my coworkers keep asking about my assault

A reader writes:

I’m an executive assistant at an accounting firm, which means that this time of year I’m averaging between 60-70 hours a week. By nature of spending that much time with them, I’m much closer with my coworkers than I have been at any other workplace. I was recently assaulted after a horrible date went catastrophically wrong, leaving me with a very obvious bruise on my lip from being bitten, and fingerprints on one of my forearms. I’ve been wearing long sleeves to obscure the fingerprint bruising, but no amount of concealer has been enough to hide the teeth marks on my lip.

Under normal circumstances I would probably take a week off to try and recover physically and mentally, but with the tax deadline coming up there’s just way too much to do for that to be an option (and I can’t work from home). Taking the time off would mean adding at least 10-15 hours of work to every other admin’s plate, and doing that would only make me feel worse about the situation. Obviously I would prefer not to recount the details of a very traumatic incident over and over again, but every time I walk to the break room, copier, or bathroom I find myself cornered by another well meaning coworker who wants to interrogate me about what happened. A simple “I’m fine but would prefer not to discuss it” hasn’t been enough to deter the increasingly intrusive questions, even when firmly repeated. The general response when I push back on giving more information is something along the lines of “I need to make sure you’re safe,” “But we’re friends, why don’t you trust me enough to tell me?” or “You can’t come into the office looking like that and expect us not to ask questions.” We’re a small accounting firm so we don’t have an HR department, and the person who would probably handle an HR issue is the person trying the hardest to get more information out of me!

I understand the bruising is quite shocking, but I feel like I’m entitled to privacy during what has become a very difficult period of my life. Just convincing myself to show up to work at all is taking everything I have. At this point, what can I do?

I’m so sorry this happened, and that your coworkers are making it worse by demanding an explanation. It’s perfectly understandable that they’re alarmed and concerned, but they need to take your word for it that you’re okay and respect that it’s not up for discussion.

But before we go any further: if you would prefer to be able to take time off, please take time off! Yes, it will mean more work for other people, but that’s not a reason not to do it in a serious situation like this; if you had another sort of emergency like an accident or a hospitalization, they’d find a way to deal with that, and the same is true here too. You can take time off if you need to.

Otherwise, though, any chance you’re willing to talk to your boss and ask her to shut down the questions on your behalf? That might be the most effective option, partly because people will probably feel better knowing that your boss knows enough to be able assure them that you’re okay. Any decent manager — any decent person — would be horrified that you’re being hassled after a traumatic experience and would be willing to take steps to shut it down. You wouldn’t need to share specifics with her if you don’t want to; it should be enough to say something like, “I had a very frightening experience and it is extremely upsetting to have people demanding to know what happened, even after I tell them I’m okay and don’t want to talk about it. Could you run interference for me so I can focus on work and not have to fend off everyone’s questions?”

But if that avenue doesn’t feel like the right one, then I’d try this as an initial response when someone asks: “I know it looks alarming, but I am fine and it’s not something I want to talk about at work.”

If people push after that (and some of those responses you quoted are really pushy), you’ll likely need to get more emphatic in response:

Them: “I need to make sure you’re safe.”
You:I need to make sure I’m safe and I am. I understand you’re concerned, but please do me the courtesy of believing me because this is very intrusive.”

Them: “But we’re friends, why don’t you trust me enough to tell me?”
You: “I hope you trust me enough to respect my privacy. Please understand that I’m not going to discuss this at work.”

Them: “You can’t come into the office looking like that and expect us not to ask questions.”
You: “You’ve asked the questions and I’ve answered. I appreciate your concern but I’ve told you I’m fine, and I’m asking you to respect that.”

I know these are going to feel a little confrontational — but they’re being pretty confrontational on their end, and I’m concerned a milder response won’t shut it down. However, if it’s more your style, you could also try something like, “I know you mean well, but you’re the 50th person to ask me about it and I really need to focus on work right now. I’m fine, and the kindest thing you can do is to trust me about that.”

Or hell, lean into people’s desire to help and deputize them to fend off inquiries for you: “Actually, I could really use your help. People keep asking me intrusive questions about what happened, not realizing they’re the 50th person to do that, and I’d be so grateful if you can help shut that down.”

I hope you’re doing okay.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 295 comments… read them below }

  1. Richard Hershberger*

    “A simple “I’m fine but would prefer not to discuss it” hasn’t been enough to deter the increasingly intrusive questions, even when firmly repeated.”

    Autopilot is your friend. The language is fine, but don’t repeat it firmly. Repeat it with the exact intonation every single time, with no variation whatsoever. Eventually even the slowest person will figure out that this is all they are going to get.

    1. Crcala*

      Yes! My therapist has had to remind me numerous times that when you set a boundary, it doesn’t matter if the other person won’t respect the boundary. It’s still your boundary to set and you can enforce it as much as you want. The other person doesn’t get to approve of it for you to keep it.

      I’m terribly sorry you’re going through this. I remember when I was mugged years ago right out of college, my coworkers were pretty insensitive and I didn’t know how to shut it down. Please don’t forget to take care of yourself. I thought I was OK and then a few months later PTSD came with a vengeance. I am sending you all the healing vibes and am thinking of you and wishing you comfort and rest.

      1. RLTB*

        therapist here: It seems the LW is super busy and may believe they don’t deserve (can’t) take the time to heal. Or take the time to make an appointment with a therapist well versed in trauma. I hope this note can change their minds or at least open up the idea. There’s a specialized therapy called EMDR that actually doesn’t take session after sessions. I have had clients in this situation who do quite well with 3-4 sessions. In person would be best but if that’s to daunting to seek out there are EMDR therapist online.

        1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          The therapy office I just scheduled intake with offers walk-in EMDR administered by interns and at a reasonable price without insurance. Hopefully anyone who’s looking for this can find as much ease of access.

    2. Corrigan*

      Depending on how firm you want to get*, you could say “Asked and answered.” This is what I use with my 5 year old when she keeps asking the same question.

      *I think you’re justified in telling people to eff off if they don’t take no for an answer the first time

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        My wife’s parents, when she was growing up, used “God is not an elephant.” This was accepted as a final answer. You wouldn’t think it would work, but we used on our own kids with surprising success. I don’t know that it would work with a grownup, though.

          1. MicroManagered*

            Technically Ganesh is not an elephant either, if we want to split hairs. He just has an elephant’s head because lost his original head in an unfortunate domestic dispute.

            1. it's-a-me*

              For some reason I just visualised the old ‘run into each other going around a corner and pick up the wrong document’ gag, but with heads.

        1. Polar Vortex*

          Not always easy for work but I’ve always like to answer prying questions with random things like “I use Head and Shoulders 2 in 1 Green Apple Shampoo” or “I had my gallbladder removed when I was 23”. And then when the person gets a bit boggled from that answer (and maybe asks what that had to do with their first question) I tell them “I figured if you wanted to know personal things about me, you’d like to know that too.” Usually throws them enough that they stop or they get the message.

          Not work appropriate but actually my default answer to inappropriate questions is “I prefer briefs to boxers, the legs bunch up too much.” Which is why the point is usually driven home.

        2. Not Mindy*

          If I don’t want to answer a question, or if I don’t know the answer to a question, I either respond with “My car is blue” or “42.” But I think that I’ll change that to “God is not an elephant.”

      2. NerdyKris*

        It’s fun to say “I’d just tell them to eff off”, but this is still her workplace and she needs to keep working with them after.

        1. Cyndi*

          Yeah, my first kneejerk suggestion would have been “the next time someone asks, just start screaming and never stop like Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Which would be a bad idea in almost every way! But I frankly think the problem is bad enough that it would be a proportionate response. And it sure would stop the questions.

          I really hope the LW is able to take some time and space where, at least for a bit, they won’t have to modulate their feelings about their own trauma for other people’s satisfaction.

          1. Letter Writer*

            You know the scene in the Babadook where the kid absolutely loses his mind in the backseat of the car? It’s been playing on a loop in my head for days now. The urge to just start screaming and convulsing on the floor in response to yet another person asking me what happened is almost too much to resist at this point.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              That would throw them for a loop for sure!

              LW, I’m so sorry this happened to you. If you can’t take off, go to your boss or HR and have them shut down the questions. IDK if this reaches the level of harassment legally, but you shouldn’t have to put up with it regardless.

            2. Reluctant Mezzo*

              I really hope that you *can* take time off once the worst of tax season is over, because you really, really need to. I know you need to muscle through this, and you will think once it’s done that ‘hey, I coped ok, I don’t need to crash after all’.

              You are wrong. For one thing, I dearly hope you are pursuing police/legal action and that will traumatize you all over again, even if the cops do give a damn for a change.

            3. allathian*

              I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I hope that your lip heals quickly, when it does your coworkers will stop bothering you.

              I also hope that you can take some time off to recover once tax season’s over, even if you would be entitled to take time off now. It’s not your fault that your employer doesn’t have enough staff to handle the busy season with one person’s absence. What would they do if one of your coworkers won the lottery and quit without notice?

              At the very least, if you can take leave until the marks fade, you won’t have to face any more questions. What if you tell your manager something like “I’m having a hard time focusing on my work when everyone’s pestering me about how I got the marks on my face, and I’d appreciate your help in shutting that down so that I can keep working. I’m not sure how much more of this I can take until I have to go on sick leave.” You know your manager best, of course, but any decent person would help you in shutting it down regardless, but particularly if doing so would enable you to keep working.

            4. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

              Honestly, do it. Or just call off, leaving all that extra work as punishment for their behavior.

              At this point they are basically driving you away by making work unendurable on top of your trauma.

              If there’s someone who’s great at work, recruit them to do the screaming for you so you can run away during the distraction.

              And take care of yourself. I tend to minimize my own pain, so I say from experience: your experience and current condition justifies care.

          2. *kalypso*

            I’m functionally mute and the best I can do for people when they bug me is scream. It doesn’t stop much – it just turns into ‘oh you’re mentally unwell, let me help you’, or people going to comfort the other person and get them away from the crazy person. One time someone actually chased me down and started hitting me, I screamed, and people went to ask them if they were okay and wanted them to call the police.

            The thing that works to confuse people and make them eventually go away is just to curl up on the ground, head to knees, hands over head or holding stuff to chest, and just ignoring them. People don’t even know if they should do the touch/pat comforting thing. Ten minutes later, just up and back to whatever it was one was doing before, and eventually people just back off.

            Best not to do it in someone’s office or a non-communal space, but if you’re going to be frog-marched around the office to apologise to everyone for not being happy enough (true story, anyway), you would already know the rough boundaries for where you stay the one most affected.

    3. Corporate Lawyer*

      Yes, I was coming here to suggest the Broken Record Technique. It can be very effective.

      I also agree with Allison and everyone else who suggests you go ahead and take some time off. I understand the guilt about doing so during this busy time, but the most important thing is to take care of yourself right now.

      I’m so sorry this happened to you.

      1. Kyrielle*

        This. Also, frankly, if they are going to *add to the trauma by badgering you about it* if you’re there, my sympathy for their extra workload is not high.

