manager complains about my time off, flower theft, and more

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

1. Manager is complaining about my approved time off

I work in a project based job where clients control the schedule. I have previously scheduled PTO around project schedules, then had to work on vacation because the client moved the schedule and we suddenly had a deliverable. In December, I rescheduled an overseas trip for September of 2021 that used about half of my yearly PTO days (pandemic cancelled the original May 2020 trip). At the time I scheduled, I was not officially on any projects, just helping with several.

In February, I got the word that I was officially on a project and realized that I had never entered the PTO request and the project’s go live was shortly after that. I emailed my managers on the team and laid out the situation. (I basically said ‘I scheduled this trip a while ago and can probably move it if we really need to. Can the team cover this or do I need to move it?’). They approved it and said they’ll make it work. I’m aware it’s very inconvenient timing, but they approved it more than 6 months in advance and there is plenty of time to ensure teammates are comfortable with what they need to cover.

Our entire company has been extremely busy for the past 8+ months, so I have not taken any days off since July 2020 (and have been averaging 50+hour weeks for at least the past 5+ months). However one of the managers who approved the request makes a comment about me “having used all my PTO” any time anything related to time off comes up. It’s often in a joking tone, but the underlying disapproval comes through very clearly and it happens every time I’m in the conversation, regardless who brought up the PTO. How do I ask her to stop giving me a hard time about approved PTO? Is it even worth it to try to have that discussion or should I just suck it up until I can find another job? This manager is one who constantly tells everyone to work more (even when they are working over 40 hours already).

Also, how do I approach asking for the remaining days off that I have when she very clearly doesn’t want me to ask for any more time off? Even when I’ve started a conversation about taking a convenient Friday off well in advance, her comments have been so negative that I’ve caved and not taken any long weekends.

Often the way to handle “joking but not really joking” comments is to respond with genuine concern. You could say, “You’ve made a lot of comments about my PTO usage. I do have time off scheduled in September, but I haven’t taken any days off since last July. Is there a concern you have about my time off or something I should be doing differently?” Sometimes forcing the issue like that like that will make the person stop the comments (because the passive digs stop working when you say, basically, “whoa, you sound worried — let’s talk about it”).

You could force the question about her negativity toward other days off too: “I have a lot of PTO accrued and haven’t used any in nine months. Are you saying I shouldn’t take a single day anyway?” (And then don’t cave. Take the days you want to take if you have the PTO and can do it without disrupting anything, unless she outright tells you not to.)

2. I don’t want to work with my high school harasser

I work in a job where I travel around my city to provide support as needed to 10 local teams that are stationed at different sites. I’ve been in this role for a year and I love it, but I found out soon after being hired that someone who harassed me all through high school works on one of those teams. He was completely obsessive. He’d constantly text or send messages to me, creating new accounts after I blocked him, would corner me in the halls, grab me and drag me away from friends, threaten suicide if I didn’t go out with him, etc. He did some other specific, absolutely batshit things I don’t want to write as they’re identifiable.

I told him multiple times I wasn’t interested, adults in my life stepped in, and it never stopped. It only ended after he went to college five years ago (but not before sending me a vaguely threatening letter). It was a very upsetting time of my life and I still can’t talk about it without becoming distressed.

My manager was very supportive when I told her and back then, said that I wouldn’t have to worry about it because of COVID as that particular team was working from home. However, now we’re all back in buildings, and HR has taken the position of “you can work with your manager so you don’t have to go there often, but we won’t guarantee that you won’t ever have to go there because that’s what you were hired to do.” (Note that there are two other people with my job who have no issues covering this team). They also said that it’ll be fine since if he tried anything they already have this on file. But otherwise since it didn’t happen when we were working at the company and he was a minor, they won’t take any official accommodation.

I don’t care! I don’t want to work with someone who threatened and harassed me. I’m not concerned about him trying anything because I have the tools to shut that down now, but. I know that I will not be able to handle working with him, no matter how professional he may be now. Again, I’m not including all the things he did out of privacy, but if anyone did half the things to me today, I’d have gone straight to the police.

This all to say: I don’t want to tank his career, I don’t want to have a mediation with him. I just want to have assurance that I don’t have to work with one of 10 teams. Am I being unreasonable? I’m still early in my career and just really don’t know.

No, you’re not being unreasonable! Of course you don’t feel safe working around someone who did those things to you, and it’s reasonable to expect your company to exempt you from working with him, particularly since there are two other people available for coverage.

Since your manager was supportive earlier, can you stop dealing with HR and instead try to arrange directly with her that one of your two available coworkers will be the official coverage for this man’s team? It sounds like it should be a pretty straightforward accommodation.

3. Employee announced a solution without checking with me

I have been working in a leading position for a couple of months now and it’s the first time for me. My team is very small and one coworker has been employed there for over about 15 years at this point. I am the youngest there and sometimes feel insecure about being the boss.

Today in a meeting, the long-term employee announced that he would take steps regarding a certain issue. The issue needs to be addressed, his solution is good, and I appreciate him taking initiative. Nevertheless, I am not sure how to react to him just pointing out that he will handle something without speaking to me beforehand. How should I proceed?

Is the issue he’s addressing reasonably within the realm that he’s responsible for? If so, the more autonomy you can give an experienced employee in their work, the better. If he were very junior, you’d want him to run solutions by you for a while so that you could make sure there weren’t things he was missing. But he’s been there 15 years! If the work is within his realm of responsibility, he may rightly be used to being able to make this kind of decision himself. And you should want your staff to take ownership over their areas of work; the more they can do that skillfully the better. There still might be times you want him to consult you, but those should be for specific cases for specific reasons, not just a general feeling that everything must go through his boss.

If you’re concerned that while his solution was good this time, there could be times in the future when you’d need to flag problems (like an impact he didn’t foresee, or a conflict with something a colleague is doing that he didn’t know about, or simply a quality concern or so forth), then talk to him about what systems make sense to use. Maybe he has authority to move forward on ABC on his own (and you’ll just speak up if you spot concerns) but you want to touch base on XYZ before he finalizes plans there. You can also ask him what systems he used with his previous manager for this stuff; you may find out that there’s an existing framework for these decisions that already works well.

But make sure you’re not asserting authority just for the sake of asserting it (a common new manager mistake). Your authority is a tool you have to ensure everything runs well, but it’s not an end unto itself.

4. I don’t want a promotion because I may become severely disabled

I am dealing with a scary medical diagnosis that may cause me to become disabled in various ways over the next few years. The disease has an unpredictable course, but some of the problems I might be up against are severe vision problems, mobility issues, and cognitive issues like forgetfulness and difficulty with verbal communication.

Meanwhile, in my workplace, I am currently seen as the go-to person for many things. A lot of coworkers keep asking me if I want to be a manager, and when I say “No,” they always ask why not. I generally mention work-life balance and the stress of being a manager as my main reasons. Truthfully, I think I have a lot more flexibility in my current position to get the accommodations I may need in a few years time. I like my job, I do think I could be a good manager with the level my body and mind are at now, but I need to be thinking long-term. Long term, I need a job, I need health insurance, and I need stability. I understand why my coworkers want me to go for a promotion, but I don’t feel ready yet to give them the context for why I am not going to do that.

I guess what I’m worried about is how my coworkers are perceiving me, since they don’t know what’s going on. Do I seem like I am disengaged or unambitious?

If you’re known as the go-to person in your office, it’s very unlikely that you seem disengaged! And with so many people encouraging you to go for a promotion, it’s pretty likely that they respect and think well of you. I wouldn’t worry about how you’re being perceived at all.

That said, if you want to change the answer you’re giving slightly, you could say, “I’ve got some other stuff going on outside work that I want to focus on right now” or even just, “Eh, maybe some day, but I’m happy with what I’m doing currently.”

5. Flower theft

Last night I saw a coworker stealing flowers from a historic building/home of a government official in the middle of the night. The worst part is she brings these flowers in to the workplace and distributes them as if she bought them from a florist. What do I do?

You don’t need to do anything; you’re not obligated to intervene and bring justice upon her. If it’s really bugging you, there’s no reason you couldn’t say, “I thought I saw you picking these outside the X building last night! They’re beautiful but is picking them allowed?” … but you could also just let it go and figure it’s not something you personally need to solve.

{ 472 comments… read them below }

  1. Phil*

    LW4: As someone with scary medical problems my advice is go ahead and don’t make trouble before it actually occurs. Who knows, it may not be as bad as you think.

    1. Michael*

      This exactly! Even as a manager your company will make accommodations. I’ve was out on medical leave three different times over three years and my team kept going. My manager stepped in and when it was going to be a slightly longer time-frame, we brought in someone else to manage while I was out. Good companies are going to find a way to work with you regardless of your level.

      That said, if you truly don’t want the job then don’t go for it, but don’t let the possibility of medical stuff stand in your way. (And assuming you would be making more money as a manager that can always help with any unexpected costs later)

      1. Colette*

        It sounds like this is more a chronic illness that limits what you can do on a permanent basis than something that requires a few periods of leave. I understand what the OP is thinking – she’s dealing with scary health news, and doesn’t want to make it harder on herself by taking a job she may not be able to do in the next couple of years.

        Once she knows what the course of the disease will be for her, she can decide whether or not a management job makes sense.

        1. Michael*

          I have most definitely not taken roles because I was concerned about the stress/impact, but I always found out more about the role first and not just said, “I can’t ever be a manger because of my medical condition.” That’s why I said if she doesn’t want it, don’t take it, but also, don’t write it off because you have a medical condition.
          I agree she should figure out what it means for her and how she wants to care for her condition – including limiting stress – but as someone who has had an ongoing medical condition since age 13 and been through cancer twice (surgeries and chemo twice plus a bonus heart attack related to chemo), you can’t write off opportunities because of your medical condition or you’ll never do anything.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Contradicting viewpoint: as someone with scary medical problems I can well understand the need to not put yourself into a job that you’re pretty sure you won’t be able to do for long.

      I *could* with my experience and knowledge run all the IT departments in the company. I’m staying as a local IT manager because my conditions are progressive and incurable.

      I’ve taken to saying things like ‘eh, it’s just not for me’ or ‘you think I could leave you guys? I like it here!’ Or the classic deflection manuvere of changing the subject. (Get a good discussion going on operating systems is my personal favourite)

      1. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

        I love this deflection on operating systems! I’ve used too and its especially effective as my roles are not even in IT.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Neither me nor my husband can agree on OS either. It’s the only disagreement in our house!

          Other good deflections: weather (am British, it’s kinda a thing), the commute in that morning, people’s pets, best new computer game…

    3. LilyP*

      Reading between the lines a bit, it sounds like maybe OP is worried that if she takes the promotion and ends up underperforming she’d get fired outright (vs demoted back into a job she could sustainably do) and then would end up without health insurance?

      1. Again With Feeling*

        That’s what I inferred, too. And being a manager is a lot of responsibility (and as OP noted, less flexibility) that may be hard to manage alongside her medical issues.

      2. Jack Straw*

        Yes, this is exactly what I thought as well. Speaking as someone with a looming medical issue myself, I wholeheartedly agree with OP. In addition to the possibility of being let go due to performance, the stress of a new job can cause many medical issues to progress faster or at the very least, wear the person down more.

      3. Midwest Manager*

        I inferred that as well. Plus, as I am close to someone with a similar-sounding medical condition, I understand the LW’s perspective. Taking on a new and more responsible role when you are unsure if your condition will cause cognitive, memory, or physical issues is extremely stressful. I took on a new job while supporting someone who was experiencing these medical issues, and it was one of the worst years of my life to date.

        I applaud the LW for thinking longer term about the physical and mental impacts of a promotion while the medical condition rears its head. I’m hopeful they are able to find ways to slow the progression. Maybe in a few years they’ll feel they have a handle on things and are able to finally go for that promotion.

      4. LW4*

        Yes, this was definitely one of my concerns. I am much more interested in stability right now and having consistent insurance and pay than in getting the additional money I would get if I went for a promotion. Without insurance there is almost no way that I would be able to afford treatment.

    4. LW 4*

      Hi all, thank you so much for your encouragement and advice!

      Commenters are correct that the other side of this is that I was only slightly considering moving upwards before all of the medical issues came to light. I have never felt that management was for me, and while I may have been warming up to the idea that I might someday consider taking on a management role, I was never actually that interested.

      1. Grace*

        If you were never really inclined to be a manager, you could just say something to that effect when coworkers ask. There are plenty of people who choose to stay as individual contributors/senior specialists in their field and never take on a management role because they simply don’t want to.

  2. ENFP in Texas*

    A lot of coworkers keep asking me if I want to be a manager, and when I say “No,” they always ask why not.
    My response is always a laughing “I’ve seen what happens to managers” (we have high managerial turnover at my company).

    For the OP – you don’t owe anyone an explanation. Something as simple as “I’m not interested in being a manager” is all you need to say. If they pursue it, just shrugged and say “I’m just not.”

    Your health worries are none of their concern, and you are not obligated to satisfy their curiosity.

    1. Stormfeather*

      This. Plenty of people don’t want to managers just because it doesn’t interest them at all. If you don’t want to completely shut the door to the possibility in the future maybe do the “at least not right now” thing but… it’s a thing people don’t want to do! It’s fine if you also don’t want to do it!

    2. SarahKay*

      Seconded. The skills needed to be a good manager are very different from those needed to be a good individual contributor. Look at what the managers in your company spend their time doing, vs what you spend your time doing, and if you feel it would help to give your co-workers reasons then use that. Point out how much you like x, y, and z in your current role and that you’d lose that in you became a manager.
      I actually was a manager for about three years, and while I wasn’t bad at it, it was a huge amount of work and stress to be merely okay at it. On the other hand, give me an excel spreadsheet and 50 variables I need to work with and I am happy, engaged, and productive as the day is long. Intermittently my manager checks that I’m still happy in my role, and am I still sure I don’t want to look at moving up, and I confirm I don’t want to go anywhere.
      What I do get sometimes is what we call ‘bubble’ assignments, temporarily helping to cover other roles or positions for 3-6 months, and they’re great as they let me keep learning, and not get stale. That might be something worth discussing with your current manager if it sounds interesting to you, as you’re not committing to anything long term but does give you some variation right now.

    3. Lucious*

      At my last role, the managers were nearly all miserable. Due to unreasonable clients and a checked out senior leadership team , 60 hour weeks and cancelled PTO were the norm.

      I work to live- I do not live to work. Money can’t buy happiness.

      1. Venus*

        At one workplace they had trouble finding staff who wanted to be managers. When one of the managers complained about it I pointed out that they tried to make it sound good yet they always looked miserable. They hire bright people and we noticed the link.

        Over the years I had coworkers who answered “I wouldn’t want to be a manager of someone like me” which was a veiled reference to some difficult coworkers, or when asked if someone wants to be a manager, a very concise laugh followed by “Oh fuck no” seems to reduce follow-ups! I don’t recommend it for every workplace of course.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      My truth might be worth using: I don’t want to manage friends.

    5. Ray Gillette*

      Part of the problem is that a lot of companies still don’t have an equivalent professional development track for individual contributors, so that going into management is treated as the logical next step for someone who’s excellent at their work. Our culture rewards ambition (even when it’s unfounded) and a lot of people don’t know how to respond to someone who’s risen as high as they want to go and is happy to continue excelling in their current role with no other plans for “growth.”

      1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        Also @Ray, I’m sure you agree that ambition is very narrowly defined as “ambition to manage”.

        I’m ambitious – to be an IC at a senior level, to develop the depth and breadth of my skills, to coach and mentor others, to be selected for meaningful projects, AND to get the recognition and pay that goes along with all that.

        But I’m not ambitious to manage people. I am a top-notch IC and a mediocre/weak supervisor. I’m uncomfortable managing other people and it utilises very few of the skills that make me very good at my current job. And my ADHD, which I’ve learned to manage in my current role – I’d have to learn a whole new set of coping mechanisms as a manager.

        I am very fortunate to be in a field where you can advance as a specialist, but I know this isn’t the case for many jobs.

    6. Rusty Shackelford*

      I’m not interested in managing at all. I like doing the thing, not managing the people who do the thing. This means I’ll never be promoted and I’m happy with that.

    7. Jayne*

      I have had that question as well and I usually respond “I don’t like supervision in either direction” Fortunately, my workplace is laid back enough that I have said that to my supervisors and they have only stopped asking me about becoming a manager.

    8. tink*

      I’m very straightforward that I don’t have the right temperament to manage. I’ve done project leading and become the sort of high-strung, obsessive micromanager that I don’t actually enjoy working for and I would never wish that on my own health or the sanity of my coworkers.

  3. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    LW #1: That manager who frowns upon taking PTO is an ass. Your PTO is part of your compensation and you have every right to use it. Your managers have the option to approve or not to approve your PTO requests based on the needs of the business, and since they approved this, I think you should take the days with no worries whatsoever. You should also continue to submit your remaining PTO requests with no guilt whatsoever. Managers like the one who is giving you a hard time about your PTO shouldn’t be managers. She is basically asking you to donate part of your compensation (your PTO) back to the company. It’s unacceptable. Nobody is impressed by managers who frown upon PTO and tell their hardworking employees they should be working more.

    1. Esmeralda*

      Yes, and I urge you to not reschedule, cut your vacation short, or answer any work email/texts/ phone calls while you’re out. Be truly out!

      If you feel guilty about leaving lots of work for your team, think of it this way: you’re giving them an opportunity to step up and take leadership and show what they can do. Give them the opportunity!

      1. 10Isee*

        You’re also showing your team that they, too, deserve to use the PTO that is part of their compensation package.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yes! If you think you can get away with it, use the excuse that you probably won’t have good internet/phone reception where you’ll be traveling. You should use the time to completely disconnect from work.

        1. Amaranth*

          I think this is really important. Leave a ‘how to’ list with someone on the team so nobody can claim having OP gone ruined things, and then turn off the phone and internet. Roaming charges overseas are no joke anyway.

    2. WS*

      And I expect the manager knows perfectly well that LW #1 is within their rights to take their very reasonable PTO, but is trying to create an environment where nobody ever asks for it, so that a) nobody takes PTO while b) the manager will never get in trouble for taking away earned PTO because they can claim that of course they would give it if only people asked!

      1. Antilles*

        This is 100% what’s happening. The manager wants to have it both ways – they don’t want people to take PTO *but* also don’t want to have to directly tell people not to take it. So that’s why manager is making passive digs about it and jokes and etc.
        And it’s why Alison’s strategy of “be straightforward” tends to work so well – it removes the option of hinting/joking/etc and boxes the manager into clearly answering the question.

    3. Not Australian*

      I must confess I’d be very tempted to ask this person if there is any other part of my compensation package they would like me to forego – but then I’m famously passive-aggressive, or ‘sarcastic’ as I prefer to call it. In all seriousness, unless there is an official request that OP schedule their PTO around some specific work need – which, trust me, there would be if it was *that* important – these ‘remarks’ are just spite and game-playing and OP should feel comfortable treating them as such.

      1. Cat Tree*

        Yes, it’s basically like guilt-tripping her for cashing a paycheck. She earned that PTO and should be able to use it without the little jabs.

      2. FrenchCusser*

        I had a manager who told me I should wait until I retire to travel.

        Narrator: She did not wait until she retired to travel.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I would honestly suggest just responding in the moment: “I’ve only taken X days off since the pandemic began, and nothing since July 2020. September’s vacation is the one that I didn’t take last year.”

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Coming back to add: it sounded to me like the issue of PTO is coming up in conversations with more people, and I would definitely want those other people to know how inaccurate the manager is. Manager will probably protest they’re just joking…which still lets the othets in the conversation know you’re not in the wrong. (And really, there is no need for snarky comments at the office.)

        1. jojo*

          LW can ask the boss that is hassling her if the company is going to reimburse her for the money she has already put out for reservations and pay her for the PTO time he does not want her to take because it is inconvenient for boss. Also, point out any time off boss has taken. Most companies are use it or lose it

    5. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

      “You’ve used up all your PTO!”

      “Yep, that’s what it’s there for!”

        1. Mrs. Hawiggins*

          I will remember this one should it happen to me (but hasn’t for a few years)!!!

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

      I worked as a high school teacher in an urban school district. Contractually we were allowed 10 sick days. If you took more than 3 separate periods of sick time off, you were “written up” and had to write up placed in your “permanent file”. I did what I wanted, but so many people came in sick when they should not have.

      1. Lucious*

        Perhaps we should have a dedicated AAM discussion about “PTO shame” from managers- meaning times when employees are pressured to not use available PTO by their managers.

        At a previous role, my old boss approved my time off- then tried to pressure me to cancel it because of a last minute release set to go live during my arranged PTO. I politely declined .

        The day before my vacation, OldBoss told me the release was high priority and that “she’d be happy to cancel my vacation,since it’s the professional thing to do in this situation”. I told her my plans were set and I’d delegate the work to my backup as previously discussed.

        In my absence the release blew up for unforeseen technical reasons, then on my return the boss tried to gaslight and claim the issues were because I took PTO instead of “canceling it for the good of the team”.

        It was later used as a reason to mark down my annual review, which is a big reason why she’s OldBoss.

        1. Girasol*

          That would be a great topic. So many managers use PTO shaming. Some have done it so long that their team members join in and then brag about how much vacation time they haven’t taken. PTO isn’t like compensation at many places in the US. You have to ask for it, and many managers think that “A real professional and loyal employee wouldn’t ask for that” is a good answer. Companies that offer under 100% cash payout for unused PTO wouldn’t dare say, “If you’ll skip a paycheck now, I’ll give you a half a paycheck at the end of the year!” and then act like they’ve offered a special privilege.

        2. Mina The Company Prom Queen*

          I agree! That would be an excellent topic!

          I once had a manager, who had approved my PTO, accuse me of being “MIA” while out on vacation the previous week. I had actually checked my email on my phone a few times to make sure there wasn’t anything pressing (there wasn’t as my week off was during 4th of July week).

          The next time I had PTO, which she approved, she commented “you really use all of your PTO days, don’t you?” I was appalled. She didn’t win any respect from me. I thought she was an ass and still remember her that way.

      2. Rebecca1*

        At one district where I taught, you could get a $1000-ish bonus for forgoing most of your PTO. You can imagine what happened.

        1. Happy Lurker*

          OldJob had a half payout policy for unused PTO. I wouldn’t actually know how that worked out.

        2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          At one oldjob, we were suspicious that managers received bonuses for us leaving PTO on the table at year’s end.

          When we had a new hire in the group -we advised them – USE ALL YOUR VACATION TIME. If you don’t, you’ll be held up as a brownie scout example to the others on the staff.

