I think my coworker may be stalking me

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.

{ 122 comments… read them below }

  1. Dawn*

    NO ONE has the right to make you feel uncomfortable. For ANY reason. EVER. If this dude makes you feel creepy, SPEAK UP. Say it to his face, tell your boss, tell HR, tell his boss. Every single time he does something creepy call him out on it. Tell him to STOP. Out loud, to his face, every time.

    This is harassment, and the only person at fault here is HIM. Please, please tell your boss and HR, and start speaking up about it whenever it happens.

    1. Katie*

      It’s worth noting that if he is stalking her, if she responds and he realizes it gets a rise out of her, it might actually cause him to escalate the behavior. I agree with AAM–let management and HR handle this.

      1. Tech Chic(k)*

        This is another area that The Gift of Fear addresses well. Knowing when to stand up to a stalker and when to avoid giving them any reaction at all is difficult.

      2. Student*

        There is a huge difference between “getting a rise” and appropriate responses to stalkers. If you know what’s going on, and you can keep your head when under pressure, then you will never inadvertently get a stalker to escalate his behavior. Doing nothing is more likely to lead to an escalation than any other response she’s likely to try.

        The key is this: stalkers look to control and dominate you. You never give them the response they want – you give them the one they deserve. Most of them will want fear. Some will also want anger. You have to go with your gut on what responses make him back down, and what responses seem to feed him. Also, don’t play into the stalker’s hand by keeping an embarrassing problem quiet. Be noisy, tell the boss, and try your best to stay calm in the moment. It’s very hard to stay calm when someone scary is threatening you – but if you can manage it, it will help you out so much.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s actually not entirely true. Sorry to be a broken record here, but please read The Gift of Fear, which is by an expert who deals successfully with these issues all the time. In certain situations, it’s far better to not engage at all. This is a topic where what sounds intuitively right or like basic common sense isn’t always right, and it’s really important to listen to someone who specializes in handling it.

          1. Sarah*

            Seconding AAM. The Gift of Fear is an amazing book and well worth reading, ABSOLUTELY for OP, but for everyone. It teaches you how to trust your gut and what to do, and it’s a fascinating book of anecdotes too.

            1. Heather*

              I agree. I read this book every several years to refresh my memory of the messages in it. Men and women alike can benefit from it. The “trust your gut” message is a powerful one, especially for women, who are more socialized to “be nice” or, even more detrimentally, indirect with men who cross boundaries.

              READ IT! You will not regret it.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yes! One thing that I love about it is that he doesn’t just say “trust your intuition” and stop there — he explains where your intuition is getting messages from, and how they’re rooted in very real signals that your mind is picking up on, even if only subconsciously. He has a bunch of real-life stories in there that illustrate this really well, and w hich will make you more inclined to trust your gut, because your gut is reacting to actual signals.

              2. Jamie*

                Thanks to this advice I just called our local Border’s and will picking up a copy for my daughter after work.

                I have been meaning to read this book myself, but after this thread I want to own a copy and make sure she reads it.

                Thanks for the reminder.

              3. Anonymous*

                Just got it into my library request queue! Thanks for the reminder.

                For the OP: I have to say, in 35 years of working I have almost always had at least one man who I felt “wrong” about. (the exception? Disney Studios!) In at least one case, the guy ended up doing something to someone else and was terminated. Do trust your instincts and take action right away.

          2. Heather*

            One thing he points out in the book is that stalkers don’t react to things like normal people do. If a person tells another person they don’t want to see them anymore a normal person thinks “Ok fair enough”. A stalker thinks “what she really means is she wants me to try harder because she really wants to be with me.” If you give any reaction in a stalking situation it’s just a cue for the stalker that xxxx finally worked so you must really love him(her). And now he(she) is just going to do more things and try harder. Because it worked last time.

            Again I really recommend the book.

            1. Megan*

              Yup. This book is phenomenal. My favorite thing about it, aside from the great examples and reasoning, is that the aim of reading it is that by the end you WON’T feel afraid all the time, because you’ll start working on training yourself to focus on when you really need to be concerned. It’s supposed to help save you from the unnecessary worrying in your life.
              Please read this book. I borrowed it from the library last year, but I think I’m going to go back and actually buy it.

      3. Anonymous_J*

        I would also add that he is (allegedly) following her off work hours.

        This man sound dangerous, and I really feel like this poster needs other people involved.

        It would be one thing if he were just being a creep at the office and not contacting her outside of that context.

    2. Josh S.*

      I’m gonna nitpick your language just a little bit, though I think I agree with your sentiment.

      People *do* have the right to make you feel uncomfortable. The grown guy with some mental disability/Tourette’s Syndrome/etc who bags your groceries? He’s going to make you feel uncomfortable. The overbearing mother-in-law who feels very strongly about politics? She’ll make you feel uncomfortable too. Your boss putting you on the spot in front of a big client? Gonna be uncomfortable. Yeah, you can do your best to avoid these situations, but they have every right to be who they are, and in the process they will quite likely make you feel uncomfortable. Heck, even getting on the city bus can make you feel uncomfortable. People have that right.

      That being said–NO ONE has the right to make you feel UNSAFE. NO ONE has the right to make you feel bullied or harassed or trapped or threatened or fearful.

      The rest of your advice is dead on. Thanks for the solid direction. I don’t disagree. I just wanted to clarify. (I *did* say I was nitpicking, right?)

      1. Corporate Cliff*

        I appreciate the nitpicking, and feel it’s an important distinction to make. I had the same thoughts when I read the article, though you articulated it better than I would have.

      2. The gold digger*

        The overbearing mother-in-law who feels very strongly about politics? She’ll make you feel uncomfortable too.