        1. MM*

          Nailed it. OP, if you decide it’s better to take some time off (and I hope you’ll really consider this option!), when you come back people are probably going to ask you about that too. And I think you should honestly tell them that being badgered day in and day out after going through something major meant you had to remove yourself to be ok. If they have any perspective or decency at all, they’ll feel at least embarrassed. Hopefully they’ll make it all the way to ashamed of themselves.

      2. coffee*

        So much this. Take some leave to give them/the situation time to reset.
        They said, “You can’t come into the office looking like that and expect us not to ask questions.” Well, looks like you’re not coming into the office then!

        When you come back, you can say things like “I’m so glad I took my doctor’s advice and took some time to mend up. What happened with [insert thing] while I was out?” And then if they keep asking, you can stick to the line that you resolved it during your time off and there’s nothing to talk about anymore.

        LW, I’m so sorry you were assaulted and now have to deal with your rude & intrusive coworkers too.

    4. JSPA*

      Respectfully, I think you and everyone else are missing the point. When someone says that they are okay (with no further details) and don’t want to talk about it, that registers by default as someone minimizing ongoing abuse.

      I think the letter writer could shut this down much better by saying something that addresses those fears, without going into what happened.

      “physically, I am healing well. In terms of safety, this was someone I will never have to deal with again, and a situation I am determined never to find myself in again. Emotionally, it was traumatic, and every question, no matter how well- intentioned, is adding to that trauma. All you need to know is that I am now safe, and that for me to heal, you need to stop asking me questions right now.”

      1. different seufonym*

        Respectfully, your life has been different than mine if your default assumption is that vocal, public curiosity about that sort of personal injury expresses concern for the person injured, as opposed to, say, victim-blaming or the beginnings of even worse prying.

        1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          Yes, haranguing a person you expect to be a victim of abuse is not the correct course of action, even if you are correct about your suspicion. Sadly, we cannot fix someone’s abusive situation on their behalf, no matter how much we make them explain it to us and pry into their business (with the exception of children, sometimes). That is why abuse is a hard problem to address. Haranguing an abuse victim is more likely to lead to them cutting you off from information.

          So LW’s coworkers are behaving incorrectly regardless of the circumstances, and LW does not owe them each an in-depth explanation as a reward for their bad behavior.

      2. Wendy Darling*

        Does it though? It never has for me.

        And even if someone is minimizing ongoing abuse they’re under no obligation to reassure their coworkers that they’re “safe”. Their coworkers do not need to know that they’re safe. The way to deal with abuse is to create an environment where someone who needs help feels safe asking for it, not to badger anyone who seems like they might possibly need help into revealing personal information whether they want to or not.

        Your suggested response just plays right into the coworkers feeling like they have the right to be incredibly invasive.

        1. The Real Fran Fine*

          All of this. OP doesn’t owe anyone any further explanation. “I’m fine, leave it alone,” is good enough.

        2. That Lady in HR*

          Yeah, too many people respond to suspected abuse in infantilizing/condescending ways. Abuse and assault take away a person’s sense of power and control; of course a victim will reject that feeling even when it comes from a friend (after all, the abuser was likely also a friend at some point!).

          I get the impulse to just fix whatever you think is wrong, but the most important thing is to remind the person that they have options.

        3. Ellie*

          ‘I need to know that you’re safe’ is a pretty manipulative thing to say at the best of times. OP is the one who’s gone through a horrific incident, not her co-workers. Why do their needs trump OPs?

          OP – you should pull your manager aside and tell them that if the comments continue, you will have no choice but to take time off. Let them deal with it, if they’re so desperate to keep you there. I am really sorry for what’s happening to you.

      3. Chilipepper Attitude*

        That answer from JSPA is so long it will be heard as an invitation to pry even more. AND what different seufonym said – that is not the default assumption I would make!

      4. badger*

        Meh. I’m an abuse survivor and didn’t want to talk about it to the extent that even you’re saying. The most helpful thing my friends and coworkers did was, “okay, I respect that. If you ever do want to talk, my door is open.” And then they dropped it. Of course they worried. But when I needed a safe person, they were my safe people because they treated me like a grownup.

        When people continue to push, it becomes increasingly obvious that they do not respect or trust me. And if I am being abused, why would I ever, ever open up to someone who does not respect my boundaries or trust me to be able to decide for myself who I can and should talk to? Even if they register it as ongoing abuse, what they’re doing is *not helping.*

        We don’t have them, we have LW. I also think taking time off would be helpful, but at this point at least some of them will probably continue to be obnoxious when LW comes back since they know something happened. “I am fine, please trust me that I am handling it the way I need to” is probably what I’d go with on broken record, but LW doesn’t owe them more than that.

        1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          Thank you for offering your perspective. I hope you’re doing well.

      5. Rex Libris*

        LW doesn’t owe anyone more explanation than they want to give, and it isn’t their coworkers’ job to assess the situation. I’d personally let the boss handle it, if the boss is reasonable. If it were my employee I’d tell the rest of the staff something like “LW had a difficult personal experience recently. It’s over and they’re fine, but being constantly asked about it makes it hard to move past, so please drop the issue and let things get back to normal.” And then enforce it.

        If they’re actually wanting to be supportive, and not just nosy and morbidly curious, they can best express that with a “Please let me know if you need anything.” and otherwise treating the LW as they’ve always done.

      6. Burger Bob*

        That answer is a rather big answer that still shares more than what LW probably wants to share and requires more emotional energy than LW probably wants to expend. Even if someone actually IS being abused, badgering them when they keep declining to share doesn’t help. You can let them know you’re available if they need anything, but if someone is insisting that they’re fine, there’s not much more you can do beyond that. And especially if it’s a one-off thing that hasn’t happened before rather than part of a pattern, it’s probably best to take the hint and stop being nosey.

      7. Nina*

        Respectfully, if someone is experiencing ongoing abuse, they get to decide they don’t want to talk/think about it at work just as much as someone who’s experienced a one-off horrible assault like OP. Pushing and pushing and pushing for explanation of what you think is going on in their life just labels you as an unsafe person for them forever.

        Someone who is both genuinely worried that a coworker is experiencing abuse and a person likely to be actually helpful might say something like, “I am concerned, but I believe you when you say you’re okay. If you’re ever not okay or need to talk, my door is open” and then drop the subject.

      8. NotAnotherManager!*

        If someone tells me that they are okay and don’t want to talk about something at work/with me, then that registers to me as someone who is okay and doesn’t want to talk about it any further at work/with me. I work with adults, and I take them at their word.

        All this sort of elaborate response is going to do is provoke more unwanted questions and follow-up. It’s not going to shut down the nosy ones; it’s going to feed their fire and subject LW to more invasiveness.

      9. Anon For Now*

        OP’s coworkers are not entitled to any information OP doesn’t want to share and the fact that they are badgering a victim/survivor about their situation and won’t drop it when asked* means they aren’t actually safe people for the OP to confide this massive amount of emotional vulnerability in.

        *this is an abuse tactic by the way

      10. Letter Writer*

        Even if I were experiencing ongoing abuse- which, to be clear, I am not- the fact that my coworkers refuse to respect my privacy means they are the last people I would turn to for help. They don’t need any information about the situation, no matter how much they want it. If they were truly worried about me, they would ask what I needed and listen to my answer. They’re looking for gossip and I don’t have to provide it to them.

        1. laser99*

          I’m really glad to hear you say this. Too many people sympathize with the harassers—“Well, they are WORRIED about you” and so forth. You are not obligated to satisfy anyone’s prurient interest.
          Please know that all of us are pulling for you.

      11. *kalypso*

        ‘I need you to drop it before you retraumatise me,’ is far more succinct and informative. It puts the onus on them to not perpetuate it.

        Unfortunately, ‘trigger’ being the better word here, has been so far diluted that it doesn’t work for anyone who conflates it with snowflake.

      12. Jam Today*

        The LW is under no obligation to manage other people’s emotions for them. Her coworkers need to learn emotional regulation and stop asking nosy questions because they believe they are entitled to information about someone else’s private life.

      13. LilPinkSock*

        Respectfully, people who’ve been assaulted don’t owe a single speck of explanation to anyone. Respectfully, there’s no way I would have managed that little speech. Respectfully, when I told people I was fine, I really just wanted them to stop bothering me, which only made me dwell on what happened.

      14. J*

        Why do you think that victims of ongoing abuse have less right to privacy than anyone else?

        It’s not okay to harass someone for information about their personal life, REGARDLESS of what assumptions you have made about them and their situation.

      15. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        Yikes. That’s an awful lot of words and more work than LW should have to do.

        “I really don’t want to talk about it” should be enough and is frankly more than they deserve,

    5. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I like the idea of using the same language repeatedly, whether you change inflection / firmness. The conversation is already super weird for the OP, why not return some of the awkwardness to sender by repeating “again, I’m fine, but I don’t want to discuss it at work.” It works for all of the examples of the ridiculous things the colleagues are saying.

      “I need to know you’re OK.” “As I said, I’m fine, but I don’t want to discuss this at work.”

      “But we’re friends!” “Yes, but I don’t want to discuss this at work.”

      “You can’t expect us not to ask questions!” “Sure, but I don’t want to discuss this at work.”

      Basically, the bottom line is the OP is not talking about this at work. The colleagues seem intent on coming up with reasons / guilt trips to get the OP to discuss it. But that’s not going to happen. None of what they’re saying changes at all the fact that the OP does not want to discuss this at work.

      Since it’s a super busy time, there’s going to be lots of opportunities to leave the situation. “I’m fine, but I don’t want to discuss this at work, and I’ve got to go handle Important Tasks, byeee.”

      1. Willow Pillow*

        “I don’t want to discuss this at work” implies that discussing it away from work might be okay. It could be for LW! I get the feeling it’s not though, given that they haven’t mentioned it outside of work either.

        I would go even shorter and use variations of “stop asking”…

        “Please stop asking.”
        “I need you to stop asking.”
        “Since we’re friends, I trust you’ll honour my needs and stop asking.”

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Fair point. Could also shorten to “I don’t want to discuss this” and leave off the “at work” part.

    6. laser99*

      This is known as the “broken record technique”, and yes, it is effective. It doesn’t always work because nothing will stop some people.

  2. Brain the Brian*

    And please, OP, realize that an accounting firm that doesn’t bring on enough extra help during tax season to make sure that an employee can take time off for a crisis is making their choice about staffing levels. That’s their problem to manage, not yours. Take the time you need, if you need it.

    1. Yoyoyo*

      Exactly, tax season is not an unforeseen emergency. It’s up to the firm to make sure they are adequately staffed. I understand not wanting other people to have to pick up the work, but it’s not you making that decision. It’s the higher ups who failed to adequately staff.

      1. coffee*

        “Tax season is not an unforseen emergency”
        So true! The saying “The only certain things in life are death and taxes” comes to mind.

    2. Not like a regular teacher*

      Yes, this. If going to work was making you feel normal/providing a welcome distraction that would be one thing, but your coworkers are actively making the situation worse! Your firm can hire a temp, or find some other solution that doesn’t rest solely on you « powering through » after a trauma.

