my coworker told me to stop flirting with a student employee

A reader writes:

I am part of the HR department at my workplace, and we hired “Andre” a few months ago as a part of our student group. He’s only 18, but he’s been a hard worker and always takes initiative around the office. I was part of Andre’s interview panel, so I’ve always been in contact with him and friendly with him since we brought him on board.

For the past month, Andre has been working in my section to help process a backlog of paperwork caused by COVID-19, so he spends a lot of time in my office where the only working scanner is. We started with small talk but learned that we share a lot of hobbies.

A week ago, a cafe near our office opened back up (take-out only), and when I told Andre about it, he suggested we go there for break. I’ve had coffee with my other coworkers before. He offered to pay, and after we chatted at a park bench by the cafe, he offered a hand to help me up from the bench and held my upper arm until we’d left the park. Since then, we’ve felt more comfortable making physical contact, but it’s been nothing inappropriate. It’s usually just a poke or bump on the shoulder or brushing up against each other in the hall.

I bring this up because one of my coworkers, “Jane,” confided in me that she’s concerned about how Andre and I interact. She said that she saw us on that outing, and she confessed that she overheard a short conversation we had while Andre was replacing toner. Andre was jamming the cartridge in aggressively, so I said, “Damn, I hope you don’t treat your dates like that.” He had replied, “Only if they ask for it.” She has also heard Andre tell me on a separate occasion, “If only I could get a girl with legs like yours, I’d be in business.”

Jane thinks this could result in sexual harassment complaints, but that wouldn’t make any sense. We thought we were alone, and since we’ve been getting more connected at work, we’ve been talking in friendly innuendo like that. Andre has never shown any discomfort when we share jokes like these, especially when he initiates them, and we never do so in front of others to make others feel uncomfortable. Nobody’s complaining. Jane, however, thinks this is unbecoming of a 40something woman like myself and could look very bad for our company if our private interactions were made public.

Jane says they’re not as private as I think and everyone else can feel the “sexual tension” between us, and she said that people sometimes refer to us as “work spouses.” I admit that interacting with Andre makes me feel more attractive than I have in years, but it’s not relevant. Jane also asked if my husband knows about Andre, but my husband doesn’t need to know about Andre since I’ve never cheated on him and never would.

Jane doesn’t seem to understand more nuanced social interactions like flirting can be harmless and common in office settings, and based on the questions above, she seems to believe it’s okay to ask about my private life because of this. Is there a tactful way I can explain to her that she shouldn’t try to police her coworkers’ social interactions, especially if they’re not meant to be public?

Whoa, no.

You need to stop flirting with Andre. Stop brushing against him in the hallway (!), stop trading sexually charged jokes and compliments, stop the whole thing.

You are in HR. He is an 18-year-old student employee. You cannot flirt with or trade sexual innuendo with a student employee.

Yes, this could be sexual harassment. It could be sexual harassment of Andre if he ever starts to feel uncomfortable or like his security in his job depends on continuing the flirtation (and just because someone seems comfortable with this kind of contact at first, that doesn’t mean they’ll continue to feel comfortable with it). It could also be a legal liability if others are forced to overhear obvious sexual remarks between the two of you (that toner comment? come on — I guarantee you that grossed out anyone who overheard).

And yes, potential harassment issues aside, this will absolutely affect the way others think of you. At a minimum, you’ll look like you have terrible judgment, and if this continues people will suspect you of more than that.

Doing this with any colleague would be inappropriate. Doing it with an 18-year-old is even more problematic. He’s on a whole different plane of maturity (and he’s not accountable in nearly the same way you are for knowing what is and isn’t acceptable at work).

Also, you’re in HR! I hope that means you’re doing benefits administration or comp analysis or similar — because if you do anything related to legal compliance or investigations or employee counseling, you’re torpedoing your credibility and trustworthiness in your job as well. You may have already forfeited your ability to be seen as fair or impartial if someone needs to report harassment or other inappropriate behavior.

If you do work in those areas of HR, your judgment here — and especially your response after a colleague pointed out the problems — is indicative of some serious deficiencies in your understanding of foundational concepts in your field, and I’d urge you to do some serious soul-searching about what’s required to make your behavior and judgment line up with what’s needed in that work. This isn’t “I occasionally have do some data entry for my job and I’m not great at it.” This is “I violate the rules I am charged with enforcing, don’t realize when I’m doing it, and may harm others who rely on me to keep their workspace safe and legal.” It’s soul-searching, “am I in the right field?” territory.

If you do that soul-searching and come out of it with an understanding of why all of this is a problem and a resolve to do better, you should be able to move forward (although you’ll need to do some reputation repair at work, as well as righting things with Andre). But you have to do that work.

Also … you didn’t write in asking for marriage advice, but the relevant question there isn’t whether your husband “needs” to know about Andre. It’s whether you’d be comfortable if he did.

{ 1,194 comments… read them below }

  1. My Boss is Dumber Than Yours*

    I usually have something witty I want to say after each thread (and usually restrain myself to stay off moderation), but I can’t even with this one. Op, you have truly made me understand speechless.

    1. KayDeeAye*

      My exact reaction is difficult to convey in mere letters in a comment box, but it would be something like this: Aaaaaaaaauuuugh! No, no, no, no, no, no, NO.

      1. highbury house*

        My response to the headline was ‘oh, certainly the coworker’s right’, without even reading the piece. And the nooooooooo just got bigger and bigger each line I read.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          I read the headline thinking that Jane needs to MYOB. No, Jane is spot on and this is not harmless. I heartily second the advice to take a look at whether this is the right career path for you. A few sessions of counseling could provide you with a way to bounce this off of an objective professional safely.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            Yeah, I feel like we’ve had letters with similar titles before and in those cases the coworkers were overreacting. But I’m actually pretty impressed with how Jane has handled this.

            OP, this is definitely not okay.

            1. Coder von Frankenstein*

              Agreed. The LW is asking for advice on how to explain to Jane that cliffs are perfectly safe and it’s rude to throw ropes at people.

          2. Works in IT*

            Yeah, my experience with men who automatically assume I’m flirting with *them* when I’m positive and cheerful with *everyone* had me thinking maybe the coworker was reading more into the situation than was actually there. Instead, it kind of feels like there’s more to the situation than the coworker is reading into it!

            1. Archie Goodwin*

              That’s exactly where I was expecting this to go.

              Boy, I wish I had been right.

              Reading this letter horrified me for SO MANY reasons.

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              This was my expectation as well, but, oh, boy, did that expectation take a turn into the WTF-no-listen-to-Jane rather quickly.

              I mean the printer toner comment alone would have merited a nope-nope-nope conversation from me. My HR lead would die on the spot if anyone on her team had the poor judgment to engage in that sort of banter with anyone, let alone a student employee.

            3. Elbereth*

              I thought that at first too. But, oh my…
              Much of the “we” language seems off. But the kicker is that she *knows* exactly what that there is a problem and it sits squarely with her: “I admit that interacting with Andre makes me feel more attractive than I have in years, but it’s not relevant.”
              Of course it’s relevant. That’s why the OP said it at all. She just doesn’t *want* it to be relevant, and so dismisses it.

            4. Midnight Mother*

              Yes to this. It started reading like a Lifetime movie. Icky on all kinds of levels. And for the record, I used to work with a married man who flirted outrageously with another female co-worker to the point that he would stroke her hair during departmental meetings! No one said a thing! It was like I was the only one seeing it!

              1. Ego Chamber*

                Ewww. I can handle some borderline flirting at work, like whatever as long as it’s friendly/not predatory and there’s no intention behind it (I admit this makes no sense besides dealing in profoundly toxic environments when I couldn’t quickly extricate myself), but no touchy. Gross.

            5. Quill*

              Yeah, as soon as I read that the person being flirted with was male I’m like “this is going to be another case of women can’t be friendly, isn’t it… oh no…. nope… you said WHAT?”

          3. RabbitRabbit*

            Same here. I was like ‘oh surely it can’t be that bad’ and actually, no, it was miles worse. Like, wanting to look away because it just kept getting worse.

          4. ExcelNerd*

            Honestly, I think the co-worker “Jane” should file a report with another HR person about this. Other employees can file reports even if behavior between two other people makes them feel uncomfortable. And “Andre” is only 18! He may not have enough work experience to know how inappropriate this is. For an HR person to be giving the green light to this behavior is wrong on so many levels, and sounds rather predatory, like casting couch/child molester grooming.

            1. Black Horse Dancing*

              While this is greatly inappropriate, Andre is an adult and has agency. This is nowhere near child molesting. This is a senior employee making vulgar comments with a junior employee.

              1. Anona Nonna*

                Respectfully disagree. A legal adult status does not confer an emotional/mental adult status. The difference between a legal minor and a legal adult is 24 hours. You do not gain enough maturity to deal with predatory and grooming behavior in 24 hours. An adult who has 40+ years of lived experience under their belt should not flirt with someone who only has 18 years of lived experience. Furthermore, this goes beyond “junior” and “senior” employees. One is a student, there to learn about the job. The other is a person in power, and who explicitly holds that power over the student.

                1. Nyxee*

                  Agreeeeeed. Our brains do not stop developing from adolescence until we are 25. Would I go so far as to call it molestation? No, but that doesn’t mean this behavior in a work setting is ok. Regardless of his age, @ExcelNerd is correct. LW is in HR and should know that sexual harassment can be reported by Jane to another member of HR if LW and Andre’s actions make her feel uncomfortable. I wonder if that is the root of why LW is grasping for validation?

                2. YouCanGoHomeAgain*

                  Yes, exactly this. The age gap alone is makes this extremely icky. The fact that she’s in HR makes it even worse. It needs to stop and NOW!

                3. ???*

                  This can be predatory without being akin to child molestation, come on.

                  A related side note, @Nyxee, I’d like to push back on the “our brains aren’t fully developed until we’re 25” line. It might be technically true, but socially and legally we’re considered adults at 18. Granting additional support structures to people under 25 is probably kind and reasonable, but treating them as though they can’t be trusted to know their own minds is patronising. An insistence on casting young adults as children who need to be sheltered can be abusive too.

                4. Glitsy Gus*

                  Agreed. Also, I mean, at the core of it as well, he’s an 18-year-old in an internship. He is supposed to be learning how to behave appropriately in the workplace! You are not teaching him that, you are teaching him how to be the weird, creepy guy who flirts inappropriately.

                  I probably wouldn’t go so far as to compare this with molestation, but you ARE warping his perception of appropriate norms and behaviour so you can continue to have your fun time, which is the basic idea behind grooming, so just knock it off already. And don’t ever let a subordinate, especially an intern(!!!), pay for your coffee. You treat or pay your own way.

              2. KayDeeAye*

                No…it’s a senior employee allowing (encouraging? delivering? all three things?) inappropriate comments and behavior to someone even more junior than a junior employee – to an intern! To someone right out of freakin’ high school!

                Something doesn’t have to be literally illegal in order to be predatory, and this, my friend, is predatory. I mean, it’s not illegal for a high school teacher to bed someone one month after that person graduates from that high school, either – but that’s predatory, too.

                1. AKchic*

                  Someone who might still be in high school, depending on the intern program (summer school, extended high school program, etc.)

              3. Emmanuel Macron*

                I agree with Black Horse Dancing. The issue is that this is happening in a workplace with an HR person. If Andre didn’t work there, well, he’s past the age of majority, and it would be no one’s business.

                1. Sabina*

                  Yep, if she’d met Andre in the wild and struck up a flirtatious friendship that bordered a little bit on the creepy, that would be one thing. He would be free to walk away. But, MY GOD, he has to work with this woman and needs to build work experience to put on a resume and most likely needs the income to pay for school. It’s an outrageous power imbalance.

          5. Wendy Darling*

            Me too! I was like, oh, they’re just friendly, this is fine and Jane needs to stop clutching her pearls… for the first part of the letter. And then I got to ‘I said, “Damn, I hope you don’t treat your dates like that.” He had replied, “Only if they ask for it.”’ and basically screamed continuously (inside my heart) for the rest of the letter.

            That is not appropriate, LW, you are in HR, what are you doing???

            1. Not A Girl Boss*

              Yeah that was my guess too. But then, nope. For once I’m with Jane and her pearls.

              The part that took it from “noooo….” To “stop this train I want off!” was when she said they’ve “gotten more comfortable with physical touch.” I cannot imagine a time in my career where I would describe physical touch with a co-worker as something I’d be comfortable with. Maybe like, 2 coworkers-turned-best-friends who I now hug as a greeting out of the office. But letting him hold her arm as they walked out of the park? WHAT!? I AM AGHAST!

            2. Gail Davidson Durst*

              I also screamed internally more and more. And for the record I enjoyed your reference to 2020 Japanese roller coaster standards here!

              1. Wendy Darling*

                I genuinely think that went viral because we had all been screaming inside of our hearts for most of 2020 already and it gave a name to what we have been feeling. :D

          6. Happy Pineapple*

            I was fully expecting this to be another letter where a judgmental coworker was deeming any friendly communication with the opposite sex as “flirting.” Then I was hoping OP was only a few years older, maybe a 22 year old who was fresh out of school and still learning how to act at work.

            Now I’m just shocked. In no world is it okay for a grown woman to be touching and flirting with a teenager.

        2. Traffic_Spiral*

          Ha! Yeah, that was pretty much my exact response as well. Like, I don’t even have full words for my response to this. It sorta started as “umm….” and then went to a low-pitched “nooo…” and then to a slightly-higher-pitched “Nooo…” and just every sentence was a more concerned “NOOOOO!!!”

          Seriously, lady, WTF? Just… no!

          1. Robin Ridley*

            Exactly how I felt. Oh, coworker is overreacting to OMG! What are you thinking?

            1. Coffee Bean*

              Yup. Holy Good Grief LW. You need to listen and listen good to Jane. You judgement is askew.

        3. Works in IT*

          My response to the headline was “…maybe the coworker’s someone who doesn’t think men and women are capable of interacting without flirting?

          Then, as someone who has been teased frequently for missing apparently obvious flirting cues, I was shocked at the abundance of casual touching and descriptions of flirtatious lines that were so obvious, I got them. This isn’t even a case of two employees at the same level flirting with each other. This is someone who is IN HR, at a significantly higher level than the STUDENT EMPLOYEE, who is just starting out in his career and has no experience with how to deal with this. Particularly since it’s coming from someone in HR!

          This needs to stop.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            Yeah, I thought from the headline that this was going to be like that old letter where someone wanted to stop a female work/study student at a university from having ordinary conversations with married male grad students. This was…not like that.

            1. Sparrow*

              Yes! I was half-expecting a reprint of that letter when I clicked. And then I assumed OP was fresh out of college, not someone twice this guy’s age and far too experienced to claim this kind of ignorance about work-appropriate behavior…

            2. Anonys*

              I think Jane didn’t necessarily have to bring up “What would your husband say” thing, though I don’t think it’s really bad that she did. But this is just so wrong regardless of OP having a husband, like that’s just not what the issue is here.

              In fact, even if the intern wasn’t an intern but OP’s husband or boyfriend, these interactions would still be SO INAPPROPIATE in a work environment. I don’t want to hear anyone in the office joke about rough sex, no matter with whom, no matter if they are on the phone to their SO. With comments like that, it doesn’t even matter who it’s directed at, just saying the words is inappropiate That it’s an 18 year old intern just adds an extra layer of “Super bad, lawsuit incoming”.

              1. valentine*

                Jane didn’t necessarily have to bring up “What would your husband say” thing
                While this usually ends up in the sexist territory of “Your husband wouldn’t approve,” where it’s useful and where Jane was going, since OP doubled down with every example, is more like, “Had your husband gone to lunch with you, would you have been happy to let Andre hold your arm on the way back?” Because if your behavior is professional, it doesn’t matter if you’re alone and certainly doesn’t depend on your spouse not knowing.

                Switching the genders might also help OP see she’s all kinds of wrong.

                1. Alice's Rabbit*

                  Agreed. If you wouldn’t do it in front of your spouse (assuming spouse had the proper security clearance to attend your job) you shouldn’t do it at work. Period.
                  Heck, you probably shouldn’t do it at all. But especially not at work.

              2. NowI'mHungry*

                I think it’s likely that Jane did that as a “gut check” for OP since OP wasn’t responding rationally to Jane’s other reasons. I can imagine Jane was hoping the OP would recognize that she wouldn’t want her husband to know about her contact with Andre and realize that’s because their relationship is inappropriate. Clearly, that didn’t work…

              3. Quill*

                Yeah, like… When you’re 18 you probably don’t have those boundaries with your friends yet but OP has had DECADES to establish them, especially at work.

