How I Dealt with Workplace Harassment

DISCLAIMER: As always, this take is long so if you aren't much of a reader you can skip right down to the pointers if you just need advice, they are clearly labeled so you should have no issue finding them. Some information such as company names, employee names, and situations are withheld for the sake of protecting aninimity and for the sake of professionalism. With this said, please enjoy the take.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a serious take, so today I want to focus on a subject that is touchy for some and mock-worthy to others: harassment in the workplace. Most people would be quick to pipe up that with feminism and the quickness to sue in this day in age that workplace harassment is a thing of the past, and once upon a time I might have believed that. It really wasn’t until I experienced it that I realized how real it was and why it often goes unreported.

Men and women can be the victims of workplace harassment (though few men are harassed by beautiful Horrible Boss actress Jennifer Aniston) and both can equally be harassers, it isn’t as predominantly masculine in nature the way it used to be. Now, everyone is at risk, and few people know how to go about dealing with it.

How I Dealt with Workplace Harassment

I can almost guarantee that a minimum of 90% of the people reading this will say that the only proper way of dealing with it is to report it to the labor board or somebody in a higher position in the company, while the other 10% will blame the victim and simply suggest they make themselves sexually unappealing, be that by covering every inch of skin to avoiding being so much as friendly.

I may be chastised for this, but I didn’t take either of these routes.

I work for a very small company that has about 13-15 employees total and only four of those employees work in the office. I myself am a receptionist/maintenance worker, so I work within close proximity with pretty much everyone in the office. Up until recently, I never experienced too much in regards to harassment: just the occasional comment from a few of the welders and the odd uncomfortable hug and flirtation from an older, regular customer of ours. It wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle and it was honestly very tame; it typically just stuck within the realms of remarking on my appearance, so I could barely even classify it as harassment, really. It was more of an awkward annoyance.

How I Dealt with Workplace Harassment

But then we got a new general manager. I was familiar with him somewhat because he worked for another company that we did work for prior to coming here, so I knew from the beginning that he was very “friendly.” He didn’t at all seem like the pervy type at all; as a matter of fact, he was a meek, timid, kindly family man who spent his days working hard and his breaks talking to his young daughter on the phone. I never would have thought that I would have an issue with somebody so nice and, well, blatantly wimpy. Then again, a lot of us assume harassment is strictly crude and sexual, but I am here to tell you today that it isn’t true.

The way I was harassed was not at all traditional: it started out with harmless flirting, comments on my appearance, asking about who I was dating – if I was dating, and lovey-dovey pet names. I took it as this guy was just awkwardly affectionate – he was the classic nice guy after all so I didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until he began trying to hug me, touch my hands and stare me down whenever I was in the room that I realized something just wasn’t right. On one occasion, I went to his desk to take a stale coffee he had left out all morning, and I guess he must have really appreciated the gesture because he suddenly grabbed me, pulled me onto his lap and hugged me. I turned into a classic victim: do nothing and question what happened. It wasn’t until I brought it up to my room mate that she assured me that he had crossed the line, and that I wasn’t overreacting that I realized I had to do something. And knowing that my boss is a colossal, sexist asshole who doesn’t bother to punish his employees, I knew I’d have to handle things myself.

That image of him being a kindly family man was his “saving grace” sort of speak because I wasn’t aggressive about it in the beginning. I simply backed off when he was around and cut our conversations short. If he ever tried to touch me I’d just pull away or walk away like I hadn’t noticed. It worked for a while, but really all I was doing was avoiding the issue instead of dealing with it. It came to a head when the comments began to change: he began making subtle sexual suggestions, which is passed off as “jokes” and began making more romantic comments too. If we ever made eye contact, he would give me this weird, affectionate look that would be better suited for his wife, not a woman nearly 30 years younger than him.

It was as though he used his nice guy persona as a way to manipulate me and everyone around him to simply pass his inappropriateness as socially awkward behavior.

I couldn’t take it anymore at one point, and I snapped. I looked him dead in the eye after he made a passive comment on how hot I was and he wished he “knew me in another life” so we could “be together” and I boldly said:

You’re a creepy fuck, you know that?