      1. Beth*

        I’d be so tempted to say,
        “If you do not stop asking me about this, I’m going to need to take personal leave to get away from these intrusive questions.”

        1. TWB*

          Honestly, at this point, I’d shame the person asking with bursting into tears and saying “Every time someone asks me about this, it makes me re-visit the traumatic experience. Why would you want to do that to me?”

        2. Sopranohannah*

          Or “You know, I’m not okay. I appreciate you asking me, because I know that you won’t mind picking up my work for while I’m gone. I’ll let boss know that you can handle it. See you in a few days.”

        3. MysteryFan*

          Beth, this is exactly what I’ve been thinking as I read these comments. It might also be the best thing to say to the boss when/if she asks to have the boss intervene on her behalf to stop the questions. “I Really Mean It. If this doesn’t stop, I’m going to have to take off and stay home until I feel that I can come back without intrusive questions”. I’ll bet that would motivate the boss to shut it down!

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, I agree.

            Letter writer, in your shoes I’d also be very tempted to look for another job as soon as possible. You know you can’t trust these people. I suspect you might be happier in a more professional environment where employees treat each other like adults and don’t ask intrusive questions.

    3. The Real Fran Fine*

      All of this.

      OP, I’m so sorry this happened to you. I wish you lots of healing.

    4. Presea*

      I said this below also, but I want this point high up so that OP has a better chance of seeing it – getting adequate rest and support as soon as possible after a trauma is paramount to long-term recovery. Your coworkers would probably be horrified to realize you’re risking your long term mental health to save them a few dozen hours of work over the next week or two. Take the leave.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        I HOPE they’d have the decency to be horrified, but the way some of them are acting, I’m not so sure. But the heck with their fee-fees, LW. Take the time off, you deserve it!

    5. ItBetterNotBeACactus*

      My friend has gone through several tax seasons as an admin and they bring on extra admin help and the admin and accountants basically work every Saturday Feb-April. Then they take Fridays off in the summer. Of course, you could argue they should bring extra extra help, but I understand OPs reluctance to be out.

    6. tangerineRose*

      Also, with intrusive co-workers like that, I wouldn’t want to do them any favors. If you want to take time off, maybe you should.

  3. idwtpaun*

    I’m so sorry, OP, it’s awful that your coworkers are just piling up more stress on you after something like this. It’s shocking how many adults simply won’t leave other people’s business alone.

    1. Pippa K*

      I think people often don’t really, properly, see that they’re prying into someone else’s business because their mental framing for the intrusive questioning is implicitly about themselves: *they* want to know what happened (sub-species, they want to reason that it wouldn’t happen to them), *they* want to feel like a good person for their concern, *they* want to feel like someone’s champion for offering help, etc. This isn’t to say they’re ill-intentioned, just that they might be missing OP’s clear statements backing them off because they’re not really looking for what OP wants.

      1. House On The Rock*

        This is very insightful.

        I’ve seen similar things when others ask intrusive questions about a person out on family/medical leave. You can give all the training in the world on what can and can’t be disclosed, and of course people think that their own medical/personal info should be protected, yet I’ve had other managers and my own higher ups press me for details about my employees’ situation “just to make sure they are ok”. It’s as if, somehow, none of the rules and regulations apply to them because they are CONCERNED.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Agreed. Internally, I’m super nosy. I want to know all the things about everyone. But I also recognize that I have zero right to know any of it and most of the time, even asking is not cool. Satisfying my own curiosity is orders of magnitude less important than someone else’s well-being.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        THIS. The one about “I thought we were friends, don’t you trust me” really got my hackles up. That’s just making someone else’s trauma all about themselves. It’s not caring or friends behavior, it’s manipulative and selfish.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          This one is extra awful. Someone who was actually a friend wouldn’t try to guilt the OP like this.

      4. Wendy Darling*

        I’m very hesitant to talk about the untimely and traumatic death of a family member because of how frequently people start probing for ways that it must have been that family member’s fault. They’re trying to reassure themselves that it won’t happen to them/their family, but it makes me want to punch someone in the kidney.

      5. *kalypso*

        The other thing going on can be that they see someone not reacting to trauma in the way they expect or feel is appropriate, so they assume something must be wrong and need to be fixed. Enforcing the ‘perfect victim narrative’ is super important for these people – they wanat to catch you out in a lie, or prove to you you’re *really* traumatised by making you fit the way you’re meant to behave. Super wrong, insidious and detrimental, but it happens.

      6. Lucky Meas*

        Agreed. I can’t imagine saying “you can’t expect to come to work and not be questioned” to someone with visible bruises. How do you say that to someone out loud and not hear how awful that is?? At that point it’s clear they’re not concerned about OP, they are curious and want to be reassured that they’re a good person for caring about others. OP’s needs do not factor anywhere in it.

  4. Dust Bunny*

    Naw, take the time off. It’s your employer’s job to make sure they’re staffed appropriately.

    It’s **beyond** fair to tell your coworkers it’s not up for discussion. They don’t get to decide what or how much information you share, or how you process this. Get your boss to back you up, if you can trust him/her (mine would shut this down hard).

    1. Peccy*


      Or just ask your boss whether they’d prefer you to wfh or for you to take the time off entirely

      You can’t normally work from home and maybe can’t do your entire job from home but if there are some tasks you CAN do then it may make sense to offload everyone’s X onto your plate to free the others up to do the stuff you can’t do from home. It’s not ideal but can be less hassle than being out

      But also people have stuff happen even during busy periods and they’ll figure it out. It’s not on you to take the pain of understaffing which is a deliberate choice made to save money

      1. Ridiculous Penguin*

        I was working as a tax accountant for a small firm where the owner was a horrible person when I was diagnosed with blood cancer. Not only did she berate me because I couldn’t work as much as I’d expected when she hired me, she also posted on their public-facing Facebook page that the reason there would be a delay in filing returns was my fault (and she told the world that I had cancer).

        I left tax accounting altogether after that.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          I really really hope that at least some people she told this to in such an inappropriate and public way pushed back by wishing you well and taking their own business elsewhere, making it clear this was not because you were sick but because she was treating you this way.

          1. Ridiculous Penguin*

            She moved her business out of Manhattan to the outskirts of Queens (bordering on Long Island), and I’d like to think it’s because she wore out her welcome.

        2. SeluciaMD*

          My jaw is somewhere below the concrete foundation of my house and hurtling at warp speed towards the Earth’s core.


          I’ve worked with some seriously oblivious, entitled, insensitive jerks in my time but that really takes the cake. I am so beyond sorry that you had to experience that, particularly on top of trying to deal with the, you know, ACTUAL HEALTH ISSUE. If there is a hell, I hope a very hot, very uncomfortable spot has been reserved for her. That is just beyond the pale. I hope you are better for having escaped and wish you nothing but good health and better employers henceforth!

          1. laser99*

            I’m sorry, that wasn’t very elegant. I was just FLABBERGASTED. May the fleas of a thousand camels infect her crotch!!!

        3. Jan*

          Sorry to hear you went through that, that’s disgusting! What a nasty piece of work your boss was. I’m glad she’s out of your life now. And if it’s any consolation, anyone reading her Facebook post trying to shame you for being ill is going to think far worse of her than they are of you.

    2. OhNoYouDidn't*

      Agree. To boss: I didn’t feel the need to take time off to heal, but now, because I’m being so harassed by my coworkers about it, I’ve realized that the only way I can heal from this is to take time off to heal up before coming back in.

    3. Quokka*

      Agreed. I mean, they even told OP not to come in if they do t want to talk about it, and since OP Doesn’t want to talk about it, their colleagues must be ok with them going home.

      Being overly literal about what people say is one of my favourite passive-aggressive responses.
      “You can’t come to work looking like that and not talk about it”
      “Fair enough, I’ll leave. See you in a week.”
      They can’t get upset at you for the extra work then either.

  5. Not like a regular teacher*

    I’m sorry this happened to you, OP.

    I think Allison’s advice is solid for people who’ve already seen your injuries. To fend off more people who are just seeing them for the first time, would a blue surgical mask be an option? I’m not at ALL suggesting you have to hide anything, but I wonder if it might make things easier while the bruises heal.

    1. Not like a regular teacher*

      But really, I think you deserve to take some time off and should not feel one iota of guilt about doing so!

    2. introverted af*

      This also seems like a good idea if you could go back and do this from the start, or if you had some kind of similar incident in the future. Your coworkers have demonstrated they don’t respect your boundaries in your answers to their questions. So you don’t have to give them information about yourself through your appearance, because they have demonstrated they can’t deal with it.

      Now that people have seen and haven’t let things go, I worry this would raise more questions though.

    3. Letter Writer*

      At this point everyone I work with has seen the bruising- I desperately wish I’d had the brain power to think of such a simple solution earlier though! It’s so obvious in hindsight.

      1. online millenial*

        You’ve been through something awful–it’s very understandable that you wouldn’t think of this! Wearing a mask might still be a helpful thing, as people might be less inclined to keep asking if they can’t see anything. Really though, do what feels best for you.

      2. That Lady in HR*

        Just underscoring how unfair it is for you to even have to “solve” this problem for other people in the first place. I get that circumstances are what they are, but I hope it’s validating to hear that these intrusive comments place a really unnecessary burden on you, and your coworkers have the option of just…not doing that.

      3. Willow Pillow*

        Your brain and your body did their very best under traumatic circumstances. It’s so easy for we commenters to make suggestions from the safety of our computers and phones! You deserve compassion and gentleness from everyone, including yourself.

      4. ItBetterNotBeACactus*

        A good idea, but also not a magic answer. Then people would have been checking on why you’re wearing a mask (“Oh no, are you sick?” “Oh don’t worry, I’m not sick”) and then you’d probably be feeling weird about try get a sip of water, eating out of the office, etc, etc.

  6. Looper*

    Your coworkers have forfeited your consideration for their workloads with their questions. Take the time off.

    1. The Real Fran Fine*

      Yes! I like this reframing. Stop trying to be considerate of others who aren’t showing you the same kindness, OP.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        The next time a co-worker corners you, you could try, “Thanks for your concern, if you take over the llama account for me that would be a big help.” This puts the onus on them to offer tangible support instead of simply wanting details.
        Wishing you good thoughts through all of this.

    2. RVA Cat*

      This, plus I’m side-eyeing the gendered aspect of their “concern”. Would they treat a male co-worker like this if he got mugged?

        1. Susannah*

          Point taken, Peanut. But yeah – wearing makeup, this happening after a “catastrophic” date, this does point to the LW being female.
          And it’s a lesser issue, given everything else, but I see a gender issue here as well, the “I need to make sure you’re safe,” etc.
          I once got a black eye from a sports injury, and honestly, it pissed me off how many people came up to me (or just looked at me) with these pained expressions and “concern,” worried (without asking me) that I was the victim of domestic violence and too fearful of coming forward (yep, even after I said it was a sports injury).

