my employee keeps fake quitting

A reader writes:

I hired an employee less than 90 days ago. The team had not been fully staffed for several months and was happy to have him. A month after starting, he came into my office and started a meeting by saying, straight-faced, “I’ve been here a month, and I’ve decided to offer my resignation.” After a few seconds, he smiled and said he was kidding. He is not known for having a sense of humor. A couple of weeks ago, he walked into my office and handed me a single sheet of bonded stationery and again said, ” I’ve decided to tender my resignation.” After I took the sheet of paper, he explained instead that it was a thank-you note for being allowed to attend a trading program.

I have a very good sense of humor. I didn’t find either of these incidents funny. His work product is very good. His “soft” skills (beyond these incidents) are lacking. If he does something like this again, can I accept his resignation — whether he was joking or not?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Employee is returning after a sensitive leave of absence
  • How can I ward off coworkers who will want to touch my pregnant belly?
  • Should I alert rejected candidates that we have another opening they’d be good for?

{ 276 comments… read them below }

  1. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

    I thought this was going to be like what happened at a former office of mine, where an employee screamed in anger and stormed out with a box of her things, saying she was quitting, and then showed up again on Monday and acted like nothing happened.

    1. Kshoosh*

      Did you work at George Costanza’s office? (also can’t believe I’m the first with the Seinfeld reference!)

      1. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

        Is this a Seinfeld episode?? It sure felt like I was living in one when I worked there.

        The weirdest thing is that NO ONE SAID ANYTHING.

        1. M.C.*

          It is. He quits, realizes he made a mistake, and then tries to go back in like nothing happened.

          1. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

            Yes!! Everyone just ignored it! Then a few weeks later she quit for real.

            It wasn’t even the weirdest thing that happened there.

        2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Is this a Seinfeld episode?? It sure felt like I was living in one when I worked there.

          It’s either the A or B plot to the pilot for NewsRadio. The new boss has to fire the old boss, who apparently quits multiple times per day as a way of relieving workplace stress.

          1. Reluctant Mezzo*

            My father-in-law had an employee like that who was always ‘fake retiring’. Eventually, he drove the papers up to the headquarters and gave it to them. She was not amused, but she was stuck (and from all reports, nobody but her was unhappy about it).

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      We had an employee who screamed in anger that she quit, and her boss immediately scream-retorted, “I ACCEPT YOUR RESIGNATION!” And then the person tried to come back in on Monday like nothing happened, but her boss wouldn’t un-accept her resignation. But she compromised by letting her work out a two-week “notice”.

      Moral of the story, don’t fake quit if you don’t *really* want your resignation accepted.

      1. Christmas Cactus*

        First thing on a Monday morning the problematic person in our office went to his immediate boss, tossed a copy of the big Sunday help wanted section onto bosses desk (yes, back in the day!), points to a couple of ads where he circled the salaries, and says that he is quitting unless he gets a raise to the higher salary. The boss, thinking fast, says that it is not possible for our organization (a gov’t-adjacent non-profit) to raise the employee’s salary to that level so his resignation is accepted. As the employee walked away I saw the look on their face –priceless. The boss quickly went to the office next to his for my boss (the HR head) and they ran to the grandboss’s office and told him what had gone down with the problem child. The grand boss and my boss then quickly walked the two blocks to the outside counsel’s office and returned within the hour with a document for the employee to sign. I understood it specified that the resignation was voluntary (goodbye unemployment benefits!), the company would provide a neutral reference and pay a severance in addition to the payout of unused vacation (a lot since we had European style vacation accruals) in exchange for the employee to cease the actions involving other employees that made him a problem child. The behavior appeared to be attempts to collect material for possible blackmail and would be reported to a gov’t security agency for investigation if he tried it again. He signed the document and was handed a check and a box for his belongings. His boss watched him collect his stuff and walked him out of the building well before lunch. The receptionist was told to not buzz him into the office and to call the police if he showed up.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Ha. I love a tale that ends in comeuppance, and I would have loved to see the look on his face the whole time the consequences of his actions were happening to him.

          1. Christmas Cactus*

            Trying not to get too specific even though this was 35+ years ago. When it was formed, the organization’s focus was partially a cover for, let’s say, “other activities” outside the U.S. Those activities had long stopped by the time I was hired and I wholeheartedly support the refocused mission to this day. I learned some aspects of the former activities as part of my job. The problem person was in finance and knew about the company’s history, as did everyone who worked there. I suspect that problem child, who was nosy about anything and everything to the point of rummaging through trash cans when he thought no one saw him, found old records of financial info linked to the “other activities” that included the names of people still working for the company in administrative functions overseas. Public disclosure would not have been a good look for the organization, to say the least. What we knew for sure was that he went to the hometown of one of those overseas admin guys we all worked with , found the house of his elderly mother, and started asking neighbors and shop owners if anyone knew anything about him, etc. Someone who kept in contact with the overseas guy alerted him and problem child was questioned. I heard from my boss that he claimed he was just passing through on road trip from our city to X but the hometown was 50 miles away from the interstate route usually taken to X. Since no laws were broken and legal counsel believed that a case dismissal for misconduct could not be sustained along with the risk of bad publicity, the employee was given a warning and told that any further attempts to look into the background of any employee or otherwise look for information not directly related to his daily work would not be tolerated. I could write a book about some of other stuff this guy did.

              1. Christmas Cactus*

                There was a lot of odd stuff with this guy, like how many 30 year old men wear saddle shoes to work! For a while I had to work in a cubicle near his desk. I handled confidential information. We caught him trying to listen to my phone calls and look at stuff on my desk so I had to find an empty office for calls and lock up documents when I left my desk. He was egotistical. For a while some of us office staffers suspected he might have gotten mixed up with folks dealing drugs via a sketchy temp hire (they would come back from lunch high as a kite) and an alleged girlfriend whom he said was a fight attendant. My take on this was than management -no dummies and genuinely devoted to the company and its mission- overlooked the nonsense because this guy had poked around and found some knowledge (where some “bodies had been buried” before the company re-directed) that would be a PR disaster if made public. They had to wait until they could see him leave with their interests protected.
                As I said before, I was aware of what had gone on and why before the company changed and have no problem whatsoever with it. It’s actually not very secret at all now. Since my days there, a number of works have been published about them in pre-reform days and the papers of people who were part of that work are publicly available.
                It was the best job I ever had (despite the problem child) and the best boss. I only left to raise my family.

    3. Can Can Cannot*

      We had someone do something similar, but with the added twist of a threat against one of our employees. Apparently he was a bit frustrated, and said to his manager, “Fergus is making my life hell, I am going to rip his head off one of these days.” A few minutes later he shouted “I’m outta here, you couldn’t pay me enough to do this job.” He then left the office, about two hours before we usually end the day.

      Because of the threat, we took him at his word and that evening sent a courier to his home with a letter accepting his resignation. We also included a box of his belongings and a (small) severance check. He later tried to have a lawyer intervene, stating that he hadn’t resigned, but nothing came of it. We were just happy to have him gone.

    4. Green Goose*

      Actually, this just triggered a memory: At my husband’s company office, there are two companies that work out of the building but the building is owned by my husband’s CEO. One day my husband was working and heard a kerfuffle by the front door. Yelling and then a slamming sound. People looked up and one of the employees from the other company had gotten in an argument with his boss and then left with his bike in a huff and had angrily rammed his bike into the front door to open it. Well, he broke it!
      He spent a minute or so trying to fix it but then just biked away. That’s not even the shocking part…. he was not fired! He was back at work after that. The company did pay for the door to be repaired but I really cannot imagine, that would have been an immediate termination at my job.

    5. The OG Sleepless*

      My dad was an elected official in our small town, and he uncharacteristically lost it in a very contentious meeting once. He stood up and pointed at each of them in turn and shouted “F you, f you, and f you!” and walked out.

      And then felt really stupid and terrible. And had to backtrack with all of these people that he had known and worked with for years. They were very kind and had a good laugh over it, and it was never mentioned again; he had a lifelong reputation as an even-tempered and reasonable guy. But wow, his face when he told this story…

      1. Tupac Coachella*

        I’m kinda in love with this story right now. I’m imagining it in full detail, and it’s just…glorious.

        But in all seriousness, this is a very real testament to the power of being professional and reasonable as a rule. Everyone has bad days, and when you keep it under control the overwhelming majority of the time, people tend to be a LOT more willing to give you grace if there comes a day when you lose your cool.

  2. Warrior Princess Xena*

    For LW #3: it is so bizarre to me that people will just walk up to a coworker and touch them on the stomach without their explicit permission. I can’t imagine getting more physical than a tap on the shoulder to get their attention without permission. Is this something that people actually do?!

    1. Esmeralda*

      Yes, people do this all the time. Not to me, but my pregnant relatives had this happen a lot. My mom thinks it’s because people want to be connected to the mystical force of a new life (not that she liked people touching her pregnant belly). LOL. Gotta love mom.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        It does happen a lot. I had to warn coworkers that I will likely vomit on them if they touch my belly, because morning sickness isn’t just in the mornings. That kept the belly rubs at bay.

