Should I Report What My Colleague Told Me?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about whether or not to report that a coworker
was asked to make a false accusation of sexual harassment.

Question: A work colleague told me that my boss asked her to fake a sexual harassment complaint against another manager. He told her he would give her $4,000 now and $4,000 later, for a total of $8,000.

I asked her what she said and she told me “Oh my gosh, I was so shocked, I didn’t know what to do!” I told her to report it to someone higher, but she said no.

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Disturbing Behavior By Co-Worker

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a co-worker who shows disturbing behavior:

Question:

I have feverishly searched your extensive archive looking for answers to this dilemma. Nothing quite answers this situation. I have just started working in a new job, about 8 months now. About 3 or 4 months in, a male coworker (please note that this coworker is older than I am), who I knew very little about, started talking to me. Being relatively new to the office, I looked at his behavior (very initially) as friendly. A helping hand so to speak.

However certain of his behaviors started changing and he would tell me that he likes me. He would behave strangely sometimes for the next couple weeks then everything seemed to settle. So there I was thinking “Oh, he was just playing”. Months later (no sign of this type of behavior before) he hugged me (non-sexual manner both times) for my birthday and one time after that.

Our business is the type of job where we work very long hours. My coworkers who work in my same department were assisting in the department where this guy is, late into the night.The other workers there asked him which one of the girls in the office he liked and he said it was me. A couple days afterwards my coworkers are working late again (we are in busy season) with this guy.  He was telling the guys in his department that we were an item, that I was “easy” and how he slept with me already.

All of this about what he said is hearsay at best. His co-workers are saying that whenever I am around he gets more aggressive with them. I do not know how many of the co-workers believe that it is true. Either way it is highly disturbing. His mannerism is disturbing and I have no idea what will happen if/when I report this incident to HR. Help/Guidance with this is urgently and greatly needed. My co-workers suggest that I confront him to cease and desist. My mother thinks not so wise because of his mannerisms.

Signed,

Worried

Answer:

Dear Worried:

Our archives are filled with situations that are applicable to yours. We say the same things to everyone who writes about inappropriate behavior, and I will repeat it: Don’t accept inappropriate, disturbing behavior. Report it and insist on a response from management. Don’t talk about it to others, unless it is necessary for them to know.

1. Unless your coworkers are lying (and they might be) you have a clear situation of sexually inappropriate comments being made by the older coworker. A workplace the size of the one you describe will have clear rules against discussing a coworker in a sexual way. It has already caused gossip and could harm you personally and professionally for years. In addition, if it is true, it shows a potentially dangerous obsession by the older coworker. I’m surprised no one has thought about that as this has developed!

Good grief, what else might he be fantasizing?

Write down who said what to you and when they said it, and take that list to your manager. Tell him or her how frightened this has made you and that you would like to have it investigated immediately and stopped if it is true that he said those things. Then, say there have been other things that have been disturbing. Don’t leave that out, just because you are approaching it from the viewpoint of what others have said. You need to be open and honest about what has occurred and how you at first thought he was OK, but now are uncomfortable. BUT, you need to be able to say why.

2. You mention non-sexual hugging (birthday and another occasion). But, except for that you don’t describe any actions that seem specifically to be inappropriate. Make a list of the things that have happened, including tones of voice, looks or comments that have disturbed you. That kind of list will be useful when you talk to your manager. It doesn’t help to say, “He disturbs me”, if you can’t say what it was that the person did.

3. Avoid the person who makes you uncomfortable, except for civil and courteous work communications. Do not talk to him about personal things and change the subject or stop him if he tries to do so. “Jim, I don’t want to offend you, but I don’t feel comfortable talking about our personal lives. Let’s get back to work talk, OK?”

One thing is absolute: Don’t joke with him about these matters, as though you don’t really mind. You don’t have to be angry sounding, just determined. “Wow, that goes over the line, don’t you think?” “I don’t think you’d say that if a manager was around, so don’t say it now. It sounds bad, even if you didn’t mean it that way.” “My neck doesn’t hurt and I don’t like having someone rub it, so don’t do that.” “No, no, Jim, I’m not the huggy type, so let’s not!”

4. Bring this to a halt now. It’s 2013, you’re a young adult and no one would think any of this was right for a workplace. If it will help you, find someone you trust and discuss it with them, telling them your plans and asking for input. But, don’t wait. And, don’t keep letting people talk to you about this. Next time they do, stop them by asking what they did about the inappropriate things they heard, other than wait and tattle to you. Make them see their responsibility in the disturbing behavior.

