Am I overreacting to an office prank?
November 24, 2016 5:26 PM   Subscribe

My boss and one of my direct reports teamed up to play a public practical joke on me. It feels mean instead of funny. Am I overreacting?

I'm a clumsy person. Trip-over-a-chalk-line clumsy. Over the years I have dealt with it by laughing at myself before others can laugh at me and by being physically fit in other ways-- endurance, for instance.

We just had a launch of a large project at work which had been my baby for the last year. Part of our company tradition involves managers doing a symbolic physical task at an opening-- I'm being purposely vague about what this is, but imagine it is something like assembling a box or planting a tree or washing dishes. (A physical task which takes some effort to accomplish, but which would be reasonably accomplished by any fit person given enough time.) I was up on the stage with my boss, his boss, and the coworker who will manage the project and we all had to do this task to symbolise our company's growth and success. In the audience were press, coworkers, and members of the public.

I was already nervous because, as I mentioned, I am clumsy. I was trying to make a good impression. And indeed, I had a really difficult time completing the task. I was the last person to finish, and I found it pretty embarrassing. But like I said, I have a lot of experience in laughing at myself, so I kept my head high and made a bit of theater over my lack of coordination. No problem.

I had thought that my problem was my own fault, but I found out later that my boss and one of my direct reports had teamed up to rig the tools to make my task especially difficult, and that they had made a video of me having trouble doing it. Two other people, at least, knew about it. In my small company that means everyone knows.

And here's the part which feels really mean-- *nobody told me*. I found out about it the next day, and then I spoke to my boss about it and he said "oh we were laughing with you, not at you." It appears the idea came from my direct report. My boss thought it was a good idea. They got one other person to set it up and then a fourth to videotape it.

I told my boss that I found this mean, not funny. And if they had been laughing with me and not at me, someone would have shared the joke at the time. I haven't said anything to my direct report because, honestly, I'm too angry.

My boss has apologised, but in a sorrynotsorry kind of way and clearly feels I am overreacting. I think this was mean, unprofessional, and undermined the relationship with my coworkers and team member. I have worked in this company for many years, and generally have a good relationship-- even a friendship-- with my boss. We have no general company culture of pranking, so this feels like it came out of the blue.

Am I overreacting?

Note: There is no point in talking to HR, so don't bother advising it. My only real option is changing jobs. And I thought I liked my job. Right now, I'm just trying to figure out if I am overreacting or not.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (56 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I absolutely don't think you'd be overreacting if you decided to start looking at other jobs. This was an intentional public embarrassment in front of press. That's not cool. I wouldn't quit in a huff over it, but I'd start looking, and when I left, I'd make sure my boss's boss knew that what motivated me to leave was that my boss had undermined me in front of the press and the public.
posted by decathecting at 5:32 PM on November 24, 2016 [89 favorites]

You are not overreacting. This was bizarre and inappropriate to the point where I'm just at a loss. Does your direct report stand to gain your job if you leave or are let go? Is there some office politics angle on this? Is there some kind of upheaval at the company? Are you making a lot of salary because of your experience? I can't understand why someone would do this except as some kind of way to knife you or drive you out - it's otherwise such a lapse in judgment and so unprofessional. You reacted extremely well, though - you're a real star on that front.

This is where I'd be looking at other jobs too, because I would not feel secure in a place where my senior was colluding with my junior to make me look bad.

What an incredibly unprofessional, bizarre, awful thing for them to do. I just want to go smack them for you.
posted by Frowner at 5:34 PM on November 24, 2016 [60 favorites]

You shouldn't work with or for people who don't treat you with respect and dignity.

I say this to people in abusive relationships, and I have the sense it applies here too: If this wasn't enough to make you leave, what would be? Would it have to be worse than this? Do you want to be the person that happens to?

