coworker ruined my white sweater, the person who confirms my employment dates gets it wrong, and more

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

1. Senior coworker ruined my white sweater

I am writing you at 2:30 am about an incident that happened a few years ago and occasionally gets replayed in my head on sleepless nights like this one.

I was a new addition to a tight-knit team of five, and the youngest and most junior team member. A few months into the job, my boss held a semi-formal year-end cocktail party. I didn’t have appropriate attire so had borrowed a top from my sister. It was a white mohair sweater with crystal adornments at the neckline.

During the event, a photographer came by to take photos, and a senior team member wanted to avoid the camera. So she grabbed onto my shoulders and started to rub her face on my sweater for a good minute or two, while the whole team (and what felt like everyone else in the room) stood watching.

I was mortified and couldn’t react. By the time it was over, she had left a huge smear of foundation across the top of half of my white sweater. She didn’t say anything. No one on the team, including our manager, said anything. And I was left roaming around with a dirty sweater for the the rest of the party while everyone carried on like nothing had happened.

After I returned home, I did everything I could to clean the sweater, but the foundation never came off. Needless to say, my sister never lent me a single clothing item again.

Both the coworker and I have since left the department, but not once did she apologize for this during the time we worked together. Till this day, the sweater sits in the corner of the closet sealed away in a vacuum bag like a piece of forensic evidence. (I’m not keeping it as evidence, but I just don’t have the heart to throw it away). And for some reason, this incident still haunts me every now and then, even though I keep telling myself to not think about it.

I am wondering what my younger self could have done in that situation. Am I overreacting? Should I have pushed her away? Should I have requested compensation? If yes, how could I have asked her to be accountable for her actions without ruining our rapport?

It’s so normal to freeze when something really strange happens like that! Yes, ideally you would have pulled away from her — but you’re in no way to blame for freezing, and the sweater might have already been ruined by that point even if you had.

Ideally you would have let the coworker know that she’d damaged an expensive sweater beyond repair and asked her to replace it … but power dynamics are a real thing, and as the youngest and most junior member of the team, it’s not surprising that you didn’t do that. Maybe if you had, your coworker would have been appropriately contrite and rushed to make your sister whole … or maybe she would have been huffy about it and it would caused all sorts of problems for you on that team. Who knows.

While the sweater itself is one casualty of that night, the second casualty is your peace of mind! You’re still agonizing over it years later and hanging onto the sweater because all these feelings are now woven in with the mohair. You were young and inexperienced, your coworker was weird and did something thoughtless, and there’s nothing to be gained from second-guessing any of that. The best thing you can do is to give yourself permission to write it off to working with a kook and let it go. Let the actual sweater go too — it’s just keeping you mired in the bad feelings of that evening whenever you see it, and it’s time to toss it out.

2. The person who needs to confirm my employment dates always gets it wrong

I did some special ed teaching through an agency part-time for a couple of years when my child was a toddler, up until 2020 when the pandemic started. I was essentially a contract worker. The head of the agency, “Mary,” and I didn’t get along well, but I have references from others I worked with during that time.

When I was applying for work more recently, I spoke with Mary to let her know someone might call to confirm employment dates and such. I started to sub in a public school district, but it was held up because Mary didn’t remember the dates correctly. I was told she said, “She did a few jobs around 2019, I think.” I have emails dating back to 2017 ( receipts!) and was able to submit them to the school district. I emailed Mary and linked to the old emails, reminding her of my employment dates, and she responded with a shrug emoji.

I’ve recently started a new job search and had some good interviews but was told twice that Mary did not confirm dates of employment and that they would be moving on with other candidates. I’m wondering if I should address this directly with Mary, and/or how to explain to potential employers that there may be a discrepancy. Mary is the owner/ operator of the agency and is the only person who can confirm the dates.

Two things: First, can you assemble your own documentation of the dates you worked there, such as paystubs? Then you can say to potential employers when you’re approaching the employment verification stage, “The agency owner has historically not tracked employment dates well and doesn’t give out accurate answers to inquiries about former employees, but I can provide pay stubs to document the dates I worked there. And if that’s not sufficient, please let me know and I’ll see what else I can find.”

Second, Mary is acting with reckless disregard for your future employment, and it might be worth having a lawyer send her a letter documenting your dates of employments and reminding her of her obligation to provide accurate ones going forward.

Read an update to this letter

3. My coworker jokes about suicide

Content warning: discussion of suicide

A few years ago, during a very difficult time in my life, I attempted to end my life. Nowadays, I’m doing better and undergoing treatment while taking my medications to prevent a relapse.

I started a new job a month ago, which was everything I had hoped for. However, I have an issue with my coworkers that I don’t know how to address. One of them frequently makes jokes about suicide in everyday conversations. Things like “I’d rather slit my wrists than write another report” or “I’ll go to the bathroom, and hopefully, I’ll drown myself in the sink before the meeting.” And this week, when he was called into the boss’s office, he made gestures of pretending to tie an imaginary noose around his neck and walk as if he had been hanged.

I know these are jokes, but they seriously harm my mental health. I can’t think of a way to ask him to stop without disclosing my past, something I’d really prefer to avoid. Is it possible to request this politely, or do I need to consider looking for a new job?

You can indeed request this, and you can do it without disclosing your past. One option is to simply say, “Please don’t joke about suicide.” You might not need to say anything more than that! Another option is: “Suicide is a really difficult topic for a lot of families. I’d be grateful if you didn’t joke about it around me.”

I’m glad you’re doing better now.

Read an update to this letter

4. My boss said if I didn’t switch locations, my friend would be fired

My manager called me, with my friend/roommate sitting in their office with them, and said that if I did not agree to exchange job locations with my friend, they would be fired. I agreed to the exchange, although I was very unhappy in my new location.

I finally was restored to my first job location but am wondering if I have any recourse due to the fact that this should have been an act that should have been done by HR or even not at all since it was a breach of confidentiality?

Legally, no. No law requires that kind of thing to only be done by HR, and no law would prevent your employer from informing you that your friend would be fired if you didn’t agree to the location swap.

That said, this is a very weird thing to have happened, and it’s possible someone higher up at your company would take issue with how your manager handled it. Whether or not to pursue that angle depends on what you know about your company, what options there are above your manager and your impression of how responsive and sensible those people are, how much leeway your manager is generally given to run things their own way, and how escalating it might affect things for you at work.

5. What to say to a temp who didn’t get the permanent job

We have a receptionist type role that was recently vacated, and we hired someone as a temp fill in until a permanent replacement was found. I know this person applied for the permanent role, but it was announced today that an outside candidate got it instead.

I am not this person’s manager and had no say in the hiring. What should I say that is sympathetic without seeming to disagree with the hiring decision? For what it is worth, my impression is that while this person is very nice, it is not surprising that there were more qualified candidates in the applicant pool for the permanent role.

You don’t necessarily need to reference it at all, but if you do, the words “really competitive pool” are usually helpful. For example: “I know there were a lot of applications and it ended up being a really competitive pool. But I’ve really appreciated the work you’ve done while you’ve been here.”

{ 606 comments… read them below }

  1. LifeBeforeCorona*

    Lw1 Maybe you check the internet and find a professional cleaner or a way to remove the stain? It’s surprisingly how much cleaning had changed in a few years. I got a lipstick stain out of a wool sweater.

    1. Pat*

      I think this must be true because I used a carpet cleaning spray last week, and it actually worked! I was very surprised and realized that I must have a lot of skepticism about the effectiveness of cleaning products. I’m glad they’re better now!

    2. Lime green Pacer*

      Mohair should take dye quite well. If it doesn’t look any better after dying it darker, well, you’re no worse off than before!

      1. Shrimp Emplaced*

        And if not that, I bet someone in your local Buy Nothing Group would love it instead of you trashing it. Making someone’s day with gifting it to them might put a happy spin on something that’s tormented you so.

      2. ferrina*

        That’s what I’d do. I’d use the sweater as a science experiment to learn more about dying. Dying is easier than folks tend to think- it’s not dying things that is the hard part!

        Best case scenario- you get a useable sweater. Worst case scenario- exactly where you are now.

        1. ZK*

          If you try this route, wash the sweater again first, and don’t use Rit dye, it can end up splotchy and it also will bleed forever. Look for a dye made for fiber, like Jacquard Acid dyes.

        2. OP1 (White Sweater)*

          Thanks ferrina. I don’t think I’ll use it as an experiment subject just yet. My take is that if I keep it in the condition it is now, there’s hope that it can be cleaned with improved cleaning technology. But if I fail the experiment, then it’s OVER and nothing can be done to salvage the sweater or situation.

          1. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

            OP1, something like this happened to me once with a pair of shoes that were destroyed by the dog of a person who had WAY more money than I did. He knew what his dog did, didn’t apologize or offer to replace the shoes, and I didn’t ask him to either. And 11 years later I still wished I had done something different! So I finally decided to use that bad memory in a productive way. I tell the story to my students and I hope that it teaches them to speak up.

    3. Worldwalker*

      What LBC said: Talk to a professional cleaner. It’s amazing what they can get out of things you wouldn’t expect. There’s an extremely good chance that you can clean the sweater.

      1. All Het Up About It*

        I had wondered about this, especially given that this happened when the OP was young and junior, and probably making a lower salary, especially given she had to borrow and appropriate fancy sweater to start with. I don’t think when I was at that stage in my career I would have thought to take it to a professional cleaner, as I would have assumed I could not have afforded it. Of course it’s quite possible that the OP did, and that was included in “trying everything to get the stain out.”

        I love the idea of trying to dye it! I hope the OP can do that and enjoy it, or enjoy gifting it back to her sister as a “new” item and finally move on from a very weird encounter where they did nothing wrong.

        1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

          Thank you, All Het Up About It. You nailed it there – I was financially in a tough place back then and had ruled out taking it to a professional cleaner.

          I hope to be able to “fix” the sweater and move on from this! As an aside, it may trigger my sister more if I gave her back a modified sweater :(

          1. TeaCoziesRUs*

            Ask her! She might be thrilled with a dyed sweater she can wear again, rather than a stained one that hides in your closet. :) I just started doing some tie dye with Dharma products, and there are lots of YouTubers who dye yarn that can give you an idea of what would work well, which color would be the most flattering to your sister, etc. I know VERY few people for whom white is their absolute best color.

            The worst that can happen is that it really does get donated after – to someone who will dye it a fabulous dark color and thank their lucky stars. :)

    4. londonedit*

      There’s a woman on Instagram called Nancy Birtwistle (she was on the Bake Off a few years ago) who has a whole series of books on eco-friendly cleaning methods. She’s always showing off photos from her followers who have had dreadful stains on beloved items, and she suggests ways to get them clean, they try them, and the results are brilliant.

      1. mmw*

        I second this recommendation! One of Nancy’s cleaning formulas helped me get rid of rust buildup on a bathtub that was so heavy it appeared to be black.

      2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        Her success stories seem almost like magic…is it possible?! Remaining supplies I needed to make up her core formulas are on the way as week. Here’s hoping! (My issue is mostly food stains, all my tops have spots. I know my mom was the same way but when we cleared out her closet everything was spotless so clearly stain removal is possible.)

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      If OP wants to go down the route of dealing with the stain but keeping the sweater there’s a number of great embroidery patterns that’ll hide a stain but keep in theme.

      Rescued a beloved white dress with a whopping tea stain on it by embroidering leaves up it.

    6. 2023 is Meh*

      I love Oxyclean Maxforce spray. I’d try some repeated dosing with that, just leave it, maybe for a few days. No guarantees but it has always worked for me.

    7. Beth*

      Just wanted to emphasize this! I’ve seen really good dry cleaners perform absolute miracles.

      You also have my sympathy, LW. That was a ghastly thing to do to you, and the person who buried their face in your body (!!!!) AND messed up your clothing should be reading your letter and cringing.

      1. Generic Name*

        Yes to your second paragraph. If there is any justice in the universe, your coworker has sleepless nights and writhes in agony when she recalls her behavior. I want to reemphasize that she’s the one who acted badly. Not you!

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, I read that and just kept going, “What. What am I reading? WHAT AM I READING??”

        Who DOES that??

          1. Bee*

            I was also expecting a red wine spill, and was like, “ah, accidents happen, they should have offered to pay for cleaning or replacement but it’s not worth fussing over,” but this is SO MUCH WEIRDER. No wonder the OP didn’t know how to react!

            1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

              Thanks Bee! I would have felt much better if it was a food spill of some sort and I can just write this off as a “pure accident”. But this happened because my co-worker chose to do this “weird thing”. Unfortunately, she never owned up to this and I remain troubled by the aftermath, such as having this weirdness replayed in my head every so often.

          2. MissBaudelaire*

            Yeah, I was expecting someone tripping with a wine glass or dropping chocolate cake. Not–burrowing into someone’s chest to hide from a camera.

          3. sparkle emoji*

            Same, wine spill or food spill were what I expected. My face when I read a grown adult stuck their face into someone else’s chest and rubbed it around? Shocked and a little disgusted. Side-eyeing that coworker for choosing the weirdest possible route instead of just? Using her words?

          4. Arts Akimbo*

            I suspect any red wine spill was inside the senior coworker. I cannot imagine her behavior in any rational being unless she were drunk. It’s no excuse, of course, but my brain demands an explanation for the face-rubbing!

            1. whingedrinking*

              Yeah, me too! I’m a little baffled at how one makes the leap from “I don’t want my picture taken” to “I’m going to smear my makeup on my coworker”.

        1. SunriseRuby*

          I KNOW!! I’ve read recommendation upon recommendation about stain removal while I’m still absolutely reeling about the horrible violation of LW 1’s personal space!

    8. Twenk*

      came straight here to say this!! I highly, highly recommend Rave Fabricare. They are a fantastic small business that does mail-order cleaning and repair of all types. I KNOW they will be able to make this sweater look like new if you want to save it. good luck!

    9. cardigarden*

      Speaking as someone who knits with mohair, I would just research ways to treat it before going to town on it with any cleaning solution, since it’s a delicate and expensive fiber. A good dry cleaner should be able to help with that though.

      1. Data entry: legit or not legit?*

        Came here to echo the same sentiment! OP, look up hobbybobbins on Instagram. I think she has a website too. She does absolutely amazing clothes restorations and gives advice as well. I was able to save a cashmere sweater I thought for sure was ruined following her advice.

      2. harmonybat*

        I’m sorry your sister isn’t being kinder about you not knowing what to do in a bizarre and violating situation. I can’t blame her for being sad about the sweater, but you not being careful or respectful of her things was not the problem at all. I fell and did some damage to a chair my mother-in-law had in her family for a long time, and if she has chosen lectures over graciousness I don’t think her son would be willing to show up at holidays so much anymore.

    10. Tupac Coachella*

      As a frequent makeup wearer and occasional makeup-stain-haver, I agree; the sweater might be salvageable if doing so would make you happy, OP. The key with foundation is choosing an oil based cleanser. (Water based would work if the foundation was water based, but 1) I doubt you know what foundation your former boss wears and 2) if it was, one of the things you’ve already tried would likely have worked.) Castille soap and Dawn has been effective for me for removing oil based makeup. The age of the stain could work against you, but as others have said, you lose nothing if it doesn’t work.

      Now, if trying again will only draw up old resentments and/or you or your sister would get no joy out of having the sweater back, by all means just toss it or give it away. You don’t have to own the sweater or the feelings that it holds onto anymore.

      1. Tammy 2*

        I know the ship has long since sailed, but asking about the foundation formula would have been a pretty great way to communicate the problem to the coworker. “Is your foundation oil or water-based? I’m trying to salvage the sweater you mashed your face into and I need to figure out what kind of stain remover to use.”

        Maybe not the most diplomatic solution, but I’m not sure there is a diplomatic way to address behavior like that.

        1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

          Hi Tammy 2 – the thought of reaching out to my ex-coworker about this after so many years gives me anxiety! I wish I could’ve had the courage the settle this with her diplomatically while we were both still working together. Alas, the ship has long since sailed!

      2. OP1 (White Sweater)*

        Thanks Tupac Coachella! I think trying again will give my sister and I the closure we need on this situation. I don’t think I can find out what type of foundation my ex-coworker uses, but I will do more research on this to see how best to approach this.

    11. Mmm.*

      LW 1: to avoid a camera, an adult didn’t leave the room or ask the photographer to stop but instead…rubbed their face on your sweater?? What??

      Regarding the sweater. There are a couple of things you may still be able to do to save it.

      Infovets says option one better than me:

      “Treat with a solution of shampoo and tepid water. If the stain cannot be removed, wait until it is dry and then treat with white spirit, benzine or stain-remover.”

      Option 2!
      Remember, at this point, you can’t make the problem worse. So, I’d try this:

      1. Thoroughly mix cold water and Oxiclean. Soak the sweater overnight.

      2. Wring/squeeze out excess water. It sounds like the stain may be too big for spot treating, but if not, do a paste of water and Oxiclean and leave it there for a few hours. Gently rub and wipe it off.

      3. Rinse with cold water.

      4. If it looks clean, let it air dry and check periodically to see if the stain is out. If it’s not clean, do these steps one more time.

      5. Once you’ve done the steps a second time, if the stain is still there, soak in diluted white vinegar for a few hours. This seems to break up tough stains for me.

      6. Rinse and air dry like above.

      7. If it’s STILL stained, run it through the washer with detergent and Oxiclean. (You can do that earlier if mohair is washer safe. Remember, you can’t make things worse now!) Put vinegar in your rinse cycle. Rinse twice. Hang dry.

      If none of that works? You tried.

      That lady was a weirdo. Weirder than me, the person with the laundry hobby who just wrote this out.

      1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

        Hi Mmm. – thank you for writing all this out! I will note this down along with all the amazing cleaning advice from the comments. (By the way, you are not weird for having a laundry hobby!)

    12. A person*

      If you can’t get it cleaned, find a local yarn shop and ask if they know anyone that might be able to try dying it. It wouldn’t be white anymore but they might be able to satisfactorily hide the stain and turn it back into a wearable item.

  2. Satan’s Panties*

    Sorry about your sister’s embargo. Did you make it thoroughly clear to her that it was not your fault?

    1. Viette*

      Yes, for real. “Needless to say, my sister never lent me a single clothing item again.” Was that needless to say? I’m sure she was pissed that her sweater was ruined but it’s not like you carelessly spilled fruit punch on it. Years later you are still banned from any clothing loans because a coworker once accosted you and scrubbed foundation all over your chest?

      1. Despachito*

        I can easily imagine that if OP did not do anything to make this good with the sister.

        Although it was absolutely not her fault, the sister lent her the sweater and OP was responsible for it.

        I can be completely understanding if I lend an object to a friend and it gets ruined, I would acknowledge it was not the friend’s fault and not be mad at her for it, but I’d expect the friend to repair/clean the object and if impossible, to replace it or at least try (I can see it is not easy if she is not wealthy and the object was expensive).

        The friend (or OP in this case) may or may not want to confront the perpetrator to make up for the damage, but should not shift the burden to the person she borrowed the item from.

      2. JayNay*

        yes, it sounds like there’s some (maybe subconscious) self-blame going on here when this wasn’t OP’s fault in the slightest. that was such odd behavior from a grown adult person in a work setting. I blame OP absolutely zero for being too shocked to respond.
        it also sounds like a sexual assault if i’m being honest? rubbing your face across someone’s chest for minutes? that would make OP’s reaction even more in line with how many people react to being sexually assaulted – “freeze” is one of the trauma responses along with “fight and flight”.
        It’s not OP’s fault the sweater got damaged, and I’m sideeyeing that nobody stood up for her right then or afterwards.

        1. Cj*

          I thought they grabbed her shoulders from behind and rubbed it on the back of the sweater. that would explain why the OP didn’t realize it when she looked in the mirror on etc. ( not that makes it much better, but it’s a little less horrifying, to me at least).

          1. Observer*

            I thought they grabbed her shoulders from behind and rubbed it on the back of the sweater

            It’s hard to tell from the text. And in some ways, it’s even worse to me. And even more worse that no one stood up for her.

          2. MigraineMonth*

            Nope, horrifyingly enough, OP confirms down below that the coworker was rubbing her face in OP’s chest!

          3. Princess Sparklepony*

            That’s what I thought as well. Because I couldn’t imagine someone rubbing their face on someone’s chest. But it appears it was on the front of the sweater.

        2. Observer*

          It’s not OP’s fault the sweater got damaged, and I’m sideeyeing that nobody stood up for her right then or afterwards.

          Very much this. Which makes me think that people might have reacted poorly to the OP pushing back. Now, they should NOT, but people’s norms seem to be *very* off kilter in that group.

          I’m glad the OP is out of that group.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            It’s not ideal, but the “freeze” response is very common when someone does something completely bizarre, and in hindsight pretending it didn’t happen is generally the easier response.

            Like, if someone pushed past me on the sidewalk, I might say, “Hey!” If someone pushed past me on the sidewalk while crab-walking, I would probably stop and stare.

            If the senior employee had spilled red wine on the sweater, there are social scripts for handling that (even as a bystander). I have zero scripts for “hid and rubbed face on sweater for a long period of time” that don’t assume the perpetrator is a cat.

        3. Yorick*

          I read it as across the top of the shoulder or on the back of the shoulder rather than in the chest. This incident was weird and inappropriate enough without making assumptions that it was sexual assault.

        4. sparkle emoji*

          And all that to get out of having her picture taken? Was the coworker under a curse where she couldn’t say “stop” or just leave the room? Was she a toddler? Banana pants.

      3. Ash*

        Yes this is extremely harsh, especially from a sister. Also OP, it may be worth taking the sweater to a professional cleaner to see if they can get the foundation out.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          I have a sister, and in my experience, this isn’t especially harsh. (I think it depends a lot on their relationship and age.)

            1. jasmine*

              I think it’s fine if you never share clothes, but it’s another thing for your sister to decide to stop sharing clothes because something happened that wasn’t your fault.

              I have sisters and I might share or not share clothes for a myriad of reasons. But to decide “I would’ve shared clothes with you, but I never will again because one time someone else ruined the shirt while you were wearing it” does seem harsh.

              1. jasmine*

                *Unless there was some sort of pattern, where loaning my clothes to my sister resulted in disaster more than once.

              2. Starbuck*

                Even if it only happened once and wasn’t technically her fault – she should have tried to make it right for her sister by replacing the item, or asking sister what she wanted. If she didn’t bother, I think not loaning her clothes anymore is a pretty reasonable consequence! For me it would matter less that it got ruined (that happens) but that nothing was done to replace it. That’s my rule personally with loaning clothes – I’ve done it with friends plenty, but the first time I don’t get an item back, we’re done sharing until you’ve found/repaired/replaced it.

                1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

                  Hi Starbuck – the amends I made to my sister were not detailed in the letter so I can see how one might assume I did nothing. (Though the number of people who made that assumption surprised me.) That was not the case. Although I wasn’t able to hold my co-worker accountable without feeling like I’d jeopardize work relationships, I tried to do what I could to make things right.

                  I had offered monetary compensation to my sister, but she had refused because she knew it what impact to would have on my financial situation. At the time, I felted her a baby penguin as a token of apology. When things got better, I treated her to a meal of similar value. This didn’t change the fact that she felt the need to bring it up every now and then to tell me that I “could’ve been more careful”. Aside from that, my sister and I have a good relationship. Anyway, hope this clarifies the situation.

                2. Joron Twiner*

                  OP I assumed you did various things to make it up to your sister! Bizarre that people assumed you didn’t.

                  I am sure for your sister it’s just that she lent something out and it got ruined, she feels burned and wants to be very protective of her things, even though it wasn’t your fault and there’s nothing you could have done. That’s just family, isn’t it!

          1. Impending Heat Dome*

            I don’t think it is either. I can accept that the incident was out of my sister’s control, and yet also decide on a new rule, “Don’t lend my clothes out anymore, especially not the nice, expensive ones”.

            1. Blue*

              Yes, this seems like a fair reading. It’s not “you sister are a disaster who I will leave naked in the street” it’s “I would rather not let items I value out of my control bc then at least if something happens it’s on me and can’t lead to resentment etc”

              1. Satan's Panties*

                That would be fair. But it sounds like LW Sis expresses it as “I’m not lending anything to *you*, you sweater-ruiner!” And Sis seems to be the one who led things towards resentment, and is dwelling there.

                1. Insert Clever Name Here*

                  Just saw OP’s comments and while I maintain that there’s nothing in the letter to indicate that’s how the sister responded, from OP’s comments her sister is 100% acting exactly as you read it.

                  For anyone looking, OP is commenting as “OP1 (White Sweater)”

            2. Ev*

              Yeah, exactly. I lent a (handknit, handspun) shawl to my Mom one day. It fell into her laundry without her noticing, she washed it, and it completely felted. Total accident, no malice on her part but still, that shawl is entirely unreplaceable and I was really sad about it. I’m not angry at my mom or trying to punish her for it, but I do now have a personal rule that I don’t let people borrow things I’ve handknit because they’re special to me in a way that they’re understandably not to other people and I want to make sure I take special care of them.

            3. Emikyu*

              Yeah, after an incident like this, I would never loan expensive clothes to *anyone* again. It’s not about punishing anyone or holding a grudge, but simply the realization that I can’t control what happens to items when I’m not there.

              And sure, I probably couldn’t have stopped some weirdo from rubbing their face all over my clothes either. But I could have been the one to decide whether it’s worth speaking up and facing potential backlash for saying “WTF, you ruined my sweater, it will cost $X to replace it, would you like to handle that by cash or Venmo?” I’m not passing any judgment on whether LW was right or wrong not to do that, just saying it’s a decision I’d rather make myself.

          2. Observer*

            I have a sister, and in my experience, this isn’t especially harsh.

            I think that what is throwing people is the “needless to say”. It’s not “needless” because a *reasonable* sister should have understood that the OP is not at fault. It’s a bummer that the OP’s sister is not so reasonable (at least in this respect), and it’s not deeply shocking or anything like that. But it is *not* so common that it’s “needless to say”.

        2. ferrina*

          Eh. Maybe.

