my disgusting boss touches and chews on everything on my desk

A reader writes:

My boss, who is a lawyer, is of the opinion that everything on my desk and in my office is his and completely fair game. It doesn’t matter if I bought it, brought it from home, or that I don’t want germs spread around the office — he thinks he can touch and use EVERYTHING.

Because of COVID-19 (and, really, even before that), I have asked him repeatedly to not use my desk and the things on it. He says he’ll stop but he doesn’t. I’ve found chewed pens, chewed food, and spilled drinks on my desk. It happens daily. This is a man whose wife covers all the furniture in their house because he is such a slob. It’s just gross.

He told me yesterday that because his hands are dry and “because of arthritis,” he actually licks his fingers so he can keep a grip on his pen (!!). He also puts work papers in his mouth, and they have bite marks on them. Ewww!

I have certain types of pens on my desk that I bought and can tell the writing apart from his ink pen, and I have noticed he uses them (I sanitized them and everything else).

He has his own office and supplies, so I’m not sure why he does this, other than my desk is exponentially cleaner than his. I have taken all my supplies off my desk and kept them in my car before so he won’t touch them, have left huge notes on legal size file folders asking that my desk not be used, covered my desk, shut my door — nothing works!

Most of these bad habits are just that — habits. I’m not sure he can even stop doing any of these things. He’s the owner so there is no one above him or an HR to go to. Short of setting mouse traps, I’m not sure how to get the point across that these behaviors are just gross and show a great lack of respect for anyone else in the office. Any advice?

Ewww, your boss is gross.

You’re understandably looking for a way to get through to him, but I don’t think you’re going to find one. This man is disgusting, you’ve talked to him and directly asked him to stop multiple times, and it’s not making any difference. You can continue to speak up about it, but it sounds like it’s going to be a lot of wasted breath.

It’s not that you haven’t landed on the one argument or the one amazing script that will convince him. It’s that he doesn’t care. And yes, it’s especially unacceptable while there’s a highly contagious virus around, but he still doesn’t care.

With no one there with any power over him, there’s no way to force him to comply with basic hygiene or common courtesy, no OSHA regulation you can cite, etc.

So, since you can’t rely on him for a solution, I’d focus on what you can control on your side to block his access to your stuff. Specifically, I would try to leave nothing on your desk. Things you could try:

* Keep your pens somewhere he can’t access, like your purse.

* Get a desk with a locking drawer and keep your supplies in there.

* Put your stuff somewhere he’s not likely to look for it. Can you bring in a hollowed out book or a decorative box and store your things in there, figuring he won’t think to open it? (Make it a boring book. Better yet, use a tampon box.)

* Purchase a small lockbox or a locking file box. Get it reimbursed as an office expense. Don’t give him the key or code.

Obviously, these are all ridiculous measures that will make things less convenient for you. But they might be the only approach that works.

Once you’ve cleared off your desk, you could also try leaving out something that’s specifically for him — like a holder of pens that you don’t care if he touches/chews/licks. If those are the only ones he sees, he’ll probably use those (and be less likely to go looking in your desk), and you can just consider them Bob’s Gross Pens.

That doesn’t address the chewed food (wtf?) or the spilled drinks. You might need to keep a massive supply of disinfectant around (again, the office should pay) and routinely wipe down your desk.

To be clear, it’s not okay or reasonable that you have to do this, but since you’re essentially working for an infant, this might be the only practical response. (But perhaps you can also tell him that you’ll need a raise to make all these inconvenient measures worthwhile.)

And be glad you’re not sharing a bathroom with him.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 375 comments… read them below }

    1. old curmudgeon*

      I snort-giggled at that – pure genius, regardless of whether or not the OP needs/uses them!!

      Also big agreement for Alison’s comment about being glad the OP doesn’t have to share a bathroom with that slob. Ewwwww……

    2. cnonymous*

      I have a boss who is an inveterate food thief – not from the fridge, fortunately, but I have a cabinet with some snacks over the desk my office and more than once he has come in, reaching OVER me sitting in my chair to help himself. He also “borrows” snacks when I am not in the office. I tried the putting feminine hygiene products front and center in the cabinet, but he just pushed them aside to search for food. After nothing really kept him from helping himself, I decided it wasn’t worth getting annoyed about this one quirk, given how many other things about my job are so great, and now I just keep decoy snacks in the cabinet that I don’t mind him eating and hide the good stuff in a locking desk drawer. (And now I’m hoping I remembered to remove both stashes before I left the office many many weeks ago for quarantine . . . ).

        1. a lawyer*

          The OP said there’s no HR.

          As an attorney, I would like to apologize. That is totally gross and nothing I’ve ever encountered. It sounds like this might be a solo practice, i.e. a small organization – as Alison has pointed out, those are more likely to have weird issues remain unaddressed. I hope there are other opportunities for you.

          1. OP*

            @a lawyer – yes, it’s a solo. He’s been practicing this way for many years. I am guessing that’s why he behaves the way he does – no one has ever challenged him.

            1. Atrocious Pink*

              28-year non-lawyer legal professional here. One of the reasons to be very cautious about going to work for a solo is a great many of them are solos because they aren’t socialized enough to work in a firm.

              1. caps22*

                Lawyer here, and I agree with you. Some do it for various decent reasons, but a lot do it when they get pushed out. Tread carefully and ask a lot of questions before deciding to work there.

              2. Gazebo Slayer*

                Sadly the same principle applies for a lot of very small businesses of other sorts.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        When you go back after quarantine, tell him you’ve changed your eating habits and aren’t keeping snacks around. You can still keep the snacks you want to have in your locked drawer, but he doesn’t have to know that. It’s not your job to handle your boss’s snacking needs. He’s a grown adult and he can make plans for what he’ll do if he gets hungry.

        1. Eukomos*

          What if he sees her eating one, though? I don’t think lying is the way out, she needs to either genuinely stop keeping snacks at the office or tell him she’s moved them when he asks why they disappeared and be prepared to handle the awkward conversation.

        2. Hobbit*

          Also keep Lysol and disinfectant wipes in your desk…. I really have no words for this.

      2. Amaranth*

        The trick is to put the snacks *inside* the tampon box. Are you buying these with your own money? Because if you haven’t told him that they aren’t community snacks he might be operating under a wrong assumption. Like maybe the person who previously had your job stocked office munchies. If you have, then a firm ‘hey, that cost me $x’ or ‘that’s my lunch’ might shame him into stopping.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’d like to point out that OP does not indicate any gender except the boss’s and his wife’s.
      That said, a male office assistant COULD justify having them if clients visit.
      But that got me thinking about clients seeing food spittle and I lost it.

      1. Blazer*

        I’m trying to be more conscious about biases and caught myself assuming the LW’s gender as well. Thanks for pointing it out!

      2. Amaranth*

        LOL good point, I’m sexist I guess in that I assume someone wouldn’t reach over an employee and steal their food unless they were female, I’ve just never seen that happen to a male employee. And the food spittle….I’d start putting a plastic cloth over my desk when I stepped away. When asked why “well, it seems like gross things keep getting dropped on my desk…or maybe the ceiling tiles are caving in.”

    4. I heard a rumor...*

      My old boss would do the same things, until I dumped a whole box of tampons and pads in the drawer…then practically shreked “gross!” Then he took to leaving his weed shake all over my desk pad calendar replete with hemostats. I was the customer facing desk so not great for me if a cop came by. ugh

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        I’m thinking hemostats must have been a typo (autocorrect gone rogue)? But I’m not sure what was meant. Hemp something… hemp seeds, maybe?

        Either way, that is horrible!

        Speaking of autocorrect going rogue… right before I posted this, I realized my autocorrect had changed hemostats to thermostats! *facepalm* Glad I caught it in time.

        1. Ettakit*

          Hemostats are often used as roach clips by people who smoke weed. So, I’m guessing that her boss was leaving weed and paraphernalia on his employees desk.

    5. Can’t think of a name*

      Why do people (usually women) think that men will recoil with horror at the sight of a tampon box. I have a wife and two now adult daughters. I grew up in a home with three older sisters. I assure you that a tampon box won’t send me running in the opposite direction.

      1. Anon non*

        Yeah but as a guy you probably don’t have a reason to look inside of it. You probably assume that there is tampons inside.

      2. hamsterpants*

        #NotAllMen ?

        Lots of guys are still vocally grossed-out by basic female-associated bodily functions.

        1. feministbookworm*

          Yes, this. Lots of guys are, if not freaked out by the sight of menstrual products, take it as a sign of “here be private things!!” and will back away/close the drawer/put down the purse that they shouldn’t have been pawing through in the first place.

      3. Amaranth*

        I wouldn’t assume recoil, just that you wouldn’t look there for food. And my 12-year old self is amused by the number of men who act like they’ve never had a Health class and girl parts are icky. My best friends and brothers were all really casual about shopping for tampons — my older brother used them to shine his shoes in the Navy and when their friends would fuss, they’d point out ‘nobody thinks I’m buying them for me.’

      4. Brob*

        Your last sentence about a tampon box not sending you running in the opposite direction really tickled my funnybone for some reason. I keep giggling.

      5. nm*

        My husband, a sensible fellow like you, is unbothered by the sight of menstrual products.
        My father, on the other hand, reacts to menstrual products as one would react to a flasher in a dark alley. It’s ridiculous but men like that are still out there!

        1. Another F$%king Heather*

          When I was a teenager, my babysitting money would disappear* from the money box I kept in my closet. I started keeping it in a tampon box, and boom. No more missing babysitting money.

          (*My brother swears up and down it wasn’t him.)

    6. Megan2153*

      Another tactic – paint “StopNGo” (what they use to help kids stop biting their nails) on pens and things he frequently chews (if practical, of course!) Maybe tasting that stuff might change his mind :-)

  1. RussianInTexas*

    This and the Poo Boss. And the Pee in the Sink Boss. How do these guys stay married?

      1. juliebulie*

        Letter a few weeks ago about a boss who totally destroyed the restroom every time he used it.

        1. thebluecastle*

          Do you remember the name of the post? I’d love to read that one lol I must have missed it

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          POOP ON THE WALLS. I cannot get over it. I don’t know how there is a human woman on the planet who has agreed to live in the same house with him for this long.

        1. Aquawoman*

          Patriarchy has a lot of elements. Law is one, but there are cultural aspects also.

        2. blepkitty*

          Patriarchy-related factors that might contribute to not wanting a divorce despite its legality:
          1. This man (male lawyer, owns his own business), probably makes more than his wife could hope to earn on her own, unless she’s a neurosurgeon. Men generally make more than women in this country. ianal, so I can’t speak to alimony, but even if she’s got options, she might not be aware of them. As a single woman working in a traditionally female field, budgeting can be rather stressful.
          2. Religious/social pressure. Divorce may be against her religion. Even if she doesn’t care that much about the religious rules per se, her social circle may be made up of people from the religious community who disapprove of divorce.
          3. Bad modeling from her parents. Lots of women grow up in households where the wife put up with bad behavior from the husband for the above reason. She might just think it’s a normal kind of conflict.
          4. Gaslighting.

