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?
Dear Stop It:
You are at risk. You have been assigned to work Monday at a distant location with a male coworker, I’ll call him Jon Doe, who has touched you, pretended to poke your jaw, and has asked you to talk dirty to him. He has recently behaved in a similar fashion with another female coworker. Your manager inquired of you about what Jon Doe did to you, and he laughed off what you told him as though it were ridiculous. You don’t describe how you reacted to Jon Doe’s behavior, but you admitted you failed to say, Stop on the spot. The other female worker apparently responded angrily to J.D.’s behavior and complained to management. You should demand that you not be assigned to work with Jon Doe alone. Call your manager this weekend for a different assignment and state that never again should Jon Doe be assigned to work except in the presence of several others and under the eye of management. Do not mince words. Admit that you should have said Stop on the Spot. State that management and the company are already at risk for not doing what needs to be done to correct the sexual imposition by J.D. of you two employees. Assigning you to work alone with this man is evidence that your complaints are not taken seriously. Jon Doe’s behavior could escalate to more sexual harassment and possibly to sexual assault. You should not worry about escalating this matter. Jon Doe has done the escalating. I would suspend him while this is investigated. From what you say, management already should have put in place corrective action; at least counseling and at worst firing him. Even if J.D. interpreted friendly banter and flirting, his behavior was out of place in the workplace. If he is allowed to continue employment, management should make it clear to him that he must not do anything that could be interpreted as sexual within the work setting. Moreover, he should be warned not approach any employee in such ways outside the workplace and that should there be any interest of this sort expressed by another employee, it should be initiated by that person and not him. The best policy, in light of Jon Doe’s inappropriate behavior, is that he should only speak about work with female employees within the workplace and has no contact with them outside. It is not impossible that this man can change. I know of one man, who made unwanted sexual advances, was counseled, and later earned the respect of management, so much so that he was promoted. Work is difficult enough without feeling unsafe. Hopefully, this matter will be resolved and you can once again go to work feeling it is fun and you are as happy as you were for nearly 20 years. Our signature WEGO symbolizes