    7. Bertha*

      Lw1, Allison’s advice is spot on, but I have to admit I wondered if the boss was maybe even being sarcastic to mean the opposite — especially since you haven’t taken time off in ages. My boss is super supportive but can be a bit sarcastic and I can see her joking like this, believe it or not! Heck, when I was briefly a manager I could see saying this to someone who never used time off, not because I thought that they used too much but because I thought they didn’t take enough. Either way, the advice here is great because it also calls out someone who legit means no harm but still says something dumb and not great for work.

    8. Casey*

      Absolutely agree that you have every right to use up every second of your PTO, without a second of guilt.
      Just to add another perspective, I have a manager who is always weirdly passive aggressive when I request time off. He’ll say yes, but then make comments about how he’s concerned about deadlines and things like that, the type that isn’t really looking for a response and leaves me not sure what to say. And for the record, I always complete projects on time and clean things up before taking time off.
      It used to really upset me, but it was really out of character for him, and I realized that it’s coming from a place where he really relies on me and doesn’t like when I’m out, even though he knows that I have every right to take off, so his initial reaction is kind of… immature, for lack of a better word. Yes, as a manager he should work on that. But for me, it’s helpful for me to realize that and just let it slide off. I do love Alison’s advice about taking it seriously and responding as such, and I might try that.

      1. Yvonne*

        Part of being a good manager is designing contingencies for when employees are out …. this sounds like a toxic culture… its not sustainable…LW you have to manage your carreer and part of that is self care otherwise you’ll burn and they’ll replace you without second thought. Think about your well being and take time off.

        1. Momma Bear*

          And/or having the right SOPs so if someone needs to step in, they can. Sounds like your manager is anxious. I’d point out all the times that things went along fine to remind him you can do this and the world won’t end.

    9. Momma Bear*

      It may be jealousy/not about OP. I was on a team where two of my coworkers (one in particular) was notorious for going into the red on their PTO. A few times something would come up (like a kid needing surgery) and they would have to ask for donated time or take leave without pay. A bit after I returned from maternity leave, I wanted to take some time around the holidays and the manager gave me a hard time. I had the bank. It wasn’t about me. It was about this manager thinking that since no one else in the department had their PTO in order, how in the world did I? I ended up showing the manager my PTO balance and asking what the problem was. They backed off.

      OP here may shut it down by reminding this manager that the time off was approved and they intend to take it and it’s no longer up for debate. Not taking time off may lead to burnout, which is worse. Take the time. Take all of it without guilt. I wonder if that manager is somehow annoyed by another employee or if they can’t take the time they want so they are picking on OP instead. PTO is meant to be used.

    10. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes, it’s part of your pay package. You wouldn’t agree to being paid less, why agree to not have the leave you’re entitled to?

  4. PinaColada*

    I’m curious, on #2, if that solution doesn’t work what would be the best way to escalate it? It sounds like the manager may have been accommodating during COVID but may be in agreement that “there’s no guarantees” now.

    1. WS*

      If it was me, I’d team up with the two co-workers who can cover and go together to ask what the problem is. Mel and Sue can work with that team with no problems, so why does Mary have to put herself at risk to work with that team?

      1. Lionheart26*

        That’s a good solution, but I feel so bad for the OP that the burden of sorting this all out is on her. I’m really sorry you have to go through this OP.
        The one thing I would say is that you seem very clear on the fact that you don’t want to tank his career. While that’s admirable, don’t make the mistake of tanking your own career or mental health to protect his.
        (signed, someone who knows all about how that works)

        1. MK*

          It’s unlikely that the OP can tank his career even if she wanted to, unless he does something now.

          1. Liane*

            And then it would be Harrasser tanking his own career, not OP. But I hope he never does anything like that again.

        2. They Put the Onus On Us*

          As someone who also knows all about it, sometimes you have to choose safety over career. Stubbornly standing your ground to keep a job can mean being found, and being harmed. Does he know she works there? Honestly, as far as safety goes, that job is a lost cause. I’m not saying this is fair, but it is how it is. OP wil need to choose.

        3. Momma Bear*

          Agreed. OP should protect themselves and if his behavior tanks his career, so be it.

      2. LW 2*

        That’s my ideal solution, that coworkers #1 and #2 can deal with that team and I’ll cover them as needed. The issue is that this team is by far the busiest and most in need of support, so sometimes they need 2 people, or they may need me to go if other coworkers are busy working on projects for other teams and can’t swap me out easily.

        I think HR and to some extent my manager are hesitant to do this because my very job is to be available to all the teams, so they keep falling back on “well, it’s what you were hired to do…”

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          “Yes, I was hired to work with reasonable human beings who have never threatened me.”

          Ask them if this guy starts up his abusive behavior on the job, will they react? Will they make sure you don’t have to work with him? And if so, why isn’t the abusive behavior that already happened relevant to them? (Actually, they’ll probably say it’s because it was “so long ago” or “he was a minor,” so never mind.)

          1. LW 2*

            I do have full confidence that if he *did* try anything, they’d be right on it. I really don’t think he would, I’m lucky enough to be “out” at work and I know he’s aware of that fact through mutual friends. He only seems to do this to girls he thinks he has a “chance” with. So that makes it difficult, because I’m trying to stress to HR that I don’t think he’s an active predator, but I just don’t want to work around him, period, because of our past. I don’t think they’re understanding that.

            1. RC Rascal*

              Just because he is no longer an active predator to you doesn’t mean he may not be to someone else. A different coworker, client, outside vendor, etc. People who do things like this rarely change, although they can get more subtle.

            2. Observer*

              because I’m trying to stress to HR that I don’t think he’s an active predator,

              Why? You said that he did this to another woman in the organization. Why are you being so protective of him? I think that’s something you really need to think about.

              This guy mistreated you and did harm to you. Yet, you are taking a lot of effort to protect him even though you know that he actually still IS a predator. Do you still think that somehow you are at fault here? Are you giving him a pass because you want to put all the blame on the church? I mean, I’m not going to defend the church here, but that doesn’t mean he gets to not take responsibility.

              1. LW 2*

                I should say–I don’t think he’s an active predator *to me.* As in, I don’t think he would try anything to me. He knows I’m gay and I’ve also gained a reputation for not taking anyone’s sh*t, and he would pull this to girls that were too nice to raise an alarm. HR seems to think that my issue is I’m afraid that he’s going to try something else, and I’m trying to underline that my concern I’m stressed about working with this guy period, no matter what he does or doesn’t do.

                I think it’s incredibly likely that he’s done this to other girls. I wasn’t around during his college but I’m sure he did then. But I have no proof that he is a predator so I don’t want to go down that path with HR.

                1. Beth*

                  Honestly, let HR think you’re concerned he’ll do it to you. I hear you on your reasoning on why you don’t think it’s likely, but you don’t actually know for sure that he won’t pick back up where he left off! Even if you’re 80% sure he won’t, that’s not 100%. He’s done it to you before, you think it’s likely he’s continued to do it to others since then; that’s the definition of probable cause for concern. HR should be paying attention to your very reasonable request already, but since they’re not, I think it’s fine to use the language you need to get your point across—and if the language they’re capable of hearing is safety-related, fine, use that language. You deserve a 0% chance of getting harassed at work.

                2. Zephy*

                  But I have no proof that he is a predator

                  You do, though. You were a victim. You have no reason to believe his behavior has changed. There is no moratorium on this kind of thing.

                3. Observer*

                  @Zephy, you say “You do, though. You were a victim. You have no reason to believe his behavior has changed.” which is true. But it goes further – the OP actually has reason to think that his behavior has NOT changed – she’s heard from at least one woman at this organization that he’d done something similar to her.

                4. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

                  Can you talk to a counselor and see if they can give you a note stressing the importance of not interacting with this person as an ADA accommodation? I mean, it seems like a trigger for post traumatic stress disorder, and even if he is not trying anything now, his presence in your life is going to impact you by itself.

              2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

                Wow, that’s harsh and not very constructive.

                LW is asking for very specific advice, NOT for us to try and unpack her emotional baggage around this guy.

                1. LW 2*

                  Thanks. I’m kind of shocked at how many people don’t understand the politics of a woman accusing a man of harassment that happened years ago. I mean, hello? has anyone watched the news? It never ends well for the woman. It’s delicate and I have to choose where to punch, if at all.

                2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

                  LW2, I can’t reply directly, we seem to have run out of nesting. There are so many critical and unhelpful responses to your letter that I wouldn’t bother responding to any more of them.

                  Please disregard anyone who wants to discuss how you “really feel” about the guy / this situation; how much responsibility you have for stopping his future abuses; that the need for evidence is greater than any resultant trauma to you.

                  I wish you the very best in getting this sorted out.

                3. LW 2*

                  I guess so; I can’t nest either! but thank you for your words, you’re right and I very much appreciate it.

            3. Momma Bear*

              So there’s a good chance he’ll harass someone else. Their reaction is messed up.

            4. Mr. Shark*

              I agree with RC, just because he’s not active around you (thankfully) doesn’t mean he’s not an active predator.
              But I don’t know how HR can think not accommodating you is the right thing to do. But your manager and peers seem like they are on the same page, so there’s no reason that they can’t cover for you so you can avoid this guy.
              Best of luck. No one should ever have to put up with that, and needless to say, especially not at work.

        2. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

          I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. Your manager and HR should be more supportive. That’s on them.

          From a pragmatic standpoint, I’m surprised your manager hasn’t considered that they have people on their team that would be more effective with that group and it would be a better use of everyone’s time and energy to adjust responsibilities.

          1. Cheshire Cat*

            Hi OP,

            I ‘m really late responding here, but maybe you’ll see it anyway? I am wondering what language you used about this guy when talking to your boss/HR. Did you say that he stalked you (using that exact word)? If not, try using that phrase instead of “harassed” I mean, it’s shocking to me that they aren’t taking your concerns seriously, but possibly if you ramp up the language you use they will be more responsive.

            Also, if you haven’t done this yet, try calling your local Rape Crisis Center (& maybe an attorney, too) to see if there’s specific language you could use to make them give your concerns appropriate weight.

            I’m sorry you have to deal with this.

      3. Again With Feeling*

        Yes – if OP has the sense that the coworkers would be supportive, this might be effective. So OP can bring her manager/HR the problem *and* the solution. “Mel and Sue have agreed to cover this team for me, and I will cover X if they’re overstretched as a result.”

        (No, it shouldn’t be her responsibility to solve the problem, and HR is being truly terrible, but this may be the most direct route to OP not having to work with her former stalker.)

    2. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I wonder if OP 2 gave HR concrete examples of frightening things this guy did. If she was too vague, they probably failed to grasp the severity of the situation, and just think she’s being dramatic about some boy who had a crush on her.

      1. Aquawoman*

        I wonder if it’s possible for the LW to frame not dealing with the stalker’s team as an accommodation/ADA issue. If, for example, she’s been diagnosed with PTSD or some other mental-health issue related to the guy’s criminal behavior, she may be able to avoid dealing with him as an accommodation. Not that she should have to do that (I have a long string of curse words for her employer), or might not want to, but just putting the possibility out there.

      2. LW 2*

        I told them he harassed me incessantly for three years, but unfortunately got upset and started crying (ack!) so didn’t give any examples, to which they became visibly uncomfortable and quickly ended the meeting by giving me the whole “Well, it’s COVID” line.

        It also doesn’t help that I’m relatively new, whereas he has been here for a few years and is well-liked (he just got a promotion). Unfortunately, I recently learned that he displayed some similar behavior–though to a much lesser extent–to another young woman on another team. She didn’t report it and left a couple months ago, so that doesn’t help.

        1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

          Is she willing to write a letter to HR that one of the reasons she left was this dude’s harassment? That would certainly give you some power to push back on having to work with him.

          1. LW 2*

            She didn’t leave because of him–he had moved on to another team by the time she told me about it. She’s working in another job across the country and I have no contact information, unfortunately.

        2. Mags*

          Would you be able/willing to write down everything that happened and what you expect from the company? It is an approach that often helps me stay on topic and prevents things getting derailed if I get upset or wobbly about something. It also supports your case if you ever need to take it further.

          I would also think you are trying very hard to protect this guy’s career when you owe him nothing. The problem here is not that you are being difficult and don’t want to do your job. It is that they hired an abusive sex pest and they need to deal with that.

          1. LW 2*

            So, I didn’t put this in my letter but I think it does help add context. I feel bad for this guy because in some ways he was a victim as well. We both grew up in an incredibly evangelical community that encouraged his behavior for about a year and didn’t step in until I stopped attending church. So yes, while he’s responsible for his actions, it’s less of a victim/aggressor situation than a victim/victim->aggressor. he further has Asperger’s, which made him more susceptible to church manipulation.

            I still fully acknowledge that his actions are his own, but he was failed here as well.

            1. anon here*

              Dear LW2,

              I empathize with you and admire your kindness. I also want to say that you don’t have to carry the burden of being understanding and explaining things. This person wronged you. All the things you mention can be true — and you still don’t have to defend this guy in the court of AAM public opinion. It’s ok for it to simply be inexcusable.

              Maybe this doesn’t resonate with you; maybe I’m talking to myself… I’m certainly talking to myself. But there are plenty of Aspie evangelical men who were manipulated by distorted cultural norms who didn’t conduct themselves this way. The responsibility is his.

              I’ve been through this conversation with myself many times. “Well, his father was… He was presented a bad example…” But you know what? The guy who abused me, his *brother* encountered me at a community event a few years back and apologized because he felt he’d bullied my brother and he really felt bad about it and wanted to make amends. I passed this on to my brother and my brother said, “I didn’t think he really did anything… but thanks?” Abuser and brother grew up with the same influences. They clearly had very different paths.

              You are dealing with a man who abused you and has now done it in a professional context to at least another woman. He’s a grown man. He can make different choices and he has chosen to be a serial abuser (and Aspergers has nothing to do with it, believe me). It’s a blurry line between “understanding” and excusing, and I want you to consider taking hold of your full power and giving this man his full power by placing his choices squarely back on him as you also make your choices (and we really support you in doing what is best for yourself here!). It is in his power to do better, without excuses.

              1. Observer*

                and we really support you in doing what is best for yourself here!

                I really agree with your whole comment. But I want to highlight this. Because the first and foremost thing that the OP should be doing is taking care of herself.

            2. Observer*

              To be honest, I’m actually finding this rather problematic. I’m not defending the church here – you should not have had to stop attending church to get someone to step in and help you! But being on the spectrum and being a male are not things that make it impossible for him to have realized even then that he was out of line, much less currently. While you may think you are being kind to him, I’m not so sure that’s true – and you are definitely being unkind to people on the spectrum.

              Whether or not he *was* a victim is not relevant – the church did not manipulate him into abusing you. And the fact that he’s on the Autism Spectrum does not really change this. Sure, while it may have made him more susceptible to some of the bad messages that the church was promulgating, most people on the spectrum are perfectly capable of not threatening people who don’t want to go out with them. Even in evangelical churches with really bad role models.

              Furthermore, you say that some of the adults in your lives DID try to get him to stop (for the wrong reasons, but still!) which is not something they need to get a lot of credit for. But it does mean that he WAS being given some messages that he should not be doing these things. Yet he continued.

              You also know that even now, this behavior is not a thing of the past. It doesn’t really matter WHY he’s behaving this way – the fact is that he IS doing this stuff. It doesn’t really matter why – bad upbringing, being on the spectrum, mental health issues, whatever. This kind of behavior is abusive and it needs to be treated as such.

              I’m not suggesting that you try to get him fired or anything like that. I AM saying that you need to stop trying to protect this guy from the consequences of his behavior.

              1. LW 2*

                This is absolutely true–and something I told HR, that “people with Asperger’s know better than to send threatening letters.” The reason why I mentioned it (and I did neglect to put it in context) is because he’s very open about it and as such the managers are aware of it and it’s been used as another point for why I should be fine working with him (because it’s not his fault! he didn’t know! etc etc). Obviously, I am not.

                I’m really annoyed by this. Just because I mention on the internet feeling bad for this dude because he was failed by adults in his life does NOT mean that I don’t think he should face consequences. Please do not suggest that. I am in no way trying to protect him and it’s gross that I have to defend myself against that.

                1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

                  I’m surprised Alison hasn’t started moderating comments, given how many people are playing the blame game. Not blaming you for what happened before, but for what could happen in future, to other victims.

                2. Observer*

                  and something I told HR, that “people with Asperger’s know better than to send threatening letters.” The reason why I mentioned it (and I did neglect to put it in context) is because he’s very open about it and as such the managers are aware of it and it’s been used as another point for why I should be fine working with him (because it’s not his fault! he didn’t know! etc etc

                  I’ve been thinking about this comment, and I think that you may want to have a conversation with a lawyer. Not to sue – I can’t imagine a law suit would be in your interests.

                  But, this makes me think that HR has a very, very messed up idea of what laws like the ADA, HIPAA, GINA etc. require. And a lawyer who can clarify why none of these laws require that they refuse to accommodate you might be useful. And maybe even a letter to HR explaining why there is no legal reason to not accommodate you. Of course, you need to know whether this is just going to make things worse – if you HR is as gossipy as the rest of the organization, you might not want to do that.

            3. LTL*

              I understand your thinking here, but there’s a few things that are important to note.

              (1) Abuse, harassment, and the like are learned behaviors. What you say about him being the victim applies to all people who fall under this umbrella. It’s not unique to him. By giving these people a pass, we’re allowing the cycle to continue.

              (2) Protecting him puts women he interacts with in danger. It allows him to continue to harass women. The longer that he gets to go on like this, the more damage he will do to other people. I’m very happy that you were able to get away from this man, but you also have to consider people who are still being hurt by him and who can be potentially hurt by him.

              (3) Enabling his behavior doesn’t actually help him. While people like him don’t often change, it’s not impossible, but the chances of him getting real help become vanishingly small if there are no consequences to his egregious behavior.

              1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

                YES x 1,000,000 (at least) to your third point – enabling and excusing people’s inexcusable behavior does them absolutely NO favor at all! It only encourages them to continue behaving that way, because, hey, why not? Nothing happened when they stalked and harassed a girl or young woman the first time, so why should they stop now? Of course, the older they get, the more serious the consequences for all concerned, which is why it’s far better to stop that behavior when they’re 16 than to try to stop it when they’re 36 and have a couple of decades of experience in getting away with it to entrenched in their thinking.

              2. LW 2*

                I can acknowledge that he was failed by people in his life, which he was, and also wish that he faced consequences, which he did not.

                Look, I get that it’s easy to jump all over the victim for having complicated feelings about this situation, but I do. And I don’t love this idea that if *I* don’t personally hold him responsible or go charging guns-blazing, then it’s *my* responsibility that someone else gets hurt. That *I* enable him by having complicated feelings on something that happened to *me*. Nope! That’s on him and on the people who ARE in his life. I have every right to feel about him as I do.

                I have no desire to protect him, but I have every desire to protect myself, and accusing him of being a predator and bringing up all those issues will do absolutely nothing but put me further in a situation I escaped from.

                1. LTL*

                  I’m sorry LW. I didn’t mean to imply that you have a responsibility to save others from his behavior. I got emotional, and I didn’t word things as carefully as I should have. I initially misunderstood your intentions to be to protect him out of a sense of duty or moral conviction.

                  I myself have complex emotions about my abusive ex and I get how frustrating it is when people look at you funny because of those feelings. I definitely don’t mean to imply that your personal feelings about him or your experiences are in any way invalid.

                2. Amaranth*

                  Would it help to give them the option that if you are called there he has to be given the day off work? He was a stalker and you shouldn’t have to deal with him. Are they expecting you to just treat him in a friendly manner despite everything? If they are claiming ‘he didn’t understand’ then do they really want to create a situation where he might start up again, or where you obviously feel uncomfortable?

                1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

                  I wrote pretty much the same thing but the comments machinery seems to have eaten it.

                  I’m appalled by some of the comments implying that the LW has some sort of obligation to prevent her abuser from targetting other victims. Her obligation is to her own physical and emotional safety.

                  Her harasser is entirely responsible for any harm he causes, although if it happened in the workplace I’d be inclined to assign some blame to the HR department who now have info indicating that one of their employees has a history of abusive behaviour towards women.

                2. LW 2*

                  Thank you, Alison. I know that I’m definitely not perfect in this situation and haven’t explained some things well (jumping around in comments will do that!) but I was seriously starting to question myself here. I appreciate it.

                3. LTL*

                  I apologize. I got heated and didn’t word things as well as I should have. I don’t mean to imply that OP has any responsibility to stop him. His actions are solely his responsibility. My intent was to push back on any feelings that the LW may have that she should actively protect him or that she has any obligation to protect him (which LW has since clarified is not the case).

        3. Legal Beagle*

          It’s totally understandable that you started crying! Frankly, HR sucks for putting their own comfort ahead of your safety. Could you write an email to HR that explains the history? I often find it easier to communicate difficult things in writing rather than in person.

        4. Chilipepper*

          Write them a letter detailing as much as you want to share so that you don’t have to say it all.
          You mentioned in the original letter that they said it is now on record, but it is not fully on record with them so give them as much as you can. And do tell them you want an accommodation.

        5. A. Non. Mouse*

          Would it help to write down the concrete examples of what he’s done, and give that to HR with “As you’ve seen previously, this makes me extremely distressed, so I wrote down specifics for you to read.” Or something similar?

          Best of luck to you LW.
          /sends e-hugs and cookies if you want them.

        6. LTL*

          You clearly became distressed while talking about the situation and they’re still trying to brush over this!?

          Your HR is being incompetent at best. I hate to give this advice, but I’d consider job searching.

          I also understand the instinct to protect him, but I’d suggest trying to put that reflex on pause. You’re dealing with people who have a very poor understanding of situations involving harassment and/or abuse. They’re not grasping the gravity of the situation.

        7. Ellie*

          Hi LW, I’m really sorry you’re having to deal with this, it sounds awful.

          I am quite worried about you. Of course you know your situation best, but your comments above about how he tends to choose targets that are too nice to stand up to him, is no reason to believe that he will not go after you (and you being gay is no defense at all – it can be seen as a challenge, and he already has a history of ignoring reality). You seem a very kind and understanding person, and he kept it up for years – there is every chance he will start up again, if you’re forced to interact with him at work. The fact that he’s bothered at least one other woman makes me think that he will. And he may have learnt to hide his behaviour better as well.

