Should I tattle?
February 7, 2010 7:31 PM   Subscribe

I think I've been sexually harassed at work. I want to go to someone, but I'm worried this might have repercussions for me. My question is very long, so I apologize.

I work for a company that has about 15 employees and about 40 independent contractors (ICs). We are a 24-hour operation, and afterhours there is only one employee in the building at any given time. Overnight, I am that employee. (Relevant info, I am a married female in my early 20s, and not the flirtatious type whatsoever.)

The ICs also work 24 hours, but never actually work in the office. They only come by here to drop off paperwork, and things like that.

I have been having problems with one of the ICs, a married man in his 30s, for some time. We started out as friendly, but as I noticed the ways he tried to unethically "game the system" of our company, I started to like him less and less. At one point, he managed to get my cell phone number (no, I did not want him to have it), and started texting me a lot. At first, I thought it was OK, because he only texted me during work hours, and work related questions, which was convenient and preferable to me rather than having phone conversations about these things. Then he started texting me a lot outside of work, which I always ignored, never once responding to. I am actual, good friends, with another of the ICs that worked here, and he started asking her why I never talked to him outside of work, and things like that.

Then, he started staying here in the office for long periods of time overnight. He would come in between jobs and hang out for hours, making small talk, or maybe just making sure no other jobs came in that I was assigning to other people. I don't know what his motivation was, but either way, I had enough, and I went to my manager.

I told my manager everything that was going on, and he advised me that this IC had been having a lot of performance issues, so this was the final straw and they were going to let him go by the end of the week. (This was more because of the unethical things he was doing that I briefly touched on above, but that's not so relevant to this question.)

This conversation with my manager happened right before my days off, so when I came back to work next, I expected to see that IC fired. Instead, he was still working, and my manager had come down with a policy that no ICs would be allowed in the building for any reason afterhours. This was never what I had wanted -- I try to keep a good rapport with all the ICs, since they ARE independent contractors, and can turn down work as they see fit, plus I am friendly with many of them. I didn't want to lock them all out of the building. Many times, they do need to come here overnight to pick up packages to deliver, but now we were supposed to lock those packages in the back of the building, in a part of the warehouse that had access to the outside, so the ICs would not have any contact with us.

I did not enforce this rule as well as I should have. I advised all the ICs that came in during my shift of it, but still let them come in to turn in their paperwork or pick up packages. The first night the IC in question came in after the new rule was in place, I told him about it, and he just laughed and said, "Who cares, it's not like you're going to enforce that anyway." Then, as always, he just sat down and stayed. I didn't know what to say and I felt like shit. I know I should have stood up for myself better and I really have no explanation for why I didn't.

I had an out, though. The office is monitored by camera 24 hours a day, and all the employees and ICs know that. This weekend, he came in the office again, and I lied to him, and told him that he really couldn't stay long, because management had been checking the cameras and gotten on my case about letting ICs in afterhours. He responded, "The only reason [manager]'s been checking the cameras is so he can whack off to you overnight."

I REALLY didn't know what to say here. All I managed to say was, "No, I don't think so." He then said, "OK, OK, I get it, you don't want me around" and left after filling out his paperwork.

I really feel like I should go to HR about this, but I am afraid that I will get in trouble for not enforcing the rule about not having ICs in the building afterhours. I have been at this company for a while, but the biggest thing I've learned working here is that NO ONE has job security, and I am terrified at the thought of being without this job.

Should I go to HR and tell them the whole story? If I don't go to HR, is there some better way I can stand up for myself to this guy? I see "assertiveness training" bandied about on AskMefi a lot, and that seems like EXACTLY the kind of thing I need, but I'm at a total loss as to where you actually get that kind of thing.

I have set up a throwaway email at, if you don't want your answers here to be public. Please let me know if I've forgotten to explain any details that could be relevant, and I'll ask jessamyn to add a followup.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I did not enforce this rule as well as I should have. I advised all the ICs that came in during my shift of it, but still let them come in to turn in their paperwork or pick up packages. The first night the IC in question came in after the new rule was in place, I told him about it, and he just laughed and said, "Who cares, it's not like you're going to enforce that anyway." Then, as always, he just sat down and stayed. I didn't know what to say and I felt like shit. I know I should have stood up for myself better and I really have no explanation for why I didn't.

