my coworker won’t stop poking me

A reader writes:

Where do I begin? I have been lucky enough to work for a great, family-owned accounting firm doing invoicing for over a year now. I love my job, I love the work, I have flexible hours, and my boss is great. It’s been a really good work environment.

However, there is one thing that I really am so frustrated with and don’t know where to turn. I don’t want to cause problems or make waves. My coworker, Jane, is somewhat nice. And she was super helpful when I first started working here. But slowly, right after my company brought me on as a full-time employee, her niceness turned into downright condescension. She makes little comments about my work and all of a sudden, she has started treating me like I am stupid or I’m a child.

Since January, she has taken to tapping me or poking me to get my attention. (For background, I have a slight hearing impediment in one ear and she talks very low or even mumbles sometimes on purpose.) And these aren’t just light taps or pokes. They are full on JABS with her fingernails. I asked her back in March to not do that as I really do not like being touched or poked. Sometimes, it’s overwhelming to the point where I want to cry. She said okay but has actually ramped it up since then. She will tap me or poke me for stupid things, like proofreading EVERY. SINGLE. EMAIL. she sends. Or she will poke me to complain about a customer and repeat herself like we don’t do the same job every day. Like our policies have somehow changed on customer service.

She has now started poking me or tapping me while we are mid-conversation as if i’m not focused 100% on her. like she’s scolding me. If i even turn slightly, she will poke me. If I look away, she will tap me. It’s now getting to the point where I have kept a tally for every time she pokes or taps me. Last Tuesday, she tapped/poked me 38 times in one day. THIRTY-EIGHT.

I really don’t know what to do. I’ve already talked to her about this numerous times and expressed my discomfort at being touched in general and it still isn’t enough. It’s getting to the point where I am literally counting down my vacation days and they can’t come soon enough.

I was all set to be outraged over the incessant poking on its own — and the ramping up after you told her to stop — but she mumbles on purpose, knowing that you have a hearing impediment?

Either of these on their own would be reason to escalate this over her head, but in combination they paint a picture of Jane as seriously nasty.

If you hadn’t already told her very clearly to stop poking you — or if you’d maybe said it as a joke or otherwise watered it down, as people often do when they’re trying not to make waves — I’d tell you to get very direct, but you’ve already told her multiple times. And if the behavior weren’t as constant as it is, I might suggest other strategies before escalating it, like saying “I TOLD YOU TO STOP TOUCHING ME” loudly enough to embarrass her with other people.

But at this point, when she’s jabbing you 38 times a day (!!), the time is past for any of those other options. Talk to your manager.

And by the way, it’s almost certainly not a coincidence that she started this right after you were brought on full-time. Maybe she feels threatened by you, maybe she wanted a friend to get the full-time role, who knows. But there’s something she’s taking out on you, and it’s not okay.

When you talk to your boss, say this: “I’m at a loss of how to handle this myself and need your help. Jane jabs me in the arm multiple times per day when she wants my attention. I have told her repeatedly to stop, but she’s escalated it. Last week, she jabbed me 38 times in one day. This is such bizarre behavior that I’m not sure what else I can do. Can you please make it clear to her that she needs to stop touching me?”

It also might be useful to say something like, “I think this may be happening in the context of hostility toward my hearing impairment, since along with the jabbing, she seems to purposefully talk very low or even mumble when she speaks to me. I could give her some benefit of the doubt on that — sometimes people don’t realize how low they’re speaking — but the two things in combination seem awfully hostile.” In fact, if you do think this is what’s going on, you could skip your boss and take it to HR instead, since HR will know your company has a legal obligation to protect you from being harassed at work about a disability. (And if your boss isn’t helpful, that’s the next step.)

Jane is about to look terrible to your management, and rightly so.

{ 561 comments… read them below }

  1. Elenna*

    Just want to mention that you aren’t causing problems or making waves by going to your manager about this – it’s Jane that’s causing the problems, by deliberately ignoring your clear statements about boundaries. And she’s taking advantage of your desire not to get her in trouble. There already is a problem, you’re just letting your manager know about it.

      1. Stef*

        Jane is the only person who has herself to blame when she gets into trouble for this. It’s not like the OP stuck a gun to Jane’s head and demanded that Jane poke her 38 times a day.

      2. Abogado Avocado*

        Exactly! A truly great company will be as horrified as we all are by your experience, OP. I cringed as I read this and I suspect the managers at your company will be similarly appalled by Jane’s hostile behavior.

        1. Cait*

          And let’s call it what it is… assault. OP, Jane has REPEATEDLY put her hands on you in a way that hurts you and makes you uncomfortable despite being asked several times to stop. That’s assault. By going to your manager or HR you aren’t “making waves”, you are rightly reporting a coworker who ASSAULTS you daily. This is not a little thing and it’s not something that you just need to grin and bear. If I were your manager I would be horrified to hear what Jane is doing and would deal with it swiftly and seriously. Jane’s behavior is not only wrong but could get the company in a lot of trouble.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            Thank you. It’s literally assault. I’m so mad on OP’s behalf right now and I really want an update post to let us know OP is okay.

            1. Anna*

              Completely agree. Just reading this made my skin crawl. I’m pregnant and extra sensitive to people touching me without permission and I would freak the F$&@ out if she did this to me. This should not be happening to you!!

            2. Amaranth*

              Sometimes if people are telling themselves ‘its only a poke’ it helps to frame it as ‘what if a man/stranger came up to you and did this?’ I feel we’re conditioned in general to brush off inappropriate touching and assault from females.

              1. Working Hypothesis*

                Assault under civil law is verbal threat, where battery is physical unwanted touch. Assault under criminal law covers both elements. So it depends on which structure you’re talking about.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            ‘Jane, your coworkers do NOT have on/off switches that you need to jab in order for them to interact with you’

          3. Sally Forth*

            Exactly. This is assault. You have asked Jane to stop. She hasn’t. You need assistance,

            1. TardyTardis*

              That being said, my reflexes are such that one of my elbows would go flying, and where it hits, it hits.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Yes to all of this! Please tell your manager ASAP. This person is targeting you, not only because of your slight hearing impediment but also because she knows you’ve put up with it so far *because* you don’t want to make waves. I’m impressed that you haven’t snapped and slapped her hand away or yelled at her about it, but please know that you would be well within bounds to do so. In any event, she won’t stop on her own, that’s very clear. She deserves to be formally reprimanded for this bullying behavior and any reasonable manager or HR will put a stop to it immediately.

      1. FrenchCusser*

        I’d have slapped her a long time ago.

        Not that I’m recommending that. It’s not really an appropriate response – it would just be instinctual with me.

        Yes, please take it to your supervisor. You’ve told her to stop, she hasn’t stopped. That’s reason enough.

    2. NYC Taxi*

      Yes this. I would be horrified and angry to hear this was happening if one of my direct reports brought this to my attention and would immediately shut it down. OP you are not the problem.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes definitely. Please tell your manager so they can do something about it. I’d be devastated if any of my team felt they had to put up with something like this.

    3. Super Duper*

      Yes! This is egregious. 38 times in one day!!! That’s just way too much touching for a coworker, even one you get along with. And poking is so irritating, one time is too many.

    4. TrackingCookieMonster*

      Plus, this is becoming a work efficiency issue.

      If Jane poked OP 38 times in one day, that’s means OP was getting poked every 12 1/2 minutes. How is she supposed to get her own work done if she’s constantly being interrupted?

    5. Coder von Frankenstein*

      Exactly this. Jane is the one making a wave here; you are just absorbing the whole impact of that wave yourself, so nobody else has to feel it. You can stop doing that.

      Consider also that the Janes of the world rarely confine their nastiness to one person. Your manager *needs* to know about this. It might be an important piece in a larger picture.

    6. LKW*

      Yes and yes. The 38 times is excessive but once after being told to not touch you is enough.

      This is all on Jane now.

    7. Momma Bear*

      AGREED. You shouldn’t be poked at all at work, let alone 38 times in one day! You wouldn’t need to escalate this into a formal complaint if she didn’t jab you. Don’t let her/them victim blame. Your hearing loss (if that is part of it) is not something you should be harassed for! This is all about her behavior. Please do report it. If she gets in trouble (which she should) she brought it on herself.

    8. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Agreed. If one of my staff complained that a coworker was deliberately poking them incessantly after being told to knock it off it wouldn’t make me think they are ‘causing waves’ or ‘being petty’ or whatever. I’d actually thank them for telling me and then set out to drag Jane into a meeting with a ‘why on earth are you acting like this?!’ talk.

      (Not that I think there’s any excuse that makes her behaviour ok, I’d just like to hear her internal reasoning so I can decide whether this is a ‘knock it off, this is an official warning’ meeting or something more serious.)

  2. The Original K.*

    I definitely think you should mention the intentional mumbling/low talking Jane does so you can’t hear her – if the poking (!) doesn’t get your manager’s attention, Jane not being accommodating to your hearing impairment will.

    1. CmdrShepard*

      I think OP has enough ammunition without mentioning the mumbling/low talking. Unless it is very very clear the Jane is doing it on purpose I would avoid ascertaining motivations to Jane’s actions that OP can’t know. OP can mention that Jane mumbles/low talks and make it about how to ensure better communication rather than her doing it on purpose. I say this as someone that mumbles/low talks not on purpose, but it is just my natural voice. Occasionally coworkers, friends, family will have to ask me to repeat myself a couple times, with each time I repeat myself I think I am being clearer/louder but sometimes they still can’t hear/understand me.

      1. Budgie Buddy*

        Agreed – Jane is enough of a jerk that it’s likely on purpose, but her volume is a lot less easy to access than the poking. Especially as OP has a hearing impediment that would make any volume harder to understand.

      2. Pennyworth*

        I think she should mention the mumbling because Jane is deliberately making herself inaudible to justify the poking assaults. This letter made me want to cry. Why are people like Jane so nasty?

        1. Artemesia*

          ‘Well I HAVE to poke her because otherwise she can’t hear or pay attention to me. It is the ONLY way I have to keep her from ignoring me. Vicious stuff here.

      3. Great Grey Owl*

        I would mention it because of the OP’s hearing loss. If I were an employer, I definitely would want to know because people with disabilities are protected by US law (assuming the OP is in the US). If Jane has prejudices against people with disabilities, the employer definitely needs to know. She can think whatever she wants, but at work, she needs to behave like a professional instead of a bratty child.

        The OP has been more than patient with Jane. Jane might not be so lucky with the next coworker she harasses.

      4. tamarack and fireweed*

        Agree with CmdrShepard. When pushing back against unpleasant work situations it’s always best to reduce the opinion / judgement / editorializing part *even if you’re really quite certain you’re right* and stick to facts.

        Fact: Jane mumbles. Fact: Jane knows OP is hard of hearing; OP has asked Jane to speak up. Fact: It hasn’t helped. From there we get: The manager needs to step in. Any mention of “doing it on purpose” at this stage just gives Jane the ammunition to push back, even though she has no case to, even if she was not doing it on purpose.

        With the poking it’s similar, though here the manager definitely has grounds to be extremely firm. Talking in a low voice is in general acceptable office behavior, and human voices have a wide range of natural timbres. But poking is not! On the other hand, asking not to be touched without permission *is* completely normal. Here, the fact alone that it happens not every few days or weeks, but dozens of times per day in the face of explicit requests to the contrary makes “Jane is very far out of line” a fact, too. (Whereas with the mumbling it’s still in the realm of conjecture. Even though of course I do think that the OP is correct about the intentionality.)

          1. Ismonie*

            Assault/battery are used differently in different states, but the general definitions are:

            Assault: imminent apprehension of harmful or offensive touching.

            Battery: harmful or offensive touching.

            Now all that said, people usually don’t taking poking all that seriously, but being jabbed repeatedly with a fingernail goes beyond poking. Like, what are your damages as a civil matter, but otoh, it does meet the definition.

      5. Kaitydidd*

        Yes, and also she is definitely leveraging the LW’s hearing impairment for whatever benefit she thinks she gets out of it. If LW has the political capital to spend, it’s definitely worth mentioning.

      6. Lucretia*

        As someone who’s hard of hearing myself, I’d absolutely mention the mumbling. It’s a serious communication problem when someone refuses to speak up/speak towards you after you have asked them to do that, and in this context I’m pretty sure Jane is doing it on purpose – and even if she’s not, it’s something that needs to be addressed. (I’m married to someone who speaks quietly/tends to not face me when speaking, and he’s gotten much better at accommodating my need to see him to be able to hear properly – otherwise I was asking him to repeat himself multiple times and both of us were getting very frustrated. It took a while, but he’s better at it now.)

      7. Oh Behave*

        I disagree! Poking could be justified by a lame HR dept. Mumbling/low talking must be mentioned. It’s a jerk move and must be stopped.
        Remember that these behaviors started after OP started full time. This is NOT a coincidence. At all.

      8. Tree*

        I can’t speak above a whisper either, my voice just doesn’t get any louder than that, but I can switch to writing and so can Jane.

    2. Yeah....that*

      One of my direct reports is nearly deaf and even with hearing aids it is hard to get her attention verbally. I have poked her zero times.

      OP – this is intentional and disrespectful. Please know YOU are not causing trouble or making waves. This is completely on Jane.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This is true. I have worked with several people who had substantial hearing loss and we worked together for quite a while. I never once touched them, ever. It’s very easy to move to the front of where they are sitting, usually they’d look right up. Or if they were standing, the slightest motion would catch their eye.
        There is no reason to be touching people.
        I haven’t even gotten to the part about the nails that hurt. wtf.

        I’d be the first one to yell, “Ouch! that hurt!!” Let everyone turn and look at me and the perpetrator.

        OP, your willingness not to make waves is EXACTLY what this perpetrator is counting on. Don’t let this go on any longer- drag other people into this story.

      2. MM*

        It further strikes me that Jane’s poking escalated after OP asked her to stop the first time. It sure seems like she doubled down on it once she had confirmation that it bothered OP.

      3. Joanna*

        Yes, I have a hearing impaired coworker with whom I sometimes need to talk loudly or wave to get her attention. I’ve NEVER touched her.

    3. Meep*

      I wouldn’t. It is doing to make OP seem petty and like she is trying to find a reason to complain or get angry.

      I have a coworker who goes out of her way to be obnoxious. Some of the things she does are positively insane and I feel crazy for questioning if she is being malicious or is so rude she no longer realizes she is being rude. Mumbling or talking low falls into the category of “passive-aggressive but deniability.”

      1. Anoni*

        Nope. This is a kind of micro aggression and should be brought up as part of a pattern of harassment.

  3. HotSauce*

    “I TOLD YOU TO STOP TOUCHING ME” loudly enough to embarrass her with other people.

    This, in combination with speaking to her manager, should hopefully do the trick. If it doesn’t, escalating to HR should definitely be next. This is a hostile environment and no one should have to put up with something like this.

    1. Nea*

      Personally I’d go for the same thing I do when I’m training kittens not to claw – screaming “OW!” every time they hurt me. Following up with “I told you not to touch me!” loudly is great, but she’s HURTING you. She is PHYSICALLY ASSAULTING you. Let the whole office know, Every. Single. Time.

      1. Lacey*

        Yup. Personally I think saying, “Ow, Jane please stop!” loudly and in a slightly alarmed tone of voice will get the attention and sympathy of the office very quickly.

        1. wordswords*

          Yes, agreed! I could see Jane spinning an “I told you not to touch me!” reaction into “Gosh, OP is so sensitive, I just touched her arm to get her attention and she’s flying off the handle!” to coworkers who weren’t close enough to see. “Ow, Jane, please stop!” and “Ow! That hurts, I’ve asked you not to do that, please!” are a lot harder to spin.

          1. Rose*

            I think as lo mg as OP doesn’t start right off with some kind of dramatic yelling. If you just loudly say “I’ve told you not to touch meit hurts.” “Jane, stop jabbing me, it hurts.” “Jane this is my third time today tell you not to jab me. Stop touching me.” As long as you loudly say a few times everyone will know who the crazy person is in this situation.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              Especially if you keep the count out loud. Every day. “Ow! Jane, this is the twenty-seventh time you’ve poked me today, and I have told you to stop every single one of those times! It HURTS! Now STOP!” Said — every time, with the number rising with each one — at a volume that the whole office can hear.

        2. tamarack and fireweed*

          I think I’d go for “Will you STOP to BLOODY assault me, as I’ve asked you at least 25 times over the last weeks? What do you need, an executive order from the president [insert head of state here]?”

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I started reading this and immediately thought, ” . . . spray bottle?”*

        *I am not actually advocating the spray bottle. I tried it twice and my take-no-BS cat attacked me. We came to a truce by other methods.

        1. Anonariffic*

          Spray bottle filled with the hot sauce used by the person whose lunch was spicy enough to make the food thief sick. Aim for the eyes.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          HA! This would be kind of funny. I mean, it’s not hurting her the way she is OP, it’s just inconvenient.

          (I had a cat who LIKED being sprayed and could not have cared less about being wet. Also liked aluminum foil. Finding something that bothered him enough to deter specific behaviors was a challenge.)

        3. Okay, great!*

          That’s not the worst idea actually. If OP talks to the boss but it is ineffective (after giving it a couple tries), a spritz to the face for shock value might throw Jane off enough to get her back off. She’ll probably sputter and make noise for a bit, but that’s ok. She’s being physically aggressive, and OP needs it to stop.
          This, though, is coming from someone who would have no trouble looking the boss directly in the eyes and saying, “Yes, I sprayed Jane in the face with a water bottle. What would you like me to do instead as speaking with her had not worked?”

        4. Self Employed*

          I tried the spray bottle with a neighbor’s cat, who found the bottle later and destroyed it.

        5. Dana Whittaker*

          Was coming to say spray bottle as well.

          What is Jane going to do? Say she is allergic to water? roflmao

    2. NotRealAnonForThis*

      I’d add (and have added) “…and I will NOT explain this again. Stop it.”

      This is utter crap, and management needs to fix it.

      1. TooTiredToThink*

        All of what you all have said – and I don’t know how you’ve restrained yourself from slapping her hand at this point (Not advocating that at all. Just… your tolerance level amazes me).

    3. High Score!*

      This. This works. I’ve done it. After the embarrassment is put back on the party it’s belongs to, they don’t repeat the offense.

      1. Who is the asshole*

        Same. it’s best done with a third party present, embarrassing for all and therefore (likely) successful.

    4. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I agree, this situation calls for a “both” solution. Yes, talk to your manager, but also tell Jane not to touch you EVERY TIME she touches you. You don’t have to shout it or make a scene if you don’t want to, but if she’s going to touch you 38 times a day, she needs to hear you tell her not to touch you 38 times a day. If it happens often enough that other people overhear, “I’ve asked you not to touch me” is a really reasonable thing to say and any bystanders will understand that you’re not the one causing the drama.

      1. joriley*

        Or even counting out loud! She pokes you? “One.” “One what?” “Oh, I’m just counting how many times you’re going to poke me today even though I’ve asked you to stop.” And then just keep going so it becomes as awkward as possible for her.

        1. Rose*

          op should send an email to the coworker and both of their bosses at the end of every single day.

          “Today Jan jabbed me twenty times. I clearly asked her to stop touching me five times before giving up.”

        2. Sail On, Sailor*

          I like both the counting and the daily e-mail to their boss.

          Frankly, though, I’m the type of person who would’ve told Jane in no uncertain terms not to touch me the first time she jabbed. If there was a second time (*IF*), I would’ve whirled on her and barked, “I told you not to touch me!” I can guarantee you there wouldn’t have been a third time.

          Understanding, though, that this isn’t the OP’s style. Just sharing in hopes that they realize they have some agency to deal with noxious co-workers.

