Set Up! Harassed! Now Name Is Mud!

Question:

I don’t know if you have quite encountered this one before. What do you think would happen if, after obvious and even public sexual harassment, the harasser could be convinced to change his behavior? Then everything’s hunky dory, right? Well, not exactly. About 4 years ago a well meaning (but VERY misguided) female coworker attempted to “set me up” with a male colleague on the job, in the lunchroom. She actually made up quite a compelling (and belittling) tale about my personal life in an attempt to circumvent the “H–l NO” I of course gave.

The situation was further complicated for me being a single mom and in a field where I end up working with a lot of the same people from one company to another. I’m in collections, and call centers are notorious for being less than professional. I refused. The guy persisted, with subtle and insidious innuendo. I confronted him, to no avail. He’s, well, very “extroverted” and quickly gained popularity there, while me, the workaholic who keeps to herself, has only ever had a few loyal friends at work. I left the company after being subject to all kinds of hostility from everyone BUT this guy, believing naively that my rejection of his advances and the hostility I received from numerous coworkers was unrelated.

About a year later I was unemployed, I had moved out of state and back again, and the company I had worked for was hiring. I called my old manager, she seemed supportive, and I returned. Now this same male coworker, the one whose advances I had refused, had been promoted, and I was placed on his team immediately after training. After several months of harassment, I finally got through to him that this behavior was not ok with me. I was soon transferred to another team. About a year later, the same supervisor approached me, and to make a long story short, I was being transferred back to his team. My performance wasn’t what it should be, and if I don’t accept the transfer there’s really nothing the company y can do.

He had by that time been promoted to supervisor of a specialty team designed to turn around employees who are not meeting goal but are considered valuable enough to keep. I talked to him and believed he would not again harass me in any way. He didn’t, but he did completely neglect to do his job. He has a habit of being involved with one subordinate or another, and on this team were his latest girlfriend, and then a good male buddy of his.

Well, I survived, after having to take a number of his “mistakes” including writing me up for performance where his math was plain wrong to the branch manager at the time. That was almost a year ago. I have gotten by, but my performance has never returned to what it was pre-harassment, and now I am working under a the same female manager I had when I worked there before, who happens to be his friend of 10 years. It seems like everyone here is this guy’s buddy. Most of them witnessed his harassment of me; some of them even encouraged it. I never filed a complaint,

I’m a single mom receiving no child support, and both coworkers, and even managements attitudes have been that his harassment of me was very amusing. I did not find it amusing. This man used very foul and abusive language, and spread degrading slander about my sex life. I have confronted him about this, and to my relief he has long since stopped, although I have no real way of knowing if he is still spreading ugly rumors about me or not. I have also at times succumbed to all the negativity around me, and I suppose my own anger, and occasionally made the horrendous mistake of answering questions coworkers have asked (often in an insulting way) and actually calling the harassment what it was.

Most of my coworkers seem to believe that there was some sort of failed relationship, not the case. Also, many of my coworkers are hostile towards me, and of course, the common myth that “she asked for it” persists. They act like I walked up here in fishnet! Stockings and stiletto heels! I’m an average looking, somewhat overweight chick with glasses. Hello! The hostility I am faced with due to this interferes in my work, in a job where we have to be able to depend on each other. I am ostracized and alienated. I feel that my job maybe my whole career is ruined. This isn’t fair. If I even drop a hint that I’m having problems, I get shushed pretty quickly. Or outright blamed. This whole place knows this story (he repeated it often enough) why are they so insensitive? I haven’t gotten HR involved, although I have had to go to them when a girlfriend of his became hostile with me out of nowhere and when a female coworker of mine kept bullying me.

I have never hinted to HR about the sexual harassment, but supervisors who I’ve worked with for a while and who witnessed it have made various comments to me, some sympathetic, some supportive, and some accusatory. My current supervisor seems sympathetic, but she doesn’t seem to respect me much, and my manager has said things that sounded like she was accusing ME of seducing HIM. The nature of the gossip he spread about me is that he was just trying to “help me out” with a problem with men and sex? Obvious negative female sexual stereotype, only he’s the kind to believe in those, and so are many of my coworkers. I’ve tried being positive, I’ve tried ignoring it (the harassment, until that didn’t work, then the gossip) to no avail. I’ve recently tried being more assertive, only to be met with aggressiveness by my coworkers.

