my coworker accidentally sent me a recording making fun of me

A reader writes:

My coworker sent me a five-minute voicemail. She had inadvertently recorded herself talking about me, making fun of me and laughing at my appearance. She also promised the person she is speaking to that she will show them my picture later. Laugh laugh laugh.

After listening to the message, I sent a message back saying, “I received this message from you. Based on the recording, I don’t think you meant for me to hear this.”

The colleague tried to backpedal. I’ve ignored her and am working remotely for the time being as she and I share a very small one-person office.

She had already been making comments to me and about me, speaking about my clothes, my hair, car, everything. I follow good grooming principles, I take the time to do my hair and makeup every day, I have appropriate business clothes, and I put effort into my appearance. She had made so many comments about my hair (which is long) and my style of dress (which is business professional). She seems to be trying to duplicate my style, which I would welcome but she is also mocking it.

She also races to try to get to work before me, and when she gets there she’s out of breath with an excuse every day about how she wants to be there early. I told her I don’t care what she does, she’s her own person, but I feel there’s an odd jealousy and I don’t understand what it’s about.

She’s only been with the company three months and I’ve only been here one month, but I had already caught her talking about me when she didn’t realize I was around the corner. I had said to her right then, “Please don’t speak about me or for me. I will advocate for myself and communicate for myself.” I guess she didn’t get the message.

The hardest part about this incident is literally right before I got the voicemail, we were scheduled to meet my boss’s boss on camera and I had a one-on-one with my boss right after that. I was so upset that it was very hard to keep it together during these important video meetings but I did.

In the one-on-one with my boss, I was still shaking with anger and embarrassment so I told him what had happened. He told me he had never been through this and I needed to contact HR .

Independently, this coworker told our boss what she had done. It’s moved on to HR, and HR asked me to send them the recording.

My boss seems to be a little bit unbothered by this. He said to me, “Oh, I’m sure you’re vented to your family members about people at work before,” to which I didn’t reply. I guess this means he jokes about his staff with his family but because they don’t work with us it’s okay? He also said, “Maybe you guys will laugh about this later,” but I feel the trust is broken.

I really think this person should be fired. I’m upset is she showing someone our private platform to show them my picture.

But I’m worried I’m going to lose my job now if my company thinks we are two people that can’t get along … but how is it my fault that this woman has been making comments about me since I started? What should I do?

It’s highly unlikely that you’re going to lose your job over this.

But it’s also fairly unlikely that your coworker is going to lose hers, unless they’ve already had other concerns about her.

That doesn’t mean that she won’t face consequences — if your HR is any good, at a minimum she’s going to get a serious conversation about treating other people respectfully, be told she was wildly out of line, and be warned that nothing like this can happen again if she wants to keep her job.

On the other hand, who knows — they could consider firing her. If my employee who had only been there three months did something like this, I’d be seriously questioning whether to keep them on. But that’s something that would generally come more from your boss than HR, and your boss sounds like he just wants to smooth things over.

That’s BS, for the record! Instead, your boss should have said to you, “I’m sorry this is happened, it’s unacceptable, and I’m going to have a very serious conversation with Jane about it.” He also should have asked whether you’d had other problems with her, so he’d know if there was more going on that he needed to address. He sucks for trying to dismiss what happened as normal venting; it’s clearly far more mean-spirited than that. Frankly, even typical venting can cease to be “typical” if you accidentally send it to the target of your venting; at that point, depending on what was said, it can easily become a problem that needs to be addressed. But this wasn’t even normal venting. Normal venting is “why is Bob always so late with the llama report?” … not personal comments about someone’s appearance.

So your boss is handling this badly, and hopefully HR will set him straight.

Meanwhile, you can’t insist that your coworker be fired (that would move it into the range of “are these two people a problem we can’t solve?”) but it’s reasonable to tell your boss and HR that there’s been a pattern of your coworker commenting on your appearance and you’d like them to tell her it needs to stop. You can also decline to have anything more than a purely professional relationship with your her until/unless she finds a way to rebuild trust with you. Civil but chilly is fine as long as as you’re not openly unpleasant or obstructing work.

{ 378 comments… read them below }

  1. Richard Hershberger*

    It seems to me that at the very least the company could move the two apart, rather than have them share an office.

    1. Radio Girl*

      This is a good idea. Frankly, it sounds like OP’s coworker feels threatened by OP and ridicule is her way of dealing with it. If I were OP, I would remain polite, but never friendly with coworker.

    2. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      Seems like an obvious move. OP, I don’t know if you feel you have standing to suggest it, but perhaps a gentle hint that you’d be willing to accept a desk elsewhere?

    3. Fran Fine*

      They absolutely need to do this – no way would I be able to share an office with somebody this petty and mean-spirited.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          I assumed (which is usually foolish) is a rotating situation (i.e., OP comes in Mondays and Tuesdays, Rude Coworker comes in Wednesdays and Thursdays). Still not ideal.

          1. Becca*

            It says OP is working remotely for the time being because of the situation, so it sounds like they aren’t there at the same time.
            But given that I’m kind of confused how over one month the coworker has “raced to clock in sooner” and been out of breath enough times to be a noticeable pattern? Did OP have to push to be allowed to work remotely and *was* sharing the small office early on?

        2. Aggretsuko*

          Yeah, my office is making darned sure nobody shares any offices unless the office space is HUGE.

    4. Aggretsuko*

      Reminds me of my days of being bullied by my office neighbor. It was more considered “my fault” than hers, really, and I was the one who got moved out of my group and put into a worse job, rather than her. Better than being bullied, mind you, but still sucked. Unfortunately, the bullied person is far more likely to get penalized/punished than the bully, somehow.

      I note that coworker is still here and everyone else thinks she’s great and I doubt she got more than written up–of course, I got written up too :P

      1. Sloanicote*

        I remember reading that bullies tend to have high emotional intelligence, so it doesn’t actually surprise me that they’d be good at evading consequences; they often pick on people who “don’t quite fit in” so their victims can appear unsympathetic from the outside sometimes. It’s a real shame.

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          That’s why the recording is so important. Especially since OP’s boss doesn’t seem bothered–probably because he doesn’t see the bully as a problem (that’s a whole different comment). It allows HR to take action without the boss needing to approve.

        2. henrietta*

          This, and nothing annoys people as much as a person (that people might like to pick on) drawing a boundary.

          1. Greige*

            Yes. Aggretsuko, you were blamed for making it their problem, when they’d rather not have to worry about you. That’s a terribly short-sighted and callous mindset to have, but it’s my best guess.

            1. Aggretsuko*

              I caused the problem by existing wrong.

              My boss was actually quite sympathetic to my situation. His boss wasn’t. And then he got another job, so.

            1. Sloanicote*

              I don’t think I knew before that people misunderstand EQ. It doesn’t always mean you’re a good person or an empathic person. Just as you can be highly intelligent but misuse your skills at math or language to do evil, you can be good at evaluating and manipulating other people’s emotions and not use it for good. People who have high EQ are better liars, for example. It’s just a neutral assessment of skills, not a moral one.

        3. iiii*

          They’re also smart enough not to start anything unless they’re in a safe place from which to start. The victim’s qualities matter far less to a prospective bully than knowing that the nominal authorities don’t want to intervene, or aren’t allowed to intervene effectively, or enjoy bullying people themselves.

        4. Jan*

          I don’t know if I’d call that emotionally intelligent so much as clever in a cunning, manipulative way! Emotionally intelligent people can generally deal with people they dislike without bullying.

    5. Typing All The Time*

      Yes. A pattern has been shown. I caught two people at my Old Job mimicking me, thinking I left the room. I stood in a position where one of them saw me walking out. They never apologized.

    6. Momma Bear*

      That was one of my first thoughts as well. And IMO the other one should move if OP likes her office.

  2. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I would also encourage OP to request that one of them be moved out of the office they share to a different space.

  3. Wendy*

    This is WILDLY not okay and your boss is wrong. Don’t approach HR as “this is a personal conflict,” approach it as “this coworker is bad-mouthing me to others in a way that will interfere with work eventually despite my best efforts to remain professional.”

    1. Doug Judy*

      Exactly this. How can you trust someone who has hurt you on such a personal level?

      Not quite the same situation but I had coworkers talking behind my back, not about my looks but basically mocking me for having kids/being a mom. If I left on time to get my son from daycare or needed a longer lunch to attend a concert, there was mocking of my leaving. They even made fun of my children. I heard all
      of this by accident one day. My work did not over lap at all with their’s, so it’s not like they had to take on anything additional. They were childless, so had no idea that if you’re late getting your kid from daycare, it can cost you a LOT of money. When I told my boss he said he didn’t have a problem with my work and would talk to them. He did, but my trust in them was destroyed. I left soon after.

    2. banoffee pie*

      Boss is lazy/useless and maybe trying that old tactic ‘oh it’s just two women who don’t get along, no big deal, you know what they’re like…’ Such a handy sexist excuse for bosses who don’t want to boss.

      1. Properlike*

        ^^^^^THIS ALL DAY LONG^^^^^^ “Oh, you ladies who let personal problems get in the way of your work.” Any two women together automatically means cattiness.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yes, the boss handled this terribly. This is not okay. I would be livid with anyone on my team who did this to a peer, and it would go straight to HR to determine if we even wanted to keep such a person on staff. At minimum, that person is moved out of the shared office and given a strongly worded, final notice that the next incident of any sort would result in their termination. Showing our internal platforms to someone who didn’t work there is also a firable offense.

      I don’t know who can go on about a coworker for five minutes and take the time to record it. This behavior is wildly inappropriate and unprofessional. This is not middle school, it’s a workplace. OP should not be subjected to such petty and inappropriate behavior.

    4. JSPA*

      Let’s see how the boss responds to the actual recording. That’s quite different from, “she sent something about me.”

    5. Rose*

      This! I would focus on this along with

      1) your discomfort at having your picture/personal information shared in this way
      2) feeling uncomfortable/creeped out by someone who is internet stalking you with weird malicious intent (assuming your photo isn’t in your outlook or intranet and she’d need to find it online)
      3) Fear that she’s trying to photograph you without your knowledge while in the office (esp easy to back up if she’s talking about your outfits or makeup)
      4) comments about your appearance making you deeply uncomfortable.

      And play those up AMAP, regardless of if they’re what’s bothering you most. IMO, those sound like hot button HR issues that might get the best reaction.

      If there are any particularly horrifying quotes from her I might put them in an email, with your boss CCed, if you have yet to send HR the recording, or if there’s another chance to drop them in in context.

    6. Rose*

      I feel like this happens sometimes – where things get reframed to HR as if both sides just don’t get along rather than one person creating a hostile work environment for the other. It’s something that is normally difficult to ‘prove’ so it’s good that in this case there is a recording. But it’s still galling to me how often someone behaving in a way that’s entirely inappropriate for the workplace is talked about by management as if it’s just a petty interpersonal conflict.

      1. Rose*

        (sorry this comment was from a different Rose than the one just above – didn’t realize we had the same name on here)

      2. RS*

        That’s how HR framed it when I met with them due to my boss trying to make me continue to do managerial tasks after I stepped down from manager role due to her bullying. As though it was because I was now getting paid less and that must be hard for me… no what’s hard for me is to sit in front of HR, have my boss threaten me with retaliation in front of HR, and not have HR support me not doing tasks that are outside of my job role and pay grade because my boss didn’t want to do it and had actively avoided completing the task (scheduling) despite my attempts to show her how I did it, until it became a crisis and she wanted to strong-arm me into it.

  4. S*

    The word “bullying” may be applicable here. That’s how I’d frame it, as a pattern that has you as its target. That may incline HR and your boss to take this more seriously.

    1. Ellena*

      Yes. It is bullying. I’d also advise her to frame it like this because the company leaving it would be stupid since it can turn to harassment litigation.

      1. DivineMissL*

        In my state, it’s only “harassment” if it’s because of being part of a protected class; otherwise it’s just considered “your co-worker is a jerk”. We were told there’s no law requiring a coworker to be polite.

          1. Sal*

            Attorney here. “Hostile work environment,” in every place whose employment law I know about, is not a generically-hostile environment, but one that is hostile based on some protected class. It distinguishes between that (“my workplace was hostile to women/racial minorities”) and direct discrimination (“my boss didn’t promote me/paid me less/fired me because I’m a woman/racial minority”). I don’t know of any place in the US where it is illegal to just have a generically hostile work environment that doesn’t involve a protected class or characteristic.

        1. daffodil*

          I wonder if OP does belong to a protected class. Could it be considered sexual harassment because of the comments about OP’s appearance and clothes?

      1. Rose*

        Illegal vs legal doesn’t really have anything to do with this. No one is suggesting she sue. You can be awful and be fired while still upholding the law.

        I still wouldn’t use the word bullying. Personally I think it has childish connotations, with the suggested solution usually along the lines of “stand up for yourself!” and with the boss already trying to play this off as no big deal, I don’t think it’s the best way to express what’s going on.

      2. Kella*

        Being terrible at your job is also not illegal, but management absolutely has standing to intervene and require that their performance change, or decide they are no longer a good fit for the position.

