Harassed at work?
October 26, 2012 2:08 PM   Subscribe

How to sort out my feelings and figure out next steps after a disturbing incident?

I work as director of music at a small Presbyterian church. Overall, it's a very good job and I love what I do. However, I'm having an issue with one of the members, and I don't quite know what to do about it.

"H" has been a member of the church for a long time, and he is a member of my choir as well. When I started working there 8 years ago, he immediately struck me as an unconscious creep. He does not respect personal space, and when you back up, he steps forward. When he is in my space like that, I've seen him look down my shirt quite frequently (he's quite a bit taller than I am). He also occasionally makes comments on my appearance that make me uncomfortable. He obviously thinks he's complimenting me and that I should be flattered, but I'm not.

I have brought all of the above up with the minister (my boss) a few times. He does these things to her as well, which makes me think even more that he's just a completely clueless creep.

Now, my current issue. On Wednesday night, I was alone in the building doing some work on the computer before choir rehearsal. He came in to sign some paperwork, which is a normal occurrence. He sat in front of my desk. As I was typing on the computer, I could tell he was just staring at me. I ignored him as best as possible and continued my work. Then he said, "Wow, that's a snazzy-looking undergarment you have there." I looked up in shock, and realized that my bra strap had slipped into view on my shoulder from under my sleeveless shirt. It was showing maybe 1/4", and yeah, was an obviously contrasting color from my shirt. Not a great thing, but not an infrequent thing for anybody. I completely froze up and just fixed the strap without saying anything to him. I KNOW I should have said something to him, but in the moment I just couldn't.

It seems like such a minor thing, but it's really fucked up my brain. I feel like it was my fault for what I was wearing, even though intellectually know that's ridiculous. I feel ashamed enough to not want to tell my boss, and what's more I don't feel like I can be around this guy by myself anymore. I don't think he would make any sort of actual physical advances, but I'm still very uncomfortable. This is my workplace, and I hate feeling like this.

So. A) Should I tell my boss? She already thinks he's kind of a creep as she has also experienced some comments from him. B) Should I say anything to "H" next time I see him? Or C) Should I just leave it alone and prepare what I would say the next time?

BTW, I am married, 34 years old. I have told my husband about these incidents, and he's always sort of rolled his eyes at the creepiness of this guy (and he does NOT like him at all because of it), but when I told him about this most recent one, he flipped out. However, he doesn't have any helpful advice about what to do.
posted by altopower to Human Relations (58 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Option a. The guy is a creep and you have a right to a safe workplace. Your boss is required to help you.
posted by shushufindi at 2:11 PM on October 26, 2012 [22 favorites]

A, absolutely. She needs to talk to him, not you.
posted by Specklet at 2:15 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

He's a jerk and she should talk to him, in her role as both your boss and his minister. She needs to counsel him, at the very least, to keep personal thoughts to himself.

You should also steel yourself and rehearse a sentence so you're ready to speak to him whenever (or if) any other creepy situations arise. Something like, "Please do not make any comments on my appearance." Or, "Please don't stand so close to me." Something short and direct, that you have ready to go so you don't feel like you have to think, in the moment, about what you should say to him.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:16 PM on October 26, 2012 [16 favorites]

Go with option A. She's your boss and should take some responsibility for your working environment. Also, she's his minister and may be in a position to deal with him in that role.
posted by Area Man at 2:16 PM on October 26, 2012

You need to tell your boss, and the three of you need to sit down and have a chat about what is and is not acceptable behaviour. That comment was out of line, especially in the workplace, and if you don't want him to talk about your appearance at all, this is a reasonable request unless he is your supervisor and is saying something work-related about your appearance, which is clearly not the case.

You have done nothing wrong, this isn't your fault, and you can wear whatever undergarments you like without feeling bad about it.