        And I have the right to tell her she’s an idiot and then leave the room. I don’t have to take someone choosing to make me uncomfortable. Being a jerk about politics is in no way morally equivalent to having a disability.

        (Speaking as someone who has in-laws who delight in being jerks.)

        1. fposte*

          I don’t think Josh was limiting your rights to say anything to anyone you pleased–he was noting that the assertions were starting to sound like there was an inherent right not to be uncomfortable about anything, and, of course, there’s no such right; it’s important to distinguish between the discomfort that arises from behavior that suggests danger and the discomfort that’s merely distaste or unfamiliarity.

      3. M-C*

        Josh is just trolling here. The loony guy can make you feel uncomfortable at the grocery store because he’s kind of deadpan. If he starts following you uninvited to the parking lot and shoving you against your car, you ought to call the police and he should get fired. Let’s not split hair and pretend that harrassment is to be confused with free speech.

        1. Jerseyknit*

          One person’s verbal nitpicking is another person’s attempt to clarify shaky reasoning; I liked Josh’s point.

          “Uncomfortable” is such a wishy-washy word. It’s not always bad to be uncomfortable, and sometimes discomfort can’t be avoided (case in point: The Big Job Interview). “Unsafe” is stronger, more specific, and more appropriate for a concept as powerful as having or not having rights.

          I don’t think this really applies here (since the basic idea makes sense but it stood to benefit from clarification), but in other situations, people will perceive pithy-sounding aphorisms as profound truths even when the messages behind them are false (and sometimes dangerous). Take the quote “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” — credited to Eleanor Roosevelt despite little evidence that she ever said something like that, probably to lend it some undeserved gravitas. If you let negativity aimed your way bother you, you are not complicit in your own abuse.

          So, I think it’s good to evaluate statements that seem a little off at first glance. Sometimes thinking about why something doesn’t sound right shows that something in the thought process that produced it isn’t quite right, either.

        2. Josh S.*

          Not trying to troll. Just trying to clarify.

          That’s why I used “unsafe” rather than “uncomfortable,” and said that nobody should ever feel “bullied or harassed or trapped or threatened or fearful.” We get too hung up on ‘comfort’ in the US. Being discomforted is not necessarily a bad thing. Feeling unsafe usually is.

          And I said nothing about free speech. Certainly nothing to imply that free speech rights protect harassment. That’s kind of silly. I simply suggested the ‘feeling’ to attune to is fear/unsafe-ness rather than uncomfortable-ness.

          (And thanks to everyone who stuck up for me in my absence!)

      4. Catherine*

        I agree. Dawn is definitely right in supporting the OP in fighting back against harrassment, but that initial statement could be rethought and improved, even though it obviously came from a good impulse. The OP’s whole problem is that she needs help getting her stalker to be uncomfortable and unsafe if he continues with his inappropriate and threatening behavior. (He should feel unsafe in the sense of putting his job in jeopardy and risking trouble with the police.) There’s nothing wrong with the OP’s feelings, but they are *hers*. *She* is responsible for them. What the stalker is responsible for is *his own wrong behavior*, no matter how she might feel about it.

    3. JT*

      Certainly at work and in our personal relationships, no one as the right to make someone uncomfortable like this. Or make someone fear for their safety.

      But in life, in the US at least, people can make other people uncomfortable. It’s basic. We can, for example, protest outside someone’s house or place of work.

      I know that is not what you meant and not relevant to this situation, but is worth mentioning.

      1. The gold digger*

        We can, for example, protest outside someone’s house or place of work.

        Further nitpicking. You can do these things as long as you are on public property. If you come onto my lawn to protest, I will call the police. Hey protesters! Get off my lawn!

  2. Tanya*

    Persistent flirting can usually stand up to confrontation but he sounds dangerous. Not to be glib but this sounds like a Lifetime movie – stay away from him as best you can.

    1. Anonymous*

      This does sound a bit like a lifetime movie. Yikes. OP, I’ve been in a similar situation and I am worried about you. Please at least get some pepper spray. And…update us!

    2. Anonymous*

      I would like to see this starring Meredith Baxter-Birney in a “gender-bending role”.

  3. Dawn*

    I advocate saying no clearly when there are other people there to hear. So if he comes up to her at work, and there are others there, call him out. Get other people involved, show them that he’s creepy. I 100% agree that she should stay the hell away from him, but if he is around her (like in meetings or whatever) she should absolutely not silently suffer through his abuse.

  4. EngineerGirl*

    I am so sorry this has happened to you. I’ve had to deal with this twice now, and it is scary.

    You really want to keep a time stamped journal of EVERY incident. He’ll try to make it look like you are overreacting and taking this out of context. Keeping a journal will show a **pattern** of **persistent** inappropriate behavior. Key words are pattern and persistent. Also make sure to tell him to leave you alone (better if there are witnesses).

    If he continues to contact you after this, log it.

    Since you have a boyfriend I would suggest swapping cell phones with him. He can filter your calls, and maybe be an additional witness to all this. If someone needs to talk to you your boyfriend can pass the info on.

    1. OP*

      As someone who has been through this before, this is really helpful to hear. Like I said in my followup below, my biggest worry was reporting it and actually be over reacting, and lose credibility woth my new boss. See the post below!

      1. EngineerGirl*

        Great! Also remember that those texts are evidence (take screen shots if you have a smart phone). Your cell phone bill is evidence of him texting you too, as it has the phone numbers calling you in the detailed log.

        As other posters said, be very fact based and specific reporting this. Use exact phrasing of what he said to you. Management can act much more easily on facts than your feelings. That’s why you need that log.

        Be prepared for extreme anger on his part when he is outed. Also be prepared for negative repercussions from some (not all) of the men. They may be angry because their drinking buddy would NEVER do anything like that! . If that happens, log it too – it is retaliation.