There’s also an issue of race, in that most of the gossiping coworkers are black women, I am white, and I hate to think it comes down to that, but there are some difficult feelings that I think the black women there wants to express about white women, and they use me as some kind of example. There are also cultural differences in attitudes regarding sex. There is also a lot of favoritism in the office for women that have affairs with superiors, and the company is way too forgiving of that. It’s made for a really demeaning atmosphere.

Now they suddenly changed the employee handbook, making it against company policy for a supervisor and their direct subordinate to be involved. I guess because of that case in California? Change is slow. Now that my name has been turned to mud I genuinely fear that this shadow will follow me to another company. It’s likely in this field. I might as well make my stand right here. I just don’t know if that’s going to be trying to turn this around, or how, or if I really need to think about legal action? I have to file a report to do that; don’t I? It’s too late to report the male coworker but what about all the comments I am still inundated with from the rest of the staff, including my own female supervisor? Now I know, if it ever happens again, run to HR! These are the repercussions of trying to be nice and working it out amicably? It’s almost as bad as the actual harassment! Best regards.

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In A Man’s Business

Question:

I have a huge problem at work and it is affecting every part of my job. What can I do to turn stop this, or is it too late? First, I have a new job at a new dealership. Well it is at least still new to me. I have only been there about 2 months. My new manager and I have become fantastic friends—I stress FRIENDS. He is 54 years old (I am only 25). We talk a lot on the phone and text quite often as well. I have a 30-minute drive to work. And he has 45-minute drive; so we have some good long conversations on our way to/from work. I have a fantastic boyfriend that I live with, and he has a girlfriend that he has been with for 10 years that he lives with and we are both happy in our relationships. My boyfriend knows how much I communicate with my boss, and has no problem with it. I have only lived in this state for a little over 3 months and haven’t met very many friends. So it is nice to have someone to talk to about issues, work and personal. My family is also so far away that he’s kind of’ been like a second father to me! This is the background for you Here is the story: I found out today that my bosses cell phone bill gets paid for by the company, and that the owner questioned my boss about the calls and messages to my #. The red flag was my out of state number, and he confirmed it with my file, wanting to know “exactly what is going on” between us. My boss thought he explained it pretty well–that we were friends and nothing more and that our significant others have even met each other. He THOUGHT it was over until I got called to the office today and was asked the same thing. After retelling the “just friends” speech to the owner I was asked if my boss is harassing me in any way and taking advantage of his position. I said no, and then I was asked if I thought it would continue. I said I hope we stay very good friends, and I also hope that there is nothing wrong with that. I said that I really don’t think it should matter whether we are friends or not outside of work. I then had to sign a piece of paper stating that we were in fact just friends and that there was no type of harassment going on. He still apparently doesn’t believe my boss or me because he “just doesn’t understand why we would make that many phone calls between each other if there wasn’t something more going on.” He is now questioning everything we do, the reason we both have the same day off (which has been the same since my first week), what other people think could be going on…etc. Now I feel like I am under a microscope. I have done nothing wrong, but I am being watched. My boss also hangs out with my other coworkers, but they are all men (there just aren’t many women in the car business). He also talks to them on his phone, but that is ok. I feel like I am being punished in the most different way just because I am female. He made me sign a piece of paper just in case something turns up. Am I not allowed to speak to him outside of work anymore now just because I am a woman? The guys can still hang out with him, but not me because there could be SOMETHING ELSE IN THE WORKS. This is so ridiculous.

I understand why he was concerned at first because he didn’t want any harassment lawsuits or anything, not like I am that type of person anyway. But after both of us explained ourselves, we are now still being watched, and I think this is WRONG. I don’t really think it is any of his business what either of us does after hours, especially if it is ok for his phone to be used personally with the guys here but not me. I guess when we all go out for drinks this week; I shouldn’t be invited because I’m the only girl?

I know that personal relationships are forbidden between most managers and employees, but what about I didn’t know there was a law about friendships! I am so upset. He was really there for me when I first moved here and needed a friend, and I just feel like I am being treated unfairly. This is the first time ever that I have felt like I have received unfair treatment at work which is surprising since I am in the car business which is also pretty much looked at as a “man’s business.” What should I do? Is there anything I can say, or am I just supposed to let this go?

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Should A Doctor Nip More Than Doctoring?

Question:

If a patient likes their doctor more than just the “patient doctor relationship,” and the doctor refuses to see the patient anymore (because the doctor is aware of it), can he/she legally do that?

