I caught my coworker masturbating at his desk

A reader writes:

I was walking past a coworker’s office one day recently and looked into his window. He had his head back and his eyes closed, mouth half open. I was going to go in and tease him about falling asleep at his desk until I noticed that his arm was pumping up and down.

I can’t say with 100% certainty that he was maturbating at his desk, but I’m about 90% sure. He saw me as I was hurrying away from his office, then left for the day about 20 minutes later (it was early in the afternoon, but also the Friday before a long weekend so not impossible that he was already planning on leaving early). We have not spoken to each other since the incident and I have no desire to confront him or discuss what I saw. (How would I even start??)

I’ve been going back and forth in my mind on how best to handle it. He doesn’t report to me, but I am higher than him in the org. We’ve been friendly up until this point and he’d even asked to transfer to my team late last year. (I turned him down because he didn’t have the right experience/qualifications, but would have been open to bringing him on in the future. Until now anyway!)

On one hand, no one was harmed. I was grossed out and it will probably take some time before I want to work with him again, but ultimately I’ll be able to work past this. He holds a key position in the org, so I also am worried about damaging our operations if I do report and he gets dismissed.

On the other hand, this is just so gross and inappropriate that I am questioning his judgment and re-evaluating every interaction we’ve had in the 3+ years we’ve been coworkers.

I’m hesitant to report to his manager or HR on what I think I saw. I don’t necessarily want him fired and I definitely don’t want to get into a he-said-she-said about this situation if it does push forward.

What would you do in this situation? I can’t prove anything and I feel conflicted about reporting.

Please report it.

This dude was masturbating in his office. His office with a window.

It’s possible that he’s exposed other people to that or will in the future, including people who have less power than you do and might not feel they can report at all, particularly considering that he’s in a key position. Think interns, cleaning people, and others who might feel they can’t speak up.

I get your concerns about damage to your operations if he gets fired, but that’s not a reason not to report it. First, what happens next isn’t your call — it’s your company’s. (Although there’s a decent chance they’re not going to go straight to firing anyway, at least if he denies it; it’s likely to get him a serious no-more-strikes-type warning unless there have been other reports about him previously.) Second, being in a key position shouldn’t allow him to commit a wildly anti-social act that makes other deeply uncomfortable without repercussions . If anything, being in a key position should make it matter more, given what it says about his judgment.

I understand your concerns about getting into a he-said, she-said situation. But you don’t need to be able to prove what you saw behind a reasonable doubt. You can say exactly what you said here: “here’s what I saw and I can’t say with 100% certainty what was happening, but this what it looked like.” (And who knows, maybe there have been other reports previously and this will clinch it. Or maybe nothing will happen because they won’t be sure but it will be the thing that gets the next report acted on.)

Report it. What happens from there is on him, not you.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 524 comments… read them below }

  1. President Porpoise*

    Imagine the harm to the organization if he did this in front of someone else and they reported to an external stakeholder, government agency or the press.

      1. Jam Today*

        Depends on the company and their general behavior towards employees, particularly women. My current company this would go to HR. A prior company I worked for? I’d post this on Twitter in a hot second and watch the fireworks.

        1. Jam Today*

          ETA: I don’t mean a video of this, to be clear on that; I mean I’d just describe what I witnessed and name the company, and then talk some more about their general treatment of women in the office, and enjoy the toastiness as it all burned down around me.

        2. LisTF*

          Or, ya know, their lack of value for employees. I got fired for reporting a workplace masturbator. I was a paid intern and he was a large revenue generator. I apparently damaged his reputation by stating I could not work with clients in my office while hearing him whack it through the wall. I reported the employer’s retaliation to the state EEOC and no one even contacted me.

          1. Candi*

            Hopefully it was “we don’t see enough evidence to pursue it, but we’ll file it away” and not “good ol’ boy working there caught the report and dumped it.” (It’s amazing where people with specific biases can wind up if they hide them well enough.)

            That absolutely sucks that happened to you. Did it ever occur to them that the clients probably didn’t like hearing it through the wall either?

      2. Nayo*

        Sure, but OP’s concerned about hurting their operations if he were to get fired. This is a reason why it could be worse overall for the company if OP didn’t report it.

        1. Jam Today*

          OP should be concerned for their operations *right now*, IMHO. Someone who acts like this in public is not someone who has a complete set of functioning synapses and should never be trusted to make critical decisions.

          1. Alice's Rabbit*

            I honestly can’t believe this even needs to be said, but folks, don’t do sexual things at work. Period.
            Don’t touch yourself or anyone else in a sexual manner. Keep your clothes on (unless there’s a changing room, and even there – behave!). Wear work appropriate clothing. Don’t watch porn. Don’t read naughty books or magazines, or even have them in sight (keep them in your briefcase, if you must bring one with you for some reason). Don’t wear obvious fetish clothing or accessories. Don’t give your coworkers any more information about your sex life than you’d be comfortable telling a prim, kind old granny with a delicate heart condition.
            Just… don’t. You’re there for work. Not for titillation.
            But somehow there always seems to be someone who just doesn’t get basic decency. *Quack*

            1. Candi*

              That makes me think of this letter:

              “I’m in a dominant/submissive relationship — can I wear a collar to work?”

              1. CoveredinBees*

                Or the one where an employee wanted all of her colleagues to refer to her boyfriend as her master and claimed it would be discrimination if they didn’t?

                1. somanyquestion*

                  When it’s close to the opposite- people should rightly be offended when someone drags them into their sex lives against their will, and an employer enforcing that would be setting themselves up for legal issues from the people she is harassing.

        2. President Porpoise*

          Yes. All the other reasons are really good too – this is just one that was missed in the original response, and an example of why not reporting in an effort to protect the organization may come back to haunt OP.

        3. Marny*

          It’s so depressing to me that she cares more about his firing harming the company than he cared about whether his masturbating at work would harm the company.

          1. Simply the best*

            To the op, the company is not an abstract. The company is the receptionist, and the janitors, and Bob down the hall. “Damaging our operations” doesn’t just mean we won’t produce as many widgets. It means we won’t produce as many widgets, so we lose clients, so we don’t make as much income, so now we have to downsize. It makes perfect sense to worry about the collateral damage of what can happen when a key player in a company gets fired.

            That doesn’t mean she shouldn’t report it. I absolutely think she should. But we don’t live in an ideal world where there are no consequences for the good we do.

            1. Candi*

              The other side of it is “clients find out a worker is allowed to openly* whack it off in the office without discipline due to being a key player. They become uncomfortable, and work starts being quietly taken to other companies in the field. They don’t put in as many order with OP’s company, revenue drops, people are laid off.” Even good ol’ boy types in the ’60s kept their secretary screwing behind closed doors.

              *the unshielded window

        4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Sure, but OP’s concerned about hurting their operations if he were to get fired.

          Everyone’s replaceable. Even Wayne Gretzky.

          1. Greg*

            The graveyard is full of indispensable people.

            (That said, it is worth pointing out that Edmonton never won another Stanley Cup after trading Gretzky.)

      3. zinzarin*

        Yes, but when one of OP’s potential reasons to not report is concern for the organization vis a vis the key position this guy holds, it seems fair to point out that there’s also risk of harm to the organization if it’s not reported.

        1. highbury house*

          The framing should not be ‘the good operations of my department’ or even ‘the good name of the company’. The framing should be this guy’s coworkers. Who should not be exposed to this guy. Who should not have to wonder every time they walk by his office if today is the day he’ll be jacking it.

          Even if he’s not actually masturbating, which, come on. Occam’s razor.

          It’s a hostile work environment.

          1. BabyElephantWalk*

            Yes, that should be the concern.

            But the OP’s reasons for not reporting are that it could damage operations. She has weighed this as important enough to stop her from reporting, and in the letter (at least what we can read) there is not concerns for the coworkers expressed.

            Sometimes you have to meet people where they are. Ergo, someone concerned about the damage to operations of firing someone is more likely to be convinced based on the damage to operations that would occur from keeping them.

          2. Candi*

            A legal HWE, not just a dictionary one, to boot. (Unwelcome sexual behavior, possibly pervasive is in there as well.)

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        I think this sort of exhibitionism/fear of being caught does escalate as the thrill wears off at each level, and so he needs a greater risk to get the same turn on.

        Basically, you never want to be arguing “I might masturbate in full view of any internal employees, but obviously I would dial it back if I thought a customer might be in the office.”

        1. Nayo*

          This is a really good point. He’s lacking a very fundamental inhibition—who can say where his limit is, if it exists at all?

          1. Candi*

            I’m thinking those internal windows usually have some kind of blinds, and he didn’t bother dropping them before dropping trou. That leads to he wanted the potential of being seen. (And therefore any consequences are on his head.)

            1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

              “I’m thinking those internal windows usually have some kind of blinds, and he didn’t bother dropping them before dropping trou. That leads to he wanted the potential of being seen.”

              THIS: He wanted the potential of being seen!! <–ugh ugh ugh eww eww eww

              This is a very important point and adds to why reporting this is imperative.

              1. 1LFTW*

                Oh, he totally wanted the potential to be seen.

                He could have done this at home, but instead he chose to do this *in his workplace*. He didn’t even give himself the plausible deniability of using a locking stall in a restroom! Nope, he chose to do this in his office, *which has a window*. Maybe the window had blinds, and he “forgot” to close them, or maybe it didn’t have blinds at all.

                Either way, this guy’s a creep.

            2. Alice's Rabbit*

              Absolutely. If he didn’t want to risk being seen, he would have locked himself in the bathroom, gone home early/taken a long lunch, or just exercised a little self control and waited.
              And thrill seekers need to step up the risk over time to continue to receive the adrenaline rush they crave. So today, he’s touching himself in his office with a window. What’s next, a conference room?

    1. chicken - good*

      In Australia recently, it was actually a staffer in Parliament who was sacked for masturbating on a colleague’s desk. Ew.

      1. Mavis Mae*

        Not a colleague’s desk. The staffer wanked onto a female politician’s desk. And recorded it. And then claimed that the video being leaked was revenge porn. So we had a political party employee showing (at best) extreme disrespect to an elected representative – a Member of Parliament and of the current Government of Australia – and then claiming to be the victim in all this.

        This is not conduct that should be tolerated in any workplace anywhere. OP, please report your colleague.

  2. Xavier Desmond*

    What’s going on with your letters recently, Allison? It seems like the whole world has lost its mind

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I think it’s more than the Internet allows weirdness to be seen from much farther away. Fifty years ago, even if OP reaches out to someone for advice, it’s unlikely even in New York or Los Angeles that even 10,000 people ever know about it (beyond urban-legend-level rumor). Today, 10,000,000 may easily know about this guy’s indiscretion.

        Rest assured; the world has always been weird and there’s little new under the sun.

        1. Mockingjay*

          Yep. Wackiness has always been there, it’s just easier to spread the news.

          My senior year of college, many decades ago, I was an editor on the student newspaper. One afternoon I walked through the open door of our office (off the main room of the commons) to find another student editor masturbating on the floor. The door was open to students during the day; locked at night and only select editorial staff had keys. He wasn’t one of them, although he asked frequently for a key. He gave everyone the creeps, but we didn’t have justification to get rid of him on just our feelings – it was a student org and he qualified for the position. Until this episode finally gave the editor-in-chief reason to remove him.

        2. banoffee pie*

          I don’t think this is that unusual, just with the internet you’re hearing stories from all over. While previously maybe your best friend would tell you about this if it happened at her work or something. But an acquaintance probably wouldn’t tell you. People’s inhibitions are lower on the internet too. I got a creepy comment the other night from a guy and haven’t told anyone except my family. And now I’m saying it here. I probably won’t bother telling anyone else. I think it’s great people can discuss this stuff and find out they’re not alone etc and discuss what to do about it. Whereas in real life sometimes people won’t help or even tell you you’re gross for telling them what happened to you.

        3. Candi*

          One of my favorite readings before widespread accessible internet was books of weird facts. People have been acting strange for a long, long time. But unless it was something truly spectacular (see Berners Street hoax), or an author wanted to really dig, it only made a local blip and then to the archives.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            People have been acting strange for a long, long time.

            So true. I mentioned last week that is was scandalous to wear a toga with nothing beneath it in Roman times. Well, as chance would have it, public or semi-public masturbation and exposure were the two biggest reasons why it became scandalous.

      2. Carol the happy elf*

        Maybe he got used to doing this during the magical times of WFH? When lawyers became cats, and nobody worked in a business shirt and tie, and jammy bottoms with bear paw slippers?
        However, his judgement is reportably poor. Even if he was scratching a serious itch, there’s an “ick factor” here that needs to be shut down.

        1. Splendid Colors*

          I thought it was hilarious when The Good Fight had a “cat lawyer” scene this past season.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To me, this year’s letters seem tame compared with some past years (2016 was just a cornucopia of insanity). I think it’s just the contrast with last year, when my weird letters disappeared entirely because of Covid’s impact on work.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Sounds like a dream special edition: AskAManager interviewing Carolina Hax about her annual Holiday Hootenany.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            The Hax Holiday Hootenanny is exactly where my mind went as well!

            “Is a cornucopia of insanity an appropriate centrepiece for the harvest festival? Why yes, yes it is, if the festival is the Holiday Hootenanny”

        2. BatManDan*

          Would love it if Alison did a live stream of the Cornucopia of Insanity, the way that Carolyn Hax does the Holiday Hootenanny of Horrors.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        2016 feels like a decade ago.

        That’s the year I started reading/commenting thanks to the spicy food thief.

        1. Fran Fine*

          2016 feels like a decade ago.

          It really does, and that year was brutal (just in a different way to now).

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I recall a couple of years back telling my husband in mid-January that his chance of being worst boss of the year was already shot.

      3. generic_username*

        True. It’s a lot harder to accidentally masturbate in front of one of your coworkers over zoom (although not impossible, as we learned last year, lol)

          1. RVA Cat*

            That was what I immediately thought of, though this is more like Louis C.K. because it was in person.
            Somehow I doubt he “forgot” his window was open. Plus the whole “she said/he said” aspect goes away if he was watching porn on his work computer.

    2. Generic Name*

      I think all this stuff has been happening for ages. Workers in general and women in particular are finally feeling like they just might have enough standing to think about address in toxic workplaces.

      1. CBB*

        A few years ago, a lot of people would be like, “So you’re only 90% sure of what you saw? Let’s give the guy the benefit of the doubt.”

        As of today, more people are aware of stories about people who were given the benefit of the doubt over and over again, allowing them to get away with wrongdoing for years.

        1. CaviaPorcellus*

          Yes, #MeToo has been amazing, as a movement, for allowing so many predators to come to light and pushing so hard to get them dealt with, finally.

          The reaction I’d have to this letter 15 years ago would have been just as visceral, but the words that would have come out of my mouth would have been totally different (CYA and keep mum, you didn’t see it vs Get This Creep Out Of This Office NOW).

          1. 1LFTW*

            Ugh, this is so true. 15 years ago my vibe would have been “avoid being alone with the guy, and keep an eye on the other women who work there, but trying to report it will get you nowhere at best”.

      2. Candi*

        In the current job environment, a worker has more opportunities to jump if their current workplace won’t address sexism. If a company wants to keep sufficient good workers, they have to address it, good ol’ boy C-suite or not.

      3. Mannequin*

        Oh yeah. The stories my mom told me about being sexually harassed/assaulted at work in the 40s, 50s, and 60s were pretty horrific, and back then, society just shrugged it off as ‘how things are’.

