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A number of my colleagues asked me some very rude questions after I came back from maternity leave. I was feeling sad because of the way my manager was treating me, and he was giving me horrible deadlines on top of that. They attributed this to my home life and asked:

Your breasts are bigger! Is the baby healthy? Does your husband have any intention of ever working again? Does your husband do anything? Even freelance work when the baby is sleeping? He's not working!?

EDIT: It also was the tone in the voice when the questions were asked. It wasn't in a calm, pleasant curious tone. It was accusatory, exclaimed, and prying : Does YOUR HUSBAND have ANY intention OF EVER working again?!! Also when they noticed that I seemed sad they automatically attributed my sadness to my private life when it was only to do with my work! I felt that this was smothering and harassing. I could not even had a bad day without someone coming up to me and asking me nosy questions.

I thought these questions were horribly rude and I was hurt that they attributed my sadness to my home life. I felt that this was border lining on harassment, so I sent an email to management saying that it was important for me to have a workplace free from harassment and bullying. I did not think the tone of the email was angry at all. I said that I hope I don't have to take the next steps. They automatically thought I meant a lawsuit, but what I meant was to quit in the middle of a project.

The office manager sat me down after I sent this email out and yelled at me:

Manager: “YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO THINKS THIS IS A NEGATIVE ENVIRONMENT!”

I was shocked and speechless.

Manager: “We can put you in another location away from everyone in the old office. They weren’t bullying you. You don’t want people asking about your child?”

Me: “What they are asking me isn’t positive. They aren’t being positive about what they saying.”

Manager: “I wasn’t there… so…you have no proof"

Manager: “Everyone's just curious. It’s exciting! You started a baby boom! Ken, and James and John! Exciting!”

I shrugged. I didn't know those people very well.

Her eyes bugged out of her head. She was mortified.

Manager: “That’s not exciting!? Was this pregnancy planned!?”

I was horrified.

Me: "I’m done with this issue."

Then after she bullied me like this, she emailed me afterwards and said she didn't know that I felt bullied! However, I said that clearly in the original email.

So my question is: Is this response from management in response to a casual harassment claim appropriate?

EDIT: I believe the question is not opinion based. This is retaliation and hostility to a casual claim of feeling harassed. I'm wondering if I can file this as retaliation when I make a human rights complaint.

closed as off-topic by Joe Strazzere, Dawny33, gnat, Chris E, The Wandering Dev Manager Feb 2 '16 at 15:25

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Real questions have answers. Rather than explaining why your situation is terrible, or why your boss/coworker makes you unhappy, explain what you want to do to make it better. For more information, click here." – Joe Strazzere, Dawny33, gnat, Chris E, The Wandering Dev Manager
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Uh ... Somehow, I could imagine me handing in my resignation today. That id***ic manager is reason enough. – deviantfan Feb 1 '16 at 5:45
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    @deviantfan Since when does the word "idiotic" require bleeping? And keep in mind that if a word is too vulgar to be written in full, you probably shouldn't use it on this site at all. – Lilienthal Feb 1 '16 at 9:38
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    @OP: What country are you in? You've posted two questions about this insane workplace so far but I can't determine if this is in the US or elsewhere. Whether their response is "appropriate" depends on where this is taking place. – Lilienthal Feb 1 '16 at 9:41
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    “You are the only one who thinks this is a negative environment!” == “You are the only one who doesn't enjoy us bullying you!”. These people sound insane. – user568458 Feb 1 '16 at 9:53
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    @user1261710 i'm the one of the few, who would even argue that the first statement "your breasts are bigger!" could be appropriate given the circumstances. It is something i'd might say to a young mother as a close friend as it is something that happens naturally. HOWEVER, it is very borderline to sexual harassement so none of my colleagues qualify as close enough. I want to give philisophical advice: ALOT of communication simply fails. In your case tragically so. Try to assume goodwill on the person you are communicating with and continue to communicate face to face. – Underdetermined Feb 1 '16 at 17:26
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Your breasts are bigger!

Whoah. I don't know what women talk about when they are in private but if this was a guy or in public this sentence would get me sued out of my job over lunch. This is not ok. Not at all. If the company has any published standards, you won't have to check if it breaks them, you will have to count how many of them were broken.

Is the baby healthy?

Does your husband have any intention of ever working again?

Does your husband do anything?

Even freelance work when the baby is sleeping? He's not working!?

These on the other hand may not be polite. But that's a matter of wording and intent. If you put them in writing, I can not find anything offensive about those questions. You may not like them, you may not want to answer them, but those people might just be genuinely interested in how it works out for you. It seems some of them will be in your position in the future, so asking you what to expect and how you manage is not really surprising.

Just for the record, where I live, it would be considered bullying, if no one asked you if your baby is healthy.

So what should you do? Focus on those actions that break the rules. The first one is a clear offense. The others are not. Mixing them all up makes it easier for people to claim you are just easily offended. Don't enable them to use this excuse. Concentrate on the clear cases. Present those cases and quote the rules that were broken. As a manager it is a lot easier to react on case-by-case level. If somebody did something specific wrong, I can have a talk about it with the offender. I can even threaten him or her with consequences should this specific behavior happen again. If "all" people are "bullying" you, this is so unspecified that I could only hold a very general speech and that won't help. So be specific and focus on the low hanging fruit of obvious, traceable breaches of the social contract.

