank you.

    3. Spencer Hastings*

      Huh, I didn’t read it that way — I was imagining that this guy gave the same kind of “thank you” that you’d give to someone passing on lower-stakes information, or answering a question. The letter doesn’t say anything about his tone, so I guess we can’t know if he’s being conscientious or cavalier about it.

      1. Not a Girl Boss*

        I agree that the face value of the letter, not specifying tone, I definitely tend toward the “you’re overreacting.”
        But part of me wonders if the tone or context is giving the LW very valid feelings that are just hard to put into word. I’ve worked with plenty of arrogant young guys who think they walk on water, and every problem they cause is actually someone else’s fault. And its really, really irritating.

        In this case I think its best to look at actions instead of words. If he is not repeating mistakes, I’d chalk it up to communication style. But if he is arrogant in general and frequently repeats mistakes… it’s not really a “you need to apologize” conversation and more of a “listen, you are new to your career and need to be in learning mode” one.

    4. Mystery Bookworm*

      In my first job I actually recieved the opposite advice of what OP is requesting — I was encouraged to say ‘thank you’ instead of apologizing, which I had been doing. OP, he may have received similar advice!

      1. Roeslein*

        Same here – I think in every company I’ve been this has been pretty standard advice to give? “Don’t apologise, it’s not personal, instead thank them to show that you appreciate that they took the time to give feedback and then implement it / don’t make the same mistake again”. I think the OP’s read on this is a bit unusual to be honest. I’m not in the US but have worked in several European countries.

        1. Quinalla*

          Agreed, this may be his way of reframing the feedback as a positive thing and/or trying to avoid over-apologizing. Does he know you are having to do a lot of last minute work to correct his mistakes? Maybe you should have him turn in stuff a day earlier or have an earlier check in to make sure he’s on the right track? Or have a sit down meeting where you go over what he needs to do to avoid similar big issues in the future? I think you annoyed because this sounds like it is something that is pretty serious, approach it from that angle and don’t focus so much on the lack of apology which is really not a big deal.

          1. EPLawyer*

            Outcome is the key here. Do you want him to avoid these mistakes in the future or do you want to hear certain words said? I presume you want him to avoid the mistakes in the future. As long as he is being professional in receiving the feedback ( and I think even saying thank you might be too much but that’s just me) and then correcting the mistakes or not making the same ones, you got what you need. You don’t need a perfunctory apology to get the outcome you want.

          2. Smithy*

            That’s my take on this as well. Especially in regards to professional writing, when I’m sending a document to my boss/those above me – I usually proactively include in the email that I appreciate receiving any edits or feedback they have.

            What I think might help the OP is to think through the “mistakes” being seen as ask whether they’re due to carelessness (i.e. not running spell check, copy/paste style errors), repeat offenses, or grossly under performing for the duties of the position. If that is the case, then those issues should be discussed more directly as opposed to simply returning edits to work and then being bothered that the response is ‘thank you’.

        2. BethDH*

          I think it’s dependent on what kind of mistakes these are. If they’re “you really should know better” mistakes, an apology is appropriate. If they’re one-offs, errors that stem from understandable lack of knowledge, etc., then just thanking them is good. It’s hard to tell in this situation. It sounds like they’re the type of error that the person wouldn’t normally make in the job but that it happens when the situation is high pressure/ fast turnaround. Depending on the role and how common or expected that situation is, messing up might be understandable or a sign of a true problem in their work. I’m wondering if OP is annoyed partly because they see it as the latter and the employee sees it as the former.

          1. Jack Russell Terrier*

            Yes – I think when someone is put out by the mistake, you should apologize – take responsibility for it. If you’re late, I’m not a fan of saying ‘thank you for your patience’ because it’s presumptive and not really taking responsibility for being late.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              I would only say “Thank you for your patience” if the person clearly has been patient. If they’ve called me five times to see when I’d be there, or if they look majorly peeved when I turn up, I’ll offer an explanation and an apology instead.
              On the receiving end, I actually like “Thank you for your patience” because I am patient (too patient for my own good sometimes) so I appreciate being appreciated. Provide the thanks are genuine of course!

          2. Washi*

            Yes, I actually would have thought it appropriate to apologize in certain situations. If I was careless and made a large error that took my manager a long time to correct, I would definitely apologize (though not grovel or anything) before thanking them for their assistance and stating what steps I would take to prevent the same thing from happening again.

            That said, if that were the case, then I do still agree that whether or not he said sorry is not the thing to focus on, but if there’s a pattern of errors that you would expect someone in his position to catch himself, to make him aware of that.

            1. Just J.*

              I’m going to add to this: OP said this person is very young. Are the mistakes because it is a new task or new information to process? I never expect my junior staff to get things 100% correct on the first pass with a new task or new responsibility. They don’t know what they don’t know. It’s up to us to teach that. And so when mistakes come up in this situation, I would never expect or ask for an apology. They didn’t do anything wrong. They are still learning.

              But yep, carelessness at least warrant an “Oops I missed that” and I am in an industry where we encourage the “thank you for pointing that out” type of response.

          3. Littorally*

            Yeah, I agree.

            A mistake that you should have known better than to make, or a mistake that put someone else out time or effort — that’s the kind of thing that warrants an apology. It doesn’t need to be long or abject, but a simple “Hey, sorry about that, I appreciate you letting me know” goes a long way.

            1. boo bot*

              Yeah. I apologize for a mistake that requires someone else’s time to correct, or that caused some kind of harm. A mistake that didn’t cause any problems and that I will fix now that it’s pointed out feels like a “thank you” situation – like telling me I’ve got spinach in my teeth. I appreciate it! And I’ll go take care of it.

              I guess the other person had to go to the trouble of noticing the error, but in general I get a very bad vibe from people who expect apologies for every minor lapse, as if I made a typo AT them.

          4. Ask a Manager* Post author

            To be clear, even if an apology is appropriate in some of these cases, it’s not appropriate for the OP to tell him he needs to apologize to her.

            1. PollyQ*

              Not even as a general managerial “here’s a thing you need to be doing” kind of talk?

              1. Lady Meyneth*

                I feel this would be a talk for a mentor to have, not a manager, if a talk about this is needed at all (and my take is it’s probably not).

          5. Running & Coffee*

            I think an apology for being late for a meeting or a deadline is appropriate, and for anything that could be perceived as rude or letting someone down. I agree that it’s not necessary to apologize for a mistake that is essentially the employee not being excellent/learning/ etc. But I don’t think it’s actually wrong to apologize for making a work mistake, either. I would always express some sort of regret, even if I didn’t outright apologize. Like, “oops, I’ll keep that in mind next time,” or “taking a note so that doesn’t happen again!” Brushing it off completely would seem arrogant.

        3. I heard a rumor...*

          Exactly. Requiring an apology is assigning blame. Has the employee been given clear, detailed instructions? Why not have them share an outline with you at the outset, then follow up with emailed drafts about halfway through? Maybe, until the employee has these habits hardwired and then occasional check- ins via email going forward. Sounds to me like maybe there is room here for getting their perceptions of the project and what they believe your expectations are in advance to hurry this along.

        4. JSPA*

          I’m going to push back. “Say thank you” is for something you didn’t know how to do right, and now you’ve been told.

          This isn’t that.

          This is someone competent (apparently). Yet, when time is tight, he repeatedly turns in very substandard work (without acknowledging that it’s not up to his usual standard / is incomplete).

          OP has to either pass substandard work on (making both the wunderkind and OP look bad) or OP has to scramble, put in overtime or put her real job aside, to do not-her-job.

          I’m not seeing a “mistake” here. I’m seeing a choice. Wunderkind is betting that OP will do the work for him. He’ll look good, and he won’t have to work longer hours or break a sweat. This is the sort of “see you on the tennis courts” that gets people promoted fast (and often, way beyond their actual skill level).

          This is all the people who shortchange their coworkers while convincing the higher-ups that they’re an “more of an ideas guy.” Those people suck.

          Wunderkinds, like family members in a family business or other people with excess privilege don’t play under the same rules of, “manager controls report, not the other way around.” OP is right to feel slighted, if OP is being used. And it sounds to me like OP is, quite possibly, being used.

          1. TootsNYC*

            someone else made this point as well.

            This shouldn’t be about “I’m sorry” vs. “thank you.”
            This should be about, “I’ve noticed a trend of you turning in work that has errors at a time that these errors shouldn’t be there. This is substandard work, plus it’s coming at a time when your best is required. Let’s figure out why you aren’t doing your job well enough when it counts, and see how you can improve so these mistakes aren’t happening.”

      2. MissGirl*

        Same here. My bosses didn’t want a bunch of apologies. They just wanted acknowledgment and confirmation it would be fixed.

      3. Sparrow*

        In general, I favor, “Thank you,” but I do apologize if I’ve personally inconvenienced someone. That might be the part OP is bristling at – that the employee isn’t acknowledging that he’s (repeatedly) making life harder for someone else.

        But I agree with others that she should be focused on the bigger work picture. If she hasn’t had a conversation about this pattern of issues and set expectations for how he is to handle projects with a short turnaround time, that needs to happen.

      4. AnotherSarah*

        Same. Apologizing is good if you’ve put someone out (like if they intended to just fix a few issues in a report I wrote, and it took them a whole day). But otherwise, the best act of contrition is to get it right/better next time and to thank the person for their time/effort/assistance.

    5. I can only speak Japanese*

      I definitely had bosses or even coworkers who would have yelled at me for not apologizing if they pointed out a mistake, but I also don’t work in the US. OP’s employee not feeling like he has to kowtow to her might actually be a good sign.

  4. BJ*

    #1 That is really annoying and juvenile.
    I am not recommending the following as a solution, but I found it gratifying in the moment (I was young at the time):

    I once had a colleague “Dilip” (Not his real name. His real name is Manish) who heard I did martial arts and asked if he could try to hit me (he was a complete jerk in other ways too).
    I said no… I find this sort of thing annoying and there was no upside for me.
    He did it anyway.
    I parried the punch, then jabbed back. At the time my control was pretty good, so I was able to comfortably strike within 4 inches of his nose without actually hitting him.

    He was shocked, firstly because he thought he would be having some fun at my expense with no risk to himself. Secondly, if one is inexperienced, a punch 4 inches away can seem a lot closer than it is.

    Stunned, he said “You… you could have broken my nose.”

    “Eh. There was probably only a 20% chance of that.”, I said, dismissively.
    “20%!?! “ He seemed shaken. “That is kind of high….”
    Maybe, I said. But I assured him (with a wink) that those were odds I *felt I could live with*.
    Apparently he couldn’t. He never did it again.

    1. Dan*

      Heh. I have vision problems but don’t wear corrective lenses, so I tend to sit/stand closer to things than normal people when I need to read stuff. Some guys I used to work with liked to make fun of me, and one of them stood like two inches from the whiteboard and was making grand proclamations at my expense as to how he couldn’t read the board. So I gave him a little nudge into the board, which he was none to happy about.

      That was the last time he made that joke at my expense. Problem solved!

    2. The Wall Of Creativity*

      Let’s go for a variant on that then. Always have a hot coffee with you when you’re walking around the office. He goes for your nuts, you accidentally throw hot coffee over his as you jump out of the way.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        I’d go for water. you’d probably chicken out when it came to dumping the coffee on him, but water would be fine.

        1. Amy Sly*

          I now have a mental image of keeping a squirt gun holstered. Boss does the fake punch; LW squirts him and yells, “Bad boss!”

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I’ve never had coffee from office coffeemakers that wasn’t lukewarm. With that said, if OP drenches his boss in coffee, boss will smell like stale coffee all day, and that’s not a good smell to be around. So for that reason, I would have to nix the coffee solution as unproductive. I do like the suggestion of a squirt gun, except I’d make it a spray bottle, since it’s already been proven to work on cats.

          1. Amy Sly*

            I’ve found it works on toddlers reaching for things in a non-child-proof apartment as well.

          2. Crop Tiger*

            Please come explain that to my cat, because the spray bottle only works in increments of five seconds.

            1. Amy Sly*

              It works well on two of my cats. The medium hair one has to get a full shower before she even feels it.

              1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

                It’s funny because my medium-hair cat doesn’t feel water, nor does she mind getting wet in general (she will go in the shower, while it is on.) But the sound and sight of the spray bottle is such a cue to her that she’s in trouble, she’ll immediately get an “oh crap I’m busted” look and stop what she’s doing if you point it at her.

