updates: the secret Santa underwear gift, the discriminating boss, and more

Here are three updates from people who had their letters answered here in the past.

1. My coworker is giving a colleague underwear in our Secret Santa

I wrote to you in November about my colleague (let’s call him Andy) who thought it was a good idea to give underwear as a present for Secret Santa. I am pleased to tell you that he did not do it finally!

A few days after I wrote to you, I was on a coffee break with him, the woman to whom he wanted to make the gift (Angela), and the person organizing the Secret Santa (Jim). It was the perfect occasion to address it, so I asked Jim to confirm the guidelines. The first thing he said is that the presents should all be safe for work and good spirited. Immediately Angela said that no one would be weird enough to give things like sex toys to colleagues, and that if it would happen to her she would throw the present in her desk bin immediately and be very offended to be sexualized in such a way in front of the whole office. I said I was feeling the same way, and added immediately, “You see Andy, red underwear is not the way to go !” in a joking tone and without giving away that he actually was Angela’s secret Santa, but directly enough so he could not doubt what I meant. Jim said that he would have a talk with anyone not understanding the implicit rules of an office Secret Santa. Andy was very quiet for the whole conversation, which was then mostly about the secret Santa gifts that we got in the past and which ones we liked the most.

On the way back from the break room, Andy and I walked together as we share an office, and I told him that I could help him find a new idea if he wanted. He told me to not worry and that he would buy something else on his own.

I did not discuss it further with Andy. I was convinced enough that he understood the message but I was still very relieved when, on the day of the holiday party, Angela got a very cute wool hat. She had lost hers in the bus, so she was quite happy.

I wonder still if Angela knew or suspected that Andy was thinking about gifting her underwear… her reaction to the topic during the coffee break tends to make me think that she suspected it. She did not know that Andy was her secret Santa, he told her after the gift opening. But he was not very discreet about it. He had told me, and other colleagues as well. Maybe he also told them about the underwear, and one of them went directly to Angela to tell her. I am not sure, because otherwise I guess she would have addressed it on her own. Or maybe he implied it to Angela, that would be totally his style. It could also be that it was totally random and that she did not know or suspect a thing.

Since this conversation, Andy took a step back in his friendliness with us all. I guess he reevaluated what is appropriate at work and what is not, and decided to not become the creep of the office. Now we all work from home, and once on a call he asked me if I had news about Angela, and told me that he does not want to contact her too often, because it could seem inappropriate. The four of us (with other colleagues sometimes) still take coffee together once every two weeks, over Zoom, and it is the only time Angela and Andy are in contact. I know this because I have her on the phone roughly every week, and she told me that they don’t speak that much, just text sometimes. I really think Andy realized that he was a little too much and decided to dial it down.

Thank you again for your advice, and for all the commenters who confirmed my impressions about Andy’s behaviour.

2. Video interviews when you’re trapped at home and looking shaggy

I wrote in back in April about video interview etiquette in the age of COVID, and I wanted to give my good news update! I did get an interview for a job that is exactly what I’m looking for a few weeks after I wrote in. I did the interview from my bedroom, making sure not to show too much bed and to angle my computer towards my bookshelf and houseplants as much as possible. I also pulled my hair back and did my best to hide my shagginess. I felt really good about how the interview went, and in fact, one of the interviewers was actually sitting at the end of her bed, so I felt better about my background.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the job initially, but I got a lovely email telling me that they had gone with an internal candidate and asking me to check back in August if I was still looking for work. I was bummed, but kept up my applications to new places.

Then, almost a month later, my phone rang as I was writing yet another cover letter. It was that same job, and they were calling with an offer! Within the week I had accepted the new role and am scheduled to start in July.

As a recent grad who was planning to start her first “real” job this year, COVID had really thrown a wrench in my plans. I’m so delighted to have gotten a job mid-pandemic, and I’m looking forward to this new start!

