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.
It is a little jarring that the incident you describe is in opposition to your lovely name—that 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