my employee punched her supervisor during a disagreement

A reader writes:

A incident of violence happened at my office. I manage several departments and one of the supervisors was assaulted by an employee. The employee was upset that she had been denied a day off she had put in for. Other people had already booked that day off previously and the limit had been reached because the department needs enough people for coverage. The employee was not happy and broke the supervisor’s cheek.

The supervisor is back to work part-time while she recovers (her choice, she was offered fully paid time off but wanted to come back). The employee was fired and she got arrested and charged with assault. All other employees were briefed on what happened. Beyond giving everyone information on our EAP and allowing anyone who was upset after the briefing to go home for the day with pay, what else can I do to make sure my staff is looked after? If anyone is affected by this I want them to be taken care of. I have never had to work through the aftermath of a violent incident at work before.

I answer this question — and three others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Working with an over-complimenter
  • Offering to let candidates talk to the previous people in the job
  • Am I supposed to respond to job candidates’ thank-you notes?

{ 204 comments… read them below }

  1. Sharkie*

    Oh my goodness. #1 is just so shocking to me. I agree with Alison about the warning signs, that isn’t something that happens out of the blue.

    1. CBB*

      Yes, definitely look back to see if there were warning signs.

      But sometimes things like this really do happen out of the blue.

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        Yup. We had a much more minor thing happen at one of my first jobs (same action by the company though – immediate firing and authorities called) and we were all in shock. This person was never on anyone’s radar as a potential threat which is part of what made it so hard to deal with – if this person could just erupt at any second who else do we have to worry about?

      2. Meep*

        I am the kind of person who can take a lot of shit. I will be patient and point out repeatedly how something you do bothers me. Unfortunately, because I can take a lot of abuse, people don’t take me “seriously” and are SHOCKED when after they have poked me for a good two million times or so, I finally “snap”. Typically, it is /after/ I can no longer deny they know what they are doing causes me discomfort/pain and don’t particularly care OR if they start doing it to someone else.

        My boss was shocked yesterday to find that a snappy email I sent out to my Toxic Coworker about respecting boundaries while I was taking time off was not JUST about her pestering me with nonsense like “what is the Amazon password?” for the umpteenth time or even about her strange obsession with my uterus which she constantly uses to explain away any symptom.

        It also had to do illegal things A, B, and C, unethical instances S, R, T, and U, and unprofessional moments X, Y, and Z. His jaw practically hit the floor when I pointed out that she let our business license lapse for two months until I reminded her because she told him it had been in his office the entire time (issue dates don’t lie), so he is generally oblivious to her, to begin with.

        1. SaffyTaffy*

          @Meep just so you know, I have had coworkers (and a mom) who describe themselves the way you just did, and it can be incredibly difficult and even frightening to work with. It might be better to communicate things before you “snap.”

          1. Wrexit*

            Yea, if someone ignores your polite responses, the thing to do is be more direct next time, not just keep it at a level you know doesn’t work until you explode.

          2. CalypsoSummer*

            I have communicated things, and communicated things, and communicated things, and the person either shrugged it off or ignored it or giggled and thought it was funny — until I turned around and slapped them across the room.

            Some people don’t listen because they don’t want to listen.

          3. Dr Sarah*

            @SaffyTaffy: ‘I will be patient and point out repeatedly how something you do bothers me’ *is* communicating things. It sounds as though your mother/your coworkers might not have done that; some people do bottle everything up and not say anything until they reach snapping point, and that’s not a good way to handle things. But Meep’s description of what’s gone on really doesn’t match that.

        2. Lenora Rose*

          That level of obliviousness can’t be accidental. he’s avoiding dealing with it on purpose. And you’ve just cited fireable offenseS, plural.

        3. Anon for this*

          I agree with this. I worked at a place where people would low-key snap (usually yell, or cry, maybe slam a drawer.) And the reality was, it was the sort of place where people were asked to put in obscene hours, often in split form (say, someone would work 5 am to 1 pm and then 5 pm to 9 pm) or some sort of swing form (12 pm to 8 pm one day then 8 am to 4 pm the next ) and then they would be expected to work 7 days a week for a month in a row, and they would be fielding phone calls and texts and emails the entire time they were out, even at midnight and 3 am. (I generally had a work situation to deal with every time I got up to go to the bathroom at night.)

          So they were exhausted and had no downtime to rest or take care of their personal business. Then when they were at work, they were being run ragged with too much work, mistreated by a nasty boss, and verbally abused by customers, without a chance to eat or use the restroom. OF COURSE people are going to lose it once in awhile under those conditions. Those conditions are torture. Do not torture people and then get angry at them for not being able to take it.

    2. 3DogNight*

      There are specific violence in the workplace trainings that can be taken. Our company makes them available, visibly, to everyone. The EAP team may know about this and can provide guidance.
      It is very rare for a violent incident to not be preceded by other red-flag behavior. Very rare. The red flag behavior might be something as subtle as a raised voice, or ignoring people, or snide remarks, but it’s usually there, and visible in hindsight. The trainings will help you be able to spot it. And provide guidance to HR on how to deal with it before it comes to an “incident”.

      1. Heffalump*

        I get what you’re saying. But I’m sure thousands of people have raised their voices, ignored people, and made snide remarks without later escalating to violence.

        1. Lab Boss*

          I think the idea would be to identify potential warning signs and react to them appropriately- neither treating someone as an assaulter-to-be just because they raised their voice once, nor missing the sign entirely and ignoring a situation until it builds too far.

          1. 3DogNight*

            @Lab Boss This. At my company, you’re not going to get fired for snapping at someone, or whatever the trigger signs are. They’ll talk to you and start paying closer attention. The idea isn’t that everyone who yells, or gives a dirty look is going to start beating on people. It is more that they are potential warning signs.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I have to say that in hindsight you will probably find all these signs that the person who punched out their manager was a problem – but do not spend forever kicking yourself for missing them before the punch. Some people are walking klaxons of I will explode when pushed and others are so subtle that you don’t know they will blow until the explosion happens.

      3. Susie SW*

        Assuming this just happened, also look into critical incident response services for the staff. Your EAP likely offers this service, and it might even be a benefit your company already has in place. A counselor will come to the office to meet with the staff as a group and/or individually. Employees almost never call the EAP for help, but they’re far more likely to participate in the service if it comes to them.

    3. anonymous73*

      I am one to bottle things up and then explode when I’ve reached my limit on occasion so I can see how there may not have been warning signs (although my explosion comes in the form of yelling, not physical violence). I’m not making excuses (because there is no excuse for what happened), but maybe there was a lot going on in their personal lives and it all came to a head when their time off was denied. But definitely need to pay more attention to potential warning signs to prevent something like this from happening again, because someone who is generally reasonable is not going to punch someone in the face for something so trivial.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I agree. I can take a lot, but sometimes people are surprised by my strong reaction when I’ve finally had enough. I’ve learned to deal with it by expressing my milder frustrations more clearly when I can still stay professional, so that if they choose to ignore me, at least my escalating it won’t come as a total surprise. It’s helped, because I haven’t overstepped professional boundaries since I committed to changing the way I react to things. It’s also helped in my personal life.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      The guy I fired several years back didn’t give any indication he was violent until the day he came in piss drunk, told the guy at the next desk – who was gay – to ‘get out of my sight, I don’t want you *redacted slurs* sitting next to me’ and when refused straight up slapped the guy round the face.

      The atmosphere in the office afterwards was…not great. Most of the fear, surprisingly, was centred around ‘but what if HR hires him back?’ or ‘what about if he sues for unfair dismissal and gets his job back? We don’t want a violent guy here even if it turns out it’s only when he’s drunk’

      Reassuring the staff that I would never, ever allow that guy to come back seemed to help. Literally I’d pull every political string and favour owed me to keep him out of my sight for the rest of his life. I’m kinda vindictive like that.