          1. Nina*

            My friend circle includes a higher-than-average concentration of martial artists and people who are into HEMA (yes, the folks who fight each other with real metal swords). There’s a kind of shared phrasebook of ‘things we have collectively found work to get colleagues/bosses to stop asking about that bruise’ but unfortunately due to this not being the US, most of them probably sound super rude to US ears.

            1. shrinking violet*

              At this point, I think the OP would be perfectly justified in being super rude.

              1. laser99*

                It’s not even rudeness. It’s perfectly reasonable to say something like, “I’ve already stated this is not up from discussion. I don’t understand why you can’t understand that.”

          2. allathian*

            A former coworker was a semiprofessional freestyle wrestler. Some days she’d come to work covered in bruises. When she started working for us and introduced herself, at the end she said that she was a freestyle wrestler and told people not to worry if they saw her covered in bruises, that was normal for her lifestyle. We took her at her word, when she came to work with a bruised face, people’d say something like “I hope you gave as good as you got” and ” ouch, what does your opponent look like?” When her temporary contract ended and she left, she said that a big reason she was so sorry to leave was because we had taken her at her word. At other organizations she’d shared videos from her matches on their informal chat channels because people asked intrusive questions about her bruises and the videos at least stopped most of the questions.

    3. J!*

      Yep yep, cosigned on this. LW, you are showing your colleagues way more consideration than they’re bothering to give you.

    4. NforKnowledge*

      Yuuup this was my first thought! OP is going above and beyond in not putting extra work on their coworkers, and their only repayment is being harrassed by said coworkers!

  7. Well...*

    That last suggestion is really great, deputizing them to help you not have to explain it 50 times. It harnesses their need to help (or maybe their need to center themselves) and gets them off your back. It’s a real airbender move.

    1. Abogado Avocado*

      Agreed. Also acknowledge that, yes, it’s totally unfair you have to set that boundary when you’re recovering from this trauma. Maybe the response could be re-framed as being part of your recovery?

      I join everyone here in wishing you well and hope you can soon take time to take care of yourself.

    2. WantonSeedStitch*

      Yeah, for the people who push and cite their concern for you, “the thing that’s been REALLY hard to deal with is the number of people who keep wanting me to talk about it, when talking about it at work is really traumatic for me. Can you help me shut those people down? It’ll do so much to help me get through this.”

    3. Caz*

      It’s a really good move! I used something similar when my mother died, and I was happy to be a deputy for a friend when she suffered a miscarriage. Obviously these are both very different situations to what the LW is going through, but in both cases it allowed “concerned colleagues” to feel heard while also allowing those who actually needed time and space to recover that time and space.

  8. Massive Dynamic*

    I’m so sorry, OP. Came here to say that you may be entitled to leave due to being a victim of a physical assault. California has crime victim laws in place for this; some other states may as well. Do check if you already haven’t because you deserve peace and rest.

  9. zinzarin*

    “Your questions are adding trauma to an already traumatic experience. Every time someone asks about it, I have to relive it. It wasn’t great, but I’m okay now, and I’m not in any ongoing danger. Please don’t make it worse than it already is.”

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Love this response. Send the awkward back to sender.

      Also, this would be a good thing to talk to HR about and/or your manager, if people simply won’t respect your privacy. Frankly, I’d be telling them that unless the questions stop, you WILL need to take time off work.

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      THIS. “I would feel safer if I wasn’t been repeatedly interrogated after asking people to stop.”

    3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Definitely worth considering whether to make it clear to the coworkers that what they’re doing is extremely upsetting. I’m guessing that the OP’s gentleness in handing this situation has included hiding that the constant questioning is making things worse. Perhaps knowing that they’re making an awful situation dramatically worse will shame some of them into behaving better. Something like “yes, it was a traumatic event and talking about it at work is making things even harder for me, so I really need you / everyone to stop asking me about it.”

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I like this response too! Especially in light of what Pippa K said above about people not realizing that they are not, in fact, being helpful with their questioning. (I probably would’ve eventually snapped and gone off on one of them like “my injuries are not here for your entertainment, Susan” and that would not have worked out well for anyone involved.) Their intentions do seem to be good, so hopefully they’ll be horrified, apologize, and never do it again to anyone.

  10. Slow Gin Lizz*

    Alison’s last three paragraphs are great. It amazes me how many people don’t realize that when they ask someone a question, they might not be the first person to ask someone that very same question. Spelling that out for them could work on some people. Taking a pushy coworker who wants to do something to help and deputizing them to ask others to do exactly what you want them to do is brilliant (although as an introvert myself I might have trouble asking for this kind of help from someone else, so I can see how OP might not want to do that either, but it’s still a brilliant plan if you want to try executing it).

    And lastly, OP, I also hope you’re doing okay. Jedi hugs, if you want them.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Yes, oh my god. You are never the first person to notice an extremely noticeable thing, so just assume the person has heard the question about the extremely noticeable thing a thousand times already and is beyond over it.

      1. Zelda*

        My standard response to a friend mentioning a surgery, a co-worker showing up with a new cast, and other obvious signs that Something Is Up is “Should I ask, or should I not ask?” If they wanna talk, I’m interested and listening. If they’ve already told the story 500% of how much they wanna tell it, I’m not about to press them to do it again for me.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      OMG this.

      Everyone is always like, “But I only asked once!”

      Yeah, but you might be the dozenth person today who “only asked once”, which means the person being asked is getting a constant barrage of questions.

  11. Lily Potter*

    I REALLY like the last suggested response. It tells the inquirer that you don’t want to talk about it further without being nasty (the question is coming out of kindness, remember) and turns the discussion to what THEY can do for YOU. People like being told what they can do to help. Wishing you gentler days ahead, OP.

    1. Artemesia*

      I think this question is not coming from ‘kindness’ but from a perverse sense of curiosity and snoopiness. It is a ‘date’ assault and it looks like an intimate assault and these people want to tut tut and revel in the gory details. And this must be a nightmare for the OP. It is so intrusive and a further assault on someone already recovering.

      Whatever can be done to shut it down. Repeating the same cold, ‘I’m fine and don’t want to discuss this.’ with the same intonation each time. Or asking them to shut down the questions of others. Whatever works so the OP doesn’t have to provide entertainment for others.

      If it were ‘kindness’ and not morbid curiosity they would stop when told she didn’t want to talk about it.

      1. Heiress of Whitestar*

        Can’t agree more. I don’t believe someone who was truly a concerned friend would push past someone’s consent repeatedly. These people are hungry for prurient details and gossip. I would shut them down hard. And I’m so sorry OP that your coworkers are being awful. You deserve better.

      2. Eater of Hotdish*

        Yep. I live and work in a very small town. The informal circulation of local news–which is to say, GOSSIP–is a major local pastime. I’m in a position where I have committed to keeping people’s confidential stuff confidential.

        Anybody who asks me more than once for news on how so-and-so is doing, after I’ve declined to spill, is not doing so out of kindness, but out of entitlement.

      3. Lily Potter*

        Sorry, I prefer to think the better of people. Clearly, I’m not talking about someone who would badger-badger-badger the LW into “telling all”. But I also don’t believe that just because someone inquires upon seeing a clearly-injured co-worker, they’re being an awful person who deserves a nasty response. Allison’s script is a perfect response. ( “Actually, I could really use your help. People keep asking me intrusive questions about what happened, not realizing they’re the 50th person to do that, and I’d be so grateful if you can help shut that down.”)

        1. Cyndi*

          But the situation IS one where many of LW’s coworkers are badger-badger-badgering her and won’t accept a clear “I don’t want to talk about it.” It’s the persistence that people are reacting to so strongly.

        2. MHA*

          You are talking about someone badgering the LW, though, because that is explicitly the situation they describe in their letter. It’s unkind to ignore the context of what the LW describes their coworkers actually doing– repeatedly violating their boundaries after a traumatic experience– with reminders that ~it’s normal to ask about it though~ as if that’s the issue at hand.

  12. Jules the 3rd*

    My deepest sympathy to you, and a virtual hot drink of your preference. Abusers suck so much, and can be so sneaky in order to find access. You did nothing wrong, it’s all on your attacker.

  13. HugeTractsofLand*

    I’m so sorry that you were assaulted, and I hope that you have all the support you need in your personal life to help recover. A lot of us have been there; you will move on past this, and it will someday be just a nasty ding on your rearview mirror.

    I get that the impact of you leaving work might make you feel bad…and who knows, maybe working is helping you feel normal right now?…but you really should take a couple of days off, especially if the questions don’t stop. “I get where you’re coming from, but that’s too personal” or “I need to focus on work” or “I’m not going to talk about that” should be your go-to. Also feel free to walk away and say “If you have any work questions let me know.” These people may be your friends but they’re being selfish right now in *their* need for answers. I think Alison’s advice to have someone else run interference would really help, too. Best of luck.

  14. Employed Minion*

    I would consider sending an email to the group with a variation of the suggested responses. And something like ‘If I want to talk about it, I will initiate the conversation’

    Of course, this depends on the relationship(s) you have with coworkers and the dynamics of your workplace. I would work really well in my dept.

    1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      Yeah, this was going to be my suggestion- a blanket email with as much info the OP is willing to share and then stating that this will be the only info given out.

      I’m so sorry you’re going through this, OP. I hope you find the time to heal physically and emotionally from this.

    2. Nesprin*

      I really like the gentle gaslighting towards better behavior:
      “Thanks for understanding that I’m not up for talking about it right now and for giving me the privacy to heal.”

    3. SeluciaMD*

      Yep, this was going to be my suggestion as well. Remind them that you are fielding a lot of questions about this right now because they are ALL DOING IT. And that while you appreciate that they are trying to show you that they care, they are actually making things far worse by repeatedly asking you to relive this trauma for their personal edification.

      You might also want to say some version of “I didn’t want to take time off and add to everyone’s already high workload given the timing, but understand that the endless questions and interrogation is only increasing my trauma and making it very hard for me to continue to focus on work while I heal.” If true concern for your mental well-being won’t shut them up, maybe some enlightened self-interest will and they will lay off if they realize continued pestering might mean you take leave and they get more work as a consequence.

      OP, I am so very sorry this happened to you and that (and I’m going to be charitable here) well-meaning people are making this very hard time so much worse. Don’t be afraid to hold firm on your boundaries and to take time off if that is what you need to heal. Jedi hugs if you need them. Take care!

      1. sookie st james*

        [Classic ‘I’m not American’ comment incoming, sorry to be that person!]

        I’m curious about these responses you and others have suggested (not picking on yours in particular, SeluciaMD, it’s just one of many I’ve read now) that are suggestions for shutting down questions with long-ish statements that include things like ‘re-traumatising me’ or ‘taking time to heal’. It strikes me as very vulnerable language to use with anyone, let alone in the workplace and with coworkers who have proved to be willing to mine LW’s trauma for gossip content. I would be interested to know if this is a cultural difference as I just can’t imagine feeling comfortable enough to say something like that?