        Horrific behaviors have always been around, we are just MUCH more aware of them at the present time than we ever have been before.

        1. Candi*

          I know back when Night Court was on, it was considered shocking when Christine was presented as 100% in the right when she was harassed by her new boss -and she still needed Harry (and Mac and Bull) to back her up to bring the guy down. (I find it interesting that at the same time, Dan was represented as more and more in the wrong as episodes passed, and he started actually developing a heart.)

          (I suspect Harry’s prank of the dust that turns your hands red, and then stains anything you touch, would get him slapped with a clothing replacement bill today.)

    3. a tester, not a developer*

      I think too many people got used to either working from home (where you can do what you want if the camera is off) or being one of the only people in the office. Being back in the office with others is letting everyone see what they do when they’re alone.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Anecdote from elsewhere, Six is doing virtual school:
        Dad to Six: Turn off the camera! Turn it off!
        Six, quite exasperated: What? I can’t hear you because you’re in the shower.

      2. generic_username*

        I definitely think that’s part of it. We all developed new habits that suited us working in privacy of our homes or alone in our offices. Lol, I keep taking off my shoes under my desk because I’m used to never wearing them while I work anymore. The other day I nearly walked to the bathroom barefoot because I just didn’t even think about it

      3. NerdyKris*

        I don’t think this behavior is very new. People have always been inappropriate at work. One of the related links on this post is from 2017.

      4. Estrella the Starfish*

        Yeah, pre-Covid I would have been strongly leaning towards this being the product of exhibitionism and the guy getting his kicks out of the possibility if being caught. But now that people are returning to offices after WFH for so long I think it’s a toss up (sorry) between that and just a shocking lack of judgement exacerbate by not having to conform to office norms for so long.

        1. JimmyJab*

          No, sorry. Maybe someone burps or farts and is like, oh damn, I have been home for so long I am used to not worrying about it! But no reasonable person forgot that it’s unacceptable to masturbate in public/at work.

          1. DrSalty*

            Hard agree. Pulling your genitals out in the office is next level vs taking your shoes off. They are not equivalent.

          2. MsSolo (UK)*

            I suspect if this is a WFH escalation, then this is someone who use to, as a bare minimum, look at porn in the office pre-Covid. You don’t go from perfect office etiquette to masturbation, but if you were already seeing what you could get away with, then pushed that while you worked from home, you might see it as the equivalent of ‘oh, everyone’s got some bad habits now’.

          3. SeluciaMD*

            This is exactly what I was thinking. There is a HUGE gulf – an ocean, really! – between “I almost walked to the bathroom/copier barefoot” and “I think I’ll drop trou and wank off to relieve some stress.” NOPE. I am not chalking this up to “gee, we’ve all forgotten how to people during the pandemic!” Which is true, but I feel pretty strongly that 99.99999% of us still remember that you don’t touch or show your nether regions at work for any reason, pandemic or not. This guy has (and is) a Problem.

          4. Mr. Shark*

            Exactly. No one has forgotten how to act like a normal human being that doesn’t perform sex acts in front of others in public or at work, just because of the pandemic.

        2. LizB*

          I’m the only person in my physical office, but the only out-of-the-norm behavior I’ve been tempted towards is walking to the copier with my shoes off (socks on) and playing my podcasts on speaker instead of headphones (and not being concerned when one of them drops an f-bomb). I think someone being so used to working from home that they forget they can’t whip it out during work hours is possible, but a much bigger stretch.

        3. Candi*

          I doubt it. Pulling the tackle in a place where people aren’t romantic partners can see you and that isn’t your home is a far, far stretch from forgetting to wear shoes or remembering you shouldn’t eat cheese for lunch anymore.

      5. MK*

        I can understand having difficulty remembering that you should keep noises down now that you are working next to other people again. But this?

    4. Bee Eye Ill*

      I think this kind of madness has been around forever and more people are finding this site to get help on dealing with it!

    5. Jack Straw*

      I think it’s a lot of people getting very used to doing things while working at home that don’t normally fly in a shared office environment and haven’t transitioned back to office life well. Most of the time that means picking your nose or letting a fart fly, maybe wearing athleisurewear a bit more than you should or forgoing makeup….this is a super extreme example of that happening.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Eh, this nonsense was going on well before COVID. I’ve worked in multiple places where people got in trouble (or people ignored) people watching porn on a work computer.

        1. Le Sigh*

          To add — my feeling is if you’re going to do it/get in trouble for it now, you were probably going to do it/get in trouble for it pre-COVID, too.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Or the guy who did NOT get in trouble for watching p*** on his work computer. The one that faced the window of his ground floor office.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          Yep, at OldExjob our IT guy told me all those virus warning emails we kept getting were because there were too many people going to porn sites on their work computers. *ewwwwww*

          (not against people watching porn, just whyyyyy would you not wait until you get home)

          1. Candi*

            I don’t know if it’s a “this makes better/creepier stories” thing, but so many of the stories about “guy* watching/storing porn at the office” rarely have adult-on-adult consensual porn of whatever variety. The stories tend to talk about them going for stuff from disturbing to illegal.

            *almost always a guy

        1. Jack Straw*

          I don’t disagree about it being around forever. Speaking from personal experience, I can’t believe some of the things I let slide when I was early in my career. I do think we’ve seen a spike in this kind of behavior (to be clear, not masturbation but “stuff you do at home but isn’t okay in a shared office space” kind of behavior).

          Also, note taken and I’m in agreement RE the makeup comparison. As a woman who doesn’t regularly wear makeup myself, I’m honestly not sure why I even picked that example. I’m going to chalk it up to a recent conversation with my daughter about her starting to not wear makeup and her boss/principal commenting on it. It’s not the same at all and I shouldn’t have used it.

          1. Stacy*

            Wait, your daughter’s boss is commenting about her not wearing makeup? That’s wildly inappropriate.

            1. Jack Straw*

              Yep, and she’s a kindergarten teacher. Not that there are ANY professions that should require make up, but that is DEFINITELY not one that should.

              1. Candi*

                I worked in a daycare and had two kids. There is no way in heck that any makeup job that’s not tattooed to the face is going to last an hour when dealing with kids.

                (NO, boss, she’s not going to do that!)

        2. Rufus Bumblesplat*

          Agreed. I almost never wear make up, and I can’t remember anyone ever commenting on it.

      2. Nanani*

        “Foregoing makeup” reaally reallly doesn’t belong on the same list as farting and nose picking.

        1. Sabina*

          Exactly. I never wore makeup to the office over a long career and to suggest that is the equivalent of nose picking and farting is borderline offensive.

          1. Jack Straw*

            Again, I agree. I’ll reiterate my comment above—It was wrong and not at all a good example. I wish I could edit it out.

      3. Generic Name*

        Men forgo makeup all the time. Or were you just meaning a woman’s face is professionally unacceptable without makeup?

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          There’s a clarification above on why it’s included — it wasn’t meant to be a dig at women who don’t wear makeup.

          1. Jack Straw*

            TY, Clever. Also— I know my user name (which is derived from a Grateful Dead song, not because it’s my name) makes it seem like I’m a man, but I’m not. I am actually a woman who doesn’t wear makeup to work.

              1. Jack Straw*

                Wait, what?! I might need to change my name… I must investigate whether this is someone I want to be associated with! lol (My americanism is showing.)

      4. too many too soon*

        Nah, this seems more like a dude getting off on masturbating in a semi-public setting. Not an accident or quirky behavior, but someone choosing to do sexual activities as some kind of performance to an unconsenting audience.

      5. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        I mean, waaaaaaaaay before Covid I had a maintenance employee at my old property management job who was openly watching hardcore videos on his phone with the volume all of the way up at work, and my manager not only didn’t get rid of him but was angry at me for reporting it and angry that neither myself nor the woman who was one of my leasing consultants would drive him to the office Christmas party, soooooo…

        1. pope suburban*

          I read the comment before your username, and I’ve never gone from surprised to “oh, yes, that tracks” so fast. That workplace was an absolute cesspool and I’m so glad you got away.

          1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

            Suuuuuuch a cesspool. A fit of curiosity hit me out of the blue and I checked their online reviews… it’s apparently still a Hellmouth! It’s changed owners and they’ve changed the name and it is STILL apparently… very interesting there, heh.

          2. Le Sigh*

            Yeah for real. Anyone else I’d be like, “WHAT???” and for this poor commenter I’m just like “oh right, Tuesday.”

          1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

            They actually got spectacularly fired first, it was a whooooooole thing. But they do still view me as The Great Betrayer because they blame me for the firing, sooooo… :D

      6. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        Wait wait wait… WHAT about makeup?! Did you really just equate *not wearing makeup* with *nose picking*, *farting*, and *wearing workout clothes*????

        1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

          Okay, I just saw that you backtracked on that. Which is good. Because *what*. Also, did you say that your daughter’s boss is also her PRINCIPAL? Like, is she in high school? And her principal is commenting on her makeup?

          1. Stacy*

            Since the comment said boss/principal I took it to mean she works in education and the principal is commenting on her not wearing makeup.

          2. Jack Straw*

            My daughter is a Kindergarten teacher, who no longer wears make up to work, much to the disappointment of her principal. I am her mom and also a woman who also does not wear makeup to work.

            Glad we’re all caught up. :)

    6. DJ Abbott*

      I’m enjoying it. Oh good, a fascinating letter and comment section to perk me up as I deal with my underemployed life. :)

    7. Aitch Arr*

      I don’t know. I dealt with a similar situation as OP, but I was the HR Business Partner, and that was almost 15 years ago.

      1. Aitch Arr*

        ETA: the situation I was in 15 years ago was a combo of this letter plus yesterday’s (?) about the guy living in the office.

        Ah, good times.

  3. CatPerson*

    Someone who demonstrates such a colossal lack of judgement should not be working at your organization.

    1. Sami*

      Or any company/organization! He can WFH can use his lunchtime and breaks however he wants. (I guess. Ugh.)

    2. Betteauroan*

      When I was in the air force, I had a federal government employee as my direct supervisor and we got along great during the 3 years I worked for him. We worked in a vault (classified) and one of the extra safes was full of his porn mags. I caught him looking at porn several times when I came in to work in the morning. I said nothing, as he never treated me with anything but respect. Two months before my time was up and I was leaving, I caught him jerking off at his desk. If I wasn’t leaving so soon, I might have reported him, but I was very young and terrified of making waves. He even called and left an answering machine message apologizing. I could have taken that tape and had him in big trouble but getting a federal employee fired just about takes an act of Congress so I didn’t bother. I was leaving so I didn’t really see the point at the time. The next 2 months were awkward and I was so happy to get out of there.

      1. SeluciaMD*

        Holy schnikes. I am so sorry you experienced that! This feels extra egregious too, because he had an entire porn mag stash IN A WORK SAFE that clearly people knew about (and no one above him did anything about) so the masturbating at his desk feels like an escalation. I’m shocked he bothered to acknowledge it and apologize. (But it’s still so very not OK and you don’t get to just apologize your way out of that. He didn’t step on your foot by mistake, he made you an unwilling witness to a sexual act.)

        It’s so infuriating that this stuff goes on and that as a society, we’ve long allowed this kind of behavior to either be literally OK (everyone knows and no one in leadership thinks it’s a problem) or functionally OK because the system and power differentials make getting it addressed so difficult. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

  4. Stitch*

    +1 to all of this. Not having appropriate sexual boundaries at work is just wrong. And I’d also argue that doing that at work knowing the risk of being seen or interrupted is itself sexual harassment. He’s creating this situation on purpose.

    1. Just Another HR Pro*

      I was kind wondering the same thing. He has a window in his office. I am NOT condoning this behavior at all, but like another commenter mentioned – masturbating at work seems to be the new thing. However it would appear most people are doing it in their cars or the bathroom. So as this dude has a window, I can’t help but think he wanted to get caught.

      1. KHB*

        Exactly. I’m not condoning or recommending this at all, but if you really need to, go to the bathroom. Or tape some paper over your window. Forcing coworkers (or anyone, really, but especially coworkers) to participate in your exhibitionism is a whole extra layer of not OK.

        1. KHB*

          And also, the very reason that exhibitionism (and flashing, etc.) is such an insidious thing is that it’s so easy for people to turn it around and blame the victim (and for victims to blame themselves) and say “It’s your fault for looking, and it’s your fault for being uncomfortable with what you saw.” It looks like a couple of comments below – some deleted, some not – are doing this very thing.

          OP, it is NOT your fault for seeing this, and it is NOT your fault for being grossed out by it. He wanted you to see, and he wanted you to feel uncomfortable. Because he is an asshole.

          1. CalypsoSummer*

            I don’t know that he specifically wanted OP to see, but he was definitely getting a charge out of the risk-taking. Sitting at his desk by a big window with his door open and his hand in his pants? He’ll keep escalating until he’s caught because the thrill does wear off, and he’ll need bigger and bigger doses of risky behavior to get the same charge out of it.

            Or, in a synopsis, ewwwwww!! Fire ‘im!

    2. Imakesigns*

      Agreed! People do things like this on purpose because they get off on the thrill of people possibly seeing or their reactions when they do see. You don’t masturbate at work, in your office, with a window by accident.

    3. Boadicea*

      I thought this too. If he really really fancied going for it right there and then no matter what other activities may be a better use of time, I’m sure there’s a bathroom with some privacy nearby. There is no reason on earth to do this in an office with a window when people are around unless you are considering that people might see.
      Also, eeeeewww.

      1. Candi*

        Those inner windows usually have blinds or something when I’ve seen them. Drop the blinds and stick a chair on the inside of the door if it doesn’t lock. (The door hitting chair will hopefully give time to get the pants up, if he just can’t wait until he’s home.

    4. Mavis Mae*

      Under Australia law this would be actionable sexual harassment.

      When encountering a flasher or public onanist, I hear that excellent though possibly temporary results can be achieved by either loud ridicule (“that looks just like a willy, only smaller”) or outrage (shouting and chasing the perpetrator down the street ie giving them the fright of their of their lives and making it clear to as large an audience as possible what they have been doing. Bonus points if they trip over their own trousers). Part of the thrill for these people is the shock and discomfort they cause when their target sees what they’re doing; let them feel the shock and discomfort instead. In this case, perhaps OP could have smacked her hand as loudly as possible on her colleague’s internal window while yelling Oh My God What Do You Think You Are Doing? Believe me, he will have been relying on her being prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

      And if he wasn’t in fact having some happy personal time, then he will be extremely careful in future to be clear on posture, gestures, demeanor etc so that he’s never accused of it again.

  5. Sean*

    I’m 12, apparently, because: “on the one hand…” made me snicker.

    That said, yes, report it immediately.

    1. Speaks to Dragonflies*

      You’re not the only one who’s 12. I can understand getting started up and idleing… but ya don’t whack your weeds at work.

  6. KatieP*

    Please report this. You’re probably not the first person who’s seen this. People who do this rely on the people around them staying quiet.

  7. throwawayworkday*

    OP, I do appreciate your compassion and willingness to think about who was harmed before reporting. My dad was dismissed from several positions growing up because of similar, but not identical inappropriate sexual behavior, and it was hard on our family.

    That said… it was hard on our family /because of my dad’s actions/, not because his coworkers and managers appropriately responded to a gross (in every sense of the word) act of misconduct. Please report your coworker, as the kind of person who thinks this is ok in the first place is going to make other mistakes too.

