update: my boss is constantly commenting on my face and telling me to smile

Remember the letter-writer whose boss kept commenting on her face and telling her to smile? Here’s the update.

I really couldn’t wait to be able to give you an update on this whole uncomfortable mess. Can I first just say that the word “gross” that you are and commenters used perfectly describes my boss? I had never used that word to describe him, and it is a perfect match to how he makes me feel.

I was actually so scared that you’d tell me “this is your fault,” but instead you made me see that this is not normal or acceptable behaviour. Even though I knew what he was doing wasn’t right, I still convinced myself that it was my fault and I was just being too sensitive.

After your response, I finally shared my concerns with my family – I never told them because I thought it was my fault. In the dialogues I had I realized it is SO much worse than initially thought. In addition to the inappropriateness I mentioned, there is a lot of sexual harassment. I’ve caught him looking at my chest (despite being 100% covered), sitting beside me in a chair and spreading his legs while resting his hand on his genital area, and sometimes going out of his way to touch me (like taking fluff off of my bare forearm). I had originally caught him staring at my chest (in a fully buttoned blouse) during the job interview – that should’ve been a red flag but I convinced myself it had to be innocent because I was so desperate for the job. I feel like I could wear a full on nun outfit and he’d still look at me inappropriately.

My family is outraged – I had chalked most of it up to weird quirks and didn’t realize how bad it truly was. They urged me to quit but it would be too difficult for my career path to quit so soon, I need to put in a couple more years for the sake of my resume after a previous short stay in a toxic work environment (where female employees were allowed to have open discussions on how large my chest was). I think my experiences there made me think that this was normal.

I’ve started listening to how other people speak of him and his business – and it isn’t good. Most former/current clients describe him as “creepy and inappropriate” and many left due to his blatantly misogynist/racist/ignorant/classist/unfunny jokes during business meetings. His last employee left because she felt uncomfortable around him, and when she spoke to him about his behaviour he lashed out at her and dragged her name through the mud… she even told me that he’s only ever hired women!

He actually took some time off a couple of weeks ago and the tension just melted right off of me! I was able to fully concentrate on my work without the anxiety that he’d stop at my desk to say something or creepily hang around for no particular reason. I felt ill the first day he came back to work.

I love your suggestions on things I could say to him but due to my timid nature I would never be able to actually speak my mind like that; the idea of speaking to any boss like that makes me nervous. I have changed my tactic of basically ignoring him when he is making these kinds of remarks. When he does the “you are so beautiful” routine when he wants something and then waits for me to give some kind of girlish response, I just continue working while raising my eyebrows to indicate that I did hear him… when he goes on about the smiling remarks, I give him an bewildered look and get right back to working. It seems that because he isn’t getting the reactions that he wants, he is scaling back how often he says this stuff. I worried I was being rude but at my last review he commented that I have a “mellow personality” (which is really how I want to be perceived, but I think he was pointing this out as a negative point because he wants me to be a peppy cheerleader or something).

The responses also made me question if maybe the non-smiling COULD be a problem in my role – so I tested it out. I made an effort to smile almost constantly for a few days, and it was a train wreck because the cleaning guy thought I was flirting with him by smiling while working and our regular clients seemed a little put off. I even had the opportunity to speak to a couple of clients and they shared that I am by far the kindest worker in the office and I have a warm expression when not smiling – so I don’t look like a serial killer or anything.

The only thing that I can really take away from this workplace is that I know what I don’t want for a future employer. I went from a smallish workplace to this extremely small one… it truly seems that the smaller the workplace, the worse things can be in terms of appropriateness and not having a safe place to seek assistance when in situations that are inappropriate.

{ 101 comments… read them below }

    1. OP1*

      Shockingly not.

      There is no HR to report to because we are a 2 employee workplace. The only person in the workplace I could report this to is HIM… and I know that would end with me getting fired and a horrendous reference to boot.

      I called our labour board to see what they could do but apparently while they can investigate sexual harassment and offer employee protection – that does NOT apply to workplaces my size!!! The worst they could do would be to come in and ‘inspect’ for a harassment policy but warned he’d figure out it was me who reported the lack of policy and there would be no protection to keep my job.

      I was told the police could help but that would involve pressing charges against him for sexual harassment! I spoke to an off-duty detective and was also told there is nothing they could do for me. He said the harassment would have to be much more blatant and witnessed by a third party willing to testify… which the other employee will not do. He said it would be a he-said-she-said conclusion with me losing my job and forever accused of making false accusations.

      So basically I cannot say anything to anyone to stop this from happening – if I talk to him he will explode on me like his last employee and if I talk to the authorities it is pretty much the same outcome!

      1. Grace*

        I would start looking for another job. You think you need two more years there so your resumè doesn’t look bad. Not necessarily so. When you go for interviews you can always finesse your way through your short time at this job saying it turned out not to be a good fit after all. You had no way of knowing that ahead of time because you had never worked at a very small place. Of course don’t mention harassment. Just talk about lack of growth, career advancement and how this job you’re now applying for has what the current one lacks. This is a very risky situation you’re in. This jerk could turn around and fire you. Don’t mean to frighten you but you’re better off getting out of there ASAP!

        1. Emac*

          I agree. And you say you’ve been listening to how others talk about him and his business and that it’s not good. So isn’t there a chance that others in the same field who interview you would already have a pretty good idea of why you want to leave? It sounds like he does not have a good reputation in general.

