over-sensitive barista?
September 15, 2010 10:27 PM   Subscribe

What to do about inappropriate, verging-on-harassment behavior from a recently hired coworker & soon-to-be manager who I'll only be working with for a short time?

I've been a student for eons, basically my entire life, and recently I entered my first service job involving face-to-face interaction with the public at a national chain cafe. It's been interesting and generally I'm enjoying the experience, especially my cheery, upbeat, & clean cut coworkers. Just a week ago however, a new guy appeared on the scene who has worked as a manager elsewhere and is now being trained at my store as a manager in our company. The first day we worked together he asked me indirectly if I had a boyfriend and said something about my supposed preferences for hanging out in certain areas of the city based on the color of my skin (I'm biracial while he's much darker toned than I). Also he started talking about something or other I didn't catch and then asked me weirdly out of the blue if I was homophobic - to which I of course told him no. The second day we worked together he started making constant references to me as "light-skinned" (basically implying that I'm somehow snooty because of the skin tone thing), teased me very aggressively throughout the shift, and began thumping/hitting me on the back every time he walked past me. We're the only blacks working at the store and so I'm not exactly happy to bring up this matter with our probably unsuspecting white manager. I mean, part of me wonders if this kind of behavior is just my big welcome into the service industry, and that I'm expecting more formality and professionalism in this setting than is usually the case. But I also feel like maybe I should somehow 'warn' my manager about this person's antics, because he's Not creating a comfortable work environment for me and apparently he's going to be in charge of supervising others in probably just a few short weeks. Should I just grit my teeth and look forward to his departure?
posted by afabulousbeing to Work & Money (17 answers total)
What you're experiencing here is verging on sexual harassment (I'm assuming you are female).

You need to document what this fellow is doing to you, and that includes the date and the time, as well as the context.

Next, ask to speak with your manager. Say that you thought he should know about what you have experienced, because this fellow is on track to be a manager. Explain the general chronology of incidents, and state the more racial comments in more general terms.

If you don't want your manager to do anything about it on your behalf, you should state that too.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:41 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

He's probably freaked out by being the only black guy in his management trainee program (or maybe not) and so, he's looking for solidarity with you. Is he less educated or sophisticated than you are? (And he's a guy, so his idea of bonding is to make jokes--did he call you "schoolgirl" yet?)

Your manager might not get the racial overtones of the guy's humor, but you don't want the white manger to think that the thumping is some "black thing" and that you're fine with being treated that way.

I'd tell Trainee-Homeboy to knock it off, and to let the white manager that this guy had been bugging you, and that while you've handled it, you don't want the behaviour to start again.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:44 PM on September 15, 2010

Just call him out the same way he's trying to do to you: "Dude, do you realize you bump into me every time you walk by? You might want to get checked for Meniere's..."

Then again, there's always humor.
posted by rhizome at 11:06 PM on September 15, 2010

I agree with what others said about telling the manager, but wanted to add that even if you're male, this could still be considered harassment.
posted by elpea at 11:12 PM on September 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

Formality is one thing; physical and verbal harassment is another. While coworkers in (some parts of) the service industry might be more casual with one another than people in an office setting, it doesn't mean you have to put up with rough-housing or verbal teasing that makes you uncomfortable.

But some people can be really oblivious to how their behaviour affects others. He may be assuming a level of camaraderie that you two don't have, which in itself can be really off-putting. When he does something that makes you uncomfortable, look him right in the eye and tell him specifically what you don't want him to do. "Please don't hit me, I don't like it." "Please don't make comments about my skin colour, it makes me uncomfortable." And document it, every time. You can adjust the level of seriousness or playfulness of what you say to him if you're afraid you're going to come across as too harsh or unfriendly, but if you're nice about it and he keeps it up, you should say it without a smile. For some people, a single this-is-definitely-not-a-joke warning can really do the trick.

If he doesn't shape up after a few warnings, take it to your manager -- then you can say look, I tried to deal with him directly, and he's not getting it. If you go in without a concrete list of incidents, your manager may tell you to talk to the guy directly (of course, this depends on your manager's personality and management style); if that happens, it's better to be able to say "I already tried and it didn't work".
posted by neushoorn at 11:23 PM on September 15, 2010 [7 favorites]

You mentioned he came from elsewhere and is being trained at your store? I'll bet you almost anything that this guy's behavior is probably already known to upper management and he gets shifted around because of problems in other settings. So I'd be sure to tell him to stop personally and if he doesn't, report his behavior.

My sister is a manager for a national coffee chain store and said this happens a lot: someone will be selected for managerial training to fill a quota, have borderline or genuine harassment issues with employees, and instead of being let go they're shifted store to store (with a vague warning to stop). Could be what's going on in your case.
posted by dzaz at 2:24 AM on September 16, 2010

You might get some ideas from this thread from a few months ago.