        They may ask you to not discuss this with others, or have you sign a non disclosure agreement. If they ask you to do this, ask them what steps they are taking specifically to protect you. I refused to sign the NDA the second time, because HR covered it up the first time.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There’s no reason you should have to sign an NDA agreement in a situation like this. They are required by law to deal with harassment when it’s reported (if you’re in the U.S.) and you are not required to sign away any rights in order to get them to do it.

        2. EngineerGirl*

          BTW these creeps take advantage of the fact that you are young, inexperienced, and unsure of yourself. They go after the “nice” girls who are too polite to tell them to back off. Now is a good time to develop assertive firmness.

          “That comment is inappropriate. You will never say that to me again.”
          “I am not interested in having ANY more discussion with you. Leave me alone!”

          1. fposte*

            That’s certainly a common pattern, but being a different kind of person is no guarantee they won’t go after you. There’s really no way to stalker-proof yourself completely.

          2. Katie*

            I’m an assertive, secure person, and I’ve experienced this. As fposte said, there’s no way to stalker-proof yourself, and in the cases of people who are truly stalking you, these clear messages to back off are often interpreted very differently. This is not a rational person. This is a person with a very serious mental problem and a very warped way of viewing the world (and you.)

            1. EngineerGirl*

              Didn’t mean it that way. Simply that she might be **more** vulnerable b/c the creep thinks she won’t push back.

              With my second stalker I told him “I don’t feel that way about you. I will NEVER feel that way about you.”. His response? “I can’t help how I feel”. In short, my no was utterly invalidated by his supposed feelings.

  5. Rana*

    Also, do not be afraid to contact the police about his behavior and your concerns. Even if they end up saying that there’s nothing currently actionable about his behavior, it does help establish documentation, and if he persists or escalates, you have a legal paper trail that can be used to help obtain a restraining order later.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I would actually read Gift of Fear on that — he points out that this can sometimes backfire, since when a stalker realizes that the police can’t do anything other than just “give him a talking-to,” it will sometimes embolden them to escalate. That’s why Gift of Fear is really good — it points out stuff that wouldn’t necessarily be intuitive.

      1. Anonymous*

        I agree with AAM/Gift of Fear. In my personal experience with an aggressive harasser, the police made things worse. Much worse. Restraining orders are useless as protection. All they really do in many cases is leave a paper trail so your harasser can be prosecuted after he harms you. Ask any battered woman how useful a restraining order is! You need to know how to protect yourself.

      2. Nikki*

        Gift of Fear is a really good book/resource. Thankfully, I have never been in such a situation, but now I pay *much* more attention to my instincts.

  6. Tech Chic(k)*

    Ugh, that sounds unnerving. You’re not overreacting – this guy is way over the line, and not in a clueless/harmless way either. You need to talk to your employer.

    The few creepy types I’ve known have all had very poor job performance. Obviously you know this guy better than I do – but it’s possible that his boss will be happy to have a (another) reason to let him go.

  7. Anonymous*

    Report, report, report b/c if it comes down to a restraining order – the judge will want to see reports. You see him again – outside of work – call the police. At least CALL them and it will be in a report (their daily log).

    Be careful girlie. I work on a college campus and see a lot of weirdos – I can’t imagine having to deal with one in this manner :-(

    1. Anonymous*

      And as an ex-police officer, wife to a current police office, and sister-in-law to yet another police officer – I completely disagree with AAM saying to not speak with the police.

      The difference is that you are not necessarily asking them to “talk to him” but you need it in a report b/c the log that another person mentioned above will not suffice in court.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m absolutely not saying not to talk to the police. I’m saying she should educate herself because one of the foremost experts on stalking-type issues (something that not all police are experts on) points out that there are cases where it can worsen the situation. She should educate herself and decide from there.

        1. fposte*

          And also investigate the resources her particular department has. Some have anti-stalking units, for instance, who are (I would hope) more sophisticated in dealing with this. It’s worth checking to see if you can call non-emergency to talk to somebody in that area, if so.

      2. M-C*

        Totally agree. Don’t let yourself be talked out of talking to the police. You know what? If he ends up murdering you, don’t you want him in jail so he doesn’t go on to murder another dozen women? I would..

        Also, I would talk to the police first, and then let your HR know that you did when you talk to them. The police report is a totally different path than managerial grievance process, there is no problem with doing both independently. In addition, knowing that you went to the police will help HR understand that you’re serious about this matter being handled properly, should be unlucky enough to have to deal with a cowardly manager and/or negligent HR, as often happens. It is a signal that there will be consequences outside the company if they don’t handle this properly, and it will be heard.

  8. Heather*

    I second the recommendation to read the book The Gift of Fear.

    Also I second talking to your employers ASAP. Don’t worry
    about the fact that he is “valuable” to the company. That’s not
    your problem.

    Also I’d recruit a co-worker (preferably a guy) to walk you
    to your car. The fact that he was waiting for you that one time
    is creepy.

    But seriously buy and read that book. He has a couple of chapters
    specifically on stalking.

      1. Ashley*

        It is truly amazing and I recommend it to people all the time. The author has personal experience with domestic violence and stalking and now deals with security issues full time. He is a real expert with sound advice.

        1. M-C*

          Mmm. I have to confess that I have a hard time with the male expert model in general, and in this field particularly. Although I freely admit that some of the best writing on domestic violence I’ve read is by a man, Arnaldur Indridasson.
          But all these glowing reviews talk about the profile of a typical stalker. There are no truly typical people. Reading about the statistically likely traits is a helpful thing indeed, but our friend here should remember to trust what she is seeing of individual reaction as well, so as not to endanger herself in the name of theory.