        3. Librarian of SHIELD*

          If these men’s wives are anything like the conservative women I was raised around, it’s not necessarily whether or not divorce is allowed, but more a strict adherence to gender roles. Women are expected to do the cleaning around the house, so when there’s a man who leaves a tornado of grossness in his wake, I’m guessing the wife’s reaction is “well, men aren’t for cleaning. They can’t possibly be expected to wipe up spills or rinse out the sink or leave the bathroom in working order for other people. Their minds just don’t carry information on how to clean things!”

          Which is ridiculous and I want better for those women.

      1. Artemesia*

        yeah this guy is marking his territory and the only two solutions are:
        1. find another job
        2. do what Alison suggests and hide your stuff and lock it up.

        I would keep a pen holder on the desk filled with pens from the office supply that you never use and let him chew those and never touch them.

        And make sure the office supplies you with disinfectant wipes so you can wipe down your desk. Ick.

        1. OP*

          @Artemesia…it’s not worth finding a new job over, really. It’s just disgusting habits I’d prefer he keep in his own office. I wipe/spray all my things every day I am here. I will definitely have to remove all the supplies I normally use and leave “Gross Boss Pens” out as Alison suggested.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Working for lawyers myself, if this is the only back part about the job, then I agree. I have seen far worse.

            1. OP*

              Richard…yes. I have seen worse, too. It’s not really something I’d quit over, but it’s very irritating and just nasty.

          2. hamsterpants*

            They make “anti chew spray” for dog training. It’s super bitter but non-toxic, and you spray it on things you don’t want your dog to chew. Might look into that for your pens, too.

            1. Vincaminor*

              I was hoping someone else had this idea! The stuff is also called bitter apple, and I can confirm it tastes nasty!

              1. Rebecca1*

                I bought a bottle of that when I first got a dog, and the dog happily chewed up the bottle.

            2. Amaranth*

              OMG that would be awesome. Just get a new set of ‘Bob pens’ and spray them. So obviously its something about the brand….

            3. Alex*

              Haha, I used to have something similar on my fingers as a kid as I wouldn’t stop biting my nails. It worked for 8-yr-old me!

            4. Bec*

              I was just thinking this! Isn’t there something for kids to help them stop biting their nails? I would use that all over my pens.

        2. PeanutButter*

          Plant a doggy chew bone in the pen holder too…it probably won’t do anything to stop him but it would help me laugh about the situation.

    1. Teyra*

      Quite a lot of women (and men, to be fair) put up with such bullshit from their partners because they’d rather be with someone than be alone. Being single is great! Nobody is peeing in my sink or destroying my bathroom or chewing all my stuff.

      If I wanted to deal with that, I’d get a dog, not a husband.

      1. Liane*

        “Nobody is peeing in my sink or destroying my bathroom or chewing all my stuff.
        If I wanted to deal with that, I’d get a dog, not a husband.” My dog doesn’t do any of that, thank you very much.

        1. Teyra*

          Apologies for insulting your dog. You’re right, I was thinking more about puppies than adult dogs. Adult dogs generally know better.

          1. Pomona Sprout*

            Yes, adult dogs know better, as long as someone has taken the trouble to train them. As obviously no one ever bothered to do with poo boss. I’m side eyeing his parents, tbqh.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          eh, but in the puppy phase, it is chew central. A friend’s giant puppy ate a remote control once. It was kind of impressive.

            1. Not Australian*

              My cat likes the cables from DAB radios. We have to run everything off rechargable batteries now because Daisy ate all the power cords.

              1. Black Horse Dancing*

                My cat used to do this. From what I found out, it’s common. Almond oil is supposedly in the wire coating and tempts kittiess. I went through about five modm power cords.

              2. TardyTardis*

                My cat Susie, the Mighty Huntress, killed a mouse the first night she was home. My computer mouse. Had to use a wireless till her tragic departure from this life.

          1. Nesprin*

            My puppy might be the cutest thing to ever walk the earth, but in the six months we’ve had him he’s chewed:
            3 couch cushions
            1 pair glasses
            7 shoes
            2 pieces of 2×4 lumber past the point of usefulness
            2 baseboards
            3 pencils and a pen
            4 blankets
            despite providing new chew toys weekly.

            no chance that OP’s boss is as cute as my puppy.

            1. Sagewhiz*

              Cardboard boxes! Learned that years ago from the guy who trained the pups used in 101 Dalmatians. Unfortunately, by that time the then-pup had literally chewed out a portion of the 80+ yr old Southern pine floor. Downside is, you spend a lot of time cleaning up soggy, yucky cardboard bits.

            2. Tiny Soprano*

              When our British bulldog was young she chewed a corner off the deck. She did the usual things like eat slippers and destroy rugs, but the deck impressed me.

        2. Teyra*

          I was thinking more about the teething pre-housetrained stage, but I should have said puppy instead. You’re absolutely right, most adult dogs are much better behaved than that.

          1. nonegiven*

            We had an adult Lab that chewed his collar in two. The vet chuckled, “they’re a mouth oriented breed.”

      2. RussianInTexas*

        My cats barf occasionally, and last week one of the Floofs brought a dried poo on his butt to the bed, accidentally.
        No way I would tolerate this from a husband.

      3. MissDisplaced*

        Lol! Except… I do put up with that from my cats!
        Barfing, peeing, litter sand, hair. Sigh!
        But I love the little fur monsters.

    2. RobotWithHumanHair*

      This letter instantly brought those bosses to mind. How do these people function in polite society?

        1. matcha123*

          I’m wondering how they were even able to get to a position where they had any kind of authority over others. How were they not slapped on the hand as children? It boggles my mind that there are capable, hard-working people out there who could do these jobs with compassion, but they’ve been passed over for someone who can’t properly use a toilet or someone who was never taught to keep others’ items out of their mouths!

          1. No Longer Working*

            He owns the business. Clearly no one saw fit to keep him on their payroll. And rightfully so!

              1. Amaranth*

                I’m wondering how gross he is at client lunches. He must be really good at his job.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              How did he ever get the money to start his own business? How does he get and keep clients?

          2. knead me seymour*

            I have to imagine these guys have all the privilege, because I can’t imagine anyone from any marginalized group getting away with this kind of behaviour. It seems deeply entitled to me in the most fundamental way.

        2. Batty Twerp*

          Sometimes they make it through school and then it becomes a feature of their adulthood through poor life choices.

          Hubby used to work for a guy who was a functional alcoholic. He never drank through business hours – he was actually quite good about that and if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know – but one of the… side effects was the spittle. Not kidding, he had a windowed office and the window was slick. So were the desks and monitors when he came to sit next to a worker to talk to them. On one memorable occasion, so was hubby’s face. (yeah)
          Hubby only found out that alcohol was the cause when he had to visit the boss’s house to install a VPN or something and his wife started making excuses. (the visit was totally work-related, hubby is in IT and this was to set boss up to WFH. Also, this was about a decade ago, so no fears over pandemic viruses, just bodily fluid encounters)

        3. BeesKneeReplacement*

          “Boys will be boys!” That’s how. Other men who don’t like having to make the effort to be hygenic so they treat being slovenly as a sign of manliness. Gross.

      1. NaoNao*

        Probably because it’s gradual or they inflict their bad behavior on people who are lower in status or have less power.

        But also because “we” as a society have been taught repeatedly that men are too busy and too powerful and too important to bother with manners, and manners/being careful is fussy, prudish, old-maid-ish, stifling, and old fashioned and maybe even bigoted and/or colonialist in some cases (which to be fair, there is a point to be made there) and that, for example, table manners and their enforcement is a tool of an oppressive and old fashioned to the point of derision, society.

        Almost no one reads or cares about “etiquette” anymore and the general consensus (for example, around using curse words) is that caring is being oppressive and repressive and “manners” and etiquette is a way to keep poor people, lower class/status, and minorities down.

        I’m not saying I agree or disagree. It’s a nuanced issue. But I believe a more permissive society was great in many ways and terrible in others.

    3. OP*

      OP here. I have questioned how this guy stays married many, many times. It’s beyond me. I couldn’t deal with it at home.

    4. Eukomos*

      Presumably they are otherwise good partners, as OP’s job is otherwise a good job, and their wives have decided their good traits and appalling habits balance out enough that it’s not worth the trouble of divorce.

    5. MyBossIsPoopBoss*

      Okay, so my boss is Poo Boss. He also does almost all of the things this user posts, and we are also a very small company that started as an owner operator kind of deal.
      He uses which ever desk is closest when he decides he wants to use a computer. He uses the female toilet on weekends rather than walking to the male toilet. He eats snack foods like nuts/crackers by the handful and leaves Hansel & Gretel trails of dropped food everywhere. He will take any stationery from anyone’s desk, use it, and lose it somewhere else. He clips his nails sitting at his desk and doesn’t clean them up, and fills rubbish bins until there is a tower of rubbish a foot tall leaning against the wall on top of the bin. He uses the kitchen communal cutlery for things cutlery is not meant to be used for. It’s a nightmare. Luckily is a good, flexible, understanding boss otherwise!

      On a side note, at my old job we had sales manager who would chew on other people’s pens. We got that no bite nail polish and painted our pen caps and ends. He stopped chewing other people’s pens very quickly!

  2. Matilda Jefferies*

    Also the mousetraps.

    And, this is the second letter recently that boils down to “my boss is disgusting, and his wife does X to mitigate it at home.” Whyyyyy? Who are these men, who have been raised to feel that they can just drop their crap everywhere? (Quite literally, in the case of the other boss.) And who are these women who put up with them?

    It’s probably too late for these two boors, and I’m sorry for this and the previous OP, because these two are not going to change. But parents, please teach your kids! Let’s not have another generation of people growing up and entering the workforce thinking it’s okay to behave like this.

    Feeling a bit ranty today, ahem. I’ll see myself out.

    1. Jdc*

      I truly don’t get it. My stepson is this way, almost 18. He has been taught and he is corrected but left to his own devices for even a few minutes he just tosses whatever he’s done with on the floor. He knows better than to do it where I can see it but his room is nuts. I’m done with this pen I guess I’ll throw it on the floor. For obvious reasons he’s allowed no good or drinks (except water) in his room. It just seems to be how some people are. His father is nothing like this. 22 years in the Air Force has made my husband quite tidy, not as ocd as me, but considering how uptight I am about it I find him a pleasure to live with as far as that goes.

      It’ll never make sense to me though that some people are like this.

      1. Sleepy*

        The fact that he is 18 means he still has time change. If he doesn’t do it where you can see it, it means he has control over his behavior. I bet when he has his own place and invites over someone he’s interested in, and gets a bad reaction, he’ll start to realize his parents aren’t the only ones who think it’s unacceptable.

