updates: coworker keeps saying I’m too muscular, work is ruining one of my closest friendships, and more

Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. Coworker keeps saying I’m too muscular

In the time since you published my letter I went to the director of our clinic, Robert, to ask him if he had any concerns about my appearance, performance, or demeanour. Robert is in fact Jane’s brother-in-law, and he had been the person who hired me. He is aware of my appearance and also of my history (in another life I was a 1%er, which is a large part of why I look the way I do) when he hired me, so I assumed he would not have any issues. Robert told me to just ignore Jane and said that “Indian women just love drama” (his words, not mine, they are both Indian). I came away from the conversation with the understanding that a) he has no concerns about me, b) he basically ignores Jane, and c) he has no intention of intervening on my behalf.

Shortly afterwards, a few of us were standing around talking during a quiet period with no clients in the clinic. Another practitioner asked me a question about exercise, and as I began to answer Jane interjected with another negative comment, saying that I’m obsessed with exercise and fitness and that my coworker shouldn’t want to look like me. I used this as an opportunity to use a script I had been rehearsing, asking Jane to please refrain from commenting on my body as it was making me uncomfortable. Jane stepped right in front of me, and responded with a comment so barbed and below-the-belt that I am unwilling to repeat it here. I tensed up so much that I cracked my phone I was holding, but I was able to repeat my request for her to not make comments about my appearance and then leave the situation.

After this, I have realised that Jane will not change. I will have to decide if this is a workplace where I want to continue working. I suspect it is not.

I am sorry that I do not have a happier update, but I wanted to express my thanks again for your advice.

2. Work is ruining one of my closest friendships

Thank you so much for your advice. Unfortunately it was a bit of a busy week so comments closed on the post before I was able to share an update.

Just shortly before this was published, “Jill” and I did have an interaction where we were both able to acknowledge the weirdness of suddenly working so closely together and not liking how it was affecting our friendship. That opened the door for me to follow your advice and have a more direct conversation, which we did yesterday.

Some of the commenters astutely wondered if Jill and I have the same boss–which we do not. As I mentioned, my boss and I have a great relationship. She supports me when I need it, but mostly just lets me do my job. Jill’s boss is more of a micromanager and can be difficult to please. While I was deep in my feelings about what was happening, I didn’t stop to fully consider that Jill faces additional pressure from her boss that I don’t and probably doesn’t feel like she has the same freedom that I do to say no. My boundaries remain my boundaries, but I also have a lot more empathy for her situation.

We didn’t come up with any great solutions just yet as to how we will navigate our friendship while working so closely together, but like you said, just acknowledging that it’s been difficult seems to have eased some of the tension between us. We have scheduled a “no-work-talk” dinner together for next week and I’m really looking forward to it.

Thank you again, and thanks to all your compassionate readers for their very thoughtful advice!

3. When should I disclose my imminent maternity leave in a job search? (#4 at the link)

You (and the commenters) were absolutely on point, per usual — an offer has not materialized with the company I wrote about. I’ve stayed in regular contact with the hiring manager since January, only to hear that their hiring freeze persists to this day (it’s now the end of April). I never said anything about my pregnancy to them, and as you indicated, it’s probably for the best so that the information couldn’t have biased any decision-making on their part!

In happy news, I kept applying for jobs throughout the rest of my pregnancy and the birth of my child, and I have just accepted an offer with a completely different company! After 6 months of job searching, my unemployment is finally at an end. And in the happiest news, I get to enjoy this new job with my sweet kiddo.

Thank you again for your advice, and to all the commentariat for their thoughts! This community is an awesome one; kudos to you for bringing us all together (and keeping our heads on straight!).

{ 330 comments… read them below }

  1. AGD*

    #1: This is abhorrent. Might be time to consult a lawyer – I wonder if it counts as sexual harassment.

    1. Nea*

      I’ve been wondering that myself. Jane is linking her negativity not just to OP’s size but gender.

      1. Abogado Avocado*

        Agreed. LW1, I am sorry you’re experiencing this harassment, and that it has caused you to conclude you — rather than the horrid Jane — need to work elsewhere.

        If you want to make one last effort to get management to act, write down everything Jane has said to you about your body and the contexts in which it was said. Also put in that horrid comment she made back to you when you asked her to stop. Put all this in a written complaint to your boss. This gives you a record and eliminates your employer’s ability to deny that this harassment, which does appear to be based on gender, is occurring. For some reason, some managers take written complaints more seriously than verbal complaints. I’m not excusing it, just saying it happens.

        Also you may want to consult an employment lawyer. As Alison repeatedly advises, some states have more worker protections than others. At the very least, a lawyer may be able to negotiate a severance package with your employer.

        1. Zarniwoop*

          “For some reason, some managers take written complaints more seriously than verbal complaints.”
          Probably because it’s a lot easier to show a copy to your lawyer.

          1. Marna Nightingale*

            Someone on Twitter — and I both forget their exact qualifications and remember thinking “yup they would know”, fwiw — in response to a @f*ckyouiquit post was saying:

            When your bad text interaction with you manager ends in “answer my call” DO NOT ANSWER THAT CALL. They want to talk off the record. This is never in your interests. Make them say it in writing.”

            Which seems like something useful enough to pass on.

        2. Zephy*

          If OP1’s boss wasn’t Jane’s brother-in-law, then sure, maybe someone would show her the door at some point. But it’s obvious that no one in a position to is willing to do anything about Jane, so the best choice OP1 can make is to remove himself from the situation. Jane can keep sucking out loud as much as she wants, apparently, but he doesn’t have to stick around to hear it. The very small and very tarnished silver lining is that it sounds like OP1 is in healthcare, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a job somewhere else.

      2. Crooked Bird*

        Yeah I’m convinced that whatever the “below the belt” comment was it was seriously gendered. She’s giving off that vibe in spades. Gross.

        1. Crooked Bird*

          (& perhaps OP can use his knowledge of what the comment actually was to know what sort of claim he could make. Though looking elsewhere as he’s thinking of doing seems a good strategy too.)

      3. I have RBF*

        This. Harassing a female-presenting person because they are a body builder is a very gendered thing.

        Whether fat or hyper fit, women’s bodies are overly criticized in our society. It sucks.

        1. elle *sparkle emoji**

          I think LW1 is a man, in the original letter he mentions a comment from Jane about not liking her men as big as LW. Still inappropriate to comment on for so many reasons(why should we care what type of man you want Jane?!) but it does sound like it’s actually a man’s body being scrutinized here.

          1. Marna Nightingale*

            I’m considering the possibility that she feels threatened by big men rather than it being a personal taste thing. But it makes no practical difference: where his behaviour has been correct, as here, that’s a matter for her.

        2. Pogo*

          The OP is a man, and yes the comments are gendered based on the things Jane has said and what the OP alluded to that he could not repeat.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      Probably not since it’s about his build and exercise regimen and the comments she’s making are not of a sexual nature.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        We don’t know if the final unrepeated comment was sexual in nature.

        1. Nesprin*

          I mean, the thing about the way sexual harassment law is written is that if OP felt that it was sexually harassing, it was sexually harassing.

          And given that Jane has been making repeated comments about OP’s physique, and that OP was unwilling to repeat the statement, I am willing to believe we’re in that arena.

        2. Pogo*

          Anything that is harassing due to someone’s gender is considered sexual harassment. The fact that Jane mentioned she didn’t like men the way the OP looks makes it sexual harassment.

          1. Wintermute*

            Exactly, there’s also some precedent that being hostile to people because you find them unattractive/trying to run off people so you have a workplace with only people you find desirable partners creates a hostile work environment, but I’d have to dig WAY deeper to see if it would directly apply here.

        3. Marna Nightingale*

          I’m trying not to go too far past the text as presented but I’ve heard the kinds of “below the belt” comments people make to male bodybuilders and the three most common ones are a) steroids, putative side-effects of, b) presumed compensation, psychological, c) presumed motive, sexual/romantic all very much are.

          So we don’t know it but odds are high.

      2. Observer*

        Probably not since it’s about his build and exercise regimen and the comments she’s making are not of a sexual nature.

        But it’s almost certainly *because* of sex, and that’s a legal standard as well.

        1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

          That’s gender discrimination / hostile workplace. Both are illegal but they are still distinct.

          1. Pogo*

            Not according to the NY sexual harassment videos I recently had to take at work.

            1. Marna Nightingale*

              I mean fwiw “both are illegal” gets it done at this level. Precisely which kind of illegal is something for the employment lawyer OP should probably book a free half-hour intitial discussion with to sort out.

      3. Non*

        The “I don’t like men that big” comment from the original letter crosses into a sexual nature in my mind. It comes across like a man saying he doesn’t like tall women or women who wear too much makeup. The OP shouldn’t be subjected to an evaluation of whether he’s a coworker’s “type” at the office.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          I found that to be very centered around her sexual preferences and I would definitely feel like my body was being surveyed and graded at the least. Dunno if it crosses the line legally, but disparagement and literal belittling in being told to make yourself cuter and smaller is often a form of sexually unwanted attention. OP has my profound anger.

