my boss made a pass at my coworker, asking to be invited to a work party, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss made a pass at my coworker, who now wants to “take him down”

I work for a small tech company with about 13 employees. We have a lot of organizational issues, and we’re in the middle of a major restructuring. This requires me to work a lot with my boss, who is a man, alone.

Recently while out for lunch with another employee, she let me know that she went out bar-hopping with my boss, and while they were out he kissed her and begged her to leave her spouse. My boss is married, with two kids, and to make matters more complicated, his wife is the co-founder of our company. His wife also functions as our HR department.

I feel super uncomfortable knowing this information. I don’t want to be involved in any way, but my coworker won’t drop it. She refuses to quit, and talks constantly about “taking down my boss.” I also feel really weird working alone with my boss. I know what he did was wrong, and I can’t respect him for his behavior.

I really like my job, and I don’t want to quit. Morale has been low lately at in my office, but I’m content. I also have only been in my position for a few months, and it’s my big break into the industry I want to work in. Should I tell my coworker to report this? If not, how can I ask her to stop talking about it with me? Should I get out now?

Yes, you can ask her to stop talking to you about it and you can encourage her to report it if that’s what she wants to do. You could say something like, “Jane, I’m really uncomfortable continuing to hear about this. I strongly support you in reporting this if that’s something you want to do, but I don’t feel comfortable being a sounding board about taking anyone down.”

Interestingly, sexual harassment laws may not even come into play here, since federal harassment laws only apply to employers with 15 or more employees. However, many small companies are still quite invested in stopping harassment, and if your boss isn’t the owner — if he reports to someone above him — your coworker could report what happened to that person. (Clearly the HR department in this case — the dude’s wife — would be a tough place to report.)

As for whether you should get out, that’s a call only you can make. If you like your job, I don’t think there’s a moral imperative to quit because of this situation, but it really comes down to how you feel about the whole thing.

2. Asking to be invited to a work party

I’ve worked at a nonprofit for a little over two years, where I manage our sizeable group of volunteers. In addition to giving generously of their time, many of them also make significant financial contributions to our organization. Each year, the organization throws a holiday party for high-level donors. Only a handful of senior staff (mostly directors and fundraisers) are invited to the party. I’m not one of the few staff on the invitation list, which has never bothered me.

Until this year. Several volunteers contacted me in the week leading up to the party with questions (what to wear, where to park, etc), and I helped them as best I could and told them to have fun. There were a few times where I had to say something along the lines of “I don’t know, as this isn’t an event that I’m involved in, but here’s who you should talk to.” In the days after the party, quite a few volunteers mentioned that they missed seeing me there or that they looked for me there. It feels really awkward to say “I’m not a senior enough staff person to be invited to that event.”

I would estimate that about 80 of the volunteers who I serve as the direct contact for were invited to/attended this party. Not being invited really doesn’t bother me personally, but what does bother me is the possible perception that I skipped out on an event that I should have been at. Since I have such a close relationship with so many of our donors/volunteers, would it be reasonable for me to ask to be included in this event next year? I’m not really sure when or how to broach that conversation.

Yes. This isn’t like asking for an invitation to a social event that you were left out of; this is pointing out that it may make sense for your job and be beneficial to your organization for you to attend a work event. I would say this: “A number of volunteers told me after the party that they missed seeing me there or were trying to find me there. It made me think that it might make sense for the person in my role to attend the event next year, since I have so much contact with this group throughout the year. Is that something you’d be open to?”

3. Discouraging alumni from applying to my company

I’ve been working for the same company for four years, and it’s gone through a massive culture shift. When I first joined, everyone was super friendly and welcoming; people would host happy hours and fun events, everyone had a “work hard play hard” mentality, and we got a lot done but also genuinely enjoyed each others’ company.

However, after several reorganizations, new management, and a lot of people leaving, the culture is now competitive and cut-throat. Managers play favorites and there are these gross little “cliques” that are totally encouraged by directors. There are still some happy hours, but they’re a lot more exclusive now. I’m sure it’s fine if you’re in that inner circle, but not a lot of people are, and it seems pretty random who’s in and who’s not. (Some of the really tenured people are in and others aren’t; some new people are in and others are shunned; one of the least productive guys I know is always invited to sports games and other fun events; etc. – you get the idea.)

Unfortunately, this company is pretty well-known and still has the old reputation of being a great place to work. I went to a really small college and a few students who are about to graduate have reached out to me to ask about working there and my experience. I’ve sent all of them fairly candid letters back, telling them that I can’t write them a recommendation in good faith and suggest that they apply elsewhere. (I used to refer lots of fellow alums in, but they were constantly passed over for people who went to the same schools as the managers – usually “name brand” schools.)

I talked to my mom about this and she said that I could get in a lot of trouble if this ever got back to the managers. I told her that I’m just answering their question – they asked about my experience working there, and I’m telling them honestly that it’s not good. Could I actually get in trouble for this if any of those students did apply and told someone what I’ve said?

Yes, especially because you’re putting it in writing. If it ever somehow made it back to your employer, at a minimum it would really impact your standing there — and possibly worse.

You’re right to want to share your experiences with fellow alumni, but don’t do it like this. Instead, say something like, “Before you move forward with your application, I’d be glad to talk to you about my experiences here. Do you have time to jump on the phone?” Then, on the phone, it’s fine to share your impressions. Even then, though, you should try to be as objective as possible, and your framing should be “let me tell you what I’ve found to be the downsides” more than “don’t apply here.” Different people have different thresholds for the sort of problems you described, and some people may be happy to have their eyes open but still be willing to work there.

4. My company will fire me if I don’t accept a demotion to my old job

I work for a media agency and have been told by my manager that I do not having the necessary skills for my current job. But instead of firing me, they are giving me another option. It is getting back to my old job that I did several years back but which had been offshored to the Philippines. I will be reporting to the manager who is based out of the Philippines. The reason they want me is because they feel that they need someone locally since offshoring doesn’t work in some situations.

It looks like that the company is doing me a favor by giving me an option to keep a job within the company and if I don’t pick this opportunity, I will be fired. I just feel the whole situation is awkward because I am going backwards to step one of my career and secondly, I am much more senior than my manager in terms of skills and experience and also make much more than the manager in the Philippines. But I do love my old job and am very good at it and see there could be something positive, and after all the other option is being fired. But is this a wise decision or career suicide?

Without knowing more, I don’t know. It’s not inherently bad to go back to an old job, to have more experience than your manager, or even to make more than your manager (it’s very normal for U.S. salaries to be different than salaries in the Philippines because there’s a significant cost of living difference). But if this is a job you’d outgrown or work that you’d hoped to leave behind, then yes, it would be a step backwards and not necessarily a smart choice, depending on what other options you have. That last part is a critical detail here — you’d want to have a good sense of what other options are out there for you before figuring out if your old job is a smart choice for you or not.

5. Can I ask about salary in informational interviews?

I am in the process of setting up a number of informational interviews. These are true informational interviews in that I am not attempting to use them as a back door to getting a job (or at least not a job with that employer). I am graduating law school and moving to a new state to start practicing, and between the new career and the new geographic location, it’s hard to pin down what to expect (and therefore what to negotiate for) in terms of salaries.

Is it appropriate to ask attorneys about salary in informational interviews? If so, is it appropriate to ask about what that particular firm/office/company generally pays entry-level applicants, or is it only appropriate to ask about generalized salary ranges for the area? I would like to leave these interviews armed with the best info for my job search, but I don’t want to offend or alienate these potentially important contacts.

Yes, you can ask about salary! I wouldn’t ask “what do you make?” since most people consider that private, but it’s absolutely appropriate to ask about salary ranges for the work you’re interested in, as well as what salaries at that particular company usually look like for entry-level hires.

{ 239 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager Post author

    1:50 p.m. EST Friday: I took the rare step of closing comments on this post because I’m not cool with the victim-blaming that’s going on in some of the discussion and by the time I saw it, it was already too far gone for me to attempt to moderate it.

  2. MK

    #2, I must say I disagree with Alison. Why is it awkward to say you are not senior enough, when that is actually the truth? Why can’t the OP simply state what she says in her letter, that only directors and fundraisers attend the event? To me it would come across as the OP demanding that policy around this event is changed so that she can appear as more senior than she actually is to her reports.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I think it’s awkward because she’s the one who manages these volunteers. If her organization declines her request, though, then yeah, I’d agree that simply explaining that only directors and fundraisers attend the event would be the way to go, and that’s not a huge deal. But there’s nothing wrong with asking, and I don’t think it’ll come across as trying to appear more senior than she is.

      1. nofelix

        Hopefully the event has a purpose related to the function of the org, and therefore inviting any staff who can assist that function should be considered. Or… it might just be to make directors feel nice and swan about showing off their status, but there’s no reason to assume bad faith off the bat.

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

          Since the OP states that this a high-end donor event, it would seem the purpose is to thank/steward donors for their significant financial contributions.

          It’s quite common in non-profits to have your circle of volunteers overlap with your circle of largest donors, and it seems like in this case the volunteer manager is being asked about her attendance by the people in the overlap area.

          Typically these types of parties have a hefty price per person cost (whether the org or the host covers it) so staff invitations are often limited. Donors like access to directors and higher-ups, because it provides them with more “insider access.” The fundraising staff is there because stewardship and solicitation are part of their job (and they are likely the team managing the event).

      2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

        If I were OP#2’s boss, I would want to know about this. It often makes financial sense not to invite every single staff member to these kinds of events – there is normally a per-person charge, and it can be hard to justify spending hundreds or event thousands of dollars bringing more staff than are needed. It’s pretty normal to include only senior people, not because they are more important, per se, but because they are more likely to know how to work a room at these types of events and to feel comfortable interacting with donors. Not that some other staff can’t do that, but if you can’t take everyone it makes sense to choose the senior folks.

        However, it sounds like OP needs to be at this event – volunteers/donors are hoping to see her there, and she may be the one who has the closest relationship with them. It’s very possible that her boss isn’t even aware of this dynamic and would appreciate knowing.

        I’ll also add that, depending on how many of these things the organization does, the senior staff may see this as an obligation vs. a privilege. While it’s probably not agonizing to stand around drinking wine and eating appetizers, they are away from their families and personal obligations for the night. When you do this stuff all the time, it’s just not that exciting. Along those lines, I feel better about asking my senior people – who get paid more – to do these evening things as part of their job.

        1. hbc

          Ha, yes, in that sense it’s like work travel. It sounds so nice and glamorous, and it’s great as a one-off, but the people who do it regularly mostly don’t enjoy it. My sightseeing during my first trip to Puerto Rico involved whatever I could see from my hotel room window and the shuttle ride from and to the airport. Whee.

