coworker got angry at my minor prank, recruiter called non-stop all day, and more

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

1. My coworker got angry at my minor prank

I am a man and I had a strange incident with a female coworker. We both have had a very playful, joking relationship. We constantly make jokes, playful insults, and talk about a variety of topics, especially when we are in our circle of friends.

One day at work, they were passing out “remain six feet apart” stickers to everyone. As a joke, I placed a strip of tape on one and gently placed it on my coworker’s back. The tape happened to stick pretty firmly after she turned around. Another coworker and a supervisor noticed and smiled. I left the room shorty after. A few minutes later, another coworker texted me and said she had blown up in anger. Using several choice words, she stated, “The next person who touches my body, I will report.”

I went to her later and apologized. I said I didn’t mean anything by it and it will not happen again. She said it was okay but was still very clearly upset. She continued to be in a bad mood the rest of the day and uncharacteristically walked a different way back to our cars than the rest of our group at the end of our day. How can I better handle this? Is this something I should bring to management’s attention?

Whoa, no, this is not something to report. It sounds like she’s fed up with people touching her, as she has a right to be. Apologizing and telling her clearly that you won’t do it again were the right things to do. (And to be clear, putting a sticker on the back of someone you’re friendly with isn’t a major offense during normal times, but violating social distancing to the point of touching someone certainly is during Covid. And even if it were normal times, she’s allowed to want people to stop touching her.)

It’s also worth reflecting on whether you might have unknowingly violated her boundaries in other ways in the past. You might think, “No, we have a fun, joking relationship!” … but it’s not at all uncommon for people to put up with behavior that makes them uncomfortable because they don’t want to cause tension with colleagues, even to the point that they’ll smile/laugh and seem to be enjoying themselves. I have no idea if that’s what’s happening here (maybe she was just in a bad mood that day, or maybe her ire was directed at someone else) but she’s given you a really clear indicator that something in your workplace is going too far for her. It’s worth taking a fresh look at how people’s boundaries are or aren’t being respected in this friend group. (Also, if you’re at all handsy in your joking relationship, assume you should cut that out immediately.)

2. Recruiters called me non-stop all day (and maybe they’re still calling)

I was contacted today by two recruiters working together about a job opening — one via email, the other via LinkedIn. I responded that I was interested and asked for more information since all they had told me was the job title.

Immediately I started getting phone calls from two numbers about every 30 minutes. I was in a seminar, so the calls went to voicemail, and then my phone would immediately start ringing with a call from the same number again. This continued through the afternoon, a couple times an hour. This is before I was even sent the job description. We had not discussed a phone call, and they never left a voicemail — just continuously called me while alternating numbers.

After a few missed calls, they sent me an email asking for a time to speak today. I responded that I wouldn’t be able to do a phone call today, and asked for the job description again. They sent me the job description and continued calling at the same frequency, still not leaving a voicemail.

Because I was in seminars all afternoon, I never picked up. I didn’t want to take time away from what I was doing to deal with these calls, and the lack of respect for my time demonstrated by the continuous calling made me feel like a quick “I have already told you now is not a good time” call back would not have been accepted.

Upon receiving the job description, I saw that I hardly met any qualifications, expressed my disinterest, and wished them luck in finding the right person. They read and responded to my message … and are still calling me. At this point I’ve blocked both numbers, because it is incredibly frustrating to be contacted like this, especially after clearly expressing that I was not free today (and later, not interested in the job). Is there anything else I could have done? I really need a job, so blocking recruiters or any potential connections feels especially drastic, but I wasn’t sure what else to do. The only other time I’ve been in this situation is after breaking up with an ex-boyfriend, and dealing with recruiters should not feel remotely similar!

What on earth? Some recruiters are indeed bizarrely aggressive, but this is nonsensical (and very rude) behavior.

Blocking them was the right move. You’d tried to communicate that you weren’t available and then you communicated that you weren’t interested, and they still kept blowing up your phone. Don’t worry about blocking recruiters like this; these aren’t recruiters you’d want representing you anyway!

3. Resumes without any dates for work history

I work in education and am in a coaching role that is seen as a stepping stone to management. I was looking over resumes for a couple of open positions a few weeks ago when I saw one resume that was organized in a way I had never seen before. This person had organized her resume by role, but without any dates attached to her previous work. The first job she had listed was with our organization, but with a department that has since undergone some major reorganization. In fact, the work she has done with us hasn’t been part of that department in 3-4 years.

It is a red flag in my industry to see people moving around between companies every year or two, and my concern with the organization of her resume was that she was trying to hide a work history like this. But is this actually a valid way to organize a resume? I don’t want to penalize someone unfairly, or to see red flags where none exist. We ended up not moving forward with this candidate because we had better options, but I anticipate being asked to participate in the hiring process more and more often as I move up in our organization. What do you think?

It’s a red flag. It usually indicates the person is trying to hide something — a spotty job history or a very old job history. And it of course makes it impossible to really evaluate the person’s candidacy, because you have no way of knowing if the work they listed was recent or 20 years ago, or if they performed a role for four years or four months, or if they’ve never kept a job for longer than a year.

If the person seemed to have impressive experience, I might write back and ask them to submit a resume with dates attached (“so that we’re clear on your work history”) or ask them to run through the chronology at the start of a phone interview, but if you have other strong candidates, it’s reasonable just move forward with them instead. This is someone who’s going out of their way not to include info that’s typical on a resume and which you need to evaluate their candidacy. (To be fair, some people do this because they got bad advice. But they’re still not giving you the info you need to assess their candidacy, and you don’t need to spend extra time tracking it down if you have other good candidates.)

4. Can an employer require you to buy a new work wardrobe?

I work in healthcare. While most people in my field do not wear scrubs, some do, though I believe they’re in the minority. Some of my coworkers have been wanting to wear scrubs for a while, but this request was denied, as some thought we would not look as professional and a literature review did not come up with anything to justify the switch from an infection control standpoint.

Enter COVID. Suddenly scrubs are approved. To be fair, we are given a choice between dress clothes (plus lab coat) or scrubs (plus lab coat). The catch: each of our locations has to pick one by consensus.

While I agree scrubs could be comfy and simple, I’ve been working in this career for a while and already have built up a work wardrobe. We’d be required to buy specific scrubs through our company, so I couldn’t search for deals elsewhere. Also, I don’t have my own washer/dryer, so this would involve spending more money on laundry each week (as I believe I’d have to wash them separately). Plus I’d need to buy tennis shoes (since I normally wear dress shoes to work). And either way I have to buy a lab coat. We were recently told we’d each get a stipend, but it would just cover one set of scrubs; I’d still be spending a couple hundred dollars, at least.

I’m not dirt poor, but I am frugal, and prefer to be in control of what I spend my money on. I also think this puts us in an awkward position of having to negotiate with our coworkers on a matter of personal finance. Isn’t it a bit tone deaf to potentially make staff buy a new work wardrobe in the midst of a global pandemic and nationwide recession? I tried asking our manager if we could decide on an individual basis but that didn’t go far, so it seems my only option is to try to convince my coworkers against scrubs — but they’re pretty interested in them. Is there anything else I can do?

Your employer does have the right to change its dress code, even if that means you need to shell out money for new work clothes. But have you been direct with your manager that it would represent a significant financial burden? She may not have considered that, and if you can estimate the amount of money you’d need to spend, that may drive the point home more. If that doesn’t sway her, are you comfortable sharing the same info with coworkers? If they’re essentially letting people vote on which way to go, those might be your only real options.

But if it goes forward, you could try asking that there be a longer transition period, that they provide a larger stipend to fund the change, or that people who find it a financial hardship be given exceptions.

5. How to follow up after a final interview

I have been through five rounds of interviews with a company, with a total of seven people. The fourth round was billed as the final round, and then two days later, I was contacted for an additional round.

Communication throughout the process has been inconsistent. After the first interview, I was scheduled for the second round after 10 days (pretty standard). After the second round, I heard nothing for three weeks, then had the final three interviews in the span of three weeks. Now it has been two weeks since my final interview and I have had complete radio silence.

You have tons of advice on the site about following up after an interview, but most of that advice seems like it is geared toward following up after a first round interview. Is there different advice for after a final interview that isn’t “let it go”? I know in my head that they are moving forward with another candidate, and I’m just waiting for a rejection at this point, but this seems like a really long time for radio silence after a final interview, even for a rejection. I’m okay getting ghosted after an application or a first round interview, but after five rounds? it is maddening.

Silence for two weeks after an interview isn’t particularly long! I wouldn’t conclude anything from that. (For that matter, the rest of the timeline doesn’t seem terribly off to me either.)

When you last spoke to them, did they indicate when they expected to next be in touch? I’d wait one week beyond that (because hiring always takes longer than the people involved think it will) and send one follow-up email, saying that you’re very interested in the role and wonder if they have an update on their timeline. After that, yes, you should mentally move on, assume you’re not getting it, and let it be a pleasant surprise if they do contact you. But it’s reasonable to send that one follow-up.

And if they didn’t indicate anything about their expected timeline and so you have nothing to peg your follow-up timing to, I’d pretend they told you 10 days or so and calculate based on that.

{ 372 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A preemptive request that we not debate pranks in general in this comment section. It’s been well established over the years here that some people feel very strongly they’re never okay at work, while others think they can be fine if good-natured. (In fact, I wrote a Slate column on the divergence of opinions.) Instead of debating that here, I ask that we stay focused on advice for the letter-writers.

  2. D'Arcy*

    When you play a prank on a coworker and they get angry at you, your response should be to take responsibility for *your* actions by sincerely apologizing. It is entirely outrageous to think that *they* have somehow wronged you and deserve to be reported to management!

    1. Yvette*

      Also what was the fabric of the shirt? I would be upset if someone put tape that ‘happened to stick pretty firmly’ on my 100 percent dry clean only silk top.

      1. itsame*

        Oh no, I just full body shuddered thinking about something getting stuck to one of my dry clean or hand wash only pieces.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think the LW was saying he felt she’d wronged him or that he’d report her for that; my sense was that he was asking if he should alert management that there’s been an incident that left her upset (which there is no need to do).

    3. Ms.Vader*

      They did apologize. They weren’t going to report the person to management- they were asking if they should alert management that said interaction happened as a heads up in case a complaint was made. I think you may have misread the letter.

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          I read it differently: “I apologized and my colleague won’t let it go when she should.” I hope your interpretation is correct, since mine speak poorly about the OP (which we should not do). However, the way the letter is worded is ambiguous on this point.

          1. EPLawyer*

            I read it that way too. That coworkers frostiness should be reported as an attitude problem to management. Instead of a legitimate reaction to a prank that went too far.

            I HATE when people stick things on me. Just because you have an odd piece of tape around or just remoeved something does not mean I want it stuck on me. Or in this instance, it was not freaking hilarious that you put a long piece of tape on her back IN FRONT OF MANAGEMENT.

            1. Granger*

              “…IN FRONT OF MANAGEMENT.”

              YES! The letter cries out that she was extremely *embarrassed* and it likely isn’t as much about the actual “touching” (though that clearly needs to stop!). The emotional distance she’s using as a response seems to be a reflection of that embarrassment – because if it was just not wanting to be touched she could maintain a physical distance without the ignoring. It doesn’t read as though OP understands that she was embarrassed (hopefully *yet*).

              1. LunaLena*

                “because if it was just not wanting to be touched she could maintain a physical distance without the ignoring”

                But he already proved that he was willing to come right up to her and touch her without her knowing. You can’t maintain physical distance when you don’t know someone is sneaking up on you.

                1. tangerineRose*

                  “You can’t maintain physical distance when you don’t know someone is sneaking up on you.” That would bother me. No unnecessary touching during a pandemic!

          2. Detective Amy Santiago*

            That was my reading too, but to be fair, I am not feeling particularly charitable towards the vast majority of humanity these days.

          3. The Rules are Made Up*

            That’s definitely not the tone I got. Usually in letters like this there’s a clear tone of “It’s been like 3 weeks! Why hasn’t she let it go!” In this letter it sounds like the OP was genuinely shocked that she got upset and really does feel bad but doesn’t know what to do. They literally said “How do I better handle this?” It seems like a lot of people are reading malice into it that isn’t actually there.

            1. Mr. Shark*

              Yes, I don’t see the malice that others are reading into it either. I think he’s just trying to repair the damage and feels bad about the whole situation.

              1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                Some of us have had a lot of experience with the “I said I’m sorry, what more do you want from me, why won’t you make jokes with me like before?” mentality, and it’s really easy to see how that could be a possibility here.

                I do believe he feels bad about it. But I also believe it’s possible that he wants her to act like she’s not still upset, because if she’s not still upset he can stop feeling bad. And sometimes a person just needs to keep feeling bad about a thing they did for a little while. It helps build up the muscle of thinking about things before you (general you, not *you*) do them.

                1. The Rules are Made Up*

                  I agree that the “I apologized what else do you want from me geez” attitude is a thing. But as for as your second paragraph, in THIS letter I don’t see from this letter I don’t think that’s actually an assumption based in anything directly said or implied and people are projecting their own feelings about pranks onto what was actually written and what is being asked. “How can I better handle this?” Keyword I. The OP is asking what THEY should do better. This is not a question or a letter that implies that the OP is blaming his coworker for still being bad.

            2. MCMonkeyBean*

              Yes, I think they are definitely taking all the blame here even if they are a bit confused over the reaction. I was honestly prepared to be angry from the headline but I think they have handled this fine.

              It would normally be such a “mild” prank that the reaction would surprise me, but the stickers were being handed out for a reason and you have to ignore the advice on the sticker in order to stick it on someone–so for that reason OP was in the wrong. But they seem to be accepting the that fact, and I think they’ve swung so far as to wonder whether this is a bigger deal than it is and are wanting to be on top of things. But I agree with Alison that there is no need for that. Especially since “frosty for the rest of the day” is not enough yet to worry that there will be lingering resentment.

              1. TardyTardis*

                Maybe this coworker wasn’t as happy with the relationship as the LW and this was the last straw. It would be helpful if the coworker felt free to explain this out loud, but sometimes you can’t.

                1. The Rules are Made Up*

                  Yeahhh coworker relationships are weird because (at least for me) no matter how cool I am with someone at work, if they do something that I don’t like, say we have a joking verbal relationship and they play a physical joke on me (like in the letter) that I’m not cool with, it would still be awkward for me to verbalize it. Unlike with friends in which our relationship is such that I’d have no problem being like “Hey I really was not cool with that it was embarrassing.” Coworkers are just… different? Idk it’s more uncomfy for me to go to a coworker and try to explain “We really aren’t close like that….” when they take our friendly work relationship too far. I’d probably avoid him too lol.

    4. virago*

      That’s the thing about pranks and bodies. People have the right to have different boundaries.


      Also, OP 1 doesn’t know his co-worker’,s risk status. I continue to be amazed when people who say they don’t like to wear masks add that it’s OK — they wear them around people who are at high risk.

      Well (and I’m obvs not just preaching to OP 1 here), a lot more people than one might think are at high risk of severe COVID — or death — if they’re infected with the coronavirus.

      For example: People with asthma. People with MS. People who have cardiovascular issues.

      People like my co-worker who survived stage 4 melanoma. He goes to the grocery store and the post office (masked). But he doesn’t wear a T-shirt that says “I’m a cancer survivor — I underwent chemo, which means I have a compromised immune system, so wear your damn mask when you’re around me, please.”

      1. Granger*

        SO MUCH YES @virago!
        Not to minimize the pandemic crisis, but I’m super happy about social distancing because I work with a bunch of enthusiastic, extroverted huggers! *cringe*

        “Oh, I just want to hug you!!” That’s a big no from me and I don’t miss that at all.

      2. Prof Space Cadet*

        I think Alison’s reply to the LW is spot-on in a number of ways.

        I had a co-worker many years ago who incorrectly believed we had a “joking” relationship. I found her annyoning. One day, the co-worker playfully punched me in the arm, and I had already told her in the past not to do that. I replied, “Don’t ever punch me in the arm again.” She replied, “you’re joking right?” and proceed to do it AGAIN. At that point, I shouted “I”M 100% F—ING SERIOUS, GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME, YOU F—ING NUMBSKULL!” at nearly the top of my lungs within earshot of at least half-a-dozen co-workers. I didn’t get in any trouble for it because I was a good worker without any history of outbursts and she was close to being on a PIP for unrelated performance reasons, but it was mortifying. She never spoke directly to me again, not even to apologize.

