How do you respond to sexual harassment in the office?

Photo by Jeff Kubina via flickr

Photo by Jeff Kubina via flickr

A maintenance worker came to replace some light bulbs that were burnt out in one of my offices. I let him into the room, and after he checked out the lights he determined that he would have to order the bulbs and so would return the next day. I turned around to open the door and let him out, and he said “You look so beautiful.” Now, I’m sure he meant that as a compliment, but it was entirely inappropriate both because we were at work and because he was ALONE with a woman in a locked office. I’ve been thinking about what I could have said, because I think this was a lost teachable moment. I’d love to hear other readers’ suggestions.

Location: in an office at 23rd & I St.

Submitted by JS

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8 responses to “How do you respond to sexual harassment in the office?

  1. JS, the one thing I can suggest is to immediately call out the person and the action as being sexual harassment. This generally works best when others are around, because they immediately regret what they did and are now embarrassed in front of others. However, you were alone, I can only imagine how you felt. If you felt as if this man may be dangerous, you did the right thing and just got out of there. Did you follow up with your supervisor, his supervisor or HR? It’s never too late.

    Sincerely,
    Cris

  2. It’s an interesting question for which I don’t have an answer. Except the plain and factual, “That’s inappropriate.”
    Yesterday I was in a meeting for work where a man I’d never met before kept reaching over and touching my arm when he talked to/about me. I wanted to flinch and hiss at him, but that’s not ok, either.🙂 I asked another male coworker later why men do that and he said “some chicks dig it.” I just had to roll my eyes and walk away.
    I have been thinking that maybe an e-mail or phone call to a supervisor would be appropriate. But I don’t know.

  3. I think you’re right…it’s inappropriate, which is definitely what I want to convey. I just want to make sure that whatever I do is positive, because I don’t think this man meant to be threatening, I don’t want to escalate the situation (especially while alone), and also because by being positive about it I think this man is the sort who might take the information and actually incorporate it into his life. Something I was thinking about was maybe the sandwich idea, whereby I could say something along the lines of, “I appreciate that you’re trying to pay me a compliment, but it’s inappropriate in the work environment and it makes me uncomfortable.” Unfortunately, I don’t know what the follow-up positive part of the sandwich is. Maybe that’s enough? Ideas?

  4. We deal with harrassment issues at work all the time–the issue here was you were clearly uncomfortable with the remark, even though it was likely meant to be friendly. The best response is to do as you suggest–tell him that you realize he didn’t mean anything by it, and meant to be a compliment, but it’s really not work appropriate and you’re not comfortable with it. Most likely he’ll realize the remark is unwelcome, and not make further remarks like that, but if he did then it should be reported to HR.

  5. JS, I think the sandwich idea is good, and sometimes it is enough to say “thank you, but no”, in other words. You don’t always have to follow up with another positive if there aren’t any. If you needed another positive, you could wish him a good day. That’s about the only thing I could think of.

    Sincerely,
    CB

  6. I agree with those who feel telling someone that it’s inappropriate is the right way to go.

    We used to have a regular UPS guy for our office who was efficient and friendly, but one time when we were alone on the elevator he referred to me as “beautiful.” I told him it was inappropriate and he apologized.

    In the end, you have to do what makes you feel comfortable. I wish you the best in your situation.

  7. finally, after nearly two years of the older building engineer constantly addressing me as “dear,” “baby,” and “shorty,” i asked him to stop. i rarely have to interact with him, though he would always interrupt me when i was outside smoking cigarettes & reading a book, and when he was in my office fixing a light (which he himself had broken the week before), he wouldn’t look me in the face as he was explaining why it was broken, and called me “baby,” one last time. i simply said “please don’t call me baby, i’m not your baby,” and he relented. he’s been giving me the evil eye ever since, but it feels great to have finally stood up for myself.

    • Glad you got an opportunity to stand up for yourself. I never understood why some men think it’s appropriate to refer to women they don’t know as “shorty” and “baby,” especially in an office setting. It’s rude and it crosses personal boundaries.

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