        1. Pennalynn Lott*

          That will depend entirely on how his love interest was raised and socialized. I went on quite a few first- or second-date-only dates with guys over the years whose apartments / houses were atrocious. I never said anything about the filth, I just did what I could do end the date early and then declined any further invitations to do anything with them.

          And, now, at the age of 54, I just don’t think I’d invest the time to say anything to the person. Not my circus, not my monkeys. And I’d be happy for the clear red flag signaling that the relationship wouldn’t have much of a future anyway.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Saaaaaaame. Seriously, when I was in college, a man who could clean up after himself would have been worth his weight in gold.

            I’m not a neat freak or anything, but I expect a grown human to clean up his own messes.

          2. TardyTardis*

            One of the reasons I married my husband was that his trailer was clean, and there were cleaning products under the sink that had clearly been used for more than just one date.

      2. old curmudgeon*

        My elder kid was a horrible, horrible slob. When they moved out of our house and were emptying their bedroom, they dumped over 30 mildewed bath towels in the laundry room, all of which had been left in mounds in their room. They found dozens of bowls, plates and glasses in their room, and a majority of our flatware (no wonder it was such a challenge to find enough forks to set the table for Thanksgiving dinner). The junk on the floor was literally a couple of feet deep, to the point where you could not see the floor at all and basically had to walk over the junk to get across the room.

        That was nearly 20 years ago. That kid is now an absolute fanatic about keeping their house immaculate. I was over there for dinner back in the winter before the pandemic hit, and was flabbergasted at the way they were spraying Clorox cleanser all over the kitchen and wiping everything down the minute there was a spill or a splatter.

        And what was the difference? When they were in their late teens/early twenties, they were struggling with major depression and anxiety. Today, thanks to therapy and medication, they are in a great place emotionally, and lo and behold, they no longer live in a pigsty.

        So while your stepson might just be displaying typical teenage behavior, there is also a possibility that he is struggling with some type of emotional difficulty, and if you have the kind of relationship with him that would allow for it, you may consider raising the possibility of counseling.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          This was me (a slob for years in my last apartment). Oddly enough, I was diagnosed with OCD sometime later and discovered I also had depression and anxiety stemming from that untreated OCD, which led to my behavior of letting things pile up around me at home (never did it at work). I spent so much time trying to appear “normal” during the day that I guess I was too exhausted to do anything else when I got home.

          After getting my diagnosis and keeping up with my therapy, plus moving to a new place for a fresh start, I’m back to being the neat freak I was growing up. My apartment is damn near spotless, things are orderly, and my mood has drastically improved because I have the energy to spot clean every day. But it took a complete lifestyle change (I now work from home full time, which allows me to do chores at lunch or start dinners early) and counseling to get to this point.

        2. Jdc*

          He has no underlying issues, we know that, he just is lazy really. With everything he does. It’s actually amazing how far out of his way he will go to be lazy. He will put more effort into being lazy than it would take to actually do the task. He’s a happy kid, just a teenager with normal teenager behavior.

            1. Jdc*

              Oh he has many ways. He is a teenager after all. He actually has been great since covid. Lots of hand washing. Sanitizes the doorknobs when he comes in, always wears his mask. Proud of how good he’s doing in that regard. He works at McDonald’s and loves it so he has been working a couple days a week though this.

              1. allathian*

                At 18 he’s old enough to sign up for a career in military service, drive and vote, and in most parts of the Western world, he’s old enough to drink (AFAIK only the US has the age limit at 21 and Sweden at 19). Surely he’s old enough to keep his room clean if he expects to live with you?
                I’m glad he’s doing well with masks and sanitizers and has a job he loves! As a plus, he’s learning about the importance of food hygiene, too.
                Many sloppy teenagers do grow up to keep a clean house when they move out, as long as they’ve been taught how. All is not lost yet. :)

      3. Chocoholic*

        I am the oldest of 5 kids, and my mom says that all of our rooms were awful when we were teenagers. She said that she tried not to say much/anything, figuring that eventually we would need or want something that was buried in the mess and we could deal with that. Going to college and living in the dorms cured all of us of our slob-like behavior.

        I now have 2 teenagers. My daughter’s room at the beginning of the pandemic was so nasty, I never went up there unless I had to. She cleaned out her room at some point, and its been better since then. She keeps the bathroom pretty nasty though. My 14 year old son refuses to use it since he is so grossed out by it. He is allowed to use ours because of that. He has “wondered aloud” more than once if coronavirus actually originated in that bathroom lol.

        1. Jdc*

          That cracks me up. I draw the line at a gross bathroom for sanitary reasons. He cleans his weekly, although works harder than it would actually take to do it, to half ars it, so I have to supervise.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Going to college and living in the dorms cured all of us of our slob-like behavior.

          This was totally me. I have been known to let things go if I’m not feeling up to snuff, but not when I’m in a communal living situation.

        3. allathian*

          I hope your son takes his turn cleaning your bathroom. Keeping the teenager’s bathroom messy may just be your daughter’s way of ensuring she doesn’t have to share with her brother.

          1. chocoholic*

            Yes, I have thought of that. He contributes to cleaning both. And he usually volunteers to clean the toilet in the kids bathroom since that’s the part he does use.

      4. Charley*

        It takes a really dedicated level of laziness to literally drop stuff on the floor when you’re done with it instead of putting it on a surface/in a bin!
        I had a housemate who would pick up the mail if he got home first, check if there was anything for him, and drop the rest back on the mat for the next person to deal with (by deal with I mean simply carry it 3 yards into the house and put it on a flat surface).

      5. JSPA*

        You know how we often say, “they’re just doing it, they’re not doing it AT you”? While this is literally true in most circumstances, and probably even in this case, I have to say, there’s nothing like living with two people who have strong ideas about tidiness that can drive the need for a really messy spot, in those of us who feel tense in overly-tidy environments (especially those not of our own making).

        My guess is, he’ll either stick to “tidy common areas, bedroom cave” or equalize to, “moderate mess throughout” once he’s living with not-his-parents. Or develop his own version of what-goes-where.

        1. Faith*

          Yeah. I grew up having to keep not just my room, but the entire house immaculate. This was because if something else was wrong (got a B instead of an A in a class, forgot to do some chore, etc.), me and my siblings would then be led around the house and told what else we hadn’t done and how unappreciative we were for not keeping our rooms and our house clean and how now we had to clean X, Y, and Z to show we were sorry–it got to a point that whenever I was nervous about something, I would clean (still do, but now I catch myself). I once spilled a drink at a SO’s house and nearly had a breakdown because I thought they were going to dump me. It was a major reality check to see just how puzzled they were by my reaction.

          It was a mental relief to visit friends’ houses where they were allowed to have a normal level of clutter, and my preferred state is to have semi-organized clutter(but I still always clean to my parents’ level of clean before I have people over; it’s just too-ingrained).

          Doesn’t excuse keeping your room filthy (and filth is honestly different than clutter), but it is something to keep in mind. If he knows *how* to clean and chooses not to in his space, fine, as long as there aren’t things, like, growing in there. Clutter isn’t going to hurt anyone (mold, on the other hand…). One day he’ll move out and decide what level of clean/clutter he’s comfortable dealing with on a daily basis vs. presenting to other people. And those two may not be the same.

          1. Faith*

            And in a weird twist of fate, I’m a woman and my spouse is a man, and he’s so much better about cleaning than I am. So it’s not entirely gendered. However, I am the only one of my female friends who is the slob compared to their husband.

            1. allathian*

              I’m also a slob compared to my husband. Not because I was raised in a dysfunctional family (chores as punishment for not getting an A is at least borderline abusive, certainly not good parenting), but simply because he has so much more energy than I do that he mostly just does it. That said, I’m usually the one who does the laundry, and I’ll only put what’s in the basket in the wash. When we first started dating and moved in together, he’d have socks all over the house, but I refused to pick up after him.

          2. JSPA*

            And…I just had a lightbulb moment about stress and cleaning. I may be sitting with that one for a while. Add the dynamic between my one grandmother and the relatives living with her, and I guess we’ve had (at least) three generations of that dynamic. Goooood to know.

            And it makes sense, right? Right up there with Naming, the person who defines What Goes Where defines what it is to be civilized. Heavy!

      6. Tiny Soprano*

        It’s so funny how military service makes people tidy! My dad spent 30+ years in the Navy and used to iron our school uniforms so precisely they’d look like they were folded out of origami. You still have to stop him from ironing stockings.
        Maybe OPs boss should’ve spent a few years in the cadets…

    2. MistOrMister*

      Maybe you could cover your desk with a tarp when you’re not there (wow do I wish I was joking becauae what the heck???)? I am assuming he’s doing this licking, spilling and chewing when you’re not around. I would still lock up everything like pens and whatnot, but if you throw out a tarp when you leave, he might find it inconvenient to deal with and stop messing with your desk.

      1. TCO*

        I’m picturing those painters’ dropcloths that are beige canvas with a waterproof backing. They come in lots of different sizes and would look less obtrusive than a bright blue plastic tarp. They fold more easily, too, and should stand up to several washings (with bleach?).

        Harbor Freight sells a 6×9 canvas dropcloth for $10, and they’re widely available at hardware stores and the like.

        1. pbnj*

          I’d be tempted to stick with the more obtrusive blue tarps. If anyone asks what that’s about, explain why. Also, be sure to charge it to your company.

        2. Kes*

          I was thinking of a bright kiddie-patterned plastic tablecloth lol. But your way might be a little more discreet if OP doesn’t want to antagonize the boss. OP can put it on their desk when they leave and take it off (and shake the food etc off into the trash) when they get in. Maybe keep one ‘chew-pen’ with it as well, but lock everything else up while not there.

    3. H. Regalis*

      My ex was like this. He had terrible cleaning habits, which he was aware of because when we first started dating he cleaned everything before I came to visit him, but after a few years he just didn’t care anymore. He would leave finger nail clippings and used q-tips everywhere; and the toilets had a permanent skid mark on the seat because he literally wouldn’t clean up his own shit. Have you ever had an argument with someone about this? It’s surreal. “Please stop leaving your literal shit on the toilet for me to sit in. It’s disgusting” “Fuck you! Clean it up if you don’t like it.”

      He also did a lot of the , “Oh, I don’t know I’m doing it/I don’t see dirt/etc.” bullshit. It’s all a goddamn lie. People like this know exactly what they are doing, but they don’t care. They expect other people to either clean up after them or be cool with wallowing in their bodily fluids.

        1. JSPA*

          I had one of him as a sympathy case “caretaker” in a small place I had almost finished fixing up. Had to pay to get him out, then gut the place and start over. He’d graduated from skidmarks and general detritus to piles of mixed nastiness with food and Q Tips included, and the smears includes walls and floor as well. He’d also tracked in a lot of poison ivy somehow. Only the ceiling was (mostly) fine.

      1. OP*

        H. Regalis, I think you hit the nail on the head. This guy simply doesn’t care. A mess does not bother him in the least. He could be sitting at a desk in the middle of a landfill and I honestly don’t think it would make a difference to him.

