Why Does a Creepy Co-Worker Keep Getting a Pass?

The magazine’s Ethicist columnist on how to handle an inappropriate employee who may be ‘on the spectrum’ and more .


Comments: 127

  1. Bottom line here in these kind of cases in general imo,

    If the behaviour is obviously hostile or worse, with some evidence, action should be taken quickly by the company with due process given to the offender.

    If the activity is more subtle or odd like in this case, with some evidence, the action taken by the company should be more measured and progressive but certain.

    If mental illness can be proved with due process, the offending employee should be put on disability leave.

  2. If a creeper is still on staff after egregious behavior, he is either indispensable or the leadership doesn't care. Neither bodes well for the future going of the concern.

    If the JD is a professional doctorate versus a research one, how does the field train researchers? Plenty of legit papers are published by MD's (vs only MD-PhD's). How do they do things?

  3. "Heads you win, tails I lose," or so the saying goes.

    One word in the Ethicist's response gets to the heart of the matter: "accommodate." Assuming this guy, I'll call him Joe, is not just an ordinary creep and indeed falls within the autism scale, he can not have it both ways, as he has it now. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, a statute well known to the Ethicist, Joe's employer must accommodate his disability if that disability falls within the act. That might mean, for example, giving Joe his own office so he is comfortable and does not have to put up with others. It can mean having less rigorous standards by which to judge Joe's work. The one thing "accommodate" does not mean is a license for Joe to engage in the behavior spelled out in Name Withheld's query to the Ethicist.

    To get the message to the employer goes beyond Name Withheld's pay grade. Name Withheld should see an attorney and have the attorney follow up with a lawyer's letter to the employer, with the promise of action beyond the letter if no action is taken to remedy the outrageous situation. Name Withheld should solicit her equally aggrieved co-workers to pitch in on the attorney's fee.

    If the employer has any sense, it shouldn't take more than the lawyer's letter for the employer to bring about an end to the problems with Joe's behavior that Name Withheld and her co-workers have been putting up with.

  4. An uncle had early-onset dementia. He was eventually diagnosed in his early 60s, but in retrospect, we can now point to some symptoms at least 10 years prior.
    A result of his degenerating state of mind was that he become more and more socially awkward, could intensely focus on individuals during his one-sided conversations, and couldn't accurately react to social cues. He was repeatedly warned, and then fired, at his job for harassment, after working there for 25 years.
    It was absolutely heartbreaking to see this amazing and accomplished family man vilified by his coworkers for something that was truly not his fault. However, I do believe his coworkers have the right to a harrassment-free workplace, and his firing was the unfortunate, but correct, course of action. This is one of those things in life that just isn't fair, there's no real villian, and it's just heartbreaking for the family. But we can't allow our feelings of sadness or pity to cloud our judgment so that others are affected. There's no good outcome to the letter writer's situation. It would be really sad to see this guy get fired, but it's worse to create an uncomfortable and harrassing work environment for other people.

  5. I think he is being harassed, discriminated against, and bullied. All involved should tread very carefully, as this is a lawsuit waiting to happen should he be terminated.

  6. To the first letter writer, I agree that your company should not be giving this guy a pass. But until they take action, you and your coworkers don't need to put up with his behavior. Women and girls are too often raised to be conciliatory and not offend or hurt people's feelings. However, after dealing with a similar situation at work, I learned you can be polite while also putting up clear and firm boundaries. Simply tell your coworker that he is interrupting your work and you don't want him stopping by your desk any more. Keep the message short, simple, and direct. Repeat it when needed. He will get the message pretty quickly, I bet. If he asks anyone out, they should simply say no, and not be ambiguous.
    While you shouldn't have to be in this position, you are. and I promise you--as a successful mid-career business woman--learning to be assertive and direct will serve you well in so many other situations in work and life. You and your coworkers won't get far in your career if you are worried about always being nice and not hurting feelings.

  7. I agree, the best way to handle this co-worker is to be absolutely unambiguous in your communication. You do not need to be rude, but you do need to be firm.

    Don't say 'Well, nice talking to you Chuck, but I really have to get to work now'. Say 'It's 9 o'clock and I have to get to work now Chuck', and turn away. Do this every time.

    Don't say 'No thanks, I can't go on a date, but I will see you at the company mixer'. Say, 'I have a boyfriend Chuck, I don't go on dates with other people'.

    As far as the phone calls go, say 'Chuck I overheard your conversation this afternoon. It interferes with my work. Please take phone calls on your cell out of the office in the future', thank you.'

    People who have trouble reading social cues need to have them explained to them very clearly, and have them repeated. It is all a mystery to them, and clear, unambiguous communication is necessary.

  8. I think it’s a dangerous, yet commonplace, habit to attribute all behavioral idiosyncrasies to ASD.

    Perhaps law journals need to carry a disclaimer that they are not peer-reviewed, since a student would just be a “peer-in-training”. There are far worse things happening in the publishing industry at the moment than this, but I think everyone would benefit from transparency regarding publication practices.

  9. What is the threshold between awkwardness and harassment? Unfortunately for the socially awkward among us, it is subject and is in the eye of the recipient.

    With the exception of asking out the intern, and the neighbor (who he left alone after being reprimanded), nothing suggests that he is guilty of harassment but rather as a total lack of social skills. We aren't given enough detail about the content of the conversations to say that it goes beyond that. Certainly not any detail that suggests he is making the workplace "unsafe"; uncomfortable and awkward, sure but is there a safety concern?

    What he does appear to be guilty of, however, is spending a lot of time not working. He also seems to lack a grasp of the limits of appropriateness for office conversation (while subjective, the framework is fairly simple). Both of these aught to warrant a reprimand on their own, regardless of the thoughts of the audience.

    Also, how is this man a supervisor? The way he is described, he seems more like a perpetual just-over-entry-level employee.

  10. A man (much less 30 years older) who repeatedly bothers multiple young female employees, doesn't have a lack of social skills. He has a history of repeated harassment.

    A lack of social skills is a common excuse in response to
    (in this case multiple) such complaints. The unspoken context is the women are not being tolerant and indulgent enough. and it's on them to put up with this and "be nice."

    If it were racist comments, it would not be tolerated or chalked up to "lack of social skills."
    He's been warned more than once. HR needs to address this more strongly and increase the potential consequences.

  11. I would take a harder line - he is definitely acting creepy. Telling someone whom you barely know you'll think of them every time you walk by their apartment, when you've already made your romantic interest clear and they are not interested? That's creepy - intrusive and threatening. Sending your phone number to someone who has said she doesn't want to go out with you? Also creepy. That is beyond lingering a bit too long chatting in someone's cubicle - which, in itself, is acceptable a couple of times but not beyond that. Autism spectrum, no, that is no excuse. He knows he's imposing. When women say NO, or do not respond with enthusiasm to your advances, autism is not an excuse to claim you don't get it.

  12. In the first letter, the guy asked an intern out, she said no, and he persisted. That's a problem, and HR should address it. (Of course, the policy then needs to be clear: either no supervisors asking people out, or no asking interns out, or no one asking anyone out. It's a little complicated.)

    The rest of it seems really awkward, but not within the purview of MeToo or TimesUp. It doesn't sound like he's harassing, unless there are some additional details being left out. (In other words, if a female co-worker talks a lot or has personal phone calls, it is just as annoying. Is he doing something more?)

  13. Law reviews have faculty advisors to serve as a resource for the editorial board. Complaints should go to the advisor. The letter-writer is correct-- using connections at the school does put unfair pressure on the student editors.