I think you need to seriously enforce the rules you are entitled to and document, document, document everything that you have been sent via text that you have not requested. You're in the driver's seat here; there's a new policy to prevent this from happening and you need to enforce, and defend to higher ups, your rights.
posted by Hiker at 7:42 PM on February 7, 2010

I would tell them everything you've written here. Tell them, and emphasize repeatedly that THIS PARTICULAR IC is the problem.
posted by autoclavicle at 7:47 PM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd absolutely go to HR. This IC is causing a hostile work environment for you and you should be protected. You have no way to make sure that these people leave when they're supposed to, all you can do is remind them, so I wouldn't really worry about repercussions in that vein from management.

This is something that HR people take very seriously because the courts have made it very clear that harassment is not to be tolerated and that the company is guilty of it if they don't do anything about it. So I encourage you to stand up for yourself and fight for your right to be treated as a coworker instead of an object. You deserve better treatment.

Good luck.
posted by inturnaround at 7:50 PM on February 7, 2010 [7 favorites]

If it was me, I wouldn't do anything about this incident, but I would begin enforcing the office policy (say you got in trouble for not enforcing it before), and from here on out, as Hiker said, document everything. If he does something again, report it.
posted by amro at 7:54 PM on February 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think you should absolutely go to HR. You informed all of your ICs about the new policy, and even though you could have been more terse about it, you cannot be expected to physically control them. Besides, apparently this person has enough job security to get off the hook after your complaint and a history of unethical behavior. So I would not worry about your own job in light of yet another assault on company ethics by him. This will most hopefully be the last straw and he will be let go.

I don't know anything about assertiveness classes, but that sounds like a good idea. However it'll do you no good to beat yourself up about not being assertive enough in this situation. You were stunned and at least you responded calmly and effectively. He did get the message to leave, after all.
posted by Juicy Avenger at 7:58 PM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're going to get a reprimand, probably, and rightly so; you haven't been enforcing the policies your manager's set down for contractor access.

He's going to get the hell fired, if there's any justice in your company's HR organization. There is no defensible reason for him to be saying things like that to you. Document the hell out of it, take your lumps for the unrelated issue, and make sure they do something about this guy.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:01 PM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, it doesn't matter if you're married, unmarried, asexual, a flirty type, staid, whatever. This is his fault,; it has nothing to do with your behavior.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:02 PM on February 7, 2010 [14 favorites]

If you "get in trouble" from your company after this incident, and it happened exactly the way you claim it happened, MeMail me. I'll make you rich.

I'm an HR have to understand 2 things.

1. HR is an asshole profession. Always. No exceptions.
2. When HR hears "sexual harassment", their job is to cut the problem out of the equation. If they don't...not only is it THEIR job...but it may be the company that "gets in trouble" as well.

They will help you here. My offer still stands.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:04 PM on February 7, 2010 [17 favorites]

Also...your manager is kinda liable (and managers are PERSONALLY liable) if they let this shit go on AFTER a harassed employee has informed them of whats going on.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:05 PM on February 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just want to emphasize again that this is not your fault. Loosely enforcing new office policy does not mean you have to tolerate sexual harassment.
posted by sallybrown at 8:17 PM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Start with HR. Tell them you are afraid. Tell them you want it to stop.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:22 PM on February 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd like to point something out here.

You went to your manager with a problem that was his responsibility to take care of/enforce/whatever. He, instead, created a policy that put you right back at square one because you're the one that has to enforce his stupid policy. He punted the ball back to you. That's a pretty big fail.

If anyone gets in trouble here - it's him.

Document everything that has already happened and present it to HR.
posted by jbenben at 8:37 PM on February 7, 2010 [16 favorites]

The suggestion to document is a very good one, and also to seriously enforce the rules that you have been entrusted to enforce.

Do you have anyone (husband, family, friend) to talk to about the situation, who knows you well and can provide support without flying off the handle? I've found that the worst thing about these situations is the feeling of having to keep the problem to yourself, and wondering if you're somehow in the wrong for having this problem. No, it's not you. Yes, there are probably people who you know who can support you through this difficulty.

You can handle this on two levels. On the personal level, respond to one of those text messages with something to the effect of "please don't talk to me anymore, you make me very uncomfortable". Or, talk to the guy. If you don't want to text/ talk on your own, then have a husband/ friend/ confidant with you. I say that you should have someone with you because you are obviously uncomfortable with this person, and this converts a he said/ she said situation to a conversation with a witness.