He might try the "I was just being nice" or "I didn't know" and try to turn this around so that you seem to be at fault here. Don't allow it to slide, and don't fall for it. The appropriate response is "that's not acceptanle behaviour", and "well, now you know, so don't do it again".
posted by windykites at 2:17 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I encourage you to tell your boss, and insist that she tell him that this will be his one and only warning. The next violation of personal space needs to result in something like police engagement or a restraining order.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:24 PM on October 26, 2012

I'm a pretty tough chick, and let shit like this roll off my back all the time, but thinking about it, if I were in your position and the same thing happened to me, I would feel just as screwed up. So don't feel bad about how you're feeling. Sometimes creeps are just really good at making people feel powerless.

But you're not powerless. YOU know that you've done nothing wrong, and you have people on your side. Tell your boss as soon as possible and let her deal with it.

You can also start running scenarios in your head and come up with things to say if something like this should ever happen again. I do this all the time so I can be prepared to react when I get catcalled. It used to just take me aback, and the chance to say something would be over before I could find the right thing to say. But now I've played it out so many times in my head, that the SECOND some creep says something, I respond like I'm on autopilot.

It helps.

Tell your boss, good luck, and I'm sorry that this jerk is ruining your week. What a jackass.
posted by phunniemee at 2:27 PM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Churches are magnets for people with nowhere else to go. He may be a jerk; he may have a mental health issue; both might be true. Whatever the deal is, BlahLaLa I think offers good advice on managing his behaviour. Keep and regularly reinforce boundaries, and when you deal with him, bear in mind that his focus on you likely has little to do with you (as you, and not 'boobs' or 'woman'), other than the fact that you happen to be in front of him at that time.
posted by nelljie at 2:30 PM on October 26, 2012

Yes please: tell your boss. The thing is, every single incident of his creepiness needs to be documented --- so don't simply tell your boss verbally, put it in writing, even if just an email. Document, document, document. And keep a file of all those emails, too.

Please don't feel guilty or to blame: you haven't done anything wrong. Let me say that again for emphasis: YOU HAVE NOT DONE ANYTHING WRONG. (Even if you were to wear a bikini and stripper heels to work, the ONLY thing you might fairly be accused of would be bad fashion sense, and this guy would STILL not be justified in his leering and crude comments.)

As for solutions: I can't think of a way to make him stop, but next time he tries to crowd up against you? Go ahead and step back one step or so, but then stick your arm straight out (hand in a fist, to make SURE he knows it's not to be friendly), so he CAN'T get closer. Don't punch him or anything, just keep your arm there to block his forward progress, and LOUDLY tell him "back off!" No 'please back up' or 'excuse me, you're making me uncomfortable' --- just the straight arm blocking him and the abrupt near-yelling. (You've tried to be nice, politely asking him to give you room: he's too clueless to take the hint, so upgrade to Ms. Toughguy.)

Not sure what to do about the sitting in your office and leering, other than lock your office door; maybe get a small voice recorder, and next time he wanders in like that turn it on? It sounds like it's pretty likely that this guy will say SOMETHING distasteful......
posted by easily confused at 2:30 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't know how the Presbyterian church is organized, but if your boss doesn't handle this immediately, then go over her head up the chain of command.

No, I don't believe YOU need to be in on this conversation with creepy guy as some commenters have suggested. I also think your boss needs to talk to creepy guy about ALL of his creepy behaviors without singling you out to him. You should be protected in all of this.

Beyond that...

Please stop apologizing for his behavior.

I don't know WHY you feel the need to soften your complaints by stating you don't think he's dangerous, when in fact, you no longer wish to be alone with him and you DO deep down feel threatened.

I would feel very threatened, too. It's OK to listen to your instincts on this. Your instincts are designed to keep you safe.

Good luck. Have courage. You are not in the wrong.
posted by jbenben at 2:31 PM on October 26, 2012 [16 favorites]

Hi. I'm a manager who just took a state required training on workplace harassment. Long story short, you need to take this to your boss. You don't need to, and absolutely should NOT deal with this on your own.

It's not minor, and like everyone has said, it is not your fault, and you don't have to put up with it. You are protected by federal law, and likely a bunch of state laws, and possibly church policies. It is your employer's responsibility to deal with this situation, even (especially) before it becomes severe and pervasive enough to be illegal.

