update: my coworker refuses to wear a mask

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

We have so many updates this year that I’m going to be posting six to seven times a day for the next several weeks — so keep checking back throughout the entire day.

Remember the letter-writer whose coworker refused to wear a mask? Here’s the update.

First, thank you, Alison, for answering my question and many thanks for the encouraging commenters on the original letter as well! The first part of my update I wrote in a comment in the original post so some may have seen it already, but I have a lot more to add now too.

The day after I wrote to Alison (in December 2020, before the letter was published), Bob walked into my cubicle and started talking. I gave Bob the firm boundary that he cannot come into my cubicle without a mask and he also needed to stay six feet away. I reminded him where the free masks are in the office. Best case scenario, he could have put on a mask and finished the conversation. Just about the worst scenario happened. He argued heatedly for 10 or so minutes while I just kept repeating “Ok, but you still need to wear a mask in my cubicle.” Him: “I don’t want to wear a mask. Everyone knows the mask rule isn’t really a rule. I don’t even have to wear a mask in Wal-Mart! Why do I have to wear one here?” It was so whiny. (P.S. There was a state mask mandate then so he, by law, absolutely did have to wear a mask in Wal-Mart which he apparently never did. That was eye-opening.) I held my ground and maintained my boundary over and over but he was horrid. When I reminded him for a second time that there are free masks in the office and he could go get one, he took a mask out of his pocket, dangled it in my face, and said through gritted teeth: “I have one but you know why I’m not going to wear it? Because I don’t want to. You can’t make me.” I work with a toddler. That’s the nicest noun I can think of. I asked him to leave my cubicle if he wouldn’t mask and he refused again, so I told him I would get HR involved if he didn’t leave and didn’t comply with masking near me (thankfully at this point he didn’t know I’d already talked to HR several times and they’d done nothing – and HR was working remotely that day as usual). He left while grumbling “I didn’t know you were one of those people!” and “If that’s how you want to play it!” I was shaken up after.

But the next day that I saw him he did wear a mask for a second just to drop something off at my desk. A victory! The next week, he made a comment about being offended that I didn’t thank him for wearing a mask. The man was offended at my lack of gratitude. Let’s let that sink in. I pretended I hadn’t heard his comment and said nothing. I had absolutely nothing professional to say and getting visibly angry would just prove to him that he didn’t have to take me seriously because I’m too emotional or whatnot. He’s been largely ignoring me ever since, which is seriously a great improvement to my work environment.

He did mask somewhat for a little bit after my confrontation. Maybe for a couple weeks? By “somewhat” masking I mean he was holding up a mask to his face with one hand (like not putting the earloops on and just breathing through his mask and his hand). He looks absurd when he does that. After a bit of time seeing that, in late January 2021 (with new advice from Alison and commenters, thank you!) and with the support of two other coworkers that I broached about this, we sent an email to HR and my boss to tell them that Bob consistently wasn’t masking properly and that we were all uncomfortable about being exposed to the virus. HR asked me to “monitor” him for a week and get back to them if he was still just holding the mask up to his mouth. I wasn’t thrilled about being asked to “monitor” him but I did and sent an update (aka he wasn’t masking, surprise!). HR said they’d “handle it.” He did wear a mask for a while after that – sometimes fully masked, sometimes somewhat masked. But HR seemed to be ok with his “somewhat” masking method even though I continued to complain about that. Sigh.

Then the vaccine came. In April 2021 our mask rule at work went away for vaccinated people, and my company made it a rule that you can’t ask someone about their vaccine status at work so if someone wasn’t masking, no one knew if they were vaccinated or just choosing not to comply. Bob has anti-vaccine rants with a like-minded coworker in the hallways, but I had to pretend that he was vaccinated, according to HR. (He began not masking at all again during this time.) Conveniently in May it seemed the pandemic was over. My state and office no longer required masks. I thought I’d finally dodged the Bob bullet.

In August, our mask rule appeared again in response to a steep rise in cases. Everyone else was wearing masks in the office as required. Bob was usually not even pretending to half-wear a mask anymore; he just wasn’t. I was exhausted of emailing HR at this point so I let it go for a time. (I know I know, I shouldn’t have. I should’ve continued being the squeaky wheel, but I was worn out and felt I had no squeaks to give.)

Only when I had a client visit the office in early October (the first office visitor in a while) did I re-realize how unfair he was being to everyone, unfair in so many ways. I had to instruct Client to wear a mask in the building as required, and Client kindly obliged. (Bob has mildly traumatized me and I was bracing myself for an incident when I asked Client to mask up, but Client is a normal person who masks when asked to, even though I know Client preferred not to wear a mask. Human decency – astonishing, isn’t it!?) Client saw Bob walking around the hallways unmasked. Nothing was said of course, but I was rightfully embarrassed that I had to make them follow a rule when he doesn’t have to. And angry that HR has seen this and let us down with how they “handled it.” So I wrote to HR again with my most firm language. I used words like “extremely disappointed this behavior is allowed to continue” and called Bob’s behavior “ugly” and “disrespectful in a huge way” and not reflective of our company values. I reiterated that allowing Bob’s behavior to continue puts me at risk of being exposed to an unvaccinated person, and that a quarantine for me means great stress for the rest of my team since they’d have to do my work. I requested that we either begin to enforce the mask rule or we take the mask rule away to reflect reality. I knew they would stand by their rule so then they’d be forced to say they’d take enforcement seriously, and I was right. HR told me no one is above the rules, even Bob. They also claimed to only see Bob when masked/somewhat masked and acted totally shocked that he hadn’t been masking – historically he usually does try to hold a mask over his face if he knows HR is in the building so I half believe that. I don’t totally believe that because a. I still have seen HR and an unmasked Bob together at the same time a handful of times and they claimed they never saw him unmasked and b. we all know holding a mask to his face while walking around all day is still not proper mask-wearing so I’m not sure why he got away with even that.

I don’t know what was said to him but he has fully masked consistently the last few weeks since. I hope they threatened to fire him at long last, as they should with anyone who has willfully chosen to disobey an important rule for over a year after many reminders and conversations. My boss’s boss also apologized to me directly about their previous lack of handling the issue and promised it’d be different going forward. I accepted the apology and also politely told him it was a necessary apology. I will hold him to his promise.

So far, this is a happy ending! But if I never have to send an email regarding masks again it will be too soon. I have seen so much ugly and I can’t go back.

Stay healthy and stay squeaky, everyone!

{ 392 comments… read them below }

  1. Gigi*

    This should be used as a case study in boundaries setting. It sounds like the experience was exhausting but I’m proud of you, total stranger. Keep fighting the good fight.

    1. mf*

      No kidding. I’m really proud of and impressed by how the LW handled it. I would have struggled to remain this professional the whole time!

    2. Allornone*

      Seriously, good job, OP. You handled it waaaaay better than I would’ve been able to.

      And seriously, I know we are supposed to be kind in the comments, but dude, forget Bob. Bob sucks.

    3. KatieHR*

      Is anyone else disappointed that HR did not step in to help enforce this more? How about Bob’s manager? This is so exhausting to me. He is a complete toddler but toddler’s have do better with masks then some grown adults.

    4. IrishEm*

      Agreed! I have been quite literally screaming my boundary and Causing A Scene in the LW’s first confrontation. (As an immunocompromised individual whose entire extended family is also immunocompromised I lose my cool entirely around antimaskers and antivaxxers, so… yeah, kudos to LW for keeping it professional).

    5. WoodswomanWrites*

      Yes! OP, your tenacity is admirable. I hope that with your boss’s boss now involved that this will addressed once and for all and you won’t have to do this anymore.

    6. allathian*

      LW, I really admire your tenacity in this, kudos. I hope Bob either masks up properly from now on, or gets fired.

    7. Jam*

      Yes absolutely. OP definitely crossed a line by trying to control what someone else puts on their body.

        1. Lucien Nova*

          I’m in. (I am known on my streams for yeeting things, with a hearty shouted YEET! People love it.)

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          If the Robs wear their masks, I’m willing to keep them, but that’s become a pretty hard and fast requirement for existing on the same planet as me.

      1. JP in the heartland*

        Bob doesn’t deserve the bright light of the sun. Perhaps a launch into a dark hole?

      2. Emotional Support Care’n*

        I will sign the petition and will petition to be one of the yeeters. I want to launch a Bob.

    1. Stitch*

      My 2 year old knows how to wear a mask when we go places inside. I’m over grown adults being less mature than my small kid.

      1. QA Peon*

        YES. Thank you. My 8 year old takes a mask everywhere, puts one on as we leave the car or before, never complains. We caught the darn virus and were in quarantine for 3 WEEKS (he was a contact and tested positive 8 days in, sigh) and he went back to school….and put on his darn mask. Didn’t even question it. Only about 20% of kids at his school even mask, and yet he still does it.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I see many small children masked in the store (well, less now because I live in County Stupid in State of Terminal Butthead), but if a small child can wear it, so can you, Bob.

      3. Oh hey*

        I’m law enforcement; my husband is military. We’re consistent republican voters, in a red state. Our five year old wears a mask just fine right along with us anytime we’re in a public space…..

      4. mf*

        I’ve noticed that kids, even really young ones, are usually really good about wearing masks. To them, it’s just a normal thing they have to do because the people in charge (their parents, teachers, doctors) said they need to wear one.

        So there’s absolutely no excuse for adults like Bob who are throwing temper tantrums about masking.

        1. Candi*

          I know some kids think it’s awesome fun, especially if the mask has a pattern they like.

          There was one little girl at the store the other day wearing a mask that exactly matched her dress, including sparkly sequins. She was doing that adorable “aren’t I cute?” thing kids do when they know they have an audience and are enjoying it.

      5. allathian*

        Yes, thank you. My son’s 12, and wearing a mask indoors in a public place like public transit is automatic for him. He doesn’t question it at all.

      6. Been There*

        This is fascinating to me, as there is a lot of discussion in my country how kids shouldn’t wear masks, and young kids aren’t able to wear them correctly. I’ve seen ample proof of the opposite, yet here we are with a lot of schools having to close.

    2. Concertina*

      I’m currently reading AAM in bed while sick and waiting for test results after exposure from an unvaccinated coworker who came to work for 3 days with covid, one day knowingly. This letter hit so hard I want to cry.

      1. Candi*

        May it not be covid.

        If it is covid, may it be the lightest of cases that your immune system destroys with rapid speed.

  2. Monty & Millie's Mom*

    I’m glad there is a somewhat positive resolution, but sorry it was such a long, exhausting, frustrating journey! Kudos to you, random stranger – you did great!

    1. Bug*

      Yes, kudos on holding your ground! I’ll bet many in your office are appreciative of your efforts. Well done!

  3. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Gah, I’m so sorry you work with a toddler. Good for you for sticking to your guns, and I very much hope an actual COVID case does not occur to inflame this situation further.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Honestly, the toddlers I know (well, pre-schoolers since most true toddlers are too young to mask) are pretty good about mask wearing. The masks slip down and get drooled and chewed on and dirty and lost sometimes, of course, but most kids aren’t anywhere near as obnoxious about masks as Bob is.

      1. Artemesia*

        my toddler grandson knows the rules, can explain them, has no trouble masking up — in our town the kids even mask up on playgrounds — without a fuss.

        1. TootsNYC*

          in my experience, the vast majority of toddlers like rules. They feel grownup and important when they follow them.

      2. straws*

        Yup, my 3 year old can put his mask on, properly, by himself. He pulls it over his chin if he needs to eat and he puts it back on when he’s done. Most mornings, he reminds me to make sure his mask is packed for daycare.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          My five year old checks the backpack for kindergarten every day for the primary and back up mask every morning. Agreed that the kids seem to be handling this so much better than a lot of adults.

        2. Putting out fires, Esq*

          My five year old stood there by my car for a minute making sure he liked how his mask fit around his ears this morning. It took some adjusting but he got it on.

      3. Irish girl*

        my 4 yeard old is good about wearing a mask. I can even get one on my 2 year old for a short time before she rips it off. They are better than Bob.