          1. Lance*

            Agreed very much on this point; if other people (clients, no less!) are talking about him in such lights, then if you’re applying in the same/similar field and area, chances are very good that potential employers will have heard of it (and likely even service ex-clients of his). Don’t be afraid to look somewhere else when you have such a good reason to leave.

            1. Beth*

              You are damaging your career, not helping it, by staying. Don’t cave to the “I need x years on my resume” line – no one cares about that as much as they care that you’re getting relevant experience and can talk about successes.

              Leave. This is bad for your health and your career.

            2. Jess1216*

              I was coming down here to say the same thing. I’m so happy that you know that he’s the problem and not you. He sounds terrible. He could change on a dime and then you’re out on his terms, not yours. It’ll be harder to find a job then than it would be now. I’m all for toughing it out for a bit but I think the possibility of being retaliated against isn’t worth what you *may* gain by staying.

            3. Mookie*

              Good point about him potentially being the OP’s industry’s missing stair. Instinct and socialization tend to lead victims of sexualized abuse and violence to silence for protection, out of fear that they are the only ones, that they will not be believed, or that their objections will be dismissed as motivated by animus rather than truth.

              So, it’s important to remember, OP, that explaining (tactfully and with very little detail) this situation to future hiring managers will not taint your reputation or make you look bad. There’s a chance that this person is a known and maligned quantity.

              You’ll move on from this, with a reputation for being kind and efficient, and he’ll go on being a massive, ridiculous tool.

    2. MonsterMaker*

      I have faced horrific abuse at the hands of every small business I have worked at and avoid them as a result. The problem is that if it’s reported even to the EEOC they won’t care AND they won’t do anything about it. I was blatantly told that in the state of Texas that the company must employ more than 14 employees, gross more than $1,000,000 per year, and have a history of treating employees poorly before they would even consider my case. I was told by the EEOC representative it’s because “it has to be worth their while in arbitration”, which literally means companies actually have to make enough money for them to sue. A hostile work environment actually means nothing to them.

      Keep in mind I recorded my psycho boss while he was threatening to SHOOT ME TO DEATH in front of a customer for refusing to do amoral work for free. The corrupt police department did nothing, the EEOC couldn’t care less, and that scum bag is still in business if you can believe it. Texas has hiring contracts that state “at will” employment can be ended at any time for any reason. I suppose it’s why I hate that state so much as employees have no rights.

      In my opinion, small businesses that stay small are run by sociopaths or jerks who can’t work well with others.

  1. Pineapple Incident*

    I’m so sorry that you have to deal with this, and that you are in a position that makes it hard to leave. I hope the strategies you’ve been using to brush off your super skeevy boss continue to dampen whatever urge he has to do these things. WHAT A SUPER GIANT DOUCHECANOE THIS CREEP IS.

  2. Applecake*

    Don’t make the mistake of waiting until you have enough ‘time served’ to look at what is out there. Start looking now – think of it as information gathering. See what jobs appeal the most, what companies tend to have positions that interest you, what skills you need to brush up on/acquire. Check out the companies’ reviews on glassdoor, think about what type of company culture you’d like to work in. Begin your networking now, so you can make informational meetings to gather background on best fit.

    1. Another Random Manager*

      This +1000. OP, I admire your stick-to-it attitude, and that you’ve taken this whole situation as an opportunity to learn more about yourself. There is a MUCH better workplace waiting for you, and hopefully a new job is not as far off as you think.

      That said, what a CREEP he is. Ugh!!!

    2. neverjaunty*

      This. OP, take a hard look at whether you really need to stay in this job, or whether you’re just afraid of confronting your boss by quitting. (Spoiler: YOU DO NOT NEED TO STICK IT OUT.)

      This guy is not just gross. He is a threat to your safety.

    3. eplawyer*

      Begin planning your strategy now. Know what you want — besides a non-creepy boss and co-workers who discuss your chest size — before you start looking. It will help you to avoid rationalizing red flags because you “need a job.”

      I don’t want this to sound like it is your fault. It is not. Sexual harassment is the fault of the harasser, not the harassee. The human mind’s capacity to rationalize is amazing. It’s part of being human. So you have to plan ahead.

      Also, as you noted, you believed this was normal. Alison has mentioned that a million times that toxic work places skew your perception what is “normal.” Know what is really normal and what is not before you start interviewing. Don’t accept not normal. Also, big companies can have creepy bosses and inappropriate co-workers too. Watch for behaviors, not size of company.

    4. valereee*

      I agree with Applecake…go ahead and start researching what is out there, concentrating on larger organizations with actual HR departments. What’s the worst that can happen?

  3. Less anonymous than before*

    Argh… this isn’t a happy update. I’m sorry you’re in this situation. I need to re-read your original letter, but is there an HR department at your job that you can note things to, to at least have a paper trail and how long have you been there?
    I do hope he eventually gives up and backs off, but the fact that its up to you to change his behavior makes my skin crawl off my bones. I hate this. Is it possible you could be job searching now and if something better comes along take it, and maybe not even mention this one on your resume, or would that leave too large of a gap?