          LW should tell her the story of Horror Coworker, if nothing else. Cuz that coworker was creepy and weird. If sister blames LW for Coworker’s actions, that’s an issue. If sister blames LW for freezing, well, if sister is young I’d give her some grace (plenty of folks in their early 20s are cocky and don’t yet realize the power of the freeze response). If sister just doesn’t want to take a risk with her nice clothing again, that’s fair! Sometimes it takes one piece of your favorite clothes being destroyed (no matter how it’s destroyed) to make you not want to lend clothes again.

        3. LifeBeforeCorona*

          I learned the hard way not to lend clothes to sisters because inevitably I’d find them tossed unwashed in a corner weeks later.

        4. Nina*

          My sister and I are similar sizes but very different styles. She has a lot (a lot) of fairly inexpensive but fashionable off-the-rack clothes that get replaced regularly. I have a capsule wardrobe/work uniform of high-quality ‘boring’ staples where each item has a couple to a few duplicates and is bought to last about ten years, and a collection of quirky colorful vintage, foreign, hand-made, and wearable art clothes and accessories, many of which are family heirlooms, and all of which are unique and irreplaceable.

          I would be mildly annoyed if she borrowed and ruined one of five duplicate white silk shirts bought in 2015, mainly because it would throw off my shirt-buying routine. I would be furious and inconsolable if she borrowed and ruined the hand-embroidered 1910 white silk shirt that belonged to our great-grandmother.

          So I guess it depends how special the mohair sweater was.

          1. MaineCat*

            Furious and inconsolable if someone ruined it while physically assaulting your sister? Would you be equally furious and inconsolable if you wore it and while walking down the street someone decided to intentionally throw paint on you? Or if it burned up in a house fire?

            Because at the end of the day, stuff is just stuff and if something is ruined through no fault of you or the person you lent it to, it seems like playing the blame game would be both unkind and unfair.

      4. Dido*

        It doesn’t matter if it was OP’s fault or not (which is arguable – it IS OP’s fault that they never followed up with the culprit to get the sweater professionally cleaned or replaced. The sister has no standing to do that). The fact of the matter is that the sister lent an expensive and cherished clothing item to her and got it back damaged, and if she hadn’t lent it out she might still have it today. I don’t blame her for not wanting to take that risk again.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Same. I didn’t see an offer to replace it, either. It’s not the OP’s fault that her coworker was absolutely bizarre, but it’s on her if she didn’t do anything about it afterwards.

          1. Jackalope*

            The OP is commenting in the remarks here. In another remark she said that she offered to compensate her sister for the sweater but her sister refused so she made her a handmade gift as an apology and later took her out for a dinner that had the same value as the sweater. So she did her best to make it up to her sister.

          2. OP1 (White Sweater)*

            Hi Dust Bunny – the amends I made to my sister were not detailed in the letter so I can see how one might assume I did nothing to remedy the situation. (Though the number of people who made that assumption surprised me.) That was not the case. Although I wasn’t able to hold my co-worker accountable without feeling like I’d jeopardize work relationships, I tried to do what I could to make things right.

            I offered monetary compensation to my sister, but she had refused because she was concerned of the impact it would have on my financial situation. At the time, I felted her a baby penguin as a token of apology. When things got better, I treated her to a meal of similar value. I think it’s fine that my sister no longer lends clothing to me. But she also doesn’t need to bring it up every now and then to tell me that I “could’ve been more careful”. Aside from that, my sister and I have a good relationship. Anyway, hope this clarifies the situation.

            1. Mooshie*

              LW1, It sounds like you have more than made amends towards your sister but she refuses to let this go. The next time she mentions it you could ask her what it would take for her not to bring it up again. You were mauled by a superior, in public, in front of your colleagues – and nobody even acknowledged it, nor were you able to bring it up or ask for resolution. That your sister can’t see how you were hurt by this reminds me of the various ways victims get shamed and blamed. But shame and blame aren’t yours to carry.

        2. jasmine*

          I guess the thing I don’t get is that this could’ve happened to anyone. It could’ve happened to OP’s sister too. There isn’t a real connection here between OP having the sweater and the sweater getting ruined, it was just chance.

        3. Observer*

          it IS OP’s fault that they never followed up with the culprit to get the sweater professionally cleaned or replaced.

          It’s not clear whether the OP ever took the sweater to a cleaners. They might not have been able to get that out.

          As for not approaching the coworker for repayment? Sure, the OP should have done so. But it’s easy to see why she didn’t. She was the newbie in a “tight” group, she was grabbed by a senior co-worked and everyone made it abundantly clear that they saw it as “no big deal.” It’s not just that no one – including the manager, whose job it was – stopped the coworker. It’s that no one said anything and “carried on like nothing had happened.” What do you want to bet that she would have been treated like a trouble maker, while never getting any repayment?

          1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

            Thank you for the affirmation. That was exactly how I felt, but I would welcome any guidance to be able to approach this differently and more directly.

            RE: Professional cleaner – this was not something I was familiar with and I had ruled it out due to my financial situation at the time. My assumption was that professional cleaning would not be affordable, but that may not have been the case. This is something I will definitely to look into.

            1. Insert Clever Name Here*

              If you’re in a situation again where a coworker ruins something personal, you could wait a day or so for them to approach you (and you to try to fix it) but if they don’t you do just kind of have to bring it up. I know that’s easier said than done.

              A sample script:
              “Hey Jane — at the party, you got makeup all over my sweater. I took it to a cleaner and they were unable to remove the stain. Since you rubbed your face all over me, I’m asking you to pay for the replacement: a similar one is $X.”

              Write your script out and practice saying it to the mirror until you feel confident. Hopefully you’ll never have THIS situation again, but that tactic is helpful in all sorts of situations.

              1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

                Hi Insert Clever Name Here – thank you for the sample script and the advice to practice it! I will note this down for future reference. Here’s to hoping I won’t have to use it in this type of situation again!

              1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

                Hi Typing All The Time – no, I did not approach the colleague who did this. For some reason, I felt it was really the co-worker’s responsibility to take initiative to make amends for the sweater and that was incorrect of me. I also didn’t have the courage to confront this colleague when she didn’t take accountability.

            2. MigraineMonth*

              OP, it’s time to forgive yourself for this. Your coworker grabbed you and rubbed her face on your chest, and no one told her to stop or even acknowledged it happened. That’s bizarre and awful; even if it wasn’t sexual, it was definitely unwanted intimate contact.

              If the coworker/managers/etc had been at all decent, they would have a) apologized profusely and b) offered to pay for cleaning/replacing the sweater. You are not responsible for approaching a senior coworker who touched you inappropriately.

              Your sister needs to knock it off bringing up this incident. You offered to pay for it and she refused. You made her a gift and took her out to dinner as an apology. She doesn’t have any obligation to loan you her clothes, but she does need to let bygones be bygones. A coworker attacked you; there was nothing you could have done to predict or prevent that.

              1. Kat*

                Yep, I’m on board with Sister receiving a solid ‘give it a rest’ response next time the Saga of the Soiled Sweater is raised. It’s been years, she doesn’t get to flog OP for the rest of her life for something that she’s tried repeatedly to rectify, especially when the offer was made to just pay her for the damn thing! Sounds like Sister is rather enjoying playing the martyr on this one.

          2. Dido*

            Yeah, it’s easy to see why the OP didn’t approach the coworker for repayment, and it’s easy to see why the sister doesn’t want to lend clothes to OP again when OP didn’t take the steps to make her whole.

            1. Observer*

              when OP didn’t take the steps to make her whole.

              Except that the OP *did* take steps. She tried to clean it and she offered to pay for it.

              The thing here is not that her sister decided that it’s just not a good idea to lend out her clothes. But the framing. The OP has commented (some of the comments went up before your comment) that her sister actually blames her, and claims that she just wasn’t careful enough.

        4. OP1 (White Sweater)*

          I agree that my lack of confrontation contributes to my sister’s anger at me. I would say that I was afraid of being perceived by the team as the person who “made a fuss” over “such a little thing”. Even though it was not a small thing in my opinion everyone else’s non-reaction and lack of acknowledgment fed that thought of mine. For some reason, I felt it was really the co-worker’s responsibility to take initiative to make amends for the sweater and that was incorrect of me.

          For those who commented that I should have confronted the co-worker for compensation, I would be grateful for any guidance/advice/script on how to initiate this conversation, because it a very uncomfortable thing for me to do and I honestly don’t know how to do it.

          I hope to be able to professionally request compensation/accountability from the perpetrator if something like this ever happens again (???!?!), or I can mentally re-enact the resolution whenever this incident pops up in my mind again, and hopefully make it go away.

          1. Satan's Panties*

            “For those who commented that I should have confronted the co-worker for compensation, I would be grateful for any guidance/advice/script on how to initiate this conversation, because it a very uncomfortable thing for me to do and I honestly don’t know how to do it.”

            And that’s why Sis is out of line (IMO, no offense). She must know this about you, and it’s a safe bet that you told her about being the newest and youngest at a cliquey workplace. Yet she still questions why you chose not to take actions that very likely would have been taken as “making a scene”?

            1. Gerri’s Jaunty Hat*

              I would assume in the sister’s case that it’s less “I don’t trust you specifically anymore” and more “I learned that loaning out my clothes is risky, so I’m not doing it anymore for anyone.”

              1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

                Thanks Gerri’s Jaunty Hat. I do think that it’s reasonable for my sister to not risk any damage to her possessions, and I am totally fine with that. But as Satan’s Panties mentioned, I would appreciate if she’d stop the victim blaming.

          2. LifeBeforeCorona*

            If it helps, I once pulled a sweater off my sister in a high school hallway. She had a shirt underneath it, but she had borrowed the sweater without permission. It sounds petty now but having to minimize something as “such a little thing” does lead to oversize anger and a sense of powerlessness.

            1. Jen MaHRtini*

              Thirty-five years later, and it still makes me seethe thinking about when my younger sister would get mad I wouldn’t lend her a clothing item and I was told it wasn’t a big deal so just to do it. When it was inevitably ruined, the response was that I should have known that would happen.

              1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

                Oh no, Jen MaHRtini – I’m sorry to hear that. People need to stop demanding that we have psychic powers and I hope she made amends to you!

            2. OP1 (White Sweater)*

              Thanks LifeBeforeCorona! I think feeling powerless and the lack of acknowledgement after the incident is a big part of the incident sticking around in my brain.

              The sweater pulling though… D:

          3. Modesty Poncho*

            I don’t think it’s “for some reason”, I think it’s completely normal that the person who ruined the clothes should be responsible for reaching out to make it right. That doesn’t mean people always WILL, but she SHOULD have. It’s not your fault other people are rude as heck.

            For the sake of mentally roleplaying it, I probably would have sent an email because that’s much, much easier for me to deal with than confronting someone in person. Tried to keep it short, something like, “Hey, the sweater that I wore to the party has ended up stained with your make-up after the camera thing. Would you be able to take care of dry-cleaning that for me?” I’d expect that a polite person would either say yes or offer some other compensation. It’s easier to go back in a second response than to try to cover every option initially.

          4. Ellis Bell*

            In the moment something like “Oh, it’s stained, I hope it will not be too expensive to get that cleaned” and in this sort of scenario you can add”It isn’t even mine.” A very calm ‘everything is fixable with money tone’ (which you don’t come by naturally when young and poor) unless you have the capital to show more annoyance at the carelessness. Then later on: “It cost x to have the sweater cleaned, luckily it wasn’t totally ruined. If you can see your way to covering that, I’d appreciate it.” Breezy and cheerful. you can say anything if you’re breezy and cheerful.

          5. Full Banana Ensemble*

            Is it possible that no one noticed the stain at the party and that’s why they didn’t say anything? I mean, rubbing her face on you is still weird and worthy of comment, but it could be that you were hyper-aware of the makeup and others were not. Maybe the lighting was dim, or they weren’t looking at your chest.

            I know I will notice imperfections in my appearance that no one else does. I have said something to the effect of “Ugh, I can’t wear this shirt anymore, there’s a stain on it,” only to have the other person say, “Oh, that? No one will notice,” or even “Where? Looks fine to me!” Other people are (thankfully) less observant about us than we are about ourselves.

            As for what you should say in that situation – ideally you’d address it in the moment, when the other person can see the damage they’ve caused first-hand — “Oh no! That must be from your makeup. I hope it doesn’t need dry cleaning” — but it’s understandable that you’d be speechless after that assault.

            I’d have suggested going to her afterward and saying something like, “I’m sure you didn’t realize, but when you hugged* me, your makeup rubbed off on my sweater, and unfortunately, I’ve been unable to clean it myself.” Any normal person would jump in and apologize and offer to pay for the dry cleaning, but if she doesn’t, you’d add, “I hate to ask, but it belongs to my sister, so I need to return it in good condition. Would you mind covering the cost of dry cleaning?” (Note: this language is deliberately VERY soft, because I figure that’s the most appealing in your situation. You could also be much more direct and say, “Hey, when you rubbed your face on me, your makeup got on my sweater. I’ll need you to reimburse me for the cleaning or a new one if it can’t be cleaned.”)

            *I know it wasn’t a hug, but that’s the least offensive way I can think of to describe it!!

            1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

              Hi Full Banana Ensemble – while I’m usually willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, I think the stain was quite visible, given how my team members were looking at me/my sweater afterwards.

              Thank you for the advice on how I could have approached the colleague afterwards. I think you framed the “hug” option in a very harmless way, and it feels like something present-day me could say without fearing potential repercussions. I really appreciate this!

          6. jasmine*

            > For some reason, I felt it was really the co-worker’s responsibility to take initiative to make amends for the sweater and that was incorrect of me.

            No, that’s not incorrect of you at all! It is your coworker’s responsibility to make things right after ruining your sweater (not even going into how unacceptable the situation would be even if your clothes were fine).

            Sure, you could have said something, but it’s completely understandable that you didn’t based on being the most junior person there. Like Alison said, you couldn’t be sure that it wouldn’t have caused issues with you at work, especially given everyone else’s non-reaction.

            1. Gerri’s Jaunty Hat*

              I would almost say it’s reasonable but not logical. Yes, it’s weird and rude for the coworker not to have apologized, but someone normal/polite enough to apologize wouldn’t have rubbed their face on your sweater in the first place. So it was predictable that she was never going to initiate the apology.

              Also, the weirdness of rubbing aside, she may have had no idea about the stain.

      5. Olive*

        I don’t think there has to be blame or anger attached to concluding that lending out clothing that might have been your favorite or most expensive is a risk that you’re not willing to take again. It’s not clear that the OP bought her sister a new sweater.

      6. Temperance*

        I would ban my sister from borrowing my stuff if something expensive/precious was damaged and my sister didn’t either replace it herself or get the wrongdoer to fix it.

        1. Emelius*

          That’s exactly what I was thinking. If I was LWs sister, I would be angry about how the situation was handled. If I loaned her a nice article of clothing for a business function and it was damaged by a colleague of hers, I would expect that she would ask the colleague to pay to have it cleaned or replaced. LW did not do this so for that reason I don’t blame the sister for telling her she can never borrow clothing again. I wouldn’t loan any of my things to someone who was not willing to pursue reimbursement if it was damaged by another person while they were borrowing it. but with all that being said, I think it was pretty crappy of the person who caused the damage not to immediately apologize and offer to take care of replacement.

          1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

            I agree that the fact I did not confront this co-worker contributed to my sister’s anger. For some reason, I felt it was really the co-worker’s responsibility to take initiative to make amends for the sweater and that was incorrect of me.

            I was afraid of being perceived by the team as the person who “made a fuss” over “such a little thing” given the lack of acknowledgement from everyone in witness.

            I would be grateful for any guidance/advice/script on how to initiate this conversation, because it a very uncomfortable thing for me to do and I honestly don’t know how to do it.

            1. Heather*

              Hey, your makeup ruined my sweater. Do you want to try to take it to a cleaner, or would you rather pay $XYZ for a replacement?

            2. biobotb*

              I don’t think it was incorrect of you to think the coworker who stained the sweater should take initiative to get it cleaned. It’s just that, once she didn’t, the only way to try to get her to take responsibility was to bring it up with her.

            3. Emikyu*

              Other people have already given some pretty good advice about how to handle it, but I just want to reassure that it’s not “such a little thing”.

              Someone ruined an expensive item that you were responsible for. That’s already not a little thing in my view, and it’s especially egregious given the power dynamics and income disparity. FWIW, I would be absolutely mortified if I ruined anyone’s clothes at a work function, but especially if that person were junior to me and possibly couldn’t afford to replace the item. I would absolutely consider it my responsibility to pay for cleaning/replacement.

              Obviously this person doesn’t view it the same way, but my point is that you are allowed to “make a fuss” when someone does something like this. I can understand why office politics or conflict aversion might mean that you don’t, but it’s totally okay to do!

              Also, if someone rubs their face all over you (seriously, WTF?!), you probably cannot trust them to behave appropriately in general, so calibrate your expectations accordingly.

            4. Gerri’s Jaunty Hat*

              Bringing it up at all isn’t automatically “making a fuss”. You can remain low-key and not try to embarrass the coworker, and still say, “Hey, your makeup actually got on my sweater at the party last week, and it was a loaner from my sister. Would you be able to get it cleaned?”

          2. jasmine*

            LW’s boundaries were horribly violated. That’s a much bigger deal than a piece of clothing. This isn’t a situation where a sibling should be angry, as opposed to offering sympathy.

            1. Arts Akimbo*

              Agreed. “I just got assaulted by a coworker” beats “but my sweater got ruinnned!” every time.

        2. OP1 (White Sweater)*

          Hi Temperance – the amends I made to my sister were not detailed in the letter so I can see how one might assume I did nothing. (Though the number of people who made that assumption surprised me.) That was not the case. Although I wasn’t able to hold my co-worker accountable without feeling like I’d jeopardize work relationships, I tried to do what I could to make things right.

          I offered monetary compensation to my sister, but she had refused because she knew what impact it would have on my financial situation. At the time, I felted her a baby penguin as a token of apology. When things got better, I treated her to a meal of similar value. This didn’t change the fact that she felt the need to bring it up every now and then to tell me that I “could’ve been more careful”. Aside from that, my sister and I have a good relationship. Anyway, hope this clarifies the situation.

      7. OP1 (White Sweater)*

        Hi Viette – I’m okay with her not loaning me clothing anymore, but the fact that she will say “you should’ve been more careful” when that thing happened bothers me. Hopefully this second attempt at restoring the sweater will put an end to all this!

    2. Maxine*

      I think that is actually why you’re still haunted by the incident years later. It put a crack in you and your sister’s relationship. If she had been outraged on your behalf instead of at you, it would be a family memory, not this. I am sorry the outcome was this.

      1. Zweisatz*

        To tack on to that, I would like to mention this sounds like a troubling experience. If I understand correctly, a person who you (OP) had no close connection to whatsoever rubbed her face all over your chest for several seconds in front of an audience and nobody stood up for you – neither the colleagues nor your boss, not even afterwards? That could be honestly damaging emotionally.
        I might not have known how to react in the moment, but as your colleague or your boss, I would have certainly contacted you later and asked if you are okay.

        I hope you can appreciate by now, at least logically if not emotionally, that the ruined sweater was not your fault and that several people (including your sister if I’m being honest) could have stood up for you/apologized to you.

        Talk to a cleaner, throw the sweater out, it doesn’t matter. But maybe consider a small ritual where you let your guilt about this whole situation go because it certainly wasn’t on you.

          1. Haven’t picked a username yet*

            That is what I pictured. Back/shoulder hiding from a camera. Still super weird and upsetting.

            1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

              As someone who hates having her picture taken, there are so many better ways to avoid the cameras than rubbing your face on someone’s shoulder.

              This lady was weird. OP, this was not your fault. Nor was its your fault you did not react in the moment. Please let it go.

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                I want to assure OP freezing was absolutely the normal response–it’s such a weird thing that most of us do not have a well-practiced “What to do when a boss starts rubbing their gooey face on your sweater at work” reaction.

              2. Medusa*

                Right, like… just leave the room?? Or tell the photographer “please don’t take any photos of me?!”

                1. Emikyu*

                  Also, given that this person grabbed the LW, I’m going to assume they have hands. If this person absolutely MUST hide their face, hands can be used for that. (YOUR OWN hands. I wouldn’t normally think that needs to be specified, but after reading this letter I’m not so sure anymore.)

          2. OP1 (White Sweater)*

            Hi, OP1 here! Just clarifying that the coworker was indeed rubbing her face on the front of my sweater.

            1. Louise*

              Omg, OP! Like, as a fiber artist, I am deeply offended on the sweater’s behalf, but even if your coworker had been barefaced, her actions were such deeeeply inappropriate. As a fellow freezer and 2am obsesser, I totally sympathize.

              I hope some of the suggestions above re: dying work for you. There are services out there that would dye it for you if you don’t feel like trying!

            2. Chauncy Gardener*

              Holy cow. That just made it about 100% worse. And that no one you worked with said anything in the moment? What the actual f?
              Please let this go. THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT.

            3. Spicy Tuna*

              WHAT?! When I read the title of the letter, I assumed someone spilled food or a drink on you. When I read the letter, I thought weird, but maybe it was the back of the sweater. She rubbed her face on the FRONT of your body, so hard that her foundation got all over it?! Yeah, I would have froze too!

            4. ABW*

              It’s really hard for me not to picture that move as… really intimate. That’s not something you do inadvertently or by mistake. Like all sexual harrassment, it’s planned and designed to make someone feel humiliated and violated. I don’t think she was just awkward; this was malicious.

              1. jasmine*

                I know a lot of women who wouldn’t see this as really intimate if the other person is also a woman. Though they generally have the sense not to pull this with someone at work.

                Doesn’t excuse coworker’s actions, but this isn’t automatically malicious.

                1. Crooked Bird*

                  I feel like I know women who feel that way too, but wouldn’t they still see it as something appropriate only with someone you’re close to or at least very comfortable with? That’s the only way I can picture it…

                2. Observer*

                  I know a lot of women who wouldn’t see this as really intimate if the other person is also a woman.

                  I don’t think most women would see it as *sexual*, but intimate is different. It’s really no different than looking down the front of someone’s shirt – and I think people would pretty universally push back on the privacy violation even if it were a woman doing it to a woman.

                3. Ann*

                  How is it not intimate to grab someone, lean down, and rub your face all over their chest? It’s not like leaning on someone or a hug or a pat on the back. There’s just no remotely normal context for a move like that…

                4. Parakeet*

                  Speaking from some unfortunate experiences as a queer female-presenting person, there are some women and female-presenting people out there who don’t think anything they do counts creepy or assaultive because they think that’s a man thing.

                  I doubt the coworker thought she was being creepy and assaultive, and may not be attracted to women. But to me that’s no different than when gay men think they’re entitled to be handsy with female-presenting people because they aren’t attracted to them, still creepy and assaultive even if it wasn’t intended to be. Due to some of my past experiences (with women and men), I might well have a flashback and/or a panic attack if someone did this specific thing to me.

                5. Emikyu*

                  “I know a lot of women who wouldn’t see this as really intimate if the other person is also a woman.”

                  They need to stop.

                  You’re not wrong, and I’m not arguing with you, but they need to stop. There is absolutely no universe in which putting your face in another person’s chest (especially a woman/female-presenting person’s chest) is not intimate. And unless the person putting their face in that chest is a baby seeking food, it’s going to carry sexual connotations whether it’s meant that way or not.

                  Also, as a queer woman, this idea (which I don’t blame you for, jasmine, you just acknowledged that it exists) feels really invalidating to me. The idea that an otherwise intimate/sexual act isn’t that way just because it’s between two women feels very similar to having people refer to my girlfriend as my friend/roommate/other type of platonic relationship.

                  Woman can have sexual relationships with other women, which by extension means that women can sexually assault other women. And I would absolutely call rubbing your face in a woman’s chest sexual assault, regardless of intent (and I don’t think I’d get any pushback on that if the offender in this scenario had been a man).

                6. BG*

                  Okay, but I also know a lot of people who *would* see this as “really intimate”/definitely inappropriate/definitely violating regardless of the gender of the other person.

              2. OP1 (White Sweater)*

                Hi ABW – I am pretty sure that the co-worker was not being malicious when she did this. I still remember her expression very clearly (due to this incident occasionally replaying in my head in UHD slo-mo and how close her face was) – it was akin to someone affectionately snuggling their cat.

                Except, we are not that close (relationship-wise) and I am not a cat :(

                It did make me feel very uncomfortable and borderline violated for someone who is not family or a close friend to have this kind of physical contact with me.

                For everyone else who was wondering about the coworker’s condition at the time – she was sober. I was sober. Everyone else watching was sober.

                1. Ellis Bell*

                  Your last paragraph is the most inexplicable part. I can imagine it being a horrific drunken mistake but I just can’t imagine a sober person doing this to a colleague at a party.

                2. MigraineMonth*

                  I, too, was wondering if your coworker was secretly a cat. Because that’s the only rational explanation I can find for her actions.

                  I’ve seen people turn away or cover their faces to avoid a photograph. I have never once seen someone shove their face into a woman’s chest to do so, and you should not feel any guilt for not knowing how to handle that.

                3. Gerri’s Jaunty Hat*

                  Wait so she was doing it just to feel the mohair? On… her face??
                  I thought it was purely to hide her face, but this is SO much weirder.

                4. Next Stop Gallifrey*

                  I think that’s the heart of the issue here: you experienced something unwanted and violating, but the coworker and witnesses at the party never even acknowledged it, and your sister is more focused on the sweater than you. You may have even told your rational mind it wasn’t a big deal because of perceived intent (“She was just trying to get away from the camera”), comparison (“Other people have experienced ‘real’ assult”), and others’ reactions.
                  In my own life, I’ve been slow to let something go because it feels like that will mean the feeling/incident/etc I’ve connected with it never happened or isn’t important– I suspect your feeling is the same. Look into counseling and let yourself fully process what happened; your feelings do matter!

            5. learnedthehardway*

              OMG – what the hell?!?! I’m so sorry that this happened to you.

              Echoing the suggestions that you find a professional cleaner. It’s possible that the sweater might be saved. If it would still fit her, you could return it to your sister.