            2. I heard a rumor...*

              I found out that if you use a spray bottle, First shake it, then squirt. It takes one time then from there you just need to shake the bottle, they take off. (Don’t overfill the bottle, otherwise it makes no noise)

      2. Sarah*

        Don’t throw it over his crotch. Throw it over all the stuff on his desk. And you can’t help clean it up, because you threw out your back jumping back.

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          Nice! A cup of plain old water on him and/or his desk is just enough to drive the point home, without being too obvious.

      1. 867-5309*

        It reminded me of the episode in Friends when Chandler’s boss was always smacking him in the a**. Not to minimize OP’s frustration with the whole thing… And also, it’s odd what is seen as just masculine horsing around. Like, no, you can’t pretend or actually hit someone in nether regions in the workplace.

        1. LunaLena*

          I instantly thought of that too. That, and my husband told me “ball tapping” (i.e. lightly hitting someone in the crotch when they’re not paying attention) was a common thing when he was in middle school. Maybe this guy just never grew out of it?

          1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

            We’re assuming that LW1 is male, but I didn’t see that clarified in the letter itself; the boss could be pulling this juvenile “joke” on a FEMALE employee. Not that this makes any difference; it’s totally out of bounds regardless of the LW’s gender, of course. But do we actually know if the LW is a man or a woman?

            1. LunaLena*

              Oh, it’s totally an assumption. But hitting people in the crotch tends to be a guy/guy thing, simply because male nether regions are so sensitive, and I’ve noticed it’s a thing that crosses cultural boundaries as well. It seems to be a pretty common thing for male teenagers in particular to indulge in – I remember it was even a thing when I was in school in Korea in the 90s, at the same time my husband was in school in the Midwest. It’s almost like a male bonding thing in some places. So I can see why OP1’s manager may think it’s okay to indulge in this particular bit of horseplay, though he’s obviously very very wrong.

              If OP1 is female, in addition to just being just plain inappropriate and disrespectful, the manager’s behavior opens up a whole host of other issues as well, including sexual harassment. But I think it’s very unlikely, simply because guys hitting each other in the crotch is such a common thing that most guys develop an instinct to dodge or jump back – it’s so common that some self-defense experts recommend not going for the crotch if you’re defending yourself from a male attacker, simply because they’re aware that it’s a vulnerable spot and will automatically protect it. Women generally don’t undergo that same ritual, so it would be extreme odd (well, oddER) that the manager would think this is okay.

              1. Malarkey01*

                I just wanted to point out that it doesn’t have to be mixed genders to be sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual remarks or advances and it can definitely be same gendered. I think that’s so important because often men aren’t seen as potential victims of sex crimes and it’s a real problem.

                1. LunaLena*

                  You’re right, I should have thought of that as well. I was mostly thinking in the context of this kind of behavior being a guy/guy thing where both guys know that hitting the groin is not sexual. But if it makes the victim feel uncomfortable at all in a sexual way, it should totally count as sexual harassment or assault.

              2. Alice's Rabbit*

                It’s also a bad idea to go for the groin when defending yourself because, even if you do connect solidly, only about 10% of guys will be incapacitated by the blow. Another 10% will just shrug it off. But most of the rest will become enraged and fight even harder.
                Better to go for damaging attacks (joints like the knee, ankle, wrists and fingers) that disable their ability to fight or chase you. Or debilitating attacks (solar plexus, throat, eyes) that interfere with their breathing or sight.
                Pain can be ignored, especially if your attacker is high on something. Broken bones, dislocated joints, and lack of oxygen cannot be dismissed.

    3. Kettricken Farseer*

      Not his real name. His real name is Manish

      I’m not sure why, but I giggled way too hard at this

    4. Database Developer Dude*

      Annoying and juvenile? With these power dynamics, how do you really know if the boss is fake-punching or just missing? I’m sorry, but assault in the workplace is NOT a joke.

      1. JayNay*

        #1 I need to disagree with Alison’s wording here. You do NOT have to disclose any kind of medical reason why your boss needs to stop playing pranks on you. Seriously, please don’t. This kind of info can give people reasons to draw out the argument. Example: “Boss, I have back issues so it’s actually painful when you make me jump” – “well your back can’t be that bad, you only jumped x inches, and also my cousin has back issues and he doesn’t mind when i do that” and so on and so forth. No.
        You’re stating a resonable boundary and you don’t need to argue your case. “I need you to stop playing this prank on me. It’s uncomfortable and it’s starting to impact our working relationship. I’m not finding it funny. Is there a reason you’re continuing to do this?”

        1. beanie gee*

          Yep, even if they didn’t have back issues, this behavior would be wildly inappropriate for the workplace. I do think it’s sexual harassment, but if both people are male, I get that it may be easier to just call it harassment. But even harassment is something worth taking to the manager’s boss now since they’ve already been asked to stop.

  5. JR*

    For #5 – I do what Alison described, and I include only the 4-5 projects most relevant to the specific position, rather than including a laundry list. I also include a (very) brief summary of my practice area before listing project examples.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Same, but as I was contracted out to some major players, I listed them by name (which, now I am wondering is an acceptable practice?):
      TeaPot Trainer:
      – Designed and administered tailored curriculum for major industry players such as Matcha Inc., Earl Grey, LLC, and Chamomile Industries.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        That’s fine. It’s relevant, and shows a decent sample of the sorts of companies you have worked with. The way you listed them is perfect, because you’re not wasting valuable resume space, and the reader can easily skim the list.

      2. Person of Interest*

        Ditto – I kept a master list of my major consulting accomplishments and then selected the ones to include based on the specific job for which I was applying, and I definitely dropped in some names of orgs that I had worked with where relevant.

  6. Reb*

    #2, when I do a reference check call (and when I’ve been called), the call goes like this:

    Hi, I’m Reb, from Company X, and I’m calling about a reference check for Jane Doe.

    You get the reason for the call out there at once, because you don’t want them to think you’re a marketing cold call or anything else like that. So no, what your mentor described doesn’t sound at all like a normal reference check call.

    I’d be iffy about taking a job with that manager without more due diligence, like asking to talk to some people on her team.

    1. Katrinka*

      I was thinking the OP might want to let the company know that whoever it was that called was so unprofessional (my concern would a;so be that it wasn’t even someone authorized to make a reference call, but someone who happened to see the contact info and took advantage). But honestly, that’s more on the mentor to report, since he was the one who was so offended.

      1. Amaranth*

        I do wonder if the reference was so weirded out and offended by the fan wasting their time that he was basically saying “If you take a job with those folks I’d think you were nuts” but his aggravation gave it an edge. As opposed to actually never talking to LW again.

        I dont know if reporting that person’s behavior is LWs role. Aside from possibly burning bridges, their reference is the one offended and there is more weight if they choose to complain. If not, and they are well known, they might also not want to have a story going around about their reaction unless it’s their choice.

      2. Mystery Bookworm*

        I was thinking this too! It’s probably good for them to know that one of their employees is abusing the reference information like this.

    2. MsLipman*

      I work in the creative arts and my main reference is a celebrity, and I’m so careful about releasing his contact details as a reference to avoid stalkers or people who want to exploit me for my connection to him. I usually put “contact details available on request” down (I do put contact details down for my other references) so they have to be serious about me in order to get his details.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I am glad you posted this. It almost sounds like Checker was using OP’s application to get close to Mentor. Not cool, at all.
        I do think, OP, that Checker probably had zero interest in your application and that was the main goal of what your mentor was saying.

        Some consolation? The very few times I have seen people say things like what your mentor said to you are the times when the speaker (mentor, in your setting) knew more about the situation than they could say. If this NOT consistent with what you know about your mentor then I would chalk it up to there is more to the story and mentor does not want to disclose what else is going on.

        However as far as mentor is concerned I would watch for similar statements in the future. One time can be just written off. You see this several times with your mentor you might have gone as far as you can go with this mentor. Mentor might be maxed out.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        The OP sounds to me like the hiring manager was star-struck. I grew up in southern California. It was realistically possible to run into celebrities in the course of the day. The rule was, if you find yourself sitting at a lunch counter with George Clooney, (1) Let the guy eat his lunch, and (2) Don’t act like a tourist. If you feel absolutely compelled to say something, the correct formula is “I enjoy your work.” Then refer back to rules (1) and (2). My sense from the letter is that the manager didn’t know these rules, and instead went into annoying fan mode.

        1. Buni*

          …and ‘I enjoy your work’ *only* as you or they (whoever’s first) get up to leave, ending the contact either way. Agree, annoying fan mode can just be embarassing to watch.

        2. Amaranth*

          Also if mentor is a rockstar in a particular industry and it’s more of a business entrepreneur inventor kind of Tony Stark deal, fan gushing could also have transitioned into hunting for a job or selling an idea, which just puts a whole another layer of ickiness on that hole interaction.

      3. Mer*

        I was recently talking to my sister about a restaurant in Chicago that had closed because so many people started talking about what an abusive a-hole the chef/owner is. She told me that she had an interview with him years ago to be his assistant, but all he wanted to talk about was the job she had working for a famous Chicago chef, who could also be abusive. It wasn’t even her most recent or longest at that point. In hindsight she thinks he was just trying to puck up tips on how to be abusive (only slightly kidding). If you’re in a position to hire someone, don’t take advantage of that. It’s a scummy thing to do.

    3. Malarkey01*

      I agree that this doesn’t sound normal for a reference check and more due diligence is needed, BUT once when I was working with a non profit I had to call and coordinate directly with a very big deal star -and I was so excited that I did go fangirl and gush and she had to say “um who are you and why are you contacting me” before I remembered myself and said oh god and got to the business at hand. It was SO unprofessional and I still cringe a decade later, but I promise it was a momentary lapse in an otherwise stellar professional career. So yes his behavior was wrong and a potential red flag but also “maybe” it was a one-time incident that isn’t a true reflection of the manager or office. I would dig deeper.

  7. Dan*


    I don’t recall the last time I apologized for anything at work, it’s not really done in a professional context unless there’s some *major* screwup that lead to the loss of a contract or something.

    But… I think you’re causing some of your own headaches here. By your own admission, you have “an employee in his first year out of college” and yet he’s assigned to “big projects with tight turnarounds” that “he will turn in work that is wrong in major ways”.

    He’s in his first year out of college. How much supervision is he getting? What kind of a team does he work on? If he reports directly to you and there is no team, then assume he will continue to make mistakes, and assume he won’t apologize for them. At this phase in his career, he should be working under supervision. Who is in a position to help guide him to not make mistakes while the work is in progress?

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah, this seems like a situation where you would expect errors, so I’m not sure why he’d need to apologize.

      1. Aquawoman*

        I have 3 employees with less than a year experience in my area. I absolutely expect mistakes from not knowing the area. I don’t expect facts that are not supported by the documentation, inconsistencies, and other similar things that people should catch simply by being careful and attentive.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      It’s more my style to look for common threads in the mistakes and try to correct my own approach OR point the common threads out to the person so they can get out of any circular problem they might be caught in.

      It might be worthwhile to have a chat about what he needs to do his job and does he have everything he needs. This is along the lines of “Car won’t start. Well, is there gas in the tank?” I kind of sense that you may be frustrated by his mistakes so it might be worthwhile to break things down a bit to see where the stumbling blocks are.

      If he is not making the same mistake twice, I would definitely feel optimistic that all this will settle in a bit.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Definitely all of this – though keeping track of new mistakes that stem from an wider problem, eg isn’t proofreading, or doesn’t check his sources.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Not everyone is a good proofreader–I know it’s one of my weaknesses, especially with my own work. This employee might just be exposing a design flaw in your process, and a better solution might be to have a the employee and a peer proofread each other’s work.

      2. Mockingjay*

        For junior employees, errors are almost always a training issue. Even with good training, something always crops up that wasn’t in the manual or brief. If it’s a consistent issue, add “X process” to the training regimen.

        As for typos, with tight turnarounds even the most experienced staffer will make some. Proofing takes time. On a short deadline, that may not happen. I wouldn’t count typos against him – I’d change the process to squeeze in a fresh set of eyes for proofreading before delivery.

      3. Sparrow*

        Fully agree. It sounds like maybe he’s rushing due to the short timeline, but OP is still expecting him to review and catch things he’d normally catch. I can obviously understand why she’d be wanting/expecting that, but he apparently isn’t equipped to deliver. OP needs to have some larger picture conversations with him about the patterns she’s seeing and about what he would need in order to address them.

    3. Canadian Yankee*

      Yeah – it sounds to me like the problem here isn’t his lack of apology, it’s more a matter of being overly focused on short-term results (I must meet the deadline!!) at the expense of medium-term consequences (it actually takes longer if the work has to be thrown away and started over because the first attempt was completely broken). This is not something that people learn in college (in college you learn that the deadline is the deadline, even if the quality is D-minus), and it is a skill that usually must be consciously developed on the job.