      1. Jan*

        That’s not vindictive! That’s the sort of behaviour that should get someone fired. Unfair dismissal can happen but what you described isn’t really open to question. Thanks for being an awesome boss and keeping your staff safe.

    5. MCMonkeyBean*

      So extreme! Was the time for for like a funeral or something because my goodness I cannot otherwise imagine anyone having such a strong reaction!

      1. Meaty Urologist*

        As a former director of mine was fond of saying, ‘You can do anything you want on your last day of work.’

  2. Anon for This*

    We had a similar assault at my former workplace, and HR made an arrangement with EAP to have counselors onsite for a few days to talk with employees. Many employees may be reluctant to seek help, but will use it if it is easely accessible.

    1. Anne of Green Gables*

      I second this. We had a situation that prompted the EAP to bring a counsellor on-site and I did talk to them that day; even with the traumatic event that warranted a counselor on-site it is unlikely I would have gone in to talk to them myself. Super helpful! (And it’s worth knowing that you can ask your EAP for this in extreme circumstances)

    2. Beth*

      Wow. At OldJob, we went into lockdown one day over reports of an active shooter on our floor of the office building . . . it would have been nice to have somebody ask us afterwards if we were okay.

      1. Nineleaf*

        everyone is focusing on the puncher but I just want to chime in and say that the “overcomplimenter” letter is pure nightmare fuel for me.

        I firmly believe I would melt into a puddle of anxiety if I worked with someone like that. I would hide in a stairwell to avoid her. I might get a new job. I might just leave town.

        1. thatjillgirl*

          Yeah, I’m confused that the complaint is “overcomplimenting” when it seems like the real issue in that one is an obsessive level of fixation on somebody’s features. It’s like she’s trying to get that OP to dress herself exactly how she likes. It’s honestly a little creepy.

  3. Lilo*

    I might also send a clear message that if anyone feels unsafe or threatened, management will listen and take action before this happens again.

    I would also give anyone who was a witness to the crime paid time to go to court or to testify, if necessary. Cooperate fully and turn over any footage to the police.

    1. eisa*

      Absolutely ! Please try proactively to make all employees feel safer; not just managers.
      Put in place (and notify everyone about) a procedure for “I feel threatened / I observed threatening behaviour towards another person / I am witnessing actual violence / I was the victim of actual violence”

      Speaking as somebody who felt unsafe around a certain colleague, who had very apparent and obvious behavioural problems and was physically large and imposing to boot.
      Going to my supervisor was a no-go – he had seen fit to hire that guy and keep him after his evaluation period after all; I am 100% sure he would just have given me the runaround. (“oh, for sure it’s not so bad, have some compassion, be tolerant!” with a side order of “chickenshit female, none of the guys have a problem”)

      Trying to be subtle, I reached out to our “workplace safety and security committee.”
      Basically I asked what to do if there was a security incident.
      The answers were quite bland and did not convey much information at all. Also, geared towards “intruder on the premises.” After I suggested my concern was about intra-coworker violence – as in, listen people, I am actually afraid of someone I’m working with! – the response became even more “na na na, can’t hear you !”

      This was a very demotivating experience and I am still pissed off when I think about it !

      (A while later, coworker was let go for unrelated reasons.)

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed – make sure that employees who are helping the police/court process don’t loose their PTO, because that could make them less likely to cooperate (and shows the people who aren’t involved that you as an organization really take safety seriously).

    3. Amaranth*

      Also, let employees know what security is in place to keep this person from showing up at the office in the future, or what to do if they call or attempt to stop by.

  4. What's in a name?*

    I want to say first, I’m not excusing what this employee did, there is no excusing it.

    Look into how time off is assigned. Did this person never get Fridays off? Were more senior employees taking the holidays and this employee was frequently made to cover? Could the policy be improved to not aggravate employees?

    1. TiffIf*

      Wanted to say the same. The employee’s actions were inexcusable–the immediate firing and turning her over to the authorities was exactly the right action to take.

      But do take a look at how time off is assigned. Do the same people always get the best days/times off? Do certain people always end up being the ones denied leave? Is there a favoritism in granting time off towards those with families/children over those who are single? If you are on a first-come first served basis for time off, does one person or a few people book all the best holidays immediately when the calendar opens? Are there some people who have not taken any time off in a while because they are always last to request and always denied?

      There may be nothing wrong with how you are giving time off approvals or how your system is set up, but there may also be something worth re-assessing.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        I like yours and “What’s in a name”s ideas and thinking.

        Perhaps, since coverage is needed, make sure that everyone has some of the undesirable days to work.

        1. Loulou*

          Okay, but the letter doesn’t say that this employee punched the supervisor because she always had to work Saturdays. It says her request for a day off was denied because too many people already had that day off…ie the most normal thing in the world!

          1. Esmeralda*

            Yes indeed. But as the other commenters made clear, this is something to look at.
            OP asked for input on what to do. These are completely reasonable things to do.

            1. Loulou*

              I honestly feel like this is a distraction. A lot of people here are WFH office workers so maybe they aren’t familiar with norms in coverage-based jobs, but I would truly say that OP has a TON of things they should do (like everything Alison suggested) before they go down this road.

              1. ecnaseener*

                But what’s the downside of taking a few minutes to consider it? No one’s saying OP should definitely change the policy just for the sake of doing something, they’re just saying consider whether it was a factor that OP may be able to mitigate going forward.

                1. I should really pick a name*

                  Because it’s far enough from the subject at hand to feel like a derail.
                  There are already 22 replies to this post about vacation approval when the LW is asking about how to help potentially traumatized employees.

                2. Observer*

                  It’s a derail – and if you ARE going to do it right, it’s going to take a lot more than a few minutes.

    2. Loulou*

      What OP described sounds completely normal for coverage-based jobs. If enough other people have already requested a given day off, and then you ask for the same day off later on, you will not get that day off! End of story.

      1. Lilo*


        Someone acting completely irrationally and put of the norm is in no way a sign the employer has done anything wrong.

    3. James*

      Possibly. Obviously one person had a complaint about it, so it warrants looking into.

      The problem is, as soon as a hint of victim blaming occurs everyone’s going to conclude that all this talk about supporting the victim of violence is just talk. Most of us have seen situations where that has occurred–Corporate tries to look like they’re compassionate, but at the end of the day they just want to save their own skins, or worse find a way to make the victim pay for the incident so the company doesn’t have to. If this even looks like upper management is doing that, it’s going to encourage more such incidents. Maybe not to this degree, but there’s a lot of room between “no violence, period” and “breaking someone’s face”.

      I don’t see a good way to revamp time off at this time, but if you must investigate this do it quietly, preferably as part of the investigation, making it clear it’s just part of the investigation, checking a box as it were.

      Also, I doubt there’s a way to not aggravate this employee. Breaking the cheek (actually the zygomatic arch) is HARD. The bone is built to take stress; it’s an arch. We’re not talking a random sucker punch here; this was a powerful blow. Either 1) this person has some serious martial arts training, or 2) they completely lost their mind. Humans are far stronger than we typically exhibit, because our brains have subroutines to keep the force of our muscles in check to prevent us from injuring ourselves. Someone who snaps to the point where they shut down those subroutines isn’t someone who can be reasoned with. I say that as someone who’s done similar things, and spent a long, LONG time working on controlling my temper.

    4. Wintermute*

      That was my answer in the original letter, I got a lot of heat for it but I stand by it.

      The point of root cause analysis isn’t blame, it’s preventing re-occurances. Part of that analysis is looking for red flags you missed and putting systems in place to avoid them being missed again, part of that might be looking at your hiring practices to make sure you’re letting people know what they can expect around time off.

      But assuming there were no obvious red flags, you have someone who was seemingly put together and normal who broke in a big way, if you really want to avoid future problems, it’s worth looking at if your practices contribute. It’s obviously never okay to punch a co-worker, but most people won’t do that unless pushed to extreme desperation. It might be external things that pushed them, outside the workplace, or there might be a problem here.

      If you never ask, you don’t know.