And don't feel like you need to have proof, or have documented everything before you speak with your manager.
posted by danny the boy at 2:41 PM on October 26, 2012 [14 favorites]

jbenben: you're right - I'd have answered differently if the behaviour wasn't happening where it was. My reply was based on the assumption this person's been tolerated (for a long time, apparently) out of a commitment to religious beliefs (charity, etc). I'd be interested to know more about how Presbytarians negotiate group norms, and what they typically do with creeps and weirdos.

Also, OP - if you and your boss decide to keep him around (agree that conversation should happen) - this is just a guess, but I'm wondering if he might respond to the presence of an authoritative male during rehearsals. (But, horrible to think you'd need a bodyguard. Ech.)

Sorry you have to deal with this issue.
posted by nelljie at 2:56 PM on October 26, 2012

Also just for thread posterity, it doesn't have to be two employees of a company involved for it to be considered workplace harassment. It can be an employee and a customer or client. It is still your employer's responsibility to deal with this, and provide you a harassment free environment.

That it is a place of worship for one party doesn't negate that it is a workplace for the other.

I am not your HR representative, this isn't HR advice, and I'm probably not even in your state--so yeah please talk with your boss about it.
posted by danny the boy at 2:59 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yes, tell your boss. Also, see if there is anything that can be done (in terms of policy on how this paperwork is handled, etc) to minimize odds of being alone with him.

If you ever say anything to him, don't start with "please". Make it a statement, not a request. It would be better to say something like "That's not appropriate behavior." Making it a polite request when he has such poor boundaries is inviting trouble. I would probably start with an informational statement to try to clue him before pushing into what you expect from him.

What I did next would depend in part on how he responded to initially neutral informational statements. Sometimes people can be educated that their behavior needs to change. Sometimes they don't really know how they come across, or they know they are perceieved negatively but don't really know why. Yes, that may well be a fairly small minority but I have gotten good results with erring on the side of that assumption, sometimes even with men whom I really felt were pretty awful. They never became anyone I liked but they sometimes did become substantially less disgusting.

Please note that I am not saying it is or should be your responsibility to talk to him about this. I am just voicing my opinion that IF you discuss it with him, some approaches definitely work better than others. Putting power into the hands of a creeper by saying "pretty please" strikes me as not a good idea at all.
posted by Michele in California at 3:12 PM on October 26, 2012

Thank you to everyone who's answered so far! Obviously the consensus is to tell my boss. I will try to overcome the weird shame that I feel and do that. I do wonder, though...those of you who said that I shouldn't try to deal with it myself and that I shouldn't be involved in a meeting with my boss and H, it feels to me like I'm not fighting my own battles. I don't WANT to deal with him, but I sort of feel like I should.

What's weird is that as far as I can tell, the minister and I are the only ones he acts like this with. There are plenty of other women in the church, but I haven't noticed any inappropriate interactions between H and any of them.
posted by altopower at 3:34 PM on October 26, 2012

The reason you probably shouldn't handle it yourself is because social situations like this often turn into something like a scene from Bugs Bunny where the harder you try to push away the glue covered paint brush, the more horribly stuck you are.

A guy like this can take *any* kind of attention from you as gratifying. Someone who desperately just wants attention may behave badly in order to get negative attention. He may not care that there is zero chance of this turning into something positive.
posted by Michele in California at 3:40 PM on October 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

I haven't noticed any inappropriate interactions between H and any of them.

It's possible he's harassing some of them, too, and the same mixture of discomfort and shame is keeping them quiet as well. This is not uncommon.

But even if you and your boss are the only two he harrases, that's two too many. Please speak up, and please know that this isn't your fault and you're doing nothing wrong.
posted by scody at 3:41 PM on October 26, 2012 [11 favorites]

it feels to me like I'm not fighting my own battles. I don't WANT to deal with him, but I sort of feel like I should.

I don't know, I think there's something overrated in feeling the need to fight all your own battles. The reason companies have HR is so that employees don't have to fight their own battles. Heck, one of the reasons society has police is so that citizens don't have to fight all their own battles.

You should use the resources that have been put in place to deal with this guy. There's no shame in letting your boss (or your boss's bosses) handle this. That's what they're there for.