    2. LunaLena*

      It’s common enough that I made a stop sign design that says “ASK before you touch” to go on maternity shirts.

      1. Salymander*

        That is really smart. I wish I had had a stop sign shirt when I was pregnant. Or even just a big stop sign! I could swing it around alarmingly if people looked too touchy-feely. In my prenatal yoga class, we contemplated attaching mousetraps to our bellies, but that was just a joke. Mostly.

    3. Liz*

      I didn’t even touch my closest friend’s bellies when they were pregnant, unless they initiated it, OR I asked! I’d never do it to a co-worker I don’t know well.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        My best friend was pregnant with twins. I felt them kick both times she invited me to touch. And that’s it. And that’s fine.

      2. anonymous73*

        Same here. It’s so rude. I’m thankful I’ve never been pregnant because I would have been an asshole about people touching me.

        1. Anonymous4*

          I’m become fiercely angry when being groped, and it wouldn’t matter if I’m pregnant or not. “I just HAVE to pat your belly!” is just the same as, “I just HAVE to grab your breasts!” or “I just HAVE to stroke your butt!”

          No, no, and no!

        2. MigraineMonth*

          I’m suddenly glad for quarantine. I’m not pregnant, but that’s people’s first assumption. Trust me, folks, you aren’t going to feel my ovarian cyst kick no matter how large it is or how long you wait.

      3. Amy Farrah Fowler*

        Right?! I can see doing this with my absolute best friend, maybe my sister… but even then, you don’t touch people without consent. That’s just basic human decency.

      4. Midwest Manager*

        I never had this happen to me when I was pregnant, but I never had a “glow”. I was always hurting and apparently looked like it – people gave me a wide berth.

        1. allathian*

          I used my RBF to my advantage when I was pregnant, even the times in my second trimester when I actually felt pretty good. The only people I let touch my pregnant belly were my husband, because for him it felt like he was bonding with our baby when he’d pat my belly and the baby’d kick his hand, and my best friend’s 3 year old daughter. We were visiting when I was about 7 months pregnant, and I was asked to read her a story while her mom was nursing the baby, “to get the practice”. The daughter asked nicely, so I let her pat my belly. Her mom had drilled her well in that you don’t touch other people without their permission, and that you don’t have to let anyone else touch you if you don’t want to.

          My family’s never been particularly touchy-feely, so my mom would never have dreamed of touching my pregnant belly, and my sister’s childfree by choice. She’s a lovely aunt to my son now that he’s almost a teen, but she wasn’t particularly interested in him until he started talking, and never showed any interest in the physical manifestations of pregnancy. My MIL also respected my boundaries and knew me well enough not to ask. If she had, it would’ve been awkward…

    4. Roy G. Biv*

      Would you ever consider putting your hands upon the torso of another person without explicit invitation to do so? Probably not. So why does the pregnant belly seem to imply invitation? It does not.

    5. old curmudgeon*

      I experienced it with both of my pregnancies in the early-mid 1980s.

      In fairness, I was living in a region of the country where the cultural norms were vastly different from my firmly Midwestern upbringing. There was a belief that if one said something positive or blessed a child or a pregnancy and did not immediately follow that by touching the child or the bump, that something bad would happen to the child or the bump.

      It squicked me out, but at that stage of my life, I wasn’t willing to deal with the fallout that would have resulted from declining the belly-rubs.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        When I was pregnant with my oldest in the ’90s a guy in a restaurant asked if he could bless my baby. I said yes, and he put his hands lightly on my stomach and said some nice words over the baby. I was taken aback because I wasn’t expecting the touch, but in his defense, he DID ask and I DID say yes — I just didn’t realize what I was saying ‘yes’ to Lol

      2. Warrior Princess Xena*

        At least that’s a better reason than just wanting to feel the baby move, though it definitely involves some boundary-crossing

      3. Observer*

        Yeah, that’s not great. But still better than the random touching.

        And I totally sympathize with not wanting to deal with the fallout of pushing back.

    6. The OG Sleepless*

      I hear of this all the time, and it never happened to me a single time (late 90s/early 2000s), even in the evnagelical church I was in at the time. I’ve always wondered why. I do tend to give off sort of a prickly vibe without meaning to, so maybe people thought better of it.

    7. Jen with one n*

      I had a colleague I wasn’t close with and a former manager I wasn’t warm towards both touch me during my first pregnancy. During my second I had a colleague say that she knew I didn’t like being touched, but she was allowed to do it anyway because we were friendly? She stopped when she overheard me ranting to someone else about that. People are the worst with pregnant ladies.

    8. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I think that OP can explain this to her group with the announcement. “Hey, at my last place, when I was pregnant, a few people would touch my belly when they asked about the baby. I don’t know if anyone here would do that. I know some people probably don’t have any issue with it. I’m just asking that nobody do it to me. Thanks!”

      1. singularity*

        Yep, I was pregnant with twins and as soon as my coworkers found out, the touchy-grabby people came out of the woodwork. I made the excuse that the ‘babies’ didn’t like being poked and that seemed to get the point across. Honestly, they didn’t seem to appreciate it much because even if I touched my own belly distractedly it would create a flurry of kicking and wiggling.

        1. allathian*

          Aww, a bit of exercise for them. That said, even with just one baby the kicks can hurt, so I can imagine it was even more uncomfortable with twins… Before my son turned and wedged his head in my pelvis, he had a habit of kicking my bladder when it was full. I peed my pants more than once because of that, and learned to go to the bathroom often to avoid that. After he turned, he took to kicking my diaphragm instead. That wasn’t comfortable, either, but at least there were no more accidents.

    9. LTR,FTP*

      My friend had the BEST response to this. If someone touched her stomach, she’d exclaim “oh, no, that’s a little too close to my vagina!” — and people would recoil as if they’d touched a hot stove. It was honestly hilarious the way bringing the word “vagina” into the mix was so overly boundary crossing to people that didn’t think twice about touching her stomach.

      1. Jess*

        I found it so awkward when I had a (lovely! well-meaning!) coworker who was a belly-toucher. She did it quite early in the pregnancy – definitely at the stage where baby hadn’t ‘popped’ yet, so she was happily patting just my squishy ‘every day’ tummy. I felt like pointing out that if she wanted to touch the ‘bump’ she’d need to go lower and basically aim for my groin…

      2. Salymander*

        That is pretty funny.

        When I was pregnant, strangers (mostly men), would pester me about whether I planned to breast feed. I would typically respond by not-quite-shouting, “It is inappropriate for a stranger to ask me about my breasts!” That usually worked pretty well.

    10. Green Goose*

      At my office there is one woman with a lot of positional power that would totally grab someone’s pregnant belly. It makes it a lot more uncomfortable for the pregnant person when it’s someone who has more positional authority that is stomping their boundaries.

      1. Salymander*

        Yeah that is bad. Like my boss who grabbed my hands and put them on her breasts so I could feel her new breast augmentation. It was weird, and I couldn’t just tell her off because of the power imbalance. I’m so glad I didn’t work for her when I was pregnant!

    11. Rikakaka*

      When I was pregnant, I’d reach out and touch the other person’s belly when that would happen. They’d back up and I’d say, “Oh, sorry! I thought that’s what you wanted to do now.”
      It never happened with the same person twice.

      1. Poppyseeds*

        Oh my goodness I was going to suggest this because same – if we are touching one another then I get a chance to rub your belly too!!!!

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        One friend had a shirt made – only touch my belly if you want the hand broken.

        She was a karate instructor and was in a Dojo, but got her point across to student’s parents pretty well.

      3. Jess*

        Yes – did this once, and it worked. It made the toucher laugh, but it got the message across so I thought of it as a complete win. She wasn’t offended, but she stopped the behaviour!

      4. Salymander*


        “But I thought that was just how we were all greeting each other now!”

    12. Regina Phalange*

      I was pregnant during Covid and the best thing about it (besides never having to go anywhere when I felt like crap) was that no one touched my belly.

      1. Stay-at-Homesteader*

        Yup! First baby, I was working in an office with a lot of busybodies. Second baby, SAHM during covid. It was amazing how no one bothered me about it at all.

    13. One of the Sarahs*

      Many years ago when I was very pregnant, I was an assistant manager at a small family owned convenience store. So many of our customers were regulars, big brawny construction guys, in for lunch every day. One day I stepped out from behind the counter to go to the restroom, and a tourist, as in total stranger, walked up to me and attempted to touch my belly, while saying, “Oh, are you having twins?!” and several of the local guys casually stepped in between us so that I could hurry along and avoid her reaching hands. By the time I came back the woman was gone. My employees said the guys just glared at her until she paid and left.

      People really are different around a pregnant person, I swear. Rules to live by: A. Don’t touch anyone without permission, B. Don’t tell a pregnant woman she’s HUGE, and C. Never come between a very pregnant woman and a bathroom.