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*


        It isn’t about excusing the behavior of the violent employee. It is about identifying how to minimize the risk of anyone else having a similiar outburst.

        1. Observer*

          Except that none of this is going to matter. The stuff that Alison mentioned COULD make a difference. The stuff others mentioned above about making sure that there are procedures for dealing with safety issues on staff, that could also make a difference.

          Figuring out what might be making people legitimately upset? No, not going to help. Because being legitimately upset might cause someone to walk off the job, maybe even accompanied by music etc. Or it might lead to someone SCREAMING at their supervisor or having a similar melt down. But you simply cannot figure out how to keep someone violent from getting violent.

          To take a bit of an analogy to DV. It’s like telling the victim “Do a root cause analysis. What things do you do that are legitimately annoying?” No. Attacking someone so viciously that you break their cheekbone – something that is not all the easy to do! is never an expectable reaction even to a legitimate provocation.

      2. Observer*

        it’s worth looking at if your practices contribute.

        That’s a fundamental problem with the whole suggestion. In general, unless a place is abusive in many other ways, it just makes no sense to consider that the practices contributed to someone acting is such a manner.

        Like the letter from the boss who wouldn’t give their star performer *TWO HOURS8 to go to her own graduation. That’s a TERRIBLE workplace. But even there, where the supervisor made it clear how badly time off is handled, it would be very wrong to say that the unfair, stupid and very bad practices “contributed” to an employee reacting to a denial with a savage attack on their supervisor.

      3. Just @ me next time*

        I highly doubt the actual root cause was the scheduling system. It seems much more likely that the employee was experiencing some kind of major stressor and didn’t have the coping skills to manage it in an appropriate way. Unless there are complaints from other employees about the fairness of the scheduling system, there’s no reason to assign blame to it.

    5. Lilo*

      I had a friend who was in the building during the Navy Yard shooting and if the response was “but was the shooter wrongly fired”, and not “why was he able to hold a security clearance and is the building unsafe”, I’d be pretty angry.

      There’s no indication the supervisor did anything wrong at all and she ended up in the hospital.

  5. KHB*

    #2 almost buries the lede. This isn’t about “compliments,” this is about hyperfocusing on the details of coworkers’ appearance – and it’s perfectly appropriate to tell her to cut that out, like, yesterday.

    I think the LW’s last paragraph (“I almost want to believe that she simply does not know how to communicate with others, other than complimenting”) is pretty insightful. Is this just her go-to small-talk topic to fill conversational vacuums? If so, then it may be as simple as prompting her to default to a different topic instead (e.g., take a cue from the Brits and talk about the weather).

    1. Cora*

      I definitely think this is her version of small talk. One of my coworkers just moved and is getting wifi/other utilities set up, ordering furniture etc and we have talked about that for a minute or two every day. But at least that changes and is short term!

    2. Lilo*

      The “my necklace” comment is super creepy. Implying ownership over something because she complimented it?

      1. My heart is a fish*

        Yeah, I had a coworker who was like that about an item of clothing I owned, and it got really disturbing over time.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        This. I don’t want my coworkers paying that much attention to what I wear. I don’t remember what my coworkers wore yesterday.

        1. Olivia Mansfield*

          I like the comforting thought that no one is paying that much attention to me, so someone really honing in on all my minute details would be fairly aggravating. I have one coworker who, while not as bad as OP’s coworker, does notice and occasionally comment on small details of my appearance, and it makes me feel like I need to be more self-conscious on a day-to-day basis than I really want to be. I just want to come to work reasonably well-groomed and for people to find my appearance negligible enough that I don’t have to think much about it. This person calls attention to small things all the time, like if a hair has dropped onto my shoulder, or if I spilled a water droplet on my blouse and blotted it up but you can still tell that it happened, etc.

        2. Lucy Skywalker*

          Some people have excellent memories for tiny details and things like that, but “my necklace” is a bit much. I actually re-read it to see if I had missed something and that the co-worker actually GAVE her the necklace for her birthday or something.

      3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

        I’m with you on the creepy vibe. It would make me stop wearing something pretty quick.

        And definitely it’s time to think up some better small talk, if that’s what this is. And simultaneously name the “I am not comfortable talking about my appearance with this intensity” issue.

        (Though I am now getting the Sads because in the before-times there was a little girl who rode my bus every day who was my little buddy, and she would check out my necklaces every day. She had a couple of favorites that I would wear just so she would look up all happy at me when she discovered which one I had. )

        1. Lenora Rose*

          There are a heap of things that are totally appropriate with children, even bus buddies, but not with adults in your workplace, just like the reverse is true.

        2. It’s Squirtles All The Way Down*

          One of my brothers retired at age 60 from his first career and now drives a school bus (and loves it!). He ADORES his little kids, the ones so young they just call him “Mr Bus Driver Man” and that’s what I imagine with this story. Thanks for sharing it.

      4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Yeah, this only is OK if you already have the right kind of relationship with the person. My old admin used to joke that I was wearing her $AccrssoryOrClothes today and to remember to give it back. She said this for anything she especially liked, but it was an office joke that everyone understood to be a joke.

      5. Anononon*

        I mean, it is pretty creepy, but I doubt she actually thinks she owns it. She’s just using it as shorthand to mean “the necklace that I like.”

        1. RagingADHD*

          Nobody thinks the admin is delusional and imagines that she actually owns the necklace.

          It’s a forced intimacy that’s generally inappropriate without a mutual feeling of closeness, particularly inappropriate at work, and extremely inappropriate toward a supervisor.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, or rather, extremely inappropriate toward a coworker who isn’t your peer. It would feel at least as bad coming from a supervisor, IMO.

            I extremely rarely remember what any of my coworkers are wearing on any given day, and I’d much prefer it if nobody paid attention to what I’m wearing, either. Please, leave me to my illusions that nobody cares what I’m wearing, as long as my clothes are appropriate for our office, not visibly stained (at least not in the morning, if I spill coffee on myself in the middle of the day, I’m not overly bothered by that and I *certainly* don’t keep a change of clothes at work just in case), and not completely threadbare or coming apart at the seams.

            1. Amaranth*

              I sometimes find myself missing the military when what you wear is a given so the focus on being clean and neat.

    3. Aquawoman*

      Agree! Those didn’t come across as compliments to me–they were only compliments if the colleague approved of today’s look. Otherwise, it was basically “your face shouldn’t be like that.” It had a weirdly controlling vibe of “please present yourself to my specifications.”

      1. MoreFriesPlz*

        Yea, I think a large sub-issue was it was constant feedback on her appearance, not actual compliments. “Your makeup isn’t done the way I like today,” is not a compliment, even if this employee means for it to be one. Same goes for “I like your makeup better this way than the way you usually wear it.”

        A simple compliment on an outfit or necklace every day would feel like too much to me, but I wouldn’t be half as annoyed as I would about the comments on how her face looks or weird possessive language.

        My old work had a sexual harassment training for all new employees where we were told that you could compliment people on things they picked themselves (I.e. “ I love that dress!” Or “Sweet rainbow eyeliner!”) but not how the person actually looked (I.e. “you look great today!” Or “you look pretty with your makeup like that.”). I thought it was a good rule and still stick to it. Obviously anything can feel creepy if you say it the “right” way with the “right” eyeballs but still.

        1. I take tea*

          This is really good advice, I think. I like getting compliments on my new glasses, but no added “they show off your beautiful hazel eyes” – that feels weird.

          (And just stop with the “did you lose weight”, please.)

        2. thatjillgirl*

          This is my general rule too. No comments on people’s bodies, good or bad. It can get awkward fast. There’s always a possibility that no, they aren’t tired, that’s just their face. Or no, they haven’t been exercising, that’s just how red their cheeks are. Of course the classic, no, they aren’t pregnant, that’s just their size. Etc. And even when it’s something good, like “I love your beautiful red hair!”, it’s not a super high compliment, because it’s not like they had any control over that feature. Body comments just aren’t great comments most of the time. Something like, “I love that outfit!” at least addresses something they had a hand in. But even then, you stick to a simple compliment if you like something and say nothing at all if you don’t like something. There shouldn’t be this weird open comparison of whether your makeup looked better this or that way. That’s not a compliment, and it’s really uncomfortable.

