my coworker stabs office furniture with a knife and no one thinks it’s a big deal

A reader writes:

I am dealing with a bizarre situation at work and could use some advice on how to proceed.

My coworker, Charlie, has several concerning habits involving the lighter and several utility knives he carries around on a daily basis. When we’re in team meetings or things are slow in the lab, Charlie will do a few things: pull out a piece of leather and hone his knives, loudly and repeatedly flick his lighter on and flip the lid over the flame to put it out, shred pieces of paper with one of his knives (leaving a huge mess he rarely picks up), or use one of his knives to stab and/or whittle at whatever chair, wall, or table is nearest. He does this in plain view of anyone who’s around.

I am a relative newcomer to this team; almost everyone else has worked with Charlie for years and seems accustomed to what they refer to as his quirks. (I’ve been on this team for three months, but at the company for almost three years.)

My team spends a great deal of time doing work in a shared lab space. There are tables, chairs, and computers in the labs that everyone has to use. The few times I’ve been working with Charlie, he’ll whip out his knives and violently stab the arms of the chair he’s sitting in. One time I asked him what he was doing, and he laughed and said that the chair “had a pimple” he was fixing.

Recently he’s taken to shredding several sheets of paper onto the keyboard of the lab computer my team shares and leaving the mess for whoever uses the keyboard next. He used a knife to nick the entire edge of the computer desk, leaving sharp little plastic spikes sticking up where people usually rest their wrists. In meetings sometimes he will often wander around just outside the conference room cubicle, stab the walls, and shout over the wall when he’s asked a question.

I’ve asked several of my teammates about Charlie and his strange behavior and every single one has brushed it off and said something along the lines of “that’s just Charlie.”

Other than his scary habits, he seems to care deeply about his work and is cheerful and friendly with everyone. More than once, he’s been recognized by management for outstanding work, and generally people seem to like him. He never damages anything other than office furniture and paper as far as I’ve seen.

It makes me really, really uncomfortable sitting near him when he’s engaging in this behavior, having to use furniture that he’s damaged, and cleaning up piles of paper scraps that everyone else ignores. I’m even more uncomfortable talking to Charlie about his habits directly, given his strange response the last time I spoke up.

The way my team brushes of Charlie’s weird habits is making me feel like I’m crazy for having a problem with Charlie. I know there are some problems with my team; a former teammate, John, was reassigned due to anger issues and my several of my coworkers have said very mean and inappropriate things about the person who reported John for yelling and throwing chairs. I’m strongly considering talking to HR and my boss, but Charlie is inexplicably well liked, I’m afraid of retaliation from my team. What else can I do here?


I guess it’s weird coworker day here.

My guess — and it’s nothing more than speculation — is that Charlie’s habits are some kind of tic, and that’s why the rest of your team is so cheerfully accommodating about it.

But pulling out knives and stabbing office furniture and walls is not really an okay accommodation, if in fact that’s what it is. Even if the rest of the team is genuinely unbothered by it, (a) Charlie is systematically destroying work property that other people need to use, and (b) eventually someone will come along who is bothered by it — quite reasonably — and in fact that has now happened.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because we don’t even know that that’s the explanation. And ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. You’re on very solid ground in not feeling safe when a coworker pulls out knives in meetings and begins stabbing things.

I’m curious what would happen if you talked to a team mate and said something like, “I’m really unsettled when Charlie takes out knives and stabs things. I’ve noticed no one else seems bothered by it. But I feel really uncomfortable! Is there more context to this that I don’t have?”

You’d also be on solid ground doing any of the following:

  • Speaking up in the next meeting where Charlie pulls out a knife and saying, “Would you mind not taking knives out while we’re talking? I find it really distracting and unsettling to have knives around.”
  • Speaking up in the next meeting where Charlie starts playing with his lighter and saying, “Would you mind not doing that while we’re talking? I can’t focus when something is on fire near me.”
  • Talking to your boss about all of this, pointing out that you feel distracted and unsafe when Charlie is stabbing things and sharpening knives.
  • Talking to HR about the same.

I know you’re afraid of retaliation since Charlie is well-liked and your team trash-talked someone else for reporting a colleague who threw chairs. Given that history, you’re not wrong to consider that! But the alternative is saying nothing, and this behavior is so wildly bizarre (and distracting, and unsafe) that it really does warrant raising it. You should mention your concerns about retaliation to both your boss and HR — including that trash-talk about the chair-throwing reporter — so they’re aware of that as an additional element that needs to be navigated.

{ 446 comments… read them below }

    1. Nea*

      Seriously! If they actually miss someone who yelled and threw chairs, and are willing to put up with stabbing and open flame, there’s no fixing this, OP. Get GONE before you get hurt!

      1. Palmer*

        Absolutely agree. This probably is a runaway moment as opposed to being an influence of positive change.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I can hear it now: ‘Well, I GUESS some people just don’t LIKE IT when someone is just being THEMSELVES.’

        OP, please do what Nea says. Get gone, as soon as you can. That place has problems besides Charlie gettin’ stabby with furniture.

        1. Jellyfish Catcher*

          Charlie is being allowed to be one of the Worst Missing Stair cases ever. Get out; the culture is toxic.
          Begin (and do so discretely) searching for another job.

          1. Aerin*

            My immediate thought was “this is pretty much the definition of a Missing Stair.”

          2. Trixie the Great and Pedantic*

            the whole staircase is missing at this point and everyone’s just using one of those mobility lifts to “solve” the problem

      3. AnonInCanada*

        This ^^. If Charlie’s not going to change, and your coworkers don’t find this to be cause for concern, I’d be looking for a new job ASAP and get out of this (literally if nothing gets done about it) firestorm. I hope Charlie’s actions don’t end up burning the place down and causing casualties, with the survivors lamenting “if only we did something about Charlie…”

        1. MPerera*

          I’ll bet if that happened, the survivors would be saying, “But Charlie was such a wonderful guy! Who could ever have seen this coming?”

        2. Sweet 'N Low*

          This reminds me of a (totally bananapants, absolutely insane, story-for-another-time) situation that happened at OldJob. The TL;DR is that a coworker did something that any reasonable person would interpret as threatening workplace violence. I was genuinely afraid that we were in danger, I told my boss and HR that I thought we were in danger, and they did… literally nothing. It turned out that we were not actually in danger, thankfully, but I learned something really important about my workplace: if there ever was a real threat of workplace violence, they would not protect me.

          LW, you should have the same takeaway from their situation. It’s entirely possible that Charlie isn’t dangerous, but he’s acting in a way that any reasonable person would interpret as dangerous/having the potential to be dangerous. If your workplace doesn’t do something about Charlie, they’re also not going to do anything about the next “Charlie” who *is* dangerous. Proceed with that information in mind.

          1. Ex-prof*

            Head in the sand. I worked in a workplace that had HAD violence and still didn’t believe threats.

        3. Ex-prof*

          It really had me thinking about all the awful news stories where the signs were just all over the place and everyone ignored them.

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        I work in an industry that values expertise and profit over interpersonal skills, and yelling (much less chair throwing) is even a bridge too far for us these days. Our HR chief would have outright fired Charlie at first reported incident.

        I was catching up with some colleagues from my last job recent, and one was lamenting the loss of a “valuable resource” who “was so smart and knew absolutely everything about [niche industry]”. Said “valuable resource routinely routinely yelled and cursed at him (the senior team lead) and was ultimately fired because they got mad about something and no-call/no-showed for a week. And, when they got done pouting and wanted to come back, we had to get employment counsel involved to explain that the liability was simply to great – they wanted to take the employee back! And that person wasn’t rehired for far less than brandishing a knife, destroying property, and setting shit on fire.

    2. zuzu*

      I’d almost think this was an old-school chair-throwing law firm. But I guess labs have their weirdos, too.

      1. Old Med Tech*

        It could not be a hospital or clinic lab because open flames (Bunsen burners) were out lawed by OSHA 25 or 30 years ago.

        If he is doing the lighter routine in one of these types of labs it would be an OSHA violation.

        What ever the work place this is certainly unusual behavior.

        1. Eo*

          I don’t know, this office seems so out of touch that I wouldn’t be surprised if they are violating all sorts of safety regulations.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            I’m pretty sure “stabbing furniture with actual KNIVES” is a safety violation; if not, why the hell not? (Besides it not occurring to most people that it needed to be specified because it is 100% bananapants behavior that should have him escorted out by security.)

            1. Ace in the Hole*

              Likely not an automatic safety violation. It’s bizarre, possibly disturbing behavior, but not inherently unsafe on its own as long as he’s doing it in a way where a slip/skid won’t cause the blade to contact anyone (including himself).

              Specifics matter, though. Is he damaging equipment in a way that could compromise safety? Is he using a stabbing implement that could shatter and create flying debris? It he doing it in an unsafe manner, for example positioned so that a slip might cause him to hit someone? Those would all be safety violations.

              But… just because it’s not breaking an OSHA rule or safety policy doesn’t mean it’s allowed! Plenty of things are not against safety rules but are still not okay to do at work for other reasons.

                1. 1LFTW*

                  Reminds me of a colleague from years ago, who would go into the kitchen/break room and carefully rearrange the knife drawer so that all the sharp edges were facing up.

                  I when I informed Former Boss of this, she few;indeed, ”oh, don’t worry about it, she’s just doing that to get me in trouble.”

                2. Hannah Lee*

                  Is that colleague one of mythical people who puts razor blades in candy they hand out to children on Halloween, too?

                  Because Wow!

                3. Ace in the Hole*

                  Oh, definitely. I should have been more clear – I don’t think this particular person’s actions are safe. He’s leaving splinters, possibly damaging structural integrity of office furniture, leaving piles of shredded paper around (slip hazard!), and using a knife in a way that creates a risk of serious injury (forcefully stabbing the arm of a chair he’s sitting in).

                  I was only addressing the issue of whether furniture stabbing in general is automatically a safety violation – the safety issues are all the other things specific to the particular WAY he’s stabbing stuff.

              1. JustaTech*

                Yeah, I mean, we use blades in the lab frequently – more than I would like, and I regularly have to remind one coworker to put away or dispose of the razor blades (she prefers them for opening boxes, and now that someone has made off with all our box cutters I can’t super blame her).

                But those are still being used in a safe manner! And a work-needful manner! Not for stabbing things for funsies.

                1. Ace in the Hole*

                  Yeah, I don’t work in a lab but I do routinely use knives at work for all sorts of utility tasks. Including, sometimes, stabbing things to deliberately put holes in them.

                  But as you said that’s done in a safe manner for work purposes… not just for personal satisfaction. I don’t blame LW for being disturbed by this regardless of safety policy!

                2. EC*

                  Oh my god, what is up with the not disposing of razor blades! We had to bring it up in a meeting that people need to put them in the damn sharps bin, not leave them all over the lab.

                3. Quill*

                  Yeah, I have used scalpels, razor blades, and swiss army knives, not to mention bunsen burners and lighters, on the job.

                  When I’m not using them they’re safely stored!

            2. Princess Sparklepony*

              But he was fixing a pimple in the chair….

              I really wonder what is going on with the coworkers that this is ok. Is the guy in therapy for this all and everyone knows it and lets it slide?

          2. Quill*

            Working in a lab where we do keep some sharp knives and lighters around for legit scientific purposes: This is not lab safety approved!

            1. amoeba*

              Yup, and in general, people in a lab environment tend to be more safety-concious than others. (We have an actual “no knife policy” that’s completely bananapants because well, we can be trusted with toxic chemicals, high pressure, etc., but not with the equivalent of a kitchen knife? But hey, that’s still much preferable to this…)

        2. EC*

          That doesn’t actually mean anything. There’s not a forcefield that prevents people from bringing lighters into a lab. I saw someone mouth pipette the other day.

          This guy sound dangerously unhinged, so I’m not faulting the LW for feeling unsafe and disturbed by his clearly disturbing behavior. But, it could easily be an academic lab or hospital.

            1. EC*

              I was shocked. I heard warnings not to do it back in high school chem lab, and that was back in the mid 90s. Even then it hadn’t been standard practice for years (decades?). I couldn’t believe that I was seeing it in 2024.

              The guy doing it was in his late 40’s so its not like he trained when it was common practice.

              1. Orv*

                My experience is in any workplace with hazards there’s always a guy who revels in doing things the risky “old school” way. Often these are otherwise smart people — your Louis Slotin types. It seems to be a kind of machismo.

                1. Quill*

                  Mouth pipetting, not wearing gloves, and never requesting help for lifting stuff seem to be common expressions of machismo in labs.

                2. DyneinWalking*

                  Oof, that reminded me of one really notable example of that…
                  Search on wikipedia for “demon core” and read the bit titled “second incident”.

                  If you’re dealing with something radioactive that’s this close to criticality and, should it ever reach that, will instantly kill you (well, technically you’ll be walking around for a while after that, but you’ll be dead soon enough) – well, why would you want to bother yourself with boring safety precautions? When you can prop up the thing that would induce this life-endangering criticality with a simple screwdriver?

                3. JustaTech*

                  Oh man the macho guys in the lab – I had a boss (boss!) who would process blood in the biological safety cabinet with no lab coat and no gloves.

                  Like, yeah, it was mouse blood so unlikely to give him a disease, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t risking contaminating his samples!
                  He also gave me a hard time for wearing a lab coat until the time I said “Boss, I am up to my elbows in literal feces, I’m going to wear a coat.”

                  At least the only person I ever saw mouth pipetting was pipetting out, and not in.

            2. AngryOctopus*

              I learned the other day that mouth pipetting is approved for embryo selection in mice, and for obtaining fish sperm. We had to work the exceptions into our safety protocols!

          1. Nightengale*

            You know, when I was taught pipetting, in college in the 1990s, we were told firmly not to mouth pipette. But I don’t think mouth pipetting would ever have occurred to any of us if we hadn’t been told not to do it. It was sort of like the old “don’t put beans up your nose” story.

            On the other hand, my father always told a story from the 70s of taking JACHO around a hospital. JACHO is now the “Joint Commission” – the major accrediting body that looks at adherence to safety regulations, among other things. They got to the lab and immediately a fly landed on the end of a pipette. Without missing a beat, one of the lab workers said – and that’s why we don’t mouth pipette here! They talked for years about the “trained fly.”

      2. Nonanon*

        Labs have weirdos, but more along the lines of “needs all their reagent bottles to be purple,” not CHAIR THROWING AND STABBING.

        1. Selina Luna*

          Listen, I don’t NEED all my reagent bottles to be purple. It’s just a preference. I can stop any time I like.

          J/k. I’ve been “the office weirdo” before, but that was before Dungeons and Dragons was mainstream (it’s cool that it is mainstream now, by the way).

            1. Another Use of the Identify Spell*

              Tabitha only requires your full love and devotion! She would never ask you to carve up the desk so it is (wtf!) unsafe to type.

          1. EC*

            If you talk in a soothing supportive voice to the ultracentrifuge while regreasing the seal, it runs perfectly.

          2. CowWhisperer*

            In college, we gave a very elderly fluorescence instrument a soul.

            The ACS chapter had watched the Robin Williams remake of “Flubber” recently and well, one thing lead to another.

            The soul was a few Kim-wipes fashioned into a ghost with a neck tied with a bit of string teased out of a lab coat with a smiley face drawn on. The instrument thew the monochrometer arm 50% less with a soul – so anyone who lost the soul was required to reconstruct it.

            The professor thought we were nuts….

            1. Quill*

              I mean it probably needed more weight. Somehow.

              Also I used to have a sonicator that you had to smack in the correct spot or it made a horrible – more horrible – noise and didn’t actually sterilize the equipment.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        At my first firm, a senior partner chucked a stapler at an associate during lead-up to a trial. Old-school metal stapler, too, not the lightweight plastic ones if today. Not a sign of a functional work environment.