            3. PNW Dweller*

              Yes! I was double checking to see if this was an update. Like Allison, my hope is this HR person does metrics and not people. This is insane, the leg comment? An Oh My from George Takei seems appropriate to interject here.

          2. Sparkles McFadden*

            Yes, this was a…surprise. I was actually glad when I got to the end of the post because it just kept getting worse as it went along.

            It’s hard to believe that the OP could write this out without cringing.

            Kudos to Jane for saying what needed to be said.

        4. Observer*

          I was thinking more in line with “She told me to stop flirting with my coworker, but we’re not flirting / that’s my SO” (We actually had one like that a while ago.)

          Then I started reading it and.. noooooooo. Jane is only possibly wrong in not having brought this to someone higher up in the food chain already.

          1. Empress Grandma*

            OP, as an HR professional, you should know better. Your actions are inappropriate and you must know that, or did you somehow skip the mandatory sexual harassment training, which describes virtually all of your interactions with Andre. Wow.

        5. FormerFirstTimer*

          Honestly, from the headline I thought that it would be a misunderstanding or over-reaction on the coworkers part. It’s so, so not!

      2. The Vulture*

        Each paragraph was a new experience, for me it went somewhat like this:
        Hm
        Hmmm
        Ahhhhhhhhh
        AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
        OOF, YOU HAVE THE WRONG TAKE, JANE IS COMPLAINING, THIS IS WEIRD AND BAD
        OH NO
        OH HONEY NO, WRONG QUESTION, WRONG PLACE TO BE, CHANGE COURSE IMMEDIATELY

      3. GreyjoyGardens*

        I actually went “oh NO NO NO” and my cat looked at me like “what?” No flirting with eighteen-year-old employees. Nosirreebob. Not even if you were NOT in HR. Nope, nopity nope, bring out the Nopetopus.

    2. AngryAngryAlice*

      SAME!!! It was all bad, but when I got to the toner convo I GASPED. What on EARTH does LW think they’re doing!?!?!?!?! This is so icky and so creepy and SO INAPPROPRIATE. It would be that way regardless of their ages and LW’s position in HR, but both of those things make it so. much. worse. My shoulders are all the way up to my ears here.

      When I was 19, I interned in a congressional office. I thought I was hot shit, and I started flirting with a staffer twice my age. I should’ve known better, but he REALLY should have shut me down immediately. Instead, he participated and encouraged it. It was all fun and games until it wasn’t, and I realized one day what was happening and how gross it was. I felt so uncomfortable the rest of my time there, and I desperately wish that he had completely stopped the situation before it began. I was a 19yo learning office norms for the first time, and he was a trusted long-time staffer with lots of power and influence. It was gross, and it was his job to stop it. It’s also LW’s job to stop this now. I can’t believe they’re defending their behavior, ESPECIALLY as an HR rep. Disgusting.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        I was reading this thinking the OP was like a 25 year old who is still kind of new to office norms and was actually thinking of or wanting to date this dude. Then I got to 40 something and married and my brain did this dramatic braking noise and the whole thing spun wildly out of control. I have been around older male colleges doing this stuff with the 18 year old interns and it is so gross and I loose all respect for them. I have also been around people who call themselves work spouses who think it’s all in good fun to flirt like this, and yes – it still makes me super uncomfortable to overhear over a cube wall. And it really does lead way to all kinds of hurt feelings if people’s boundaries are even slightly different.

        1. Observer*

          Yeah, the “work spouse” thing in this context makes things so much worse. The OP’s insistence that this is all “private” and no one notices and no one is being made uncomfortable is just SOOO bad, that I have to wonder what else she’s “overlooking”.

          1. WellRed*

            I didn’t understand how she could say “private” makes it OK with a straight face. OP, if you two are banging in the supply closet it’s still wrong if it’s “private.”
            My god, I was squicked out just when she let him pay for coffee, cringing that he helped her up, and cringing harder that he HELD YOUR ARM on the way back to the office. The rest of it? I can’t even.

            1. JSPA*

              Paying for coffee, in itself, can be harmless. “Let him” is already weird; if I’ve left my wallet in my jacket and a coworker says, “don’t worry, I’ll get this” or the line is long and so one person catches the order for everyone, it’s not a “let” or “not let,” because there’s no dating-style dynamic.

              Add “held my upper arm until we’d left the park,” and that’s just way too personal and touchy-feely.

              OP, On some level, you know it’s not OK. Think: why would he have felt the need to release your arm, and why would you have felt obliged to mention it, if him holding your arm were just something helpful and professionally OK?

              If you’d said, “I have a balance disorder, that acts up, and I was really unsteady on my feet after drinking a cold soda too fast, and he helpfully steadied me until I felt more steady,” that’s one thing. But work friends don’t hold arms, hold hands, or brush body parts against each other intentionally; that’s a flirtation dynamic, or an erotically-charged-undefined-relationship dynamic.

              Whether or not this counts as “cheating” is between you and your spouse. Whether it counts as “sexually-tinged interaction in the workplace” is a very nearly unrelated question. Especially if you’re HR, especially if you’re older, especially if the other person is barely an adult by law, especially if you outrank the other person, especially if they have to work with you, this is not just unprofessional but a potential huge liability for your employer, and a potential “let go and do not rehire” for you.

              I get that it can feel a lot safer, as far as your marriage, to flirt at work, because you know you’ll never “really do anything.” But that’s the wrong framing for the situation. Think about it: your husband, if so inclined, can choose to be OK with you doing whatever level of flirting you want. Your workplace can’t. And shouldn’t. And clearly, won’t.

              Buy the clue you’re coworker has offered you: no matter how mutual it feels (or even how mutual at the moment it is); no matter how strong a limit you’re sure there is; no matter how great you feel; no matter how much more fun work is, when it’s flirty place, not your workplace; this is not something you should be doing, and it’s not something you can excuse.

              1. Not A Girl Boss*

                +1000.

                You have no right to privacy at work. So, by definition, this is not a private matter.

              2. Jo*

                It’s all part of the power dynamic, though. There’s a reason why it’s standard practice for senior employees or supervisors to pay for junior/subordinate employees and not the other way around. That alone makes it weird, but with all the other stuff together in context it’s just so icky.

                1. Amaranth*

                  So true. She already has authority over him in the company, and absolutely no sense on professional appearances. And he seems to have considered it more of a date than a work break, paying her way, holding her arm, etc. I’ve also never had a coworker help me out of a chair except when I was pregnant….

            2. Annette*

              Yes WellRed. OP needs to PTB (pump the brakes). Gifts flow upwards. Even coffee. If I take out a student worker – I treat. But don’t touch!

          2. MassMatt*

            I’ve always disliked that term and wondered whether it was just a bad term for people that work closely with one another and communicate well or if it meant this pair are not observing appropriate work boundaries. This letter hits the jackpot on the latter.

            The cognitive dissonance of the LW is amazing. What’s next, “harmless nuzzling” in the elevator? Tickling his ear at the photocopier? Swapping underwear? And she thinks her COWORKER isn’t understanding “relationship nuances”?!

            1. AKchic*

              Jane understands relationship nuances very well, indeed. Jane understands them so well that she is throwing LW a lifeline here and begging her to safe herself.

              1. Amaranth*

                I’m pretty sure Jane is on the ‘talk to your coworker before you report to HR’ portion of this intervention and the next step is pending.

            2. The Rules are Made Up*

              I feel like people streeetcchhh the Work Spouse thing. Your Work Spouse saves you food when there’s leftovers in the conference room and shares looks with you when your other coworker says something stupid. You probably go to lunch and joke and whatnot but if you’re flirting THIS heavily about rough sex and complimenting each other’s body parts……. you’re just in the beginning stages of an emotional affair my friend.

              1. Quill*

                Yeah, OP appears not to want to stop because this makes her feel sexy. It ain’t just getting emotionally close to someone!

          3. Anonys*

            Also it’s 100% not private. I mean, the toner convo and the legs comment are literally two things jane OVERHEARD. There is defo way more to this and way more instances of grossness Jane wasn’t privy too.

            What really made me laugh in the letter was: “Nobody’s complaining”. Well, hello, JANE IS complaining! That’s what the whole letter is about. And so would I, if I had to listen to coworkers “joke” about rough sex. The fact that more people haven’t already complained makes me wonder if OP learned her horrible norms right in her office.

            1. Artemesia*

              No one ever complains about dollar dances at weddings, or tasteless clothing, or most rude comments etc etc. Most people avoid confrontation and ‘don’t say anything’ even when people do egregiously inappropriate things like saying something racist. Most people don’t complain. This is never the standard for whether something is the right things to do.

              I would if I were the VP in charge of HR, fire this person. It isn’t a slight misstep, it is howlingly over the line and the fact that she is in HR makes it worse. I wonder if Jane wrote the letter as I have trouble believing that anyone in HR would describe their own behavior this way and act as if it were acceptable.

              1. Oxford Commas & Tequila*

                I complain about dollar dances at weddings. Just to my husband. Not to the happy couple. But I HATE the dollar dance!

                1. Jemima Bond*

                  So true. From the boss whose best (and very deserving) employee quit after not being allowed to go to her own hard-won graduation, to the boss who “unmanaged”, to the employee who thought her manager had no business “interfering in my work”, to the boss who deprived one employee of a day off because her birthday was on 29th Feb…

              2. beast368*

                I also suspect that Jane wrote the letter. No one describes their behavior in that way, especially being as detailed as Andre touching her arm as he was helping her stand from sitting on the bench. Every interaction highlighted in OP’s letter is one that Jane observed.
                Not that I blame Jane as OP’s behavior is highly inappropriate, but this feels like a situation where Jane will show “OP” the column.

          4. Alice's Rabbit*

            Yeah, OP doesn’t seem to understand what the term “work spouse” means. It is not romantic or flirtatious in any way. It just means that there’s someone at work who you spend so much time with – and happen to get along with – that they become a significant part of your life. Any story about work inevitably involves them, and they’re the first person you introduce your spouse to at the company picnic.
            It does NOT mean someone who you flirt with, or touch, or have sexual jokes with.

            1. allathian*

              Yes, this, so much. I mention my “work spouse” coworker to my husband quite often, and I’d definitely introduce them to each other if there was an oppportunity to do so, but my employer doesn’t do +1 company events. I admit that when he started working for us, I had a bit of a crush on him. He’s a huggy person and not exactly unattractive, so the only line I maybe crossed there was that I let him hug me on my birthday, in front of other people. The other people on my team hugged me, too, but they’re all women and I’m cishet so that didn’t count.
              Normally I’m not a hugger at work or anywhere else…

        2. AKchic*

          Right?!
          Especially when mentioning that it made her feel “…more attractive than I have in years, but it’s not relevant”. Um, excuse me? Yes, yes that is very much relevant. In fact, I’d say that is probably the most relevant part of this whole thing. Why? Because it colors all of the other interactions and her reactions to scrutiny and how she’s avoiding the subject with her spouse.
          If this were as harmless as she’s trying to make it out with Jane, then her husband would either already know, or she wouldn’t have any issues with him knowing. If it were harmless banter, she wouldn’t be trying to hide it from the rest of the staff. She knows it’s not harmless because it is sexually-charged innuendo and therefore not appropriate for work. She has a crush (hey, it happens), and Andre, being young, is absolutely following her lead when it comes to workplace behavior.

          Workplace spouses can be workplace spouses without innuendo and making others feel uncomfortable. This feels more like unconsummated pantsfeels than workplace spouses and Jane is trying her hardest to be tactful, and I think LW should really be appreciative of Jane’s tact and discretion in this matter.

          1. Wednesday of this week*

            +1 that the LW’s feeling attractive is probably the most relevant factor involved, likely driving all of her bad decisions re Andre. Almost every time someone has sexual misconduct at work, one of their explanations for it is that the other party made them feel more attractive than they had before.

            1. WantonSeedStitch*

              This. This, this, this exactly. People who are feeling blah about themselves as they get older and who feel like their spouse doesn’t appreciate them? Yeah, that’s how almost every story starts that ends with “I made some really, really poor decisions that ended up messing up my life.” OP, you need to STOP, put distance between you and Andre IMMEDIATELY, and start acting like a professional at work. Do the soul-searching about your job that Alison recommended. And then find yourself a good therapist and marriage counselor to work on feeling happier in your own life.

              1. Alice's Rabbit*

                Yes. OP is already at step 5 on the “How An Affair Starts” checklist. She needs to put the brakes on right now. She has gone far enough that this has already damaged her professional credibility, and is clearly in denial. But she is not so far down the path that she can’t back up and fix things, so long as she does it now. Right now. Immediately, this second.

              2. PeanutButter*

                Yes, the people over my working life who I could have said were my “work-spouses” never made my feel *physically* attractive. They made me feel more competent and *professionally* “attractive” (wrong term but I can’t think of a better one) because we worked together so well and knew each other’s styles/habits/preferences so that our synergy made us productivity powerhouses when we were on the same team.

                1. Glitsy Gus*

                  I like the phrase “professionally attractive.” It makes perfect sense to me and, yeah, that is exactly what my work husband does for me. He pumps me up at work about work things and reminds me that I’m really good at what I do when I start to question myself. He does make me feel professionally attractive and I try to do the same for him.

            2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

              Yes, Andre may well have made the LW feel more attractive – but does anyone else wonder what Andre himself is thinking and feeling about all this? If he’s picked up on the LW’s flirtatious behavior (which he almost certainly has!), how does this look to HIM? Unless 18 year old men have changed drastically over the past fifty years, it’s very unlikely that he’s as thrilled by the LW’s behavior as she is by his. In fact, I think it’s far more likely that he’s joking about this to his friends: “Hey, you’ll never believe what’s been happening at my new job – there’s this old gal who’s been coming on to me! I mean, she’s old enough to be my mother and she thinks she’s hot stuff. Maddy was kidding me about it the other day and I told her she had absolutely zip reason to be jealous. We had a good laugh about that!” etc., etc.

              LW, please put the energy you’ve been expending on this attempted emotional affair into your marriage, act your age, and most of all, act like someone in your professional position – which does NOT include making a fool of yourself over someone young enough to be your kid!

              1. Jennifleurs*

                Yes, I showed my younger brother this (25) and he commented that apparently most guys he knows have a story about the time they started flirting with an older woman “to be polite” and she wouldn’t let it stop and they ended up feeling endlessly uncomfortable.

                1. Quill*

                  Yeah, in high school when I worked at a ren faire I had three different guys attempt to use me as a fake girlfriend so some chick in her late 20’s who made jokes about giving them an eighteenth birthday present would leave them the heck alone.

                  Just because you might appreciate the way someone looks or be thrilled that someone is paying you a lot of attention doesn’t mean that this is a good idea.

                2. AKchic*

                  oh Quill, I am so sorry that happened to your friends.

                  As a rennie, I hate to hear when any actor does that kind of thing.

              2. DiscoCat*

                I understand where this comes from but let’s not dive too far into how gross older women are for younger men. It feeds into stereotypes we’re trying to stamp out. LW’s behaviour is hugely inappropriate by violating several workplace norms and laws.

                1. Amaranth*

                  Good point. Also, if he asked her to coffee and is acting chivalrous, he might find this a real ego boost, not thinking of the professional implications. After all, if it was a professional issue, the HR person would know and set him straight, right? (or he could enjoy the thrill of feeling slightly illicit or totally be intimidated, just there is a lot of room for reaction on his part)

          2. Vina*

            I think someone should really examine whether or not this would come off as a mid-life crisis to an outsider. Because, to me, as a casual observer, this looks exactly like the type of mid-life behavior that leads to destroyed marriages and eviscerated careers. It goes quickly from “this is a harmless ego boost” to “we had no intention of starting a physical affair.”

            The attractive line is a red flag if ever there was one.

            LW, you have agency in this. Your behavior is not harmless to you, to the young man, to your spouse. Please, please listen to the posters here.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              +1 to this, and WantonSeedStitch, and Wednesday of this week, and AKChick.

              ‘Midlife crisis’ is exactly where my brain went.

