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How to respond to office prank
August 6, 2014 6:12 AM   Subscribe

I was just at the butt end of an office prank that I believe was rather cruel. What do I do from here?

I'm in a small company that in this city has exactly two employees, me and my boss. I am his executive assistant (essentially -- the title is something different). We rent office space from a slightly larger company, which has 4-6 employees in the office. The other company has something of a culture of pranking. Today, at the end of the day, I closed my computer screen and left the office, but the computer was not set to lock automatically. (Sigh. After this incident, it's password protected.)

A junior executive at the other company sent an email to my boss, from my account, with the subject line "Fuck you." The first sentence was "you're a loser and a stupid ___" (where the blank is the word "boss"). The second sentence was "i hate you." and then my email signature. (Not quoting directly and adding the substution of ____ because I'd prefer the email not to be easily Googleable.)

My boss replied to my email, "wtf." Then he sent another email "Tell me what you really think." Only then I saw his replies on my phone, and I first responded by saying that I would swear on anything I didn't send it, then wrote another email on a fresh chain saying "I have NO IDEA how that email was sent. Just got out of an appointment to see this. I PROMISE you I did not send that and it's the exact opposite of what I think."

I was shaking, terrified of getting fired. I think I'm a hard worker who is an asset to the company, but in recent months there have been a couple times where I've made small but noticeable slipups. Nothing truly catastrophic, but I don't think it's crazy to think something seriously bad could lead me to being fired. So I immediately drove back to work to sort this issue out.

On the drive over, my boss gradually realized that it was probably a prank from one of the other people in the office. He emailed me not to sweat it and told me to make a joke with the junior executive about me supposedly getting fired. I said I'd "bring my heretofore undiscovered acting talents to the table." When I arrived in the office I tried to play it off as a joke with the junior executive, we laughed together about it, and then I wrote one more email to my boss lightheartedly making it clear that it was indeed that junior exec after all.

So on some level it's cleared up now, and I'm not getting fired. Tomorrow my boss and the exec will likely both be in the office and they'll probably chuckle about it while getting coffee. I guess my main concern is taken care of, but I think this prank was really really cruel. But if I call him the guy out on it, I come off like the guy who can't take a joke. (In addition, I'm the only gay person in the office of all straight people and almost all guys -- not that anyone's homophobic, but I'd come off like the gay guy who's simply not "one of the guys." I'm a slightly quiet, introverted, and sometimes anxious person anyways, so not coming from the strongest point to begin with.)

So what do I do? Do I just let this sit? Do I prank him back? Do I call him out? If so, how?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (47 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would let it sit, because to an outside observer this whole thing makes that guy look like an utter idiot and you an innocent victim. I don't think this was aimed at you at all; he just saw an opportunity and took it, and made himself look immature and stupid as a result. I'd give a fake smile or laugh if it comes up and give it as little attention as possible.
posted by something something at 6:18 AM on August 6 [23 favorites]


I'm a fan of pranks if they're done properly and this... this is not a prank. This is just a really, really shitty thing to do. You are right to be upset.

Since you've already sort of laughed it off you can't really go back on that at this point. I would password protect your computer and then ask the exec, or ask your boss to ask him, not to touch your computer, or anyone else's computer, again.

This would get you fired at my company. Using anyone else's account could get you fired. I know things are different in a small office but sending an email from someone else's account is WAY out of line.

A prank is putting tape on the bottom of their mouse or putting googly eyes on their phone. This was just assholish.
posted by bondcliff at 6:19 AM on August 6 [95 favorites]


Does your small company have an HR department in another location? Because you need to document this - it's not a prank, it's harassment.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:19 AM on August 6 [14 favorites]


What the hell? That's totally unprofessional and would never fly at a larger organization.

I would try and bring it up with your boss again this morning, say that it violated the company's property and could have been very damaging to your professional reputation. Hopefully your boss will take you seriously and bring it up with the other company exec. If that doesn't help, then I'm afraid you may be forced to just brush it off and keep doing your thing. Maybe tell the hilarious pranker that you didn't really appreciate it and that it could have been really problematic if say, a client had seen it, or something like that. You probably can't afford to make a huge fuss over it in this environment.