      4. Brisvegan*

        That would make sense.

        I knew of law firms back in the 1990’s in Australia where a partner pulling out a gun and threatening people was treated as “that’s just how he is”. Note this was in Australia, where we don’t have a gun culture and it would be VERY shocking to find out someone had a gun in the office.

        This was at more than one firm and involved more than one partner. One used to get drunk every Friday afternoon, threaten everyone with his gun and tell the whole firm they were fired. Everyone just came in on Mondays as if nothing had happened.

      5. Anon for this*

        Definitely sounds like academia to me. Way way too much is tolerated there…I’ve worked in departments with restraining orders between faculty, and where someone else fired a gun through a door, amongst other horrors

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      Bees with knives!

      Seriously, is Charlie’s last name Voorhees? WTAF? Plus, mass stabbings are apparently the new mass shootings and the LW’s entire workplace is willing to write off this behavior as “Just Charlie being Charlie, tee hee!”

      LW, you need to get out of there; I got some serious bad vibes from this letter.

    4. JSPA*

      I’m at least 50 / 50 that it’s plain old geek social fallacy, rather than stimming, tic, or other (semi) official accommodation. Lighter flickers were quite common back when a large percentage of the population smoked, but carving chairs and desks and declaring them “pimpled” is a new one on me.

      1. Joana*

        Even if it is tics or stimming, the ADA (assuming this takes place in the US) says “reasonable accommodations.” I’m pretty sure open flames and literally stabbing furniture to the point you make it dangerous (the desk example) or just make at least one coworker fear for their safety isn’t reasonable. It’s bananapants!

      2. JB*

        It’s not an either/or situation.

        The behavior as described is definitively stimming. (I’m not sure why Alison would think it’s a tic – maybe because some involuntary tics can feel violent to observers without context, but that’s because they’re loud and sudden, not because they involve toying with knives or lighters.) The fact that he gets up and paces around sometimes while doing it is a pretty strong indicator.

        But the fact that it’s a stim doesn’t make it acceptable. Nobody NEEDS to stim with a knife or a lighter. This would be a different (although still disruptive) matter if he were just shredding paper and picking apart furniture by hand, but he is choosing to use weapons to stim with and nobody has told him that he needs to stop.

        The second part is the real clue to the solution here. This workplace is fundamentally dysfunctional and OP needs to leave. There’s just no good outcome to being the only person in an office willing to say “hey, can this be a knife-free meeting?”

        1. JSPA*

          even if we posit that he needs to, and even if he’s actually a super genius that they’re determined to hold onto, nothing says he can

          a) do it among coworkers and
          b) do it to shared items and
          c) create fire hazards and unexpected sharp spikes.

          It sounds like he may have escalated from less-dangerous coping (or soothing or repetitive needs or whatever) mechanisms–maybe he used to stab pens into a foam block, or whatever–and everyone is going along with it because each step is not that much more problematic than the step before? But if so, a periodic reality check is in order.

          This is not about whether he’s a bad person (or even a scary person). It’s about revisiting and revising what constitutes both an adequate AND an acceptable accommodation.

    5. darsynia*

      I feel so bad for OP because while I am a confident, even outspoken person when necessary (especially when it comes to safety or other people’s comfort), I cannot picture myself speaking to Charlie about this myself, even if it would be completely normal to do so.

      I tried to think about what I would do, and one of the things I lit on was documenting the instances (with pictures of the destroyed equipment) of his aggressive behavior in hopes of bringing it up (somehow??? or in prep for retaliation if I did speak up????)– and that made me wonder if doing something like taking a picture of where I’d have to set my wrists on jagged material Charlie ruined might hint to other coworkers about how absolutely chock full of bees the situation was!

      Surely it wouldn’t make much difference but I love the idea of a tiny mirror being turned back onto the people in the situation so they can see that Charlie is indeed completely comprised of bees. From there though, GOSH, I have no idea. ACK.

    6. Ex-prof*

      Yes. I think LW should ask to be transferred back to whatever she was doing before.

    7. JB*

      It’s a red flag parade to make China envious. Unless Charlie is singlehandedly keeping the company afloat he and his “tics” needed to be addressed a long time ago before they were normalised.

    8. Your Oxford Comma*

      I hope this person sends an update. This is a level of lunacy (or loon-acy, if you will) that needs a follow-up. Yikes; stay safe, OP.

    9. allathian*

      Yeah, seriously. I just don’t get it why Charlie’s been allowed to charlie for so long.

  1. ZSD*

    This guy is the weirdest Missing Stair ever.
    I’d also be concerned that someday he’d beaver his way through a chair leg so thoroughly that the chair would collapse under someone, and they’d be injured.

    1. Ian R.*

      Forget missing stair, he’s a whole missing staircase, and everyone just uses a trampoline to get to and from the second floor instead.

      1. Baldrick*

        I was initially thinking that maybe this could be helped if Charlie is told to just whittle on pieces of wood that he brings himself, but a) “several of my coworkers have said very mean and inappropriate things about the person who reported John for yelling and throwing chairs” and b) he shreds paper all over the keyboard and leaves it for others to pick up (feels like an aggressive animal wanting to claim territory). The cutting of furniture and flicking a lighter is inappropriate, and it feels like something a teenage boy did for attention and he developed a bad habit. The combination of the retaliation and his tendency to want to damage work property makes this fairly unworkable for me if I were in the same situation. I don’t think this can be fixed, specifically I don’t think the manager will do anything to fix it.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Agreed. If the managers haven’t done anything about this by now, they aren’t going to.

          FWIW it doesn’t sound like Charlie is going to go off and stab someone, but what kind of bonkers work place doesn’t mind that he’s destroying office property? And what if one of his little fiery playthings starts an actual fire?

          This one has both bees AND flames on the side of my face.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            Flicking a lighter next to a pile of shredded paper: Next on “Completely Avoidable Workplace 5 Alarm Fires.”

          2. ampersand*

            It doesn’t *sound* like he’s going to stab anyone, but I did have the thought that this could escalate just by virtue of the fact that he’s already stabbing knives into things and management hasn’t stopped him.

            This reminds me of the Eddie Izzard bit where he’s making fun of people saying that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” by pointing out that the gun makes it a whole lot easier. i.e., someone with a knife seems more likely to stab a person than someone without a knife.

            I would probably skip talking to HR and find a way to leave ASAP. I wouldn’t trust an employer who is okay with someone playing with fire and knives during meetings and destroying property.

            1. Star Trek Nutcase*

              For 45 yrs working, I lived paycheck to paycheck as many do, and was sole support. Thus I tolerated lots of crap, BUT the first knife stabbing chair episode would have me not coming back from lunch. That *anyone* can pretend the likelihood of this turning into human injury is ridiculous. Charlie has not had any constraints or consequences so far, and the day he gets one could easily be the trigger. OP needs gone yesterday.

          3. Annie*

            How do you know he won’t go and stab someone? As a new employee, I would not be comfortable with that at all. I guess there’s no customer facing position here, which is good, but this can’t even be safe at all.

            Just, No. Tell HR and get out of there.

        2. Ah Hell No*

          Dear Staff: We regret to inform you that there will be no raises again this year because we have to replace all the furniture, trim, and doors. Again. We wish this were preventable and thank you for your dedication to BonkersCorp.

        3. Beth*

          Yeah, Charlie bringing in his own wood to whittle would resolve the property damage, but wouldn’t solve the part where 1) he’s bringing sharp knives to meetings with his coworkers, and 2) the team culture seems to prioritize weaponry and property damage over safety concerns, to the point that OP has good reason to fear retaliation if they complain. Both of those are pretty far out of line with professional norms, and the second tells me there isn’t an easy resolution. OP should make steps to move on.

          1. JSPA*

            Having been in a lab for decades… everyone almost certainly has access to razors, scalpels, needle-sharp dissecting tools and endless glassware. “It’s a blade” isn’t the scary part. “I (for whatever reason) have semi-uncontrolled stabbiness near my coworkers,” is.

            1. Beth*

              Sure, but you probably wouldn’t bring a scalpel into a random meeting room for a team sync, right? The semi-uncontrolled stabbiness near coworkers is definitely a problem, but even if Charlie were just bringing his utility knives into meetings and putting them on the table or holding them, that would still be a problem.

              Whether a sharp thing comes off as a weapon or a tool is contextual. A scalpel on a dissection table is a tool; on a conference table, where it has no business being, it’s more likely to come off as a weapon. And a utility knife is going to look like a weapon in either a lab or a meeting room (even though a utility knife in a landscaper’s kit is a tool). Anyone who works in a job with sharp tools should have good judgment around that line. Charlie does not.

              1. JSPA*

                Eh, we’ve jointly done a bit batch of [let’s say, onion root tip cuttings, for anonymity] during lab meeting. The [large pile of reasonably non-gross material to separate out with a scalpel] wasn’t going to cut itself, and time was pressing. Each person sat with an old-style glass petri dish on ice, and multiple collecting tubes, and there were shared tubs of dry ice in the middle of the table. Other than that, it was powerpoint and discussion as normal. Lab science norms and non-lab-science norms don’t always match up neatly.

                But my point isn’t that “whatever, goes.” It’s that “sharp objects are present” may not get the same reaction in a setting where even sharper objects are at everyone’s hand. It doesn’t change the core message, but it does shade the emphasis and delivery.

      2. AnonInCanada*

        Now I picturing that old video game Mappy, where you’re a mouse bouncing on trampolines to get from floor to floor. And none of these cats seem to care.

        Let’s hope Charlie’s missing staircase isn’t also the fire escape when he inevitably burns the place down.

    2. T.N.H*

      Right, what happens when the AC happens to blow and suddenly his little fire actually catches something? This feels like a when not if to me. How are the lighters and knives even allowed at work at all?

      1. Mad Harry Crewe*

        I mean, plenty of people carry a pocket knife or a multitool with a blade.

        Most of us have the good sense to keep them in our bags or pockets until they’re actually needed, which is almost never at work.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          Swiss Army knife manufacturers are actually going to take knives off the tool because of all the places knives are banned.

          Seriously, people complain about knitting at work, but this guy using knives as a fidget is YIKES. I think OP just needs to leave, though.

        2. Distracted Procrastinator*

          yes. I have had more than one job where knives were perfectly appropriate to have at work. They were used in the work and a necessary implement. But everyone who had a knife was a responsible adult!

          (As an aside, I did have an employer who banned knives on the work site. Everyone ignored the ban and brought knives to work anyway. Why? Because the employer was a multi national conglomerate that forgot their blanket rules included working farms. Farm workers need knives. Blanket rules tend to be ineffective rules.)

          1. Special Specialist*

            I bet at those places in your first paragraph there was special training associated with sharp edges and maybe even suggested or available PPE for working with knives.

            Even handing a knife to someone correctly takes training, as every Scout can tell you.

            I bet the insurance company for this organization would love to know about knife and fire play. And maybe their landlord too

            1. NotSoRecentlyRetired*

              I’m reminded of a question my brother used as part of an Eagle Scout test back in the ’70s. “How does a boy scout throw a knife?”
              He got several specific answers including how to hold the back of the knife and use the wrist, etc.

              The answer he was looking for?
              “HE DOESN’T! A Boy Scout doesn’t throw a knife!”

          2. Joana*

            I work in fast food and carrying knives is supposed to be banned, but yeah, several guys still have pocket knives or Swiss army knives. I only ever see them brought out to cut through the tape to open or break down a box because they don’t provide us with actual box cutters. Not a single coworker I’ve seen with a knife has ever just randomly taken it out and dug it into the wall!

        3. Elizabeth West*

          Many workplaces will not even allow you to bring a pocketknife in. Mine doesn’t. Although that might be a property management policy, I don’t know; we’re not the only company in this building. But most everywhere I’ve ever worked has a no-weapons policy. It’s mostly about guns, though I suppose knives could be included.

          1. Special Specialist*

            Knives are definitely included.
            And things like nunchucks and brass knuckles and Chinese throwing stars. But definitely guns and knives.

        4. Selina Luna*

          I have a small utility knife at work, and I work as a teacher. Mine stays locked in my desk unless I need it, though. I have it because my ability to cut with a knife along a straight guideline is much better than my ability to cut with scissors along that guideline, especially if I’m cutting plastic (laminated paper, static window covers, etc).

      2. Lenora Rose*

        One of the last people in the world I’d expect to go on a stabbing spree is the one friend of mine I am 100% sure has a multi-tool with blades on him at all times. Of course, one of his last jobs was in shipping receiving and the one before was electronics, so this says nothing about office norms. And lighters are if anything more ubiquitous; I never smoked and yet used to have one.

        But you should never see the tool unless a tool is needed. The really messed up part here is that this guy is allowed to flash his in any circumstance, and use it on objects in his vicinity, including the walls of the area where his coworkers are sitting. And that nobody asks him to clean up after himself or, y’know, not leave sharp edges where their wrists would rest.

        1. The Provisional Republic of A Thousand Eggs*

          ^^This. You should never see the tool unless the tool is needed.

          I’m in Finland, and I’m pretty sure that in all the office jobs I’ve had, I wasn’t the only person who had a puukko or a mora knife with them most or all of the time (probably a mora knife; they’re just as sturdy, but much cheaper, and also a lot less likely to be family heirlooms). In their bag/backpack, that is; not on their person, and certainly not openly. I’d expect to see an openly-carried mora knife on a handyman’s toolbelt, or possibly on a hunter’s belt. But very much not in an office setting.

          (I carry my mora knife in my backpack when I’m going downtown, because its blunt edge is really well suited for scraping racist stickers off lampposts and bus stops. But I digress.)

          We don’t have much in the way of violent crime here, though, and we have pretty strict gun laws, so I’m guessing companies and public spaces (libraries, whatever) don’t see any reason why they should bother making and posting rules about not having weapons on one’s person.

          But, wow, just the thought of someone pulling their knife (mora, pocket, multitool, whatever) in an office setting without a good reason (and I can’t think of any that would make sense other than “you’re a handyman here to fix something”) gives me chills. Especially the bit about him doing it all. The. Time on all sorts of things that, objectively, don’t need cutting or whittling at all.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, this. I’m also in Finland and lived on the southern coast for four years when I was in elementary school. I carried a knife on my belt (my grandpa’s old Scout knife, so a puukko rather than a mora) all summer between the ages of 8 and 11, as did most of my friends regardless of gender. I mostly used it to whittle bark boats out of thick pieces of pine tree bark, and ironically, to whittle bent branches into guns, it would never have occurred to me to hurt anyone with it.

            Certainly I’ve never seen any signs prohibiting guns etc. anywhere other than at the airport, the Olympic stadium in Helsinki and other sports and entertainment venues.

          2. Bromaa*

            I actually keep meaning to get a little mora for everyday carrying — I have an all purpose one I use for meat-related tasks that I keep sharp and love deeply. I would never dream of flashing any of my knives (all tools) unless they needed to be used.

      3. Malarkey01*

        Stop being dramatic. It’s not like there’s small pieces of shredded paper and wood shavings laying around for the AC to waft the fire towards……oh wait

    3. Nea*

      He’s already risking someone drawing blood when they brush against the desk he’s turned into a porcupine.

    4. Myrin*

      I was going to say literally the same two things, “beaver” comparison included. What the heck, man.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          Filled with OSHA violating missing staircases with bees plunging about carrying knives and lighters!

      1. How We Laughed*

        They’re missing a staircase because Charlie whittled it down into wood chips.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      When the missing stair becomes incarnate, stabbing the supporting surface until it vanishes.

      1. Rainy*

        One too many times slashing my palms on the cut-up workbench and I’d probably throw a chair too.