What's weird is that as far as I can tell, the minister and I are the only ones he acts like this with. There are plenty of other women in the church, but I haven't noticed any inappropriate interactions between H and any of them.

Maybe he's just weird about women in authority? I'm not trying to get inside his head, but maybe he has issues with that and so he tries to demean women in authority so he doesn't have to take them seriously?
posted by McPuppington the Third at 3:42 PM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

It has nothing to do with fighting your own battles. Behavior issues are personal and managers need to be involved and aware to keep them as impersonal as possible. If you approached him then that just gives him another opportunity to make you feel embarrassed and ashamed. Much better to have a 3rd party, who is his BOSS and so he needs to listen to her, talk to him. This is a disciplinary issue - co-workers should not try to discipline each other, nothing good will come of it. Plus the more you involve other people in something like this, the less chance he will have to discredit you as the only source of this information about him in the future.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:46 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

1. Is it a power thing then - because you're a director of music and the other person is a minister - is this him trying to undermine you/throw you off balance deliberately? Or, from the opposite perspective, are you and the minister his version of unicorns?

2. There wasn't anyone around when he did this to you - so you probably wouldn't know if he was doing it to anyone else.

3. When you have people who can help you with this, use them. It is awful to be in a situation where you know that if you did complain, nothing would be done about it. When you have people who have your back - absolutely use them.
posted by heyjude at 3:48 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Your boss needs to know this is going on in her church. IMO it would be irresponsible NOT to tell her.

Also: sunlight is the best disinfectant. You have nothing to hide and if it's completely normal behavior (it's not) there's no reason not to comment on it, and if it's weird behavior there's every reason to expose it.

Also, I wouldn't assume he's safe. Church administrations are notorious for avoiding confrontation and accepting unacceptable behavior.

I see no upside to keeping it secret.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:49 PM on October 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

He probably DOES act like this with other women --- in fact, I'll go farther and say it's extremely likely that he harrasses others...... the problem is, that sense of guilt and shame you're feeling? It's what those other women are feeling too. And all too often, that's what these creeps count on to keep people quiet.

Start with your boss: hopefully she (or your presbytery) can put a stop to it. But the reason that I recommended documenting every single incident is because if necessary, if he doesn't listen to her, then you'll have something to back up a request for a restraining order --- and go ahead and tell your boss (so she can tell him) that that's a possibility.

And by the way, if you do have to get a restraining order against him, and he is then unable to participate in the choir or even attend church? Please don't feel any guilt for that, either: if he behaved like a civilized person, if he hadn't chosen to harrass people, then there wouldn't be any reason for a restraining order, would there?!? He's brought any trouble on himself.
posted by easily confused at 3:56 PM on October 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

..those of you who said that I shouldn't try to deal with it myself and that I shouldn't be involved in a meeting with my boss and H, it feels to me like I'm not fighting my own battles. I don't WANT to deal with him, but I sort of feel like I should.

One of the things that allowing bureaucracy to take over in situations like this accomplishes is that it depersonalizes and professionalizes the whole thing, and it removes the intimacy. It's not a situation between you and him anymore, it's a problem for your workplace to resolve formally and appropriately on your behalf.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:59 PM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

DON'T have any meetings with H. Tell the minister that if he's not fired pronto you will take this matter to court. She knows what a cretin he is and should have acted when this first was apparent.
posted by brujita at 4:16 PM on October 26, 2012

He is a problem and he needs to be dealt with. If he's doing it to you two that's two people too many. I know that in my church this man would not be permitted to be in the choir, period.

Unfortunately sometimes churches attract wolves. Whether or not he's a wolf or just totally socially clueless, this needs to be addressed, and addressed firmly and clearly.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:17 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

And for the record I am preemptively upset with your minister for not already dealing with this. It's her JOB.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:18 PM on October 26, 2012 [8 favorites]

What's weird is that as far as I can tell, the minister and I are the only ones he acts like this with. There are plenty of other women in the church, but I haven't noticed any inappropriate interactions between H and any of them.