              OP, your ego’s been unhappy for a while, and now it’s getting a boost. But you can NOT do this to Andre, and should not do this to yourself.
              1) You’re teaching Andre that it’s ok to make sexual jokes at work. It’s not. You are harming him and his future career by doing this.
              2) You’re heading for professional disaster, if this situation and those comments (that toner convo – omg) come to the attention of your bosses.
              3) You’re heading for some serious problems in your marriage

              The place to work these out is in therapy, not at work. Try to figure out why the emotional contrast between ‘before flirting’ and ‘after flirting’ is so great, and how to feed your self-esteem in a healthy way.

              Thank Jane for giving you a reminder about professional behavior, let her know that you’ll be working to prevent any problems in the future, and then follow up on that by gently shutting Andre down and never pulling this with another co-worker again.

              1. Lizzo*

                ^^This.

                OP, if you carry on like this, it’s going to screw up a LOT of things for you. I speak from the experience of having been a little ways down this road before. A little bit of hurt now to rip the band aid off and change course is going to save you a LOT of pain in the long run. It’s also going to prevent others (e.g. Andre and his career) from being harmed in your potentially destructive wake.

                1. Lizzo*

                  And I should clarify that the experience I speak of does not involve 1) 20 year age gaps or 2) anyone under the age of 30.

                2. Vina*

                  Lizzo,

                  I hope you get to where you are able to be completely healed and that whomever else was hurt is able to do so.

                  Unfortunately, as I’m sure you know, sometimes there is no healing. Only learning to cope.

                  I cannot imagine the sort of damage this affair would do to the husband. There has to be some form of gaslighting going on, given the level of self-deceit and denial evidenced in this letter.

                  Affairs are not harmless. That doesn’t mean that all sex outside marriage is bad. But where there is deceit and self-deceit and salving pain through sex or other “highs” instead of dealing with personal or relationship issues, I don’t see positives.

                  It also doesn’t mean that people who go down this route are “bad” or irredeemable. That depends entirely upon what lesson one learns from it.

                  I don’t know what you did, but it sounds like you came out of this with a lot more self-awareness than you had when whatever happened started. That’s so, so commendable.

                  Sigh. We are so screwed up about sexual relationships, about self-worth, about gender, about psychological health. So many people make the same mistakes over and over because we don’t have social dialogue and we don’t teach people how to cope, how to have healthy psyches, how to have healthy relationships.

                  I wish I could say your advice was something I’d never heard nor scene. I wish we humans could learn and avoid this pain.

                  Even if what you did was objectively horrible, you have my sympathy now. Because it seems you have learned and grown and won’t let it happen again.

                  That doesn’t seem possible for the LW b/c she’s not even denying she’s got a problem.

                  *Jedi Hugs* from across the void.

                3. Lizzo*

                  Thanks @Vina! It all worked out OK in the end. There was no destructive wake, thankfully, those involved were consenting adults, and it truly didn’t get very far (relatively speaking).

                  The worst of the pain was from addressing what caused the issue in the first place, and the very positive self-transformation that followed, which took years. The really good news is dealing with all the grief, anger, sadness, low self-confidence, and a million other things related to the experience also helped excavate older versions of these emotions. A very significant housecleaning, if you will. It’s so refreshing to be on the other side of that!

                  We spend so much time as women pushing things away or stuffing them down, all in the name of being perceived as nice, likeable, attractive, confident, unselfish, “normal” (whatever the hell that is), not willing to rock the boat, etc. etc. etc. You can’t keep that stuff buried–you’ll eventually crack from the pressure and make poor choices about how to patch up those cracks.

                  Appreciate the jedi hugs! Returning them to you, fully sanitized, from a safe distance.

                4. MeToo*

                  Sounds like some good came out of it all for you, Lizzo.

                  What happened to the other party? Do you still work together and did the message get through to him or does he still hold a torch?

                5. Lizzo*

                  @MeToo: Good questions. I’ll see if I can be succinct in my responses, with the benefit of hindsight.

                  No, we no longer work together, though we were working together indirectly at the time of the problem. I’ll also add that this is not a friend(ship) that was hidden from my spouse.

                  Although we both recognized there was a problem at the time, we had different ways of dealing with the problem. My solution: let’s actually *talk* and determine why our friendship was suddenly where it was at (we were each dealing with our own emotional crap at the time that was compounding our attachment), and then figure out a new “way of being” in the friendship and in our working relationship (which was very valuable to both of us). We started talking, but then he implemented his solution: ghosting.

                  Does he still hold a torch? For the friendship, maybe. I haven’t spoken to him in a long time. I’ll be honest, I was devastated that after having had a trustworthy friend and colleague for years, I was kicked to the curb like a piece of trash. There are ways to deal with challenging things in life (!!!OMGemotions!!!) that may cause some pain, but are at least respectful of all involved parties. I was not shown respect. The wonderful outcome of processing my grief and sadness is that I don’t have time in my life for people who are disrespectful–especially those whose disrespectful actions are driven by fear. Life’s too short to be sucked into that drama.

          3. Atalanta0jess*

            YES. That feeling is INCREDIBLY relevant. That feeling is the writer’s warning sign that things are not what they should be. It is her warning sign that she is at major risk here, because her feelings are leading her to do things she should not do. It is the exact kind of thing that leads you astray.

            People very often make these kinds of mistakes not because they are awful people, but because they get caught up, they take small steps down a bad path (and those small steps add up…), and they trick themselves into thinking it’s ok. You have to know the red flags that pop up before you get there, because that’s how you stop yourself. And that feeling, which the writer has dismissed as irrelevant, is one of those very relevant red flags.

        3. Infiniteschrutebucks*

          Same! I was picturing a 24 year old who is also fairly new herself. When I got to the 40s and married portion I was horrified. The really sad part is she’s hurting the intern and she doesn’t even care. This is completely warping his views of office norms and could get him in SERIOUS trouble if he takes flirtatious behavior to his first full time spot/subsequent employers. This could also affect whether the company is willing to give him a good reference, which at this stage matters a lot. She’s actively harming him because she enjoys the attention, which tells me she has no business hiring people or being in a leadership or mentorship position at this point. When I was a little older than him I was a young female engineer, the only woman in the office besides the admin, and I had to put up with all kinds of looks, comments, and flirtations with a silent, fake smile on my face because we were in the middle of the great recession and entry level spots were very scarce. Welp, we’re in the middle of a pandemic where many companies have nixed internships. LW, you may perceive this as “mutual”, but even if it is the power and authority dynamics here to the scales heavily away from this kid and towards you. Stop this immediately.

      2. Akcipitrokulo*

        Exactly.

        Teen student workers are not always making good choices – and they are LEARNING what is appropriate.

        Older, experienced colleagues higher in food chain have the absolute responsibility to shut it down.

        1. pope suburban*

          This. I am deeply disturbed by this as an adult ten years OP’s junior. I work with quite a few high schoolers and college students in my job. That we are working in theatre can make it harder for them to intuit appropriate boundaries, simply because we have to get comfortable with things like physical contact and doing quick costume changes backstage. And if any of them were to sidle up to that line, it’s not just my job to correct them, it’s what I consider to be an ethical duty to shut it down. I’m the adult, I know better, and I have to be the one to put a stop to it and teach them what’s appropriate. They all seem like babies to me anyway, so I’m extra-creeped out by this. I can’t imagine finding something like this thrilling.

          1. MassMatt*

            No, she is 20+ years his senior! More than double his age!

            I am not generally hung up on age differences but yikes, this is a student not even of legal drinking age!

            The behavior would be inappropriate even if he were also 40 and they were married, it doesn’t belong in the office, but the liability and bad ethics here compound the problem.

            1. Vina*

              Age gaps once someone is over 25 or so are one thing. He’s 18. He still has an adolescent brain.

              If he were 30 and she were 50 and this wasn’t at work and they weren’t married, well, more power to them.

              But 18 is still an adolescent. Maybe not a “child” but certainly not an “adult” in either brain function or life experience.

              I think that’s why everyone is recoiling on teh age. We intuitively know that 18 is too young. We may not know when “old enough” occurs, but we know when it’s below that line.

            2. pope suburban*

              She is, but I’m not. :’D

              You’re totally right, of course. What I’m relating here is that this creeps me out as someone who is closer to student-worker age than OP. Like, dang, it would be wrong for me, and it’s worse for her! Even before we get into her role in HR!

              1. Mama Bear*

                18 could also be college OR WORSE high school. I knew someone who was a former teacher who practically pounced on 18 yr olds because they were “legal”, nevermind they might still be in high school!

          2. drinking Mello Yello*

            This is what really all grosses me out about this. OP has over 20 years of experience as an adult. Andre has less than one year of experience as an adult. That difference in power alone is just… gross. Add in the HR rep (!!!! Seriously???) vs student worker thing and the balance of power is tipped sooooooo far in OP’s favor that this whole letter can be used as a case study of “Do No Ever Do This” in a 101 level textbook. Everything OP is doing in this situation is 50 kinds of wrong… :/

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          THIS. The OP absolutely should know better, being the one with age and experience. This is NOPE NO NO NO on so many levels.

      3. Sparrow*

        Yes! In addition to all the other many, many reasons she should be shutting this down, think about what she’s teaching him about appropriate work behavior and what he might think is ok going into his next workplace. Yikes.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          +1 That was my first thought. OP is harming Andre by teaching him bad norms which is likely to cause him problems down the road. She has to stop, and it should include a gentle ‘Hey Andre, we’ve stepped over the professional line, and need to take a huge step back.’

    3. username required*

      Yup – she needs to keep her midlife crisis/marriage problems out of the workplace. I honestly don’t think this is salvageable for her – there is no way the rest of the dept aren’t aware of this. If I saw a HR rep behaving like this I would doubt their abilities/ethics – she could be leaving the company wide open to a harassment claim. Not to mention she’s teaching an 18 year old child that this behaviour is normal so imagine the problems Andre will have if he behaves like this in a new workplace.

      1. Vina*

        I wonder if her husband thinks there is a marriage problem. I wonder if he thinks that she feels unattractive. Problem 1.

        The target of her ego boost is 18. 18. That would be potentially problematic even if it weren’t in a work AND educational environment. Problems 2

        This is both work and school. She is potentially screwing up both for this young man. Problems 3 and 4.

        She is in denial about the nature of what she is doing and her own agency in the process. Problems 5 and 6.

        I am absolutely gobsmacked.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          I am gobsmacked too. This is inappropriate on all levels. If Jane were the one writing in we’d all be saying “holy cheap rolls, Batman, the HR employee is NOT OK and is behaving abominably.”

    4. Three Flowers*

      This letter is what reaction gifs were made for. No coherence, just over-the-top horrified faces.

    5. charo*

      All I can say is that I’m shocked it’s a FEMALE being so clueless. Other than the gender reversal, it’s pretty common “Midlife Crisis” stuff. Denial, Denial, Denial. And I think he knows exactly what he’s doing here, he’s playing her for his own advantage.

      1. Three Flowers*

        Nah, I don’t think we can assume he knows what he’s doing. He’s 18. I’m sure he’s enjoying the attention and feeling of insiderness, but 18-year-old boys, um, let’s say they don’t necessarily think strategically about this kind of stuff. She’s taking advantage of him 100%.

        1. Vina*

          I’m absolutely sure he thinks he’s going to get to treat her like he treated the copying machine.

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            Possibly. And if he is… SHE is still the middle-aged predator taking advantage of a teenager.

        2. Threeve*

          Or he could be thinking very strategically. What special privileges does he expect this to get him?

          1. Threeve*

            Professionally, I mean–is she going to write him the most glowing recommendation ever when he leaves, even if it means stretching the truth? Is she going to give him preferential hiring when he graduates? Long-term “mentorship?” (Shudder).

            Lots of ways this kid could be playing a long game.

          2. Akcipitrokulo*

            Just because you know it’s a casting couch doesn’t mean you’re not the victim.

            1. Le Sigh*

              Yeah, I’m really uncomfortable with this line of discussion and where it could go. It’s not to say younger people have never played this game, but …. like, look at everything coming out of #metoo and what we learned about the women in those positions. His motives (whether real or just simple naivety) aren’t what’s relevant. OP is in the position of power here and she’s openly abusing it.

              1. Wintermute*

                yeah, all of this is SERIOUSLY grossing me out because if you reversed the genders no one would remotely, plausibly, within a million years think it’s okay. There would be a thousand-comment pileon about how it’s not okay to victim blame, that it’s really gross to assume the victim has ulterior motives, etc.

                1. Mama Bear*

                  Agreed. This is victim blaming. It’s gross. OP is the senior and under no circumstances is this appropriate.

                2. Jules the 3rd*

                  It’s victim blaming and gross, but if you reversed the genders you would also have people talking about an 18yo girl like they’re a prize for an older man / casting couch / sleeping her way to the top. There would *totally* be people thinking it’s ok.

                  They would be wrong, but they’re still out there.

              2. Le Sigh*

                +1 Jules, agreed to all of your points. I just wanted to flag this because sometimes people let themselves assume if it happens to people who identify as men that somehow it’s okay to go down this path — when they otherwise wouldn’t if it was a woman, and they’d be upset that at the obvious victim blaming. That because 18 yo guys are out to get laid, that this line of conversation is somehow different or okay?

                This conversation is not okay, regardless of sex and/or gender identification! It’s not! One more time for the cheap seats: HE’S 18 AND SHE’S A 40-SOMETHING HR PERSON.

                Sigh, sorry, just …. between this and the LW whose employees are upset they were put on new teams and are being labeled “contagious” during a PANDEMIC…..sigh.

      2. Vina*

        Denial, lack of agency. And some if this is straight from the mid-life crisis cheater’s script 101. For example:

        It’s not a problem b/c no one is being hurt. It’s harmless flirty.
        My husband doesn’t need to know for reasons.
        It’s nobody’s business other than me and the other person. My co-workers are just nosy or prudish.
        It’s not sexual, except for the fact it’s giving me an ego-boost and I make explicit sexual comments.
        The ego boost makes me feel alive.
        The age gap is completely irrelevant to this.

        I could go on, but it’s making my head explode. My b.s. translator is in danger of short-circuiting.

        1. Ethyl*

          The lack of agency stuck out to me too — lots of passive voice, making things seemed like they “just happened” or were explicitly Andre’s fault. No acknowledgement of her own choices every single step of the way. She is setting herself up for an “it just happened” sexual encounter (with a kid! who she supervises! and she works in HR!).

          1. Vina*

            People who talk about their lives in passive voice are often trying to shift blame away from themselves when they know they are acting in a harmful, unethical, or immoral fashion.

            It should always be a red flag.

            Affairs are not accidents. They are intentional. “It just happened” or “it was an accident” might be true of a car wreck. It’s not true of two adults flirting.

            1. Quill*

              “It just happened” is when I happen to put myself on a collision course with someone else’s stray basketball.

      3. Butterfly Counter*

        At 18, I would seriously doubt he has much thoughts of where this will lead in the long, long term beyond a physical relationship (which may be what you’re referring to). In other words, I doubt he’s trying to set up the LW into a sexual harassment suit to bilk her and the company out of thousands of dollars. And I would wonder how he thought this might benefit him, career-wise. I just think this is about flirting, attraction, and the possibility of this becoming physical.

        And women and men aren’t all that different when it comes to being “clueless” around sexual harassment in the workplace. In fact, because victims are usually coded “female” and because men are supposed to always be open to sex, no matter the dynamics involved, it may be much harder for people to see when genders are reversed from the “norm” of what we consider as sexual harassment.

        1. Amaranth*

          He also might conflate positive affirmation *at* work with feeling good about work itself. He goes to the office, a senior person pays him attention and treats him like an adult and praises his personality, his work, acts like he’s an insider, etc. Going to work is great! LW appreciates him, he’s a success! There is no way to know whether he is a bit naive or screaming on the inside because he can’t avoid this flirtatious senior employee; regardless, her behavior is terribly improper.

        1. S*

          So true. I enjoyed that show but the numerous, super inappropriate workplace dynamics on that show were cringeworty.

          1. Glitsy Gus*

            They were super cringe worthy but at the same time… I’ve worked at that company. It wasn’t quite so overt, but yeah, the “oh that dude actually is OK, tech dudes just say misogynistic stuff and mess with the women on the team for laughs… been there. The, ‘you only got that job/project because you are the female diversity hire’ heard that one. The working super long hours together that breeds a false intimacy that starts to go down weird roads, all of it. None of these are good or healthy but they are, sadly, common. It’s part of what I liked about the show, it’s reality expanded, obviously, but the dynamics were recognizable as a woman working in tech.