      4. Ally McBeal*

        Toddlers are great about it, in my experience. Older kids who’ve been in school for a couple years pre-pandemic, not so much. I volunteer at an after-school program and I’m at my limit with some of them telling me “I can’t breathe” when they’re wearing paper masks and mine is cloth.

        1. Candi*

          I wonder if an explanation that that’s the lizard brain talking would help. That part doesn’t necessarily get that having the mouth and nose covered can be harmless and gets antsy about potential loss of air.

          (Early on in masking, I was squashing down panic attacks due to that. Took a while to get past them.)

      5. Can't Sit Still*

        I have yet to meet a small person old enough to walk who can’t wear a mask. They slip sometimes and have to be reminded to pull them up, but small kids seem to think of masks as “clothing we wear when we are outside.”

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Now that it’s getting cold mine love them outside – the mask takes the place of a scarf. And they stay on the face and over the nose (to keep it warm) way better.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            In 2020 before disposables were widely available, I bought some Avengers-themed flannel to make pajama pants (if I can find a pattern I like, men’s fit me better). I was going to make some masks out of it to keep my face warm but I never ended up going anywhere last winter.

            1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

              (side topic, but pj pants are super simple. You can trace a pattern from a pair that you already own and fit nicely. Peek at a written pattern for the order of the sewing steps, if you need to. Add patch pockets of your own design because, well, pockets.)

    2. münchner kindl*

      “He left while grumbling “I didn’t know you were one of those people!””

      Bob isn’t a toddler, toddler can follow rules that protect other people’s lives.

      Bob is a jerk who has bought into the anti-mask, anti-vaccine lies because it fills his emotional needs (of being a brave hero etc.).

      No surprise at all that anti-mask Bob then is also anti-vaccine: it’s about his feelings, not facts.

      Which is why company should fire him – there’s no way to tell what other topic he takes an anti-fact stance on, so how can anybody trust him to do his work correctly instead of repeating lies?

  4. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    Yay OP! I can not begin to tell you how much I empathize with you, or how many mask shenanigans have made me want to LOSE IT since the pandemic started. I really hope Bob stays compliant!

  5. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I hope they fire his backside. I’ve got absolutely zero respect for any anti-mask/anti-vaccine people anymore.

    Got to say OP, I’m very impressed at the amount of strength you showed. It must have been awful working with a plague spreader but you stood your ground. Seriously, good job.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’ve completely cut out family members. I’m not going to forgive them. I’m not walking on eggshells around people’s feelings about it anymore. The emotional callus I’ve built up from all of this is strong.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Gentle internet hugs mate. I’m right there with you. There’s a piece of memorial embroidery I’m doing right now for people close to me who’ve died of this virus and there’s now 4 names on it.

        Literally anybody who tries to pull a ‘it’s not that serious’, ‘healthy people don’t need vaccines’, ‘I’m not wearing a mask/getting a vaccine because I don’t like being told what to do’ etc speech on me gets a photo of that work.

        I burnt out last year because of all this, I’m barely hanging on now.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I’m so sorry. That’s a lovely tribute, but it’s awful you have so many (or any at all) to memorialize.

        2. a tester, not a developer*

          I’ve found it terrifying to hear how many people literally don’t give a rat’s ass if their (in)actions hurt or kill others in their community – or even in their own family.

          1. The Rafters*

            Their fearless leader, 45, certainly didn’t give the width of a flea’s ass about keeping his family safe. His cult members love to emulate him.

            1. Pants*

              This right here. I’ve cut off several contacts, close and acquaintances, due to their Orange Coloured Glasses. I have zero room for Qmers in my life.

        3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Internet hugs Keymaster – I’m sitting here dealing with fear because my 91 year old Grandpa has it now. He’s fully vaccinated and had his booster six weeks ago – and still got Covid (most likely at PT, to help strengthen his leg after an old knee injury flared up). He wears his mask all the time, too.

      2. mimi Me*

        Yep! I don’t have it in me anymore to play nice. If someone can’t even do the bare minimum of wearing a mask to keep from spreading a highly contagious virus then they’re not good people. They’re selfish, ignorant, and not worth my time.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        Mercifully, my family members who lean this way are a) far, far away and b) mostly elderly and high-risk so they’ve been vaccinated, anyway. One of them lost a sibling to COVID early in the pandemic, before vaccines were available. At least the differences in our viewpoints have that limit.

      4. CoveredinBees*

        Yup. I got an earful from a friend who basically said: I got vaccinated so I can do whatever I want (unmasked) and any idiot who gets sick it’s their own fault. On behalf of my two children under 5 and two friends in the midst of chemo, I say fuck you so very much.

        1. curiousLemur*

          That friend is ridiculous. Don’t they get that NONE of this is 100% safe?! I’ve been vaccinated, I’ve got the booster shot, I work from home and don’t go out much (mostly for groceries), and I still distance and use my mask when in public. All of this helps; none of it is an absolute.

          1. BubbleTea*

            I’m double vaccinated and I caught covid. Everyone present at the event was complying with the rules and guidance but there was still an outbreak. Now I go beyond the guidance because I felt so guilty when I realised I probably spread it in the days between exposure and positive test. A hard lesson I learned well.

          2. fueled by coffee*

            Yep, this is precisely *why* I continue to wear my mask in public even when not technically legally required to by my state. I’m young, healthy, and vaccinated + booster. I’ve relaxed my personal behaviors a little bit – I’ll spend time unmasked indoors with vaccinated friends, travel by plane, go on the occasional awkward first date.

            But because I’m increasing my personal risk, AND because if I do get a breakthrough case I feel reasonably confident that I’ll get only mildly ill or be asymptomatic, I WEAR A MASK in grocery stores, while picking up my morning coffee, at work, etc. On any given day, I have no idea whether I might be infectious/asymptomatic, so I wear a mask to protect the people around me.

            Are masks kind of annoying? Sure. You know what’s more annoying? The moral weight of having sent someone to the hospital because you didn’t want to wear a freaking mask.

    2. Threeve*

      Even setting aside the anti-mask thing, refusing to stand further away from someone when they ask–no matter why they’re asking–is seriously inappropriate, bordering on threatening.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        To quote a good summation I read on twitter – “These people have developed a value system almost entirely removed from the social contract.” That’s why better information doesn’t lead to better behavior/choices.

        1. Malarkey01*

          And that’s why I think a lot of us are so confused by their behavior. I just cannot wrap my head around what happened to people I used to know, socialize with, that acted like “normal” people in the past. They’ve become completely different overnight and someone who would have made nice friendly chit chat at church/school pickup/work meetings and wouldn’t say a bad word about anyone is suddenly screaming at retail workers about their rights and baa’ing at strangers.
          It’s like they’ve thrown off decades of living under the social contract and have landed in on a new planet.

          1. Lobsterman*

            That’s literally just what it is. They want a different social contract and are willing to fight for it.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            I came up with a theory based on the people I’ve had to cut ties with for going all ‘the vaccine is dangerous and will kill you in 5 years’:

            They want, desperately, to be seen as superior to others. So grasping at this idea that they have knowledge the general population is ‘too stupid’ to understand – I.e. conspiracy stuff – is a path to it. They want to feel more wise, more informed and sadly some people latch onto the most wrong information possible to get that ‘I know something you don’t’ feeling.

            Admitting that actually, yeah, they were wrong and masks etc are a good thing would mean giving up that feeling and very few back down.

            (Btw, I’m not a student of human psychology. Thus is just my observation)

            1. Ally McBeal*

              This makes perfect sense in my personal experience, where the only Covid doubters (masks, vaccines, whatever) are evangelical Christians who’ve grown up with – somehow – both a persecution complex AND a superiority complex. (Maybe I shouldn’t say “somehow” since I was raised that way too, it’s a bubble and people like staying in their bubbles.)

              1. Bilbo Buggins*

                This, exactly. That strain of Christianity is all about power and persecution.

                My spouse and I are in agreement that our kids can choose their own faith paths in life as they grow up – but we really, really hope they don’t drift into the selfish supremacist form of Christianity.

                1. Candi*

                  If you raise them to be kind, caring, empathic people (and you’re here, aren’t you? /humor), then they’ll probably do like my two did and nope right out of that kind of nonsense.

                  (He’s an agnostic, and the younger one’s Christian, looking for a church that’s 1) close by 2) welcomes people are gay, trans, etc.)

            2. Sunshine's Eschatology*

              A friend of mine just mentioned offhand that she used to be into alt-right conspiracy theories, without really understanding the political dimension, and the way she described the very strong appeal of them was almost exactly what you’ve said here. The way she put it was like… you’re just some nobody but you can feel like you’re destined for greatness, for saving the world. I’m actually very curious about what led her away from those circles, but I’m very glad she escaped!

              1. WantonSeedStitch*

                I would love to see someone like your friend write an article talking about their journey to rationality!

                1. I take tea*

                  I listned to a Ted Talk with a woman named Megan Phelps-Roper, who used to belong to the Westboro Baptist Church and actually left because people argued respectfully with her on Twitter! It can happen!

              2. Working Hypothesis*

                You know, I’ve spent a long time heavily active in climate protection activism. If folks want to feel like they’re destined for greatness because they’re part of a movement to save the world, they don’t need conspiracy theories. I can give them a real one.

                1. Candi*

                  That might work for the ones who are content to be part of the movement.

                  For those who want secret special knowledge that makes them greater than all the “sheeple”, or want to be a hero without putting in the work to be a real-life one? We’re safer putting them on a nice island without internet.

            3. Dynein*

              Not only do I think you are right, I’m also pretty sure that scientists studying that behavior noticed that already as well.

              Curiously, I know a person who is constantly on the verge of slipping into the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories – they seem to lack an automatic mental filter that separates dubious claims from those that appear well-supported – but they never get quite there. They are difficult to have discussions with but if you don’t indulge their latest theories picked up from youtube and suchlike, they will drop that subject eventually and go on with their life. My personal armchair psychological assessment is that they lack that desire for being superior and thus still remain able to take in opposing information.

            4. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

              I think you’re absolutely right about that, Keymaster. I’ve seen the same observation name by others, including some with credentials in the behavioral sciences, and it has the absolute ring of truth to me.

          3. pancakes*

            The social contract in the US for my entire life has been that it’s fine and normal for not everyone to have healthcare, fine and normal to only care about the well-being of your own family, and fine and normal to shrug off the needlessly early deaths of people who can’t afford healthcare. It is so normalized that even people widely considered and self-identifying as “progressive” hold that view.

          4. quill*

            Yep. In many cases they were previously “okay, I’ll follow The Rules and have an easy life” and now that The Rules challenge their sense of superiority / invincibility / knowledgability they just toss the whole world with them. Because how dare anyone tell them that they are vulnerable in any way whatsoever?

            1. Candi*

              It shoots prosperity gospel, just world thinking, and that a specific race/gender/religion/culture/country/etc. is the most superior all right in the foot. Multiple times. They’re dancing and still getting hit.

        2. an infinite number of monkeys*

          It’s seems like it isn’t even just rampant individualism at this point – it’s anti-collectivism, to the point where people will do things that cause harm to themselves just to avoid the possibility of benefiting others.

    3. AnonEMoose*

      I have no respect for anti-vax/anti-mask people anymore, though I do feel for their family members who may have to deal with their loss. And the health care workers who’ve had patients on their death beds…from COVID…still insisting that COVID isn’t real. The willful, gleeful, arrogant ignorance is something I can’t personally forgive. It’s beyond my current limits as a person.

      1. Artemesia*

        Nobody is going to tell me what to do — seems to be the rallying cry of those who on the other hand insist that no black person would ever be shot by police if they would ‘only comply’.

    4. Clefairy*

      So, this is super off topic- your username is one that has stuck out to me in the comments for ages, but I never really understood it. WELL, I just watched Ghostbusters for the first time in 15 years on Monday and then saw the new movie last night- and now I’m seeing your username, and I UNDERSTAND hahaha

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Harold Ramis (Egon Spengler) was one of my first crushes – I watched Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2 over and over. Much later in life I got told by a boss that I really can’t sign for deliveries as ‘Vince Clortho, Keymaster of Gozer’ and thus was a username formed.

