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Asked by Rachel on May 13, 2015

I'm a female in my early 20s, and my boss is a man who has been at our company for more than thirty years. There have been several times where he has said things to me or to other young female coworkers that I feel are inappropriate, like comments about our outfits or hairstyles, or jokes about our age, etc. Some have been verging on what I think would be sexual harassment...how do I handle this?

Answered by Stephanie, Hiring Expert at Asurion, on May 14, 2015

First, let it be known that I admire your courage in speaking out about your feelings in this situation. Unfortunately, sexual harassment, whether intentional or not & implicit or explicit is still an issue in some workplaces today. No matter how you would categorize the circumstances you've encountered, sexual harassment is always wrong and uncalled for. You've done the right thing in seeking help regarding your situation. I would recommend you consider the following and choose one to act on: 

1. Is there someone in a supervisory role between you and your boss that you could talk to about this situation? If there is, and you're comfortable with that person, consider trusting them with your concerns. Perhaps they could speak to your boss about his actions and how they are making people in the office uncomfortable. 

2. Do you feel comfortable speaking to your boss yourself? It's your right to speak up for yourself and let him know that you don't care for his comments and actions and to ask him to stop. 

3. Make an appointment to speak with an HR representative at your company regarding your concerns. Your HR representative should know the federal laws/regulations as well as the company policy and should be able to inform you of different courses of action to take. 

Also, you may consider speaking to a counselor about your situation for added support. Some companies even provide some sort of assistance program, so that you do not have to pay out of pocket for the counseling sessions. No matter what you choose to do, always document your steps in case the situation escalates. Hopefully your boss is able to hear your concerns (no matter the voice that delivers the message), realize his mistakes, and change his ways. 

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Answered by Mike, Hiring Expert at Avery Dennison Corporation, on May 15, 2015

Hi!

First off, I'm sorry to hear about your situation.  Although I personally have never been in that situation, I know others who have and know that it is a very difficult position to be in.  

While I don't know if I can legally provide you advice on what to do in relation to your company, I can provide you with the guidance we provide employees our our company, and you can take that and hopefully come up with a good plan of action.

First, to echo what was mentioned in the first post, if there is a supervisor or manager in between you and  your boss, I would approach them with situation and explain how you feel.  They should have gone through some sort of harrassment training in order to move to the supervisor level, so hopefully they have a plan for managing that accordingly.

Second, if the first route doesn't seem to resolve anything, and you've provided ample time for the team to react to your comments, I would bring the situation up to an HR representative at your company.  HR should be capable of managing the situation and preventing this from happening in the future.  Also, HR can keep a record of the situation, so if it happens again, or if there is any retaliation, they can move to further disciplinary action for your boss as needed.

Our company also has an anonymous conflict resolution line that is meant to address situations such as this, or other matters of similar concern.  Take a look at your company's HR intranet page or company handbook, and you might find information about this type of contact.  Often times, it is even managed by a 3rd party company, which provides a level of anonymity that is a nice to have.  

Lastly, if you have exhausted all options, I would recommend you explore possible legal actions.   Typically you would want to look into the EEOC, a government agency, which is the policy group over issues around discrimination, harrassment, and similar situations.  If you go this route, you may also want to get an employment attorney involved, as they could also provide good legal advice and next steps.

Again - best of luck and I hope you find resolution to your situation!

Mike 

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Answered by Steve, Hiring Expert at Caterpillar Inc., on May 15, 2015

This is a very unfortunate situation, and I understand how it can be difficult for you.  I am not sure if you are comfortable addressing this directly with your boss, but if not, don't worry, there are other procedures that you can follow to address the situation.  And yes, you should take action.  Whether or not your boss' conduct meets the definition of sexual harrassment is not important.  What is important is that you find their conduct inappropriate or offensive.  What you can do is to reach out to the human resources department at your company and discuss with them the procedure for addressing.  In most cases, the HR department will conduct an investigation and take the appropriate action.  Another option may be if your company has a 'Business Practices' or 'Ethics' group.  This is usually a place where employees can anonymously report such things that are in conflict with yours and your company's values.  I would recommend that you address this through one of these two paths.

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Answered by Ellen, Hiring Expert at Hospira, on May 18, 2015

If someone is making you feel uncomfortable I would encourage you to say something to the person.  Even if that may be awkward.  He may not be aware this is an issue and it can be corrected.  I would also document what happened and what you said to this person.  If it continues then you have every right to share this behavior with HR. They will want to investigate the situation and ensure this does not continue. Worplace harrassment is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with.  I hope this has been helpful to you.  Best of luck. 

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