warning a hothead personal trainer, taking six months off to hike, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. How do I warn a hothead personal trainer I’m on the verge of firing him?

I am a GM for a small fitness franchise. We work in a gym so the environment is informal, but we still have rules and policies like any other business. There is no HR. I am HR.

I have an employee who is a personal trainer. We spoken several times about professionalism and his behavior. Examples:

* Getting confrontational when members don’t put their weights back.
* He makes fun of inexperienced lifters and humiliates them in front of others who are present.
* Laughing when a member was lifting too much weight and almost injured himself (yes, wth!)
* Slamming weights around in frustrating when someone doesn’t rerack their weights.
* Getting aggressive when a member will door-violate. Members are not allowed to bring people into the gym during non-staffed hours. He will humiliate the member loudly and aggressively in front of everyone.
* When he uses the gym on his own time to work out, he curses loudly when lifting, slams weights, and holds a conversation extremely loudly that the entire gym can hear.

I’m done talking. How do I approach this hothead to say that any further complaints or unprofessional behavior, HE IS OUT before I become the hothead myself?

For the sake of your business and your members and other employees, don’t you need to fire him now? He’s humiliating members (!) and laughing at potential injuries (!!), slamming weights around, yelling at people, and generally behaving in a scary, aggressive, hostile way. You’re going to lose members and your reputation over this if you haven’t already (and I have to think you already have).

If for some reason you’re committed to giving him one final warning (which frankly I don’t think you should be — this stuff is serious and you’ve already spoken to him about it), you should say, “If there is another instance of XYZ, I will need to let you go that day. You cannot continue working here without an immediate and sustained change in your conduct.” But think seriously about why you’re letting him stay when he’s this out of control.

2. I’m taking six months off to hike — should I tell people what I’m doing?

I will be taking off six months to hike the Pacific Crest Trail this year. While I knew personal unpaid leave was allowed with supervisor approval, I’m still pleasantly surprised they are going to approve it. What is professional to tell people and share about my trip/reason for extended leave?

My industry and office is friendly enough that if this was parental leave, I wouldn’t hesitate to share the reason for leave and perhaps a photo or two when the baby shows up with folks I work with regularly. And regular vacation photos are sometimes shared within my team. My team will know why I’m out but I don’t really want to field a bunch of questions about the reason for my leave that assume I’m pregnant or someone is really sick (the usual reasons for being out that long). Is it kosher to share the reason for my leave and a way to follow along if folks are interested (I’m probably just posting on instagram) for such a long break? I also work with folks across our city and region regularly (so what’s the line between intra-org communication and external communication?

Additional context to take or leave: We are really understaffed, and I am interviewing for a promotion right before I leave. There have recently been investigations into our team culture (terrible) and we have been losing staff very quickly. I basically said, I’m going on this trip and I would prefer to do it on leave (with an unstated threat that I would leave if they didn’t approve it, and I really expected to have to follow through). I presume the only reason they are approving it is the hiring timeline is insane and I am easily the strongest performer. So there could be some questions about that and concerns that I am also leaving.

Go ahead and share your reason! Lots of people will be interested, and there’s nothing unprofessional about letting people know what you’re doing (if anything, it might be stranger to go away for six months with no comment about why — still your prerogative, of course, but since you’re willing to share you might as well eliminate speculation).

Read an update to this letter

3. Is a former employee from years ago targeting my boss?

How do you handle an ex-employee who has gone rogue many, many years after being dismissed?

Over 10 years ago, my boss had to dismiss an employee. I don’t know the reason, but we all heard that it was a difficult situation involving the rather public threat of revenge upon my boss.

At the time, most of us dismissed the threat as empty words, given that nothing happened in over a decade. However, recently a string of actions have happened to my boss that have brought the threats to mind again. Fake profiles of her have appeared on professional sites such as LinkedIn and even one on Wikipedia that stated she was the object of a criminal investigation; she wasn’t. Flowers have been delivered to her home under the name of a man other than her husband and so on.

HR has tried with no luck at all to find this person. They did learn that, unknown to any of us, he is a dual-citizen and HR suspects that he has left the county, giving them very little ability to do much about the situation given the amount of time that passed between the threat and the actions, as it would be impossible to prove the connection. Is there anything that can be done about something like this? Is it common for aggrieved ex-employees to wait many years only to come out of the woodwork this way?

No, it’s not common for former employees from a decade ago to suddenly emerge and decide to mess with someone. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but is there some reason to think it’s this particular person, aside from the fact that he made threats a long time ago? If there’s nothing else suggesting it’s him, it seems odd for everyone to assume it is (and I’d worry that your HR department putting so much focus on him might be keeping other possibilities from being considered).

If she hasn’t already, you boss should contact one of the organizations that helps people being harassed online, like Fight Cyberstalking, HeartMob, or OnlineSOS.

4. Should I tell my coworker to leave me out of her drama?

I work for a mid-size nonprofit on a small team. I have two coworkers and one boss. My coworker, Erin, is very difficult to work with. You never know what you are going to get, one day she is your best friend and the next day she won’t even speak to you. She is also known around the office as an office gossip and is constantly in others people’s business. She loves to create work for other people and is constantly giving me “projects” to work on. All of this is annoying, but I tend to keep my head down and do my job.

However, lately she has started telling anyone who will listen how I am the office favorite and everyone hates her and how our boss gives me preferential treatment. She has told so many people that the CEO and COO both know and have addressed this “drama” with my boss. Personally, I think this is incredibly childish and I would prefer to have a conversation with her to say, “You can complain about your job and how you are treated but please keep my name out of it.” I am nothing but polite to her and she is mostly friendly to my face. I don’t want to be associated with her and her gossip in the slightest. Any advice on how to ask her to keep my name out of her made-up drama?

I wouldn’t involve yourself; it’s a recipe for more drama. She sounds likely to make it another thing she’d talk to other people about, complaining that you scolded her for talking about you and she doesn’t know why you would think that and blah blah. It sounds like people you work with know what she’s like, and they presumably can see for themselves whether you get preferential treatment or not. The best thing you can do is to go on being calm and professional and let your actions — and your coworker’s actions — speak for themselves.

5. Day meetings for night shift workers

I was recently promoted to a management role, moving from day shift to night shift. My new shift is 1 am – 10 am. I have been in this job for about a week and my boss has already asked to schedule multiple meetings during the middle of the day — aka, the middle of my “night.”

The first was for a special project set up at 1:30 pm. I asked to at least call in rather than drive the 45 minutes in to the office, pointing out when this is for me. She said that it hadn’t occurred to her and I wouldn’t need to attend and she would make sure follow-up meetings were at a different time. Now, another manager is wanting to start up a weekly reoccurring meeting at 2:30 pm on Tuesdays. I was told I can call in to the meetings. This is still over the line, right? How to you suggest I approach this?

It sounds like you might be assuming everyone knows and remembers the hours you work and are therefore knowingly making unreasonable requests … but it’s much more likely that they just don’t realize or aren’t remembering what your hours are, since the arrangement is so new (your manager said exactly that, in fact!). You just need to explain the situation straightforwardly — “I work an overnight shift so that’s the middle of the night for me. My shift ends at 10 am, so any time before that works on my end.”

Your colleagues will presumably get used to your hours over time (and will need to plan meetings with you for their mornings), but you should still plan on having to remind them. People are notoriously terrible about remembering other people’s schedules. So when it happens, don’t take it as “wow, Falcon thinks I should meet in the middle of my night” but rather “I need to remind Falcon I can’t meet then.”

{ 466 comments… read them below }

  1. CatCat*

    #1, oh yikes, I’m also surprised you’re not just firing him. I’d have quit the gym if I’d been a member and witnessed this behavior. And if I worked there, I’d be looking for a new job if this kind of behavior is tolerated. Wow. Fire him and ban him from the premises so he doesn’t continue to use the gym on his personal time.

    1. CatCat*

      And honestly, OP, you have already talked to him about this! Not sure if those conversations were 100% clear on consequences, but regardless, laughing at customers, humiliating customers, acting aggressively with customers, slamming things, and cursing is not a combo that requires a bunch of warnings about amongst reasonable employees.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Right! This isn’t the kind of thing where you should give someone repeated chances to fix things — it’s not like someone who’s struggling with work quality but trying to improve. This is about character and profoundly wrong ideas of how one should conduct oneself. It’s one warning at most territory — and even then I’d worry that someone who thinks any of this is okay will just find other ways to behave abhorrently. He just needs to go and you shouldn’t subject customers to even another day of it.

        1. Mangled metaphor*

          In that vein, is it necessary to use the softening word “need”, in the warning? Could it not be “If that happens again I will fire you.”
          Since clearly they actually needed to fire this person a while ago.

          1. ecnaseener*

            I don’t see how “need” softens it. It’s a word that conveys certainty – it’s not just that I’ll make the choice to fire you (read: maybe you can talk me out of it), it’s that I *must* fire you.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              It sounds like it’s company policy or outside pressure but not necessarily your personal choice. Like I need to do this [because corporate is breathing down my neck; because too many customers are whining about it, etc.]. It’s weaseling out of taking a stand.

              1. JSPA*

                It’s almost tougher, when someone has already exhausted what should have been their last chance (like in coercive / boundary-pushing personal relationships?). The reasons are multiple.

                1. once you’ve failed to bail / lower the boom at the obvious point, you’re in uncharted waters.

                2. someone who has the lack of boundaries to get to this point, also is unlikely to respect them when fired / let go, and promises to make a scene. The temptation to duck instead of facing that scene allows the situation to roll right along.

                3. Boundary pushing 101: “if you didn’t fire me when I did X, why would you fire me now?” and, in the context of having done bad things A,B,C,D and E: “Hey, I stopped doing C. Don’t I get credit for that?” Reading posts on, “you don’t have to give an acceptable reason to leave a relationship that makes you unhappy” may be useful, as it’s the same, “but whyyyyyy?” and, “give me 3 good reasons why you’d do this now, when you didn’t do it [when I was spectacularly bad at some previous point].

                4. You feel that the person might be (or must be) unclear on the concept of acceptable behavior, and thus can’t be held to a standard that they can’t understand. This is a double fallacy: yes, one can be held, uncomprehendingly, to a standard. And for that matter, “I’ve seen good in them / but I hired them / but they seem to trust me” doesn’t mean they must be ignorant of the rules of conduct.

                Letters don’t have full background.

                We can all write fan fic: maybe the letter writer kind of buys into some sort of conflation of aggression, energy, attractiveness, and masculinity (or assumes their clientele does so). Maybe the letter writer enjoys the sense of giving someone who’s not clearly employable, a good shot at a good job. Maybe the labor market really is tight enough that, if you restrict your search to people who classically look the part, the pickings are slim.

                Some of the best trainers, and best PT people I’ve encountered are people with physical disabilities; they are excellent not despite the disability, but in part because their own medical experiences have given them additional feedback on what tissues can and can’t do, and what training and movement can and can’t achieve. They may not look like “conventional advertising” for the benefits of gym training. They may not be able to spot someone who’s doing certain lifts. but OP might do well to consider whether they might win by occasionally focusing less on hiring eye candy exemplars (and brawn), and more on expertise and knowledge, with a side of soft skills.

                1. Dust Bunny*

                  But none of that changes the fact that “need to” distances the LW/OP from the statement. They’re reasons/excuses for the LW to distance him/herself from the statement, but they still soften the statement.

                2. Observer*

                  @Dust Bunny I agree that they distance the OP from the statement. But that doesn’t make the statement softer. And that’s all that really matters.

                  The trainer doesn’t need to know how the OP feels about it. All he needs to know is “You misbehave ONE more time, and you are out of here.” No room for argument or discussion.

                3. Rosalind Franklin*


                  How did you so succinctly manage to sum up the 18 months of issues I had with an inherited problem employee?

                  (Spoiler alert: it ended when he finally threatened to burn the place down while HR was meeting to discuss a previous incident he’d been involved in. New director got involved and green lit security walking him out.)

              2. Librarian of SHIEILD*

                I’m going to say the same thing I always say when the conversation turns to whether or not an OP should use “softening” language.

                These kinds of conversations are hard, and for people who don’t have them regularly, they can feel insurmountable. If adding softening words like “need” or “please” make it easier for a person to say what needs to be said to stop bad behavior, we shouldn’t judge them for it or tell them not to do it. We absolutely should not accuse them of “weaseling out of taking a stand.” That’s a really, really rude way to approach a thing that’s already causing difficulty for the OP.

                1. Dust Bunny*

                  If the LW has that hard a time firing a guy–and this has already gone on way too long–who is insulting people and slamming weights, the LW might not be cut out for management. The guy is dangerous, both to the business and literally. Sometimes you’ve run out of time on doing something in a way that makes you less uncomfortable.

                2. Parakeet*

                  This. Softening language is great – it makes it easier to say things that are difficult, and can deescalate potential response (which, if it were me, given the psychological baggage of my own life experiences and given his behavior, I’d be scared that he’d scream at me or do something physical). As long as the actual point, which is that he’ll get fired that day if he does it again, gets effectively conveyed, who cares if it’s distancing? The implication of institutional backing for the OP (which I wouldn’t have read in the “need” wording, but clearly some people do) seems like a plus anyway, in that if you read it that way it would also imply that the OP has institutional backup. Using softening language or not is a morally neutral action as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the point’s content, and people need to stop playing tough online.

                3. Office Lobster DJ*

                  @Parakeet Totally agreed! Even if the “I need to –” construction was especially softening (I don’t personally think it is), what possible benefit is there in purposely turning it into a “This is a you vs me situation, buddy” situation with a known hothead?

                4. IL JimP*

                  totally agree and I don’t think the use of the word “need” is softening at all

                  I need you to immediately stop harassing members otherwise I will need to let you go.

                  Seems pretty clear and not softened at all.

                5. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yes. In my experience, managers nearly always water down this particular conversation. I have role-played it repeatedly with managers I’m coaching and it’s fascinating how when it comes time to says those words, a softer, less clear version comes out of their mouths — even when we had earlier agreed on clear wording to use. Probably 75% of managers I’ve coached through serious performance talks balk when it comes time to say “I will let you go.” For some reason they are more able to say “I will need to let you go” and so that’s the wording I coach them to use — because they are more likely to actually use it.

              3. Observer*

                It’s weaseling out of taking a stand.

                I don’t care. There is a lot of talk about impact vs intent. Well, this is on area where that applies, big time. I’d rather that a manager fire someone like this only because they are being forced to by corporate policy rather than NOT firing that person because they have not reached the conclusion on their own that they really need to take a stand.

                And if someone uses that language to hide the fact that they actually agree with the firing? In a case like this, I can’t say that I blame them. Again, it’s more important the the employee is CRYSTAL clear on the problem and that they get fired if and when they transgress.

          2. Hippo-nony-potomus*

            “I will fire you” is unequivocal.
            “I will need to fire you” takes the focus off the result to the listener and puts it on the speaker’s issues. This isn’t an issue that the GM has; it’s about what will happen to the personal trainer.

          3. Emilia Bedelia*

            I don’t think it’s softening at all. I think saying “need” emphasizes that firing is a consequence of the employee’s behavior. “You did something and I’m going to fire you for it” leaves room for discussion. “These actions are resulting in a need to fire you” = You did this to yourself.

            1. Random Bystander*

              Do you think it would be better to go with a passive construction ie “you will be fired”? It at least keeps the important elements (the PT and the consequence) while minimizing attention on the LW.

        2. Bagpuss*

          Yes. I’m in the UK where it is generally harder to fire people, and it’s normal to have a formal process but if he is abusive to customers and humiliating them publicly – I am pretty sure that that would be behaviour that would justify firing immediately on the basis of gross misconduct – I meant, it might take 24 hours to set up a formal disciplinary meeting and give him the opportunity to bring his union rep along but no longer.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I’m wondering if this gym is part of a chain with a formal process – and the OP is a newer manager just discovering that the prior folks didn’t document prior warnings the right way (because they were afraid of the hothead) and now OP is having to do all that work (hence making the one more conversation necessary).

            1. PT*

              I’ve worked in fitness and there are some quirky HR policies that make it hard to get rid of terrible employees. A lot of times this is because HR appointed a manager and didn’t bother to provide them with any training as to how to discipline or terminate an employee, or HR or your boss refuses to back you when it comes time to do that. There’s also a lot of pressure to keep terrible employees (and additionally, not terminate the memberships of customers who behave like asses) because “We’re shortstaffed” or “His clients love him!” (or in the case of customers, “We have to satisfy the customer!”)

              Meanwhile, for every client that loves him, there are 10 who just silently went to another gym rather than complain about him, especially in writing which has more impact. And as a department director, it is often much easier to take time out of your 40 hours of office work to cover their 12 hours of shifts than deal with all the garbage they generate while they’re working. (For members, the ass member is often driving away other members with their behavior, or their complaints are causing programming to be reshaped away from what the majority of customers want causing enrollment to drop, under the guise of “satisfying the customer.”)

              I personally have situations where someone who is terrible at their job is able to run an entire highly profitable department/facility/program into the ground in under a year, because nobody wants to deal with the problem employee (or member. We once had a wild kid with a jerk mom shut down a youth class from full to 0 enrollment for a year because no parents wanted their kid to be in his class!)

                1. JustAnotherKate*

                  This is very late, but I’ve noticed fitness companies struggling with problem staff, and I’m sure they lose members who don’t complain! Case in point: an instructor was telling her class at the end of each song: “now you can eat mashed potatoes!” “now you can eat pie!” After class, I gently suggested she cut back on the food-permission talk, which could be hard on people with eating disorders. She absolutely exploded at me in front of a big group of people, screaming that I didn’t belong in her class (and several other things). When I later called the gym to say she’d been inappropriate…the PUT HER ON THE PHONE to continue to scream at me, which she did until I hung up, called corporate, and canceled. As far as I know, she still works there.

                  OP, do not be this gym!

            2. Bagpuss*

              Could be, but then I’d expect them to be able to follow that process. And probably to have someone within that chain that they could speak to for advice.

              In my experience, where somewhere is large enough / organised enough to have a formal process the process allows for you to skip the earlier steps if the issue is sufficiently serious – e.g. if someone is regularly late to a time sensitive role, you might need to start with a formal verbal warning, then a formal improvement plan and written warning, then a final written warning , then dismissal, but if they show up drunk to work (IV or not!) or subject a client to verbal abuse, you can go straight to Final Written Warning or dismissal.

              I’ve only ever been involved in one case of summary dismissal but even having to follow all out internal procedures and ensuring that it met all the legal requirements, it was done in under 2 days (during which the employee was on paid suspension)

        3. ABC*

          Hes just not a good fit for this company culture. There are gyms that are like this and people pay money go to them. Its very likely that he does not understand gen pop and needs to move to a more “meathead” vibed atmoshphere.

      2. Harper the Other One*

        OP also needs to keep in mind this is likely costing members. I would absolutely cancel a membership if I witnessed something like this and then saw the same employee was still present later.

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          I canceled a gym membership over behaviour like this from other members. It was regularly reported to management but nothing was done because they were paying members. Well, so was I. Fire the guy today before your gym gets a reputation that it can never recover from.

          1. NerdyKris*

            Yeah, this is a culture issue. The only people who are going to stick around are those who think his behavior is okay, and the behavior will get worse and worse, until you’re pretty much stuck with a small group of terrible regulars and no way to change it other than shutting down and starting over, because you’re known as the gym for jerks.

            1. The OTHER Other*

              Yeah, the mind reels at where this might end up—a gang of bullies smoking in the locker room, giving people wedgies?

              This is without a doubt costing the business members and damaging its reputation. And a damaged reputation is very difficult to repair. Fire him, and it’s worth re-examining hiring and training procedures to make sure you don’t have anyone else like this on staff, and that you don’t hire another one.

          1. Church Office Manager*

            There’s a reason why one gym chain advertises as a “judgment-free zone.” Gyms seem to be full of this kind of toxicity.

