my coworker refuses to wear a mask

A reader writes:

My company implemented a mask policy (everyone must wear a mask whenever they are outside of their own office/cubicle) back in May, and a state mask mandate went into effect in July. Both of those things are still active, and my coworker Bob is still the lone hold-out on the mask rule.

In addition to not wearing a mask, Bob also doesn’t socially distance and often stands a feet or two away from me, often so close to me that I can smell and feel his breath. (Even before Covid, this was gross and annoying.) He spends prolonged amounts of time inside my cubicle talking to me, about 15-30 minutes twice a day, and often leans even closer than normal to show me pictures on his phone of the grandkids.

I have asked him to wear a mask around me. I have told HR (who works remotely) that Bob doesn’t ever wear one, and they sent out a couple of company-wide reminder emails. I have told my boss (who also works remotely right now) that I feel unsafe with Bob’s lack of compliance, so his manager had a chat with him.

Bob now wears masks only when he sees his boss’s car in the parking lot (his boss doesn’t visit often, though), but he has still never followed the mask rules outside of that. Nothing has swayed him and I have zero sympathy for his excuses. (Just for the record, he does not claim to have a health condition or anything that prohibits mask wearing – he makes it clear he just doesn’t want to so he won’t.) If he is ever unknowingly contagious at the office, it’s very likely that I and several other colleagues will get sick, too, or at the very least, we will have to quarantine at home since we’ve been in close contact. At least one other coworker that I know of has complained to HR about the lack of masks and nothing has changed. I hate that every day when I go in to work I’m potentially exposing myself to the virus.

I am not usually a direct person, and I admit I have never set a firm boundary with “You cannot enter my cubicle without a mask” and then leaving my cubicle if he doesn’t, or that kind of thing. I’ve only asked him to mask up near me and he has ignored me, so I’ve let it go with shocked silence. I’m going to try setting that boundary starting tomorrow when I’m in the office, but if that doesn’t work (he has a history of ignoring my boundaries so I’m not very hopeful), I’m out of ideas.

HR has tried. My boss has tried. If me being extra direct doesn’t work, am I wrong for considering telling my boss and HR that I’m not coming into the office again until he masks up? I can’t do my full job from home — in fact, I’m supposed to be the token in-office person on my team so others can work from home — so it’d be quite the strong statement. Or am I overlooking some other option? I’m beyond tired of risking my health and my household’s health because of my stubborn coworker.

Well, HR hasn’t really tried, and I’m not sure your boss has either. HR has the standing to do more than send out a couple of office-wide emails! They, along with Bob’s manager, should have the standing to tell Bob in the sternest of terms that he cannot be at work without a mask, period, and that if he continues to violate the rule, he won’t be at work at all because he’ll no longer be employed there. They have the power to send him home, suspend him, formally discipline him, and/or fire him. If all they’ve done are those office-wide emails, they really suck.

But … how much do they know? Have you gone back and told them that nothing has changed, and that Bob still never wears a mask? Have you told them you’ve repeatedly asked him to and he’s refused? Have you told them he’s in your cube leaning over you multiple times a day, unmasked and refusing to keep a distance? Have you told them you feel unsafe because of Bob and are doubting whether you can continue coming in if nothing is done?

From your letter, I can’t tell if you followed up with the various people you talked to after their initial actions didn’t work so they know the problem is continuing … or if you haven’t. If you haven’t gone back to them, they might think the problem has been solved. (They should have checked back with you. But if they didn’t, you need to speak up.)

You also, as you noted, need to be a lot more assertive with Bob yourself. I get that if you’re not normally assertive, it can be hard to do. But this isn’t setting boundaries with a coworker who’s interrupting you too often or singing loudly while you’re on calls. This is about your health and safety. It’s possibly about your death. I am quite sure you care about protecting your safety more than you care about not offending Bob, so I’m guessing you — like a lot of people — haven’t fully connected the dots for yourself about what actions that means you need to take. Right now you’re acting as if you’re willing to get a potentially fatal illness — or one that could leave you with permanently damaged lungs or a weakened heart or otherwise worsen your health and quality of life for years to come — rather than tell Bob to keep his distance. And I don’t think you really want to make that trade-off, but you’re letting yourself act as if you’re okay with it. You can’t be okay with it.

So, effective immediately, these are your lines for Bob:

* “You cannot come in my cubicle without a mask. You need to put on a mask or go back to your desk and email me.”

* “You need to be at least six feet away from me, and you need to wear a mask as well. If you can’t do that, go back to your desk and email me.”

* “Because of Covid, I’m not having anyone in my cubicle so I can’t socialize in person right now.”

* State law and company policy require you to wear a mask. I can’t talk with you while you’re not wearing one.”

And please, please, if you haven’t already, go back to HR and your own manager and explain their earlier actions didn’t work and Bob is putting you all at risk.

Beyond all that, though, you mentioned the possibility of saying you won’t come into the office again until this is dealt with. If that’s an option for you, please take it today. Even if Bob stays out of your cubicle or grudgingly masks up when he’s near you, he’s still putting you all at risk. If you have the option to opt out of this entirely, it’s warranted and you should.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 500 comments… read them below }

  1. Dave*

    Does Bob have to be in the office to do his job? That might be an option to provide to HR and your boss if your job has to be at least partially in person.
    Health and safety are some of the most important times to be assertive. If anyone gives you a hard time about why now you can reference the new strains that are even more contagious. Good luck!

    1. KHB*

      Bob doesn’t need to be coddled with “options.” He needs to follow the same rules that apply to everyone else, or else he needs to be fired.

      1. Liz*

        This! My company, while not anywhere near being back in the office, has some people that come in sometimes as they can’t do all of their jobs from home. Others, like myself, can do our jobs 100% remotely, and do, although sometimes we need to go in on occasion.

        But for ANYONE who goes into the office, there are strict rules, no “socializing” in cubes, mask wearing, temp. taking AND self reporting (although I don’t know how effective that really is), etc. while there is no one in the office to police any of this, i do know if someone has been seen violating the rules, htere is no hesitency in reporting to HR, and HR taking action.

        Bob needs to get with the program, no matter how he feels.

        1. Friendly Comp Manager*


          What is interesting to me is, I heard that there are some employees who have literally left our company to go work somewhere else, because they didn’t like the mask crackdown, since our leadership takes it very seriously for those who must be on-site (we have some factories still operational, and have strict precautions and safety measures in place). I don’t like wearing masks either, I don’t think most people LIKE or ENJOY wearing masks, but we should all follow the mask rules to operate in society right now, and respect others. It’s just how it is.

        1. KHB*

          If that’s the route HR wants to go, I’m sure they’re smart enough to think of it on their own. It’s not OP’s responsibility to offer up polite compromises for accommodating someone who’s putting her health and life in danger.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            If a generic, easily-ignored blast email passes for a solution from HR, I’m not so sure they’re smart enough to think of it on their own.

            1. KHB*

              That just means that they’re cowards, not that they’re stupid. OP doesn’t need to offer them more cowardly ways of avoiding any real conflict here. OP is free to just say “Look, Bob is making this workplace unsafe for lots of us – you need to find a way to fix that.”

                1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  If HR is going to act stupid to try to cover up cowardice, HR runs the risk of that stupidity being taken at face value.

              1. Dave*

                In my experience offering an either or solution – Bob works from home or I do – can force action when my manager or HR department hasn’t acted. Yes they should but Bob should also be wearing a mask.
                You can’t go nuclear – ie I am not coming into the office and therefore not doing part of my job – every time HR or your boss doesn’t do what they are supposed to do. Given the LW says they may not have followed up enough this is my suggested approach to maintain a positive relationship with their boss and HR.

                1. Tuesday*

                  Exactly. It’s fine to say Bob “needs” to follow the rules or “needs” to be fired, but LW doesn’t have the power to make that happen. I think your advice is useful in terms of helping the LW find realistic options for getting what she needs.

                2. Tuesday*

                  Exactly. It’s fine to say Bob “needs” to follow the rules or “needs” to be fired, but the LW doesn’t have the power to make that happen. I think your advice is useful in terms of helping the LW find realistic options for getting what she needs.

                3. Sparkles McFadden*

                  Yep. When trying to resolve an issue at work, you need to be honest with yourself about what you are trying to achieve. Often, people are looking for some kind of sanction and they draw a line in the sand. Then, that employee is considered to be the problem.

                  In this case, the goal is to avoid being showered with Bob’s spittle. Offering HR solutions is the best way to achieve that goal.

                4. The Other Dawn*

                  Agreed. The goal is to either get HR/management to enforce the mask-wearing, or get Bob away from OP. If they can’t or won’t enforce the rules, then one of them needs to work from home. Preferable Bob, since OP mentions not being able to do her job from home.

            2. Observer*

              If a generic, easily-ignored blast email passes for a solution from HR, I’m not so sure they’re smart enough to think of it on their own.

              Oh, the issue is not if they are “smart enough.” If they are so incompetent that they actually THINK it’s a solution, nothing the OP is going to say is going to help, including “offering alternatives”. And if they have the minimal competence to know better, then they could easily come up with alternatives if they wanted and they exist. So either it’s not a practical option or the simply don’t care enough or place their comfort above doing their job.

        2. BrendanMorgan*

          HR has been telling him he has to wear a mask too. What’s going to force him to not come into the office? HR needs to make it clear that he will be fired if he doesn’t shape up and follow through on it.

      2. Quill*

        I mean, it might be easier to sell the company on “get bob out of my office space” than “get bob out.”

      3. Tired of Covid-and People*

        KHB ITA. I hate toothless, meaningless rules that are not enforced or that are selectively enforced. Having the rule and not requiring compliance is performative corporate nonsense.

        1. Self Employed*

          We are having the same problem in my apartment complex. Lots of people have parties and hang out in the enclosed hallways, lobby, etc. unmasked. They say “I’m not required to wear a mask at home!” even though management has sent at least a dozen “Masks required outside your apartment” memos. Now management has sent a “Someone living here has COVID” memo and I’m afraid it’s one of the party animals.

          Management won’t send individual reprimands even if the person is in the lobby within view of the office staff.

      4. JSPA*

        If management were reasonable and responsive and prized the health of their workers above Bob getting what he wants, Bob would already have been dealt with. Besides, OP straight out states they’re not comfortable pushing for the bare minimum compliance.

        Suggesting “win-win” options, under that circumstance, is actually incredibly useful.

        Don’t get me wrong; it’s lovely, for anyone that you manage, that you’d take this seriously, to that degree.

        OP is posting here for guidance on navigating the workplace that they actually have, within the bounds of their abilities and temperament.

        Not (or, in this case, not primarily) for moral support in knowing that their workplace isn’t ideal, or figuring out what someone heroically implacable would demand, in their place.

        As far as OP is concerned, “the rest of us staying alive and healthy” is the one essential goal. Making sure that fairness and the Karmic balance is observed? A distant also-ran.

    2. OP*

      Yes, unfortunately Bob does need to be in the office every day to his job. I only need to be in a few days a week so at least there is a small reprieve for me!

    3. Cassidy*

      Oh, good grief, I do NOT understand the politeness in some of these comments.

      He potentially *is putting the OP’s life on the line every. single. day.* within the context of indifference by the OP’s boss and HR. How the F does that warrant a “Offering HR solutions is the best way to achieve [the goal of getting him to wear a mask”? He isn’t listening already. What-he’s gonna suddenly have a change of heart tomorrow?


      Seriously, embarrass the hell out of him. Cause a scene. If you get written up for it, write on the form in the signature space that you are signing under protest, and that you begged him, your boss, and HR to make him follow the rules and he wouldn’t, forcing you to take matters into your own hands.

      There is no luxury of politeness and working things out here. NONE.

  2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Given the situation described, I’d be sorely tempted to go Scorched Earth and flood my cubicle with loud noise every time Bob is within earshot.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I seriously consider that some folks should just blast some awful noise until someone masks up. Not that that would work either, probably.

      1. Middle Aged Lady*

        I hate people sometimes. What a horrid coworker. It is hard to stand up for yourself but these days it is life and death. I wish you courage.

      2. yala*

        I keep going to the same solution I proposed (ok, well, just to coworkers on coffee breaks) when the smoking ban didn’t stop students and staff from smoking on campus–squirt guns.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Once spent a fine happy hour discussing ways to use smoke detectors to activate lawn sprinklers.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        I had someone try that with me once in the middle of an allergy attack. Given that Lysol is *flammable*, he (and our mutual boss) was informed that if he ever did that again, the police would be involved, and criminal charges would be filed.

        Even as a joke, it’s very strongly *not* *funny*.

        1. Tired of Covid-and People*

          Different situation. Your asthma attack was not dangerous to anyone else (hope you recovered well, btw).

          1. Magenta Sky*

            It wasn’t asthma, it was allergies, and my objection wasn’t that, it was (as mentioned) that he was spraying my clothing with a *flammable* *liquid*. Being lit on fire is, in fact, a serious hazard to *everyone*.

        2. New Jack Karyn*

          Great Googly-Moogly! What the heck were they trying to accomplish spraying you with Lysol?!

          (edited three times to get rid of the swears)

          1. Magenta Sky*

            He objected that I used a handkerchief to keep my nose from running into my mustache, and apparently lacked the intellectual capacity to understand the difference between allergies and a cold.

            Plus, he was an a$$hole. (He was later investigated by the workman’s comp people for fraud, and while I personally couldn’t help them, I sincerely wished them the best of luck, as did pretty much everyone else who worked with him.)

          1. Jeff*

            “You personification of a cancerous anal discharge…”

            I just read that one in a book and thought it a perfect opportunity to share..

            Apologies for not really contributing to the subject at hand

        3. KoiFeeder*

          Wait. One of the active (toxic) ingredients in lysol increases mucus production. Besides the fact that you can go blind if you get it in your eyes and don’t wash it out immediately, and the fact that it’s highly flammable, and all the other dangers of spraying lysol in someone’s face, that’s kind of doing the opposite of what he was intending to do.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            It wasn’t in the face, it was at the handkerchief, which was in my pocket at the time.

            The issue was spraying an extremely flammable liquid on someone’s clothes. The stuff’s as flammable as gasoline.

            And what was intending to do was be an a$$hole, pure and simple. When he got called out on that, hard, shortly thereafter me mysteriously managed to injure himself at work, and collected worker’s comp until the investigators caught up with him.

      2. nonegiven*

        I was thinking a spray bottle full of water. Try to nail him before he gets within 10 feet. IDK if the spray bottles will reach that far.

    2. Magenta Sky*

      I’d be more inclined to take his picture every day, not wearing his mask, and sending it to HR and his boss. And after a couple of days, cc-ing the local health department (and making sure HR and the boss know it).

      The *company* isn’t the only place that enforcement can come from.

      1. pancakes*

        I don’t know why so many readers here suggest photographing or recording things like this. There is no reason to believe the letter writer won’t be believed if they follow up with their boss and/or with HR about Bob still not wearing a mask, and there are, simultaneously, lots of indications that they have not been direct with Bob himself about the matter, and likely have not been direct with HR and/or the boss about Bob’s lack of adherence to the mask rule. This is a rather simple problem with several potential simple solutions, not an episode of Law & Order or whatnot.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          Including the photographs is a subtle – or not so subtle, if one chooses – message to the HR people that it is being documented in such as was as to be presented to either regulatory authorities, or a jury, in a way *far* more credible than his inevitable denials.

          Smart HR people get a hint when they realize that an employee with a legitimate grievance – especially a *legal* grievance – is documenting what’s going on, even if they’re otherwise too lazy to do their jobs.

          1. pancakes*

            I am a lawyer, fwiw, and in my experience, smart people—whether in HR or not—know better than to imagine every workplace conflict is going to wind up in front of a jury. The letter writer is not alone in the office with Bob, so the idea that it would be his word against theirs seems out of place as well.

            1. Magenta Sky*

              Taking pictures isn’t really about any kind of legal case. In fact, it’s intended to reduce the likelihood of there ever being one. It’s intended more as a message to HR that it’s a serious matter that *could* go that direction if they continue to not do their jobs. In short, office politics.

              And if it *did* end up in court, however unlikely that would be, the more documentation, the better.

              1. TexasRose*

                I’m the person who suggested downthread that each coworker give Bob the choice of masking up or being reported to the boss for not complying with safety regs when the boss is absent. This isn’t about a jury trial; I suggest the choice of “mask-up or be outed as a behind-the-boss’s-back scofflaw” as the quickest way to get germ-spreading Bob out of a cubical without further argument/germ spreading. The fact that the photo acts as further documentation without my having to write a long email is simply efficient.