You can't know that he hasn't been inappropriate with other women. I was being harassed by a man who lived on the same floor of my university dorm building, and I felt bad about reporting him because I thought I was the only one who had a problem with him. I later learned that there were complaints about him from women on every single floor of the building. And sexual harassment is one of those things that is severely underreported, so it's likely there were many more women who had been creeped out but never came forward. Do NOT feel bad. You didn't do anything wrong. He's a grown man, he made the choice to act like a major creep, he should accept the consequences of being called on it.
posted by keep it under cover at 4:31 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

One thing that's not entirely clear is whether this is a professional chorister employed by the church in addition to being a member, or if he's a volunteer member of the choir. In the former case, all the people claiming this is an HR issue is absolutely right. In the latter, while it's still a workplace harassment issue, the resolution's more complicated, because firing someone who's not an employee isn't actually an option (and I have no idea what policies the Presbyterian church might have about either expelling members from the church or expelling volunteers from the chorus)
posted by jackbishop at 4:37 PM on October 26, 2012

This isn't some kind of personal challenge you have to overcome to be a better person. This isn't even about you. This is about maintaining a comfortable and non-hostile workplace/place of worship, for everyone. Doesn't matter if you're the only employee. This is for future employees, and also the entire congregation.

If I saw this happening to someone in my organization, I would be obligated, professionally and ethically, to report it.

You don't actually know how this is affecting others around you. Harassment isn't limited to the agressor and the victim. It can (and this isn't just a meaningless platitude) impact everyone. If someone had spoken out before, this might not be happening to you. Others might see what's happening to you, and believe that this type of behavior is ok. Others might avoid joining the choir because of this person.

This link has information that might be useful to you, particularly the 'what you can do section'.
posted by danny the boy at 5:00 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

About fighting your own battles? If your house was broken into, would you find the criminals yourself, or would you let the cops do their job? It's really the same thing. Also, take the personalization out of it and imagine he was harassing a coworker. You would probably tell them to tell their boss as well.
posted by Vaike at 5:31 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

You have done nothing wrong. And you don't need to fight this alone, it's HIM that's the source of the problem, and he is probably doing this to other women to, and it's their shame (much like yours) that's keeping them silent. You're not rocking the boat because you're "fussy" or anything, you're rocking the boat because this is unacceptable behaviour, and it's better for your church once the creep has been decreepified. A church should be a place of safety and sanctuary. He does not belong in this church.
posted by Hawk V at 6:11 PM on October 26, 2012

When I was in a similar situation, I reported the incident and I've never regretted it. One warning from an authority figure and the creep left me alone.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:27 PM on October 26, 2012

This guy will ruin your music program if allowed to keep on like this. The church needs to address this and keep the women around him feeling comfortable. Sucks that you have to be in this uncomfortable situation, but it will be so much better all around if this behavior is confronted and stopped.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:36 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

is he an employee or a member of the church? Yes, the minister should know, but I think if he's not an employee, you need to either speak to him or have your husband speak to him. He sounds very gauche, and frankly, I think he will not react well to being reprimanded by women or a woman. If he's a member of the congregation --what are you going to do--have him shunned? Get your husband to have a manly chat with him about how ladies are treated. I realize this sounds very retro, but if the man is socially maladroit enough to comment on your bra straps, he needs to be treated in a similar fashion, with language he understands, not HR speak about harassment. He's acting like a boor, and at church of all places!
posted by Ideefixe at 7:01 PM on October 26, 2012

To clarify, he is a member of the church, and part of my volunteer choir. The church is VERY small, averaging about 40 people at service on Sunday mornings. There is an EXTREMELY high percentage of odd people at the church, so much so that the minister and I affectionately (and privately) refer to it as the "Island of Misfit Toys."

When I've brought up issues with H to the minister, we commiserate, and she's told me that she trusts me to deal with it as I see fit. She has not ever offered to talk to him for me, but I haven't asked.

And no, I'm not going to have my husband talk to him. He's even less confrontational than I am, which I would have never felt possible.
posted by altopower at 7:28 PM on October 26, 2012

Yes -- this goes to your boss. If it makes you feel any better, you're doing him a favor by taking it higher, because I would feel like the alternative would be to make sure he got the shit kicked out of him.