          2. Le Sigh*

            Yeah, I mean, if that’s the audience you want to cater to, go for it I suppose. But if you’re trying to attract a broader group, this will turn people off — especially if it’s a staffer. It’s bad enough when it’s another member but knowing a place is willing to employ a person like this? I can deal with the standard “oh do you need help with that?” directed seemingly only at women in the weight room, but this is the kind of thing I would just nope right out of.

        2. JM in England*


          The OP should heed the saying “A customer with a good experience will tell one person, a customer who has a bad experience will tell ten!”…

          1. Anonymous4*

            Exactly! Companies need to treasure the people who complain, because that alerts management to the fact that there is a problem.

            The customers who don’t complain — who don’t want to cause trouble, don’t want to get the manager upset, don’t think it’s worth their time and effort “because nothing will change” — are the ones who tell their all friends and family members and coworkers about how awful SuchACompany is, and who never darken SAC’s door again.

          2. Self Employed Employee*

            Yep. Check your Yelp and other review sites. The damage might already be out there…

        3. Esmae*

          Absolutely. If a gym staff member made fun of me at the gym, I would cancel my membership that day and warn anyone looking for a gym away from them, and I don’t think that’s even a strong reaction. Guaranteed they’ve already lost people over this.

          1. Le Sigh*

            Yup. I’ve stopped seeing doctors over them shaming me (not giving advice, just make unnecessary comments that don’t help). Why on earth would I put up with a personal trainer who did that? If I’m here, it’s because I want to take care of myself and would like some help, but I do not need a dose of hostility and stress to go with that.

          2. MissBaudelaire*


            I’ve had bad experiences places and I make it clear how it has happened, and I tell other people what has happened.

            I’m sure there are people who like this bro-y type stuff in the gym. I’m not one of them, and if I witnessed it, I’d leave, cancel my membership, and if they made that difficult, I’d kick and scream until I got it canceled. And I would make it clear why I was canceling.

            If they want this type of gym, rad. If they want it to appeal to everyone, this ain’t it.

        4. Sleeve McQueen*

          I cancelled a gym membership because they were really unempathetic and had the “everyone has the same 24 hours/no excuses” fitness culture mindset. Uh no, between long work hours and family commitments this is the one thing in my day that’s just for me, and if you are going to make do burpees in front of the whole class because I was late because the bus was late, well I am going to solve the problem by not being there at all and find a solution that makes my life less stressful, not more. I used to be a PT and when people were late I’d just send them off on a warm-up and get on with things, because at least they made it.
          So many people struggle to make it to the gym and find the motivation, why you’d keep anyone that gives them the excuse to step out is baffling.

          1. Palliser*

            Holy cow–punishment burpees? In my younger days, I woud have been scarred for life (I am still mad at a camp counselor who yelled at me in front of our group to make a point). Older me has a thing about bullies, and does not pay people to be rude to me.

      3. Powerlifter*

        Out of all of his actions listed, the one that concerns me most is not stepping in and ‘Laughing when a member was lifting too much weight and almost injured himself’. That is gross misconduct of anyone working in a gym and could seriously injure/and depending on the lift kill someone. It is his job to step in there and protect the gym member. I will echo what other posters have commented, what is the benefit of keeping this trainer around?

        1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          Hell, even responsible *members* of the gym would be rushing to help, let alone an employee and trainer.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          This. Some of the things he does will be excused (by other jerks) as “that’s just how he is.” But this one is a clear example of him not doing his job, creating a dangerous situation.

        3. Amethystmoon*

          People like that are one of the reasons I avoid gyms. I was bullied enough in high school gym class. I don’t need to get bullied as an adult.

          1. CoveredinBees*

            And you certainly aren’t going to pay someone for the experience. One of the reasons I avoid most gyms. Community center based ones have worked well for me. I went to one that was mostly senior citizens when I was working out. Aside from occasionally hearing more than I wanted about someone’s medical issues, it was so peaceful and I was left alone.

            1. PT*

              A lot of seniors is often a sign that the gym has safe training practices and a healthy attitude towards the sort of progress you should be making (not encouraging people to go too hard, or focusing on weight loss/appearance over functional skills.) Instructors and trainers need a deeper skill set to be able to provide safe programming for that population.

            2. JustaTech*

              When I went to the gym the one I picked had three things going for it: convenient location, free parking, and the majority of members were not interested in me in a romantic/sexual way, so not only did I feel safe, but I was actively ignored by most of the other people there. It was great.

              (Though at one point my trainer was suggesting that I use one set of machines and I was like, yeah no, this is where the guys with *giant* muscles work, I’m not going to mess with their machines, I’m going to stick to the very similar set over there. The trainer looked at me, then the machines, and was like, oh.)

        4. Observer*

          the one that concerns me most is not stepping in and ‘Laughing when a member was lifting too much weight and almost injured himself’. That is gross misconduct of anyone working in a gym

          Yes. OP, this is not just costing your members. This could absolutely close you down. Someone gets hurt and this comes out? You’re shop is GONE.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I thought the same thing – that could become a big liability issue for the gym, and it’s not going to be good when the insurance folks show up and the Buffoon says, oh, yeah, management knew we had members lifting too much, I pointed it out.

        5. Sleeve McQueen*

          Obviously, the risks to the member are the main concern, but if that’s not enough, this is a lawsuit waiting to happen. And these things generate loads of bad publicity. Why is this PT’s job more important than someone’s health or the business?

      4. Office Lobster DJ*

        I suppose I can see the argument for just firing this guy, but one pattern in his behaviors makes it looks like affronts to his sense of fairness set him off – specifically I’m looking at getting aggressive over the door policy or people not picking up after themselves. While I imagine a meltdown over being fired in any case, I can imagine it being especially epic if he felt blindsided.

        On the whole, I think giving one last chance, being crystal clear about what’s going to happen next time, could help the OP.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          “You laughed at a customer who almost injured themselves by lifting too much weight instead of helping them” is not the kind of behavior that should be given a second chance, in my opinion. How many members have quietly canceled their membership? How many have left 1-star reviews? How many have told their family, friends and coworkers to avoid this gym at all costs?

          I agree that LW1 should be careful when firing this guy, but to me that means having security/police there because this guy sounds dangerous.

      5. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        I really, really REALLY hope we get an update on this one, and soon!

        That jerk needs to be gone like, last week. I hope we hear from o.p. that this has happened!

    2. 1LFTW*

      Hard agree.

      OP1, Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear” has a chapter about how to safely fire employees who are aggressive and unstable (as well as the importance of firing them before they become violent). It might be worth a read.

      1. Butter Makes Things Better*

        Ooh, good call on taking this precaution, especially with someone trending toward unhinged.

      2. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        Glad to see Gavin De Becker’s “The Gift of Fear” recommended. I was thinking that LW needed to read it as I was reading the column. Yeah I’d have his final check and everything ready so you can fire him, escort him off premise, and never have him come back.

          1. Peaks*

            Yes! All managers in my organization receive that Gift of Fear chapter and we ensure that we are using his suggested strategy of listening for violence-related red-flags in answers to our interview questions. We’ve had a bad experience and having a team attuned to these concerns and actively screening for them has made a huge difference.

        1. All Hail Queen Sally*

          There is a lot of good information in that book. I am in the middle of rereading it for the third time.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          Everywhere I’ve seen that book recommended, I’ve also seen the disclaimer to skip the chapter on domestic violence. I haven’t read it myself, but apparently it’s victim-blaming crap.

      3. GhostGirl*

        Yes, I get the feeling they are afraid of him and his reaction – that he might get violent. That’s the only reason I can think of to hesitate in firing his @$$.

      4. Bert*

        Gavin de Becker is an AIDS denialist and a conspiracy theorist. I really wish y’all would stop recommending this book.

        1. RagingADHD*

          Don’t forget the parts where he blames women for being abused. Lots of unfinished family-of-origin issues splashed on those pages.

          I’m sure there’s someone else out there who has also articulated the basic concept that “if your gut instinct tells you that someone is dangerous or untrustworthy, don’t ignore that primal warning mechanism in the name of being polite.”

          We should find that other person, and toss the rest of GOF out.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            I feel like most of the time when I see Gift of Fear recommended, it comes with a caveat that his stance towards domestic violence is cringey, but much of the other information is very useful. If anyone actually has recommendations on an alternative, I’m sure people would be happy to stop recommending it, but in the meantime if you have to use the tools at hand…

            1. Just me*

              My feeling on Gift of Fear — Gavin de Becker is clearly not a perfect person, however, his insights on how to resist gaslighting/socialization that causes us not to watch out for our own safety are on point. He has a huge trauma history and knows what he’s taking about on this specific issue

        2. Nina*

          If you’d like to recommend a book that’s equally helpful in teaching people ways of dealing with everyday dangerous situations and paying appropriate attention to their own instincts and that is not written by an AIDS-denying conspiracy theorist, please, recommend it.
          It’s okay to take what helps you and leave what doesn’t.

          1. EmmaPoet*

            Agreed. The DV chapter is terrible and I have no qualms telling people to skip it, but this book is a standard for a reason. I’d love one that didn’t have issues, but right now it’s what we have.

    3. Artemesia*

      Each example should have triggered the last chance. After 2 or 3 of these he should have long been gone.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Some of the examples should have triggered insta-firing, in my opinion. If I witnessed an employee getting that aggressive with a customer and they were still there the next day, I’d cancel my membership, demand a refund and tell everyone I knew to steer clear for their own safety.

    4. MEH Squared*

      Same here, on everything you’ve said.. LW#1, ask yourself why you are so keen on keeping this guy as he doesn’t seem to have any redeeming qualities as an employee. I have to tell you that if I were at your gym and he did any of these things around me (not even TO me–and that includes what he does during his own workouts), I would be out of there without a second glance. I don’t think I’m the only one. There are behaviors that are simply unacceptable, and this employee seems to have exhibited several of them quite blatantly and without remorse (or consequences).

      1. Worldwalker*

        You’re not the only one, by far. Same thing: If I saw this guy behaving like that, even if I was totally uninvolved, I’d leave, and quit posthaste. There are plenty of gyms in my town, and any of the other ones wouldn’t have this guy working in them.

      2. Quoth the Raven*

        Right. I’ve been verbally abused, and any of his behaviours would be a legit trigger for me, even if it’s directed at someone else. No matter how great everyone and everything else might be, I’d leave and never come back.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        In the back office, when someone treats coworkers like this, you risk your employees looking for other jobs if you’re slowly working up to delivering a firm warning. But most of them will prioritize rent and groceries and a stable job history–none of that is true of customers considering whether to patronize the business that employs this guy. Gym, deli, dentist’s office–customers will decide to lower the drama and discomfort in their user experience and go somewhere else.

      4. KayDeeAye*

        I don’t get the idea that the OP wants to keep this guy. I think they are just of the mistaken (but common) opinion that before you fire someone, you *have* to warn them. Generally that is a good idea, of course, but in this case, he’s still doing bad stuff even after being told not to, and in any case, this is all so egregious that immediate firing is completely justified. The very first time he made fun of customers, he should have been outta there!

        1. Observer*

          Well, it’s more than that. Keep in mind that the OP listed of SIX things that this guy has done – and apparently most of them have happened more than once! ANYONE of those should have triggered a very firm warning all on its own. Yet, the OP is only now getting around figuring out how to give him a final warning.

          So, while I agree that the OP doesn’t actually want to keep this guy – after all they are asking how to start the process of firing him – I do think that the OP should ask themself why it’s taken so long to reach that point.

          1. KayDeeAye*

            Oh, I agree with that. This is an excellent opportunity for taking stock and figuring out ways to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Posted this elsewhere above – I wonder if they are a chain gym with procedures that you have to follow to fire an employee, OP is new to running this gym, and none of the prior managers documented any of the previous warnings (if there even were any prior warnings) – so now OP has to do all the procedures with a totally out of control employee.

        3. Tupac Coachella*

          I kind of get it. I agree that yes, this guy should have been fired a long time ago. But the reasoning that “I talked to him but didn’t fire him after the last incident, I have to wait for another incident before I drop the hammer” feels logical to me. Firing him now, even with all this justification, feels like rescinding a promise of another chance. Waiting for a last straw completes the unspoken deal that he gets keep his job under the condition that he behaves himself going forward.

          To be clear: I absolutely think OP would be in the right to fire him now rather than waiting for him to mess up again (and possibly hurt someone). He’s given ample evidence that he will not, in fact, behave himself long term. I’m just saying I understand the rationale for the hesitation.

    5. Jopestus*

      Exactly. AND the worst case scenario: someone will snap and get physical.

      It has huge direct monetary damages to the company. Yes, i had to bring the point that usually works for the management, if nothing else will.

      1. NerdyKris*

        Now I’m just cringing at the thought of him picking a fight with someone who pushes back, in a gym filled with heavy metal objects. This is a life ending lawsuit waiting to happen if roid bro throws a punch when someone stands up to him.

        1. Cj*

          I picked up on your “roid bro” comment, because I was going to make a comment that the guy sounds like he might be on steroids if nobody else did.

          1. KayDeeAye*

            It could be, but alas, there are lots of hostile, macho jerks out there, and most of them are not on steroids.

          2. Ace in the Hole*

            I don’t see a reason to go there. It’s a possibility, sure… but even if LW had any way to know, it doesn’t change the situation one bit. And there are plenty of rude, aggressive jerks who aren’t on steroids.

    6. Beth*

      Absolutely! I definitely don’t work in fitness–I don’t even have a gym membership–and even I know that ‘humiliate beginners for making mistakes’ and ‘laugh at people who get or could have gotten injured’ are terrible ways to behave as a trainer. They’re terrible ways to behave as a human being. Why are you paying this guy to help and teach people when he doesn’t have the empathy and concern for others that I’d expect from your average kindergartener?

      1. Typing All The Time*

        Yes, if you need to, have other employees present in the case this trainee snaps. Maybe consider having a security personnel on hand?

        1. Observer*

          That’s waaaay too much. Yes, have security around when you fire the guy, but stop tiptoeing around this guy and trying to protect him from his terrible behavior.

      2. londonedit*

        Absolutely. I just joined a gym at the end of last year and I’m still self-conscious about people thinking I don’t know what I’m doing – I had a session with a PT who showed me how to do a little 45-minute workout that works for what I need, and that’s what I do twice a week, and I’m happy with it. If a trainer at my gym was laughing at beginners and yelling and slamming weights around that would be it, all the work I’ve put in building my gym confidence would be shattered and I probably wouldn’t go back.

    7. Gingerblue*

      If I had seen a single one of these incidents, I would have been gone and never returned. Even hearing about this is enough to make me reconsider the vague thoughts I’ve had lately of getting a gym membership. The fact that you haven’t already fired him means you are seriously underestimating how damaging this is.

      1. coffee*

        Don’t be put off by this guy – I am very much a noodle-armed couch potato and I still really enjoyed going to the gym and lifting weights (I stopped because covid). It was very meditative and I liked being stronger. I definitely recommend getting a personal trainer for a bit, if you can afford it, because a) they teach you the right way to use the equipment without injury, and b) it is a lot nicer to have some company when you are starting out and feeling a bit out of place.

        You can probably find a gym where you buy “passes” to try it out before doing a membership, which I think is good.

        1. Gingerblue*

          That’s great info, thanks! I had no idea passes were a thing—the idea that I could sample a gym before committing makes me feel a lot better.

    8. High protein double cheeseburger*

      I cannot think of a single logical reason that this employee still has a job. I have to wonder whether the franchise owner knows about his behavior. If not, OP is going to be in a very difficult position when their boss calls and demands to know why an employee who has harassed and belittled customers has not been fired after multiple warnings.

    9. allathian*

      Yeah, he definitely needs to be gone yesterday.

      I’m certain that the LW has lost many customers already who simply never come back. What if he starts flinging weights around in frustration and a customer gets injured? I’d hate to think of the liability.

    10. Batgirl*

      Even if the trainer hears and agrees that these particular several examples are unacceptable, and will never happen again… there are still plenty of other ways to be a hostile, territorial bully when this is your personality. This isn’t a work performance problem, or even a professionalism problem, it’s a jerk problem. There are plenty of non jerks who need a job, and how can OP solve someone’s fundamental way of being? Even if the guy voluntarily entered therapy, it would take ages and OP’s customers and staff don’t need one more day of this.

      1. Your local password resetter*

        Absolutely. This isn’t incompetence or ignorance, it’s outright malicious. Get rid of this guy.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        And I do believe that there are former jerks out there, who eventually saw the negative of their behavior and found a way to change. But part of that is often that they lost things that mattered–a job, a partner, a friend. If you get infinity do-overs in all those realms, you’re much less likely to see any argument to change.

        1. Elizabeth West*


          OP please fire the guy. This behavior is egregious enough to do it right away. He’s putting people in danger. And please, have someone with you, not only as a witness but as protection in case he pushes back.

    11. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Alison asked why the OP hadn’t just fired him already (or doesn’t want to go straight to that). I think it’s likely that OP fears or dreads the inevitable “hot headed” reaction to that…

      1. Bananagram*

        Yes, I think that’s right. Otherwise they wouldn’t have asked the question in the way they did. And while I agree with the others who have posted that a firing here is long overdue, the OP has my sympathy, especially if they haven’t had to fire someone (aggressive) before. That’s a specialized skill and never pleasant. But OP, don’t make the problem worse by dragging your feet now. Just prepare yourself, and protect yourself if necessary. It might merit bringing in a third person in a supervisory role (the franchise owner?) for both security and to communicate “this is not something you get to argue about”.
        Good luck, OP. The sooner it’s done, the sooner it’s done.

        1. MsSolo (UK)*

          Yes, I suspect the subtext to this question is “how can I keep myself safe, and stop this behaviour” and OP is hoping there’s a magic way of warning the guy that will achieve both. A warning isn’t going to achieve that, but having a third person present, and some other personal security measures (not leaving the building alone, etc) is a good idea. This guy is unpleasant and potentially dangerous and that’s true whether he remains employed with you or not.

      2. bamcheeks*

        That wasn’t my read, actually — I just assumed this was the kind of gym where there’s a lot of macho posturing and aggression (and quite possibly steroids) around, so whilst this guy is over the line, he’s not SO far over the line that he stands out the way he would in a workplace with a better norm. And because the owner is used to being surrounded by macho jerks, he sees this as “a bit out of line but correctible” rather than “this guy is actively scary, hostile and customers will go elsewhere”.

        1. Holey Hobby*

          Interestingly, this is not the kind of culture you see from people who are actually at the top of their game. Competitive powerlifters and Olympic lifters are – in my experience – really chill and generous people who are happy to introduce new people to their sport. I don’t know as much about bodybuilding culture, but the person who taught me the basic lifts was a work friend who was a semi-pro bodybuilder, and she was patient, smart, generous with her time, and all around lovely. It was clear I was never going to be great at lifting, but she didn’t despise people who were not elite level – she just thought some amount of free weights was good for everyone.

          And free weights ARE good for everyone! They are amazing for weight loss. They improve the performance of cardio bunnies like me. They help you retain balance and mobility and function as you age. People who scare others away from the free weights are the absolute worst.

          1. JSPA*

            Free weights are good for the vast majority of people. “Everyone” is pushing it. Pre-existing balance problems or problems with positional perception (from stroke, etc) can result in free weights being unmanageable.

            That’s part of why having someone like this cretin is so harmful. It’s not only the people he turns off from the gym. Not only the other rage-heads he attracts. It’s that when he’s doing his actual job–training people–it’s highly likely that his attitudes will make him promote mis-training, set people up for acute injury, and for overuse injury; will create a high risk of damage to third parties, as well as damage to equipment. Each type of badness ripples and interacts with the others.

            If LW had said, “he is motivational yet gentle with his clients, and they thrive under him, but he berates himself loudly and throws weights when he himself is lifting, and he’s over-zealous at enforcing the rules”–that, you can work with. But, “universal jackass with a mean streak a mile wide”? There’s no prize in that box. Stop digging, start dumping.