Signed,

Attracted To

Answer:

Dear Attracted To:

To the best of my knowledge, a doctor can refuse to see a patient for any reason. Our site does not answer legal questions; however, I suggest that a doctor is wise to terminate a patient who expresses a desire for more than a doctor-patient relationship. Why? Because should communication or touching intimate sexual intentions, that doctor risks being sued for sexual imposition. And if a real non-patient relationship were possible, it would be more probable if the doctor-patient relationship had been terminated for a reasonable time before such might begin.

Does this make sense to you? Considering the implications of client/customer relations is thinking WEGO.

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Toyed With And Didn’t Stop It!

Question:

I’ve worked in a fun and happy work environment for close to 20 years. Lately, a coworker has been making me uncomfortable. I think we communicated on a positive level for years. About two weeks ago, this male coworker started touching, poking and pretending to punch me in the jaw that makes me feel somewhat different from what I felt in the past. He actually asked me to talk dirty to him about a week ago. In anger, I told some coworkers about my experience. They completely supported me but explained that I should have told him on the spot to stop. I don’t disagree but was in shock by his behavior so I didn’t react the way I should have!

Today, this male coworker did the “touchy feely” stuff with another female coworker. She became angry and went to management and made a complaint. Management is now asking me if I have a problem with this person. I told them what I experienced. My manager, upon hearing my story, laughed at me as if I must be exaggerating. What is your take on this?

I think I will not escalate things and just allow people to have their own opinions, but there’s one small problem. Next week, I will have to work with this male coworker alone about 80 miles away from any people down two stories in an old building. If I have a problem, I’m going to have to be extra clever in handling it. Could I be overreacting to the weirdness that suddenly developed in this person?

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sexual harassment and swearing

Question:

My husband is being investigated for sexual harassment because he swears at work. He says the f word alot. Can they fire him for this? And should we seek legal counsel?

Signed,

Under Investigation

Answer:

Dear Under Investigation:

Yes, it would be wise to seek legal counsel. Usually, attorneys do not charge for an exploratory interview to learn if one has a case of need to be defended. However, I do not advise that he tell his employer that he has sought counsel at this time. F words can be perceived as creating a climate that is harassing or creating a hostile environment. Often it is general habit of expressing annoyance,but can be taken differently. We do not provide legal advice; however, I may be able to float your query by an attorney. If I get an opinion I will pass it on.

It always good to put our selves in one another’s shoes. That is WEGO mindedness and part of being a good employee and employer.

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False Allegation Of Harassment!

Question:

Two weeks ago I found myself the subject of a harassment case at work. A fellow workmate had contacted our firms personnel department and named me in his report as the cause of his harassment at work. An investigation took place within work and interviews were held. My immediate boss and his boss were interviewed, as was myself and another workmate, who my accuser had called as a witness. My personnel department contacted me last week to inform me that they had spoken to my accuser and told him their findings and asked him if he was happy with the findings and the way it had all been handled. He said that he was happy. I was never told what the findings were and no changes have been made in my workplace, i.e., no one has been made to move shifts, so I assume from this that the investigation found the allegations untrue. Could you tell me if I am entitled to know the findings of the investigation and, as I have been at my wits end with worry for the last two weeks, have I got any comeback against my accuser? I don’t know if it makes any difference but I am in Northern Ireland.

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How Do I Stop This Guy Putting His Hands On Me?

Question:

I am a subordinate that is overqualified for the position that I currently hold.

As a white, female employee, I just try to avoid a black male who continually tries to put his %owssssssssssss hands on me! I am NOT interested in this; ah, male!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Signed,

Not Interested

Answer:

Dear Not Interested:

I am responding within hours to your brief query because it implies a pattern of sexual imposition and behavior that you have not insisted must stop. You say you are working in a job that doesn’t use nearly all of your skills, probably because like most people you need the pay; however much you need the job, you do not want the attention of a male employee. I cannot tell from what you wrote if this male who can’t keep his hands to himself is a coworker. Since you say you are a “subordinate”, I wonder if he might be your superior. You say the way you cope is to avoid him.

Apparently, the culture of this place you work allows males to hit on females and has not made it clear that is not permitted. Some work cultures, even though sexual harassment is not a new thing and is against the law, have superiors trading perks for sexual favors, co-workers gossiping about sex, and many employees commonly using f_ _ _king language. Why is this still possible? Because those who know it is wrong, do not speak up. They go along with it probably fearing if they object they will be considered trouble makers or prudes.