    1. Ellena*

      So true. Creep and stupid enough to send it to the person of all people she was badmouthing. No company needs that combination.

      1. Nea*

        The nasty voicemail showed up conveniently at a time to upset OP right before a meeting with the boss and was nasty enough to leave OP visibly shaken.

        That’s not stupid, that’s sabotage.

        1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          Good point – although by sending it to the OP, the harasser left a recording of her bullying behavior so that wasn’t such a smart thing to do.

          1. Nea*

            On reread I’m not sure that the boss completely understands what happened. Coworker seems to have really downplayed what she did and said when she finally confessed.

            Now, if he’s heard the voicemail and still thinks it’s just venting, that’s a completely different thing.

            1. Aphra*

              Let’s hope so. I hadn’t thought of it as anything other than bullying but sabotage certainly sounds plausible. I do hope someone in HR is about to rip coworker a new one, since manager is so useless. Like all decent people I abhor bullies and this is clearly more than venting about the workplace.

            2. fhqwhgads*

              I read it a little differently. Boss is the one who said to go straight to HR. This makes me think boss hasn’t completely decided it’s minimal. The boss trying to shrug it off later struck me as something like trying to make OP feel less bad about the things that were said. But who knows.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      Agree. OP don’t delete that voicemail. I hope not, but you may need it to help build a case later.

  5. Lucious*

    I’ve seen this movie before. The boss will do nothing, and the OP will be considered a malcontent if they discuss the issue with them further.

    A boss who cares will handle the issue- not “smooth things over” by downplaying the OPs concerns. The latter is a sign they either do not care or (worst case) side with the Voicemail Bandit.

    1. A Poster Has No Name*

      Yeah, I have a feeling the update letter is going to be one of those “It got worse and now I have a much better job and here’s all the other red flags about that toxic workplace” letters.

    2. EmmaPoet*

      It reads to me like Boss is dismissing this as “girl drama” and thinks OP is also at fault here.

      1. CalypsoSummer*

        I hope that if Boss hears the poke-jab snigger-snigger message that Coworker recorded, he learns something. He’d said that he’d never dealt with that before; well, this is his opportunity to learn something, and to grow from it.

        You have a nasty child in your office, dude. She’s harassing another employee. You going to do something about it?

      2. Rose*

        This this this this

        I’m getting a strong whiff of sexism here. He’s dismissing something outright cruel and creepy as “girl problems!” and no big deal, when it is a “pick my jaw up off the floor with great effort” big deal.

        JerkFace is only three months in, with no real reputation. If I were CrapBoss, I’d be seriously considering firing JerkFace over this. The cruelty and creepy ness is enough on its own. The extra layer of “could you ever actually trust this person with a client or ANY steak holder at all?” is a cherry on top.

        1. Splendid Colors*

          Yes, it might be a good tactic to point out that JerkFace could end up embarrassing the company and/or losing customers for them. They clearly don’t understand professional norms.

      3. Rose (2)*

        Yup. I’ve had a boss like this before. It was truly aggravating, because the person making my daily life difficult at work wasn’t only doing so to me, but because I was more vocal about it with my manager it was framed as ‘oh, it’s an interpersonal conflict between these two women who don’t like each other’ rather than ‘this one employee is acting wildly inappropriate and creating a bad work environment for multiple people.’

  6. CBB*

    Did the boss listen to the recording? Sounds like he’s trying to keep himself blissfully unaware of how serious (and bizarre) this thing is.

    1. Canadian Valkyrie.*

      It also makes me wonder what the hell he’s saying to his family. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’ve never vented to my family about a crappy coworker but it’s usually like what Alison said (“urgh Sally never does X and is rude when I ask for it, she’s such a bitch!” to my spouse at home is… not the most professional, sure, but if it ever got out is much more defendable than “Urgh Sally is so ugly, and her pants make her look like a serial killer”). I’d be super wary of a boss who seemingly things that the OP coworkers verbiage is acceptable.

      1. often trapped under a cat*

        +1

        I’ve vented about coworkers to family and friends, but never about someone’s personal appearance!

        1. tangerineRose*

          Same here. When I vent, it’s about things like “X didn’t do his work (again), and now I have to do it because the manager knows I’ll actually get it done. How does X spend all day at work without actually doing almost anything?” Or “Y put *another* bug in the code. I’m not expecting perfect code, but Y just seems to not care.”

          I don’t care what they’re wearing as long as they’re reasonably covered.

        2. Rose*

          I’m trying to think of a scenario where it would even OCCUR to me to bring someone’s appearance into workplace venting. Aside from “nazi tattoos”/similar I’m not coming up with anything. Because I’m not in 7th grade.

          1. All Het Up About It*

            I can say earlier in my career, when I could still fall too easily into “catty mean girl world,” that I’ve probably made some comment about a disliked co-workers appearance. But this certainly would have been 1) a co-worker who was frustrating for other WORK reasons first and 2) would have been a stupid (and rude) sentence or two. NOT a 5 minute diatribe. Like “Jane drives me crazy! She is always makes me do twice the work because of the way she wants these reports done and shushes anyone who makes jokes about the copier. And her suits are so ugly!” It’s an eating crackers type thing, though still rude and immature. But still what the OP has outlined here is far, far beyond anything like that.

            Something about the OP is making the co-worker feel insecure and that’s coming out in a petty, rude and unprofessional manner that should 100% be addressed.

        1. CmdrShepard*

          If you have to wonder the answer is probably yes, yes you do!

          I would guess that most people own serial killer pants.

          But that is because I think most successful serial killers use everyday pants/clothes that most people wear to blend in. In the same way that I would guess successful serial killers use an everyday reliable minivan or sedan with lots of storage space decent gas mileage, rather than a white van with blacked/boarded up windows.

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            I hereby move that “serial killer pants” be forever enshrined in the AAM unofficial lexicon. It’s definitely right up there with “Hanukkah balls,” “duck club,” and cheap ass rolls”!

          2. Reluctant Manager*

            And this is why I’m always a serial killer for Halloween. They look just like everybody else.

          1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

            Only if they’re machine washable. Not sure I want to deal with dry clean only serial killer pants even if they look amazing.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              I’m guessing they have to be machine washable since the dry cleaning staff might get a little suspicious of the constant blood stains

              1. laowai_gaijin*

                That’s exactly what I was thinking. Serial killers probably get into all sorts of stuff that stains – blood, grass, chainsaw oil – so they need clothes that are washable at home. Who wants to send out their murder suit to the cleaners? That’s a good way to get the FBI on your tail.

                1. Maxie's Mommy*

                  That’s how a local murderer got caught. Dry cleaner thought blood stains on a comforter looked suspicious and called the cops. Moral of the story: when you wrap a body in bedding, throw the bedding away afterwards.

        2. TrackingCookieMonster*

          I first read this as “serial killer plants” and thought maybe Venus fly traps or something.

          1. jenny20*

            no joke, I saw a movie on amazon prime about killer pants!! It was called SLAXX. It was SO BAD but we could not turn it off.

            1. Former_Employee*

              When I saw “amazon” I thought the movie would be about killer plants that grow in the Amazon.

      2. Meep*

        +1 I have a coworker who is a wackadoodle.

        I sure as heck vent about the wild and crazy things she does because they are positively outlandish. For example, just yesterday she tried to purchase 19 cell phones (just under $6,000 worth) on Amazon for a client using our boss’s personal debit card. Didn’t run it by him first or anything like that. It was rightfully declined due to legitimately fraudulent concerns. She complained about how cheap he was and told me to be on stand-by like I would hand over my credit cards to make it happen! The first word out of my mom’s mouth when I told her was “Why didn’t the client purchase these cell phones?” This is a very great question as we are a software company. We don’t have a lab to do anything with these cellphones, or would any of our software relate to these cell phones.

        But outside of pointing out her ugly personality, calling her ugly is something out of the realm I would consider appropriate. (She on the other hand, loves to comment on people’s appearances.)

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          This exactly.
          A whackadoodle coworker, defined as a coworker doing demonstrably whackadoodle things. Describing this to a friend/relative is pretty much expected.
          “This crazy thing happened at work. Coworker did X today. And tried to rope me into it.”
          “does she do things like that a lot?’
          “Ya know what? S/hhe does.”

        2. Lance*

          Really, just this. The boss calls this ‘venting’, but it’s… not. Complaining about things they’ve done that bug you is venting; complaining about their appearance, especially to such lengths, is just being petty and mean-spirited.

        3. Lab Boss*

          I think they key thing there is that if I somehow overheard a coworker complaining about some boneheaded work mistake I made because I’m stupid, I could at least tie that to my actual work performance. They might be wrongly blaming me, or overreacting, or being needlessly cruel, but it’s still a relevant data point that people think I made that mistake. Finding out my coworkers think I have bad skin and wear ugly clothes has zero ties to work, so it’s not even a useful piece of info in a cruel wrapper.

          1. Splendid Colors*

            Yeah, this is a workplace. Not a middle school. Not sorority rush. You can’t vote people out of your workplace because they’re cheugy.

      3. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        If I were the OP, I’d have to wonder about what the boss is saying about ME to his family if he thinks that this kind of harassment is normal. OP, I do hope that you can find another job in a normal (not toxic!) company soon because I doubt that this situation is going to get any better.

        “A fish rots from the head on down” is true about any hierarchy; if those at the top are lax or corrupt, those on the lower rungs of the ladder will have no checks on their (mis)behavior. It sounds as if that may be happening here.

        1. CalypsoSummer*

          He hadn’t heard the recording, so he was equating to the inter-familial sniping with which he was familiar. He needs to hear the recording.

      4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Seriously! I definitely have a rant of “Velma is getting on my last nerve and if she doesn’t get me the TPS reports by Friday I am going to scream!” or “Rob is a complete jerk and I dread the times he shows up at my desk” to the better half. To non-work friends, they only get the funny stories (e.g. the time I inhaled my coffee and gave an entire meeting table a caffeine shower) or a situation that might be similar to what they might be facing at work, but without using names.

      5. Amethystmoon*

        Right, I have never vented about a coworker’s appearance. Mainly when they did something dumb (repeatedly) that I was made to fix (every time).

    2. Lynn*

      I may be reading way too much into it, but to me, it sounds like boss is of the sexist variety where any conflict between women is reduced to “being dramatic”, even if he were fully aware of everything going on.

      1. female peter gibbons*

        Right? That has been parodied on Seinfeld a few times. Anytime women bring up a conflict, a man nearby dismisses it as a “catfight”.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I am trying to find the link to “My boss thinks that any disagreement between two women is personality conflict.”
        OP was writing about telling her boss about a contractor whose work was subpar. Since they were both women, he said they just didn’t like each other and he wasn’t going to get involved in a personality conflict.

      3. Librarian of SHIELD*

        This is where my mind went too.

        I had a colleague at one point who had two women on his team who couldn’t work together and he refused to intervene in the “girl drama.” There we’re absolutely things he could have done to make the work run more smoothly, but he didn’t want to acknowledge that and it was maddening.

        OP, when you’re talking to HR, be clear that this isn’t a “she hurt my feelings” situation. Her behavior is unsettling and making it difficult for you to focus on your work, and HR should absolutely do something about it.

      4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I could see that and, since it so conveniently slots into “Ladies, what are you gonna do, amirite?” it allows him to dodge any uncomfortable/hard management issues. It is very common in my experience when men manage a primarily female workforce

      5. sacados*

        Good point! Tho I suppose he also could just be of the “generally spineless” variety who just wants any problems to go away so he can avoid any Uncomfortable Conversations.

    3. Kes*

      Honestly if it comes up again in discussion with the boss I would suggest to him that he listen to the recording and imagine it’s talking about him and really consider whether he would be okay with this and find it something to laugh about

      1. Bagpuss*

        yes – and also make sure that he is aware of all the other thigs, that this is not a single isolated incident but part of a pattern of behaviour where she is making inappropriate and derogatory comments to and about you.

        If you haven’t already, also have the conversation with HR and as others have suggested, frame it as her behaviour showing a pattern of bullying behaviour

        1. Satchel of Sparkles*

          “frame it as her behaviour showing a pattern of bullying behaviour”
          Beyond this: as her bullying behaviours *escalating* over time.

  7. It's Growing!*

    Wow. I sure hope there is an update in the future. OP, I can’t imagine having to deal with this very ugly, personal onslaught. Here’s hoping HR does something useful.

  8. TB*

    Man, I feel like it would be really REALLY unlikely for this coworker to A) accidentally record this conversation and B) accidentally send this accidental recording to the one person the conversation just happened to be about. I’m wondering if she sent this intentionally but is playing it off as an accident? I can’t figure out what the angle would be, but it just seems so unlikely that it would magically be a coincidence?

    1. AGD*

      This was my sense too. Harassers are really good at this sort of thing – knowing when the boss isn’t going to push back, and taking full advantage to upset their target(s).

    2. Elenna*

      I could maybe see if they meant to call/send a voicemail to someone else outside the company, but since Mean Coworker was thinking about OP, they accidentally clicked on OP’s contact instead of the person they actually meant to send it to? I got the impression that they didn’t send a pre-recorded thing, they just recorded a voicemail.