        I tell this story not to shame the LW, but to make the point that people have wildly different perceptions of appropriateness and that what the LW might have perceived as “minor” could have been a huge deal to the co-worker.

      1. I'm a Lumberjack!*

        It is possible that this particular prank upset her because maybe it happened to her in school, with a boundary pusher. I feel it is possible that the prankster has over emphasized (in his head) how close they truly are with this co-worker.

    5. Tired*

      I think people are being unfairly harsh to LW#1 in this comment section. Upon finding out that he upset his coworker, he apologized and promised never to do it again. Yes he messed up, but we all mess up at some point, and now he’s asking how to handle it better from here. This condemnation seems way out of proportion.

      There’s also a TON of worse-case-scenario projections in here. People are making all kinds of unkind assumptions about the situation that are not supported by what is in the letter.

      1. AKchic*

        I don’t think they are being unfairly harsh.

        He felt that his apology was enough to resume their normal relationship and that an apology meant that she should immediately discard her feelings of embarrassment and hurt at the actions. That’s not what an apology does. An apology is not a magic eraser for the past. It merely acknowledges the actions of the past and says “yes, I did it, I’m sorry I did it and I’m sorry I caused you pain. I accept that I caused this and wish to undo that.” Nowhere does it actually undo the damage. She still gets to be mad and work out her own feelings of anger and embarrassment. If that means taking some time away from the LW, that is her choice. His bafflement at her wanting to avoid him (“frostiness” in his description) while she sorts her own feelings out is on him and he should really figure out why he feels like she needs to resume immediate camaraderie again.

        1. The Rules are Made Up*

          “He felt that his apology was enough to resume their normal relationship and that an apology meant that she should immediately discard her feelings of embarrassment and hurt at the actions” Where in that letter did you read any of that???? It also doesn’t say the word “frostiness” anywhere?? He just says she was still upset and asked how they can better handle it. This seems like….. a projection.

        2. Quake Johnson*

          “‘frostiness’ in his description”

          Um…what letter did you read? People in this comment section have gone past “reading malice into his words” and gone straight into “fabricating malice and then condeming him for this imagined poor behaviour.”

          1. Quake Johnson*

            actually i meant to say “poor attitude.” Putting the sticker on her back in the first place definitely WAS poor behaviour.

      2. Paperwhite*

        In discussions of women’s bodily autonomy there’s always someone who says people who object to whatever boundary crossing was committed are being too harsh. It’s like a law of nature.

    6. JSPA*

      1. Putting a sticker saying “stay six feet apart” on someone = violating the rule about staying six feet apart.

      2. Putting anything on someone without them knowing = stealth touching their body with your body.

      3. Using anything Covid-related as part of a joke = acting like Covid is funny = acting like people getting sick and dying is funny.

      So OP does not have to dig deeply to figure out at least three incredibly obvious reason that the “lighthearted prank” was incredibly gross, now. Regardless of whether some other joke was funny, before. If (as Alison reads it) OP is considering going to management to say, “sorry, I screwed up, I wasn’t thinking, it won’t happen again,” I think OP should do that.

      If (as I read it) OP wants to defend himself or trash the coworker by explaining how it should have been OK, because joking has always been fine before…

      OP, part of me wants to say “sure, go complain,” because getting fired might be the thing that cuts through your confusion, makes you take Covid seriously, and saves your life. But presuming your question is, “will this make it less likely I’ll get in trouble”–no, explaining that you violated safety policy for the sake of a practical joke, and that you still think it’s OK, will not make it less likely that you get in trouble.

      You F’d up, thoughtlessly, carelessly, and not in a good way. Whether it made some third person smile (remember, that’s an involuntary response, and also remember, they don’t know how the sticker got there!) is entirely beside the point, and not something in your defense.

      1. Cornflake*

        I agree with your first 2 points, but would like to point out that joking about a terrible thing is not necessarily the same as thinking the terrible thing is funny. Humor can be a coping mechanism. Obviously, there’s a time and place for everything, but when, say, paramedics joke about death, it’s not because they think people dying is funny.

    7. Ryan*

      Is that how you read it? I read “How can I better handle this? “. To me that is taking responsibility.

      I don’t think he was asking if he should report her actions to management. I think he was asking if he should ask management for guidance on how to fix what he’s done.

  3. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

    I wish people would stop equating “has a sense of humor” with “would be the good butt of a prank/practical joke.”

    1. Yvette*

      Or the opposite ‘What’s the matter, don’t you have a sense of humor?’ When you don’t laugh at something mean spirited, tacky or offensive.

      1. Quill*

        Add in the fact that this is used pretty often (especially on women and neurodivergent people) to push their boundaries and you brew up a minefield for people who want to express camraderie with pranks and jokes.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Humor that is well done never makes anyone feel awkward/foolish/less than. I tried to make a point to joke about that Thing Over There. But that doesn’t always work out either because it turns out Thing is the very fav of the person I am talking to and I hear, “Well what do YOU think is WRONG with Thing?” omg. It was a joke. I won’t joke like that again, I promise.

      While having a sense of humor is important, it’s also important not be making everything into a joke all day long. I have a friend who will have days where he turns everything I say into a joke. Sorry, it’s not funny, it feels more like a break down in communication. It does not help that he is male and it causes me to flash back to how many times in life a man has made a joke of something I am saying. It’s not cute nor clever nor original.

      This isn’t to say don’t joke with women or don’t joke with cohorts. Where I am going with this is to say have a strong sense of place, timing and audience. A well placed joke can defuse a situation. A well placed joke can also telegraph that there is no upset between two people on a given issue. So jokes, used well, do serve various purposes and actually do help workplaces tick along.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        I am female, and one of my best female friends is like this. She turns everything into a joke. SI know she gets validation by being seen as the funny one – but it’s gotten to the point that I don’t tell her about things that I truly need some empathy on. But for things I need levity on, her joking is just what I need! And I don’t want to be serious about all the things, all the time.

        In short, I am saying I agree that a well timed, well placed joke is often necessary. Finding the balance is tricky.

    3. Doc in a Box*

      Yeah, “sticker on back” as a prank is along the lines of “kick me.” It’s puerile and may have reminded your coworker of being bullied or witnessing bullying. Even though that wasn’t your intent, OP, remember that it ain’t a joke unless everyone is laughing.

      1. Washi*

        Yeah, I think the OP needs to think about what her experience was and exactly how funny it was for her to notice everyone giggling at something she couldn’t see. In that moment, she may have been panicking that her skirt was caught in her tights, that someone had put an actually mean note on her back, etc. Then it turns out that someone got much closer than 6 feet in order to put a “keep 6 feet away” sticker on her.

        I would consider myself a playful person with a sense of humor, and I would not have really found the punchline to be worth the spike of anxiety!

        1. TTDH*

          Yeah. I ordinarily think that getting pranked is pretty funny, but right now having proof that someone I don’t live with was able to come in contact with me without my knowledge would really unsettle me. A close relative of mine just died of COVID after two painful weeks on a ventilator, and while I might be ok with intentionally violating the 6-foot rule with certain people, it would really raise my stress level to be reminded of how difficult it is to control and track your own potential exposure. Even if the prankster was a good friend and I knew they meant no harm, I imagine I would be “frosty” for a while, too.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I disagree, because having to write out a sign that says “kick me” involves a lot more planning and malice. I think in general when people have a lot of stickers around, they just like to stick them on things. I can think of multiple times throughout my life when there were rolls of stickers around (vote stickers, blood drive stickers, name tags, barcode stickers) and people started just sticking them on each other. I’ve never seen it done maliciously.

        In a normal world, I would put “sticking a sticker to someone’s back when they aren’t looking” more on the level with “standing on someone’s left and tapping them on the right shoulder to see if the look the wrong way.” But in a covid world you shouldn’t be getting in people’s space that much, especially since that’s exactly the point of the sticker.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      Right? I am in the “hates pranks” group, but my husband and sons are in the “love pranks” group. I my have a stick up my ***, but generally my sense of humor tends to be dry and I hate to be embarrassed. I can’t even watch Impractical Jokers due to second hand embarrassment.

      1. Allonge*

        I have a huge embarrasment squick too; it has very little to do with being uptight or humorless. Knowingly embarrassing someone is cruel; engineering a situation where a person gets laughed at for reasons unknown has at best a 50-50 chance of ending in everyone really laughing.

        And pranks are tricky not just because people have boundaries but because they get to change them. Not just based on a bleeping pandemic, either!

      2. KayDeeAye*

        See, I don’t really see how this particular prank would be even mildly embarrassing for the recipient. “Kick me,” sure – but “Remain 6 feet apart”? I am not a big fan of pranks, but even to me, that doesn’t sound even a tiny bit embarrassing.

        The coworker, of course – along with anybody else – has a perfect right to feel differently, including feeling annoyed, but really, if the OP apologizes and *never does any jokes involving touching again*, the coworker really does need to let this go.

        1. kalli*

          Most workplaces have at least some kind of dress code. Dress codes that allow statements stuck to one’s garments are exceedingly rare. Having one without being informed and not having one’s appearance the way one intended can be very embarrassing – it’s not about what the statement is, but the fact that one isn’t as put together as one would have liked or that one intended.

          It can range from walking around with a dot of toothpaste on a black collar low-level embarrassment to accidental see-through-to-underwear embarrassment, but it’s still embarrassment at one’s appearance being below their standards. And that’s before it broadcasting a disrespect for physical distancing, being unaware of one’s surroundings enough for it to happen, and any dimension of related bullying.

          It’s great that you don’t feel it and that you recognise people’s rights to feel differently, but ‘I don’t see how that’s embarrassing’ does minimise that feeling and make it feel like people who are embarrassed or affected in another way are oversensitive or overreacting. Not everyone who feels that way is then going to take the time to explain it to you because having to justify one’s feelings can in itself be embarrassing, awkward, painful, hurtful, annoying and/or harmful, to say the least. And sometimes it will cause people to not speak out in future, when it might be something that needs to be dealt with.

        2. Marthooh*

          When you have a thing stuck to your clothing and you don’t know about it, it’s embarrassing. (Or I guess not to you, but to many people.) And no matter what words are used, the subtext of this prank is “Let’s laugh at this person behind their back!”

          1. Oldbiddy*

            This. I wore a new pair of pants the other day and forgot to take the size sticker off. I don’t even know if anyone noticed it but I was/am still embarassed about it.

        3. Momma Bear*

          Coworker is allowed to be offended that she was used at the butt of a joke she didn’t find funny. No matter what her history with bullying is, OP stuck something on her and let her walk around with a sign attached to her. That was unprofessional. If the whole office tends toward practical jokes, maybe they all need to re-evaluate and consider that it’s not always funny. A silent audience doesn’t mean it’s “right”. That supervisor needs to rethink their perceived approval. OP didn’t say so, but what if coworker had a meeting that day? How did she find out it was stuck to her? That might be part of her anger. What if she didn’t think it was funny for someone to violate her 6ft of space for a joke? I would think that said prankster didn’t take my health or COVID seriously. OP needs to give coworker time to calm down, but also needs to prove with action that they respect her opinion on the “joke” and really are sorry.

          As an aside I was the victim of a similar prank in HS and walked all through the halls to my next class without realizing it. I was humiliated because everyone saw it. OP’s victim might feel the same. OP needs to never ever prank this coworker again and treat her with a lot more respect.

        4. KayDeeAye*

          Great points, but I still say that if the OP was properly apologetic and never ever ever does anything like this again, the OP needs to let it go – for her sake as well as the OP’s.

          1. Allonge*

            I am honestly asking, what do you mean by let it go here? There is no indication that she is on a roaring rampage of revenge, she was hurt that day and acted on it.

            1. KayDeeAye*

              I have no idea whether she’s still mad or not – we don’t have enough info to say. All I meant is if she hasn’t let it go, she needs to do so now.

              But if she has – if sincere apologies were extended, if the OP has learned a lesson about how not everyone wants stuff stuck on their back, and if and a reasonably congenial atmosphere has been reestablished – then great! That’s as it should be. Problem solved.

              1. TTDH*

                She doesn’t owe him the same level of friendly relationship as before, though. Nobody ever owes anyone an unchanging level of friendliness despite the other person’s actions, or even owes them friendliness beyond being civil and helpful at all. She is entitled to decide that they are no longer friends, if that’s how she feels – a friendship takes two parties.

                1. allathian*

                  Yes, this. The OP will have to face the fact that his coworker may consider what he did unforgivable. Not in any mortal sin sense, but in the sense that she no longer trusts him and no longer even wants to have a cordial working relationship with him, simply a professional working relationship.

          2. CH*

            It’s NEVER ok to touch a woman in the workplace. I’m disgusted that so many people are trying to justify the writer’s behavior.

            1. The Rules are Made Up*

              I don’t think it’s a matter of justifying it. But there’s a point where we’re just “beating a dead horse” for lack of a better term. The LW misjudged their relationship, the coworker reacted angrily, the LW knows he shouldn’t have touched her and told her he’d never do it again. So at this point continuing with the “Omg the LW crossed a boundary his behavior is abhorrent!” seems unnecessary imo. And unhelpful. They know they shouldn’t have done it and are now asking how to move FORWARD.

              1. allathian*

                Treat her professionally in future and wait for her to make the next prank on him. If she never does, that’s fine. He needs to face the fact that his prank may have made her reconsider their entire relationship and that’s OK. It’s completely out of touch to expect things to return to what they were before the prank. They may, or they may not, and that’s entirely up to the pranked coworker.

        5. Allonge*

          The text itself has very little to do with it. Of course it could be worse, but on a fundamental level it matters very little.

          For it to be a prank it needs to invite laughter, right? So what is (supposed to be) funny in this situation? It’s not the specific message, it’s the fact that pranked coworker has someting stuck on her back without her knowing about it, and other people are supposed to find this funny.

          And seemingly small stuff like this erodes trust a lot, more so if someone has a history of being bullied. A guy in high school asked to take a look at my wristwatch once. Without me noticing, he set it back with 15 minutes before giving it back. I was late to two separate appointments that day, and I hate being late. He was not even there to ‘enjoy’ my being late! It’s been over 20 years since and I still remember (I don’t hate him or anything, I would have to think about what his full name is, it was just a small pain that stuck with me). Don’t do this stuff, especially not at work. Prank and be pranked with similarly-minded friends.

  4. Phil*

    Here in The Great Orange State, formerly The Golden State, the employer must provide uniforms. Do scrubs constitute work clothes if a particular scrub is required? Good question.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Typically it’s only considered a uniform (which some state would require the employer to pay for) if the outfit can’t be worn at other employers in your fields — so general scrubs, no, but yes if it were scrubs bearing the employer’s name or something like that.

      1. LazyBoot*

        Could the fact that they are required to buy them from (or through) the employer have any effect on if it could be considered a uniform?

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yeah, I wonder about that – when they start specifying the vendor, who happens to be expensive, it should start falling heavily under “uniform”. After all, there’s no guarantee that that certain brand of pricey scrubs can be worn for other jobs.

    2. LifeBeforeCorona*

      We are issued 3 work shirts, and get replacements if needed at no cost. If we had to buy the shirts at our own expense there would be pushback because the shirts don’t last a year because of wear and tear.
      Offtopice but if you are referring to the Orange state because of the fires, you have my support. I live thousands of miles away and we have hazy skies now from the smoke. I can’t imagine living in the fire’s backyard.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        When I managed a funnel cake stand at an amusement park back in college, we got 2 work shirts. I worked 10-12 hour days 5-6 days a week and we didn’t have a washer and dryer at home, my mom typically went to my grandparents’ house over the weekend (when I was working, and needed one of the shirts!) to do laundry. I managed to finagle a couple extra, but I also frequently traded in a funnel cake-caked top for a clean one. They didn’t mind; they’d launder it and give to someone else if they needed it.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          When I worked at a restaurant in college, they would provide the first shirt free of cost and a second shirt at half price. If you needed another one after that, then you had to pay full price for it. Anytime anyone quit, we would all scramble to be the first one to ask for their shirt! If you worked 5-6 shifts a week and didn’t have time to do a lot of laundry, those shirts would get really stinky really fast! It was a little gross.

