I would like to ask some questions in regards with the workplace bullying.

I had my lunch in front of my desk, as usual, when one of my colleagues started complaining that my lunch was smelly and disgusting. She then came to me and said: “I know it’s your lunch, so yuck!” I did not say anything, thinking that maybe she does not like the smell of the food.

She then started to spray my area with air freshener, telling other colleagues that it was because my food was smelly. Everyone was here and it made me feel so embarrassed. I had to throw away my lunch because it was now covered in the spray.

I was upset and returned a gift she gave me by placing it on her desk.

The next morning she was angry and threw the gift - a hat - into my face, I did not respond and my colleagues suggested going to HR to report this behavior. I did so, and HR advised that they would talk to my manager.

My manager told me that it was my fault because I did not ask the angry coworkers permission to eat at my desk. He followed this up by saying that I bullied her by returning her gift without saying anything. He then suggested I change my behavior or he will have to give me a warning.

I feel I am being bullied by both my colleague and my manager. What steps should someone take when reporting their bullying issue to management isn't taken seriously?

  • 4
    Could you break this into paragraphs, it looks very hard to read.
    – Stormy
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 10:52
  • 15
    This all sounds like elementary school drama to me. Is everyone around there immature, or are there details that you're not telling us about?
    – user11026
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 11:01
  • Sorry guys, I'm not sure how to write it properly. But I want to know: 1. Do I deserve an apology from my colleague. 2. Can my manager force me to change the seat but not solve this problem for me. Changing seat because I was siting opposite to her but now, next to her. 3. If I feel uncomfortable from the light of my new seat, can I ask to change my seat? Or is there any other solutions? Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 11:07
  • 2
    possible duplicate of Problems with loud, bossy colleague and of How can I deal with a difficult coworker?
    – gnat
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 11:36
  • 1
    @Hearthurting 1) no, apologies are what grownups make children do on the playground. 2) and 3) - why are you fixated on your seat? Focus on the people problems.
    – Rex M
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 14:41

5 Answers 5


I would start to deal with HR directly WITHOUT your manager. It sounds like your manager does not like confrontation and thinks it is easier to reprimand you for what sounds like an innocuous thing like eating something "fragrant" at your desk rather than deal with the other person who has far deeper issues.

Even if HR and the manager are good friends, they have specific roles to perform. If you are in a company where you cannot go to HR if you are unhappy with your manager because they are good friends then this needs to be raised, perhaps even to someone senior outside of HR (maybe your manager's manager?)

You need to get guidance from HR about eating at your desk - did you require the other person's permission to eat at your desk? If not, then your manager cannot use that as an excuse/reason to give you a warning

What is the significance of the hat? Why did she give it to you as a gift? Again, your manager cannot really use this incident (which presumably is non work related) as something you have done wrong.

  • 4
    To add to this. Depending on your country in harassment situations it is the company that gets sued not the person doing the harassment. So HR in those instances would follow up to prevent it getting that far. Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 13:35

Your problem appears to be one of communication. I would suggest trying to work through the problem with your coworker if you can first. The reality is that even once this problem is "resolved" you two are still going to be enemies, and it will occur again and again.

That, however, is a separate question altogether. I suggest you ask that, or search for how to improve relationships with coworkers.

On to the problem at hand:

What steps should someone take when reporting their bullying issue to management isn't taken seriously?

Again, this is an issue of communication. Your company may have rules against eating at your desk. You should ask your manager to clarify the rules since you were unaware of them. Ask for the rule in writing, so you don't misunderstand them. If they don't exist in writing, keep that information for future use.

Your company may have rules regarding personal use of fragrances or aerosols. Ask for clarification about what rules the coworker was operating under when she sprayed your work area with an offensive perfume that ruined your lunch.

Now ask what rules the company has about gift giving and gift returns. Make sure they understand that you are asking these questions in order to make sure you are in compliance.

Then you need to find out the companies bullying response policy.

Now review all the relevant rules, and determine which ones you broke. Then spend some time writing a letter apologizing for those rules you broke, explaining you were unaware of them at the time, and that you will endeavor to fulfill them in the future. If you want to pursue the lunch spraying incident ask how the rules permit employees to spray other work areas, and if you are also allowed to spray her work area if you find her perfume, coffee, or body odor aggravating. Make sure they understand that by allowing this woman to spray you without discussing the problem first, she is in direct violation of the bullying policy as described.

Then continue the letter explaining how the whole process unfolded, and how much you were hurt at specific points of the process. Emphasize that it's not about the lost lunch and disrespectful coworker, but what concerns you now is that your concerns were not treated appropriately by management and HR. Point out specifically where their response is in direct violation of the bullying policy as explained.

It is by likely that once you present them with written letter or email, they will backtrack significantly. Written words that leave a trail of vide cue get more action than verbal discussions.

But it's clear that these issues are aggravated by your lack of communication, or style of communication, with your coworkers. I believe you can resolve these issues much more quickly and painlessly if you work on your interpersonal skills. There are many, many books on the topic.


We are humans above all, with empathy, understanding and manners.
Your colleague's reactions suit more that of a 5 year old, and not a professional.

However, how often do you eat your food at your desk? Also, what do you eat? There's a big difference between green salad and fish stew, for example. Did your colleague ever approach you before with this matter?

Your manager seems to be taking her side, as this behavior is totally unacceptable, in my honest opinion.

I would report both of them to HR. Please, think of the risks of doing that before you go through with it though.


Your manager is responsible for taking decisive action when workplace dysfunction like bullying is involved. I'd say your story clearly involves bullying as the actions of the other team members were totally excessive. An appropriate reaction would be for them to have informed the manager of the situation.

It's not really a question of how smelly the lunch was, it's just clear that your co-workers actions were totally inappropriate. Your boss acting in a non-chalant manner in regards to your complaints is lazy and incompetent behavior.

The being said, all HR people and bosses are human beings. You might get the same reaction from HR. Nonetheless, you should now speak to them in regards to your manager.

Finally, I would really just quit. Seriously, she threw a hat at you? That is so inappropriate. If your manager or HR won't dismiss a person for behavior like that (throwing a hat?? Actually?) then they are simply lazy, arrogant and incompetent and the situation will never improve. If HR doesn't take swift and satisfactory action, your choice is really whether or not to work for them anymore, and the consequences of that decision are yours to live with.

  • Why would the poster quit because someone else is behaving inappropriately? That doesn't make any sense.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 10:52
  • @gnasher729 Because regardless of fault, a toxic atmosphere will have long-term consequences for the OP. Sometimes it's worth leaving a bad situation even when you don't feel that you are at fault.
    – Nicholas
    Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 19:45

All of that is in the past. One way to deal with this is to say "let's start with a clean slate. I'm going to eat away from my desk going forward so let's pretend this never happened." It'll be awkward for a while, but eventually people will forget.

It doesn't seem that important to eat at one's desk to be worth all of this drama.

  • 2
    Explanation for the down vote. The manager and the coworker in this instance are degrading the poster of the question. You are correct that the act of eating at your desk isn't worth the drama but the it is important that people act responsibly and respectfully in their day to day interactions.
    – ojblass
    Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 14:44
  • 1
    And yet the original poster still needs to work with these people. Which sometimes requires being the bigger person and finding a way to move forward. It also gives the other parties an opportunity to behave better in the future. Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 15:59

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