I would start looking for another job immediately.
posted by mhoye at 5:44 PM on November 24, 2016 [17 favorites]

Yeah, if they'd let you in on it, even after, then maybe ok, depending on cultural fit, level of friendliness, whatever & etc. But not even telling you makes it kinda bizarrely hostile.
How could they be laughing with you when you weren't aware there was a joke?
posted by quinndexter at 5:45 PM on November 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

Mean. Sadistic, even. Yes, I think roping your report into this did undermine you and was maybe the point. Might the boss perceive you as a threat in some way? Have you ever openly criticized or outshined him in a way he might have experienced as humiliating? Are you a member of a minority group? It's bullying for sure but I wonder whether there's something retributive about this...

At this point, the answer only matters for later reflection - agree with others, leave asap. (I mean cover yourself and have a plan, don't let him/this put you in a position where you haven't got a safety net.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:50 PM on November 24, 2016 [8 favorites]

At first I was thinking, "Yeah, probably overreacting." Then I got to the part where they didn't tell you. It was mean not to tell you right away, and if they weren't planning on ever telling you, that's even meaner and also really weird. But you found out somehow. Did someone tell you on purpose the next day, thinking you would all have a good laugh about it then? Or did you find out by accident?

If someone who was involved did tell you about it the next day and they didn't act like they expected you to be angry or hurt about it, I could see it being a failed attempt at a funny prank rather than a deliberate attempt to be mean. If they didn't intend to tell you even the next day, then it doesn't sound like they actually like you.
posted by Redstart at 5:51 PM on November 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

"I think this was mean, unprofessional, and undermined the relationship with my coworkers and team member."

I agree with you 100% and I don't think you're overreacting.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:53 PM on November 24, 2016 [9 favorites]

Your direct report is out to undermine you and has talked your coworkers into joining them without them really understanding (or maybe they do??)

Can you fire your direct report? Otherwise, yes, you should leave this job. You work with idiots who are easily co-opted.

I absolutely believe you can fire someone for insubordination for this. How ugly, it even makes the company look bad as a group. YMMV. I hope you can fire this person, that would solidify your power and put an end to the shenanigans. Your direct report no longer deserves their job under you. Please act.
posted by jbenben at 5:53 PM on November 24, 2016 [41 favorites]

The key to a prank like this is to do it from a place of love, which means, at least, letting the victim in on the joke before it's over and saving face for them in some way. Like, oh no! he can't open envelopes, so we opened the envelope for you, ha ha! and it's a framed picture of us at the ropes course from last year! Or something. Anything.

This prank did not come from a place of love, so far as I can tell. No good-natured joke leaves its target out of the loop.
posted by radicalawyer at 5:53 PM on November 24, 2016 [28 favorites]


No, you are not overreacting. They should have told you right away (if they had to do it at all). These people don't have your best interests at heart. You owe them nothing.
posted by rpfields at 5:54 PM on November 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

I would go back to your boss and have a conversation that makes it very clear that that turned out to be a mean joke but in a way that avoid making demands on him. If he is basically a good guy, he will hear you. If he isn't, demanding an apology or forcing a confrontation would probably not do any good.

I would say something like "The difference between a fun prank and mean one is that with a fun prank, the perpetrators share the joke with the victim and victim finds it funny. I just wanted to let you know, for the future, that that wasn't funny for me. I'm sure you didn't mean to be mean - we all get it wrong sometime and that was a joke that misfired. We have a good relationship, I'm sure you wouldn't do it again. [change the subject]
posted by metahawk at 5:58 PM on November 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

I misread, my apologies - charismatic new male star persuades long-time male boss to humiliate manager, boss is nominally friendly, no history of enmity? Boss doesn't even question it, asks you to laugh it off?

I could be wrong but this feels very boys' clubbish to me. I don't know how you're not part of this club, but it seems possible that there is an element of discrimination here. If this is possible and you're inclined to act on it (which seems more than all right to me), I don't think it would be unreasonable to speak to a lawyer, and collect evidence / witness testimony in case it's required.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:16 PM on November 24, 2016 [21 favorites]

You're not overreacting. I commend you for handling this as well as you have.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 6:26 PM on November 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

If there had been some big reveal during this press event like "Hey! We made it harder for you because you knocked the ball out of the park on this one! Overachiever!" it would have seemed like it was coming from a good-hearted place.

So yes, not overreacting. As you say, they would have shared the joke at the time had it been otherwise.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:54 PM on November 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

If you're overreacting, well, I'd overreact a lot more than you.