        1. Coder von Frankenstein*

          Agreed. Andre isn’t some kind of incubus. He’s an 18-year-old who is following unthinkingly where his libido is leading him. Which is exactly what LW is doing too, but she has the age and experience and authority here. She is the one who needs to shut it down, right now.

      4. Le Sigh*

        I’m not shocked at all. It’s less common, sure, but how many letters has Alison gotten on here about women bosses or co-workers being awful to pregnant or working moms? Or being crappy/sexist toward other women coworkers? Women are perfectly capable of pushing internalized sexism or abusing power, it’s just that women frequently aren’t the ones in power.

        Also, can we not assume he knows what he’s doing? I said this further down, but how many times have we seen that said about women in these positions? Yes, I’m sure some young people play this game, but this comment distracts from the real point, which is this: he’s 18, she’s in her 40s and in HR (i.e., SHOULD KNOW BETTER) and has professional power over him. Doesn’t matter what he thinks he’s doing or if he’s just naive — she’s blatantly abusing her power and if the genders were reversed, it would be just as gross.

        1. Vina*

          I think as we get more gender parity in the workplace at higher positions, you will see more of this from women unless there is a concerted effort to stop all this type of behavior in the workplace (i.e., systemic change about the norms of professionalism and consequences for breaking it).

          It’s not the Y chromosome, but the socialization, privilege, and social expectations that meant men did this more in past. Women didn’t have the opportunity and couldn’t have gotten away with it.

          Being abusive isn’t about maleness, whiteness, or heterosexuality, etc. as inherent traits. It’s all about socialization and privilege.

          Unfortunately, for a lot of people, gaining ground means exhibiting some of the worst behaviors that used to mark being a privileged white dude. It should mean we all treat each other better. For some, it means they get to be in the power seat.

          1. Morning Flowers*

            “Being abusive isn’t about maleness, whiteness, or heterosexuality, etc. as inherent traits. It’s all about socialization and privilege.”

            +10000000000

      5. Jules the 3rd*

        1) Andre didn’t make the ‘treat your dates like that’ comment, which was so far over the line it’s not even funny
        2) Even if Andre’s playing along or hoping to get something from this, OP is the one with the power here. OP’s the one with the age and maturity. OP’s the one who has the responsibility to shut down any unprofessional interactions, and she’s not.

        1. Observer*

          Exactly this – Andre could be a the most conniving sob in the world, but SHE is the one with all the power. Not that I think he is, but it REALLY, REALLY doesn’t matter. She could shut this down so fast his head would be spinning.

          But she is not. She is not only allowing it, she is ACTIVELY initiating it.

          1. Amaranth*

            I wonder if Jane will go to Andre next or straight to whoever actually works in HR.

    6. Lady Meyneth*

      I was suddenly reminded of the LW who wouldn’t let her best employee have time off for graduation (and was there ever an update to that?). Except this is somehow worse with all the sexual overtones!

      Seriously, OP, how clueless can you be that you can ever think this is ok? Please stop, you are harming both your own carreer and his chances at your company. And he may not even know his reputation is at stake here, he’s still a teen.

    7. Anonymity*

      I’m also speechless and wonder if this is a made up Mrs Robinson letter because I can’t imagine anyone professional being so absolutely clueless as to how this comes off. The whole tone is very disturbing and she speaks of this teenage boy as if he’s her lover. If it’s true she deserves to be fired. It’s gross AF and totally inappropriate and this kid may feel he has to keep it up to make her happy.

    8. Uldi*

      My face was the screaming in horror emoji from the “cafe not-date” onward.

      OP, Jane is 100% correct. Stop flirting. Stop the sexually charged jokes. Stop the touching(!). You need to take a step back before you cross the line* and find yourself in trouble with your own colleagues.

      *Just a heads up, but you might have already crossed that line in my opinion. If I were an HR rep looking into this and saw reports about the jokes and touching, I would be rather alarmed and would have called you in for a talk as soon as I had gotten over being flabbergasted that another HR team member was doing this.

    1. Row row row your boat*

      Yep. From my point of view, this is so clearly wrong that I’m shocked OP chose to defend the flirtation at all.

    2. Lynn*

      Honestly, we just had our annual mandatory sexual harassment training last week and this situation could have come right out of the vignettes we watched. I can’t imagine how someone who has been in the workforce for more than 10 minutes would find it defensible.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        The very first sexual harrassment seminar that I attended when they had just become a thing (early 00s, manufacturing company) consisted pretty much of the trainer telling us stories from her 20+ years of work. The one and only story that I still remember went something like “I was the HR rep on the shop floor. A man and a woman worked the same shift and were friends. One time, as she was walking past him on the floor, she playfully slapped him on the rear. Someone else saw, felt uncomfortable, and called me. I had to sit both friends down and give them the talk about why workplace butt-slapping isn’t appropriate.”

        Y’all… in the 90s. On the shop floor. It was already inappropriate and was already squicking coworkers out there and then. So my jaw was on the floor when I saw OP talking about doing basically the same thing, but to someone half her age, that she is in a position of power to, in an HR setting, in 2020, and trying to convince us that this is okay and a normal interaction between work buddies! no it’s not, and OP and Andre are also not work buddies.

        1. Elbereth*

          I can speak to it already being a known issue in the 80’s on the shop floor in heavy industry, in Australia (which tends to be a bit behind the times with sexism).

        2. Penny Parker*

          In 1979 I went to my county agency (I forget the name of the agency as it has been a while, but a county agency which dealt with discrimination complaints) and filed an official discrimination complaint for sexual harassment because my manager at a *doughnut* shop* hit me on my ass. The agency tried to discourage me but I insisted on filing the complaint for statistical purposes (my sister was Chair of the County Board and encouraged me to do so). I quit the job for that, and the end result of filing the complaint is that my manager actually called me up to apologize.

          And this was in 1978.

          1. Penny Parker*

            1978/79, not quite sure which… it has been a while. I actually had forgotten this until reading this post. In 1984 I got a manager fired for verbal sexual harassment.

    3. Traffic_Spiral*

      “Dear Penthouse (barely-legal-edition): I never thought it would happen to me, but…”

      1. Vina*

        Actually, this reads exactly like a lot of the UBT letters on ChumpLady’s site.

        Spend some time reading what is said by people who get into these types of messy affairs and one sees that the same things are said over and over and over again.

    4. A First Rated Mess*

      I think this scenario is part of my company’s sexual harassment training! (And props to them for recognizing that sexual harassment comes in a variety of forms, no matter how cheesy the training video might be.)

    5. LKW*

      “But sexual harassment is only if I threaten his job right?”
      “No, in fact, sexual harassment is any behavior blah blah blah.”
      “Oh.”

      “We’re adults, shouldn’t adults be allowed to have their private conversations at work without interferement.”
      “As a member of the HR team, you need to be the model of good corporate behavior blah blah blah… everyone’s responsibility to be responsible.”
      “Oh”

      Really the mental gymnastics are impressive.

    6. Ana Gram*

      Where they literally tell you that third parties can complain about sexual harassment! Jane is that third party. She’s being sexually harassed by having to listen to sexual comments at work. Yeesh. How does the OP not know this stuff??

    7. Le Sigh*

      No kidding. Whenever I have to watch these, I always think, “Come on, this isn’t how it actually happens. This is so Mad Men obvious, who would just say it like that?”

      Well. Now I know.

    8. I Need That Pen*

      I was just thinking this – am I reading a real letter or “Chapter 4 – Inappropriate Everythingness in the Office” from a manual somewhere. This coming from someone who presumably schedules said trainings in HR. Oy.

  2. Environmental Compliance*

    “Andre was jamming the cartridge in aggressively, so I said, “Damn, I hope you don’t treat your dates like that.” He had replied, “Only if they ask for it.” She has also heard Andre tell me on a separate occasion, “If only I could get a girl with legs like yours, I’d be in business.””

    Ick. So much ick. Triple the ick since *you’re HR!!!* flirting! with a *student employee!!!!*

    Also, OP – you’re at work. Try to make the assumption that if you’re interacting with someone, *at work*, it’s really not as private as you seem to think it is.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Flirting with a damn child, smh. This is disturbing on so many levels, and Jane is absolutely right that OP is out of order.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        It’s going to take a little bit of time to stop being so horrified that I can’t even begin to list everything wrong with this. Student employee & 18, weird power dynamic, hugely inappropriate jokes, the fact OP is *IN HR*, wanting to tell Jane to keep her nose out of it…. every time I reread it I find something else to be horrified about.

          1. Middle Aged Lady*

            Plus the poor photocopier! And cartridges are expensive…this letter was so gross—but the joking about rough bed play was the worst. And it makes the kid think that kind of crude talk is OK. Student workers are supposed to be learning the norms of adult work life. As someone who mentored many of them in my career, I am appalled.

        1. Amaranth*

          I can’t even blame Andre for chiming in because it sounds like *she* set the tone and at his age that kind of bawdy teasing isn’t unusual, so it could register as fairly normal and friendly to someone not aware of workplace dynamics and behavior.

      2. Amanda*

        I used to work at an elementary school, one of my coworkers really seemed to love flirting with and being the crush of our 5th grade boys. It was gross and weird. I didn’t think for one minute that she was a pedofile or that anything more inappropriate would happen but it reminded me of this situation in how it’s made her feel the most attractive she has in years (and somehow doesn’t feel like that is relevant)
        I would suggest OP work on self esteem and not derive it from male attention.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Yes to your last sentence, and ewww to everything else. Flirting with FIFTH GRADERS?! Mary Kay Letourneau’s legacy remains strong I see, smh.

        2. Georgina Fredricka*

          I had a female art teacher (5th to 8th grade) who was too involved in middle school social dynamics – she always knew who the cool kids were and had obvious favorites, was very jokey, etc. Not necessarily horrible, some kids didn’t enjoy her class as you can expect, but oh man… she was later caught ON camera kissing one of her students!

          And by on camera, I mean they set up the camera in the storage/desk area for the art teachers because I guess they suspected it/other teachers had been reporting her but nothing could be proven.
          She blamed it on a brain tumor

          1. Georgina Fredricka*

            I also for the record would have never expected this, and she was arrested I think… 15 years? ish? after I was a student.

                1. Wintermute*

                  this happens EVERY time you read a thread of outrageous school stories or the like, there’s like half a dozen people that ask “was this is podunk, WA?” and like four people go “no I thought it was in el rando, texas!” “This happened at my school in Middleville, IL!” on MULTIPLE different instances.

                  It’s depressing

          2. fogharty*

            That was absolutely the plot of a “Law & Order: SVU” episode, down to the camera and brain tumor excuse, except it was a principle, not an art teacher.

            1. Georgina Fredricka*

              what?!? I didn’t see that episode!! I wonder if it was based on her, though that seems like a stretch… maybe that’s just a fairly common procedure (the camera part) because it sounds like part of the issue is that it’s hard to fire people in that district, or something.

            2. bluephone*

              I was just thinking of that episode too. Spoiler (for a 20? year old episode) is that the principal had a very light sentence because of the tumor, provided she keep away from the victim, go to therapy, register as a sex offender, etc. And then as soon as she got out of hospital she called the kid up so they could run away together and was arrested again, no take backs.

              1. fogharty*

                I think you are conflating two different episodes. The one I’m thinking of is *SPOILER* that the principal had the surgery, was put on probation providing no contact, then had that revoked because she called to tell him she was pregnant.
                Link to episode details: https://lawandorder.fandom.com/wiki/Head

        3. Coder von Frankenstein*

          I only have one bottle of bleach on hand. I think my brain is going to need more than that.

        4. Miki*

          That kind of grooming behavior can be confusing and harmful to kids even if nothing overtly sexual happens. As ab obvious example, imagine if one of those kids was being abused at home (sadly more common than we’d like to think) and then came to school and his teacher was flirting with him – there’d be literally no safe space.

          Also, if someone is willing to violate boundaries with kids like that in so public a way, I wouldn’t be so sure that nothing worse ever happened.

          1. MassMatt*

            Yes, it’s so disturbing on so many levels.

            And I bet the teacher was quite adept at turning it around on whoever called her on it, using the outlandishness of her own behavior as a defense.

            After a while it becomes “oh, yeah, that’s weird but it’s just how mrs Jones is” and everyone tiptoes around pretending they aren’t seeing what’s in front of them.

        5. Akcipitrokulo*

          “I didn’t think for one minute that she was a pedofile or that anything more inappropriate would happen…”

          I do.

          or at least see it as a real danger.

          1. Lynn*

            I do too. My husband (high school teacher for 25+ years) said that this would be a reportable situation if he saw it in one of his colleagues…and that he would be happy to turn the creep over. Even if (and that is a huge assumption here) it never went further.

        6. Quill*

          I have sporks, and I may in fact be headed to spork and egg your coworker’s house right now because NO.
          NO, NO, A THOUSAND TIMES NO.

      3. Clisby*

        Makes me wonder what OP’s reaction would be if it turned out a 40-year-old man in the office was carrying on like this with an 18-year-old female student. Would she think concerned employees should mind their own business?

        1. Observer*

          I suspect it would depend on how good the perpetrator makes her feel in some form or fashion.

          I could be wrong, but, OP, do you think anyone in their right mind is going to give you the benefit of the doubt?

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          See wayyy far down for when the reverse happened to me (Young 20 female versus 40 something male) and I am STILL 20 years later feeling like it was my fault. The memory makes me cringe.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            It was NOT your fault. I’m so sorry that happened to you. Adults need to do better by young people – this shit is damaging.

          2. Jules the 3rd*

            So not your fault. Abuse spoils everything, but it is not the fault of the target.

          3. fogharty*

            This may have already been covered (so many comments) but
            “ Jane doesn’t seem to understand more nuanced social interactions like flirting can be harmless and common in office settings…”

            Is that what you’d tell an employee who came to you with a complaint about how her male boss was making sexual comments and harassing her?

            Not only will you most likely lose your job, you *should* lose your job if you cannot grasp simple fundamentals.

      4. Cambridge Comma*

        Wait, where is the LW that an 18 year old is a child? I’m not arguing that it isn’t gross, but let’s stick with the facts.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          It’s common sense that an 18 year old is a child – if you can’t legally drink, and you can remember your senior prom because you just attended it months prior, you’re a child. If you have the word “teen” behind your age, you’re a child. I don’t care that the law has arbitrarily decided that 18 now means “adult” – no, 18 year olds are still developmentally adolescents.

          1. merp*

            Yes, this. You don’t magically change in a moment when you turn from a 17yo “child” to an 18yo “adult.” I feel like people in situations like this letter frequently rely on things like “but he’s 18 so *technically* an adult!” which is a great reason to not let that slide. Think of the countdowns to when the Olsen twins were about to turn 18, so that men could creep on them legally. The whole thing makes me shudder.

            1. BookishMiss*

              So hi i was “technically” an adult when a 36yo man (friend of a parent) tried to convince me that 18 is not half of 36, too convince me that his… behavior… was ok. The behavior that started when I was 15.
              18yo me was ENTIRELY unequipped to handle the situation, and the only reason it didn’t end more horribly was that he lived in a state 8 hours away, and an army friend stepped in.
              I was absolutely a child. And his behavior, which skated juuuuuust this side of “acceptable” until i turned 18 looked a WHOLE LOT like OP’s behavior here. OP needs to stop yesterday.

          2. Quill*

            18 means “can vote, can pay taxes” overall. Adolescence is weird and also our transition period into full adult rights and responsibilities, between 16 and 21, is pretty disjointed overall. The point is less about how long he’s been 18 or whether he’s ‘legal’ the point is that OP’s behavior is posing risks to someone who has no experience in adult relationships, whether they’re professional or flirtatious, and she keeps justifying it by saying it makes her feel sexy.

        2. Mama Bear*

          He could be an 18 yr old college kid OR and 18 yr old HS kid. Just says “student”. And either way, Jane’s right that it could negatively impact the school and/or this work program. AND either way a student work program isn’t a dating pool for older employees, especially not those in HR. 18 is still a very vulnerable age and LW is taking advantage by encouraging this behavior.

        3. Anonys*

          Yeah, I don’t think he is a child, but he is very new to the workplace, doesn’t know workplace norms and you know, his brain isn’t fully developed yet. What’s terrible is, that she is messing this young person’s norms up like this and teaching him that sexist, gross, sexualized behavior is ok.