          2. Le Sigh*

            “Interestingly, this is not the kind of culture you see from people who are actually at the top of their game.”

            See also, person in head-to-toe Under Armor who spends most of the time on on their phone.

        2. Observer*

          I just assumed this was the kind of gym where there’s a lot of macho posturing and aggression (and quite possibly steroids) around, so whilst this guy is over the line, he’s not SO far over the line that he stands out the way he would in a workplace with a better norm

          I don’t think that’s really possible. It’s not just that he’s a high level garden variety jerk. As much as I agree that the OP should probably tamp down on “macho posturing veering into jerkdom” from staff, there is a VERY wide gulf between that and what the OP is describing. As others noted, some of his behavior is flat out malpractice. And even the macho big shots should know the difference between personal posturing (although they wouldn’t think of it in those terms) and how you treat PAYING CUSTOMERS, even the “pathetic newbs” that you laugh about over beer with your buddies.

        3. sometimeswhy*

          I used to train at a gym sort of like this. Part self defense practice, part weight lifting. We were loud and aggressive but safe (with our lifts and with our sparring) and when we weren’t engaged in one of those two, we were neither loud nor aggressive. When we weren’t hitting or lifting, we were constructive and encouraging and respectful. It was a place that I felt safe being a woman and doing ground sparring with dudes twice my size.

          I saw more than one person banned when they didn’t learn how to switch between appropriate and inappropriate times for that behavior. Usually with a terrifying wall of sweaty, scowling, bruised up people standing behind our membership coordinator (the owner’s delicate, otherwise-retired mother who did not fight at all) with our arms crossed as she told him to clean out his locker and escorted him out.

      3. Sparkles McFadden*

        Most people in management don’t want to fire anybody. A lot of times, it’s because they feel sorry for the person or because they think it reflects badly on their ability to manage. They think “Firing this person is like saying I am bad at my job” when it’s actually the polar opposite.

        In this case, I do think it’s fear of the employee’s reaction. The thought process is “If he’s this horrible on a daily basis, it’ll be so much worse if I have to fire him.” But, it’s going to get worse if he stays! He is not being held accountable so his horrible behavior will escalate. This guy needs to to be let go immediately and without any hedging. No “I’m sorry but…” or “OK, just one more chance…” It’s got to be “This is unacceptable and you need to leave immediately.”

        I know you are feeling stomach-twisting apprehension about doing this difficult thing LW, but you will feel so relieved once it has been done. I doubt you’ll find one comment here that doesn’t support firing this person.

    12. Scarlet2*

      Exactly. I’m sure they’ve already lost a bunch of clients because of that guy. And it’s probably damaged their reputation because if I had been publicly berated or made fun of by a trainer, you bet I’d be warning everyone I know about it.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        If I’d witnessed it or heard it second- or third-hand, I’d be warning everyone I know about it. This guy sounds dangerous; I wouldn’t want anyone I cared about anywhere near him.

    13. Forrest*

      Reading this list also makes me wonder about the whole culture— what are the other trainers at the gym like if all this stuff counts as “warning” rather than “get the hell out of here”? Maybe not as obviously egregious as this guy, but if I heard about one guy behaving like this, I’m going to assume all the others were at least a midpoint on the “macho aggressive gym culture” and steer well clear as a customer or a staff member.

      1. münchner kindl*

        That’s the only thing that makes sense to me – macho culture where belittling people is not seeing as “driving members away” but necessary. There are enough shows on TV (biggest looser) that re-inforce that completly wrong belief that exercise must hurt (up to the point of people throwing up) to be effective, that to insult non-fit people is the way to motivate etc.

        So if general culture is that this acceptable – both other trainers and members behaving similar – it doesn’t occur that why this is really bad.

        Because how was this guy hired in the first place – because he has bulging muscles? Did he demonstrate his trainer style? He shouldn’t have been hired in the first place with that behaviour unless “drill seargant” was what the gym was looking for.

      2. Threeve*

        I went to a fairly normal gym that had a “bootcamp” style program that I witnessed several times–some people specifically seek out trainers who will not let them slack, to the point of insults. The trainer who said things like “awwww you’re going to throw up if you don’t slow down? I’ll believe it when I see it” seemed to have plenty of repeat customers, at least half of them women.

        Personally I found it incredibly off-putting, and obviously it can get very out of hand, but trainers who walk the line between “tough love” and “aggressive” aren’t all that rare.

        1. münchner kindl*

          People seek out bad trainers because popular culture teaches them this is necessary; but that doesn’t make it factually right. It’s still very bad coaching style; and too often those tough meatheads also lack good knowledge of human body, so can cause damage by going too far.

          The better approach is not to hire some drill-seargants for those who want them, but to hire only competent trainers who actually know about the human body’s limits and how to coach humans, and let their results convince the mis-informed customers looking for drill-seargants.

    14. The Dogman*

      “He makes fun of inexperienced lifters and humiliates them in front of others who are present.”

      I got to that line and thought “Just fire him already, he is a bully.”

      No need to read the rest really…

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        Me, too! That was exactly the place where I yelled (internally), “Fire the m*****f***** Already!”

      2. Antilles*

        That line right there should have been a fire-on-sight thing, because this is 100% costing OP business from those inexperienced lifters.
        When people are new to weight training, they are ALWAYS a little nervous, worried about people judging your body, wondering if you’re doing the motion right, feeling a little down when you realize that you’re not in as good of shape as you thought, etc.
        So when this guy openly calls out that newbie, they won’t be motivated by it, they’ll be far more likely to just get more and more discouraged until they go to a different gym or possibly give up entirely.

        1. The Dogman*

          I have had this exact thing in my gym a few years before the plague, where I have been good friends with the owner for 10 years or so now.

          The new trainer literally did the full list LW 1 wrote down.

          I just went to the owner and told him what the deal was and the new trainer was immediately asked to leave and not return. But that is a privately owned gym, not a chain, so prob easier to do, since the owner is super responsive to the paying customers and prides himself on being the owner of the most welcoming gym in our city.

          The owner is also a man mountain, so that would also reduce the risk of firing an angry “gym-bro” type.

      3. Burger Bob*

        Yep. I had an employee once who was often bad or annoying in little ways. Things that weren’t quite bad enough to get him fired but bad enough to merit repeated warnings. But then one day he decided to essentially bully not one but two customers. We immediately started processing his termination paperwork. He was gone as soon as it cleared HR. There are some things you just can’t be allowed to get away with.

    15. Squidlet*

      >> I’d have quit the gym if I’d been a member and witnessed this behavior. And if I worked there, I’d be looking for a new job

      I came here to say this. You’ve surely lost members (and maybe employees) because of this guy’s behaviour. I wouldn’t feel safe at your gym!

      Based on what’s visible from the outside – ongoing abuse of members being tolerated by management – I would also wonder what other unprofessional stuff was being tolerated. You are doing your company a disservice by giving this jerk any more chances.

      1. The Dogman*

        “You’ve surely lost members”

        That is a guarantee if he did any of those things more than once…

        Pretty sure he did…

    16. Asenath*

      I have to agree with the others – I go to a gym, and have never seen or heard anyone behave like that. If the staff at the gym I go to weren’t pleasant and professional, I’d leave. And I might not bother to tell management why – I’d assume they knew and didn’t care if the behaviour was this egregious.

      1. Observer*

        And in this case you would be mostly right. The management DOES know. And hasn’t cared enough till now to actually do what needs to be done about this.

    17. Scott*

      when I was at school, I was bullied for being fat, weak and generally not a physical person. As I get older I’m realising my body needs work and effort, or else I’m going to end up with problems that could impact and harm my life. I need to join a gym and get active, but I have residual fears and hang-ups from my teenage years.

      If I went to a gym and the trainer acted this way, not only would it put me off that gym, it would confirm all my worst fears about making any attempts to improve my fitness.

      Firing this person isn’t just a business concern, it’s an obligation to do right by the gym users.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        My gym has some hardcore athletes (my sports captain son goes there with his teammates on school breaks) and it has lots of senior citizens, some working with physical therapists from the adjacent practice to rebuild strength after a surgery. I started going to do water workouts for my neuromuscular problems. Nothing remotely like what’s in the letter ever happens there–people work out, they see a trainer with the right background if they need or want help. I encourage you to visit some gyms near you to sample the vibe and give one a try–no one tells stories about their mundane low-drama experiences, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t the norm.

      2. Holey Hobby*

        I am not in any way affiliated with them, but I really encourage you to check out Nerd Fitness. They are for people like us.

        1. Holey Hobby*

          Also a site called Stumptuous dot com, which is for nerds who want to lift and has stuff about why free weights and how to get started at the gym. It’s old, but I found it really motivating.

      3. LC*

        Yep, yep, yep, yep.

        This is giving me anxiety even just thinking about something like this happening at my gym. It took many years for me to get up the courage to start going to the gym at all, let alone regularly, and now that I’ve found one that I love, if I saw anything remotely approaching this kind of behavior, I’d nope out of there immediately.

        After my vision stopped swimming and my breathing got out of my head again, I’d get to the thoughts of “if management is cool with that, what else are they cool with?” and “this feels very unsafe, mentally and physically, for people around that person” and “I don’t want to support a business who does this” and all of that, but my first, visceral reaction would just be “nope nope nope get out of here nope nope can’t be around this nope gahhhhh nope nope nope nope.”

        I would have a very, very difficult time convincing myself to try any physical fitness type stuff again for a very long while. Not just going to that particular gym, or working with a personal trainer, or even just going to any gym. But literally any type of “exercise.” The mental blocks I’ve worked so hard on lowering would shoot right back up and I have no idea how long it would take me to even try to lower them again.

        Is that an overreaction? Almost certainly. Am I perhaps a little too fragile? Yeah, I’m sure that’s true. But I guarantee that I’m far from the only person like that and I would bet money that at least a few people like me have already been impacted by this guy.

        OP, please fire him, immediately. Fire him as an employee and bar him as a customer.

        And please please please, take a look at the rest of your staff too. I feel like there will be a split between employees who are horrified and want to do something but really need the job, and employees who are fine with this guy being around because he makes their only-slightly-less-horrific behavior seem normal so they can fly under the radar. Your other employees and all of your customers need to know where you stand on this.

    18. Slipping The Leash*

      My first thought was ‘roid rage — get him out of there before he escalates to actual violence. He strikes me as a massive liability issue.

    19. Erin*

      Omg fire that trainer. Humiliating gym members for any reason is awful, and bad for business. Also, wtf? Every trainer I have ever worked with or known has been incredibly encouraging, motivating & inspiring.

      For the person taking personal leave: please, please, please tell a few people! Letting fellow employees know that this kind of thing is an acceptable thing to do is awesome. 2 years into the pandemic, people are struggling, even the people who seem to have everything together. Knowing that others have successfully approached your management/HR team with this, and have gotten it approved, could be really helpful for employees who need extended time off for any reason. I’m learning of some of my coworkers taking various leaves in the next few months, and I am totally supportive. It also makes it less intimidating for me if I find myself needing to take leave in the future.

      1. Beth*

        “Every trainer I have ever worked with or known has been incredibly encouraging, motivating & inspiring.”

        Can’t second this enough. We came up with a way for my wife’s trainer to work with her safely through Covid, and I’m not sure we could have made it without him.

    20. Campfire Raccoon*

      As a gym member who utilize personal trainers to help teach my teenage boys how to work out safely, effectively, and politely: I woulda left this gym immediately. This sort of toxic masculinity roidal behavior is EVERYTHING I don’t want three teenage boys learning.

      I have left gyms when the managers were ineffective and didn’t nip bad behaviors before they got worse. I had a guy harassing/stalking me in the pool. I’m not attractive: at one point I had the audacity to tell this dude “no” and tell him to stop (creepily) talking to my child. I made three separate complaints with documentation/substantiation and …nothing. I am at a complete loss why this guy hasn’t been let go yet. You’ve talked to him! Members have complained! It annoys you and potentially damages your equipment! Let him go.

    21. Elle Woods*

      I quit a gym that had a trainer who behaved like this. Eventually, they fired him too but only after they’d lost a few dozen members because of his behavior.

    22. LCH*

      this guy has already had a lot of warnings, right? at least one for each of the listed complaints. so i think it’s fine to let him go now. it shouldn’t be a surprise.

    23. laowai_gaijin*

      Seriously. I go to the gym regularly, and I can tell you that the very last thing people need when they’re trying to get in shape is some aggressive brass-hat who humiliates people and doesn’t do his job – which is helping people work out *safely*. LW1, by letting this go on, you’re not doing *your* job.

    24. Public Sector Manager*

      It’s people like this trainer that cause me not to join a gym to lift weights and to make do with the laughable “weight room” I’ve put together in my garage. A trainer, the face of the OP’s gym, should be welcoming to all skill levels. The reason I stopped working out at a gym is all the gym rats and regulars who act like every piece of equipment is their personal machine and if you can’t do X, Y, and Z, you shouldn’t be using “their” equipment.

      The OP needs to fire this trainer tomorrow.

    25. The Original K.*

      I’d quit too. I’m a fitness enthusiast and I very intentionally avoid gym cultures like this.

    26. quill*

      Yeah, this kind of behavior is less “fire him after strike two” and more “just in case, look up how to get a restraining order.”

    27. Minerva*

      Yeah if there was an employee at the gym I went to that behaved like this I would leave immediately irrespective of any form of financial loss due to contracts etc.

    28. aebhel*

      Yeah, I would 100% quit any place where I saw this happening, even if it didn’t happen to me. People don’t want to pay money to be terrorized and insulted at the gym.

    29. Nanani*

      Honestly, I would be willing to bet OP’s business has already lost clients over this. Remember, it’s not just people cancelling memberships, it’s also people who might have signed up deciding not to when they see or hear about this jerk!

    30. PPaula*

      Yeah. This kind of behaviour is the reason I never hire a personal trainer at the gym and why I’ve left a couple of gyms.

    31. MigraineMonth*

      Absolutely. I would have quit my membership and asked for a refund the first time I saw any of this. I also would have warned all of my friends and acquaintances about the potentially-violent asshole employee who acts aggressively and humiliates customers.

    32. Anon for this one*

      Yeah, this is one of the reasons why my exercise routine does not involve a gym. This guy should have been out on his ear the first time he laughed at or humiliated a member.

  2. Omnivalent*

    I am amazed at OP #1’s belief that after several warnings that had no effect whatsoever, the personal trainer is going to take his threats of firing seriously.

    1. Sacred Ground*

      I’m amazed that OP1 doesn’t seem to be too concerned about their own job. If I owned the franchise and the GM was letting someone bully customers, the bully would be fired and the GM would be the one getting the warning.

    2. I AM Sparkling }:(*

      He should have been fired the first time he insulted or made fun of a client. A business ain’t a business without its customers and an employee being a jerk to your customers is a good way to guarantee they’ll never come back.

      1. Rose*

        Esp for… trying to work out? It’s like a math teacher making for of students for not being good at math. It’s the worst possible thing for this person to be mean about and the fact that they have been is a sign they’re not suited for this job.

      2. Lola*

        OP 1, how is your customer base going? Do you track reasons for leaving when people cancel their subscription?
        This employee is almost certainly costing you clients. I once left a gym because a trainer asked me, two visits in a row, why I was leaving so soon (after a 20 minutes workout) and I didn’t like feeling pressured to explain myself. Unless you’re the only gym in the area, there isn’t a very high fidelity, and his behavior is especially unwelcoming to new clients.
        It sounds like you already talked to him that he needed to change, he didn’t, and he’s damaging the business… Its time to just let him go.

    3. Cheap Ass Rolex*

      Yes OP, you were remiss in not firing him the first time he mocked (!) a client. That’s not a warning offense, that’s a signal that you have a deeply sh***y person both representing your business and place and in a position of power over your clients.

      You don’t warn someone about behavior this terrible, you show them the door with all haste.

  3. Emmy Noether*

    #5 if your place of work is using the outlook calendar function or anything equivalent for scheduling meetings, you can block off the time you are not working. I still may not help every time (some people don’t check availability before scheduling), but it may help some.

    1. Budgieman*

      The same problem occurs where I work due to people being scattered across multiple timezones around the world, and poor expectations on availability.
      So to add to the comment above, I recommend that you also put a note in your email signature indicating your working hours, and for people not to expect a response outside those times.
      It will be a reminder to people of your hours, as well as help stave off the inevitable future whinge that you don’t respond to email fast enough.

        1. MisD*

          No one reads email signatures. But at least if it is in there you can refer to it when they complain. I have to do this all the time, and my hours are only slightly different to every one elses.

          1. English Rose*

            I read email signatures! :) I came here to add this suggestion – several of our colleagues who work non-standard hours have this in their sign-off and it’s really helpful.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            If you had a non-standard schedule listed in your email, I may have noticed it, but I will probably not remember it when it’s time to schedule a meeting, since I won’t be looking at your email when I do that. (That’s why you have to do this all the time.)

        2. Snow Globe*

          Rather than using an email signature, I’d recommend turning on the Out-of-Office message each day when leaving. I don’t always read those, but I notice when I get one and know that the person hasn’t seen my message.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            And you can put a reminder about your work hours in your OOO message. That’s what I used to do when I taught an evening training class & didn’t work mornings or Fridays (10-hour days M-Th).

        3. Nanani*

          In my experience the problem is often that email clients will ‘helpfully’ hide them, especially after the first email in a chain.

      1. it_guy*

        Yet another solution is to not accept a meeting request when you are not ‘at the office’. Most scheduling/meeting/email apps can also let you turn down a meeting request and let you suggest a different time.

    2. Phil*

      Yep, I came to the comments to suggest this one. Outlook lets you set core work hours which I think get indicated on the scheduling assist screen. But I also double down on that and set a daily recurring appointment with an “out of office” status for the hours I don’t work (presumably this would work for other meeting scheduling software too). It’s not foolproof, but the meetings that tend to be scheduled outside that time are the larger multi-department ones where my presence wouldn’t be missed.

      1. hamsterpants*

        Yes, this! The shift technicians I work will have Outlook set to show them as OOO whenever they are off shift. The OOO message includes when they will be back on shift. It is very useful for me because, as Alison says — it’s really hard to remember someone else’s schedule!

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I’ve noticed recently as well that when I’m working late and sending an email there is a little bar across the top of my draft that says “consider sending this during business hours”

        We have a team we work with that is in India and I often get that notification when it’s “out of hours” for them, except they actually work during our standard hours so it’s not out of hours–I’ve idly wondered whether there is a setting to change that so that it knows when their business hours actually are. I assume there must be.

        I’m not sure if this is a new outlook feature or just something our company recently turned on as they have been pushing a new policy of fewer/shorter meetings and such.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          I haven’t seen the “consider sending this during business hours” message in Outlook before, but I do know that Outlook has a default set of working hours (I think it’s 8am to 5pm local time). So if your coworkers never customized the working hours on their Outlook calendars, the default hours are probably what’s driving when that message appears.

    3. Karo*

      Alternatively, adding an out-of-office recurring meeting for 10 am-1 am. Outlook isn’t always super clear about the days’ start/stop times when I’m scheduling meetings, but when someone is marked out of office it’s super visible.

    4. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, this is a great solution, and I also put my hours in my email signature. I work part time in an office of people who are mostly fully time. I would say not a day goes by that someone doesn’t try to schedule something with me when I am not working (us all being FT remote doesn’t help). It’s not personal. I just cheerfully ask to reschedule every single time, or sometimes say “I will have to miss this but I’ll make sure to catch up on the notes.” It’s complicated because in an actual urgent situation I will rearrange my schedule to be there, but it has to be of sufficient importance to do so, which is kind of a judgement call. I do not resent people for not being able to keep track of my availability, it’s just one of those things.

    5. Momma Bear*

      I was thinking same. You don’t have to specify why you are “out of office” but just block it off. If someone asks, remind them that you work night shift. I also like the idea of hours or maybe just “After 10 AM, please contact the day shift supervisor Fergus at…” in the sig line.

