How bad is it to have a crack addicted coworker?
June 18, 2006 8:29 PM   Subscribe

I just had a long talk with my ex-boss, who's back as a consultant. She just told me that she let one of my coworkers stay with her after he got out of recovery, she was keeping it a secret (because it's weird, and because she was still his boss for half the time), she just kicked him out yesterday. I knew he was in recovery, but I didn't know the details (or which drugs). He is a long-term crack addict, went into rehab for a week, but is now back at work and back partying every night (she isn't sure if he's back on drugs, but I'd assume so). His work has been erratic for the year I've been there, and he's prone to aggressive, random, ten minute rants. He's late for everything, snappy, sleazy, and totally inappropriate in the office...

I knew he was dealing with a lot of stuff, but what my ex-boss told me is getting me scared. She threw him out because he was more and more angry and disrespectful to her, and she started to feel afraid of him. She also realized that he's been totally playing her for the last year, during which she's covered up for him numerous times, saved his job, and advocated for him. This last week, he tried to steal her laptop, she caught him, and he explained it away. He's also been collecting money in our office for a "good cause" which I’m now thinking wasn’t what he claimed.

I'm especially scared because I've been in several big arguments with him over the last few weeks, some over work stuff, some because I challenged some of the worst sexist stuff he was ranting about (long, loud, unavoidable rants about porn, picking up girls and how fat girls are easier). He screamed at me for several minutes each time about how I didn't understand how the world works and had to understand this and this... The rants have been totally over the top and shocking, and I was starting to feel a little physically intimidated, but I tried to tell myself he was just stressed out. I knew I probably wasn't his favorite person, but now ex-boss tells me that he's been coming "home" and screaming about me - how stupid and annoying I am and how I’m threatening his job, etc, etc, on and on.

After living with him for a month ex-boss says that she regrets trying to help him, that she had him all wrong. She read good intentions into his behavior that weren’t there and was projecting personal stuff on to him. She now thinks he is a huge problem and should have been fired long ago. I'm furious that she chose to put me and other members of staff at risk to protect him, when she knew he was far worse than she let on. She told me a whole lot more about him that's incredibly sleazy, including that he's been using everyone's sympathy about his problems to get off work to party or go on dates.

She's now a contractor so she has no hiring or firing power but might have some influence. I told her tonight that she needs to give my other coworkers enough information about the situation that they can make decisions to protect themselves, and that she needs to speak to our management. I'm concerned though that he'll blame me if he gets fired, I'm also concerned about what could happen next time he and I butt heads - especially as I'm supervising him on a major project.

Complicating factors – My coworkers and I all have a pretty bad relationship with senior management, although a mostly good relationship with ex-boss. We’re all working on a crazy high pressure project, where arguments are inevitable even among people who usually get along. This is supposedly a progressive environment, but in practice that means women keep quiet and make excuses for fucked up behavior, and men get vastly preferential treatment and to act like assholes, because we’re all adults, it’s more than just a job, etc.

Am I over-reacting? Is it perfectly possible to have a good working relationship with a crack head? How should I deal with this? How scared should I be? Being a crack addict is a big deal right? This is freaking me out, but a little voice keeps telling me I’m being naïve and judgmental…
posted by crabintheocean to Work & Money (42 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
(Sorry this is so long)
posted by crabintheocean at 8:30 PM on June 18, 2006

Well, I don't know any crackheads, so it's hard to say. Crack is simply a version of cocaine, so really there should be no difference between a crackhead and a cokehead while they're not high (but crack goes to the brain more quickly). Crack gets a bad rap (I think) because it's mostly taken by poor people.

Anyway, you don't actually say how your reacting, so it's hard to say if you're overreacting. If you don't feel comfortable at work, you should complain about it.
posted by delmoi at 8:44 PM on June 18, 2006

this is why there is someone in charge of HR. go talk to that person. none of this is or should be *your* problem. let the company work out their problems with the drug addict and with your lacking-in-judgment ex-boss.
posted by judith at 9:38 PM on June 18, 2006

You can't work with a crack addict. If your management isn't going to fire him, start looking for a new job.

If this person physically threatens you, make it clear to them there will be a price to pay; be it a violent response from you or a visit from the police. By making it clear I don't mean with words, they are a waste of time at that point, do it with actions.

The more subtle problems of indirect physical intimidation is too complex to get into in an internet forum. I know, being a guy, how I would respond (directly and aggressively) but this may not be an appropriate response for you. What I can tell you is that physical intimidation should not be responded to with words, again a waste of time. If you can do nothing else, leave the room in a pointed manner.
posted by 517 at 9:38 PM on June 18, 2006

Well, I don't know any crackheads, so it's hard to say. Crack is simply a version of cocaine, so really there should be no difference between a crackhead and a cokehead while they're not high (but crack goes to the brain more quickly). Crack gets a bad rap (I think) because it's mostly taken by poor people.