There are some people who think it's funny to make other people uncomfortable. I don't like these people and I don't want to work with them.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:54 PM on November 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I spoke to my boss about it and he said "oh we were laughing with you, not at you."

This is mealy mouthed bullshit. They were laughing at you. They only way that they could have been laughing with you is if you were in on the joke. And you weren't.

I had thought that my problem was my own fault, but I found out later that my boss and one of my direct reports had teamed up to rig the tools to make my task especially difficult, and that they had made a video of me having trouble doing it. Two other people, at least, knew about it. In my small company that means everyone knows.

They rigged a competition to humiliate you in public. And they filmed it, without your knowledge. Your coworkers are assholes. You are not overreacting.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:08 PM on November 24, 2016 [44 favorites]

Not an overreaction at all. When people poke fun with each other in healthy ways, it's a mutual and affectionate thing. I don't see the mutuality here, and if it were affectionate, they would not have lacked the understanding of how it felt hurtful to you, and would have apologized right away. If there was any good intention at all, it was tone-deaf to the 100th degree, and had a total lack of self-reflection when someone pointed it out to them. Even taking away everything before that, simply taking a video of someone without their permission, in an attempt to do something with it for amusement, is horribly insensitive and a violation of trust.

I'm sorry this happened to you, and I feel the discomfort a bit myself, as I'm also very clumsy, and I have to joke about it at times, too. If someone ever videotaped me and sent it around, behind my back, I would have felt at a total loss of words and it would have been a violation of trust. However, one thing that I've learned over time is that I've been given what I've been given in life regarding my abilities, and those who feel the need to point it out to others are to be more pitied, because who wants to live life not having developed mentally past the age of a 9th grader?
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:15 PM on November 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

this is totally a shit thing to happen, but also you still did the stupid hard task even tough they rigged it. so screw those jerks.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:22 PM on November 24, 2016 [8 favorites]

This was to knock you down a peg or two (from the perspective of your boss) and to undermine you (from the perspective of the new report) - a lot of dumb companies behave like this - jumping ship is probably best for your career.
posted by heyjude at 7:26 PM on November 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

I would talk to a lawyer about whether this was constructive dismissal or workplace bullying and harassment, while looking for another job.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 7:37 PM on November 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

Definitely fire your direct report if you can. That's unprofessional as fuck. If they don't experience consequences for humiliating people, they'll never really understand that they can't just be assholes like this and call it a "joke".

To be clear: It is not a joke if you humiliate someone and don't even tell someone about it. It's people enjoying humiliation.

Also, start looking quietly. Your boss does not respect you at all, and maybe even resents that you shipped this project.
posted by ignignokt at 7:42 PM on November 24, 2016 [22 favorites]

I don't think you're overreacting; this was mean and unkind. Unprofessional, too.

It may or may not come from a place of real animosity, though.

However, I can totally imagine this resulting from the confluence of one or two really insensitive people and one or two really clueless people. It is possible that your direct report has zero emotional intelligence and just thought it would be "funny" as in "The Simpsons" or "South Park". I can imagine very, very young me not blinking an eye at this idea, or maybe the neighbors (older) who had a rollicking time telling me the anecdote about how a sneaky squirrel got into their house and they decided to shoot it, with a gun, inside their house. People like this exist, they're not intentionally malevolent, they're just not socialized at all.

Then the boss or bosses don't want to seem like they are joy killers, and can't articulate why this would be a bad idea, so they feel like they have to go along with it.

It's like people who tap on fish tanks or who think it's fun to scare animals (see: lots of YouTube videos). They just want a reaction, any reaction, and aren't really even aware that the object of their action might have feelings about it.

This is something that _some_ children are taught to get past, but _other_ children are not taught. It's such a fundamental lesson to a lot of people that those who don't have this knowledge in them can seem bizarre and malevolent. They are certainly harmful, in a real way, but it's a mistake to think they are really hateful.