    6. Rosalind Franklin*

      Block off the non-working time, add your hours into your signature, and put up an OOO message during the day.

      And accept that they will somehow STILL not recognize your working hours.

      I work at a 24/7 company, where corporate works business hours to support the 24/7 operation. Somehow, HR was the worst offender at just….not taking in the fact that we depend on our night teams to keep things running (if we shut down, in addition to all the hour we were dark, we also have to add 2 hours on either end to shut down/start up!).

      For me, it’s just something I learned to roll with/take into account on my end. Keep my eye out for meetings I wasn’t invited to so I can request a time change or escalate with my boss, remind my teams that no one should be scheduling things in the middle of their night (not HR, not recruiters, not no one), and heaping praise on the folks that did seem to get it (Renee was a champ and scheduled her meetings at 10pm!).

      You can also add a dash of passive-aggressive by setting meetings for 2am if someone is truly being a butt about it….

    7. sofar*

      Yep. And set that out of office to automatically reject all new meeting requests for that time. For the repeat violators, getting an immediate auto-reject to their meeting invite the moment they send it should convey the message nicely.

    8. AC4Life*

      Samesies. I’m on Pacific time and I have an out of office set for 4:00 – 7:00 a.m. It really cut down on the number of 0 dark thirty meeting requests.

  4. MBK*

    OP #1, this guy sounds like everything that keeps people away from the gym. He’s rude, he’s careless, he’s dangerous, and he’s potentially a huge legal/insurance liability as well.

    1. My dear Wormwood*

      #2: Good luck! In my experience people are very interested in our crazy hiking adventures and seeing the photos on FB/Insta. Although mine are more like weekend to 2 week trips, not the 6 months end-to-end epics.

      I guess for intra-org/external communications, you’ll want to let people know who is taking over while you’re away, who to direct questions to etc anyway, so you might as well add that your leave is to do the PCT and here’s the link to follow along.

      1. My dear Wormwood*

        Oh dear…nesting failure!

        But I agree, I wouldn’t stick with a gym if this guy was employed there.

      2. DannyG*

        Two years after my wife’s death I took 2 months off to hike across Ireland, visit my grandparents’ home town, etc. my colleagues were most supportive and only had one call the whole time. Enjoy, share, re-charge.

  5. RagingADHD*

    LW 1, you gave a list of 7 instances of very bad behavior toward members – your customers.

    That is at least 5 too many.

    The reason he continues to behave badly is that you have never done anything about it, and has no reason to believe you ever will.

    Some of these things, like being loud during his own workout, could be a two-strikes-youre-out situation.

    But humiliating members or watching a safety violation without intervening? You should have kicked him to the curb immediately.

    And your list sems to refer to multiple incidents. I’m surprised you have any customers left.

  6. Kenobia*

    Depending on your company’s email system, you might consider setting up a repeating “meeting” that covers the entirety of your non- working hours. If you can make that meeting visible to everyone in the company, you could give it a title like “LW works M-F from 1am – 10am Eastern and can meet and respond to emails when s/he is in the office.”

    You might be able to do something similar with your outgoing work voice mail and Instant Messaging status, where applicable.

    Finally, you might also consider having your working days and hours in your email signature. This may help passively do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to communicating and reminding folks about your new availability time ranges.

    1. L'étrangere*

      This is misplaced, but good advice for #5. Pretty sure there’s a calendar out there that can be configured correctly so that people can’t schedule you for the middle of your “night” and can see why

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        It’s the same advice you’re giving, just a different way to accomplish it. In the software my company uses (Outlook), a meeting is MUCH more obvious to a quick glance at the scheduling assistant than the very, very faint gray shading for off core hours.

        1. Filosofickle*

          Yes. We use Outlook and I work several time zones off from my coworkers. Setting office hours did not help in the slightest to avoid 6a meetings, but adding a daily “not in yet” time block mostly does.

    2. Guin*

      Google calendars let you block off chunks of time on a recurring basis so everyone can see if you’re busy or available. Presumably her business sets up meetings using some type of calendar invite, in which case OP would just show up as unavailable from 10:01 am until 1:01 am.

  7. SwiftSunrise*

    LW1, FIRE HIM. Fire him now.
    I can almost guarantee you’ve lost members who’ve witnessed his behavior, and just … quietly never come back. And talked about him to their friends.

    1. Worldwalker*

      It’s a truism that a happy customer might tell someone, but an unhappy customer *will* tell *everyone*.

      Any of the people he humiliated would be in the latter category. How many people did they tell? How many customers has this employee gained you, versus how many has he lost you?

    2. Pennyworth*

      At my gym I try to avoid going at times when the louder and uber-macho musclemen are working out, but they are just annoyingly noisy. When there have been problems with weights left around or equipment not being wiped down by each user (a Covid requirement), it is handled professionally. If there was someone on staff abusing and humiliating people like the hothead personal trainer I’d complain to management, and cancel my membership if they didn’t fix the problem.

    3. Ess*

      Absolutely. I’d likely leave without making a fuss or citing him as the reason because a) management clearly isn’t going to do anything about it anyway, and b) my personal information would be on file and I would be afraid of giving an aggressive bully who clearly has no regard for others a reason to get angry enough to go digging. Maybe that last bit is paranoid, but I’d rather err on the side of caution.

      And after that? I’d tell others. I’d tell a whole lot of others. I don’t want my friends to waste their money on a place with some spiteful jerk Hulk-raging around on the daily! Why would I keep that information to myself?

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      Something I always want to emphasize to managers of these problem employees when customer facing: I quietly never come back. I don’t complain to management and then keep returning. I don’t shrug and say “they’re all like that.” I usually have many choices for whatever this good or service is.

      1. Yvette*

        True, members might not be complaining, just quietly disappearing. And if the memberships are prepaid for a certain period of time, the GM might not even notice until the memberships expire and are not renewed.

    5. Rose*

      Absolutely. I would never complain about this kind of thing because I’m not going to be the woman asking to speak to the manager. But I love the gym, go frequently, I’m very comfortable in the weight room, and I’ve left gyms over this kind of culture (macho mocking of anyone not in as good shape, struggling to find the right weights for them, grunting and loud talking) from other members.

      If I was in an area with multiple gym options, there’s a good chance I would quietly leave. I might write a Google review because I wouldn’t want anyone else to suffer that kind of humiliation, even if I’m unlike my to be a target. But I wouldn’t expend the energy arguing with management if they saw fit to keep him.

    1. Thistle*

      In a non-stressed office telling your coworkers that you were taking a six month sabbatical would be no big deal.
      However if you are in a really short staffed office/team and they are struggling to recruit, then you are really telling your colleagues that they have to cover for you for six months, probably with no chance of a backfill. And then you expect them to welcome you back, possibly at a higher level. It could be a stretch for them. Whilst I’m sure they will be happy for you that you get to go and live your dream (and possibly come back at a higher level), they could also understandably be a bit resentful at having to cover for 6 months only for you to be rewarded with a promotion.

      I understand that it shouldn’t be a big thing, but in the circumstances of your team, I can see that it might be.

      1. Yvette*

        Very true. Especially since the LW basically strong-armed the approval “I basically said, I’m going on this trip and I would prefer to do it on leave (with an unstated threat that I would leave if they didn’t approve it, and I really expected to have to follow through). I presume the only reason they are approving it is the hiring timeline is insane and I am easily the strongest performer.” I am surprised none of this was brought up in the original advice.

      2. Sloanicote*

        Yes, I’m only human and while I think it’s great for people to take long leave, I’d definitely raise my eyebrows if someone was promoted that same year over others who have presumably carried the extra load in the interim. It’s a bit either-or to me. Now, you don’t need my approval obviously, and you should absolutely do it and go for the promotion – but I think asking if I want to follow your blog or your IG updates would be a bit extra on top.

      3. LTL*

        I think it’s good to keep in mind that some coworkers may be resentful.

        But for the record, any resentment that’s directed at OP would be misplaced. It should be directed at the company/management, not at OP.

      4. Public Sector Manager*

        I totally missed this point the first time I read the letter. I’m assuming that with being short staffed and with the OP being gone for 6 months, vacations will be harder to get for those not hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Which will just cause a bigger exodus. And if OP is selected for a promotion, their duties have to be covered by others. That would irk me too. Granted, I would eventually get over it, but probably because I’d be at another job by the time the OP got back.

    2. Squidlet*

      What would OP say when people ask where they are? It’s 6 months. You can’t disappear for 6 months with no explanation.

      I would frame it as a sabbatical, not unpaid leave (it sounds better somehow, although I’m struggling to articulate why at the moment). And I would explain that it’s something you’ve been planning for a long time. Those 2 things make it sounds more like “I’m fulfilling a long-held dream and taking time for some important personal goals” and less like “I decided on a whim to not come to work for 6 months”.

      Anyway, it sounds amazing, and I hope you have a wonderful trip :)

      1. BritChickaaa*

        It’s not a sabbatical though. OP got six months unpaid vacation as a result of threatening their boss and taking advantage of a toxic workplace that’s falling apart. Good for LW for getting out of there, but it’s clearly not a healthy or usual situation so I’m not sure a blithe “going on vacation for six months!” is the best way to handle such an unusual and dysfunctional situation. Who knows if LW will even have a job to come back to, if the company is struggling so much!

        1. Colette*

          She didn’t threaten; she said she wanted the time off (with the unspoken implication that she was going to take it even if she had to quit). They could have said “we can’t make that work”, and she presumably would have quit; they chose to give her the time off.

          1. EmKay*

            I absolutely think she was threatening them between the lines, and they took it seriously.

            Good for her!

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              It’s “threatening” in the same way asking for a raise is “threatening,” because there is always the implication that if you don’t get what you ask for, you’ll leave.

                1. Yvette*

                  Especially given “We are really understaffed, … and we have been losing staff very quickly. .. I presume the only reason they are approving it is the hiring timeline is insane and I am easily the strongest performer. ”
                  While I agree that people have a right to negotiate for and get what they want especially if they are in a position of strength to do so, it won’t change the current climate of everyone being overworked and stressed. Honestly I picture most of them thinking “It must be nice” and not in a good way.

                2. LTL*

                  There is a difference between a boundary and a threat. Both have consequences attached to them if you don’t follow through.

                  If some relatives are having a conversation I’m uncomfortable with and they keep going despite me expressing discomfort, I may say that I’m going to move to the other room. The implication “if you don’t stop talking about this, I will leave” is there, but that’s not a threat. A threat would be “if you don’t stop talking about this, I will be rude/physical/insulting” because then I would be encroaching on their boundaries as human beings.

                  OP’s statement wasn’t a threat because leaving the company is fully within OP’s rights.

                  Do you feel it would have been better for OP not to say anything, to just request leave and then quit if they were denied? Wouldn’t that be worse for their team and the company? With the sabbatical, at least they’re coming back.

                3. MCMonkeyBean*

                  No, it really isn’t. It’s just being clear about what you want and what you are willing to give up for it. In any relationship a person can walk away over anything, but if you let people know in advance what is important to you and what you are willing to end the relationship over then it lets people evaluate how they want to handle the situation. That is true in both professional and personal relationships.

                  OP had decided they were going to go on this trip no matter what. They could have just left, but they gave the company the opportunity to decide whether they want OP to return or not afterward.

                4. Colette*

                  “Do X or I will hit you” is a threat.

                  “I can’t be around anyone who does X, so if you do X I will leave” is not a threat; it’s a boundary.

                  If the OP had said “give me 6 months off or I’ll shut down the firewall and leave the network open to attack”, that would be a threat. But they’re not entitled to have her as an employee forever, so saying “I’m committed to this activity but I’d need to take 6 months off. If you won’t/can’t give me the time off, I’ll quit because that is my priority” is not a threat. They can say no, and they won’t experience any repercussions. Yes, they’d lose the OP, but that can happen any time; she’s not obligated to rearrange her life for their convenience.

              1. Sharon*

                So true! A threat is focused on the other party’s behavior, trying to manipulate them into doing what you want, and likely getting upset if they don’t change. A boundary focuses on your own behavior, stating what works for you and accepting that others will make the choices that work best for them.

                Saying “I need to take some time away from this job, but I’d like to return after a 6 month leave if that’s possible” is not a threat.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          For all workplace things, I don’t think informing your boss that if X doesn’t happen you will quit is “threatening” them. You don’t have to continue working there, and double super continue working there if it’s toxic, understaffed, dysfunctional, falling apart etc. You can leave! And sometimes, if you’re considering leaving, being upfront with your boss about that, and about what it would take to keep you, works out to the benefit of both parties.

          1. LTL*


            A boundary isn’t a threat. OP was just straightforward about their plans. Presumably they didn’t say it to be manipulative.

          2. MigraineMonth*

            Being clear and honest is part of respect the same way that politeness is. If the OP was ready to quit over not getting the leave, explaining that boundary is the most generous and professional way they could have handled it.

            Of course, respect is earned; if someone has a track record of reacting badly to honesty, they forfeit their right to it.

        3. Anonymous Luddite*

          See, while everyone else seems to be getting into the nitty gritty of if it was a threat, I’m curious as to why you think this doesn’t count as a sabbatical. I’ve always understood a sabbatical is time off, usually from a university job, for study or travel. Hiking 4200 km certainly counts as travel in my book.

          1. Filosofickle*

            I’ve heard purists say that a sabbatical is a time to learn and develop creatively, academically, or professionally, not just take time off. It’s often used more generally now, meaning simply a long break, but not everyone is on board with that usage.

              1. Indigo a la mode*

                Absolutely. That said, if the company is paying you for a sabbatical (common, at least part of your salary), there’s definitely an expectation that what you’re learning or doing has direct application to your work. We can debate the application of through-hiking to work, but ultimately, this is a vacation.

                1. Kit*

                  The company isn’t paying OP, though – so that expectation doesn’t apply. The utility of a hiking trip of this duration to OP’s work is, presumably, that OP will return feeling reinvigorated and happier, improving their work product and mood in the office.

                  Of course, given the chronic understaffing, there may well be resentment for everyone else in the department, but that’s why we’re discussing alternate terminology; calling it a sabbatical rather than a vacation is a means of conveying that OP will be off-the-grid and unavailable for contact for an extended period of time, but that they plan to return. I don’t think we should have the condemnation of vacation time that we do in the US, but given the preexisting culture, I understand their desire to both soften their language and openly admit to what their leave will entail.

    3. NYWeasel*

      Funny, I had the opposite reaction. OP mentioned that the culture was awful, and I would say that management being open to allowing her to take a significant chunk of time to recharge is something that the other employees *should* have visibility too. If the company is willing to consider this for any employee, then it’s helpful for the staff to hear about it, and if this is a one-time only bribe to keep OP around for the new role, then that’s a piece of information that’s also helpful for other employees to have as well. If the manager had written in, I might flag that it’s good to have a sense of what you’re willing to accommodate, so that if Frank wants to take 6 months to hit every ballpark in the MLB or Sally wants that amount of time off to finish her degree, you can approach all of the requests in a consistent and fair manner. But from an employee sense, there’s a definite advantage for everyone to know it’s an option instead of just the people who think to ask.

      (Also from an employer standpoint, I doubt there will be many employees who want to take that large a chunk of unpaid time for recreational purposes, so it’s probably not a big deal to develop a process for granting sabbaticals.)

      1. EPLawyer*

        YES. She SHOULD tell the other people she is taking a 6 month sabbatical to recharge and re-energize. She should say no guarantees other employees will get the same so everyone doesn’t start assuming they will get 6 months off too. But definitely tell everyone because it models healthy boundaries and work life balance for other people.

        Then just add, and you can follow me on INstagram if you want to learn more about the trip, I will be posting there.

        1. anne of mean gables*

          Especially because there is no world in which word doesn’t get out about why OP is out for six months! I would so much rather know up front (and know I could perhaps ask for something similar, or look for other employment if I was bothered by it) than find out halfway through OPs leave, or after they return. I just cannot imagine a work environment in which one person takes six months of leave and no one ever knows why. Either OP will get asked by someone directly, or their manager will let it slip.

        2. rnr*

          Agreed. I have considered doing almost exactly what OP #2 is doing, and I can see why she would feel hesitant. I can almost hear the snarky “must be nice” comments. But if she presents it matter-of-factly, and answers people’s questions about how she made it happen, that should minimize any hard feelings.

        3. Reluctant Mezzo*

          And then the other employees discover they don’t get the same deal–because they’re understaffed. Oh, that’ll improve morale…oh, wait.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I agree, knowing the company allows this kind of thing is a positive in my view. It’s a cool opportunity! OP knows their colleagues best–if they are a particularly petty and vindictive bunch then I guess maybe you might keep it to yourself. Otherwise I think a lot of people would think it was neat and enjoy casually following along on instagram.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Years ago, the company I was at did not allow for unpaid time off. So my married co-workers both quit so they could hike the PCT. We were not especially understaffed, so that pain was not so bad. It was offset by all of us getting frequent updates, seeing incredible photographs, sending care packages, and getting to have a small glimpse of what that entailed.

      3. Smithy*

        While I genuinely don’t think I work somewhere toxic, I do work somewhere that has had a large number of senior leaders leave and it’s taken a long time to fill those positions (6-12 months). Interim solutions, imo, have left key management roles stretched exceptionally thin and you add COVID challenges on top of that – and it has left a situation where there is a lot of frustration.

        If I knew a current colleague was going to formally step into one of those senior management roles and prior to doing so was going to take a 6 months of unpaid leave it would contribute to my growing sour attitude to how these senior roles are being filled and how the “interim” is being treated. Intellectually, I would respect an individual doing that for themselves – but its impact on me would be to encourage me to ramp up my job hunt at the present. Basically, OP#2 made a stand that worked for themselves while this employer continues to make my life more and more miserable – let’s look for a way out.

        I think this is a case where sharing this information is helping for people in the larger labor-political sphere. But I do think it’s relevant to be mindful of the political fallout internally. My anger at the situation would not be directed at the OP, but I’d have so much at my employer more generally (moreso for not adequately providing genuine temporary senior leadership as roles are filled) that I’m not sure it would help the OP’s return in the new role.

      4. Koalafied*

        My organization hires a lot of once-and-possibly-future academics into research roles, so we have a sabbatical benefit – it really helps to attract and retain academics if you give them some time to focus on research/publishing now and then, otherwise they’re going to reach a point where if they don’t publish something they’re going to be severely hindering their ability to return to an academic career at a top tier research school in the future.

        The policy allows that after, and once per, five years of service, you can take 3-6 months unpaid leave, during which time your insurance and other benefits will still be maintained, and you’re guaranteed to be able to return to your role afterwards. We have about 1,000 employees and less than 1 person per year on average use the sabbatical benefit. I’m sure largely because of both the 5 year service requirement narrowing the eligibility (to be clear, hundreds of us have been here at least that long, so it’s not completely unattainable, plenty of people don’t stay that long), and because in a high COL area, going 3-6 months without a paycheck is going to be financially unfeasible for most people.

    4. Reba*

      It is in no way stirring the pot to honestly say where you are going to be. Hiding the reason will just invite speculation.

      I have to assume the premise of the question has to do with the dire department culture, because I don’t really see why OP 2 wouldn’t just say what they are doing. Or maybe the question is more about whether to inform people proactively of the reason?

      Sure, leave out the “heavily implied I would quit and the department will sink without me” part. The coworkers can read between the lines. And people will probably have feelings about it, but I don’t think it serves the OP to try to manage those reactions beyond basic courtesy.

      Simply saying, “I’ll be away from X to Y. I’ve arranged to take 6 months of unpaid leave to hike the PCT” works. It will head off those speculations about your health. Then I would say that if people reply with “that sounds amazing” or whatever, then you can mention the instagram account. If people reply with “oh my god how can you do this to me” or “oh so SOME of us get treated well around here” I would try to keep it light, like “yeah this is a longtime dream of mine and I’m glad I negotiated the opportunity to do it.”

      1. Snow Globe*

        +1 – this is not “stirring the pot”. LW2 will be out for 6 months regardless; being open about the reason is much better than being secretive.

