update: my coworker refuses to wear a mask

Remember the letter-writer whose coworker refused to wear a mask, despite the company mask policy? The first update was here, and here’s the latest.

I wrote to you last year about a non-masking coworker, and wanted to provide a second happy update, if I may. First, I wanted to say thank you for publishing my question, for your advice, and for the encouragement from the commenters. The AAM community is a great one!

Many comments expressed a sentiment something like this: “Why on earth is OP’s company allowing this behavior for so long? What kind of place is this?” Yeah. I’m with you! As one might have guessed, the non-masking dysfunctional coworker and the slow response from HR was a symptom of the larger dysfunction at my company. I truly loved that industry and the clients, and I’d become friends with a couple colleagues, but the dysfunction and stress were taking too high a toll. I am happy to say I started a new job a couple months ago!

Bob wasn’t the reason I decided to leave, but leaving all that behind was certainly a value add! Bob always had a big streak of dysfunction that made my work life difficult. The mask thing was in no way my first or last conflict with him; it was just the only issue that I brought to HR. Regular sexist comments despite my attempts to shut it down, spreading rumors about me, and extreme offense at anything and nothing were all the norm with Bob. He was at times downright hostile, personally attacking people with uncalled for comments at even the slightest perceived issue. For me, the kicker (other than the mask incident) was after I put in my notice — he asked for my home address and personal email address so he could stay in contact and send me a goodbye present (which he has done for at least one other departing staff that I know of — who notably was also a young woman my age). I definitely did not feel comfortable giving out my personal info to him. He was highly offended and frustrated (sent me long emails…) when I wouldn’t and he asked again. When I firmly said no again via email, he sent me a pouting face emoji. That was right before I clocked out on my last day. Bye, Bob.

I had also started having panic attacks (brand new for me) at work. Cue a few Covid scares where I became quite ill, but I later realized it was all stress manifesting as illness, also a first for me. (Oh, I was pressured by management to work at home while sick and not take any sick time, even once when I had a false positive Covid test — which I didn’t know was false yet — and felt very ill. Seeing Alison advocating for managers to encourage their employees to take time off if they have Covid was eye-opening. I’d forgotten how toxic my job was.) Probably unsurprisingly, the last time I had a panic attack was my last day of work there.

I was very honest and matter of fact about what I’d experienced in my exit interview. At my new job, things of course aren’t perfect, but it’s wildly better. I am still recovering from the burnout and all the rest of it, but most days I actually like my job. Plus, I work with wonderful people.

I’ve identified a few things at my new company that have made a HUGE difference for me: (1) There aren’t people here who make me worry for my safety (people follow CDC guidelines AND they don’t sexually harass me. Having routine sexual harrasement training and other training on how to have respectful coworker interactions have probably have helped. At least then no one has the excuse of not knowing professional norms (the excuse everyone gave Bob — and no, Old Company did not ever do harassment training). (2) Leadership has listened to the workload concerns on my team and are actively looking for solutions and hiring. (3) Overtime hours are allowed during exceptionally busy times and they pay you for the extra hours without complaint or resentment. My boss actually wrote me a thank you note after the crazy week when I worked overtime. While I didn’t expect or need to be thanked, it felt great!

Your blog has given me the courage I needed time and time again to stand up for myself at work.

{ 53 comments… read them below }

  1. Not So Evil HR Lady*

    Thank you, OP, for this happy update! I manage leaves of absence at my state agency and saw the number of requests due to mental health/physical conditions as a result of burnout go up significantly since COVID began, and I am thrilled you got away from the horrible circumstances triggering your illnesses.

    For all readers of this site who may not be aware, if your employer offers FMLA, you’re an eligible employee and need leave for serious health conditions including mental health, please contact your HR representative or your organization’s leave coordinator. I have been working on being diligent in assuring employees that mental health conditions can qualify for FMLA leave just as much as any other of the standard ones we usually default to (birth, adoption, surgery, chronic conditions, etc). It’s federally protected leave and if approved your employer is NOT allowed to deny you that time off.

    Plus: Bob was an absolute tool. How is it we are STILL confronting this kind of person in 2022?!

    1. Sea Witch*

      As an occasional lurker on the Herman Cain Award subReddit, I find myself wondering if Bob has appeared there yet as a nominee or awardee.

    2. OP*

      Ooh yes, that’s a good reminder about FMLA!! I do wish that was publicized more. It’s there for when we need it.