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    I don't know what women talk about when they are in private Safe to say we do not discuss our breast size with someone unless they are a close friend, not simply a work colleague! – Jane S Feb 1 '16 at 11:22
  • Asking if a baby is healthy is rude because unhealthy = burden and unwanted. No one would hope for an unhealthy baby. I also wasn't close friends at all with any of these people and I didn't necessarily like them all that much either. – user1261710 Feb 1 '16 at 15:14
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    @user1261710 There is no law against being rude. "I don't want to answer this question" would be an appropriate reaction. Concentrate on their real blunders. Focus on something and drive that point home. Accusing someone of being "simply" rude will not get you anywhere. Especially since "rude" is not the same for everyone. Document anything that breaks written rules. That should be enough. – nvoigt Feb 1 '16 at 16:00
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    @user1261710, not everyone believes "unhealthy = burden and unwanted", in fact many parents do not. This could be legitimate concern for you, especially from other parents. An unhealthy infant can cause stress and loss of sleep for the parents, which could lead to impacts at work that the co-workers might notice. – cdkMoose Feb 1 '16 at 16:04
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    I would say asking 'is your baby healthy' is along the lines of 'are you doing ok?' or 'How are you'. Unless i'm misunderstanding how they asked it. – Terry Feb 1 '16 at 18:26
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I am very confused by this behaviour. It doesn't sound like a nice working environment at all, and I agree that the questions are rude. I think you should perhaps schedule a meeting with someone above this manager and speak face to face about it, rather than an email as it seems to have been misinterpreted. I don't think this kind of questioning is appropriate and it is strange for you to be told how to feel about it, i.e.

They weren’t bullying you. You don’t want people asking about your child?

I think you should be able to get some advice or even something done about the issue from who ever is in charge of your manager.

  • I never thought about that good observation! 'telling me how to feel'. I'm wondering what are some reasons a person would do this - invalidate feelings – user1261710 Feb 1 '16 at 4:13
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    I think a person would do this because they have no empathy, or perhaps they have no concept of what they are doing/saying is inappropriate, or they just have no understanding of your response or what you are thinking and feeling. I hope I have been helpful, it sounds awful. – Viv Feb 1 '16 at 4:16
  • I'm wondering if someone who always invalidates all of your concerns and feelings has a personality disorder or trying to hide something or trying to control you? – user1261710 Feb 1 '16 at 4:56
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    @user1261710 Do not overthink this and certainly do not attribute properties to people that you can't possibly know. Limit your conversation/complaint to how these reponses are for you and never say anything about others that can be interpreted as accusations of how they 'are'. Stick to the facts and what you feel/want. So in both your remarks the I'm wondering ... is irrelevant. – Jan Doggen Feb 1 '16 at 8:46
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Your breasts are bigger!

Is arguably enough for a hostile workplace report.

They went way out of line. At the risk of sounding very grumpy, you should make it extremely clear to your manager that you will not tolerate this in future. CC HR aswell. Decent HR will sit the manager and your team down and make them take it seriously over this.

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Your breasts are bigger!

This is absolutely out of line. I wouldn't consider it bullying, but its definitely inappropriate. Maybe the colleague thinks they have a more open relationship with you than you believe considering you say you are both female? Either way I'd let them know that you really don't feel that is an appropriate comment to make.

For your other questions, my wife and I recently had a child and have another one that just turned 2. My wife works in an office environment while I'm a contract worker from home, so these kinds of questions:

Does your husband have any intention of ever working again? Does your husband do anything? Even freelance work when the baby is sleeping? He's not working!?

Are pretty run of the mill for me. Usually when I say that I "work from home" the typical response is "Oh, it must be great to have all that time off". Not sure where they missed the word "work", but people typically assume that when somebody works from home they really aren't "working".

Your coworkers may misunderstand what it is that your husband does, how much he makes, or how busy he is. Maybe you two are financially secure enough for him to take more time off, and that isn't anybodies business but your own. However, the questions themselves aren't really bullying as they are a misunderstanding of your circumstances, I wouldn't take offense to them. One possible answer is "he was able to take a break to help out with me and the baby", which both answers and doesn't answer the questions.

I was not able to take any time off with the birth of my children, and although we are financially secure enough that my wife could stop working and just be a stay at home mom, she gets great benefits through work that I do not (health insurance for example).

The other question you posted:

Is the baby healthy?

Should not be taken as rude or offensive. Problems after birth are very common, even with "healthy" babies, and your coworkers are showing concern and interest in your baby. Maybe you should consider taking your child to the office to show him/her off to your coworkers? Both of my children had minor complications after birth but usually when asked this question, the standard answer was "she is doing great". This doesn't hint at a healthy or unhealthy baby, but assures your coworker that everything is under control.

With 2 kids under my belt I can be sympathetic to the emotions that run high in the months (and possibly much more) following. Reading what you've wrote seems a lot like genuine concern from your coworkers mixed with assumptions about what your husband does.

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