Summary: He is jerk overcompensating for being 'the new guy'. Tell him to knock it off.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 4:10 AM on September 16, 2010

Ask to speak to him privately, then go into the "do we have a problem?" thing. Say you're confused by his constant references to the color of your skin, and the thumping on the back. Say that this isn't behavior you've come to expect from the staff of [company], and you don't understand why a manager would be behaving in this way because it seems less than appropriate, and it makes you uncomfortable.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 5:29 AM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

Note also that it is a violation of the law to discriminate on the basis of color and that includes light v. dark discrimination.

Next time he does any of that, say this: "I know you don't want to make me feel uncomfortable here, but I feel uncomfortable when you do X." Say it right after he does it.

Working at a national chain is your friend--they will have strong HR support.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:40 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Document document document.

Tell him that his comments and behavior make you uncomfortable (be specific, and try to do it right when he says or does the thing that makes you uncomfortable). If he doesn't stop, take your documents up the chain.
posted by rtha at 5:52 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'll say what I said in the other thread: if he's doing it to you, chances are that he could do it either in view of customers or TO customers, particularly if you're working in a place with a lot of repeat business where people can get overly comfortable with people they see frequently.

Your shop, or your chain as a whole, does not need to be represented by a guy like this.
posted by Madamina at 6:11 AM on September 16, 2010

Those who are recommending to begin by talking to him directly are right; make it clear you don't accept the behaviors, and do it privately where he won't be in a face-saving mode. Do it calmly and clearly and without malice or anger.

Once you've had that conversation, do document everything that happens. You could start now and go back to document incidents that have already happened, but ones that continue after you've expressed your concerns are the ones that will draw the HR attention. If you haven't made it known that you object to the behaviors, he may not necessarily see the problem, and he may not know that those behaviors can be construed as violations. Give him the chance to recognize the issue and change behaviors.

If the behaviors continue, then it's time to go to your manager.
posted by Miko at 6:53 AM on September 16, 2010

I both a traditional professional job and a service industry job, there is a lot more of the harrassement in the latter. It really depends on your level of tolerance. I find a cool, steely eye and an aggressive stance coupled with "Do you somehow get off on making people uncomfortable?" works wonders for me. Yes, its a bit crude and aggressive, but it more often than not nips it in the bud.
posted by stormygrey at 6:59 AM on September 16, 2010

I am not coordinated enough to work in service (I tried, got as far as trailing someone for a week before I decided I couldn't hack it) but I have friends that do. I have also sat and watched one of my awesome friends work at various bars for years (and now she owns one). The one thing I learned from her is that there is stuff you tolerate from coworkers and customers that you would never tolerate elsewhere. There is far more 'suck it up and deal' than in a traditional environment. I'm not saying it's right; I'm not saying it's pleasant; but I'm not going to tell you to go to your manager right away either. I also know from her that there is a culture of testing new people to see if they fight back or if they'll be a pushover.

By all means, stick up for yourself and say, "Okay, buddy, enough is enough. You're cool and I like working with you [lie if it isn't true] but the thumping is annoying as heck and I got tired of the taunts about being light-skinned when I was in the 6th grade. Cut it out."

If he ignores this and keeps acting like a dick, then document & report. But you should try to handle it yourself first, because this will not be the only idiot you ever run into.
posted by micawber at 8:31 AM on September 16, 2010

Pull him aside and say, "OK, listen, you need to cut this shit out right now, because it's getting on my last nerve. No, no, no… I know you know what I'm talking about. Alright? Thank you."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:36 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

You are getting some great advice and perspectives above. Here are a couple of questions:

Do you know what your companies specific policies about harassment are? It might be good to check with HR or look in the policy and procedures manual just to find out what the policy states.

Have you check with co-workers to find out how HR usually responds to such claims? Corporate culture is important in a situation such as this.
posted by annsunny at 10:39 AM on September 16, 2010

I have a long side career in restaurant service. And generally it's true that conditions are different, and generally a higher tolerance for inappropriate behavior is the norm.

However, where conditions aren't different is in national chains. They have much higher exposure to lawsuit potential due to the comparitively enormous scale of their employee and management pool, and because they operate in more than one state. For this reason they tend to be more stringent and have more active HR policies, and staff are tasked with responsibility for executing those policies. Those things aren't usually true at the neighborhood bistro or corner bar, where your choice, realistically, might in fact be deal with it or take the highway.

annsunny is right that it would be worth checking on the existing policy so that you know what behaviors are explicitly forbidden and what the recommended procedure is for dealing with the issue and raising the grievance. But I know for sure that National Coffee Chains have existing policies, and my sister-in-law, who manages a National Coffee Chain store which rhymes with Marbucks, has had to get involved in disciplinary action and has had to dismiss people for harassment.
posted by Miko at 11:12 AM on September 16, 2010

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