      1. La Triviata*

        No experience on the touching, but these days people aren’t shaking hands – and they’re touching/rubbing your pregnant belly? ick

        In regard to the toilet things, at a place I worked years ago, one of the women was pregnant and made a number of mad dashes to the restroom. Well, one day she was making a non-urgent trip to the restroom and got a phone call she had to take. When she got off, it was urgent and she ran to the restroom. Well, another woman would flip up the toilet seat and then hover; she routinely used the first toilet in the row and would leave the seat flipped up. Yes, the desperate pregnant lady ran into the restroom, into the first stall and went to sit down … until she hit the cold, hard porcelain toilet and nearly toppled in. She was NOT happy; she then asked the hovering woman WHY? and never got a coherent answer.

        1. Salymander*

          Unfortunately that is probably what is happening a lot of the time when someone behaves this way. No wonder my eye kept twitching while I was pregnant. I was one belly rub or inappropriate comment away from feeling like one of those little pregnant goats at the petting zoo.

            1. Salymander*

              It was so tempting.

              But no, I mostly just got really loud and embarrassed them. It is amusing how fast people back off when a pregnant person starts telling it like it is, sternly and at top volume. Fortunately I’m tall and have a deep voice, so I’m pretty intimidating once they bother to notice that there is a very angry person attached to the breasts and belly.

    14. The OTHER Other*

      It IS creepy and bizarre but SO many pregnant woman I have known have had not just coworkers but complete strangers come up to touch their bellies on trains, at the grocery store, you name it.

    15. Susan Ivanova*

      This came up back in the days of Usenet and someone there said she planned on getting a belt with spiky studs on it. Touch at your own peril!

    16. ImGladImNotAlone*

      It happened to me once when I announced my pregnancy at 13 weeks–no bump whatsoever. This was a very dysfunctional company. When they found out I was pregnant, they did things like cut off my access to the database, then scold me for giving out info I heard people giving out daily, and then, finally, moving me to a desk right outside of the front door. It was obvious I was going to get sh*t-canned for being pregnant, so I found another job (one that hired me when I was 7 months pregnant and FULLY showing!) and left. Much later, I found out that the creep who had touched my flat belly was fired for sexual harassment.

    17. Jzilbeck*

      If I have to be back in my office by the time I start showing, I’m hoping a simple “hey remember that mandatory sexual harassment training we JUST took?” will be enough to thwart anyone who tries touching my belly without my consent. In the meantime, another perk of not being in the office. ;)

    18. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      I can’t imagine doing that to ANYONE. Even someone in my family or my best friend. I certainly don’t want a bunch of people at work doing that.

    19. Zombeyonce*

      When I was pregnant, a coworker that was visiting from another location came up to me and actually said, “I know, I shouldn’t do this” with a grin AS HE REACHED OUT AND RUBBED MY BELLY. I was too shocked to do anything, but I wanted to punch him. People know better and do it anyway!

    20. CanRelate*

      My friend (who kinda enjoys conflict) would always respond to this by touching the other persons belly back. When they were like “What the hell!!” She would explain that’s what they just did to her, and if they dont want unsolicited belly touches, dont do it to other women!

      It happened to her enough that she was also touching other peoples bellies a lot, so, I guess its pretty common! People are weird.

      (I dont actually recommend this as a method to deter the behaivor, despite being pretty funny)

    21. turquoisecow*

      I’m so relieved my pregnancy was during the pandemic and I spent 99% of my time at home (the remaining 1% was at the doctor’s office). Debating having a second kid knowing I’d have to put up with loads more comments and even unwanted touching.

    22. Amaranth*

      People do it to strangers. What was really jaw dropping for me were the total strangers who would stand in line next to me and tell about their sister’s insanely painful 42-hour labor — or the many tragic ways things could go wrong! Fortunately, it never triggered me to anything but their profoundly bad manners. Most of the time I’d mention its not really a conversation I want to have, and definitely not with strangers. My favorite was a full-on rant a woman had about caffeine –at the coffee shop–she was loud so had alllll the attention so there was that moment of silent astonishment after she stopped lecturing me. Then the barista dryly said “its not caffeinated”.

    23. JustAnotherKate*

      Years ago, a pregnant friend of mine was on the train when the woman next to her (a total stranger) reached over and touched her belly. She said to the woman, “Okay, now can I grab your breast?” The woman was totally offended and said something like “What? No! Of course not, what is WRONG with you?” My friend said, “Hey, you touched my body without MY consent…”

      I so wish I’d been there to see it, if only because I NEVER think up quick comebacks like this.

    1. Poffertjies!*

      My dad is a manager and doesn’t play that. He had an employee try that and dad said “I accept your resignation. I’ll get the paperwork started.” Said employee started backpedaling and didn’t do it again.

      1. cbh*

        exactly my point. how would you ever know if the employee is serious (on any topic) or not. Take it for face value – they say they are quitting, then let’s get the paperwork started.

    2. Anon, still annoyed*

      We have an employee (Big Boss’ protege) who enjoys saying to random employees “you’re fired.” Protege and grand boss a couple of years went into each department head’s office, closed the door and told them they were being let go — before laughing, giving them their Christmas gift from Big Boss and wishing them Merry Christmas. One manager was in tears — and they still repeated the “prank” with other managers. If I’d been one of their victims, I truly think I would have packed my desk, walked out and filed for unemployment.

        1. Beeb*

          Actually it’s literally David Brent from the original. Pretty sure the series starts with him doing this to the British equivalent to Pam

    3. Cait*

      Yes! I think the most direct and immediate solution is to pretend you don’t get the “joke” and take it seriously. Tell him you accept and ask him to start cleaning out his office. I’m guessing he won’t ever “joke” like that again.

  3. Meghan*

    #1: I know this is a re-published letter, but I hope the OP let people know that the employee was *not* on vacation or anything like that. At my old job someone was gone for an extended period of time and when she returned people were like, “Oh, how was your vacation?” While, in fact, she was out because her mother had died and was 1) devastated and 2) taking care of her mothers estate. It was incredibly frustrating for her to tell people, “no, my mother died.”

    I believe the higher ups didn’t correct people when they said she was taking “vacation” so the rumor went about.

      1. Work From Homer Simpson*

        Definitely! You don’t have to give people details but don’t let them think the person was out for vacation either. I was once out for a week after an emergency surgery. I’d told my boss (and his boss) why I was out and the level of detail I was fine with them sharing with other people about why I was out. Apparently they passed on none of this to my coworkers, so when I came back the rumor mill had been running full tilt. There were people who thought I’d been on vacation, people who thought I’d quit, people who thought I had cancer, and even someone who confronted me because they’d heard I’d had an abortion. None of which were even remotely true. Don’t let an information vacuum be filled with crazy rumors about your employee!

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          It sounds like in this case, it might already be known to the people she worked with why she was out: her attempt was at the office, and another coworker found her. But if that wasn’t the case, I might have addressed this at the beginning by sending out an e-mail saying something like “Bleminda will be taking some leave for a while to deal with a health situation. I’ll keep people informed when I hear from her about an expected return date.” That way they know it’s not vacation or quitting, and it should be obvious that a health situation should be kept private unless the person brings it up. It also keeps people from thinking it’s going to be a permanent situation. You still can’t stop people speculating about what the health situation might be, of course, but you can shut down discussion if you hear it by reminding them that a person’s medical concerns are not a good topic for office chat.

        2. Observer*

          so when I came back the rumor mill had been running full tilt.

          and even someone who confronted me because they’d heard I’d had an abortion.

          Good heavens! This goes well beyond the rumor mill in overdrive. Making up stories about people is gross.

          As for confronting you about your fictional abortion, that’s just unspeakable. Even if it were true, who do they think they are!?

        3. Margaretmary*

          The cancer and the abortion both strike me as incredibly bizarre. I mean, if I didn’t know why somebody was out, I’d assume vacation or illness or maybe some kind of family issue, like a relative in hospital or something. I wouldn’t jump to them having cancer or an abortion. And I certainly wouldn’t mention it to them, let alone confront them. It would be no business of that person’s even if you HAD.

          1. Work From Homer Simpson*

            This was not a normal workplace. It seemed to thrive on rumors, the crazier the better. I could write a book about some of the weird things people came up with. Funnily enough, this was a male-dominated workplace and the most gossipy place I’ve ever seen. I have no idea how women get the bad rap for being gossips when these men were far worse than anything I’ve ever seen.

              1. MN_Jen*

                Like how women are the “more emotional gender” because apparently anger is…not an emotion?

    1. oranges*

      In the first year of my first job, I said to a coworker, “how was your vacation?”
      She was out for a funeral, and I’ve never made that mistake again. It’s always a general, “welcome back!”

    2. Elle*

      This happened to me in 2020. My mother died and I spent a three-ish weeks emptying out her apartment (she’d died IN it). When I came back I got a couple of prickly comments along the lines of “wow, I wish *I* could take a whole month off.”

      I almost pointed out that our company has unlimited PTO and that they could in fact do this, and didn’t even have to wait for their mother to die, but that felt way too aggressive.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Heh. I guess I don’t have as much of a filter – I would have done it.