3. My boss is discriminating against my pregnant employee

I just wanted to say thank you for your advice. I found it very eye-opening to see how Ron’s attitude was rubbing off on me and affecting the way I manage Jane! I hope that in the future, I will be better able to recognize it and push back.

Just an update that Jane has now left on her maternity leave. We sent her flowers from the company and had a zoom going away party. We also had a meeting with myself, Ron, and Jane. Ron acknowledged that he hadn’t spent much time with Jane but that everyone had only good things to say, and he thanked her for all her hard work. I hope in a year or two, I will be able to send you an update that Jane has moved to the B2B sales team – I certainly will push for it to happen!

{ 71 comments… read them below }

  1. WorkIsADarkComedy*

    LW 1: Angela knew or strongly suspected. Her comment, so close to what Andy was thinking, didn’t come out of nowhere.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Oh, yeah, I think Angela knew. Someone else in the office must have tipped her off.

    2. Professor Plum*

      It sounds like Jim might also have Been tipped off given his first response to the question.

    3. Heffalump*

      IMO Secret Santa is OK if participation is optional, which it has been at my employers for the past 20 years. I’ve chosen to sit it out.

  2. Altair*

    LW#1 — well and awesomely done on your part! And on Angela and Jim’s! And also on Andy’s — he seems to actually have engaged himself in the process of learning, which is a very good thing.

    1. MK*

      Exactly. Whenever I hear about someone whose behaviour is an issue that “they mean well”, I often think the test of good (or at least benign) intentions is how they take being corrected. Those who really mean well or are just awkward will be mortified to learn others were bothered by their actions and adjust their behaviour. Those that were creeps to satrt with will dig in their heels.

    2. Shirley Keeldar*

      I found myself a little frustrated with Andy’s response, actually. When a man’s reaction to “please don’t sexually harass your colleagues” is to step back from all interaction with them…I think that harms women in a different way. Really, there’s a whole range of pleasant, professional behavior in-between “give a colleague underwear” and “don’t text her or talk to her” and it’s just not that hard to find.

      I may not be giving Andy enough credit; maybe he’s only cut out inappropriately flirty texts. If so, good. I just got a whiff of “oh geez, women are so scary, better not talk to them at all” from what the OP said.

      1. Cookie Monster*

        Sure, it sounds like he may be overcompensating a little bit, but that’s not such a terrible thing while he learns how to re-calibrate his judgement. Plus he’s still on the Zoom coffee chats so he’s stepped back from all interaction.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yeah, he might just be pausing to reset. I agree with MK; how someone responds to their mistakes can tell you a lot about them.

      2. Jellybeans*

        ITA. However, I suspect in this case that Angela pulled away after the guidelines conversation. If she knew or suspected Andy was planning to give her an inappropriate gift, then she definitely knew what OP meant, and personally I would be so creeped out I’d never want to talk to him again, even though he didn’t go through with it.

      3. Susie Q*

        “oh geez, women are so scary, better not talk to them at all”

        This is not the vibe I got from Andy’s reaction. I felt Andy perhaps was overcompensating by limiting his contact because he didn’t want to be creepy. He may be someone who struggles with understanding appropriate social niceties so he’s trying the best that he can. Someone who is neurotypical may not struggle with these boundaries but there are plenty of people who do. If Andy double down on his inappropriate behavior, then he should be condemned but it seems like he is trying to figure out the right balance.

        1. Annony*

          I got the same impression. First, the OP said he took a step back from everyone, not just the women. From the tone of the letter it sounds like he was being too friendly before so it was a needed adjustment. Becoming less friendly if you were overly friendly before is a good thing and doesn’t mean you are no longer friendly at all.

          1. Sleeplessinseattle*

            From the context of the post, it sounds like basically everyone in the office knew about the underwear. He may be shrinking from everyone because everyone is judging him now (I would also judge him, in fairness.)

        2. Workerbee*

          I raised an eyebrow at Andy asking the OP for news about Angela. Perhaps it was only the one time, but adding that into how they all still do have their work coffee chats over Zoom and that he found it necessary to say that he doesn’t want to contact her too often—well, it just seemed beyond overcompensating to “Dude’s still got a crush” or whatever it is he has.