    I’ve had to deal with similar things in workplaces and in just regular every day life. I used to always be told to “cover up” by my mother even when I was wearing the same exact shirt as someone else. She didn’t want men leering at me, but I had to explain to her, I could be in a snowsuit and the same would happen. I eventually learned that it is not my job to make other people treat me appropriately. Respecting another person should be the default and feeling like the onus was on me always made me stressed out and made me feel guilty or even ashamed. I hope you know that you are not responsible for his vile behavior.

    I hope you are able to update us again soon that you have found Amazing Opportunity and have left Creepy Boss in your dust and that you are finally happy and feel comfortable, safe and normal at work!! Also, I hope you develop the authority within yourself to push back and speak up for yourself. That’s an important thing to develop as a woman, as an adult, and as a person in the workforce. Regardless of whether it’s to a peer or a boss, it doesn’t make you difficult or combative or insubordinate to speak against things that aren’t appropriate or to stand up for yourself. There are ways to speak, as I am sure Alison scripted for you in your original letter, that are firm but respectful (not that he deserves respect from you) and I hope one day you learn to own that and can do it for yourself.

    Best wishes!!

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      No HR department—OP note in her prior letter that the department is small (boss + 2 female employees) with no HR officer/person.

    2. HoVertical*

      Been there too, as early as the age of 10 people were making inappropriate comments about my body. OP, the hills of Normal Workplace Land are alive with the sound of ‘COME WORK HERE!’ Plan your exit strategy and get out of that weird place while your sanity and self-esteem are still intact!

    3. Candi*

      “I used to always be told to “cover up” by my mother”

      This kind of thing bugs me. It’s Not Your Fault if some people didn’t listen to their parents (or had crappy parents).

      It’s not your fault either, LW. Start job hunting. The way such usually works, it’ll be a while anyway before you land something.

      Other threads also have a point that this guy’s reputation is probably a known thing. Unless the hiring manager is a complete youknowwhat, you wanting to leave will be perfectly understandable.

  4. Joseph*

    I went from a smallish workplace to this extremely small one… it truly seems that the smaller the workplace, the worse things can be in terms of appropriateness and not having a safe place to seek assistance when in situations that are inappropriate.
    To be honest, this isn’t particularly a function of workplace size as much as it is dysfunction / poor management. There are plenty of small businesses where the owner/CEO has their head on straight, considers employee opinions and deals with situations appropriately. Conversely, there are plenty of big workplaces where complaints get lost in the bureaucracy, waved off by HR or just quietly ignored by a manager a couple levels up- the archives have plenty of examples.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I do think small organizations are much more likely to be dysfunctional. That doesn’t mean that they all are, just that it’s correlated. When a place is larger, the impact of a single manager’s incompetence or craziness is usually far more contained, and things tend to have more oversight and review.

        1. paul*

          Yep. IIRC the threshold for discrimination laws to hit (at least the federal threshold) is 15 employees. so in a very small company, you are hosed :/

      1. jamlady*

        Also, in my world of contract work (where it’s normal to hop a lot, so I’ve worked for dozens of companies), the smaller companies are not in a strong position to protect workers from over-demanding clients and it makes for very rough working conditions. Management almost always takes the clients side (regardless of the contract scope) and it ends up becoming super toxic. Like Alison said, smaller companies aren’t necessarily always bad, but there’s a higher chance of dysfunction because bad management decisions spread very easily across the company.

        I currently work for the largest company I’ve ever worked for, and I’ve never felt so safe and valued at work as I do now.

      2. TootsNYC*

        And the other point that I think the OP was making is that the smaller the workplace, the fewer safe resources to turn to when you need them for something like that.

        And that’s mathematically true.

        1. Candi*

          I am glad she looked at all her legal options.

          There’s so many times when I read someone saying, “I can’t do anything” and I want to scream “You’ve only looked at workplace law!” Civil and criminal law (and regs), from federal down to city and town, apply to work locations as much as anywhere else. (What can practically be done may be limited, but it’s worth a look!)

  5. LadyPhoenix*

    Considering he is losing clients and workers, I think you should hand in your resignation too. It is clear that this guy won’t get you far in the work industry because of his bad behavior.

    And Bring all this up to HR or EEOC. You shouldn’t have to deal with or fix his behavior.

    This gross man is not your responsibility, and it is not your fault he is sexually harassing you. Start networking and find a place that doesn’t act like the fifties

    1. Thornus67*

      The EEOC has no jurisdiction if there are fewer than 15 employees, which it sounds like is the case here.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Also based on OP’s writing, she may be based abroad (see: “labour board”).

  6. Not So NewReader*

    ” I need to put in a couple more years for the sake of my resume after a previous short stay in a toxic work environment ”

    Looking back on my life, OP, any time I said that it was an illusion. It was not real. Please find folks to talk with about your career path. Make extra, extra, extra sure this statement you have made here is true.

    Hang on to what Alison says about toxic work places. We are not growing our careers we are just learning how to cope with dysfunction.

    Maybe you can find a compromise answer where you get out in the next 6-12 months.
    If this guy has been in the biz for a while, he might have a rep among his competitors. His competitors might hire people from your company just as a service to humanity. (Seriously, there are companies out that do this. They hire their competitor’s qualified people so they can help the people escape.)

    Also check out the archives here on learning how to pick work places that aren’t toxic. Even a half-baked effort will give you some benefit, don’t be afraid to be selective about employers. When we feel like we “have to” take a job that is offered, that is when problems can start.