          The best time to ward this off is now, so if HR doesn’t know the full story, its worth laying it all out for them. This is the kind of thing they could be sued for, its in their interests to listen to you. Can you book another meeting with them, and your boss, and write down everything that happened between you (as many dates, incidents, behaviors, etc. over the years). Then if you start crying again, you can hand over the letter and let them read through it. You can include what you know of what happened to the other woman – you might not know the contact details, but if you know the name and roughly when it happened, they can do their own investigation. They should do their own investigation.

          If they listen to all of that and still refuse to do anything, then I’d go the PTSD route and claim accommodations based on that. If they still do nothing, then at least it will be on record, and you’ll have to decide at that point if this is something you can dodge around, or quit your job. But they should be in no doubt about what they’re choosing here – you did nothing wrong, he behaved horribly, and now you are suffering the consequences of that while he suffers none. It’s not fair.

      3. pancakes*

        If HR doesn’t know better than to ask for information in order to make a decision rather than running with unsupported assumptions, that’s another problem in itself.

    3. MsClaw*

      OP2’s manager knows about the situation, so the best strategy might just be to … not be available to support that team. There are two other people on her team who can cover it. And if for some reason they are both out that day, just politely say that whatever it is will have to be rescheduled as you are not available. Whether you actually have tasks or meetings or not, you are in fact permanently unavailable to support that team.

  5. voyager1*

    LW2: I would stick with keeping the manager in the loop. Your HR is doing what HR always does, looking out for the company. Their response is about what I would expect.

  6. Eye roll*

    LW#2, I certainly hope you’re manager has your back. I’ve got my fingers crossed that you never so much as have to acknowledge this person’s existence ever again.

    For myself, I’d want to send a memo to HR, to memorialize that company policy indicates that an employee harassed, stalked, and abused by an individual who does not work for the company will not be protected from their abuser when the company decides to hire that person. I’d also ask for HR to confirm that, despite that person doing [insert batshit crazy stuff] to you, HR does not feel appropriate to prevent further exposure because he was a minor and [these batshit crazy things] are acceptable from a minor abusing another minor.

    Save us from dangerous HR departments.

    1. Allonge*

      If the talk with the manager does not work out, then indeed something this drastic could be needed.

      The thing is, I can so see someone in HR thinking ‘well, ok, 99 cases out of a 100 it will be no problem because the other two are there, but what if there is an accident or something and they are not, so how can I possibly guarantee that it will never have to happen’ and maybe even ‘is this totally fair, do we want to have people just declare that they won’t work with another staff member’. I am not saying they are right! But could totally happen.

      And then they should indeed have to spell out what they are unwilling to prevent.

      1. Beth*

        Yes, this sounds very much to me like HR either doesn’t understand the extent of the concern or is too focused on work needs and forgetting their employees are human beings. If OP2 hasn’t used terms like ‘harassment,’ ‘stalker,’ ‘threats of harm,’ ‘concerned for my safety,’ etc, they should definitely do so; being really blunt about the severity might snap some sense into things. But most employers would want to accommodate people avoiding each other for far less reason than this! A contentious divorce, a recent affair…there are all sorts of reasons that two people shouldn’t work together, given any other option, and good employers recognize that where possible. This situation goes far beyond that, well into the realm of both “potential risk to OP2’s safety” and “sounds like it could get messy for the company, legally or public-image-wise, if the worst happens” territory. They should be overjoyed to have such an easy solution of just having one of OP’s coworkers handle that team.

        1. Elizabeth I*

          I agree! I had also been thinking that OP could change her language about this to get HR to sit up and pay attention. Framing this as an issue of HR needing to protect OP against illegal forms of harassment could make them realize they have a legal obligation to act.

          For example:
          – OP says this person didn’t stop harassing her until he went to college. Presumably he was 18 by that time, right? – that means he was an adult during at least some of this scary and illegal behavior (even though him doing all this at 16 or 17 doesn’t seem any less scary to me, this does frame it differently for HR from a legal perspective).
          – Second, OP said she would go to the police if these kind of things happened to her today – which means this guy committed illegal crimes against the OP. She can use language that emphasizes that.

          Putting those two things together, OP could tell HR in writing: “This man, both when he was a minor and also as an adult, committed several/many crimes against me, including stalking, x, y, and z.” (use the legal-sounding labels for this behavior – whatever it would be called in a court of law or however the police would describe it – emphasize the “legal” aspect rather than the “frightening” aspect (even though the frightening part *should* have been enough to get them to act! So sorry HR doesn’t already have your back, OP!) .

          Then she can remind HR (again, all in writing) that under federal law she is legally entitled to a workplace free of sexual harassment, and ask how they can ensure she is protected from sexual harassment and other criminal behavior in the workplace. (Throwing legal in a few more times might help as well – e.g. “How is HR planning to meet its legal obligation under federal law to provide me with a workplace free of sexual harassment?”

          Good luck, OP! Please update us. I am so sorry you have been placed in this awful situation, and I am really hoping for a good outcome for you,

      2. Genny*

        I think you’re spot on regarding HR’s concerns. In my opinion, there’s still room for OP to negotiate some accommodations. HR is concerned about the 1% of the time that OP might need to cover for that team? Okay, let’s create a formal plan that governs the other 99% of the time and put in some qualifiers for the remaining 1%. In case of an emergency where OP has to cover this team, can HR/management commit to minimizing her interaction with ex-stalker’s particular unit? Can they ensure the two are never alone together or working directly on the same thing? Can they ask ex-stalker to telework when an emergency comes up that requires OP to cover his team? OP might get more mileage if she appears to be willing to compromise a little bit on the 1% of times where she has to work with this team while still asking the company do the bare minimum to help her feel safe.

    2. Drag0nfly*

      Is HR supposed to take LW #2’s word for it, though? How do they know she’s not the stalker’s high school bully trying to torpedo his career with a vicious lie?

      LW2: This is why you document. If you have a record of restraining orders, police reports, screenshots of text messages or voice mail recordings and so on, this would put a heavier onus on HR to take more concrete steps to protect you.

      If you don’t have official records, you might want to reach out to a teacher or school counselor who can vouch for what you went through (preferably on official stationary).

      But realistically, I’m not sure any of those efforts will suffice where the stalker is concerned. Part of me fears the stalker purposely chose your company to be close enough to stalk you again. I don’t believe he will be content to listen to your manager’s *rules* to stay away from you when he was willing to break anti-stalking *laws*.

      1. Scarlet2*

        She’s not trying to “torpedo” his career though, she’s just asking not to be forced to interact with the guy. It would be pretty insulting to be asked to produce evidence of a traumatizing event when LW isn’t really asking for that much. If I was LW’s colleague and I knew HR was forcing a stalking victim to jump through all those hoops and possibly re-traumatize themselves, I would find it seriously off-putting and I definitely wouldn’t feel safe in that kind of work environment.

        1. Lance*

          Basically this. OP isn’t asking for him to be moved, isn’t asking for him to be penalized in any actual way… they’re just asking to not have to work with his site, when there are two others that could do so in OP’s place. It’s not even a big ask, and wanting some sort of proof of harassment for just this seems a bit much.

      2. Blue Eagle*

        It looks from what the LW said that the bully was employed by the company first and it was only after the LW was there a short while that it was noticed that the bully was also employed there – – not that the bully followed.

        Does this change your answer?

      3. Crivens!*

        Occam’s Razor. People don’t usually lie about being victimized this way. But predators lie very often.

      4. Commentor*

        Aside from the fact that what she’s asking for wouldn’t torpedo his career HR should want to make reasonable accommodations to separate two employees who wouldn’t work well together. So even if HR thinks the OP is trying to harass the other person (which I do not believe) they should want to keep them apart because they wouldn’t be able to work nicely together.

      5. Kaiko*

        This comment is infuriating. In an ideal world, we believe women when they say they’ve been abused, threatened, harassed, and stalked; we would not ask for proof of the abuse, especially in a non-legal setting (OP is not charging him with a crime, there is no “reasonable doubt” threshold she needs to pass). I’d rather see the man prove that he’s no longer using these awful tactics, if we’re putting the onus on anyone here.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          100% THIS ^. Our legal system is terrible in its protection of victims because its setup is such that the burden of proof is on the victim to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the accused committed whatever atrocities they committed. In this case, OP is not asking to jail her harrasser, nor even to torpedo his career, she is just looking for safety and protection; the burden should not be on her to prove that she is unsafe.

        2. MK*

          No. A world where an accusation is taken for truth unless the accused could prove their innocence (or that they have reformed!) is not ideal, it’s a return to a time when justice was blood feuds and lynch parties.

          “Believe sexual assault victims” should mean treating them the same as victims of any other crime: acknowledge the severity of the attack and launch a good-faith investigation and gathering evidence to verify the truth. As opposed to what happened so often in the past and continues to happen, which is dismiss them as sl*s or crazy or vindictive, or blame them for what happened, or simply not care.

          It does not mean taking every sexual assault accusations as truth that that accused has to disprove. The only people I have heard who claim so are fear mongers who want to present the current movement as going too far.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            This is definitely true in the legal world for sure, where to put someone in prison you need to prove beyond a doubt that the accused is guilty. But in a situation where someone is just trying to assure their own or someone else’s safety, we should believe the person who is looking for safety. OP isn’t trying to jail her harrasser nor destroy his career, she is simply looking to keep herself safe.

          2. Observer*

            I agree with you. The thing, though, is that bringing this up in THIS context is a problem. Not only is the OP not talking about criminal action, or any legal action for that matter, they are not talking about ANY action that should have a negative effect on the guy’s life or career. All they are asking for is the equivalent of a schedule change.

            The standards are (or should be!) totally different.

          3. anon here*

            This comment makes me really angry. When I was 8 I was raped by my neighbor. I don’t have any evidence; I tore up my diary where I wrote about it, I certainly didn’t have pictures or cell phone evidence (this was decades ago), I didn’t tell anyone about it for 10 years.

            If I were in a workplace with this dude I would want to avoid working with him. I would not want to have this bullshit evidence gathering and good-faith investigation and all that. The f&*^ing statute of limitations is long passed. I am not looking to start a legal case. This is not a legal situation and your situating this in the context of crime victims is 100% inappropriate and leads to continued problems for victims of these types of incidents. This is a management problem, not a legal problem.

            As a *management* problem, not a legal problem, the manager should look at the work the employees perform and how the request can be accommodated. That’s all.

            I cannot emphasize enough how ridiculous the idea of “evidence gathering” etc is in this context. You want my HR to go searching out my neighbors for interviews and trying to dig my undies out of a landfill? I’m sure that’s not what you mean — unless it is, and it’s just an oblique way of getting people to shut up. Management can deal with all sorts of other problems (Jed wears a cologne that gives me headaches so I’d like to move my desk, Karen needs accommodation for religious observance, Haditha wants to shift her hours to deal with a new commute) — they can deal with this in a sensible way.

          4. GothicBee*

            It’s about context. The LW doesn’t want this guy to suffer consequences or punishment, she just wants to avoid working with him directly, which should not require an investigation. If the LW were saying “fire this guy” then I would agree that firing him without evidence was wrong, but if someone has reason enough to request an accommodation like “don’t force me to work directly with my stalker/abuser/etc.”, there shouldn’t be any reason to deny that. And even if LW were saying “fire this guy”, that doesn’t give HR an excuse to just ignore the problem. These types of situations should be a conversation, not a court hearing where HR has to decide whether the person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

            Also, I wish people would stop bringing in bad faith arguments with these types of issues. The point of believing sexual assault victims isn’t to blindly mete out punishment to every person accused of a crime. The point is to provide support to the victim who has been hurt and, in the workplace, provide reasonable accommodations. None of that requires you to actively harm the accused person.

          5. Kaiko*

            First, you’re the one bringing in sexual assault into this – women and girls can be abused without it being sexual.

            Second, the court of public opinion is not some monolith that requires throwing all men into the sea. IF a woman is able to come forward DESPITE widespread cultural disbelief that events can be true even if they haven’t gone through the courts AND widespread cultural belief that women routinely make this kind of stuff up for their own gains AND her employer is able to support her while also retaining her abuser AND she feels safe and secure despite the knowledge that he’s out there, that’s a win-win. But so rarely do things follow that path.

            Abusers are very canny about creating plausible deniability, leaving enough air in what they’re doing that someone can look at it from the outside and say, “Well, it doesn’t look THAT BAD. If it was THAT BAD, she’d probably be doing XYZ, right?” and not know that the woman has been doing UVW for months to protect herself (and her sense of reality). I’m going to believe women because I’ve been there and I’ve seen it.

        3. Generic Name*

          This is the worst part of being the victim of domestic violence/similar. You worry no one will believe you. Because the abuser groomed you to think that way. And the reason we worry is also because of comments like the above. My ex has done some also batshit stuff, and I still worry people won’t believe me. Even when I describe his behavior in plain language and I see people’s reactions to that factual description (usually people’s eyes bug out of their heads and they say something like, “wait, what?”) I still worry that people won’t believe me when I say I feel unsafe around him.

          1. LW 2*

            Ugh, this. And then we feel pressured to downplay it so we don’t come off as “crazy” but instead be seen as “reasonable victims” so that we ARE believed–and then get jumped over for “enabling” him and it somehow being our fault if he continues. (cough cough, some of this comment section)

            We can’t damn well win, can we?

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              “We can’t damn well win, can we?” Doesn’t seem like it, does it? Sigh. Sorry you’re going through this, OP, and that you went through it when it was happening too.

            2. Pikachu*

              LW2, my thoughts are with you and I hope this works out for you. I was in an emotionally abusive marriage for 9 years. Nobody believed what he was like behind closed doors. He never physically injured me, but I am now without quite a few personal belongings that he destroyed in fits of rage.

              I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of it. “Oh, but he’s so nice! How could that be?” Strap in folks, all the ways how that can be make for one wild ride.

              For those who are scrolling through all these comments with a certain nagging question in the back of their minds… I found the book “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft to be incredibly helpful as I worked through the healing process. I encourage any person who suspects they might in an unhealthy or abusive (financial, emotional, physical, whatever) relationship to give it a try, if only to feel less alone or get some outside validation. It was like reading chapters of my own life written by someone else. (Yes, it’s about abusive men as that is the author’s area of expertise, but the behavior patterns are pretty recognizable for abuse in any type of relationship.)

              1. Kaiko*

                Something I read once that really struck me: abusers don’t abuse everyone; they also actively groom allies to provide a “what? him? but he’s so great!” counter-narrative.

                1. Pikachu*

                  YES! That was one of the things in the book… if your partner says they break things because they can’t control their anger, look at what they break. Who does it belong to?

                  It’s never their stuff. It’s not other people’s stuff either. It’s always yours. If they couldn’t control it, they’d break their own stuff too. They’d break mugs at work when meetings go wrong. They’d throw their cell phone into a wall after an upsetting conversation. They’d break buttons and knobs in the car out of road rage. They’d Happy Gilmore their golf clubs if they missed a crucial putt.

                  Point being, if they only pee in your pool, it’s not because they can’t hold it.

                2. Self Employed*

                  This is playing out in a social circle I am very loosely associated with. Having opposing camps saying “Dude is a gross abusive jerk, let’s stop supporting his events” and “Dude has always been so kind to me, stop harassing him” basically means he gets to keep having events while everyone hashes out whether or not he deserves to have them. I only found out this weekend which promoter it is, so of course I’ve been going to his online events and seeing his good side. However, the person who told me is very trustworthy, so I yeeted that promoter from my subscriptions.

      6. Observer*

        Is HR supposed to take LW #2’s word for it, though? How do they know she’s not the stalker’s high school bully trying to torpedo his career with a vicious lie?

        That’s not relevant to the question. HR is not claiming that they don’t have enough evidence. In fact, they DO acknowledge that there is enough there for the to put it “on the record”.

        Also, the OP is not asking for anything that could come close to “torpedoing” his career. All they are asking is to not work with one out of 10 teams when there are two other people who can cover. That doesn’t have to affect the guy one bit.

      7. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        Since she wrote that, if he acted like that towards her NOW, she’d report him to the police, it doesn’t sound as if she filed any such reports THEN; there’s almost certainly no paper trail, official or otherwise, of his behavior.

        Hopefully, she won’t have to encounter this stalker again. However, if she does, what about the following script:
        “I’m putting you on notice that I remember that you stalked and harassed me all through high school. I’m not a kid anymore, you can’t intimidate me, and I’ve put HR on notice about your past behavior. If you ever try anything like that again I’m calling the police and HR and documenting everything you do.”

        Alison, what do you think? Would that work or would that backfire for the LW?

        1. Observer*

          Since she wrote that, if he acted like that towards her NOW, she’d report him to the police, it doesn’t sound as if she filed any such reports THEN; there’s almost certainly no paper trail, official or otherwise, of his behavior.

          On the other hand, they write that “adults stepped in”. So other people definitely knew about it.

      8. LW 2*

        I mean. Sure, with hindsight, documenting is good. But I was fifteen, sixteen, years old and spent years thinking this was my fault. I really don’t think anyone official would vouch for me either–we grew up in an extremely evangelical setting, and they went scorched earth after I came out. I don’t think it would do anyone any good for me to reach out to them, unfortunately.

        Luckily, he was here before I was. At least 2-3 years, so I’m the intruder here, really.

        1. Ashley*

          Just start tracking anything odd that starts happening after your first interaction in your job and be prepared to report as you sadly learned how to from last time. I really hope your manager and co-workers have your back. Hopefully he has grown up but the more distance the better. Best of luck on staying physically safe and mentally sane.

        2. Ellie*

          Yes, but he’s a risk to other women, the company should be open to hearing about what happened from that angle alone. It doesn’t matter who was there first, many of these kinds of crimes are not reported to police, or anyone else. It doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. They could do their own investigation.

          I’m wondering if anyone has even bothered to interview him about it, and see what he says? You’d think people would be smart enough to deny it, but many people aren’t. If he acknowledged what happened and was willing to work with you on it (agree to have the other 2 handle as much as possible, and if you have to come in then conveniently be absent when you’re there) then that could go a long way. But it doesn’t sound as if they’ve even done that.

      9. pancakes*

        If HR will not make a decision on this type of thing without supporting documentation, it’s imperative that they ask for it, and do so clearly, rather than leaving the employee to guess what she might possibly submit to them. This should not be an ad hoc process and it should not be a guessing game.

      10. Spero*

        Dragonfly, HR is supposed to take LW#2’s word for it because nothing in their response requires that they believe her. Their response is activated by the fact that she currently has believes she is in danger of future harassment, not by the past incidents – those incidents may inform her reasonable belief, but they are not HR’s business to confirm or deny. They have no obligation to confirm or prove past events before arranging future accommodations. She has confirmed she has that reasonable belief now. That’s all they need for their obligation to be triggered. They have an affirmative duty to create an environment free of harassment and that duty exists whether or not past events are proven to your satisfaction.
        It’s like, if you have a path on the edge of a cliff and someone tells you ‘I think you need a fence because someone could fall off’, you put up a damn fence. You don’t require proof that others have fallen off this exact spot first.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          “It’s like, if you have a path on the edge of a cliff and someone tells you ‘I think you need a fence because someone could fall off’, you put up a damn fence. You don’t require proof that others have fallen off this exact spot first.” I love this analogy, I need to commit it to memory!

      11. Frieda*

        Years ago I sought help from a pastor I knew after an acquaintance rape; I was in college. Perhaps 6 years ago I came across him in a professional context and wrote a brief email thanking him for his help all those years ago. At the time, he took some constructive steps, with my blessing, that might be possible to document now, if necessary. (I was not prepared to report the assault, but he was materially helpful in another context.)

        I was sincere in expressing my thanks (and he was very kind in his response) but you bet your bippy I was also establishing a chain of evidence should I ever need it. It has now been more than 25 years but you know what? I feel safer knowing that I have a digital trail where I am on record thanking him for his work on my behalf, and he acknowledges those events. Should the attacker ever cross my path, I have a way to say: this is a dude I will not work with/who should not work with young people/whatever.

        But outside of that coincidental meeting, I would have nearly nothing. I can’t really imagine encountering the attacker, but.

      12. New Jack Karyn*

        They know she’s not trying to torpedo his career because she didn’t ask that he be fired. She didn’t claim he’d done anything to her recently. She only asked that she not work with his team.

        1. Self Employed*

          And “Please don’t make me work with his team” is a small ask when she has other team members who can swap with her.

    3. Sue*

      I read the question as the harasser working for the same company as OP.
      I wouldn’t give much (any) weight to his career in my strategy. But if my company wasn’t willing to protect me from contact and it sounds far too late for a restraining order based on the past conduct, could you think about an actual accommodation request based on perhaps anxiety or even PTSD if you are able to get medical backup for that? I would hope you could work it out easier than that but it might be a last resort to stay in your position if all else fails.

    4. MK*

      If you ask for HR to confirm that, despite that person doing [insert batshit crazy stuff] to you, HR does not feel appropriate to prevent further exposure, and that company policy indicates that an employee harassed, stalked, and abused by an individual who does not work for the company will not be protected from their abuser, they will probably ask you to provide evidence that this person did in fact do batshit crazy stuff and are an abuser. Can the OP do this? Do they want to open this can of worms?

      This kind of cowboy attitude only solves problems in movies, and in this case would only serve to lose the OP the high ground she currently has. Right now the OP has disclosed that in the past an employee of the company has harassed her to the point of fearing for her safety and asked to not work with him, a very reasonable and probably easy to implement solution. HR hasn’t refused to accommodate it, more accurately has refused to commit, saying they will try, but cannot make any promises that the OP won’t ever have to work with him. All this is documented. If the OP were to send a memo basically saying “So the company is protecting abusers huh? Admit it!”, the only thing they would achieve is to sound unreasonable.

      1. LW 2*

        I definitely don’t want this can of worms, like you said! Haha. No, the last thing I want is for this to be a whole big thing and for me to have to relive this. I’m fully prepared to leave if it came to that.

        Just, like you said, don’t want to work with someone who terrorized me. I’m glad to see that it’s not unreasonable, because I was beginning to question myself.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          Yeah, honestly I’m reading this whole thing and thinking “you have to leave” because generally speaking, nobody wants to take the time and effort to protect you from a bully–and this guy STALKED YOU, to boot! For god’s sake!

          You’re not unreasonable, but for reasons I’ve never been able to fathom, somehow it’s a huuuuuuuge problem when two people who don’t work together on a daily basis need to avoid each other at work. I think it’s ridiculous that you’re not even needing to team up with him really and it’s still somehow a problem.

          Does he know you work there?