          1. Uldi*

            That was my impression, too. The distancing seems to indicate to me that he did tell multiple people about his plans for the gift, so he’s stepping back until the near-incident is far enough into the past that most people don’t think about it anymore.

            But the asking about Angela really comes across as someone still strongly crushing on her.

        3. AKchic*

          I went back to the original story. Andy is in his 40s and married. Angela is in her early 30’s and single. I felt like he had a crush and was trying to use her Spanish heritage as an excuse to give her the lingerie (“because it’s traditional in Spain!”) and have a seemingly innocuous reason for doing so… at the office Secret Santa exchange (uh, no buddy, that’s absolutely not the case). The LW tried to talk him out of it and Andy, stuck in his infatuation and delusions (of “good intentions”, ha!) brushed the LW off.

          I think it’s a safe bet that Andy told other people besides the LW his intentions. I’m going to assume that if Andy did that, word got back to the organizer and Angela herself, which is why it was so easy to have that conversation openly in front of Andy.

          Andy pulled back on his conversations from Angela because he’s trying to get rid of his open and obvious crush (especially since he’s probably very embarrassed, if he thinks everyone knows about it and about his gift plans). Unfortunately, he is still crushing, so he still keeps asking about Angela, hoping (or worrying) that she is talking about him. Her mentioning the word “sexualization” with the Secret Santa has him worried that she did know and that she thinks he’s a pervert or worse and he is avoiding her as much as possible so she doesn’t report him. Too many people probably know about his original gift idea for him to lie and say that she misheard or one person misheard Andy’s gift idea and reported the wrong item to her.

      4. MK*

        The OP says he took a step back from his friendliness, not that he stepped back from all interaction.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Well OP also said that he asks OP for updates on Angela because he is worried that contacting her would be inappropriate, and that the group zoom chat every two weeks is the only interaction they have. So it sounds like he stepped back from his friendliness overall but stepped back from basically all interactions with Angela.

          1. Warlord*

            The dude was told he was wrong, stopped the behavior he was told was inappropriate, and stepped back. He did a good. He did the right thing.

            Piling on someone who listened and grew, and snidely dismissing their growth is shitty.

              1. Stormfeather*

                No, he presumably stopped the behavior because after he realized he was making her uncomfortable, he realized he was being creepy (or at least in danger of it) and wanted to back off and make sure he wasn’t That Person. I didn’t see any mention of anyone telling him to stop the behavior, and certainly no one telling him “hey, and pull back so you’re not making her uncomfortable.”

          2. Koalafied*

            I agree with the sentiment but it’s lacking context here. The vast majority of letters printed here involve people behaving badly. Whenever there’s a follow-up that indicates the problem was resolved, the commentariet here will express how lovely it is to know that not all problems are intractable and sometimes people behaving badly can be reformed. People aren’t saying, “wow, Andy is such a terrific coworker, I wish I had more coworkers like him!” They’re saying, “it’s so nice to read good news from an OP who got the outcome she wanted. And if Andy can do it, maybe my office’s Andy could be reformed and I don’t have to resign myself to just living with his behavior.”

        1. Altair*

          FWIW, I don’t think Andy is pulling a Pence here. I don’t think anyone who approved of his pulling-back-to-reassess thinks he did so as a “women are so scary, can’t interact with them” move, so I don’t think you can say we are approving of such a move.

          1. SGP*

            I agree you didn’t. But you did say “well and awesomely done on your part…and also on Andy’s”, which seems like excessive praise for a man putting an end to being a creep after being told to. I just believe we need to hold men to a higher standard. They’re capable of it.

        2. OhNoYouDidn't*

          He may have stepped back because he realized he was entertaining romantic feelings towards Angela. Either he was shot down by Angela, or his wife said something, or someone at work talked to him about giving out inappropriate vibes towards Angela. To me, this sounds like a lot more than a poor choice in a gift.

