my coworkers keep asking about my assault — Ask a Manager

Last month we had a letter from someone whose coworkers kept asking about her assault and were being really pushy about getting answers. Here’s her update. (Content warning for discussion of assault below.)

Thank you so much for the advice! It was really helpful to get a more objective view of the situation, and to feel so much support from the commenters! Initially it seemed like some of your suggested responses were helping my coworkers understand how intrusive they were being. Unfortunately, things got significantly worse before they got better.

One of the other admins in my office, Jane, would. not. leave me alone about it. She said she just wanted to help, so I tried your suggestion and said that what I really needed was to stop being asked about it constantly, and asked her to help field off the rest of the office. I said that I knew everyone meant well (although at this point I was really doubting whether that was true), but being interrogated about it fifty times a day was making it impossible to focus on my work, and that if she could discreetly tell our coworkers to cut it out I would be very grateful. She agreed, but instead of doing anything helpful she convinced another of our coworkers, Jack, that cornering me in the kitchen and refusing to let me leave unless I told him what happened would solve all of my issues. From what I pieced together after the fact, she thought that I wasn’t telling anyone what happened because I was afraid of whoever did this to me and that having a strong man on my side to protect me would fix it. (?!?!?!)

Later that afternoon I went to the kitchen to make a mug of tea, and Jack came up behind me to ask about the bruises again. I didn’t know he was there, so I jumped when he started talking, then tried scooting past him so I wouldn’t be blocked into a small room by a very large and strong man. He put his hand up on the wall to prevent me from leaving, and said he wasn’t going to move until I told him what happened. I feel somewhat bad about this, but I completely lost it on him. Everything had been building up for days at this point, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. The constant pestering was hard enough, but being physically trapped by a man so soon after being assaulted pushed me over the edge. I started yelling. “What the fuck do you think happened, Jack? Are the literal bite marks not enough to get the point across? I have been doing everything I can to keep coming in here every day so that everyone else won’t have to take on another 15 hours of work this week when all I want to do is curl up into a ball and die, and the only thanks I get is to constantly be cornered and interrogated about my face! I think it’s pretty clear what happened! I don’t understand why you think this is any of your goddamn business! I am traumatized! I am trying to do everyone here a favor in the middle of the worst thing that has ever happened to me and every single one of you has only made things ten times worse! You are not helping and I cannot do this anymore!” I was hysterically sobbing, Jack was stumbling over himself trying to apologize and get out of my way, and since literally everyone in the office was within earshot of me yelling, every other coworker was either staring at us horrified or guiltily trying to avoid eye contact with me. I didn’t have it in me to try and do anything else, so I walked to my desk, grabbed my keys, and left everything else behind.

Luckily I was able to get an emergency session with my therapist scheduled that evening, where we decided that a few days in an inpatient facility would be hugely beneficial in my recovery. I’m still frustrated with my office, because I don’t think that would have been necessary had they just listened to me, but it is what it is. I notified my immediate supervisor that I would be using PTO for the rest of the tax season, and that I was planning on returning at the end of April but I’d be in touch with more specific details when I was able.

My office pays for every employee and a plus one to go on a week long, all expenses paid vacation to Costa Rica right after tax season ends as a thank you for all of our hard work. I almost didn’t go because I was so afraid of seeing my coworkers again after my outburst, but I decided I’d worked too damn hard to turn down a very expensive stay in an all inclusive resort. The airport gate was the first time I’d seen anyone since my breakdown, and it was incredibly awkward. For the most part, people seemed too ashamed to talk to me at all. One of my supervisors did come over to personally apologize for not stepping in earlier, and said that the entire company really just wanted me to enjoy the vacation. She said she couldn’t think of a single member of our team who deserved it more than me, and that she didn’t want to get into things until we were actually back at work, but wanted to tell me that I would not be facing any repercussions so that I didn’t have to worry about it while I was supposed to be on vacation. She also let me know that the company would be upgrading me from economy to business on the flight there and back, giving me a gift certificate for the resort spa, issuing me a bonus in my next paycheck as a token of their appreciation for all my hard work, as well as granting me an extra week of PTO to replace the time off I’d had to use at the end of tax season. The resort ended up being big enough that I didn’t see a single one of my coworkers the entire week we were there, which I will forever be grateful for.

Seeing as my life is not an episode of Criminal Minds, I’m still pretty upset with the way my coworkers treated me in their quest for juicy information. However, the bonus I received will more than cover my mental health care expenses since I’m lucky enough to have very good health insurance, sitting in the sun on a beautiful beach did wonders for my state of mind, and not a single intrusive question has been asked since I’ve returned to the office. I’ve received handwritten apologies from both Jack and Jane that seem very genuine, my clients were all handled perfectly while I was out, and for the most part things have gone back to normal. My biggest takeaway is that I’m allowed to advocate for myself and my needs, and that even if it’s inconvenient, your company will always find a way to make it work. I will absolutely be taking the time off in the future if I need it, as I probably could have avoided a lot of the stress I’ve experienced over the past month if I had just done that from the start. Honestly I just hope I can move on, and that my coworkers have learned that a good bit of gossip is not more important than someone’s actual feelings!

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