          1. LW 2*

            He does! And it’s been fine, luckily. He sent me one email thanking me after I fixed something for their team, and that was it. So I’m really, truly unconcerned about him starting up the stalking with me again–it’s been almost a year and nothing. Just don’t want to work with him because I’ll be uncomfortable with that.

        2. Generic Name*

          You are not being unreasonable. At all. Your HR is being super crappy. When my ex-husband started going off the deep end, I felt very threatened for my safety. I sat down with HR and told them what was going on, and they actually have a policy in place to prevent domestic violence in the workplace. The HR director listened to me, told the front desk to call the police if he showed up and to tell him I was out of the office, etc. What she did not do was ask for was proof because she believed me. Your HR should have taken you at your word. I know it sucks to have to change jobs, but if it’s the only way you will feel safe, I think that’s a totally reasonable move on your part.

      2. LTL*

        HR hasn’t refused to accommodate it, more accurately has refused to commit, saying they will try, but cannot make any promises that the OP won’t ever have to work with him.

        Refusing to commit is absolutely a refusal to accomodate. Imagine if HR told a disabled employee “we’ll try to have disabled parking available for you as much as possible, but we can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to have access to a disabled parking space everyday.”

    5. Snow Globe*

      I would suggest a meeting with an attorney. If LW has experienced PTSD due to the harassment, could there be a claim for accommodation under ADA? Could the LW get a restraining order, which would make an in-person meeting impossible?

      1. Scarlet2*

        I’m not sure I understand why several commenters go straight for the nuclear option. LW’s manager was sympathetic so the obvious course of action would be, as per Alison’s answer, going back to the manager and asking her to make sure she never has to deal with that team. Asking for a restraining order when it seems, as per the letter, that former stalker guy hasn’t tried to contact her for years would be a fairly extreme escalation.
        LW simply wants to avoid any interaction with the guy, that’s much more reasonable and easier to accommodate than what several commenters are advocating for in this thread.

        1. Colette*

          Agreed. I think we often see people suggesting documenting/going to a lawyer/etc. because it’s easier to make someone else do the hard stuff instead of doing it yourself – but the best option is almost always a calm conversation with someone who can change things.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Well, but talking to a lawyer is a very reasonable thing to do if you are looking for advice. The lawyer might have solutions that OP and the company wouldn’t think of but also would know a lot more than OP about what can and cannot be done in this situation. Lawyer might very well say that OP has no recourse whatsoever, and that would be most unfortunate for her, but at least then she would know. I don’t see anything wrong with just talking to a lawyer. Talking to a lawyer doesn’t automatically mean you’re planning to sue or arrest a person or get a retraining order; it’s just talking.

            1. Snow globe*

              Exactly. I was not suggesting to get ready for a lawsuit; just to find out if there are any laws or regulations that might help the LW in requesting an accommodation. The LW could then just request accommodation under ADA (for example), without mentioning that they have spoken with a lawyer.

              Also-current manager was supportive while everyone was working from home, but that could change, especially since HR has weighed in that the company won’t promise anything.

            2. Colette*

              Lawyers are good for legal advice. The thing is, lawyers look at the world through a very specific lens that won’t always get you the best results in the workplace. That doesn’t mean there aren’t circumstances where it’s appropriate to talk to a lawyer – of course there are – but many, many situations are better handled by talking to the appropriate person at work.

      2. Store Bought Transmitters*

        Maybe not a lawyer but legal advice through an EAP? Just to say “what are the best ways to make sure I’m safe, what are the state and local laws about recording conversations” etc.
        So not the full-on nuclear option, but more like figuring out what tools can go in the toolbox of Ways to Deal With This Situation. Already in the toolbox: Manager’s support, asking other coworkers to go, HR knows about the background, maybe also saying ‘please don’t leave me alone when we’re there’ (if feasible)?
        And then you write it all down in a notebook or on your phone or something so that you have it to review when it starts feeling very scary.

    6. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’m not gonna lie, that letter made me feel sick.

      I’ve got two men who I sincerely hope never ever find where I am. One who acted like the guy in the letter, the other I actually dated and did far far worse. There’s no legal proof of the things either of them did (being laughed at by police isn’t fun FYI).

      I’d, probably freak out entirely if I’m honest. HR, managers, anyone who’d listen would be told that these gits are irrational, stalking, violent, obsessive and I refuse to ever be in the same room as them for my own safety.

      …goddammit I need a cup of tea now. My sincere sympathies OP, this kinda stuff shakes you to the core.

      1. NotGoneGirl*

        It made my stomach clench too. I had a stalking-lite (not making a joke here, just happy it wasn’t at OPs level) incident at work and my biggest regret is that I didn’t say “He has to be moved elsewhere” and I thought I’d “cool girl” it out after he was talked to by management/HR. In the end, he was let go for poor performance and nothing dangerous happened, but it took up a lot of mind space (making plans if he showed up at my house, etc) as well as changing my behavior (altering when I got coffee and the paths I took to walk places at work to avoid him).

        OP your request is reasonable and your concerns are valid.

      2. Jam Today*

        There are two people on this earth that would cause me to quit on the spot, with no notice. We all work in the same industry and periodically my company hires someone new and I go through nightmare scenarios (as well as going through my finances to see how long I can remain unemployed before it starts to get uncomfortable) in my head until I hear the name of the person who was hired.

        1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          How awful! Is it something you could speak to HR about? I’m sure they would rather hire their 2nd choice and have both of you, than have you leave unexpectedly because they unintentionally hired Crazy Stalker Dude.

      3. Aitch Arr*

        *virtual hugs from an internet rando*

        This situation is one of my biggest fears and ironically I AM in HR.

      4. Anonymous Hippo*

        Heck, I told my bosses I wouldn’t work with a woman who applied for a job with us, and she was just a horrible backstabbing manager, not someone that assaulted me. I can’t imagine dealing with that scenario. :airhugs:

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Same here; I have two former coworkers I don’t ever want to work with again. One is the Coworker from Hell and the other is BullyBoss. Hire them and I’m probably job hunting.

          All the hugs, LW 2.

      5. SD*

        It does occur to me that this man, and your gits, may well repeat their behaviors with new victims. The new objects of their “interest” may well be fellow employees. LW’s stalker harassed her “all through high school.” That’s a long time for inappropriate high school hormonal obsession to continue. If he hadn’t outgrown this behavior by graduation, why would graduation magically extinguish it? It makes me wonder how his college years played out. If I were HR, I’d be on alert for what he is doing now involving either other employees or even to whoever it is that the local teams interact with. This isn’t LW’s issue to cope with, but it should be a yellow flag for the company. Maybe he’s gotten over it, but such behaviors often carry on.

        1. LW 2*

          He did something similar to another girl about a year ago, before he moved to a different team. Unfortunately, that woman felt responsible and didn’t report it, and no longer is with the org.

          I did pass this info on to my manager, and it helped. Before, she would make comments a couple times a month like, “Oh, let me know if you decide that you want to just try out (this team)!” After I told her that, she stopped.

          1. Observer*

            Please pass this on to HR as well. Whether it helps you or not, if may very well help his next victim. And hopefully, it will help you.

            I’m curious as to how you found this out.

            1. LW 2*

              I was talking to another girl and she asked me if I’d worked with this Super Busy Team, because they’re Super Busy. I said no, there’s someone on that team that makes me uncomfortable so I don’t go there. She knew exactly who I was talking about from her experience, confirmed it, then said that he incessantly asked her out and finally backed off after she was very firm with him.

              1. Amaranth*

                It might be worth asking if she’d send a note to HR “because they don’t seem to take you seriously. ” I do think, if you’re considering quitting in a situation where they try to force you to go work with his team, you might want to talk to a lawyer who could give you an idea of ways to protect yourself. For instance, do you have a better shot at getting severance or unemployment if you’ve already done A, B, C in writing before being pushed to that point. Your HR feels weirdly hesitant here, which I’ve sometimes seen in the past from managers who feel like any kind of ADA accommodations mean they can’t correct an employee *at all*.

          2. *daha**

            Is there a compromise level of saying “I will go to his site only with security/chaperone physically with me at all times while there”? That might put it in a context that wakes them up.

            1. LW 2*

              They do have security on site! But I think that it’ll reinforce the idea that I don’t want to go because I’m afraid of what he WILL do, when it’s that I don’t want to go because of what he DID do, if that makes sense.

              1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

                It’s the difference between being repulsed by a food that once made you violently ill and avoiding that food because you think it will make you sick again. If you’ll excuse the analogy. It’s not meant to trivialise but rather to explain what I think you mean, without using distressing language.

              2. Observer*

                when it’s that I don’t want to go because of what he DID do, if that makes sense.

                That makes a ton of sense. But, does it really matter? If they think that you are afraid of what he might do, will that make them more likely to accommodate you? If the answer is yes, I would just let them think what they want to think. Your first obligation, to the extent there is any obligation, is to get what you need not to educate HR. It would be nice if you could educate them, but they don’t seem very educable. And it’s ultimately not your problem.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Yeah, I kinda frequently fear that because I never got anyone to believe me of either of their behaviours that they’ve maybe moved on to do even worse stuff and I’m maybe responsible in a way?

          Which, btw, I KNOW is completely illogical, and untrue, and not my fault etc. but once you’ve had a few rounds of ‘but what did you SAY to him to make HIM do that?’ it gets messy in your head.

          OP: protect yourself as best you can and let me reassure you or anyone else in this situation- it’s not your fault and the consequences these people get aren’t your fault either.

      6. LTL*

        For real, I’m always scared that if I meet someone who knows my ex-husband, and I tell them that I can’t be around him because he was abusive, that person’s response would be to brush it off because he seems like such a chill guy! (And it’s not unlikely that ex-husband will respond with accusations against ME and gosh, who wants to deal with an all out war when all you want is no contact!?)

        Anyways… all the sympathies, LW.

  7. PspspspspspsKitty*

    LW 3 – Him bringing it up in the meeting may be his way of getting you involved, especially since he hasn’t done it yet. It’s very common in my field to do this because it’s hard to find time to have private conversations. A good manager would use the experience of her team and will step in when there is an issue.

    1. Allonge*

      This is what I was thinking – at least in my current team it’s completely normal to have a team meeting and I am saying I did X and will do Y tomorrow to solve ABC, and my boss to say, actually, try Z first kthx, next. And I have bilaterals with her every week, so I can and do bring up the sensitive stuff there.

      That said, OP, it’s also ok to ask him to bring very big decisions (so basically everything that would have to be signed off by you and only you) up in bilaterals first, or email – as long as you can respond in a reasonable timeframe.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        Yes, I was wondering if OP has set up regular one-on-ones with her direct reports. That’s typically a good space to run things by your manager and keep them looped in on developments. Then the manager can decide how involved they want to get, if at all (beyond giving approval).

    2. Niii-i*

      I was wondering if part of this is due to the way the employee shared his plan. Maybe OP wants to have a quick e-mail from the employee beforehand, like “FYI, I announce my action plan for X in the next meeting.”

      I don’t know if that’s reasonable in their work, but I think OP should think, what exactly bothers her in this situation.

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

      I got the impression that it was a meeting with others (outside the team) at which he and his boss were present… and that what the boss (OP) is concerned about is that he “sprung” this announcement on the meeting and it was a surprise to her, i.e. that she wasn’t aware ahead of time that he was going to say this and ‘undermined’ her as she feels she ought to know what her reports are going to bring to the meeting before they do it.

    4. Cat Tree*

      That’s how I interpreted it too, although it’s hard to truly assess it from a few paragraphs of text. Where I work, at my level as a senior individual contributor, I’m expected to take initiative. And certainly I can ask my boss when I have questions or in the rare case that I truly have no idea how to proceed. But it is certainly appreciated when I already have a solution in mind. I don’t necessarily raise these solutions as questions, but there is an understanding that my boss can and will intervene if it’s not the right idea.

      It might help OP to reframe the situation in her mind. This employee is making her job easier by handling the problem, rather than trying to skirt around her authority.

      1. Koalafied*

        Seriously, LW, an employee who can take ownership of an area of responsibility is a blessing. I have an employee I’m trying to groom for promotion but it’s like pulling teeth sometimes to get her to solve her own problems instead of bringing everything to me. I’ve tried being direct that she has my confidence and being able to work out her own solutions is necessary if she wants to earn the promotion, but I’m increasingly starting to feel like she might just be incapable of working autonomously enough to succeed at the higher level role.

        There’s one type of project she has done 3-4 times a year for the past 4 years – say, she’s a painter who routinely repaints the office mural to fit a seasonal theme. A new season rolls around, I ask her to do a new mural, and without fail, she will ask me to remind her the dimensions of the mural, citing that it’s been a while since she’s done it and she doesn’t remember. I’m not even a painter despite supervising one, and I certainly don’t memorize the size of the mural! I would have to either dig up the email record of the very first time I assigned it to her, where I did provide specs, or I’d go down to the lobby and measure the mural, and it makes a hell of a lot more sense for her to do either of those things with her time than for me to do it for her. Instead I have to say, “I don’t recall either, if you don’t have it recorded can you go down to the lobby to measure?” This has happened multiple times now.

        She’s actually very organized generally speaking, but for whatever reason she just keeps failing to record the mural dimensions, and then when she doesn’t have the information quickly at hand, she brings it to me to provide answers that she’s perfectly capable of getting herself and knows exactly how to get them because she’s found them for this exact scenario multiple times before!

        Having an employee who can sort out basic stuff on their own is a blessing.

        1. Cat Tree*

          Ugh, that’s so annoying. I’m the SME for a certain system, and I get constant vague questions from a junior employee with no background. It’s like pulling teeth to get the necessary context to even give a meaningful answer.

          Here’s the most annoying part. When she actually *tries*, her judgment is generally good. Lately, instead of digging up an answer for her, I ask her to explain her thought process so far. I try not to even recommend resources at first. Sometimes she takes 15 minutes to respond, so I think she is looking at the procedures. And that’s a good thing! But she shouldn’t needed prompting to do that; she should know to start there.

          It’s so frustrating that she can figure things out, but won’t actually try until I specifically ask her to. So maybe for your employee, instead of suggesting that she measure the mural, ask her how she thinks she could find that info on her own. Although if she’s anything like my coworker, you’ll still have to prompt her every time for eternity.

  8. LNCPG*

    Ok I’m dying for the full story on the flower theft. Was this just a couple of flowers or a full-fledged bouquet? Is this the first time your coworker has brought flowers to the office, or does she regularly do this, and now you’re suspicious they’ve all been illegally picked? And just curious LW #5, what were you doing at a historic building/government official’s home in the middle of the night??

    This sounds like a Parks and Rec episode, haha.

    1. LilyP*

      Is it seriously even considered “theft” to pick flowers from publically maintained gardens? That seems like an overreaction. Or was it like a whole bouquet (like for a memorial) that the coworker picked up and took or something??

        1. AcademiaNut*

          It’s particularly an issue with gardens that are regularly landscaped, and seasonal flowers put out. If you put out tulips, say, and everyone picks them, you’re left with a garden full of bare stems until the next scheduled changeover (or you replant and end up paying for a very, very expensive free floral service for the community).

          FWIW, it’s also often illegal to pick wildflowers in parks, but for very different reasons. If you pick all the flowers, there won’t be seeds for the next year, and it can endanger species.

        2. Joan Rivers*

          It’s wrong for the same reason you can’t pick flowers in your neighbor’s yard, because it’s not yours.
          Plus, lying about a florist?
          You could send an anonymous note to the address of the house letting them know you’ve seen someone tampering w/the landscaping. What else might she do?

          But it IS a strange story.

        3. DiplomaJill*

          When I lived in an urban area, I wouldn’t plant my window boxes until after mother’s day because every time I did, without fail, my plants would walk off.

      1. Jackalope*

        Yes, the problem is if everyone does that, there end up being no flowers left. I lived in a place once where that either wasn’t illegal or was a law that was never enforced, and it was frustrating seeing things like a few buds on flowering plants but never any actual flowers because they’d be picked before anyone else could enjoy them.

      2. Not Australian*

        Of course it is. Someone has paid for those to be planted, it doesn’t just happen accidentally, and therefore they’re that person’s property. If everyone thought there was no harm in helping themselves, there would soon be nothing left for other people to enjoy.

      3. Fancy Owl*

        Yeah, this is actually an issue that comes up a lot in park management. People think, “what’s the harm if I just take one flower/pinecone/whatever” but the problem is that depending on park size and traffic dozens to thousands of other people will have had the same idea and next think you know there aren’t enough pinecones. Just enjoy it in place and leave it be.

        1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          In my town you’re also not supposed to move even sticks out of parks, because we have tree diseases that we don’t want to share between the different parks. Basically, leave everything but trash where you find it, or at least within the same park.

        2. Kyrielle*

          If you have to take something, take a picture. My kids know that one by heart now. :)

      4. Hello, I'd like to report my boss*

        Yes, it’s theft – the flowers are public property planted by the local government. It’s as much stealing as chiselling out a brick would be. Or stealing plants from a private garden.

        Also disregarding the legality of it, the flowers are there on publicly maintained land for EVERYONE to enjoy. She’s depriving other people of enjoying the flowers. It’s supremely selfish.

        1. Hello, I'd like to report my boss*

          Actually, ignore my first paragraph. It’s complicated and differs hugely. I still think it’s morally wrong for all sorts of reasons.

        2. MK*

          It may or may not br theft, but yes, it’s not right to pick whole bouquets from public gardens.

          1. Don P.*

            Maybe it’s closer to being vandalism; it’s not exactly the loss of the value of the flowers that’s the problem, it’s the ruination of the garden.

      5. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yep. The county plants in the medians where I live, and there are signs indicating that the flowers/plants are for public enjoyment and are not to be picked. In parks, there are generally signs indicating that wildflowers and native plants are not to be picked and some ecological education about why not.

        I’m not sure how often people are ticketed for it, but it’s definitely against code.

      6. LilyP*

        Point(s) taken! And the fact that she’s collecting them in the middle of the night makes it pretty obvious that *she* thinks it’s something she shouldn’t be doing at least. Maybe if OP sees it again she could make an anonymous tip to local law enforcement and/or the public official’s staff, and let them handle it if they see it as important enough to act on.

        1. LilyP*

          And to be clear also, I know that picking flowers from someone else’s garden is rude and taboo, but the word “theft” is so strong it made me wonder if there was something more intense going on, like she was removing full wreaths or vases of arranged flowers. But it seems like people agree that flower theft probably does just mean illicit picking!

          1. pancakes*

            Not really, no — the word itself doesn’t imply a sense of scale or magnitude or intensity. Theft of a pack of gum and theft of, say, a Renoir painting are both types of theft, but are seen and treated rather differently.

      7. pancakes*

        LilyP, you should read about the theft of succulents that’s gone on in California in recent years as the plants have become more and more trendy. In 2018 three guys were charged with stealing more than $600,000 worth of succulents for resale, and that’s just one example. Many others have been caught and charged with felonies. It isn’t just that the plants have monetary value — in many places plants are a key part of preventing erosion. Someone stealing an armful of flowers is a much smaller scale problem, but it doesn’t follow that people can just help themselves to take whatever they like from a public park.

        1. Gumby*

          I hadn’t heard about that, but also completely don’t get it because succulents are SO EASY to propagate. Not that I am suggesting just taking part of the plants – that is bad too! – but buy 1 each of whatever kind of plan you want to sell and you can have dozens in a few months. Though I suppose that the type of person who is stealing to resell is the type of person who tends towards not putting the (very minor amount of!) work in to earn their own stuff.

          1. pancakes*

            Yes – among the easiest! I guess they want mature plants in a hurry rather than taking the time to propagate them.

          2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            I bought a bunch of plants throughout the pandemic, including a lot of little succulents for $3.00-$7.00 each at my local garden center. Some of them have actually lived and thrived! (I’m not exactly a green thumb.) And over Memorial Day weekend I plan to repot my former little plants as they now need bigger containers.

            I mean,$3.00? Yeah, just wait and they’ll get big enough fast enough.

    2. Lionheart26*

      Reminds me so much of the time my then-boyfriend and I went out drinking at our local bar. We had a drunken argument and I stormed off home. Woke up the next morning and there’s a handful of crushed flowers in a glass next to the bed. There are also random petals and leaves scattered all over our apartment. Turns out boyfriend stayed out, then felt guilty, and as he walked home he decided to pick me some flowers. Unfortunately, he chose to pick them from the garden outside the ambulance station, which wasn’t his smartest move. Luckily, they let him go with a warning, AND he got to keep the flowers.

      1. Texan In Exile*

        All I can think of when I hear about or see scenes like this is, “Someone is going to have to clean that up.”

        (I remember being particularly horrified at the mess in the open refrigerator – OPEN FRIDGE! – scene in 9 1/2 Weeks. That scene was not sexy. It was not appealing. It was appalling.)

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

        I love this story Lionheart26! I can see the ambulance crew being, yeah keep the flowers and go makeup to your partner. Just don’t do it again.

      3. It wasn't dead when I left it!!*

        HAHAHA! I once came home in the evening after being out all afternoon to find a very dead, desiccated rose tied to my apartment doorknob. It was quite creepy and I wasn’t sure where it came from or what kind of message someone was trying to give me. Later I found out the guy i was dating at the time had come by mid morning to bring me a fresh flower (awwww) but since i wasn’t home he thought he’d leave it for me on the door. In full sun. All afternoon .
        Married him. I still tease him about leaving me dead roses as a romantic gesture.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          When I was in college, a guy stapled a rose to my apartment door along with a love poem written on a sheet of yellow legal paper. I’d met him once when he came over with a friend of mine. Threw that sucker out and told my friend to keep him away from me.

      4. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        Hah! Someone I met at a party told me about the time as a teen he had a few and while he was walking home it occurred to him that some doorknobs were valuable. He had a screwdriver with him so he helped himself to a number of them along the street. The next morning when he made it into the kitchen his parents were talking about all the neighbors who’d had their doorknobs stolen, but the homes weren’t entered or burgled. (He didn’t say anything.)

    3. Birch*

      I also want to know! Flower/plant theft is one of these weirdly controversial topics that should not be controversial. Obviously the flower thief is in the wrong. But why is the flower thief telling people she’s bringing flowers to the office? Seems a bit overkill if she’s doing it on the regular without a reason? And what kind of flowers are these? There isn’t 100% overlap between florist bouquets and landscaping flowers… because cut flowers sold by florists are grown to be beautiful in arrangements and are often out of season, and landscaping flowers are grown to cover spaces… I guess it could be something like tulips or daffodils that cross that divide, but then wouldn’t the government official notice all their tulips are suddenly gone? And surely this behaviour changes by the season, unless LW is from a consistently warm place? I’m just imagining she’s waltzing in with a ragged handful of marigold tops and bruised knockout roses (as other people have said, many of us have stories of well meaning but clueless partners trying to gift a wildflower bouquet with zero understanding of how to cut and handle flowers. It’s usually carnage). I wonder if several people in the office are noticing the suspicious flowers but just haven’t said anything to OP about it.