        2. OP*

          I posted a longer update in the comments, so feel free to read more there. :) I have become very direct with Bob and it worked! I mean, it worked in that he hates me now (but that’s fine, social distancing at last!), and he does wear a mask around me (and only me). I should have been more direct with HR earlier, but in all fairness I was really hoping I had a more reasonable coworker than I indeed have, and was hoping we could have solved it between the two of us – I shouldn’t have been so generous. I’d also asked him more gently and been ignored probably a dozen or so times – “hey can you wear a mask around me?” Bob: EYEROLL Me: shocked, what. Bob: changes subject.
          I really hate that I had to fight tooth and nail for this, but that is where we are!

            1. OP*

              Yes, good question, laser99! Haha. That was another issue I had with him. Bob really truly ignores everyone’s boundaries, so this is another issue. He keeps saying he’s been lonely during the pandemic therefore he can talk to whenever he wants, and refuses to listen when I tell him I’m too busy to talk, have a meeting, please leave, etc… Whenever I yelled at him to leave that would make him sulk for a few days. But hey, all that is solved now, too! Two birds with one stone :)

          1. Momma Bear*

            If he wears a mask around you, he can wear one all the time. I think the next step is to remind him that he needs to mask up in all shared spaces. I bet he doesn’t wash his hands, either.

            But that said, good for you. You know he can change and someone had to call him out on it.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I would be so tempted to get a spray bottle from Home Depot and fill it with water, and set it to “stream.” Give him a warning, and then every time he comes to my cubicle, I’d shoot him with it. It’s just water–he’ll dry.

      1. tiasp*

        Especially if you can adjust it so that the stream reaches 6 feet. He doesn’t get wet if he maintains social distance.

  3. Anononon*

    I’m glad OP wrote in to AAM because she really needs to hear this advice and take it to heart. OP, PLEASE stick up for yourself!! This reminds me of the letter from a week or so ago where the writer asked if she had been unprofessional in her response to unwanted touching from her coworker. Either in that case or here, there is absolutely nothing wrong or improper in protecting yourself.

    1. Bagpuss*

      OP – I think that in addition to the scripts Alison has given you, you should also
      (i) Get up and leave your cubicle every time he comes in, to maintain 6 feet + between the two of you
      (ii)E-mail HR and Bob’s line manager each ad every time Bob comes to your cubicle without a mask, letting them know that he has done so, that you asked him to put a mask on and that you were forced to leave your own cubicle in order to stay distant, and that you are concerned for your own safety and that of others in the office.
      If you can, and feel comfortable doing so, tell the others who are suffering what you are doing and encourage them to do the same.

      Also, when you speak up and tell him to back off and mask up, do so loudly. This is one of those situations where it’s not only fine, but a good thing, if others in the office can see/hear that you are being assertive. I don’t mean shout, but do speak at a normal volume and don’t worry about whether you may be heard or may distract others.

      Would it be possible for you to ask to work from home until the problem is resolved?

      1. Poopsie*

        OP, I don’t know if it would help add weight to it either but it might also help to say you’re uncomfortable using communal equipment as well knowing Bob isn’t maintaining hygiene and is breathing all over everything.

        1. OP*

          +1 yes, I am definitely going to use this when I craft an email to HR! And somehow I hadn’t thought of this, but it’s very true. Thank you!!

      2. Naomi McIsaac*

        Yes! A couple of modified suggestions:

        (i) I am a teacher working in person with students. I got tired of verbally reminding them about the 6-foot rule so I cut some long ribbon in 6-foot segments and now just hand them one end and walk back until it is taut when they get too close.
        (ii) At the very least keep a detailed document of every time this happens and email it on Fridays.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          I’d email every single time it happens, even if that’s several times a day. Drive home exactly how frequently this is happening and make it easier for them to *actually* discipline Bob than ignore you.

      3. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. OP needs to make it clear to Bob that this is not negotiable in OP’s space and also document for Boss and HR every time Bob is a maskless space invader. Maybe even go back to one of those reminder emails and say, “Even though you clearly stated on November 3rd that masks were mandatory, Bob continues to not wear his mask in the office. He was maskless at my cube on x and y and maskless in the hall on a and b. Given the situation, I am formally requesting to work from home for the duration of this pandemic.”

        I have a coworker who put a line of tape on the floor and wrote “social distance line” in sharpie. Most of us have not gone that far but it’s a good visual reminder.

        I also agree that mask or no mask, OP needs to not be afraid to speak up. “Bob, you are too close. Please stand back 6 ft.” We so often apologize when we are assertive and it takes practice to stop feeling guilty for wanting respect.

        1. OP*

          That’s a great script for an HR email, Momma Bear, and I’ll be sure to use that! Man, I wish I could walk around with a permanent social distance line around me. ;)
          I definitely said things like “you are too close, please back up three steps” many, many times – the problem was that I stupidly expected him to respect my words, and when he didn’t (usually with eyerolls, talking over me, changing the subject instantly, etc.), I honestly wasn’t sure how to respond. I should have been prepared for that, I suppose, but I wasn’t.

          1. tangerineRose*

            The problem is that he’s not abiding by conventional norms. When people do that, it’s hard to know how to deal with it. I’ve heard that rehearsing something to say then should help.

      4. Mr. Shark*

        I agree with all of this as well. It’s vital that you stick up for yourself and also clearly identify to everyone that what Bob is doing is wrong. That has been confirmed by HR and your manager, but even if it wasn’t, in this instance, you have every right to call him out on his behavior and do what is necessary to make sure you’re safe and healthy.

  4. Whatever*

    For what it’s worth, OP, my mom is a nurse practitioner and caught Covid from a patient who came in and was in an exam room without a mask on. She had her mask on the whole time, but they’re not 100% effective so she landed in the hospital for a week and still has a cough three months later. Bob is a danger to the whole place and you can’t protect yourself from him, only he can.

      1. Myrin*

        Slightly off-topic but can I just say, Keymaster, that I’ve been following basically all of your comments during the last few weeks with great interest? I mean, I liked them before you went full former virologist but lately, I’ve been really enjoying the way you explain stuff so patiently and clearly (even if I already knew the facts before – there’s just something about someone knowledgeable being succinct and helpful).

    1. Temperance*

      Masks are more helpful for protecting other people from you than actually protecting you, unfortunately.

      1. ThatGirl*

        That’s what people were told early on, but it’s not really true – they offer protection for both the wearer and other people. Think about it — if they block (some of) the outgoing droplets/aerosols, why wouldn’t they block what can be breathed in too?

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          They do, but not as much due to the way the filter works. Basically there’s two types of face mask, the ones that protect you against particulate matter coming IN (used in construction) and the ones that prevent particulate matter going OUT (used in medicine etc).

          Both provide a certain degree of barrier against matter going the other way but it’s not as effective.

          (Note: don’t wear both to try and get 100% protection. I’ve actually seen people do this and that DOES restrict airflow)

          1. Myrin*

            (This is a duplicate which I first posted in the deleted thread above, sorry if you’ve already seen it there!)

            Slightly off-topic but can I just say, Keymaster, that I’ve been following basically all of your comments during the last few weeks with great interest? I mean, I liked them before you went full former virologist but lately, I’ve been really enjoying the way you explain stuff so patiently and clearly (even if I already knew the facts before – there’s just something about someone knowledgeable being succinct and helpful).

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Heck of a compliment! Thank you :)

              Gets really interesting when people ask why were we all so kitted up to work in the labs yet nobody is being asked to wear that gear outside. Simply: your body can’t generate the sheer concentration of virus we were used to working with. And it was harsh being in that gear all day but we did it!

          2. ThatGirl*

            Sure, but I’m thinking more of 3-layer cloth masks? Like, there’s not a filter, per se, it’s just a physical barrier. And I realize it’s not a perfect protection against anything, but either way it offers some measure of protection for both others and yourself.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              That gets a little more complex to answer because it then depends on a lot of factors, the cloth used, the order of layers, the fit etc. Basically note if there’s more resistance to you sucking air in than breathing it out. In every fabric or cloth mask I’ve tried in the last year there’s a noticeable resistance to breathing out than breathing in.

              (With construction masks it’s usually the other way around. Unless caked with wood dust etc. It’s a slight difference)

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                Additionally: yes cloth masks protect you to a certain degree. They protect others from you far more.

              2. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

                My understanding is that, when you breath in, more air is coming in passively through the sides/top/bottom of the mask, which is why fitted N95s are so much more effective than you’re regular cloth/surgical mask that has gaps.
                But when you’re breathing out, most of the air is getting expelled forward and hitting the mask and getting caught in the material; only a little makes it through the mask, or slips through the gaps.
                Is that vaguely accurate?

                1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                  It’s rather more complex than I feel able to summarise here but here’s a shot at an answer:

                  Sort of. Seriously, there’s a lot of mathematics involved (physics of air flow is a right git) and when you breathe in it invariably sucks the mask toward the mouth/nose which does close the gaps up…kinda. The virus itself is tiny but we’re aiming to stop moisture droplets (which the virus rides on) rather more than the virus itself and they’re a lot larger and affected by how moist the layers of the mask are (also why the ‘mask weave is too big to stop a virus’ arguments are such BS).

                  Additionally if you breathe through your nose the air goes down, and while some of that will go down through the bottom of the mask it just goes onto your chest and toward the feet so it’s only risky to people standing right close to you (this is not to say it’s okay to go maskless if you only breathe through your nose. Like I said, the maths behind air currents is more complex).

                  Apologies, probably a rambling response! It’s late in the evening. I’ll try to put together something a little less ‘what Keymaster learnt in the viral labs’ and with actual citations for the Saturday open post if people want?

                2. Roci*

                  Keymaster, I think it would be very helpful if you could share what you know about airflow/masks and so on on Saturday!
                  I know many many people who are taking the pandemic seriously and well-intentioned and intelligent, but can’t quite grasp how air flows in a room. “Well we both have masks on so we can sit close to each other indoors.” It would be great to get some clarity on this kind of misconception.

      2. Quill*

        Best practice is for ALL possible forms of risk mitigation to be followed: IE both people wearing masks WHILE still distanced and, if at all possible, (not that it currently is for most of the northern hemisphere) outdoors.

        Much like you both follow the speed limit AND wear a seatbelt AND do not text while driving.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Much like you both follow the speed limit AND wear a seatbelt AND do not text while driving.

          I like the driving analogies. Who wants to die in the accidents they could have survived just because there’s a hypothetical accident that there’s no way to mitigate enough to survive?

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          All parities wear masks + wash hands/don’t touch faces + stay at least 6 feet apart + avoid congregating in groups + reduce going out to public places…. (basically the current UK rules) = much more protection.

          1. Artemesia*

            This — we need to do all of it. If both parties wear masks there is a fairly low risk of transmission. But if only one wears a mask then it protects the one without much more than the one with. Once the virus is aerosolized it comes through a mask or around a mask but when it is in moisture laden breath being breathed out, the mask does a better job of stopping it.

            This guy breathing in her cubicle is a disaster. I can’t believe she hasn’t banned him from getting anywhere near here or that she ever allows him to show pictures to her or chat with her maskless. She might not be able to prevent him coming in but she can make a real fuss about not entering her space.

            What a dick.

            1. Lizzo*

              I bet Bob is one of those guys who enjoys making women uncomfortable, and then uses the “I was only joking” excuse if he needs to save face.

              You’re right: what a dick.

                1. Lizzo*

                  UGH. OP I am so sorry that my assessment was accurate!

                  I will say this: I have dealt with many a Bob in my life. COVID aside, learning how to deal with them effectively has been incredibly beneficial for my professional confidence and my overall peace of mind. The “don’t make waves” conditioning we’ve experienced as women is very strong, but it can be undone. Don’t give up–be your own best advocate!!!

        3. Temperance*

          I’m going to use that driving analogy next time I hear someone say that they were visiting but it’s totally fine because they wore a mask around anti-maskers. Thank you!

        4. meyer lemon*

          Our local (much beloved) health officer refers to this as “layers of protection” which I think is a nice way of looking at it.

        5. TootsNYC*

          Much like you both follow the speed limit AND wear a seatbelt AND do not text while driving.

          AND, importantly, if the OTHER DRIVERS so the same. You know, so they don’t hit you.

      3. Observer*

        Masks are more helpful for protecting other people from you than actually protecting you, unfortunately.

        That’s really not true.

        But masks CANNOT be 100% effective. Nothing can be unless you are in a bubble. Which doesn’t work if you’re working with patients…

        1. tangerineRose*


          In the section “Does CDC recommend the use of masks to prevent COVID-19?”, it says “Wear masks in public settings when around people not living in your household and particularly where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations. Masks may slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. They also provide some protection to the wearer.”

    2. Tired of Covid-and People*

      Sorry about your mom. I had the reverse situation happen, a NP came into the exam room non-masked, and I am always fully masked up. I wouldn’t proceed until she put on a mask, and did not return to that practice. Your mom should have declined to continue the appointment until the patient put on a mask, especially since that was probably a facility rule.

      OP can protect herself from Bob by staying away from him.

      1. Artemesia*

        Wow. My med professionals wear both masks and shields when they see patients. It is so gross that an NP would meet a patient unmasked.

    3. OP*

      Ugh, I’m so sorry that that happened! I hope she continues to recover.
      And yes – a good reminder that this is serious stuff.

  5. Pretzelgirl*

    In the mean time I might invest in one of those rope dividers (like you see at theatres, the velvet rope things). To put in front of your cubicle entrance. And a large sign that says MASKS REQUIRED TO ENTER CUBE.

    1. Another Accountant*

      I have a coworker who uses a party streamer to drape across their cubicle door. Very effective, low-cost, and decorative!

    2. Rocket Woman*

      Our company provided giant stickers or signs that you can tape to your door/ the floor/ etc at the 6ft mark. The LW could make their own here and enforce it with everyone, including Bob.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Yes – you can buy online for under £5, if you want something that looks official – I assume similar ones would be available in the US

    3. Voluptuousfire*

      This guy would still try to climb over the rope, most likely. A friend’s husband runs a medical supply store and serves people out of their back entrance and has two wood saw horses blocking the entrance, signs saying no one is permitted past the barriers and masks must be worn. People still try to climb over to come inside even though he says he’ll get them whatever they need.

    4. Natalie*

      Yes, do you have a trashcan, and perhaps a spare chair in your cube that could block the doorway?

      That would slow Bob down when trying to enter, and give you a moment to use Alison’s scripts.

      Personally, I find it’s a little bit easier to prevent someone from entering, then to try to get them to go back out.

      Good luck! :)

    1. BrendanMorgan*

      I’d bring in a long stick and push him back with it. Get a stick or a rod 6ft long and poke him with it when he gets too close.

      1. Clorinda*

        I actually carry a walking stick in the classroom now; it’s my social distancing stick. Stick plus arm length = six feet.
        If OP is in a normal sized cubicle, nobody can enter. Cubicles are small.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          2020 was the first year since my accident that I actually found an upside to being disabled: walking sticks are perfect for enforcing distance.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              Ha! We were joking about a Gandalf staff — same concept, with optional quote to use: “You. Shall. Not. Pass.”

              1. Tiny Soprano*

                A D&D friend of mine joked that it should be phrased as ‘not coming inside melee range’. A sword does make that easier to enforce…

          1. BubbleTea*

            I have a dog who is very wary about strangers and barks if people come too close to me. Social distancing enforcement officer!

            1. Them Boots*

              Our horses have been great at helping us to learn appropriate social distancing (between horses when riding or hand walking them). Bonus is how the mares (females) demonstrate the appropriate way to be VERY CLEAR when advising another about one’s spatial boundaries and a rather *spectacular* response if the perpetrator does not immediately respect her boundaries. ;-) It all gets sorted out rather quickly. OP, I send you a little mare juju and wish you luck & good health!

  6. Cake Wad*

    Shocked silence does not prevent transmission of COVID. This situation requires your directness (not just that of your boss and HR, who also seem to lack it).

    I do not believe I am being hyperbolic when I say that lives are at stake here. Do not delay.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        You also can’t really be shocked about it more than once. Silence is acquiescence- you’re giving him exactly what he wants! You’re letting him come over and stay as long as he wants. This is to the very, very extreme of unassertive considering the stakes. You need to resolve to stand up to him today.

      2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        “Shocked silence is pretty much never a solution, particularly when it comes to the obtuse.”

        It’s also not a solution when it comes to someone who simply doesn’t give a shit (i.e., Bob).

        He obviously doesn’t care in the least about either the health/safety issues or the wishes of others. When you tell him to wear a mask, and he charges into your cubicle and makes himself at home maskless, and the only consequence is shocked silence, he sees that as a win. I know it’s hard, O.P., but try not to give him those wins. Each time he gets away with ignoring your wishes reinforces his sense being of entitled to do whatever he wants regardless of anyone else’s stated desires.

        Good luck, and keep us posted!

    1. Reba*

      I really really appreciate the stark way Alison spelled this out!

      Yes, one can believe in science and the social contract, but action or inaction will say otherwise.