    Having been a student editor, I can at least offer this experience: we received many articles from many professors and practitioners. More than half were esoteric/inaccessible, or didn't meet the content and formatting requirements. An important editorial priority is ensuring that articles are useful to law students and new lawyers, who could learn from the article. Our editorial board always read every submission, and gave comments to the leading editors re: publish, not publish, or ask for revisions.

    If the article was inaccessible it could be: 1) sent back to the author with a request for simplification, 2) rejected, or 3) significantly edited at the expense of time to the student editors' studies and job searches, only for the author to (always) argue about every edit thereafter. #3 was not really worth the time. #1 was often met with indignation and refusal.

    Finally, law students, practitioners, and professors all have egos; conflict is part of our training, but time is also limited. Don't let ego get in what hopefully everyone can agree is the basic role of the profession: educating everyone toward better, more just decisions.

  14. The strange co-worker is wasting huge amounts of his own work time chatting to women and distracting them from their work. Why is that tolerated? How productive can he be during the day when he's doing this? Is he allowed to work at home to make up this lost time? Are the women he distracts allowed to work at home to make up the time?

    Time him and keep records of his behavior. Make your complaints about the time wasted more than anything else. Pass the suggestion on to new co-workers. Don't make it about him. Make it about the behavior.

    Tell new co-workers if anyone wastes their time repeatedly they should time the interruptions, make note of the distracting behaviors, and make a record of it to show managers and HR.

    As for taking the train and talking about walking pass the woman's apartment, that's the only thing that should be made personal and if it continues, talk to the managers about different work hours, perhaps starting a little early and leaving a few minutes early. The work place is the problem here. It gives the strange guy access and opportunity for this behavior.

    In all interactions with this man, be polite but strictly business. No laughing. No smiling. Don't ask questions. He won't take the hint like most guys but he may move on or back to work sooner.

    Yes, it's aggravating and time consuming but the above suggestions have worked.

  15. Letter # 1: What is considered to be "odd" is in the eye of the beholder. While there has been an influx of new employees, that shouldn't impact management's opinion of whether the older employee is "weird." He isn't breaking any laws or behaving in an "immoral" way. Moreover, he is amenable to guidance. Threatening to have him removed is excessive. Particularly if he is disabled and cannot find a job in the future. People with non-specific complaints about "creepy" behavior are the real problem here.

  16. @ Uncommon

    The "creepy guy" reminds me of a lifelong friend - socially awkward, seeks out relationships with much younger women, doesn't understand boundaries, friendly at first but increasingly intrusive, etc.

    For a long time he worked with a family member. Other than that he has never held a job for longer than 6 months.

    When his father required round the clock nurses at home, several of them quit because they were afraid of him. He would let himself in the house unexpectedly at all hours of the day or night because he liked to startle them. He would speak in languages other than English for days at a time. All the nurses spoke only English.

    On numerous occasions people (men and women) have requested that he not visit or call them. (I will take his calls and meet him but I have banned him from my house.) At least one church has asked him not to come back.

    While he does as requested, he draws no overall conclusion from it. He sees each of these situations as isolated incidents. It never seems to occur to him that he should change his behavior.

  17. There were several examples of specific creepy behavior in the post. Emailing someone your contact details after they rejected you and telling someone else who rejected you that you will think about them each time you pass their apartment aren't non-specific. They are quite blatantly creepy.

  18. The only thing that should be of concern here is this gentleman asking out one of the interns he supervises. That kind of behavior is prohibited pretty much everywhere for good reason.

    But the rest of this writer's complaints only serve to illustrate just how extreme the negative effects of the MeToo movement have become. Rather than empowering women, the far more common effect is that it has them reacting defensively and claiming victimization as a result of absolutely normal behavior. It is not, for instance, at all uncommon to think of someone when you pass by the apartment you know they live in, nor to actually - horror of horrors - mention that you thought of them. And as for being able to overhear his personal phone calls - so what? It's got nothing to do with you.

    There's no constitutional protection against being made to feel uncomfortable, nor should there be. But even more fundamentally, the very fact so many women have become so hypersensitized and reactive to clearly unthreatening behavior is extremely concerning. It's an unhealthy reaction and indicative of a dangerous collective narrative that is being adopted - that of every male as a predator and every female as a victim.

  19. This is not about "every male": its about one male, with multiple complaints.
    It's not about a friend commenting that they are thinking about you - it's about one male who is making inappropriate advances on multiple fellow employees and then states to one fathom that he knows where she lives.
    People- male, female, black, white - had a right to feel comfortable at work or anyplace else. That means respecting normal workplace boundaries, in this case.
    For far too long, women did not have the option to protest,without being fired. Each movement for equality is met with protest by a certain percentage:women voting, interracial marriage,antislavery, blacks getting fair mortgages, on and on.
    Generalizing to an entire movement, and raging against it is not the solution.

  20. I agree with Kristin. When my young employee felt overwhelmed because an older man at work invited her to lunch, I found a chance to meet with him. I explained how she felt and although his invitation may have been innocent, asked him not to invite her anymore. He understood. So glad this didn't have to be escalated to HR.

  21. Wonder if the creepy guy owns the company, has money to burn, and sees nothing wrong with what he is doing? Small company. Target is a mousy employee who says she does not like it but has done very well for herself, totally milked it: new office w/ window, light work load, and reduced "full-time" hours. It is a "special friendship" not a sexual affair, although there were romantic texts and emails initially. He is obviously in love and obsessed with this woman (half his age, married with children), monopolizes her "work" time talking in her office's doorway. All other employees are ignored in comparison. She does not appear to do anything to avoid him. She is not well liked in our office for obvious reasons. She is close to incompetent at her job and is not given many or very difficult assignments to work on, and is generally just viewed as a sort of sacred cow that is untouchable, like her job is to be the owner's special friend. Complaints have been made about this situation (including by her but she got scared into compliance with the "friendship.") It seems like all complaints have been ignored. See/hear/speak no evil. Everyone turns a blind eye. Pretend situation doesn't exist or that it is normal. Crazy working in this environment every day! Actionable? Sexual Harassment? Hostile work environment? Or, just your basic icky? I am interested in the Ethicist's opinion on this situation and what can and should be done about it, if anything.

  22. He is using his power to do as he likes. Because he has the power, it seems the other employees will have to put up with this or leave.

  23. 'Name withheld' is conflating this man's behavior with his age. Why mention it? Would his behavior be any more acceptable if he was in his 20s? He's hitting on interns 30 years his junior. And? The important thing is that he has influence over them, not that he's older. Check your ageism at the door.

  24. Great catch! After all, Mario would have no problem going out with a woman thirty years his senior.

  25. I think co-workers who rat colleagues out to HR for taking private or medical calls are bad people, wouldn't want those in my workplace. I understand that in the U.S. it is now almost illegal to "make women uncomfortable". But I see nothing harmful in this whole description, just some clumsy and unthreatening guy trying to get on with the ladies. He is easily avoided, it seems. What I don't understand is that damsel-in-distress self-identification of adult women who search for help, preferably some bureaucratic repression entity that can be triggered to "remove" the specimen, in order to deal with someone who "often says things in conversation that feel a little too personal". The horror. Now that's just sad and cowardly. Better leave this kind of insecure outrage people out of conversations altogether. They could already collect stuff on you to give to HR!

  26. Taking private calls — especially medical ones — in an open office environment is just rude. Period. Most places have conference rooms or other private areas that can be used for that purpose. Barring that, take them outside. There is enough drama in everyone’s life that they don’t need to be unwilling participants in someone else’s, and why would you want to discuss your personal business before an audience in the first place?

    “Trying to get on with the ladies”?! Seriously? It’s an office, not a pick-up joint.