Man, small businesses are weird.
posted by Think_Long at 6:20 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]


And don't just password protect your computer. Make sure the screen is locked whenever the keyboard is not in your view.
posted by ubiquity at 6:21 AM on August 6 [12 favorites]


Make sure the screen is locked whenever the keyboard is not in your view.

Yeah, at my company, the person who accessed the other person's account to send the email would be in trouble, but the person who failed to lock their computer would also be in trouble.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 6:23 AM on August 6 [6 favorites]


I wouldn't try to prank this person back, simply because this isn't a prank, as others have mentioned. It's just some guy who thinks he's funny being an asshole, and you don't want to encourage someone to continue being an asshole to you.
posted by griphus at 6:28 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


Your company is sharing office space with people who think this is appropriate. I would be deeply, deeply uncomfortable working there.

When you said "prank", I thought someone had gift-wrapped your desk or glued your business cards together. My work mates love pranks. This would get everyone who was a part of it fired on the spot.
posted by third word on a random page at 6:29 AM on August 6 [18 favorites]


Occasional prankster here. Seconding bondcliff that this is NOT a prank.

This is an appalling lack of judgment/professionalism/conscience, take your pick. Also may qualify as communications tampering and harassment in some jurisdictions.

Your initial response to this determines how your coworkers perceive and treat you in the future. It's counter-intuitive, but you need to hit back hard. Professionally, but hard.

Something like an email to the junior executive with your boss in copy restating the incident, with an emphasis on unauthorized access to/impersonation of your account and possible violation of company policy, and a request for an apology. Make it very clear that you find his conduct unacceptable.

I have a list of dealbreakers at work: unfunny "pranks" that threaten my reputation or safety would be one of them.

If your boss/HR brushes you off, this is a sign that this is not the workplace for you.
posted by Occam's Aftershave at 6:37 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


I work in a small office that used to be even smaller. Back in the earlier days it was like the wild west in here, lots of youngish, extremely spoiled guys with no boundaries or impulse control who just did whatever the fuck they wanted. (Now they just whine a lot, teehee!)

Anyway, they pranked the guy who sat next to me by going onto his unlocked computer after hours and changing his computer background to bestiality porn. They did this a few times a week, every week, for like forever.

While I was in the bathroom for 5 minutes they mspainted a speech bubble onto my computer background (a picture of my dog) to make my dog say "I am ugly!" (Ok, that one was funny.)

Point is, people are dumb and dumb people who have been given unlimited space to be dumb will probably from time to time be dumb at/near you. Your boss understands this. It's unlikely to change, though, at least for a good long while, unless you move out of that office. It's up to you to decide if you can put up with it. If not, find another job.

And yeah, lock your computer. If you're on windows, it's the windows key+L, super easy and instantaneous!
posted by phunniemee at 6:38 AM on August 6 [7 favorites]


At my employer (admittedly a large company), both the person who used the other account to send the bogus e-mail, AND the person who didn't lock his screen when leaving his desk (or log out when leaving for the day) would have gotten in trouble.

I've also worked for a small drinking company with a software problem where this kind of thing was the norm (however, in that case the company had 12 total employees and we did not share office space with any other companies but rather had an entire floor of an office building with considerable amounts of unused office space -- so I could see how they might at some point decide to sublet out that space). Even there, when I brought things that bothered me up to my superiors, the issues were addressed... for about a week or so.

This incident should not be taken lightly. If your small company has higher-ups at another office, this should be brought up with them, but talk to your boss first.
posted by tckma at 6:39 AM on August 6


To reiterate, at a larger company, this would be a fireable offense for the guy who used someone else's computer, and a serious reprimand for the person who let their computer unlocked. In fact at my organization the person was fired, but it was implied that if they hadn't been a IT person who should have known better, they would not have been fired, but as they had admin access to every computer on-site and one could wreak significant havoc from their desktop, this was a huge IT blunder. For an exec assistant, more likely a reprimand.