      I wish the OP had more support from on high, but I bet there are other people she works with who are also afraid to act, who will be so grateful when she does!

      1. Artemesia*

        This. My otherwise healthy BIL got COVID in early March from his nephew who got it from his sister who went on a traveling soccer team to California and brought it home. The young people were not very sick; the adults, their parents aunt and uncle all were miserably sick. My BIL now has lung problems and heart problems and has been to the ER a couple of times since ‘getting well’ with serious heart symptoms left from this. He fears he will never fully recover.

    2. Anonymo*

      This is why we’ll be dealing with this stupid virus for a long time in this broken country (the U.S.). Bob needs to be fired yesterday. And yet, when literally faced with the threat of death, the OP is using “shocked silence” to combat it. OP can easily transmit it from themselves (from Bob) to a grocery worker or other. Of course the poor company response is also to blame, sorry to seem too harsh to the OP. Capitalism puts profits over people. Bob puts his own comfort and defiance over people. The anti-maskers are a death cult. They need to be barred from workplaces as punishment for literally spreading a deadly virus.

      Sorry that you have to deal with Bob OP. I hope you can quit your job and get a better one soon, and in the meantime work from home as much as you can.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            If he were a cat, I’d suggest keeping a super soaker water gun handy. And I’m actually not convinced that’s a bad option anyway.

                1. AKchic*

                  Essential Oil rules?
                  I know, I know. But I am *so* tired of plague rats. In my area, they are running for public offices in droves and I am seriously hoping they don’t actually make it to the election.

        1. Tinker*

          I’ve idly mused on a few occasions that it’s funny how another way to say “six feet” is “just outside of kicking range”.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Photocopy a few hundred copies of an Unemployment Claim Application and hand one to Bob each time he comes in the cubicle?

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I know this is in jest, but I’ve literally used my walking stick to push people away who were too close + not wearing masks + denying there’s an issue with either.

      Gently of course, but my word I love my walking sticks this past year.

      1. Clorinda*

        I actually started t0 carry a walking stick in the classroom now; it’s my social distancing stick. Stick plus arm length = six feet.
        If OP is in a normal sized cubicle, nobody can enter. Cubicles are small.
        PS: If this comment posts twice, I apologize. I posted it and didn’t see it so I’m trying again.

          1. Ev*

            Plague doctors had:
            1) masks
            2) social distancing sticks
            3) rad fashion choices.

            I see no reason why we should not bring all of that back.

        1. AKchic*

          I use my cane. I work with my mother and she frequently comes into my desk space. I now use my cane to block her from coming into my work space and keep her on the “right” side of my desk so she stays socially distanced.
          “But I just need one thing…” Then ASK. Don’t rifle through my paperwork. You take longer and mess up my system every single time and don’t put a single thing back. Stay on the other side. She gets huffy and I don’t give AF.

      2. starsaphire*

        I keep thinking about the “ice pick” on the end of my cane and giggling hysterically.

        (Note: I would never ever use that on another human being. Just, you know, picturing it is enough.)

    3. James*

      While this would feel good, I imagine this coworker is also the kind that would immediately report such behavior to HR as threatening. So definitely something that’s going to depend on culture.

      At my jobsite the joke is “Stay out of striking range”. Several of us have done various martial arts involving swords, so we’re all familiar with the term and concept. Only trouble is, since we all studied different martial arts we all have different definitions–a shinai hits at a different range than a broadsword or epee. I think most of us view those debates as half the fun. And the people who don’t do martial arts tend to stay away from us!

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        I like you! My specific martial art is taekwondo, and because I’m a computer tech, and a huge fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, when I was required to choose a weapon, I chose the bo staff. That’s good for six feet -at least-

        1. James*

          I’m a shield man. I love being up close and personal. Mostly because I’m 6’4″, and my “up close and personal” is what most people call “way out of range”! A guy once hit me with a 7′ glaive, and I hit him with my sword at the same time, both of us at full extension.

          Props for the bo staff!! Donatello was always my favorite!

          1. Dragon_Dreamer*

            When I’m healthy, I’m a kicker, myself. My D&D characters tend to run around with giant flaming greatswords, however… ;)

    4. Luke G*

      One of our big bosses is a hockey nut and sent out an e-mail saying “Here’s when I’ll be on-site for mandatory stuff. If you need me come to my office door but stay 6 feet away, which is about the length of a hockey stick.”

      He denied INTENDING that as a threat to jab us with a hockey stick, but then again he didn’t actually deny that he would do it either :D

  7. CatCat*

    You can also be loud when you’re admonishing Bob. I’m not saying yelling, but raising your voice to a level where others in the area can also hear you asserting the boundaries so they know they exist, they know Bob knows they exist, and may also be more willing to assert such boundaries as well since they’re not alone. It sounds like you and other colleagues in the office are upset by this. With every right.

    1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

      Really good point — it’s less scary to stand up for yourself when you know those around you won’t judge you for it.

    2. JessicaTate*

      Yes. I’m having a flashback to a post Alison did a while back about “How To Make a Scene.” With Bob: It’s time to make a mother-bleeping scene. (As CatCat says: not yelling and screaming, just being assertive, clear, and projecting your voice so that others hear when you use the statements Alison outlined. And if anyone talks to you about it, give them your scripts and encourage them to do the same.)

  8. Lifelong student*

    Take a time stamped picture every time! Send them to your boss, his boss, and HR. Maybe even to the appropriate governmental authority or the media!

    1. MollyG*

      I agree. Documentation and proof is important, also it may shame him to comply, or at least put the fear of being fired into him.

    2. Phil*

      Photos, photos, photos. Aside from the picture worth a thousand words thing, taking a photo every time you see Bob without a mask may goad him into wearing one. And the shame thing.

    3. Cat Tree*

      Or even if not taking pictures, OP should still report the behavior every single time it happens. Make it harder for HR to ignore the problem than to just deal with it. Turn your problem into their problem.

    4. Renata Ricotta*

      As a lawyer I certainly understand the allure of “documentation,” but sometimes I think folks are a little overzealous here about what they believe documentation will get you (esp compared to the potential cost).

      OP is not, at this point, in a situation where she has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt something happened in a he-said-she-said context. She can just directly tell HR and his manager what is happening. There’s no indication that they’re refusing to believe her word, and sometimes coming in with reams of evidence when someone would have believed you anyway undermines the point because you seem like you’re protesting too much/melodramatic/don’t think anyone will believe your direct words when they should and likely will. And threatening to go to the media before one has tried less intense options as suggested by Alison could also undermine your credibility.

      If HR refuses to move in the future because there’s no “proof” Bob is doing this, fine. Get out your camera. But I think there’s a high likelihood OP can solve this problem with less drastic means.

      1. SunnySideUp*

        But HR *is* refusing to do anything, at this point, other than passive-aggressive company-wide reminders.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Alion points out we don’t know if OP has followed up saying that nothing has changed .

          1. OP*

            I have, in total, communicated with HR/my boss four times explaining what has been happening. I have just gotten “oh, we’ll have a chat with him/send another reminder.” Another colleague has told HR a couple times as well. That method of action clearly did nothing so I tried a direct approach with Bob. If you haven’t already, please see my separate update in the comments about all that has transpired since then. I wrote to Alison over a month ago so things have changed some since then.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          We don’t know that. The OP talked to them once, from what’s in the letter. They may have talked to Bob and then sent out a company-wide reminder to reinforce it with everyone. They may think the problem is solved. That’s the whole point of my answer: There’s much more the OP needs to do here.

      2. Observer*

        No, the OP does not need to prove that Bob is being a jerk. What the OP needs to prove is that HR and Bob’s boss KNOW ABOUT THIS AND ARE NOT TAKING ACTION. Because they HAVE been informed and they HAVE refused to take action.

        Because when the OP decides to do something about it, whether kicking it upstairs, reporting to whatever government agency might cover this, insisting on working from home or whatever, they WILL try to put it on the OP and claim that they “didn’t know” about the problem, or “didn’t realize how bad it is” or that the OP did not take the opportunity to properly report the problem.

        They are not claiming that they don’t believe the OP, but they have made it clear that they either do not care or they do not think they the OP really cares about it. Keeping up a stream of reports tells them that the OP DOES care about it and that they cannot claim ignorance any more. It also MAY turn this behavior into enough of an annoyance that they do something about it.

        1. Self Employed*

          Where I live, employees can report people like Bob to the County Department of Public Health. They have a special form set up for such reports, and will investigate. First time they “educate” the management, subsequent calls on the same issue can lead to fines.

      3. pancakes*

        I said something similar above without having read down this far. It often feels like commenters here think taking a photo or recording video or audio of someone’s behavior is preferable to speaking to anyone about it. Documentation has its place and its uses but it’s not meant to be a substitute for direct communication and shouldn’t be used as one.

        1. Observer*

          I definitely agree that the OP needs to be 100% clear with Bob and let HR, Bob’s boss and their boss know clearly that the problem is ongoing.

          This documentation should not be INSTEAD of this, but in addition to this, because Bob is unlikely to suddenly start behaving like a decent person unless someone with more clout MAKES him behave.

    5. Me (I think)*

      I was coming here to say exactly this. Everyone has a high res camera in their pocket these days — use it!

  9. D3*

    I’ll never understand why people who can and should deal with problem employees decide to send out a wimpy all staff email instead.
    Do all staff emails EVER fix problem employees?

    1. bubbleon*

      Nope! With any guideline, the only people who pay attention to the all staff emails are the ones who were following the rule to begin with.

    2. cmcinnyc*

      Seriously. The most effective, most direct way to solve this problem is to say, “BOB! I AM APPALLED THAT YOU STILL AREN”T WEARING A MASK. DO NOT COME OVER HERE TO SHOW ME PICTURES OF YOUR GRANDCHILDREN! EMAIL ME! STAY AWAY!”

      This guy has sailed way past polite so long ago and yet. Just say something already!!! Or you will die of politeness, quite literally!

      1. Mimi Me*

        I’d rather be known as the person who overreacted during the pandemic than to be known as that polite, nice lady who got sick (or died) after Bob got her sick at work because he refused to wear a mask and she refused to be direct about it.
        Back in late February when things were coming to a head with the virus, my very small branch had a sales rep visit. She’d been in and out of MD offices for weeks prior to her visit. She was also known as a close talker. It made the few of us who had been very stringent about social distancing and hand washing thus far very, very uncomfortable. We spoke up as a group to our branch manager and he made her stay in a conference room all day – she wasn’t allowed to leave the conference room for socialization like usual. Her visit ended up being very short. Two week later she was hospitalized for COVID – she was exposed at an MD office after her visit to our branch.
        These aren’t normal times. We have to stop pretending they are. Speak up, be direct, be firm, and stick to your guns!!!

      2. Momma Bear*

        Hey, Bob, which one of your grandkids do you hate most? The current local infection rate is (insert here), so your grands have a 1 in x chance the way you walk around with no mask around other people.

    3. Bagpuss*

      I know our HR company told us we should send an all staff e-mail first as it means that (a) the problem employee can’t say they weren’t told and (b) it’s harder for them to claim they are being picked on or singled out, even where the thing is something which is already covered in your normal policies, or is a statement of the blindingly obvious, but they were clear that it is the first step, before *then* addressing the problem employee directly.
      (This may of course be more relevant in the UK , given our different employment protections, but could be part of the thinking elsewhere)

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        Nope, you aren’t wrong. Also, HR may say to a supervisor/manager, “Hey, we got this complaint, you gotta manage your staff” in addition to sending out a reminder. Which is what it sounds like occurred, except now Bob is deliberately flouting it as he’s wearing it when he KNOWS his boss is in. So, yeah, OP needs to 1. be more assertive; and 2. report him AGAIN. If it is somewhere that relies on progressive discipline, they need this. (And even if it isn’t, they don’t know what they don’t know.)

      2. D3*

        Bob does something that’s a huge problem.
        HR (and/or Bob’s manager) reaches out to Bob and tells him to cut it out
        Bob: “You’re singling me out!”
        HR: “You’re the only one doing it.” OR “We’re talking to the others, too.”


        Either Bob is being singled out because he’s singularly bad or Bob and the others are all being dealt with individually and directly.
        That’s it. More effective than an all staff email AND Bob can’t claim he’s being singled out.

    4. PT*

      This was the rule where I worked, the reason was, they wanted it to be known that “they weren’t singling out the problem employee should the problem employee complain.”

      It also usually meant that you had to go around and discipline more minor violations before you spoke to the problem person. So for example, you’d have to formally discipline Lucinda the time she said, “oh oops! I forgot my mask!” and went back to get it, before you spoke to Bob about refusing to wear his mask, to prove that you were not singling Bob out.

      It’s maddening.

      1. tangerineRose*

        That’s surprising. Seems like Lucinda would then have a very legitimate case that she’s being singled out since she made a mistake once, and Bob is refusing to wear the mask most of the time.

    5. beanie gee*

      Just floors me when HR and management does this. All staff emails are NEVER a replacement for directly dealing with a single person who can’t follow the rules.

    6. AKchic*

      Nope. The person it’s intended for gets to feign plausible deniability. “My name wasn’t on it. If they meant me, they could have talked to me directly!” Everyone else will assume it was for that person, or have weird guilt that it *might* be for themselves and be even more vigilant, but the person it was intended for won’t change a single thing because they weren’t spoken to directly and will ignore the passive aggressive company/department email.

      The company will assume that they have covered their bases by alerting everyone so nobody can claim “I didn’t know”, but really, they are watering down the message and not actually managing the problem at all.

    7. Doris Thatcher*

      No, and they also have the often undesirable side-effect of making rule-followers feel like they’re getting their knuckles rapped for something they didn’t do as they’re all lumped together, and/or leave a bunch of non-guilty people sitting around wondering if they did something wrong (when the emails are not really that specific).

      1. Self Employed*

        That was definitely the case at my apartment complex. They sent a nastygram saying my balcony was filthy and full of junk and there would be consequences. I emailed them a photo of my tidy balcony and said I was contesting the lease violation. They responded that they sent this to everyone and why did I think it was about my balcony? Well, it didn’t say it was about balconies in general, it said “We inspected your balcony and it was nasty in violation of your lease.”

  10. bunniferous*

    OP, this is where you really have to confront this man yourself. Email him and tell him what your boundaries are and then if he tries to come in unmasked tell him in a fairly loud firm voice (not yelly, but louder than your normal inside voice) to stay back. Then if that does not work, escalate back to your boss and HR and frankly, I would go home till they dealt with it.

    But my point is YOU have to be willing to do what it takes to set the boundary because your coworker is taking your silence as consent. I take your word for it that he runs over boundaries-but he does that because he is not facing consequences for it. You need to be more forceful both with him and with your higher ups that this is not acceptable. Because it ISN’T.

    1. Threeve*

      I think that if confrontation in the moment really feels impossible, it’s okay to start with an email. But I’d copy bosses and HR from the start, and I wouldn’t even bother trying to establish reasonable normal-people safe practices anymore. It’s time to just go with Stay Away.

      “Because you don’t reliably follow Covid guidelines, and I’m concerned for my health and safety: please keep communication with me to phone and email even when we’re both in the office. Please confirm that you understand this.”

      1. Mimi Me*

        Agreed. And you have to steel yourself for the realization that he’s probably going to have feelings about this that are different than yours. He’s allowed to be upset. But he has to be upset and away from you. He can think masks are ridiculous or annoying or whatever his reason is for not wearing one. But he has to do it from over in his cubicle and nowhere near you. I’d go one step farther and cc his boss and yours or alert them both ahead of the email. I think it’s important for them to know that if they’re unable / unwilling to make the mask thing stick that they know you’re doing it on your own.

    2. pancakes*

      I think the scripts Alison gave are quite good, and don’t need to be said in a louder-than-usual voice to register. Raising one’s voice doesn’t inherently signal “more forceful”—to the contrary, it often signifies panic or fear—and the letter writer has, by their own admission, not been direct with Bob at all. Best to start with simply being direct.

      1. Observer*

        The louder than usual is useful to insure that OTHERS hear it. These are cubicles, so it really is possible to increase your chances that others hear it.

        1. tangerineRose*

          Probably depends on the set-up. When I used to work in a cubicle, someone could sneeze, and someone from the other side of the building might say “Bless you”.

  11. SMH*

    I would be tempted to use a spray bottle to keep him back. I know this isn’t professional but a few squirts in his face with water and/or water mixed with vinegar may cure him.

    A more direct approach would be telling him, possible as a group, that this is unacceptable and he is not welcomed into anyone’s cubicle or anyone’s personal space going forward. Document and email your boss, HR, and if needed your boss’ boss each time it’s violated. If you can involve local authorities do so or push to work remote.

    1. Middle Aged Lady*

      I thought of the same thing but it probably opens you up to an assault charge. Anti maskeds are snowflakes and he would probably file a lawsuit.