    4. Ashkela*

      Honestly, I’d bet this person has a minor or not-so-minor crush on the LW. Add in being socially awkward (and possibly on the spectrum – I say this as someone who is and has done something like this in the past), and it ends up way over the top and bothersome.

      1. Good Times*

        This happened to me at a previous job, and I never took it to be intended as a compliment! I never notice what other people wear (almost never), so this attention to my hair and clothes was overwhelming to me. I couldn’t think of something to say to stop it because I thought I would sound overly sensitive. (Alison’s suggested script sounds perfect.) The guy who made the comments Every Single Day? The head of HR.

    1. Tehanu*

      Not me. I worked in an office where in the past there was a fistfight between the new director and a senior analyst over the director asking for formal leave requests from the analyst. From what I understood, this analyst was able to get away with not submitting leave, coming in whenever, etc. for years. So this was an ongoing issue that wasn’t addressed for a long time. The analyst wasn’t fired – there was no proof who started the fight. The director moved to another department and the analyst stayed in the job (albeit in another physical location).

      1. Observer*

        Well, there is your root cause analysis. It’s hard to believe that no one could seriously figure out who started it. The workplace could most definitely have acted on it, without enough PROOF for a court of law.

        And if it REALLY wasn’t possible to figure it out, then both should have been fired.

        The fact that neither of them were significantly sanctioned tells you that this was a majorly dysfunctional place.

        1. Tehanu*

          oh super dysfunctional. The analyst was a known problem but nothing had ever been documented, so when the fight occurred, it was the first ‘official’ instance of a problem. The director was newly promoted to that role and had been an analyst on the team so knew about the issues. The union stepped in for the analyst (as they do by law here) and that was the solution they all come up with. Everyone knew who was at fault, but it could not be proven, so it could not be acted upon. I worked next to that analyst years later – the person literally snored and slept away all day. It was remarkable.

        2. JohannaCabal*

          Yeah, that sounds crazy that none of them were sanctioned.

          I also suspect that the company didn’t want to involve the police because “it would make us look bad.”

    2. James*

      Nah. I’ve worked in construction or adjacent fields all my adult life. I’ve seen folks get hit, had stuff thrown at me (not like a pen or something, but stuff that could have done damage had it hit me), and just generally see a lot of rough-and-tumble on jobsites. I don’t like working with companies like that–their quality always sucks, their people are more concerned with one-upping each other than doing the job, and I frankly hate playing babysitter grown men (and it’s almost always men)–but they exist.

      And scientists aren’t immune to this. Saw the aftermath of a few fights at conferences when in college. We’re passionate people, and giant nerds; arguments get heated. Society as a whole has decided that paleontologists don’t get to play with explosives without adult supervision because of our tendency to resolve differences via physical confrontation. At least one organization was asked to not advertise its meetings at GSA (annual Geological Society of America conference) because the police got sick of getting called out to break up the fights. I once stopped a fight in a lab by threatening to floculate everyone’s clay, thus ruining 36 hours of work.

      This stuff happens, more than people think. The good thing is, society is moving away from accepting it.

      1. Heffalump*

        No wonder you’re so knowledgeable about the zygomatic arch. Good for you for getting a handle on your temper. I say that as someone who did the same, and needed to.

        1. James*

          Actually, my knowledge of that bone comes from studying paleontology–it influences how animals bite, and paleopathology is fascinating. :D The temper thing was how I learned how fragile finger bones are. Broke my hand twice before I realized that punching things was stupid.

          1. Reese*

            Breaking the arch is hard, dislocating the jaw is easy but it looks really bad. It just depends on a lucky/well placed hit and doesn’t need that much force so I’m guessing broke her jaw might mean dislocated the jaw. I did muay thai for a few years.

      2. Olivia Mansfield*

        This reminds me of the Big Bang Theory episode where Leonard and Sheldon got into a physical fight at a physics conference, and Penny asked Howard, “Is this how these things usually go?” and Howard was like, “More often than you’d think.”

          1. James*

            It does. :D

            So what’s going on is: Clay particles are so small that the electrostatic charges on the crystal faces can keep the clays in suspension. Those electrostatic charges also can attract ions. All crystals do this–this is how crystal faces form (glossing over a lot of math)–but most crystals are so big that the forces balance out more. In clays, the charges on the faces dominate the system.

            What all this means is (again, glossing over a lot of math), if you have a lot of clay in water you can remove a good chunk of it by mixing salt water in. The salt separates into sodium and chloride ions, which attach to the crystal faces of the clay particles, which binds them together. This increases the effective size (think the difference between a snowball and a snowflake), and causes the clays to fall out of suspension.

            What we were doing at the time was putting clay in tall graduated cylinders and letting it fall out of suspension. At specific times we’d pull off a specific volume of muddy water, because clays fall out of suspension in a pretty well-established order. Unfortunately this is a 48-hour experiment. And if you spray salt water into it at, say, hour 40, you get to start all over again, because you have to wash the salt out of the water. It was quite an effective threat!

      3. Idyllic Gulag*

        Until reading through the part about paleontologists, I had to keep checking your username to make sure I hadn’t accidentally posted this myself.

        Started in construction twenty years ago as a day laborer and moved up the ranks from there. I’ve had a Sawzall in an old-school metal case swung at my head by a former boss, had more than a few tools thrown at me, and plenty of shoving/kicking when I apparently wasn’t working fast enough. Construction, especially at the less prestigious levels, can be a horrifically abusive industry.

        I’m management in one of the top-tier trades now, so no matter how contentious my interactions may be – there can be tens of millions of dollars at stake, after all – no one has dared lay a finger on me (or anyone in my presence) in years. I have no doubt this kind of behavior still happens to those seen as not having the power to bring about consequences though.

    3. Can't Sit Still*

      The broken cheek, yes, because that was a very hard hit even with a closed fist, the violence at work, no. Especially about time off. When I was very junior in a coverage based job, my time off requests would be denied if someone else wanted the day off, even if I had requested it and had it approved before the more senior person. Worth being violent about? No, but I was definitely not happy when it happened and some of the other juniors did get stroppy about it.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        I recall a letter about a co-worker who booked off every Friday and Monday before every holiday a year in advance thus denying anyone else the chance for a long weekend. That IMO is a management problem and leads to a very unhappy workplace.

    4. LizM*

      Unfortunately, no. I haven’t personally witnessed this, but I know others who have been in professional settings where things have unfortunately come to blows.

      1. JohannaCabal*

        (TW) I remember reading about a workplace shooting incident in the 90s (in fact, I think it was one of the post office ones) where an employee shot and killed a manager. Some of the other employees were quoted in the newspaper as being sympathetic to the shooter and that the manager essentially had it coming.

        If a workplace shooter’s coworkers are sympathetic to them, that work environment must be a hundred times toxic than any other toxic job.

        1. Heffalump*

          For a literary take on the post office I recommend Post Office by the noir author Charles Bukowski. Trigger warning: he was the polar opposite of a sensitive new age guy and used bad language profusely.

          1. LifeBeforeCorona*

            I betcha you would have done the same. We had a firing that took months to process and the manager finally got results when they claimed they were physically threatened. The co-worker had taken an angry step towards them and thanks to zero tolerance on workplace violence it was enough to release the co-worker.

        2. LifeBeforeCorona*

          Years ago a person showed up with a weapon at an office. No one was hurt but the comments on the story ran heavily in favour of the worker because so many other people had terrible experiences with the organization and shared them. I wonder if the shame and publicity make the organization change the way they dealt with their clients.

    5. Missb*

      Nope. That’s actually how my work got rid of a realllly bad manager. Like epically bad.