            6. Dona Florinda*

              Seriously, what?
              Last week I was wearing a velvet jacket to my husband’s work function and one his coworkers rubbed her (bare) face on my arm, and that was already weird and uncomfortable af.
              What you’re describing is just so weird that I don’t blame you (or even your coworkers) for not reacting in the moment, but someone should’ve stood up for you later. A lot of people dropped the ball here, but you’re not one of them.
              And seconding the suggestion to take the sweater to a dry cleaner ou dyer.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Plot twist — it’s the same person.

                Just kidding; I know it’s probably not, but WHYYYYYY WOULD ANYONE DO THIS.

                1. I Have RBF*


                  I love certain fibers. I like to pet them because it feels nice under my hand. But I will only do it on stuff I own, or maybe my spouse if we’re at home.

                  But a coworker or a stranger? Hard no. Fondling their clothes is as inappropriate as fondling their hair.

              2. MigraineMonth*

                Okay, you can’t leave it there. Why did she rub her face on your arm? Are all of you working with cats pretending to be people?!?

                1. Indigo a la mode*

                  It’s possible I’m a cat pretending to be a people. I love to feel texture – going to art museums is tough because look at all the amazing textures I Musn’t Touch – but there are definitely weird and non-weird ways to go about it! Rubbing your face on a near-stranger is, uh, not the non-weird way.

                2. Dona Florinda*

                  To be fair, she was a bit drunk (it was an alcohol-fueled event) and apologized once she sobered up.

              3. Nina*

                Like, I can see saying ‘your jacket/sweater is so pretty, can I stroke it’, that’s slightly odd but also kind of flattering and I’d be cool with that (in fact I know I am – I have a vintage fur coat and this happens surprisingly often).
                straight-up unasked rubbing your face on a garment that I am wearing? Absolutely not. Perish.

            7. She of Many Hats*

              OP1 – freezing and feeling unable to bring the consequences to your senior coworker is not something you need to hold yourself responsible for. Women are conditioned that if they didn’t act in the moment, it’s their fault something bad happened.

              I hereby absolve you of this needless guilt. Go forth and release that sweater to a fire, trash bin, your or another’s creative endeavors.

            8. Ann*

              I can see why you’re still thinking about it. There are so many layers of bizarre here. This behavior is so not normal. And it’s even weirder that no one said anything, in the moment or afterwards. No one standing up for you, no apology, no “this was really weird,” no promise it won’t happen again. Yikes. Does your office even have an HR?

              1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

                Hi Ann – yes, there is HR and I do see a number of comments mentioning HR. To be honest, it never crossed my mind to take this to HR. I almost wonder if this is even “HR-worthy”?

                1. BubbleTea*

                  Yes, I’d say a colleague physically assaulting you and causing property damage then not apologising is HR-worthy.

                2. Ann*

                  It would have been HR-worthy, I think. Both the weird unwanted physical contact, and the fact that an expensive clothing item was ruined in the process. It’s been a few years, so I don’t see how you could bring it up now unless, say, you’re forced to work with Cat Lady and trying to explain why you don’t want to. But you could have gone to HR at the time.
                  That’s assuming the HR is less dysfunctional than your team was, of course…

            9. RabbitRabbit*

              Wow. That is terrible and wrong, and just so freaking out of the norm that freezing is not abnormal at all.

      2. Goldenrod*

        “If she had been outraged on your behalf instead of at you, it would be a family memory, not this.”

        Agreed! I think your sister is being a bit mean about this, OP. This was an accident – and one that was totally random and not something that you caused at all. Although, even if you had spilled red wine on it, accidents do happen!

        I think that co-worker was a big freak to rub her face on your white sweater! But also, your sister should be more forgiving, in my opinion.

    3. OP1 (White Sweater)*

      Yes, I’ve described what happened to her in detail, but for some reason whenever this comes up, my sister always manages to say “If only you had been more careful.” To that, I can help but respond, “I really couldn’t have seen that one coming!” She’s understandably upset but I also feel quite hurt to take so much blame for something that was out of my control. But maybe she’s right? Maybe I could have done something? Hence I wrote the letter to see if there’s anything I could have done differently, and maybe there’s something I could mentally enact when this incident replays in my head again.

      1. Ginger Baker*

        I mean, the only thing that comes to my mind is if you had Carrie-like abilities and could have let loose your [very reasonable] primal scream and promptly set fire to everyone at the event. Barring that…I don’t see that you had any great options in the moment! Who is prepared to physically fight off a colleague rubbing their face on your chest IN A GROUP OF PEOPLE?!?! (No one, that’s who, absolutely zero people are ready and prepped for this possibility.)

      2. ina*

        Did your sister really like this sweater? Do you normally share clothes? I get why you’d internalize this, but my sister stretched out a pair of my favorite shoes (her feet are just wider than mine, nothing she can do about it) and I said ‘no more’ when it came to things I was attached to. Other disposables and the like where still ok.

        I don’t think your sister is as angry with you as she is with the situation and herself. She knows there was nothing you could do but I’d probably stop mentioning the sweater, lol. The past is the past. Has this actually harmed your relationship with her though? Those speculative comments are worrying me – it’s just a sweater…

        1. Observer*

          I don’t think your sister is as angry with you as she is with the situation and herself. She knows there was nothing you could do

          Does she know that? Then why does she say that the OP should have been “more careful”? On the other hand, if she really does know that, then her behavior is even worse, because she’s expressing her anger by trying to put the OP on a guilt trip.

          OP, I agree that you should not discuss this with or around your sister anymore. If *she* brings it up, shut it down. Tell her that the whole situation was bed enough and you are not going to rehash how you were supposed to have psychic powers.

        2. OP1 (White Sweater)*

          Hi ina – it was a brand new sweater and I was the first to wear it, so it really doesn’t help my case. We used to share clothes and in some ways, I do think it’s better that we stopped so we can each take full ownership for any mishaps.

          I wish she would stop bringing up the sweater. I also think that she may not have been aware of the emotional toll this incident has had on me. I will bring this to her attention if she brings it up again.

          My sister still loves me very much though – just not when the sweater is brought up! And for those who were wondering – older sister!

          1. anonymous 5*

            this is more “family relationship” advice than career advice, but have you asked your sister what she wishes that you had done instead, and what she’s hoping for you to do now? It might help her steer things out of just rehashing the same thing over and over!

            1. Gerri’s Jaunty Hat*

              Good point, if she’s being illogically vague with “if only you had been more careful”, that’s when you press her with “OK but what specifically do you think I could have done in that moment!?”

              I get the anguish of a really nice clothing piece you didn’t even get to wear being ruined. But… that’s why it’s a bad idea to agree to lend something like that.

            2. OP1 (White Sweater)*

              Hi anonymous 5 – I have asked my sister this in the heat of our arguments and her response was along the lines of, “Let out a groundhog scream, push her away and immediately demand compensation” among other thoughts such as acrobatics beyond my capability.

              My response was, “I would like to see you do this in front of your team members (all of whom are more senior), your manager, your boss and every other important person in the department, AND make it to work next day with your head up high.”

              In the end I think what really bothers her is the fact that I didn’t confront the colleague and she was unhappy that I ended up having to take the financial responsibility, which makes it a net loss for the family. But I think she knows how hard confrontation is, given that we were raised together in a household that was all about being “non confrontational” and “avoiding trouble”.

          2. Indigo a la mode*

            As an older sister who’s had my fair share of exasperation at younger siblings who could be careless and regularly got themselves into scrapes that I would just never find myself in, I can understand her perspective. I agree that she is being unfair in saying you should have been more careful – there’s nothing you could have done to prevent the situation. But it doesn’t sound like there was any remuneration for your sister, which is why is feels like unfinished business to her, the same way it feels unfinished to you because the coworker didn’t make it right. Gifting her a beautiful mohair sweater as a token would be a nice gesture.

            1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

              Hi Indigo a la mode – the amends I made to my sister were not detailed in the letter so I can see how one might assume I did nothing. (Though the number of people who made that assumption surprised me.) That was not the case. Although I wasn’t able to hold my co-worker accountable without feeling like I’d jeopardize work relationships, I tried to do what I could to make things right.

              My sister refused my offer to compensate her as she was concerned of the impact it would have on my financial situation. I made her a handmade gift (felted baby penguin) as a token of apology and treated her to a meal of similar value when things got better. In the end, I think her anger comes from my lack of confrontation and as a result, our family suffered a net loss? Also doesn’t help that we were raised in a household that was all about being “non confrontational” and “avoiding trouble”.

          3. Indigo a la mode*

            My comment was eaten, so I apologize if this appears twice.

            As an older sister, I’ve had my share of exasperation at younger siblings who could be careless and who got themselves into all sorts of scrapes I would never have found myself in, so I understand her perspective. I do think she’s being unfair in saying “you should have been more careful” – you couldn’t have seen this coming. But it sounds like she never got remuneration for her expensive, new, ruined sweater, which is why it still feels like unfinished business to her, the same way it feels unfinished to you because your coworker didn’t make it right. Gifting her a beautiful mohair sweater as a token would be a nice gesture.

          4. Lulu*

            Just my two cents on the sister aspect – You’re allowed to ask her not to bring it up anymore! This is clearly still eating at you, and you don’t need anyone else to help you self-flagellate. The next time she brings it up, you can consider saying “Sister, I know that you’re still upset about the sweater, and so am I. Can we please put this incident behind us and not bring it up anymore? It was a humiliating and upsetting incident all around, and I won’t be borrowing any of your clothes in the future, so there’s no benefit to continuing this post-mortem.”

            For what it’s worth, I’ve found a lot of benefit recently in telling other people how I feel. Not in a big drawn out way, but “I’m sorry it took me so long to schedule this; I wasn’t sure how to approach x, y, z, and frankly felt a bit overwhelmed.” Or in your case, “I’m actually still embarrassed by this!” might help her feel like she doesn’t need to make you feel that emotion anymore; you’ve got it covered. Sometimes we keep bringing things up because we think the other person hasn’t felt it deeply enough, and that’s usually a little off-base.

          5. sparkle emoji*

            Obviously you know your own family and comfort level here, but I think if you could tell her that the sweater incident was upsetting for you, it’s upsetting to keep hearing her gripe about it, and you need her to stop bringing it up that could help. If she stops, that might help you stop ruminating on it, and if not, she’s ignoring a reasonable boundary. Disregard if you have done this already, just want to validate that your reaction then and now was reasonable, and it’s reasonable to not want to hear about something that icky.

          6. Dahlia*

            You know, you can tell her that. Say, “I have offered to repay you. I have tried to clean the sweater. It’s been several years, and it wasn’t my fault. We’re never going to agree on this, so please stop bringing it up for the sake of our relationship.”

      3. Juicebox Hero*

        As a fiber artist and owner of 3 sisters, no, there’s nothing else you could have done, and your sister is being hella weird and spiteful about this.

        There are reasonable precautions you can take against spills, snags, cigarette burns, and brushing up against dirty surfaces like cars, because those are things you might expect to happen at a work party. I’d just love to know what precautions she thinks you could have taken against a camera-shy colleague trying to nuzzle her way into your bra for several minutes.

        1. Artemesia*

          Or the sister just learned the lesson that if you really value something you don’t lend it out because there is always a chance something bad will happen to it. There doesn’t have to be fault for something bad to happen to it. And of course the OP should have replaced it although as a possibly unusual item that might not have been easy.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          The OP could have confronted the coworker, or offered to replace the sweater.

          I might forgive you if something I let you borrow gets ruined, but if you make no effort (that we know of) to remedy it, no, I won’t let you borrow stuff again–not because the thing got ruined but because you let me suck up the loss of it when, whoever might have been at fault, it definitely wasn’t me.

          1. wordswords*

            Alison addresses the potential power dynamics at play with a very junior coworker “confronting” a much more senior person about their bizarre, intrusive action. Depending on the factors and personalities involved, that might have been fruitful or it might have made OP1’s life miserable to no benefit, or anywhere in between. And OP1 might not have had the money at the time to replace the sweater, either.

            Look, it’s completely fine for OP’s sister to decide that she’s not going to loan out any clothing that’s expensive or important to her — or any clothing at all — because unexpected things happen and she gets too upset if something of hers is damaged by other people. (I have a couple of delicate fancy teacups that I only use myself, for instance, because I’ll be really upset if they break and I don’t want to get mad at anyone but myself about it.) It sounds like the sister has been kinda victim-blamey about it in ways that aren’t great, but loaning out her clothing (or not) is her call. But there’s no call to leave multiple comments blaming OP for “making no effort to remedy it” because she didn’t want to risk her work life or spend funds she may not have had, as a young person who had just had her boundaries and personal space really weirdly violated, and the sweater she was wearing ruined through no fault of her own. The whole situation is awful, but OP didn’t do anything wrong.

          2. Observer*

            not because the thing got ruined but because you let me suck up the loss of it when, whoever might have been at fault, it definitely wasn’t me.

            So, it appears that the OP did offer to replace it. But regardless, it’s *wildly* unreasonable for the OP’s sister to complain that she was not “careful enough”. (Note that the comment you are responding to is a response to a comment from the OP that this is what her sister is still saying.)

        3. BG*

          Yeah, all of this. Admittedly I am a *younger* sister, but if this happened to my sister, I like to think my response would be more along the lines of, “Omg, I am so sorry your coworker rubbed her face into your chest. Are you okay? Do you need support with this?”

          Like, I’d (privately, away from my sister) feel sad about my very nice sweater, sure. But I think I’d feel much worse that my sister had been groped by her coworker!

      4. Nona*

        You were assaulted, nobody stood up for you, and years later your sister is still blaming you for it. I am not surprised this still haunts you.

        Your coworker was creepy and weird and your reaction was normal. You didn’t do anything wrong.

        1. Generic Name*


          Why is nobody blaming your coworker who inexplicably smashed her face into your chest??? It’s very interesting to me that she chose you, the most junior team member and not, say, her boss.

          1. Observer*

            It’s very interesting to me that she chose you, the most junior team member and not, say, her boss.

            If by “interesting” you mean telling and calculated, I agree.

            This was not just blind panic by the coworker.

        2. ferrina*

          yeah….this is assault. Unwanted grabbing and shoving her face into your front? She physically shoved part of her body into your body in a very unwanted way. It’s a really weird form of assault, which also probably contributed to the freeze response. Like…seriously, what are you supposed to do?

          I’m sure there’s something that you could have done, but it would take me a few hours to pick the best action, then another week before I would be able to teach my body and brain to react with that particular action. This is just a social scenario that our brain does not prepare us for (because seriously, what the what was your coworker thinking?!). Usually when we are in a scenario we aren’t prepared for, we look to others for cues. No one around you was reacting or helping in any way. Your boss or more senior coworkers were in a much better position to say “What are you DOING, Coworker? Knock it off!”

          It sucks that your sister is blaming you for this. You did nothing to warrant the assault, and you reacted in a very normal way. She can be mad that her sweater got ruined without blaming you.

          If you want, jump down the internet rabbit hole of researching stress responses- it’s pretty cool brain science, and it absolutely validates that your reaction of freezing was totally normal. It may also explain why this is replaying in your head several years later (hardcore amygdala activation)

          1. Trillian*

            That’s the beauty of having some training in self defense or a martial art like judo or aikido. It gives you a repertoire of moves, from the subtle (breaking the other person’s balance by dropping your centre) to the overt (forcing them to release or fall by taking them right off balance).

            1. greenland*

              Counterpoint: using martial arts moves on your senior colleagues at a company party is a great way to get fired. Do not do this unless you are being physically attacked. (Weird, intrusive nuzzle does not count as an attack).

              1. Nina*

                Counter counterpoint – some ‘martial arts moves’ to subtly get someone off of you literally just look like shifting your balance, gently brushing their arm, and taking a step to the side, because that’s actually all you’re doing. The goal in this case would be [rude person is standing in such a way that their balance relies on me staying still. I move. They’re off balance. Done.]

                Nobody’s talking about karate-chopping anyone. That’s just weird.

                1. sparkle emoji*

                  Serious question- Would martial arts training help in a bonkers situation where your brain and nervous system decide to just freeze? Because when I’ve been hit by the freeze response, my brain might be online and telling my body to move, but no movement is happening.

                2. Observer*

                  @sparkle emoji

                  Would martial arts training help in a bonkers situation where your brain and nervous system decide to just freeze?

                  It might, depending on the person and the training. Many, many years ago I took a self defense class from a Karate Black belt. She showed us some moves, but she was clear that none of that was really relevant to us (and she was right!) That was more for our curiosity.

                  What she focused on was the mind training and some specific moves that most people can do, even if they don’t have a rating in martial arts. Having some moves that you’ve practiced makes it easier to keep your brain from freezing, and getting your brain unstuck. Obviously that’s not going to be true for every person in every situation. But it definitely does help.

                  It’s a lot like role playing. You don’t necessarily play every possible scenario, but you practice a lot of them, and yo also get a chance to “play” at thinking related scenarios through.

          2. MigraineMonth*

            Could be worse! I have a laugh response when I’m shocked and uncomfortable. Which led to the following conversation:

            Me: Wait, no that’s not funny, you shouldn’t use that word. That’s not okay to say.

            1. Emikyu*

              I also have the laugh response, and it sucks, because it leads people to think I’m fine with what happened. Then it’s even more awkward to explain that no, that was absolutely not okay, and I am not amused.

              Over the years, I’ve gotten much better at controlling it, but usually that means a stony face bordering on a glare. Which I actually don’t mind when it’s prompted by horrible behavior – it conveys disapproval without actually having to think of a response in the moment.

      5. DrD*

        I think the reason this is still bothering you is that you were publicly assaulted (in terms of unwanted offensive touch); worse, no one present defended you or responded appropriately to acknowledge the incident later; and, worse, you are being blamed by your sister for being a victim. It’s no wonder you’re still deeply troubled by this. Your feelings are very much like those of many other people who have been wronged in similar and worse ways—and then blamed for it. None of this is your fault and no one is appropriately supporting you. Dying or cleaning or gifting or trashing the sweater is a step, but what will really help you move on is to process this incident more fully (on your own, with supportive friends, and / or with professional support).

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Yes, this! It’s fine that your sister doesn’t want to loan you anything–it’s not a terrible thing to not want to loan out stuff you care about because accidents can happen. But the fact that she’s blaming you for this experience is not ok. Someone forced unwanted touching on you, nobody did anything to intervene, and it’s not ok that you get blamed for it.

        2. Smithy*

          I agree with this completely.

          I was relatively new in a job coming from a previous workplace with some pretty unprofessional workplace norms. One day in the kitchen, I (F) was filling up my water bottle and a more senior colleague came up to my side and “booped” his finger through a hole I was unaware of in a seem in the shoulder of my shirt. The experience was completely disarming and unsettling, I had no idea what to do and if it was a sign the behavior would escalate, etc. I later learned this staff member was a gay man and also wildly unprofessional and mean in other ways. So while the intent of the booping wasn’t sexual, it still put me off that shirt even though fixing the hole in the seam wouldn’t have been difficult. Getting rid of it ultimately was the move in just moving past the experience and identifying it as part of a pattern of unprofessional behavior with this colleague.

      6. Gan Ainm*

        I have to think your sister doesn’t believe you about what happened, and just thinks you got your own makeup on the sweater. The scenario is pretty crazy, I can see her being doubtful, especially if you had been careless before or didn’t make an attempt to clean or replace/pay for the ruined sweater, because that would seem like you were very cavalier about it.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          This! And I would bet cash money the sister is older. (Ask me how I know.)

          This was already bad, but the fact that it was your chest rather than your back makes it so much worse. I wouldn’t have been able to go back into work to face everyone if it had happened to me.

        2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          That’s kind of where I land – because really, which IS ultimately more likely in the real world, that someone spilled their own makeup on their chest or that their senior coworker rubbed a faceful of foundation on their chest in a roomful of work people while nobody batted an eyelash. (Not suggesting that OP is making up the story by any stretch, but I am also a big sister with a little sister who has a legit history of breaking my stuff through perfectly normal accidents and making up wild stories about it, so looking at it from that context, I can totally see a big sis not buying the story and forever being more annoyed about the story she perceives as made-up than the ruined sweater.)

          1. Satan's Panties*

            “…which IS ultimately more likely in the real world, that someone spilled their own makeup on their chest or that their senior coworker rubbed a faceful of foundation on their chest in a roomful of work people while nobody batted an eyelash?”

            Well, I get what you’re saying, but it sounds like the stain was along the lines of the “I ran into Tammy Faye at the mall” shirt, which *would* be unlikely for LW to have done herself.

        3. londonedit*

          I agree. I can see the sister thinking ‘Riiiiiiight, so instead of it being you who got foundation all over my new white top, it was a “colleague” who “rubbed their face all over the front of it”. Sounds plausible’.

        4. OP1 (White Sweater)*

          Hi Gan Ainm – she believes me because it is quite obvious that the foundation stain does not belong to me. I have made amends to her but unfortunately, not enough to get a pass from being the outlet to her negative feelings towards the stained sweater.

      7. AnonInCanada*

        I’m sorry this still haunts you, OP1. What this co-worker did that day would make any rational person freeze, aghast at what just happened. Given the fact you were pretty far down the totem pole at the time didn’t help in addressing the situation, either.

        I’m beginning to wonder whether or not OP1’s sister actually believes what transpired, given the bizarreness of this encounter. Which is another story, unfortunately.

      8. Mystery Mongoose*

        We might need you to send your sister a link to today’s post. I for one would really like to know how you were supposed to prevent a senior coworker from assaulting your chest in front of witnesses by being “careful.”

        It sucks to have lost the sweater. It really does. But there is NOTHING you could have done differently other than 1) Not borrowing the sweater or 2) Not attending the event both of which require you to have been more *psychic* not careful. The sweater was ruined the second her face touched you (though hopefully some of the new cleaning products people have mentioned will do the trick!). Maybe your sister is somehow under the impression that if you’d managed to stop the woman from continuing to rub her face against you like a human sized cat then it could have been salvaged, but that is highly doubtful. That first smear is what did it in.

        Also I kindof love that you had to walk around the rest of the party with the evidence of this woman’s bizarre choice for all to see. I’m sure a ton of your coworkers went home that night to tell their spouses “You will not BELIEVE what Sharon did to the new employee.” (Here’s hoping that some of them read AAM)

          1. Andie Begins*

            OP did not demand the coworker replace the sweater but did offer to replace it herself and then took her sister out for a meal the value of the sweater! I know not everyone has seen this yet but OP* absolutely tried to make this right with her sister!

            OP is posting as OP1 (White Sweater)* for folks who want to verify.

          2. OP1 (White Sweater)*

            Hi Heather – I understand that my sister has all the right to be upset. But just as it is unreasonable to expect me to magically develop psychic abilities ahead of an unfortunately incident, I think it is also unreasonable for me to spontaneously develop confrontation skills after being raised in a household that is all about being “non confrontational” and “avoiding trouble”. My sister and I were raised in the same household and this is not news to her.

      9. learnedthehardway*

        I think your sister is being unreasonable. This is (from a stain perspective ONLY) as if someone had tossed their coffee or wine on you – how the heck are you supposed to avoid that? When you lend out a piece of clothing, you expect the person borrowing it to take reasonable care of it and use it for its intended purpose, but you have to accept that there are some risks as well. Your sister would be reasonably upset if you had gone camping with her sweater or done a 3 mile hike, or jumped into a pool, or rolled around in the grass. She’s not reasonable in this situation – which was impossible for you to anticipate or prevent, and totally UNEXPECTED.

        In this case, it’s worse that your sister is blaming you, because literally – that was an assault. Not perhaps intended as one, but nevertheless so shocking to you that you froze and were seriously distressed by the physical contact. It’s rather victim-blamey of your sister, the way she is reacting.

      10. This Old House*

        From someone who’s sister still sometimes (20 years later) brings up that time I borrowed her pajama pants in HS, and then lent them to someone else who never gave them back . . . seems about par for the course with sisters! She might realize there’s nothing you could have done differently, but there’s something she could have done differently to protect her belongings, which would be not lending them out.

        That said, I think I (eventually, years later) repaired the pajama pants issue by buying her pajama pants for Christmas. (In hindsight, she probably deserved a separate Christmas present too.) Are you in a position now where you could buy her a comparable sweater, or a gift card to the store it was from?

      11. Chidi has a stomach ache*

        OP, this incident is so weird, there is honestly nothing else you could have done in the moment. Who expects a more senior coworker to *rub their face into your chest*?

        Also, if you haven’t tried using shaving cream, I’ve saved a cashmere sweater from foundation (my own) that way.

      12. Outside Earthling*

        This is absolutely not your fault. Freezing when a senior colleague engages in bizarre or rude behaviour is a natural reaction. You have nothing to feel bad about. Sisters get mad when their stuff gets ruined. She’s not analysing the rights and wrongs, just reacting to her loss of the sweater. Not the same situation but I had a boss who phoned me one day in a state of extreme irritation about a minor work confusion he felt I had caused … while I was going through daily radiation treatment. I similarly froze. I spent years beating myself up for not calling him out on his unfeeling behaviour (and it was his confusion, not mine). I no longer see his rudeness as my responsibility. Some people are just rude and it’s their problem. Try to let it (and the sweater) go. Peace of mind and self-forgiveness is more important.

        1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

          Hi Outside Earthling – thank you for your support and I’m sorry to hear that your boss did this to you!! When you were having radiation treatment!!! I can’t even- I’m just glad to know that you’ve made peace with this.

      13. Office Lobster DJ*

        OP, even if you had run down the aisles of Sephora, gleefully smearing every sample of foundation over the sweater yourself, I would tell your sister to move on at this point.

        It’s too bad her sweater got ruined, and it’s fine if she decided she’s no longer up for lending out things because of it, but if she’s still actually upset about it and bringing it up years later, she is the one with the problem.

        You could not have done anything differently. By the time you would have even realized your coworker was burying! her! face! in! your! chest!, the foundation was already on there. The damage was already done.

        Toss the sweater.

        1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

          Thank you for your supportive comment, Office Lobster DJ. I chuckled a little at the mental image of myself gleefully smearing foundation on myself!

      14. Emelius*

        The only thing you could have done differently was call the person out immediately after she smeared the makeup on the sweater. no reasonable person would have blamed you for being very upset about that, especially considering that it was such an expensive sweater. You would have had the right to be upset even if you were wearing a plain white t-shirt that only cost a couple dollars. she had no business putting her face up against your body like that.