      And thank you for commiserating, Not So Evil HR Lady! (great username, btw :)

    3. Hannah Lee*

      Also, although my company is too small to have FLMA apply, some places have state level leave programs as well. I’m in Massachusetts and I’ve recommended the state PFML program several employees for a range of reasons.

  2. Bernice Clifton*

    “At least then no one has the excuse of not knowing professional norms (the excuse everyone gave Bob”

    Oh, Bob *knows* professional norms, he just doesn’t care about them. People like Bob count on everyone around them believing it would be unprofessional to rock the boat and call him on his crap/set totally reasonable boundaries with him. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he didn’t ask for your personal info until you were leaving.

    1. Cookie Monster*

      Exactly. How many male colleagues do you think he asks for personal information from when they leave? (Hint: none. The answer is none.)

  3. Michelle Smith*

    Yikes, I went back and read the original post. What a horrible situation and apparently that wasn’t even all of it. I’m so glad you got out of there!!!

  4. OrigCassandra*

    Sounds like Bob and that place kind of deserve each other. Glad you’re out, OP.

    And I’m extra-glad you shut down Bob’s request for contact info. I had a former boss come unannounced to the door of my home, some months after I’d left that workplace. It was weird and scary and fortunately it didn’t happen again (or anything like it) after I simply didn’t answer the door, but eeeeeeeeeeesh.

    1. KRM*

      Yeah I had a friend give a former colleague my email (he told her he “lost it”) after I left, then he managed to get my phone number and address and called me to say he was “coming over to visit!”. I still don’t know how he got the info (it was 2004 so internet was unlikey esp for him), but I panicked and told him I wasn’t home. Then I told my old boss. He then proceeded to “apologize” for *having previously asked if wanted to have lunch*, but not the stalking incident. Until I moved the next year I was definitely worried that he might show up outside my place (although I think he was threatened with termination should that happen). All that to say that refusing to give out your contact info was very wise and I’m glad you stood your ground.

  5. Sea Witch*

    Whoo boy. If the previous company hasn’t figured out yet that Bob is a huge liability, they soon will.

    I wonder if he’s related to someone in upper management? Some of my most problematic co-workers over the years could be explained by nepotism.

    1. OP*

      Good guess! He isn’t related to anyone in management, but he is the employee with the longest tenure with the company and also past typical retirement age – that shouldn’t make a difference of course, but I’d hazard a guess that they’re waiting for him to quietly retire rather than fire him.

      1. allathian*

        Oof. I just hope someone quietly encourages him to retire soon. What is it with these men past typical retirement age who think they’re god’s gift to young women? His age is no excuse for his behavior, but it may explain a bit why your former employer is willing to put up with him. Thank goodness I’m 50 and fat, and I’ve long since aged out of that sort of crap. Guys like Bob aren’t interested in harassing women their own age.

  6. CM*

    “I like my new job because they don’t sexually harass me” — OP, I am so glad you got out of there!! And that getting outside perspectives helped you readjust your baseline expectations of a job. Nobody deserves to be treated like you were!

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yeah, that’s a very sad low bar right there. I’m also glad OP is out of there – panic attacks from your job are terrible. I mean, they’re always terrible but at least a job is something that can somewhat easily be changed, unlike other things that could cause panic attacks.

  7. Red Wheelbarrow*

    OP, I’m so sorry you had to deal with Bob’s horrible behavior–it sounds upsetting and frightening. And I’m impressed that you found the courage to oppose his behavior repeatedly, both face to face and with HR. That was gutsy, especially since you mentioned you tend to be conflict averse. Props to you, and congratulations on escaping that terrible environment!

    1. OP*

      Thank you for your kind words!! The confrontation (and knowing that a confrontation could again be needed at any point the next time he opened his mouth) was exhausting for sure… so glad to be elsewhere!

  8. Veryanon*

    Oh my god, Bob is one scary dude. I’m so glad that you didn’t cave and give him your personal contact info. He’s not clueless; he knows exactly what he’s doing, and he knows that no one will call him on his nonsense. I’m so happy for you that Bob is no longer part of your life in any way. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

  9. JodiR*

    Thank you this update. I too just left a very toxic job I had stayed at for 9 years. There were ZERO consequences for anything. Panic attacks and anxiety ensued along with having to be medicated. I start my new job Monday. Now I need to learn how to move past it. Good for you.