  2. Goldenrod*

    Um….no. Hard no to knives and fire at work!

    I agree with Alison’s advice, and also would like to add another suggestion: stop cleaning up his piles of shredded paper.

    1. Really Old Computer Fart*

      This. Immediately stop cleaning up his messes. That’s contributing to enabling him and reducing the impact of his behavior. Let everyone feel the results of his behavior.

      1. La Triviata*

        I wonder if the messes are a status/dominance thing – he’s making a mess but other people have to clean up after him.

        1. Special Specialist*

          To me it sounds like ADHD as a motivation but as Alison says – the motivation or diagnosis doesn’t matter. The behavior does. Allowing sharp knives in public and fire play during meetings and messes of combustible materials are not sustainable or reasonable accommodations for almost any diagnosis or motivation!

          1. Joana*

            I’d argue that there’s no “almost” about it. No matter what your diagnosis or lack-there-of, allowing bananapants behavior is not a reasonable accommodation in any sense of the word. When people actually fear for their safety, rather than the ableist “well why do THEY get special treatment?” argument, that’s when the line needs to be drawn!

        2. Tiger Snake*

          If nothing else, I think LW might; since she makes a point of saying the mess is left for whoever has the keyboard after him. That’s a body-language sort of message she’d probably be well placed to speak on other us.

    2. History Nerd*

      Alternatively, complain to the manager each time one of the piles of shredded paper prevents you from doing your work. This is a situation where it is perfectly reasonable to make it your manager’s issue every time, because it wouldn’t be a problem now if they actually dealt with it as they should have.

    3. Momma Bear*

      That or I would find a way to make it your boss’ problem. People sometimes don’t act until it affects them. Or start making resource requests like a new table when he’s mangled the one you both use. Stabbing things and playing with fire IN MEETINGS is not normal, no matter how normalized it’s become on that team. I’d report it and document everything in case they do retaliate. I was once part of a team where some of the behavior was admittedly questionable and they finally realized that if the team was going to grow, they had to rein in the frat boy behavior. I wonder the make up of this team Charlie is on, and if they just don’t see the problem because it doesn’t read the same way to them. Like, oh, bears in the woods.

      Charlie may produce good product but his behavior is not “quirky”. It’s not acceptable for a work environment, especially a lab.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        I’d bet money that the thinking around keeping this walking wasp nest (next level up from beehive) goes along the lines of “well, he does do good work and honestly, where else is he going to find a job?” Like parents who overcoddle their kid and end up having said kid in the basement because they feel like it’s their fault he never got around to becoming an adult.

        I work with someone who is also “quirky” (absolutely NOTHING like this, be assured, just odd) and the general unacknowledged feeling is there’s frankly no way he’s going to get a similarly paying position at his age and no one wants to feel responsible for leaving him stranded, especially after so many years of allowing him to “be himself.”

        1. Elizabeth West*

          no one wants to feel responsible for leaving him stranded

          I want to yell at both your and OP’s management, “If Quirky / Charlie can’t find a job after you fire him, THATS NOT YOUR PROBLEM”

    4. Anne Elliot*

      This was what I was going to say as well. Without touching on how odd or concerning his behavior is and risk having it minimized/dismissed, you can focus on how it inconveniences his coworkers or the company, and point out that the behavior is not acceptable for that reason alone. “It’s just Charlie being Charlie” cuts no ice when he is destroying equipment and/or making messes other people have to clean up. That said, it’s tough to reset expectations to “normal” when you’re dealing with a group of people who think carving the furniture/ripping the upholstery is for one second acceptable. So you may want to save your breath and start looking for a workplace that is less insane.

    5. kjinsea*

      As a therapist treating OCD, fire and knives are sometimes essential at work for me!

      But yeah, in most offie settings they are a no-no.

  3. blah*

    Like ZSD, I want to say this is a missing stair situation, but it almost sounds like the entire team is a missing stair!

    I’d start with Alison’s advice and get a feel of how others on your team actually feel about it, and I’d start documenting every time Charlie does this.

    1. Managing While Female*

      Yeah, when the whole team is a missing stair, it’s just a giant hole in the floor.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          With a deep, inhuman voice bellowing OH NO, DON’T SEND HIM DOWN HERE, FORGET IT.

      1. Jojo*

        And, the only reason there is a missing chair is because Charlie whittled it away during a meeting.

    2. KitKat*

      Yes. In addition to Alison’s advice, consider:

      1 – start documenting everything you can
      2 – make this other people’s problems wherever you can (refuse to clean up piles of paper, bother facilities for replacement/undamaged furniture, etc.)

      But, honestly. I’d probably just bounce. Try to get reassigned, apply to new jobs. This is so far out there it seems unlikely to be worth salvaging.

  4. L*

    Also, y’know, polish your resume and start seriously looking for another lab to work in. Because it doesn’t sound as though anyone else in this one actually cares that Charlie is unhinged.

    1. A Poster Has No Name*

      Yes. I know job hunting sucks and all, but this team has serious culture issues that are bigger than Charlie and unlikely to change any time soon.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        This. They speak fondly of a person who threw chairs, and disparagingly of the one who reported that person. I’ve been in many a lab with a “personality”, but mostly that was an overinflated ego, a penchant for trying to get on every publication somehow, or an extreme flair for being blatantly wrong about lab things. The most anyone did with a knife was open a can of soup when the can opener went AWOL and they had a swiss army knife in their bag. Nothing threatening.

    2. Annony*

      Yeah. HR may step in and get Charlie to stop but I doubt they will fix the culture that allowed Charlie to stab things for years.

      1. Princess Sparklepony*

        In a weird way, I don’t think they can get him to stop because they have allowed it for way too long. He won’t be able to do it even if it means he loses his job. It’s too ingrained in him.

    3. Bunny Girl*

      Yeah if someone pulled out a knife at work and started stabbing things, I would not work there anymore. I’d be cleared out and on Glassdoor singing like a canary. Labs can be homes for eccentric people – I work in a lab and I’m a little weird. But that doesn’t excuse violence, fires, and throwing chairs. Bounce before Charlie decides he is frustrated at someone instead of something.

      1. Quill*

        Weird in the lab generally means “knows too much about a subject” or “talks to the lab equipment” or “dresses like a cartoon character” not “a walking papershredder / mulcher that got hired, somehow.”

    4. Sweet 'N Low*

      Made another reply earlier along these lines but I want to reiterate it here: by choosing to normalize and ignore Charlie’s behavior, your workplace is telling you that they will not protect you from potentially dangerous people. Sure, maybe Charlie isn’t dangerous, but he’s acting like he is – and your workplace is doing nothing about it. What happens if someone comes along whose violent behavior *is* actually a warning sign of what’s to come? Their reaction will be the same. GTFO before that happens.

  5. HugeTractsofLand*

    You have landed amongst a team with extremely warped norms, and I reallllly hope it can be fixed by talking to HR or the boss, but sometimes a department gets this screwed up because the higher ups are equally negligent/screwed up. You are NOT wrong for being disturbed by all this, so please cling to your norms and get out of this department if they refuse to fix things. No one in their right mind (or with right norms) would begrudge you for feeling nervous that weapons are around.

    1. ferrina*

      Exactly this! LW, you are the normal one. Get thee to a normal job before this one warps you. This is a wonderful reason to leave a job!

      Interviewer: Why are you leaving your current job?
      LW: My coworker stabs furniture in the middle of meetings and everyone treats this as acceptable behavior. I am looking for a working environment where furniture is not stabbed.
      Interviewer: ….. um, I don’t think that will be an issue here.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yes, I would be kind of tempted to skip the sensible conversation about “this bugs me” and just say to your boss that *you’re* unconfortable with it but you recognise that you’re the outlier so it would make sense for you to move elsewhere I. The organisation, and could he support that. I just feel like this is the kind of thing that’s so embedded that a polite l, “I would rather not” seems warranted. If you don’t start the conversation that way, I would be extremely prepared for it to take that turn and I think it’s better not to find yourself at that point in the conversation *without* having prepared for it. BATNA and all that.

      1. Jellyfish Catcher*

        My call is that OP keep calm, keep her mouth shut and devote all energy to getting another job.

        If she reports him, it very likely could cause retaliation, including getting a good reference.

        1. YM*

          Yeah, honestly, I’m usually all for speaking up with the issue is reasonable but I highly disagree with the advice this time. OP, don’t say anything, just get a new job, holy crap

        2. bamcheeks*

          I would say that if she’d just started, but she says she’s been three years at this company. If that kind of internal movement is normal, I’d consider asking for my manager‘s support in another move. But it depends whether that would be outside the culture or normal.

    3. Peanut Hamper*

      This, all of this, allllllllllll of this. Get out, get out, get out, get out now. None of this is normal. None of this is even close to normal.

  6. Grumpy Elder Millennial*


    Dude is damaging company property, including in ways that risk injury to coworkers, and everyone’s like, “Oh, Charlie, such a jokester!”

    Will put a link to info on missing stairs in a reply, since it’s a relevant dynamic to understand.

      1. Bruce*

        Thanks for the link about “Missing Stair”! I was not clear on that reference. We had a similar case in a local bar recently, (not one I frequent, but I knew people who had). Finally the staff revolted…

  7. WorkplaceSurvivor*

    This sounds like such a “missing stair” situation.

    Be cautious handling this OP. Offices and people who allow stuff like that to go on while ignoring it can be very unreliable allies when you need to speak up. There’s a reason they’ve tolerated it for so long, even if that reason is just passivity. Good luck!

  8. pc*

    He’s not just a missing stair, your entire team might be one! I’d start documenting these incidents if/when you approach HR about this.

  9. CommanderBanana*

    I…..honestly don’t know what to say. I think this may be the strangest and most alarming reader question I’ve seen here, and that’s saying something.

    Honestly, if it were me, I’d get out. Something is deeply, deeply wrong with this workplace. The call is coming from inside the house, as it were.

    1. Beveled Edge*

      I have to agree. If this wasn’t such a longstanding situation that everyone else has adapted to, I might believe that AAM’s recommendations could work. But this is deeply troubling behavior that is deeply established from a highly reviewed team member. The only way I can see the LW sticking around is if they think they can adapt to it. I’d be worried that attempting to change it will go very badly for them. If the higher ups had the will and the power to eliminate knife play and property destruction, and overcome with the inevitable retaliation from the team, wouldn’t they have already fixed this?

      LW, may I recommend getting a styrofoam bumper for the ragged counter edges that you just carry around the office all the time, and start depositing all of Charlie’s piles of paper wherever he stores his personal property?

      1. Kevin Sours*

        The only scenario where this gets improved by reporting it to HR is if HR and senior management is so far out of the loop that they are completely unaware that this is going on (itself a problem) and are willing to bring the cleansing fire of God to bear to fix it. Because this is not a team that’s going to change because somebody make disapproving noises.

        Unfortunately I think the chance that HR doesn’t know and has the intestinal fortitude to take action is extremely low.

        1. ferrina*

          Exactly this. When a team thinks that throwing chairs is praise-worthy, this is seriously warped. This is beyond the normal Setting Expectations meeting; this team is very far gone. I’ve regularly had roles as a change agent, and frankly, I’d recommend a mass firing, keeping only a skeleton staff of the most sane staff (if there are any left). This is a situation where things are very much likely to get worse before they can get better, and the company may just prefer to keep the toxic status quo.

          LW, run, don’t walk.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      I honestly did not think Susan “stripper boobs” breast-pump oversharer was going to be out…er…stripped the same day, but here we are.

      1. Anonymous Demi ISFJ*

        Welcome back to WTF Wednesday, I guess!
        (Also props for word choice, goddessoftransitory.)

    3. Andy*

      Yes. It’s a funny setting on The Office but not in real life. It’s certainly not a hospital or government building. They have strict laws. A guy with a knife can unalive someone.

    4. Sophie*

      I can come off as confident and competent to the point of intimidation, and have absolutely no problem running my mouth if I feel justified to do so. I am also really sensitive to destructive people and would be visibly terrified in this situation. It’s so unsettling and weirdly violent, and I would love to know who the heck set the tone to just accept and normalize coworker’s behavior. I could see OP getting complaints for being obviously scared before dude gets complaints for knife and fire (!!!) shenanigans. Complete insanity.

  10. Bruce*

    My late wife had a relative who would pull out a knife and mess with it during important discussions, it was clear to me that it was intended to be a threat. The way the rest of the team normalizes this is nuts. Good luck but I’m not optimistic for positive change.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      The way OP describes this, it sounds a lot more like the behavior of various teenagers in my high school theater days back in the 90’s who thought it was cool to carry a zippo and play with it all the time and enjoyed having a pocket full of obscure and sometimes sharp technical theater gizmos on them to pull out and fidget with. Very immature, kind of enjoying the edginess of it, but not actually a danger to others.

      Still absolutely not okay in a work environment.

        1. Bruce*

          I was a knife obsessed pyromaniac teen, but I grew out of it. I do like my Milwaukee Fast Back box-cutter, when I have a good reason to use it I get a little thrill by how it just flips open with one hand. (In fact I have it right here, right now, I used it just yesterday and I’m putting it away… CLICK!). But there is a time and a place! Yikes!

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I should caveat: not an intentional danger to others. Still entirely possible for someone playing with knives to hurt others in their environment.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Very possible. An edgy theater kid I knew left an artist’s razor in a purse on the floor in a place where people commonly go barefoot. Happily when the inevitable happened I was wearing rubber soled sneakers so “I” just ruined her purse.

      2. metadata minion*

        Yeah, while I would also be deeply unsettled, from the way the LW describes it, this guy doesn’t actually read as threatening to me. He just seems to have no sense of personal or room safety and have weirdly dangerous fidgets. This is, I want to emphasize again, NOT OK, but it’s not ok in a weirdly different way than I was expecting from the title.

        1. dz*

          It does read as threatening to me. Abusive men will frequently destroy stuff in their homes before moving on to hurting their partners. Breaking something is a threat that “I could do that to you next time.”

      3. Myrin*

        Yeah, with the destruction-of-property and seeming compulsiveness I think Alison’s guess of this being some sort of tic might be the correct one but before I got to that part, I was reminded of several guys I knew who did the fidgeting-with-a-knife-and/or-lighter thing, although we were much younger then and not part of any workforce to speak of yet. For them, it was basically all edgelord-ness.
        Incredibly inappropriate either way, though.

      4. Rainy*

        Big “It’s Phoenix…Dark…Dirk…I was christened Phoenix…and then I changed it to Dirk Steel…” energy.

      5. Lily Rowan*

        That’s totally it.

        But you can’t, AT WORK, damage the furniture and leave messes around the office without consequence! Or, I guess he can, but he shouldn’t be able to.

          1. Quill*

            Very much a scene from the early 00’s for me… The opening chords of RENT play as someone in the background yells about stripped screws and someone else starts laughing because “you said stripping!”

      6. ferrina*

        I was that Edgy Theater Kid That Carried a Knife (and, um, yeah, it was the 90s). Even as a dumb teenager, I knew not to stab furniture. Shredding paper, sure. Pulling out knives in inappropriate situations, yeah, that happened. But never actually damaging furniture on purpose (unless there was a reason to break things, like we needed to fit the back drop in the dumpster).

        This is a whole different level of maladaptive. I would definitely be worried about danger- if a grown adult thinks this is acceptable, what else do they think is acceptable? Even if the initial act isn’t meant to be a threat, if this is how he expresses boredom or ennui, yeah, I would be worried about how he expresses anger.

      7. Zweisatz*

        Yeah that was my association. More explicitly his behavior reminds me of when I’m fiddling with something so that I can concentrate.
        The problem here is that nobody has intervened and clarified that 1) the objects cannot be sharp/dangerous 2) the objects cannot be on fire 3) the fiddling cannot include damaging company property and making the work environment for co-workers actively worse.

