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'My coworker is blackmailing me not to take time off for my honeymoon.' UPDATED 6X

'My coworker is blackmailing me not to take time off for my honeymoon.' UPDATED 6X


"My coworker is blackmailing me not to take time off for my honeymoon"

Here's the original post:

I (M) work in an office where I’m the only person who can do 75% of my job, but there’s a second person who can do essential functions. We have a policy that only one of the two of us is allowed to request advance time off at a given time (so one of us is always in, barring emergencies).

I’m getting married in October, and in relation to that requested — and was approved for — two days before the wedding and the two weeks following. I don’t take much time off and have more than enough “in the bank” to cover that with some left over. It was approved immediately by my supervisor.

Since then, my close coworker (Jane, who covers some of my essential duties) first started asking if I really “need” that much time off. She then dropped a bit of a bombshell on me and said that she “really needs to go to Florida the following weekend (after my wedding) for a cousin’s wedding” so asked if I could be in for the second half of that week as well as the following Monday.

I told her that my plans weren’t certain yet, but that I didn’t want to commit to that and leave those requested days open. That was met with a tirade about how she “always looks out for me” and that I need to “do this one thing for her.”

We normally have a cordial, if not especially friendly, relationship but she has turned nasty and threatened to blackmail me over a a sick day where she claims I “wasn’t really sick.” She had seen me at the grocery, where I was mostly picking up a prescription but also doing general grocery shopping, but don’t have a doctor’s note if push comes to shove.

When she brought it up, she said, “That day I saw you at the grocery store, I know you weren’t really sick but were just goofing off for the day. I’ll report you for that.” I responded with, “I was there to pick up a prescription, even though I bought some other things because I didn’t have anything at home that sounded good.” She responded, “If you don’t let me have this, I’m still going to report it.”

(For context, this happened during the work day, probably around 1:00 in the afternoon. Sometimes one of us will go to the store to buy work supplies during the day. When I saw her there, I had just come from the doctor’s office, which is literally right across the street, and was shopping for other things while waiting on a prescription to be filled at the store pharmacy.)

This has gone on for a week and she’s not dropping it that I need to be in those specific days, and I’m not relenting.

There’s a possibility that — for a variety of reasons — I won’t even be working there in October, but at the same time I don’t know how to handle this. I mentioned it in passing to my supervisor, who wasn’t overly interested and he indicated that I was “okay” since I’d requested the time 9+ months in advance.

Still, though, I feel that the battle isn’t over yet, and it’s negatively affecting my ability to actually do my day to day job as Jane is refusing to do the small part of her job that I don’t have the proper training/credentials/ability to do.

In addition, there are the logistics that if our supervisor agrees to let us both off, I’m no doubt going have two dozen calls/texts a day on my honeymoon from people who are persistent enough to call me 10 times in a row if I don’t answer.

Needless to say, that’s NOT a situation that I want to deal with, but it happens any other day when both of us are off (heck, it happens when I’m off just because of the sheer volume of stuff that she doesn’t care to learn to be able to answer).

The post was shared to the "Ask a Manager" column. The columnist, Allison, posted this response:

Jane is a jerk. But not a very smart jerk. She thinks she has way more power here than she does! And I think you think she does too.

You requested time off for your wedding and honeymoon nine months in advance. It has been approved. Your manager reiterated that your time off is secure.

Jane’s blackmail attempt is embarrassing — for her. It has no teeth at all. You don’t have anything to hide because you didn’t do anything wrong. You’re allowed to pick up prescriptions when you’re sick. You’re also allowed to buy yourself groceries when you’re sick.

But if your manager really doubted you for some reason (which is unlikely), you could always contact your doctor’s office to get documentation that you did indeed have an appointment that day. It probably won’t come to that, though. But if you needed to, know that you could get the back-up you need.

Unless your boss is a complete fool, I can’t imagine he wouldn’t be at least slightly interested in knowing that one of his employees is (a) attempting to blackmail another (b) into altering her wedding and honeymoon plans (c) that have already been approved and (d) is refusing to do part of her job because of a personal vendetta.

I strongly suggest that you talk to him and say this: “Jane is harassing me about the time off I had approved for my wedding and honeymoon. She wants some of those same days and told me that if I don’t change my own time off request, she will report me for misusing a sick day. That’s false. She saw me in the grocery store while I was picking up a prescription on a sick day.

I can get a note from my doctor that I was seen that day if you need me to. I think it’s hugely problematic that she’s trying to blackmail me to change my days off, so I want to make sure you’re in the loop that that’s happening. She also is refusing to do (specific work tasks) because she’s upset with me.

