my coworker thinks I’m being abused, I don’t know how to do my interview assignment, and more

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

1. My coworker thinks I’m being abused and won’t let it go

My coworker “Elsa” gets fixated on things to the point it alienates other workers. For instance, if someone mentions in passing that they don’t like a book that happens to be Elsa’s favorite, she will barrage them with questions and try to get them to see what a great book it is, even leaving copies and fan art on their desks. She is the same with things people do like. When another coworker casually mentioned he loved Star Wars, and that happened to be something that Elsa liked as well, she began to send him all kinds of Star Wars memes, fan fiction, and fan art and to try to turn every conversation to Star Wars.

Elsa’s behavior is annoying, but it was manageable with a walk away and outright ignoring her or telling her we’re too busy to talk about non-work items. But now we have another issue.

I had to have minor surgery on my eye (chalazion removal). I have very fair skin and bruise easily, so I went to work with what looked like a black eye. Everyone asked about it and I explained what happened. Elsa, however, cornered me and said she knew I was “being beaten by my (partner) at home” and that I needed to “stop covering it up.” I told her to stop. This was surgery. She was welcome to look up that this sometimes happens and it does not affect my job and I don’t want to hear about it any more.

I guess that just spurred her into “advocate” action, because then I started getting emails from her with domestic violence hotlines and information. I went to her desk and told her to stop. This was part of a surgery and she was out of line. A week later, she was still persisting. I was finding “it’s no shame asking for help” notes on my desk, pamphlets about domestic violence left near my lunch, and her texting me at all hours to “make sure I’m okay.” I blocked her the second time that happened and now she’s even more convinced I’m being hurt at home!

I called our boss (who works in a different time zone) and had a video chat with her about all of this. She said that Elsa “can be challenging” and that she would speak to her. That was two weeks ago. Elsa is now telling others in the office that I “got her in trouble” and that my partner (male) is beating me! She also told a number of coworkers that she has been “watching” my partner on social media.

I have been clear about this to her. I have told her to stop. My boss said something to her but I guess it didn’t stick. Do I call my boss again or do I go to HR? I need this to stop.

Either or both. Ideally, call your boss to let her know Elsa hasn’t stopped and let her know you’re going to speak with HR as well. Use the words “at this point it seems like harassment and I need the company to ensure it stops.”

Your boss probably thought she got the point across to Elsa — Elsa may have even assured her she’d stop — but she should have checked back in with you afterwards to make sure it wasn’t continuing.

And for the record, Elsa’s behavior is wildly out of line! (Even if you were being abused, this kind of bombardment — and now gossiping, too — wouldn’t be helpful.) Your employer should shut it down with extreme prejudice. It sounds like they need to address her intrusiveness more broadly too, because I doubt this will be the last time she hassles someone about something she should stay out of. (For example, if she ever hears — or simply decides — that someone has a medical condition, is she going to barrage them with unwanted health advice? Your employer needs to preemptively shut all of it down.)

Read an update to this letter here

2. I don’t know how to do the assignment my interviewer gave me

I’m looking to change careers. Recently, I was screened by HR for a job I think I would really enjoy since it’s a hobby of mine. The interview went pretty well, except it ended with an assignment. I need to compile a report and to be honest, while I have been paid for my hobby, I’ve never had to document my process before. I’m planning on reworking something I’ve sent in the past, but it’s a much less formal document than what they’re likely looking for. It left me wondering whether it’s better to show your cards with something that clearly isn’t what they’re expecting, but shows some expertise or to attempt to create something that you don’t really know how to do. I guess I’m worried that even if I could put together a document that might pass muster, I could get myself in hot water and eventually be found out that I’m not as knowledgeable as I presented.

You really, really don’t want to oversell your skills or experience for a job — because if it “works,” it can land you in a job you’ll struggle in and maybe get fired from. It’s better to be up-front about what you can and can’t do, and have and haven’t done, so you can have an honest conversation about whether you’re the right match or not. That doesn’t mean you need to opt out as soon as you’re asked to do something you don’t feel confident about, but be up-front about it — “I haven’t done X before, but I’ve done Y and Z, which are similar” or so forth.

In this case, I’d try to do the assignment if you can, rather than turn in something that’s far afield from what they asked for. But if you don’t think you can (or if you think it’ll be so weak that there would be no point), be up-front about the situation — for example, “I’ve never done X before and don’t want to misrepresent my skills by attempting to learn it overnight for this exercise. But I’m attaching Y instead, since it might be similar enough to demonstrate the approach I’d bring to the work.” The employer might conclude from that that you’re not who they’re looking for — but if you’re not, it’s better for you and them to figure that out now rather than after they’ve hired you. As always, the goal of the interview process isn’t just to get offered the job, but to figure out if it’s the right job for you or not — and this is part of that.

3. I only have one job on my resume

I am in the process of updating my resume and I struggle with how best to format it. My main concern is that my professional experience is really only one job. I accepted my current position when I was a year out of college, and while I had worked before that, most jobs were either internships or seasonal work.

Now I have had the same title, at the same employer, for the past 10 years. And while my duties have changed and grown, I worry how this is perceived by hiring managers.

Significant turnover in my reporting line has made it difficult to advance or advocate for a title change. I have also done a lot of professional development in recent years, trying to address some of the gaps in working this one job (certificate programs, board positions for regional groups, grad school, etc.) but it still feels like I need to justify staying in my position for so long. Do I keep worrying about this, or let it go and focus on my accomplishments regardless?

Focus on your accomplishments regardless. There’s only so much you can do about the situation, so there’s no point in stressing about it. That said, if you can find ways to show a progressive increase in responsibilities and/or accomplishments, that will help. For example, if you became the go-to person for X, or took over training of new hires, or covered for your manager when she was out, those things all indicate an increase in expertise and responsibility over time. If you don’t have much that will show a progression like that, just make really sure that you’re writing about achievements, not just listing job duties. That’s always important, but it’ll be extra important here.

Read an update to this letter

4. My manager doesn’t want me to apply for a promotion

I am currently in a laboratory assistant position, soon to graduate from university and apply for a scientist position.

The assistant manager, who is the main boss for the lab assistants, had a strange conversation with me. She asked me when I graduate, then went on to say that she doesn’t think the university I go to is very good (she’s hired at least 10 people from it and it’s top 2% globally). She also stated that the interview questions for the job I’m applying for here were very difficult. It was an odd conversation that made me think she doesn’t want me to apply for the position. The issue is, she is on the panel of interviewers. I am wondering if I should ask her point blank why she doesn’t want me to apply for the position.

I am a hard worker. Strong work ethic. I barely take sick days. I am always on time. I am always hard working, I take every second Saturday as a sixth shift. I will always stay back or start early as requested. I barely make mistakes. I am extremely efficient, top two people KPI-wise. There is no reason she would not want me to apply, except for the fact that I was honest with her and said I would apply for jobs as any graduate would, meaning I just need a job. I think she’s extremely loyal to the company and maybe she doesn’t want me to apply because she thinks she’ll train me, then I’ll leave for a higher paying job, which is not a good reason to not hire someone.

Yes, go back and ask! You could say, “I got the sense from our conversation that you were discouraging me from applying for the X job. If I interpreted that correctly, I was hoping you could tell me a little more about why you wouldn’t recommend I pursue it.”

It’s possible, by the way, that she doesn’t want to lose you in the position you’re in now. Some managers will hold people back like that. It wouldn’t make much sense here since she knows you’re actively applying for jobs and thus she’s likely to lose you anyway, but who knows.

But if you continue to get the sense that she’s worried you’d leave the new job too quickly (which is a legitimate thing for managers to worry about if the candidate has indicated that’s likely), address that head-on — “I want to make sure I haven’t given you the impression that I’d move on quickly if I were hired for the X job. I’m job searching now since I’m graduating, but if I were hired for this, I wouldn’t continue to search; I’d be excited to stay in the role for at least several years.” (Or adapt with whatever timeframe makes sense for your field and the role.)

5. Saving email accolades

Throughout my career, I’ve been told that saving email accolades is valuable. I can see where it would be valuable for me as a reminder but are they valuable for career advancement since they don’t appear on a performance appraisal?

They’re useful in a few ways: First, going through them when you’re having a bad day can feel good. Second, you can search them for examples of times that you got great results or garnered notable praise, which can remind you of specific accomplishments to talk about in interviews or with your boss. Third, when you go through them all at once, you can sometimes spot themes that you can highlight on self-evaluations, in cover letters, etc. — like “regularly lauded by colleagues for being able to win over skeptical training audiences” or so forth. Fourth, sometimes some of the praise will be superlative and specific enough that it’s worth quoting directly, either in self-evaluations or in cover letters (for example, I used to mention in cover letters that my manager called me “the fastest writer on the planet”).

{ 457 comments… read them below }

  1. Roci*

    #5 I heard about creating a “good job” folder on this site in the past. The way I do it is mark the email with a color marker in Outlook, and create a folder that automatically pulls all emails with that color marker. That way “thanks” emails aren’t separated from the chain, I can still sort them by topic (which is helpful if the email has actual information in it and not just “thanks”), and they are easy to mark and review whenever I want.

    But I am interested in hearing other ways to save email accolades.
    Especially for things that are not emails–sometimes I send myself a chat screenshot or written record of things said to me in person for my folder, but it feels awkward.

    1. Megan*

      I usually forward them to my own personal gmail account, and then turn them into PDFs (as every job I’ve been at has used a different email system and I didn’t want them to corrupt or anything).

      I too find them useful to refer to in annual evaluations and in job applications – not to mention a pick me up on a bad day!

    2. Viki*

      I can forward messages as attachments, so I attach the praise to an email that I forward to myself and then just have it in a folder.

      This way I can file the email appropriately to wherever it needs to be.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      It’s rare IT staff get accolades (although great Cthulhu do we ever get complaints) but the ones that I have received about staff or myself that aren’t via email I have a dedicated folder on our Sharepoint team site that has scans of letters/screenshots of texts/transcripts of phone calls. Used to use a .pst file (and anyone who’s supported Exchange is now wincing) but got too unstable.

      (The file, not me. Although a case can be made for both)

      1. PersephoneUnderground*

        That sounds a bit dicey since if you were ever laid off you’d lose access to that Sharepoint site. Have you considered making a personal backup of it?

        That said it’s great you have any system, I mostly just send myself a copy to my personal email, but don’t keep them that organized on the receiving end.

          1. Anonapots*

            Are you clients top secret people working in the government? Otherwise, why would they put their names to paper in the first place?

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Copies of emails, letters, pictures with personal identifying data such as real names, email addresses, phone numbers, addresses et al have quite stringent security laws round my parts.

    4. LadyByTheLake*

      Like Megan, I forward such accolades to my personal email account and have a special folder for them there, although I like the idea of saving them to pdf. That way, when I leave a job or am updating my resume (which I only do on my personal computer at home) I have them handy. At work, I have a folder in my email.

    5. Lyudie*

      I did the same thing, but sadly I didn’t think to save them elsewhere and they’ve been deleted by the Outlook’s retention policy. Alas. I like Megan’s idea of PDFing them.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I’ve saved a lot of stuff over the years in my person Dropbox so I could easily access them from my work computer or personal one. Not necessarily email accolades, but things I thought would be handy (and was not proprietary or anything like that).

    6. BRR*

      I record verbal accolades in my document I keep of my achievements throughout the year. So come performance review time I can just go through and say “I accomplished x” and my teapot report “provided an above and beyond analysis of our spout design.”

    7. Sparkles McFadden*

      I used to keep a running document for accomplishments throughout the year, and save copies of the emails in a second running document. It would make things much easier at review time.

      I’d also save copies as pdfs and sort those by year. It was a good way to keep a list of potential references too. You never know when you’re going to need a reference.

    8. RMNPgirl*

      I save them in my email.

      I’m also very close with my parents so a lot of times I forward to them so they can see it; my mom then prints them and has a folder full of them going back years :)

    9. Quickbeam*

      #5: my entire performance review is based upon positive feedback from my teams, almost all in e-mail form. If I did not collect them and send them to my manager, I’d have no appraisal! They have also been a hail mary pass historically when I had references who had died or moved away.

    10. Kes*

      Personally I keep a folder of screenshots. This allows me to include feedback from a range of sources including not just emails but also slack messages, feedback I’ve received through our feedback tool, etc. I keep this primarily on my work laptop but periodically zip it up and send it to my personal email to retain the record. I find it useful for self-encouragement, recording major accomplishments and spotting things people have particularly called out that I’m good at, as Alison mentioned.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I save screenshots as well, especially when I receive praise via a Teams chat or something else that doesn’t easily lend itself to sharing/forwarding (like an email).

      2. King Friday XIII*

        I do screenshots as well – mine are just in a Word doc for each year, and there’s a space for me to upload supporting documentation in our annual review software so I use them there.

    11. Beatrice*

      I have an Outlook folder for them. If I need to keep the original email with the rest of the email chain for some reason, I create a copy of it for my Kudos folder (just copy/paste works for that). I have the retention policy on that folder updated to never delete emails, so I don’t lose them.

    12. skunklet*

      You can right click and Move > Copy to folder. I do this and save in a Kudos folder, then save the email whever it should go (if it’s not just a kudos).

    13. Moi*

      I have a coworker who does something similar, but he hasn’t automated it like you. He call it his “Atta Boy” folder and it makes my day.

  2. Raine*

    RE: #1 – Some people won’t accept the truth; they’re too used to living in their reality. I used to fence as a hobby and, being shorter and left-handed, would often fence against someone much taller – which would result in wicked, large bruises on my arms, sometimes my chest, on my legs, etc. Coworker of mine thought I was lying about not being abused and I wound up having a conversation with our boss. I was lucky that day that I had my gear with me and could show our boss that yes, a fencer’s foil will produce a giant bruise. Coworker didn’t believe our boss, though, and kept “checking in” to make sure I was okay. Drove me nuts until they saw me carrying my gear with me, asked me what I was carrying, and finally accepted I wasn’t lying about having a hobby wherein I got hit with fencing swords.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      In college I used to do a certain kind of dance that involved a lot of rolling around on the ground, sharing weight with other people, etc. pretty seriously, so I always had bruises scattered around my body.

      Once, a guy in my dorm (who otherwise didn’t really know me) quietly pulled me aside and asked me if I was oikay with such grave sincerity that I burst out laughing. It was a wildly inappropriate response on my part, and very kind of him to check in! But the idea that I was being harmed was so far away from the reality that it didn’t even occur to me that someone might be concerned.

      Importantly, though, when I said I was fine he *believed me and backed off.*

      1. Quoth the Raven*

        I’m just garden variety clumsy. I walk into things, I hit my body against things all the time, I manage to scratch myself if my nails are long, you name it. Fortunately, I don’t bruise easily, but when I do, I get these spectacularly nasty bruises and bump that last days, if not weeks. People have asked about them before, but they also believe me, especially when they know me and know I’m just prone to hurting myself.

        Futhermore, having actually been in a badly emotionally abusive relationship, Elsa is the kind of person I would never confide in. Her behaviour and actions would have just been an added source of distress for me, it would have not made me feel safe, I would have been defensive, and it could have actually endangered me,

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Your second point is incredibly important. Even if Elsa were right, she’s going about it all wrong.

          I’m glad you talk about an abusive relationship in the *past tense* but I’m sorry that happened to you at all.

        2. lailaaaaah*

          Same here, especially with the gossiping to coworkers and the manager not taking it seriously. One of the reasons I got out of my abusive relationship was because my manager and coworkers were hugely supportive without prying – that wouldn’t have been possible in the situation the LW describes.

        3. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Had Elsa been around when I was with my horrifically abusive ex she’d have made me too paranoid to ever leave him. Way too paranoid.

        4. Saraquill*

          I was in a similar situation with an abusive relationship and a third party being way too into matters. The level of fixation made it clear that the third party was not concerned for me so much as making my situation all about them.

          1. LunaLena*

            Yes, “making it all about them” is exactly what I was thinking. It sounds to me like Elsa has built a story around OP1 in which she is the hero who saves OP1, and the story doesn’t end until she has slain the Abuse Dragon and Liberated OP1 (cue cheering crowds and medal scene a la Star Wars: A New Hope).

            1. Raine*

              Agreed! Some people get wrapped up in being a savior for someone…usually someone who a) doesn’t need it b) doesn’t want it c) never asked for it, because that’s how they get validated.

        5. dogmom*

          I am also a very pale woman who bruises easily and is clumsy, so I sympathize! I once walked into the edge of a door and got a black eye (the only black eye I’ve ever had); a week later I had a brow waxing appointment, and of course the girl asked about my black eye. I explained what happened and she was quiet for a few moments before saying something (can’t remember what) basically accusing me of lying and being abused. Yes, I am aware that abuse victims make all sorts of “I walked into a door” excuses, but some of us really are just klutzes! I’m sorry Elsa’s a turd, LW1.

          1. Ubi Caritas*

            Me too, and I’m on a blood thinner – I once gave myself a black eye rubbing my eye during an allergy attack!

            1. The Rural Juror*

              A friend of mine is anemic and bruises so easily! It doesn’t help that she has very fair skin, so she almost always have a visible bruise somewhere. Luckily not on her face! But her arms seem to find things to bump into pretty regularly, and it shows.

          2. Koalafied*

            Yep, I’m so pale it doesn’t even take an impact to bruise me if there’s significant pressure applied. I was utterly confused by the mobile dog groomer who came to my house one summer and asked me in a very serious way, “are you okay?” until I saw he was looking at the bruises on my forearms from the 50-lb window air conditioner I had picked up and balanced on them in the process of installing it in my window.

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              Moving heavy boxes does the same to me! Not only do I bruise easily, but sometimes the bruise doesn’t show up for several hours or a day later, & I can’t always remember how I got it!

              1. pandop*

                Me too on the delayed bruises. I’ll be having a shower, notice a bruise, and have no idea what I did to my leg/arm/etc

                1. KRM*

                  I always think “That looks painful, I feel like I should remember where I got it”. But alas, I just bruise very very easily.

            2. DogAnon*

              Funny that it was a dog groomer who asked that.

              I once had to explain to someone who asked that same question that the reason I had a black eye was that I had committed the heinous crime of bathing a year old Pointer who Did Not Want to be bathed and – in the process – had been head-butted in the face.

              Different time, different person and different dog but I was fostering a puppy who had retained canines, long nails, an incredibly determined attitude and absolutely no concept of where her limbs were. So I was covered in scratches, scrapes and bruises which were just a byproduct of trying to get the puppy to understand calm interaction with humans. This was understandably a little worrying at least until I introduced the puppy to the person.

              1. inksmith*

                Ugh, the time I was being recorded for a video about domestic violence services (I worked for one) and realised afterwards that the scratches from holding my friend’s rabbit while she gave it a jab were SUPER-visible… very awkward.

              2. sivy*

                Oh my. I too had a pointer that did not like bath time! She took a chunk out of the fiberglass tub.

                Shockingly, she was always bounding about and cracking her head into mine (kiddo was just starting to crawl, dog was thrilled, we were all on the floor). I sported several black eyes and a mild concussion. Damn that dog had a hard head. I would also bruise where her paws would hit my legs.
                They broke the mold when they created German Shorthaired Pointers.

              3. Melanie Doormat*

                Oh, animal scratches are the worst for this. My cat has an anxiety problem, and sometimes — when the Prozac isn’t enough — he attacks people. Usually me. I’ve had very kind coworkers check in about my “self-harm scars”.

                (Some have suggested that keeping this cat is a sort of abusive relationship, and I have had to explain that that is not remotely amusing, and also, with his history, he can’t be rehomed, so it’s me or a humane death. Shuts most people up.)

          3. SheLooksFamiliar*

            I was horsing around with my 5 y.o. nephew and he accidentally gave me a huge black eye. When friends and co-workers asked about it, most accepted my explanation because, hey, their kids bruised them, too. But a small, staunch group was certain I was lying to protect my now-ex. A couple staged a kind of intervention, insisting I go to their church counselor or that they’d help me find one. I got a lot of ‘sad eyes’ and sighs from them, as if they just couldn’t believe I didn’t love myself enough to live free of abuse. Once the bruise faded so did the interventions but, for a long time afterward, I worried about every little scratch and bruise, wondering when someone would try to convince me to ‘save myself.’ It was stressful.

            The irony is, my parents were toxic, abusive people, leaving visible marks that people at our fundamentalist church could see. No one ever asked if my sister and I were okay or needed help.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes. I fell over on some black ice on the way to the station a couple of years ago. I was wearing glasses and the way I landed my glasses hit the skin around my left eye giving me a shiner and I got some cuts and bruises to my hands and leg where I hit the ground. The black eye was more unsightly than actually painful. I explained to my colleagues what had happened and they were almost all fine with it.

              One woman however was convinced I was being abused and kept asking me whether everything was alright, encouraging me to talk etc. She was the most irritating person anyway (always wanting people to talk about their feelings) so she was the last person I’d ever want to talk to if I was in need. In the end I asked my boss to shut her up because it was so annoying.

              Honestly I think it’s good to be concerned and check in with people but after you’ve checked in you need to leave them alone and stop probing.

