It's only ketchup ya tight git!
June 20, 2005 12:33 PM   Subscribe

Learn the ketchup lesson CEOs... A London secretary turned the tables on a tightarse boss by humiliating him in front of his peers. Everyone has a laugh but is this guy just a scrooge or a workplace psychopath. It may seem like a big jump but a lack of empathy, narcissism, no grip on reality sounds like he's a little out of it to me. Why else would you send a demand like that to your secretary?
posted by ClanvidHorse (49 comments total)
A stumbling attempt at humour?
posted by Saddo at 12:36 PM on June 20, 2005

I don't think he was intending to be funny at all. He struck me as a complete and utter asshat. He deserves to be pointed at and mocked.
posted by fenriq at 12:38 PM on June 20, 2005

Indeed. One must always ensure that the asshats of the world are exposed. Of course, I'm sure that the secretary is in hot water, despite the law firm keeping things hush-hush.
posted by gwenzel at 12:44 PM on June 20, 2005

Maybe what fenriq said but I know a lot of people that get so tied up in the principle of the matter that they forget the importance. I've had this happen to me over a 2 dollar water pistol. Yeah, I broke it, but it was an accident and it's two freaking dollars.
posted by substrate at 12:48 PM on June 20, 2005

Rumour has it that he resigned but I kind of doubt it.
posted by fixedgear at 12:56 PM on June 20, 2005

Snopes has the email
posted by bitdamaged at 12:58 PM on June 20, 2005

It just occured to me that this guy has also set himself up for a lifetime of retaliations. I can see strangers accidentally 'ketchuping" him in strange places. That would be kind of funny.

I agree, substrate, he probably got too wrapped up in the stain itself and forgot to realize that there's probably alot more important things to fixate upon.
posted by fenriq at 12:58 PM on June 20, 2005

So if it's just two freaking dollars why not give it to the water gun owner?
posted by oddman at 1:00 PM on June 20, 2005

So, I take it I'm the only one who sees nothing wrong in asking your secretary to pay the dry-cleaning bill for the ketchup she spilled? I'm sorry, but if you mess up your boss's pants, it's not unreasonable for him to expect you to get them cleaned.
posted by kafziel at 1:02 PM on June 20, 2005

I don't get why people think that this guy is so unreasonable. His note was polite, and he had no way of knowing that the woman had a death in the family. I think that the woman's reply was much more out of proportion. I understand that he out-earns her; was 4 pounds such a hardship for her, either?

I splashed coffee on a colleagues sweater the other day, and the first thing that I did was offer to pay for the dry cleaning. Taking responsibility for your accidents is still the right thing to do, even if the other person makes more money than you do.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 1:06 PM on June 20, 2005

Yeah, I don't really get this. Is 4 pounds an unreasonable price to pay for dry cleaning? Yes, it would have been more gracious if the lawyer paid for the bill himself, but I've always been taught that ultimately it's the spiller's job to pay for the spill.

I think there's something else going on here, and frankly if a secretary who worked for me acted in this manner, I would not want her to continue to work for me any more.
posted by muddgirl at 1:10 PM on June 20, 2005

oddman, I did, and didn't have a problem with it. I did have a problem with the way it was handled though. "Hey, would you mind replacing it" would be fine. The snarky manner in which it was handled wasn't. There was no way there was any doubt that I'd replace it if I was asked. Personally, I wouldn't have asked to replace it if it were me any more than I'd ask somebody to replace a glass they broke at my place.
posted by substrate at 1:12 PM on June 20, 2005

LittleMissCranky beat me to it. I'm guessing he was probably a little overbearing and insensitive about it, and that she overreacted quite a bit. Boss, colleague or stranger - you should always offer to clean up the mess you made, regardless of any disparity in pay grade.
posted by blendor at 1:12 PM on June 20, 2005

I want my two dollars!
posted by mosch at 1:14 PM on June 20, 2005

That first Observer article boggles me a little. Do they honestly think the power of the secretary is a new thing? Executive Secretaries have always forged their boss' signature, etc.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:16 PM on June 20, 2005

