Wrong To Tell Coworker To Stop Swatting Me?

Question:

I reached my boiling point with a female co-worker who continuously violates my personal boundaries. On one occasion several months ago I came into the job and went to my cube. She was talking to the girl who sits across from me.I bent down to put down my bag and she slaps me on my butt really hard. It stung. My butt smarted for a good while.

I was shocked that she would do such a thing. She is older than me and has worked at this company for over 10 years. I am relatively new to the company. She must have known she was out of line because later she said how she meant no disrespect and how she does this with her aunt and mother all the time. I didn’t say anything, but my face expressed that I wasn’t happy with this. I didn’t want to make a big deal over it as she is very popular in the company and is outgoing. I didn’t want to make waves so I let it roll off my back.

Overall she is very touchy feely with a lot of people, giving hugs etc. When she comes to talk to the girl across from me she says hi to me and sometimes she comes to my cube and rubs my back or hugs me. I’m really not comfortable with any of this. It’s fine she’s friendly, but I really don’t want any of her physical contact.

Any way, last Thursday, as I was leaving, she was talking to the girl that sits across from me. I was passing them to leave and she had a paper in her and and she swats me on the butt and says “where are you going? I’m going with you.” I was upset at this. Why does she keep hitting me? I’m not a kid—I’m an adult. What in me makes her feel she can do this? I never see her swatting anybody else.

On Friday when I came into work, I felt enough was enough. I sent her an email. The title was “Can you stop swatting me on the butt?” In the body of the email I said “No disrespect to you, but can you stop swatting me on the butt. You did it as I was leaving yesterday and you did it another time. I really don’t feel comfortable with you doing that. I’m not sure why you are doing it. I’m an adult and I’d like to be treated as such. Please don’t do it again.”

I felt that I got my message across. In about 10 minutes she comes to my cube where I am sitting and crouches down to my level and says how she understands that I am adult but she’s insulted by me sending her this email. She goes on to say that she never did that. I said “yes you did.” I picked up a piece of papaer and I gestered in the air the swatting that she did.

I thought she would apologize. Instead she’s upset at me. At this point I really just want her to go away so I say to her “don’t let it happen again, coversation over, goodbye.” She said this is not over and how she is going to go to HR and to my Manager. I tell her again “don’t let it happen again, conversation over.” She tells me to lower my voice and how this is not over.

She gets up from her crouched position and goes over to the girl that sits across from me and talks to her. Then I see her going into my Manager’s office where she closes the door. I don’t feel that I did anything wrong. I wasn’t planning on going to HR. I felt that I was confronting the person directly responsible for making me uncomfortable. I did not approach her in person because I did not want her to try to dismiss or trivialize her actions as those that she does all the time so it’s ok. I wanted her to see that I was serious.

So far neither HR nor my Manager has approached me. Do you think I did anything wrong by emailing her to stop doing something that I find offensive?

Signed,

Tired of Being Swatted


Answer:

Dear Tired of Being Swatted:

It sounds as though you were correct in your responses. I would imagine your coworker is taking the approach that her best defense will be a good offensive strategy against you. She probably realizes she might be in trouble about this and hopes she can make it go away if she pushes back a bit.

I would suggest that you write a memo with the information you provided here and send it to your manager. Add to it by saying that you know she talked to him/her and you want to make sure the manager knows what led up to your remarks. Ask for a conversation in person about it.

In that conversation you can reiterate your statements that you do not want this employee to be touching you again and certainly not swatting you again. You may want to mention that if it bothers you it may be bothering many other people who are hesitant to make a complaint, just as you were.

Most managers are very sensitive to potential liability concerns and also realize that any physical contact in an office has the potential for problems. I can’t imagine that your manager would say you should tolerate such behavior, so it would seem wise to let the manager know how excessive this woman is in her actions.

She will probably always avoid you now and try to make you uncomfortable. Don’t let that happen. At the first sign that she or anyone else is creating problems for you because you complained about this, immediately seek the assistance of HR and your manager. They will realize that this borders on an EEO issue and reprisal against you would be even more negative than the original incident.

Best wishes as you work through this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

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.