    5. anonymous73*

      How would telling people be “stirring the pot”? I wouldn’t bother announcing it, but if people asked I would tell them. And some people will spread rumors over speculation and there’s not much you can do to stop it. That’s an unusual amount of time to take off and some may not believe OP’s explanation.

    6. A Simple Narwhal*

      …Any chance this is for #4 and not #2? It seems like this advice would better suit the person debating whether or not to address a drama llama than someone taking a sabbatical.

    7. BethRA*

      I get that OP2 getting 6 months of leave may rub some folks the wrong way given their staffing issues, but not talking about it isn’t going to help that – in most cases I’d argue it will make OP’s leave look even more shady.

    8. AC4Life*

      Disagree. Hiking the PCT is a huge accomplishment that gets a lot tougher as you get older and your back rebels against hauling weeks worth of food while sleeping on the ground. I think most people will get that this is a one in a lifetime type deal.

    9. Introverted Type-A Employee*

      LW #2 – I think you should share the info! A family member of mine took an entire year off (unpaid) to through-hike the PCT and he has a very demanding, high hours position. He needed the break from intense work hours and stress and wanted to complete this amazing feat while he was still in the shape to do it (he turned 50 on the trail).

      He shared his plans with his team and his managers, and even did a weekly YouTube video documenting his progress so friends/family/coworkers could follow his journey, which was awesome! I think this was a positive way to show his team that even though they are crazy busy, they will ALWAYS be crazy busy, and it’s okay to take time off to pursue your passions and be open about the fact that you are a whole person who has a life and dreams outside of your intense, busy job.

      I also loved sitting at home in my jammies with my hot coffee watching his latest video of sub-freezing nights, blisters, and trail life while I appreciated my creature comforts and also got to enjoy him sharing amazing views and stories.

      1. Emily*

        I took a 6 month leave to hike the AT and got a really supportive response (other than a handful of folks who thought I was insane, ha). If any of my colleagues resented my absence, it helped that I was not paid during that time. If your colleagues have a negative reaction to something like this, I’d encourage you to use the time off to reconsider your employment! Happy trails!

        1. t-vex*

          This is so exciting to me! I’m hoping to do the AT in 2024 but I’m trying to figure out how to still have a job at the end of it. Knowing other people have gotten time off gives me hope.

    10. Anonymous4*

      We have a department head who’s taking a month off to go climb a rather well-known mountain and hike around the general area, and he’s not only going to be sharing pictures, he’s going to blog the whole thing.

      Are there going to be hard feelings? Possibly. Envy? Sure. Jealousy? Could be. He works very hard, he just ushered a big software change through, he did a LOT of long days back-to-back with weekends included, and this is his reward to himself.

      Is his department short-staffed? His department is ALWAYS short-staffed, and he has been reminding upper management of that on a regular basis. If the place stumbles (or collapses) while he’s gone, it will be a sharp reminder to get some #$%&* people into the #$%&* empty positions, because one (1) person being out of the office shouldn’t cause that sort of disaster.

      1. Reluctant Mezzo*

        But there will be resentment of him getting to escape while others covering his workload won’t. I think that department will be in collapse by the time he returns, and it will be blamed on the people who are left behind.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Again, the problem is that management hasn’t bothered to deal with staffing problems, not that he’s taking time off.
          Even for Europe, six months is a hefty amount of time to take off, unless it’s sick leave or maternity leave.
          For the jealous folks, I would have a ready comeback that it involved you sacrificing whatever (preferably something the jealous folks have and couldn’t imagine living without) and saving up for X months to be able to afford it.
          My colleagues often expressed jealousy as I walked out wishing everyone a great weekend on a Thursday night, and I immediately retorted that the only reason I could work four days a week was that the boss saved money not paying for Friday and that I was just as productive in four days as others in five (I was actually more productive, but I didn’t want to gloat too much)

  8. Beth*

    #2: When you’re out for 6 months, people are going to wonder where you are. In your shoes, I personally would rather tell people about your plans and deal with the potential “why now, when we’re understaffed?” attitudes than come back to a lot of “did you have a baby? was someone sick? I thought you’d left! what happened?” I also suspect you’ll get more positive responses than you might expect–this sounds like an incredible trip, and I bet a lot of people will be interested and encouraging about it!

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, I have had multiple coworkers take off multiple weeks (not six months, but like six to eight weeks) to do similar trips. Everyone was very supportive and interested. I agree that being gone for six months is going to cause a lot more confusion and concern for your health (is OP okay?) then if you just let folks know.

      1. Anonym*

        I think OP should also tell people because it’s inspiring! It might give others hope that they can do more than slog away in a miserable environment for the next X decades. I think it’s wonderful, and wish you all the best, OP! Show the rest of us how to buck expectations and live out our dreams. :)

        1. Batgirl*

          Right? Only in an unhealthy company is there a ton of grudges and lack of seeing this as setting a possibility up for others.

          1. Reluctant Mezzo*

            I think the level of resentment would depend on if this person is the only one who gets the privilege and then gets promoted on top of it, while everyone else is running hard to fill in the workload which has suddenly gotten worse by the absence. After all, the ones left behind won’t get any time off because of all the extra work to make up.

    2. Sherm*

      Exactly. People being people, they will come to their own conclusions if you don’t give them the reason. As a coworker, I’d be super jealous (in a good way) to hear of your hike. And it sounds like you have given plenty of notice and allowed for your absence to be adjusted to; it’s not like you one day said “I’ll be gone for 6 months — byeeee!”

    3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      > “why now, when we’re understaffed?”

      Indeed – I’d be wondering why the supervisor approved it (and potentially assuming, as is actually the truth but I presume she won’t state that part, that OP gave them essentially an ultimatum). The colleagues will now be even more understaffed presumably, for something they might not perceive as a ‘good reason’ (in the way that having to be out because of illness etc would be a legit reason).

      Given the environment I don’t think interesting and encouraging will be the most likely responses!

      1. Beth*

        I’ve been in understaffed and overworked environments before, and I’ve never blamed my teammates for that. If we don’t have the staff to cover our workload, that’s on management for staffing inappropriately. If a coworker was approved for leave that would interfere with the team’s ability to get work done, that’s also on management–either they approved something they shouldn’t have, or they didn’t staff appropriately to cover the reality that my team members and I are human beings, not unbreakable robots with no life outside of work. (Being human beings isn’t just about being sick, either; it’s also about having goals and a life outside of work.)

        Workers should ask for what we need to be happy. We should pursue our goals and do the things we need to do to feel happy with our lives. When work is in conflict with those goals, we should be asking ourselves whether our job still really suits our needs. I believe very strongly that we should be advocating for and supporting each other in doing those things, not blaming each other for failing to make up for management’s failures.

        That’s even more true when our team is chronically overworked and understaffed. If anything, OP is being generous by promising to come back after this trip. Given their position as the strongest performer on a chronically known-to-be-terrible-culture team, I would’ve cheered them on in deciding to quit and job hunt when they finished the hike.

        1. whistling wind*

          X100 What Beth said is spot-on. “That’s even more true when our team is chronically overworked and understaffed.” When understaffed in a high-stress team, OP (and the rest of the team) are more likely to need a break to recharge.

          It’s not on OP to be responsible for management not maintaining adequate staffing. I get that 6 months is longer than a typical vacation, but self-selecting to not do because things are short-staffed with your team? If I used that metric I would never take leave because we are chronically understaffed — it’s just a matter of how badly.

          1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

            A break yes, but 6 months (even unpaid – I bet they won’t fill in that position in the meantime) doesn’t pass the “what would it be like if everyone did that” teat. Yes it’s partly management’s fault for approving it and if I were that supervisor’s own boss I’d be asking questions. It may be management’s fault that they are generally understaffed, although “enough extra people so that anyone could go MIA for 6 months and have no impact” isn’t a reasonable way to run a business. I think it’s absolutely on team members to consider the impact on their team mates when they make plans.

            1. Critical Rolls*

              This is just returning the burden back onto employees for things they have no control over. Placing self-imposed arbitrary limits on how much time you can take off because your company won’t hire enough staff or do anything to alleviate overwork is not taking one for the team, it’s enabling crummy practices that need employees to sacrifice for the company, which does nothing in return.

              1. Reluctant Mezzo*

                And yet the employees left behind will get less time off than they should because of the workload. They will have to put off their needs because of the absence. I don’t think they will be too happy about it.

                1. Critical Rolls*

                  LW’s coworkers know whose fault it is that they’re understaffed. They know where their ire should be directed. I’ve worked at lousy places, and I was always happy for coworkers who were able to pry something they needed from the clutches of the rubbish administration. Workplaces stay bad if management can keep people mad at each other even though conditions are not any of their doing. Normalizing that is a problem.

            2. Chief Bottle Washer*

              I think this is kind of a gross attitude, and it’s the kind of thing that keeps dedicated employees on sinking ships for far too long at the cost of their own mental and physical well-being. My first priority is me, period. Would you say that employees should do their family planning/time pregnancies around the impact to their team? How about taking time off to care for sick family members? I don’t think anyone except for the employee gets to decide what’s important enough to them that they can take time off. OP decided this was important to them. They could certainly have simply quit, and the team would be worse off than before compared to knowing that person would be gone temporarily and then back to share the load.

            3. Minerva*

              Long term, if you let people take long breaks, they will be back working at full capacity before a replacement would be ramped up.

              Those of us in places where long parental leave is the norm see that you can bring in new grads or contractors to cover a leave, and there’s often a place for them by the time the leave is over.

              What’s the other option? Make your employees whe need a break quit and bring their experienced, refreshed selves to a competitor? Make everyone work without a break until retirement, regardless of their dreams?

            4. Beth*

              Nah. If someone like OP, who’s on a chronically understaffed and chronically overworked team were to prioritize their team’s ease over their own private goals, they would never, ever get to take this trip. They would never get to meet this goal, which is clearly important to them (a 6 month hike is not something you undertake lightly!). For OP to meet your standard here, they would have to completely give up on their goal.

              That’s wildly unreasonable. “Your employer refuses to staff your team properly, so you have to give up on the things that matter to you and prioritize work over living your own life”? Nope. None of us are paid well enough for that nonsense. What’s next–you shouldn’t leave a job while your team is overworked? You should wait on your honeymoon until your employer decides to staff more fully?

              OP is being very considerate of their teammates by 1) giving notice that they’ll be away for an extended period, and 2) agreeing to come back to this not-great-sounding environment after their trip. They have no responsibility beyond that to cover for their employer’s failure to staff properly.

                1. Beth*

                  Only if management continues to refuse to staff properly. That’s still the root problem, and any anger about the situation needs to go towards people who can actually do something about that.

        2. Cold Fish*

          Agree, chronically overworked and understaffed is solely on management. Frankly, I’d just be happy to know they were coming back. I’ve had coworkers quit when their vacation time was not approved because they were asking for more than a week but they earned and had that time off available. I would have been much happier to have had them come back than wait for management to hire a replacement but that was not a stance management wanted to take. Now 6 months is a long time, I hope management is at least considering if a temp-hire would help. But again, that is a management decision, not on coworker.

      2. EPLawyer*

        Well, she can deal with those questions now or when she comes back. because she is leaving for 6 months. It’s not like if she doesn’t tell people the work will magically not have to be redistributed or they will not notice she is gone. So she might as well be upfront about it so maybe OTHER people can see that work is the main point of life.

      3. A Simple Narwhal*

        Being understaffed is on management to solve, not on individuals. Also LW2 was going to take this trip with or without a job to come back to at the end, it makes a lot more sense to temporarily lose a star employee than lose them forever.

        If anything it will inspire their coworkers to realize they have a lot more power right now and should ask for things that they want rather than just working themselves into the ground covering the shortage without extra compensation or considerations.

      4. Lizzianna*

        Because I don’t want to defer my dream because the organization I work for can’t get their act together?

        In my experience, a chronically overworked, understaffed team is a chronic problem, it’s rarely temporary. If you defer things for a “better time,” there’s no telling when that will be. Hiking the PCT has a very specific season, if you don’t start in a specific window, you have to postpone for a full year.

        Employees should ask for what they need to maintain work/life balance. It’s the only way that companies will stop just relying on people’s guilty feelings as a bandaid for not dealing with the underlying issues.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          How many of the employees left behind will still be there after six months? Remember, they won’t be able to take the time *they* need. If the place is chronically understaffed, this will just be a signal to leave before they get burned out.

      5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        It sounds to me that the understaffing is a pretty chronic issue, so at some point you just have to say to hell with it.

        FWIW, I needed non-urgent but important surgery at one point but didn’t dare schedule it because of staffing problems. Then my boss hired someone who could cover for me. The new hire confided that she’d been given a 6-month contract and wasn’t intending to stay on after that, because her husband would be transferred to the US around that time. I immediately scheduled my surgery, and while complications meant that I ended up on sick leave for about a month instead of the week I’d been told to expect, my new colleague managed just fine. There were a couple of times she contacted me to ask some questions, and I held off taking my pain-killers till I’d answered them because otherwise I couldn’t think straight.

        Since he was a toxic piece of nastiness, the boss still reproached me for taking the time off. I pointed out that I had waited to schedule the operation until there was someone to cover for me, and that without the operation, I was in danger of dying (true) and that would have been worse for the company.
        I decided at that point never to put work before my health again, and the boss hated me for it. I actually started compiling a file of all his threatening and bullying emails in case I decided to take him to court over it, but we got bought out and he was unceremoniously kicked out before I could do that.

    4. WoodswomanWrites*

      #2: What an incredible adventure! As you can tell from my user name, I would be fascinated to know about your journey and be able to follow along, and I’m sure your co-workers would find it interesting as well. That’s a much better situation than your having to deal with their speculating and worrying about whether you’re ill, in rehab, in legal trouble, or whatever.

      1. OverandUnder*

        I agree it’s better to go with the truth. As to the question above about “why now” often long hikes (6 months!) are tied to the seasons.

        “I am fulfilling a life long dream of hiking this trail, and am happy that I was able to use unpaid leave to accomplish this goal.

        Unfortunately there are only certain windows of time where you can begin this hike so I am a bit bound to the timing, and I am working to get everything as settled as I can before I go.”

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        Right! When I had co-workers quit to hike the PCT (my company didn’t allow unpaid time off), we all got to follow along and encourage them. They surfaced regularly to post photos, and even though we knew they would not come back to our company, we got to enjoy their hike just a little bit too.

        As for it being a vacation…they were working harder than any of us!

    5. Lizzianna*

      I agree. I had a boss a few years ago who took several months off, and was very private about the reason.

      People were very curious and gossipy. I got asked a lot where she was, I usually just said, “she’s taking some personal leave, I think she’ll be back in Sept.” They didn’t like that answer and would press me for more (which I honestly didn’t know).

      Not saying that you need to feed gossip if it’s something you don’t want to share, but if you are open to sharing, it will help control the rumor mill.

    6. RecoveringSWO*

      My spouse just did a shorter version of this with the Long Trail. After a couple of weeks in nature, she decided she was going to quit her job upon return and start working towards a career change. It worked out nicely for her (especially in this labor market). If there’s a chance OP #2 may also decide not to return after the hike, I would also recommend that she tell her coworkers about the trip. The rumor mill could be much worse if she leaves for the trip without reason and never returns.

    7. Whomever*

      As it happens, a co-worker of mine did exactly this…took off 6 months to hike the Appalachian trail. Not only were they open about it, they blogged the trip and a bunch of us at the office followed along through his postings. Everyone was super positive about the entire thing.

      1. Reluctant Mezzo*

        Even the people who couldn’t take time off for family members because of the extra work? I bet they just bit their tongues.

  9. L'étrangere*

    #3 I also find it strange that the one person suspected left so long ago, and in mysterious circumstances. Did the ex employee spend years in jail in the meantime because things were so serious? Is someone else being grossly mistreated, and setup for another drama-filled firing? Mostly why are you so involved in the mystery? I would stay well away from this mess if I were you. If your boss is truly a good-hearted innocent it sounds like HR is taking care of the problem. But the boss may also be the problem, in which case you don’t want to be the target, and you don’t want to be the fall guy for whatever is about to come down either. Lay as low as humanly possible

    1. Willis*

      Yeah, I don’t think the OP, Alison, or any commenters are gonna be able to discern whether this is the former employee. Of course it would be outside the norm to harass your ex-boss after a decade, but it’s not impossible. The boss should be availing themselves of assistance from someone who deals with cyber stalking like Alison suggested…seems like a much better option than coworkers and HR playing sleuth.

      1. Heidi*

        Maybe the HR staff are really into Criminal Minds (“10 years is a long cooling off period”). If this were television, the incident from 10 years ago would definitely be related somehow. It’s possible that a lot more went down with this firing than the OP knows about, but it’s just as likely that there is an unrelated cyberstalker.

        1. Cold Fish*

          If it is ex-coworker, 10 years is a really long time to hold onto (not to mention act on) an old grudge. I’d be extremely scared for boss, myself, and all current employees. There would be no telling what ex-coworker would do or how far they would be willing to escalate things. They may not be able to do much of anything but I would be bringing in the police for sure. They are better equipped to investigate than HR.

    2. Forrest*

      I don’t quite understand why HR is involved! It doesn’t sound like any of the violations have actually involved work, or that there’s any actual evidence linking the creepy stuff with that one person, so I don’t quite get why HR’s response wasn’t, “ok, thanks for the heads up, let us know what you need to feel safer and more supported at work” rather than “woo hoo, SLEUTHING.”

      This is a horrible thing for the boss to be going through, but it’s also— not a work problem?

    3. Forrest*

      I don’t quite understand why HR is involved! It doesn’t sound like any of the violations have actually involved work, or that there’s any actual evidence linking the creepy stuff with that one person, so I don’t quite get why HR’s response wasn’t, “ok, thanks for the heads up, let us know what you need to feel safer and more supported at work” rather than “woo hoo, SLEUTHING.”

      This is a horrible thing for the boss to be going through, but it’s also— not a work problem?

      1. rolly*

        If there’s a reasonable chance that the stalker was the ex-employee who would bear a grudge because of something that happened at work, then it is a work problem. Someone is now at risk, or plausibly at risk, because of something they did at work. The employer should support them.

        The evidence is that there is no other or few other likely suspects.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          It would also seem that work would very likely be the physical location of further escalation–don’t assume that some faceless person who has it in for this employee on professional grounds definitely has totally separated that beef from the larger company and isn’t going to try to hurt anyone else.

        2. Forrest*

          I think you ought to need stronger evidence than “there is no other or few other likely suspects” for HR to be delving around in someone’s records and digging up information about them online. The former employee also has rights to privacy and data protection– say it’s NOT the ex-employee, at what point is is not OK for HR to be trying to identify them online and find out where they live now?

        3. Florida Fan 15*

          “The evidence is that there is no other or few other likely suspects.”

          There are absolutely zero facts in the letter to support this.

          The only fact provided is that there was a revenge threat against boss over 10 years ago. It’s not even clear whether OP personally witnessed it or just heard about it. Jumping from this to ex-employee is the stalker or likely to be the stalker is not reasonable and not OP’s or HR’s determination to make. They are not investigators.

        4. Anon with experience*

          Exactly this, it started as a work problem and still relates to work. Plus, maybe HR is just being a kind person and trying to help an employee navigate a tricky situation.
          In my situation it was definitely a combination of the two. On the one hand, they could (and did) officially bar him from the property and increase my work security. But they also felt for me as a scared fresh-to-the workplace person and actual human being, and helped me with some enhanced security for my personal computer, extra time off, and a general sympathetic ear and advice giver. So, they weren’t being the police, but at least when this was happening to me know, nobody (including the police and local laws) quite knew how to deal with online-based harassment yet (things like anonymous emails and things ordered online), so they were looking for resources too

          1. Forrest*

            These are all valuable things to do and are about you feeling safer. They aren’t about violating the privacy of a third-party who may or may not be involved.

