what to do when an employee is being repeatedly hit on by an outside contact

A reader writes:

A member of my team is in charge of managing relationships with companies that we provide sponsorships to. She does an excellent job and is a top performer on the team. Recently, she’s been receiving some unwanted attention from one of the point of contacts at a partner company. She’s mentioned that this person has repeatedly asked her to get drinks or have dinner outside of working hours. It seems like the point of contact wants to make more of a personal connection with her and it’s making her uncomfortable. I can understand that she is in somewhat of an awkward situation, since her job duties include maintaining the relationship with this person, but this person is taking advantage of that and trying to make a personal, rather than a professional relationship.

As her manager, any recommendation on how I can handle the situation? She hasn’t asked me specifically to take any action but I feel like it’s my duty to make sure that all of my employees feel like they work in a safe space where they don’t have to deal with this kind of unwanted attention.

In a nutshell: Give her some guidance on how she can shut the behavior down, make it clear that you’ll back her up and she doesn’t need to worry about repercussions to her job for doing that, and tell her that if it doesn’t stop and/or she wants you to step in at any point, to let you know immediately and you will.

As for what guidance to give her to shut it down, I’d suggest that she clearly and firmly say to the contact (if she hasn’t already), “I’d like to keep our relationship professional and stick to work-related meetings.” I wouldn’t advise such an aggressive shut-down on the first or second invitation, but at this point, when he’s asked multiple times? It’s warranted because he’s already ignored her attempts to shut it down more politely. If it continues even after that, she should say, “Please stop asking me to meet outside of work. Now, about (work-related topic)…”

As for where to go from there if more ends up being necessary: What exactly is the relationship here? He doesn’t sound like he’s a client, and it sounds like your company may even provide something to him that he needs (the sponsorships you mentioned). If the latter is the case, that makes it even easier to tell him to cut this crap out, but even if that’s not the case, if it continues after she’s clearly told him to stop, either of these next steps would be reasonable:

1. You call him and tell him to cut it out. You’d say something like this: “Jane has told me that she’s repeatedly asked you to stop asking her out and it’s continued. I can’t let you continue to do that to one of our employees and I need you to stop.”

2. You or your staff member calls his boss and tells his boss put a stop to this (and potentially asks them to give you a different rep to work with). The message here would be, “Your employee is being gross with one of our employees and has ignored requests to stop. We need you to fix this.”

But the key thing here is to make it clear to her that she’s not expected to put up with this, and that you’ll back her up in getting it to stop.

{ 144 comments… read them below }

  1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

    Firstly, OP, thank you for being supportive enough about this to write in! Please, please make sure that your employee knows that you support her in this, and that maintaining a business relationship with this person doesn’t mean that she has to put up with this. One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received was not to respond in a friendly or minimising way to any kind of harrassment, but just to let a moment of polite silence mark how very inappropriate it was; that may also be useful to her here? Also, resist the urge to get involved, until she asks you directly to. One of the things this person is doing in repeatedly asking is minimising her autonomy and ability to conduct herself professionally, so continuing to respect those boundaries with her will be important. And when you do get involved, make sure you loop her in and that she’s broadly ok with what you are proposing.

    1. Liza*

      Also, resist the urge to get involved, until she asks you directly to.

      Actually, check your company’s harassment policy about this. I know my company has a policy that a manager has to act if they hear about harassment. I agree with The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon that it would be preferable to let her keep her autonomy by handling it herself first if she’s comfortable doing that, but make sure you won’t be violating your company’s harassment policy by doing so.

      1. OP*

        Good point. We have a Zero Tolerance Harassment Policy for employees, but it did not mention anything about external contacts. I should probably reach out to HR and suggest they change that!

    2. OP*

      That’s great advice. Sometimes the employee will kind of “laugh it off” and say, “Oh it’s fine.” Which I think is a common response to workplace harassment. I just want to make sure that she knows that if it really does bother her, I support her completely and will take action necessary to make sure it stops.

      1. KT*

        That’s a very common response for women in all harassment situations. We don’t want to be seen as dramatic, or be rude, or make a scene, so we try to minimize it so it’s “no big deal”

        1. Not me*

          Yeah, I’ve been there and saw guys do this, too. I think it’s also a response to wanting the harassment to simply end as soon as possible.

        2. PCALady*

          Having been in the situation of the employee, I completely agree. As a victim we often wonder what we have done to invite the unwanted behaviour. I really commend this manager for recognizing that it is a big deal and that by their employee mentioning it to them at all is an indication that they need to be backed up in getting the behaviour to stop. (I assume) nobody wants to bring this kind of attention to themselves in the workplace and would have tried to deal with it themselves first. Once it was shown ineffective, that is when they would “mention” it to their manager.

          What the employee may only need from their manager/employer at this point is assurance that if they are more assertive with this outside contact about stopping the behaviour, their employer stands behind them and their job is still protected.

      2. Chriama*

        I would also go a step further and give her suggestions of what you can do to support her, then ask if she wants you to step in. I think if you say “let me know if you want me to step in” she might think that it will make it a bigger deal and she doesn’t want to create drama. If you say “here are ways you can assertively shut it down. Also, I can talk to gross employe/ call his boss/ assign a different employee to handle this relationship / terminate the working relationship. Please let me know as soon as you want me to take action or if there’s anything else you’d like me to do.”, then she knows what some of her options are and doesn’t feel like asking you to tell him to stop would be too much.

      3. neverjaunty*

        OP, while you don’t want to be overbearing, I think it’s worth pointing out to her that it’s *not* fine, even if she is not especially upset by it, because it’s an abuse of the professional relationship between the companies and it’s not behavior that your company can tolerate – and therefore while you appreciate that she’s handling it professionally, it’s a workplace issue too.

        This is not so as to scold her, but she probably doesn’t want to seem weak or emotional or overly naive, and brushing it off as “Oh it’s fine” is something she may (even if she’s not aware of it) think is the appropriate professional response.

        1. LBK*

          Eh, yes and no – I totally agree that there are gendered expectations here that make it more complicated than simply deciding if she wants to escalate the issue or not, but I don’t think the situation has risen to the level that management needs to step in regardless of how the employee wants to address it.

          1. Chocolate lover*

            I work at a University, so we have a variety of regulations to follow related to Title IX (sex discrimination), and they apply most if not all of the the same principles to our University policies for administration and faculty as well. We’d be required to report something like this to the appropriate office, and they would investigate.

            1. fposte*

              Really? I’m at a state university, and we wouldn’t be required to report a vendor asking an employee out. I’m thinking this may be your university’s interpretation rather than Title IX per se.

              If she was engaged in a relationship with somebody at the vendor she’d be required to disclose that, but not for Title IX reasons.

              1. Chocolate lover*

                Asking out once no, but repeatedly after being turned down, yes. Not specifically because of title IX, I just made the comparison because they choose to apply similar (sometimes more strict than the average company) standards. There has been a big push on potential harassment topics on my campus this year, we received extra training specifically on title IX and in the course of that training, university policy on harassment in general.