      There was a time when mediators were brought in for training days for employees. Everyone was having issues with the manager. The manager didn’t show up on that day, and everyone else was pissed that they had to sit through some BS about how to get along with people.

      There were many reasons to rid the workplace of that particular manager. They claimed to be an engineer (and have a bunch of other certifications). One does not just *claim* to be an engineer. It’s easily trackable through a state database available to anyone with internet access. They were not an engineer.

      But what got them gone? They flipped out at an employee and grabbed their arm hard enough to leave some significant bruises. It wasn’t a slap or a punch but it was still assault.

      And then they were gone.

      So assault in the workplace does not surprise me.

  6. Kimmy Schmidt*

    From the headline, I thought OP#1 was going to ask if they should fire this person or not. I’m glad to see they’ve already taken decisive action in removing them! The bar is so low. Sigh.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I had the same thought.

      Part of me does wonder if this is why my employer never denies PTO, no matter how shorthanded it will make us.

    2. MistOrMister*

      Same here! I was shocked to read tye employee had been fired. I was thinking, how is OP going to try to justify keeping this person??? Thank heavens that wasn’t the case.

  7. awesome3*

    #5 – your fiance definitely ran into some nice people! If this weren’t an old letter I’d think it was a new thing that was happening because of the so-called employee shortage. I do think if it’s someone you work with already, it’s a good idea to respond to the thank you notes, because if you don’t give them the job you still want to have a good working relationship.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      I see potential for an endless cycle. If someone gives you, say, a wedding present, etiquette is to send them a thank you note. And that is that. If we get into a cycle or responding to the note, this leads to a response to the response, etc. This is the advantage of the Facebook “like” button. It acknowledges what is being liked without so much as a hint that anything further is required.

      1. daffodil*

        I was thinking the same thing. We can’t move the norm that handwritten thank you cards do not require a response, or Allison will get new letters saying “should I respond to the response to my thank you note?”

      2. Mr. Shark*

        I wish I could just “Like” your comment Richard. Thanks for your insightful comment. (no need to respond). :)

          1. All the cats 4 me*

            Ooh, are you hiring? I would love to work with such a reasonable (and erudite) person as yourself. Unfortunately, I have no pertinent lawyerly-stuff experience.


      3. RagingADHD*

        Well, the happy version of the endless cycle, socially speaking, would be a long term, friendly correspondence.

    2. AthenaC*

      I typically respond to the “thank you” note with a “It was nice meeting you, too! Please feel to reach out if you have any additional questions.”

      I think it’s just a nice way to close out the interaction, and I really do mean the “please reach out” part sincerely.

    3. IL JimP*

      as a hiring manager I used to reply with the “thanks, it was nice to meet you too” but then after seeing so many letters (here and elsewhere) where people are confused that they got a positive response and then didn’t get the job or reading into every piece of communication from the employer I decided I didn’t want to add to the confusion and have stopped responding.

      It’s still nice to get but I don’t hold it against anyone who doesn’t send one because it rarely tells me anything that I didn’t learn in the interview itself

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Agreed that not responding to the candidate’s follow-up note is probably for the best.

        A jobseeker who reads way too much into this stuff

  8. Clefairy*

    YIKES to #1, that is horrifying. That poor manager.

    I had to terminate a lower level leader once upon a time because, when I approached him about a mild accusation from a colleague to hear his side of things, he jumped out of his seat, towered over me (who was still sitting down) and screamed in my face for probably 10 minutes about how sick he was of everyone ganging up on him and nitpicking his work. It was super scary, but to this day have felt some guilt about letting him go (could I have handled things differently? Should I have given him another chance?). This letter really opened up my eyes to what overt aggression in the work place can lead to if you don’t nip it in the bud earlier. So thank you, OP1 and Alison, for giving me some piece of mind there. Also, thank you OP1 for handling the aftermath intentionally and with compassion!!

    1. Threeve*

      You were 1000% right to let him go! I’m certain you wouldn’t have tolerated him treating anyone else that way. And inappropriate and aggressive behavior is pretty much never a one-and-done; you would have just been stuck waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it might have dropped on someone else even worse.

    2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      It can happen both ways… a company I worked for used to layoffs on Thursdays.

      They would have an armed guard in the room when someone was hauled down to HR to get the news, then he / she was “perp walked” around the building with said armed guard breathing down their neck.

      I always said to myself – if this happened to me — “I am not going to sit in a room with HR, with a gun at my back. Here’s my home phone number = 978-…-…., I’ll be at home in around 35 minutes, we can continue the dialog that way.”

      It also allowed the manager to chicken out – he or she didn’t have to deliver the bad news. Rather cowardly.

      They got rid of that system. It eventually became a one-on-one with the manager and the firee.

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

        an ARMED GUARD!!! It makes one wonder what happened before that they thought an armed guard was necessary for every layoff?

      2. banoffee pie*

        That’s awful. As well as getting fired, I would feel like I was almost being threatened with a gun as well. Although armed guards aren’t really a thing here. I don’t think you could just call one in because you wanted to fire someone! Just the police have guns here AFAIK (and not even most of them in the rest of the UK).

  9. Pinkbasil*

    One thing I’d say about #3. If you like the candidate a lot and want to keep the conversation going then replying to a thank you note seems like a good way to do that.

    1. Ama*

      One thing I’d add to #3 is that being transparent about why former employees left is probably the best course of action. When I was hired at my current job, they kind of hid from me during the hiring process that the previous person in the role left after 8 months, I think because they were worried it looked bad (even though the previous two people in that role had both stayed for multiple years). One of my new coworkers dropped that tidbit in casual conversation and I did have a couple days of worrying about whether a red flag had been hidden from me.

      It soon became clear, especially as I picked up some projects my predecessor had been working on and saw some of her work, that she was ill-suited to part of the job. The job was 50% writing and 50% admin and it was clear from her work on some of the writing projects that she was not comfortable with the volume and style of writing that was needed; she had left to return to a full time admin job. If the hiring manager had just been honest with me up front about it it actually would have made me MORE enthusiastic about the position (as I really wanted to do a lot of writing work) and also saved me a couple days of worry about whether I’d been lied to.

  10. Prof Ma'am*

    #2 I think there’s more of an issue here that AAM is hitting on. This deserves a stronger “please don’t comment on my appearance or body” level response. It’s not “I like your makeup” it’s “where are those cheeks!” which is commenting on her appearance. All of this is one small step away from an outfit being “flattering” to being “slimming” or comments about “looking tired” (maybe I just didn’t wear makeup or maybe I’m dealing with issues and am depressed/can’t sleep).

    To be clear, I don’t mind when a colleague who compliments me, or even if they reference a past compliment, but DAILY and with such hyper focus? And even ignoring the frequency, the OP is uncomfortable and that’s all that should matter.

    1. Budgie Buddy*

      Yes. This level of attention is sending the message that OP’s appearance is being constantly scrutinized. And that the coworker feels a certain level of entitlement to certain makeup styles/accessories??? It would make my skin crawl.

      This letter is like a case study for “Not every compliment is just a compliment.” Some compliments are reminders that to occupy public spaces is to be evaluated.

    2. Meep*

      Maybe it is because I am extra sensitive as since my Toxic Coworker found out I was in a relationship with a man, she is constantly making comments about my ovaries and uterus and is creepily obsessed with them being occupied, but I thought Alison missed the mark too.

      These cannot be considered close to “compliments”. This is definitely on par with sexual harassment in my book.

      1. Prof Ma'am*

        OMG this is horrific! It’s already unacceptable when a coworker/acquaintance/stranger feels entitled to talking about someone’s family planning/reproductive health but to focus on the literal reproductive ORGANS!?!

    3. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Agreed. Like you said, I’d want a blanket “please don’t comment on my appearance or body weight.”