    Ah, the lost art of office decorum...

  27. Well, one of my co-workers openly discusses his need for erectile dysfunction medication, and at least two other employees (one male and the other female) have heard him discussing his need for getting refills of this medication since he now has a much younger girlfriend.

    I have personally heard this person talking about his escapades with prostitutes when he travels to Latin America - he actually discussed this in an open cubicle setting with two other males employees who enthusiastically engaged with him in this conversation.

    No, I didn't "rat" him out for any of this, but it's really troubling to me that this kind of conduct appears to be ok in my workplace.

    Am I being a "damsel-in-distress" by being disgusted that I work with a guy who goes to Third World countries for sex tourism and then feels there's nothing wrong with regaling his co-workers in the workplace with stories about it?

    (Interestingly while the co-worker is a white guy, the other co-workers he discussed his "vacations" with are black and Hispanic)

  28. A workplace is not there to support men "trying to get it long with the (very much younger) ladies." The "ladies" are workers trying to do their job, not a captive audience for
    horny, lonely or sexist males.

    Bars; bars are where you can go for that.
    At that location, the women can freely leave, without being fired.

  29. The older male coworker is harassing interns, by showing sexual interest in them. This behavior should be reported to HR, with a
    immediate warning that either the behavior stops or his employment ends.

  30. The young ladies need to grow a collective spine. Don't engage with this man be firm in setting boundaries and if he persists complain as a group being sure to have concrete examples. Don't make the mistake of being "nice". Is he also inappropriate with men and longer term employees or is it truly a sex thing?

    Disability leave is not a solution to the problem it just postpones the problem. And companies don't like to pay for it.

  31. "The young ladies need to grow a collective spine....be firm in setting boundaries ...."

    Whenever a man misbehaves, it's always the women's fault. The women are expected to correct the man's behavior. Why are men never responsible for their own bad behavior?

    " Is he also inappropriate with men and longer term employees or is it truly a sex thing?"

    If he were inappropriate with men, this would have been dealt with long ago. Only women are expected to be "nice" and "understanding" of someone who is "socially awkward."

  32. I wouldn't classify the guys behavior as "creepy" but merely awkward although I'm aware young women use that word very liberally these days.

    My best guess is that his awkwardness doesn't come across as threatening to anyone else in the office who is male or perhaps an older female. The creepiness factor certainly is subjective.

  33. Learning where someone lives without them telling you and then telling them that you'll think of them as you go past is creepiness exemplified. Creepiness is the inability recognize social norms in a way that forces a person to be on guard in nonstandard ways. Perhaps some creepy people are just extremely awkward, but many have the self-awareness to pick their targets. It seems likely that this particular man would not seem creepy to the male employees simply because he knows to act better around them.

  34. LW#1: He is making money for someone, or he is someone's friend/relative. Until his protector leaves, there is little hope for improvement.

  35. My advice to men is to only speak to women in their own generation or older. You'll be more successful, your life better, and the conversations more interesting.

    Resist the urge to note the double standard of middle aged women who can freely loudly cackle about how hot the waiter, fireman, etc. are.

    Ponder instead why the overwhelming percentage of violent acts are caused by men, and give thought to a solution. Half the population would really benefit from it.

  36. "Unsafe?" Nothing described here rises to the level of being unsafe. Creepy, yes, Socially awkward, sure. But this doesn't rise to the level of being something that could lead to dismissal. If it were otherwise, every workplace would be like "Survivor" where the majority can vote people off the island for violating ever-changing social norms. More broadly, this complaint is what is driving the #MeToo movement--everything remotely "icky" becomes an actionable offense whether provable or not. Example--the non-existent pay "disparity" which vanishes when like employees with similar educational backgrounds at equivalent levels of seniority are compared the disparity vanishes according to a recent article in the Economist and Towers-Perrin. Unsafe? Please...

  37. As someone who had been stalked by 2 different men, 1 stranger, 1 client. You never know who could be that trigger for some men. It’s not ridiculous to worry about the safety of these women on some level.

  38. Gee. I can't begin to count the number of offensive behavior incidents I've experienced, both at work and in public.

    The creepy guy obviously can't take "no" for an answer. Thankfully, I suspect his days are numbered, as they should be.

  39. I'd be interested in the Economist article; in a brief search I couldn't find any that described what you wrote about inexistent pay disparity. I know for a fact that a couple of years back, a male colleague of my wife was making 50% than her; this while she was netting more business for the organization, was volunteering more, and made with experience for less seniority on the job; all this was in an organization run by women.

  40. Creepy guy: Either he is isolated, completely, at work, OR he must be
    " let go ". This is an abject failure of the management and HR, and ongoing. Document everything, if you're made the scapegoat, SUE. And start looking elsewhere. Quietly.

  41. The subject of the gossip has a far, far stronger legal case, if he does indeed have a disability, and is of a certain age.

  42. Much of this so-called "creepiness" sounds suspiciously like the baseless and ageist anxieties of an inexperienced youth, steeped in victimhood culture, who has been on the lookout for a #MeToo story of her own to complain about in print. There's a term for encountering humans who are not of your exact generation and personality: "life." The writer would be better served by investing in a pair of headphones and divesting herself of all the busybody office gossip.

  43. Asking out an intern is not "creepiness," it is straight-out creepiness, and it needs to be addressed by HR. End of discussion.

  44. This guy persistently hits on interns, who aren't interested. He persistently makes personal calls in an open office space. He is a persistent problem, and HR should shut him down. Period.

  45. You call being intruded on repeatedly in your work place and distracted from that work "life"? I call it unacceptable behavior, and certainly being an older male supervisor does not excuse the fellow doing so to these women. Your sneers that it's their own fault, that the older male supervisor is to cause them to wear headphones at work--well, it's an attitude of such indulgence of the intruder as to be bizarre. You might suggest a little acceptance of adult responsibility to him, how about that?

  46. The first letter is a gender-based Rohrshach test: either you find it innocuous or it must immediately be stopped. I can't help but notice the majority of responders who find this to be acceptable behavior in the "Comments" section have male names while most responders who object to this have female names. I was physically disabled as a child and had massive difficulty finding employment--as a result, I had to become extremely resilient. There are greater problems affecting large swathes of the working public. Keeping young women feeling "safe" (whatever that means) doesn't rise to the level.

  47. So sorry but no - keeping young women feeling safe DOES matter. I object most strongly to your dismissal. I am glad you are resilient but you should be wishing the same for others, not telling them to shut up because of whatever you went through. And "whatever that means"? How cruel. To some of us, it meant rape. That's what it meant. More than one of the "young women" you dismiss is definitely a rape victim and that's why she's concerned to "feel safe" when someone is giving off stalkerish vibes. Ask me how I know. The "creepy guy" could be just a bit odd and awkward - that's possible - or he could be a predator. Or he could be one of these "incels" who feels women owe him something. WOMEN DO NEED TO FEEL SAFE.

  48. The Talker is a common character in the workplace. Stop making excuses for this man, whether he is "on the spectrum" has nothing to do with you and you don't have to make allowances for his supposed illness. If he has a disability, it is up to him to manage it properly and not infringe on his coworkers. Good for you in cutting off his excessive talk. As for his inappropriate calls, wear headphones so you don't have to hear what he's saying.

    You should bow out of the nonconstructive conversations with your female coworkers about this man. You have found a way to deal with him effectively but the others have not and you can't solve other people's issues at work, anywhere really.

  49. It is not up to the letter writer to wear headphones in order to be able to do her job properly. That is victim-blaming.

