Scary Behaviour in the Workplace

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Reader’s Question

I worked in a group three years ago, where the subject matter expert was convinced that I was ‘after’ his job. He was curt, rude, and weird to me during the three months that I worked in his area. He was convinced that I was sent to take over his job. I was not.

I now work in a different group and see this fellow rarely. When I do see him in the hall or on the lawn/parking lot walking to my car, he physically recoils and literally slinks away, should a wall be handy. Otherwise, he almost falls trying to stay away from me — as though I have good old fashioned ‘cooties’.

He swings between being fearful to verbally attacking me. He nearly fell down (really!) when I hailed/addressed him saying something innocuous like, “Great weather, eh?” His behaviour has become scary to me. I feel uncomfortable avoiding him, etc. But, phatic speech, direct speech — even breathing, apparently — throws him into a tizzy. Am I in danger? What’s the best course? Family and management are aware of the issue.

Psychologist’s Reply

No one can tell from a description like this whether you are in danger. Clearly, you fear that you are. You’ve done the right thing to first try to deal with him directly, then inform your family and management. Most companies have a risk management division, and it becomes their liability if you report something like this and they fail to protect you. Companies often also have an EAP — Employee Assistance Program — where counseling sessions are offered to employees to help them deal with situations like this. I encourage you to use your benefits. Go to the company therapist and discuss the behaviors that you think put you at risk. If you authorize the therapist to break confidentiality, she may be able to liaise with risk management on your behalf. I completely support you in not assuming that his behaviors are safe. Such assumptions have led to disasters in the past. Better to be too safe than too sorry.

I would be shocked if this fellow’s behavior was limited to you. In an investigation such as this, Risk Management divisions will not report their findings to you. That can be very frustrating for someone in your position, even if you understand and respect their reasoning for privacy. Rest assured, however, that if they determine that you are identified as a potential target for harm, then they are legally obligated to inform you. Feel free to discuss that concern with your therapist too.

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