I'm not saying that's what's going on here, but just that you shouldn't quit tomorrow without taking other things into account.
posted by amtho at 7:50 PM on November 24, 2016 [9 favorites]

This wasn't a prank; it's harassment and indicative of bullying behavior. The fact that everyone else says it's a joke doesn't make it one. It is also a good indication that your company has some issues within it's social structure that may interfere in your work. Your questioning the environment in which this was permitted is not an overreaction.
posted by lester at 7:51 PM on November 24, 2016 [23 favorites]

NO you are not overreacting AT ALL!! This is a super fucked up and horrible thing to do to a coworker. I sincerely hope you are able to fire your direct report over this. If not, start looking for a new job.

I'm so sorry your coworkers are such self-serving pieces of shit.
posted by a strong female character at 8:22 PM on November 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nope, not overreacting.

Your boss under-reacted when he failed to say 'interesting (?) but completely unacceptable and unprofessional, nope, no way, the idea is to honor, not humiliate' when the idea was proposed.
posted by Dashy at 8:42 PM on November 24, 2016

It may or may not come from a place of real animosity, though.

Disagree. One of them might be clueless, stupid, and easily led. The other was not. Stupid joking that's benign in intent - teasing - still includes the target. The point is to include the target. There was definitely malice here and definitely a basic dehumanization of OP at play.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:43 PM on November 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

It may or may not come from a place of real animosity, though.

they made a SECRET VIDEO of it so they could laugh at the OP again later. these people are vicious horrible hateful assholes.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:05 PM on November 24, 2016 [26 favorites]

this is like the kind of thing you fake your own death over and pin it on your coworkers tbh.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:06 PM on November 24, 2016 [26 favorites]

I think you're overreacting.

You say that you have a history of laughing at yourself before others do. If you always laugh at your clumsiness then your coworkers probably have no idea that it's is a point of embarrassment for you. If they have no idea you are deeply embarrassed by your clumsiness then they have no reason to think they're doing anything except setting you up for a joke that you're game for.

I am unclear about whether you were brought in on the joke by your boss the next day or whether you stumbled upon people secretly laughing about what happened the day before and then went to your boss about that. If your boss brought you in on it the next day then it's certainly crass that they didn't clue you in same-day and they could have handled it better, but it does sound like they attempted to laugh "with" you and they bungled it. It sucks, but it's not malicious.

And I'm sorry, but to the people talking about firing your direct report? Good lord. "Yeah, Pete? I canned him because he asked my boss if he could rig my [dishrag] so I looked like a fool [washing dishes] and my boss said yes." Look for a new job if you want, but trying to fire someone for making you look silly - especially if your boss green-lighted it - is far, far worse than anything anyone else did.
posted by good lorneing at 9:23 PM on November 24, 2016 [12 favorites]

a basic dehumanization of OP

That's my point exactly. To some people, other people aren't really fully "human"; being able to have empathy for others is partly innate, partly learned -- learned very early in life from other people.

I'm not saying you should put up with this at all. In fact, this lack of empathy is a serious issue with implications for the whole company, both internally and competitively.

The difference is that one interpretation -- "this was vicious", "they have marked you as a target and are working to dehumanize you" -- implies focused, developed malice toward the OP as an individual. Another interpretation -- "these are people who lack a conception of others as fully human", "they're having fun at your expense just as they would do to any creature who reacted in a 'funny' way" -- means that you are not particularly a target, and the behavior may not worsen, even though the perpetrators are extremely unpleasant.

Again, this reminds me of those terrible YouTube videos of people scaring animals or watching them be in panicked distress (e.g., cats flailing around trying to get out of watery bathtubs); most people on Metafilter seem to find them horrifying -- I know I do -- but my parents probably would have laughed, and small children who don't know better would too.
posted by amtho at 9:35 PM on November 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Update from the anonymous OP:
I found out about it from my boss when I asked him why another coworker had apologised to me for the trouble with my tools. He told me in quite a matter of fact way "Oh, that was because we pranked you!"

I am a woman. My direct report is a very young (straight out of school) woman with family connections to the company owner. I've been assigned as her mentor as well as manager.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:54 PM on November 24, 2016

I am so sorry they did this to you, and while I admit that I don't think pranking is EVER funny unless...occasionally, it's punching UP, and even then, only if it's very, very gentle, this is particularly frustrating because of the interpersonal professional setting. It was disrespectful and it was unkind.