        1. The Smiling Pug*

          I love your username!! Ghostbusters is one of my favorite movies, and I’m going to see the new one on Sunday. :)

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Mine too. I was over the moon when I got to meet Ernie Hudson, aka Winston Zeddemore, at a sci-fi/fantasy con near OldCity. (For those who are curious, he is a sweetheart.)

            I also won a Ghostbusters quote-off in my chat room. :)

        2. Candi*

          I mentioned Gozer in a Death Battle chat, discussing characters that if Gozer asked if they were a god, the characters could answer “yes”.

      2. Deanna Troi*

        Every time I see one of Keymaster of Gozer’s posts, I want to shout “I am the Gatekeeper!” So, sometimes that happens multiple times a day.

      3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Junior Orchestra and I want to go see the new movie. Spouse likes the original and Mini Orchestra is only in kindergarten (so probably not old enough for the new one yet).
        We both love Egon and Winston – they make those first two movies.

        1. Candi*

          They’re awesome. I also love the way Venkman plays the EPA man like a harp, and the guy walks right into it.

          (I don’t want to say his name since it might get caught in the filter.)

          Most of the people here, I think, would give Venkmann a very suspicious look, but roll with him apparently being willing to cooperate now and milk it for what they could get.

    5. PT*

      In the US a bunch of governors made laws banning firing these jackholes. So even if technically speaking you’re right, if they want to make a scene they have their Republican Governor and Republican State Legislature behind them throwing up legal impediments to create Drama for you and your company.

      So not only can your company end up embroiled in a petty ass lawsuit, if your company is big enough to get any tax breaks or deals or perks or whatever from the state, the state legislature can take that away from you as punishment.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Given that I’ve seen so, so many people online and elsewhere who’ve lost their jobs due to refusing vaccines or basic safety instructions (because they whine a lot) I’d say it’s actually getting pretty normalised to kick these people out.

        (I live in the (UK) and while it’s a lot more paperwork I’d still fire someone for refusing masks/vaccines/spouting crap. Unless there’s an actual medical reason then there’s no excuse anymore.)

        1. pancakes*

          We aren’t really heading in that direction in the US. There’s an article in today’s Guardian about states changing unemployment laws to extend benefits to people who’ve quit their jobs in connection with refusing to get vaccinated. So far Iowa, Tennessee, Florida, and Kansas have done this and Missouri and Maryland are considering it.

          1. Candi*

            Groan. Meanwhile, my state, however useless our governor is, he is smart enough to listen to his advisors most of the time and act accordingly. So when a friend of my dad’s refused to comply with his company’s mask or vax rules -based on state and federal law- and got canned, he had no recourse to cover for his stupidity.

            I unfortunately heard all about it since my address was in his contact book (long story as to the benign reason why) and got the very bonkers email he sent out to everyone on his list. An 11 on the roll scale.

      2. A Feast of Fools*

        The thing about anti-maskers is that that’s not the only obnoxious, rule-breaking thing they do. There are two unvaxxed people on my team who [I’ve been told] have to constantly be reminded to put their masks on when they get near other people. If I were a manager, I could fire each of them right now for things totally unrelated to mask-wearing.

        Mind you, the things I’d cite wouldn’t normally be considered fireable offenses but HR would roll with it.

        Sadly, I’m not a manager and the managers (and Sr VP) of my department are. . . not quite anti-maskers / anti-vaxxers. . . but definitely think COVID is closer to a bad flu season than a global pandemic that has killed millions. No one close to them has died or been hospitalized so they think everyone is blowing it way out of proportion.

        Our CEO takes it seriously and we have a rule that says if you’re unvaxxed you must be masked at all times in the office, but I see our unvaxxed people on camera in their cubes without masks every time we have a team meeting. Management never tells them to put a mask on.

        [Side note: Why is that anti-maskers *want* to be in the office, where they can spread their germs???]

        When we all go back to the office in January, I’ll be dodging those two people. Like, if I’m headed down a hallway and they are approaching me, I’ll pretend to have forgotten something at my cube and turn around and walk away. Not just for my safety but because I have zero respect for them.

        1. GlowCloud*

          >>Why is that anti-maskers *want* to be in the office, where they can spread their germs??<<

          Early on, I would have guessed that it's an anxious response to Big, Scary, All-Encompassing EVENT that brings Upheaval and Uncertainty. That denial, stubborn refusal to change behaviours, etc, is just a form of exerting control over some aspect of an otherwise totally overwhelming and disruptive Global Event.

          Now we're coming up to two years into this entire thing, and IDK what's keeping these people from reaching the "Acceptance" phase, but I'm no longer willing to be charitable in my interpretation.
          Being in the office should be contingent on following the safety rules – It's as simple as that.

        2. Candi*

          “not normally fireable offenses” etc.

          That puts me in mind of a list of weird laws for my state I found a few years before covid. Including apparently at one point lollipops were banned. (?)

          There’s one law that went from weird to vital and got a lot of mileage after covid hit:

          Every person who shall willfully expose himself or herself to another, or any animal affected with any contagious or infectious disease, in any public place or thoroughfare, except upon his or her or its necessary removal in a manner not dangerous to the public health; and every person so affected who shall expose any other person thereto without his or her knowledge, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

      3. Elizabeth Bennett*

        Oh my word, YES. Gov. Abbott (Texas) signed an executive order blocking government entities, schools, & public businesses from requiring masks in the breath before ordering five more refrigerated morgue trailers for the Houston hospitals. He’s playing to his base – libertarians who don’t want the government telling them what to do – and then also saying “get vaccinated” once in a while.

        The failure in the US (my opinion) is the loss of social trust in authority and mainstream news. Someone close to me is a former registered nurse (RN) married to a current RN. The current RN doesn’t believe the numbers are true and the virus is super-hyped up for nothing. She doesn’t think the virus is that serious and thinks the potential side effects of a vaccine are worse than Covid. The Former RN follows in-step with the current RN and does not read any reports available, but sometimes we have constructive discussions about the pandemic. They’re also suffering from the Dunning-Krueger effect, where they are trained nurses acting like they are more knowledgeable than people with more medical training and experience than them.

    6. AnonNurse*

      I’m so thankful that this is a safe place when so many places on the internet are not these days. Seeing so much anti-vaccine/anti-mask rhetoric and then going to work and seeing COVID first hand keep me mentally and physically exhausted on a daily basis. Love that I can come here and see these kinds of comments that remind me that those with sometimes the loudest voices doesn’t make them the majority!

      1. Anon for this*

        As someone who works very, very hard to support healthcare professionals during their day to day job, so much this. It drives me absolutely mad how many of my coworkers make comments like “the hospital is only making a big deal about it because they’re paid more for Covid cases” when… we can see, firsthand, that it’s not that. We can SEE the turnover as healthcare providers burn out. We EXPERIENCED the chaos that happened when our payroll department all got sick in one month. When someone dies, everyone knows. I’m now job hunting and trying to get out of healthcare because I can’t take this hypocrisy anymore.

        1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

          Not to mention the whole “vaccines are a conspiracy to make money for Big Pharma.” Um, don’t you think the drug companies make more money off of hospitalized Covid patients? I’m not an uncritical cheerleader for the pharmaceuticals industry, but sick people are far more lucrative than well people!

          1. Your Local Password Resetter*

            Right? Vaccines are the most cost-effective medical treatment we ever invented! Big corporations hate that stuff!

            1. curiousLemur*

              Right. A lot of insurance companies pay for people to get the flu vaccine because it’s more cost-effective than letting people get sick. Insurance companies are not kind entities; they wouldn’t do this if it weren’t cheaper this way.

              1. Candi*

                That’s what finally sold (most of) them on preventative care in general: It was finally proven to their satisfaction that it cost them less!

    7. Candi*

      My dad doesn’t care about his own health where covid is concerned. Believes it’s real, but doesn’t want to mask, didn’t want to vax.

      But my stepmom has a medical file that makes tax law look short, including chronic issues like COPD and fibromyalgia.

      _For her_, dad vaxxed and masks when he’s around other people.

      I suspect part of Dad’s attitudes comes from being one of the older Boomers. When he was a kid, vaccines weren’t a thing. Coming back from summer break, part of the news was how many of his friends had been crippled or killed by polio. It was part of life. But you didn’t deliberately infect the vulnerable if you could help it, no matter how much you cared or didn’t about yourself.

      I also suspect he’ll never realize it -he’s not much of a one for introspection or mentally overriding “what works”.

  6. Abogado Avocado*

    I have to commend you for taking such a measured, consistent approach with Jackass Bob and prevailing! He sounds awful, as does your HR, but you have managed to kick them into gear. Way to go!

  7. AnonEMoose*

    I have seen so much ugly and I can’t go back.

    This pretty much sums up the whole pandemic for me. I’m mentally and emotionally exhausted, and I just can’t with people anymore. Don’t blame yourself for just not being able to for awhile with Bob and the mask stuff. We all have our limits. I’m glad HR apparently took some kind of action, finally, but sorry it took so long.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I have seen so much ugly and I can’t go back.

      That’s me, too. Judgment is the zeitgeist of this pandemic, and I’m beyond exhausted by and done with it.

    2. thatjillgirl*

      Yep. Working in retail pharmacy has been a nightmare. I’m golden-handcuffed to it for the time being, but I’m ready for a full on career change at this point. It’s one thing to work in a stressful, overworked environment in healthcare. You kind of expect that to happen at some point when you go into a healthcare profession. But it’s entirely another thing to have that happen AND have a sizeable portion of your patient-base refuse to follow public health recommendations and accuse you of being in on some grand conspiracy with Big Pharma when your medical opinion isn’t what they want to hear.

  8. LifeBeforeCorona*

    Looking at the bigger picture, Bob needs to be terminated based on the fact that he refuses to follow state-wide directives. Deliberately flouting them and mocking people who follow mandates is beyond disrespectful, he’s demonstrating that he’s incapable of mature behaviour and it doesn’t speak well of his character. If he can’t do one simple thing consistently, consider whether or not his work is reliable since he has no compunction in refusing to follow clear directions.

    1. I am Your Grandmother*

      Can they terminate Bob for being an unrepentant jackass? Good on OP for standing up for herself and everyone else in her office!

      1. CoveredinBees*

        Sure can unless he can somehow tie it to membership in a protected class under anti-discrimination laws. They can fire him for any (non-discriminatory) reason they like.

      2. Candi*

        In the US, unless specific legalities or protected class are in play, at-will employment someone can be fired because the boss claimed the worker looked at them funny.

        The very bad part is it allows bad bosses, management, and companies to dangle the threat of job loss over workers.

        The good part is you can boot people like this on a moment’s notice.

        (Legalities include: Montana not being an at-will state, unions and union contracts, some states having laws that if you have a process to fire someone, you have to follow it for everyone, whatever California’s up to.)

    2. Jackalope*

      Yes, I read awhile ago about the Al Capone method of firing someone. (For those who don’t know, Al Capone was a famous criminal who was brought down by tax evasion rather than his other crimes which were harder to prove.) The idea is that if someone is being an utter unrepentant jerk in one area, it probably carries over into other areas and you may be able to catch them there instead. So with the Bobs of the world, if you can’t fire someone bcs of not masking, then look at their overall work. I could easily see Bob being utterly unwilling to follow other safety regulations, for example, some of which may be less politically charged. Or deliberately ignoring rules in other domains. Chances are he’s doing other fire-worthy things that are easier to get traction on.

      1. pancakes*

        They can fire him for not masking, though. They could’ve fired him after the first time he said he won’t do it because he just doesn’t like it. Instead they told the letter writer to monitor him herself, to be sure he was indeed doing what she said he was. The problem here isn’t a lack of reasons to fire Bob, it’s a near-total lack of interest in enforcing the mask rule. Even after months of complaint they didn’t care that he wasn’t wearing it properly.