Anyway, you've fixed that now, but one avenue you could take is to talk with IT about security practices. In a larger company, one result of such an incident would be a 30-minute talk from IT at the next group meeting stressing the importance of password-protecting everything, underscoring how essential security is, and generally boring everybody out of their heads while adding increased regulations about computer use. You could use this info session as your payback. Unless your company is too small to have an IT department and explicit security practices.
posted by aimedwander at 6:43 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Wow. That is staggeringly poor judgment on that guy's part. I'm sitting here trying to understand why the fuck anyone would think that that was even remotely okay. Honestly I think it even scares me. I mean I guess it would be one thing if instead of a malicious email he had sent just a goofy, funny one about something. But even that would just be weird and totally unnecessary. You're right to be very upset and angry about this. Only you know what the dynamics of your workplace are, but maybe you should sit the guy down and tell him how inappropriate it was and how potentially costly it was. You could tell him that it felt disrespectful and even mean, what he did, and ask him if he has some grievances with you that you two need to sort out. In any case, that guy sounds like an idiot and I'm sorry you have to work with him.
posted by early one morning at 6:47 AM on August 6 [6 favorites]


"It's just a joke" does not grant the joker immunity from consequences, nor does it give him a free pass to be as cruel and unprofessional as he wants.

I'd meet with your boss again and explain that, even if it was supposedly a prank, it threatened your professional reputation and is not acceptable workplace behavior, and no matter how many personal precautions you take or how willing you are to roll with the punches, you can't do work to your full potential while constantly having to look over your shoulder for horrible pranks like this. If applicable, use the magic words: what if this was a client?

Ask if your boss will agree to a meeting with the dipshit and his supervisor. Dipshit can prank his own coworkers all he wants if that's their company culture, but he shouldn't be messing with other companies, even if they do share space.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:50 AM on August 6 [21 favorites]


Small businesses are not only weird; in my experience they are usually toxic in exactly this manner. It's why I never work for them, personally, not anymore. I agree with the people above who have said this is not a prank, it's an asshole doing an asshole thing.

After taking the reasonable step of password-protecting and locking your computer whenever you are not touching it, I think you should ask for a meeting with your boss. Tell him that you feel this behavior was not a good-natured prank that missed its mark; it was an authorized use of your computer which threatened your professional reputation. Ask how the company will handle any future behavior like this because, upon reflection, you don't feel it was handled well.

On preview, basically do what Occam's Aftershave and Meteroid Baby have suggested. That sort of "joke" has the potential to harm the company, not just your professional reputation, but the company. All emails are, essentially, public, given how easily they are shared.

If this behavior was seen as acceptable by most of the people in the office (whether they think it was funny or whether they think it missed the mark), the likelihood is that you will suffer blowback for being unfunny. Everyone has different needs for interacting with their co-workers; I have never cared about being liked by my co-workers and do not tolerate harassment, which this was, so I would approach my boss and ask for a correction. However, calling this "prank" out as harassment (and I'm not saying it's nefarious, just behavior that goes beyond the bounds of professional behavior and is nothing like a harmless prank) is unlikely to win you friends, even if your boss agrees and respects your position.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:52 AM on August 6 [6 favorites]


my boss gradually realized that it was probably a prank from one of the other people in the office. He emailed me not to sweat it and told me to make a joke with the junior executive about me supposedly getting fired.

Oh my god I am so sorry this happened to you and happy that you are okay. It sounds like your boss is a right-on guy and made an effort to make it clear that his was not your fault. I'm with the other people in the thread

- this was not a prank
- this was harassment
- since you are gay this could be conceived of as pretty serious harassment and harasser dude needs to be aware of this.
- mention it to HR and include all the info (like "I am gay" which may not be why this happened but HR needs to know this just as an FYI and if they don't take it seriously after that, red flag)
- you can still laugh it off but also be like "seriously dude, you are lucky this is not getting you fired. Please do not do this again or I won't be laughing it off. Promise"

If it were me I'd be taking the high road and doing no "pranking-back" because my idea of a funny joke would be to actually try to get the guy fired at this point. Seriously ugh. Sorry again, I'd use the meeting as an opportunity to be on-the-record serious about it and then publicly being a bit more light about it.
posted by jessamyn at 7:00 AM on August 6 [6 favorites]


Just to add my two cents to the mix, I agree that you should not take further action unless your company has a defined HR department that protects YOU (and not the other division/company). Consider it a lesson learned about locking your computer, albeit a cruel one. I've had something similar in the past and no good can come from telling the junior executive how his actions affected you. He won't care, as people who do these types of cruel things are usually narcissistic and unable to get beyond themselves.