      2. Deanna Troi*

        Three shirts seems like an odd number. When I was in charge of issuing shirts, I always gave everyone 6. One for each day of a regular work week and an extra just in case.

    3. Thru-hiker Wannabe*

      My wife works for a hospital and they changed the dress code a couple years ago. Employees were wearing different colors and patterns and the hospital changed the policy so that everyone had to wear the same color so that they were dressed uniformly. While this was not ideal as we had shelled out a couple dollars the previous year for new scrubs, we still had to go along with it because the policy affected everyone.

      The hospital was kind enough to provide a small stipend. They also allowed people to choose where they got their scrubs from as well. Everyone had scrubs that were relatively the same shade of a specific color.

      Also, might be worth looking into if you can deduct the scrubs on your taxes. We were able to do that. It’s not much, but it helps.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Good idea re: work expense. Also, OP should ask if there is any wiggle room on the vendor. Bring examples of other scrubs that look like the ones they are required to buy. That might be a workable compromise to the cost and uniform change. It may be that the higher ups just need to see viable options.

  5. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    I would normally not be personally too fussed by a sticker on my back prank (which isn’t to say no one else is allowed to be!) but right now I would be very upset. It was literally a sticker reminding you to *stay away from people because of a pandemic.* I assume your arms are not seven feet long.

    1. fhgwhgads*

      Yeah, while “I put a sticker on someone’s back” may seem mild as far as pranks go, when it’s literally in the context of “Do not get close to people”, it’s a reallllllllllllly thoughtless thing to do. Personally, I have yet to ever encounter a prank I actually found funny, but I realize some do. Still you’ve got to be realllllllly sure the person will be down with it before you involve them. Beyond that, it’s a pandemic, no touching people who don’t live with you! Unless I’m about to fall off a cliff and you’re pulling me back or otherwise preventing major calamity, no touching!

        1. Wendy Darling*

          Honestly the missing part could just be that this person is kinda like me.

          I dislike people touching me unless we’re close but I wouldn’t normally give a crap about someone putting a sticker on me. But there’s a pandemic and I’m high-ish risk for having a very bad time if I get COVID, and I’m already wound up because people aren’t wearing masks, or are pulling their masks down below their noses, or feel like wearing masks means they can stand right up by me. Every time I go outside is an exercise in frustration that people aren’t taking this seriously. Plus just… it’s been a stressful year. So if a coworker touched me right now I would HIT THE ROOF.

          I suspect that’s where a lot of people are at right now.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I hate being touched unless I’ve specifically given permission to someone to do so. Or if you’re pulling me out the way of a crash landing alien spacecraft.

            Also high risk (disabilities suck) and yeah, someone else getting close enough to play a prank on me, even if they are wearing a mask, is a huge no no right now. Would be like claiming falsely to have Covid then fake sneezing on your coworker.

          2. Third or Nothing!*

            Yeah, I’m in the same boat. Touch is my primary love language, so to me being touched (beyond regular social niceties like shaking hands of course) requires a certain level of closeness due to the meaning I assign it. But sticker on the back? Meh, that’s an eye roll thing.

            Right now though? OH HELL NO! I too am fed up with the lackadaisical approach people around me are taking to this pandemic, and it’s so freaking exhausting. I’ve glared and used a snippy tone at people who were standing just a bit too close. I’ve banned my mother-in-law from our house because she pulled her mask down. I’d definitely be upset if someone got close enough to me to put a sticker on my back.

            OP1, I wonder if maybe you need to acknowledge that you shouldn’t have been standing close enough to touch her to begin with. That could be the missing piece here.

          3. cmcinnyc*

            Honestly, if a coworker blew up for any reason right now, I would not be surprised at all. We are early in our back-to-the-office phase and people are on their last nerve. OP1 did the right thing with a sincere apology, and the advice is good. Stay six feet away, reevaluate your joke style (especially in light of current realities) and let it go. Let your coworker cool down in her own time and reestablish a friendly relationship with boundaries that suit HER.

            1. Threeve*

              This is a really good point, and my workplace is in a similar state–nobody is walking on eggshells, exactly, but everyone is being careful not to ask too many personal questions or make off-color jokes because nobody is going to be blamed for unexpectedly strong or out-of-character reactions to something.

            2. Wendy Darling*

              I just had a conversation with some coworkers yesterday about how one of our colleagues has been quite snippy for the last week and we all agreed that we want to make sure we’re not totally pissing him off, but it’s entirely likely he just has a lot going on right now.

        2. Amaranth*

          Even if she sincerely enjoys the ‘joking’ with OP, he wasn’t there when she apparently found out about the sticker so it not only lacked context, maybe it felt like a ‘kick me’ sign she’d been wearing all day. He even mentioned someone smiled as she walked away, so if she thinks back, she might feel like everyone has been laughing at her all day.

          However, she said people “keep touching” which was really disturbing. Was that just a reference to the application of the sticker being the proverbial straw, or were people poking at her like it was a dare? “Don’t touch me” *poke* “Don’t touch me” *poke*

          1. hbc*

            That was what I thought too. Everyone was taking “Stay 6 feet back” as a prompt to violate the rule and poke her. Like, if someone had a “Don’t Ask About My Dog” sign, I would totally ask about their dog.

            Of course, given the reason for the signs in the first place, I wouldn’t violate it. But being touched multiple times is likely to be irritating during normal times and extra jarring now (since casual contact hasn’t been a thing for 6+ months), and then finding out you were the butt of a joke that might not have been your cup of tea* anyway? Anyone is probably going to be grumpy and socially avoidant for the rest of the day, even if they don’t hate the pranker or anything. There’s a good chance this blows over without issue, or even that she holds it against the pokers more than the OP who managed to place tape unnoticed.

            *Jokes/pranks/light-heartedness covers a heck of a lot of territory, and people have random no-go spots in these ranges where you might not expect them. I fully believe that if you’re a mutual jokester you shouldn’t punish someone for accidentally hitting a sore spot, but also that you don’t get to say, “Hey, she likes to do [A/B/C/D] with me, so she has to put up with [B/C/D/A] from me.”

        3. Anonys*

          My theory is that the coworker is (rightly) frustrated by the “irony” of someone putting a sticker about Covid rules on her back and in doing so explicitly violating the message of that very sticker. I was frustrated reading this because this prank seemed like the perfect embodiment of how so many people are deliberately and almost performatively mocking the rules meant to keep us safe. It’s a very immature preteen vibe. I could imagine the coworker snapping at this as a last straw on top of people violating the rules at supermarkets, etc. Maybe she’s also not happy about having to be back at the office and exposing herself to risk in general.

          1. Anonys*

            The fact that a supervisor also smiled at this prank is a further indication that Covid rules are probably not really enforced in this office, despite fun rule stickers being handed out

        4. Beth*

          I think we definitely are, but it’s…well, by definition, it’s unclear what. Like, yes, people should be avoiding touching others during a pandemic; on top of the health risk, there’s something uniquely frustrating about a coworker initiating touch when a lot of people haven’t felt able to hug their non-live-in loved ones in 6 months and counting.

          Or it could have nothing to do with that. She might just not like touch, period. She might find this company’s culture unusually and unacceptably handsy. She may have had recent experience with being touched in ways she’s not okay with (I’ve noticed an uptick in catcalling and street harassment in my neighborhood since the pandemic started, I assume because the jerks have moved to the sidewalks and grocery stores with those being the only ‘public spaces’ most people are in; I’m tall and big enough that I don’t generally get anything more aggressive than gross comments and the occasional creep following me for a bit, but I would absolutely believe that someone without that protection might be experiencing worse). She might just have been in a terrible mood that day. There are all sorts of reasons that people might not be okay with surprise, unasked-for touch.

          I think Alison’s advice is good. OP should apologize, should not escalate it further, and should avoid touch for the near future (and possibly forever, unless he gets some kind of sign that this is okay again). It would be great if he internalizes that even well-intended touch can come off badly if done without either clear consent or an existing relationship where it’s the default.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I’ve also noticed a big increase in the amount of harassment I’ve got in public during this year. Almost every time I’m out I’ll get someone shouting at me, following me, freaking me out by trying to get up to my face etc.

            Thinking of putting weights on the bottom of my walking stick. That way if I have to swing it at people to get them to leave me alone it’ll connect better.

            (I mean, I’d love a hug from my folks, I was hospitalised for mental breakdown earlier this year, I know how starved people can get for contact. But deciding that means you can touch random people? I don’t get it)

            1. Arvolin*

              My stated rule for social distancing: if I can hit you with my cane, you’re too close. (Not that I’d actually practice this.)

            2. Quill*

              iirc weighted canes were historically (when a cane could be an accessory, so… victorian era?) fairly common concealed weapons.

              1. TardyTardis*

                Thinking about Lucius Malfoy’s pimp cane–seriously, one of the best changes the HP movies made. Totally Wicked Earl there.

                Er, never mind…

          2. tangerineRose*

            “It would be great if he internalizes that even well-intended touch can come off badly if done without either clear consent or an existing relationship where it’s the default.” This!

        5. Not So NewReader*

          While there maybe back story, the story here stands well enough on it’s own.
          Don’t touch people.
          Don’t make people look foolish.
          This story involves touching a person and making them look foolish. Wait. I haven’t even got to Covid-19. Add in the pandemic and that means there are now TWO reasons not to touch people.
          This is pretty straightforward stuff. It’s not complex. Don’t touch people and don’t make people look foolish.

          1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

            Its pretty basic elementary school rules. This year has been really good at proving a lot of adults cannot follow basic elementary school rules.

          2. Jackalope*

            I agree that we are in a time where touching people without making sure they’re okay with it is HUGELY important. And I agree that touching someone without their consent is not okay. But could we please not do a blanket condemnation of all people who like being touched, including by co-workers and friendly acquaintances rather than just their immediate family? Touching people, including co-workers (as long as you make sure it is mutually acceptable), is really important to some of us.


            Someone who is physically affectionate and completely hug-starved right now.

            1. Scarlet2*

              “But could we please not do a blanket condemnation of all people who like being touched, including by co-workers and friendly acquaintances rather than just their immediate family?”

              Maybe I’ve missed something but… I haven’t seen anyone doing that? “Don’t touch people” is a good blanket rule because I think “without their consent” is generally implied, but it certainly doesn’t mean “and if you like being touched, you’re wrong” and I don’t think anyone interprets it as “don’t touch anyone, ever”.

              1. Momma Bear*

                Being touch starved doesn’t give OP the right to put a sticker on someone’s back. Even if there was no COVID right now, OP invaded her personal space in the office. There’s a certain level of professionalism most people have in the office vs out of it. I don’t hug my coworkers in greeting in the hall, ever, but if we are friends and outside the office, sure. You shake hands with most people in a business setting. That doesn’t make hugs wrong, just less appropriate for that environment.

            2. Keymaster of Gozer*

              I’m not seeing any condemnation of people who like to hug etc? Only condemning people who touch others without checking that it’s ok first.

        6. LunaLena*

          Another piece of the story that is missing is… why was the company handing out these stickers? What are they for? Were they supposed to go on work spaces? Because if so, the OP using his on a prank might have indicated to the co-worker that he 1) not only got within 6 feet of her to touch her, and 2) he is not taking the pandemic seriously and thinks it’s all a big joke/not a big deal. Personally I’m tired of taking precautions too but I continue to do it because I have some high risk factors. And even if I didn’t, I don’t want all the precautions I’ve been taking for months to be for naught. Any person who is not taking the pandemic seriously is a person I do not want anywhere near me, much less touching me, and I would be extremely angry that that person put me at risk without my consent.

          Seriously, I’ve been taking care to steer clear of unmasked people for months, it’s not funny when someone deliberately steps over that boundary despite my best efforts to avoid exactly those kinds of people.

          1. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

            I’m guessing these stickers are meant to go on workstations or on the floor. I’ve seen them in many places to remind people to stay back and to indicate how far 6 feet is.

            1. LunaLena*

              Yeah, I thought it was probably something like that too, but it doesn’t explain why he stuck it on his co-worker instead of using it for its intended purpose. Being cavalier with and wasting something I think could legitimately be considered safety equipment at this time would make me think he is not taking the pandemic seriously.

            2. Silamy*

              Ugh, if it was one of the ones that’s meant to withstand being walked on all day, he may have permanently ruined her shirt. I’d been assuming it was on the level of a “hello my name is” type of sticker that was being done as some sort of lip service to safety thing.

        7. MusicWithRocksIn*

          Reading this my first thought was that she is a person who doesn’t like to be touched in general, without a Covid context. Especially touched without her consent or knowledge. To some people the thought that someone touched them secretly would be *very* triggering.

          1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

            Yeah due to trauma people touching me from behind or touching my hair is a HUGE NO. I would probably have screamed. It’s not just being touched, it’s being touched from behind.

        8. Momma Bear*

          The missing piece could also be how the coworker found out it was on their back. OP didn’t mention this person’s job – if, for example, the coworker has a customer facing role and the customer saw it, that would be unprofessional and mortifying.

      1. On a pale mouse*

        The other thing that occurred to me that could be going on: stigma about communicable disease has a long history, and though I think it’s harmful and should be rooted out, it does exist and I’ve heard people object to covid 19 precautions because of it, e.g. “I don’t need a mask, I’m clean.” Even though it’s not about cleanliness. So maybe this co-worker felt like the sticker was saying she was contagious and people should stay away from her. Perhaps in addition to just not wanting to be touched, which I completely understand, any time but especially now.

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          This, in particular.

          I preemptively put a sign on my door before we were having work done to my house, so I would not have to “accuse” any of the workers coming of being “dirty” by asking them to put on a mask. No one should interpret the request to put on a mask during a pandemic as “you’re gross,” but they often do, and I felt it was more tactful to post a sign that “Our family wears masks,” as a prompt because I figured it would go over more gracefully.

          It did work.

      2. desdemona*

        Chiming in here – this is unlikely to be the issue/part of the issue, but I personally have a deep hatred/disgust of stickers. I’m ok with them when they are *where they are supposed to be*, which is NOT ON A PERSON.

        If someone stuck a sticker on me in normal times, I’d be pretty upset at that alone. Add to it that I don’t want my coworkers touching me, AND a pandemic where presumably they should be 6′ away….ooft.

        1. Pennyworth*

          The purpose of putting a sticker on someone’s back has always been to make them the subject of amusement which they cannot understand because they can’t see it. It is a joke they cannot share.

            1. LifeBeforeCorona*

              Very much so because people are unaware of why they are being laughed at. Imagine if she went home or shopping with the sticker still on her back. Not funny. It’s bad enough that your co-workers have having a laugh at your expense.

        2. foolofgrace*

          Last time we voted, my son got the sticker that says “I Voted” and put it on his shirt. The shirt ended up being practically ruined because the gum of the sticker would not come off of his shirt, even with products like Goo-Gone. I agree that stickers have no business on your clothes.

          1. desdemona*

            The “I Voted” stickers are always interesting because the poll workers really don’t understand why I won’t take one – there’s always some confusion and ‘are you sure’ when I decline.

          2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

            Those 6-feet stickers are often intended to go on the floor, so they’re extra-sticky. They have to withstand being walked on and mopped.

    2. Sylvan*

      Yep. I wouldn’t really see any problem with a sticker – except that the person putting the sticker on did exactly what we’re all not supposed to do right now. Sorry, OP, don’t do that again.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      First, I WOULD be annoyed to have a sticker on me. It’s just not my type of humor. Second, if you’re a parent, you’ve washed and dried a sticker on clothes before. That DOES NOT come off. The last thing I want is an unknown sticker going through the laundry on my work clothes. Even if I found it, the possibility exists that I wouldn’t have, and I am mad about that scenario that didn’t happen.

      In current times, I am at the ragged edge of my tolerance for ANYTHING. I lost a swim paddle at the pool today, and then I remembered driving to work that I had a 5 pm call today (3 evening calls this week, ugh). My son was supposed to move out Thursday, and now it’s Monday, and I just can’t even with one more thing even though the three things I just said are like the smallest little things ever.

    4. Oxford Comma*

      It’s entirely possible that she has been putting up with pranks but now she’s just done.