How can you make it clear that you do not want to be talked to or about, touched, or propositioned in a sexual way? And how can you make sure that rejecting this man’s unwanted attention and behavior will not cause retaliation–such as overloading you with work, assigning you the dirty jobs or spreading false rumors? There are steps you can take:

1. Look up sexual harassment in your company’s policy book? Surely, it states that is out of bounds and tells employees where to report it. Fortunately, the law is on your side. Employers are responsible for preventing and correcting sexual advances, demeaning treatment, discrimination or hostile environment based sex.

2. Put in writing a brief description of every act that is sexual in nature–words said to you about your looks, names such as honey, talk about sex, and where on your body you were touched (hair, arms, face, butt, breast, back, etc.)–when (time, dates and place) they occurred, who was the aggressor, where they occurred, and if anyone else witnessed them. Also be explicitly about how you reacted–the words or actions you used to say stop if you did. Also record if you told anyone else that this male touched you.

Logging what happened can serve as a time for reflection–one in which you think through your own behavior on the job. Are you all business? Are you friendly or playful? Since you see yourself as overqualified, do you convey an attitude other than serious about what is your job–one that could be interpreted as flirting? I do not mean to imply you caused this male to put his hands on you, because what ever you did, that is off limits. Because others, where you work, may perceive your behavior as seductive, you should be prepared for such opinions. I also mention this because you appear to stress that you are white and that the male who “can’t keep his hands off you” is black. That fact can be seen as prejudice on your part and touching you in sexual way on the job by someone, whatever his/her color, is harassment. My advice is not to cloud the issue by mentioning color.

3. You as an employee are responsible for stating that you do not accept such behavior. If you have not done so before, you can be kind and polite, but you are responsible for saying, “Don’t.” In your own words, you must firmly and seriously tell this male who has touched you, “Don’t do that! I am employed here to do my job and you are employed to do yours. Never, never, touch me or say anything about my appearance or to me that is not about doing my job. I am not playing hard to get. Keep away from me. Don’t ever come close enough that you could touch me. You should know better than to come on to a female employed here. That is against the law and anyone who behaves as you have toward me can be fired.” You do not have to make a speech with all these words, but you must do your part to say, “Back off!”

4. If you have done so before and this male has continued to come on to you, you need to inform your superiors, whomever is above this male and you and Human Resources, of what has happened and that you will not tolerate this. Management is responsible for investigating your complaints so be prepared to provide a copy of the log you have made of inappropriate behavior. Here is where you should highlight what the policy book states about harassment. Request to be informed of action taken. Possibly, you can be assigned to a work area away from this male.

5. If management does not protect you from any more harassment, you can seek legal help.

6. This is a time in your life to focus on your career, not to become obsessed with sexual harassment. It is a time for learning what is necessary to find work where you now are employed or elsewhere that uses your talents. Until you find that place in which you feel needed doing work that is meaningful, would it not be smart seek activities outside of work that are enriching for you and others?

I am copying my remarks to Tina Lewis Rowe, my Workplace Doctors associate, who has had extensive experience in law enforcement (as you can see from her bio on our site). This week she has been busy with other questions, so I have taken on this question that she could answer more effectively. However, if I know her, she will add to my advice with other suggestions. Please do not hesitate to keep us posted on what you do. I am responding within hours to your brief query because it implies a pattern of sexual imposition and behavior that you have not insisted must stop. You say you are working in a job that doesn’t use nearly all of your skills, probably because like most people you need the pay; however much you need the job, you do not want the attention of a male employee. I cannot tell from what you wrote if this male who can’t keep his hands to himself is a coworker. Since you say you are a “subordinate”, I wonder if he might be your superior. You say the way you cope is to avoid him.

Apparently, the culture of this place you work allows males to hit on females and has not made it clear that is not permitted. Some work cultures, even though sexual harassment is not a new thing and is against the law, have superiors trading perks for sexual favors, co-workers gossiping about sex, and many employees commonly using f_ _ _king language. Why is this still possible? Because those who know it is wrong, do not speak up. They go along with it probably fearing if they object they will be considered trouble makers or prudes.