      1. Threeve*

        I’m guessing this is more about the fun of stealing or “sticking it to the man” for the coworker than the actual flowers.

        1. Jessica Fletcher*

          I wouldn’t tattle on the coworker for this reason! I imagine this being like the governor’s mansion or something equally opulent. I’m sure the extremely well compensated government official, living high on taxpayer dollars while the rest of us fight over resources during a global pandemic, isn’t suffering one bit from the loss of a few flowers.

          If this flower theft was significant, surely the government has the resources to install some type of security cameras or a live security guard to catch the thief.

          Other commenters are acting like the garden is being razed by this coworker. But, no one except OP has identified this as a problem. If it were a significant number of flowers or significant resource loss, the government would do something.

          Unless OP is looking to moonlight as Tulip Karen, this isn’t their problem to solve.

          I do want to know all the scandalous details, though! Including, how did OP see this alleged theft? Was OP also lurking around the governor’s mansion late at night? Was OP following Coworker? This seems to have occurred in public, but no one else seems to have seen this and also been as scandalized as OP?

          Just mind your own business. If you see a news story about orphans starving because someone picked the governor’s tulips, then fine, tell Coworker to stop. Otherwise, maybe volunteer in your community if you want to do something constructive.

    4. MK*

      Depends on the local laws and regulations, which can be charmingly weird. E.g. in my country picking flowers from the garden of a public building isn’t theft, it’s destruction of public property (a more serious crime). Taking them from a public park is not a crime, but it is against city regulations and carries a fine. BUT if the branch of the plant reaches over the limit of the public property and hanging over another neighbouring property, it belongs to the owner of that plot. If it is hanging over a public street or pavement, it’s public property and anyone can pick the flowers or fruit.

    5. RabbitRabbit*

      Especially because from the wording it sort of sounds like it’s an ongoing thing? I was wondering if this was a reference to a show I hadn’t watched.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      OP 5. I have met such a person. This person would go pick flowers late at night from public areas. Unlike your person, my person was doing it because she had an event for an NPO and a limited budget. The flowers were part of the table setting for charity. This person was careful not to leave “bald spots” that had no flowers, they clipped carefully.

      I suspect your person will grow tired of doing this in a bit and if you do nothing the problem will fix itself. However, if – notice the word “IF”- you are good at humor, you might be able to mention something about seeing her in front of x place, very busily picking flowers. And that might be enough to stop the process.
      I used this technique with a cohort who was calling in on radio contests. I happened to be in my car and heard the call. When I got to work, I simply said, “XYZ! What a handy term to know!” (Where XYZ was the answer for the radio contest.)

      On a more serious side, you might consider saying that you know where she got them from and please do not pick any flowers for you.

      Either way, being outted can be enough right there to stop things. HOWEVER, I will caution you because these folks might be inclined to move on to their next thing. (Just my opinion, but it takes a certain type of personality.) And do you really want to chase them from thing to thing. You can opt to just let this play out and see where it lands.

      1. Caterpie*

        Was it bad that your cohort was calling into radio contests? I’ve never called into one (I read somewhere that the winners are usually friends of the DJs and other radio station staff), but were you calling them out for it or just acknowledging that you heard them that morning on the radio?

        1. D3*

          I don’t know any DJs or radio station staff and I won 4 radio station contests in my teens and college years!

          1. pancakes*

            Yeah, my stepsister was amazing at winning those and she had no connection to the stations besides being an avid listener and quick caller.

        2. JSPA*

          Calling in from work / on the clock, presumably. Perhaps tying up the company phone line (that was a thing!), also presumably when they’re not allowed to be listening to the radio. Used to be a pretty standard business no-no, 25+ years ago.

          1. Calliope*

            About 10 years ago, one of my coworkers won a radio call in contest and the prize was donuts for the office – no complaints from anyone.

        3. LunaLena*

          Actually most (if not all) radio stations have a policy that friends and family of radio station staff can’t win prizes from their contests, let alone the staff members themselves. Also I won a four-pack of tickets to Disneyland and an advance screening of Toy Story 2 by calling in to a radio show when I was a high school senior, and I sure as heck didn’t know anyone in the radio industry (I was extremely introverted and oversheltered as a teen), so there’s that. I’ve called in to other radio shows since then and have been put on the air several times too, though I haven’t won any other contests.

          I assume they were calling when they should have been working, and depending on the station, it might not be a quick call-in. When I won the Disneyland tickets, I was put on hold for a few minutes before being told I won, then I had to talk to the DJ for a bit, then I was put on hold again until they could get my personal info to put me on the guest list. I was probably on the phone for a good 10-15 minutes.

      2. Sunflower*

        I think I’m missing something! Why is it necessary to call out someone calling into a radio station? I did it once (years ago, granted) but am I missing some office etiquette? Genuinely curious!

        1. Ashley*

          I have had co-workers trying to win concert tickets (back in the day of concerts) and they literally spent the week obsessing about calling and trying to get off the phone as quickly as possible at all times. I think this is a behavior in moderation where maybe you call in for the 9am puzzle occasionally isn’t a big deal but if you call in every hour on the hour for those contests it is probably to much.

    7. I'm just here for the cats*

      I so t understand why what the Lw was doing matters? Are you implying she was up to something nefarious too? The historic building/government office could be in an open area. Im thinking like some of my cities historic buildings are downtown and in open areas. Many people walk their dogs in that area and many people live in that area too. Its also near public Transit.

    8. Lily Rowan*

      I mean, it if was Gracie Mansion, the OP could have just been passing by.

    9. AvonLady Barksdale*

      See, I didn’t immediately go to picking flowers– I pictured the co-worker leaving the house with a bouquet of flowers. Which is curious but not all that weird– there are a ton of ways a person could legitimately end up with a bouquet of flowers from someone’s home, especially if it’s, like, the governor’s mansion and they get fresh flowers every week.

      This whole scenario is just weird. Why are these folks walking around historic buildings in the middle of the night? Where’s security? Who lives in the house? So many questions…

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I read it as they were in the garden. And my state doesn’t assign security to those spaces, unless they see a need. (The grounds of our capitol are a state park, & people routinely picnic, sunbathe, etc. there.)

        1. Calliope*

          I feel like it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between an actual bouquet from a florist and flowers someone randomly picked. Are there filler flowers and greens? Is it nicely arranged? I have a hard time believing the co-worker picks flowers from a historic garden and then does a professional arranging job on them and THEN hands them out to coworkers.

          But I am generally confused by this letter.

      2. Free Meerkats*

        I play Ingress and am regularly walking around or standing near or driving around historic buildings in the middle of the night. Sometimes in towns that are an hour drive from home.

        But, why TF does it matter what the LW was doing out in the wee hours?

        1. Formerly Ella Vader*

          Campus cops once asked me if I needed help finding something, when I was going back and forth drawing links for an Ingress event. It was 1 in the morning and I no longer have any legitimate reason to be on the campus, but I do have some demographic privilege and they accepted my explanation easily. “No, it’s not Pokemon Go, but it’s like that …”

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

        You know, thats a good point. If they were leaving the house with a bouquet of flowers or an arrangement does the OP really think they would be taking them without permission. I mean, even at night there would be security and such. I wonder, does the coworker maybe work there part time or know someone. I think in another comment someone said that they give the old arrangements away.

    10. ThatGuy*

      For many years my mother worked at a museum and public garden and one of her roles was creating flower arrangements for museum events. After the event was over, the flower arrangements were no longer needed and would be thrown out. She was allowed to take home or give away the used flower arrangements, since they would otherwise go in the garbage. If the “stolen” flowers were actually an arrangement like a table centerpiece, it’s totally possible that the coworker has an agreement with the museum to take the old arrangements after they’re done with them and reuse them to reduce waste. Also, this is none of OP’s business.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes I worked at a castle as a student and we hosted a lot of weddings and functions. If the bride or the family didn’t want the floral table centres they were offered to staff as otherwise they’d go in the bin. I got several nice bunches of flowers that way and as I had very little money I really enjoyed the perk.

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

        OHH! I never thought of that. I guess the OP doesn’t clarify if she saw the person picking flowers from the garden or if she just saw the person leaving the property with flowers. But if she just left the property with the flowers I don’t understand how she would think they were stolen? I’m so confused now and I want the OP to explain!
        Also, DITTO its not OP’s business. It’s not like you can get in trouble for accepting a stolen flower is it? Or she can alway ask where she gets them.

    11. Drago Cucina*

      Sometimes people are just weird. At the public library we had planters with a small shrub and a they held signs that this spots were for the book drop off/10 min maximum. Run in, get your book on hold, self-check out, gone.

      Someone decided to steal the planters because the library “obviously didn’t want them.” What?! Well, we had bushes and no flowers, so they were obviously uncared for. And she needed planters. I had paid for them out of my own pocket, so knew they weren’t expensive. I wasn’t going to call the police over the issue, but I was still steamed. The idea that, “You can just buy more,” boggled my mind.

      1. Natalie*

        When I was a child I had a boulevard garden and someone cut my sunflowers down in the middle of the night, for an art project according to the note they left. They also promised some art but it never materialized.

        People are brazen when they want to be.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes. My mother came back from shopping once to find 2 people picking the cooking apples from her tree in her front garden. She was not amused that they’d decided that because the tree had lots of ripe apples it was fine to help themselves. The tree always gives far too many for Mum and Dad so they usually give a lot away to their friends (or stew them and give the stewed apples to the homeless shelter to make pies with).

          If someone had asked she would have been happy to give them some apples, but that doesn’t mean you can just show up and help yourself.

          1. Filosofickle*

            Whether or not taking fruit from someone else’s tree is a big deal is a frequent debate in my local Nextdoor! Recently there was a video of two strangers who came onto someone’s property and took bags full of lemons. Yes, they brought bags. I get the temptation to take a lemon that’s hanging over the sidewalk — and yet I don’t because I know some owners would be upset about that — but it would never occur to me to just roll up into their yard and take their stuff. Even lemons.

            1. UKDancer*

              I think it’s a bit of a cheek to take things without asking. I mean I grow tomatoes and peas on my balcony. If a neighbour were to ask for some I’d probably be happy to give them a handful (although being 3 storeys up deters people from trying to take them). Certainly one of my colleagues has an allotment and he brings courgettes and carrots into the office (or he did pre-Covid) because he has far too much for his own use.

              On the other hand I think it’s theft to come and take them without asking. Someone has expended time and resources in cultivating the products and may have a plan for them. I think it’s a situation where it’s not problematic to ask but it’s wrong to take.

            2. Buni*

              Random bit of UK law I know for no discernible reason: it’s legal to lop off branches if they overhang your boundary, or pick up fruit if it’s littering your lawn, but it remains the property of the ‘main stem’ owner and you have to offer it back.

              I don’t know the law if something’s overhanging state / ‘public’ land…

            3. Foof*

              When we lived in california with a lemon tree in the front of our rented house, someone came by and asked if they could regularly gather the lEmons. I think it’s a bit of an industry in citrus areas? But asking made all the difference with it being helpful vs creepy and invasive.

          2. Seacalliope*

            That’s interesting! My SIL lives in Hawaii and it is commonly thought of as helpful to take fruit off of trees, according to her. The abundance means that if someone doesn’t get it, it’ll fall and attract rats, which is much, much worse than someone getting to the fruit you wanted before you do.

            1. UKDancer*

              That’s very interesting about Hawaii. I’d have to say in most places in the UK where I’ve lived, fruit and vegetables being grown belong to the person growing them and it’s definitely not appropriate to help yourself. I guess probably because there’s a lot less of it than in Hawaii and also because most of the time it’s in a garden or allotment, a lot of effort has been put into its cultivation and it’s not really done to go into other peoples’ gardens. It’s interesting to know how customs vary.

              I’ve walked past allotments and people have left veg on a stool outside with a note that people can help themselves but otherwise I think the rule is not to take things.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            Well, that’s trespassing; they’re on private property. If the estate the LW’s coworker picked from is an official residence, a law like that may apply.

            When I lived with my ex, we had two large apple trees in the side yard; there was no way in hell the two of us plus his daughter would eat all those things. The horses weren’t interested in them either. We let an Amish family I had become friendly with bring several kids and some buckets and pick all the apples they wanted. But we offered that; they didn’t take it upon themselves.

    12. Charlotte Lucas*

      Re: the historic building. In my state, the Governor’s Mansion is in a historic neighborhood near some parks & not far from businesses. Our capitol building is surrounded by businesses, including bars & restaurants. I’ve driven by both in the middle of the night. Because they are both near my neighborhood.

    13. Lora*

      I would also like to hear the full story! I took (with permission) apples from a place where I worked as they had landscaped the building with regular apple trees that made a mushy fermenting mess in the lawn and parking lot every year, and it turned into a whole THING – not with taking the apples exactly, but it was this weird pissing contest where the VP insisted the apples were poisonous because nobody would landscape with real apple trees, vs. me who brought in apple coffee cake as a thank-you for letting me have apples.

      They were Braeburns and some type of baking apple. FWIW, no apple that hasn’t been handled by Queen Grimhilde or Lucrezia Borgia is actually poisonous, and you’d have to eat several kg of apple seeds to die of cyanide poisoning from them. You’d get an upset tummy from eating that much fiber long before the cyanide kicked in. Certain apples can taste sort of awful – various crabapples and some of the bitter-type apples used for fermented cider taste painfully sour or tannin-y when eaten fresh – but they aren’t poisonous.

      The VP was furious that he’d been proven wrong and upon seeing people taking slices of cake from the break room and surviving to tell the tale, had the trees cut down.

      People are weird.

        1. Lora*

          He was a weird, weird dude. They didn’t renew his contract when it ran out, but I think if he hadn’t been near the end anyway they’d have fired him. He was sleeping with the HR lady and had been mucking around in the HR complaints files to erase exit interviews and official complaints about himself and his buddies. He was let go from his previous job under bad circumstances – demoted over and over until he was at basically an entry level job (with 20 years of experience and a PhD) before being laid off. From what I gather hasn’t had a job since.

          I mean, realistically, there’s plenty of fruit trees with minimal fruit that landscapers use for decorative purposes just so they won’t have to clean up mushy wasp-infested fruit from walkways and lawns, but they didn’t replace the apple trees with anything decorative either. Just left the stumps.

          1. Chilly delta blues*

            Is there a term for horrified-curiosity? Cause I really need to know more about this guy. He seems like an HR nightmare!

            1. Pikachu*

              You know, most bosses I read about on this site I would NEVER want to work for.

              Every once in a while, a cake-denying apple tree assassin pops up and makes me wish I had the chance to work for one, just to see what it’s like.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Cutting trees down that aren’t in danger of falling should be a crime!

  9. ResuMAYDAY*

    LW2 – it’s difficult to tell for sure, but I think by the way you’ve phrased it, your HS harasser worked for this company before you. I hope that’s the case – not that he found where you worked and got hired soon after you.

  10. ResuMAYDAY*

    I hate the assumption that everyone who is good at their job MUST be promoted to manager. Managing people, and being higher up on the food chain is a job that requires skills not usually gained from simply being good at your job.

    1. Seal*

      And this is why there are so many bad managers. Too many employers don’t understand that managing people is a skill, not a reward to be bestowed on good workers.

      1. Andy*

        No, there are so many bad managers, because in many companies, you don’t have to be good with people under you nor in actual subject. There are so many bad managers, because bad managers manage to blame everyone and everything else.

        I had both good and bad leaders. Cant think of exactly one who was “good worker but bad with people” – and that one was moved to lost the position quickly.

        1. John Smith*

          I’m with Seal on this but can see that point of view by Andy. In my organisation, a manager is never, ever wrong. Senior managers could employee a deranged monkey to manage a project and they’d still find a way to blame someone other than themselves (and the monkey) for the project going tits up (I speak from experience of being scapegoat in chief). I think the problem is that senior managers are so incompetent they have to employ even more incompetent managers who won’t realise just how incompetent they are. We’ve never once recruited or promoted internally . It’s crackers, but everyone know why.

          1. Andy*

            I just did not seen pattern of “promoting good workers without any people skills to managers” to actually happen in practice all that much. Companies treat them as different jobs. I also dislike the implicit dichotomy people put between work skills and people skills. They are not in opposition.

            The choice is not between skilled managers with no social skills vs managers with social skills but no knowledge. There is also no such thing as general people skills. Being fluent speaker and charismatic is not the same as being able to lead and manage team dynamic. They are two independent properties. You can be great with customers and bosses while being absolute disaster with own team. You can be great at communicating with business and completely fail at communicating with programmers, because they are two very different cultures.

            The most disasterous management I have seen was someone who considered herself non-technical in charge of technical project. And the issue was both lack of knowledge and extremely bad communication.

            1. Self Employed*

              I’m not sure where you got the idea people think managers need “general people skills” and not “management skills.”

              Communication is important but so are project management, knowing when to stand up for your team, and many other skills.

              1. Andy*

                Because the topic of the thread is “managing people” and not “managing projects”. They are related, but not exactly the same thing.

                You knowing where project stands does not help anything and anyone, if you are unable to communicate that to customers, developers, testers or others. Ideally without offending either of those. It really does not matter if those supposed to follow your plan dont know what priorities are, are unable to make decisions due to wrong information.

                If you dont have communication skills nor skills to lead people, you should not be leading people.

                1. Seal*

                  My point exactly. As a librarian, I’ve seen far to many people who are good or often very good at their jobs but do not have the skills to lead people get promoted just because they’re good at their jobs. It is ASSUMED that because they’re good at their jobs, they’ll be able to manage people. That is very often not the case. Some people go grow into their managerial positions and turn out great, while many more do not. It should also be mentioned than in libraries, often the only way to get promoted is to move into a managerial role. You can’t fault people for wanting to advance in their careers and make more money, but you can certainly fault the administrators that assume managerial skills are inherent to people who do their jobs well. At least that’s been my experience in my field.

                2. Andy*

                  Seal: my point was, that I did not seen that happen practically. The people who were good at their jobs and could not communicate were not promoted to management all that much often. I just did not seen that to happen.

                  Instead, I have seen managers who were bad at communicating, but were from outside, never doing anything except managing in their careers. Imagine completely non-technical management in technical team. A lot of their difficulties were from them not understanding vocabulary, culture nor needs of people they were supposed to manage. Or were individual performers, but not really good. Basically got that position on the assumption that since they don’t have much practical skills, they can do at least organizational/administrational work.

                  I had also good managers and average managers, I am not complaining about all managers everywhere. But this “a lot of bad managers who used to be great individual performers” thing is not something that companies I worked in had.

                3. Seal*

                  Andy – we’ll have to agree to disagree on this. The scenario I describe happens all the time in my field, so much so that truly good managers are practically considered unicorns.

          2. TechWorker*

            Tbh your organisation sounds like a bit of an outlier – if every company was staffed entirely by incompetent managers AND senior managers then nothing would get done…

            1. TechWorker*

              Worth adding there though that some people, especially technical people, tend to judge managers against their own standards for an individual contributor (omg manager knows *nothing* about *very specific area of technology*, they must be an idiot). Often it’s not their job to know, especially at senior levels where they are covering too many areas to understand them all in depth.

              1. Andy*

                Honestly, dismissing tech people complaining about management with assumptions like this is one of reasons why bad management can get away with it for years. There is nothing to even suggest in John Smith or mine comment that we expect those managers to fine tune database. We both complain about blame game. In sibling comment, I complain about bad communication.

                Literally neither of us complained about not knowing something in depth.

                > if every company was staffed entirely by incompetent managers AND senior managers then nothing would get done

                For whatever it is worth, teams tend to build protective structures in such cases. That does not make them dysfunction free in any way, but it does allow things to move on. Ineffectively, with a lot of issues bugs and stress, with unhappy customers, but not so much unhappy that they all leave.

                1. JSPA*

                  If you’re in tech, you presumably get that “A is a subset of B” is not the same as, “B implies A.” We’ve all dealt with the person who thinks that “not remembering when we ran this on the VAX” means you don’t REALLY understand the ESSENTIAL history of the process, as well as the person who thinks “Hello, you’re not as intimately familiar with the topic of my master’s thesis as I am” means, “surely I can’t be expected to respect you.” There’s also, “you were taught and use the term ABC for something that I call PDQ, so clearly, you’re an idiot who doesn’t understand why it’s essential to use PDQ to avoid confusion with ABlobC, which is clearly the default meaning of ABC, even if we don’t use ABlobC here, plus how dare you require me to retool my vocabulary to match yours, when I’m right.”

                  While in no way the majority of the people who have management complaints, they punch far above their weight in terms of PITA factor and general disruptiveness, and (for whatever reasons) they’re over-represented in tech fields.

                  Furthermore, they too often get support via the vague dynamics of tech-bro culture: “Jerry’s a good guy, I don’t know the details, but if he’s got a beef, I’m on board.” They do therefore need to be recognized as a phenomenon.

                  None of this invalidates substantive complaints from tech people.

                  It does mean, however, that (just as it’s ineffective or counterproductive to add, “Ji eats stinky food then stands so close I can smell it” to a sexual harassment complaint that should center on, “Ji takes upskirt photos”) it is (or it should be) counterproductive to add complaints that add up to, “if you’re not better than me at being me, I don’t respect you” to more substantive managerial complaints.

              2. John Smith*

                That’s all very well, but in my section I’m considered the expert by my manager. When I’ve come up with a viable, well thought out plan to solve X, he will dismiss it and implement his own plan which does not resolve the problem and creates further problems, and no amount of proof will dissuade him. If I go to his manager, he will just back him up. His manager’s manager? Hardly anyone has seen him in over a year. When things go tits up because the plan doesn’t work, guess who gets the blame? But I’m the expert, they’re the managers and they are always, always right.

                1. Long-Time Technologist*

                  That dynamic is not normal. I’d strongly suggest trying to find a saner workplace.

                  I’ve been in tech for a lot of years, and was overridden by my (also technical) immediate manager on a technical implementation decision exactly once. The approach I was instructed to take failed for the reasons I said it would, and he didn’t impede going back and doing it the way I’d originally proposed (I’d spent some time in evenings working on the other approach as a fallback, anticipating that it would be necessary, so the schedule didn’t take too huge a hit).