      Or it could be Covid. Or both. I don’t ever like people getting into my personal physical space and now with the pandemic when I try to go to a store it’s like there are people everywhere who seem to think they can be physically closer to me than a partner and I’m not here for that.

      So maybe that’s what’s going on.

      In any case, I think you need to rethink your joking relationship and make sure it’s truly reciprocal.

  6. Lydia*

    I’m not sure how much COVID-19 played a role, but physical contact with someone not in my household for the sake of a practical joke at a job that requires me to physically present would make me angry too.

    1. Nessun*

      Agreed! I’m also curious if any element of touch is any part of the OP’s relationshipwith this woman. Touch between coworkers is unnecessary most of the time, and especially now. It’s not clear from the letter, but seems probable he’s not touched her before (after all, why would he ever need to?), and while jokes and pranks are fine between them, touching for the sake of a prank (or anything else) is not. Perhaps he thought her reaction was more than was needed because he’s lumping it with all the other jokes and pranks, and he’s not fully comprehending that really it’s that he touched her without permission.

      He apologized, as he should have, and he’s been reminded that he shouldn’t touch his coworkers …which shouldn’t have needed a reminder but here we are.

      1. On a pale mouse*

        A while back (before covid) an advice blog I read that’s usually pretty good had a question involving one co-worker putting their hand on the other’s arm. I don’t remember the details of the answer, just that it made me think, “You are making this way too complicated. ‘No uninvited touching at work’ would solve this entire problem.”

      2. Kimmy Schmidt*

        This is what I thought too. I don’t mind silly office pranks, but I don’t want them to involve my physical space or being touched.

  7. MommaCat*

    I’m baffled by #2. Don’t these people have work to do, like calling *other* possible candidates? Continuing to call one person is so inefficient!

    1. Kes*

      I mean, it sounds like some combination of bad recruiters and possibly an urgent/difficult to fill position. However, regardless, harassment is not a valid recruitment strategy.

    2. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      Maybe its a hard to fill job with a specific skill set, and OP has a word in their resume that is a key word for hiring? I work in a specific subject area that is hard to fill positions for, and a few weeks ago I got 4 different recruiters sending me LinkedIn messages for the same position. I’ve gotten to the point where I have had to message back ‘hey, I’m not interested’ otherwise I get repeated messages from them. Most have been respectful, a few push back. I don’t really understand why they do, I make it clear that I am not looking for a new job (I straight up say it) and yet they keep messaging. Do recruiters from the recruiting agencies get paid for having someone apply vice them actually taking the job?

      1. 14 calls and counting*

        Hey, it’s LW#2. I work in events, studied engineering in school, and my job title in the event industry is the same as the job they were recruiting for – Thing Engineer. But because this is at a big name tech company, the actual description is very far removed from my current role as Engineer. The job is at least in the field of engineering I studied, but even a 1-second skim of my resume would have shown I wasn’t qualified at all.

      2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        Yes, recruiters usually get paid (via commission, bonus, or placement quota) when a company hires a candidate through them. I think the industry is similar to sales – there is a fairly low base salary but the placement incentives make up for it.

      3. Helena1*

        I had a recruiter reach out to headhunt me for Dean of Medicine at a large Irish medical school, back when I was a fairly lowly medical resident in a different EU country.

        At first I assumed it was spam sent to the whole university, but nobody else in the department received it, and she went on to send me quite a few stroppy follow up messages that seemed to know a bit about my CV.

        I looked up the job description and I had precisely one of the (many) essential attributes (I’m a EU citizen), and zero of the desirable ones. I have absolutely no idea why she approached me, or where she got my details from. The rest of my department thought it was hilarious (some of them had links with said medical school).

        She also threatened to report me to my licensing board if I didn’t apply, so after that there was no chance of me ever responding to her (because she was clearly completely unhinged). But part of me does wonder what the medical school would have done if they’d received my application from her, and if she was an official recruiter out of her depth, or just some Linked In random trying it on.

    3. Eukomos*

      My guess would be that they have an insane quota of calls to make and this is how they hit their numbers.

    4. Berkeleyfarm*

      Possibly not, and possibly a robodialer.
      I have had some weird behavior by recruiters. I remember the one who kept calling and recalling starting at 5 am (no doubt assuming everyone in the US was on the Eastern time zone). They hadn’t sent mail. (Which I had not read at 5 am anyway because I was sleeping.)

      I always loved the ones who called about thirty seconds after they sent mail. (Before smartphones were super prevalent.) I always wanted to see email, because a lot of times recruitment for California jobs was in other parts of the state.

  8. AC*

    OP#4 – I went through the same kind of thing. In my department, assistants wore scrubs while professionals wore business casual plus lab coats. Most of us changed to scrubs voluntarily when COVID hit. Our employer subsidizes scrubs for the assistants but not for the professionals, since we are only required to wear the lab coats. Because of COVID, they allowed us to purchase scrubs without the logo embroidery (“to be added at a later time”- but since we still wear the lab coats no one can tell anyway). We were also told we could get just pants, and wear solid black or white tops (we also have some company polos we’ve been wearing with scrub pants). Also your pants aren’t embroidered, so I purchased some pants separately where I could look for deals. So perhaps you can ask your employer for some leeway on things, so you don’t have to buy five to ten pairs of scrubs at once. I wash scrubs together with my other (cold wash normal-or-delicate cycle) clothes and it’s all been fine. But the doing constant laundry thing does suck.

      1. UKDancer*

        Scrub hubs are amazing. One of my friends who is a theatrical costumier worked with the local scrub hub and they were producing great stuff.

        Most UK hospitals I think tend to insist on “bare below the elbow” for anyone dealing with customers as it’s considered more sanitary and facilitating handwashing. I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone in a hospital wearing business casual except for the people on main reception. People are always in either scrubs or a tunic type top and trousers. I’m not sure what you call the latter but it’s hugely common in the UK. Usually different grades of staff have them in different colours.

        1. Forrest*

          I used to work with med students and junior doctors the “open-necked shirt and rolled up sleeves” for men is a really specific med student/doctor look that they really took great pride in adopting when they first went on the wards!

          (Women have a little more leeway, but “sleeveless blouse and fitted trousers” is the classic female med student/junior doctor look.)

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I thought the original point of scrubs was that they were sturdy, simple clothing that could go through industrial washers on hot.

    2. sswj*

      Scrubs are tough and my husband wears them specifically so that he can hot wash/hot dry them. He’s in Family Practice so he sees many, many people who may have been exposed and is doing everything he can to not contract it himself.

      1. 2 Cents*

        +1 my mom was an oncology nurse and used to strip at the door because she was covered in … stuff. Always hot water wash for hers. They did last forever.

    3. JustaTech*

      I’m just kind of amazed at the idea of asking people to wash their own lab coats. Maybe that’s the difference between wearing a lab coat in the lab (where it’s part of my PPE) and wearing a lab coat as part of a uniform?

      Heck, our PPE manual specifically states that under no circumstances may you take your lab coat home to wash: everyone has three, so in theory it should have time to go out to the commercial laundry and come back before you’ve soiled the other two.

      1. Quill*

        Depends on how much paint, biosamples, or particularly nasty biosamples you can get on a lab coat…

        Paint was the smallest problem out of all of those. (At my first job if someone had a lab coat that was clean you assumed they were new. Because paint was the job.)

    4. OP#4*

      OP#4 here. I appreciate hearing from someone who went through something similar! That’s nice you could just get scrub pants and wear solid tops. I wonder if I could ask about that…

  9. BigTenProfessor*

    #4 — I wonder if you could suggest a compromise like “scrubs on Fridays (and Sat/Sun if you’re a 7-day operation).” Is there some COVID-related benefit to scrubs, or is it just people prefer them because they are comfy?

    1. Heidi*

      Well, hospitals often have scrub dispensing machines where you can trade them in at any time. Handy when you get blood and stuff on them. Plus they’re durable, reversible, you don’t need to iron them, etc. There’s also something freeing about not having to figure out what to wear.

      1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

        Are we talking about “real” scrubs or the kind you can just buy at the store? My kids’ daycare teachers wear scrubs, but those aren’t the kind you turn into the hospital to get clean.

        I was assuming fake scrubs since they didn’t need them before.

        1. Valegro*

          What do you mean by “real”? They’re all the same thing, but hospitals tend to get certain colors and styles as a uniform.

        2. That's not how scrubs work*

          “Fake” and “real” scrubs are not a thing. There are scrubs that are washed by the hospital’s laundry service, and scrubs that you wash yourself at home. The former are generally the same colour (usually blue or green) and cut, because they have to be interchangeable. They are usually worn for work where there is a high risk of significant bodily fluid exposure (e.g. the emergency department) or where there is a high need to control the risk of pathogens being brought into the environment (e.g. the OR). The latter offer more flexibility in colour, pattern, and cut, and are usually worn for work where the risk of significant bodily fluid exposure is low (e.g. community nursing, office visits). That’s it. That’s the whole difference.

          I wear hospital scrubs when I’m on labour and delivery, because of a) the high risk of splash-back and b) the possibility of going to the OR. I wear my own scrubs for community visits, because of the low risk of both. Pretty straightforward. I used to wear regular officewear for community visits, but my nice blouses and trousers don’t go through the wash on hot, so I switched to scrubs once COVID hit. I don’t wash them separately from my other hot-wash laundry, though, to LW #4’s point – I just throw them in with sheets and towels on a hot wash cycle. But I also have young kids at home so I do a LOT of hot wash laundry; if I was only running a hot cycle once a week, it might be a different story.

      2. profe*

        There was some consideration to letting faculty wear scrubs at my school this year because of sturdiness/ease of washing in Covid times. I am still very bitter they walked that alllllll the way back to “business casual”. (I’m pushing the casual end of that because I refuse to subject my nicest clothes to pandemic washing practices.)

        1. Heidi*

          There is a tag on the tops sometimes and some people want to have them on the inside, but yeah, if you turn a scrub top inside out, you can’t tell from the seams that it’s the inside. Now, this is for OR scrubs. The scrubs that have Snoopy patterns on them might not be reversible. I also would not endorse turning the scrubs inside out and wearing them again if they were really dirty.

      3. kt*

        One of the big scandals here in my community is that several hospitals were making nursing staff wash their own scrubs (no laundry service unless there was enough blood on the scrubs, basically) and nursing staff in the COVID ward was pissed. One guy got fired for trading in his scrubs against the rules (he’d also gone to the press about several things he saw as unsafe cost-cutting measures).

        1. AntsOnMyTable*

          Interesting. I am float pool at my hospital network so I saw how three different hospitals handled it (even though we are one network everyone did their own thing). Two required you to wear hospital scrubs that were turned in at the end of shift – one of those also required the wearing of booties. The third hospital had you wear your own. Honestly, COVID isn’t going to survive being washed and dried so I personally didn’t care what I had to do. I think washing separate is overkill, personally. If people are that concerned they could have an extra pair of clothes for the end shift. It surprises me that it was a “scandal.”

  10. Black Horse Dancing*

    I’m surprised that in #1 no one is discussing what to me seems obvious. OP’s co worker is female, he’s male, and she clearly stated “The next person who touches my body…” It appears everyone has gotten way too familiar with your friend and she finally snapped. I’m also really curious if other people have poked/touched, and/or teased her and she is sick of it. No touchy! You did the right thing by apologizing but I think, OP, you should simply not touch her without express permission or an emergency.

    1. Scarlet2*

      Agreed. I also agree with Alison when she says he might want to look back on his “joking” relationship with his coworker. We’ve all read countless stories of people who acted like they were fine with something or were laughing along just because they didn’t want to “rock the boat” or come across as “humourless”. Her reaction really sounds like someone who’s just had enough.

      Not to mention that it’s a particularly bad idea to touch people *now*… I think LW1 should back off, be polite and professional with her and *respect physical distancing with everybody*. This is a pandemic, not a game of tag.

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: When escalating a professional acquaintance into a friendlier relationship, people need to look for proactive, unsolicited reciprocation from the other party.

        If only one person ever initiates, especially in the context of a workplace, there’s a very good chance that they are going along to be polite. This goes for jokes and pranks. It goes for sharing personal information. It goes for venting frustrations. It goes for invitations outside of work.

        You can make a few overtures, sure. But if a colleague doesn’t start reciprocating those gestures, then it’s best practice to back off and keep the relationship at its current level of intimacy/friendliness.

      2. Mel_05*

        Yup. When I was younger especially, I would just brush stuff off until I absolutely could not take it any more.
        Then the person would be shocked that I was angry, because I had literally just been laughing with them.

        Now I’m much better about calmly telling people I don’t care for the joke (or whatever) but it took me a long time to get to that place.

        1. Shirley Keeldar*

          Same here–and the reason I learned to do that was the constant barrage of “Oh, so sensitive” or “Can’t take a joke” that I always got when I asked for teasing to stop. I’m half a century old now and I’m finally really to tell people who tease or mock for fun to just knock it off already–but for so long I felt that playing along was the only safe or possible option.

          (Not directed at you, OP–it doesn’t sounds like you have been doing this kind of thing with your co-worker. Just echoing Mel_05 that your co-worker may have been less okay with all the joking than you thought she was, but didn’t know any safe way to express that.)

          1. Daffy Duck*

            Yeah, you gotta have guts to tell someone a joke isn’t funny…and you run the risk of having them tease you even more and never let up the “you have no humor” bit. Teasing can definitely be a power play. By “going along” the teasee is taking the safe choice, but it doens’t mean they like it.

    2. Batgirl*

      The first thing he says is “I’m a man” so I’m thinking that this is the exact dynamic that’s worrying him. It can feel really good to have enough trust with an opposite sex friend for touch to be no biggie, but conversely it’s super worrying to feel you’ve misjudged it. Especially if all you can do is offer up an apology.
      OP, I can’t tell from here if it’s Covid or over familiarity but her reasons don’t matter. She said no touching and apologising and respecting the instructions are exactly the right move. Time spent respecting the instruction will do the work better than any instant action.

    3. Beth*

      I assumed that was the acknowledged subtext to #1’s answer! I definitely hear it both in his question (his taking the time to note their genders clearly, his concern that something touch-based might have happened to seriously upset her) and in Alison’s answer (the recommendation to reconsider the mutual-ness of their joking, the caution to respect boundaries and remove handsiness from their interactions). Commenters may not feel the need to add more about it when Alison’s answer reads in that context already.

    4. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

      Just about every woman in the workplace has at least one memory of a time when she laughed off a “joke” that upset her because she didn’t want to rock the boat and be accused of being That Kind Of Woman.

    5. Georgina Fredricka*

      my interpretation of the text was that she wasn’t even aware of who put it on her back until OP apologized?

      I feel like that could have made it worse – like, having a sign stuck to my back when my friend does it is maybe a bit annoying, but if I don’t KNOW who did it and it could be someone I barely know – or don’t like – that’s straight up aggravating. It doubles the embarrassment b/c then you have to ask “who put a sign on my back?” and sound… dumb.

    6. Anne Elliot*

      I would go beyond not touching her — which I totally agree with — and dial way, way back on the humor and jokes with her. I don’t mean this in a punishing way (“She couldn’t take a joke so now we freeze her out”), which would be meanspirited and wrong, but just — it’s apparent one of the following is true, if not both: (1) you don’t know this woman and her sense of humor as well as you thought you did; and/or (2) she is not necessarily good at communicating discomfort, as is shown by her saying nothing before and then “blowing up.”

      You thought she’d like this, and not only did she not like it, she REALLY didn’t like it, so you might not actually know what she likes or dislikes, or finds acceptable or unacceptable, nearly as well as you thought you did. So the path of greatest safety for you may be to recalibrate that relationship to one that is still friendly and collegial, but more professional and less “joking around.”

      1. cmcinnyc*

        Excellent advice if this guy is worried (and it sounds like he is) that maybe he’s crossed a line with her that he didn’t intend to. There are so many ways to be collegial and friendly that do not involve joking insults or touching. Go there, OP.

    7. MicroManagered*

      The wording “the next person who touches my body” stuck out to me too. This doesn’t have to do with Covid. Alison’s advice that all jokes that involve touching need to stop immediately. Clearly she’s not laughing.