        I think it’s crazy that she didn’t immediately start apologizing profusely and agree to pay any costs associated with cleaning or replacing the sweater. since she didn’t, you certainly would have been reasonable to ask her to, but the fact of the matter is that none of us can say how we would react in such a crazy and unexpected situation. I agree that it’s time for you to just let this go and move on. If the sweater can’t be restored to a condition where it is wearable, it’s time for you to get rid of it. every one of us has a situation in our past that we wish we had handled differently in the moment. there’s nothing that can be done now, and you are basically still punishing yourself by allowing the situation to continue to take up space in your head.

      15. Satan's Panties*

        I can understand her being frustrated that you didn’t confront the co-worker (on Wednesday or any other day), but that may well be something you’re not comfortable with. I wish people, in general, not just your sister, would consider asking these things in an encouraging way, instead of nagging and condemning. Like “I know you can do this,” instead of “Well, you *better* do this!” And did she account for the fact that you might not have had the capital to call the co-worker to account for this? Is the sweater so important that it’s okay with Sis if your status at work was damaged because of it?

      16. Just Me*

        I’d be so tempted, the next time she said that, to recreate the scene with me as the weird coworker and sister as you and finish with “shoulda seen that coming.”

        I’m not saying it’s a GOOD idea, just that I’d be very tempted.

      17. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Your sister keeps bringing this up, even though she refused your offer to reimburse her? I’m hoping she thinks of it as a funny story and doesn’t realize you’re still haunted by it but if she’s saying you could have stopped it by “being more careful”…I’m more inclined to think she knows it upsets you and is doing it on purpose :/

        My two cents is that you make one last attempt to clean it and if it’s unsuccessful, make one last offer to pay her for it — if she refuses, hand her the sweater back and know you’ve done all you can. If she brings up how you should have been more careful, dryly reply that you’ll just hop into the handy dandy Time Machine and go stop a clearly irrational woman from rubbing her face all over you (to avoid a picture? WTAF).

        If while you have the Time Machine you then decide to somehow engineer your *sister* ruining the sweater…let’s just say I wouldn’t blame you.

      18. Goldenrod*

        “for some reason whenever this comes up, my sister always manages to say “If only you had been more careful.””

        No, that is crazy! You had zero control over this. Your sister is being a weird perfectionist. There is no way that you caused any of this.

      19. Arts Akimbo*

        “If only you had been more careful” is the victim-blamer’s favorite refrain. I’m so sorry.

        She is wrong. You are not to blame in any way, shape, or form.

      20. WishIWasATimeTraveller*

        OP, please be kind to yourself. You had just experienced what some people would consider to be assault (even if you and she don’t see it that way). I think that’s a bigger deal than the sweater. ALL of the blame here rests with the person who touched you inappropriately, and in doing so, ruined the sweater.

    4. RIP Pillowfort*

      As someone who has been that sister to ban lending clothes:

      We don’t know the dynamics of their relationship but there was a not insignificant length of time where my sister was barred from using any of my things. Clothes, cameras, etc.

      She often returned them broken or irreparably damaged. Sometimes it wasn’t her fault but sometimes it was. Eventually it wasn’t worth lending her anything because I’d never get it back whole. Obviously I didn’t stop lending after the first incident but sometimes I wish I had so I could still have some sentimental items.

      While it was hard on my sister’s relationship with me, it was something necessary to preserve the relationship between us. Resentment was building up and I didn’t want to have my relationship with her ruined because of things. Logically I knew they were just things but the careless treatment of them and the fact she didn’t try to replace any of the damaged things hurt me a lot.

      We did get through this and we have a much stronger relationship now that includes lending clothes again.

      1. Not my coffee*

        I had the same issue. It happened so often it felt like disrespect. The solution was not to lend in order to preserve the relationship. I don’t lend at all. I gift on my terms.

      2. ferrina*

        I’ve been on both sides of this. I’m ADHD, and when I was younger I just didn’t have the strategies to remember that I was borrowing something and a) treat it better than my own stuff and b) return it.

        I’m not side-eyeing the sister for the ban. I’m side-eyeing the sister for blaming OP for ruining the sweater. You can believe someone and still say “hey, I need a break from lending out clothes for a while. This is taking me on an emotional rollercoaster, and I need to get off this ride.”

      3. Elizabeth West*

        I had to ban a friend in college from borrowing books after she spilled water on them and didn’t offer to replace them. We[re still friends, though.

        Then years later, I loaned a coworker a Studio Ghibli DVD and never got it back (I suspect she lost it). I don’t loan books or movies anymore. Like, at all. I’ll give people the name of it, and if they want to come over and watch the movie WITH me, that’s great, but they don’t get to borrow.

        1. I Have RBF*

          Yeah, after several occasions over the years of lending stuff and never getting it back, or getting it back damaged, I never lend anything I am not willing to write off completely. I’ve had it happen with tools, electronics, books, records, video media and clothing. I don’t care how long I’ve known the person, or how careful they promise to be, it’s “once burned, twice shy” for me. Especially when they try to deny that they damaged it, or blame me that it “didn’t hold up”. Same with money – I never lend any that I can’t afford to lose.

          It’s not OP’s fault, but her sister is not wrong to just refuse to lend clothing that she can’t afford to have damaged. Murphy’s law rules in this case. Acts of God, hazards in a strange location, or crazy coworkers can’t be guarded against. It could just as easily been a sharp edge on a counter that shredded the sleeve when the OP was pushed aside, or something else.

    5. Jared Leto's kombucha*

      I want to give LW1 a hug and tell her she is a trustworthy individual who takes good care of other peoples’ things. I feel that if it were LW1’s own sweater that was stained, you would be rightfully upset and angry, but was further complicated the sibling dynamics. The sweater was stained due to circumstances beyond your control because, omg, who tf *does* that???

    6. fhqwhgads*

      I know plenty of people who would embargo loans not because it was in any way the borrower’s fault, but because the incident made them realize that the lack of control over such an incident is a no go for them. In other words “I’m not loaning my clothes again because someone else ruined it while you were wearing it, and if my stuff’s gonna get ruined my someone else, at least it’ll be me wearing at the time from now on”.

      1. I Have RBF*

        This is where I fall. I’ve had enough stuff ruined by pure Murphy’s law incidents that I just don’t lend anything that I can’t easily replace myself, since very few of my friends can afford to replace my stuff (that’s why they want to borrow mine.) It’s not that I think they’re all rude jerks who can’t care for things, it’s that if a thing gets ruined, I want it to be me that is using it when it happens.

        I’ve had records, power tools, books, clothes, an adult tricycle, and random clothes ruined when I lent them out. In most cases it was an accident, but sometimes it was “doesn’t take care of their own stuff, much less someone else’s”. Since I don’t have the psychic ability to know if Murphy will strike, I just don’t lend stuff that I can’t easily replace.

        1. BG*

          Yeah, I don’t often lend stuff out either, for the same reason. My go-to line is, “I’d rather be upset with myself than upset with you if something happens to it.”

    7. Yorick*

      I don’t think the sister is being harsh. Sure, it’s not OP’s fault this happened at all, and I understand why she didn’t ask the coworker to make it right. But if my sister borrowed my nice sweater and it was ruined and she didn’t fix it or give me money to replace it, I wouldn’t let her borrow anything else again either.

      1. sparkle emoji*

        OP has been commenting, she offered to replace it, which the sister turned down, and took the sister to a meal of equivalent expense as an apology. I can understand no longer lending but continually bringing this sweater up years after the fact is harsh.

    8. OP1 (White Sweater)*

      Thank you, Satan’s Panties! I’ve described what happened to my sister in detail, but for some reason whenever this comes up, my sister always manages to say “If only you had been more careful.” To that, I can’t help but respond, “I really couldn’t have seen that one coming!”

      I did make amends though! I offered compensation but she declined out of concern for my financial situation, so I made her a baby penguin out of felt and treated her to a meal of similar value once things got better. It doesn’t stop her from bringing this up every now and then though.

      1. Satan's Panties*

        You’re welcome! I know what it’s like when someone won’t let something go. My late mother, in the last full year of her life, was still telling the anecdote about the time I said a Bad Word at a family dinner. And I never quite dared to ask her who she thought I got that word *from*.

  3. reg*

    LW 1, you have my empathy. during my last few weeks at my previous job, a new person threw out the collection of cardigans i’d been keeping in the office. she never apologized either, or reimbursed me, despite coworkers telling her it would be the right thing to do. i still think about it sometimes because i was never able to replace those sweaters exactly. anyway, i’m sorry and i get it.

    1. angela*

      Somebody threw away your actual clothes while you were still employed there?! It’s one thing if you had already left, but you were still working there. And no apology either? That’s crazy! I’m sorry this happened to you. I can’t imagine throwing away clothes that weren’t mine at work.

    2. Bibliovore*

      LW 1,
      I had a grey cotton cardigan that I “stole” from my husband (when he was my boyfriend) At that point I had it 15 years. Shawl collar, patch pockets. Soft as a llama’s belly. It hung on the back of my office chair. A private office. It went missing and when I went around asking if anyone had seen it, another librarian admitted she had borrowed it and accidentally wore it home AND casually said, she lost it!
      I wish I could let it go but not only was it irreplaceable, I was shocked by her casual disregaard. At this point that was 20 years ago, and I still think about it.

      1. LW*

        ^^ Unbelievable. I worked in a jewelry store that also did repairs and had a coworker who insisted on taking a necklace that belonged to my grandmother to restring it for me (I had brought it in for our jeweler to repair) and then started evading my questions about when it would be finished and, of course, she “lost” it. It wasn’t valuable, but it was irreplaceable.

        1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          You take it off, set it down, and walk away without it. My ex had a knack for losing things, it was almost unbelievable.

        2. This Old House*

          Get warm, put it in your backpack, leave said backpack in a cab.

          More than a decade, and that one still smarts. My own cardigan, my own fault, but dang I loved that sweater – and the rest of the stuff in the backpack was frustrating to lose, too.

      2. MissBaudelaire*

        How was she not terribly embarrassed!?! I accidentally bent the cover of a book I borrowed. I bought a new one and apologized.

        I remember in seventh grade I lent someone a science textbook. She swore she’d get it back. She didn’t. She ‘lost’ it (really just left it in the classroom). I recovered it, and she had the gall to *ask to borrow it again*.

        The word idiot isn’t scrawled on my forehead, so I told her no.

    3. ina*

      She threw out your clothes??? While you were still working there?? Who throws out clothes without trying to find out who they belong to??

      I’d be emailing HR every day about her, just for fun, from then on. Wtf.

    4. AnonInCanada*

      I’m also outraged. If only you could summon the Ghost of Mr. Rogers to haunt this cardigan-tossing former co-worker with him singing It’s A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood, giving them an earworm for all eternity. But that’s the devilish side of me talking. :-D

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Literally, this would probably have interrupted things before too much foundation had transferred.

        Probably helps if one has a strong musical theater background.

      2. AnonInCanada*

        I’m thinking of another lyric, usually added by the crowd during Mony Mony. Something about “Hey [bleep bleep], get [bleep] get [bleeped!]” Which would’ve been appropriate verbiage OP1 could’ve used on Ms. Rub Her Face In My Sister’s Sweater, given the benefit of foresight (and maybe Doc Brown’s DeLorean. :P)

      3. Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk*

        But don’t do anything that leaves her with eyes without a face. That’s an overreaction.

      1. I Have RBF*


        I miss the original MTV, before it had any talking heads – just pure music without commercials.

        The early 80s were amazing in some ways. I was broke AF, but I still had some good times.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I beg to differ; it was better when it had the Talking Heads. Their videos were vastly entertaining!

  4. Heidi*

    OP1 didn’t mention if she paid her sister for the sweater, but if she hasn’t it might go a long way towards making her feel less haunted by this. If my weird coworker ruined my sister’s sweater while I was wearing it, I’d feel obligated to get her a new sweater. If I couldn’t find the exact one, I’d get her a gift certificate that would be at least as much as the cost of the sweater.

    1. Despachito*


      I am wondering whether the sweater was too expensive for OP’s younger self’s wallet, or whether it was not possible to find the exact same one, but I think that if she replaced it she would get peace of mind at least on one of both fronts (sister-coworker).

      The action towards the coworker (BTW what a weird, outrageous thing to do? was she not thinking? she had to see the sweater is WHITE, and the rubbing one’s face against a stranger’s body itself is so strange I can’t even…) would depend on OP’s situation, and although my blood is boiling I can understand why she would not have done anything because of the power dynamics, but it was (and still is) within her power to make amends with the sister and replace the sweater.

      1. Delta Delta*

        I agree with you about the coworker’s behavior. Sweaters can be replaced, or possibly cleaned, but the very weird physical boundary crossing by the co-worker is unsettling. And the fact everyone else thought a person rubbing their face on OP’s clothing was normal is also very strange.

        1. Despachito*

          It is possible people did not even notice what happened (they were possibly posing for the picture and therefore looking at the camera, while the face-rubbing happened just during that moment), and if they did they may be either too confused or too appalled to say something.

          They may also feel reluctant to get involved in something that is:

          1) so outside the usual norms that they question themselves if they really saw what they saw
          2) the affected person herself does not seem to protest or mind (which often may be out of sheer shock).

          It would be a dilemma for me whether to step up for a coworker when they themselves appear to do nothing. It can be helpful, but it can come out as nosey, and they may have their own reasons for not wanting to stir drama. Maybe the best solution would be to approach them separately, ask them if my reading of the situation was correct and tell them that if they want to complain I would support them?

    2. OP1 (White Sweater)*

      Hi Heidi, my sister was aware of my financial situation at the time and had refused my offer of compensation. I felted her a baby penguin as a token of apology. When things got better, I treated her to a dinner of similar value. But you are right, not being able to replace the sweater is contributing to my guilt. Part of the reason why I kept the sweater is that I’m hoping to trying cleaning it again when cleaning technology improves. (Which sounds like now!) I’m also taking all the wonderful cleaning advice others have provided here. Here’s to hoping the sweater can be stain-free again!

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Would you be kind enough as to write in with an update either way? For some reason this particular letter really struck a chord with me and I’d really like to hear how it works out. I’m crossing all my fingers and toes that you can get the sweater restored!

      2. But what to call me?*

        Figuring out how to fix something you inadvertently damaged long ago feels wonderful. It’s definitely worth a try!

        A much less weird situation, but this reminds me of it: apparently as a kid I broke an adorable porcelain doll of my aunt’s. I obviously didn’t mean to and no one blamed me for it, but I felt so bad when I learned that I was the one who broke it. Years later, I saw it again and realized that my ceramic-gluing skills had improved to the point where what had once seemed irreparably broken was now something I could fix! So I did, much to the delight of everyone involve, especially myself.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          When I was 8, I broke a crystal swan figurine and felt so much shame I hid it. Later that year my parents found it when we were packing up to move and when asked about it, I burst into tears.

          The weirdest part is that it was my figurine! There was no one else to apologize to, but I felt so much irrational shame over it.

      3. jasmine*

        I’ll be honest OP, I feel like you’re putting too much pressure on yourself to right a situation that doesn’t need right’ing.

        By all means, try to clean and return the sweater. But your sister refused your money and knows you tried to make amends. If I’m reading this right, it doesn’t sound like she’s mad at you. She doesn’t lend you clothing anymore, which reads as a little harsh to me, but not super unusual for sisters.

        Yet you still seem to hold a lot of guilt about the sweater. Is the sweater guilt tied into any general guilt/shame you have about the situation (which was NOT your fault but those are normal emotions to have)? Or is it because your sister says you could have been more careful (very uncool of her) and you want to prove her wrong?

        1. jasmine*

          Reading back, this might sound condescending, so for the record, I could totally be wrong here and feel free to ignore me if I’m off-base. Something about the comment just struck a chord for me.

          1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

            No worries, Jasmine! Thank you for your comment. I will definitely make another attempt to restore the sweater with all the great cleaning advice I’m receiving from all the wonderful commenters. (I do plan to respond to everyone later today – I’m very thankful for everyone’s support!)

            The guilt/shame is definitely a combination of everything you mentioned. The event – as much as I was led to think it was trivial based on the non-response of everyone in witness was quite traumatic for me, and the incident occasionally will replay in UHD slow-motion in my mind for seemingly no reason at all.

            I also feel hurt by what appears to be victim-blaming from my sister. She is very understandably upset but doesn’t seem to register that I could not have taken any preventative action on this.

            I acknowledge that as many commenters have noted, I did not confront the coworker about this. I felt very uncomfortable doing this given all factors in play, and from the fact that everyone acted like nothing happened. I didn’t want to be the one to “make a scene” over “such a small thing”.

            For some reason, I thought the perpetrator should have taken initiative to address this with me, but it never happened. I do agree that my sister probably wanted me to have that confrontation, but again, I did not want to risk any potential repercussions and these were people I had to see at work every day (of the work week) and maintain a good working relationship with.

            1. Observer*

              The event – as much as I was led to think it was trivial based on the non-response of everyone in witness was quite traumatic for me,

              This is APPALLING. Of COURSE it was traumatic. The fact that people acted as though this was just another work event? That’s a terrible, terrible sign about this work place.

              Are you still there? You said that you are no longer in that department. But it sounds like maybe you should find another company, if you are still there. The fact that no one there saw this as a problem says that something is very rotten.

              For some reason, I thought the perpetrator should have taken initiative to address this with me,

              Yeah, “some reason” is that this is what any decent and reasonable person would do. But she’s clearly not reasonable. It just boggles my mind that she didn’t. And while in theory you should have confronted her, I understand why you didn’t.

            2. MigraineMonth*

              Hey OP1, thank you for talking to us here in the comments! I just want to reiterate that you didn’t do anything wrong. A senior coworker forced unwanted, intimate touch on you and the numerous witnesses did *nothing* to stand up for you or even to acknowledge that it was wrong. That’s awful. She also destroyed a valuable piece of clothing, which your sister is inexplicably not just blaming you for, but continuing to bring up after you have made amends.

              I know this was very difficult for me at first, but have you tried framing it in your head not as “coworker did this thing that I should have stopped them doing” but as “coworker assaulted me, no one stood up for me, and I still have a lot of unprocessed feelings around that”?

            3. Parakeet*

              OP, you’ve mentioned the slow motion replay a few times. I want to mention that when this (or the flashbulb memory phenomenon where you remember choppy slow-moving fragments) happens to me, it’s a post-traumatic stress thing.

              I’ve also been in the situation (not at work) of “all these people were around, why did nobody help me, people acted like nothing had happened so it must have been a small thing that I’m making too big a deal over in my head.” It’s a terrible feeling to have – it can really compound negative feelings about an incident and make you doubt yourself. Especially with your sister’s blame-y reaction to top it off. I’m sorry you’re dealing with it.

        2. Dek*

          “She doesn’t lend you clothing anymore, which reads as a little harsh to me, but not super unusual for sisters.”

          Yeah, honestly, I wouldn’t even say harsh. If I lent out something that I liked and it got damaged, I’d probably be a little shy on lending out similar things, not just to the person who borrowed the first thing, but in general. I don’t think it’s a punishment so much as just a comfort level thing.

          It is unfair for her to say you should’ve been more careful.

      4. Office Lobster DJ*

        OP, it was nice of your sister to wave off compensation if she knew your financial situation wouldn’t allow it, but it is sounding like that means she wants to hold it over your head forever now? That’s not how it works. Not for a sweater, and especially not for an accident to a sweater.

        You even made your sister an apology gift and then treated her to an equivalent dinner when you were able. I’d say you more than made amends and fulfilled your obligation. If you get the sweater clean….enjoy your new sweater.

        1. KatoPotato*

          Since your sister hopes you would’ve leaned into a bit of a confrontation/sticking up for yourself over the sweater, might I suggest you stick up for yourself to her? Seems like she might respond well to “Hey sis, I am sorry that my coworker damaged your sweater that you had graciously lent me, in a bizarre freak occurrence that stunned me into silence. As I have apologized for the incident many times, offered to pay you for it, felted you a penguin, and taken you to dinner, I would appreciate it if you would stop bringing up the incident so I can move on from it.”

          1. Office Lobster DJ*

            100% agree.

            OP, I know it will depend on your dynamic with your sister, but the next time she brings it up, feel free to ask her what, exactly, she hopes to accomplish by bringing this up again, since you have already made amends and won’t be borrowing any clothing from her again? Because if she doesn’t have a point except to poke you in a sensitive spot, you are done with the sweater conversation for all time.

            1. sparkle emoji*

              Yes and feel free to be very direct. I’ve had similar things with family where incidents continued to be brought up years later in a jokey way, that weren’t jokes to me. Telling them “I don’t find X funny and I need you to stop bringing it up” is intimidating but it has been effective for me.

  5. Cmdrshprd*

    OP2 I agree you should contact a lawyer asap. but if you don’t I would at least send Mary a full file of all the emails, tax statements she may have issues, or any work product you did showing you worked for her.
    You said you sent some emails, it seems like it was some but not all. You want to build a solid irrefutable record of when you worked for her.

    you just want to make sure she is crystal clear on your dates and 100% on notice.

    if she does it again after that, it could be a good evidence she is lying with actually malice, or at least a willful disregard for the truth.

    but want to reiterate highly recommend speaking with an attorney.

    your local city/county/state bar association is usually a good place for referrals if you don’t know anybody directly. I would suggest trying to speak with an attorney that works in slander/libel defamation cases.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      This is not slander or libel. Its just getting dates wrong.

      Speak to an employment attorney.

      1. anne of mean gables*

        Agree it’s not slander/libel, but it’s also not “just” getting dates wrong – I believe that employers have a legal obligation to confirm dates of employment? And honestly the fact that it’s cost her two jobs makes me wonder what else she’s saying about LW during those phone calls – implying she was a bad employee or almost fired or something. I don’t think a minor mismatch of employment dates would make me completely abandon an otherwise-qualified candidate.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I’m not sure they do have a legal obligation to confirm dates of employment–in the US, at least. It sounds like the mismatch isn’t minor; it’s at least two years! That’s a big gap, and it might paint OP as being . . . less than truthful in their application.

        2. She of Many Hats*

          It would be one thing for ExBoss to say the records are incomplete and another to deliberately give incorrect ones especially after receiving documentation of the correct dates. Legally, she may be guilty of interfering with another’s ability or right to work.

        3. Observer*

          believe that employers have a legal obligation to confirm dates of employment?

          No, they don’t. But they *DO* have an obligation to be correct and accurate in whatever information they do provide. So, legally they can say “we have a policy to not confirm or deny any employment information”. But they *cannot* (legally) say that someone did not work there if they had, or provide incorrect dates of employment.

        4. Mallory Janis Ian*

          My head exploded that she responded to LW’s date correction with a shrug emoji — what kind of cavalier employment verification is that?!

        5. Itsa Me, Mario*

          Right, it sounds to me that not only are the dates “incorrect”, but either that Mary is sharing dates that make it seem like OP is lying deliberately about her employment, or sharing incorrect dates along with a note that disparages OP in some way. Whether re her character specifically, or something like “Sansa absolutely did not work for us in 2017 and 2018. She is clearly lying on her resume if she is claiming that.” Which is pretty un-generous of Mary, even if it’s not meant as a personal slight.

      2. Cmdrshprd*

        I admit IANAL, but I do wonder if at any point giving the wrong dates reputedly and it harms OP’s reputation and interferes with her employment prospects due to it being implied that OP is one lying about their employment dates, does it become defamation.
        Giving the wrong dates once while wrong can be a bit understandable, giving them again after being corrected starts to make is seem like a purposeful pattern.

        I mainly suggested speaking with a defamation attorney so they could confirm what if any possible defamation issues OP might have.

      3. Chocolate Covered Cotton*

        If ex-boss can be proven to be intentionally lying or withholding true information in an effort to damage OP’s prospects for other employment, then wouldn’t that be tortious interference?

        1. Emelius*

          I don’t see how the former boss could get into any trouble for withholding the information. as far as I know, there’s no law that requires a former boss to give a reference at all. but it’s a different story if the former boss is making intentionally false statements to a reference checker. I agree with the people that are saying she should consult an attorney for this situation. explain the entire situation to an attorney and let them determine the best way to handle it.

    2. connie*

      I’d love it if Alison or one of the attorneys here could pull from experience to discuss exactly what kind of attorney the LW should seek, what it is the attorney is supposed to accomplish and what happens if Mary doesn’t comply with the initial contact.

    3. Thatoneoverthere*

      I wonder if Mary could send OP letter on company letter head saying “OP was employed from Jan 2017-2019” (or whatever the correct dates are). Save it as a PDF and just keep on your computer or Google drive for future use. If Mary won’t comply maybe the lawyer (as suggested) could help.

      1. NotBatman*

        That’s a good idea! That way, if nothing else, LW can pass the letter on to the companies and reach out to Mary saying “please remember to confirm that you signed this.” I hope I’m not the only one who saw red at the shrug emoji. It’s easy to be careless with other people’s careers, which is why decent human beings are never careless with others’ careers.

        1. kiki*

          I was thinking a company/organization trying to confirm dates probably wouldn’t accept a letter on company letter head, even if signed. But I do think it might be valuable for OP to have and be able to send to Mary as a reminder. Paystubs or old tax forms are generally the best/ most straightforward way to prove employment if an organization can’t for whatever reason.

    4. Miette*

      One other option for proof of employment may be your tax records. If you have your filings/old W2s from this agency, a scan of them may be enough for employers (with personal details/salary redacted if you need to).

  6. Cmdrshprd*

    OP3 if it helps if I heard a coworker use either of Alison’s suggestions my first thought would not be that the coworker made an attempt, but rather they are a nice/kind person who understands that it is a serious issue and is willing to stand up for it, and/or they may have had a person they know deal with it.

    In my mind it would not be disclosing a personal history/past.

    1. Sage*

      It’s also realistic to know someone who died by suicide. Or to know someone dear who has had suicidal thoughts in the past. There are more possibilities than you having had this kind of problem.

      1. short'n'stout*

        OP could even add to one of the scripts: “Please don’t joke about suicide. You could never know if someone hearing you saying that has had their life touched by it.”

        1. Harper the Other One*

          Seconding this. I have two loved ones who have struggled with suicidal ideation in the past, one of whom is still in a pretty dark place (although getting better.) Hearing these comments regularly would be awful for me too.