        2. KarenD

          I agree.

          Also, there’s a difference between GOING to a party as a guest and WORKING a party. In the latter role, you are not there to have fun and socialize with your friends; you’re networking, keeping an eye out for someone who might not be having a good time so you can draw them into a conversational group, even fetching drinks or nibbles for someone who might be mobility impaired. Basically, keeping a quiet eye out for things that need to be done, and doing them. Absolutely no alcohol; my general trick was to get a highball glass with cola or ginger ale (something that looked like it could be a mixed drink) and carry it around all evening. I rarely ate either, unless it was a sit-down dinner (and sometimes not even then, if there was stuff that needed doing while dinner was being served).

        3. MK

          Eh, I don’t really see that the OP “needs” to be at this party; after all, it’s been happenning for years and there hasn’t been a problem. And the volunteers didn’t complain about her absence, they just asked her information about it and said they missed seeing her there (which could have been just politeness).

          From what I can tell, the only issue is that the OP feels awkward saying she isn’t invited. There is no reason for any awkwardness, if she responds to any inquiries about it, both before and after, by casually saying that she is not involved with the event, as it’s for senior people only.

          1. Chalupa Batman

            That was my initial thought, but OP’s reasoning is that she doesn’t want to be perceived as ducking out on an event where people she works with frequently are shown appreciation, so I don’t see any harm in asking about it. Organizational vibes shift over time, and it seems like it’s possible that the volunteers/donors in this org are moving toward a vibe where her presence is a plus. It’s worth bringing to the table that the shift in expectations may be happening and let them decide if it makes sense to tweak the guest list.

          2. Hiring Mgr

            It seems that the OP is the one who is closest to the big donors and that they would want to see her there. So if the purpose of the event is to honor/thank the donors, why not invite the OP?

            There may or may not be a reason to exclude the OP, but it can’t hurt to ask if she feels it will help get the donors more engaged..

    2. Roscoe

      I agree. As someone who has worked at some non profits that make get some big money in, I completely get that some events are for senior staff only. It makes sense. I think having that blanket policy is actually better, because once you start making exceptions at these levels, then you may foster resentment among others who probably have a good claim for why they should be there as well. Thing is, volunteers, especially ones who are big donors, usually get this. Its pretty easy to say “This is an event for senior level staff, thats why I’m not going”. I don’t think they’d find that all that odd.

    3. OriginalEmma

      And why are any volunteers invited, when all staff members are not? Seems staff would be higher on the totem pole than volunteers.

      1. Velociraptor Attack

        The original post said that some of the volunteers overlap with the big donor circles. As such, they’re missing seeing her there because they know her from the volunteer aspect but they aren’t there as volunteers, they’re there as high level donors.

        Depending on the organization, it may not make sense for her to be there. We don’t know what percentage of the guest list is high level donors that volunteer, if it’s a relatively small number of people that are just used to seeing her because they volunteer but she has nothing to do with the fundraising aspect, it may not make sense for the bottom line to have her there. This is definitely a case by case basis.

  3. Mando Diao

    1) If your coworker won’t stop talking about it, tell her that unless she wants you to take the matter to HR for her, she needs to drop it around you. You don’t have to make any plans to go to the owner’s wife in reality, but sometimes you have to say something intense to get people to take you seriously.

    Personally, I’d start looking for a new job. The situation at work is about to get very messy. Your boss is an utter idiot for assuming that your coworker wouldn’t tell anyone what happened. Eventually someone WILL talk (your coworker won’t be the last woman he does this to, as he now feels sure he’ll away with it), and you don’t want to have known about this behavior the whole time. You also don’t want to find yourself in a situation where, if you see your boss honing in on a different woman, you aren’t sure if you should say something. Your boss feels safe treating his female employees a certain way because he thinks they’ll be too scared to run to his wife about it. The wife, as a co-founder, could blow up at the coworker and fire her. Your coworker did absolutely nothing wrong but is now possibly scared of losing her job if she speaks up against the man who crossed a major line. She may end up leaving the job anyway and losing income, all over something that 100% is not her fault. Do you want to work around that dynamic? Do you think it’s right to act like this never happened? At the very least, if your coworker leaves, she may be honest about the reason, which will leave the company both short-staffed AND potentially unable to operate at all, depending on how far the boss’ wife’s involvement extends. If you tell your coworker to stop venting to you, she’s probably going to turn around the spill the beans to someone else. I’ve mentioned this before and it’s not a popular train of thought, but I’ve seen stuff like this go down a lot in small businesses. The family overlap plus the male boss going too far with a female employee, with a hint of unspoken blackmail…I’ve seen countless variations of this, and it never works out well. This isn’t going to blow over, and my personal, non-work gut reaction is that I don’t want to be the kind of woman who turns a blind eye to a male boss who pulls this kind of BS on the women who work for him.

    3) I’d say something like, “Frankly, I might be moving on soon. The team that I loved so much in the beginning is no longer here. It’s only a preference, and your impressions may be different, but I want to be honest with you.” Give them honest pros and cons, but take yourself off the table as someone who can give recommendations. If possible, bring up the names of people or projects that contributed to the company’s good reputation and find a gentle way to make it clear that those people/projects are no longer part of the company.

    1. Colette

      I disagree that the OP should make threats she’s not planning to follow through on. If she’s not going to report it (and it would be odd to report something she has no personal knowledge of), she should just ask the coworker to drop the subject.

        1. Oryx

          Fire her for what, though? Firing her for making a harassment claim and/or because it involved HR’s husband would be retaliation and HR would be in the wrong.

          1. Mike C.

            The laws don’t apply to that size of a company, and many would take it out on the “other woman” for “being distracting” or whatever. It’s gross, but it happens.

          2. Artemesia

            There is no need for a grounds to fire someone. You don’t mess with someone else’s job. What do you think the wife of the harasser is going to do in this situation? Probably no blame her husband for this hussy bothering him — after all she surely knows what she is married to.

            1. Oryx

              No, I know there is no need for grounds but if someone is fired shortly after making a sexual harassment charge, it could be viewed as retaliation.

    2. Omne

      To quote Twain: One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

      You realize most of the facts in your post aren’t in the letter don’t you?

  4. Jeanne

    For #1, how well do you know your coworker? Are you very sure she is telling you the truth? She could be seeking revenge for something different, like being disciplined at work. I do not support sexual harrassment but this story doesn’t sound right to me. You know your coworker and your boss so you know best if you can trust her. Just think it through carefully before making any big decisions like changing jobs. And I would definitely ask her to stop talking to you about it. She seems to be looking for a helper in her revenge plot and you don’t have a reason to help.

      1. Traveler

        Yes. I don’t want to blame the coworker if this was truly what happened – but I agree it sounds strange the way OP described it. More context (which OP might not have or want) would be helpful… at any rate though I still think I would agree with Alison’s advice.

      2. Ezri

        Same… I’m really hesitant to say it, but there’s a chance it isn’t even true. We don’t have enough information to say for sure, so OP has to weight 1) her relationship with her boss, 2) her relationship with the coworker and 3) whether she is really uncomfortable working with her boss now and the reasons why.

        Sexual harassment is absolutely A Big Deal and needs to be dealt with… but the description of events in OP’s letter seems a bit overblown. Coworker was out at bars with her boss, boss crossed a boundary one time, and now coworker is talking constantly about ‘taking him down’. Something about that attitude really bothers me – sexual harassment reports are supposed to be about ensuring a safe working environment for everyone, not vengeance.

        Ugh, I feel icky even saying that, because it feels like victim-blaming. Maybe there’s more going on that coworker isn’t telling OP, but regardless I think OP has to stay out of it. Even if the story is true, OP didn’t witness it and reporting on the basis of she-said probably wouldn’t get her very far even if HR wasn’t the guy’s wife. The coworker should really be the one to bring it up. As for whether OP should leave the job, that’s entirely her decision. If these allegations make her uncomfortable working for her boss, she is certainly free to move on. I don’t think we have enough information from the letter to make that judgment, though.

        1. Ezri

          Since I posted this before reading further down, just want to say – I wouldn’t have brought it up if I’d seen all the other responses first, since it seems like it’s derailing. I don’t think we should automatically assume OP’s coworker is lying, and I don’t think most of us are suggesting that. But letter’s account does seem like it’s missing some key pieces. The important thing is that OP believes her coworker, and we should work from there.

    1. Random Lurker

      +1. If this went down the way your coworker says, what a truly horrible situation for all. But based on the third hand account we are getting from the letter, it sounds…. odd. I don’t want to blame a potential victim, so I’ll leave it at that.

      Has your boss ever acted inappropriately towards you? Would you feel comfortable being alone with him if your coworker hadn’t involved you?

    2. AdAgencyChick

      +1. Maybe the part that feels a little off is that she’s coming to OP and saying “I want to take him down,” not “I need some advice, I don’t know what to do.”

      What a minefield!

      1. nofelix

        Well also kissing her and then asking her to leave her partner seems to come out of nowhere, although maybe that’s just for brevity in the letter. The actions of creepy guys never cease to amaze me, so it’s not improbable that this happened, but my credulity is stretched uncomfortably and so wouldn’t want to be involved.

        1. New Commenter

          It’s the focus on revenge that feels weird to me about this situation. I can’t imagine anyone reacting that way.

            1. Mike C.

              Given that she’s likely going to have to leave her job for another by the time this whole mess is over, I don’t see why financial compensation is out of the question.

            2. Liana

              Why wouldn’t she? If she was sexually assaulted by her boss and feels uncomfortable in that job (completely understandable, considering the boss’ wife heads up the HR department), I don’t see why a lawsuit is a bad thing. Sexual harassment laws are there for a reason, and it’s unreasonable to penalize people for utilizing them.

              1. Charityb

                Agreed. The only unreasonable part is the unnecessary dialogue with the LW about it. If you want to “take down” a sexual harasser in the workplace, that’s a good thing to do. But I wouldn’t talk endlessly about it with coworkers unless that coworker is (1) a friend who will commiserate or (2) someone who can help with the case. She shouldn’t make the LW an unwilling sounding board for practical as well as moral reasons.

          1. the gold digger

            A (married, my dad’s age) broker once kissed me – much to my surprise. However, he did not ask me to run away with him. (I had no husband to leave.)

            I took his biggest account from him. Felt good.

          2. Liana

            As someone who was sexually assaulted by a coworker, and then blamed by her boss for the whole situation, it’s not weird at all. There was a period of time where I wanted nothing BUT revenge for what was done to me. Different people will have different reactions to a situation, and their reaction doesn’t make the severity of the situation less valid.