We should note that while she found it incredulous, she did say she left the money on her desk if he actually wanted to collect it. And, since she cc'ed the entire office (which was the actual mistake here, keep your personal business private), anyone could have walked past and grabbed it. Yoink!
posted by sdrawkcab at 1:20 PM on June 20, 2005

Agreed Karmakaze....they acutally cited "Nine to Five" and "Working Girl" as examples of films that portray the new power being weilded by sectretarys. Both those movies are over 20 years old!
posted by cosmicbandito at 1:22 PM on June 20, 2005

having been an admin for an exec, I have to say I don't think it was good manners of him to ask for the money.

if it was between peers, it would be one thing -- the one person should def. pay for it. but we're talking about two people who are on opposite sides of pay and status. asking her to pay is humiliating (for her) and down right stingy (for him) in my mind. [and 25k is not a lot of money to live off of.]

esp. considering -- how did she get the ketchup on his pants? I really hope she wasn't giving him the ketchup, but that is what it sounds like given the comments on how secretaries' roles haven't changed much. so if she was giving him his ketchup, then she *really* shouldn't have to pay!

but she did not handle it in the right way. I think this will hurt her professionally, as it should.
posted by evening at 1:25 PM on June 20, 2005

It would seem likely that the secretary's email would have been dismissed as outrageous and grossly disloyal to her decent boss, if that's what he was.

This now ex-boss may well get his comeuppance in a lifetime of drive-by 'ketchupings". (Thanks Fenriq for that hilarious visual.)

There are psychopaths in the workplace and organizations dealing with the serious impacts of pathological bullying at work.
posted by nickyskye at 1:26 PM on June 20, 2005

oh, sorry about the double post. Drat!
posted by nickyskye at 1:30 PM on June 20, 2005

It should have happened like this:

1. The secretary spills ketchup on the boss.

2. She immediately apologizes and offers to pay for the cleaning.

3. He says thanks for the offer but don't worry about it.

4. The matter is concluded.

But it didn't happen that way.
posted by birdherder at 1:34 PM on June 20, 2005

England, if that's the worst Bad Boss story ya got, when can I move over there? I mean, he's at most a slight schmuck in comparison to the manipulative, lying, capital "B" Bullies I've dealt with on a few occasions in my career.
In the US, you could get fired for less than what *she* did with her e-mail. In fact, one of the things you can get fired for is using e-mail for personal matters. [See infinite numbers of MeFi threads.]
And I don't think any organization I've ever worked for had an "anti-bullying" policy as cited in the other newspaper link.
Oh, and WRT
lack of empathy, narcissism, no grip on reality -
insert obligatory BushCo joke here.
posted by NorthernLite at 1:38 PM on June 20, 2005

asking her to pay is humiliating (for her)

How would she have felt if the tacit assumption was that he would pay for the cleaning? ("All you staff are too poor to bear responsibility for your actions.") Most of my friends would demand to pay for damage they've caused. Is her self-respect worth more or less than that little cleaning bill?

We don't know the context of the original incident nor her intentions. How does his email read if it was preceded by her saying something like, "Oh, I'm sorry! Let me know what it costs to clean it and when you need the money"?

To be honest, I would probably have paid the bill and then told her that it didn't cause a stain after all. Perhaps he didn't think of that option.
posted by joaquim at 1:48 PM on June 20, 2005

As someone who has had a secretary, and one spill coffee on a suit that required far more then 4 pounds sterling to clean no less, I can say this Philip fellow is a complete prick. The fact that apparently harried her after she returned from a funeral was even more foolish, and he deserved what he got in spades.

Listen, suits get hit all the time, it's a fact of life. Only an asshole tries to make a waitress, secretary or whoever does the deed pay. It's like wearing a pair of fancy shoes to the beach and then complaining when you get sand in them.

The exchange should have been:
Secretary, "Oops, sorry!"
Associate, "Don't worry about it."
posted by Vaska at 1:53 PM on June 20, 2005

Senior Associate. Not partner.

Meaning he's probably getting a whole lot more than ketchup being dumped on him and not by his PA.