          1. Clorinda*

            It most definitely crosses the line–I mean, not a lawyer, but do the old gender switcheroo and ask yourself would it be sexual harassment if a man said about a woman, I don’t like breasts that size? But my guess is it’s a bit more difficult for men to prove such claims against women, and then only OP knows whether it’s worth his time and mental/emotional energy to take on this fight.
            But Jane is 10000% in the wrong.

      4. Lenora Rose*

        Discrimination based on the perceived sex of a person is still discrimination, but only the OP, who knows what they redacted, can say if it’ sexual harassment. I do think that comments about “I don’t like men as muscular as you” are on the sexual harassment side, since they’re about the person not conforming to her personal taste in sexual partners, which should be irrelevant to their capacity to work for the same company. But I would also understand not wanting to take it in that direction when the sexism is much clearer and more definite a case.

      5. elle *sparkle emoji**

        I mean we don’t know what the below-the-belt comment was and the original letter mentions Jane telling LW she doesn’t like men as big as him. IANAL so I don’t know the legal line but that feels like a sexualized comment like Jane wants him to change his body to be more appealing to her tastes.

      6. Rose*

        Sexual harassment does not have to be sexual in nature. It includes comments about someone’s sex, and you could definitely argue that the constant commentary about him being big and muscular falls under that.

        Also, she specifically said she didn’t like men that big. How is that better than a coworker telling me he doesn’t like women with big boobs? It’s a wildly disgusting thing to say to a coworker.

    3. singularity*

      I was thinking this as well. He could go to Robert again and say, “Jane is creating a hostile work environment for me,” and see if that motivates him to do something.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        This is not really the definition of a hostile environment, though, as LW is not a member of a protected class (that we know of).

        Jane is being hostile, but she is not creating a legally hostile environment.

        1. Kaden Lee*

          Everybody is a member of a protected class – sexual harassment protections apply to men just as much as they do to women, for example.

        2. Avery*

          Yes he is, because we all are. Being male is a protected class, just like being female or nonbinary would be. The question is, is she harassing him because of a protected class, or would she act the same to a muscular woman? (Other protected classes would also apply but seem less likely to be relevant from what we know. But “protected class”=/=”minority”.)
          I don’t think we have an answer to that either was from what the letter writer’s shared with us.

          1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            It might be harder to convince a jury of sexual harassment when you’re a giant muscular man being harassed by a middle aged woman, but you’re correct that legally it’s the same as if the reverse happened.

            1. Rebelx*

              IANAL but… I don’t think workplace sexual harassment claims are generally adjudicated by a jury trial, so it’s not something the LW would have to worry about if he decides to pursue legal action. My understanding is that there are government agencies that handle this type of claim.

              1. Rebelx*

                Or to be more precise, after some further Googling, it seems that it could eventually go to a jury trial if you ultimately need to sue, but there’s a whole investigation and mediation process before it gets to that point, in which LW & the company could settle the issue without having to worry about trials and juries.

        3. Mad Harry Crewe*

          Everyone is a member of a protected class – protected class just means an attribute about which people may not discriminate. Do you have a race, in the modern American understanding of race? (including white) Protected class!

          1. kingfisher03*

            Yes, but that’s not relevant here. The hostility directed towards LW is not bias against legally protected class attributes (disability, race, gender, etc). LW is not being discriminated against for his race, so he cannot legally claim it’s a hostile environment.

            1. Nesprin*

              I’m willing to believe that gender dynamics are playing into this: Jane is making repeated comments about OP’s physique which tracks closely with gender presentation.

              1. MEH Squared*

                Also, boss brought race into it. So, yeah, that could be at play as well.

                1. Happy Peacock*

                  That was the boss creating a hostile work environment for Jane based on race/ethnicity and possibly national origin.

                  This workplace is filled with terrible.

              2. Hillia*

                One potential side effect of steroid use is changes in testicuclar size. If Jane’s comment was directed at the hypothetical effects of steroid use on the OP’s sex life, would that cross the line into gender discrimination? That’s a very specific gender related comment that wouldn’t apply to a woman.

                1. Banda Omen*

                  I feel like testicle size is off topic. Or just irrelevant. Or just out of line. Why hypothesize about what she said when we can’t know?

                2. I&I*

                  It sounds as if OP doesn’t want to repeat Jane’s remark because it was humiliating. That being the case, let’s leave private parts out of it? It’s only going to make things more embarrassing for him.

              3. Elizabeth West*

                And the comments, being repeated, are pervasive and severe enough to cause the OP to consider leaving the job. I am not a llama–er, lawyer–but according to all the HR training I’ve ever received, that fits hostile work environment.

                My personal opinion:
                Jane is a bully and she can go suck a rotten egg.

            2. Observer*

              The hostility directed towards LW is not bias against legally protected class attributes (disability, race, gender, etc)

              That’s almost certainly not the case, though. Keep in mind that she specifically mentioned that she doesn’t like *men* like that.

            3. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

              I think comments about how someone is too muscular and intimidating are very likely based on gender.

              1. I have RBF*

                Yeah, I missed that the OP was male, but it’s still gendered harassment for her to be making comments about his body and masculinity.

                It’s not appropriate at work. Period. She needs to get shut down, hard.

            4. DB*

              Recall what the LW wrote in his original letter: “she doesn’t ‘like men that big.'” That is pretty clearly about gender.

          2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            Actually, it depends on the state. Some states have more broad provisions than others. In NYS, for example, technically age discrimination can start at 18, so “everyone” is a protected class, but on the federal level this doesn’t kick in til 40.

            Regardless, this is clearly not ageist.

            That being said, I do think he should talk to a lawyer if there isn’t HR to go to (sounds like because it is a small medical practice, IIRC, there probably is not), because this is definitely a grey area. Jane is WAY out of line.

            Also, the fact that OP is unwilling to even repeat what she said here gives me pause about just how beyond the pale this is. :(

        4. Nesprin*

          That’s not quite correct- sex/gender/sexual orientation are all protected classes. So discriminating against someone for being male is as big a legal problem as discriminating against someone for being female.

        5. Observer*

          This is not really the definition of a hostile environment, though, as LW is not a member of a protected class (that we know of).

          Gender / Sex *is* a protected class. And she’s almost certainly harassing him *because of* his sex. That’s a classic legal hostile workplace suit in the making.

    4. T.N.H.*

      Definitely consult a lawyer but remember sexual harassment laws don’t kick in until 15 employees at the Federal level (states and cities vary). Some of these smaller work places specifically get away with this stuff because the laws don’t apply (which is terrible but might make the legal angle a non-starter).

    5. goddessoftransitory*

      This place sounds like a dumpster fire. “Indian women just love drama?” Nothing good is going to come out of the management here, LW.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I agree with several points above. I’d consult a lawyer to see if I had a case, but I’d also be looking for an exit. Jane will say ANYTHING she wants with apparently no concern for audience or repercussions. We all know if OP fed it back to her she wouldn’t take it very well. OP seems to have in-demand skills and should be able to find a less hostile employer.

  2. nightingale*

    Wow LW#1 I’m so sorry that Jane is SOOO awful and rude about your size and that any effort to dissuade her wrong poorly. I’m even sorrier that you’re the one who may have to get a new job to get out of this harassment.

    LW#4 – ugh pregnancy and job searches are rough. I’m glad you landed on your feet somewhere.

    1. Formerly Pregnant & Searching (LW)*

      this is the OP – thanks so much! It was a scary time for sure, but I think all’s well that ends well!

    2. JB*

      It seems like she’s trying to provoke the OP into getting physically aggressive and proving her point. I’m assuming there isn’t a proper HR or at least one with the power to act to address the issue fully, so getting out is sadly the best move for the OP.

    1. DarthVelma*

      Jane’s boss is a close 2nd.

      I don’t care if he and Jane are “both Indian”…what he said was sexist.

      1. Sedna*

        Yeah, that comment, plus the fact that Jane is related to him…this whole office sounds full of bees.

      2. Ama*

        It was, but with the added context that Jane is his sister in law, I suspect it’s also a common response to Jane’s antics within their family. It’s unfortunate for the OP because he’s clearly not going to get any help from his boss and I think he’s on the right track thinking seriously about leaving.

        1. EPLawyer*

          It might be a response inside the family, but he needs to realize that it can harm his workplace.

          I am not sure it rises to the level of sexual harassment. It does depend on WHAT she said. Since it was so bad, it might have been related to gender or race. It is WORTH a consult with a lawyer just to find out.

          OP definitely get out. You are right, your boss is not going to intervene even if he thinks Jane is just a drama queen. You still have to deal with it. Jane is not rational. A rational person would have gone “OMG you are right I AM commenting on your body and this is not okay.” Instead she apparently quadrupled (at least down). I feel so bad that you were so tense you actually cracked your phone. That is some serious tension (no matter how strong you are).

          Please keep us updated so we know you are okay.

          1. I have RBF*

            I want to commend him on only cracking his phone and keeping with his script. That stuff is hard when a person has been bullying you for a while.