  50. @Lynn: If I took your advice, I’d be wearing headphones from the time I got in until the time I left. How about co-workers showing consideration and respect for each other? Nobody wants to hear about other people’s medical woes, family issues, fights with repairmen...the list goes on, all of which, by the way,I have been an unwilling party to.

    Someone PLEASE explain to this obviously clueless person (me) why taking personal calls in an open office environment is okay.

  51. 'The Talker is a common character in the workplace. Stop making excuses for this man, whether he is "on the spectrum" has nothing to do with you and you don't have to make allowances for his supposed illness.'

    Well , yes, you do. Or are you someone you elbows a man on crutches out of your way?

  52. LW 1: Be careful, the only experience that matters is yours; all others are secondhand or hearsay. When do you find the time to gather this info about the other ladies? Work towards resolving your issue, your experiences, not others. You do not want to be known as the office busybody.

  53. I disagree that SHE needs to be careful. A number of people are complaining about this guy, yet you say the onus is on HER to "be careful"? Why? True that we should avoid "gossip", but there are multiple similar complaints about this guy. In the past, women as a group have not been empowered; this new sharing of info is actually helpful, rather than each individual woman trying to handle issues on her own, in secret...that is, being too "careful" not to upset the apple cart nor call anyone out.

  54. I'm in HR. It's hard from a letter to tell truly how problematic this is-- he does sound like he's making people uncomfortable. But I've also seen people group-think against someone who is simply socially awkward and lonely. And there's a whiff of possible age-ism within this complaint. There is nothing wrong with telling someone directly, "I have work to do, I can't visit," And turning your back to them. If they persist, saying "John, you have to leave me alone now." Your intern should be able to say, "I wouldn't go out with you, so I have to ask you to not bring it up anymore." There's an effective and honest way to tell people to back off. If, despite being that direct, it doesn't stop, then yes, document to HR and follow up with them every few days until you get an appropriate answer. He may have a claim of a disability which is making them careful, but if he continues to be disruptive to others, they need to find a balance that works for everyone. We did discipline a worker who carried on disruptive personal calls at his cube-- he would fight with his wife and yell at her on the phone. He got one warning, and was let go.

  55. I really don't think it should be the responsibility of an intern to tell a much older co-worker who is also a supervisor that they don't want to go on a date. Yes, you're right, one can "just say no." But when a supervisor asks you on a date there's a power dynamic. You'd have to wonder: is this going to cost me somehow? Do I need to find some way to placate this person if I want to succeed in this job?

    To me, a supervisor asking someone they have power over on a date is inappropriate at best, and coercive at worst. I don't even know if I think there should be any warnings for that type of behavior. We clearly live in a world with a lot of big problems with gender dynamics, and that includes coercion in the work place. The stakes are just too high to be lax about this. Many folks in this comments section are focusing on what it would be like to be naturally awkward and end up under fire for an accidental faux pas. But on the flip side, think about what it must be like to have to deal with making the choice between rejecting someone who has power over you and facing the potential consequences, or placating them and thereby being forced against your will to act certain ways and/or do certain things.

  56. This guy is a supervisor. While I'm all for individuals speaking and sticking up for themselves, this response does not take into account the power imbalance that may well be in play here - junior employees understandably do not want to jeopardize their careers or livelihood! It has been reported to HR, and handling this man appropriately and affectively is their and senior leadership's responsibility.

  57. Expecting a young intern of any gender to stand up to an older long-term employee is unrealistic and problematic. It is unacceptable for a employee some thirty years older to ask the intern out.

    As both a parent and a person who supervised interns this comment is frightening. There is a certain expectation that companies will look out and train interns not throw them into a pit and hope they come out fine.

  58. It is refreshing to see the clarity in the comments. Regarding the first letter, some of the man's actions seem just awkward or unconventional, whereas others likely break workplace rules and put others in vulnerable positions. The first step is to state the rules explicitly and expect everyone to honor them regardless of gender, age, or other factors. The second is to deal with the more ambiguous situations. Here too, clarity can go a long way.

    Another thought (partially stated by commenters already): it's dangerous and inhumane to set up an "us against him" environment. Talking about him, gathering gossip about him, will not only isolate him more but also diminish your own capacity to treat him and yourselves with respect. Respect involves speaking directly with him, individually, and letting him know what is ok *for you* and what isn't--in terms of topic of conversation, length of conversation, and handling of space. You are not responsible for coaching him--just for giving him a clear message. If he doesn't get it after you have stated it clearly, then HR should intervene. Again, the first priority is to establish the workplace rules. Then approach the individual situations--the ones that don't involve breaking rules--with frankness.

  59. Commenters who are saying that "feeling safe" isn't something a workplace is required to provide, or telling them to grow a spine is telling the writer to ignore her instinct that something isn't right.

    Any woman who's ever walked down the street and been catcalled, then called "bitch" when she ignores the initial approach knows that it's possible to find yourself in a threatening situation in a second. Whether it's a co-worker, friend or stranger, there is enough hard evidence of harassment turning to stalking turning to assault every day, in every city and state, that a woman who is cautious about unusual or inappropriate behavior is to be listened to, not told to "grow a spine."

  60. True, but it's good to have enough of a spine not to let yourself be knocked over every time someone brushes against you. Just as women learn self-defense techniques against physical assault (you're on the street and a drunk guy is grabbing you; step on his foot hard so he bends over, kick him in the groin and bring your knee up a little higher to get him in the jaw), we can learn and practice ways of combating verbal annoyance in the many many cases in the workplace where it does not escalate to stalking or assault.

  61. Being seen as a conversational bore (and a pest) is a problem largely observed in my business experience as occurring between people of widely different ages. However, I've seen it more often in men age 50 and older. Older men (like me) often too frequently enjoy conversations with people of all ages and gender. Why? There are many explanations.

    However, I have noted that they invariably find that the primary segment of the office population where ears can easily be bent on the job are young women who are just being nice and haven't learned yet how to shut up an incessant talker.

    Standards need to be established in offices where the chit-chatters need to be brought under control irrespective of age or gender. Those little cubicles are like easily accessible jail cells where the occupant is constantly at the risk of being cornered.

    Over the past decade or so, it has become part of the office culture code to encourage spontaneous "in the hall" conversations because ideas related to company projects get generated and problems solved, but like the situation described in the article many times that can cause problems where you have people who are just annoying, taking up time with unwanted interactions..

    Some companies have established designated areas where such conversations are only to be held (without a formal meeting called) because the on-the-fly chit-chats are simply wastes of time.

    It is really up to management to step in and control such situations.

  62. "Easily accessible jail cells--brilliant!"

  63. Ask A Manager would have the perfect solution to this dilemma

  64. 1. Companies are loathe to dismiss employees without tons of documentation because of the headache of potential litigation. For all the letter writer knows, HR is compiling a file on this man, and when the tipping point is reached, he’ll be gone. In the meantime, keep documenting and keep your supervisors and HR up to date.

    2. Personal phone calls in the office: Height of rudeness and self-importance. A few years back, for months we in my office had to put up with the daily agonies of a co-worker’s relative’s terminal illness. Incessant, involved (and to me sometimes upsetting) medical calls that were really nobody else’s business. We were all made a part of this personal drama, and I complained loudly and often to my bosses until they broke through this man’s egotism to get him to take the calls outside the office.

    3. Speaking as a parent of two children on the autism spectrum, most of those who are so described know right from wrong. If they are told their behavior is inappropriate, they will stop. Don’t automatically assign this man’s persistent, annoying behavior to autism. People can sometimes just be clueless....

    4. ....which leads me to this bit of wisdom, which has pride of place in my cubicle: “One jerk can singlehandedly distract an entire office. Everyone needs to take care not to be that jerk.” Words of wisdom from which we can all benefit.