              1. The Rural Juror*

                I was playing volleyball while wearing sunglasses and got knocked in the face. The glasses are what caused my bruise. It was pretty tender and visible for about a week. It’s not hard to give yourself a shiner with the right type of glasses/sunglasses/goggles/protective eyewear.

            2. Pippa K*

              To your last paragraph, SheLooksFamiliar – I’m so sorry. Someone should have protected you.

            3. Nanani*

              Holy Jesus.
              Predatory “help” is so skeevy. They sound like they were hoping to help a person in need with the end game of converting to their church. Gross.

              1. SheLooksFamiliar*

                To be fair, I don’t think that’s what these particular folks were up to, but I hear you. A few friends of mine that go to ‘mega churches’ seem to use their counseling and fellowship services as a recruitment tool.

          4. JSPA*

            By definition, it would not be a go-to cover story for abuse if it wasn’t also a thing that actually happens!

            However, I understand why it seems unbelievable.

            I’ve also given myself a black eye walking into a door (an “I don’t need to turn on a light or open my eyes to walk to and from the bathroom at night” mishap, compounded by melatonin). Even with the bruise and the localized discomfort to compare against the actual offending door, I had a hard time making sense of the mechanics. Turns out, it happens if one hits one’s brow “corner” (not exactly under the temple nor the forehead, but between and below) then the blood pools towards the eye.

            But it you’re never done it yourself, nor seen it happen, it sounds unlikely. Along the lines of, scraped the roof of my mouth on a baseball / got a watermelon stuck in my ear / stubbed my toe on the skylight.

            So for those people, it’s going to register as the intentionally fake excuse they always assumed it was.

            1. INFJedi*

              “Turns out, it happens if one hits one’s brow “corner” (not exactly under the temple nor the forehead, but between and below) then the blood pools towards the eye.”

              Yes. This happened once to my mother (I witnessed it) when she accidently knocked with her eyebrow against the closetdoor. An hour later it was a serious shiner (doesn’t help that she easily bruises… I got the same genes)

            2. Melody Pond*

              I actually did it once! I tripped over a blanket in the dark on the way to the bathroom. Went into the corner of a door, dented my forehead, got a black eye and fortunately everyone believed me.

              Alternatively my mom almost got turned away from an ER during a stroke because people didn’t believe her. She woke up with a day 3 of a migraine, light sensitivity and a black eye. She called her doctor who told her to go immediately to the ER. Literally everyone argued with her she was being abused. Tried to send her home and she insisted they call her doctor who insisted on tests. The entire week she was there people kept trying to get her to admit it. Even cornered me and my husband at the time, I was 5 months pregnant and my mom was worried the stress would make me lose my baby. Amy mom lived alone with her dachshund.

          5. Coffee Bean*

            I have also walked into a door and gotten a black eye. But I had witnesses, so there was no speculation as to the cause.

          6. Liz*

            Same! you so much as poke me gently, and I get spectacular bruises that last a LONG time. I’m also not at all graceful and will walk into doorways, whack my limbs on furniture, etc. I’ll even get bruises if I get blookwork, not from the needle, but the bandaid!

            Thankfully no one has ever said anything to me or asked if I was being abused, but I’m srue a lot of people have wondered. Esp. if I’ve been busy and have multiple, visible bruises.

        6. MusicWithRocksIn*

          Yes! And if anyone else in the office is ever in an abusive relationship, seeing the way Elsa handles this is going to make them more afraid to be honest with anyone, because they will be afraid that terrible behavior will be directed at them. Especially the gossip. That is never how you help anyone.

        7. Nonprofit Lifer*

          I used to do circus arts as a college student and when I was learning one move in particular on the trapese. I got oval bruises that seriously could have been a man’s thumbprint on my upper arms. I went to a doctor for something unrelated who started questioning me very earnestly about them and took a little convincing. I had to describe the move in considerable detail and point out that the bruises were identically symmetrical on both arms before she believed me.

          1. Self Employed*

            About 15 years ago, I crashed my bicycle on the gravel of a railroad crossing and fell chest-down on the handlebar end as well as shins and hands in the gravel. (There are different styles of handlebar, and the one I find easiest to ride with has ends that point back at the rider.) Knocked the wind out of me, but at least I knew there were no trains in the county so I had plenty of time to get up. The manager of a nearby business saw me wipe out while he was on his break, so he offered me the office bathroom and first aid kit. I cleaned the road rash and patched myself up well enough to limp home and shower. (Very small town–probably about a 10 minute ride at regular speed, longer that day. Not worth bothering anyone for a ride and only my advisor had a car I knew would hold a bike.)

            About a week later, I was concerned that the bruise under my bra felt like a clot the size of a cherry. I called my doctor’s office to see if this was something to worry about–especially when flying to a conference in a few days. They said this was very serious and I should come in immediately.

            They didn’t care about the bruise itself. They were absolutely positive that the man I listed as my emergency contact was abusing me because that is the only way a woman could get a bruise under her bra and there is no circumstance where a woman would list a man she’s not sleeping with as an emergency contact. Even if she’s a new grad student who lives alone and doesn’t know any classmates well enough to want them called to the hospital, so she listed her thesis advisor because it didn’t make sense to list her ex-husband 1,000 miles away.

            The doctor insisted it was impossible to get hurt that way in a bike crash, probably because she’s right about mountain bike handlebars (but not vintage-style handlebars).

            I was terrified they would call the police on my absolutely innocent advisor and his career would be ruined. Of course this didn’t look good either. I told them he was teaching class when I crashed my bike, and there was a witness to the accident they could call, which they refused to do. I don’t remember what exactly got them to back off but at least they did. I remember showing them the scabs of my road rash, and I think it might have sunk in that yes, that looks like someone who fell off a bike X days ago. Thank goodness! I was so afraid they’d call the police to go arrest him in class. (They’d dragged a student out of class in handcuffs for kiting a check or something similarly underwhelming.)

            Who knew that letting someone list you as the person to call if you’re in the hospital meant you’d be the prime suspect if random bruises made them suspect abuse?

            They totally ignored the infection in my scraped knuckles, though. I still have scars on that hand.

      2. Harper the Other One*

        I had a similar experience when my husband and I tried a martial arts class involving a lot of wrist blocking! I didn’t think anything of it until a male coworker said, “Whoa, did Sean do that to you? Because me and the guys can take him if you want” in a “haha I’m joking unless…” kind of tone. I laughed but was able to reassure him that all was well. But I always thought kindly of that moment because for a workplace that very much had a dudebro kind of culture, that was a pretty great thing to do.

        1. Observer*

          It does sound nice. But the key thing that Elsa is obviously missing (or does not care about) is that the guy gave you an opening and then when you made it clear that it’s all good, he let it drop.

          I know that you know that, but I wanted to call out that Elsa’s problem is not about being “concerned” but about not letting it drop.

          I’m thinking about a letter from someone whose coworker was trying to literally force her into getting treatment and taking off for an eating disorder. Someone in the comments was all bent out of shape that people were “demonizing” someone because they were “showing some concern”.

          I’ll link to that in the reply.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          Yes, I got some concerned inquiries from professors and classmates back when I did karate… nothing like a teen girl showing up with a black eye and handprint bruises on her wrists to inspire concern! Fortunately most people were quickly reassured when I explained it was from over-enthusiastic sparring and not abuse.

          I did grow up in an abusive family… but it was verbal/emotional, not physical. Someone acting like Elsa would actually be extremely upsetting for me and not at all helpful – even more so if I were still enmeshed in the abusive situation. She is being horribly unkind to LW and needs to be stopped.

      3. Artemesia*

        I was once shocked when a colleague pulled me aside for a similar inquiry. I have allergies and my eyes are sometimes a bit swollen — not bruised and I have never had a lot of bruises — but perhaps it looked like I had been crying? My husband simply is not that sort of guy at all and I would never put up with someone who was and it just caught me totally flat footed. And the negative side effect of that conversation is that I always felt that he might harbor this suspicion about me and my life after I assured him he was off base.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Please be careful using language like “My husband simply is not that sort of guy at all and I would never put up with someone who was” because it’s not that simple and risks victim blaming.

          1. MCMonkeybean*

            I agree. I would really urge that commenter to rethink their reaction and their lingering resentment over it. In addition to the victim-blaming aspect of it, many domestic abusers are someone that likely has friends who would describe them as “not that sort of guy.” If your coworker asked once and then dropped it when you assured them you were fine, you should try to look at that conversation as evidence that someone cared enough to help you if you had been in trouble.

          2. Theo*

            Thanks for saying this. I also very confidently felt like this — and while I’ve never been in a physically abusive relationship, I have been in abusive ones. It creeps up. I was lucky that the first one sensitized me enough to the second one that I was able to bounce relatively quickly, but I ALSO thought I’d ~never stand for that~. It’s just not that simple!

          3. JSPA*

            If the poster knows they have the resources to leave, they’re allowed to be certain they would leave at the first [whatever]. Plenty of people do have the resources, the awareness, the determination to draw hard lines and the support network to do so, and they protect all of those things fiercely, as a matter of course.

            That in no way blames people who don’t happen to have all of those things (and it can take every last one of them, to leave successfully!) either because they never had them, or they lost them slowly through the determined, stealth “deracination” campaign of a determined abuser.

            “I would never” isn’t something to say thoughtlessly. But it is something that some people prioritize and commit to, and it’s worth appreciating that it is, in fact, something that someone can prioritize above all else (despite considerable social pressure not to do so).

            1. Idril Celebrindal*

              Honestly, I definitely doubt all “I would never” responses to hearing stories of abuse, specifically because of how it creeps up on you and how deliberately abusers play to your weaknesses. You don’t know how you would respond to a situation like that unless you are in it.

              However, I will take “never again because I’m alert to the signs and have taken these steps to keep myself safe from it happening again” at face value because that is someone who knows what it feels like to be on the inside. Even then, it can still happen again, but at least they know what they are talking about. The person who has never been abused and still says they’d never stand for it has no idea how insidious it is.

            2. The Rules are Made Up*

              “I would never put up with someone who was” is the same logic that underscores “Why didn’t they leave?” or “How did they not know?” and it isn’t how abusive relationships generally work so there is absolutely something wrong with it and it is absolutely victim blaming, whether intentionally or not. Because in that statement the onus to stop the abuse is placed on the person being abused and whether or not they have “the awareness or determination.” Your implication there is that people who are in abusive relationships are there because they lack particular qualities. That is not true. People are abused because someone chose to abuse them. Not because they didn’t have XYZ qualities or strength, or awareness.

              Abusive partners generally don’t announce it the day they meet you. Part of the abuse is gradually breaking down those resources and that sense of self and discernment. That thinking is incredibly harmful to survivors of abuse.

      4. Diahann Carroll*

        Importantly, though, when I said I was fine he *believed me and backed off.*

        This is the most important piece. OP’s coworker is out of control and needs to knock it the hell off.

        1. pancakes*

          Exactly. And her response shows that she took away all the wrong things from whatever the boss said to her. The idea that the letter writer “got her in trouble” suggests she’s thinking in terms of “I’m trying to do something and you’re in my way” rather than “I’m behaving inappropriately,” or even, “people think I’m behaving inappropriately.” The boss needs to emphasize this very clearly and very firmly, at the very least.

      5. Anne*

        Ugh! I went to the health center in college because I had crazy bruises and was like “is something seriously wrong?” The doc kept asking me if I had been falling down drunk. I only even drank sporatically in college and it was totally annoying.
        This is not completely on topic, but all the bruising reminded me….
        Never found out why though, everything was normal and it went away!

      6. Momma Bear*

        That last bit – he believed you and backed off. It is one thing to be concerned about someone’s well-being. It is another to double down on something that they don’t want. Honestly, it is not uncommon for abused people to take a long time to get out of their situation because it’s complicated, and behavior like this would not be encouraging. If someone was in real danger and she escalated it to confront or harass the abuser, that could make everything worse. If I were OP, I’d worry that Elsa’s behavior would cause problems for my partner, who is an innocent party here.

        I wouldn’t trust Elsa with the contents of my sandwich for fear of her smothering. I’m sure the manager does find her challenging, but there has to be a line between being understanding and stopping her over the top behavior. Cyberstalking your coworker’s partner is not acceptable. OP didn’t get Elsa in trouble – *Elsa* got Elsa in trouble. It’s concerning that she’s framing it the other way and not seeing how very uncomfortable she’s made OP.

    2. Bagpuss*

      Yes, people are not always easy to convince.
      I once had an accident which resulted in my having a truly spectacular bruise all down one arm.

      I had to give a presentation about domestic abuse to a large group of police officers , just as it reached it’s peak in terms of colour and size.

      My presentation was about the legal steps which can be taken rather than about how to identify signs of abuse, but it did make for some *interesting* conversations…

      I did also once have a very pushy nurse at my doctor’s surgery who very aggressively pushed me to “admit” that I had been hit or grabbed because of a bruise on my arm. She shut up after I pointed out to her that the bruise was caused by her having botched my blood draw a week earlier, after she refused to listen when I explained to her that I have shy veins and bruise very easily, and asked her to use my ‘better’ arm.
      (and yes, I did speak to the surgery to make them aware how inappropriately she was behaving!)

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Much experiences with phlebotomists playing hunt the vein on the wrong arm – commiserating with you and big YEY on reporting her subsequent behaviour!

      2. Cj*

        I had a burn on my leg from side pipes on our corvette. The car was really low the to ground, I wasn’t used to the side pipes, and touched the back of my leg on the extremely hot pipe. It didn’t seem to be healing up, so I ended up going to the doctor. At least four people had me repeat my story over and over, the doctor apparently didn’t know what side pipes are, and thought my leg had touched the end of the exhaust pipe, which of course couldn’t happen as you got out of a car. Finally a nurse who knows cars understood what I was talking about, but there are still things in “quote” in my medical record that make it sound like my husband somehow did this to me.

        I understand that medical providers are required to ask, but this was ridiculous.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I just had to Google it. I would not have know what that was, either! I kept imagining running boards made out of round pipe…and couldn’t think of why you would need running boards on a low car…

          Also, that does sound ridiculous.

      3. Lacey*

        I was a super clumsy teenager and after I’d been to the doctor several times (for unrelated reasons) with big scrapes and bruises and the answer was always, “I fell down the stairs” (so often!) the nurse started questioning me really closely, but I guess nothing else was ringing alarm bells, because she did drop it after that conversation.

      4. Rusty Shackelford*

        Wow. I’m a hard stick and I’ve never had a nurse refuse to use the arm I recommend.

    3. Cat Tree*

      Ugh, I have very dark circles under my eyes that I have been extremely self-conscious about since my dentist pointed them out when I was 13. I had been wearing makeup in public ever since, until Covid.

      So when I was at my first entry level job, fresh out of school and nervous about making a good impression, I guess I used a different brand of makeup one day or just didn’t use enough of it. I wasn’t even completely makeup-less. But my weird boss stopped by my office and asked if I had two black eyes. I was so embarrassed that my eye circles were showing through, but I explained to him that it was just different makeup. But he insisted. He came into my office for a closer look and pointed at my eyes as he explained where he saw the bruises. What could I possibly say to assure him? He certainly didn’t understand how makeup works. Eventually he dropped it and a few months later he was laid off. He was such an awkward person to work with and was unfortunately my first real boss.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Oh my gosh, as a fellow person with dark circles…I have no words. Why are people the absolute worst {facepalm}

      2. CupcakeCounter*

        I have severe dark circles as well – I call them permanent goggle bruises from swim team. Shockingly people listen!

      3. pieces_of_flair*

        Solidarity from a fellow dark circles sufferer. I don’t often wear makeup because I break out when I do, and also I’m lazy, and also it’s just my face and people need to deal with seeing women’s natural faces. I have been stopped by strangers on the street expressing “concern” about presumed domestic violence. People are just so rude. Your boss was totally inappropriate, especially when he continued after you explained it was a makeup thing!

      4. JobHunter*

        I also have puffy dark undereye circles, and I used to milk cows. I had to defend both my partner AND convince people that cows don’t always cooperate during milking…

    4. James*

      I was thinking of something similar that I saw happen. In college a few of us joined the SCA–Medieval re-enactment group. Most of us took up heavy fighting, in armor and shields and whatnot. One of my cohort was a short, cute girl in the music department who had just started dating a guy (who was also in the SCA). The music department was VERY close-knit, so when she started showing up in long sleeves in the summer to hide bruises, they were really concerned. They asked if her new boyfriend was beating her. Her response was “Only if I let my guard drop. Usually I get him first.” It took a while for us to convince her that she really needed to explain the situation better! (The boyfriend was a good man, who would never hit a woman in normal conditions. And the girl was just vicious in armor.) She took some photos of practice in with her and started talking about how excited she was about upcoming tournaments and everyone calmed down, and even got a few people in her department interested in Medieval music, which is sadly not widely known even among musicians.

      1. Really Just a Cat*

        I did stage combat at a Ren Faire way back when, and during dress rehearsal my fight partner hit me in the face with her staff by accident and gave me two gorgeous black eyes. Luckily everyone believed me when I explained that’s how it happened and we were able to work it into the show.

        A friend once got a smashing black eye by accident and told everyone it happened in an accident while pole dancing. She wasn’t a pole dancer (and this was before pole dancing became a trendy fitness activity), but it definitely cut off further questions or comments.

      2. Beano*

        ‘It took a while for us to convince her that she really needed to explain the situation better!’

        You do realise that she doesn’t need to explain anything to you or anyone else, right?

        1. James*

          I figured the tone was light-hearted enough that a reasonable person would see that we all thought this was amusing, in a heart-warming way (once everyone realized what was going on anyway), and that we were using diction common among friends. The word “need” was not to be taken in the literal sense of “you are obliged to do this”, but rather in the more common vernacular usage of “If you want X outcome to occur, you must take action Y”. This is standard usage in the vernacular, at least in everywhere I’ve lived, worked, or spent time (this includes both coasts, more than a dozen states, among upper and lower classes, as well as four other countries). G. K. Chesterton pointed out over a hundred years ago that English is a poetic, not a literal, language, and the less formal the situation (and believe me, sitting around a fire after a day of fighting, passing around a horn full of mead, is about as informal as you can get) the more poetic the language becomes. I could cite others supporting this view, but I’ve always liked Chesterton’s explanation best.

          Further, there’s no rational reason why I would think she needed to explain anything to me, or why anyone would think I thought she did. I’m one of the people that gave her bruises. She gave me a few. That’s what the use of “cohort” meant–we joined at the same time, we were part of the same training group and shield wall. She was just the type to not realize that others viewed her actions through different filters than her. The fact that you ignored this leads me to believe you are twisting my words to score political points, which is obnoxious.

          As for why she had to explain things to her department: They were small, close-knit, and were genuinely concerned about her wellbeing. A descent person would want to correct such miscommunications, especially as they were having some consequences for someone she was dating. There are such things as social obligations–stemming not from her gender, but from her membership in the group. That sort of thing matters to someone who carries a shield. Her honor was important to her, and to us.

          You’re trying to make this about sex and gender. It’s not. The fact that she’s a female is far less important than the fact that she has the personality she does. I treat people as individuals. I had similar conversations about miscommunications with men, they simply weren’t relevant to this discussion so I didn’t include them.

        2. JSPA*

          Uh, “if she wanted to be understood” / “if she wanted to avoid ambiguity” / “if she wanted to avoid increasing feelings of distress in her friends” is a pretty clearly implied.

          Nobody “owes” anyone an explanation in a legal sense. But kind people don’t go out of their way to frighten their friends by implying they’re in a mutually violent relationship, nor do they (more broadly) leave their friends frightened for their safety, when it’s so easy to clarify that everything’s fine.

      3. pandop*

        The biggest bruise I ever got from medieval re-enactment was entirely self-inflicted. I managed to twang myself with a bowstring just between my elbow and the arm-guard. Bruise all the way to the wrist. Fortunately my colleagues were aware of both my hobby and my general ineptness, so the first thing they asked was what had I done to myself this time.

    5. EPLawyer*

      Elsa doesn’t need to be convinced. She can BELIEVE whatever she wants. She needs to stop ACTING on her beliefs after OP told her stop. Period. She does not get to impose her reality on others.

      Doesn’t matter if it is about DV, Star Wars, or whatever. When someone tells you to drop the conversation … you drop it.

      1. Observer*

        Doesn’t matter if it is about DV, Star Wars, or whatever. When someone tells you to drop the conversation … you drop it.

        Yeah, this is the key issue.

      2. Ama*

        Yeah the abuse thing is of immediate concern because of the larger problems it is creating but the pattern here is that Elsa keeps trying to force her opinions on others. If I were her manager and her job required her to collaborate with others I’d be really concerned about the potential for her opinion to dominate because her coworkers decide it is easier to go with what she wants then to fight for their own ideas.

        I worked with a coworker who never went quite as far as Elsa but who similarly couldn’t seem to accept when other people had a different way of doing things then the one she thought was correct both on work tasks and stuff that didn’t really affect her (we once had an argument about how I was getting to the airport — for my own vacation) and she was *exhausting.*

        1. Isabelle*

          Another consequence of her actions is that OP’s boyfriend is having his reputation destroyed because even if only one person believes he is an abuser, that could create a lot of problems for him. I’m not a sue-happy person but I would consider legal action.