    1. American Job Venter*

      I had to agree with Three Flowers — this is a very thoughtful and compassionate response — and to say that I am so sorry your father put your family through that.

  8. Myllamapeggyhill*

    There’s a good chance he knows you saw, just like he knows there’s a window, and did it on purpose. Source: 40 hours of training annually and many more of volunteering with SA survivors.

    1. Jack Straw*

      The former retail manger in me, whose employees were regularly in tears because they could see men jerking off while sitting/standing outside the Juniors Dept fitting rooms during prom and swimsuit season, unfortunately agrees with this statement. :(

        1. Cat Tree*

          When I was a teenager around 2002ish, I went to a family chain restaurant with my dad. We were in opposite sides of the booth, and a creepy man behind my dad’s back was blatantly masturbating and trying to make eye contact with me. I was too embarrassed to do anything about it but I was horrified. He put his shirt over it when the waitress walked by, but I imagine she had seen plenty of horrifying things. And just to make it extra creepy, this was the type of restaurant specifically marketed to families with children so I’m pretty sure that targeting youngsters was his intent.

          1. SeluciaMD*

            Oh Cat Tree I am so sorry you experienced this. As you noted, it was very likely intentional that he was targeting kids AND he was also likely counting on a combination of societal structures that condition us to not “make a scene” (even when a scene is totally warranted) and the fear/insecurity of a young person being unable to process what was happening and have the language to talk about it. It is gross and wrong on every possible level.

            But as someone who worked in a restaurant chain like the one you are describing when I was a teenager, I can also confirm that the waitress had definitely seen some version of that dude’s behavior before, and worse. Waiting tables and being a hostess at that chain scarred me on many levels.

          2. Elizabeth West*


            “Oh, I’m SO SORRY I spilled my blazing hot coffee on your lap while innocently walking by your table! My bad!”

            1. SeluciaMD*

              I wish I’d had that kind of gumption back when I was working that job. Anyone have a hot tub time machine handy so I can go back and encourage my 19 year old self to do EXACTLY THIS?

            2. CountryLass*

              I realise it was in a fiction book, but one of my favourite characters woke up to a colleague exposing himself whist removing her blanket, and she grabbed her pepper spray and went for his eyes and then, as an afterthought, his *ahem* on the basis he shouldn’t have been waving it around. She was congratulated on her excellent aim by her bosses on their return and examination of the CCTV recordings!

              Women like her, and you, should be role-models to young people everywhere.

              1. Candi*

                Even if it was a fiction book -media reflect and affect culture and society. People read that and see that “society” -the bosses- gave a positive response to a woman defending herself. Even if they give little thought to the book after finishing it, that and other tidbits subconsciously percolate through the mind. It’s the subtle version of holding up a strong woman (or other figure) as an example to be emulated.

                I did a whole essay in English 102 on vampires and how their depiction in media reflected, and maybe affected, the perception of the “other” in society. The modern take on the vampire went from invasive, hateful immigrant in Dracula (who had Romani to assist him, thankyouverymuch movie makers) to just part of the neighborhood in 21st century media. And I managed to get through the Twilight references without snarking on the sparkling.

                1. Alice's Rabbit*

                  I am in awe of your self control, to discuss that series in purely academic terms, with no snark. Seriously. *tips hat*

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  *applause* I would read this paper.

                  I sneaked horror fiction and nerd stuff into every paper I possibly could. My senior capstone paper was on the dichotomy of Light and Dark as exhibited in the literary doubling of The Lord of the Rings. :)

                3. Candi*

                  Here’s one of the sources I used, that discusses the same idea in different terms.

                  “Downtown Immorality Lecture Series: “THE DARK IMMORTALITY OF THE VAMPIRE””
                  Arizona Public Media, Youtube video. I came across a mention of it in a fairly weak source, and boy was I glad I hunted it down.

    2. Limon*

      Once I stayed the night in a mixed-sex hostel dorm; we were all women apart from one man. He did the activity mentioned above. I’m sure he stayed in the hostel specifically so he could do it with random women in the room. He also used some very rude language when I asked him to stop immediately! Some people just… like the lack of consent combined with an idea of “getting caught”, I guess. I would feel harmed if I were OP. You have a right to consent to all sexual activity and exposure.

      1. Squirrel Nutkin*

        Randomly assigned roommate on a lesbian cruise pulled this shit. I fled the room, wandered the ship all night, and then got up my gumption and reported her ass the next morning.

        Reader, the cruise folks were so cool — they got my stuff out of our room within a half hour and popped me in a solo cabin, bless them. They also said that she’d get a warning to cut that stuff out or she’d be banned from future cruises.

        I think it’s always good to report. Even if nothing happens to the perpetrator this time, you’re laying the groundwork so that if and when someone else reports a similar problem, they’re more likely to be taken seriously.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      He definitely knows he’s at work and was not behind a closed door, which, unless he’s utterly and completely devoid of any sense at all, says that getting seen is part of the game.

    4. Stitch*

      Don’t get me wrong a lot of sexual harassment is blatant. But a lot of it is subtle and calculated to make the person doubt themselves, just like OP is doing here.

      1. PT*

        Yes this. We got a lot of perverts in at one of my jobs. And all of them had a plausible deniability excuse as to how “I wasn’t doing what you thought you saw I was doing, I was actually doing this other thing and you misunderstood.”

        They were ALWAYS doing what staff thought they saw. And the manager who didn’t see it always bought the BS appeal “well…he might have been fixing his pocket and the staff are just biased/hysterical/trouble.”

        By design, they craft their alibi before they offend so they can gaslight the victims when they get caught.

        1. Candi*

          That’s why public urination can get someone on the sex offenders list, because of those kinds of creeps.

          1. Candi*

            Addendum: And what does it say about the manager (and inherent culture) that he took the guy’s word over his staff’s?

            1. SeluciaMD*

              That society and the patriarchy have conditioned far too many people to “give the benefit of the doubt” when none is warranted. Or that the manager thought it was funny/cool/sexy or something equally gross/perverse and so didn’t have any interest in stopping it.

          2. doreen*

            Being in a job where I see what people are arrested/ticketed for and what they say happened, I would really be surprised if there was anywhere where an instance that everyone agreed was public urination landed someone on a sex offender registry. What absolutely does happen is that someone who was arrested for something else like public lewdness claims that he was simply urinating – but the fact that the arrest was for public lewdness means that someone alleged that something more than urination was going on.

            1. Anonymeece*

              So I once went down a rabbit hole on this. Someone offered $100 to anyone who could actually prove that there was an instance of this happening. As you predicted, most of the ones that people came up with were people saying, “WELL I WAS” or ferreting out newspaper stories, and then, quelle surprise, it turned out that there was a lot more to the story (such as: that’s what dude’s lawyer and dude claimed, but the victim had a very different story).

              I think there was ONE case that MIGHT have happened in that entire thread. But truthfully, I have a feeling this is more of an urban legend that unfortunately protects a lot of predators. You’re dating a woman, she finds out you’re registered as a sex offender, and you say, “Oh, nooo, it was just a big misunderstanding! I was just drunk and peeing outside!” and she thinks, “Well, maybe he was a victim!” and presto voila, you have access to her teenage daughter.

              It is far, far, FAR more likely that if someone is on the sex offender list, it was because they did something that warranted them being put on it.

              (Btw, this was in the U.S. Maybe it has happened in other countries. But I’m always very wary of whenever I hear people citing this as proof that the sex offender list is unjust or whatever.)

              1. Candi*

                Nah, I meant what you and doreen are saying -people claim they were just piddling when they weren’t. I was using it as an example of the gaslighting perps do.

                As far as I can tell, peeing in public automatically meaning someone gets a sex offender charge starts when someone decides the answer to such gaslighting is to make public urination itself an offense, apparently because “you admit to public urination!” is easier than the actual work of an investigation. And often a much lesser charge than what the scum was actually doing, so they don’t “ruin his career” or anything.

          3. Wintermute*

            That’s a myth, everyone says it can happen but no one has ever provided any case citation or court transcripts to prove that it ever has. Every state law I am aware of has “for the purposes of sexual gratification” or something similar as an element of the crime of public indecency or exposure.

            What **IS** common and does happen all the time is that a man who is on the registry TELLS people that it was a simple misunderstanding about public urination when it was something far less innocent.

            1. Candi*

              That’s what I meant -it’s a type of the gaslighting mentioned in the comment I was replying to.

    5. maples*

      Checking in from team phone hotlines* and a big ol yup. Many people are intentionally looking to be seen, to shock, to surprise, etc. (And sometimes to “get away with it” without anyone knowing)

      (*community service hotlines, mental health etc – not the kind of hotline where this would be … acceptable).

    6. Butterfly Counter*

      Part of me has some sympathy for the guy in maybe thinking he WAS alone in the office or that he’d be fast enough (ew) to not get caught.

      But I also remember the time when I had to make an adjustment in my bra (wire had popped out and I needed to jury rig a way for it to stay in for the rest of the day) and you better believe my blinds to a window, where almost no one in the building could get a good look, were shut and office door was locked.

      1. SeluciaMD*

        Nope. No sympathy. I don’t care if the building is empty. YOU DO NOT PULL YOUR PENIS OUT AND TOUCH YOURSELF AT WORK. That is something you 100% have the ability to control and NOT DO AT WORK. And if you lack the control, you need to get help ASAP. Because it is not OK. Period. End of story.

        And I’ve had that same bra experience myself but as you noted, because it’s so out of the realm of “normal” and because you wouldn’t WANT anyone to even THINK you were doing something unsavory or untoward, you went out of your way to make sure you had as much privacy as possible and that you didn’t – even accidentally – show someone at work your bra or your breasts. Which only proves my point. You knew where the line was and pretzeled yourself to not cross it.

      2. Boof*

        Yeah, I worry about putting my head down for 20 min nap at my desk because there is a little window people can peer over (usually only if they’re trying to visit me) and I think it’d look off. I might pump in my office when I get back from mat leave but I’m going to have some kind of blurry plastic thing to stick over the window for that.

      3. Alice's Rabbit*

        Those are not remotely comparable, though. You had a legitimate wardrobe malfunction that needed to be rectified immediately. He was jerking off. You went out of your way to ensure no one might walk in or see anything at all. He left his door open.
        He wanted to be seen, or at least the thrill of potentially being seen.

  9. Cat Tree*

    Folks, don’t masturbate at work! The vast majority of people don’t need this spelled out for them. It’s a huge red flag that he either doesn’t understand this or (more likely) is blatantly ignoring it. As LW mentioned, this makes me seriously question his judgment in general.

    1. Doug Judy*

      I’m always perplexed by the frequency that this seems to come up. Then the suggestions to do it in the car during lunch, while better, still make me scratch my head. Can you really just not on company property, period?

        1. Jean*

          THIS. If you really can’t wait until later in the privacy of your own space, you have a serious problem.

          1. Oodles of Noodles*

            I wouldn’t say serious problem, but hard ons can be rather uncomfortable if they don’t go away. It doesn’t happen nearly as often once you’re no longer a teenager, but it happens.

            He definitely should have taken care of it in the bathroom though. A windowed office is nowhere near private enough.

            1. Alice's Rabbit*

              True. Sometimes, the little fellow has a mind of his own and refuses to take orders. But if nothing else makes him stand down, then you ensure complete and utter privacy. And wash your hands thoroughly!

    2. Betteauroan*

      When I was in the air force, I had a federal government employee as my direct supervisor and we got along great during the 3 years I worked for him. We worked in a vault (classified) and one of the extra safes was full of his porn mags. I caught him looking at porn several times when I came in to work in the morning. I said nothing, as he never treated me with anything but respect. Two months before my time was up and I was leaving, I caught him jerking off at his desk. If I wasn’t leaving so soon, I might have reported him, but I was very young and terrified of making waves. He even called and left an answering machine message apologizing. I could have taken that tape and had him in big trouble but getting a federal employee fired just about takes an act of Congress so I didn’t bother. I was leaving so I didn’t really see the point at the time. The next 2 months were awkward and I was so happy to get out of there.

  10. NerdyKris*

    We had an incident a few years ago where someone was watching porn on his work computer. We’re in cubicles, around chest height, and the desk runs around the wall of the cubicles, so the monitors face out. This was not in a remote area, it was right on the main walking path for people coming in, and you could see the monitor from across the office.

    It’s just baffling.

    1. Rae84*

      I was at a movie (pre-Covid) and in the middle of the movie a guy pulled out his phone and started watching porn. And he was in the front of the theater so we could all see what was going on.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            Ok, theater employee. Some are still called ushers if they aren’t working the snack bar. And they’ll kick people out for less.

      1. Zona the Great*

        I would have dumped my soda on him making sure it hit his phone. That is not okay to potentially expose children, SA victims, anyone, to your porn.

        1. Rae84*

          If I remember correctly he got up rather quickly and left the theater. I obviously didn’t do anything because I was in such shock, but one of my group told me later they were about to go get an usher. I was also about 15 rows up.

    2. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

      My dad was fired from his job for doing exactly this when I was 15.

      Exile perverts like this to an isolated island without food or water. Ugh, ew.

      1. EmbracesTrees*

        Ugh, that must have been painful to live through — whether a shock or confirmation that he was awful. I’m sorry!

        1. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

          My parents are still married. My mother is a very weak, cowardly woman. It’s a constant hell!

          OP – destroy this man.

          1. Empress Matilda*

            Off topic, but I want to send some love to your mom! I’m sure she has her reasons for staying with him, and either way it can’t be an easy decision.

            1. DJ Abbott*

              I don’t know. My mother was also weak. She spent her life in denial about my father verbally and emotionally abusing me and refused to help me with that or anything else.
              She failed hugely in her responsibility to help me grow up and learn to deal with things and protect me from my father’s abuse as well as all the other things a girl needs to know growing up. I don’t cut her any slack because she doesn’t deserve it. Her weakness and denial were a choice, and she could have done much better if she tried.

            2. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

              Her reasons were bad and lead her children being raised in an abusive environment. She does not deserve your sympathy, think a comment like this through next time.

    3. Wowzer*

      We had a guy trying to get fired. Another department had dumped on us and he was a nightmare and wanted to be at home. Not sure why he didn’t quit outright but he was also close to retirement. Until he worked in our department, in a desk in the open where everyone could see his screen, I didn’t know naked pregnant women on camels was a thing.

      1. Cleopatra, Queen of Denial*

        Aw, naked pregnant women on camels sounds more like a lovely photoshoot, not a porn genre. I want to see that Instagram!

            1. Adereterial*

              Some housemates and I used to play a game, where you one more word to the beginning of a description of a genre of porn, and you won if no such porn could be found.

              We got up to a 20 word description at one point before it tapped out with the inclusion of ‘postmodern’. But not before I learned Nazi porn was a thing.

              1. Dragon_dreamer*

                There was a chair porn site for a while, actual chairs in various “positions.” Satire, yes, but I’d call that “postmodern” and/or “surrealist.”

              2. Elizabeth West*

                One of my old skating coaches told me that Rule 34 was true and she knew it because she found Trixie Belden porn on the internet.