    1. Bonky*

      Hearty agree. A short stay in this job is not going to doom any and all applications you make. It’s possible that some hiring managers will count it against you, but I can assure you that not all of us will: if a strong resume and cover letter comes across my desk with something like what you’re describing in it, I will still interview the candidate – but I’ll ask her why she’s wanting to leave and pay close attention to the answer.

      Those of us who hire people are actually human: we’re equipped to consider that there might be reasons for things on an application which are unusual. The only applications I dismiss out of hand are the ones where they haven’t followed the rules: where they haven’t gone through the steps I’ve asked for in the job ad (no cover letter where I’ve requested one, for example; or no portfolio where I’ve asked for one for a design position). Others, I’ll always consider. Please, please start applying. You’ve everything to gain and absolutely nothing to lose.

    2. TwoFishBlueFish*

      If you are fairly early in your career 1-2 years will not make anyone bat an eye. Please do not feel you need to spend “years” at this place and with this manager.

  7. Observer*

    Start looking for a new job. If you’ve been there at least a year, then you’re not coming off as completely job hoppery. And it can take longer than you expect to find something.

    Start by letting your network know you are looking and doing some research. But, given what you have described, you need to get out of there sooner rather than later.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes. And really any interviewer is going to understand “we’re a two-person organization and I want to work somewhere larger” as a reason to be looking, even if it’s a bit early.

  8. Elle*

    You don’t necessarily need to stay because of how it looks on your resume. You can apply for positions and quit when you get one you have vetted. People’s reputations do precede them and your application may end up be reviewed by someone who is very familiar with this man/organization who would not think twice if they saw someone leaving after a short time. My sector is small and when I see an applicant from a specific organization/manager I wonder how and why some people stayed as long as they did. I view leaving there soon after starting as someone realizing what an impossible situation it/he is and that they are doing what they need to for long term survival.

    1. BouncingBall*

      Yes, please do this! One time, many moons ago, I worked for a toxic boss. I stayed as long as I did because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get another job (not there long enough, not going to get a good reference, not enough work history, etc.). Well, toxic boss decided not to renew my contract, which in my niche looks like a sort-of firing. That, of course, made my anxiety about job searching go through the roof. And I was partially right–she did sabotage my job hunt by telling half-truths about me when people called for references. However, when I did finally get my next job, I was hired by a man who very well knew toxic boss’ reputation. He was also the one who clued me into what she’d been saying about me, in a way that let me address what she’d said and clarify the half-truths during the interview. So many lessons were learned from that disaster of a job, one of which being that people’s reputations do precede them, whether positive or negative.

  9. Mockingjay*

    OP, You have a valid reason for job hunting – company instability. If he is losing clients, you will be looking anyway! Keep it general: “I like my current work, but the company’s circumstances this year have changed.” That’s it.

    Please network and start looking. From what your clients have said about you, I believe you will find something sooner rather than later. You deserve a harassment-free workplace (we all do!).

    1. Mockingjay*

      I mean, the harassment is the real reason for leaving; the other is a response to the question, “why are you leaving your present employment.”

    2. jamlady*

      “I currently work in X industry, but would like to worth in Y”

      “I’m interested in learning A and B skills and my current position doesn’t have that opportunity”

      “I’m currently working for a company of A size and I’m interested in working for a larger company with more opportunity to grow”

      “My current boss is a sleezeball and I don’t feel safe around him”

      Okay, maybe not the last one, but there are several things you can come up with when you decided to start job searching earlier than expected. Things like culture fit, career opportunities, etc. are all things that you can vaguely mention in an interview if asked why you’re leaving your current position.

      I definitely recommend getting the heck out of this place ASAP!

  10. Shelly2002*

    Staying in a position where there’s no-one to turn to when things get bad is never a good idea. If nothing changes, the build-up from the tension you feel now will be amplified as time goes on. This can eventually affect your health. I know it seems unlikely that your career path won’t be successful if you leave soon, but there are much better scenarios out there waiting for you. As someone else said, start researching other companies that offer similar positions and make a transition as soon as it’s feasible. Your health & peace of mind are worth so much more.

  11. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP, I am so glad that you’re at least feeling better or are aware that you are not the disgusting slimeball in this situation. That said, I want to push back hard on the following:

    They urged me to quit but it would be too difficult for my career path to quit so soon, I need to put in a couple more years for the sake of my resume after a previous short stay in a toxic work environment (where female employees were allowed to have open discussions on how large my chest was). I think my experiences there made me think that this was normal.

    I want to urge you to reframe how you’re viewing your work history and your current job. First, no reasonable employer would hold it against you if you left a position because you were subject to daily and pervasive sexual harassment (which also applies to your prior job which appears to have been run by Macbeth’s witches and Regina George). Your description of your boss’s other harassing conduct seriously makes me throw up in my mouth.

    Second, I’m worried that the experience you’re acquiring isn’t actually going to help you out. You note that your boss is not well-respected in his industry and is seen as a nasty, petty, bigoted man. The longer you work for him, the longer employers will think that you either (a) shared his values; or (b) were not bothered by his behavior.