          I can already see him justifying himself based on this later. “What do you mean, women don’t want to be sexualized in the workplace? This is just innocent, my female coworker talked to me just like this on my first job”

          1. Lady Meyneth*

            This is the worst of it for me, he will absolutely carry this behavior into his next job and probably get in trouble in a more functional environment. And specially if he’s a POC or otherwise a minority, one strike is all it takes to really mess up his carreer, so OP could be jeopardizing this boy’s whole life.

            1. jenkins*

              Yeah, I feel like OP is leaning heavily on the technicality that they’re both adults and completely ignoring that this guy is so, so young and so, so clueless about workplace norms. He may be quite happily going along with this, but it’s horribly unfair on him to let him think it’s an OK way to behave at work. She could have saved him trouble in the future by shutting it down hard. Instead she’s reveling in the ego boost. It’s irresponsible and crappy.

        4. somanyquestions*

          How many 18 year olds do you know? They might be able to vote but they are definitely not psychologically adults.

      5. emmelemm*

        Right? When I started reading I thought maybe OP was a recent graduate who started working in one of the college offices, so, 21-23ish. Still totally inappropriate overall, but kind of understandable if she and the intern were close in age and she saw him as more of a peer/friend…

        But as a 40-something woman myself: NO. Just no. Stop.

        1. TechWorker*

          It’s not about the age difference really though, it’s about the power imbalance, the fact this sort of sexual flirting is tooootally inappropriate at work and SHE’S IN HR. I feel like some of OPs reaction was ‘hey just because I’m in my 40s doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to flirt’ and to the fact her coworker used the term ‘unbecoming’. It doesn’t matter what your coworker (or any of us) think of a potential relationship between an 18 year old and someone in their 40s, it does matter that you’re behaving totally inappropriately at work.

          1. emmelemm*

            It’s not that I’m side-eyeing a relationship between a 40-year-old and an 18-year-old, it’s that as a 40-year-old, she should KNOW BETTER.

            1. TechWorker*

              Looool yes I am with you there. I broke up with an 18 year old when I was 20 because the age gap was too much for me >.<

          2. Coder von Frankenstein*

            “This behavior is unbecoming. And by that I mean, if it becomes known, you’re going to be unemployed.”

          3. Avasarala*

            I mean. Age difference matters when it’s a power imbalance. There’s less of a power imbalance if OP were young 20s. Or if they were 60 and 38.

            1. jenkins*

              LW, you’re performing all kinds of mental gymnastics to kid yourself that this is OK. You say no one is complaining – but they are! Jane is complaining! You say your interactions are private and not making anyone feel uncomfortable – JANE has noticed them and is uncomfortable, so the idea that you’re being subtle and private about it is a complete delusion. People know. In my last office, one of the men on my team was very attracted to a woman on another team. I never saw them physically touch, nor make the kind of innuendo that you two engage in, but it was still utterly obvious. When someone’s making you feel all fizzy inside, it’s quite difficult *not* to take lingering glances, talk to them in a warmer tone of voice, mention them constantly and so on. I can sympathise with a crush, and I wouldn’t have said anything to/about my colleague – because despite blushing like a teenager whenever this woman walked in the room, he was careful not to do anything inappropriate. If they’d taken to brushing up against one another and making dirty jokes about toner cartridges, the office would have become a very uncomfortable place for the rest of us.

              Your Reddit letter goes further and seems to be arguing that this is OK because your heightened mojo is benefiting your marriage. In that case your husband should be delighted to hear you’re flirting with a kid just out of high school… right? But he doesn’t need to know because reasons. Uh huh.

              You’re wrapped up in how this is making you feel, and justifying all kinds of harm as a result. Very likely Andre is enjoying it. He’d probably enjoy all kinds of stuff that isn’t OK at work! His enjoyment is not the standard by which this situation needs to be assessed. You’ve said on Reddit that workplace romances are more acceptable in your country than the US, but for heaven’s sake don’t use that to justify this (if it helps, I’m not in the US and I still think this is a total shitshow). This isn’t a workplace romance between consenting equals. This is you, a woman in her 40s with significant power at work, and a boy less than half your age who has no clue about workplace norms. It was your job to help him learn them. You’re letting him down badly, and you intend to continue doing so because you’re enjoying the rush of happy brain chemicals. That’s inexcusable.

          4. Amaranth*

            A whole other problem with the situation is that if its not addressed, THIS is his introduction to workplace norms. Because, you know, the HR professional does it, it must be okay.

      6. Ana Gram*

        Right? I’m 38 and work with teens 16 and up at a volunteer position. Many of them are really great, driven, bright kids but…they’re kids. I can’t see them as anything else. I’m concerned that she’s looking at a teen as an appropriate person to have a sexually charged relationship with.

          1. Quill*

            My brother, texting me three months into grad school, at the tender age of 23:

            “Undergrads are all dumbass children.”

    2. JokeyJules*

      yeah this is suuuper inappropriate in the workplace. id be extremely put off if people joked like this in my office. especially if it was between hr and an 18 year old intern. this isn’t appropriate at all.

      in general at work i operate under the guise that my coworkers aren’t sexual beings and that it generally doesn’t exist as a concept, specifically to avoid “jokes” like that from ever happening. this is gross. and while the law sees Andre as an adult, there isn’t a cinderella moment at 12pm on his 18th birthday that gives him the emotional maturity to understand how inappropriate this is. not claiming his innocence, but it’s definitely something to be well aware of. just because hes ok with it doesn’t mean it’s ok.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Right? It’s incredibly inappropriate for *anyone* to be joking about at work. I don’t care who it’s between. But adding in a young, here to learn about workplace norms, student intern…. cripes, OP, what the hell.

        1. Lynn*

          I didn’t even think about that part. The OP is teaching him terrible workplace behaviors and setting him up for an ugly moment when he gets a claim filed against him/his company at some future job.

            1. Busytrap*

              This is what I kept thinking – this poor kid needs to be learning workplace norms. He’s going to end up being the officer creeper because of how this woman – in HR NO FREAKING LESS – taught him workplaces worked. I just hope the OP reads these comments and it knocks some sense into her.

          1. Hazel*

            I agree. The OP needs to change her relationship with Andre and tell him why so he doesn’t think this is normal behavior in a workplace.

            On my first office job, my (way more mature) colleagues who made sure I knew what was and was not OK. I still cringe when I think of the strapless jersey (t-shirt material) sundress I wore to work – without a bra because my back was very sunburned. I thought it was OK because “I didn’t have any choice.” After my work friends set me straight about inappropriate work attire, I had to get more creative and thoughtful about what to wear when there were extenuating circumstances, like sunburn. It’s still embarrassing to think about.

          2. Anonys*

            Yes, I mean this is teaching him that it’s OK or even welcome to say to a coworker: “If only I could get a girl with legs like yours, I’d be in business.” He should learn that the normal response to that would be disciplinary action and a very stern talk about sexual harassment. It’s so disturbing to teach someone norms like that, especially a young, straight man. This is setting him up to be the office creep for sure.

            Tbh, an 18 year old SHOULD know that’s sexist and inappropriate already but at the very least he can still learn . That a 40 year old HR person thinks that’s ok – wow. Sometimes I wonder if these OPs have ever actually read AAM before cause I feel like if one reads a couple of letters here it would become obvious very quickly that Alison wouldn’t be on OP’s side about this. Hope she seriously does some soul-searching.

          3. Spero*

            Yes! Also I’m sorry – but with the name ‘Andre’ my mind immediately went to the possibility he’s Black. Setting up a young Black man to believe that office sexual harassment is normal is particularly harmful given the hypersexualization of young black men in our culture he may have already experienced, and given the outsized punishment reaction sent to Black men who are perceived as having transgressed sexual boundaries.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              I did as well, but some of OP’s language in the letter made me think she was as well, so I didn’t make this point about that added layer of exploitation. But your comment is spot on regardless of OP’s ethnicity.

          4. I Need That Pen*

            Exactly. He needs to learn now or start practicing his answers one day at the deposition table.

      2. No Longer Working*

        Don’t 18-year-old boys get aroused very easily? Why would she be encouraging sexual thoughts and physical contact AT WORK? I bet you a million bucks he has gotten aroused by this flirtation. What happens when she walks away and someone else sees his… groin?

        1. AKchic*

          It depends wildly on their hormones and their maturity.

          Some 18 year olds will… pop up at the mere suggestion of a slight breeze. Others, not so much. For those of us who are around teens/young adult men, we are polite enough to not call attention to it if something does happen to come up, and they generally try to casually excuse themselves or ignore it until it goes away.

          (Mom of too many teenage boys)

        2. Anonys*

          I don’t think this is the issue to focus on. This is the argument some people use for why women shouldn’t wear form-fitting clothes at work, show their bare legs or whatever – (young) men get aroused so easily, it’s your responsibility to avoid arousing men who have no control over themselves. Besides, I guess all men sometimes get physically aroused (for no reason at all) in unfortunately situations and deal with it.

          “Why would she be encouraging sexual thoughts and physical contact AT WORK?” This is the right question to ask though. Sexual talk and touching doesn’t belong in the workplace. All these little instances of touching are probably even more obvious to everyone else, if everyone is keeping distance because of COVID.

        3. ...*

          What??? I don’t think 18 year olds just automatically get erections when someone makes a joke about a printer.

        4. Avasarala*

          Ew. You’re weirdly focused on this part of the issue. It’s not about “what if he gets a boner at work”, it’s about “what if he is being actively groomed and sexually harassed at work”…which he is.

          Also 18 is not 13.

        5. jenkins*

          Umm. Young men do sometimes get involuntary erections at awkward moments. But I really don’t think Andre’s genitals are the focus here.

    3. EPLawyer*

      Oh dear heavens this “ry to make the assumption that if you’re interacting with someone, *at work*, it’s really not as private as you seem to think it is.” You are at WORK. That by definition is not private, or your private life. You only interact with this person through work — even the coffee was a work break. That is not private.

      You seem to spend a lot of time justifying why your interactions with Andre are okay. Because you know darn well they are not. You are just mad Jane called you out on it. You should be thanking her. You aren’t nearly as subtle as you think you are. Jane saved you from a lot worse than her pointing out the INCREDIBLY OBVIOUS. You could lose your job over this. And your marriage. Take Jane’s and Alison’s words to hear before its too late.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        “but we were in a private conversation”
        you’re at WORK, obviously people could overhear, obviously there’s others around you, and apparently y’all are making it super obvious otherwise, or no one would have mentioned “sexual tension” and called out specific conversations.

        My brain hurts a little trying to follow along with the mental gymnastics to get to “work is not public” and “making hugely inappropriate comments to my 18 year old student employee is totally okay, don’t tell my husband”.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          I’m also not clear on why even if it were a private conversation that would in any way be a defense…

          1. Batgirl*

            People are supposed to pretend they don’t see/hear it, OP then doesnt get bugged about it; therefore no need to stop doing it… I think.

          2. Harper the Other One*

            Private conversation would almost make it worse (almost) because of how much more difficult it is for someone to extricate themselves/lodge a complaint without getting a “this is a he said/she said, maybe you misunderstood” kind of response.

      2. Mama Bear*

        Agreed. I think OP is enjoying the attention and irritable that Jane is pointing out the flaws in this situation, but Jane is right. HR should be held to a higher standard, and even if OP wasn’t HR, this is still an imbalance of power situation. OP needs to put a stop to it immediately. I also like Alison’s point at the end about why OP wouldn’t tell their spouse about the student interactions. I think OP knows full well that the husband wouldn’t approve and why. OP is putting their job and marriage at risk and needs to take this conversation with Jane seriously.

      3. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        This x 1,000 (at least!) The LW is tying herself into a mental pretzel trying to justify this flirtatious behavior to herself and to AAM – and is failing miserably. If she REALLY believed this was just harmless friendliness, she wouldn’t have to engage in so many cerebral gymnastics to convince AAM (and herself) that it is. And the line about her husband not needing to know about it? If it were actually so innocent, she’d feel perfectly comfortable in mentioning to him that there’s a promising student intern who recently started, and that she expects him to do well.

        LW, you aren’t fooling anyone except, by default, your husband (and yes, office gossip can and does reach workers’ spouses’ ears, so don’t count on him being permanently out of the loop either!) Jane did you a FAVOR by pointing out to you that this is inappropriate, that others have taken note of it and that the gossip mill is starting up. Please leave the cougars in the zoo, pull WAY back and keep your interactions with this young man strictly professional (no lunch dates, physical contact of.any.kind. with him, comparing changing a printer cartridge to sexual intercourse (WTH?!) and engaging in prolonged social chit-chat) before YOUR professional standing, career and oh, yes, marriage, have gone down the one-way drain.

        1. KimberlyR*

          She could also cost him his job. His behavior is also very inappropriate but he is probably following the cues of his older, HR coworker. Surely she wouldn’t steer him wrong??? /sarcasm

          Seriously, if the LW doesn’t want to cost this young man his job AND teach him inappropriate workplace norms, she will cease immediately and possibly even self-report to her boss so they can see what needs to happen.

    4. kittymommy*

      I’m grossed out reading that toner comment (the other one isn’t great but it’s also not quite as icky). Jane is 100% right, this is unbelievably inappropriate and must have a full stop. Jane is fully understanding the “social nuances” and is correctly stating it is wrong. The fact that the LW are in HR and don’t see that is mind boggling to me.

    5. Hills to Die on*

      I have a raunchy sense of humor so in other contexts, it would be funny. Except he’s a kid and you are old enough to be his mom. There have been a couple of times over the years where someone around that age tried to flirt with me (I am also in my 40s) and I laughed and brushed it off fast because it’s less insulting than saying, ‘ew, stop’.

      1. Jaybeetee*

        I’m in my 30s and occasionally get, like, 22 year olds trying to chat with me on dating sites. Even then, my knee-jerk reaction is, “Does your mother know you’re on this site?” I don’t think I’d be capable of flirting with an 18 year old.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          I’m 33 and do the same thing to the early 20 year olds who follow me around networking events trying to get dates. No way in hell.

        2. Littorally*

          Seriously. 18yos look like children to me! OP needs to do some serious soul searching here, and not only about her career.

        3. AKchic*

          I’m in my late 30’s with a 20 year old son and fauxdopted kids in their mid 20’s. I am so glad I don’t have the minefield of dating sites. Visiting one son at the bar he works at is weird enough.

      2. Vina*

        I’m middle-aged. Anyone younger than 45 is a no-go. I can go 25 years older, but not 25 years younger.

        It’s not that I view them as children, per se, but the age and life experience would present so many problems that I would not act on any attraction, no matter how physically hot they were. Also, at my age, I find non-physical attributes much sexier than a tight young body. I’d rather have a 60 year old with grey hair but some interesting life experience.

        I just don’t understand.

        No, I do. It’s not about Andre and who he is as a person. He’s not a real person to her. He’s a prop. One she’s using as an ego boost.

        That, to me, makes it worse. She’s not relating to him as a human being, but as someone to give her an ego kibble when she needs it. Ewwwwww.

        1. Joielle*

          Yes! You’re exactly right that it’s not really about who Andre is as a person, it’s just about him propping up the OP’s ego. I mean jeez, when I was 28 (a few years ago), I briefly dated a 22-year-old and she was just in such a different place in life at the time that it felt weird. I can’t even imagine finding someone 22 YEARS younger attractive, let alone acting on it WHERE MY COWORKERS COULD SEE. Oh my god the embarrassment.

          I hope OP reads these comments and sees them as a big red flag that something else is going on in her life that she needs to address, because she’s convinced herself that this is normal when it is NOT. OP, even if you don’t really care about how this could affect Andre, I hope you care about your own career! This is the kind of scandal that can follow you and taint your reputation forever.

          1. Vina*

            It’s a coping mechanism or compensation.

            She’s sparkling over some form of a crack in her life.

        2. Batgirl*

          “He’s not a real person to her. He’s a prop. One she’s using as an ego boost.”
          In the reddit version, OP compares the boost flirting with Andre is giving her in the bedroom to her husband watching porn.
          When will people learn? Just because you trim back on the details doesn’t mean people won’t see through you. Your actions will always reveal you very transparently to people of sense.

          1. Quill*

            Except the actors in porn are compensated, consent to their content being used as a prop, and aren’t in any contact with the watcher, so… OP, what you’re doing is nowhere near as harmless as watching ethically produced porn.