I'm guessing there's more to this relationship (perhaps he forgot this?), but alas, we shall probably never know. It will, however, be interesting to see if he ever makes partner. (Note to self- check Martindale Hubbell in another twelve months.)

(Liked the psycho link, by the way. It's funny because it's true.)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:03 PM on June 20, 2005

I think part of the big deal here is something that has been glossed over although it is overtly referred to in secretary's email and that is the "sudden illness, death, and funeral" of her mother. Even if she did offer to pay for the stains, which she may have, to ask for the sum while his secretary is attempting to take care of a family emergency does seem to be poor taste. The secretary's emotional state over her loss also might explain why she over re-acted to the four pound request.

Still NothernLite is right, as someone whose friend was threatened with dismissal for sending personal emails, if this is the worst "bullying" a person can face on the job at England, I'm getting my visa ready now.
posted by miss-lapin at 2:08 PM on June 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

Yeah, miss-lapin is right, office-related stuff seems extraordinarily petty when you're dealing with a death in the family.

An ex-colleague of mine a couple of years ago fired off a similarly snarky email to a supervisor, something along the lines of "I'm sorry I couldn't get X done, and my grandfather would no doubt apologize too for dying at such an inconvenient time" and felt fairly triumphant. He didn't copy the whole office though, just told us later.
posted by jamesonandwater at 2:22 PM on June 20, 2005

and 25k is not a lot of money to live off of.

UKP, not USD. That's not quite $50K US, and AFAICT over the median household income for Britain (or the US).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:26 PM on June 20, 2005

But let's put it a different way. Would any of you ask a person who had much less money than you (who was arranging her mothers funeral) for a trivial sum? I don't sweat a couple of bucks now and then for friends and colleagues. Gosh, sometimes I even get a round of coffee or give away a stamp. Once I even gave someone a ride to the airport and didn't charge them $.50 for gas.

SOmething tells me this was a straw breaking the camel's back. I almost feel like sending him a fiver on her behalf and telling him to mail me the change, less the cost of postage.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 2:26 PM on June 20, 2005

see, she wouldn't put out. that's what's really going on here.
posted by quonsar at 2:36 PM on June 20, 2005

Wait a minute. I have been exposed to a psychopath in the office before, and the secretary's response fits even better than the boss's request.
Psychopaths are manipulative. They arrange things to make others look bad. They are glib and occasionally act out in bizarre and inappropriate ways.
Clearly this letter could just be the venting of a fed up woman, but also it can be viewed as disturbingly manipulative.
She brings up her dead mother in a sarcastic letter. She is being sarcastic about her dead mother, thats cold. They way she sarcastically apologies for 'accidentally' spashing ketchup on him is calculating; what were the circumstances that led to the incident and was it really an accident? Then she airs this to, well, the whole world trumping it up for all its worth.
I can easily see that the boss was demanding the money from her to instill that acting out behavior (pouring ketchup on him) would not be brushed off.
All I really know is this: you will never recognize a psychopath until you have been run over by them.
posted by Osmanthus at 2:46 PM on June 20, 2005

Mod note: removed nickyskye's double post
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:47 PM on June 20, 2005

I agree with everyone that says this is what broke the camel's back.

re: my comment on 25k not being a lot to live on...I did forget how much the pound is over the dollar. d'oh! (was thinking more like 35 or so, and living in a large city, that isn't much)

and to me it *is* humiliating that my boss would remind me of 10 bucks. esp. if other things were going on. and esp. with a post-it note after an email. to me it says that the trivial amount of money is more important than her job or whatever else I have going on in my life (esp. like in this case). and that would humiliate/demean me.

but then I have issues with status/class so maybe that is why it would bother me so much.

on preview: ooh, Osmanthus has an interesting theory!
posted by evening at 2:47 PM on June 20, 2005

Does it not seem clear that he sent the email before she left for bereavement, she found it when she got (along with the post-it note) and got pissed that he made any stink about it when she was obviously (from her perspective) dealing with a crisis?

I think he was out of line for the post-it note, and she was out of line with her snarky attitude + sending the email to anyone other than him. Since she was clearly not in a good space, I can see how she may have done what she did.

