My colleague crossed the ‘acceptable behavior’ line at a company party.

Last weekend I went for my company’s trip. As part of the agenda, there were dinner, dance and drinks. So a colleague of mine (we are not close, just working level) who is of an opposite sex started dancing with me on the dance floor and then pulled me aside and danced solo with me. Once he pulled me to one side, he started confessing to say that he has been “checking me out without me knowing”; he treasured the one time lunch we went out together (it was a working lunch discussion) 2 years ago and he always finds me pretty. Immediately felt very uncomfortable and I pulled him back to rejoin the group for dancing.

Not long after, the function hall started turning off the lights and shutting down the AV. So a group of us adjourned to a nearby bar to join our other colleagues who were there earlier. Upon arrival at the bar, he started holding my shoulders and hands and once we reached the table where our other colleagues were, he tried holding my butt. I was so shocked I don’t know how to react  and didn’t want to make a scene, my immediate reaction was to flight. So I immediately left the scene and hid in the toilet of the bar. My friend noticed my disappearance and called me to ask where I was. I said I am in the toilet and will come shortly. We left the scene right after I came out from the toilet.

My question is, should I report this sexual harassment to the the company through the appropriate channel? My intention is not to humiliate/embarrass him,  but I don’t want other to fall as victim.

I didn’t tell anyone in the company yet because I don’t want this to spread as a mere gossip. At the same time, I felt obligated to report this incident and  share this other girls who closely work with him.  Help, I need wisdom. Thank you in advance.


Dear Serene,

It is a little jarring that the incident you describe is in opposition to your lovely namethat certainly wasn’t a serene encounter you underwent. What an unpleasant experience that must have been.

We need to preface our answer by saying that we are neither lawyers nor human resource experts. We did run our answer by someone who heads H.R. for a large company, but the words you are reading are ours, not hers. We are quite sure that you would get a very different answer if you asked this same question in a different venue.  And while we are not going to blame you for the incident, we would like to empower you in the future. Let’s start there.

If you are going to be at parties where liquor is flowing, we strongly advise you to practice extricating yourself from awkward situations. You say that this man, “started dancing with me on the dance floor and then pulled me aside and danced solo with me.” In front of a mirror or role-playing with a girlfriend, practice not letting yourself be passively led into this situation. As soon as you start feeling uncomfortable, you can forcefully say something along the lines of, “Excuse me. I’m going to sit down now,” and walk off the dance floor to join a friend. If he said something that makes you uneasy, tell him on the spot. The minute someone touches you, be it on the shoulder, elbow or anywhere else and you don’t want them to, you should feel perfectly comfortable saying, “Please don’t touch me again.”

As a side note, women often do need practice in being both pleasant and assertive. This is a skill that will stand you in good stead in many areas of your life, both personal and career-wise. At work, in particular, learning to set boundaries is necessary. If you don’t do so, others will take advantage of you, leaving you overworked and as such less efficient.

You may have decided for career reasons that you should be at parties with your co-workers, but if you are going to do so then we recommend you dress and act in a way that places an invisible shield of respectability and distance around you. We know feminists will shriek that women have no responsibility to do this, but quite frankly, there will need to be a new and different creation of humanity for that to be true.  You will be better off living in the real world.

You show great character by understanding the damage that gossip can do as well as by your concern for other women down the line. We also think that you are seeking the high road by not wanting to turn this into a potentially career-ending move for this man. We would like to encourage you to deal with this privately.

We recommend approaching this man in a public place (maybe the lobby of work) and saying something along these lines: “You may not remember because everyone was drinking, but at the party in XXX, you spoke to and touched me in an unacceptable way. I don’t want to ruin your career, but I do want you to know that this is not all right. I have documented it and should I see you behaving in a similar manner to any other woman in the company I will have no choice but to report this to HR. I’m sure it was an aberration and won’t happen again and I’d like to put this behind us with this conversation.” Then smile and walk away.

You should, meanwhile, document what happened so that if you need it in the future, you will have it. There is no question that this man acted badly, but if you can change his behavior rather than having him potentially fired for an act that occurred when he had been drinking, you will be operating on a higher plane and giving him a chance to self-correct. He may very well have misread your signals when you didn’t react and say something at the early stage of the encounter and not be a bad guy in general.

If it is at all possible, we suggest that if others agree with you, you might recommend to the office that rather than dancing parties with drinking, alternate entertainments can be safer and more fun. The situation as is, is an invitation for problems.

Wishing you serenity,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


25 thoughts on “My colleague crossed the ‘acceptable behavior’ line at a company party.”

  1. First off unless it is a required attendance issue, good girls shouldn’t go to parties where alcohol is served. Also, dancing requires intimacy presumed for sensual flirtations not many can resist even with huge age differences. Humans are always victims of reality, and alcohol is always flammable and poisonous to the spirit. There is a way that seems right unto a man but the end thereof is death. I may sound pompous, but God’s grace is sufficient to always provide common sense solutions. Check out Nehemiah 8:8, they got sense when they read the WORD.