        Like if he was knitting or drawing pictures or clicking a pen that might still be distracting, but not as subconsciously worrying as this.

        1. Orv*

          Yeah, if that’s it he really should just get a fidget cube or something. But maybe that wouldn’t be manly enough.

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            It would be SO much better for everyone concerned he’d been redirected to fidget cubes 20 years ago. This behaviour sounds like deeply ingrained habit at this point – though obviously people have all kinds of deeply ingrained habits that are completely unacceptable in the workplace and this is a prime example!

      8. emmelemm*

        Didn’t Judd Nelson have a knife in The Breakfast Club and scratch at the desk? This showed how rebellious he was, of course.

  11. soontoberetired*

    These people put the Dys in Dysfunctional. Any sane place of work, this would have been shut down years ago. Flee, flee if you can.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Hard disagree. These people are putting the “what the fuck?” in Dysfunctional.

      Because seriously….what the fuck?

  12. Oolie*

    Just when I think AAM has reached the lowest possible depths of bananapants employee behavior, we discover another Marianna Trench.

  13. DramaQ*

    Run Forest run! Your lab and whatever company it is you works for are full of bees. The lighter thing alone in a lab should have gotten him immediately terminated because he’s creating a fire hazard IN A LAB. Which tend to be full of things that are very flammable and go boom. The fact that they are trash talking someone who reported a guy for throwing chairs, THROWING CHAIRS is your sign you work with sociopaths and to GFTO. Labs desperately need people right now, if your skills are sharp you will land somewhere normal. Labs can be full of people with quirks but a quirk is you talk to the lab mice when you are working (no they didn’t answer me!). Psychopathy is stabbing walls in front of your coworkers for fun.

    1. Kyrielle*

      I mean, the walls got stabbed while he walked around *outside* the conference cubicle in some cases, so also behind your coworkers…literally….

      OP, if you like the company and had a normal experience elsewhere, maybe try to find another internal spot if you want. But the best way of dealing with this lab is with a good pair of running shoes. (And I’d report this guy to HR on my way out!)

      1. Venus*

        There is a precedent where John was moved to another group, so talking with HR and asking for a transfer elsewhere might be the easiest option. Although in that case they moved the guy with anger issues rather than firing him! Yet it might be worth the conversation with HR.

        1. Jellyfish Catcher*

          Forget HR, OP. They clearly are not going to deal with this. Given the toxicity and support (wtf?) for this guy, he will learn that it’s you.

          Just hang in there while searching, until OTD (out. the. door.)
          When you announce that you’re going elsewhere, be excited, maybe say it fell in your lap but Never say the real reason – there’s an Entire Company ignoring this crazy behavior.

    2. kendall^2*

      If you read speculative fiction and would like some talking mice, however, I can recommend Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series!

    3. Nesprin*

      I was going to say, I’ve worked in a lot of different dysfunctional labs with a lot of people who were circling the drain and generating hazards on the way down. This takes the cake over everything I’ve ever heard of, including open 50 gallon drum of HF someone recently referenced here.

      You should quit immediately.

      1. Quill*

        … Well now that my soul has retreated in horror from the concept that anyone ever put 50 gal of HF in one place…

    4. zinzarin*

      There are a lot of different kinds of labs. I’ve spent nearly three decades working in a variety of Quality labs, which never have flammable substances around. We measure stuff. There are no chemicals involved.

      This isn’t in any way meant to excuse Charlie’s behavior. It would be and should be outside the norm in a Quality lab too. Just saying that “lab” doesn’t necessarily mean “fire hazard.”

        1. zinzarin*


          “Just saying that ‘lab’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘fire hazard to the degree that OSHA gets involved.”

  14. BeeKeeper*

    Get out get out. Immediate emergency job search. Stabbing chairs and walls is so far outside the real of normal and safe office behaviors. Your coworkers’ underreaction to this scary behavior tells you everything you need to know about this workplace. I am extra spooked that he laughed and made an anthropomorphizing comment about the chair when you asked why.

  15. B*

    By any chance, is your coworker Charlie Kelly and you work in an Irish pub in Philadelphia?

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Charlie at least has his wall of string art backing up his reasoning.

    2. Zona the Great*

      At least he has the decency to retreat to that weird corner of the attic before going completely Charlie.

  16. Blossom&Blot*

    I’d consider submitting reports on the damaged equipment to facilities/the equivalent since it sounds like he is making things dangerous to use; I can’t imagine the repair/replacement expenses would be appreciated. And for the messes, if you can catch him as he leaves a mess, very blandly say something like “excuse me but you have left some things behind” and pointedly stand aside until he makes the space usable.

    1. samwise*

      TBH, I would not say word one to Charlie about his messes. I’d be afraid that this was the trigger to send Charlie after a person.

      I would never be alone with Charlie, not ever. I would never sit or stand anywhere near him and his fire/knives, nor anywhere that he has a clear throwing or running path towards me.

      If your employer is large enough to have a security and/or safety officer, I would talk to that person asap.

      I don’t know if OSHA takes anonymous questions or complaints? (Because if I were the OP, I’d be afraid that an OSHA investigation would make me a target for office retaliation)

      And I would be job searching so hard….

    2. Lisa Simpson*

      If it’s a university lab, nothing in the lab can be replaced without the PI’s permission because it’s coming out of their budget. They’re not like normal offices where maintenance just makes sure chairs and tables magically appear when you put in a ticket. The furniture you get when you’re new has to last 30-40 years, unless you get a grant where you can justify the expense of new furniture (say, the grant covers two salaries, then you can use it to cover two desks and two chairs because it is assumed you’ll be adding two new employees.)

      1. basically functional*

        Most grants wouldn’t cover basic office furniture for staff. That would be included in facilities and administrative costs.

  17. Jenna Webster*

    I am so sorry this is happening – at most places, I would think he would have been fired immediately – I know he would at my workplace. His behavior is unsafe in the extreme and just scary to be around. Knives slip and fires grown – it’s what they do. I hope you do tell HR and/or your boss just how much this is affecting you and that it is creating an unsafe environment. I also just extend my sympathy that this is even a thing that hasn’t been dealt with by now.

  18. mango chiffon*

    my god this is terrifying.

    What kind of work are you doing at this workplace? By no means am I excusing this behavior, but does the field lend itself towards people who are non-confrontational? It seems like the whole office is fine with this for some bizarre reason, or at least they’re ignoring the behavior

    1. samwise*

      You’d be surprised how non-confrontational people are in all sorts of fields.

      I’m in higher ed (academic adjacent). We are not counselors or therapists, but we do get training on identifying people in crisis and people who may be dangerous, as well as what to do about these situations. I had a student who talked cheerfully about how they had [weapons] and would use [weapons] on their neighbor who was (they thought) a real a-hole. You better believe I reported that student, who was then trespassed from campus. And you would be surprised at how many of my colleagues were shocked that I reported the student and “deprived them of a chance to finish their degree”.

      1. Nel*

        I’m a teacher and some years ago, when my colleague across the hall was pregnant, a student threatened to stab her in the stomach. He was promptly expelled, at my colleague’s insistence.

        There were other teachers in the building whispering about how we need to be mindful not to contribute to the school to prison pipeline. As if it was colleague’s fault because she dared to demand a safe working environment for her unborn child.

        Workplace norms in education suck.

        1. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

          They 100% would have been singing a different tune if it was them that he threatened with stabbing. It’s always easy to moralize and virtue-signal about circumstances involving someone who’s not you.

    2. Ink*

      Given there’s a lab, you’d think there would at least be a strong tendency to not want someone LITERALLY PLAYING WITH FIRE. I don’t think we can apply any field-wide tendencies for this madness :/ I hope OP gets tf out with a quickness

    3. Good Enough For Government Work*

      TBH I think it’s just the Trunchbull Rule. Do something sufficiently bat-guano, nobody knows how to react.

  19. judyjudyjudy*

    I think it’s time to look for another job ASAP. It might be worth talking to your co-workers, Charlie (careful there!), your boss, HR, or some combination, just to see what happens, but this behavior is threatening and genuinely worrying and everyone seems to accept it — the situation might be too far gone for you to get the support you need to stop this inappropriate behavior. Best of luck.

  20. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    How is there nothing in the handbook about being weapons to work? A blade over three inches is considered a concealed weapon in my state. Yes, what people consider a utilitarian pocket knife will be considered a weapon. No. You cannot carry one around, much less bring it into my office.
    And open flames? Sure, cool trick, Ponyboy.

    1. Stuff*

      Most utilitarian pocket knives are under 3 inches, though? Specifically because of the laws in my state, generally knives are sold that are not legally defined as weapons. I carry one that’s 2 1/2 inches, and it’s average size for pocket knives I’m familiar with. I’m not pulling it out in meetings, cutting furniture, or brandishing it in front of my coworkers, though.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. My dad had an ancient pocket knife with a blade longer than 3 inches, but all the ones I’ve seen since then, mostly Swiss army and Leatherman, are shorter than that.

  21. Ashley*

    I am not sure why you switched teams, but is it possible to switch back? I really feel like there is a problem outside of just Charlie.

  22. kalli*

    It tends to be illegal to carry multiple knives/knives over a certain size blade without an excuse of necessity.

    Fidgets can fill the ‘I need something to do with my hands’ so multiple knives for that is not a necessity.

    Therefore, it’s entirely possible that Charlie’s actions are illegal. Serious enough for police action if the workplace doesn’t support it? Depends on the actual cop. Worth a shot? Absolutely.*

    *yes, even if Charlie is neurodivergent or some minority that doesn’t always get on with cops. Possession of an illegal weapon to the point where you feel unsafe overrides any need to make Charlie comfortable dealing with consequences.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Yeah, Charlie is making the coworker I had who fidgeted by flipping things, including scissors at times, look positively reasonable. (After a couple rounds of the scissors, someone had a firm word with him, and after that he stuck to flipping pencils and pens up in the air. Which is distracting, but not scary.)

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Yup. My sister was expelled from high school for having a garden variety pocketknife that was a half inch over the state limit (which she hadn’t even considered when she bought the pocketknife at Walmart) left in her car trunk in the school parking lot from a weekend camping trip.

      1. Leenie*

        I’m sorry that happened to your sister. That sounds like an extreme consequence, to an unreasonable extent. But point taken that possessing certain knives in certain places can be a crime.

    1. ThistlePig*

      I mean, box cutters/pocket knives are tools that can be used as weapons, but they aren’t inherently weapons. In MANY workplaces it’s the norm to have a knife on you, most people just don’t use them this way.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        We use sharp objects regularly at my job and this would have gotten him marched out after the first incident, because we’re not crazy here. (And we also have a nonprofit’s furniture budget.)

      2. Nesprin*

        It’s a lab. Depending on discipline, high probability that they have scalpels, box cutters, razors and all myriad of hazards on hand.

        That said, randomly stabbing furniture is a fire yesterday sort of thing, and if the group hasn’t done that there’s a high chance that other safety protocols are not being followed.

    2. Bella Ridley*

      In all seriousness, are there any white-collar workplaces that don’t have knives? Obviously this guy is all kinds of crazy but I would assume even office-type offices at some point need to open boxes or packaging? A knife is not inherently a weapon–again, here it’s clearly a threat, but “knife = weapon = weapons aren’t for the workplace” seems to be saying that a huge portion of workplaces aren’t….workplaces.

      1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        If I had my pocket knife and needed a weapon for some reason, I would pick something else. Like, a metal stapler. Or a lamp. I’d probably cut myself if I tried to use my pocket knife.

        A tool made for cutting cardboard boxes and bits of string is not a weapon and not designed to function efficiently as a weapon.

      2. metadata minion*

        Yeah, we have box cutters as well as scissors and the terrifying book guillotine thing in the preservation department. Plus knives in the break room (sharp ones, that is; we also have the standard table knives that you’d have to get really creative to actually hurt someone with).

      3. Kevin Sours*

        I guarantee you that at least on IT guy has a Leatherman with a locking blade.

        1. Orv*

          I used to carry one when I was doing cabling work — the blade was useful for cutting the sheathing.

          These days I rarely do cabling, so the Leatherman lives in my motorcycle cargo box as an emergency repair tool.

      4. Head sheep counter*

        They are forbade here. Finding even a cake knife is… sometimes impossible. I think many workplaces do not allow weapons. Its something I certainly check for before working in a given place.

        A swiss army knife with a small blade is probably something I could find around here.

  23. Andromeda*

    I might be fanficcing a bit here so apologies in advance. (This is not meant to be an excuse; please tell me to rein it in if necessary.)

    Does your team tend to value the “brilliant but outcast genius” type? I wonder if behaviours like Charlie’s and John’s are so normalised within the team because they are not seen as something that you do *in spite* of excellent work — the myth has penetrated so deep that inappropriate behaviour is rewarded as a sign of talent or intellect.

    Alternatively, is your team really insular? It could be that they enable Charlie’s behaviour because he is a member of the team, and interference from anyone outside the bubble is perceived as a threat. (Part of me wants to point out that violent behaviours are more often explained away when they come from men, but we have no way of knowing that LW didn’t change the gender of anyone involved.)

    LW, would it be possible to lean on the connections that you already have outside this team? You may decide that it’s best just to get out, but if you can be a “circuit breaker” by escalating this stuff and getting more outside eyes on the behaviour within the team you might be able to circumvent it.

    This reminds me of the letter where someone sadly died in her office and her former team were literally bullying out anyone new who joined the team or took “her” room.

    1. Ink*

      If they have good relationships outside the team, that could be a really good idea. If their old manager heard about this at the same time as the current one, that could make it harder to sweep under the rug, and so on. Especially if LW isn’t sure HR will help, or if they’re worried the current boss will try to make them seem crazy to prevent interference

    2. Lady_Lessa*

      I’ve been the person who called an alert about a co-worker’s behavior before. It had moved from quirky to scary. We worked together in an lab connected to production. We ended up having to let the man go. I found out later what he had said to our receptionist, and that was also odd scary.

  24. Dinwar*

    I’m going to be the odd one out here. I grew up in an area where everyone carried knives, and even in some professional settings seeing someone take out a knife or lighter and start doing something with it wouldn’t bother anyone in the least. Rural agricultural area; knives were just part of the fabric of society, and since a lot of people smoked (this was the 80s/90s) everyone had a lighter. Being in a field-based position for ten years only reinforced that; you meet some interesting people in the field, and knives and lighters are just another tool you need to do your job.

    If all he was doing was fiddling with a knife or a lighter, that’s not appreciably different to me than him fiddling with a pen. I’ve done the same when I was alone at home, not because I’m a deranged lunatic, but because I fidget and the knife happened to be something nearby. If I was on a jobsite and saw someone whittling a stick while I was talking to them it probably wouldn’t even register, unless it was a really neat knife or a really crappy one.

    There are two things that actually bother me about this.

    First, there’s the destruction of property. It’s one thing to fidget with something; it’s a whole other thing to use that thing to damage stuff your coworkers need. That’s beyond fidgeting, that’s actually damaging and needs to be addressed by management.

    Second, someone is uncomfortable and he’s not changing. If someone were uncomfortable with me having a knife out I’d put it away (and in fact keep something else on my desk to fidget with because I know my views on knives are not normal). At the point where a coworker is uncomfortable you need a compelling reason to continue doing something, and “I’ve always done it” or “Oh, that’s just [insert name here]” doesn’t rise to that level.

    Well, there’s a third: This is a lab. I know some labs (like geology labs) can be a bit messier than most people’s idea of a lab, but most of the time the stuff in a lab is there for a reason. You do NOT want to get that stuff inside you, and an accident with a knife is a great way to break the skin barrier.