        3. allathian*

          I’m middle-aged too, and while I see 18 year olds as basically adult, I don’t see them as sexually attractive, no matter how cute they may be. They just don’t have the life experience to be interesting.

          That said, I don’t find men my dad’s age attractive, either, not in real life. I have had crushes on celebrities who are my dad’s age, when I was in my 20s and 30s and they were in their 50s and 60s.

      1. Vina*

        She’s going to get fired if she doesn’t immediately stop this and take remedial action.

        Question: Do you think she should self-report this to a higher up? Because I’m convinced Jane or someone else will tell on her no matter what.

        1. HR Exec Popping In*

          Yes, she should self report it. It depends on the company as to if she would lose her job or not. For me, if she was in my department, I would let her go.

          1. Amaranth*

            Thanks for your POV. If she doesn’t work with conflict resolution, etc., would it be enough to do a PIP, get her away from the junior employee and have her maybe go for some training/therapy? I guess I’m curious if is it just a case where poor choices mean she’s out or is there any leeway for her to redeem herself if she self-reports rather than Andre or Jane filing a complaint?

    6. BookLady*

      I make jokes like that with my friends, but if I overheard this at work, I would be horrified!

    7. Sleepless*

      I have teenage children. If a 40 something coworker was saying things like this to either of them, I would be livid.

  3. SoftwareDev*

    Woah. I agree with absolutely everything Allison said. This is seriously gross and unprofessional. Also, you’re married?!?!?! This is wrong on SO many levels.

    1. Andie Begins*

      This would be wildly inappropriate even if the OP was single – the issue is the power dynamic between Andre and OP, not OPs marital fidelity.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        The power and age differential. I’m sorry, but the boy still has the word “teen” behind his age. He is too damn young and immature for OP to be “flirting” with him in the office. This is predatory behavior coming from an adult, made even worse by the fact that OP is in HR and is supposed to understand appropriate boundaries in the workplace.

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          Yes.

          He is a teen.

          Op is an adult.

          Grooming and predator are words that come to mind.

          OP – stop now.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I agree with Diahann, the age and power differential matters HUGELY here.

          Andre is a student employee. In most of the cases where I’ve seen young workers described this way, it’s because the job is intended as a part of that person’s learning experience. This could well be Andre’s first office job. Part of the reason he has this job is to learn the basics of how jobs work, and what the general professional norms of an office are.

          That’s why I think the relationship between OP and Andre is more problematic than other inappropriate office relationships. One of OP’s primary functions here is to teach Andre how to behave professionally in an office environment. Instead of doing that, she’s giving him a really skewed view of what kind of behavior he should be engaging in with his coworkers. She’s meant to be helping him learn how to be successful in future jobs, and instead she’s setting him up for failure.

          OP, if you can’t dial this back, I’d recommend removing yourself from Andre’s job duties. What you are doing here could tank not just your own professional reputation, but Andre’s chance at a successful future. You have no right to take that from him.

          1. feministbookworm*

            Yes yes yes this was exactly what I was thinking while I was reading this. It’s likely that if Andre has any other work experience it’s probably in the service industry, where raunchy humor and nonexistent professional boundaries are extremely common (still not remotely OK, but unfortunately an industry norm and not disqualifying for future employment). She is really doing him a lot of harm by not helping him understand professional workplace behavior.

      2. Remote HealthWorker*

        Not to mention different marriages have different tolerances for this sort of thing. It doesn’t need to be part of the discussion because it doesn’t matter that OP is married.

        1. Kate*

          The fact that OP won’t tell her husband about this gives a good idea that their marriage isn’t one that would have tolerance to this sort of thing.

          But yes, 1) all this sexual innuendo in general 2) student employee + experienced employee 3) experienced employee being in HR – that is far more than enough for this to be nonononoICK.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            “He doesn’t need to know because it’s nothing” – let’s just say r/relationships and Captain Awkward would have a field day with that. It just doesn’t follow. Someone you’re friendly enough to go to lunch with is someone your spouse has heard of, period. Spouse might not be interested, but chances are if you say “oh I went out for lunch today with someone from work” they’d guess that it would be Amy or Wakeen because you talk about the work-fun you have with them, and not the teenager you just hired who you haven’t mentioned since.

            But it’s the power differential that makes this completely inappropriate, and suggests moreover that LW may be unsuited to her job in particular, if she doesn’t understand what harassment actually covers, and can’t recognise inappropriate behaviours when they crop up.

            1. JokeyJules*

              my partner doesn’t need to know that chicken was $4.99/lb last week at the store – i don’t tell them, and it just doesn’t come up.

              THIS isn’t $4.99/lb chicken at the store. if it’s something that isn’t a surprise gift for them, consciously deciding not to tell your partner about something is a bad sign.

        2. Vina*

          It wouldn’t be an issue if the husband knew of, and allowed, this type of banter. She makes it clear from her letter he would not.

          This is like the whole “cheating v. Open marriage” debate. A lot of woke people want to set the default to ‘don’t assume cheating absent evidence” to over-correct for historical biases. That is, however, no better than assuming all behavior is cheating even if all parties approve.

          In this case, we know it’s an issue b/c of how defensive she was.

          If her husband were ok with it, she would have said so, given how proactively defensive she is with everything else.

          Also, she clearly views this as “not cheating.” I wonder if her husband would feel the same.

          Me, if my husband did this, yeah, it’s a violation of the rules. And I’d smack him with the Louisville Slugger of Logic for being such an idiot in the target of the flirting and the venue.

          1. WantonSeedStitch*

            It would absolutely still be an issue–not because of the idea of infidelity, but because of the age difference, power differential, and context of the workplace. My husband and I have a polyamorous relationship. If he flirts aggressively with a woman close to his age who he meets through friends or something, that’s one thing. But if I found out he was flirting aggressively with an 18-year-old in the workplace, I would be table-flipping furious, and would flat out let him know that if I were his boss, I would fire him.

            1. Vina*

              Yes, absolutely. i was only responding to the poster above who was claiming the infediality wasn’t an issue at all.

              I dont’ disagree with you in the least.

        3. Batgirl*

          Eh, it would still be awful, horrible harrassment coming from a single person but I think the being married thing does add some extra gravity because:
          1) She’s implicating a child into her marriage and implying workplace affairs are just hi-jinx fun which never end badly.
          2) Married people generally need good boundaries even outside of work and it makes OP look extra ludicrous that she has none.

      3. J*

        So, is “feeling attractive” worth your reputation, your career, and your marriage?
        Do you really need input to know that this is wrong on many levels?

        I used to have a subordinate (close in age to me, early 30’s) that attempted to flirt with me constantly. Did it make me feel kind of blushy and nice and desired? Sure, for a split second. Then I shut that shit down in the next split second because it is a thousand levels of inappropriate. I was his supervisor. I was married. We were at work. Just, no. He did flirt with me on a few occasions. Eventually I had to call in my supervisor and do a counseling in writing because he kept trying to flirt and that finally got the point across, but next step would have been hr. He was a good guy and a good employee and I didn’t feel harassed by him, it just needed to stop. And it did, thankfully.

        1. Vina*

          Having seen a lot of divorces in a personal and professional context, I would argue it’s almost never a lack of physical intimacy at home/something hotter with the affair partner.

          It is almost always about ego. Now, in some cases, the cheated-on spouse is absolutely refusing to connect with the cheater. In others, they are trying, but the cheating spouse prefers to get those ego kibbles elsewhere.

          So, yeah, for many people the ego kibble is absolutely worth blowing up their marriage, their spouse’s life, their job, their children’s sense of safety .

          If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be so many mid-life crisis affairs that blow up lives.

          LW needs to be in therapy and work out what is going on in her own head. Clearly, something’s missing if she needs to get an ego kibble from an 18 year old.

          1. Batgirl*

            Yeah my experiences track with yours. A relative stranger finding them hot suddenly outweighs all the established relationships both personal and professional. Pure madness, but it’s usually how it goes.

            1. Vina*

              I’ve known a handful of women who spent their lives as OW (usually serially to different men). It wasn’t that they were physically more attractive or that they were somehow magic in the sack. What they did was give the men they were with unconditional ego boosts without strings or commitment. It was entirely about serving the ego of the married affair partner.

              I have no seen enough serial OM to judge if this dynamic holds in that respect. So, I have no idea either way.

              I cannot imagine spending my life serving as someone’s ego kibble dispenser.

              I am in no way saying that all affairs have this dynamic. But I’ve seen enough of them where this was the case to think it’s a pattern and indicative of something else.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                I have seen enough serial OM to say, yes, being a no-strings kibble dispenser works that way too. They do usually have to pony up some economic recompense (ie, dinners and paying for hotel rooms) because that’s the way our society works, but not always.

                Yes, OP needs to figure out why her self-esteem was so desperate for a boost that she’s jeopardizing her career and marriage for some gross flirty talk with a kid.

      4. Coder von Frankenstein*

        That is *an* issue. It is not the only one. There are so very, very many.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      The worst is this a 40-something inappropriately flirting with an 18 year old student employee.

      1. Bee*

        For the first half of the letter I thought it was something like a 23-year-old being a bit too friendly with a college student and her older coworker reading too much into it, but nope!!

        1. AnotherAlison*

          That’s where I thought we were headed. Disappointingly, nope.

          I’m 42, and my two sons are almost-16 and almost-23. I’ve spent a lot of time around 18 year old males. I haven’t met one I want to exchange flirtatious banter with. Conversely, I tend to fall to the pattern of thinking my recent-grad colleagues are “kids” and have to remember they are not. There’s just so much wrong here.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            Yeah, I am at the age where I see most professional athletes as ‘kids’ and I just want them to wear warmer layers, stay hydrated, and be careful not to injure themselves or others while playing Sportball. I don’t talk while watching games anymore because I sound like an old schoolmarm fussing.

          2. LifeBeforeCorona*

            Yes, I work with university-age students. Their level of naivety, inexperience, and just general all around teenage vibe makes them seem younger than their age. Flirtatious banter with any of them is cringeworthy.

            1. Vina*

              There is a massive difference between 18 and 25. Between 45 and 55, not so much.

              Something happens both with respect to the final maturation of the human brain and life experience in college.

              If this man were, say, 27, I would not nearly be so grossed-out.

              Because he’s not, there is a grooming-vibe. As others have said. Grooming.

            2. char*

              Heck, even when I was a senior in college, I found the 18-year-old freshmen too immature for me to be interested in them that way.

                1. Quill*

                  Like, it’s weird as heck to have the three year gap at that age – in college, you’re straddling the line between student and fully independent, in high school you’ve got one person just starting to be legally old enough to be employed and one leaving for college or starting a first full time job, but both of those are nowhere near as bad as someone who has to pull out “but he’s 18, he’s legal.”

          3. MusicWithRocksIn*

            Seriously. Have you heard an 18 year old talk about their love life? It gives me secondhand embarrassment just to listen to it. Anyone who hears that stuff and thinks ‘ohhh, this is attractive’ ughh.

          4. AKchic*

            The only time I “flirt” with anyone aged 18-25 is at ren fair, and that is pre-arranged while we’re in costume, with all parties consenting, and while we’re in character. Any other time, I’m momming them like I do everyone else (mainly because I remember them as children and I haven’t stopped momming them) and am making sure they have adequate sunblock, hydration and asking if they are overheating (because armor in the sun is horrible). Off-season, these are the same adult “kids” that sit on my couch, playing video games with my teens/adult children, snuggling with the critters and generally getting treated like one of the crew. They aren’t around to boost my ego. Maybe make sure we don’t have leftovers, but certainly not there to make me feel sexually desirable.

            1. allathian*

              This. I can’t imagine flirting with my son’s friends a few years down the road. Yuck! Feeding them our leftovers? Most certainly.

              1. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

                That is what 18 year old boys are for- making sure you don’t have any leftovers. Not ego boosting you so you feel sexy.

        2. Another name*

          That’s what I assumed the first half of the letter too- someone starting their first professional job still learning that you really have to watch how your actions may look to others. I am flabbergasted at how this letter turned out!

          I hope the OP will reel this in and seek attention from a more appropriate source like her spouse, and maybe see a therapist for help with whatever difficulties drove her to think this behavior in the office was appropriate.

        3. Akcipitrokulo*

          To be fair… answer is still “stop flirting” but it’s “stop flirting – it’s not professional and Jane is looking out for you teaching you professional norms” not “stop flirting – what on earth are you thinking; you are an experienced HR person harassing a child!!!!”

    3. Fyodor*

      Also, no should be doing casual touching with anyone who is not a member of their household in the COVID-19 era.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yup, hope they both sanitised their hands and wore masks if they’re getting that close.

        (Inappropriate flirting is bad, inappropriate flirting and ignoring antiviral measures is another layer of NOPE)

      2. SpecialSpecialist*

        Really you shouldn’t be touching your coworkers period, Covid-19 or not. Offering a hand to help you up from the bench? Eh…maybe. Keeping his hand on you while you walk out the park together? No. Too intimate for coworkers.

        1. TL -*

          In many places, some touches are fine – taps on the shoulder, a light (quick) touch to the forearm for emphasis, a hand up if they’re sitting on the ground, asking and with permission brushing something off your back… If someone touched me like that every day or even every week, I’d feel it was inappropriate, but once in a while (once a month? less?) I don’t think I would even really notice.

          I did tell one of my coworkers if she needed a hug to let me know, but she’s been really isolated since COVID started and literally hadn’t had any human contact in months. That was a bit unusual. (She gave me a brief hug later.)

        2. snoopythedog*

          Exactly.

          I am female. I had a male coworker (who I consider a good work friend and an out of work acquaintance) ask if he could tuck in my tag one day because it was showing and my hands were full. Coworkers really shouldn’t be touching and when they do- just ask for consent. I felt so respected. Had it happened outside of the workplace when we were hanging out as friends, I don’t think he would have asked and it would have been fine. But there’s a line inside the work place.

      3. Observer*

        Honestly, that’s really not the worst of it. Although if this really is a letter from the last few weeks, it really is another whole layer of NOPE. You want to endanger yourself, that’s one thing. But you have a whole office full of people who now know that HR explicitly thinks that the who physical distance thing is a joke. Not good for anyone who wants to feel even a LITTLE bit safe.

        The OP is fooling herself in every which way.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          They mention Covid in it, so I’m guessing it’s during this pandemic.

          Regardless, you’re right. Who’d ever trust a HR department that thinks that sexually charged looks, touches, speech, disregard of virus safety, inappropriate language, making others really uncomfortable is totally okay and nothing to get upset about?

          Speaking as an IT manager I’m also afraid that this likely hasn’t been confined to offline stuff. Remember we can see all your stuff if we want to, and if another member of HR starts asking us to look into sexual harassment etc. in the office we’ll find it, and it’s an instant job dismissal.

      4. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        It’s baffling. Everyone else is trying to keep minimum six feet apart, and LW and Andre are close enough to “brush past”? Puh-lease. They’ll be drawing people’s attention just for that. Personal space is a massive tell.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Don’t you know attraction gives you immunity to being ill?

          (Black hole level density of sarcasm)

      5. JustMe*

        Our new HR person, who’s been here about a year, has a habit of placing her hand on other people’s shoulders, and saying, “Hey friend!” Now that she’s the Director, I think she’s cut that out, but who knows if that will come back once the pandemic is over. I always thought that was weird and inappropriate, especially since she was new and didn’t know anybody! Plus that kind of upfront friendliness smacks of insincerity.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I once had a senior director who loved to come up and hug you from behind. I nearly landed my elbow in his teeth.

          (Seriously, what person thinks coming up to the woman who’s just returned to work after a violent mugging and hugging her from behind is a good idea?!)

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            wooooooow. Sympathy for your experience. On him – way too many thoughts, all bad.

          2. Observer*

            I just gasped with a strangled cat sound. That’s just ridiculous. And your current HR person? Bad news. Who promoted someone like that to director?!

          3. allathian*

            He would have deserved your elbow in his teeth. I’m sorry you had to go through that on top of the mugging. I have a very strong startle reflex and I can’t even blame it on PTSD.

          4. Quill*

            If you had gotten a tooth, it would have been richly deserved.

            (I also hate people sneaking up on me.)

          5. Claire Bee*

            Oh no! That’s terrible! Any hug is bad but a hug from behind? A whole other layer of unacceptable!

