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.

William Gorden