  2. This seems harsh to me. Though you correctly point out steps she could and should have taken, you still accept the fact that this man committed a serious offense. It wasn’t “sexual harassment.” He wasn’t her boss, they were colleagues. He was attracted to her and made an advance after dancing with her at a party where people were drinking. She never even clearly said “No, I’m not interested, please stop.” The idea that this is something to be reported to HR is a sad sign of the times, when the sort of behavior that has been considered normal for thousands of years is now grounds for punishment that could ruin someone’s life.

    1. Yaakov, in my book, placing your hand on a woman’s rear is completely out of bounds. That may not be in all cultures, but a few decades ago Serene’s older brothers would have beaten him up for that.

  3. I want to start by saying that I think your advice is wonderful in this situation. It also seems to me that Serene must be a very young and very, dare I say, timid female who is not accustomed to interacting with men. I found myself feeling extremely sorry for the man in this situation because, by allowing him to touch her at all, not to mention repeatedly, was sending him the message that she approved of the attention he was showing her and would be innocently interpreted by him as a clear invitation to continue. Perhaps it would help her to find some older, more experienced women she can talk to regarding male/female interactions so she won’t continue to send mixed messages. I believe you two were working on a book that teaches the differences between how men versus women view and interpret words and behaviors. (?) It’s a shame these things are not taught today because so often it’s merely simple misunderstandings that become the basis for so many formal complaints and even lawsuits! Thankfully Serene was level headed and wise enough to write to you two seeking Godly advice instead.

  4. There is only one more thing I would do if I were this young lady. I would report it to the police, an investigator, a woman perhaps, and let them know what has happened, Whether or not she told management, but esp. if she told upper management and they did nothing. This way, she has a legal report and record of what happened and they can testify on her behalf, should anything, God forbid, come of it. It’s just never sorry to be safe, and the more that know about what is going on, the better for her protection. If he is the coward he appears to be, he will run away and pick on someone else.

  5. Hmmm, this is really a dilemma in a way. If she says anything to upper management, they may take it as she is a troublemaker and start watching HER instead, particularly if the upper management is male. This is the way it works, sorry, but as you say, it’s the “real world” that people don’t want to recognize,but it’s there, every day in every office, period. I would try to excuse myself from any future ‘meetings’ with this guy, and who knows, maybe he was working on his boss to set it up!? I would steer very far and wide from this stalker, because that is what he said he was. He’s been ‘watching her’ for a long time, enjoying the ‘meetings’ etc. That says trouble. I would report him as she did to others, so at least someone knows there is a problem going on and make sure she doesn’t go places alone or leave alone. He could be lying in wait, as most stalkers do, for a moment in which they can catch you alone, knowing you didn’t act, didn’t resist, didn’t say no, weren’t particularly resistant to his advances. Since she said nothing about the inappropriate touching and the ‘togetherness’ he seemed to enjoy and made clear note of. She should have said something to him when he told her about ‘watching her’ or ‘observing her’ as it is clear this guy has other intentions than just ‘observing’ as he moved in to test the waters for any resistance and found none. She could find herself in a very bad situation with this guy, since her response was not resistance, it could have spelled invitation to this sicko. I say sicko, because obviously someone who sees her as his prey, is going to go in for the strike at some point. If she did nothing to report it to authorities, which she should so that she is not completely without excuse for not doing so to the police, she will be in question as liking it. They always ask the victim if they ‘reported it’. If the victim says no, then they look at the victim as having ‘invited it’ indirectly. It would do her no good, even if she would leave the company, to rid herself of this stalker and she would be in more trouble for not having said something if he goes after another victim. This type of person is not easily, if ever, deterred. And, if you think it’s nothing, you guessed it wrong. I would at least discuss this with an upper management female, with whom she feels she can trust not to do blow it out of proportion with the guy, but alert them to the possibility but not threaten that they have a lawsuit on their hands by anyone, not her, but anyone this guy decides to pick on. and at least she will have a track record, a paper trail, an evidence anyway, of doing the most she could do to protect herself and others from this predator by reporting it. Sorry, but he is a predator. That is what he said he was by telling her how much he was ‘paying attention’ to her all along, observing her secretly, to see how she reacted. If she wasn’t horrified at the discovery, he may take that as a ‘come on’ as if she didn’t mind because she didn’t express that!!! These predators start moving in a little more each time their prey doesn’t resist! Got it? RESIST! Tell them to their face when it occurs! If it doesn’t stop with that resistance then she has a real problem and she needs to tell management immediately, lest she become worse than stalked. Her friends aren’t going to be able to do anything to stop this guy, and if they have to go to her funeral, it will be even sadder for all concerned. This is a very serious problem and who knows if she’s the only one?! Just make sure you don’t go out alone. I know it’s old fashioned to be with a friend, but that is safer in any age. I guess you can tell I have been in that position myself and when I was very young and inexperienced, you don’t want to ‘hurt their feelings”. But you cannot hurt the feelings of a monster. And if he wasn’t a monster, he wouldn’t be doing what he’s been doing and then tell you about it to feel you out for your response, which can be deemed a come on by someone more experienced at this ‘game’ they take nonchalantly at your expense. Don’t ‘play along’ by not putting a stop to it! You are the mouse, he’s the cat! Things don’t end well for mice.