      2. Boof*

        I actually think loud/possible short shout is better; Jane isn’t going to care if it’s just her hearing it, but she might back off if she knows other people are hearing / noticing it

    5. TootsNYC*

      also, “Jane, you need to speak clearly enough and loudly enough for people to hear you.”

      Loudly enough for everyone around to hear you. And be stern–stop being nice.

    6. Slipping The Leash*

      I think “JANE I HAVE TOLD YOU OVER AND OVER TO STOP TOUCHING ME!” And I mean loud — just one very slight notch below yelling. So it is abundantly clear to everyone in earshot that this is coming from long-term frustration.

    7. MtnLaurel*

      When I was in a similar situation, that worked well for me. The poker was angry but he never did it again. Win.

  4. mcfizzle*

    How do you wake up Lady Gaga?

    Poker face!

    Oh, wait, wrong crowd. Regardless, sorry LW. This is physical assault and needs to stop. I hate when strangers touch me.

    1. R*

      Stop pokin’
      Stop pokin’
      I don’t want to be poked anymore
      Poke me again
      And I’m going to HR

    2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      Except for the last paragraph, with which I heartily agree, I am lost. :-p

      1. LisaNeedsBraces*

        Mcfizzle is referencing American popstar and actress, Lady Gaga, whose 2nd hit single was called “Poker Face”. While Lady Gaga was referencing the meaning of “Poker Face”, a.k.a an unreadable face like one would put on during a game of poker as to not give away how good or bad one’s hand of cards are, Mcfizzle was making a pun since we’re talking about the act of poking someone to (allegedly) get their attention.

        R built upon that reference by satirically changing the words of the refrain Lady Gaga’s song (which features Beyoncé), “Telephone”. “Stop calling” becomes “Stop Pokin” and so on. They did a good job matching the meter and rhyme scheme.

        As a noted Lady Gaga scholar, I hope explaining the joke provided those who were lost enough levity to get through this difficult letter, and that if the OP comes across this comment, they don’t mistake this for not taking their coworker’s abuse seriously. We’re all horrified and rooting for OP.

        1. not-a-native*

          To elaborate further, because I didn’t catch it at first: the joke is that “Poker face” sounds a lot like “poke her face”, which would probably suffice to wake someone up and relates to the theme of the letter, even if not advisable in either situation.

          1. LisaNeedsBraces*

            Indeed. Lady Gaga also meant it to sound like “poke her face”, but in a more double entendre way.

  5. RJ*

    Intentional poking AND mumbling? Jane’s lucky you haven’t thrown office supplies in her general direction. This is very hostile behavior, as Allison mentioned in her response, and definitely needs to be taken to your boss and HR (as applicable).

    1. tink*

      Yeah I don’t mind the occasional tap on the shoulder/upper arm at work for “hey, need to get past you but you’re on the phone” or “hey, need to get your attention”… but my coworkers have never jabbed me with their fingernails or poked me 38 times in a single day. She’s lucky her hand isn’t getting smacked, because that would probably be my first response to someone touching me after I told them to cut it out.

  6. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    In addition to speaking to your manager I would request to have your workspace immediately moved away from her. Even if you work in an open plan and are all just sitting next to each other ask to switch places. If she literally has to get up to continue poking and jabbing you it’ll draw more attention to the utter ridiculousness of this and will make her look even worse to your management.
    I’m also wondering just how much time Jane is taking on this harassment of you that should be spent on her calls or e-mails. That’s not likely something you can bring up, you want to keep the focus on her repeated assault on your person, but I’m curious.

    1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      Oh! and also, if these “pokes” are hard enough to bring you to tears I’m betting that there’s some bruising happening. Photograph this and bring it with you when you speak to your manager and HR.

      1. cubone*

        On this note, OP, I know crying in the workplace is uncomfortable but at this point, I honestly don’t think you should spend extra energy to hold back the tears from someone …. physically abusing you? You shouldn’t be dealing with this at ALL, and the fact that you’re also then trying to control your own emotional response…. I mean, it’s just really, really devastating to read.

        If you burst into tears the next time she pokes you (or if the tears unleash when you talk to your boss), PLEASE DON’T BE EMBARRASSED or ashamed of it. You have done nothing wrong and have nothing to be ashamed of, and having a physical reaction to this prolonged physical behaviour is incredibly normal and understandable.

        1. Observer*

          Yes. While it’s GENERALLY true that one should try to avoid tears at work, this is one of those situations where you really shouldn’t worry about it too much. You ARE being abused. It’s not “unprofessional” to get a bit emotional about it.

  7. Wendy*

    Even with taking this to your boss or HR, a nice “OW THAT HURT, I TOLD YOU TO STOP HITTING ME” whenever she pokes you wouldn’t go amiss…

    1. Rose*

      Yup! I wouldn’t say poke. Jab, stab, stabbing with your nails, etc. use stronger language if you can.

    2. LGC*

      The only problem is…this only works on people with a sense of shame, which I’m not entirely sure Jane has. (Like, she asks LW to proofread every single email.)

  8. learnedthehardway*

    Feel free to show them your question to AskaManager, if you get any pushback on what is appropriate for you to do.

  9. Tracy*

    Oh my goodness, this is too strange and way out of bounds. I would be running to your manager ASAP.

    1. Tracy*

      In thinking about it, I go all day without touching any of my coworkers. I am rarely within arms reach of anyone nowadays! This behavior is just bizarre!

      1. The Original K.*

        I think the only time I touch coworkers is if I’m coming up behind them when they’re sitting at their desk, they have headphones on, and I tap their shoulder to get their attention – but even then, I generally will knock on a nearby surface first.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Yeah, I can imagine if I’m sitting at a conference table and need to pass papers down and someone isn’t looking my direction that I might tap their arm or shoulder to get their attention? I’m pretty sure that’s happened, though it’s not like I keep track.

          But yeah, generally I don’t touch my coworkers. And poking? Yikes.

          1. Sara without an H*

            Old librarian trick for waking up patrons who’ve fallen asleep: Don’t touch them, just knock on the table or desk next to them.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              This is what I do. I also asked people to knock at Exjob after my coworker nearly scared me out of my wits when she came up right behind me and said “Liz!” while I had headphones on. I posted a sign with the Gates of Moria on it that said “Speak Friend and Enter, or knock if I’m wearing headphones.”

        2. Like waving, knocking, raising voice or an interpretative dance near their peripheral vision*

          Yeah, even that isn’t ok. Stop it. Find another way.

          1. Jackalope*

            I mean, it depends? I’ve had people who preferred a tap on the shoulder to other methods (hand waving, being louder, etc.). This is obviously irrelevant to the OP who does NOT prefer that, but let each person use what works for them, and more importantly, for the person whose attention they’re trying to draw.

            1. The Original K.*

              One former coworker preferred tapping on the shoulder because she startled very easily and tapping on the shoulder was less jarring for her. I knocked on her cube wall once when I first started working there and she literally screamed. I was like “Um, I just needed [work thing]?” and she was like, sorry, I scare easily, just tap me. Nothing crazy – two taps on the shoulder and she would take her headphones off, turn around, and we’d handle business. (Our boss was like “Yeah, you gotta just tap her.”)

              1. scaredycatcathy*

                I also scare easy, but would HATE if someone touched me. I prefer knocking. To each their own I suppose!

                FWIW I hate that I scare easy. I seriously get scared probably once or twice a day. Its jarring and makes my heart race. I have GAD so its kinda part of the package, at least for me.

              2. JB*

                This may explain why my boss taps me on the shoulder to get my attention and then says she didn’t want to startle me.

                Being touched is actually way more startling for me (although it isn’t clearly visible to her since my startle is internal) and I always have one earbud out of my ear so she could literally just talk to me, but my counterpart in our little department startles way more easily. I guess she’s got our boss ‘trained’ this way.

      2. Mellie Bellie*

        I can’t actually recall a time I’ve ever touched a co-worker outside of a handshake or some other greeting. I guess I probably have, maybe, but this is absolutely bat guano crazy. WTF, Jane!?!

        1. Tracy*

          I might pat someone on the shoulder for reassurance but it doesn’t happen very often. It is honestly quite rare!

          1. UKDancer*

            I think I gave a colleague a hug when she came back to work after her husband died but I don’t routinely touch my colleagues either. Jane is just weird and wrong!

        2. Dust Bunny*

          Same–I cannot recall ever touching a coworker except maybe for brushing against them if we were working in close quarters. Never intentionally. DEFINITELY not poking them.

        3. ThatGirl*

          I might have touched someone gently on the arm to get their attention, maaaaybe? But definitely nothing pokey.

        4. fhqwhgads*

          Someone slipped while we were walking together and I sort of tried to catch them/stop them from falling kinda thing? That’s the only thing I can think of that wasn’t a greeting.

          1. JanetM*

            Or someone fell hard, and you’re helping them get up (personal experience, as the person who did the falling) (yes, it was definitely embarrassing, and yes, I definitely needed and appreciated the help).

        5. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          I once had a coworker in a restaurant who was deaf, and they would touch (like a light hand on the shoulder or upper back) to signal their presence when they were in the kitchen (where we frequently just said “behind you” for safety around knives and hot things). I tend to pick up mannerisms, so I started doing that with them, and it also expanded to other workers I was close to, and my family and friends at home. If someone had ever seemed uncomfortable or told me to stop, I would have stopped and probably been mortified.

        6. onco fonco*

          I know I once touched a coworker’s arm to get her attention through headphones when nothing else had worked – and I felt SUPER awkward about it and still wish I hadn’t done it. The idea of doing it this regularly makes me cringe. Argh.

      3. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Last week I tucked in a tag on my coworker’s shirt, but I asked permission first and it was the first time I’d touched a coworker in so long that I honestly don’t remember the time before that.

        1. Mellie Bellie*


          This just reminded me of the time I got in the elevator with my then-employer’s *head of HR* and she complimented my suit, which nice!, right?, and then proceeded to ask me what “label” it was. I said, “oh, I don’t know” (it was off the rack at like Express or something – I was less than a year out of school and building up to a nicer wardrobe like the people who had been there longer than me could afford). So instead of nodding and moving on, she grabbed the back of my jacket to check the label. And was summarily visibly disappointed. I was so stunned, I just stared at her.

          Oddly, not the first time someone has done that to me. I had a teacher when I was in 5th or 6th grade do something similar.

        2. JustaTech*

          I had a coworker ask me to tuck her label back in, I once hugged a coworker who thought she was going to be laid off and was crying (we were outside picking up lunch) and I think I hugged one coworker when she left.
          And I know I’ve bumped into people in the lab – it’s a pretty tight space, but that’s always a “oh, sorry!”.
          But that’s it. Maybe it’s the lab work (don’t touch people while you’re wearing gloves, which one coworker did do and I told her not to in no uncertain terms), or maybe we just don’t touch people much?

      4. paxfelis*

        In my job I spend all day touching people. Occasionally, someone touches me. Even with that, I would consider anyone jabbing or poking me highly inappropriate and needing to be stopped immediately if not sooner.

    2. Tracy*

      I just can’t get this out of my head! So.

      I can’t imagine why an Instant Message or email wouldn’t be effective in this day and age. It certainly leads to giving people their own space!

  10. HerdingCatsWouldBeEasier*

    At the OP’s description of Jane as “somewhat nice”, I knew it was going to be bad. But this was worse than I was expecting. Poking someone regularly is bad, but 38 times in one day? Deliberately making someone with a hearing issue have to struggle to hear them? Jane isn’t nice, at all. OP, please escalate this. Jane’s behavior is cruel and immoral, and may be illegal (I am neither a lawyer or a llama). No one deserves to be treated like this. You are not making ways, you are asking for the bare minimum of proper office decorum.

      1. Observer*

        That’s pretty much what this sounds like.

        OP, Jane is NOT “somewhat nice.” She is being TERRIBLE.

    1. heartwood*

      Yup. Jane isn’t even remotely nice. OP, You are worth waves being made about and for you. Jane doesn’t deserve the ability to abuse you.

    2. Elenna*

      Ah yes the usual “so-and-so is nice, except…” followed by a laundry list of reasons why they aren’t nice at all. Pretty much always a sign that the letter-writer is trying and failing to convince themselves that really, things are fine, they just have to deal with the issues. OP, this is not fine and you do not have to just deal with it.

    3. BelleMorte*

      Defintely not nice. She is being abelist and audist.

      As someone who is deaf, I know exactly the kind of poking you are talking about. I had a co-worker very early in my career who would poke me hard with her nail in the shoulder every time I looked away from them to someone else talking, I always had her in my peripheral vision it wasn’t necessary but she kept poking. Once she poked me 27 times in an hour-long meeting, I had a bruise afterwards!

      She would even poke me and then direct me to look at my interpreter, by making a rude hand wave towards them whenever I looked away like I was a naughty schoolchild. This included looking at slides in presentations, looking down to take notes, etc. I told her to stop repeatedly but she would always play the sickly sweet “oh but I want you included in the conversation” or “I don’t want you to miss anything” cards. My boss would do nothing about the situation because poker was so nice and just trying to help me out. It stopped after I yelped “OW” in a meeting where my grandboss and great grandboss was present after she poked me to remind me to watch the interpreter (which I freaking was, I was just reading the slide).

      I may or may not have been vocal on purpose. :) She was reprimanded, (so was the boss) put on a PIP and fired 3 months later when she poked me again, followed by a derogatory remark under her breath and someone saw and heard her. The boss was actually the one that actioned the firing so he wasn’t all that bad, just clueless initially.

      If I knew then what I know now, I would have escalated a lot sooner. Horrid woman.

      I hope OP escalates this to her boss and if her boss doesn’t fix the situation to HR. Disability discrimination is a big deal.

      1. Who is the asshole*

        Jesus, what a horrible person. I’m sorry to hear that it went on for so long (or happened at all).

  11. NeonDreams*

    It would NEVER occur to me to do something like this a coworker. What is wrong with people? (Asked that question too many times in the past year). Sympathy and solidarity with you, OP.

    1. Pony Puff*

      Right? I would never do this in my personal life either but doing it to a coworker is so far beyond anything I can imagine a normal person doing.

    2. Don't touch me*

      Right! My youngest has hearing loss and I would NEVER poke them like this. Like what!!!

    3. gbca*

      Totally. I never touch coworkers at all unless it’s a handshake (pre-COVID, obviously). I would never even tap/poke someone unless they were in physical danger and there was noise blaring so loudly they couldn’t hear me (both extremely rare things in my quiet office).

    4. Kaitydidd*

      Seriously. I have a deaf ear, and things like this are giant, flaming red flags. Jane is leveraging LW’s hearing impairment for… whatever she feels she gets out of it. It’s beyond not ok, and even people I’d consider “barely nice enough” never use my disability against me. I disclose it at work all the time (prior to covid) because the person seated on my deaf side is mute to me. I cannot hear them well enough to understand their speech. People who I meet in that moment handle it more gracefully than Jane is.

  12. Sylvan*

    Wow. Yeah, go to your manager. This is super weird. Did the condescension and poking for attention start when she found out about your hearing?

    I would be tempted to grab her hand or smack it away the next time that she did it.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      Yeah, I’m worried that Jane will claim she needs to poke you to get your attention because clearly you can’t hear her. Be sure to be clear that she intentionally pokes hard with her fingernails and that she will do it for (list of petty reasons).

      1. Nea*

        Jane may claim that, but that would only leave a great opening for OP to point out management and HR that disability isn’t grounds for touching, much less assault. Jane could get OP’s attention in a wide variety of ways. Stand in front of OP. Wave a hand in OP’s face. Extend a mug of tea slowly and steadily into OP’s line of sight (anyone else remember that letter?)

          1. Nea*

            Ironically, how to get a coworker’s attention when they can’t hear you because they have headphones on. One of the British readers said that in their office they were usually offering a tea run, so they’d slowly and steadily extend a mug into the headphone-wearing coworker’s field of vision.

        1. Catalin*

          Came here to say this. I have intermittent hearing loss on one side (it’s complicated but real). NO ONE NEEDS TO TOUCH YOU to get your attention. No one EVER touched me to get my attention at work because it’s NOT A THING THAT’S DONE when you’re in a professional setting. Knock on the cube wall or desktop, stomp on the floor nearby, wave arms, flash lights, clear throats, etc., hell, do jumping jacks for all I care. Movement and vibrations will get attention.

          Once again, NO. ONE. NEEDS. TO. TOUCH. YOU. to get your attention unless you are about to step into imminent traffic obliviously, in which case, yeah, save my life please.
          If you were my coworker, I would personally relish intervening with maximum prejudice.

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            Yeah, noise-cancelling headphones were popular in my office (in the Before Time) and you’d knock on the desk to get someone’s attention – the vibrations would transmit just fine.

            1. Clisby*

              YES. Occasionally, I need to get my husband’s attention when he’s working from home with his headphones on – I put my hand on his shoulder – but (a) we’re married and (b) this isn’t even once a week, let alone 38 times a day. If we were co-workers, I could easily just tap on the desk or the monitor – he’d realize I was there.

          2. Kyrielle*

            YUP. If you are touching me at work without first getting my permission (and before someone calls me on that, holding out a hand for a hand-shake *is* getting permission if I then extend mine, for example), one of two things had better be appropriate in the immediate aftermath: my heartfelt thanks to you for saving me from an immediate hazard you’d seen and I hadn’t, or your sincere apology for running into me / not seeing me / otherwise accidentally touching me. And the latter doesn’t hold if you do it again.

          3. The Rural Juror*

            My coworker had almost total hearing loss in one ear and it happened to be the side that faced me in our cubicle arrangement. A simple wave was all it took.

            However, that was to get his attention, not to keep his attention midsentence. The OP is actively listening to Jane and yet she STILL feels the need to touch the OP aggressively. Something is seriously wrong with Jane.

            1. Klio*

              Send the emails Jane is incapable of proof reading herself, LW then can proof them and send them back. We

            2. Mallory Janis Ian*

              She’s trying to deprive the OP of any agency over her own attention, and is being abusive! When someone’s eyes wander from direct contact with her own for a microsecond, that does not give the coworker justification to demand their absolute, unwavering focus — and especially not by physically poking them.

              1. JustaTech*

                And maintaining extended eye contact is weird and often ends up feeling aggressive or intrusive. (I had to do that as an experiment for a sociology class, where I maintained eye contact just a *bit* longer than normal and it seriously weirded people out, even when I told them what I was doing and why. )

            3. BelleMorte*

              It’s unfortunately super common with people with hearing loss to have aggressive attention holders like Jane.

          4. Amaranth*

            I have severe tinnitus and my family gets frustrated when I ask them to repeat themselves, yet even they don’t poke. In a busy environment, I can even be right next to someone and not really comprehend unless I’m really focused, which is…not optimal. If distraction is an actual issue for OP (and not just in Jane’s perception), it might help to find a conference room or quiet spot for work conversations. Regarding Jane, though, I’d ask that she just communicate with me by email, since she apparently can’t accommodate my hearing loss and expresses her frustration physically.

            If OP can find a sympathetic coworker to witness Jane’s terrible behavior that might also help with HR.

      2. All Het Up About It*

        So I had a similar thought, but the counter point to that is the touching DURING conversation. Absolutely not necessary. Also – 38 times in one day. 38! You don’t need to get your co-workers attention that frequently.

        Plus – there are just other options. An email ping, a teams chat, something that says: “I need to ask you a questions.”