      Regardless, this is awful, and at the very least Mean Coworker should be told to stop and have a professional relationship with you. I agree with others that you should at least ask them to let you change offices.

      1. Canadian Valkyrie.*

        That’s what I was thinking… I once got an email FROM MY BOSS!!!! complaining about one of her interns (I was one of the interns… it wasn’t about me but still wildly unprofessional, especially because I knew what the problem was with the other intern, and, well, at least 5 employees (out of a staff of 15) quit directly because of her and the grand boss. 2 others quit for “other” reasons but had serious issues with this boss too. People like me who stayed just had no other options (eg I’d applied for jobs for 6+ months before getting this 1 job so I wasn’t prepared to quit and repeat that process and my looking wasn’t getting me far!)

      2. AnonToday*

        I’ve done this before, so this is my guess as to what happened.

        I’m my case, Sibling was being amorous with their SO at our house, and things were audible. I meant to text Sibling to lower the volume so they wouldn’t get in trouble with Parent, but I accidentally texted Parent! Cue mortification and betrayal. Luckily, Parent isn’t someone who is glued to their phone, so I quickly found the phone and deleted the message before Parent saw it.

        I agree with the last paragraph. Changing offices should be the very minimum they do.

    3. TiffIf*

      It could totally be by accident–coworker accidentally pocket dials OP while badmouthing her and OP’s phone goes to VM which records the pocket dialed bad mouthing.

        1. Wednesdays we eat chicken*

          This was my first guess. I left my friend a voice-mail one day because I was telling my mom about friend’s upcoming wedding plans and Siri decided to “help.” Thankfully a totally benign experience but I immediately turned off the voice activation setting because I did not want that happening at a less ideal moment.

      1. Darsynia*

        I enjoy the results of people not thinking through their cruelty sometimes. My mother’s best friend ghosted her during the pandemic and she got a call from the woman during church a few weeks ago. When my mom pulled the phone from her pocket, she accidentally declined the call, and the woman never called back.

        Our guess is that she accidentally called instead of removing my mom from her contacts list. I hope she felt really stupid!

        I can’t imagine how freaky it must have been for the coworker, but people who leave that kind of voicemail often double down on their deception for self-preservation reasons. I’m not surprised she’s claiming it was an accident.

    4. generic_username*

      I was thinking it was a butt-dial. I just can’t imagine what the up-side is for OP’s coworker.

      1. generic_username*

        *I can’t imagine what the up-side is for OP’s coworker to purposefully send a recording like that

      2. Zephy*

        A butt-dial or a voice assistant mishap – I recall a news story from some years back where, discussing Amazon’s Alexa smart home device, people who owned one and had it in “earshot” of the TV had their devices activate upon the anchor saying the word “Alexa” in the course of talking about it. Hell, my Google voice assistant has activated while I was listening to podcasts in the car once or twice and someone on the podcast makes a noise that sounds like “Hey Google.”

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Fun story – I generally put on an old sitcom when I’m falling asleep. One night, I woke up around 1 or 2am and the TV was still on, but I was hearing some weird underlaying murmuring that didn’t make sense. After a few minutes, I realized that one of the repeating Hulu ads was for Reese Witherspoon’s bookclub and, in the ad, she says “Alexa, play my Audible book”.

          Well, my echo picked that up and starting playing the most recent audio book I’d been listening to – which happened to be Alison’s Ask a Manager book LOL.

        2. PT*

          Wasn’t there an episode of South Park where Trey Parker and Matt Stone deliberately included trigger phrasing to set off everyone’s Alexas and Google Homes and make them go haywire if they were in the room while people were watching the episode?

        3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          I have a friend named “Alexa”. You can imagine how much fun that is in this day and age. Alas in 1970-something it was just a name

          1. kicking-k*

            Yes, like Billy Joel’s daughter… Come to that, what happens if you ask Alexa to play “Downeaster Alexa”, I wonder? (We don’t have Alexa, so I can’t test.)

        4. Rachel in NYC*

          Yeah, my google home is trained for not my normal voice. If I just say “Hey Google,” it does jack all.

          I’m so proud.

          On the other hand, it’s been known to respond to the tv so…

        5. Lab Boss*

          I met with a financial advisor to discuss long-term plans, and he finally had to put his phone in a different room because it kept hearing his midwestern “I’ll ask ya…” as “Alexa”

        6. Usagi*

          I’m a corporate trainer with an Android, and occasionally I’ll talk about Googling something (e.g., when an attendee of my training asks a question, I’ll tell them how they can Google the information if they ever need it in the future). Sometimes I’ll have searches in my history for stuff like “so when you’re communicating by e-mail one the most important things to recognize is that written text is missing all the extra information like tone of voice, body language…”

    5. Nora*

      I assumed the coworker said something that sounded like a digital assistant name (siri or alexa or “ok google” or whatever) and then said the name of the OP because they were talking about them, so their phone called the OP and when OP didn’t pick up, recorded a voicemail.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        Could be.

        But why was she blathering about OP’s lack of style or whatever ***right before the meeting with grandboss***?

      2. nonegiven*

        I was at my sister’s, coming into the side of a room that didn’t have a light switch, and it took me way too long to remember the name of the thing, “Alexa, turn on the light.”

    6. You get a pen and you get a pen*

      I think there is a way for it to be an accident if their phone system voicemail is like ours at work that sends you an email with a voice file attached. It’s possible the coworker meant to forward the voicemail to someone other than the OP.

      Regardless, I feel absolutely terrible for the OP. This is just straight up Mean Girls material

      1. Fran Fine*

        It really is. I don’t understand why grown adults act like this. What is the motivation?! Who has the time?! And if you have that kind of time, it sounds like you may need more work to do.

    7. I.T. Phone Home*

      Siri hears all and has permission to place calls on your behalf, so be careful when repeatedly saying someone’s name.

    8. Nea*

      It’s “accidentally” recorded and “accidentally” sent to the person being bullied and “accidentally” appeared right before a scheduled meeting with the boss?

      Way too many accidents for a coincidence.

      1. Sea Anemone*

        Sounds like it was deliberately recorded, accidentally sent, and coincidentally was received right before a meeting with the boss.

      2. Stevie*

        I can’t tell from the letter whether the recording was more along the lines of an actual voicemail left for the wrong person or an inadvertent recording of an in-person conversation that got sent out accidentally, but if it’s the former, I’d be inclined to think maybe this happened because of those coincidences. OP clearly takes up a lot of this coworker’s head space, so maybe this coworker was fixated on OP and this upcoming meeting and misdialed.

      3. fueled by coffee*

        Not to venture into fanfic mode, but I got the sense that the coworker was dialing OP (maybe for legitimate work-related reasons?) and simultaneously talking to someone else nearby (in-person? Over Zoom?) *about* the coworker.

        I can definitely see her being too into gossiping to realize that OP’s voicemail had picked up – hence, OP gets a voicemail recording of the coworker being an ass.

    9. anonymous73*

      I believe it can happen. At my first job post college, one of my teammates was having an affair with a woman in another department, some sexual stuff was recorded and sent to the wrong person. I don’t remember the details, but it was definitely an accident.

    10. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Someone brought this up above. It seemed extreme to me, but that poster agrees with you and pointed out the timing.
      OP received this hateful message from coworker as she was about to start a meeting with this person AND their boss.
      Of course she’d listen to it immediately; she was going to meet with this person. She’d assume it was relevant to the meeting.

    11. Khatul Madame*

      What I don’t get is venting into a voicemail. Personally I need someone breathing, preferably a human, who can listen to me in the moment and make sympathetic noises.
      LW’s coworker may feel better from talking to the “voice assistant” in her phone, but I agree that this chain of events was probably not accidental and speaks to the pattern of bullying.
      I hope there will be an update to this letter.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        I’ve vented in a paper diary, but certainly not at work. Yeah I agree, the whole voicemail thing is odd.

    12. RosyGlasses*

      maybe? It could have just been slip of the fingers. I had an old co-worker who used our instant messenger in a meeting to post something snotty about me to another co-worker but she accidentally sent it to me as she had both messenger windows open (this was in the pre-Slack days). So it could have been a mistake, but was still really inappropriate.

    13. Despachito*

      Be it what it may, she gave OP ammunition against herself on a silver platter.

      Were it not for this, it might easily end up in “she said-she said” situation, but the recording makes it crystal clear who is who. How stupid, on top of mean, must one be to incriminate herself in such a unambiguous manner!

      I am very sorry for the OP, it must be very hurtful to hear such slander, but please remember it’s absolutely not you, it’s her, and that you now have everything you need to support your case (unless HR and the manager are spineless doormats)

      1. Splendid Colors*

        Back at a certain nuclear company in SoCal, one of the nuclear engineers left rape threat voicemails to his female colleagues from a phone in a disused lunchroom. Including to his officemate, who was picking up the slack while he watched pr0n at his desk and lurked around the building looking for obscure phones to call from. (I wasn’t one of his targets because he was cool with women being admins. They don’t belong in engineering, though, so the best move is to frighten them into quitting.)

        1. Usagi*

          Wait wait wait you can’t leave us hanging! Presumably he was fired?

          I say that but AAM has taught me that I shouldn’t assume that the reasonable thing is always what happens in situations like this.

    14. JustaTech*

      I had a coworker send me a text complaining about me in a really unflattering and unfair way. I knew that the coworker had a friend with almost the same first name, so, for the sake of our working relationship (I needed her help on an experiment that I physically could not do alone), I treated her like it was a genuine mistake.

      But there were days that I thought it was on purpose, just with some plausible deniability. (I don’t work with this person anymore but she still randomly texts me to “chat” even though I’ve been super clear that I don’t “chat” by text, so then she gets mad and sends texts saying “why don’t you want to talk to me” at 10pm. What a drama llama.)

      So it could be a mistake, or intentional, or somewhere in the middle.

    15. RagingADHD*

      If it were not an accident, why would the coworker pre-emptively confess to the boss? There is no upside.

    16. cncx*

      yes, i call it “fudging” like…they know what they are doing and what is plausible deniability

  9. ThatGirl*

    Yeesh. I’ve had a few coworkers I’ve vented about or made snarky remarks about to friends or my husband – but never about their appearance! And never would I show someone else’s picture just to make fun of them. This is some bizarro mean girl stuff right here.

      1. banoffee pie*

        Yeah my mind boggles that some adults still have time for this stuff. In saying that, plenty of the decent kids never bullied anyone even in high school.

    1. generic_username*

      Same. I think the only time I’ve shown a coworker’s picture to a friend was because it was someone I found attractive, and I cringe at that now (and no way would I have access my work accounts to get the picture! Usually by that point we’re linked on facebook or something)

    2. Doug Judy*

      Same. It’s always more along the lines of “Karen’s a know-it-all, Dan always misspells my very common name, Tammi was late AGAIN!” type things. I think once I did mention to a friend that an intern was wearing white pants with what was clearly hot pink underwear underneath, but that was it.

      OP, I’m so sorry. I’ve been the one people have talked about behind my back and it sucks. In my case they were mocking me leaving “early” (I left at my scheduled time) to get my son from daycare, or taking off mid-day to attend my child’s school program. Like WTF? Neither of these people had to do any more work, they just didn’t like me for whatever reason. My boss brushed it off. I didn’t stay there long. I know you’re very new but I’d seriously consider finding a different job. I couldn’t ever trust someone who badmouthed my looks or my family.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        I am mostly commenting because your screen name made me smile. Makes me want to change mine to Trudy Judy.

        I really do not get how some people have time to watch what everyone else is doing. I quit a half-decent post-retirement job because I couldn’t stand listening to my 50-something coworker (who was there only six months longer than I) natter all day long about how she did everything “so much faster” than I did and “I told the boss that you’re so much slower than I am so she wants me to show you how to be faster” (which was crazy because she was faster because she made mistakes all day long).

        When I quit, the coworker tried to hug me and said “Can we get together next week?” I laughed and said “No, of course not.”

    3. Bagpuss*

      YEs – and if I’m snarking about a coworker I normally take care (i) not to use their name and (ii) to do it to someone who is highly unlikely to know them (e.g. my friend who lives 150 miles away and is in a totally different industry is my go-to person for venting to) The chances of his knowing anyone I work with, or anyone who knows anyone I work with, is very low indeed.

      The only time I have ever referenced anyone’s appearance was when I was venting about a particular individual’s repeated failures to follow the dress code (as in, showing up in torn, stained jogging pants and a visibly dirty and ripped T shirt, with a NSFW logo, to cover reception. – so it wasn’t about their taste or physical appearance, it was about their unprofessional behavior and refusal to follow instructions, with the clothing being one example. And yes, we had already made sure that this was not a situation where they lacked appropriate clothes/washing / laundry facilities, and had been very clear about what was and wasn’t appropriate. )

    4. Splendid Colors*

      I had a neighbor send Facetime video of me to a friend while I was pushing a cart of art supplies to the elevator “because only a cr*zy person would need THAT MUCH STUFF to go to the grocery store.” I wasn’t taking it to the grocery store. I was taking it to my studio where I make art stuff out of art supplies. Because that is what artists do.