      5. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think I agree though it’s hard to know for sure without knowing what their relationship was like before. My first instinct on hearing that he asks OP how Angela is doing because he’s worried that contacting her would be inappropriate was that it felt sort of like when people respond to complaints about sexual harassment with “geez, I guess I can’t even talk to a woman anymore!”

        But if he honestly reflected on their relationship and decided he had been too friendly or flirty and wanted to pull back then that’s probably a good move. As long as him interacting with her less wouldn’t have any negative impact to her career path.

        1. LavaLamp*

          I’d like to point out that in the original letter, Andy was mentioned as being married. So there is a possibility he pulled back because he realized he was being super gross both to Angela and his spouse.

      6. Treebeardette*

        It’s speculation but I wondered if he was flirting or had some sort of romantic feelings. I can understand why he would cut off interaction. I just can’t grasp why he thought this would be okay only to back down when she said something. Either he liked her or he has a very messed up view of relationships with women in general. I think it’s safer for Angela to not have him speak to her at all.

      7. Sleeplessinseattle*

        Someone who just recently considered giving a coworker unmentionables at a work event doesn’t have the option of jumping into professional norms immediately. It’s clear they don’t know what those are. Withdrawing totally until they figure out boundaries better is likely their best option.

        To be clear, the fact that withdrawing is their best option does not make it an acceptable option. Someone who needs that much help/guidance might not be worth the hassle of employing them, especially if their best choice involves limiting interactions with coworkers. The other coworkers don’t need to suffer for their inability, and work is not a therapy session for people in need of social skills.

        1. Jackalope*

          On the other hand, if he’s just socializing less than he did previously, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe he’s focusing his energies on work. Maybe he’s taking time to do a reset. Maybe he just doesn’t like Zoom interactions and is wrestling with COVID stress. If he were shunning Angela I’d be much more worried than if he’s just less social.

  3. juliebulie*

    Wow, how did I miss letter #1 originally? I’m glad Andy finally caught a clue before he could humiliate Angela and make an ass of himself.

    I wonder if Andy had been trying to flirt with Angela in other ways before this. Apparently they were texting before, so maybe there were additional incidents (inappropriate remarks or whatever) that OP doesn’t know about.

      1. LavaLamp*

        Yeah, I agree. It sounds like he had a crush on Angela and finally realized it wasn’t reciprocated in that way.

  4. Amber Rose*

    Office Secret Santas have to be work appropriate?! There goes my plan to give a coworker a Dickasaurus Rex. :(

    No but seriously, that worked out perfectly, as did the other updates. I do so love happy endings.

    1. Ray Gillette*

      I nearly did a spit-take reading this. Thanks!

      I suspect my office secret Santa had a bit of a crush on me, but he got me a lovely, thoughtful, and 100% appropriate gift.

    2. Diamond*

      You know those kids dinosaur toys where you put them in water and they expand? At my work someone once got a guy an adult version of that… it was called “grow some balls”. It did not go over well.

  5. Sara without an H*

    Congratulations to OP#2! It sounds as though you handled it all very well. Hope the new job works out well for you.

  6. The Grey Lady*

    Good on Andy for recognizing that he was wrong and correcting his behavior. That’s quite rare to see.

    1. Moocowcat*

      Bravo Andy! People that mean well do pay attention to office norms and are willing to recalibrate. Glad that Andy decided not to become The Office Creep.

      1. whingedrinking*

        Exactly – this is why open communication is almost always a good idea. Decent people who mean well don’t *want* to upset others and would prefer to know that they shouldn’t do X. Non-decent people who don’t mean well don’t need shouldn’t get plausible deniability to continue being upsetting. Everybody who matters wins!

  7. Anononon*

    As someone who is finally watching The Office, I’m so pleased I fully get the nuances of the references. :)

  8. just a small town girl*

    I’m a bit sad to not see much on #3, I remember thinking it was bananas crazy how Ron was acting. I hope this is one we get another update that reveals Jane now owns the company and Ron is gone.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Yes, maybe OP#3 could comment with a few more details? For example, did he/she ever talk with Ron about his questionable behavior?