        2. Liz*

          Ugh. That sounds like my one former boss. She was of the mind that HER way and HER opinions were the only one. She also loved to give unsolicited advice about anything and everything. Because she knew it ALL. And if you did something differently from her, it was wrong and she would tell you WHY it was wrong.

          My current boss can be like that too; but its more he can’t see past his nose to realize that there can be more than one way of doing things. Usually if I point out to him that as long as whatever it is gets done, then it shouldn’t matter how it gets done.

      3. Anax*

        Yep. I think this is getting PERILOUSLY close to a hostile work environment or legal harassment, which would have actual legal liability for the company, so… hopefully HR will listen to that concern and act, if OP’s manager won’t. (And they should!!)

        (Say, if OP can demonstrate that this harassment is happening because she’s a woman, because Elsa’s assumptions and statements are gendered. Or if the next medical condition Elsa’s excessively concerned with is an ADA-protected disability, rather than a transient medical condition which *might* not qualify. Or, heck, if Elsa decides to throwback to 2006 and decide a coworker is totally in the closet and starts harassing them to “come out” – that doesn’t even seem far off from her current behavior.)

      4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yeah, that is really Elsa’s biggest problem here – her refusal to accept the guiding principle from that move song: “Let it Go, Let it Go.”

        When someone asks or tells you to stop, the polite person STOPS.

        1. Self Employed*

          I just “fired” my occupational therapist because she just won’t drop it when I do something she disagrees with even if it’s not in her wheelhouse.

          Argued about how much better progressive lenses are than bifocals even after I told her I had tried progressives twice and I’m one of the 10% who can’t adapt.

          Argued about my reluctance to spend time in enclosed spaces with strangers who don’t wear masks (and COVID is definitely not gone here yet).

          I’m not paying her to relitigate all my personal safety decisions–but given how generic most of her strategies are, I think it’s easier for her to fill time arguing about my glasses than actually doing what I hired her to do.

          1. Who is the asshole*

            Oh wow, what we need right now is definitely being discouraged from taking safety measures! (Meaning I m on your side)

    6. Elliott*

      I’ve never bruised easily–until I did Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I had all sorts of creative bruises. One time my sparring partner accidentally pinched the skin of my upper arm under his knee, and my mom was shocked by how black and blue I was.

      Unrelatedly, I got a lot of questions one time because I’d broke some blood vessels in my eye and my eye was really red. It was from getting sick and throwing up, but I probably looked like I’d been strangled or hit or something. I even tried wearing an eye patch at work because of it.

      I don’t think there’s any shame in being a victim of domestic violence, and it’s a very common, serious issue that we should be aware of. But I wish women and those of us who are read as women weren’t put in positions like this where we have to convince people we’re not being abused.

    7. Emilia Bedelia*

      As a female rugby player, I’ve lived this same experience for many years… even at the emergency room for a sprained knee, where a nurse asked my boyfriend to leave the room while she asked me about how I had gotten injured (I fully support that kind of question by a healthcare professional, for the record, and she did accept it when I said “no, just sports”).

      I don’t THINK this has ever resulted in any work gossip or questions other than “ouch, what happened??” but I think talking about rugby often when discussing weekend activities/hobbies helps head off the questions as it’s easy for people to jump to that as an explanation. Hiding/downplaying injuries and coming up with freak accidents or weird explanations is what makes people think “abuse”, so openly acknowledging obvious injuries and having a consistent story doesn’t ping the same way for people.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agree, the question is fine as long as the questioner accepts what they are told for an answer. It’s continuing to push because you don’t believe an answer that’s wrong.

    8. IndustriousLabRat*

      This is such a THING!!! Women do sports too (really we do)! Sometimes women have REPEATED injuries as a result! A new Monday; a new set of scuffs and bumps from all the fun we had over the weekend! I had a
      situation many years ago where I’d been mountain biking and misjudged some gravel, resulting in a black eye and a couple superficial but nasty-looking facial lacerations, among other things. Really only my pride was injured at first- until someone I was acquainted with on a I-know-your-face-but-not-your-name level started badgering me about the damage, with gems like, “you know Honey it’s okay to just leave him!” Whut. Also, that’s not how that works? I finally had to roll up my pants and show her the perfect impression of a chain ring cut into my calf, point out my car in the parking lot with the Offending Steed riding smugly on top, and explain how bicycles (and Gravity) function. The whole interaction went from ‘thanks for your concern I’m fine’ to ‘okay this is really intrusive and weird please leave me alone’ in about 2 minutes flat. And the fact that, as in your case, it required actual physical evidence of “Here is this Sports Thing that can cause injuries. Please have a look at it and feel free to ask questions about how it works”. AAARGH.

      Years later, when I actually WAS in an abusive relationship (luckily short-lived and a clean break), thinking back on that interaction made me much much sneakier about hiding the evidence, and more hesitant to make a peep even to people I trusted, because I Did Not Want To Have That Conversation Again. So in that regard, Nosey Lady did me a disservice, long term. It irks me when people do or say things that take away women’s autonomy to judge / handle our personal situations with nuance. Elsa is going so far over that line that she might as well be trying to play Puppeteer with how OP handles this imagined ‘abuse’. It’s really disturbing.

      1. Theo*

        You shouldn’t armchair diagnose — and you’re also wrong. The interest can’t be helped, but the badgering sure can be! Autistic people aren’t helpless slaves to their special interests and it does them a great disservice to pretend they are. It’s not even accurate to say they can’t be stopped; I know plenty of autistic folks with a Harry Potter special interest who cut that off at the root when it came out exactly how transphobic JKR is. It’s not easy, but most people don’t naturally want to harm other people. Elsa has complete control over what comes out of her mouth. She needs to stop.

      2. KoiFeeder*

        As an autistic, I absolutely can see myself sending [shared interest] memes to coworkers because I love sharing things I enjoy with other people.

        I also know that when someone says “hey, can you not?” that I need to stop. I also would never spend my time and energy ceaselessly badgering someone about an interest I like and they don’t, because that’s incredibly rude (and also because let’s be real, how many autistics in the thread have been harassed to the breaking point for not showing the appropriate enthusiasm for makeup/sportsball/parties/etc.). Also also, if I thought a coworker was being abused, I’d do research, and the first google result for that topic includes the quote “Out of respect and consideration for their privacy, speak to them away from other staff […] putting them in a situation where others may overhear will likely result in their denial of abuse and decrease the likelihood that they will come forward in the future.”

        This is not autism. This is being a jerk. Even if Elsa is actually autistic, she should not be given a pass because she’s being a jerk.

        1. Peanut*

          Totally!! Also, LW is being super clear here. One thing we autistics are good at is taking clear direction. I may love my interests, but if someone tells me to stop, I stop.

    9. NYC Taxi*

      I’m a saber fencer who competes in tournaments. One of my coworkers saw the stripy bruises that only a saber can leave on my arms and was convinced I was being abused and wouldn’t let up, despite the fact that I was extremely direct about shutting them down. It was so annoying. I finally brought in some of my medals and showed them a video of one of my bouts to shut them up.

      1. Raine*

        And even then sometimes you get side-eyed, especially since fencing (despite being an Olympic sport) isn’t well-known amongst the general public, and most people think you’re talking about something else involving wooden boards and nails, not foils and sabers.

    10. Anonapots*

      “Yes, I bought thousands of dollars of heavy equipment that I carry with me in order to hide my abuse.”

      I remember seeing a woman with a HUGE shiner. Like, so big. And I must have looked shocked, because it was BIG. I didn’t even say anything. Her: “I got hit in the eye by a softball bouncing up into my face.”

      That seems like a weird interaction, but I was cashiering at the student bookstore on campus and she was buying supplies. I wasn’t just starting at her awkwardly on the street.

    11. Linley*

      Ironically, at my last job I would often walk around covered in bruises (I’m very pale and bruise easily) and no one ever seemed to notice. I took trapeze lessons for a while and the net did a number on my knees and I would get bruises where the bar was pressed against my legs. So I would go into work in the summer (so not wearing stocking) rather black and blue. Not once did anyone comment. I also had my face bruised up a couple times, once from dental surgery, once from smashing my nose on a glass door I didn’t see in the dark and without my glasses (it was on vacation so I had a fun international flight home…), and only one person in the office said anything.

    12. bad at softball*

      During the summer while I was in college I worked part time in a big box store, and also played on a co-ed rec softball league. At one game, I misjudged a line drive, it went right over my glove and into my face. I got a massive black eye to the point where I couldn’t even get my contacts in for a couple days. I did still have to go to work though and while most people were kind and asked what happened/commiserated with me, I had one older lady kinda pull me aside and tell me “you shouldn’t let a man hit you.” I was so flabergasted I could hardly respond/explain the situation. I assumed it was a one-off, but apparently this sentiment is frequent. I just wish people like the coworker here and the lady who talked to me were a bit more tactful in how they approach the situation.

    13. EmmaPoet*

      When I was a very beginning fencer, I stripped at the end of a tournament and had 11 bruises forming along my body (am also a tiny leftie). I bruise easily anyway, but I remember being really glad it was winter because my clothing covered them.

    14. TardyTardis*

      Sistah! I hear you about fencing left handed and being short. (that’s actually how I met my husband, in fencing class. He ended up choreographing all the swordfights in the high’s production of Romeo and Juliet, with live steel).

      Frankly, some of the SCA armor I saw looked like a good idea for some of my body parts…

    1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      Yes. My blood pressure went WAY up just reading about her; I can’t imagine working with her. Aaarrrrgggghhh!!!!!!

      1. ArtsNerd*

        >(Even if you were being abused, this kind of bombardment — and now gossiping, too — wouldn’t be helpful.)

        I’d go a step or three further than AAM’s comment on this point. If OP were in an abusive relationship, Elsa’s behavior would be actively harmful and (given her claims of “surveilling” OP’s partner) could be potentially very, very dangerous for hypotheticalOP.

        Nope nope nope.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yeah, that active surveilling is really just stalking, isn’t it? Or it could easily become stalking, and that’s alarming.

          1. First Star on the Right*

            At this point, I’d start considering a restraining order in case she escalates, and I honestly think it’s only a matter of time until she does.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Yeah, I’d be going straight to HR (assuming they are competent) and having them get my manager on the phone and having a joint call about Elsa’s harassment of myself and stalking behavior towards my partner. And I would absolutely make sure that they were aware this is just her latest over the top crazy – because she does stuff like this all the time to all of us.

          (And OP, you aren’t getting Elsa in trouble, her actions are doing that all on her own – but make sure they know she’s going around saying that as well.)

        1. MusicWithRocksIn*

          This whole thread is making me wonder if we are all angry at Frozen, or just sick of the songs…

      1. 'Tis Me*

        Not that I think advocating for somebody to be fired via song is a good thing, but –

        Let her go
        Let her go
        Can’t work there any more.
        If she won’t care
        About boundaries
        And the truth doesn’t bother her she can’t stay!

        It’s sad because it sounds like she’s trying to build connections (sharing fanon, trying to get people to enjoy things she does) but she’s going about it in such a disruptive, OTT way that she’s a time and energy sink in the office. And now she is straight up harassing OP, inventing and spreading gossip about them, etc. If the manager has been clear with her that she can’t do this and she’s persisting, then these are serious issues and in an otherwise healthy workplace the only logical end result if she won’t stop is that she’ll be fired.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I don’t know whether to applaud your lyrics (which are really good!) or blame you for the song that is now occupying 100% of my frontal lobes.

        2. Shirley Keeldar*

          I have to admit, I cringed hard at OP’s description of Elsa because I saw some shadows of my own behavior in her (never to this extent, I promise, but oh…) It sounds like she desperately wants connections and has read advice about how to do that—ask people questions about what they like! Find a common interest! And is applying that advice way, way too hard.

          I’m not trying to excuse, Elsa, who is so far out of line I don’t even have a metaphor for it, but it just got me thinking about what a revelation it was when someone pointed out that it was good to look for reciprocity in relationships. I had always assumed that if someone didn’t seem to want to be pals with me, it was all my fault because I was too shy, too introverted, too unfriendly, too bad at this whole human connection thing, and I should just TRY HARDER. The idea that I should try a little and then watch to see if the other person tried back was just—magic. Wow.

          Anyway, I hope OP’s boss and HR are able to get this to stop, because there’s no way OP should be subjected to it. OP, let us know!

          1. Anne*

            good to know too, that you shouldnt do lots of things for people so they like you or become friends with you. Obviously you need to make an effort and start convos and show interest if you want to be friends. But a lot of times the person doing this doesn’t really care what the other person wants? I mean, if someone says stop and you dont, then…?
            There was a woman in my larger friend group who wanted to be the person to throw my other friend this 40-th birthday party. My friend did NOT want the party. She told her that, and then this other woman just continued to press and I’m sure thought she was the BESTEST friend because she went to all this effort to arrange things. And my friend with the birthday was so angry.

        3. Elliott*

          Yeah, I feel a little bad for Elsa because it sounds like she’s trying to connect with people but doesn’t understand that she’s crossing boundaries. But there’s no way her behavior should be accepted. Her manager needs to be clear that this stuff isn’t okay, and if she can’t understand and respect that, it’s a serious problem.

          1. EPLawyer*

            But she’s been told by OP to stop. She knows she crossed the boundary. She just … keeps going past it. When someone tells you to stop — you stop.

            She was told by her boss to stop. Her reaction was then to tell OTHERS that OP “got her in trouble” and is hiding abuse. That’s not someone looking for connections, that’s pot stirring.

          2. BuzzOff*

            There’s no way she doesn’t understand when she’s been told multiple times to cut it out. She’s just being a jerk at this point. She’s not a toddler

        4. Theo*

          As a fandom person, the idea of sharing fanon with the people I WORK with, or them finding out anything about my fandom life, haunts me. Elsa left fanfiction on his desk!! This is horrifying!!

          1. Elio*

            I know right? There’s only a few friends I would even share fandom stuff with (and one of them is someone I met online where we ended up meeting in real life when she happened to be visiting my country with her family.) I haven’t seen Fight Club, but I am aware about how the first rule is “you don’t talk about it.” I think fandom should be the same way with your co-workers, unless you work for an anime convention. (Even then, I’d keep in mind that many people may not be comfortable with erotic stuff and it’s better to be cautious about it.)

    2. allathian*

      Yeah, I honestly don’t know how I’d be able to keep things professional with someone like Elsa. It’s so wildly out of line that I’d have a hard time talking about work with her.

      This needs to stop, but nothing short of firing Elsa will probably achieve that.

    3. Avi*

      Seriously. Elsa isn’t ‘challenging’. Elsa is a f—ing chore. Someone needs to have a long talk about boundaries with her, yesterday.

      1. lailaaaaah*

        She’s ‘challenging’ in that the manager doesn’t have to deal with her face to face, but does occasionally get word from her team about Elsa’s antics. If the manager was in the office dealing with her daily, I’m willing to bet their tune would change.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I think the fact that the manager isn’t managing Elsa is a big part of why she is so “challenging to work with.”

          She needs managed or to be gone – she will drive good people out (assuming she hasn’t already done so).

    4. arcticshimmer*

      If for some backboneless reason Elsa isn’t fired, she desperately needs some kind of mandatory sensitivity training and a formal warning.

      How does she have the time to do any actual work at all?

    5. Richard Hershberger*

      Removed. From the commenting rules:

      Don’t armchair-diagnose others (“it sounds like your coworker is autistic/has borderline personality disorder/etc.”). We can’t diagnose based on anecdotes on the internet, these statements often stigmatize people with those diagnoses, and it’s generally not useful to focus on disorders rather than practical advice for dealing with the person in question.

  3. Language Lover*

    LW #1

    Definitely contact your boss again. You can go to HR right away or wait to see what the boss say/does.

    You might also be asked how you know this has continued behind your back so you may want to be prepared to answer that question.

    LW# 4

    One other possibility that wasn’t mentioned is that your boss knows of another candidate applying for the position they might prefer and they want to discourage the competition your candidacy might pose.

  4. I'm just here for the cats*

    #1. Not serious but could you bring in the hospital paperwork or the bill that clearly shows what the procedure was.?
    I wonder what her reaction would have been if you were single?
    This woman needs help. It is not normal to fixate on things like this.

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*


        Elsa needs to learn to respect boundaries, not be treated as if OP needs to prove anything to her.

      2. 2horseygirls*

        Thirded. None of Elsa’s business, and an almost worse violation of boundaries than her persistence.

    1. allathian*

      It probably wouldn’t help, and there’s really no need for Elsa to see the LW’s medical records.

      I think Elsa’s irredeemable and needs to be fired for harassment.

    2. tra la la*

      Showing Elsa private medical records gives Elsa the impression that she’s entitled to see them. OP isn’t required to convince Elsa of anything. Boss and/or HR need to stop Elsa, period.

    3. Hurrah*

      No, no, no. Don’t legitimize her absurd behaviour. (Gossiping about something like this? Really?) Elsa needs to stop because she’s being inappropriate, not because she’s wrong.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Doesn’t work in my (one) experience. They’ll claim them to be ‘faked’.

      1. Batty Twerp*

        You’re almost entering conspiracy theory territory there. Or, if you prefer Carl Sagan’s invisible dragon.

        In other words *nothing* will convince Elsa that the situation is anything other than what she has convinced herself in her head is going on. No “proof” will ever be legitimate.

        But it’s not work-related. You don’t need to convince her the world is round, because it’s not a work-related concern (assuming you aren’t working in a geographic field!).
        You don’t need to convince her that you’re not being abused either because it’s not a work-related concern.

        These are the concerns of your manager.
        If it’s not work related it needs shutting down immediately. And if she cannot maintain her focus on work-related matters she needs to be fired.

        1. Anne*

          *nothing* will convince Elsa that the situation is anything other than what she has convinced herself in her head is going on.

          Exactly. My ex husband was like this. You literally could show him all the receipts and he either would come up with a reason it didnt apply or just….ignore it. It literally didnt matter what I said or how I behaved or facts. And he would say the same things over and over and act like I had never told him the answer.
          How exhausting.

          1. Hobbit*

            Were we married to the same person? My ex’s fixation was on me cheating. If I was stuck in traffic, he wanted me to take a picture of it and send it to him. If I met some family member and stopped for coffee with them, he wanted video to prove it was my family member, and not some other man. And none of that was ever enough. At some point (no children, thank heavens) I packed his bags and told him to go back to his parents’ house. You can’t win with people like this, you’ll only exhaust yourself.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I agree. Her needle is stuck (like on old record albums). She’s not going to quit nagging people with stuff unless her job is on the line. I am almost sure that if the boss pushes on this she will become frustrated and she may even quit over it.

      3. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yes, that is what will happen. There is no proof convincing enough for people like Elsa.

        1. pancakes*

          Yep. The problem isn’t that she needs to see evidence to change her behavior; the problems are that she believes what she believes regardless of what people tell her, and she acts out in various ways on what seems to be a fairly regular basis. Leaving things for people is in itself kind of unsettling in this context, where it’s an attempt to force shared affinities by aggressively canvassing people at work.

    5. pleaset cheap rolls*

      “could you bring in the hospital paperwork or the bill that clearly shows what the procedure was.?”

      No. OP should not have to prove this sort of thing.

    6. Poopsie*

      Whilst I understand where you are coming from, no one should have to show their private info to get someone to back off. I get that it might be the easier solution in a way, but it’s capitulating to Else and her behaviour still needs to be readressed. She’s still harassing a colleague to the point that having to show confidential info might be the only way to get her to stop. On top of that, telling co workers that the LW got her in trouble clearly shows she isn’t getting that her behaviour is the issue, she still clearly thinks she’s doing the right thing. Also she’s slandering the LW’s partner. If she’s spreading rumours to co workers that LW’s partner is beating her, who knows who else she is telling, and whilst it’s all false, the people she’s telling don’t know that and stuff like that sticks.

      So yes, the LW needs to go back to her boss and HR and say that whilst she’s not doing it to her directly any more, she is spreading lies to her co workers, slandering her partner and now ‘stalking’ them on social media to ‘monitor’ them. That’s a massive invasion of their privacy.

      1. Ganymede*

        Just to pick up on your point – she is definitely slandering the husband. Perhaps a cease and desist letter is in order? And let the boss know that it’s in the post. It really is disgusting behaviour.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Personal preference and based upon the fact I’m in the UK but I’d do the boss/HR/up the chain bit before bringing out the legal documents. I’m just basing this on a ‘what approach is more likely to get results from management’ angle and NOT ‘what is morally right’.