        1. BeesKneeReplacement*

          I’m so sorry. I worked for someone like that and what’s worse is that I had to use his computer for a while early on because they were waiting for my computer to arrive and he was frequently out of town for trials (also an attorney).

          Every time I sat down at the computer, I had to pop a few keys off the keyboard and shake the whole thing upside down to get accumulated gunk out of it, wipe the whole thing down, and clean out the mouse ball. I’ve never been considered a neat freak, but the computer was nearly unusable to me unless I did it, a bunch of keys literally wouldn’t move due to crumbs underneath and being sticky. Some of it was so bad that I came back to the computer the next day and I had to clean it again, despite his still being out of town. I think my first clean had loosened stuff up. It was his office, so I had to just deal with it but ugh, it was awful. He was, however a lovely person and really great at his job. Just a real slob.

      2. Pennalynn Lott*

        My ex was similar BUT he had an eagle-eye for anyone else’s messes. Like, he’d literally be standing next to a coffee table with mounds of his own crap piled (bloody tissues from nosebleeds, food-smeared paper napkins, toenail clippings, several months’ worth of mail, dirty dishes, etc) 2-3 feet high, but scream at me because I hadn’t yet broken down the box the cat food shipped in (which had been inside the house for all of an hour) and taken it out to the recycling bin. Ditto the kitchen. His popcorn, popcorn kernels, popcorn hulls, and popcorn oil [he made stove-top popcorn every night] covered every square inch of the kitchen but he would *rage* if I or my mother (who lives with me) left a bowl or even a spoon in the sink overnight.

        And don’t even get me started on the mess awaiting me in “his” bathroom. I don’t think his pee ever went into the actual toilet. It’s splattered in nine years’ worth of layers on the bathroom walls surrounding the toilet. I’ll be donning full PPE to clean *that* up.

      3. TechWorker*

        In my ex’s student house someone threw up down the side of the toilet and just…. left it.. for weeks…?! Tbh everything in that bathroom was covered in a thick layer of grim but that really drove home just how gross they were. The person who was sick had done it drunk and was too lazy to clean it and the rest of them refused on principle. So gross.

      4. Sharrbe*

        Agree! This is willful passive aggression. There is no reason on this Earth that a grown person can’t remember to not put other people’s things in their mouth. Is this guy a toddler?

    4. ThatGirl*

      Yeah I really boggle at women who put up with this. My husband occasionally misses crumbs on the counter or doesn’t quite clean the bathroom mirrors all the way, but that’s nothing.

      1. Mimi Me*

        I agree. I feel like I dodged a bullet I didn’t realize was possible. My husband’s biggest gross factor is that he balls up his socks. But since laundry is a morning spent at the laundromat every 2 weeks and he’s with me to carry the stuff in, I make him un-ball his socks before they go in the machine. The balling has gone down over the years because even he notes how gross it is to un-ball a sock that has gone stiff from dirt and sweat.

      2. Avasarala*

        Yeah WTF. How does anyone put up with this for more than 1 day. How do you not kick him to the curb when he doubles down on his right/inability to care for himself.

    5. Jessica Fletcher*

      American culture generally teaches men that they can do whatever the hell they want, and everyone else will bend to them. Have you read the firsthand accounts of women deciding not to move out of the way on sidewalks, and men walk right into them?

      Thanks to feminism, some women demand better treatment now and ditch these adult babies. But just drop by r/relationships or r/AITA to see how many women still are like, “my boyfriend keeps trying to trick me into eating poisonous mushrooms, how can I be nicer to him about it?” (An actual post!)

      Individual parents definitely need to do better, but it’s also the whole society.

      1. Tidewater 4-1009*

        And when one woman dumps them, they try to find another to be their babysitter. This is one of the reasons I’m single.

  3. Localflighteast*

    I actually started reading this thinking it was going to be some kind of joke about the boss actualy being the OP’s dog!
    Anythign else is too gross for words

    1. FlyingAce*

      Yeah… I mean, my boss also loves to chew everything he can get his hands on, but I only tolerate it because he is my 8-month-old son :D

  4. Christine*

    The first thing I thought of is nail biting polish? Might be worth buying and coating pens and such with them.

    1. Meghan*

      That’s what I thought of as well. ORLY No Bite nail polish if you need a particular brand. But it’d be pricey to get enough to coat all the things he chews on. Maybe some Bitter Apple like you would use with a dog?

        1. Goliath Corp.*

          Can confirm that it works on humans, since I always manage to get it in my own mouth when spraying things down… ughhhh

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            Yup. And it’ll help remind LW about cleaning things/handwashing/not touching her face, too – bonus! :D

            1. Eukomos*

              That’ll give her cover for why she’s doing it, too. Otherwise she’d have to admit she’s using pet training techniques on her boss because he’s refused to act like an adult human in this respect. But now she can be like “oh I kept touching my face and this reminder really works to keep me from biting my nails and such.”

              Be careful spraying, even the air ends up bitter if you get too enthusiastic. It’ll definitely stop the chewing though!

    2. GrumpyGnome*

      That’s a great idea! Or some of the sprays that are used to keep dogs from chewing furniture or shoes (Bitter Apple is my favorite, but there’s one called YUCK! that also works well). Easy to apply, just spritz it on the pens. That might solve at least one problem, but not the leaving trash and spilling food on the desk issue. I have no clue how to tackle that in a way that wouldn’t get me fired.

        1. ampersand*

          I had a dog who LOVED the taste of bitter apple spray (or, didn’t mind it?). He wasn’t deterred, anyway. And that stuff is awful–it’s hard not to get it in your mouth when you spray it, it’s so potent.

          Presumably–I would hope–a human would not like it. But given some of the letters Alison answers, I also would not be surprised if it didn’t work on OP’s boss.

          I also want an update if OP tries this tactic!

    3. WorkIsADarkComedy*

      Reminds me of the LW that put very hot peppers in their lunch that was routinely being stolen. Not that I’m advocating such a measure here…

    4. pancakes*

      And maybe some of those iconic green Mr. Yuck stickers! Buy a roll, apply to every object.

    5. Mimosa Jones*

      These are fun things to dream about doing, but I’m reminded of all the letters from people who’s lunches get stolen. There are laws about what you can do to something when you know that someone is going to eat/slobber over it. I’d be careful about this tactic and either heavily research the laws or save it for fantasy.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Agreed. OP, stick with bitter apple which is non-toxic. You can say you’re trying to train YOURSELF to not touch your face due to CV19.

        1. JSPA*

          It’s less the what, than the openness. Anyone can panic if they think they’ve been poisoned, and it’s not OK to risk that. But if they know what’s going on, and only have the intrinsic nastiness of the sensation, that almost has to withstand legal scrutiny.

          I’d say

          Do it while he’s around, and tell / show him that you’re doing it (and even ask if he wants something similar for other desks and his own safety). Follow up with an email, with a link to the product, and a note that “this is the stuff I’m using on my desk, if you’re also interested.”

          He makes the right noises about good intentions, so maybe he’d welcome it. You never know.

    6. lost academic*

      That won’t be enough. I’d go with capsaicin on things that you intend for him to touch (that you won’t use yourself). With a warning, obviously.

    7. JSPA*

      I also thought of any safe “bittering” agent.

      (hot pepper is out, unless you want to train yourself the hard way not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Which…you might want to do?

      Regardless, Covid provides a very good reason, so you can be open about what you’re doing: you’re training YOURSELF. Any training of the boss is secondary, because of course he doesn’t usually, only occasionally.

      This almost certainly will work. I know someone who chews on pens, but not the pens of the family member who picks their ears with their pens, because the earwax remnants, though invisible, are bitter (and the idea is nasty).

      If the desk also has a skim of bittering agent, given that he touches and licks as a habit, he’ll probably also touch and taste the desk while eating, and the whole desk will become a bitter, bitter experience.

    8. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Heck, if you can find any, rubbing alcohol leaves a bad taste on things for a while even after it evaporates, and you can also use it to sanitize.

    9. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

      Or make sure what ever you are using to sanitize, which you have to do anyway, tastes nasty? My thymol based cleaner smells like it would taste absolutely awful.

  5. juliebulie*

    I am so territorial, I don’t think I could live with this for very long. I think I would pack all my favorite office supplies in a briefcase that I keep in my car. I would also leave a set of “decoy” office supplies for boss to play with.

    I would also look for a way to make my chair as uncomfortable for him as possible, though I’m not sure exactly how to do that in a way that wouldn’t also make it uncomfortable for me. (It would have to be something less straightforward than simply adjusting the seat height.)

    I might try all of those things, but I would also dream about mousetraps and poison darts.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I would be looking for a new job, pandemic or not. Yes, this lack of respect is enough to job search over. OP is having to do entirely too much extra stuff to keep from having her boundaries violated.

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        Yeah, same. You can only mitigate the damage for so long – and it’s exhausting to be reinforcing your boundaries all the damn time. The only real way to fix this is for OP to get herself (or himself) out the door to a new job.

      2. ampersand*

        Same. I couldn’t work in this environment. Several people have commented that if this is the worst of it (because working for a lawyer), it’s not so bad. Which…adds an additional layer of horror to this issue.

      3. Ms. Ann Thropy*

        Agreed. This guy isn’t going to change, and nobody should put up with it.

    2. blepkitty*

      I’m remembering a colleague who used a bicycle lock to attach his chair to his desk to keep it from being stolen. LW could do that in a way that the chair was impossible to sit in.

      Of course, it would be pretty obvious what she was doing, and a PITA for LW. I’m team find another job.

    3. knead me seymour*

      I would be out of there as soon as I possibly could be. I’m deeply grossed out just from reading it.

  6. Observer*

    OP, is there any reason you are not actively looking for a new job?

    This is a classic “You boss is gross and is not going to change.”

    For the moment, your best bet is the approach Allison recommends – Keep your desk clear with just a few items that YOU won’t touch but which your boss will chew (which will also make it easier to clean off the literal garbage), keep your stuff locked away, and keep lots of disinfectant wipes and and hand sanitizer around.

    1. juliebulie*

      Do they still make Sugar Daddy or Charleston Chew? Maybe if you give him something to chew, he’ll leave your pens alone.

    2. TimeCat*

      Agreed. I understand job searching sucks and especially right now, but geez this guy is gross and I would have run screaming on the first day.

    3. Kes*

      “Your boss is gross and disrespectful and is not going to change”
      Honestly I think using her desk and chewing and spilling on her things, even after she asked him to stop, is not just gross but pretty disrespectful as well. There may obviously be good reasons not to move at the moment, but long term I would probably consider whether OP really wants to stick around for this.