                Frankly, the training left me more confused about harassment issues than I was before, since so much is subjective.

          2. neverjaunty*

            Sure, but I mean that regardless of whether the employee handles the problem with or without management directly intervening, I think it’s helpful to point out this isn’t just a problem of the employee as an individual being fine/not fine with this; dude is causing a problem for the company as well.

            1. LBK*

              How so? It seems to me that the entire problem is that he’s making the employee uncomfortable; if we’re excluding her feelings from the discussion, I’m not clear on what else about this is a problem for the company.

              1. Anna*

                I think he’s possibly putting HIS company’s relationship in jeopardy, not the sponsoring company. But that’s not what neverjaunty was saying, I think.

              2. neverjaunty*

                Maybe we’re getting stuck on “it’s fine”. It’s obvious that the employee does not welcome these advances. That being the case, whether she is ‘fine’ with addressing it on her own without escalating to a manager stepping in, his actions are causing a problem for an employee, and therefore for the company. His behavior is making her job difficult (even if she shuts him down, she has to navigate this in a professional manner) and is inappropriate given the relationship between his employer and hers.

            2. RVA Cat*

              INAL, but isn’t the guy creating some kind of quid pro quo expectations here? If the employee did end up dating this dude couldn’t that be considered a conflict of interest?

              So sorry your employee is having to deal with this jerk, OP, but I appreciate that you have her back 100%. Not all bosses are, as much as we’d like to think we’re worlds beyond the Mad Men era (Joan & the Jaguar creep, ick).

      4. TootsNYC*

        My opinion in this sort of thing is this: Nobody tells their boss about a problem unless they want their boss to actively help solve it. If they brought it up, they want help. It doesn’t matter if they say, “I don’t want you to do anything.”

        They may mean, “I don’t want you to do anything overt,” and they certainly mean “I don’t want you to do anything to make it worse.” But they want something done.

        So I wouldn’t be saying, “I have your back,” I’d be saying, “I can do these five things, right up to insisting that this man has to speak only with me from now on. Which would make you most comfortable at work.”

        1. Lilly*

          It depends on the relationship that you have with your boss. If you’re friendly then you might just end up mentioning it in conversation or you might want to notify them just to make them aware of the situation so that if an issue did arise then they knew how long and how often it had been going on for.

    3. addiez*

      I disagree with not intervening – women are so conditioned to not say anything and laugh things off when it’s quite possibly making her extremely uncomfortable. I’d, at the very least, say something to the employee and gauge her reaction.

    4. Bwmn*

      I definitely second the urge to not get involved unless she asks.

      I work in fundraising where building relationships and getting drinks/lunch/dinner can all be part of the position. It can also put young women in positions such as the OP’s with often men who have a significant power differential in regards to their careers. As a woman in this field, while sexual harassment policies and such can be helpful – being able to personally navigate that was huge in terms of regaining my professional authority and autonomy. Sometimes it was just repeatedly insisting on daytime meetings and other times it meant making sure my boss would go with me to a meeting under the notion of “it’s a treat for you to meet this high level person”. But either decision would ultimately be mine.

      Positions like fundraising may have more murky dynamics than the OP’s employee – but navigating that myself with the support of management was important for me.

  2. Liana*

    OP, thank you for wanting to take a stand against this and be willing to have your employees’ back when it comes to dealing with unwanted attention. I’ve worked in a few places where young women were told to essentially suck it up and weren’t taken seriously, and it creates a pretty demoralizing work environment. Good luck to your employee!

  3. Allison*

    I agree it’s important to let the employee know you’ll back her up. A lot of her hesitance to be firm may be because she worries the contact will complain that’s she’s unfriendly, and she’ll be in trouble when OP hears that side of the story.

    1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*


      I have an acquaintance who was let go from a fundraising position after asking a donor to please keep his hands to himself. He complained that she was “rude and unfriendly,” and that “hiring her made him question the organizations judgement.”

      It’s hard when you hear/know horror stories, so having a boss who explicit says they won’t tolerate it and the staff members job is not in jeopardy is key.

      1. AnonInSC*

        That makes me furious. But also doesn’t surprise me. We still have a very, very, very long way to go.

        1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

          Unfortunately, she was in her early twenties at the time and her parents gave her some pretty bad advice (no one will care/don’t jeopardize a future job).

          But now she’s pretty frank with people about the organization and how they are off-mission, as he is/was still heavily involved.

  4. Anonymous Educator*

    Yeah, if you’re providing sponsorships, your company is in the power position here. Tell him to knock it off, and if he doesn’t, pull the sponsorship.

    1. LBK*

      Exactly what I was going to say. It seems like this is one of the few times where thankfully you have the leverage and this is a perfectly acceptable reason to use it.

    2. AnonAnalyst*

      Yes, this. I used to manage sponsor relationships but for the company receiving sponsorships, and we tried to bend over backwards (within reason) to make sure our sponsors and sponsor contacts were happy. Depending on how great the interest is at your organization of keeping the sponsorship in place, you could also escalate this to someone higher up the chain if he doesn’t knock it off, since the receiving organization will have an interest in maintaining the relationship (and possibly removing him from working with your organization if necessary).

  5. Charityb*

    Honestly, if I were the owner of the partner company I would want to be alerted to something like this immediately. An employee harassing teaming partners, vendors, or client personnel is extremely serious and it makes the whole company look bad; it would be considered on the same level as an employee being caught vandalizing cars in a customer’s parking lot.

    The OP’s employee is concerned with maintaining the relationship between the two companies, but that’s a two-way street; the harasser’s employers also care about that relationship and I think they’d take swift action if they heard that this had been going on for so long.

    1. INTP*

      I agree with this. Plus, it can damage business relationships. At least according to my company’s sexual harassment webinar, you cannot require your employees to endure harassment by vendors or other non-employees, not just your own employees, so this seems like something that could force companies to break business relationships. (Outside of the whole human empathy, no one deserves to be treated that way side of it.)

    2. Biff*

      No kidding — if this was my employee I’d want to know for sure. Especially since he’s in an outside-facing role — who knows how many people he’s hitting on.

      1. Anna the Accounting Student*

        Exactly. OP mentioned that their organization gives sponsorships, so it’s no big leap to the other org receiving similar things elsewhere. And if he’s harassing your employee, he may very well be doing the same to other people’s employees.

        So, if I were the OP, I’d seriously consider talking to that guy’s boss. If the harasser gets fired, he gets fired — and it would be his actions, not yours, that got him there.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      Yep. I used to work at a company that had a vendor whose employee made dirty jokes, leered, asked two of us out on dates, and was just generally nasty (not as in mean, but as in eww). One day, another employee showed up instead of him, and we asked “Where’s Wakeen?” The new vendor guy told us he was no longer with the company and was very reluctant to talk about it. But when we said, “Good, because he was creepy!” he broke down and told us Wakeen had been even more inappropriate with another customer and they complained. Their boss fired him.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I think this provides OP a conversation starter with the other boss. “Bob, if I had something going on like this, I HOPE that someone would call me and let me know what is happening.” Not only does it cue Bob into the fact that this is going to be a serious conversation but it also clues Bob that OP is open to these types of honest discussions in the future.