        For the record, everything in your suggested language is true and would be fair for LW to say, but it’s the kind of framing I’d use talking with my partner or a therapist when describing the situation, but would not feel comfortable or appropriate bringing that language into the workplace. Sure, the coworkers are the ones who have initiated the inappropriateness of it all so LW doesn’t owe them anything, but my fear would be using therapy buzzwords would risk validating their feelings that they’re entitled to *any* of my trauma/recovery.

  15. Michelle Smith*

    “But we’re friends, why don’t you trust me enough to tell me?”
    “As my friend, I hope you can understand why I don’t want to recount a difficult incident at work. I appreciate your concern, but as my friend, I’m asking you to respect my request not to talk about it.”

  16. Emmie*

    “I need to feel safe at work. In order to feel emotionally safe, I need you to stop asking me questions permanently about this.”

    I suppose I’m having such a visceral reaction here because your coworkers are extraordinarily callous.

    1. Susannah*

      This is great.
      Because, yes, I’m sure they are sincerely concerned . But the outback LW is describing indicates that some of these co-workers are making the attack about THEM. Which is inexcusable and LW should be as blunt and even rude as desired to shut it down.

  17. Morning Flowers*

    Deputization is absolutely the way to go here, IMO. Pick out the three people who’ve been pressing your hardest, play on their nosy desire to “help” with complete sincerity, and earnestly ask for their help with zero trace of anger. The useful twist here is that by asking in a totally positive way, you set them up so that the only way they can save face to themselves and you is by doing exactly what you want — shutting up, and telling everyone else to shut up — because if you ask them, totally positively, to do The Thing That Will Help, and they refuse to, it gets *much* harder for them to maintain the self-perception that they’re Only Trying To Help. Now, might there be one or two assholes you work with who still won’t center the needs of a victim after being explicitly asked to do a helpful thing? Yeah, that’s always a possibility — but hopefully if you’ve empowered everyone else to shut them down (by spreading word you want to stop being asked and that it’s helpful to get people to stop asking you), you can swing social pressures to help you there. (And there might not be one or two assholes.)

    Should you, the victim, have to do all this work to manage everyone else’s feelings? Nope! It isn’t fair, and if I were in your office, I’d be going door to door explaining politely but firmly to the thick-skulled jerks doing this that they should effing stop the moment I caught wind of it. There’s someone in your office like me, OP, who’ll help you, I’m betting.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      I would ask the person’s manager or a trusted confidant who as NOT been intrusive to do this, not the people who have been. The intrusive people are going to take this as carte-blanche to further intrude, will bring it up continually under the guise of “helping”, will continue to make it all about their desire for drama/entertainment (because that’s what it is) etc. etc. The OP needs someone with either authority or discretion (preferably both) to shut down the intrusive busybodies, not to empower them further.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        ETA – not that this is actually entertainment/drama. But that’s what the busybody coworkers are treating it as. Which is VILE of them.

        1. Susannah*

          Totally agree. They want insert themselves in the drama, making themselves the savior/stars.

      2. Morning Flowers*

        Oh, good point. That said, turning it around on the busybodies the next time they busybody on their own is still a solid tactic.

  18. Rosie*

    Alison’s scripts are very good here. As an executive assistant, I’m guessing the reason the team is being so intrusive is because they are not used to you saying no about anything. This doesn’t make that okay! I think a couple days off is an excellent chance for you to recover and for them to reflect on how they’re behaving. Your situation is about you, not them, and they’re being awful. When you come back you can explain that you had no choice but to use some sick leave because your colleagues were refusing to respect your boundaries. If that makes more work for them, too bad. They brought this upon themselves.
    Most importantly, I hope you are doing okay and being kind to yourself. We’re on your side

    1. Brain the Brian*

      This is a great point — that EAs very commonly have otherwise-common workplace boundaries bulldozed by their coworkers.

  19. Presea*

    I’m so sorry that this happened to you OP, I hope you’re doing okay and that you have access to whatever support and resources you need to get through this.

    You deserve to go on leave to deal with this if you have to, like everyone else is saying. Immediate support and rest after a trauma is paramount to recovery; it’s absolutely NOT your responsibility to risk your long-term mental health for the sake of saving your coworkers a few dozen hours of work over the course of the next week or so. That is not a rational expectation for anyone to have! I bet your coworkers would be horrified if they realized the extent to which you’re pushing yourself, not that it’s their business.

    Also, in terms of practical and actionable advice – is wearing a mask to cover the bite marks an option?

  20. Exme*

    For the boss or anyone you want to give more explanation to in order to enlist their help with the comments, you still don’t need to detail what happened.
    The key points to make are “I’m not in danger now. My support needs will be handled by the appropriate people. If I need something else I will request it, please don’t assume. I need my coworkers to stop asking me about it – can you help with that?”

    If you realize something the company can do for you, you can still come back later and say – actually I do need EAP/time off/security request/etc.

    Take care LW, so sorry you are dealing with this.

    1. Sara without an H*

      This is a good script. I agree that enlisting the LW’s boss (or somebody senior enough to run interference for them) is probably the way to go.

  21. Cyndi*

    I’m sure this isn’t actual good advice, but this is really disgusting behavior and I’m mad as heck on your behalf. Not only would my coworkers hassling me about this kill any guilt I had about taking time off–I don’t know if I could resist the temptation to tell people, flat out, that they were a factor in my needing to keep away from work, because they’re actively making this situation worse. Nobody magically knows the right thing to do in a horrible situation but “concerned” adults should sure as spit know that the right thing to do is WHAT THE PERSON ASKS YOU TO DO, which in this case is shutting up! You’ve been very clear about that, to everyone, repeatedly!

    If your coworkers actually care about your wellbeing and want to help, they’ll understand that they can do that by taking work off your hands. If they don’t…well, handling that extra workload is the least they can do to make up for rubbernecking in the guise of “care.”

    1. Chirpy*

      Was definitely going to say this. Take the time off you need and don’t feel bad about it. Your coworkers should have backed off, and since they won’t, the most helpful thing they can do for you now is deal with your absence while you recover.

    2. Ivana Tinkle*

      I’d be going to my manager and explaining that I originally wanted to stay working through this, but because inconsiderate and nosey co-workers are adding to the trauma, I’ll be off work & see you in X weeks!

    3. Cyndi*

      Also, belatedly– I think there’s a good chance that your coworkers are discussing this and speculating behind your back, and if so the concern and/or “concern” machine could go on feeding itself for a long while.

      I don’t have any good advice for that–I’m bringing it up in hopes someone who’s better at office politics than me does?–but if you choose to take this to your boss, I think it’s worth mentioning alongside the way people are acting to your face.

  22. G!*

    OP, please take time off for yourself. I like to remind people that you’re likely to never look back on your life and wish you spent more time at work, and these circumstances certainly warrant some real rest.

  23. irene adler*

    Oh geez! LW, please prioritize your well-being here.
    The askers may be wanting to help the LW but not sure how to go about doing this- or even asking this. Yes, from what LW writes, no help is needed. I understand that.

    Speaking just for myself, when a friend or co-worker has experienced something traumatic, it’s my wish that I might do something to help them. But I don’t always know what that might be. Maybe that’s behind the “make sure you are safe” questions. Yes, I understand, this is simply a guess on my part. (Yes, I have directly asked what I can do to help. Sometimes I get an actionable response, sometimes not.)

    Maybe doling out a little bit of the workload to each asker would give them a sense that they are helping the LW. Yes, I understand, that the LW is not interested in handing off their work to any of the co-workers. So this may not be a viable suggestion for the LW.

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      This is true for the first question. Once the LW says she doesn’t want to talk about it, the rest of the questions are about putting their desires above her needs.

  24. Llellayena*

    “I need to make sure you’re safe!” – “That’s not your job, please stop asking.”
    “But we’re friends…!” – “A friend would stop asking when I request that.”
    “You can’t expect we don’t ask (paraphrased)!” – “But I can expect you’ll STOP asking when I ask you to stop.”
    In general, since this has been happening for a bit, you can just respond with “Stop asking me, I’m not going to tell you and it’s making me uncomfortable.” Basically return rude to sender. And ugh. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with both the assault AND the aftermath. I hope you’re getting help from the appropriate people to give it.

    1. MsM*

      Yeah, my gut reaction to “you can’t expect us not to ask questions!” is “actually, I do expect you to respect my privacy/boundaries.”

      Or just “Wow.” I feel like “wow” works here.

  25. theletter*

    This might backfire, but you could just say that since you’ve made the police report, the best thing right now is to keep your mind on tax season. How about them audits, eh?

  26. Elsa*

    LW said that there isn’t a hr and the person who they would normally go to is the worst with the questions, doesn’t that imply it’s the boss who is asking the intrusive questions?

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I did HR duties at my last job, which also a small firm. I was neither HR nor the boss. It happens in small firms, where one person gets these duties tacked on to their regular job function.

    2. Small biz employee*

      Not necessarily — I work at a small firm and our COO covers HR functions, whereas my boss is our CEO.

    3. Letter Writer*

      The person who handles HR stuff isn’t my boss! In a company this small we wouldn’t have enough HR work for even a part time employee to fill their time, so one of the partners of the firm handles it.

  27. LCH*

    this one really pisses me off.
    “Them: “You can’t come into the office looking like that and expect us not to ask questions.””

    i would probably feel like getting a little more assertive and saying something like, “I’m fine, I prefer not to discuss it, and I absolutely can expect my coworkers to respect my wishes and my privacy.”

    1. mf*

      Yeah, that one feels very victim-blamey to me. “Can’t you see that it’s your fault I’m stomping on your boundaries?”

      1. littlehope*

        Right? Like, yes, it might be true that you can’t realistically expect people not to be curious and concerned, but you sure as hell should be able to expect them to exercise a bit of self-control once you’ve made it clear that you prefer not to discuss it! You do not owe them explanations, reassurance or anything else. They are now just being nosy, selfish and insensitive. They can feel however they feel, that doesn’t mean they get to make it your problem.
        I’m sorry you’re having to deal with all this, OP. I hope things get easier.

      2. irene adler*

        It’s unkind too.
        Don’t know about you, but for me, I don’t like to talk about traumatic events that occur to me. I prefer to move on. The less time dwelt on it the better.

        So asking me questions is going to garner a very firm “Please! I’ve told you what happened and now I do not want to talk about it anymore. Thank you.”

        I recognize some people prefer to talk and talk about such events. Each to their own. Just respect the person’s wishes on this.

        1. littlehope*

          And I mean, if I did want to talk it through the last place I’d want to do that would be *at work!*

    2. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Yeah — all the questions OP’s been getting made my blood boil, but that one blew the lid off the pot.


      Good grief.

    3. Isben Takes Tea*

      It’s such a false defence, because dollars to donuts if she didn’t come to work, they’d say “you can’t call out and expect us not to ask about it!”

    4. Danish*

      really smacks of “you shouldn’t have gone out dressed like that if you didn’t want to be harassed” huh? And given the nature of LW’s assault that makes it extra icky.

    5. Velawciraptor*

      “I absolutely can expect you not to ask questions. I can expect you, as an adult, to have the self control not to ask about things that are not your business. I can expect you, as an adult, to respect boundaries that have been clearly and repeatedly expressed. And I can expect you, as an adult, to recognize that your curiosity neither equals a right to know nor trumps my right to privacy.”