    1. it’s gonna be bye bye bye*

      It seems more like poseur behavior than like someone actually familiar with tools for their own use’s sake. Someone who regularly actually uses knives probably wouldn’t dull them by using them like a toddler drawing all over the walls, and would actually respect the safety around knives and lighters. It makes him seem like the pathetic uncle in movies who’s obsessed with karate.

      Kind of like how people who actually regularly do heavy work use a minivan or small truck, but dudes cosplaying as manly get ridiculous huge trucks and use them for “work” maybe once a leap year.

      1. Dinwar*

        A valid point. The damage to property does indicate a pretty deep lack of respect. I’ll whittle with a knife if I’m on a campout or outside with the kids (my kids are learning to use knives as part of the Cub Scouts, so it’s a bonding thing), but I don’t recall ever using a knife to cut something while fidgeting with it inside. The folks I grew up with that would fidget with knives during conversations were usually doing something practical with them–cutting off strings on things, prying stuff, the sort of super-minor “I just saw that and need to take care of it before I forget it” task that wouldn’t interfere with conversations.

      2. Ink*

        I thought the same about the paper, not just the other property. I know it’s bad for sewing scissors, and can’t imagine anyone using knives for any reasonable purpose, instead of thinking ostentatiously sharpening them looks cool, would want to dull them on paper either.

        1. The OG Sleepless*

          My young adult son, who is somewhat neurodiverse, loves sharpening knives. It’s pretty handy when my kitchen knives start getting a bit dull. He tests the edges on pieces of paper. He has a workbench in the basement and there are bits of sharply cut paper everywhere around it. But goodness knows, he doesn’t walk around stabbing things.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        This. I know plenty of people who routinely carry knives but they don’t carve up their employer’s property with them, even if they’re in jobs where knives are actually used on a regular basis, which it doesn’t sound like this is if the victims are mostly “office furniture” and paper. If you actually need the knife to do a job, you don’t waste the blade edge on a desktop.

    2. Rainy*

      I carry a swiss army knife for much the same reason I think everyone should have a small folding shovel in their trunk: sometimes you need a specific tool, and only that tool will do. But really, the only reason anyone at work knows I have it is because they needed to open a box or something else that my knife will do better than whatever else is to hand, and I was around. I’m not waving it around, much less carving tabletops into cheese graters for my coworkers’ wrists!

    3. kalli*

      One knife. One. Probably a multitool or a very good purpose-specific knife.

      Charlie has *multiple knives at any one time*.

      1. Dinwar*

        Depending on what they’re doing in the lab, I would consider carrying multiple knives to be a fairly reasonable precaution, in the same way and for the same reason that having multiple pairs of shoes is a reasonable precaution.

        I have two that I carry routinely, both fairly robust single-edged locking pocket knives. One is for stuff that can be contaminated, and one is for everything else. There are a lot of operations in environmental remediation (such as cutting sample tubing) where a knife is useful or even necessary but where the knife may come into contact with hazardous materials. And you DO NOT want to use the knife that’s been in contact with methyl-ethyl-death to cut open packaging around your sandwich come lunchtime. I have the decontamination data saying it’s clean and I still don’t trust it.

        Given the methods I’ve seen people use to get around no-knife policies, a knife is safer–especially opening coolers to or from labs. I’ve seen people use scissors in ways that should have removed fingers (and did draw blood) because apparently that’s safer than a pocket knife. I’ve given three away to people on the grounds that if you’re going to use something sharp, it may as well be a tool designed for the work. I absolutely would expect someone in a lab that sends or receives samples to carry a knife, and if they’re doing anything with contaminated materials to have one dedicated to that purpose.

        1. zuzu*

          I would expect the lab to provide proper cutting tools, myself. Tools that are more suitable for the job than a pocket knife that’s been dulled by cutting up paper and contaminated by stabbing office furniture.

        2. judyjudyjudy*

          I work in a lab. We purchased a box cutter, which we use to open packages. We have other cutting implements for other lab tasks, including scissors and razor blades, for other tasks in the lab. I have never felt the need to carry or use a knife in the lab.

          But also, the issue at hand is not, “is it inappropriate for a coworker to carry several knives?” It’s the weird behavior! The furniture and wall stabbing sounds particularly off-putting.

      2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        My brothers carry two knives routinely. A clean one, for cutting apples and other food, and a dirty one, for cutting everything that isn’t food.

        I’m not saying Charlie is normal. He’s weird. But multiple knives isn’t.

    4. Ben*

      Yeah I agree with all this. I fidget with knives in my home office all the time. I DON’T take them out and stab chairs or cubicle walls with them either at home or in the office. I’ve worked in outdoors and blue collar jobs as well and although there’s a higher tolerance for playing with sharp toys there I wouldn’t expect anyone to carve up their company truck or turn supplies into a mess and leave scraps all over a work site. WTF.

      1. Paint N Drip*

        This. I’ve worked in several “rough” jobs (farming, motorcycle shop, etc.) and will admit my rural self is way more comfortable with sharp edges, fire, heavy tools than your average office worker. Yes blades and lighters and general non-office-safe stuff was going on, yes the conversations and personalities were perhaps NSFWCW (not safe for white collar work), but there was NEVER an acceptable level of ‘I was just messing around and now work stuff is destroyed’

    5. Hlao-roo*

      This is a good perspective. I grew up in the suburbs where most people did not (visibly) carry knives, so someone “fidgeting” with a knife (whittling a stick or similar) would stick out to me, but I wouldn’t think it was threatening. It would seem similar to someone tearing up paper with their fingers as a “fidget,” or using a small knife to cut up a snack. (Using a knife to tear up paper at work would seem extra to me, because … you have fingers?? But that’s just me.)

      I agree that it’s the destruction of property with a knife that’s unsettling, not the just the presence of the knives themselves.

      This letter reminded me of a similar “not an OK use of a knife at work” letter at Captain Awkward: #684: My boss brought a machete to a disciplinary meeting with staff. I’ll link in a follow-up comment.

        1. Sunshine's Eschatology*

          I clicked the link, and Alison actually showed up in that comment thread! Full circle!!

      1. DramaQ*

        I’ve seen guys fidget by cleaning the bottoms of their shoes with a pocket knife. Not really a big deal to me no different than doing it with a stick. I’ve seen people spin them on desks.

        Running into cubicle walls and stabbing them? Stabbing at desks to the point where it risks injury to your coworkers thanks to all the splinters?

        That’s not fidgeting. That is some sort of mental illness. Even if we try to sugar coat it as he is “neurospicy” it is never acceptable to create a hostile workplace. I shouldn’t have to look around the corner to make sure Charlie isn’t incoming with a knife to stab a wall so I don’t end up getting stabbed instead.

        In pretty much any lab you are not supposed to have ANY open fire source. That is why Bunsen burners have gone the way of the dodo. It’s a major OSHA violation that can get your lab shut down. I will say you can have one in your coat pocket/purse if you smoke during breaks but having it anywhere out in the lab should rightly get you frog marched out. That was part of lab safety training 101.

        The fact everyone writes it and the stabbing stuff off as “haha silly Charlie” would make me deeply concerned about what else do they disregard in terms of lab safety. And personal safety. Nobody should have to worry about a chair collapsing because Charlie whittled the legs to death, splinters from a shared work desk, being stabbed or having to put out a fire/ending up on fire themselves.

    6. anon24*

      Yeah, I actually worked in a job where many of us carried knives for legit work reasons (as tools, not weapons) and it was so very common to use them as “fidget toys” when having discussions. There was no threat implied or taken, if we were having a discussion, chances were at least one of us would be either flipping a knife open and shut or spinning a closed knife around in our hands.

      But we all practiced knife safety (I know it may not sound like it from my description), we weren’t destructive of business property or anything really, because you have to protect your blade, and if someone had said they were uncomfortable the knives would have gone away. Also, our workplace was not an office.

      This guy needs a fidget spinner.

    7. Irish Teacher.*

      Yeah, I am a complete fidget and can imagine fidgeting with a knife if I carried one (not a lighter because I’m terrified of fire, but other than that, yeah…) but if I realised I had a tendency to do things like damaging chairs, I’d take care not to have the knives with me so I couldn’t do that again.

    8. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “Something was common 30 years ago” isn’t generally speaking a justification, but it’s also not the point. This isn’t just fidgeting, and the culture has overall normalized what sounds like erratic behavior for the workplace.

    9. Blueberry Girl*

      Yeah, I have worked in pretty isolated rural places (like mining sites in Alaska where you fly out to get to them) and they had labs and yes, people had knives. Many people, including myself, fidgeted with their knives sometimes during long boring meetings. However, no one stabbed the furniture (at least not intentionally) and even there (where a pretty high level of “slightly odd” behavior was tolerated, because people working in isolation tend to get a little weird) I can not imagine folks being okay with the destruction of work property regularly, because getting decent furniture was hard enough without just letting people carve it up. I can imagine someone handing Charlie a piece of wood and being like- if you’re going to do that, at make yourself useful and make a spoon or something. (There were some accomplished carvers in that group.) Either way, in any other situation (ie: normal labs), this feels just strange and the OP isn’t weird for having concerns.

      1. Dinwar*

        I’m not saying they’re weird for having concerns. I’ve in fact admitted that I’m the weird one. I’m just saying, playing with knives isn’t as weird as some people tend to assume, nor is the action itself dangerous. I’m just saying I’d personally focus more on the “destroying property and being wildly inconsiderate” part than the “an adult has a knife” part.

        1. I&I*

          You’re right, probably, though how typical a knife is for this guy’s culture is also worth considering. But even if he was an outlier – well, if he was just whittling and sweeping up his own shavings I doubt the OP would have written in.

          This guy is going around the office trashing things like a cat clawing all the furnishings. It shows an incredible level of selfishness – and that’s not something you want in a colleague with a pocket full of weapons!

    10. Lily Rowan*

      I used to be a smoker, and had a Zippo in my 20s, and I’m pretty sure that habit of flicking it open/lit against your jeans and then closed was always annoying.

      For what that’s worth!

    11. metadata minion*

      If he were just fidgeting in the normal sort of way you’d fidget with a pen, that would be a bit out of the ordinary in my office, but wouldn’t bother me. If he were whittling, I would think that was nifty but kind of messy for the workplace. It’s the *stabbing furniture* that puts him completely over the edge.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. Damaging other people’s or your employer’s property on purpose is never acceptable unless it’s a genuine emergency like using enough force to open a door that you damage it to rescue people from a fire.

        At the very least, the employer should require Charlie to pay damages for the property he’s destroyed. If the property damage hurt his paycheck it might persuade him to stop. But generally speaking destroying company property on purpose should be a fireable offence.

    12. Hyaline*

      Yeah I would focus less on the “egads! Someone has a knife!” and more on the fact that he is destroying property and constantly screwing around with the knives during meetings and making messes for others to clean up. Carrying a knife is within the range of normal, depending on location, etc. The other stuff? Not ok.

    13. Gamer Girl*

      Yes to all of this. I know a few woodsmen/craftsmen/tradies, and they all carry knives and multitools and most fidget. The difference is in the way they fidget!

      A dear friend once asked if we had any corks lying around, and in an evening whittled and made a teeny tiny furniture set entirely out of corks and those wire things on the top of prosecco! Fascinating and adorable! My newborn was in the room sleeping the entire time, and I never gave the knife or whittling a second thought.

      Another friend was visiting, saw that we had a half finished ceiling light put up that we had royally effed up (again, new baby, too tired, etc). He saw it, asked if he could fix it for us, and then took it down, fixed the bracket, and put it back up for us, and filled the holes next to it! Totally acceptable wall/ceiling stabbing!

      I have a lovely colleague who carries a multi tool knife and is the first to rush to the rescue to tighten loose screws, tough packing tape, etc. He keeps it in a secure clip and only pulls it out when it’s needed. And, when I specifically asked him about it because Christmas was coming and I was looking for a present for someone who might like one, he pulled it out and unfolded the different tools, asked questions about what my relative typically does, and gave me a list of multitools to look into!

      All of these folks are kind, helpful, and totally non-threatening Mr. Fix-It types. None of them would sit around dulling blades by shredding piles of paper or destroying things.

      This behavior from Knife-Dude is so not that. I feel tense just reading it, and I’d be worried he would come after me for reporting him. Knife-Dude, in the lab, with the knife.

      I would get out asap and make an anonymous report to OSHA. Or, at the very least, make some kind of transfer to another lab where you won’t have to see or interact with him and THEN make the report.

    14. Whomst*

      Late to the party, but glad to see someone who has a similar perspective to me. Honestly, this guy reminds me a little bit of my dad – he works in a lab and uses knives and lighters as fidget toys. He grew up on a farm, and still lives in a rural area, so it’s not supposed to be threatening in any way, very much like you said. Here’s some big differences between my dad and this guy – my dad does NOT stab furniture, and he keeps a plastic 2 liter bottle to put the paper shreds in so that his shredding paper fidgeting is tidy. If anyone told him that playing with knives made them uncomfortable, he’d grumble about kids these days being soft, but he would stop. Being comfortable with dangerous tools doesn’t make people dangerous, but a disregard for other people’s stuff and not cleaning up after yourself makes you an ass.

  25. Rainy*

    I’m honestly flabbergasted by this. I feel so much concern and sympathy for the LW, because this is so far beyond what anyone expects or should expect to experience in the workplace that it’s hard to know where to start.

    The random outbursts of anger or frustration would be bad enough, but that they include actual violent action taken with the *multiple knives this person carries* is…well, consider my gast flabbered. I think I would be working to gtfo and also escalating this to HR or security or whoever handles risk assessment, because this is absolutely not normal or acceptable.

  26. KMFDM me*

    Knives and lighters were the Gen X fidget spinners, but this guy is taking it way too far.

    1. Nea*

      Gen X here to say that playing with knives and fire at the workplace has NEVER been an acceptable fidget substitute.

        1. Prorata*

          In my past life in the restaurant world, knives and fire were the foundations of my job.

          I sometimes miss them.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      This is what I was getting at with my comment above! There’s definitely a vibe I get from this letter that reminds me strongly of some people I knew in high school.

      1. Zap R.*

        Millennial here but I spent my childhood in various gifted programs. Knife Guy is a surprisingly common genre of guy in those situations.

      2. KMFDM me*

        Yeah, that’s the wavelength, all right. Damaging the furniture and lighting the lighter indoors would’ve gotten him bounced from any of the places I’ve been that tolerated knife or lighter fidgeting. Way beyond the pale.

    3. Nola*

      Yeah, if he‘s wearing a Metallica shirt and rambles on about Lemmy, he‘s one particular brand of guy I had to spend way too much time tolerating in the 90s.

    4. anon for this*

      Gen X here, and I for sure remember the Butterfly Knife Guys. There were like 3 or 4 of them on my bus, and they just sat in the back and practiced over and over at spinning those things.

      1. Orv*

        This brings back a memory of a kid I knew cutting the crap out of his hand when a rivet failed in his cheap butterfly knife and the blade came loose.

  27. it’s gonna be bye bye bye*

    With the scratched-up desk, you don’t even need to lead with how it got damaged (since everyone knows anyway), you can just matter-of-fairly be like “this needs to be replaced before I can use it. I can’t rest my wrists on this anymore.” Let them eat the budget if they want to indulge this.

    And at least with leaving bits of paper everywhere, you can be like, “Charlie, clean up after yourself”. You don’t have to lead with something that will make Charlie go “Oooh OP is afraid of knives”, you can just declaratively say, “Hey, don’t leave your trash here for us to clean up for you.”

    Really though, this is f’ing ridiculous.

  28. Dadjokesareforeveryone*

    OP, the reason you are feeling concerned and distressed by his behavior is, simply, that his behavior is concerning and distressing. stabbing and burning things to me is frightening behavior that I would run away from at top speed, and I hope you too can get out of there.

