update: my disgusting boss touches and chews on everything on my desk

We have so many updates this year that I’m going to be posting six to seven times a day this week — so keep checking back throughout the entire day.

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose disgusting boss touches and chews on everything on her desk? Here’s the update.

I wish I could say he stopped touching everything on my desk but I can’t – he still does it. He has no regard for anyone’s personal space and firmly believes that if it’s in his office it belongs to him.

What I have done is what some of your readers suggested and greatly minimized what he touches. I have moved all of my pens, markers, stapler, everything somewhere else. I leave nothing on my desk when I go home. The stapler goes home with me and my pen holder is now a Clorox wipes tub that sits with the other cleaning supplies in my office. There is absolutely no danger of him going in that! Lol!

I have learned that my boss is simply one of those people who will run you over if you let him. I don’t let him. I’m never disrespectful but do let him know in very specific terms that some behavior is not okay (like putting my pens and paper he gives in his mouth!) and that I will go home if he doesn’t cut it out. That usually works. I am paid well here and my hours are prime, so I’m not leaving. It’s just a matter of getting through to him that he can’t act any kind of gross way he wants to just because he’s the boss. It will continue to be that proverbial “work in progress.” Thank you and your readers for all the suggestions!

{ 154 comments… read them below }

  1. The German Chick*

    It’s too bad there is no LIKE button on this page because I want to give this update a big fat LIKE.

    1. cleo*

      Me too! It reminds me of the LW with the work fridge and too many tubs of butter. They ended up storing their can of Coke in an empty butter tub.

    2. SpartanFan*

      Another thought, add a pen holder just for pens that he can chew on (bring in some tongs that you use to move them back to his pen jar). If he has access to chewable pens he won’t look for your clorox pens.

      1. Cat Tree*

        I love the idea of decoy pens. Honestly this boss would probably be distracted by brightly colored teething rings for babies. I just can’t get over how weird his behavior is!

      2. OP*

        There are absolutely no pens on my desk anymore. I’m not giving him an opportunity to even sit at my desk. The Clorox tub goes in with the other cleaning supplies that he wouldn’t touch with a 10′ pole. Lol!

      3. BethRA*

        But he would still be chewing on pens at her desk, and leaving the spittle-covered remains on her desk.

    3. Quinalla*

      Same, this is hilarious and thanks so much for including the picture! Sorry he hasn’t gotten better, but glad you are setting hard limits OP and it is working!

  2. Tiny Magnolia*

    LOL at the Lysol Wipes container but I’m so grossed out by your boss! Are you still having to go into the office due to the pandemic? I certainly hope not but if you do, I hope your boss’s face covering has stopped some of this nastiness!

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’m pretty much sure he’s the type to go maskless, pick his nose constantly through the day, wipe snot or other bodily fluids on surfaces, sneeze openly and protest that Covid is ‘just a cold, I had it and I’m fine’.

        ….wow did I ever get pessimistic this year.

        1. Frenchie too*

          I read somewhere that COVID can leave some men with ED. Hmmm…maybe that will be a deterrent for some.

            1. scribblingTiresias*

              …can we please not do the “poor health is an expression of divine judgement” thing?

              I know there’s a lot of covidiots out there, but the sad fact is that most of them are going to be just fine, and the people who are actually going to be hurt/disabled/killed by COVID are people who were already vulnerable.

              1. allathian*

                Yeah, this. If only those who think “it’s just a cold” and refuse to take any precautions got sick, I would cheer the covidiots on and wait for them to take themselves out of the gene pool, but the world doesn’t work that way.

    1. FearNot*

      I still have a hard time believing any sane person would do this, even on a power trip. Like, I just cannot comprehend this scenario and I’m not a particularly clean person. I’m glad the OP has taken some action, because I feel as if I would just be transfixed with aghastness, forever frozen in horror at the actions of my fellow man.

    2. OP*

      I have to still go to the office. Working from home is not an option for me because (and you’ll not be surprised) the boss can barely operate his smart phone, let alone any sort of VPN or case management system. I have implemented COVID protocols here and they are followed.

  3. Knitting Cat Lady*

    You know the stuff people put on their kids fingernails to stop them from nail biting?

    I’d be tempted to soak a pen in it and leave it out as a decoy…

      1. Wicked Stitcher*

        I genuinely don’t know how you’ve resisted spritzing pepper oil onto a pen and leaving it out but I’m impressed, you must have a lot of willpower!