But I also believe that when you work someplace where people do not show you respect, it does no good to show your honest face to them. You've just enjoyed a professional success and they thought it was funny to take you down a peg. But having just completed this project, this is the perfect time to take this professional upswing as a catalyst for searching for a new, better job with a respectful atmosphere.

In the meantime, if anyone talks to you about this, if you can manage to keep your voice calm, you can own this (and fend off accusations of being too sensitive) by saying, "I was educated to believe that pranking is a sign of disrespect. I'd hate for our customers/clients/vendors/whomever to be disappointed in the kind of company [Acme] runs."
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 10:33 PM on November 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

The only thing I'd add to what's been said is that if you do choose to bring it up again, don't use the word "mean" - use terms that sound less personal, like "not professional" and "undermining". On preview I agree with The Wrong Kind of Cheese about how with people like that, speaking honestly about feelings can be exposing yourself. What you added about your report's connections doesn't help.
posted by trig at 10:42 PM on November 24, 2016 [15 favorites]

The update that your direct report has "family connections to the company owner" (!) seems really significant to me. I was kind of trying to think of a more benign explanation -- maybe if they were planning a big reveal and an expensive thank-you gift for a later date? that's still kind of weird and fratty, but at least would make more sense -- until I read that.

I don't know her, so maybe this isn't accurate, but it's almost like she was communicating that she thinks she can get away with anything, or that she thinks she'll be promoted over you eventually and so she doesn't have to take you seriously. Does she act entitled or superior in general? Is this the first time she's gone "above your head" in a way that felt presumptuous?

If you do discuss it with her I think the advice to be as impassive as possible is good advice (like trig said, use words like "unprofessional," "inappropriate," "disrespectful"). You could also say something like "I would just like to better understand what your intentions were here" and then mostly just ask questions, e.g., "What were you trying to accomplish?" or "What was the purpose of filming it?" That way you get her to talk about the incident without risking saying anything inflammatory yourself. But it may even be smart to drop it entirely until you have the next job lined up (though I hate to give you that advice).

You might also want to chat with the one team member who apologized to you since it seems like maybe they actually feel bad about what happened. They might be able to give you a little more insight into what the other participants were thinking.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:04 PM on November 24, 2016 [19 favorites]

So it sounds like your workplace is mostly male, the uber-boss hired his novice niece or girlfriend or whatever, and she's decided to gain power by taking the other woman down a peg. She knows she's untouchable and now everybody else knows it too.

You've tried to find noble reasons why this happened. If the girl is new, though, she doesn't know you or your tolerance for self-deprecating humor. She organized this either because she is a clueless mean girl out to have some fun, or because she is a malicious mean girl out for your job. Your manager and your coworkers voted with their feet - they won't cross uber-boss or his pet. That means it's game for over for anybody who doesn't enjoy licking her boots.

In a somewhat similar position, my coping strategy was to become nothing-but-business at work, to ignore the escalation of passive aggressive hostility as best I could, to disentangle socially at work, to absolutely not trust anyone not to stab me in the back again, and to exit that job as quickly and gracefully as possible. I got out a few months before girl eloped with uber-boss and the entire rest of the team got fired. Not necessarily your team's fate - just know that this situation is volatile and people do weird things when threatened by nepotistic climbers.
posted by SakuraK at 11:15 PM on November 24, 2016 [26 favorites]

Also, keep all conversations with these people on the record from now on. If you have a copy of the video, save it somewhere you can access it if your company laptop/account are suddenly taken away, especially if you have record of its provenance ("X filmed it on his phone and sent it to Y and Z with these joking comments").

Document every meeting you have with your manager and with the new girl, whether related to this or not - just a few quick bullet points in email, introduced with "Quick notes from our meeting on xx/xx/xxxx" and a closing note of "Please let me know if you have anything to add". Save these plus any responses. Make it second nature - these sorts of records carry enormous credibility if done diligently over time and with tacit or explicit approval from recipients. Hopefully this will never be necessary, but if Queen Bee escalates you will need to have documentation in a place where she can't get it taken away.
posted by SakuraK at 11:35 PM on November 24, 2016 [23 favorites]

Some light-heart pranking in the comfort of your team, maybe.