        1. Trillian*

          If a company won’t fire someone for persistently refusing to wear a mask, they probably aren’t great on firing for other causes, either.

  9. SMH*

    Wow that is crazy amount of work for one person! So glad you stuck with it but also that you told your boss ‘apology was necessary!’ It absolutely was.
    Next time-hopefully won’t be a next time- take a picture of an unmasked Bob and HR or whichever higher up they are with at the time. Skip HR next time and go to Boss’s boss and report to the state if you can. Also don’t forget how difficult Bob was during this time and make sure this impacts any feedback you ever give about him. I would hate to think of him ever being a supervisor over anyone.

    1. Candi*

      This is where I wonder if the Health Department could help. Handling epidemics was one of their original jobs, after all.

  10. LinuxSystemsGuy*

    About the only thing I’d say is that in the last letter to HR (which apparently worked, so no harm done) I’d probably have specifically mentioned the part about the client, forcing the client to do something that was clearly not being done by a member of staff, etc. It’s a sad fact of life, but in business sometimes the rules get more attention when there’s clients and client perception involved.

    1. Observer*

      I was thinking about the client as well. That just looks SOOO bad. Especially someone who you had to actually ask to mask up.

      1. curiousLemur*

        Yep. Although I’m confused as to why the client would have rather not worn the mask. I mean, masks aren’t fun to wear, but when I go into a building that has a bunch of people in it who I don’t know well, I’m going to wear a mask.

        1. pancakes*

          Between that line and HR and the boss’s ambivalence about taking action, it sounds like the letter writer is in an area where not wearing a mask indoors is common.

    2. Smithy*

      I agree with this. Because I will say that when it comes to monitoring wearing masks correctly – I can see that as a war of attrition that would wear so many people down.

      But if the point is “we’re asking external client to wear a mask over their nose and mouth, and there are staff walking around with a mask tucked under their chin – this is a reputational and financial risk”, it’s hard not to see a lot more of a reaction. Sad as it is.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Imagine if someone tweeted about this and Company lost major clients. Imagine if Client, seeing this, went back to their bosses and said “Let’s work with XYZ Company instead; they’re better about safety rules.” Imagine if Client got COVID from Bob and decided to sue.

        1. June*

          It would be very hard to prove from whom you got COVID. I’m triple vaccinated and wear a mask when necessary. I now ignore the Bob’s of the world.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I would 100% have done this.

      I would also have noted the date and time that HR was seen talking to Unmasked Bob and included that in the letter. Your HR is pathetic.

      1. Haven’t picked a user name yet*

        I totally agree. After nearly a year of dealing with it I would have specifically called out when I had seen her not act and I would have copied both our bosses. But I am so glad that OP stuck with it.

    4. A Simple Narwhal*

      Yes, this 100000%! It’s not a good look to ask/tell a client to do one thing and then have an employee flagrantly doing the opposite.

      I feel like I have to say “the only way to make someone care about your problem is to make it their problem” way too often, but it sadly applies here too. They might not care if you’re unhappy, but they sure as heck will care if a client is unhappy.

    5. LizB*

      The front desk receptionist at my office building doesn’t wear her mask properly (it’s always at least under her nose, if not all the way down on her chin/off entirely), doesn’t sign in and out properly, is clearly not taking the safety policies our org has set up seriously at all. It drives me up the wall because she’s the first person customers see when they get here! How can we expect customers to follow rules that our own employees obviously don’t care about following? She’s not in my direct chain of command so I have no power to lay down the law, and being the squeaky wheel to the people who do hasn’t resulted in any changes yet…

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Honestly, if I were the client, I would have send a complaint to the highest level person I am in contact with that that company.

  11. louvella*

    I just work with people who think they shouldn’t have to wear masks while sitting at their desks…in a 100% open office plan. Which I think goes against the state’s mandate but honestly it’s worded confusingly!

    1. mlem*

      My company is allowing (vaccinated) people to be unmasked at their open-office desks/hotdesks, *unless* they’re hotdesking from the cafeteria. They’re also allowing unmasking in meetings as long as members are vaccinated and at least 6 feet apart … even though they’re all still confined together in a meeting room. I don’t think they understand how “air” works.

      1. Artemesia*

        The 6 feet rule is based on very old research that turns out to not be true at all for COVID. I remember an early contagion event where a guy sitting in the back seat of a bus managed to infect everyone sitting at the front of the bus. This stuff is airborne and in any enclosed space distance is largely irrelevant. Masking works especially if the infected person is masked; distance doesn’t.

          1. louvella*

            And everyone is vaccinated, so yes it’s safer than if they weren’t, but it’s still beyond my comfort level.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Well, and if you’re inside, air circulation/ventilation matters a lot more than distance. But someone got stuck on 6 ft way back in March 202o along with surface cleaning that doesn’t really do much.

          1. Candi*

            You have to use a cleaner that disrupts the viral coating. (Also helps with other viruses.) Otherwise, you’re just spreading them around the surface at best.

            But some people get more hung up on the product being safe to use around pets and small children (read: they can leave it lying around where the small ones can reach) or care more about the appearance than what it actually does.

            (Alcohols, H2O2 >=3%, bleach. Vinegar’s not effective enough.)

        2. JSPA*

          Six feet (and for that matter, unmasking “while eating,” as opposed to taking a sip or bite without breathing, then re-masking) were not way off base for the original Covid-19 strain. (It bound receptors less effectively, and was shed in lower quantities and from deeper in the lungs.)

          They’re almost entirely pointless for Delta (and some of the other variants) unless you have massive air flow and are only close for very brief periods.

          It was the presumption of surfaces being the major mode of infection that came from very old research (which, for that matter, may also not hold true for other respiratory diseases, as opposed to G.I. diseases.)

        3. Candi*

          Although I like the six foot rule for the complete lack of cranky looks I get now when I take up space. I swear I always condense the space I take up when space is needed.


          Item 1: Four people on the bus, including me. I had my coat on the seat next to me.

          Fifth person gets on, and gives me and my coat a really dirty look before flouncing to the back of the bus.

          Item 2: I was the only person in the college cafeteria, which holds approximately 45 tables on any given day. Each table seats five people comfortably.

          I had my stuff spread out, taking up about a third of a table. Two students come in and give me and my stuff dirty looks before heading to get food. Bonus points since this table was very unpopular for being right under something very noisy in the ceiling; to me, it was comforting white noise.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Hard to say if they don’t get how “air” works or they know, but are pretending they don’t because the things they would have to do for health and safety are too expensive.

        It clicked for me when a respected epidemiologist explained that airborne COVID particles move around and disperse the same way as cigarette smoke. Like, I understood intellectually before, but after this, I *got* it.

      3. JSPA*

        Entire governments apparently don’t understand how “air” works. Or sequential infection. Pretty boggling.

    2. ThatGirl*

      At my office (which nobody is required to work out of yet; there are a lot of people who are still fully or mostly remote) we are allowed to remove masks when at our individual workspaces. The office is still pretty sparsely populated most days. It’s a semi-open plan, with cubicles with short-ish walls. My nearest coworker is not *quite* 6 feet from me. I recognize that covid is airborne and that’s almost certainly not far enough indoors … but I also know that she’s fully vaccinated (as am I) and it’s a slight risk I’m willing to take.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Agreed. That’s going to be my situation soon. I’m in an enclosed office by myself currently and I’m allowed to be unmasked as long as there are no others around and the door is closed, but I will be sharing an office when my coworker is scheduled to return in January but we are both fully vaxed and boosted and sit 12 feet apart and do not face each other. I’m not that worried if he wants to go maskless at his desk and we’ll need to be masked to walk the halls. I’m still deciding if I’ll stayed masked continuously or remove it when I’m on a Zoom meeting for instance. We’ve also talked about getting an air purifier that is rated for viruses; the key is that all of this is still in flux and everyone is gracious with each other.

        1. Candi*

          Try and get a purifier that isn’t that noisy. One of my classrooms has one, and the thing can sometimes be heard halfway across the room. (It cycles.)

      2. Clara*

        My office is similar. You can come in if you want but not all required. Its a medium size open office, no assigned seats although people tend to sit in the same areas each day. Everyone must be vaccinated (currently deciding whether booster will be required, probably yes now with omicron) and there are usually <5 and definitely <20 people there, but no one wears masks. I am completely fine with this given that we are all vaccinated and it is optional.

      3. tangerineRose*

        My dentist has some kind of air purifiers in his office. I hope other companies will do this, at least if it helps (seems like it should).

    3. londonedit*

      Our rules for the office are that you have to wear masks while walking around the building and while in meetings, but you don’t have to wear one at your desk (they’ve also reconfigured things so that people aren’t sitting next to each other, and are encouraging people to keep the windows open as much as possible). Anyone going into the office has to be double vaccinated (and must have recorded that on the HR portal) and going to the office is still voluntary until next year – I won’t be going back until whatever point they end up making it mandatory, and they keep pushing that back because they’re monitoring a) the general situation and b) the feeling and comfort levels of staff. The rule here in England as of yesterday is that masks are once again mandatory in shops/public buildings and on public transport (unless you’re exempt, which a surprising number of people claim to be). But offices aren’t public buildings so companies can set their own rules.

    4. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      At this point, that’s part of my organization’s health and safety plan; people can unmask at their desks and must put them on to go to communal areas. (Fortunately, our area is all still WFH unless we want to come in, which I do not, and there are pretty good rules around being vaccinated or doing a lot of testing). It’s extremely frustrating. I have become the person in divisional meetings who asks about ventilation and air filtration.

    5. A Feast of Fools*

      I’ve never understood the “no mask in your personal area” rules. Cube walls aren’t some magic force field that will keep the air that everyone else is breathing out from circulating in and around every desk on the same HVAC system.

      Someone three cubes over had the flu (?) when I first started and was coughing and blowing his nose for 2-3 weeks. I and several other people got sick, too. [At the time, I had barely any contact/interactions with people outside of work, so I know it was him.]

      He sat ~25 feet away from me. But, with every cough, he pushed out a load of virus particles that our HVAC system scooped up and distributed to everyone on the floor.

      Most offices don’t have infectious-disease-hospital-level filters so I’m not sure why they think breathing in multiple people’s germs that have traveled through the air handling system will be safer than breathing in those same germs while standing near-ish them.

      1. Candi*

        I’d also say there’s a problem with your company not letting/making him work from home while he was sick -which we now know is feasible for many jobs once companies were put in the position of making some money or no money.

    6. Allegra*

      Our office rule is that we have to wear masks in “common areas”, so essentially unless you have your own single office (which maybe…three people have?) or are the only person in your office area that day, you have to mask up. I am fully in support of this, for the record! But one thing I’ll say is that it has made eating lunch very difficult, and nobody’s proposed alternatives.

      I’m currently unmasking to quickly eat lunch at my desk (in a 2-story open office space, with my desk in a cubicle 6 ft from anyone else’s), but I feel weird and guilty about it, especially since my coworkers all seem to go out for their lunches. I have a chronic illness exacerbated by cold weather so I really can’t go eat outside (it’s consistently in the mid 30s-low 40s F now). I’m not sure what’s better to do.

      1. Candi*

        Sounds like it’s time to ask for an accommodation. Maybe ask for how to phrase it in the Friday open thread?

        1. Allegra*

          Well, it’s not so much that I need an accommodation as it is that there has been complete radio silence on what procedures SHOULD be for lunch so we’re all playing it by ear. I know I should just ask but I’m worried about opening a can of worms.

    7. Cassie*

      At my workplace, the rule is masks are required indoors unless you are in your own office w/ the door closed. Well, there’s plenty of people in their offices with their doors open and not wearing masks. Nobody enforces it.

      The exception to the mask rule is if you are actively eating/drinking (and have to be stationary while doing so).