      1. Naomi*

        Also very curious about whether OP#3 ever talked to Ron about his behavior — which wasn’t at all questionable, IMHO, but horrible and illegal.

  9. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Ron may still evolve, some Ron’s just need to be proven wrong in front of their face. But only time will tell.

    What’s important is that you learned from this, OP. I hope that Jane returns, knocks it out of the park and Ron turns is BS Bigot Van around, for everyone’s sake.

    1. Grits McGee*

      It’s not clear from the update- did OP ever have a serious discussion with Ron that they were getting into legally dangerous territory with his treatment/attitude towards Jane? I know that was one of Alison’s main suggestions for this OP. It’s great that Ron was appropriate to Jane’s face, but does he know what his obligations are under the law?

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’m interested to know that too. The update sounds mostly that the OP opened their eyes and changed their attitude but doesn’t mention speaking with Ron, which I assume probably didn’t happen yet. It could be a matter of waiting for him to stick his foot back into his mouth and then bringing it up. Which isn’t ideal but I know it’s the route many chose to take.

  10. sdfgdjghj*

    to 1.)

    I have been “angela” that situation and it was awful. After the event that made me really uncomfortable, I pretty much severed our office relations to the literal bare minimum. There were some conflicts because he got angry and threw tools around a few times when I did not speak to him in the way he wanted me to (I kept it very business, and would not have personal conversation anymore). He would also text me random work things and stop by my office way more than he should have and I think he just doesnt have much of a social life outside of work and also had a crush on me and was overstepping boundaries. Finally TWO YEARS LATER we are back at a decent work relationship. But I still keep him at arms length. I am very happy the guy in 1.) situation realized what he was doing was inappropriate, cause the one in mine never did and just got more angry lol.

    1. Jellybeans*

      I’m sorry, that’s so awful. I wish your coworkers had stood up for you the way Angela’s did.

  11. sdfgdjghj*

    i do too. but he has been here for 20 years, so everyone else just kind of ignores his anger outbursts. this is not really the kind of place that attracts and retains talent – one of the rare instances were loyalty is still very valued and prided on. if anything , it is good experience for me to learn to work with different personality types and tune and not get frustrated.

  12. Ellie May*

    1. I never understood why in the original letter, the LW said if Andy had given Angela the underwear it could have damaged both of their reputations. Um, no, just Andy’s … Angela’s would have been the victim of very bad judgement and everyone would have felt badly for her.

    1. Altair*

      Considering how people are, I wouldn’t put it past at least one if not more people to have one or more of the following reactions, all of which would be bad for Angela’s reputation:

      1) She actually wanted the underwear and was ‘acting’ upset for ‘attention’
      2) “Why didn’t she take the gift gratefully? Andy Meeeeeeeannnnnnnnnnnssssssss Wellllllllllllllll. Angela is so rude.”
      3) Angela must have led Andy on somehow, or dressed too cutely, or somehow brought this on herself.
      4) They’d now see Angela in a sexual light which would preclude seeing her as a competent coworker (it’s weird how many people can either see a woman as sexual or as a human being, but not both).

      I wish people could be guaranteed to be sympathetic to victims of sexual harassment, but that hasn’t at all been my experience. I can see how the incident could have wrecked Angela’s reputation at work even though she wouldn’t at all deserve it.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. She will be associated in everyone’s mind with the embarrassing gift, the little slut. And then she wasn’t nice to him and he meant well and can’t she take a joke and of course she WOULD think he was attracted to her, she is so self centered. It isn’t your fault when you step in dog poop on the way to the office, but if you arrive with it on your shoes, that is what people think of when they think of you — and the red thong will be what comes to mind when they think of Jane.