But this is terrrible:
In the audience were press, coworkers, and members of the public.

You are not overreacting.
posted by moiraine at 1:14 AM on November 25, 2016 [12 favorites]

1. The filming of it and the not-telling-you is weird. To be honest, even if they told you after, it's still fucking weird that they filmed you (is this legal?). This would only be acceptable if you were a TV presenter and it was an on-TV prank. Whoever was in charge of the prank might have seen this sort of thing on TV somewhere and thought it was an acceptable thing to do privately but they should know that it just isn't. Some people think they're comedians to the point of being very inappropriate. If the most senior person who took part thinks you're over-reacting then I would look for another job.

2. I also agree about not using the term 'mean' if you decide to report this because it makes you sound emotional/child-like and also focuses on your feelings/you as opposed to their behaviour. You have permission to make them sound bad!

3. After you've secured your new job for a few months, could you please find a workplace review website where you can post some honest information about your current company's culture? You don't have to relay the story so that you're identifiable but this sort of thing is really useful for people applying for jobs and wanting to know what the environment is like.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 4:53 AM on November 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Collusion for the purpose of public ridicule is bullying. They have no respect for you. Do not stay in this environment.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:24 AM on November 25, 2016

From a business ethics point of view:

There were press there.
That alone would make this grounds for a fairly severe caution.
Risking an embarrassment to the company at a formal publicity event seems like a tremendous breach of professional ethics. I'm baffled that your boss would ok this.
(It seems pretty crappy from an normal human interpersonal level too)
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 5:43 AM on November 25, 2016 [21 favorites]

I am a woman. My direct report is a very young (straight out of school) woman with family connections to the company owner. I've been assigned as her mentor as well as manager.

Geez glad to know my spidey-sense is still strong – I kept wondering "are you a woman?" while reading your story, because the only other explanation that would remotely make sense (where "sense" means "because unfortunately, privileged folk are dunderheads") would have been if you were a minority.

As for the rest of it: get out now. You are not overreacting. I have seen situations like this, though rarely so brazen. In the two situations I've seen with such brazenness on the part of the person with family connections, this was a warning shot across the bow, so to speak. As soon as they saw there were no consequences, it got bad very quickly for the people in their sights. Literally the only way you can survive being a target for this sort of person is if everyone else supports you and gives you the benefit of the doubt, without falling into the all-to-easy "doin' it for the lulz" trap. These people have just proven to you that their lulz are more important to them than their relationship to you.

It is hurtful, it is immature, it is unprofessional, it will not get better.

In your place I wouldn't say anything to your direct report. She knows what she's doing and her position is not at risk. At best she might admit she'd done something wrong. At worst? She'll pretend to be sorry and then tell everyone else how funny your reaction was, and oh hey let's do something like that again to see how she reacts this time. Like I said, I've seen this before. Take the high road, and yes, that is not easy and nor should it be. As a manager you probably know that people only change their behavior if there are consequences for it beyond just a manager talking to them. She's not going to face consequences for her behavior. Thus, spare your sanity and stress levels by being punctiliously professional with her until you leave.

Also, everyone is clumsy. One of the reasons I was so sure you were a woman is that we women are socialized to apologize for our existence. Society can take off: you do not need to apologize for your clumsiness if it's not hurting anyone. Grown adults can deal with it just like they already deal with the clumsiness of a bunch of other people that doesn't hurt them.
posted by fraula at 6:32 AM on November 25, 2016 [25 favorites]

Your boss is a huge, immature dick. I too am a clumsy charlie and I would not put up with that crap from anyone let alone my boss and co-workers. I don't know what kind of tools you were using, but tools can be very dangerous things. Having someone sabotage them is just not on.

Tell your boss you are not happy with his grade school hi-jinks. Also tell him you feel certain he won't ever do anything like that again.

Good luck to you.
posted by james33 at 6:56 AM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Line up your professional references now and try to keep a lid on things while you get out. If you've just managed the successful launch of a product, surely you can find another gig, but you don't want these people doing other things to you (and messing up your work relationships) while you are working to get out.