      1. SMH*

        He would have to prove it happened first but I take your point, it could get ugly. Could LW file a lawsuit for assault for him refusing to wear a mask and entering her space repeatedly?

      2. Tired of Covid-and People*

        And I would file one back for the mental anguish he causes me by insisting on being unmasked during a pandemic.

  12. Confused*

    If it’s possible, I’d also put a strip of visible tape on the ground 6 feet from my desk. This way he can’t “forget” and you can ask him to stay behind the blue (or whatever color) line.
    The lack of mask wearing, proper mask wearing (uncovered nose), and lack of enforcement at this point is just negligence.

    1. WS*

      Yes, I work in pharmacy and have been right through COVID, and we have big red lines of tape everywhere. People stay behind them and if they don’t, it’s really easy to say “Please stand behind the line” rather than try to explain a distance. Also, I have to say “Your mask has slipped down” approximately 11,000 times a day to people who aren’t covering their noses, but I say it and they do what they’re asked.

  13. Oogie*

    We had a few on our team like this (including the boss)! I was looking for my boss one day and caught three of them chatting in one normal size cubicle with no masks. I literally turned heel and left. I confronted my boss later about it and she tried to gaslight me and say they were 6 ft. apart….in one cubicle. I tersely informed her that was not physically possible and then stepped outside because I was so angry. She slunk away and we didn’t see her for the rest of the day. I’m glad we got sent home to work again.

    1. Niffler*

      My boss is like this as well, except he has a small office and closes the door…out of sight, out of mind I guess? I’ve walked in to him with 2-3 coworkers, all maskless, in his office several times at this point. He says it’s his office and he can do what he wants in it. It’s frustrating. I’m glad you can work from home! We were recalled to the office over summer and are still here despite our high case numbers.

      1. Lynn*

        Ugh, I’m sorry. Your boss sounds insufferable. It’s not even his office, it’s his company-assigned workspace on company property. He is not exempt from following company and / or state regulations because “it’s his office.”

    2. Ahsley*

      I amazed me that this far along that people think 6 feet is sufficient to excuse not wearing a mask indoors. Particles travel through the air so being closer then 6′ is worse, but anyone not wearing a mask indoors is still spreading their germs in the air and the heating and exhaust system is spreading them to everyone in the building.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        A lot of people I work with think 6′ is some kind of silver bullet. It’s a minimal amount of protection, people. MINIMAL.

        1. Tired of Covid-and People*

          Yep, particle velocity, air circulation, there are several variables impacting how far away from an infected person in far enough. I stay as far away as possible from other people.

          1. Self Employed*

            There’s a lot of research going on that is not reflected (yet) by CDC updates.


            I hope that the new administration can roll out updated standards because I was just told by my county that “the CDC says you are perfectly safe from coronavirus unless you stand closer than 6 feet for a conversation 15 minutes or more, unmasked”. I doubt that everyone at the “COVID hotline” on the weekend has a biology degree, but with master’s degrees in biology and materials engineering, I think I can read research papers and know which ones are bonafide.

      2. JustaTech*

        Yeah, my 2X and 3X boss are really bad about not wearing masks around each other (or a few other people they invite up to their office area for happy hour). The masks my 3X boss has are too small, so they move around when he talks, so he will just take them off to talk to you. From a distance, but still. It’s not like any of the windows in our building open to air out an area.
        Both of these men are working scientists with PhDs in the life sciences, so they don’t have any excuse for not understanding pathogen transmission. They are more than capable of reading the literature.
        (My direct boss is very good about masks and not asking me or my coworker to come in except for lab work that can’t be done remotely.)

        Oh, and now senior management wants us to have in-person lunch with the CEO, who is flying up from LA. Hell no.

  14. irene adler*

    I’d almost be okay with Lysoling him down should he encroach my space without a mask.
    Yeah, follow-up with the managers and HR is needed. Maybe even a daily report.

    1. Mannheim Steamroller*

      DON’T spray the Lysol at him or on him.

      DO spray the area after he walks away. If he takes offense, that’s his own problem; he can’t complain about that without admitting that he was violating the rules.

  15. LifeBeforeCorona*

    You have to go hardcore with Bob. No more please and thank you. “Bob, do not come into my office without a mask. Stay away from me without a mask.” No arguing, keep repeating yourself. He has absolutely no standing. What is he going to do? Complain to your manager that you won’t speak to him because he’s not following clearly stated rules?

    1. Hi, sometimes I am a little direct. It's o.k. I'm Dutch.*

      Bob, we’ve been all aware of the need for mask-wearing for at least 9 months now. It takes less time to potty train a toddler. If you can use the bathroom consistently, you can wear a mask.

    2. pancakes*

      That isn’t being hardcore, it’s simply being direct. I agree that that’s what’s called for but don’t agree with this characterization at all and don’t think it’s helpful. Trying to avoid a deadly virus during a pandemic and following the simple, basic guidance to wear a mask and social distance aren’t something only “hardcore” people do.

  16. Velawciraptor*

    Since your state has a masking mandate, I’d also consider reporting your company to your state’s department of health as well. Sometimes a fine can make a company act more responsibly than employee reports.

    1. Lurking Tom*

      Yeah, this was my thought too. My state’s health department has asked that people report violations of capacity, distance and/or masking mandates. Since it seems like neither HR nor the boss is interested in dealing with this, that would be my next stop as well.

    2. Kvothe*

      Yeah that’s where my head went too, maybe give HR a heads up that you’re going to report to the state and see if that lights a fire under them to actually do something and then if not just follow through with it. Company may care a lot more about enforcing masks if they have to start shelling out for fines.

      1. Observer*

        The OP needs to think about whether there is likely to be retaliation for reporting. Oh, of COURSE it’s not “retaliation”. But WHY didn’t OP come to us? How do we keep people from just running to the authorities about things that we would DEFINITELY have done something about?!

    3. Washi*

      And if HR seems disinclined to take more action than mass emails, maybe let them know you may be obliged to file a report. That might wake them up.

    4. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Because of all the restaurants that have shut down our health inspectors have much more time and are using it to monitor workplaces that are still open. The fines can be high, money talks more than one co-worker.

    5. MiddleGenerationMillennial*

      Yes, absolutely contact your health department. Depending on your state’s COVID-19 response, you could even take a step further and file an OSHA complaint. This would be more effective if you have documentation of HR twiddling their thumbs and refusing to take any more action.

  17. Person from the Resume*

    Refuse to be near him without a mask. Once he is wearing a mask properly, keep saying: “stay at least 6 feet away from me” and leave the area to get away from him if he refuse either of these.

    Email HR, your boss, and Bob’s boss every single time you have to tell him to put on a mask near you. Or any other time you see him without a mask. Recruit your coworkers to do the same thing.

  18. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    He doesn’t care. He is never going to care. If he gets sick, he won’t care that he didn’t wear a mask. He sure as hell won’t care if you get sick.
    He is a terrible, selfish person.
    I hate conflict. So much.
    I think that standing up for myself will make it worse, so I walk away. But you cannot.
    You know what is worse than telling Bob:
    1) you will not have him in your cube,
    2) you will not look at pictures of his grandchildren (he is just being contrary at this point, going out if his way to prove he’s above the rules)
    3) that you will walk away he comes near you with a mask?
    It’s Covid. Covid is worse. He broke the social contract. And the law. Remember that.
    You will be uncomfortable when he challenges you.
    Know that, accept that, prepare for that.
    And do it anyway.
    I know you can!

    1. Shirley Keeldar*

      Another soft-spoken person here….OP, I get you, I really do. It’s tough. Try not kick yourself for not standing up to Bob before this…just do it today! Practice at home, stay it out loud (you’ll feel silly but it helps, I swear it does), come up with a few brief sentences—“Bob, keep back! Bob, don’t come near me with without a mask! Bob, stay out of my cubicle!”)

      If it helps, think of your loved ones—by his behavior, he’s risking their lives. Sometimes we find it easier to stand up for the people we love than for ourselves, so think of what you’d say to a mugger who was threatening someone you care for, and have at him!

      1. JustaTech*

        Yes to practicing telling Bob to back off out loud. That was one of the first things we were taught in self-defense class: practice using your voice so that when you need it you won’t freeze.
        “Mask, Bob!”
        “Please don’t come into my cube.”
        “Bob, you must stand behind the yellow line.”
        “Bob, do no come near me without your mask on.”

        And then, for humor, “Back off, plague rat!” (Probably don’t actually say this to Bob, but you’re well within reason to say “back off!” if he ignores your previous statements.)

    2. cncx*

      exactly. i have a friend who is a corona denier and his response to me setting firm boundaries around breathing on me was to freak out that i was being mean to him. he doesn’t care because he doesn’t understand that other people care.

  19. MsClaw*

    I’m sorry, this really sucks. Bob is being an ass. But yes, you are also going to have to get a lot firmer. Appealing to authority isn’t working. You can’t control what Bob does elsewhere, but you absolutely can tell him he has to put a mask on when he’s talking with you. Do not *ask* him, *tell* him. And walk away if he doesn’t comply.

    I know that’s uncomfortable and weird, but that’s also exactly what Bob is banking on. People who break the social compact are relying on everyone else being too polite or too shocked to call them on their shit. Put that back on him. Make it weird for him. Yeah, Bob may think you’re weird or a ‘bitch’ or whatever. So what? Bob is a jackass. His opinion and comfort should not matter nearly as much as your own health. Stop letting it.

    Good luck!

  20. Cordoba*

    Why is your company putting up with this? I’m not generally a fan of zero-tolerance policies, but there are some areas where they make sense. Safety gear in the workplace is one of those areas.

    Industries like manufacturing and construction solved this problem long ago. Here’s what it looks like:
    1) The employer and/or the regulators mandate personal protective equipment.
    2) Anybody who can’t or won’t wear the PPE can’t work at that employer.
    3) That’s it.

    Try going onto a construction site and saying that you aren’t going to wear a hard hat because you don’t believe falling objects are really a hazard. If it’s a reasonably well-run site you will immediately not be working there anymore, and your firing will be treated as a matter of obvious routine for anybody who hears the story.

    Does the LW have a competent safety function at their office? I’d pursue it through them rather than through HR.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      You know, I really like this way of phrasing it. It IS mandatory PPE gear at this point and this guy is doing the equivalent of rocking up to a welding shop with no eye protection and saying it’s his right to burn his eyes out/spray sparks into other peoples eyes.

      1. Quill*

        Yeah, he’s basically refusing to wear a hard hat in a hard hat only zone, but if something hits HIM in the skull the damage can be arbitrarily passed to any of this coworkers.

        I wanna poke him with my steel toe on a stick.

      2. Cordoba*

        The main advantage of this approach IMO is that it completely short-circuits the unfortunate political/conspiracy aspects that anti-mask people tend to lean on; as it reduces the whole thing to unambiguous behaviors.

        A manufacturing worker is welcome to believe that safety glasses don’t work and are actually part of a government mind control plot. They still have to have safety glasses on when they walk into the plant.

        In this case, LW doesn’t need Bob to be convinced that masks are effective or worthwhile. LW just needs Bob to put a mask on his big dumb face.

        1. tangerineRose*

          “LW doesn’t need Bob to be convinced that masks are effective or worthwhile. LW just needs Bob to put a mask on his big dumb face.” This! I don’t understand why some people are so against wearing a mask.

    2. Cat Tree*

      I agree with the PPE approach. Sometimes zero tolerance policies are warranted. I would love to see a high profile case of legal trouble for a company that endangered some people’s lives by not enforcing masks. Corporations care about money. It’s a huge liability for someone to operate machinery without safety glasses, so they enforce those rules strictly. The same should be true for masks.

      I also see it as analogous to workplace violence, which is also appropriate for a zero tolerance policy. Whether someone punches me in the face or exposes me to a deadly plague that is now the leading cause of death in the US, the result is the same and my life is at risk.

    3. Researcher*

      YES. I’ve been trying to convey this for months and you’ve summed it up so eloquently. The problem I’ve noticed is that many people do not work in environments that typically have a lot of safety considerations, and just aren’t used to this sort of thing. Safety rules in many offices amount to “don’t stand on the rolling chair,” rather than mandatory personal protective equipment to protect you from a present danger.

      Employers need to get used to strictly enforcing safety regulations and employees must get used to having rules. Masks are now part of our mandatory attire/dress code for safety reasons. It’s not a fashion trend. If you do not wear a mask you will be sent home and you will not return until you comply.

    4. Rubble*

      Yes. My manufacturing company has been pretty serious about this because safety is always important, it’s a metric on our yearly goals and something we’re aware of. I see many non-manufacturing/construction/etc. companies take things like fire drills loosely, ugh. And people act like there is nothing a company can do in this pandemic, even though companies have enforced safety standards as long as they have existed.

    5. Not-All-Manufacturing*

      This is good advice, but unfortunately not all manufacturing companies follow through with their safety policies. Mine tells us that safety is their #1 priority, but then I see the mask policy not being enforced (I work at our corporate headquarters), even by the health & safety manager. Some people just don’t care, and it’s extremely frustrating for those of us who do.

      1. Not-All-Manufacturing*

        *Even by the health & safety manager, meaning the health & safety manager doesn’t enforce it but also doesn’t follow the mask policy all the time!

        I jumped the gun on submitting my comment before proof-reading for clarity!

  21. Dumpster Fire*

    Repeat as necessary.

    I’m shy too, but when it comes to my health and (more importantly) the health of my family, don’t mess with me. I will take you down. You will rue the day that you put me/us at risk.

    1. Dumpster Fire*

      And also, BOB, SINCE YOU DON’T WEAR A MASK ANYWHERE ELSE, YOU NEED TO BE TWENTY FEET AWAY. (If I want people who are careful to be 6 feet away, Bob needs to be much further away.)

      1. pancakes*

        Not a good alternative. The state and the office both require masks. There’s no good reason to excuse Bob from that or try to bargain with him by offering an inadequate alternative.

        1. Dumpster Fire*

          Oh, I completely agree with you. I’m not saying that Bob doesn’t have to wear a mask, but rather – because I know he doesn’t wear a mask anywhere else – that he needs t0 be even further away even WITH a mask…. masks aren’t 100% safe and I don’t want him anywhere near me under any circumstances.

          1. OP*

            Yes! This. I learned after confronting him (if you want more detail you can see my seperate comment with that update) that he doesn’t wear a mask anywhere. Not in stores or restaurants (we have a state mask mandate, so he should be doing so, I had no idea that he wasn’t), he has a large family that he sees every few days, and he eats in restaurants usually around 4 times a week. These are all things that put him at higher risk for contracting illness so I feel even more justified for asking him to mask up and socially distance!

  22. Keymaster of Gozer*

    My feelings about Covid deniers/anti maskers etc are….shall we say rather coarse.

    After a year of this (almost) I’m at the asking ‘do you WANT to kill me?!’ of people who try to insist they have a right to believe their illusion that there isn’t a deadly respiratory virus spreading like wildfire.

    Asking politely hasn’t worked. Dropping hints hasn’t worked. Trying to avoid them hasn’t worked.

    Now I’m into harsh reality. Back away from me, put a mask/face shield on, or get the most cold anger you’ve ever heard from your IT department.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Usually to brick themselves. I’m not as friendly or tolerant as I am online. In fact, RL Keymaster is a really vicious character. I am working on my faults.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*


      My shift at work had a “wannabe Bob.” I say had because my shift manager didn’t tolerate any failure to follow masking rules. You don’t wear a mask – you don’t come to work (our job can’t be done offsite). You don’t come to work, you don’t get paid. You miss enough shifts you are considered to have abandoned your job. She had all the COVID deniers gone in three weeks of accepting that they were going to have to wear their mask for their entire shift.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        That is exactly as it should be. I’m so glad you have a boss who actually acted to ensure workplace safety.

    2. tangerineRose*

      “people who try to insist they have a right to believe their illusion that there isn’t a deadly respiratory virus spreading like wildfire.” This! Also, I don’t really care what they believe; I care that they follow the CDC’s guidelines.

  23. Dasein9*

    It can help to practice saying our lines in a loud, firm voice at home. Then when we’re in the office, we already have the muscle memory for what to do.

    Outright shouting is probably overkill. The first two times.
    But being loud enough that co-workers nearby hear what’s going on is probably a good idea.

    And when Bob tries to tell you that he doesn’t have to wear a mask, all you need to do is use Alison’s scripts, which you have also practiced at home. These, too, should probably be delivered at a volume that can be heard by people nearby.

  24. Fabulous*

    Goodness gracious Bob is an ass, and you’re a saint letting it go on so long! Alison’s language is probably kinder than I’d be at this point…

    “Get out of my cubicle until you can wear your mask and respect my space.”
    “I’ve told you before, quit hovering. Please.”
    “God dammit Bob, get away from me without your mask on!”