          (I have a stalker. Believe me I’m biased about what I think should happen to them)

          1. Poopsie*

            Agreed. The slandering aspect might not directly affect the company per se as the partner doesn’t work there but it is worth phrasing it that way I think as it is what she’s doing and it’s a pretty clear indicator, if they need further proof, of just how truly inappropriate Elsa is being. And I’m not a lawyer so don’t know if it would be actionable against the company but if the partner wants to pursue slander charges against her would the company be held semi responsible for not shutting her down at work at least. And obviously people follow others on socials for a variety of valid reasons and that doesn’t elevate it to the level of stalking, but she’s outright admitted she’s doing it to monitor them, and that sounds mildly stalkerish to me. She will say it’s out of concern but that doesn’t make her behaviour right.

            Sorry that you are dealing with a stalker Keymaster.

        2. Chinook*

          That was my second thought too (first was that Elsa know nothibg about dealing with victims of DV). If Elsa got it in her head to report the abuse on behalf of OP, whcih is wrong in andnof itself, the consequences to the husband could be severe because how do you prove you don’t beat your wife? (If he really was doing it,this could escalate the abuse).

          At the very least, the OP needs to warn her husband about this because there is no way to prove his innocence.

    7. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      This doesn’t address the major issue. Elsa has overstepped and harassed. It’s not just about getting this one episode to stop now (and I doubt it would. At best, it will get her fixated on OP’s medical condition). Elsa needs serious discipline, even firing, for this.

    8. BRR*

      Why did everyone ignore the “not serious” part? I get that this comment is only exploring the idea as a concept because you find Elsa’s behavior so disconnected from reality.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I was being sarcastic but it didn’t come across that way. Like if I was the LW’s friend and we were talking I would make a sarcastic coment like just show her the hospital record. But not actually the advice is give.
        Seems like everyone missed the not serious part.

        1. Cthulu's Librarian*

          We didn’t miss it, we just realize that if one person says it not seriously, someone else will say it seriously, or think “hey, that sounds like an actually good idea!” So we ignored it and responded like you were, so that others would realize why its a bad idea.

          As for why we believe this, and reacted as we did – witness, the comment down thread three down from yours, by Daniel, is a serious suggestion for the LW to do exactly this.

    9. MusicWithRocksIn*

      I mean, leaving you fanart of a book you told her you didn’t like is already very weird and would feel more than a little like harassment. I would encourage other people bothered by her behavior to call the boss, so boss can have a big no means no talk with her – even if you shut this exact thing she’s harping on now, she’ll probably find some other inappropriate thing to harp on pretty soon if someone doesn’t get through to her that she needs to stop talking about something when someone shuts it down.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Right, trying to change someone’s opinion about something so benign is weird. If I told someone I hate pickles and they started repeatedly writing me emails about how great pickles are and leaving jars of them on my desk, I would consider that harassment. I’m not going to start liking pickles by being bombarded with them.

        The boss needs to step up and explain to Elsa how serious this is and that she needs to stop, lay down the law on what needs to happen in order for her to keep her job, and if that doesn’t happen, they need to fire her. Period!

        1. EchoGirl*

          Wasn’t there actually an AAM letter along those lines (not pickles, but some type of food) relatively recently? (Might’ve been an allergy, not just a dislike, I don’t remember exactly.)

    10. Dust Bunny*

      NO HELL NO do not do this.

      Elsa has zero right to see medical records. The solution here is for her to be managed and disciplined appropriately, not for the LW to have to cede even more ground.

      We need to stop trying to appease people like this by giving up more and more of our personal rights and dignity. It doesn’t stop them and just makes life worse for us.

    11. I'm just here for the cats*

      Relax everyone I was being sarcastic. I don’t expect the LW to show elsa anything. In fact they’ve done way more than they needed too.

    12. Safetykats*

      Seriously, no. It’s actually a huge privacy violation that OP felt she needed to share medical information in the first place, just to convince a coworker of anything – because your coworkers have absolutely no need or right to know your private medical information. In fact, if Elsa asked to see “proof” of surgery, that should be grounds for disciplinary action right there. Even your boss doesn’t have any right to know what kind of surgery you’ve had – and this is true even if you’re asking for an accommodation on return to work. That stuff gets worked out between HR, company medical, and your doctor.

  5. CatCat*

    #5, I save them in a folder organized by month. I basically write an email to myself of the month’s accomplishments and attach any accolade emails or note any verbal accolades I got. Then at performance review time, I make a list highlighting the my best/top accomplishments and accolades from the year. I send the list to my boss. I started doing this a few years ago and now I have these lists of the best stuff I can also refer to in the future if needed.

    1. allathian*

      I’m wondering what your job is when you get that many accolades? Most of the ones I get are so similar that it doesn’t seem worthwhile saving all of them, they’re just thanks for fast and great service, usually. I get the sort of feedback that I save a few times a year, but certainly not every month.

      That said, in my org, really exceptional feedback is usually CC:d to the manager as well.

      1. CatCat*

        I handle mostly complex and often novel issues, and also less complex, but highly time sensitive issues. The bar for my monthly email to myself is pretty low, but I won’t remember everything or see patterns without it. The bar for my annual list is much higher. It is uncommon for the manager to be cc’d where I am, but even when that’s the case, my manager isn’t going to remember something that was cc’d months prior.

    2. TootBoo*

      I worked for a consulting company that had been a dream employer of mine. Unfortunately, I ended up in a weird isolated part of the company. I had a highly toxic Department Head. The company had just been overlooking his issues for many many years believing he brought in money like no one else could. The supervisory philosophy was essentially to give us only poor reviews and to put very few things in writing. They believed keeping us scared that we would lose our jobs would make us better performers. I starting keeping a ‘good things’ email folder for mental health benefits and to help me in performance reviews. By the time I quit after 3 years, I had 3 emails in it. One I had accidentally dropped in there meaning to save it elsewhere. The other two said, “Thanks for sending.” I never would have believed myself how extreme it was if I hadn’t made that folder.

  6. Jen*

    LW1 – look I’m not an expert in domestic violence but I had some training in how to do communications in DV cases as an intern and Elsa breaks every rule I was taught. Were you actually in a bad situation her actions could cause escalation.

    Also, no, she doesn’t have good intentions. Please go back to your boss and HR. None of this is okay.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      I don’t even have any specific training and all I could think of was how dangerous this behavior could be to someone in a DV situation. It’s *that* bad.

      1. Mx*

        OP shouldn’t show her private medical information! HR has to have a serious talk with her, and probably needs to fire her.

    2. lailaaaaah*

      I’ve been in an abusive relationship, and having an Elsa around would have made everything SO MUCH WORSE, to the point where I might not have been able to get out before it was too late. Boss + HR need to deal with this and get her out yesterday.

    3. Harper the Other One*

      That jumped out at me too. Elsa may THINK she has good intentions but she doesn’t! She wants to be right and she wants to be hailed for “rescuing” the LW. Those are not the selfless motivations that they appear to be on the surface.

      1. Raine*

        Agreed! Elsa’s perceptions of reality are completely out of sync with everyone else’s, and she doesn’t care that she’s been told the truth. If she did, she would have stopped. Now, it’s more about her than it is anyone else.

  7. Daniel Canueto*

    RE: #1, at this point, I’d just show the surgery documentation. It shouldn’t be necessary, but it is better to do some damage control. Also, embarrassing her for her behavior in this story should help: she needs to start feeling herself seen not as the hero but as the weirdo.

    1. selena*

      Agreed on embarrasing Elsa if this continues: people have probably started out by being polite and frame their complaints as ‘i know you mean well, but….’ But that is not getting through to Elsa.
      She needs to be told in no uncertain terms that her behavior is wildly out of line, and that it makes it impossible to keep her in the group.

      She presumably has some issues, but that’s all the more reason to give her clear actionable feedback and stress that she is not the ‘mother hen’ she probably thinks she is.

    2. short'n'stout*

      Nooooo, do not show Elsa any kind of medical information. She’d just get the idea that she’s entitled to private information in the future, and she would get exponentially worse, for the OP and for the next poor soul that Elsa fixates on.

    3. lailaaaaah*

      No no no! That’ll just make her feel entitled to get that information, and to continue badgering people for similar things. She needs to face professional repercussions, nothing less, and she should definitely not have access to anyone’s private info.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      It, at least in my experience, doesn’t work. If a person is that absolutely dedicated to the idea that you’re being abused they’ll claim the records are fakes.

    5. pleaset cheap rolls*

      ” I’d just show the surgery documentation. ”

      Do that if you like, but I wish you’d escalate to HR and your boss. Let them deal with it rather than sharing medical info.

    6. Bagpuss*

      I wouldn’t. I think it legitimizes her interference and boundary stomping.

      I would go back to the manager, loop in HR and make absolutely clear that this has gone way beyond challenging. I’d be flagging up the fact that she’s actually said that she is watching OP’s partner (so she’s admitting to stalking )

      What I might do, if she carried on, would be to respond to her very loudly and publicly – perhaps explicitly telling her that she needs to mind her own business and stop harassing you and stalking your partner, and asking her why, given that she has been told both by you and your manager to back off, she is still harassing you and spreading malicious gossip about you and your partner.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’ve real adoration and appreciation for your comments on this post. And not just because I have 4 Bagpuss toys on my desk… ;)

      2. pancakes*

        Yes to all this. It’s important to talk about her comments about watching the letter writer’s partner, because that’s escalation of her behavior, and very close to stalking if it isn’t stalking already, depending on what she’s up to.

    7. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Umm, it is disturbing that people think this is a remotely reasonable suggestion. Give private health info to a notoriously unstable and obsessive boundary crosser? Rather than hold her accountable for harassment and boundary crossing? Hey, why not tell OP to invite Elsa to live with her and her partner so Elsa can personally assess the situation?

      OP, go to HR yesterday and document, document, document!

      1. Ally McBeal*

        You can always tell which commenters grew up with “normal” parents and which ones grew up in dysfunctional families. The very idea of sharing medical information with my (diagnosed-)narcissist mother makes me want to hide in my closet (next to the safe containing my medical records) for an hour.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          LOL! My family is pretty normal, but I have had enough experience with narcissistic boundary stompers in other areas of my life to know that when they boundary stomp, you shut them out/down more strongly than before. You never share personal information with them, because that will just give them more ammunition, even if the approach changes! If Elsa sees the surgery records, I imagine she will find a way to use something in them to boundary violate in ways OP has yet to imagine (even with a lot of experience with people like Elsa, the Elsas of this world never fail to surprise you with the things they do)!

          Good job keeping your medical records on lockdown. You can never be too guarded with that type of person!

        2. EchoGirl*

          Eh, not always. As much as some people respond by setting their boundaries in stone, others get so used to being boundary-stomped (or other dysfunctional behavior, but boundaries are the issue at hand) that they start to see it as normal and don’t really have a sense of what is and isn’t reasonable anymore. I know I’ve had this issue with certain elements of dysfunction (in my case, much of it having to do with money), where it’s hard to reset my compass for what’s normal or reasonable in the real world because my whole sense of how things work is skewed.

      2. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. Elsa should not see the medical paperwork. It’s also not just about this but her overall inability to understand when she is being too much/when her interactions are not appropriate for the office. Showing her an ER bill won’t change her other topics du jour.

    8. Not So NewReader*

      Eh, more to the point to drag her into a sit down meeting and say, “You have been told to stop, you have not stopped, and why does this continue to be an issue?”
      And she will launch into, “But OP is being abused…”
      At which point, she can be informed this is lie and if she says it one more time to anyone she will be seeing a write up or a dismissal.

      I dunno, OP, you may think about telling HR that you are considering getting a lawyer. Notice I am not saying that you will, just that you are considering it. Management seems pretty weak here, it might be the one thing they actually respond to.

    9. Cthulu's Librarian*

      Nope. Nope. Nope.

      LW should not show any documentation. It makes people like Elsa think their behavior is reasonable and justified. That belief on Elsa’s part is what needs to be fixed, and reinforcing it by giving them ‘proof’ absolutely will not do that.

    10. Mockingjay*

      Nope. OP1 does not need to justify themselves to Elsa, period.

      The real issue is that the manager is not onsite, so Elsa can get away with a ton of boundary crossing. I had an offsite manager at ExToxicJob, and that lack of immediate accountability led to an incredible amount of problems. I’m not saying that OP’s manager is not a good one, but it’s very obvious she doesn’t see the full effect that Elsa has on OP1 and the rest of the team. OP1 needs to go back to manager. loop in HR, and make it clear that Elsa needs to get shut down immediately.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        And meanwhile, OP, document, document, document. And enlist any sympathetic coworkers as witnesses to the behavior. It sounds like the other colleagues have dealt with Elsa’s craziness in the past and they probably will be happy to say something to HR about what they are hearing Elsa say about the “abuse.”

    11. David*

      Absolutely not.

      If LW#1 is feeling charitable, she can go to her boss alone.

      If not, go directly to HR armed with all the correct buzzwords to get their a**es in gear: pattern of harassment, threatening behavior, disruptive to work, no corrective action taken…

      If nothing comes of that meeting almost immediately, retain a lawyer and have it again.

      It’s possible that there’s a medical reason driving Elsa, I don’t care to speculate, but the correct course of action is the same either way: warn her off of all these harassing behaviors, put her on a PIP, and fire her if she slips up again, ever. I don’t care what root cause exists, this behavior merits a “burn the whole place down” level response.

    12. 2horseygirls*

      My personal medical information is not a tool for damage control.

      I personally would wait for the next team meeting, and start it off with an announcement.

      “Team, I wanted to clear the air personally and directly. I recently had eye surgery, and one of the results was a black eye. It is a common aftereffect, and faded away as bruises typically do. However, what has not faded is Elsa’s persistent belief that I am a victim of domestic violence. I have explained this to Elsa, I have explained this to Boss, and I am now explaining to all of you in a direct, first-person manner that I am not in danger from Partner/Spouse/Roommate, and I would very much appreciate the baseless accusations and defamatory comments to stop as of this minute. I understand that Elsa is continuing to spread this bordering-on-slander rumor, and I am asking you as colleagues and friends to help me shut these horrible accusations down at the source. Thank you.”

      And I would be looking directly at Elsa during the entire speech.

      It is a hardcore reaction, but at this point, it would not even be embarrassing to me. It should however be utterly mortifying for Elsa.

    13. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I don’t think Elsa is actually embarrassable. She’s going around the office shouting to the rooftops that her boss scolded her for her behavior and still thinks there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the way she’s acting. And while, yes, there would be a nice emotional catharsis in seeing Elsa be as embarrassed about her behavior as we all are, it’s not what the LW needs. She just needs Elsa to stop doing what she’s doing, not in this one instance about the surgery and the black eye, but in all instances where she’s forcing her own opinions and wishes on the rest of the office.

    14. BuzzOff*

      No. NO no NO NO NO. Do NOT show her personal medical information. Elsa is someone with serious personal boundary issues and (I’d argue) stalking behavior. You do NOT give that kind of person a single inch. It won’t make the problem go away, if anything it’ll give her new information to harass you with.

    15. BuzzOff*

      NO. DO NOT DO THIS. Do not even suggest this. Elsa is someone with serious boundary issues and borderline stalking behavior. You don’t give someone like that ANY information about yourself

  8. Jen*

    Fot LW4 – I’d take this as a sign you should also apply to other places if you want to move up. The company might be trying to get away with the extra credential without the extra pay.

  9. PspspspspspsKitty*

    LW 1 – My gosh, Elsa gets worse as the letter goes on. I, who loves Star Wars, would have lost patience at people sending me fan art and fan fics. I was horrified to see that she kept sending info, but then to gossip about it!!! This is so messed up. I can’t even. Like. Your boss needs to take this more seriously. Do what Alison says and talk to your boss and HR.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      She could get dinged on using company resources (computer and email) for personal communication.

      I kind of picture a parade of clutter coming in the office as she brings people bric-a-brac for various interests or concerns. As a boss/supervisor I could only over look so much of that. If there is too much junk laying around, I’d have to say something.

      1. metadata minion*

        I suppose you could go there on a “indicting Al Capone for tax fraud” sort of angle, but if this isn’t an office that actually cares about using company email for reasonable personal use or people having cluttered desks, it gives Elsa an awful lot of leverage to say “hey, why are you punishing me all of a sudden when Anna has 37 framed kitten portraits on *her* desk??”.

  10. Bob*

    Removed. From the commenting rules:

    Don’t armchair-diagnose others (“it sounds like your coworker is autistic/has borderline personality disorder/etc.”). We can’t diagnose based on anecdotes on the internet, these statements often stigmatize people with those diagnoses, and it’s generally not useful to focus on disorders rather than practical advice for dealing with the person in question.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      From the perspective of someone with more mental illnesses than limbs: no. Just no.

      Seeing ‘they probably have X mental illness and should get help’ response on a post dealing with aberrant behaviour is like another heavy weight dropped onto the shoulders of those of us with those conditions who struggle daily against a world that’s determined to think the worst of us.

      It’s perfectly possible to be a complete tosser with no boundaries AND have no mental illness. I’d even argue it’s more likely.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        But this idea that people with mental health issues can’t be expected to treat others respectfully is also a huge part of the problem.

        The perpetual lowering of the bar is part of the bigotry; it reduces the person with the physiological or mental challenge to less than a full human being.

        1. Mischa*

          This is brilliant and perfectly encapsulates what I’ve tried to express in response to people who suggest lowering standards for people with mental/physiological challenges. Do you have more empathy and patience? Sure. But you don’t move the bar.

    2. Jen*

      Please, please stop. This is why people with ASD and OCD are afraid to disclose their disorders.

      You probably know people with both of these disorders but don’t know it because it’s NOT like you see in media.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Yes, also problematic to refer to borderline personality disorder (BPD) this way. There are so many misconceptions about BPD (not to mention a lot of issues mixing up BPPD – bipolar personality disorder – with BPD). People just mix and match symptoms and hear anecdotes that are so false.

        I believe it is ok to refer to someone as narcissistic, because most people know that individuals use it as a separate layman’s term for people who seem self absorbed and stomp on boundaries. Most people using it are not referring to an actual NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) diagnosis (which is no longer even a separate diagnosis in the DSM-5 – it’s been rolled in to the broader Antisocial Personality Disorder diagnosis). But actual diagnoses should not be done by untrained individuals by proxy through a story on the internet!

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Additionally why I never ever admit in public or at work to having schizophrenia. There’s far too many people with the idea that this means ‘split personality’ and ‘inherently dangerous’ and use it as a descriptor for someone behaving slightly out of the norm.

          (Note: I’m not dangerous, nor do I have a split personality. I just hear things that aren’t real sometimes and have a family history of paranoid schizophrenia that means I have to keep a very very good check on my own internal logic at all times and have a really good medical support system for when things go really tits up. Even with medication helping it is extremely tiring)

          1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            Yes, a lot of people have some serious misconceptions about schizophrenia too. There is an assumption that schizophrenics are all dangerous, when, in fact, that is very rarely the case. The stigma and misinformation surrounding mental illness is incredibly problematic!

      2. KoiFeeder*

        And let’s be honest, this never backlashes on the people who use autism as an excuse to be a jerk. It backlashes on the rest of us, who immediately get assumed to be and pigeonholed as malicious people who can’t be trusted and can never be directly told that we’re causing trouble until all bridges are burnt.

        (Okay, maybe I’m a little bitter.)

  11. Pushybroad*

    For LW#3: I worked for the same company for nearly 20 years. I was originally hired to fill a newly created, never before existed position and then over time, I built a new department.

    I recently decided to change jobs and I was so afraid that even though my career progressed, being at one company would hurt me and make me look stagnant. So in cover letters and interviews, I really emphasized my own professional growth, the new opportunities I took as the the role expanded, etc.

    If your company has changed or evolved over that 10 years and you were “forced” to change with it, bring that up too. My employer changed product and service lines several times which meant I had to essentially learn a new job or even new industry with every change. When people would ask me during interviews why I stayed so long in one place, I said that with all the “reinvention” my employer did, it felt like I worked for several different companies rather than just one.

    One other hint: if at all possible, advocate hard for those title upgrades. I saw quickly that since this was a brand new position, there was no established career path forward. So every few years, or with every material upgrade in responsibility, I went to my boss and advocated for a title change, even if there was no pay increase (definitely not optimal, but I knew the title upgrades on a resume would be valuable in the long run.) He never said no so I got the progression I wanted.

    So don’t see your tenure as a negative. There are lots of ways to spin it as a huge positive! I did. As it turned out, my employer sold off the division that is my primary area of focus, and the new owners asked me to come along. So to quote The Who – meet the new boss, same as the old boss! (Not really, but 90% of my team is coming along too so close enough!) I’m very lucky that I’m getting a opportunity to start again with not only some familiar but also some new responsibilities.

    If I can do it after 19+ years, you can do it after 10! Good luck!!!

    1. Not sure of what to call myself*

      Good advice. I worried about the same.e after 10+ years, but on my CV I put the company name and dates then indented three mini jobs within the company; assistant X, X assistant then X, all with details. I was able to show progression within the same company and that went down really well. And that’s why job titles can be important and I’d fought to get rid of the assistant in my title when I qualified.