In any case- this doesn't seem like a big deal at all. Every 'workplace horror story' website is full of examples that are far worse than this. Only those sites don't get forwarded around with details intact, making journalists jobs much easier to do.
posted by Four Flavors at 2:52 PM on June 20, 2005

to clarify above (in response to joaquim), taking out the reminder to pay, I guess I would assume the exchange would go as birdherder (and others) put it. and since that didn't happen, itwould be embarrassing that he would actually want me to pay.

if that makes sense??

on preview: four flavors put it quite well. wish I could have said that (..fumbling with my thoughts..)
posted by evening at 2:54 PM on June 20, 2005

ROU_Xenophobe writes "UKP, not USD. That's not quite $50K US, and AFAICT over the median household income for Britain (or the US)."

It's not a lot in London, in much the same way as $50k is not a lot in New York.
posted by clevershark at 2:57 PM on June 20, 2005

I have to say that £25k gets you not very much in London. I lived there for a while on £20k a few years ago and by the time tube ticket and rent was paid (whopping expense there) you'd be lucky to have enough spare for a few beers now and again.

As far as I know the only US city that's more expensive than Glasgow (my home town) is NY. Even LA is cheaper. London scores third most expensive in research issued today.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 3:15 PM on June 20, 2005

lol mosch!
posted by dobbs at 3:17 PM on June 20, 2005

"Wait a minute. I have been exposed to a psychopath in the office before, and the secretary's response fits even better than the boss's request."

Yes, that spiteful psychopath probably spilled the ketchup and THEN killed her mother.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 3:32 PM on June 20, 2005

i think the real interesting question is who released this to the rest of the world? ... something tells me he's got more than one person on the 3rd floor who's pissed at him ...
posted by pyramid termite at 3:38 PM on June 20, 2005

Roll On Friday. Insider's take on the Ketchup case.
posted by dmt at 3:51 PM on June 20, 2005

Learn the ketchup lesson CEOs...

Eh? Is that a new dance craze?
posted by dash_slot- at 4:25 PM on June 20, 2005

dmt, you owe me a new pair of retinas.
posted by deadcowdan at 5:04 PM on June 20, 2005

Of course this all makes Monica Lewinsky seem classy for not demanding compensation from a certain president for a certain spot on a blue dress.
posted by phoffmann at 6:05 PM on June 20, 2005

Of course this all makes Monica Lewinsky seem classy for not demanding compensation from a certain president for a certain spot on a blue dress.

Hey, she at least got a cigar outta that deal!
posted by ericb at 6:26 PM on June 20, 2005

I do think that the lawyer was not being an of the problems with email is that tone is missing.

That being said, I used to work in a law office (deskside support), and the most senior lawyers were often extremely rude and condescending. Some of them were excellent (especially after a little humour was applied), but most were so anal-retentive they farted out their ears.
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:24 PM on June 20, 2005

25,000 UKP is a hell of a lot of money elsewhere.

In Canada that's $56,000, or nearly DOUBLE the average wage for women here.

She should have been able to afford what amounts to $8 for her mistake and chalk the boss' nagging up to him being in a bad mood.
posted by shepd at 9:28 PM on June 20, 2005

I know I'm late, sorry and all, but a quote from the article....

"secretaries are now fighting back, a trend that has been explored on celluloid in films like Nine To Five and Working Girl"

Nothing like a contemporary reference to reinforce your journalistic point.
posted by Sk4n at 7:02 PM on June 21, 2005

It's not a lot in London, in much the same way as $50k is not a lot in New York.

no, in real terms it's not nearly "50K in NY" - everyday costs are much higher in london. The tube costs a couple pounds to ride; a sandwich costs 4 or 5; inexpensive meals are easily 6-10 - many food/entertainment type costs can be translated almost just by changing pound-to-dollar. Rent & stuff like that are more reasonable, ie, rent in london prob begins around 400/mo ? or so... kinda equivalent to 800 USD we might posit for NYC.

Anyway, the point is, what her salary means can't really be translated perfectly. london is an expensive city.
posted by mdn at 8:05 PM on June 21, 2005

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