    Finally and most importantly, working at this job is literally killing you. By your description, you are going into a battle zone where you are creeped out and super stressed all day. That experience takes a toll on your mental and physical health (the stress will wreak havoc on your immune system/heart), but it also blurs your ability to determine when things are super bad. You know the frog in the boiling water metaphor, right? Your boss has you at the temperature right before a low boil. A few years’ additional work history will not be possible if you’ve been boiled to death, and that’s exactly what your boss is trying to do. It will also take years for you to be reset your norms around appropriate workplace conduct when you do leave.

    I need to underscore how deeply over the line your boss’s conduct is. If there’s a line, he is approximately 800 miles beyond that line and 5 miles before the “sexual assault” line. He’s already engaged in inappropriate touching (of himself and you), and he’s going to keep trying to push your boundaries because he thinks you’re desperate for a job. The fact that you have no civil legal protection makes this even worse.

    So I implore you—please consider job-hunting and leaving sooner than later. I’m not saying this cavalierly—I honestly and truly believe this is the only safe option, and a “work history” is not worth jeopardizing your physical and mental well-being. It sounds like your family supports you in this, and I have a feeling they’d support your efforts to leave if you ask them. Please dig into your network and get that support—we are all rooting for you.

    1. M from NY*

      Everything I was about to type. If your boss fired you tomorrow, you’d HAVE to figure out a way to present your resume and experience to obtain better options. So consider yourself fired and figure it out now. Your peace of mind is so much more valuable than length of time at an unhealthy job.

  12. Amber*

    Unless job searching will be detrimental to your career, I think you should try. You never know, another company might be perfectly ok with your past experience especially once you explain why you don’t want to stay in this job. I think you should get out before you get any more desensitized to this behavior. Eventually it will feel “normal” to you and that will make it dangerous to your mental health.

    1. Observer*

      Not to be cavalier about mental health, but at the moment, I’m more concerned about her physical safety. This guy has gone so far past the line, that it really does worry me.

  13. W*

    Can you seek out ways to contact other employees that have left the company or any clients that have left your boss? They would be very understanding about your wish to leave your current job NOW and might be able to help you within your same industry, eliminating the need to stick around for your resume.

    1. Carpe Librarium*

      They also may be willing to be a reference or provide a note of recommendation regarding your treatment of clients and the quality of work you produce.
      Their references may not have as much weight as someone who has worked alongside you as a manager or co-worker, but it couldn’t hurt to be able to point to a solid history of appreciative clients.

  14. irritable vowel*

    I just want to second/reinforce what everyone else here has said about not feeling like you need to stay in this job. Stay until you find another job, if you need to financially, but you are not going to destroy your career by leaving a second job after a relatively short period of time. You should not be suffering like this – any perceived setback to your career is secondary to your feeling of well-being!

  15. MadGrad*

    “due to my timid nature I would never be able to actually speak my mind like that”

    LW, I don’t know you, but please don’t tell yourself this. You CAN say something, and you CAN set boundaries with people who are pushing you in semi-reasonable circles. Being timid in general may make you uncomfortable doing so, but you have that ability. I saw your other comment and I understand that there’s probably not too much you can do to change this situation while you’re in it (I’m with the others saying to get out now). Still, you’ll probably be faced with other creeps after you escape this toxic slime eel’s den, and you deserve to feel like you can crush them into tiny little creep smithereens with effective boundary setting.

    TL;DR have you seen/read The Secret Life of Walter Mitty? Like that, but with “That’s inappropriate, please stop”.

    1. MadGrad*

      Adding because there were a lot of notes of this in your post:

      Not being comfortable establishing your boundaries or being ignored if you do do not make harassment your fault. It might help your confidence and deter creeps who don’t want a fight, but slime eels slime to the beat of their own drum.

  16. Lontra Canadensis*

    Nth-ing the suggestions that other potential employers in your sector probably will understand why you’re job-searching – as you said, he doesn’t have a good reputation business-wise. I’ll bet that they also know what a creep he is, too. If you start looking at what’s available and let contacts know you’re interested, you may find that people don’t really question why.

  17. GlamNonprofitSquirrel*

    OP, you’ve gotten some great advice on departing sooner rather than later.

    I am worried for you. In your first role (ToxicJob #1), you were sexually harassed by female colleagues. In your current job, (ToxicJob #2), you are actively being sexually harassed. You made a few comments/excuses about your attire and I need you to understand this:


    It doesn’t matter if you wear a nun’s habit, a fitted skirt suit, a hijab, capris and a sweater … NO ONE has a right to make comments about your body and you should not alter what you are wearing in order to keep people from making comments. You are obligated to dress appropriately for your job and within the bounds of what’s acceptable in your industry. That’s it.

    YOU DESERVE a safe, professional working environment.
    YOU ARE WORTHY of being treated with respect and shown appreciation for your hard work.
    YOU CAN MOVE ON without harming your professionalism and career trajectory.


  18. Marie*

    Why don’t you take advantage of the situtation. Why don’t you just laugh at his jokes, flirt back. Make sure your cleavage is showing everytime you ask him for a payrise. If he pushes it, just say “oh Mr Smith, what if your wife found out”. “I really admire you Mr Smith from afar”. “Mr Smith, I have to hide my feelings from you when I see you for the sake of our professional relationship”. Be smart and take advantage of your good looks. This is from someone who gets the opposite attitude. Its worse.