        Ugh. Jane sucks.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          Yup. Which is why LW needs to be explicitly clear about when/why/how the touching is occurring. If she just goes to her manager and says “Jane pokes me a lot” or even “Jane poked me 38 times in one day”, then Jane might counter with “oh, you know how LW is with her hearing problem, she never responds to me when I’m trying to convey important things!” LW needs to be absolutely clear about the problem.

          1. Momma Bear*

            Presumably LW works with other people who can communicate without poking anyone. I would point out that Tim and Sally are able to work with LW without doing this and that Jane doesn’t do this with others (I doubt she does) so this is specific to Jane harassing LW. If Jane can’t proofread her own emails, then that’s another problem that is Jane’s, not LW.

            Additionally, I would pointedly stand or sit outside of poking range of Jane whenever possible. If she makes a comment remind her that you don’t like to be poked, you’ve asked her repeatedly to stop and you want to maintain personal space. If Jane speaks up/clearly, a couple of feet shouldn’t matter.

            I’m thinking about the last time I was touched by/touched a coworker. It’s been years outside of a handshake and was probably something like a hand on my shoulder to let me know they were walking behind me or something. Jane’s just…not right.

          2. GothicBee*

            To be clear though, that still wouldn’t be a valid excuse on Jane’s part. It’s not okay to touch someone just to get their attention even if they’re hard of hearing or deaf. The only exception might be if they’re actively in danger or they’ve given you explicit permission to touch them to get their attention.

            1. RabbitRabbit*

              It’s absolutely not. I was just noting upthread a bit that we worked around noise-cancelling headphones by knocking on the person’s desk.

            2. Kaitydidd*

              Agreed. I have one fully deaf ear, and I give people seated on my deaf side permission to tap my shoulder to get my attention in noisy or large meeting environments. So far no one has done so in a work setting, and we communicated just fine.

      3. kitryan*

        Yes, it seemed like it was possible that the mumbling/low talking was to point up OP’s hearing and also provide an excuse for the poking. ‘But she can’t *hear* me!’ ‘I have to get her attention *somehow*!’.
        It looks like it’s all of a piece and that piece is to needle, annoy, and diminish OP.

    2. GothicBee*

      I wouldn’t be surprised if all of this was directly related to the LW’s hearing problems. I’m hard of hearing and the condescension and doing obnoxious stuff to get your attention directly line up with some of my experiences, which is why I generally avoid telling people I’m hard of hearing. If it were me, I’d have punched her in the face by now (not that I recommend that as a course of action).

      LW should absolutely bring this to management/HR and emphasize the fact that it could be disability related. Even if LW can’t hear Jane sometimes, touching her at all is not okay. There are a million ways you can get someone’s attention without putting your hands on them.

      1. FallingSlowly*

        I agree, I would really be hard-pressed to have not reflexively hit out at the source of the pain by now.
        Like swatting an insect that bit you to make it stop.

        I don’t know how OP has held it together so long with this escalating.

  13. LizB*

    My unhelpful fake advice that you definitely shouldn’t do for myriad reasons is to get a spritzer bottle full of water and squirt her every time she pokes you, like a misbehaving cat.

    My actual advice is just ditto to everything Alison said, and lots and lots of sympathy coming your way. She’s behaving absolutely inexcusably, and you deserve a work environment where your personal space is respected and your hearing needs are accommodated rather than mocked.

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      Haha! I love fake advice. Sometimes it’s nice to just… daydream about doing something utterly ridiculous. And really, OP – this person is assaulting you and if, as other commenters have mentioned you have bruises, that could be battery as well. I would loudly exclaim “Don’t TOUCH me!” every time she even moves like she’s going to touch you. complete with exaggerated flinching.

    2. Fashionable Pumpkin*

      I was thinking a shirt of chainmail (sp?) so when she jabs OP she breaks her darn finger nail.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Why stop there? Go full porcupine. …Somehow. With cactuses glued to your clothes maybe.

        1. Tessie Mae*

          That’s what I was thinking. An entire outfit of . . . pointy things sticking out everywhere. Well, maybe not where you sit (that would be painful), so maybe not the lower half of the body. And you could say it’s your heavy metal look.

          Sorry, just brainstorming some fake advice that is nowhere as good as the real advice from Alison and all. But, really–she would then have nowhere safe to poke.

        2. James*

          There’s a Russian anti-bear suit that’s exactly this. Spines everywhere, so there’s nowhere for the bear to grab you. It’s one of the things that pops up when searching for weird historic armor (I have strange hobbies).

    3. Abogado Avocado*

      I LOVE that idea, Liz B! I imagine OP bringing in a squirt bottle and saying to Jane, “You need to stop poking me now. And, if you forget, I’m going to squirt you with this as I used to do with Pookie. This taught Pookie to stop jumping onto the kitchen counter, and now I will teach you not to touch me.”

    4. Dumpster Fire*

      I’d actually go with a can of Silly String. or maybe pepper spray. or a taser.

      And count loudly, once she gets past maybe five times in a day.


    5. Mallory Janis Ian*

      By the time I was partway through OP’s letter, I wanted to poke Jane myself — just advance on her and, with every word punctuated by a poke to her sternum, say, “Don’t. You. Ever. Poke. Me. Again. As. Long. As. You. Live.”

    6. ginger ale for all*

      You could spritz her with obnoxious smelling perfume. I would recommend White Linen by Estee Lauder – it is cat piss in a bottle.

    7. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I volunteer one of my walking sticks – poke me repeatedly with fingernail? Get ready to be poked by several feet of heavy wood in retaliation.

      (/bad advice do not follow in real life etc)

    8. Lonely Aussie*

      My thought was that the OP should jump as if surprised and happen to land on her foot…. Every. single. time. So you’re nicer than I am lol…

      1. Bagpuss*

        Yes, or reflexively bat her hand away.
        (years ago, an acquaintance of mine thought it was funny to see if we were ticklish – we were all in the pub and he tried it on me when I have a full pint of beer in my hand. I have a pretty strong stale reflex. He wound up wearing my beer and buying me a fresh one, and he did learn to keep his hands to himself after that…)

    9. nonethefewer*

      My unhelpful fake advice: Weaponize your hearing loss. Every time Jane mumbles, completely guess at what she’s saying that might sound similar. When she starts speaking more clearly/loudly, continue guessing. If she says it to someone else who says it to you, correctly hear her, but otherwise… sorry, you’re going to have to speak up!

      WAIT I GOT IT get one of those click tracker things to count how often she pokes you. Just as pointed as counting out loud, but even more satisfying! When she pokes you, click the counter, then wait 15 seconds before continuing. Make her life just as hard as she’s making yours.


      1. Kaitydidd*

        In my experience, people get pretty darn annoyed if I ask them to repeat themselves twice, when I genuinely am trying to understand. So I would expect “earnestly” asking for repetitions every single time they mumble softly to do the trick for a normal person. For Jane, who knows. But it would at least put the onus back on her to behave properly.

        I put in a lot of effort to hear people well, which I’m willing to do most of the time. I always appreciate when people remember which is my good ear and try to position themselves there, or who speak louder or maybe change their phrasing when I ask for a repetition. People like Jane don’t deserve more than a cursory effort, though. My efforts are a privilege that can be lost.

  14. it's me*

    “I don’t want to cause problems or make waves.” LW, as the saying goes, *Jane* made it weird, not you. You’re totally, totally justified in calling this to the attention of higher-ups.

    1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      LW, YOU are not causing problems – Jane is! She’s also at least skating very close to creating a hostile atmosphere and quite possibly discriminating against someone with a recognized disability.
      You have spoken with her and let her know how this affects you and she responded by escalating the abusive behavior. Any company that wants to stay in business and out of the scandal-sheet headlines should take this very seriously indeed (because it IS very serious!) Please, please, please follow Alison’s advice and tell your supervisor about it ASAP!

    2. D3*

      Yep. JANE is causing problems and making waves.
      Don’t absorb that all by yourself. Don’t feel like you have to deal with it by yourself. And *definitely* don’t think that you caused a problem or made waves by dealing with Jane’s actions!

    3. EPLawyer*

      Protecting yourself from PHYSICAL ASSAULT is not making waves. This is exactly what managers NEED to hear about.

      I know you think this is just an interpersonal conflict between you and Jane so you think it should be handled between the two of you. This is not Jane is wearing really heavy perfume and it gives me a headache. This is PHYSICAL ASSAULT which is never okay. Besides you TRIED to handle it between the two of you and she double downed. There is NO magic words that you can use that will get Jane to stop. Telling her again to stop will not get through. If the first 999 times did not work, the 1000th will not. There is no strategy you can use to just avoid interacting with you because SHE COMES TO FIND YOU.

      This is having a definite impact on your work. Plus ITS PHYSICAL ASSAULT (did I mention that already). Your boss needs to know ASAP. Like as soon as you see Alison’s answer you need to go to your boss and tell them what is going on.

    4. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, this reminds me of when my bully started openly yelling at me in the office. I was trying so hard to not cause problems or make waves, but when they make it open and conspicuous….

    5. Sara without an H*

      We’ve had letters like this before from people who really, really don’t want to make trouble/whine/tattle, but their “nice” co-worker keeps [INSERT VILE BEHAVIOR HERE]. Bullies batten on such people.

      OP, if your company is really a great work environment, your manager is going to want to know about this. Yesterday.

      It sounds as though you’re already keeping documentation. Keep it up, but don’t leave it anyplace where Jane can find it.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      OP, this is just a good life lesson. There are people out there who prey on people who “don’t want to make waves or cause problems.” Jane is one of them.

      You told her to stop numerous times. How many times in life have you been told to stop doing something, OP? If you are like most of us, you stopped the first time someone asked, right? If someone had to ask you numerous times, you’d be super embarrassed, right? Jane is not acting normally here, normal adults stop the first time they are told. And generally they apologize also! Not Jane, though.

      The rule of three, OP. You see a behavior three times this is a pattern. Once you have a pattern established, it’s okay to move forward and bring in other people. Yes, of course she accelerated. The Jane type people of the world do accelerate when they see their bad behavior does not have repercussions. They need the figurative equivalent of a concrete block dropped on their heads in order to understand that no means no.

      I hope your place does not hire a person with low vision, because guess what is going to happen there?

    7. Bagpuss*

      Absolutely. You are not causing problems or making waves. Jane is. You just want to work without being assaulted multiple times a day.

  15. cubone*

    Clearly this is overdue to be escalated to your manager, but I would genuinely pretend her finger is a flaming sword and every time she pokes you, jump back and just yell “ahh!”

    1. cubone*

      also this: “She has now started poking me or tapping me while we are mid-conversation as if i’m not focused 100% on her. like she’s scolding me. If i even turn slightly, she will poke me. If I look away, she will tap me” is BONKERS. The whole thing is bonkers but as someone with ADHD who finds sustained eye contact very difficult, oh wow this would have me reeling.

      1. Kaitydidd*

        Seriously! Taking notes or doodling is one of my ways of coping and retaining information. Forcing me to maintain eye contact is one of the best ways to ensure I don’t remember what was said.

    2. nerak*

      I’d be dodging that finger right and left, “oh, are you trying to poke me AGAIN?” when I’ve asked you SO MANY TIMES to stop?!” I know the OP can’t always see the poking coming (ew), and in that case I’d also try to move myself to a desk/position where I could see her coming (along with talking to HR and all the other great suggestions from Alison and others).

      1. Justice*

        I would be very tempted to “wax on, wax off” and block her hand every time she touched me.

        1. Stunt Apple Breeder*

          Or walk away from her, forcing her to chase me down to continue the tapping, until other people in the office comment on it.

        2. Working Hypothesis*

          I would be just slapping her hand away from me and saying sharply, “Bad girl, Jane!” as if she were a misbehaving puppy.

          1. MtnLaurel*

            Personally, I would grab her finger and say “do not touch me again.” Which is probably not good advice, but it’s what I would do.

  16. anonymouse*

    OP, the correct question is not “how do I remain polite while I…”
    It’s “how do I remain professional…”
    And you are.
    And like Alison replies, you keep doing it. This ass is so far outside the norm, I’m sure this is the tip of the iceberg that is her maladjustment.
    Please update. I need to know the rest of the story.

  17. ENFP in Texas*

    ” I don’t want to cause problems or make waves. ”

    YOU are not the one causing problems. Jane is.

    YOU deserve a healthy, respectful work environment. YOU deserve not to be bullied by someone who will not respect your PERFECTLY REASONABLE boundaries.

    Talk to your manager. Talk to HR. You do not deserve this treatment.

  18. BluestockingNerd*

    I also have hearing loss (and wear hearing aids 24/7 except when sleeping or showering), and none of my coworkers have ever felt the need to poke me to get my attention! I don’t know how open the letter writer is about their hearing impediment but it could be an advantage in this case (as in using it to work in a different area with the excuse of needing a quieter area to hear better or something similar).

      1. EPLawyer*

        for once it is not. This is PHYSICAL ASSAULT hard enough to leave the OP in tears. Done multiple times a day. This isn’t an, I was walking by waving my arms and accidently smacked my coworker. This is the bird phobia guy who SHOVED HIS COWORKER INTO TRAFFIC level. This isn’t an annoying tic that you gotta live with. It is physical assault and calling the cops would be justified.

        1. ThatGirl*

          That may be the case, but calling the police seems like a serious overreaction, especially in a country where the police are known to be violent toward people committing very minor offenses. This is serious enough to warrant action from HR but not the police.

        2. BRR*

          What? no. Calling the police over being poked is not justifiable and is really bad advice to give the LW. Not to play this down in any way but I think the tears are from not liked being touched, and in this scenario who would be ok with it?, not the actual poke. But this is not something you call the police about. It would be more ok for the LW to bite their coworker’s finger (see the letter “I bit my coworker”)

          1. nonbinary writer*

            Yeah this is some real overstating harm here that will help absolutely no one and could actually put everyone involved at more risl. Plenty of people who’ve gone to the cops because they’ve experienced assault will be more than happy to tell how exactly how unhelpful and traumatizing dealing with cops can be as a victim.

        3. Super Duper*

          Wow, so many questions here. 1) Are you using 911 to call the cops? Because if so, that’s a terrible misuse of emergency resources. 2) If not, do you expect to call the non-emergency number and have the cops come to your office to address a coworker poking your arm? That’s not going to happen. They will tell you to go to the station and file a report. 3) If for some reason, the cops did show up at your office to deal with this, you are way more likely to get fired than the poker is, because it shows horrible judgment and would be frightening and disruptive, for an issue that you should have raised to your boss and/or HR.

          As sympathetic as I am to the LW (which is VERY), this is not comparable to being shoved into traffic. Being poked is inappropriate, disturbing, and annoying, but it’s not life-threatening. And LW hasn’t raised this with her manager or HR yet. It would be very foolish to jump to involving law enforcement in any capacity when you haven’t even told your manager it’s an issue.

          (And this isn’t even touching the massive issue of police violence, assuming LW is in the United States. Calling the cops on your coworker for poking you is just such a bad idea.)

        4. Observer*

          for once it is not. This is PHYSICAL ASSAULT hard enough to leave the OP in tears.

          Technically correct, but utterly irrelevant. The police will do absolutely nothing. They’ll probably even refuse to file a report.

            1. HereKittyKitty*

              I think the thousands of folks that have tried to get domestic violence on record would like to speak with you. I personally know around a dozen DV victims who have contacted the police only for nothing to be written up.

              I’ve literally had my car broken into and called the police and he wrote some notes and I never heard from them again, and this was in a smaller town.

            2. Observer*

              That’s completely correct. No one is suggesting otherwise.

              The issue here is not whether cops do their jobs to the best of their ability, but the policies and capacity of the relevant police department.

            3. JB*

              Do you classify ‘spending their time and resources on a coworker poking incident’ to be doing right by their jobs?

              What exactly are you envisioning a good cop will do when you call them and say ‘my coworker keeps poking me and won’t stop. No, I haven’t talked to my boss about it.’? They’re an officer of the law, not your mom and dad.

          1. Grumpy Lawyer*

            Seriously. It may technically be battery (not assault, at least not how it’s defined in my state), but it wouldn’t rise to the level of a crime and the police would not be happy about being called. She could maybe file a civil claim against the poker.

        5. Middle School Teacher*

          This is TERRIBLE advice and I’m surprised it’s coming from this crowd who advocated NOT calling the police to someone who had had their door banged on. What is OP supposed to say, I want to file a report because my coworker don’t stop poking me?? The police have real work to do.

        6. Neptune*

          It is absolutely baffling to me that someone calling themselves a lawyer is advocating calling the police because you are being poked by a colleague, to the point that I am really questioning what genuine experience you have with the police and the legal system at all. Even aside from the well-documented issues with the police force that anyone who reads the news should be aware of, that would also be a totally absurd escalation of a workplace conflict that would show incredibly poor judgement on the OP’s part. It is also very much not comparable to the bird letter, because that involved someone being pushed into traffic and breaking a limb, while this involves being repeatedly poked with someone’s finger.

          I mean, really. It always astonishes me how many people on this site – despite the ostensibly progressive overall atmosphere – seem to view the police as their own personal on-call boundary enforcers.

      2. mumbles*

        Pokey-finger would have it coming but yeah it’s a completely ineffective action to take that would make OP look like a joke.

        1) Say loudly & assertively to unequivocally stop
        2) Take it to management
        3a) go up as far as needed the chain regarding literal physical hostile workplace 3b) shout/physically deflect+physical defense, whatever that requires

      3. Me*

        Calling the police to report ASSAULT is perfectly valid. It’s ridiculous to suggest it’s not.

        1. Me*

          This shouldn’t be the first action by any means, but if all else has been exhausted yeah I probably would have looked at them and said if you assault me one more time I am going to file a police report.

          1. calonkat*

            Before the police, she definitely needs to escalate up internally. Poking, no matter how hard, is not generally what the police handle. They aren’t the right option here.

            I’d also strongly discourage the OP from any of the (joking) comments about poking back or physically responding. As soon as you do that, she WILL be off to HR and your manager complaining that you have struck/assaulted her. That may be what her end goal here is, causing you to react physically, she reports first, and you get fired.

            Talk to your management and HR. Lay it out (without the “she’s sort of nice” nonesense). Have the timeline, the count of how many times per day, photos of bruises. At the very least, request that she be moved away and instructed not to speak to you without a third party present and that she be instructed that she is never to touch you again.

          2. ecnaseener*

            Key difference there: filing a report (presumably by going down to the station) vs calling them to your workplace. I could maybe see filing a report after talking to HR.

          3. JB*

            ‘Someone keeps poking me’ is not a police matter.

            If you call the police, they’re going to ask – are you able to physically get away from her?

            And if the answer is ‘yes’, even if it’s ‘yes but that would require leaving the building and losing my job’, they are not going to respond, because that’s an issue between you and your employer/HR, not for the police.

        2. mumbles*

          It’s valid but the very last thing to be done, after she loudly & clearly establishes to stop & after she takes it up with management& they are not responding – not because OP shouldn’t make waves, but it won’t be effective as a first or second line of action.

        3. ThatGirl*

          the police are not HR, they are not customer service, and I’m having trouble imagining what a cop would even do besides maybe take a report and then do nothing with it.

          1. Amaranth*

            Calling the police right off is likely to be seen as overkill, embarrassing to the company, etc. and would probably have a negative impact on OP’s reputation. OP should have the people in authority – at work – tell Jane to cut it out or be written up/suspended. But it would help if OP gathered some witnesses so it isn’t a case of ‘she pokes me incessantly and painfully’ and Jane saying ‘I occasionally tap her arm to get her attention.’

        4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          I can quite confidently say that if you call the police in my area to report that a coworker keeps poking you (and it’s not with e.g. a knife) the most likely outcome is you get to be another of those ‘pointless calls to the police’ break room chat legends in the police station’s lunchroom.