  65. I can't think of a solution to the "creepy co-worker" problem without knowing more about the situation. But one fact that my be exacerbating this is the apparent ageism in the company's hiring practices. Why are the majority of new hires "young women in their mid-20s?" Despite the claim that young people are "just smarter," research has shown that middle aged people have better social skills and are better at understanding the "gist" of a social interaction than are 20-somethings. So, one reason this "creepy co-worker" continues to be a problem may be the lack of older workers in his workplace, who would have the wisdom and experience to understand this problem and could help to find an appropriate and humane solution.

  66. I agree the letter is not entirely clear that the coworker is creating a truly unsafe work place or one that is very uncomfortable but safe. The LW acknowledges she has a lack of clarity, too--alternating between feeling sorry for the guy and deciding that he has crossed a line far enough to make the situation untenable.

    That said, what strikes me on rereading the letter is that the company and HR continue to take an ad hoc approach to this, and potentially future cases. The company should promulgate specific rules, consistent with good HR practice and law, to delineate acceptable conduct in the workplace. A clear prohibition on supervisors dating subordinates. A prohibition oon personal/ medical calls in an open space environment COUPLED WITH providing a space where such calls may be made. Training of regular employees and supervisors specifically. Employees SHOULD understand and practice sensitivity to coworkers' differences--whether cultural, religious etc. Training on disability awareness and tthe rights of people with disabilities in the workplace--not to encourage diagnoses of other employees but to have employees understand that we are differently abled in our own ways. Finally, train on ageism and age discrimination. Some of these factors may be operative here, as may the possibility that this is a guy up to no good. Clear a priori rules aid in assessing the reality and facilitating clear-cut solutions-including gradual escalation of consequences as warranted.

  67. Exactly: as implied by the term creepy, if you cannot make written guidelines specifying accepted behavior and apply them to all employees, you're just being biased. Stop creating communities of shared contempt, which are usually driven more by fear, displacement, and projection than true harm. Let's skip the scarlet A's.

  68. Honestly, I don't understand how this employee's behavior is endangering anyone. Asking for a phone number or a date? That is certainly boorish and awkward, but it's hardly harassment or rape, nothing like the crimes of a Weinstein or Cosby or Trump. It's just a man who doesn't understand social subtlety asking for a date.

    The reply speaks dismissively of infantilism, but speaking as someone who is himself on the spectrum (and too high functioning to make a social mistake like this, but has made many others), that betrays a deep misunderstanding of just how disabling autism is. It is like criticizing a one-legged man for being unable to ski.

    Because we can understand something intellectually -- our intellects are not impaired -- does not mean that we can master social behaviors, despite our constant struggles to do so.

    Neurotypicals just can't understand how difficult it is to have to think, consciously, of a thousand things that they do as automatically as they breathe, and how awkward that makes us. I can solve a differential equation or dash off a sonnet, but I struggle to say hello or buy something at the store. It really is that bad -- and I'm at the highest functioning end of the spectrum, someone in whom only an expert would recognize autism at all.

    As long as there is no real harm, we sometimes have to make allowances for those who are struggling with a condition like this and are socially awkward as a result. It's just the right thing to do.

  69. If the man doesn't understand the normal social cues, what is wrong with just flat-out telling him, "sorry, that's inappropriate"?


  70. "Asking for a phone number or a date? That is certainly boorish and awkward."

    Well, what does someone do instead?
    "Hey babe, you and me . How'bout it? "
    Boorish.

    Send flowers?
    Stupid

    Hire a yenta?
    A tad hysterical.

    Have his mother call?
    Hilarious.

    "Could I have your number and maybe give you a call sometime?"

    She says 'No. Thank you."

    THEN it's awkward. You smile in embarrassment, say ok, and move on.

    That's how it's done. And been done since the beginning of time.

  71. Thank you. You have said it better than I can as the sister of an autistic brother. What most people fail to understand is that the autism doesn't go away. Intelligence helps you deal with it better. Yet the intolerance of so many can be trying on you and anyone who cares about you.

    What I see in many of the responses here is a failure to realize that most autistic people are not dangerous. Of course there are those who go out of their way to provoke them. I've seen it. But socially awkward is not a reason to fire someone.

    Good luck and thanks again for your comment.

  72. WRT law reviews, the student editors are a self-selecting clique of the powerful who maintain a history of exams and other study materials that guarantee their academic success and who edit and publish as part of a network of favors that ultimately determine who gets tenure and success and which ideas are talked about. In other words, they are training to be lawyers: trusted to exercise networks of power without disclosing them, with a little slice of success for themselves. It is incredibly naive to portray them as victims of an influence system which is their training and proving ground.

  73. 'People with autism-spectrum disorder can struggle to understand social clues and to infer norms of behavior. Once the rules have been carefully explained, however, it’s infantilizing to use the condition as an excuse for harmful behavior. It isn’t hard to understand a rule that, say, forbids a supervisor from making sexual or romantic overtures to junior staff members. An adult man on the autism spectrum is an adult man; the spectrum isn’t a certificate of sainthood."

    Wow. Cluelessness raises its ugly head. In an 'ethics' column, no less.

    There is a thing called - the-in-ter-net.

    Search - autism. Educate yourself.

  74. Maybe, pushing 60, I am not as intimidated or as sensitive as a 20 something woman, but I find that describing the awkward coworker as threatening is way over the top. Is he threatening to harm someone? Is he actively stalking? Are you afraid for your life or property? He does sound creepy and annoying, but IMHO not threatening.

  75. I used to work for a man like the one described in the letter. Many women at the office would describe him as awkward, creepy or annoying. We were all nice and polite to him. As it turned out, after he and I both left the company, his behavior towards me escalated to the point where I had no choice but to involve the police. My point is that sometimes intuition should be trusted, it's often informed by years of experience with different types of men.

  76. Is he "only" being "creepy and annoying " in his behavior towards women? If so, this is a real problem. And if he behaves in this manner towards both genders, this is still a real problem. I would never underestimate the negative impact of dealing with -- and having to anticipate dealing with-- a "creepy and annoying" coworker or supervisor on a daily basis. No one should have to tolerate this.

  77. ..."he is clearly kind of a lonely older man" (n.b. 50 is "older") And by all indications, he is socially inept, awkward, etc."doesn’t have a lot of social interaction outside the office" says who?One writer here states he is wasting huge amounts of company time. Really? Huge? He talks loudly on the phone... yeah I've worked in offices where people spoke loudly to impress others and dropped names everywhere, and they were supposedly not on spectrum. You should have been working during the time when cell phones were new, kept dropping calls, and had really, really annoying ringtones...
    I don't want to minimize the problem of discomfort in the workplace, but I she is projecting all sorts of things on an older man who has problems understanding boundaries. Thinking of someone when you pass their home is only creepy if you make it so.
    Aren't there more older employees in their 50's with whom one might have a really serious conversation about this man?
    She mentions other young people but this should only be about her relationship to the"older" man and her employment situation,not her litany of things she thinks should not have happened. Is she building a case? Did she include bad breath?

    Previously HR spoke to him; he got the hint, and by the way where is your supervisor while this guy is taking up "huge amounts of time"?
    Love the cartoon of the guy with thick glasses, untidy red hair, mustache and open mouth...is that Tomi Um's vision of autism? Nice.

  78. Millennials always act like "social awkwardness" is scary or threatening. Kids, not everyone on Earth has your shining wit and impeccable social grace. Get over it.

    (Though the boss shouldn't be asking you out, of course.)

  79. What sort of “Reasonable person” makes blanket statements about an entire generation? The letter writer’s point was that behavior described is clearly inappropriate and she objects to it being written off as mere awkwardness.