    1. BuildMeUp*

      …Wow. What an incredibly inappropriate comment. Just. Wow. You’re telling someone to encourage sexual harassment.

      I can’t tell if this is trolling or just rude, but either way, this is not the kind of advice/feedback we give people here.

    2. Sue Wilson*

      I think it’s probably a bad idea, and frankly bad advice, to assume that you know how someone else will take the “opposite” attitude, or that you know someone hasn’t experienced the “opposite” attitude. It’s probably best if we focus on advice that will make the OP as comfortable as possible in her position (which, OP, is definitely getting out, tbqf) and not advice that is a) likely to make the OP more uncomfortable just because there is the nebulous threat of the “opposite” attitude and b) just as likely to damage the OP’s reputation, based on the assumptions of “good looks” and their (very uncertain) benefit you are making, as help it.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t want to delete things just for being bad advice; I reserve that for stuff that violates the rules of the site. But it’s definitely very bad advice!

    3. jamlady*

      Op – please completely ignore this ridiculous comment.

      You are allowed to set your own boundaries and feel uncomfortable with whatever attention you may or may not receive. This comment is completely ignorant of so many things and completely unhelpful for your situation. Your situation is not a joke, it is very real, and this advice isn’t a healthy answer.

      Please do what you need to do to get through this safely and happily. I hope you can find a job in a better environment with people who are respectful.

    4. Rebooting*

      If you’re trying to say that it’s worse to be not conventionally attractive and thus not subject to this sort of sexual harassment, you’re wrong. Sexual harassment is not the “better” option.

      1. Mookie*

        Exactly. Not being told to smile is great. It’s nice when bosses don’t touch themselves while looking at you. It’s wonderful when they don’t try to de-lint you. I wish this state of existence on everyone forevermore.

    5. Panda Bandit*

      This is a really terrible idea but I have a better one: shut down your computer, unplug it, and give it to someone else.

    6. valereee*

      Marie, you say you get the ‘opposite attitude’ and it’s worse. I think you are saying that your boss makes it clear he considers you unsexy, that you feel you’re not getting the opportunities you’d get if your boss did consider you sexy, and that from your point of view, if you’re going to experience sexual harassment, it’s better to at least get something out of it? I’m sorry you’re experiencing sexual harassment, too. I don’t think OP would be well-served by trying to somehow leverage the harassment she’s experiencing into pay raises.

    7. Tobias Funke*

      I really really understand. I look a lot like a cross between a horse and a gargoyle and in every job prior to my current got treated terribly because of it. And I used to feel that way too. But it doesn’t help. It just reinforces the bad treatment we ALL get.

  19. Tomato Frog*

    There’s no reason not to look for jobs now. If you can’t get a new job with this short-term stay, you simply won’t, and then you’ll be at this job longer, anyway. And if you can get a job now, well, that’s proof that you can get a job even with this short-term stay on your record. It’s either going to happen or not going to happen, but you don’t need to make it not happen.

  20. Another timid reader*

    One of the hardest things that I am still learning to do is being my own advocate and standing up for myself. I too am very timid, but I realized that my timidness was a beacon to toxic managers and co-workers to take advantage of me because they knew I was too scared to defend myself and would accept whatever they threw at me. But, the best thing I have done so far is finding this site because it helped me navigate some tough situations. Before I acted like I was still in school and needed someone’s permission to be able to act because in my head I couldn’t do X because *I* would get in trouble. But, guess what? Is it not on me if someone, a manager, co-worker etc. acts like an ass. It is on them and that realization helped me leave my previous job with a toxic boss. I quit after she tried to humiliate me in front of a client. At that point I just had enough after months of her bad behavior and even though I gave noticed, I just walked out one day. I was very privileged to have family support to be able to that, but even though she tried to hurt my reputation I landed several interviews and two months later after I just left, an offer.

    Sometimes I think we get so tied up in paying our dues and/or staying in awful jobs in order to avoid the appearance of being job hoppers that we put with insane behavior that comes at the costs of our physical and mental health. I have done that and I regret it. But the one thing I don’t regret? Walking out of that previous job.

  21. ..Kat..*

    OP- please start job hunting now. Don’t just jump ship for any job, make as sure as possible it will be a good fit. AAM has some excellent advice on this. Also, can you use clients who like working with you for references?

    Good luck.

  22. LadyPhoenix*

    Ok, so no HR and no EEOC.

    I would still make like a hocky puck and get the puck outta there. This guy is teetering on the edge between harassment and assault (he passed the harassment line ages ago), and he is known in the business world as the terrible creep that no one likes. It doesn’t help you to stay with him.

    And when you leave that hellhole, call the police. He should not be running any sort of business with the crap he pulls.

    Don’t look back, just move forward. Find a place that CAN protect you and your rights.

  23. Green Tea Pot*

    This so reminds me of my first job at a small family business in the early 1970s. The owner was, because there is no other word for it, a pig. He chased young women, and was having an affair with a female sales staffer. (I once walked in on them in a compromising position.)

    This really gave me the wrong impression of how business was conducted, as I was just out of high school and had not yet gone to college. Thankfully, I only stayed there 18 months before moving on. But it was horrible.

  24. Marie*

    No one else has any advice that works other than leave. The next organisation is unlikely to be any different or it will just be something else. My advice works. In control and richer. Take pictures if necessary to show his wife. in future when you wonder why the person above you is ****, ask yourself how they got there and the above advice worked. Its the real world.

