Consensual Affair Turns to Harassment

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about an affair that turns to harassment: Boss made demands; he got very mean and threatened me because “he had enough evidence to drag my name through the mud like the piece of “sh!t I am”.

I have been working for my employer for almost 8 years under one manager – who at times I would even describe as a best-friend. My boss and I were on a business trip and he made an advance I succumbed to due to being highly intoxicated – as was he. When we got home from our trip we discussed this was a bad idea, but that it was a little fun. The next thing I know – he’s giving me money to have my breasts done, knowing I was self conscious about this part of my body. He and I had a 4 month consensual relationship mostly via texts (which I deleted) and emails (also deleted). He made a lot of demands on me for my attention, fighting with me if I didn’t offer photos or enough time on the phone.

During the time of the relationship, I had a lot of pressure to be involved due to the fact that he is my boss and he was constantly offering me large monetary gifts and perks at work. He tended to dangle all of his offerings to me like he was doing something so great for me and my family, constantly reminding me how much he helped me and how much I needed him . . . but it felt very controlling.When it was over and I stopped talking to him outside of work, he got very mean and threatened me because “he had enough evidence to drag my name through the mud like the piece of “sh!t I am”.

I was honest with my husband and he has, as far as I know, kept this a secret from everyone, including his married girlfriend. Since the end of our relationship, he has sent threatening emails and bullied me verbally over the phone. I’m seeing the more favorable accounts being offered to another employee and of course any of my previous perks are omitted. He has a reputation for being quite the micro-managing bully, I’ve been subject to it (and quit over it, but never complained in the past) and people have been fired / quit because of his mean behavior.

He’s honestly got me scared to get up from my desk. If I don’t answer my phone he calls my co-workers to see where I am (hello, restroom break).Via email you can’t see the poking as much – but the poking and prodding is constant and he knows what he’s doing and on purpose trying to climb under my skin. I dread coming to work and worry about his phone calls and emails as he has also begun name-calling and hanging up on me, also dredging up private information to hurt me with.. He has begun criticizing my performance and demanding more from me than others on his team. I feel physically sick with anxiety, trouble sleeping, and eating. More or less, I have a lot of fear.

My track-record with this company has been stellar, never had a complaint and always received praise from upper-management for my contributions. Now I feel I’m being set up to fail and all future advancements with this company are a lost cause. I fear I will receive poor reviews and denying me raises in the future.He is sending me threatening emails to my personal email demanding money for the gifts that he gave me – because he is aware of my upcoming bonus. When we ended our relationship, he felt bad and told me not to repay him (they were gifts so I don’t intend to) . . . but, since he knows about my large bonus he’s demanding I pay him from it.

I do not respond to his text messages or emails to my personal account, and when I fail to do so, the bullying at work gets worse. I am terrified of going to HR because it seems like that will just set off a bomb of gossip and really upset this man. I am afraid of what he may do or how he may react when he finds out I complained. I know I would be protected from retaliation, but what if he comes after me outside of work?.I cannot afford to lose my job and I am nailed down tight by a non-compete agreement which has gotten in the way of finding another job at a comparable pay scale, as I have attempted to leave. I feel trapped and I’m not sure what to do.

Signed, Frantic With Fear

DearĀ Frantic With Fear:

I’m so very sorry this is happening and I can well understand your fears and worries about it. This is far too complex for mere quick advice by a Workplace Doctor! I think you realize that you need an attorney to walk you through this and to ensure that your well-being is placed first. Federal laws may have been violated. You have suffered emotional and financial loss. Probably there are company policies and rules that have been violated. All of those require action, taken the best way and the right way. But, until those things are brought to the attention of your company it is not their fault for failing to stop something they don’t know about. If they SHOULD have known, that is something else and that is also something an attorney can talk to you about.You need an advocate through this, so I hope you will seek one immediately, even if you don’t take action immediately.

Yes, it is true that you don’t know what your boss might do, but given his bizarre and mean-spirited actions, you don’t know what he might do anyway. Your only hope and your only solution is to stop him in his tracks. He may be doing this to others–or certainly will do so one day.You say he has a reputation for being a micro-managing bully, so it’s not like people will say, “Jim? He’s such a wonderful guy, I can’t believe it!” For all you know HIS manager may be hoping for a reason to nail him like this. At least he should be.

So, my first advice is to get an attorney who specializes in this type of case. You could also limit the time and money you spend by carefully discussing what the attorney can do to help you You may only need a few hours of advice about how to approach HR or what kind of letter to write. Or, the attorney may help you craft letters or may tell you the best way to put together a package of evidence to take to the highest levels of the company. Or, you may choose to have the attorney speak for you and protect your job and your rights.

Another thing to realize is that your relationship was probably not a secret anyway. Some may feel you are getting what you deserve, since they were kept back while you received perks. Just keep your focus on your subordinate role to your boss and consider asking an attorney for phrases that are most helpful for keeping that in the forefront.If you feel the attorney you’re talking to isn’t helping you, find another one. Your case is so extreme that it must be resolved–your goal is to ensure that it is resolved in your favor.

If you will not see an attorney–and that is truly the best thing you can do, at least for an opinion about this case–consider talking to the federal office of Equal Employment Opportunity. Or, go to their website and see what resources are available. Consider talking to any Employee Assistance Program your company may offer, if they do. If they don’t, you may still wish to talk to a woman’s counselor, to establish that you needed to do so and to find someone to help you as you move forward with this.It will take considerable strength and courage the day you decide to take this on. Perhaps your husband can come to work with you that day, if he would do so. Or, you can ask to meet someone from HR away from work or in the presence of an attorney and take time off the rest of the day or part of that week. An attorney could perhaps help ensure no negative actions are taken for time away, as long as it is reasonable.In the meantime, get together anything you have that could prove what you are saying.

Develop a timeline on a calendar. As much as possible, note exact comments (as you did about his threatening remarks to you.) Develop numbers, even if you don’t have the items (X emails, x messages, etc.) When all of this is done, you may be subject to sanctions. But, having an advocate may be the best way to protect your job. If your boss’s behavior becomes more problematic, you might lose your job there anyway. Then, your complaint would look more like revenge and might not be believed. Now is your chance to stop him and to protect yourself.

This highlights all the problems with unequal and dysfunctional relationships in the workplace. However, in this case you clearly have many things on your side to show that you are not the aggressor nor have you sought to take advantage of the situation by threatening HIM. It will be very messy for awhile, but then it will go away. If you don’t do something, it won’t go away and it will continue to be horrible for you–probably eventually becoming very messy anyway. So, if you are the strong person you sound as though you are, take control of this and do yourself and everyone else a favor by stopping this vile person from bothering you or anyone else at your work. You may find you become a heroine to many! Best wishes to you. If you wish to do so, let us know what you decide.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.