      1. Gumby*

        Eh. That is not a universally accepted theological requirement.

        But OP should definitely not give Bob any more of an opportunity to bring about that state of affairs regardless.

      2. PersephoneUnderground*

        Dark point taken- those of us putting up with deniers might qualify soon enough…

  25. Granny K*

    Try buying an extra large can of Lysol spray. If he comes near you spray him. Spray him a lot. Preferably while shouting, don’t come near me unless you’re wearing a mask! Repeat as necessary.

    If you find this too extreme, take a picture of him and send it to HR, replying to the previous emails you’ve sent to HR. Every time you send them an email, include the other emails you sent them so if he comes one one long string.

    1. Ally McBeal*

      Lysol is not appropriate, as it could cause serious damage if it got into his mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, nose, etc.). But fill a Super Soaker with vinegar and you’re good to go :)

    2. KoiFeeder*

      Seconding Ally McBeal, Lysol is dangerous and you should not spray it at a person. Please just use water.

  26. hbc*

    Please please please tell your boss that he’s only masking up when Boss is around. As far as he can see and from what he’s been told, Bob got his act together. If management fails to drop the hammer after that, I would definitely endorse removing yourself from the situation.

    1. Self Employed*

      And not that unemployment is an adequate replacement for your paycheck, but “left job due to failure of management to enforce COVID rules” is legitimate in some states to qualify for UI.

  27. mask enthusiast*

    Not directly about Bob, but I noticed that the rule is mask when leaving your own office/cubicle. For offices that completely close off from the remainder of the building, that is appropriate. For cubicles that are the the same open area, the rule really needs to be masks always. The 6 ft rule assumes outdoors, so for an equivalent indoors you need a bigger distance + excellent ventilation. OP may also want to push back with HR/manager that the rule is insufficient in general for that reason.

      1. RKMK*

        Yeah, you have to picture a Covid-infected person like a walking campfire (or smoker) Outside, six feet and airflow means you’re not inhaling much smoke. Inside, the generated smoke is trapped in the space (I unless there’s aggressive ventilation), and the particles/sq ft of air gets increasingly infected with virus that everyone else in the space inhales.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Yes. Sneeze droplets have been clocked at *14* feet (over 4 meters). And HVAC system currents & humidity levels can extend distance.

  28. Cindy*

    I really hope that the LW provides an update. This is so awful to me. I’m incredibly grateful to my empl0yer who has allowed us to work from home since March, and enforces mask wearing in the office for anyone who comes in.

  29. CeeBee*

    I’m sorry, but at this point, this is on the OP. they need to speak UP and LOUDLY to the maskless jerk. Put a chair outside your cubicle – or better yet, his! OP needs to stand up for themselves – find your spine and be safe. Covid kills.

    1. OP*

      Yep! I wrote this letter to Alison over a month ago and much has transpired since. I confronted Bob and he hated it, but it (sort of) worked. See my full update in a separate comment if you wish.

  30. Phil*

    As I said above, Photos, photos, photos every single time you see Bob without a mask. Aside from documentation it may shame him into wearing one. And the thousand words thing.

  31. Just Another Zebra*

    I’m not normally a fan of scorched earth tactics, but will happily make exceptions for matters of health and safety. Give Bob exactly one more chance with direct language. “Bob – state mandates and company policy require social distancing and masks to be worn when not in your cubicle. You cannot come speak to me without a mask, and even with one you must be six feet back at all times.” When that fails (and it will, because Covid Bob is a jerk), send an email to HR/ your manager/ Bob’s manager “I’ve brought to your attention previously that Bob Lastname is not following social distancing and mask guidelines. Despite your best efforts, things have not improved, and Bob Lastname frequently visits my workspace without a mask and breaks distancing guidelines. As such, I no longer feel safe working in the building and will be working from home going forward. Since responsibilities X, Y, and Z cannot be completed remotely, please let me know who update on these tasks so that they may take them over effective tomorrow. If/when something changes with how the company health and safety guidelines are enforced, plesae let me know and I’ll be happy to resume work in person at that time.”

    It’s definitely a more extreme approach, but since you feel genuinely unsafe, it may be worth expending the capital.

    Good luck, OP!

  32. Temperance*

    LW, you need to roleplay what a confident, assertive person would do, and take those actions.

    1. Call HR and email them, CC your boss and Bob’s boss, and make it clear that he’s only wearing a mask when his boss is around, and this is unsafe.

    2. Ask your boss and HR if you can move into an office with a closing door rather than your cubicle, because you need to be in the office and can’t safely be in the office with Bob breathing all over you.

    3. “Bob, if you want me to look at pictures of Fergus and Fergusina, email them to me because you keep getting too close. Bob, please get out of my cubicle. Bob, this isn’t the minimum required 6 feet of distance.”

    4. Get a yardstick and tape out 6 feet away from your cube, if you can’t actually move into a closed space that Plague Rat Bob can’t enter.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Role playing out difficult situations is an excellent idea. I do this a LOT in my car or with a good mate of mine (my husband is very confrontational averse). It gets your responses locked firmer into your head and easier to recall under stress.

      1. Temperance*

        I often channel a hypothetical super confident, self-assured woman when I do something that I’m nervous about, and it has always worked!

    2. AKchic*

      Or, act as if you are protecting a weaker friend/colleague who needs the help. Sometimes, less assertive/introverted people will take on a protective/extroverted role and become the Parental/Protector Friend when they are helping someone they perceive as younger/smaller/weaker than them as needing that help.

      So, imagine a mouse in your pocket, or a small child in your office/as your shadow that needs protecting from Bob and do it for them.

      1. tangerineRose*

        And the OP may be protecting others by doing this. The OP’s example could help others speak up too.

  33. animaniactoo*

    Oh, please please be clear that he does not wear the mask unless his boss’ car is in the parking lot.

    There are things that can be done about this – from photos to boss showing up in a different car – to verify that Bob is only complying “where he can be seen to be complying”.

    That is the step that you need to take – to go back and make it clear that Bob is only in compliance when he thinks he will get in trouble for not being in compliance.

    Yes to setting personal boundaries – but way beyond that also because in your cubicle or not, he endangers everyone there, and somebody else may also have an issue setting the boundaries personally – and should not need to.

  34. Essess*

    If there is a state mask mandate, and the coworker is refusing to follow it and HR isn’t enforcing it then I would send another email to HR (possibly cc:ing your legal department if your company has one) letting them know that the law is being broken repeatedly and that you have already informed them repeatedly. It is putting your life at risk so you are being forced to resort to speaking to an attorney about the illegal activity occurring in the workplace to protect your life.

  35. hello*

    I’m surprised to see so many commenters advocating physically assaulting “Bob.” No, do not poke your coworkers with sticks or spray them in the face with vinegar or chemicals. It doesn’t matter that “Bob” is in the wrong. Don’t attack people! It’s incredibly offensive behavior that is only going to escalate the situation and make OP look bad.

    If you find yourself seriously considering doing something like this, it’s time for a mental health day or possibly a new job.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I have gently pushed people away using my walking stick, but that’s after they:
      Weren’t wearing a mask
      Got way too close
      Told me I was ‘wrong’ to tell them to back off
      Tried to get even closer
      Spouted anti mask BS
      Ignored me holding out my stick and telling them back off as they’re putting my life in danger

      I’m not talking ramming it up someone’s nostrils, just gently backing them off. It is my life on the line.

      (Hitting people and spraying them with detergents is of course not on. Most people saying that are pure hyperbole and a form of stress relief/joke in what is an incredibly stressful and dangerous year)

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        I think a lot of these commenters are tired as f***k of self-centered assholes like Bob going willy-nilly without masks while their friends and family are dying. I had two people close to me die last week, and if I was in the office and Bob was coming all up in my face he would sure as hell get yelled at *at the very least* and very likely wind up with my water bottle thrown at him. The time to be polite with people not wearing masks was SEVEN MONTHS AGO.

        1. Not Me*

          I’m also tired AF of self-centered assholes, but I don’t think that gives anyone the right to suggest assaulting someone. Or to joke about spraying chemicals in their face.

          Suggesting spraying someone in the face with lysol is not a joke. It’s the kind of thing people actually do to each other, especially under stress. Kinda like putting laxatives in food you know a co-worker will steal from the fridge. Some people see that suggested and think it’s a good idea or a funny idea. It’s neither.

          1. tangerineRose*

            Yeah, if someone’s going to joke about things like that, at least suggest things that are fairly impossible to do.

        2. MaryAnne Spier*

          I am so sorry for your losses. And I agree, anti-maskers deserve neither kindness nor sympathy at this point.

        3. pancakes*

          Time to stop being polite doesn’t mean it’s time to holler and throw things. The idea that hollering and throwing things are the best way to convey seriousness is pretty messed up, too.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            (shrug) maybe not, but they’d sure be hard for Bob to ignore, and if they resulted in him giving me a wiiiiiiiiide berth then that’s a problem solved. He’s been ignoring the social contract (AND company policy AND local mandates) for months, and he can go boo-hoo in his cube about being yelled at for continuing to be an asshole.

          2. Insert Clever Name Here*

            And as a perennially polite, well-mannered, give people the benefit-of-the-doubt person the times I have had to yell to get my point across it *does* actually get my point across when being polite and well-mannered hasn’t.

            1. pancakes*

              Nah, the person who I replied to replied to me and seems serious enough about defending it. Several others don’t seem to be joking, either. There have always been people who behave this way off the internet as well, as if there’s no middle ground between acquiescence and outburst.

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                Is using a walking stick to push people away messed up too?

                I did, on reflection, not only say that but also outright state I’ve done it and will do again (a few comments up). Is it my comments you mean? (I’m not great at following threads this late at night)

                1. tangerineRose*

                  I think pancakes is talking about people suggesting that the LW spray Bob with Lysol, which could be a very hazardous thing to do.

                2. pancakes*

                  Nope. My comments were in response to the person saying, “if I was in the office and Bob was coming all up in my face he would sure as hell get yelled at *at the very least* and very likely wind up with my water bottle thrown at him.” And I’m not trying to suggest that yelling is never acceptable, nor physically defending oneself from someone who is a threat. I just don’t see any good reason to go from not being direct at all to yelling and throwing things, without even trying to be direct and firm about boundaries in between.

              2. Insert Clever Name Here*

                You’re right. I should just politely and repeatedly tell Bob “back up please” because he totally seems like the kind of guy who will do that. If I happen to get COVID I’m sure my kids won’t be sad I can’t tuck them in because at least I was polite to Bob. If I happen to die, I’m sure my family won’t be as devastated as my dead friends’ families are because at least I didn’t yell at Bob (gasp — can you imagine! yelling at someone who won’t wear a mask to prevent spread of a virus that’s killed 2 million people! the shame and horror! what is the world coming to, tsk tsk).

                1. Not Me*

                  Yelling at someone is not the same as striking them or spraying them with chemicals.

                  “blowing off steam” sounds a lot like “boys will be boys”, btw.

                2. Roci*

                  Except it’s not an excuse for one gender to act in sexist and malicious ways.

                  It’s 11 months of stress and fear built up from having to take public health and safety into your own hands. Instead of general rules enforced by authorities, it’s been broken down into everyone’s individual risk tolerance, so now each in-person interaction is fraught with risk assessment and anxiety.

                  Equivocating these two phrases makes it seem like you don’t understand either one.

                3. pancakes*

                  I didn’t say anything about being obsequiously polite or incessantly repetitive, no. I like the first wording Alison suggested: “You cannot come in my cubicle without a mask. You need to put on a mask or go back to your desk and email me.”

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I assume most of those are jokes or people letting off steam, not serious proposals. I can’t blame people for needing to let off steam right now.

    3. CurrentlyBill*

      Let’s be clear — Bob is already assaulting the OP. He’s covering her with his potentially diseased spittle.

      His behavior really isn’t that much different than if he came into OP’s cube, dropped his fly, and began peeing on the OP. Any response that is appropriate to that behavior is appropriate the the mask-free behavior.

      The fact is he is deliberately inflicting his bodily fluids on the OP. The OP can take reasonable steps to defend themselves against Bob.

      1. pancakes*

        No. Attacking someone for not wearing a mask is assault. The law on this is not “do whatever feels reasonable to you.”

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          and if someone’s not wearing a mask, and therefore potentially spreading COVID to me, why would I want to touch them? I’ll yell at the top of my lungs, and be as profane as I want to be in every language I speak, but if I think you’re germy, I’m not touching you.

          1. Temperance*

            More like, I would want that person away from me and sometimes shoving is the best way to do that.

  36. CAM*

    OP – you *have* to be direct to Bob, no one is going to do it for you and you’ve exhausted the other avenues. Remember it’s for your own safety and while he “doesn’t want” to wear a mask. You “don’t want” to have anyone within many feet of you if they aren’t wearing a mask and you certainly are under no obligation to deal with it. If he can have boundaries, you can have boundaries. I recognize that’s not even addressing that the state rules, company policies and international public health guidance that are all on your side. I’m just hoping that if you can turn Bob’s “free will” bs around on him, you’ll feel better standing up to him and you don’t even have to dispute the company rules or state rules, etc (which anti-maskers tend to want to circle the drain complaining about). There is no argument against you practicing your free will, if Bob practices his.

    In addition to being direct with Bob, I would also follow up in WRITING (email) to all parties – Bob, your boss, HR, and your boss’s boss, if applicable. Do it all at once or do it one at a time (i.e. tell Bob, see if he rectifies and if he doesn’t, level up and if that doesn’t do anything (again in a matter of 1 day or less), level up again — all in writing with record of your prior reach-outs documented in each level up).

    Your HR and management are being extremely passive about this, and this is a much more legalistic approach, which will hopefully get HR and management’s attention. It’s sad to say but companies tend to care more about their own legal liability then about their individual employees needs. You don’t need to threaten legal action, but this gives you a record of communication which will protect you in case you need to file a report with your state health board or take other actions to protect your health and safety.

    1. pcake*

      Documenting can be useful in the long run, but in the short run, the OP and everyone in the office is in danger of getting Covid, and they can then pass it to family, friends, cashiers and other store and business employees.

  37. Atlantian*

    While I agree wholeheartedly with all the advice for OP to be more assertive and attempt to enforce some boundaries with Bob, I just don’t see this being resolved without someone either from HR or someone with disciplinary power/firing authority over Bob being onsite 100% of the time to hold him accountable.

    OP, you need to insist that either someone be onsite who can and will hold him accountable, or you need to work with your boss ASAP on how you can move to either 100% remote work or flex your schedule so that the parts of your job that can’t be done from home are done in office during off hours while you are alone. Unfortunately, I don’t think the type of “I’m working from home now. Deal with it.” ultimatums others are suggesting here are ever a good idea. Chances are those will result in you getting fired, not Bob, and for cause at that. Good luck.

    1. OP*

      Thank you, Atlantian! He started wearing masks around me after I confronted him a month ago (I wrote the letter to Alison before that, so things have transpired). He still doesn’t wear a mask around others or in the hallways, only if he is coming to ask me a work question – so you’re right, I think we need to have a manager or HR onsite to enforce this. I am feeling like too much of the responsibility is on me and the other lower level employees to *constantly* stick up for ourselves and report him when, in a pre-covid world, both of our managers and HR would see with their own eyes what is going on and be more likely to do something about it. Not that I wouldn’t report him in pre-covid times – I would, and I think it would have held more weight then.

      1. Vee*

        Hey OP! I can share in your experience, unfortunately! I have several direct coworkers (and many more office-mates) who refuse to wear masks, and an HR department and management who don’t enforce the policy they set. I’ve had HR tell me to “kindly and professionally remind” people when they don’t wear a mask, and my own manager say “HR hasn’t provided a way to enforce the policy” and therefore he can only “lead by example”, which he sometimes does not do. I’ve tried my best to stay away from people as much as possible, and have complained to HR and my manager several times about the mask non-compliance. It seems my manager must have told my coworkers to wear a mask “when around Vee”, since I see them put one on or adjust it above their nose only when they see me around.

        I hope in your situation that you can get HR and management on board to enforce it with Bob and others who may not be complying! I know how frustrating it is, and I don’t have as invasive of a coworker as Bob!

  38. I'm A Little Teapot*

    One side effect of this entire past year situation is we have crystal clear indications of who people really are. This can be very painful at times when you find out how little your friends or family care about your health, but it can also be freeing.

    Bob has told you who he is. Believe him.

    1. Amelia Shepherd*

      agreed. I told my friend I don’t feel safe being in/attending her wedding in may. she took it like I said I don’t want to be in it, not like I don’t feel safe cause of covid. to her, since I’m still going into work, that’s still people. nevermind the fact that I don’t have a choice about when I go to work (I’m a librarian). she just doesn’t get it.

      1. nonegiven*

        My son wants me to fly 2.5 hours to another state and then another flight back to go to his socially distant outdoor wedding in March. I’m reluctant.