          In addition to the book, I would recommend http://bullyonline.org. Stalkers are no different from other bullies, and it helps to see the general patterns in order to identify not just their tactics, but the common herd dynamics around them. Just in case the other coworkers don’t react well..

        2. Brightwanderer*

          The Gift of Fear is an amazing book and everyone should read it – BUT I think the chapters on domestic violence are problematic. Yes, he has first-hand experience of it – as a child whose mother failed to protect him. And that shows – his attitude to domestic violence victims is “first time you’re a victim, second time you’re a volunteer”. There’s a lot of unfortunate, victim-blaming language in those chapters, even though he is absolutely excellent in other areas about not putting blame on the people suffering. There was an interesting discussion on Captain Awkward a little while back about how he seemed to have this one big blind spot in his otherwise excellent understanding of both predators and victims.

          I do think it’s a fantastic book, but when I see it recommended wholesale like this – especially if domestic violence is specifically mentioned (which it isn’t in the original letter, but you have here) – it should come with that caveat.

          1. fposte*

            I think it can come with several caveats, in fact; he’s a pretty tireless self-promoter, and he’s unsupportably used confirmation bias and 20/20 hindsight to suggest that threats always give you gut feelings and gut feelings are always accurate.

            But I don’t think recommending it is tantamount to saying you agree with everything it says (but then, I am actually a book reviewer :-)), and I think it is *the* book on the landscape that provides people with backup for deviating from socially emollient behavior in their own defense.

            However, it is a landmark book for its ability to tell people that it’s important to listen to unease rather than burying it.

          2. Lexy*

            I was JUST about to say this!

            He is SO spot on about harassment & stalking, so for the OP it will help a lot. But please, take the DV chapter with a grain of salt. The advice is horribly harmful and victim-blamey (which is weird).

          3. Anonymous*

            I have been in an abusive situation (back in my 20s) and I am sure I will get flamed for this, but I must respectfully disagree. I agree with the “second time, you’re a volunteer” statement. I agree with it because it snaps people out of feeling like a perpetual victim and reminds them that, as unfair as this is, you do need to be proactive in protecting yourself. People in abusive situations are rarely rescued by others. This realization empowered me to make the difficult decisions needed to positively change my life.

            1. Brightwanderer*

              I’m glad that it snapped you out of it. That does work for some people. But for some people – for a lot of people, in fact – it just reaffirms everything they have already internalised from the abuse – that they signed up for this, that it’s their fault, that because they didn’t leave the very first time something happened, they can’t ask anyone to help now because they brought it on themselves.

              I don’t think it’s a blanket statement that can be applied to every victim and I don’t think it’s helpful in a lot of cases. I’m really, sincerely glad it did help you, but I think it’s a case where fine judgement should be applied as to whether it’s appropriate to the person and their situation, and therefore that the chapters in the Gift Of Fear which generalise it to all situations can be harmful if read as the only way to frame domestic abuse.

  9. Joey*

    Tell him to stop contacting you about non work related stuff. And tell HR and your manager about it. Youve got to make it known to him that his behavior is unwelcome and inappropriate. And I’d be more specific than characterizing his behavior when you report it. State exactly what he said and how it made you feel/how you interpreted it. Be sure to be diligent about reporting any additional inappropriate behavior no matter how small it may seem.

    1. fposte*

      I’m in strong agreeement with most of your advice but I’m going to disagree a little with one of your statements. *Somebody* has to make it known to him that his behavior is unwelcome and appropriate, but it really can put the victim in danger to do so in some situations. Yes, usually it’s your job to try to stop something before you can go to somebody else, but safety stuff is an exception–this is like getting the hell out of the house and calling the fire department.

      There are some other comments on this thread that display a certainty that stopping this is within her power. That really, really concerns me, because that often isn’t true, and that’s how people can end up being blamed for being victims–and how they can end up being dead.

  10. OP*

    I’m planning to speak to my boss about this tomorrow. We do not have formal HR as it is a small company, but he is a great boss and a great manager.
    To clarify, he has not texted me since the original incident. I was pretty abrupt and clear that I did not want to communicate. The car and grocery incidents were after that though. I have told mentor (an outside consultant hired to train me since my position is a newly created one) and he and I have been keeping logs. He encourages me to talk to my boss, but respects that I did not want to do so until I was fairly certain I wasn’t over reacting. I am really conscious of the fact that I’m new to the work force, and as a young female I don’t want my mostly male coworkers to think I’m helpless and need rescuing, or that I think every guy who looks at me is into me. So I wanted to know for sure before bringing it forward.
    After these comments, like I said I’m going to talk to my boss first thing tomorrow. I will update then!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Please don’t worry that it will look like you’re overreacting. The behavior you’ve described is objectively alarming and highly inappropriate, and a good manager would absolutely want to know about it.

      1. Cruella*

        Remember, they first thought Laura Black was “overreacting” by the unwelcomed attention of Richard Farley. Companies have learned that people like this are not to be taken lightly.
        Always err to the side of caution.

    2. Anonymous_J*

      Good luck! You are doing the right thing, OP.

      Please let us know how it went, when you are able and feel comfortable doing so.

      The truth of the matter is that sometimes, we DO need rescuing–men AND women. The world can be a dangerous place sometimes.

  11. Anonymous*

    In the meantime, do you have another coworker – male or female – you can confide in? They can act as a witness in the office and be someone who will walk you out to your car when both of you are leaving for the night. The latter is what I am fearful of for you. Your boyfriend probably has his own job; otherwise I’d suggest he’d pick you up and drop you off. But someone should be with you on company grounds when you are not in the office.