  11. All Outrage, All The Time*

    #1 How can you better handle it? By making an unreserved apology and not blaming her for being upset. Should you alert management? Not sure what the purpose of this would be. You reporting her for being upset? No. You reporting yourself for playing a prank? I don’t think you need to preempt that but if someone does report you, you need to take full responsibility and potentially do whatever is asked of you to make it right with your co-worker.

  12. Lemon curdle*

    I’m very surprised by the answer to #1 – it reads like it wasn’t written during the global pandemic we all know we’re having.

    Right now we are all reliant on other people to behave decently towards us. To keep a certain distance away. To not touch us. You’re probably not going to spread the virus by doing something like this, but it’s so out of whack with what is currently acceptable.

    OP, you need to apologise to her and try to social distance better in future.

  13. raincoaster*

    Well, not to mention it’s not possible to place a sticker on someone’s back from a distance of six feet. Maybe she was just annoyed people were ignoring the stickers that were literally right there.

  14. Lemon curdle*

    #4 Look into tax breaks. Sorry if this isn’t the case where you are, but in the UK you’d get some tax relief for this.

    1. AP.*

      In the U.S., probably not. Most people here will take the standard deduction instead of itemizing which precludes being able to get a tax break for work expenses. And even for those who do itemize, the total of all their work expenses must exceed 2% of their adjusted gross income, a very high bar for most employees.

      1. AP.*

        Actually, scratch that. I should have double-checked before commenting.

        Since the last change to the tax code, employees in the U.S. can’t deduct any unreimbursed work expenses at all, full stop. At least at the federal level, the deduction has been eliminated.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Worth the OPPORTUNITY mentioning that to management when pushing back–a lot of people may not know that and it does change the financial equation.

  15. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP1, you could have infected your co-worker with COVID-19 by violating social distancing. Person-to-person contact spreads COVID-19. Even if you have no symptoms, you still can be a carrier.

    No wonder she was mad at you.

          1. Alli525*

            I think JJ is suggesting that worker’s comp might be appropriate if the coworker can demonstrate that she contracted Covid as a result of OP1’s contact. I’m not sure I agree, but it’s an interesting legal argument.

    1. Anon Today*

      Not saying what OP did was right by any stretch. But I’d be AMAZED if someone transmitted COVID by touching a sign to their back.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yeah, he shouldn’t have touched her, and I can understand why she was upset, but a brief touch to the back is highly, highly unlikely to have transmitted covid.

        1. Arvolin*

          On the other hand, getting close enough to touch someone does mean getting close enough to potentially endanger them, at least if someone’s mask isn’t on right, and there’s no way to judge that when they’re behind you. Still, I’d agree that most likely she’s unhappy about being touched without consent.

          1. Lady Heather*

            Yes. And, someone will say, “I’m sneezing due to the cold! The flu! The hayfever!”

            If you have asymptomatic covid and the hayfever makes you sneeze, you’re still sneezing out coronaviruses.

            So please don’t sneeze in my general direction.

  16. KiwiApple*

    Alison – #4 – the LW already says they will get a stipend to cover 1 outfit. Or did you mean to say that they should get a larger stipend?

  17. Bethany*

    #4 – If the whole office has to switch to either scrubs or professional wear, and there are some people who wear scrubs anyway, won’t a certain group of people need to buy and maintain a different wardrobe no matter which way you go?

    And I think buying a whole work wardrobe to replace scrubs is a lot more expensive than the other way around.

  18. Squidhead*

    Re: scrubs- Some questions for your scrub-leaning colleagues…if it’s believed that the scrubs confer some benefit (either to you or to patients in the form of reduced transmission of germs), then do you need a place to change clothes at work? Or, if you don’t need to change will you be comfortable wearing your scrubs into the grocery store for a quick stop on the way home? (Do you currently wear your professional wardrobe to the store or on other errands?) If the scrubs have “Memorial Hospital” on them, will you feel weird wearing them in public? Does the one scrub vendor have sizes and fabrics that meet everyone’s needs?

    [I wear hospital scrubs to care for a high-risk (non-Covid) patient population. I’m required to change at work, but I actually like it this way and wouldn’t want to bring them to my house. However, it doesn’t sound like the actual risks of your job have changed, just the accepted norms.]

    1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

      This is why I’m thinking we’re talking about the thicker scrubs you can just buy from Dickies. If you needed to do some sort of infection control procedure due to your job, you’d already be doing it. (Despite the esq in my name, in an earlier life I was a lab tech in a community hospital and wore dickies scrubs and disposable paper lab coats every day. Still have a complex about hand washing, I swear I can feel the nitrile powder on my hands sometimes.)

    2. OP#4*

      OP#4 here. Scrubs were approved with very paltry justification (a vague internet article or two that mentions making sure your scrubs are clean, but no research to justify a switch to scrubs). I think COVID was just used as an excuse to push this change through. I think that’s the part that rankles me the most. As someone who works in healthcare, it’s drilled into you that you need good scientific evidence for the things you do. The reason scrubs were not allowed before was that there were no medical journal articles that justified a switch, and I still haven’t seen any. I don’t like the idea of spending a lot of money when there’s not even good reason for it.

      And good point about changing clothes.

      1. Squidhead*

        Well, duh, your clothes should be clean! (The “duh” is not directed at you, OP!) But even if there was evidence that scrubs are cleaner somehow, your employer’s “each office gets to pick what to do but can only pick one choice” policy belies this. If they honestly believed you were safer in scrubs, they should tell everyone, at every office, to order their mandatory scrubs by Friday.

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      I wondered the same. There are some weird ones out there involve recruitment, including MLM stuff.

      I think the lack of a job description also points in this direction (and then offering one that was completely unrelated to OP).

    2. NerdyPrettyThings*

      This is what I came here to say. This is the behavior of scammers, not even the pushiest of recruiters. I’m glad you weren’t interested in the “job” and therefore didn’t give them any personal info. What a goldmine for them if they ever manage to get someone to fill out an application!

      1. 14 calls and counting*

        Strangely enough, I don’t think this is the case. I did check up on both of them via LinkedIn before replying at all, and did some searching to corroborate the information there, and they seemed to be legitimate recruiters.

        The job description they gave to me wasn’t completely unrelated – it’s the same title as my event work position, and in the field I studied in school – just not something I am remotely qualified for outside of anything beyond “currently in a job with the same title but in a different field”.

  19. GammaGirl1908*

    I’m curious as to what other advice #5 was possibly expecting to hear. Like, “Yes, you now are encouraged to call up the place and tear them a new one because they interviewed you multiple times”? Or “Well, since they’re taking forever, that indeed changes things and you should go poop in their potted plants”?

    No. Interview, follow up and thank them afterward, maybe check in once after a couple of weeks, and then let it go.

    It’s been established that it’s pretty rude to ghost your finalists or leave them hanging for months. You’re absolutely in the right, but … if you the applicant had indeed let it go, you’d be less focused on it.

    Also, hiring timelines are dependent on a raft of things. Let’s say LW5 is now their second choice, and the first choice has asked for an extra week to consider because their spouse unexpectedly got sick. Or their references aren’t very responsive. Or something odd popped up on a background check and they’re running it again. If LW5 knew any of that, she’d be more patient, but they can’t tell LW5 about those pieces of the process, AND they also don’t want to cut her loose.

    1. Amy*

      Agreed! The first job my wife had took six months to hire her. At every stage of the interview process she just assumed she didn’t have it and kept looking for other work. They had two positions and over 100 candidates to get through so it took some time.

      1. John*

        I have a related question about this. I just went through the final round of a very lengthy process and no they have another several weeks before they finish interviewing the rest of the finalists. When we finish the interview, they made it seem like they expected to hear from me with additional questions or thoughts about the position as we move forward. I’m not sure I’m going to have a lot since the process was incredibly thorough, but I don’t want to go radio silent for a couple of weeks and off their radar if they’re expecting to hear from me. Does anyone have any thoughts on how I should handle this? My only thoughts so far is to delay some of my usual thank you follow-ups a few days so that I at least have that to say in a little while.

        1. hbc*

          I would probably follow up to say that you’ve been thinking about the job and you are still very much interested. If you think the lack of questions will be a problem, maybe even mention something like, “I usually would have follow-up questions like X and Y, but your interview procedure was so thorough, they’ve all been answered, which is another thing I appreciate about Acme. But if you’ve thought of additional questions for me, I’m happy to answer them.”

    2. Sleepy*

      While I manage the hiring at my organization, sometimes my boss will tell me to add on another round of interviews that ends up lengthening the process, after I’ve already given candidates a timeline. I push back when I can, but it’s not always possible.

  20. Madame X*

    LW5 – Allison, has answered a few letters in which the LW noted that after having what they were initially told would be their last job interview, they were instead invited to one or more subsequent interviews. Is it considered a red flag for a company to conduct more interviews than originally stated? It seems like a well organized company with a clearly defined hiring process would already know how many interviews they need before they start looking at candidates.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Sometimes you’re leaning in one direction on a candidate but aren’t 100% sure, and one final conversation can help you decide with more confidence. If you’ve already done six interviews, you can’t keep adding them on, but if you’ve only done two, it’s not a red flag to want one more meeting. Ideally you’d give the candidate some kind of context, or an acknowledgement that you’re adding something on top of what you’d originally told them to expect.

  21. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP1: I think, when you’ve messed up the initial inclination can be “I gotta do whatever I can to get things back to normal ASAP”. You’ve seen your coworker get angry because of your actions so you might think that telling your boss she’s angry is a good way for her to stop being angry and the status quo to return to normal (or as near to normal as we can get at the moment).

    Supposition of course, I’m probably way off the mark. This is just how I’ve previously reacted to situations where I’ve messed up back before I learnt that wasn’t possible. What is possible is apologies (which you’ve done), signs you’ve learnt to not make the mistake again, and time to let the outcomes play out.

    If your coworker was raging through the office threatening to kill others, burn the entire building down, throw computers out the window onto pedestrians etc. then absolutely yes report that because that’s threatening behaviour.

  22. MK*

    OP2, why are you assuming that these calls are coming from the two recruiters? It doesn’t sound as if you at any time answered and found out it was them. Am I missing something?

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      It’s possible the recruiters included their phone numbers in the LinkedIn/email messages OP2 received. It’s also possible that they didn’t and OP2 is making that assumption because “immediately after” OP2 started receiving calls; it’s not the most straightforward connection, but not a completely illogical one either.

      1. 14 calls and counting*

        I know it was two recruiters because one reached out via email, and the other via LinkedIn. I do some basic research (look at the LinkedIn Profile, internet search for recruiting company, etc) to verify that I am getting contacted by real people before responding at all.

        1. 14 calls and counting*

          Also yes, I had the phone numbers of each via their email/LinkedIn signoffs before the calls started pouring in.

    2. Yorick*

      It’s not a stretch. It’d be more surprising if OP2 were being called by two different people over and over than the two pushy people she was in email contact.

  23. Mathou*

    The prank seems pretty innocuous. To me. But you didn’t play a prank to me, didn’t you ?

    That’s the thing with pranks and bodies. People have the right to have different boundaries. And they might seem excessive to you or others, but we don’t get to decide what relationship people have with their body. There is history there, morals, biology… all of which are deeply personal.

    You did the right thing by apologising, and now you just move on.

    1. virago*

      That’s the thing about pranks and bodies. People have the right to have different boundaries.


      Also, OP 1 doesn’t know what his co-worker’s risk status is. I continue to be amazed that people who don’t wear masks say it’s OK — they wear them around people who are high risk.

      Well, congratulations for wearing a mask at a hospital or a nursing home, but a lot of people who aren’t in either of those settings have conditions that elevate their risk of severe infection or death if they get COVID: MS. Asthma. HIV. Cardiovascular disease.

      Some high-risk people work from home or are retired and can have things delivered. But a lot of others can’t.

      A co-worker who survived stage 4 melanoma goes to the grocery store and the post office (masked) and follows social distancing measures when he’s there. But I assume he doesn’t go there in a T-shirt that says, “I’m a cancer survivor — I’ve had chemo, which means my immune system is compromised, so put on your damn mask already.”

      1. I'm just here for the cats!*

        Also, could the co worker be a victim of sexual harrassment, or other violence either at work or elsewhere.

        1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*


          It has taken YEARS of counseling and effort so that my immediate reaction to something like, well, THIS, is not an immediate punch to defend myself, as my flight-or-fight response was so off. Literally anyone who did not have permission to touch me would trigger this response.

          And its not like I wear a tee shirt that says “Hey, Sexual Assault Survivor here, don’t touch me”. Nor should I have to.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I want (really serious) a suitable sign that says ‘My immune system tries to kill me on a regular basis, I don’t need your viruses adding to it! Stand back! Wear a mask!’

        Of course, I could just go with flashing my biohazard tattoo at them and letting them infer what they will….

    2. CommanderBanana*

      I would be livid if someone stuck something to my clothes, most of which are vintage and very delicate care.

    3. The Rules are Made Up*

      Yeah he for sure needs to leave her alone for a bit. I think he should apologize one more time (over-apologizing is just as annoying imo) and then be sure to continue reaching out to her and including her in their friend group. It would suck if things get all weird and awkward after this and she loses the group of work friends she was close with. Since I personally would feel weird reaching back out if I was her, I think it’d be nice if he extended polite but not pushy offers to her “Hey Jane we’re all going to lunch if you want to come?” etc. Just like lol don’t make her feel weird or treat her super differently.

  24. ThePear8*

    #3 – It does sound like she was hiding something, given she does have several years of work experience. The only resume I’ve seen without dates was recently when I helped out a friend who was job hunting who only has a high school education and two past jobs in food service and retail/warehouse, and he simply hadn’t had guidance before on how to write a resume so lots of the formatting was really weird. I told him he needed to put dates on his resume.

    #5 – I know every company’s hiring timeline is a little different, but 2 – 3 weeks between interviews sounds pretty normal to me? Either way, Allison’s advice is the way to go – maybe send them a quick follow up just to ask about their time line, then leave it at that.

  25. Lady Heather*

    LW1, I’m not sure if I hear the angry threat you seem to be hearing in “The next person who touches me will be reported”. Reporting someone for behaviour they have actually done isn’t really a threat, is it? (As opposed to reporting someone for something they haven’t done, or threatening to hurt someone for doing something they do.)

    If you feel it is a threat to have your manager/HR told about your actions, maybe reconsider your actions?

    1. AJH*

      I think if we knew what the “several choice words” she used, we might have a better handle on what the co-worker is really upset about, but the fact that the other co-worker and the supervisor saw him do it smiled and said nothing seems an additional reason for her to get riled up; LW and two others in the office were literally treating anti-Covid precautions as a joke and it may be that it’s the latest in a series of similar incidents and she’s just fed up with it.

  26. cncx*

    Re OP4, early in my career i worked in a white shoe law firm. I was lucky enough to have some suits left over from college (nothing fancy, brooks brothers but it would do) and i thought it was kind of them that they gave us 200 a month clothing allowance in return for the more stringent dress code. I called it my panty hose allowance but it really helped- it helped me buy a lower end luxury work bag for my 30th birthday, for example. With nice shoes and a nice purse i could really stretch the brooks brothers.

    I think if companies have hard dress code rules- and this could be anything from banks to restaurants, they either need to provide uniform or provide some kind of compensation. My father works in a factory, he has three pairs of work clothes provided.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      “White shoe law firm” was a new one on me, so I hit up Uncle Google. Wikipedia specifies that it has a different meaning in Australia. So although you probably mean prestigious/exclusive New York City finance law firms, I’m imagining what it might mean in Australia. Uncle Google got distracted by pretty sneakers.

      1. Rebeck*

        It means shady property developers in Australia. The white shoe brigade. (It’s a very 70s Queensland reference but has some current relevance to contemporary NSW…)

  27. Anonymity*

    I’m getting the feeling that coworker has been annoyed by OP in past and this is not the first touching incident. Hands to self.

      1. Xavier Desmond*

        Actually ignore me. I’ve just reread it and have made the wrong assumption from the letter. Apologies

      2. Misha*

        Maybe that’s her issue with this. Someone touched her and she didn’t know who. And to make it worse, people just laughed. If that’s how she learned about the sticker, I’d be upset, too.