On the professional level, it's hard to think of a way to frame a response without knowing the particulars of your work situation. On the one hand, I think what you've experienced certainly qualifies as sexual harassment. In an ideal work environment, this would be resolved no matter what the circumstances when you make a complaint. In a less than ideal work environment, you should try to have all your ducks in a row before you do this. It seems like the management isn't a huge fan of this guy anyway, from what you've said. They have already (sort of) acted on what you said--sometimes it isn't as easy to fire a person as a manager would like.

If the guy has made you so uncomfortable, think of this: Someone, somewhere, may have to deal with this again unless you do something about this situation. Would you wish this on another person? If not, take steps to prevent it (totally not trying to be harsh, but speaking from personal experience).
posted by _cave at 8:40 PM on February 7, 2010

For whatever reason (too many romantic comedies?), some men believe that borderline stalker behavior will eventually be rewarded with affection, and that inappropriate personal remarks will be interpreted as flattery. Some men are also very bad at taking hints.

I'm not trying to defend this guy - he sounds like a complete jackass - but has anyone (you or your manager) actually told him directly that his behavior is inappropriate and needs to stop? That he needs to maintain a more professional demeanor?

Because, while your manager's solution was meant to accomplish the goal of separating him from you, it may have totally failed to communicate the reason why. So this guy is just going to continue pursuing you until he gets himself fired.

I'm not saying you should confront him. That's your manager's job, or HR. But what's wrong with being direct?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:41 PM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Up until he made the comment about jacking off, it wasn't sexual harassment, because you didn't let him know his presence wasn't welcome.

It's completely okay for you to be friends with other ICs, yet think this guy is an unethical, sleazy jerk. You have the right to enforce your boundaries and tell people who don't need to be in your work space to please get the hell out. But if all he did was send you text messages and "hang out for hours, making small talk", and you didn't let him know he that this behaviour was unwelcome, then what you had on your hands was a jerky, tone-deaf co-worker, not a perpetrator of harassment.

The comment about jacking off, though, is completely out of line. Unwelcome, offensive sexual comments towards co-workers fall clearly within the definition of sexual harassment. Even if you previously tolerated his inappropriate behaviour, this comment is unacceptable. I would mention it to your manager - it'll probably be the final straw that loses him his job. The fact that you let him in at night doesn't diminish his responsibility for what he said, although it's possible you'll be reprimanded separately for breaking the new rule.

I agree with the poster who mentioned assertiveness training. Harassment is never the victim's your fault, but you could have handled this situation better if you'd told the guy to leave as soon as he started making you feel uncomfortable. It's a good skill to have.
posted by embrangled at 8:50 PM on February 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think it's key that you went to your boss about a situation that was making you uncomfortable and instead of doing his job and either handling this specific situation or turning this specific situation over to HR, he made a blanket policy for you to enforce on your own that didn't even directly address your problem. Yeah, sure, you could have fully enforced the new policy, but HR will have bigger fish to fry when this comes to light.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:03 PM on February 7, 2010

oh come on. this is not sexual harassment. as far as you've indicated, he made one off-color comment. other than that he just bothers you and you don't like him. sooooo....stop letting the guy in the building for pete's sake! this new rule is in place so you don't HAVE to let him in the building, so why did you let him in the building again? there is no reason to go to HR screaming sexual harassment unless there's things you're not telling us.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:11 PM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Reading embrangled answer (just above) and qxntpqbbbqxl's (above that) gave me another thought.

A few days a week I work in sales. Very high volume, brief hours of operation. I'm in LA and I've found there is a monied segment of the population here that is exceptionally crass. They walk in and treat me like a servant rather than the knowledgeable and degreed professional that I am.

On those occasions, I either tell these folks politely that I am not interested in their business (this is usually in front of other customers - FUN.) Or like today, I responded to someone who had snubbed my "Hello!" a few minutes earlier with a, "Can I get a PLEASE with that?" as she directed me on how to package a product she wished to purchase. I said it with a smile, and she said, "Oh! Sorry! Please!" - or something to that effect.

In other words... you are the only one on in the evening. You get to define the culture of your workspace. Don't be afraid to politely tell folks to fuck off. They'll respect you more, especially if your policy is enforced universally. I make no secret that I like folks to be lovely and well-behaved in my presence.

I am the top salesperson in my company. And I know why.

Don't be afraid to draw some boundaries is all I'm sayin'.