      2. Cj*

        There is a work connection, because the person is claiming on LinkedIn the boss is being investigated. Assuming that the boss has their workplace listed on LinkedIn, it could affect the company’s reputation.

        I’m going to go with my own fanfic that the boss was having an affair, try to end it, and is now being stalked. That would explain the flowers being sent by someone other than her husband, but it really is the person whose name is on the flowers, who is a stalker, not the fired employee. And they’re doing the reputation harming stuff on LinkedIn because they are mad that got dumped. The boss doesn’t want to admit to an affair, so they’re claiming it’s the fired employee.

        I wouldnt blame Alison if she deletes this. It just popped into my head, and I mean it in jest.

        1. Snuck*

          I’m thinking the same thing re LinkedIn. That ties it to work and workplace reputation.

          The flowers thing shows a desire to blow up the personal life too.

          This could be personal/private, or work related. We don’t know why the ex employee left 10 years ago, or how many land mines they left in their wake then. It’s a stretch to go back 10 years like this, but the fact that people believe it’s a genuine possibility tells me that it could be. Socio paths tend to have times when things are going well and everything is ‘together’, and times when it falls apart. That could account for a 10 year gap (look at the Claremont Serial Killer in Perth…. ). Sometimes people only strike later when they become stressed for some reason again. It is entirely possible for some one to come back ten years later making new profiles. As a survivor of domestic abuse … I can say … some bustards never die, they just circle around and come back later to rehash a carcass hopefully again.

          OP needs to report it to the police, do all the online security stuff, document everything they can, and let HR manage anything that is obviously related to an ex employee, but also realise that this might not be the ex employee and protect their own safety as best they can. It would be very telling if the OP had moved house, job positions, married etc in the last decade and this person knew about it, or didn’t. Ponder all of the changes that have occurred, the clues that are alluded to, and track from there too.

    4. Asenath*

      I think there’s a possibility that they are assuming it’s the same person, but – as is common in the case of that kind of anonymous harassment – haven’t been able to prove it. Maybe they haven’t even tried to prove who the culprit is; just jumped to the obvious conclusion. I think it is important to get advise from someone or some organization with professional skills in this field, and find out not only how to stop it, but how to find out for sure who the culprit is.

    5. Sloanicota*

      I don’t really care for the suggestion that OP should avoid the boss or suspect that she might part of the problem. I don’t see any evidence of that. That’s exactly how stalkers try to bring down their targets and why people subject to this are afraid to tell anyone; they don’t want to seem “messy” or like they’re “bringing drama.” Without any other information I’d suggest being kind and understanding of the boss and sympathetic that this is probably scary and frustrating, and could happen to anyone at any time.

      1. Not A Manager*

        I completely agree with this. *Someone* has been creating these damaging accounts and sending disturbing gifts to her house. I agree that this is not LW’s problem to solve, but it really bothers me that anyone would suggest that this indicates that the *boss* might be shady.

    6. Anon with experience*

      After a brief intense period immediately after being fired for harassing me, my stalker was more or less dormant, then suddenly slashed my tires 5 years down the line. So, while this stuff usually decreases with time, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that something triggered them 10 years later and they started back up.
      (Similar to this, it was something where we all *knew* it was him, but no one could prove anything. After the second tire slashing in 10 months, the police had an informal chat with him, and luckily for me, everything finally stopped)

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I can imagine something in the stalker’s life might change – say, their new partner breaks up with them, or the loss of a family member, or something – and destabilizes them so they go back to their old ways even after many years. Perhaps the boss’ old stalker lost his new job and in his mind blames that on what happened so long ago. These aren’t healthy people we’re talking about, after all.

    7. Terrysg*

      Even if it is the ex-employee, since they no longer work for the company, HR has no standing to investigate them. I seems like it should be a police matter.

      1. Snuck*

        Even if it is an ex employee, or a current employee.. it’s rapidly heading to police complaint land anyway. It’s cross from work (LinkedIn) to home (flowers), and thus something that should be lobbed at the Police anyway. The stalker knows where the OP lives. They know the OP’s husband’s name. They are making sure the OP knows this fact too. It’s crossed firmly into personal. Police time.

    8. Dragon_Dreamer*

      I dunno, there’s a group of folks who hate MY guts enough after over 2 decades to pounce upon every opportunity to doxx me and otherwise attempt to make my life miserable.

      Last time, they got my school right, my department right, but doxxed me under a pseudonym I use online. My main nick is VERY findable (and in fact trademarked!) so I use a couple fake “real” names to go with it.

      It is also possible that the harasser has left just enough evidence behind to suggest it’s them. Idiots like this aren’t the most intelligent folks. I’m guessing your manager has dealt with minor annoyances from this person every few years, but something happened to give the harasser “new ammo.”

      As for what *I* did to earn the wrath of this group, I was assaulted by some of their members and dared to accuse them publicly. 9.9 It ended up very very messy. I can see someone just as obsessive / vindictive holding a decade long grudge over being fired.

      Good luck to your boss, and I hope she can get to the same place I have: being able to laugh my butt off at their latest attempts, secure in the knowledge that they can’t actually hurt me.

    9. Daisy Gamgee*

      If your boss is truly a good-hearted innocent it sounds like HR is taking care of the problem. But the boss may also be the problem

      How could the victim “be the problem” when it comes to being stalked?

    10. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      The only plausible reason would be that he had left the country so no longer felt like he was in danger of being caught.

  10. AnotherLibrarian*

    #5: Block your calendar, if you can, and then also let people know and just be friendly about it. As others have suggested, an email signature line might be a good idea as well. I confess that I supervise three part-time people and four student assistants. If it weren’t for literally putting their schedules on a calendar and having them stuck to the board in my office, I would never remember them all and even then, I regularly forget that one person doesn’t work every other Thursday due to some classes. It’s nothing personal- people just don’t know other folks schedules that well. Be firm, friendly, and proceed with the assumption and people will get it right if you remind them regularly. Since your manager said you didn’t need to attend the meeting when you let her know, you clearly work for sane people who don’t want you showing up in the middle of your time off.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      “So and so isn’t here every other Thursday due to a class” etc is different from OP permanently working nights though. Their boss presumably promoted them into (or at least is in charge of) the night shift manager position!

      In OPs position I’d be tempted to send some meetings for 3am or whatever. When asked about it say oh sorry I forgot you wouldn’t be around at that time. I bet those meeting requests would stop quickly.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        That sounds a bit petty, because OP knows very well that the others aren’t around at night, and she’s the one whose schedule has changed, not them.
        Blocking the calendar should work fine.

    2. BluntBunny*

      Yes just decline the meeting and put in a response saying you normal work hours.
      I would allow a bit of flexibility to 11am if it was a large meeting and then you could start later etc.

  11. Ess*

    Regarding #1, if I was going to a gym and learned there’s a mean, aggressive bully of an employee who’s allowed to act like this with no repercussions, I would spend my time there a nervous wreck with my shoulders up around my ears, then quietly cancel my membership and never come back. I’d also probably spend a lot of coffee dates with friends trashing both the trainer and the gym, as well as wondering why management apparently did nothing about that guy. Honestly, it’d put me off the company entirely – people like this are allowed to work there? Why would I ever give them my money again? I had such a rotten and probably scary time with them!

    I realize that there must be something (something! anything!) that has kept this guy in your employ up to now. Maybe his clients find they have good results, or he’s popular with people he doesn’t scream at. Maybe I’m wrong and it’s purely due to managerial inertia. Regardless, this guy is definitely damaging the reputation of your company, and by not having let him go, you’re pretty much helping him do it.

    I wonder, as well, what this person’s colleagues think of him being at their workplace. Are they concerned this guy will seriously lose it on them and feel that management won’t do anything about it? Do they have good reason to think their management is good or effective, considering the missing stair they’ve been avoiding? Could there be other serious workplace issues that are not coming to your attention because people feel you aren’t on their side? How many great people have you lost or have avoided working with you entirely due to this walking red flag?

    1. IntoTheSarchasm*

      #1 – Any possibility of steroids or other drugs? You don’t mention of he used to act differently so just an idea. Either szy, it sounds like he needs an intervention or a new job.

      1. Observer*

        I don’t think it matters at this point. It’s not the OP’s job to stage and intervention, even if the guy were (mis)using ANY drugs. It’s also not the OP’s concern as to WHY the person is behaving like this. All that matters to the OP now is that the person quite literally poses a risk to the business and to customers and needs to be gone.

        I don’t know about the rules in other countries, but in the USA there is no rule that would protect this guy. The minute you can show that safety is implicated, you’re in the clear.

        And from a moral or ethical point of view, I think that the people the OP needs to have compassion are, are the coworkers and clients who are being abused by this guy. And at this point, any attempt by the OP to diagnose or help this guy furthers the abuse. And that assumes that the OP could actually do either – something which is highly unlikely.

      2. Ray Gillette*

        Steroids can make a person more irritable and prone to mood swings, but they don’t change your fundamental personality. Someone who thinks it’s okay to be intentionally cruel to beginners (and customers to boot!) is going to think the same way without any chemical enhancement.

    2. Delta Delta*

      Meanwhile, there are likely several personal trainers in the area who would apply for his position and who could become a great asset to the business. I go to a small community gym and the one trainer who does sessions there is really pleasant, and works with people of all skill and fitness levels. Since he started his business the gym has seen a huge increase in membership, too, because word got out that “Steve” does a good job. This gym would do well to find a replacement trainer with a “Steve”-type attitude.

      1. Ess*

        Absolutely! Going to the gym can be a pretty overwhelming or intimidating thing when you’re just starting out, and having someone kind who does a good job is an absolute godsend. The gym in letter #1 is seriously losing out by keeping this guy on their staff.

    3. Observer*

      Could there be other serious workplace issues that are not coming to your attention because people feel you aren’t on their side?

      This is an EXCELLENT point. I am willing to bet that people will NOT bring you serious issues because you’ve proven that you don’t do anything about them.

  12. Eat Dirt, Jim*

    #2, it sounds like you are (rightly) concerned that people will resent you for being out so long while the workplace is understaffed. There’s only so much you can do about that- people are gonna feel how they feel- but I think stressing the way the trip depends on being in the right place at the right season might help a little. In any case, enjoy your trip!

    1. Chauncy Gardener*

      Your user name just made my day! Snorted laughed my coffee and now my dog thinks I might be dying. lol

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Exactly what I was thinking. I worked in an over-worked, understaffed department and one of my coworkers got an opportunity to work on a polio eradication project in Cambodia and Thailand for a year as an unpaid secondment to an international org. Although it sucked for us to cover her work for a year, none of us resented her for it because all of us wanted to be able to do the same ourselves at some point. In general, that office was a toxic wasps nest, but in this one way they were awesome.

  13. Sam*

    #3 It’s odd that everyone’s assumption is that it is the ex-employee unless there’s more info we’re missing. Especially the flower delivery to her house – how would an employee from 10 years ago have her home address? That’s almost more concerning then the internet stuff (although that’s also bad)!

    1. Global Cat Herder*

      I agree. Why the assumption this is a “former employee driven by revenge” scenario? All of the actions sound like they didn’t have anything to do with work. Especially sending flowers to her house from another man – that’s a fairly common “husband’s girlfriend trying to break up the marriage” tactic.

    2. Esmeralda*

      It is extremely easy to find someone’s home address. For free.

      For not much money at all, you can get even more info on anyone.

      Agree that it may not be the previous employee. But it might.

      1. Anon all day*

        Yup, with a minute or two of googling, one can usually find name, age, address, family members, prior addresses, and even possibly potential email and phone numbers.

        1. Empress Ki*

          Don’t know how you find all that information about someone. I googled myself and didn’t find anything , fortunately.

    3. EPLawyer*

      Very odd. The better question would be, has the boss made any new enemies recently that they are aware of? because it is more likely that it is something recent that triggered this than an ex-employee from 10 years ago.

      Although I agree with the above that OP should stay out of it. Not her problem. Let whoever the boss approaches to deal with ask the important questions.

    4. Rose*

      Yes! This is so weird. I’d love to hear from OP why the they/their boss/HR suspect this former employee did nothing for ten years then suddenly reemerged.

      Unless there’s some sign it was him, it’s weird to the point of being a little bit fishy. The only scenario I can really fathom is HR asked the boss and the only grudge she could think of was this guy from a decade ago and they just ran with it really far for no real reason. This level of focus/suspicion around an x employee you have heard from in a decade feels weird.

    5. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      Also, as someone who tried to have a Welcome Baby! gift card sent to a cousin in another country – it’s not actually that easy to order items internationally (from say Japan to a company in Germany with a recipient in Germany for example). They usually want an in-country billing address with a credit card to cut down on fraud. Wire transfers etc are possible but expensive and probably not usual for a florist. The evidence is stronger that someone from 10 years ago living in a different country is NOT the perpetuator unless there is additional evidence missing from the letter.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Florists have worked with Interflora since long before the internet made it easy, flowers are probably the easiest thing to send from abroad. My brother always used to send a big bouquet of flowers when he was travelling the world in the navy.

        1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

          Yes but he probably had a US credit card to use to deliver the flowers within the US while he was abroad? He wasn’t trying to order flowers with a German credit card to be delivered in Canada, for example.

          1. Mameshiba*

            I’ve ordered flowers in the US with a foreign credit card to deliver to a US address. Many places online are totally fine with it as long as the shipping address is local, except for some charities and smaller merchants.

  14. John Smith*

    LW1. I’d fire him straight off. In my experience, I do see frustration from gym staff (and other customers) when people don’t put weights back (a common pet hate I think) or misuse equipment. But every PT I’ve met (and I’ve met a few),without exception, would NEVER behave the way this employee has. The bit especially about laughing at customers lifting too much? A good PT would look after customers (even if not their own) because that’s the kind of person they tend to be (i.e, supportive and non-judgemental). What would new gym goers – who tend to be very nervous – think if they saw him laughing at someone else? Again, a good PT would not do that or tolerate it from anyone else. He also sounds like a potential legal liability.

    Fire him now – as in the very millisecond you next see him.

    1. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

      #1 how scared are you of this aggressive trainer? He scares me and I am just reading about him! If I was firing him I would want him to be leaving immediately, keys and computer access dealt with straight away etc. I would want physical back up present when I did it. I would want to be particularly aware of my own safety and security practices over the next few months. This man behaves dangerously and unpredictably WHILE AT WORK, so you cannot assume he will take being fired in a calm and non retaliatory way. I second the idea to read De Becker’s book chapter. It is sensible to be afraid of him, but the responsibility of dealing with him is yours, as the GM.
      Alternatively, YOU find another job- it may be that his behaviour has already damaged the business too much to keep it viable!
      My best wishes to you in dealing with this man.

    2. Anonny*

      Fire him, and legally ban him from the premises. Dude sounds volatile and given the circumstances, he might be abusing steroids (which can cause/exacerbate mood swings and aggression). OP1 needs to make it so he can’t come back without facing serious consequences.

    3. Observer*

      If the issue were just that he’s not responding appropriately to genuinely frustrating behavior, I would understand the OP, although I would think it’s gone on too long. But the other stuff? You’re right that it’s a major liability.

      Your last line is exactly right.

  15. Green great dragon*

    #2 If you’re happy to share, and show how excited you are about going, that would be helpful in preventing people from being concerned/gossipy. I’d definitely be following along. The only thing I’d consider is whether you want to create separate ‘suitable for work and friends’ and ‘suitable for friends only’ instagrams.

    1. JustKnope*

      Great suggestion on the content for different audiences. LW could just use the “close friends” function on Instagram to avoid two different accounts!

    2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      In my experience, people get excited to hear about trips that are a little out of the ordinary, and hiking the PCT certainly qualifies! And sharing your Instagram means your coworkers won’t have to wait six months to see any pictures of the trip. I would absolutely follow your account (at least for the duration of the trip).

      A couple of years ago I went on a week long road rally, and I created a new Instagram just for that. Several of my coworkers/former coworkers did end up following that account. In my case, I went with a new account because the content (travel and cars) was going to be so different from my existing one (crafty stuff), even though both are suitable for work.

      1. Cold Fish*

        I’m stupidly excited and happy for coworker about to leave for her dream trip to Disney World. She works hard and deserves it! Will it suck while she’s not here?… yes. But I think people like to hear about the trips others have planned. It gives them hope that maybe one day that vacation they dream about may actually happen.

    3. L*

      Also, put it on your resume. My bf did all 3 hikes (1 per year) and it’s on his resume. He got laid off and used the money for massive time off and did all 3. That is what he tells people all the time.

      Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hiker (April – October 2022)
      – Hiked north-bound from CA / Mexican border to Washington / Canada border for total of 3000 miles.

      AT …
      CDT …

  16. HumgryAndConfused*

    #1 I did quit a gym for exactly this reason. Trainer had been giving me wrong vibes for a while but once he lost it (with someone else) that was it! I complained to the chain central office, cancelled my subscription and told my whole office about it.

  17. Excel-sior*

    LW1: this personal trainer is exactly everything you don’t want from a PT, staff member, or anybody in the gym (or any aspect of life, tbh). If they haven’t already started turning people away in droves, it’s only a matter of time.

  18. Medusa*

    “She loves to create work for other people” (Letter 4)

    Tell me why I initially thought this meant she loves writing reports and stuff for people. Y’all, I am so tired.

  19. CurrentlyBill*

    #1: The trainer is only half the problem here, if that. The bigger problem is your reluctance to manage the situation. It’s great that you’re reaching out for assistance, and I’d encourage you to take a deeper look at what you choose to allow your staff to do in your gymn.

    One or two of the instances you cited, well, yeah. That’s on him. Every additional instance? That’s one you’re responsible for. This guy needs to go, and you need to make that happen immediately.

    I see your concern about becoming a hothead. You don’t have to. You can fire him without yelling or losing your temper. Practice saying quietly before you do it, ” Effective immediately, your employment here is terminated. Here is your final check and [whatever other HR paperwork you need]. I wish you luck in your future endeavors. Please leave the property.”

    If he starts yelling or making demands and you do not fear for your physical safety, simply repeat the same phrase again. In a quiet calm voice. And repeat it again as needed. If you do fear for your physical safety then leave and call the police or other appropriate people.

    Just because he might demand answers does not mean you have to provide them.

    1. Hotdog not dog*

      Yes, exactly. At best, you have enabled him to create or maintain a toxic workplace for your other employees along with an uncomfortable experience for your clients.
      It’s already too late for him to shape up, he needs to ship out now if you hope to maintain a viable business. You can’t afford to give him any additional “second chances”.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Also I usually feel like what an employer observes is just the tip of the iceberg. He’s probably on better behavior when he knows he’s being observed What is this guy like to his coworkers and clients when nobody else is around? In the locker room at the end of the day? Yikes.

    2. anonymous73*

      This. Why has OP allowed this to continue for so long??? If OP fears for her personal safety when she fires him, I’m sure there are other trainers at the gym that can be on stand by if he goes off. You don’t need to wait for another inappropriate incident, you needed to fire him YESTERDAY.

  20. Posilutely*

    OP5 – my work has day and night shifts. Any meetings that require both sets of staff are held in the morning near changeover time so that either some staff come in slightly early or some go home slightly late, or both. If a meeting had to happen in the middle of the day for some reason, no night shift staff would be expected to attend either virtually or in person. We would rather have well rested, alert staff that evening! I hope your employer will feel the same way once you’ve spoken to them.

  21. Asenath*

    OP 5 – it is very common for co-workers to forget your schedule and then they need to be reminded. For years, I (and some others) worked a slightly different schedule from most of the employees, and I lost count of the number of times people from other departments scheduled meetings which started when we were finished for the day, or maybe half an hour earlier. They needed to be reminded every time that we were not on the same schedule. I didn’t mind staying a bit late once in a while, but I wasn’t going to do that all the time, particularly when I had plans for after work.