I'm so sorry that you had to experience this!
posted by Draccy at 7:00 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


As the former only woman in a sea of males, I've been the target of this kind of shit. Do rise above it, don't retaliate. Start treating those guys like the children that they are. Honestly, one eye-roll from me said everything I needed to say about these types of mean-spirited shenanigans. Everything about your demeanor should say, "I work with infants."

Starting now, get everything personal out of your office space, guys like this LOVE to draw penises on your wedding pictures or similar. Lock up your laptop, and be more vigilant. It sucks because you're the victim here, but we all work in the real world and sometimes you just have to protect yourself. In a fair work, this guy would be looking for work.

Don't worry so much about being one of the guys. These guys aren't the kind of group you want to associate with. Be cool to them, civil, but it's perfectly okay to act as though they are too young and silly to be bothered with.

Hang in there. You've learned two things:

1. Lock up your laptop

2. These guys aren't worth your time or your respect. Treat them as such.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:16 AM on August 6 [21 favorites]


Ugh. Glad it didn't escalate.

Your situation -- discrimination within a shared-office setting -- reminds me a lot of this Ask. Maybe some of the replies there will be helpful for you.
posted by Dashy at 7:35 AM on August 6


+1 on most of Ruthless Bunny's advice, though I would not clear out all personal stuff, but just quietly remove anything irreplaceable (you don't want to appear vulnerable). The sarcastic eyeroll and shrug method is what I have used when faced with such "pranks" or their aftermath.

And yeah, I would not really consider it a prank either, but I think you need to let it lie for now given that you and your boss have taken the more "light" approach already, and also because you did not lock your computer down when you left. I think it would be ok to mention to your boss though that this situation is handled, and the guy won't be able to access your computer again, but that you also think this actually crossed the line into unprofessionalism, especially the ethics of several companies sharing one physical space, and that while you have as much a sense of humor as the next person, this went a bit too far, and that you will not be as tolerant if a line gets crossed again, especially if it might risk your personal reputation or that of your company.

Also seconding this: you can still laugh it off but also be like "seriously dude, you are lucky this is not getting you fired. Please do not do this again or I won't be laughing it off. Promise."
posted by gudrun at 7:49 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]


That could have gotten you fired and it sounds like a passive aggressive way to get you fired. Is the jerk gunning for your job? Document all incidents. If he pulls enough 'jokes' then it should violate your lease agreement. Your boss rents space from these people so that he can run his business. 'Jokes' like that can interfere with the running of his business.

It's too late now to say anything about it. Just document and observer. Watch your back. Do not share any personal information or any business information with these people. I'm so sorry that you have to see the jerk every day.
posted by myselfasme at 7:50 AM on August 6


Also seconding this: you can still laugh it off but also be like "seriously dude, you are lucky this is not getting you fired. Please do not do this again or I won't be laughing it off. Promise."

Thirding this. You've already laughed it off, but I would make it crystal clear when nobody else but Junior Asshole is looking that you don't think it's funny and that he should probably be worried about you going forward. You don't have to say anything except with your face, but he should come in to work every day slightly worried that if he choked on his lunch you'd sit there and watch him die.

If you do not have an email in your possession that clearly states that your boss received an offensive email, that he is aware you did not write it, and that you both are aware who did, go ahead and write that email to summarize and send it to him and CC your personal email in case you need it for a future unemployment claim. Just to cover your ass, and so that people know you are covering your ass. It might make your boss rethink whether he needs to do something about this. Because he should be doing something about this.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:07 AM on August 6 [13 favorites]


Ok, i'll admit to have worked for companies, even big companies, where stuff sort of like this was pulled. Leaving your computer unlocked is something that is not done, and no one forgets twice. But even then, the emails sent from the unlocked computer were to the team "hey guys, lunch is on me today at [awesome steak place]!", or "you guys are all so awesome that i'm going to volunteer to do [horrible task everyone hates] all next week!!" Pranks were never malicious, never anything that would get anyone fired. This on the other hand is just stupid, and extremely juvenile. It's not even slightly clever.