I've found it helpful, after a similar workplace incident, to imagine what I might do differently, in detail. Not because I did anything wrong, but so that I can imagine something different (and feel armed in the future.)

My favorite imaginary responses is to pick up the phone and dial my husband or boss -- or the perpetrator's wife or mother. "I'd like you to tell my boss/husband/your wife/mother what you just said to me." and hand him the phone.

Most assholes are total cowards and, I suspect, will run away. Plus, it puts someone else in the room (virtually) with you.

I imagine most creeps would beg off and say "I was only kidding!" to which I would say "my husband/boss/your wife/mother has a great sense of humor, go ahead. Tell him/her what you just said to me."
posted by vitabellosi at 7:35 PM on October 26, 2012

The minister should not be fobbing off her responsibility on you. "being a misfit" doesn't excuse this crap.
posted by brujita at 8:16 PM on October 26, 2012 [11 favorites]

Via your updates, you seem to think this is a personal problem. You are mistaken, it is a professional problem. Act accordingly.

I'm aghast that your boss has fobed this off onto you. Don't allow that to continue.

This is a professional problem. Proceed accordingly.
posted by jbenben at 12:27 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

As Michelle in California has said, do not use the word please when you speak with him. Just tell him flat out, in a very serious voice, "Get out of my space." Be aggressive with it. Put one hand or both hands up like a wall to stop him coming closer. Speak slightly louder than normal, and don't be afraid to embarrass him. Obviously, he isn't worried about your feelings. If he gives you crap about it, as windykites mentioned above, just keep backing him down. "I don't want to hear that." "I don't care, keep away from me." "You are a member of the chorus, but you are not my friend." Whatever works for you to get him to understand that his attentions aren't welcome. If I could do this in front of other people, I would be willing to back him right down in public. Ten to one, the other women will be cheering you on. I think you're going to have to put a stop to all his behavior ASAP, because this latest incident--and your obvious freeze-up, will most likely act as an encouragement to persist with further egregious behavior.

You also need to get with your minister, and tell her to get her act together. There is no way you should be allowed to twist in the wind alone with this.

Hang in their gal, and let us know how it goes.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:28 AM on October 27, 2012

When you're Presbyterian, it's a little more complicated than "the minister is in charge and should fix it." Both of you were called and hired by the congregation and answer to the Session, the elected body chosen to lead the congregation (or a personnel committee of the Session, but given the size of your congregation this may not be an issue). So, although I agree that the minister (teaching elder) has a pastoral responsibility towards someone displaying creepy behavior, if this becomes a labor issue, and in my opinion workplace harassment is that, then the Session (ruling elders) should be involved as well.

The Session in turn, and the minister, answer to the congregation and the Presbytery. Hopefully it can be resolved at the lower level, but if not you do have recourse.

I have been a member of Island of Misfit Toys congregations, and they are wonderful, but part of their wonderful is in making sure that everyone is safe and loved. In this case, loving this guy properly includes changing his behavior, and loving you properly includes (at a bare minimum) making sure you feel safe.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:01 AM on October 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

hydropsyche, you may have hit on why I'm reluctant to say anything. This guy used to be on Session, but his term expired last year. He IS, however, on the Finance Committee and is the one who signs my checks. It's clear to me that complaining about H will involve a lot of people, probably half the congregation eventually. And the rest would undoubtedly hear about it. God, this shame thing is awful.

I will see him tomorrow morning at the church. I will talk to the minister on Tuesday when I'm at work (I'm also the secretary).

I've marked some best answers, but really they all qualify because each answer helps me in a different way. Thank you.
posted by altopower at 8:13 AM on October 27, 2012

From personal experience in this very matter: leave the house of worship aspect out of it. Houses of worship IME can be WORSE at this kind of thing. Keep it cold, keep it professional, go over your boss's head if it isn't handled ASAP. Good luck! I've been there and it's nasty, but soon you can have your office back again.
posted by skbw at 8:35 AM on October 27, 2012

hydropsyche has this exactly right, though if he is active in the kind of way that would put him on Session in a church as small as yours this could indeed get pretty messy pretty fast. I'm sure you already have a decent idea of how everyone loses if your legitimate complaints about harassment in your workplace turn into the kind of popularity contest that labor anything very easily becomes - especially in churches as small as yours.