            1. Cass*

              I fully agree! I do worry that cracking his phone in front of her will only make her feel justified in her comments and make them worse though :( OP needs to GTFO of there quickly

              1. I have RBF*

                Absolutely. It is pretty obvious that she is favored by nepotism and won’t change. He needs to GTFO, IMO, and soon, before she finds the button that makes him pop, then uses that to ruin his life.

                1. Enai*

                  Yes, true. LW#1, please do kick your jobsearch into high gear. Internet tells me that health related jobs are supposedly plentiful because of the ongoing pandemic. Healthy workplaces may be rarer than open jobs, but they must exist.

        2. Anon for this*

          Ama: I think you are right on track. I work in a workplace with several family members and one of them sometimes behaves in a way that is clearly not appropriate, but it’s clear the family enables the behavior and sees it as “Oh this is Cersei being Cersei”, and does not take appropriate action to stop it. One of the other family members is the boss, and so could clearly tell Cersei to cut it out if they wanted to, but has out right told me, “I don’t think Cersei’s going to change that much” and just allows the behavior to continue. I think LW is right to seriously consider if he wants to stay or not. I am currently job searching.

          1. Tupac Coachella*

            This behavior makes me so angry. Part of being the boss is either choosing not to employ family members or being willing to say “look, just because this flies at Grandma’s house doesn’t mean you can do it here.” You are more than welcome to say “that’s just Cersei” and keep the peace on your own time, but when you’re responsible for my work environment, you’d best grow a backbone. Grrr.

            1. Anon for this*

              Tupac Coachella: Exactly. I think this is why employing family members does not work out most of the time/is usually not a good idea. You have to have *really* good boundaries, and not carry family dynamics into the workplace, but I think people really struggle with that.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              100%. What Boss is failing to consider is that most family-owned businesses have employees who are NOT family. To them, it’s just another workplace. That makes it easier for them to instigate legal action because of illegal harassment or other EEOC concerns since they don’t have to worry about anyone yelling at them at Grandma’s dinner table.

              It’s also easier for them to leave the job.

        3. TurnedMeIntoANewt*

          This is what I suspect as well. The boss has gotten so used to blowing off Jane’s behavior, he can’t see were it can cause problems with people not legally connected to her.

          1. Goldenrod*

            Jane clearly sucks.

            I have a question, though – what does being a 1% have to do with bodybuilding? I don’t understand the connection, or maybe 1% means something different in another context? I always thought it meant the 1% wealthiest people in the population….

      3. Nobby Nobbs*

        He’s somehow managed to find a response that’s condescendingly dismissive of every party involved. It’s impressive, really.

      4. Spicy Tuna*

        100%; I am not Jewish but I have a consulting client where many of the executives are. They make off color and negative comments about Jewish people all the time to each other. I think that’s wrong, even though they are all Jewish.

        1. Silver Robin*

          eh, Jews making critical comments about Jews to other Jews is not great (especially when non-Jews are around to hear it), definitely can be internalized bs when it comes to stereotypes etc. But still somewhat internal community conversation.

          I think Boss here is different/worse because his comments were directed towards somebody outside the group. He was sexist, that is bad, and then also racist in his comments to somebody not Indian, which is another layer of yuck.

    2. Sedna*

      Right? WOW. OP, I’m sorry you have to deal with someone aggressively commenting on your appearance, and I’m even more sorry that your workplace isn’t backing you up on your very reasonable request for that NOT to happen. It does unfortunately sound like leaving this workplace might be your best option. I hope you are able to find a job that will defend your right to be treated like a human being.

      1. Festively Dressed Earl*

        Aubrey Bananapants will apply for LW1’s position when he finally moves on to something better and less bee-infested.

  3. animaniactoo*

    LW1 – another path you might try is “Everyone has different preferences. This isn’t yours, and that’s fine. But others do like it. Please respect that.”

    But that would mostly be something I would say when she’s saying something in front of a client.

    Privately, I might ask if I had free reign to comment on her body now, since she seems to feel that it’s acceptable to comment on mine? And if not, please stop. Or I will take it as permission.

    1. NeedRain47*

      absolutely not! Do not make comments or enter into any conversation about what her preferences or anyone elses are, this just encourages her. All this is gonna make it worse.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I would not start commenting on her body in retaliation! That’s just taking a whole lot of bad and adding a dash of worse.

      1. RedinSC*

        I wouldn’t do any of these suggestions. Steer clear of it all! Do not get pulled into the drama!

      1. loons*

        Oh! Gosh, I figured it meant they were at one point extremely wealthy and thus had a lot of free time to work out (ie, the 1% vs the 99% discourse in the early 200s). Interesting!

        1. 2 Cents*

          I also thought that and was like “I guess that’s how they could afford the tattoos?” I’m so sheltered lol

          1. 2 Cents*

            But, I’m not making light of OP #1’s situation. Jane is a jerk. You deserve to be treated with respect in the workplace, no matter what you look like or your past. She needs to get over herself. (I’d also bet you’re not the only one who gets comments — she sounds quite opinionated.)

          2. Irish Teacher*

            My original thought was that they meant the top 1% economically, but it didn’t seem to fit so I googled and the first result was the motorcycle club.

            1. The Person from the Resume*

              Yep! Google was my friend here. And the first results of Outlaw Motorcycle Club made alot of sense in the context of explaining that’s why he looks like he does.

            1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

              Batman can be quite intimidating!

                1. goddessoftransitory*

                  Jane’s the crappy second tier villain that teams up with Penguin to the detriment of both parties.

        2. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

          That was my first thought too, but then I realized the 1% wouldn’t refer to themselves that way (only the 99% claim their corresponding label) and most billionaires don’t have managers to ask about.

        3. Jesshereforthecomments*

          This is what I thought too lol. I’d never heard 1% referring to any other group.

        4. goddessoftransitory*

          I did too, and was thinking he meant he could afford really top notch trainers and nutritionists or something? Clearly I am not meant for the life of the freedom road.

      2. Liz*

        Not sure what it says about Australia that our equivalent is “3%er”.

        (And either way, Jane is still out of line.)

    1. Interplanet Janet*

      My guess from context, eluding to “his past” and the previous post about traditional Americana style tattoos, is that it’s a reference to a biker (motorcycle) club.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      It’s a term that refers to “outlaw” motorcycle clubs. They’re considered outlaw because they do not fall under the jurisdiction of the American Motorcycle Club.

        1. Baron*

          Oh Ann!: Ha! “in another life I was a loser, which is a large part of why I look the way I do” is now my go-to response to…really anything anyone says to me from now on. (In my case, it happens to be quite true.)

      1. D’Arcy*

        It’s more than just that. “Outlaw” biker groups are those that are not the American Motorcyclist Association affiliated; “One Percenter” biker groups are those that explicitly identify themselves as being criminal gangs.

        It’s a reference to a politician’s comment that 99% of motorcycle gang dudes were scary looking but not actually violent criminals; 1%ers are the ones that are saying they *are* violent criminals, although they can’t be charged on the affiliation alone.

    3. Milfred*

      I believe it refers to body fat percentage.

      Serious body builders attempt to get their body fat as low as possible to look more ripped.

      1. GC*

        Yes, in this context that was my guess as well. It’s a hardcore bodybuilding practice to get down to 1% body fat, and would explain the steroid use mentioned in the original letter.

        1. Bertie*

          A human would literally die before they reached 1% bodyfat. 1% is a motorcycle gang thing according to a 1 second google search.

      1. Bertie*

        A human would literally die before they reached 1% bodyfat. 1% is a motorcycle gang thing according to a 1 second google search.

      1. Rocky*

        I didn’t know what a 1%er was so I googled it. You can’t have one percent body fat for goodness’ sake. Why do people answer questions without even stopping to think if their off-the-cuff answer makes sense?

        1. Susan Calvin*

          Can confirm! I run a lot in fitness/strength/bodybuilding circles, and have a passing acquaintance with the world of motorcycle clubs – 1% is a really common self identifier for outlaw bike clubs (especially the ones that are really, literally, criminal gangs) but I have never ever heard the term in an athletic context.

  4. ThatGirl*

    I’m vaguely curious if 1%er has a meaning other than “part of the richest 1% of people in the country” – something to do with body building? It doesn’t really change anything, but the way the LW threw that in there made me wonder.

    1. loons*

      This is also what I thought!! So interesting to learn that there’s another meaning.

    2. Fitness*

      In the context of fitness and this letter, it likely means the OP at one point had less than 1% body fat and not that they were a biker.

      1. Tio*

        The aside is directly linked to his history and not appearance, and OP mentioned he has a lot of tattoos, so for this one I’m leaning towards biker actually.

      2. Portia*

        It could be either one. But since he is still a fitness person and he refers to his 1% status as “in another life,” I’m thinking he was a biker. If that’s the case and Jane knows about it, that could also be part of her harassment of OP.

        1. Dahlia*

          No, it couldn’t. Nobody can have 1% body fat. You’d be dead long before that.