I'll nth never, ever leaving your PC unlocked (Have it so the screensaver kicks in after 60 seconds of inactivity, and requires the password to unlock for the times you might forget). You've laughed it off, document it so there's a paper trail of harassment, watch your back but don't retaliate, and if crap like this continues to happen, I'd be looking for a new job.
posted by cgg at 8:13 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]


Besides locking your computer & signing out of your accounts, make sure you get something --- even just an email --- from your boss, acknowledging the original message was't something you wrote. You want a clear statement in writing from your boss that states he knows this other guy is the one who did it.

And add me to the list that says this wasn't a prank: a prank is leaving a whoopee cushion on your chair.... this was a mean-spirited and cruel bit of bullying that, yeah, could've gotten you fired.
posted by easily confused at 8:15 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]


Yeah, a prank is something harmless and silly, to me. This wasn't a prank, this was an attempt to get you in hot water with your boss, and possibly to get you fired. I wouldn't laugh it off and let it go, I'd be insisting on a meeting with the dipshit, his boss, and your boss. I worry that just laughing it off will make the dipshit think it's okay to keep messing with you.
posted by sarcasticah at 8:22 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


I hope that was the only email the junior executive sent out from your account. This would be a good thing to find out.
posted by jamaro at 8:27 AM on August 6 [22 favorites]


Guys, the OP is one of a two person company. There is no IT department, no HR department, nothing.

OP, everyone else is totally correct, this was not a prank, this was a nasty shitty thing done by a nasty shitty thing to hurt you or get you in trouble. I'm really glad for you that your boss is on your side in this, but you should look for something else as soon as you can. Definitely don't prank him back because it will escalate into terribleness. Don't waste your time telling him how shitty it was to do because he already knows.
posted by elizardbits at 8:28 AM on August 6 [15 favorites]


And yes, oh my god, check your outgoing mail for other shitty stuff.
posted by elizardbits at 8:29 AM on August 6 [14 favorites]


I didn't even think of that. Definitely check your sent mail folder, the trash folder... and if you have used anything like Twitter or Facebook on your computer there, check that too.
posted by sarcasticah at 8:54 AM on August 6 [6 favorites]


Also, OP, if you are using Outlook you can set it to have its own password and use that as well as your regular password to open your computer. Also make sure that all of your browsers are not set to auto-remember passwords for any personal or business emails or accounts or anything. If you have your business email/personal email on your phone, make sure that too is password protected after like 5 minutes of nonuse if possible, and always make sure you don't leave it unattended.

I'm sorry this happened to you, and that you will have to take ridiculously high level security steps to prevent it from happening again, but it's either that or find a new job ASAP. You're dealing with someone whose opening move (in a shitty game you didn't even know was being played or consent to joining in any way) was a fucking nuclear level life ruining piece of epic bullshit, and there is little chance of them de-escalating now that they've gotten away with it.
posted by elizardbits at 9:37 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


It's possible that using someone else's computer without authorization is a crime, especially in a business, and especially in a malicious way. There are some digital privacy laws that are unrealistic and rarely enforced, but I'd do some research. Then I'd make a written complaint to the manager of the other group. If it's possible to frame it as possibly criminal, it will get even more attention. It's incredibly invasive, stupid, and not at all amusing. I like pranks, and people at my last job weren't always great about staying over the line on meanness. This is well beyond that. What could the other group do to make it up to you and your boss? Because I would ask for some form of compensation.

While you're at it, put a PIN on your phone, too.
posted by theora55 at 9:40 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


the OP is one of a two person company

It may be larger than just two people. I read it to mean there are only two people in this location and that is why they are working in another office.