Like fraula, I too wondered if you were a woman or a POC when I was reading this, because it didn't seem like a thing that they'd do to a white straight man who was reasonably successful within the company.

I wouldn't say anything to anyone since this young woman is family/girlfriend/etc. Your big boss won't help you because she's family/girlfriend/etc, your immediate boss went along with it - the only thing you'll gain by rocking the boat is tipping them off that you are vulnerable enough to be hurt by bad behavior, and that's blood in the water. Just belt up, act professional, document everything and split - perhaps the timing will be such that you'll leave them hanging on a big project and then you can smile.
posted by Frowner at 7:04 AM on November 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

Your boss and coworkers are either a little afraid of her (and her connections), charmed by her, or both, or went along with it because of group pressure. She was sending a message, for sure - alpha here, watch out. The message your team has sent is that they're not backing you.

Someone just out of school engineering a malicious stunt like this, in a professional environment (!), given stakes this high for the company (press!) - I mean it's shocking. You wouldn't believe it if it were a scene in a movie, it's just incredible.

It is hard to believe, and I don't blame you for being confused. I bet a few of your coworkers were, as well, but your boss legitimizing this left them powerless. (I think his dismissing it now is a way of deflecting guilt, if he's not a terrible person. But he's a weak person, that's clear. He might have been afraid of her connections, ok, but there was probably room for him to put his foot down at the first mention before whatever ball got rolling.)

So I really hope the 99% consensus here makes it unambiguous to you that what happened is wrong and abusive, and I urge you to disregard any thoughts suggesting otherwise, no matter how compelling the desire for things to be normal might be, or how difficult the upheaval of a job change seems. If it wasn't a sick system before, it is now, and continued exposure in a reality-denying environment - with someone gunning for you, yup - is not only stressful but an actual risk to your mental health, long-term.

I also urge you to not, at this point, try to empathize with the report or your boss. You're not their friend or therapist. At this moment, it doesn't matter if they didn't get cuddles when they were small. You are at risk, in a real way, so please protect yourself. All the best.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:09 AM on November 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

OK, definitely do not go against the company family directly. However, as someone said upthread, it will be really useful to have the video file somewhere safe and to have everything documented and ready go to a labor/employment lawyer — who would have a field day with this, BTW — in case things get bad before you can get another job. Also, it might be worth talking to a labor lawyer now, even if you do not plan to act.

This is exactly the type of scenario larger companies are deathly afraid of for liability reasons and train people to avoid.
posted by ignignokt at 8:15 AM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

You're not overreacting. What they did seems well beyond practical joke. Now what? Suck it up? Change jobs?
posted by fixedgear at 8:18 AM on November 25, 2016

In addition to looking for a new job, I'd be looking for a lawyer and explore the possibility of a lawsuit against the company for infliction of distress and humiliation.

I'd also take the opportunity to try to mentor this young woman about this incident and how deeply inappropriate and hurtful it was. If she's grown up with all kinds of privilege, she may authentically not realize how much pain this incident caused you and how, by doing it, she may have opened the company up to a lawsuit. It might be futile, but I personally feel an obligation to speak truth to power whenever I can, because it might stick one day.
posted by jasper411 at 9:34 AM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

What they did was completely inappropriate. I agree with everyone who's said that you should be looking for another job immediately. Given the relationships you describe, this is a toxic situation and not one you'll be able to fix.

And please do not take it upon yourself to "mentor" this young woman. In the highly, highly unlikely case that it really was a misguided attempt at levity, somebody else can straighten her out. If it wasn't innocent, then reaching out to her is exactly the wrong thing to do.
posted by Lexica at 9:39 AM on November 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

I agree that this appears quite bad, and that I would also want to fire the underling. However, the family connection is a complicating factor. I would start by email your boss asking him to email you a copy of the complete video along with a description of what happened, in his words. This would send a loud-and-clear message that your boss would be stupid to ignore. If he refuses, you'll want to keep a record of that refusal.

