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Thursday, May 13, 2010

coworker is wetting his pants regularly -- what do I do?

A reader writes:

I found your blog while searching for help with a very uncomfortable and embarrassing problem. My co-worker has started wetting himself during work. I'm not kidding, this is not something to joke about as it could be a sign of serious health problems.

He wears beige colored pants and around the middle of the day, when he stands up, you can see a very large stain running down his pants. To make matters worse, he does not wash his pants, so one can see dried urine stains from previous days - by Friday it's pretty bad.

What do I do? It's very uncomfortable, it doesn't smell good but besides the selfish thoughts of how it makes me feel, what about his health? Shouldn't someone say something to him, based on health concerns alone?

I've mentioned this to his manager, he refuses to do anything. I've mentioned it to the HR director he said he would take care of it. Yet the problem persists.

Please advise - this is not something that is a very common problem so not getting much help by googling it.

Um. My first thought is that there's no way this guy doesn't know that it's happening, but I suppose it's possible that he really doesn't. But it pretty much has to be a medical problem, right? 

My next thought is that HR didn't handle it even though they said they would because they're too uncomfortable, which is a lame cop-out, and you should go back to them and tell them that they're doing this guy a disservice by allowing this to become a noticeable thing in the office.

Normally I would say that if you are at all close to this coworker, you could consider talking with him yourself ... but realistically, few people would have the balls for that, and anyway, this is a job for HR and they should do it. How about enlisting your own manager in helping you push for them to handle it?

You might also show HR this post, which has tips for talking to an employee about body odor, and there's some stuff there that could be adapted. 

One thing I mention in that post is that I think when there's something really awkward to be addressed, it helps to think about how you'd want it handled if it were you. But I really have no idea how I'd want someone to say this to me (and I'm feeling pretty grateful to have bladder control just thinking about it).

What do you guys think?


CH1 said...

That is one of the most disgusting things that has been posted so far. It is worse than the interview-poo incident. I hope that she takes your advice to approach HR and the guy's manager again to take care of the problem.

Anonymous said...

This could definitely also be a mental health problem - letting personal hygiene slip is common in serious depression and other mental illnesses. It may be purely physical, but either way, somebody needs to step up and address the issue, for his sake and his coworkers' sake. It's unfortunate that his manager and HR both seem to be unwilling to do so.

Deirdre Honner said...

I am just curious. Why does HR need to address this? Where is the supervisor? Surely this guy works for someone and that someone is responsible for this in part responsible for the resolution of this issue. Certainly HR can be part of the conversation but is not the only part.

Anonymous said...

I am stunned by this question. I can't even fathom this occurring.

Barbra, said...

good answer, and I'd like to second what utterfolly said "This could definitely also be a mental health problem"

Joseph Marsh said...

I wonder if I'm the only one thinking "Someone is pulling your leg"? I'm all for a good prank, and this definitely smells like one (pardon the pun).

Anonymous said...

It does sound like a major health problem. Prostate problems could cause a loss of bladder control, but that wouldn't be the cause of him then wearing the same soiled pants every day. I would suspect a mental health issue, especially if there are other signs of depression or another mental health problem.

And if HR refused to do anything about it, I would honestly look into contacting social services, to see if they could make a house call and confirm that everything is all right. I realize many people wouldn't want to interfere in a co-worker's private life or involve the authorities but that's what I would do.

Paul said...

@Joseph - No you're not the only one.

Anonymous said...

@Joseph, I was thinking that, too.

Anonymous said...

Reply by the Original Poster - Concerned and Grossed Out

I don't know how to make it say it's from the person asking the question without signing in and betraying my identity...

This is not a joke, no one is pulling anyone's leg. I can't tell you how disturbing it is to have to work with this problem. The person I'm speaking of works in the same room I do, so it's something I get to see 40 hours a week.

This person has had mental issues in the past, plus he's diabetic. I'm thinking it has to do with both issues - physical and mental.

I guess I just have to suck it up and ask HR about it again. I've mentioned this more than once already to his supervisor, he basically said "No way am I touching that one". HR just said "Thanks we'll take care of it".

It's really awful because I feel extremely disgusted by it but then I'm also very worried about the person, so I feel quite conflicted and kinda guilty for being so grossed out.

I assure you, this is not a joke, I wish it was. If it wasn't a violation of privacy, I would post a pic.