    1. Donna, you’re interpreting his actions in the worst way possible and others (including us) are judging him more favorably. We don’t know the truth, but looking at it from all sides is always a good idea.

  6. It’s very important to note that the man was being the very best he could be at that time to you Serene.

    At any given moment women and men the romanticism side in both is world apart… while you look at dark side of the man’s amorous act… Be rationale… reason without having your thoughts distorted as they are now.

    Put some reason and sense in that man. I will never solve any problem by running away from it….

    Call the man, sit with him… communicate and settle the dust you will fully understand why he behaved that way. Sort out that problem from the root…not from the symptoms you saw at the party.

    Don’t you think you could do all that you can to win the confidence of one who has taken your heart whether or not they Know it?

    Understand is the greatest. Call the gentlemen, sit and talk at a public place talk settle that matter amiably.

    All you did was just avoid the situation and ran away. You solved nothing but only play a saint… We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of the glory of God.

    That man’s is in your hands, you ruin him or bring him in the ways of God and right norms of the society.

    Serene it’s in your hands.
    Communicate seriously with your work mate…

    Behaviour Change psychology Expert

    1. I might disagree here strongly ..DO NOT call the man ..he has already been allowed to misinterpret this young woman’s feelings , and a phone call is TOO private and intimate , he may see the phone call as a YES and what ever she says afterward as playing hard to get ..I am a 60 year old woman and I would be confused at seeing allowing dancing, hand touching, shoulder rubbing , etc as a sign of disinterest on her part. A public area at work for a quick and quiet direct talk.

      1. Karen, we agree that in this case an email to set up a meeting time and place would be better than a phone call.

    2. Hanna, I would contend that Selene didn’t play the saint but instead froze. She just didn’t know what to do. We would not encourage her to have a heart to heart with him, but it is so interesting to hear these different responses.

  7. Julie Hungerman

    Since she did not resist this man’s request to dance and dance closer than she felt comfortable, I think she should follow your advice, only adding that she, too, was partially to blame by not setting him straight right away.

    1. I think this is where being prepared for such situations before hand, as Rabbi and Mrs. Lapin suggest, is very important. If this is the first time Serene had ever been in such a situation or had never prepared to deal with such situations, I think it is understandable that she basically froze and didn’t know what to do.

      1. Agreed, David. It is hard to react when you haven’t anticipated something coming.

    2. Julie, I think Serene was wondering how to handle this other than going to HR and in retrospect she, hopefully, is prepared in the future to respond on the spot.

  8. We received the following comment from Mrs. B.:

    I am female (wife, mother and teacher) and think you gave a wise answer.

    I noticed that she pulled him back to the group when they were dancing, which is a subtle signal, but I don’t see that she told him she was uncomfortable or just plain not interested. It sounds like she was still dancing and interacting with him.

    Although his behavior was forward and even rude, if it’s truly the case that she never said something, he may have remained oblivious, with no idea how she was feeling.

    To be clear, he did not have a right to put his hands on her, but when he did, she had every right to speak out. Your advice should help her develop the strength to stand up for herself in the future.

    Also, he will finally hear the truth about how his inappropriate behavior affected her, and hopefully this will be enough for him to correct course.

    That is exactly our thinking, Mrs. B. Thanks for chiming in.

  9. Oh bless you! This is the way I was taught to behave when I was growing up. Thank you.

    1. Pamela, I think a lot of us have rouble speaking up on the spot unless we have been taught to do so and practiced. Good for your parents.

  10. In my opinion your response, Rabbi and Mrs. Lapin, is perfect. If any of what you said could be related to specific points of “ancient Jewish wisdom”, I am interested in hearing what those are.

    1. Interesting question, David. The Ask the Rabbi answers are practical application of what we’ve absorbed over the year. I think that, off the cuff, what applies here is not having a cavalier attitude about passing on information that could damage someone’s livelihood, giving rebuke, taking responsibility for your own behavior, and the unsaid message that when you lower barriers between the sexes (dancing and liquor) it is very hard to draw a line as to what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t.

      1. I am old enough to remember a time when the points you mention were basic rules of conduct in the USA, at least they were in my circles of association. It is sad that they no longer are basic.

        1. David, is anything basic anymore? We have chipped away at most of our moorings.

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