  80. You aren't reasonable. You're unduly insulting to millions of people you don't know.

  81. Key words:

    "He is 30-plus years this intern’s senior, not to mention a supervisor."

    The fact he is a supervisor changes the dynamics completely in my opinion. As a person of power within the company, he is acting very inappropriately toward his subordinates. There should be zero tolerance for this behavior. HR needs to address this before someone files a lawsuit in reaction to his inappropriate behavior.

  82. I used to have an identical situation in an office I worked in several years ago. I didn't want to hurt the man's feelings and he mistook my politeness for affection. I used to fantasize about keeping one of those fake blood capsules that they use in films in my desk...I would very dramatically allow a little trickle of the "blood" to drop out of my mouth and I would excuse myself. That was how he made me feel, like extreme measures were necessary because no matter what I did, he just did not get the cues that it was time for him to go back to his desk. It was terrible because he really was a nice guy.

  83. "seem to have underweighted the rights of the women"

    I don't think so. Instead I think they know that this employee cannot be brought into line, and for whatever reason they don't want to fire him. Perhaps they have recalibrated the complaints to take into account the fact that the employee (possibly) cannot help his behavior.

  84. @polymath: I'm not buying your argument! If this guy were a stalker, would you still give him a pass on the grounds that he "cannot help his behavior"? Your argument lets this guy off the hook, and it doesn't hold water.

    If this employee TRULY cannot "help his behavior" then he needs to be fired ASAP.

  85. I am a 70-year-old woman with Asperger's. Before I learned that I was on the spectrum (at age 58), I made many social faux pas.

    But once I was made aware of the many social norms that I hadn't learned intuitively (as do most people), I internalized these norms and learned how to behave appropriately.

    What I'm driving at is, even if the man in question is on the spectrum, that is absolutely *no* excuse for his harassing and inappropriate behavior. The company is very much at fault for excusing his behavior. He should be put on probation and, if he doesn't change his behavior, fired.

  86. Management needs to take into account such behavior when conducting performance evaluations.

    Can you imagine how much time and mental energy it takes to deal with this ongoing situation? Huge distraction and bad for business.

    Make it explicit that persistent inappropriate/gray area behavior behavior is a detriment to the company and will affect raises at review time. See how quickly people who "just don't know better" fall in line.

  87. The problem is, it isn't management that asked for advice. Until that happens, the question is what does the young woman do?

  88. Who is HR going to side with when someone gets fed up enough with this guy that they tell him off in no uncertain terms? Or when he puts his hands on some young intern?

    He needs to be given crystal clear behavioral contingencies by his supervisor, with consequences if he does not comply.

  89. 'An adult man on the autism spectrum is an adult man; the spectrum isn’t a certificate of sainthood."'

    Nasty. And stupid.

    Not a good combination.

  90. A few years ago, I worked with a guy who acted like the guy in the first letter. For about a month after I first started, he came to my cube every day to talk to me.

    At first, I tried to be nice, and listen politely. (I'm southern. Nice is our default position.) But he wouldn't go away, even when I told him (politely) that I was in the middle of something important and asked if we could talk later.
    He started making personal comments, or asking personal questions, like whether I was married or single, or where I lived.
    Eventually, I stopped saying anything in response. I stared at him without smiling or blinking until he looked away.
    Sometimes, he sat down in my guest chair. I moved it out of my cube.
    I put a clock on display to let him know how much of my time he was wasting.
    I wore headphones all day.
    I told him I was busy, and then turned my back to him and continued working (with headphones) while he talked.

    He wasn't my boss, but he was a full time employee. I was a contractor. He knew I wouldn't complain to HR about anything he said or did.
    None of my non verbal cues made him stop dropping by to "chat". They only made me uncomfortable because he crowded my space, and I had to be rude to attempt to make him go away.

    He did not change his behavior toward me until one day I told him (in a very quiet, calm voice) that he could say what he wanted, but if he ever touched me, I would try my level best to kill him.

    Problem solved.

  91. I am excited by the me-too movement, but the example shared in this article is not doing the movement any favors.

    As a female business owner for 13 years, I have a good sense of what discriminatory, harassing, and threatening behavior from men looks like in my industry. I am equally familiar with the passive-aggressive, me first, dysfunctional mentality that younger workers are unintentionally bringing into the workplace.

    In healthy organizational culture, I would hope that the women who are feeling uncomfortable could diplomatically state that they are feeling uncomfortable and offer the man some boundaries that are important to them. Yes, he's a supervisor. But unless there is a history of this man getting women fired or people in the organization being fired for giving feedback to supervisors, the perception that one must go to HR to resolve an interpersonal dynamic that is uncomfortable seems like passing the buck instead of taking responsibility for helping the workplace be somewhere that you want to be.

    Now, if the personal phone calls involve sexually explicit language, violent language, angry outbursts, or other things that are obviously threatening and harassing, then I see the value in engaging HR. If the company has a policy that prohibits asking people out, then that might be appropriate to approach HR with as well. Otherwise, figure out how to interact with someone different than you and resolve problems directly.

  92. Agree. The problem is not confined to millennials. I am retired now but still regularly counsel women of all ages to start by speaking directly to the other party involved (unless workplace policy has clearly been breached or safety is the issue). Part of adulting is to learn to calmly stand up for oneself and to not worry about what others think when doing so. Learning to resolve and and live with conflict is part of life. My experience is that many of us are conflict-averse and want someone else to resolve our interpersonal issues. As one of my former bosses said, "I don't get ulcers. I give them." A little extreme, perhaps, but I think of it often when deciding whether or not to speak up. It usually works.

  93. It's not my problem. The company allows a man to go around and interrupt people working, and excuses him invading personal space. It I simply not one young woman this is happening to, it is many. The company needs to step in.

  94. Sure, it's up to women to police men's behavior, to instruct them (particularly their bosses!) on the social niceties of the office context, and to do so in a way that won't anger them or trigger any retaliation. Just how thin can we make that tightrope?

  95. Did The Ethicist neglect to actually answer question 2?!? Did the letter writer behave unethically or not???!?!?? Inquiring ethical minds need to know!

  96. Let's hear what you think the answer is Big Cow. Personally I could care less. It is such a small part of the Universe. There are too many bigger ethical issues .

  97. Need to be careful of oddballs who persist at a company for no apparent reason. Often they are connected to somebody powerful at the company, what is often called invisible means of support. He might be somebody’s brother in law that was put on the payroll because he was difficult to place and the relative had clout. Go against the oddball and you incur the wrath of his protector.

  98. Many of the commenters view the "older man" as a time bomb ready to go off at any moment. He's been there over 10 years and to the best of our knowledge hasn't attacked anyone yet. He has been inappropriate, and when chastened, he changed his behavior.
    I won't minimize how unpleasant a bad work environment can be, but this guy has all sorts of triggering behavior that affects the writer to the point that pretty much everything he does is an irritant.
    One commenter noted "huge" waste of time. I think things are getting a bit dramatic, but the young writer should definitely go to HR with this list of affronts. HR will explain that somehow the man has been stable enough and sane enough to be promoted. HR can also go talk to the guy and tell him his attempts at friendliness are being interpreted as aggressions.
    I am impressed with the number of people who want to have the guy fired. That's a life-altering step for someone of his age and I think the people who want to have him fired should think what the conversation would be like if they were doing the firing.
    "Henry, because you're acting our your loneliness, we're going to have to let you go. We hope this doesn't amplify your insecurity, but your behavior is viewed by some young ladies as creepy. Creepy, that's right. Just like they used to say on the playground. At least one of the young ladies here is afraid you're going to attack her. Also, you talk too much."