Thanks for the comments, I will have to ask HR about it again - maybe even take it to the owners.

Anonymous said...

This is not a physical health issue. Someone with serious bladder control issues would be mortified, and do the utmost to keep themselves and their clothing clean. The fact he does not indicates either mental health issues or the fact he's doing it on purpose. He may have a sexual fetish about urination and wearing soiled garments, and is deriving stimulation from the stains, the smell, and knowing that everyone knows. If this is the case, HR should surely be involved, since his subjecting you to his arousal is sexual harrassment.

Athena Marie said...

I second what an anon poster mention above. I work in a urology office and not being able to control your bladder is a HUGE sign that something is wrong and maybe you could approch the coworker in that manner. Mention that you are concerned for their health and suggest that he may want to bring in a spare pair of pants just for accidents. I'm not really sure how to bring up the subject of him possibly wearing adult diapers, but it would help so that the problem isn't visable to everyone.

Those are my suggestions. Please keep us updated on this. I'd love to know how it goes.

Anonymous said...

If this is indeed a real letter, it reminds me of a woman who used to work on my floor. She had bladder/incontinence issues, and she seemed to be in denial about it.

My friend who shared the office with her said that you could smell the old, dried urine from across the room. But due to denial, the woman would not clean her office chair, would continue to wear the same pants after an accident earlier in the day, etc.

As someone who has dealt with medical incontinence issues myself, I know how easily it can happen at work, at the store, or anywhere else where you would rather it not. However, I keep fresh changes of undergarments in my purse, and the (blessedly) few times that it has happened at work, I have gone to the restroom immediately to clean up and change if necessary.

Sounds like this co-worker is just not dealing. And yes, it's unfortunately HR who will be called to step in. They, presumably, should have the discretion and know-how to address this with the employee.

Rebecca said...

Thirding Joseph. I call BS (as it were).

Anonymous said...

If this is for real, I have two suggestions:

1. Would having other people in the office mention this to HR make some people move faster?

2. While you wait for someone to take him aside and handle it properly, is there any chance the rest of the office can pool some money and buy air freshners and plug-ins to make the office smell any better? Maybe when he's not around, Febreze his chair (thinking it's got some fabric instead of just being wood)?

Anonymous said...

How many times can I say this is NOT BS?!?!?!?!

Good God! I feel persecuted already. What do I have to do to prove that I go through this every f*ing day???

Thanks guys, to the ones who are calling me a liar. Do you think it's impossible for someone to have this problem??? That I have to be lying about it???

I would post a picture if I could. OMG, really????? Not only am I having to deal with this sh*t on a daily basis now I have to deal with being called a liar??????

Great - really motivates me to approach HR again. Everyone can see the piss stains, they're f*ing disgusting. The guy is a programmer with a PhD in Nuclear Chemistry but does CFMC programming because that's all the job he can handle because of his mental illness.

Thanks a lot to the folks who are calling me a liar. Really appreciate the support. Way to go, a-holes.

-Original Poster

Anonymous said...

The last post about putting in air fresheners is stupid.


Seriously. I can see posting this problem here was a waste of time. I have tried to get help with this problem and I get responses just like this. Fabulous.

Thanks for the support and F-U to the folks who doubted the sincerity of my original post.

What the hell would you do when seeing someone going through a serious health crisis? Spray FeBreeze?? Really??? If that is any indication of how you handle your life, it must not be doing well.

Anonymous said...

IS it possible to move you work area to a location where he isn't working?

Anonymous said...

To the OP -

I don't doubt the person you wrote about has a serious health problem. That is quite evident. However, you apparently like to write condescending words when you are in disagreement with others, including myself. I do not appreciate your choice of words, including "If that is any indication of how you handle your life, it must not be doing well." I understand you are angry and frustrated and are saying hurtful words, but it is still quite disrespectful when people are trying to help you and offer advice.

Now, if you had calmed yourself down and taken a moment to actually put thought into reading what I wrote, you would see that my suggestion for clearing the air in the office is a "time filler" while you and your co-workers wait for an action taken by either your manager or HR (or both). It's to make it bearable as work continues. I'm not saying it's the end all solution - far from it actually. It is obvious you aren't going to say anything to him or any of your coworkers, but does that mean you have to subject yourselves to the stench? No.