    1. OftenOblivious*

      I agree that the OP is probably going to have to consistently remind them that they’re setting a middle of the night time and it doesn’t work. I work in multi time zones and it’s quite easy for us to make things awkward for each other. If people don’t push back, we think it’s working, “Hey, this is getting late in the evening for us, can we bump it back?” Unfortunately, your compromise of calling from home may have made them think this time is fine (don’t blame you, you were trying to make it work). You want to use language that reminds them the badness of the time. “Since I work nights, 2:30PM is like 2:30AM for me. Can we do 10:00AM, that’s evening for me.”

    2. JustaTech*

      I’m currently trying to schedule meetings with someone who works 1) in another time zone, 2) nights and 3) something like 4-12’s. And has no access to their email outside those times.
      It’s not easy figuring out when will work for both of us, and since the other person has the more challenging schedule I really wish I could say “why don’t you pick three times and I’ll make one of them work”.

  22. GLK*

    OP4 – I was in a very similar situation earlier this year and totally agree with the advice given. It’s usually no secret to your co-workers/bosses that people that behave this way are deeply unhappy in their jobs and people know that comments like this are much more of a reflection on the complaining co-worker than you. In my case, I just tried to remain professional but distant with my co-worker and they eventually got tired of going after me with no reaction and turned their attention elsewhere… and then ultimately left the organization—which was for the best for everyone.

    1. I AM Sparkling }:(*

      Yes, I had an “Erin” when I started my current job. The higher-ups already know she’s a troublemaker and a crank. They’ll hit their limit with her eventually, and they’ll notice your professionalism in not getting sucked into her troublemaking, too.

    2. morethanbeingtired*

      I feel like because the CEO and COO have gotten involved due to her gossip that it’s worth saying: if Erin’s behavior is making it hard to do your actual work, then you should go to HR about it. But that’s only if it’s effecting your job duties whether it’s by a significant distraction (costing you significant time or emotional distress every day) or if it’s impacting your work relationships. I have the feeling that OP wouldn’t be writing unless they were at their wit’s end about it, and if it’s come to that, it’s bullying and it warrants a complaint.

    3. Sandman*

      This is one of the most important things I’ve learned, and I still have to keep reminding myself that it proves true every time because it never FEELS true when I’m in the middle of it. It’s generally obvious when someone like this is creating a problem – and if it isn’t immediately, it becomes so over time. The best course of action is almost always to calmly carry on with the task at hand.

  23. JelloStapler*

    LW1- are YOU intimidated by him and are hesitating because you worry how he’ll react? If so, maybe you need to plan on letting him go, period – and have police or additional staff there in case he gets aggressive. What happens if this “last chance incident” happens at a time you’re very vulnerable?

    1. Observer*

      And what happens if your “last chance incident” actually winds up hurting someone? Or winds up happening to someone who has a big mike? The latter is less serious to the clientele, but will shut you down as quickly as the former. And possibly make you MUCH harder to employ.

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

    #5 do you have a company email with a calendar like outlook or Gmail? Is there a way to block your hours for when you are not at work or something? That might help people know that you aren’t available.

  25. IndustriousLabRat*

    LW#1- Not only is firing him overdue, but his behavior is so over the top that I would have that conversation by telephone. Normally that’s a horrible way to fire someone, but this guy sounds positively frightening, and I would have safety concerns with regards to his potential reaction. The rage response over relatively minor things leaves me wondering what sort of response he will have to losing his job. In your situation, I would be hesitant to even allow him on the property again, period. Be safe!

  26. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #1

    OP, you say this guy is a personal trainer. Do you mean he a trainer who works one-on-one in a private studio within the gym and has a client base who are members? Or is this a gym where members can book a session with the trainer in order to get familiar with the equipment, get some pointers, etc. and it’s out on the main floor? If he’s willing to act this way in public in front of multiple people out on the floor, I can only imagine how horrible he must be if he’s working one-on-one in a private studio within the gym. The member would be alone within no one to see or hear what’s going on, which could be really intimidating and possibly unsafe.

    How many members have you lost because of him? Word-of-mouth spreads like wildfire so you may have a poor reputation with the public and not realize it.

    Either way, this guy should be fired ASAP. Doubly so if he’s working one-on-one in a private room with people. You can give him the verbal warning that he’s gone if just one more incident happens, but I really don’t think that’s necessary.

  27. Trout 'Waver*

    OP#3, Why did your mind immediately jump to this one dude from 10 years ago?

    People vowing revenge and then waiting 10 years is something that happens a lot more in books and movies than it does in real life. Blaming a subordinate from over a decade ago seems odd to me. I mean sure, anything’s possible. I’m sure some commenters will have wacky anecdotes. But I would start more recently and work backwards. Not jump immediately that far back.

    1. JohannaCabal*

      I agree that there’s a good chance it’s not ex-employee. That said, there was a man who targeted the doctors (and their families) involved in getting him fired from his medical residency (and it was a well-deserved firing). From what I remember, there was a span of several years between his firing and the first set of crimes he committed, to the point that it took years for investigators to tie him to the killings.

      1. Anon all day*

        Oh man, that took a turn at the end. I thought it was just going to be a story of a guy harassing his ex employers, and then I got to “the killings”.

        1. JohannaCabal*

          I know. And the story always gives me pause because there are people out there who will stew for years, even decades, over “injustices.”

      2. Napkin Thief*

        Out of curiosity I looked up this story. It’s incredibly tragic.

        It sounds like although many years passed between his firing and the killings, he struck out immediately following triggering events – in both cases his attacks came soon after he was denied a medical license in a new state. So it’s less that he was lying in wait for all those years as he had a new reason – in his mind – to blame them for his failures.

        1. JohannaCabal*

          Does make me wonder if it could the ex-employee in this case. Maybe ex-employee recently lost on a job and thinks it was because of Decade-Ago Boss.

          Anyway, this is likely more of a matter for the police than HR. Honestly, the thought of HR (and no offense to folks who work in HR) playing detective makes me feel uneasy.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I wondered if it was the ex-employee, if he had been upset for a long time and then something happened in their life now that they are blaming on the firing from a decade ago – and thus now must get their revenge.

      3. Wants Green Things*

        Right. If it is the ex-employee, it’s not that he’s waited 10 years to enact revenge, it’s that something else in his life has failed and he’s decided it all goes back to that [censored] who fired him and thus ruined his career.

        Boss, HR, and the ither employees are likely focused on this guy because he’s the only person the boss knows of who’s made a threat against her.

  28. JelloStapler*

    Methinks you get “preferential treatment” because you’re not a drama-mongering busybody that just does what needs to be done so you don’t need “handling” as much as she does. But, alas, people like this are also very low on the self-awareness spectrum.

    1. Sylvan*


      I’m wondering if you or a group of people including you might have been pointed out to her as a positive example, crowning you Golden Child and her Scapegoat in her head.

    2. Nanani*

      LW is getting normal treatment and Drama Llama thinks it’s preferential because for some weird reason people don’t want to interact with DL any more than strictly necessary :/

  29. Falling Diphthong*

    OP2, this is the year when “I decided to seize the moment and do this big thing now, while I could” is going to land with “well of course” to most people.

    A lot of people will be happy for you. Some would probably be pleased to check photos and descriptions occasionally, even if they hate hiking and would never do this trip themselves. Some people might be grouchy and drama prone, but they would probably feel similarly if your six months off were for the “care of a dying parent” or “undergo grueling medical treatment” that we might expect with that chunk of time off.

    1. Lasslisa*

      Yes, I think this is very true. People leave all the time, and right now in particular I’m hearing more “because I want to do something else / because I need a break” than I ever have before. If the job isn’t hiring additional coverage, I think that’s a mistake, but I think the coworkers will be sympathetic or envious.

  30. tinybutfierce*

    OP1, please just go ahead and fire him; you’ve already spoken to him about his behavior and there’s been no apparent change. I guarantee you he’s already damaging your gym’s reputation; his attitude is especially harmful to folks newer to a gym environment or lifting (who arguably need welcoming and support the most!), and he LITERALLY LAUGHED when a member almost injured themselves. Take the trash out now.

  31. Meghan*

    #5– when I worked at a 24 hour facility with 12hr shifts, management always scheduled meetings either right over shift change– this either meant that the day shift had to stay about half an hour later or the night shift would arrive half an hour earlier, but it worked well for our team. Maybe you can try to ask them to schedule meetings like that?

  32. Kate in Scotland*

    Six months off: a way I have seen this land well is with the framing ‘from (whenever it is), I’ll be travelling for 6 months. Luckily, the company is willing to take me back when I return, so I’ll be back in (whenever).’

  33. anonymous73*

    #4 I disagree with the advice here. I would confront her ONCE and then let her do what she’s gonna do. I prefer to not engage with irrational people, but she needs to know that you know she’s gossiping about you behind your back and tell her to leave you out of it. It may stop, it may make it worse, but you need to address it and then leave it alone and let her self destruct.

    1. MsM*

      She already knows OP knows. It’s a four person team in an organization that isn’t huge to begin with, and she’s not being subtle about it. To what end she’s trying to garner OP’s attention in this way, who knows, but I have a hard time believing that’s not at least one of the goals.

      The real question is, why does management believe Erin is valuable enough (or too risky to antagonize) to put up with this drama? Why haven’t whatever conversations occurred between the CEO/COO and OP’s boss resulted in a “you want to improve your prospects, focus on your actual job” smackdown on her already? And does OP really want to work somewhere long-term that’s willing to make room for the nonsense instead of shutting her down?

    2. EPLawyer*

      She won’t care that OP knows. She will deny it of course. because that is what drama llamas do. Then she will go around telling everyone that OP is making up stories to get her in trouble. Which will have the opposite effect of what OP wants. OP wants to be left alone. The best way to handle drama llamas is not to give them what they what. DL wants OP to confront her so she can have more drama. OP ignoring her will deny DL that drama. DL will move on to something else that gives her her fix.

    3. Observer*

      but she needs to know that you know she’s gossiping about you behind your back

      That assumes that she doesn’t already know. Also, why does she need to know? This is bad behavior regardless of whether the OP knows.

      It may stop, it may make it worse, but you need to address it and then leave it alone and let her self destruct.

      Why does the OP “need” to address it? Why does the OP “need” to do something that could make things worse – especially since it almost certainly will make things worse.

      I put the word “need” into quotes because the idea of the OP have any level of obligation here just make zero sense.

    4. Sea Anemone*

      Remember the LW whose boyfriend had an affair with the intern, and the intern went around slandering LW? Remember in the letter that she was told not to do anything that would force them to have to discipline her as well? What you are suggesting would be something that would force LW4’s manager to have to discipline her, as well. It might feel like LW4 is letting her coworker get away with something, but you never want to move the situation from NTA to ESH, even if it feels like someone is getting away with something.

  34. foolofgrace*

    #1 — I’m guessing this gym does not have a time requirement that members have to stay for one year or whatever. If they did, I wonder if this behavior is enough to get them out of their contract.

  35. Hiring Mgr*

    On #2, LW says their team knows anyway, so it’s hard to imagine even if they tried it would be able to remain a secret from others for six months

  36. Dust Bunny*

    #4 She “creates work for other people” and gives you “projects” but she’s your coworker? Where is your boss/manager in this? It sounds like she’s a problem but your boss/manager should be shutting this down.

    1. Lizzie Not Borden*

      100% this
      The party empowered to make substantive change for the LW, the organization, and even the C-suite is … …the manager!
      That person is conspicuously absent in this letter, which I hope doesn’t mean they are also conspicuously absent in the workplace.
      LW should raise the impact this behavior is having on their work: the uncontrollable risk of being viewed as a source of drama by the C-suite, the workplace is unpleasantly unpredictable (what will I be a target of today? Noooo thank you!), and increased workload because of a (presumably underperforming?) co-worker.
      The common factor in all of these is the manager’s *ability and duty* to make a difference.
      LW: make it clear to your manager that the behaviors aren’t a cute idiosyncracy, and that you expect your manager to have your back and advocate for you, your workload, and your reputation.
      Because it’s a hell of a labor market out there and a lot of places would value someone who can keep a cool head amidst chaos!

  37. GigglyPuff*

    #1 LW, honestly you should be ashamed that you’ve let this continue and didn’t fire him the first time he mocked someone. I’m a plus size person with a chronic illness who has used personal trainers, including a strength training only gym–so more male dominated, for almost 10 years. Personal trainers are there to help and to teach. The majority of people they serve aren’t going to know anything and are looking for guidance, why would you employ someone who doesn’t understand the core function of their job, blatantly disregards it, and the numerous conversations you’ve had about it?? You’ve definitely lost customers over this. If I was the owner, I would not only fire him but you.

  38. Rusty Shackelford*

    Re #5: So when it happens, don’t take it as “wow, Falcon thinks I should meet in the middle of my night” but rather “I need to remind Falcon I can’t meet then.”

    Unfortunately, a lot of the time they do think you should meet in the middle of your night. I know a night shift nurse who experiences this a lot – not only with coworkers, but with (for example) teachers who want to schedule a conference, and when she says she works nights so the best time for her is the first morning slot, they say “oh, but it sounds like you’re home all day, so you can meet any time, right?” So prepare for that kind of pushback, although hopefully it won’t happen.

    1. irene adler*

      I interviewed for a night job and they explained that in addition to full-time night hours, I would be expected to meet with managers during THEIR work day (M-F 8am-5pm) at THEIR convenience. On-site.

      The interviewer acted like this was an absolutely normal expectation. Does anyone, on the regular, wake up to meet with their managers during their normal sleep time? Didn’t think so.

      Oh yeah, salaried position too. So no extra pay for these meetings.

    2. PeanutButter*

      I worked for over a decade on the night shift (it’s still my natural rhythm but I’m adapting to the Big Bright Orb in the sky now at a normal business hours job) I can confirm some people totally think this. I’ve been asked why I’m so lazy because I “have all day to do things but just sleep all the time.” I can also confirm that turnabout (calling those people, scheduling things at all hours, if any of them ever told me to “stop by anytime” to return something) is fair play. They’re getting me on their doorstep at 2AM. It usually only took once.

    3. Adultiest Adult*

      Co-signed. My organization loves 9AM meetings and interviews. The problem is that I don’t start work until 10, because I work 4-10s and finish at 8. I come in for periodic 9AMs, especially with larger departmental teams where I am the only one on my particular schedule, but it quite frankly stinks that I will automatically be working an 11-hour day, because the end of my day is the coverage-based portion and it’s not an option for me to leave early. Unfortunately I can report that you will often be the one who is expected to bend, if you are the one whose schedule doesn’t match the others.

  39. Ranunculus*

    #5, I work in a department whose members span nearly the full globe. Our days have grown longer and longer because we’ll get invitations for either very late in our evening or very early in our morning. Each of us has had to set the boundaries of our individual day and stick firmly to them. Fortunately, everyone is very understanding when I decline meetings that are too early or late, and I’ve found that listening to recordings of meetings I can’t attend in person works well.

  40. PuckDrop*

    #1, Fire immediately. I’d quit a gym that had this employee.
    #2, Enjoy your hike! Definitely tell people. Some will be interested and some won’t, but less confusing to know why someone’s disappeared and then later reappears. I’d follow photos of a journey and ask for advice from someone who did this.
    #3, The police should definitely be involved as well, if nothing else so these items are documented prior to any potential escalation. Police have additional resources to look into the possible disgruntled employee and also can get additional information from companies like LinkedIn that won’t share directly with victims.
    #4, Consider running before the drama drains your soul.
    #5, Yep, shut it down matter-of-factly.
    Really interesting ones today!

    1. JohannaCabal*

      You’re spot on about involving the police. I commented above about a man who committed a series of murders involving the doctors who fired him from his medical residency. Unfortunately, the police weren’t able to connect him to his first set of crimes which meant years later he committed another murder.

      Even if the police can’t do much, at least it’ll be on record.

  41. A Poster Has No Name*

    #1. That second bullet point was an instant firing offense, before even going on to any of the subsequent ones.

    #2. Call it a sabbatical and tell people what you’re doing. Be prepared to inspire people. Have fun!

  42. Safely Retired*

    Regarding #5, since the person moved to nights it may be that everyone is simply dealing with them as they always did because that is what people do. If this night shift manager position is not new I would be asking how they worked with the previous person in the role.

  43. Aarti*

    So I took a rock climbing lesson and the trainer was so marvelous, pleasant, and enthusiastic, it really helped clinch my newfound love of the sport. If he had belittled me or made fun of me I would have never gone back again.

  44. SJ (they/them)*

    OP #1, here is my suggestion for how to handle this.

    Step 1: Plan what you will do after you give this final warning, if there is indeed another instance of misbehavior. In specific detail: what forms do you need, who do you need to notify, in what order, in order to fire the employee if he disregards the last warning. How will you carry it out: by phone or in person, what will you say, etc. Get that plan in place now so that you have the security of knowing how “HE IS OUT” will translate to actual concrete action on your part from “incident of misbehavior after final warning” to “employee is gone”.

    Step 2: Skip the final warning and carry out the exact plan you just came up with, immediately.

    Good luck. I hope everything goes as well as possible, and that you are able to take this as a learning experience for taking action earlier rather than later in difficult situations.

  45. bopper*

    One of my coworkers took off time to hike the Appalachian trail. I thought it was cool.
    If you would like, and you are going to post updates, you could let your coworkers know it.

  46. LKW*

    LW #4 – Alison’s advice is spot on. Do not give oxygen to the drama-fire. But that doesn’t mean you need to bend over backward or just take her nonsense lying down. Talk to your manager. Ask your manager what she is going to do to ensure that your reputation with the board is not damaged by the drama.

  47. bopper*

    Personal Trainer:
    “PT, You are not a good fit here at FitnessRUs . You seem to want to work with experienced lifters but here we need to be welcoming to beginners…I am sure you can understand that we build our business with new customers and if the first thing they encounters is someone making fun of them they won’t return. Please return your keys and I wish you well finding a position that fits your interests.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      Honestly, there is no reason to sugar-coat it that much. He shouldn’t be working with experienced lifters either. His behavior is not appropriate in any environment.

      1. Polly Hedron*

        I agree that PT should be fired immediately, but OP #1 seems hesitant even to warn PT again.
        I think bopper‘s sugar-coated script would help OP #1 get the necessary words out and would reduce the risk of PT reacting violently.

      2. Sea Anemone*

        It’s not OP’s responsibility to enumerate all the things the trainer is doing wrong. It is OP’s responsibility to terminate the trainer in a safe and documented way. Bopper’s script is fine for that and has the added benefit of being easier to deliver than a critical termination script.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          It’s certainly fine to do it that way if you really want to, but personally I highly disagree that this language is the way to go in this particular case. It’s not to anyone’s benefit to tip-toe around it this much and bend over backwards to lie about how he’s just “not a right fit for this environment,” unless you actually fear the guy is a physical threat.

          I’m not sure what you mean about “enumerating all the things the trainer is doing wrong”–for one thing I never said they should, but I actually think as the manager that *is* their job… but OP says they’ve *already* talked to him about his behavior many times.

          I don’t think they need anything more now than “We’ve talked about your behavior in the past and there hasn’t been any improvements so at this point we are going to have to let you go.” I don’t know why you would need anything beyond that.

    2. Janie*

      As a serious and dedicated weightlifter, I assure you that even experienced lifters wouldn’t want to train anywhere in his vicinity.

  48. Flossie Bobbsey*

    #2 – many years ago I had a colleague who took a long leave of absence and was secretive about the reason. Speculation was that he was doing a major multi-state trail hike OR going on a reality show. Turns out it was the former, but I guess he didn’t want to broadcast it in advance in case he didn’t finish.

  49. OftenOblivious*

    For a gym, unless it was a particularly dudeBro gym in the most stereotypical sense where you might argue it’s part of the atmosphere/appeal, these things seem like immediate fire, or fire on second occurrence type of things. I mean, the other bullet points are bad too — but it seems like it’s always easier to fire someone who’s behaved badly to customers than fellow employees.

    * He makes fun of inexperienced lifters and humiliates them in front of others who are present.
    * Laughing when a member was lifting too much weight and almost injured himself (yes, wth!)