  6. FurnitureLady*

    Alison’s advice is spot on (as usual!) but I just wanted to say that OP is a really good boss! I’ve certainly had some unwanted attention in my younger days and really struggled with how to handle it. Knowing that your manager has your back makes all the difference!

    1. Erin*

      Um, yes. This. This exactly. In a former job I was hit on and otherwise treated badly, I handled it terribly, and had no one to back me up or give me guidance.

      Rock on, OP, you’ve got this.

  7. LBK*

    I generally agree with the advice but one question came to mind: is there any chance he’s actually being encouraged to do this by his employer (even just implicitly)? I don’t know exactly how these interactions are going down but it wouldn’t be crazy to me that his employer would be telling him to try to make personal connections with his vendors and that fancy dinners or drinks would be a part of that.

    That doesn’t change whether you can tell him stop because if she’s uncomfortable, she absolutely has that right, but it might require altering the approach to more along the lines of “we don’t conduct business that way here”.

    1. OP*

      It’s clear that these advances are not work related. He’s made them clear in the emails he’s sending to my employee. Ex: “I’m going to be in town for a few days for some non-work R&R this weekend. Want to grab a drink?”

      I know that in many jobs, where “relationship management” are key job responsibilities, it is commonplace to ask someone to dinner or drinks. But that is typically during the work week.

      I do wonder for the women here – Do you ever feel uncomfortable being invited to dinner or drinks by a male coworker/colleague/external contact even if the described “purpose” of the meeting is business-related? What are the different factors that play into that?

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        “Do you ever feel uncomfortable being invited to dinner or drinks by a male coworker/colleague/external contact even if the described “purpose” of the meeting is business-related? What are the different factors that play into that?”

        All the time! But that’s because of my own paranoid insecurities, and I’m getting better at it. But there’s always a small voice, even with known and trusted quantities, wondering what the *real* motivation is.

        1. Bizness Lady*

          When it’s ok to be asked to dinner/drinks:
          If I were in another city by myself and a male colleague invited me out last minute and no one else was available.
          If there was a specific business reason related to something we were already working on that required long hours and food needed to be consumed.
          If it were someone I’ve already grown close to and was 100% comfortable with.

          Otherwise I’d be really wary of one on one dinners with my male colleagues.

        2. Case of the Mondays*

          It makes me nervous but I realize I need to get over that to get ahead. I’m an attorney and business development is huge. My boss brings in clients by having drinks/dinner/lunch with professional people he meets in his life. So, when I got the vibe that a local businessman at an event wanted lunch for less than professional reasons, I declined but I also wonder if my radar was off and this could have turned into a good client to have. It is one of the sucky things about being a female professional.

          The reality is, the situation is not likely to be a safety issue for me but rather just an awkward encounter. Say I said yes to lunch and realized along the way he thought it was a date. I would then have the “oh, I’m here for professional reasons only. Happily married thank you. So flattered you asked though. BS.”

          And when I stop and think further, the above isn’t even that egregious. How are single people supposed to date? They find someone they are interested in and they ask them out. Nothing harassing about that.

          On the other hand, I don’t care one bit one anyone else thinks seeing me out to dinner with a man that’s not my husband. I have no concerns over the “appearance of impropriety.”

          I just hate weeding out those that just want to talk to a (relatively) attractive younger lawyer from those that actually are interested in my professional brain.

        3. AcademiaNut*

          For me, it depends a lot on details.

          I work in a male dominated, very collaborative academic field where out of work socialization is quite normal. Invitations in a situation where we need to get food anyways (lunch on a work day, dinner after a conference) wouldn’t raise any suspicions unless they’re being really obvious about trying to arrange it with just me. Meeting for coffee/lunch/post conference beer or dinner to discuss something in particular would be pretty normal, or meeting over dinner when someone is coming through town.

          An invitation outside of work related activities – a dinner invitation out of the blue, an invitation for something on the weekend, going for drinks in a context other than after a long day at a meeting – would raise flags unless we were already friends.

          I will say that I, personally, tend not to attract inappropriate advances, even when I was young and single, so I don’t need to be as wary as some people do. Somehow, I managed to pick up a demeanour and personal style that labels me “don’t bother” when it comes to that sort of thing. I know female colleagues who had to learn to deal with socially awkward young men following them around conferences drooling, which is something I never had to put up with, and people who have been called out for inappropriate behaviour towards others have left me alone, possibly figuring out that it would end badly for them.

      2. LBK*

        Thanks for clarifying! Suggestion retracted – I think you can proceed just as Alison says, it sounds pretty clear that he doesn’t want to spend time in a professional capacity.

      3. Erin*

        You’ve got emails, aka documented evidence if you end up needing it? Awesome. I love how he specified “non-work R&R.”

        To answer your question: Yes, I do feel paranoid and uncomfortable, but I’m willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I do think at some point your gut feeling kicks in that something doesn’t feel right, and it’s up to the individual if they listen to that or choose to ignore it and forge on.

        In the getting hit on I mentioned upthread, he asked me to drinks after a late work meeting. Naive me barely into the working world thought, I used to go to happy hours with coworkers at my last job all the time, this is perfectly normal! But it wasn’t. And it wasn’t in a group setting.

        I think these situations depend so much on specific circumstances it’s hard to give blanket advice. Asking a coworker to dinner and drinks might be totally normal. “Wow, we finally pushed through on that project and it’s already almost seven! I’m starving and think we deserve a few drinks, are you up for grabbing a bite with me before you head home?”

        Versus your situation, where the guy is clearly overly persistent and there’s no room anymore to give benefit of the doubt.

        1. LBK*

          Yeah, I think context matters a lot, and I think most people will naturally provide that context in the invitation if they truly have professional motivations – eg “I’ll be in town next week for a convention and I’d love to take you out to dinner on the company as a thank you for all your help with the teapot upgrade you did for us last month.”

      4. neverjaunty*

        If it’s a male c0-worker or colleague who I have an existing relationship with, knew well, and he’s always behaved in professional manner, then a professionally-worded invitation is no big deal. If it were somebody I just worked with from time to time or didn’t work with extensively in the past, that would be super weird unless it was part of a group thing.

      5. Biff*

        In response to your question, I think it’s a concern for both genders, though I think the reasons are probably different. I think when women are worried it tends to be concerns over whether they are being judged or evaluated on their willingness/emotional availablity more than their abilities. I think when men worry it tends to be because they are concerned that they will be perceived as predatory or a good ol’ boy. Or, that someone will misunderstand their intentions and become the creepy, clingy ex without having been an item.

        1. Biff*

          Actually, to be fair, I think that last concern is one for both genders, but I think men bring it up more often when we talk about this sort of thing.

      6. bridget*

        I haven’t, but I also have not had bad experiences with unwanted advances in my career. I think that’s a combination of luck, the fact that I am young in my career, and that everyone knows I am married.