                If you don’t remember Trixie Belden, she’s the girl detective protagonist of a series of the most squeaky-clean books in the entire universe, published between 1948 and 1986. Together with her big brothers Brian and Marv, and her rich best friend Honey Wheeler, Honey’s adopted brother Jim Frayne, and an assortment of other characters, they solve mysteries in and around their rural New York State hamlet of Sleepyside-on-Hudson. They say things like “Gleeps!” and “I’m such a goon, Honey, I forgot all about it!” and are generally as wholesome as it gets. As a kid, I ate this crap up with a spoon—I had an entire bookshelf of it.

                The literal second I got home from practice that day, I looked it up. And yes, it was true. Somebody wrote actual porn of this. I will never be able to look a Trixie Belden book in the eye again.

                1. Candi*

                  Two of the semi-regulars were Dan and Diane. Dan the recovering delinquent was an interesting character, but I often felt Diane was there to help plots happen -her personality was really thin and she wasn’t really developed. Sometimes it felt she was just there to balance out Dan in the male/female ratio.

                  That series was the first time I read that kids could be born less than two years apart.

                  I remember the buildup of Jim’s stepfather, and how the author put a lot of work into implying heavily how vicious an abuser he was, while keeping the actual text squeaky clean and properly phrased.

    4. Juli G.*

      Yes, thank you. As someone in HR, I can confirm that while it doesn’t happen all the time, people do this much more often than you would think.

      Recently, a woman that used to worked at a sports radio station alleged on social media that this happened when she worked there and so many people were laughing at her and calling her a liar because “people would never be that stupid”. It made me so upset.

      1. Fran Fine*

        Oh, no – they absolutely would be that stupid. I once worked for a law firm, and one of the first things my supervisor told me was to make sure not to use my computer for non-work related browsing. She went on to tell me that another employee had been escorted out of the building before I came onboard for watching porn at her desk on the firm’s computer.

        I was gobsmacked. Not that you should be watching porn on any company computer, but why in the world would you do this at a law firm of all places?! To this day, I don’t understand what she was thinking.

        1. Texan In Exile*

          I was a temp secretary at the World Bank in Washington DC, replacing a secretary who was on vacation. This was before logins, I guess? so I used her computer without needing my own login.

          She had porn sites bookmarked on her work computer. That she knew someone else would be using when she went on vacation.

            1. Candi*

              I would have done that so I didn’t get in trouble. It’s easier for them to yell at the temp then do an investigation of when the bookmarks were made.

        2. Liz*

          During law school, I interned for an employment discrimination firm… the first case I was involved with included allegations that a C-suite financial exec was regularly doing that in his office, then asking subordinates (including our client) to come pick a paper up off the floor, get his trash can from under the desk, etc., where they’d be sure to see the “aftermath.” *gag* This continued for YEARS because the subordinates didn’t want to risk their jobs during the recession and he was a well-respected professional.

        3. DJ Abbott*

          I always think this kind of behavior is self-sabotage. Basically, a person has low self-esteem and doesn’t think they deserve good things, so they sabotage the good things that happen to them.

            1. Candi*

              Some of it could be addiction to the sensations; addiction effs up the part of the brain responsible for impulse and self-control. In which case, they need therapy, and firm, reasonable boundaries laid down and kept unyielding. Enabling an addict is only allowing their brain to be damaged further -but the “he’s a guy” excuses do exactly that.

      2. Hex Libris*

        That is upsetting. Maybe after the past couple years we can retire “who would be that stupid” along with phrase “avoid like the plague.”

      3. Candi*

        “people would never be that stupid”

        I have a long, long list of dumb criminals and Darwin Award nominees that says different.

        Exhibit A: Back in the days of paper applications, sometimes crooks would fill one out while waiting for the business to clear so they could rob it.

        If we could convert one cubic foot of trash into one cubic foot of high-quality fertilizer for every person who used their own, accurate, up-to-date information on those applications, we’d have at least half the current problem we have now.

        1. laser99*

          I read a story once, possibly apocryphal, about a man who went into a bank and tried to cash a check from “Ernestine and Robert Hayes”. He told the teller that his mother had been expecting twins, and when he was born she gave him both names.

          1. Candi*

            That’s an old one! I first read it in one of those Encyclopedia Brown collections of odd facts. (Some of which were later proven to not be entirely accurate -kind of expected since Sobol admitted he got a lot of them from newspaper clippings.)

            There’s an America’s Dumbest Criminals story of a guy who tried to cash a stolen check -but used his real ID. Teller copied down the ID information and later the cops showed up at the guy’s house.

    5. RussianInTeaxs*

      Oh, we had this guy! He even had sound on. He was fired. He was then fired from his contract job for the same reason.

    6. Betteauroan*

      Sounds like a compulsive addiction. Anyone who would take those kinds of risks (being fired, being shamed and embarrassed) needs professional help. Or he has an undiagnosed mental illness. Or he’s just a psychopath who enjoys shocking people.

      1. CalypsoSummer*

        Risk-taking is exciting. But risk-takers have to keep upping the ante because the feeling of risk wears off rather quickly, and so they keep pushing the envelope. That’s how pillars of the community end up getting arrested for child porn.

  11. Just Another HR Pro*

    I am here to tell you that your HR Manager will probably laugh once you leave the room after reporting it. NOT AT YOU. At least I would. Quite frankly in this profession, you have to. It is the ONLY way to get through the endless “WTF?”s that is my career.

  12. Sloan Nicotone*

    Lord, I don’t want to be the HR employee who gets this report (not at all to say that OP should not report it; just picturing the conversation I might be trying to have as a result). The guy’s probably going to deny it, and there’s only a .05% chance he’s have some amazing explanation that clears up the whole thing with laughs all around.

    1. Just Another HR Pro*

      I one time had an employee watching hard core (I mean HARD. CORE) porn on a government computer. When I brought him in to question him about it, I had to read the websites he was going to. Probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my career is get through that without laughing. And I have had to call deceased employees’ families before.

      My friends have learned not to ever say “let me tell you what happened at work today” at happy hour. I always win.

      1. Pikachu*

        I am reminded of the scene in Clerks where Randall has to order all the new tapes for the video store… I assume you did not see any sites for Happy Scrappy Hero Pup in your employee’s browser history.

      2. Bee Eye Ill*

        I work in IT, too. When you look at reports of websites visited you start to learn what kind of fetishes people are into. At work, no less.

      3. Juli G.*

        Once I had an employee that was discussing very specific sexual positions with a coworker as a way to harass and demean her. I had some pretty significant evidence guy was guilty but I had to ask him about each one. This dude thought he would embarrass me by saying “what’s that?” about each one but as I am a professional, I defined each one for him using the scientific terminology for the involved body parts. HR poker face ftw.

        You didn’t get to me and good explaining why you got fired to your wife.

          1. Juli G.*

            Standard practice at my company is to give people the opportunity to respond to all allegations especially if it’s going to result in their firing.

    2. Dragon_dreamer*

      I had a customer, an older man, who kept coming in with viruses on his laptop. And a DVD drive that always had a porn video in it. Of course, he never went to reputable sites, hence the infestations.

      The first time, he asked how not to get viruses. My manager *gently* suggested a couple reputable sites. After that, we just charged him for the full price virus removals.

      The final straw for me was when I had to reinstall the operating system, and manually remove infested files. And that’s when it was noticed what TYPE of porn he was looking at. Grandfather/granddaughter porn, supposedly with all of the actresses “over 18!” *BLECH.*

      He was very nice to everyone, and never got upset, but I couldn’t look at him anymore. Management dealt with him after that.

    3. Betteauroan*

      I have no doubt that he will deny it. Most people would if they are not caught on camera. OP may have a hard time with this, but I still believe, as most of us in the commentariat, that he needs to be reported. He is just going to keep doing it and his behavior will probably escalate to outright sexual harassment. The company cannot afford to have a loose cannon like him roaming the halls.

      1. Wintermute*

        He will deny it, and it might even be hard to prove otherwise, but like Alison said, it could provide them a missing piece of a pattern. And honestly, there’s a lot of other ways this could corroborate what someone else said: maybe this has happened before and they couldn’t prove it so they just warned him not to do anything that looked inappropriate, maybe that’s why he has an office with a window in the first place, who really knows? It could be that they have other allegations too and this is part of a pattern now. It could be someone else saw the same act and the two of them together is considered stronger evidence than if either one reported alone. Maybe there’s been reports from janitorial and they can’t pinpoint the culprit but they can put that report and this one together and get reasonable cause to act on, or at least watch him more carefully in the future.

        And of course on top of all that it may also prompt an IT investigation that finds a smoking gun or some other kind of investigation

  13. Silicon Valley Girl*

    Just *looking like* he was masturbating in the office is pretty gross & offensive. Whether he was or wasn’t actually getting off is irrelevant.

    1. Dust Bunny*


      I’ve worked long enough that I think if there were situations that could easily be mistaken for this I’d have encountered at least one of them by now, and I haven’t.

      1. Bob*

        well, I had a weird encounter with my roommates where they sat down with me started talking about certain things being private etc… I hadn’t a clue what they were talking about, particular as my female roommate was being very vague.
        Then the guy said “Jane (my roommate’s friend) said she thought you were having having a tug in the living room.”
        Me: (pause) : “You’re *kidding*, right?” (incredulously)
        They let out a huge sigh of relief based on my stunned reaction. Later Jane conceded she could well have been mistaken and apparently blamed it partially on some hormonal swings she had been undergoing (her words not mine)
        To this day I have no idea what she saw.

          1. Bob*

            I think my dumbfounded reaction gave them some comfort.
            It was a bit weird meeting Jane again, but I just never brought it up.
            She was friendly enough, so I think she kind of realized she had jumped to a mistaken conclusion

    2. CBB*

      Yes. If he claims he was actually doing something else, it doesn’t matter. Whatever it was needs to stop.

      1. Collate*

        Yep! I truly can’t think of anything one would do in an office that involves the jerk-off motion and the facial expression described. (And even if the hand motion is because he was, say, churning butter under his desk, that’s not usually accompanied with eyes closed/mouth open/head back.)

        (I wonder since the coworker left quickly and it was a Friday before a long weekend if he was foolish (or perhaps self-centered) enough to believe no one would see him rather than trying to make people see? Though that doesn’t change the reaction/anything as regardless of if he intended people to see, masturbating at your office is super inappropriate behavior)

        1. Eat My Squirrel*

          All I can think of is a seizure, but anyone who can have a seizure at his desk and drive home 20 minutes later is a dude who would have seizures all the time and you would know that working with him.

    3. Generic Name*

      Seriously. Adults know what sexual pleasure looks like, and adults know that even looking like you’re getting sexual pleasure from something is inappropriate at work or in public.

  14. londonedit*

    Absolutely report it. Here in the UK we have a man who has just started a whole-life prison sentence for murdering a woman called Sarah Everard – he was a serving police officer and had been accused several times of exposing himself to women in incidents ranging from years ago to just days before he kidnapped Sarah, with more people having come forward since his face hit the news to report that he’d exposed himself to them too, but they’d been brushed aside or laughed at when they called the police. If that man had been properly investigated when those reports started, many of his crimes could have been prevented and a woman might not have been killed. You might think ‘masturbating in his office’ doesn’t rise to that sort of level, and of course I’m not saying your colleague is going to turn out to be a sexual predator or a murderer. But there’s absolutely a correlation between men who engage in behaviour like public masturbation or flashing and men who go on to escalate those things into sexual assault or worse. As Alison said, you don’t know who else he might have exposed to his behaviour and whether those people would feel able to report it – you have that agency and you’d be doing everyone a favour by reporting him.

    1. UKDancer*

      Absolutely – Sarah Everard was also on my mind.

      Indecent exposure is often an early indicator of later more serious offending. I think the OP should definitely report this to HR. They can decide what action to take and how to handle.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*


      It starts dehumanising the women around them, as the perpetrator is basically treating them like their disgust/discomfort/feelings don’t matter in the face of the man getting his rocks off.

      We found some stuff on an employee’s computer years ago during a HR investigation after someone complained that they’d seen this guy basically with his hand down his pants during the day for long periods and kept doing it.

      What I found during that IT search got him arrested. I’m not going into anymore detail than that.

      1. Anonymeece*

        I think it’s a little worse than that. It’s not even that a woman’s discomfort doesn’t matter to them – it’s integral to a lot of people who do this; they *want* to know they’re making women uncomfortable and that’s what makes it good for them. It’s kind of like catcalling in that respect.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          It’s power.

          Power over another – the same attitude my ex had when he’d use my body any time he wanted.

          1. Anonymeece*

            It is. I ran into this just this past weekend. I was at an event and stopped to eat, and a man made several lewd comments about my cleavage. My first reaction was, “What on earth are you hoping to get out of this? My boyfriend is literally sitting right next to me and I’m holding my infant daughter.” Then I realized it wasn’t about him *hitting on me*, it was about him making me uncomfortable by him saying creepy comments.

            I am so sorry that happened to you, and I sincerely hope that you are in a better place now.

    3. Betteauroan*

      That’s how most murderers, serial killers, and serial sexual offenders start out. They start out torturing animals, bed wetting, flashing, groping, peeping in people’s houses, and other minor anti-social behavior and it just keeps escalating.

  15. Cecile*

    Removed. Do not accuse someone merely walking through an office of “peeping through windows”; that’s absurd. – Alison

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Uh, no–the guy was at work. She wasn’t sneaking through the bushes peeking in the bathroom window. She was just walking by.

      1. Candi*

        Movement tends to attract attention, too, especially if your brain can’t immediately identify it. And in LW’s context in the letter, they wouldn’t have immediately identified it because what??

    2. dry erase aficionado*

      wait, what? The OP shouldn’t look through the office window? A transparent portion of a solid wall, which in the case of an office window that is non-functional, that exists for the express purpose of providing visibility between spaces?

      And even if the coworker was scratching his thigh (which would have to be extremely vigorous and the kind of itch relief a person generally only receives after having a plaster cast removed, based on the descriptions) what happens next is the coworkers issue for private actions in a public space and not the OP’s fault.

      1. a tester, not a developer*

        My company had to spend $$$ to swap out the solid doors to our meeting rooms to one with a window down the length of them. Apparently waaay too many employees were using the meeting rooms for ‘special couples time’ or ‘alone time’.

        My boss and his paramour decided to move their affair to the emergency stairwell after the meeting rooms were changed. The idiots didn’t think about the fact that an empty stairwell acts like an echo chamber…

        1. Anonymeece*

          My colleagues complain about the “fishbowl” offices they have (three solid walls, one entire wall is window/clear doors) and I always thought it was ridiculous that the company made them like that. I never even considered that there might be a – I hate to say valid, because it’s utterly ridiculous that this happens – reason for it!

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Yeah – I learned freshman year of college never ask why crazy rule/policy exists – you really probably don’t want the gross/lewd/gory story behind the rule’s creation.

            The next door neighbor of the trio who lead to the creation of FIVE new housing policies before being evicted at Winter Break. I kid you not – FIVE new rules….

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

          Yeah they had to put a lock on the breast feeding room at one of my old work places because of this. Didn’t matter because people just found a spare closet or room. I swear that place was like a college dorm.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Maybe OP was walking past, thought of something they needed to ask coworker, and looked in the office window to see if he had a minute to talk? The expectations around privacy at work are really different, yes some things are guaranteed privacy – like the restrooms or mother’s rooms, but not always your office.

    4. President Porpoise*

      Sure, so OP shouldn’t approach it as ‘I know for sure that he did it’, only ‘I think he might have done it, can IT do a review of his computer usage and can we check to see if anyone has had any run-ins?’

