I'm being tormented by a co-worker's husband. He visits our office often, flirting with me every time, but it's gone from "Hey, good lookin'!" to getting right in my space and whispering "Hot butt" or "Lemme see your cleavage." He'll come up behind me at my computer, so I'm trapped. He'll put his hand in my hair or on my neck or shoulders, even when his wife's there. She'll snort and call him "a perv," but he doesn't stop. I talked to my boss, and she said just ignore him, don't encourage him, but I haven't encouraged him at all. When he touches me, I try to duck away. When he says dirty things, I put my hand up and say, "Don't even start." It's gotten to the point where I'll hide in the back room until he leaves. He's not an employee, so my boss' hands are tied. And I don't want to cause tension with his wife. Short of yelling at him (a bad idea, since I can imagine the fiery-tempered redhead comments), how do I stop this?
Why be known as the "fiery-tempered redhead" when you can cower in a supply closet until they start selling the "hostile workplace" companion to the Post-it-dispensing highlighter, the Post-it taser?
A pity you're a white-collar worker, not a gold-lamé G-string one, since strip clubs generally have strict no-groping policies and big steroidal goons standing around itching to enforce them. That's how it's supposed to work in your workplace, too, except with your boss in the bouncer role. Her responsibility's the same whether the gropings and smutticisms come from a co-worker or some co-worker's gorilla of a husband. Law professor Kingsley Browne told me your boss' legal liability turns on whether she's "taken reasonable steps to prevent or remedy (sexual) harassment." Somehow, I think advising you "Just close your eyes and think of paychecks" doesn't cut it.
You may be able to drag your company to court, and maybe even squeeze some bucks out of them (for info, call the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: 1-800-669-4000). The reality is, that can hurt your career. Nobody wants to hire Susie Sue-Ya. But maybe there's no need to be her--if you can see this as an opportunity to become somebody people know better than to push around. No, you don't deserve what you're going through, nor are you "asking for it," but you do need to ask yourself where he gets off touching you.
And the answer is, right where you let him.
Personally, the day somebody who isn't my boyfriend, my granny, or an employee of Supercuts starts putting their hands in my hair is the day they lose a finger. I don't have to storm around announcing this like some Big Angry Bertha. The memo comes from within. Think about the message you're sending by ducking, hiding, and kinda-sorta telling him off. You want to be liked, you don't want to make waves, you're ripe for the picking.
What you need to do now is what you should've done from the start: Get right up in his face, without shouting or screeching, and tell him, "Don't touch me, don't talk to me, don't come near me." If you don't quite feel you have it in you, not to worry. You should eventually find it if you just keep putting it on. If he bothers you again, rinse and repeat, and go back to your boss. Remind her not only of the law, but of what they're unlikely to be crowing about at the next stockholders' meeting: "Why, 40 percent of our profits this year came from employees curled up in a fetal position under their desks."
Cease And Persist
A guy in my new group of friends asked me out. I had fun, but didn't want anything romantic with him, and told him so. He said he was disappointed, but hoped we could be friends. Things seemed back to normal, then he e-mailed, saying he still really likes me and we'd be good together. I thought I'd made my feelings clear. Do I need to stop hanging with the group so he doesn't get the wrong idea?
A guy asked you out. Then... he asked you out again! By all means, whip out the pepper spray. Come on, women these days practically have to schedule Senate hearings to find out if a guy's interested, and here's one who isn't a wussbucket. Admire his resolve, and squash it like a bug. No need for drama queenery--"Shall I cut off my friends and move to Finland?" Just tell him no is your final answer. Chances are, he'll soon see you in a new light--and not because he's standing on your lawn every night at 3am, throwing bark chips at your window.
Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, No. 280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com.
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