  28. LGC*

    Oh wow, LW1. My heart sank at the first line because I knew exactly where this was going.

    (I was not wrong.)

    I actually disagree with Alison’s first line of her response, though! I mean – I agree that you shouldn’t report her for blowing up at you. But I’m actually thinking that you should let management know what you did, since it was pretty egregious, and deal with what comes. You might be fired for it, but I think that if it was that visible you probably need to address it. (I don’t think you should be fired for it, but I think it’s possible that you are.)

    Also, bouncing off the point about reassessing your relationship with her – my man, I’d apologize again (once) and then back off with the pranks (and that subject) entirely unless she’s ever open to it again. Don’t ghost her or pretend she’s some fragile flower who will fall over if you treat her with anything less than OTT kindness, but I’d assume she’s embarrassed by what happened too, and far more than you are.

    (I’d apologize privately in case she wants to throw more choice words at you. And make it short and only about what you did – “I’m sorry that I embarrassed you by taping a social distancing sticker to your back,” and leaving it at that.)

    I’ve done things to people that I thought were funny but they didn’t. I was really hurt to see they were hurt. But then I tried to shut up and (in that tired old phrase) do better. There’s a friend I have that I said something offensive to two years ago…he’s mostly forgiven me, but even now, I’m still cautious about what I say to him. And it’s not what I would have wanted, but…you know, it doesn’t matter what I want, and also what I wanted was selfish.

    (Finally – like, look, LW1, I know you led with the genders, but in this case the gender is irrelevant. My impression was that you’re wondering if this is sexual harassment since the affected party is A WOMAN IN THE WORKPLACE ONOES and…it’s not.)

    1. Bagpuss*

      I would absolutely not apologise that she was embarrassed. Looking at the letter, it doesn’t appear that she was embarrassed. She was justifiably angry at people touching her body without her permission, and framing at as being embarrassed by the LWs actions minimizes the seriousness and impact of those actions.

      Also, while there is nothing in the letter to suggest that LW was sexually motivated, I would not be so quick to dismiss the possibility of sexual harassments because it is also relevant to consider how she experienced his actions, and how they might appear to an observer, as well as what his intent was. It’s very very common for harassers to make excuses to explain away why they were touching their victim or otherwise violating boundaries, so if she wanted to take this further with HR it is entirely possible that they are, at the very least, going to consider whether there was an element of sexual harassment.

      Moving forward, he needs to keep his hands to himself and really think about whether the ‘jokey’ relationship looks the same to her as it does to him or, as Alison says, whether there may be an element of her being uncomfortable but trying to fit in / not rock the boat.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      To me (customers woman), gender is extremely relevant. One touch from one person, one apology, no big deal.
      But OP can’t know the behavior of other men in the workplace or wherever the job takes her. (We don’t know their job. Could be office only. But could be anything from delivery service to police.)
      He is aware and that’s a good thing. It doesn’t change my agreement with Alison’s advice–just can’t agree with your dismissal of its potential importance.

    3. Sam.*

      I agree that OP should back off immediately and shouldn’t treat her as a “fragile flower,” but I would NOT recommend apologizing for embarrassing her. It doesn’t sound like that’s at all what she was upset about, and implying embarrassment – and not legitimate upset at having her boundaries crossed – caused her to blow up would come across as quite patronizing to me and frankly would make me much angrier. The issue is crossing boundaries and not respecting her personal space (in general, but especially considering the current context). The key thing is to keep his hands to himself, period, and perhaps to step in if he sees other coworkers being unnecessarily handsy with people.

      I also very much disagree that gender is irrelevant in these situations. I know a number of women, myself included, who are much more sensitive to any kind of uninvited touching from a man than from a woman, even if it’s relatively innocuous. It is not helpful to pretend that’s not the case, even if it doesn’t necessarily change the advice to OP in this instance.

  29. Grand Mouse*

    For LW 1- you said the others smiled? How could you tell with their masks on? Were they not wearing masks? Because that could be a whole other risk and stressor for her in the situation

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      I hope this doesn’t belittle your point, but I was just thinking yesterday how impressed I am with our ability to communicate emotions even with the added difficuilty of masks.

      I was waiting in a long queue last night and I smiled (mask on, properly) at a little girl who was looking at the line curiously. She immediately broke into a smile back. I’ve also noticed that when I take my daughter out (she’s 1, so wears no mask but is strapped into a stroller) she smiles back at people who smile at her — even if they’re wearing masks. I think it’s the eye contact and the crinkling of the eyes.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yes! It’s funny I too had exactly the same experience with a little girl smiling back at me when I had my mask on. It rather reassured me to see that she could tell I was smiling.

      2. JustaTech*

        I make sure now to smile more broadly than I might when my face is showing, just so I’m sure that it shows up around my eyes.

        And there’s always “smizing” – smiling with your eyes (trademarked Tyra Banks).

        1. The Rural Juror*

          Just had this conversation today with a group of clients in a meeting (socially-distanced, in an outdoor setting). Someone made a snarky comment, but then immediately wanted to clarify it was meant as a joke. She said something along the lines of, “I realize now I should be more careful with my humor, you guys can’t necessarily see that I’m smiling under my mask!” Then we all started talking about how, for most people, it’s pretty easy to still be able to tell. It’s definitely the eye crinkling! It gives us away :)

  30. Forrest*

    >>Also, I don’t have my own washer/dryer, so this would involve spending more money on laundry each week (as I believe I’d have to wash them separately). Plus I’d need to buy tennis shoes (since I normally wear dress shoes to work). And either way I have to buy a lab coat.

    This is confusing me–if it’s infection control, then presumably the lab coat would need to be washed on a daily basis too, regardless of whether the office votes for scrubs or not? Surely they can’t mean that the scrubs get changed on a daily basis and washed separately, but you wear the same lab coat over them day in and out?

    1. Colette*

      And even if the OP is wearing dressier clothes, they presumably will need to be washed? That part confused me as well.

    2. H2*

      I was confused by this, too. In labs where I have worked with hazardous chemicals, the rule is to never, ever wear your lab coat out of the lab. I do you always think it’s strange when doctors wear them, because they are just carrying stuff from patient to patient (although “germs” aren’t the same as hazardous chemicals). With that said, I believe there is some evidence that scribes are a better option in that regard than professional dress. Most people don’t generally wash wool sweaters or suits or whatnot with every wear. On the other hand, most communicable diseases aren’t sticking around in fabric for days.

      Either way, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for an employer to assume that you have a washing machine, or access to one. I understand the other issues about up-front costs, but if they can increase your stipend a bit (and it does seem odd to me to require a lab coat that employees need to purchase), then the idea itself doesn’t seem to be outside the norm.

      1. Forrest*

        >>I do you always think it’s strange when doctors wear them, because they are just carrying stuff from patient to patient

        Ties and lab coats are almost never worn by hospital doctors here in the UK for infection control reasons, and it’s always really weird seeing them in US dramas!

      2. JustaTech*

        I work in a tissue culture lab (yay cells!) and it’s in our official PPE documents that you are never, ever, ever to take your lab coat home to wash. And if it gets really soiled with either chemicals or blood then you just chuck it in the biohazard bin and it goes off to the incinerator (and you go in the emergency shower).

        But we also get three personal lab coats each (sized to you, with your name sewn on) and have a commercial laundry service that washes them for us.

        But if you’re supposed to wear your scrubs every day and they’re only giving you one set, then you have to wash them every night, which is annoying and wastes water if you have your own washer/dryer, but frankly becomes risky if you’re having to go to the laundromat every night. The OP says they already have a full wardrobe of business attire, so they have enough clothes to not need to wash their work clothes every night.

    3. Sleepless*

      OP is probably in human medicine, so this may not be relevant, but I can tell you how that works with veterinarians. I wear either scrubs or business casual depending on the office and what I’m doing. Business casual if I’m seeing appointments only. Scrubs if it’s a surgery day, I’m working ER, or if I just don’t feel very fashion inspired (which since COVID started is pretty much all the time). I have a couple of white lab coats that, honestly, I put on to go in exam rooms (or these days, out to the parking lot) to talk to clients. We don’t have quite the same worries about infection control that our human counterparts do. (Suspected infectious cases are seen either in an isolation room or in the parking lot in single-use PPE.) I wash my scrubs daily because they are the clothes that actually get dirty. Lab coats obviously get washed if anything germy happens or they get dirty. Obviously, white lab coats and dogs can be a labor-intensive combination!

    4. OP#4*

      OP#4 here. That’s true about the lab coat–should that technically be washed every day? I won’t have the means to do that. To be honest I’m not keen on having to buy one of those, either, but since both options involve one that seemed to be a losing battle to even address. I will just leave that at work and wash it whenever I’m able.

      I tend to buy simple, affordable dress clothes and wash everything in cold. I don’t wear things to work that are not easily washable–so I’m not re-wearing fancy wool sweaters and going multiple wears in between washes.

      I guess I’m assuming you have to wash scrubs in warm water? Plus I worry that combining everything into one load would cause the bright-colored scrubs to bleed onto my nicer clothes, hence needing to spend extra time and money on another load of laundry. To be honest, when you pay per load of laundry you try to minimize how many separate loads of wash you do….

      1. Forrest*

        yeah, I can imagine!

        It does sound like they haven’t actually thought through whether this is “wear a uniform, we want everyone to look the same” or “this is infection control”. Asking some questions to get clarity on why this decision is being made could be a good way to find out what the reasonable points of pushback are?

        Also, do you live somewhere where it’s common not to have your own laundry facilities? I would imagine you’re going to get more sympathy if you live in a high-density area where lots of people are reliant on doing their laundry outside than if it’s very unusual where you are. I understand that doesn’t help much if it is unusual, but lots of this stuff does come down to what management can reasonably assume their staff have access to.

      2. Sleepless*

        I wash scrubs with anything and everything (I’m pretty sloppy with the laundry). They’re the most forgiving laundry in the world. They don’t bleed onto anything.

      3. H2*

        I think I understand better now. Respectfully, I think that you are overthinking the washing issue for scrubs. You can wash them the same way you would wash, say, khakis and a button down shirt, and they shouldn’t bleed after the first wash or two. This is going to be a non-issue–you’re going to wash an outfit for every day you’re at work, just like you normally would.

        It does seem from your other response that letting you have a choice shows that it’s not about safety, really. I still think that it’s possible that for others in your office, dress clothes include dresses, sweaters, suits, etc. that need to be dry-cleaned and therefore aren’t washed as often. The situation changed with COVID, so I think it’s fair to revisit what makes sense here. I suspect that a lot of your coworkers like the comfort and ease of scrubs and so are positive about that idea, so that’s probably where this is coming from. I totally get not loving that idea, though, and I definitely understand not wanting to invest in a bunch of scrubs. I also think that there’s some merit to the idea (assuming you are in human medicine) that it’s good for practitioners to look professional, etc.

        Honestly, from a patient perspective, I would like to see everyone in scrubs, and never in a lab coat. The more I think about that, the more grossed out I get :D

      4. AntsOnMyTable*

        I have never had scrubs bleed whether it be the first wash or not. They can be washed cold or hot it doesn’t matter. You don’t need to separate them out – I haven’t seen anything saying COVID can live through a wash cycle (even cold) and then dried. I don’t think you need to wash a lab coat after every wear unless you are having contact with someone who you know is sick. I wear a scrub jacket and I don’t wash it after every shift unless I have patients in isolation rooms (I take it off when going in there but still, theoretically can be on by scrubs, so just wash the jacket too). I think of it more like a blazer or cardigan – it isn’t against your body so isn’t automatically “soiled” after one wear.

  31. DiscoCat*

    Re #2 recruitment agencies and affiliated industries are getting really cocky in these times. They have business models that prey on people’s vulnerabilities and livelihood. I applied for a job via LinkedIn, where the “apply” link had sent me to some online job board’s recruitment interface (which I already find dodgy). A while later I get an email saying another company received my CV for review… I was busy and ignored it at first, this morning I got my “review results” – apart from being totally off the mark for the type of job and industry I was applying for, the review was totally geared towards tapping into my insecurities and counting on me to shell out money for “rewriting”. I feel actually violated- all my data- name, d.o.b, address, history (we’re in Europe, so the data is more detailed) is on my CV, I applied for a job, not for some scammer to look at my CV for review. I cannot reconstruct how this CV got to them as I’ve been applying a lot lately, if I could, I’d report the whole chain up to LinkedIn for breach of the EU Data protection act.

    1. Lady Heather*

      I just wanted to say “GDPR!” If you give your address to one company for one purpose, you didn’t consent to that address then being given to/used for:
      1) same company, different purpose
      2) different company, same purpose
      3) different company, different purpose

      The company likely to have a person charged with GDPR compliance that you can complain to – but be prepared for that to just be a random person who has no idea what the GDPR is and what their duties are. Anyway, you can complain to them via email, and when you get an unsatisfactory email response back, forward that to your government’s privacy authority.
      (You may be able to complain directly to the privacy authority, but there’s just as much a chance they’ll just say “Have you tried contacting the company’s privacy person?” so you might as well preface that.)

      1. DiscoCat*

        Thank you! I just emailed them, their parent company’s DPO and the one from the company I think they received my CV from.

  32. Retail Not Retail*

    Op1 – I wondered if you were my coworker before I remembered he’s not allowed access to computers or the internet! He keeps coming up behind me and grabbing my waist or shoulders to startle me. I’ve tried to minimize my reactions to not give him satisfaction but he just won’t stop. (Last week it was getting in my open trunk when my back was turned.)

    I mentioned it to our supervisor and it hasn’t happened since BUT another coworker came up behind me and did the same thing when he was off, while I’m standing next to my supervisor and he was like yeah weren’t you just saying that’s annoying?

    Coworker number one acts very immaturely and I don’t see a direct “cut it out” working and escalating to my boss could do nothing or have really negative consequences. This is one of the work release guys – it’s annoying the crap out of me, but I don’t want him fired from my location or booted out of the program. Or we’d get another lecture about proper workplace norms with the guys – one of which is no discussing anything but the work at hand which is boring because our work is not mentally stimulating.

    Also the crew of guys keeps rotating and it’s a little exhausting to have yet another person to watch and set boundaries with again and again.

    1. Retail Not Retail*

      And I thought “no touching” wasn’t a boundary that needed setting even in my rough and tumble manual labor world, let alone in an office!

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Huh. I get not wanting him to get in trouble, but a prisoner on work release, *who is repeatedly grabbing people not only by the shoulders but by the waist,* needs at the very least a blistering lecture on keeping his damn hands to himself, and that would’ve been true even before the current dumpster fire engulfed the world and required six-foot spacing. The purpose of these programs (or one purpose at least) is to work toward re-integrating folks from prison into ‘normal’ society, and in normal society, grabbing his coworkers around the waist is likely to get him in a crapload of trouble. Letting him get away with it is not doing him any good, and in fact sounds like it’s causing the problem to spread because the other guys are thinking it’s okay.

      1. Scarlet2*

        Letting him get away with it is not a kindness at all. It’s hard enough to find a job after being released from prison, can you imagine him being fired for sexual harrassment on top of that? I think the lecture on workplace norms should at the very least contain a section about “no touching people at work”.

      2. Retail Not Retail*

        The other coworker was a normal coworker, not a work release. (And work release isn’t quite accurate but it’s closest without giving it all away.)

        I even don’t react when he comes up behind me when I’m reading and he still finds the idea of startling me hilarious even when he doesn’t succeed.

        1. Observer*

          This behavior is egregiously bad. If he gets booted out of the program for it, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some people learn easily. Some people learn hard, sometime VERY hard. This guy sounds like the latter. But he does need to learn that this stuff is just NOT acceptable. And if getting booted is what it takes, then that’s what it takes.

          As for the other guy, the same thing is true. This behavior is ridiculous and there is no reason you should have to deal with it, on the one hand. On the other hand, this sends a message that it’s totally acceptable and that is likely to blow up in the guy’s face. It’s also likely to escalate.

          If you have a halfway competent HR, please go to them. Tell them that you’ve already spoken to your supervisor, who has actually seen this in action and has done nothing about it.

          1. tangerineRose*

            Yeah, all of this. Both of these people need to learn that this isn’t OK. If the not exactly work-release person needs to learn this the hard way, then so be it – better to learn now than later, right? Especially grabbing you around the waist, what was he thinking?