      Even if it’s something like my zipper is down or I have lipstick on my teeth, I’d rather hear about it from someone else at this point…

    4. RagingADHD*

      The part that puts my shoulders up is that the employee is telling someone what they *should* do with their face, and a running judgment on whether her cheekbones or eyebrows are good enough to meet standard, or disappointing.

      And then there’s “Where’s MY necklace?”

      The whole thing isn’t just inappropriate for work — it’s proprietary in a way that would be creepy from anyone. This would be obnoxious and intrusive coming from your own mother.

  11. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    That last question was timely for me. I’m involved in some interviews right now, but I’m not the final decision maker. One of our candidates sent a thank you note and I wanted to respond because it seems the polite thing to do, but I have been very concerned about accidentally giving the impression one way or another. I didn’t even want to say we’d be in touch because I have no idea which person we’re going to go with and I don’t know how our company handles rejections. I HOPE recruiters or hiring managers contact people who interview but don’t get the job, but I wasn’t sure, so I just didn’t respond.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        A sad observation is that this assault definitely shook up the status quo, and if Management is good may result in improvements to the PTO-taking ability of the team that remains, where job abandonment or quitting on the spot probably just gets a shrug of the shoulders in response.

        My vote’s for just calling off or ghosting the employer. No job’s worth jail and/or a criminal record.

        1. RagingADHD*

          People who break someone’s cheekbones with their bare hands are not responding to anything that an employer can fix by changing their PTO policies.

          Changing their hiring practices, or letting people with behavior problems go before it escalates? Those would work better.

          1. MoreFriesPlz*

            This. Thank you. This is not about PTO. This is not an appropriate response to scheduling issues, ever, no matter what. Trying to pull logic or meaning out of this person’s actions is totally missing the point.

            Every employer everywhere should occasionally ask themselves if they’re dealing with PTO the right way. An employee’s very serious anger issue doesn’t signal anything one way or the other IMO.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              This is not about PTO.

              That’s what I was saying. The eruption may create results where the proper responses won’t, and more’s the shame if it plays out that way.

              1. MoreFriesPlz*

                If this isn’t about PTO, why would this result in good management looking into how PTO is allocated?

                The answer to a violent crime is not “how could this person have not brought violence upon themselves.” I’m genuinely curious if this employee had brought in a gun, or sexually assaulted the manager, would you still think good management would look at PTO after? I see them as totally unrelated. If you’re unstable enough to become violent, the issue is not PTO. It doesn’t bare examining. I think OP is asking all the right questions, which are about staff safety and support.

                1. jiggle mouse*

                  I’ve been a victim of violent crimes, plural, none of which were my fault. I still evaluated my personal security practices to see if there was anything I missed, because it’s stupid not to.

                2. SimplytheBest*

                  @jigglemouse – Which means they should look back to see if there were warning signs that this particular employee was violent that they can recognize in others going forward. Not change their PTO practices just because one person didn’t like them.

                3. Wintermute*

                  In a case like that, that extreme, it absolutely would be warranted to look at if red flags were missed or if your hiring practices are not looking for danger signs.

                  It’s about a holistic look at the situation to make sure that you’re doing the right things. Any shocking occurrence should prompt some introspection.

                4. MoreFriesPlz*

                  @SimplytheBest exactly. When a violent crime occurs you inspect safety. Warning signs, upping background checks before hiring, making sure staff report any red flags they see, etc. Saying looking at PTO is some kind of corollary to buying mace or putting in a security system is so far off base.

                  @WinterMute agreed, but those are a wholistic look at safety, not at PTO.

                  Someone who is violent and illogical is going to be violent and illogical. You can’t reason your way around that.

                5. Karak*

                  If someone shot or raped a person in the office I would immediately demand accountability from my company for how it was even possible for this to happen. They’d need a complete overhaul of hiring practices, floor layouts, security, everything.

                6. MoreFriesPlz*

                  @Karak You’re proving my and RagingADHD’s point. You’d evaluate safety and security. Nothing to do with PTO. Because it’s totally irrelevant.

          2. Imaginary Friend*

            On re-reading, I don’t think it was cheekbone that was broken, I think it was that the punch split the skin of the cheek. Which is still bad, don’t get me wrong! But I don’t think you could punch someone hard enough to break their cheekbone without also breaking your own hand.

            1. MoreFriesPlz*

              Am I missing something as to why (genuine question)? Broken *body part* almost always means bone. Broken skin is a cut, and I think that’s what most people would call it. Or maybe a gash if it’s really deep. If the manager needed time off to physically recover I’d assume it was either a broken bone or a really deep cut.

              I would also assume no one would get medical details on the status of someone who was fired AND arrested. The hand could very well have been broken.

              Totally agree it’s a bit vague. And really awful either way.

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

          The thing is it doenst sound like they have a bad PTO policy. Other people had requested that same day off prior and the employee was the later requesting it off. It sounds like the work in a place that they need coverage. Not everyone can take the same day off.
          This person was a ticking time bomb. If it hadn’t been about the day off it would have been something else.

  12. Me*

    I just want to say it’s refreshing to see a management who did all the right things and is asking how to do even better.

    We’ve had more than enough manager’s from hell lately.

  13. CW*

    #1 – Something must have pushed the employee to go off the deep end. Maybe too many things were happening outside of work. Maybe the employee was not happy about something and just let things boil over.

    Either way, totally out of line. I have heard of unprofessional attitudes at work, but this take the cake beyond anything I have heard of. The employee deserved to be fired.

  14. Pop pop*

    LW1 gives suspiciously few details of the lead up to the assault. I think it’s important to exam the culture of your workplace when violence occurs. It seems terribly unusual for someone to snap in a healthy workplace. Of course it’s possible, but what we all know is that toxic workplaces are an epidemic in some fields. People under tremendous stress without choices sometimes crack. I think it’s a very privileged group commenting here who apparently have never experienced a toxic workplace and had to suffer through it. True story, I had a coworker denied a day off for her uncle’s funeral because too many people had already taken it off. You don’t think a grieving person might resort to violence? My coworker didn’t, but we kinda would have understood if they did.

    1. Observer*

      This wasn’t just a slap. Breaking someone’s cheekbone means that it was a pretty savage attack. And, no I would NOT sympathize with the grieving employee who did that.

      Now, if they walked off the job? See the comment thread on the employee who walked out because her boss wouldn’t let her go to her own graduation.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Yeah, what Observer said. Walking of the job, maybe in some cases. Breaking someone’s cheekbone, no.

    2. Hex Libris*

      I don’t think it’s coming from a place of privilege to think there’s no excuse for literally breaking someone’s face. There are a TON of comments about the company’s PTO system, which are both speculation and beside the point because no level of toxicity justifies BREAKING SOMEONE’S FACE. You say “without choices,” but physically attacking someone is absolutely a choice, one that will ruin your life more surely than quitting a toxic job ever could.

      1. banoffee pie*

        I wonder had she done it before? I mean would it take training to be able to break someone’s cheek with a punch? I wonder if she was just a violent individual and punched other people before. Maybe it was only a matter of time before she did it to someone in public. I don’t know much about it, I’ve never tried to punch someone in the face but I thought if you didn’t know what you were doing it could break your hand.
        Anyway firing her was obviously the only thing to do. Apart from anything else, everyone would be afraid to work with her forever after it. And the punched employee needed to be supported. You couldn’t really ask her to work with punchy again.

    3. MoreFriesPlz*

      Wow. This is just incredibly wrong, on every level. It’s somewhere between laughable and frightening to suggest that “physical violence in the workplace is not ok” is a position of privilege.

      Attacking a coworker is a choice. It’s unusual in most workplaces because it’s an awful choice, as a human and as an employee. Someone who makes this kind of choice is showing such egregiously bad judgement that there is no reason to assume that whatever they claim “made” them do it is a legitimate complaint. They are totally detached from the reality of what is and is not ok.

      It’s pretty likely that OP didn’t give much back story because there isn’t much to give. They described someone who snapped over a very typical way of assigning PTO. Someone who is unhinged enough to attack a coworker over a PTO request isn’t likely to have a really well thought out, logical reason for doing it. That’s not suspicious. The company is being very thoughtful in handling this which only further proves the point.