Obviously, I rely on her to do XYZ to be able to do my own job. Can you intervene, so that her harassment stops and I can do my work?”

If your boss won’t intervene, then he’s passive to the point of negligence and you should say the above to HR as well. This is the kind of BS that managers should handle on their own but which HR will usually step in on if you need them to.

Meanwhile, with Jane, tell her this: “I’m not going to discuss my time off with you any further. If you want to report seeing me in the store picking up a prescription, feel free to. I can get documentation from my doctor if I need to, and I’ll happily let (manager) know the situation myself.

But I’m not going to discuss this anymore.” If she continues to push, say, “You need to talk to (manager) about this. It’s not up for discussion between us anymore.”

But if your boss is at all decent, he’ll shut this down once you explain what’s been happening.

If the outcome is that he gives Jane the days off she wants and so you’re both gone on the same dates, let people know ahead of time that you will be on your honeymoon and 100% not reachable. Tell them you won’t be responding to calls or texts, and then stick to that. In fact, block everyone from your office during that time away so you don’t even see it if they’re trying to contact you.

If you feel weird about doing that, then tell your boss in advance what you’re worried about, and reiterate that you will be 100% inaccessible. People do this! You’re allowed to take a freakin’ honeymoon without work calls. But stop fearing Jane. What she’s doing is super messed up in a way no decent manager would condone, you have the power to expose that, and you should use it.

OP later shared this first update, later that day:

Thanks everyone — OP here and I appreciate the unanimous that “Jane” is off her rocker on this. I have worked with her for close to 5 years, and this kind of stuff has always sort of been present but it seems to have gotten worse in the past year. This episode is by far and away the worst.

I have an appointment with my supervisor right after lunch to lay all of this out for him. Just to be ahead of things, I went ahead and called the doctor’s office and they’ve emailed me a note for the day in question, so I’m bringing that along when I meet.

Also, I like the suggestion of pre-paid phone and only giving the number out to family to use for the time I’m off. Blocking numbers would be like a game of whack-a-mole due to the number of people who my number has been given out to who may have contacted me once 3 years ago or never contacted me at all (most contact me directly from their personal cells).

I should also say that I’ve always had a bit of a strange relationship with “Jane.” She has a son who is my age and has told me often that she thinks of me as her “work son.” She is also not originally from the US, and is from a culture where mothers are often a lot more “hands on” in their children’s lives than we are use to in the US.

There have been behaviors in the past that I have addressed with her directly, and those HAVE stopped, but this is so over-the-top compared to anything in the past and almost seems like a build up of a few years of not “mothering” me.

I will update after my meeting with my supervisor.

Update #2:

I think my boss has been frustrated with “Jane” over a number of other issues, and in fact he keeps taking responsibilities away from her because she can’t do them correctly and ends up causing more work for other people in the department when she does.

Update #3:

Alright, so OP again here, and the meeting with the boss is over and done with. First of all, right before lunch, my boss asked me if I could give the main point I wanted to discuss. I just succinctly put it as “Jane is refusing to place orders for me” (that, BTW, is the main thing I can’t do — order stuff that I need to do my job, and basically the only thing she does now).

He then asked if it was alright if the department chair (i.e. his boss) sat in on the meeting. I said sure. I went in with a copy of my excuse. When things got started, I said “before I get into the immediate problem, I want you all to know that Jane is claiming I abused a sick day because she happened to see me at Kroger on a day I was off. Here’s my doctor’s note.”

Both of them even refused to look at the note. My boss said “you said you were sick. You’ve been here close to 5 years and have never given us a reason to doubt that you were being untruthful for it. As a matter of principle, I’m going to note that you offered documentation, but I’m not going to look at it because I trust you.” The chair weighed in and said,

“Yeah, I remember seeing you the day after that and asking you if you should even be in because you looked so bad.” They both said to put that concern behind me, and that they would address it with Jane that it was none of her business.

I was then asked about the ordering issue. I said that I had sent 4 orders the past week, and that she had refused to place them unless I agreed to come in on (specific dates approved off), and that I was getting cramped on getting the stuff I needed to get my job done.

As we sat in the meeting, I forwarded the order requests to both my supervisor and the chair so that they could see, although obviously the refusal was verbal, so I couldn’t document that.

My supervisor assured me that Jane’s request was absolutely ludicrous, and that he would personally be upset with me if I even thought about work while my new wife and I were on our honeymoon. He said turn my phone off or do whatever I needed to do and also that when the time came he would make sure it was circulated to everyone to not contact me.

I was told that as an immediate solution, to send the orders to “Susan,” who also can place orders so that I can get my work done (he sent Susan an email to expedite anything coming from me, and that he’d address why later), and my supervisor would address why Jane isn’t doing it directly with Jane this afternoon.