        2. Mr. Tyzik*

          Wow. I had a guy do this to me in the workplace (grabbing my shoulders from behind, grabbing me for side hugs, always touching my arm). It was awful. I finally snapped to my boss about it after dude side hugged me in front of my boss, and dude got walked out. It’s that serious.

          As noted, you are not doing this guy a kindness by ignoring it. He is outright harassing you. Say something – anything – to get this guy to stop harassing people! THAT would be a kindness, even if he gets fired. He then gets notified of the seriousness of his actions.

          I would think on a work release-type of situation, he’d be on his best behavior. Wow.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Stop worrying about being polite. If you don’t want someone touching you tell him to stop and if he doesn’t, report him. If he gets fired that’s on HIM, not YOU.

    4. Blue Eagle*

      Oh man, if this was me I would let my reflex be that if you startled me by coming up behind me I would turn and whack you hard with the side of my arm as I was turning.
      But if you don’t want to be physical here is another idea courtesy of my 4th grade classmate’s Mom. This was back in the days when teachers would pinch you for some reason or another. The Mom said that the next time the teacher pinched her to scream bloody murder. I was in the classroom next door and heard the piercing scream. One time. And the scream was heard down the hall. And the teacher never pinched anyone again.
      Rather than addressing this in a more quiet manner, perhaps a piercing scream might get the message across?

      1. Yvette*

        I took a self defense course (ages ago) and at the time, the taught response to being grabbed from behind was a backwards elbow thrust to the gut followed by swinging the fist from the same arm up and back to make contact with the face, while stamping backwards on the person’s foot.

      2. KoiFeeder*

        I’ve broken someone’s nose for tapping my shoulder from behind, just on pure reflex. If someone grabbed me suddenly, they’d be bleeding.

      3. tangerineRose*

        There have been a couple of times someone at the office deliberately scared me, and both times I screamed (just a reaction, not something I thought about). Neither of them ever did it again, and it was at least a few times between each incident.

    5. cncx*

      what you mention is along the lines of what i thought- maybe people are too touchy with her in general, maybe she’s fed up from getting touched and it’s not just OP. Not saying that absolves OP just saying i read her reaction is she’s been touched too much at work lately.

      Also i applaud you, i have ptsd and an exaggerated startle response and someone coming up and grabbing my waste from behind to spook me would really spook me (i would probably start crying) and would probably throw hands and get myself fired. I don’t handle being spooked well, at all.

    6. Forrest*

      Can you speak to the person who runs the work release programme? Because it seems like it completely defeats the object of work-release if the participants are being given very clear directions about how to interact with colleagues and consequences when they don’t. It shouldn’t be on you to “set boundaries” with no clear support or training! :-/

    7. Archaeopteryx*

      You’re not doing him any favors by allowing him to continue and possibly escalate this behavior which is extremely not OK. And you’re certainly not doing any favors to any subsequent people he encounters in the workplace.

    8. Keymaster of Gozer*

      It actually doesn’t matter what background, situation, economic/racial/religious/culture etc. someone is from – they don’t get a free pass to feel up their coworkers.

      ‘Stop touching me’
      ‘I’ve told you before to not do that. There will be consequences if you don’t stop’
      ‘Okay, so you’re crying about being fired? You chose to keep ignoring the rules’

      1. Daffy Duck*

        Yup, this guy needs to be reported. What he is doing isn’t acceptable. If he gets kicked out of the program that is on him. Ignoring it only keeps his interest, and when he tries it on someone who reports him (especially if he has “passed” this program) the repercussions will be worse.

    9. yala*

      I was reading it thinking you were Making A Point, and the twist about the “coworker” who grabs you from behind and goes through your things was actually, like, your toddler while you were working from home.

      Then I got to the rest and just…DANG! I’m so sorry you’re dealing with that, and it…really sounds like a Thing That Should Not Be Happening? (Like, at all, but especially with someone on work-release…not respecting boundaries? Ugh)

    10. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You shouldn’t protect people who has a history of poor behavior, it’s doing him no favors. He needs reinforced boundaries and “That’s not okay, you will get fired, you will serve more of a sentence if you don’t shape up, dude.”

      And I’ve worked with work release folks extensively myself, this one needs his come to Jesus moment. He’s on a slope and going towards the wrong side.

  33. Dust Bunny*

    Work Wardrobe: Do you believe you’d have to wash them separately for cleanliness reasons, or for fabric-care reasons? Because it won’t be the latter–scrubs are generally bulletproof cotton-poly and you could wash them with anything. If it’s the former . . . they’re already getting agitated with detergent. If they need to literally be sterilized, that’s beyond the capabilities of household washing machines, anyway, and I don’t know how your employer would enforce it.

    For the record: I used to wear scrubs daily on a $9 an hour wage, with zero scrub stipend. I did the same easy load of navy blue every single week, which was pretty much the one good thing about that job. I wore white Keds sneakers so I could toss those in the wash, too, when I needed to; I just added insoles for my high arches. From a cost point of view, the scrubs were much more efficient than “real clothes”.

    1. Ashley*

      Something else to consider is if you have to buy the clothes through a work supplier you might be able to argue minimum wage requirements depending on how much everyone makes. I had an employer get in trouble for this because they started charging for uniforms but by buying the uniforms we made less then minimum wage.

  34. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #1 – don’t assume because you have a playful joking relationship that your co-worker is cool with pranks. I am sarcastic, love to joke around and am not easily offended. But I can not stand pranks. They are usually only funny to the person playing the prank, and generally juvenile. Do NOT report this to your manager. I would even consider apologizing again once your co-worker has calmed down.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Also, there’s at least one person I work with who thinks we have a mutually appreciated playful joking relationship. We do not.

  35. Mel_05*

    I’ve gotten the advice to leave dates off the resume. It was at an unemployment class!
    Apparently it worked for some people, but I was a little skeptical – most of my employment is at one job.
    Without dates how would anyone know that I’d been there for over a decade? I could have been there 6 months!

    For interviews, I’ve had all different lengths of time pass. I’ve had two jobs where I got the offer a day or two after a single interview (I know that’s not a best practice, but these do happen to be my two best work experiences).

    I’ve also had interviews where they gave a specific date I would know by – but I didn’t hear back yes/no for a couple weeks afterwards and some of them did extend an offer at that time.

    1. irene adler*

      I got more response with my resume when I omitted dates.

      For my current position, I put : Current job 15+ years

  36. Blue Eagle*

    #1 If I messed up with someone (probably more along the issue of blindsiding someone rather than pranking them) not only would I apologize in the moment but I would also give them a peace offering along with an apology that admits that I messed up and will be more thoughtful with my actions in the future.

  37. Formerly Harassed*

    OP1: Even in a non-COVID world, I’m very sensitive about touching in the workplace after having worked in an environment with sexual harassment issues. I don’t think your colleague is in the wrong for reacting this way. Physical contact feels incredibly threatening to a lot of people. It doesn’t matter if you intended for it to be lighthearted: you clearly crossed a line with your colleague.

  38. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #5 unless you’ve witnessed the hiring process first hand at a job, you have no idea how long it can take and the number of things that can delay hiring. I know that it’s frustrating being on the job applicant side, but obsessing over an interview is doing you no favors. Don’t make assumptions that haven’t gotten the job, but do move on as if you haven’t.

    1. Ama*

      Yes, and if this employer is still all or partially remote that could be slowing things down. I just made a new hire in the middle of our work from home period and every step took so much longer than I expected just due to the logistics of needing to, say, schedule a debrief call with my boss after an interview instead of stepping into her office for a few minutes after the candidate left.

      Because of the delays, we also hadn’t finished interviewing when we reached my long-scheduled two week vacation (although I did give a heads up to the candidates we’d already interviewed that there was going to be a gap) — and then I was absolutely swamped the first week I was back and couldn’t really pick the final bit of the process up again for an additional week.

  39. CatPerson*

    My comment isn’t specifically about pranks, but to OP1, in my opinion juvenile behavior like he’s describing does not belong in the workplace. Playful insults, for example, are only playful until you hurt someone’s feelings. Friendly behavior is one thing, but keep it professional.

  40. san432*

    Sometimes people are unusually sensitive for a reason.
    I worked in an office where people played minor good natured pranks on each other rather frequently. One day one of my coworkers very became upset at another coworker for an inoffensive prank he played , something she never did.

    Later she told me she had been given a frightening medical diagnosus that morning and was simply on edge.

    1. Faberge Otter*

      This is honestly why I never do pranks. I’m just bad at it. Either the pranks aren’t funny or don’t make sense, or I’d have the luck to pick a terrible time and ruin someone’s day without trying. Much safer not to do it.

  41. Faberge Otter*

    Ah, this gives me flashbacks to the time I did a series of interviews for a position, I had great chemistry with everyone, I filled out all the forms, and they told me “we’ll let you know either way.” I called them 4 weeks later and was brusquely informed, “We will call and let you know either way if you get it or not.”

    That was 6 years ago.

    I think I didn’t get it. What do you think? :p

    1. irene adler*

      Exasperating, isn’t it?
      Although, it could be that they decided not to hire anyone.
      Here at my company, they ran a job ad, interviewed several candidates, and then, did nothing. The project was not approved at that time.
      Then months later, they ran a similar ad, thinking the project was about to be approved. Yes, they interviewed a couple of people. And again, did nothing.
      End result: no one was ever hired. No one knows the status of the project. And there’s a good half dozen people out there who interviewed and never heard anything back.

  42. Summersun*

    #3 is trying to avoid age discrimination while highlighting that she already worked at your org, not hiding a dark past.

    1. Colette*

      I agree that’s probably what she’s trying to do, but I think it’ll probably hurt her more than it’ll help.

      1. irene adler*

        It keeps her resume from automatically going into the “NO” pile because they see she’s an older worker.

        Businesses want to avoid hiring older workers because they assume many negatives about hiring them: they are more expensive salary-wise, they don’t know the latest technology, they are unwilling to learn new things, they are set in their ways and won’t do things the way the boss wants them done, etc. Very hard to address some of these stereotypes on a resume (except by including the latest tech on it).

        1. Carina*

          Instead she goes in the no pile because she looks like she’s hiding a dodgy work history. How is that better, exactly?

          1. irene adler*

            There’s no blanket fix for this.
            Open to any suggestions on how to get a job when one has a 30 year work history (i.e. they are pushing 50 in age). I’m trying to avoid living on the street for my ‘declining years’.

            1. AP.*

              You don’t have to include every job on your resume. You can limit it to jobs in the last 10-15 years. But for the jobs you do include you should keep the dates on there.

              Also, if you have a college degree you can also leave the year of graduation off. (Although I have to admit the only time I’ve ever seen that is with older candidates who are presumably trying to avoid age discrimination.)

              1. irene adler*

                I do leave off college grad year. Unfortunately, what year I graduated from college is the very first question I am asked by HR screeners. Then there’s very little after that. They loose interest.

                Yes my resume is only the last 15 years. Unfortunately (for my resume) I have held my current job for over 26 years. So either I put “26 years” or I put “current position 15+ years”.

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          1. Leave dates off your education section.

          2. Leave earlier jobs off your resume altogether. It doesn’t have to be exhaustive.

          Et voilà, your precise age is obscured.

          1. irene adler*

            Yes, those are good suggestions. Which I heed.
            Unfortunately, for me, I have had the same job for 26 years. So I put “current position 15+ years” instead of the 26 years. It works for me.

        3. Lady Heather*

          I always wonder about that “They are more expensive salary-wise” thing. Unless your jurisdiction has a law that makes an employee’s salary a function of their age, how would an older employee automatically have a higher salary?

          1. irene adler*

            It is assumed an older job candidate will ask for a higher salary with the justification that they have several years experience in the industry. Hence, there’s no point even talking to them.

            And yes, this is a bad assumption to make. But if you’ve ever sat in on hiring managers when they review the (usually) giant stack of resumes, one approach to quickly shorten the pile is to glance at each resume and make blanket assumptions about the candidate. Such assumptions can include: being too experienced to accept the pay offered or too educated (advanced degree) and will leave the job in short order. Those resumes are put aside.

            1. Lady Heather*

              I guess that can happen – that an employee values their experience more than the employer does – but to assume that.. ugh. Hopefully the potential employer is a decent person and as such has put their salary range in the job posting, (the real salary range – not “we say between 40k and 50k but we’re really only willing to hire someone who’ll work for 40k”) and the people responding to that will be mindful of that.

              Thanks for explaining. I’ve heard older people use the “It’s age discrimination that they won’t pay me for my experience” argument a few times and though that one is nonsense, I can see how ’employers assuming older employees will use that argument’ would be discriminatory.

        4. Colette*

          Because knowing where you’ve worked and what you’ve done isn’t the whole story. There’s a difference between something you did for a month 10 years ago and something you did once a month for 10 years.

          And the harder you make it for the hiring manager to find what she needs to know, the higher the chances that she’ll just move on to someone else.

  43. Anonymous At a University*

    Some people believe that leaving dates off their resume prevents age discrimination. But while that might work to leave off dates of graduation, it works against them when it’s EVERY single date. How does the employer know in that case if you have years of experience, even decades, or barely any experience?

    I have an older colleague who has been desperately searching for a different job for a while, and told me that she’d applied to two jobs without any dates. She was indignant she never got an interview and said it must be age discrimination. I pointed out that while she’s worked in higher ed for 27 years and children’s education for 20 years before that, no one can see that from a resume without dates. For all they know, it could look like someone who’s been in and out of academia, held a year-long job there and a year-long job here, and maybe worked as an elementary school teacher for 1 year before that.

    1. irene adler*

      Instead of dates, put “current position 15 years”. Or for the prior position, put “27 years”.
      Then anyone reading the resume will know how many years experience the candidate has under the position.

      Doing this made a world of difference in getting interviews for me.

      1. Anonymous at a University*

        Doing this would probably work. I think it could still backfire for someone currently unemployed, though, since if they put “Last position 15+ years” and no dates, the person reading the resume doesn’t know if that 15-year+ position ended last year or in 1995.

        It turned out that my colleague hadn’t put that she was full-time, either. I think it’s extremely likely that they might even have thought she was an adjunct.

    2. JohannaCabal*

      Some suggestions from someone nearing their 40s.

      I generally keep my resume to just ten years despite my job history being longer. This also helps me avoid a gap in 2009 that includes a stint where I was fired from a poor fit job after three months. Not that I put that job on my resume but there was a gap in my job dates between February 2009 and October 2009 without it.

      I also keep a sectio of “technology skills” at the bottom up to date (and tailored for the position applied to).

  44. No Tribble At All*

    Plot twist: the Adele-level recruiters (“I must have called a thousand times”) are just trying to help anyone with phone anxiety get exposure therapy! So helpful!

    Jokes aside, anyone who calls that frequently can get blocked, especially since they didn’t leave a voicemail.

    1. JustaTech*

      Honestly the only “people” who call me that frequently are scammers, and that’s only when I’ve gotten on the “live fish” list for accidentally picking up once. 14 times in one day! And then another 7 the next day.

  45. Sled dog mama*

    LW #5. This has got to be industry dependent. In my industry more than 2 rounds (1 by phone, 1 in person) would be considered a little suspect and anything beyond a 3rd round would get some serious side-eye.
    I think part of this is because in my profession a job change frequently involves a relocation (unless you are in a large metro area, Cleveland, OH has 4-5 employers that would hire my position).
    Otherwise I agree with Alison that the radio silence is a normal length and shouldn’t be held against them.

  46. employment lawyah*

    4. Can an employer require you to buy a new work wardrobe?
    You may need to live with it and you almost certainly need to live with the shoes. But you may want to propose that the employer bulk-buy everyone a few sets of scrubs and/or provide on-site laundry dropoff / changing areas for dealing with them.

  47. Veryanon*

    Last LW: Five rounds of interviews seems pretty excessive to me, just saying. But I wouldn’t be too concerned that it’s been 2 weeks. I’d probably follow up in another week if you haven’t heard anything.

  48. Some Lady*

    #5 – It’s possible you’re their second choice. They could be waiting for the first choice candidate to accept the offer/negotiate/etc. but waiting to say something to you because, if that person said no, they would also be very happy to extend the offer to you.