        Things that contribute to my comfort:
        – having a *specific* work-related purpose for the meeting, not just generally talking shop.
        – a reason why this isn’t the type of thing that can be better handled in a conference room during work hours (example, we’re all working long hours for several days, we all gotta eat dinner sometime; or it’s clearly about networking, like an informational interview, which is traditionally done in a more relaxed environment)
        – all people involved in the work project are invited, even if they don’t end up coming.
        – it’s clear that it’s no big deal if I say no (the other people involved will still get together, or if it’s just one other person, he will go get dinner by himself).
        – THE BIGGEST ONE: The person suggesting it has always been respectful, professional, and never given me creepy vibes or asked me out. In that circumstance, I am happy to spend of out-of-work alone time with that person.

        1. Case of the Mondays*

          But unfortunately, that’s not how networking works. Networking happens when you hang out just to talk shop. And it won’t happen in a conference room either. If we are just trying to establish a professional rapport that might lead to this client giving me business, it’s going to be done over dinner, drinks, golf, a sporting event – not in a conference room with the rest of my group.

          If you are talking about when you are okay hanging out w/ a coworker after work, I agree with you. But for general networking purposes (which is what occurs with vendors) this list wouldn’t let you network. It is so frustrating, as I mention above.

          1. bridget*

            Bullet #1 is more for co-workers, bullet #2 is more for outside people to network with. A coworker would have to say “let’s knock out the rest of the plan for X project over dinner,” because we should have lots of other times to talk shop generally during the workday or at lunch (OP in this thread was specifically asking about dinner/drinks, which are inherently a little less professional than lunchtime, IMO, so you need a little more work structure to balance that out).

            As for non co-workers, networking often works like this in my experience. Sure, you have informal networking, but I’ve also taken people up on offers to grab dinner or a drink to talk about work/career stuff. I’m a new lawyer who got pretty lucky in the job arena, so on a few occasions I’ve had male law students I’m acquaintances with (but not really friends) say something like “can I buy you a beer after work and pick your brain your strategies for landing a federal clerkship?” Opposite-sex hetero people, in the evening, with alcohol, but to my mind, totally legit and comfortable (with my caveat that it is only comfortable if the person hasn’t exhibited behaviors that make me uncomfortable).

            1. bridget*

              Now that I’m re-reading, I might have been unclear in my first post – I agree that networking with outsiders is done best in informal environments like restaurants, golf courses, etc. I was giving “networking” as an example of a stated reason that makes me MORE comfortable to take it outside of the conference room, because of how networking is traditionally done. That, to me, is a legitimate reason to move to a more personal venue than a conference room.

              My bullets aren’t a comprehensive test, just general factors that contribute to my comfort, and not all things will apply in all situations.

          2. fposte*

            I think it’s also complicated because it’s sometimes not a simple binary of asking out socially vs. professionally. Sometimes it can be all networking for the woman and 60% networking/40% flattering female company for the man, with no actual hitting on anybody. That’s so common, in my experience, that you would have a tough time avoiding it and still doing any networking.

            And I will link in a followup the interesting article by writer Claire Vaye Watkins called “On Pandering,” which talks about gender and writing to please and includes some interesting stories that are relevant to this discussion.

            1. Case of the Mondays*

              OMG yes this. I was recently at an industry lunch where I mentioned a few niche things (e-discovery related) in discussion. A few older men hung back to speak with me about them later and it became clear to me (call it intuition) that they were less interested in the actual conversation and more interested in just talking with me/being seen talking with me than in what I was actually saying. They wouldn’t raise it to the level of asking me out or anything but it was just . . . ugh.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                It really helps to have reference points. For example, thinking about other times intuition kicked in and the intuition was correct. OR, Situations that went poorly with a previous coworker, can also provide reference points for the new person and the new situation.

                One thing I have learned (and this took an embarrassingly long time) is that if I do not ordinarily think of things like this (“these people just want to be seen with me”) pay attention. Pay attention to odd thoughts that you do not ordinarily have. That thought is probably correct.

      7. NicoleK*

        It would depend on the situation, but generally, I would feel uncomfortable being invited to dinner or drinks by a male coworker. I only drink with male coworker(s) in a Happy Hour situation with other colleagues present and I try to stick with lunches if I’m dining with a male coworker(s).

      8. Hush42*

        First- you are clearly a wonderful manager!

        As for your question- It entirely depends on who’s doing the inviting. For the majority of my co-workers- yes that would probably make me uncomfortable. If it was my manager I would be perfectly fine with it- but I trust him and am comfortable around him. Which is not something that I can say about a lot of people as I tend to be shy and awkward around most people.

      9. Ad Astra*

        I feel fine about dinner or drinks if there’s a legitimate business purpose stated — and, if I have an existing business relationship with this guy, it would be pretty easy for me to gauge what constitutes “legitimate” business purpose.

        I also would be more open to getting drinks with a colleague, former colleague, someone who works for a different branch of the same company, etc., than I would for a client or vendor.

        But, I’m someone who’s just generally big on dinner and drinks — going out to restaurants and bars is my preferred way to socialize anyway. The threshold for creepy might be a bit less for a woman who’s more of a homebody. And if you don’t know someone well enough to tell the difference between a party animal and a homebody, you probably don’t know someone well enough to invite them for dinner or drinks.

      10. Book Person*

        Context is everything, really. I haven’t felt uncomfortable being asked to have coffee in the afternoon or even grab an early dinner on the campus I was visiting because the professor was working late / couldn’t talk until then. The one who emailed me at 11:30pm to ask me to come downtown to a bar to talk [work-related stuff]? That was a big bag of nope. Same to the one who (I’m sure kindly) said since I was just visiting [City], he’d be happy to have me over to his house for dinner to get away from the hotel/restaurants.

        I fortunately work for a company where, though I’m in a business relationship with many external contacts whose good will I need, my bosses back me up with cutting off someone who is inappropriate, no matter how important their business may be to us. That goes a long way to managing my own comfort levels with requests like that. What helps even more is when the male contacts who want to meet outside of business hours show an awareness of the power and gender dynamics in the relationship when extending the invitation.

      11. Student*

        I find it very hard to make a judgement call on that one.

        Things I consider when I decide whether or not to accept:
        Location. It’s almost worse to get treated badly by strangers in front of a colleague than it is to get treated badly by a colleague. Usually the colleague won’t go tell people if he treats you like crap, but odds are good that the whole office will hear about it if you’re having a business meal and anything awkward happens during the meal. You’d be amazed at some of my awkward dinner stories.

        Marriage status and age of the colleague (and if known, sexual orientation). I figure the odds are better that someone married (or not interested in my gender) or significantly older than me is probably not hitting on me.

        Cost-benefit analysis. What can I gain by having a better relationship with this co-worker? What will I lose if it turns out this is supposed to be a date? Sometimes there isn’t much to gain but a lot to lose. So I’d be more likely to take a boss or underling up on it than a co-worker.

        “Vibes”. Usually guys send signals if they are interested. Not always, sometimes it feels like it came out of left-field, but usually there’s a warning sign. Much less likely to take someone up on it if there are warning signs.