      One of the questions we ask interview candidates is, “How have you had to balance the need to meet deadlines with the desire to build clean, modular, easily maintainable systems?” In other words, how do you balance today’s demands (deadline!!) with tomorrow’s realities (crap, what a mess!)?

      What we do *not* want to hear is, “I put in a ton of extra hours and just barely managed to meet the deadline” (i.e., the appropriate answer for a college project). What we *do* want to hear is things like, “I approached my manager and worked with her to make sure that I was focused on the most high-priority stuff. She went back to the stakeholders and negotiated an extended deadline on the lower-priority stuff.” Another good answer is, “I did mange to get it done with some shortcuts, which I kept track of so we were able to go back and shore up those shortcuts later.”

      So to the OP, you need to be less focused on whether he’s apologizing or not and more focused on whether he is learning from these mistakes and learning how to escalate as appropriate when faced with impossible amount of work under a strict timeline. This could be by letting you know while he’s working that the deadline can’t be met with quality work, or when he hands the work in he should point out, “I know we were supposed to have a 3-D rendered cutaway of a llama’s skeletal structure on page 12, but all I had time for was a stick-figure drawing with a little bit of glitter glued on. Is that going to be okay?”

    4. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

      I think NOT apologizing for an error that creates a pile of super inconvenient last-minute work is actually what is unprofessional here. Professional doesn’t mean never having to say you’re sorry. I have been sorry for causing a headache for someone else at work with my error even though I was never trained on whatever it was, or the training materials were unclear – not 100% my fault but I still am sorry the other person now has a bunch of rush work to do.

      I mean, I also know some over-apologizers, but if your error – even if you didn’t know it was an error at the time – creates a ton of last-minute work for me, I would expect a simple, I’m sorry to create extra work, thanks for the heads up kind of response. I don’t think this is crazy on the part of the OP. It shows a certain lack of empathy on the part of the employee to just be like OK, thanks for the feedback.

      1. Reba*

        Yeah, I was thinking that the underlying issue might be that the employee doesn’t seem to grasp the magnitude or impact of his errors. Which could be due to inexperience/lack of context, or to being generally obtuse. People make mistakes, yes, that’s normal, and when they have impacts on others it behooves you to notice that! The employee doesn’t need to grovel but it seems like OP is looking for some indication that the employee understands what happens when the product leaves his hands.

        I also wonder if the department structure or staffing isn’t right, like they don’t have someone experienced enough to do the work that needs doing, and the OP is understandably frustrated with the situation but aiming it in the wrong direction.

    5. Batgirl*

      Yeah; its super weird to expect apologies in a training context. If he’s learning as he goes then saying ‘thank you’ is a cue that he respects and appreciates constructive feedback as part of that training.
      If he’s making careless, half-arsed efforts resulting in A Problem then an apology is required, but only after his manager lets him know it’s a serious error and he needs to acknowledge that this standard is Not On.
      Otherwise he’s just going to keep matter of factly taking her feedback without a shame dance (which is healthy).

  8. Willis*

    For #3, I think the bigger issue is often turning in work for big, time-sensitive projects that’s wrong in major ways. Is it similar issues each time? Or things you would have expected him to know how to do? Or initial directions he missed? A general inability to work under pressure? I could understand the impulse to expect an apology if the errors were due to some issue on his part. But, rather than focus on the apology, I’d focus on addressing that underlying issue…not just the mistakes themselves but what led to them. On the other hand, if it’s errors he’s making as part of learning the job, an apology certainly shouldn’t be expected and maybe he needs more training or clearer direction at the outset.

  9. Karia*

    “He’s a great employee… for big projects with tight turnarounds he will turn in work that is wrong in major ways.”

    Hmmm. You also mention fixing his mistakes. Is the irritation focused in the fact that he’s getting praised after you having to fix his errors?

    1. Scarlet2*

      I would interpret it as “he works really well unless he’s under time pressure and then he screws up (because he can’t handle stress or he’s too slow, etc.)”
      LW definitely doesn’t have the problem they think they have. The apology is quite irrelevant, what matters is that there seems to be a pattern to his screw-ups, so it would be way more useful to find out what kind of mistakes he’s making, whether they’re due to an inability to work fast enough or to cope with stress or anything else and then to try and find a way to make sure he doesn’t make those types of mistakes again.

      But like other commenters above, I’m also wondering why an inexperienced employee is tasked with major projects that have tight turnarounds (and apparently with too little supervision). I’m also wondering if his workload might not be too heavy considering he’s a newbie. LW mentions being a new manager and I think they might be expecting too much of an employee who’s right out of college.

      1. Karia*

        I wonder if it’s a staffing issue. I’ve been in situations where experienced staff who left were replaced with new grads, and upper management expected the same level and quality of work.

        Not reasonable, but not uncommon.

        1. Traffic_Spiral*

          Yeah, I was thinking “company doesn’t want to shell out for the experience they need.”

          1. Roeslein*

            Or can’t *find* people with the experience they need. I’m in Germany so qualified workforce is an ongoing issue, never mind the level of experience. We totally have new grads replace more senior people who left, through no choice of our own (there were no senior-level candidates).

        2. Rao*

          Or gee, I don’t know, he’s “an employee in his first year out of college. He’s a great employee and has impressed people at all levels of the company and has received recognition for his good work.” And he’s human and makes mistakes on his first big projects on deadline, which any manager would be expected to assist in correcting as a great employee learns the more intensive aspects of the job during their first year.

          1. Ray Gillette*

            Not mutually exclusive – he could be great for a recent grad, but ended up with assignments that should really be going to someone with more experience.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        It’s really tough if you are new to the group and the employee is new at the same time. It’s okay to cut some slack here as you both are in the learning curve.

        An interesting question to ask is, “On project X, what areas did you feel the most comfortable with and what areas did you feel the least comfortable with?”
        Don’t be surprised if this does not match well with what you see. In other words the areas that he was most comfortable are his worst work, and the areas where he was worried are some of his better work. This actually makes sense. The parts we worry about are the parts we pay more attention to.

      3. Smithy*

        Yeah – also really wonder about what the mistakes are, because I think that makes a huge difference in how this is approached.

        If the mistakes are something like copy-editing, then this may be an employee who can perhaps complete these large projects with the overall tone, content, and presentation at a sophisticated level – but could benefit from editing support. Maybe the copy-editing isn’t a problem but there are struggles in laying out the material where taking the time to check in earlier in the creation process could better course correct.

        Apologizing vs saying thank you isn’t nearly the issue as what the larger issues are and how feedback is given.

  10. Bob*

    1. People like this can dish it but typically can’t take it. If your sit down with him goes nowhere and you have to escalate then your going to get retaliation. Severity unknown. At that point start putting out feelers for an new job.

    2. This is a tricky situation. Hopefully this is not a situation where you have to take that job or spend months/years unemployed until another comes along. If your prospects are decent elsewhere and they contact you for next steps you can tell them that your not interested because of how their reference checker behaved.

    3. If they need to apologize for a major screw up then educate them. If not i agree with Alison.

    4. Don’t do it. Your asking for trouble even if its somehow allowed. Sometimes we end up in situations where certain roads get blocked. Like supervisors should not hang out with subordinates outside work, you are in a COI here so if you don’t like your current job look elsewhere for more appropriate opportunities.

    5. Do what Alison says.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      #2 – it wasn’t the reference checker, it was the hiring manager, which usually means OP would be working for this person. If this would be OP’s manager, they may have boundary issues. Even if the boundary issues are only with regard to this mentor it may still be a problem because manager may constantly bother OP about them. If that’s not the case (i.e. OP would not be working directly for this manager), I would look for other possible issues, but not rule it out completely. One person with bad judgement does not necessarily represent the whole company.

      1. EPLawyer*

        oooh good point. OP I know you want a job, but maybe not this one. If the hiring manager completely ignored norms in order to pitch herself to your mentor what else will this person do in order for a chance to work with this rock star? You want to be hired for yourself, not your connection to one person.

        This could also be what your mentor was hinting at when they said if you take the job they would be offended. It would mean more pressure on both of you — because of course your mentor doesn’t want to tank YOUR career by offending your boss by refusing to collaborate with said boss.

  11. Taniwha Girl*

    I would argue #1 is sexual harassment. I’m pretty sure that anytime someone touches or pretends to touch or talks/jokes about touching your crotch at work, it’s sexual harassment. I’m assuming OP is male because I can’t imagine a situation where a male boss pretends to attack a female worker in her private parts and it’s not sexual harassment. I actually would encourage you to frame it this way to yourself, OP, so you can see how frigging inappropriate it is.

    Putting on my David Attenborough explorer’s hat and binoculars, this is the male primate attempting to demonstrating dominance over the other male by attacking his masculinity (literally), but withdrawing at the last minute and playing it as a joke, so that the victim can’t respond as if it were a real threat and is instead forced to endure the behavior in order to protect his social standing in the group.

    So, really gross and inappropriate for the workplace, and you shouldn’t need your back injury as an excuse to protest. This would be gross even if it didn’t aggravate your back.

    1. Katrinka*

      I think a lot of the perception would depend on whether or not this guy does it to all the other men in the office. If the OP is the only one, this is targeted harassment (probably a better term to use, since sexual harassment may or may not be correct).

      1. TechWorker*

        It is most definitely possible to sexually harass one person without also sexually harassing everyone else of their gender in the office. (I’m also not sure if this is sexual harassment, though I’d come down on the side of ‘yes’, but that’s a bad way to decide!)

      2. pcake*

        I don’t think it has to depend on whether the guy does it to all the men. If a male employee pretended to grab all the female employees by the breasts or crotch, it would still be sexual harassment, right?

      1. Taniwha Girl*

        I don’t think that will work either.
        If OP fights their instincts to defend themself and calls the boss’s bluff, and the boss actually does hit them by mistake, the boss will still twist it into OP’s fault–“I didn’t mean to hit you, I was just joking.” And layers on the pressure to forgive the boss for a “joke gone too far”.

        And I’ve never seen an office that operated by “playground rules” of “who hit first” or “just hit the bully once, then they’ll leave you alone!” This person is OP’s boss! They need to take Alison’s advice and go to HR or over the boss’s head.

      2. iambrian*

        Ah, a fellow passive-aggressive. That was my thought too. Take that extra half step, and then go down like I’d been shot.
        But more seriously, is there not a Human Resources department? If not for this, what’s the point of them?

    2. ElenA*

      Taniwha Girl: “you shouldn’t need your back injury as an excuse to protest”

      I just want to highlight this. Even the most able bodied, tolerant people should not have to deal with this kind of attacks.

      1. EPLawyer*

        This is why I would leave out the back injury and the possibioity of the worker’s comp claim. Op should not have to disclose a medical condition to get the jerk to stop being a jerk. ONE conversation I have asked you to stop. It is not joke, it is not funny. If he still continues then you escalate it up the chain. Because no one should have to worry about possible assault in the office under the guise of “joking.”

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, I have zero old injuries and I would be tempted to almost-punch this guy in the face. There is just nothing about this that is okay.

        1. Massmatt*

          This would be my gut reaction also. This is a very weird boss. He does this every day, or even multiple times a day? Even if it were a funny “joke” it would have worn out its welcome by now. This is bizarre behavior. Even in a UFC locker room someone would be told to knock this off.

        2. Alice's Rabbit*

          I can just picture the conversation with HR. “Thus far, I have managed to control my natural reaction to defend myself from assault. But one of these days, he’s going to do this to someone who’s distracted, and they’re going to wallop him before anyone realizes what happened.”

    3. with a comma after dearest*

      If OP is a man, it would still be sexual harassment. A supervisor feigning to touch his employee’s genitals, repeatedly and after being told to stop, is sexual harassment to me. Regardless of the gender of the manager (though we know it’s male here) or of the employee.

      1. Competent Commenter*

        “ A supervisor feigning to touch his employee’s genitals, repeatedly and after being told to stop, is sexual harassment to me.”

        Sure as hell does to me too. And even if he’s doing it to every man in the office, it’s still sexual harassment.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yep. Men can absolutely be victims of sexual harassment, both morally and legally speaking, and same-sex harassment is still harassment.

        1. Malarkey01*

          Absolutely and the fact that men are often dismissed as victims of sex crimes is a real problem.