    1. Sarah in Boston*

      What?! Eew. So now you’re suggesting blackmail on top of encouraging sexual harassment? I have no words other than asking Allison to please consider adding you to the must be moderated list (if there is one).

      1. jamlady*

        Right? I’m honestly so surprised to be reading this kind of advice on this site. My sister went through something very similar as the OP about 4 years ago and she heard all sort of comments similar to this. She’s still working through the trauma of that work environment and everyone trying to shame her for not taking advantage of it (??!!).

        P.S. To the OP, my sister got very lucky and ended up in a lawsuit that got that chapter disbanded – but she couldn’t do anything about her own health and safety until she left. The lawsuit took place a year later.

    2. jamlady*

      No. This is not how things work in a normal work environment. The next place is very likely to be different because this behavior isn’t normal. Your advice up thread is gross and unhealthy. The OP needs healthy advice for getting through this – not advice telling her to “take advantage of the situation” and enjoy the attention. Ridiculous.

    3. TL -*

      What? None of my jobs have ever included any sexual harassment and my current boss is both extremely well-thought-of, well-paid, and incredibly kind.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Marie, I’m really confused/puzzled by your posts. In addition to recommending that OP engage in unethical and illegal conduct, you’re also ramping up the inappropriateness of your advice. Can you clarify why you think it’s better to commit a crime and suffer harassment than it is to cut your losses and leave?

      (Aside: Leaving is real world advice that works, as well.)

    5. New Bee*

      I mean this kindly–you should read some of Alison’s posts about how a bad environment can skew your perceptions of normal and take the advice therein. What you’re describing is not how most (and functional) workplaces work. I hope that if you are currently in a situation influencing you to respond how you have here, you can get out soon!

    6. Lady Phoenix*

      Here’s an in-detail e plaination to why Marie’s advice would be more harmful than good:
      1) If word got around the the OP sleeps with the boss, a lot of other companies would be weary to hire her and her coworkers would be more prone to treat her with disdain
      2) If the OP was charged with blackmail, she would be excluded from a lot of companies that are weary of or simply not allow criminal records. If the OP had to explain the record, chances are she would definitely not be hired
      3) This dude is losing clients and coworkers left and right, and is a super small business. Why should the OP tie herself down to what is essentially a human Titanic, about to hit the ice berg called “Bankrupcy” or “Police Arrest”
      4) if Companies found out the OP was supporting a toxic environment that encouraged sexual harassment by sleeping with her boss and turning a blind eye to harasment, a lot of companies will have a low opinion of her. They already have a low opinion of her boss, afterall.

      Op, Marie’s advice is the worst advice ever. This advice would sooner burn bridges with the people you want to network with than help you improve. There ARE places that treat workers with respect and kindness, you just find have to leave this hellhole and find them.

      So yes, leave this place.

      1. Lady Phoenix*

        Oh yeah, and since I made the joke: “It looks like we hit the Daily Double, Allison.”

        Your thoughts besides “Noooooooooooo.”

        1. Candi*

          I really want to make a rude and snarky comment about time travelers from ~100 years ago.

          LW, don’t listen to this Marie. (The other one, sure.) Her beliefs/experience are the far end of the bell curve. Most places, either through decency or force of law, don’t do this.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Except Marie is a regular commenter, so this is pretty weird (unless someone is trolling under that name).

    7. Karanda Baywood*

      The next organisation is unlikely to be any different

      THis is patently inaccurate.

      1. 221 Baker Street.*

        This is typical of the 100,000 (and shrinking) size of town I’m currently in. Blackmail works but I would never advocate it. My issue is that instead of Marie recommending that the employee try to blackmail a potentially violent employer she should be encouraging her to leave and to spread the word.

        I have done the latter when asked and simply stated that their company was not growing and did not provide the opportunities I was looking for. I’ve never had to “spill the beans” on someone with a terrible reputation as there is another person there ready to say “OMG! Did you hear he gave his wife gonorrhea when he cheated on her with the meth head of an accountant last month?!” while I sidle safely away. That truly works 100% of the time. Even staying as short as six months is understandable, since most companies are nosy enough to demand what you were making at that job. I had one hiring manager ask me how I survived on the wage of X when the industry standard is clearly Y wage. It was then that I realized I should be moving to another job more frequently than what I assumed was living off of food stamps at $10/hr shooting and editing digital video. I wasted 18 months of my life please never assume you have to stay for any certain length of time at all OP.

  25. any mouse*

    You ‘ve said that he’s losing employees and clients. Chances are a place you apply to is going to know about his reputation. I would start looking for another job and not stay there.

    You are worthy of being treated well.

  26. Stella Mac*

    I hadn’t read the original letter, so when I saw the title come up on Twitter, I thought this was a case of gaslighting. After reading both the original and the update, I think it still is to some extent. This guy is clearly a jerk. And he likely realizes his (female) employees are uncomfortable with his comments and leering, so these requests to smile – as if they are indicative of employees’ happiness and enjoyment with their work – help contribute to the facade that everything is hunky-dory in this place.