          Also if it helps, this isn’t just about suicide – it’s a professionalism issue. Imagine replacing the self-harm talk with, say, repeated comments like “I’m going to puke if the boss assigns me anything else” etc. and it’s less hurtful but still extremely unprofessional.

        2. Needs Coffee*

          I’m a bit cynical, I’m afraid. So having a plan for some sort of second statement along the lines of “‘If’ or ‘Who’ is irrelevant. Suicide is not a joke,” is probably going to be necessary. Repeat ad nauseam. Calmly and quietly. Also “This conversation is over.”

          Because my cynical belief and past experiences are that anybody who makes jokes like this is going to double down when “confronted,” no matter how calmly or politely. On the flip side, I would be cautiously hopeful other coworkers might join the “Not funny” chorus.

          I’m glad you’re in a better place, LW!

          1. Nobody wants 1000 plastic meatballs*

            You’re probably right, and I think the likelihood of a bad reaction goes up exponentially with age. I could see myself doing some thing similarly “edgy”/idiotic around 19-24 but would’ve been mortified if someone said something and changed my behavior. I’ve since become more considerate, which is generally true among my peer group too. If he’s over 30 there’s an almost guaranteed bad reaction and double down.

          2. short'n'stout*

            Your point about backup from other coworkers is a good one. At minimum, they shouldn’t have to hear this sort of talk going unchallenged.

            Another classic defense from the joker is “but it’s not a big deal”, to which one replies, “then it won’t be a big deal for you to stop it”.

        3. PhyllisB*

          Amen. I have the same reaction to jokes about prison. When you have an incarcerated loved one it’s not very funny.

      2. Satan’s Panties*

        Just thinking that kind of talk is distasteful is a good reason; it doesn’t have to be personal. Like the letter about the new hire who made a 9/11 joke in front of someone who was directly affected by it, but no one else thought it was funny either. Some comments are tone-deaf no matter who’s listening.

      3. Kat*

        I used to work on a suicide helpline, and when I started so many people I knew wanted to tell me their stories about the suicides of friends or family members. It touches so many people but there’s such a social stigma most people don’t talk about it.

        I really like Alison’s script about families being touched by suicide – it gets across that casual joking about it can be very hurtful, but doesn’t shine a spotlight on the OP specifically.

        1. Katydid*

          When I worked (volunteer) on a hotline, we were taught to take all references to suicide seriously—and I did. There were 3 occasions at work when I asked someone if they were thinking about killing themselves. The first time, they were, though they hadn’t made a plan. Together we made a plan for them to call their therapist, and they got an appointment right away. Months/years later, they told me my asking them made a real difference: someone noticed and cared.

          The second time, the person was joking, but my ‘are you thinking about killing yourself?’ sobered them immediately. I explained that it’s important to always ask, and while I don’t remember any details beyond that, they never joked about suicide around me again.

          The last time was like the first.

          I don’t know if this would be a good approach for the letter writer; OP, please don’t do this if it would be difficult for you. But if most of us would do this, we’d put a stop to the inappropriate joking, and maybe save some lives.

      4. BubbleTea*

        Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely that any adult doesn’t know someone who has lost a family member or close friend to suicide. It’s a remarkably insensitive joke to make- and not that it’s really the main point but if you hate your job that much, I hope you’re looking for a new one.

        1. I Have RBF*

          Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely that any adult doesn’t know someone who has lost a family member or close friend to suicide.

          This. I’ve lost friends, coworkers, and classmates to it. It’s actually kind of shocking how common this tragedy is.

          It’s not something to joke about.

      5. Irish Teacher*

        Yeah, I was thinking my thoughts would be either the speaker knew somebody affected (either knew somebody bereaved by suicide or knew somebody who had experienced suicide ideation or who had made an attempt) or that they had some experience volunteering or working with people at high risk, like maybe they had volunteered with a helpline or had fostered or something.

        So many people have some connection to somebody affected that I doubt I’d assume anything specific about somebody’s past.

      6. RVA Cat*

        This. His “humor” immediately reminded me of the intern who made an utterly tasteless joke about 9/11 – in front of a person who lost someone in the attack.

        1. NotBatman*

          Yes. I work with teenagers, and many of them make jokes about serious subjects *because* they haven’t been touched by them. They joke about suicide, about spousal abuse, about assault — and yeah, they joke about the adults they know who get upset by 9/11. Despite us being close to the site of one attack, they haven’t done the math that many of the “boomers” they laugh at lost friends on 9/11, and they stop joking the instant someone points it out.

          It is a product of being naïve, but it’s also thoughtlessness that deserves to be addressed. I think a lot of people learn not to make those jokes as a part of the long and horrible process of growing up, but also some people need to be told outright that just because something doesn’t cause *you* pain, that doesn’t make okay to joke about.

      7. soshedances1126*

        Yes. OP3, please speak up and say something- there’s a lot of reasons that this would be distressing. My father died of suicide (by one of the methods mentioned, specifically), and if someone made that particular gesture in a work environment I would be a disaster for the rest of the day. I would probably need to go home for the rest of the work day, considering I can’t see TV scenes showing it without having a panic attack. Which is to say, it’s 1) a kindness to bring it up and 2) won’t necessarily give information you don’t want to give as there’s a lot of reasons it’s a terrible thing to joke about.

    2. thelettermegan*

      Sometimes it can make a big impression to express consideration for the coworker too. No one in the office would want him to do what he’s joking about. If these meetings are stressing him out so much, he should probably address that.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I had a classmate who made a lot of jokes about killing herself, and she was shocked when I asked the guidance counselor to check in with her. She did stop joking about it when she realized some people were going to take her seriously.

        1. Andie Begins*

          Yes! Best case, this coworker is struggling with their mental health and gets a nudge to address it; worst case, this coworker is thoughtless and gets a reminder that they are joking about something other people take quite seriously.

          1. sparkle emoji*

            And if he is struggling, it would benefit him to stop these jokes. I’ve dealt with suicidal ideation, and one of the most helpful things in dealing with that was deciding to not joke about it at all. It might sound silly, but self-talk is powerful and constantly joking about suicide can keep it circling around in your brain.

    3. Achtung, Baby*

      cw: discussion of suicidal thoughts

      My husband has fought depression his entire adult life, it’s chronic, it’s being managed, but he has low points sometimes. He’s never been actively suicidal but he has been passively suicidal at points (along the “I wish I just didn’t exist” train of thought). I don’t have any personal history of mental illness, but hearing someone make constant jokes like that would upset me too! So yeah, I agree. Almost everyone knows someone who is or has been depressed, many many people know someone who’s had suicidal thoughts or made an attempt (or, sadly, lost their life that way).

    4. Scylla*

      Because I always worry people will make assumptions like that no matter what, I would probably default to just saying “could you not joke about that?” or “could you please not say things like that at work?” with “that” being suicide, of course, but not saying it specifically would help me create a bit of distance between me and the subject in my mind.

      1. ferrina*

        Yeah, this is why I tend to take a different approach. If you say “someone has been effected by this”, the person often assumes that the speaker is that someone. They can feel entitled to personal information, which is the exact opposite direction you want to go.

        Here’s what I do:
        1. Take any suicide joke seriously. Immediately respond as if they had been serious- give them the 988 number (if you are in the U.S.) and info for the company EAP. Encourage them to talk to someone and use sick time to address any mental health needs. When they say they are “just joking”, respond with “Many people who attempt suicide start with ‘just joking’ about it. It’s important that we all take care of each other. I will never not take suicide seriously.”
        This turns it into a personal matter about them. Do this every time. Most people knock if off really quickly.

        2. Become the champion of Inclusion. Bring up all the matters of being aware of those around us- issues of race, gender, age, culture, health (including mental health), etc. When you bring up all the Inclusion best practices, this becomes just one more thing that’s really consistent for you to do. Plus, it’s always good to have more inclusive practices!

        1. Feckless Rando*

          Yes to giving the “joking” coworker resources. I didn’t realize it at the time but I made horrible self harm jokes as a cry for help several years ago. I’m doing better now and I’m glad you are too OP,

      2. LW3*

        I like your idea because I want to create the greatest possible distance between myself and this subject. In my previous job, some people found out because of my reaction to a joke, and they started treating me differently afterward. One of my coworkers even said she couldn’t work on projects with me anymore because her religion didn’t allow her to work with someone whose soul was condemned to hell. So, I’m trying my best not to be associated with this subject.

        1. Minimal Pear*

          Oops my comment got stuck in moderation (VERY fair) so I will rephrase as, “Goodness gracious I am so terribly taken aback by your coworker’s strange and cruel remark.”

        2. Scylla*

          Good lord. I’ve read this blog so long you’d think I’d come to expect stories about absolutely unhinged behavior from coworkers, but that’s just awful.

          I have to assume your new coworkers wouldn’t react anywhere near that badly, even if they’re the types to make casual suicide jokes, but I 100000% understand your desire to distance yourself from it. If the jokes come up again, I think the best bet is just a reaction of general distaste, mild confusion, looking a bit taken aback, that sort of thing. “Yikes, I’m not sure that kind of joke is okay to make in the workplace,” or “oof, could you please not make jokes like that at work?” (placing a focus on jokes like that *at work* or *in public* or *where customers can hear you*, whatever the case may be, might also help you feel more confident in speaking up.)

          It might seem silly but I’d practice saying things like that (with matching facial expressions!) in the mirror so you’re comfortable saying them and can achieve the right put-off-but-still-personally-distant-from-the-subject balance you’re comfortable with

    5. GlitterIsEverything*

      Please use one of Alison’s scripts, and sooner than later.

      A treasured family friend committed suicide by hanging. Four years later, a group of coworkers started playing hangman in between patients.

      I was completely taken by surprise by the reaction I had to a child’s game, and I tried to keep it from showing. I failed miserably. and ended up in hysterics in the bathroom at one point. After that, I tried to explain and ask them to modify so it wouldn’t be so emotional for me. It made no difference, and I never went to our mutual boss about it because it felt like I was being petty about it.

      Please don’t wait. Don’t let it build to the point that out affects your mental health more than it already has, and don’t feel like it’s not important enough to say something about.

    6. Observer*

      if I heard a coworker use either of Alison’s suggestions my first thought would not be that the coworker made an attempt, but rather they are a nice/kind person who understands that it is a serious issue and is willing to stand up for it

      Very much this. There are more people who know someone who has considered / tried / completed suicide. There are also a number of people who don’t have that close of an experience who understand the seriousness of the issue and find this kind of repeated language deeply jarring.

      And, you don’t know who else is also finding this really hard to hear, but doesn’t want to speak up (or thinks that they can’t). It happens very often that a lot of people are uncomfortable, but no one speaks up because they think that they are the only one who is uncomfortable.

    7. Ace in the Hole*

      Personally – and I know this is not the right approach for everyone – I treat all suicide jokes as serious signs someone might be feeling suicidal. So if someone makes these kinds of jokes I’ll find a time to talk to them privately and say something like “You’ve mentioned killing yourself a couple times recently – Is everything okay?”

      A couple times I’ve had people blow off my concern and say it’s just a joke, in which case I tell them I understand but suicide can’t ever be a joke to me so I’d appreciate if they stop. A few times the jokester apologized for making insensitive jokes and thanked me for my concern. But a couple of times I’ve had people tell me they didn’t realize how poorly they were doing until I pointed it out – the “jokes” weren’t entirely jokes after all, and having someone draw their attention to it was the nudge they needed to get support.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I wondered if the friend was actually there or if this was a manipulation tactic to get OP to agree. Has OP asked the friend directly?

      1. Myrin*

        OP says “with my friend/roommate sitting in their office with them”, so the friend was at least aware.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          Yeah, I was just suspicious that OP ‘knows’ the friend was there only because the manager said they were.

          1. Myrin*

            Ah, I see now that OP said her manager “called” her, not “called her in”, which is how I read it originally. You’re completely right that the friend might not have been there at all although I assumed OP talk with her friend later down the road. But the letter is pretty sparse with details in general.

    2. Totally Minnie*

      I feel like the only reason that someone would be fired if they couldn’t transfer to a different location would be a MAJOR behavioral issue or conflict between coworkers. And even then, I don’t think most employers would put that decision on the problem employee’s roommate, they’d just make an announcement saying “here is a list of staff transfers that will be in effect on X date.” This whole entire story is really weird.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Yes, this was extremely manipulative by the employer! I’d be reporting it to HR because it’s pretty inappropriate to say to someone “your friend/roommate’s job is on the line unless you agree to this change NOW” (Not sure if OP had to answer right then, but seems like it from the letter?). Any transfer, I’d have to think about if it works for me and how I’d be able to fit it into my life (public transit, location of after work obligations, what have you). It’s inappropriate to ask someone to make a spot decision anyway, AND to also be saying “Person You Know’s job is on the line (never mind friendship/being roommates) if you say no”–not OK. Not that I know how best to respond to this in real-time, but OP, it was super inappropriate and it’s too bad you didn’t report it to HR. May not have helped, but might have!
        Also, add me to the “curious about what roommate said later” on this topic :)

      2. ferrina*

        Exactly. The only time I’ve heard of the manager demanding a transfer was when there was a big issue between coworkers. I’d ask your manager what was up, if only so you knew what kind of a circus you’d be walking into. Also- your roommate owes you big time.

        If you want, you could casually mention this to HR under the guise of “I was recently transferred because my manager said if I didn’t, Person X would be fired. I’m interested in returning to the original location, and was wondering if you had any guidance on how I might do that and what a reasonable timeframe would be.”

        1. She of Many Hats*

          I’d also consider requesting a change from reporting to that manager based on how he manipulated both employees by putting them into an impossible situation and using their personal lives against each other. That is a manager employees *cannot* trust.

    3. Missy*

      It seemed pretty clear to me that LW 4 and Roommate worked at two different locations. Roommate went to manager asking to work at the location that LW 4 worked (they exchanged positions). Manager, potentially because they didn’t want LW 4 and Roommate at the same location, said “LW, if you don’t exchange with Roommate then Roommate is going to be fired”. Not as a way to blackmail LW 4 but because Roommate wants to work at other location, they can’t work at other location with LW 4, so LW 4 either has to move locations or one of them have to be let go.

      I suppose that LW 4 feels like it was manipulative because Roommate was a party to the phone call, and maybe if LW 4 had been asked in private she would have said “I’d rather LW 4 be fired than work at that location, but also, don’t tell her I said this, just make her think it was your decision”. Given the choice of telling Roommate “too bad” and agreeing to a move she didn’t want she decided to take the move she didn’t want, but it is probably unrealistic to think that it was possible to get out of that situation cleanly. Either you are expecting manager to seem unreasonable (you can’t move to that location because LW 4 works there, and don’t ask me about asking LW 4 to move) or she’d figure out that the reason she was fired is because LW 4 wouldn’t agree to the exchange.

      1. MC*

        Was it a phone call though? Or were they in the office together and the manager “called them out”? The whole thing is unclear. It’d be great to get an update/more details!

      2. meggus*

        The choice and responsibility to terminate an employee belongs to the employer, not an employee. This manager used emotional manipulation to shift the blame onto the employee, as if it’s the employee’s decison to have someone fired. Absolutely unacceptable, and a huuuuuge red flag. games of power and control like this are abusive.

  7. Yoli*

    OP 1, you can’t do anything about the sweater besides throw it away, but is it possible the situation is sticking with you not just because it was ruined, but because you didn’t speak up? It doesn’t sound like you actually said anything to the coworker about the sweater, which left you to ruminate on why she didn’t offer to replace it. (Unless you directly told her otherwise, for all she knew it didn’t need to be replaced.)

    I think it’s easy, especially in a negative interaction, to interpret a lack of resolution the same way as a hostile resolution. But sometimes our peace of mind just needs us to seek a resolution, regardless of the actual outcome, so we can say we did what we could.

    I hope you find a way to forgive yourself and let it go.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I don’t think speaking up would have helped in this situation anyway. The sweater was likely already ruined; besides frozen, horrified silence is honestly the most realistic and appropriate reaction there is. OP was physically grabbed, and following safety instincts is more important than a sweater. There was no way OP could right something so banana crackers wrong on the spot; a senior employee shouldn’t need to be told that rubbing faces on people is out of line! If this was a scene in a film about someone new to the working world, the main character would also be speechless in the face of such treatment. Of course there’d also be a scene later on where the face rubber would get some kind of poetic justice, but you need a script writer for that.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Yeah, I think the reason you’re still upset about this is because it was humiliating and awful and made you feel used and objectified, and the jumper is a visible reminder of how humiliating it was.

        LW, I don’t want to get into a discussion of was this/wasn’t this assault, but I will say that a lot of your feelings about this sound very very similar to someone who was sexually assaulted, and that’s legit. This was someone totally breaching your personal space and bodily autonomy for their own purposes, without any regard for your feelings or consent, in front of dozens of people who chose to ignore it what a fucking weird and inappropriate thing it was to do, and wrecking your stuff into the bargain. “It’s my fault / I should have done something differently / why did she pick on me / I just froze and surely I should have…” are all really, really normal ways to respond to someone doing something that they should never have done. It isn’t you: it’s 100% on her and everyone else there who didn’t check in to see if you were OK.

        You might feel like since it wasn’t obviously sexual you’ve no right to any of the resources or feelings that people who were sexually assaulted get, but like I say, I think there’s a lot of similarities ans you might find some of it helpful. At any rate, I hope writing this letter is helpful to you in letting it go.

        (I would suggest putting the jumper on eBay for a low price for someone to dye or use for craft, giving it to a friend who sews and can turn it into a cushion, or donating it to a cat/dog shelter. Get it out the house at any rate!)

      2. NotBatman*

        Truth, BUT I agree that regret can stay with us for a long time. I once sat in frozen silence as a client went on a homophobic screed in my office (I’m queer) and spent years afterward coming up with 10,000 things I could’ve said to him. Because that’s the way our brains work.

        LW1: forgive yourself for having a normal reaction, and forgive yourself for not having the social power to be able to shove that jerk off with a yell of disgust. Our brains are all too good at coming up with “if only I’d been faster, here’s how that could’ve gone!” and it’s okay to shoot back “you don’t know for sure that yelling and shoving would’ve gone better, you stupid intrusive thought!”

    2. GammaGirl1908*

      Co-sign Yoli. Had LW1 found a resolution instead of feeling like it’s all still hanging out there tangled in rhinestones and mohair, she likely would feel better about it.

      A friend lost a sweatshirt of mine. She apologized profusely and offered to pay me $50 because she lost it. I hugged her and told her it was a $9.99 job with a broken zipper, and all was soon forgotten.

      Someone else I knew borrowed a belt of mine, and she broke it. She kind of shrugged and handed it back to me, and never said another thing about it. I still don’t like that girl.

      1. Kendall^2*

        Oh! Your last paragraph reminded me of the friend who borrowed my car (senior year of college), and when he returned, his response to my how-was-your-errand question was “Oh, I crashed the car,” totally deadpan.

        He wasn’t joking, and he never offered to pay anything (it was an old enough car that he’d officially totaled it.). Still pisses me off, many decades later.

    3. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

      But this perspective skips over what a weird and disgusting thing that was for the co-worker to do. Seems to me easily invasive & unpleasant enough to stick in a person’s mind even without the damage to the sweater. It’s not the same as if, say, they’d tripped while carrying coffee and a splash had accidentally got on the LW’s clothes.

      1. Yoli*

        We can’t control other people’s behavior, only our own. If writing this letter helped the OP find some commiseration and that’s what she needed to let it go, great. But since time travel isn’t an option, the only thing she could (not should) do differently now is directly address the situation with the person at fault next time.* Even if that means just saying to herself, “It’s not worth it/I’m afraid to/I won’t address it for X reason, and I’m at peace with my choice (because it’s my choice).”

        *This comment section trends toward the hyperbolic outrage, but as someone who’s job involves coaching people on direct communication, my first question is always, “Did you tell them?”

        1. Observer*

          my first question is always, “Did you tell them?”

          And sometimes the answer is “No” for good reasons. And while in a sense it’s a choice that the OP made, it was not a choice *freely* made and that’s going to make it harder to come to terms with.

          Even before the OP specifically said this, it was clear to me that the OP felt like she couldn’t bring it up because everyone else was treating it like such a non-issue that bringing it up had a ridiculously high chance of causing her professional harm.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            This. The “did you tell them?” approach often ignores the existence or importance of power dynamics in a situation.

    4. morethantired*

      I can’t tell but from the description of the event, was this woman also rubbing her face in OP1’s chest?? Because that is really violating and even if my sweater wasn’t ruined, it would haunt me. I sometimes wonder if we all ought to make a habit of role-playing with friends of just saying “please don’t touch me!” when people touch so it’s easier to do it in the moment. But I can see freezing even then if a coworker started rubbing their face on my chest. It’s so deeply inappropriate.

      1. sparkle emoji*

        OP did clarify that yes, this was a face-to-chest rub. The whole thing is so entirely banana pants. That her reaction to that violation was freezing up is probably the most normal part of the entire thing, and I certainly don’t think I would have reacted any better.

  8. Magdalena*

    LW1, I’m so sorry this happened to you.
    What your coworker did was so bizarre, and I totally get why you’re still haunted by what happened, and angry at the coworker. Not having a harm done to you even acknowledged, let alone apologized for, can feel disempowering and it sucks. In a sense it’s more than just the sweater. I know people who still have Feelings about a thing that happened to them in kindergarten.
    If you are still thinking about it at 2 am, you probably need some help truly letting it go. If no one at work really acknowledged it, maybe get this acknowledgement from another source. It could be enough to talk to a friend but if not, and I realize this sounds over the top, I’d seriously consider throwing a White Sweater Feelings party with a few friends. Have people help you grieve the incident, swap ridiculous work stories, and then laugh about it at the end. Then officially trash the sweater.

    1. Worldwalker*

      I think she should talk to a professional cleaner before she trashes the sweater. Foundation sounds like something they can probably get out.

      1. Another Magdalena*

        My husband’s niece-in-law got a good smudge of foundation on a new wool suit jacket at a wedding when she hugged him. Since it was May he didn’t take it to the cleaners until the fall and it came out no problem (and I don’t think cost much more than a normal dry cleaning bill), so I definitely agree with seek professional help for the sweater before fully giving up.

      2. Eulerian*

        It’s good advice if that’s what she wants to do, but it’s important to note that it’s not compulsory. It might be that OP might have an easier time moving on by just throwing it out, and that she hasn’t failed for not cleaning it, especially after all this time. Or maybe not! But just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you have to.

        1. xylocopa*

          Yes, sometimes it’s good to hear that you have “permission” from the world to just throw away the thing that is sitting in your closet at the center of a bunch of guilty feelings.

      3. sparkle emoji*

        Sure, but after the pro-cleaner the sweater needs to get out of LW’s home even if the stain is still there.

    2. nm*

      I am so flabbergasted by this coworker. What I would give to see what was going on inside that person’s head.

    3. lovehater*

      I would make a story (for my head only) – that co-worker was in the witness protection program and could not allow photos of herself to get out and her rubbing her dirty face on my beautiful, borrowed sweater was a matter of life and death.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        The correct course of action when avoiding photographers due to life and death is to cover your face with something like your arms or a plate or ducking behind an object. There was no good reason for that coworker to touch OP in any way. That’s part of what makes it so shitty. So very very very many no-contact methods of hiding.
        If OP takes away nothing else, I hopes it that they know the perpetrator was and is an ass.

  9. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    OP 1, in addition to ruining the sweater, that incident was horribly physically invasive. Your coworker rubbed up against your body, on or close to your breasts. Then the rest of staff acted as if this was a normal thing to do. On top of that, there was the power differential. I originally thought your post was going to be about responding to the assault.

    1. Mister_L*

      I read this as the coworker hiding behind the OP and smearing her make up on the back, but your interpretation is also possible (and worse).

      1. Bluebird*

        I actually wondered about this and am surprised there aren’t more comments about this! My first reaction was “Where exactly did she rub her face?!” Was it against OP’s arm? Her back/shoulder, etc.? I think it’s problematic regardless but the answer can change the story drastically, and can seriously change the way OP may be dealing with the situation.

        1. londonedit*

          I was imagining that the co-worker sort of grabbed the OP’s jumper and buried her face in it, probably on the back or the arm. Totally ridiculous thing to do anyway, but especially if you know you’re wearing foundation and it’s a white top!

          1. Antilles*

            I interpreted it the same way as you, that the co-worker was diving behind OP and buried her face in the back of the shoulder or side of the arm or something to make sure none of her face accidentally showed through.
            Still super bizarre though, particularly for a senior team member who presumably has attended events where people have cameras before.

        2. Observer*

          My first reaction was “Where exactly did she rub her face?!” Was it against OP’s arm?

          Based on what the OP wrote in the letter, it had to have been either front or back, and both are horrifying. The OP has commented and said that it was her front.

      2. OP1 (White Sweater)*

        Hi there – just clarifying that the coworker had rubbed her face on the front of my sweater.

        1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

          That’s indecent. Who rubs their face against a coworker, especially chest or stomach regions ?
          “For a good minute or two”. Oh, yikes.

          Why is it still on your mind?
          If you still resent that coworker, she’s not worth the headspace. Dump your memory of her in the trash, where she belongs.

          If you think you should have done something to stop her, don’t be so hard on yourself: Instinctive reactions when subject to such unwanted physical contact are: freeze – which you very understandably did – flee, or fight – usually risky legally & physically.
          The “bystander effect” is probably why noone else intervened.

        2. Purple m&m*

          This really was an assault and I can see why it still haunts you. A woman did something similar and I couldn’t figure out why I kept thinking about it. I ended up having a fantasy of being invisible & being able to hit her repeatedly with a sandbag. I shocked myself with these thoughts and realized I’m way too upset and letting her have power over me. With that realization a burden was lifted and I don’t think about her anymore. Maybe a ritual burning of the sweater or something like that would help to let it and her go. Hugs to you.

        3. Samwise*

          That’s sexual harassment. And everyone saw it and let it happen, and no one said anything about it afterwards either. Which to me is just as bad as the coworker rubbing on you.