          It’s also a form of gender discrimination under the brand new Supreme Court ruling for LGBT. In the majority decision they write if the gender of the person is the defining quality of whether a behavior is inappropriate than it is a form of discrimination based on sex. In that case they said the fact that a woman attracted to a man was fine but a man attracted to a man was not was discrimination- here I’d say a man pretending to touch a woman’s genitals would obviously be harassment so a man pretending to touch a mans would also be considered the same or the victim would be discriminated towards based on gender.

    4. Spero*

      Yes, to me there are two types of sexual harassment:
      1) things that are always inappropriate due to their connection to sexual matters, regardless of sexual intent (talking about an employee’s sex life in detail, touching a sexual area of the body). I don’t really care why or how my breasts/groin were touched, it should never happen. I don’t care if you’re talking about my sex life because you are flirting or because you think I’m a sinner going to hell, it’s never ok.
      2) things that are inappropriate because their intent is to create sexual atmosphere/relationship (flirting, asking out, touching in a sexual manner)

    5. Nesprin*

      YEP. Boss is feigning touching an employee’s genitals. Profoundly gross and should be stopped immediately.

    6. Sir Lena Clare*

      Yes to all of this! OP please put in a complaint to HR and let us know how you get on.

  12. tired and cranky*

    Wait…we aren’t supposed to say we are sorry when we make a mistake? My bosses would not appreciate that. If I don’t fall all over myself apologizing and promising to never ever ever do it again, its like I killed someone.

    1. Katrinka*

      If it ca’s no need to uses someone to have to do more work, you apologize to that person (usually if it does, it’s a co-worker, not a boss). If the only person who has to do more work is you, there’s no need to apologize to yourself. My go-to response is usually along the lines of “Oh, thanks for catching that, I’ll go fix it right now.”

      1. Katrinka*

        Not sure what happened there, the first words should be “If it causes someone….”

      2. Myrin*

        That’s a very good distinction and something I couldn’t quite put my finger on! I was trying to think of what’s the difference between situations where I apologised and where I just went with something like your last sentence and it seems to me that it’s indeed about the impact it has on others.

    2. Myrin*

      I mean, falling over backwards apologising and not doing so being like you killed someone seems like the very other end of the spectrum, but I don’t agree with the stance that just because one didn’t personally wrong anyone, one shouldn’t apologise. IDK, maybe this is a language thing, but it would seem very unintuitive to me to answer someone’s correction of my major mistake with only some verbiage around understanding what I did wrong – that needs to be in there, too, and I wouldn’t be overly, emotionally apologetic, but I would absolutely always start with “I apologise” and then go from there.

      1. Scarlet2*

        Yeah, but at the same time, this is a new employee who’s fresh out of college. Having to correct his mistakes is pretty much part of the process. I think the bigger problem here is giving him major projects with a very tight turnaround. If it’s his first year out of college, it means he’s been working for less than a year at that company. I wouldn’t give major projects to someone who’s been at the company for such a short period of time, unless they’re being well supervised.
        The focus on the apology sounds a bit odd to me. Like, if he was apologizing profusely and kept turning up work that is “wrong in major ways”, would it suddenly become ok?

        1. Drag0nfly*

          Yes, the being new is the sticking point. If a small child misbehaves, that’s on the parents. They’re supposed to be guiding the child and teaching the child what to do, and what not to do. The parents have more information about life and how it works than someone who’s only been on Earth for a minute or two. The elders are accountable, the child not so much.

          When a new employee fresh out of school makes mistakes, that’s not all on him. How was he trained? Who trained him? How up-to-date was the training material? For assignments, is he getting all of the information in a timely manner? Is he only being told half the story, but is expected to act on the other half (which he doesn’t have)? Is he aware of where all the “work assets” are for the project (company logos, company style guide, whatever)? Was he trained on whatever the best practices are for a procedure?

          As for the apology, an apology suggests fault, as in, it’s the new employee’s fault. But it’s far from clear that he bears the responsibility for his errors. How could he be solely responsible, when he’s new and inexperienced? It would never occur to *me* to apologize for not knowing the “unknown unknowns.” Especially if my *boss* had the information, and failed to pass it on to me. Nor would I apologize for following what I thought were the procedures, but it turned out there was a step or two I was unaware of. If those procedures weren’t documented, and I wasn’t told about them, and *I’ve never done that work before*? In that case, I would just thank you for correcting my errors. And in that case, any apology should flow from the senior employee to the junior.

          In the employee’s place, my “thank you” in this context would be simple gratitude for being in an environment where information is shared, and not hoarded. Where people are corrected, rather than berated, or humiliated. And so on. I think the employee’s behavior bodes well if it’s coming from a place of seeing himself in a collaborative environment where people help each other instead of pulling each other down. “Thank you” doesn’t have to be malicious or negative.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I wonder whether the employee thinks he’s apologising, but because he’s not using the precise words “sorry” or “apologise”, LW doesn’t agree.

        I had a colleague who got very hung up on that kind of precise language, so for example you could use a bucket of softening “if you’d be so kind” / “if it’s not too much trouble” / “I’d be very grateful” language, but if you didn’t say the exact word “please” she would take the request as being rude. We come from different countries (though both are English speaking countries) so there were some cultural factors in play.

        I think it likely the employee is effectively apologising, just using different phrasing than LW would prefer. If it matters, she can insist, but I wonder if the wording actually matters.

        1. Drag0nfly*

          Oh yeah, I remember a TED talk about this. The topic was about how Americans say “thank you” and not “please.” We say “if you would be so kind” and such, but the failure to specifically say “please” is considered rude to British people for some reason. And no, tone, wasn’t a factor; you say “please” or you’re offensive somehow. I don’t remember if the speaker knew why the British object to “I’d be grateful” in lieu of “please,” but it was still a useful data point for cross-cultural communications.

          It doesn’t make sense for the OP to be hung up about the words “I’m sorry,” because words are just words. What does the employee *do*? If he corrects his errors and learns from them, that’s the thing that actually matters. If he accepts correction without copping an attitude or throwing others under the bus, that’s what matters. He could easily say “I’m sorry” and just keep right on doing the wrong things. Focus on what’s actually important, OP.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            In fact, I’m British (using circumlocutions), and colleague is Australian. Maybe there’s a politeness requirements spectrum that tracks with longitude :)

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              (my jokey guess about why the British objected in that context would be that we use increasing levels of politeness to indicate passive aggression and indeed outright fury)

              1. Helena1*

                Yeah. I’m British and “I’d be very grateful if you’d do X” sounds like the kind of thing I say when I am shaking with anger but am in an environment where I can’t really express it (ie work). I would think I had seriously messed up if somebody said that to me.

                “Next time can you do X please?” is perfectly polite and sounds far friendlier and breezier.

          2. Lady Heather*

            I’m not from the Anglosphere. I rarely use ‘please’ when speaking English because it makes me feel very demanding/entitled.

            Which is interesting, because please = if it would please you and is, at least literally, the opposite. I’d be grateful if you … feels less entitled, which is strange.

            Maybe what I don’t like about ‘please’ is that it feels disingenuous. Someone adds ‘please’ not to absolve you of being expected to do what you ask (even though that’s what they’re literally saying), but to get you to do what they want you to do.
            So.. I rarely use please. It makes me feel rude.

            But then again, I’m autistic and very content-over-form.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              In my country parents will often teach children to use please and thank you by saying “what’s the magic word?” as if those words have actual power to change people’s minds independently of the rest of the conversation.

              Screaming “please” when you demand an extra vanilla shot (without paying the upcharge) doesn’t magically make it a polite or reasonable request. It’s only one part of the social grooming* involved in persuasion.

              * grooming in the linguistic sense, not criminal.

            2. Dust Bunny*

              But they’re trying to get you to do what they want you to do, anyway, regardless of how it’s phrased. That’s literally what asking is–trying to get somebody to do something for you. And sometimes they’re expected to do it, regardless, because it’s their job, so how you feel about it isn’t relevant.

              (I am from the Anglosphere. I’m also on the autism spectrum, for comparison) I find “I’d be grateful if . . . ” manipulative because it sounds overstated, overly formal, and kind of groveling. You don’t need to be grateful; you just need to bring my attention to something with which you need assistance (or that I should be doing because I work here). Nobody uses “if it would please you” in modern English so “please” has become a routine and thus rather neutral sort of request-softener.

            3. DiscoCat*

              I’m multicultural but entered the working world in the UK, a lot of British ways of communication have stuck with me, even after moving to several other countries, one of them Germany. You have to be careful not to overuse cushioning or even basic politeness because it’s easily (and eagerly) misinterpreted as being a submissive, passive doormat- especially being a WoC like me, even though I am fluent in German and have a German name. And yes, as for the US use of proxies for “please” it strikes me as condescending and unnecessarily petty, even though body language, tone and facial expressions are fine. I always have to consciously adjust my reaction.

          3. MayLou*

            This is so interesting, it is something that I observed as a British person visiting the east coast and midwest USA – Americans are much more about saying thank you than please. You tip restaurant staff rather than having a living wage (I know that isn’t in the control of individual diners), you even have a whole holiday about gratitude. In the UK we’re much more likely to grovel and apologise for having needs, but once they’re met we don’t go as far in thanking. It’s such an interesting cultural difference.

          4. TechWorker*

            British here. ‘I’d be grateful if you could do x’ – depends on tone? For some reason to me it reads as potential passive aggressive (you should already been doing x, Id be grateful if you could get on with it…). Similarly to how ‘wouldnt it be nice if…’ I don’t think is really ever used without sarcasm…

            (Bizarrely, ‘it’d be great if you could look into x’ I don’t have the same insinuations for. Language is weird.. maybe that ones just me!)

          5. nonegiven*

            There was these two guys, 18 and 19, I think. They both lived in London somewhere, but had never met IRL. They’d meet on an IRC channel I manage, and would go on and on with the polite questions for most of a page before they got down to talking about the reason they were meeting. They could almost have copy/pasted from the last time, it was like a ritual.

    3. Sled dog mama*

      It’s in line with in the world of work sometimes it doesn’t matter whose fault something is, just that it gets fixed.

    4. Chinook*

      Dude, as a Canadian I physically can’t take this advice. The “sorry about that, thanks for catching it” would be out before I even thought about it. It is like a verbal tic. But it is also a cultural one and sorries here are more about apologizing for the inconvenience and have nothing to do with whether or not I am at fault – just ask anyone who has apologized after someone else has bumped into you.

      1. Kiwi with laser beams*

        Yeah, I’m a non-American working in an all-non-American company serving non-American clients and I got the message that Americans view apologising differently when I saw Captain Awkward referring to the statement “sorry for [taking several weeks to reply to your email]” as “making the other person participate in your apology dance”.

        But “If I don’t fall all over myself apologizing and promising to never ever ever do it again, its like I killed someone.” is still toxic as hell in my culture and if someone in my country described that kind of working environment, I’d be worried.

      2. Helena1*

        Same in the UK. And I have often heard Americans laughing about British people saying sorry when somebody bumps into them (ie when they aren’t at fault) – we expect a sorry back in those circumstances! We aren’t apologising! We know whose fault it was! It’s partly a prompt, and partly reassurance that I know it was an accident and there are no hard feelings. Creating a safe space for the other person to apologise.

        If you bump into me and I say sorry, and then you don’t apologise back, or even worse you tell me not to worry about it or something else implying I was at fault, when it was clearly entirely your fault and not mine, I’ll be outraged.

  13. Avi*

    With #1, I’m a bit curious as to whether the people above this manager know that they’re employing a poorly socialized adolescent. It doesn’t speak well to the company’s culture if they’re aware of and tolerant towards that kind of puerile idiocy, and the kind of management that would laugh it off will likely treat the OP as the problem if they complain about it. So how widely known his ‘jokes’ are to his superiors might help filter out people who *shouldn’t* be talked to about this.

    1. ElenA*

      This is a really good point!

      This is not okay. Backpain or not, this is not how adults behave at work. But reality is, that there are workplaces, where this is tolerated. I once worked in a place where people were comfortably yelling, kissing, wrestling etc. in the common working areas, so this would also pass.

      IF you want to keep working here, it is useful to know, how the people above see this, and take that into consideration.

    2. Drag0nfly*

      I wondered the same thing. I can’t picture asking someone to put up with a creep who habitually triggers a primal fear. I’m honestly mystified how the boss has escaped a beatdown before now. Not just at work, but in his life in general. It just seems like the sort of man who threatens other men’s junk would have been “dealt with” lonnnnng before OP even met him. Old enough to be a boss, is old enough to be too old for this crap.