        Others being present. If it’s a couples night that’s a huge bonus, even if my husband can’t actually come. It’s open acknowledgement that we’re all in relationships and this is all out in the open before the spouses. If it’s a group of co-workers then that’s a good sign it’s platonic. If there’s at least one other woman there it helps tremendously.

        Transport logistics. If it’s one-on-one, I don’t want to be dependent on the guy for transport. That’s the absolute top place where things go skeevy for me.

        Even with all that considered, I try to give all guys the benefit of the doubt. Exactly one benefit-of-the-doubt, no more than that, but no less. I feel like it’s important to take the risk and show that you trust them to be reasonable normal human beings. Some will rise to your expectations, some will disappoint you, some will assault you. If I don’t take the chance, then I’ll be safe but sexism will never get better.

        For the record, I’ve never actually had this “pay off” in any professional regard. I’ve had a handful of disasters, a handful of awkward nights of one-off co-worker socialization. Made a couple of friends whom I work with, but none in a traditional professional networking position to actually help me get anything accomplished at work yet, either vertically or laterally.

        1. Not me*

          +1 to all of this. Not an issue with coworkers at the moment, but those are all things I think through with other people.

        2. Sarahnova*

          All the people who have hit on or harassed me at work have been a) significantly older and b) married. :(

          1. Ad Astra*

            A married or much-older person is less likely to show romantic interest if things are on the up-and-up, compared to an equally well-meaning/non-sketchy person who’s single and around the same age. But when it comes to skeezeballs, harassers, and creepos, all bets are off.

          2. manybellsdown*

            My ex-husband was once fired from two different jobs ON THE SAME DAY for sexually harassing female co-workers. He tried to defend himself by saying they knew he was married. Which … is a ridiculous excuse because the ring doesn’t stop you from creeping, and also he really was hitting on them. I was his plausible deniability.

        3. JessaB*

          Absolutely on the transportation. I do not ever want to rely on someone I am not 100% sure of for my ability to get home safely. Either I show up with my vehicle or the number to a trusted cab co. We can meet there if I don’t feel comfortable, but I’m not going to go in the other person’s car. That’s just a non starter for someone I do not know. Whether it be business or a date, if it’s business, I’m driving. Regrettably that’s part of presenting as female. Never leave your transport to others.

          And lets say the guy is wonderful, a great business partner or a great date or whatever, but they drink. I do not want to be responsible even after a GOOD event to have to get in a vehicle belonging to someone inebriated.

          Things change if the event includes more people that I know and trust to drive.

      12. Not me*

        By a coworker/colleague? Nope, not uncomfortable. It depends on how well I know them and how I’ve seen them act.

        Unfortunately, I’ve been harassed a lot, and I can be cautious. But I can’t think of anyone I know at work that I would be uncomfortable with.

      13. Sarahnova*

        Unfortunately, yes, because I’ve been burned,

        A big factor is my general read on the male concerned and whether he raises any of my hackles, how long I have known him, what *exactly* he suggests we do and whether his suggestion is sensitive to the factors that I have to consider as a woman meeting a man alone after dark in an environment that may involve alcohol.

        These days, if I *did* agree, I would keep it to one drink max, and bail the second I felt pressured.

      14. Llauren*

        OP, it sounds like you are male. Am I correct? I’m not making assumptions here–it sounds like you are sensitive to your employee’s feelings and respect her professionalism–but so often women, especially younger ones, feel they cannot say much about this sort of thing but rather have to laugh it off or disengage ever so lightly so as not to come across as too soft or too hard or too uptight. (For a woman, but especially a younger one.)

      15. manybellsdown*

        “Do you ever feel uncomfortable being invited to dinner or drinks by a male coworker/colleague/external contact”

        Sometimes, yes. This is a thing that’s very context-sensitive. A perfectly polite person may set off our spidey-sense and make us uncomfortable. It’s a “Gift of Fear” thing – I doubt most of us could even articulate specifically WHAT makes us uncomfortable a lot of the time. It’s rarely as obvious and objective as “he grabbed my ass.”

      16. mel*

        Not really, but I’ve never had the asks be in creepy territory, so my first instinct was wondering whether this was an encouraged, normal business networking ask. In my industry, especially starting out, you are expected to ask and accept drinks/dinner invitations to connect with the other assistants around town/build relationships and connections that way. If it’s clear that this guy is out of bounds, then I trust both your judgements! In my business this is totally normal and if it’s someone you don’t want to meet up with you can certainly decline. I’ve yet to feel uncomfortable about any of the invitations so far.

      17. Liana*

        I work in an all-women office, so it hasn’t been an issue for a couple years now, but if that wasn’t the case, and a male colleague/contact invited me out? I would absolutely feel nervous or uncomfortable. Logically, I know that many men (most men?) have good intentions and aren’t trying to push boundaries. But I have been in situations where those intentions have not been so good and it has been AWFUL to deal with. I just … I hate it so much. It takes me a long time to become comfortable enough with a male coworker that I wouldn’t blink twice at having drinks with them alone.

      18. Elizabeth*

        Do you ever feel uncomfortable being invited to dinner or drinks by a male coworker/colleague/external contact even if the described “purpose” of the meeting is business-related? What are the different factors that play into that?

        I’ve only ever had one invitation that I side-eyed. It was from my boss at the time, and he always had boundary issues. I routinely meet vendors for lunch or colleagues for drinks & dinner where it is either 2 people or there are a group of us where I’m the only woman. That is just part of business. We’re all professionals and I have every expectation that everyone will act as such.

      19. FurnitureLady*

        I think the key is “non work related R&R” for me personally – it makes it clear that it’s personal and not business and I’d be squicked out by that. I travel for work a lot and generally have no problem at all with having dinner with male colleagues or business contacts, but it’s made very clear that it’s a business thing. I think me for me it all comes down to gut – if someone makes me feel uncomfortable for any reason, I’m magically “not available” for off-hours drinks or dinner. For the most part, the people I work with are professional and I don’t feel weird at all.

        That said, I’m in a more senior position and have a lot more confidence and experience than I did when I started in this industry so that likely plays into it as well. It can be hard for someone who has less work experience or is in a junior position to be assertive because they don’t want to offend or ruin a work relationship. That’s why it’s so important that you have your employee’s back – I wish there were more managers like you!

      20. Pennalynn Lott*

        I’m 49 now so, no, I don’t remotely feel uncomfortable being invited to dinner or drinks by a male business colleague. But I also think I quit being uncomfortable somewhere in my late 20’s when I realized that some guys are creepers and some aren’t. So, yes, I’d meet you at a restaurant, but if you were the creeper type, I’d cut it short and bail. If it was genuine business, then things proceeded as normal. And I was lucky in that most of my bosses completely understood if the next day in their office I said, “He’s not a potential client, he just wanted to sleep with me. Feel free to put him in contact with one of our male reps.” But I’ve also always been VERY good at drawing clear boundaries with pushy people and never really felt like I needed to “go along to get along”. It might be because I was a model starting in my early teens, and so I got used to the grossness that goes with that industry and learned how to shut it down without taking on the creeper’s behavior as personal defect in me. Nope, dude is just creeper; ain’t got nothin’ to do with me.