    3. BenAdminGeek*

      They did let folks know. Not in gruesome detail, but they did share the general circumstances (though I assume most people knew because the attempt happened at work).

  4. Richard Hershberger*

    Fake quitter: The best concept to come out of Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is that of the “funny once.” The novel features a computer who controls the functions of the moon colony. As it becomes sentient it also develops a sense of humor. One way this was brought under control was to teach the computer that some jokes are funny over and over, while others are only funny once.

    Were I supervising the merry prankster described in the letter, I would tell him that this was a funny-once joke. That is generous, but an easier sell than “Your sense of humor completely sucks.”

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I’ve had to use that with my kids as they’re refining their ability to tell jokes and make funny comments. They haven’t yet figured out why some things get a laugh and some are total duds. I’ve told them all the best comedians always workshop their stuff for a while to find the jokes or phrasing that get reliable laughs, it’s a learned skill. But sometimes you have to spell it out for them that some things are just not funny and why.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        The kids and book reference remind me of one of the Ramona Quimby stories, where her dad recalled his grandma saying, “first time funny, second time silly, third time spanking.”
        Ramona did not like her father’s grandmother. She was not alone, there’s a polemic online titled “Ramona Quimby’s Grandma was a B****”
        But it has it’s uses:
        If a joke gets a laugh the first time, but a groan the second time, pretty safe bet it’s going to get a negative (frustrated, annoyed, angry) response the third time.

        1. The OTHER Other*

          “first time funny, second time silly, third time spanking.”

          —Desperate wish of every parent whose child goes through the dreaded knock-knock joke phase.

          1. Evelyn Carnahan*

            You could always take my grandmother’s approach. When we were little, if we told GM a knock-knock joke, she would tell us a knock-knock of her own. They were not jokes. An example:

            GM: Knock knock
            Us: Who’s there?
            GM: Snow
            Us: Snow who?
            GM: Snow white

            I don’t think this was an intentional strategy by my grandmother, but it did get all the grandkids over knock knock jokes very quickly.

          2. Zombeyonce*

            *raises hand*

            My 2yo is currently figuring out jokes and begins every joke (especially “why did the chicken cross the road” jokes) with “knock knock.” It was adorable at first, but he’s figured out that we smile at it so continues and it’s now approaching the third time frustration.

    2. Purple Cat*

      This is a really good concept that I’ve never heard of.
      Good soft out for things that weren’t even really that funny once, but not so egregious they need to be called out dramatically. Let it happen *once* and that’s it.

    3. Smithy*

      I love this as it also offers a bit of face saving, particularly for a joke that’s not truly rude/crude/awful – just not particularly funny and not great in the work context. And if it’s part of a larger soft skill challenge, finding ways to correct or redirect that are to the point but also allow for someone to maintain that their personality/humor isn’t somehow holistically flawed in all walks of their life.

    4. Podkayne*

      One of the top 10 books of all time, in my opinion! Not to mention an excellent primer for revolution.

    5. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I wish more people grokked the phrase, “That’s a funny-once, Man”—both the reference and the sentiment.

      See also John Scalzi’s definition of “the failure mode of clever.”

      1. linger*

        Oooh, I just remembered Fredric Brown’s short story “Placet is a Crazy Place”, in which a noisy communication line saves the protagonist from a resignation he almost immediately regrets, because he’s misunderstood as making a job recommendation for “Ike Witt”.

  5. Becky S.*

    I think a good response to someone who says anything insulting/stupid , then follows up with “I’m just kidding” is…. “I’m sure you’re capable of being funnier than that.”

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      “And yet I’m not laughing.”

      Not being cruel, but also being clear about what is and is not okay to joke about. For someone who is already known to be struggling with the soft skills, you need to be even more clear than normal.

    2. Evelyn Carnahan*

      I like “I don’t get the joke.” If they try to explain it, “I don’t think that’s funny.”

      1. Anonymous4*

        When I was working with the public, some guys thought it was hilarious to tell a ‘joke’ based on racism or sexist. When they did, I’d sit there with the same expression through the ‘joke’ and the punchline.

        When they repeated the punchline a couple of times and I didn’t react, they’d say, “What’s the matter? Don’t you get it?”

        “Oh, I heard what you said; I’m waiting for the funny part.”

        They usually didn’t tell me any more ‘jokes.’

      2. MN_Jen*

        That’s similar to what I do with my middle school students when they make an inappropriate joke.

        “I don’t get it…can you explain it to me?”

      3. Hannah Lee*

        The “I don’t get the joke, explain it to me” is a good response because it forces the ‘joker’ to essentially say the quiet part out loud and own whatever jerk-perspective (usually bigotry, but sometimes just general not niceness) so you can focus your objection on that, side-stepping any accusations of no sense of humor.

  6. Critical Rolls*

    Regarding the pregnant-belly-touchers, in these times, you can use pandemic precautions as a shield against the touchy-feely. “I appreciate your socially distanced well-wishes!”

  7. Michelle Smith*

    #4 – As someone who has been applying unsuccessfully for almost 2 full years now to find a different job (I am currently employed, just hate my job), absolutely follow up with those candidates. They might not still be available, but they might be in a situation like me where they are employed but looking for a new opportunity and what you have to offer just might be it. Even if they’re not available anymore/still interested right now at this moment, you never know what kind of connection you could build that would benefit you both in the future.

    1. Sara without an H*

      True. Even if they’re no longer available, they may know someone who is.

      (And good luck with your job search!)

  8. Esmeralda*

    OP #3: you can develop a mega RBF…lol, nobody touched my belly when I was pregnant.

    Otherwise, I’d say that if anyone reaches out to touch you, step back and hold out your hand in a “stop” motion, and say, Please don’t touch my body. If they get weird or huffy about it, that’s on them. Do not apologize and do not argue.

    And if it happens in the grocery store, be sure to say it really loudly. You *want* to embarrass people who thinks it’s ok to touch a stranger. Return awkward to sender.

    1. Lightning*

      The RBF worked for me too! Two pregnancies and not a single touch attempt… It’s good for some things!

    2. anonymous73*

      I’ve never been pregnant, but have RBF and I 100% agree with you. I don’t understand why people think it’s okay to touch someone without their permission just because they’re pregnant. Even with friends that I consider family, I would ask before I touched the belly.

    3. Critical Rolls*

      I call it my f-off force field. Had no issues, lol. But I do understand that I don’t do it consciously and it may not be replicable, so other techniques are good to have available as well.

    4. COHikerGirl*

      I was worried about strangers touching me when I was pregnant but somehow got lucky. I definitely have RBF (I’ve seen it myself…the phrase 100% fits) but I think my looking young may have helped…I was 22 but would still occasionally get carded at R rated movies. Maybe. I was also small throughout (losing weight in the first trimester does that), so that may have helped. Whatever it was, I am very grateful no one touched me because I have a large personal bubble and cannot think on my feet quickly!

    5. Salymander*

      I have a pretty good case of rbf, but when I was pregnant it lost a lot of it’s strength. It actually confused me until I realized that no one was actually looking me in the face. The same thing happened with weird people commenting about breast feeding. My breasts went from a B to a D cup almost overnight, and folks were talking to my breasts, not my face.

  9. Kevin Sours*

    Maybe I’m off base but after only three months unless there were some kind of legal obligation to repost the position I wouldn’t think it amiss to simply extend an offer if one of the two prior candidates is still available. Saves you the hassle and makes it less likely that a candidate that you determined is an asset to the team turns you down.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Good point. Assuming it’s allowed by laws & company policy, if it’s the exact same job I don’t think you have any sort of obligation to post it publicly when you might be about to fast-track an offer.

      1. freddy*

        As long as it’s the same position classification, duties, and salary, our HR folks let us extend a second job offer in this case. It has only come up occasionally, but it has saved us SO much hiring process time when it does work out!

    2. hbc*

      I thought the same thing. So close in time, I’d just consider this a “whoops, that last search was to fill two positions and we delayed making the second offer.” Only if they both decline would I go through all the hassle of starting a new search.

    3. Oui oui oui all the way home*

      I completely agree! It seems unkind to make them jump through hoops again for the same job they barely missed out on a few months ago. If one or both of these excellent candidates are turned down for the same job twice in a row, chances are the company will lose them for good.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        I would be concerned that they might turn down the opportunity to interview a second time if they have other options on the basis of “what’s different this time?”. Your perspective may be that we had three great candidates and wished we could hire all of them. But the candidate’s perspective is that what they showed wasn’t enough — and what they have to show isn’t going to be materially different now. You know what they say about “doing the same thing and expecting different results”.

        And, ultimately, *why* do you need to interview them again? How is that going to fundamentally inform your decision making process? If you *have* to interview other candidates can just do it and contact the previous ones if you decide they are the best options?

  10. Grace*

    #3: I feel your pain! I am 14 weeks pregnant with no belly bump whatsoever and someone has already come up to touch my stomach. Then said “You don’t look pregnant.”
    I was so shocked I didn’t know how to respond! I can only imagine how much worse things get when you have a visibly pregnant abdomen.