      1. LW 3*

        Thank you! I have about 10-15 mini jobs in one, so what I landed on was grouping by responsibility – here’s all the things I do for teapot design, teapot supervision, and so one. Still hoping for a title change

    2. KittenLittle*

      I have been with the same employer for 20 years and never had a job title, even though they have rewritten my job description. In fact, I’m still listed as Clerk/Receptionist even though I haven’t sat at the switchboard for 15 years. I really want to get out of here, but feel it’s too late in my career, although I do work for the state, so I guess that is a plus. Thank you for the advice!

    3. Cj*

      As a person on the tail end of the baby boomers, it seems so strange to me that people would view it as a negative that you stayed at one company for so long. That used to be the expectation, although you should be able to show growth within to company, in duties if not in title.

      1. mcfizzle*

        This! I consider it a great accomplishment that I’ve been with the same company but evolving roles. I shudder when I think of how much companies spend (waste?) recruiting, hiring, and training people, just to see them leave a year or two later.

      2. Kes*

        I think a main concern is whether the person has just stagnated doing the same thing, or whether they’ve continued to learn and grow (obviously this is role dependent – for some roles just doing the same thing in the same way is fine and expected, but others need you to be able to learn and change and grow and adapt). A secondary concern, again depending on context, can be that you only know one way of doing things and your experience and thinking could be overly narrow for what they’re looking for.
        That said, the flip side is that you’ve gained a lot of experience in a certain area and shown stability. I don’t think in most cases you would actually get ruled out just because of only working at one company

      3. LW 3*

        There does seem to be a generational difference (and to be clear, I don’t think it’s a right/wrong answer, just shifting times)! I was really happy in my 20s to miss out on the new job circus that a lot of my friends were going through, but I’ve also had people tell me that they think it’s sad when someone is at the same job for more than x number of years – which is a rude thing to say to someone who happens to be at a job for x number of years.

        Part of the frustration, and why it’s not an immediate success to be here for a decade, is the lack of opportunities for advancing. I’m looking for new challenges, and I can’t find them here.

    4. Through the looking glass*

      I’ve been with my company for ~20 years now. (I honestly never imagined I’d be a lifer) At some point I will look for another job. I’m not particularly worried about only having one company, as I’ve had just shy the number of average career changes as a person who changes companies and I’ve had career progression in titles and responsibilities to show.

      It also helps that my company has changed hands several times so I have all the experience of starting with new organizations without the hassle of interviewing :)

      All this and when I do leave my company I’ll be looking for a fairly big change career wise, so will be retraining/recertifying/relocating and somewhat reinventing myself so there’s a nice natural break that I’ll be able to sort of naturally show a demarcation between the old and the new with a refreshed set of skills.

    5. Sleepless*

      +1 to this! The last time I was job searching, I was concerned about that. I had been at the same company for 14 years. But the company had undergone a huge transformation while I was there, and although I had the same job title, my work had changed so much the role was almost an entirely different one.

    6. MassMatt*

      I worked at the same company for 15 years so I can relate. The difference was I could show career progression more easily because I had title changes (teapot maker to teapot designer, then manager of teapot designers) and also there were a few consolidations in my industry such that while I was working for the same company, the name of that company changed a couple of times.

      It stinks that LW hasn’t had any kind of title change. Citing turnover as the reason why doesn’t quite fit–that’s exactly when many moves up happen, when the company is desperate to fill multiple positions and has limited people with the skills to fill them. I wonder whether the company has pigeonholed the LW as good in current role but not to be considered for advancement.

      LW, have you spoken to your manager about your career goals, and how to reach them? What did they say?

      1. LW 3*

        Yes, I’ve attempted to move up twice, and have been shot down both times for not so legit reasons. There’s not a lot of encouragement to actually move up, and yes I do feel like I’ve been pigeonholed here.

        I’ve spoken to boss, but have not found it encouraging. It feels like lip service, and not actual opportunity within the workplace. They’re also hamstrung by upper admin BS so don’t have a lot of room to actually change anything. And because they’ve been part of the changeover, a lot of my advocating, or highlighting how much my job has changed in the past 5 years, goes nowhere because they’ve only been here for 2 year and so have no point of reference.

    7. LW 3*

      Thanks Pushybroad! It’s great to hear others who have been able to move beyond jobs as well.

      I’ve been asking for a title change/realignment again, but the bureaucracy has been against me, unfortunately. Fingers crossed though!

  12. Raktajino*

    Re LW 2: we recently hired on my team. I guess the Excel test I wrote was too tricky because multiple applicants either bailed or submitted the non-Excel portion only. For those who did decently on the non-Excel part, we had HR invite them to submit what they had, regardless of how complete it was. Honestly, the second chance tests were pretty good! Our final two were both from that group and the one we hired is doing just fine. (And I’ll revise the test before we hire again. :/)

    From that experience, Alison’s recommendation makes sense.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I want to thank you for giving me the urge to revise our technical tests. Definitely the Excel one…

      (P.s. pass me the Klingon coffee, I’ve had only 3 hours sleep)

    2. Jack Be Nimble*

      Oh, I’ve definitely had that exact issue creating assessments! I have two approaches, both of which work, but work in different ways.

      The first approach is to administer the really hard test, explain that it’s really hard, and be clear that you’re not looking for or expecting perfect scores, only honest attempts at problem solving.

      The second approach is to revise the assessment so it’s roughly a 3:2:1 ratio of “very simple tasks you MUST be able to do” to “intermediate stuff that you can do or easily be taught to do” to “really testing the outer limits of your skillset.” You ultimately want someone who will be able to do all of the day-to-day and week-to-week stuff independently, even if they’ll end up needing help on the more convoluted annual/quarterly processes.

      1. DefinitelyEnoughDetailToBeIdentified*

        I’ve employed that second approach. I’ve included things that I would consider to be almost insultingly easy for the role being assessed (e.g. rename the first tab to “Lemonade” and highlight cell C3 in green; sum the values in column E), and rolling all the way through formulae for SUMIFS and XLOOKUP, and pivot tables/charts.

        I also throw in some attention to detail checks (like deliberately using the old VAT rate of 17.5% – we have to apply lots of different percentage based rates across our work and VAT is a convenient placeholder for assessments; it’s fascinating (and slightly depressing) how many people blanket apply either 5% or 20% without reading the question!)

    3. fish*

      I once applied to a job a little outside my experience. In the phone screener they asked questions that would be simple to people with experience and I bombed 7/10 of them. However, for some reason they still sent me the technical exercise. I didn’t know how to do it either but I learned the needed skills through Google and submitted something passable.

      I was invited to an in-person interview, where they re-asked the phone screeners. And here’s the kicker — I had written down every question I’d bombed, and looked up the right answers. When I shared the right answers, the lead interview looked at his co-interviewer, and said with great satisfaction, “Told you so!”

      I think the moral here is that I was upfront that most of my experience was in a different area. I explained why I was interested in the new area, how my previous experience would be an asset, and that I was a fast learner. I demonstrated all of these things, and got an offer.

      As a hiring manager, I would be potentially quite interested in someone with your background! I have a bias for the self-taught, and I’d think you may be able to bring a fresh approach. Just be upfront and don’t be afraid to use Google to learn a new skill quickly!

      1. LW 2*

        Thanks for this! I did end up sort of cobbling together a more polished report using a communication I shared with a customer and amping up the process bits. I had told the HR rep that I did not have an official report, but could put something together. If I get to the second round (and I’m not sure how likely that is), I plan on being upfront about what skills I have and don’t have. I don’t want the job if I’m not qualified for it and expectations are high, but I would want the job if there’s room to learn. I’m hopeful, but realistic about the whole thing. Still…. it’s fun to think about it as an option.

    4. Cj*

      I took an excel test for a temp agency. They had not disabled the help feature, so I used it. It was timed, so I supposed you still had to be good at locating how to do it and understanding it. I ended up doing quite well on it.

      It makes sense that a person won’t know everything about excel, but if you know you can do something, even if you aren’t sure how, but can figure it out, that should count for a lot.

    5. Mr. Shark*

      When I was in the hiring process for a specific position that required software experience, I had a quick test to see how proficient the interviewer was in that software. I asked them to complete what they could, and told them that it was not a pass/fail, but just a way to measure their skill level. So in the case of the LW, I think the more important thing is for her to let the potential employer know what her strengths and maybe in this case, weaknesses are, and let them evaluate her fairly on that information.

  13. Not Australian*

    As someone who did – thankfully now many decades in the past – suffer from domestic partner violence, I’m pretty much offended by Elsa’s shenannigins. Apart from anything else, it’s remarkably rare for a DV victim to be able to discuss it in the sort of ‘casual’ setting you might get at a workplace. (With a doctor, priest etc. it could well be different.) It’s difficult to imagine what she thought OP’s reaction might be: “Oh, thank you Elsa, I didn’t realise there was anything wrong until you mentioned it”?

    In my experience women who are abused by their partners tend to hide, cover up, and pretend nothing is wrong. It’s very easy for the victim to see this as her own failure – I certainly did – and thus they’re extremely unlikely to admit it to someone they know casually through work. In fact, this sort of constant questioning/haranguing is calculated to do more harm than good, and if one suspected a colleague *was* being abused (and it would take more than the little evidence Elsa has, IMHO) the correct thing to do would be to make leaflets/posters available in common areas of the workplace, make sure the office environment was a caring and supportive one, and find *subtle* ways of letting the suspected victim know that there were plenty of people whom they would be welcome to talk to if they felt the need.

    And while we’re on the subject, let’s try to remember that men can be abused, too, either by same-sex or opposite-sex partners, and have even more difficulty opening up about it simply because most support services, and public perceptions, are skewed towards seeing *women* as the victims in these scenarios.

    I would be half-inclined to accord Elsa the polite fiction of ‘probably meaning well’ if only the accounts of her other actions didn’t show her up as someone who simply wants to interfere in her colleagues’ lives and does’t understand that she’s not welcome to do so. Socially oblivious to an extreme, in fact. But for others who genuinely do think that a colleague may have been or be being abused, there are far better ways of communicating support; Elsa is about as subtle as a brick.

    1. lailaaaaah*

      Seconding all of this. When I was being abused, my manager- with whom I already had a solid relationship- made a one-off comment of concern about my wellbeing, directed me to the employee support channels, and left it at that. Elsa’s behaviour would have made me double down on my defensiveness of my situation and potentially seriously hindered my ability to get out of there. She is dangerous, and while LW isn’t being abused, there may well be someone else in the future who *is* or needs support for other reasons, and what Elsa is doing will hurt them badly.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Solid relationship + one off comment + direction to resources. Absolutely that. That approach helped me where 100+ ‘why are you in denial about this?’ queries hadn’t.

        (Eternal thanks Professor Xia (not real name). You saved my life)

        1. UKDancer*

          Definitely. Unfortunately one of the sad side effects of lockdown has been a massive increase in the number of calls to Refuge and other similar organisations and the level of recorded domestic abuse has gone up. So my office organised a talk on what to look for and how to handle it constructively. The advice we were given was to raise it once, make sure the resources were available and then shut up.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Because of Elsa’s unrelenting intensity I can’t even find polite fiction even if this is the only time she does it. She’s intense. Worse, after being told to stop, she escalates. Bad choice.

      1. Data Analyst*

        Yeah, the fact that she’d then turn to spreading it around to other people means there is no good will, only a desire to stir the shit and/or have people take her advice and then [in her view] be in her debt forever.

  14. Forgot what I was named*

    No. 4 not sure if you’ve ever read An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by PD James?
    The villain says of his henchman who he deliberately held back from progressing something like he would have been a brilliant scientist, but what of it? There are plenty of brilliant scientists and not enough lab assistants and he was the finest in the world.

    Maybe you are too good at your job?

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      My cousin is in one of those situations. She has applied for a transfer and a higher level position several times but her manager keeps denying her the opportunities saying that she is the best person who has ever filled X role and she doesn’t want to lose her in that role. I feel it is important to note that these comments and denials never seem to come with any decent pay raise (I think she got like $0.25/hr raise the first time and maybe one other time but nothing compared to what the other jobs would pay). Luckily for the boss, my cousin has pretty much no motivation to look elsewhere for reasons of sheer laziness (because she hates damn near everything about the place).

      1. MassMatt*

        It stinks how many managers are exactly like this, and manage to con or bully their reports into believing their terrible rationales.

        When applying for jobs, I always ask about what happened to the last person/people in the role. Good answers are when the manager points out how they advanced their careers, either within the company or elsewhere. Bad answers are where multiple prior hires are badmouthed, especially in personal terms. Iffy answer is pointing out great longevity/tenure. This could be a sign it’s a great place to work, IMO it’s a bit more likely it’s someplace dysfunctional where careers go to stagnate.

    2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      Yes! LW4, I can tell you exactly why your manager is discouraging you from applying for a position as a scientist; she doesn’t want to lose you as a lab assistant. And that’s just as selfish as it sounds – but it also makes perfect sense to her! She figures that if she can convince you not to try to advance your own career then she’ll have an outstanding lab assistant for…well, forever!

      One point to note: Your current manager is on the hiring committee but she’s not the ONLY person on the hiring committee, right? And presumably you have good evaluations – documentation of your good record. Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket – now’s your time to shine!

  15. IrishMN*

    I have zero experience with legal matters, so I could be way off base here, but could LW1 look into a restraining order, or get a lawyer to draw up something saying she needs to stop doing this or they will look into a restraining order?
    If I was the partner I would be VERY scared of what could happen here. She says she’s watching him! What if she moves from social media to camping outside their home? Clearly this woman is a loon but she is turning into a dangerous loon

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      OP1 (being harassed about a black eye etc) – The feeling I get with Elsa is that for some reason she’s desperately seeking ‘connection’ with other people, whether that’s through shared interests (Star Wars), further discussion about a book etc – but now she seems to have hit the jackpot with OPs “domestic violence” (surgery) situation and how she can potentially involve herself in that! She doesn’t seem to understand that it’s wrong (vs. just being an annoying busybody, told to stop but doesn’t) which is why she characterised it as “getting her in trouble”.

      (If that’s the case I do feel a bit sorry for Elsa, especially since (as Alison says) the consequences need to be quick and harsh. Not that that excuses her behaviour obviously!)

      I would go back to HR particularly with the “stalking partner” which for me is where it crosses the line. Is she going to start stalking in real life as well (if she does, call the cops!)

      Presumably the colleagues know this is nonsense when she gossips to them about all of this. Can you (op) enlist your colleagues help in pushing back on her as well?

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        Nesting fail – I meant to post this as a top level comment but it fits here as well :)

      2. IrishMN*

        The hobby thing, I can see why that could be kind of a sad and dysfunctional way of trying to make a connection.
        This is a whole other level though. This could actually have a serious life impact on both the LW and their partner, especially now that she’s spreading it around. If he applies for a job and someone says, oh I used to work with LW and heard he was abusive – that would likely be the end of it right there.
        That’s why I think it goes beyond the workplace (although she absolutely needs to be fired). The person potentially most in danger here of permanent damage to their reputation doesn’t actually work for the company.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          Yes, totally understand and agree with you! I think in its own way this is still her trying to make a connection, but clearly with much more serious implications now.

      3. XF1013*

        That was my interpretation as well. I think we’ve all encountered the co-worker who learns one thing about you and then asks you about it every time they see you in the break room, because they’re not great at making connections but they’re trying to be nice. Elsa strikes me a more intense version of that, extending the small talk way beyond the water cooler when she’s interested in the topic too. And that’s very annoying, but not dangerous by itself. Then OP had the bad luck to have Elsa “learn” something about her that Elsa imagines having a moral imperative to be pushy about, and suddenly Elsa feels like she can’t drop the subject. She also seems clueless as to how the gossiping and stalking could have real repercussions. As much as it would be a kindness to her future colleagues to educate her about all of this, if I were the boss or HR, I’d probably just go straight to termination, since she has already continued after being told to stop.

      4. GothicBee*

        I feel like she’s just self-centered. She wants attention, but doesn’t really care what kind. Or she wants attention, but has learned she’s bad at getting a genuine friendship going, so she just settles for the negative attention she gets from being obnoxious. LW is probably responding pretty strongly to the DV accusations (I would too), which also means she’s going to latch onto that and keep going with it.

        The manager and/or HR need to shut this down firmly and continue following up to make sure it stops completely (I’d argue they should just fire her).

    2. Roci*

      Yes, I agree with your read of the severity. This is 21st century stalking and I would become a protective bear to get Elsa to back off my partner and my personal life.

    3. Apple*

      It’s actually really hard to get a restraining order and she hasn’t made any threats. People think you can just ask for one but that’s not how it works.

      1. Cat Tree*

        Yeah, I was about to make a similar comment. It’s actually hard to get a restraining order, especially if there are no specific threats to safety. The media gets it so wrong and perpetuates this myth that stalkers and harrassers are just slightly overzealous and misunderstood but well-meaning people (usually men). I’m sure there are occasional cases where restraining orders are used vindictively, but in most cases they are legitimate for pretty extreme behavior. I once went on *one* terrible date with a man who viewed that evening very differently than I did and seemed to think we were basically engaged. He became extremely obsessive the very next day, and it got so much worse when I told him directly that I wasn’t interested. I never told him where I live, but since I own my home it’s a matter of public record. He used my phone number to find me on Facebook so he had my last name (I ignored his friend request, never accepting or rejecting it). I was scared every time I left my house and made sure to always have my phone with me, even just to take trash out to the dumpster. I actually talked to a lawyer for a free consultation through my work’s EAP. But his behavior wasn’t even close to being bad enough to warrant a restraining order.

        1. IrishMN*

          I kind of figured that would be the case. I wonder if a lawyer could write something up, though, that might scare Elsa enough to cut this out. It’s horrifying to think that a person can be terrorized and has no recourse. I’m sorry to hear what happened to you.

    4. Sylvan*

      I was wondering about that. I don’t know that the coworker has done anything illegal (and I’m not expressing doubt, I mean I really do not know) and she doesn’t seem to be making threats. She is, however, very invasive and her actions aren’t making sense.

    5. mf*

      I don’t think this situation would qualify for a restraining order. But I do think LW and her partner should look down their online accounts. Elsa is feeding her obsession by stalking LW and her partner online; it might help to starve Elsa of any new/additional information.

    6. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I am a lawyer and I think this is not up to a restraining order at this point, as it seems to be confined to the office and Elsa just watching his social media obsessively. However, I would recommend OP’s partner change the privacy settings on his social media to keep this lady out of seeing anything, and I’d recommend OP do the same. Make sure Elsa is blocked, but also lock things out from public, so that she cannot make a different account just to stalk OP and partner. Also, set up a dummy account to watch Elsa’s accounts and make sure she isn’t spreading defamatory stories around in general.

      The second that Elsa makes comments on social media about partner, screenshot them and save. If anything happens at all outside the office, then contact police and see about what steps to take to stop harassment. Also, it is worthwhile to consult an attorney if Elsa is spreading defamatory stories about OP’s partner. If Elsa ever initiates any direct contact with OP’s partner, that is worth reporting too. All interactions and issues need to be documented as soon as they occur.

      However, as things stand now, it is time to tell the boss again and to make an official complaint to HR. Again, document, document, document. And if OP is learning about the comments Elsa is making from her colleagues, she should be ready to use them as witnesses to support her account of Elsa’s behavior. Honestly, unless HR is completely incompetent, I see them coming down hard on Elsa for this conduct.

      1. Pantalaimon*

        My first thought was that if I were LW#1’s partner and I heard that Elsa was going around their office telling people that I beat LW#1, and that LW#1 had complained to their boss/HR about it but that it was still happening, I as the partner would be talking to a lawyer myself about defamation (per se?) and damages and respondeat superior.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          It doesn’t hurt to consult with a lawyer, but OP’s partner does not have much to go on at this point. Just OP’s account that she hears that Elsa is telling people at the office about this. You would need evidence, like sworn affidavits from OP’s coworkers or a screenshot of social media messages. And unless it is slander per se, he’d have to be able to prove damages (like that Elsa’s slander caused him actual harm and not just that a few of his partner’s coworkers heard a false story that they brushed off since they know Elsa is not trustworthy). Defamation is really secondary at this point to harassment, at least until she starts contacting his employer or coworkers, members of his community, or the community at large (social media posting in which she names him). Even then, a lawyer will be focused first on stopping the harassment, and on the potential tort claim later. (Although I would definitely include language about possible action for defamation/slander in any cease and desist letters I would send out on OP’s partner’s behalf if I represented him!)

  16. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP1: I’ve had an ‘Elsa’ at work. I ended up on serious mental health leave because of her.

    She took me having a lot of bruises on my legs as domestic abuse, claimed the fact I walk with a cane as ‘proof’ that I was being battered badly (no, I’m disabled, tall and walk into things a lot) and at first hassled me with emails, links, attempts at ‘private chats’. Anything I said was taken as ‘being defensive’. Went to my boss who said she just ‘cared’ but that they’d ‘try to get her to stop’.

    It didn’t. Moved onto her deciding that my weight (yeah I’m obese, it’s because of said disabilities) was ‘proof’ that my husband was force feeding me?! And other things (being careful with details to maintain anonymous). Boss just kept repeating that they’d ‘have a word’. This was about 16 years ago and I didn’t know that HR could do anything so I suffered in silence until the day I just couldn’t face anymore and the doctor signed me off work with extreme stress (UK) and THEN the boss realised that maybe losing his senior tech for 2 months because Elsa was running her mouth wasn’t appropriate.