Not really correct. Users who smoke or inject their cocaine are more likely to abuse the drug, as well as become dependant on it.

You cannot trust crack/cocaine addicts. You absolutely need to convince them to get rid of him if he's going to be abusive or sketchy like that.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 10:00 PM on June 18, 2006

Jesus criminy. Is this a joke question?

His work is erratic, he's going off on screaming rants for inappropriate reasons, he's stealing computers, you feel physically threatened, and he's a freakin' crack addict, and you're worried that this is just you being naive and judgemental?

You're his supervisor. Fire the bastard. Or if you don't have that authority, it's way way past time for you and ex-boss to talk to whoever does.

And, you didn't ask this, but then again you sort of did: maybe look into some assertiveness training while you're at it, take a self defense class, whatever: find some way to allow yourself to stand up for yourself. Stop keeping quiet and making excuses for fucked up behavior. That ain't right.

If your office is as much of a twilight zone episode as you make it sound, get the hell out of there and find a job with sane people. There's something deeply weird about this whole situation as you've described it, and it sounds like this guy is only one part of it.

posted by ook at 10:01 PM on June 18, 2006

I'm a small woman. I have been standing up for myself (then walking out), but everyone else sits in silence (then thanks me later), and that's why I think I'm his main target of hatred. I don't think I want to put myself out there like that again, now I know what I just learned.

Unfortunately I am only lead on this project. On paper, I'm this guy's peer, and he has been there much longer. He's kind of a fixture, and a known "character". The whole crack thing isn't widely known though, and changes things a whole fucking lot.

This office is absolutely a twilight zone episode, this is the tip of the iceberg. I'm getting away (far, far, away!) but it's going to take at least a couple of months.
posted by crabintheocean at 10:10 PM on June 18, 2006

go to HR and tell them about the rants. assuming you are in the U.S., this person will be fired for sexual harrassment under EEO Title VII:
"verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when such conduct has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment"
posted by culberjo at 10:22 PM on June 18, 2006

I was in this exact situation, except the guy was a meth head. The first time the guy started ranting at me I went to the top of the company and said "Fire him or I'll take you to court". He was gone in 10 minutes. You don't have to take that shit.
posted by fshgrl at 10:28 PM on June 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

And btw, someone who is a serious crackhead is getting high during the day too.
posted by fshgrl at 11:07 PM on June 18, 2006

How likely is this guy to get violent if I keep pissing him off?
posted by crabintheocean at 11:21 PM on June 18, 2006

You shouldn't have to piss him off any more. Just let him do his thing, then behind the scenes get him fired. Bide your time and avoid standing up to him, he will soon be gone from your hair.

If your bosses don't get rid of him, threaten to sue. It's your right and it's the law.
posted by parallax7d at 11:28 PM on June 18, 2006

There is no way for us to tell how likely he is to get violent, but if you're genuinely worried or he threatens you get a restraining order. I'd say you have more than enough to ask for one if your boss will back you up. A restraining order is just a piece of paper but it lets the guy know that you and the police are watching him.
posted by fshgrl at 11:55 PM on June 18, 2006

What would I be threatening to sue for? I know they have a duty not to endanger me, but does that apply if nothing bad has actually happened?
posted by crabintheocean at 11:57 PM on June 18, 2006

If you're wondering on an Internet forum whether a misogynist crackhead about to get fired for his crack use by a woman superior may present a threat, especially when you so casually mention his intimidating and outright anti-social behavior in the past, then the answer is YES! Trust your gut instinct and never be alone with him. Be careful walking to and from your car, and seriously consider getting either a big dog or a small gun.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:58 AM on June 19, 2006

Sue for sexual harrassment, for a start. You said yourself that he's going on and on with sexually inappropriate remarks, and you have a right to a nonsexual work environment.
posted by antifuse at 12:58 AM on June 19, 2006

Even if you didn't know that his behavior was likely the results of drug addiction, everything you say he's been doing is reportable to HR. You don't have to mention anything about his past or the actions your ex-boss took, just tell them what's been happening. You have a right to feel (and be) safe at work. If your HR department doesn't get rid of this ticking timebomb, you should get out, immediately. There are other jobs.
posted by tommasz at 4:41 AM on June 19, 2006

Would a suit based on a hostile work environment be appropriate?
posted by Raymond Marble at 4:45 AM on June 19, 2006

I have absolutely no experience in this, but another option to consider is this: the whole mess is in the process of getting out in the open and will probably be common knowledge office-wide within days, and so maybe word will get to HR via a channel that does not involve you. Thus you won't be the one taking the lead on getting this guy fired. Give it a couple more days, and if nothing happens then go to HR? Of course, go to HR immediately if he approaches you about the changing situation.