      1. a heather*

        I have seriously considered spraying my kids’ headphone cord with that stuff. He’s broken three sets so far I think?

        1. Zephy*

          They make oral stim toys for people who chew – similar to those teething necklaces for babies. I don’t know how old your kid is but you might want to supervise at first, since it is possible to gnaw a piece off which could be a choking hazard. But, at least it doesn’t have wires in it and is meant to go in the mouth.

          1. FanChili*

            I found those chew things but for pens and pencils! Not for this boss, that’s still extremely gross, but for my young kid who chews all her pencils and I’m worried about the metal part holding the eraser hurting her mouth. There are clear ones that are basically just a sleeve, and there are colorful and shaped ones like the necklaces. Gum helps a LOT during remote learning which I doubt they’ll allow in school, but I did get the clear ones for in-person learning so they aren’t too distracting or seen as a toy by the other kids (even though they do wear masks, kids find ways). I can’t win this fight so I told her hopefully when it feels different in her mouth that it’ll remind her not to chew it. Who knows.

        2. Owler*

          They make stim jewelry for older kids and adults! My friend’s son (in later elementary school years) got a necklace that has chewable “gems” that look like D&D dice. It’s really reduced his cheering on other things. And his clothing.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Oooh, yes. Or the stuff you spray on things to keep dogs from chewing on them. (My dogs considered it a tasty condiment, but I bet your boss wouldn’t…)

      1. Partly Cloudy*

        Bitter Apple. And been there done that with a pen-chewing co-worker, many years ago. It didn’t work. After a week or so, we called him on it and he said he noticed a funny taste but just powered through until it was worn off.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Funny, I was thinking that she could put rubbing alcohol in the Clorox container to keep her pens disinfected, or just rub hand sanitizer all over them…and it would taste awful!

    3. chica*

      I came here to suggest EXACTLY this same thing! Put the stuff on a sacrificial pen (that you don’t use yourself but leave out on your desk), your stapler, and a couple of other supplies, and leave ONLY those things out. I bet it’s an unwelcome surprise and it gets him to rethink your using your supplies!!! At least it could be helpful for the stuff that it’s really not feasible to hide or take home every day.

      1. Crooked Bird*

        I bet he wouldn’t even know it was deliberate, at all! There are so many chemicals in modern life, people touch stuff. Like maybe OP was fixing something and then used that pen and who knows what’s on it. Should be a wake-up call.

      2. I'm just here for the cats*

        Could you maybe warn him, Like hey I’m going to start putting bad tasting spray on everything unless you stop.

    4. Amber Rose*

      Or that stuff they soak Nintendo cartridges in to stop kids from sucking on them that has only encouraged them to do it more? xD

      People… are super weird.

      1. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

        that…i… what.

        i didn’t know cartridge-sucking was a thing (that is definitely a sentence i did not expect to write today)

        1. Watry*

          It’s not so much that as it is the Switch cartridges are a choking hazard because they’re so small. The hope is that the kid will spit it out rather than swallow.

          1. AstridInfinitum*

            I forgot about this feature and held a cartridge in my lips for a short bit as I was changing games and when I licked my lips later, whoo, not tasty. I had a heck of a time figuring out what was going on until I remembered the bitterness thing.

        2. Anononon*

          My mind automatically went to N64 cartridges at first, and I was very confused. I thought the blowing on them escalated somehow to sucking on them? And it was a very weird mental picture of someone trying play an N64 cartridge like a harmonic.

          1. paxfelis*

            And now I’m thinking about N64 cartridges playing the theme song when blown into, so if the labels come off you still know what game it is.

            And now you all know why I’m not a toy creator ;)

        3. Phoenix Wright*

          I don’t think it was a thing until Nintendo tried to prevent it with Switch carts. Suddenly everyone on the internet was talking and making videos about it, full-grown adults putting pieces of plastic in their mouths just because they were told it tasted bad.

          And yep, it turned out to be true. I tasted my friend’s Zelda (I feel dirty typing this) and it was horrible (the flavor, not the game!)

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Or, how I stop my cat chewing my pens, bit of vics vaporub on them. I don’t think any mammal likes getting high level menthol is their gob.