    4. OP*

      @Observer…it is clearly disrespectful and he and I have had several conversations about that. I have looked for other jobs in the past because of the lack of respect here but I could not ever be able to work the hours I am able to work for the money he pays me (he actually does give me a little more than I would ordinarily get because he knows he’s an ass). However, that doesn’t make up for the lack of respect. I think this is just something I have to keep pushing back on and let him know it is not acceptable. I have already ordered some things to cover my desk and rearrange my office a little bit so my supplies and other things are not as easily accessible.

      1. Observer*

        Definitely disrespectful. “Gross” covers a lot of stuff, not just the physical stuff.

        If you’ve thought about this and you find the hours and pay worth it, then you need to focus on ameliorating the situation. And reminding yourself that you are making a decision to stay for your reasons.

        But I’d seriously consider keeping up the search to see if you find something that comes closer to what you need without the jerk boss.

        Also, one of these days he’s going to encounter someone who won’t let him buy his way out of the consequences for his jerkitude.

        1. valentine*

          I have already ordered some things to cover my desk
          I’m wondering if putting a tarp on your desk anytime you leave (assuming he won’t let you change the lock on the door and not give him a key) would help. But if what he wanted was other supplies, the obvious solution would be a secondary space of his own for that. It seems like he has a compulsion or fetish for you to touch his saliva and/or to clean up after him, so I wouldn’t assume “your” bathroom is safe.

          I am really surprised you consider this is a tolerable tax on your job.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Not even. He’s a gross human being, but he’s not being a terrible boss. Just a gross one.

  7. Auburn*

    Beyond the fact that this is just disgusting how is this even happening during a pandemic? Why is anyone touching anyone else’s stuff right now? What planet does he live on!

    1. Bostonian*

      And then… licking/biting it?! There’s no way this guy isn’t going to get it at some point due to his poor hygiene habits.

  8. Anywhere*

    Do what you do with cats – dab tabasco sauce or something he dislikes on your office supplies.

    1. ArchivesGremlin*

      Please don’t do this. I know this works for cats (though I’m not a fan), it could kill a human if they potentially are allergic to something in it.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Well then he’ll learn to stop putting other people’s things in his mouth, won’t he? This is no different than the letter writer who got fed up with her coworker stealing her lunch and put hot sauce in it. Keep other people’s belongings out of your mouth and you won’t get burned.

        1. Prosaic*

          Do you mean this letter?

          In this case, LW didn’t intentionally put hot sauce in his food to prevent theft– he just liked it spicy and his co-worker was an ass. I think there was another case where the LW’s boss kept stealing her food, so she got a lockbox for it.

          Still, I think you’re underestimating how bad an allergic reaction could be. Anaphylaxis is no joke, and even if the person didn’t die, I don’t think the lesson learned would be “stop chewing on pens” but rather “punish person who almost killed me.”

          1. Sharon*

            I imagine anyone that would go into anaphylactic shock over trace amounts of an allergan would avoid licking random things.

          2. Avasarala*

            If someone has a deathly allergy, maybe they should stop licking random objects that don’t belong to them. That’s asking for a Darwin Award.

    2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      Grannick’s Bitter Apple. It’s $6 for an 8 oz bottle at the pet store, and it sprays on in a fine mist so it’s really easy to apply to a bunch of things all at once.

    3. Miraculous Ladybug*

      Better yet…. put jelly on it. He’s gonna touch your pens? Now he has jelly fingers. Applicable to almost any situation.

      In all seriousness, though, maybe you could make all of your office supplies like… fun feathery glitter pens or those large unwieldy giant pencils? Or put only dried-out pens within his reach. If he hates using them, maybe he’ll stop?

      (But really. The jelly. Works every time.)

      1. QCI*

        But then OP has to live with jelly hands, too. And this guy would probably get worse if the pens tasted better.

        1. JanetM*

          Or wrap the “chew toys” in double-sided tape so they’ll be sticky but won’t attract bugs?

          No, probably better to hide them or lock them up.

      2. Artemesia*

        honey is worse than jelly — honey the pens but in any case make sure they are decoy pens from the office supplies and not the pens you use — yours you keep locked up

  9. Littorally*

    I do not have enough HTML knowledge to make my EWWW as large, blinky, and furious as I want it to be.

    That’s disgusting. An adult human being, who somehow managed to get through not only growing up but college and law school, who still doesn’t understand that you don’t put other people’s things in your mouth?! I hope this is otherwise an absolutely stellar and amazing job, but even a rare unicorn of a position can’t totally outweigh this horror.

    1. JustaTech*

      I’m regularly amazed how many people I’ve worked with in labs (biological labs! with blood and bacteria and viruses and stuff!) who chewed pens. Their own pens, but still, pens that had been in the lab, that they’d touched with gloved hands.
      Gross ick gross.

      There are some things formal education (and regular workplace reminders) can’t fix.

      1. On a pale mouse*

        I suspect some of that is also magical thinking about gloves. I had already observed it in some food service, and I’ve seen a lot more with the pandemic. Some people clearly believe, maybe unconsciously, that once you put on gloves, germs are just magically inactivated or something. Hey, it’s fine that I sneezed on my hand and then touched your food – I’m wearing gloves!

        1. Catherine Bradley*

          OMG YES!!!! The Magical Gloves!!! Wonderful watching people work with radioactive isotopes and then answer the lab phone without removing the gloves!!

        2. JustaTech*

          Generally we’re pretty strongly trained that “gloves are gross” and that you should always assumed that your gloves are soiled and not touch anything that will be touched with un-gloved hands (like your face or a keyboard, or door handles). But that kind of training takes a lot of time to get through to people.

          I was volunteering with an organization that makes food for people with AIDS (like meals on wheels) and a new volunteer was cutting raw chicken and taking pictures with his phone with the same gloved hands. Finally I had to stop him and tell him not to touch his phone with his nasty chicken-y hands, and to just change his gloves when he wanted to take a picture. He was horrified at what he was doing and happy to change, but he was also the lead of the worst volunteer group we’d had in a long time, not listening to instruction and leaving before the cleanup.

      2. Anonymous because my friends know this story*

        I am one who used to bite and chew pens and pencils. Then one day on my way to work, I saw a brand new high-end pain on the sidewalk outside my office. Downtown, no way to tell whose it was. I stuck it in my pocket planning to wash it. I looked down in horror half an hour later realizing I was chewing on something that I had picked up off the streets of the city. I have never chewed a pen again. (My fingernails suffered for it, but I know where those have been AND that they’ve been washed regularly.)

  10. PPaula*

    Also… Maybe sprinkle some cayenne around? Or dip your pens in hot sauce?
    Ugh… Your boss is disgusting

    1. irene adler*

      Too bad the desk can’t be wired up to deliver an electric shock whenever boss touches it or anything on it.
      Nothing strong enough to be dangerous; just enough to hurt a lot.

  11. Maleficent*

    Honestly I’d go scorched earth: just start leaving opened (but unused tampons) all over his desk and things. Leave it all over your desk too! Tampons have a magical man-repellent ability, it’s just fabulous.

        1. Maleficent*

          Honestly thank you for this visual! I was having a tough morning and this nonsensical vision cheered me up immensely.

      1. SarahKay*

        Get the ones without applicators, and remove the wrapping so that he’s basically chewing cotton-wool. Urggh, even the thought of that against my teeth is making me shudder. If that doesn’t work…I got nothing.

        1. JustaTech*

          I knew a guy in high school who attempted to smoke a (really cheap) tampon like it was a cigar.

          Didn’t work.

  12. Ancient Alien*

    Yeah, this is just a power display, plain and simple, along the lines of “I’m so brilliant that it’s worth it to all these other people that have to put up with/clean up after me”. I’d bet money that this same mentality regularly materializes in his work and leadership habits, but you wrote in asking about him using stuff on your desk, so I’d just switch to a “hot desk” mentality and keep everything off your desk (and probably locked up) unless you are specifically using it at that moment. Yes, it’s a pain in the butt for you, but I’m a moderate germaphobe myself and i would much rather do this than have his disgusting mess in my personal workspace day after day. What a pig. Who raises these people?

    1. Littorally*

      I have to agree with this. There is no way he has gotten to where he is now if he doesn’t have a fine sense of just who he can and cannot do this to.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        And it’s no surprise he has his own company/firm.
        “I needed to branch out on my own. I can’t have other people telling me what to do.”
        In other words, “I’m a self-centered ass.” or like they told his mom in Kindergarten “Does not play well with others.”

    2. Beth*

      Agreed. He knows he’s doing it, he knows it’s gross, he knows people in general don’t like it (even his wife doesn’t tolerate it happily!), he knows you specifically don’t like it. He has his own desk and his own office supplies; there’s no reason for him to be using yours on a regular basis. Since he’s going out of his way to use things that aren’t his, even though he knows that it’s a behavior that’s upsetting to you and know that that upset is reasonable, this isn’t just a case of a bad habit that he hasn’t broken. He’s doing it on purpose.

  13. LaDiDa*

    There was the pee in the sink guy, the poop everywhere boss, and now this? Who raised these men and who has allowed them to behave this way all this time? These people are disgusting. Keeping the desk completely clear except for the monitor ad a container of Lysol wipes is going to be the only way. It is going to be a PITA, but there is no other choice. You are going to have to keep the desk or overhead storage locked at all times.

  14. Wondercootie*

    Maybe coat everything you can with some kind of bitter or spicy substance? I’m thinking stuff like squirrel deterrent. Hey, if he’s going to act like an animal, start treating him like one.

    1. Houda*

      Harsh but I agree. I get chills just thinking of his spit on everything. This is very triggering for us with contamination OCD, plus he moves things fro, their place. I’d snap on day one

  15. Free Meerkats*

    Hasp and padlock on the door. Quicker and easier to install than a deadbolt. And a portable hotel security lock for when you’re in the office.

    That’s all I got.

  16. Cambridge Comma*

    Does he do this with his peers? If not, I wonder why (well, I don’t really, I think I know).
    If he doesn’t, I’d be looking for a new job.

    1. Observer*

      In this case, I don’t think it matters WHY he’s doing this. Even if this were some illness that he REALLY can’t help, the OP should be looking for a new job unless the pay and benefits are so spectacular that it’s worth needing a hazmat suit at work.

  17. Sara without an H*

    OP, I feel for you. And while I dislike it when women judge and police each other, I have to admit to wondering about your boss’s mother…

    But given that he’s the owner here, Alison’s probably right that you’ll need to either lock stuff up or camouflage it– a tampon box would probably work. (In my experience, most men won’t touch them.) Keep nothing on your desk top that can’t be thrown away. And scrub everything down when you get in in the morning and regularly throughout the day.

    While this situation alone may not be enough to drive you out onto the job market right now, it couldn’t hurt to have an up-to-date resume and LinkedIn profile. You should also feel absolutely no guilt about browsing AAM’s archives for job search advice while on your break.

    1. merula*

      The way to ask the question if you don’t like how women police each other… is to ask wonder about the boss’s PARENTS.

      1. Delphine*

        Amazing how often people forget that there’s another parent in the situation. You’d think every single man on this planet was raised by a single mother.