  5. HugeTractsofLand*

    LW1- You should be proud of yourself to be acting respectfully when others around you are not. Because Jane is the boss’s sister-in-law, and because of his response to you before, I unfortunately don’t think that Jane will get fired anytime soon. However I *do* think it’s worth going back to your boss one last time to report Jane’s barbed comment the way you would report any other conduct violation. His closer ties to her may mean that he’s able to to make her cut it out or at least tone it down. You deserve better- you deserve a new job- but that may be enough to make this job tolerable for as long as you’re stuck here. If you stick to your script with Jane, it will also make it abundantly clear to everyone around you that she’s in the wrong, and they may start to stick up for you or shame her into stopping. Good luck!

    1. JB*

      Based on his response, it’s just Jane being Jane, Robert doesn’t have the capacity to separate treating her as a sister in-law from treating her as an employee.

  6. singularity*

    Someone tell me if I’m wrong, but LW1, depending on the exact phrasing of what Jane is saying to you, you might have grounds to file a complaint about a hostile work environment. I don’t know how your organization is with things like that, but it sounds like what Jane is doing to you is sexual harassment and you do not have to put up with that.

    Perhaps if you use those exact words with Robert he’d be more motivated to intervene on your behalf, or you could escalate it to whoever is Robert’s boss.

    1. Jesshereforthecomments*

      I definitely agree. LW1 you should document down to the day and time, what she said, what you said, etc. of every interaction with Jane, obviously including this newest and most abhorrent interaction and any other subsequent harassment. Email it to Robert and don’t frame it as asking if you’re okay this time, frame it as a consistent pattern of unwelcome, negative and uncomfortable comments about your body, appearance, lifestyle, etc. and that you need him to step in and do something about the harassment. If he does nothing, take it up the leadership chain as high as you can go.

      Also agree that another job is in order because he’s a bad manager and Jane is the worst.

  7. Lana Kane*

    OP1, would you feel comfortable relaying Jane’s comment to Robert and letting him know you are formally asking for him to intervene, because what she said is inappropriate coming from anyone in a workplace? The personal relationship likely means he won’t, but especially if you are already thinking of leaving it may not hurt.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Sounds like he’s already done it and has already gotten a response, unfortunately.

      1. Lana Kane*

        I read it as he hasn’t gone to Robert with the second, bananapants thing Jane said, but I could be wrong.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          Oh that, yes. But I suspect there is already enough drama in this office that it has probably gotten back to him. Robert seems to just not want to deal with this kind of stuff.

          1. Crooked Bird*

            Yeah, if OP doesn’t want to tell the anonymity-based internet, he’s not going to want to tell the boss who’s already showed himself useless once.

            1. Lana Kane*

              It’s possible that an escalated comment, like what caused OP to crack his phone, could be a tipping point. But even if not, the issue (and OP’s request to officially request intervention) is on record.

  8. Observer*

    #1 – That is HORRIBLE.

    Do you not have HR? Is it not possible to talk to them?

    If the answer is no, or they do not respond appropriately, you are right – this is not a place you want to stay. Of course, even if HR is competent I could still see why you might want to leave.

    1. chocolate lover*

      May 4, 2023 at 12:55 pm
      It’s pretty common for a small medical practice not to have a specific HR person. They’re more likely to have an office manager or something who also has to take on some basic HR related tasks like payroll. I had to deal with one of these types of places recently, and the office manager in question had no idea about regulations, discrimination laws, etc.

      1. Lana Kane*

        Yep – this is part of the challenge with working in small medical practices. Lots of shenanigans.

      2. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

        If Jane is the head of Admin for this small office, she probably IS Human Resources. Which is a whole ‘nother level of awful.

        OP#1, these tiny companies where family and work are tied together are ripe for all kinds of dysfunction. If I were you I would start looking elsewhere.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I’m really curious about what the coworkers said who heard the comment.

      1. EPLawyer*

        They were probably in shock. Because it was something probably really sexist/racist that they literally had no idea how to react.

    2. Isben Takes Tea*

      The LW was kind enough to update us on a situation that has made them uncomfortable enough to think about quitting. Their discomfort is not for our entertainment, and they don’t owe us anything.

      1. Nesprin*

        Agreed. OP is the victim here of harassment that’s making them uncomfortable, and our goal is to help them without retraumatizing.

    3. Observer*

      This is not OK. I get the curiosity. But the idea of pressuring someone to repeat something that was clearly VILE and that upsetting is completely out of line. Especially when it’s purely for entertainment value.

    4. ldub*

      None of us need to know. I believe it’s against the commenting policy to pressure a letter writer for more information, and in light of the update earlier this week around forcing people to share more than they want, is really not something we should be doing here!

    5. onetimethishappened*

      I really don’t like this comment. LW1 obviously didn’t want to repeat it bc it caused them emotional trauma or didn’t feel comfortable sharing a crass comment. Let’s just take their word it was inappropriate and made LW1 feel terrible.

    6. Unkempt Flatware*

      It upset him so much that he is not willing to tell us. Please don’t ask him to re-upset himself for us.

    7. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      No you don’t. Nobody does, except maybe an employment lawyer if LW contacts one.

      I realize you probably didn’t mean that “need” literally, but (a) LW has already made clear he doesn’t want to repeat it, and (b) you’re trying to pressure someone to write something they have made clear they don’t want to write, for free, for a stranger.

  9. Baron*

    #1, Jane’s behaviour is so odd to me. From your first letter, she seems to think you’re an angry, violent person, so she’s…constantly antagonizing you? That’s not what I would do if I were frightened of someone. It seems to me like you may need to look for another job, unfortunately, if her brother-in-law is not willing to do something (which he should).

      1. I have RBF*

        Seriously. If I’m intimidated by someone, the last thing I would do is constantly be negging at them about their body or issuing “below the belt” insults to their face.

        Jane is not intimidated, she’s being a bully to someone who, because he is a buffed white guy, can’t easily fight back without being accused of racism and sexism. His best options are “grey rocking”* her and finding a new job where he does have this harassment.

        * Grey Rocking: https://www.betterup.com/blog/grey-rocking

        1. LCH*

          Yes, just lots of repeating the sentences, calmly: “Wow, that’s really rude.” “Wow, that’s really unprofessional.” for everything Jane says. Because it sounds like it will be.

        2. I have RBF*

          Urk, I meant “doesn’t have this harassment”, not “does have this harassment”.

          My kingdom for an edit button.

      2. elle *sparkle emoji**

        And might be willing to weaponize the fact that he’s a big scary man to get her way.

        1. D’Arcy*

          He’s a big, scary guy with *specifically criminal* biker gang tattoos — a lot of people are going to be legitimately intimidated by him, and even those that give him the benefit of the doubt are much more likely to assume he’s in the wrong in any situation of claimed aggression.

          1. Enai*

            And Jane obviously knows this and is counting on it. If she keeps needling LW#1 and he never snaps, she gets to feel like she can do what she wants to him. If he retaliates in any overt way, she gets to claim that he was hostile and aggressive and she’s the poor victim who needs to be protected.

            Get away, get away, as fast and as far as your circumstances allow.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Right? It’s like when people used to accuse their neighbors of witchcraft: If you honestly think this person has a pact with Satan, as in, Actual No Kidding Around Satan, why on earth are you antagonizing him/her? You really think they’re going to stop at souring the milk or unraveling your weaving if you push this?

    2. RagingADHD*

      Jane is just a bully. And Robert knows it, and enables it.

      If anything, the LW’s physical size probably makes it that much more delightful for her, that she can bully him and get away with it.

      1. lucanus cervus*

        This is the vibe I get. She’s having a great time bullying him, because their relative size and strength mean that he has to just take it. The minute he shows any emotion about it, oh my god the big scary man hulked out on poor Jane. She’s picked her target well and she’s having a blast. Jane is the worst.

  10. chocolate lover*

    It’s pretty common for a small medical practice not to have a specific HR person. They’re more likely to have an office manager or something who also has to take on some basic HR related tasks like payroll. I had to deal with one of these types of places recently, and the office manager in question had no idea about regulations, discrimination laws, etc.

    1. MicroManagered*

      I used to work for a vendor where a lot of my clients were small medical practices. The statement above is correct, unfortunately.

  11. L'étrangère*

    Sigh. OP1 I’m sorry it seems like you aren’t going to get anywhere with this. Hopefully knowing your boss is at least neutral will help you feel less imbalanced, enough not to be driven out by this one person. You could however start ostentatiously recording these interactions, not explicitly saying you mean to sue the clinic for an unfriendly work environment but everyone can conclude it for themselves. I’d turn around, grab a piece of paper and make a note of what she just said, date and witnesses present, without hiding that’s what you are doing. Or simply take out your phone and start recording right in her face. Ask a clarifying question if you missed the start “hey Ms Drama, did I really hear you just tell me that – – -?”. If she doesn’t get the point and back off, chances are that witnesses will take care of that for you soon enough. And do keep the log (offsite) in case the conflict heats up of course. Normally you want to be discreet when you keep these records, but I think in this case it needs to be made crystal clear to everyone that what she’s doing is not ok, that there’s a legal term for it, and that you don’t intend to endure her harassment forever

    1. Observer*

      Hopefully knowing your boss is at least neutral will help you feel less imbalanced, enough not to be driven out by this one person.