    1. Daisy-dog*

      One of the reasons I haven’t wanted to get pregnant yet is because I do not want people touching me. There are a number of shirts on Etsy that say things like “If you didn’t put it there, don’t touch it” and “Touching my baby bump will result in getting throat punched” and even just a “no” symbol on your belly. Obviously not appropriate in most work settings.

      Might have been the only benefit of having a pandemic baby.

        1. mreasy*

          This is actually an incredible idea. Give them direct knowledge of how invasive it is!

          1. caramel*

            No. It is open season for perverts who can hide behind the excuse of touching someone when they are pregnant

            1. Amaranth*

              I’ve never seen a man try to touch a woman’s belly, I just assumed its that ‘we’re all sisters in the miraculous ability to bring forth LIFE!’ attitude that makes women feel entitled.

    2. Sara without an H*

      I wonder what would happen if you (and everybody subjected to this kind of harassment) would respond by gasping loudly and doubling over as if in pain???

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        If you’ve got any advanced warning, try intercepting their hand and change it into a handshake. If they’re going in with their opposite hand, it’s a little trickier …a double-handed handshake might be needed.
        Still more contact than you want with some people, but at least it’s slightly less invasive.

    3. Cera*

      A family member did that to me while I was about that far along. I directly asked her why she was rubbing my fat. While it didn’t stop the behavior for the remainder of the pregnancy it definitely toned it down.

    4. caramel*

      Start shouting COVID as soon as someone gets close. I would also wear a shirt saying ‘don’t harm my baby by touching me during COVID’.

  11. El l*

    #1: I wouldn’t even wait for him to do it again, just the next time you have a one-on-one. “I’m going to give you a chance to explain this. I’ve seen you play the ‘I’m quitting’ joke twice. It makes me wonder what exactly your objective was, and please don’t tell me, ‘It’s just a joke,’ that’s not good enough. So tell me what message you were trying to send with this. I’m listening.”

    FWIW, my guess is that he has some kind of issue he’s obliquely trying to address.

    1. Essess*

      I agree with this. If he tries to insist on “it’s a joke” I would tell him that I need to be able to trust his words and actions when he’s in the office so this is not an appropriate joke.

    2. Rocket*

      People make jokes that aren’t funny all the time. They don’t have to have a hidden agenda. I think it’s way less likely this guy is trying to subliminally address an issue than it is he’s just making a bad joke.

    3. Ace in the Hole*

      I would go a step further and end that conversation by saying, “Just to be clear: going forward, this is not something you can joke about with me. Next time you offer your resignation, I will accept it whether you are joking or not.”

    4. Huh*

      You’re not actually going to give them a chance to explain it if you then take possible explanations off the table. This is an excellent way to back an employee into a corner and make them defensive.

      1. Ariaflame*

        There are many jokes that they could have told, but they told this one, repeatedly. So, they can either stop telling that joke, or explain why they feel so compelled to tell that particular ‘joke’.

  12. LMB*

    I actually disagree with the advice to ignore the elephant in the room with the employee returning from leave. Even if it were any other kind of leave, it’s nice for employees to feel supported by their manager when they return. A scheduled 1:1 asking how she’s feeling about returning to work and letting her know there is support available as she gets back into it could go a long way.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      As someone with an occasionally serious mental illness, I agree with this with a caveat. I would reach out to the employee by text or email if possible and say simply that you are available to discuss return to work and any supports needed.

      The person may want supports or they may want to pretend nothing happened at work. This way offers them the option but doesn’t force them into it.

      1. oranges*

        I thought the same thing. Everyone else can and should proceed with business as usual, but as her manager, you need to lead the situation.

        Send a message that says, “We’re looking forward to your return. I plan to inform the team of your arrival on X date with instructions to proceed with business as usual, unless you prefer a different message. I’m available if you need any specific support, otherwise, I’ll see you on X date and will schedule our weekly 1:1 meetings to catch you up on XYZ project.”

    2. SBC*

      Agreed. I had an employee on my team who once took an extended leave after something similar (although it didn’t happen at work). Once his doctor and therapist cleared him to return, I had a meeting with him and his manager (my direct report) to talk about how he preferred to handle the return. We talked through things like what language he wanted us to use with the immediate team and the rest of the department, and whether he wanted to address it directly with the team or not. We helped him think through language he wanted to use with other stakeholders who didn’t know why he’d been out but were concerned and likely to bring it up with him (we were being asked if he had cancer, etc.). We also talked through his workload and responsibilities and what things we could do to support him.

      Prior to that meeting, I had sought advice from a mental health expert in our organization (thankful that based on the organization and job, we had an entire mental wellness department for the population we worked with). She also helped walk me through how to approach that meeting with him, the types of questions we should ask, language we shouldn’t use, and how to make sure he really guided us with what he needed and how we could push back if he asked for anything unreasonable. The meeting itself went extremely well, and following that we had a separate meeting with the team before his return. We passed along the messages he wanted sent to the team and talked through what his return would look like. Everyone welcomed him back with open arms and the return went as well as one could hope.

      1. That_guy*

        It sounds like you handled that with grace, compassion, and professionalism. I wish all managers could be this proactive and considerate.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        This is excellent. A key thing is understanding what the employee wants and needs. It’s rare that a manager would be able to guess everything exactly right. So ask! There’s no need to bring it up as a huge thing, just a desire to talk about what the employee would like for handling their return. Sounds like you did a great job with this, SBC.

      3. allathian*

        Yes, this is lovely. I’ve been lucky in my career, because I’ve always had managers who were compassionate and thoughtful in situations like these. In one case, it was a coworker who returned to work after cancer treatment, when my then manager, after consulting with the person who was returning, told us how the coworker wanted their return to be handled, AFAIK everyone respected their wishes. Another time was when my coworker’s adult stepson died unexpectedly and they took bereavement leave. My coworker only told me because we cover for each other, and they thought I deserved to know. To everyone else on the team, they were on sick leave (ours is almost unlimited, and partly reimbursed to the employer by social services, fully reimbursed in the case of a dangerous infectious disease, such as covid). If I’m honest, I’m glad that we were WFH when my coworker’s stepson died, because I was more upset by it than I really wanted to admit, and I would’ve hated to know something about my coworker that the rest of the team didn’t, when they clearly valued privacy around this issue and didn’t want the team to commiserate with them about it when they got back to work, they just wanted to grieve in their own time and be allowed to work as normally as possible. Particularly because this so obviously wasn’t about me at all. Naturally, if we had been working at the office I would’ve respected their wishes about how they wanted this issue to be handled, but I hate having to keep secrets, so I would probably have resented the necessity. I guess I’m relieved that it didn’t happen that way.

    3. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

      Yes, I don’t see how you can ignore the context of the leave. I also am feeling concerned about the employee who found her at work, and other employees who were on site. All of those folks may be feeling residual negative effects from their experience of seeing her experience, and very wary around her. As a manager, I would be asking HR for tons of support around this, and probably one on ones with mental health counselors for everyone on site.

      1. BenAdminGeek*

        Hi, OP #2 here. There was counseling provided to the person and to the larger team as desired. We have a strong EAP, so that helped a lot I would assume.

    4. BenAdminGeek*

      Hi! OP #2 here. I was not the employee’s manager, but was close to her and worked with the person who attempted suicide. I do know that her manager had a discussion with her about how to proceed when she was returning, which helped a lot for settling her back into work. Her wish was to basically not talk about why the leave occurred and just quietly start getting integrated into work again, which is what we did. She was less difficult than before, but still a somewhat prickly person, and we just worked around it.

      1. Very Social*

        Thanks for coming in and clarifying; I was unclear as to whether you were the employee’s manager or not. I’m glad your company was able to accommodate her.

  13. Leisure*

    Re LW1:

    I worked in an office once where we had an employee that had been with us about a month, maybe a month and a half. She blew us all away in the interviews and we felt very lucky to have her. She and I got sent out on an assignment together to look at some of our distribution centers. As we were returning home, we decided that we would split the responsibility for writing everything up in a very simple Excel spreadsheet. I would take the first three we visited and she would take the last two.

    Two weeks back in the office and my part is long done, but my boss keeps asking for our report. I said C was supposed to be finishing it up. I asked her about it and she said she would have it done tomorrow. It was tomorrow for several days.

    It turns out that she did not even know the tiniest bit about Excel. This was 2006-ish, so I don’t know how it’s possible in all of her education she was never exposed to spreadsheet programs, and Excel, for the purpose we were using it on this report, was stupid simple. After everyone but she and the director were gone every night for a week she would go into his office and say “I can’t do this. I should just quit.” I guess he got tired of it, because finally he said “I accept your resignation.” She went home and came in the early the next morning, before anyone else got there, like nothing had ever happened. By the time I got in at 9-ish she had already gone through hysterics about not really quitting, shouted a lot, got handcuffed to her office chair by security, and wheeled into the elevator and out of the building. The bulk of the department learned about it at an “emergency” 9:30a meeting and our heads were spinning.

    I ended up having to finish her work, which I barely remembered using her inadequate notes. Good times.