    2. Generic Name*

      Yes! I have a coworker who is racist, mysoginysic, and a homophobe. How do I know? Because he insists on saying racist/sexist/homophobic things to me even after I’ve asked him to stop. So I wasn’t exactly surprised when he started spouting COVID denier crap.

  39. MaryAnne Spier*

    If Bob gets sick, this letter should be sufficient to prevent him from taking up a hospital bed from someone who was being careful and got sick because of jerks like him.

    Seriously, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. You have to get more assertive, with both HR and Bob. I can’t add anything to what Alison said, which was perfect. Protect yourself.

    1. grogu*

      i assume you’re being at least partially hyperbolic, but it’s really unhelpful to litigate who “deserves” a hospital bed the most, since it’s almost impossible to tell exactly how someone caught it. it also skirts some really gross issues of which particular groups deserve care vs. not. i’m not going to go there, but your reply caused that to cross my mind.

      1. MaryAnne Spier*

        I have nothing to do with healthcare so I’m absolutely not in a position to decide who gets a hospital bed or not. But people who flout the common-sense guidelines infuriate me, and in a perfect world the people who had been absolutely careless and inconsiderate, like Bob, would be last on the list for getting help if they get this virus.

        But again, none of this is up to me and that’s probably how it should be, because I am so angry with people who can’t be bothered to think about anyone but themselves and their “I don’t wanna” babyish impulses.

  40. animaniactoo*

    Apart from reporting him again, LW, please dig into your own discomfort. One of the things that we are socialized to do, especially girls – with an emphasis on this during childhood – is how to get along and not make a fuss, and not make waves in the interests of harmony.

    What we are NOT socialized to do (for the most part) is to recognize when somebody else is basically taking advantage of that socialization, and that it is now time to toss all that out the window and make a Big Loud Fuss. Absolutely, start at the smaller stages. But overall work on recognizing this training and how counter it is to ability to act when it is time to act on your own behalf, and how it makes you somebody who Bob thinks it’s okay to just go ahead and lean into despite all the norms about NOT invading someone’s personal space, etc.

    Not making a fuss is about not having a meltdown in the grocery store aisle because they’re all out of your favorite chips, or there was a misprint on price in an advertisement. It is explicitly NOT about “smile and nod when someone is making you very uncomfortable on a repeated basis”. And yet, too often, that is our takeaway because our training so often fails to distinguish the two situations and uphold our right to speak up in the latter situation.

  41. But don’t be crazy*

    Be firm but don’t become the crazy person. That plays right into the Bobs of this world. No air horns or spraying with anything. That could be considered assault. And crazy. A louder firm voice every time. A twice weekly email to bosses & HR. That’s fine. And if nothing changes tell HR & boss that the next step is you staying home because the problem isn’t fixed. That’s fine. But be sure you come across as the rational one. Don’t snap & allow Bob to make you look like the problem.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I would change only an email to HR/boss/Bob’s boss every time you have to chase Bob away because he won’t wear his mask and socially distance. Make it really clear (in a polite but firm way) just how often this is a problem that Bob is creating.

  42. Provolone Piranha*

    My dad’s office building has a similar policy. One day my dad saw a group of 4 contract workers in the hallway, all unmasked. He asked them to mask up so he could walk to the bathroom. They laughed at him. He reported this to his building manager. 10 minutes later, the manager told him all 4 workers had been fired.

    Your higher-ups needs to step up.

    1. Generic Name*

      I’m sure they were all laughing while applying for unemployment too. I’m so glad your building manager handled it appropriately.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      My shift lead was similarly serious about masking in the beginning. Union rules didn’t allow her to write people up for the no mask – but they do for insubordination. That’s what she made it – you are being written up for insubordination for refusal to follow written safety procedures for this office. Three write ups for insubordination equals you are fired. She doesn’t have to be super serious anymore because we all know “she means business” when it comes to any and all safety rules.

      (Nice side effect is that all the Covid denying mask refuses from this shift are long gone.)

  43. agnes*

    If you happen to have onsite HR that is when I would call them and ask them to come to my office immediately the next time this happens. . I would confront the situation right then and there. This is ridiculous.

  44. pcake*

    I would email my boss and HR something like this:

    “Bob continues to approach me in very unsafe ways. Since Bob only wears a mask when he see’s boss name’s car in the parking lot, you may not know how bad it is. Bob is often in my cubicle without a mask, without distancing at all, and he ignores my requests and demands to stay further away and wear a mask.

    Since this continues and is not only a serious health concern but also legal issue, I would like one of several things to happen. I’d like Bob to work from home, which would be much safer for everyone in the office or I would like to work from home to avoid Bob’s complete lack of safety and normal social boundaries. Failing this, I would appreciate someone telling Bob he is no longer allowed in my cubicle for any reason and, in addition, that he cannot be closer than 6 feet to me in ANY situation.”

    If no one does more, I’d consider calling the local health department.

  45. Red Boxes and Arrows*

    OP, this would be an immediately fireable offense in my company. The CEO stated last spring, “If you want to be on company property, you *will* wear a mask. If you don’t wear a mask, you won’t have to worry about being on company property. You will be let go with the first violation.” He has reiterated and reinforced that message at least quarterly.

    I’m shocked that your HR and management haven’t communicated this to Bob.

  46. Tink*

    2 things –

    “Bob now wears masks only when he sees his boss’s car in the parking lot (his boss doesn’t visit often, though)” so this means Bob gets it but chooses not to follow the rules. If I were his boss this would be a huge issue.

    “He spends prolonged amounts of time inside my cubicle talking to me, about 15-30 minutes twice a day, and often leans even closer than normal to show me pictures on his phone of the grandkids.” Really? His grandkids? WTF. His visits aren’t even work related. Maybe boss needs to assign some additional work to Bob.

    OP stop being nice and worrying about offending him. He’s not worried about potentially killing you. Tell him from now on he’s not welcome in your space. Period.

    1. Easily Amused*

      Agreed. Bob doesn’t need to be in OP’s cubicle at all – masked or not! Masks help but they’re not 100% guaranteed effective and the 6 foot social distance rule is the minimum! We should all be limiting all contact with others to essential interactions until we’re vaccinated. I haven’t been within 6 feet of my own Mother for more than a few seconds since March! Based on the letter, I can’t see any reason why Bob needs to interact with OP at all.

  47. Nea*

    At my office we’re supposed to be masked at all times, except when eating. The list of people who don’t, or who nurse a bag of chips for hours and hours, or who mask but below their nose is long and frustrating.

    I finally brought in a couple of cheap rolling garment racks and shower curtain liners and built an isolation ward around my cube. There has been more than a little bit of mockery over it, but I don’t regret it – and it effectively puts a “door” across my cube, keeping people out.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      This sounds helpful for covid-19, but for anyone reading this I have to mention making sure you’re not causing a fire hazard. The top needs to stay open for smoke detection and sprinkler function for example.

      1. Nea*

        I haven’t given my cube a roof – just higher walls. It’s not the best solution because we all still share the air, but it at least gets me out of the direct line of people’s breath.

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          We’ve actually been told by our health department that high walls (i.e., 6ft or more) actually really DO make a big difference and are essentially as effective as an office with an open door (which is pretty effective). Couple that with, if your building is equipped with the CDC recommended HVAC filters (most newer construction buildings have this or better), this is safer than most people realize.

  48. Loves libraries*

    You can learn to be assertive when it comes to your health. Our church, outdoor only, is supposed to be mask required. One family didn’t have them on yesterday and this morning I clarified the policy with our minister. Going forward he will remind all if necessary about masks.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’m so sorry mate. So very, very sorry :(

      (Lost 3 friends in the last year to Covid. I cherish each memory of them)

    2. Insert Clever Name Here*

      I’m sorry. I had two people close to me die last week. What little patience I had left is completely gone and the next person I see sneezing with their mask around their chin is going to get a hell of an earful from me.

  49. Mina*

    it’s important to remember that six feet and a mask are still not safe. those make passing interactions safer. when you are sharing a room with someone, all bets are off, depending on the air flow and air movement in the room.

    the best possible solution here would indeed be too get Bob to work from home, as he is likely not taking precautions in other ways outside of the office.

  50. Smaller potatoes*

    If OP is in the US shouldn’t this fall under the OSHA right to refuse unsafe work? When a coworker’s actions place you at imminent risk of harm you are legally entitled to refuse to work under those circumstances. This is normally applied to machine and chemical hazards, but since your state and employer have a mask mandate then this situation would seem to clearly qualify as a health and safety risk!

    1. Lifelong student*

      I was once told that OSHA does not address office work conditions. It was many years ago so I can’t be sure if that
      was accurate then or now.

      1. James*

        Depends on the situation and the company. I don’t think they have jurisdiction over accounting firms or law firms or the like. But if you’re an office worker for a construction company or factory or warehouse, there may be some gray area. At minimum your company would be required to have a health and safety program that likely includes Covid-19 mitigation requirements and which would be fairly broadly applicable. I’m not sure if a Covid infection is considered a reportable incident, but it’s worth checking out (there’s some back-and-forth as to how to deal with Covid from an occupational health standpoint).

        At minimum, it’s worth a discussion with your safety team about.

      2. Smaller potatoes*

        Quick google confirms that OSHA applies to office environments. I’m in Ontario and we have some differences in health and safety legislation depending on type of workplace, but the basic right to refuse unsafe work applies to everyone with the exception of workers like firefighters and others where exposure to some hazards is literally part of the job.

    2. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      Aha! I was coming in to say this.

      H&S has three rights:
      The right to know about health and safety matters.
      The right to participate in decisions that could affect their health and safety.
      The right to refuse work that could affect their health and safety and that of others.

      How does it work in your state? In Ontario, if a worker refuses to work, this is a royal PITA because then you have to dig up a supervisor and a JHSC rep to review the situation and if it can’t be resolved, the Ministry of Labour gets called and has to come to inspect the situation.

      Invoking this right should be a wake up for your boss and HR who are just sending out meek t0-all email reminders.

      You have the right to refuse to work in these conditions.

      And Bob is a jerk.

  51. Cobol*

    File an OSHA complaint. It’s anonymous, and they will reach out. My company was only paying lip service, and once somebody made a complaint it changed.

  52. ???*

    Just tell Bob that you’re the one reporting him for not wearing a mask. Or include him in the emails you send to your boss and hr. If Bob knows your the one ‘tattling’ on him he probably isn’t going to get anywhere near you.

    Another thing just because Bob didn’t tell you about a health condition doesn’t mean he doesn’t have one. Alot of people are too embarrassed to mention it especially if it’s more emotional and mental. So hopefully your boss makes him work from home so he can’t spread anything.

    1. Homo neanderthalensis*

      Yeah, there’s literally no health condition that makes mask wearing impossible that ALSO wouldn’t mean their risk of dying from covid or need for vast amounts of supplementary O2 would mean pretty much instant work from home status. Also, it’s not “tattling” to inform HR about a coworker in a position to harm others. Would it be tattling to report a coworker who enters the building with a gun? Sure he might not be shooting it, sure it might be in his holster or sticking out of his briefcase- he might be going to the range later! Someone willfully not wearing a mask has the potential to kill a lot more people over a longer period of time then one guy with a gun. If you’d report that to save lives, reporting this is hardly “tattling”.

      1. EchoGirl*

        Yeah, no. I don’t agree with what Bob is doing, but this is incorrect, there are reasons other than respiratory issues that people may have difficulty with wearing masks. There was a thread on this topic here a few months ago, and multiple things were mentioned including skin conditions, sensory issues, and PTSD. The fact that some of these are mental rather than what’s thought of as conventional medical conditions doesn’t make the issues any less real or valid.

        To be clear, I understand the importance of mask-wearing. BUT, when someone says something like that it’s particularly difficult for them to wear a mask, it would be nice if we could approach it from an angle of, “I understand and recognize that, but mask-wearing is also really important right now, how can we make this work for everyone?” (this could be anything from mask brackets to continuing to work from home); if the person is arguing in good faith, they should be willing to have that conversation. The problem is that instead of starting from a place of opening a dialogue, everyone just responds with, “No you don’t, that’s not a real thing unless you’re so sick you shouldn’t be out in public anyway, you’re just a SELFISH MONSTER and a HORRIBLE HUMAN BEING.” The latter response does nothing to change the actual selfish monsters, all it does is alienate and stigmatize people with legitimate issues.

        This is all kind of beside the point of the letter anyway, though, since it seems like Bob has made it pretty clear he just doesn’t feel like it.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Granted, but if you’ve got a medical condition (mental or physical) that precludes wearing a mask it behooves you to put extra distance between yourself and others, put extra effort into sanitising yourself as much as possible and not to get up close to anyone.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Or even just put extra effort into figuring something else out. I have one co-worker (not my not-missed mask refusing fired former co-workers) who couldn’t wear a face mask for medical reasons. He went and got a beekeepers hood – changed the mesh to medical visor sheets, and wore that for the week it took to get himself set up and approved to telework (he’s solely responsible for the only able to be done via telework task our whole office has) for the duration of the pandemic.

            Just refusing to wear a mask is the jerk move. Accenting I can’t wear this mask and moving on or coming up with a solution for a mask you can wear show everyone you care about their health and your own.

            (Oh, they sent a pic last week – he has now tie-dyed in the colors of Mardi Gras.)

          2. Self Employed*

            Exactly. I know a few people whose young adult offspring are Autistic and just can’t tolerate masks–so the parents don’t put them in a situation where they are around people. No shopping trips, super early walks so the dog-walkers and joggers aren’t out yet.

        2. Homo neanderthalensis*

          I have autism and severe sensory processing disorder. I also have diagnosed PTSD. Mask wearing is absolute hell. I do it. I do not complain about it because we live in a society.

          If a person willfully flaunt mask orders, or goes out in public without a mask purposefully and willfully I don’t give two shits if you have autism like me or PTSD like me. Obviously edge cases exist. But because of SELFISH MONSTERS and HORRIBLE HUMAN BEINGS like Bob, I have lost a woman who was the closest thing to a grandmother to me and frankly am REAL sick of anti-maskers hiding behind people like me who yes, are very uncomfortable wearing masks for real deal reasons- but who do it anyways. As my boss said to the woman at our store who we asked to put her mask back on “oh but it’s so uncomfortable” my boss said “yeah it is, we wear one for 10 hours, suck it up.”

          1. EchoGirl*

            I think we’re talking about two different things. I am entirely pro-mask, but as someone who also has autism-related SPD, I’ve also just been really put off by the way the whole thing is talked about — not the fact that I’m asked to still wear a mask, but the refusal by many to even acknowledge that situations like mine or yours exist. Like you, I comply fully with masking rules, but I also wish that people would recognize that yes, it IS asking more of some people than others. I think it’s justified in this case to do so, it would just be nice to have the added burden acknowledged. For me, at least, it just feels like a constant barrage of being told that my personal experience doesn’t exist and if I think it does it must be because I’m a whiny snowflake. (The fact that I’ve been forced to put up with similar things for years when it WASN’T necessary to the good of humanity probably doesn’t help.) And part of this attitude does seem to be the idea that breathing issues are the only problem that “counts”, which is the only idea I was trying to challenge.

            I don’t want people to be allowed to not wear masks (except maybe some very exceptional cases, and while I recognize that there’s issues inherent in a system of verification, I think there probably ought to be one in this scenario). I just want to have my lived experience acknowledged rather than dismissed out of hand. And I’d like to be able to talk about my experience openly, to just say it’s really freaking hard sometimes (without following it up with “but I do it anyway so what’s your excuse”), and not be afraid that people will react as though I’m undermining the entire concept of masking just by daring to say it’s more than just some teeny tiny practically insignificant inconvenience.

            I also feel that the dismissal is counterproductive because it takes away from finding actual solutions for people with legitimate issues. For example, when mask-wearing first became a thing, a lot of people discovered that masks hurt their ears, and within days the internet was awash in solutions to mitigate that issue. I feel like the same could be true for issues and the like that make mask-wearing difficult/painful for some people (I personally was able to create a mask design that doesn’t trigger my sensory issues the way most masks do), but because these aren’t as common as the ear thing, rather than talk solutions, it seems like the overwhelming response is to deny that such problems even exist in the first place.

  53. Observer*

    I don’t know about your boss, but HR has most definitely NOT tried. Keep documenting this to HR – make it so that there is NO WAY that they can claim that they did not know about this or “didn’t realize” how egregious it is.

    In the meantime, if (or when) he comes in to your cubicle you need to be EXPLICIT about needing him to mask up and to not lean in so close. And if he refuses to honor either boundary, tell him to leave. If he refuses, WALK OUT. And let HR, your boss, and his boss know. Do it EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. And, also let your boss know how much of your time it’s wasting.