            Frankly, this entire thread is gross and full of victim-blaming nonsense. Someone said she was assaulted, and people’s first response is to say she’s looking for a lawsuit, or not telling the truth, all because they don’t like her choice of wording? This is exactly the reason women are uncomfortable speaking up in the first place.

            1. Ham Sandwich

              It’s like many people in this thread have never seen an angry, vengeful woman before. Anger is an completely expected response to unwelcome sexual attention from your boss. Are women just supposed to cry and act passive to be believed?

              1. Liana

                It’s funny, when men get express anger or a desire for vengeance, it’s painted in a much different light – they’re “seeking justice” or “protecting their own”, and their anger is generally seen as much more sympathetic. But when women get angry, they’re crazy, demanding, or scheming. But if we’re too passive, then we’re allowing ourselves to be a victim, or some other nonsense. It’s an absurd double standard.

            2. themmases

              Thanks for saying this. I can’t believe we have a whole thread of people nitpicking someone’s reaction to being a victim of, at a minimum, sexual harassment by the co-founder of their company. Being angry is a totally valid response and in any case people don’t earn protection from harassment by reacting correctly or disqualify themselves by wanting revenge.

              Saying it feels “icky” doesn’t make it OK to go ahead and say it. If it “feels like victim blaming”, maybe that’s because it is.

              1. Ezri

                Honestly, I still stand by the majority of what I said (I worded the vengeance sentence really poorly, I’ll admit – anger is of course a natural response to assault, I’d just looped it in to a more general belief that vengeance isn’t a good reason to do things).

                The phrases you quoted were me trying to word it in such a way to avoid offending people, but it clearly didn’t work out. :/ Knowing that not everyone will agree with me doesn’t make my opinion wrong or invalid. I really don’t se how it’s victim blaming to say that we don’t have enough information as internet strangers on a third-hand situation to judge who did what. I never said for sure that it didn’t happen, just that OP had to make that judgment herself, which, judging from her response below, she did.

                I agree after the fact that it shouldn’t have gone beyond what OP put in the letter, which is that she believes it happened. Not because it 100% did, but because we are supposed to take the letter writer at face value.

                1. A Cita

                  we don’t have enough information as internet strangers on a third-hand situation to judge who did what.

                  But we weren’t asked to judge who did what. Alison was asked how the OP could ask the coworker to stop engaging her on the topic.

                  The fact that people are trying to judge who did what is the very premise of victim blaming.

                2. Oryx

                  But like A Cita said, it’s not our job to judge who did what and by even attempting to it crosses the line into victim blaming.

            3. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon

              Particularly as it isn’t even her choice of wording – it’s her co-worker’s. I don’t disbelieve OP that that’s what she said, but it’s clearly a conversation which has been paraphrased and shortened. I agree that the way OP has relayed it has left out significant details and makes it sound minimised. But judging the truth of it wasn’t the point of the letter so OP’s entitled to, and judging the truth of what the coworker says happened isn’t the point either.

            4. AMT

              +1. People’s reactions to sexual assault aren’t always readily understandable. I can absolutely understand a victim feeling vengeful. Her personal and professional life has suffered as a result of her boss’s creepiness. Why shouldn’t she feel vengeful?

            5. Chewbacca kills Dumbledore

              Agreed!

              If any of my male coworkers kissed me in a bar, I’d be pretty mad. Married? I’d be furious! I was mad when a guy I went on a date with and made out with turned out to be married. When someone does this to you, there’s usually a part of you that does want revenge.

              Sure, maybe she does want a lawsuit, maybe she’s just looking to make trouble, there are always possibilities. But to jump to that conclusion is very problematic. His job isn’t in our hands, there’s no need for us to assume she’s lying in order to protect him from fallout.

              Also, the people saying she was “asking for it” because she was in a bar with him? Go to hell.

            6. Ragnelle

              Thanks, Liana, for so eloquently stating what was making me feel itchy about this conversation. People’s reactions to stressful, traumatic situations often don’t make “rational sense,” especially to outside observers. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t believe them. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment expressed above that people shouldn’t have to earn sympathy or even belief by reacting “appropriately.”

              OP 1, you don’t have to take any action on this situation if you don’t want to, but please believe your coworker. I’d recommend having a conversation with her. Tell her you are sorry that she was hurt. And then draw whatever boundaries you need to draw. Maybe something along the lines of: “What happened to you was terrible. I understand why you are angry. I really encourage you to talk to someone–a therapist, a lawyer, someone who can give you better advice about what to do next than I can. I want to support you, but I’m not comfortable having the same conversation with you multiple times about ‘taking boss down,’ and I can’t do anything to help you with that. I could do x, y, or z” (where x, y, and z are things like serve as a recommendation while you job search, help you with your resume, help you find a free legal consult or therapist, whatever you’d feel comfortable doing).

              Finally, document any inappropriate behavior from your boss. Not to share with your coworker or anything, but in case some sort of investigation does occur. I know you like your job, but work is going to be difficult if you don’t respect or trust your boss. Coming to grips with that and learning how to continue in this situation will take some time if you choose to stay.

          3. The Strand

            I can. If someone came onto you in a way that made you feel threatened, like they were using their power against you – this is, so to speak, the guy who signs her paychecks and those paychecks keep a roof over her head – isn’t it possible your reaction would involve anger and vengefulness, not simply fear or revulsion? *Especially* if someone has previously taken advantage of you, and you unconsciously associate the same feeling of powerlessness you had then with now.

            I work with a couple of people who I think would have that kind of reaction. They are not bad people, but they have been put upon by others before and are more sensitive to being mistreated.

          4. Sarahnova

            It doesn’t feel weird to me at all.

            Of course I want revenge on my bastard of a former boss who sexually assaulted me. OF COURSE I DO. He did a horrible, traumatising thing to me that changed my life forever. My thoughts about what I would do, given the chance, are not pretty.

            Now on top of everything, if I report it, I have to have only the purest motives of protecting others? What a ludicrously high and unfair bar to set for victims.

          5. Elizabeth West

            Me too. If my boss were a guy and this happened to me, I would probably assume it was the liquor talking and tell him, “No freaking way, dude; back off,” and that would be the end of it. Not that I would be bar-hopping with my boss in the first place, but if for some reason we were at a function or something, I could see having a drink or two.

            But it’s weird to have this strong a reaction to just this one incident. I think we’re missing something, and the OP may not know either.

            1. Liana

              No. It’s not weird. You don’t know what’s in this coworker’s past, whether she’s been in a similar situation before or whether her boss has made her feel uncomfortable in the past. Even if this was a one-time isolated incident, a single event can be life-changing and have profound effects on a person’s emotional health. It’s also not up to us to police her reaction.

              1. Case of the Mondays

                What’s interesting though is when we start talking about legal cases, what is and isn’t harassment, what damages are compensable, the legal standard is reasonableness. What would a reasonable person do and feel.

          6. Just Another Techie

            IDK. If someone did that to me, damn straight I’d want to ruin him. But I’m senior enough, and confident enough in my skills and ability to land on my feet in some other job, that I’d be willing to take that risk.

          7. Observer

            That’s one of the biggest mistakes that get made in these situations.

            I agree that there are a lot of unanswered questions, but the fact that she’s looking for revenge is not off at all, even though I know that a lot of women would not react that way. And, in general “I can’t imagine reacting that way” or any variant thereof is very, very poor grounds to decide that someone may be faking. This is especially true for something that is far out of one’s personal experience.

            So, while we don’t really know what happened here, I think that the people who are saying that the co-worker’s response indicates something “suspicious” are simply incorrect. Which makes the whole conversation doubly inappropriate.

        2. SystemsLady

          FWIW that’s definitely a feeling I’d potentially have, not even in the lawsuit way but the “out the heck out of that jerk and get him fired” way. It was my reaction to hearing a bunch of contractors on a site I was working on stopped working for a long period of time, outside the break period, to stand on the ground and gawk at a female contractor who was leaning over to work on the upper level. Though the fact that these very contractors were delaying my part of the work on a constant basis also played into that.

          I really don’t think it’s necessary to go into this – whatever happened the OP really doesn’t have to get involved, and in this particular case I’d almost say they shouldn’t.

      2. Oh no not again

        Yeah, that’s why I’m hesitant to believe it. Doesn’t matter, though. If I was the OP, I’d tell the coworker that I’m not comfortable being involved (even conversation) in something that doesn’t involve me. End of. OP isn’t obligated to do anything about it.

        1. Oh no not again

          OP clarified below and believes her coworker. Still doesn’t change my feelings of not getting involved. The OP isn’t the one who can do anything about it. She can’t guarantee her coworker won’t lose her job if she tells HR. All she can do is be a friend if she wants—thats up to her….or leave her job.

    3. The Other Dawn

      I was thinking the same thing. The fact that she wants to “take the boss down” just seems odd to me. I think the OP needs to just tell the coworker to stop talking about it to her and tell her to report it.

      1. Mike C.

        Why does it seem so odd? Wouldn’t you be upset if someone with economic power over you decided to start making out with you and demanding that you leave your spouse?

        1. A Cita

          No only that, but imagine your boss is the owner, the HR lead is his wife, and the company is too small to be held accountable via a lawsuit. Talk about compounding the feelings of powerlessness on top of the feelings of rage. I would guess this probably feels like the only recourse she has. I’d be seriously angry as well. All this victim blaming and reaction policing, especially as gendered as it seems, is so gross and so surprising on this site. It’s also showing some unconscious bias we still have and need to work on.

        2. Oh no not again

          I’d be upset, but that’s not what I’d say. My guess is that everyone responding here is coming at this from different life perspectives–Im a passive woman, so that kind of reaction doesn’t occur to me. I’ve had people in my life who react that way who lie and manipulate. Its not fair of me to assume, I realize that. Perhaps others are knee-jerking for similar reasons.

    4. Mike C.

      I’m really not comfortable questioning this account as out of hand without further information. That feels really gross to me.

      Also, I’d feel the same way if some manager of mine came on to me like that and explicitly wanted me to leave my wife. That’s incredibly messed up.

      1. Liana

        Thank you for saying this. This whole thread is really disappointing, and it’s ridiculous that people’s first line of thinking is to question the woman’s honesty.

    5. BuildMeUp

      Wow, I disagree with just about everyone in this thread. Is “wanting revenge” a healthy response to your boss sexually harassing you? Of course not. But plenty of people have unhealthy responses to all kinds of things; I don’t see how that’s a sign that she might be making it up.