          1. LavaLamp*

            The police don’t care if someone is poking you as long as it’s not with a weapon. Siblings do this stuff all the time to annoy one another, and it’s just. . . not going to get you the result you want. You will be laughed at. Police are for SERIOUS things like

            Theft, Burglary, Murder, Attempted Murder, true assault with weapons or punches etc, car accidents, fires etc. Not a coworker poking you. I don’t mean to be blunt, but I was taught what the police were for at a very young age. Being poked is not one of those things. I keep seeing people advocating calling the cops here for weird office stuff, that doesn’t rise to the level of. . needing a cop.

        5. Seeking Second Childhood*

          A more appropriate response would be to dial your manager! “Hi Boss, you said you wanted to know when she does it again.”
          Also, does boss know you’re proofreading Jane’s emails? Or are you fixing a problem for her that she is supposed to be working on?

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            I wondered about the last parts of this too. Jane is not described as LW’s superior, but their coworker. Coworkers don’t usually get to demand secretarial or assistant services from other colleagues.

  19. Tryinghard*

    Side note, I don’t know how hearing impaired you are but you may want to talk to your boss or HR about ADA accommodations.

    As another aside to keep people from touching / scaring as I have moderate loss in one ear, I asked my team to instant message me to let me know they are stopping over to chat so I know to look out for them. They like it because we can quickly determine when they should stop by.

    Not an ADA accommodation but something that helps me.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I have mild hearing loss and a hearing disorder, and I have mirrors on the wall by my desk so I can see if anyone is approaching.

      That’s WFH, but I would absolutely recommend similar to anyone in a normal workplace.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Gonna look into that for my desk – genuinely great idea.

        (Not hearing loss, but have severe tinnitus in one ear)

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          It has potential for distraction if people often walk past, but I love mine.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          An assortment of old CDs makes a fun & functional decoration.
          If you still have a drawer of them around somewhere that is.

      2. Silence Will Fall*

        I have no hearing loss, but startle easily. When management rearranged our cubes so everyone faces away from the walkways, I added a bike mirror to the top of my monitor so that I can see anyone approaching.

      3. BelleMorte*

        being deaf, I have always had the accommodation of having my body face towards the door/cubicle entry, even partially so I can always peripherally see if someone is approaching because I jump easily. All it took was someone deciding to face my back to the door and me repeatedly screeching in shock several times a day (and also giving the person coming in a heart attack) for them to realize it’s an issue.

        WFH my only issue is my cat suddenly jumping on my desk.

        1. Kaitydidd*

          I have one deaf ear, and I make sure my good ear or my eyes are oriented toward my cubicle opening. Having my deaf ear toward the door makes me just a little anxious all day, which impacts my work.

  20. Colorado*

    This hit a nerve for me. Jane is a jealous, petty bitch. I would yell loudly every time, “PLEASE DON’T TOUCH ME!!”, or just “DON’T TOUCH ME”. Every.single.time. And talk to your manager and HR immediately. This is not okay on any term!

      1. No Touchie! Bad Llama*

        This reminds me of the Jeff Dunham’s comedy routine where one of his puppets resorts to saying, “STAAAAAAAaaaaaPPPPP tOUching ME!” The OP is not in a comedy routine, but if she can channel the outrage, maybe other people will notice.

    1. cubone*

      I would also like to add on a loud ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” while walking backwards and throwing your hands up to protect yourself. Treat it as bizarre as it is.

    2. nonbinary writer*

      I agree, I absolutely hate being touched by the vast majority of people, even more so when it’s a surprise. My aversion to touch is even more heightened since COVID — I can barely stand someone brushing up against me without feeling real revulsion.

    3. o_gal*

      On the other hand, doing this could backfire on the OP. If the OP cannot find support from the managers or HR (if the company is big enough to have one, this one may not be), and Jane has been there longer. They may come back to the OP and call her “disruptive”, while never really addressing the problem with Jane. And while reasonable people would say “Oh no, that will never happen” remember that this is the weird world of Ask a Manager, where literally anything is possible in some workplaces. Plus, I’ve seen it play out this way in a previous job in a similar situation.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Remember those hats or skirts people were making at the beginning of the pandemic that forced people to stay 6 feet away? OP needs one of those.

      1. IndustriousLabRat*

        A nice fashionable chainmail cardigan and a bare metal welcome mat outside the office… couple wires… car battery… no more poking.

  21. Frally*

    Ooh, I’m furious at Jane on your behalf. I’d love for you to smack her hand away and yell, “I told you to stop doing that!” every time she assaults you. And yes, go to your manager. She doesn’t care about your feelings, why should you care about hers???

  22. College Career Counselor*

    Jane is a bullying asshole, full stop. Alison’s advice is spot-on here–escalation to the manager & HR (possibly at the same time, if your manager is disinclined to take action) is warranted because Jane is not going to stop without external intervention otherwise.

  23. Nea*

    Telling management “I do not want to be the victim of constant daily assault” is not making waves! Jane is the sole problem here!

  24. cosmicgorilla*

    Return awkward to sender.

    You look away for a second, mid-conversation.


    You: Why did you poke me?

    Her: Mumble mumble bs excuse.

    You: Speak up. You know I have a hearing impediment. Why did you poke me? That’s really strange.

    Later in the day, or in the conversation:


    You (loudly): Ow! Why do you keep poking me? Can’t you keep your hands to yourself?



    You: Ow! Stop poking me! Are you FIVE?
    also you: WTF! That hurts! Why are you deliberately trying to hurt me?

    Come up with a laundry list of responses (or we the commentariat can help), and trot them out every time she pokes you.

    1. Zippy*

      Add “Why are you assaulting me?!”

      Honestly I’d probably tell her “if you ever do that again you’re going to lose this finger,” but I realize that’s not so professional.

  25. Detective Amy Santiago*

    My petty side wants to say start poking her back every time she does it. Or just at random times. See how she likes it.

    That won’t actually resolve the issue though, so every time she does it, I’d repeat “Stop touching me” and then ignore her. Don’t answer whatever question she is asking, don’t listen to whatever she wants to say, just flat out ignore her until she learns to approach you appropriately.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Have you read “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain? He has a great story about a fellow chef who kept harassing him and the way he stopped it was by stabbing the guy in the hand with a rusty carving fork.

      My mind quickly flashed to that scene when I read this letter! (Also, RIP AB. What a talented writer he was.)

      1. cubone*

        I actually had a classmate in high school slap me on the arm daily in our homeroom class. It was bullying but in the “I’m just messing with you!” jokey way, but like every couple minutes (I had a bruised arm constantly). So much of what OP wrote reminds me of how overwhelming and stressful and intrusive it felt.

        It stopped because one day after the dozenth little arm slap I just turned and punched her as hard as possible in the arm. She yelled at me and then never touched me again. Which is not helpful advice for the workplace whatsoever.

        1. Dramatic Romantic*

          The guy who sat next to me in high school science got stabbed in the leg with a pencil when he wouldn’t stop touching me. Asking him to stop didn’t work. Pencil stabbing did.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, this is reminding me of grammar school where a kid punched me… daily. I had the bruising to prove it. My father worked with his father so they had a chat. But telling this kid to stop hitting me was like talking to a wall. I had to tell my father.

        3. Yes ChrisW I still remember*

          Bully who had been harassing me on a daily basis and following me around to make nasty comments learned his lesson when he said something about my grandmother.
          “You can say anything you want to me, but you leave my family out of it.”
          And then I hauled off and punched him.
          I wish I could have been a fly on the wall to hear his explanation to his parents for how his glasses got broken by a smaller girl and why.
          He avoided me for the next 5 years until graduation.
          Again, not something you can do at work –but maybe plan to get startled and flail out?

          1. DesertRose*

            You had one of those too?

            (In my case it was: I told him that if he hit me with the handful of bamboo he was brandishing at me, I would hit him back. He didn’t believe me, but he believed the piece of lumber (2 x 4–this was on the weekend, in the neighborhood, and the neighbor whose yard we were near was building something) I applied with a good bit of gusto to his forehead. He had a goose egg, his parents came down to talk to mine [and got, “What did your son expect when he hit my daughter? Her mama and I aren’t raising her to take that (BS)!” from my stepdad], and he would not meet my eyes for the remainder of our occupying the same school halls. Break my heart. :P )

            Also not advocating violence in the workplace, nor am I advocating “She started it!” as a defense, but if you should, I don’t know, try to wave off an incoming poke and misgauge the strength so as to sprain her [unprintable expletive-deleted shouldn’t have been poking you in the first place] wrist/elbow/shoulder, well, she’d reap what she sowed.

            But definitely tell your manager, show them any visible marks Jane has left on you, tell Manager the whole story (especially including the escalation of the poking after you asked Jane to stop and the intentional mumbling–disability discrimination, and even if Manager likes Jane, Manager will not like the idea that you could hire a lawyer and sue the company if they don’t make Jane knock this BS off posthaste), and in the interim, don’t be afraid to say, “OW, JANE!” “JANE, STOP TOUCHING ME!” “JANE, I HAVE TOLD YOU NOT TO TOUCH ME!!” “KNOCK IT OFF, JANE!!” and/or anything else any time Jane touches you. Name her. Name the behavior.

            She has choices. She has chosen to harass you. She could choose to stop. (In a perfect world, she would never have started, but alas.)

            And yeah, I have never made a habit of touching coworkers. Back in my food-service days, we had a signal for “I’m trying to walk behind you” that was a gentle placing of palm to shoulder/upper back (tight quarters, and we were trying to avoid things like stepping on toes or dropping heavy stuff on each other). That was about it for intentional coworker touching except handshaking.

            Even in social situations, one statement of “please don’t touch me” should be sufficient, two at most. If you have to say it a third time, you have all the permission you ever need to return awkwardness to sender and yell/make a scene. OP is WAY past three with Jane and has the patience of ten thousand saints.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I haven’t, but I will put it on my list.

        This was an effective tactic for getting a 2 year old to stop biting, but not so much in the workplace.

      3. quill*

        So back in college when mental health was at an all time low and people kept sneaking up on my dangerously sleep deprived self, I did something similar. Except it was a cafeteria fork, so unqualified to draw blood, and a complete accident.

        The ambusher left with four perfect dot bruises and hopefully some restraint. I stopped sitting without my back to the wall.

      4. Palliser*

        Not my proudest moment, but in 3rd grade a kid kept bothering me, and eventually I stuck him in the hand with a lead pencil. With the wisdom of age, I know realize it’s much better to handle situations before you snap and start stabbing people. That being said, there is a certain kind of bully who does finally get it when they get a carving fork or a pencil in their hand. Management coming down hard on the perpetrator might be the adult version of that. I still think back to that letter about the woman who bit the jerk in her office that was always running people over.

    2. mumbles*

      I wouldn’t poke& make this like a cartoon sibling play fight. I’d block-smack her hand away if in my line of sight and possibly shove her, with the implication of worse coming if she continues.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Yes, that was my worry too – if you poke her back, you give her evidence to say “oh OP and I always poke each other! It’s our thing!”

  26. Firecat*

    Um did I miss something? All I saw was OP said they asked once in March for it to stop. They didn’t say how they asked? They mentioned they asked as they do not like to be touched, which I didn’t read as them coming out and telling the poker that. Sorry if I misread.

    If they really only asked once in March and have let it go on without comment since then I would personally start with something like:
    I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear, I do not liked to be touched please stop. Followed by at most a few more reminders every time she pokes you of – this is an example of what I was talking about. Please don’t tap me like that.

    The reason I recommend this approach is because if you escalate the poking to management, and it comes out that poker doesn’t recall you asking, and they swing back to you and your response is you mentioned it once 5 months ago? Its going to look like you are not good at handling interpersonal relationships at work – fairly or not. So having some recent, firm but polite examples, will make it impossible for poker to feign ignorance if they keep poking you.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      From the letter: ” I’ve already talked to her about this numerous times and expressed my discomfort at being touched in general and it still isn’t enough.”

    2. BabyElephantWalk*

      Even if she hadn’t brought it up multiple times, Jane is poking her hard enough to genuinely hurt. At a certain point you go around the bully.

    3. Observer*

      The reason I recommend this approach is because if you escalate the poking to management, and it comes out that poker doesn’t recall you asking, and they swing back to you and your response is you mentioned it once 5 months ago? Its going to look like you are not good at handling interpersonal relationships at work – fairly or not. So having some recent, firm but polite examples, will make it impossible for poker to feign ignorance if they keep poking you.

      Nope. This is not “interpersonal conflict.” Even if the OP had never asked Jane to stop (which they actually did multiple times), any manager should realize that this is not about two people who can’t agree on something or someone being a bit unreasonable. This is one person being seriously abusive. This is one person doing something that NO FUNCTIONAL ADULT should need to be told to not do. The mumbling would be different. But you do NOT need to tell an adult in the workplace to NOT poke you. So, the fact that someone didn’t tell their abuser to stop poking them should not make a manager look at the victim negatively. If they DO, that makes them both an enabler and a lousy manager.

      Again, this is in addition to the fact that the OP did actually make the case multiple times.

    4. theletter*

      Poking is such a childish, boundary crossing act that I don’t think the poker could use the ‘no one told me not to poke my coworkers’ defense.

      We usually learn not to poke people in kindergarten and have the lesson reinforced around puberty.

  27. Mental Lentil*

    Go to a deaf bar sometime. The way you get people’s attention is to tap/pound on the bar near them.

    You DO NOT POKE someone with a hearing impairment to get their attention.

    1. MMMMMmmmmMMM*

      Had a coworker that was deaf in one ear. We’d pound the countertop to get their attention.

      1. quill*

        Childhood best friend was deaf on one side. You walked around to her good side to get her attention. Or you told her dog “get lucinda” and he’d paw at her knees.

    2. Ana Gram*

      Yeah, the poking is super inappropriate. I do a hand wave to catch someone’s attention at Deaf events.

    3. Phil*

      Back in the punk rock days one of the places we played in San Francisco was The Deaf Club. Right, the Deaf Club was for hearing impaired folks. So you had these really normal looking people standing around signing to each other while at the other end of the room a punk band was playing full blast with a typical mosh pit. Strange.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Nothing strange–Deaf people still feel the floor vibrate! And given the volume of some rock concerts I’ve been to, they might feel the air vibrate too.
        (I only did a couple of concerts before realizing it was foolhardy because I wanted to keep my mild hearing loss mild.)

        1. Ariaflame*

          And the slight benefit that they can communicate with each other without the music drowning it out.

          1. BelleMorte*

            This was actually a selling point of my ASL classes I taught in university. Learn ASL and never have to scream WHAT?! in a bar!

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I was once in a bar where a band playing used such big speakers I could feel my lungs vibrating.

          1. JustaTech*

            I went to a metal concert where the vibrations from the speakers were making my stomach contents slosh around unpleasantly until I stood behind my much taller friend who blocked (a tiny fraction) of the sound. He kept offering to let me stand in front so I could see, but I was all “nope, I’m great back here”.

  28. Camellia*

    Honestly, I would NOT first go to my manager and say ‘Jane poked me 38 times’, simply because, *with no other context*, I think it makes you sound a little weird that you are…counting things. Now, if your manager and others already know she is doing this, then by all means go to your manager.

    But if they don’t already know or have noticed, then instead I would immediately start the loud exclamations of “STOP TOUCHING ME”, “I TOLD YOU NOT TO TOUCH ME”, and so forth. That will get peoples’ attention and start the process of documenting, so to speak, this behaviour. And hopefully that will make her stop, but if it doesn’t, THEN you can go to your manager and tell him what you’ve counted, and point out that others must have also heard/noticed that you have told her firmly to stop touching you but she has continued.

    This also shows that you have tried to handle this yourself, which is always a plus in these situations. Just my two cents.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      I really think “38 pokes in a single day” is all the context I would need.

      ONE poke is inappropriate. This is kindergarten-level stuff. Jane should know better. LW does not need to soft-pedal any of this.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      I think it’s important to mention in order to establish the scope of the problem, once OP has told the manager about the issue and how pervasive it is (and about Jane’s general attitude toward her.) But I wouldn’t lead with the numbers, just add it in context- “it’s gotten to the point where I started counting.”

      Your manager will probably be taken aback that you didn’t escalate this way sooner, like the week it started. That isn’t to make you feel bad, but just so you’re prepared to explain how intimidated you felt and really give the manager a full, detailed picture of how bad it is.

    3. EBStarr*

      I strongly disagree with this.

      It would be more or less taking Jane’s side for OP’s manager to respond with, essentially, “Yes, sure, your coworker poked you 38 times in one day in a bizarre campaign of ableist harassment, but it’s just plain weird that you counted that high!”

      Also, there is no need for anyone to yell or raise their voice or tell someone off in public or get the whole world’s attention in order for them to get the “credit” for having told their coworker to stop. Why can’t OP go to her manager now? She’s already told Jane to stop, and Jane didn’t. How is that not “trying to handle it yourself”? It was unacceptable that Jane continued to poke OP even once, after being told — in a private, normal, quiet conversation — that OP did not like it. Any decent manager would be horrified by Jane’s behavior, not relentlessly interrogate OP as to whether she was loud, public, insistent and aggressive enough in her response to Jane.

      1. Ridiculous Stressed Swan Thing*

        Some managers aren’t decent and Jane sounds like she’s off her rocker. OP needs to convey the seriousness of this issue.

        1. EBStarr*

          Yes, but there was no indication that the OP’s manager is a problem, and yet this advice focused on making the OP jump through more hoops and do all these fantasy kick-ass things like yelling at Jane (which many people would never have the presence of mind to do when they’ve been regularly bullied for a year; I certainly wouldn’t) in order to “deserve” the manager’s attention and prove that she had actually tried to address the problem herself.

          1. Ridiculous Stressed Swan Thing*

            Oh, I don’t think it’s about “deserving” the manager’s attention. At a certain point, it’s about making sure that OP’s other coworkers know about Crazy Jane Who Won’t Stop Poking People.

            This is how you drag Missing Stair people out into the light. It does require a certain amount of presence of mind to deal with those issues in the moment. It’s hard and takes practice, but dang is it effective.

            True story – I was very like OP when I was new to the workplace, and I had a bullying coworker. I tried a lot of things, like telling my manager and HR, and of course from their perspective the best way to deal with us was to sit us both down and try to talk through the conflict, make us really “hear” each other. Of course, the problem is that bullies are super good at squirming out of situations like this. He pulled out outright denials, the DARVO methods, the gaslighting…all the stuff in the abuser’s toolbox. HR sent us back to our workstations with the general sense that we were both equally culpable for his bad behavior. This process repeated a few times.

            What worked? One day when he did it, I said as loudly as I could (not a yell but definitely wanted other people to hear this): “MICHAEL I SAID STOP. DO WE NEED TO GO TO HR AGAIN?” Boom. All eyes on Michael. Michael hadn’t just been awful to me, and somehow saying that out loud in public broke the spell, and others complained to HR as well. Michael was now Creepy Michael who liked to lean over our chairs and whisper in our ears and stroke our hair and say he was doing it to get our attention without making much noise since we were talking to customers on the phone. Creepy Michael suddenly was under a lot more scrutiny, was moved to wherever we stashed Red Stapler employees, and eventually was fired. Truly a happy ending for everyone.

            1. EBStarr*

              It’s great that you made a scene and that you’re happy with how your story ended, but in an ideal world, the OP would be able to report Jane and go about her day free of ableist harassment. I didn’t like that the original comment implied that she shouldn’t go to her manager until she’d jumped through all these extra hoops. She’s already been harassed and bullied for a year, AND she’s made numerous attempts to address it herself, so I think she’s carried enough of a burden already. She shouldn’t have to take on any more unless it becomes necessary due to having a crap manager.