5. This will be a challenging situation. Your coworker will probably be embarrassed to be asked about it. He’ll probably be angry that his coworkers told you what he said. He may want to talk to you about it. Don’t get involved with that. Just tell him you’ve been told not to discuss it. Focus on your own work and being a good employee. This probably won’t be your last place of employment and one day this will only be an uncomfortable feeling….if you deal with it the direct and correct way. Best wishes to you. If you have the chance and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe read more

Is it Sexual Harassment?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about sexual harassment:

My boss’s wife who works in the office, has been asking other co-workers if I am sleeping with her husband….Is this sexual harassment?

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

Apparently your coworkers have told you about the question by your boss’s wife. She can’t be guilty of workplace harassment because she doesn’t work there. However your coworkers might charged with sexual harassment if they start making fun of you or frequently repeating her accusations. You should talk to an attorney about the legalities of the situtation and what are your options.

Tina Lewis Rowe read more

Sexual Harassment Updated

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about sexual harassment: I was told that is just X being X and that if I took this out of the department I would lose my job as X is too valuable to lose.

1st issue: On the way home from a business meeting with a coworker, he grabbed my face and kissed me. I rode home as far away as possible but didn’t say anything to him until I was out of vehicle. I told bosses next day. I was told that is just X being X and that if I took this out of the department I would lose my job as X is too valuable to lose.

2nd issue: A different coworker said I needed a “sugar daddy” and he wanted to be it. I laughed this off. Later on he told me he had sexual dreams about me. I told him to stop. He did, but then retaliated against me with computer/time documentation etc that almost got me fired. After explaining to boss, they did write up this without putting his name on paperwork, but still threatened me, as Y was too valuable to lose.

Five years of his ongoing retaliation with computer time accounting, etc. (I am only female tech in the department.). Another coworker, a “Christian” would continually come on to me but then asked me to have a threesome with him and his wife. After my “Hell No” I told him in person and by email that I was able to have only a work relationship. He said O.k. but later continue to come on to me–including walking his groin onto my knee when I was at my bench. He was not taking no for an answer. On a school trip, he commented on my desert that I was taking to my room. He followed me to door outside of room and asked if he could come in and share my cake. I offered him 1/2 to take with him and told him he could not come in. He left – sans cake. Another guy would continually grab at me. Two employees from another department saw him doing this to me. They were offended and asked me why I didn’t report him on sexual harassment. I briefly told them I had put in complaints already–to no avail. I went to HR and told her what happened and the 2 employee comments. Her response was “Those guys need to mind their own business.” I asked to be transferred out of department. She said, “Yes, but then denied training and training benefits and told me I had to apply like any other employee and said there was no guarantee of job.” In mid-summer said she would have to meet w/my bosses to re-work my schedule to 3 days/week to accommodate our school. The start of school was soon approaching. She didn’t even have the courtesy to reply to my emails.

My boss finally scheduled time to meet with her and me. They denied me a transfer and said I would be in same position I’m in now -working with all men. So apparently due to lack of body parts, and not upholding a safe work environment for women in male dominant-jobs at the largest hospital in state. They also threatened that they could not guarantee a good recommendation if I didn’t take out the sexual harassment information from my annual review.

This is just the S.H. portion of my issues… I took my case to the Human Rights Commission and ended up with a right to sue letter due to how long they were taking to ‘process’ my claim. Are there time limits even after they have the claim in hand? The company is too big to fight according to all attorneys I’ve seen. They say, “Yes, very illegal, but sorry I can’t help you” The hospital has ability to drag this on indefinitely. To sue costs too much. They also have ‘in house’ legal staff, so I cannot get legal help (about 30 attorneys asked gave me the same refusal. There was no money to be made).

Signed, Same Answer of No Hope

Dear Same Answer of No Hope:

I’m not sure why you took the time to write Ask The Workplace Doctors. Perhaps you still have a glimmer of hope although you seem to be resigned to the same No Hope Answer. I did my best to edit your long description from one guy’s come on to the next and then again to the last to whom you offered half your cake, but not in your room. I can’t tell from this account how carefully you’ve logged the come-ons and the details of your reporting them, but if half of what you say is documented, it seems your employer is seriously at fault for not separating the accused from you and then making an immediate effort to investigate and a concerted effort to correct them.We don’t provide legal advice and yours is a legal matter.

To be sure, some sexual harassment accusations can’t be proven and probably most attorneys are wary of taking cases they think they can’t win or on which they can’t make money. However, I find it hard to think 30 have turned you down unless they all think you simply are living in a world of fantasy. Have you not turned to the EEO? I know of times when they respond quickly, and based on that information, I think, if you had, the odds were that your employer would have reacted more responsibly, no matter how big is your company and large is its band of lawyers.