    Had I gone to HR, and laid out just how devastating her behaviour before I got to that point I know now it would have saved a lot of pain. Certainly wouldn’t have triggered off multiple PTSD flashbacks of the time I WAS in an abusive relationship with someone who didn’t believe a word I said.

    There’s a good ending to this though: my Elsa was asked to leave the company. Shame it took my sanity for a while to do it. Please escalate this and know we absolutely 100% support you.

    1. MJ*

      I’m so sorry you had to go through that. Your Elsa’s behaviour wasn’t about caring, not in the least. And your boss only ‘cared’ when the situation directly affected him/the company. It’s something we can take from Alison’s posts: focus on the potential damage to the business caused by the abusive behaviour, not on the person personally because the former is the priority of the boss.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I think through the haze of time that she genuinely wanted a ‘chance to show how caring she was by saving someone’ but I’ll still regard her forever as a total arse. She was a lousy tech anyway.

        1. Coffee Bean*

          I am sorry you went through that. My take on letter writer’s Elsa and your Elsa is just as you stated => “[they] wanted a chance to show how caring [they] were by saving someone”. Pluralizing here to cover both Elsas. When someone’s motivation is showing what a good person they are rather than actually helping someone, that is so very selfish. It sucks to be on the receiving end of that.

        2. Self Employed*

          I am sorry you went through that.

          I had a neighbor at a previous apartment complex who basically recruited any women who would listen to her in a campaign to “save” another woman in our building from a man who, most likely, had [redacted criminal act] on multiple occasions. He had been sexually harassing multiple women in the building and posting graphic sexual fantasies about them on Twitter. Management said they had no authority to do anything about this. The local legal aid groups said I needed Management to put their refusal to stop the harassment in writing, but Management has lawyers too and they don’t put this kind of thing in writing.

          The leader of the “save our neighbor” group kept demanding that we file complaints with this or that agency yet would never go there herself. When she finally talked to Neighbor, she was NOT interested in going to the police and was incredibly embarrassed. That was when I said I wasn’t interested in trying to force her to go to the police because she has the right to make her decisions. I know enough about the investigation and trial process to know it’s often as traumatizing as the event, and it’s not my place to browbeat her into going to the police (even assuming something nonconsensual is going on).

          I suspect they started spreading rumors about me in retaliation, but I had a chance to move to a bigger, brand new apartment and left them all there to relive middle school.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      I am sorry you had to go through that.

      Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s difficult for people who haven’t experienced such a thing to believe someone who is “trying so hard to be helpful” can be a problem.

  17. Forrest*

    LW3, I don’t have specific advice that Alison hasn’t already covered, but PLEASE don’t use “I barely take sick days” as a metric of what a good worker you are! Take sick days if you need them, and don’t begrudge them to your colleagues. Everyone gets sick and everyone needs time off sometimes. It’s not a mark of a good employee not to use them.

    1. lost academic*

      I came here to say just this! Please. Everyone. Stop perpetuating this in your thinking and your speech. Just stop.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Yup! I take loads of sick days and I’m a great worker. Better to take a day or three now to prevent a month or so later (dear 2020 harshly taught me that)

    3. Alianora*

      Yeah, the parts about sick time and being able to work long hours kinda jumped out to me too. Those aren’t really things that should affect how a manager sees you.

      1. Forrest*

        yeah, I don’t blame LW for thinking like that at all, especially early in their career (and in science!) But I think we should all push back on that because it’s bad vibes.

    4. mf*

      Yep. Plus, even if you’re healthy now, you never know how your health might change in the future. You may start needing those sick days, so it’s important to change that narrative in your own mind.

    5. Nanani*

      I was gonna say the same!
      I get that some workplaces, especially in academia, can be literally toxic in that they encourage illness to fester by never letting people take time off even though they ~technically~ have PTO.
      But it is not a good mentality. Take the time you’re entitled to.

      Don’t turn into Nobly Foregoing Pizza LW.

  18. Despachito*

    I am by no means advocating for Elsa (I had a slightly similar schoolmate and found her completely clueless and very annoying), but I think I may kind of see where she is coming from.

    The problem of domestic violence had been swept under the rug for such a long time, and I think there still is a lot of misinformation among the public in general. As someone who (fortunately) has never experienced DV, I would find it difficult to figure outs what is the right thing to do if I ever had a suspicion that someone around me might be a victim of it.

    So far, and also from what you said here, I imagine that an onlooker`s possibilities are limited as nothing can happen without the abused person`s active cooperation, and the problem is that victims of DV often are not prepared to make this step (being too damaged/scared/gaslighted by the perpetrator to even think that they might be able to escape). My take is that at this point outsiders willing to help often back out (not understanding why the obvious victim refuses to budge, and even advocates the perpetrator), sometimes bitter and disappointed about it (“I was willing to help and s/he does not want me to, I do not understand why, s/he must like it being abused”), which is terribly wrong and unjust towards the victim, yet it is not a completely illogical conclusion to jump at.

    Perhaps this is a place Elsa is coming from (“LW must be abused but is in denial and I am doing a good deed by force-helping her” ), but of course it is completely clueless and has to be stopped.

    I was wondering though, what SHOULD and CAN a coworker do to REALLY help if they think the person from their office (i.e. someone they know only on a work basis) might be a victim of DV, and to not cause more harm than good?. I am quite at a loss here. I understand that supportive environment can help a lot but I cannot imagine how even to approach someone in such a situation.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      As someone who’s both a manager AND has been in an abusive relationship:

      You don’t make a big deal of it. Saying ONCE as privately as possible that you’re perfectly able to have a totally confidential talk and help with resources if someone is in need is best. Make sure your actions back up those words: don’t even discuss it with other colleagues (‘hey, don’t you think Alice looks abused?’ BIG no), don’t raise the subject in a team meeting (‘for discussion on best practices’) after, and do not under any circumstances pressure someone.

      Make sure you DO have those resources/information on hand first, and do some checking to make sure they are as confidential and helpful as possible.

      I know, it looks completely contrary to the idea of helping someone in need. Why wouldn’t you want to do everything to help someone? But DV is a very complex and exceptionally dangerous situation where things get worse quite easily.

      If you have a reputation in the office of being able to keep stuff confidential, not making a huge drama and being able to back off when told NO then people will tend to believe you if you just offer help.

      1. Despachito*

        Thank you, Keymaster, for your insight. This is very valuable and helpful, and I will keep it in mind.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          If you want some additional perspective on methodology and basis behind these preferred tactics may I recommend ‘Why Does He Do That?’ By Lundy Bancroft or ‘The Gift of Fear’ by Gavin De Becker (although the specific chapter on domestic abuse in the second one is a bit problematic to me, not a good one).

          Helps to gain an insight as to just WHY it’s best to approach DV cases as casually as possible.

          (Warning: obviously both books are dealing with very heavy subject matter that can be triggering. It took me a year to get through both)

          1. Despachito*

            Thank you, Keymaster, I think the WHY is key here, and I appreciate very much being directed towards specific sources by someone who (unfortunately) has a direct experience.

            As a person who is lucky enough to have never experienced DV (although I do have some experience with bullying, and it seems to me that these two have certain points in common) , I am afraid that as much as I google, I will not always able to tell the wheat from the chaff, and this is why insights like yours are so much valuable to me.

            And I am truly sorry that you ever had to experience this.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Having experienced both, not really. There’s a commonality that you simply cannot logic your way through human behaviour when it’s on the extreme ends of the scale, which abuse is. It differs case by case, person to person, why one person ‘put up with it’ is not at all why another endured it for X length of time.

              And this is partly why I switched careers to IT. That’s something you (generally) CAN logic through. People though…not so much.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            (although the specific chapter on domestic abuse in the second one is a bit problematic to me, not a good one).

            I don’t want to derail the conversation here, but is this anything you would feel like discussing in the weekend thread? I’d love to hear your opinion. Even if you don’t normally read the weekend thread until Monday, like me. ;-)

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              I’ll be honest and say yes, but give me a couple of weeks first. Not ashamed to admit I’m all out of spoons for now!

            2. Self Employed*

              There’s a lot about that chapter over at Captain Awkward.

              The gist of it is that the author witnessed his mother being abused and has come to the incorrect conclusion that after the first incident of abuse, the victim has chosen to stay and is responsible for all consequences. (Yeah, “a bit problematic” is probably British for “dangerous toxic rubbish.”)

          3. Idril Celebrindal*

            I absolutely second the recommendation of “Why Does He Do That?” for anyone looking to understand the cycle of abuse and why it is so insidious and difficult to combat. It is hard to read, but it was pivotal for me in being able to name the abusive tactics and to understand why it took me so long to recognize it and realize that it wasn’t at all my fault. I highly recommend it to everyone because abusive behaviors are so much more common than a lot of people think, and that book makes it really hard to not see them for what they are.

    2. LDN Layabout*

      yet it is not a completely illogical conclusion to jump at.

      No, let’s not do this. The resources are out there, the information is out there. At this point so many people, famous and not have spoken publicly about abuse and what victims go through. It’s in documentaries, it’s on TV, it’s on the internet, it’s in books.

      People do not get to ‘logic’ this back onto the victims of abuse.

      1. Natalie*

        I really don’t get the impression the commenter is trying to do that at all? The “rescue” narrative is also out there, much more deeply woven into our cultural narratives I think. The kinds of myths that go along with that idea are still extremely pervasive, so I don’t really see how someone merely having absorbed all of that is what? Blaming survivors somehow for the broader tropes? They’re just confused, and they asked a general audience here, they’re not pestering a survivor for their entire internal psyche.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          Because saying that the mindset of “I was willing to help and s/he does not want me to, I do not understand why, s/he must like it being abused” -> “is not a completely illogical conclusion to jump at” is one of those pervasive attitudes that need challenging.

          There’s nothing logical about suggesting someone wants to be abused.

          1. Despachito*

            LDN, I fully agree that a mindset of “s/he refuses to do anything about it, so it must mean s/he likes it, or at least does not mind” is completely wrong and it needs challenging.

            However, I think that this challenging is much more likely to hit its target when it is not condescending towards those who genuinely want to learn more, but rather help them understand HOW this entire thing works, WHY the victims do not always react as the potential rescuer would want them to, and WHAT you can realistically do or expect if you are concerned for their wellbeing.

            I think that we people are trying to find logical patterns to be able to “read” the world around us and exist in it, and sometimes this logic could be significantly warped, yet quite common, and that it is more helpful to say “I see how you infer that X is logical, but it is definitely not the case (let me explain why)” than an equivalent of “how on earth can you think such BS” (of course, if the person is really asking and trying to find an explanation, not some bigot who will insist on their BS regardless).

            This said, thank all who were/are willing to share their insight, I find it very helpful and makes me think a lot.

            1. LDN Layabout*

              Let me put it this way, if someone came to this forum and said ‘everyone who works must love their job, otherwise they’d find a new one’, would anyone label this statement as logical? No, because we’re all aware that circumstances/how the world works feeds into it.

              Saying it isn’t illogical to think victims enjoy/want abuse is lending credence to that viewpoint by saying there’s logic to it.

            2. Slumber12*

              It seems like it’s very important for your identity to claim that you are more logical than most people.

              Did you do any research, at all, before posting this?

              1. Despachito*


                yes, I indeed did do some research, and I am trying to understand as much as I can to avoid misinformation and misunderstanding which is still quite common. I must admit I am still far from perfect but I do not see anything wrong with asking and doing my best to understand.

                “It seems like it’s very important for your identity to claim that you are more logical than most people.”

                This seems as if you thought I somehow boast saying that I am better (in logic) than other people? If so, I am quite puzzled (and shocked) how my words could be interpreted in such a way. It was never my intention to claim such a thing, let alone compare myself to other people.

                However, I do admit that iI find it helpful to find some logic in how things work, because it helps me to navigate the world without hurting other people, or myself, too much. And if I do not know, I ask, and sometimes this means risking that my question might sound inept. I am willing to take this risk.

                I used to be much more clueless than I am now, and if I made some progress, it was because there were people willing to explain things to me (or, even better, show by their example).

                On the other hand, snide remarks without real information were always frustrating but almost never useful.

    3. Bagpuss*

      As Keymaster says, things you can do are:
      – ONCE, in private, let them know that you are willing to assist if they need any help
      – making sure that you don’t push or gossip. (about anything – if you have a reputation as someone who does keep things confidential then people will feel more able to speak to you, regardless of what it is about)

      Other things you can do :
      – if you are in a senior position, consider in general terms (and not as a response to a specific individual you are concerned about) what support your organization can put in place. This will depend on the size and resources of your organization but at any size could include ensuring that information about support services is available (even things like having stickers or posters up in bathrooms or shared areas can be helpful), thinking about what information is provided to staff about support services generally available to them, and whether this includes any reference to domestic abuse, ensuring that managers are aware of those resources and of anything else they can do. Little things like ensuring that staff are aware that they can use a work computer and phonelines if they need to be able to contact a doctor, police or support services privately and are scared to use their own devices (this can be included in any IT / Phone policies you have) . It could include considering whether as an organisation you can offer compassionate leave to someone fleeing domestic abuse(or in alrger firm, whether you can offer financial aid in that scenario)

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Lucky for you, Alison has a post about that. I’ll link it in my next comment.

        1. Despachito*

          I just read your link, Amy, and I think Marie is awesome. She answered a lot of of the things I was asking myself. Thank you again!

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      She asked once. She was told thanks, but no. Anything past that point was over the line and unacceptable.

    6. LTL*

      Just a disclaimer, I don’t know how well (or not well) my comments apply to DV specifically, but I have been in an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship. Things may be different in a situation with DV where the individual may very well not like their partner but feel stuck due to worrying that their abuser will come after them, worrying that their abuser will come after those they love, and/or worrying about financially supporting themselves.

      I think the thing that people tend to miss about abusive relationships is that the victim is often in love with the abuser. It’s like having a best friend that you’re in love with one day turning into someone you don’t recognize. Imagine the person you love the most starts treating you horribly tomorrow. At first you think it’s a fluke. It happens again, so okay, maybe it’s a communication issue? All the meanwhile, they are gaslighting you and before you realize what’s happened, you doubt your own thoughts and feelings so that you need outside approval to be “confident” in anything (in quotes because its not real confidence and it still feels very shaky, just marginally less shaky than relying on your own thoughts alone). Even when you come to some semblance of what’s going on, the thing that people often cling onto is hope of the person they used to know. This is exacberated tremendously by the cycle of abuse, where abusers will “revert” back to their “kind” selves (something that my own abuser didn’t engage in, thank God).

      Very often, individuals who end up in abusive situations also have had dysfunctional, if not abusive, relationships with their caretakers in childhood. I won’t go into it but if your primary relationships with people you love haven’t given you room to assert your own boundaries, it takes a lot of work to (1) become aware of and (2) accept that boundaries are a thing you can have and people will still love you.

      I feel like I’ve rambled a bit but hopefully that also sheds some light on the flaws of the rescuer mentality. Abuse is centered around helplessness (“I need my partner,” “I’m not capable,” “I can’t speak up for what I want”). If you really think about it, the rescuer mentality centers on that helplessness too (“I’ll save them” rather than “I’ll support them”). One of the biggest things that helped me get out was my friends and family saying “you know him best and you know your relationship best and we will support you in whatever you choose.” It was a sharp contrast to his messaging that I wasn’t capable of making good decisions.

      1. LTL*

        Just wanted to add, since it’s something that comes on a lot in AAM, part of it is also normalization over time, kind of like how toxic workplaces mess with your work norms.

    7. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      OP had one black eye following one medical procedure. She explained it (though Elsa was not entitled to even that). And even after the boss told her to back off, she is still harassing OP, claiming OP got her into trouble, stalking OP’s partner’s social media, and telling all of their mutual colleagues that OP is being abused. I am sorry, but this conduct is not coming from any kind of well meaning place. She is not struggling to figure out how she can help. She does not want to help. She wants to stomp on OP’s boundaries and get everyone to think she is the hero trying to save OP. She is spreading damaging stories about OP’s partner that are completely false. This is not just a badly executed way of trying to help someone when you suspect DV. This is coming from Elsa’s abusive prone disposition.

    8. Coffee Bean*

      I don’t think Elsa is motivated by truly wanting to he!p here. I think she wants to be regarded as a hero. I seriously doubt her intentions are altruistic.

  19. Canadian in Scotland*

    I’m very impressed by LW1 — unlike many posters on this site, they walked right up to the person causing the problem and told them clearly to stop. That it didn’t work even in that situation says more about “Elsa” than the LW.

    1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

      Even more, when the coworker kept pushing OP escalated up to her boss. OP is doing everything right in this scenario, but the combination of overly pushy coworker and sub-par action by the boss means that the egregious behaviour is still happening.
      Definitely go back to the boss, then HR, and point out very clearly this in not just “someone who cares”, this is someone with no boundaries who could actively cause serious harm, regardless of her veneer of good intentions.

      1. Ginger ale for all*

        I don’t know if it is a sub par reaction by the boss. The boss spoke to Elsa and hasn’t yet heard back about Elsa’s further actions. What the boss does after being told about chapter two in this might determine if they are effective or not.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          An ideal boss reaction here would be “I can see why it’s upsetting that Elsa is behaving this way. I’ll meet with her and tell her she needs to stop. If that doesn’t fix the situation, let me know and I’ll set up a meeting with HR.” But what the LW describes is “Yeah, Elsa’s like that sometimes. I’ll try to talk to her about it,” and then complete radio silence. Why didn’t the boss check in with LW a few days after their talk with Elsa to see how things are going? I’d call it a sub-par reaction, for sure.

      2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        The boss is not on site. If OP has not mentioned it again to him since he talked to Elsa, he probably assumes it has resolved. OP needs to communicate what is happening to him again and let him know that his efforts so far did not resolve the issue and have led to escalated harassment on Elsa’s part (like telling everyone that OP got her in trouble). HR also needs to be told everything. But I think it is too early to assume the boss’s actions are sub par since he has only undertaken the first step and does not realize yet that it was not effective.

    2. A lawyer*

      Yes she was forthright, whereas I would have passive aggressively left a pamphlet on Elsa’s desk about libel/slander.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      This reminds me of all the times I’ve been lectured about boundaries and why I should have them, and then I point out that some people just completely ignore one’s boundaries over and over again.

  20. Mannheim Steamroller*

    #4… [“It’s possible, by the way, that she doesn’t want to lose you in the position you’re in now. Some managers will hold people back like that. It wouldn’t make much sense here since she knows you’re actively applying for jobs and thus she’s likely to lose you anyway, but who knows.”]

    As a past victim of the “too good to be promoted” phenomenon, I definitely see that in play here.

    Another (related) possibility is that the Assistant Manager already has someone in mind for the job — and your skill and work ethic pose a very real threat to that person.

    1. jenny20*

      It’s also possible that you’re not suited for the job. I manage a person now who would make similar arguments. She has been in the job for a long time. She puts in the hours. And she rarely takes sick days (although I agree with other posters here that should not be lauded). She works very hard.

      She has been pushing me for promotion for a while. The problem? She’s very good at the job now but very bad at the higher-level, big-picture thinking that a promotion would require.

      I think it’s very common for people early in their careers to think this way. It’s probably partly a hold-over from school days, where it’s expected to progress to the next level every year. In the working world, proficiency at the entry-level job (especially if measured by just showing up) is NOT always an indicator of qualification for the next level. LW4, maybe ask your boss what skills you would need to get to that next level? If she can give you specific feedback, that’s something to work on. If she can’t, then maybe you do fall in the ‘too good to be promoted’ camp.

      1. Emilitron*

        Agreed – though I’ll modify to “possible that you’re not suited for the job… YET”.
        Given the things you cite as making you good at what you do, sounds like the lab tech job is about hitting the metrics, churning through known processes, efficiency and accuracy, etc. But a scientist job (is often (can’t speak for your organization) about very different things: project management, creative problem-solving, decision-making, encylopedic knowledge of an area, etc. Maybe you’ve learned some of these skills as part of your degree and just aren’t getting a chance to show them in action at your current job – it’s really tough to advance out of a job if that job description excludes tasks that would show your capability. But when she expresses lack of confidence in the school, maybe she’s expressing that she wouldn’t expect someone to graduate with advanced degrees without those skills. I’d consider following up with her about what she thinks it takes to be a good scientist in that role they’re hiring for, so you can go home and craft examples of how you’ve demonstrated those skills at school and how you can imagine demonstrating them at work.

      2. Weekend Please*

        I was wondering the same thing. It could also be that she knows the job does not really fit the OP’s career goals. The OP didn’t say that she wouldn’t leave the job shortly after getting trained, just that she thought that was not a good reason not to hire her. It takes a lot of time and effort to train someone. My productivity goes down when I am training someone because they cannot do it as fast as I can and I need to explain each step. Even when they start doing it on their own, I frequently need to stop what I am doing to help them. I would absolutely not hire someone who needed training if they made it clear they were still looking for anther job.