Hey! You'll be clumsy at first, but eventually, you'll be able to do it with style.

You're young. This is a great life skill to cultivate.

posted by jbenben at 9:20 PM on February 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

I agree with qxntpqbbbqxl and following along the same lines - this situation is such a classic case of a woman (in this situation, you) trying to be all nice and not be mean and not rock the boat and take care of other people's feelings (and oh, have I been like that too, but I haven't had to deal with workplace harassment - lucky me) and being really, really afraid of other people's reactions (e.g. this IC, the boss, HR, etc.)

So. You need to really empower yourself. The problem is this guy, and yours and every woman's societal conditioning to be nice and not mean and not be a bitch. As a result, you're in a position where this guy thinks he can step over these boundaries with you and so it may be harder to start being that bitch because you've got some ground to catch up on. So, you have to get it into your head that you DO NOT DESERVE this treatment. You have the right to enforce this policy, even if it is an inconvenience to the other ICs. You can go to HR and say, "this policy doesn't work for the ICs because they still need to come in, can you help me find a way where they can still do what they need to do without coming in? Also, I'm not a very good enforcer, do you think you can find some assertiveness training for me?" Just be honest.
posted by foxjacket at 9:29 PM on February 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

that last little comment he made takes the cake. yes, "tattle" - don't let people like that reap rewards from their assholery.

maybe you'll get a reprimand. maybe you need it. but dude should definitely (to the thousandth) be fired. and it's in your boss's best interest, too, based on the claim made.
posted by batmonkey at 10:06 PM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't know that the policy was only created because of your complaint, there could have been something else going on so stop feeling guilty about it.

And let the guy know he is not to text you on your personal phone. Tell him that you don't want any work related stuff on that number.
posted by fshgrl at 10:06 PM on February 7, 2010

Some people are idiots and make off-coloured remarks without realising or caring if they offend others. Maybe I'm not seeing the whole picture, but I'd hesitate to call this sexual harassment. That is, or should be, a serious accusation, and this just sounds like someone who likes you but happens to be clueless to your hints. People make crass comments like that around their friends. He probably thinks you're friends.

You should let him know you don't appreciate jokes like that and that you want to be left to do your work. If he carries on after that, I'd go to HR.
posted by Relic at 11:01 PM on February 7, 2010

I also agree with qxntpqbbbqxl. I think these days, managers are too afraid to tell employees directly about their unsatisfactory performance or inappropriate behaviour so they change a process rather than confront the problem at hand.

Something tells me this will be the last time he tries this kind of behaviour. If you feel that strongly about it, go to HR, otherwise, just enforce the "keep-out-of-the-office" rule with him (and only him, if you wish), and he'll eventually get the point.
posted by ryanbryan at 11:47 PM on February 7, 2010

Relic, I hate to be blunt and I appreciate that you're trying to provide another approach to the issue, but you're wrong.

Masturbation is pretty much never an acceptable topic at work (save if you work at Penthouse or something), no matter if you're talking to friends or enemies. It creates a hostile work environment and the creation of a hostile work environment on the basis of sexually charged remarks is ABSOLUTELY sexual harassment.

I can understand trying to defend the man on the basis of the fact that it's the first time he's really gone off on a sexual tangent (versus flirting) and that the OP hasn't forcefully indicated disinterest. That still doesn't mitigate the fact that the contractor sexually harassed her. Should she be filing a lawsuit? No, not on the basis of the facts here. But there are steps that need to be taken, and that's why the question was posted here.

Anon, you definitely need to have another discussion with your manager and/or HR. You need to do so, anyway, if the ICs need access to the now-locked areas for a legitimate reason.

As for assertiveness training, though I'm sure there are workshops in your area on the topic (does your work have EAP, Employee Assistance? They could be a resource for finding and accessing workshops on the topic, as in theory they cover 'workplace issues training'), you might be better off starting with a book, video or other self-help medium. You can look at this book, which focuses on assertiveness for women specifically (socialized gender roles can make it hard to stand up and assert oneself. This is something to keep in mind when you feel ashamed about not telling the guy 'no' when he first broke the new rules). You can also look at this book, which is basically a workshop in a book.
posted by librarylis at 2:30 AM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

You said, "I told my manager everything that was going on, and he advised me that this IC had been having a lot of performance issues, so this was the final straw and they were going to let him go by the end of the week."

