The Washington Post

@Work Advice: Is this colleague an occupational hazard, Part 2

(Photograph by Deb Lindsey)

Last week’s letter writer was concerned about a co-worker’s reclusive behavior. This week’s column involves more aggressive interactions.

Reader: The assistant director of our association can be charming and humorous, but is also known for sending pointed, unpleasant e-mails, of which I have been the most frequent recipient (he copies other colleagues). Other employees have referred to him as a bully. Many months ago, he locked his eyes on mine as he walked by my office. It was unnerving, but I rationalized that he was lost in thought.

Since then, he has done this — head cocked back a little, mouth slightly open, eyes drilled on me as if he has me “in his sights,” turning his head back as he walks past — at least half a dozen times with increasing regularity but never when others have been watching. The look on his face has made me wonder if he might do something to me when I leave at night.

I have not mentioned any of this to our director, but I think it might be time to do so in the hope that the assistant director will be told that his acts are not benign, are recognized as intimidation, have been documented and are unacceptable.

Karla: I can’t tell how likely you are to be attacked — but it’s never a bad idea to exit the office at night with a trusted colleague or five.

Before you go to the boss, try one thing: Next time he gives you the Big Mouth Billy Bass treatment, stop what you’re doing and ask pleasantly, but loudly, “Did you need something, Bill?” If he looks startled or denies it: “Oh, you looked as though you were about to ask me a question.” This will (1) alert people nearby to his behavior, and (2) show him you’re not fazed — or (3) alert him to the fact that he suffers from chronic resting derp-face.

Meanwhile, start keeping a record of every uncomfortable encounter, along with copies of his nastygrams. If his behavior continues or escalates, you will have evidence of a pattern when you tell the director: “I get the impression Bill’s angry at me. Every so often when he passes my office, he seems to glare at me.
I find it uncomfortable.”

It’s your director’s job to manage workplace conflicts and to take action when threats are involved. An employer can be held liable if an employee known to be a threat harms someone else. But the employer can’t know what those threats might be, or
take action against them, if the people who feel threatened don’t speak up.

Thanks to Declan Leonard of Berenzweig Leonard.

Karla L. Miller is ready to hear your work dramas and traumas. Send your questions to You can also find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork, or Facebook.

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Karla L. Miller offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace. Miller, of South Riding, Va., was the winner of the 2011 @Work Advice Contest. E-mail your questions to Karla at
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