      OP does need to report – she has a right to a non-sexualized work place, just like everyone else she works with. Particularly as someone with relative power and position, it’s important that she makes a report so that HR can initiate an investigation – because those without that power and position may be too intimidated to do so.

      Damage to the organization happens in a lot of ways – of course, yes, replacing a key position can be problematic, but so can government investigations, losing qualified staff because of a sexualized environment, and receiving unflattering media attention.

    5. Lily of the meadow*

      Scratching his thigh? Um, what? I do not think scratching his thigh would approximate masturbatory arm movements.

      1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

        Who among us has NOT thrown our heads back, eyes blissfully closed, our mouths a gaping O of pleasure, for the deep satisfaction of scratching a thigh itch??

    6. Bagpuss*

      I am really struggling to think of an innocent explanation for what OP described – and in any event, if you are doing something which looks indistinguishable from masturbating, then it is, at the very least, an indication or a profound lack of judgement and common sense.

      and where OP is 90% certain and (as I read their letter, giving him the benefit of the doubt because they didn’t *actually * see his dick) then I think the risk and harm to others outweighs the hypothetical harm to him in the unlikely event that this was not what it seems.
      Why should his potential discomfort be prioritised over the actual discomfort OP felt, and that of anyone else who may see or have seen him behaving like this?

      OP’s appropriate course of action is to report it to R, be as clear as she has been hre that she cannot be bsolutely 100% sure but that

    7. Phony Genius*

      I know that the comment was deleted, but I would like to add that we had a woman who worked here who covered her office window. For whatever reason, it was tolerated.

      1. Marion Cotesworth-Haye*

        For what it’s worth, I have my internal-facing office window covered too — I initially covered it after returning from maternity leave for privacy while pumping, found it helpful not being distracted by the constant visual stream of people walking by while working, and have left it up.

        1. Momma Bear*

          I also covered the window in my office for a period of time after maternity leave while I was pumping.

    8. Generic Name*

      “Admit you masturbate at work without saying you masturbate at work”

      Thank you for addressing this, Alison. Seriously, folks do not have a reasonable expectation to privacy in their offices the same way one expects to have privacy in their bedroom. Heck, even if this guy was masturbating or just *appeared to be* masturbating in the bathroom at work, he should still be reported.

    9. OyHiOh*

      All of the offices in the suite I work in have windows facing a central corridor. We all look at each other when passing through the hall. Most of us are one person to an office so the waves, head nods, and smiles through the glass are a big part of reminding ourselves we work with other people. It’s not peeping, it’s connection with others.

  16. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    PSA (that I know all of us here don’t need):

    Unless you job is sex work – sexual conduct doesn’t belong at work. Please save it for after work hours are done. This includes making sure anything that should be covered up at work is appropriately covered up by the clothes that you have chosen to wear to work*.

    *I fully understand that wardrobe malfunctions happen – but getting them fixed as rapidly as possible is something that most of us do, if nothing else out of sheer embarrassment over what just happened.

  17. The Rural Juror*

    I keep thinking the LW is 90% sure that’s what they saw…and I can’t come up with anything to explain the 10% chance that that’s not what he was doing. This is not some slapstick comedy where the main character gets caught in a compromising position trying to clean mustard they dropped in their lap during lunch. It’s an office and people there deserve to be free from this type of behavior. Definitely report it!

    1. Sloan Nicotone*

      All I could think was some sort of clothing malfunction or medical issue. I would feel bad reporting it without being more certain but you’re not likely to find a, erm, smoking gun (changed from “catch him red handed”) on this one. Just report it, they can likely check his internet activity and someone doing this at work will likely have other red flags.

    2. Anon for this*

      Many years ago, a Pokemon game came with a device called a pokewalker that you could transfer a pokemon into and it would gain experience the more steps you took with it in the pokewalker. No GPS involved, just a gyroscope. The most efficient way to gain experience using it was to hold it in your hand and rapidly shake it up and down.

      That is the only alternative explanation I can think of, and it’s a really lame explanation.

      1. Presea*

        That is a stretch and a half, and it still shows odd judgement at work to be openly playing with a 12-years-out-of-date Pokemon peripheral at work.

        1. Candi*

          Eh, stretching to figure out alternate explanations is a regular mental exercise in the AAM comments. It usually winds up showing just how absurd any explanation but the obvious is. Which is kind of the (very entertaining) point.

      2. Rufus Bumblesplat*

        When it came out I used to clip my Pokewalker to my belt. A colleague noticed it at work one day, looked at me in concern, and and if I was all right. She thought it was a medical device!

    3. LizB*

      The only thing I can kind of is like, he was very enthusiastically scratching a groin itch that had been driving him up the wall… but a) even that seems pretty farfetched and b) if your junk is that itchy, please scratch it in the bathroom and wash your hands, and then probably see a doctor.

      1. blerpblorp*

        The itch in a weird place was my first thought, if we’re trying to think of something where you might make a weird euphoric face while vigorously moving you hand. And it could me just like on their leg over their clothes, so not necessarily something you’d go to the bathroom for….but still, it looked like what it looked like and even if it was just an itch he needs to know how it appeared (and it is clearly most likely he really was doing what it looked like.)

    4. thisgirlhere*

      They can also easily check his work computer for porn. She didn’t mention necessarily that he seemed to be watching it, but I think a guy openly masturbating in his office has a NSFW search history.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Yup, he usual procedure here for if HR gets wind of inappropriate behaviour from someone is to have us in IT pull their browser history/usage of the wifi/all videos and pictures on their hard drive.

        People who try to get clever using VPNs are a common red light.

        1. Candi*

          I remember reading that use of Tor on a work computer may as well be a neon sign, decorated with red flags, that someone’s up to something. Sometimes it’s other security concerns, but often it’s “adult recreation” (and those security concerns).

          (I’m taking notes. It’s never too early to compile my list of “I’ve heard that one” for when I get my degree.)

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Finding a torrent client is also a full 5th November fireworks level of ‘hey I’m being dodgy’

            1. Candi*

              That made me laugh, because Guy Fawkes was being dodgy!

              There was one story in the AAM comments some time ago where all local files were routinely and frequently backed up to the servers. Everyone knew this.

              The management got the brilliant idea in their heads that since most of the work was done on the servers anyway, the new desktops could have much smaller local memory than the old ones had. The commentator on that one had the job of installing the new desktops and pulling the worker’s files from the server onto the new computer so they could access them locally.

              For most workers, the lower memory was still sufficient. But this one guy’s files would not restore.

              When the commentator looked at the files on the server, they were friggin’ hugs. They probably all but filled up the memory on the old computers, and definitely wouldn’t fit on the new one.

              Yep, naked people stuff. And some other stuff. The guy got fired (surprise), but there wasn’t a mention of any cops being called.

    5. CBB*

      I can think of things that might account for that “10%” possibility. BUT, it doesn’t matter. Whatever he was doing was inappropriate because of what it looked like.

      No grown adult should have to be told, “If you do something in public (whatever it is) you must do it in such a way that can’t be mistaken for masturbating”

    6. NK*

      I can think of one thing — wiping the grime off my trackball’s ball. No joke.

      A day or two after we moved to a shiny new open office plan, I realized that my slightly uncouth but sfw habit of cleaning the trackball with my shirt hem could look very suspicious. (I switched to using a microfiber cloth above the surface of my desk, problem solved.)

      I wouldn’t have looked blissful while doing it, but I might have looked particularly focused.

  18. spek*

    I’m going the other way on this. If he has never given any indication of improper behavior before, and this seems totally out of character, then you owe him at least a direct conversation before shredding his reputation like this. These things have a way of getting out, and it’s the sort of thing that can follow you to different jobs, even if the accusation turns out to be unfounded. I would think being disturbed enough to masturbate in front of an open window is probably not asymptomatic.

    1. ChemistryChick*

      People are good at hiding crappy behavior when they want to be. OP doesn’t owe this guy a direct conversation about possible sexual activity in the work place. He’s shredding his own reputation by doing something that looks like masturbating at work.

      1. ChemistryChick*

        “Hey, I think I saw you masturbating the other day but I’m not sure. Can you explain what was going on?”

        Good grief. Could you imagine? Especially if the OP is female.

        1. Sharpieees*

          Right. His response is never going to be “yes, I was. I am ashamed of my behavior. Please go report this to HR.” Depending on how defensive and threatened he feels, he may even accuse the LW of harrassment for bringing up such an “inappropriate subject” in the workplace and accusing him of something he would “never dream” of doing.

        2. Tiffany Aching's imaginary friend*

          OP is female. They wrote “and I definitely don’t want to get into a he-said-she-said about this situation”

    2. photon*

      OP has never experienced bad behavior from him before. Doesn’t mean other people haven’t. He’s lower in the org chart, and is probably more likely to behave around people higher up.

      1. Bagpuss*

        there is almost always a power imbalance and people are much more likely to behave inappropriately to people who are (or who they perceive to be) less senior / less powerful than they are.

      2. Candi*

        “Kiss up, kick down” is very descriptive for some people, and for some, harassment is a way of kicking.

    3. dry erase aficionado*

      Nope. If you have the poor judgment to engage in private behavior in a public, in your office, the people subjected to it by the misfortune of walking by became nonconsenting, third-party participants have absolutely zero obligations to talk to you first.

      Even my 4 year old understands that some behaviors he has to take into his bedroom by himself.

      1. spek*

        So much judgement. It could be as simple as an “ooh” response to scratching an itchy knee under the desk. Sounds like something Costanza would get caught at. In any case, this isn’t Louis CK or Weinstein intentionally whipping it out while in a position of power. The OP just as likely could have been a male coworker walking by. Lots of people here willing to feed someone’s career into a woodchipper based on something someone thinks they saw. Especially when she hasn’t seen him since. If she had seen a bit (pun intended) more, she would have been justified in yelling and/or marching to HR and the CEO right then. The fact that she hesitated at all brings doubt into how sure she is.

        1. Sloan Nicotone*

          “feed someone’s career into a woodchipper” – hahahaha. This guy could have literally assaulted her and probably gotten off scott-free; only 18% of prosecuted rape cases end in a conviction (that’s when the police thought there was quality evidence and the victim was credible, which is only 37% of all reported rapes). He’s not going to be marched out the door because OP reports what she thinks she saw. Most likely, nothing will happen at all, but HR might keep a little alert in their mind the next time this guy is reported for something weird.

          1. Bob's Your Uncle*

            Not to mention the huge amount of cases that are never reported. In my area, it is estimated that the reported cases of sexual assault only represent 11% of the actual number.

            1. Sloan Nicotone*

              Yeah there’s the large number of actual assaults, the small proportion of those that get reported, the tiny sliver of those that get prosecuted, and the fragment of those that get convicted. Not too worried this guy is going to end up homeless and on the streets because OP mentions what she thinks she might have seen in a fair and balanced manner.

        2. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Masturbating while visible to any coworker who happened to walk by is just like whipping it out Louis CK style. Doubt is exactly what people who do this expect from the people who see them. Please stop defending him.

        3. Dona Florinda*

          Actually, is very very common for women to question what they saw/ heard/ lived, that’s why so many people stay in abusive relationships: we are conditioned to believe that there’s another explanation, maybe it wasn’t so bad… when if fact there is no other explanation and thing are indeed that bad.
          Also, if coworker was really masturbating, do you think he would be honest, or he would try to save face (and his job)? It’s possible coworker would lie to his teeth and maybe even convince OP she was imaginating things.

        4. CBB*

          Scratching your knee (or doing anything else) in public in a way that can be mistaken for masturbation is not OK.

        5. spreckles*

          “It could be as simple as an “ooh” response to scratching an itchy knee under the desk.”

          Don’t pull anything with that reach. Good lord.

        6. Collate*

          Even if OP was a guy the coworkers behavior is still inappropriate. Costanza isn’t a real person. This isn’t a sitcom where writers think up how to put their characters into zany situations. Unfortunately, credible reports of sexual harassment are swept under the rug all the time.

          I’m very confused by men who think that just because one predator got a slap on the wrist (CK is back to performing, for ex.) all men will be burned at the stake on the basis of one woman’s comment. If you believe that, you are detached from reality in that respect.

        7. RWM*

          Going to HR isn’t “feeding his career into a woodchipper”—it’s telling them what you observed so they can investigate further. If it truly was something innocuous, then he can tell HR that. And her hesitation means nothing; even people who are 100% sure a stranger is masturbating in front of them hesitate to react in the moment because it’s SUCH a breach of the social contract that they often aren’t sure how to react.

          Get a grip.

        8. Le Sigh*

          “In any case, this isn’t Louis CK or Weinstein intentionally whipping it out while in a position of power.”
          Just because something isn’t as bad as Louis CK or Weinstein doesn’t mean it isn’t reportable or bad. Being a peeping tom may not be as bad as groping someone or whipping it out but that doesn’t make it okay! The fact that you’re bringing Louis CK or Weinstein in as proof that this wasn’t the same or as bad isn’t in your favor the way you seem to think it is.

          “The OP just as likely could have been a male coworker walking by.” That doesn’t make any of this any better or okay! Men can be textually harassed and feel uncomfortable by this kind of behavior, too!

          “Especially when she hasn’t seen him since.” Or he just good better at hiding it from her! That’s not evidence of anything!

          “The fact that she hesitated at all brings doubt into how sure she is.” Boy we haven’t learned anything, have we?

          At this point I welcome the asteroid strike.

        9. Hex Libris*

          This is quite the #metoo Exhibit A. We have:
          – The fantastically unlikely “not what it looks like” scenario
          – Minimizing harm by saying it could be worse
          – Saying it wouldn’t have been sexual harassment if it had involved a man
          – Equating starting an internal reporting/investigation with “feeding someone’s career into a woodchipper”
          – Gaslighting the victim
          My bingo-stamping hand is cramping up.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            – making out that if a woman doesn’t react in a certain specific way then they’re obviously wrong
            – ‘men lose their careers and end up homeless because of one little misunderstanding’

            Only needed a ‘feminism is to blame for all these attacks on men’ and/or a ‘maybe they have X disorder which means they can’t help do *insert gross here*’ to complete mine

            1. Anon Supervisor*

              +1 million…

              Men making this argument seem to be blissfully unaware of how many women are run out of their job on the proverbial rail when they report harassment. Look what happened to Anita Hill.

        10. Candi*

          Women hesitate because patriarchal male-oriented cultures teach us to hesitate, and slap us down if we dare move outside that framework.

          We’re taught to doubt, to question, to believe we’re emotional and overreacting, to not rock the boat.

          We’re taught we’re not important. Men and their welfare is all that’s important.

          It has got to stop.

          1. Anon Supervisor*

            And even if we’re proven right, we’re treated like a trouble-making pariah…the death of fun…dried up prissy school marm.

        11. Anon Supervisor*

          “Who are you gonna believe? Me, or your lying eyes?”

          C’mon, most adults know what masturbation looks like and it’s not just the jerk off motion. OP isn’t feeding this guy’s career into the wood chipper, he’s doing that all by himself (among other things).

        12. SubbyP*

          I think it would be reasonable for OP’s HR department to not immediately fire this guy if his record is otherwise spotless, but this is still something they should know. If this is a freak misunderstanding, it won’t be repeated, and nothing will come of it. If he was doing what he appeared to be doing–especially if this isn’t the first time he’s been sexually inappropriate in the office–this incident will be evidence that HR can use to protect the company and keep employees safe.

