What are the after-effects of sexual harassment?
August 7, 2012 6:29 AM   Subscribe

I recently had to report my supervisor for sexual harassment. Now what?

My supervisor was completely on-point in the office, but started texting me and calling me after-hours. Sometimes it was related to work, but not urgent, and sometimes it was just random discussion. One comment was particularly bad, I asked him to stop, and he didn't. I asked him to stop again and he didn't, so I reported him. I had to submit a statement, and this person who I was friends with became shocked, angry and now just aloof. The behavior has stopped. He handles issues that I have with polite formality. Now the assistant manager has also become aloof, and all of that makes sense. They don't want me to report them.

My small office environment is very isolated for me now. I don't want this - I want to be a cohesive part of my office. So my question is a two-part:
(1) For anyone who's been in my position, does it sometimes get easier?
(2) I have the option to request a transfer, but doing so may compromise the way I'm perceived by higher-ups in our large company. I'd really prefer this other job anyway, even if the harassment had never happened. What is the best way to ask for a transfer without seeming dramatic?

Thank you in advance.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The only reason that he is being aloof is that he sees "friendly relations with women" as an all-or-nothing thing. He doesn't have the subtlety to understand that it is possible to be platonically chatty with women WITHOUT flirting with them, and it is possible to avoid flirting with women AND STILL be friendly with them. You've told him that one thing is unacceptable, and he doesn't know how to shut that one thing off without shutting everything off.

But the fact that he doesn't understand that it's possible to be friendly without being flirty is not your problem. It is not your responsibility to teach him this basic fact of courtesy. He should have learned that already.

To your questions - I only have advice on 2. You say that you're worried about the way you'd be perceived by the higher-ups if you request a transfer -- but consider how HE is being perceived after committing sexual harrassment. I'm not so sure they'll worry about you all that much, as he's a bigger fish they've got to fry.

It is uncomfortable now, but PLEASE do not think that you didn't have the right to do this, or that you are in the wrong for having done so. You are not, and you did have the right.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:34 AM on August 7, 2012 [11 favorites]

Give it some time.

For someone with boundary issues (I know this because my dad has had some in the past), when called on it they often err way on the side of cautious to avoid any further issues. They're worried about losing their job, so whatever chummy relationship you had in the past may not be so in the future because they don't understand where the line is and see this as a black/white issue.

As time passes, people tend to relax a little (in particular the asst. manager) and will recognize you're not out for blood. There's no rule that says that anyone has to be friends with anyone at work, but professionalism dictates that a superior needs to create an environment where their employees feel welcome and valued. In the meantime, if you feel like their behaviour is detrimental to your work environment/past just not being friendly, speaking with HR again is not a terrible decision.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 6:39 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think your management should have moved you anyway in these circumstances if they had any brains. I think you should ask for the transfer and not be shy about mentioning the circumstances.
posted by Segundus at 6:39 AM on August 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'm not sure how requesting a transfer (for a job you'd prefer anyhow) would be perceived as anything other than a positive thing for the higher-ups. It puts space between you and this creep, you enjoy your job more and can become more productive, etc, etc. I might put it something like this:

"I am really interested in the ______ position in department X and would really like to pursue it. I think I'm qualified for it, etc, and really want to really want to start hitting on all cylinders again."

As a manager concerned for my employees, I'd 100% back something like that. You weren't in the wrong. The guy was in the wrong, and offering you a decent, productive option that keeps you with the company is the least they can do.
posted by jquinby at 6:40 AM on August 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

You reported your supervisor for sexual harassment. The only way this situation gets better is the two of you stop working together.

Request the transfer and leave the department.

If your company views sexual harassment victims as the problem, how you're viewed has already been compromised. If they don't, then requesting the transfer is obviously the right thing to do.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:41 AM on August 7, 2012 [13 favorites]

You want the transfer anyway. You have the option to get it. Just request the transfer and act as if you're doing it for your own business reasons (which you are). No drama required.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:44 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

You flagged it, now move on. Request the transfer. No downside to it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:45 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yup, say you want the transfer, and emphasize the job-skill-related reasons for wanting it. Unless they're that dense, they will jump on it post-haste.
posted by moammargaret at 6:52 AM on August 7, 2012

Transfer. Transfer because that's the best move for you right now.

You were 100% right in everything that you did. Don't second guess yourself, but do remove yourself from the situation. Why be miserable?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:04 AM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Transfer! There is way that would be perceived as anything other than correct. I would just not really mention the harassment, just mention how much you'd like this other job and how you think you are perfect for it. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:11 AM on August 7, 2012

In case this arises again in the future (you don't want to be classified as a 'serial harassment filer' in the eyes of new employers or transfers... This will hurt your future prospects & they will find out one way or another), alert the harassing party that if they continue past this point, you will "file with HR tomorrow morning..." so that the unexpected shock does not totally limit the options you have to work there.

This may sound "unfair" but brutal honesty will help you navigate much better in the future as your career progresses.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:14 AM on August 7, 2012

They're freezing you out. You did everything right -- don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Put in for a transfer and move forward.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:33 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I actually think that your company, and future supervisors, will think better of you for moving upward and onward in this situation (not that you ever need to explain the full situation to anyone if you don't want to.) It's the smart thing to do on several levels, not the least of which being you getting to avoid any future escalation from "freezing you out" to "taking you down."

The fact that this other job is one that's a better fit for you is just awesome. Do it.
posted by SMPA at 7:51 AM on August 7, 2012

From your description, I don't see any evidence that your manager dislikes you - he's just being very formal and professional (which he should have been in the first place). Try to understand, HR pulled him aside and told him his job - the livelihood which sustains him - was in jeopardy because you reported him. He's not going to immediately be all "smiley jokey sunshine guy" after that.