  10. duinath*

    lw1, that is such absolute dipshit behaviour i’m aghast. even if we take the full face of makeup out of the equation, who thinks it’s okay to rub their face on a coworker? to be clear; it’s not. it’s not okay. we don’t rub our faces on anyone we work with. you were in no way the weird one in that situation.

    1. Allonge*

      I know, right? Who even thinks about doing such a thing? Rub their face on another person. Rub. Their face. Aaaaaaa.

      How much of a self-centered a-hole could this person be? It would be hella inappropriate to do this in public to someone you are married or otherwise related to, never mind a random coworker!

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah that is a person who is not ready for company! I don’t even know any toddlers who would do that.

    3. Transatlantic*

      “we don’t rub our faces on anyone we work with”

      Maybe you don’t, but I do, all the time. Then again, my coworker is my dog.

    4. Chidi has a stomach ache*

      I’m honestly trying to figure out how the co-worker thought using LW1 a human shield was easier/smarter than just, I dunno, waving her hand in front of her face and coming up empty. It’s so incredibly weird, I can’t fathom the thought process behind it.

    5. callmeheavenly*

      along similar yet inverse lines: once an older female coworker hugged me while I was seated and basically smashed my face into her chest. I’m pretty sure I left a makeup smudge, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t feel bad. people are bizarre.

  11. Green beans*

    LW3 – I had a coworker make an offhand angry suicide-type hyperbolic statement when blowing off steam about a project going badly. I don’t mind those types of statements unless they’re made in anger. Then they really do bother me.

    Anyways, I just said, “Uh, okay,” and then in the quiet that followed, went “Sorry but those types of comments made in anger make me really uncomfortable, so if you make one and I get awkward or step out of the conversation for a moment, that’s why.”

    Coworker apologized and hasn’t done it again. It wasn’t treated as a big deal, either. I imagine either of Allison’s scripts would have worked just as well. But just wanted to share that I’ve had that conversation and it went really well.

    1. RVA Cat*

      Yes, abusers often threaten suicide as a manipulation tactic. So LW3’s co-worker may also he triggering DV survivors (and possibly telling on himself).

      1. K8T*

        That speculation that the coworker commits DV is ….wild. It’s a joke that’s landing poorly, no need to accuse people of crimes.

      2. Cat Lady*

        While what you’re saying is true, I think it’s a bit of a stretch. Joking about suicide can also be an indicator that someone is in fact suicidal, but that doesn’t mean that that’s what’s happening with this coworker either. We only have limited information here and I think it’s both pointless and unhelpful to the OP to speculate further.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I can offer the opposite viewpoint. Several years ago I was sitting in a work meeting where people were complaining about something and I did the thing we always did as kids where we mimed shooting ourselves in the head. As soon as I did it I realized how awful it was and I wish I’d had the presence of mind then and there to apologize and say how insensitive I was being; I hadn’t done it since I was a kid and of course back then hadn’t at all realized the impact of it. Anyway, my manager told me afterwards not to do that again and I apologized profusely and of course I will never do it again.

      Of course, OP’s coworker might not be as reasonable as I am, but if he’s not, OP, I suggest you bring it up with your or his manager, because he really needs to stop saying things like that.

      I also have a family member who struggled with suicidal ideation and was hospitalized for it for a time; thankfully this family member is doing well now and I’m very glad to hear you are too, OP.

    3. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      I was called out (appropriately) by a relative after I joked about threatening suicide, and I made an effort to refrain from doing so after that. If you speak up, you may be helping the person to know when a given behavior is harmful to others.

  12. But what to call me?*

    OP5, we had almost this exact same situation a few years ago at my last job – our temp receptionist/administrative assistant was incredibly nice and very earnest about doing the job well, but she struggled with some of the more difficult aspects of the job (some of the more complicated tasks and occasionally dealing with some strong personalities who were *very* convinced that certain parts of their job should be our team’s responsibility). I really liked her, and hated to see her so sad not to get the permanent job! But I had no power over hiring, and the things she struggled with really were essential parts of the job, so all I could do was tell her we would miss her and wish her well.

    1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      One thing you can do, if you feel so inclined, is to offer to be a reference for her.

    2. Chinookwind*

      I have been that temp. I was lucky enough that my supervisor was also upfront at how my cost to the company was more than my salary (since I was the one opening invoices for her to process, she brought it up before I saw the first one). As a result, when it came to do the permanent hire, she was also upfront about how they would have to buy out my contract if I was were to become permanent and that, while I was good at what I was doing, I wasn’t THAT good. Since she was upfront about it, I felt like I was being treated professionally and was given a great lesson on the different between temp positions and temp to permanent ones.

  13. MugShot CoffeePot*

    Lw5, I disagree with Alison’s reply on this one.
    As you were not involved with the hiring , I personally think it would be extremely odd, if not slightly patronising to talk about. A competitive talaent pool.
    I’d just say you’re sorry she didn’t get the job because you’ve really enjoyed working with her, and leave it at that.

    1. Earlk*

      I agree, it’s also just corporate speak for “not good enough”. Focus on what you know, that she’s nice and you’ll miss her. Also, I think you could probably plead ignorance on knowing that she applied unless she told you herself.

    2. BRR*

      I agree with you. While “really competitive pool” is often true and good stock language, it’s more for hiring managers to use. I’d also go with “sorry that you didn’t get the job.”

      1. Corelle*

        I use it for hiring decisions I’ve been involved in conducting interviews for. I’m in a group with three other managers and we all tend to tap each other to help offer another perspective when interviewing one another’s candidates. And I’m part of the decision in those cases even if I don’t have final say.

        I try to limit using it to occasions when the person I’m speaking to/about who didn’t get the job would have been a viable choice objectively with a different group of candidates. They’re good enough to do the job, we just found someone a little better this time.

        If that’s not the case, I try to stick to some combination of “I’m sorry you didn’t get the job, keep working on those Excel skills (or whatever they needed), best of luck in your search” etc etc.

    3. Sneaky Squirrel*

      Agreed with this comment; the temp receptionist is already filling the shoes of the role and the company decided they will replace the temp with someone else. The temp isn’t going to see this as a “really competitive pool” but instead as a judgement on their performance.

    4. Tammy 2*

      I think I would stick to “It’s been great to have you/thanks again for all your help with the mane braiding project/wishing you all the best” statements.

      1. Annony*

        Yep. I think talking about why she didn’t get the job would be very weird from someone not involved in hiring.

      2. All Het Up About It*

        Unless the OP knows the Temp applied because the temp told her, I would hard pass referencing the hiring or anything. I’d treat it just like any temp moving on from a position. “Great working with you. Thanks for all your help. Etc. etc.”

      1. Chinookwind*

        Ditto with this. The offer of being a reference is huge. As a temp, your reputation is everything and is what can lead you to either better positions or, if that is what she is looking for, a permanent position elsewhere.

    5. I Have RBF*

      Just as a matter of perspective, some companies have a policy of not converting temps to perm for those types of positions. She could have been a unicorn and marvelous, but some companies would still never have hired her for a permanent job unless she was past the agency time limit. (I’ve been in that position. Usually it’s because the company, as a matter of policy, didn’t want to pay the conversion fee to the agency.)

  14. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    With #2, a lawyer could stop Mary giving false dates, but probably she’d then either stop giving any reference at all, or state that the OP is ineligible for hire and/or refuse to confirm any dates.

    Marys are why one needs to keep all pay receipts. Such disfunctional/toxic employers won’t invest 2 minutes in helping ex-employees, or indeed current ones. All one can do is try to explain the omissions.

    1. misspiggy*

      In the UK where I am, refusing to confirm dates worked or stating ineligibility for rehire without evidence would be grounds for a legal challenge.

      1. Melissa*

        Sure, but the fact that something is “grounds for legal challenge” doesn’t help the LW in the immediate. She could hire a lawyer and start down the path of a multi-year lawsuit to keep this women from giving false information, but in the meantime she needs a job. Alison’s suggestion to have a lawyer draft a letter is a good one; hopefully it’ll scare Mary into action (a shrug emoji, is she serious?)

      2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        As the US can fire someone because there’s an “D” in the day, I wonder if they can refuse to confirm dates and / or just say “we didn’t like her”.

        Can a manager/owner in the UK or NL also state that? I know in the UK they can refuse to do more than confirm dates – becoming more common – which can be damning in itself if this is a field where a hiring manager would expect specifics answers about the employee’s work & conduct.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          IANAL but I have to handle these things in HR and it would almost certainly be tortious interference with employement, which yes is illegal.

      3. Adereterial*

        Absolutely not true.

        There is nothing – absolutely nothing – in UK law that requires an employer to provide any form of reference for a former employer, except for a small number of regulated roles in financial services, or where there is a contract in place that requires or promises one.

        An employer absolutely can decline to provide a reference (including what ACAS describes as a ‘basic’ reference confirming job title and dates of employment only), but if they do it must be accurate and factual. If the reference isn’t for a regulated role and there’s no contract or agreement to provide one, an employer is under zero obligation to provide anything.

        If the reference is inaccurate, or misleading, that can be challenged but a legal challenge for refusing to provide one would have precisely no merit in the majority of cases and would not succeed.

      4. Statler von Waldorf*

        That is not the case in Canada, where there is no legal obligation here to provide a reference. Even the courts don’t have the authority here to force a business to write a reference letter here.

        Furthermore, a reference is considered a communication protected by qualified privilege and the person giving the reference cannot be sued for slander or defamation, provided the comments are the reference provider’s honestly held opinion.

        You might have a common-law claim of tortious interference, but based on a conversation I had with a real lawyer once over a similar issue, that can be a hard hill to climb and it’s absolutely not a slam-dunk case.

      5. fhqwhgads*

        In the US they can decline to confirm or deny anything. But if they attempt to confirm something, what they say has to be true.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Am I the only one who thinks Mary’s inability to do this is super weird? I’m pretty sure if someone called my workplace they’d be able to tell them exactly when I was hired, very easily.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        Oh, no, it’s definitely weird. Instead of taking a minute to look it up, she’s guessing, and guessing badly. At some point, incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.

      2. Hannah Lee*

        Given how LW describes their working relationship with Mary, I think it’s less an issue of inability, and more an issue of either Mary DGAF enough to bother looking the dates up or purposely pulling dates out of thin air to be petty.

        Because I’m the one who handles those types of reference checks for former employees at my company and it takes no more than 10 minutes to look up dates of employment.

        The only time it would take longer is if the person had worked as a temp here first and I wanted to mention that time as well (in case the person had just listed their total time here, so they wouldn’t get dinged as lying just because of how it was classified) Or if the person was here before I was hired and before the company had a good system for archiving payroll records and I have to dig around a bit in old paper records locked in a cabinet locked in a file room.

      3. starsaphire*

        I went through this when my last workplace was completely unable to find any record of my having worked there. It was just over 5 years after I’d left! I was in real danger of failing the background check for this job.

        I was able to come up with pay stubs *and* copies of my employment contract and offer letter. I sent them copies of *everything* – not just pay stubs, but the signed contract and a couple of other things. Probably was overkill, but… I was SO MAD. (Which was a good thing, as I pretty much had to go through every box in the garage and that’s a lot easier with rage motivating you.)

        Not necessarily advocating for being a hoarder, but… not throwing paperwork away can be helpful sometimes.

        1. Grey Coder*

          For my current job, I had to dig out old payslips, etc to confirm my employment at several previous jobs. Records at two of my previous employers didn’t survive mergers and acquisitions, and one place just straight up no longer exists in any form.

          I was glad I kept all that paperwork, but I also had to dig boxes out of the attic.

          1. I Have RBF*

            Yeah, working in tech it’s real common for your former employers not to even exist any more, as in not even a merger company to try to ask. Pay stubs or tax returns are the only way, IIRC.

      4. Esprit de l'escalier*

        I thought the clear implication of the letter was that Mary is intentionally and maliciously sabotaging LW’s job searches, not that she is somehow unable to do it right.

    3. Faith the Twilight Slayer*

      I would straight up call Mary’s boss and explicitly explain how Mary has cost someone a job. I bet OP might not be the only person she’s done this to.

    4. A person*

      If it was a temp agency I wonder if LW could list the company or school or whatever they were assigned to for date confirmation also? I hire temps and if one of them was struggling with their agency to confirm employment dates I’d be happy to at least confirm that the employee was assigned to me as a temp for whatever dates. I do keep those records and am almost always happy to help my temps in their quest for permanent employment (and even if it was one I wasn’t particularly impressed with I’d still be happy to confirm dates).

  15. Person from the Resume*

    LW1, it is indeed time to try to let it go. Easier for me to say than you to do, but the fact that you still ruminate over it, it keeps you up at night, and you’ve kept it while never expecting to wear it again sounds like it’s hurting you.

    You’re very anger over the lack of apology that I’m wondering if the perpetrator even knows that you were owed one. Was she drunk and never remembered? Drunk or sober, you could possibly be the only one at the party that noticed the stain. Maybe no one realized the sweater was ruined.

    I don’t know if that’s helpful for letting it go. I suspect you’re haunted because you never stuck up for yourself.

    I understand freezing in the moment. What you could have done in the week after is tell her the sweater was ruined and ask for some money to replace it / try specialty laundry service. That ship has sailed, though.

    1. Observer*

      t I’m wondering if the perpetrator even knows that you were owed one.

      How could she NOT know? Even if the sweater was not ruined, how could she for one minute think that she didn’t owe the LW an apology?! How could any of the people who saw what she did treat it as no big deal!? The issue here is not the ruined sweater, but the atrocious and inexcusable behavior that lead it being ruined. Dismissing that because maaayybeeee people didn’t realize that the sweater was ruined is unhelpful and deeply unkind.

      What you could have done in the week after is tell her the sweater was ruined and ask for some money to replace it / try specialty laundry service.

      Yeah, except that the OP was the newbie in a “tight” team and others had made it clear by their behavior when it happened that they didn’t think it was a big deal. It was perfectly reasonable for the OP to decide that it was too big of a risk to take.

      If this woman was so blackout drunk that she wouldn’t remember doing this, I would have expected the OP to note that.

  16. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #4 is disgusting behaviour, the employment equivalent of holding the OP’s friend hostage, exacerbated by the threat deliberately being made in the presence of that “hostage”, for greater moral pressure.

    It sometimes stinks what is legal to do to employees. Unfortunately, complaining up the chain that a manager did something the organisation wanted is rarely career-enhancing. Complaining immediately after the meeting might possibly have stopped the move being compulsory, or at least removed the threat to the OP’s friend, but complaining now wouldn’t deliver any tangible benefit to the OP and might damage her.

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

      I wonder, was OP going to be fired if they didn’t change locations or would OP’s friend be fired. Couldn’t this be considered blackmail?

  17. Gemma*

    Perhaps making amends with your sister on this is the closure that would help you let this go. You could replace it, or offer a gift card to the shop or a department store that sells the brand. Or see about cleaning as others have suggested. You were wronged and it’s unfortunate no one stepped up for you. But your sister was also wronged and you can step up for her and make it right.

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

      In a response to another comment, OP explained more. It sounds like the OP tried to make amends with her sister (offering to replace it but was denied, taking her out to a nice dinner, etc) but it still comes up. I wonder if their sister is one who always drags things up, even in jest.

      I think OP should try and get the sweater cleaned, or as someone esle pointed out to see if it could be dyed to cover up the stain. Then they can gift it back to her.

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

        Also, maybe the OP and her sister can sit down and talk. Like say “You bring the sweater up occasionally. I told you that I was assaulted by my coworker but you keep saying I should have been more careful. I offered to repay you for the sweater but you declined. I don’t know what more you want me to do? This really upsets me that you keep bringing this up years later. Can we agree to let this go.”

  18. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 (stained sweater) — if you didn’t feel able to bring it up with the coworker due to being new and them being senior, you could have taken this to the boss as well. It’s different from the normal interpersonal conflict (where bosses would usually ask “have you tried to resolve this yourself first”) in that it caused you (or your sister) an actual loss.

    There are all sorts of cleaning tips on the Internet, not an expert on this myself but it would surprise me if someone hasn’t come up with a way to get foundation off delicate fabrics, or you could try asking about that on one of the old style cleaning communities.

    1. Observer*

      if you didn’t feel able to bring it up with the coworker due to being new and them being senior, you could have taken this to the boss as well.

      That would be a reasonable course of action. The problem is that their boss was there and saw what happened – and acted as though nothing had happened.

  19. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP3 (jokes about suicide) — I would ask them to stop on the grounds that that issue has affected your own family. Fully true without giving too much info and likely to get a contrite response unless they are a complete jerk (and then it becomes go to HR territory). They won’t ask any details about the ‘family member’ I can almost guarantee.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      And even if they are insensitive enough to ask follow-up questions, it’s pretty reasonable to respond with “That’s deeply personal and I don’t want to discuss it further.”

    2. I Have RBF*

      I just use “People I know have been affected by suicide.” Some of them were closer than others, but even when it’s “just” a coworker it is upsetting.

  20. Panda Diplomat*

    OP #3: If your coworker strikes you as the kind of person who can read cues like this, you could also try responding with an “Oh, wow, okay!” (the way you might if they’d overshared about certain other things they might be planning to do in the bathroom, or made a joke about any other Not For Mixed Company topic). This is much less direct than Alison’s suggestion, but also even less suggestive of any personal history with suicide if that’s a worry for you.

      1. Rebecca*

        I like this. Most people who joke about it are indeed just joking, but some aren’t. My son’s mother started this way, and then escalated to threats, and then an attempt. She’s in treatment, but on bad days the jokes and then threats start again.

        Asking if they are ok is a signal that the joke is NOT landing without really calling them out. If they are reasonable, they’ll realize that. If they aren’t, and say, “it’s just a joke!”, now you can say, “It’s a pretty uncomfortable one.”

      2. Hannah Lee*

        That’s my thought as well.

        Because yeah, maybe they are just a careless person lucky enough to not be touched by it.

        But that could also be their go-to joke because it’s already on their mind.

  21. Allonge*

    LW3 – just to say that if I were in your colleague’s place, I would appreciate your speaking up.

    It’s difficult to judge what is and is not a joking matter in the best of circumstances (no, people should not joke about suicide / murder but it obviously happens). If I make someone uncomfortable with what I say, I would prefer to know. And you don’t need to justify or explain why at all, it’s a very reasonable request.

  22. C*

    LW1 – you (very understandably) weren’t able to say anything at the time, but maybe you reframe it as a lesson learnt and commit to doing what you can to ensure that no-one else is put in this position. This could look like:
    – Thinking consciously about your actions around more junior team members and making sure that you remember what it was like being in their position (being unable to speak up, not being able to afford expensive cleaning companies, etc).
    – Challenging poor behaviour from your peers when you see it.

  23. Blanked on my AAM posting name*

    OP3: I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. I have a similar background and, during the Zoom times, one department meeting was taken up with a recurring ‘joke’ on the topic, while I sat at home with my camera off and tried not to cry. As several people were involved I contacted the head of department, who chaired the meeting, explained it was a sensitive topic for me, and asked for his help in shutting things down if it happened again. He was very apologetic, promised it would never happen again, and was as good as his word.

    Which is a long way of saying: you can say something without giving out too much personal information, and most people are reasonable and will stop if they know something is a problem.

    1. LW3*

      I’m sorry that you have to deal with this too.

      In my previous job, people eventually found out because I started crying when a coworker’s Halloween costume really affected me. Some colleagues began treating me strangely, including the manager, and one even stopped talking to me altogether. I’m making an effort to prevent that from happening in this new job.

      1. I Have RBF*

        That reaction on your former coworker’s part was really inappropriate. Whether it was you, or someone close to you, doesn’t matter. There have been times after a friend passed when I would cry when the topic came up.

        “People in my life have been affected by suicide.” is true regardless, and you are perfectly justified in not wanting to discuss it beyond that because it’s upsetting.

  24. Kate, short for Bob*

    OP3 another approach you could take is to print off contact details for a good organisation that helps with suicidal ideation/impulses and pass it to him the next time he says something. If you do it discreetly with a sympathetic look on your face it may shut him down completely – either because his frequent “jokes” are an unexamined cry for help, or because he’ll be embarrassed to be taken seriously again. You could also use the ‘difficult for some families’ wording at the same time to reinforce the point.

    1. Random Bystander*

      That sounds like a good call out, to me. I mean, it doesn’t mean the LW struggled with the issue personally, it could even be that the LW had previously volunteered on a hotline, or knew someone (close or distant)–so many options that don’t reveal information the LW should not have to disclose.

  25. amoeba*

    Just in case you’d like to try getting rid of the stain one last time – apart from the advice about specialised cleaners, you could also try to hang it in the sun for a while! Especially on white, this apparently really works magic…

  26. Anon4this*

    #1 is it me or does the advice seem really light on the workplace angle? For what could have been done in the moment/next work day, at least. Like maybe coworker would have been huffy, but we don’t actually know that — surprised that the advice didn’t even mention the possibility of a discreet
    conversation with your boss the next work day and ask for the sweater to be replaced. Only a toxic workplace would be ok with letting something like this go and LW didn’t mention its being a bad place other than the one incident.

    I really like that this advice column focuses on work stuff and this answer was much more, idk, vanilla advice column.

    1. Magpie*

      In this situation, the advice makes sense. The LW is still upset about the incident to the point that she’s sitting up nights thinking about it years later. Telling her what she should have done instead will just give her new things to obsess over when thinking about the incident. The advice that she find a way to let it go will bring her a lot more peace.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      I’ve been reading regularly for a few years and have also perused a fair portion of the archives on this site, and there’s a long history of occasional only-tentatively-related-to-work questions. Emphasis on occasional, because I don’t see question #1 as an indicator that this website will shift from being primarily about work stuff to being primarily about “vanilla advice column” topics. There have been questions that are light on the workplace angle before, there will be questions that are light on the workplace angle in the future, but those will always be far outnumbered by heavy on the workplace angle questions.

      1. Anon4this*

        The one last week about a “psychic” coworker giving unwanted messages from dead relatives was also overwhelmingly about the personal relationship aspect and very very light on the workplace aspect. maybe it’s coincidence but two posts like that in less than a week is that makes me wonder if it’s a new pattern.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          It may be, because the pandemic made people weirder, but it’s still workplace related. Good working relationships with your coworkers are still essential.

          It’s the same general formula: “My coworker is doing X; how do I deal with that?”

          It’s just that the X is changing. People are weird and the cosmic background weirdness has been off the charts the last few years.

        2. Hannah Lee*

          The intrusive “psychic” one was a workplace issue though, because that person was still LW’s co-worker IIRC.

          Also, the “this thing happened a long time ago at a previous job I wondered if I could have handled it better” questions, even though Alison may not be giving advice to that specific LW about what they should do today (because it’s in the past), those letter allow exploration of workplace/co-worker situations that can be interesting and can be relevant to other blog readers.

          The only “vanilla advice column” aspect of today’s letter to me is that LW is still hanging on, both emotionally and literally, to baggage from the past and Alison let them know it’s okay to let it go.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      How fascinating, because my read was that it *was* a toxic workplace were this kind of thing has to be let go. Not one person in that room spoke up against this senior employee using a junior person’s clothing as a wetwipe. Not one; not even OP’s boss or other senior people who were right there watching this all go down. That could be attributed to shock or surprise in the moment, but no one asked OP if they were OK the next day, or apologised for not intervening, or said the employee would be spoken to, or asked if OP needed to claim for a new sweater? When it is a “a tight-knit team of five” and they are all above OP? This wasn’t a secret thing that OP needed to speak up about in order to make people aware of it, it was something they all knew about, and yep, they decided to let it go.

      1. Iris Eyes*

        I have suspicions that none of them realized what was happening. I seriously doubt she was only moving her face I’d bet dollars to donuts she was wiggling around the whole time, dancing from foot to foot trying to also get OP1s body between her and the camera. Probably loudly vocalizing about how much she didn’t like her picture taken. To everyone but OP the camera shy collegue was the uncomfortable one it probably didn’t even register what was actually happening to OP1. And depending on lighting and drinking they may not have really seen the foundation afterward either. Honestly the situation puts me in mind of the bird phobia incident.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I can see what you’re saying, and the scenario you paint makes sense to me. But OP confirmed above that the woman wiped her face on the front of OP’s sweater.

          The front! Who does that?!

    4. ina*

      How is it light on the workplace stuff? Office parties are a thing, power dynamics are a thing, reassurance that you aren’t a coward or wrong for not speaking up when you’re in a less than formal setting and something violating happens.

      Honestly, these sort of letters are my favorite because nine out of ten times the work letters are “you coworker sucks and they aren’t gonna change” and “your manager sucks and they aren’t gonna change” and “you need to work around the issue because you don’t have enough power to change it.” That’s the reality of the office for most people: coping. It’s nice to get some explicit, “there’s no advice here” reassurance every once in a while that it’s not your fault when you feel powerless.

      1. Chocolate Covered Cotton*

        Exactly. That this took place at a work function and involved a senior manager changes everything about the social dynamics. One’s response here is entirely different than if she’d been similarly accosted by a relative at a wedding, a classmate in a lecture hall, or a stranger in a bar. Each will evoke a different response and each will have its range of options.

        These types of posts are specifically how to navigate such situations in a workplace context and are thus relevant to the overall theme of the blog.

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

      I don’t see where you are coming from. For one thing, this happened a few years ago so there’s no advice for the OP for work that Alison can do, except what she offered. It’s not like Alison went into details about what she should do with her sister.

    6. Observer*

      Only a toxic workplace would be ok with letting something like this go and LW didn’t mention its being a bad place other than the one incident.

      Yeah, this was one incident. But it’s one of those incidents that are really, really telling about the workplace. Keep in mind that a number of people, *including her boss*, saw the incident as it was happening and acted as though nothing was going on. That doesn’t happen in healthy workplaces.

      Sure the OP *could* have talked to the coworker or the manager and Alison does actually mention that it would have been normal for the OP to have made that request. But as Alison points out the power differential is real, and given the overall situation it’s not shocking that she didn’t take that route.

    7. fhqwhgads*

      If the scenario in #1 had been something that happened, like, a week ago (heck even a month ago), I’m sure the advice would’ve gone more in that direction. Once it’s years later, the advice has to be different.

  27. Woebegone Wednesday*

    LW1 – It may be possible to have the sweater re-dyed to a different color and wearable.