Anonymous tip to HR?

Please report back on the results!
posted by intermod at 4:50 AM on June 19, 2006

Go talk to HR as many people suggested. Your consultant ex-boss as well as her crackhead friend/boyfriend need to find alternative employment. I suspect HR will suggest the same.

And for what it's worth, the crackhead is just running his mouth IMHO. Don't let him intimidate you.
posted by bim at 5:29 AM on June 19, 2006

This is what drug tests are for. Doesn't your company have a random drug test policy like 99% of corporate America? Fail and fire!
posted by geoff. at 6:25 AM on June 19, 2006

Completely outside everything else, screaming rants are not appropriate in most conventional workplaces, much less rock-fueled aggressive fits. So unless you work in professional sports, a military training facility, or are a roadie, it's not okay and you don't have to put up with it.

I think I would be so over the job at this point that my explanation of the situation to HR would conclude with, "and he's a crackhead, so I'm going to talk to the police about this if the situation isn't handled pretty quick." Because, seriously, if your company thinks it's okay that you have to work like this, your management doesn't care about you. Possibly they hate you all.

You can probably have a conversation with the police about your rights here, and learn some useful things. They may be interested in an easy bust, as well.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:01 AM on June 19, 2006

Uh, you should (1) write a letter to HR documenting everything that's happened and make it clear that you fear for your safety (2) find a lawyer and begin preparing a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company (3) begin looking for a new company. There's so many things wrong here I don't even know where to begin. This represents a breakdown of leadership and basic management competency at all levels. As soon HR has a copy of the letter they'll fire him, but still, I can't imagine anybody should have to put up with working next to a regressing crackhead.
posted by nixerman at 7:21 AM on June 19, 2006

I told her tonight that she needs to give my other coworkers enough information about the situation that they can make decisions

What she really should do is go to senior management and give them that information. She's created a dangerous situation, and she should try to fix it, even if revealing what she did does reflect badly on her judgement.

Also, what fshgrl said.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:31 AM on June 19, 2006

Seconding and thirding many points above - do something! - I would just add that if he's collecting money for a "charity" or whatever under false pretenses, well, that's a prosecutable criminal offense in most jurisdictions.

The authorities would have to 1. be interested 2. get evidence for it to actually result in a court case. But that's not the point; it's an additional point of leverage with HR or superiors.
posted by sacre_bleu at 7:33 AM on June 19, 2006

One more thought:

I'd take the position (to surperiors) that I'm doing a huge service to the company before this gets ugly and public. If he's as described he's a ticking time bomb that is highly likely to damage your company. You're doing them a huge favor before the office computers start disappearing.

All they have to do is sit him down and hand him a vial to pee in, which for better or worse is within the rights of U.S. employers. Done.
posted by sacre_bleu at 7:37 AM on June 19, 2006

Ahem. "Superiors."
posted by sacre_bleu at 7:38 AM on June 19, 2006

it sounds like this guy is becoming mentally ill via his extensive drug use. his chance of hurting you, or anyone else might increase a bit, but if he has a history of violent behavior before this started--he'll get worse. i'd avoid upsetting him directly too much. he probably won't stalk you, so you should be ok there.

remember that he doesn't actually have to do anything for you to take action. a threat is all it takes, or even just being physically imitating. just going to hr and telling them that you are uncomfortable working with him should help a lot.
posted by lester at 7:53 AM on June 19, 2006

I would tape record his rants at you as additional evidence, so they can't argue you're "just blowing things out of proportion". But that's me. Just an idea.

(And by "tape" I mean electronically or whatever)
posted by beth at 8:11 AM on June 19, 2006

^ Might want to check the legality of that. But I am in agreement with everyone else. No need to directly confront him, take it to someone who can do something about it.
posted by untuckedshirts at 9:33 AM on June 19, 2006

I'm assuming leaving your current work environment isn't an option, and that you would like to keep your job and change it into a safer, more pleasant environment to work on.

The inappropriate behavior your co-worker has demonstrated should be concisely and emotionlessly characterized in a brief letter, no more than 1 page. You will keep a dated copy of this letter, and send copies to HR, your direct report, your co-worker's direct report, and the head/president/CEO of the company. The first and last sentence of the letter will clearly state that because of hostility and harassment your coworker is making your work environment untenable for you; that you feel unsafe; and that you believe that you are entitled to remedy under the law for this.