"I'm in a small company that in this city has exactly two employees, me and my boss."
posted by soelo at 9:42 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


You should talk to your boss about possibly moving your office to a different workplace, because apparently the people you rent from see nothing wrong with tampering with your business's computer equipment when you aren't there. That's completely fucking out of line. I used to work for a large organization that rented out some office space, and if I or anyone I worked with had so much as set foot in those rooms, we would have been fired or at least severely reprimanded.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:06 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


In the absence of HR, with no leverage, in the face of daily exposure to one or more psychopathic douchebags, I would suggest making an effort to appear to "roll with it", while applying for jobs elsewhere, immediately. Demonstrating hurt, or even seriousness about it, will mark you for more abuse. Honestly, it sounds like this idiot is capable of committing any of the classic fratboy horrors. Humour is the most protective strategy in this case, imo; it's also the line your boss has taken. Now how you summon up the wherewithal to "be cool" about it, I wish I could say. Don't prank him back, because I can see that escalating too, but maybe try to think up some good lines to use when there's an audience. As far as I can determine, part of the "guy/idiot" ethos is to give as good as you get; maybe that will garner enough "respect" to get him to leave you alone.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:26 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


I worked at a place where office pranks were common, and if someone left their computer unlocked, we'd change their desktop background to a scary clown face. What you're describing is on another level. I would not try to prank him back or say another word about it. I would just let it go and pretend it never happened. The junior exec is just making himself look bad.
posted by Librarypt at 11:51 AM on August 6


Since you already laughed it off and your boss encouraged you to be cool, I would let it go THIS TIME and keep my computer on lock down. Sometimes idiots see "pranks" as a way of initiating someone into their group.

If this asshat bothers you again, though, show no mercy! You need to do everything in your power to stop a pattern of harassment before it gains momentum. Sarcasticah has the right idea: make sure his boss knows you feel threatened by his violation of your -- and your company's -- boundaries.

I hate this guy on your behalf.
posted by jessca84 at 1:24 PM on August 6


If it's any comfort, OP, your boss - if he has a skerrick of professionalism and or good sense - probably thinks this prankster is a colossal dickhead now and distrust, dislikes him as much as you.
posted by smoke at 3:56 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Yes, that guy was a shithead. You're right to be pissed at him.

You should also be pissed at your boss. He should have got your back. Even if he and the shithead are buddies, this was pretty nasty for you, and your boss knew it.

From what you say, it sounds like the boss and this junior exec are pals. This isn't a winning situation for you. You're already odd man out in the office, your boss won't stand up for you, and the office asshole has got you in his crosshairs.

Just move on. Find a new job. In the meantime, don't be so scared of getting fired, and don't be so conciliatory and placating with your boss. If something nasty happens again before you find a new job, announce you're taking the rest of the day off and walk out that minute. Seriously. If you don't have a job the next day you will survive, I promise, and later you'll look back on it fondly.
posted by mattu at 6:23 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


Today, at the end of the day, I closed my computer screen and left the office, but the computer was not set to lock automatically.

Closed the computer screen, what, like a laptop? Why is he opening up IT equipment that belongs to your business in the first place?

That right there, even if you just closed all the active windows on screen but left the desktop up, is risking a firing. You don't touch computers that don't belong to you. How does he know he wasn't going to get a face full of sensitive data when he opened your Outlook? There may even be a memorandum of agreement between the two companies regarding sharing space that mentions this - it's something I would put in there. If I was your boss that's the angle I would take with THAT guy's boss: Why was your employee snooping in my computer equipment? Why is that employee not an ex-employee already?

Sure, black eye for you in not securing your computer, but that's no excuse for him.
posted by ctmf at 10:31 PM on August 6 [8 favorites]


Also, why was your employee sending me offensive email?
posted by ctmf at 10:36 PM on August 6 [3 favorites]


How does he know he wasn't going to get a face full of sensitive data when he opened your Outlook?

Or did he? I know if someone went into my email, they (and I) would be in a world of pain being interviewed by very serious people about exactly what all was accessed. Personally identifying sensitive information? Confidential financial data?

You should suggest to your boss that the two of you have no idea what else that guy did with your computer, and laughing this off is probably the wrong approach. You might suggest your boss's boss might not approve of his determination that this is no big deal.