    1. Antigone Funn*

      Same! Fidgeting with a dangerous object is one thing, actually stabbing stuff is a whole other ballgame.

      I would not even try complaining, since you already know there’s no support. Sneak out like a ninja and never look back.

      1. All het up about it*

        Yes. I’m train wreck fascinated by this one for sure and am curious if the problem is with this Department or the Company. Like will HR really do something even?

        It’s all wild to me, but the image of him pacing out side the meeting cubicle randomly stabbing the walls and shouting answers is what has my eye twitching the most. That just seems like prime opportunity for a PERSON to get accidentally stabbed! No business should be okay with that risk!

  29. Sparkles McFadden*

    I’ve had a lot of off the wall coworkers, LW, so please listen when I tell you that this is the craziest thing I’ve heard of in an office situation and you need to get out of there. Yes, the destructive coworker who plays with knives and a lighter is a problem, but so is everyone else there who thinks Charlie is merely quirky. “Ha ha, yes, Charlie stabs all of the furniture” is not a sentence that would uttered by normal people. I mean “He really cares about his work and is a cheerful guy who just happens to sharpen his knife and stab things during meetings” is not a description of a great coworker, and you want to get out of that situation before you get warped enough by the environment to utter that sentence.

    You have been with the company for three years, so is there any chance you could approach your previous manager or someone you know to be sane to talk through this to plan out how to approach your current boss and HR…or see if there are openings in a non-crazy department?

    1. Antigone Funn*

      I wouldn’t even try elevating a complaint. They’re all nuts, who knows what kind of retaliation that would invite! Just leave as quickly and quietly as possible.

  30. Seeking Second Childhood*

    You may feel a relative newcomer at 3 months — but to HR you’ve been a reliable employee for 3 YEARS. Good enough to be promoted.

    Follow Alison’s suggestions for talking to Charlie & your mutual manager — and if nothing changes, go to HR. Tell them what you told Alison about seeing retaliatory comments from your team about the person who reported previous violent team member John.

    This behavior should stop — or you should be allowed to transfer to a different team away from Charlie. But if I were HR hearing that violent behavior has repeated, that retaliation is happening, and you’ve ASKED Charlie to stop, well, I’d see this as a systemic problem that requires serious intervention from management.

    If nothing else, the person who manages Charlie and managed John is doing a poor job of protecting company chairs.

    Please keep us updated!

  31. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Point 1: If somebody not named Charlie was just tearing paper up with his hands and leaving piles of scraps on shared equipment, somebody would say something to him about cleaning up after himself, right? Right?

    So why does the same activity, with a different tool, get a pass?

    If you can’t find a reasonable and logical explanation for that dichotomy, then you should get a different job.

    Point 2: Have you talked to your old coworkers about this? Are they aware that this team you are on is so out-of-the-ordinary? Do they know about Charlie?

  32. Irish Teacher.*

    My feeling is also that it could be some kind of tic or stim or fidget, but even then, Charlie does have the ability to control it by not bringing the knives to work. I am a terrible fidget and make a point of usually having something like a pen with me to fidget with so I don’t do anything like picking up other people’s stuff and fidgeting with it or tossing things in the air or whatever.

    I have students who fidget in ways that are not appropriate…nothing like this but stuff like swinging a heavyish curtain pull around and almost hitting other students with it or playing with a hole puncher and accidentally spilling all the paper in it and while I realise, being a fidget myself, that it isn’t intentional, I make it clear to them that while I don’t mind them fidgeting, it has to be appropriate and not anything that can hurt anybody else, damage anything or that makes so much noise it disrupts everybody else. I tell them to bring in something appropriate if they want or need to fidget.

    And none of those students brought in something inappropriate to fidget with. It was generally more about not consciously realising they needed a fidget and resorting to whatever was in the room. I would have been a lot more annoyed if they brought in something that could do damage, never mind knives.

    So in short, I very much agree that this is not a reasonable accommodation. Even if this isn’t intended to be disruptive or threatening or destructive, he is choosing to bring the knives in.

    1. AnonymousFormerTeacher*

      Agreed. I had a *lot* of students fidget. Heck, I fidget and bought a fidget ring to fidget with during meetings. I figured out I liked having a fidget after I had to confiscate a fidget from a student who kept flinging it across the room to distract a friend. Because, ya know, I was in the adult in the room who had to stop the 13 year olds from disrupting others’ learning or from stabbing each other with their pencils.

      It was my job as a teacher to confiscate fidgets being used inappropriately, and apparently, this manager also needs that in his job description!

  33. WellRed*

    Yeah no. We had some weird dude show up for our college paper camping overnight. He used his little jack knife to whittle down an entire tree sized log while the rest of us slept. And cooked all the eggs. No one was surprised when he got pulled out of school before the semester was over. Hope he got help.

  34. Nel*

    This man is dangerous and he wants everyone to know. Your safety is worth far, far more than any job– Get out. Like yesterday.

  35. Ann Onymous*

    It sounds to me like Charlie has what my family (full of ADHDers) refers to as “the busy hands” i.e. if something’s available to fidget with, he’s going to fidget with it. Ideally, Charlie needs something safer and less destructive to fidget with. That being said, I can definitely understand why you might not feel super comfortable saying something, OP. I wonder if there were fidget toys in the conference rooms and labs if Charlie would fidget with those instead of a knife?

    If you want to try it OP, or if others reading this have “the busy hands”, I’m a big fan of Fidget Toys Plus. Their website has a whole bunch of different fidget toys and even has a category of “quiet fidgets” if you’re looking for something office or classroom friendly.

    1. Nel*

      I have pretty severe ADHD and I find it hard to believe Charlie hasn’t heard of fidgets before. Furthermore, OP please don’t spend your own money providing toys for this guy. He presumably knows about popits and could purchase them if he wanted to. He hasn’t for a reason.

      1. Zap R.*

        Yeah, people with ADHD still know right from wrong. Wall Stabbing Guy just wants everyone to know that he has a knife.

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          Yup, I don’t have ADHD (at least as far as I know, but I am pretty sure on this one) but am a complete fidget (probably some other form of neurodivergent) and as I mentioned above, I do have the whole “busy hands” thing, but that means that if I find I am fidgeting with something I shouldn’t (usually something either breakable or likely to bother others, say by making a noise), I put it out of my immediate reach. This guy chose to continue bringing knives to work even after the first time he found himself stabbing a chair or whatever (assuming it is a subconscious thing)

    2. Nonsense*

      I have “busy hands.” At no point do my busy hands result in me stabbing a cubicle wall.

      You are doing a disservice to everyone dealing with physical tics by equating them to this man’s dangerous behavior.

      1. Nesprin*


        This understates the level of weird/dangerous Charlie is putting out and sure feels infantilizing to ADHDers. It’s 2024- the sort of person who stabs furniture is not unaware that silly putty and fidget spinners exist.

        1. Ann Onymous*

          Thanks everybody for calling me out, and much more kindly than I deserved. I really didn’t think this one through and I apologize sincerely for being offensive – that was not my intent, but that doesn’t make it in any way acceptable.

    3. metadata minion*

      There are so many, many objects he could fidget with that are not knives, and so many ways he could fidget without destroying property. This is like excusing him writing on the walls because he needs to doodle to concentrate. This is an adult, not a four year old; he has presumably encountered pencils and binder clips and pipettes and any number of other things he could be fidgeting with instead.

      1. strawberry milk charlotte*

        +++ As someone who has ADHD and doesn’t tell people about it because it’s STILL misunderstood and assumptions like this group me in with people whose behaviour is better explained as antisocial or just incorrect, no. He’s an adult who should know better, almost 100% certainly does know better, and is getting away with it for bees culture reasons. Charlie’s bizarre and kinda threatening knife fiddling habit doesn’t need to be addressed with a coworker bringing him fidget toys.

        (aside: Even if he were fidgeting with something less obviously WTF but still annoying for some reason it’s still kind of not cool to try and clock your coworkers as having ADHD and bring them toys. I love fidgets! I have a bunch at home. At work I’m never gonna be ‘out’ as having ADHD so if a coworker I wasn’t at all familiar with [which you wouldn’t be at 3 months] brought me a fidget out of the blue at work I’d really try to limit my interactions with them going forward. And worry what they were saying to everyone else.)

        If you can’t get this addressed above Charlie’s head in a really meaningful and non-retaliated-against way, definitely try getting back into a more normal department, or a less bees workplace completely.

        And try to keep a reasonably safe (about leg + arm + knife) minimum distance from Charlie in the meantime. That’s what I did in high school when a kid I knew with Charlie vibes started bringing in a butterfly knife.

  36. Wintermute*

    I feel like in cases like this the most important part, especially for harmony’s sake, is to be clear this is a personal boundary.

    We all, and you obviously, can have a private opinion of the man and of the people that tolerated this, but its usually more helpful to frame it as “I am not okay with this personally”

    I would absolutely not mention safety, unless your coworkers 110% agree with you, and their behavior indicates this is extremely unlikely, you are going to look hyperbolic and overly precious. They might make assumptions about you, because displays of and comfort around weaponry has become a political issue. There’s a distinct possibility that depending on the part of the country you are in, you would severely impact your reputation.

    I should be very clear, this is not normal and you should be able to freely say “holy banana crackers, this is so not okay you all have totally warped senses of normal.” But you catch more flies with honey. No one reacts well to being told their judgement was defective.

  37. CheesePlease*

    I will admit I have extreme bias but I used to work with an individual who carried a pocket knife on a lanyard around his neck. We worked in a manufacturing facility and it was never a big deal when he pulled it out to cut open wrapping on something while working etc. He had a bit of a temper but so did everyone else in the factory.

    Until one day he and his supervisor (a young woman 15 yrs younger than him) started having disagreements, it escalated and he misbehaved and got fired. Soon after, he would be seen waiting outside the gates some days claiming he was waiting for his sibling (who was employed at the same factory) and the knife around his neck was no longer just a quirk, it was very clearly a threat towards his former supervisor. She was escorted by security to her car for months.

    I simply no longer trust people who think actively carrying weapons at work is ok.

    1. Looper*

      All of this. I’m tired of those of us who choose not to CARRY WEAPONS with us everywhere we go like we live in the O.K. Corrall having to make excuses for violent weirdos who make everyone unsafe with their behavior. This jerk had this entire office on eggshells as he creates mess and destruction, with knives, everywhere he goes. I hate that the Charlies just can terrorize people to do whatever they want and some ding dong will be like “oh he just had ADHD!” while he literally is stabbing the walls.

    2. Kevin Sours*

      What kind of manufacturing floor lets you walk around with a lanyard? In most places that’s *an issue*.

  38. chart*

    You’ve been with this team for a few months but this org a few years? See right now, today, if you can get back on your old team, or a different team, any other team at all. While you’re doing that, update your resume, start applying. If you feel you can be honest with HR, tell them how unsafe this situation is for you and your entire team, and if they don’t take you seriously, get out of this company.

    I guess it’s good that when you were on your old team, you didn’t know this was going on, but if this company allows this, please please please, run.

  39. Zephy*

    There is no amount of money or prestige that could be attached to a job that would make me OK with a coworker like this.

    At the absolute best, this is a fidget/stim, and someone needs to make him trade in his knives and lighter for a spinner or some slime or something. If you just need something to do with your hands, they make stuff for that that doesn’t damage OTHER PEOPLE’S PROPERTY. There is no medical condition that requires someone to be allowed to STAB THE WALLS WITH A KNIFE (!) in order to manage it, so even if there is something vaguely ADA-flavored in play, this is not, cannot be, will never be a “reasonable accommodation.”

    At worst, this behavior is a threat. See also: an intimate partner that doesn’t hit *you*, but breaks things and puts holes in the wall to remind you he *could,* and he’s graciously choosing to direct his aggression at the wall instead of you. For now.

    1. ferrina*

      yes yes yes.

      This is not an acceptable accommodation in any way, shape or form. It’s truly bizarre that everyone is thinking “it’s totally not threatening that he likes to stab things!” Either it’s meant as a threat (as Zephy says, the implication of “look how controlled I am to NOT hit you, gosh, it would be terrible if something pushed me over the edge”), or this guy is so far removed from reality that I would be wary of what else he thinks is acceptable behavior.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      This! If he was stabbing holes and whittling down his kitchen counters in his apartment, he’d be booted and charged for repairs. If he did it in a store, he’d be arrested and escorted out and charged with property damage.

      If doing this in any other area of his life would result in court appearances and a record it’s not something that can be “reasonably accommodated.”

  40. Csethiro Ceredin*

    What is happening with the coworkers in the letters today??

    Boob Lady seems to have Main Character Syndrome, which at least one can recognize as a known thing. But Knife Dude is so bizarre I don’t even know what to think. The chair ‘had a pimple’ so he stabbed it? Don’t have pimples around this guy, I guess??

    I’m not an anxious person and this would make me very unsettled. But if they thought throwing chairs was a harmless quirk undeserving of firing, there might be no reasoning with these people.

  41. Pizza Rat*

    LW, is it possible to ask the person who reported the chair-thrower about their experience? It could let you know what you might be in for when you report a safety issue.

    I will also admit to some intense curiosity here.

    1. LunaLena*

      Yes, this was my first thought too: talk to the person who reported John to see why people see Charlie’s behavior as just a harmless quirk, because it seems like that person is the only sane person in this team. Maybe they think this is all nuts too, but after what happened with John, they are hesitant to call out Charlie as well.

    2. Random Name*

      Yes! The person who reported the chair-thrower would be a good person to talk with before doing anything.

  42. Ex-Teacher*

    As someone who likes (and carries daily) a knife and a lighter, this is absolutely unhinged behavior from Charlie. I’ll take out a knife at work when there’s an appropriate use for it (like opening a box), but to be stabbing furniture and walls?

    The people here have let this get out of hand. This behavior is not okay.

  43. Zap R.*

    As someone with tics, please believe me when I say that this is completely bananacrackers and Charlie needs to get it together.

  44. Charley*

    If you’re in a lab setting and you have EHS or an equivalent safety team, they may be able to intervene on some of this. (E.g., may lab uses ethanol and other flammables, so playing with a lighter would be a huge no-no.)

  45. Chirpy*


    I have no answers, because the Knife Guy at my work went completely un-dealt-with until he escalated to actual death threats against the store manager. Said manager completely brushed off all reports of the guy brandishing a knife in front of both coworkers and customers (among other things, like commenting on how he could kill people). This guy was the absolute creepiest person I’ve ever met and was finally fired after making death threats directly, and came back 6 months later to vandalize the building with more death threats.

    The manager was also fired shortly after, the police couldn’t prove the vandalism was the guy (but it was pretty obvious) so all they could do was a restraining order.

    So I guess I’m saying, get out before Knife Guy escalates, because my creepy coworker wasn’t stabbing objects yet!

  46. Festively Dressed Earl*

    LW asked Charlie “why are you doing that?”; they need to flat out ask Charlie to stop. “Dude, can you not play with the knife/leave shredded paper nests everywhere/tear up the furniture? It’s distracting/annoying/dangerous.” If Charlie was going to stab a person, it sounds like this team had plenty of candidates before LW came along.

  47. Angela Martin*

    If no one minds, I feel like a new colleague won’t have the gravitas to change this whacko culture

    1. Super Planner*

      Exactly. They would probably just get treated the same way the person who reported John did.

    2. ferrina*

      Yep. Generally teams that are set in their (chair-throwing, furniture-stabbing) ways don’t take it well when a newcomer tells them they need to change.

  48. Hashtag Destigmatize Therapy*

    No matter what Charlie’s deal is, it’s totally normal and expected for LW to feel afraid for their safety when he’s stabbing furniture with a knife at work. It really should be obvious that this isn’t okay. Maybe the idea that this isn’t okay is threatening to the other people who’ve convinced themselves that there’s nothing wrong.

