1. Friends,
    This is a work related question.
    I work at a large university. One of my student workers is a 4.0 science student on scholarship from out of state. She is very smart, but also very isolated due to her strenuous work/lab/class schedule, and has few close friends. Her family is dysfunctional at best, and she has told me that I’m her closest female friend (we have never seen each other outside of work).
    Her boyfriend is verbally abusive toward her. He puts her down in public, in private, and allows some of his friends to say hurtful things to her. He doesn’t like when she hangs out with her friends, but won’t come with her to be meet them because he says they are “all weird.” Recently, the verbal abuse has escalated to physical.

    I understand you may think this is not a matter of etiquette, but after letting her know that I’m here for her and offering a safe place to stay if she needs it, I was told by a friend that such overtures are “inappropriate” because this person works for me. This person feels I should not mix business with the personal (most of the time, I agree).
    She has gone back to this bad situation before, saying “it will get better because he promised it wouldn’t happen again.” I am not stupid. I’ve seen this before. But if I am overstepping my bounds as a boss, then I figured my friends on here will let me know.
    Please also offer suggestions. I don’t want this girl’s bright future destroyed because she thinks no one cares. I have already suggested some of the campus’ free resources, but have been gently rebuffed.

    • Alicia

      You are a boss and a mentor not a friend. There is a difference. She really could use a mentor in her life right now so being that can be a great thing. In this case I would continue to suggest and mentor her to avail herself of the campus resourses and the community resources.I would even make it possible for her to go during what would see to be work hours.
      Sadly until she decides that she is worth getting out of this situation she won’t and this is not within your control.
      I would however have on hand the contact info on local and campus domestic abused shelters and domestic abuse prevention organizations so that when and if she comes to you you know what you suggest in terms of a course of action. Anything you see in terms of physical abuse keep a file on hand of what you know as fact. Beyond that I would treat her with the collegial respectful relationship you treat all your employees with.

  2. Sara Z

    While usually I agree that you should not mix personal and business, there are some such instances that override that rule, and this is one of them. If your best friend was thinking about suicide but made you promise not to tell, would you break that promise? Usually I wouldn’t break promises, but for something like that, you bet your bottom dollar I would. This woman is experiencing physical abuse, and if you see any actual sign of it, it needs to be documented (picture, time, date). Without documentation, it comes down to “he said, she said”. Furthermore, even if she won’t report it, you should. Most often domestic violence abuse victims do not report the crime (for a myriad of reasons), and sometimes it takes someone else to do it for them. When it comes down to the well being over another, especially when you’ve observed it is escalating, some etiquette must go out the door in the interest of her safety.

  3. There have been no physical signs that I have seen, and of course I haven’t asked to see any that wouldn’t otherwise be apparent. So there’s nothing I can photograph.
    No, I doubt she would ever report anything. In fact, I’m fairly certain I’m the only one she’s told.

  4. Jen

    I supervisor a student worker at my job too. I think it’s important to be a strong mentor to this person. Let her know of all the great support systems at the university, the counseling services are excellent and they specialize in just that sort of thing. I would work to build her confidence at work; if she does an excellent job-let her know. You really might be a light in the darkness for her right now. As a supervisor you can recommend the counseling center to her and take her over. I’ve done this with students that I’ve been advising and working with. Getting help for her early, it might mean the difference of her living a healthy and stable life in the future. I think it’s a good opportunity to help another person and possibly prevent her from falling into a domestic violence situation.

    • Thank you, Jen. As I mentioned, I have suggested campus resources, but she has rebuffed me. I can’t force someone to seek counseling. I think everyone here is right – I can only be an available mentor, and not really a friend. I shall try.

  5. Laurel

    I have a question about the etiquette of un-friending. I was friends with someone that would make put down comments like: “I’ve never met anyone that has taken so long to finish their degree.” or “Who is going to want a 40 yr recently graduated law student?” I did not make nasty comments back, but I was offended at these comments! I don’t think a real friend would say this to someone. I didn’t like how I felt around this person and gradually stopped calling. What’s really the right away to break up a friendship? Was I in the wrong for disappearing?

    • A person is free to remove toxic influences from her life. Instead of sitting around fretting and complaining about this person, you have distanced yourself gracefully and without additional drama. Good for you for being so proactive, and I wish you many new, better friends in the future.

  6. Jen


    I would talk to HR about this. Her personal issues, have they caused any problem with her work performance or caused her not to show up for work? Also, if the boyfriend is bad, he might start stalking her at work and it could be a bigger issue. You definitely can’t force the issue of counseling, but if it’s creating issues at work, then you might want to involve HR. It’s a bit different since she’s a student worker, but I still would get advice on what to do.