  99. You contradict yourself. He HASN'T changed his behavior.

  100. Way to minimize this guy's impact on his colleagues and their significant discomfort in the face of his creepiness. Good work emphasizing the impact of any consequences he might experience. This is right out of the Weinstein playbook! You're not by any chance the father of Brock Turner?

  101. Odd how the "loneliness" repeatedly makes him seek out only young female employees - for dates.

    Your excuses are pretty standard: the guy is lonely and insecure, the women are over reacting and "a bit dramatic."

    And as proof the guy is ok: he's "stable, sane, ..promoted." Stable people don't treat the workplace like a bar, or repeatedly proposition their underlings.

  102. People talk to one another at work. If a co-worker is talking to you too much tell that co-worker to stop interrupting you.

    Tell them you don't want to be friends. Tell them you are working and cannot have personal conversations.

    If they continue, after that, contact HR.

    I am astounded that people cannot stand-up for themselves.

    If you cannot tell the individual what your problem is why on earth would you go to HR? Just to get them fired? Just to hurt them?

    Ridiculous mentality.

  103. HR departments work for the company, not on behalf of employees. I don't like to say go get a lawyer if the harassment continues, but perhaps a consultation would be helpful for the next step because it's obvious that HR is not going to fix this problem.

  104. Regarding "Why Does a Creepy Co-Worker Keep Getting a Pass?", I was disappointed to read that The Ethicist's took the writer's story at face value in this case. It is a common plight of those with mental disabilities to be portrayed as a menace to society. This is especially true of autistic people, despite the fact that they are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators. Anyone who has worked with the autistic population will no doubt have experienced many situations where well-intentioned autistic individuals are interpreted as dangerous and treated harshly. The narrative often starts with awkward and frustrating social situations and progresses with self-confirming anecdotes until the individual is deemed a serious enough threat to be eliminated. It's a sad and predictable cycle.

    This story seemed like a great opportunity to highlight the need to improve support for both gender and mental health issues. I was hoping The Ethicist would have taken that opportunity. I guess the #MeToo sentiments still have a way to go for some other populations.

  105. He does not have a pass to make others feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

  106. If you act stalkerish to women you're going to be interpreted as a menace, disability or not.

  107. This guy "on the spectrum" knows exactly what he is doing. He approaches the young women and acts inappropriately. He has been told enough times by HR that he isn't allowed to do that, but continues. He is benefitting from the impression that he can't control himself. The real red flags are the telephone calls at his desk. How many times does one have to speak to the doctor, let alone about intimate matters? He is probably feigning speaking to the doctor and enjoys shocking those around with discussions about his private parts. Telling a woman he was going to be thinking about her when he passes her apartment should have been the final straw. This guy has a psychological problem but isn't autism. If anything, he is an aspiring sexual predator.

  108. "This guy has a psychological problem but isn't autism. If anything, he is an aspiring sexual predator."

    Maybe he is an aspiring politician?

  109. And you know this how? Because you're a mind reader or because you do just that? From what this woman is saying he doesn't. And a little bit of courtesy when dealing with him might go a long way to solving the problem. I know because I have an autistic brother and he doesn't always get it and people like you misread his intentions and cause him problems.

  110. the creepy older man who is given a pass because he doesn't know better somehow knows better enough to single out new younger women for his prey

  111. The first letter writer seems a bit conclusive about what she thinks other people are feeling, but her options -- their options -- are first, to report to HR and give the employer a chance to resolve the matter. Thereafter, if conditions don't improve, they can contact EEOC or the state equivalent. You don't have to tolerate oppressive behavior.

    As for the second letter, it occurs to me that the function of a student editor is to check citations and references, not to edit the content or conclusions of the professor/author. In my experience, law students are qualified for that task. As for getting your article published, that is the same issue other academics have.

  112. Dear Name Withheld, Regarding Mr. Appiah’s response about your creepy co-worker, is it just me or did his last sentence ring tone deaf? He spent quite a few sentences validating your experiences of harassment only to admonish you for not having sent the letter to your HR department. In fact, HR has already been notified at least three times about this guy’s inappropriate behavior. Maybe it’s time to contact an employment attorney about how to protect your best interests. Whatever you decide to do, I’m not the only reader who can see you have plenty of courage and your instincts are spot on. #MeToo

  113. There is quite gap between "feeling uncomfortable" and an "unsafe office." Lets try and avoid bandwagoning on this "me-too" perennial victim-hood thing, please.

  114. 1. There are creepy men at work and HR should be notified if the situation persists. (There are also some annoying women who act inappropriately.)

    2. On the other hand it appears that Netflix has advised its employees that they should look at other staff members for no more than 5 seconds to avoid workplace harassment. If true the world truly has gone crazy. (I keep on googling "Netflix" & "staring" to see if Netflix has issued a denial, but none so far. This story is so weird that you would think it is fake news.)

  115. "Heads you win, tails I lose," or so the saying goes.

    One word in the Ethicist's response gets to the heart of the matter: "accommodate." Assuming this guy, I'll call him Joe, is not just an ordinary creep and indeed falls within the autism scale, he can not have it both ways, as he has it now. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, a statute well known to the Ethicist, Joe's employer must accommodate his disability if that disability falls within the act. That might mean, for example, giving Joe his own office so he is comfortable and does not have to put up with others. It can mean having less rigorous standards by which to judge Joe's work. The one thing "accommodate" does not mean is a license for Joe to engage in the behavior spelled out in Name Withheld's query to the Ethicist.

    To get the message to the employer goes beyond Name Withheld's pay grade. Name Withheld should see an attorney and have the attorney follow up with a lawyer's letter to the employer, with the promise of action beyond the letter if no action is taken to remedy the outrageous situation. Name Withheld should solicit her equally aggrieved co-workers to pitch in on the attorney's fee.

    If the employer has any sense, it shouldn't take more than the lawyer's letter for the employer to bring about an end to the problems with Joe's behavior that Name Withheld and her co-workers have been putting up with.

  116. I think co-workers who rat colleagues out to HR for taking private or medical calls are bad people, wouldn't want those in my workplace. I understand that in the U.S. it is now almost illegal to "make women uncomfortable". But I see nothing harmful in this whole description, just some clumsy and unthreatening guy trying to get on with the ladies. He is easily avoided, it seems. What I don't understand is that damsel-in-distress self-identification of adult women who search for help, preferably some bureaucratic repression entity that can be triggered to "remove" the specimen, in order to deal with someone who "often says things in conversation that feel a little too personal". The horror. Now that's just sad and cowardly. Better leave this kind of insecure outrage people out of conversations altogether. They could already collect stuff on you to give to HR!

  117. The first letter writer as well as the Ethicist, not to mention the commenters are making some assumptions about this co-worker based on...nothing. This man is definitely lacking in social skills but no one knows for sure that he is on the spectrum. Unless LW1 has some expertise in diagnosing autism, it's an unwarranted assumption. So let's just go on the info she's supplied. This man makes a nuisance of himself in the workplace by keeping her (and others) from their work, making inappropriately personal calls loudly enough to be overheard, has propositioned someone under his supervision and when his advances were declined, he persisted. He's been warned about these things by HR. He has not mended his ways. It's not up to LW1 to play Dr. House. His behavior is inappropriate, but so is her speculation and gossipmongering. It's also counterproductive. There could be many reasons HR is being so lax. This man has been with the company for 10 years. Perhaps he has some pull. Again, we don't know. Surely this man has a supervisor to which these concerns could be taken. If there's still no effective action taken, LW1 has a number of sensible options. She can be firm and unwavering in discouraging him & make sure she documents it. If he persists, go to HR & let them know & that she's making a record. That might get them off the dime. If not, It might be time to start circulating her resume. This is a dysfunctional office & it's unlikely to change.