    Also, what’s with him crowding you and generally refusing to respect your boundaries?! Are you female or POC? If either is the case, you have a good case to go to HR about that as a separate issue. ie “Aside from the mask issue, I’m uncomfortable with him leaning in so close to me. I’ve asked him to move back and he just ignored me.” And if they don’t do something about it (a “pretty please be nice. with a cherry on top” email to the office does not constitute “doing something”), then escalate. Explicitly call this out as potential harassment, and loop in both your Grandboss and whoever is in charge of HR.

    1. OP*

      Thank you, Observer! Good advice. Yes, I’ve taken action and been extremely direct with him and am planning to talk to HR again as well (I wrote a more detailed update in a separate comment).

      It’s sad/amusing that you correctly wondered if I was female, lol… That is a good point as well that I could say I feel uncomfortable with him being so physically close. I hadn’t thought of saying that, though it’s true. Plus, I definitely think his refusal to respect me has a great deal to do with me being a female – I get the sense that it’s all about power, that he doesn’t want me or anyone to tell him what to do. Our HR person (we have only one) is a woman and he complains about her constantly for “nagging” on the mask rule.

  54. Andrea*

    Also, it’s an airborne virus, so having the prohibition that you only need to wear a mask when not at your cubicle is not doing anything.People still breathe when in their own cubicle. Depending on your HVAC system, the virus can be spread even with people sitting far away from you. Read Dr. Linsey Mary’s Twitter feed.

    I would set a firm boundary with Bob, not let him get close even if he I’d wearing a mask and buy a portable HEPA air purifier for your desk. Wear your own mask all day, use the air purifier and ask your office what they are doing to increase ventilation.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Tiny correction: it’s droplet borne, not airborne. If it were truly airborne (capable of surviving prolonged time in the air and wind) there’d be literally nothing we could do to contain it.

      Curious about portable HEPA filters? What size are they usually and do they provide measurable protection?

      (Asking because we only had the big industrial ones in the lab and negative air pressure so I’m not familiar with smaller versions)

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Thanks for the info, I’ll read up on the portable filters. (My curiosity is where exactly they’d need to be placed to get maximum effect, if random/AC airflow in a room will greatly effect them, how much unfiltered air will be there – not possible to filter enough of the room without closed systems etc… I used to study biocontainment :) )

  55. Retail Not Retail*

    I’m so lucky at my job that I can easily stay away from people not masking. What’s annoying is we got shut down for a MONTH because we weren’t enforcing any regulations. Now we’ve reopened and my coworkers still only put masks on if they remember and it’s like 1 – if the health department visits (they did in december and busted us), this looks bad and 2 – how do we have any authority to tell the public to wear masks?

    I’m a hypocrite – I don’t wear a mask when walking my dog in my sprawled out neighborhood because I see so few people walking. I have one on me in the case we need to talk or huddle if a storm comes, i don’t know.

    But at work we’re in and out of each other’s space all day and it’s so much HASSLE to stop and put your tools down so you can put your mask on or pull it up or what have you.

    Also about calling the health department – don’t tell HR you’re gonna do it. It can be anonymous. My call was. I know nothing happened but it felt good. (We’re closed for failing at covid! Let’s have third party workers come work indoors on a long delayed project! We’re so efficient!)

  56. CheeryO*

    LW, please don’t accept Bob “ignoring” your boundaries. I’m guessing that he does this to you because he knows that he can get away with it. You have to be firmer and keep enforcing the boundary, to the point of removing yourself from the situation if needed. I’d physically leave my cubicle before letting someone talk to me for five minutes without a mask, let alone 15-30.

    Also, if your company continues to allow Bob to flout the mask mandate, I would absolutely file a complaint with your local or state health department. Even if they don’t follow up directly, they may send a generic nastygram that might scare your company into better compliance.

  57. Black Horse Dancing*

    If you can get a horse lunge whip, they are usually six feet. Better is a buggy whip with long lash. Snap it a few times to keep him away. Also, use a baby gate.

  58. insertusername*

    It doesn’t have to be confrontational or dramatic. When he comes in by your cubicle, just tug at/point to your own mask and say in a matter of fact way, “Mask please.” If he resists, just say, “I’m not comfortable being this close without masks.” He obviously likes chatting with you and showing you pictures of his grandchildren. If you have any kind of relationship you could try saying, “It’s important to me that you wear one around me.” If you think it’s past the point of appealing to his human side, then just say you require masks in your space. And maybe make a sign to put up on your cubicle that says Masks are Required in this space. And point to that whenever anyone comes over to chat with you without a mask. You don’t have to act hostile or angry about it, just a simple that’s your personal policy and your work’s too.

    1. Sam.*

      I agree that it doesn’t necessarily need to be a whole to do, but she does need to be much more firm, direct, and matter-of-fact than this. OP has already politely told him she’s not comfortable. He knows. He doesn’t care. He also knows she won’t do anything if he ignores her when she says, “Masks, please.” So the statement needs to be more like, “Masks are non-negotiable in my space, Bob,” or “Bob, I’m not allowing anyone in my cube without a mask. If you’re not going to wear a mask, I have to ask you to go.” And most importantly, she needs to be prepared to walk away if he refuses.

      1. insertusername*

        Of course, if the OP each and every time pointedly points to her own mask and says, “Masks please” and Bob ignores, then of course it requires a firm pushback, “Bob you need your mask or you can’t be here.”

      2. MacGillicuddy*

        Agree. Forget the “I’m not comfortable with…” and “it’s important to me..” phrases. They dilute the message. Bob doesn’t give a sh!t about your comfort or what’s important to you. Using language like that is useless.

        Practice saying things like “Bob, you can’t come in here without a mask!”.

    2. cncx*

      yes, i have a corona denier “friend” who does enjoy talking with me, it doesn’t change what he does or bob does being stupid, selfish and careless but i feel like in their head because they have decided it isn’t a thing they’re just carrying on as normal and don’t even register when people try to set boundaries in a nice or civil way

      my friend was just not paying attention to the fact that i care about this which is why when i set boundaries hard he freaked out about me being mean even though he didn’t get it until like the tenth time. I really feel like people like this just aren’t listening one bit at all and when people overstate their boundaries it feels like the first time they’re hearing it and it’s so annoying.

  59. irene adler*

    Why isn’t the HR dept and the boss following up with OP as to the status of Bob’s mask wearing/observing of the distancing rules i.e. is he conforming, or still exposing the OP to possible COVID?
    They gotta realize that if they aren’t around to monitor the situation regularly, then they should check-in with OP to make sure the issue is resolved. Then escalate if not resolved.

  60. Former Retail Lifer*

    I’d put up a barrier to keep him out, even if it was just some caution tape, and you can be damn sure I’d be sending a photo to both the boss and HR every time he tried to come near me without a mask.

    OP, your health is the most important thing here. Look like a jerk if you need to, but do whatever you need to do to both document the hell out of this and protect yourself.

  61. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    The worker under H&S has three rights:
    The right to know about health and safety matters.
    The right to participate in decisions that could affect their health and safety.
    The right to refuse work that could affect their health and safety and that of others.

    How does it work in your state? In Ontario, if a worker refuses to work, this is a royal PITA because then you have to dig up a supervisor and a JHSC rep to review the situation and if it can’t be resolved, the Ministry of Labour gets called and has to come to inspect the situation.

    Invoking this right should be a wake up for your boss and HR who are just sending out meek t0-all email reminders.

    You have the right to refuse to work in these conditions.

    And Bob is a jerk.

  62. Van Wilder*

    I feel for you, OP. I also hate confrontation and I hate myself for being such a wimp when I should really stand up. I hope Alison’s advice fortifies you.

    In addition to the above, is reporting your employer to the state an option, if it comes to that?

  63. Karen M Lewis*

    After a quarter of us came down with Covid my office knuckled down on their mask policy. You must be wearing a mask when you enter and any time you are away from your office. One of my employees is a denier and refused to wear one. He printed an article from some blog that explains why masks don’t work and multiple graphs showing infection rates in certain cities going up after mask mandates (correlation isn’t causation my dude). He has even emailed these things to the president and vice president of the company to explain why he wouldn’t be wearing a mask. Of course they haven’t done anything about it.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      He’s lucky I’m not his IT department. I’ve taken an extremely hard line on people spreading Covid misinformation through our systems.

  64. Quinalla*

    Agree with what others have said:
    1. Use a firm, loud voice to tell him to “Put on your mask Bob!” “Keep 6′ distance Bob!” etc. Back out of your cubicle quickly if he comes in and won’t listen.
    2. Email HR & your boss EVERY TIME you see him not wearing a mask and that you are telling him to put them on and he is not. If you can get other coworkers to do this, so much the better. With your boss and HR’s “attempts” to fix this so far, make it more work for them to continue their half-ass attempt than to actually deal with the issue.
    3. If nothing changes in a week (or less), got to HR & your boss with the I’m concerned Bob is not changing his behavior despite me being very direct and he is putting my life at risk. I need to work from home full time until this is addressed. Or maybe after 2 incidents during the day, tell your boss (loop in HR) that you are WFH the rest of the day until this is addressed.

  65. Jenni*

    I have fantasies of macing these people, including those who are ‘wearing’ their masks but they’re under the noses. At least at school I can ask hs students why their nose is naked!

    1. Loves libraries*

      Me too. Students are better about masks at school than the general public here since I live in Georgia with a governor who doesn’t have a mask mandate.

      1. pancakes*

        School board members too, apparently – read about what happened after the death of Georgia kindergarten teacher Patrick Key, if you haven’t yet.

  66. TM*

    I’m glad that it was made very clear early on at my place of work that if you don’t wear a mask, discipline up to termination is possible. They aren’t messing around.

    But on a personal level, I figured that if there was an immediate problem, I would get the hell away from the person not wearing the mask. We have very good mask compliance in my office but I still barricade the entrance to my cube with a chair to prevent people from getting into my bubble. I’m in charge of me and if that means I turn into a nasty person to get problem people away from me (or just a rude person by refusing to interact with a problem person), at least I’ll have my health.

  67. Holy Carp*

    Would it be ok to snap a photo of Bob with your phone every time you see him without a mask, and text that to your boss and HR? They might see ow often Bob is ignoring rules, and/or they might get tired of so many texts. The squeaky wheel….

    1. Former Retail Lifer*

      I would be bombarding them with photos. If they won’t act because it’s the right thing to do, maybe they’ll act because they’re annoyed with all of the notifications.

  68. HailRobonia*

    I’m a bit paranoid, so if I were you, I would make sure I have disinfectant spray on-hand to use in my cubicle any time I leave and return. He might think you are being “too sensitive” and do passive-aggressive (or is it outright aggressive?) stuff like coughing in your cube when you are away, touching things, etc.

    He’s already shown himself to be unreasonable so be prepared for more unreasonable behavior.

  69. SD*

    Another idea on keeping distance and protecting yourself from the Bobs of the world: get an air purifier with a UV-C light and park it right in the doorway of your cubicle, maybe on the seat of a chair for height. It works as a physical barrier and potentially a virus/bacterial/mold, etc. barrier.

    From the FDA: “UVC radiation has been shown to destroy the outer protein coating of the SARS-Coronavirus, which is a different virus from the current SARS-CoV-2 virus. The destruction ultimately leads to inactivation of the virus…. UVC radiation may also be effective in inactivating the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is the virus that causes the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).”

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Just a word of advice: the kind of UV light we used in the labs to kill viruses was powered at the ‘stick your hand under this for too long and you’re at serious risk of skin cancer’ level. A commercial UV light is likely to have a similar output to standard sun exposure which requires a lot more time to kill a virus.

      This one I’ll read up more on, I’ve mostly been keeping track on vaccine development and trial data!

  70. Tired of Covid-and People*

    OP, keep a can of disinfectant spray at your desk and start spraying furiously if he walks near you. You absolutely have the right not to be assaulted by some covid-denying fool. You may normally shy away from confrontation, I appreciate it doesn’t come easily for some people like it does for me, but this is worthy of taking a stand on. Tell this person in no uncertain terms that he cannot be around you without a mask, properly worn. It’s a risk to you and folks you know. Don’t depend on management, HR or anybody else to take care of you here. Good luck!

  71. voyager1*

    Why do you tag COVID- 19 posts as The Plague? The virus is called COVID-19. I find it very disconcerting.

    I know you have done it from the beginning of this pandemic, but maybe it is time to retire this? With 400K dead Americans and millions more worldwide, I get the trying to add a little humor but maybe this has run far enough.

    1. BubbleTea*

      I looked up the definition of the word plague and found this: “any contagious disease that spreads rapidly and kills many people.” It seems like an accurate use of the word to me.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I think it’s not meant to be humorous. A plague is a term we used to use back in university to describe any serious wide spreading disease that causes high death tolls and can kill/maim any section of the population.

      Strongly suspect Allison is using this in a clinical shorthand, not an attempt at a joke.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Added: I’ve lost loved ones to this bloody deadly virus. I’ve been reading up on just about every immunology paper on it. It’s only my opinion but it’s nice to see a shorthand summary rather than ‘SARS-COVID-19 variant xyz’ for the hundredth time. It sort of creates more of a ‘there’s an actual person running this site who cares about people’ feel than the cold, unfeeling steel of a viral/genomic classification.

        (However I am someone who refers to herself as ‘crazy’ sometimes so I’m not the best judge of human behaviour standards)

    3. Idril Celebrindal*

      Considering that:

      A) COVID-19 is a plague in every definition of the term, and
      B) Dark humor is a well-established way for humans to retain sanity and relative balance in traumatic situations

      I think it’s really not a good plan to attempt to deny anyone a coping strategy that hurts no one and helps a lot of us.

      1. voyager1*

        I lost a parent to COVID, and I find it insensitive calling COVID “The Plague”. I don’t think she meant it maliciously at first, but I do think it is time to be a little bit more sensitive and serious about the situation and to those who have lost loved ones.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          It meets the literal definition of the word plague though. I understand you find it upsetting, but it’s not being used in a glib manner. It’s not insensitive to use a word to mean its literal dictionary definition.

        2. Temperance*

          My grandfather caught it in his nursing home, and died. I’m fine calling it “The Plague”, because I call people who spread it and who act like Bob “plague rats”, because they are personally, directly responsible for making others sick.

        3. No Name #1*

          People who lived with HIV/AIDS during the height of the epidemic as well as gay people who saw their communities decimated by AIDS referred to it as the Plague because that is a term that conveys the severity of the pandemic. I have heard long term survivors of HIV and people who were involved in ACT UP in the 80s and 90s use this term as well. Perhaps some people mean it is dark humor, but it is a legitimate word to use and I have a feeling that in years to come this term will be used to refer to COVID-19.

    4. allathian*

      Plague doesn’t just mean the bubonic plague/black death, but to any contagious disease that spreads rapidly and kills many people. It’s not a joke.

  72. Not trying to be rude, just good at it*

    Using your best south philly accent hollar, “Yo cuz, get the heck out of my space!”

    Also have your cellphone camera on and text your boss with the offensive video.

  73. LTL*

    “I have told HR (who works remotely) that Bob doesn’t ever wear one, and they sent out a couple of company-wide reminder emails.” I am seriously side-eyeing HR….

  74. iglwif*

    OMG, OP!!

    I would recommend a nice stripe of hockey stick tape at the entrance to your cubicle, a hockey stick you can use to show how far 6 feet is, and an air horn. And also a call to 311 (or whatever gets you to your city’s public health office), your JHSC rep, and your state’s department of public health.

  75. LegendaryBobcatTaxidermy**

    In addition to all of the other things Alison mentioned, you can print a sign and taping it up on the outside of your cube that you can point to in order to jumpstart the conversation – “please wear a mask in this area and comply with social distancing guidelines.” He comes over, you point at the sign, he will probably react, but it gives you a jumping off point to continue the conversation (or send him away). I did this in my open office floor plan for the occasional times I have to go into the office (it’s not frequent right now, but people aren’t wearing masks in there even though they’ve been asked to. HR won’t enforce it. Le sigh.)

  76. Batgirl*

    To Bob: (hold up cop hand) “Let me stop you there. Back up. OK, just to be clear that’s as close as is safe. So, if you come any closer than that I’m going to have to leave. OK?” Behave exactly like he’s about to step over a cliff. If he ignores you? Leave the building. You’re done.
    To HR: “I’ve just had another really close call with Bob’s breath. Is he ignoring the instructions you gave him or did no one actually tell him he’s dangerous?”

  77. MeepMeep*

    I’d just start working from home and email HR that I won’t come into the office until Bob masks up. Then it becomes their problem rather than yours.

    The company is basically asking you to risk your life for your job, and to accept that you’re risking your life because they’re unwilling to discipline a problem employee. That’s way too much risk to accept for any amount of salary.

  78. Observer*

    I know someone who has a really odd blind spot about masks – just can’t seem to get with this idea that they REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE.