      Her other options seem to be to quit (losing her job over something that isn’t her fault), talk to HR (not really an option), or stay and risk the boss doing it again. The boss has 0 consequences in each of those scenarios; I can see an angry, betrayed employee deciding that “taking him down” is the only option that will have consequences for him. Again, not saying it’s right, but this response doesn’t read as an indicator that she’s lying to me.

      1. Ham Sandwich

        Well-said. Fairness is important to people and OP’s coworker is seeing how obviously unfair this situation is for her. When there’s no real solution, sometimes you just want to wreck things because you feel like that’s your only option (other than giving up, which sucks). Also, some of us just have that avenging impulse more than others.

      2. Artemesia

        I don’t see it as an ‘unhealthy’ response. Seems pretty normal and healthy to me; someone does you wrong, why isn’t hurting them a ‘healthy’ response, compared say to just taking it.

        1. BuildMeUp

          Maybe “unhealthy” isn’t the best word, but I can’t imagine how the rest of my comment could be interpret as me wanting her to “just take it.”

      3. Sarahnova

        I want to strongly quibble the idea that wanting revenge is “not a healthy response”. It’s a very healthy one. Most people start by blaming themselves. Getting to the point of being righteously pissed off is a really important part of healing.

        I really did not expect this community to be trotting out so many victim-blaming tropes today.

        1. Han is a figment of Luke's imagination

          Right. If someone hurts me, I want to hurt them back, or at least make sure they suffer consequences for what they did to me. If anything, brushing it off and hoping they get away with it is an unhealthy response.

    6. Becky B

      +1 Because I had the same thought! Stuff happens in offices because we’re thrown together for 40+ hours a week. Lines get fuzzed over all the time. So what pinged on my jaded consciousness is that this was not the first time this coworker has had an encounter with this boss–and that it was, until now, willing. Or that she isn’t as surprised as she seems to be by his declaration of true love. That jump to revenge was just a bit…excessive.

      But I wasn’t there, and I shouldn’t legislate how other people react despite all my own red flags popping up (I tell myself this a lot).

      So as others have said, it’s a brief letter and I could be reading way too much into it based on my own anecdotal experiences. Nthing all the “OP, just stay far away from this” suggestions.

      1. Ragnelle

        I have been asked to leave my husband a handful of times by men who didn’t assault me. It doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility to me for a guy to make this kind of declaration out of the blue. It’s part-and-parcel of every creepy dude’s arsenal, for some reason.

    7. TL -

      Can we do as we always try to do and take the LW at her word? If she had doubts about the co-worker’s story, she would have included them in the letter.

      Given that she knows her co-worker best, if she believes the story, we should believe the story and address the situation as is, rather than playing a (somewhat gross) game of what-if.

      1. Artemesia

        This isn’t about believing the OP as the OP is not privy to the event. It is a caution to the OP to not get actively involved beyond supporting the co=worker in complaining or whatever. The OP doesn’t know what happened. The OP needs to stay well clear of this.

        1. TL -

          It is about believing the OP. The OP asked about a specific situation; we should believe her story and address the situation she asks about.

      2. Stranger than fiction

        But what’s wrong with looking at it from all angles? That too is what we do here. And, that’s what would happen in a court of law if it gets to that.

        1. TL -

          First, this isn’t a court of law.
          Second, we’ve been requested in multiple other threads to assume truth on the side of the OP and address the issue at hand.

      3. Ask a Manager Post author

        Given that she knows her co-worker best, if she believes the story, we should believe the story and address the situation as is, rather than playing a (somewhat gross) game of what-if.

        Yes, thank you.

        I’m only seeing all of this now (was away from the computer all morning) or I would have stepped in earlier.

    8. beachlover

      What strikes me is that this did not happen at work, but while the co-worker and boss were out “bar hopping”. so chances are alcohol may have had a big part of this whole situation. The question is, has the boss ever taken inappropriate actions towards the OP or the c0-worker while at work? Could this really be a case of he said, she said. Maybe just maybe, the co-worker is now regretting what happened and trying to deflect or even get revenge because she read more into the situation. Please don’t pile on, but could this be a case of the woman scorned? There could be more here, then OP is aware of, OP says she has not been in the position very long. Just looking at all angles.

      1. TL -

        Why do you need to look at all angles? The LW isn’t asking us for help determining if the co-worker’s story is true; she’s asking for help in dealing with the co-worker and boss in the situation as she knows it to be.
        If she had reason to doubt the co-worker, it would be in the letter. This line of thinking is unhelpful (and somewhat gross.)

        1. beachlover

          Why do I need to look at all the angles? Because that is what I do before I give anyone advice. If the OP had come to me directly, these are they exact same questions that I would ask her (assuming OP is female). I do not make snap judgments. I see that OP has responded with more information. Even so, my advice to her would be encourage your co-worker to report it. But if Co-worker refuses to report, and continues to vent, at some point it would get kind of old. Then my advice would be to let the co-worker know that you do not want to hear about it. As far as continuing to work for the boss, as long as he has not tried anything inappropriate with me, and I like what I do, I would continue to work with him. But OP has to do what feels right to herself.

      2. JoJo

        Yeah, I definitely get a “woman scorned” vibe off that letter. All that talk of “getting revenge” sounds a lot more like hurt feelings than harassment.

        1. TL -

          This may be hard to believe, but some women get angry when they’re hurt (by, say, sexual harassment) and want things like revenge.

          1. Kelly L.

            +1. Why is she less believable just because she’s pissed? What’s the “proper” demeanor for a person who’s been harassed? Tears? Hysterical female! Stiff upper lip? Too calm, nothing could have happened to her! People have different ways of coping with things, doesn’t mean they didn’t actually experience those things. But it seems like women can’t win; whatever demeanor they have is going to be the wrong one.

            1. OriginalEmma

              And that’s without getting into the need for the victim to have been a perfect person before their victimization. See the recent case of officer Holtzclaw, for example. He preyed upon certain women because their backgrounds made them less credible.

              1. Kelly L.

                Yep. I was (pleasantly) shocked he went to prison. I would sadly not have been surprised if he’d gotten off.

          2. Tau

            +1

            I had an unwanted sexual encounter when I was younger and my reaction after the fact was virulent, seething hatred. I couldn’t even articulate that I hadn’t consented until years after the fact, consciously I blamed myself for all of it, honestly I still think the guy meant well and didn’t realise I wasn’t okay with what was happening… but all the same, from then on whenever I saw that guy some deep-seated part of my brain wanted to *hurt* him. It was honestly one of the things that scared me most that came out of that, because I’d never known I was capable of that level of hatred.

            Knowing how I reacted to that, I can absolutely believe that if someone did to me what the boss did to OP’s coworker my first instinctive reaction would be set lasers to DESTROY.

            People react in different ways to different things, and the level of policing going on in this thread is weirding me out.

      3. peanut butter kisses

        I was also struck by the bar hopping phrase. What if it was a drunk episode that might be a sign that the boss needs to get into AA? Drunks often lose their filters and common sense. This may not be what happened but I wonder how large of a role drinking played into it.

        1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon

          Anyone drinking alcohol usually gets to a stage where they lose their filters and common sense.

        2. Elsajeni

          Then the boss needs to get into AA and also deal with the consequences of the fact that his drunken behavior included sexually harassing an employee. I mean, realizing that you drove home drunk last night might be a wake-up call that you need to get into AA, too, but we still expect drunk drivers to face the consequences of their actions.

      4. Soylent Green is Ewok

        Yeahh, he was just drunk, you can’t hold a guy accountable for the gross stuff he does to people when he’s drunk! If a guy can’t drink to excess and do stupid, inappropriate stuff with his subordinates anymore, what’s this world coming to?

        1. Kelly L.

          And isn’t it funny how a man’s drinking seems to excuse him from everything, in some people’s eyes, while a woman who drinks becomes guiltier? Makes you go hmmm.

        2. peanut butter kisses

          I meant that if he is an alcoholic that you have two problems to deal with. Sorry to not have been clearer. The alcoholism one becomes the bigger beast in my eyes then because what else has or will happen when he drinks? Not that the sexual harassment one goes away or becomes less serious.

          1. peanut butter kisses

            Also, I never said he wouldn’t be responsible for his actions, just that the drinking could be a big player in the problem. AA makes you be accountable for your past and future actions.

            Steps 8, 9, and 10.

            8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

            9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

            10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

            But again, I do not know for certain that this is the case for his needing to get help for alcoholism. I just have people in my life who have done wildly inappropriate things while drinking that they are deeply ashamed of today now that they are sober.

      5. Just Another Techie

        My read of it is not at all that she was “willing” but that she was pressured and coerced into going on these drinking expeditions. I’ve been there before. Lonely socially inept boss pressures subordinates to go drinking or whatever with him in lieu of actually having a life of his own. He gets fawning attention because junior staff can’t exactly say no, or tell him “dude you’ve had too many” or take away his keys. We’re stuck, playing greek chorus to whatever fantasy of grandeur is playing in his head. It’s that or lose your job. So you grit your teeth and suck it up as long as you can, until you either find a better job or boss crosses a line that’s just so far beyond the pale that you can’t take it anymore. It’s not “willingness” or “being scorned” or any of the other gross things people have said in this thread.

        1. A Cita

          And who the hell cares if she was willing to go out drinking with her boss. There’s nothing wrong with that. Doesn’t mean she was asking for it.

      6. A Cita

        Wow.
        Loose woman, behaving inappropriately. Check
        Out barhopping and probably asking for it. Check
        Man not responsible for behavior when drinking. Check
        He said/she said. Check
        Woman just regrets what she did. Check
        Woman scorned. Check

        Yep. All the victim-blaming players are here and accounted for.

    9. Sadsack

      I am actually sickened by all the responses here questioning the coworker’s account of the manager’s actions. Truly sickened. To the people making comments about not wanting to victim-blame, but…yeah guess what, that’s what you are doing. So gross.

      1. themmases

        Seriously. These comments are nauseating, clueless, sexist, and cruel. Definitely making a mental note of whose comments to never read here again.

      2. OriginalEmma

        Cyanide and Happiness needs to make a comic generator for their old “I’m not racist but…” comic (tl;dr – a comic where someone says “I’m not racist but…” in the first panel, another character that’s literally a butt and is called The Racist Butt shows up and wiggles his eyebrows knowingly, during which the racist sweats and looks uncomfortable). We need the I’m Not Victim Blaming Butt!

    10. Anne

      Hi, OP here. I do believe my co-worker. Not based only based on trusting her, but also because I know my boss.
      I think it’s a case of my boss thinking he didn’t do anything wrong, but just the fact that he went out with her alone to the bars makes me uneasy.