    2. Amy Sly*

      I’m wondering about the wife. To paraphrase what my mother-in-law told her half-sister when the sister would tease her for being adopted, the mother was stuck with him but the wife picked him.

      1. pancakes*

        I’m not — there are lots of people who seem to find stability and familiarity far more valuable than companionship.

    3. Observer*

      Why his mother? Why not his father?

      I know people here read Dear Prudence, so some of you may have seen a recent letter from a woman whose 13you step son is behaving like a major league jerk. And and after a major blow up, Dad told her that “you and the girls needs to learn your place.” Would you be shocked if this brat turned into Monster Boss? Would it be his mother (who apparently seems to be in agreement with stepmom) or stepmom at fault? Or Dad?

      The bottom line is that if it’s a matter of how he was raised (which, who really knows), you have absolutely NO reason to assume it’s all, or even mostly, on the Mom.

      1. thebluecastle*

        I read that post! Huge wtf moment. I don’t think I could stay in a relationship where myself and/or my daughters were treated that way.

        1. Media Monkey*

          totally. i really hope she left but i was concerned for his bio daughter who she would have been leaving with those 2 horrible males (and i think she was too hence why she hadn’t left already).

    4. AnotherAlison*

      Given that the boss is old enough to have arthritis (even if he was only 24, he’s still a grown man), let’s leave his parents out of this. Any one who has been to law school knows what he’s doing is not acceptable. At some point, you have to hold yourself accountable, not your parents.

      1. Remote HealthWorker*


        Like how is mom responsible for a 60 year old sons behavior? She’s not!

      2. OP*

        Both his parents are deceased and he is an only child. He’s 70 and should know better. I think he just developed certain gross habits because he simply does not care and no one in his circle, other than me, is willing to push back because he yells at them. I am not his wife and I do run his office, so I think I have a little more latitude here than his wife. If he doesn’t have me, his office doesn’t run (he doesn’t use any computers and can’t type either, so there’s that). He’s just an all around mess. I’m just going to have to be firmer about not touching my desk or anything on it.

        1. Lady Heather*

          Do you know if this is a thing that’s always been like this? Being inappropriate and unconcerned with social norms at that age might merit a neuropsych evaluation.

          (Though you obviously can’t make him have one.. and whatever is causing this, you don’t have to put up with it. I got nauseous just reading your letter.)

        2. Avasarala*

          Best of luck to you, but I really don’t know if you have more latitude on getting a man to change his hygiene habits than his wife.

          This is someone he presumably (once) wanted to impress, whose good opinion and respect he presumably cares about. If he won’t change for her, why would he change for you (whom he can fire and hire a replacement for)?

    5. Sara without an H*

      True, I should have either included his father, or left his parents out of it.

    6. Catherine Bradley*

      Truly, I would get a tin or box with divided sections that fit in my drawer to organize my stuff, put the lid on, and take it home in a tote bag every day. Take the lid off in the morning and drop it into your drawer.

  18. Raising an otter villiage*

    What a horror show. I’m so sorry, OP.

    Yet, thanks for sharing. I have always had the habit of putting (exclusively my own) belongings in my mouth when my hands are full. I don’t slobber or leave teeth marks, so I’ve genuinely never thought twice about it. Your letter really highlights how other people may have been viewing this habit of mine all along. *Especially* in a pandemic, I need to cut this out. Thanks for the epiphany, but I am so sorry that you are dealing with such an extreme version of it.

    1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      What a wonderfully self-aware and responsible response to this letter writer’s problem! Kudos for you on this Monday morning!

  19. Lynn*

    While I don’t think that an OSHA comment would stop his behavior, his peers might have access to that type of civil penalty information and that could embarrass him (after LW finds a new job and is ready to leave that pig sty. But maybe that’s mean — pigs don’t have opposable thumbs and can’t be held to the same standards of cleanliness)

  20. Aphrodite*

    Alison starts out by saying he won’t change but then goes on to suggest ways to deal with the situation. Sadly, I think the first half is the more accurate so I suggest, if it’s possible, get another job unless you want to spend money, time, efficiency and emotional energy hiding items. Also, I doubt even if you did all that he’d still find them; he’d just be looking harder for them and getting his filthy hands (and mouth!) in more places than he does now.

    Get out if you can.

    1. pancakes*

      Yuck! There’s a ferry I take every summer and the list of rules includes “Tickets that have been held in a person’s mouth WILL NOT be accepted.”

  21. UniLife11*

    You people are much kinder than I am–I have some creative thoughts about how to treat the special items before leaving them out for him to chew. It wouldn’t solve the problem at hand, but it would make it easier to live with. I guess I have been reading too much Reddit petty revenge.

  22. Campfire Raccoon*

    Send him a certified, formal letter requesting that he stop or you will quit. He’s opening himself up to MASSIVE liability, especially with COVID19. As a lawyer, he may respond to the legalese.

    Of course, that means you have to be willing to quit over this – but if he ignores your letter and continues – you’ve got recourse and he will know it.

    1. Observer*

      The letter will do zero. He knows what he’s doing and he is not going to stop just because the request came in a certified letter.

      The OP will only stop being subject to this when they leave. So, the need to start job hunting. When they have a job, they LEAVE. No warnings, no ultimatums. Just leave.

    2. Corporate Lawyer*

      IAAL, and honestly, I don’t see the liability here. Is what he’s doing in any way okay? Definitely not. But is it illegal or tortious? No, not really. He would see the letter as the empty threat it is and throw it in the trash.

      1. OP*

        You are correct! Frankly, I don’t think he even thinks about what he does…he just does.

    3. pancakes*

      Liability for what, exactly? I’m a lawyer too and I don’t think this is the right approach at all. Vague, hollow threats generally mean less to us than then do to other people.

      1. Corporate Lawyer*

        >Vague, hollow threats generally mean less to us than they do to other people.

        HAHAHAHA, yes. I’ve never thought about it that way before, but it’s very true.

      2. JustaTech*

        If you know that you are sick (with a communicable disease) and deliberately attempt to infect another person, in some states that is a crime. But I think you have to show intent, not just general poor hygiene and grossness.

        1. pancakes*

          There’s no reason to believe either of those scenarios are the case here, though, let alone both.

          1. JustaTech*

            Oh yes! I’m just saying that *maybe* there are laws that would apply, not that there are definitely laws that *do* apply to this situation.

            1. pancakes*

              That’s true of any letter here, though. The narrative of any letter could be added to by commenters in order to create a scenario where something illegal is happening.

      3. JKP*

        I’m not a lawyer, but as a small business owner, my local SBA has had several webinars about how to avoid covid liability as a business owner. Basically, following all the re-opening guidelines regarding sanitation, distancing etc. Otherwise, your business can be held liable for any covid spread to staff and customers.

        1. pancakes*

          That doesn’t sound like bad advice, but working for or with the SBA isn’t synonymous with being a lawyer, and webinars can’t provide legal advice.

  23. Belsnickel*

    Gross, and definitely not okay by any stretch of the imagination. Time to get creative, in addition to the suggestions above:
    – Use a lot of hand sanitizer? It tastes AWFUL. oops, it got everywhere! Oops, it got in the bottom of this pencil cup where no one could see!
    – Cover your desk with a layer of Saran wrap before you leave every day, or even tape a garbage bag over it. Say nothing unless someone asks. Keep a pleasant demeanor when you answer, but tell them the truth. (and please reuse the bag, if you can.) Not only are you being deliciously shady, but you can simply lift the soiled layer off and recycle the bag or clingfilm, if re-using it isn’t an option.
    – Lock bloody everything in your desk.
    – Ask how much of a stipend you will receive for cleaning supplies, since it is a business-related expense.
    – Pretend you saw ants/roaches in the office after his next messy snack attack.

    Honestly, there is no excuse for this.

    1. Batgirl*

      Somehow this reminds me of old fashioned bureaus or rolltops where you could cover up the desktop and lock it.

  24. Ann Perkins*

    Since he says he’ll stop and doesn’t, could you use that as an opening to introduce solutions that keep him out of your office entirely? I.e. “OK, boss, since this is a repeat problem, I’m going to have office manager install an additional lock on the door that only she and I have access to so that you’re not tempted to come in and leave a mess.”

    I used to be a paralegal so I get that there’s a lot of paper moving around law firms but ugh, I feel so bad for you. If you would like to work from home, I would use it as a pitch for that too. “Boss, I no longer feel safe in the workplace due to the unhygienic practices. Unless something changes, my plan is to work from home until I can have an office space that’s free from intrusion and messes.”

    1. OP*

      I AM the office manager as well as his paralegal. Like I said in my original letter, there is no one else to go to. He owns the practice, I manage it and perform paralegal duties, and we have one part-time assistant. It would be a whole other letter describing it here. I’ve been here five years and have made some changes…mostly technological ones to bring everything up-to-date so that it’s not like working in 1985. I believe he’s had these gross habits for a very long time and no has ever called him on it. I do and have no qualms about doing so. It’s gross and I should not have to deal with it. I just need to figure out a way to make it stick.

      1. Drew*

        One thing you MIGHT try is throwing away anything he chews on as soon as you see him do it. “Sorry, Norman, but I can’t use that pen after you chewed on it. That reminds me, have you have your COVID test yet?”

        I don’t know if that would work but at least you’d have the satisfaction (minimal though it might be) of showing him that you won’t be made to use stuff with his saliva on it.

      2. Ann Perkins*

        Got it, sorry, I didn’t understand from your letter what your role is. Since it seems like you have quite a bit of leverage, what about putting a lock on your door and not letting him have the key? Are you in an office building with security? I’m just trying to think of ways that you could keep him out, without being a Dwight Schrute who keeps all the backup keys also. Because you absolutely should not have to deal with this but it doesn’t seem like he’s willing to make actual changes.

      3. Batgirl*

        “Figure out a way to make it stick”
        Do you mean teaching or training him to break this habit? Teaching involves more than telling. It’s about ten times the work of playing defence and locking things away. He’s also not willing to be trained. More importantly he’s not your responsibility in that way.

        1. Avasarala*

          Agreed. What good could you do, OP, if you put your brilliant mind towards that instead of training a 70 year old man to be a functioning adult?

  25. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I’d be tempted to rub a cut habanero pepper over ‘his’ pens, or maybe Ivory Soap. Or spray some Lysol. But an allergic reaction is a possibility, so pet store solutions would be a better option.

  26. Captain Pike*

    I once had the nosy boss who would sometimes go through our desks when we were out of the office. Candy bars, pens/pencils and personal notes were fair game.
    I bought a large soft sided briefcase and basically used it as my desk drawers. At lunch I’d zip it up and he never did open it (I had a luggage lock at the ready). At the end of the day I took a lot of stuff home in it (I drove) and left it in my trunk most nights.

    1. Batgirl*

      I have a big satchel I use in this way. I keep pads, stationary, planner, snacks, the works in it.