"Family connections" could be a lot of things, though, many of which would not preclude a firing. I mean really, the press, the public, and your peers. Is there a worse possible choice of time to prank someone?

I'd also practice some benign neglect in your mentorship. Pearls before swine and all that.
posted by rhizome at 11:43 AM on November 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

My feeling is that groups of humans are pretty much like groups of chickens, usually alert and actively looking for a weak sister to peck at. It isn't usually overt, more of an unconscious process. If group norms are allowing this or even promoting this, then it becomes toxic in a a workplace or anywhere it occurs.
There is no way you can change the consciousness of the people involved unless they choose to do it themselves. Protesting or complaining is a form of indicating your weakness. If they are actively encouraging toxic harassment then you can either learn to protect yourself in that environment or remove yourself from it.
I read in a book once that there are three types of people on the street: lions, goats and sheep. If you are a predator, then taking down a lion has a lot of prestige associated with it but very dangerous to do. Sheep are easy pickings, the predator's regular meal. Goats are stringy, not a lot of meat there, they kick, they are hard to catch.
My advice: learn to be a goat.
posted by diode at 12:06 PM on November 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

This is horrid behaviour. What if the OP were quietly trying to manage life with CMT or some other neurophysical disability? It's vile harassment; hazing, even. Lawyer up, and leave with extreme prejudice, 'cos these bags of shite don't deserve you.
posted by scruss at 2:22 PM on November 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

After I was promoted two jobs ago, two coworkers AND my then boss played a "prank" on me. They kept it to themselves until one peer (not the instigator) outed the whole thing in front of me. About an hour later, I passed the instigator in the hallway: he's a guy, I'm a woman. The ugly look on his face was unmistakable.

I started getting my resume together shortly after that and was out of there a few months later. I left them something to remember me by: I described the incident in detail to the VP (the boss of my then-boss). I found out later that the VP was perpetually in my ex-boss's hair after that. I consider that my last hurrah.

Simply put: I had outgrown the position and the place. They weren't going anywhere even if they wanted to, and they knew it. I was.

You aren't overreacting. Get out of there.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:38 PM on November 25, 2016 [10 favorites]

I'd also take the opportunity to try to mentor this young woman about this incident and how deeply inappropriate and hurtful it was. If she's grown up with all kinds of privilege, she may authentically not realize how much pain this incident caused you and how, by doing it, she may have opened the company up to a lawsuit.

If you want to do this, wait until you are away and safe from retaliation. It always seems to fall on the shoulders of the abused to teach our abusers, and I agree with speaking truth to power. People are often not very nice to those who take away pieces of their privilege blinders, though. This wasn't just a clumsy comment, this was a coordinated attack on you, by the nepotista, in collusion with your manager and your coworkers, executed in public, on camera, and in front of press. Something tells me she throws epic screaming tantrums when she's told "no".
posted by SakuraK at 5:28 PM on November 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

but trying to fire someone for making you look silly

Deliberately making your boss look bad is pretty much insubordination. It's something you should *NEVER* do to your boss. Your job, if you report to someone, is to make their life easier, not harder. While I might not fire someone for this, you can be damn sure they'd be getting a conversation they wouldn't relish in which they'd be encouraged to reevaluate their work priorities or find other employment.
posted by greermahoney at 1:34 AM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I would approach it like this: go to your boss about firing her both for insubordination (the intent) and the abject humiliation among your coworkers (the effect), and if he blanches at the idea, request that she be reassigned to be mentored by someone else. If he still demurs, you ask if "just suck it up" is his advice and put the ball back in his court. All the while you should be jobhunting.

I don't know about the company culture, but your boss' blase reaction means you could consider going over his head, if that makes sense for you and in the context of the company.
posted by rhizome at 1:08 PM on November 27, 2016

Your company tried to make you look bad in front of press? Not only was this a mean prank, but it was a rather idiotic one. What if the press had picked up on this in a story and spread it around your industry?

In my field, nothing goes to press without as close to ironclad preparation as possible. I would never dream of doing something like this in front of press.

I'm sorry you're going through this! I would be furious!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:25 AM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

« Older After the Accident   |   What can you tell me about my little ceramic whale... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.