My Supervisor Is Trying To Blackmail Me!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about threats to obtain sexual photos:

I’ve been employed at my job for 7 months. I recently got out of a relationship with the owner of the company. We were secretly seeing each other for 3 months and have known each other for 5 years. I know now it was the wrong thing to do. I have recently sought God and am now a born again Christian.

The problem is after three months since the break up my supervisor, who is good friends with the owner, has targeted me. He told me he knows about me and the owner’s past relationship. I have told no one about our relationship. My supervisor described very intimate details in a text message to me and then asked me to go to the bathroom and take pictures of my breast through text messaging. I told him I couldn’t.

The problem is, I feel like I can’t tell anyone because of the lives it will ruin. You see, the owner has publicly started dating someone else in the company who he’s had a crush on for 15 years. So, I don’t want to ruin the owner’s new relationship. I am happy that they have found their place in life and wouldn’t want to take that away from them, they are both dear friends of mine. Ultimately, I need my job to provide for my children. So my question is, should I say anything or keep it to myself?

My supervisor also told me that he could unleash this to anyone, namely my boyfriend. Me and my boyfriend, the father of my children, the man I love so much, moved back in together after breaking up for almost a year. Needless to say, my boyfriend also works for this company but in a different division and building. I feel sick to my stomach and don’t know what to do.

Signed, Worried Sick

Dear Worried Sick:

As frightening as this is, take this one step at a time and you will be able to deal with it in the correct way. You also may be able to protect other women in your business from a similar situation. If your supervisor would do this to you, think what he might have done or will do to others? This will also be a good time to use your new faith-based approach to have strength about how you treat others and how you want them to treat you, at work, in sexual relationships, and in commitments to you.

First, keep in mind that you did nothing illegal or grossly immoral or unethical according to the circumstances you have described. It would be preferable to keep your private life private, but really, what horrible thing could you be accused of doing? Nothing that others haven’t done and more. A few others probably know anyway or have suspected. If the supervisor knows, others know. Maybe it isn’t known by everyone, but you can bet a few know about it. So, the explosive secret value isn’t very much, except to you and a few others who probably won’t think it’s that big of a deal.

Your supervisor knows he is making an empty threat. If he were to tell others about what he knows, do you think the owner would keep him as an employee? No, of course not. Your supervisor isn’t going to lose his job just to look at a photo of your breast. (Good grief! What kind of place is that where you work?) So, he’s just being a weasel and he needs to be stopped. I can’t think of any excuse for him, except that maybe you didn’t act very upset when he mentioned knowledge of the relationship to you and he views the request for a photo as adult humor that you will play along with or not take seriously. I know of circumstances where those kind of risque comments and suggestions might be done without meaning really bad things from it. But, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. You seem to feel that he is threatening you and that there is no way he has basically good intentions.

The one person who has the power to stop your supervisor’s threats is the owner. You can bet the owner will be angry and maybe a bit frightened himself, to think his “confidential” remarks to the supervisor were being used against you and could be used against him, to harm his new relationship.He doesn’t seem very impressive to me, considering that he kept YOU a secret, but he doesn’t mind being openly involved with someone else. In addition, he must have discussed intimate details with the supervisor, so he is certainly partly to blame. He helped get you into this, let him get you out of it. Tell him what the supervisor said to you, requested of you and threatened, and make it clear that you expect him to handle it for you and to do so immediately. Make sure you tell him about the request that you photograph your breast in exchange for you keeping silent. He’s looking at a federal EEO law violation of sexual harassment occurring in his business. And, if he knows about it he has to do something about it or he is guilty as well.You should also ask to work in another section where you don’t have to be around the supervisor in the future, if that is possible.

You’ll never feel comfortable around him again, even if you were formerly friends. The only way I can see for him to redeem himself would be if he would apologize profusely and swear he never meant any harm. Even then, you know you can’t trust him because the business owner certainly couldn’t! After you talk to the business owner, send an email or written memo to your supervisor. Keep it brief. Say something like, “This is to notify you that I have turned the information about your threats to me over to Dave. I will never discuss the matter with you again and only will talk to you about work issues in the future. If you have further comments to make, make them to Dave.” Period. Don’t say anything more. And if he tries to talk to you about it, hold up your hand and say, “Stop. I’ve been advised to not talk to you about it anymore.”

Then walk away or just keep saying that same thing. What is he going to do then, complain that you’re insubordinate? He knows he hasn’t got any power over you! Tell your business owner that you will be sending that note.If your supervisor was formerly a friend of yours, which it sounds as though he was, you may not feel you can write such a blunt note. If that’s the case, just write a note that says, “Jon, I was disappointed in what you said to me about telling others about my private life. I’ve told Dave about it and he has directed me to not talk to you about it again. If you have comments to make about me, talk to him directly. I’ll only be able to talk to you about work in the future.”That’s a bit softer, but says the same thing.You have to make a promise to yourself that you will take yourself out of this and not talk about it with the supervisor and limit discussions about it with the business owner.

Those two men have let you down already, but there is no point in you being part of an ongoing battle. As for the father of your children, who isn’t married to you, I don’t expect he’s been a celibate saint either. So, although I can understand that you don’t want him to know about this, it’s not like he has made a strong commitment to you himself and protected you, cared for you and given you support and companionship when you needed it. So, put your focus on your own well-being for awhile.We’ve heard similar stories from many men and women over time, and so far, none of the emotional blackmailers ever did anything about what they threatened. In several cases the blackmailers were fired. In others, they were just shut down. So, it isn’t likely this will be made public and hopefully you can put it behind you at some point.The bottom line is this:

Your next step is to go to the owner and put this on his shoulders. You’re an employee, he’s the owner. Let him handle it. Strongly consider asking to be moved away from this supervisor if it is at all possible.The next step is the brief, brief documentation to the supervisor that you’re reported this and do not want to talk to him about it again. Then swear to yourself you will not talk to him about it. If this ever goes further it will look badly for you if you continue to discuss it with him back and forth.

The next step is to do your best to put your focus on your work and let your business owner handle it. If there is a layer of management between the supervisor and the owner, let the owner deal with that as well. Keep the thought that you aren’t being accused of a crime and it’s not likely you’ll be fired, so you don’t have as much to fear as the blackmailing supervisor does! If things don’t seem to be working out, consider asking an attorney for a free consultation to find out if there is something you can do to protect yourself even better. Or, invest in an few hours of legal assistance if you think that would be helpful.

Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens. You can get through this, one step at a time!

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.