            2. Observer*

              I tried a lot of things, like telling my manager and HR, and of course from their perspective the best way to deal with us was to sit us both down and try to talk through the conflict, make us really “hear” each other

              In other words, your HR and management were incompetent. But also, the reason this made a difference is because OTHER PEOPLE ALSO COMPLAINED. Because Creepy Michael was doing this to multiple people so you galvanized your coworkers to complain.

              None of that is relevant to the OP, though. If HR is this incompetent, then OP is out of luck because why would anyone complain just because OP made sure everyone heard about it?

        2. Observer*

          Some managers aren’t decent and Jane sounds like she’s off her rocker. OP needs to convey the seriousness of this issue.

          If the manager and HR are incompetent enough that simply explaining what the OP explained here is not enough to convey the seriousness of the problem, this advice is not going to change that.

        3. Working Hypothesis*

          OP can convey the seriousness of the problem without leaving out the number, and the number helps to provide context for just how pervasive a problem this is. “Boss, I’m having a serious problem I need your help with. Jane has been consistently jabbing me with her fingernails, hard, whenever I don’t give her 100% of my attention on demand. I’m not talking about a tap on the shoulder to get my attention; she stabs me hard enough to seriously hurt, and she does it all day, every day. Once I counted, just to see what I was dealing with, and she’d stabbed me 38 times in one day!! I have told her repeatedly to stop, and it only gets worse and worse. She’s taken to using it as punishment if I glance away for a split-second when she’s talking to me, or if I don’t obey her orders, and she’s been ordering me to do bizarre things like proofread all her emails, too. I tried to handle this myself but she won’t stop no matter what I do. She is way out of control and I need you to make her leave me alone.”

    4. EPLawyer*

      38 times in one day IS documenting. The OP doesn’t need to put up with this one second longer. Make it clear to the boss that something is done immediately or HR is the next stop. If HR won’t help use the magic word “lawyer.” That will get their damn attention. Even if you were not hearing impaired, the poking is physical assault in the work place. WITH the hearing impairment, they are looking at a whole OTHER level of trouble if they don’t act against Jane with alacrity.

    5. bookartist*

      If one of my reports had an enumeration of how frequently something, anything, happened, that’d make me sit up straighter and take fuller notice. It’s not pettiness; it’s a sign my report has had enough.

    6. Super Duper*

      The frequency is important context, though! “Jane pokes me to get my attention” is much easier to brush off than “Jane poked me 38 times just today.”

      Regardless, I would focus on the “unwanted touching” piece, which should ring major alarm bells in the manager’s head. One employee is repeatedly touching another employee’s body in a way they do not like, and has ignored clear requests to stop. That’s clearly behavior that needs to be shut down.

    7. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I think if OP lays it out to their supervisor they same way they explained it to us, it should be fine.

    8. Observer*

      Honestly, I would NOT first go to my manager and say ‘Jane poked me 38 times’, simply because, *with no other context*, I think it makes you sound a little weird that you are…counting things

      Why? What context do you need to have to understand why someone is counting how many times they are being poked?! Seriously. This is not counting “things”! This is counting a bizarre and abusive behavior that the OP wants to document.

      Besides, the OP doesn’t need to go through this song and dance to “provide context”. All they need to do is to explain what they did here. Jane has been poking them. A lot. In fact, the OP finally counted it one day and it was 38 times!. The OP The OP has spoken to Jane multiple times.

      That’s 100% of the context that any functional and reasonably competent manager / HR needs not just to understand the situation, but to take action.

    9. Not So NewReader*

      Let’s not get OP worried about “counting things”.

      OP, this is a very simple thing to foresee and fix. “I have been having problems with Jane poking me. I asked her to stop several times because her nails hurt to the point that water comes up in my eyes. She has not stopped, matter of fact it’s gotten worse. The other day she poked me 38 times. Yes, I counted because I thought the situation was getting out of hand. There is no need to touch me even once.”

    10. Worldwalker*

      Make it “STOP POKING ME” because what she’s doing goes beyond just touching. Simple touching would be out-of-bounds enough, but she’s doing something intended to hurt.

    11. No Name #1*

      I mean, I’d imagine the LW wouldn’t just say “hey boss, Jane poked me 38 times yesterday” without any context. I think sharing the number of times Jane poked them is important for demonstrating how severe this is and it would not be difficult to explain why they counted. Something to the effect of, “I need to talk to you about an ongoing problem with Jane that I have tried to address with her directly numerous times with no avail. For the last x months, Jane has been poking me, often quite hard, to get my attention because she knows I have trouble hearing her sometimes due to being hard of hearing. I’ve told her repeatedly not to touch me but it has continued. for an example, last Tuesday I counted and she poked me 38 times. Since talking to her directly has not worked, what are the next steps here?”

      Documenting issues and adding quantitative details is a pretty standard business practice in general and documenting workplace issues and hostile treatment is completely reasonable and expected.

  29. MMMMMmmmmMMM*

    I literally cannot think of the last time I physically touched a coworker. 38 pokes in a day? Thats… bonkers, and even WORSE in the time of COVID.

    1. Willis*

      This. Also, I can’t think of the last time I literally poked anyone. A tap on the shoulder or light touch on the arm to get a friend or family member’s attention, maybe. But seriously poking someone is really weird. Honestly, in addition to Alison’s advice, I would stop standing within arms’ reach of this co-worker and let them (and others in earshot) know why.

    2. JustaTech*

      I had a coworker poke me, while we were in the lab, before everyone was vaccinated (I think) and while she thought it was very funny I was pissed and it threw me off for the rest of the night (because of course it was when we were having to work late) and then my coworker got mad a me for being upset, as though I should have thought that getting poked with a gloved hand while we’re working with blood, in pandemic, is funny.

      It did a lot of damage to our working relationship, which never really recovered before she left.

  30. MissBaudelaire*

    Is Jane 7? My youth group behaves better than this!

    The next time she jabs you, I agree with everyone else. “Ow! Jane! That hurts me! DO NOT TOUCH ME.” She will say it’s because you can’t hear her. That is not why. And even if it was why, it doesn’t make a difference. I have worked with people with hearing impairments. If they don’t want to be touched, which is reasonable and should be respected, then we would walk to make sure they could see us before speaking.

    Go to the manager. You’re not being petty. She is violating your boundaries. Intentionally. To be nasty. No. Not okay. She’s misbehaving, not you.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Agreed that 7 year olds are generally better than this. I was very pleased when my elementary school daughter offhandedly mentioned that a boy at camp had been touching her hair when she didn’t want him to and when I followed up with more questions it turned out that a) she told him clearly to stop, and b) the staff made him sit out of the next game or some similar discipline. I thought it was a good sign both that she felt she could speak up and that she was taken seriously, even though the offense probably seemed minor to the adults. If 7 year olds can be expected to understand that we don’t touch people who don’t want to be touched, it’s not too much to expect of Jane!

      1. quill*

        Better than when I was in elementary, I had to add a weight to my braid and sock a dude with it to keep him from pulling my hair.

          1. quill*

            They banned wearing anything on the end of your braids that wasn’t an elastic or a ribbon. They also called my mom, who basically said “if you can’t keep the boys from touching the girls after they’re told to stop, the boys are going to learn the old-fashioned way. (By getting clocked) It will build character.”

            … Principals did NOT like my mom.

            1. Observer*

              Your Mom was a HERO.

              And your former school? Breeding ground for criminals. Gotta love calling out the person who defended herself rather than the aggressor.

              1. quill*

                It runs in the family I think. My mom was raised catholic but very pragmatic considering what I’ve learned about Catholics who aren’t related to me since. Whole family believed that 1) teach your sons to be gentlemen 2) boys who grow up knowing that the natural consequence of pulling girls’ pigtails is for the girl to slug them become better men.

            2. MissBaudelaire*

              I want to clock the principal.

              My oldest had a boy in daycare who just harassed the heck out of her. Snatching toys, shoving, being nasty. Fine. I told her to avoid him. One day, she’d had enough. She shoved him hard, head over heels. Daycare came to me all up in arms about it. Where was that concern when she was the one getting shoved? Gonna need you to have that same energy with the parents of THAT little boy.

              They asked me what to do. I told them to keep them separated and tell him to quit shoving kids if he doesn’t want shoved back.

      2. Worldwalker*

        Oh, Jane *understands* it. That isn’t the problem. It’s what she does with that understanding that’s the problem.

    2. Observer*

      Is Jane 7? My youth group behaves better than this!

      I believe you. Most 7 year olds are perfectly capable of understanding “keep your hands to yourself” and “your hands go only on your body, no one else’s.”

    3. J.B.*

      My 7 year old struggles with this because she has complicated brain wiring. Since she’s 7 and my kid I remind her of boundaries over and over and over and take her to therapy. Any adult in the workplace should do better than this for sure!

  31. Archaeopteryx*

    If I’m reading correctly, it sounds like you took a couple months to even ask her to stop this, when I feel like most people would have after the second time it happened. It’s ok if you’re shy or not assertive, but I would recommend acknowledging to yourself that it seems like you may be on the far end of nonconfrontational, just for your own internal calibration of what’s normal. This is especially important because it seems like your fear of making waves is wildly overpaying itself, to the point where you’re accepting behavior you definitely shouldn’t and what do you know boss would reasonably expect you to.

    Block the pokes with your hand. Say very loudly, “Stop Touching Me.” Shut this down hard and don’t back down. Stop listening to her when she critiques your customer service skills. A conversation is not a jury summons, Just cut it off if she’s giving you unsolicited advice. And definitely report all this to your boss and make it clear just how long it’s been going on and how bad.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      OP, if you’re reading this, I just want to say that I probably would have let it escalate or continue because I didn’t want to make waves, too. This thread is full of people who are very confident they’d scream and shout and threaten and slap Jane and all sorts of things – and maybe some of them would. But what we think we’d do when reading about a situation on the internet and what we actually do when we find ourselves in a situation in the workplace can be pretty different.

      It’s clearly time to escalate, and to make more of a fuss. But don’t let the commenters here make you feel bad for not having done so already. Jane is behaving very weirdly and not all of us know what to do when confronted with very weird behavior.

      1. meyer lemon*

        Yeah, freezing up in this kind of situation is extremely common, and I don’t find the “If someone did this to me, I’d deck them!” comments very helpful or empathetic. At the same time, it is good to practice being more assertive because it can be quite effective in moments like this. It’s a learning curve for most people.

      2. LKW*

        Well, for everyone it’s a righteous sense of outrage (appropriately). I know that I’d be fine after the second or third poke saying in a low, but very menacing tone “I need you to stop poking me right now. Can you do that?”
        Knowing me, I’d probably drag it out five or six times “Do you really think you can stop poking me? I need to know that you’re going to stop poking me immediately. I do not want you to poke me, so I need you to confirm that you understand that you are not to poke me and will no longer be poking me. Are we clear about the no poking or should I reiterate the no poking rule?”

      3. Archaeopteryx*

        I think it’s important for OP to see the middle ground – that while most people might not really shout or slap her hand the first few times, waiting months to push back with Jane and then even more months before bringing it up to your manager *is* on the extreme end of passive / non-confrontational. I think most people are in the middle, where after a few weeks of talking to Jane with no improvement, they would have told their boss – and would not feel at all weird escalating this to management.

        Not so that OP feels bad about it, or so she makes some miraculous transformation into some take-no-prisoners diva, but so that she have the context that her thermostat for what is “making waves” is set lower than average. That might be helpful in knowing how to phrase this to her manager, considering that her boss will likely be taken aback that something this egregious has been happening for so long and no one told her. And maybe it can help OP ponder why she feels so reluctant to assert boundaries and why she’s reluctant to clue her manager in on something so clearly begging for escalation. It can be helpful to get that sense of perspective.

        But also to reassure you, OP, it’s beyond OK to use your hands and your voice to protect your body from things like this.

      4. IndustriousLabRat*

        Guacamole Bob- This is SO well put.

        I endured literal YEARS of harassment from a guy at work, who we shall call Richard, who I tried to politely brush off, then to more firmly say, NO this is not an appropriate conversation, and walk away, to talking quietly to my boss about it (only to find out that Richard seemed to be untouchable, and with our frequent Boss turnover, the Richard Scoreboard went back to zero about biannually), to finally one day YELLING at him on the shop floor with similar wording that many here are advocating. I TOLD YOU TO STOP!!! THIS IS NOT OKAY!!! IF YOU TOUCH ME AGAIN I WILL BREAK YOUR FINGER!!! Yes, that last bit probably wasn’t my finest moment…

        Well, I was the one who got hauled into HR, and had to explain, with great embarassment over my outburst (regardless of justification), about the years of quietly just trying to make it all go away without ‘making waves’. The HR generalist I spoke to was understanding of my predicament, and did not seem surprised in the least about the delay in reporting. I’m sure that people wait to report for a long time quite regularly!

        My advice to LW is: You’ve been beyond professional, it’s totally understandable to want to keep the peace at work, and you’ve even still got the charity to call Jane ‘nice’ (!). This is the PERFECT time to escalate, while you still feel like you can do it calmly, and your calm professionalism of course can only help your case. Don’t second-guess yourself. If it’s time; it’s TIME.

          1. IndustriousLabRat*

            Nothing. He’s still here, and now flirts, constantly and obviously, like a schoolboy with the new HR generalist, who appears to be actively encouraging it. But he stays out of my hair… the closest I ever got to an acknowledgement from him that anything had been awry was “you know, you’re really unapproachable”. Thank you Richard, I’m glad it’s working. My current boss is aware of the entire situation, including the flirting-with-HR bit (when I say it’s obvious, you’d have to be wearing blinders and earmuffs not to notice), and is on HIGH alert for any shenanigans. So, although my trust in our current HR is totally torpedoed, I do feel protected in our little backwater department by a boss who is about ten years my junior, who appreciates the strong technical support I’ve given him along his rise to Management, and has a SOLID sense of supporting a safe workplace. It’s pretty anticlimactic, but hey… no drama is no drama, right?

      5. WiJ*

        Totally agree with Guacamole. Asserting yourself can be difficult for some of us, especially when someone is so hostile, and especially when they gaslight you into believing they have a good reason for it for their actions (if only your hearing wasn’t impaired!)

        She’s intentionally antagonizing you. If you want to yell and scream now, feel free (I’d always include the words “Stop touching me” so it’s clear what you’re reacting to). But she’s already being aggressive, and I don’t think being aggressive in return is going to get her to stop. I’d just go to your boss and HR.

      6. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Very much agree. My fear response is generally ‘placate’ or ‘freeze’

        1. No Touchie! Bad Llama*

          I wish that it was normalized that fear responses can be fight, flight OR freeze. All of them worked for our ancestors in different circumstances and all three of them are within us. People should not be shamed that in this particular circumstance, the OP’s reaction is freeze. They may have even been “trained” by Pokey McPokey Face that reacting results even even more pain, either by more hitting or by humiliation.

      7. Not So NewReader*

        A good number of people do not know how to stand up for themselves effectively. Additionally, those same people do not know WHEN to stand up for themselves.
        This is nothing to be embarrassed by, OP, none of us have it in our genes at birth. Perhaps we had a friend or family member teach us at some point, but this wasn’t standard, onboard equipment for anyone.

        For [reasons] I did a crappy job of standing up for me. Mostly, I tried to get myself out of the situation. This does not work in classrooms or workplaces because we can’t just up and leave. Learning how and when to stand up for yourself is a life skill that you will use over and over- not just at work but also in living life.
        It does not get better if we ignore the void- BTDT- it did not get better on its own.

        Now is a good time to really think things through and figure out what your next steps will be. You have the right to work there, too, so don’t worry about her right to work there. Let’s face it, this type of behavior drives people to quit. And why should YOU quit? You haven’t done anything wrong here. She does not HAVE to quit, she just has to stop abusing you.

        1. londonedit*

          And let’s not forget the added layer that this is happening at work, and OP knows she’ll have to work with Jane every day until one or the other of them leaves the company. That’s pretty powerful motivation for ‘not making waves’ – I know I’d be wary of ending up in a situation where Jane escalated things yet further and made my working life even more of a misery. Also poking does seem silly on its own – going to the boss and saying ‘Jane keeps poking me’ does feel like you’re in primary school. That’s because Jane’s behaviour is primary-school level, but I can see why OP would feel like going and reporting it might make them look foolish or petty.

          The thing is, though, this is not petty behaviour, it’s seriously irritating, and Jane needs to be made to stop somehow. And being able to go to the boss and use one of Alison’s scripts to say ‘Look, this is ridiculous and I can’t believe I’m even having to report this, but Jane will not stop jabbing and poking me multiple times a day and I cannot stand it anymore – last Tuesday I actually got to the point of counting the number of times she jabbed me with her fingernails and the tally got up as far as 38’. Any reasonable boss will be utterly bemused at Jane’s behaviour and will understand that they need to make it stop.

  32. wine dude*

    I’m really tempted to suggest you simply count out loudly every poke. “ONE!!” “TWO!!” And keep a tally on a large white board for good measure.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Thirty-eight times in a work day barely leaves thirteen minutes between pokes. When do they get to do any work?!

      1. quill*

        “Penny” *poke poke poke* “Penny” *poke poke poke* “Penny” *poke poke poke*

        You might be able to get half an hour to an hour free if the poking is a barrage like that.

  33. EBStarr*

    I teared up just reading this and thinking of how it would feel to be treated the way Jane is treating you. No wonder you want to cry all the time! Jane is horrible.

    1. Data Analyst*

      Same! And it’s so insidious because although it’s very inappropriate and weird, if an onlooker saw only one or two instances, Jane could still play it off like “oh, I was just trying to get your attention, sorry!” and people might not grasp how awful she’s being…which is part of why it feels weird to make a “big deal” about it. But rest assured OP, it is a big deal – and she sounds like a practiced bully who knows exactly what she’s doing and how to skirt those lines.

  34. Velawciraptor*

    Not to mention the fact that, if she’s getting close enough to be poking OP, she’s clearly not socially distancing from her. So she’s not only engaging in physical assault and harassing OP for her disability, but she’s behaving as an active health hazard.

  35. PJ*

    Aside from the obvious weirdness of the physical poking (and her toxic communication style), I am wondering about Jane’s work processes.

    This reminds me a great deal of a coworker who just simply could NOT skip a small piece of data being missing, or an answer she needed from a coworker. She would throw on the brakes and come to us. It was very disruptive and not at all productive.

  36. Elbe*

    If the LW has a preferred way of someone getting her attention, she should mention that as an alternative. (“I told you to stop touching me. If you want to catch my attention, please just do XYZ… like a reasonable person would.”)

    But this is particularly awful: “If I even turn slightly, she will poke me. If I look away, she will tap me.”

    No one should expect to have eye contact with someone 100% of the time while they’re talking. Does she make these demands of anyone else? Does she do this to the LW in front of other people? Because I would be deeply uncomfortable if I saw a coworker being poked and tapped every time they glanced away. I think that the LW should be very vocal about calling this behavior what it is – very, very weird. Jane probably thinks she’s found a way to harass the LW that will fly under the radar, but that will change if SHE starts drawing negative attention for her behavior

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This is why I love the exclamation, “Stop touching me!” It’s a real attention grabber. Don’t say poking, tapping, or any other variant- use the word touch or touching.

