Woman endures workplace bullying after being told she has "smelly feet"


**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a close friend, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.

Workplace harassment is considered abhorrent in most companies, but that doesn’t stop it from happening. Sometimes the harassment is at the hands of management, but other times the badgering is perpetrated by co-workers. This was the case for a friend who found herself subjected to bullies in the workplace.

She was constantly being bombarded with jeers and jabs about the smell of her feet. It got to the point where she dreaded going to work, and she eventually had to file a complaint with Human Resources (HR).

Her co-workers (yes, there was more than one) alleged that the smell of her feet was so intense that it made work unbearable. They also said that her feet smelled like “rotting meat.”

At the suggestion of the HR manager, she tried foot powder and deodorized insoles. She even purchased a new pair of shoes and threw her “favorite black pumps” in the rubbish bin. The whole thing was incredibly humiliating for her, and it took a severe toll on her mental health.

Despite all of her efforts, the harassment continued. Her co-workers would make gagging noises whenever she walked by, and they would wave their hands in front of their noses at meetings. She’d find post-it notes that said “Wash your feet!” taped to her computer screen and “Smelly feet alert!” written on her whiteboard.

The situation became so untenable that she eventually had to take a leave of absence from work. When she returned, the harassment continued, and she was ultimately forced to resign.

This is a prime example of how workplace harassment can lead to a hostile work environment.

You might be wondering why the HR department did not discipline the women who were engaging in this behavior. The truth is, they tried. The women were issued verbal warnings and sent to mandatory sensitivity training. But, they also filed counterclaims of harassment, alleging that my friend had “harassed” them with her smelly feet.

HR found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place, and they ultimately hinted at the idea that it would be best for her to resign. And so she did.

Workplace Bullying

According to a 2021 survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 30% of workers admit to having direct experience with being bullied in the workplace.

Although many people assume that workplace bullying is just “part of the job,” it can have serious consequences.

Persistent bullying in the workplace can affect job performance and lower productivity, leading to mental and physical health problems.

“People who are bullied at work may also experience other physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, and changes in appetite. It can also impact sleep quality and duration.” — Sherri Gordon, VeryWellMind

Workplace bullying can be verbal, physical, or psychological and directed at an individual or a group of employees.

Some common examples of workplace bullying include:

* Making belittling or derogatory comments

* Spreading rumors or gossip

* Excluding someone from work-related activities

* Physical assaults or threats

* Making unreasonable demands or expectations

If you’re experiencing workplace harassment, don’t suffer in silence. Document the behavior and speak to a supervisor or HR representative.

Have you ever been bullied in the workplace? What did you do about it? Share your experience in the comments below.

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Intimacy & Relationship coach, writer, and creator of The Sensuality Project. I specialize in Relationship-ing (it's a verb).

Los Angeles County, CA

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