      Oh, and her day job was social worker at a clinic for people with mental and neurological illnesses. So she didn’t want to “live around those people like I have to work with.” Why did you go to the trouble of getting a graduate degree in psych social work if you don’t like neurodivergent people, you unempathetic waste of an education, then?

    5. CatMintCat*

      I’m a teacher. You’d be amazed how common this sort of behaviour is among school staff – especially administrators. Basically, they’ve never left school – gone from high school to university and back to the school environment and they’ve never been in a fully adult environment.

      I worked at one school that I described as “being like a badly run girls high school”. Iwent to a badly run girls high school and didn’t handle it well as a teenager. In my 50s, as the target of the mean girl principal, it was horrific.

      It happens far more than you’d think possible among alleged adults. (I went into teaching after 20 years in the adult world, my outlook is often very different to my colleagues).

  10. CatCat*

    I would let HR know that this is not an isolated incident, but a pattern of behavior. Outside the voicemail, you have overheard her gossiping about you to another coworker and she has directly made comments to you about your body. I’d ask to be moved to a different office or be able to keep the remote option or alternate in-office days with her.

    Frankly, I personally could not see myself going back to sharing a “very small one-person office” with this kind of person. A toxic, insecure gossip is literally the kind of person she is. Being in such close quarters all day would not work for me, personally, and I would need to extricate myself from that situation.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      Yes, be cool and professional as you can when talking to HR, but let them know she has been talking about you before AND that you have directly asked her not to. Now she sent you this voicemail (provide voicemail to HR). Let HR know you spoke with your boss, sounds like boss may need some training also.
      Definitely be cooly professional in your dealings with the mean girl. HR should minimally give her a talking to, if possible I would prefer not to share an office with her.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      HR NEEDS to hear the voicemail, I think. Not just hear about it. Honestly, the voicemail by itself should have been enough for the manager to have seriously considered whether to fire the bully. I’m really disappointed in their management style, quite honestly. It also should have been enough for HR to have a serious talk with the manager and to have insisted on – at the very least – a serious conversation with the employee, and frankly, a clear message to that person that their employment is at serious risk.

      I’m really appalled at the way the management has handled the situation. It would be enough for me to start looking at other opportunities – not the bullying per se, but the way the situation has (NOT) been handled. I predict that this is a manager who really doesn’t get how to manage people, and a company that can’t make tough calls where needed.

    3. Fran Fine*

      Same. OP, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. No one should have to go through this nonsense at work of all places.

    4. LilyP*

      You should be thoughtful about what you highlight as part of the pattern here. The voicemail = unacceptable, mean or judgemental personal comments about your appearance = unacceptable, but her showing up early and out of breath and making awkward comments about it? Not your problem. Don’t get into whatever jealous/competitive vibe you’re getting, stick to facts and behaviors– I’m not saying you’re wrong about that vibe, it just isn’t in the realm of what HR can control or wants to hear about. Your metric for success here is that she stops SAYING mean things to you or about you, not that she likes you or you two have a great relationship or she never does anything weird anymore.

  11. Pants*

    Definitely bring up the photo thing specifically if she’s pulling up a photo that the company has on file for you. Sharing company information without permission is generally a no-no.

    May she get a chronic, incurable yeast infection.

    1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      ooh, i like your last line there. (Note to self: Do not get on Pants’ bad side.)

      1. Pants*

        It takes quite a lot for me to reach into my “unconventional vengeance” bag. I tend to use it more for others than myself. Kinda like Praxidike.

    2. AS87*

      Good point on the coworker sharing company information without permission. I worry mentioning the bullying itself won’t be enough unless its discriminatory.

  12. Don*

    I wonder how sure it is that this was an accident rather than an “accident” a la the “I was joking!” backpedal.

    It’s shitty that you’re dealing with this, LW, but good on you for standing firm and advocating for yourself. Don’t let anyone gaslight you on this; expecting to be treated with basic courtesy isn’t remotely unreasonable and this goes waaaayyyyy beyond that.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Yes, I also thought LW handled this very professionally. Much better than her boss is, as a matter of fact.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Absolutely A+ grade response. And I’m with you – I think that was no accident.

    3. calonkat*

      To be clear, the boss is saying it is perfectly fine to mock your co-workers appearances, including sharing their pictures. Fine and apparently very normal to this boss. Whether the co-worker claims it’s an “accident” or it was deliberate, the boss is completely ok with the behavior.

      What terrible, terrible people work there.

  13. generic_username*

    Oooof, this is terrible. I’ve obviously talked about my coworkers to friends and family (who hasn’t?), but this certainly sounds like it’s beyond the normal amount of commentary, and frankly it sounds mean-spirited. I wonder if OP has understated the contents of the message to her boss, or if she hasn’t mentioned the other stuff outside of the message. Either way, hopefully HR sees the complete picture and deals more appropriately with this

  14. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    As an overweight person who has been in the receiving end of such comments, I would like for your coworker to get at least a serious warning. Also, it rubs me the wrong way how your boss dealt with this. Yes, I’ve vented about my work to my family before, but this is near bullying territory, not venting in frustration.

    1. Paris Geller*

      I would say this is bullying territory. Venting is one thing, even if it can be unkind — that’s like “oh, Sally is ALWAYS late on her assignments, maybe I should buy her a watch to remind her what time it is so I can finally get her reports back on time”–like, I wouldn’t say that’s a kind sentence, but it’s work related and venting. Getting into personal appearance is just high school mean girl 101.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        Wholeheartedly agree.

        Venting is; “Jane is always late and never spell checks! Does she need a dictionary!?” I do even tell my family that I have coworkers I don’t like. I’m not required to like everyone I work with, I am required to not be a garbage person to them. What this lady has done is garbage.

        OP’s coworker here sounds like she is very insecure/intimidated by OP, and has to do something to cut her down.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Sadly, also had that (I’m obese, extremely tall, disabled…there’s a lot people say negatively about me). It’s not normal venting to make incredibly personal comments about someone else – their ability to do the job is one thing, their appearance shouldn’t even be on the rant.

    3. anonymous73*

      It’s not near bullying, it IS bullying. Venting would be when I complain to my husband that one of my co-workers isn’t doing their work and is making my job more difficult. Venting is not making fun of a co-worker because of their appearance or the way they dress.

    4. calonkat*

      My sister used to have “Thomas” (name changed) stories when she was venting. I knew that he was an older man who seemed to have issues with having a female boss and liked to “mansplain” things he did not understand and wasn’t up on the latest regs concerning.

      I have no idea what the man looked like because his appearance wasn’t what she was venting about and didn’t matter at all to his work. To be honest, if it turned out that “Thomas” was a female and my sister was being discrete about it, it wouldn’t have surprised me because it was the BEHAVIOR that was the issue, not the gender or clothes.

      Though my sister did have battles with her HR about the dress code that would make for a good Friday open thread story…

      But the point is that VENTING is generally about work related stuff. BULLYING is more personal, and that’s what this is.

      1. Despachito*

        Also, venting is done to other people and you have no intention that the person concerned hears it, rather the opposite.

        While bullying is done explicitly AT the person concerned, for them to hear, see and feel.

  15. Hex Libris*

    “She is showing someone our private platform to show them my picture”? For the purpose of mocking you? That’s something that might be an actionable policy violation. I mean, the whole thing is pretty inexcusable, but in terms of things that explicitly violate company policy, that might do ya.

  16. AS87*

    Any chance your company has an initial probationary period and coworker is still in it? If so, it might make it easier for HR to let her go if they decide to take that route. Please save that voicemail. Its hard to get solid evidence of behavior like that. Because of past experience working in a high-school like environment I hope she gets fired.

      1. r*

        I don’t understand the purpose of probationary period. Isn’t employment largely at will? As in they can fire you any time, for no reason at all, and you can likewise quit any time (although preferably with a two-weeks notice, because apparently we don’t want to be burning bridges with a company that can’t be bothered to return the courtesy?

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Generally, the company withholds benefits like insurance during a probationary period. With many companies, it’s 90 days (Exjob’s was 30). They want to see if you’re worth keeping before they let you have that stuff.

        2. JimmyJab*

          I work for gov and am in a union – they can fire people in the probationary period without the union-required process.

        3. Aggretsuko*

          It’s easier to fire someone during the probationary period than once they’ve gotten through it.

          My concern is that OP is ALSO in her probationary period and I’m afraid she might be considered “trouble” for reporting this and get canned herself :(

        4. Frank Doyle*

          Legally there’s really no difference, but in terms of company policy there are fewer/no hoops to jump through to let someone go. Also the reference might be a little difference? Like, I got let go at the end of a probationary period and it was more a “this isn’t working out as we thought” situation, they let me stay on while I looked for another job, let me take time off for interviews, and if I had to use them as a reference I’d expect a neutral one rather than a negative one.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I note that OP has been there a month and bully has been there 3. Both of them may be in probationary period.

      1. The Original K.*

        Bully might be at the end of hers – I think 90 days is the standard probationary period (has been for all my jobs, anyway).

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          I had a 6-month probation period for my current job, but I’m in the UK and therefore have an employment contract too

          1. Aggretsuko*

            Yeah, my giant org has 6 month probation. There’s one super crappy office that I hear cans everyone at the end of their six months.

  17. Anony*

    It’s really strange that she’s both bullying you and trying to copy your style and habits. Is it possible that you’re just like, much more awesome than your office mate, OP, and she’s jealous of you?

    Alison’s advice is spot on and going to HR was definitely the right thing to do, but I personally might also try and reframe as “Jane is insecure and jealous of my competence, poor her, that must feel awful,” just to keep this in perspective and make sure I don’t let it distract me.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      I believe that is what’s going on here. This is the behavior of an insecure person who feels threatened.

      1. Slipping The Leash*

        Plus Jane probably initially had that tiny office to herself, and is in a snit that she now has to share it.

      2. Despachito*

        I second this.

        I’d say ANY mocking comments on anyone’s appearance come from a very insecure place.

        This said, it is by no way an excuse, and insecure people can be dangerous as any other person (and I do not mean this as “all insecure people are dangerous” but “the fact the person is insecure does not make him/her harmless”)

    2. Generic Name*

      Okay, but so what if she’s jealous? Jealousy does not justify or excuse Jane’s treatment of OP. And frankly, being bullied, and then hearing “they’re just jealous. Ignore them.” feels unhelpful and dismissive.

      1. Anony*

        You’re absolutely right, jealousy doesn’t excuse any of this behavior. But if the OP wants to stay in this job – and it sounds like she does – she may need to find a way to work with Jane. I’m offering this as a strategy because I personally I find it easier to deal with people like this if I remind myself that their behavior has everything to do with their own jealousy and nothing to do with my actions, looks, etc.

    3. Pucci*

      Is it possible Bully thinks only one of she and OP will be retained, and thus, OP is her competition? bully may feel treated especially if OP is doing much better at the job than Bully. Does not excuse Bullying the slightest, just trying to explain the bullying and copying behavior.

  18. Celestine*

    Oof. That the boss waved it off as “normal venting” reminds me of when the chair of the department at my graduate university tried to wave away one of the professors telling me, in class in front of everyone, that I was wasting my money by being there. Actual words spoken during the meeting with the chair: “She says she told you that you were wasting your time, not money.” Like that’s… supposed to be better somehow.

    It’s been two years and I still haven’t completed the internship for the program, which is all I need to do to earn the degree, because of the high levels of stress I was under during my last semester of course work in large part because of this professor and incident. I felt completely unsupported by the faculty in my program, all of whom did their best to minimize what had happened and to tell me how it was my fault or I was overreacting. I also had the distinct impression they had never had a student actually advocate for themself as hard as I did because none of them seemed to know what to do with or about me.

    The point being that someone in authority minimizing the painful experiences of someone they are responsible for can be extremely damaging. And OP shouldn’t be afraid to advocate for themself. Even if the people in charge have no idea what to do with them, it’ll show them that *they’re* not advocating hard enough for their employees.

    1. 30 Years in the Biz*

      I’m so sorry Celestine! I’m hopeful that you can eventually heal and find the strength and show these awful people that they can’t keep you down – that you will survive and thrive. Wishing the best for you in the future!

    2. Andrea*

      Yes.

      I had something similar happen to me, not at work, but at church. Not to put too fine a point on it, I had posted information in a common area of the building (with permission from church leadership) about a cause that has been historically uncontroversial in the Christian faith but has recently been demonized as “liberal” (think: advocacy for immigrants). Someone ripped it up. I complained to the pastor and asked if this was the “love one another” that we claimed to be about, and I was told “eh, it was probably a kid. You know how it is. Don’t worry about it.”

      I pulled way, way back from the church after that; they showed me who they were and what kind of behavior they were willing to tolerate.

      I hope that OP’s boss proves himself to be more supportive than he comes off in this letter. Failing that, I hope that OP is able to find a more supportive employer.

    3. Hannah Lee*

      It’s a form of gaslighting, taking something that’s egregious and trying to spin it as “not that bad”

      In OP’s case, and yours I suspect, there’s also a unhealthy side-serving of patting the victim on the head and saying there there little lady, making it the victim is the one blowing things out of proportion, instead of reacting normally and appropriately to someone being a glassbowl towards them.

    4. Despachito*

      The professor might have been right that you ARE wasting your money and time… with her and other people who are unsupportive, dismissive and harmful. Such as “we are so crappy here that we are not worth your money and time”.

  19. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    …can we have 2022 be the year that people stop making comments about coworkers clothes, height, weight, hair, what they are eating, how many times they go to the bathroom, what health issues you think they may have, what beliefs they have….

    Just, I hate office bullys. It’s not always the case but the ‘oops I sent you that scathing critique by accident’ if not stopped quickly then leads into the person doing it more, and to your face, and often, because they ‘weren’t told not to do it’ or ‘I’m just trying to help you understand what people are saying about you’.

    Your new coworker is engaging in mean behaviour, her reasons for doing so don’t matter – but you’ve got a right to work without her meanness.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Yes, this.

      Honestly, the only thing that matters about a coworker is whether or not they are doing their job well and can meet the company requirements (vis-a-vis health and safety requirements, such as vaccination). That’s all.

    2. MissBaudelaire*

      I would like to sign onto this initiative.

      2022–the year of Minding Your Own Beeswax. Worry about work, not potty breaks or what someone brings for lunch or what they wear.

      Bosses like the OP’s boss are the ones that end up encouraging the bullies, even if they don’t mean it, and then sit and wonder why no one in their office is happy.

    3. Gerry Keay*

      Oof, the “I’m just trying to help you understand what people are saying about you” line just brought me straight back to middle school bullying, yeesh.

      1. NoYouFirst*

        My controlling ex husband used that line too, in isolating me from people. Later it turned out all the things people “thought” about me were completely made up but the damage was done.

        Why are people? Just, why?

        1. Splendid Colors*

          I’ve had multiple abusers do that. Go to me and say “Don’t talk to Colleague because they are mad at you about [work thing] but are too nice to say anything.” Go to Colleague and say “Don’t talk to Splendid because she thinks you’re a big jerk but is too polite to say anything.” In that example, it fell apart because eventually I missed my hallway conversations with Colleague and decided I should just apologize. Turns out Colleague never said anything about [work thing] and never said to Self-Appointed Mentor that they were mad at me and didn’t want me to talk to them.

          I went to the boss and told him what Self-Appointed Mentor had done, and I got suspended for a week for being childish and emotional, and making wild accusations against Super Important Self-Appointed Mentor who is doing so much excellent work and I should be grateful he’s taking time to teach me soft skills for the lab workplace.

          When I returned, Self-Appointed Mentor was gone for good and nobody wanted to talk about his last day. But he’d been sending strange emails to everyone that escalated from “I have solved [research problem totally unrelated to our lab’s projects]!” to threatening people. I wasn’t seeing these because I’d been taken off the group email while I was on suspension. But I was still fired even though it should have been obvious Self-Appointed Mentor had probably been doing weird things to me once he started doing weird things to the team as a whole.

      1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        This is why I love WFH. No gossipy coworkers standing near my cubicle talking about each other. As Grandma used to say if you can say something nice, be quiet. Yes lets make 2022 the year people start behaving at least as good as we were expected to act in kindergarten. Also I’ve learned to be the person who kills office back stabby gossip. If someone tried to spew that stuff to me when we were still in office. I’d give them a flat look and say things like “There is no reason for me to know that, or for you to repeat that about someone else” “Wow, that statement reviles more about you then about the person you are speaking of” “I don’t listen to gossip” “That’s a rather unprofessional thing to say at work” And I’ve also just pointed to this quote on my cubicle wall “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” — Eleanor Roosevelt” and informed them in the a dead voice that they were the last line. Once I threatened to live tweet the trash talk and and tag all parties involved or mentioned. The office gossips found new places to stand around talking and I got blissfully left out of the loop.

        1. anonymous73*

          Good for you. I never said things like that, I just didn’t engage. I used to have a guy on my team that was attention seeking, so he would drop little nuggets of information so that others would ask him questions and provide him with the attention he so desperately craved. I would just walk away. I keep my life drama free thank you.

        2. Old Admin*

          I like the way you think.
          Also, WFH also was a boon for me, too, allowing my jangling nerves to recover from many, many nasty remarks I was bombed with at the office, including (but not only) from my then supervisor.
          I’m productive and at peace – enough to occasionally go back in to see my team, and stay far away from the bad apples.

    4. Meep*

      I am all for that but I have a coworker who would take this as an affront if she cannot gossip about others’ personal lives.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Do what I did with one particularly nasty gossiper who insisted on telling me, despite being told I wasn’t interested, about how she’d seen Bob take medication and what she thought Jane was doing on her lunch break with Tom-

        Stuck my headphones on or my fingers in my ears or just outright ignore her. It drove her nuts.

    5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      This is why I love my coworkers and am going to cry when this project ends in 4 years. NO GOSSIP at all, by anyone, ever. Closest we get is, “Oh $NameOfBigBoss” when he is getting rambly or dragging us into the weeds in a meeting, a “Don’t say anything yet but $Coworker is getting an award, so if you can make the meeting when boss is presenting please come!”, or “I love it when $Corworker’s pet/kid visits the Zoom call because they are mega cute”

    6. quill*

      The only time that any aspect of a coworker’s physicality is even noteworthy is if you need to get them a different desk setup… Or if you need someone to get things off the High Shelf of Doom.

    7. All Het Up About It*

      Years ago, I made a resolution to stop judging/commenting negatively on others’ appearances. Most of the time these were always in my head, but I would literally catch myself and then say “It’s none of my business how I think she looks in that romper. She looks like she feels confident” or some such. I don’t think I think I was at a Regina George level of mean girl, but just removing these negative thoughts in general from my brain (for the most part – I’m not perfect after all ;) ) has been amazing. It’s one of those cases where you can see the more negative & mean thoughts you have about others the more you have about yourself/life/the world in general.

      So I absolutely endorse 2022 – the year of minding your own Beeswax from a personal perspective as well!

    8. Anon Y Mouse*

      Yes please!

      Even when it’s neutral and well meant, it’s weird. I recently discovered that I am often confused with another coworker who has a similar hair style (but different colour). We are otherwise not physically alike and have quite different roles. I rather hoped we were more than walking hairdos.

  20. The Smiling Pug*

    I think it was said before, but I’m going to second it. This is shaping up to be a toxic workplace, what with a mean, gossipy coworker and a do-nothing boss. Never too early to start polishing your resume, OP…

  21. Voodoo Priestess*

    I wouldn’t consider this venting. This is just being mean. Venting typically involves some aspect of the job or an annoyance like perfume or being too chatty. Commenting on your personal appearance, clothing, hair, etc. is outside of “venting” and it’s pretty darn immature and inappropriate. I don’t have any advice, but I just wanted to validate your feelings. It’s like you’re working with Regina George from Mean Girls and that stinks.

    Sorry you’re going through this.

    1. Nanani*

      My thoughts exactly.
      Comments on people’s appearance are not okay, period. There’s nothing in there that qualifies as venting since it isn’t about behaviour or personality clashes or anything like that.

  22. Bookworm*

    Honestly, if there’s a history, it may be best to document everything you can remember and insist HR do something about this. This is not okay and yeah, your boss is handling this very badly.

    I’m so sorry, OP. That sucks and I hope it works out for you.

  23. PrairieEffingDawn*

    I’m sorry this happened to you. I had something very similar happen to me once, and it felt awful.

    A boyfriend from years past left a message on my voicemail, and he thought he’d hung up. But as the message continued recording I could hear him speaking with two of my so-called friends about my appearance. There were comments on how good I had been looking recently, but then lots of nasty jabs and comments about how I looked in the past.

    If someone needs to make fun of how you look, it says a LOT more about them than it does about you.

    1. The Smiling Pug*

      I’m so sorry that happened to you. Things like this let you know who your true friends are…

  24. Red Sweedish Fish*

    I don’t want this to sound like I am advocating for your boss because I think he could have handled this better. In my experience men in general have less of an issue with understanding hurt feelings over someone talking about your appearance. You are both pretty new and if he has had no other indications that either of you are having/causing issues then I can see where he is trying to not take sides at this point. In the end I think you have to stand your ground that you think this is unacceptable behavior, but be ready to move on and keep it for future reference.

    If I were in your shoes I would let it go after I talk to HR but keep any HR paperwork and a copy of the voicemail, and be overly nice to this co-worker in front of people but never trust her or her work. I don’t think anything will come of this but I think you can use this in the future when she continues what she is doing.

    1. Caroline Bowman*

      yes, this. Document everything. If HR takes it further and does what they should do – which is make a huge deal of it, because it’s an incredibly awful way to treat a co-worker or anyone, and also tastes… creepy and weird in a borderline unhinged way, as in, obsessed with you, like stalkers sometimes adore and also want to hurt their objects of obsession, you know?
      Anyway, please keep all info and if HR minimises, just tell them that you need their response in writing ”for your records”, which is true. I’m hoping your boss is just a bit spineless and oblivious, rather than toxic, but as others have said, start polishing your CV and do not hesitate to get out.

    2. Smithy*

      I think where it’s helpful to be aware of the boss’s reaction is that if he is treating this as a case of “venting” and “hurt feelings”, then it may also help the OP to become very familiar with their employer’s handbooks on harassment, bullying, filing complaints, etc.

      It sounds like at least this is a company with an HR, and if its relatively robust and this is more a case of the boss being lazy/unfortunate and leaving it entirely to HR – then being prepared to talk to HR in their language will help the OP. Not so much that it would lead to this staff member being fired immediately, but its more likely that HR will have their own formal systems in how to respond.

      1. r*

        I don’t understand why everyone thinks HR will do anything. I mean, HR mostly cares that the company doesn’t get sued. The perpetrator wasn’t a manager, and LW presumably doesn’t have any kind of visible disability that would motivate HR to tell the other one to cut that crap out or you’re fired. (Plus, if the other one also went to HR with her own version and came out as a member of a protected class, HR probably now doesn’t want to risk getting sued if the other one is fired over this.)

        Just don’t let her get to you or find another job, is what I would do.

        1. Smithy*

          What HR will/won’t do will certainly vary from employer to employer, but even if you take a cynical “HR is there to help the company” view – I find it easiest to engage with HR using their language and systems.

          Some work places have no anti-bullying policies and only harassment policies. In those cases, to approach HR to say you’re being bullied or made to feel uncomfortable, if that’s not part of their formal response, what HR does can vary wildly based on the individual someone speaks to. However, saying you’ve been harassed and then providing examples that correlate to the employer’s definition of harassment has a far greater chance of taping into a more formal HR process rather than an individual’s judgement call on what bullying is or isn’t.

          Certainly there are plenty of HR departments that disappoint in countless ways, even when they have policies. But for employers that are overall decent but have less than stellar moments, there are ways to go to HR that can increase a positive outcome.

        2. Sea Anemone*

          Intervening with a bully can prevent the company from getting sued. It can also promote retention, which also affects the bottom line.

        3. Hannah Lee*

          Seconding what Smithy said …. I have been in HR or HR-functioning roles in small companies. (I’ve had other management and line-contributor roles as well and I’m not an HR specialist)

          In cases where there is an issue and the employee raising it focuses on the facts, how they impact their work and generally how it relates to official policy/workplace guidelines, it makes it much more likely that things can be directly addressed. A saavy/skilled HR person can sort it out no matter how you bring it to them, but speaking their language increases the chance it gets addressed, and helps get buy in from management. Reviewing the official policies/handbook beforehand also lets the person raising the issue fine tune their message, focus on the stuff that really matters and not conversationally try to tell a whole, long, interpersonal tale to an audience that may (unfortunately) be looking for an excuse to brush this off as as a personality conflict and not a workplace behavior/policy violation issue.

          Referencing direct impact on key workplace deliverables can also help.

          Saying “Bob has a picture of me from the company intraweb posted in his office, with xyz slur under it I have asked him to take it down and he refuses. Yesterday, he brought another employee and my customer contact into his office and encouraged them to shoot darts at my picture. These actions have created a (checks employee handbook) “hostile workplace environment” , violates company policy “125.B Prohibition of use of intraweb content for non-work purposes” and is impacting our department’s ability to complete ABC project with client, putting the ABC milestone goal at risk for this quarter.” is one thing.

          Framing it that way will likely get a much more robust, professional HR/management response than “Bob has been nasty to me, he makes fun of me and teases me and I caught him shooting darts at my picture and he’s been doing it for a while and he’s ganging up on me with other people and it’s not nice and it’s making me unhappy and uncomfortable and he eats all the green M & Ms from the candy dish and leaves his dirty dishes in the break room sink and I think he keeps stealing my lunch but I’m not sure” which makes it seem like you just don’t like Bob and it’s a personality conflict that work doesn’t need to address.

          It’s simply researching the issue so you can frame it in such a way to make clear it’s a COMPANY issue and not a YOU issue, which makes it the COMPANY’s / HR’s problem to address. And it also allows you to communicate it a way that helps HR address it and advocate for a solution to upper management so the issue gets addressed, solved instead of brushed off.