Now if you continue to think I'm stupid and don't have a handle on life, then there's nothing more I can do and wash my hands of this; I don't need to subject myself to someone's abusive tones online, especially from someone I don't know. I'm sure a few people are already there since you decided to use vulgar language and names to those who have voiced opinions. I wouldn't be surprised either if AAM thinks she wasted her time in answering this after your interesting choice of words in response. The situation really stinks no matter which way you look at it.

Anonymous said...

Out of respect for the man's privacy, I would think HR and/or his manager would not say anything to OP about the action they take--or even acknowledge that any action is being taken.

Anonymous said...

I wonder - does the coworker suffer from incontinence or hyperhydrosis? Overactive sweat glands would also produce the stain/discoloration described in the original post - and is equally difficult to treat.

Personally, I'm the person that would invite the individual out to lunch and say "Hey, we noticed. We're worried something is wrong. It's none of our business, but if we can help, please let us know."

Anonymous said...

Original poster - I'm sorry you're feeling beaten up.

Here's my advice: document, document, document. Take the problem back to HR as soon as you have five more instances of it. Just start a notebook, and jot down the time/date you notice an incident.

"Mon 5/24, 10:00 a.m.
Strong urine odor coming from Joe's chair
Mon 5/24, 2:30 p.m.
Joe had accident, returned to desk with pants still wet" ... and so on. Show them that this is a serious and ongoing problem.

Frame the issue as something that is severely affecting YOUR productivity and concentration, and let HR deal with the mental/medical issues.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you could leave an anonymous note "I've noticed _____ and am concerned that you may have an undiagnosed medical problem." Include the name and number of a local family physician AND a local urologist. After that, nothing else to do.

You could be commended for your concern. Shame on those who thought this was a joke. Sometimes people cannot help themselves and need sympathetic folks like our concerned co-worker who are trying to help and be kind at the same time instead of just turning a blind eye.

Anonymous said...

Hi All,

I'm the OP checking back in. I apologize for my hasty words. Yes, I felt beat up on and the Febreeze comment sent me over the edge.

I requested air freshener - a glad plug in. I have also mentioned this to the HR Director twice since I posted this. I will keep on saying something, every day, until someone addresses this issue.

The HR Director and the Director of the of the person in question or equal level, so one cannot tell the other what to do with his employees. The person in charge of the person in question refuses to address the issue, flat out and no one is going to make him talk to his employee.

All I can do is continue to point out when the stains are present, which is every day once before noon then once again around 2pm.

I don't know what's going on with the person in question. I don't know if he knows and doesn't care - could be that because he's been asked to wear clean clothes to work because the smell was bothering people and he just became irritated that he was being imposed upon.

For me, this person's health is the biggest issue here. He is a diabetic and this, to me, is a symptom of disease progression. While I feel for his situation, I have rights too and am no longer afraid to say something. I should not have to work in this environment. It's truly disgusting.

Thank you to all who have offered genuine advice, I appreciate it. I apologize to others who thought this was a hoax, I can see why people would think that, this is an extraordinary situation and I have to admit, I snickered a couple times to myself when writing my original post.

So, will continue to report the stains, on a daily basis. I think the only place this can go is to the owners, eventually. They are going to have to be the ones to order the director in charge of the person in question to address this issue.

Anonymous said...

OP -

It's good you are now calm and taking this into your own hands. I think that's where the frustration lies - you feel rather helpless because the superiors of the company weren't handling the situation. Thank you for writing back with an update.

Hopefully the plug-in is making it bearable although the sight doesn't go away with that. You have to do something while you work because you can't be in HR all day complaining. That just makes a bad situation worse.

I wouldn't have equated this with diabetes. How old is the man? Is it possible he's developing a form of dementia? Don't laugh. Incontinence is a symptom of dementia; my grandmother suffered through that.

Although I'm curious about one thing - you say he has been told to wear clean clothes in the past? Who told him? This is more than a medical issue now; it almost sounds like defiance now. That might be a second issue coming forth.

What about your other coworkers? Are they taking the same measures as you? Is it possible you can all collaborate on an office letter to the owners - a letter of complaint written gently in case his eyes ever see it?

I hope this works out. Whatever result comes about, please let AAM know.

Anonymous said...

I knew a girl who had a weak bladder. Whenever she would laugh, she started peeing. Once she started doing Kegel exercises, she didn't pee in her pants. I would recommend this to your friend.