    1. Filosofickle*

      I’m in that boat now.

      Yesterday was two weeks since a pair of interviews, so I reached out to a recruiter to check in. They responded candidly that another candidate was farther along in the process and they were discussing an offer. The hiring manager didn’t want to proceed with any other candidates until that shakes out.

      This was my guess, actually, that they weren’t moving me forward yet but they liked me well enough not to cut me loose in case those didn’t pan out.

  49. Analyst Editor*

    To LW1, I think that you did the right thing to apologize, and then probably be less jokey with your co-worker.
    You never know what goes on inside people’s head; you can make up all kinds of speculations, but to what point and purpose? Some people decided in their head that something is Not Okay but won’t say it out loud until it comes spilling out – consider this her way of saying she doesn’t want that kind of relationship anymore, and let be, whether it is about you or not.

  50. bluephone*

    “What on earth? Some recruiters are indeed bizarrely aggressive, but this is nonsensical (and very rude) behavior.”

    Not gonna lie, this has been my experience with almost every LinkedIn recruiter (or recruiter in general) that reaches out to me. If you all have met recruiters who don’t act like this, I’d love to hear more about these mythical unicorns.

    1. 14 calls and counting*

      In my experience outside of this instance, recruiters set up calls or interviews and then disappear off the face of the earth. The aggressive tag-team nonstop calling was a first (and I hope the only time)

    2. Tabby*

      I actually had to block a recruiter who kept trying to contact me for veterinary technician positions, and pet food positions. I am neither a technician nor a person who has an extensive knowledge of various pet diets. Nothing in my LinkedIn profile suggests that. And yet, he would continuously do it, even though I told him, “Hey, I am not the candidate you’re looking for, stop sending me these!”

      So. Very. Irritating.

  51. Observer*

    #1 – Two thoughts.

    Firstly, if this stuck that firmly, then you probably were not as gentle as you though. Keeping your hands to yourself is always a good rule of thumb unless you explicitly know that the other person is OK with it. (And a “playful, joking relationship” does not qualify as affirmatively being ok with it.) That’s especially true at a time like this.

    Add in that you may not realize how strong your touch is, and you REALLY, REALLY need to keep your hands to yourself.

    Secondly, I’m going to echo the people who say that in general you should almost certainly dial back the general behavior. For one thing, this may not be as mutually enjoyable as you think. For another, the “playful insults” are certainly not something that is all that conducive to a well functioning workplace. And that kind of thing often comes with a good dose of toxicity. It’s clear that that’s not what you are going for, but it’s a common and predictable outcome.

  52. Delta Delta*

    #1 – This probably isn’t something to discuss with management. It really looks like OP feels badly about what he did, thinking the co-worker would be in on the joke but it didn’t work out that way. There are any number of reasons why what seemed to him like a good-natured prank didn’t land. We don’t know any of them and it’s not our job to speculate. However, it didn’t work out the way he thought it would and he apologized. It really seems like OP values his work relationship with the co-worker, so perhaps after some time passes, and if it seems appropriate, he could apologize again and just say he thought she would think it was funny but he really miscalculated and he screwed up.

    #3 – It’s not clear to me if the scrubs in question would be something worn at work and then changed out of before leaving, or if they’re the kind people wear out and about in lieu of other clothes (which always kind of worries me if people are dealing with bodily fluids and then wearing the same clothes to the grocery store… ick). It seems like if it’s a work-mandated thing, then it would make more sense for the facility to order them in, have people change there, and then have them laundered appropriately. I also think it’s worth it for OP to raise the issue of cost with management. It’s very possible other people are in the same boat.

    1. H2*

      But I think the point is that there are plenty of people running around at the store in suits who wore those around bodily fluids all day (and aren’t necessarily going to have them cleaned before they wear them to work again). At least scrubs are easily and cheaply washed. There is definitely a suggestion that scrubs could be more hygienic for care providers—whether or not that’s the case (since “germs” don’t generally live a long time on fabric) isn’t well established (as the OP mentioned).

      Long term, scrubs are going to be cheaper —they are cheaper than professional clothes (or at least that possibility exists) and they can be washed at home (no dry cleaning). I think it would be nice for the OP to get a larger stipend and maybe also to have a grace period, but I think this is very reasonable.

  53. MuseumChick*

    OP 1, here’s the thing, physically touching anyone is not ok unless 1) You have their expressed permission 2) You are in some kind of circumstance where it is totally unvoidable/you are saving them from something dangerous.

    This applies with or without covid. You are unlikely to know all of your co-workers histories an why they may or may not be ok being touched, yes even simply putting a sticker on them. You have apologized which is good but I’m wondering if you really understand what you did was wrong and why it was wrong.

  54. BigRedGum*

    OP1 – If my office was actually open (we are working from home) I would be positive you are my coworker. He and another coworker are always, always pranking each other, and it never fails. Eventually one of them gets pissed. But I would suggest never touching anyone. People hate that.

  55. OkapiFeels*

    OP #1, consider this: You were given a sticker that was given to you to remind you to stay six feet apart from other people. You then…got well within six feet of another person in order to stick it to this person.

    OP, with all kindness: this prank speaks badly to your ability to read a situation. You were literally given a friendly reminder that you’re not supposed to touch people right now, and touched someone with it, without their knowledge. You didn’t respect a coworker’s body and space when you had literally just been reminded to, my dude. That is absolutely part of why she is very, very mad at you.

    In terms of what you can do: Do not report your coworker; she was right to be upset and considering the context, you are way, way more likely to get in trouble yourself. Do not do more pranks in the office right now. If you start jonesing for pranks, search for “Orbeez” on YouTube and go down that rabbit hole.

  56. Anonymity*

    Don’t touch people at work is a good policy. Especially now when people don’t even shake hands anymore.

  57. Spicy Tuna*

    LW #2, recruiters can be super shady. I went to one once (this was before LinkedIn existed) because I was grossly underpaid / overworked at my job. I had a long interview with the recruiter to go over the types of jobs I’d be interested in, my skills, background, etc. At the end of our meeting, he told me that despite the fact that I was bilingual (English / Spanish), had an MBA and 7 years of post-college work experience, I was likely OVERPAID for my current role and should be grateful that I had even that.

    Fast forward several months. On my own, I had gotten a new job that was a big upgrade. I got a call from the recruiter about some “exciting” opportunities. I was flabbergasted. According to him, I was useless in the job market? I then realized that when I met with him initially, he didn’t have any jobs in his queue. Instead of just saying that, he chose to make it about me.

    At the end of the day, a recruiter is looking to take care of him or herself, not you.

    1. JM in England*

      Totally agree with your last point. All recruiters care about is getting their commission from placing you in a job. Can tell you from firsthand experience that if you don’t get the job, boy do they take it out on you!!!

  58. Some Cajun Queen*

    I dove down the rabbit hole of that linked Slate article and GOOD LORD, I wish there was an update on the sadists who pranked a woman to the point of sobbing, vomiting, and trying to find elderly care for her mother. I sincerely hope those monsters were eventually fired.

      1. Some Cajun Queen*

        ugh, that’s not satisfying at all. I’m glad OP left such a toxic workplace, and I hope they landed on their feet. I also hope those other jerks got what was coming to them.

    1. Middle Aged Lady*

      This. What is wrong with people? I am tired of being high-risk and basically locked up at home for going on seven months, (not to mention the travails of those who are suffering disease, death, grief or job loss, much worse than my isolation and loneliness) while yahoos do pranks like this at work.

  59. SpinZone*

    On the prank reaction: I read the LW’s description as a quasi-flirtatious work relationship, which can be fun and uplifting (who doesn’t love a harmless work-spouse relationship) but which also requires policing boundaries to stay appropriate.

    If my “jokey, friendly, prank-y” work buddy of the opposite sex suddenly touched my body in front of management, I would suddenly feel very self-conscious and upset. Not because it’s deliberately disrespectful per se, but because it’s familiar and intimate in a way that can easily read as unprofessional. ESPECIALLY if it stems from a prank-y, joke-y buddyship that is more of an emotional buoy than it is a core professional attitude appropriate to the workspace.

  60. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #1, Woah nelly.

    I will say I’m OK with some minor pranks, I have good relationships where pranks/jokes are USUALLY okay with me. So I can see this happening to me and my reaction being similar to your colleague.

    Some of us were bullied in high school. This is high-school bully prank that is a trigger to me. Just like if you want to start joking about how my clothes fit me. Nope. Don’t do it.

    You have to know someone better to ever touch them. I would dare you to report my reaction to the management because then I’m going to dig my heels in and put it on record that you breached my personal bubble and put a hand on me. That’s not going to turn out good for you in the end. You did well with apologizing, now respect her wishes and pull back from being that way.

  61. it's me*

    > We both have had a very playful, joking relationship. We constantly make jokes, playful insults, and talk about a variety of topics, especially when we are in our circle of friends.

    I’m a younger woman and I’ve had so many older male coworkers assume they have some sort of intimate friendship like that. But that’s just because I have to politely laugh at their jokes or I’ll get a reputation for being a stick-in-the-mud, or an “oversensitive millenial”.

  62. Blinded By the Gaslight*

    OP1: Take Allison’s advice to seriously self-reflect on what your actual relationship with your co-worker is. I worked with a man who was generally nice enough, and he was senior to me in an interrelated department. He also stared at my chest ALL. THE. TIME. He might start out looking at my eyes, but every few seconds, they’d drop down to my boobs, and his demeanor would change a little bit – nervous, making dumb jokes, kidding around all of a sudden. I kept conversations focused on work, and I never developed any type of friendship with him beyond work. It was always very awkward for me, and I never encouraged his “banter.” His supervisor and my supervisor, both women, told me, “Oh, that’s just the way he is, he’s harmless.” One day, I was working the front desk, and suddenly someone’s hands were on my shoulders, giving me a “massage,” and when I looked behind me, it was THAT GUY. I jumped out of my chair, and shouted, “NO! No, no, no!” almost involuntarily, like I was shouting commands at a dog. I felt absolutely violated. Then I got in trouble for my “tone” because “he didn’t mean anything, he was just being nice.” That was 20 years ago at a big university, and I still get the creeps thinking about his hands on my shoulders.

    1. Liz*

      I’m so sorry that happened to you. I had a similar experience about a year ago that pushed me past the tipping point. Classic frog-in-a-boiling-pot situation after almost 10 years of intermittent harassment. I reported it and a few months later, the grabber (who was not my superior, but certainly in a higher tier than I) “retired.” If there’s one bright side to COVID, it’s that I don’t have to worry *AS* much about unsolicited backrubs in the workplace these days…

    2. Blue Eagle*

      Good for you for being loud about the fact that your person was violated. It doesn’t matter if he was “just being nice”, you didn’t want him to touch you and he should totally have respected that – – after all if he could just be him then your co-workers should be fine with you just being you.

  63. The Rules are Made Up*

    I feel like people have very strong opinions on pranks and that’s clouding the “advice” here (of which there’s been very little). The LW seems to have misjudged exactly how jokey and friendly their relationship was, apologized and said he won’t ever do it again. So continuing with how terrible it is, isn’t really necessary. He asked what he should do NOW since she’s still upset.

    OP I don’t think you can really do much else. I’d give her a couple of days, leave her alone for a bit then check in with her, apologize again for crossing a boundary with your friendship and ask her if there’s anything you can do to make her feel more comfortable. It seems like there was a group of you that hung out and she may feel weird or embarrassed being around the group after the ill received prank and the worst thing would be for her to be ostracized for this because people don’t know how to handle boundaries. Things won’t be the same for a while and you’ll all probably need to work up to the friendliness you had before (minus all physical contact).

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      No. He needs to leave her alone. The first apology is enough, approaching again in a few days will open old wounds. It’s over, don’t keep bringing it up or you’re going to dig yourself into a hole where she’s going to feel like telling HR she’s being harassed, after making it pretty clear she’s over this friendship.

      Maybe she’s only over it for a few days, maybe it’s over-over. Take her cues, don’t try to force the subject unless you want to get something in your HR file about inappropriate behavior towards colleagues.

      1. The Rules are Made Up*

        He should leave her alone for a while but if she was regularly hanging out with this group of people I’d think it would be better to make it as comfortable as possible if she does want to hang out with them again. Maybe he doesn’t have to apologize again but I see ho harm at all in continuing to extend invites to her to go to lunch with them if she wants or whatever else they did. I know that if I was in that situation after a couple of days I may feel a little better/have cooled off and then started to miss the camaraderie we had. Since it’s not just him it’s their whole coworker friend group impacted. And I’d feel weird navigating going back to the group (or feeling weird in general after blowing up in front of the office). So I’d appreciate a friendly, polite but not pushy indication that “Hey we’d like you to still join us if you want, but we understand if you’d rather not come.”

  64. RB*

    The scrubs thing would bother me too, but not for most of the reasons mentioned. Simply because I have accumulated a massive work wardrobe over the years of things I really like, and some items have even been altered to fit me better, and I would have to see it all go to waste. Some if it can be worn on the weekends, of course, but most is nicer than your basic weekend wear.

  65. a sound engineer*

    #1 – I am Asian-American, and want to say that if that “prank” was done to me I would be extremely angry and upset, not only because of the COVID-19 and general touching boundary issues that have already been covered in this thread, but because of the potentially racist undertones. I would have to then consider whether it was meant harmlessly or was also rooted in the stereotype the that Asians are disease carriers and are somehow inherently infectious (as in, stay 6 feet away from me specifically), and would definitely feel uncomfortable at work after that. It doesn’t seem like this is a layer in LW1’s situation, but it’s another thing to think about.

  66. Lean and Bop*

    #1 Reminds me of a former coworker who thought because he was close friends with one woman at work, he was ‘one of the girls’. He loved to joke around with ‘all the girls’, making ‘ironically sexist’ comments, sneaking up behind women to put his head over their shoulder, touching his cheek to their cheek as a ‘prank’, and greeting his female friends by wrapping them in bone-crushing hugs, pressing himself into them (he may have greeted his male friends this way too, but I never witnessed it).

    Please make sure your jokes are not ‘ironically’ behaving like a total creep would. Even if the person you’re joking around with doesn’t care, this can create a hostile environment for others. I hated being around this guy and knowing he saw me as a stereotype of a ‘girl’ rather than an individual human being. He thought he supported women, but I saw that when he wasn’t ‘hanging with the girls’ he was talking over us in meetings and dismissing our contributions.

    As for advice: I agree with others who have said you need to remain friendly. Don’t touch her. Don’t invade her personal space. But greet her warmly, ask her how her weekend was. Don’t punish her for setting a boundary she has every right to set.

    When I pushed back against my former coworker making weird ostensibly-supportive-but-actually-definitely-sexist comments to me about how much he supported ‘girls in the workplace’ he did not apologise, got in a huff, and made a show of cutting me out of the ‘cool kids group’ at work. Don’t be that guy. You already did the right thing by apologising. If it was just this one time, it’s not a big deal. So now just chill for a bit.

  67. squidarms*

    OP #1, I think about the only thing you can do if you’ve already apologized (properly–you need to apologize for what you actually did, not how she felt about it) is to chalk it up to experience and give her some space. I have to say that as somebody who’s been socially ostracized in the past, I would be somewhat hurt by this prank. Logically I’d know it was just a joke, but the fact remains that there was a time in my life when my peers were told to avoid me in order to cause me pain. Somebody slapping a “stay 6 feet away” sign on my back would unavoidably remind me of that. It also sounds like this person doesn’t like to be touched at work in general, and there is a history of women’s boundaries in particular being disrespected in the workplace, so she might be upset about someone touching her when she hadn’t given consent to be touched. It’s even possible that she was embarrassed by her own reaction and is avoiding others because she thinks she, not you, did something wrong. Whatever the reason, she clearly doesn’t want to talk to you at the moment, and you apologizing again or telling management about the incident may come off like you’re trying to soothe your own guilt. You can (and should) forgive yourself for this, but you can’t demand that she behave as though it never happened.

    I assume that since you are gainfully employed, you are a person and not some other type of entity. All people, without exception, screw up from time to time. Sometimes you can fix the screw-up, but other times all you can do about it is admit to yourself that you screwed up, and think about what you might do differently to prevent such incidents in the future. This looks like one of the latter times.

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