      In this case, neutrality is complicity. It’s bad enough that I could see that alone being a reason for the OP to want to leave.

      I’m not saying that they “should” feel that way. But the boss’ reaction really IS bad enough that it would not be an surprising reaction.

      1. JB*

        All it takes for evil to win is for others to do nothing. Robert needed to stop in because Jane was clearly antagonising the OP, but not only did he do nothing, he laughed saying she was Indian so being a drama llama wasn’t anything worth acting over.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I could be getting the vibe of OP1’s letter wrong, but I think they’ve already had their last straw and it’s so egregious that they aren’t interested in making things stop because the well has been truly and thoroughly pissed in. It’s hard to explain but when someone’s made you feel like your body is a piece of meat to be picked at like a buffet AND used that as an excuse to call you unhinged…it’s hard to be okay with them after that simply because they stop. If the boss were willing to fire his bully and make a properly safe workplace overall, then maybe OP would be up for staying but I don’t see him settling for less. I don’t think he needs to constantly defend himself like it’s the wild west or gather up evidence all the time (for legal reasons maybe, but not in order to simply do his job). He needs basic back up from his boss and to get basic respect from his colleagues.

    3. metadata minion*

      If this is a medical practice there are likely extremely strict rules about recording anything, even when not around patients.

  12. Rachel*

    I would be scared if I saw a co-worker grip their phone hard enough to break it.

    1. Llama Identity Thief*

      If it’s directly in response to “a comment so barbed and below-the-belt that I am unwilling to repeat it here,” I’m pretty sure I’d be too busy trying to hide my own apoplectic rage at the comment to worry about the guy cracking a phone. The fact that he was able to use that as a vent and not instead unleash the anger of comment after comment actually gives me more faith he’s well in control of his anger.

      1. I have RBF*

        Yes, I consider it an excellent sign that he only cracked his phone when the person who has been harassing him delivered a below the belt into his face. He maintained his neutral, polite request in the face of an abusive insult.

        I probably would have failed that test.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Yes, it shows a remarkable level of restraint that his response was to repeat a polite request and walk away.

      2. chelsea*

        A comment so bad that he doesn’t dare repeat it – but he gleefully repeats the boss’s sexist, racist remarks.

        1. Workerbee*

          He was repeating what the boss said verbatim, then used a parenthetical aside to answer the questions he knew would come up and derail some of the commentariat. There was no glee or gossipy tone included.

    2. Nesprin*

      I would be scared if I saw a coworker grip their phone hard enough to break it IN RESPONSE TO A COMMENT I MADE.

      (there, fixed it for you)

      1. Rachel*

        I’m not in the market for a copy editor at the moment, but thanks for thinking of me.

    3. Julia*

      We don’t know how upsetting the comment was and the LW clearly didn’t intend to crack their phone. It sounds like they did their best to stay calm when directly attacked.

      Would seeing someone upset enough to crack their phone be upsetting? Yes. Whatever Jane said to provoke that reaction would upset me more than someone accidentally damaging their phone. A coworker making an intentionally provocative personal attack would freak me out. Jane is creating the tense environment not the LW.

      1. Rachel*

        There is no way for me to know what is more upsetting without knowing the instigating comment.

        The LW has a lot of strength to be able to do that. Cracking a phone at work is not normal work behavior.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          I’ve seen middle schoolers crack a phone. It doesn’t take that much strength. (Unless it’s a Nokia.)

          1. Xi UK*

            Presumably in those instances they are trying to break the phone? Whereas OP1 wasn’t trying to do that. I agree with Rachel that breaking a phone seems big reaction!

          1. Rachel*

            Jane is wrong, absolutely true.

            I am just saying that seeing a co-worker Barack their phone while holding back physical anger would make me scared.

            Both of these things are true. Neither of them violate commenting rules.

              1. Rachel*


                I would like the LW to know that they completely do not deserve Jane’s comments on their body size. Jane is wrong.

                But after viewing you crack your phone like that, some people might have an ingrained sense of reserve around you. This is very lizard brain, fight or flight, physical response. I would expect it to fade in time, especially if you never show physical anger ever again.

                In the meantime, be sure to give people physical space, make eye contact, be sure you are conducting yourself in a physically mild manner.

                1. BethRA*

                  Except Jane’s unwanted commentary about OP’s body and demeanor have been going on for months. You say you’re not condoning Jane’s behavior, but you do seem to be ignoring that she herself goaded OP into the response you say is alarming.

                2. NerdyKris*

                  He cracked his phone AFTER she made a comment that was really terrible. You can’t point at the last thing that happened and be like “See, all the previous comments were right!”. That’s not how it works. It’s the equivalent of pestering someone until they lose their patience and swear, then exclaiming “He started it by swearing!”.

                3. Not my real name*

                  You realize that goading someone until they snap and then painting them as the crazy one is a textbook abuse tactic right?

                4. elle *sparkle emoji**

                  You’re assuming LW cracked the phone because he was angry. I don’t think we can be sure of that. He said he cracked the phone because of the tension in his body, which could be from a number of emotions. Jane’s confrontation sounds stressful, I can certainly see someone tensing up out of fear in this situation. LW also said he repeated his request that she not comment about his body and then walked away. He didn’t throw the phone or punch the wall or do any other big displays of emotion. Telling him he definitely scared his coworkers and he needs to walk on eggshells around them isn’t indicated by the letter and is insulting to someone who’s the victim of a really sucky situation.

                5. Chrisssss*

                  You sound very victim-blamy, and I do wonder if you are Jane pretending to be “Rachel”.

                6. Laika*

                  > especially if you never show physical anger ever again

                  This is not a constructive recommendation for anyone. “Don’t display physical anger” is an incredibly subjective, vague metric to hold someone to. What counts as physical anger? Can you control furrowing your brow, or flushing red, or clenching your hand in reaction to something painful or deeply hurtful?

                7. Tao*

                  I agree with the person below who said this comment reads as very victim-blamey. That might not be what you intended, but it is how you sound.

            1. Lenora Rose*

              It would make me uncomfortable, maybe. But I don’t know if it would make me feel *unsafe* which is the real concern. And seeing him demonstrate that physical reaction *then* restrain himself to words and leave the scene would actually reassure me more than the action would concern me. It would tell me he is under control.

              I have been having to point out this gap between uncomfortable and unsafe a few times lately, because a lot of people seem to be getting the two areas confused.

        2. Hiring Mgr*

          Not defending Jane’s behavior, but I do agree with this. Plus the LW is a steroid user, and former biker gang member so I can see how he could be physically intimidating

          1. Rachel*

            Thank you.

            Again, I am not saying Jane is right (she’s not!)

            Just that I would walk away from this scenario wary of Jane and, if I’m being completely honest, a little wary of the LW, too.

            1. JoanWatsonsWife*

              I was in a similar situation as OP once. I ended up cutting my palm because of a letter opener I was holding. When you’re scared, you’re more likely to grip tight on something as security. Op was more likely to hurt himself cracking his phone than anyone around him.

              And Jane clearly seems to get something out of antagonizing him. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s small and gets something out of making a bigger person uncomfortable. I am fat and tall and have had smaller people antagonize me over my size because they think they can get away with it. As if they think if I defend myself they can make themselves look like the picked-on victim.

              1. I have RBF*

                As if they think if I defend myself they can make themselves look like the picked-on victim.

                I think this is exactly what is going on here. Jane is trying to goad him into attacking her so she can play victim and get him into a lot of trouble, even get him arrested.

                This type of thing happens a lot to people who are big or buffed, regardless of whether they are just tall, bulky, or whether they are also fat or buffed. I get it even as an AFAB person, because I’m 5’8″ and 275 pounds. It is only ameliorated by the fact that I am also disabled. Before my disability I got that problem a lot.

          2. Lenora Rose*

            It sounds like 1%er is ALSO a bodybuilding term, so I wouldn’t assume former biker, though some bodybuilders can look intimidating too.

            (Even if he was a biker – phrasing it a a gang adds to the stigma and makes it sound like he was a criminal. 1%ers are outlaw because they don’t fit the motorcycle association rules, and most are not criminal enterprises, though the criminal ones are well known.)

            1. D’Arcy*

              Uh no. Outlaw biker gangs are non-AMA clubs, but one percent biker gangs are the ones that openly and explicitly identify themselves as criminal. It’s a very specific term.

          3. elle *sparkle emoji**

            I mean he says explicitly in the original letter that he doesn’t use steroids but whatever

            1. Llama Identity Thief*

              He explicitly says in the original letter that he DOES use steroids.

              “Furthermore, Jane has made comments to myself and others that I might have outbursts of “roid rage.” I do indeed use steroids, but I have no difficulty with temper and am in fact a very quiet guy.”

              Which to me honestly just makes his level of composure even more impressive, because I’ve never even touched a steroid, and I would have been “more visibly angry” as a bystander to such a comment. (Although tbh this entire line of discussion is probably overly generalizing of steroid users.)

              1. elle *sparkle emoji**

                Sorry, I guess I misread that sentence. I agree that this is probably overgeneralizing steroid users.