      But, you highlight an important point about the senior management. I would want to know if they are aware of the boss’s shenanigans. It’s worth finding out, OP.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        The thing is, people like this are often very good at picking targets. I bet he’s not pretending to hit HIS boss in the groin. If you only pick on people weaker or less popular or with less power, and play the just joking card when they complain, you can go a long way as a total glassbowl.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Yep. Abusers spend a lot of time learning the rules so that they know how to break them without getting caught. Suck up, punch down; ‘it’s a joke’; cultivating a protective circle of powerful people. It’s all part of the abuse.

          I hope OP1’s able to find someone outside of that protective circle, and I hope they let us know what happens.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, my workplace would have ended this yesterday. I’m sure we’re not perfect but we don’t have a pattern of tolerating ridiculousness like this guy.

    4. mayfly*

      Yeah, you know who loves to joke about punching people in the nuts? My 7yo and 3yo boys.
      It’s so juvenile.

  14. andy*

    #3 It might be useful to figure out why are you over apologizing, why it bothers you and whether it harms. People tend to instinctively hate when other break the rules we follow but dont like. Maybe you will find out that you are actually ok and your own feeling about yourself is wrong. Or maybe you will find out that it puts you at disadvantage in some situations and it is worth putting effort into stopping it.

    But either way, him “driving you up a wall” is more about you then about him.

  15. Myrin*

    Any even mildly competent company is going to prioritize their legal well-being over some dude’s desire to fake-punch other dudes in the groin.
    That’s a beautiful and wonderfully apt summary of the whole advice, really.

  16. Forrest*

    OP3, it sounds like you’re giving the wrong feedback. You are giving, “You’ve missed a full stop here, that’s not a sentence, you’ve duplicated that slide” (or whatever.) You’re giving him basic editorial changes, and he is thanking you for those. The bigger picture is that you’re annoyed that he’s not taking enough time and properly checking and proof-reading his work before he sends it to you, which means you’re wasting time on tiny mistakes when you want to be looking at the overall shape, theme, etc.

    That’s what you should be feeding back! You need him to be taking more care, and you feel like he’s disrespecting your time by not having done so. You want him to apologise because this feels to you like a matter of respect rather than some simple changes that need feedback, and you’re reading his “thank you” as disrespectful because he isn’t understanding that you’re ANNOYED by this situation, not just giving him useful information.

    You need to address the pattern here, which is that he shouldn’t be giving you work in this condition. You are waiting for him to realise that but you can address it head on.

    1. Forrest*

      Sorry, I’ve misread–I thought you said you were fixing minor mistakes, but you’ve said it is wrong in major ways. But if that’s happening repeatedly (and yet somehow he’s still a great employee?), it’s still the pattern that you need to address not the individual instances. You’re irritated by his “thank yous” because you’re annoyed that he’s creating work for you, which is why you’d prefer an apology–so the problem here is that he’s either the wrong person for these projects, or that he needs more training/communication on what he should be doing, or that he needs to take more care and assume that it’s fine for you to fix his stuff.

      1. Smithy*

        When talking about major and minor mistakes – I do think a lot of time it’s far more subjective industry to industry than we think.

        Many years ago, I had a friend work for a translation service for a while that fired her due to one error in translation in an entire document. It was that company’s policy, her direct manager couldn’t do anything about it and gave her glowing recommendations for future work. This is not an industry I know, and have no idea if that’s as nutty as it sounds or not. In my world, copy-editing isn’t the number 1 most important thing in the world – there are certainly mistakes of varying degrees that can be made, but it’s different.

        All of this to say – if the OP isn’t explaining a direct report a year out of college what the mistakes and just providing edits, the OP isn’t really teaching this employee. There are times when I write a document, hand it to my boss, and the final version has significant changes. It’s not that what I did was wrong, it was that there was a larger vision that I just helped move along. Unless I hear back “I constantly have to provide XYZ edits to materials you submit to me and it’s becoming a problem” – it’s not automatic that I’d know that was an issue.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          That’s an awful policy. It’s just plain cruel, it throws away lots of talent and institutional knowledge and leads to heavy turnover, and in practice it leads to people covering up their mistakes instead of fixing them, covering up other people’s mistakes, or looking for disposable scapegoats to throw under the bus.

        2. Kiwi with laser beams*

          It’s as nutty as it sounds and I’m glad the direct manager did what they could to make your friend whole.

          In terms of the LW, since this employee’s quality is usually good, it sounds like he’s not yet able to work as fast as an experienced person and still keep up his quality. That’s a better problem to have than someone who can’t deliver the quality you need at all, because you can solve this problem by reworking how work is allocated, or maybe negotiating deadlines differently, until he becomes more experienced.

        3. Forrest*

          The place where that would make sense Ian if it’s something like translating legal, medical or engineering texts where you just CAN’T have an error. If you are paying someone to provide you with a version of a European law in Spanish which is as reliable as the one you have in English, and it turns out you can’t rely on them to do that, it’s not unnecessary or petty to fire them for that, it’s just — you straight up cannot trust them to do the job you need them to do.

          I agree with you that the difference between major and other mistakes may not always be clear though! And of course there’s always the instructions initially given for the project—is it definitively “wrong” by the instructions OP3’s report was given, or wrong by her interpretation of the instructions? Are you completely sure he had access to the same information as you, or are there bigger picture things you know about the project which make it obvious to you it needs to be like this, but he couldn’t have known that? I think this is what I’d focus on rather than the apology/thank you bit!

          1. Forrest*

            When my phone is tired and hot, it starts doing really weird substitutions. I have no idea who Ian is.

          2. Smithy*

            Completely understand the point about a single translation that could be so bad to warrant termination – but again, I just think those standards really do vary so much job to job that expecting someone new to the work world to automatically know what specific job mistakes are, just isn’t obvious.

            In my world – I need direct reports to edit donor reports. Now what that means to me is that yes, copy editing for ease of reading/clarity is important – but that’s not where major mistakes are made. If I have one donor report with zero spelling/grammar errors but discrepancies in beneficiary figures and sentences that make our organization appear careless or incompetent – and then I have a second report that has a handful of spelling/grammar errors, one sentence that reads wonky, but the impact and reach of the project is clear and positive, the second report has mistakes I might not mention. The first would be a moment to revisit my expectations of what I want when a report is being reviewed.

            I work with some project grants where unfortunately and occasionally people have passed away. Sometimes staff or volunteers, sometimes beneficiaries. Should that happen, in the report to the donor it should be explained with seriousness and sensitivity. And unlike in one report I reviewed, should not just be a sentence at the end of the paragraph that says “By the end of the project, only one volunteer died.” Had a report gone to a donor like that – that would have been a major mistake whereas half a dozen misspellings would just be unfortunate. That’s clear to me, but for someone new to the field it might not be obvious why.

            1. Alice's Rabbit*

              It’s sad how many people don’t realize that “editing” can mean a multitude of things. For example, I do some freelance editing for authors (both academic and fiction). I always have to clarify up front what sort of editing they want. Spelling and grammar is relatively easy, if monotonous.
              But there are several levels of editing that go beyond that. Do they want me fact-checking their work? Do they want feedback on pacing and nuances? Do they want a complete, detailed critique? Do they need help revamping the whole thing? Those are all different aspects of editing, and good authors have people to help with each of them.
              Also, are they planning to submit this to a publishing house, or self-publish? If the former, then their first chapter needs to knock it out of the park, but the rest can get by with simple fact-checking and s/g corrections; the publisher will assign them an in-house editor to polish the rest of the book. I’ll point out any major continuity errors, etc., but I’m not going to sink a lot of energy into it, since the official editor will have their own preferred way of handling new authors and their work.
              For self-publishing, though, they usually consider editing a one stop shop. I’m probably the last person to make corrections to the manuscript before it goes to print/e-reader, so I have to do it all. If such an author insists that they only need s/g corrections, you can bet I won’t be listing their book on my resume or portfolio, because it’s probably going to have serious problems. Not inherently due to being self-published, but because the author doesn’t understand that great writers depend on beta readers and editors who are honest, to not just catch errors, but to suggest improvements. Also, with rare exceptions, family members are horrible beta readers and editors. They don’t want to hurt your feelings, so they can’t be brutally honest when something is bad. (And every author writes badly at times; those who accept that are the ones who learn and improve).
              Sorry, major tangent. But yes, different types of editing matter more in different cases.

            2. Helena1*

              Oh god yes, I read a letter by one of my colleagues that had unfortunately already gone out to the patient, that said “you will be out of the country in June, transporting your husband’s corpse back to Manila, so we will see you again in July”.

              She is French, and I think “corps” doesn’t sound as horrific as “corpse” does. But my god, that should never have gone out.

        4. jenkins*

          I’m a translator (freelance). It’s pretty nutty. You *are* expected to be very accurate, and multiple significant errors would raise eyebrows in my experience – but there should also be a thorough review to catch errors, and everyone makes the odd mistake from time to time because…human. Normally you get the document back to fix, you don’t get fired.

    2. Chinook*

      Maybe the wording of the problem could be changed? As an ESL teacher, I was taught to distinguish between errors and mistakes. An error comes from a lack of knowledge and can be fixed by training whereas a mistake comes from not paying attention and can be fixed bt the speaker double checking their work.

      1. Reba*

        Intriguing! Is this a usage in teacher/ESL terminology, or are you saying that these are the different meanings of these words that you teach *to* others? (Hope that made sense.)

        Asking because this distinction is definitely not part of my usage.

      2. Forrest*

        Goodness! As a native English speaker, that’s not a distinction I’m familiar with, though I agree it would be useful!

  17. Koala dreams*

    1. Ouch! I’m sorry. That sounds super annoying, and a bit scary too. The injury just makes it worse. Hope someone can get him to stop! (By the way, even if it legally doesn’t count as sexual harassment, which I don’t know, regular harassment is bad too, and companies shouldn’t tolerate it.)
    3. I’ve seen the advice to respond with Thank you instead of an apology in several articles. Sometimes it’s suggested as a way to rein in over-apologizing, sometimes to cut short the I’m sorry – No, it’s okay -loop, sometimes it’s framed as for your own benefit (to help you be grateful for feedback). I don’t think you are over-sensitive, just unused to this style of response. If it’s out of place in your office culture, it would be great if you pointed this out to the employee. Some things seem obvious to those who know, yet are are hard to pick up as a new employee (especially if the employee lack previous work experience).

    1. juliebulie*

      #3, funny thing, my usual response is neither “thank you” nor “sorry” if someone spots a mistake – I say “OK, I’ll fix that.”

      I do add “thank you” for an entire batch of feedback, or for specific mistakes found that were really serious or really non-obvious.

  18. Autistic Farm Girl*

    #4 it would be highly unethical for you to apply. But also you might not be able to depending on what your government contract says (if you have one).
    I’m not in the US but I do work for a government and part of my contract is that I am not allowed to work for a direct competitor/a company we give funds to for at least 3 years after I leave my current position. For higher up levels it can be 5, 10 years or even permanently (for really really high up). We are able to get around that by getting approval from HR but it’s a complicated process. I know other governments in other countries also have equivalent stuff.

  19. Lady Heather*

    I can think of a lot of arguments why LW1’s situation is sexual harassment, and not of a single one why it would not be. Can anyone tell me why it only might be sexual harassment? Boss’ hand nonconsensually reaches for subordinate’s genitals seems clear-cut to me.

    1. Xavier Desmond*

      I think the argument would be that it’s like something you do when you’re kids where your pull your fist back as if to punch someone and then say ‘Made you flinch’. Incidentally, I’m not saying I buy this argument and even if I did the behaviour is still pathetic and childish

      1. Lady Heather*

        Yeah, that argument makes little sense – many things that are called ‘bullying’ or (metaphorical) ‘pulling pigtails’ or ‘only joking’ when kids do them to one another are called ‘theft, destruction of property and assault/battery’ when adults do them to one another. (It’s also why many victims-of-bullying resources direct victims of serious bullying to the police if teachers/adults aren’t taking them seriously, because ‘he only broke your nose because he likes you, now apologize to each other and shake hands’ only applies in grade school, while the law applies everywhere)

    2. Boop*

      A lot of people assume (wrongly) that sexual harassment has to be motivated by sexual desire. Since the punch isn’t sexual behavior, they think it can’t be harassment. It can, though.

      I wonder whether the supervisor is pretending to punch LW1 for plausible deniability.

      1. Carlie*

        I’m truly shocked by #1. These are adults, and the punchy one is in a position of power. There is no part of this that is ok, and it should be a strict warning with firing if they don’t stop.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          No. This is so unacceptable it’s beyond the pale. How can anyone think this is in any way acceptable in the workplace? Fake groin-puncher should be fired -NOW-.

      2. Elizabeth (the other one)*

        The punch IS sexual behavior, though. It is making a joke out of the idea of threatening to touch and injure someone’s genitals. How is that not sexual?!?