You have no way of verifying your ex-boss's statements, especially those about drug use, so you must not put them in writing. When you are telephoned by HR, who will surely telephone you on receipt of your letter, you can mention the suspicion of drug abuse, why you think so, and where you heard it. Be clear that you have no way of verifying these rumors but they concern you anyway.

Carry around a little pocket tape recorder. If abusive behavior should occur, take the tape recorder out and make a show of pressing 'record'. Say nothing. Keep the tapes.

There's no way of telling if this person is going to be violent, but it really doesn't matter, as it's something you have no control over. Take control of what you can and hopefully he'll be out of your life ASAP. And don't feel guilty or bad about all this. It's not your fault, it shouldn't be happening, the laws are there for your protection, and once you take action, the situation will improve for everyone involved.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:50 AM on June 19, 2006

I think, if you are actually concerned about your safety, and if the focus of his rants has been anti-woman, then pressing or even threatening a sexual harassment suit is a bad idea. What he's doing is generally offensive and inappropriate enough as it is without dragging sexual harassment into it; you've likely seen how otherwise rational people fly off the handle when the subject comes up, so I can't imagine an unstable misogynist with a drug problem's not going to feel a little personally provoked by it.

Ikkyu2's approach, with a letter to HR saying "This is what's going on" as opposed to "I'm suing for sexual harassment due to this guy," makes sense to me.
posted by occhiblu at 10:13 AM on June 19, 2006

Ikkyu2's approach, with a letter to HR saying "This is what's going on" as opposed to "I'm suing for sexual harassment due to this guy," makes sense to me.

...especially because common sense tells me that the company ought to have an opportunity to make things right before starting to threaten them. If you tell them about what's happening and they still take no action, then see an attorney... stat.

This is not legal advice. I am not your attorney. I am talking using common sense, not because I know sexual harassment law.
posted by norm at 10:49 AM on June 19, 2006

This is so bad. I was hoping I'd be able to post back with good news today, but no luck. Crackhead had a disciplinary hearing with the co. lawyer and my (new) boss, but it was only about him leaving work early twice last week and no big deal. New boss "forgot" to bring up the whole stolen laptop thing, and can't talk about the crack because it was told to old boss outside of work, and the only people who know, know because she told them.

I met with old boss, who tried to explain all about how Crackhead was in "a really bad place" and new boss was "finding her feet and trying really hard". I said that I didn't care, I just didn't want to work with a crackhead and I wanted to be safe at work, and that she and new boss had to fix it.

Then she told me that Crackhead had been leaving death threats on her voicemail. I know that he also left threats (against ex-boss) on my coworker's voicemail. Coworker refuses to transcribe them for management, because he doesn't want to get involved. Ex-boss was all set to move into a hotel, but now isn't going to, because Crackhead was happy and not angry after his hearing went so well. Apparently it's all fine now.

The lawyer offered to meet with me, but said that it would be in no way confidential. I declined because I can't tell him stuff I learned from ex-boss in a non-work situation, and without that, I don't have anything compelling to tell. I also don't want to make this about him and me - he's this fucked up to everyone.

To deal with his lack of time-keeping skills and general anger, they're moving him to a different project. He's going to be training interns on a project involving daycare. I swear I am not making this up.

This is just more and more fucking unbelievable.
posted by crabintheocean at 7:27 PM on June 19, 2006

(New and old bosses are long time best friends outside of work, and have known each other for years)
posted by crabintheocean at 7:32 PM on June 19, 2006

I can't tell him stuff I learned from ex-boss in a non-work situation, and without that, I don't have anything compelling to tell.

I don't understand. Why not?

If you're worried about offending your ex-boss personally, I would ask why you're worried about keeping a friend who's endangering you and not trying to fix it.

If you're worried about professional repercussions, I would ask why you're worried about keeping a job with a bunch of people who are endangering you and not trying to fix it.

This sounds like an insane situation, and everyone's sitting back and saying, "Oh, it's not that bad." Either decide that they're right and it isn't that bad, or be willing to do something that might result in someone not liking you. Whatever you do, though, make sure you're doing it to keep yourself *safe* and not just to be nice.
posted by occhiblu at 8:02 PM on June 19, 2006

Untenable position. Either bail out (quit the job) and let that pitiful don't-want-to-get-involved bunch reap what they've sown, or escalate your complaints and make them deal with the situation. Are any of your friends lawyers? What's going on there is so wrong in so many ways (some of them criminal), that there's no way they can let it slide once they've been informed. Death threats? Ex-boss is enabling to an extent that borders on collusion.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:10 PM on June 19, 2006

Ikkyu2's advice sounds great. It does seem like it might be time to start writing letters. I'd also start calling lawyers, at least for brief consultations to see what your options are. They might be able to suggest a detail or two to include in the letter, on the tiny chance this might end up in court (or on the larger chance that HR will do something only if it looks like it might).