      In this case, I just don’t think he realizes this is harassment. Since writing this email, my coworker has told more employees and now almost everyone, save for his wife, is aware of the situation and actively seeking new jobs.

      1. eplawyer

        But amazingly, she has not actually done anything but talk to everyone. You need to look at your co-worker and say “Jane, if you are going to do something about this, do it. Otherwise stop talking to me about it.” Because the continued gossip just adds to the low morale around the office and really doesn’t stop the clueless boss.

        1. TL -

          I would phrase it more delicately: Jane, I support you in whatever you decide and will back you up if you go to HR/whoever. But for the time being, I still have to work with Boss and it’s really hard for me to hear about revenge constantly while having to work with him. I appreciate the warning and support you in whatever, but I can’t listen to consistent revenge talk.

      2. Kyrielle

        Ugh. I would at least polish your resume, because everyone looking for new jobs gives a chance of this whole thing just collapsing – and you want to be ready to move if it does. Whether you start actively seeking before that happens will depend on your feelings about the situation, and your financials, but…this has made a royal mess, to be sure.

      3. Observer

        If you are right, then to a large extent it doesn’t make a difference what the details are. You are saying that your boss doesn’t have good boundaries and doesn’t understand that certain lines should not be crossed. That puts you in a bad position. So does the fact that so many people are actively looking for jobs – that could irretrievably hurt the business.

        Which means that you need to start covering yourself, and look for another job. Looking is not a commitment to another job, it’s just your insurance policy.

    11. Stranger than fiction

      This crossed my mind as well. For one thing, they went “bar hopping” not out for a casual beer after work, bar hopping, meaning they got wasted. It’s still wildly inappropriate because the boss is the one in a position of power, but this sounds to me like it could, possibly, be two married people that spent the night drinking and flirting and now are having major regrets. (Of course, it’s also possible the boss is a complete ass and kissed her seemingly out of nowhere despite the drunkiness). Either way, I agree the Op needs to be sure she knows this coworker well enough that she’s sure coworker is truthful. When she’s alone with boss, has he flirted with her? asked her to drinks? or any other indicators that support the coworkers claim?

      1. Kelly L.

        Bar hopping does not imply a specific amount consumed. At any given bar you could have a whole slew of drinks or a Coke or anything in between.

      2. Oryx

        No, bar hopping means just that — they hopped around to multiple bars. I’ve done that and still only had 1 or 2 drinks.

        1. Kelly L.

          Yup. If anything, I’m going to drink way less when bar-hopping. Think cover charges for each place, plus the logistics of keeping up my energy to walk around. If I’ve got my butt parked in one bar for the night, have already paid my cover, and don’t need to go anywhere else except a cab and bed, I’ve got more money to spend on drinks and I don’t care if it makes me tired.

    12. Navy Vet

      I too am more than a little bit disappointed in everyone’s response. I am uncertain why a shockingly sizable number of people have fallen into the victim blaming camp. (And yes, when you say “I don’t want to victim blame, but….” you are about to do just that. Kind of like “I’m not racist, but…”)

      As a sexual harassment and assault survivor I will say this, anger is to be expected. And justified. For me at any rate anger and focusing on revenge helped me get through the day. (and not have panic attacks constantly) Your boss hitting on you and making out with you is completely and utterly devastating. The implications for your career, not to mention insurance and finances are beyond comprehension. Don’t forget that now she gets to go to work every day and see this person, and he holds economic power over her. That is the real “icky” thing.

      OP, your coworker is looking for someone to talk to. She’s venting. She really probably needs to vent to a therapist. But that’s neither here nor there.

      The real problem here is your boss. He crossed the line with a subordinate. In fact, he is probably counting o the fact that his wife is the HR as a shield. VERY gross. I refuse to speculate on what happened. I take your coworker at her word. (As you should unless proved otherwise) You wrote you like your job, but how much are you going to like it now that you have the constant nagging specter over your head that your boss is a dirt bag. Only you can answer that.

      As far as your coworker is concerned. Sympathize with her tell her you are sorry for what happened, but you are not comfortable with discussions about taking him down. Someone mentioned telling her that you will be a reference or help with resume etc, I think that’s a great idea.

      Remember, she is the victim. She did not ask to have her life turned upside down. Try to remember that when talking to her. Treat her with as much compassion as you can.

  5. Polgan

    “federal harassment laws only apply to employers with 15 or more employees”

    I wonder what the rationale behind this is. Anyone have any ideas?

    1. Little Teapot

      Yes; I hate that too. It’s like, does sexual harassment not happen in companies with less than 15 people?

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      15 is the threshhold for most federal anti-discrimination laws, although age discrimination protections kick in at 20 or more employees. And some states have their own laws that kick in at lower numbers.

      I think the rationale was that lawmakers didn’t want to subject very small employers to the financial and staff burden of defending against discrimination claims. That burden can be significant, even if you ultimately win the case, and could potentially bankrupt small businesses.

      1. Polgan

        Hm. Something about this rubs me the wrong way, and while I see the sense of it, I hope that there’s not very much flying under this part of the radar. It seems… easily abused.

        1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon

          It reads to me that it prioritises protection of the innocent employer against protection of employees. Which is difficult because small companies are, in my experience, just as likely to be dysfunctional and harrass employees it’s just going to be more difficult for employees.

          I, personally, would prefer all employers to be included and for the State to help smaller companies where there’s a perception that they would struggle to comply with this – X hours free legal advice for under 15 employees, free hotline for employees, tax breaks for having an HR employee etc.

          1. I'm a Little Teapot

            Yes, you’re absolutely right. Unfortunately in American political discourse small business owners are considered sacred, perfect, and immune to all criticism because JOB CREATORS!! And FREEDOM!! And “what about the small business owners?” is used to oppose any kind of law that any sort of business might find inconvenient, often rather cynically by huge companies and the lobbying groups they fund. And in my experience too it’s companies under 15 employees that need sexual harassment laws the most!

            1. Allison

              +100

              Does it not occur to people that small business owners are capable of conducting skeevy business practices?

              1. Kelly L.

                Oh, everybody knows it, but politically it’s a lot harder to get anything passed without making an exception.

            2. Roscoe

              I think its about fairness for both sides. A very litigious person could decide to sue said employer for whatever they want. Their attorney would take the case and just take a portion of their winnings, so they may have nothing to pay up front. The business on the other hand has to pay a bunch up front for what may be a frivolous lawsuit. I don’t necessarily believe the “businesses are people” logic, but I do get trying to be fair to both sides

          2. Mike C.

            A lot of state agencies here in WA have free consultation services for businesses. The labor board will help ensure that you’ve properly classified employees without nailing you with fees for example. Most of these folks are really just happy that you asked the question and want to see compliance over nailing folks with fines and penalties.

        2. nofelix

          Yeah, particularly since a company with <15 employees could still have millions of dollars of turnover and hundreds of contractors.

        3. SystemsLady

          I know my employer (with 45ish employees living within the FMLA range) definitely abuses being just at the cusp of being required to abide by it.

          Pretty much everybody I’ve heard who had to take long, non-pregnancy related unpaid family leave in a certain department was granted it, but was reassigned to a completely different job when they returned. (My state cuts down the employee requirement, but for pregnancy only.)

          It never made sense for the manager of that group to do that, but it happened anyway, almost as a weird statement of power.

      2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

        As a point of information, the claims that have been placed against us are cray cray. I fully support legal protection for workers and penalties for employers who violate rights, but when you sit on the other side of the desk, you won’t believe what you see and how much it costs.

        Random laundry list that is old enough I’m okay with listing it:

        1) the 55 year old guy who was hired for a warehouse manager job and fired in less than 6 months because he wasn’t up to the job. He was replaced with a 51 year old guy and yet still filed papers for age discrimination.
        2) the guy who was fired for insubordination and theft who claimed racial discrimination because he’d recently gotten a Caucasian boss in a newly created position above him that the guy said should have been his job
        3) the emotionally unstable woman who made up a fantastical series of events that included one of senior staff trying to kick her in her pregnant belly (this one went so far, it ended up costing us an enormous amount of money in lawyers fees fighting it and finally a moderate settlement just to make her go away and make the bleeding stop – after 3 years of fighting it.)

        Our state is very worker lawsuit friendly so yay worker’s rights and all, but the way things are set up, the financial burden for lawyers fees on both sides is, for the most part, 100% on the employer. On the whole this encourages employers to be on the up and up with everything, so that the only thing they pay out on is the cranks. But it is all very expensive even when you are legit doing the best you can do to have a great place to work.

        1. Artemesia

          Anyone who has been in management probably has a list of these dollar sucks. A friend’s business hired a minority person for a secretarial job and she ‘hurt her finger’ before starting and couldn’t type. They bent over backward accommodating her but over a six month period she never could do any work for one reason or another. The finger got well, but then it was something else. So they were paying someone doing no real work for months and then got sued for racial discrimination when she was finally let go.

          The one case I was threatened with an age discrimination suit for not hiring an old guy, we had hired a woman who was in her 50s and the previous hire for a similar position had been a man in his 60s. We didn’t hire the guy because he was a squirrel; his age was if anything a feature as we were looking for experience. That didn’t prevent him from making a major fuss all the way up to the CEO’s office.

        2. AVP

          Yeah, this is why I get that we need to have these thresholds – at a company with 6 employees pulling in $1.5m per year in billing, any one of those would have bankrupted us. We once got sued for $33k from a phone company angry that we had ended our contract with them (completely legally, in my state) and we had to pay $5k to make it go away and that was a Big Deal.

      3. Anne

        Op here, Hmm, we have around 14 employees stateside but we also have a team abroad of nearly 15. Putting us at around 30 total. Do teams abroad count?

        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

          Interesting. My Google law degree tells me yes by way of my Google certified interpretation of this:

          In determining whether a U.S.-based branch of a foreign employer is covered, employees based abroad should also be counted if the U.S. and foreign branches constitute an integrated enterprise.(137) Thus, if a Japanese employer has a U.S.-based branch with only 10 employees, it would still be covered by Title VII if the U.S. employer is integrated with a foreign branch with at least five employees. For a discussion of integrated enterprises, refer to § 2-III B.1.a.iii(a), above.

          (I didn’t find a reference to a US employer with foreign employees, only the other way around.)

          Can you tell I’m on vacation and putting off cleaning my carpets for the holidays?

          I’ll post the link after this. If an actual lawyer or actual HR person has different information, don’t be shocked.

      4. Elizabeth West

        Frankly, I think protections need to cover EVERYBODY. They seem pretty useless when they don’t. People in the smaller companies will just continue to do it because they can’t get in trouble.