      1. Lirael*

        Yeah. That got me too. I hate that my first thought was “was she white?” – it seems really likely that she wasn’t because. THEY HANDCUFFED HER TO HER CHAIR. From this story, it seems entirely unnecessary.

        1. Essess*

          I can see security doing that if she was refusing to move/leave so handcuffing her to the chair in order to roll her out the door rather than dragging her.

      2. Leisure*

        Apparently, she sat in her chair and refused to move or leave, so security took the most direct route and made sure if she was going to insist on it, she wasn’t going to have the option to leave with dignity.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      That … escalated quickly.

      My sister is a bit of a Luddite, and is not great with computers beyond the very basics. Like, we are in our 40s and she still asks me how to attach a file to an email. I have received more than one whispered hurried panicked phone call in the middle of her second day on a temp job asking me how to do something (usually make a chart) in Excel. This could have been her up until the hysterics; she at least would have gathered her dignity and left quietly.

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        Her local library might have free access to linked in learning which has some great, basic, excel tutorials.
        And if you google GCF learnfree excel, you will find some very basic tutorials.

      2. Grace Poole*

        I’m familiar with Excel, but by no means a power user, so almost every time I need to use it I end up having to google “How to XYZ in Excel” There’s no shame in it.

    2. SarahKay*

      Up until 2005 I couldn’t use Excel, and I was in my thirties at that point. I simply hadn’t been in a job that required it, hadn’t had the money to buy my own copy of Office, and when I was at Uni we still talked about “the mail program”; “e-mail” became a word at about that time.
      Now, that doesn’t explain why she didn’t just tell you that she couldn’t use it and ask for help (never mind all the rest of her behaviour), but maybe don’t judge her too harshly for not knowing Excel.

    3. Gracely*

      It’s actually really easy to not encounter Excel? Especially back in 2006, when YouTube was brand new and not a go-to for teaching yourself skills. It’s not like you’re forced to use it for class (high school or college) the way you might be for, say, Word or possibly PowerPoint, and there are many, many jobs that would never require it.

      I only know what I know in Excel because I had to use it for work, and my boss at that job trained me on it. I could definitely learn more now if I had the time/inclination/need, but that would’ve been harder in 2006. My spouse is routinely surprised that their students don’t know how to use Excel, but *spouse*–who definitely knows way more about computers/operating systems/programming than I do–didn’t know how to use PowerPoint until a few months ago when I showed them how to use it, so…

      (Not saying she was in the right–she clearly didn’t need to be in that job, and it’s insane that she thought she could get away with an essential part of it by just putting it off. Just saying don’t make assumptions about what software people must know just because you’re familiar with it.)

      1. RC Rascal*

        Excel came out in the mid nineties and was part of Windows 3.0. I had to learn it for a college course in 1996. Most people who were in college should have seen in by 2006 except possibly for humanities majors.

        1. Becky*

          In my high school all freshmen were required to take a course that included instruction in Word and Excel–this was 1998 and some people had already been using them for years and others had little to no experience so it levelled the playing field by making sure everyone had some exposure and instruction. Then the next three years of school you were expected to use word processing and spreadsheet programs to complete projects and papers (whether or not it was Microsoft brand). Most teachers would allow time in the computer lab if you didn’t have access at home.

        2. Leisure*

          For context, this was a job that required a degree in Accounting. Even in 2006 I didn’t know any Accounting grads that didn’t have at least a passing knowledge of Excel. And this wasn’t creating graphs or v-lookups or those chart things I can’t remember the name of right now. This was simply click cell write words, click next cell write words. And, by the time she started looking at it, I’d already put in all of my stuff, so there were examples.

          1. Lora*

            Accounting and she didn’t know Excel?!? The financial functions on Excel have been around a VERY long time…

            Did she know Lotus 1-2-3 instead?

            1. allathian*

              Lotus 1-2-3 was the first spreadsheet program I learned the basics of in high school. I graduated in 1991. I have a Master’s in economics and business, and while I learned to do functions and program macros for my degree, I’ve never had a job where I’ve needed to do much beyond typing words in cells, numbers in other cells, and do simple sums at work, so I’ve lost the more advanced skills I had 25+ years ago.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I actually had to teach people in accounting to use some basic features of Excel. It shocked me, since I had been using Excel and previously Lotus 123 since the 80s, and taught myself, to boot.

        I still have to remind myself that most people don’t pick up even semi-technical stuff as fast as I do.

        But what shocked me is that these people were in a field where advanced spreadsheet use was an integral part of their job. I know when I went for low level jobs that required spreadsheet use I was required to take a test to prove that I could do the work.

        1. allathian*

          Did those people in accounting use some dedicated accounting software to do the job? Excel is hard because you can do pretty much anything with it, and even if you’re just typing numbers in, the spreadsheet can be easy or hard to use depending on how well the spreadsheet/workbook was set up in the first place.
          I expect that accounting software is a lot easier to do accounting on, even if you can’t use it for anything else.

      3. Cercis*

        I have a degree in Forestry from 1995. I learned Lotus 123 (for DOS!) for my degree, and we used it extensively. I’m shocked to hear that there are degrees where spreadsheets aren’t an integral part of the program.

        1. londonedit*

          I have a degree in English Language & Literature (2000-2003) and I can assure you we never used Excel or any other kind of spreadsheet! We used Word to write our essays (which we had to submit in hard copy and on floppy disk/CD-ROM) but there was absolutely nothing we would have used spreadsheets for. I only have a very basic knowledge of Excel because we never had proper IT lessons at school and I’ve only really ever had to use Word in my career (book publishing – I have the odd Excel spreadsheet to keep track of things but I’m not using it properly in any way shape or form).

  14. Jaydee*

    Yeah, I agree with Alison that LW1 needs to discuss this directly with the employee and let him know that tendering a fake resignation isn’t really ever funny and that you’d ask him not to do it again. (Personally I can maybe think of exceptions where a long-time boss and employee with the right combination of senses of humor might find it funny, but that’s clearly not the situation here). If there are other soft skill issues that are affecting his ability to do the job as expected, those should also be directly addressed.

  15. Elsa*

    I used to work on a team with a man who would regularly issue ultimatums to the boss – “If [something he doesn’t want to happen], I will hand in my resignation.” Unfortunately, he was never called on his bluff and the last I knew, he had been promoted. But it was a toxic workplace all around – once my male boss replied to my complaint that the heat was on in my office in August with “we keep it that way so you have to take your clothes off.”

    1. Observer*

      once my male boss replied to my complaint that the heat was on in my office in August with “we keep it that way so you have to take your clothes off.”

      Toxic indeed! That should have been a firing offense!

  16. uncannycanuck*

    Belly pats should be reciprocated, with full eye contact while saying nothing.

    Make it weird for them. Very, very weird.

      1. Rikakaka*

        I did this EVERY TIME! It was glorious. Without fail, they’d back up immediately and I’d say. “Oh, sorry! I thought that’s what you wanted to do now!”
        They’d awkwardly chuckle and I’d return my hands to my own belly.

    1. straws*

      I’m on pregnancy #3 and have yet to be touched thankfully, but if it happens I will DEFINITELY be stealing this. A (very small) part of me now hopes it will happen.

    2. freddy*

      I’m dying over here thinking about this. Please, please, please tell us if you’ve ever done this! I need ALL THE DETAILS.

    3. Dark Macadamia*

      Yes!! In reality, the one time someone touched my belly without permission I just kind of froze awkwardly, but in my imagination I love the idea of just rubbing people back as if you think this is their planet’s version of a polite handshake.

    4. No Sleep Till Hippo*

      I had a friend who would put her hands over the hand of the belly-rubber and trap it there while staring them dead in the eye with a slight smile on her face the whole time. Gave them enough time to think about where they’d gone wrong, and you could see them going through the whole thought process of “Ew why are you touching me? This is uncomfortable. I… oh. Oh no.”

      I don’t recommend this for everyone, but damn was it awkward and hilarious.

  17. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    I am … beyond perplexed as to why the FIRST fake-quit wouldn’t have been answered with “Not really funny, please don’t do it again.”

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      Same. A recurrent theme of this columns is “did you explicitly say something about the problematic behavior”.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Because it’s SO awkward that someone might freeze in the moment. Second time though I don’t have an answer.

    3. Metadata minion*

      It can be hard to respond in the moment, and I can easily see someone hoping that their baffled look and lack of joining in on the joke should have clued in a reasonable person not to make the joke again.

    4. Dark Macadamia*

      It’s such a odd “joke” that I can see just laughing awkwardly. Usually when an attempt at humor falls flat someone’s not going to try the same thing again with the same person so LW had no reason to think it would come up repeatedly! And then the second time you also have a baffled response because now it’s like “again? really??”

  18. Spacey O*

    Old company, legendary (in a good way…like “2 cents per week for full family health insurance in 2010” kind of legend) used to start every meeting with “I’m closing the company, you’re all fired, ha ha ha” and the meeting would move along. Then he sold the company; 6 months later, 10% of us get laid off, and the announcement from the new CEO was a very short sentence ending with “your positions have been eliminated”. He then walked out of the conference room, which left us all waiting for the “ha ha, just kidding” part.