    If I were your sister and you told me what happened, I’d be upset on your behalf – not upset with you. That incident was bizarre.

    LW3 – A remark like, “I don’t find remarks about suicide funny – ever” should do the trick. I’m glad you’re doing better now

    1. Irish Teacher*

      I could understand the sister being annoyed initially or being reluctant to lend anything in the immediate aftermath, especially if she really liked the sweater. Like “the last time I lent something, it got ruined, so I’m not leaving my clothes out of my sight.” But I would expect that to last weeks, before they realise something like that could happen while they are wearing it themself too, not years. It was a bizarre event that really isn’t likely to happen again

      1. Corelle*

        As a person with sisters, if I were reluctant to lend clothes in the first place, I might have used an incident like that to avoid lending clothes. Sister dynamics can be complicated, lol.

    2. Michelle Smith*

      I disagree. Stating you don’t find something funny, when the person was trying to make an exaggeration and not a chuckle out loud kind of joke is far more likely to be shrugged off or dismissed than a straightforward ask not to make those kinds of statements in the future.

      For example, let’s say I say something arguably ableist, like “Ugh I wish Manager would make up their mind about how to approach this and stop being so bipolar about it.” You tell me “I don’t find jokes about mental health disorders funny – ever.” I’m going to think to myself that you are overly self-serious and don’t know what a joke means, as I wasn’t trying to make anyone laugh. If you instead tell me “It can be really harmful to people with actual mental health disorders and their loved ones to have terms like bipolar thrown around like that when you mean something negative. Would you please not do that?” I’m more likely to understand what you’re saying and be more receptive to changing my behavior. One approach suggests the issue is a difference in sense of humor and the other approach actually explains what’s harmful.

  28. Miss V*

    LW1, I’m a professional seamstress who enjoys reworking and transforming pieces of clothing in my spare time. If none of the other suggestions to get the stains out work, send me the sweater and I’ll find a way to remake it for you. You might end up with a fun new sweater, or lovely pair of mittens and a hat. Who knows. Maybe transforming it into something new will help you let go of this.

    Since I’m sure neither of us want to share our personal information on the internet, maybe Allison can facilitate an email swap?

    1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

      Hi Miss V – thank you so much for offering this. It is very, very kind of you. I’m going to try to restore the sweater first, because I know that my sister would prefer the sweater in its original form. But I just wanted to tell you that I am very grateful for your kindness.

      1. Miss V*

        Completely understand. I’m really hopeful that you’re able to, but just know the offer still stands if you aren’t. Maybe post in he Saturday post with the same username, and I’ll be sure to check for the next few weeks.

        Best of luck!!

  29. You Can't Pronounce It*

    LW3 – you are not alone. I don’t even like when people say FML. Speak up. The simple “jokes like that make me uncomfortable” or any of the other examples work great. Until their lives have been affected by suicide, people don’t think about it.

    Glad you are doing better.

  30. Phoenix*

    LW 3 – really sorry you’re dealing with this. I want to flag that sometimes, repeated jokes about suicide can be a sign that someone is dealing with suicidal ideation. Your coworker may just be thoughtless, but in case this is a sign of SI, I wonder if it would be a good idea to privately offer them information about the EAP/a hotline/etc in the same conversation where you ask them to stop making these jokes?

  31. LurkingLibrarian*

    LW1, you were essentially in the position of being assaulted, publicly, with lots of people watching it happen and no one doing a thing to defend you, either at the time or afterwards. And to top it off, your sister seems to be blaming you for it. Even without any physical injury, is was a really awful experience, and it’s no wonder it’s still affecting you years later. It wouldn’t be an overreaction at all to check in with your employer’s Employee Assistance Center, or to seek out a trained counselor somewhere else. The fact that you’re losing sleep over it years later shows that this is much more than just a mishap with a sweater that can be fixed with the right dye.

    For anyone who thinks “assault” is too strong a word, try running the same scene but with a male coworker doing the face-rubbing.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      “Assault” includes causing physical harm or unwanted physical contact. So yes, the word “assault” is very much appropriate here.

    2. OP1 (White Sweater)*

      Thank you, LurkingLibrarian. I hesitate to call it assault because I clearly know that was not her intent, but the outcome was traumatic for me. I will definitely consider counseling if my symptoms worsen!

      1. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

        Intent doesn’t matter, actions do. Assault was the first thing that came to mind when I read your post, and I am so angry on your behalf.
        When nobody else reacted as if anything wrong had happened that probably really screwed your perceptions and you were asking yourself if you were overreacting since everybody else was just very la di da. You’re not over reacting. If anything you’re under reacting. This woman, who you barely know, who was above you on the food chain, when you were new in your job, rubbed her body up against yours in a public place. I’m so sorry that happened to you.
        For me when things keep coming back up, it means I haven’t dealt with it enough. That’s usually anger about certain situations with family members. It can be years or decades later and the memory will come out of nowhere and hit me, and I’ll be angry again at what the person did. Telling someone like a therapist or friend you know will react in a supportive way, can really help. I’m sorry your sister has only been reacting to the stain on the sweater and not on what happened to you. It sounds like she blamed you for what happened. It’s not your fault. You’re the victim here.

  32. Doc McCracken*

    LW1, I too had a past work experience that bothered me for years. First, I hope you hearing how absolutely fracked up your co-workers behavior was and how they absolutely should’ve at a minimum replaced or paid for the sweater helps you find some peace with this. Second, I really advise you to do something with the sweater. There are lots of comments about seeking professional help. Other options to consider is burning, having a stuffed animal or other art piece made from it, or offering it to an artist. I finally found peace (mostly) after giving copies of the documents I had been holding onto to trusted friends who were in a position to speak up if my ex boss were to ever rise to a leadership position in a church or political office. After I had taken those steps, I was able to shred them.

  33. WellRed*

    I’m always curious about this so called Confidentiality! That people seem to think cloaks them in every situation.

    1. Achtung, Baby*

      Well and in this case, what is the breach of confidentiality?? Unless LW left something out, there’s no there there.

      1. Engineer*

        Oh, OP4 has *definitely* left something out. Two paragraphs, 4 sentences, and absolutely no kind of backstory? I’m betting OP4 and friend/roommate were causing trouble and this was a desperate manager’s attempt to solve a problem with no other support – probably retail or food service.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Huh? I don’t know how you get to OP being a troublemaker. Sounds like the roommate was on thin ice, and the manager had roommate and OP switch stores. Like, it was a coffee shop chain and they swapped locations. Maybe the roommate “couldn’t” get to work on time and said Maybe if I’m at the one nearer my house! and threw OP under the bus.

      2. New Jack Karyn*

        I think it’s that the manager let OP know that their friend/roommate, who worked at another location of the chain, was about to get fired. There might not be legal confidentiality there, but I’d argue that it was unprofessional to disclose that to a third party.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          This is almost certainly what the LW meant by “confidentiality”. Part of the answer is “that’s not actually confidential” but I’d assume when they said “confidentiality” what they meant was “something inappropriate to share”.

  34. Knitting Cat Lady*

    I joke about suicide. A lot. Because laughing in the face of that which would kill me is my way of coping.
    I’ve witnessed 3 suicides so far, one of them earlier this year. Each time it was a fellow patient of the psychiatric unit I was at at the time. I’ve come very close to acting on my ideation a few times.
    Everyone copes differently. But if you go for the joking route? DO NOT DO IT AT WORK!

    1. Jello Stapler*

      I’m sorry you have had the experience personally and by witnessing it. I would be prepared for people to take you seriously, regardless of where it is because often joking can be a sign of the person thinking about it and reaching out.

    2. Anon4this*

      Co-signed. I’m guilty of those comments, but only around my spouse/close friends (and even then, if anyone ever asked me to stop I 100% would). It’s definitely a “not for work” kind of thing, along with off-color jokes.

  35. Juicebox Hero*

    I’m a knitter and crocheter. Yarn and finished items which are NOT being worn will be petted, caressed, squished, squeezled, and otherwise manhandled, but if it’s on someone’s body, hands off unless you get their express permission. And if you damage something, you make good on it.

    What your coworker did was so far beyond the boundaries of adult human behavior that I feel safe in saying that most people would react just as you did – freeze and be all WTF?! And I can’t blame your other coworkers for pretending it never happened, because what the hell do you say in that moment? It reminds me a bit of the letter where the OP’s coworker started showing graphic pictures of her child’s birth in the middle of a meeting.

    Ms Rubby McRubberson is the one who made it wierd; she’s the one who violated your personal space in a big way; she should have done the right thing and paid to have the sweater cleaned or replaced.

    You have the yarn gods’ permission to forgive yourself and quit tormenting yourself over it :)

  36. Czhorat*

    THe letter from OP3 should serve as a reminder to all of us to be thoughtful when it comes to topics about which we joke. “I’ll toss myself out this window if I get one more useless meeting request” might seem like an innocuous way to blow off steam, but this could carry very serious weight with people who have struggled with suicidal ideation themselves or had a family history of suicide attempts.

    I’m glad the letter writer is in a better place, and I think we can all do better for people with similar history.

  37. DramaQ*

    LW1 have you talked to your sister about this? If I had a friend who still had this level of anxiety over a sweater I would be horrified. I imagine at this point the guilt/anxiety may have twisted the actual version of events in your mind. Was your sister actually mad at YOU or overall mad at such a banana pants situation that it came out unintentionally as seeming mad at you? I wouldn’t fault your sister not lending stuff out anymore, not because you did something wrong but again because it would cause me to reflect on lending out items, especially items I may not be able to replace, to others. I really encourage you to reach out to her to let her know how much this still bothers you. In regards to the sweater itself look up how to remove oil based paint from clothing, worst case it doesn’t work. I would also talk to someone about the situation if it is still causing you to stay up at night. There is no “right” way you could have responded in the moment. Your lizard brain took over and did exactly what we are programmed to do in the event we’re grabbed without warning. The fact that absolutely NO ONE spoke up for your in the moment or later is atrocious and probably makes you feel even worse about it. A higher up than crazy lady should have spoken with you the next day about it and at least offered to find a solution to make you whole such as the company paying for dry cleaning. In no way should you blame yourself you were a victim. The person who should be up at night haunted by that evening still is the woman who rubbed her face all over you.

    1. My Brain is Exploding*

      Agree about the lending. I would also have quit lending things after an episode like that. Not because of LW1! Just because I wouldn’t want another bad experience.

      1. kiki*

        Yeah, I also had an incident come up that caused me to reconsider being so open to lending out my nicer items. I don’t blame the person I lent the garment to for it at all– it was an accident out of their control! I realized, though, that if I really really care about a garment and it can’t be replaced (or replaced for a reasonable cost), I shouldn’t lend it out.

        If this is still keeping LW up at night, they should talk to their sister!

        1. MissBaudelaire*


          I don’t lend out things I can’t stand to lose. Because I don’t want other people to feel bad if something happens!

    2. OP1 (White Sweater)*

      Thank you, DramaQ. My sister is mad at the situation in general and I think it’s completely reasonable of her to not risk lending her things to anyone anymore. The fact that she points to me as the source of the fault by saying “if only you had been more careful” is upsetting. But I agree that my sister may not know the emotional toll this incident has on me, so I will raise this the next time she brings it up. Thank you for the affirmation and support – I really appreciate this.

  38. Bookworm*

    LW1: Aside from the sweater (not to ignore that but I think that’s been covered), that this co-worker VIOLATED YOUR PERSONAL SPACE to rub *her face onto your clothes* is creepy and weird. Even if were a dress top, regular work clothes, a bikini, whatever–there’s no excuse whatsoever, sober or drunk, etc. That’s just gross and I’m sorry that happened to you. I agree with letting the sweater go but HFS what is wrong with people?

  39. Jello Stapler*

    As someone who helps train people on how to recognize and intervene to offer help those those considering suicide, this comes up a lot (How seriously do I take a joke?). I would actually also consider, in addition to Alison’s suggestion, saying “You joke about killing yourself often, sometimes that means you are struggling and I take that seriously. If so, I hope you get some support and help through our EAP”. If their jokes are a real cry for help, you’ve heard them and then can suggest EAP if they say something. If their jokes are jokes they may see people take it seriously.

    You could first say that and if they say its a joke, say what Alison suggested.

  40. HonorBox*

    LW1 – I’d agree with Alison that you should allow yourself to let this go, both figuratively and literally. This situation was not of your doing. You did nothing wrong to cause the stain. In fact your coworker’s reaction was bananas. Give yourself permission to write it off as that really weird experience you had in a previous job.

    LW2 – I immediately thought about the lawyer angle. While you could absolutely put together pay stubs and additional information to document, there’s a chance that someone somewhere will look at that differently than confirmation from previous employer. Not that they should…but people are strange sometimes. A lawyer kindly reminding Mary of her legal obligation to accurately confirm employment will save you some steps and save you the potential for scrutiny of the documents you provide.

  41. Choggy*

    LW1 – This does seem to be a deeper issue if it’s affecting you years later. Has this left a rift between yourself and your sister, did you explain what happened?

    As for the offender, yes, it would have been good for them to apologize, if not then, then later. Is it possible they did not realize; or do you think it was intentional? I can imagine someone, who is very camera shy, to want to hide behind someone and accidentally brush their face (in the act of hiding) against someone’s clothing, but for a full two minutes rubbing their face sounds a little implausible.

    Were there ever any issues with this coworker before the event, or was this person a complete stranger to you? Did you interact with them after the fact? I really wonder if anyone else noticed as much as you did, especially since no one mentioned it.

    Time to let this, and the sweater, go.

    1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

      Hi there! I can confidently say that my sister still loves me a lot. I just wish she’d stop bringing up the sweater incident! I’ve described what happened to her in detail, but for some reason whenever she brings this up, she always manages to say “If only you had been more careful.” To that, I can’t help but respond, “I really couldn’t have seen that one coming!” But that response doesn’t seem to appease her. I don’t know, maybe she expected me to have been able to evade my coworker with a ballerina twirl or done cartwheels across the room. I have firmly told her that karate-chopping my coworker was not an option!

      While the coworker took deliberate action to rub her face on my sweater, I don’t think it was her intention to be malicious or cause damage, even though that was clearly the outcome. I remember her expression while doing this was akin to…”snuggling a cat”? (Except that I’m not a cat…I’m just a tiny person wearing a white sweater…and I still remember her expression very clearly because of how close her face was…ahhh) I would also say that the stain on the front of the sweater was quite obvious.

      I’m not very close with this coworker and aside from this issue, I remember her to be friendly and professional. We have interacted at work after this but the sweater was never brought up. I felt uncomfortable bringing it up since no one else seemed to acknowledge the incident. I would appreciate any advice/a script on how I would initiate these conversations if something like this (??!?!?!) ever happens again in the future.

      1. Choggy*

        Ah, okay, you included additional details regarding her rubbing against the sweater, due to the type of fabric it was. Yeah, that’s odd, and I would have spoken up especially after seeing they made a stain on it. But seriously, water under the bridge, for you and your sister. You should ask her to stop bringing it up, what happened was out of your control, and nothing is going to change the outcome now.

      2. zuzu*

        OP1, are you still working with this person? How long has it been?

        I think your best bet here is to get the sweater professionally cleaned, bring the bill to the coworker, remind her that she was the one who created the stain and that you’ve put off dealing with it because you’ve been traumatized by having a coworker you barely knew essentially nonconsensually motorboating you in front of your entire office at a work party, thus ruining your sister’s sweater, which your sister has never let you forget, and you’d really like to put this behind you, so for everyone’s sake, you’d really appreciate it if she’d reimburse you for this within the next two days.

        And if she doesn’t, maybe you need to have a chat with HR. Maybe you should anyway, y’know? Because that was really weird and intrusive of her, and the fact that the entire office just watched it happen and let you walk around with a big stain at a work event is pretty mindblowing and something they may want to know about. You could even approach it as something that’s been bothering you and something you want advice on how to handle.

        1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

          Hi zuzu, I no longer work with this person and it’s been about 6 years. I’m not so sure about contacting this person after all these years, but the way you frame it does make this seem plausible.

          I do wonder if this is an “HR-worthy” incident though and I’m curious to hear what everyone thinks. I definitely would have escalated if I was sure someone did this maliciously, but in this case, my ex-coworker……….mistook me for a cat in moment of weakness and intrusively displayed an inappropriate amount of affection which resulted in property damage? I think I would feel really bad if this resulted in professional repercussions for her.

      3. fhqwhgads*

        If something similar were to happen in the future, then the day after the initial attempted cleaning (when you know it didn’t work), you approach the coworker in the breeziest, calmest tone you can muster and say “I’m sure you didn’t intend it but your makeup stained the sweater I was wearing at Event the other day. Unfortunately, it was borrowed so it’s going to need to be replaced.” Then stop talking. This is the part where a reasonable person does the reasonable thing. If they’re not reasonable, you find out right then.
        Alternately, although this can be VERY difficult, if you’d had the ability to react in the moment, I’d go with something like “whoa, a bit too close!” and take a giant step backwards the second they came in contact.

        1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

          Thank you, fhqwhgads. I really like the way you phrased it, and the strategically placed pause is a great idea! I will make note of this for future reference. Unfortunately, I couldn’t react on the spot, but since then, I’ve been on high alert whenever someone comes a bit too close!

      4. Siren of Sleep*

        It sounds to me like despite explaining it, maybe your sister doesn’t fully grasp how weird the situation was or thinks you’re overblowing it? Are you confident enough/close enough to grab her and rub your face on her like your coworker did? The only difference is you would ask for permission (though personally as soon as she said “If only you had been more careful.” I would just do it and be like “So what were you going to do about that??” but there’s only so many people I know who would be fine with that.)

        Otherwise, I would say have a good conversation with her and tell her you felt guilty enough all these years, you literally had no capital to stand up to such a cliquey and boundary-busting bunch of coworkers and have her actually tell you what she would have done. Don’t back off or anything, ask her seriously what would she have done. Then ask her what part of that she could reasonably see you doing because you are you and she should know you by now.

  42. ina*

    Not sure why so many people are fixating on LW1’s relationship with her sister. Am I missing where is was destroyed? A grown adult not being able to borrow sibling’s clothes isn’t the end of the world. Live and learn. Also leave LW’s sister alone — come on, it’s a crap situation all around. She did something nice for her sister and then the situation comes out that some jerk ruined her favorite sweater AND upset her sister. You’d be peeved being reminded on it and also your sweater was still ruined.

    I think what haunt LW1 is that they didn’t say anything and that the coworker and no one seemed to acknowledge how messed up the situation was. That’s the pervading theme in the letter — no one said anything, including LW. It’s best to just accept what Alison said. You reacted the way anyone else would have. You don’t have to feel guilty about the sweater — unless your sister is harping on you still? In which case, the one thing you can do is make amends with her in a bid for closure for yourself and your way of speaking up. A nice dinner or spa day?

  43. Summer Bummer*

    OP1, I sometimes have difficulty letting go of objects that Carry Emotional Significance, even if that significance is bad (and especially if I feel embarrassed that something minor has become Significant in the first place). If throwing it away feels like too much, I’d encourage you to post it on your local free freecycle/craigslist/fb marketplace. Somewhere out there is a laundry wizard who can’t wait to get that stain out, or a teen desperate to try hand-dying mohair but without the budget to purchase any. This ruined sweater quietly haunting you could bring someone else a lot of joy, and I hope that’s the boost you need to get it out of your life <3

  44. MagicEyes*

    I also had a sweater ruined by a thoughtless coworker. My horrible boss had to work at an evening event. It was cold, so she borrowed my office cardigan. I found it the next morning with a note that she thought she shrank my sweater (I still have the note). She took it home and washed it in very strongly scented detergent and she must have used very hot water, because it was a full size smaller. Like OP, I said nothing and felt bad about it for a while, but it’s really awkward to ask your boss to buy you a new sweater. I did keep the sweater, and after some time had passed, it stretched out a little and the smell faded, so I did wear it again.

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

      Oh thats so bad! Like, I’m glad she washed it but how hard is it to follow washing directions? THEY ARE RIGHT THERE ON THE LABEL! And whenever I borrow something and wash it I and am not sure I just wash it in cold on gentle and hang to dry.

    2. Chirpy*

      I had a coworker/ friend borrow a dress. I specifically told her NOT to wash it, as it was handmade and a delicate fabric.

      She machine washed it. And ruined it. It wasn’t particularly sentimental or expensive, I just couldn’t get more of that fabric to re-make it and it was just really, really annoying.

      1. I Have RBF*

        I had a “helpful” roommate machine wash a costume cloak I had made out of velvet. It shredded. That type of fabric was expensive, bought on sale, and I have never found it affordably priced again.

        It was very annoying. I had that thing for years, but never thought to put washing instructions in it. I usually just spot cleaned it.

      2. Arts Akimbo*

        Ugh, I would rather someone give a garment back to me dirty than to wash it wrong. Some items are so easily ruined by machine washing!

  45. NeverKnowWhoYoureTalkingTo*

    OP3 – this can be so difficult. I’m often actively suicidal (don’t worry, I’m under excellent care) so this reeeeally gets me. Personally I’ve decided that this is The Hill I Will Fight And Die On and have embraced that I will have All Of The Awkward Talks. My approach is usually a light “hey hey don’t joke about that!” Or “not cool, cut that out” over and over and over. If it’s someone senior to me, it’s a more moderated “I know you don’t mean to say something hurtful, could you leave the jokes at home please?” I never disclose that it’s personal. If it keeps going, I offer to direct them to the EAP, half joking tone. I have also mentioned it to the person who oversees professional training, asking to include it in sensitive trainings. At this workplace, I’m about 5 years it’s gone from hearing multiple jokes a month to hardly ever. The only time I use a really serious tone approach is with interns….

  46. LucyGoosy*

    LW 1 – Knitter here. You do need to be VERY careful with white mohair, but washing by hand with Woolite in cold or lukewarm water is often what I do to clean delicate knits. Baby shampoo or dish detergent can also work depending on the composition of the foundation. When in doubt, your local dry cleaner may know what to do–you can also refer to the “makers” side of Instagram for tips on how to fix this. This is EXTREMELY bizarre but finding a way to clean the stain may help with some of your peace of mind.

  47. anywhere but here*

    LW1, I want to add to the chorus of support for you. I saw you mention in the comments that the coworker rubbed her face on your chest (!!!) and that is so far out of the realm of normal adult behavior, much less professionalism, that I am not in the least surprised that you didn’t know what to do. It was horrifically inappropriate for a colleague to rub her face in your chest (!!!) whether or not it ruined the sweater. It may be worth considering whether part of the reason you are still bothered by this has more to do with what was arguably an assault than the sweater itself. I am very sorry that someone violated your boundaries in such a way.

    For the sister situation, she’s wrong to blame you for the damage to the sweater. That wasn’t at all foreseeable or within your control! If someone had dumped red wine on you, would she also blame you? There’s a few other comments mentioning the refusal to lend may be fine if it’s not rooted in blame. I do think that it can make sense if something goes wrong in a lending situation to decide not to lend any further items – if I would be upset that something happened to an item of mine while in my sister’s possession regardless of whether or not it’s her fault, it would be more sensble to just not lend things and avoid that coming between us. That doesn’t really sound like the situation with your sister here though, and I’m sure it’s frustrating that she considers you partly to blame. I hope the comments about stain removal are helpful and I hope you are able to move past this and no longer be burdened by it.

  48. Sneaky Squirrel*

    #2 – I’m kind of confused by this one in that #5 had good interviews but was told twice that they were moving on with other candidates because Mary didn’t confirm employment dates. Is it normal for schools (or maybe other countries) to verify dates of employment with a former employer in a job interview stage? In the USA, I’ve only ever heard about doing this in a background check stage, during which if the employer decides to take adverse action based on the results of the background check then they are supposed to give you time to dispute the results,

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yep, typically normal for schools. If they have other, equally good or better, candidates, they will move on with them and not bother with the candidate whose background is in any way problematic. It’s mostly a capacity/timing thing. They don’t have the personnel in HR to chase this down, and they need teachers who have been fully onboarded to start the school year on time. This doesn’t at all surprise me.

  49. Zach*

    For post #2- You can get free tax transcripts from the IRS at if you create an account with them. I’ve used this for background checks to prove I worked at a company that no longer exists and can’t be contacted- the people doing the background check have always accepted that as proof without an issue. That’s an easy way to go about it in case you don’ t happen to have any pay stubs from that job.

  50. Fiona*

    Re: OP3, my mother is the queen of the offhand, casual remark about this topic. (“If I have to wait in that DMV for another hour I’m going to _____”) What always baffles me is that she worked as a therapist in psychiatric institutions for 25+ years!

  51. Nothing Happening Here*

    #1 Take a picture of the sweater. Find another one online that is substantially identical. Send photos of both to your former coworker with a bill for the new one. You no longer worker together, what can they do now? Hopefully they will feel so ashamed they will send you a check and you can reimburse you sister. If not, at least you will make them feel bad.

  52. learnedthehardway*

    OP#2 – this is awful. I am so sorry that Mary has messed up not one but TWO job opportunities for you. You need to escalate this. I would contact Mary’s manager or the head of HR (or if it is a small company, the owner / CEO) and let them know that this has happened multiple times. I would also have a lawyer write a letter and have it delivered to Mary, the head of HR or CEO, and the head of Legal (if there is one) for the company. Demand a letter from the head of HR / CEO that confirms your employment dates, on company letterhead, as well.

    In the meantime, is Mary the only person who can get this information for you? Surely her manager or (if a small firm) the owner can do this, as well.

  53. Cat Lady, Esq.*

    LW#2 – I had a similar situation come up early in my career. I worked for a very small business owned by a couple, who closed it shortly after I left and I had no way to reach them. I took my first and last paystubs, redacted the payment amounts, and made a one page photocopy/scan of both pay stubs. If a future employer asked for proof of employment, I provided that and indicated that the business was closed. I never got a second glance.

    Employers are used to the fact that some businesses, especially small businesses, don’t keep great record, close, or go out of business entirely. Obviously don’t lie, but I think it would be totally appropriate during the reference or background check stage to indicate that the employer has expressed to you that they do not have accurate records (this is true – shrug emoji!?!!) and that you’re happy to provide whatever legal or tax based documentation needed for them to verify dates of employment. Then gave something ready to go so you’re not wasting time during the hiring process, whether it’s paystubs, IRS report, whatever.