    3. hbc

      My guess it’s more about the likelihood of being able to prove anything. We had a claim filed against us when we had roughly 11 employees on staff, and the EEOC declined to take part. But we have laws and an agency at the state level where I live that takes on smaller cases, so lots of lawyers fees and fun for us. The guy who made the claim said he got lower wages due to his ethnicity, but there was no one in a really equivalent role, and even the other group that he pointed at was small enough that seniority and coincidence explained it. (To be clear, I’m not saying we got away with something–guy was delusional, later wrote that he filed the claim because we didn’t fight for him when he resigned, and no one even knew his ethnicity.)

      Regarding this letter, though, I don’t believe there’s anything to file over anyway. It’s not illegal to make a pass at an employee; it’s just illegal to punish them for rejecting you or to continually revisit the proposition.

      1. SystemsLady

        Sexual harassment is illegal, separate from discrimination (though harassment laws apply to the same protected classes).

        Whether this constitutes harassment depends on if it’s recurred and what else (if anything) has happened, of course – one incident alone does not harassment make – but just pointing that out.

        1. Natalie

          That’s not accurate, there’s no separate sexual harassment law (in the US, at least). Sexual harassment is illegal because it was recognized as a form of sex discrimination and thus a violation of Title IX.

    4. Graciosa

      Another aspect is that for the federal government to have authority to legislate in this area at all, they tend to rely upon the interstate commerce clause. It’s much harder to argue that a truly small business is impacting interstate commerce.

      1. bearing

        This. Not everything has to be dealt with by the feds; we have state governments for a reason, and it’s completely within their wheelhouse to make rules that cover small companies operating within their states and that consider how best, given local economic conditions, to balance the cost to businesses of fraudulent/frivolous claims against the benefits of protecting workers with nonfraudulent, nonfrivolous claims.

  6. Ultraviolet

    #1 – OP, you specifically say you don’t want to quit, so I’m a little unclear on exactly what’s making you think you maybe should leave anyway. Do you feel it’s very likely the boss will harass you and you want to leave before it happens? Are you concerned your future with the company is shot because you don’t respect your manager any more? Are you worried that the company will be massively shaken up or even dissolved if your coworker ends up reporting what happened? Are you worried that if she does report, you’ll end up pulled into it and forever be associated with whatever unpleasantness ensues? Is it too stressful to work closely with someone you now dislike? Do you feel like it’s unethical or dishonest to keep working for the boss and being cordial with him knowing what he’s done? Do you feel you’d be condoning his behavior to stay? I think you’d get different advice based on which reasons are weighing on you most.

    For what it’s worth, I agree that there’s no moral imperative to leave. Also, do you know how closely you’ll be working with your boss day-to-day after the restructuring is done? Can you anticipate how long he would be your direct supervisor if you stayed for another year or two? Maybe some of the things you’re disliking here will change before too long.

  7. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon

    “my coworker won’t drop it. She refuses to quit, and talks constantly about “taking down my boss.””

    Well, she’s under no obligation to quit. I think that many, many people would be job searching if they otherwise had to stay in a small company knowing a man who was clearly disposed to harass them and view them as a sexual object was always going to be working alongside them. But that doesn’t mean your coworker has to. If she’s comfortable staying there, asserting her boundaries with your boss and getting on with her work then she’s perfectly entitled to. That doesn’t invalidate her feelings or job in any way.

    That said, revenge, while an understandable reaction, is not the way to go here. If she wants to raise it with HR, it needs to be factual and unemotional – “I know you are Joe’s wife, but I need to tell you something serious and whilst I appreciate you will be shocked and hurt I need us to approach this like professionals” is the vibe (not the exact wording) that she would need to give in that situation. I would second Alison’s advice to report it to somebody else if possible (although his wife’s the co-founder, so I suspect it’s inevitable that she’ll hear about this)

    And you are entitled to not want to get dragged in to this. She’s turning to you for support, so I, personally, would try and find the patience to offer advice (I know it can become wearing to always have to listen to the same grievance when somebody won’t listen to any suggestions/advice) and encourage her to find a way of approaching HR, of continuing to assert boundaries with her boss and of trying to overcome the ‘revenge’ instinct and instead look at what’s best for her and her career. But you are also entitled to say “I don’t want to be a part of this”, or even “Here’s what I advise, but I’m really not in a position to get directly involved”.

    And no, you don’t have to quit. I fear this next bit may be unpopular, but it is perfectly possible to both support and completely believe your coworker and still treat your boss as ‘innocent until proven guilty’. There’s an old saying that there’s three versions of the truth – her truth, his truth and the actual truth. It doesn’t mean that what your boss did was ok, it doesn’t mean your coworker is lying, it doesn’t mean that you don’t believe her. But you can continue working with your boss without it changing your relationship unless and until *you* get concrete proof straight from him that it needs to change (whatever that would mean for you) The only exception is that you should perhaps be more vigilant around him about signs or boundary crossing, and maybe rehearse how to assert boundaries in the moment just in case, for you and to support your colleague if needs be, but otherwise you can continue working with him as you did.

    1. nofelix

      Maybe she wants to take him down as a “either he goes or I do, and I’m not going” strategy.

      I agree about supporting the co-worker while also working alongside the boss. I’ve seen many people say that someone accused of sexual harassment should effectively be shunned even before evidence is seen, and I just don’t see how it works out to be fair or reasonable in real life situations like this.

    2. Roscoe

      I completely agree with that last paragraph, but people will probably it. Recently there was an athlete in my town accused of rape. If you even suggested “he’s innocent until proven guilty” you were considered a rape apologist. The problem in something like this is that I feel that its hard to really be neutral. You either believe her and think he is a scum bag, or treat him as innocent until proven guilty, therefore allowing the possibility she is lying. Its a very fine line.

    3. Shannon

      Totally agree with your last paragraph.

      While the OP doesn’t *have* to look for a new job, she probably should, though. Regardless of what the truth is, this situation is a powder keg waiting to blow up. Right now, she has the luxury of being able to look for a new job from a position of strength. Since she doesn’t need a new job right now, she can be a lot pickier with what she’s looking for.

      Also, with the co-worker’s language and her lack of options for a peaceful resolution, I’d be concerned about workplace violence. People who feel cornered don’t make good decisions, and this coworker has good reason to feel cornered.

    4. Rat in the Sugar

      +1 to your last paragraph. While it’s true that a lot of people don’t want to rush in guns blazing at the boss without more info, that doesn’t mean that you can’t support and believe your coworker.

  8. newreader

    Is the scenario in #1 actually harassment? The coworker and boss were out bar hopping when the incident occurred, which I’m assuming was social and not work related. And there is no mention that the boss is continuing to ask the coworker to have a non-work relationship with him or anything (explicit or implicit) resembling quid pro quo. Could this be a case of poor judgment on the part of both the coworker and boss fueled by alcohol? Definitely not great behavior on the part of the boss, but not necessarily rising to the level of harassment.

    1. NewCommenterfromDaBronx

      This was my first thought too. No mention is made of any continuing or prior bad behavior on boss’s part, either towards co-worker or anyone else. My take was a situation fueled by poor judgment & alcohol.

    2. nofelix

      He’s still the boss outside of the office. And anyway, if the kiss wasn’t consensual then it’d be sexual harassment even if they worked different places.

      1. Knitting Cat Lady

        Actually, that’d be sexual assault, I think.

        The way I understand it anything involving physical contact is assault.

        Harassment is catcalling, comments and the like.

      2. Tanaya

        Not in the legal sense though, right? It’s definitely inappropriate behavior but I thought sexual harassment had to be part of a pattern of behavior or spark retaliation for turning him down?

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          The law says it has to be “severe or pervasive.” We’d need an employment lawyer to weigh in on whether this would likely trigger the “severe” element. My hunch is it would depend heavily on other factors, like whether there was an impact on her working conditions afterwards.

      3. Oryx

        Sexual assault, yes. Sexual harassment, I’m not sure. I’ve always been under the impression that a single isolated incident like this wouldn’t be enough unless, say, down the road the OP’s friend is turned down for a promotion and the boss says it’s because she rebuffed him, in which case it’s a quid pro quo type situation.

    3. Liana

      I’m not sure how the OP’s coworker exercised poor judgement here, though? There’s no evidence that the kiss was consensual, and the coworker is obviously upset about it and wants to take action. Having a drink with your boss isn’t poor judgement, that’s perfectly normal behavior in many places. The boss knows that he shouldn’t have done what he did, and anyone with a modicum of common sense would understand that kissing your coworker places them in an extremely stressful situation.

      I’m deeply suspicious of any attempt to place blame back on the coworker, because this is exactly the sort of nonsense women have to deal with constantly when it comes to sexual harassment/sexual assault claims, and it puts our behavior up to impossible standards.

      1. Apollo Warbucks

        There is also nothing to suggest the kiss wasn’t consensual they both could have been willing participants in what ever happened in the bar, there is no way for us to know.

        1. BuildMeUp

          “There’s no way for us to know what really happened” is a common refrain in sexual assault cases, often used to assume the perpetrator is innocent and that the victim must have been doing something wrong.

          There is something to suggest it wasn’t consensual – the coworker said it wasn’t. I’m not sure why that’s not enough for you, given that it was enough for the OP.

          1. Apollo Warbucks

            I’m not saying the boss did or didn’t assault the op’s co-worker I saying the letter says

            “…while they were out he kissed her and begged her to leave her spouse…”

            That provides no context or background to what occurred and is not enough for me to make the leap that the boss must be a sex offender.

            Where are you seeing that the co-worker said it was an assault or non-consensual?

            1. SystemsLady

              The coworker reported it to the OP and clearly wasn’t interested in having an affair with her boss??

            2. fposte

              I agree that there’s no word that explicitly states it’s nonconsensual, but I also think that’s a pretty reasonable take on “he kissed her”–they didn’t kiss each other. She doesn’t have to punch him to make it nonconsensual–that would be enough.

              1. A Cita

                Right. And there’s a really good article, I’ll see if I can find it, about “enthusiastic consent.” It takes the gray out of consent issues.

                I’m really not ok with all the speculation about how the OP’s coworker is probably to blame here, in one way or another. This comment section today is really upsetting. Mostly because it’s not what I expect of AAM commenters.

                1. Kelly L.

                  If it helps at all, I think gender issues tend to bring people out of the woodwork from other sites who aren’t AAM regulars, though some usernames are familiar.

                2. A Cita

                  Kelly L. that does help. A lot. But some comments are from regulars here who’ve I thought were solid folks. The casual and outright sexism is so disheartening.