Then- you came back in and the bogus "new policy" was in place, and the jerk as still employed. What happened in the meantime? This seems very odd.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:09 AM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

hal_c_on has a point, *to* a point. You have every reason to be nervous about this unwelcome attention, and every right to a non-hostile workplace. However, a) you've never made it clear to him that the attention is unwelcome, and b) for whatever reason, your boss came up with a lame work-around rather than just fire the guy. That tells me that they value him at least as much as they value you.

Honestly? Here's what I'd do.

Telll the guy to stay the hell away from you. Do not respond to any, and I mean any, texts, emails, phone calls, or comments, except to tell him to leave you alone. Your goal is, frankly, to get him to quit bothering you, or in the best case scenario, quit himself.

If that doesn't work, your best option is to quit the job yourself. Go find another job, there have to be more out there. Then when you do quit, tell HR and your manager WHY you quit. You can go the EEOC route and all that but it really takes a toll on you, in terms of time spent preparing the case, bridges burned, and your overall sense of perspective.

And from here on out, when a guy makes a pass at you at work, tell him to stop talking to you like that. Period. Then tell someone about it, a friend or whoever, and how you handled it, so you have later witnesses if needed.
posted by pomegranate at 5:06 AM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

For situations like this, it's important to tell the transgressor his behavior is not appropriate and it bothers you. It's best to do it the first time the behavior happens, but in general, the sooner the better. It's very possible he honestly is not aware he's bothering you, and you need to give him enough info that he understands his attention is not welcome so he can change his behavior towards you. One warning should be enough, and it can even be delivered nicely -- "Hey, that comment bothers me, can you not do that again? Thanks." "You're really not supposed to be here after hours, please drop off your paperwork during business hours. Thanks."

If his behavior continues even after you've given him his one warning, then you know you have a problem.

The rest of my opinion won't be popular, but I feel strongly about it. If someone was severely harassing me, or if unwanted physical contact happened, I would call the police, not HR. If someone was 'just' harassing me, I would give the harasser his one warning, and if that didn't work, I would speak to my manager and give him/her a chance to handle it. If *that* didn't work, I would seek another position inside or outside the company. You're far more likely to damage your own career options by going to your company's HR than you are to have any effect on the harasser -- HR exists to protect the company from you, not to protect you from your coworkers, and making even the most legitimate sexual-harassment complaint paints you with a certain brush in the eyes of a significant number of coworkers, including managers, at your company. Right or wrong, that will follow you as well as your harasser. My personal opinion is, if my direct manager doesn't value my services well enough to handle the problem, my services are better employed elsewhere.
posted by 2xplor at 5:09 AM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

A sexual comment or suggestion alone is not sexual harassment, legally. Sexual harassment generally falls into two notions:

1. Quid pro quo (the expectation that a victim must provide sexual services in exchange for promotion), and
2. Hostile workplace (which may for example include management toleration of low level employees' sexual remarks and culture, and/or termination or other consequences to the victim for reporting it).

The reason I don't see sexual harassment here is that I don't see any evidence for a quid pro quo, and with respect to a hostile workplace, when you want to your manager with a complaint they immediately put in place a procedure designed to put an end to future problems. That procedure may not have been the one you wanted, but you don't have the right to dictate a response. The procedure may not have worked, but you've neutralized it by deciding against enforcement. I'm not for a second blaming the problems on you, or suggesting that this jerk's behavior is okay, I promise. He's a jerk, and it sounds to me like he is deliberately pushing buttons and making himself hard to deal with. That said, like mentioned above, I don't see the part where you asked him to stop, not to make comments, etc.

Now, I am not a sexual harassment lawyer, it's a highly regulated field and I absolutely defer to the expertise of a lawyer who works in employment or a similar field. The above is general and off the cuff. I am not giving you legal advice, by any means - it's just a personal gut reaction here. That I don't see sexual harassment here is sort of irrelevant if you do. If you do, call some lawyers and see what they think. Document everything in writing either way. Enforce the rules your employer has asked you to enforce.