        Also, if at any point anyone made me feel unsafe physically — just the weird vibes they gave off — I absolutely wouldn’t accept an outside-of-the-office invitation. If it’s really important to the business we’re conducting, it can happen in a conference room where the door stays open.

        I’ve gone to dinner and drinks hundreds of times with male colleagues / business contacts where it was (A) just the two of us or (B) I was the only woman, and everything was fine. I can count on one hand the times when the dude made it weird.

      21. Breebit*

        Always. If asked to go to dinner or drinks by a male colleague or coworkers or other business associate, I always ask who else is coming. If the asker says that it would just be the two of us, I suggest that we also invite someone from the workplace who is related to the described purpose (“Oh, I really think Jane would be perfect to discuss the blue-rimmed teapot order, we should bring her along so she can talk about her last experience with the client.”). If the coworker balks at that, I turn the meeting down. At that point it’s become less about work and more about spending time together, and I like to avoid any potential awkwardness about that.

        PSA to male coworkers: If something is truly about business, a meeting can occur with more than one person and/or can take place in other locations. If your planned work discussion would be ruined if it was actually at work or involved another employee, then it’s not about work.

        And OP, thanks for being one of the good ones.

      22. Random citizen*

        So uncomfortable! Lunch if we’re at a conference, etc. together and need to eat is less of an issue, but one-on-one is always somewhat awkward, and dinner is way worse. A couple people going out is so much better, even if they’re all guys, though I’m always more comfortable in a mixed crowd.

    1. Book Person*

      Seconded — OP, knowing your manager has your back when you’re being made uncomfortable in a business situation makes all the difference in the world. Thanks for being so willing to stand up for her.

  8. Observer*

    OP, thanks for tackling this. You’ve gotten some good advice.

    One thing that I wanted to highlight, which may make it easier for you to handle, is that you are almost certainly required to deal with harassment of any illegal category the same regardless of whether the harasser is your employee or not. IE you need to handle it, and protect her from it, even if it’s a customer.

    Internally, that means that HR has a bigger incentive to deal with it in policies, just as with any other form of harassment.

    And, externally, sometimes it’s easier and more effective, while less destructive to a relationship to say “I don’t really want to deal with an investigation from the (big, bad, mean) DOL, so this needs to stop.” rather than “Your employee is gross, and it needs to stop.” The latter is true, but (whether you think the DOL is mean and bad or not), the former is true, too, and any employer will understand that. In fact the kind of employer who thinks that the DOL is the “meany” here will CERTAINLY get it, as they’ve probably not had the best experiences.

    1. LBK*

      I strongly disagree that bringing the law into it is less destructive, especially since I don’t think there’s anywhere near enough evidence to suggest this is harassment in the legal sense. I think most managers will read that as highly adversarial and be put on the defensive, whereas just bringing up bad behavior is something managers deal with all the time and won’t cause them to go into “oh crap are we getting sued?” mode.

      1. fposte*

        I’d agree. And also, this ends up implying an unpleasant dynamic: that the employee’s objections aren’t a problem, just the laws against exposing her to conduct when she does. (If the employee doesn’t object, the government doesn’t care.)

        1. Observer*

          I get the implication, but the question for me is, what do I want – the behavior to stop or make a stand? While I would really like to see a world in which people understand that this kind of behavior is very not ok, in the meantime, I’ll take a situation where the behavior stops.

          And, it seems to me that if the behavior becomes less common for any reason, it may have an effect on attitudes. For one thing, it effectively “proves” that you can conduct business just fine even when you “have to walk on eggshells” (and those who complain about “too much PC” put it.) For another, the less a certain behavior happens the less “normal” it becomes.

          1. fposte*

            But I think that’s 1) really gross (the harasser and the employer in a team against the killjoy EEOC) and 2) no likelier to make it stop. Why would the vendor care if the employer got in trouble with the EEOC or not? It’s not like the vendor’s at legal risk here.

            1. Observer*

              Having been the “harassee”, my attitude is “whatever makes it stop.” And while it’s true that there is not a legal threat to the harasser’s employer, lots of people respond better to “I don’t want to get into trouble” than “You’re not behaving right.” And certain types of people are far more likely to see regulatory issues as legitimate problems, while not seeing the behavior behind it as a problem.

              1. fposte*

                And I’ve been the harassee, and I’d have felt thrown to the wolves by that. So I think it’s a YMMV situation, and in those I recommend going with the truth.

      2. Observer*

        Well, obviously the first step is just a general “Hey, this is not ok.” But, if you have to push then it’s often easier to say “It’s not us, it’s this other outside thing that we’re worried about.”

        That doesn’t always work, of course, and you have to know who you are dealing with. That’s why I said SOMETIMES.

    2. Student*

      Uhhh, have you ever been to a restaurant? Or worked in any kind of customer-facing role, for that matter? This is absolutely not the case. Customers/outsiders can get away with pretty near any bad behavior, including actual assault, and the business won’t be held responsible.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Observer is right on the law (although the behavior reported in the letter doesn’t sound like it rises to the legal definition of harassment): U.S. law requires employers to deal with harassment of their employees, whether it’s by another employee or by a customer, vendor, or whoever.

        You’ve no doubt seen a lot of bad behavior that doesn’t have consequences because people don’t report it / businesses don’t handle it properly, but that doesn’t change what the law requires, or the possible consequences to the business if someone did pursue it legally.

      2. Observer*

        BTDT. (Not in a restaurant.) Watched it happen to co-workers, too. And, that’s why I found out what the law actually is.

        The problem is that lots of employers are not aware of the law and some don’t CARE about the law. Let’s face it, there are plenty of employers who don’t follow the law on wages or a whole host of other issues, for that matter. It doesn’t mean that it’s not the law.

        Since the OP DOES care both about being a decent employer, and about the law, and the HR department apparently seems to care about the law, too, it’s helpful to know what the law actually is.

    3. KMS1025*

      These were absolutely my thoughts too. And also, I wonder if this might be best handled by the “not only is it against company policy for me to enter into anything more than a professional relationship with you, my personal experience is that it never ends well and I do not ever do it.”?

    1. Llauren*

      My one objection to this would be that the behavior would continue, the harasser would not be called on to change his behavior. It would merely get transferred to another person, perhaps at another company or even the harasser’s own, and continue.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I actually don’t like going this route, because it doesn’t actually address the problem person, and it potentially impacts the OP’s employee, who shouldn’t have her job impacted because of this.

      1. Mookie*

        Right. Doing that identifies (implicitly) the employee as the problem and rewards the vendor. Isolating women because they’ve been harassed (or could be harassed, being women) limits their ability to network, do their job, build skills, identify mentors, and work towards promotion. Vendors and employees who harass other people should have their wings clipped, however briefly, to, firstly, prevent them from doing any more damage and, secondly, to signal to everyone in the company that the employer supports equality and comes down hard on discrimination.

  9. Employment Lawyer*

    You have an obligation to prevent harassment. This may or may not be harassment. But you almost certainly need to treat it as if it is.