          4. Chrisssss*

            Then why keep poking and doubling down to someone that intimidating? It doesn’t make sense.

        3. pope suburban*

          Yes, we know that he is a strong person, because he has told us that he is a bodybuilder. A side effect of being very strong is that when you tense up under stress, as many people of all sizes do, the force you exert is rather higher than someone who is not a bodybuilder. Trying to justify Jane’s harassment post facto like this, when the letter writer did not do anything violent or out of turn, but physically tensed up- a fairly typical reaction to threats/harassment!- is a weird take. I am not sure what is driving it but it’s perhaps not optimal behavior, and may be rooted in some bias?

            1. knitcrazybooknut*

              It’s possible that his phone cracked without anyone else being aware of it.
              Also, it wasn’t a voluntary response. I do understand what you’re saying, but there’s a lot of context we’re not privvy to.

            2. Hannah Lee*

              “LW’s response to Jane being wrong is concerning.”

              Not to everyone. LW’s response was to tense up physically when being verbally attacked, again, in a vile way, by someone who has verbally attacked him multiple times. And in a situation where the normal means of redress are not available to him (ie the business owner has indicated he’s not going to do anything to stop Jane’s behavior, and Jane herself not only refused to back off but instead escalated when asked to stop)

              To me that seems to be a completely reasonable response, and LW’s response indicates he maintained he professionalism and composure to other people. Even under extreme stress.

              1. Rachel*

                I understand this wouldn’t be scary to everybody.

                I am talking about how I would feel, not anybody else.

                1. sagc*

                  Good thing you haven’t been harassing a coworker about their body for months… right?

                2. seriously*

                  and you weren’t there, so literally no one cares and you should stop acting like your emotions here matter

        4. NotAManager*

          Isn’t it enough to know that the comment was so upsetting to OP that he wasn’t comfortable typing it out? People experience stress and tension in different ways; in OP’s case, it went into his hands. Calling him out for his stress response (which was not directed at anyone else or their possessions) isn’t really helpful.

          *I* would be really upset if I saw one coworker escalate behavior and language immediately after being asked to stop.

        5. Observer*

          The LW has a lot of strength to be able to do that.


          Cracking a phone at work is not normal work behavior.

          In a vacuum? True. In this context hard to say. But what is CERTAINLY not “normal work behavior” is harassing someone for being big and strong.

        6. MassChick*

          But nasty, personal comments are? And you are assuming someone else noticed the tightly gripped phone. LW mentioned it to describe their level of distress at being insulted publicly.

        7. Julia*

          The LW said it was awful enough they don’t want to repeat it. That puts it at a high bar.

          Cracking a phone at work isn’t normal and neither is repeatedly making personal attacks about someone’s body. Someone cracking their phone due to a stress reaction is not necessarily visible to others (their hand clenched hard enough to crack the phone. Others can see their fists clenched but not the force of it). Again if someone made a personal attack that elicited a strong reaction that wasn’t directed at me I would be most upset at the person making the verbal attack. I would be secondarily concerned about someone cracking their phone.

          Honestly I would be impressed enough that they kept their cool (directed the upset into clenching a phone not yelling or outward physical aggression), that it would outweigh that they cracked their phone.

          Also a large muscular stranger unconsciously cracking their phone is going to cause a very different reaction than a large muscular coworker doing the same.

    4. knitcrazybooknut*

      Jane doesn’t seem scared to me. Her behavior and words run counter to fear.

      I agree; I would be scared as well. But that’s not at issue. It happened *after* Jane stepped directly in front of the OP and insulted him to his face. If she were truly intimidated by him, this isn’t something she would do. She seems emboldened by her relationship with the head of the medical practice, and will do whatever she wants, including insults, derision, and outright confrontation with the OP.

      The OP did not ask for this, and their response to this behavior isn’t relevant.

      1. Rachel*

        The OP absolutely did not ask for this. Jane is wrong.

        That doesn’t make breaking something as an anger response any less scary, though.

        This discussion is becoming binary, as if breaking something in anger at work is fine if the other person is really bad. That’s not how this works, in an exchange both people can be at fault.

        1. nnn*

          Breaking something because your grip is too tight is different than breaking something by slamming it against a wall.

          Regardless, we saw an update earlier this week from someone who screamed at a coworker because their harassment over her assault had pushed her too far. I think we can all agree this stuff is on a spectrum.

          1. MEH Squared*

            Agreed. I was thinking about that letter as well while reading this thread. None of iths is in a vacuum. Jane has been antagonizing the LW for some time based on his gender and general appearance. Now, she’s said something that he can’t bear to repeat, which means it’s pretty damn bad. I don’t think he’s at fault here at all as he did not deliberately break the phone.

        2. Penguin*

          Feels a bit like the biting coworker convo. The bitten coworker was in the wrong, but so was the biter.

          1. Observer*

            The two behaviors are not remotely comparable. If the OP had done something like SLAM the phone or throw it, it would be similar to the biter. Here essentially all the OP did was clench his fists and then walk off.

            If that is off limits what IS an “acceptable” response to an unprovoked vicious attack that comes on the heels of months of harassment?

            1. elle *sparkle emoji**

              I agree. When someone is getting in my face I often tense up including clenching my fists tightly. I do it to hold myself together and not cry. There’s probably some evolutionary fight or flight component as well. If I was stronger and holding a phone, I can imagine myself cracking a phone screen(they’re pretty delicate). Assuming the LW hulked out and frightened everyone doesn’t seem warranted by his description of events.

              1. pope suburban*

                I also tense up when someone is getting in my face or pressuring me. It’s 100% fear, and in my case is a full-body flinch that aims to make me as small as possible. I know where I developed this: being bullied by a parent when I was a child. I also know where I developed a distaste for the precise type of concern-trolling I am seeing from Rachel, because the parent who bullied me would try to make my flinch out to be violence or a temper. In truth, I never once hit her back and rarely even got mouthy with her. No one ever bought the story either. Nevertheless, I was hyper-aware of everything I did for years and took quite a lot of grief I really didn’t have to because God forbid I look unhinged. Yes, a seven year-old child is different in a lot of ways from an adult bodybuilder, but they can have similar stress/fear responses as human beings. If someone tensed up but kept their composure, well, I’m inclined to think they are not the one with the behavioral/temperamental problem in the situation.

            2. JB*

              These people have defined unacceptable behavior so broadly that literally any response or body language is enough to make a “both sides” argument. It’s disgusting and pathetic.

        3. NotAManager*

          I don’t think the discussion is becoming binary, I think you’re creating a false equivalence. Jane has been making derogatory comments to OP about his physical appearance for months. He sought managerial intervention and was brushed off. She continued again, in the presence of others. He asked her, clearly, to stop. She then ESCALATED her behavior. These were all choices Jane made.

          OP experienced a stress reaction that was not outwardly focused. Having a stress reaction when someone else is actively trying to stress you out is NOT the same as choosing to harass a coworker for MONTHS.

          1. Rachel*

            I am completely willing to say Jane is more in the wrong than the LW.

            But back to my original comment, regardless of what Jane did or did not say, if a body builder breaks something in anger at work, it would be wise for them to take extra care in giving people physical space going forward.

            1. sagc*

              If *anyone* breaks something at work, it’s probably worth looking at context. That’s basically the only what you’re saying isn’t just “he’s a scary man, and should be smaller than he is” – which is exactly what Jane was saying, too.

              You may not *think* you’re not carrying water for Jane, but you totally are.

              1. Penguin*

                In this case, would the fact that the LW admits to being on steroids be context? It does seem relevant and kind of worrying.

                1. sagc*

                  Why? You don’t know who is and isn’t on steroids, or how much connection it has to their emotions. Like, if you were the other coworker who witnessed this and all the other harassment, would you think “ah, yes, Jane was clearly right all along – must be a danger to me!” or would it be “Wow, I would have been screaming in their face in the same scenario”?

                  If you’re imagining you’re *Jane* in this scenario, and that you’d feel vindicated that they’re a steroid-driven monster, unrelated to your/Jane’s behaviour? Then your grasp of cause and effect is as poor as Jane’s.

                2. Cyndi*

                  Yes, OP is on steroids–which he has never clarified but sure, could possibly lower his inhibitions re aggression–and has been repeatedly and aggressively provoked by Jane, and STILL maintained almost total composure when she tried to escalate. So it does seem relevant to me–in the sense that it reflects better on his calm and self-restraint, if anything.

                3. Baron*

                  I generally am more on the side of those who think the LW isn’t in the wrong here at all, and I don’t agree that if the LW broke his phone, that’s bad/scary for others…but I absolutely agree that if the LW was tense enough to break his phone, this is probably a bad work environment for the LW.

                4. sagc*

                  Only if you completely eliminate the context? I mean, if they were just going around smashing things, sure, I guess, although even then I wouldn’t leap to steroids. But in this case, I would give side-eye to anyone who didn’t associate the anger with the enraging remarks, and instead blamed LW for not being perfectly controlled forever in the face of continued harassment.

                5. Observer*

                  In this case, would the fact that the LW admits to being on steroids be context? It does seem relevant and kind of worrying.