        Glad this got deflected before the embarrassing day.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      You know how back in the 50’s, girls in high school could get labelled as sluts just by someone saying so, even if it was a complete lie? (Go watch Grease for a reminder. And this was true in the 60’s too, and probably every decade since, tbh.) Well, that kind of attitude is why people are saying it would have damaged Angela’s reputation. True or not true doesn’t matter much in cases like this. Plus there will *always* be someone saying something like “There’s no smoke without fire” (which isn’t even true for fires), meaning, if enough people say something it must be true.

    3. Jen MaHRtini*

      Instead of being known as “Angela whose great at her job” she’s going to be known for at least some time as “Angela who got the red lingerie in the secret Santa”. It’s absolutely not fair, but being placed in a sexualized situation can certainly damage a woman’s reputation. I was stalked/harassed by a co-worker for almost 2 years and everyone who found out about it assumed I had done something to bring it on.

    4. Ellie May*

      The replies to my comment are appreciated and quite mystifying to me – in 2020 and after 35 years in the professional world, this is truly surprising and I can only hope the minority of thinking.

    5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      It would not have hurt Andy’s reputation. He’d be the Office Stud. The Guy that Got Away with Giving Lingerie to the Slutty Spanish Chiquita. Remember it’s always the subordinate female that gets the flak, never the dominant male.
      (I’m talking about the real world, not the world where workers’ rights are honoured)

  13. Penny*

    Thank goodness Andy got the hint. In addition to embarrassing Angela, it would have been the end to Secret Santa. Which could have led to some additional resentment towards him (if he kept his job after giving a co-worker lingerie during a Secret Santa.

    Not to mention, if I found out my husband gifted a co-worker lingerie, I would be rather upset. Which isn’t a work issue, but clearly shows that Andy had some issues that need personal reflection. It sounds like the OP saved Andy from a lot of problems

  14. WFH with CAT*

    LW #3 – Perhaps I’m missing the subtleties of your update … but did you ever have a direct conversation with Ron about not discriminating against pregnant employees? It’s great that Jane got a good send-off for her maternity leave and you’ve given thought to your own actions. But Ron’s action were over-the-top awful , and I sincerely hope he now understands that he really cannot discriminate against women just because they are (or might become) mothers.

  15. Mayor of Llamatown*

    #1: Do you think Andy got any advice from Broccoli Rob?

    I’ll see myself out.

  16. Shaggy*

    It’s so nice to hear that ShaggyLW got the job! I worry about this too sometimes. My hair looks far worse if I try to conform it to conservative expectations of “polished”, and the quarantine has just emphasized this. To have it styled is expensive as it is, but right now, I’m more worried about the health risk. (Locally, there have been local reports of ~100 cases coming from one salon.) It’s just nice to know that it’s not a huge issue.

  17. Saradactyl*

    I had a boss (male, middle-aged, married) in the late 90s-early 2000s who decided that it would be such a funny prank to festoon a female (same age, married) employee’s car with brightly coloured thong underwear on her birthday.
    Shelly (not her real name but close) handled it with a grim fake smile and an irritated attitude. At that point, thong underwear was still seen as quite scandalous in our area of rural Ontario, Canada. Even if R (boss) had covered her car in granny panties, it would still have been hugely inappropriate. I hope Shelly took that to HR, but knowing our organisation’s response to sexual harassment complaints, nothing likely got done to address it.

    This was my first real job out of uni and I really had no idea what was/wasn’t appropriate/normal in an office environment yet, so at the time I didn’t realise how horribly sexist, juvenile, and inappropriate he was. He constantly said demeaning things about his wife to his employees (especially his younger female employees, of which I was one), called another woman in the office his ‘work wife’, made comments about female staff’s bodies/weight and appearances, played incredibly puerile, sometimes mean, and often sexist pranks, and was incapable of dealing with a sexual harassment complaint I was forced to make against an employee from another department. That place was absolutely toxic, and he was a big reason that it became that way. Even though the pay was great, working there wasn’t worth it!
    I’m really glad that Andy clued in before he did something so blatantly sexualised and stupid!

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