  12. Melissa*

    I have been stalked before. The person would park near the bus stop I walked to every morning and watch me get on the bus, often driving up to the bus stop (right after I’d arrived there) and asking me if I wanted a ride (I refused). He learned my home address and he used to wait in his car at the top of my hill (I lived at the bottom of a hill in a cul-de-sac). He found out where I worked and not only did he send flowers to me at work, he also used to wait outside my office after work. This went on for four months before it finally stopped. Luckily I got engaged and moved to a different state. The whole thing started 20 years ago last month. I wish I had handled it differently. Who knows what would have happened had I not moved. If your gut tells you something is wrong, then something is wrong. Please don’t wait. Tell someone immediately.

  13. Anonymouse*

    9 times out of 10, I would say these situations play out to be knee-jerk reactions and exaggerations. This time, I don’t think so. You have reason to feel disturbed. Discuss this with your boss immediately. Good Luck.

  14. Student*

    I dealt with something similar once. Tried to be welcoming to a new guy, specifically avoiding anything that could be considered flirty – and he goes out of his way to start grabbing my hair, touch me, and flash a pocket knife at me! For reasons not worth going into, I couldn’t bring it to the boss, so I was on my own.

    I started by telling him directly not to touch me or my hair. It didn’t discourage him at all, but it’s worth a try to sort the creeps from the socially inept – being direct and disapproving is key, so don’t try to be neutral or polite when you tell him that his behavior is unacceptable. This is an ego blow that you don’t want to soften – it’s more important to be unambiguous than to spare his pride.

    So, at one point my creepy co-worker punched my shoulder as I was walking past him – and he was with a couple of his friends. Normally a shoulder-punch would be odd, but within the bounds of accepted behavior – but this guy had been far too weird already. So I turn to him, and I said rather loudly, “Do not touch me! Get out of my sight!” He turned purple and left. He didn’t even dare to speak to me for a full year after that, and his behavior towards me shaped up right away.

    I found out later that I’m not the only woman whose hair he grabbed. He made some rather unwelcome advances toward at least two other women at the company that I heard about. However, as soon as I showed that I wouldn’t be a good victim – that I was willing to publicly call him out, that I was angry about his behavior, and that I was by far not the easiest target available, he backed off like the dog he was.

    It’s hard to do, but if you can, try to demonstrate that you’re not the easiest target available. Publicly call him out at least once – this usually requires you to get over a fear of being labeled the b-word. People will eventually excuse you coming off as cranky at work once or twice – but it’ll clue them into his creepiness, and they’ll start noticing more of it on their own. Since he stares at you in meetings, that’s a good opportunity to get in an easy barb – “Joe, the presentation is over that way,” or “Joe, you’ve been staring at me through the whole meeting – is there something stuck in my teeth?” Think it over ahead of time, put annoyance or anger in your words and a firm glare in your eyes, and make sure the statement isn’t going to come off as “hysterical” or frightened.

    You are absolutely 100% right to actually be frightened, but you need to not let it show when you deal with him. Try not to be alone with him, and tell your manager about your concerns for sure. If he corners you somewhere alone, then be prepared to defend yourself. No need to carry a weapon or mace if you aren’t comfortable using them – but wear shoes you can run in, don’t hesitate to smack him and yell at him if he gets physical, and use your nails if it comes down to a genuine struggle. I mention scratching him specifically because it is considered a classic defensive maneuver for a woman. The marks on him plus DNA from under your nails will help corroborate your story, should he attack and you contact the police.

    1. Tech Chic(k)*

      I’m going to beat on Ask a Manager’s drum here too – The Gift of Fear also discusses situations where slapping, scratching, etc. may put you in more danger than you would be in otherwise. There’s a weird psychological twist in some stalker’s minds – if the woman strikes him at all (no matter how he provoked it), in his mind she just started the fight and he’s now justified in whatever he does to her. This is when women tend to get killed. That’s not to say don’t fight back – just be aware of the possible reactions and make your decisions accordingly. The book explains it much better than I can.

      I really can’t recommend the book enough. Stalking is a ridiculously complicated subject and tremendously situation dependent.

  15. Ellen M.*

    Wow, just reading that account of what’s going on made me really uneasy. I am happy to hear the OP feels that her supervisor will handle the situation appropriately if/when she reports it. I’ve worked in situations where disturbing behavior (not as bad as the OP described here, though) was reported and the supervisor did nothing.

    I hope the OP reports what is going on and that her employer responds quickly and handles the situation so she is/remains safe. I also think the boyfriend should tell someone (the OP; her boss or HR? I dunno) exactly what was said to him by Mr. Creepystalker.

    Good luck, OP!

    1. Anonymous*

      Yes, Yes! Have your boyfriend tell your manager what was said. If it is bad enough that he does not want to tell you than it is bad enough that your manager should know exactly what is happening.
      Also another vote for Gift of Fear. You might also consider a self defense class this does not make you invincible but it can help get you in a good frame of mind. I took one and I still use some of the things I learned, how to say No and say it with power (we practiced saying no a lot), we worked on getting over fear of being called a bitch and being aware of surroundings…… all good things for many situations.

      1. anonymous #something*

        I second this! The police run a class called Rape Aggression Defense (or RAD), and I know that a couple of months ago it saved one young woman’s life in a neighboring state of mine when someone tried to rape her when she was travelling. You’re taught and practice how to say no and get back loudly, along with basic self-defense moves/strategies.

        OP, please report this to your boss (and think about talking with the police), you’re not wrong and you’re not blowing this out of proportion.

        1. Nikki*

          I took the RAD class 2 years ago, I try to practice once in a while. I highly recommend the course. It is an eye opening and very powerful course for women of all ages.

  16. A. Brown*

    I’m just adding my voice to the choir, but women, read that book. Even just the first few chapters. I’m dealing with a situation right now with a guy who has boundary issues. Instead of trying to convince yourself nothing is wrong, listen to all the things that are telling you something IS wrong. And some things are just different for women (and woman-presenting people). Keep yourself safe.