To give you some context as to how these things tend to play out, let me reference my own situation. I am a very mellow guy, but several years ago I decided that my manager had crossed some lines and needed some explicit boundaries drawn. I first went to her manager, explained that I was going to be having a serious convo with her in about an hour, and asked if I could use him as a reference in the event that I got fired later that day. He agreed, offered to transfer me to a different department if necessary, and told me that he would step in to mediate if things got out of hand. Then I took my manager into a conference room and yelled at her for an hour. (Very detail-oriented, data-driven yelling, but yelling nonetheless.)

After that experience, she didn't talk to me for over a month. This is not an exaggeration: she did not say a word to me during that time - it was like I didn't exist. But today we get along great and I've never had any serious issues with her from that point on.

Setting boundaries for the boundary-challenged often requires a very forceful wake-up call, and that can be a bit of a shock. It takes time for them to process it. However, mature people will eventually get over it - you just need to give them time.

That said, I see no reason why you shouldn't apply for the transfer. As long as you don't frame sexual harassment as the main reason for your request (which will result in a defensive response from your company), it should be a good solution that works for everyone.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:53 AM on August 7, 2012

The transfer is win/win. You want that job anyway and it is easier for the company and your ass of a boss if you take the new job. You don't have to take it of you don't want to, but you do want to. So take it. You've done all the right things.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:00 AM on August 7, 2012

[Folks, don't start arguments in this thread and don't start a rape derail.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:00 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Apply for the transfer. Don't refer to the harrassment report when you do, just apply as you would for any opening.

This isn't to say you were in any way wrong to report the guy: on the contrary, you were ABSOLUTELY RIGHT to do so --- it not only stops his harrassing you, but hopefully will put him on notice that he's under a cloud and being watched by HR. And honestly, "polite formality" is a VAST improvement in his behavior!
posted by easily confused at 9:31 AM on August 7, 2012

From the OP:
Thank you everyone, for your advice. Your comments helped me to look at the harassment and the transfer as two separate ideas entirely. I applied, so now I'm just waiting to see what happens.
posted by jessamyn at 9:49 AM on August 7, 2012

Oh bah. On preview, you've already applied so my response is moot. I'll post it anyway: maybe some piece of it will still be useful.

1) The available evidence suggests that no, it probably won't get much easier. In most cases, sexual harassment cases end with the harassed person leaving the company, usually but not always by their own choice. They often say it was too unpleasant to stay, although that's a pretty big net that can include anything from further harassment to the kind of formality/correctness you're currently experiencing.

2) Is your "option to request a transfer" something that applies in general to all employees, or is it specifically linked to the harassment? If the latter, do you know it from an employee handbook or collective agreement, or did HR tell you verbally? Prompted by you, or unprompted?

If someone in HR told you unprompted that you can request a transfer because of the harassment, then the chances are good you will get it. In that case, go back to the same HR person and ask how the process works. Don't denigrate your current boss (I wouldn't even describe the current situation, except to affirm the harassment has stopped) -- just say something fairly generic, like "under the circumstances, it seems easiest and best for everyone" if you change departments. Don't say anything about your personal career aspirations: just say you know you could do the job well. Be positive and professional. HR's job is to solve problems -- if you getting transferred makes a possible sexual harassment case go away, fills a vacancy that needs filling, and resolves awkwardness inside your current department, that will make HR happy.

If HR told you about the transfer option in response to a question you asked, or if it's just a commitment in a handbook or agreement somewhere, I'd downgrade your changes of successfully achieving it to 50% at best. Still worth a shot though. Again, go through HR and frame it as best for everyone.

Important: whatever you do, you need to make it clear that your current boss is not continuing to harass you. If your conversations lead HR to infer that you are still being harassed, that could trigger an investigation that could derail your boss's career, hurt your own reputation, and possibly result in retaliation by the company against you. You want to be really careful, because people's jobs and career prospects are at stake.

By the way, I'm assuming "this person who I was friends with" is your boss. You might want to think about whether it makes sense, for you, to be friends with your bosses, in general. Not because friendliness necessarily leads to harassment, but because it can bring with it all kinds of stuff --teasing, favours, vulnerability, displays of emotion, getting drunk, physical affection, over-disclosure, etc.-- that can be inconsistent with a predictable, stable, professional relationship. Depends on the environment and depends on the people, but you might want to think about it.
posted by Susan PG at 10:02 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

The available evidence suggests that no, it probably won't get much easier. In most cases, sexual harassment cases end with the harassed person leaving the company, usually but not always by their own choice. They often say it was too unpleasant to stay, although that's a pretty big net that can include anything from further harassment to the kind of formality/correctness you're currently experiencing.

I can't speak for all companies, but that is certainly not at all true in my very large company (for which I am the employment lawyer). Anyone who is accused of harassment and not discharged is explicitly warned that even the subtlest form of retaliation will result in their immediate discharge. If a person who makes a harassment cliam eventually feels the need to leave the company because it "didn't get easier" and was "unpleasant" something has gone very wrong, and someone is going to lose their job.

Also, following a claim of harassment, the perpetrator is instructed to interact only in a business-like manner. This may come across as "aloof" -- particularly if the prior relationship was more informal and friendly. But as someone noted, it's highly preferable to any appearance of impropriety. The person above who suggested the supervisor is at fault for not being able to find that "sweet spot" between being viewed as harassing and still maintaining a fun, informal work relationship is not living in the real world. Of course, maintining a business-like relationship is not the same as "freezing someone out" -- if the supervisor were to ignore the complaining employee or in any way impede their ability to perform their job, that would be considered retaliation.

OP: I think you're doing the right thing. Most companies would not look down at all on someone who requests a transfer, even if it is a result of a harssment complaint.
posted by pardonyou? at 10:17 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

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