    LW, this whole team gives me the heebie jeebies. My instinct would be to get out of there at the first opportunity.

  49. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    On a lighter note, bring him in a back of cheap ass rolls and ask him to slice them.

  50. Lark*

    This isn’t by chance a “company” that is a large research university and your “team” is a lab group, is it? You get a lot of very quirky people in academic labs and IME groups can get desensitized to odd behavior, maybe even to the point where unacceptably odd behavior doesn’t really register – people get used to something like “oh, Clara goes into the freezer and yells and pounds the wall when she’s frustrated and we found that John had been hanging out with friends in the lab at 2am because they were in the neighborhood” and then there’s slippage and pretty soon it’s normal for someone to throw chairs. This is doubly true if you have a bad lab manager or a toxic/absent PI.

    In any case – if this is a lab group, do you happen to have any kind of positive relationship with the program admin? Back in the day, if someone had stopped by my desk to talk about how they were unsettled by behavior from a lab member, I would have helped them figure out a good way to escalate the concern, and my familiarity with the lab and the department would have been a help.

    1. Nesprin*

      If this is a university lab, there are a TON of resources beyond the lab PI, ranging from:
      the Dept Dean (who should care that someone in his line management is this far off kilter),
      to other PI’s in the group who share space/grad students/resources (if a student/tech I know told me about this I would make many many calls)
      to the EHS group (who would 100% want to know if there’s a guy who stabs things floating around)
      to campus police & counseling office (who’d be happy to give you a safety briefing+ talk about restraining orders)
      to HR (who should call everyone else on this list if they’re even remotely awake at the wheel).

      1. Ama*

        Yeah if it’s a university lab I wouldn’t be surprised because I have worked adjacent to university labs for a long time as a research funder and researchers very often don’t talk to the administration unless they are forced to and the administration offices are so disconnected from the research facilities that they don’t know anything they aren’t told. (I have multiple times been the first one to inform a grant office that a grantee was taking a job elsewhere and taking their grant money with them.)

        Although the property damage just being shrugged off does make me wonder if it’s NOT a university lab — because if it’s a lab funded with grants the head of the lab would probably not want the entire office to get covered with stab marks in the event of a site inspection. (Unless, I suppose, it’s one of those lab heads who spends so much time traveling around giving talks that he is never actually in his lab.)

  51. She of Many Hats*

    LW – if you think leadership won’t act because it’s a darling quirk Charley has, then go for the safety & liability issues:

    Stabbing walls leads to the likelihood of damaging wiring or other infrastructure hidden by sheetrock which could lead to fires. Stabbing furniture is likely to cause injury to someone else if the furniture breaks or cuts someone especially if the lab has any hazardous or bio materials in it. What if Charley gets distracted and his aim is off with his knife and stabs another coworker? With the cut-up papers from his knives left around, his lighter flicking will likely produce an ember that falls onto one of his scraps. If there are any gases used in the lab, his open flames endangers not only himself but the lab, fellow coworkers and the whole building.

    And as you are working to extricate yourself from this group, while waiting for HR to act, get facilities in to do repairs on the furniture and walls he’s damaged. If the legal risk Charley is creating doesn’t get leadership attention, repair & replacement bills may create the needed change.

    But, seriously, get out of this team. You described Charley as “violently stabbing” a chair and stabbing walls. This isn’t popping a balloon where little intent or effort is needed. He is doing it deliberately in a manner to cause harm to those items. There is anger of some sort behind it.
    It does not take much imagination to hear “but he was always smiling” when he suddenly has some sort of “incident” in the workplace while armed.

    1. La Triviata*

      Also, when he’s cutting into the furniture, what happens with any wood chips? those could be another fire hazard and I would imagine that the cleaning crew has possibly complained. Most places – unless their furniture is very old and decrepit – would be concerned with damage to it (years ago, at a former bananapants job) some people thought it would be fun to “prank” a new employee who was older and very, very formal and set in his ways by locking his desk drawer and taking away the key. He responded by getting the handyman to chisel out the lock. There were repercussions.

  52. chewingle*

    What on earth? If the guy has a tic, give him a fucking fidget toy. Not a knife and a lighter.

  53. Bromaa*

    This reminded me VIVIDLY of one of my post-college roommates, who once stabbed my rice krispie treats with a pair of scissors. She didn’t even do it in front of me, and it was still one of the more unsettling experiences of my living-with-other-people career. I simply cannot imagine seeing this more than once without making a big, giant fuss re: my safety and the safety of all other objects and people in the lab. OP, you are already more used to this, and chill about it, than is a reasonable level of used-to and chill!

  54. Student*

    When I encountered a similar problem, the solution was two-fold.

    One, a fidget toy to provide a replacement to transfer off the bad behavior. There is a LOT going on here, but one thing that is probably real and concrete and one (but not the only) root of this behavior is a genuine behavioral need to fidget with the hands. You shouldn’t be responsible for providing this, but honestly you may find it’s easier to get him to try it if you give him one freebie, and they are pretty cheap.

    Two, explain the problem in plain and calm language. You need to sit him down, explain what “brandishing” means in the context of a weapon, explain that his behavior comes off as threatening when he brandishes a knife or a lighter. He’s got to knock it off. Look up your local laws, your work handbook, whatever you may have against threatening behavior. When I’ve encountered this, I’ve leaned on workplace rules, local laws, etc. to say this is not an acceptable thing to do – and here is the outside authority telling you no, not just me personally.

    The key to delivering #2 is to not indulge them in any bad-faith arguments about what is and isn’t brandishing or threatening. Set clear rules (even if you may not feel you have the authority to do so). If knife is out, knife needs to be in use for a work task – otherwise, knife is probably being brandished and should not be out. Weapons are not toys, they are tools – we must respect the tools. You don’t care whether he personally agree that brandishing a knife threatens people – tell him point blank that he is giving a bad impression. If at all possible, try to take the wind out of his sails by saying it seems immature and erratic, or angsty and too try-hard, things most people will not be proud of. You want to avoid calling him “intimidating” or “threatening”, if possible, because that may be the aesthetic he’s going for. Part of the point of addressing this calmly with him is to show him that he’s not actually intimidating you with his knife antics – even if you are afraid (no one blames you), you need to try to conceal that with a good poker face to help put an end to this particular brand of dumb machismo.

    The using-the-weapons-to-damage-stuff-and-leave-a-mess is not something I’ve had to deal with separately as an issue. When I dealt with a guy like this with a lighter who burned stuff, the core lighter intervention put a stop to the random minor burning events that were a consequence. The knife folks I intervened with were not cutting up paper stuff. If at all possible, I’d try to make him clean up after himself, to the point of dumping it on HIS workstation or keyboard or whatever, and making him fix things he damages. You may lack ability to do that. If so, your only options are (1) to hope that the interventions above stem his weapons use in the workplace (2) dump the problem squarely on the boss – “I can’t use this desk/chair/keyboard because of Charlie, obviously I need you to fix it or replace it” or, my favorite, (3) humiliate him until he stops or slows it down.

    I know it’s scary to think about humiliating somebody who’s playing with knives, but you will be surprised at how effective it can be. You might find that everyone will gleefully join in once you start, and it’ll hit him where it hurts the most. If he leaves shredded paper somewhere, bring it over to him when he is around other people (to make this public), drop it right in front of him, and tell him you found his latest doily and thought he’d want it back. If he’s stabbing walls, look at him, pat him heartily on the back and say, “That’s smart of you, Charlie, only picking fights you know you can win.” If he cuts furniture say, “You know, my dog does the same thing when he gets nervous – at least Charlie doesn’t piss on the furniture after he chews it up, I suppose.” You want it to be mean, to make Charlie look bad specifically by making him look small and not threatening, and to be public so that Charlie is constrained in what he can do in response to you and so that Charlie feels the sting of being made fun of more. The absolute key to doing this in a way that successfully mitigates Charlie’s behavior is to keep your calm, give an even delivery of the lines, and not freak out if/when Charlie gets more dramatic – you need to come off as tougher than Charlie, at least in Charlie’s view of the incident, in order to have this actually curb his behavior.

    I have done that humiliation trick successfully for folks brandishing guns and folks who do physically violent outbursts (punching objects), but not for knives/lighters. Knives make things a bit tricky, because things can go south real fast in a knife incident, so use your judgement about Charlie. Lighters are a lower risk (in most work places) so you should be fairly safe making fun of him playing with the lighter.

    1. Realist*

      You need to sit him down, explain what “brandishing” means in the context of a weapon, explain that his behavior comes off as threatening when he brandishes a knife or a lighter.

      This is well and good, but OP is not in any kind of supervisory position and has no authority over him. Moreover, those who *are* in such a position appear to have no problem with his behavior. The guy is well-liked, and the other team members are likely to insist his behavior is non-threatening.

      He’s going to ignore her.

      A complaint will not end well for OP, and she likely *will* face retaliation.

      She’s been at the organization for three years and probably has the capital to privately say, “this new position isn’t working out; can I transfer somewhere else”?

  55. Nea*

    OP – was it your choice to move to this team or did you get transferred? That distinction should weigh heavily on your choice to see if you can move within the company again or move right on out.

    Looking back at my own career, I was stuck in some really weird places with some really weird people because “you’re good at handling that” (read: was a woman who put up with a lot because I was scared to job hunt.) I put up with a lot of weird things and weird places without complaint because I thought I had to. Because I “needed that job” instead of just “needed a job.”

    If it was your decision to move to the new team, see if you can talk to your old boss about coming back in some capacity or can help you move again to a new team.

    If your company moved you to Knives Out Laboratories, start job hunting this minute and give this company an earful in your exit interview.

  56. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    Holy crap!
    How is everyone so certain Charlie won’t turn on a coworker someday?

    If he does, I’d expect serious consequences for the company, at least a swingeing fine from Health & Safety, maybe their insurance refusing to pay up.

    Even without such an attack, I’d expect it to be a serious cause of stress for some of his coworkers, including some who are pretending it’s ok.

    Since management just ignore this – maybe Charlie has influential friends – personally I’d not try to bring them in, just leave that job asap and report them to H&S on my way out. If I had to go on unemployment in the meantime, I’d explain why I had to run.

    1. pally*

      Yeah. There’s no mention of what Charlie does when he’s had a disagreement with someone.
      Maybe that’s because folks take pains to let him always have his way.

    2. ferrina*

      “But he seemed like such a good guy! Oh, the thing where he stabbed furniture? Yeah, sure, he regularly damaged office equipment with his knife, but it’s not like it was people.”

      Seriously this team has been wrapped in red so long that the red flags are just part of the ambiance. Run, OP.

  57. Prorata*

    Interesting workplace. There are days I’d say “sign me up”.

    I don’t have a problem with Charlie carrying knives – I carry “several” bladed implements – full-size Swiss Army Knife, small Swiss Army Knife, large Leatherman multi-tool, small Leatherman, Buck lock blade. What gets the most use at work – the SAK can opener. The Buck gets some use opening boxes of paper.

    I have a bit of a problem with Charlie honing knives during meetings, simply because it may be distracting, but, having said that, I don’t know that it is more distracting than someone knitting/crocheting across the conference table from me. I will be very honest, though – sharpening knives can be very relaxing…..but as far as I am concerned, it’s generally a workbench activity, not at a conference table during a business meeting.

    Stabbing furniture, flicking a lighter, and generally making a mess – that is a problem. I have a beef with damaging property, with creating a fire hazard, and with, for lack of a better word, littering in the office.

    Charlie needed to be reined in long ago, and it’ll be a tough task to do so now. That being said, if his performance is solid… may be worth managing his quirks.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      His behaviour goes way beyond “quirks” and far into “serious crime waiting to happen” territory.
      Charlie should be sacked immediately, but sounds like it’s the OP who’ll have to leave, asap.

    2. Zap R.*

      As I said up-thread, “There’s always a Knife Guy. Why is there always a Knife Guy?”

      1. Prorata*

        Because very often, “Knife Person” is the one you go to when the copier doesn’t work, the printer is jammed, the can opener in the breakroom is broken, or seventy-eleven boxes of whatever need to be opened. Because “Knife Person” was taught to use tools, how things work, and how to solve problems.

        BTW, I’ve known more than a few “Knife Girls” just as capable as the “Knife Guys”.

        1. Zap R.*

          Usually when the printer jams, I just reach in and remove the paper causing the jam but idk, you do you, dude.

        2. Irish Teacher.*

          I think people here are more using “Knife Guy” to mean “person who behaves inappropriately with knives” rather than “the person who carries a knife and uses it for its appropriate purpose and has a good knowledge of tools.”

          I really don’t think a “Knife Guy” of the Charlie-type is the person I’d go to in any of those cases, partly because I think I’d be a bit intimidated by him and partly because he doesn’t seem to have been taught how to use tools appropriately and asking him to open boxes would probably end in him cutting the cardboard to shreds and making a complete mess or cutting so that he damaged the contents or something.

          People who are good with tools are definitely an asset, but I don’t think they are really what people are referring to here, more the type of people who think knives are toys or worse, weapons and use them either for messing with or to make themselves look tough rather than using them for their intended purpose.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            Yes, Charlie is the opposite of anyone I would ask for help. More like “I would rather try to recruit randos off the street while giving Charlie a wide berth.”

        3. not nice, don't care*

          Children of any gender probably shouldn’t be capable with knives. And you may need to brush up on appropriate tool use vs inappropriate weapon-brandishing.

          1. Not Totally Subclinical*

            Children of any gender probably shouldn’t be capable with knives.

            Huh? Once they have the manual dexterity not to injure themselves and the comprehension to follow the safety rules, children of any gender should be learning to use the knives that adults in their environment use. There’s no reason why a twelve-year-old can’t chop vegetables for the family dinner.

            1. Random Name*

              I think they’re being snarky about the use of “girl” to presumably refer to an adult woman.

              But yeah, my 6 year old is showing an interest in cooking, so we’ve bought him a children’s knife set so he can safely cut things. It’s something that we do want to encourage.

              1. Bruce*

                Whittling was always big in Cub Scouts (which is co-ed these days), starting with around 2nd grade… and we supervised closely at first and always had band-aids around. And we needed them! Then when they went up to the Scout troop they got to learn about axes! And fire!

              2. Dahlia*

                “Woman” and “guy” aren’t the same level of word though. That would be “Knife Man”. If we’re using “Knife Guy” what’s the equivalent? “Knife Chick”? “Knife Gal”?

          2. Bromaa*

            My kid was capable with a knife by the time she was three (children’s training knife) and five (knife with edge, under supervision). We’re starting to consider her first pocket knife. In a farming and cooking household, knife safety is vital, and should be programmed in pretty much immediately.

        4. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

          I was often Ms Fixit, both for hardware & software, but I never used knives or other tools in a way that threatened people

          1. Billy Preston*

            Same here! I don’t carry knives around but I’m very handy. And I certainly never brandished any tools or knives in front of other people.

        5. Orv*

          I’m that person where I work, but the sharp tools stay in my toolbox in my desk drawer when they aren’t called for. I don’t carry them around and gratuitously display them to people.

    3. nekosan*

      As someone who has done knitting/crochet/spinning/needlework at the conference table – when i was asked to stop, I DID. IMMEDIATELY. I asked what other fiddling would be appropriate/acceptable, and switched entirely to that. (Origami and doodling, FWIW.)

      1. nekosan*

        P.S. – I did ask before I started “crafting” what was okay. At the time, what I was doing was okay. It changed later with different people. I was 100% fine with it – any reasonable person would be.