    It never came.

    I stopped finding the humor in jokes like that right around that time.

    (Side note, when he heard, the old owner was so upset that we got laid off that he personally wrote us each a check to cover COBRA for the next *year*….God I miss him)

  19. CatCat*

    Honestly, I read #1 as someone without a great sense of humor and lacking in soft skills awkwardly trying to build an inside joke/rapport with the boss. (And I have seen this type of rapport play out fine when the boss and employee share the joke… I had a colleague who would “quit” every Friday and it was an open running gag on the team).

    If he’s otherwise valuable, I’d wrap it into the bigger conversation about soft skills, noting that you understand that he is trying to make a joke, but it’s not coming across well with you.

    1. Littorally*

      Agreed. People with weak social skills will sometimes hit upon a joke similar to one they’ve heard other people make (missing that there was something in the delivery, the joker’s reputation, or the relationship between the joker/recipients that is not applicable for them) and will make that same joke over and over and over. It can get tiresome to be on the other end of it, but it worth it to consider possible intentions even when asking them to knock it off.

    2. Grits McGee*

      Does anyone remember the letter who was in an office where humor wasn’t allowed? I wonder if there’s an origin story that starts with a story like letter #1…

  20. Goldenrod*

    I’m still in shock that someone attempted suicide at work….and then returned to the same workplace. It literally never occurred to me that that could happen.

    But now I realize, it must happen all the time. I can’t even fathom how that would feel….for all concerned.

    1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

      Agreed entirely. (I posted above about this angle.) In my workplace, someone died at work of natural causes a decade ago (before my time) and people here still have a lot of unresolved upset feelings about it. Not quite the same thing, but not out of the ballpark. Humans have human emotions around loss of life and seeing a coworker post-suicide attempt must have been awful; which is not to take away any of the emotions experienced by the person attempting it.

  21. Chilipepper Attitude*

    For the touching pregnant women question – is this a situation where trusted coworkers could be a big help?
    Maybe ask a few to spread the word that it is time to normalize not touching pregnant bellies? And that OP would appreciate, especially in this time of covid, if everyone would refrain from touching her belly?

  22. Jennifer Strange*

    Maybe it was because of COVID, but I’m very thankful that I didn’t have issues with folks trying to touch my belly when I was pregnant last year. I had family and friends ask if they could, which I was fine with, but the important thing is that they ASKED, they didn’t just do it (and they were friends and family, not co-workers).

  23. Underrated Pear*

    I know this is an old letter, but for LW1, while I understand the urge to simply accept the resignation – and it might be appropriate in other cases – I think it would be cruel here without first giving the employee some warning. If you did not previously give him negative feedback when this happened, you’ve (inadvertently) sent the message that his jokes are fine and acceptable to you. (Not blaming you, by the way – I don’t know how I would have reacted in the moment, either!) His sense of humor and soft skills are clearly “off,” and as Alison suggested, it would be fair to address this first. I’d hope you would address it thoroughly, but also be specific that you don’t think the fake resignations are a joke, and if he hands on in again, you will not treat it as a joke but as an actual resignation. After that, fair game.

    1. Raboot*

      Agreed. It’s not a funny “joke” but it would be pretty cruel to just accept it next time the joke is made. Especially if there hasn’t been a big picture performance conversation so the employee might be pretty blindsided.

    2. Rolly*

      “I accept, let’s set an end date and get started on the paperwork.”

      Wait a moment.

      Then “I’m not serious. I hope you see how that isn’t funny and don’t make that kind of joke again.”

    3. Observer*

      while I understand the urge to simply accept the resignation – and it might be appropriate in other cases – I think it would be cruel here without first giving the employee some warning.

      I disagree. Sure, I would prefer warning the employee. But the employee is not a child, and it should not be necessary to point out to him that this is not acceptable. So, while not idea, I think that calling it cruel goes too far.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        Clearly, he doesn’t know it isn’t acceptable. OP never said to stop doing it. When he does it again, walking him right down to HR for his severance check would, in fact, be cruel.

      2. Underrated Pear*

        But by not addressing it* with the employee, the manager has implicitly communicated that this joke IS okay. Yes, the employee should know better without having to be told. But plenty of people have poor soft skills (or hard skills), and that doesn’t warrant them being essentially fired without at least a warning! The joke in question is annoying and unprofessional and of course should stop, but ultimately it’s not harmful or offensive.

        Maybe “cruel” is a strong word, but I mean… we’re skipping right over “can you cut it out? That’s really unprofessional, and if you do it again, I won’t take it as a joke” and going straight to “ok, bye, hope you enjoy having no income or health care for the foreseeable future!”? That seems a disproportionate response…

        *It’s possible the LW did address it, in which case my point doesn’t apply, but there’s no mention of any feedback, so that’s the picture we have.

  24. LawBee*

    I don’t think I’ve ever worked at a place where someone announced their pregnancy via email or any other way. Either word got around as word does, or they told people in person organically. I’m not sure how I would react internally if I got one of those emails – a mental shrug and move on, probably? I’m sure there are reasons why people do, I’ve just never seen it happen. It’s an interesting peek into other company cultures for sure.

    Birth announcements, absolutely, and usually in the “Congrats to Employee on the birth of their child. They’re planning to return to the office on date, we wish them the best” vein.

    1. Emi*

      I think it’s an efficient way to let people know ahead of time that you’ll be out, especially if there are people you work with but don’t see them in person often.

    2. Critical Rolls*

      I would expect it’s a bit more common with all the work from home situations nowadays. Most folks do, at some point, want to let their coworkers know, for planning purposes if nothing else.

    3. Cera*

      The flip side, I incidentally worked through my 2nd pregnancy without informing off site coworkers until 3 weeks before I was due. Somehow it never organically came up. They were a little shocked when I started a conversation with btw Sally will be handling xx while I am out.

    4. allathian*

      I had to tell my then-manager earlier than I wanted to, at about 16 weeks, because she found me asleep at my desk one day. I told the rest of the team much later than that, when I had handed in the medical certificate of pregnancy that’s necessary for getting maternity leave to my manager. The legal requirement here is to give notice 2 months before your due date.

      One of my coworkers who goes on maternity leave in a few weeks told us by email just before we had a couple of development days at the office in November. She’d just started showing and wanted to proactively eliminate any speculation about whether she was or wasn’t.

  25. Khatul Madame*

    So the employee joked about resignation twice?
    If he does it again, OP should say “Third time is the charm! I’ll let HR know you are leaving”.

  26. Myrna*

    LW1: I was not expecting the last line to be “Can I just accept it?” and nearly died laughing. I think I was expecting more of a “what do I do?” question but your resolute, deadpan response to this situation is cracking me up.

    Alternative solution: Start handing him “joke” papers that say he’s fired and see if he accepts.

  27. lost academic*

    Stop groping people. Stop making excuses for it if you are doing it, or you see it, or even if you just hear about it. Just stop.

  28. Kevin Sours*

    What is it with managers that stop them from saying “Look. That’s not funny. Knock it off.” in exactly those words. Inaction is making this a much bigger deal than it needs to be.

    1. Lana Kane*

      It boils down to managers being people. Some people have no problem being that direct, others still struggle with it as a general personality trait. I live in a part of the US where people are NOT direct and I can totally see a manager hemming and hawing before gently saying “Hey, maybe don’t joke like that from now on? Is that ok?”

      1. Kevin Sours*

        You’re right. But it’s really frustrating how many letters boil down to “Employee won’t stop doing this annoying thing that I never told them to stop doing”

  29. Pithy Moniker*

    #3 – I’ve shared this before, but I once had a coworker I was friendly with, but not close to, walk right up to me and touch my pregnant belly completely without warning. Without even thinking and while her hand was still on my stomach, I reached out and touched hers, asking “is this as weird for you as it is for me?” Needless to say, she got the point.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I love that you did this and hate that you were put in a situation where you had to.

  30. AthenaC*

    #1 … please don’t actually do this but I would be tempted to walk up to him, say, “You’re fired! ….. Nah, just joking around!”

  31. mreasy*

    Fake quitting mediocre employee is one of my fave AAM letters ever. Not explosive but so inexplicable.

    1. MistOrMister*

      I wonder if OP3 managed to get through the pregnancy unscathed. I had a coworker that was pregnant 10ish years ago. When we would have meetings, another coworker would sit beside her so she could pat the belly at her leisure. I don’t know if the pat-ee minded, but I cringed so hard every time. Blech!!!

  32. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    For LW #4, is there any reason you can’t just hire one of the other two? I don’t know about where you work, but in my organization, we are allowed to go back to strong candidates from previous recruitments that happened within X amount of time (I think 12 months), though I know the rules are different in different places.

    If you would be allowed to do this, consider a couple questions. Are there clear benefits to the organization from doing another full recruitment? Do these benefits outweigh the time and effort required to do a full recruitment?