    4. Sloan Nicotone*

      Mm, nope, as a woman I’m not going to approach a man I think I caught doing this and discuss it with him. If I didn’t speak up in that very second, I’m definitely not going to circle back on this.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Yup. Cause historically when women *have* tried to deal with it themselves, it’s just gone SO WELL for them. *eye roll*

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Exactly this.

        There is no way this dude is going to admit that OP saw what she thought she did. He’ll deny it, gaslight her, and it would potentially make her a target for retaliation.

        1. Sloan Nicotone*

          Also, if he did do what OP thinks he did, he’s demonstrated that he’s comfortable crossing professional boundaries and doesn’t display a reasonable standard of judgement. What other boundaries is he willing to cross? OP should assume he’s not a safe person to approach (let me guess, alone, privately, to confidentially tell him something that will make him angry and upset? But reassure him that she hasn’t gone to HR about this … yet?). If he is completely innocent, someone other than OP is in a better position to determine this. Also keep in mind, most violators who do way worse than this are not fired off the bat; he’ll probably be totally fine even if he *did* do it.

    5. socks*

      What could a direct conversation possibly clear up? Whether it’s true or not, he’ll deny it. His denial will sound unbelievable, because there’s really no plausible alternative, or he’ll try to convince the LW they didn’t see what they thought they saw. If he can’t deny it, he’ll tell the LW that it was really just the one time, he’s under a lot of stress, it’ll never happen again…which he may very well have told half a dozen other people who caught him.

      Like Allison said, he’s not likely to get fired on the strength of one “uh I’m not 100% sure, but I think I saw this happen.” But for all we know, this’ll be the third person telling management they think they saw this guy masturbating.

      1. [Who]*

        This. Also, OP may be the first to report something, but it is useful to make a record of it to support the next woman who has a bad experience with him (or is 90% sure they have had a bad experience with him). A lot of people play a game of crossing the line knowing that people may not be entirely sure they saw/heard/understood what they thought they saw/heard/understood and as a result get away with some pretty terrible behaviour because it makes it feel harder for people to report or complain. I think the only way these situations are likely to be dealt with is if evidence piles up over time.
        I have done this before – someone (in a business serving me) made comments that I felt were antisemitic without being entirely explicit. I reported them to the customer service line the next day – I knew what I was reporting was unlikely to result in action, but I wanted my report on file for the next time someone raised a complaint, or if a Jewish customer reported an issue in future.

        1. Anonymoose*

          This is it exactly. If this is the first time then HR should know in order to have a record of it, so that if it happens again then it will form part of a history. If it has happened before then he should get in trouble for it.

          I worked with someone who commented that I reminded him of his wife which felt slightly creepy, but felt under the line for what was reasonable to report. I found out a year later that he had made similar comments to other women, which is when I knew that it was likely that he knew he was inappropriate. I now tell women who work with him about our experiences, so that they know it isn’t reflective on them (I wondered what I might have said wrong at the time). I wish that I could go back and report it at the time, but even in the current context with MeToo I don’t think much would be done. He knew where the line was and stayed far away from it, and it is only the fact that he said it to so many women that makes it feel weird.

        2. Junior Assistant Peon*

          This makes a lot of sense. If I was the HR person, I’d be wondering if maybe this was some Seinfeldesque situation where the guy was scratching an itch on his knee at just the wrong time, but a report could help to corroborate any previous complaints against him where there wasn’t quite enough evidence to act. It would also be a good piece of evidence in case he generates any similar complaints in the future, and should definitely get the guy’s Internet browsing history checked by IT.

      2. Robin Ellacott*

        Or maybe IT checks his computer and sees that he was watching porn at the time this happened….

      3. Wintermute*

        Exactly, if this is a one-off they’ll probably watch him more closely but are unlikely to act , BUT there’s no way you can know what else they know.

        Maybe there have been other complaints.

        Maybe janitorial has made complaints and they know something is going on but not the culprit, this might help them put two and two together.

        Maybe this prompts an IT investigation that finds evidence to support her claim.

        Maybe this is the first complaint but there’s another one in three months that they can act on, but if they didn’t have this report then they’d have to wait until it happened a third time.

        Maybe someone else reported the same incident and two people’s word is better than one.

        It’s impossible to know but everyone deserves the chance to address this, the LW deserves to speak up, HR deserves the chance to respond appropriately, and the company deserves to be able to keep perverts out.

    6. SillyLittlePittyPat!*

      And, in your opinion, does this include the likely harassment from him knowing who saw it? That could put OP in a bad position. This is above OP’s paygrade to determine what they saw and would possibly allow him to gaslight her. This is better left to professionals to handle.

    7. Badasslady*

      Nope nope nope. That’s what HR is for. A person who has been exposed to borderline sexual harassment behavior at work doesn’t “owe” the perpetrator anything. (I am saying borderline because I’m not a lawyer, but I am fairly sure this meets the standards for a sexual harassment lawsuit).

    8. JimmyJab*

      As everyone else has said, absolutely not. For many reasons, but also, he almost certainly wanted attention and approaching him for a “conversation” would give him a thrill. Gross.

    9. Sharpieees*

      I wouldn’t recommend this. If the LW has a conversation with co-worker about it and he admits it, apologizes for it, and asks her not to say anything/promises not do it again, she then becomes complicit in ignoring/covering up his behavior. This could come back and haunt her if for some reason the co-worker gets caught doing it again and decides to the bring the LW down with him. The fact that she has already turned him down for a position on her team might be enough for him to hold a grudge.

      1. Hands off*

        Yes, this a bad idea, not just due to the fact that the LW does not “owe” this guy a conversation about this, but because such a conversation is actually a really bad idea in the first place. LW is compromising her career if she has this conversation, even for a larger reason than excellent one you’ve already pointed out. The larger, main reason, is this: You should not approach a co-worker about something sexual, ever, period. This is a basic expectation of employees. The only people that should be having delicate conversations about sexual behaviour with employees is HR/legal, and potentially the employee’s manager while accompanied by HR. There are so many reasons for this. You could be overheard, or have your conversation misconstrued. An innocent question could come off as being suggestive. You put yourself at risk of coming across as unprofessional or showing poor decision-making by not following correct procedure and going through the right channels. If you did happen to mistake what you see and the co-worker is in fact innocent, you could be yourself accused of sexual harassment by bringing up sex and making someone else uncomfortable. It is LITERALLY HR’s job to investigate and communicate with employees about uncomfortable or indelicate situations. If you’re 10% uncertain about what you saw, you tell HR that while you’re fairly certain, there’s a small chance you misconstrued the situation, but knew you had a duty to report what you saw.

    10. Omnivalent*

      “Shredding his reputation”? “Owes” him a direct conversation? What a weird way to describe OP going to HR to report what she observed with her own eyes.

      It’s 2021. Get over your knee-jerk defense of the reputations of men who behave badly at work.

    11. Bernice Clifton*

      Really? Because it seems like men can still be appointed to the US Supreme Court and elected president after being accused of “improper behavior”.

      1. SeluciaMD*

        ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

        1 million times this to infinity and beyond.

    12. Tala*

      No, this is a conversation for HR to be having. 100%. I’m pretty convinced the doubt in OP’s mind is because she’s making herself have doubt, because it’s too horrible to think about the actual reality. If this is the behaviour it most likely is, it could very quickly escalate to making this man be a serious threat to women. OP does not need to put herself in that position and this man is not entitled to that. She is going to HR to ask them to do their jobs, they can decide whether this did or did not happen. Safety for the others in the office should always take priority.

    13. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Every time in my life I’ve heard of a woman being harassed at work, seen some guy fondling his family jewels in front of her, been letched at by the office creep it never fails:

      There’s always one ‘but what about his career?’ comment from somebody.

      Look,I’ve been the one doing the IT investigation on someone who was reported to HR doing similar actions to this guy. Aside from the complaint to HR he’d seemed like a perfectly normal bloke.

      What I found on his hard drive will haunt me forever.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Oh, god, I’m so sorry. And as for “but what about his career”?…well, maybe *he* should have thought about that before doing things that would harm his career, maybe?

      2. Candi*

        My opinion on the career business?

        I don’t flipping care.

        The person in question hurt someone, or is on a track to hurt someone. Visual harassment counts, due to the lack of consent.

        So if they’re hurting someone, they deserve to get smacked for it.

        I am still salty over that scumball who only got three months from a judge who should have recused himself fast as greased lightning.

      3. Aitch Arr*

        I’ve been the HR person collaborating with IT on such an investigation.

        There are some things you can never unsee.
        Similar to the experience you posted about earlier, Keymaster, what we found led to an arrest and jail time.

      4. Rainy Day*

        If these men’s careers are so important to them, then they shouldn’t be masturbating at work, I’d reckon!

    14. Cat Tree*

      Hard disagree. This is the kind of behavior that is inexcusable even if he only did it once. And if you think that the mere accusation of sexual harassment is enough to ruin a man’s career, then you are living in a very different reality than I am where tons of horrible men continue to be hugely successful.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        That is a very true and VERY important fact: men having their lives ‘ruined’ by an accusation of harassment are few and far between. Women being regarded as vindictive liars for making the accusation is far, far, far more common.

        It was the case when my mother was at work, it was the case when I started work and it’s sadly STILL the case now my nieces are starting work.

        The best thing we can do is keep reporting it, keep speaking up and also find supportive communities (like this one!) that’ll back you up and tell you that you’re not alone. A staggering number of women have been subjected to harassment.

        1. JustA___*

          Yeah, this is framed all wrong. It’s not that the guy in this situation is passively having his “career destroyed”–it’s that he is actively destroying his career by abominable behavior.

        2. Reba*

          Every time I read “oh but what about his career????” hand-wringing, I think about how we have no measure of all the victims of harassment, whose careers have been derailed because of these men we seem to be so worried about protecting from even the mildest of consequences construed as “ruining his life” — what about the people who have left jobs and entire fields to preserve their own safety?

          1. Candi*

            Beatrix Potter wasn’t harassed (that I know of), but male denial of her exploration of the mold and fungal species meant penicillin remained unknown to the medical world until Fleming’s assistants noticed something funny going on in the mess Fleming always left lying around.

            (Of course Fleming took credit. Are we even surprised at this point?)

            Having penicillin 30 years earlier would have saved uncountable lives.

        3. Anon Supervisor*

          Even if women are believed and the offender is fired, that woman is always viewed as a trouble maker. Makes me nuts…

    15. AnotherSarah*

      NOPE. I feel like the subtext here is that the OP NEEDS to now have a conversation about masturbation, which would ordinarily be inappropriate at work, because the potential masturbator might never have done this before. Hard nope on this, no one should be put in that position.

    16. cyllan*

      Oh hell no.

      There is no way I am going to have that conversation with a coworker. Not now, not ever. That’s just opening myself up to harassment.

    17. Typing All The Time*

      I disagree. He should know better in what his actions would look like to an observer.

    18. Cinderella Sparklepants*

      HR owes him a direct conversation, but OP does not. He will get to tell his side of the story at that point. OP’s not sending a company-wide email about his actions, they’re telling the appropriate department.

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

      It’s not like the op is going to gossip to the whole company. She needs to go to HR and let it go from there.
      And if he was doing this because he gets a kick out it then her approaching him is just reinforcement for the behavior.

  19. CatCat*

    If you report, and I think you should, I would also ask how they will be ensuring you do not experience retaliation from making a report. And if anything seems off in how you are treated after reporting, keep your own log of that. Maybe this will be handled well. I hope it is. That’s not always the case though.

  20. generic_username*

    YIKES! He can’t make it through the day? Or at least to a single-stall bathroom? That’s alarming, and honestly speaks to his character to me…

    1. Generic Name*

      Yep. The risk of discovery adds to the “thrill” for folks who conduct such deviant behavior. He is involving coworkers in his sexual life without their consent. This is super not okay.

  21. Sea Anemone*

    On one hand, no one was harmed.

    Someone was harmed. Being a non-consensual party to another person’s sexual exploits is harm.

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      +1 LW, you were exposed to sexual activity in your workplace without your consent. You’re now uncomfortable at work and concerned about the ramifications of reporting. Even if he wasn’t intentionally harassing you/anyone, his actions have still caused harm.

    2. Roaring Twentysomething*

      Precisely what I hoped someone would say. The OP is being harmed in this scenario—not physically, but certainly mentally and emotionally.

      “I was grossed out and it will probably take some time before I want to work with him again,”

      “I am questioning his judgment and re-evaluating every interaction we’ve had in the 3+ years we’ve been coworkers.”

      An ambiguous sexual situation at work left a harmful impact and needs to be reported.

    3. Aitch Arr*


      This falls under the criteria for sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.

      If this isn’t ‘severe’, I don’t know what is.

  22. The Dogman*

    Yes LW please report this.

    This is awful, no-one should be doing that in public spaces! Even semi-private ones like offices… That guy is gross, and I hope HR will take this seriously.

  23. Joan Clayton*

    I am so speechless by this letter, that I needed to consult a thesaurus just to describe how I felt. I am officially thunderstruck!

  24. S*

    In a complaint of sexual harassment/hostile work environment, this may hit the severe requirement in “severe or pervasive.” It’d be one thing if a door had swung open accidently and you found him doing this in a private office (albeit still gross and bad judgment), but doing it in view of a window suggests a level of exhibitionist behavior in which he’s looping unwilling coworkers into his sex stuff. That would worry me if I had a fiduciary duty to your company.

    1. Badasslady*

      Yes! If I had seen this guy in the act, I would be deeply concerned about either fantasizing about coworkers or exhibitioonist tendencies, either one of which would be such a huge violation of boundaries, and so gross.

  25. Badasslady*

    Please report this. I’m sorry, but if I have seen someone in my office masturbating, I would feel as if I was sexually harassed. This is a major violation of boundaries. I honestly don’t even understand how this is a question.

  26. Jcarnall*

    If he has a window in his office he knows he can be seen through the window in his office and he is masturbating knowing other people in the office may see him and won’t be able to do anything about it because he is a “key player”.

    …is what I bet is half of what is turning him on. It’s a power play. Which means he is a risk to others and needs to go. Report it.

    Sure, there COULD be some innocent explanation and some HR person and this guy are going to get very embarassed when they have That Conversation, but they still need to have it. (OKAY, now I know what it looks like when I scratch that itchy place on my upper thigh through my trousers… I am going to DIE a d also I am SO never doing THAT again in the office…. is what would go through an innocent person’s mind.) But I doubt it.

  27. Hills to Die On*

    Imma need an update, preferably one that results from you having reported this guy. Please say something.

  28. Anon for this comment*

    Report report report report report. As someone whose first boss out of college (also with a windowed office!) got fired for watching p*rn in said office – and this was two decades ago, p*rn and m*sturbation have been issues at workplaces for a very long time now! – REPORT THEM DAMMIT.

  29. RR*

    Nothing to add except a horrible story. Back in university I worked for a science camp – we went into schools and did workshops and then ran camps throughout the summer. Some of the camps were outside of our city which required hotel stays for a week. Being a low-budget non-profit organization staffed only with university students, until things got a little more professional in the later years that I worked there, room sharing was often a mix of genders (four to a room, two to a bed). This story happened to a coworker the year before I started.