  118. "Creepy" guy is a supervisor, but is he the supervisor of the young lady he asked to go out? When people have been in the workplace longer they will frequently see positions which were created specifically for the person who filled them. He could be the supervisor of the copy machine or the supply closet because it was a means to raise his salary to a current standard.
    There is a possibility that he might respond better to these clues if the came from a male who can say, "Hey...that's just not cool."
    This young lady should go to HR and explain her apprehensions. A functioning HR department would develop a mechanism without violating HIPAA rules to assuage this young lady's fears.

  119. Regarding letter #1: it's extremely irresponsible to go around saying someone is on the autism spectrum unless the speaker has the professional qualifications to judge psychiatric disorders and has examined the 'autistic' person in a professional, medical setting. Even then I don't see what good gossiping and profiling (of a sort) would do here. I can imagine the man here finding out and going to HR to complain that the young woman is harassing him.

    If there is an older woman in the office who has resolved this issue with him, the younger woman might try her tactics. If possible, the young woman should bring that older female employee with her to HR so they can back each other up and both explain the long-term situation and state what they would like for a solution.

  120. Over in the "Ask Real Estate" column this week is a question from a man who is a board member of a condo in NY City, who wants to sell his unit - except it (and the building) may be in need of costly repairs --

    In New York, the seller (astoundingly) is not legally obligated to reveal any adverse information to the buyer - but the owner does inquire about his ethical obligations - which are also mentioned by the commenters - who urge him to "do the right thing" --

    When I read this - I thought to myself that if this were a letter to the Ethicist - the LW would be a neighbor of the prospective seller - who has nothing to do with the transaction - but who "Finds it troubling that this man, a board member, is not disclosing the adverse info to prospective buyers" - and would then ask if he has an ethical obligation to somehow report him - or even reveal to the buyers the nature of the problems --

    So we now have yet another two letters from people who are disturbed by the actions of other people - even to the point of making a medical diagnosis - and expressing their frustration and anger about the others' behaviors --

    Does LW 1 have an ethical obligation to report the creepy co-worker - ?

    If his actions towards YOU are in violation of workplace regulations - then, yes - report him --

    If his actions towards other people in the workplace violate the rules - you should allow them the dignity - and privacy - to handle it in their own way - unless the ask you for help...

  121. Yes the guy may be creepy, talks too much when you're trying to work talks too loudly and asks an intern out. Ladies and gents say no thanks, I'm busy , I'm not interested, you're speaking too loudly and I need to focus. etc. Whatever happened to simple conversations? Try it. It may solve the problem and if doesn't this really does not sound like harassment to me.

  122. I don't know if the co-worker at issue in this column has autism or some other neurological/behavior/psychological condition. I do know that your statement that "Once the rules have been carefully explained... it’s infantilizing to use the condition as an excuse for harmful behavior. It isn’t hard to understand a rule that, say, forbids a supervisor from making sexual or romantic overtures to junior staff members" is way off base when it comes to many persons with autism. Many autistic adults may, in fact, find it very hard to understand that rule. Many autistic persons may understand the rule but have no idea that their actions are violating that rule.

  123. Oh, for heaven's sake. Letter #1 belongs in the Social Q's column.

    If this co-worker or any co-worker is not welcome in your space, personal or otherwise, for any reason, please ask that person politely and firmly to leave you alone to concentrate on your job, which is what you are being paid to do. It's called setting boundaries, which women, in particular have a problem setting. Extrapolate that to any area of your life that requires defining personal boundaries. It's just not that hard.

  124. Speak up, people! Talk to each other. I am a woman, a liberal. I know someone who, when I questioned his not thanking me for a favor, said "I have an avoidant personality disorder." To which I replied, "Well, you'll have to do something about that when you interact with me." Which he did. A woman bumped into me with her shopping cart in a store. I said, "Hey!" She said, "I have a mental illness." I said, "I don't care. Don't run into me." Stop playing a victimized woman and deal with the situation face to face. Teach your daughters to do the same. Someone stated, "Why should women have to deal with that?" Do you really think that men don't have to deal with unfair, dangerous situations? The culture is changing; things will get better. I have a husband, a son, a grandson who have been taught well and I'm tired of the lack of nuance in this conversation. I see the effect of the constant blaming of men on my grandson, especially. I heard an interview with Michael Chabon on NPR, in which he apologized for being a man throughout. This was incredibly sad to me. The consequences we face for being direct are there, certainly....some are negative, some not so much. In college I was hit on by a professor; when I declined his offer, he said he was "disappointed." I said, "Well, I hope I get an "A" in this class, or you may be further disappointed." I was happy with my grade.

  125. I find this letter about a "creepy co-worker" very disturbing. I have an autistic brother. He works and does an excellent job. People have learned to be direct with him when they need to concentrate on something or get their work done. He listens.

    The way this letter writer and co-workers have dealt with this co-worker is not nice, to say the least. Perhaps there is more going on here than is in the letter but it sounds as if the letter writer wants this person fired and is aiming for it. If he said that he would think about the young woman when he walked past her home why not respond by saying thank you? Why not occasionally talk with this man as a human being? It can be hard being different. Has it occurred to you that this man is trying to fit in?

    I've heard people like you say horrible things about people like my brother. Most of the time it means that you're uncomfortable with him. He's perfectly happy to be friendly. But you have to be explicit. You have to tell him, point blank, let's talk about something else, or I have work to do now, let's talk later. His interest in you is probably not sexual. And as far as the phone calls go, most normal people I know take personal and medical calls at work. Cubicles and an open workspace have made it hard to keep secrets. Maybe he needs an office even if the rest of you don't get one.

    And remember, the ADA is there to protect him from you, not vice versa. It won't hurt you to be polite and direct.

  126. Well said. I'll take working with straightforward Mr. Socially Awkward over Ms. Queen Bee social manipulator with the mean girl tactics anytime. Mr. Awkward is similar to dealing with someone from another culture---rife with unintentional misunderstandings you can clear up with direct conversations; with Ms. Q. Bee the knife can be in and out of your back and you'd never see it coming. Mr. Awkward may be annoying, but Ms. Q Bee's lack of understanding and tolerance for social differences is far more alarming and more dangerous to all of us.

  127. #1. The "20 something" self entitled narcissist nauseates me to no end & only reinforces why our 30 something team cannot collaborate with Any 20's something's with no empathy & no compassion

    Nothing in this middle aged man's behavior rises to a level of creepy predator, nor sexual harasser, nor stalker for you to complain & risk him loosing his job

    "20 something" is also bothered by his "Disability" he is a protected class member of disabled persons under (ADA) Americans with Disability Act (look it up) & permits him complete statutory reasonable accommodations & protections against targeted discrimination & targeted retaliation which she is conducting against him with deliberate intent

    HR, I can guarantee never placed anything in writing to you against his behavior as he has done Nother Wrong!

    "20 something" comes across intolerant & lacking integrity, with no human empathy, nor compassion for the disabled middle aged co-worker she knows is truly lonely

    Yet if this co-worker was a good looking 20 something hunk she would Never be complaining

    This middle aged co-worker is alone, lonely & disabled

    Please learn to care & deeply understand your fellow man, get to know him before you rush to judgement & risk his job

    #2. Leave it to the good Canadians to expose a study on more frauds in the world of law, as no student is Qualified to edit, nor refer, especially American law students to further sell their soul.

    Lawyers are Liars & Liars are Lawyers..!