  21. WordTurtle*

    Alison, I would love to hear more about how you are the “fastest writer!” I’m regarded as one of the best writers at my organization but I feel like I’m way too slow. I labor over everything – it can take me an hour to send a simple email because I agonize over word choice and tone. Please share your secret, or at least a couple of tips! :)

    1. Jay*

      I’m clearly not Alison and I’d be very interested in her answer to this! I write a lot and I write very quickly. I’m curious what you’re laboring over. Is it figuring out what you want to say? Making sure the wording is perfect? Do you stare at the blank screen or keep editing something you’ve already written (or both?) Or something else I haven’t thought of…

      I learned to write quickly because I had to. That was mostly my fault – I was an English major in college and a bit of a procrastinator. I had to skip the rough draft on some of my papers and it turned out OK. My handwriting is also atrocious so I got in the habit of composing at the keyboard (I went to college in the typewriter era). Then computers came along with the ability to infinitely edit and I slowed waaay down. I had to get to the point where I was OK with a typo or an imperfect word choice.

    2. ellex42*

      I also edit and re-edit emails before sending them – in large part because I’m aware that I don’t think, or express myself, the way other people do. It doesn’t help that, at a former job, I trained myself to be more “friendly” in my emails after being told by my supervisor that my emails came across as “terse” and “unfriendly” (my emails had factual, work-related information and I didn’t use cheery greetings and sign-offs and “how are you” conversations). And that doesn’t really fit the culture of the company I now work for, so I’m still training myself out of that.

      My solution has been to write the email without too much pondering about my word choices, let it sit for a few minutes, then come back and edit. Giving myself that little pause seems to work well for seeing anything that needs removed or changed, or isn’t explaining the situation as well as I’d like. I only allow myself the one edit session, so I don’t spend too much time on it.

    3. meyer lemon*

      Learning to write quickly is a skill unto itself. In my experience, many people who write well can have a personal investment in making sure every piece of writing they send out is polished to within an inch of its life, which is just not always practical in a workplace. Part of writing quickly is getting a sense of what requirements are truly essential and using the time you have to focus on those. I think the emotional divestment is pretty fundamental.

      1. mf*

        As someone who is a professional writer (and went through many years of graduate school for writing), this is important: “Part of writing quickly is getting a sense of what requirements are truly essential and using the time you have to focus on those. I think the emotional divestment is pretty fundamental.”

        Writers tend to be perfectionists. You need to internalize that all writing doesn’t need to be perfect writing. One bad draft doesn’t make you a bad writer! If you struggle with this, I recommend Ann Lamott’s chapter on Shitty First Drafts from “Bird by Bird”:

        You also need to prioritize. Some writing should be mediocre so that you can your energy for the important stuff. An email to a coworker to ask about the status of a task? Nobody’s gonna care if you miss a typo and writing a clumsy sentence or two. Learn how to say, “For the task at hand, this draft is good enough,” and then hit send before you talk yourself out of it. :)

    4. WordTurtle*

      Thanks to all of you for the helpful tips! I used to write more freely but law school rewired (ruined?) my brain – I now feel like I can’t say anything I don’t have citations for, I have to be super precise, and can leave no room for ambiguity. I also hate that, unlike oral communication, anything I write is preserved in writing, probably forever. But I’m working on getting my voice back and recognizing when something less than perfection is OK.

  22. No Tribble At All*

    OP #1 please make sure your partner is aware of this and that he knows what Elsa looks like, for his own sake. I’m so sorry you’re going though this. Elsa needs to go to her kingdom of isolation, stat.

    1. yala*

      Oh man, I didn’t even think of that, but…yeah. He definitely needs to be able to ID her

    2. Lizy*

      Ooohhh yeah that’s a good point. If she’s trolling on social media, it may also be a good idea for him to privatize his accounts.

  23. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Yes, OP, report Elsa’s continuing obsession ASAP. She is now gossiping about your husband at work–she could be doing the same outside work.
    Baseless accusations could damage his reputation and in some professions his career.
    She needs to be shut down hard.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Eh, I’d be sorely tempted to send the boss an email summaries the daily or weekly things that are going on here. Unfortunately, OP, it seems to get any resolve you have to turn yourself into a person who repeatedly talks about the problem. However, management needs a figurative rock dropped on their heads to wake up and do something.

      Saying she is quirky is code for, “I don’t know enough about management to make this behavior stop.” It can feel like we have to teach managers how to manage.

      1. Sal*

        Oh God, my manager calls me “quirky.” I thought it was a compliment (I’ve been taking “weird” as a compliment since I was in preschool), but now I’m questioning it!

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      And who knows whatever the heck she means by “monitoring him on social media”. Scary.

      1. pony tailed wonder*

        The letter writer and the boyfriend need to lock down their social media presence to private.

  24. HailRobonia*

    For #5: My team has a shared in-box that we do most of our business through. In “the good old days” I had a fantastic manager who would keep an eye on the communications and always made sure any praise we got was recorded and filed away for use in annual reviews, etc. (and, likewise, if she noticed anything problematic with what we did she would step in – not in a judgmental way, but as an actual supportive manager).

    Unfortunately she was pushed out of her position and replaced by an assistant director who I don’t think ever pays attention. I have told the rest of the team to make sure they keep a copy of any praise they get.

  25. LabTechNoMore*

    I actually had an Elsa, only their fixation was on my race. Boss chalked it up to “Elsas gunna Elsa.” I didn’t last very long there…

  26. Lacey*

    LW 3: I was in the same boat as you a few years ago. I found Allison’s resume and cover-letter advice in the archives really helpful for formatting my resume in a way that showed how valuable I was as an employee.

    My work (graphic design) can be a bit tricky to show achievement in since from day one to year 10 I was still just… you know… designing. Plus, it’s hard to quantify outcomes in design, if we even get that information.

    So, I thought about what employers would want in their new hire. Sometimes I swapped out skills depending on who I was applying to. For a company largely doing digital ads, I put in information about how many ads I turned-around in a typical deadline period. But, for a company looking for an in-house designer to manage their brand, I replaced that with the fact that I’d created and maintained the branding for several product lines.

    Those things don’t have the same feel as, “increased productivity by 15%” or “increased quarterly revenue by $25,000”, which is typically the kind of thing I see, but they’re the kind of achievement that tells potential employers that I have the background & skills to do the job.

    1. Mockingjay*

      OP3, rather than job title progression, focus on projects and accomplishments as you’ve progressed. You can list things by years as subsections if it helps organize the resume, or bullets for special projects (which I recommend). You can highlight the special projects in your cover letter.

      Teapots Limited, 2011 – Present
      Oversee all teapot production. Ensure compliance with OSHA and manufacturing safety protocols. Review and approve all engineering designs prior to production. Etc.
      – Teapot Glaze Project. Researched nontoxic, ozone-friendly glazes to meet market demand for environmentally-safe products. Tested six glazes, two of which met European, EPA, and Consumer Safety Org (TM) requirements and are sustainably sourced. Glazes are now used in all production items.
      – Teapot Handle Redesign. Developed new, safer handle for three teapot styles. Handles are designed to balance pot weight when filled and reduce wrist fatigue of user. New design also provided cost savings by using less expensive but stronger clay.

    2. LW 3*

      Thanks Lacey and Mockingjay – my work is similar to Lacey’s, and it’s not very project-focused, so it’s hard to narrow it down to specific items. There’s also a culture that is very discouraging of individual accomplishments – if I say “my project” it immediately gets turned into the “team’s project.” The downsides of a highly collaborative office!

  27. employment lawyah*

    Re #4:
    Yes, she is trying to keep you from applying, though it isn’t clear why.

    Maybe she thinks you can’t do the job. Maybe she thinks you’re disloyal. Maybe she is one of those “if I put up ridiculous obstacles, they will filter out people who lack commitment” kind of managers.

    AAM’s advice is good if it’s about loyalty. Obviously we don’t know. If you can figure out WHY she is blocking you we can help craft a better response.

    Also, don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m wondering if you may be overstepping with the whole “my school is excellent because it is in the top 2% globally” thing? That sounds a bit like a school sales pitch, more than reality.

    This sort of thing can be really hard to understand socially, so I hope you don’t mind if I am blunt.

    A STUDENT in the top 2% of any large is elite–in the US, that’s a 1480+ SAT. But a SCHOOL in the top 2% is usually not elite at all, because (among other reasons) there are a lot of extremely large schools ranked very high, and also very many bad schools which you don’t know about and which pull the percentages down. So as a result there are not many top-2% students who are going to a top-2% school.

    Here in the U.S., for example, we have a lot of colleges. US News (the main ranking source) has over 1800 of them in its rankings! A college in the “top 2%” is therefore in the “top 360 schools”, which doesn’t count the OTHER un-ranked ones (there are actually more than 5000 colleges in the US). And–no offense–the schools ranked down in the 300s are not considered “elite” by anyone.

    Example: If you go to US News National Universities you can find Ohio University ranked #176. The middle 50% of that class has an SAT score of 1050-1260. 25% of their class is BELOW median national SAT. That’s is a solid school and there are some incredibly smart people who teach there and go there, but it isn’t “elite” in any sense of the word.

    Anyway: Someone from a 300-ranked school who boasted that “my schools is very good because it is in the top 2% nationally” would look like they didn’t understand the way things worked. And using that reference globally is an even bigger flag, and conveys even less-valuable information.

    So if you boast about “top 2% globally,” and if you do so in the wrong setting, then you may be coming off as someone who doesn’t really “get it” and that may hurt you. Just FYI.

    1. Not A Manager*

      2% of 1800 is 36, not 360. If you go to one of the top 36 schools in the nation, you probably do get to lean into that.

    2. Reba*

      I took it to mean that the OP is giving us readers that ranking info, to show us that their boss’s stated reasons don’t really add up. So I’m not especially worried that they are dropping that stat into conversation!

      That said, in response to the ranking thing I would zoom out even further and point out that rankings are kinda junk! Yes, reputation is a real, if fuzzy, thing that makes a difference in life and career. But the rankings systems like US News are not that meaningful beyond marketing for the schools. They invite “gaming” the system and other bad behavior (e.g. favoring affluent applicants, manipulation of the cost of tuition, increasing selectivity rate).

    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I get where you’re going on this one, but really the college/university rankings (even the US News one) are just rife with bullshit — while they use some hard statistics to come to their conclusions, like graduation and retention rate or student debt, they’re not much more than a popularity contest since 20% of the score is obtained by a peer review survey. Many schools aren’t even ranked, not because they’re bad, but because they’re too small to qualify, don’t use the standardized test scores in admissions (SAT), or don’t provide their data or enough peer review responses to the survey, among other things.

      One thing for the OP though — she may just be making “polite fiction” excuses — maybe she (or others) just doesn’t like your personality and doesn’t want to hire you. In school if you complete all of the assignments and follow all the criteria, you are entitled to the grade you’ve earned, even if the teacher thinks you’re rude or…smell bad. But in the working world, just because you have all of the qualifications and jump through all the hoops, doesn’t mean you are guaranteed the job; whether or not your boss/coworkers find you pleasant to work with plays a much bigger role.

  28. LW #1*

    Hello, thank you for publishing my letter. I have a scheduled sit down with my boss on Thursday, but I am also emailing HR for guidance and asking if someone could come to the meeting. (They are all in different offices/time zones so I probably won’t get an answer until later today).

    In my email to my boss, I stated that the Elsa situation was getting worse, not better. I have two co-workers who are willing to speak to my boss as well and one forwarded me a text Elsa said about “watching my partner on social media.”

    To the commenter who complimented me for addressing Elsa head-on, thank you. When I started working here I was nervous to stand up for myself but I learned after a year of putting up with her “obsessions” (idk what to call them) it made the most sense to just tell her to stop. Sometimes it worked, many times it didn’t. I have to thank my older coworkers for helping me handle her and learning how to just tell her “stop.”

    Something interesting I learned in the past few days– she chased off a new hire a few years ago (before I came on board) because she learned he liked the same video game series she loves and constantly bugged him about it. One rumor is she emailed him explicit fanfiction she had written about it and he turned it over to management. If that’s true, I’m shocked she wasn’t fired, but I do know HR was involved. That said, no one in the office really knows what happened to her in regards to the supposed incident, but she was out of the office for a few weeks after that. So, if that’s all true, HR should at least have one previous major dealing with her. I’m hoping it’s enough to get rid of her.

    Incidentally, my eye has completely healed, too.

    Anyway, thanks for the support, the answer to my question, and the amazing lyrics in the comments.

    1. Tuckerman*

      It might be helpful to print out time-stamped screenshots/emails of things she’s sent you since your manager talked to her, to show that the behavior hasn’t improved. If I were in your shoes (and I am SO glad I’m not!) I would also be super brief and to the point during the meeting. “I’ve requested Elsa stop harassing me about medical treatment I received. I expect that going forward, she will stop doing xyz. If the harassment continues, what is the best way to alert you immediately?” Finally, even though you have some interesting/helpful context, I’d keep the focus on your experience with Elsa instead of how she has impacted your co-workers/the new hire. Good luck!

    2. Damn it, Hardison!*

      It sounds like you are handling this in a very appropriate and professional manner, so kudos to you! Best of luck with your meeting. I hope the Elsa Problem is resolved.

    3. Sparkles McFadden*

      You handled everything perfectly. I hope it goes well. Please send us an update when you can.

    4. mcfizzle*

      Thank you for writing in! I am really, really hoping for a good resolution for you (and all of your coworkers, frankly).

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Thank you for the update – I hope the Thursday meeting is productive.

      Elsa seems to be the bane of your workplace. Really, she went after a new hire, and the new hire is gone and she is still there? Shouldn’t it be the other way around!

      Looking forward to a positive update from you!

    6. Sylvan*

      Oh no!! This whole situation is so strange, especially the possible fanfiction sharing. (Fine between friends, big yikes at work.) I’m glad to hear you’re going to HR about it.

      While I don’t want to diagnose her with something, I want to note that people with some mental health conditions can get very fixated on topics they like. Common advice about ending conversations on these things is to directly say you want them to stop, which is exactly what you’re already doing. :)

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        The thing is, your statement is just fine without mentioning mental health at all. You can just say that “people can get very fixated on topics they like”. This is true!

    7. Ro*

      LW1 also remember to ask to be protected from retaliation, given she has already once complained you “got her in trouble.”

    8. Sara without an H*

      OP#1, you’re handling this admirably, and kudos for your willingness to use your words!

      A couple of additional suggestions:

      1. Document all your interactions with Elsa that aren’t strictly professional, and DON’T keep those notes in your workspace. (I like Google Drive for this kind of thing, but there are lots of other options.)
      2. You and your partner should probably check whatever social media you use and make sure the privacy settings are tight. If Elsa is indeed stalking you on social media, the sooner she’s blocked, the better.

      Good luck, and please send us an update.

    9. NotAnotherManager!*

      Oh, gosh, I’m so sorry. Elsa is so far over the line, I bet she can’t even see it over her shoulder. You’ve handled the whole thing perfectly, and your employers seems weirdly okay with this entirely inappropriate behavior. I’m glad you coworkers are also willing to back you up on this – really, she needs to stop yesterday. That’s a reasonable request, and she can believe whatever fiction she wants in her head, but she needs to leave you alone and stop speculating about your personal life with others. Both you and your partner should block her on social media, if you can.

      I am pale and bruise easily, which is not a great match with being rather clumsy. My best injuries are from me just being me, and my spouse learned a long time ago that the answer to, “Where did you get that bruise?” is usually, “I have no idea.” My spouse also outweighs me by about 100 lbs. and is 9″ taller than I am. When we were first dating, I managed a rather spectacular one that covered almost the entire top of one of my thighs down to the knee (stood up into the corner of my open desk drawer at work), and I did get a number of inquiries about whether everything was okay at home and some light insinuation that my partner was involved, but my coworkers believed me and backed off immediately when I told them what had actually happened.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Lol, “where did you get that bruise?” — I feel that. The honest answer is sometimes I just don’t know. Maybe I tried to sit on the bus and hit the arm rest with my hip. Maybe I was gesticulating wildly and smacked my hand on the stove or door handle. Maybe I was finishing a snack, knocked the empty box over and spilled crumbs, got annoyed and banged my head on desk and the wall trying to clean it up.

        I mean, who really knows how these things happen?

    10. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Thank you for the update! Please send in an update when you have had a chance to meet with your boss and HR and let us know how it ends up.

    11. pancakes*

      Oh my. I’m glad to hear your eye healed! Sometimes when a person behaves very strangely, people who are ordinarily conflict-avoidant can become almost invisible to others, by design. It seems that someone in management, if not multiple someones, may have historically responded that way to Elsa. You are handling it very well, and I wish you good luck.

    12. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I can’t wrap my head around the knowledge that Elsa sent a coworker explicit material without his consent and didn’t get fired for it. That’s absolutely bananas.

      You’re doing all the right things, LW. You’ve got your documentation, you’ve got your witnesses, and you’re doing an admirable job of standing up for yourself. Hold your boss and HR to their obligations to provide you with a harassment free workplace. You’ve got this.

    13. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Actually, looking at this again, I’m a bit concerned she wasn’t terminated from the earlier incident. But there may have been more to the story there. Still, it’s worth being prepared for the possibility that they won’t terminate her. But for now I think you are taking all the right steps. Keep documentation for HR, but also keep it for yourself in a way you can take it home. If you feel they will not take sufficient steps, you can then take the info to an attorney. They may be able to help you navigate the situation or negotiate a departure with severance. I’m hoping this is not necessary, but it’s always good to be prepared!

      (Amusingly, I’m a lawyer who just took a continuing education course on wellness for attorneys, and they pointed out that part of our job leads us to “catastrophic thinking.” We plan for every possible way that anything can go wrong. We are big on contingency plans. It’s a strength at work, but it definitely affects us in terms of stress and negative thinking! Still, for the time being, please feel free to take advantage of the benefits of my catastrophic thinking!)

    14. IndustriousLabRat*

      Oh boy, a previous unsolicited explicit fan fic incident, and she’s still there? Yuck. Might want to hand over the fan fics she left on your desk to HR, as well. It’s entirely possible that they are in the same vein.

      Anyway, best wishes for a swift and clean resolution to this mess!

  29. yala*

    welp. I’m screaming. “Elsa” sounds HORRIBLE.

    Like…shoot, I love fanfic, but I can count the number of times I’ve ever sent someone fanfic on one hand, and those were all when it was specifically asked for. To send a COWORKER fic? That’s already so…wildly unbalanced from what appropriate behavior is. And that was the Not That Bad stuff.

    LW, I’m so sorry she’s been harassing you. Because that’s exactly what this is–harassment. And now telling lies about your partner and STALKING him online? Something is deeply wrong with her, and yeah HR needs to get involved because this needs to STOP.

    1. Elio*

      I know right? I like my nerd hobbies and I even somehow wrote explicit material without being too embarrassed by it and posted it on AO3. But I would never want my co-workers to see it. If I wrote erotic stories as a side-job I’d use a pen name since I really like the health insurance where I work. I have a co-worker who is into some nerd stuff too but I would never bring up fanfiction at work (even the tame stuff) because that’s all kinds of awkward. Of course, apparently I’m a somewhat functioning adult and I don’t think I have to convert people into thinking the {piece of media} is the best thing ever if they don’t like it or are uninterested.

  30. On Fire*

    LW #1, my fantasy of how you handle this situation is that you take a small mirror to work with you.

    “Elsa, you want to see an abuser?” /shove the mirror in her face so she sees her reflection/

    “You’re harassing me. You’re accusing me of lying. You are *stalking my partner.* You are actively trying to destroy my relationships, both at work and at home. THAT, Elsa, is abuse. YOU are the abuser.”

    Yes, it’s too dramatic and not the best way to handle it. But I do think you should call it out to HR and your boss that she is *stalking,* lying and sabotaging your relationships. This needs to end, however that needs to happen.

  31. AnonEMoose*

    Also pale, also bruise easily. Just a bump against things will sometimes produce a visible mark. Sometimes I don’t even remember doing it, so I refer to them as “mystery bruises.”

    1. Sara without an H*

      Ditto. Fortunately, I’ve never had an Elsa in my life, because I usually have at least a couple of small bruises that I can’t account for.

    2. Buni*

      In my much younger and everso-slightly wilder days we referred to these as UDIs: Unidentified Drinking Injuries (ie the ones you’d wake up with after a night out with no idea of what happened). Now we just shrug and say “Alien abduction….”.

  32. Observer*

    Here is a serious question for people who are not Elsa, but know that sometimes abuse victims do cover the truth:

    If you see something worrisome, and you get a response that doesn’t add up, is there anything more that one can say or do? Obviously (or it SHOULD be obvious) accusing someone of lying, badgering them or gossiping about them is off the table! But does something like a SINGLE “If you ever want to talk about this, let me know” go to close to the line?

    1. MCMonkeybean*

      I think saying one single time “I’m here if you did need help” would almost always be appropriate. Can definitely be a little awkward, but seems like a “better safe than sorry” scenario where a little awkwardness is worth it if the alternative is potentially ignoring someone who needs help.