      I have been trapped in an extremely toxic workplace: manager anger management problems, constant sexual harassment (of me specifically, from people much, much senior to me), religious harassment (same), forcing hourly workers to work unpaid overtime or loose our jobs, my boss refusing to grant any PTO requests for doctors appointments without tons of very personal medical details because I was “too young and fit to be sick.” But I had graduated right into the recession and I needed to pay bills somehow. Even the subway in our area wanted prior sandwhich-making experience, which I lacked. I still didn’t assault anyone.

    4. Observer*

      I think it’s a very privileged group commenting here who apparently have never experienced a toxic workplace and had to suffer through it

      No, YOU are the one talking from a position of privilege. You apparently have never actually had to work or live in an environment where violence is acceptable. Even in your scenario, your graving co-worker did NOT resort to violence! Workplace toxicity is BAD. Amping it up by making violence acceptable is just . . . I don’t have words that would be acceptable here.

      But I would point out that the people who would suffer from that are NOT the people who have enough privilege to be able to find a new job, but the people you claim to be defending – people under significant stress with little or no options.

  15. Tea and Cake*

    LW1 – This might not be appropriate for your company, but is there a way future time off is communicated to your teams? Perhaps not naming people whose vacation is approved but maybe number of people with already approved days off?

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      In my office they do a really good job I think of communicating that day “x” is fully booked, all time off requests for busy period Y need to be received by date Z (and who had that time off last year will go to the bottom of the priority list).

      Also, we do have separate sick and vacation time – and the manager is really clear that her cut off (for letting people have vacation time) still allows for two sick day of call offs.

  16. Heffalump*

    Alison, you said you were nervous about walking to your car alone after firing an employee. Was this the guy in your “I used to suck at firing people” story?

  17. Bagels in the breakroom*

    Very much reminds me of the letter where the employee bit the arm of the guy blocking her way. She (think it was a female LW) immediately realized she was taking in the toxicity of her environment and course corrected. So, very true that we’re only getting one side of the story and this very well could be an example of a toxic work place. I hope this letter isn’t that, but good point.
    I think many commenters are working under the (understandable) assumption that we need to take a LW at their word and just give them the best advice possible.

    1. Observer*

      Yeah, but the kinds of toxicity that leads to that kind of behavior is not the kind of thing that people were suggesting.

      Keep in mind that Allison didn’t suggest that there couldn’t be issues in the workplace. Maybe her suggestions didn’t go far enough, but anything that I could think of that would make sense would fall into that range. eg. Have other people shown signs of aggression? How were those incidents handled? How does the workplace handle situations where someone feels afraid for some reason? Stuff like that are what I would be looking for.

    2. RagingADHD*

      Giving the LWs the benefit of the doubt, not speculating on facts with no reasonable support in the letter, and working from the assumption that the LW is accurately reporting the situation are all supposed to be commenting rules. There’s plenty of flexibility in how they’re applied, but that’s kinda how it’s supposed to work.

  18. AthenaC*

    #2 reads to me as someone who’s trying too hard to make someone else feel complimented and happy. I’ve been that person when I was young and hadn’t quite calibrated my “appropriate social interaction” algorithms, so it’s a little sad to see many commenters conclude that it’s “creepy” and various unkind things.

    She may be “creepy” – I don’t know – but it seems to me that it’s a much easier first step to just tell her directly that the volume of specific comments are really landing wrong and they are not having their intended (presumably positive) effect.

    I’m assuming you wouldn’t have the same reaction if she had complimented your necklace ONCE and then never again, right? Or if she complemented something specific about your appearance no greater than, say, once every two weeks?

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      Some of the comments aren’t even compliments, though. It’s more like a daily
      … cheekbone definition assessment? Of course LW wouldn’t have the same reaction to an occasional actually-positive comment as they would to having their face constantly, repeatedly scrutinized. The pattern is what makes it creepy.

    2. RagingADHD*

      Creepy has nothing to do with the person’s intentions. It is the experience of the person on the receiving end of the behavior, describing how it made them feel (or how they imagine it would make them feel in that situation).

      It’s not the responsibility of someone being intruded upon to coddle the feelings of someone who is acting inappropriately toward them, or to spend their own mental and emotional energy trying to parse whether the creepy person is doing it on purpose or not. Telling them to knock it off because they are being creepy isn’t the right wording for a professional setting, but sometimes in personal settings it’s the quickest and most effective way to get the message across.

      The notion that someone didn’t “mean to be” creepy, and therefore it’s unkind to describe intrusive behavior that way, perpetuates two very damaging dynamics.

      1) It prevents well-intentioned but clueless people from making appropriate adjustments to their behavior so they can stop alienating others.

      2) It enables and gives cover to people who are deliberately intrusive and inappropriate, by making it “not their fault.”

      Of course the frequency and repetitiveness of the comments matters. But the content also matters. Telling someone else how they should do their makeup, and that it’s better or worse on different occasions isn’t really a compliment. It’s judgy and presumptuous.

      Similarly, referring to someone else’s belongings as “My” necklace or “my jacket” because they noticed it before, is forced intimacy and possessiveness that would be problematic in nearly any personal relationship, and are extremely inappropriate in a work relationship.

      1. AthenaC*

        ‘ 1) It prevents well-intentioned but clueless people from making appropriate adjustments to their behavior so they can stop alienating others.

        2) It enables and gives cover to people who are deliberately intrusive and inappropriate, by making it “not their fault.” ‘

        Please refer to my earlier comment – “it seems to me that it’s a much easier first step to just tell her directly that the volume of specific comments are really landing wrong and they are not having their intended (presumably positive) effect.”

        Thank you.

        1. RagingADHD*

          Yes, that’s the professional version.

          But still, creepy is as creepy does. And if someone feels creeped on (or is describing how they perceive a behavior) it isn’t unkind to say so. Accurate feedback about the effect of one’s actions may be tough to hear, but the feelings of the person being intruded upon take precedence over the feelings of the person being offensive or intrusive.

          1. AthenaC*

            Still not sure why you’re reading my comments so aggressively – no one asked for the offendor’s feelings to “take precedence” over the feelings of the offendee. In fact, it’s specifically because the offendee’s feelings “take precedence” that the offendor’s behavior needs to change.

            1. Dark Macadamia*

              I feel like in your original comment you seemed confused or disappointed that people find this behavior creepy, but now you seem upset that someone… responded to your comment, explaining something you didn’t understand. Your comments are landing as if they’re aggressive even if that’s not what you intend.

            2. RagingADHD*

              I’m not being aggressive or reading your comments as aggressive. I’m trying to be as clear and direct as I can because you seem to be confused about what I’m saying.

              The reason I keep talking about whose feelings take precedence is because your original comment was all about centering your own feelings and the feelings of the intrusive person in the letter, how you identified with that person, and how you believed it was “sad” and “unkind” for the recipients of such behavior to characterize it as objectionable and creepy.

              A person who alienates others with creepy behavior probably will feel sad when they are told to knock it off. That doesn’t make it unkind.

        2. jiggle mouse*

          If someone is creeping me out, I probably won’t get into a discussion about manner & frequency of being creeped on with them. People sometimes lash out or escalate when inappropriate behavior is brought to their attention.

      2. AthenaC*

        Also – believe me, I’ve learned the hard way that “no one cares about a person’s intentions.” The question is – what is the easiest way to get that behavior to change? As I have now said multiple times, the easiest way is often to simply be direct, and in fact that approach is SUPER effective if the offense is unintentional. (What a concept!)

        If the offense is INTENTIONAL, then you need a different approach, but anyone you escalate to is going to ask if you’ve asked them to stop.

        1. allathian*

          What’s wrong with “Your frequent comments about my personal appearance are creeping me out. I need you to stop commenting on my appearance, thanks.”

