A reader writes:
I started a new position in November and I really couldn’t be happier. There is nothing that I dislike about my company and most of my coworkers. I have a ton of autonomy and am growing so much professionally.
There is one person who makes me uncomfortable though. I am the youngest person in the company by at least 8 years. Also, this is a tech company, so there are only a few other women on our 40+ person staff, and some of the men are not used to interaction with women. (Sorry if that’s a glaring stereotype, it’s just my experience with my coworkers.) There is an employee who I do not deal with very often who makes me very uncomfortable. I see him in passing in the halls of our building or the parking lot, but the only direct interaction is our Monday morning meetings. It started out innocently; during my first week he asked me what my plans were for the weekend, asked me if I had a boyfriend, etc. But I found out recently that at our company Christmas party, he said some very innappropriate things to my boyfriend about me, which my boyfriend won’t even repeat to me.
I found out about the inappropriate interactions because a few weeks ago I told the whole staff that I was brainstorming for an ad idea, and if they had any good ideas to please email them to me. The staff member I’m referring to came by my office for another reason (we were ordering shirts and I was coordinating that) to tell me that he wanted a navy blue shirt… a very harmless interaction. That night, I was watching TV with my boyfriend and got a text from an unknown number, with an idea for the ad. My response was, “Great idea, who is this?” and the number responded “Santa Claus… have you been good?” (This is verbatim, I did not delete the texts.) I responded and said, “I will let everyone know, and creepy response by the way,” as I thought it may have been one of the coworkers I know very well and joke with a lot. He clarified that it was him by saying, “This is so and so, the creepy guy who likes navy blue.” As an aside, we do not have a company directory, and it is not on my company emails, so I don’t know how he got my cell phone number.
At this point, my boyfriend and I were thoroughly creeped out (and he filled me in on the Christmas Party incident) and I stopped responding. He sent me a barrage of texts saying, “Lol,” ” :),” “cya tomorrow,” and I still did not respond. Since the incident, however, I have realized that he is always staring at me in company meetings, and the other day he was waiting by his car outside when I was leaving, and told me that I’d parked so closely to the wall that it must be a “nice, tight fit.” I almost threw up, and pretended I was returning emails in my car so that he would leave first. The topper of it all was, I went to the grocery store the other day, and parked next to some random car. When I left the store, a new car was in that place, and it was HIS. (I double checked the license plate the next day.)
Now, I’m quite aware that I could be reading too much into this, but being in the same room as this guy makes me lightheaded and want to throw up. I’ve had nightmares about him. However, I really like my job and do not want to leave. The only thing about it is, I am a full-time employee and he is a contractor for a specific project… but the project is not due to end until November. I know it would be hard to replace him and it would make the project be behind if he was let go… but I also know that my boss respects me enough, and has daughters close to my age, that if I were to say I couldn’t handle the situation, he would resolve it. I think I’ve done everything right so far, by not feeding into his texting etc. But, I’m very uncomfortable around him and simply do not know what to do to handle this.
Please do two things right away:
1. Talk to your manager and tell him that this coworker has made multiple inappropriate comments to you with sexual innuendo, both in person and via text. Mention what your boyfriend told you about the Christmas party. Mention that he somehow obtained your cell phone number despite it not being something he should have access to. And be sure to mention the grocery store incident; you can say that it’s possible that it’s pure coincidence, but the fact that it happened in the context of everything else makes you want to mention it. Make a list so that you remember each of these elements, because together they paint a really disturbing picture.
Explain that this man’s behavior has made you extremely uncomfortable and you’re not sure of the best way to handle it.
2. If you have an HR department, please tell them all the same things. They are trained in handling situations like this, and they’ll know that the company has a legal obligation to prevent you from being harassed once you’ve reported it.
Normally I would also say that you need to start standing up to this guy — telling him clearly when he makes an inappropriate comment that you don’t welcome that type of thing, etc. — but this guy sounds creepy enough that I’d rather you get your boss and HR involved before confronting him on your own.
I also strongly recommend that you read The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker, which has hugely valuable information about how to tell when someone is truly a threat versus just an annoyance, and how to handle stalkers and other unwanted attention (not all of which is intuitive).
I’d also take steps to ensure that you don’t find youself alone in your office with this guy (on evenings or weekends or whatever), or in the parking lot alone at night.
I’m sorry you have to deal with this — you shouldn’t have to. Please keep us posted on what happens after you talk with your boss and HR.
You can read an update to this post here.