  17. The Bookworm*

    OP, defintely read The Gift of Fear. You may also want to read Dangerous Instincts: how gut feelings lead us astray by Mary Ellen O’Toole.

    Good luck. I hope your situation improves.

  18. Anonymous*

    Another good read (in addition to Gift of Fear) is Fight Like a Girl and Win by Lori Hartman Gervasi.

    It’s a shame that women have to seek our this sort of vital information rather than be taught it at an early age.

  19. Navan*

    I haven’t read all the comments- but has anyone suggested the OP change her cellphone number? It’s a small measure but could protect her from texts escalating into calls.

    Wish I’d known about this Gift of Fear book when I was dealing with my stalker two years ago.

    1. Anonforthis*

      I was dealing with unwanted texts and phone calls from someone a few years ago, and I did not change my number or block the caller precisely because I wanted a record of all his attempts to contact me. I did, however, change my voicemail message from my personal greeting back to the computer-voiced “You have reached 123-456-7890. Please leave a message,” in the hopes the caller would assume I wasn’t responding because I had changed my number.

      1. Nikki*

        Actually, that is what is recommended in the Gift of Fear (which is why it is MUST READ). The stalker may call just to hear your voice. Changing your number might lead him to seek out your new number, but if the old one still works, he’ll assume you still use it (or something, its been a while since I read the book)

        1. Natalie*

          IIRC one suggestion he gives is to leave the old number in place, but get a new number that you give out to friends and family.

          OP, if you can afford to terminate your cell contract early, consider porting your number to Google Voice and getting a new number from your cell provider. You can set certain #s to forward to your cell, and the rest will end up at your Google voicemail. And they have automatic voicemail transcription.

  20. Anonymous_J*

    That dizziness and nausea and anxiety? That’s your gut telling you this guy is a threat, and based on your description, I’d say you should listen to it.

    Is there a way you can avoid arriving at or leaving work alone? Could you carpool with somone or something, or maybe arrange things with a coworker so they can meet you in the parking lot in the morning and walk to your cars together in the evening? Or even with several coworkers?

    Also, I’m really glad your boyfriend knows about it, because he may be able to help you out/protect you.

    AAM’s advice was right on target. Please do tell people in a position to help you!

    Good luck to you!

  21. Catherine*

    I suggest that the OP also get in touch with an anti-stalking agency, like Safe Horizon (www.safehorizon.org). There’s free advice available from experts on stalking, and they will be wholly on your side as a victim, which you won’t be able to expect from your manager or HR, who have to keep the company’s interests foremost (though they may indeed be very helpful). And a national agency can help direct you to more local agencies for help–they will know how best to work with your local legal system. If you do read The Gift of Fear, keep in mind that a lot of legal advocacy for stalking victims has been done since it was published, and it may not be up to date on what the police in your locality are able to do for you. Advocates will be able to fill you on what the situation is in your area.

  22. Jamie*

    If you have external security cameras at your work your boss should make sure you have a parking spot where you’re in clear view of the cameras walking to and from your car – if possible.

    Even if you don’t have reserved spots this can generally be done without everyone being aware of the reasoning. You definitely don’t want to be in the camera’s blindspot.

    If no cameras I’d ask for a spot as near the door as possible and, as others have mentioned, make sure you leave with others.

  23. Amina*

    I’ve read the gift of fear and the way to handle stalkers is to completely cut them out without them feeling targeted back. Just don’t interact at all and make sure he never sees you. Get a new number while keeping the old one so he keeps getting “access” and eventually gets bored.

    What’s tricky about this work sitch – and I feel for the OP because I have a similar problem and feel ill when the stalker is nearby – is that it’s work and you can’t really avoid him to the extent necessary.

  24. Amy*

    I just want to say something about OP’s boyfriend; why on earth didn’t he tell the weirdo THEN “excuse me you cannot talk about my girlfriend in such a disgusting way, she is your co-worker and will not put up with hearing about this. And SECOND why the heck would you dare tell me? I’m not a random person to make comments to, I’m her boyfriend” -or something. My boyfriend, well husband, but either way would’ve flipped out if a weird man said some creepy remarks regarding me at a christmas party. To me this says this stalker person is insane, why else would one include the boyfriend in on this. To me this also says the. Boyfriend didn’t act threatened or that he was so concerned with this guys behavior…maybe, maybe….insinuating it was ok, whether he intended to or not. Just an idea!!

    1. Anonforthis*

      I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t blame the boyfriend for not speaking up. It was at a work event, and this person is his girlfriend’s coworker. For all he knew, it was a higher-up and being perceived as disrespectful toward him could’ve had negative consequences for his girlfriend at work. I’ve been in positions where I’ve wanted to tell off my husband’s coworkers, but kept my mouth shut because he has deal with them on a daily basis.

    2. OP*

      The Christmas party took place about 3 weeks after I started work. I had already made it clear to my boyfriend that I wanted to make a very good impression and to be on his A-game (he made a great impression on everyone who mattered that’s for sure :)
      Anyway, after pressing from me, he’s let me know that he doesn’t remember the specific phrasing, but that Creeper (as he shall henceforth be known) told him that I was so enthusiastic about work, and then insinuated that this must transfer to ‘other’ aspects of our relationship.
      The biggest problem that I have is that most of what Creeper says is harmless when the intonation is taken out and eye contact removed. When I parked close to the wall, it WAS a tight fit — it was simply how he said it. That’s why my boyfriend didn’t react and make a scene, he said he simply excused himself and did not respond.
      As a follow up, I spoke with my boss (the owner of the company) today and he was really glad I let him know. However, in his 20+ years of owning a company, he’s never had to deal with this before, so he said he’s going to do his research before taking any action, and talk to some peers who may have good experience. I agree with this–I’d be worried if he did something without fully researching it, that it could backfire like some other commenters above have mentioned that police action can backfire. He is aware of that, which is why he wants to do his due diligence before taking any action. He has promised to keep me updated and will let me know before he does anything, so that I won’t be blindsided if I get confronted by Creeper.
      Anyway, does this answer everyone’s questions?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Thanks for the update! A few things for you to keep in mind:

        – Your company is legally obligated to deal with this situation now that you’ve reported it. It’s not optional. They also need to deal with it quickly. It’s great that your boss is talking to others for advice, but make sure it does get dealt with — and it should happen within a week at the most. If it doesn’t, you need to raise it with him again (come back here for more advice on how to do that if needed).