My knowledge of the law is incomplete, but I believe there are some time limits; therefore, time limits would depend on when you reported these events and how good was/is your documentation of the long delays. Even though your first issue of being kissed appears to have occurred long ago, it seems the other instances of sexual harassment were more recent. My answer is far from what you want or need; you need to take advantage of the law and the EEO. That is no cakewalk, but neither is being groped and working in a workplace that retaliates when it is reported. You will have to decide if you have the courage to fight this or simply can’t take it longer and had best seek work elsewhere. Work is hard enough without working in a hostile environment. And even if your job is easy and one that you need and/or love, being disrespectfully treated makes if difficult.

I hope these thoughts prompt you to do more that bite you tongue. If you work scared to no answer, you will not know what it means when I say: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

Follow UP: I brought this to the Maine Human Rights commission, labor board, EEO (although I never heard from them after paperwork was submitted, and out of sheer ignorance, I didn’t know to contact them further). MHRC took over 180 days just to get information – I did have an attorney – but she really had a conflict of interest as she had done mediation for the hospital previously (I had asked her on our first meeting, but she said she did not have any conflict with my case….. seeing as how if she fought ‘balls to the wall’ for me and won – she would then lose paying jobs by maine med in the future….). She had me meet with the hospital and their atty’s back in Dec 2008 to try and get me back into another position – I told her I would not accept anything that had not been put in writing – she said ‘they probably won’t do that’…. hmmmm so much for ‘help’. The labor board met with ‘them’ but never with me in person, so they didn’t have any idea what my complaints entailed – hence, not knowing what to ask or look for specifically (and my boss could talk an eskimo in buying ice).

The computer guru guy and my boss had put a camera on me (after I had complained about his s.h. statements and his retaliation with the computer/time accounting etc). I asked boss why they had a camera on me – said it was to watch equipment in back room. I asked why it was not pointing in back room? He didn’t have a good answer. When I realize the ‘feed’ of camera was going back to computer guy, I explained how disturbed I was since he was the one ‘having sexual dreams’ about me – and to think he could now watch me all day long gave me the creeps and made me wicked uncomfortable. I had to get HR involved in having this camera removed (I am the only female biomed (repair/test/calibrate medical equipment) and only employee with a camera pointed directly at them.

Talk about hostile environments – and malicious intent….. I would not have cared so much if the ‘feed’ went to the bosses, but it didn’t, and that it was not actually watching the equipment it was supposedly protecting….The director and an HR rep denied me military training and also the use of Military Leave of Absence for training.They also hired a guy in 3 years After me, paid him more than me initially (they ended up bringing my pay up to 25 cents more than him when they realized they were being ‘illegal’….. He had no biomed experience at all. was best buddies with lead tech. lead tech then fast tracked my co-worker and gave him all the training opportunities, so I was denied training, denied the use of my tuition reimbursement benefits (by director, manager and HR personnel as well – even though classes fit the keeping up skills for current job or potential future job). I worked there for 12 years, and had 5 out of 12 male coworkers sexually harass me, my bosses and lead tech and hr discriminate against me – why are all my male co=workers allowed all this stuff and I am not – the only difference is sex…..Even my male coworkers commented on the way I was being treated.

All 5 guys who s.h. me were interviewed by HR and the HR woman said she was astounded because they all admitted to what I described, – she said usually they get defensive and deny stuff. My lead tech came after me in an elevator – I ended up running to HR and told them I could not take it any more. I guess the reason I was writing is, that, at least in Maine, there is no support for women in male dominant jobs. Unless a man or woman has been through this, others will not have the empathy or knowledge to know how badly these things affect employees. There is a false sense of security – I will never again trust HR – they are only out to cover the corporations a**, not to protect the employee…. So, other than telling people to carry a recorder on them or video – to document the behavior, and, as you said, get everything in writing (but make sure they make hard copies and keep them in a safe place – as I have found out, my home has NOT been a safe place) the more a company feels threatened, the more drastic the measures they will go to to make sure they don’t get held accountable for their illegal behavior.

Nobody seems to tell this side of the story, to make employees aware. RICO laws are the only potential way to keep big companies in line, but, once again, it would take a Federal Investigation to keep this down.The MHRC asks about prior complaints, the hospital answered that they didn’t know of any…. about 5000 employees, the hospital has been in business since the 1800’s….. hmmm yeah, o.k. no complaints…. How do you protect yourself from lawyers who lie to protect the company paying them? How many ‘shut up’ clauses have they had employees sign? They are very adept at bullying and coercing and threatening. They offered me $30,000 to shut me up (through Workman’s Comp). Come to find out, the LTD insurance company could take all that away from me, so, I declined – plus, they had wording in there where I could not ever talk about it, it would have affected not only my past and present, but my future as well – as they had clauses about future w.comp and social security disability etc!