Sexual harassment claims are hard to make, and even harder to profit from. The suggestion above that this could make you "rich" is really off the mark. These claims tend to take years to pursue, with legal fees accruing, and tax owed on all the proceeds. I don't think you are looking for the imaginary payday from this, I think you are looking to show up at work, do your job un-hassled, collect your paycheck and go home. You absolutely shouldn't have to deal with a jerk to do that, regardless of whether the jerkiness meets a legal standard or not.
posted by bunnycup at 6:08 AM on February 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm dealing with a co-worker like this. He, for whatever reason, has tried to befriend me. Really, I just need an outlet for the stress I have at work, so I let it get to a point where we talked often and openly, but only about work-related things. He then interpreted this as us being friends and has tried inviting himself (he's twice my age, divorced with multiple children) to things I've mentioned when he's asked me how my weekend went; activities I do with my friends, etc.

Over time, once he started slowly piecing together who my primary friends were, he started making incredibly off-color remarks about a former living situation I was in with a male friend and how "I was lying if I said I never had sex with him," or "wanted to." When I said no, it was never like that, he then asked me when the first time we had sex outside of living together was. I was absolutely floored.

His excuse is that the only way I 'open up' is through comic relief. Sexual harassment and making someone feel uncomfortable is not comedy. I have never, ever, shown any interest in his sexual promiscuity or even his personal life; I find him boring and very stereotypical. He is not the kind of person I would be friends with even if he was my age. He has also been reprimanded for comments he made to another co-worker before, granted he says a lot of things in order to try to fit in; and this was such a case.

He's the adult equivalent to the kid that picks their nose and eats it. No matter how many times the kids yell, "Ew!" they still get something out of it and they're not going to stop.

There are a lot of answers here that tell you to stand up for yourself and be assertive and just tell him that what he says makes you feel uncomfortable. If it were that easy for people like us, we wouldn't be in this situation. And like foxjacket above said:

The problem is this guy, and yours and every woman's societal conditioning to be nice and not mean and not be a bitch. As a result, you're in a position where this guy thinks he can step over these boundaries with you and so it may be harder to start being that bitch because you've got some ground to catch up on.

It's hard to finally stand up for yourself after you've been half-assedly smiling off his stupid jokes and trying not to feel awkward yourself when someone is directly making you feel that way. Additionally, when someone makes ridiculous comments such as those, many of us are so thrown back that our initial response is usually that same sarcastic eye-rolling and innocent head-shaking in order to get as far away from the predicament as we can. This obviously re-enforces his behavior because he thinks you actually think he's funny.

To the people above who think this is a far cry from sexual harassment, I'm not sure what kind of work environment you are from or the kind of people you work with; but this is not acceptable conversation in the workplace even if these people are friends outside of it. There are very rarely workplaces (even small businesses, like the OP's) where everyone just gets along and could totally go have a beer one-on-one with any of their co-workers after hours, discussing this kind of candid information.

Being so Johnny-on-the-spot with a masturbation joke is a pretty good indicator of what is going on in this guy's head. He thinks he's being clever, but in reality, we know exactly why he said it and that's why it's so hard for us to respond in any sort of manner in the state of absolute disgust and mortification we're in.

I'm not about to go to management and tell them that this guy who is going through a bitter divorce and is barely getting by providing for his children is making my life pretty damn uncomfortable because when it comes to his actual job, he is capable.

In your situation, it sounds like they had more than a good reason to fire him but didn't. You need to find out why your boss dropped the ball and like many are mentioning, really put you in an even worse situation that before. The quip about him needing to leave because they're watching the cameras is a good one; but after his jerking off comment, I would have said something like "That's absolutely disgusting -- but I'm being serious, they really are and they've got names already listed, so you need to get out of here or you'll get us both fired."

Which, unfortunately would probably be followed up by some sort of "So.. looks like we'll both be free next week.." crap, but I digress.

I'm going to have to agree 100% with what pomegranate said above. I'd rather leave a job I really enjoy while I have the means and opportunities than screw someone over (despite them screwing themselves over) who doesn't have those benefits. It's not right, no, and I wish I had more balls, but I've made it very clear to myself that at my next workplace, if I even get a whiff of this scent, my retort will be, "[I'm sorry,] I'm not going down that road with you; I'm sure you mean well, but this isn't the place." That isn't word for word, and it still worries me I won't be assertive or confident enough to say it when the time comes, but that's why I'm going to therapy.

Best of luck to you.
posted by june made him a gemini at 6:13 AM on February 8, 2010

- Brief, brutal comment - I would suggest just saying that you are uncomfortable with him around acting the way he does, that you're not sure what he wants but you are a happily married woman.

