What To Do About Creepy Coworker

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about coworker imposing on another:

There is an assistant to the boss’s boss three cubes down who has creepy behavior. For the past three years since I started working here he has repeatedly: –called my phone and let it ring once, sometimes saying aloud to himself he doesn’t know what he’s doing. –walked into my cubicle and out again saying he doesn’t know where he’s going. I have since moved my cubicle from next to his to three cubicles down and this seems to have worked, but he still stands outside –stared in at me in my cubicle, sometimes making comments, like is so-and-so here? then walking around to all the cubicles and saying, no, so-and-so isn’t here until he gets to my cubicle last and going oh, so-and-so’s here, no one’s here but you and me. –making a point to tell me when my boss was in a meeting, at lunch, on vacation or he didn’t know where my boss was or where everybody went if they all happen to be out of the office (he’s not my assistant) –following me when I enter or leave the building for lunch or when I’m late.

I’ve now varied my lunch times and eaten more at my desk but occasionally when I’m late he seems to be in the lobby to greet me and follow me in, and he still seems to catch me walking back in from lunch –talks badly about me to his boss. In this case I spoke to my boss who then spoke to this person who apologized and said they didn’t mean anything, and it hasn’t happened again –seems to be randomly unplugging equipment in my office, but of course I cannot prove it. I am thinking of getting a spy cam. This person gets in an hour before me and most everyone else. I have last week told my boss about the phone calls and following.

As far as talking to him I said whatever you think is best. He said he would handle it. I have now started documenting these incidents. They seem to be random but quite annoying. My boss has just given me a discrimination/ harassment complaint form to fill out, after showing him my unplugged equipment and saying I think it was this person and that it had happened before. My question now is, unfortunately I have not kept records of incidents. Should I wait a few weeks to see about recording more incidents, or fill out with the two most recent incidents with dates, and give descriptions of the other incidents with a date range from last three years?

Signed, Concerned and Creeped Out

Dear Concerned and Creeped Out:

I assume your coworker is a male and you are a female. Your boss is doing the correct thing organizationally by having you fill out a harassment form (he probably got advice from HR about it). However, you need to ensure that you disclose all of your concerns now, rather than later. As you likely realize, this has been allowed to go on far too long as it is. So, there needs to be no question about how frightening, disruptive and unnerving this has been. Presenting the whole picture is the best way to do that.

If you’ve already turned in your report, immediately write an addendum and ask that it be attached. Use this format:

1. An opening paragraph that gives an overview of why you are making a report and why you want the matter investigated. (The first part of your message to us could be included.) In it say that you are asking for an investigation as well as for assistance to get “John” to stop his inappropriate and frightening behavior. Don’t hesitate to use a word like frightening, to convey your true concern and fear.
2. Give a list of the things that John has done. Start with about the first time you can recall something happening and see if you can recall about how many times it has happened. You say in your message to us that he has called your phone for the last three years, repeatedly. That is too vague for investigation purposes. How many times, about how often? Specifics or at least close estimates are much more credible than vague statements. Also, say what you did when those events happened.
3. Continue on down the list, including the time he talked badly about you to someone else and was told to stop. If you brought up these other issues then, say what happened.

4. Finish with the most recent concerns about unplugging equipment. You have no proof of that. Someone who dislikes him may be doing it. Or, someone who knows you are concerned may be doing it to bother you further. But, it might be him. So, it’s worth investigating since he has done other strange things.
5. If you have ever told him to stop his actions or if you have questioned him or confronted him, state when and what resulted.
6. Close with a reiteration of the request to investigate the matter to find out why he is doing what he is doing and to get him to stop. Say that you want the inappropriate actions to stop. I think you should ask that he be told not to come into your cubicle at any time, whether you are present or not. He can email or call you but you don’t want him in your workspace. After you send that to your boss, ask him if, for a few days at least, he will verify, upon the end of the work day, that everything is plugged in.

Before you leave, take a photo of the plugged in items. Consider putting a piece of masking tape over the electrical plug in the outlet, to make it clear that the item is to be left plugged-in by custodians or others.When you come in, check the cords. If they have been unplugged take another photo and ask someone, maybe the boss again, to verify it.The next time your coworker does something unnerving, simply say, “Stop it, John. That’s not appropriate.” Or, “That’s unnerving.” Or, “That’s not right.” Whatever you say, be adamant that his actions are unwelcome. Document what happened and send it to the boss, to have a record that you told the coworker to stop his behavior. I realize it’s often uncomfortable to confront someone about this type of thing, but without that you will spend the next three years as you did this last three years! Best wishes as you work through this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe