I'm a young female engineer from a racial minority group in the US. 90% of the staff is white male American. I started dating a coworker 6 months ago. We disclosed our relationship to our supervisors and HR.

My office mate's job involves constant requirements gathering.I have witnessed my office mate flirting with my partner.


I had a situation where coworkers talking to my office mate caused prolonged interruptions of about 1.5 hours. I told my supervisor that I couldn't accept the situation, and that for prolonged discussions, the coworkers should ask for a conference room.


I have since been receiving passive aggressive behavior from some of my coworkers. Even though I apologized to my office mate multiple times, I stopped being invited to events. Other women around my age started talking about these events they are attending together, which makes me feel ostracized.

This has been going on for about 5 months.

Current Situation

I feel bullied at work and I don’t know what to do. I feel stressed and I want to ignore the situation, but it's taking a toll on me emotionally speaking.


I wonder what would be the best course of action?

  1. I can notify my supervisor about the behavior
  2. I can tell HR
  3. I can leave the company
  4. Request to work from home 50% of the time


I will continue to treat nice to everyone including my officemate. I don't gossip about people and I will let my good work to speak for me. I'm confident I have the emotional maturity to handle the situation. If the situation escalates to the point my work productivity is affected then I'll move to a more proactive action.

  • 3
    Hey there @Discrete , welcome to The Workplace. Good post formatting, but if you are asking us to choose between those actions for you that would be off-topic. Perhaps you may want to rephrase the question you are asking and make it more explicit plus include a goal we can help you reach (right now the only one I see is in the title, which also could serve some rephrasing to be on-topic). If I may suggest, consider reading how to ask to get a better idea. :)
    – DarkCygnus
    Jun 20, 2018 at 15:06
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    Can you please explain why your dating the coworker has anything to do with your issue? Also, your post keeps using coworker and office-mate several times, so it is not clear who you are referring to. Could you please use some placeholder names (like John or Jane) to make things more clear?
    – Masked Man
    Jun 20, 2018 at 15:58
  • 3
    Did you ask your office mate to meet elsewhere before speaking to your supervisor? And if so what was her response? I'm asking because I don't quite understand why your office mate was so upset at what seems like a reasonable request, unless she felt that you going directly to a supervisor was uncalled for.
    – DaveG
    Jun 20, 2018 at 16:00
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    It's unclear why dating a co-worker has anything to do with the current situation?
    – Dan
    Jun 20, 2018 at 16:02
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    It seems unclear what you're asking. It seems like what happened is you blindsided a coworker by reporting them to HR without even talking to them first. Now she (and the office) is annoyed with you. Cause and effect.
    – Joe S
    Jun 20, 2018 at 18:12

6 Answers 6


While there seem to be a whole bunch of variables that may possibly contribute to the problem, the heart of the matter seems to be this: You made a request in a professional way for your coworker to stop using the space you two share for prolonged meetings. This request isn't being taken seriously by her, but more importantly, it's not being taken seriously by anyone. Add to that the fact that there's a very real possibility that your romantic involvement with another coworker may be a factor.

Considering all this, it seems unlikely to that you'll ever receive professional treatment in this office. You've tried to solve the problem without treading on any toes, but people took offense anyway. You might try to talk to your supervisor again, to indicate to them how the current situation is making you feel. If they are a good manager, they will take you seriously and will try to make a change. If they don't, you should probably dust off your CV and start looking for a new job, in a place where people can muster up a professional attitude.

  • Yes, the situation is complex and 5 months of minor aggressions and situations are kind of difficult to summarize in a single posst. I will talk to my supervisor in an assertive way. I will let my work and my professionalism talk for me. If that officemate is gossiping about me it will be just a matter of time until it fires back to her.
    – user88378
    Jun 20, 2018 at 22:06
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    It's not clear that Discrete actually made a request in a professional way directly to her coworker. She may have gone directly to her supervisor, which I would consider unprofessional.
    – DaveG
    Jun 21, 2018 at 12:29
  • @DaveGoldberg I think that would depend on the person. Not everyone is verbally confident enough to confront a coworker about undesirable behaviour, in which case talking to their shared supervisor about it seems like the correct option. I would only consider it unprofessional if the issue was escalated to higher management or HR from the get-go. Regardless, the way the coworker and supervisor are responding seems clearly unprofessional to me.
    – Cronax
    Jun 21, 2018 at 12:33
  • @Cronax In this case, where the "undesirable behavior" is normal office work (work-related meetings) a reasonable first step is simply having a discussion with the coworker (not a "confrontation"). This isn't a case where the coworker is doing anything unreasonable. I have the exactly the same issue - shared office space and frequent meetings next to me. It does bother me and if it bothered me enough, I would ask them to meet in another office. To go to a supervisor as the first step to "discipline" people for normal office behavior seems rather aggressive.
    – DaveG
    Jun 21, 2018 at 12:44
  • @DaveGoldberg Whether or not having meetings at the desk is desirable behaviour is highly company-culture specific. I've been in companies where any form of noise at the desk was met with frowns, and I've been in companies where you were looked at strangely for organising a meeting room for anything less than full-team meetings. I don't think we can comment on that as outsiders.
    – Cronax
    Jun 21, 2018 at 12:47

Let's start with this is why people should not date coworkers ever especially not senior managers when you are not at the same level. This is complicating your situation as people around you have probably felt for sometime that you get special treatment even if you don't think so. No one I have known in this situation has ever thought the relationship was causing a problem. It was in all but one of the cases I have witnessed and they were extremely careful to separate work and personal.

I have witnessed my office mate flirting with my partner.

This makes it appear as if you are acting out of jealousy if others have also witnessed this.

So your coworkers already hold you in low esteem. Then you officially complained about them without apparently talking to them politely first. It is unacceptable to complain without trying to work it out with the person first. Honestly, would you want to be called on the carpet for something you were not even aware of as a problem?

Next, offices are noisy. Learn to live with it as this is not going to go away.

So as far as I can see, you have done everything wrong. The fact that your supervisor feels free to sneer at you is an indicator that you are on the way out. (I have seen this happen many times in the workplace). If he was still certain your relationship was protecting you, he would not behave this way. I want you to think about that very carefully.

Frankly, I am not sure you can redeem yourself in this workplace. The first step is to stop dating the manager if you want to try. The next step is a sincere apology to every person you wronged in this. The third step is to improve your performance to the point where you are least twice as good as the next person in your job. You destroyed your reputation, now you have to work extra hard to get it back. Then you also need to to take steps to learn to concentrate in noise. It really isn't that hard to do.

Your actual best bet is to find another job before your reputation precedes you. In this job you need to be extremely careful not to have any sexual relationships with anyone in the office. You need to be careful to not get a reputation as someone who reports things to management and you need to perform well. Because that nasty reputation may catch up to you elsewhere too.

  • 14
    OP seems to have clarified that the person they are dating is not a manager, so those parts of this answer seem irrelevant and distracting now. Also, suggesting some ideas on how to cope with noise would be more helpful than merely saying "cope". Personally I rely on earplugs and in-ear headphones to help me focus in open offices. Suggestions along those lines would be better than "just deal". Jun 20, 2018 at 20:15
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    @HLGEM I usually find your answers spot-on, but I've removed the final paragraph here because I agree with the flags that it's over the line. I realize you responded to an earlier draft that cast the OP in a worse light; it's now been clarified that the coworker being dated isn't a manager, so you might want to make other updates. Jun 21, 2018 at 17:26

Well, let's start of with the obligatory HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND

Going to HR is the nuclear option, as it then becomes an official company action where the behaviors of all people involved, including that of your partner can and will be examined with a high degree of scrutiny. The results of which you may not be happy with. Avoid this if at all possible.

You made an obvious misstep when after the interruption, you went to your supervisor. You essentially told your coworker that instead of working things out on a person to person basis, you are going to go to management any time there is a problem without trying to resolve it first. It looks like the response is "you tried to take me out and it didn't work, now I'm going to rub it in".

While this is not professional behavior from your coworker, you created the situation by not trying to work it out.

You have an additional choice which you did not try the first time.


Look, I'm sorry I went to our supervisor about the noise. I was just very frustrated. I should have just talked to you. Things have been tense since then, and I just wanted to apologize and I hope we can work together in a more relaxed atmosphere in the future.

Then, let it go. Your coworker's mood might take some time to change, so be patient.

Working from home for part of the time might give your coworker some space to change her attitude towards you as well.

There is also no need to leave the company as this doesn't sound like active aggression at this time. This sounds like something that can be resolved between the two of you


Never willingly make an enemy, you never know when you might need a friend

  • 3
    @Discrete this isn't about who is right or wrong, this is about improving your situation. Sometimes apologizing when you're in the right, and you know it, is the right thing to do because it will help smooth things over. Jun 20, 2018 at 17:02
  • @Discrete how did you say it? Jun 20, 2018 at 17:57
  • It sounds like while you apologized you are not actually willing to move on from the situation. It sounds like you have made up your mind to take action to resolve it other then moving forward
    – Donald
    Jun 21, 2018 at 3:06

Something you need to remember is that in an office environment people will end up working/talking at other people desks for an extended period of time frequently. This is something that will happen no matter where you work so you will have to get used to and and learn how to adapt. In fact in some places the building can make it worse as the acoustics can be set up in a manner to force you to heard sound and conversation throughout the building.

The other thing to remember is that conference room space is always limited and having two people move to a conference room could force a larger group to not be able to get one which means they end up holding their meeting at a desk which would cause more disruption in the long run.