    A hotel room was being shared by three women and one man (all very early 20’s). The guy stayed out late drinking at the hotel bar and the women went to bed, and around midnight or so he came stumbling back to the hotel room and got into bed with his female bed-mate. She was sleeping but woke up when he crawled in, his back to her, but eventually she began to notice that the bed was shaking a bit and his arm was pumping. She screamed at him and woke up the whole room. I’m not sure where he ended up sleeping that night but the whole staff knew what happened by the next morning (and every staff member in subsequent years). In retrospect now I can’t believe he wasn’t immediately fired but I think the whole situation was just laughed off as 20-year-old dude being extremely stupid while drunk…

    1. KHB*

      I’m not sure there’s a budget low enough to make it OK to require employees to share beds with people of the opposite sex. I’m sorry that happened to that poor woman.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Oh man. You should go read the thread from last week about the horrible things employees have been asked or directed to do. I’m pretty sure there was an incident someone wrote about where they have to share a hotel bed with an older male coworker when they were in their 20s…

        1. KHB*

          Just because it happened to someone else too doesn’t make me any less shocked and appalled to read about it happening here.

          1. Candi*

            “our boss told us to camp in tents when we travel for business”

            First two lines of Alison’s response:



      2. Anonymeece*

        Share beds in general, honestly. I would not be comfortable sharing a bed with anyone but my partner. I had to share a bed with my (then future) sister-in-law (my family is the “you don’t get to share a bed until you’re married type) and I was so uncomfortable that I didn’t end up getting any sleep.

  30. Imakesigns*

    Maybe this is a bad comparison, but if you were in any other public place, would you hesitate to report someone who you saw doing this in the open? In a car in a public place? In a store, restaurant, etc.? The standards should be the same here. I had a man pull up to next to a friend and I in a car and do this in a populated downtown area at 9 p.m. at once – immediately called 911 and gave his plate number. That may seem like more of an aggressive act, but the intention seems the same here – people that do this in the open want to be seen and enjoy the reactions they get when they are caught. Just because you have a personal connection to him doesn’t change his intention here. Report him, yesterday.

  31. HR Ninja*

    *grabs “Thought I’ve Heard Everything” file and drops it in the garbage*

    Well, this was a plot twist to my morning I did not expect

  32. SwampWitch*

    Report him. And some constructive criticism:

    A staff member working through assault recovery could have seen that and put their recovery back YEARS. Masturbating in a place like work, where we are ALL aware of what’s expected of us, is an abuser move. I don’t really care what his intent was – what he wants or meant in this situation does. Not. Matter. What happens to him does. Not. Matter. His impulse control does. Not. Matter. I’m incredibly curious what else goes on ignored in that company.

    1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      Some constructive criticism for the LW? Sorry it’s not her job to prevent a hypothetical coworker from experiencing trauma – the fault there would like with the masturbator. Just like no one has an obligation to report sexual assault to protect future victims – great thing to do but not an obligation.

  33. Firm Believer*

    Assuming the OP is a woman. Sadly, this happens all to often when a man covertly sexually intimidates a woman but uses this type of technique that leaves the woman questioning her own actions and response.

  34. UKgreen*

    Well. I would definitely report this.

    If nothing else, one has to wonder what he was looking at in his computer at the same time and whether IT might be interested in checking out his browser history…

    1. Robin Ellacott*

      Exactly. And hopefully he was dumb enough to have proof there to find. Because that would clear up any slight doubt really quickly.

  35. Leah K.*

    This reminds me of a story that a friend has shared with me. They used to work with a guy who was perfectly nice and professional until he had a stroke. Two things happened when he returned to the office upon his recovery: he started obsessively watching XXX movies in his office; and his gross motor skills and reaction time have not fully recovered, so he wouldn’t react fast enough to close the browser when someone would walk in on him (Please note, I am not saying that a stroke caused such a drastic personality change. For all we know, he was doing this all along, but he was better at hiding it). As a result, people frequently were exposed to highly offensive visuals at work when they needed to ask this dude a question. Finally, one of the female staffers complained to a friend of mine, who was a manager. The company sexual harassment policy mandated that all complaints made to a manager must be elevated to HR, so that’s what my friend did. They would not get rid of the guy, and could not make him stop. Finally, they forced him to “retire”, and there was a huge ugly scene.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      We have a patron who . . . I don’t know the whole story but apparently he made some highly inappropriate comments and showed an inappropriate video to a young woman intern. Fortunately, she reported it to our supervisor. As of a few years ago he could still visit our institution on a limited basis but he has to be supervised (candidates for this responsibility participate voluntarily) and couldn’t work with interns, but I don’t think he’s been back since. We’re not sure if he’s always been a perv or if his judgment has slipped with age.

    2. Le Sigh*

      Ugh, yikes. You’re right that a stroke doesn’t excuse any of that and he needed to be let go, because none of that is okay no matter the reason. But it’s possible the stroke played a role in all of that, because they can significantly affect your personality and/or alter your brain’s ability to use good judgment, to filter, etc. Most of what I’m familiar with is things like using swear words at inappropriate times or saying things you shouldn’t at the dinner table, getting angry more easily, etc.

      1. Junior Assistant Peon*

        That’s my guess, that the guy used to watch this kind of stuff in private outside of work, and the stroke messed up his judgement.

      2. Candi*

        There was a case in my abnormal psychology textbook of a man who got a brain tumor in a specific area of the frontal lobe, and he started acting very, very sexually interested in little girls. Tumor removed, he stopped. Tumor came back two years later, and first outward sign was he was messing with little girls again.

        The text did not dig into whether this was caused by the tumor, or revealed by the tumor, but whoever wrote the account tried to push it to seem like it was the first. The problem I had was, I can understand brain damage (like a tumor compressing brain matter) causing emphasis of desires and behaviors -but why little girls specifically?

        My theory is he had some desire in that direction, but buried it or otherwise made sure it never made it onto an official record (the police checked) until the tumor screwed his thinking processes up. And he really should have been in therapy after the first surgery.

        1. Wintermute*

          That conclusion isn’t supported. There was a man who had a traumatic brain injury that suddenly developed a true paraphillia (inability to experience sexual gratification without the presence of the fetish object) to… paper clips.

          Yes. paper clips.

          The idea that a TBI or other brain damage only exposes existing desires is patently false, it’s quite possible that entirely new behavior is created.

          1. Candi*

            Did he suddenly develop it, or lose control over hiding it? Without before and after assessments that reveal the hidden, assessments we don’t have the technology for, we can’t know, either in your cited case or mine.

  36. 3DogNight*

    Power protecting power. No wonder we have so many freaking issues. He is NOT the only one on the planet who can do the job he was hired for.

      1. 3DogNight*

        The LW is in a position of authority, and the subject of the letter is in a position of authority. LW doesn’t want to rock the boat because “He holds a key position in the org” and ” I also am worried about damaging our operations if I do report and he gets dismissed.” The LW doesn’t seem to have any thoughts that they mis-saw what they saw. They just don’t want to rock the boat because, reasons. I am judgmental about this.

        1. 1LFTW*

          ^^^THIS. Thank you for pointing this out.

          This guy is a missing stair. OP stubbed her toe on the missing stair, and she’s wondering whether she should use her authority to *actually try and fix the missing stair*, or just ignore it – because fixing it might hurt the org’s bottom line, and anyway, she can just take the elevator.

          OP, you have an opportunity to show some solidarity with the folks who can’t avoid this particular staircase. This obviously made you really uncomfortable; you’ve given it enough time and energy that you wrote in about it. Now, imagine that you’re junior to this guy in any way, or one of his subordinates. How much more stress would you be feeling right now?

  37. Gross*

    Uhhh this is so difficult to know what to do. I understand where you are coming from. I was harassed at work over a series of a few times but it was a case where it wasn’t black and white. I just felt uncomfortable by this person and they way they spoke to me. After they took it up a notch and found me on facebook and started messaging me there is when it became black and white.
    I was afraid to report it because I was afraid of this person and what they may do (they had access to home addresses, etc.). I was able to anonymously report it at first to HR/Ombudsman and I was their missing link to getting this guy fired on the spot. I was told I was not the first person to report this person for this type of behavior but I guess he still had one more chance until I reported him.
    I did go to my manager at first as a sanity check point to make sure I was not overreacting. If you have a manager you can trust or another ally at the company you can talk to that may help so you have someone else in your court.

  38. overcaffeinatedandqueer*


    I kind of like the idea of possibly getting caught in flagrante, but I would never do that at work! I can satisfy that by doing things with my partner in our car, or with the windows open so we have to be quiet.

    Work is not a line I would ever cross. What is he thinking?

    1. Gerry Keay*

      Right, there are ways to get your exhibitionist jollies off that aren’t, well, masturbating at work. There are, in fact, entire communities designed for people to get their exhibitionist jollies off, precisely so you don’t have to involve unaware and non-consenting folks into your exploits! Which makes me think this is as much about power as it is about exhibitionism — he likes the idea that he’s making people uncomfortable, and gets off on having enough power that no one will say anything.

  39. Purple Cat*

    “I also am worried about damaging our operations if I do report and he gets dismissed”

    And this is why men in positions of power have been able to get away with doing whatever they want, to whomever they want, for eons. OP – you OUTRANK this person! You have power to make a change. Please, for everybody else, use that power.

      1. Cupcake*

        + a million. You saw it happen, you have agency to report it. For all you know he has been doing this to cleaning staff or entry level staff and they are scared to report it. Use your position to help working conditions s for all and get someone in his role that won’t do this.

  40. Despachito*

    I’d second the reporting, but as OP says she is not 100% sure, this should be taken into consideration.

    On the one hand (pun really, really not intended), if he really did it, it would be incredibly gross, but on the other hand if he didn’t, it may do him serious harm.

    I’d be interested on what would Alison do if she was the HR person/manager OP reported this to.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Investigation, probably call in IT to pull his computer use records, have a meeting where they say he’s been seen doing what looks very much like wanking in view of others and that this behaviour will not be tolerated.

    2. tamarack and fireweed*

      I’m not HR, but this seems straightforward to me. Here’s what I would expect would ideally happen.

      For HR there are three options: the LW is correct in her report (both what she saw and her interpretation), the LW is sincere but mistaken, or the LW is malicious/vindictive. All these things happen – while WE *quite rightly* think that the LW is overwhelmingly certainly correct, an organization probably wants to avoid creating incentives for the few malicious busybodies out there, so they’ll require some for of corroboration.

      |– Option a: There were previous documented reports. Independent ones. (HR should ask her “Have you ever heard or seen anything, blah blah” to which she would say “no.) In which case, move to termination.
      |– Option b: This is the first. HR and IT would *confidentially* investigate the man’s computer.
      |—- a) They find porn – he’s terminated.
      |—- b) They find nothing, or for some reason such an investigation cannot happen. So they have a a meeting with him, a confidential one according to whatever rules they have for this sort of thing, tell him he’s been seen engaged in an activity, in his office, during office hours, visible through the glass window, that appeared to the observer like masturbation.
      |—— a) He admits it. It would be really hard to keep him on then, I guess. Though depending on how contrite he is and how believable he is that this is a one-off, blah, blah, blah, there’s a chance he slips through. He would have in the 70s and 80s for sure! Anyhow, in the unlikely event he’s kept on, a document is placed in his file, including the accusation and his admission. But the incentives for him are huge to deny, so this branch isn’t likely anyhow.
      |—— b) He denies it. Could be in more or less believable ways. There’s a difference between “OMG, it REALLY wasn’t what my co-worker believed – I have had this poison ivy rash for a week and I thought I was alone, so I scratched it through my jeans and I thought I was alone in the building so I let myself go. I realized way too late what it would look like, I’m so sorry, how horrible for her…” and blustery aggression in return. But nonetheless, in this case I would expect the accusation, the process followed and the nature of his denial/explanation what really happened to be put in a document (bare-bones probably with in-house lawyer consultation) and placed in his file. He would be formally directed to not ever bring this up with any of his co-workers (really, with the LW, in case her name becomes apparent in the process) . And then…
      |——– a) He remains fully professional about it, follows the instruction not to bring it up, and no one ever complains about him. In this case, his career continues at this job.
      |——– b) He acts against the directions he was given by HR at that juncture. OR he doesn’t, but at a later date someone else reports some inappropriate sexual behavior. In this case, HR has solid grounds to terminate his employment.

      1. Despachito*

        Greatly summarized!

        I think that this is just in both ways – if it REALLY was the poison ivy rash and a misunderstanding, it does not get him fired, and it can dissipate LW’s (and many other people’s) doubts along the line “if I tell on him and it is not true, he will be fired and it is my fault” .

  41. Jules the First*

    I had a similar conundrum a while ago – a relatively senior male staff member did something that was borderline inappropriate with me (senior to him). I popped by HR and said something to the effect of “if this was a one off, I don’t need you to take action, but I’m reporting it in case it was not a one off and you need someone to go on record.” Reader, it was not a one off. He no longer works there, and HR thanked me for being willing to take a stand.

    1. Despachito*

      I like that solution very much.

      If he was indeed just shaking a can of a whipped cream and not masturbating, it would be an one-off, isolated incident and no other people would complain about him, and he would be fine.

      If it was a pattern, HR would have a leg to stand on.

    2. tamarack and fireweed*

      Yes, good on you for that! In academia, there have been several recent cases of senior faculty being sanctioned for sexual misconduct, and even in egregious cases (including cases where a whisper network had sprung up to help keep new people saver(er)) sanctioning the offender was made harder by HR’s claim that there had been zero previous complaints on file.

      I’m deep down soft-hearted myself and want to believe that people can step back from doing something seriously bad. I am also sympathetic to the idea that both misconduct of this type AND malicious gossip-mongering have the ability to traumatize, and don’t want to neglect the danger from one to eliminate the other. Sanctions need to be based on fact, and the establishment of fact does require some form of corroborating element. The easiest corroborating element, is to lower the bar for making repeat reports happen.

      1. Candi*

        One way is to take the report seriously and without extraneous commentary, regardless of what the HR worker personally feels. There have been many, many people put off by a worker making snarky, snide, or careless comments about their reports. (All of which are unprofessional.) It doesn’t do much good to have a company that’s open to accepting “hey, jerks and pervs exist, and we need to stop them when it’s on our property and our time” when the worker makes comments about clothing, appearance, “are they really sure”, the harasser’s career, the number (usually lack) of reports on the harasser, any competition for spots between victim and scum, and on and on.

  42. Emmie*

    As someone higher in the organization, you have to report this to HR or whatever channels your company has. It’s the right thing to do. It sounds like you are a manager of people and you have a responsibility to report it too. If you knew about this and didn’t report it, you should face disciplinary action for that. It’s not your fault.

    You have more responsibility to employee safety, the law, and company policy than you do to any employee. Your report is critical. It allows your company to investigate this issue; determine if it will cured before; and document it (if he stays on) to show a behavioral pattern.

    You expressed a concern about him leaving. As a manager, you need to check yourself about this. Do not let this ever be a barrier to reporting behavior. It’s not your job to find out whether he masturbated. It’s your job to factually report bad behavior.

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.

  43. cubone*

    You know, years ago I worked somewhere with a 24 hour shift cycle and it was a regular joke among some people how many people had had sex in our workplace (and where).

    It always made me uncomfortable and grossed me out, but I think this is the first time it’s clicked for me that it was REALLY REALLY messed up and everyone who did it and/or joked about it was awful.