                  The other times I’ve been overridden by management were all cases of differences in anticipated requirements (“your proposal goes to extra effort and expense to be robust against scenarios D, E and F, but we’re willing to accept the risk of the solution failing if that happens”). I’ve never seen a manager make that call and then pass on blame in the presence of D, E or F.

                  Finding a new workplace would be good.

              3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                Uh, no. We don’t care if the manager knows a niche area of tech or not. *Except* in the cases where they think they do know it, jump in with their (incorrect) solutions to tech problems, and use their clout to make sure their solutions are the ones that end up being implemented. But I’ve seen very few cases of that. Most managers do know better than that.

          3. Anon for this*

            Yes, we just had this situation where I work. My old manager got promoted to their boss’s job when that person retired. My old manager had approximately 18 months *total work experience* when they became my line manager, and it definitely showed (they now have ~4 years experience). They then hired someone with *4 MONTHS total work experience* for their old job.

            All the staff regard this as problematic, especially as the new person was not even qualified on paper for the job, but upper management essentially says that now they’ve been hired, policy is to keep them, despite the clear bias in the hiring process.

      2. Lonely Aussie*

        This is my company…. granted blue collar Ag job but there’s been 12 manager openings in the 8 years I’ve been there and of those 12, only 2 of the managers that got the jobs actually had any skill in managing people. I was straight up told by one of the guys who is part of the hiring process that they pick people who are good for at the physical job because they “can train anyone to manage people” *eyeroll*
        This is a job that attracts, um, interesting personalities and many of the guys who get promoted are fantastic at the physical side of the job, great with their hands but who find most of the training a complete waste of time or struggle with the theory/written parts of it.

        1. Smithy*

          At my last employer – that was an office job/non-blue collar – had the exact same thing.

          The external facing, technical part of the job can certainly involve a lot of personality features – and these would be the people most likely to view how they approached the work to be completely unique and entirely unteachable. I’ve heard managers repeatedly say they just rather keep everything to themselves rather than training or handing over work (for very practical and strategic reasons) because it takes too much work and is only comprehensible to themselves.

          A real weakness in my sector is that very often the only way to progress at all is to move into management. It’s not impossible but much harder and leads to lots of wildly problematic managers.

      3. Worldwalker*


        A friend of mine was “rightsized” many years ago because he didn’t want to be a manager. He’s a computer programmer. He’s a very good computer programmer. He knew from having managed projects that he’s a bad manager. But they insisted that he must accept a “promotion” to manager, going from a job he liked and was good at to a job that he wouldn’t like and was bad at. He wanted to be a programmer, not a manager. So they kicked him to the curb.

        Incidentally, he’s now working for a much more prestigious company at a much higher salary — they’re happy to keep a good programmer programming; they can get plenty of managers — and his former employer, after a string of equally boneheaded decisions, is out of business. Karma.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I was about to comment that a company that does not have an architectural career track for programmers, in addition to a management one, would have a hard time staying in business in the long term. Then I read your last paragraph. What can I say, makes perfect sense!

    2. Esmeralda*

      Yup. Last time we had a big restructuring, I was asked several times by my grandboss and great grandboss to apply for the vacant boss position. Could I have done the job? Yes, and done it well too.

      But I said no, and told both of them: thank you for your confidence in me, but, no — I’d rather manage things than people. I also told my boss, I don’t want to manage THESE people. Our office has a history of eating its management, especially when they’re promoted from within. Exhausting.

    3. Anonymous Hippo*

      Does anybody do management training? I’m trying my best, but man, I wish there was some kind of training available. It’s hard to go from top contributor to manager. It’s a weird transition, and help would be greatly appreciated.

      1. Smithy*

        Maybe there are training courses that are helpful – but I think the best conditions for becoming a new manager is when it’s in a situation where either your manager, a management coach, or someone else is taking an active role in coaching you as a manager. And to have that more intensive support for around the first year?

        In my first year as a manager, I was put in a class but then also was able to work with a coach. And the challenge about the class was that it was a lot of context and principles that either didn’t apply to our work or wasn’t someone to just have in mind for an event 6 months or so in the future. Having the coach who was aware of my first time manager situation meant that I had someone I worked with once a week just on managing q’s.

        I can’t say my manager was a great help, but in retrospect, I see places where she could have been a lot better. Looking back on my experience, if I were managing a new manager – I’d either see if it was possible to get separate management coaching for a new manager or at least be mindful of how to incorporate that into regular 1 on 1’s.

        1. Anonymous Hippo*

          My issue is nobody at my company is a good manager. Not just bashing on my office, but we are just getting beyond startup phase, and everybody here was basically a top contributor at other companies in the industry, and came here and became management. So nobody knows what they are doing. I get on here and read all the time and try and apply things I’m learning, but its blind leading the blind at my job lol.

          1. Smithy*

            In that case, I’d really recommend seeing if there’s a way to invest in an external consultant/company that can provide management coaching.

            Personally, the management training I received from my boss wasn’t actually all that great because it just got so muddled into larger 1 on 1 topics. At the time, my team had a relationship with a management coach that I was able to see once a week for about 3 months. It really helped in terms of my specific questions and challenges and how to operationalize organizational tools being used to set goals, PIP, etc.

            This certainly might be harder to convince leadership to invest in – but if it’s an overall good startup being mindful of the realities of a lot of new managers – I’d hope they at least be receptive to hear the idea out.

      2. Junior Assistant Peon*

        Fred Pryor Inc and some similar outfits put on 1-2 day training seminars on business topics like “how to manage people” in rented hotel ballrooms nationwide. Obviously, you’re not going to learn everything you need to know in 1-2 days, but it’s a good start.

        I was really surprised to learn that at most companies, you’re essentially expected to figure out management yourself with little to no support or training.

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

    OP5 (stealing flowers) – in what capacity is she “distributing” them? As in giving them out to people, or is it one of those offices where they have a vase of flowers in each meeting room / public area and they are replaced every couple of days? If it’s the latter I’d be wondering what happened to the money the company thinks is being spent on ‘florist’ flowers….

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Oooh, now there’s an interesting point! They think I pick up a $50 bouquet on the way to work, but really I *pick* the bouquet on the way to work, and keep the $50.

      I’m surprised the historic site / home or government official doesn’t have a fence or security cameras. Or hasn’t noticed the flowers going missing?? OP are you the government official?? Is one of your coworkers stealing from your garden? There are motion-activated sprinklers for scaring away deer, etc. Please feel free to squirt cold water on flower thieves.

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

        “Please feel free to squirt cold water on flower thieves.”

        This made me laugh so hard! I imagine the flower theif comming in with a bouquet of flowers and LW going up and spraying her a spray bottle like you would a cat. “Bad coworker. Don’t steal flowers. Bad!”

    2. Natalie*

      I mean, unless she’s out there with clippers and those little packets of flower food, it’s probably fairly obvious they didn’t come from a florist.

  12. rosejam*

    LW#2, this may be off-base, and I don’t mean to be alarmist, but the level of obsession you described from this guy made my wonder about the coincidence of him getting a job at the same place as you. Did he know you were working there? Is he in a specialized field where your workplace is one of few alternatives? Or could he have gone anywhere and just randomly decided to get a job at the same place as his high-school obsession?

    You don’t mention feeling suspicious about him taking a job at the same company as you, so I assume that it’s not conspicuous and that you don’t feel like you have reasons to think he came there because of you. That’s good. But if the guy starts finding pretexts to interact with you, if you get any weird vibes or uncomfortable gut feelings, please pay attention to them, document anything that seems off, and maybe think about how long you want to stay at a place that doesn’t have your back on an issue like this.

    For incredibly useful guidance on dealing with stalkers, I recommend The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.

    1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

      Given that the OP found out that this guy was on one of the teams only shortly after she was hired, it sounds like his employment there predates hers. While this is still a bad situation, I’m really hoping it’s “unpleasant coincidence” rather than “premeditated”.
      Either way, OP should not need to work with this guy, especially since there are two other team members who can cover that particular team. It’s not like OP is the only one available for this task, and their safety and wellbeing should take priority over any slight perceived inconvenience.

      1. Pennyworth*

        If he was as obsessive as she reports, it could be unsafe for her to interact with him. He might interpret her hiring and presence in his office as some weird reciprocation – hey, she got herself a job in my company, and now she keeps turning up in my office, she must really like me.

    2. Beth*

      It sounds like he had the job before OP started hers, so (thankfully) the odds seem low that this was intentional on his part. If they haven’t interacted so far, hopefully he doesn’t even know she works there.

      But LW2, what you’re asking for here is absolutely a reasonable accommodation. Alison’s suggestion to work with your manager on this is a good one, since your manager sounds supportive. But your HR’s stance is very, very strange on this. “We have this on record, we’ll take action if it’s an issue” is fine and good for some things, but potentially reintroducing a stalker to their target is not one of those things; that’s a huge risk to your safety. Being asked to mediate with him would be no better, since encountering him at all IS the risk you’re trying to avoid. You refusing to interact with him in any way is extremely reasonable. The fact that there are already obvious alternatives in place makes it even weirder that HR isn’t willing to accommodate you on this.

      Is this refusal to respect your need for safety all from one HR person, or has that been a consistent response from HR as a whole? If one person, were they a higher-up person, or is there someone a level up from them that you could escalate to? I’d love to tell you to simply refuse to go to this team’s location; any reasonable manager or employer would accept that, under the circumstances. But if you can’t get anyone in your company to assure you of that, honestly, it might be better for your peace of mind to start keeping an eye out for other jobs you’d love as much as this one.

      1. MK*

        To be fair, it doesn’t sound as if they are refusing to accommodate the OP, more like they aren’t willing to make any promises. As in, you should coordinate with your manager to make sure you aren’t sent to work with this person, but we can’t guarantee it will never happen (I am guessing they are thinking of the possibility of the other support staff being unavailable and the team the harasser is with needing immediate help).

        1. LTL*

          The accommodation in question is OP never having to work with this man. By definition, HR has refused the accommodation.

        2. Beth*

          If HR is aware that we’re talking about harassment (and what sounds, from OP’s letter, like it could reasonably be considered stalking), frankly they have a duty to protect their employee’s safety that goes beyond concerns about coverage. They should be guaranteeing it will never happen, and putting plans in place for if a scenario comes up that will make that tricky. For example, what will they do if OP’s two coworkers are out and this team needs support, given that risking OP’s safety by re-exposing her to her stalker is unacceptable? They could designate another backup, they could make a plan for OP’s manager to step in in that scenario, they could allow support to continue remotely for that team in this scenario and insist that someone other than OP’s stalker be the liaison point—there are ways to handle this, with advance planning.

      2. LW 2*

        It’s a small HR department, and this came from the HR head. He also started before I did! I hadn’t lived in my hometown for several years, and COVID brought me back, so neither of us had any idea what the other was up to.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’m actually surprised that HR would want to expose their existing employee to something/someone so stressful to him.

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        I agree, the best they can hope for is that he deeply regrets his behavior towards LW and wouldn’t want to interact. So it would be a benefit to both parties to arrange for them not to have to deal with each other except under some extreme circumstance.

  13. nnn*

    Another option for #4 would be to speak positively about the work you’re doing now, especially aspects of the work that managers don’t do because they’re busy managing. Example: “I find working directly with llamas really gratifying, and managers just don’t get to do that.” You’re unlikely to be seen as disengaged if you’re actively enthusiastic about what you’re doing!

    1. LW4*

      I really like this idea. I am a positive person by nature, so this feels right for me. Beth mentioned something similar further down, and I think I am going to take this advice when it comes up again.

  14. Mellow Yellow*

    I want to believe that LW #5’s coworker is trying to make a political statement by stealing flowers from this government official’s home. That she’s upset by this politician’s policy or stance or something and has decided that stealthily picking their flowers will be her own secret petty revenge. And that she then gives the flowers to her coworkers to spread joy. Absent of any other explanation, this is what I’m choosing to believe, because I think it’s the most entertaining explanation available.

    1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      Hee Hee. On vacation in the capital city of another state, I walked by the governor’s mansion. A local was waiting for her dog to do its liquid business on the lawn. I wondered if that was her commentary on the job the governor was doing.

  15. Matt*

    #1: Oh yes, the old PTO vs. project problem. I know this so well, I’ve been a software developer for 20 years and about every other year it comes up as sure as hell. I try to plan my vacations around project schedules, project schedules get moved and suddenly the major go-live is scheduled exactly when I’ll going to be gone. And then I’m the bad guy who always “isn’t there when needed”. I’m sure every project worker can so relate to that …

    1. ceiswyn*

      There was a classic at my workplace a while back – everyone had obligingly scheduled their PTO for after the deadline. Which meant that when the deadline slipped by a week, it automatically slipped another three because nobody was around to work on it!

    2. Alice*

      I kept putting off my vacation because we were in the middle of a project. I eventually realized we were always going to be in the middle of a project because the deadlines keep shifting. Scheduled my time off, they suddenly needed me for something “urgent”, I turned off my phone and went on my vacation. Things ended up fine.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Amazing how that happens. No you can’t take PTO the project will fall apart without you. Well, then, I guess it wasn’t that great a project if it is so dependent on one person.

        I mean what if you won the lottery and said “I’m outta here.” Would they say you can’t quit because the project is not done. Well yes, they would. But they couldn’t FORCE you to continue to work there.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Exactly. Or, the more morbid analogy I’ve seen used, what if Critical Employee was hit by a truck? You can’t tell a truck, “please don’t hit me this week, I have a deadline, come back a week later”.

          1. Dave*

            I have had this discussion in my office many a time and they always seem to blow it off. Until their was a COVID outbreak in the office and we were in the hit by a truck situation due to severity of cases. Less then a week after employees were healthy nothing changed as far as having any back up plans documentation because, well we were already sick and survived so we are fine now. Taking PTO is always a PIA but I try to pick weeks that will be less terrible for me to return from and push back a lot when they try to make me work from vacation and keep it to a much as a minimum as possible. The best trips are truly where you have no reception or satellite only internet at a ridiculous rate.

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

          I mean what if you won the lottery and said “I’m outta here.” Would they say you can’t quit because the project is not done.

          I think I’ve mentioned this before on other questions, but I keep seeing people equate someone getting hit by the lottery bus and taking vacation in terms of impact on products etc.

          The fact is they aren’t the same though as they won’t have the same range of reasonable responses. If I quit because I won the lottery, or I’m in an accident and out sick for the foreseeable future, the company will immediately put into place contingency activity such as hiring a consultant/contractor to finish the project if it’s urgent enough, recruiting a replacement, communicating to the client that “Captain D, our key llama process analyst was hit by a bus on the way to work and unfortunately this means we won’t be able to meet the X deadline”, etc. The company wouldn’t (or I hope not!) go into those contingency plans such as hiring my replacement for me to be out on vacation..

          1. EPLawyer*

            But they SHOULD have short term contingency plans too. I mean what if you get the flu the week of the launch are out? Sure they won’t replace you, but they should know what to do.

            The point is — the company/product/ etc. should not completely unravel because someone GASP took a day off.

      2. Cat Tree*

        I’m on a message board for women going through fertility treatments, and this kind of thing comes up every now and then. Women sometimes consider delaying treatment so maternity leave doesn’t land at an inconvenient time. Usually I encourage them to proceed anyway. There will always be another project, plus there’s a biological time limit for most of us and fertility treatments are so unpredictable anyway.

        There are a few times when delaying makes sense. If someone just started a new job and leave doesn’t kick in until one year, or for very seasonal work like tax accountants where you’re avoiding a certain window rather than aiming for a window. But in general, we shouldn’t rearrange our entire lives about work projects, whether that’s taking vacations, growing our family, or moving to a better job opportunity.

    3. NotDaylightSavings*

      My company has a thing about daylight savings time… It is actually a big deal due to ‘reasons’ so I understand it. One year I went on vacation the week before DST and I came back to chaos… it would seem that our entire system flipped to DST a week early, again due to ‘reasons’. My boss at the time made a comment (mostly in jest) about a new rule that nobody could take PTO during DST. He didn’t appreciate when I laughed and said, “Well to be fair, I didn’t, you all decided to have it early and unexpectedly!”

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yep. On a lower scale, I learned it the hard way over the years that scheduling things like doctors’ appointments around important meetings and deadlines never works out, because the deadlines get moved, new and even more important meetings get scheduled, and I still end up looking like a slacker or non-team-player who’s trying to use a doctor’s appointment to skip out of a townhall. Might as well be upfront about it, lol.

    5. Allison*

      I’m not a software engineer – I work in talent acquisition – but I do remember having a week of vacation scheduled, and a day or two before that week, I get an email about a project the head of the department wants me to start work on ASAP. I panicked and called my manager (I was working from home), asking how I should handle it. He was like “you have a vacation booked, just tell them you’re not available next week and you’ll start this project when you get back.” Which I did, but I felt SO guilty about it!

      And this, friends, is why you tell everyone about your upcoming vacations! Not just your manager and the people you work closely with. You never know who might suddenly decide to put you on some last minute project. I had stayed mum about the trip because I wanted to avoid the inevitable “must be nice”‘s you get when you’re going on a big, fun trip. You know, the “OH, well, must be nice to just go to Vegas like that. I wish I could go to Vegas, but I have kids and a JOB that requires MY full attention. But you go. Have fun. Must be nice.”

      1. Mina The Company Prom Queen*

        Anyone who pulls that “must be nice” crap can go pound sand. It’s rude.

        1. Alice*

          A couple of my coworkers say “leaving early again? must be nice” to people who leave at 5pm. I’ve had to bite my tongue to stop myself from saying “yes it’s nice not to work unpaid overtime, you should try it too”.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            I always said “yup it is nice, you can do the same if you take the same pay cut as me to reflect the shorter hours”

  16. Observer*

    #2 – Talk to your manager, for sure. But also see if you can escalate in HR. Because unless there is significant miscommunication here, HR is taking a really odd stance. The fact that he was a minor at the time this all happened is really not relevant to the situation. You’re not asking them to impose a legal sentence on him. You are asking them to allow you to not work with ONE team because he is on that team. And he did something VERY bad to. Furthermore it actually did extend till he was an adult or sufficiently advanced to be considered an adult (otherwise he would not be going to college.)

    My point is that acting as though he was a minor (even if it were true) is relevant is just very, very odd. It makes it sound as though they think that they are somehow not allowed to consider anything a person does as a minor in dealing with employees. And that’s just not true.

    1. MK*

      Sometimes HR becomes enantangled with considerations that aren’t really relevant, often because they don’t understand the law. My guess is that the minor issue cropped up because they are concerned about being seen to impose penalties on an employee for something that happened not only before her was employed there and years in the past, but when he was underage (and since the OP talks about the harassment happening in highschool and stopping when he left for college, he was certainly a minor for the majority of it). And they aren’t wrong: an employment lawyer could have a party with a company firing or demoting an employee in good standing because a new hire accused him of harassment when they were in highschool (even assuming some part of the OP’s claims could be proven years after the fact).

      Of course that’s not what’s happening here, it’s not a issue of adversely influencing his career, and there is no issue with allowing the OP to not work with him. But my guess is that this is the kind of muddled thinking that’s behind HR’s response.

      1. Sue*

        I think you’re right and it needs to be reframed as accommodating OP as opposed to punishing the harasser.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        it’s not a issue of adversely influencing his career, and there is no issue with allowing the OP to not work with him.
        I wonder if this accomodation would complicate future promotion paths for either/both of them. Some companies want people to work at different locations for advancement.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Apparently I have not mastered the art of Patreon formatting–that first is supposed to be a block-quote.

        2. MK*

          I don’t know, it seems a bit iver the top to refuse to accommodate the OP now, because potentially in the future it might be an issue. It’s possible that neither the OP or this person will still be working for the company long enough for that to matter.

      3. Observer*

        And they aren’t wrong: an employment lawyer could have a party with a company firing or demoting an employee in good standing because a new hire accused him of harassment when they were in highschool (even assuming some part of the OP’s claims could be proven years after the fact).

        On what grounds could a lawyer sue? There is no legally protected category, nor is there any legally protected activity here.

        it’s not a issue of adversely influencing his career, and there is no issue with allowing the OP to not work with him

        This is what takes it from bad management to just bizarre. The idea that they cannot do anything at all, regardless of potential damage just makes no sense.

        1. MK*

          It depends on the jurisdiction, but firing could definitely be problematic for the company.

          Also, they aren’t actually refusing to do anything at all. They agreed that the OP can work with her manager to avoid interacting with him, they just aren’t willing to commit to it never happening.

          1. LW 2*

            Yeah, I definitely don’t want him to be fired!

            The issue is that my manager doesn’t make my schedule. We’re “free for all” for any team who needs us, and my manager just happened to be someone on one of those teams who had the desire/ability to manage the “free for alls” as well. But otherwise, she has no control/authority over my work and where I go.

            The next step, which she suggested, would be to talk to the manager of the team who supervises him and explain why I don’t want to work with him. I just feel loathe to do that because 1. This organization is INCREDIBLY gossipy, especially some managers, and I don’t know if I trust that. 2. He just got promoted and I don’t know how long I’m willing to stay here, so I hate to give his manager a bad view of him, especially if I end up leaving in a few months (depending on how this is handled).

            1. AnonEMoose*

              I don’t think you should worry about your former stalker’s welfare at all in this. What he did was more than “poor choices,” had a serious impact on you, and left you with valid concerns about your own safety if you are forced to interact with him.

              I wouldn’t suggest gossiping with anyone and everyone about this, either, not that I think for a moment that you would. But if your organization’s next step in this is to talk with his manager, than that’s what I think you should do; if the manager chooses to blab, that’s not on you.

              1. LW 2*

                In theory, I shouldn’t. But I know this wouldn’t have gotten as bad as it did if we weren’t under a certain church influence. We were both victims of fundamentalist/evangelical culture, and while he’s responsible for his actions, I can’t help placing more blame on church leadership for influencing him. I don’t know.

                I do think that he still sees himself as the victim in the whole situation, so I’m afraid that if his manager did talk, it would turn into a whole “he said she said” thing where I’d be forced to defend myself. And I would quit before being dragged into that.

                1. AnonEMoose*

                  Maybe ask yourself this: How many other guys were under that same church influence, and did not engage in actions similar to his?

                  Which is not to say that I don’t think church leadership doesn’t hold any culpability; that for sure can be a really toxic influence.

                  Whether or not he still sees himself as a victim is, to put it mildly, not your problem. Your problem is figuring out how best to protect yourself and your mental and emotional health; he long ago forfeited any claim to consideration from you.