  50. Sara without an H*

    #1: Fire him. Now. How many members have you lost because of this behavior?

    #2: I’d explain the reason for the leave, since it’s not out of line with your office culture. And if you say nothing, people will inevitably speculate.

    #3: There’s no guarantee that the former employee is responsible for the harassment. Your boss should put a freeze on her credit report and contact one of the organizations Alison provided links for.

    #4: Limit any conversation with Dramatic Coworker to work-related topics. Put her on a low information diet about anything personal. Engaging with her will only add energy to her drama.

    #5: They probably just don’t remember what your schedule is now — it’s a common problem in shift work. If you use Outlook, adjust your hours of availability and then just keep reminding them that you’re not available after 10:00 a.m. Eventually, it will stick.

  51. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP1: I once had to fire someone who I was actually scared of their temper and actions. Knew I had to fire them but was seriously dreading telling them that – because he was prone to very vocal rage and slamming things around (as well as showing up to work pissed which was what I needed to fire him for).

    He snapped the next morning, punched a coworker in the face during one of his rage episodes and security basically hauled him out and called the police. I got to do the ‘in case you’re wondering, no you don’t have a job anymore’ phone call later.

    I was much much happier it being a phone call. We sent the official paperwork by post. Maybe this approach might work for your useless employee?

    1. Observer*

      I was much much happier it being a phone call. We sent the official paperwork by post. Maybe this approach might work for your useless employee?

      It sounds like a plan. But please don’t wait till it escalates.

      And, OP, don’t think it can’t happen. This guy is sooo over the line that you really have no idea what’s next.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Oh definitely agree. I really wish we’d canned that guy before he went crazy.

        (The paperwork was in but moving through the system, after his 12th time showing up to work drunk)

        1. Observer*

          I wouldn’t be surprised that this is one of those stories that people tell when managers at this place are reluctant to do what they need to do.

  52. TudorEra*

    LW 1, if I had been paying for this personal trainer (which are generally not an inexpensive cost), I would have quit and demanded a refund the first time he embarrassed, or took that attitude with me. I plan on hiring a PT when I’m done with my second pregnancy, and I’m very self-conscious about my body right now. Given your hesitancy at outright firing this guy, I would’ve quit your gym as well. There are plenty of gyms that treat their members with care and respect.

  53. A Feast of Fools*

    #5 – We have an office in India and corporate is in the central U.S.

    I forget *all the time* which of my colleagues work in India and which are in the U.S., so I am 100% guilty of scheduling afternoon calls that are literally the middle of the night in India. They have, thankfully, been good-natured about it: “Sure, Feast, I can set my alarm for 2:00 AM to make your meeting. Or would it be possible to have it at the start of your work day, which is the end of mine?”

    So, yeah, just cheerfully keep reminding people and asking them to schedule meetings at a time that works for all of you.

  54. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    Yes, LW1 needs to fire that awful personal trainer ASAP, but there could be another reason that they haven’t done it yet. Is it really so surprising that they’ve been reluctant to fire a hotheaded, physically violent, very powerful man? Consciously or not, the LW may fear that this man will become violent towards THEM when told that he’s just lost his job.

    1. Nanani*

      They could fire them over the phone. Not ideal but if personal safety is a concern, it’s possible.
      Also consider having other people around just in case, if in person

    2. anonymouse*

      It’s not surprising, but it’s a manager’s job to handle these kinds of employees. I am sympathetic to the fact that the LW might be afraid of his reaction, but at that point, it’s on them to come up with a plan for how to fire him in the safest way possible. If the LW is the GM, presumably the gym has an owner or their own supervisor who they could go to about this and just say, “I need to fire X but I am concerned about the possibility that he will get belligerent or violent based on his behavior in the past. What can I do to ensure my safety and the safety of our members and other employees?”

  55. bluephone*

    That trainer sounds like a peach [/s]

    No one likes firing people but here’s the thing, LW1: you can fire him now. Or you can fire him after someone complains about him on social media and/or the 6 ‘o clock news. Which sounds less overwhelming?

  56. ABC*

    As a gym manager, you need to explain what your gym culture is in no nonsense terms. tell him he knows his past behavior is not in alignment with your culture and he has a choice, align his behavior with your culture or find a gym that aligns with his. There are gyms, and clients, that seek his type of actions, which is fine, its their choice and people pay to be in those types of gyms. But i would offer it as a choice, step up or step out. Chalk it up to not being a good fit, then going forward write policies and procedures on how to handle plus a trainer “handbook” on your culture and expectations.

  57. a nony mouse*

    I’m not a gym rat, but I have been going regularly for years, and if I saw a staff member humiliating anyone in the gym, I would be marching up to the front desk to ensure he was fired on the spot or cancel my membership

    1. irene adler*

      Exactly! You’d think clients would be filing complaints -on the regular- against such egregious behavior.

      I know a few dedicated gym rats (body builders and such) and they do not behave like the employee. They would be quick to complain about same.

  58. Emily*

    I’m wondering if there’s a reason that the OP1 has not to fired the trainer already, that wasn’t clearly articulated in the letter. Otherwise the answer to this letter feels like a no-brainer, but sometimes there are more considerations.

    What makes me think is that the ‘hothead’ description in the letter doesn’t fit, it’s not like the trainer behaves aggressively when he’s angry, he just acts unprofessionally even when he’s in a good mood (laughing at a customer, swearing while working out). So this suggests it’s possible he genuinely thinks it’s ok.
    Why would that be?
    I think a reasonable guess is that this trainer is in fact, rather effective at bonding with some customers in the gym. Maybe making fun of the ‘weak’ and swearing a lot is how he gets respect from the tough-guy ‘bro’ clients?
    If he feels popular among certain types of customers, he might genuinely think he’s doing his job fine, and not believe that OP would actually fire a popular coach for a silly little breach of protocol (in his mind).
    So maybe the solution is, indeed, to sit down with him and explain to him the concept of legal liability if a customer gets injured, or that fact that making a few customers happy isn’t worth all the other customers who are likely quietly quitting. Basically explain the impact it has on your business.
    Not that I really think this would work with this type of guy, to be honest, but it might at least give OP a sense that they tried everything they could before firing.

  59. PeanutButter*

    LW 2: Over the years I have had multiple co-workers take 6+ month sabbaticals specifically to hike the PCT. I don’t think it would have ever crossed anyone’s mind to think taking it was “unprofessional” or anything.

    LW 5: I worked graveyards in healthcare for almost 10 years. You’d think hospitals would be used to scheduling around night shifters, but noooooo. Every time one of those “our employees are unhappy, what can we do??? (Besides hire more staff and pay more.)” surveys came out I put “have Executives hold mandatory meetings at 0200 to accommodate night shift” in the free form boxes. They tried once. It was COMEDY GOLD to watch the brass try to keep their thoughts together while presenting to an auditorium full of take-no-sh-t night shift hospital workers. Subsequent meetings had “early” (~0700) and “late” (~2200) options for people on night shift. My advice – do you have the ability to schedule meetings? Schedule them at 0200. I used the same technique for family that would insist on calling me in the middle of the afternoon, I’d call them in the middle of the night. It usually only takes once or twice for people to get the idea.

  60. Umiel12*

    LW#5: I feel your pain. I had a job that was overnight, but it started earlier than yours. More than once I accommodated a request for meetings in what would have been my “nighttime,” but they were close enough to my wake schedule that I was able to make it work. One time (I repeat, one time) I was not able to come in when they had scheduled a mandatory training. I worked with them to try to find another time for the meeting, but they were inflexible. In frustration, I suggested they have the meeting at 11:00 PM, and they told me I was being a jerk. They didn’t think asking me to come in at 10:00 AM was unreasonable, however. This wasn’t a situation where they forgot or just didn’t know my schedule; they just didn’t care. We were not able to make it work that one time, and I had to miss the training. When I had my performance review that year, they indicated that I was inflexible with my schedule. When I pointed out that I routinely found a way to show up at meetings outside my regular schedule, they brought up the one time and said that made me inflexible. I don’t miss working there.

  61. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    OP #2: Try this phrasing “Yes! I’m taking a 6 month sabbatical to fulfill a life long dream/cross off a bucket list item of hiking the PCT. I’m really excited about it, here’s how you can follow along on my progress if your interested” (Insert whatever tracking/progress journey app/website you’re using.

    Benefits of this phrasing:
    -You’re offering an explanation for your absence but not justifying it. (Remember: Your company not staffing appropriately is not your fault or responsibility)
    -You’re letting people know that this is a big deal! You’re not just “taking time off to go hiking” you’re committing to a months long journey on foot from one end of the country to another!
    -You’re giving them a way to share in your enthusiasm with the tracking stuff.

  62. Observer*

    #1 – You’ve gotten quite a pile on. Please take it seriously.

    Something that I didn’t really see addressed is your PERSONAL liability. Not only could you lose your job, you could become unhireable. And if something bad were to happen, I would not be shocked if the victim (or victim’s family) didn’t come after you personally, as well as the company.

  63. Observer*

    #3- In addition to the resources Alison mentioned, your boss should go to the police. Some of what you describe is not cyberstalking, which the police are pretty bad at, but have spilled into the “real world”.

    It’s much better to have these folks looking at this – HR does not have the tools to really investigate this, even if it is the former employee, and certainly not if anyone else is involved.

  64. Observer*

    #4- I agree with Alison. Do NOT engage with her. Oh, and do NOT take on the “projects” and “assignments” that she tries to give you. Again, do not engage, just don’t accept it.

    If you DO need to address it, it’s with your boss – you should tell them that you’re just trying to get your work done, and are staying out of her way.

  65. Gnome*

    OP 1…

    You want folks to come in and pay to use your equipment, right? Well, this guy is limiting your market to those with really thick skin, already know how to use the equipment, and don’t mind angry/loud/aggressive folks where they work out. Why have you been letting him hurt your business like this? Humiliating clients??

    If one immediate training on “here is how we expect you to handle patrons who break rules” didn’t fix it, then he should be gone.

    As a short woman, I hate working out at gyms because of guys like this making me feel unsafe. They have never been EMPLOYED there!

  66. Janie*

    Re: The gym manager. I absolutely can assure him that he has already lost clients and customers, and that the reputation of the gym is already trashed. As an athlete, in my experience, we ALL talk. Freely. And everyone knows the reputation of every gym, trainer, and coach in the area.

    He may also find it illuminating to look at his female membership and retention rates because the kind of behavior he is describing makes his facility and unsafe place for everyone, but especially for women.

    Additionally, the fact that he has tolerated it for so long tell me that there are likely other problems (and he himself may be one of them) because this doesn’t happen overnight. In addition to firing the trainer, the GM may also want to consider going into another line of business himself.

  67. GrindSnore*

    LW5- this is one of the worst things about night shift and it will never stop. If you have day shift counterparts they will always schedule to their convenience because they literally do not think about your sleep schedule because it’s not a normal part of business considerations. It’s not intentional to disrupt your life, it’s just an unfixable cluelessness. You’ll be lucky if you can get your friends and family to not call you at all hours

  68. Dasein9*

    LW #2, congratulations on getting to take your dream trip!

    I wonder if, from a marketing perspective, it would help to speak of this trip a little bit in office terms, as a project that is finally coming to fruition after a lot of work.

    A trip like the one you’re taking is no mere whim; it takes a lot of planning and resources. Most of us don’t have the money to not-work for 6 months, so that probably took a lot of saving. Even if you can afford that, though, the time and financial costs of equipment and trial runs and research and failed experiments are all pretty significant. Describing the trip as something you’ve been working toward for a long time and finally get to do might frame it in a way that cuts down on co-worker resentment.

    You shouldn’t have to manage this, of course, but humans being humans, you might be doing yourself a favor if you head off some of the resentment coworkers may be prone to by giving them a glimpse of how long this has been in the works.

    1. Lobsterman*

      To be more nuanced, sell the gym/franchise license and get a different job. If you can’t fire someone who is like this, you don’t want the job of hire/fire. It sounds like you’d be much happier in a more structured environment where others will enforce boundaries against deviancy.

  69. TrailNameTopsy*

    Just chiming in to say congrats to OP #2 on taking the leap to do your dream hike! I hiked the PCT back in 2018, and have been day dreaming about going on another thru-hike ever since. Just be prepared that once you come back, you will be longing for the mountains every day since.

    I quit my job to do my hike, and I was leaving after three burnt out years of being overworked and underpaid. Testing yourself physically and mentally for six months can help you put your “regular life” (especially with a difficult work environment) into perspective. I had trail family members who went on unpaid leave from difficult jobs, it was just the thing they needed to recharge and keep going. Good for you OP for going for it!

    Are you going NOBO or SOBO? And when you get there, be sure not to skip the Pie Shop in Julian, the Paradise Valley Cafe, and the bakery in Stehekin (for the best cinnamon rolls I’ve ever had!).

    1. OP#2*

      NOBO! I’m already looking forward to the eating.

      Burnout is certainly a large part of “why now” – I’m hoping the 6 months will help recharge me enough to at least give me more time to figure out my next steps. We’ve been understaffed on my immediate team since I joined it 3 years ago and it doesn’t seem likely to end anytime soon.

  70. zebra*

    OP 2, go ahead and say what the reason is. If you just mysteriously disappear for six months, people will start to gossip and speculate, and it’s better for everyone if you’re just honest about what you’re doing. I have a [not close] colleague who’s currently on a three month silent Buddhist retreat thing and everyone was really supportive of him taking the time to do it.

    The one thing I would hold back on is maybe don’t ask people to follow along on your instagram when you announce it. If you do have any coworkers who are going to be bitter that you’re out this long, making it easier for them to get periodic reminders of the amazing trip you’re having will only make it worse. If anyone responds to you with genuine enthusiasm and curiosity, go ahead and offer it, but I wouldn’t make the link available unless people ask for it. And if people are getting snarky or bitter, just remind them that they’re free to pursue a similar option if they want to; you’re not the one who approved this for yourself! You can say something like “Well if you’re interested in doing something similar, you can always talk to [boss] about taking a sabbatical yourself!” Your colleagues don’t need to know how close you came to quitting over this and they don’t need to know your boss’s reasons for giving you the promotion if they do end up giving it to you. The staffing issues at your organization are not your fault individually.

  71. Sal*

    I had a coworker take paid leave (she had the time accrued) to through-hike the PCT! We are lawyers and caseloads were deranged but people took months of paid leave for maternity/paternity leave (you could accrue a lot of paid time off in that job). I never heard so much as a grumble (although I had taken a long maternity leave, so I was especially happy to see her taking time off for something important to her). I would love to see this sort of thing normalized! I think you should tell people!

  72. Sleeve McQueen*

    OP1 on top of all the excellent points made above, here’s one more: a PT that’s going to lose their mind about people not returning weights properly should find another profession. Should people put the weights away? 100% Do they? No, and you need to accept that there’s always going to be a few jerks and put the weights away before someone trips.

  73. SlothLover*

    LW #2 — You will LOVE the PCT. My brother and Sister-in-Law did a thru-hike of the PCT in 2006, the AT in 2008, and the CDT in 2010. We got to live vicariously through them. I say you tell them why. I think they will want to follow along with you. Do you have a support team who can send you supplies via general delivery so you don’t have to carry 4 sets of hiking boots with you? Now I want to follow along with you hike and hear all about the Trail Angels you encounter, hear what your trail name will be…. Oh, look at me, going all nostalgic here. :) (Full disclosure: No. I would never be able to hike it myself, and will have to live with other’s stories of the trails.) Good luck. You’ll love it.

  74. DJ Abbott*

    OP1, I haven’t read all the comments and don’t know if this has already been mentioned. When you fire the trainer have someone with you, in case he gets violent. He really sounds like the type.

  75. The Witch of Sanity's Annex*

    LW #1 we have a saying that I think applies here. DTMFA Dump That (um…use your imagination) Already! In this case we’ll go with Mangy Fool?

    LW#5 It takes a loooong while and a LOT of push back to get folks to remember not to schedule the 3rd shifters for daytime meetings. I usually use a “sorry I’m not available at those times, due to my shift schedule I can only do morning meetings before (insert reasonable time here).”
    Please DO NOT follow my example and in a fit of “this zoom meeting is BS (no, really BS team building or some such) why am I even here in the middle of my sleep time (seriously, they had meeting times WAY earlier in the day that I could have been in)???” anger and snap off a reply to your GrandBoss ribbing you about yawning during the BS meeting with “OK Let’s have the next one of these at 2AM and I can guarantee *I* won’t yawn.”
    No, I did not get fired. Great GrandBoss was sitting in and laughed his whole face off at GrandBoss with a “Sanity’s Annex is right, you know.” And then told me to go to bed.

  76. raida7*

    4. Should I tell my coworker to leave me out of her drama?

    Personally I’d be talking to HR, since two of the C-suite got involved, and ask what their advice is to staff that have gossip spread about them – this person hasn’t just said you are the favourite, they have said you hate them. That right there is a specific thing about you and your behaviour or opinion that they have made up and complained about – surely this hateful behaviour should be brought up with HR, and not gossiped about to anyone but your team, yes?

    It may well be this lady is aware she’s on thin ice in some way so is setting up her manager as being hostile to avoid being fired, or drag out the process, or hopefully be transferred instead, and part of that plan involves making sure that you are making it harder for you to be successful in your role. If it were true, what she’s saying, then the manager giving you half of her work to do when she’s fired could be that you’d talked yourself up to the manager and talked her down and clearly this was all a plan to get her out of your way, for example

  77. raida7*

    5. Day meetings for night shift workers

    Does your company use any calendar software with scheduling built in? in Outlook, for example, you can set work hours so that people can easily see when arranging meetings what times work for which people

  78. Betsy S*

    We have people all over the world and on multiple shifts and on two-week rotating shifts, so we spend a LOT of time thinking about this. .

    Big all-hands are usually at two opposite points , like 8am and 8pm. For the biggest, they have one live and two replays on the next two shifts, with questions in advance, then regional or shift managers hold a check-in afterwards for questions. These folks also handle the smaller meetings.

    For our small team meetings we just try to be flexible and mind the schedules. We know who the early birds and night owls are. US folks may drop into chat after dinner to catch the morning IST team or vice versa. People do block out their calendars. I might ask someone to stretch an hour , max, but only if it is very important and impossible to fit the key players.

  79. Betsy S*

    A bunch of specific suggestions that may help:

    For tech things it can work to BOTH write down instructions AND explain to a person whose shift overlaps the next shift. (and allow time for questions to loop back!)

    -block out your working hours in your calendar, as mentioned above. I also put in appt’s or out-of-office when I need to leave by a certain time (or when someone in PST has a bad habit..)

    -put your hours into your email signature

    -If your software allows it (like Microsoft Teams or Slack) have your away status message show your hours
    (but not out-of-office autoreply, too annoying)

    -We use invites for when people are out on vacation and such. Must set to Free, No Notifications,recurring.
    if your boss is agreeable, send an invite to a recurring calendar event called “Bob’s Hours”

    -A standing check-in can also help. If your boss knows they will be talking to you Monday and Thursday at 9:30, they will find it easier to wait.

    -standing project meetings ARE a challenge. For a 1-10 shift, 2:30 is a nonstarter, but might it work to stay a couple hours late one fixed day a week for meetings, and cut another day short?

    -Sometimes I’ve nudged people to move other meetings – like f’rinstance asking if they have an early am meeting they can move to 2:30 to free a time for yours. If your calendar has any sort of schedule picker, like Outlook’s, *master* it.

    -Your software may also let you auto-reject meetings outside of your work hours or that you have a conflict with.

    -tip for global teams – your computer may let you set the display to multiple times. And Google can answer ‘what time is 10 am EST Thursday in IST?”

    Fun thing – time changes and recurring meetings. I’m in the US and my meetings that are scheduled by IN folks are an hour earlier for four months a year, and the flip side for them and US meetings. We play ‘schedule tetris’ twice a year. Then other countries change on other dates. Nobody knows what time it is, really!

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