    6. Roller*

      This has me thinking about a time in uni I learnt a pen to a classmate and got it back covered in earwax. I immediately threw it out, but it strikes me you could fight one disgusting habit with another.

    7. Cat Tree*

      Even just hand lotion would work and has the benefits of convenience and plausible deniability. Sometimes I put it on my hands then touch my face to remove a stray hair or something. Even just getting a tiny amount of transfer to my mouth or lips tastes horrible and it lingers for such a long time.

    8. Sylvan*

      Not a bad idea. I actually have this stuff for its intended purpose and it tastes horrible. You don’t want it anywhere near your mouth. Even eating snacks like chips is a little dicey with this stuff on.

      1. Gray Lady*

        That’s the problem with this stuff. It transfers to your hands, and washing doesn’t easily get rid of it. So it makes food prep or finger food problematic.

  4. Diahann Carroll*

    Ugh, OP. This was not the update I was hoping for. Your boss is still disgusting and disrespectful – doubly so if he’s still doing this during COVID times.

    1. Jimming*

      Yeah he’s super disgusting. I would not be comfortable working around him. I’m glad OP found a way to keep her stuff from being chewed on, but he sounds like a walking germ factory.

      1. Momma Bear*

        The COVID angle makes his behavior worse. I’d put a mark on the floor 6 ft from my desk and tell people to stand there – including gross boss.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          You’re nicer than me, I’d be asking my old mates in viral research for an old biocontainment suit and stuffing this boss in it until he learnt to behave.

          Even my youngest nephews get the idea that there is a nasty bug going around so people don’t need your spit/snot over everything. And I swear one of them was born with his finger up his nose.

        2. Thankful for AAM*

          I put tape on the floor to show 6 feet away from my desk. Then I found myself in a mtg to get me help for my extremely fearful COVID anxiety fort. I am temporarily in an office now.

          1. Owler*

            That’s awful. I love it when stores or walk up ordering windows have markers on the ground! So much easily for everyone to agree on spacing when it’s visually planned out.

            I’m glad you have an office now, at least.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              I am hoping to see 3ftx3ft (1m x 1m) checkerboard floor tiles in new buildings & renovations.
              (And windows that open.)

  5. Pikachu*

    Necessity is the mother of all invention.

    Now I kind of want OP to cover her desk in decoys. Paperclips in a fake soup can, post-its in a hollowed out book. The possibilities are endless.

    1. EPLawyer*

      But sadly now OP is having to deal with moving her stuff every night and not having things handy just because they can’t be on her desk. Her boss is a disgusting slob who needs to learn some manners.

    1. TiffIf*

      Actually in Covid-times, I’d be worried about a Clorox container getting taken, with someone thinking it actually had the very scarce and hard to find cleaning wipes!

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yup – in my office that Clorox wipes tub would walk away and maybe come back when the person needing wipes discovered it didn’t have any wipes in it.

  6. CatPerson*

    My boss, fortunately, knows that I’m germophobic, and he no longer grabs pens that are sitting on my desk because he knows that I don’t like anyone touching things that I use! I found your plight so disgusting.

  7. WFHHalloweenCat*

    This is a bad idea and you absolutely shouldn’t do this but have you thought of filling a spray bottle with water and squirting him like a cat when he does this? Bonus points if you recycle a Clorox bottle for this purpose.

      1. Quill*

        Too bad OP didn’t have him clicker trained before the pandemic, because there’s no way to give him treats as positive reinforcement without it encouraging masklessness

  8. Chriama*

    Your boss sucks and isn’t going to change. I’m glad you found a solution you can live with. I hope that one day you get a better job with a better boss.

    1. violet04*

      Yeah. I hate that this guy is getting away with this disgusting behavior, but even his wife enables him so the situation seems pretty hopeless.

  9. CatCat*

    *puke emoji* at boss.

    Great job, OP, on setting boundaries when you can and doing what you need to do to keep your space as free of his saliva as you can (the pens in Clorox cannister… brilliant!)

  10. Amber Rose*

    Good for you for boundary setting like a champ, but… I dunno, are you sure there aren’t other jobs with good hours and pay out there? 0_O

    1. OP*

      Maybe. Believe me, I’ve checked on several. None want to come close to what I make here. If there is a redeeming quality in this guy, he knows he’s a pain and compensates me for it.