How I Dealt with Workplace Harassment

I know, I know, this probably isn’t how I should have worded it, but I had been letting this shit go for so long because of his nice family man persona that I had built up a lot of resentment towards this guy. At that moment, I just didn’t care. I didn’t care if he told my boss, I didn’t care if his feelings were hurt, I just wanted him to realize how inappropriate he was being and I wanted it to sting and sting bad. Apparently it did, because he looked like he was going to start crying. Weeks after, he backed off, but he always passive aggressively brought up how he wanted to be nice to me but he couldn’t because it would make him “Old and creepy” in my eyes. For a while, I actually felt bad and decided to talk it out with him. I softened my demeanor and told him I “Knew he didn’t mean anything by it” and that I was “Simply not affectionate.” After that, we acted friendly towards each other again, and I thought things were going well.

I was wrong.

He took my relenting on the sass and being professionally friendly with him as a ticket to start up again. He began trying to hug me, rub my back, touch my hands; the comments started up again, the staring started up again – it all happened all over again. This time around I wasn’t playing games though: I would call him creepy, tell him to blatantly fuck off and avoid him when the behavior started up again. It would work for a while, he’d be kind and respectful and I would ease up. The second I did, it started again. I would talk it out with him and we would be friends again. I would once again become convinced that he was just a kind, awkward guy with no concept of boundaries. This went on for a long, long time, until recently when I finally put a stop to it.

How I Dealt with Workplace Harassment

The guy was crying the other day, for reasons I won’t disclose, but I felt truly horrible for him. My maternal instinct kicked in and I hugged the guy. It was a stupid mistake but believe me when I tell you the situation was heartbreaking, so I was willing to be a bit of a sacrificial lamb if I had to be. The minute I did this, he latched onto me like a leech and just stayed there until I pulled myself away. After that he spent all day talking to me romantically, telling me how wonderful I was, that I was his sunshine, and how he was jealous of the UPS dude hitting on me. It was puke worthy. Thoroughly fed up, I decided to have an end-all-be-all talk with him.

I told him that this shit had to stop, that he had a wife and kids and his behavior was causing me to have severe anxiety. I told him that if things didn’t stop, that I wouldn’t so much as speak to him anymore. I didn’t directly threaten to tell my boss, but I subtly made the suggestion, and he went pale. He did what he usually did: defended his actions by saying he was simply very affectionate and meant no harm by it, it was all a big joke. Of course I followed with the ol’: It’s not much of a joke if no one’s laughing spiel. We hashed it out and at last, he’s finally seemed to stop. He hasn’t bothered me since and he even apologized to me and agreed that he wasn’t being appropriate, but still sticks to his guns when he claims he meant nothing by it.

Whether or not he did is irrelevant: it wasn’t appropriate, and it was harassment. I’m not saying this guy is all bad to his core but he’s old enough to know that boundaries were crossed. Nice family man or not, that shit isn’t acceptable.

How I Dealt with Workplace Harassment

So, for those of you who are or who have been the victims of harassment, this is a list of things I feel are the most effective when dealing with harassment in the workplace:

# 1 Don’t accept it

Seasoned pervs and harassers bank on you not saying or doing anything, so in my experience, the best thing to do is surprise them by nipping it in the butt from the very beginning. You don’t have to be rude or crass like I was, you just need to forwardly say that you don’t like what they’re doing or simply tell them not to do that. Psychologists everywhere will tell you that predators, such as child molesters, will test the waters to see what they can get away with and will target you based on how passively you accept their actions. If you just let them say things to you or touch you, you’re unknowingly giving them the green light to make you into a victim. The few times I’ve been harassed on the streets or in public, I’ve told the person to back off and have been amazed that most of them are cowards who don’t like attention drawn to what they’re doing, and they’ve left me alone.

#2 Be very, very clear

Don’t belittle your feelings the way I initially did by throwing in a softening “I know you mean nothing by it” or “I know you’re just really flirty/affection but….” Because somebody who wants to harass you will see that as weakness; it says that you doubt yourself, that you’re unsure of your situation and where the lines are, which suggests that they can confuse you by arguing your point and blurring the lines further. Be clear about how you feel: say what you mean and stand by it, even if you’re not sure. You don’t have to outright say that its harassment if confronting someone with that kind of accusation scares you, you can simply confront them with the fact that the behavior bothers you and has to stop before you have to do something about it.