    Several years ago, I was called into my boss’ office. She said, “you seem frustrated and unhappy” and that my unhappiness was coming around in my correspondence to outside clients. I was unhappy because I was overworked but I’m a professional and I kept whatever crazy was going on in my office out of what we needed to do for the clients. My boss is a woman and it took me a while to realize what was going on: she was gaslighting me, trying to make me think I was the crazy one for reacting negatively, that I should have taken my lumps and shut up because “everyone else is happy here, why aren’t you?”

    I’m also replying to this thread b/c I can relate to the anxiety of being in a small group where you feel easily attacked and being forced to work for a boss you do not like and who mistreats you. You seem young and like you can bounce back pretty easily from this. But in case you can’t, don’t be shy or scared to seek counseling to talk through what you’ve been through. I am beginning to think that there is workplace PTSD, caused by working in toxic environments where there is no safe haven. Some people are good at compartmentalizing (what happens at work, stays at work) but some of us can’t.

  27. Another Emily*

    OP you deserve a job where you are treated with respect 100% of the time. Every person deserves this and you are no exception. As you seem to have experienced, working for loons can cause their loony tunes behaviour to feel normal after a while; this guy’s behaviour is super gross, wrong, and not at all normal or okay. You already know this. But the next step does not have to be “suck it up for two years for the sake of my career.”
    As many other comments have said, one short term job on your resume is not going to hurt you. Smart interviewers look for a pattern of job hopping; one short term job is not a pattern and “it wasn’t a good fit,” is a valid reason to leave a good job, much less this rolling dumpster fire.
    I admire you playing the long game for your career and your bravery in tolerating this terrible situation, but I think staying here will do more harm than good. Staying in this dysfunctional workplace is likely to be incredibly damaging to your career. People have a tendency to acquire any and all survival tactics for horrible situations that would be inappropriate in a sane environment, you could normalize more subversive behaviours that you will detect less easily, you could pick up really bad habits from this place. Please, please job search as much as you have the energy for.
    You’re the expert on your local job searching climate of course but bear in mind that people everywhere perpetuate old advice that no longer applies; “must stay in job for a minimum of two years” could be out of date. I guarantee to you if you’re in Canada you can quit this job immediately.
    I’m wishing you all the best luck OP! Take care.

  28. Grr*

    ” it was a train wreck because the cleaning guy thought I was flirting with him by smiling while working ”

    Oh just FFS, creepy crappy things like that that dudes do just make me want to start swearing and throwing haymakers. OP, I’m sorry you’re surrounded by (as someone perfectly put it above) douchecanoes.

  29. calonkat*

    OP, take the advice to look for another job ASAP. I’ve had a, “ahem” checkered employment history, and NEVER experienced anything like what you are going through. Working from tiny offices to the garment industry, I’ve never experienced this sort of insidious, continuing, nauseating behavior. You CAN find a better place to work. Heck, fast food WOULD be a better place to work!

    You deserve a place of employment where you are not worried about your safety. And make no mistake, you are being attacked all the time by your creepy, inappropriate boss.

  30. Bow Ties Are Cool*

    Yeah, there are good and bad things about working for a large company/in a large office, but one of the good things is that there’s generally a really well-defined harassment policy and an HR department that is ready to shut that kind of thing down posthaste.

  31. Venus Supreme*

    If the only reason you’re staying is because of how your resume looks, please leave! It’s not worth it. Your emotional health is worth more than what your resume states. Your physical safety (who knows what this effing creeper will do next..) is worth more than what your resume states.

    OldBoss created a toxic work environment (I wrote about him on the original post: https://www.askamanager.org/2016/09/my-boss-is-constantly-commenting-on-my-face-and-telling-me-to-smile.html#comment-1211426) and I only lasted 9 months. My previous internship (I’m also in my early-mid 20’s) was also 9 months long. That didn’t prevent me from getting my current job, and I am SO. MUCH. HAPPIER.

    Seriously, OP, start looking now. You don’t know how long the job search will take, and you don’t want to start when you’re already absolutely fed up, or worse, when your creepy boss crosses a line. You also have a lot of valid reasons for looking for a new job without saying “my boss is gross.” When I was looking, I told interviewers that I recognized the dysfunction in a 3-person operated organization and I was seeking to join a team within a larger organization in order to develop healthy work habits. I also wanted more specialized work versus running an entire department by myself (without any prior experience).

    OP, I hope to hear a happier update from you in 2017!!!

  32. Candi*

    I remember, on my travels through the archives, coming across a comment where a receptionist quit after less than three months.

    The boss was a tyrannical type who expected her to know, without being told in any fashion, that she should send birthday, anniversary, and any other special occasion/holiday bouquets to his wife, his mother, and anyone else he thought of. Again, she was to accomplish this through mystical psychic powers or something.

    Of course, not knowing this was a thing, the receptionist didn’t send the wife her bouquet for the latest occasion. The boss came in, screaming and yelling and being a brat, and slammed down a list of names and dates, demanding that from now on, she get the bouquets out ON TIME.

    The receptionist, in a display of awesome, calmly examined the list, then handed it back to him, explaining that none of the dates were within the next two weeks. She put in her notice right there.

    It being a fairly small town where everyone in that industry knew/knew about everyone else, she had no trouble finding a job. Apparently the reaction she got was primarily “You lasted how long under WHO!?!” She was snapped right up.

    So LW, find another job, then professionally tell wannabe Sexual Assault boss where he can stick his pervishness.

Comments are closed.