          Please note that I didn’t say “Stop commenting on my appearance, you creep.”

  19. Bagels in the breakroom*

    I honestly read the second letter as a very overly friendly coworker, not a creep. I can hear my grandmothers saying this to their friends/coworkers; maybe it’s a Southern thing, lol. Either way, just tell her you find the comments discomfiting and move on. Not a huge deal, not some big creepy ordeal.

    1. RagingADHD*

      I’ve heard plenty of Southern grandmas say this kind of thing, too. And they are most certainly NOT compliments. If that’s the dynamic, I’d say it’s even more inappropriate for an employee to talk that way to a supervisor, because that kind of backhanded criticism is the way matriarchs exert or wrangle for dominance.

      “Oh, you didn’t do your cheekbones today, sweetie? Bless your heart.”

      1. PollyQ*

        Exactly, it reads as very controlling behavior to me, especially when she expresses any kind of disappointment in the stylistic choices that were made.

    2. Guin*

      That letter creeped me out completely. I would have stopped being nice to that person long, long before those remarks got so out of hand. Day 1: “Oh, what fabulous blush!” “Uh – thank you.” 2nd day “Your makeup is different! Where are those cheekbones?” “Please don’t keep commenting on my appearance. I have to prep for my 10:30 meeting. Good bye.” LW needs to be direct with stalker co-worker.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        For someone who can barely remember what co-workers look like this level of scrutiny is very unsettling and needs to be shut down.

  20. LaurenB*

    What I don’t get about this line of questioning is that I’d be MORE inclined to wonder what went wrong if an employee stormed off the job, or cried, or raised their voice. The fact that it escalated to physical violence just makes me assume that this is a person with anger issues and major problems with authority.

    1. LaurenB*

      That was meant to be a reply to Loulou’s attempt to argue that it’s not crazy for employers to limit vacation requests when necessary.

    2. EmmaPoet*

      Agreed. When the attacker leaves their victim needing surgery, I don’t feel a lot of sympathy for the person who threw that punch.

  21. Gerry Keay*

    I had a coworker comment that I “look so good in dresses and should wear them more” and it made me SO mad that it actually helped me figure out I was trans. Who knew!

    1. Jacey*

      Ha, thank you for sharing that story! I have a friend who had a similar reaction to compliments on how “handsome” she looked in a suit.

  22. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I had a male coworker compliment my hoodie in the breakroom. I said thank you.

    “My girlfriend has the exact same one.” – “Oh that’s nice.”

    He then took out his phone. “Would you mind if I take a picture of you to show her?” I picked my jaw up off the floor and said “Yes, actually, I would mind.” He was shocked. “Are you sure?” I was.

    And then I could never bring myself to wear that hoodie again. It had been my favorite before and now it gave me the creeps. Ended up taking it to Goodwill, because I was no longer feeling comfortable having it on. I cannot explain this reaction. It was not a rational one. Someone keeping tabs on EVERYTHING I wear, including makeup, would probably make me want to WFH forever just to avoid that person.

    1. beach read*

      I admire your wherewithal to deny the creepy guy his photo. FWIW I think instincts may not always seem rational but they are usually right on target. Good for you!

  23. CaviaPorcellus*

    This letter was originally from 2017 and I would love an update! OP – where are you now? Did everyone recover OK? Did you implement new trainings or business processes as a result of this incident?

  24. Hmm*

    Re OP1: that’s awful!

    In my own experience, it’s either that the employee had anger management issues; or that a much bigger (usually workplace-based) issue that has caused the employee suffering has been allowed to fester and the result is this (obviously very inappropriate) outburst. However, it is not always the manager or colleague who is causing that suffering who gets hit or yelled at when the employee inevitably reaches the point where they have had enough. Especially if that employee is being bullied etc.

    OP3, I know this letter is from a while ago, but in the age of COVID, I think more employers are going to need to start letting applicants speak confidentially to people who have been in that role, or a similar one, previously. I think reference checks are pretty much always a complete waste of time, but I think it is very valuable for a potential employee to perform a reference check on their potential employer.

  25. Anonymous Today*

    I think that everything should be reviewed at OP #1’s work place.

    A lot of people pushed back on the idea that procedures regarding time off should be looked into because that would be victim blaming.

    The thing is that there can be two aspects to this situation. While it is never alright to deck your supervisor or any coworker, it also is not acceptable for someone in charge to use their power to play favorites.

    There are too many instances where a kid who was being bullied finally lashed out and they are the one suspended from school.

    1. Observer*

      While it is never alright to deck your supervisor or any coworker, it also is not acceptable for someone in charge to use their power to play favorites.

      That’s true, but totally not relevant to the situation. There is simply no situation where a boss being even the worst jerk about how they allow time off justifies this kind of ferocious attack.

      There are too many instances where a kid who was being bullied finally lashed out and they are the one suspended from school.

      Again, irrelevant. There is simply no way to spin this as self defense.

      1. Karak*

        But why does “it’s not ok to punch people over PTO” translate to “there is absolutely no problem with the PTO worth examining”?

        Like, someone was attacked on the job over a workplace issue. Why wouldn’t you stop and take a closer look at everything that went into this?

  26. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    LW3–I have learned the hard, hard way to try to get a handle on turnover when I interview for a job. I have asked “How many people have been in this role in the past 5 years” and “Why is this position open now?” And sad to say, I sometimes learned after coming on board that I was lied to. I have accepted more than one job where the boss was in fact an ogre who couldn’t keep staff or fired/ran off workers and it was their ongoing pattern, and I was just the next person in the pattern. Even if a hiring manager assured me all those people left amicably for whatever reason, I’d cast a baleful eye on it.

  27. Karak*

    OP, it’s not acceptable for someone to break bones in the office space. Flat-out.

    I agree with Allison to look over this person’s history for red flags or personal issues.

    I also think this is a good moment to seriously look at your time off policy and availability. I cannot emphasize it enough that it’s not ok to attack people!! It is worth looking into: how far in advance did he ask for that time? How far in advance was it cancelled? What was it for?

    If he asked six months ago for his brother’s “in memorium” and was told “no” two days ahead of time? You’re going to have more incidences on your hands.

    I am not proud of this, but at a job I went through months of mandatory overtime, then abruptly got transferred to a new area that didn’t have any PTO available for three months. I yelled at my supervisor. It was not “I spoke angrily”. It was yelling.

    It ended there—no violence, no threats, no firing—but it was a pressure cooker of a situation that could cause an unstable person to decide to do something like throw a punch.

    Do not set up your supervisors to be abused, or your employees to be pushed over the edge.

  28. Annie*

    I can barely read the first letter without a visceral reaction to remembering trauma of being the victim of an attack by the person I supervised.

    I worked for a company that employed about 600 people at HQ and another 1,000 employees in other offices. The HR team wasn’t good, but I had not expected they would be so bad.

    I had caught the employee paying for personal trips using the company card; lying about the death of a family member to get time off; sexually harassing on-site vendors to the point the vendor no longer allowed their employees to work on site. This employee was no well liked by anyone. HR knew about this and only allowed me to warn him. I was a strong-performing employee with consistently good reviews, and 15 years of tenure with the company.

    Guess who was fired? Yup. Me. It happened after I was attacked (on camera) on the hallway. The company said I had violated the medicinal discrimination policy. I had never been told there was any medical issue at all.

    Kudos to the supervisors who is committed to the well-being entire team.

  29. Econobiker*

    Definitely look at the time off policy. Are there employees who are ALWAYS off for holidays because they request it at 12:01am on the exact day when the request time opens 6 months prior to the holiday to put in for it? Are holidays not staffed on a rotation basis or vacation issue on a lottery basis?
    Apart from the irrational action of the employee, this could have been an employee wanting to celebrate a holiday with family from out of town and she couldn’t use her PTO/VACATION days because an “old guard” of employees had sewn up the holidays off months beforehand? This could have been a much different letter from the employee side of the issue.

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