      1. pope suburban*

        Exactly, although I admit the wording in my head, at first, was, “Yes, I f*king can.”

    6. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah, whoever said that is the biggest asshole of the bunch. Can make no claim to being well-intentioned but wrong (as some of the examples might maybe). Just astronomically wrong.
      OP’s coworkers are horrible. No guilt in them getting extra worked dumped on. Eff that.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I have used this one before. It has the effect of stopping the person in their tracks. I highly recommend it.

  28. Roscoe da Cat*

    Do we have a ‘worst coworkers’ award? I think this may top the person who complained about not getting invited to the wedding after saying she would prefer the groom to have died.

  29. Goddess47*

    If the HR-ish person keeps pushing too hard, in addition to soliciting her assistance in stopping the questions, be blunt about “if the questions don’t stop, I’m going to need some time off”… hopefully that will get her attention that you’re being serious and it will affect everyone else. And, no matter what, take a day just to breathe.

    But it’s not your fault that there’s not enough help.

  30. SJK*

    Oh, I really like Allison’s last suggestion of “I could your your help…” because it does use your coworkers’ (way too pushy and not actually helpful) need to do something and could further help curb the questions without you being there (I mean, optimistically).

    I’m also wondering if you could start wearing a mask? Make an excuse of a bug going around kid’s school/partner’s work/apartment complex/whatever excuse fits your life? Like, is it going to be pretty transparent the “real” reason why? Maybe, but if people can’t directly see it, it may be easier to redirect the conversation.

    Regardless, do what you need to do, OP. Sorry you have to deal with intrusive coworkers on top of everything else.

  31. gbw*

    I just wanted to chime in with an I am so sorry this happened to you. I hope you are on your way to recovery and have the support you need to do that. Best wishes.

  32. JustMe*

    yeah OP–this is one of those things where I think you would be very justified in taking time off. It’s intrusive and obnoxious of your coworkers and you have every right to shut them down but…I think they are genuinely very concerned and have a right to be. I’m inclined to go the route of talking to your manager to let them know that you would like to remain at work and would like everyone else to leave you alone for right now so you can focus on your work. But this is pretty extreme and I don’t think anyone would really blame you for taking time off for this. (ex. Years ago my dad’s accountant wasn’t getting back to him around tax time. My dad angrily went down to the office, found out accountant had had a heart attack and was in the hospital. Anger immediately dissipated. Accountants are people and sometimes life happens and they can’t go to work during tax season.)

  33. Dona Florinda*

    I’m so sorry you’re going through all of this. I agree with Alison: set your boundaries, and feel free to return awkward to sender for those that keep pushing.

    No one is entitled to information about what happened to you or your feelings, and if they really are your friends/ worried/ have your best interest in mind, they will respect your boundaries. If they keep pushing, you know they are just nosy.

    Sending you lots of love.

  34. Camellia*

    Hmm, if I tried ‘deputizing’ someone to help, I’d be afraid they might respond with, “Sure, I’d be glad too! Just tell me what happened and I’ll be sure to let everyone else know so you don’t have to!”.

    Honestly, I’d stick with, “Asked and answered. Please respect my privacy over this.”.

  35. LoV...*

    “I need to make sure you’re safe,” *sigh* I hate when people center themselves when they are ostensibly trying to help. The letter writer needs to be supported, which might mean letting stuff go and allowing them to move forward.

    1. L. Bennett*

      Right? I get being concerned about a coworker/friend and the initial ask, but these invasive follow-ups feel like they’re more about the askers being nosy and needing to feel like a confidant than it is about actually making sure the coworker/friend is okay. After she says she’s fine, say “okay, let me know if you want to talk or if you need anything.” Then maybe do some nice things like leave her favorite cup of tea on her desk to let her know you’re there for her, not center yourself on her trauma.

      I like Alison’s last suggestion to deputize them.

    2. CommanderBanana*

      ^^ THANK YOU.

      Random coworker, how are YOU proposing you’re going to do that?? I’ve volunteered in domestic violence programs for years and it is *intensely* frustrating how often people will try to center THEMSELVES in other peoples’ trauma.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yeah, they don’t mean “make sure”, they mean “be reassured”. Because what matters is their emotions, not the injured person.

  36. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    It may be handy to add some assurance that whatever happened to you won’t happen again, since that’s probably part of where people’s imaginations are getting tangled up. To be clear, you don’t owe anybody any detail at all, but people may be worried you’re in an ongoing abusive relationship and are going into overdrive about helping you out of it.

    “I’d prefer not to discuss it at work, but I promise you I’m okay and this won’t be a recurring issue. I’d appreciate it if we could return our attention to work.”

    1. Ellie*

      They just want to make themselves feel better would be my guess. They probably aren’t being deliberately cruel, but they are being very selfish.

      OP could try the following, ‘I was the victim of a crime, it has been dealt with, and I really need to move on with my life. Please stop asking questions, it is making it impossible for me to work.’ I tend to think they are being so rude though, that there might be nothing that gets them to back off. I’d engage your manager, if you can. You shouldn’t have to put up with this.

  37. Dr. Rebecca*

    I’m going to buck the trend telling the LW to take time off–I mean, if she wants to, absolutely she should, but I think doing so will absolutely make this MUCH BIGGER in the minds of her coworkers, leading to more questions/speculation when she comes back.

    1. Brain the Brian*

      Yep. OP should take time *if she needs it*, not if she doesn’t. My point above was merely that she shouldn’t use the potential workflow impacts on her coworkers due to what looks like her employer’s inadequate staffing levels as an excuse not to take time *if she needs it*. By the same token as everything else, she should not be pressured into taking time off if she doesn’t need or want to do so.

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      I probably wouldn’t have the guts to say this, but if that happened something like “Well, I thought coming to work wouldn’t be a big deal but the constant questions made things so much harder” wouldn’t be amiss

  38. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    In my view, they’re basically forcing you to take time off by being like this. Talk to your boss, tell them your coworkers are being horrible and it’s giving you no choice but to spend the next 1-2 weeks recovering at home. Either way, it will put a stop to this crap. Hugs to you. Wishing you a great recovery in all aspects.

  39. Constance Lloyd*

    OP, I experienced something similar while I was an RA in college. In that context, I lived with my coworkers, so professional vs social boundaries became inherently blurred. I had one coworker who I trusted with the details and she ran interference as needed. In most cases, being able to say, “I’m fine, and I have Jane,” effectively shut down further questioning, because it assured my coworkers I had some sort of support. I know a few of my coworkers did briefly follow up with Jane, who then confirmed I was fine (or at least not in ongoing danger) and they stopped asking.

    You shouldn’t have to do this, and repeating the scripts Alison provided will (hopefully) eventually be enough for people to respect your privacy. More than anything, I just know how helpful solidarity can be when processing traumatic events, so I wanted to share my experience. And please, take some time off if you need it. This is the definition of extenuating circumstances. I still take the anniversary of my awful event off of work every year because I know it’s what I need. I’m wishing you all the love and support you need as you heal.

  40. RedinSC*

    I am so sorry you’re going through this, it sucks.

    I like the advice, I think you can get people to stop asking the questions. I also think if you want, take the time, but also know that the questions will start up again, once you come back. So, either way, time off or not, you need to get your coworkers to understand that this is not up for discussion any more.

    You take care of yourself. Right now you need to be the center of your universe.

  41. jm*

    I’d be really tempted to print out Alison’s set of replies above & just shove a copy into the hand of the asker when they ignore your response to their 1st question.

  42. Person*

    I agree with everything Alison said, but you might also include something like “I’ve already got it handled” just because that would imply that you’re not just brushing off their concerns and pretending that nothing happened, but that you already did something about it and just don’t want to talk about it. Not that you’d need to explain regardless, but it might help just a little for some of the people who are genuinely worried and not just nosy.

  43. roann*

    Man, I really wish you could take the time off and dole out the extra 10-15 hours of weekly work specifically to the people who have been hassling you the most, but I know that’s not how it works.

  44. Trillian (the original)*

    There’s also, (one beat, two beat, cool regard), “As I was saying about the Wimsey file …” Because nothing says “I’m not talking about this” than refusing to hear the questions.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I have had some luck with avoiding overly personal questions (albeit in far lower-stakes personal questions) with “So how about that obvious subject change?” (like literally those words) and twice, ever, I have had to follow up with “What part of my obvious subject change did you miss?”

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      The Wimsey file is all prepped for the Vane merger, thank you for following up on that.

  45. Meg*

    Just want to add that ‘no’ and silence are perfectly polite responses too. You don’t have to have a good response to every intrusive question, you can just let it hang there without any response at all. Even if ‘no’ doesn’t quite fit to whatever they said it will get your point across. It will feel very uncomfortable because they made it awkward by asking an intrusive question. You don’t have to alleviate the uncomfortable situation they created.

    1. SofiaDeo*

      I have used “no, thank you” or “no thank you” when asked odd things I didn’t care to answer. The problem with a lot of the “scripts” is that even a few short sentences is exhausting when repeated dozens of times. So something really short is easy, and a “thank/s” somewhere in there means no one can try to interpret someone as being rude. After a horrible accident affecting my face, I personally chose “I’m fine, thanks” and redirected when I got the barrage of “what happened” “are you OK” “OMG” and if that didn’t stop it, any further questions got a “maybe later” if the questioner persisted.

      OP, take the leave if you want. But keep working if you really want to, just shut down the questions. I’ve had 4-5 awful traumatic things happen during my life, including almost knifed by an ex, almost shot by a robber, badly broken leg, cancer diagnosis. Sometimes work was better than thinking about the awful thing. Sometimes I didn’t want to have to try to focus enough to do my job well, and wanted to stay home. Just, do whatever is best for you. If you got pneumonia unexpectedly & were hospitalized, work would have to deal without you. Thank goodness you aren’t hospitalized, but you have been through something awful, and taking care of Yourself should be #1. Don’t force yourself to work if you’d rather not. Do what is best for You.

  46. pope suburban*

    Everyone has given such good advice on how to handle things in the moment, and I think taking time off is totally fine and indeed necessary. I want to float the suggest that, somewhere down the line, when you have the mental/emotional resources, you look for another job. This workplace has prove itself to be unsupportive (Insufficient staffing, no HR) and unsafe (The total jerkwads who work there) and that’s no a place you should suffer long-term. Your whole workplace sucks and isn’t going to change, and for that I am deeply sorry.

  47. aebhel*

    I’m so sorry this happened to you, LW, and that your coworkers are making the situation worse with their intrusive questions.

    FWIW, I think you should feel absolutely free to take some time off if you think it would help; even if you had decent coworkers, you should do that, but these particular coworkers have amply proven that they don’t deserve your consideration.

    Otherwise, could I recommend, ‘I’m not discussing this, and I need you to stop asking’, repeated ad nauseum, in a very chilly tone of voice. If you coworkers who seem more like they’re actually concerned for your well-being instead of just digging for juicy gossip, it would be worth conscripting them into getting everybody else off your back, but otherwise just be boring and blunt about the fact that they’re not getting any more information out of you and they’re being beyond obnoxious for pushing it.