                  Feels like I should amble over to Captain Awkward to get some sanctuary for a bit. :)

                3. Oryx

                  Yup, it’s the line between “no means no” and “yes means yes”

                  But, I agree that I’m quite disappointed with some of the commentators here today.

        2. TL -

          The LW believes her story, which is that the kiss was unwelcome and unwanted.

          As we’re always requested to do, let’s believe the LW and stop speculating about what-if, please.

          1. Apollo Warbucks

            Where in the letter does it say that the kiss was unwelcome and unwanted? They are your words not the OP’s.

            1. TL -

              I inferred, but either way, the LW is not writing to us about a situation where her co-worker encouraged attention and then decided to break off an affair-type situation, she’s writing to us about a co-worker who clearly did not want the attention, so let’s answer that situation.

        3. Liana

          Except we DO know, because the coworker told us (or rather, the OP). The coworker’s upset reaction suggests that the kiss wasn’t consensual, because if it was, she presumably wouldn’t have been upset by it, so your statement, quite frankly, is bull. Why is it so hard to just take a woman at her word when she says she was sexually harassed or assaulted? Why do we have to tear apart her every word and overanalyze her reaction to the situation.

          Also, as people have stated below, “there is no way for us to know” has often been used a convenient way for people to absolve themselves of responsibility for these incidents and to sweep them under the rug. The sentiment has played a huge part in the struggle women face when it comes to reporting events like the one the coworker experienced.

          1. Apollo Warbucks

            I am not sure how it is bull to say there is a lack of information in the letter to be sure an assault took place. I am not saying the OP’s co-worker wasn’t assaulted they could have been and I would absolutely condemn the boss if he assaulted anyone what I am saying is there could be something else going on here and what I think is bull is jumping to the worst possible conclusion about this situation, it seems a lot like confirmation bias to me.

            1. Kelly L.

              AAM is not a court of law. Nor is anyone’s real name mentioned, so nobody’s being defamed either.

              I don’t think “believe the OP” is absolutely sacrosanct, because sometimes a new perspective can help an OP realize she isn’t seeing every factor or that someone is deceiving her, but there’s no evidence for that here. OP believes the coworker, so let’s take that at face value and discuss the situation as it’s presented.

              1. Apollo Warbucks

                All I’m trying to say is people have rushed to judge the boss in this situation. I believe that a kiss happened but that doesn’t follow that there was an an assault and that is NOT something the OP has said happened.

                1. Oryx

                  So you sincerely believe that if the kiss had been consensual, the OP’s co-worker would be going around talking about how she wants to take down the boss now?

                2. A Cita

                  I don’t understand the insistence of focusing on that when that’s not even what the OP is asking about. There’s no need to turn on OP’s coworker’s behavior/judgement around going to a bar with the boss in the first place, unless you want to blame the coworker.

                3. A Cita

                  Oh, be careful, Oryx…see that’s what’s setting up one of the myriad of premises for one of the victim blaming arguments. Kiss was consensual. Coworker wants to take the boss down. She must be feeling…regretful, guilty, scorned, bitter. I mean really, that’s saying it was consensual leads. This is so appalling.

                4. Liana

                  People rushed to judge the boss because all the evidence we have points to him sexually harassing the coworker. This isn’t a case of the Internet Mob piling on some poor unsuspecting sap. If a nonconsensual kiss happened, that is sexual assault. This isn’t exactly a groundbreaking statement. Why are you so insistent on not believing the OP’s coworker?

                5. fposte

                  But we’re here to help the OP, not judge the boss’s case; our judgment of the boss means absolutely nothing to him and isn’t what the OP was asking about, so who gives a damn if we’ve rushed to judgment on him.

                6. Apollo Warbucks

                  @Oryx I’m saying I don’t know what happened nothing more than that and without even a specific accusation in the letter people have started saying the boss must have assaulted I do agreed that is one possibility but not the only one.

                  @A Cita I’ve not made any comment about the coworkers judgement or actions and I’m not blaming her for anything that happened and in fact I have said I would condemn the boss’s actions if he assaulted the OPs coworker.

        4. Observer

          It’s true that there is no definitive way to know.

          I do find it telling, though, that not only does the op believe her coworker, but that most of the other staff are actively looking for new jobs. That sounds like the people who know the players have strong enough reason to believe the co-worker’s version that they are taking concrete steps as a reaction.

    4. Mike C.

      Uh, YES. The manager/employee relationship doesn’t stop simply because it’s after hours.

      I’m really uncomfortable with the idea that folks would blame the coworker for the boss forcing himself on her and asking her to leave her spouse.

    5. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

      Assuming the way the story is told is fact, you don’t get to *pressure* to leave your spouse without going thru harassment highway.

      There are miles between what actually happened and what we have before us here. I think what actually happened is irrelevant. What only matters is the OP has been told what she’s been told and what to do with that.

      In a company this small, with the spouse in question working for his spouse, a co-owner, this is all destined to blow sky and in short order. We already know 2 of the 11 people who weren’t at the bar that day have been told!

      If I were the OP I’d encourage the woman in question to take whatever action she thought right, but to please leave me out of further conversations unless she needed me to do something specific to assist her.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

        Oh and p.s.

        Do not go “bar hopping” with subordinates of any gender, please. This is a thing I see happen in our industry (not our company) and it’s just ripe for trouble. Stories about people in power and how they’ve behaved spread like wildfire, and it doesn’t help my trust factor when I’m sitting in front of one these (usually) guys, they are asking for my business and I’m thinking about the tale of them and cocaine and the Hooter’s waitress.

        If you need to behave like that, don’t s**t where you eat and put defacto pressure on subordinates to be there ’cause it’s gonna get out.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

            Seriously. There are how many million women in the US and you have to go bar hopping with and make a pass at woman who works in your very small company that your wife co-owns?

            Seriously? There is no possible positive thing that happens next. No matter what percent of the story told by the OP third hand is accurate, the entire set up is stupidity.

  9. Bruce H.

    #3. I would be inclined to reply with something very formal, like, “I regret that I am unable to provide the information you are seeking.” Nothing that could be construed as negative, but clearly nothing positive.

    1. Meg Murry

      Or OP could tell the other side of the truth that she mentioned – “oh, yes, you can go ahead and apply to the open positions, but I’m sorry to say that no other alums from our school have ever been hired – the most recent hires all came from the manager’s alma maters of [Big Names 1, 2, 3]. Which is too bad, because I really think [our school] turns out competitive candidates, but I’m not in a management position that can turn that tide right now, unfortunately.”

      Not a lie, not telling them “noooooo, don’t apply here.” Just telling the truth, which is that they probably won’t get hired anyway.

  10. Knitting Cat Lady

    #1: The whole situation is very confusing. What is coworker trying to accomplish talking to the LW? LW can’t do anything about it.

    I don’t get it.

  11. rando

    5) Robert Half Legal publishes a nationwide (for the US) salary guide, that indicates salaries based on location, size of firm, and level of experience. It is incredibly useful!

  12. Umvue

    OP#1, I initially assumed your boss was another co-owner, but looking at your letter again I’m not sure if I’m right about that. Regardless, it’s curious to me that your coworker (a) doesn’t want to quit but (b) wants to “take down” a senior person in this small company. It’s hard for me to imagine a situation in which that doesn’t put her job at risk. I’m not even thinking retaliation here (though of course that’s always a risk and I would never in a million years trust “HR” when HR is one person who is an interested party); losing one senior staff member and possibly a cofounder is basically an existential crisis in a lot of small companies.

    If I were in your coworker’s position, I think I would find a new job pronto, establish myself in the new place, and after a few months, let the whisper network do its work. That means that if I were in your position, even if I weren’t ready to move (and it sounds like you’re not), I’d be keeping my resume up to date and watching job ads, in case a blowup happens sooner rather than later. My own org faced an existential crisis recently (nothing tawdry, just unlucky); like you I hadn’t been there long so I elected to sit tight and wait, and at this point it looks like we’ve survived it. But be aware your company might not, and have a plan.

  13. Doriana Gray

    Ugh, I had long responses but the dang site crashed once again (I’m in Chrome on a computer). I’ll try and remember what I wrote.

    #1 – Quitting a job you’re otherwise content with in an industry you’ve been trying to break into due to hearsay is not a good career move IMO. You don’t actually know what happened – you weren’t there at the bar when this kiss allegedly occurred, and you haven’t given any indication in your letter that you felt uncomfortable with your boss prior to being told about it. Alison gave you a good script for how to shut down the conversation with the coworker – please take her advice and shut it down immediately. You don’t want to get dragged into this drama when you’re brand new to this company. You don’t have enough of a reputation to protect you should this situation blow up. Keep your head down, do your job, stay polite to everyone (but still maintain boundaries), and keep your eyes and ears open to figure out why the morale in your office is low because the reason for that may tell you more about whether or not you should leave than any rumor could.

    #3 – I understand the desire to want to warn people away from a bad situation, but you have got to stop doing that whether in writing or verbally. Somehow someway this will get back to your company that you’ve been poisoning the well (even if it’s deserved), and your company will more than likely take disciplinary action for that. It happened to two women I briefly encountered here at my current company when I was in a training program. They told a third party to tell me how awful their particular division was to try and warn me against coming there, another one of their coworkers overhead them telling this third party to tell me that, and she went to their division VP with this information. They were both written up for this and eventually wound up leaving the company. Unless you’re on your way out, be very careful about what you say. And even if/when you’re on your way out, be careful what you say. You don’t want to get the reputation for being the kind of person who badmouths their employer – that can follow you long after you leave that place.

  14. TotesMaGoats

    #1-Well, technically, none of you needs or has to quit. Unless you meant she “won’t quit” as in won’t quit talking about it. Since we have no evidence of previous unwanted attention and no information on anything after this event, I don’t know what we can really say. Is boss completely skeevy? Sure. Should you go bar hopping (which seems a step up from happy hour) with your boss? Probably not. People tend to make really bad decisions when drunk. Does the revenge tone seem off to me, like others, yeah. She can 1)not say anything and let it go 2)say something to her boss or HR or someone 3)quit. I don’t see that you need to do anything besides tell your coworker to stop talking about it around you. Although it sounds like you might want to quit for other reasons.

    #4-Wait, so your company promoted you from oldposition to newposition, knowing your background and experience and NOW you don’t have the skills to do the job? What the what? Instead of a demotion, could they providing the training to get you those skills (if it’s a trainable thing)? Or could you seek out those skills and provide a timeline to them for acquisition? Or is it really an issue of they want to pay you less money but you’d probably end up doing tasks from both roles?