        – Also, your boss should really talk with an employment lawyer who specializes in harassment issues. They’re going to be better equipped to advise him on this than peers who may not be experts in what the law requires.

        1. OP*

          Oh yea, sorry! One of his good friends IS an employment lawyer, and he said he’s definitely going to talk to him. I am fairly confident that something will be done, before the end of this week even, but if it gets dice-y I will for sure follow up with you with questions as usual! :)

          1. Amy*

            Good news, I just wanted to ask about your boyfriend, I do understand all those political things. Excusing himself was no doubt a professional move especially if he was uncomfortable. Isn’t it funny how we tell our significant others to be on their A game in these situations…when we know how amazing and professional they already are? Or can be, I should say :) (Been there) It’s nerves. I hope your new job really turns out to be a great fit for you. Good luck with the resolution, and like AAM says, stay on it!

      2. Jen M.*

        I’m really glad you have your boss on your side, OP.

        I wish you the best of everything! :)

      3. Megan*

        Yeah, thank goodness your boss is on board! Let us know how the situation evolves, and take care of yourself! Good luck; I’m so sorry you have to deal with this. Creeper indeed.

  25. Library Lady*

    Another thumbs up for the Gift of Fear. Glad to hear she’s logging each incident and regardless of what happened with the boyfriend, he’s a witness. It’s not against the law to say weird/inappropriate stuff, but getting your private cell phone number (which you also have records of) is where he crosses a line into wrong.

    A couple years back there was a professional colleague in my town (different workplace thank God) who pulled the same thing on me and a couple other female friends. For me he was a pest who just would call my work # and let it ring and one time ‘mysteriously’ appeared at the cafe I was buying lunch at after I’d turned him down for a date. However I later found out that he’d got ahold of the home phone number (listed under a maiden name) for a work friend and left a creepy “Won’t you be my Valentine?” message, contacted several of my friends via Friendster introducing himself as my “friend” who wanted to date them, and eventually learned from another professional colleague that he’s a high functioning schizophrenic. Which isn’t to excuse his creepy and inappropriate behavior, just that in this other situation, there might be some mental health issues in the mix.

    Anyways, 100% trust your instincts, document/log what’s happened, get your boyfriend’s account and cell phone records on paper, and definitely talk to your company. Also besides reading the Gift of Fear, go to Ace Hardware and buy some pepper spray. You will probably never need to use it, but as with reading the book and taking self defense classes, it’s another option to have for your safety.

  26. NJB*

    Our heart is out to you OP! What a horrible situation to be in!

    This is the reason I recommend my clients fleeing domestic violence or unsafe situations to get a Google Voice number. Watch the videos online, they can call, text, leave voice-mail and its all saved in your Gmail and they are none the wiser they are not calling your real cell phone number.

    I’ve had a couple clients who were able to get the ex arrested because they could just play the voice mail for the judge.

    1. Natalie*

      You can even port your existing number to Google Voice and keep your real cell phone number completely private.

  27. LCL*

    Along with all of the good practical advice you have been given, here is something from a left coast perspective.

    Find out who the gun guys are in the company, and ask for advice on how one gets started on target shooting, purchasing firearms, etc. Then start learning targetshooting. If owning firearms is legal in your area, it is a given that some of the men, and the women, have an interest in firearms because that goes with the tech mindset.

    I am not saying arm yourself. I am suggesting one thing to do to help you be seen as someone who can defend herself.

    1. Leigh*

      This is really good advice. I don’t feel comfortable owning a gun personally, but if I were to have a Creeper I can see how it might put him off if I let word spread that I was interested in learning how to shoot.

    2. Anonymous*

      Or, you could actually learn how to defend yourself and take a boxing or self-defence class. There are plenty out there that are offered specifically to women.

  28. OLiveE*

    This needs to be handled by HR and your manager. Was in a similar situation in college with some guy who was way older than me (I was pretty young during my first year in college), and then all of a sudden he started appearing in places that I went to – classroom hallways, cafe’s, etc. (sounds like coincidences due the large college I attended, but he kept on being a form of personal threat to me). Find someone, I found a bunch of guys to protect me and girls with sharp tongues – I was so close to informing the university police and administration. No one should ever put you in a position that makes you unsafe, nervous and panicky especially in a work environment. Nowadays I arm myself with a pocket knife #justsaying.

  29. M-C*

    Good advice all around. You need managerial help dealing with this creep, and you should never ignore any feeling of menace..
    Incidentally, your boyfriend should be gently told to report such incidents to you sooner in the future..

    Did you know you can usually block a certain phone number from arriving on your phone? That usually comes with a nice message like ‘you are no longer allowed to communicate with this person’, which might help in case this is a clueless creep and not just a malevolent one.
    Also, I’d check on one thing – what do you have on your facebook page? How up to date are you keeping it? I’m asking because an ex-coworker of mine, a potential rapist if I’ve ever met one, was keeping tabs on women in the same company by friending an innocent intermediate male colleague, and so gaining much unwitting access to very private information by being a ‘friend of friend’. Facebook is the ultimate stalking tool, don’t feed it..