    3. anonymous73*

      I agree that OP should document everything, but the boss F’d up here. Yes they’re both new, but co-worker is a bully and it shouldn’t be tolerated and laughed off as “venting”. He doesn’t get a pass because he can’t relate to “hurt feelings” as a man. And being overly nice to her? Oh hell no. Being civil is required, but nothing more.

  25. LKW*

    Two things:
    1. Your coworker is a bully.
    2. If HR proposes a switch or change up in your office, departement, something else – make sure that it isn’t a step down. That could be construed as retaliation and is very illegal. Changes like moving you to another site that is more remote, harder to get to, a known “this is where people go before they get fired” spot can be construed as retaliation. Moving you from an office to an open work space, and leaving the bully to the office could also be interpreted as retaliation. And I use the word interpreted specifically. So see what HR is going to do, but you might want to talk to an employment lawyer if you feel that they are giving you the run around and ignoring the situation or if you are being punished for being the bully’s target.

  26. Stitch*

    I’d fire the coworker, no question. 3 months in and she’s acting like this? No way. Get her gone. She’s shown to be disruptive and toxic at work very early on. Not worth the effort. Especially if this job has a probationary period.

    1. Fran Fine*

      I would too. I wonder what the rest of the team thinks of her. If I were one of her other teammates, I’d want her gone. Can’t have anyone on the team killing the vibe like this.

  27. CatPerson*

    They probably won’t fire her but she’ll likely receive a one-time warning. Hold your head high! You did nothing wrong here and your boss is a jerk. At least you know what kind of people they are and can take that into account as you evaluate future interactions.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, I’d bet money she gets written up once, nothing happens, and coworker continues to act like this with impunity.

  28. miss chevious*

    I’ve definitely been a Mean Girl behind a coworker’s back to family or friends who do not work with me. There seems to be a trend in the comments that coworker went too far in her personal venting, but I admit that I’ve said things like those described and probably worse in private conversations about people who I am at BEC stage with. I’m not proud of it, but it absolutely has happened in the past and may happen in the future.

    That said, if I accidentally sent such a message to the co-worker in question, my response would be abject horror and a groveling (and sincere) apology to the co-worker, an admission to my boss, and acceptance of whatever remediation measures were deemed appropriate. My personal dislike of someone is not an excuse to behave unprofessionally toward them, and I would expect and accept consequences for my behavior. I hope that OP’s employer supports her in that.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      My personal rule is you can say whatever the hell you want about me (and I assure you, some people do) as long as I don’t personally have to hear about what you said and you don’t actively attack me. Everyone’s a catty bitch about someone in private.

      1. miss chevious*

        Same. Other people’s opinions of me are not my business as long as they are not my problem.

        This coworker’s other behavior toward OP is a problem, and this message is *definitely* a problem because it got back to the OP, but the coworker’s opinions about her wouldn’t be a problem for OP if coworker could KEEP THEM TO HERSELF at work.

        1. londonedit*

          Yes, definitely. I have absolutely vented my frustrations about a co-worker to other trusted colleagues (usually not even in the same department as me) but firstly none of that is ever anything to do with their actual appearance or personality, it’s 100% frustrations about their work (or lack thereof), and secondly I behave in a completely professional manner when it comes to the person I’m venting about, no matter whether they’re annoying the hell out of me or not. To a colleague I might say ‘Bloody hell I just wish for once that Wakeen would actually bother to check the database before bombarding me with questions, it’s literally every day, he’s been here four years, he should know better! I’m not doing his job for him!’ but with Wakeen himself I’ll say ‘That should all be on the database; can you keep it in mind to check first to see if the information is there?’

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            I don’t think that’s ‘catty bitch’ tho! Performance / work related stuff is relevant, and helps other people know who’s reliable and who’s not. Appearance (beyond neat and tidy) is not relevant in most jobs.

      2. r*

        My personal rule is different. If someone has something mean to say about me, they can say it to my face so I know what they think of me and so I have a chance to response, and also so we can simply be polite when working with each other instead of being fake-nice (them) or genuinely trying to be friends (me).

        I admit I’m not good at reading people, which is why I absolutely hate it when I find out the person’s who’s been acting so nice to me has been spreading unflattering stories about me (especially to other coworkers! who then have all these pre-conceived notions about me when I do work with them!) about me behind my back. It’s bringing me high school flashbacks and I wish people could just be more honest instead of trying to maintain order… or something.

        1. The Smiling Pug*

          Exactly. I’d rather people be honest about where I stand with them instead of smiling and then stabbing me in the back later, with either words or actions.

        2. Despachito*

          I’d say yes, if the mean things relate to flaws at my work (whether real or perceived), or an annoying habit, such as slurping when eating.

          But in that case, they would not be mean (as they are related to a real problem), and can be delivered nicely or at least in a matter-of-fact, not mean way.

          On the other hand, if the mean thing about me is that I am fat/wear clothes the coworker does not like although they meet the usual standard, I am not interested, and cannot imagine any legitimate reason why this would be the coworker’s business.

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        This is not factually accurate, not ‘everyone’ does this. The only person I am ‘a catty bitch’ about is an abusive ex, and I limit myself to quotes of their statements / descriptions of their actions (blocked the exit to the room, tore a shirt).

        If people are really awful, you only have to describe the awful parts accurately. I never go after looks / clothes / similarly irrelevant personal characteristics. That would only reduce my audience’s perception of me.

        (Though, to be fair, attacking looks / clothes would probably come across as hypocrisy from me, as I am overweight, never wear makeup, and have a longstanding ‘jeans and tshirt’ social style.)

        1. socks*

          Yeah, I vent about people, and not always nicely, but I try to stay away from complaints that could cause splash damage. So, I might gripe that my coworker who sticks his nose into everything must not have enough of his own work to do, but I’m not going to vent about how his [personal characteristic] annoys the crap out of me because I don’t want the people around me to think I might be judging them for their [characteristic]

        2. American Job Venter*

          Yeah, this. Someone’s appearance most likely has nothing to do with their work output, which is what actually affects me when I’m their coworker.

    2. anonymous73*

      That’s the problem though…it’s not venting when you’re making fun of someone’s appearance. That’s bullying. I’m not saying I’ve never done it, but this situation needs to be handled properly, and that doesn’t include boss laughing it off as venting and hoping things are magically smoothed over without any sort of discipline for the co-worker.

      1. Myrin*

        That leads me to a question I’ve actually coincidentally been thinking about several times during the last week: Is it bullying if the target doesn’t know about it?

        I always thought “bullying” is one of those phenomena that per definition means it must have an affect on the person it’s about; otherwise it’s just “making mean/inappropriate/hurtful comments about someone” or similar. This is totally beside the point of this letter since it’s a purely linguistic thing but I’ve lately increasingly seen the expression used the way you did here and I’ve been wondering about it (also, I’m not a native English speaker so that might lead to my missing certain connotations).

        1. Colette*

          I would agree that it’s not bullying if the target doesn’t know about it. (It’s still crappy behaviour, of course.)

          1. Hannah Lee*

            It’s bullying if making those comments has a direct negative impact on how other people treat that person, even if it’s never said directly to the target. For example, if you’re talking trash behind someone’s back in a shared social circle. The target may not know you did it, but they are getting the negative treatment from others as a result.

          2. American Job Venter*

            In addition to what Hannah Lee said, there’s also what Jules the 3rd referred to as “splash damage”. Frex, if I overhear my friend snarking about a coworker who for the third time didn’t turn in the overdue TPS reports, that’s one thing. But if my friend goes on to snark about how stupid the coworker’s snub noise makes her look…. I have a snub nose. Has my friend been thinking I look dumb all this time? I’m not sure if that’s technically bullying but it definitely doesn’t help matters.

            I picked up this username for a reason, haha, but keeping venting to what people did rather than their features is both more practical and better ethics, I think.

        2. anonymous73*

          Think about it this way…if I’m saying mean and nasty things about you behind your back, it could potentially harm your reputation. Others may treat you differently because of it. Even though you don’t know what’s going on, you’re being negatively affected by my behavior based on gossip and rumors. So yes, I would say it’s still bullying.

          1. Fran Fine*

            That reminds me of the letter Alison recently posted about the letter writer whose old-manager now works at LW’s new company, and as a bonding experience with her new team, decided to share humiliating stories about the LW’s past work performance with the group. LW was upset because she said what you did – these stories, while probably told in jest, were damaging the LW’s reputation with her colleagues and people were starting to treat her differently because of it.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I have to own some crappy behavior on this topic. My WorstOldBoss had a habit of dressing in really, really, really (think halter dress with no bra on a person with boobs in the G-H range and not wearing underpants while sitting with legs uncrossed in a meeting where everyone on the other side of the table could see EVERYTHING) whenever she had to meet with an older man who was in a position of power. Not gonna lie, those of us that worked for her used to joke, “Looks like Nightmare has a meeting with the ED today” and some commentary about whether or not today would be an Escape Nipple day (a far too common occurrence). It was petty and mean, but this woman was a horrible bully who made folks cry at least once a week, so I don’t feel as bad as I should

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            And only on days when she was meeting with out ED (older man) or certain funders (also older men). It was gross, not in a slut-shamey way, but in a shameless, sexist pandering kind of way

      3. miss chevious*

        Oh, the boss in this situation should absolutely *not* laugh it off — once it’s back in the workplace it’s a work problem and needs to be handled as misconduct.

        But I would disagree that me complaining to a non-work friend about a work colleague they don’t know (even if that involves mean comments about their appearance or other non-work characteristics) is bullying. To me, bullying would require that the subject be aware of it or suffer some consequences from it (like if I was saying things behind their back at work). Me talking about a work colleague to someone they have no contact or relationship with is just me being behaving poorly, not bullying.

    3. Boof*

      I learned at a young age i will always, without fail, somehow get caught/comments will get back to the source. Also learned i didn’t like how it made me feel in general (short term gratification? Possibly; long term, yuck. Like overindulging in junk food or something I guess). My rule these days is “don’t dish”. Really only complaint if it’s something i’m trying to work out how to fix. (Fwiw my husband is a venter for venting sake and we’ve had to establish some boundaries about this)

    4. OyHiOh*

      I had a co worker who, for several months before they left the organization, I referred to as “f’ing Name,” generally followed by their latest failure to do something they said they were going to do (or the thing reassigned to me, because they screwed up badly on the first pass). Only two people heard me talking about “f’ing Name,” both outside the organization, and absolutely never ever at work or on equipment/software owned by work. I actually like the person, as a person so no insults about personality, character, or looks. Just “f’ing Name did X and consequences”

      Which still isn’t wonderful but Name pissed off a lot of stakeholders and local government people by being incompetent at certain parts of their job.

    5. TeaLeaf*

      I have to confess I may have engaged in similar behaviour like this. I did not go around sending nasty messages about my coworkers to people, but at the time I was frustrated and resentful that although my coworkers and I commenced work around the same time, they seem to be getting more opportunities, promotions and cool projects while I was stuck with the same work for ages.

      I complained and grumbled and misdirected my frustrations at them. I secretly believed they’d gotten opportunities through schmoozing with higher ups, or dressing sexier, or jumping through hoops. Meanwhile I was doing everything right, but it got me nowhere.
      But in the end I knew it wasn’t their fault I wasnt progressing onto better opportunities. Managers kept making promises to help me but nothing ever eventuated.

      Im not excusing the Behaviour of Ops coworker but perhaps it was insecurity and jealousy on her end.

  29. CAS*

    Taking this to HR absolutely is the right course of action, particularly because both your coworker and your boss gaslighted you. Honestly. Your boss sucks because he doesn’t want to deal with this. Your coworker? Yeah, trust your gut about the jealousy because I agree 1000% that it’s the underlying issue. She is insecure about herself and her own performance and is bullying you to make herself feel better. I agree with other commenters that you shouldn’t have to share a workspace with her. But if that change doesn’t happen, if it helps you at all, you might be empowered by feeling sorry for her that she has to behave this way in order to boost her own self-esteem. Whatever is going on here is her issue, and she apparently is not equipped at present to manage it appropriately. If she brings up anything related to your appearance, your arrival at the office, your work performance, etc., pause, blink a couple of times, and change the subject.

  30. Them Boots*

    So sorry OP! I have literally BEEN in this situation. Same thing, person badmouthing me yet copying my clothing, etc. I was young and did not know to respond with the *chilly professionalism* Yeah, I was the one not kept on because *I* was disruptive and not getting along. Of course about two months after I left, it apparently became clear what was what and how much of her job I had been handling. She was let go-VINDICATION! BUT! by then I had burned all the upper management bridges and was not invited back. It was really really tough and I’m still sad about it today. I did however take that/those lessons forward and learned to nail *chilly professionalism* Man, it’s like a superpower!! In the decades since, I’ve been complimented on how I get along with some of the most difficult coworkers and clients, with the related positive management attention and promotions. It took two or three of these a-holes before the big bosses noticed (when they got moved around suddenly other people got the “pleasure” of meeting the real them), but WOOT! I kept my job(s) and they did not. Best revenge is a life well lived. Keep your cool, weaponize professional, and blow off steam outside of work on the regular. ….And if/when you can, shop at the thrift place Alison recommends and other high end thrift boutiques or first-owner boutique. NEVER admit to anyone at work/related to work where you shop. It frustrates the heck out of her type to not be able to find similar clothes and I get petty enjoyment out of it alllll dayyy loooong! Good luck with the Office Jerk! She won’t outlast you if you can keep it professional — and avoid taking it to this boss ever again. He’s useless and would more likely get rid of you to avoid the discomfort. Eventually you will get a new boss/transferred and the jerk will be so normalized in her sh*tty comments she will say it to the wrong person and get managed out while you have kept your head down and built value into your work.