  37. Ozzie*

    I’ve always viewed work as a safe “no touch zone”. In an office environment, there’s no reason someone should be touching you without asking first. Period. (I do not think tapping someone to get their attention is acceptable unless they have told you to do so, and there are plenty of reasons they would imo, but without consent, NO TOUCHING)

    That she has taken this upon herself is, by itself, an egregious disregard for the social contract of an office environment in my eyes. (maybe I’m over-reacting to this, but I also really hate being touched randomly, especially when someone comes up behind me, so I am very sympathetic) Added on to the fact that she mumbles on purpose, it is definitely hostile in my eyes. Does she poke anyone else? I would wager she does not, but if she does, I would have to ask why that is the case. Is this a thing she finds acceptable to get people’s attention? Does it bother anyone else?

    I would definitely escalate it – she’s the one causing problems, not you. Her behavior is not acceptable. You should be able to exist at work without having to worry about someone coming up and touching you, let alone poking you hard enough to be described as a jab.

    (I will note that I understand maybe not everyone feels this, uh, passionately about the topic, but notably, there are people who DO – there plenty of not trivial reasons (unlike mine – I just don’t like it) to not want to be touched without consent, too. Without knowing context of this for every person you work with, imo it’s just easier to have a simple “don’t do it” policy that keeps everyone comfortable)

  38. CatPerson*

    I really want to hear back from you after talking to your manager, OK? What a hostile thing to put up with for all this time.

  39. Manchmal*

    I would go to Jane’s desk in the morning proactively, before any poking has yet happened that day, and say, looking her intensely in the eye: “Jane, I’ve told you before that I don’t like being touched and not to poke me to get my attention. Here is a bright pink post-it, you can use that to get my attention. (or whatever other method you want) If you touch me one more time, I’ll be speaking to Manager about it. Do you understand? You are not allowed to touch me.”

    1. All the words*

      “If you touch me one more time”?

      No, they’ve already touched her many many times after being told not to. Jane doesn’t need a warning at this point.

  40. BabyElephantWalk*

    + 100
    Jane is being an absolute troll. The way she is treating you is not okay, and reeks of discrimination.
    You’ve asked her to stop and she’s done the opposite. She needs reporting. She is literally violating your body at work and that is so, so gross.

  41. Let me be dark and twisty*

    I would also ask my manager (or HR) to send Jane to sensitivity training. Don’t be afraid to escalate. You probably know this already but you’re your best advocate when it comes to your hearing impairment. If you don’t stand up for yourself, then no one else will.

    Jane reminds me of someone I used to work with who would always make disparaging and snide comments about my hearing disability (I wear hearing aids). Things like “What I want is more important than your ability to hear.” It took threatening an official complaint to our EEOC and HR teams before the supervisors finally stepped in and shut down the comments.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Jane doesn’t need sensitivity training. She needs an Alison special:

      I need you to stop poking people. Do you think you can do that? If you cannot we are going to have to let you go. We do not tolerate touching people without consent in the office. If you do it again, we will have to let you go.

      She is on a zero tolerance policy. This is not coming in late 5 minutes. This is not failing to get the TSPs in on time. This is physically assaulting a coworker. If they don’t know that is wrong already there is no way sensitivity training will be any help.

      1. Red Wheelbarrow*

        I love that script, but in this case I think even that is too generous an approach. I’d fire Jane outright.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          So would I. The Alison Special would have been if Jane had poked a colleague ONCE, and it would have gone along with the first time she was told “don’t do that,” if I had been the boss and had known about the poking that early in the process. After this long, with this much escalation, and after being told repeatedly to stop? This is grounds for immediate termination. Assaulting colleagues is not acceptable, period.

  42. kittymommy*

    Jane’s lucky she hasn’t lost that effing hand. I have a very low tolerance to people touching me uninvited and continuing to do it in a deliberately hostile manner after being told not to?? Yeah, that’s going to be a no.

  43. PurpleHeartRed*

    I would not be surprised if 38 pokes in a day caused a bruise. If it does, document it with a camera.

  44. Jam Today*

    There is an 82% chance I would have slapped her in the face if she poked me after I told her to stop.

    1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      I have PTSD. Someone touching me unexpectedly runs a high likelihood of an automatic hand reaction. Someone touching me after I have expressly told them to stop and explained why runs a guarantee of an automatic hand reaction. Had a coworker who thought it was funny to slam stuff down on my desk right next to me after learning that is a very specific trigger. When she almost caught an elbow to the face she decided it wasn’t fun anymore.

      1. quill*

        Yeeeeah same, though I startle far less easily now, compared to say, 9 years ago.

        If you start a physical confrontation with someone by being an intrusive, startling jerk, just know that there is a non-trivial percentage of the population for whom ENDING the confrontation and asking questions later is a reflex, not a choice.

      2. cncx*

        yes! i said this further down. my ptsd startle response means i will FLAIL and someone touching me especially more than once runs a high risk of getting punched or hit. I too had a coworker barely miss an elbow. I would go to HR for me to protect ME from retaliation because i truly can’t control that kind of thing.

    2. HelenofWhat*

      Being tapped or poked is a big pet peeve of mine already. Being touched by someone I don’t like is also up there. I an usually very calm about asking folks not to do it after the first time. But if someone reacted like this, escalating the behavior? I’d have stood up and GROWLED for them to back off at minimum.
      I’m so frustrated for the LW. Feel free to act like this a big deal because it is. She’s disrespecting your bodily autonomy.

  45. Alict*

    Just chiming in to agree with others above that you should carefully document the Mark’s this is leaving and tell HR you’re considering filing assault charges if it doesn’t stop. Nothing will make your company move faster.

    1. Kesnit*

      I came to the comments to see if anyone had already brought this up.

      What Jane is doing is technically a crime (assault and battery). Not long ago, I represented someone charged with repeatedly touching a co-worker without the co-workers consent. (My client pled guilty.)

      Criminal charges should not be your first option, but do not rule them out. Sometimes it takes something like that to get your point across.

  46. Betteauroan*

    I feel really bad for you, OP. I hate making waves, too and I get no enjoyment from getting other people in trouble, but Jane needs to get the smack down from HR or the boss. She’s getting off on torturing you in your workplace. It’s unacceptable and she needs to be told about herself in no uncertain terms that touching is rude and hostile.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      I hate making waves, too and I get no enjoyment from getting other people in trouble

      1) It’s not making waves to expect to be treated decently and professionally in the workplace.

      2) LW isn’t getting Jane in trouble; Jane’s behavior is getting Jane is trouble.

  47. mumbles*

    On the lowering voice behavior—I’ve known more than one narcissist who deliberately spoke in extra low/mumbling tones so the listener has to completely stop in their tracks, and completely lean to fully appreciate and focus 120% on whatever banal gems Mumblecore are bestowing.
    As to that level of poking, especially my assertion to stop it—it would have resulted in the very least a hard wrist grab and a turn before pulling then pushing her away. I know that’s not professionally acceptable-as things are out of control at that point, and this may even get deleted. But that would be my flash instinct.

    1. Sharrbe*

      My instinct would be to have an outsized reaction to the pokes from now on, much like a woman does when being harassed in a public area. Jump up, back away from her, rub the spot where she poked like you do when you get a pain, and loudly ask why she keeps doing that. Essentially make sure that everyone in the office sees her behavior. Sometimes it’s the only way abusive people back off (and she IS abusive, physically and psychologically). They are inherently afraid of public scrutiny and embarrassment. That’s their kryptonite. Of course the result of that may force her to act passive agressively in other ways, but at least it would stop her from physically assaulting LW.

  48. Liz T*

    How do you not reflexively smack her hands away??? I think I probably would’ve shoved her by this point.

    LW, you need to do something professional about this before you snap and do something unprofessional. (Even if the unprofessional thing would be totally deserved.)

    1. Lana Kane*

      Yeah my first immediate thought was me turning and pushing Jane away instinctively. Jane is lucky that didn’t happen because for many people, unexpected touching is a big trigger.

  49. Ridiculous Stressed Swan Thing*

    So, caveat, I’m not a super-nice person, but these are things I would try, in this approximate order:

    1. Tell your manager that you want to meet privately, and make them aware of this (bizarre, unacceptable) behavior. Tell them that you’ve asked Jane to stop over and over, and they are escalating instead. Ask them to speak with Jane immediately and tell her to stop it. Tell them that you will make a practice of calling them over the second she does it and tell them that she just did it again and you need them to make her stop.

    2. If your manager isn’t taking the issue seriously, tell them that you want to speak to HR. Right now. Do not move until someone from HR is in the office. Explain the issue to THEM. Make sure they confirm that they will handle it.

    3. If it happens again, get up and go tell HR. Do this ONCE.

    4. If it happens again after that, make a practice of saying as loudly as you can so that eeeeeeeveryone can hear: “JANE, I TOLD YOU TO STOP TOUCHING ME.” The point here is to weaponize shame a bit, to get everyone in the room to whip their heads around and stare at Jane. (I have found this to be the most effective tactic of all.) Then send an email to HR that you just had to tell her again.

    5. If nothing else works, wait until you’re alone with Jane or at least not in earshot of anyone else, and say “Jane, if you touch more one more time I will break every one of your idiot fingers.” Say it to her sweetly, but with a strong undercurrent of “I mean it.” And then the next time she does it, elbow her in the face or something. You have a long record of complaints at this point about your coworker assaulting you, you’ve gone through the proper channels, and now you’re practicing self-defense.

    I have dealt with this sort of person before, and it’s a form of bullying. When it comes to bullying, you can cave, you can call for help and hope someone will protect you, or you can demonstrate that you are not afraid of this person and you will not hesitate to enact swift and decisive action against them whenever needed. Your mileage may vary, but I make a personal policy of ceding NOTHING to these people. No, I won’t move my desk/change my shift/quit my job over this. Tell the person bothering me to knock it off, or move them, or fire them if nothing else works. Return awkward to sender.

    Best of luck to you!

    1. Essess*

      Do NOT respond with additional violence or threats of violence. That will get you fired immediately even if you try to claim self defense.

      1. Ridiculous Stressed Swan Thing*

        Great, then OP can sue the company for not dealing with someone physically bullying them.

        1. nonbinary writer*

          Please write your violent work revenge fantasies elsewhere; further physical escalation is absolutely the wrong move and will put everyone at higher risk for harm.

      2. FingerOutOfJoint*

        Counterpoint: after going through the proper channels and if there’s no proper response from management nor Pokeyfinger, respond with swift violence on the next attempted or delivered poke, strictly as self defense, as would be clearly defined as such.

            1. pieces_of_flair*

              Not really. Here is the legal description of self-defense in my state: “a non-aggressor is justified in using force against another person if (1) he reasonably believes (2) that the force is necessary (3) to protect himself from imminent use of unlawful force by the other person.” A poke does not meet this standard.

              1. Working Hypothesis*

                A poke *is* unlawful force. The problem is that there’s a legal difference between self-defense and retaliation or threat of retaliation. Even if the intent of the retaliation is to deter the assailant from further violence. You can block Jane’s hand so that she physically cannot poke you, but you can’t threaten to hurt her if she *does* poke you.

    2. Kesnit*

      You were fine, up until the physical threat (which is illegal) and the retaliation (which is not necessarily self-defense under the law).

      Report to the manager. Report to HR. Report again to HR. All good. Actual violence on the part of OP? Nope.

  50. knitcrazybooknut*

    If this helps, OP, she is definitely escalating, and honing in on the things that will bother you. When you started your job, you didn’t know things, so she got to feel superior by helping you. When you went to full-time, she started viewing you as competition, and got angry and nasty at you. When she’s “training” you on customer service, she’s pretending you did something wrong so she can passive-aggressive all over you with the guise of “helping”. She knows you have difficult hearing, so she has chosen to do things that will force you to show your weakness. As soon as you told her you didn’t like to be touched, she immediately ramped up the poking.

    I will guarantee that she has tested your boundaries in countless other ways during this time, but when she didn’t get a response, she dropped those particular tactics. Making you upset and keeping you frustrated and stressed is her objective, and she will stop at nothing to keep you frustrated and stressed.

    It’s a depressing picture. But having that knowledge may help you in planning your approach. Definitely take Alison’s advice. Escalate to yelling every time if you need to.

    But if she tries other things, go grey rock. Pretend they don’t bother you. If she tries lecturing you on customer service again, just sit quietly and think about something else. Showing any aggravation with her is going to make her escalate that behavior immediately.

    But poking is physical assault and is NOT okay. Your manager needs to be told, asap.

    1. Momma Bear*

      RE: the emails: “Jane, you have been doing this job longer than I have. I assume by now you are professional enough to proofread your own customer emails.” Do not jump when she says jump. It’s kind of like training a child to get their own snack/water/etc. “Jane, your email will have to wait. Please either forward me a copy and I will get to it when I can, or talk to x or y other person on the team.”

      Or “Jane, I cannot understand you. Please either speak more clearly or email me your concern.” Then turn back to your own work.

      1. Pennyworth*

        I’d be inclined to use email to set up a paper trail logging her assaults. “Jane, you just touched me again. You do not have my consent to touch me, ever. If you need my attention you need to A. Speak clearly B. whatever or C. whatever.” Hit send to all.

  51. Essess*

    I would yell every time, but I wouldn’t use “stop touching me” but instead yell “stop hurting me”. I want the people around to understand it’s not just a pat or accidental brush but rather an actual assault happening every time. Although any touching should be unacceptable, people will pay more attention when they hear hostile touching.

    1. IndustriousLabRat*

      I like this, partly because “hurting” covers both the physical pain of the poke, and the emotional discomfort of the repeated disregard/disrespect. On top of that, it is definitely the next level of announcing THIS IS BAD AND WRONG AND NEEDS TO STOP, and cannot possibly be misinterpreted by anyone (bully or onlookers) as “ugh dude this is SOOOOO annoying, can you like; NOT?!”

  52. hufflefluff*

    so i am the reader here.. i am the one getting poked.

    after speaking with my manager (done so this morning), we have agreed to move my workspace away from jane as it is an open floor plan. thankfully, my manager has noticed it too and said they often wonder why i look so sad or overwhelmed. now they know why. and usually, i can see people coming up to my desk, or if my head is turned, they just tap on my desk or wave a hand. i am in the process of getting hearing aids, which is enough to help with the communication “barrier,” as jane puts it. but there will be no more poking or touching. and if there is, i let my manager know i will be going straight to HR. i also emailed one of the HR personnel a copy of this email i sent to alison to make them fully aware of the issue in case it needs to be escalated. today, i’ve only been tapped/poked 7 times so there’s an improvement i guess. there will be no need for the physical contact and if it happens again, i will be forced to go straight to HR and file a complaint. i’ve tried being nice and it just doesn’t work. i’m very grateful for everyone’s input and commentary. it is well needed and a lot to think on!!

    1. Ozzie*

      Thank you for the update! I’m glad to hear you reacted swiftly – and that your manager did. Hopefully it won’t continue and you won’t have to go through HR and all is said and done. But, if not, I hope that HR acts swiftly in your defense if you do need to go to them. You’re not doing anything wrong he, top to bottom. She is!!!

    2. knitcrazybooknut*

      Thank you for the update. I’m so glad you’re getting help with this. I’m not sure 7 times is an improvement, so you may want to reset your expectations to zero pokes, ever! Good luck and I hope things go well for you!!

    3. old curmudgeon*

      I am very glad you took this to your manager, but I have to say that being poked seven times – SEVEN TIMES – in one day is still way, way too much. Please don’t back down. Please take care of yourself by standing up to this bully, and by getting HR to back you up.

      And good luck – I hope you come back with a happy update soon!

      1. Pok'er face*

        The poking needs to stop 100%, not merely decrease from 38 to 7 incidents. If it doesn’t stop tomorrow, tell your manager and then go to HR.

    4. NotMyRealName*

      That’s 7 times too many. Was this before or after you spoke to your manager?

      Also, tell Jane that even a preschooler can learn to keep their hands to themselves so WTF is her problem!

      1. hufflefluff*

        this was after i talked to her, i don’t believe she had a chance to speak with my manager yet. i got here about 10 mins early to discuss with my manager and to avoid anyone overhearing. i let my manager know i will be keeping another tally. and if it happens again, i will go to HR.

        1. BRR*

          I just want to say I get an incredible amount of joy from seeing people strongly advocate for themselves.

        2. LizB*

          If you’ve been poked seven times so far today, though, it has happened again! You would be absolutely justified in going to HR right this minute. Adults should not poke other adults. She shouldn’t even have to be told to stop, because she should never have started – but you have told her to stop, and she’s not listening. This isn’t like a culture clash or a communication style mismatch that she should need hand-holding through, she has to know it’s not okay to poke people and she’s choosing to do it anyway.

          1. Momma Bear*

            I agree to mention to the boss/HR that she poked you 7 times already today. Even if she wasn’t yet reprimanded by the boss.

        3. 3DogNight*

          Thank you, so much for updating us! Today is probably kind of a hard day for you, but I hope it’s also, ultimately, an uplifting day. I really hope you come back soon and give us all an amazing update :)

        4. Working Hypothesis*

          Thank you for the update, hufflefluff! I’m glad your manager is supporting you, and even more glad that you’re advocating for yourself and determined not to let it happen again. Remember, even once is not okay! I agree with the folks who say you should let your boss know that Jane poked you seven more times the very day you spoke to them about her — even if those happened before the manager spoke to Jane, it is context the manager should have.

          Good luck! Please let us know how it all turns out. And hold fast to your determination to escalate and keep escalating every time she does it — even once!! — from now on, until she is either fired or genuinely forced to STOP. As in 100% never-do-it-again stop.

          This BS is horrible and you should not have to put up with it. Not even one of the many times already, and not even once, ever again.

    5. CatPerson*

      Did your manager even speak to Jane and tell her the poking is to stop? Or did she just move your office? You should have a zero-tolerance policy!

    6. Doctor is In*

      7 times AFTER you talked to your manager? Your harrasser needs to be fired right now!

    7. megaopinionated*

      Thank you for the update. Repeating what others say–7 times is too many. 1 time is too many, going forward. Please advocate for yourself–Jane’s behavior is WAY out of line. You would never treat someone like this! Imagine if she were doing this to a close friend of yours! I imagine you’d be livid. Allow yourself to feel protective anger on your own behalf!

    8. BRR*

      Good for you for speaking to your manager and sending HR an email already! Did your manager only move you or did they talk to Jane? If they only moved you, they suck and shouldn’t manage people. There’s no need to give Jane any more leeway with this.

    9. Dust Bunny*

      Give up on the idea that you can fix this by being nice enough. Abusers bank on this mindset to keep themselves in power. It only works if the aggressor is acting unintentionally and is interested in doing better–it doesn’t work if the aggressor is doing it on purpose and has no interest in changing unless forced to by superiors, and even then she’s likely to just shift tactics rather than stop altogether (that is, she might stop poking but she might start doing something else).

      1. Dust Bunny*

        For the record, no matter how new you were, this would have Jane written up where I work, and everyone would want to know what the Hell was wrong with her.

      2. Archaeopteryx*

        This is important to remember when dealing with abusers of all stripes: the “win condition” is a fantasy. The cake is a lie. There is no combination of actions from you that can win them over into a change of heart and treating you well.

    10. Another person*

      I’m so sorry this is continuing – 7 times means she is still testing boundaries to see how much poking she can get away with. The number needs to be zero. Please talk to your manager again, but you really may need to get HR involved to shut Jane down and that’s okay! You didn’t do anything wrong.

    11. harden up*

      There is NO amount of times poking is acceptable.
      You’re right though-niceness doesn’t work. You’ve been targeted as an easy mark. That’s what bullies do, snd live for.
      This is counter to a lot of contemporary advice, but perhaps try suppressing…shoving the sadness down, let it condense and turn to anger. Use the controlled anger as fuel and a righteous friend. Assert your right not to be jabbed and poked AT ALL.