      1. MCMonkeybean*

        (Assuming of course it isn’t phrased like Elsa’s “I know you are being beaten and you need to stop covering it up” approach. Probably goes without saying, but figured I’d say it anyway lol.)

    2. Reba*

      Take a look at Key master’s comments here.

      Also, years ago Alison published a guest post from a commenter named Marie, who had been in this situation. Well worth a read.

    3. Abuse*

      If the person doesn’t talk (the vast majority of abuse victims don’t want people to know) you have to respect that. They do not have lesser rights than others just because they’re suffering from domestic violence. I assume if they want to talk they will pick someone close to them. It is natural for people to keep things concealed at work, so be friendly and if they want to talk they will.

    4. Deborah*

      I would say that abuse isn’t a one time thing and you’ll keep seeing it if that’s what is going on, so it’s not ultra important to fasten on to that one incident. When someone wants to tell you about something that is difficult to admit or talk about, they will often drop small hints and see how you react. In my personal experience (both dealing with depression and surviving abuse, as well as having friends with both issues), it’s often best to not jump on the slightest hint and start asking questions and giving advice. It’s a painful and embarrassing topic and that reaction can make them feel even more a spectacle and like they’re being treated like a child who can’t manage their own affairs. It’s hard to find a balance of listening with kindness, showing a willingness to hear and a caring about whatever is going on without jumping on the topic and trying to pull on it or give advice, and all I know to say is to try. Then once they have opened up some more it may be possible to ask how you can help, or express that it’s not ok or normal for them to be treated that way.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        True. One black eye is not a reason to assume abuse. Also, some abuse victims will never show the signs. OP didn’t try to conceal the black eye (probably a medically sound choice after surgery). But an abuse victim is likely to use makeup, even at the risk of infection, to conceal what’s happening. Elsa’s jump to abuse doesn’t make sense (but then I think Elsa’s “concerns” are less about OP than Elsa).

        1. Observer*

          Oh, Elsa’s concerns have nothing to to with reality or the OP. For sure. That’s why I said “for people who are not Elsa”.

          I was trying to ask about the broader issue.

          1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            Oh, I know! That’s why I made a separate response to your overall comment! :)

      2. Observer*

        I wasn’t really thinking of a one time event, but a pattern. Like if someone keeps on showing up with odd bruises and they give an answer that doesn’t make sense.

        But I think I hear what you are saying.

    5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      It depends on how close you are to someone. As a colleague, unless there is an underlying friendship, probably not, and you shouldn’t push it. As a friend, I think just being close, letting them know you are there for them, are key points. Don’t say it. Show it in little ways that make sense, so they just know you as someone they can trust and go to when they are ready. You cannot make an abuse victim decide to get help. But you can set yourself up as a person they trust as a resource for when they decide they are ready to make the leap!

  33. MCMonkeybean*

    For LW 2 using my own recent hobby as an example I would probably attempt the assignment as best you can and say something like this:

    “While I have a lot of experience in making chainmail jewelry, I’ve never created a tutorial before. This is how I think I would approach it, but if you guys have some best practices around this process I’m a fast learner and I’m confident I could pick them up quickly.”

    (Though of course you should only say that last part if it’s true and you really think you could pick up this part of the process quickly if they showed you what they would want)

  34. Kara*

    The letter about working at the same place for 10 years is interesting. In my field most people get promotions by getting a new job, although there are exceptions. But then people are told that they’re moving too often when they change jobs every 2-3 years. On the other hand I see how this could be an issue too, although it can be addressed by showing progression and everything Alison said. So how long should you stay at a job?

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      So how long should you stay at a job?

      In IT/IS, the answer is 1,000 calendar days. Any more than that and you’re not building up your personal alphabet soup and your references get too old and stale.

      I’ve been a Programmer for my employer for 9½ years, and I find myself both an employee of the year front-runner and unqualified for even an entry level job outside my current employer.

    2. LW 3*

      There does seem to be a generational split/shift! I don’t think there’s a right answer either, but for me – I wanted to change jobs when I didn’t feel challenged/fulfilled/encouraged any more. I know other folks my age who have been in the same job for around the same amount of time, and have no problem with it for various reasons.

  35. Observer*

    #1- Else is a real problem, and your boss should have been far more proactive than she was. She know that Elsa can be “challenging” (nice understatement there!) And there is a specific history here of this kind of behavior that shows that this is not a one-off where being told by the boss to knock it off is likely to solve the problem.

    Elsa’s behavior is beyond the pale, but the reality is that she should have been shut down a long time ago. Everyone doesn’t need to be best friends with everyone else and managers should not generally get involved in interpersonal issues. But when someone routinely badgers others, especially over inconsequential issues that are not work related or any of her business, that’s something that a manager SHOULD step in and deal with.

    It’s totally not surprising that Elsa’s behavior has escalated. I just hope that people understand that Elsa is living in her own fantasy world where HER version of reality – what’s good, smart, interesting, stupid, bad, etc. is defined by HER perceptions without necessarily having any relation to reality. It would still be bad and need to be shut down by your manager / HR, but at least with your coworkers it would be “OY! Else, can you imagine?!” rather than discussion of abuse or lack thereof (or wondering if they think that way.)

  36. TurtlesAllTheWayDown*

    I hate to say I would be offended on behalf of my partner… but this type of thing could have real repercussions for him. Obviously, I know anyone can be an abuser and one wouldn’t know it by looking at them, and it tends to be men in relationships with women who abuse the most often, but I can’t help but think my coworkers would also help shut down that ridiculousness. This isn’t a fantasy or something so outlandish that it could never happen, like accusing her partner of being the zodiac killer. It’s hard to prove a negative, and domestic abuse is common enough that it’s plausible, which is why if he ever applied for a job ather company or at a company one of her coworkers moves to in the future, there could be a bias against him, even a, “I can’t put my finger on it, but I think I remember a negative story about Steve.”

  37. Spicy Tuna*

    #4 – there are one of two motivations for the assistant manager to discourage you from applying. The first is that she knows something is bad or wrong about the position and she wants to save you the drama / hassle / potential career damage. The second is that she wants you to stay in your current position for selfish reasons.

    Given that you report stellar performance, and that she denigrated your degree, I would go with option #2.

  38. Lucious*

    “It’s possible, by the way, that she doesn’t want to lose you in the position you’re in now. Some managers will hold people back like that. “

    Thank you for mentioning this. Sadly, managers are put in a conflict of interest when a high performing employee seeks to change roles off of their team. Sometimes they’ll discourage the employees intent to leave out of pure self-interest. What manager wants to lose a good employee if they can help it?

  39. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    Elsa: “You got me in trouble!”
    You: “That’s right, I did. You persisted with insisting that *my husband is beating me* after I expressly told you to stop. This is not only character assassination toward my husband, it’s prying into my *personal medical issue* and it is highly inappropriate. If you continue persisting with rumors and defaming mine and my husband’s character, I’m going to HR about your behavior.”

    And, as her boss (or HR, for that matter), they should be saying to her, “EVEN IF SHE WAS being abused, your behavior is inappropriate, out of line, and it needs to stop. NOW. LEAVE (LW1) ALONE.”

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Yes, except that OP didn’t get Elsa in trouble. Elsa got herself in trouble. OP just reported Elsa’s awful behavior.

    2. TastefullyFreckled*

      OP didn’t get Elsa in trouble. Elsa got HERSELF in trouble by continuing on even after OP had asked her to stop.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        Sure, but I guess I meant more like, “Yep, that’s right, I reported you, and I’m going to do it again.” I guess I wouldn’t be worried about preserving the relationship at this point. That ship has sailed.

        (Actually what LW1 is doing above is SPOT ON.)

  40. noname*

    Elsa is not “challenging”, she is harassing you (and everyone else for that matter). Even if there is no ill will or bad intentions on her part, her behavior is 100% inappropriate and needs to stop IMMEDIATELY. Your boss dropped the ball on this one and you need to go to HR.

  41. LTL*

    As someone who’s been emotionally abused, the fact that she thinks it’s appropriate to tell the whole office about it like its gossip has me seeing red.

    Obviously you’re not being abused OP but I just wanted to underscore Alison’s point about how INCREDIBLY harmful her behavior would be to an abuse victim.

  42. MCMonkeybean*

    So, I don’t really think things with Elsa are quite this extreme (at least not yet) but her inability to let this go did make me wonder–what happens if you get a restraining order against someone at work? I assume in the history of the world that is something that has happened before. Alison, do you know of any situations where that occurred and how they handled it if an employer had one employee that was supposed to work in the same office as another yet was not legally allowed within 100 feet of them or whatever. I guess some companies/offices are big enough where it might not really matter…

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      That’s going nuclear on a whole new level, and is probably enough of a business operations disruption that most places would just cut ties with OP (or both OP and Elsa) rather than try to sort it out.

      1. MCMonkeybean*

        I’m not saying OP should do that with Elsa, but there are certainly situations that would warrant that strong of a reaction and I’m just suddenly very curious to know how situations like that have played out. Maybe it would be a better topic for an open thread but I’m just wondering.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          but there are certainly situations that would warrant that strong of a reaction

          Agreed. But the problem with business and management is that they’re prone to just removing obstacles to doing business, not necessarily the right thing, and if Elsa has an aire of business-essentiality to her, having to choose between the two isn’t a die the OP will want to roll. It sounds like Elsa has already survived one conflict that got to that level.

          If Elsa’s bad enough to warrant a restraining order, OP is infinitely better off interviewing out and getting the restraining order after she’s safely in a new building or working from home.

          1. MCMonkeybean*

            I’m really really not talking about this particular situation with Elsa. I do not think OP should get a restraining order against Elsa. I was just saying that I’m curious to know about other situations that HAVE escalated to that point.

      2. pancakes*

        I don’t think it’s fair to say a restraining order is “going nuclear.” It’s something people seek—and are granted–if they are in danger or are being threatened. In California there is a category in itself called a Workplace Violence Restraining Order. It is not something courts approve on an unlimited basis, either.

        There’s some sort of Connecticut business association that has a q&a that might be of interest to you and MCMonkeybean, titled, “HR Hotline: One of Our Employees Has a Protection Order Against a Coworker. Now What?”

      3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Although if the restraining order is for harassment occurring in the workplace, they could get in legal trouble for letting OP go on the basis of retaliation. But OP would need to show she went to HR, etc., before the restraining order and termination (or at least at the same time as seeking the restraining order). Still, if a restraining order is granted, it will document that Elsa was harassing her at the workplace and the court found the evidence sufficient to grant the order. The employer probably will not want to terminate OP in that situation, but may try to offer her a generous severance to cut ties.

        Of course, the bigger issue here is that the situation has not currently reached a level where a court is likely to grant a restraining order.

  43. Rage*

    #1 – How awful. I have a similar story that is actually just funny. My last dog, Diesel, was a gigantic English mastiff who used his tail to considerable effect: he’d whap me in the leg and I’d get these lovely half-moon shaped bruises on my thighs. I commented once to a friend of mine that I looked like somebody had beaten me with a rod.

    Same friend and I were at the Y, getting dressed to use the pool. So my bruises were on full display. A woman approached me and handed me a brochure for Harbor House (our local DV safe house). My friend about died laughing (she had to go hide around the corner). I couldn’t pass up the opportunity and said, “But who will take care of him while I’m gone? It just means that he loves me!” Poor woman. Then I explained. She turned beet red, but I thanked her for her concern and compassion (and then showed her pictures of the culprit).

    I don’t know what I would have done if she hadn’t believed me.

    Diesel crossed the Rainbow Bridge in 2018 and I miss that goofball every day.

    1. Despachito*


      I love how you acknowledged the good intent of the woman, (and chuckled at your comment preceding it).

      I very much appreciate that you basically expressed thanks for her concern, although you did not need it. A lot of people act indifferent out of fear of sticking their noses where they do not belong (the opposites of Elsa), and I feel that them who risk reaching out to help without being intrusive or nosy care should be somehow encouraged and thanked.

      And I am sorry for your loss.

      1. Rage*

        I do try to always assume that people are acting with good intentions.

        And thank you for your sympathies. I now have retired service dog Clifford (who doesn’t think he’s actually retired) to fill the void. Another very good boi.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          Yeah, in your case, I think she was well intentioned, and you handled it well! But I think we can safely say that Elsa does not have good intentions.

  44. CM*

    For OP#2, did you, in fact, misrepresent your past experience and level of knowledge?

    If not, just be straightforward — you can say, “While I’ve done this more informally in the past and this may not be exactly what you’re looking for, here’s what I’ve written up and I’m happy to take any feedback if this is not what you’re expecting.”

    If you led them to believe you did this on a more formal/professional level than you have, I would say, “I should be clear that while I have a lot of experience at this, my experience has been in an informal setting and I haven’t done this kind of assignment before.”

    1. LW 2*

      I’ve only had an initial screening with HR… but I did let her know that I didn’t have a professional report handy, as the work I’ve done for folks hasn’t required it, but that I could put something together for them.

  45. learnedthehardway*

    LW1 – I would go to HR about this and lay a complaint. Your manager hasn’t addressed Elsa’s behaviour. Somebody needs to do so – both for your sake and for Elsa’s. For whatever reason, she has a VERY dysfunctional way of interacting with colleagues (I would bet with everyone).

  46. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    WTF, Elsa?

    I used to get people thinking that my best friend abused me- we were very close, and enjoyed rock climbing. He’s a foot taller than I am, so when we went climbing and he would show me routes, I might bruise or fall more easily than he did because I couldn’t make the same reaches, and bouldering was more dangerous for me. But that doesn’t mean I’m abused!

    Also, accusations of abuse in a relationship by outside parties can really hurt. When we first got married, my mom accused my wife of abusing me, and even asked about physical stuff. This wasn’t the case, obviously- she just came across badly at first due to mental health issues that manifested as wanting to control, among other things. Now I’ve been married seven years, and I think my mom accepts my wife more and I hope she no longer thinks these things. But, my relationship with my mom has never been the same since.

  47. H. Regalis*

    If you were being abused, does Elsa sound like a safe person to confide in? Hell no. Same with the people in the thread who had bruises from sports/life/whatever and the person asking them about the bruises got angry and implied that they were lying about the source and that it was really abuse. Someone ostensibly offering support and then pitching a fit because they don’t get to play the part of the white knight charging in on a horse to save you are not actually doing a good deed. Browbeating possible abuse victims because they don’t want to confide in you is not helping anyone.

  48. Lesley McCullough*

    In respect of Elsa, I am with those that favour a cease and desist letter from counsel for – and eventually and more important a letter of apology from Elsa to – the husband. Elsa has already defamed him and once something like that gets out to the public – and employees talk to others – it is very hard to stamp out without the benefit of a clear acknowledgment from Elsa that she was wrong. Elsa wrongly thinks that she is supporting the OP and will see HR’s instructions as an undermining of what we all should be doing, helping others. She needs something to clearly point out to her the consequences of making decisions that affect people before you have all the evidence. I doubt she will ever believe the OP but legal consequences can assist her in seeing that an apology is in her best interest or it creates a public record that can be used in future should the OP’s husband ever become aware that her story has spread. THis is not instead of HR, which the OP should definitely go through but in addition. And I am a lawyer who has brought defamation actions before, all of which were resolved by a letter of apology; that’s how a defendant who would likely be found liable, purges their defamation.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Oh no, definitely do not ask for a letter of apology. That is not a good idea, and someone as boundary stomping as Elsa will end up writing an apology so awful it will be worse than no apology at all. It also encourages additional communication, which a cease and desist letter will definitely not want to encourage. The goal is to get the person to leave you alone period!

      At this point though, OP needs to work through her employer. Until something outside of OP’s workplace occurs where the partner is being directly harassed or threatened (like Elsa calling him to accuse him, or her sending her lies to his employers, coworkers, members of his community, or even her making a facebook post), it is probably best for the partner to be aware (and securing all his social media presence from public view), but not to do anything for now.

    2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I am an attorney, and I would not recommend this course of action, especially the apology letter. A cease and desist letter is intended to stop the harasser from any further contact or communication and to stop the problematic behavior. Inviting a letter of apology is inviting an opening for further contact, and it can hurt you down the line if you apply for a restraining order (“But, your honor, I was just trying to apologize like he requested!!!”). I absolutely would never put that request in a C&D letter, and I would advise my client to not allow any opening for further contact.

      I would also say it is premature for a C&D letter at this point, as the action so far seems to be confined to the workplace. Even the part about stalking his social media appears to be something a coworker of OP’s heard Elsa say. That is hearsay at this point. Also, Elsa just saying that she is doing it does not prove she is actually doing it, and it could be hard to interpret what she meant by “stalking” his social media (just watching his public account would not be considered stalking in any legal sense). That said, I would advise both OP and partner lock down their social media so that only those they approve can see. I’d also recommend doing anything they can to make their online presence virtually invisible. Meanwhile, I would recommend they try to keep an eye on Elsa’s social media in an anonymous way.

      But I would wait on a C&D – it could cause an escalation at this point. It might be needed later, but for now, I think OP needs to talk to her boss again and to HR rather than going beyond that right now.

  49. retired*

    #5. Having these accolades in my personnel file actually saved my job once. A new director came in (state government) and wanted to replace us all with her own choices (hard to do with civil service). So she was trying to find cause to fire me. She told me that she couldn’t because of accolades my first supervisor had placed in my personnel file when I was too new and unaware to know that was a thing. I always paid that forward for my staff.

  50. Despachito*

    For me, so far what was said it boils down to this:

    it is acceptable to reach out to a person I think might be abused ONCE, offering support and help if needed, and then let it up to that person to decide.

    This should be acceptable even if I am wrong and the person is not abused.

    And if he/she is but does not feel prepared to act on it (due to any of the reasons mentioned above), it is not my responsibility and I should not feel guilty for that (because in fact my real options in helping them are limited and I already did everything I could at that moment)

    Does it sound more or less correct?

    1. Jan*

      Yes, I think so. That approach let’s the person know you care while respecting their agency. That’s especially important if they are being abused as they’ll have had so much of their choices and freedom taken away as it is.

  51. Liz T*

    For #1, I really think I’d just have to be as “challenging” for my manager as Elsa is. Inform my manager that I would no longer speak to or be around Elsa because of the harassment. If that meant announcing unilaterally that I was working from home or another office, if that meant blasting an airhorn whenever Elsa approached, whatever. Elsa sounds like she’s designed in a lab to hit all my worst buttons and I would absolutely become a problem to get it taken care of.

    I’m not saying LW should do that. Not everyone’s an angerbeast like I am. But Elsa would not enjoy the consequences.

  52. Deborah*

    #3- You never know what the employer will value. The employer I hired on with in August 2020 likes to keep people for years (and they seem to pay and provide benefits that would warrant it from what I’ve seen so far), so they liked that my then current job was for 7 years and the one before it, though not in a relevant field, I had worked there for 6 years. The job I had right before this one was the only one relevant to this job.

    1. LW 3*

      Yes very true! And I do firmly believe that I will find the right next-job, at the right time.

  53. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    #4 I’m surprised Alison didn’t at least mention the boss may just be making “polite fiction” excuses because she (or others) just don’t like the OP’s personality and don’t want to hire her for the senior role. In school if you complete all of the assignments and follow all the criteria, you are entitled to be there and receive the grade you’ve earned, even if the teacher thinks you’re rude…or smell bad…or ask too many questions. But in the working world, just because you have all of the qualifications and jump through all the hoops, doesn’t mean you are guaranteed the job; whether or not your boss/coworkers find you pleasant to work with plays a much bigger role.

    1. RosyGlasses*

      I think you make an excellent point. I’ve had a few coworkers that felt like they had checked all the right boxes, but they were missing those all-important soft skills to move into larger roles. They just didn’t get it.

    2. Anonymous Again*

      Another possibility is that they have a candidate they want in the job, whether internal or external. It turns out a few people at work are upset about my promotion to this location … bc my boss didn’t bow to the pressure to hire their bosses parent for the role. Can you even imagine being managed by the child of your direct report?

  54. Raida*

    #1 absolutely you’ve done the right thing so far – told her the truth, told her to stop more than once (key for harassment), made a direct complaint to her boss to manage it.
    The next step is to put the boss and HR together to tell them about the harassment – or in an email. Why not just the boss? Because HR needs to know the ‘got her in trouble’ part. If her boss rouses on her a second time without knowing that and having HR’s backing this can become Elsa making a bullying complaint about her boss!
    HR needs to step in to co-manage this due to the legal issues (slander and harassment and stalking) and the employee’s skewed perception of the situation they are now in to protect the boss and the company.

  55. Anon Y. Mouse*

    I’m a big fan of keeping the accolades too.

    When my mental health is in the pits, and I just feel like incompetent garbage, flipping through some of them can be a real booster and help reinvigorate me.

    not always, some pits are deep, but helpful still.

  56. Anonymous Again*

    I have two OneNote page entitled “Way to Go” where I put snippets from emails or letters or chats where someone compliments me or my work. One page “from the boss” (for anyone above me) and “miscellaneous” for coworkers, partners, and clients.

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