They are corrupt to the hilt, but powerful enough to get away with it. Hence the severe situational depression, the sense of hopelessness and helplessness, but, I am not going down without a fight. I have put a claim in to the civil court – superior court – pro se. I have spent hours at law libraries, I have tried the MCLU, volunteer lawyers projects, etc….. So, without going out of state, the ‘little boys club’ continues to rule this state.

PS: they say I am being overly sensitive – So, someone grabbing my face (assault) and kissing me without my knowledge or consent – Wow. Now I know how rape victims feel when they are accused of being too promiscuous (my W.comp advocate said initially that ‘this guy should have been fired on the spot for that’ but then followed up that statement that ‘if you were not a single female, this probably wouldn’t have happened’ – putting me at fault for it happening….. The disgrace and disgust I feel for the legal system and the system in place to supposedly keep this from happening in the first place, just keeps growing with each set of unjust behaviors that follow in dealing with this. Pass this on to the woman in your group – see how she feels.Tell me how I should have handled each situation – educate me on the proper way to ‘talk’

Reply by Tina Lewis Rowe: Hello and thanks for your follow-up information. Dr. Gorden responded when you wrote in December, so we thought it might be useful for me to respond this time. I can certainly see why you would feel frustrated and traumatized if the situation is as you describe it. The question you need to answer for yourself now is, what are you wanting to have happen? Do you want a financial settlement higher than $30,000, so you can quit? Do you want to keep your job but work someplace else in the organization (and is there any place to work?) If you were treated better, would you want to stay where you are? What would being treated better look like to you?If you pursue this further, you will need to have a settlement action to suggest. You don’t say whether you’re working right now or out on leave or some other status. If you want to continue to work there, you’ll need to be able to describe what would make it tolerable.As for doing something specific to force your managers to correct the problem, it appears you have tried all the options that are usually effective in these cases. Let me suggest one last option that comes to mind, even though it wouldn’t be my first choice. for sure: Find a crusading newspaper reporter who would like to take the story on as a project. (TV reporters are not likely to get involved with a long-term project.) Get all of your material together and present it as a challenge for uncovering the truth. Develop a list of people who might be willing to interviewed if they can remain anonymous. Present it with the idea that a medical facility that allows that kind of behavior toward female employees can’t be trusted to treat females appropriately in any setting. That would get attention.

The reporter would have to handle it correctly to ensure no libelous statements were made, but that is the reporter’s issue. Yours is to get the information to someone.In your email to us, you mentioned people who witnessed what occurred, so you could submit those names. You might want to talk to them ahead of time and tell them how important this is for everyone. You mentioned that you thought it was hard to believe there have been no complaints in the past. It would also seem hard to believe you are the only woman currently employed who has experienced a problem. You may want to talk to others you have observed being treated unfairly or who have likely experienced similar issues. Perhaps you know of someone who quit or who was edged out. You may know either men or women who have retired. Some of those retirees may know of women who have complained. Even though that person can’t bring an EEO charge now, they might be willing to talk to a reporter in order to bring out the truth. If there are things that are visually problematic, like the camera, take photos of it. Take a photo of the location where it is being monitored. In short, gather evidence that is visual and provable. If you think contacting a reporter is out of the question, what about putting your material together and submitting it to every female executive in your organization and asking for their assistance? Or, send it to the highest ranking person in the organization.

It seems you have little to lose, in that you hate working there anyway! The only other option is to continue to document and make complaints to HR. At least you will have a paper trail if it is needed. I doubt that every attorney is afraid or that no attorney cares about the truth. If you are turned down again ask the person to give you an honest opinion about why. Ask if there is something missing in your evidence or if there is something about the case that bothers them and makes them hesitant to get involved with it.

In the meantime I hope you will take care of yourself physically, spiritually and emotionally. Find things to help you feel good away from work. Make this the time when you look and feel your best. Think of work as a way to make money but not the only way you identify yourself. Hopefully you will find another employer who will have a workplace in which you can be happy, fulfilled and successful. I realize it’s sometimes hard to stay strong, but it will certainly present you in a positive way to everyone else. Perhaps you can be the example other women need to feel strong enough to come forward. Best wishes to you through all of this. Tina Rowe

Gorden & Rowe read more