    1. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      Hi Jodi R. I just quit my toxic job of eleven years too, for much the same reasons (bullying to the point of physical injury was also a factor.) You will get past it. For one thing, professional therapy is awesome, and you can do it all online if that’s more convenient. Also, once you start your new job, you’ll likely have so many people to meet and so much to learn — the good kind of learning and training, not the stressful kind — that it will actually be difficult just to have time to think about Toxic Job. Don’t get me wrong: I strongly believe in working through past trauma, instead of ignoring it. Ultimately, though, you’ll be fine.

      1. OP*

        Wahoo, CONGRATULATIONS, Tangerina Warbleworth, for quitting your old job!!

        I second the suggestion of therapy! Also second the idea that learning new things is a different (good!) kind of challenge. When I started my new job I felt like I was on vacation – at least vacationing from the stressful drama of my last job! – I was positively giddy to be in a different environment and to know I didn’t have to go back.

    2. OP*

      First of all, CONGRATS on your new job, JodiR!! I’m throwing virtual confetti in your honor! So sorry that you had a very toxic job too. May your new job be nothing like your old job.

      I’m about 5 months into my new job (I wrote this update a little while back). The transition to the new job and the training itself has still gone well, and it’s a good culture fit for me. The hard part is definitely moving past all the Old Job crap… Honestly, I don’t think I realized until this year that “work trauma” can exist. I have to constantly remind myself that my current boss is not going to scream at me, that no one is talking behind my back here, people are decent here, etc… And slowly I’m needing to remind myself less and less. You’ll get there, JodiR! Cheering you on in that process.

      1. allathian*

        Great to hear! Does your new job have an EAP? Maybe you could have a few sessions with a counselor to work on the work trauma you experienced at your former job, even if you don’t want to go to therapy long term. It sounds like you’re getting there on your own, but once the honeymoon period of being in your new job wears off, and it will eventually do so, and you start to experience some frustrations with your current job, some therapy could help you see clearly that you no longer need the coping mechanisms you developed in the toxic job to deal with minor frustrations. Good luck, it sounds like you’re doing great!

  10. SMH*

    Reach out to Bob tell him you reconsidered and give him the address and phone nunber..of a VP or some higher up in the company or HR. love to see what they receive in the mail.

    1. Robin*

      That sounds like a delightful idea. The only issue I see is that, as the OP has already left, they likely cannot reach Bob without using their own personal number/email/contact info.

  11. higheredadmin*

    If it is not too upsetting for you, I would send all of the long emails Bob sent you about wanting to stay in touch to HR. Not that he will be marched out of the office, but if HR ever does actually engage with him it will be helpful for them to have it.

  12. Slow Gin Lizz*

    Wow, good for you for getting out of there, OP! Also: does anyone else here desperately want to know what he sent to that other departing coworker?? What a creep.

    1. OP*

      I have no idea but I want to know too!

      Here’s my general theory: Bob had a long history of doing nice gestures for people and being seem as a “really sweet guy,” but really seemed to be nice for the applause and public accolades. This is someone who is desperate to be included in all things, liked by everyone, thanked often, and is then VERY offended if he thinks he isn’t. He frequently complained that no one thanked him enough for all of the (small, unsolicited, and sometimes unwanted) “nice” things he does for them, so his motivation was pretty clear. He was not nice. He always seemed much more narcissistic to me than fully creepy… but of course that’s not any better! *shudders* I’m happy to not see Bob any longer, regardless :)

  13. Gigi*

    Wow. Bob sounds like a real anti-masking stereotype buster. What a tool.

    Good for you for getting out and being honest in your exit interview! As someone who recently got post-breakdown after work-related trauma, please consider at least some interim counseling. It didn’t really fully hit me until about six months after I left, and then I was a mess. Processing everything really helped.

  14. doing some self-care and healing and finding a wonderful new job!squeajrad*

    So so glad to hear this great news! I am still working from home due to my high risk if I do catch Covid, and I wanted to note some thing you mentioned almost in passing. I too had a false positive test and went through two weeks of worry and testing every day before I really believed it was negative. I’ve learned a lot about false positives and how rare they are but I also learned that they do exist. So good on you for weathering the storm, doing some self-care and healing and finding a wonderful new job!

    1. OP*

      Thank you!! :)
      Yeah, false positive struggle is so real! Turns out if you have even a slightly bloody nose, a rapid home test will be positive… I didn’t know that then, so the positive test combined with my covid-like symptoms from all the stress had me thinking I was contagious. But my PCR test (from the same day) was negative, and continued to be… so yeah, off-topic PSA of the day: any blood on the swab can cause a false positive, as can too much snot. :) Such a fun PSA, haha. but the more you know!

  15. IQuitOverCOVID*

    OP, I’m so glad you are in a much better situation now, and I admire your strength in continuing to push for the right to a safe workplace!