      I sit in a cubicle in a large suite and I occasionally take my mask off when there’s no one else around. Technically I’m in violation of the policy but there’s literally not a single other person around. When I hear one of the suite doors open, I can put on my mask. (That said – I mostly just keep my mask on rather than taking it off and putting it back on – too much work!).

  12. Dante*

    I hope LW also communicated to HR about Bob’s behavior in their cubicle after being asked to mask! From the letter, it sounds like they never mention him threatening their space and refusing to leave the cubicle.

    1. tangerineRose*

      Yes. Bob’s behavior was so wrong. He doesn’t have to believe in the safety protocols; he just needs to follow them when around other people.

  13. Eldritch Office Worker*

    You handled this great, OP. I hear your exhaustion, I think a lot of us have felt it. But you kept pushing and you were successful (not holding the period when you stopped pushing against you, either – it’s so hard to keep that energy up after being beat down for over a year). I’m sorry you were shaken and made to feel unsafe at work. I completely understand feeling traumatized and gunshy. Being the squeaky wheel when there are real consequences to doing so is a real feat of strength and you did such a good job.

  14. JelloStapler*

    The tendency for grown people to reduce themselves to toddlers having a temper tantrum has deeply disappointed me these past few months. I want to say “who raised you?”

    1. Zona the Great*

      I’ve employed my go-to three times in the last year. That is two times more than I’ve ever had to use it in life. “Sir, you’re making a fool of yourself” has worked to at least get a MaskAss or grown toddler away from me.

    2. tangerineRose*

      If you check out notalwaysright.com, it’s scary how many people do this and how many were already doing this to people they didn’t think “mattered” (retail workers, fast food workers, etc.). Very frustrating.

      1. Worker bee*

        THIS! Many people already treated retail staff like something distasteful that they got on the bottom of their shoe, but the pandemic took it to an entirely new level. Last spring, a coworker of mine was spit at when she told someone that they couldn’t enter our store because of occupancy limits. At one point, we had blocked off half our parking lot to help with the limits and had someone out there to explain and that person had to jump into a concrete barrier median to avoid being hit by a car who wouldn’t take no for an answer.

        I worked a register at times and was screamed at, cussed at, and people would demand I “take off that d*mn mask”. When I’d refused, they would say they’d have me fired. I also worked at our main office, helping fielding overflow calls that were coming from our stores and I’d guess that about 10% of the calls were from people calling out specific employees who had refused to remove their masks to assist them.

        We were getting so much abuse that most people stopped wearing nametags and, since the setup of the store left basically no places for an employee to take a brief break to cry or collect ourselves, we set up unofficial rules. If a door that’s normally open is closed, knock before entering; if you see a coworker in an area where they normally have no reason to be there, do what you need to do and leave them alone. We also made sure that we all checked in with each other throughout the day, just to make sure that we were being recognized by someone as human beings.

        One thing I will never forget was a conversation I had with a coworker friend of mine in the early days of this (maybe April 2020). My part of the store was strangely quiet for a bit and I needed to talk to him about a work thing, so I met him in his area. We talked business, then started talking about how insane the situation was. It was the first conversation I had been able to have with someone about what was going on where I felt comfortable enough to be candid about my fears.

        He said he had talked to a Catholic priest friend of his about (paraphrasing here) why he felt so angry about why we were basically ignoring what was going on. He said the priest said (again paraphrasing) that, when he decided to become a priest, he knew going in that part of his job would be interacting with people who were ill and that he might contract what they had while doing his job, but that he knew that was a possibility going into it. We, as retail workers, didn’t sign up for that, yet we were suddenly being asked to make that sacrifice, almost against our will.

        I’m an atheist and that was the most profound thing I’ve ever heard from a religious leader, as it distilled everything I had been feeling but couldn’t fully express into a couple of sentences.

        Anyway, throughout the pandemic, we’ve required masks when it was mandated in my area. We tried enforcing it early on, but got so much hostility that we backed off on requiring it. Right or wrong, we stopped asking for our personal safety. We didn’t like it, but we also didn’t want to get punched or shot.

        1. tangerineRose*

          I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through that. I don’t understand why people treat retail workers this way.

  15. NotAFakeAss*

    Not Great Bob! dot meme

    Great job lw, glad you stuck to it.

    I know, not alone here, but I am tired of having people pander to and both sides the vax and mask things.

    My office made vaccines mandatory, required proof, and got 100% non-grumbling compliance. So happy to work here.

  16. Two Chairs, One to Go*

    Your HR department is… not the best. Why did it take over 6 months for them to take you seriously? I’m frustrated on your behalf, OP!

    I’m glad you view this as a happy ending and hope things go well moving forward!

      1. Just Another Techie*

        Yeah, in OPs shoes I’d have started a job search at least six months ago, if not more.

    1. Ama*

      Yeah the fact that boss’s boss appears for the first time in this story to apologize to OP makes me think HR might not have been telling anyone else how long and how bad the Bob situation was (I actually wonder if the client said something to boss’s boss that made them ask HR for full details.)

  17. Robin S. Egg*

    This may not be a popular opinion, but with the Bobs of the world out there, there should be some way to know who is and who isn’t vaccinated. Like a pin or something that would let us who are responsible know who has chosen to be irresponsible. Yes. I know that’s an invasion of privacy, but we are way beyond that now. People are dying. Grow up. Get the shot.

      1. Xantar*

        Yeah. Contrary to what many think, HIPAA doesn’t forbid coworkers from asking each other about their vaccination status. HR sucks.

      2. ArtK*

        HR should have a *record* of who is vaccinated and who isn’t. I know that we are required to upload our status to the corporate database.

        The HR in this case probably got suckered by the “you can’t ask for status because HIPAA/ADA” lie. Neither of those laws prevent asking the question and refusing to deal with someone if the either say “not vaccinated” or refuse to answer.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yeah they get scared of backlash. Luckily me (HR) and our company lawyer are on the same page that we’re not protecting anyone with that nonsense.

        2. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

          HIPAA causes so much confusion — most people aren’t clear on the fact that it only applies to healthcare providers/healthcare businesses, not the general public or companies that aren’t involved in healthcare.

          (Oversimplifying a bit and there are other regulations that cover data security/privacy…but yeah, nothing that prevents coworkers from asking each other questions about vaccination status!)

      3. ThatGirl*

        Over the summer, when we thought we were coming out of the woods, the rule at my office was that you didn’t have to wear a mask if you were vaccinated, and we had to submit proof of vaccination to HR. They weren’t going around spot-checking maskless people or anything, but one of the division presidents did say, bluntly, that if you were found maskless and unvaccinated you risked being fired. (Same now that our mask mandate is back in effect for everyone.) So I did appreciate that, even if the rules are a little inconsistent as to when and where masks are OK to take off.

      4. Dust Bunny*


        I happen to know that my entire department got vaccinated as soon as they were eligible because we all told each other, but we all still wear masks around other people. I don’t know who in the wider institution is vaccinated but we have a company-wide mask requirement (we’re healthcare-related; we’d look like idiots if we didn’t) and there have been several incentives provided to get people to vaccinate.

        1. Sled dog mama*

          Oh please can you come tell my (actually in health care with direct patient contact) coworkers what idiots they look like for continuing to refuse vaccination!

      5. V. Anon*

        +1000 to this. As soon as someone screeches “You can’t ask me that!” I know they’re not vaxxed. But watch HR come down on the person who asked, not the unmasked/unvaxxed Bobs of the world.

      6. AlsoMimi*

        My company offered a sticker for our badges that indicate fully vaccinated status. You had to provide your card to a site admin to get the sticker. Totally optional, but no sticker = assumption of not vaccinated and they must wear a mask. We’re in manufacturing and so far, I feel like they been very proactive and smart about the pandemic. Once the variant came about they pulled back and are requiring 100% masking again no matter your vax status, but I think the sticker was a good option.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I don’t see how it’s an invasion of privacy at all. It’s a matter of public health. I deserve to know if being in close proximity with someone is putting me at risk.

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      My company required proof of vaccination before anyone was allowed back into the office. No vaccine, no admittance.

      I’m still masking in the office (and I’m not alone), but at least I know everyone around me is vaccinated.

    3. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

      100% agreed. My personal medical information is private…when it affects only me.
      Public health issues and the need for transparency trumps my privacy rights.

    4. Christmas Carol*

      In my company, everyone, even the CEO, is required to wear a company ID badge at all times. When you turn in your proof of vaccination to HR, you get a little “V” sticker to put on your badge. If you do not have a sticker, you MUST properly wear a mask at ALL TIMES when in the building. If you have a sticker, you can remove your mask if you are more than 6′ away from anybody else.

      1. Daffodilly*

        I work in a hospital and we have been doing this with the flu vaccine for YEARS. At least 10 years. If you don’t have a flu vaccine sticker for this year on your badge, you must mask at all times in the building during flu season or be fired. Our now retired CEO was allergic to the flu vaccine, was open about it, *and* he consistently masked during flu season every year. He was very serious about it, and he didn’t expect anything he wasn’t willing to do.
        It can be done with Covid vaccines, too. I don’t know why they’re not yet doing it, though the Covid vaccine is mandatory now. But the deadline for vaccinating is approaching in about 2 weeks, so they may roll it out soon.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          Literally the same with my hospital, but we’ve incorporated the separate COVID vaccine stickers too, and the deadline has passed.

    5. Esmeralda*

      I was surprised to hear from my son that many restaurants, clubs, grocery stores, and so forth in Chicago ask customers to show proof of vaccination. He takes his card with him whenever he goes out because he expects to have to show it. At least at the places he goes to.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I live in the Chicago burbs and have yet to be asked to show my vaccine card anywhere — not that I’m doubting your son, but a grocery store requiring it would surprise me, since we also still have an indoor mask mandate.

        1. AnonForThis*

          I’m surprised about grocery stores, but I occasionally run into a restaurant in the Chicago burbs that requires proof of vaccination.

      2. Kaittydid*

        I only go to restaurants and stores that require proof of vaccination or masks to get into, at this point. I’m in the Seattle area, so I can find those pretty easily. My parents live out in the rural part of the state and seemed surprised that I was happy to show proof of vaccination to get into places, and even more surprised that I wouldn’t dine-in anywhere that didn’t.

        1. louvella*

          I’m in Portland, OR and a lot of places are requiring proof of vaccination as well. I haven’t done indoor dining yet, but when I feel like it’s safe enough I would definitely only go to those places!

        2. Candi*

          Hey, Neighbor!

          (Okay, I’m a bit that direction away from you…)

          I haven’t seen anywhere around here insisting on proof, but there are plenty of “reserve the right to request proof” signs. And there are “mask or can’t come in” signs all over the place.

      3. Rosemary*

        NYC requires proof of vaccination to dine inside restaurants, go to the gym, shows, etc. I am still a bit hesitant eating indoors, but this definitely makes me feel better. Also, I love that it forces the unvaccinated assholes to stay away (or commit a crime and show forged vax cards, which I am sure happens…)

        1. Candi*

          Yep. There’s a guy who was submitted to the Darwin Awards. Had proof, turned out it was fake, he got sick.

          Incidentally, the mods at the site have declared covid submissions automatic rejects. The built-in hurt bystander effect, that many submissions are about various groups, that many infected are underage have all been stated in rejection reasons.

      4. DoubleDouble*

        That’s been the norm everywhere where I am for months (save some essential services – grocery stores and gas stations, mostly, and if you’re just doing takeout you can wait outside or order for curbside pickup). It’s totally normal to bring your vaccination, you keep a screenshot on your phone/a printout in your wallet for backup and use it everywhere combined with ID. I was actually pretty shocked with how lax NYC was about that/indoor mask mandates on a recent trip. If we weren’t asked for proof we generally figured it wasn’t safe so we left.

    6. mf*

      100%. My company requires all employees to disclose their vaccine status in a secure portal but discourages us from asking about a coworkers’ status. It bothers me a lot. I have *right* to know if the people around me are unvaccinated.

    7. JB*

      Unfortunately, people are already getting fake vaccine records/cards/passports. It would be just as easy (if not easier) for them to fake any other form of proof.