    12. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I’m so glad your manager and HR are supporting you in this. If she does make the long walk across the room to start poking you again, in addition to letting HR know, please don’t feel like you’d be overstepping any boundaries or causing any kind of scene by telling her to stop touching you and leave you alone. You’ve been remarkably patient, but you do have every right to decide who gets to touch you and how, and if Jane takes it upon herself to violate that, you’re allowed to say no.

    13. Database Developer Dude*

      Don’t be nice anymore, hufflefluff. Once is more than enough. 7 times? No, 0 times is the only acceptable number of times.

    14. anonymous 5*

      If she poked you any number of times more than ZERO, today or ever again, it already needs to be escalated! There is *no* acceptable number of times for Jane to touch you. She needs to be fired! So sorry you’re still having to deall with the BS but I am very glad your boss has your back and that you spoke up!

    15. Momma Bear*

      Absolutely report even one more poke immediately. There is no need for you to be poked at all, ever. Seven is better but not good. Your manager has your back, so feel empowered to stand up to Jane and shut this down. The communication problem is all Jane.

    16. IndustriousLabRat*

      Outstanding to hear you’ve already made your move! I hope the 7 pokes happened before Jane got hauled into a meeting with Boss? Raising my afternoon coffee in a toast to your bright tomorrow dawning on a new era of ZERO POKES (and maybe Jane getting sent to some remedial How to Adult at Work training).

    17. Allie*

      7 times? Tell your manager. Keep telling them. Tell them every single time.

      Jane deserves to be fired. Full stop. I sincerely hope for that as an update.

    18. Worldwalker*

      You should not need to get hearing aids to stop Jane from poking you. The problem is not any “barrier” — the problem is SHE IS POKING YOU and she needs to stop. The world is full of office workers who are hard of hearing or flat-out deaf and they are not poked. This is not a thing normal people do to hard-of-hearing people. This is not a thing normal people do, period. This is a thing JANE does, and a thing Jane does to you, specifically.

      Jane needs to stop poking you NOW, no matter whether you get hearing aids or wear noise-cancelling headphones. Which, by the way, many people do and are not, in fact, poked. Especially not by people they’ve told to stop doing it.

      1. river*

        My mother has always been hearing impaired. I have NEVER touched her to get her attention. This is somebody I am very, very close to. If someone is using your hearing impairment as an excuse to touch you in the workplace, that’s appalling.

    19. The Unusual Suspect*

      I’m sorry that the ‘solution’ presented is moving you out of Jane’s scrawny finger’s reach, not the manager telling Jane that if she poked you even again she would be fired. Assaulting a coworker when you’ve been told not to assault a coworker is insubordination.

      Being the ‘nice guy’ (guy used in very general sense of a person of indeterminate age/gender/height/et al) doesn’t always cut it. Especially when you are playing by nice-guy rules and your protagonist isn’t.

      Jane is a snake. Treat her as one. If a snake ‘hits’ you, you don’t say “stop touching me”. Of course not. You scream and jump up and away from the snake. So, let your primal response out. Extra points if you shout “WTF” at Jane. But I’ll settle for a “what (the f***) is the matter with you?”.

    20. Ismonie*

      I am so sorry this is happening to you and you don’t deserve any of it. You need to tell your boss what happened today. Also, moving you away from Jane isn’t enough. Jane has to be instructed never to touch you.

    21. hufflefluff*

      good morning readers!!!

      i am so overwhelmed and so grateful for everyone’s assistance and kind words. my desk is now 20 feet away from her and HR and my boss both spoke to her and said it was completely inappropriate for her to be doing that. especially after i’ve asked her not to. seems like i’ve gotten some blowback from jane, but i am not bothered anymore. all these comments motivated me to go straight to HR too. i let them know if she does it again, i will be forced to file a complaint. let’s see how the desk arrangement works out!

      1. Vax is my disaster bicon*

        I’m so glad you’re getting support from your manager and HR! Hopefully Jane will see which way the wind is blowing and cease her campaign of harassment.

      2. anonymous 5*

        YAY! Here’s to you not having to deal with any more of the crap (though the punitive side of me hopes that Jane will somehow actually face consequences for what she’s already done…).

      3. Tisiphone*

        Thanks for the update! This sounds encouraging (other than blowback from Jane) so far.

        About your previous update, her poking you seven more times again (seriously?) made me think of the memory problems bullies claim to have after being told by parents or teachers. They do it again and say they forgot. But when parents and teachers are around, they somehow have no problem remembering.

        And this is a grown adult member of the workforce we’re talking about here! Good luck, and please keep us updated! You shouldn’t have to put up with this even for a single poke.

      4. Napster*

        I would like to break Jane’s poking finger. (No, I’m not advising this, nor would I actually DO it. But I would VERY MUCH like to.)

  53. Cafe au Lait*

    OP, I had an employee with a hearing impairment. She often downplayed or glossed over any issues she encountered because she didn’t want the appearance of asking for special accommodations due to her disability. She expended so much effort to appear able-hearing that the thought of asking for outside help was demoralizing.

    I am telling you this because you are not the problem. Jane is. Informing your supervisor of what Janes does and how often is what any abled-hearing individual would do.

    1. Khatul Madame*

      Jane has picked the OP as a target because of their disability (and maybe, just like Cafe au Lait’s employee, being somewhat embarrassed about it). Jane is creating a hostile work environment and this needs to be escalated to management AND HR.
      I can’t believe others in the office have not picked up on this abuse and bullying going on.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Just realised this is exactly what an ex coworker from way back was doing when she kept putting my stuff on the floor ‘to make life easier’.

        (I’m disabled. I haven’t been down to floor level in years)

  54. LifeBeforeCorona*

    Also, if she has been poking you this much 38 times! and for such an extended time frame, other people or even customers must have noticed. When you talk to your manager, ask her to quietly observe or ask other people in the office if they have noticed the poking.

  55. The next time you raise a hand to me will be the last time you have hands.*

    If I were the manager, I’d be mortified that this had gone on so long without intervention. Clearly, Jane’s boss needs to know about this.

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      May I say I love your handle?!?!?!? If that were me, I’d look at Jane, raise an eyebrow, and ask in a menacing voice “are you sure you want to continue to assault a taekwondo black belt with breathtaking anger management issues???”

  56. HugeTractsofLand*

    I wonder if you “don’t want to make waves” because you’re still thinking of yourself as too new to speak up. Working somewhere for almost a year may not feel like “enough” time, especially if Jane has been there longer than you…but I promise it is! You’re normally a happy and engaged employee, and that’s being compromised- that’s reason enough! I would absolutely want to know what’s going on if I were your manager, and it’s clear from your letter that you’ve tried multiple reasonable ways to solve the problem on your own. What Jane is doing is so avoidable, that her continuing this long and this excessively makes it truly malicious. If she ever tries to guilt you or make you feel bad for reporting her, please just stop her and say “Hey Jane? You poked me 38 times in one day after I’d told you daily to stop.” and let it hang there. It speaks for itself.

  57. Out & About*

    I’d phrase it as “I don’t consent to this touch” or “you’re touching me without my consent!” That’s what’s occurring here. The more uncomfortable it is to hear for the poker and the bystanders the better.

  58. SentientAmoeba*

    PEOPLE . Please stop letting people like this get away with outrageous behavior because you don’t want to make waves or get them in trouble. They are displaying inappropriate behavior and if they won’t stop when directly asked to, you need to escalate.

  59. BlackLodge*

    You might consider making a big show about keeping track of her pokes. Like, keep a white board handy and every time she does it you make a dash. When she asks what you’re doing you can say, “this is how many times you jabbed me so far today.” But I can be pretty petty so YMMV lol.

    1. Higher Ed*

      Or one of those clicker-counters they use at venues to keep track of how many people are entering

  60. idwtpaun*

    OP, you have the right not to be physically assaulted at work! And given that you have already specifically told Jane not to touch you and that she continues to do so in amounts that are excessive under any circumstances, I really do view what she’s doing under those terms. I don’t like being touched either and if I had a coworker doing this, I would have long since reached the point of bringing a harassment complaint against her.

    That’s not to prod you into doing anything you’re not comfortable doing, but just to say that you absolutely have every right here to firmly stand up for yourself. This is not a minor thing, management and/or HR should be reprimanding her strongly and frankly working to ensure she no longer has the ability to physically harass you. If I were a manager, I’d like to think I’d take this very seriously.

  61. BRR*

    In addition to going to your manager/HR, I’d also keep in your back pocket “I’ve asked that you to stop touching me. Why are you continuing to do it?” Hopefully this gets resolved for you asap but I’ve had some success with this. I consider it step 2, step 1 being asking someone to stop.

  62. Sharrbe*

    Ugh, I would have fired her already if I were your manager. 38 pokes a day is RIDICULOUS. And the fact that she ramped up her behavior after you told her not to is 100% awful, callous, and sadistic. She’s a bully and I don’t believe that she’ll stop assaulting you. Being “down” to just seven pokes a day is not an improvement. I’m so sorry you have to go through this.

  63. Jyn’Leeviyah the Red*

    This is not a particularly helpful or charitable comment, but I would sure be tempted to “accidentally” trip Jane as she walks by my desk. OP, you’re a patient person and you’ve been dealing with absolute nonsense. Absolutely talk with your manager or HR!

    1. Jyn’Leeviyah the Red*

      Just read that you went to your manager — that’s a good start! Good for you for logging and following up. Maybe just say a sharp “NO” each time she does it again.

  64. The Cats' Servant*

    “I’m sorry; I can’t hear you.” Lather, rinse, repeat. My boss’s boss has always mumbled and with wearing masks at work it was infinitely worse. All we could do was ask her, repeatedly, to repeat what she said because we couldn’t hear her.

    Reader, you have my deepest sympathies; it’s annoying as shit.

  65. Database Developer Dude*

    Someone is touching you after you’ve asked them to stop?? Sounds like assault to me. Threaten to get the police involved.

  66. Risa*

    Lets make one thing clear. Your colleague is a bully and she has no right to touch you. Period. So no, 7 pokes are not an improvement, she is still violating your personal boundaries after you have repeatedly told her to respect them. So please, please report her to HR (again). You are in no way responsible for her bad behavior, its entirely her fault and she should deal with the consequences like a normal adult.
    If she can’t keep her fingers off of you, its HER problem, not yours. If she needs something from you, she has to speak louder or waive a flag or make a sad little dance, but in no way she is ever allowed to touch you again if you don’t want it!
    From my point of view it is highly problematic that even after you talked to your manager she was not able to stop her bad behavior, just dialed it back a bit so it is not super obvious to anyone else.

  67. A Person*

    OP, when you talk to your manager, make sure you point out that this isn’t just tapping you with a finger (which, yes, is also bad). Make the point that she is jabbing you with her fingernail.

    And I agree with everyone else who suggests that you say “OUCH!” right out loud when it happens. Miss Manners suggests exactly that, in fact.

  68. lilsheba*

    This would provoke rage in me in a very short time….and that person would find their finger hurt. To avoid that definitely talk to your manager and get it stopped NOW. And I would add the “PLEASE STOP POKING ME” said loudly to boot.

  69. Observer*

    Pretty much nothing you can do about this problem could be REMOTELY considered “making waves”. And for “causing problems” – not in this universe! Please drop this from your thinking. If this is truly a good place to work, then going to HR and / or your manager WILL have good results.

    The person causing problems is Jane. The other stuff is bad. Very bad. But the jabbing is not just over the line, but also SOOO obviously bad that this is the perfect thing to lead with. Because unless your manager and HR are abject morons and colossally incompetent, there is simply no way at all that Jane could make an argument that “I didn’t realize” or “If OP had just told me CLEARLY ENOUGH” blah, blah, blah. Because it’s pretty obvious to all but the most benighted idiot that you don’t need to use magic words to not be jabbed by someone else.

    1. Observer*

      Oh, and by the way, in case Jane is of a different culture let me say this: It DOES NOT MATTER. Even in cultures that are much more “touchy”, this is bizarre. And this is the US, and Jane needs to conform to US standards.

      And, of course any competent HR will know this.

      Also, if you talk to a bottom level HR person who gives you a hard time, PLEASE kick it upstairs.

      1. staceyizme*

        Yeah, this is NOT a cultural sensitivity issue. This is a “quit assaulting me NOW!” issue. Followed quickly by “OR ELSE” as an action of deterrence and not a reaffirmation of the very reasonable boundary.
        OP- seriously, go back and document every instance that you can think of and who, if anyone, witnessed it. Even if you don’t need it, it could be confirmation that this has gone on waay to long!

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Agreed. There are no cultural or even medical reasons why this should be acceptable behaviour at work (I once worked with a guy who claimed that lightly slapping people was a compulsion of his. Thankfully the firm didn’t agree)

      3. IWishIHadAFancyUserName*

        Observer, your comment reminded me of Hershele Ostropoler’s Foot Stepping Analogy:

        If you step on my foot, you need to get off my foot.

        If you step on my foot without meaning to, you need to get off my foot.

        If you step on my foot without realizing it, you need to get off my foot.

        If everyone in your culture steps on feet, your culture is horrible, and you need to get off my foot.

        If you have foot-stepping disease, and it makes you unaware you’re stepping on feet, you need to get off my foot. If an event has rules designed to keep people from stepping on feet, you need to follow them. If you think that even with the rules, you won’t be able to avoid stepping on people’s feet, absent yourself from the event until you work something out.

        If you’re a serial foot-stepper, and you feel you’re entitled to step on people’s feet because you’re just that awesome and they’re not really people anyway, you’re a bad person and you don’t get to use any of those excuses, limited as they are. And moreover, you need to get off my foot.

  70. wem*

    My initial reaction would be asking her if she wanted to keep that finger! Because I would not take that shit lightly.

  71. HLK1219HLLK*

    I am SO in sympathy for the LW. I have a phobia of people touching me and it has not gone well in the past when coworkers try to get past my physical comfort zone. I’m with Allison – call it out LOUDLY and EVERY TIME to call attention to her behavior. However, this kind of physical intimidation is something I would go straight to HR and my Union about (if I was unionized). I hope we get an update where Jane was poked out the door!

  72. animaniactoo*

    The ONLY thing that I might try as part of escalating is to stop as soon as she does it and say “Why did you just poke me.” and then refuse to talk about whatever it is that she wants your attention for, tell her to e-mail you and you’ll get to it when you get to it, but right now the ONLY thing that is going to be talked about is the fact that she just poked you – exactly as you asked her not to do and she agreed. Why does she think that her need to be heard/talked to/whatever trumps YOUR need to not be touched/jabbed/hurt?”

    And yeah. Stop work every time she does it. Give it 2 days of full on doing that (since she’s doing it so frequently) and make it awkward and hard and uncomfortable for her to get what she wants by poking you.

    Because right now, I am betting that at least some of why she keeps doing it is that from her perspective it works. So while you should never have to do anything to get her to stop… the fact is that making it not work for her might be the most effective way of getting her to stop.

    However – I would definitely loop in your manager/HR that you are going to address it this way UNLESS they have some other path they would prefer that you follow – but don’t accept any path that doesn’t allow you to immediately address the issue as soon as it happens again. Because they might feel their talking to her is sufficient… but the likelihood is that it would not be and therefore you need to have a plan for “if” (when) it does happen again, as an immediate action plan.

  73. Pumpkin215*

    We are way past making waves. Alison and the others gave some great advice here- talking to your manager and loudly tell Jane to STOP.

    Personally, I am more the type to bring in a cigar cutter. I’d take a out pencil and I would give Jane a demonstration of what is going to happen to her finger if she touches me again. But I’m older and I tolerate less and less from people these days.

  74. KoiFeeder*

    I’m sorry that you work with my brother when he was in lower school, and I am also sorry you aren’t allowed to bite him like I did to train him out of his poking habit.

  75. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I feel like I would have slapped her by now … as a reflex. I can’t imagine getting jabbed that many times and not having some kind of visceral reaction to it. LW, you are not making anything weird or causing waves. You are being assaulted, multiple times per day, by someone who seems to have no regard or respect for you – and you certainly don’t owe her any. What Alison said – escalate to your manager, escalate to HR if that doesn’t work, and tell her loudly every single time that she does it STOP TOUCHING ME. I also want to say – don’t wait. If your manager or HR are slow to respond, keep going back to them and make it very clear what you expect from them – use words like harassment, like assault, like targeted because of a disability … make sure they give this the serious attention that it deserves. It’s not just being poked and though I know it can be a reflex to downplay it, please don’t.

    1. Square Root of Minus One*

      Brrrr. I feel for you. And I’ll hope you speak up. A dark part of me even hopes you’ll poke or pinch back “it’s ok for you but not for me?”
      Someone did that to me last month: the boss of a restaurant my job has an agreement with, we get heavy discounts if we eat here. He poked me in the back while I was eating, on my left shoulder, like “haha it’s funny I’m actually on the right”. I was so surprised I didn’t react and I hate myself for that. (I loathe being touched on the upper back, especially by surprise and even by loved ones, I’m prone to have it tense with the slightest stress and it hurts, I’m feeling it now just thinking about it…)
      If there is a next time I hope I’ll be hitting back. Reflex. Oops. This guy has given me the creeps for months, honest.

    2. Allie*

      I’ve worked at my current job for 7 years and I can’t think of a single instance in which a colleague has touched me.

      1. James*

        I yanked a coworker off her feet one time. Things were sort of exploding around us and I was pulling her behind cover. I apologized after, and she told me she appreciated it–she had frozen in shock, and she appreciated knowing I was looking out for her.

        Another time a coworker poked me to point at a rat dissolving in the acid we were about to sample. Hard to talk in full-face respirators and a noisy environment, though, and we’d worked out communications protocols prior to going in.

        Field work is fun, and you get a lot of very strange stories from it. In an office environment? No way. Maybe if I was really good friends with the person and we had a relationship where that was something we did, but even then doing it in the office would feel extremely invasive. You just don’t get many “I need your attention now or you’re going to get hurt/killed” situations in an office.

  76. staceyizme*

    Bullies like to throw you off balance by making you worry about how your reaction might appear or be perceived. No. Don’t play that game. Oh, my Deity, but this has gone on too long! At a minimum, you’ve GOT to speak up for yourself each and every time she tries to do this. Exaggerate it a bit. “OW! WHY ARE YOU USING YOUR NAILS ON ME? I’VE TOLD YOU NOT TO, LIKE, 100 TIMES!” Lather. Rinse. Repeat. And for the love of sanity, loop in whatever help you need. Managers, HR, police… (Is she leaving marks?) Nobody should be this close to you. AND- back up from her when she tries to close in, if at all possible. You’re not the problem. She is. Ugh!

  77. Atalanta0jess*

    Absolutely your workplace should get involved, this is so beyond inappropriate. But I’m also thinking about steps you could take to protect yourself in the meantime. Can you put physical distance between you? Stand up and move away. Tell her “do not touch me” every single time she does this, and end the conversation and walk away if she violates that boundary? Tell her explicitly that you’ll only have conversations with her on the other side of a table or on the phone due to the poking? This is all so context dependent, but you ABSOLUTELY have the right to not be poked, not even once. She’s doing this to bully you, and you deserve to protect yourself. It is ok to set boundaries and maintain them. It is ok to put your foot down. You don’t have to just let her poke you until you want to cry.

    (Of course all of this is dependent on the idea that your place of work is reasonable and that you wouldn’t be losing your job over this.)