  48. HoleeMolee!*

    Gawd, just be there per usual, be kind, and don’t ask if it’s none of your business!

    I walked into the lunch room at work once day and one coworker, a woman, had two black eyes and it was *shocking* to see to say the least and I’m sure she saw my expression. She said nothing, I didn’t ask in front of everyone or nor did I want to risk retraumatizing her. I did discreetly check in with my shop steward who told me that the person was fostering a new dog, a big one, who yanked the leash hard enough for the poor coworker to fall and break her face.

    LW: I’m so sorry this happened to you!

    1. CommanderBanana*

      Hah yes I definitely got bruises from being (lovingly and with the best intentions) headbutted by my cinderblock-noggined pittie.

  49. coffee underachiever*

    I think an extra 10-15 of work is a fitting punishment for coworkers who will. not. stfu. Jesus, I’m really sorry you’re going through this.

  50. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

    Take the leave. Then they can use that energy to work, rather than get into business that doesn’t pay them. They clearly don’t have enough to do, I’d they have time to repeatedly harass you about this. Because seriously, this is straying into harassment.

  51. All Het Up About It*

    I wonder if you could turn it back on them by saying something along the lines. “I’ve secured my physical safety, but mentally I’m struggling because all my co-workers are harassing me, not trusting my word, and not respecting my boundaries around my private life. Do you think you could help with that safety?” You might be able to find a less confrontational way to say the same thing, but honestly don’t feel like you have to. You don’t have to keep being the polite one in this situation.

    I also like the thought of addressing the most persistent individual and telling them you are safe, that the best way they can help you is to respect your desire to not discuss the incident at the office and to let everyone else know that if you continue to be asked about it, you will ignore and walk away. And then follow through.

    But let me add to the chorus of I also like the idea of just taking the time off! Please do what you need to do for you. If you had emergency surgery they would address and cover. This is an equivalent situation and you should feel NO GUILT about taking any time you need.

  52. Regina Phalange*

    “You can’t come into the office looking like that and expect us not to ask questions.” Wow. WOW. That is so offensive and gross. As if LW came in like that intentionally!

    LW, please do take the time off if that is what feels right to you. This is a situation that absolutely warrants other people covering for you. (The petty part of me wants to say that these people deserve the extra work, but that’s irrelevant. You should take the time if you need it regardless.)

  53. BabeRoe*

    I was assaulted *AT* work last week and since everyone knows the story of what happened I have people asking me all day how I’m doing and what’s going on with the case etc. It’s exhausting.
    I’m sorry you’re having to go through that. I wouldn’t want to share what happened to me with anyone but everyone already knows. And those who didn’t are standing next to those who do so they end up hearing about it anyway.
    Just try to focus on the part where people care and try not to get annoyed even though I know it’s difficult. Also prepare yourself for the comments a month or two from now. After everything seems fine and people have moved on, some people will think it’s okay to bring it up and ask you about it. And some people will feel that you owe them an explanation because they “gave you room” like it’s some kind of contract that you didn’t agree to.
    I hope you heal quickly.

  54. Petty Betty*

    I am petty enough to take time of NOW and use the reasoning that you were pushing through the original issue, but having everyone in the office continually bring up your obvious bruising and physical trauma as a way to pry details out of you and stomp all over your boundaries was a secondary assault you weren’t expecting to receive from people you thought better of, who have used the phrase “but you trust me” and it isn’t helping you try to reduce the occurrence of PTSD so you’re just going to take the time off until you’re physically healed and when you come back, you hope that the staff can resist the urge to feed their curiosity at your expense.

    Really milk it for all it’s worth when it comes to guilt tripping and shaming them for their continued harassment. Maybe even throw in a line about how you do not want anyone reaching out to you while you’re off because you do not trust them to not bring it up (except for whoever has not actually mentioned your injuries, if there has been anyone like that, in which case, be nice to them).

    But, I’m petty AF.

    I hope you physically recover with no scarring. I hope that mentally you have a graceful, easy, calm and gentle recovery with no lasting effects. What happened wasn’t your fault and your co-irkers are definitely adding to your stress.

  55. E*

    As someone who’s been in a similar situation please take time off. I know you’re worried about other people but you should be your number one priority. At this point also I think either ignoring them completely or saying it’s none of you business would also be appropriate but also talking to the boss might help. Hugs.

  56. Not A Manager*

    You could try using the language of consent back at them.

    “I need to make sure you’re safe.” – “When you continue to question me after I’ve asked you to stop, you’re making me feel unsafe.”

    “But we’re friends, why don’t you trust me enough to tell me?” – “You’re such a good friend that I trust you to respect my no.”

  57. Dumpster Fire*

    “I’m here because I don’t want to make your life more difficult, but you’re making my life more difficult.”

  58. Purple Cat*

    Oh man, I’m so sorry this is happening to you.
    I personally would hate to have to take this tactic, but I think it might be best for you.
    Send an email to everyone (or the worst offenders) and say
    “For my physical and mental well-being, I have to insist that people stop asking about what happened. If I feel like talking about it, I will initiate the conversation. I appreciate your assistance in this.”
    And if anybody brings it up again just say “Read my email”.
    But really, your mental and physical health is WAY more important than your job. Please take the time off you need.

  59. Mandie*

    This is definitely a “take time off” situation if I ever heard one. I can honestly say I wouldn’t think twice about staying home if I were in your shoes. It doesn’t matter if it’s the busy season! You endured a serious trauma and you deserve to recover in peace without intrusive questions. At the most, you could ask your boss if there are any administrative tasks you could work on from home to support the team, even if you can’t do 100% of your job from home. But you don’t even owe them that. Work is work. Your health and wellbeing come first, period.

  60. Thegreatprevaricator*

    I’d like to add to those affirming that this is a situation where taking time off is appropriate. You’ve been assaulted and that might mean you need some time to recover from a traumatic situation.

  61. SansaStark*

    I’ve been the coworker who had to take on some additional time/stress because a coworker had an ill-timed emergency and….it was fine. I mean, sure, there were days that really sucked, but that certainly wasn’t the coworker’s fault and no one held it against her.

    You know how you feel better than I do, but if the only thing stopping you from taking the time is extra stress on existing staff….I say take the time and everyone can just deal with it. They’ll be fine or they won’t, but that is certainly no reflection on you or your actions.

    I’m so sorry this happened to you and that you’re continuing to deal with situations caused by something so terrible.

  62. 2 Cents*

    “Every time I talk about it, I relive it, which just makes me upset and we have too much work to do! I’m OK, so please don’t ask me to relive it again.” <–or some variation. If I (unknowingly) asked a colleague what happened and they didn't want to talk about it, and I didn't get the hint, hearing this would be enough for me to back off. (I mean, I'd get the "I don't want to talk about it" too, but for the sake of argument…)

  63. searching for a new name*

    As a manager in public accounting, please take some time off. Your firm will figure this out, and it’s really on them to do so. I’m sorry you are going through this

  64. Chris*

    Grr. As a victim of such assault myself I am borderline violently angry at your insensitive coworkers.

    “You can’t come into the office looking like that and expect us not to ask questions.”
    While, yes, I can expect questions once the basic outline of what has happened has been shared to about 3 people, that is IT. No more. I can ABSOLUTELY expect no more inquiries. No going in to detail. Those three people should have the tact and grace to quietly spread the word that it was a sensitive issue and should not be asked about. That the OP should be given space on the matter and treated no differently than they would have been if they weren’t assaulted and bruised unless and until they, the OP, expressed a need for accommodation.


    1. Nunya Beeswax*

      Seconding your “Grr”s, Chris.

      Intrusive Coworker: “You can’t come in here looking like that and expect us not to ask questions.”
      My likely response: “Why not? You do, every day!”

      But then I’m a mean, vindictive old person.

  65. SbuxAddict*

    I own an accounting firm and I do see a lot of the commenters saying to take off time. I would encourage you to do that if you feel like you need to but honestly – thank you for coming to work. We try to promote a work life balance but we had several people out this past Monday. The rest of us rotated two hours each backing up our admin on phones and emails. Productivity was in the toilet. That said, I would give those people the time off next year even at the start of April if they needed it for the reasons they did this year. Also, your comment about getting overly close with your coworkers is kind of the nature of the industry in smaller firms. I could write a book about it and why firms should promote mental health better but that’s not what you asked. Just keep an eye on it as someone who takes client problems too much to heart. Don’t be me.

    There are extensions for a reason. No one dies if they have to extend their tax return. Do not let the pressure get in the way of your own health – physical or mental. I had to work longer hours that day but next week, the admins and preparers have rotating time off and the bookkeepers still have their busy month going. It is the nature of the business we’re in and you can’t sacrifice your own well being on the altar of tax season. I could give you some Don Farmer “You know you work for a CPA firm if” jokes but in all reality, there are times when you just can’t be at work. It is ok.

    That said, if you do stay, please know the rest of us really do appreciate it. I do hope your firm recognizes your hard work in their bonus structure.

  66. It is what it is*

    A friend of mine was once a coworker also. During the time we worked together so had an accident which left her with visible facial bruising.

    The first day she was at work she replied to every questioner that she was safe and didn’t wish to discuss it further. People kept coming by and asking more questions, to which she repeated she was okay and safe and did not wish to discuss it.

    By noon she was in tears speaking with our manager about how people wouldn’t quit asking questions.

    Manager comes out and gathers the whole team. Repeats to everyone what employee had already stated. Employee is okay and safe and doesn’t wish to answer questions or discuss the matter while at work. So could everyone stop asking questions.

    Everyone goes back to their work and within 15 minutes my friend had 3 emails from coworkers wanting to go out for a drink sometime soon. My friend doesn’t socialize with any of them, ever. She declined all invitations. One person replied to her decline saying “Since you didn’t want to discuss at work I thought perhaps over a drink!!

    Moral of the story, set your boundaries and stick to them. Have your boss run interference if needed. Remember, there will always be one, or three, coworkers who feel so entitled to more information that they may even suggest a drink after work to “talk.” Also, forward those emails to boss and don’t even bother responding to sender.

      1. Obscure Relic*

        I think a lot of the time, it’s because people want to know if you’ve been raped. I’m sorry, but there it is. You don’t have to tell them anything.

        You don’t see the same kind of persistence if you’ve broken a leg skiing or been in a car accident. It may be a gross kind of prurient interest, but it may also be related to everyone’s ongoing fear of such attacks (they want details), or their similar experiences making them want to share, in order to help. Still, the greater intensity of their interest is not your burden, and they absolutely have to respect that.

    1. allathian*

      I’m glad your manager was a good manager and a decent human. This is how it should be dealt with.

  67. MicroManagered*

    Or hell, lean into people’s desire to help and deputize them to fend off inquiries for you: “Actually, I could really use your help. People keep asking me intrusive questions about what happened, not realizing they’re the 50th person to do that, and I’d be so grateful if you can help shut that down.”

    I really love this option and used it myself when I had a personal issue bleed over into work!