If you are unable to resolve this to your satisfaction tomorrow, perhaps it would be a good idea to work out with your minister on Tuesday how to go about bringing individual elders in on the loop together as the two of you together.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:43 AM on October 27, 2012

Criminey.... so he's got the paycheck power too? No wonder you're jittery.

Okay, talk to the minister; let her know, as politely as you can, that if she doesn't put a stop to this creep this week, you WILL take it to the very next Session meeting --- and then do it. Yeah, I understand how embarrassing it could be, standing there and telling these people that this former elder is a harrasser, but try to keep in mind that YOU HAVEN'T CAUSED THE PROBLEM: he did, and you are purely and simply trying to fix the problem he caused.

And if/when you go before the Session to tell them about him, picture every single one of us standing right behind you.
posted by easily confused at 8:46 AM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you should run a background check on this guy. You might find something useful.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 10:22 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

This new info (that he signs your checks, etc) changes things by quite a lot. I would try this:

Go to your boss and explain the situation and let her know you wish to document the incident because you are concerned about this type thing escalating. So quietly get it on record. Then try to dress in a more conservative fashion so as to deny him any openings and be very formally polite but not warm. Do not be rude, disrespectful, etc. Do nothing to provoke or insult him. But don't feed his emotional hunger for something from you either. Be extremely professional amd not friendly.

One of two things will happen:

1) It will turn out he has a decent streak, he will eventually (in a few weeks or months) get a clue and adjust to the more formal, respectful standard you are imposing. Win/win. He gets to grow as a person and your work environment becomes more pleasant.

2) It will turn out he really is a creep and this will provoke him into asserting his perceived "right" to emotionally feel you up. He will escalate his efforts to take what he wants from you as he pleases. It will result in him doing something unquestionably bad, not grey zone kind of bad. You go to your boss with clearer evidence that it is him, not you and not unfortunate misunderstanding, and let the chips fall where they may.
posted by Michele in California at 10:23 AM on October 27, 2012

[This is not the place for a back-and-forth exchange with other commenters. Also let's not speculate about whether OP was dressed conservatively enough.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:27 AM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

This caught my eye.

On Wednesday night, I was alone in the building doing some work on the computer before choir rehearsal.

How is the security on that building? Can anyone come in at any time?

I want to make clear that I believe that what happened is completely not your fault.

For myself, though, I am not a big fan of feeling like I'm the only one at the office after hours, and my building has a good security system! I had an encounter a few years back with a would-be robber who was easily able to slip into our office - no locked doors and no guards. I was the only one around and told him that my manager would be returning to the office soon (lie). Nothing bad happened - he wasn't the violent type, seemed to just be looking for a few bucks and left pretty quickly - but I wouldn't want to repeat the experience.

Can you log into your work network from home so that you won't have to be alone in the building any more, especially during odd/off hours? Maybe there's another solution that your boss could suggest; just something else to bring up with her. I don't mean to scare you but what you wrote strikes me as a general security and safety problem, not limited to the guy in question at all. But the guy in question poses the immediate problem and we don't know what he's made of. I would try to stay out of any place where you might be alone for any period of time in the immediate vicinity of the church.
posted by Currer Belfry at 11:29 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

[How the OP dresses is not our subject here; OP can assess the effects of clothing choices for herself. Please let it drop.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:04 PM on October 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would suggest you read the book The Gift of Fear, which provides good background on how to deal with creepy people.
posted by kellybird at 3:08 PM on October 27, 2012

This caught my eye.

On Wednesday night, I was alone in the building doing some work on the computer before choir rehearsal.

How is the security on that building? Can anyone come in at any time?