                  But I hear you about the possibility of the manager talking and the “he said/she said” thing. And that complicates things, for sure. It’s really tough to navigate that line of sharing more than you really need to, and sharing enough that management/HR takes it seriously. Whatever happens, please know that I wish you the best, there’s no perfect way of handling this, and you did nothing wrong and it sucks that you are the one trying to figure all this out because of his inability to take “no” for an answer years ago.

                2. Observer*

                  I can’t help placing more blame on church leadership for influencing him. I don’t know.

                  Which is totally not relevant. Even by your own account his behavior was bad enough that people other than yourself saw that it was a problem. Whatever blame should be placed on the church leadership, the primary blame is HIS. He chose to behave in a certain way – even when other adults tried to get him to stop.

                  I get that you have good reason to be angry at your former church leadership. But why on earth are you giving him a pass?

                  I’m doubly puzzled because you said that he HAS DONE THIS TO ANOTHER WOMAN AT THIS EMPLOYER. At this point, it doesn’t even matter whose “fault” it is – he’s a menace.

                  so I’m afraid that if his manager did talk, it would turn into a whole “he said she said” thing where I’d be forced to defend myself. And I would quit before being dragged into that.

                  Ugh. That’s a tough one. I don’t blame you for not wanting to get into a public to do over this.

                3. Lizy*

                  What if you said to his manager “I’d really like to not get into it, but essentially there is some bad history between us, and I’d prefer not to work with AsshatOnYourTeam. I understand this may put you in a spot, and I apologize, but if we could make this work I would definitely owe you one.” Possibly in a meeting with your manager, as well, to provide support?

                  Also, FWIW, you speaking up may help others to come forward. It’s 100% not your responsibility, but I cringe to think of Asshat doing this with someone else, especially a subordinate, especially since you said he’s done it before at this company.

                  Also also, this wouldn’t have gotten as bad as it did IF HE WASN’T AN ASSHAT. He can be a victim of the church culture (which pisses me off on a whole nuther level), but that does not excuse him in any way, shape, or form.

                  Also also also, you don’t have to defend yourself. (Although I totally get the feeling behind it! I do it, myself.) “I’m not going to argue about this. Asshat was an asshat. The end.” Repeat as necessary.

                  I hope you find closure and peace. I’m sorry you went through this and that it continues to be an issue.

            2. Dave*

              Is there anyone that you have a rapport with in the organization that can give you a good read on his manager? I do think your best bet is to go on record with his manager in these circumstances especially given you previously mentioned he basically harassed someone else into quitting fairly recently. As hard as it will likely be try to be as deadpanned and matter of fact in your delivery as possible.

            3. Nadi*

              Your examples clearly illustrate the severity of abuse. Write down everything and send it to your HR: an example:

              We met to discuss the issue on x date and I became upset and so you simply do not have the information required. Then list everything that happened (forget about him, you don’t need to worry, he won’t lose his job). Anonymity is not an issue so list it all (Frankly your examples are horrific already)! Explain clearly that the abuse continued after he was a minor. After you’ve listed the extent of abuse hopefully they will be bound to do something.
              If he does anything I would immediately go for a restraining order.

            4. anonforthis*

              I am so sorry you are facing this. You are absolutely not being unreasonable, and I’m stunned by your HR department’s response. The smart thing for them to do would be to assure that you would not have to see/interact/work with him, as a risk mitigation measure. If something were to happen to you – harassment or physical harm in the work place – and they had previous knowledge about this risk, it is a significant liability to the company. As a next line of fire I would go back to HR and use clear language again about how this person threatened your physical safety (e.g. that he has grabbed you before, any threats, etc.) and because of the extent (intensity and long time period) of his harassment you would deem any contact with him to be unsafe. Please put this in writing, and then document that your manager has asked you to talk to his manager and explain his actions towards you, and that this is not possible, and therefore you need to see them making these arrangements. If you state facts about how he has threatened you before, emphasizing physical risks to your safety (threats, unwanted physical contact, etc.) and how long this went on you don’t have to get into all details of this horrible situation. Age is irrelevant. If he did something similar to another woman, you flagging this to HR again could really prevent him from doing it again to someone else. It sounds like you know your bottom line – that you will not work with him and are willing to resign if needed (I am so sorry). HR needs to think about what could happen if he resumes any of this behavior. That means having employees interviewed by the police, it means enforcing an order of protection, it may mean a lawsuit since they were aware of this behavior towards you prior and refused to act, etc. It’s unbelievable to me that they are taking a “wait and see” approach here.

          2. Observer*

            It depends on the jurisdiction, but firing could definitely be problematic for the company.

            Why? Companies are free to fire anyone they please for any reason they please as long as it is not for membership in a protected class, for engaging in certain legally protected activities or as retaliation for things like filing a civil rights complaint.

            lso, they aren’t actually refusing to do anything at all. They agreed that the OP can work with her manager to avoid interacting with him, they just aren’t willing to commit to it never happening.

            Nice of them to “let” a manager work with someone on their schedule. But that IS refusing to do what they need to do, which is to allow the OP to not interact with this guy.

      4. pancakes*

        Being concerned about that doesn’t excuse handling the situation this badly. The solution to an HR person knowing they don’t know their legal obligations or the relevant legal issues is to consult with someone who does, not take it upon themselves to guess.

      5. LTL*

        an employment lawyer could have a party with a company firing or demoting an employee in good standing because a new hire accused him of harassment when they were in highschool

        On what grounds? In the US, companies can fire employees for any reason they like unless we’re dealing with a protected class or some sort of disability accommodation.

  17. Beth*

    LW4: I think your best path here will be to talk up the things you love about your current role that wouldn’t be part of your role anymore if you got promoted. Managers often have a very different job than non-managers, and framing it as “I really like doing X and being part of Y, so it’s important to me to stay in a role where I’ll keep getting to spend the bulk of my time on them!” is an easy way to explain why you aren’t seeking a change like that.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I did this semi recently, as there was a lead opening at my job and everyone on my shift thought I’d be perfect for it. I just talked about how much I loved my part-time hours, how great they were for my kids, how much I loved being able to take transit. And that was the end of you have to apply for this promotion.

  18. Beth*

    LW1: Ignore the guilt trips and put in requests to use your PTO whenever you want. If this manager continues to challenge you on that, have a serious conversation, as if she really might think you’re misusing PTO: “It seems like there might be a misunderstanding about my PTO use, so I want to be clear so there’s no more confusion between us. I’m using approved PTO that’s part of my compensation package. I do still have remaining PTO at this point, even with my approved trip in September taken into account. As you know, I do try to use it at times that are convenient for our work, but I do plan to use all of it eventually; you should expect to get more requests from me for the occasional day off. Is there anything else we need to discuss in this regard? Cool, I’m glad we’re on the same page.”

    Also, stop offering to reschedule your trips just because your work rescheduled projects. Just remind your boss, when you find out the new release date that conflicts with your approved leave, that you have a trip planned that week. They can ask you to change it if they really see your personal presence as necessary for success; possibly they can offer you other benefits in return for adjusting your plans for them (additional PTO?). But if you’re not crucial enough for them to have checked in with you when scheduling, you’re probably not crucial enough to warrant proactively readjusting your personal life for their scheduling change.

    1. Allonge*

      Also: take long weekends! Normalise, to yourself and everyone that PTO is to be used.
      Maybe the boss will even notice the sky did not fall down (maybe I am a hopeless optimist).

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Is Negative Boss just throwing negative comments around, or is she refusing to approve the PTO?

        1. Yorick*

          Just throwing negative comments around. The PTO is approved. But she seems to be unofficially discouraging OP from taking any more, saying she’s used her PTO up even though the planned trip is only half.

    2. Alex*

      This is also important – just because they rescheduled a deliverable does not mean you need to reschedule your whole life.

      I am glad that I have reasonable bosses, and on many occassion, them mentioning “we’re moving this to xyz” in a project progress meeting led to “we might want to revise that, x & y are out on PTO in that week” and the bosses then rescheduling the deliverable again to fit that deadline (sometimes it meant moving it up to before the PTO, adding a bit of stress, but from the whole team, sometimes it just got moved back by another week or two if the impact to other dependants wasn’t too high) – this has led to a pretty good culture where people also tend to be engaged in what they do while still feeling accommodated.

    3. ten four*

      Hard agree with this. “Don’t take PTO” is not a reasonable ask. There will always be something. I manage, and I have to schedule around PTO all the time. Is it a hassle sometimes? Yes! Would I prefer to handle the minor hassles or to lose excellent team members because they’ve burned themselves out? PTO hassles all the way.

      I actually just strong-armed one of my best PMs to take a week off and we didn’t wait for her to be unscheduled, because that will literally never happen. It’s completely unreasonable to expect people to move PTO based on work that wasn’t even signed when they booked their trip!

      1. Must love owls*

        I say similar things to my boss about the people I manage. I prefer that they take time off. We can check how well our cross training and backup procedures work for a short period of time that is planned in advance. Then we are all ready for the unplanned emergencies.

        My boss used to joke about it until I asked about the concerns they had. We went over the plan and the written guidance for emergencies. Alison’s scripts are excellent.

  19. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    LW5 – Just curious, not accusing, but I’m intrigued — how did you happen to be around in the middle of the night when your coworker was pilfering flowers? Also curious about why coworker was out and about at that time.

    I agree with your concern, btw. I was absolutely horrified at the actions of a friend the time she and I stumbled upon a community garden in an older, out-of-the-way residential area of our city. It was delightful all the different ways the gardeners had used their small bits of land to create such a varied urban oasis. HOWEVER, these were their gardens and while it was OK to stroll thru, there were signs informing visitors not to touch the plants. My friend proceeded to help herself to some fragrant flowers and when I protested and pointed out the signs, she blew me off with an attitude of “It’s OK because it’s me.”

    1. Cymru*

      Why does it matter what the letter writer was doing? They weren’t the ones disturbing others’ property.

      1. A Person*

        No kidding. Plus, “middle of the night” is a very evocative phrase but it can mean very different things to different people.

  20. Niii-i*

    This, second time.
    They have all the cards in their hand since they could have officially declined your request. You should not have to deal with those guilt trips on top of that, so you should just ignore that. And I think Alison’s suggestion (“could you explain your concern?”) is spot on for that, I personally use that tactic very succesfully.

  21. Andy*

    LW #2 The only real solution for these is to keep talking to manager. It is management who assigns work and decides who is going to do what. HR is able to keep legalities in order, but unless they have strong reason to fire him, there is nothing they will do for you.

    1. LW 2*

      I put this in another comment, but it’s relevant here too:

      The issue is that my manager doesn’t make my schedule. We’re “free for all” for any team who needs us, and my manager just happened to be someone on one of those teams who had the desire/ability to manage the “free for alls” as well. But otherwise, she has no control/authority over my work and where I go.

      The next step, which she suggested, would be to talk to the manager of the team who supervises him and explain why I don’t want to work with him. I just feel loathe to do that because 1. This organization is INCREDIBLY gossipy, especially some managers, and I don’t know if I trust that. 2. He just got promoted and I don’t know how long I’m willing to stay here, so I hate to give his manager a bad view of him, especially if I end up leaving in a few months (depending on how this is handled).

      1. LTL*

        so I hate to give his manager a bad view of him

        A bad view of him may be the only thing that allows the next woman who comes forward to be believed, rather than shunned.

        It’s not your responsibility to come forward. It’s not your job to protect anyone here. You need to do what is best for you. But if this isn’t about self care and is instead about protecting him, I implore you to consider that protecting him actively harms other people.

        1. LTL*

          Just FYI, I read the comments above and I just wanted to acknowledge that this one was very poorly worded as well which is completely on me.

  22. McThrill*

    LW#4: I faced a similar medical situation in 2007. I received a diagnosis that meant even with life-long medication, I’d still be facing potential unpredictable symptoms including possible loss of vision, forgetfulness, constant pain, trouble walking, trouble writing/drawing, and loss of dexterity. You may or may not be facing the same diagnosis I had, but whatever it is I feel for you. The first few months are the toughest as you come to terms with what it means for your life.

    My advice, as someone who lived through the same thing: If you would normally take the manager position without this diagnosis looming, then take it! If you still wouldn’t want to, then don’t! If you need time to process your new medical condition without the extra pressure of moving to higher responsibility but would be open to it later on, that’s also OK! But just make sure that you’re basing your decisions on actual long-term needs as opposed to *fear* of what you might need. You seem like you’re thinking clearly in this regard, just don’t preemptively turn down things that you’d want to do based on problems that haven’t shown up yet – you haven’t lost vision or had trouble walking yet, and time is precious.

    1. LW4*

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I also have very little interest in management, so as far as my professional goals go, I am still doing ok. I just worry about how I am perceived (maybe too much).

      1. McThrill*

        Getting a diagnosis like that is life-changing and it definitely changes how you consider things. Just make sure you take a bit of time to calibrate yourself to your new normal. Once you figure out what that is it makes it easier to base other decisions in relation to that.

  23. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Re: #1

    The Boss’ plan is probably…

    January: “Use of PTO denied.”

    April: “Use of PTO denied.”

    September: “Use of PTO denied.”

    December 31: “Your PTO is forfeited. That’s your own fault for not using it.”

    1. Rez123*

      Or do like my bf’s former boss. He would come and tell him “Tomorrow you could use your PTO” on a random thursday when he has made no pland. He would make it difficult to pre-book and then pat himseld on the back how good he is for going out of his way to suggest PTO

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Or like my former manager – deny any PTO request that is submitted more than a month out because “I need to know what projects we will have before I can approve PTO requests.”

        I’m happy that my current manager believes that six months heads up allows her to rearrange enough to allow her team to plan out PTO.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I almost spit my coffee out–complaining that an employee gave the manager too much time to prepare for their absence?!

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Yup. It was one of her many less than wonderful management qualities. Fortunately she is a former manager, and the current one is much better.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I was coming here to comment that this at least is one advantage of “use it or lose it” PTO policies. I’ve never seen a manager with enough testicular fortitude to say no to a “I need to use this PTO this month, or else I’ll lose it”. It is always an argument that trumps everything else in my experience.

    3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      This is why I see expiring PTO and no PTO as a distinction without a difference.

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

      Had a similar one myself, years ago now (I’d have handled it differently these days):

      Request various time off – turned down due to business reasons – projects etc.
      After a few rounds of this I ask boss nicely “ok, I’m flexible about when it is but I do need to take it, so can you suggest some times that work instead?” – response: uhhh yeah, I dunno, urr I can’t really commit to that as we don’t know what the future schedule looks like really.
      I ask HR whether their policy of not allowing carry over or payment in lieu can be waived in these circumstances, they say yes.

      End of the year – I request to boss, boss’s boss and HR for the 10 unused days to be carried forward or paid out. Request denied as the big bosses response was “in my view, Captain D could have taken the time and it wasn’t due to business needs”.

  24. Parasaurolophus*

    For LW2, I wonder if this would fall under the right to refuse unsafe work? I’m not that familiar with employment laws, but it’s another tactic to think about.

    1. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      Having recently explored the Right to Refuse, it would be very hard to demonstrate this, depending on the state or province you work in.

      The unspoken default about that right is about machinery or chemicals. This does not apply.

      OHCOW in Ontario does believe that overwork and pyschosocial issues should be a valid reason to support the Right to Refuse but is much harder to demonstrate and recommends worker action until the laws/attitudes about work stress and mental health catch up.

      The right to refuse also involves more than just a “no.” There are steps to follow and it can easily get extra people involved.

      A rough example could be like this: Mary is called to work where Harasser is. She refuses. They send someone else. Now let’s assume there is no one else that day because Suzie and Tammy are unavailable. Mary refuses again despite her supervisor declaring it’s safe. In Ontario this would now result in a certified member of the JSCH team to come and assess the situation and could involve the Ministry of Labour coming in also to assess the situation.

      I’m not sure how everyone would handle it at that point.

      (Feel free to step in and point out where I’m wrong. I’m no expert and it will vary by jurisdiction. But I did look this up because it was floated we could use the Right to Refuse to turn down overtime requests and I pointed out that if it got to Step 2 of work refusal of (in our case) office workers working overtime from home, there was no way that I, as a JHSC certified worker, was going to hop in a car to drive to your house to determine if the overtime was dangerous to you or not.

      FOR SURE, if you’re doing so much overtime that you’re on the point of losing it is a dangerous thing! But I’d like to think that there were would be warning signs before that. And I’m not sure that the rep of the Ministry of Labour or a JHSC is trained to spot that kind of distress.)

    2. SunnyGirl*

      Having looked into this recently for a different matter, this would be hard to demonstrate, keeping in mind how each state or province handles this right.

      While the employee can give a “feeling” that the work is unsafe, if the supervisor determines it is (because the ex-harasser is not harassing anyone at the time of the work), you’re then stuck.

      If it goes to Step 2 refusal, in my province this now involves the Ministry of Labour and the certified JHSC member, who might not be trained in these kinds of work refusals (vs. bad machinery or dangerous chemicals without PPE).

  25. Laure*

    The flowers anecdote is just…strange, and if you have more info one day, LW, please tell us! It’s such a weird thing to do. Not that bad of course, obviously it was wrong but there are many worse sins, but taking them in a public park and offering them to others? Is it the pleasure of the transgression? The thrill of “they don’t know where I got them, mwa ha ha ha ha”? It’s so fascinating.

    1. Heidi*

      This story is hilarious because the whole theft is so completely unnecessary. I would be sorely tempted to ask, “Oh, what nice flowers! Where did you get them?” and see what the coworker says. She might be very forthcoming about it.

  26. No Tribble At All*

    OP#5: it’s a lovely day at the gardens, and your coworker is a horrible goose.

    (Reference: Untitled Goose Game, a game where you are a horrible goose whose goal is to cause mischief to the local townsfolk, including digging up and stealing some flowers)

  27. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP#3, please don’t make the mistake of thinking that being a manager means you must ‘manage’ everything single thing your team does, be a part of every situation, or design every solution. If you inherited a solid team with several years of experience, sometimes the best thing to do is support them. Yes, you should be informed of the big, messy things but, again, being a manager means that you learn to distinguish those things from the normal business noise that your team deals with.

    Since you’re early in your manager career, I’d like to suggest a great book by Robert Greenleaf. ‘Servant Leadership: A Journey Into The Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness’ was life-altering for me, and for many great leaders I know. There’s a difference between managing and leading, and knowing when to lead or manage will serve you well.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      Oy my goodness yes, spot on comment.

      LW3 needs to embrace the team she has and let them get on with it. I always tell my team, that my job is to support them, make sure they have what they need, and help them when they need me. Other than that my job is to stay out of their way and let them get to it.

      That’s not to say that employees that need more direct supervision don’t get it when they need it, but the goal is to get them to a place of autonomy.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        You sound like one of the best grandbosses I ever had. He said his job was to minimize distractions for the team and to have our backs. We knew what we needed to do, and he let us do it. We didn’t keep him in the dark, but didn’t run every single solution by him, either.

    2. Anonymous Hippo*

      As a fairly new manager myself, a lot of being a manager is getting use to not doing things. You’re like a facilitator.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        This is true, and generally one of the hardest things about transitioning to management.

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

      Somewhere out there is a possible letter from the other side of this question (from the guy who presented the solution), along the lines of:

      Dear AAM, I’m a senior llama wrangler with 15 years experience at this company and 20 years camelid experience overall, including working autonomously at a senior level. A couple of months ago we got a new manager who not only has significantly less llama experience than the rest of us but this is also their first management position. She hasn’t said anything directly but I felt like she was uncomfortable that I brought up a way forward with the “hair tangling” issue without running it past her first. How can I deal constructively with this loss of autonomy?

  28. AthenaC*

    LW1: Alison’s advice is good. That sort of behavior for a manager is not okay, and hopefully if you call her on it politely, you’ll get it to stop.

    The larger issue (beyond this company) is that what’s happening in a lot of professional service firms is that people above a certain level (usually managers and above) are having a really hard time being able to take PTO because of shifting regulatory requirements, client needs, staff needs, and just everything. Your manager also has PTO as part of her compensation package, and if she’s not really able to take it, that may be a bit of jealousy leaking out at you over it.

    But as I said above, the behavior is not okay and she needs to be told, “Hey, I see what you’re doing and it’s not okay.”

    1. EPLawyer*

      if the manager can’t take her own PTO, she needs to resolve that herself, not take it out on LW. My bet manager is one of those people who think if you aren’t working every second you aren’t a good employee. It’s the hustle culture. You gotta push, push, push. If you don’t you are a failure.

      1. AthenaC*

        As I said, the behavior is not okay.

        “My bet manager is one of those people who think if you aren’t working every second you aren’t a good employee.”

        The other possibility, which I am seeing in my own firm, is that the people at LW1’s level are getting to take their PTO, while the managers and above are just quietly stepping in and cleaning up the messes. I’m starting to really see the strain on the people above me (who are nothing but kind), but there just isn’t anything to be done about it at the moment, because all the needs and requirements are constantly changing.

  29. Lacey*

    LW 3: If your people are used to handling problems on their own and just letting the manager know about the situation, don’t insist they have to run all the problems by you first and get your approval on obvious solutions. That’s a really demoralizing way to work.

    Plus, they may be helping you by not overwhelming you with all the things right when you’re starting. Like, you might want to change how things work later, but you’re new, it’s always been done this way, this way is effective, why bother you with it until you know what’s up more?

    I’ve done that for a new manager. She was young, she was brand new to the company. She didn’t even know the project existed, much less everything we needed for it. I just got everything ready and when her boss finally got her up to speed on the project she didn’t have to panic, it was on track. It was a kindness, not trying to undermine her and she saw it as intended.

  30. NotGoneGirl*

    OP4 — is stepping down from being a manager an option at your company? At my company, I know a few people who tried out management, decided it wasn’t for them and went back to their previous role (or something similar — not privy to salary details, etc). It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen (and I perceive these people did well afterwards, not pushed out or punished that I know of). Honestly, it was handy when one of my former manager coworkers could give us some “manager-y” insight on things we found frustrating.

    1. LW4*

      I’m sure it would technically be an option, but not practically. It has not been done. There are opportunities to eventually move into different roles at higher levels that are less stressful than management, but the commute would be much worse because it would be in a corporate location.

  31. learnedthehardway*

    LW4 – It’s perfectly legitimate to tell people that you really enjoy being the person who executes the work, rather than the person who manages people.

    I just had that conversation with one of my clients – they wanted me to take on leading their internal team. It’s not a job I want to do, (and frankly, wasn’t set up to be successful, the way they wanted to do it). I told them that I was focused on doing the work, not managing people, and that it just wasn’t a good fit for my interests right now.