On the other hand, you might not suggest that last thing, because it could get you in more trouble. But that asshole needs the fear of God put into him until he reflexively shields his eyes if he so much as accidentally glances at your screen.
posted by ctmf at 10:58 PM on August 6 [4 favorites]


Note if this escalates that a password is a minor speed bump to a motivated attacker with physical access to your machine.
posted by Mitheral at 11:16 PM on August 6


There was a time when I was working for a consultancy at a Fortune 50 company not to be named here. We grew from five guys to about twenty guys in a few weeks because we were trying to meet the Y2K deadline for certain legacy systems conversions, and it was a hairy time. Though we all had different duties (I was a paperwork nerd for the whole team, for instance), there was a lot of downtime, and a lot of hanging out in a glorified server room where clients from the Fortune 50 company would visit us to file change requests and things of that nature.

Well, we had this new guy who really, really didn't get along with this other guy, and turned it into a sort of brah-culture thing between the two of them -- a Dwight and Jim rivalry, but that hadn't happened yet -- and the new, much more awkward, and TBH generally disliked guy kept escalating while the better-liked Jim fellow was working hard and increasingly annoyed by it.

Well. The New Guy decided one day that he would break into the Nice Guy's computer ... and change his screen saver to gay porno. Explicit, lemonparty gay porno. Snake out, as it were. It was embedded into a screen saver that cycled through various fluorescent hues. Then he locked the workstation.

As we trickled in for our morning meeting, really, there was not one whit of approval. This went far beyond anything done before in the name of teasing. Some of us begged him to undo it (he promised as soon as Nice Guy found it and was embarrassed by it, he would), someone tried to break into the workstation, and finally someone made the executive decision to just de-power the monitor during our morning meeting. I think what happened, though, was that one of our other consultants came in to borrow a workstation (filing his timesheet, perhaps) and was immediately disgusted by the background, but left it powered on.

Naturally the next person to walk into the room and see it was a senior manager at the Fortune 50 company. He may have been dropping off something for someone like me, or just following up on something minor, but he could not help but see it.

That New Guy? Never seen again.

Do not laugh this off. This was super, super unprofessional and designed to get you into a very problematic situation; that's unacceptable in the workplace.
posted by dhartung at 11:30 PM on August 6 [3 favorites]


So I'm a psycho cranky bitch and I'm okay with that, but this is how I would respond if I were you. (I too would have laughed it off at the time, albeit uncomfortably, because I was just so stunned and didn't know how to react then.) But this is how I would go into work the next day.

When you see the 'prankster', smile broadly and say, "hey, you know that prank, that was...", let the smile drop and turn your expression into the most intense eyeball-boring glare you can muster, while saying "pretty fucking childish, and if I find out that you've emailed clients/customers/acquaintances with something similar, you are in for a world of hurt, fuck-knuckle".

And I'd walk away and give him the cold shoulder from then on.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 6:21 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Also have your computer malware-scanned, backed up, the OS nuked and reinstalled, the whole dog and pony show, at the other company's expense, and bill them for lost time. Ask them to search all their removable media for data that may have come from your system and report back to you. (Well, your boss, as the senior on-site person should do that. I mean your company, collectively.)

Just to make the point that this is not at all "funny."
posted by ctmf at 10:55 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


It's well and good to say what ideally should happen in this very not-funny, very unacceptable scenario, but the boss is not, apparently, willing to step in and take the kind of firm line everyone would hope would be made (though of course I hope this isn't the case and that he's had a word with other boss).

Maybe boss can appreciate the theoretical possibility of a security breach, but for whatever reason has judged that the junior executive isn't a risk (maybe because he thinks the exec is too dumb to do anything harmful, or that it's just a "guy" thing, not a big deal...). If that's true, how does an employee convince a boss to take an interest in his business? If action from the top down isn't (seemingly) in the cards, there's no professional culture or other backup, and OP is limited in terms of the kind of hurt he could impose on the dumbass without retaliation, what then? The tools left in the schoolyard arsenal I can see are either control it with a public verbal smackdown (using humour, to blunt the edge and reduce odds of retaliation) or walk away.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:19 AM on August 8


Good point. I think my strategy would be the straightforward one. Not laugh it off, not retaliate, not make a big scene. Just "Dude, you almost got me fired yesterday, and you did cost me a lot of time coming back to work. At the least, you ratted me out to my boss that I left my computer unlocked, instead of just telling me. Not funny, not cool."
posted by ctmf at 10:31 AM on August 8


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