Security in the building was significantly increased last year after some incidents with neighborhood kids. There are security cameras that I monitor from the office, and one would need to get through 2 locked doors to get in there. That is irrelevant in this guy's case, though, as he has a key. And I had to be there anyway that night because it was rehearsal night. I will be making a very big effort to make sure I am not alone with H anymore, regardless. I will also make an effort to be less friendly. It's difficult because that's my default interaction mode, but I will be conscious of how I deal with him.

Predictably, I REALLY don't want to see him tomorrow morning. But I will be trying out my new interaction style on him and we shall see how things go.
posted by altopower at 3:18 PM on October 27, 2012

I spent four years as an Office Admin for a mid-sized Unitarian Universalist congregation. You should definitely talk to your boss (the minister) and after that maybe your staff relations person if you have one. I know that the small size of it all means that people will hear about it and it could get weird, but really, this should be stopped while it's still just a comment.

The minister is probably trained in how to talk to people about their behavior.

And for those people thinking he has paycheck power over her, he doesn't. He's just the guy who signs it as part of the Finance Committee/Treasurer. In most churches, there's the paid staff and a volunteer board of overseers that rotates every few years. So it's not like he can declare war and stop paying her.

Churches are weird, but it'll be okay! :)
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:06 PM on October 27, 2012

Well, that was unpleasant. I was very professional with him, and did opt to dress conservatively as well (I know there was difference of opinion on whether that was necessary or not, but this week especially I thought it would be better to err on the side of caution). He spent every interaction with me trying to draw me out and get me into a conversation. He made 2 comments about my appearance, both times saying that I "look good", and obviously was expecting a response. When he didn't get one, he seemed frustrated. I also caught him staring at me during the service a few times.

So I think that maybe after awhile of my new interaction style, he might back off. Though I can see him possibly escalating in hopes of a response. I do plan on talking with the minister this week as well.

Your answers and support made a HUGE difference for me this morning. I felt comfortable changing my interactions with him, and I found myself thinking of specific responses in this thread often as well.
posted by altopower at 10:44 AM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Tell him to back off when he gets too close and makes inappropriate comments and to stop staring at you when he does that.
Get in touch with the Session and Presbytery pronto, given that the minister has been no help.
posted by brujita at 11:16 AM on October 28, 2012

Great news: you toughed it out, and it sounds like you won this round!
posted by easily confused at 4:03 PM on October 28, 2012

So far so good, but you MUST talk to your boss! Good luck!
posted by orrnyereg at 6:39 PM on October 28, 2012

> It seems like such a minor thing, but it's really fucked up my brain.

Keep in mind that the act of wrongdoing wasn't the content of his comment about your bra strap, per se, it is his persistent and inappropriate focus on your appearance, his staring, his objectification of you.

The typical defense is that this is sooooo subjective that it's just tooooooo impossible for him to know how you'll feeeeel about his perfectly ordinary comments. No. The problem isn't whether he's "allowed" to comment on your clothing or give you compliments or that he "doesn't understand the new rules these days" about talking to women.

The problem is that his attitude and his actions don't match. He's being disrespectful. Use that word. That's a good, strong, old-fashioned concept to characterize the situation; maybe it'll make a stronger impression.
posted by desuetude at 7:54 AM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a long talk with the minister today. I told her about what happened last week and his other comments and how I feel about everything. She was pretty shocked at the bra strap comment, and agrees with me that this guy is escalating. The plan right now is: I will continue to set professional boundaries and not be alone with him, and she will be a vigilant witness and bring down the hammer if she sees anything. She was reluctant to just pull him in for a conversation because of the possible ramifications for me (him whining to me, etc), and I do agree with that because I'm not comfortable with that possible confrontation at the moment. She is willing to do it, though, if I decide that's what I want. She will also reinforce her own boundaries with him because she feels as though he's making more comments to her as well. We also decided that I'm going to tell another male member of the choir about the situation and have him serve in a "witness" role during choir rehearsals as well.

It's not a perfect solution, but I'm comfortable with it for now, and I know that the minister is on my side and will kick some ass. We work together in the office 2 days a week and are consistently in touch on email throughout the week so I'm able to keep her updated.
posted by altopower at 1:26 PM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

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