How to Cope with Harassment by a Coworker’s Jealous Wife

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about harassment by a wife of a coworker:

A coworker moved to another building across town. He left me and 2 others in the building a token parting gift. (A mug etched with the company logo) I sent a thank you note to his home, thanking him for the gift, his friendship and wishing him luck in his new job.

In one week, I have received 10 phone calls at work from his wife. 6 hang ups, 3 waited for me to answer and then hung up as soon as I answered . 1 -she asked me the office hours, I did not tell her I knew who was calling. The calls are random times throughout the day. 

I emailed him and asked what was going on and he tells me she is jealous and I need to deny he gave me a gift if asked.

I have not met her, I am 28 years married, I am not or have never been interested in my coworker. I have informed my office manager (who also received a mug), my boss and my husband. Now what?

I believe she will come to my place of work and am not sure what needs to be said. Thank you
Signed-Not Sure What Needs to Be Said

Response: 
Dear Not Sure What Needs to Be Said:
Jealousy warps the mind. Your thoughtful thank you note should not have generated harassing calls from your former coworker’s wife. In your distress about how to deal with this you have emailed the coworker. Your coworker’s advice is to lie that he gave you a gift of the mug springs from his fear that such an admission will add fuel to his spouse’s fear that some other woman (you) are invading her territory and after her man.

There’s no sure-fire quick-fix way to stop harassment such as this, but consider these options:
1. Bite your tongue and hope this will stop.
2. Block calls from the wife. Seek the help of your phone company.
3. Lying as the husband requested in his response to your email.
4. Contact the wife with a note explaining the mug.
5. Seek help of a professional or possibly clergy.
6. Seek help of your workplace superior and/or its Human Resources.
7. Invite her to meet with you in the presence of your office manager and boss to clear the air.
8. Have an attorney send a letter warning this woman that her calls should stop.

You have already sought communicated with all parties concerned: speaking with the wife in one of her calls, emailing the husband asking what is going on, informing your husband, and office manager and boss.
–Biting your tongue has not worked so far, but you are wise to log what has happened and to seek help.

Blocking is a next step and is one I recommend.
–Blocking. Here is a paragraph from one of many sites:

Local phone companies have varying policies on whether to call the phone company or the police first. Some recommend that you first call the phone company’s business office and explain the problem. A representative will connect you with the “annoyance desk.” Other phone companies may require you to file a formal complaint with local law enforcement before they will deal with the matter. To find out what your phone company’s policy is, contact the business office and ask for assistance.  AT&T policies are available online at their Annoyance Call Bureau site.  Click on “Annoyance Call Types” for specific guidance.  Verizon policies are available at their Unlawful Call Assistance page.

–Lying. Dishonesty is not a good choice. Informing your former coworker that you think this is a poor choice probably is not wise. Contacting him further might aggravate his jealous wife if she learns of it.
–Contact the wife. You shouldn’t have to apologize for sending a thank you note to a former coworker, but sending a note to a coworker’s home is not an act that you will likely ever do again. An apology might help should you meet the wife. Talking through such a situation is one that should work; however, jealousy in this case is not rational and ideally such confrontation should be facilitated by a professional. Violence should not be ruled out in the case of a jealous spouse.
–Professional help. You personally might want counsel within and/or outside your workplace to learn what precautions might prevent an unwanted encounter should the spouse seek you out at work. This might entail a formal letter from your workplace and/or an attorney to the former coworker and his wife. Seeking help seems warranted in light of ten calls. We provide communication, not legal advice. Blocking calls and taking precautions as your workplace advises should allow this uncomfortable situation to pass.

These options are not prescriptions. Rather they are mean to help you think through and find local help to stop this phone and other potential harassment. Finally, this is a time to not allow what has been good to sour your commitment to good manners and civility. That was the motivation for the mug gifts and your note of thanks. Thoughtfulness of such acts are what makes working pleasant. Can you see this situation as an opportunity for learning resilience and rebounding from distress? I think you can. One small step in that direction is to focus on the feel good incidents that far outweigh the bad.

Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEG0S. Thank you for sharing this difficult interpersonal workplace situation that extended to a coworker’s and your home life. Please follow up with a few lines informing us and our readers what you chose to do and how this is resolved. We learn from each other that way.
William Gorden