  27. Essess*

    I would seriously look for another job if it’s at all possible. During this pandemic, he is literally and deliberately putting your safety and life at risk by using your desk and touching (and salivating) on your items. I wouldn’t be subtle by putting notes. I would flat out say to him that he is putting your life at risk and ask him for a lock for your office door for him to stop endangering you.

  28. Johanna*

    Yeah, disgusting. Nail biting polish is probably you’re best bet. I’d put it on all the pens in the office. And it’s not that his mother never taught him…it’s that his father didn’t…..

  29. Delta Delta*

    As much as I love the idea of a hollowed-out book or tampon box subterfuge (and I do!) this boss is a broken stair. OP shouldn’t have to figure out workarounds to figure out how to keep this grown adult human from putting her belongings in his mouth.

    I don’t know if finding a new job is the right answer. That’s often the knee-jerk reaction; things are bad, ergo get out. But if this is the only bad thing, maybe it’s one solid discussion with the boss. “I can’t believe I have to say this, but stop putting my belongings in your mouth.” And then hide your stuff. And if it continues, I guess maybe it’s an immovable problem and you’ll have to get out.

    1. Observer*

      This boss is a broken stair – one that the OP has zero power to fix. The OP *HAS* had these conversations with their boss – more than once, according to the letter.

      So, the OP has two choices: Get out or find a way to work around the boss. It should not be necessary, but that’s the reality of a boss what “says he will stop but never does”.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        This. She’s had this conversation a million times with this fool – he will not change.

  30. Dr. Rebecca*

    All of this is reprehensible, but my mind is stuck on…he…CHEWS on PAPERWORK???


    1. rnr*

      I know! In my office there are often forms and reports and what not that circulate to multiple people for signatures. If I saw bite marks on them (especially right now!) I would not touch it.

  31. Phony Genius*

    When I first saw the title, I read it too fast and thought it said “my disgusting boss touches and chews on my desk.” So I pictured the boss as a beaver.

    Anyway, it comes up on this site how law offices often function differently from other workplaces. The boss’s concept of having ownership of everything on the writer’s desk seems to fall into that category. If he’s a lawyer, he should know where he’s wrong about that.

    I like Alison’s idea of a “diversion safe.” Looking online, the most effective one I can find is a fake cactus plant. He probably won’t want to touch that, and hopefully he won’t take it upon himself to also water your plants.

  32. Ashley*

    One thing I have learned with dealing with a messy boss if I clean their desk so they can find their own office supplies it does reduce the number of times they steal mine. (In your case I would definitely wear gloves.) This can be a slippery slope sometimes doing basic housekeeping tasks but sometimes I have found it is worth it because I am not spending 10 minutes looking for my highlighters.

    I wonder if he does this to others in the office or if your position / desk location makes you special. Talking to co-workers could help about site specific strategies, especially if you have to take to moving paper out of site.

    1. Observer*

      This doesn’t sound like an issue of the boss not being able to find his own supplies, though. There is no reason he’s CHEWING on stuff, nor for eating at the OP’s desk and LEAVING SPILLED FOOD AND DRINK!

  33. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Can you lock your office door? (Yes, he probably has a key, but it would be an extra step for him and would use up time that he could spend rummaging through others’ offices.)

    1. Mannheim Steamroller*


      (1) start or continue searching for another job;

      (2) write an anonymous Glassdoor review.

  34. The Bimmer Guy*

    Eww. I’m not so sure he *is* incapable of stopping. You’ve made him aware of the fact that it’s a Capital-P Problem and gotten commitments from him that he’d stop. Moreover, while chewing on one’s own pens and utensils can be a habit, going to the trouble of visiting someone *else’s* desk and doing it is quite another thing, and it smacks of deliberate boundary trampling to me.

    That’s just my rant. I don’t have any practical advice to give that’s different from Alison’s. Sorry you’re dealing with this.

  35. Drew*

    Speaking as a man, I am just as disgusted as you are, OP. I was really hoping he had partners who would be willing to tell him what a vile oaf he is being, but it sounds like he’s the one and only owner and just doesn’t care.

    I don’t think there’s a way you can change him, so you have to decide if this is a deal breaker for you. It would be for me.

  36. Coverage Associate*

    More advice: make your own work as paperless as possible. Lots of law firms are moving in this direction for other reasons, but if you have no papers of your own, you will only be dealing with what he gives you.

    It’s a pain, like locking up your pens, but it will also make it easier to clear your desk whenever you step out. As someone lower on the chain, you are probably not signing or otherwise dealing with much where the official hard copy needs your signature.

  37. Thiazin-red*

    This is an adult man, and not a toddler? How could any adult human possibly think this is okay?

    1. Third or Nothing!*

      Even my toddler acts better than this dude. She stopped putting stuff in her mouth that doesn’t belong as soon as she stopped teething.

  38. Workfromhome*

    Remove all the pens etc from the desk.
    Replace them with wire brushes. See what happens.

  39. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    This kind of person, it would not surprise me in the least if he broke the lock or broke into the cabinet/box/area that you locked up to keep your stuff clean. Because he can. Because he doesn’t like being denied. Because he doesn’t care. Because there’s been no true consequences to his behaviour.

    Trying to be compassionate about this, it’s very possible he truly cannot help his behaviour without some serious work and therapy.

    But I also suspect he gets a thrill from seeing people’s reactions to his behaviour. That “hit” from people’s reactions is more addictive that correcting the behaviour (for comparison, look at the class clown – he makes ppl laugh and that makes him feel good so he won’t try to actually give the right answer or behave in class because acting out brings him attention he might crave).

  40. Goldenrod*

    This brings us a related issue which has always annoyed me in jobs where I (sort of) have my own office. Like, in my job now, I do have “my own” office, but my boss treats it like an extension of her office. There’s no reason for it – her office is huge, and there’s no reason for mine to be “the main office” because our building is secure and I don’t do reception.

    But still – she keeps things in my office, I have to store her pile of snacks and other items that only she uses.

    It’s annoying! I’m an assistant, so I think this is a fairly common dynamic in my type of job (which is a support role). But I feel like it’s a power play……

    1. JustaTech*

      My office is so much the opposite that people are hesitant to even leave a document they need signed on another person’s chair.

      Before we all got sent home for COVID my boss came by my desk (not even a cube anymore, ugh) and super hesitantly, super politely asked to use some of my giant bottle of hand lotion because his hands were fried from all the washing. “Of course, help yourself whenever you need some!”

      Now, I’ll grant that all the stuff I care about lotion/pens/snacks/meds is in my desk drawers, but people are *so* respectful of personal space that it was a huge act of will to throw away someone’s rotting banana.

  41. Clorinda*

    He’s the boss. You can’t really lock him out of a room in his own business.
    Short term: lock up all personal items and leave chew toys out for him. Long term: work somewhere else.

  42. Auntie Social*

    I know a paralegal who wears a painter’s apron (the sturdy canvas ones with pockets) to save herself steps, to stop retrieving her staple puller and highlighter from her desk, and to stop retrieving her good pens from other desks. She also keeps her cell phone in one pocket, on vibrate.

    1. On a pale mouse*

      I like this. When I was practicing and in court 10-20 hours every week, I always wore a suit jacket just for the pockets (even though in that particular job I could have gotten away with something still dressy but less traditional). Now I work at the grocery store and the apron we’re required to wear only has two pockets in it, so I wear my previous apron under it. This is primarily so I have my personal stuff even when I can’t run to my locker (which is most of the time). But there are also a couple of items that in theory should be available (pens, box knife), but I’ve learned that carrying my own is the only way to ensure they actually are.

      1. Batgirl*

        You can buy big sew-on pockets that work great under relaxed or square blazers. Teachers can’t have too many pockets!

  43. SomebodyElse*

    Thanks to AAM I now know where all of those disgusting college roommates ended up that you always hear about. (I know I’ve almost recognized a few of mine in some of these letters.)

  44. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!! Based on the letter above I think we can safely assume that this man doesn’t wash his hands after coughing or sneezing into them or going to the bathroom. This is profoundly gross and the main reason I hate shaking hands. One of the good things to come out of the pandemic is that hand shaking has been put on a major no-no list and I love it. The CEO of my new job literally just knocked on my office door to introduce himself and he made absolute no move to try and shake my hand. It was great.

  45. LGC*

    And be glad you’re not sharing a bathroom with him.

    Or a kitchen, apparently. (Yes, I had to go there. LW, I would not use any communal dishes.)

    But just to clear something up: I’m pretty sure your boss CAN stop, he just isn’t putting in the work. Just because he’s your boss doesn’t mean you have to apologize for his bad behavior. It sounds like you’ve named his behavior, but if you haven’t…you might want to say that you’ve noticed he chews on your pens and spills food and drinks on your desk.

    1. LGC*

      (Just to follow up: I was thinking of the one boss that is more disgusting than this guy: the one, the only Pee Boss, who I’m surprised Alison didn’t link to in the recommended letters.)

  46. Magenta Sky*

    I’d be seriously tempted to go to a baby store and get him a teether. I mean, if he’s going to act like an infant . . .

    Or perhaps a doggie chew toy.

  47. AS*

    You know that foul tasting clear nail varnish that is meant to help you stop nail bitting? It can be painted on the end of pens to give an unpleasant surprise. For anything more spongey absorbent, how about wasabi?

  48. Belle8bete*

    I love that some of these suggestions from Alison are the same for training animals (leave something just for them as a decoy haha).

    Maybe try double stick tape and bitter apple spray too (only half joking) available at most pet stores.

    1. JustaTech*

      Or only leave non-functional pens out on the desk?
      If every time the Boss grabs a pen it doesn’t work, maybe he’ll stop grabbing pens?

      Honestly, I think we can only come up with silly/joking responses because the situation is so bizarre, and the serious resolution has already failed (a serious talk) that we’re stuck with the ridiculous.

  49. A*

    This might make me a bad person…. but my first thought is something non-toxic that tastes terrible… like coating your pens with tea tree oil, or that clear nail polish that taste bad and trains people out of nail biting.

    or you could go super extreme with jalapeno powder…

  50. Jo*

    I don’t really have much in the way of advice other than what Alison has said, other than can you go to him rather than him come to you if he needs anything? Maybe not practical but might be worth asking him, and spell out the reason if you have to. Apart from that I just have one thing to say, which is…. YUCK YUCK YUCK

  51. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox*

    Sorry, is your boss actually an untrained puppy in disguise?

  52. Regina Phalange*

    Some restaurants have disposable paper table cloths – that they just tear-off and start over. I would recommend you order those and expense them – when you come in or before you leave – just remove the one from the day before and start again.

    Also, he’s disgusting and i’m sorry there seems to be nothing else you can do.

  53. Rebecca*

    How is this not an OSHA issue? He is literally putting you at risk to contract a disease, not only COVID-19 if he becomes a carrier, but whatever else his gross behavior puts him at risk for. Plus, as many others have said, this guy is just plain disgusting. There is zero excuse for this. I just can’t wrap my brain around this! I wish he could be charged with something and have to appear in court, as an attorney, to explain himself. I’d pay to see it.

  54. el_g*

    Lock it all up! I work in a very small open plan office and my desk is right by the conference room. Co-workers coming in for meetings would routinely reach across me to grab pens from my desk like it was the supply closet. My boss would come by my desk everyday and grab several tissues from my tissue box. I started locking everything in my desk drawer leaving nothing on my desk for people to take. The only way to keep me sane and not blowing up at someone taking yet another of my favorite pencils!

  55. irene adler*

    I think I’d put a giant canvas car cover over the entire desk- and chair too. Then lock it underneath. That would make things difficult for boss to access things. And hard to sit at and eat as well.
    (that is, if I couldn’t wire the desk up to deliver an electric shock to anyone who touched it. )

  56. drinking Mello Yello*

    Aside from the excuses this guy makes for licking his hands and whatnot (Seriously, buddy? Pen grips and hand lotion exist. They work. Saliva does not.), OP’s boss is so utterly disrespectful to keep chewing, licking, and slobbering on their belongings and leaving spilled food and garbage on their desk after repeated conversations and requests not to! It just comes across as a particularly gross power play, about a step and a half above marking one’s territory with excrement. :/ And it’s nasty and unsanitary enough during normal times, but now? During a pandemic? Potentially dangerous!

    OP, you’ve have numerous conversations with your boss and he hasn’t changed his behavior. He’s not going to change his behavioral, barring some miraculous, one-in-a-million, Come to Jesus moment. At this point your choices are to mitigate the damage with some of Alison’s suggestions or to get a new job to get away from this guy. Ngl, I’d be looking for a new job; this is just too gross and I can only imagine what kind of a plague vector Boss could be…

  57. I edit everything*

    Would it be too provoking to clear the desk of everything except a little bowl of pacifiers?

  58. Choggy*

    This smacks about power and control, he is not going to change. Either you put up with it, by continuing to do as you’ve done (remove all items you use on a daily basis and clean your desk before touching it), or find another job which may mean changing your hours or pay.

  59. Lana Kane*

    Unless OP has a reasonable possibility of retaliation, I don’t think she should be working around him like this just yet. I know OP has asked him to not do this, but it’s absolutely reasonable for them to approach him again and say “This can’t continue as it is unsanitary, and I’m spending work hours cleaning up. How can we keep this from happening?”

    Sorry, but in the current climate I am done working around entitled people. I’m hoping that if more people who feel safe getting brave do so, we can change some things.

  60. Heidi*

    This may or may not work in your specific office, OP, but you might try buying pens with large quill feathers or puffballs or bedazzled pen toppers attached to them. Some people are bizarrely averse to using items that are overtly twee. The quills also allow you to pretend that you’re a 18th century noble with a wide-ranging acquaintance with which you avidly correspond.

  61. Lena Clare*

    Wtf is up with him?
    Like, is this a sort of primate behaviour, like leaving poop smeared on the toilet walls or something? (Also obviously gross).

  62. I Need That Pen*

    This is disgusting. How are some people so self-unaware. The mood I’m in today would have me bringing in one of my mom’s homemade Sloppy Joes, coming into his office with an important file in one hand and Sloppy in the other, and oh don’t his family picture frames make a nice place mat. And Mom’s Sloppy Joes are the sloppiest. Alas, dude here sounds like he’d tell me to have a seat til I was done eating.

    I had a coworker once sneeze into his hand and then hand me back the pen I lent him and I loudly told him to keep it, with a couple what the hells thrown in.

    And my heart sinks when stories have the, “he’s the owner,” or “there’s no HR.” I’d feel like I was on an island. Poor OP.

  63. MCMonkeyBean*

    To me this issue here is a profound lack of respect more than gross habits. If he wants to chew on his own pens and paper, that’s fine. And I could even understand the occasional instance of borrowing a pen and forgetting it’s not his and chewing it. But to *regularly* use your desk and your things when he has his own desk and things? Even if he wasn’t chewing on them and leaving a mess behind, that just seems so disrespectful to me. I would absolutely leave a job over a boss who continually claims my space as his own.

    1. Atrocious Pink*

      Disrespect is absolutely at the root of the behavior. The hygiene aspect is secondary.

  64. Clever username goes here*

    Leave an open container of cold sore medication out on your desk!

    No seriously though, this guy is gross AF. Take your stuff with you as much as possible, and wipe down everything before each day.

  65. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    So we just had a thread about somebody with the same name as a dog.

    And now I think that your boss actually IS a dog.

  66. Atrocious Pink*

    This reminds me of the legal secretary I used to work with whose boss was an unabashed nose picker and regularly handed her papers with boogers stuck to them.

    Not to mention the two nail biters I’ve worked for, and the countless times I’ve watched a lawyer lick his fingers liberally while flipping through the papers he was just about to hand me.

  67. Cleopatra, Queen of Denial*

    “ but since you’re essentially working for an infant”

    Does anyone remember that SNL skit Office Boss with the guy who’s a CEO but he has the body of a baby? That’s what I pictured when I read this.

    Sorry you have a baby for a boss, OP — I cringed in sympathy reading the whole thing.

  68. zzz*

    There is a nail varnish called ‘Stop and Grow’, designed to stop people from biting their nails. If you leave a special Bob’s Gross Pen(s), lace it with this. It’s nothing harmful, just has horrible taste. Maybe that discourages him from chewing your pens again.

  69. Them Boots*

    Locking tool box! Small one. Or they may even have thumbprint unlock boxes that would be easy for you. Oh, and put something under your chair when you are not using it that makes it tilt. Like one inch. People won’t notice why they are uncomfortable, but they start avoiding using that chair! Under the radar discouragement. And as Alison said, remember you are working for an infant!

  70. FionasHuman*

    Coat several items like pens in cayenne pepper water. Let him burn his mouth a few times on things that shouldn’t be in his mouth anyway. You can always claim total ignorance: “boss, I wouldn’t know about that, I’ve never put it in MY mouth.”

  71. LilPinkSock*

    Between this and Poop Boss, I’m so grateful that mine are stable, competent, and clean.

  72. Elizabeth West*

    I feel for you, OP. Dang. I thought my boss who sat at my desk and messed up all my computer settings and moved my stuff was bad (he had a huge desk in his office but for some reason preferred to use mine).

  73. TeapotNinja*

    I’m not sure if you do legal work, but if you do, one way to address this is report the amount of time you deal with his crap. If it’s out of billable hours, someone in your firm should care. That’s the one thing law firms really, really care about.

  74. Catherine Bradley*

    What about getting one of those desk blotters with a large pad of paper to leave on your desk at night? Rip the yucky pages off in the morning and store the blotter during the day. Order it with office supplies and replace the pads as needed on his dime.

  75. Catherine Bradley*

    Also I would try leaving no pens out. If he has to go back to his own office to get a pen, maybe he wont bother coming back to use your desk.

  76. Batgirl*

    OP I tend to use travel and home gadgets for hiding valuables. Except I use them at work for stationary. Any teacher will tell you that if you don’t nail it down it goes walkies.
    My favourites:
    1) The back of chair jacket with big zippered pockets – perfectly safe pencil case. It’s not one you have to wear and it should look dark and inconspicuously boring.
    2) The plant pot with an easy to remove fake plant. Put whatever you want underneath.
    3) The traveller’s scarf pocket. Jumble it in a drawer with spare tights. Good for snacks.
    4) Ordinary makeup bag. There’s lots of stationary you can hide in a bag of makeup.
    5) Hollowed out umbrella or hairbrush. These only work with men as women will pinch them.

  77. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

    Also, maybe you should try getting some various arthritis friendly pens-ones that don’t look at all like your pens. Maybe he’ll fall in love with one of them and leave yours alone.

  78. Everything is a chemical.*

    I would also find some Bitrex. It is a bittering agent used in perfumes to prevent people from drinking it. it is also used in the anti-nail bitting nail polish. Spray down your pens and other items on your desk. He will stop putting items on your desk in his mouth. Just know that you will need to wash your hands really, really well because it is easy to pick up and transfer. It probably won’t stop him forever but one application will likely make him cautious about putting things in his mouth for several weeks to come.

  79. Pennyworth*

    Treat your desk as a war zone. Seriously reduce the amount of personal stuff like pens – most of us can get by with a single pen – and wear what you want to keep exclusive to you. I once had a job which involved being going outside for long stretches but with office essentials at hand – I used a light cross body purse to hold a pen, small notebook, phone, and basic medical supplies. Look into running belts, carabiner pens, lanyard pens. Definitely leave a ‘boss only’ supply of stuff on your desk, that you can avoid touching, so he doesn’t go hunting through the drawers, but make it unappealing – for example if he leaves sticky,chewed pens do not clean or replace them. Consider getting a cactus or six to weaponize your work surfaces and guard piles of papers, think of ways to make your workspace unappealing. Make his behavior inconvenient to him. For example if he comes up with chewed papers I would say -‘I’m sorry I can’t touch those papers – because Covid19 – I will get a clean set reprinted.’ If you can find CDC guidelines to back you up, refer to them.

  80. Bowserkitty*

    Once you’ve cleared off your desk, you could also try leaving out something that’s specifically for him — like a holder of pens that you don’t care if he touches/chews/licks. If those are the only ones he sees, he’ll probably use those (and be less likely to go looking in your desk), and you can just consider them Bob’s Gross Pens.

    Decoy pens!!!! This is like what we do with cats and laptops. xDDD

    Also, the tampon box is just genius.

  81. ElVee*

    OP, could you put that stuff parents use to stop their kids biting their nails on the pens? It isn’t dangerous, but tastes bad. Might encourage him to stop…

    1. Jemima Bond*

      Or that anti-nail-biting stuff. You could even paint it on the edges of files if he holds paperwork in his mouth too!

  82. Jemima Bond*

    I reckon it’s time to make yourself a clear desk policy; the sort that many government agencies adhere to so sensitive paperwork etc is not left out.
    So at the end of the day all you stationery, notebooks, papers and files you are working on go into a locked set of desk drawers; key on a ring in your handbag/pocket. Snacks also go into a drawer; in a biscuit tin or Tupperware though if your drawer is low level because mice. Files into a locked cabinet. The only thing left out on your desk can be a pen pot you dislike containing cheap boss-decoy pens which you never touch, and perhaps a packet of cleaning wipes. A desk phone could be covered each evening with a hotel shower cap, and a framed photo of a loved one could be replaced with a screensaver version. And maybe even either draping a painters dust sheet over the whole desk including monitor and keyboard (this makes it harder to use as well) or perhaps an oilcloth tablecloth in a jaunty pattern of your choice spread over the desk and keyboard. This would have a decent hint-factor as well i.e. “if you are going to eat and drink here and spill stuff, a wipe clean tablecloth is necessary”. Or how about a clearly marked box containing toddler bibs?

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