    1. I hate Jane*

      I like this a lot. OP’s manager has moved her desk but OP can also tell her manager & then tell Jane that OP will only talk with Jane across a desk or other barrier. That this is a necessary measure for OP to feel safe and ensure there are no more assaults.

  78. staceyizme*

    Ugh. Fudge it, OP. In your shoes and with the severity of the issue in question, I’d be tempted to seriously consider lawyering up and filing a police complaint. Even if they don’t act immediately, having the report on record will help if she continues. It may also become the basis for a restraining order if she’s as far gone as her behavior indicates that she may be. I’m so sorry there are idiots like this in the world.

    1. Jimulacrum*

      I agree with everything you’re saying. And the more I think about it, the more I think OP’s first stop should be a lawyer. There may be an optimal order in which to complain to the employer, involve police, file a lawsuit, and/or get a restraining order, and a lawyer would know best.

      1. HLK1219HLLK*

        I am kind of with you…except that she needs to give her employer a chance to respond first. It sounds like she hasn’t raised this issue with her bosses, so it may be difficult to file a complaint that they never knew about. The coworker though – I am with you on involving the police if it keeps going on. It feels like assault in the workplace to be poked that much and that hard.

        1. Jimulacrum*

          It is absolutely assault (and battery, actually) in the workplace.

          Even if OP hadn’t asked the poker to stop, it’s abundantly clear that the purpose of all of this is to cause OP pain, discomfort, and distress. It’s not poking to get her attention; it’s physical contact for the express purpose of causing pain.

  79. James*

    This may constitute a hostile work environment. I know that if this were my staff I’d consider it one, whether it’s intentional or not. Maybe–MAYBE–the occasional tap on the shoulder would be acceptable, depending on culture, but 30+ times a day? That’s more than once every 15 minutes. I don’t mind a bit of physical contact at work–I work in noisy environments and a tap on the shoulder is sometimes necessary–but every 15 minutes is way beyond excessive.

    This isn’t the sort of thing that happens by accident. This is hostility.

    Please, go to your boss.

    As for not wanting to make waves, I think you’re framing it wrong. Right now what you’re doing is suffering in order to protect a hostile coworker from the consequences of their own actions. Why should YOU suffer so that SHE can continue to make your life miserable? You are under no obligation to continue to protect her from herself–she lost any claim to your protection when she started physically assaulting you. You can bet she’d never go out of her way to protect you!

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      It’s also more than likely that if she gets away with this, she will go on to do it to others (if she hasn’t already). So it’s not even just a matter of protecting the aggressor at the expense of oneself — which you’re absolutely correct that there’s zero obligation to do. It is also more than likely protecting the aggressor at the expense of multiple victims, some of whom *aren’t* oneself. LW, if you need any justification other than your own rights and welfare (I know that it can be hard for me to feel that my rights are as important as other people’s, even though I know intellectually that it’s true), make your superiors deal with her for the sake of her other likely victims!

      You are not the one making waves here. You have zero duty to protect her from the natural and rightful consequences of her own actions. Go forth and raise Cain until they make this crap stop!

    2. RubyJackson*

      Totally agree. This seems to be the legal definition of a hostile work environment since the action revolves around the hearing impairment, a protected disability.

  80. Allie*

    I have a colleague who has cochlear implants and can’t always hear you. I have never had to touch her at all to get her attention nor have I ever seen anyone else do that.

    Jane is a bully who deserves to be fired.

    1. Amethystmoon*

      Right, I worked with someone who was hard of hearing. You just had to get in front of her and she could read your lips. No touching required. Maybe a little hand waving, but no touching.

  81. StateWorker*

    Touching someone after they asked you not to should be grounds for immediate termination.

  82. Princess Deviant*

    OP please, please tell us the update to this!
    Jane is really not a nice person, she knows exactly what she’s doing! As mentioned by many people above, knowingly physically assaulting you should be an automatic firing at the very least.

  83. JustKnope*

    I know everyone is (rightfully!!!!) focusing on the incessant physical touching, but the fact that Jane is doing things like making you proofread every single email she sends and talking down to you in a condescending tone shows that she is absolutely bullying you, OP. This is not okay, and you absolutely deserve to be protected from this woman. I’m so glad to read that you already talked to your manager and HR. None of this is acceptable, and Jane is a horrid person who knows exactly what she’s doing. You are not the problem when you advocate for yourself!

  84. Amethystmoon*

    I’m surprised in a time of pandemic this is even being allowed. When you don’t know who might be contagious because of delayed symptoms, and vaccinated people can catch Delta, it is a health hazard. I would mention that as well.

  85. Heidi*

    Hi OP. If you need to psych yourself up for this, it might make it easier to look at the situation as if it’s happening to someone else. What would you do if you saw Jane poke another coworker 38 times? If you’d intervene on behalf of that coworker, you can make the same points only applied to yourself.

  86. Lobsterman*

    OP please consider consulting an attorney to help you articulate your rights here. It feels like this employer has gaslit you so long and so successfully that they’ve got you doubting your judgment on a basic level.

  87. Citizen X*

    This is bizarre, and actually is a conversation you have with kindergartners NOT an adult@

  88. Salad Daisy*

    We had a temporary employee who had very long nails and during training they kept poking whoever they were sitting with, even after being asked, then clearly told, to stop. We called the temp agency and terminated them. We teach our kids that nobody is allowed to touch them without their permission. We have the same rights as adults. I don’t even remember their name, I just remember being poked by long nails.

  89. Jimulacrum*

    Continuing to make unwelcome physical contact with someone who has demanded that you stop is a small form of battery. By your account, she has knowingly and deliberately committed battery against you at least dozens of times over 6+ months.

    Whether the police in your area would take this seriously is an open question, but clearly no business would want this happening on their watch. Tell your manager, like Allison says. She should be fired for this, ideally ASAP due to how persistent and deliberate the harassment has been. No company will allow this to continue, especially given this:

    If you have enough evidence of her behavior, you may even be able to sue her. It sounds like what she’s doing is really affecting your mental health, and that’s no doubt her goal. She is engaged in a consistent pattern of harassment and battery against you, and it may even be relevant that you have a slight hearing impediment that she knows about and deliberately abuses. Imagine someone who leaves obstacles all over an office floor to impede someone in a wheelchair. It only differs from your situation by degrees, not character.

    Anyway, if you’re open to it, consider consulting a lawyer. This isn’t just some innocent person who has an annoying habit. She’s clearly setting out to harm you on purpose.

  90. KellyKoo*

    My “eye for an eye” mentality says to start poking her back. My HR hat says, Nope. Report her and let the powers-that-be manage the situation.

  91. CatMintCat*

    I work with six and seven year olds. They learn very early “Please don’t pat me. I’m not a puppy”.

  92. Binky101*

    OP, if Jane is continuing to jab you *after* you mentioned this assault/bullying to your manager today, I would go back to your manager, make it clear that Jane jabbed you with her fingernail AGAIN (detail the number of times) *after* being told to stop by both you and your manager, and then contact HR — let your manager know you are escalating Jane’s assaults/ bullying to HR. You deserve a workplace without assault and bullying, and you deserve to be heard, acknowledged and supported by your coworkers, management and HR.

  93. Starfox*

    I don’t think I’ve touched all of my coworkers combined 38 times in my entire working life. I’m not sure I’ve POKED anyone since I was about 9. Jane is a weird bully.

  94. WS*

    I work with a hearing-impaired colleague and I have never felt the need to poke her! She has had to ask me to speak up a few times, but that’s when I apologise and speak up.

  95. North Wind*

    I’ve been reading this amazing blog for ages (learned so so much), and this is the most infuriated-by-proxy I’ve ever felt. Jumping out of my skin at the thought of this. Hope OP gets a satisfying resolution (and lets us know how it went).

  96. Miller_Admin*

    She’s a bully and counts on you not wanting to make waves. If your employer has a grievance program; it’s time to file one. Does other people see this? Witnessed her using her nails as a poker?

    You could ask your supervisor to meet with you & HR at once. Many times I have seen managers ignore an issue because they do not want to put the effort in terminating someone, posting the job & training a new hire. It’s a lazy way out. As long as you do not bring it up they can ignore the situation. I am curious of how many other individuals in your office are aware of what’s taking place. Please cry out the the next time she strikes out. This is physical assault when you have asked her to not do it. She’s got a mean streak. If she’s like that at work; hate to see how she treats her family.

    1. Miller_Admin*

      OP, please address this before heading home for the weekend. Let us know how it plays out. You need to address this before you reach your limit and blow up. I hate confrontations; but I have been in the situation where I haven’t addressed something; blew up and was taken to task for not addressing it earlier in a more professional manner. I had a co worker at my first job that was a toucher; hated it. I had asked him to stop; but was polite about it. Blew up; both of us got written up.

      1. Miller_Admin*

        She shouldn’t be touching someone during COVID at work! Should have thought that earlier. Am wondering if she’s vaccinated?

        1. I'm Not Phyllis*

          Vaccinated or not, you can still catch and spread covid. This is a good point that I hadn’t even focused on earlier.

          1. Miller_Admin*

            This is one of those posts where you are invested in finding out how it’s been resolved.

            This behavior reminds me of “mean girls” in high school. Such a lack of professionalism. I have this cartooned image in my head “of someone poking at someone with extra long nails; you see that finger going back & forth; than the cartoon scream; than an image of the OP spitting the finger out of their mouth.”

  97. SimplyAlissa*

    I’ve been in the workforce 30 years.

    I’ve given a few goodbye hugs to beloved coworkers/friends at going away parties. Shook hands. Made contact while handing over something or jointly carrying/lifting boxes. Once accidentally walked into a coworker when walking-while-reading. Purposely touching a coworker is an extremely low frequency event, even pre-covid.

    Not a single poke in 30 years. Received or given. I am aghast at this woman’s behavior.
    And chances are you are not her only victim. You don’t have to speak up for everyone she’s mistreating/abusing, but please continue to speak up for yourself.

  98. albe*

    I used to have several Deaf co workers. There are plenty of ways to get attention when someone can’t hear you that … aren’t poking them.

    Stamp the floor. Wave. Tap their desk from a distance. None of these are poking someone.

  99. Working Hypothesis*

    Honestly, by the time it got to five or six in one day — let alone 38!! — I would probably start slapping her hand away. LW, you have far, far more patience than I do… and there’s no reason why you should have to! Okay, slapping is probably not diplomatic even if she initiated the physical assault (and yes, poking technically is assault), but you can and should absolutely tell somebody with the authority to make this stop, and make it super clear how freaked out you are by all this.

    “I need your help dealing with a bad situation, Boss… Jane has taken to POKING me, hard, many times every day. No matter what I tell her, or how sharply, she won’t keep her hands off me. This has to stop! Can you please deal with her?” is a perfectly reasonable request to make. Even without the gross cruelty of *deliberately* mumbling to somebody with a hearing impairment.

  100. Kpress*

    Absolutely bonkers – I have no words. Actually I would be very tempted to smack her hand away the next time she tries it…

    Please update us if you get a chance!!

  101. Matt*

    This would drive me crazy. I always startle a lot when being touched unexpectedly. However in my 20 years of being on the workforce, no one of my coworkers would ever do this, nor would they have to be constantly reminded that I don’t like it. The last time this was an issue for me were my school days with the occasional bully.

  102. Jo*

    I’m someone who is quietly spoken so I could maybe (at a push) think that Jane doesn’t realise she’s mumbling, but the poking thing….WTF? It reminds me of a former flatmate who, if you looked away for a moment or carried on doing something unrelated while she was speaking, would say ‘Are you listening?’ repeatedly whereas would constantly interrupt and talk over me when I was speaking because she was too important to let anyone else talk. I know it’s not the same as jabbing someone with a fingernail; it’s just what it reminded me of. OP, while I’d like to tell you to poke Jane back every time she does it to you, or to follow some of the other suggestions here around spraying her with water, maybe it would be more constructive to call her out on it Every. Single. Time. If, looking at the most benevolent explanation, it’s some sort of bizarre habit she’s got into without realising how often she’s doing it or how irritating it is (and that she shouldn’t be jabbing her co-workers, as it’s inappropriate), this should make her much more aware of it, and if she is doing it to be mean this will show her you won’t let her get away with it.

  103. cncx*

    Late to the game on this one (yay europe) but i have ptsd and an exaggerated startle response. Someone poking me even once, with their fingernails, would probably get punched by a flailing arm. If anything, i would go to HR to protect ME. I’m shaking just thinking about this, OP.

  104. staceyizme*

    I’m sorry to comment a bit excessively, OP. Your situation just seems so unjust! Even if your manager is moving you away from her and taking other steps to ease the situation, you should push for more thorough resolution. Don’t stop with the idea that she has stopped actively bullying you (or will stop soon, given what interventions are in motion). Give real consideration to addressing the fact that this happened, that it went on for a long time and that your manager noticed that something was off with you but did not inquire. I’m not saying that you have to decide to take action, but consider taking steps beyond just this initial “stop it” phase. Because it’s gone on too long. It’s too severe. It’s too egregious. It’s utterly too much. Of course, your own agency will determine your comfort level with next steps. But someone who has been this blatant for so long is very, very unlikely to be done after a single warning. Escalate now. (Or consider it, at least.) A preemptive HR/ legal/ administrative strike is in order. She shouldn’t be working there at all. Make no excuses for her. Or for them. Because it’s their job to provide a safe and normal environment for you and for the other employees. What a ridiculous mess they’ve made. Don’t allow it to be minimized or rug swept. You’ve already endured the discomfort of her assaults. Don’t allow your dislike for confrontation or conflict to permit you to settle for a pat on the head and a slight procedural change. That’s not the same thing as making you whole after the fact. And that, frankly, is what you are owed.

  105. Kaitydidd*

    LW 5, I am incensed at your coworker’s behavior. I have a deaf ear, and have only encountered a handful of people who have been less than understanding about it. Things like testing me by whispering where I can’t see them, which, surprise, yielded the result of me not noticing them. What she’s doing is so far beyond the pale. I just. It’s ridiculous. It’s blatant. You’re not wrong or crazy to be bothered by it, and it’s clearly leveraging your hearing for whatever benefit she gets out of tearing you down.

  106. Seashells*

    I haven’t read all 400+ responses, so apologies if this is a repeat. Since you’ve asked her to stop and she hasn’t, would you feel comfortable raising your voice a bit and say “Ouch, that hurts!” every time she pokes you? Obviously she shouldn’t be poking (or touching) anyone, but maybe if you do it every time and loud enough for others to hear, she’ll get the message and stop?

    The fact that she started being aggressive after you were made full time tells me she feels you are somehow a threat to her and she feels the need to find something to pick at.

    1. Observer*

      but maybe if you do it every time and loud enough for others to hear, she’ll get the message and stop?

      What message? That OP doesn’t like this? She shouldn’t need to be told. And in fact she HAS been given the message loud and clear. She is CHOOSING to ignore it. The only hope here is that this could embarrass her into behaving, but I have to think it’s unlikely.

  107. Onetime Poster*

    Oh my friggin’ lord. This is *physical and emotional harassment* and definitely needs to be escalated to management and HR. I have to wonder, depending on what type of company you work for, if there is an employee contract that states basic expectations of behavior in the workplace. This person, “Jane,” has a serious issue that is causing you harm. Yes, HARM. If a man were doing this to a woman, it’d be considered reason to terminate in many situations, if not also sexual harassment. And, it could be that in this case – who’s to say? It’s not right, it pisses me off to no end reading that a grown woman / human is acting like this for *any* reason. Does she feel threatened by you? Fine, but don’t get physical. Does she just hate you? Fine, but don’t get physical. When someone touches you and doesn’t stop after you’ve explicitly said STOP IT, they are the problem and are fully not respecting your clear boundaries. My heart goes out to you.

  108. Bananaphone*

    Boss, if this idiot can’t stop poking me, how about I go on Work From Home and she can poke you for a while.

  109. Elizabeth West*

    OP, this is not you making waves. Jane is harassing you, and it’s screamingly obvious that it’s tied to your disability. Go to your manager right now and tell them this. Alison’s scripts are good, particularly in mentioning your disability and the word “harassment.” Include your documentation. If they brush you off, go to HR. This is illegal, and it’s a huge liability for them to ignore it.

    DO NOT, under ANY circumstances, touch her in return. Don’t poke her back, slap her hand away, or hit her. She will use it against you and so will HR. You don’t need to call the cops (seriously, wtf); you need to talk to your manager and if necessary, HR, right away.

    Most workplaces expect you to resolve conflicts with your coworkers yourself like an adult. You’ve already tried multiple times to do this and it hasn’t worked, so this is the next step. And please come back and update us.

    1. calonkat*

      This, so much this. I wish we could upvote Elizabeth West’s responses, they are often just right on point.

    2. Jimulacrum*

      I’m surprised you’re dismissing calling the police with a “wtf.” What Jane is doing is absolutely a crime—likely a low-level misdemeanor, but a deliberate and continual crime nonetheless. And it’s driving OP nuts and making her feel unsafe at work.

      I can agree that calling the police police first is a bad idea, mainly because it could make a mess at work, and going to the employer ends the abusive work situation simply. Unless the employer is staggeringly incompetent, Jane ought to be fired the same day this is reported. (If Jane is not fired, OP should run screaming from this job.)

      But I could make a strong case for OP reporting Jane’s conduct to the police post-termination, and using it as the basis for a restraining order. You never know how Jane might respond to OP to getting fired. Maybe she’ll take her lumps and never be seen again, or maybe she’ll find ways to further harass OP. Her ongoing behavior indicates someone who is rather unhinged.

      A restraining order costs nothing, raises a red flag with law enforcement about a physically abusive person, and gives OP more criminal and civil options for recourse if Jane batters/harasses her again. It also prevents Jane from legally buying a firearm and can be used to support the employer’s firing decision, in case Jane decides to raise a stink or claim unemployment. So many wins all-around.

  110. Too many hats for this salary*

    Woooow. This is just…something I am continually astounded that needs to be explained to people beyond elementary school.

    You do not put your hands on other people.

    The one and only time I ever set hands on a colleague was actually with a manager who was ears deep in reading paperwork and not noticing the forklift about to run her over. At 4’6″, the poor sap driving the forklift didn’t see her either. Yanked her out of the way just in time for it to only pull her scarf off her head.

    That is the ONLY context I could ever agree is reasonably okay to touch someone, ESPECIALLY when they’ve repeatedly asked not to be touched (!!).

    1. Kaitydidd*

      Jesus, that’s a close call! I’ve put my arm in front of coworkers or tugged their high vis safety vests to keep them from walking into traffic while on field visits.

      I’ll tell people seated on my deaf side to tap my shoulder if they can’t get my attention by speaking. So far no one has done so in a work setting, come to think of it…

  111. Relax Relate Release*

    I wonder if Jane isn’t a previous coworker of mine. I worked with a woman who did this exact thing to another coworker who also happened to be hearing impaired. When she finally got the message to stop with the poking, she would hover silently just out of view waiting for her victim to notice her. It was maddening to watch and for my coworker to experience. That Jane was eventually fired for a variety of offenses but I’m not sure if the poking was ever escalated to management.

  112. Stopgap*

    OP, you might consider reporting your company to the labor board. Employing a 5-year-old is illegal.

  113. lockhart*

    If someone poked me 38 times in one day I’d grab their finger and scream DO NOT TOUCH ME in their face. If someone did it ONCE after they were told to not touch me I’d probably do the same (minus the finger grabbing.)
    Note that this is BAD advice, you absolutely should not touch anyone… but they have crossed a line so significantly I wouldn’t be able to stop myself.

  114. Aaron*

    The OP mentioned this was a family owned firm… I hope Jane is not a family member and therefore not fearful of being punished.

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