The chair then jumped in and said “I want to ask a broader question — what all do you do that ‘Cliff’ (deceased person who immediately preceded Jane) did, and what of his work does Jane do?” I listed quite a few things I do, and he said “And in addition to that, you also do everything that ‘Norm’ (retired person who I replaced directly) did, correct?” I listed two specific tasks which Norm did that I do not do.

The chair said, “I’ve thought for a while that we honestly have you stretched too thin, and I know we’ve had this conversation in bits and pieces, but I think we need to have a serious discussion about positions downstairs. Jane has passed off enough responsibility to others that I think it needs to be decided if she needs more duties shuffled back to her, or if her position is even needed anymore.”

We discussed the fact that there’s a lack of cross-training for my duties, and my position is unique enough that it would be difficult to cross train any one person to do it. “Bob” across the hall from me can take care of a lot of things with basic instructions from me, but he needs my specific input about how to go ahead.

For reference, a significant (over 50%) portion of my job is maintaining scientific instruments, something which requires that I have an advanced degree in Chemistry to even understand what’s going on and a lot of hands-on experience to recognize and know how to fix problems. Many of the things I take care of are more expensive than an average house in the area,

(and all are solidly at least at nice new car price), and generally are reliable but can be cantankerous. Jane has neither the background nor the inclination to acquire the hands-on experience, while Bob has the motivation but not the background. I not only maintain but consult/train on when and how to use the appropriate tool for what you’re trying to do.

In any case, to cut to the chase on that, we have a bit of a patchwork plan to cover when I’m gone, and the idea was also floated of hiring Norm (my retired predecessor) for a few days a week on a temporary basis in October.

I’m supposed to have lunch with Norm next week (I’m the only person from work who is in regular contact with him) so have been asked if I would see if he was open to the idea — not as a formal offer but just to “test the waters” so to speak.

So, to sum it up — I’m completely in the clear on the feeble blackmail attempt, my bride-to-be and I can go on our honeymoon without any worries whatsoever, and Jane may have shrugged off one too many duties to make the existence of her position necessary.

Not that this is the end of the world either, but I’ve talked to my fiancé and she and I are in agreement that Jane is now off the guest list. Also, as an unrelated note to this, I got a call while typing all of this up asking if I could come in for an interview at a job I applied for last week! So, I may be out before this is even an issue.

Update #4:

As a bit of an interesting not-really-an-update-but an update thing — I should also mention that my office is right next to Jane’s, and directly below the manager and chair’s office. My manager came down about 3:30 today to look for her — presumably to talk to her about all of this — and she was already gone for the day (this is a habit of her, but it’s not usually a half hour before her quitting time).

He asked me where she was, and I said that I had no idea. “Bob” across the hall replied that she had told him bye ~5 minutes prior. My supervisor called her, and she claimed that she was at the grocery store and named something she was buying. I was asked if we needed that particular item, and I said,

“No, I bought it 2 weeks ago — we won’t need it again until June.” So, it seems as though she’s been caught in her own lie, especially if she comes in tomorrow and can’t produce a receipt that she was actually there.

Update #5, a day later:

Alright, everyone, I’m anticipating a big update this afternoon. Jane is currently barricaded in her office apparently not taking phone calls (other people have called me directly when they couldn’t reach her…

as opposed to the usual sequence of people calling her and then the call getting passed off to me to actually answer it), and my manager has called a meeting of all the support staff EXCEPT for Jane this afternoon.

Sixth, and final, update:

Alright, so here’s the update: The manager, department chair, and unit business manager sat down to meet with all of the support staff save for Jane. The meeting was opened by saying that as we all knew, they had discussed with all of us our actual day-to-day responsibilities — not our job descriptions but what we were doing.

It was then announced that as of 3/20 (end of next pay period), the position which Jane is currently occupying has been marked for RIF (reduction in force), or put another way the position is being eliminated. The rest of the meeting was relatively short, as it was a discussion of what Jane’s description currently assigns to her, and who will do those duties.

The net result of that is that I’m actually ending up with LESS work to do (not by a dramatic amount, but a few things off) as some of Jane’s duties that I’m currently doing are being assigned to others. We were informed that starting next Monday, Jane will no longer be coming in as she will be using accrued vacation time in lieu of working until the RIF is official.

We were directed to “help her where necessary” to finish out any remaining business this week. So, that’s that. It looks like Jane will indeed get to attend her cousin’s wedding in Florida.

I’m honestly amazed at how quickly things happened too. I suspect that this was a discussion that perhaps had been happening for a while now, and perhaps this was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” so to speak.

Sources: Ask a Manager
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