    1. FormerStaffing*

      i can literally ignore people til they start to question their own existence, lol. i just zone right out, and keep walking, keep typing, keep looking at my phone, keeping talking to someone else… as if they don’t exist. i find this drives ppl batty bc they can’t get the rise out of you or plant the seeds of doubt they were intending.

  31. Camellia*

    This boss reminds me of one I had. Someone on another team got upset with me over *nothing sane*. I confirmed this was her pattern by talking to others to see if I was really out of line and was told no, she’s just insane, one example given was that she had gotten mad at another coworker who was buying a car, because the car that was bought was NOT the one SHE would have bought.

    Boss finally calls us both into a meeting and I thought, whew, he’s going to do something about this. Instead, he sat for a moment looking at us, then said, “You can handle this between yourselves,” got up and walked out.

    I can’t even remember what we said or how it ended up. I just kept doing my job.

  32. r*

    I had a co-worker a while back who seemed irrationally annoyed by a co-worker in her department who the rest of us dubbed “the pretty one.” Both seemed to be average in terms of work output, but the first co-worker’s complaints did often revolve around the second coworker’s appearance, essentially implying that she was dumb and superficial because she spent a lot of time on it.

    Could it be the case in this scenario? Just good old rivalry between young women who are taking difference approaches in navigating the sexist world? If so, I’m also not sure how I feel about bringing up things like these to a male boss. I was recently put in a position where my disagreement with a female manager was portrayed as a “cat fight” or “women hate each other” sort of thing in the management gossip mill. I was horrified but mostly hated that I was used as a pawn to perpetuate the stereotype and there was nothing I could do about it.

    1. ecnaseener*

      A rivalry is two-sided, so that’s not what this is. This is one woman being mean to another.

      Either way – What is the alternative? Yes, some people hold stereotypes and will latch onto anything that fits their existing paradigms. We can’t live our lives avoiding that, suffering in silence to avoid every possible paradigm…and if we did, we’d be reinforcing the “virtuous women don’t complain” paradigm.

    2. Sea Anemone*

      Could it be the case in this scenario? Just good old rivalry between young women who are taking difference approaches in navigating the sexist world?

      Oy, no. And I’m not sure your example fits in that category, either.

      I know you think you are suggesting a lower stakes alternative to OP’s framing, but you are effectively perpetuating the stereotype that you were previously horrified to have been used as a pawn for. The fact that Coworker to making fun of OP’s appearance does make this “rivalry.” It is bullying. There is no time that making fun of somebody’s appearance is not bullying. The gender of the boss is irrelevant to whether or not to bring it up.

      1. r*

        We don’t exist in a vacuum where we are completely ignorant of gender stereotypes. Most managers become managers because they were good at their job, not because they have an excellent understanding of sociology and human relationships.

        Two young women feeling the need to compete with each other appearance-wise is an inevitable result of a patriarchal society that values women on the basis of looks. Acknowledging this fact is the first step to dismantle the problem at the systemic level and is in no way the same as (male managers) assuming that one female employee is disagreeing with a female manager because women are catty and hate each other (and that is why not more of them are in leadership position).

        1. Sea Anemone*

          Your framing of OP’s situation, and of the example you gave of one co-worker making comments about another co-workers appearance, as “two young women feeling the need to compete with each other appearance-wise” rather than bullying, which is what it is, is also the result of a patriarchal society.

          … is in no way the same as …

          You’re arguing about what color the sprinkles are on the patriarchy cupcake. It’s all patriarchy. Just set the cupcake down.

    3. anonymous73*

      A rivalry involves involves both parties taking part in the action. Neither your first example nor this letter describe rivalry. It’s bullying, plain and simple.

      1. r*

        I understand Alison’s rule that we need to take the LW’s words for granted, but nobody is a reliable narrator in their own story. As far as for my own example, I never even talked to the pretty one. How was I to know what she thought of the first co-worker?

        1. Boof*

          Well, you know the one was saying their coworker wasn’t smart because she looked conventionally attractive; automatic foul

    4. Anony*

      It sounds like your workplace is wildly sexist, R. First, why are you categorizing your young female colleagues as “pretty” or “not pretty”? Their looks have nothing to do with their abilities, and if that’s how you’re grouping them it suggests you view them as “pretty girls” first and coworkers second. Second, why would it be inappropriate to report a disagreement between two women to a male boss? Again, you’re giving gender too much weight – good managers do not treat women and men differently. Third, why on earth would a disagreement between two women be categorized a “cat fight” at your workplace? If you have a DEI initiative of any kind and/or HR I suggest reporting this behavior immediately, and if I were you I’d start polishing your resume.

    5. Pennilyn Lot*

      I feel like calling a woman at your workplace “the pretty one” is also very much sexism in the workplace…

  33. anonymous73*

    The biggest problem here (IMO) is your boss and his lack of concern with what’s been happening. If it hasn’t already been documented by HR, you need to make sure they’re aware of not just the VM, but of all of her bullying. And yes, it IS bullying and shouldn’t be tolerated. I would have one more chat with your boss, tell him how her bullying makes you feel and ask that he makes changes (#1 for me would be one of you moving out of the office). And if he still tries to brush it under the rug, report THAT to HR. I know you’re new, but that doesn’t excuse any of this behavior. She’s a bully, and he’s enabling the behavior by doing nothing.

  34. MissDisplaced*

    Your coworker sounds VERY immature and yes, I suspect there is an aspect of jealousy and fear that you outshine her at work with her precisely because you look and act like a professional. If she is young and this if a first job, this behavior might be something that could be excused with a warning due to not understanding professional norms and behaviors. MIGHT. If she admits how bad this is, apologizes, and is sufficiently contrite enough to learn from it. Or, she may be fired–some places would fire someone over this.

    Your boss, on the other hand, really sucks because they should not dismiss or play down things like this. Yes, of course people may be wont to vent privately at home about their coworkers to their partner or friends… it’s human nature to some minor extent. But this is NOT THAT. I’m glad you at least have a HR to talk to about this. You were right to report this, as this goes beyond the bounds of normal “stop doing that” type interpersonal conflicts.

  35. ecnaseener*

    Oof, I really hope boss was just caught off guard and is kicking himself now over that profoundly unhelpful reaction. “Venting,” really? Sure, we’ve all vented about coworkers’ behavior. Stuff that actually affects us. We have not all gloated about coworkers’ appearance.

  36. Hair Lady*

    I just had to comment because this person reminds me so much of my old toxic roommate whose favorite thing was to make fun of my waist-length hair. It’s 10 years later and she still makes little digs at my appearance when I run into her (“YOU’RE wearing a dress?”) and it’s so hard to have a witty comeback without my sounding overly sensitive commiseration here.

    1. FormerStaffing*

      my reply would be “wow, i thought that topic has been beaten to death by now… you seem oddly obsessed by it. you should really seek therapy for that.” and give her a nice little “ew there’s something wrong with you” look as you walk away.

    2. CalypsoSummer*

      “YOU’RE wearing a dress?”
      “Oh, you recognize what it is. Good for you!” Smile and walk on.

  37. Out & About*

    This reminds me of at one of my previous jobs. Two younger women at the start of their careers would make comments about people’s looks and bodies then snicker to each other about it. I was in year 2 of recovering from an eating disorder (so weight gain was good) but clothing felt awkward and uncomfortable. They targeted me, my boss was ready to go to bat over it. I was too embarrassed over the whole thing and asked for it to be left alone. Commentary of people’s body and looks don’t belong in the workplace.

    1. r*

      It doesn’t, but it’s very common for women to compliment each other as part of their socialization, and the existence of good is dependent on the existence of bad. I don’t understand, among other things, why weight loss is almost always perceived as a good thing, but simply banning certain words/phrases from people’s vocabulary without changing the underlying narrative will work as well as the last time Sheryl Sandberg tried to banthe word “bossy.”

  38. Sparkles McFadden*

    I am so sorry this is happening to you LW. You sound like a great worker and a real business professional. Please know that about yourself and just keep on doing what you are doing. I know it’s difficult, but things do change and there is value in having these experiences. I think I was a good manager and part of that was seeing what not to do when I worked for crappy managers.

    …and your manager IS crappy. This is just one of those instances where the boss essentially says “Oh sweetie, I am sure you’ve done mean things too” as if you and your coworker are children fighting over a doll. Infuriating.

    Keep a log of all of the instances of bullying but don’t demand your coworker be fired. That won’t happen. But…you may need your documentation at some other point in time. Your coworker actually gave you a gift by misdialing and leaving you that voicemail. You know, for sure, that this has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with her.

    Try to get a different workspace, saying “The constant comments on my appearance are so distracting. I just want to get my work done without all of these interruptions.” Even your idiot boss should understand that.

  39. Web of Pies*

    I saw a meme the other day that said something like, “your power move is knowing when someone no longer deserves your empathy or vulnerability,” sounds like it applies here LW! You do not have to care what this person thinks, and you do not have to give them your time or attention for anything outside of what’s needed for work, i.e. no watercooler chat, wasting your precious life listening to her discuss her weekend or troubles, etc, just be a polite, professional grey rock. It’s honestly super-freeing to close the door on people like that emotionally.

  40. CommanderBanana*

    The boss’s response is SO disappointing. Protip: if you’re so terrified of confrontation that you can’t have uncomfortable conversations, don’t become a manager.

  41. Myrin*

    OP, can I just say that you handled this whole mess with an admirable amount of grace, dignity, and directness? I’m incredibly impressed by your behaviour in a situation that can’t have been easy in any way. Keep on being your professional self and hold your head high!

  42. FormerStaffing*

    our former VP used to vent to us in one-on-one’s about other people, asking why doesn’t X and Y get along? they seem to be at odds all the time. what do you think i should do about A & B? generally, he looked at people having spats in the office as a “female” problem, that we must be like catty mean girls on the playground, and he would often say “well you’re adults, you need to work things out.”

    in my mind, THAT’S WHAT THEY PAY YOU THE BIG BUCKS FOR. to handle THIS stuff when it comes up. they obviously couldn’t “handle it” and that’s why they are coming to YOU. it makes me so angry when they scoff at it like it’s a petty thing or pass the buck to HR.

    this led to a LOT of people quitting because their boss was bullying them, a colleague was harassing them, etc. we lost some good employees over management inaction.

    1. Meep*

      Sounds like my former manager/current coworker. She will purposefully try to pit people against each other for her own amusement, or, on the rare occasion and there is a reason, because she wants one of them fired (usually, and I kid you not on this one because they are not attractive – we are software engineers, btw).

      Once I started realizing what she was doing, it was real easy to ignore and deny. I don’t actually even dislike any of my coworkers with the exception of her. They are all wonderful people. Unfortunately, she chases them away too.

  43. Empress Ki*

    OP whatever your appearance, even if you looked unprofessional, making fun of you would be totally unacceptable. This woman is very mean.

  44. Meep*

    Ick. I am very fortunate that the meanest thing anyone has said about my appearance is my eyebrows are bushy (this was when it was a thing to have pencil-thin eyebrows so jokes on her now!). As someone with not a lot of self-confidence, it stung. Especially, when she only said these things to be spiteful.

    With that said, I have a coworker who gets to know exactly nothing about my personal life because she weaponizes that info. Go to grad school? She paid for it and I am ungrateful. Buy a house? She paid for it and I am ungrateful. Have a stable relationship? I should dump him because I am clearly miserable. Medical condition? I should just suck it up. Out sick for a day? Must be pregnant! Dressed up? Must be trying to impress someone. Dressed down? Look at her letting herself go. The list goes on and on. And it isn’t just me. She does this with everyone. But I didn’t even tell her that we moved because she was going to just use it as ammo to try and imply I wasn’t doing my job and was “distracted”. She also doesn’t know I got married and had other major life events.

    I know this all sounds different than someone making fun of your appearance but it is not. She is a miserable, petty person who needs to bring others down to make herself feel good. Just like my coworker. While it stings and hurts, and you don’t want to have compassion for that person because they are jerks, you should have come compassion.

    Your greatness is not defined by someone else. It is your own.

    With that said, consider looking for another job if this is company culture. The company refusing to at the very least remove your bully from your space is reason enough to job hop after a couple of months. Reasonable companies will understand that.

  45. JelloStapler*

    Your boss needs to do address this with the coworker and not just imply “You’re too sensitive”. At least see if you and the coworker could not share an office. It’s basically making sure people know that this kind of mean girl crap is not tolerated.

  46. Michelle Smith*

    “Civil but chilly is fine as long as as you’re not openly unpleasant or obstructing work.”