You might call the DC Employment Justice Center (nonprofit, though focused mainly on low-wage workers), one of the Washington DC Employment Lawyers, or someone who belongs to the National Employment Lawyers Association. The DC Employment Lawyers link has some legal info resources, or you might check out the list of links on the HR Law Info's DC page (a few of which seem broken but at least you will know the name of the state government office to look up).

Really, I don't know much to help you, crabintheocean, but when I posted about having moved near a crackhouse, you wrote out a lot of suggestions for me that I really appreciated. Now that you find yourself working with (what may be) a crackhead, I thought I'd at least Google around and see if I could find any resources. :) Good luck, keep us posted. Glad to hear you being proactive and assertive about dealing with this instead of sticking your head in the sand like everyone else at your workplace.

P.S. Aren't most cocaine addicts "going through a hard time?" I hear being addicted to meth sucks, too! Sheesh.
posted by salvia at 8:14 PM on June 19, 2006

I'm not concerned about being nice. I'm in this situation because I've been the bad guy who called out some of the worst shit while everyone else just tried to ignore it. Believe it or not, I'm the person in this office yelling about how things aren't ok and need to be fixed right now. Even my coworkers who know how bad it is (ie about the crack and death threats) are talking about how they hope Crackhead can get help, and maybe should go on long-term leave.

I am concerned about getting a reference. I work in a field where personal recomendations and contacts are everything, and I'm actively looking for other jobs. Senior management and the new boss don't know me well enough to give me the kind of reference I need, and I'm worried about alienating old boss to the point that I can't ask her.

Thank you everyone for your sane advice!
posted by crabintheocean at 8:19 PM on June 19, 2006

I said that I didn't care, I just didn't want to work with a crackhead and I wanted to be safe at work, and that she and new boss had to fix it.

PUT IT IN WRITING. Ask for a written reply.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:21 PM on June 20, 2006

I don't have anything compelling to tell

Sure you do. The person goes on sexually inappropriate rants as a common occurrence. This, at the very least, is enough to talk to the company lawyer about. Believe me, the company lawyer WANTS to know when there is the possibility of a sexual harrassment suit on the horizon. It lets them head things off before it gets out of hand.
posted by antifuse at 3:36 AM on June 21, 2006

Quick follow up for anyone wondering how all this turned out:

- Ex boss refused to do anything, we all went to new boss and told she had to.

-She refused too, so we all wrote up our concerns and lack of help from either boss and took it to senior management (sorry, "leadership").

- We had a meeting initiated by management with ex boss to try to clear it all up. In the meeting we ended up telling her that it was an intolerable work environment and we couldn't work with her if this was the kind of situation she was going to create. She absolutely didn't get it - apologized sarcastically for trying to help someone in a time of need, and then tried to say that we'd also crossed personal boundaries, which on honest reflection is really not true. We ended the meeting and said that we didn't feel safe.

- Senior management told us that we didn't have to work directly with her, and someone else would direct us day-to-day.

- Two days later she walked into our morning meeting and said that she was back in charge.

- All but one staff person walked out of the meeting, and we immediately called the Executive Director, who told us that he'd changed his mind, and that if we didn't return we'd be fired for insubordination.

- We returned under protest and worked uneasily with the ex boss, who was obviously out to get us. Things calmed down a little with her, but got worse and worse with senior management who told us that if we didn't like the situation we could quit, and didn't congratulate us when our project was very successful.

- Ex boss moved on. Crackhead actually seemed to have cleaned up a lot. The rants stopped, he started being mostly on time and looking much healthier. He apologized to everyone, especially to me, and we all made some sort of peace. A lot more details came out about ex bosses creepiness towards him.

- Senior management continued to fight with us; they fired the most junior person involved in the walkout with no notice, severance or explanation. They also made it clear that we would all have significantly reduced roles in future projects.

- New boss and senior management continue to be fucked up and useless, to the point where our previous successful work is at risk.

- I quit, and now have a much saner and more respectful job that I'm very happy at so far. Everyone else is trying to find other work. I'm glad we stood up for ourselves, but I'm glad I left. Work shouldn't be like that, it was ruining my life.
posted by crabintheocean at 8:51 AM on November 21, 2006

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