        Just because the boss isn’t sexually attracted to the employee doesn’t mean it isn’t sexual in nature or isn’t harassment. As an example, there were some stories in the news a few years ago about a famous woman CEO (the Thinx founderI think?) who made lots of sexual comments to female employees (talking about her sexual life, asking about theirs, etc) and touched one female employee’s chest. The fact that she was straight (ie not attracted to them) didn’t matter – it still counted as sexual harassment because it was unwanted sexual talk and touching – and she was ousted.

        Threatening to touch and hurt an employee’s genitals is sexual harassment, full stop. This isn’t a fake-out shoulder punch we’re dealing with here, where it’s more ambiguous. The reason that the groin is being targeted is because it is where the genitals are.

        1. Boop*

          If you had actually read my comment or the comment before it, you would see that I wasn’t arguing it’s not. I was just responding to the question that was asked. Please read before you go off.

          But also–no, to 99% of the population, a punch isn’t “sexual behavior,” no matter where it lands. Not to kink-shame, but virtually no one is sexually gratified by being hit in the gonads. I thought this went without saying, but plainly it didn’t.

          1. Elizabeth (the other one)*

            Oh, that was just a nesting fail on my part. Wasn’t meant to be a response to your comment directly.

            But I guess we have different definitions of “sexual” – I am not defining it as having to do with sexual gratification, since we are talking about it in the context of sexual harassment.

            The legal determination of sexual harassment doesn’t actually require any component of sexual gratification on the part of the harasser (as shown above in my example of the straight female CEO sexually harassing her female subordinates – it was a power trip thing for her, not a sexual gratification thing) – but merely that the behavior is considered sexual in nature and is unwanted by the recipient.

            Touching or threatening to touch the letter writer’s groin against his express wishes counts as sexual harassment because having someone threaten to touch your groin can be interpreted by the recipient as an unwanted sexual behavior. Whether the boss sexually enjoys touching other men’s groins is completely irrelevant to the determination of sexual harassment.

        2. Jackalope*

          And do we have any reason to believe that the boss is NOT sexually attracted to the employee and getting his jollies this way? I mean, it’s possible that he’s not but it’s also certainly possible that he is.

          1. Elizabeth (the other one)*

            Whether or not the boss sexually enjoys the behavior is irrelevant to the legal determination of whether it is sexual harassment.

            The determining factor is not whether the harasser is sexually enjoying the behavior, but whether the unwanted behavior is perceived as sexual in nature.

    3. HR Ninja*

      I wholeheartedly agree! I feel like this type of mentality makes it hard for men to speak up. “Boys will be boys.”

      Side Note: I also feel like the fact he has a back injury is irrelevant. I’m not trying to dismiss his pain, but this would be 100% unacceptable even if flinching didn’t cause a flare up!

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Legally it has to be “severe or pervasive.” It might be either, but I’m not sure. An employment lawyer would need to weigh in. (To be clear, I think it’s awful. But I don’t know if it would meet the legal standard.)

      1. Vina*

        Every day or even every week is pervasive.

        Legally pervasive is about frequency and totality. It’s certainly occurring enough to be pervasive.

        Lawyer, but not an employment one.

        It’s still assault and illegal and needs to be stopped. Even if it isn’t sexual harassment.

        If the coworker was threatening w feigned head punches every day, it would still be actionable and enough to force the company to make it stop.

        This is beyond teasing. It’s assault. Repeated assault.

        1. Vina*

          FYI – assault does not require contact. It’s the threat of unwanted, inappropriate, or harmful contact. This is all 3

        2. Taniwha Girl*

          I agree. I would imagine the assault part counts as severe enough. I don’t know if it would meet the legal standard in the US and I don’t really care because it would certainly meet the standard in any sane company.

          If a company can fire a boss for pretending to touch a female subordinate in her groin daily because it’s sexual harassment, then this should count too.

  20. triplehiccup*

    OP2 – unless it would seem strange in your field or region, perhaps this is a sign you should remove references from your resume. I’ve never included them and it’s never caused me any problems.

    1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      Right?! That was my first thought when reading their letter. “Why on earth are your references on your resume?” But OP2 says that they are young and inexperienced, so they probably don’t know that reference checks should only be provided once you are a serious contender for the position so that you don’t run the risk of your references being contacted by every company you apply to. In addition, if you do take this position, you are well within your rights to let the hiring manager/gusher know that they put you in an awkward position with your mentor. If you don’t get/take the position, I’d still e-mail them to let them know that you didn’t appreciate their unprofessional behavior when contacting your references.

    2. LizardOfOdds*

      Yep, I agree. At the very least, I would remove the private contact information for the references.

      I act as a reference a lot, and I’m also fairly well known in my small niche of the industry I work in. Sometimes people who call for reference checks will start the conversation with some sort of kindness, like, “oh, I loved your presentation at (conference), I learned so much!” or “I worked at (company) right after you, and the work you did really helped us” or something like that. Every once in a while, a reference checker will ask if I’m in the market for a new role and give me a quick elevator pitch. It sounds like the reference checker in this case went way too far, and that would make me wonder about the integrity of the people at the company, too.

    3. Bumblebee*

      I work for a state, and the state application requires references to be input at the beginning of the whole process. So it could be something like that.

  21. Elle by the sea*

    As for the employee who never apologises for his mistakes, I consider his reaction very normal and appropriate. Honestly, I find it odd and mildly annoying if someone apologises for such mistakes and would never do that myself (I’m a woman, too). I would only apologise if I most likely have inconvenienced someone, for example when I created frustration by not communicating my points or requests clearly or when I asked someone to do double work due to my own negligence. Otherwise I just thank the feedback and try my best to correct the mistakes. I did have a (female) manager who pointed out to me that I was not apologetic enough when I made a mistake. Well, I was busy fixing those mistakes, I didn’t feel the need to sulk in different rooms or walk with my head down or keep self-deprecating, unlike most of my colleagues.

    1. Forrest*

      >>I would only apologise if I most likely have inconvenienced someone

      I think this is the perfect distinction–OP3 does feel that she is inconvenienced by the mistakes her employee is making, and the time she’s spending correcting his work. He is responding as if this is just useful formative feedback. She needs to decide what the bigger pattern is (he’s not capable of these projects? he needs clearer guidelines before he starts them? he needs to take more care to read the instructions?) and address that.

      1. Roscoe*

        He is new. She is his manager. He is going to make mistakes, thats how you learn. He doesn’t need to apologize for that. Her job is to manage. If she is mad that she is spending too much time managing, that is on her

    2. Observer*

      You’re setting up a false dichotomy here – and presenting a rather unpleasant attitude. Apologizing is NOT the same as “sulk in different rooms or walk with my head down or keep self-deprecating”.

      Keep in mind that when you make a mistake in your work, you have almost certainly inconvenienced someone and / or made more work for them.

      1. A*

        “Keep in mind that when you make a mistake in your work, you have almost certainly inconvenienced someone and / or made more work for them.”

        I don’t know about ‘almost certainly’. This is extremely dependent on the kind of work being done. I’ve been in plenty of functions where mistakes were entirely isolated to myself – guess I’m working into the evening to fix that style. This distinction is also noted upthread because not all mistakes will impact others.

  22. Alisu*

    Regardless if his behaviour would count as sexual harassment or not, based on the way LW words it I think it likely is not intended as such. Just more general jackassery. However it might even be he hasn’t considered it could be construed as such. While going through official channels is likely a good course of actions, depending how confident you’d feel to play it out you could go “whoah, I didn’t know you swing that way” depending of personalities involved this might cut it if he realises to make the connection himself.

    1. Boop*

      I think OP1 just needs to escalate. Responding with a comment like “didn’t know you swung that way” makes it sound like OP thinks this is a joke and is unlikely to stop the harassment.

      Also, if OP1 ends up escalating this, then responding with that kind of comment makes the situation look like “two juvenile employees goofing around” and less “manager thrusting his hand at subordinate’s crotch once a day over protest.”

      1. RecentAAMfan*

        I agree that comment veers into “sexual banter” territory, which OP certainly would want to avoid

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        It all depends on how HR or high-ups would react. In some places, there’s no help from higher up, and the power differential makes it hard for the employee to stand up for themselves and still keep their job.

        The back injury / ‘possible workman’s comp claim’ actually gives OP1 the best angle if higher ups are not responsive, taking it out of a power / dominance dynamic.

      3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed. I think if you have to go “jokey” you go more “wow, did realize we just got warped back to high school locker room” than anything veering into homophobia.

      1. curly sue*

        I came in to say exactly this. “Jokes” like that play on the homophobic notion that gay and bisexual men are predators, rely on the idea that being queer is ‘obviously’ awful and undesirable, and create a very hostile environment for anyone queer at the office.

      2. Taniwha Girl*

        Thank you. Oh my god, please don’t use homophobia as a “defense” when you’re being sexually harassed.

        Also there is no reason OP should joke this off. Boss is hoping to continue the joke, it means what he’s doing is OK and OP accepts it and plays along.

        Why is this how we react to sexual harassment against men?

      1. JM in England*

        Have recently completed the yearly Bullying & Harassment training at my current job. It clearly states that sexual harassment is exactly that, regardless of the perpetrator’s intent.

  23. Policy Wonk*

    #4 – Check with your Ethics Office. From the way you describe this, I think the answer is a resounding NO – working for an organization that you were involved in a grant approval process is generally forbidden.

    1. Mt*

      Either way she needs to contact the ethics office. If she approved a grant for a non-profit that she has volunteered with, that raises flags. Even though it was at a different location, if its the same organization it might be an issues.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yes, that raises flags for me as well. Even if it’s totally innocent, it would be good practice to have someone else sign off on it.

      2. OP #4*

        I didn’t want to give away a ton of info in the main question, but I volunteered and worked full-time for a different chapter of the organization. I raised the issue with my manager when I was assigned the nonprofit’s grant application, and he signed off on it. But I appreciate the input from Alison and everyone here — I thought about the optics, but this is my first government job, so I didn’t even consider official mandates re: leaving government employment. It’s going to have to be something I look into!

        1. Kimmybear*

          Yeah. A friend worked at Federal Department of Llama Grooming and when she wanted to start applying to work at State or Local Departments of Llama Grooming, her boss reassigned her case load so she wasn’t overseeing or interacting with those entities. She didn’t oversee grants but programs but the appearance of conflict was similar.

        2. Contracting Officer*

          You should contact the Ethics division of your department’s legal office to understand your post-employment restrictions. I’m sure your manager means well, but the ethics office are the experts who can give you the proper advice. I can only speak from the contracting/procurement side of the house at a federal level, but your prior employment with an organization submitting a proposal should have had to be screened by the Ethics office before you were given any influence over the selection decision. Typically there is at least a year-long cooling off period before you can work in any capacity with an organization you worked on matters relating to and a lifetime restriction on working on the specific matters/contract/grant/etc you approved for them as a government employee. There are variations though depending on your level of decision making power. Please contact the experts in the Ethics office ASAP.

          1. Contracting Officer*

            I forgot to add – every Ethics office I’ve ever worked with has been super responsive to inquiries like this. They tend to be very helpful folks.

        3. Madeleine Matilda*

          If you are a Fed, even your volunteer work needed to be run by your ethics officer for approval since it could be a potential conflict of interest. Working and volunteering for an organization over which you have decision making authority is a conflict of interest and should be something that was covered in your annual ethics training. If not, and seeing you are a new government employee, I strongly urge you to reach out to your ethics officer and to read your agency’s and the government ethic’s office’s guidance before you run afoul of the law.

  24. Madeleine Matilda*

    OP4 – if you work for the Federal government applying for and/or accepting a job from an organization over which you have financial power through your government position is a major ethics violation and could get you in a lot of legal trouble. Before you move forward with any discussions about this job you should talk to your agency’s designated agency ethics official or read up on the US Office of Government Ethics guidance at

  25. Boop*

    Regardless of the manager’s intent, at the end of the day he’s thrusting his hands towards OP1’s crotch once a day to watch him jump back and that’s an intent-to- frighten assault. It’s not a joke.

    I think OP1 needs to object to the crotch move every time it happens, but just to make it clear to everyone around that he’s not welcoming the behavior. This manager is a lost cause if he’s an adult and thinks this is okay, so OP shouldn’t bother asking him to stop yet again. He should just escalate it. And when OP1 does, he needs to just report it factually. Don’t downplay what the manager is doing or try to excuse it as a joke or a prank or whatever.

    1. Boop*

      Realized my comment is sort of unclear. Do continue to protest to the manager, but not because you expect him to actually stop.