    Look, some people are asking out of nosiness, for sure. But there are probably others who are genuinely concerned about you. For every letter like this one about intrusive questions, there’s another LW who is pissed at their coworkers because XY&Z happened to them and none of their coworkers said a word. People don’t always know the right way to be helpful in these situations; the ones that are asking out of genuine concern will LOVE being given a task to help you!!

  68. CurrentlyBill*

    If it’s easier on you, could you print up some notes with key bullet points that you are comfortable with like:

    – I’m fine today.
    – I’m safe at home.
    – I had a traumatic experience I don’t care to relive at work.
    – I have the social/personal/medical support I need outside of work.
    – Because this is such a busy time at work, I prefer to focus on work at work.
    – I do not intend to discuss this further at work and I trust my colleagues and friends to respect that.

    Or whatever feels comfortable.

    Hand one to anyone who asks and walk away. Or if they ask follow-up questions, just point to the paper/card.

    Again, you shouldn’t have to do this, but if you’re more comfortable communicating this way than verbally about the situation, it may be an option.

    Ultimately whatever makes you most comfortable and feel relatively safe at work is fine.

  69. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    Do you notice in situations like this it is NEVER the people who you are actually close to who cross these boundaries? I am close with my immediate team and they gave me plenty of space and only discuss my trauma if I lead it.

    But people I barely know are all concerned. I feel like that episode of Friends with Tom Selleck and the “divorce head bob” J

    FFS the receptionist at a medical office who I DO NOT KNOW burst into tears seeing me the other day. What the heck! Why am I trying to comfort a complete stranger about a family trauma that I am not even sure how or why she knows about it.

  70. RagingADHD*

    I’m so sorry you are dealing with this. And it’s okay to not be “fine.”

    If being not-fine enough to tell people, “I *said* I don’t want to talk about it!” is what it takes to make them leave you the f alone, then you are more than entitled to go there, if you want to.

    You do not have to make them feel better about being assholes right now. You can make it obvious that that’s what they’re doing.

  71. TootsNYC*

    I like this!
    Or hell, lean into people’s desire to help and deputize them to fend off inquiries for you: “Actually, I could really use your help. People keep asking me intrusive questions about what happened, not realizing they’re the 50th person to do that, and I’d be so grateful if you can help shut that down.”

    But also, if there’s anyone sensible at your work, whether it’s your boss or someone else, ask them if they’d go on the offensive for you, and approach people personally to say, “It is not nice to pester people, leave her alone.”

    For that matter, “please don’t pester me,” is probably what I’d say to people.

  72. CSRoadWarrior*

    It just baffles me that some people can’t mind their own business. If you are genuinely concerned, ask once, and then stop. Repeatedly bombarding the coworker with questions and demanding an answer is not just nosy, it is also extremely rude. And can also be triggering, as is in the case with OP since this was a traumatic experience. On top of that, this is not work-related. Trying to force someone to talk about their personal life at work is not right, no matter what the circumstances are.

    But yes, the coworkers are really rude and pushy. At this point, saying “it’s none of your business” is probably the only response at this point to put them in their place. I know saying that is not really nice, and something I usually don’t condone saying at work, but when push comes to shove, sometimes you have no choice.

  73. Clover*

    Recently I was at the grocery store and the cashier had her arm in a sling.

    Pinned on the sling was a large, bright-colored button that read “Please do not ask me what happened to my arm. This means YOU.”

    I thought it was a brilliant approach.

  74. Essess*

    I would give a single “It’s private and I don’t want to discuss it any more.” If anyone continues to press, I would follow up with “Any more conversation about this makes the situation much worse for me so stop.”

  75. e271828*


    You are not responsible for your company’s decision to keep staffing margins so thin that one person being out overloads others.

  76. Dawn*

    This is not my most serious response, for the record.

    But: tell everyone who asks that what you really need to get over it is a spa day, would they want to contribute $50? I promise you’ll find a surprising number of people stop bringing it up after you ask them for money in response.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Thinking about how fast some of my coworkers would try to backtrack if I said this made me laugh! Thank you!

  77. Free Meerkats*

    “I know these are going to feel a little confrontational”

    Though they may feel it, none of Alison’s suggested responses are confrontational. After you try them and they don’t work, and for some people they won’t, get actually confrontational. I suggest similar wording to some of the comments here; probably the best one to shut someone down is, “WTF is wrong with you? I’ve said I don’t want to talk about it, leave now.” That is what I’d consider confrontational, and thoroughly warranted.

  78. BaskingInMyWindowlessOffice*

    “Thank you for your concern but please know that I am safe and it is being addressed with the appropriate authorities. Talking about it is more upsetting. I just want to keep focused on work and putting it behind me.”

  79. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

    LW, I’m so sorry this happened to you, both the assault and the pestering. I don’t know if this would work for super-pushy question-askers, but you may be able to gain yourself some breathing room by hinting that they will get the intimate details they crave if they give you space now: “I’m not ready to talk about it” and “I promise to let you know if I need anything/need to talk” can go a long way towards instilling nosy folks with a sudden reserve of patience. They don’t know that you may never “be ready” to talk about it with them and that’s fine.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, I guess. But I don’t think dangling that line’s very useful because the worst offenders will just keep hoping that the LW will be ready someday, and won’t stop asking. “This is not a subject I’m ever going to want to talk about with my coworkers and you need to accept that.”

  80. *kalypso*

    Some people prefer normal for coping reasons, whether it’s the ‘I don’t want to compound how I feel by adding guilt and postponing people’ or ‘please just let one thing stay the same’ or just ‘I need money for medical bills’.

    If nothing else works, “I’m trying to keep things as normal as possible; you’re not helping,” with as much elaboration as you want/you feel comfortable with/someone might understand. It keeps you as the active person dealing with the consequences, frames them as interveners but not actively bad, and subtly suggests they could help by being normal and letting you on with your work,

  81. I Fought the Law*

    I would just skip straight to Alison’s last paragraph and do that (deputize the next person to tell everyone else to stop asking.) That is excellent advice.

  82. Eff Walsingham*

    This just makes me so angry! Back when I was much… younger in management? there was a situation in which a young woman in the company found out that her father had died unexpectedly. She came to me because she knew that it would affect her availability but wasn’t yet sure how. I said, “I am so sorry! How should we handle this information?” Or maybe just “What can I do to help?” And she said, “I don’t mind people knowing, but I don’t want to tell them or talk about it at all. I just want to work.”

    So I arranged to make an announcement stating the basic information she’d asked me to state, and that she didn’t want to discuss it. As far as I know, everyone respected her wishes. She actually ended up working on our project more than originally scheduled, because she pulled back on others involving travel. She was such a trooper. When we were winding things up, she thanked me for what I’d done. I was touched, but this was *by far* not the greatest challenge to my management abilities on that project alone. It absolutely *pains* me that there are workplaces in which people are so devoid of the basic skills of how to human.

    I mean, naturally I was curious as to the circumstances, but it is NONE of my business! I still don’t know (although she’s still in my network) and it doesn’t impoverish my life in the slightest to go about with my prurient curiosity unsatisfied.

    LW, I am one of many voices saying, Take time off if you think it will help you at all, and devote as little thought as possible to what these inconsiderate b00bs think or feel about you or your face. Just because they can see it, it’s not some public advertisement for them to comment on. The fact that they don’t know this and behave accordingly? makes them jerks, even if they are okay colleagues in other ways.

  83. HR Professional*

    “You can’t come into the office looking like that and expect us not to ask questions.” Wow! That sounds like an opportunity to take time off.
    However, I think this behavior is perfectly awful, actual harassment, and reeks more of seething “and then what did he do?” morbid curiosity than “concerned” about whether or not you’re “safe.” It sounds like a borderline HIPAA violation, too.
    If your boss won’t step in, you might want to find another job eventually, because even if you take time off, they sound like they won’t let it go. I hope I’m wrong.

  84. Rd*

    I guess I’m just more direct than most people. I would just give them a glare and say firmly, “NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS” and walk away.

  85. CouchSurfer4tw*

    I had this happen at my office in the past. An employee I was close with was assaulted by her partner resulting in visible facial bruises.

    Although I was close to her, she did not let me know. All I knew was that she had taken time off and would return to the office. Before she returned, our boss took each of use aside and told us that “We might see something different about her but should not comment.”. While I understand his approach, I still was not prepared to see her. But maybe this did result in fewer questions?

    Eventually she left her partner and is in a way better situation.

  86. Raida*

    I mean I’m willing to be a rude bloody woman, I’d say something like “No comment.” and then “My assault is not about you.” and even “I said no.”
    and then “I’m leaving this conversation” before walking away.

    And then tell their managers that it’s harassment (not the legal definition in the US where there’s rules around context, but the Australian version of ‘repeated and unwanted’) and that they should address this behaviour – you’re not a gossip mine and the assault is not for the morbid interest of others.

  87. Oh January*

    This doesn’t address the larger problem of the intrusiveness, but as a stopgap, is there a reason you couldn’t wear a facemask and say you were getting over [something contagious] and wanted to be safe?

    1. Oh January*

      Though this is more of a thought experiment, as I imagine the cat is out of the bag at this point.

      Please do not feel guilty about taking time off. I’m sorry this happened to you, LW.

      (Sorry for the double comment. Pressed enter accidentally.)

    2. *kalypso*

      ~*some people can’t wear masks*~

      Some people find facial bruising and masks to not be compatible, especially for long periods like a whole day at work.

      Also assumes one doesn’t need to eat or drink all day, communicate with anyone who lip reads or needs facial expression to supplement comprehension, and that masking won’t just draw a different kind of attention at this stage.

  88. Critical Rolls*

    Okay, with the caveat that A) I think taking time off is a better thing, and B) I understand this might not fit for you or your workplace, I would go to my boss and say, “You can handle this or I will.” I would be ready to send an all-staff email (since apparently everyone knows anyway) and say, “You may have seen my injury and heard that I was assaulted. This is obviously a very difficult thing for me, and I find it upsetting to talk about. I will not be engaging in any further conversations about this. I know you will all respect my feelings and my privacy and stop bringing it up. Thank you.” And I would be prepared to literally walk away from someone who brings it up after that.

  89. Bess*

    Please consider taking time off–you are entitled to leave after a traumatic event. No work is as important as your safety and wellbeing.

  90. Zarniwoop*

    Probably too late for “Never try to hug a koala. They’re not as cuddly as they look.”

  91. Over Analyst*

    I’m so sorry this happened and is happening to you. My reaction reading how awfully intrusive your coworkers are is probably not appropriate for me to write down because they’re absolutely horrible.
    Honestly, if I got the response that I shouldn’t come in looking like that if I didn’t want questions, it would be hard for me not to fire back with something like “Fine, I won’t come in, enjoy your extra 20 hours of work” and leave. Probably with some inappropriateness thrown in. I can’t believe the audacity when you’ve lived through such trauma but are putting yourself through this to HELP THESE PEOPLE and they can’t respect you enough to just let it go.
    I hope you feel better soon and are getting the physical and mental support you need.

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