    Exactly. I’ve had relationships like this with 2 people in the past and while I hated it at the time, I did manage to get my work done until I was able to move to a different environment. You do not have to socialize or even say hi in the morning if you don’t want to. You really can just speak to her solely about absolutely necessary work-related things and ignore her the rest of the time.

  47. HR Exec Popping In*

    Letter Writer, I am so sorry you have to deal with this and that your manager was less than supportive. My advise is share your concerns with HR and then, “let it go”. By that I don’t mean forgive and forget. I mean treat your coworker with pure professionalism and interact as you need to to be professional. You don’t have to be overly nice. You don’t have to accept her lame attempts at apologizing. You don’t have to be satisfied that this was handled appropriately. But as both you and your coworker are new to the organization, neither one of you have much political capital or past behavioral examples for the company to determine if this incident was out of character for your coworker or if your response is reasonable. I would hope that the company would at a minimum have a very stern conversation with your coworker and they will keep their eye on her, but the truth is you will likely never know the full outcome. The one thing you do control is how you react. Don’t give anyone ammunition to paint you with a broad brush as someone who holds a grudge or causes trouble.

    I would also recommend that you keep notes on every time your coworker makes inappropriate comments or treats you poorly. It is always better to have a record of this in the event it is ever needed. Hopefully you won’t need it and you coworker learned a very valuable lesson.

  48. Jacki Straw*

    LW, this is awful and I hate that it’s happening to you. Three words to add when you speak to your boss or HR about it: “toxic work environment.” As in this person is creating a toxic work environment. If either of them is worth their salt, those should be red flags to them that something need to be done. Again, this sucks. I’m sorry you’re dealing with it.

  49. Rachel*

    She is either jealous of you or threatened by you or both. This probably makes her feel better somehow. I would try to be as professional as possible and just know deep inside that she is unhappy in her life and a miserable person.
    Karma is a b***h.

  50. KimberlyR*

    The coworker sounds incredibly juvenile. Who gives a crap what anyone else wears or how they do their hair? LW, I sure hope your HR treats this seriously and makes your boss do so, as well. Mean-spirited gossips are poison to a company.

  51. The OTHER other*

    The coworker is a bully that is acting like it’s still high school. I hope people see through her and she suffers accordingly, or grows up. Not sure what to make of the combo of mocking appearance yet imitating the attire, perhaps a competent therapist could help her work through whatever is going on there.

    Not sure if the boss means to condone bullying, doesn’t really understand what was going on, or is just lazy and doesn’t want to get involved, but at any rate he handled it terribly.

  52. CalypsoSummer*

    I hope that LW saved the message, or can still access it, because when her boss was making “it’s not that big a deal” noises, he hadn’t heard it. He knew she was upset, which he didn’t like, but he hadn’t listened to the 3-month coworker mocking and sniggering about LW.

    And — “wait till I send you her picture” ?? Coworker TOOK HER PICTURE? That is so way out of line it’s not even in the same county!

    I hope there’s an update that coworker is now coworking somewhere else. That behavior is ridiculous!

  53. Shelton*

    Is this not considered creating a hostile work environment? It’s bullying and harassment. At the very least, she should be kicked out of the shared office.

    1. Sea Anemone*

      Not in the legal sense of the word, unless co-worker is making fun of her for traits related to being part of a protected class.

  54. staceyizme*

    Your boss completely sucks and that’s useful information to have. I wouldn’t rug-sweep this, make this less than it is or accept any mischaracterization of what happened like “oh, I’m sure YOU have done this, too, OP…”. No. At a minimum, they should move you. And showing your photo, as evidenced by her self-recorded mean girl sesh? Ick. Keep your head down. Be professional. DON”T let them make your reaction “the thing”. It’s easier to police you than it is to police her because it’s less anxiety-inducing. At a minimum, they should move her away from you and promise to stay on top of this. But I’d be waving good-bye to her, myself, were I managing. The very short tenure in combination with the very bad judgement would be enough for me.

  55. Erica*

    The boss’s response was bizarre, so I’m not defending it. However, I have get the impression that this was their way of trying to avoid divulging to LW just how much deep doo-doo this other colleague is in.

  56. Jennifer*

    This is not normal venting. I have vented at home about people at work who make my life more difficult but I couldn’t care less about what they wear or what car they drive. This person is just a mean girl.

    Hopefully HR will do something about her behavior.

    1. OyHiOh*

      vented at home about people at work who make my life more difficult

      Yes, this. I mentioned in another comment thread a coworker I referred to as “f’ing Name” for several months before they left the organization, because my work life (and that of co workers) was made immeasurably more difficult, regularly, because of F’ing Name.

      And even this felt bad to me because I actually liked Name as a human being! They just had some gross incompetencies that weren’t revealed until nearly a year into the job.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yeah, I think that kind of venting is actually good for the soul, as long as it doesn’t go on for too long. Just get it out and go on with your life.

        It sucks when they are a good person but terrible at their job. I’ve experienced the opposite too, which was equally terrible.

  57. I'm just here for the cats*

    I feel so sorry for you LW and I’ve been in your shoes. (sorry for the rant)

    I was relatively new, only been at the company for less than 6 months. I was on the support side so I was taking calls for student support for a national professional development education company (think real estate education, insurance education, things like that). I was still in training and could only cover about 3 states but we would have calls and emails for all over the country. I was asked to be part of a beta team to try out a new way option for our support emails. Basically reps would share an email box and take X amount of emails along with doing the phone calls. I was also helping my manager with a project, since she really like how I created cheat sheets for state info (when education is due, how much credits people need to get their license things like that. Each state has their own requirements). She asked me to do that for other states and made suggestions for edits and such.
    In our beta team meeting, which was me the senior support rep and 2 other gals who had been with the company for years (and were very clique). They blasted me for”not taking as many emails as they had” and specifically called out one day where I only did 2 emails (we were all supposed to do 5-10 emails). I explained that that day I had been given permission to be off the calls and only work on the special project for a few hours that our manager tgave me. And that when I went in to do the emails they had already tagged themselves in the emails I could do. (They also started 2 hours before I did so they would go in right away in the morning and tag themselves in emails). I was glad that the senior rep had my back and kindly chewed them out saying how I’m not fully trained (they knew) and that they were told before that to leave the states I could take for me.

    After the meeting was over and we all went back to our desks. One of the gals accidentally Instant messaged me instead of the other person. She specifically said “Special project my XXX” and then some emojis. She immediately back tracked and was like oh I’m so sorry that was for X.We’ve been working with a difficult customer.” I never responded but I wish I had taken a screen shot and sent it to my boss.

  58. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    This is why I’m glad I’m bilingual. I’ve struggled to break the habit of gossip and criticism in Other Language since my family would when they didn’t want others to know. But when I did vent about a coworker, I was just glad to be able to do it in Other Language with other annoyed people.

  59. A Wall*

    The worst thing about being on the receiving end of weird interpersonal animosity in the workplace is that when you try to describe it to management, it makes you sound crazy to them. Like yes, I know it’s absolutely wild and nonsensical that this person is doing this, which is why it’s a problem and you need to help me get them to stop, because there is literally nothing I can do that will make them stop acting like a weirdo.

    Instead you so often get this assumption that if you were, in fact, reasonable, they would also behave reasonably, so it’s a non-issue. Either it’s not as bad as you’re saying or you’re contributing to it, because it doesn’t make any sense for this other person to be cruel to you for no reason.

  60. LGC*

    …lord have mercy.

    I’ll be honest, the voice mail in isolation isn’t the most concerning thing. (It’s bad! Your boss is underreacting! But if it was only the voicemail, I don’t think it’d be HR-worthy.) It’s that she has a pattern of being (as Alison would say) weird around you, by continuously commenting about your appearance and everything, and then this.

    And actually…the detail about going into your company systems to get your picture in order to ridicule you is a misuse of company services.

    You don’t say how big your company is in the letter, but I don’t think that you’re at any risk of being let go. You might be considered “dramatic” (which is unfair), but if the organization is remotely decently run they won’t fire you for complaining about this lady.

  61. chicken - good*

    Alarm bells started ringing wildly for me during the paragraph about the coworker imitating OP’s style, all while badmouthing it. This is serious Single White Female territory. I would stay far, far away from this coworker.

    On the bright side, people like this tend to burn through alliances pretty quickly. With luck, she’ll move on eventually and you won’t have to see her stupid face anymore.

  62. Dennis Feinstein*

    “My boss … said to me, “Oh, I’m sure you’re vented to your family members about people at work before,” … I guess this means he jokes about his staff with his family but because they don’t work with us it’s okay?”

    Look… yes. It’s fairly common for people to vent to family about work stuff and usually that’s OK because the family doesn’t know the co-workers so it’s anonymous. Of course, most of us aren’t stupid enough to record ourselves doing it…
    If it’s any consolation, I’m 99% sure your co-worker needed a change of underpants when she got your message. :)

  63. CountryLass*

    Also, the boss needs to realise that there is a difference between ‘venting’ about a co-worker at home (Oh my lord, I could have slapped Jane earlier, I asked for these reports 2 days ago, and she left it til the last minute! I barely had time to look through them before the meeting!) and what is basically bullying (Did you see what she was wearing?? Hahaha, what does she think she looks like!).

    One is a normal release of tension (assuming you don’t actually back-hand the co-worker) and the other is bullying.

  64. SleepyKitten*

    Trying to imagine how this happened… Did she say “seriously, it’s all on Jane” and her phone heard “Siri, call Jane”? Is your name Aaron A Aardvark and she butt-dialled her first contact? Not suggesting she did this on purpose because that would honestly be more bizarre.

    Either way, this is serious and the part about SHOWING YOUR PICTURE to mock you is probably the part you need to lean on most.

  65. Heffalump*

    I’m curious about Alison’s statement that insisting that the coworker be fired would move it into the range of “are these two people a problem we can’t solve?” Even if I thought that firing was excessive, I’d say that the OP was justified in saying such a thing. I certainly wouldn’t penalize her for saying it. My response might be, “We won’t fire her, but we will tell her very firmly that this can’t happen again.”

    1. CountryLass*

      I suspect is is meant more as a “don’t expect or ask for her to be fired”. As a manager I would be horrified if a report did this to another, however I might find having the victim (of only one month’s employment) be demanding someone’s employment be terminated right off the bat a teeny-tiny-bordering-on-red flag. There has to be repercussions, and at the very least the bully should have to leave the office she shares with LW and a clear line in the sand drawn, but to move straight to demanding she be fired seems… excessive. Of course if it turns out this is the tip of the iceberg, or something similar happens again, that is a different story.

  66. ReneeInAccounting*

    A similar situation developed for me at my most recent employer. Long story but basically my bully was jealous of me, disliked me from my first day onward, and did nothing to conceal it. She was a manager in a different department, adjacent to my workspace. I found out way after the fact that one of her many issues with me was that she had wanted the workspace that was assigned to me but because my role required privacy, she was told no.

    Anyway, I was new but the bully had been there for 6 years – after 6 months, I tried to address it with my manager and then with HR, both poo-pooed it but followed up with the bully – who flatly denied it, so they did nothing. I requested that my workspace be moved to a different area so I wouldn’t have to cross paths with her or overhear her talking about me (and others, too!) but was told no and was labeled a malcontent. Afterward, said bully even gloated about being untouchable, especially so because “no one else could do her job”.

    Things got much worse (open hostility in the ladies’ room/kitchen when no one was around, rumor spreading, and stalking me on social media). Honestly that first incident and the way it was handled by all involved should have been my cue to leave. Their culture is rotten to the core. And I never trusted my manager again.

    Fast forward a little over a year, and I finally resigned with nothing lined up: one evening, I got out to my car only to realize that I had left my cellphone on my desk. When I came back inside to retrieve it, I overheard the bully and my manager trash talking me and my appearance, laughing, apparently their nickname for me is Princess TwinkleToes. (I like sparkly things!) They didn’t even have the decency to pretend they were talking about someone else. I resigned the next morning. My manager cried hot, ugly tears (think red blotchy face!) about how I was “screwing her over” just when she needed me the most. What??

    The toxicity simply took a toll on me and I couldn’t work there anymore. It’s not an ideal situation but thankfully, we have savings and my spouse earns enough to support us while I look for something new. I haven’t found anything new yet but I still made the right call. My only regret is that I didn’t quit sooner. I kept trying to make it work, but it was never going to work.

    1. CountryLass*

      Did they know you heard them? I’d have done an Elvis-Style “Princess Tinkle-Toes is leaving the building!” Moonwalk out of her office.

      1. ReneeInAccounting*

        Oh yeah – I passed by them on my way back in and on my way back out after I picked up my phone and I made sure to make eye contact! They went stone cold silent…but totally wish I had done a little dance on my way out.

  67. heather*

    I am suspicious that this co-worker WANTED you to hear the message and it was a very passive aggressive action on her part. She arranged for you to get it and then acted like it was a mistake; this creates intimidation and is a classic form of bullying.
    I hope your HR recognizes you are now in a harrassing work environment. If your job has legal services, I’d check in with them.

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