  11. SillyLittlePittyPat!*

    I had to put a box’s worth of tampons in my pen drawer to stop him from using and chewing on my pens. Then he would roll doobies on my blotter and leave the shake and one time a hemostat. I asked him if “he lost something”? Gave him back his hemostats. My desk was the front one and we were in a terrible neighborhood and the police were there all the time, I didn’t want to get in trouble for his habits! I feel your pain OP!

    1. Ally McBeal*

      My brain just screeched to a halt. He rolled blunts IN THE OFFICE? I’m a regular weed user, used to live with a roommate who would bring blunts to the office *to smoke them at lunch*, and I still can’t fathom someone using company time to roll joints.

    2. JustaTech*

      A hemostat like a metal thing like they use in surgery (“clamp!”)? Sort-of scissor shaped, with a ratcheting mechanism and teethed pinchers?

      I mean, I know why *I* have one on my desk (I work in a lab, it’s good for picking up things that fall behind my desk), but if you don’t work in a lab, or at an orthodontist, why?

        1. JustaTech*

          And now I have learned a thing. Yes, I live firmly under a rock.

          (And no, I did not search for that on my work computer!)

  12. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Ingenious solutions! Certainly much better than what I’d have done :)

    (I got a simple rule: you put bodily fluids on my stuff, I fart on your desk. With the right foods beforehand I can make your eyes water. I think I’ve spent too long working in heavy engineering with loads of blokes!)

    1. Free Meerkats*

      If you open a drawer on their desk, drop trou, and fart into it, the odor will still be there at least an hour later when they open the drawer.

      For future use.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Good tip! I usually aim for the radiator nearest their desk for maximum offensiveness.

        Actually my ability to coax my system into producing smells from Cthulhu’s unwashed armpits has been a good thing this year. People definitely WANT to wear masks around people who can strip paint off walls at 10 paces.

  13. Jean*

    I always wonder how people like this make it to adulthood without dying from typhoid fever or cholera or something.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Also they tend to get very strong immune systems because they are constantly teaching it about new germs.

    1. Cat Tree*

      Or even just being shamed into behaving. Did his family, friends, teachers, and bosses never mention this to him?

    2. Persephone Mongoose*

      I’m sure all the different items he’s sucked over the years has created quite a robust immune system.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, he probably ate a LOT of dirt as a kid, inadvertently. Or maybe deliberately, I don’t know, lol.

  14. Lisa Babs*

    I don’t know why but subterfuge in the office seems to give me extreme joy. I like this update even more than the “butter tub coke can container update”.

  15. Quill*

    Still think you should get a very chewy pet to replace your boss. How about a teething puppy? A large rodent like a woodchuck?

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Oooh, maybe get him some wooden chews they make for hamsters. Clearly he needs to wear down his teeth by chewing regularly. You can redirect the behavior onto an appropriate surface!

  16. Phony Genius*

    Honestly, I would think that an empty Clorox Wipe container would be one of the worst hiding places, since some people are desperately searching for them with the shortage going on. Personally, I hide things in an unused medical sharps container. Who would ever want to reach into one of those things?

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      Gotta say, if I found someone doing this at my jobsite they’d be up for a warning if not disciplinary action. That’s a terribly unsafe practice.

      You’re training yourself (and anyone else who finds out about your stash) to reach into sharps containers. There’s a reason they have such a tightly specified design – it’s so they’re unmistakable as ANYTHING else, even out of the corner of your eye. The second you start keeping non-sharps in a sharps box, the box loses a lot of its protective effect.

    2. Quill*

      Trying not to yell in my lab training, but Sharps containers Are For Sharps.

      You’d get written up because no. We do not reach into the sharps container.

    3. OP*

      There are only 6 people in my office. No one is going to steal cleaning supplies. And he certainly will never touch it. It’s safe.

  17. I'm that guy*

    It’s a sad state of affairs when this boss didn’t even come close to making the list of worst bosses of 2020.

  18. Ace in the Hole*

    You know, they make harmless but nasty-tasting sprays to keep pets from chewing on things. If it stopped my kitten from chewing the houseplants when he was teething, I bet it’ll stop Mr. McNasty from chewing your pens….

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      Could you please give me the name of the spray you used for your cat? I’ve got a cat who likes to like/chew plastic. Even the plastic bag that I use in the litterbox!!! Maybe this would help?