As far as sexual harrasment? I would really doubt there has been an actual infringement of anything like that. And if I was in charge of resources and you're whole story was told to me from BOTH sides (eg slightly weighted either way) I would dismiss it as not a problem. Business is bottom line stuff - do you like him there? No. Tell him. Was he being an idiot? Yes. Not a sackable offense. Were you sexually harrassed? No. If I was the HR person, and have this kind of thing coming my way all the time, I would unfortunately dismiss you as making a deal of something that comes down to no more than him liking you, and you needing to tell him that you don't like him. - Maybe that's just me though
posted by Cogentesque at 6:43 AM on February 8, 2010

Your boss set up a rule to help you get rid of the guy. That's how your boss wants to handle it. Instead of getting involved with a messy, controversial, he-said she-said litiginous sexual harassment situation, he made a rule that ICs aren't allowed in the building. It was a trap designed to help you.

This kind of thing happens all the time, and it has nothing to do with sexual harassment. If one person kicks the file cabinet on the way into work every day, and everyone hates it, but it isn't a clear violation of any established policy, then management makes a new policy that says: no loud noises in the morning. They then wait for the guy to kick the file cabinet again. Then suddenly, it's: "Gee whiz, Bill, we're sorry, but you violated the morning noise policy. You now have a written warning on your permanent record. We're sorry to have to label you as a problem. Hopefully there won't be any further issues."

Your boss set up this slam-dunk situation for you and you didn't play it out. That's what happened. Again, this is typical. Employees who complain to management often find that the problem gets addressed, but not in the way they had anticipated. You don't get to say "Yes, that solves the problem, but it doesn't appease my sense of justice."

My advice is: Enforce the policy. Across the board. You know, embrace the solution that was given to you. Say that management is cracking down. Let the ICs feel a little inconvenienced. Then, after you've been doing that for a couple of weeks, when the problem guy violates the policy, report him. Repeat until he doesn't work there anymore.

Happy epilogue: Stop enforcing the policy after he's gone.
posted by bingo at 7:51 AM on February 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

I agree with Bingo. I also wanted to point out to those suggesting that she has not been direct enough to remember that she is alone in the building at night. Once someone trips those alarm bells that tell you something isn't quite right, you may already feel vulnerable. Add that to the work context (alone, at night) and a somewhat unresponsive management and at this point, anon is not operating from a position of strength. Which is not to say that assertiveness isn't the answer but I think leveraging the policy while shutting down other forms of communication is the way to go.
posted by amanda at 9:06 AM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

it wasn't sexual harassment, because you didn't let him know his presence wasn't welcome

I'm not sure how it works on a legal level or in other places, but where I work the mandatory harassment training specifically says that the person being harassed does not need to say that it's not welcome. One of the examples given was that if you tell racist jokes and everyone laughs, you are still breaking the harassment policy if someone feels uncomfortable about them.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:43 AM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sexual harassment doesn't require that you tell the person harassing you that it's not welcome.

Change your cell phone number. Just do it. Tell the phone company you are getting harassing text messages and they won't charge you. Yes, it's a PITA. Do it anyway.

Don't beat yourself up for not enforcing the policies. The people telling you that you should just do it have not been in your shoes with the guy standing there. I know, it's hard to be what you think is being bitchy. But here's my advice: don't explain. Don't hedge. Don't do anything but say "No." Just say "No". The tough part when dealing with people like this is when they start asking you questions and start trying to gaslight you and make you feel insecure. But "No" is unequivocal and all they can do is ask the question in a different way and you say "No" again. And then he will start to squirm a little, which will make you feel more in control of the situation. Just saying "No" doesn't give him anything to key off of.

"Can I come in?"
"Ah, c'mon."
"You know the policy is bullshit."
"Don't you like me?"
"I thought we were friends."
posted by micawber at 10:27 AM on February 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't call this sexual harassment. When you go to HR, don't use the term, unless you have had it confirmed by an HR professional, or an in state labor attorney, that this meets that standard. And you absolutely should go to HR. My concern is that they might hear "sexual harassment", think that this is a weak example and dismiss your complaint. There is something menacing about his behavior, not so much the tasteless remark about masturbation, but rather his telling you that you're not going to enforce a rule. It's not on him to say whether this policy will be followed or ignored, you're the company's representative. When he makes that comment he is rejecting you as an authority. The unstated message is that for you to assert yourself you will have to face him in a confrontation right then and there. This kind of probing to see where and when you'll enforce your boundaries is similar to a criminal "interviewing" a potential victim. It doesn't mean he's planning a sexual assault, he might just prefer to have you off balance in dealing with him and that's it. But that's totally unacceptable behavior, if for no other reason than it leaves you in a vulnerable position by default.