#3 Don’t be their friend

I made the mistake of getting friendly with the guy who harassed me because I truly did believe (and still believe) that he is a genuinely nice person. He is well liked in the company, and I let that cloud my judgment. But let’s be real here: your coworkers are often best left just being your coworkers. Sure some coworkers can be friends, but you can’t be friendly with someone who is interested in pushing your boundaries, because it’s nothing more than another way to extort you. You don’t have to be rude to them or ignore them completely, but keep conversations short and/or work related and definitely have zero contact with them outside of work. Don’t leave doors open for them to slip through.

#4 If all else fails, tell someone

I work for a smaller company, so there wasn’t too much option to me to get into contact with anybody who would actually do something. Perhaps I could have gone to the labor board, but that put others in the company at risk, for reasons I once again won’t disclose. I will say however that if it came down to it, I would have told my boss. I sincerely doubt much would have been done, but the mere threat of it was enough to send this guy into a pale-faced-panic, so it would have done the trick, even if he only got a talking to. So if you’re in a situation where you are being harassed and you don’t know how else to stop it, tell somebody and get it dealt with before it gets worse.

I know this is another long one but I hope you all enjoyed it and read through it all because I feel very strongly about the subject and about spreading awareness to men and women alike who are dealing with similar issues. I hope you all have a safe and amazing weekend and I look forward to reading what you have to say in the threads below.

How I Dealt with Workplace Harassment
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Most Helpful Guy

  • OlderAndWiser

    This is a very thoughtful response to a problem that is overwhelming for many ladies. I'm glad that you were strong and able to handle it on your own. The legal response to this situation is not really much of a solution and you are in a better position for handling this as you did.

    Is this still revelant?

Most Helpful Girl

  • homper87

    I worked at a place where the older men would tell me "they knew I was horny and I should just let it out" and they'd keep trying to hug me. I laughed it off, because I didn't want any issues. Now looking back, I should have reported it immediately.

    Is this still revelant?

What Girls & Guys Said

  • Nachtmeerde

    Thanks for the advice. In my case it's not work-related, but there's this guy who delivers takeout to my house that's been creeping me out for awhile now, so much that I've stopped ordering from that restaurant. Now I realise I should not be working my life around a pervert. If anything, HE's the one who should back off.

  • ObscuredBeyond

    The guy I had to report last year, it started off small: acting like he was a manager when he wasn't and nit-picking my work and being rude during conversations. Then, it turned to spying on my every move. And then, he began sabotage and planting things in places to make me look bad at my job. When that didn't get me fired, he started spreading rumors to turn the girls at work against me. A lot of it was total BS, but they didn't know better. He crossed the line with several of them, but they knew him since high school and dared not see the truth for themselves.

    So gals who didn't have a problem with me waving hello in the past, were suddenly pretending to not notice or being outright rude. When I'd ask if something was wrong, they refused to answer.

    He then noticed that I was confiding in a gal I knew in produce, telling her that I was becoming aware of something strange happening and I was getting uneasy, but hesitant to name him for fear of backlash. She kept acting like a friend, so I had no reason to believe there was any problem. But he was jealous of her talking to me, and started hanging around her more often. And began a relentless campaign to convince her of all the nasty false rumors he was spreading to all the other gals. She continued to smile my way when I would pass by and acted like everything was okay. So I believed everything was. In truth, she'd defected to his side.

    Out of nowhere, she went to HR and told them a whopper of a tale about me. It was completely preposterous, and 98.6% of it was total BS. The way I was treated, however indicated to me that they didn't care.

    The other guy seemed like he could do whatever he wanted to anyone, but I would get reported for attempting basic human interactions that would be considered completely normal for anyone else. Accused of crossing lines I never went anywhere near. Meanwhile, my tormentor could cross any line he pleased.

    I finally presented HR with a written statement of grievance, documenting six months' worth of his abuses against me and my threats to go to the union if my pleas were ignored again. I also posted screenshots of the Facebook activity of the gal that "reported" me, exposing her as a lying sack of sh*t.

    The reaction I got was mixed. They still coddle her. She's a cute redhead, after all. But they did convince "the Weasel" to leave me alone and to stop spreading rumors about me. Gals at work treat me nicer now.

    • I'm sorry for what happened to you. People like him are a waste of good air.