            There’s a coworker that recently hovered behind me as he leaned over to ask me a question. I was sitting and he was standing. I promise, his groin had to be on the back of my chair, he was that close. The next day he squeezed my shoulder while talking to me and I had to shut that down. Maybe I’m sensitive but I do not like to be touched by anyone at work! Arm, shoulder, hug, idk I hate it all. Also, if I can swing my arms around and hit you, you’re too close to me!

    4. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      He’s in this job to learn professional norms, how to work in an office, how to treat coworkers. OP is skewing his sense of normal and appropriate. OP, you are justifying this as something between the two of you. It is not. Andre is not either. He is learning that it is OK to make sexually charged comments to coworkers.
      I hope someone speaks to him about this. As in, “it’s not your fault, but things are out of hand. You both need to stop.”

      1. NerdyKris*

        Yeah, if he engages in that kind of behavior with another coworker, he might be on the receiving end of a complaint. That reply to the toner comment was out of line, even though it was a response to her inappropriate comment. Imagine if he thinks it’s okay to make a sex joke when someone says “Can you do Jane next?”. LW is setting him up for problems.

        1. Academic Addie*

          Exactly. He could become someone who makes others uncomfortable. Or he could find himself in a situation where someone is making jokes like the OP with predatory intent. OP, I’m sure this all feels like good fun, and you’re on board. But how would you feel if in a few years if he got this sort of attention and it was unwelcome? You are really doing him and his future coworkers a disservice.

          1. Observer*

            Not could – WILL. One thing is clear – he thinks this is ok in the workplace (whatever he may personally feel about it.)

            Unless something blows up or someone gives him a really effective talking to, he’s going to be the guy who thinks it’s ok to make these kinds of comments, and that is going to lead to problems.

      2. Bernice Clifton*

        This is exactly what I was thinking. Part of hiring student workers is showing by example what professional behavior looks like.

      3. Three Flowers*

        Oh yeah. And along the way, she’s (I’m assuming she?) setting him up to be one of those guys who think women who do make complaints are humorless, frigid, and out to get him. She’s modeling bad behavior to him and also reinforcing the idea that cool women should be ok with sexually charged work environments. Not helping, OP. You’re the opposite of good HR.

        1. Joielle*

          Yes! Sometimes we get letters about awful sleazy coworkers and I think “Who ARE these guys and how could they possibly think this is ok?? Where did they learn that this was how you act at work??” And well… I guess this kind of thing is the answer.

          Seriously, though, there are enough gross dudes out there that the OP really does not need to be actively training more. This is a big problem on a whole bunch of levels.

  4. The Original K.*

    … Yikes. OP, you don’t seem to realize how totally inappropriate this is – doubly so since you work in HR. What you’re doing is wrong and you need to stop.

  5. WhatDayIsIt*

    OP, if saw a man making sexual jokes with a 18 year old woman student employee, wouldn’t this be a huge red flag about his behavior? This has yikes all over it, especially as an HR employee.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      Exactly! This is behavior t it isn’t “sweet” just because the person with the power is a woman. You can bet your bottom dollar this is already impacting how others in the office see the OP, and it isn’t in a positive way.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Not just Jane – she’s just the one who spoke up. If she has overheard multiple examples, so have others.

        1. AKchic*

          Frankly, Jane could have been the one nominated, or volunteered to speak to LW. If Jane is another person in HR, then multiple people could have heard things and come to Jane (or someone else) with complaints and it all filtered back to Jane, who has been taking notes (if she’s any good at her job) and came to LW with a friendly level of concern rather than out the other complainant(s).

          If LW doesn’t stop, Jane could very well escalate this, and show documentation that she attempted to dissuade the LW from her current course in a friendly way to prevent such actions, even at the potential detriment to Jane’s professional standing as well (because really, Jane should have been more by-the-book about this, but she chose to be friendly about it, and I think we do understand why, even if we don’t approve).

          1. Pomona Sprout*

            If LW doesn’t stop, I really hope Jane does escalate this. It needs to stop and Jane obviously knows it needs to stop, which makes me think she probably will follow up if LW doesn’t knock it off.

    2. Blagosphere*

      I think this comment is so important. I suspect that the OP is dismissing this as a problem in part because the employee is a young man and the OP is an older woman, and that is not the traditional dynamic where society trains us to spot sexual harassment. Imagine a 40-something male manager telling a young female intern that she should treat the scanner like she’d want to be treated on a date, and tell me your insides don’t turn to jello.

      1. Nauseous*

        +1
        It’s not every day that you read a letter from a female sexually harassing someone here. Thank you for posting this AAM. As a woman, I am glad that this letter got featured to evidence that the problem is equally problematic, regardless of the instigating gender.

        OP, you need to stop this. I am so sorry for that student, and for any other person in your workplace that has been made uncomfortable by your utter lack of boundaries. This must end.

    3. MtnLaurel*

      Exactly. OP, you may want to put yourself in the position of how you’d react if the genders were reversed and this issue were brought to you. Maybe that will help you see how problematic this interaction is.

    4. Observer*

      Given that the OP says “Jane doesn’t seem to understand more nuanced social interactions like flirting can be harmless and common in office settings” I would not have ANY expectation that she would react appropriately.

      I hope that the OP’s company has a really, really good harassment policy that contains multiple ways for people to bring up complaints and that they have a good track record of visibly dealing appropriately with harassment, because otherwise, the company is going to have a major problem if anyone else goes after them for harassment.

      1. Vina*

        I cannot believe someone in HR thinks this way, much less vocalizes it in public. What the ever-loving H?

    5. Beth*

      This is my thinking as well. OP, this kind of thing is what men pull with me all the time (which, I’m sure as heck not 18, but I am a very open lesbian who looks visibly gay, they should know better). It’s toeing the line of being obvious flirting while maintaining a little tiny mental edge of “well but I didn’t MEAN it that way, people can’t blame me for it if that’s not what I MEANT.” Trust me, that deniability doesn’t hold up outside your head, and people absolutely can blame you for it.

      The fact that you feel the need to tell us you’d never cheat on your husband says something. So does the fact that you apparently haven’t mentioned Andre to your husband, not even in a casual “my work friend told this funny joke today” way, and feel the need to justify that decision. So does the fact that you feel unusually attractive around him. All of these are signs that this relationship is not in fact okay, and you do in fact know that on some level.

      You really, really need to recognize that. If you insist on continuing on in denial, you’re going to ruin a lot of things for yourself and probably hurt a lot of people, and you won’t even necessarily realize you’re doing it until it’s too late. You really should stop doing it entirely, but if you decide to ignore every very well-reasoned boundary and continue, you owe it to everyone involved to at least acknowledge the choice you’re making.

  6. KTM*

    My eyebrows kept going up further and further as I read this letter… and pretty much hit the ceiling. OP you really need to take Alison’s advice to heart.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      Hahahaha that’s a funny mental image! I whole-heartedly agree, the OP needs to do some self evaluation!

    2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      Seriously, this letter has an impressively steady drip of progressively more alarming detail.

      You don’t go to work to “feel attractive.” Take up salsa dancing or something. Moreover, part of the deal when you have an intern is that you take responsibility to help them learn how to function in a professional setting, including office norms. If Andre gets used to risque jokes in the workplace and overtly flirting with coworkers, then you’re doing him a disservice for the sake of your own ego.

      1. Stephen!*

        Yes. The flirting and inappropriateness needs to stop now. And once you’ve stopped it, then figure out how to replace what you were getting out of the interactions with something healthy. Do not set up this poor teenager for failure in his next jobs.

      2. Code Monkey, the SQL*

        YES.

        Ok, you went out to coffee, fine. He paid… ehh, he’s a student, you shouldn’t have let him, but ok. He touched you on the arm, and that made you feel comfortable brushing against him in the hall – OP, that’s where you started losing me. You’re tallying up the times he touches you and making jokes about his dating life. STOP RIGHT THERE.

        Eighteen is a kid. A tall kid, a kid who’s on his “lookit how mature I am that this Older Woman let me buy her coffee” kick. You’re getting little boosts throughout the day from touching and joking with and crossing boundaries with an eighteen-year-old who thinks he’s hot spit and whom you are supposed to be teaching how NOT to do that stuff.

        Let’s flip this, OP.

        You’re eighteen. You go get coffee with your ~40 year old boss. He pays, then helps you up from your seat. Suddenly, he’s brushing against you in the hall, poking you in the shoulder at your desk, mentioning you ‘taking it like a queen’ when you fight to put the toner into the printer. He maybe mentions that his wife might be jealous of how much time you spend together. Other co-workers are starting to comment on him hitting on you. And oh, btw, he’s HR.

        Please, OP, think about how that might feel. How powerless you would be if at any point you felt a line were crossed. Please, OP, THINK.

        1. Observer*

          He paid… ehh, he’s a student, you shouldn’t have let him, but ok.

          Actually, totally NOT ok. Given everything else, it’s not something I would highlight, but seriously?! You allowed a student worker to pay for your coffee?!

          That alone should be putting you on very thin ice!

          1. Vina*

            The more the commentariat peels this onion open, the more rot and more issues we see.

            Wow, yeah, that’s another problem with this. Even absent the flirting, that is not ok.

          2. Butterfly Counter*

            This is where I first knew this letter was going to be a disaster. A 40something professional let a boy pay for her coffee? In a work place, people should pay for their own coffees. However, if there is a student worker/full time professional dynamic, I would be fine with the person who has a steady job making a lot more money treating the student to coffee on an occasion or two. Having the guy pay for a gal’s coffee in spite of all of the violations of professional behavior sets this up almost like a date with whatever BS rules of chivalry applying. Just: NO.

          3. Code Monkey, the SQL*

            Oh, yeah, absolutely fair – I suppose I calibrated that initial level of ‘ick’ backwards after reading the rest of the letter!

          4. Noelle*

            That stood out to me too. Obviously there are bigger issues in the letter but you should never ever let a student worker/interns/etc. In fact in most offices I’ve worked at, the employees went out of our way to make sure we always paid for the more junior staff.

        2. MayLou*

          Even if the teenager in this scenario DOESN’T feel powerless, even if they are enjoying it and want it to continue, it still should not. Remove the age difference and you’ve still got an inappropriate relationship between a new employee and HR. You’ve still got sexual innuendo in the office. You’ve still got the focus of LW’s day being how flirting makes her feel attractive, instead of work.

          1. Vina*

            Even if he were the one in a million mature 18 year olds who could handle it (doubtful), still inappropriate.

            Wholeheartedly agree.

        3. Ada Doom*

          I’ve had a fair number of student workers over the years. The ONLY way I could see having a student/intern pay if we go to coffee would be 1.if I forgot my money somehow (and I would have had to forget cash and card and id card with a food balance), and I would immediately pay them back at the office or 2. if it was the end of the semester and they had extra money to burn from their meal plan (this might be a really specific thing to certain schools, but meal plans have a pot of money to spend at cafes, etc on campus, and it’s use-it-or-lose-it at a certain date, which leads to a lot of “drinks and muffins on me!”)

          1. Ada Doom*

            If a student ASKED to pay for me, I would absolutely turn that down. That’s an easy no.

          2. Glitsy Gus*

            Yeah, the meal card thing would be the only way I could see it working too, but that is VERY specific. Though I do want to thank you for reminding me of a very fun memory from my college dorm days when, as the only Undergrad working with a bunch of Grad students and one Professor in work study, walking in and saying, “Lunch for the whole team is on me! You too, Prof!” Because I had three days to burn through a ridiculous amount of meal plan credits. It’s the dorm version of making it rain.

    3. Marny*

      I started at “hm, no”. Then “nooo”. Then “oh noooooo”. Then “NOOOOOO”. And that’s where I’ve landed.

  7. Lena Carabina*

    Omg OP.
    This is one of those instances where you must be too close to it to see it properly.

    I read the headline and thought, oh I bet co-worker is overreacting but then I read the letter and thought ‘holy h3ll!’
    This is so, so bad. You have to stop it now.

    1. Rachel*

      Yes, I thought this letter was going to go in a whoooole different direction than it did.

      OP, your coworker did you a huge favor. I hope you do the self-examination Alison suggested, and it wouldn’t hurt to thank your coworker for the heads-up.

      1. A Silver Spork*

        I read the title thinking it was like the one where an employee told the LW she couldn’t go to lunch with her own husband, because “he’s married and that’s inappropriate” since they didn’t exactly announce their relationship.

        I was not expecting… this.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      Yes, this. It happens that while reading the archives (which I’ve been doing a lot of when I want a break from covid) I’d come across a letter from someone whose coworker was calling her out a lot on supposedly flirting with a male coworker and that person was overreacting, so my mind was initially going down that route.

      Then I read the letter and my jaw dropped at the toner conversation.

      Jane was right to raise it. And if she’s picked up on it, the likelihood is others have. In fact if others have made a joke about work spouses, it sounds like a lot of people have. Yes it does happen where people overreact but this doesn’t sound like the case here. The next person to bring it up might be your boss. Keep that in mind.

    3. HS Teacher*

      The OP is trying to minimize it to put themself in the best light, and it STILL sounds awful. Imagine if they were open about everything going on.

      1. Joielle*

        I honestly wondered if Jane wrote this letter, that’s how bad it makes the OP look – but then I figured if Jane wrote it, she could have just described it from her own perspective, so what would be the point? If the OP was willing to write down these details, there are DEFINITELY more damning details that she didn’t include.

  8. Kierson*

    OP, if another man is making you feel more attractive than you have felt in years, there is an element of emotional cheating going on. Explore that feeling while you examine if you’re cut out for HR. I hope you come out of this on the other side with some clarity.

    1. Tyche*

      This. I might be reading between the lines a bit too much, but OP should really examine the why behind why they wouldnt tell their husband about this. Is it really that he has nothing to worry about, or is it possibly more than that? A spouse would be within their rights to be put off.

      Aside from that, though, this behavior is extremely unprofessional and shouldnt be acceptable in the workplace. OP is lucky Jane brought it up with her first. Some coworkers would go to a manager.

      1. many bells down*

        I told my husband “if I came home from work and said I was flirting with an 18 year old, I hope you would have some serious questions about my judgment.”

    2. Bostonian*

      Yeah, that comment about how he makes her feel is a huge indicator that this relationship is extremely inappropriate.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Was just getting on here to say that. ” . . . but that’s not relevant”, oh, yes it is. You may not want to think so but everything you just wrote here says it’s relevant.

      I’ve had chummy relationships, or at least interactions, with male coworkers (I’m a straight woman) but never anything that I would hesitate to relate to my boyfriend. Definitely nothing like the OP described!

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, same here. But all of the guys I’ve had that sort of chummy work relationship with have been about the same age as I am and my peers, so no power differential either way.

    4. Georgina Fredricka*

      this makes me think about how a lot of very typical life experiences/issues are constantly portrayed through men.

      What I mean: most of us can only recognize the signs of a heart attack & other serious issues if it corresponds with the symptoms MEN experience. Because that’s typically what’s portrayed in media!

      Similarly, we have a lot of talk culturally about how men transition into middle age – and the difficulties with doing so – and their corresponding habits (dating younger women, flashy cars, strange decisions to try and relive youth)

      BUT- we don’t talk as much about how that looks for women. I think a huge component of this story is honestly mid-life crisis – instead of confronting what it means to be “not young” or at least “not considered young by society” anymore, OP is trying to subvert reality by enjoying the attentions of an 18 year old AND focusing on the compliments that alleviate aging anxiety (legs)

      *armchair psychology done*

    5. AnotherSarah*

      YES. I think personally that mutual flirting btwn colleagues is fine IF you’re not in HR/supervisory role and IF neither party is a student, but that’s the part to always examine. And if there is a “this person makes me feel great” vibe, again, okay, but examine whether it would be okay if your SO or anyone else saw. If not, then there are lines being crossed.

    6. Alice's Rabbit*

      Absolutely. If you’re turning to someone other than your spouse to feel attractive and have your emotional needs met, you’ve already cheated. It’s called an emotional affair, and it is just as damaging to a marriage as a physical one. It’s also the first step to every extramarital sexual affair.

    1. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

      Amongst all the yike-feelings, what jumped out at me was that it’s only a WEEK since they had coffee and he took her arm (purportedly to help he up from the bench) and now the OP is talking about all the times they manage to touch each other at work … Jane is definitely not the only person who has noticed something going on.

      1. Lady Meyneth*

        Oh wow, I didn’t even notice that. Yes, having this level of inappropriateness crammed in one week, I doubt *anyone* in the office hasn’t noticed yet.

  9. Littorally*

    Holy mackerel, OP.