In your conversation with your manager or HR, tell them that you let the ICs in out of habit, and then focus in on his preemptively disregarding you as an authority. Emphasize how uncomfortable you felt in that encounter given the text messages outside of work when you hadn't given him your phone number. His remark about masturbation is just the latest event in this sequence. The subtext of unwanted sexual interest will come through clearly.

Avoid criticizing your behavior. It's difficult to assertively claim your boundaries in the middle of a relationship once you're let the first violation pass. Instead, look at this as future motivation for making your boundaries known right at the first infraction. An assertiveness course could prove valuable, but also consider some training in Self-Defense. Take a look at Model Mugging or a similar course, one that engages an adrenal stress response.
posted by BigSky at 11:58 AM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've read the rest of these...a lot of them have stuff to add. Some have absolutely no value here like "just quit and find another job".

FUCK did NOTHING wrong, and you do not have to bet on the job market at this time just because some asshole cannot keep his dick in his pants.

If you need ANY help (finding a lawyer, knowing exactly how to document stuff, presenting yourself to potential lawyers, who to contact, etc, etc), I'll do it. For free.

You are in a position where you can have all sorts of PROFESSIONALS (read: NOT metafilter opinions) do all the work that is necessary to make it a non-hostile workplace. You need to take them up on this shit.

oh...and you should also realize that if you u really think that will stop this asshole from doing this to another attractive woman in the office?
posted by hal_c_on at 1:50 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm really tired of reading these responses that are saying that are effectively blaming her for not enforcing this IC lockout. It shouldn't be up to her to supervise the ICs. Certainly their violation of this new policy is reason enough for her to report them to her manager and, since her manager's solution was really half-assed to begin with, talk with HR about the whole situation.

Seriously, if I were a woman I wouldn't want a creepy guy saying off-color things to me in a crowded office let alone an empty one. It's up to the employer to provide a safe, harassment-free work environment. Let HR earn their money by doing an investigation.

You're a person worthy of respect. Demand it from your workplace and co-workers.
posted by inturnaround at 1:53 PM on February 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would like to know how he got your cell phone number. This could be a clue as to what you are really dealing with -- it seems that, as a group, we are undecided.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 6:57 PM on February 8, 2010

"He then said, "OK, OK, I get it, you don't want me around" and left after filling out his paperwork."

Maybe I'm missing something, but this sentence to me--since there was no follow-up afterwards--makes it seem like the situation has been resolved. Dude got the hint and moved on. Correct?

I guess then I'm not understanding what the point would be in going to HR. And despite what some say, it IS relevant that 1) you didn't enforce company rules designed with your safety in mind and 2) you never explicitly told this guy--who "somehow" has your cell number and who you "for whatever reason" allow in the building--that he made you uncomfortable.

My philosophy is "have all your ducks in a row before putting yourself on jumpstreet." Imo, you don't have all your ducks in a row yet. Before you exacerbate this situation, you need to have done the following:

1) Told this guy explicitly that you don't want him calling you or texting you and that you want to keep whatever interaction you have with him on strictly professional terms and that from henceforth you will be enforcing company rules of not allowing him in the building while you're there--document the date you have this conversation with him.

2) Enforced the policy for a prolonged period of time (like a month or so). This way you can say, "I have been enforcing this policy since..." if the question arises.

If after this has occured, the "harrassment' continues, elevate your complaint--letting your boss know first and documenting both the first and second time you've talked to your supervisor about this problem.

So to answer your ulitmate question, no, I do not think there is enough evidence presented (ie no incident after he said "you don't want me around" and walked away) to warrant a complaint to HR right now.
posted by GeniPalm at 9:24 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

You mentioned wanting to find out more about assertiveness training. Try searching Amazon with "assertiveness" under books or "assertiveness DVD". Look at the ones with good rating and read the reviews to see if they sound like something you think would help you. You can see if the library carries the ones you like if you're tight on money.

If you want to take a class, google "assertiveness" + your city. If you find a company you that you like, search their name and see if anyone's posted good/bad things about them.
posted by stray thoughts at 10:20 PM on February 13, 2010

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