How can you make it clear that you do not want to be talked to or about, touched, or propositioned in a sexual way? And how can you make sure that rejecting this man’s unwanted attention and behavior will not cause retaliation–such as overloading you with work, assigning you the dirty jobs or spreading false rumors? There are steps you can take:

1. Look up sexual harassment in your company’s policy book? Surely, it states that is out of bounds and tells employees where to report it. Fortunately, the law is on your side. Employers are responsible for preventing and correcting sexual advances, demeaning treatment, discrimination or hostile environment based sex.

2. Put in writing a brief description of every act that is sexual in nature–words said to you about your looks, names such as honey, talk about sex, and where on your body you were touched (hair, arms, face, butt, breast, back, etc.)–when (time, dates and place) they occurred, who was the aggressor, where they occurred, and if anyone else witnessed them. Also be explicitly about how you reacted–the words or actions you used to say stop if you did. Also record if you told anyone else that this male touched you.

Logging what happened can serve as a time for reflection–one in which you think through your own behavior on the job. Are you all business? Are you friendly or playful? Since you see yourself as overqualified, do you convey an attitude other than serious about what is your job–one that could be interpreted as flirting? I do not mean to imply you caused this male to put his hands on you, because what ever you did, that is off limits. Because others, where you work, may perceive your behavior as seductive, you should be prepared for such opinions. I also mention this because you appear to stress that you are white and that the male who “can’t keep his hands off you” is black. That fact can be seen as prejudice on your part and touching you in sexual way on the job by someone, whatever his/her color, is harassment. My advice is not to cloud the issue by mentioning color.

3. You as an employee are responsible for stating that you do not accept such behavior. If you have not done so before, you can be kind and polite, but you are responsible for saying, “Don’t.” In your own words, you must firmly and seriously tell this male who has touched you, “Don’t do that! I am employed here to do my job and you are employed to do yours. Never, never, touch me or say anything about my appearance or to me that is not about doing my job. I am not playing hard to get. Keep away from me. Don’t ever come close enough that you could touch me. You should know better than to come on to a female employed here. That is against the law and anyone who behaves as you have toward me can be fired.” You do not have to make a speech with all these words, but you must do your part to say, “Back off!”

4. If you have done so before and this male has continued to come on to you, you need to inform your superiors, whomever is above this male and you and Human Resources, of what has happened and that you will not tolerate this. Management is responsible for investigating your complaints so be prepared to provide a copy of the log you have made of inappropriate behavior. Here is where you should highlight what the policy book states about harassment. Request to be informed of action taken. Possibly, you can be assigned to a work area away from this male.

5. If management does not protect you from any more harassment, you can seek legal help.

6. This is a time in your life to focus on your career, not to become obsessed with sexual harassment. It is a time for learning what is necessary to find work where you now are employed or elsewhere that uses your talents. Until you find that place in which you feel needed doing work that is meaningful, would it not be smart seek activities outside of work that are enriching for you and others?

I am copying my remarks to Tina Lewis Rowe, my Workplace Doctors associate, who has had extensive experience in law enforcement (as you can see from her bio on our site). This week she has been busy with other questions, so I have taken on this question that she could answer more effectively. However, if I know her, she will add to my advice with other suggestions. Please do not hesitate to keep us posted on what you do. Work is hard enough without distractions. So find or help create a workplace that employs your talents–one that is a good place to work for and in–one I think of as WEGO-minded.

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Falsely Accused of Harassment

Question:

I’ll get right to the point: I’ve been falsely accused of sexual harrasment at work. Now, this individual is watching my private “online” life as well in order to search for evidence. I get so angry everytime I hear about it in the local rumor mil that I just want to quit but I know that would just give them the satisfaction of seeing me ousted. The bosses are not on my side and so far there has been no official word. What should I do?

Signed,

Job in Jeopardy

Answer:

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Grabbed, Hit, Kicked & Scratched At Work!

Question:

I have a tough work situation and was wondering if you could give me advice. I work for a school district in southern Florida as special education teacher working with autistic/mentally handicapped students. I am a second year teacher with these kinds of students, and my first year was ok, albeit a few incidents where students assaulted me. This year alone, since August, however, I have had over 30 incidents where students have grabbed, hit, kicked, scratched, and spat on me. The area superintendent will not release me, as she says that I have to work for three years (due to the District and union contract agreement) at the same school, and there are no other ESE positions available there. I am being assaulted on a daily basis, and am a nervous wreck. I have contacted lawyers, and no one is willing to help me. I also have a note from my doctor saying that as a result of my work environment, I am suffering from anxiety and depression and need to go on medicine. Can you help me? I would really appreciate it.

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