    Legally you probably need to run this through your company’s sexual harassment policy. Failing to do so can get the OP in trouble.

    Practically it may or may not be that bad. Asking someone out is pretty common. Especially someone who seems friendly. And in that vein, nonsexual (no unclothed pics) solicitations from a non-employee aren’t necessarily harassing–especially if it’s met with “not this weekend, sorry” as opposed to “look, I’m not interested, please don’t ask again.”

    Which is to say that practically, the uncomfortable reality is that the employee may not have declined clearly enough.

    If your employee can’t take dealing with this guy, you can’t ask her to help (which is why you’re legally obliged to use the company policy; this isn’t your call.) But if I take off my lawyer hat then practically, AAM’s suggestion is spot-on: Support your employee in making it crystal clear that you do not blame her, and that she should (if she can) take a very firm “do not ask again” stance. Give your employee that in writing. Once she does, THEN, if the guy ignores that, you can call his manager and chances are he’ll be fired.

    But unfortunately the legal position is much stricter than that.

    1. LBK*

      I’m curious about the fact that you mentioned the harassment policy – is a company legally bound to its harassment policy, such that it would supercede the legal defintion of harassment if it’s broader?

      1. neverjaunty*

        Companies can’t make law through their own policies. But if a company isn’t following its own policy, that can be suggestive of whether or not it actually takes action to prevent and stop harassment.

        1. bridget*

          Companies can create contracts with their employees through policies, and if they don’t follow through with them and the employee is damaged, there could potentially be a breach of that contract that’s actionable.

          However, there’s an easy way for a company to protect itself from contract claims from violating internal policies, and that is to make it very clear and conspicuous (with bold lettering, all caps, underlining, etc.) in the employee handbook that the policies therein do not constitute a contract and they explicitly reserve the right to do something different, in the company’s sole discretion. If the company had an employment lawyer involved in any way with the writing of the policy manual, it will almost certainly have this language.

          1. neverjaunty*

            ….which can bite the company later if it claims that the employee breached an agreement by not following something in the handbook, but this is kind of a digression. An employer’s sexual harassment policy doesn’t supersede existing law. If there were a harassment claim, a court would not say “well, normally you need to show this is severe and pervasive, but since the employee handbook says they can take immediate disciplinary action we’ll use a ‘one time’ standard.”

  10. GS*

    When I worked at a non-profit, one of the things I was constantly told was to make a personal relationship with our funders, as doing so would make them less likely to cut our funding in the future (or so they thought). I pretty much agree with everything else that was said in the comments; it’s also possible the invitations for drinks or dinner may not necessarily be a creeper but just a misguided attempt to solidify future funding. Either way, the appropriate response is that she wants to keep this relationship strictly professional. In fact, it may even be worth coming up with a policy (if not informal) regarding interactions between your sponsorship staff and the staff at your beneficiaries. That way she (and anyone else in the future) can point to policy AND reduce the chances of an actual or perceived conflict of interest.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      I think that there are three different things here that might have been compressed into two at your last job. (1) relationships that are purely professional/formal where you really just talk about work (2) professional relationships where you get to know someone on a somewhat personal level – you talk about your family, maybe have drinks after work, maybe even meet up at a yoga class or something and (3) personal relationships that start to look like close friendships. You go to the movies, invite them over to your house to hang out, call the person when you’ve had a bad day, etc. (1) and (2) make sense as some thing you might do as a function of your job, but (3) isn’t something your employer should be telling you to do.

      1. GS*

        Oh, absolutely. The old non-profit, and another executive at another organization in the same building, really pressed us to become at least (2) friends, if not (3) friends, with our funders. It was one of many loyalty/boundary issues they had. So, I can see a scenario where someone asks people out to drinks, dinner, a class, etc. thinking they’re being friendly AND/OR helping their company at the same time, and either not understanding the awkward position it puts the sponsor-side employee, or how creepy/stalkerish it can appear after the 5th+ attempt.

        That said, OP made it clear above that this was definitely not work related, given the invitations on a weekend and such, so I don’t think my point necessarily applies to her situation. But if anyone else reads this: don’t try to force your employees to be friends with your funders/clients!

  11. spek*

    Whoa. Before you go contacting someone’s boss, more information is needed. So far, it’s unclear whether this is harassment yet. The worker claims the attention is undesired. Has she made that clear to the point of contact yet? As far as he knows, he has asked her out a few times. If she has been vague or not particularly discouraging when she declines, how is he supposed to know the attention is undesired? From his point of view, they don’t work for the same company and he isn’t asking a subordinate or from a position of power, so if she claims to be busy or tired or whatever, he may not think anything is amiss. This whole thing may be able to be cleared up by her just telling him nicely but firmly that she needs to keep the relationship professional. It may be she has done this already, but as her boss, you might want to be sure before you start contacting the guy’s boss and using potentially career-killer words like “harassment”.

    1. fposte*

      Are you responding to Alison? Because she pretty clearly lays out the steps to take before escalating to his boss.

    2. LBK*

      I think this makes the rejection too black and white. In any situation there’s reasons to be vague about rejection instead of direct (fear of response, fear of escalation, thinking it’s kinder to not say directly to someone’s face “I don’t like you”, etc) and those reasons are only compounded by the fact that this is a work relationship so she doesn’t really have the option of just never speaking to him again if things go south.

      He’s the one initiating a potentially bad situation by asking out a work colleague; it’s on him to be super sensitive to hints like the fact that she’s turned down multiple invites and respect that there are important considerations to be made about her career (on top of the fact that she’s not obligated to go out with him anyway).

      I agree that there’s other ways to address it besides jumping to a harassment claim, but I think it’s a bit naive to assume the guy is totally innocent in this scenario. At the very least he’s strongly lacking in self-awareness and awareness of professional norms, and that’s more of a career killer than anything – if he makes a habit of asking out women he works with, he’s pretty much begging for his career to get killed at some point.

      1. fposte*

        There’s so much good work done about the fact that men do recognize the soft “no” and just choose to ignore it, and I’m with you that the guy has an obligation to consider if his attentions are welcome or not–it doesn’t default to “pursuit okay” absent a written statement that she will never date him and he needs to stop.

        But I think there’s something to be said for a higher up helping to lay out templates for a company line in turn-downs. Here’s guidance if you want it; here’s a procedural checklist to follow for an on-the-record refusal and for keeping the company in the loop.

        Given how massively widespread this situation is–people, especially women, in positions where they have to serve and tend to a customer and where a social “no” feels like it could hurt their jobs–I’m kind of surprised there hasn’t been more work to create such templates, now that I think about it. One reason why people find this so distressing is that it often feels like an isolated outlier incident, and of course it’s not. Maybe it should be part of basic safety and deportment discussions as a standard thing you’re likely to encounter on the job in a lot of fields.

        1. LBK*

          That’s a good point – especially in roles that interact with a wide variety of people like call centers or customer service, it’s interesting that there’s a lot of training about how to handle work-related conversations/escalations but not how to deal with someone who takes things off the rails.