  54. gnomic heresy*

    LW 3, I just want to say how awful it is that this jerk thinks it’s okay to make these jokes in an office setting and how appalled I am that no one has said anything up until now. I hope you are able to speak up with him directly, because I think that has the best chance of working. But in the event you aren’t, please know you can request to HR that they address this with him without disclosing your mental health history. Many people have been affected by the suicide of a loved one, and delicate phrasing can leave them with the impression that that’s the case for you, without lying outright. Something like Alison’s suggestion, “Many families have been affected by suicide and find such jokes extremely painful.”

    I’m glad you’re doing better. I’ve had similar struggles. Mad respect to you and hope things keep getting better.

  55. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    LW #3 — you don’t have to tell someone why they need to stop a problematic behavior to get them to stop that behavior. Your coworker may think you’re a bit of a prude or a stick-in-the-mud, but frankly that’s perfectly fine so long as he stops making insensitive jokes at work.

  56. Candy*

    LW2 – Have you tried giving Mary a heads up that a reference will be calling before they contact her and including any background info on you she’ll need?

    Either she keeps bad records or is mixing you up with someone else, but like with any reference, it’s always best practice to let references know someone will be reaching out to them and include what information the company will be requesting, both so they’re prepared and so that you get the reference you need

    I’d send quick email to Mary each time saying “Company X will be reaching out to you this week to confirm my employment dates, which are 2017-2020 (paystubs or other documentation attached). Feel free to call me if you have any questions. Thank you, LW2”

  57. Jessica Clubber Lang*

    I wonder if the coworker in the sweater letter was just drunk or having a bad reaction to something? A minute (or two) is a LONG time to just be rubbing your face in someone’s clothing..

  58. Alisaurus*

    LW1, there’s a lot of good advice in these comments about how to maybe clean the sweater or move forward, so I’m not going to add on (especially since I don’t know much to add). But let me just apologize on behalf of everyone else in that room.

    I’m so sorry your coworkers stood by and let that really weird coworker behave like a toddler. I wish I could have been there to speak up on your behalf. No one deserves to be treated that way.

  59. Nomic*

    LW1: Just coming here to say that while all the cleaning advice is lovely, You Can Just Get Rid Of the Sweater. It’s taking up a large negative space in your mind, and it’s OK to just trash it or take it to the thrift store.

  60. AKM*

    “I was told she said, “She did a few jobs around 2019, I think.” I have emails dating back to 2017 ( receipts!) and was able to submit them to the school district. I emailed Mary and linked to the old emails, reminding her of my employment dates, and she responded with a shrug emoji.”

    As someone who confirms employment dates for former employees all the time, I am FLOORED at Mary’s audacity and rudeness!!

  61. Chirpy*

    LW#1 – the sweater may just be a symbol of what was an assault, with witnesses, that absolutely no one supported you through. It’s perfectly normal to have frozen, and to still be thinking about it! There wasn’t much you could have done in the moment. It’s such a weird event, most people wouldn’t have reacted any “better”!

    I’d suggest talking to a therapist or close, supportive friend about it. Or even, write a letter to yourself about the incident and forgiving yourself, because this wasn’t your fault, and you couldn’t have predicted it. And if dealing with the sweater helps, try taking it to a professional dry cleaner, or donating it, or whatever helps you move forward. You don’t need that reminder just sitting in your closet.

  62. another Sarah*

    OP #1… join your local Buy Nothing Group on FB and post “disfigured nice sweater available for crafting purposes….” it’s mohair, someone wants it for repurposing. NEVER feel bad about stained clothes! Just pass it on to someone with the time & interest to fix/reuse :)

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

    #1 I’m sorry that this still causes you distress. As others have commented try bringing the sweater to a professional cleaner and see if anything can be done. If not, maybe you can dye it or repurpose it somehow. In another comment, you mentioned you felted a penguin for your sister. Could you do something with the yarn of the sweater?
    #2 Is there anyone else besides mary who can confirm your dates? Is there anyone you could call at that company?
    #3 I’m glad you are doing better and these comments must really hurt. If you don’t feel comfortable saying anything in the moment maybe you could talk to your coworker in private. You don’t have to say why, but just that the comments about suicide, even as a joke, really bother you. If it still continues then maybe you need to talk to your boss.
    #4 At first I thought that you meant that your boss would fire you if you didn’t change locations with your friend, which makes sense. A boss can require you to change locations and your employment can be at risk if you don’t. However, when I read some comments and reread your letter it sounds like that your boss would fire your friend if you didn’t change locations. That does seem out of bounds and almost like blackmail. It sounds like there’s more to this story, like what was the reasoning behind the move. But I feel like the boss was using your relationship with your friend as leverage to get you to do what they wanted. If there was someone above your boss I would maybe mention this as it seems really odd.
    #5. I disagree with alison saying that you should say that it was a commpetive pool. The OP was not part of the hiring and so doesn’t know what the other candidates were like. Heck, maybe the new person is going to be the boss’s best friends daughter. I think it would be kind to acknowledge all the work they did while they were there. Maybe pass around a card?

  64. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    The sweater story infuriates me! A senior coworker violated you and then you were blamed for it. Perhaps the violation and the way you froze in the moment is part of what’s staying with you. There could be lots of reasons for that.

    Maybe overkill but what about a couple of sessions with a therapist to explore why is haunts you, what happened, why you’re keeping the sweater, how your sister reacted, how that feels, what that is all rooted in… just on case it brings up anything deeper that you want to keep digging into.

  65. MistOrMister*

    OP3 – I really appreciate this letter. I have seen these types of jokes and made them myself and it never occurred to me that I could be adding to someone’s trauma. It seems like such a no-brainer after seeing this letter and I am glad to be able to take this moment to educate myself so I don’t do this again in the future.

    I am sorry that you are in a situation that is impacting you this way (I think Alison’s advice is spot on) and hope you can get it resolved.

  66. Coin Purse*

    I’m here for the sweater! I’ve done a lot of museum level cleaning for a local landmark (lace, textiles) and foundation makeup should be able to be removed. I also knit and wash everything before blocking. A wool soak plus a gentle dish soap would help plus potentially using an oxy clean product. I’ve yet to see a stain that can’t be mitigated *or* overdyed.

  67. Kitty Lathrop*

    As someone who has been suicidal multiple times, I can assure you that the person making the jokes may in fact be suicidal themselves. Maybe reach out to them or your/their manager

  68. Sindy*

    LW1, that’s one of the weirder things I’ve ever read about weird workplace behavior. I wish we had some insight into the minds of people who decide this is a good idea. You’ve gotten lots of good advice so I won’t add on but I will say that its completely understandable that this appalling and bizarre behavior has stuck with you especially since the rest of your workplace was too cowardly to go “what are you doing?” to this bizarre and thoughtless person.

  69. Anne Shirley*

    Regarding Letter 2–that shrug emoji was so brazen and unprofessional! I’m also surprised that potential employers did not give the letter writer the opportunity to furnish her own proof of employment. They know she cannot control the behavior of a third party.

  70. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    Personally, I would get rid of the sweater. Donate it, burn it, whichever.

    It isn’t about the sweater or the stain. The fact that it is replaying years later is that it was all kinds of wrong and it is not a pleasant memory. Trying to clean it, dye it, etc is pouring more money and effort into something that will still have unpleasant memories.

    1. Mad Harry Crewe*

      THANK YOU, I was coming down to say exactly this. OP1, don’t commit any more time, money, or mental energy to this object or this event.

      You are allowed to let it go – both the event (wherein you did absolutely nothing wrong) and the object.

  71. Samwise*

    OP 1, The really weird and problematic piece of this whole thing is that **she rubbed her face on your body** and nobody said anything.

    Maybe that’s why you’re keeping it. Because she physically assaulted you and everyone let it happen.

  72. OP1 (White Sweater)*

    Thank you to Alison and everyone in the comments for the advice and support. I will read and try to respond to all the comments. For ease of those looking for all the additional information I’ve shared in the comments so far, I thought I’d summarize them here.

    1. Details of the incident
    The co-worker had rubbed her face on the front of my sweater. She was sober and I am pretty sure that the co-worker was not being malicious when she did this. I still remember her expression very clearly (due to this incident occasionally replaying in my head in UHD slo-mo and how close her face was) – I’d say it was akin to someone affectionately snuggling their cat. We were on cordial terms at work but definitely not in a close enough of a relationship for this type of physical contact. Everyone else watching was also sober.

    2. Making amends to my sister
    My (older) sister was aware of my financial situation at the time and had refused my offer of compensation. I felted her a baby penguin as a token of apology. When things got better, I treated her to a dinner of similar value. Professional cleaning is not something I’m familiar with and I had ruled it out at the time. My assumption was that professional cleaning would not be affordable/outweigh the value of purchasing a new sweater, but that may not have been the case. This is something I will definitely to look into, along with new cleaning methods. I am keeping the sweater because I am clinging onto the hope that it can one day be repaired! Dyeing the sweater would not be an option because it would drive home the fact that the sweater is not the same as before.

    3. My relationship with my sister
    I can confidently say that my sister still loves me a lot. I just wish she’d stop bringing up the sweater incident! I’ve described what happened to her in detail and she believes me, since it is quite clear that the foundation stain does not belong to me. But for some reason whenever she brings this up, she always manages to say “If only you had been more careful.” To that, I can’t help but respond, “I really couldn’t have seen that one coming!” That response doesn’t seem to appease her. She may not know the emotional toll this incident has on me, so I will raise this the next time she brings it up.

    4. What could I have done?
    I have asked my sister this in the heat of our arguments and her response was along the lines of, “Let out a groundhog scream, push her away and immediately demand compensation” among other thoughts such as acrobatics beyond my capability. My response was, “I would like to see you do this in front of your team members (all of whom are more senior), your manager, your boss and every other important person in the department, AND make it to work next day with your head up high.” I am 120% confident that she would not be able to accomplish this feat herself. That said, she has all the right to be upset, but it really hurts to take so much blame for something I could not have taken preventative measures against.

    5. Confronting my co-worker
    I agree that my lack of confrontation contributes to my sister’s anger at me. I would say that I was afraid of being perceived by the team as the person who “made a fuss” over “such a little thing”. Even though it was not a small thing in my opinion, everyone else’s non-reaction and lack of acknowledgment fed that thought of mine. For some reason, I felt it was really the co-worker’s responsibility to take initiative to make amends for the sweater and that was incorrect of me.

    I welcome any advice/scripts on how to professionally initiate such conversations because it a very uncomfortable thing for me to do and I honestly don’t know how to do it. I will make notes for future reference, or mental re-enactments in response to my brain’s unsolicited slo-mo replays.

    I’d like to thank everyone again. All the affirmations that I am not the crazy one, and the permission to “let go” and “forgive myself” is extremely helpful to my mental well-being. I am also grateful to those who have suggested for me to respond to the incident more proactively. I appreciate seeing the situation from a different lens and how others would have handled it differently.

    I would be happy to answer any follow-up questions! I also saw requests for updates – I surely will share an update if my sweater cleaning efforts prevail!

    1. Really?!*

      As far as your sister: I am the oldest sister. I recently shared something I did in elementary school that wasn’t noble. Ever since my sister constantly brings up how “bad” I was. I am in my 50s to give context. It was bothersome, but my conclusion is I don’t control other people only myself. Her insistence on bringing up this 40 year ago occurrence is about her, not me.

    2. WellRed*

      If your sister is still(!) bring up the sweater, she’s not over it and I wonder if that’s contributing to your ruminations. Seriously. Toss the darn thing and tell your sister to drop it. It’s just a sweater.

      1. MicroManagered*

        Agreed. This additional info makes me think this is more about the relationship between the sisters than the sweater. I hear OP1 that her sister loves her, but I even find pointing that out to be a little odd. Sisters borrow clothes that accidentally get ruined! That’s like really normal sister stuff… At some point everyone needs to just move on.

    3. KTB2*

      As a fellow older sister who would probably also overreact to my younger sister borrowing a brand new sweater and ruining it, my take is this: it’s no longer about the sweater. The sweater has now become a metaphor for other things. Sisters have such a unique relationship, and oftentimes things like this incident become shorthand to cover off other, much broader themes Hence, “you should have been more careful” even though the actual event was so out of the ordinary that really no one could have been more careful.

      My advice is to ask your sister, in the event that she brings it up again, what this sweater means to her, and what is she really concerned about? She might insist that it really is about the sweater, but she will also likely start thinking about why it bothers her so much. My sister and I were fortunate enough to take a vacation together to hash out our childhood scripts and learn how to interact with each other as adults without decades of baggage, but not everyone has had the chance to do that.

      What other baggage is your sister attaching to the sweater that doesn’t have anything to do with the sweater?

    4. Sindy*

      I am a younger sister. My question to your older sister would be “why are you blaming me for someone else’s decision to assault me and ruining your sweater?” And keep asking her why it is your fault that someone chose to assault you. She seems to think that it is and if she were my sister then I’d like to know why.

      I have had a similar relationship with my older sister(s) and I simply cut one of them off when she decided that her need to blame me and mock me in public was more important to her than admitting that she was wrong. Sometimes older siblings get it into their heads that they feel inferior about some emotional problem and when something bad happens to their younger siblings, they decide to scapegoat us for it.

    5. T.N.H.*

      In the moment, a good way to get out of this is with a well-timed “Eek.” It’s a universal sign of discomfort without being overtly confrontational.

      Afterwards, I would have approached your boss or mentor about how best to ask her for compensation. In some situations, it truly would not have been worth it. (After all, if asking her to pay for the sweater causes people to side-eye you, that will cost you a lot more in the long run, even if it’s unfair.)

      Now that your financial situation has improved (it sounds like), can you go on a sisters-day shopping trip to clear the air? Inviting her might allow this out into the open for one final discussion.

    6. Observer*

      What could I have done?
      I have asked my sister this in the heat of our arguments and her response was along the lines of, “Let out a groundhog scream, push her away and immediately demand compensation” among other thoughts such as acrobatics beyond my capability

      That’s not a reasonable response. Even if you had been able to do that, it would have been too late to rescue the sweater. The minute she shoved her face into your chest, that sweater was done for. If she says something like that again, and you are willing to go one more round with her, point out that all of this would have been too late. What other suggestions does she have for PREVENTING something so bizarre?

      I am pretty sure that the co-worker was not being malicious when she did this.

      I’m sure that you are right in the sense that she was not planning on finding a reason to humiliate you that she then implemented. But I find it not credible that she is not aware that people are not cats and you can’t “snuggle” them the way you do a cat. And, as another commenter noted, it’s interesting that she chose to do it to the newest and youngest member of the team. And by “interesting” I don’t mean a new fact about the world but highly relevant to the situation. She knew what she was doing. She decided that her desire for whatever it was she was after was more important than treating you with basic decency, and calculated that she could get away with it. That may not be “malice” but it was “with intent”.

    7. Hrodvitnir*

      I’m not sure if you’re still reading, and I’m not the first person to say this, but.

      You were assaulted. I would say sexually assaulted, because someone rubbing their face on your breasts is sexual regardless of intention. You froze, which feels horrible, and it was minimised by everyone around you: and your sister not only blames you but brings it up regularly.

      Did you know recovering from trauma/not developing post-traumatic symptoms is largely about being supported and believed in the aftermath?

      I have a friend whose platonic relationship with another woman was clearly abusive to me. She still, over a decade later, talks about how important that was to her when everyone else was just treating it as “girl drama.”

      Anyway. Since you say you have a good relationship with your sister otherwise, maybe if this rings true to you you could try explaining how this experience and her continuing harassment is hurting you? Before or after talking to a therapist if you can (maybe the few sessions EAPs usually offer would be enough! If you get someone who understands trauma.)

      Also, if you missed Miss V’s comment above, she has offered to help with the top itself. I’m sorry you have had to live with this, and that it’s not something that neatly fits into a category people think of as warranting trauma. (“Trauma” is thrown around excessively these days, but it’s also wildly more common than people like to think.)

      1. OP1 (White Sweater)*

        Hi Hrodvitnir – I am hesitant to call this an assault because I clearly know that was not the intention, even though the outcome was traumatic for me. I also wonder whether this falls into the category of “trauma”, which I also typically associate with “heavier” incidents such as physical harm. I did not have much support after this weird incident, which may explain the symptoms I am experiencing now. However, I’m very glad to have wrote to Alison and to have received all the wonderful comments/feedback here. They are very helpful and I think I am feeling better already.

        Thank you for sharing your story and I agree that I should explain my emotional distress to my sister. I think it’s possible that she was not aware what impact this was having on my mental health. I will also consider some EAP sessions if my symptoms worsen. (And yes, I found Miss V’s lovely comment!)

        1. Head sheep counter*

          I can understand being hesitant but… I think you are far too kind to the perp in this situation. I hope as you navigate through the residual feelings trauma from this experience… you can be as kind to yourself as her. There is no world in which deliberately rubbing your face on a colleagues breasts is ok (especially without consent… but please know that consenting would have been beyond the pale as well).

    8. Elizabeth H.*

      Maybe you should say something to your former coworker NOW! Although since I read your update (that she was reacting to the mohair and doing an “ooh it’s so soft” thing not a “I’m hiding my face my rubbing it against another person” thing) it seems a lot less bizarre than it did initially. Although if she was doing it for a LONG time, then it gets just as bizarre again. You could email her and be like “Hey, you ruined my sweater at that company party that one time. Just wanted you to know :)” She would probably feel weird, but right now YOU feel weird, and maybe it’d make you feel a sense of karmic correctness – returning the weird feeling to the person who caused it.
      I also agree that it can probably be cleaned or fixed. If you can do that, maybe don’t bother emailing her ;)

      1. Head sheep counter*

        Soft mohair… gets an ask a before going to pet… on an arm… it does not get a boat motor experience. SAY NO TO BOAT MOTORING AT WORK!!!

    9. LJ*

      Cleaning – highly recommend finding a local, family owned type dry cleaners with good reviews. Even if they can’t help, they might have ideas, or at least you know you tried.

  73. Head sheep counter*

    OP 1 I’m sorry you were assaulted that way and that your colleagues did nothing. Its not ok. I would have frozen in the moment or had a physical reaction (pushing, punching or yanking myself)… because it was not normal or ok. I’m sorry your sister is stuck on the incident. Please invite her to come with whatever you decide to do to the sweater and then say… “this is the last time I want see or hear about the sweater from you, please”.

  74. Goldenrod*

    OP3, I just want to say that I am so sorry, and I am very glad that your suicide attempt failed.

    It’s a helpful reminder to me to not make those types of jokes. You never know what people have been through.

  75. Unkempt Flatware*

    Things-ruiners are never apologetic about ruining The Thing. In fact, in all my experiences confronting Things-ruiners, they tend to get really really defensive about it and will just yell at you in response. Don’t touch OPPs.

  76. ReadRidingHood*

    Ugh, that sweater story really jolted me back to my own bad co-worker behavior. In my case it was, unfortunately, my boss. Right before the holidays she asked me if I had any ride-on toys she could borrow for her three grandkids who were coming to visit. I had one kid around their ages at the time. I said yes without hesitation and brought in several toys the next day, including a push-bike he had outgrown. We all came back from the holidays on the same day. My boss acted normally the first day back but at the end of the second day back, she came to my desk to share she had “something embarrassing” to tell me. Apparently, the kids had ridden the push bike to the end of her street, which is a dead end and also a hiking trail head, left the bike on the side of the road and walking into the woods. When they came back the bike was gone. Obviously, I know that loaning out things comes with some risk of things like that so I wasn’t mad about it, just a little sad. My oldest son was REALLY into riding bikes and I was keeping it to pass down to next future kid. It was also a gift from my dad to him and was NOT cheap ($250). The truly astonishing thing to me was that my boss just said she was “so sorry” and walked off without mentioning anything about trying to replace it. The next day, she came over and said her daughter-in-law felt so bad and wanted to help with contributing to a replacement and she hands me…a $20 bill and said I should be able to “get something on craigslist” with it. Never asked how much the bike cost or offered to contribute anything at all herself. I would never have expected her to pay the full cost of the bike but this happened years ago and I STILL cringe thinking about this, especially if the roles were reversed. If had borrowed something from my employee and something happened to it while it was with me, I would insist on replacing it myself even if I couldn’t afford to pay in full (but you know she could have). SMDH forever on this.

  77. Liz King*

    #3 – I did exactly that to my boss who joked about slitting his wrists. I composed exactly what I wanted to say, rehearsed it in my head all night, went in first thing and asked to see him privately. “I know you were joking, but you shouldn’t make jokes about suicide, you don’t know [burst into tears, not in the script!] who you are talking to.” He was appalled, apologized all over himself, said “I’m not a jerk!” I said, “I know you’re not, that’s why I wanted to tell you.” I dabbed my eyes, we went back to business, and I think we both felt better for it.

  78. Liz K*

    #3 – I did exactly that to my boss who joked about slitting his wrists. I composed exactly what I wanted to say, rehearsed it in my head all night, went in first thing and asked to see him privately. “I know you were joking, but you shouldn’t make jokes about suicide, you don’t know [burst into tears, not in the script!] who you are talking to.” He was appalled, apologized all over himself, said “I’m not a jerk!” I said, “I know you’re not, that’s why I wanted to tell you.” I dabbed my eyes, we went back to business, and I think we both felt better for it.

  79. Office Drone*

    LW 3: If your company has an HR department, ask if they can intervene for you. I was two months into a new job, assigned to a desk right outside a very senior employee’s office (think several tiers above). He had a habit of keeping his office door open, and one of his visitors told him a graphic story of a recent suicide in his family. Sympathetic as I was to the trauma, I was impacted hard to hear the gory details (and, tragically, they were gory).

    I submitted a ticket to HR, asking them if it was possible to ask Senior to keep his door closed for private conversations, and explained that unavoidably hearing details was hard on me, as someone who has dealt with attempted suicide in my family. HR responded wonderfully. Senior was called in and told his conversations were being heard on the floor, I was offered information on mental health benefits, and Senior was more conscientious about closing his door. And since then, I’m now in a different area of the building (for other, unrelated reasons).

    It’s worth having a talk with HR. They may not be able to fully anonymize you (it was obvious to Senior who complained), but they can protect your personal medical history (if it’s necessary to disclose that).

  80. BostonANONian*

    I was in a similar situation as LW2. Not an employer, but my mortgage lender needed to confirm past employment dates…with my vindictive past employer (there’s a reason I left!!). I basically used that script and did the same thing, provided my first and last paystubs at that job, last paystub of the prior job, and first paystub of the current job. I let the mortgage lender know that I’d had issues getting my previous employer to confirm information (with my current employer, actually). It all worked out fine, the documents I provided wound up being sufficient. Good luck LW2!

  81. MicroManagered*

    I disagree with the response to #5. If OP5 is not the one who manages this position or has any involvement in hiring the permanent employee, the best move is to treat it like any other coworker who is leaving. “Sorry to see you go, it’s been great working with you, best of luck” but you don’t NEED to say anything about why the position went to someone else. Sometimes things don’t work out. You weren’t involved in that decision, so nothing is needed. If she says something to you directly, maybe a “gosh that sucks” or “I know you’ll find something better” would be polite. But I don’t think you need to worry about it more than that.

  82. Adultiest Adult*

    LW 1–this brought me back in very similar ways. I have my own sweater story. When I was in high school, my parents stretched their money to the limit to send me to one of the private schools in the area for the academic rigor it provided. But the vast majority of my classmates came from wealthy families, and I was always aware that I was different from them.

    One day in art class, a classmate accidentally got red paint on my sweater. (We didn’t have uniform ones at that point but they had to meet strict specifications to be worn with the rest of the uniform.) She couldn’t understand why I rushed right to the bathroom and was freaking out when it all didn’t come off, and the sleeve became stretched and rough-looking in my clumsy attempt to clean it. I think she might actually have said, “Why can’t you just get another sweater?” Because in her mind, that was the solution; that’s what would have happened in her house.

    But I already knew that there was no “other sweater”–I only owned 3 school-approved ones, and those were supposed to last indefinitely. I knew that my parents had no money to replace them, and not only that, my father could have a sharply critical streak about being “careless with your things” that came from his own experiences growing up in extreme poverty. I still remember how panicked I felt, and also how angry that my classmate had no idea why it was a big deal–it would never occur to her to offer to get the sweater cleaned either. The word privilege wasn’t in circulation yet, but this was one of the first things I thought about when I learned the concept.

    So, LW1, I still remember that event, and those feelings, but I am able to look back with real compassion for the struggling young person I was, and I think that helps. I hope you will also be able to look back at that event with compassion for yourself, to recognize that nothing that happened there was your fault, that someone else behaved badly and should have been held accountable for that (for cleaning or replacing the sweater if nothing else) and give yourself grace for being completely out of your depth in that situation. I’m rooting for you in your attempts to move forward from this.

  83. Raida*

    1. Senior coworker ruined my white sweater

    I had a guy throw up on my dress at a christmas event.
    I washed it that night in cold water, took it to a dry cleaner and paid the maximum amount possible for cleaning
    I sent him an email stating how much money he owed me the next day at work. He paid it.

    Here’s the thing – it didn’t *need* that to be done, my home washing *was* sufficient, but I was either giving him a cleaning bill or telling him the dress was ruined and tell him it was $150. I’d bought it for work. First time I wore it was that event. I never wore it to work because it was bright pink & orange – very memorable – and I would have been immediately furious if someone said “oh that’s the dress John threw up on” So I just never wore it to work. One of the very very few dresses/skirts I’d ever bought for the office and I did not get my money’s worth out of it.
    Irrational? Yes. Am I still annoyed to. this. day. about it? Also yes. Mostly I’m annoyed at whoever gave him drinks once he was drunk, but I can’t find that out so I’m impotently angry when I see the dress on the rare occasions I’ll wear it since it doesn’t get used for work.

  84. MCMonkeyBean*

    Wow, letter 2 might be one of the most infuriating things I have read on here. The ratio of how much damage she is doing to you compared with how little effort it would take her to *not* totally torpedo your job hunt is maddening. I am so sorry that you are dealing with this.

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