    He ALWAYS wears a mask at work. And everyone else in his chain of command had better be wearing one as well. Because those are the rules. As he says, “It doesn’t matter if you think this works. These are the rules and you need to follow the rules. End of story.” And to be honest, they’ve really avoided spread.

    Which is to say – do NOT engage in whether masks work or not. This is the rule, and it needs to be followed. Period. Beaning and end of story.

    OP, feel free to report this to whatever agency covers this stuff. Do it anonymously if you need to. And in the meantime stop hinting, using “shocked silence”, or ASKING. Tell him to leave and walk away if he refuses.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Beaning and end of story.

      Depending on what you’re using to do the beaning, this could well do the trick! (Sorry; I couldn’t help myself…)

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yup – I mentioned up above my shift manager treated refusal to wear your mask as “insubordination via refusal to follow written office safely protocols.” The rules are the rules in the office, and they are for all of the office.

  79. Blue Eagle*

    Maybe someone already said this because I haven’t read all of the comments, but if I were in this situation, I would bring a dowel rod that is 7 feet long and I would hold that up every single time that Bob tried to come into my office. Because the health officials say that everyone is supposed both wear a mask AND social distance at 6′ away.

  80. White rabbit*

    Even if Bob is forced to wear a mask, he is going to find ways around the rule. He’ll wear it under his nose. He’ll get one made of mesh. He’ll hold a water bottle while he walks & claim he’s drinking. Nothing short of firing will be enough.

    1. OP*

      Yeah, you’re not wrong. Some people will never get it. When the mask rule started in May at my office, he told everyone (including me) to just start carrying coffee around at all times and then you never have to wear a mask. Thought it was a joke so I laughed; he did not. He was completely confused at why I didn’t start doing that and then got angry with me and started complaining that no one listened to his great advice, even after I explained that’s it’s a state law, company rule, and a safety issue.

      1. tangerineRose*

        It’s so odd to me that he thought this was great advice. Loopholes around something meant to keep people safe.

  81. OP*

    Thank you, Alison, for answering my question! Honestly I’m so grateful to have advice, both from you and the commenters (which I want to respond to soon!). Thank you!! There is a semi-update that I can share already – the day after I wrote to Alison, I ended up setting the firm boundary of “You cannot come in my cubicle without a mask” and asked Bob to stay six feet away from me at all times. While it did eventually work in the end, the conversation went horridly, worse than I imagined. He argued for 10 minutes while I kept saying “OK, but you still need to wear a mask in my cubicle.” Some of his arguments: he doesn’t want to (he dangled a mask in front of my face at one point while telling me he doesn’t want to wear it), he disagrees with me (“ok, but you still need to wear a mask in my cubicle”), “I don’t have to wear one at Wal-Mart, so why do I have to wear one here?” (We have a mask mandate in our state so by law he is expected to wear a mask at Wal-Mart, but I just said “my cubicle, my rules!”) BUT – the next day, he started wearing a mask if he needed to come near me. He avoids me like the plague now (lol, couldn’t resist that idiom) and has not talked to me socially since – and that’s totally fine with me, after how he treated me. He’s a bigger jerk than I thought and I no longer feel the need to be overly kind.

    I am realizing now that I should have informed HR immediately after he blew up at me when I asked him to wear a mask. I wish I had, but here we are!

    Now, I dread working with this man. I never know if Bob is going to wear a mask around me or not (so far he has, but he’s proved he deserves no benefit of the doubt so I never know). Also, my other colleagues are frustrated because they were hoping Bob would take the hint and also mask up around them. He has not. He does not mask around others or the common areas – which, as a commenter pointed out, means he’s more likely to breath germs onto communal surfaces. So as Alison said, it’s still unsafe right now. We are going to write an email to HR signed by a few of us and ask that action be taken to fix his non-masking. If that doesn’t help (it should! I hope!), I’m prepared to say I refuse to come into the office until he masks consistently. I will definitely be using advice from Alison’s answer and the comments to craft the email. Thank you!! :)

    1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      Yeah, he clearly doesn’t care about anyone but himself here. Keep being the squeaky wheel.

      1. OP*

        Thank you, Alison, and thank you to all the commenters who have provided encouragement for me to keep being a squeaky wheel! I think above all, Alison’s response and that of everyone else here has confirmed that I am not being a baby about this, but that this is a serious issue and needs to be treated as such. I have had some bad advice from a few people in my life (mainly my parents) who maintained that I should just let my coworker life his life life how he wants, I can’t be upset by it or say anything about it, saying something makes me a control-freak, I need to move on, etc. There are definitely some other situations where those sentiments would be good advice, but this is one where that advice falls flat and invalidates the very real consequences Bob’s behavior could have. Thank you all for validating that this really is an issue! Stay safe and stay squeaky, everyone!

    2. JustaClarifier*

      OP, even if you feel you should have informed HR when he first ‘blew up at you,’ you can still do this. Let them know it happened and if you have a date/time, even better. They need to know, regardless of whether it was today, yesterday, or a week ago. Small drops make up a rainstorm that gets them to take action, so add that to your HR email with the others. Good luck and – may I just add – that I think Bob can stick another mask somewhere else he may not feel is appropriate.

    3. JSPA*

      If other people want Bob to wear a mask near them, they now know how to do it.

      For those who don’t have the stomach for an argument (not to mention the extra air projected in their direction), try a “Mask ON zone” and a, “no mask? no entry.” sign, one to each side of the cubicle door. 144 point type, at least.

      And there’s no statute of limitations for telling your boss that you were willing to overlook Bob being so argumentative in the hopes that he’d get the message about masking, but as it hasn’t worked, you need to let them know.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Seriously impressed at how you’re handling this. No word of a lie mate, you’re doing bloody amazing.

    5. Masks r Us*

      Good on you! It makes it so much worse when you finally confront someone and it doesn’t go well. Sounds like you did really well in the moment. And now, if you want, you can take any additional steps such as emailing HR & boss &/or working from home. One thing at a time. Well done!

    6. Workerbee*

      This is excellent. Bob behaved like the single sentence stereotype he is, but he still put that mask on. Never mind that he now avoids you so he doesn’t have to mask up. This is all a win. You showed him you are neither an enabler nor a pushover, two of the key things that person-presenting shells like Bob count on, just as they have with HR and the boss. You folks on the ground are who he has to deal with most immediately, and that gives you and your coworkers the power.

    7. Maltypass*

      I’ve had this outcome with a few people and honestly them pointedly avoiding you is a great outcome – keep doing what you’re doing and remember that you also gained back precious time interacting with someone who was truly an ass all along

      1. OP*

        Thank you! Yes, I agree that avoiding is a perfect outcome. Confronting someone like this definitely weeds out the largest jerks!

    8. AKchic*

      It sounds like everyone needs to be the squeaky wheel and hold HR accountable for Bob’s continued refusal to follow the mandates.

    9. tangerineRose*

      Good for you! I’d avoid saying that you refuse to come into the office until he masks consistently, at least for now. If they keep ignoring this, then maybe, but right now, they might not know Bob’s still doing this.

      I’m guessing that Wal-Mart employees don’t want the hassle of dealing with obnoxious people who refuse to wear masks. I think some stores have decided they don’t want their employees having to do this, too.

      I hope your co-workers will start thinking about following your example.

    10. Hazel*

      Really glad to hear you’re taking these steps. Bob may think you’re overreacting, but someone like Bob is most likely the reason my uncle is dead. My uncle caught COVID at work – where some of his coworkers weren’t taking mask-wearing seriously – and he died a few weeks ago. Do what you need to do protect yourself and others.

    11. allathian*

      Yes, this post seriously cheered me up. Good for you. I hope you can get everyone else in your office to sign your next email to HR. If all of you are squeaky wheels, they might actually be prompted to do something about him. Really, he’s putting all of you at risk and should face the consequences for that.

      1. TexasRose*

        An alternative tack might be to have your co-workers tell Bob, when he enters a cubicle unmasked,
        “Bob, you know you’re supposed to wear a mask. You do it when the boss is here. Either put on a mask or get out. If you don’t comply with these safety requirements, I’m going to send a picture of your uncovered face to the boss.” Give him 15 seconds to leave or get covered, and if/when Bob starts arguing, snap (and forward) a pic to the boss. Just one pic per person every week or so, to let the boss know what Bob’s up to (still / again) when the boss is not on-site. Be matter-of-fact in the email – just an FYI that Bob’s safety compliance seems to be a problem when the boss isn’t around.

        Remember: you and your coworkers are not “tattling” – you are protecting your company from non-compliance fines, and you are protecting yourself and your families from risk of illness (possibly long-term) and death.

        You’ll likely need to put up some “Wear your Mask” signs with an added “No Eating or Drinking Allowed in my space” sign.

    12. J.B.*

      I’m glad this worked for you, and I doubt Bob staying away from you is a problem. I think people who refuse to wear masks are telling you exactly who they are, and Bob did nothing to change those impressions. Yay you! I would go ahead and let HR/your boss know about his explosion and then suggest that your other colleagues start calling Bob out to HR every.single.time.

    13. MCMonkeybean*

      Good for you for standing up to him! What an ass he is. And of course “I don’t have to wear a mask in Wal-Mart” really just translates to “employees at Wal-Mart are unable to force me to wear a mask.” So so crappy for anyone to put the employees at a store at risk when those employees are likely afraid of what a confrontation with a customer could mean for either their job or their physical safety.

      It’s good to hear that you are still planning on pushing back to HR as a group because even though you finally got him to wear a mask around you which should help reduce your risk, if he’s walking around the same areas as you unmasked then he is still putting you in some danger.

      Seriously, what an ass. I’m sorry you are having to deal with this!

  82. Erin*

    One more email to HR and if there is not immediate change, report to your dept of health and/or dept of labor. They are knowingly allowing violations.

  83. Cake or Death?*

    I’ll preface this by saying I have no problem being direct and assertive, so this might not be an easy solution for everyone.
    But personally, I would reply to one of those company wide emails, except remove everyone except your manager, HR, and Bob, and just tell them directly that Bob is still not complying with the mask requirement and that it needs to be addressed.
    Just put them on the spot, all of them.
    Also, again blunt person, every time that Bob came into my cubicle I’d just say “get out of my cubicle now and don’t come back until you wear a mask. I’ve told you multiple times. I don’t care if you have no problem breaking company policy; I don’t have to accommodate your personal opinion. If you think you get to decide whether to where a mask or not, then I get to decide whether you get the chance to infect me or not. . Either email me or put on a mask.”

  84. George*

    While OP reports the issue has seemingly moved on ie: Bob has moved on to other people in the office, there is a case to be made for taking pictures. Not to show to the boss and HR, although it can be done, but to let Bob know you are documenting his behavior. Let him worry about what happens with the pictures. You may never show them to anyone, but Bob doesn’t know that. All he knows is you took his picture while he wasn’t wearing a mask. Food for thought.

  85. Soylent Minority*

    Get a roll of painters tape and stretch a piece across your cubicle entrance about chest high. Attach a simple sign in bold letters that says Mask required beyond this point.

    Even those who’ve donned a mask should pause to give you a moment to put yours on before they enter your space.

    It is not unreasonable to be firm about this.

  86. Jennifer Thneed*

    Letter writer, you are allowing Bob to talk to you. That’s rewarding the behavior you want to stop. You don’t have to reply to him at all. You can literally get up, walk past him out of your cube, turn around from 10 feet away and tell him to leave. No matter what he says, your answer is “please leave my desk now”. Stop looking at those grandkid pics!

    1. Sc@rlettNZ*

      Exactly. I’d give him one warning not to come near me without a mask, or social distancing and after that I’d be standing up and screaming at the top of my lungs ‘Bob get away from me’ any time he tried to enter my cubicle.

      You’re letting him get away with this. Just tell him to back off and stop looking at pictures.

  87. SyfyScientist*

    Practice saying the lines that Alison recommends in front of a mirror. Not just in your head, say them outloud. Or find someone at home/in your pod to roleplay with to go over the interaction. I’ve found it really hard to stand up in these sort of situations as well and practicing is absolutely a great way get more comfortable with actually doing it.
    You can do this.

  88. Jeremie*

    Removed. You cannot post comments here cheering on behavior that’s directly responsible for other people’s deaths, and I suggest you take some time to reflect on why you would. – Alison

  89. Greige*

    I had a similar but non-Covid situation a few years back. There was a verbal dirctive, but coworker ignored it. (Hazard was only hazardous to me.) When it happened a second time, I made very clear how shocked I was, collected my computer, and walked out. I told my supervisor I would WFH until there was a written policy in place.

    The issue with management is that they always agreed employees shouldn’t put others at risk, but didn’t want to deal with the awkwardness of enforcing the directive. I had to make it harder NOT to enforce it.

    I did consider the possibility that it would hurt my relationship with the company, but I was valuable to them, and, more importantly, I valued my life. For some people losing their job is a more existential threat, so I figure that since I was able go take the risk, I should do so to help change the culture for people who couldn’t.

    In the end, management was apologetic, and we worked out a solution such that I felt safe coming back. YMMV.

  90. PJ*

    “Bob, why are you being such a jerk about wearing a mask???!!” Yikes. I think the majority, if not all of us know of someone who has either been very ill or lost their life to Covid, so why does he feel the need to go against his corporate policy in such an insensitive way? Even if he personally believes masks aren’t effective, how could it hurt him to wear it for the time he’s out of his cubicle? I live in a very loose state as far as covid regs. We have in-person school, sports going on with 50% capacity etc. But you know what? Our workplaces have the right to say “wear a mask”, “wear a tie” etc. even if it’s not a law! I’m so tired of making a mountain out of a molehill. Now that Bob has elevated the situation, he should go. Continual refusal to comply with a company directive is a good reason to be fired. My opinion but sheesh(!) (Personally, I’ve had Covid and am basking in my immunity for now, but I still wear a mask because of my job and out of respect for the businesses I shop at that ask me to)

    1. pancakes*

      I agree with you about Bob, but want to point out that having had covid doesn’t make one immune to getting it again. Please read up on this, and on the new variants that are circulating.

      1. PJ*

        Well, I work in healthcare (Long Term Care) and there is a time frame where we’re considered to be immune as in not having to test regularly. It’s an “iffy” timeframe but around 90 days, now some info is that immunity could be up to 8 months, and a co-worker told me that the test can be a “false-positive” for up to 90 days after having Covid. I in no way neglect universal precautions, but it is a relief to have been through it and be ok. I hate the idea of the new variants, it’s just a bummer and I sure hope the vaccine curbs those a bit.

    2. OP*

      Yes! This. You’d think I’d asked Bob to run to the moon and back for me they way he stumbled back in shock when I ask him to wear a mask. It’s honestly not that hard. My company provides free masks and he has no health issues to prevent mask usage. He just doesn’t want to.
      It’s encouraging that I know a few people who personally believe masks are useless, but still wear them without complaint out of respect for others. Like you said, there’s no harm in wearing one, and for a lot of rational people out there it’s not worth burning bridges over refusing to do something that’s harmless. I wish that thinking was more contagious!

  91. Ruby*

    This is my employer too, except we don’t have an HR department and just an owner with supervisors who do not think the virus is a big deal. I had a coworker come in very sick and ignored when I asked them to put a mask on, per the company policy and health policy and later that day he tested positive for covid! Nothing happened to him, no scolding, no write up, nothing. I’ve got many coworkers that refuse to wear masks and the owner nor supervisors will force the issue. I’ve had to fight to get a sneeze shield at my front desk in the office and hand sanitizer. When I pushed the issue with telling clients and coworkers they NEED to wear masks I was yelled at by my direct supervisor for “trying to make rules when you don’t have any authority.”

    There needs to be laws protecting us essential workers in offices where the employers refuse to let you work from home and also refuse to enforce the mask mandates. I’m sick and tired of getting the cold shoulder from my coworkers because they think I’m the problem because I’m telling them to mask up and then reporting them to the main office…not that it’s really mattered. Coworkers may mask up for a few days and then stop again since there is not real consequences at all.

    I’m sick of my life not mattering to these idiots. And it’s so stressful because it’s not like I can just quit and find another job easily in this pandemic mess.

    1. OP*

      Oh golly! This sounds like a nightmare. I’m so sorry. Does your company have a board? If I was on the board for a company I think I’d like to know that the supervisors are allowing unsafe behavior to continue. I hope things improve soon for you!

    2. Lizzo*

      @Ruby is there a local health department where you can call and submit a (anonymous) report about your office not following mask mandates?

  92. Jennifer Juniper*

    I’m guessing Bob may have it out for the OP and is choosing this anti-mask thing as a way to get rid of them. Double if the OP is a woman or BIPOC and Bob is white. The OP may feel like they have no choice but to comply due to they’re being junior to Bob or other power dynamics (the only woman/BIPOC in a team full of white men or the most junior person on the team, for instance).

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