          1. fposte*

            I know–I thought “I’ll write that! Oh, no, actually I won’t.” But it suddenly seemed obvious to me that it was a weird thing *not* to have a guideline for, because it’s so pervasive.

    3. S*

      “Whoa. Before you go contacting someone’s boss, more information is needed. So far, it’s unclear whether this is harassment yet. The worker claims the attention is undesired. Has she made that clear to the point of contact yet? As far as he knows, he has asked her out a few times. If she has been vague or not particularly discouraging when she declines, how is he supposed to know the attention is undesired? From his point of view, they don’t work for the same company and he isn’t asking a subordinate or from a position of power, so if she claims to be busy or tired or whatever, he may not think anything is amiss”

      But he’s asked her several times, and she’s said no. Even if she’s said she’s busy or tired, she’s still said no, because if she’d said yes, they’d have had dinner by now. And if if somebody says no to hanging out twice, it’s time to let them initiate. She knows he’s interested and she knows how to find him if she changes her mind. If he thinks she hasn’t told him no, it’s because he’s not listening.

      1. spek*

        “Several” can mean as few as three. While, personally, I would consider one or two rejections a limit, three might not be unreasonable depending on context and how soft her rejections are. Look, I am not saying this guy is not a creep or he may have trouble with social boundaries – maybe he has asked 7 or 8 times. I just point out to the original poster that before contacting the guy’s boss and using a charged word like “harassment”, he should be certain of the situation. Alison’s original advice was a bit more measured and reasonable.

    4. Mookie*

      It’s weird. You’re hyperskeptical about what the OP’s employee says and the correspondence between them the OP has read, but willing to speculate, generously, about the vendor’s good intentions. Weird.

  12. spek*

    NO, but some replies here have suggested immediately escalating this to a point that isn’t justified by the facts laid out in the original post.

  13. AdAgencyChick*

    Thank you, OP, for wanting to have your employee’s back here. I was in your employee’s shoes once, when I was in my mid-twenties and not as sure of myself in terms of what I would do as I would be if it happened now, and I wish my company’s response had been better. A client made some suggestive comments to me, and also “jokingly” asked me to dinner (he actually said to me, “If I got [CEO’s name] to give you a raise, would you have dinner with me?”). Because clients control a lot of dollars of business, my company just shrugged it off. Finally my boss (a woman) noticed that I was still uncomfortable with the situation, and said she would talk to the head of accounts to see whether they could do something about it, but then that guy moved onto a different brand and my company didn’t have to do anything, which I could tell relieved them.

    I wish my boss had had the cojones to go to the head of accounts earlier and say that the situation had to end. I realize that ending the situation might have meant moving ME onto a different account, because although the client behavior was obnoxious, we can’t control him. But I still think it should have been stopped. This particular client had a female supervisor whom I think would not have been happy if she had been told that he was doing this.

    Anyway, if this is a client or someone else who cannot be told bluntly to knock it off, remember that if you don’t have the power to make him go away, if you have the power to make the *problem* go away, that can be just as good from your employee’s perspective, even if it’s not as satisfying or true justice the way making him stop or getting his boss to make him stop is.

  14. Alma*

    It makes sense to me for the OP’s employee to let someone they trust know where they are going, that she is in her own car (or not), and what time she expects to check in on her way home.

    If Trusted Person does not hear from the employee within 10 minutes of that time, TP should call OP immediately.

    1. fposte*

      If the employee wants to, sure; heck, if anybody wants to, sure. But I don’t think it’s because this situation suggests that this is a reasonable level of caution to take. It sucks that what’s being described is a normal and common occurrence, but nonetheless that’s what it is.

      1. Observer*

        I have to agree that what the OP describes really doesn’t sound like it rises to that level of danger.

  15. Dasha*

    OP thank you for being a good boss and caring. Sometimes it can be very awkward and uncomfortable dealing with these sorts of things and I’m glad you recognize that.

  16. Not So NewReader*

    Thanks for being a good boss, OP.

    The only thing I can add here is the power of stories. When you are talking to your employee if you can come up with one or two brief stories, you can sometimes get your points across more effectively.
    If you have a story of how these things are handled in your company, that would be a good story. Don’t use names. Tell enough of the story so the employee can see what the problem was but don’t dwell on what went wrong. Cut to the problem solving part. Use the story to show how things get handled and to give a general idea of how it plays out in the end.
    It could be that years ago you had a boss that you admired a lot. You suddenly remember a story about what he did in a similar situation. You can talk about how you feel it is important to have a safe work environment and this former boss showed you how to work on that.

    Lastly, when all is said and done tell your employee that if someone confides in her that they are having difficulty she should encourage them to come to you. I have done this with employees. They came to me with a private matter and when we were done with the matter, I let them know that they will hear about things before I did. They should encourage the person to come to me.

  17. Kylynara*

    I’ve got to add to the positive pile on and say it’s great you have your employee’s back. It shouldn’t be, it should be normal, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Even better, in my book, you noticed the issue independently and are taking steps to show her you have her back. (Asking what steps to take is a completely valid first step.)

  18. Captain Obvious Lee*

    This is something I keep seeing and it makes my blood boil. I see people questioning a woman’s request for HELP by second guessing her clearly documented REPETITIVE problems with this jerk. “Is she sure”, “don’t contact his boss yet”, oh come on! It’s obvious to me reading it the FIRST time through the man is being unprofessional period. Enough is enough. Do I need to state NO means NO means NO… It doesn’t mean “You didn’t ask the right way that makes a silly girl finally say yes”.

    Why do people continue to force gender stereotypes instead of giving someone the right to be heard without absurd personal bias by focusing on the problem? It is really that hard to listen to someone present a CLEARLY DEFINED problem and then work to find a realistic solution that in no way panders to the offender? Are people still this blind today?

    It has gotten so bad at some work places I’m seeing interesting reviews on websites about “pervert loving company”, “grope fest” , and yes some women have flat out stated on some company reviews that in order to get ahead one must “give-you-know-what”. I’m looking for a career change and yet when I look up a company and see these kinds of things on company reviews does anyone really need to question a victim of sexual harassment while being dumb enough to consider applying to such corporations? After having made my review of a company I am working at or have left I want to make sure others know what kind of company culture they will deal with in a way that isn’t painted over by the company’s PR department. Depending upon your work contract employees currently working there may not be allowed to discuss what an abysmally managed company they work for is really like.

    Wake up and smell what’s brewing in those tea pots people. Companies can’t really continue to protect sexual predators without risking the death of a decent reputation. I refuse to shop at certain companies and am boycotting Disney, ILM, Pixar (they are owned by Disney now), Sony, HP, Apple, and others because of what they’ve done to American employees. It may be off topic but we live in a world where it’s easier than ever to change vendors and still get quality service/products without lining the pockets of creeps.

    I feel for the OP and her employee because it’s clear to me some people aren’t listening/comprehending what is clearly being stated. I wish there were more managers like this poster and it pains me to see so many people trying to soften the blow to the offender. If he’s an adult male then one NO was enough period.

Comments are closed.