    2. Amy Sly*

      Agreed. Be Loud Howard asking “Boss, why are you pretending to punch me in the crotch?” every. single. time. he pulls the stunt. Obviously, this is in addition to pushing the problem up the chain, as since this is a daily thing, it’ll probably happen a few more times before Boss gets told to knock it off.

      This is a male dominance ritual*. Making boss a gossip subject will undermine that dominance, and moreover, having him know that his stunts are making him a gossip subject will let him know his dominance is being undermined.

      *My experience with men is that the true alpha male doesn’t need to actively attempt to achieve dominance; their “alphaness” is established by actually accomplishing things and being in charge. The men who pull these little power games are lower in the pecking order and very insecure.

      1. Michelle MP*

        I’d do this and the coffee/water suggestion. If he gets called out and liquid gets dumped on him, then maybe he can be trained not to do it. If it continues, one day he will “accidentally” connect and then it’s “Sorry man! It was joke!”. OP1 will be forced to accept the apology because it was “just a joke”.

      2. Vina*

        Ding! It’s always men who are insecure. I have a friend who was a very macho dude was was his country’s equivalent of the Navy Seal. Never once did he bully or threaten women. He knew he was the biggest badass in the room. So did everyone else.

        If you have to prove it, you don’t have it

          1. Michelle MP*

            + 1 for Tywin. He sent Joffery to bed without supper. I so wanted him to squash ol’ Joff.

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          No, it’s not just men who are insecure in their position of authority. I have experienced similar attempts at dominance displays from women, too. It just tends to be less physical and more verbal. Snide comments. Vicious rumors. Subtle insults. Derogatory tone of voice.

      3. AKchic*

        A really loud “why do you keep going for my crotch when I have told you repeatedly this is an unwanted action?” and then stare at him until he looks away. When he tries to mumble the standard “it was just a joke” be very firm and loud “no, a joke has to be funny, and I have stated more than once that I don’t think it is. Why do you keep doing this?” and keep staring at him. He’ll back down. He’ll mumble about OP1 not being able to take a joke or not taking it the “right way”. That’s fine. Let him. That’s what you want. At that point, say “fine, let’s let HR explain how I should be taking this” and go straight to a higher up.

        This situation has gone on for far too long, and it is time to get it to stop. Not a gradual stop with “I forgot you don’t like that” kind of games, but a “if you do this again, you will be frogmarched out of here and your personal effects will be mailed to you” kind of stop.

    3. Vina*

      It’s actually a criminal act. Not one likely to result in prosecution. But it is still criminal assault.

      Threatening to make harmful contact is assault. If he makes contact, it’s battery.

      I have never understood why actions that would be clearly criminal if done by a stranger are viewed as something less if done by a coworker or boss.

    4. The One True Church of Ecucatholicism*

      #1: it’s bullying, pure and simple. I remember having to put up with this kind of crap from football players etc in high school. It didn’t happen often in the corporate workplace – but on the rare occasions when it did happen, I was usually so surprised that I would just let it go / ignore it. I wish I hadn’t.

      This kind of thing was not common, and as I got older (and, I think, scarier-looking[1]) it disappeared.

      Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not good at responding to this kind of stuff with a big loud reaction. Like: the first, and maybe the 2nd ‘groin-punch’ might go by without a reaction. But by the third time I’d be ready with a big, loud “WTF are you doing!”, giving them the hairy eyeball and making a big scene out of it.

      Now, that ‘third time’ never happened, so I’m not sure if what I think I would do constitutes good advice. But this kind of thing has led to some deep thoughts and questions about how people think and react in different situations. When I was a tender college student, I was at a supermarket and some old drunk guy walked past me and grabbed a feel of my crotch. Theoretically, I should have immediately shouted “Pervert! Call the police!” and maybe even thrown a punch. But in reality, I was dumbfounded – what just happened?! The guy was out the door by the time I began to consider making an issue of it. I just don’t walk around on a hair trigger, ready to yell and fight and call the cops. Maybe some people *are* like that? Not that it’s a bad thing – it just doesn’t sound like a good time.

      [1] more not necessarily good advice: for much of my adult life I’ve been 6’2”/250lbs/long hair/ride a motorcycle/100% non-violent wuss. This kind of thing won’t work everywhere, or for everyone, but most people left me alone.

  26. Boop*

    Realized my comment is sort of unclear. Do continue to protest to the manager, but not because you expect him to actually stop.

  27. Elle by the sea*

    Exactly. My feeling is that OP is not entirely clear on whether finding mistakes in her employee’s work I’d part of her core responsibilities as a manager or she has to go out of her way to do that, which is a huge blocker for her. She had to make that clear to the employee – she can’t expect her employee’s to read her mind.

    There is another scenario I can imagine: this employee required considerable amounts of training and supervision initially. OP provided that and he started doing well. Once he started doing well, OP expected him to be more autonomous, but somehow he remained complacent that OP will always check his work and provide feedback. This can happen when expectations are not communicated clearly enough.

    1. Elle by the sea*

      *I’d – is
      *Employee’s – employees
      What is happening to autocorrect today?

  28. Roscoe*

    #3. I’m with Alison here. I don’t think he needs to apologize at all. He is taking your feedback, and thanking you for pointing it out. This isn’t a personal wrong, its a mistake. Do you expect students to apologize to teachers when they get a problem wrong on a test? Its how people learn. You seem to want him to be overly deferrential to you, which is a way to not endear your reports to you. Let it go

  29. No Tribble At All*

    #1 — what the heck man, do you work in the Bad Place? Smack him back. (Don’t actually).

  30. Middle Manager*

    OP #4: I’m in a similar boat. I approve funding for most of the agencies in my state in my government role. I’m also job hunting, I’m pretty tired of my government role. But nearly every position I see in my field also seems like a conflict of interest. I totally understand the concerns about the “revolving door” with the government, but also, if you want to move on from government, you probably still need a job to survive and that job is likely to be relatively related to your government experience. I’m not sure what the answer is?

    But I’d agree with Allyson here, for someone you have very recently approved funds for, it would very likely be unethical and depending on your government against policy to apply for a job there.

    1. OP #4*

      It’s definitely not something I considered when I accepted my current job! Even the orgs I don’t directly administer my department’s specific grant to are usually involved with some other grant or project in some capacity. And because I’m entry-level, one of my biggest assets to a lot of hiring managers is my experience with this complicated grant process. It’s going to be a fun job search!

      1. Middle Manager*

        I’d love to hear an update on it some time! I’m in state government and I’m honestly starting to wonder if the only way I can get back into the non-profit sector ethically is to apply across state lines?

        1. OP #4*

          Same to you! And I’ve got the exact same thought process — I’m seriously considering applying out of state or to graduate school solely to avoid the minefield that is COI/ethics requirements. Every org seems to receive some kind of state money nowadays in my field.

      2. Not For Academics*

        My academic department would fall over themselves to hire someone like you.

        There’s no real conflict of interest; you’d no longer be responsible for administering the grants from the government side.

    2. Brett*

      I had this issue too and it made it extremely difficult to leave last job. Nearly every role in my region for my industry was a conflict of interest under our ethics laws (including horizontal movement to equivalent agencies, because we had contracts and MOUs with them).
      The law was so broad that I had at least one potentially employer decide not to extend me an offer because they were the prescription benefit provider for my government agency, and they were afraid that hiring me would void that contract.

      My answer ended up being to work for a private sector consulting firm that did no government consulting. I ended up being a consultant for a private company that might have had some difficulty hiring me directly because they had an MOU with the agency I was employed by (the MOU was around use of HAM radio equipment, but that was all it took).
      I worked for the consulting company long enough for the cooling off period to expire, and then was free to work whereever I wanted.

  31. Detective Amy Santiago*

    LW #2

    Take your reference names off your resume. Or, at the very least, take off their contact info. Employers should only be reaching out if they are seriously considering making you an offer. They do not need that info up front.

    Also, I would honestly consider reaching out to HR and letting them know what happened. You can frame it as “I’d like to remove myself from consideration for this position after Hiring Manager inappropriately contacted one of my references”.

    1. Laura H.*

      It doesn’t even have to be on the resume- SO many applications ask for the info straight away, and the stupid systems will not allow omission of that info.

      1. Aitch Arr*

        IME, the application is only seen by the recruiter/HR, not the hiring manager. So even if the references were there, the manager wouldn’t have access to them.

  32. Laura H.*

    As a completely unadvisable and very immature suggestion… if boss is going for a “joke” groin hit, how likely is it that he’s not protecting his own sensitive area?

    AGAIN, COMPLETELY UNADVISABLE. DO NOT. But it flitted through my head so…

    But I’d definitely go above boss’ head on this, and wonder if OP 1 is the only victim of the sick joke.

    1. SweetestCin*

      Not going to lie. That was initial “flitting thought through head number 1”.

      Flitting thought through head number 2 was: “I wonder if OP 1 could commission some sort of cup (akin to a medieval codpiece) from some sort of hefty metal and kind of manage to walk straight into the punch like it wasn’t happening”.

      Neither is adviseable in the real world, sadly.

  33. Richard Hershberger*

    As a point of information, LW1’s boss’s actions meet the legal definition of assault. Pulling out my trusty, if outdated, Black’s: “Any willful attempt or threat to inflict injury upon the person of another, when coupled with an apparent present ability so to do, and any intentional display of force such as would give the victim reason to fear or expect immediate bodily harm”. I’m not suggesting that the LW do anything with this information, but then again I’m not suggest he not.

    1. Vina*


      This is both a criminal act and a tort (civil wrong) over which LW could sue.

      Given how our culture views crotch shots, I don’t know anyone who’d be in coworker’s corner.

      The higher ups need to stop this now.

      Also, I guarantee this isn’t the first time this bully has harassed someone. It won’t be the last. Bullies like this don’t learn easily

      1. Vina*

        Wet to a civil suit, the issue is damages, not wrong nor proof. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to recover if you only have mental torture (intentional infliction of emotional distress). If, however, the back strain has led to increased therapy bills or doctor’s visits…..

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          “If, however, the back strain has led to increased therapy bills or doctor’s visits…..”
          I’m not sure how that would work. Workers’ comp claim, obviously. Would there also be a third-party liability claim against the boss? No respondeat superior, that being preempted by the workers’ comp. Is a claim against the boss individually also preempted? I’m not sure, but my gut reaction is that it probably is. I suppose you could argue that faking crotch shots is not within the scope of his employment.

          1. Vina*

            Not a civil litigator, but I think you are correct.

            A lot of this, however, depends on the state laws. I am admitted in several states. Easier to sue employers and others in one state than the others.

            But at least we both agree there are legal issues both civil and criminal here.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              And ditto on damages being the question. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had where the potential client believes–rightly or wrongly–that they have been wronged, and wants justice. But there are no actual damages. People don’t get that.

              1. Vina*

                One of the most difficult things to get people to understand is that just b/c something is legally wrong doesn’t mean there is a legal remedy in the courts.

  34. Marcy Marketer*

    I have an employee who never apologizes or acknowledges mistakes when I catch them. It frustrates me because it makes me feel like she doesn’t realize the impact of a mistake or that she has a plan to not make it next time. But I thought more about it and I actually think it’s just a personality difference and she feels embarrassed and awkward and doesn’t know what to say, because after the meetings where I’ve caught the mistakes she will mention being disappointed that the mistake happened. I’ve just decided to let it not bother me.

    1. Kettricken Farseer*

      I have employees who over-apologize when all I want is for them to own the mistake and then tell me how they’re going to prevent it going forward. An apology without a plan for addressing the issue isn’t helpful to me.

      1. Kiki*

        I definitely fell into this category and it’s something my manager has been coaching me on. It’s actually really helped both my work relationships and my mental health. I would overly focus on how terrible it was of me it was to not know something or to have made the mistake and try to express that I knew how much of an inconvenience it was instead of accepting errors are human and focusing on making sure I was implementing systems to make sure this wouldn’t happen again. Because growth is what my manager cares about– mistakes happen.

  35. T3*

    #3 reminds me of my manager. When I first started working at my current my job (in a new field) I’d say thanks if she pointed out minor, easy to fix mistakes and would apologize for anything egregious, like taking a misstep in a procedure or omitting something we previously discussed.

    I quickly learned that my manager (who is also new to supervising) is just a highly anal perfectionist. Doesn’t matter if the mistake I made was minor (think low-stakes typos like missing periods etc.) or high stakes (like the examples I mentioned above), it’s all the same to her and she expects me to apologize profusely. (Sometimes I apologize but I still say thanks most of the time.) She just doesn’t like errors or mistakes full stop. She often goes out of her way to point them out and gets irritated whenever she has to do it. Ironically, I regularly find mistakes in her work as well and don’t waste my time sending petty emails and screenshots because they’re easy to fix and bigger picture—not a big deal.