    1. Anonymous*

      Good point about Facebook. I think a lot of people overlook that. I’ve seen Facebook pages with very detailed personal info….some people even post pictures of their young children on Facebook! One friend posted her address! I think a lot of people have a false sense of security with that site and I don’t know why.

      1. Anonymous*

        Same with linkedin! I have a friend who was contacted by a pushy male co-worker (not a stalker, but he actively persued her in spite of her having a boyfriend and turning him down) because she had posted her phone number and address on linkedin for potential employers to be able to contact her.

    2. Anonymous*

      Also, if you use FB mobile, FB can keep your cell number accessible to your friends. I forget where you can find it out since I don’t use FB mobile, but if you go to some people’s profiles/timelines, find the * (flower/star button) and one thing you can do is call.

      1. OP*

        I don’t put any personal information online like that, nor am I Facebook, or LinkedIn connections with this guy. It is 100% weird that he got my phone number.

  30. Elizabeth West*

    Horrible. Yes, he is a creep and a stalker and you absolutely should do everything AAM said right away. The book she recommended is excellent; de Becker is a professional security expert.

    I’m sorry you are going through this. Please keep us updated and stay safe.

  31. Emily*

    OP you’re doing a great job by staying on top of this. Intonation and body language affect so much about how a comment can make you feel and imo you are completely justified in how you’re taking it. I have felt threatened by otherwise innocent comments when the person who said them looked at me in a certain way or came too close to me.

  32. Anonymous*

    I must commend my workplace on this sort of thing. We had a pretty odd guy come work with us. Even the guys in the office said he made their hackles rise when dealing with them. He checked out every woman who walked by him, and I mean every single one. We all voiced concerns about how he was. Even a story he told about his private life showed that people that met him outside of work were creeped out by him. Management were aware, and so as soon as he made the comment to one of the blokes in the office ‘ hate it when the b***ches lead me on like that’ about a perfectly innocent non-flirtious encounter with a happily married woman ie she was not leading him on in anyway they got rid of him that day. I think they knew from day1, when the first concerns were expressed ,that they would be getting rid of him and had it all prepared for the first real big step over the line. I actaully expressed concerns on his first day to my manager, and there was a number of things that happened that made me concerned, not the least a really bad gut feeling, normally I try to cut some slack for new staff because we all react differently when nervous.

  33. OP*

    On Friday (a week exactly after talking with my manager) he asked me for a private meeting. He’d hired an outside HR consulting company, and knew exactly what to do. He’d documented everything I’d told him, and I had to check for accuracy and then sign to confirm that I was OK with his intended actions (also documented on the form). Today, he met with Creeper and told him that this will not be tolerated. He told him to limit his further communications with me to be professional only, and through email when possible, and in person if email is not possible. He asked me if I’d like an apology (because, he said, if it were him and it were just a misunderstanding he’d want to apologize, so he could foresee someone else wanting to apologize when confronted with the scenario) and I said no, that would just make it more awkward for me. I’d just prefer for Creeper to just go about his business as usual, without creeping me out from here on out.

    1. Jen M.*

      This is great, OP! I’m so glad your employer is on your side.

      Please continue to be careful, though!

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s great to hear. And good for your boss for thinking to ask you about the apology; a lot of people wouldn’t have thought to be sensitive to that.

    3. Tech Chic(k)*

      Yay for your boss, that sounds like exactly the right way to handle the situation. I hope Creeper takes the hint and disappears. If he doesn’t, hopefully your boss will be as good at handling the next step as he was with this one.

  34. Anonymous*

    What is your take on this theory: sometimes when you don’t get an offer after one or two interviews, it’s possible that the person making the decision (not the HR person, but your prospective boss) is somehow threatened by your skills and experience, once they meet you in person. How often does it occur that the hiring person is afraid that you will outshine them in front of the rest of the staff and, therefore, threaten their august standing within the organization? I know this sounds a bit self-serving for those of us who have been shot down, even though we were completely qualified for the job. But I think in today’s economy, the higher ups don’t want to risk being exposed as aging deadbeats who have been in their jobs too long and haven’t had a new idea in years.

  35. Julie Kraus*

    I’m sorry this has happened to you, and out of anyone I have a huge amount of sympathy. I was in an exact case such as yours, only mine went to the extreme, to the point of him creating a video blog dedicated to me and full of his sexual fantasies towards me, that the police couldn’t take down due to freedom of speech. However he got laid off work due to mental instability, I had to appear in court to testify. The whole thing is still going on and I am terrified all the time, this person will not let me live, in their head they believe that I am their soulmate and they project that fantasy onto me from this blog .The sexual fantasies have upset my family and I am no longer okay with running alone by the river like I used to. If this man gets convicted of criminal harassment he will be fired, but angry. And if he gets a doctor to testify that he is simply sick, then my engineering firm will hire him back on so that they don’t get sued, meaning I don’t get to have a cup of coffee in the lobby anymore without fear of running into him. Now does yours sound so bad? Haha.
    In all honestly, it sounds like this guy just likes you.. he’s awkward, techy type who doesn’t know how to show it. But really he hasn’t done anything BAD. He made you uncomfortable though and that’s not fair. But try to have some understanding that perhaps the guy is just lovesick and awkward.
    And woman to woman, I agree with the original response about possibly telling someone to BACK OFF. I wish, instead of being polite with the first harassments at the coffee stand at work, I would of just ignored and walked away, and blocked him immedately off any social media. I wish so badly. But I can’t, and Iw ould NEVER wish this on anyone. So I’m sorry you had to go through this. But feel lucky.

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