      1. homework*

        You don’t want to spray anything that will deter a cat from using a litter box. Maybe try going without a bag in the litter box.

  19. justcourt*

    Did anyone suggest bitter apple spray? It’s used to train puppies not to chew on things, but maybe it could be used to train a middle aged jerk not to stick other people’s property in his mouth.

  20. CommanderBanana*

    Oh god. This reminds me of a woman I used to work with who would constantly pick/chew on her nails so they were always raw and bleeding, then TOUCH EVERYTHING and leave smears of blood on papers. I also never saw her wash her hands when our paths crossed in the bathroom. Her office was filthy.

    1. Turtlewings*

      The level of biohazard there is absolutely boggling. Eegads. (Also the level of mental suffering that poor woman must have been enduring to keep her fingers in such a state! No winners here for sure.)

    2. MarMar*

      At least my OCD causes compulsive hand washing along with my bloody cuticles?

      But I also always keep bandaids on me for the inevitable. I want to quit because I’m aware of how gross it all looks, but it’s a self-soothing habit I can’t break yet.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        Ah, this year is a lousy time to try to break a self-soothing habit anyway. Too much extra stress, on top of the usual stuff!

  21. Seashells*

    I admire your restraint because I would have lost it on this man by now. Touching, chewing, licking and all the other stuff he does is gross any time, but I feel like it’s actually dangerous now because apparently the virus outlook is not so good, even with the vaccines being shipped this week. THe COVID positivity rate is 18% in our area and in the meeting this morning, our COO said she is very concerned about our business closing again. We were shut down for 3 months (mid-March to early June) and I honestly don’t know how we would survive another shut down.

  22. sva*

    You should try using some of that stuff they put in the nail polish to stop biting your nails – it’s extremely bitter and when I tried that even food that touched my nails became bitter. Maybe it exists in spray form or something, or just coat some pens in polish?

  23. Owler*

    There is such a thing as chewable jewelry for toddlers, and also for kids and adults. You can Google “chewable jewelry” or “stim jewelry”. I know some 5th and 6th graders who have used it when they were ready to stop chewing on necklines or sleeves. I’ll put a link to one company (no connection to me) in a comment.

  24. TexasTeacher*

    Love the Clorox pen holder. When my son was in middle school and his screen time allotment was up, I would stick his iPad in his homework planner. He… never found it, which says everything about his homework grades those years, also!
    Thankfully he has matured and is becoming, dare I say, a solid and conscientious student in high school!

  25. paxfelis*

    I would be tempted to passive-aggressively leave out articles about pica and micronutrient deficiencies. Not sure I’d actually do it, but I would be VERY tempted.

  26. MCMonkeybean*

    This is so wild. It sounds like you have handled this really well, but the idea of having to carry a stapler back and forth to the office is just bonkers to me.

    That clorox pen can is brilliant. I guess really just for your situation though since now at most offices a can of clorox wipes would be a hot commodity lol

  27. Anonymouse*

    Hot sauce on the pens.

    Vodka on the pens.

    Certain compounds numb the lips when put in the mouth. I will say no more.

    Put out actual dog chew toys.

  28. Hobbit*

    That is so gross! If I was the OP I’d spray everything down with AppleBitters, while I look for a new job. Yuck!!

  29. YetAgainEvenAnotherAlison*

    Put some sort of substance on the pens that causes intestinal “issues” – make sure that OP does not use them. Keep OP’s pens locked in a desk drawer. Make sure boss knows that sharing with others could cause intestinal “issues” and then give him some. He deserves it. No one is this dense. He knows exactly what he is doing and it is some sort of crazy power trip.

    1. allathian*

      Not a good idea, this would count as assault in many jurisdictions. Would almost certainly get the OP fired.

  30. Matt*

    Had you thought about treating a couple of ‘training pens’ with either the stuff you use to stop puppies chewing or the nail treatment stuff to stop kids biting their nails? Wouldn’t take many experiences for your boss to learn not to chew your pens!

  31. X-Man*

    I love (yet also simultaneously hate) that you figured out the safest way to hide things from him was by disguising them as cleaning supplies. Good on you for standing up for yourself!

  32. Erin*

    LOL I was wondering about this one!! And the visual aides are top notch here!!

    This is hilarious! Thank you for the update!!

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