  44. MistOrMister*

    I am picturing this guy getting pulled in to talk to HR and saying he was definitely. NOT masturbating. Hs was just shaking a can of whipped cream amd that look on his face was him dreaming about the pumpkin pie/ice cream sundae/whatever he was just to slather in the whipped cream. I don’t think anyone would buy that for a second, but I can see someone being bold enough to throw that out there.

    That being said, I definitely agree thay this guy should be reported. I would agrue that people shouldn’t be masturbating at work at all, regardless of if they have an office, if said office is soundproof, no glass in the walls or door, etc. But someone masturbating in an office with a clear window might as well be doing it with the door wide open or, heck, out in the hallway. At the absolute VERY least it is a sign of immensely poor judgment. But it seems more likely its someone who is titillated by exposing themself. People have a right to not be exposed to this type of thing from their coworkers.

    1. CBB*

      Is it even necessary to let him explain or make an excuse? It should suffice to say, “Moving your arm under your desk in that way is unacceptable. If it happens again, you’re fired.”

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Right? “Next time you’re shaking whipped cream, do it so everyone can see the whipped cream.” Like, if I’m doing something that could be considered inappropriate when viewed the wrong way, I make it so that no one can view it the wrong way. Last week I drank a bottle of ginger beer on a Zoom call with my boss and immediately said, “This isn’t beer, it’s ginger beer.” (Although as long as I get my work done without errors, no one would really care much if I were drinking beer, but it’s generally a bad optic.) I

      2. Candi*

        You let them explain so no one can say, “You bounced him without hearing his perfectly reasonable* side of the story!” It is perfectly valid to cut the guy off if he’s rambling, or redirect the conversation. Letting him get “his side” out is more a CYA thing for the company than anything else.


    2. Boof*

      Yeah, the only “innocent” explanation I can come up with is some kind of seizure or weird syncopal episode

  45. Exhausted Trope*

    If he had been caught doing this in public, even if it only appeared to be masturbation and he didn’t even expose himself, it would be a misdemeanor offense. Report him now.

  46. Xakeridi*

    You have to report him. You don’t have an option. If it comes out that you knew he was being inappropriate at work, didn’t report it, and are in a position of authority you will be drawn into the inevitable lawsuit. You stand to lose your career. If he’s so blatantly doing this in an office with windows it will get out eventually. And if he saw you–he can state you knew and condoned his sexual misconduct.

  47. NYC Taxi*

    Don’t overthink this. Just report it in a factual way to HR and let them handle it. Early in my career in late 1990s I managed a team of other 20-30-somethings, all men, and one day I came back from lunch to see them all huddled around one of the monitors (I was in TV post-production at the time) and they were watching midget porn.

    1. Despachito*

      OMG, what did you do?

      And what would be appropriate to do? Fire them all? Give them a final warning?

      1. Candi*

        Even in the darker times of the ’90s, smacking them for entertaining themselves on company time would have been acceptable.

  48. Vito*

    one of the jobs I had a number of years ago had to fire a guard when it was discovered that he was having “relations” with an inflatable woman (at NIGHT) in the guard shack. I believe it was reported by a truck driver coming to make a delivery.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Wait! Would it have been better during the day? (Just pointing out that “night” isn’t what I would have capitalized out of all those worlds.)

      Also, Eeeeww!!!!!

      1. *daha**

        I’m picturing a light on in the shack against the dark background of night, and thus being very visible.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Worthy of emphasis because a guard shack will be lit inside at night. IE completely visible even if the windows are normally mirrored on the outside.

        1. Candi*

          And when people are preoccupied by their activity, they don’t always remember to keep things below window sill level.

  49. Sara without an H*

    OP, yes, you have to report this. From your own description, you are senior enough in your organization to have responsibility here. Don’t speculate about your coworker’s motives, the impact on the firm, or anything else. Just go to HR and tell them pretty much what you said in the second paragraph of your letter.

  50. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    I’d like to think I’d just calmly and matter of factly tip HR off to what I saw. But I’m pretty sure in reality HR would want to talk to me about shouting “What the heck, CoWorker?” (pointing and drawing attention to what he’s doing with a disgusted look on my face)

  51. Velawciraptor*

    LW: It sounds like you’re a manager, which means you have a legal obligation to report this. Do it now.

    1. Lauren*

      That could be her angle – this is a legal issue. Has he done this before? Who has complained? What is the course of action?

    2. Aitch Arr*

      Yes! I came here to say this.

      Also, depending on what state you are in, you could be held personally liable if you are a manager and did not report.

  52. Lauren*

    If he holds a key position, then you will see how your company operates here. Will they shove it under the rug? Will she be told any of the discipline? If they say ‘we’ll handle it’ that is not acceptable. You are a victim since you witnessed this and are entitled to know what will be done. Use that information (likely inaction) to inform your choices for staying with the company. Consider telling HR head, not a lower rep via Zoom or in person to see their reaction. If they sigh, that means he has done this before. If they are horrified, fantastic – because maybe he hasn’t done this before and they might actually do something about it. Then email a recap and include any legal person in the company on the chain.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Excellent point. If they dismiss the complaint, refuse to do anything, tell OP to ‘just forget you saw anything’ etc then it’s a fully lit up sign stating that the company itself is toxic and never, ever, to be trusted.

      1. Lauren*

        exactly and since she has already been there 3 years, no reason not to look around with the great resignation happening in favor of workers.

      1. Lauren*

        and THAT warrants the biggest red flag if there are curtains installed. I’d go straight to Glassdoor. “Encountered someone masturbating in his office, HR chose to add curtains to his window vs. disciplining him.”

  53. Middle Name Jane*

    This behavior seems especially sick since the man’s office has a window, and he had to know someone could have walked by at any time.

  54. HelloFromNY*

    I do think that the best course of action is to report it. Who knows, maybe there is a completely innocent explanation, like he has a medical condition that causes abnormal ticks. But someone needs to investigate immediately.

  55. Blackcat girl*

    Report him! Totally unprofessional behavior. And if his action resulted in, um, a satisfying end, there is now biological contamination on the chair etc. maybe HR can check the area with a black light. Cleaning crew should not be exposed unknowingly to that kind of stuff.

  56. Keyboard Cowboy*

    Welp, that’ll teach me to tab over to check AAM during boring meetings. My eyebrows hit the ceiling – good thing I had my camera shut off!!!

  57. The Smiling Pug*

    Please report this guy, OP. There could be other things that have happened and come to light because of this.

  58. RWM*

    You have to report him, OP. If the operations are eventually damaged, well, then they are damaged. But this is (AT BEST!!!) beyond bad judgment that should call his role with the company into question…and also probably not a one-off incident.

    I’m really sorry he put you in this position in the first place — it’s all just…extremely shitty of him on every level.

  59. learnedthehardway*

    You need to report this – you are in a position of responsibility and authority, and you are more senior in the organization than he is. You need to protect the people who are more junior than he is, who don’t have the same ability to speak up.

    If he’s doing this in a fishbowl office, his sense of boundaries is very messed up. He’s subjecting other people to his activities, without their consent, if anyone can see and know what he is doing at any time, just by walking by his office.

  60. SleepyKitten*

    If there’s somehow a completely innocent explanation, he will furnish it. He’ll be able to show the aggressive massage chair setting or pants stain or whatever. Embarrassing? Yes. Career ending? No.

  61. AKchic*

    I’ve worked with guys who were open (and sometimes chronic) office knob polishers. Doors and windows open, closed, “private” space or not, it really didn’t matter. What matters is how your company reacts once they receive the report. Because reporting what you saw is your choice, and I will support your decision, whichever way you choose.
    Some HRs will outright deny your own eyesight. “Well, even you admit you’re only 90% sure, and that’s not 100% sure, and we can’t do anything unless you’re absolutely positive. Oh, now you’re positive? Well, you sure do change your story…” vs. “this is going to end up he-said-she-said and without definitive proof (which you can’t get because taking photos of your coworkers with their pants down is against company policy and will result in immediate termination with cause) we can’t do anything” vs. “this is a huge issue for our company, thank you for telling us, we will handle it, please do act normally but keep this quiet while we conduct our investigation. We’ll come to you if we have further questions and let you know when things are wrapped up.”

    Document what you saw, regardless of what you decide to do. You’re going to want your own paper trail no matter what. I’m sorry you saw what you saw. Please trust your eyes here. You did see what you thought you saw. Only report if you think you’re safe to do so. I hope your company is safe enough and committed enough to be useful.

  62. PR Girl*

    Completely unacceptable. Also, if OP doesn’t report it, and later on there is a sexual misconduct report later on and it’s found out that they knew something about it but didn’t report it immediately, that is going to have a much worse impact on OP’s career and the reputation of the company.

  63. Hiring Mgr*

    At one company I worked at years ago, a woman was fired for this – she had supposedly been on prespcription pain medication that affected her oddly.. Just so bizarre

    1. Candi*

      Some medication side effects can increase libido, and side effects that mess with judgement are also a thing. But the company doesn’t have to put up with it beyond reasonable accommodation, if applicable.

  64. employment lawyah*

    I would probably not report for a simple reason: There’s personal risk in reporting it and there may be no personal gain.

    1. Candi*

      That kind of statement says far too much about the workplace involved. (And to a larger extent, the toxic elements of current culture.)

  65. Library Lady*

    Your brain can process information before you consciously register what you’ve seen/heard/felt. If your immediate sense (before you had time to stop and think about what you saw) was that he was masturbating, then that is very likely what was happening.

    I had to remind myself of this a lot when I went to the store one time a couple years ago, and as I was crouched in the greeting card aisle, someone touched my butt. My honest-to-God immediate reaction was that it was my husband goofing around because it was a VERY intimate sensation. And as I whirled around to tell him to knock it off, I remembered I was by myself, and then I saw a guy walking away from me. I chose not to report it mainly because I was wigged out and just wanted to get home, but I also found myself second guessing what had happened, like maybe he had accidentally brushed against me and I was misinterpreting it. But my immediate reaction told me what I needed to know, which was that this was VERY different than someone accidentally bumping against me. It was deliberate, and it was very different than the hundreds of times someone has bumped me accidentally. My subconscious brain definitely knew what was up.

    1. Middle Name Jane*

      About 15-20 years ago when I was in my 20s, I went to the movies alone. A man sat next to me, which I wasn’t crazy about because there were empty seats around the theater he could have chosen that weren’t directly next to someone. And all during the movie, he kept brushing against my right thigh. I froze. I should have gotten up and left, gotten up and moved seats, gotten up and notified a manager–anything. But I froze, and I sat there for the entire movie with him purposely brushing against me. I knew it was deliberate, and I knew it was wrong–but I was afraid if I said anything or changed seats, he would come after me.

    2. Candi*

      I have a long list of occurrences of my gut yelling at me. It has a 4-5 out of 5 rate of accuracy, so I tend to listen. I don’t even know how many incidences I’ve avoided because my gut started hollering to go that way or take a look over there.

  66. Anonymousaurus Rex*

    I just want to shout out to Alison for choosing the URL “my-coworker-is-gross” rather than putting “masturbation” in there. I opened up my personal laptop so I could click on the post and read the comments because I didn’t want something potentially untoward on my work computer browser history. Thanks for not risking it for others!

    1. Aitch Arr*

      The page title is “I caught my coworker masturbating” though.

      Wish I had noticed that before I shared my screen. Oops.

  67. Camellia*

    In the mean time, I’m over here picturing her ripping the door open and shouting, “SERIOUSLY?!?!” at the offender, and doing her best and loudest to call the maximum possible public attention to this, um, situation.

  68. Aphra*

    I’m probably a lot older than many commenters here and at this point I would call the guy out immediately, loudly and clearly. A very loud, sharp ‘(name)! What the hell are you doing?!’ and I’d stand staring at him and wait for his reply. For as long as it took him to reply. I can’t say I’d have done that when I was younger though, and it’s not wrong to NOT respond like that in the moment. It’s a shocking thing to see anywhere, but it’s especially egregious in the workplace unless you work in adult entertainment, and even then, it could certainly be inappropriate depending on context.

    Now I’ve got that off my chest, I suppose it’s possible he was having a serious scratch at an annoying itch. We’ve all had an itch where, when you finally get to scratch it, the noises and faces we make could be interpreted as our ‘sexy time’ noises and faces. If someone caught me doing that, I’d apologise and explain immediately, or as soon as possible thereafter. Given that this guy didn’t do that, I’m inclined to think LW’s gut instinct was right.

    I’d still report it though and let him deal with explaining to HR what he was doing. If he uses the ‘itch’ excuse, HR may well give him the benefit of the doubt, but LW should absolutely not be made to feel in any way responsible for the guy’s embarrassment, that’s entirely on him. Nor should LW be made to feel uncomfortable around the guy because, again, LW hasn’t done anything to be embarrassed about.

  69. Kristen K*


    Please report this. Men need to learn that the world does not revolve around their penises. Full stop.

  70. Factory Dozer*

    Two real stories about this:

    I once worked for a large printing company that had its own dorm for some of the workers. Some guy, a friend of one of the workers or something, was living there and would masterbate in the window to one of the female employees who was also staying there (the women’s and men’s dorms were separate). She was the one who told me about it. I told her to report it, but she said she liked it. I was like WTF.

    Another time I worked for a quasi-government office. A colleague and I (both gay, but not really close friends, but cordial at work) were working overtime on a Saturday. I left early, but realized I forgot my cellphone. I went back to get the office, unlocked the door, and walked in on him masterbating to gay porn. I just pretended like I didn’t see anything, grabbed my phone, and left. I didn’t report it because it was such a terrible place to work and I was going to quit anyway.

  71. Jam on Toast*

    When I was in grad school, I TA’d for a big, 300+ first year intro class, that was taught in one of those steep lecture halls. Because of the angle, anyone behind you could see *everything* you were looking at on your bright-as-day laptop screen, especially when the lights were dimmed. Several weeks into the term, one of the students decided that mid-lecture was the perfect time to catch up on their porn! The TAs all sat in the back row and we rock-paper-scissored to see who would need to sidle through the row and SHUT-THAT-DOWN. I was the lucky soul who go to squeeze past a dozen students and tell Dirk Diggler that Busty Babes 4 would not be on the mid-term.
    The student was ultimately referred to the Student Accountability Office and put on a behaviour modification agreement. I got to fill out a report on what I had seen. There are quite a few synonyms thrusting, FYI.

  72. This is my shocked face*

    Venting is a thing you do to relieve frustration. It is not a response to someone’s face, hair, clothes, or even their accent, body language, or other aspects of their person.

    If OP’s coworker finds sharing an office frustrating there are ways to “vent” about that without a constant campaign of ridicule and mockery against OP. Even if no one at OP’s company finds the actual bullying appalling, spending a lot of time discussing OP’s personal appearance is surely poor time management on her coworker’s part. I am flabbergasted that OP’s boss just brushed this off.

  73. raida7*

    God yes report it.
    If you’re lucky, he was masturbating to a visual or audio aid via his work computer and IT will be able to get evidence of that to line up.
    Hell, if they do and the next search for that shows it’s accessed once a week (for example) that would be evidence of frequently wanking at work!

    And worst case scenario there is a record of this behaviour if someone else in the future sees it happen too.

  74. Candi*

    I just realized something: If this guy is that essential to operations, OP’s company has a hit by a bus/won the lotto problem that needs fixing today. There should always be a way to cover operations for a couple weeks (at least) while getting someone in the bus/lotto person’s place!

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