  33. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    The “I’m quitting” thing struck me as possibly a sort of power play. Sort of a mind game, like negging or gaslighting. Could be just a bad sense of humor but I’d be on the lookout for other indicators that the person is manipulative or dishonest.

  34. Why reach out?*

    For #4. If you do reach out make sure they get an interview.
    This happened to me a few weeks ago. In 2020 I was laid off and unemployed. I applied got an interview with XYZ company. They went with another candidate. 2021 I landed a job. Have not applied to anything. 2022 I get an email from XYZ company. They have an opening for the job I applied to would I be interested? I apply and a week later I get a rejection email. I’m more annoyed than anything. I was perfectly fine not knowing about the job.

  35. Just Me*

    LW 2: Oh my god, that is so hard. I’m especially curious to know about the coworker who found the employee–are they okay? I have so many questions about this that are inappropriate to ask, but I would also ad to what Alison said and to have HR ask the employee in advance if they might need any special accommodations when they return. I could see the employee coming back to work that is also the same place where they almost died could be triggering in the *extreme,* so they may need to sit in a new spot, work modified hours to accommodate doctor/therapy visits, etc.–you can offer those to the employee in the same way you would any other coming back from a medical absence, such as “We’re excited to have you back soon and just want to see if there is anything you need to make a smooth transition back. If anything comes up within the first few weeks, please don’t hesitate to let us know.”

    1. John Smith*

      The first thing that needs to happen is that normal is normal. Making a fuss, treading on eggshells etc will not work. Alison’s answer is absolutely spot on. The only thing I would say is to have someone there that the employee can talk to who knows the situation – a kind of a safety valve, if you will – would be really helpful. I’m speaking as someone who lost their partner to suicide and has felt, at times – briefly, suicidal myself.

      Time heals as does facing up to the past. Trying to alter what was or making a fuss is rarely successful. I can now go to the toilet cubicle at work where I spent hours crumpled on the floor in absolute despair and sort of smile looking at how far I’ve come. Going back to my office, to places my partner and I visited, even to do something remotely connected to the past times we spent together or reminded me of him was painful, but it has to, and will be, painful.

      It’ll be different for everyone, but generally making a fuss, changing things that are “normal” will only reinforce that things are wrong when what is needed is that everything is as it should be and will continue to be so. It’s not even a case that the environment – let’s say it’s the colour of the wallpaper – that makes someone want to take their life. Changing the wallpaper colour would not remove the problem.

      Again, Alison got it spot on.

  36. Goody*

    LW1 to New employee: “This is completely inappropriate and not humorous at all. If I hear it again, I’m going to take you at your word and have security immediately empty your desk and walk you off the premises.”

    LW3: If this were a current pregnancy (I know these letters are coming from the archives), I would totally use the pandemic as a shield here. “We are being especially cautious for baby’s and my health, and ask that social distancing be strictly observed to help keep us safe.”

    1. Rocket*

      If I had a manger who responded to the joke maker is Letter 1 like you’re suggesting, I’d be looking for a new job. That’s a wild overreaction and I’d assume the manager was unstable.

      1. allathian*

        That’s a bit extreme, as is Goody’s suggestion. But maybe a “Haha, you’re fired!” *long pause* “only joking” might help to get the message across that this isn’t funny. But it needs to come with an explanation that “the next time you make a joke about quitting, I’m going to take you at your word and start proceedings to get you out of here.”

        Something similar happened to my cousin, although not at work. At the time, he treated me more like an older sister than a cousin, so I knew more about his marriage than I probably should have. His wife kept threatening to divorce him whenever they had a fight. He shrugged it off, probably because she was and is a fairly volatile person in general. Then they had a period when they were fighting almost daily. One day he just had enough and printed out some forms that you use when you apply for divorce, and started to fill them in. She backpedaled really fast, but he told her that threatening divorce every time they had an argument was getting old and had to stop, or he’d take her at her word. They then went to marriage counseling to sort things out. Looks like that helped, because they’re still married and have a preteen daughter. I assume they’re happy, and at least he isn’t sharing his marital troubles with me anymore…

  37. Preppy6917*

    #4: But don’t do it for a downgraded role. I recently was declined an offer for a position after making it to the 4th and final round of interviews I didn’t get the offer….no biggie, but then the recruiter asked if I would be interested in a different position several levels below where I am now. I’ve removed that company from any future consideration.

  38. Lifeandlimb*

    People give uninvited belly pats to pregnant women?? I thought I had heard of most things, but I am continually surprised by humans in this world. So strange.

  39. Mannheim Steamroller*

    For the fake-quitter:

    Maybe the boss should fake-accept and fake-process the resignation. Or actually accept and process it.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Or, you know, the boss can act like a grown up and address the situation professionally.

  40. Selena's Nan*

    #3 – Please, all present and future pregnant people – just step back sharply and in a loud voice say – What the Heck!!!

  41. Panda (she/her)*

    Ugggghhhhhhh!!!! DO NOT TOUCH PEOPLE’S TUMMIES!! Period! Pregnant or not, it is WEIRD. The only people I “allowed” to touch my belly were my husband and a very select few family members, and even then it felt super weird but it was fun for them to feel the baby kick.

    One coworker touched my belly once, and I must have had a horrified look on my face because she immediately went red and found somewhere else to be.

    I think being mentally prepared to react is the biggest thing, at least for me. If I’m not prepared, I default to a nervous laugh and just putting up with it. Be ready with a response like “umm, what are you doing?” or “don’t touch me please”.

    But how tempting it was to start running their bellies with no warning….a woman can daydream. :)

  42. Xaraja*

    I had a boyfriend who constantly threatened to break up with me, not in fights but saying it was a joke or various other ways to gas light me. Fake quitting employee gives me the same vibes – trying to keep you off balance and afraid he’s going to leave so you can’t manage him effectively.

    1. Oui oui oui all the way home*

      My now ex-husband used to threaten divorce whenever we had a fight. After years of that and other issues, I finally said “okay” then didn’t back down when he came to his senses.

    2. caramel*

      Yes. He is likely one of those dicks who hasn’t realized you can’t gaslight at work the way you can in a romantic relationship.

  43. Middle Aged IT Guy*

    1 month into my first FT job, a writer for my company rage-quit. That was nearly 30 years ago and to this day I’ve never seen anyone completely flip out like that before. She was screaming, slamming doors, and eventually stormed out of the office and when our lead editor tried to calm her down she threw a nasty homophobic insult at said editor.
    I was the office mgr at the time, and boss had me send her a letter just blandly laying out her actions, and saying, “I interpret these as a submission of your resignation, which I accept.” I thought this was funny at the time but he was establishing a paper trail that she’d quit.

    The next day, she returned to the office, because she’d forgotten her coat. We all saw her walking in and I, only half-joking, said, “If I see her reaching into her pocket I’m going to tackle her”. But she was kind and friendly as could be, and I went and got her coat for her and never saw hide nor hair from her again. Very weird.

  44. LittleMarshmallow*

    I had totally forgotten about something similar but not as weird that happened at my old location. I’m gonna start with a couple caveats… I work in manufacturing and the environment is very casual and generally less polished than a typical office environment. The manager involved thought it was hilarious so the employees did indeed pick their audience correctly.

    So, two of our lab employees went to their manager together and were like “hey this is really hard to say but we need to tell you that we are both quitting. We wanted to tell you together because we are quitting to go into business together.” The manager was like “ok wow this is quite a shock and it’s going to be really hard to see you guys go”. So they proceeded to explain more “yeah we know it’ll leave a really big gap for you for a while but we just really felt it was time to live our dream of buying a boat and becoming pirates on Lake Michigan”. Of course now she knows they’re messing with her and cracks up (esp since apparently they said this completely straight faced) which of course finally broke them into laughing and the joke was up.

    Everyone involved tells the story in fond humor. Of course they only did it the one time… and they did it with a manager they knew would find humor in it. In our environment this was just another harmless prank, and harmless pranks were part of our culture (I moved to a corporate function now and it’s so much stuffier… I’m still a weirdo but it’s weirder than it was when I was a weirdo at my other location/function).

    There’s really no advice here… I just remembered the story because of the similarities to the letter and thought I’d share in case anyone else might get a chuckle out of it.

  45. Evvie*

    I have fake quit my jobs twice, but I’m known for having a sense of humor, was well-established, and had ridiculous reasons.

    One was when I was a teacher and there was *gum on the ceiling,* so I yelled “I quit!” and sat under a table hugging my knees. (To clarify: I was the drama teacher. It wasn’t THAT weird. We had a good laugh and moved on.)

    The other was when I was working from home and a stink bug decided to hang out on my screen. I took a photo and told my team (including supervisor) I had to tender my resignation due to a hostile takeover of my work environment.

    This guy either doesn’t understand how humor works OR doesn’t have a sense of humor that jives with the writer’s. We’re not there to read the room.

    This seems an odd way to handle one aspect of someone’s soft skills challenges–just jumping to accepting a resignation they gave in jest. Social/soft skills have been lacking. It sounds like this person is still in their probationary period. It’s time to train them in office norms. Simple as that.

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