    OP #3 others have already given great advice here. I’d say think about the outcome you want after bringing these errors to your employee’s attention. Do you want them to spend more time reviewing their work? Do they need to have a high level of detail to do this kind of work?

    You say they’re a good employee, so something is leading me to believe that you might not be communicating your expectations clearly. Or that they’re not being given the time or resources to complete their work effectively. Sounds like they’re good at receiving the feedback, so do right by them by giving feedback that’s critical and helpful. I’m also wondering if the demands of the job are a bit too much/unrealistic for someone in their first year. Also do you have a dedicated time to regularly check-in with this person? I use my check-ins with my manager to chat about things like this to get clarity for future projects.

  36. Gazebo Slayer*

    Why do people always say women have a tendency to over-apologize? Why is it never “men have a tendency to under-apologize”?

    Why is “male” behavior always the default and “female” behavior always the problem?

    1. Roscoe*

      Its not that its the default, it just depends on what you consider as something that NEEDS an apology. I’d argue many things that women apologize for, especially in the workplace, don’t require one.

      1. Taniwha Girl*

        I disagree. I think men underapologize for things that require apologies. Sent the wrong file? Asked me to do a task that was arduous? Late to finish something? Apologize. Takes two seconds and acknowledges the effect of your actions.

        1. Roscoe*

          Asking you to do an arduous task requires an apology? Isn’t a please and thank you enough?

          I agree about being late to finish something. As I’m a very punctual person who takes deadlines seriously, if you miss one and it impacts me, I do think it requires an apology. But things like little mistakes don’t require one.

          I guess the question becomes who gets to decide what requires an apology, and therefore what is over/under apologizing. I don’t think that your bar is any more valid than mine. So then it becomes like a cohabitating situation. What I mean by that is, take the garbage where 2 people have different ideas of when it needs to be taken out. If one person thinks it needs to be taken out when its an inch below “full” and the other pushes it down to force as much in as possible, neither are wrong. But what happens is the person with the lower bar is constantly upset at the other person for not doing something that they feel “needs” to be done. So with the apology, if you think that a minor mistake needs an apology, and I don’t, well neither of us is wrong. But then you, like OP, will get mad about it. But there is no objective right or wrong, so its not really fair to be mad at the person

        2. Jojo*

          I work mainly with men. Bunch of cuss buckets. Periodically one of the females in the office will complain about the language. Then i have guys coming in my office needing me to do my job for them. And they will be apologizing for asking me to do my job. I have to tell them it was not me that complained and to stop apologizing for needing me to do my job. Drives me nuts.

  37. Database Developer Dude*

    Regarding LW#1 –
    No. Just…no. The back injury is irrelevant to the matter. This behavior by a boss is so beyond the pale, that it doesn’t matter what the status of the LW is. The boss’ actions are unacceptable. If this were happening to me, how would I know it was a joke? With my training, I would immediately go into a defensive mode, and stop what I perceived to be a physical threat…so this situation would quickly escalate. Assault is never acceptable.

    Regarding LW#3 –
    Honest mistakes need to be underwritten by a good boss. Training and supervision are important. If this is a kid fresh out of college, profuse apologies for making mistakes sends the message that being human is not tolerated. Let the kid show you how he plans to avoid the mistake in the future. If he’s not willing to do that, then maybe you have a right to get annoyed at a lack of an apology, but if he’s saying thanks for pointing out errors, and he’s fixing them, I don’t see what the problem is.

  38. Aunt Piddy*

    For #1, in most states injuries sustained during horseplay are exceptions to Workers’ Comp (because it’s not in the “course and scope” of employment), so the worker may be able to sue in tort – which the employer should be WAY more worried about.

    (I’m an attorney who does a lot of comp).

    1. Indy Dem*

      Horseplay implies all parties are engaging in this activity. OP is not a participant, rather a target.

      1. Aunt Piddy*

        Not necessarily. I had a claimant that had permanent eye damage because two of his co-workers were were shooting rubber bands and paper clips at each other from across the office. He wasn’t involved, but his injury was a result of horseplay. (And most of the time you WANT to be take out of the WC regime, because you can get recovery for pain and suffering in tort, but you can’t in comp)

    2. Database Developer Dude*

      This is NOT horseplay. If someone tried to fake punch me in the groin, the results would NOT be pretty.

  39. TootsNYC*

    <Honestly, since I wasn’t in the call, I’ve started wondering whether it could’ve just been a normal reference check phone call that my mentor responded badly to?? Maybe the hiring person was just being overly friendly and didn’t get to the point. I’m definitely inclined more towards believing my mentor’s take on the call though.

    This is reminding me of so many things!

  40. Grbtw*

    OP 3,

    I used to be an over apologizer, as a young woman, it was accepted. As I grew, I had managers who would berate me into apologies, and managers who would berate me about apologies. At this point, I don’t respect any manager who says one thing or another. I will apologize if I make a mistake that crates a multi-step inconvenience, but that’s about it.

    Apologizing has nothing to do with professionaism in my book, it’s personal and my choice alone to make. People who are obsessed with apologies are usually battling personal power issues. I would recommend you look within and decide your feelings on your own apologies, but don’t cross that boundary with other people, it’s not healthy.

    People who demand apologies are, in my experience, abusive and insecure people. I’m not accusing you of this, you’re settling in to your new role, but reflect on the managers of your past who put this idea in your head. Were they weak, ineffective, power obsessed, suck ups to their superiors, emotionally unbalanced? In my experience, yes. You’ll find your power when you live your character instead of letting your behavior be controlled by others.

  41. Erin*

    For the consultant, I have several friends who have done this. They list the name of their company and that they were the Principal/CEO/HBIC/Coding Ninja whatever title suits the niche.

    They also listed the companies that they consulted for under their company heading. Some of the companies that they consulted for are big names in their industry, and they all felt like listing those companies with a brief, NDA friendly blurb about the work they did/results they delivered helped to legitimize their professional experience to a potential employer. Additionally, to raise their visibility, a few of them became quite active on LinkedIn. They posted industry news, got conversations started, etc.

    Good luck! You aren’t a hot mess!

  42. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Pulled punches to the groin…does this dude resemble Will Farrell or Danny McBride?! This jokester forgot that those characters they play are hilarious because everyone laughs at how extremely trashy and dimwitted they are. Yikes.

    Tell HR. This dumbass is a liability and deserves to be fired. That’s “Hooters manager making girls eat beans” level of incompetence and sexual harassment.

  43. Resumes are not the place to share reference contact info*

    He said they were waaaay too familiar and seemed to want to just chat, basically, until my mentor outright asked how they got their number, and they were forced to say it was from my resume

    Wait, why is the reference’s phone number on the OP’s resume? I’m relatively well-known in my field (2 books from a mainstream publisher) and don’t mind being a reference to mentees, but would hate to know that they are posting my number to their resumes. Wait until you’re nearing the end of the interview process, when you’re already a finalist, to share my contact information, please.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      They had an interview with the company, so I assume they requested references at that time! Not that it was just splashed on a their resume.

      But I agree, if you have high profile references, you don’t just plaster it on a resume or even on a standard application. It’s only for when you reach an interview stage.

      Since she emailed that they may be contacted, it sounds like she had an interview, handed over the references and then let them know what was up.

  44. Blue Eagle*

    #2 – I don’t think you need to be worried about whether or not to take the job because it doesn’t sound like one will be offered. Your mentor never said the hiring manager asked for a reference for you, only that the hiring manager called and mentioned your resume only when asked about the source of the phone number. Perhaps bullet dodged?

  45. Kettricken Farseer*

    I am sure he does it in jest, but he refuses to stop doing it.

    I’m wondering about this. If it was in jest, he would have done it once. But continuing to do it after you told him to stop shows he’s making this choice repeatedly and it’s not in jest. This is bullying. Trying to pass it off with, “I’m only kidding!” is absolute BS. That’s how abusive people try to exonerate themselves with you.

    1. Kettricken Farseer*

      You should say, “If you’re really joking, you’re not very good at it because both of us should be laughing.”

  46. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    #5, Are you any different than a freelancer? I think all of Alison’s resume advice to freelancers would apply to you too!

  47. Construction Safety*

    #1. Next time he does it, in a stage whisper: “Hey man, please stop trying to touch my junk!”

    1. Recreational Moderation*

      I was thinking, “Hey, man, why are you always trying to touch my crotch?” but that would invite a response. This is better.

    2. Wren*

      My favorite response is from Stephen Fry on QI “Stop, stop! You’ll give me an erection!”

      1. Taniwha Girl*

        No. Let’s not use homophobia as a defense against harassment. Underpinning that comment is that the target is actually gay, which is something the perpetrator should fear. Is that the message we want to send?

  48. school of hard knowcs*

    LW1 short term advice from former teacher(perfected the stare which would stop a student in their tracks) and I work in the “NOT” political correct world. Zero reaction takes all the fun out of it.

    1. Bored stare & tone, “Really?” 3 second pause
    Then ask manager if he talked to his boss about some current issue, be formal and polite. This restates, we are at work, you work for someone.
    Anytime manager acts appropriately treat him friendly. Reward good behavior, bad behavior gets the verbal version of the spray bottle. It also gives you all the high ground.
    He will get positive reinforcement when he behaves correctly.

  49. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    My take on the “fanboying for a reference” issue is that you need to remove your desire to get a job from this situation for a moment. This person showed extreme boundary issues and a lack of professionalism in a big way. This should be a big red flag, they are at best immature and shouldn’t be hiring people if they can’t keep it together to do a reference check. I don’t care if they’re calling the Queen of England, they need to do their job properly and stay cool.

    They had a chance to really do a good job and talk to your mentor for a business reason. That should have been plenty to wet their thirsty lips. But no, they took it to the top.

    I would respect your mentor more. Even if they’re the dramatic type, which we have no reason to believe. They are someone you know. Someone you’re learning from. Someone who you should trust in a whole lot more than a stranger who has such bad manners and professional boundaries.

    This is the job you’d possibly get and they’d start asking you to phone in favors for the Queen of England on their behalf. You don’t want none of those apples.

    1. Grbtw*

      This, yes! I once accepted a job after a manager fanboyed out on a previous manager. As soon as new manager discovered they couldn’t become BFFs with previous manager through me, she made my life miserable. I was stuck there for a year.

  50. pcake*

    LW1, I have to partly disagree with Alison on this one; I wouldn’t make it about your back injury but about something that makes you very uncomfortable. If I was being me, I’d use “the voice of authority” to tell him to stop, that I really don’t like it, period. If he didn’t stop, I’d go to HR and either be honest – that I really don’t want anyone pretending to touch, much less punch, my groin, and that I’ve told him numerous times to stop, but that he refuses. Or if I was concerned that I would be ignored, I’d make it sound more like sexual harassment, telling them I’m very uncomfortable having people make gestures toward my privates, much less violent gestures, and that he refuses to stop.

    In my case, my back wouldn’t be the only issue here. You jump because it’s a threat of violence, and your head knows he probably won’t hit you, but it’s still a violent gesture toward a sensitive area. My biggest issue, though, is someone refusing to stop making a threatening, violent gesture toward me after I specifically asked and then told them to stop because it makes me very uncomfortable. Even worse that they try and tell me it’s a joke. If it’s a joke, it’s only a joke to him, which makes it bullying.

  51. willow for now*

    LW#1 – I feel your pain – literally. I have a back issue that is usually fine but with an improper motion it can go out and not support me. Jumping back could definitely make that happen.

    Plus, years ago after abdominal surgery, my then husband would toss things to me to catch, and I would either flinch out of the way or reach to grab it and cause myself pain. I have since become a vocal advocate and yell “stop making them flinch!” when I run across this situation.

    No advice on how to get a glassbowl to stop, other than shrieking every time. Don’t suffer in silence!

  52. Weird Reference Call Person*

    Hey I’m the writer of #2! Thank you Alison for your advice and that bit of validation that I wouldn’t be out of bounds ignoring my mentor’s request that I don’t accept the job if offered. It’s also interesting seeing some commenters say the opposite, that my mentor really did me a solid and that they would consider that call to be too much of a red flag.

    The interviewer called today to let me know that they would only be interested in hiring me for a more entry-level position on their staff, with much lower salary. Not what I’m looking for at the moment so I turned down the offer. Maybe I dodged a bullet a bit !

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