    1. MK

      I see nothing suspicious about promoting someone who was great at oldposition and then finding out that, for whatever reason, the employee isn’t a success in the newposition. It’s a common mistake to assume that a great employee will be great at any role, or that if you are good at X, you will be also good at managing people who do X, etc.

      1. Stranger than fiction

        But I think the Op said she did old job “years ago”, so they let her flail around in new job for year before thinking about doing anything about it??

  15. NK

    #3 – I talk to students interested in my company all the time, and while I actually do like my company and have positive things to say overall, I never answer questions about my experience at the company in writing – I always set up an appointment for a call, which I take in a private office. Because even though I am happy here, I want to be able to candidly (but still diplomatically) answer questions about the negative aspects of the job. Even though I generally wouldn’t have a problem with someone overhearing what I am saying, I still wouldn’t want to put that stuff in writing. Emails get forwarded so fast and you never know whose hands they’ll end up in.

  16. azvlr

    #4 I was in a similar situation. Not a demotion exactly, but a role that was perceived as less prestigious. I was devastated at first, because I knew that they knew I was not measuring up. But, guess what? The new role was also less pressure, which was what I needed at that stage of life. It turns out that not only were my skills unique within my group, but that I thrived in the role.

    Looking back, it served as a jumping off point for my chosen career. I would not be where I am today if I had not taken that path. I am fortunate enough to be at a company that recognizes that career paths can take many directions: up, lateral, down, or down-scaling (fewer hours, responsibilities, etc.)

    If you bring unique skills and truly enjoy the job, your passion will be evident to those around you and that will pay off. I say go for it!

  17. Not Karen

    #4 “I am much more senior than my manager in terms of skills”

    Clearly you are not because your manager is keeping their job and you’re being demoted. It sounds like you’re in denial that you’re not actually good at your job. Of course it’s a step backwards but you can’t move forward in your career if you’re not doing a good job.*

    (*unless you work for my old employer)

    1. Kyrielle

      It depends! One can be a terrible manager but a great software engineer. Imagine a great software engineer promoted to first-level manager, and tanking at it. As a _manager_ they are way behind their manager, but in terms of software engineering they may in fact be far ahead of their manager.

      And I think the OP may need to consider that – there’s more than one set of skills to take into account. There’s “technical” do the work skills (organizing project schedules, or coding, or what-have-you), there’s “generic” soft skills (getting along with others, smoothing ruffled feathers, courtesy, etc. – some are critical and some are only deeply important in certain roles), there’s “technical” soft skills (talking up donors just so, so that they come away feeling valued and wanting to give more), there’s “managerial” skills (giving feedback, monitoring performance, etc., etc.), and so on.

      I definitely have worked for people where I was superior to them in technical skills (and also for people where I wasn’t, just to be clear). But they were all superior to me in one of the other areas. (Usually including managerial skills, but sadly, not always. I don’t really want to work for someone with my current level of managerial skills. Heh.)

      Some of them were also younger than me. And that’s fine. I am experienced, I am good at what I do, and what I do is not management. If I ever decide I want it to be, I have some learning and development to do, and I know that about myself.

      But the OP needs to look long and hard at whether they were sufficiently skilled *for that role*, and whether they even wanted that role or just “deserved” it because of seniority (which is, by the by, a bad way to look at things in my experience).

      Also, a company that values you enough to want to retain you doing what you are good at is at least potentially a very good thing. Who wants to “step up” to the next level of responsibility knowing that if you fail they’ll just send you out into the world, job-hunting? Much nicer to be able to “fail back” to something there.

      1. MoinMoin

        Yes, everything you said. And good job responding in a way that salvaged a thread that easily could have turned into a rude attack on the OP.
        I recently moved from a project in which I took over certain tasks for my department and pretty much as soon as I learned them, turned around and started training a newly acquired offshore site in taking over the tasks. They had a manager there who seemed to be approximately lateral to my own manager, but it was certainly no stretch to say that I was more “senior” in task mastery to him (and my own manager, for that matter). That was the point of having me- to train and liaise between our local team and the offshore team- and that sounds pretty similar to what is happening to the OP. Even if they’re going “back” to a role, it still seems like a different capacity. It doesn’t seem like a stretch to be able to say “I was in X role responsible for tasks A and B, moved to Y role which didn’t end up being a great fit for me, and then moved back to X role responsible for tasks C and D as the role had changed considerably since I’d left.”

  18. JoJo

    LW #1: My advice would be to stay out of it completely. You weren’t there, you have no idea what did or didn’t happen, and there’s no upside to you in getting involved in someone else’s revenge scheme.

    LW #3: Keep your opinion about your employer to yourself. If you keep trashing your employer, it will end up biting you in the keister. Let the new grads apply. Whether or not they get hired isn’t up to you.

    1. Stranger than fiction

      For #3, yes, let them apply, but then be candid (well, politely candid without totally trashing the company) when they ask you what it’s like to work there, which hopefully they’re smart enough to do.

  19. Bowserkitty

    OP #3: “A great place to work,” you say? This sounds exactly like Old Job….are you in the midwest, out of curiosity?

    Fun fact – I discovered that being branded “a great place to work” is an achievement that the company actually pays for. As in it’s a company, and if you pay for being labeled as that, they’ll happily list you. That was interesting to find out two years into Old Job when morale was consistently tanking.

    1. Athletic Trainer

      Would it be for a largish physical therapy company in the Midwest (with some East Coast locations)? Centered in the Western Suburbs and Chicagoland area? That sounds just like them. Now that I don’t work there, I tell people not to apply in a professional matter when they directly ask me.

      1. Bowserkitty

        I’d say it’s a bit further west than Chicago, so possibly not the same one…and not dealing with anything healthwise, either. Interesting how many companies might fit this though, LOL!

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I want to remind people to please not speculate on this kind of thing, as most letter-writers here want to be anonymous and wouldn’t appreciate being outed if you were in fact correct.

      It’s also, as this thread shows, often the case that people think “oh, that’s my old job/boss!” when in fact the situation fits many, many companies/bosses : )

  20. Purple Jello

    #4 – is it the perception of a demotion the problem, or actually going back to the old position? Can you negotiate a different title so it’s not obvious that you’re being demoted? Are they willing to provide you with additional training so you still have an opportunity to move up later? They obviously like you and want to retain you.

    1. Pipette

      Yeah, I think there is room for some redefinition of the “old” position, especially since as you said, “offshoring doesn’t work in some situations”. I don’t want to speculate too much, but could this mean you will handle the more challenging or high-profile tasks?

      The company gave offshoring a try, and they gave you the opportunity to try something different. Now it turns out there were some issues with both offshoring and your new role, and they are willing to find a solution to both instead of sticking their heads in the sand (as so many companies do judging by the discussions here). So I say go for it and make something great with your new/old position.

  21. Anne

    Op #1 for the record I don’t want to be involved in this situation in any way. I have no intention of going to management or HR. I don’t want my coworker to turn against me either, and coming up with a way to ward her off without being perceived as mean has been hard.
    I do feel like this is behavior my boss might repeat again, and even if this is a great opportunity it’s making me very stressed out.

    We’re now interviewing people for a new position, and I feel duplicitous interviewing young women for a position that requires travel, sometimes alone, with my boss.

    I don’t want to report, just to leave. This situation is altogether way too slimy for my taste.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

      Ok, that’s an interesting twist, how you feel about and what your responsibility is to new women coming in the company.

      If I felt the way you do, I’d get out. I’m very happy where I am because (one reason) the people who own and run our company have the same moral and people standards I do.

    2. Mike C.

      How would you feel if one of those women were hired and was later sexually assaulted by the boss? You’re certainly not responsible for the actual assault, but if you just stand by and say nothing it’s not going to improve things either.

      Do it anonymously if you have to. There’s no shame in that.

      1. Rat in the Sugar

        I think the report needs to come from the coworker, though, not the OP as she is a third party. OP, I think you should encourage your coworker to report it and start looking for a job elsewhere fast. I really see no way this isn’t going to blow up.

        1. voyager1

          OP1:
          Your update provides more context. I think wanting out is normal. When I read your original letter my first thought was the coworker meant something physical (i.e. shoot him, hit him over the head from behind m, etc) against your boss.

          You can go to the wife/HR person, but that could explode on you. Tough call either way.

        2. Mike C.

          Yeah, that would be best, but someone needs to say something otherwise this whole business is going to fail.

    3. HRish Dude

      What a horrible situation.

      You shouldn’t feel that it is your responsibility to protect your coworkers or your future coworkers. That’s simply not fair to anyone. While I find all of the “safe space” talk lately a little overboard, this is where it actually applies. Your employer should be a “safe space” – it’s your livelihood and you shouldn’t have to worry about a threat to it.

      It’s your employer’s duty to make sure that his company and actions are not negatively affecting the well-being of his associates. That doesn’t seem to be happening here. I think your own well-being is more important than a reference or getting a “leg up” in your field.

  22. Shannon

    Would it be possible for LW 3 to tell a neutral version of the truth? Something like, “The culture of the company has really changed a lot over the last few years. There is increased focus on X, Y and Z, now.” (X, Y or Z should not include words like “cut-throat.” Maybe something more like “very focused on individual performance,”) and if asked to specifically recommend your company, I’d say something like, “It’s always important to keep fit in mind and what may be a good fit for one person may not be a great fit for another. It’s really important to see how well you mesh with a culture yourself.” I don’t know how well a bunch of college students will catch on to the fact that not directly recommending your work place is a huge red flag, though.

  23. Observer

    I haven’t read the responses yet, so it’s possible that I’m repeating something that lots of other people have said…

    #1 If I were in your shoes I would definitely be looking for another job. I’m not going to get into the moral issues (although it’s worth thinking about how you would want others to behave if you were in that position.) What I’m thinking is that you are in a bad spot. There are just so many possible ways this can go wrong for you.

    What’s to keep your boss from coming on to you? If your Boss’s wife finds out,what o keep her from figuring that she needs to keep “temptresses” away from him? That means you… What’s to keep them from bringing their marital issues even further into the workplace and making a mess of the company?

    We can argue whether or not working long hours together with a boss of opposite gender is generally a bad idea or not. However, in this case we KNOW that the boss is quite capable of crossing boundaries and seems to see invitations where they don’t exist. Given that reality, I’d have to say that the chances of something uncomfortable or worse happening ot you are on the high side.

  24. Ask a Manager Post author

    I’m taking the rare step of closing comments on this post because I’m not cool with the victim-blaming that’s going on in some of the discussion and it’s already too far gone for me to attempt to moderate it (sadly picked the wrong day to be away from the computer the first half of the day).

Comments are closed.