  • karahiri

    jesus fucking christ...

    what a shitshow. i'm so sorry you had to go through that... what the fuck...

    the truly scary part is that in his head, he doesn't think he crossed any boundaries or did anything wrong...

    • Trust me, I know, but he's gotten the message and leaves me alone now. He still occasionally will try to call me sunshine, but I just sternly correct him now.

  • Bluemax

    As I read the part describing your experience with sexual harassment, I was wondering if you knew what you would have done differently, if you could do it again. Then when I read your tips to deal with it I could plainly see you had learned... unfortunately the hard way.

    As usual a very well written mytake.

  • ArtDent

    I like your style, you know how to handle yourself without going to management.

    I would add a couple things. Always document every instance and every warning you give in case there is retribution.

    You can turn this into a big payout if you don't go for the jugular at the first sign but rather give people opportunity to straighten up.

  • brain5000

    I read the entire thing. Thanks for having the courage to tell your story and for offering a real-life example of how this practically plays out in the world. Also, thanks for writing it so well; at no point did I get bored and want to skim. I am sure you've helped at least a few to deal with a difficult situation.

    From the male perspective, we men have to learn to recognize when we're making a woman uncomfortable. Once that starts to happen we have entered the Creeper Zone and we have to STOP.

    As you have undoubtedly learned, no man wants to be thought of as a creep. All of us dread that word, perhaps the same way women are afraid of being called "slut."

    Thanks again.

    • You made me so happy I almost teared up from this comment. Thank you for making my night.

    • brain5000

      Awww you're so welcome!! :) But I noticed there is no upvote here. ;) :P

  • KawaiiPie67

    Wow, he sounds like a psycho. I think you handled everything really well actually. I've noticed that lots of guys now R doing the whole nice guy thing (way less than how ur creepy boss acts) as a a way to fuck girls and get gfs... and the truth is, they're all actually like players, except the 'nice and shy' version.

  • DamnCurtis

    Good advice for anyone who deals with harassment.
    When in doubt talk to a coworker or family/friend about it.

  • KDA20

    It is a situation I don't know a lot about since leaving college all my full time employment has being in a one of the largest government departments with strong union representation. Behaviour would not be tolerated by the union or HR. One of the great things about working in these conditions if you are in a situation that you need help in that is out of your control (example domestic circumstances) they will often bend over backwards to help.
    That said if you are in the wrong, you have nowhere to hide - Maybe I have been lucky but I have been in the civil service since 1992 but I don't recall hearing about any overt sexual harassment that wasn't nipped in the bud. Lots of personality clashes etc but no overt harassment.
    In our environment we would be encouraged to go to our superiors and if no joy go to HR. I feel the different working environments play some part in how your situation developed.
    In a perfect world a person should not fear going to HR with any issues.

  • Octavius

    All in all you handled it pretty damn well. I've never really had to deal with sexual harassment in work. At most girls would just be a little flirty but never crossing the line. Any harassment I ever got at work was always from other dudes who would passive aggressively try to get me to do their work for them and then try and make me look like the bad guy if I didn't. I'm lucky and have the natural reaction to just cut the problem at the source and confront them directly. They at first try to act like they have no idea what I'm talking about but you just have to be like "no b. s. I know what you're doing and you know too and if you know what's good for you you'll cut this crap out NOW." That usually gets them to not even want to look in my direction anymore much less try and hassle me into doing their work.

  • IceEverest

    In school days a girl used to bully me because she didn't like my name. I never told anybody, even if I did I knew no actions will be taken. Society is one sided.

  • Zorax

    Very interesting Take... sadly, workplace can sometimes really be like a "living hell" :(

  • Eternallylucky

    I don't like people who look so normal especially the family guy image, they put on

  • ConsultantIsBack

    Go talk to HR!

    • We don't have an HR department here, we're a tiny company. It's just the one guy that runs it. Either way I've dealt with it already.

  • Anonymous

    this made me cry :( :'( all that crap... thanks for the advice, i kinda panic, I don't know if ill be strong enough to pull this off but ill try my best...

    i hate men so bad...

  • Anonymous

    I guess eavesdropping on conversations writing down information. Bypass website blocking as an admin through a proxy to see their profiles. Taking pictures, using them later or staring for awhile to get a good picture for mental masturbation at midnight