  32. Lawyer But Not That Kind of Lawyer*

    LW2. It sounds like this experience, understandably, left you with some PTSD. You do not want to be triggered at work by seeing him. It does not matter that he was a minor, that you were a minor, it matters that the effects it left with you are real. You are not asking for him to be penalized or to be disciplined, you are asking to not have to revisit the trauma and to be triggered at work by unnecessarily seeing him when other options are available. This is a reasonable medical accommodation that work should be able to make for you. Good luck.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      I really like this. LW2, I hope your employer will work with you on this to make sure you don’t have to be around this guy.

      This next is admittedly a bit of a tangent, but I think worth saying: I really, really HATE the way that behavior that would be considered a crime, even a felony, if it took place between adults is dismissed as “kid stuff/high school drama” if it takes place between kids or teenagers. Not that I think we should be putting elementary school kids in prison, but there has to be a way to impose realistic consequences for things that would be considered assault, harassment, stalking, etc., if they happened between adults. I do know that kids, and teenagers, are still learning and don’t have the judgement or understanding of consequences yet…but it seems to me like they should be taught “this is not ok, and you need to not do it again, ever, to anyone.”

      I have to wonder if that is informing HR’s attitude on this to some extent: “But this was high school, why isn’t she over it by now…?” So I do think the LW might benefit from framing this by using words like “harassment,” “stalking,” and “threatening.” And I am not even remotely a lawyer, but if he physically dragged her away from her friends, wouldn’t that be some kind of illegal action? It might be worth asking a lawyer if that would be considered some kind of assault or something, maybe.

      I wish you the best, LW2, and I hope things work out for you so you don’t have to deal with this guy ever again!

      1. LW 2*

        Ugh yes!! Your tangent is exactly on point. It’s like no, I don’t believe that teenagers who make mistakes deserve lifelong consequences, but we have to live with lifelong ramifications of their actions. And all they get is “well, they’re still learning.” Annoying, but what can you do.

        I definitely should have and could have gotten the police involved, but my church discouraged it and I listened. Never thought there’d be a global pandemic bringing me right back to my hometown to the same place this guy was working, but here we are!

        1. AthenaC*

          I’m so sorry – it’s so frustrating that so many people place their trust in the institutions that are supposed to be looking out for them, only to be essentially betrayed and re-traumatized.

          Nothing will fix what happened to you and others, but PSA for everyone else in the future: if ANY ORGANIZATION tells you not to go to the police as a victim of assault, they do NOT have your best interests at heart and can be safely ignored.

          Again – I’m sorry this happened to you.

    2. LW 2*

      I don’t know. I’ve wondered, but I don’t know if my feelings about it quite rises to the level of PTSD, and unfortunately they don’t pay me enough for me to afford a therapist! haha. I guess if nothing is done about it, that might be my next step.

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

        Going off of Alison’s interview last week, does your company provide an EAP? something to look into. You might even be able to talk with someone who can give you legal info.

        1. LW 2*

          They do, actually! Will probably be my next step if they don’t take any official accommodation/I don’t leave.

  33. CupcakeCounter*

    One way to approach this is to hold a 1:1 meeting with this report and explain to him that you want to be kept in the loop on decisions like this – not because you don’t trust his judgement but because you are new in the role and would like to know his process. Frame is as a combination of mutual trust and learning so your department thrives.

  34. Mr. Cajun2core*

    3. Employee announced a solution without checking with me

    Please, please follow Alison’s advice on this one. Being that experienced and having a manager second guess you is very demoralizing. It will possibly result in your employee shutting down, being afraid to make any decision, and bugging you about the most trivial thing. I may also lead to you losing a possibly very valuable employee.

    I am speaking from first hand experience as the employee.

  35. Allison*

    #1 It just baffles me that a manager would approve a PTO request, and then give the employee a hard time for taking that time off. Like, what is going on here? Are they a “guesser” – someone who feels obligated to say yes all the time, but resents the people for even asking? Did she approve for morale reasons, but is actually not okay with this employee taking PTO, or taking that much PTO, or taking PTO at that time, and just wants her to feel bad about it? In any case, this feels like a crappy mind game. Either it’s fine to take PTO, or you have some pressing reason why it isn’t, and you tell them.

    Also, if this manager just has a problem with people taking PTO in general, and is hoping people forfeit that benefit for the sake of the team, they’re either on their way to a bad attrition problem, or eventually everyone’s performance is going to tank because they’re all severely burnt out.

  36. Phony Genius*

    On #1, the the writer says they realized that they “never entered the PTO request.” How far in advance are you expected to schedule PTO in this company? The trip was more than 6 months away. If the timing is the issue here, that’s a long lead time requirement in my experience. (Unless the trip was going to be more than a month long. Then, I’ve heard of needing up to a year in advance.)

  37. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    LW 2 I hope your manager develops a strong policy of all calls/requests for team x will be answered by the other 2 employees. I once started a part time retail job an in the onboarding learned that an abusive relative I hadn’t spoken to in years worked for them in another department. (HR noticed the last names.) Our hours were completely different and no department overlap. I told the hiring manager that I was fine if they came thru my line I’d treat them with the same professionalism as any other customer. But, that if he tried to use my position to force contact with me, try to abuse me, or used his position to try to get my private info (phone# address etc) that I would hit him with a restraining order and expect the store to full fill their legal duties to protect me from harassment. Luckily he never tried to do anything and I never had to see him. Shift leaders did give out my phone # to coworkers I did not know who were trying to find someone to cover their shift. (blowing up my phone at full time day job) I went to them and the head management reminding them that I was not ok with my phone # being given out to non management with out my permission especially since there was someone who had previously abused me working there. As it was a part time second job I had power to push back. They flat out got told if they continued to give my phone #’s to strangers I would just change said # and not update my new # to the company.

  38. dan*

    If I were the harassment victim’s manager, I’d be seeing if there’s a way to fire this guy. That kind of behavior, for lack of a better term, should follow him for the rest of his life. I wouldn’t blame this woman if she were deeply uncomfortable with him working for the same company, even without any direct contact. Firing would show that the company cares about it’s employees, and that it has a truly zero tolerance for these kinds of actions.

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

      Doesnt sound like the OP’s manager has that authority. They aren’t on the same team.

  39. RC Rascal*

    LW#2–it might be worth it to consult with an employment attorney in order to learn your rights in this situation. Knowing your rights and your employers legal obligations may make you feel better about working in this situation.
    Also, an attorney might be able to give you some specific language to use when you speak to HR. Sometimes using correct language can make a difference.

    I have seen HR departments really blow it when it comes to matters related to employment law/harassment. Any employment attorneys on the board may be able to fill in with more wisdom.

  40. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    A question about the comments: When I tried to add a comment about a letter that I’d just read a couple of minutes before, I got the message that my comment duplicated one that I’d already written and therefore would not be posted. Since I’d never written a comment on that letter before, I was (and am) puzzled…this is the second time this has happened. Ideas, anyone?

    1. pancakes*

      I haven’t had that happen, but try clearing the cache and cookies from your browser if it keeps happening.

    2. Colette*

      I’ve had that happen – it usually means the comment posted but the feedback to you that it posted got lost, or that it registered that you clicked the submit button twice. If you refresh the page, it’ll probably be there.

  41. anonymous MS patient*

    Hey, LW4 — I am incredibly sympathetic and I strongly suspect we are dealing with a similar diagnosis, or possibly even the same one. (I got my diagnosis in 2018, after a major vision problem.) It’s scary as hell when it happens and I know how big all those feelings can be.

    It’s cool not to want a promotion, for any reason, and absolutely don’t take one you don’t want. But also as someone in this chronic, potentially-someday-terminal boat — don’t give up BEFORE something makes you. :) Unpredictable disease is just that — unpredictable — but you’ve still got a life to live and I hope it’s an awesome one.

    1. LW4*

      Thank you so much for sharing. Yes, you are right in saying that we are dealing with incredibly similar diagnoses.

      I didn’t really want to be a manager before the diagnosis, but I think having people constantly ask me about if I want a promotion or leaning on me in that way just keeps reminding me that things are going to go downhill instead of uphill for me now. I know this isn’t fully true, and I know that I have wonderful days ahead of me. Part of me is very, very nervous about not being as reliable and capable as I am now.

      Thank you for your kind words.

  42. This is why I left consulting*

    LW1 – Long hours and difficulty taking time off is a common problem in these project-based jobs. Have a frank conversation with your manager. You need to be able to use your PTO and also need to get your hours down to something more reasonable. If you consistently work 50+hrs a week, you should be able to off early sometimes without being docked PTO.

    If talking to your manager doesn’t help, reach out to your HR or People team for advice. When I was at a company like this, we had to talk to the People team to stress the importance not just of getting approval for PTO, but to feel like you *can* take time off. Looping in the people team helped expose trends on which managers and clients were overworking the teams, since this project based environment doesn’t have the same visibility.

    If this seems to be a widespread issue with your team or company – does your company have a suggestion box? Mine had an anonymous slack channel called “Ask LlamaCorp Anything”, so sometimes for wider issues one person submit feedback about not being able to take PTO, then the company would respond with “talk to HR”, followed half a dozen people reaching out so that you still got to be anonymous while exposing the bigger issue.

  43. whataworld*


    For some reason, you don’t want to assign the entire blame for this guy’s behaviour to him – you feel compassion, you understand the nuanced circumstances, etc. etc. I also come from an evangelical background, and I know how toxic and horrible that environment can be for everyone.

    I also get that you don’t want to mess up his life – whether it’s because you hope that he’s changed, or because you assign it to a teenage mistake – but to be honest, you’re doing his manager a disservice if you don’t ask for your accommodation. This is for a couple reasons:
    1. It doesn’t sound like his behaviour has changed much. You say that he has already driven another woman out of the company, and that it was similar to how he harassed you. It also sounds like his manager doesn’t know about it, which is HORRIBLE for whoever comes next that he decides to fixate on.
    2. You say you don’t want to give his manager a bad view of him, but I think that’s not quite right. You are giving an accurate view of what happened in the past. If you want, you can preface this with “I’m sure he’s not like this now, and this happened when we were teenagers, but it had a huge effect on my life” in order to soften it, but again, given his current behaviour, I don’t think you need to do that. He is still going.
    3. His manager needs this information in order to be an effective manager. You don’t have to tell him about the other case of harassment, but if his manager knows that he has done it in the past, he may be more on the lookout for signs of harassment in the future.
    4. You are not asking anything unreasonable. You are not penalizing this man. You are giving the company information that they need to manage their employees effectively. Reframing it in this way may help you take the action you need.

    You can do the soft “it goes without saying of course, but I don’t necessarily want this to get around, I want to protect both our reputations” yada yada yada to help with the gossip you’re concerned about. It covers your butt and may remind the manager not to spread it around. Sometimes if you frame positive behaviour as a completely reasonable “of course you’ll do this request, how silly of me to ask it, but I feel I have to cover all my bases,” then people will rise to the occasion.

    Is it reasonable for a teenage mistake to affect someone for the rest of their life? Maybe, maybe not – I’m not aware of the entire circumstances surrounding this, so I can’t judge that, and I especially can’t judge that for you. But his teenage mistake is now affecting your life in the present, not just the past, and you have just as much of a right to happiness, safety, and this job as he does. If what you say the the manager is as neutral and fact-based as possible, you are not behaving in a biased way (although you are ABSOLUTELY ALLOWED TO BE BIASED AND MAD – but it sounds like that’s not what you want for yourself, and I get it). You are only advocating for what you need to perform your job well, and you have a right to that.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      I would go a step further, in a way. LW2, what if you decided that it’s not your job to assign blame/responsibility for his actions? It’s not your job, not your responsibility, to decide that 50% of the blame belongs to him, and 30% is because of the church stuff, and 20% is society as a whole? Or whatever. I’m sure those things did influence him, as they have many others, but it’s not an excuse or a reason to not take action to protect yourself.

      Quick story time: When I was in high school, one of my mother’s friends had a son who was close to my age. He wasn’t a terrible person, but to say he was socially awkward is an understatement. And he had a big crush on me. But here’s the key: he never said things that made me uncomfortable or unsafe being around him (we didn’t attend the same school, but I did go to their house with mom once in awhile, etc.). He did talk with his mother about inviting me to his prom…his mom talked to my mother, who talked to me, and while I think my mom thought it would have been a nice gesture for me to go with him, my “no” was respected, by him and by the parents. Now, if someone who struggled with social skills could manage that, surely this guy could have done better with you?

      What is your job is to look out for your own welfare, your own mental health, and your own recovery from the trauma caused by his actions. For your purposes, the motivations just don’t matter; they’re irrelevant. You’re not out to “ruin his life,” or “torpedo his career,” or “ruin his reputation.” If he ends up with any of those things, that’s due to his own choices and actions.

      When exposing an abuser/harasser, it is 100% Misogynist Tactic #1 to “appeal to her” to “be compassionate” and “be understanding” and “not ruin his life.” And really, it’s about silencing her and getting her to absorb the discomfort and so on. And you don’t have to do that. Please do what you need to in order to protect yourself; you are worth it, I promise you.

      1. LW 2*

        This is true and definitely something I know and keep reminding myself of! I don’t plan on backing down from this. If they refuse to give me official accommodations then I will leave. I have a good offer lined up in another state that is not in my field but an option that I will take if necessary. Just wanted to make sure that this wasn’t an unreasonable boundary to take for something that happened in high school–and it seems that the consensus is that it is not.

    2. LW 2*

      I’m not really sure where people keep getting that he drove this other woman out. She did leave, but it wasn’t because of him, she got a dream job. She was incessantly asked out by him, she got firm, he stopped, he eventually transferred teams for another opportunity. A year later, she got her dream job and left. We just happened to figure out that this dude broached her boundaries through another conversation.

      The “giving him an accurate view” thing is true. I’ll admit that I do feel pressure not to tank his career because that’s what “good victims” do–but I’m in a red state. I need to tread carefully. I don’t have the luxury of going all in and accusing him because people here don’t think like that. If I push too hard then I’ll become the conniving witch trying to ruin this guy’s career. Yeah, between you and (the internet) I wish this guy would burn in hell and that i could personally pull the lever to drop him in there, but I can’t afford to go in like that as many people here seem to think I should. Being neutral in this situation here means being biased, and as much as I dislike it, I need to play “pleasant victim.”

      Thanks for the advice :)

      1. pancakes*

        Whether it can be said that he drove her out or not isn’t quite the right question for anyone to bother with in this context. The more relevant question is, does this guy still harass people? Clearly he does. He has a recent victim. Whether she stayed put or moved on, for any other reason or no particular reason, he harassed her.

      2. Aggretsuko*

        To be fair, she was looking for other work….presumably to get away from him. I’m glad he stopped asking eventually, but he sounds like he’s still not behaving appropriately all the time anyway.

        But yeah, I get not wanting to “tank his career” in a red state. That would probably be very hard to do anyway though.

      3. whataworld*

        Ahhhhh, my mistake. I thought I read that she was driven out in the original letter, but it must have been an impression I got from a comment. I’m glad that it worked out well for her!

        That is definitely a tricky line to ride, and not something I can offer advice on. Good luck! It sounds like you know exactly who you’re dealing with.

  44. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #1 – oh yeah, the issue of planned vacations comes up rather often in the IS/IT world. Let me give you three examples —

    a) One March/April, my wife and I decided to bring our (then) 9-year old daughter on a vacation to Britain. It was all approved by management. To get the best rates, you have to book early and I purchased three RT tickets from Boston to Gatwick/London for, I think $1600 or so. One other guy on the staff, the “prized one”, was supposed to learn my job enough to back me up. He ducked out of any sessions we had planned.

    So, comes our meeting at the front end of July (the trip was the last 2 weeks of the month). I then get called into the office = “Given this crisis, we’d like you to postpone your vacation.”

    “WHY?” I asked, “this crisis you speak about, it’s a created one, not a real one.”
    Manager = “Well, you know…” (now that’s an answer!)

    I said if you want to negotiate we MIGHT be able to, but it’s going to be tough. By that time I had already shelled out for non-refundable hotel reservations, a rental car, and the plane flights – NONE ARE REFUNDABLE. I did not take any “Grandma may get sick insurance”… so I was stuck — so these were the terms –

    – it’s going to cost you an extra week
    – we’re going to have to take the three weeks in August before school restarts.
    – I want reimbursement PLUS 30 percent … of what I shelled out….

    “Why 30 percent?” “OH — these are POST-TAX dollars I spent! You don’t expect me to pay the tax on that, do you?”

    End of conversation. We had a wonderful trip to Britain.

    b) I had an event in late June. I also want to add that I was the senior member of the group. I put in vacation for the third week in June – on January 2, and booked my arrangements. Along comes another member of the staff, in late April, who wants that week. Boss of the group says “you can negotiate with Anon-2, but since he asked me on January 2, he must be serious about wherever he’s going, so you talk with him.” I heard she nearly threw a tantrum.

    c) I had a co-worker who didn’t plan effectively. Twice – I had received vacation approval, and on one occasion, I was taking a trip and had booked a cottage, meeting up with friends. Another time, I booked a trip to Florida and bought non-refundable plane tickets. On both occasions, he asked me if I’d be willing to change my plans – I told him I COULDN’T.

    He went over my head. Once he was rejected; the other time, we did some staff coverage arrangements. BUT his big complaint = “It’s NOT FAIR! You plan your vacations far ahead of time!” Yes, I do. So, what’s the problem?

    1. AnonEMoose*

      This is the kind of “it’s not fair” complaint that makes me want to respond with the quote from “Labyrinth”: “You say that so often. I wonder what your basis for comparison is.”

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      I had something similar with a coworker once – I’d booked a week off in June 2011, checked with her re coverage, she said it was fine. Accommodation booked, travel booked.

      A few weeks later, coworker suddenly announces she needs a week off at dates to be confirmed for training for her weekend job, and expects me to cancel mine in advance of it coinciding. Thing was, she didn’t even have dates at that point so there was every chance it wouldn’t coincide, and the only way I could be sure of not clashing was to cancel altogether, which I was reluctant to do.

      She claimed that if she didn’t do the training, she’d be fired (we’re in the UK where it’s not as easy to fire people) and claimed not to know if they’d let her do different dates. Since I had my trip already arranged, I stuck to my plans.

      In the event, coworker got a different week when I would be able to cover. Suddenly she’s telling her second job where they can stick their training because she doesn’t want to take a week for it! So, not that worried about getting fired now it’s not affecting me, huh?

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        There are a lot of people who DON’T travel and take vacations involving travel — there are also some people who just don’t plan effectively.

        My sister was a schoolteacher; my father was also in a school system and my mother was a government worker.

        They did not understand that when you only get ten, or even fifteen vacation days a year, you have to plan them. Some employers request that you put in your desired time off for the year in January!

        And that “sick time” is not “extra vacation time”. Frequent Friday/Monday illnesses are NOT tolerated, they can get you fired. Other things were foreign to them – like, there’s no such thing in most places as “cashing in your sick time”. And a lot of the “holidays” they got, don’t exist in the private sector. And we do not get a week off at Christmas, a week off at Easter, or a week off for 4th of July. If we take that time off – IT’S VACATION TIME WE HAVE TO TAKE.

        When I only had ten days a year – we planned them out. That was “sacred vacation time”.

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

    Can OP#5 Please update and clarify how the person was stealing flowers? Were they just picking them from a garden or did you see her leave the house with a vase full of flowers or something else?

  46. Raincoaster*

    I keep thinking how glad I am that the flower thief doesn’t live near a graveyard. Nobody needs vengeful ghosts at the workplace.

  47. Lizard*

    #5 is kind of wild! Is the picking and redistribution of flowers meant to be some kind of political statement? Personally, I’d be wondering what was up with the flower child co-worker, even without the backstory… I just find that kind of odd for office behavior.

  48. Bless*

    LW #4, I don’t know what you’re going through, but my experience with multiple sclerosis (MS) may provide some comfort to those who are facing a similar diagnosis. I have lived with MS for 34 years now and, aside from occasionally flares where I need to take a day off, I have been able to do my job and live a good life. Of course everyone’s condition is different (and you may not even have this), but I just want to share to anyone who needs to hear it that MS isn’t necessarily a diagnosis of lifetime disability.

    1. LW4*

      Thank you, I am dealing with a similar diagnosis and it is definitely a comfort to hear about your experience.

  49. be not*

    OK I am seriously confused by the advice about the flower stealing. You see someone you work for stealing from someone and them they bring in what they stole and you ignore all of it? Is it because they are flowers? Is it because its from a government building? If the OP saw the person steal food from a grocery store and then bring that in to distribute would the answer be different? I’m kind of dumbfounded here –

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I’m thinking we need more info. Like if she’s picking flowers from the garden or was she seen leaving with a big flower arrangement. As others have comments above, many times the flowers are changed out and if no one takes them they get thrown out. Perhaps the co worker has permission to take these flowers.

  50. Raida*

    #1 when they say it you just say “no I haven’t.”
    And if they want to fuss about it to say they didn’t mean anything by it or oh it’s just *such* a big trip, you say “It is for half of my PTO balance, I’ve not used even close to all of it.” just like you’re educating them, in a “oh i didn’t realise you were unaware, let me help you” tone.
    They’ll friggin well stop it when, in conversation with someone else, the facts are stated in an unemotional way. If you find out later they’re doing it when you’re not in the conversation, then you make a complaint about gossip

  51. Sleeping after sunrise*

    LW2 do you have the resources to speak with an employment lawyer?

    I think they could help you formulate exactly what you are requesting/requiring of your employer. I fear that in these conversations with HR you are somewhat talking at cross purposes. That some of your attempts to explain your needs are giving them the excuse to downplay or just overlook the reality. An employment lawyer could help you understand what you are and are not entitled to, how to explain your requests, what some possible solutions are, and what some practical limitations are to what you can expect from your employer.

    I’m also entirely unfamiliar with the legal implications, for them, of their behaviour. I don’t know what duty of care they owe to you in this circumstance. Nor what legal liability they open themselves up to in responding to these allegations in different ways. It could be good to understand that.

    It sounds like the company is big enough that reducing the risk of contact is feasible but that your manager/hr see interaction with this team as an essential part of the job. It genuinely might not be possible to provide expected service levels without interaction with this team by the person in your role on some level.

    OTOH I think dammit you shouldn’t have to have anything to do with him. The impact should be on him, not you. The company should find a way that you never have to have contact with him.

    OTOH I understand the many problems that can arise if a person’s employment is affected by (? historical) allegations that they haven’t been given an opportunity to respond to, and that are never investigated.

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