    8. anonymous73*

      I don’t see it as an invasion of privacy. Kids have to have certain immunizations before starting school. I’ve never understood why this one is so different.

      1. Candi*

        Heck, I had to have proof of having had the MMR vaccine OR having measles before I could start at university!

        Since my immunization record’s like 35+ years old, my doctor ordered the titer check. Which were off the charts in a good way.

    9. Lizcase*

      My company requires anyone who enters our offices to be vaccinated. If you get a vaccine exemption, then you can continue remote work until pandemic is over
      But they aren’t checking vaccine status except where required by law.
      They did say that being unvaccinated and in the office is grounds for immediate termination.

    10. Allegra*

      I would support this in theory–and the examples of ID badges with a vaccine sticker are great!–but considering how many terrible ugly bad-faith Holocaust comparisons have been made by anti-vaxxers lately (wearing yellow stars, for instance, as a “protest” about vaccine requirements), I can only see how this could be misused by selfish people with a persecution complex.

      1. pancakes*

        I’m not sure I agree that would be effective or worthwhile, but want to point out that people who made those terrible comparisons did so despite neither badges or stickers being in wide use. I feel it’s generally a bad idea to make decisions based on whether the worst, most selfish, least comprehending people will cooperate.

        1. Allegra*

          In theory, one shouldn’t make decisions based on the worst-intentioned people, yes. But in practice and in this specific situation, policies that haven’t considered how bad actors like this will respond are why we still have rampant infection spreading and why the public discourse on this has become hysterically politicized by conservatives instead of focusing on real public health needs. Now that this segment of the population is so empowered to act badly, workplaces (and governments) have to take their very predictable bad actions into account when making policies. And “exposing our staff to the abuse and appropriation of historical events they may have lost family in” is something that unfortunately needs to be considered.

          (And no need to “point out” people did this without actual requirements to share vaccination status in place; I’m Jewish and I’m well aware that white Christians feeling even mildly restricted in their public activities will jump to Holocaust comparisons at the barest provocation.)

          1. pancakes*

            You seem to have taken my comment personally in a way I didn’t intend. It was a reply to you, yes, but this is a public site read by lots and lots of people. I assume that most comments will be read by more than one person, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

            1. Allegra*

              Well, I apologize for taking it personally, but just because you didn’t “intend” that didn’t mean it wasn’t how it came across. I just find it an, honestly, kind of condescending wording to “point out” something that everyone in the specific thread (and likely the post at large, since everyone appears to be reasonably up to date on the news) is aware of. I’ll leave it here so it’s not derailing.

  18. Sandrilene fa Toren*

    “Stay healthy and stay squeaky” is a line I’m going to use all the time now. Good for you OP!

  19. Tomato Frog*

    The amount of energy put into not firing Bobs never ceases to amaze me. Fire your Bobs, everyone.

    1. Candi*

      Especially in the US. Consult a lawyer -especially if you’re in California or Montana- and go for it! We have at-will, use it for good!

  20. Purely Allegorical*

    Im so sorry this has been such an exhausting battle. Kudos for being so consistent! I do think, though, that eventually you need to either negotiate remote work or find a new job. COVID variants aren’t going anywhere for a few years (I’m a pessimist about this but I find it’s more helpful to prepare if you think that way) and your company’s HR and your company leadership have both shown that they are inconsistent on safety policies, at best, and will take the path of least resistance unless someone pesters them enough. Do you want to be doing that for the next few years?

    Move somewhere where people take it more seriously or at least allow better accommodations. It’s a great time to be job hunting.

  21. animaniactoo*

    OP – it’s okay sometimes to take a breather before re-addressing something. Sometimes, taking that breather can make you be taken more seriously – precisely because you WERE willing to give it a rest.

    I admit that I don’t have much hope that this will remain a happy ending, but *fingers crossed* for you!

  22. Observer*

    Wow. Your HR sound like a bunch on incompetent twits, to be honest.

    I suspect that some other complaints came in, which is why they woke up. And I would not be surprised if those complaints came from the outside to someone fairly high up. Which would explain why you actually got an apology and someone said / did SOMETHING that actually made Bob behave.

  23. Archaeopteryx*

    For some reason hearing about HR being a limp noodle over and over and over again is even more frustrating than the Bob stuff. Probably because once you learn what Bob’s deal is, he slots into the category of “irrational; don’t even bother,” but HR refusing to HR the situation is still confounding expectations. Glad things (kind of) worked out!

    1. Thegreatprevaricator*

      Yeah I came here to post pretty much the same thing! I am at HR (and management) basically leaving letter writer to do their job for them.

    2. Anononon*

      Yup. One of my least favorite plots/story lines is when “the authority” is bad/corrupt, and this gives me the same icky, frustrated feeling.

  24. Not Management Material*

    “I had no squeaks left to give” perfectly encapsulates the experience of those of us who are trying to do our best for our communities, only to see it constantly undone, wave after wave, by the selfishness of a handful. Hang in there, OP. I admire your boundary setting and your squeakiness!

  25. Hex Libris*

    I’m pretty gobsmacked that HR didn’t take stronger action after Bob ranted at you from point-blank for ten minutes. Like, that behavior is not okay under any circumstances, not three years ago and he’s arguing about the format of the TPS report, not ever. I hope Bob gets his ass canned, as he’s committed a string of fireable offenses and already deserves to be let go.

  26. What She Said*

    I’m really over having to constantly document things so HR can do their job. I get it’s necessary but it shouldn’t be this hard. Petty me would be have sent them and the bosses daily emails. Like a time log, of all the times you saw Bob without a mask. Want the emails to stop? Then actually do something about the situation.

    1. anonymous73*

      I get what you’re saying, but it’s not like HR walks around the building with a clipboard all day. They have to rely on others to report incidents. And unfortunately in today’s litigious society, they have to cover their asses.

      That being said, it shouldn’t have been up to OP to “monitor” Bob’s mask less existence. HR should be documenting the information provided to them by OP, and they should be the ones monitoring his behavior.

  27. CatCat*

    HR and your boss mega bungled this up. And it is deadly serious.

    I’d be wondering, what else are these ding dongs bungling up? Can they really be trusted with anything?

    Next time Bob is non-compliant (because he definitely will be), I’d email boss’s boss with cc to boss and HR. But if Bob is not gone after that, I’d be looking for my own exit.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yes, especially since you have evidence that it’s highly likely he would have given it to others.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Yeah, on the one hand, schaudenfreude. On the other hand, Bob seems absolutely determined to infect everyone around him if he gets it :( I’m truly surprised he didn’t deliberately cough in OP’s face because I was expecting him to reading this.

      1. tangerineRose*

        I totally understand the sentiment, except I’d be afraid the whole office might be infected.

    2. NotRealAnonForThis*

      As I work with at least one “Bob”, it may be awful but its an understandable sentiment. They’re exhausting.

    3. AnonNurse*

      Speaking as an exhausted nurse, I have reached a point that the thought “well, they aren’t wearing a mask and I won’t have any sympathy if they get COVID. They get what they deserve.” I hate that but compassion fatigue is a real thing and people who refuse to wear masks, deny vaccines help, etc. are just making every day harder for so many people.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        It’s because of exhausted nurses that I grudgingly don’t want people like Bob to get COVID. The stressed healthcare system shouldn’t also have to suffer for his nonsense.

        1. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

          (Note, I’m not in the healthcare field AT ALL, so this is purely imaginative)

          I wish that vaccine status was available to medical facilities, with varying “statuses” so that the people who are 1)Eligible and 2)Still Refusing (aka BOB LEVEL) could be easily identified, and refused service.

          Like… we told you how to avoid needing medical intervention for covid, and you didn’t listen, so…. good luck to ya, douchenozzle.

          1. pancakes*

            You like the idea of living in a place where people denied medical treatment are left to drop dead wherever they happen to be when their bodies give out? Come on, now. I see you said you’re being imaginative, but if imagining grim cruelty feels comforting, you need to take a look at your thought process.

          2. Candi*

            They’d infect even more people that way.

            Denying people on the basis of X status has a really nasty history. Don’t go there.

      1. Candi*

        …I need to message the mods at The Darwin Awards. This will give them somewhere to send all those covid submitters.

    4. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

      ehhh technically, but SAME.
      I’m beyond done with people who are anti-mask/anti-vax/anti-being-a-decent-flarking-person.

    5. Can't Sit Still*

      I work with a Bobbette. She doesn’t believe in masks (or vaccines) and she did get COVID. She didn’t die or kill anyone else or end up in the hospital, so I feel fine feeling schadenfreude over it. She still doesn’t believe in masks or vaccines, because she “has a strong immune system” and takes lots of star anise. I can’t even. She doesn’t believe in staying home when she’s sick, either, so I hope she doesn’t get COVID again.

      1. anonymous73*

        I don’t wish bad health on people, but I have ZERO sympathy for the vaccine deniers who contract COVID and suffer because of it. If you think that’s detestable as well, so be it, but I’m out of Fs to give about this crap.

        1. pancakes*

          Sympathy is beside the point, though, or should be. The US is a place where many, many people believe that being “tough” on others is a good way to deter undesirable behavior, and it simply isn’t. The fact that it feels good or feels appropriate doesn’t make it effective. And this outlook isn’t much more thoughtful or well-considered than anti-mask and anti-vax people getting stuck on how good it feels to be rebellious. Centering one’s own feelings doesn’t make for good public health policy.

        2. Rosemary*

          THIS. I have zero sympathy for anti-vaxxers/maskers who suffer the consequences of their own selfish and idiotic decisions. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

      2. A Feast of Fools*

        No, it’s really not.

        Pedophiles? Rapists? Murderers? Dictators who commit genocide? I don’t think it’s detestable *at all* to wish that Mother Nature would take them out.

        The Bobs of the world are walking biological time bombs. Because COVID is so incredibly contagious, I wouldn’t necessarily wish that on him (because he’d likely kill / injure other people) but if some physical ailment befalls him that keeps him from working or socializing, that’s a net positive.

    6. Temperance*

      Not at all. Although honestly, what likely would have happened is he would have caught a mild case and then said stupid crap like “IT’S NO WORSE THAN A MILD FLU”, which seems to happen to every anti-vaxx dumbass I encounter.

      1. Candi*

        (dry tone) I’m guessing a lot of those dimbulbs did catch the flu due to their lack of precautions, and since a bad case of flu makes you feel miserable, they think they got mild covid since they are that ignorant and arrogant.

  28. Nea*

    he made a comment about being offended that I didn’t thank him for wearing a mask

    Uuuughhh, people who want cookies and praise for following the minimum basic rules are THE WORST. And of course now he wants to make his bad behavior your fault for not clapping and praising him like a toddler using a potty for the first time.

    1. SarahKay*

      Thank you, Bob, for wearing a mask. Also, thank you for wearing pants and a shirt. Also, thank you for not swearing like a sailor in front of clients. Also, thank you for coming in to work today. Also, thank you for not playing your radio at full volume in a shared volume.
      No…wait. My mistake – these are all bare-minimum basic office rules! Why on earth do you think you deserve thanking, you complete and utter jerk?!?

    2. Candi*

      Would it be evil to offer him the same candies I used when potty training my kids, and make sure he knows that’s what I used that type for?

  29. Paris Geller*

    Bob sucks.
    Your HR sucks (why are they having you do their job???)
    Though I am glad you’ve had a mostly good outcome finally, it sounds like dealing with Bob has really exhausted you, which no one can fault you for. I do hope things stay smooth for you from here on out OP!

  30. Neon Dreams*

    *stares blankly at Bob* do you realize how immature you sound? Of course he doesn’t, but it dumbfounds me.

    Your last sentence hit a chord with me-I feel the exact same way. So much ugliness has come to light and I can’t look the other way.

  31. HolidayAmoeba*

    I know a Bob. This person was one of the ones who insisted that COVID wasn’t real. Then he (inevitably) got COVID. Like ended up on a ventilator bad. And now he acts like it wasn’t a big deal and still refuses to mask because “What’s the worst that could happen now?”