  • 3
    Just to reinforce what Joe said: at a previous job we had a large "open plan" layout with just a few people. My boss sat about 50 feet away from me but was a big guy with a voice that projected. One time I was on the phone with a co-worker while my boss was on his phone, and the co-worker remarked that he could hear my boss better than he could hear me... even though my boss was 50 feet away. Bottom line is that you try to minimize noise, but sometimes it isn't avoidable.
    – DaveG
    Jun 20, 2018 at 18:04
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    There was condescending behavior before the event. She didn't proactively took action to visit people's offices. Instead, she would have them coming to our office. Again I don't mind short interruptions. I welcome people in the office, but when the interruption is 1.5hrs!!!! I can't take it.
    – user88378
    Jun 20, 2018 at 21:58
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    @Discrete This answer assumes nothing about past behavior and is only pointing out that not only are offices noisy places where you will have conversations happening at various desks throughout the work space but that getting a conference room is not always the best solution and can make for more noise when larger groups can't get one.
    – Joe W
    Jun 20, 2018 at 23:20
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    @Discrete Really I don't think you're grasping how lucky you are to have a semi-private office at all. My team is also in an open floor plan, 40 developers AND 6 customer support staff (doing phone support full time) in one room, no option for anyone to move offices because there simply are no offices to be had...and our building is adjacent to a train track. Our team was moved here from a nicer building, so it isn't like people signed up for this, but it's not a viable plan to switch jobs every time something trivial annoys you. Most people invested in really nice noise cancelling headphones. Jun 21, 2018 at 9:27
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    @Discrete In the case you mentioned I think it would have been reasonable to just ask her to move the meeting if it was going on longer than 10-15 minutes. Not in a mean way, just turning around and saying "hey, would you guys mind moving to "X's" office?" If your office mate refused to do so, that would be the time I'd go to a supervisor to act as referee.
    – DaveG
    Jun 21, 2018 at 13:33

Here's what I get from your question:

1) Your coworker was being very noisy, but doing so in the context of business, and it was bothering you.

2) You asked your coworker to use a conference room because their conversation was distracting you.

3) Now, not only does that coworker hate your guts, but so does everyone else at the company.

This simply does not add up to me. There has to be something else here. If I had to guess, this is what I think actually happened:

The fact that you began your post not with the actual story of what happened, but with the fact that you are a minority woman working in IT is very telling. It seems to be of great importance to you, although as best as I can tell it's not of importance whatsoever to anything in the story. Reading this statement, combined with the statement that follows, my immediate thought is "this person feels the need to engage racial/gender issues into situations in which they do not belong/are not relevant". To which, my following thought is, "has this person done this in other situations in her life? Like, for example, in the workplace?" As you say, 90% of the staff is white male American, and you are not; bringing racial/gender issues into places where they do not belong when 90% of your coworkers (as you say) are neither the same race nor gender as you, is a recipe for failure in a social context.

Think back long and hard. It is very hard to believe that one single instance of you calmly, respectfully asking a coworker to quiet down caused the entire company to hate your guts; I am a fairly loud person myself and I am often told repeatedly to quiet down or get a conference room, so I know the feeling of being asked to quiet down very well. The reaction you claimed from your coworker seems very out of place for the situation you described; it simply does not add up. I believe there is something else going on here, and I think you need to reflect upon things that may have happened, conversations you may have had, and so on, and determine the real cause of why everyone hates you. I've suggested a possibility above, perhaps that's a good starting point, perhaps not. But anyway, that's step 1.

Then you need to fix it. That's step 2. It might be possible, depending on how far gone the situation is, that you cannot rectify the situation at your current job, and you need to find a new job. Or maybe you can fix it at your current job by hard work, showing respect to others, tolerating loud people even if they are distracting to you so as to not make more enemies than you already have, and so on.

But anyway, step 1 is you need to figure out what the actual problem is. I doubt the problem is as straightforward as you have suggested.

  • 1
    #2 is incorrect, she went to her supervisor, which is the cause of the problem. OP I feel sorry for you, you messed up (probably because it was easier to go to the supervisor) and now everyone has a reason to ostracise you. You've no doubt learnt from this - I'd look for another job because although they should forgive you, it doesn't seem likely.
    – Jim W
    Jun 20, 2018 at 20:33

It sounds like you did not ask your office mate first. To her you went over her head before going to your boss.

Your boss saying "I hope you don't mind me being in here talking to her" is not helping things. If he was respecting you it would be more like "This should be brief". You might have laid it on a little thick when you said it included him.

You should not have apologized for going to you boss. You did what you thought you needed to do. Apologize that she was offended not for what you did. That damage is done you still want to enforce that request.

Now she is being passive aggressive with you. I don't think talking to her is going to help.

Going the HR is probably not going to help. They are not going to tell the girl to be nice. Even if they did there is not way to enforce it. If it is a private event she is not required to invite you.

Maybe request another office.

  • May I ask the reason for the down vote?
    – paparazzo
    Jun 20, 2018 at 16:58
  • Maybe request another office. -- the only real hope. +1
    – Neo
    Jun 20, 2018 at 18:42
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    Giving a faux-apology like "I'm sorry you were offended" when the relationship is already rocky is basically a declaration of war. Jun 20, 2018 at 21:30