                  Why? The OP didn’t react in a rage or anything like that – although if he HAD yelled at her, it wouldn’t be shocking even if he wasn’t taking steroids.

                  Also, the OP made it clear that he doesn’t discuss his steroid use at work.

                6. Tao*

                  It’s totally irrelevant. We’re asked to take the OPs at their word and not try to punch holes in their stories. This line of commenting is counter-productive and unhelpful. You’re literally blaming the victim here.

            2. elle *sparkle emoji**

              He cracked a phone screen. They are notoriously fragile. I’m sorry but acting as if he hulked out because he clenched his fist(which many people wouldn’t notice with Jane’s display) is uncharitable to LW.

            3. Hannah Lee*

              “… Jane is more in the wrong than the LW. ”

              That’s kind of obvious, since Jane is 100% wrong and LW, from the info we have, is 0% wrong.

              100% > 0%

            4. New Jack Karyn*

              I mean, it was Jane who got in OP’s space. I don’t think we have any evidence that OP does *not* take care about giving people physical space.

        4. had it, officially*

          He held it in his hand and it cracked in his grip. He didn’t throw it at her or the wall or something like that.

          But go on tell me how calmly you would react if someone who continuously antagonized you said something highly offensive to you.

        5. metadata minion*

          If someone punched a wall, or deliberately smashed a cup, or something like that it would definitely frighten me. But if someone was clearly very stressed and held their pencil or pen so tight that it broke, that doesn’t seem like at all the same thing. People grip things tightly out of fear, too.

        6. lucanus cervus*

          ‘Breaking something as an anger response’ really mischaracterises what happened. I tense up when verbally attacked, too. It’s not deliberate, and anger is not the only or primary emotion I’m feeling in that moment. I don’t have the grip strength to crack my phone in my hand, but LW does, and that’s the only difference between us. You’re talking as if he deliberately smashed it in a rage, and that just is not what he describes at all.

        7. AlsoADHD*

          Cracking a phone screen by gripping it too hard isn’t really “breaking it in anger.” And doesn’t require much force. I’ve broken a phone screen by gripping it too hard (more distracted and in pain than frustrated in my case, I know OP was frustrated) and I’m a tiny weakling lady with flimsy wrists and arms.

    5. Ellis Bell*

      I dunno Rachel, I nearly cracked my phone just reading about what OP has been through.

    6. Gerry Kaey*

      oh come on, he didn’t throw the phone or smash it on the ground — the comment caused was so cruel that it caused a strong wave of tension in his body, causing him to clench his hands and break the phone. there’s a massive difference between accidentally breaking something when you’re upset and intentionally breaking something out of anger. sounds like LW was pretty dang restrained and is using better emotional regulation skills than Jane, who — by the way — is going out of her way to instigate conflict, not exactly cowering in a corner.

      1. Silver Robin*

        honestly, OP did not crack his phone *at* Jane. It was an unintentional consequence of a very very common reaction to being gravely insulted. He responded calmly and then left afterwards. Unclear if anyone else even noticed. It is not like there would have been shards, phone screens do not crack like that.

    7. Dahlia*

      Oh come on, eletronics can be incredibly delicate. I used to be able to pop the back of my phone off with my finger nails because it was an 80 dollar smartphone that was held together by hopes and dreams.

  13. Pyjamas*

    OP1: no one should have to put up with behavior like Jane’s, though I fear you are correct in assuming that due to family ties, nothing will change. Though Robert will doubtless give you a good reference when you get a job offer!

    I did find it concerning that you cracked your phone, albeit under great duress. You should probably tell your doctor, and/or whoever is prescribing/advising your steroids, as this might be an adverse reaction

    1. I have RBF*

      I don’t take steroids, or bodybuild, and I would have cracked my phone in that circumstance.

      Getting insulted to your face with a below the belt comment is a stressful thing, and fist clenching is an involuntary response.

      1. elle *sparkle emoji**

        Agreed. It seems like threat -> clenched fist would be a basic part of fight or flight, and Jane was being threatening and confrontational. I’d assume that if you have enough grip strength, you can crack the screen.

        1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          I often grip something, like the arm of a chair or a piece of cloth, hard as a way of dealing with pain, if I can’t or don’t want to stop the thing that is causing the pain. I was doing that while having my teeth cleaned yesterday, for example.

          I can consciously relax my hands at that point, and so far I haven’t broken anything that way–but I’m not a body-builder, and I haven’t used anything like a cell phone for this.

    2. metadata minion*

      I am seriously not a bodybuilder — I can’t do a pushup — and if I were gripping my phone so that my thumb was on the screen (and was distracted by the fact that someone was harassing me and so didn’t realize I should probably not do that) I could easily break it. They’re pretty fragile. If he managed to crack the actual case that’s a bit more impressive, but phones are still not all *that* sturdy.

      1. Pyjamas*


        Have it your way.

        OP, while my original comment stands, YOU sound like a terrific person with much self control. I look forward to hearing an update about your great NEW job.

  14. Phony Genius*

    Jane’s last comment was made in front of another practitioner. I wonder if that person said anything, either in the moment or afterward. If he witnessed a comment that could be classified as gender discrimination, he may be required to report it to a superior.

  15. Bubble*

    Leave the Job. Leave the Jane. As someone who sat in a job for years being treated poorly: just get out. Leave the job. Find a better environment. There is nepotism at play here and you cannot win.

    1. starsaphire*

      One thousand percent.

      Jane is a relative; she will never face consequences for her actions, however egregious.

      Your Work Sucks and it is Not Going to Change. Polish up that resume and start looking (assuming you aren’t already, and you probably are). Get out, get away from the bees, and never look back.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      And every aspect of work even outside this circle of bees and horror is going to deteriorate–client-wise, fellow-employee-wise, management-wise. A business run this way is not going to have a long, happy future.

    3. I have RBF*

      This, a thousand times this!

      LW, Jane is trying to goad you into lashing back at her for her harassment and insults, which she will then use to get you fired and maybe arrested. She has her brother-in-law to cover for her bullying, so it will Never. Be. Stopped. By. The. Company!

      Run far away, and soon. She’s looking for your buttons to push to make you lash out, and she’s getting closer. Get out now.

  16. Oof*

    OP#1: I’m so sorry what you’re going through. I found in combating a racist remark the offending party doubled down and It. Did. Not. Go. Well. I wasn’t prepared for the doubling down, and just mumbled, “Still, that’s offensive” Now I’m more ready.

  17. Lizy*

    omg #1 I’m so sorry. That’s disgusting and I hope you’re able to move on successfully and soon.

  18. knitcrazybooknut*

    OP #1, I’m really sorry you’re experiencing this. Any kind of body shaming isn’t okay, and nothing about this situation is acceptable. I wish you the best of luck.

  19. challenge_accepted*

    About 10 years ago, I interviewed while 6 months pregnant. Since I was already comfortably employed, I informed everyone after the interview just to clear my conscience. I get anxiety when I don’t communicate things like that up front.

    When I got the job, they included some extra paid weeks beyond their typical maternity leave as part of the offer. (And this was in the rust belt of the US!)

    1. EMP*

      This is awesome! I always appreciate it when people share “exceptions” like this, the more we hear about good treatment of things like pregnancy the easier it is to hold everyone to a higher standard.

    2. Formerly Pregnant & Searching (LW)*

      Hi! This is the OP! I’m so glad you had this experience. Unfortunately, I was NOT comfortably employed as I was searching, so I didn’t feel like this was an option for me… but I think we can all agree that this is how companies SHOULD handle pregnant job interviewers!

    1. NotAManager*

      I think in this context he was referring to himself as having once been part of a motorcycle club. My interpretation is that when he said that partially accounted for his physical appearance, he was talking about his tattoos.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      There’s more discussion/explanation in threads started by “just another queer reader” and “ThatGirl” above.

    3. D’Arcy*

      “Outlaw” motorcycle gang. It’s a reference to a comment a politician once made that 99% of bikers are kinda scary looking but actually law abiding folks, which led to the ones who were openly and proudly violent criminal ones starting to refer to themselves as one-percenters.

      Given that it *is* a statement of intentional affiliation with violent, criminal organizations, I would venture to say that it does actually add significant nuance to the situation. It doesn’t make Jane’s behavior justified, but…

      1. lucanus cervus*

        He says that in another life he WAS a 1%er. He’s not wearing patches to the office. He’s just explaining the tattoos and so forth.

      2. NotAManager*


        I’m sorry, no. He’s stated he’s no longer affiliated with the organization, we’re meant to take LWs at their word. Anyway, Jane has no way of knowing about that – based on their previous interactions I have no doubt that if she was aware of his past associations she’d add THAT to her list of ongoing critiques.

  20. Sara without an H*

    Hi, LW#1 — First off, I think your response to Jane was very professional. Keep it up — it’s possible that she’ll get bored and find something else to obsess over (although based on your description, I wouldn’t hold my breath).

    That said, I agree that working here long term is not something you want to do. When small firms turn toxic, there’s often not much to be done, especially when it’s a family operation, as is the case here. (Lots of examples in the AAM archives.) Even if your director is fine with your work, he’s obviously going to let Jane keep on harassing you. Why put up with that longer than necessary? Continue to stonewall her and start a discreet job search.