      • Country Girl

        I thought I would give a little perspective from the other side, since I have actually been on the girl’s side of this situation (minus the physical abuse.) When I moved to start my career, I was dating a boy who was really bad for me. He didn’t want me to make any new friends in the new town, said I looked like I was gaining weight, was always threatening to leave me, and was constantly flirting with other girls etc. (I now know it was because he was really insecure, not that there was anything wrong with me)

        My boss saw the problem bleeding into my ability to perform at work, so she took me out to lunch (away from the work enviroment) and gave me some sound advice as a mentor. She told me that she saw so much value in me, and it made her sad that I would stay with someone who treated me that way. She confided in me that she had been with similar men before she found her husband. She told me about how cleansing it was to finally leave a bad relationship and how amazing it felt to find someone special who deserved her love. She said (and I now agree) “You have no idea how much better your life can be when you find someone who treats you right.” While I stayed with this boy a couple of weeks after our conversation, what she said really stuck with me and i began to see what she was talking about and finally left him. And I’m so glad i did, because now I am with the man of my dreams!

        While I am on the fence about offering this student a place to stay, I don’t think giving her advice and counsel is overstepping any boundaries. My boss didn’t tell me what to do with my life, she spoke with me outside the workplace, and she was quite simply there for me when I knew no one and needed someone in my corner. I think if you allow this girl to open up about her troubles it will help her make some connections about her relationship not being a good one. Ultimately if this girl has stayed with this horrible boyfriend, I’m guessing she feels either there is no one better out there or she doesn’t have enough value to merrit someone better. Either way, a gentle chat assuring her of her value will help her both in life and in her work. Good luck!

        • Graceandhonor

          Dear Country Girl,

          I think you have given the most insightful response to Laura’s inquiry. Yes, it is important to make sure this young woman knows of resources for assistance, but I believe it would be of the greatest, most meaningful service, (Laura!), to say to her, “I know you are going through a difficult time and I don’t intend to pry. I just want you to know that this is just the beginning of your life…God has magnificent plans in store for you! Do everything you can now to be ready for it! Do not let someone who is not the best person for you deter you from what is coming for you!” As I’ve said before, young girls, and many women, too, hang entirely too much of their happiness on the present Joe. Listen to your gut, ladies! If you are unhappy, if people around you are concerned for your well-being in a relationship, then it is not the one for you. We live in the 21st century in the most free country on earth, with a whole lotta options and men. Don’t forget it!

          Country Girl, keep up the good writing here. You are doing some fantastic work!


          • I, too, very much appreciated Country Girl’s valuable advice.
            I do believe that many young women recently out of their parent’s nest are too easily swept up in a present romance. Fearful to be alone, they will attempt to “make it work” instead of looking for someone more suitable.
            That said, because of potential legal issues, and the discomfort surrounding religion for many, I would refrain from mentioning God to her, or to anyone in my office.

          • Graceandhonor

            Most people in the American workforce are aware of legal issues surrounding religion in the workplace and yet many are able to impart suggestions based on it and understand the comfort and guidance it can bring. Of course this can be done carefully. It is not for the faint of heart but those who understand faith is the bedrock for establishing solutions for what often seem to be life’s insurmountable problems.

  7. Vanna Keiler

    I agree with Country Girl’s advice, but beyond that one lunch chat, would personally not go any further in discussing this topic with the student, and not encourage additional discussion. It sounds cruel, but since it is frustrating to hear about it but not be able to help, as well as the fact that the student worker won’t seek help, seems like there is nothing further you can and should do for this person. To further be privy to the student’s personal life is somewhat enabling, since you just listen and they just complain, but the student does nothing further to help themselves (and you probably just feel frustrated on their behalf). You are a wonderful, kind mentor to this student and your efforts to date to help this person in need are to be applauded. Hopefully the student will finally realize their worth and step up for their own sake.

    • Vanna, I appreciate your taking time to write and offer your opinion. I feel that if I shut her down, then she may believe she has no where to turn. I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just worried that a person with no one else will only get worse. But my degrees aren’t in this field, and most people have agreed that the relationship should remain warmly professional. I believe I will trust the unbiased advice of the sound people on this forum.

  8. Vanna Keiler

    Hi Laura. Please – no offense taken. It is hard not to help someone who so desperately needs it. Do what you feel is right. You are a kind soul.

  9. Barbara

    I have a question about Birthday party timing.

    If it is not possible to schedule a Birthday party on the actual birth date, is it better to schedule the party a week early or three weeks late? (Scheduling the party in question for two weeks after the birth date won’t work for those organizing the event.)

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