      2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        And your crafting may have been irritating to someone but it wasn’t threatening – as I presume you weren’t stabbing your needles into chairs or desks etc

  58. Snooks*

    Do not report him, or even complain to others in the lab! You already know that they mistreated the person who reported the chair thrower, and fear of a physical attack is reasonable. Just get out ASAP.

    1. Laser99*

      I dearly hope for an update, and soon. I’m worried about the LW. It’s so creepy how everyone acts like this is perfectly normal.

  59. Falling Diphthong*

    I can picture this as an office sitcom. The new person is being shown around, they ask about the stab marks covering the walls and furniture, and are told “Ah, that’s Charlie. Quirky guy!”

    Six months later, that newbie is showing the next new hire around. The stab marks everywhere? “Ah, that’s Charlie. Quirky guy!”

    1. MPerera*

      I was imagining a scenario too, just not as funny.

      “Someone was attacked yesterday? How awful. Who’s responsible?”
      “The security cameras show it’s Charlie.”
      “Oh, not Charlie! He’s such a nice person.”
      “He did it anyway.”
      “He must have been provoked.”
      “No, the victim didn’t do or say anything to him.”
      “Well, it’s probably not that serious.”
      “The victim is in critical condition.”
      “Poor Charlie, he must be feeling terrible about that…”

  60. #yikes*

    I guess I should be grateful I’m just annoyed by men being loudly political in my office….

    But who doesn’t see a problem with a possibly violent man with weapons in the workplace, in 2024?? Many someones need many reality checks in your office.

  61. Caz*

    I’m just going to sit here and be thankful that I’ve never had to have a conversation with anyone about being uncomfortable when things are ON FIRE NEAR ME WHILE AT WORK.

  62. Disco Janet*

    What in the actual F*** This kind of stuff is why I am glad I work from home.

  63. Raging Iron Thunder*

    Good God, I’d be calling the police on the guy for brandishing a weapon.

  64. Victor WembanLlama*

    You need to hire a Crocodile Dundee type to bring out a big Bowie knife and say “Charlie, that’s not a knife….THAT’s a knife..”

  65. ChemistryChick*

    Get out, get out, get out.

    That’s all I’ve got. This is not acceptable behavior.

  66. La Triviata*

    A non-work friend tends to wear Victorian style clothes. At one job she was asked please, during meetings, could she refrain from taking out her long hatpins and playing with them. She did, end of issue. But she’s sane.

  67. really anon*

    I would be filming Charlie and posting to social media if bosses/HR didn’t respond appropriately.

  68. Really Old Computer Fart*

    One more thing. The lighter you described sure sounds like a good old Zippo lighter, the kind with the liquid fluid fuel. Those things objective stink* and make toxic fumes. You shouldn’t have to put up with toxic fumes in your workplace. Maybe this argument will light a fire (heh) under the bosses and/or HR.
    *I like the smell because it reminds me of my grandfather…. but in small doses!

  69. PleaseNo*

    retaliation is a very understandable and rational thing to be afraid of in this situation. is there any way that you could alert management or HR anonymously? normally, to minimize retaliation you would approach one of those as a group, but since no one else seems to be concerned about this, you’re only option might be to try to be anonymous. or I wonder if there is an external agency who you might contact about this, something along the lines of OSHA?

  70. Abogado Avocado*

    LW, my family is full of hunters and working people whose trades (plumbing, electrical work, civil engineering) requires them to carry and use knives. But not one of my relatives randomly uses those knives to shred paper or damage furniture. Same with lighters. So, as countless others have pointed out here, Charlie’s behavior is way off for the workplace — and so is your team’s behavior for ignoring it.

    Talk to HR and whoever deals with OSHA safety. I can’t believe that a guy openly stabbing stuff with a knife and flicking flame in a lab (!!!) isn’t something they’d want to know about.

    1. BellyButton*

      I tease my BF that his very useful Leatherman is a “big cutty tool thingy” He would never do anything with it but its intended purpose.

  71. Rosyglasses*

    “I can’t focus while something is on fire next to me”

    Snort laughed dead. Best phrase today!

  72. Whoa Nelly*

    There is nothing to do except look for a new job, yesterday. No matter how much you LOVE this job. Their accommodation of Charlie will not change. It won’t. Start a full-on job search immediately. When you leave, do NOT tell them where you’re going. In fact, you could even say you are simply quitting, and nothing about even having a job. You do not want Charlie to hear about where you are working, or that you left because of him. He could retaliate violently.

  73. Sam Lee*

    This is not distracting, bizarre or quirky…This is dangerous. The issue is not that the culture in this place is unhinged (and it is), the issue is that Charlie is being violent and intimidating in the workplace and will likely escalate. This is threatening behaviour. This is not ok. OP, there is a person in your space wielding a dangerous weapon. Get out of there before he uses it on you or someone else. Good God.

  74. BellyButton*

    AAM helps me level set any odd behavior I have experienced. I have worked with odd and quirky people in my 20+ but nothing like this.

  75. 50% dad, 50% misfit*

    The only way you’ll solve this is to do even more outrageous things until they can’t ignore them and have to start writing policies

    I’d start with bringing a petrol chainsaw and a blowtorch to meetings, and casually chopping up pallets in the corner while they are talking.

  76. ialwaysforgetmyname*

    I feel like you dropped the ball on this one with a suggested softball response. NOTHING about the behavior described in this letter is OK and someone in charge at that company needs to resolve it immediately. Flashing and using knives at work is NOT OK. Stabbing things with those knives is NOT OK.

    1. nnn*

      What response did you read that said it was OK?

      AAM: “This is not OK. Here are some realistic ways that you can address it that are practical for most people.”

      One commenter, always: “How can you say this is OK?”

    2. Irish Teacher.*

      I think Alison was addressing what the LW could do. I totally agree with you that somebody in the company needs to resolve it immediately, but it sounds like that is off the table, like those in authority have no interest in dealing with it and the LW, especially being new to the department, has no authority to do anything to change that. So saying he needs to be stopped, while definitely true, isn’t really actionable for the LW.

      Honestly, I agree with all those who have said that all she can really do is get out, either by asking for a transfer to another department or by job-hunting. The issue isn’t just Charlie; it’s the whole culture and as others have said, even if Charlie isn’t a risk, they have shown how they are also likely to react if somebody threatens others directly or acts violently. Heck, they already have with the guy who chucked chairs.

    1. Annie*

      Even if that was the case, it wouldn’t excuse Charlie’s behavior, and it wouldn’t change the advice to Make. It. Stop. or Just. Get. Out. Whether it’s management taking away the knives and lighter and keeping them away, terminating Charlie, or the LW simply noping out.

    2. Dahlia*

      “Manifesting knives” is not actually a symptom of Tourette’s syndrome. It’s actually a choice to bring them to work.

      1. Zephy*

        But God, could you imagine if there were some kind of condition that caused an individual to manifest knives uncontrollably? Reach in your pocket? Knife. Reach between the couch cushions? Knife. What’s that in the back of the pantry? Knife! I just can’t stop having a knife!

    3. Irish Teacher.*

      I doubt that would explain it but even if it was the explanation, he is still choosing to bring the knives and lighter in. If somebody knows they have tics that cause them to start stabbing things, well, the responsible thing to do would be to not have knives to hand.

  77. buddleia*

    Holy missing stair Batman. House of Bees. Sick Systems.

    I’m so curious to know why he does this, when he started, has anyone ever talked to him about this and what happened, how was this allowed to slide for so long???

  78. Peanut Hamper*

    As a former teacher, this makes me really, really, uncomfortable.

    This is wrong on so many levels. I just have no words.

  79. I Have RBF*

    Oh. My. Goddess!

    I’m one of those people who always carries a pocket knife and a lighter. But I don’t randomly light stuff on fire, and I don’t pull out my knife to stab office furniture!! I don’t use my knife to shred paper and leave it lying around. I sometimes use my knife to cut fruit, a bagel, or tape on boxes, like a normal person.

    But stabbing things? At work? Oh, no, no. That’s a fast way to get any and all blades banned on the site, and even scissors required to be kiddie snub nosed stuff. A knife is a tool, it should not be used to destroy company property.

    I carry a pocket knife, but this guy would make me nervous with his irresponsible brandishing and violent actions. Sure, I’ll go outside and kick a wall if I’m upset. But actually damaging property? With a knife? That is several bridges too far.

    The fact that people just shrug and say “That’s just Charlie” is a total WTF to me, and I’ve worked in jobs that involved field work and tools.

    If you can’t get that shit to stop, I would suggest looking very hard for your next job. If nothing else, you can get cut by those plastic slivers at the edge of furniture he’s stabbed or sliced, and I would not appreciate that one bit.

  80. Flick This*

    LOLSOBBING at how many fucking times in my life I’ve been cautioned or outright disciplined for my “tone” or my resting bitch face or other non-problems as an assertive, professional woman. Meanwhile, some man is out there stabbing and destroying office furniture with multiple knives . . . in front of his employers . . . and everyone chalks it up to quirks. Wow.

    What a wonderful time to be alive. -_-

  81. TheBunny*

    I quit my last job due to a truly horrible boss. I thought I has it bad.

    Apparently not.

    I completely agree with Alison. While everyone may have gotten used to this, knives and fire shouldn’t be tossed around randomly at work…unless one works at a circus juggling flaming knives…and even then they wouldn’t be “random”.

    This is disturbing. If no one at the company is willing to do anything I would seriously consider asking to be in a different team or finding a new job. This is odd enough to be truly scary.

  82. Dancing Otter*

    You know, if someone was injured on the damaged edge of the computer desk, that would be a workman’s compensation claim. In some states (uncertain if ALL), it doesn’t matter if the injured party was negligent, violating safety protocol, or dumb as a box of rocks. If they were hurt at work, the company is liable.
    Wrists are a bad, bad place to get cut – so many blood vessels near the surface, tendons, not to mention the chance of infection. An emergency room visit *on the company dime* would be only prudent.
    Just saying….

  83. Fikly*

    Is anyone else reminded of the story that got posted on a AAM list years ago (I think of tales of bonkers coworkers?) from an office full of doctors whose scheduling requests got out of control, and so were sat down in a meeting and were informed they were no longer allowed custom schedule in terms of appointment types?

    And one obgyn stood up, threw her chair, then herself on the ground, and started screaming “I will not do pap smears on Tuesday afternoons!”

    I am still haunted by that. Frankly, I’d be terrified to have her give me a pap smear on a Tuesday afternoon.

  84. DJ Abbott*

    It sounds like the whole team is in a boiling frog situation. The water has been boiling for a while. I would get out as soon as possible.

  85. Lorna*

    There is no known universe where I’d have the courage to ask a (in my opinion) unhinged person to put away their knife. I’d be far to scared to get jabbed like the pimply office chair.
    Furthermore, there’s no way HR isn’t aware of this. I mean several people see this behaviour on a daily basis and not ONE at least said: Huh? Is this normal?

  86. jasmine*

    Wait wait wait

    I can sort of maybe understand the team laughing off the stabbing and the lighter, bonkers as that might be. They shouldn’t but I can see “it’s not hurting anyone!” But throwing chairs??? What if it, like, hit someone?

  87. Dee Dee*

    I think I would go old school and find a way to print this letter and ALL the comments and anonymously put it somewhere that people in your office would find it. See what kind of firestorm ensues. But I’d only do that if I was completely sure I could remain anonymous. I’d also be updating my resume and searching for a new job without stabbers and fire starters.

  88. Jules the 3rd*

    Buy Charlie some fidgit gadgets, talk to him privately, and ask if he could use those instead of the knife or lighter. My son has a $5 cube, or there’s some gear-based ones that look like not-kid ones.

    I have a good friend with tics / ocd, and one thing he’ll do (though not at work) is flip his knife open and closed. He’s a neurodivergent EMT, he’s focused on helping people not hurting. My husband got a knife as a gift last year, has started fidgeting with it, and says it’s been very helpful as a physical therapy tool for a hand injury he has. Also not at work, and also never going to hurt anyone.

    I would not be worried about Charlie. This is not about threatening or machismo, this is a guy who finds fidgeting with his hands reduces stress and for people over 30, we didn’t have a lot of choices for fidget toys growing up. Introduce Charlie to the new tools that have come into place for neurodivergent people, let him know the knife makes you nervous, he will probably switch.

    1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      Yeah, I grew up in an environment where playing with/marking the environment with knives strikes me as neither outrageous nor threatening, but it’s definitely self-limiting behavior for Charlie in the modern world as well as making LW upset, so having a word would be cool. But I’m less sanguine about him being willing to switch, habitual movements become quite ingrained. It’s not like I’ve stopped picking my cuticles now that I have a fidget cube, and cuticle-picking causes immediate negative feedback in the form of pain.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Yeah, there’s a chance he won’t want or be able to change, but at least this doesn’t assume he’s violent towards people, which is inconsistent with the team’s reaction to him.

        1. judyjudyjudy*

          So you don’t think this is a “missing stair” scenario? Plenty of social groups ignore bizarre or aggressive behaviors in others, but I don’t think that’s proof that someone will never be violent.

          Also, I understand why you brought up the examples of your friend and your husband — you wanted to point out that a knife can be *for the person using it* a neutral object for self-soothing. But it doesn’t make make it a neutral object for others, and perhaps at work, a professional should consider “time and place” for knife fidgets. If your friend was flicking his knife open and closed while talking to a patient, it is completely understandable in my view if that patient feels discomforted or fearful; the biggest heart in the world and the best intentions in the world don’t change the effect. Lastly, think the way your friend and your husband use knives is still miles from what Charlie is doing, because he is stabbing furniture and the walls.

      2. Irish Teacher.*

        I’d be very doubtful about him being willing to change and especially for a new employee who he probably wouldn’t see as having any authority to ask something of him. I am sure he knows himself that fidget toys exist but for some reason, he is choosing to bring in a knife to use as a fidget toy and continues to choose this even after he damaged walls and chairs.

        As somebody who fidgets a lot, if I damaged something with an automatic fidget, I would be very careful to make sure that item was not in reach for me to fidget with in the future.

        Add in the fact that I think a lot of people would be irritated if a new employee came in and handed them something and asked them to use it instead of what they did use. In this case, it’s an entirely reasonable request but it’s quite possible Charlie would think, “well, everybody else is OK with it so who is this new person to come in and start telling me to do things differently?” If he hasn’t the common sense to get something like a fidget toy or even a pen or something to use instead of stabbing things with a knife, I don’t think a suggestion from somebody he is likely to consider below him in the hierarchy will change his mind.

        And honestly, I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s and had no problem finding things to fidget with that didn’t do damage – elastic bands, the buttons on the shirt of my school uniform (my left cuff ended up black from handling, but it was only my own shirt I was doing harm to), pens, etc.

  89. Ess Ess*

    He’s leaving damages that actually injure coworkers, according to the letter. Sharp spikes where your rest your wrists. This is an HR issue — you can let them know that you are being injured as a result of the repeated vandalism!

  90. Colorado*

    This is f-ed up! I’ve read some AAM shit and this… this takes the cake. No advice but would love an update!

  91. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

    Given the level of entrenchment here, it might be like the proverbial marriage between Carlyle and Mrs. Carlyle – get out, and tell yourself how good it is that all the people who like this environment are in one place so you can be someplace else.

  92. A-A-ron*

    I’m sorry but, this guy is a LEGEND! Knives and Fire and no one cares. He gets awards! Just keep a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher on hand and let him live his best life.

  93. Gina*

    I’d be finding the nearest exit if I was LW. I’m in disbelief that no one on this team is bothered by a teammate playing with dangerous weapons during a meeting.

  94. Christine*

    This company is full of the kind of people who say, with a puzzled expression, “he was such a nice guy”, about the neighbor who kills his family, half the other neighbors, and himself.

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