      1. Nea*

        They double down because they don’t want to admit other people are people, much less people with rights.

  32. Orange You Glad*

    Reading through this LWs saga has me stressed out. I’m very thankful I don’t have to be in an office regularly and when I am, the others there are reasonable people.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      Yes, I found myself exhausted just reading it, I can’t imagine how LW feels actually having lived it.

  33. OhNoYouDidn't*

    Whew! I’m exhausted from simply reading this story. I can’t imagine how exhausted OP must be from living through it! Kudos to you, OP, for persevering!

  34. Former HR Staffer*

    before covid, i had a coworker who had pneumonia/bronchitis… loud hacking, a garbage can overflowing to the floor with used kleenex, you get the idea. she refused to go home bc she didn’t want to use her PTO.

    i went to our boss and told her she had an official diagnosis from her dr about it, but she believed she was no longer contagious bc she had it for over a week. my boss went to HR, who said they couldn’t make her go home.

    i have asthma and there was also an 80yr old in the office. what if one us fell ill or died? what if half the office caught it and we all had to be out sick for a week? i was appalled by the lack of action HR took on this.

    our current HR policy is to say masks are required if you’re not vaxxed, but it’s “on your honor” and there is no confirmation of any kind. not surprisingly, ppl who are vaxxed are still being cautious and never stopped wearing masks regardless of the mandate, and the opposite is true of the unvaxxed.

  35. Fitz*

    OP, you have absolutely inspired me with this line: “I accepted the apology and also politely told him it was a necessary apology.” Solid gold. Especially after it sounded like you were initially hesitant to push to hard (as I would have been!). Amazing.

  36. C in the Hood*

    Bob sounds like a relative of mine…(is he that relative? I’ll never know!) I just can’t with them anymore.

  37. Sunflower*

    Take pictures and note the time & date every time Bob is not wearing a mask.

    I hope HR was informed how it looks in front of clients. Maybe they don’t care about it’s employees (sadly not uncommon), but I bet they care about clients.

  38. Former HR Staffer*

    FYI, one coworker bought one of those tension rods and put it chest level across her cubicle entrance saying something along the lines of please conversate with me outside my cube for covid safety. its kind of passive aggressively enforcing the boundary for ppl like bob, and i kinda like it. :)

    1. Gracely*

      My coworkers and I at one point floated the idea of carrying a pool noodle around with us to enforce distancing. We never actually got one, but I can’t blame anyone for putting up some kind of barrier like that.

    2. Esmae*

      Before I even got back from furlough last year, my boss had put painters tape on the floor outside everyone’s office to indicate where you have to stand to talk to someone inside. It’s still there. We also do have some pool noodles around, although as far as I know nobody has actually used one to enforce their personal space.

  39. Lobsterman*

    I’d contact an employment attorney and see about options. Bob is creating a hostile work environment.

    1. Daffodilly*

      No, he’s not. The phrase “hostile work environment” has a very specific definition, and this is not it.
      He is creating an unsafe work environment with contention, but that’s not the same.

    2. Me*

      Bob being a jerk creative a negative work environment for the OP but no it’s not actionable under law. That’s not what a hostile environment is. Hostile work environment involves harassment against a protected class.

      From the EEOC (see 2):
      “Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy), national origin, older age (beginning at age 40), disability, or genetic information (including family medical history). Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”

      1. Lobsterman*

        Refusing to follow stated Covid guidelines is unwelcome conduct based on disability (compromised immune system), and it’s severe and pervasive. I also bet Bob’s doing it to the women and not the men, because that’s what Bobs are.

        My 2c, YMMV.

      2. Betty Boop*

        So, just plain old bullying (as opposed to being bullied for race, disability, and other things that are out of your control) isn’t harrassment?

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          It might well be harassment; it would not constitute a hostile work environment in the legal sense.

  40. anonymous73*

    You’re still being way more polite and more reserved abut than I would have been, and your HR department sucks. If a company is going to institute a mandate, but not enforce it, then of course people are going to abuse it.

    Rule of thumb: If you set boundaries and ask someone to do something/stop doing something and they refuse, get up and walk away. Do not continue an irrational argument with the person because they won’t stop and you will NEVER get them to relent.

    1. Jackalope*

      Part of the problem was that Bob was coming to the LW’s desk, so the LW didn’t necessarily have someplace else to go.

  41. Anonymous Hippo*

    You have more energy than I. My company had a mask “rule” and I literally only saw 4 people wearing masks regularly, and one was me. I just stayed in my office away from people as much as possible. Still do to some extent.

  42. No Dumb Blonde*

    The happiest ending of all would be for Bob to get juuuust sick enough that he regrets all his previous decisions. Natural consequences FTW

  43. Esmeralda*

    You are my hero, OP.

    Fortunately my coworkers follow the university’s indoors mask mandate (which we have, sadly, only because the U is located in a city and county with a mask mandate).

    Students…I’ve tried “Let’s keep the university open this year!” I’ve tried pics of amusing animals wearing masks, I’ve tried jiggling my mask at students with slipped-down masks, I’ve tried calling out students in class (“Name, pull up your mask now, please). The only thing that has worked with the diehards is an email that states: Name, wearing a mask properly is required by the university, the city, and the county. You have been reminded every week in class. We are now at the point where you will be reported to student conduct if you do not wear your mask properly. You will also not be allowed to attend [my class] and will be marked with an unexcused absence; X unexcused absences means you will fail the class. Let me know if you have questions.

    No more problems with the mask. Sheesh. Be a decent human being! Don’t put yourself

    1. yala*

      I suggested we be allowed to carry squirt guns and spritz the students not wearing their masks. Like a misbehaving cat.

  44. Monte*

    The last time I saw my anti-mask boss he was coughing in my face and showing me a video about why they’re dangerous. He was dead of COVID in a week and almost took a couple others with him. Shockingly now the whole office is claiming they’ve been SUPER SERIOUS about COVID this whole time and actually wear masks around clients. (I was fully vaccinated and tested negative.)
    I’m so incredibly over this stupidity.

    1. Sharpieees*

      Oh my gosh! I just … don’t understand them. At all. I’m glad you were ok despite being exposed, I hope.

  45. All Het Up About It*

    “No more squeaks to give.”
    I feel this in my SOUL about so much at the office these days. Not just about Covid related people and things.

  46. Library Lady*

    First off, it boggles my mind when I see people doing the “hold a mask to your face with your hand,” because it’s so much unnecessary effort in the name of sticking it to…the people who wear masks?

    Secondly, OP, this has been my exact strategy for enforcing mask wearing with patrons at my library, and it’s worked. Don’t engage in an argument, just keep repeating your very simple and reasonable boundary until they comply or leave. Plus your follow up documentation to HR sounds extremely well done as well. I’m so sorry they’ve been useless up to this point but you are doing everything right, and I hope you are able to take pride in your boundary setting skills. It’s difficult to do, and even more difficult to do well, but you’re acing it!

    1. Loulou*

      Same here, library lady. I’m not going to get into an argument with anyone about the merits of masks — it’s not my job to convince them they’re worthwhile, but it is my job to enforce library policies and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

  47. Former Retail Lifer*

    I manage an apartment building and I had a Bob that lived here. We had multiple mask mandates in place (first the city, then the county, and then the state) and residents were notified they needed to wear a mask in the hallways and elevators. My own Bob refused, started arguments with other residents, and threatened to sue me when I sent him warning letters. In the best turn of events, his lease was up in April and, with the blessing of my boss and corporate office, I denied his lease renewal and he had to move out.

    1. louvella*

      My apartment building has signs everywhere reminding people of the state mandate and AT LEAST 30% of residents don’t in the hallways and elevators. I hate it so much.

  48. DKLKEK*

    I feel like one of the few positives of jobs essentially functioning as mini-totalitarian states is that BS like Bob actually has a solution. What a pain that OP had to deal with this.

  49. Happy*

    This does not sound like a happy ending — it sounds exhausting and demoralizing. I’m sorry, OP — your company is horrible and so is Bob.

  50. Panhandlerann*

    I have a family member who won’t be vaccinated and wants to keep the fact that they’re not vaccinated private. I’m not supposed to know they aren’t vaccinated (but another family member let me in on the secret). So I was supposed to go into Christmas dinner with this person, not aware of their status so far as they knew. Now I’m in a quandry because the person who told me would be “in trouble” if I let on to the unvaccinated one that I know their secret.

    1. Non profit Pro*

      Tell them that due to the new variant you want to be sure you are being careful and need to see vaccination cards before sharing a meal.

  51. JB*

    LW, don’t beat yourself up for taking breaks from policing Bob. Most people don’t have the time or energy to babysit a grown man on top of doing their actual job, and it’s ridiculous that that’s what HR required of you before they took real action.

  52. 2 Cents*

    “Toddler” is too nice a noun. My 3YO hates wearing a mask, but does so at nursery school every day. Bob needs a life.

    1. Esmae*

      Right, I work with toddlers and they’re remarkably good about keeping masks on and keeping their distance. The only kids I’ve seen cause problems about masking are the ones who learned it from their parents.

  53. Non profit pro*

    I’m glad things worked out for OP, but I’m just boggled at how different my experience has been. My work went back to the office in April with zero accomodations for anyone to continue working from home despite the fact that we were doing great WFH(exceeded normal year goals). There was no vaccine mandate or masking required, only highly encouraged. We are not allowed to ask if people are vaccinated due to an idiotic governor. I’m immunocompromised and the lack of flexibility and zero Fs given by my boss who uttered that people had the opportunity to get the vaccine therefore any request to work remote was SOL was the push I needed to quit.

    1. Lobsterman*

      I’m a medical refugee from the Midwest, living on the West Coast. I’m so glad that my decision based on other health issues has also protected me from this sort of madness.

  54. Meep*

    I giggled a little about Bob throwing a hissy fit over you not thanking him for wearing a mask. I am sorry that he used intimidation and traumatized you, but that is… so… on-brand? with these sorts of people.

    My own Bob (anti-vaxxer, reluctant masker) does this with literally everything. I get a raise that barely was a COLA after she traumatized me for years that if I asked for one I was a selfish garbage human being? I was clearly not appreciative of how she FOUGHT for that meager raise. She gives me the info I asked for five times already? I should throw myself at her feet with praise. Every bare minimum task that is part of her job description needs to be praised and rewarded to her specification. I honestly just stopped saying “thank you.” It wasn’t good enough anyway.

    Bobs of the world were entitled before and they will be entitled after the pandemic. (If they survive.)

  55. Dax*

    Today, I was the squeaky wheel. Last Wednesday, our HES (Safety) Manager, who sits in the office next to mine, returned from a trip out of state with a noticeable cough. She’s a very vocal COVID denier and very vocally anti-vaccine. I went to HR and gently asked if they could check in with her. Nothing happened. Monday, she returned from the holiday with a worse cough. She stopped by my office and admitted to me she’d been sick and tried to “stay back” from her relatives during Thanksgiving. I told a different person in HR, who asked the manager to work from home while ill. Yesterday, the sick manager worked from home in the morning and came in for the afternoon to teach a new hire class (!!!). She told HR her doctor had diagnosed her with bronchitis, but never said whether she had been tested for COVID or not. At one point, she stepped into my office and instructed one of my employees to step back from her because she’s sick (obviously believing she’s contagious). This morning, after listening to her continuous, rattling cough for 3 hours, I emailed HR and insisted that they either obtain evidence that she had a negative test, or send her home. They sent her home. I am 99% sure she has COVID and refused to be tested. I have zero trust in her because of the comments she has made in the past. Repeatedly speaking up like this is very far out of my comfort zone, but I was so pissed that I couldn’t stand it anymore.

    1. yala*

      Sheesh. Even my MOM got tested when she had Covid, and she believes the whole thing is a scam and fussed at me for wearing a mask, etc.

      Granted, when she was sick and I said “hmm, sounds like Covid,” she refused to get a test. But few days later when my brother dropped off some bath stuff and she couldn’t smell the heavily scented soaps…that finally got her to.

