Concern for our coworkers can be a good thing. But people need to remember the relationship is professional and should remain that way.
Prying into a coworker's personal life can be unwelcome. And unlike informal relationships, crossing boundaries in a professional setting can have career implications.
When a 24-year-old man set clear boundaries with a coworker that they subsequently ignored, the potential fallout at work from reporting the coworker left him wondering what to do.
So they consulted the "Am I The A**hole" (AITA) subReddit for a hypothetical "Would I Be The A**hole" (WIBTA) question.
Redditor 0587throwaway asked:
"WIBTA for reporting a coworker to HR for trying to feed me?"
The Original Poster explained:
"I am a small man. 5'4 and 103 lbs as of my last physical."
"I'm well aware I'm at an unhealthy weight. My entire life I've been small—mostly due to illnesses and myriad allergies—and it's admittedly a sore spot."
"I am working with my doctor to gain weight while still fitting in with my dietary restrictions (no meat, dairy, gluten, or nuts) and honestly I'm so much better than I was a several months ago and proud of myself for the progress I've made."
"A coworker (Peg, 30) got pregnant and recently returned to work late November. She's been increasingly overt and uncomfortable in her concern for me."
"Peg made and brought in cupcakes for her return, and when I thanked her for thinking of us but refused, citing my gluten allergy, she was visibly upset. She didn't shout or complain much, just sighed heavily and said that she would put this one in the break room with the rest. I felt awful."
"Then, she brought me a steak sandwich the next day, on gluten free bread. Again I thanked her, but I had brought in my own lunch and needed to focus on that."
"Peg told me it was in the fridge for when I finished. Ended up bringing it home so she wouldn't feel bad and gave it to my boyfriend (BF)."
"Next day, she approached again. I refused again."
"She insisted. By now we weren't alone in the break room."
"She joked that it was rude to refuse a home cooked meal in favor of 'that' (my lunch). At that point I just took it and thanked her. BF ended up eating it."
"Then she just started leaving bagged snacks on my desk. She would approach with a snack or a portion of whatever she made for dinner the night before, and not leave me be until I had taken it."
"I went to our boss and explained that I felt uncomfortable and was told that she was probably feeling maternal and it would negatively impact morale to discourage her."
"So, been taking notes since then, what days Peg has given what, when, who witnessed it, etc. From 12/8 to now she's done it 23 times."
"Yesterday I took Peg aside and spoke with her concerning the food, no one around. I said I have been patient and understanding that she cares but I was not happy about my refusals being ignored, the comments about my food and body, and wished she would stop bringing me food."
"She said I should have said something sooner, and I pointed out that I had, repeatedly. She said 'I'm only trying to help' and 'haven't you looked in a mirror recently?'."
"I said that was horribly rude. She asked 'Does BF like you starving yourself? Even gay mean prefer meat'."
"I said that any diet I was on and what I ate wasn't any of her business. She said 'Clearly you can't feed yourself'."
"I said she should 'focus on yourself and your kid and stop bothering me'."
"Livid, I told her that maybe I didn't feel like sharing my personal medical history with her just so that my wishes were respected. 'For God's sake we work with a hospital, don't you know anything about HIPAA?'."
"We parted from there, me childishly storming off and her in tears."
"Have I already been a huge a** and would a report to HR just be the icing on the a**cake?"
The OP provided additional information.
"I said 'No thank you', repeatedly, to her face when she gave the food. She in turn would refuse to leave my desk or to stop talking to me, in the break room or halls, until I took it."
"She returned to work late November (before Thanksgiving) and started this behavior almost immediately. I waited until 12/8 to speak with our boss (who is a woman, if that matters) and only then started counting the incidents."
"She is also no longer pregnant, rather I should have said that she returned from maternity leave. I'm aware I misused HIPAA but was referencing it in the context that she should know better than to pry into medical history to satisfy her curiosity."
"Also I wasn't thinking clearly when I said that to her."
Redditors weighed in by declaring:
- NTA - Not The A**hole
- YTA - You're The A**hole
- NAH - No A**holes Here
- ESH - Everyone Sucks Here
Redditors decided the OP would not be the a**hole.
Unfortunately things only got worse for the OP.
"I went to HR, saying that the matter was settled, but I wanted it documented; subsequently was told that there would be an investigation and the incidents would be corroborated with witnesses, because as is the full record I claim is 'severe enough to warrant potential action' for Peg and several other coworkers who also engaged in her behavior."
"HR started the process, apparently immediately, because I walked in yesterday to a sh*tstorm."
"This plunged the department into civil war. Many agree Peg was out of line, some told me I should've kept the status quo, some said I was ungrateful and entitled."
"One said I should have handled this 'maturely' and 'who could blame her' when I look 'like that', and I should be ashamed of myself. Another coworker suggested I work from home."
"Another told me he was sorry for not stepping in. I went to go get my lunch out of the fridge only to find someone had disposed of it and left behind the empty Tupperware."
"Nearly everyone has an opinion. The people in my corner have advised me to keep my head down and to take care."
"My boss held a meeting, first with Peg and me, then a second with just me. During the one with Peg, I was told to apologize for my part and Peg likewise. ('I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable by caring about your health.')."
"My boss asked if I was 'satisfied now'. I brought up Peg's comments and my boss said I invited them, no one would call that harassment, and I need to work on myself."
"Together we went through each of the 23 events. She excused each of them until I was left to feel like I'd been harassing Peg."
"The next meeting was even worse. Effectively Boss said, 'I told you not to retaliate and instead you searched Peg out to harass her' and 'your actions have expressed a worrying lack of cooperation with me and your team'."
"She was also disappointed that instead of explaining that I needed her to resolve things, I 'escalated the situation well beyond the point of reason' and cruel to someone who only wanted to help."
"She said I won't get far in life and I'm not likely to get anywhere vocationally if I can't be a team player and 'actively sabotage a happy workplace'. She hoped I will learn from this 'teachable moment' how to behave in a collaborative environment as it's inappropriate to involve HR for 'small misunderstandings'."
"My boyfriend is spitting mad. I'm just... tired, confused and hurt."
"HR seemed sympathetic. Boss is very clearly on Peg's side."
"The office is split and tense. Currently updating my resume and job searching."
"It really does feel like a nightmare. Haven't felt good going in to work for a while, and this just made it times worse."
While the workplace may have been divided, Reddit was firmly on the OP's side. Hopefully they can fjnd a workplace where they also feel supported.