    I worked in a similar environment in 2020/early 2021 (past tense, hence my username l0l), so I totally feel your pain and exhaustion at constantly trying to push HR to do SOMETHING, because I had to as well with multiple coworkers and even management (not nearly as terrible as Bob, but we had more than one anti-masker/anti-vaxxer that wouldn’t follow the rules). It also gave me constant anxiety, and I was so happy to finally get out of there when I got a new job!

    Also, I’m so happy you didn’t give Bob your personal address (WTF) and email, because who knows what he would have actually done with that information. He sounds like a horrible person, and I’m so glad you don’t have to deal with him anymore. Good luck in your new job!

  16. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    For anyone who may get a request like that in the future, and you don’t feel comfortable shutting it right down, it’s always fine to say “Oh, if you want to stay in touch, feel free to look me up on LinkedIn.” LinkedIn gives you some tools to manage who sees your profile, and of course they can TRY to look you up even if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile!

    1. OP*

      That was actually my exact response when he asked for my info! We were already connected on LinkedIn so I told him to contact me there if he wanted to (knowing that then I have control over what messages I choose to see), but that was when he pushed more. Some people…

      1. Hannah Lee*

        That was just one of the last in a long line of tells that Bob was a complete glassbowl.

        So glad he is no longer in your life OP!

  17. JustKnope*

    I used to have an older coworker who would occasionally tell me stories about her brother and man, he sounded like a Bob. She was upset one time that he was potentially on the verge of being fired because a younger, female coworker had “misunderstood” his actions as sexual harassment and darn it, how was he supposed to know that norms had changed? It came to a head when he followed this young woman home (!!) in his car because he wasn’t allowed to talk to her in the office (!!!) to “clear up the misunderstanding.” It is VERY GOOD that you did not give Bob your home address. These men do not care about boundaries and they know very well that what they’re doing is wrong. The part they are surprised about is that there are consequences now. (Sometimes…)

    1. OP*

      Eek! That really DOES sound like Bob… The “Bob mindset” is frightfully common, or something I don’t think I fully realized before writing in to Alison. *shudder*

  18. Emily*

    What a wonderful update, OP! As someone who always has and continue to take the pandemic seriously, including masking and being fully vaccinated, I really felt for you. There are way too many Bobs in the world. It’s also interesting how at your old company the bosses and HR were working from home, while you had to go in. Yet another example of their dysfunction. I’m so glad you were able to leave that company and get another job. I hope things continue to go well for you and you are able to continue to recover from the dysfunction at your old company.

  19. redflagday701*

    “He was highly offended and frustrated (sent me long emails…)”

    WTF Bob

    What on earth scenario had he concocted in his head where finally wresting your email address out of you turned his relationship with you around? (Also, the gift would absolutely have been a picture of his penis.)

    1. OP*

      Right though!? Who has ever received a passive aggressive email with a pouty-face emoji and thought “well, I better give in now”?

      I don’t think (think being the key word because you really can’t ever know) Bob would have done anything vulgar. Every petty hill – even the hills that didn’t benefit him personally – was a hill to die on for Bob. His passive aggression or outright aggression was triggered by literally anything. Not a very well-adjusted person.

  20. OP*

    Thank you, Alison, for publishing another update!! I appreciate all the comments and support from commenters, both today and on the earlier mask letters. You all are wonderful! And if anyone is reading this letter while wondering if they should get out of a toxic job that is affecting them – let this be your sign. :) No company is perfect, but we all deserve to work in a healthy atmosphere.

  21. That One Person*

    Glad you could make your escape more for yourself than anything. Given that in the comments you’ve mentioned he’s on the older side I wonder if the company’s trying to avoid age discrimination allegations or if they’re just too lazy to deal with him – either sounds plausible. While I luckily never dealt with sexual harassment at my old job, the sheer job itself and constantly increasing expectations caused some emotional and mental issues that left me dreading every shift so I’m glad you were also able to shed that weight. While I doubt there’s a perfect work place, everyone at least deserves to not fear their coworkers.

  22. anxiousGrad*

    Congrats on getting out! I just wanted to say that if you haven’t seen a doctor about the stress manifesting as illness, please do. For two years I blamed all of my symptoms of hypothyroidism on anxiety, but it turned out that the symptoms were only related to anxiety in that the anxiety was also caused by hypothyroidism. I’m not saying that I think you have hypothyroidism, but it’s worth talking to a doctor if any of the issues you experienced are still going on.

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