    Good luck!

    1. Chrisssss*

      Plus staying too long in such a dysfunctional environment messes your head up. You begin to take things as normal despite not being absolutely normal or ok.

  21. Katherine Boag*

    LW1 I’m really impressed that you stuck to calmly stating your boundaries even under extreme duress. Not everyone can manage that.

  22. Janeric*

    OP 2 — I’m so glad to hear that you could talk about it/take the edge off of your feelings with empathy and compassion.

    I want to note that some of my longest friendship have had ebb and flow over time, and that sometimes there are fallow/harder times in a friendship. It’s helped me to do what you’re doing in terms of communication but also think of the friendship as a long term thing that will have rough times. (And honestly I’ve found that working through a hard time makes the friendship stronger because we both know we can navigate conflict.)

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I’ve had the same experience with navigating conflict with people I care deeply about. When things go well in those conversations, I feel more secure in the friendship. I now have evidence that if I raise an issue, they won’t just leave me.

    2. LW 2*

      LW2 here. Thank you, that’s really good insight to keep in mind. Up to now, Jill and I have had such an easy friendship, so this first conflict felt really scary. But you are so right that long-term friendships are rarely static and ebbs and flows are normal. And now that we’ve talked, acknowledging this is something we both want to make an effort to work through helps me feel more secure about the friendship as well.

  23. Choggy*

    LW1 – If possible, see if you have the support of those who have witnessed Jane’s behavior and comments. This may be relevant if you decide to get a lawyer. Her word against yours is one thing, her work against a group of you is another. I am sorry you are experiencing this and hope you can find a resolution that works for you.

    1. short'n'stout*

      Yeah, I’ve been scanning the comments looking for someone to note that this last, offensive comment was made in front of a group of colleagues. If they care about Jane’s harassment of OP, maybe they would be willing to go as a group to the boss and repeat the offensive comment to him. See what the boss does after that.

      But leaving this hideous environment behind is also an excellent response. Best wishes for your future, OP.

  24. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    LW2, I’m glad that you and Jill were able to clear the air a bit and acknowledge the tension. Based on the letter, it sounded like you’re both solid, conscientious people, so I had a lot of hope that things would be OK if you talked about this. Fingers crossed that your friendship will continue to be great and that having things out in the open will allow you both to make the best decisions you can at work.

  25. What name did I use last time?*

    Someone whose job is administrative got between a fitness trainer and a client, and told the client not to listen to the trainer.
    Robert might be more interested in that than he is in his SIL’s distaste for muscled men and tattoos.

  26. NoNameNecessary*

    “I tensed up so much that I cracked my phone I was holding”

    Does anyone else find this unnerving, considering we know he uses steroids? I realize that the OP has every right to be absolutely furious and teed up, but cracking a phone in your hand would take an enormous amount of strength plus adrenaline that seems a step away from physical violence to me.

    1. ArticulateOctopus*

      One commenter (Rachel) said something similar above and got piled on pretty badly! I agree with you though; to me this is unusual & scary if it was done out of anger. Especially since the person in question is apparently pretty large and very in shape.
      Jane is absolutely in the wrong here, there’s no debating that. But people who respond to anger by breaking things do scare me, especially when they’re so large & capable of brute force that I couldn’t do much against. This would freak me out if LW was clearly pissed and I saw his anger in conjunction with him destroying something! I don’t mean to suggest that I think LW is going to attack his colleagues – just that as a coworker this would make me a little more cautious around him (especially knowing the stigma of what steroids do to people).
      But I don’t think this changes the advice everyone is giving to LW. This workplace is dysfunctional and is probably doing terrible things to his mental health. I would also recommend trying to find a new job especially since Jane’s behavior has been dismissed so far . And maybe make a point to act as calm and unbothered as possible (the grey rock method is something others suggested).
      I’m sorry, this is such an awful situation!

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        It looks like he didn’t break it on purpose–his stress response was gripping something tightly, and it happened to be a fragile thing. It’s not like he snapped it in half, or sailed it into the wall. I’m also unclear whether his coworkers know he uses steroids.

      2. Pierrot*

        It’s interesting people are interpreting that he did it out of anger! Just speaking for myself as someone with anxiety issues, if someone was antagonizing me to the extent that Jane did, my physical instinct would be to clench up/grip whatever I am holding onto very tightly. Part of it does have to do with wanting to restrain yourself from reacting in the moment, but that doesn’t necessarily mean reacting with violence. It could mean trying to restrain himself from telling her off or from crying even.
        LW is physically stronger than a lot of people, so gripping onto a phone is more likely to damage it. As someone who is not that strong at all, I don’t think I’d be able to do that but I could see myself gripping onto a bottle of water/something to that effect and damaging it.

        Yes, breaking things can be a sign that someone could become violent, but that’s really context specific. If LW flung his phone across the room or punched a wall, there’d be a different conversation. I think there’s too many other explanations for why he cracked the phone that i: not really fair to suggest that based on this event, he is someone who has rage issues or is violent.

    2. Lizard the Second*

      Are you serious? Modern phones are so fragile, with their thin bodies and huge glass screens. Anyone could crack them by holding them too tight.

      1. ArticulateOctopus*

        I only have the reference points of the phones I’ve owned, but I don’t think there’s any way I could break them just by gripping them tightly. Phone glass is pretty reinforced now! I really could only see this happening with a flip phone. Either way, I still think the comments above are valid. Breaking things in anger is concerning to me, even after provocation.

        1. Emily*

          I think too much is being made about the phone breaking thing. It’s not like LW threw it across the room or smashed it down onto a table. If LW was holding it in his hand I don’t even know if the co-workers would be able to tell that the phone was broken. Also, if I was LW’s co-worker, I would be much more concerned about the horrible thing Jane said to LW then what was going on with the phone in LW’s hand. Expecting someone to show no response to someone saying something horrible to them is not realistic.

        2. Lizard the Second*

          I’m not sure what phones you’re used to, but I would bet you money I could crack a standard Android or iPhone by squeezing it too hard. And I’m a fairly weak strength person.

          I also think “breaking things in anger” is a mischaracterisation of what happened. Tensing up your grip under stress is a very normal reaction, and even a good way to keep your self control.

          1. ArticulateOctopus*

            I think what we’re seeing in the comments are two reactions:
            1) Wow LW has some self control and Jane is awful
            2) LW’s response is kind of concerning and Jane is awful
            I don’t think either group of people are going to convince everyone that their opinion is right. Especially since we don’t know the full scenario. But I think it’s useful to consider both viewpoints because LW’s coworkers could hold either. And ultimately the advice is the same.
            I don’t want to derail & bicker, just came by a final time to say I think both views are valid.

            1. Emily*

              The issue with viewpoint 2 is that it is mischaracterizing what LW said/reported. As Lizard the Second said, “breaking things in anger” is a mischaracterization. LW is clearly the victim here. If LW’s co-workers view LW as in any way the problem after witnessing Jane say something horrible to LW, which caused LW’s body to tense and the phone in LW’s hand to break, then it says more about LW’s co-workers than it does about LW, and if they are indeed that unreasonable than LW shouldn’t worry what they think about him. Jane’s behavior is terrible and clearly is not going to change/be corrected, so I do hope LW is able to find a better job.

    3. NotAManager*

      I personally don’t find it unnerving as someone who *also* tends to clench my hands when I’m tense. It’s not specifically an anger response, it’s a stress response. If a person (of any physical description, whether they were taking steroids or not) had *thrown* the cell phone causing it to break, that to me, would be a problem. But just holding something really tightly and accidentally damaging it doesn’t change Allison’s advice.

      What I’ve seen happening in the comments section is folks using this as a ‘Well, Jane was wrong, but LW is ALSO wrong for his stress manifesting in a physical manner,’ which feels kind of…judgmental in an unhelpful way.

  27. ArticulateOctopus*

    Oops sorry, just reread the first part and it doesn’t mention him asking others about his temperament. I don’t know where I got that from!

  28. Coyote River*

    I’ll say one thing about Jane: she’s clearly not intimidated by OP1. Stepping up to a steroid-using, bodybuilding, tattooed ex-biker and insulting him to his face so blatantly he cracked a phone with his bare hands? Jesus Christ, either she’s completely lying about finding him intimidating or she has zero sense of self-preservation.

    1. lucanus cervus*

      YES. This pattern of needling him without provocation is not rooted in fear.

    2. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

      Because Jane knows she won’t get pulled up for it, not by management or even by other colleagues. In her world, she has carte blanche to be as offensive and personal as she likes…

  29. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

    LW1, I’m so sorry. What an awful situation and what a depressing, sexist response from management. “Women, amirite?” Do you have an HR department? Do you have any faith they can address this? If not, I suggest looking elsewhere, because Robert has demonstrated that he has no intention of dealing with Jane or stopping her harassment of you because ‘that’s just how women are, whaddya gonna do?’ Ugh.

    LW3, congratulations on your new job and baby!

Comments are closed.