      But sheesh, you’d think at this point that folks wouldn’t go into work with an obvious communicable disease if they can work from home, whether or not it’s covid. Like, if she’s asking people to stand back, etc, the least she can do is mask up.

    2. tangerineRose*

      If it was bronchitis, I wonder if that would put her at more risk from COVID if she caught it while recovering from bronchitis.

  56. Monte*

    Thankfully I was absolutely fine. Boss continued to see clients with a cough that he blamed on something else for days. Most of the (unvaccinated) office got mild to severe COVID including one vaccination and immunocompromised family member of an employee who didn’t finish their series. I may have quit if I had actually gotten sick. Management here has a lot of typical small business issues and they can’t understand why so many are quitting without notice aside from “not wanting to work” (the theme song for businesses that don’t pay well and don’t offer full time benefits).

  57. Hannah*

    Honestly in this case I think poisoning Bob’s coffee would be the kindness thing to do for the people forced to be around him and overall public health.

    1. SarahKay*

      Sorry, what? OP was right to complain but you still wouldn’t want to work with them? Because, what, they were determined to make someone stop endangering their health while that someone was consistently breaking company rules?
      No idea what your problem is, but I think OP is a hero.

    2. Observer*

      Interesting point of view!

      What exactly did the OP do that was so bad? I mean is it SOOO hard to work with someone who wants you to keep your mask on when you come into their office or are in the public spaces? And who, horrors! wants you to keep a reasonable distance?

      The people *I* have a hard time working with are the ones who express your attitude and cannot abide the idea that someone is going to enforce some reasonable boundaries.

  58. yala*

    Forget the mask-wearing (don’t forget the mask-wearing), but how on EARTH was he not disciplined for the way he spoke to you? I’m FLOORED. I would think that alone–yelling at a coworker, saying you won’t do something because they can’t make you, etc–that that at least would’ve gotten HR in gear.

    Nevermind that by yelling at you near you, he’s increasing risk of exposure.

    If he starts slipping again, you could mention that maybe the lack of enforcement is making your workspace hostile to folks with compromised immune systems, etc?

    1. mf*

      Agree. If I were the LW, I’d be hunting for a new job. I would not be OK with my employer allowing a coworker to treat me like that.

    2. tangerineRose*

      I wonder if HR or the boss knew how Bob spoke to the LW. Yeah, that was terrible.

      To any anti-vaxxers, you don’t have to agree with us, but how about just humoring us and wearing a mask? It’s not that hard. Little kids wear masks.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree, refusing to comply with company policies/local mandates is already very bad. Telling your coworker you will not respect their very reasonable (and legally mandated!!) boundaries because you don’t want to and they can’t make you is a whole separate nightmare.

  59. Bookworm*

    Not going to lie, I was exhausted reading all of this but GOOD FOR YOU! I was worried this wasn’t going to end well at all but I’m glad you kept at it (as tiring and stressful as that must have been). So sorry you’ve been dealing with that but am happy it seems to have ended well, at least for now.

  60. Mannheim Steamroller*

    I especially like the idea of “threatening” to go to HR after you had already gone to HR.

  61. Lily of the Meadow*

    A mandate is not a law; one may possibly make the argument that a mandate is a requirement, but it is not a law. And wanting to “yeet the Bobs”, and, in quite plain language, express one’s willingness to kill people who will not act as you want them to behave, displays a distinct contempt for the rules of this website, to be kind. Whether or not you like Bob’s behavior, he is very right in his insistence on his option to choose how he cares for his own health. Or has everyone here forgotten HIPAA? HIPAA IS a law, and people’s right to privacy regarding their health care choices is protected by that law. Bob owes no explanation of why he might or might not be wearing a mask. And, because of ACTUAL law, no one has the right to force him to do so, or to think that gives them the right to wish Bob dead. You do not have to interact with Bob, but wanting to “yeet” him is beyond the pale. One might contract other contagious diseases that might lead to serious and/or fatal consequences, yet I see no one wanting to let others die because they have the flu, or German measles, or any of any number of diseases that can have quite serious outcomes, given the wrong set of circumstances. I am quite disappointed in the commentariat; why do any of you think that expressing a desire for other people to die because you cannot make them behave as you think they ought is beyond me.

    1. Ruby*

      It IS, however, a company policy. If Bob doesn’t like it, he can work elsewhere. He doesn’t get to bully OP.
      And HIPAA doesn’t mean what you think it means.

      1. pancakes*

        Neither does “mandate.” Lily, your disapproval would carry a lot more weight if it wasn’t adrift in word-salad.

    2. Spreadsheets and Books*

      HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It applies to keeping patient information confidential for *healthcare providers.* It does not apply in any way, shape, or form to this situation. Per the official government websites, “The Security Rule applies to health plans, health care clearinghouses, and to any health care provider who transmits health information in electronic form in connection with a transaction for which the Secretary of HHS has adopted standards under HIPAA (the “covered entities”) and to their business associates.”

      AKA not Bob’s employer. Bob can follow the rules set by the company or GTFO.

    3. Jennifer Strange*

      You are taking the term “yeet” way too seriously. Also, the organization instilled a policy. Bob is not above that policy.

      1. Allegra*

        Yeah, that’s not what “yeet” means. “Yeet” colloquially means “get as far away from me as possible”, not…murder them.

    4. Bibliothecarial*

      HIPAA means that your medical providers cannot release your health information to a third party without your consent. It doesn’t have any bearing on a company or individual asking an individual to self-disclose.

    5. tangerineRose*

      I think people were joking about wanting to “yeet” Bob. At least most of them.

      I’m not concerned so much about Bob’s health but very concerned that he could be infecting (and possibly killing) other people. Is it too much to ask him to mask up or work from home or at least keep his distance from others? He’s clearly not being careful.

      When the OP “gave Bob the firm boundary that he cannot come into my cubicle without a mask and he also needed to stay six feet away.” then “He argued heatedly for 10 or so minutes”. The OP didn’t even say he had to wear a mask. The OP just doesn’t want to be infected. And at this polite request, well, arguing heatedly sounds like an excellent way to spread the virus. I’m just glad the OP didn’t get infected. He’s being careless about other people’s health.

    6. Esmae*

      Bob has the right to not get vaccinated. He has the right to not wear a mask. He does not have the right to continue working at this company while not wearing a mask, if the company’s policy says he has to wear one and he hasn’t arranged a specific disability accommodating allowing him not to wear one. He does not have the right to stand in close proximity to his coworkers without a mask, when his coworkers have repeatedly asked him to wear one or observe safe social distancing. HIPAA doesn’t change any of this, and doesn’t apply here.

      Also I’m pretty sure nobody actually wants to literally yeet Bob into the sun. Maybe I’m wrong about that!

    7. LouLou*

      Absolutely disagree with any comments wishing for Bob or anyone else to die or get sick, but I don’t think you understand what laws, mandates, or HIPAA mean.

      In most industries very few of the policies governing workplace behavior are laws…employees still have to follow them! Not sure what your point was there.

    8. JM60*

      Wow. There’s so much wrong in one post.

      A mandate is not a law

      Mandates have the force of law all the time. When the FAA says, “airlines must fix this faulty part that’s causing planes to crash”, that usually has the force of law because laws have been passed giving the FAA that power. Similarly, various laws have been passed that gives governors and/or local governments the authority to implement mandates in certain circumstances (like a pandemic of a highly contagious disease).

      he is very right in his insistence on his option to choose how he cares for his own health

      This is a “Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose” situation. When he’s stubbornly refusing to do the minimum to minimizing the threat he poses to others, he’s doing the equivalent of swinging his fist into the nose of the OP and insisting it’s his right to do so.

      HIPAA IS a law, and people’s right to privacy regarding their health care choices is protected by that law.

      HIPAA doesn’t forbid others from asking you about your health care decisions, nor does it forbid employers from mandating vaccinations (which health care providers have often done before with their own employees). It rather forbids your health care provider from releasing your health care information without your approval.

      You do not have to interact with Bob

      The OP and Bob are at work, and Bob was approaching the OP even though the OP wanted Bob to maintain distance. So it sounds like Bob made the OP interact with him, and selfishly endangered them in the process by usually refusing the vaccinate, wear a mask, and maintain reasonable distance.

      One might contract other contagious diseases that might lead to serious and/or fatal consequences

      Currently, COVID poses a much higher threat than other diseases, and even aside from this pandemic, we should do a little more in the West to protect others from contagious diseases (such as not coming to work when feeling sick).

      Bob was needlessly and childishly endangering others, and is worthy of ire for that. A good employer would’ve fired him rather than protect him.

    9. New Jack Karyn*

      Aside from what others have covered pretty thoroughly: I have the right to wish whatever I like. I can want whatever I like, including wanting to yeet someone into the sun.
      Bob gets to choose whether to get vaccinated, gets to choose whether to mask up, but I don’t get to choose to think unkind thoughts about Bob? Nah, fam. That ain’t it.

    10. Observer*

      A mandate is not a law; one may possibly make the argument that a mandate is a requirement, but it is not a law

      When a mandate is imposed by the government, it most definitely IS law. Laws are not only promulgated by the legislative branch.

      Whether or not you like Bob’s behavior, he is very right in his insistence on his option to choose how he cares for his own health.

      Which has nothing to do with the case. Mask requirements are as much about keeping others safe. Bob, nor anyone else gets to choose whether they are allowed to endanger others.

      Or has everyone here forgotten HIPAA? HIPAA IS a law, and people’s right to privacy regarding their health care choices is protected by that law.

      No. Not in the least bit. HIPAA does not protect the GENERAL privacy of people’s health information. It only protects the data that medical practitioner, insurance companies, and related organizations collect. Any person or employer is most definitely permitted to ask any person for information needed make reasonable decisions for themselves.

      You would also have a bit more credibility if you didn’t make glaring mis-statements about the law. And also if you didn’t pretend that there is a difference between someone getting sick because of circumstances that they cannot control getting sick because they decided to refuse to take reasonable precautions.

    11. MCMonkeyBean*

      I don’t know how you fit so many wrong words together like that, it’s nearly impressive

    12. thatjillgirl*

      Mandate doesn’t mean what you think it means.
      HIPAA doesn’t mean what you think it means.
      And even yeet does not mean what it appears you think it means.

      As for your final question: “why do any of you think that expressing a desire for other people to die because you cannot make them behave as you think they ought is beyond me.”

      People’s anger at the Bobs of the world has absolutely nothing with not being able to “make them behave as you think they ought.” It has everything to do with the Bobs knowingly behaving in ways that endanger others. It’s no different than somebody who insists on driving drunk. Or somebody who knows that their sexual practices put them at risk of STIs but refuses to inform potential partners of this so that the partners can make informed decisions regarding taking on the risk. Or somebody who insists on eating peanuts on an airplane with somebody who is deathly allergic. Etc. Your right to behave however you want only goes so far as its impact on yourself alone. When your behavior puts others at risk and they can’t reasonably opt out of it, it’s not okay, and we usually think there should be negative consequences for behaving that way.

  62. Jessica*

    Good for you, LW. Bob isn’t the only person at your company I’d fire, just the first one. But you fought your way through an exhausting, dangerous, unfair, infuriating situation–and you’ll never know whose life you may literally have saved.

    1. pancakes*

      No, and I really wish people who think this is the solution to every problem would take a long, close look at their impulse to say things like this.

  63. Zainab H*

    I’m not sure how it works in your area but at least in Ontario, Canada (and only speaking for myself), I would have most likely tried to report this kind of thing to the local/regional public health unit – especially if HR is doing nothing about it. Not sure what Alison would suggest about that though.

  64. RedFraggle*

    I feel this LW so much. I work in medicine, and my doctors are the WORST about masking. Management / HR is limited in what they can do about it, too, because many of our doctors are also owners.

    Repeated requests of one doctor finally got them to mask up around me, but it’s so frustrating to have to argue with patients about masking when the doctors don’t.

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