    You’re in your 40s. Don’t flirt with teenagers. Workplace schmorkplace, don’t flirt with teenagers. That you, as HR, are doing so in the workplace triples down on what’s already skeezy to begin with. Half your age plus seven, come on!!

    1. anonymous 5*

      good heavens, this. And honestly, even half the age plus seven has the tendency to look pretty cringeworthy IRL. In HR? Ohhhhhhhh HELLLLLLLLL NOOOOOOOOOOOOO

      1. Igorette*

        Depends! It’s an arbitrary number. Why not 5 or 9? Why 7?
        I was 24 when I met my now husband. According to that rule, I should have been 25. I don’t think that one year has made any difference. And we’re adorable!

        But yeah, 18 and 40 is too much…. A year either end wouldn’t save that

        1. ampersand*

          Yes, 18 and 40 is never good. I’m 40, I remember being 18, I’ve worked with, managed, and have had clients that were 18, and the difference between the life experience and knowledge that people have at these two ages is so vast that there’s no excusing this.

        2. Vina*

          You want a hard and fast rule? I’ll give you one: sometime after college graduation around age 25.

          Why? We know – absolutely know – that 25 is about the age when the brain becomes fully mature. (It many be slightly younger for women).

          That’s also an age where most people have either graduate college or have had life experience (work, military, etc). So, no longer a teen without enough info or brain development to fully understand the risks and rewards of a relationship.

          Also, I understand what this is personal to you. However, anytime something like this comes up, we always get – but I was 18 when I met my husband and we’ve been together 50 years. Great! I’m glad it worked out for you. That does not, however, mean it needs to be the applicable rule for everyone.

          Also, 18 is vastly different than 24 or 25. It just is. So your situation v. This teenagers? Not comparable to me at all.

          Also, for you, the one year didn’t make a difference. Great. But 25 should be a benchmark from which we work b/c that’s what the science tells us. It doesn’t have to be a black letter law rule, but it should be a staring point.

          Again, that one year may have made zero difference for you, but we have to start with something.

          From some experts:

          “ It doesn’t matter how smart teens are or how well they scored on the SAT or ACT. Good judgment isn’t something they can excel in, at least not yet.

          The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so.

          In fact, recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.

          In teen’s brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing—and not always at the same rate. That’s why when teens have overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.”

          This is precisely why a 40 year old should not ever engage int his behavior with an 18 year old. Period.

          1. Vina*

            PS If you really, sincerely want to think about this, I suggest googling brain development + 25. There is a whole host of articles. Pages and pages of results.

            This doesn’t mean 18 year olds can’t have some adult responsibilities. They can. What it does mean is that anyone who is a over that threshold sufficiently to know they have a “mature” Brian, should exercise both respect and caution when dealing with someone young enough to be certain their brain is not “mature.”

            Maybe a 25-26 year old with an 18 year old is ok. Maybe not. I’ll leave that up to you. But 40 is well past the age where one should be adult. 18 year old is well under it.

            This is not a case, like yours, where there is a shade of gray.

            1. Vina*

              PPS, Anyone wanting to have a physically or emotionally intimate relationship with someone under age 25 needs to proceed with EXTREME caution and a lot of thoughtfulness. Neither of which is being evidenced by LW.

              I would never say that all age-gap relationships with those 18 and above are always exploitive. The ones that aren’t are ones where the older, more experienced party is aware of their power and limits its use. When used, it is always benevolent and for the betterment of the younger person.

              That is absolutely, positively not what is going on here. What is going on here is denial, denial, denial and it’s exploitive.

              Just because there are some other relationships out there and some theoretical possibility that some abstract 40 year old could have a healthy relationship with an abstract 18 year old doesn’t make this situation ok.

              1. Diahann Carroll*

                Well said – all of it. I keep seeing the, “Well, legally he’s an adult” argument in defense of OP’s actions, and hell no – don’t care, his brain is not fully formed. He is still very much a child developmentally speaking.

                1. Vina*

                  I assume any relationship with someone over 30 and the other party late teens/early 20s is exploitive until shown otherwise. I’ve never been shown otherwise.

                  I’m sure this happens, but I’ve never seen it. What I’ve seen is tons of examples of exploitation and long-term negative effects on the younger person.

                  Oh, and all the science and statistics back that up.

                  If LW cared about this kid at all, she’d stop.

                  She’s so blinded by the limerence and ego kibbles that she cannot see anything rationally. It’s like she’s on drugs.

                2. Diahann Carroll*

                  @Vina I was that younger person. It took years of therapy for me to come to terms with the fact that the 25 year old man who got involved with me six months after I turned 18 was a predator and was emotionally abusive. I can’t even imagine how much worse it would have been if he had been in his 40s!

                3. Jules the 3rd*

                  Based on my <25 experience, my rule of thumb for <25s is '2 year age delta'. So much changes from 16 – 24 that anything more than 2 years just has the two people at very different places in their lives. I'd make an exception for someone who has been supporting themselves for a couple of years (ie, is paying their own rent and transportation) dating an older person, but only about one more year.

                4. allathian*

                  Well, adolescent, 18 is not 13. I have absolutely no problems with 18 year olds dating and having sex with each other, provided both parties want to do it and take the appropriate precautions against unwanted pregnancy in a het relationship and STDs. But 18 and 40+? Nope, nope, nopity nope.

        3. Joielle*

          I also feel like a big age gap is a bit less questionable when the people involved are older. At least then you both have fully-developed brains and theoretically have SOME life experiences in common.

          1. Vina*

            Oh, exactly. If I saw a 75 year old and a 40 year old, I would not care. Both are ADULTS.

            Now, I’d worry there was too much of a stage of life or generation gap for it to be workable. But that’s their problem.

        4. Quill*

          I think the idea was that “half your age +7” comes from the lower end of this situation, that for example if you were 22 dating an 18 year old (still a whyyyy, but common enough in previous decades, especially when the cultural idea was that girls went to college in order to secure a husband, who should already be able to provide for her) people would previously think that’s fine.

          I’ve also pretty much never seen that rule anywhere that isn’t deeply creepy or used to justify a relationship that has a plethora of other problems. And I’ve also, curiously, never seen this applied in reverse, with the slightly more algebraically confusing formula of “half your age plus seven, subtracted from your age, is the maximum years OLDER than you that you should date” which turns around and invalidates pretty much every person who whips out “it fits the half plus seven rule!”

    2. Observer*

      You’re in your 40s. Don’t flirt with teenagers. Workplace schmorkplace, don’t flirt with teenagers.

      Yup. 1000x over!

      1. Vina*

        Yes, it’s not just that he’s a younger man/there is an age gap. He’s a teenager. There’s at least two generations between them.

        Personally, I think one -generation gap is my limit. I can relate to Boomers and Millennials as an Xer. Beyond that, the frame of reference is different to really relate well. I do have friends who are in their 90s and mentoring relationship with Gen Z (what’s the shorthand for that?). But a relationship?

        1. ampersand*

          I agree with everything you’ve said here….also, this letter is a freaking dumpster fire of problems. I hope the LW takes Alison’s advice to heart and seriously rethinks her choices and ideas of what’s okay/not okay.

  10. EGA*

    Yikes. I hope LW puts s stop to this becomes a serious issue.

    I also hope she communicates with her husband so that flirting with him makes her feel attractive!

  11. Smeralda*

    Also I don’t think you should be letting a student worker buy you coffee? Weird power dynamic

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Exactly!

        Going to get coffee and chat: fine. Buying them coffee: Fine, you’re the one with more power in the situation, so not unheard of. Letting an 18-year-old student employee buy you coffee: RED FLAG

        1. 867-5309*

          I cannot even recall a time I allowed anyone who reported to me or was more junior to me buy my coffee when we’ve gone out, and those people are all 20-something college grads.

          1. GirlfromIpanema*

            Very much the same. I never let anyone junior to me buy anything, ever- not coffee, lunch, or a safety pin. It’s not always as icky and red flag as this situation, but at a minimum that person certainly makes less than I do and I’m their boss, so it’s just not cool to let them pay.

          2. Alice's Rabbit*

            The only time I have ever bought something for my boss, he legitimately forgot his wallet that day, and was clearly starving. It was our lunch break, and I knew he only had about 10 minutes to eat before a meeting, so I bought him a snack at the cafeteria. He paid me back precisely, the very next day, and started keeping an emergency 5 bucks in his desk.
            But that is so incredibly different from this, they aren’t even on the same page. Also, I told my husband all about it.

        2. Bee*

          This was so wildly off-base that it contributed to my sense that the OP was really young – I remember being 23 and completely broke and never turning down a free anything. But even just a few years later, you should have a better understanding of the power differential AND the pay differential!

        3. Metadata minion*

          The one situation I can think of that not being seriously weird is if, say, it was an informational-interview sort of situation where you’d offered to sit down over coffee with the student and talk about your career. And even then as the older employee I would thank them and then pay for both coffees because that’s just what you *do* when the other person is a college student.

          1. 867-5309*

            Of course. I meant that as an illustrative example but absolutely there are instances where someone earlier in their career might buy the coffee.

      2. KaciHall*

        I think that should has sailed. It already IS a serious issue.

        I’m a decade younger than OP, not in HR or any position of even pseudo-authority, and if I acted even half this bad with my company’s interns I would be deservedly written up. And they are college students so probably a bit older.

    1. PurpleSheep*

      There is so much wrong in this letter, but even is she can’t see the sexual stuff (!) surely she knew it was wrong to let him buy her coffee!!
      She must make so much more than him!!!

      1. M_Lynn*

        Exactly! No one making less money should EVER pay for someone older. Gender/flirtation aside- this is a huge abuse of power.

        1. Wednesday of this week*

          It sounds like his paying for coffee opened the door to everything since. His offer to pay, perhaps flirtatious, was flattering to her, and by accepting the offer she signaled that she was open to crossing boundaries and abusing her power over him. She has since continued to do that more and more.

          Not saying the coffee itself was crucial–I’m sure it would have kicked off another way if not with the coffee. But every inappropriate workplace story has some initial event when the lines were first blurred.

        2. LDN Layabout*

          I think age is irrelevant here, it’s about superiority.

          I haven’t had younger managers but I’m reaching the age where I might and I wouldn’t expect to buy for them. I have seen managers younger than my coworkers pay when others might be older.

          The person higher up the chain of command pays (I might get a grad this year! First chance to buy someone a tea or coffee)

          1. LawLady*

            I agree on this. My admin has a few decades on me, but the times that we’ve had coffee or breakfast, I buy. I get her a holiday gift. She does not get me one. Age doesn’t matter, but I’m more senior in the company, so it’s right and good that gifts flow from me to her and not vice versa.

          2. Vina*

            Age isn’t irrelevant. He’s 18, not 28. He’s a teenager whose brain is still immature. He’s a legal adult (in some states, not all). That doesn’t mean he’s capable of fully understanding and consenting to the relationship. He’s not.

            This is why 18 year olds are supposed to use their college years to learn how to adult. They learn that with others their age. Not with older people who can exploit their youth and young brain.

            The brain of an 18 year old is not adult in any sense. An 18 year old will almost never have relevant life experience (and if they do, that’s another problem).

            So, yes, age is relevant. As relevant as the superiority issue.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              Thank you. She is grooming this boy in the workplace – this is predatory behavior that needs to stop. His age absolutely is relevant in that she is doubly wrong for using her power and authority to escalate this situation.

              1. Vina*

                I mean, this isn’t even a remotely borderline age (e.g., 24-26). He’s not even old enough to drink!

                What life experiences does he have? What basis does he have to process the risk of this behavior?

                There’s zero gray here wrt to the age issue.

                She is presumably an adult with an adult brain and life experience enough to know better. She’s making a choice as an adult. He’s not.

            2. Akcipitrokulo*

              I think LDN Layabout was addressing *only* the “who pays for coffee” issue in that comment – and for that and only that question, it’s true that “higher in food chain pays”, regardless of age.

          3. allathian*

            Yes, this. My current boss is younger than I am, and either we each pay our own or she pays. Her predecessor was more than a decade older than I am, and she always paid.

    2. InfoSec SemiPro*

      RIGHT?

      I don’t care if the interns/my mentees/students from university events who want to show off they got hired SAY they’re going to buy my coffee. The power and earning disparity is so huge that I pay, every time. Every time. Take your friends out for coffee to celebrate your new job, I, as your mentor, will pay.

      And that’s before we get to the inappropriateness of the touching (TOUCHING A STUDENT NO! BAD!) or the comments (sexually charged comments FROM HR?!?!). OP, you’re screwing up. You’re screwing up yourself. You’re screwing up Andre as he’s trying to learn professional norms (from you! and you’re failing him). You’re screwing up at some primary parts of your role and job function.

      A student worker is not a toy. Stop it, do your job, professionally, so he learns what professionalism is.

    3. Rehela*

      I think that an intern/student occasionally buying someone a coffee is alright; it’s a simple and relatively cheap way for them to repay someone who helped them out, network, and feel like they’re part of a team. As long as it isn’t a frequent thing. I felt awkward when people refused to let me buy them coffee (they didn’t even let me pay for my own coffee); it was like I was taking advantage of their generosity.

      This whole thing is icky though, no doubt; the coffee’s definitely a part of that.

      1. Observer*

        No. NO. NO!

        Sorry for yelling, but it doesn’t matter how “uncomfortable” it is. You NEVER let your employee buy you coffee – ESPECIALLY when it’s an intern / student worker.

        1. allathian*

          I agree. The student can thank for any networking etc. help by doing well at the job and by sending an appreciative thank you email or even *gasp* a handwritten note.

      2. Smithy*

        Personally, I think for interns/students – as opposed to junior staff – it’s even more important to overly model the upmost in professional norms. While on its own, I don’t see it as problematic, I think that in the spirit of modeling general norms such as more senior colleagues not expecting gifts from more junior colleagues – it’s a good overall practice. Not to the point of a more senior colleague immediately repaying a junior colleague for an occasional coffee, but because often intern/student tenures are shorter and there just isn’t as much as much of a window to demonstrate norms over time.

        Clearly the OP’s situation is wildly inappropriate, and I’m not equating an intern getting a more senior staff an occasional coffee on the same level – but I think why some people have those kinds of rules is because how significant the power differential can be.

        1. F.M.*

          Yes! Exactly this!

          When I went back to college in my late twenties, I wasn’t a teenager, and I was married to someone who was, at the time, making very good money. So when a professor that I adored helped me out with some extra tutoring (along with one or two other students) where we met once a week in a coffee shop to go over the texts, I offered to buy her coffee and bagel. And when she demurred, I insisted that no, really, I’m not on a standard student income, I can afford it!

          …to which she replied that faculty should never let students pay the bill for them if they have food when meeting up, and ideally faculty–especially tenured faculty!–should pay for everyone, because there’s already a power dynamic at play.

          I got a lot of good advice from her about things like that. It’s one of the reasons she’s still very fondly remembered, even though I only ever had two classes with her.

      3. Miki*

        It might be awkward in the moment, but it’s good to model the norm that the lower rank person shouldn’t have to “pay” for the higher rank person’s time.

        Think of pyramid schemes and Landmark Forum and other work-related scams: they’re often premised on the idea that the new person *must* pay in order to join/earn their place/get wisdom from their leader. Spending money up the chain is a red flag that something is off.

        1. Smithy*

          In addition to systems that more blatantly abuse employees, I also think that it can be helpful for modeling mentoring and networking in the space of reinforcing those interactions and relationships as *not* being romantic.

          Regardless of gender or sexual preference, a senior colleague taking a junior colleague for coffee or even an occasional happy hour should be interpreted as a professional interaction. A junior employee accepting such an invite that turns into being inappropriate, it’s not the junior employee’s fault.

          This reminds me of the letter last week with the young woman still wondering if she’s done something wrong or misinterpreted the LinkedIn request. A year later and clearly, she was still wondering “did I do something wrong”. The more other colleagues model appropriate professional norms, that builds confidence in younger professionals – particularly those who are women or don’t have a lot of family or friends to give professional guidance.

      4. Joielle*

        I think it’s ok for an intern or student to OFFER to buy a mentor a coffee, and the mentor should see that as the gesture of good will that it is, but the mentor should never accept. It’s just not how the power dynamic works. As an intern, you should also understand this (perhaps the mentor should explain it) and understand that you don’t need to feel awkward about it.

        If an intern wants to do something nice for their mentor they can write a heartfelt thank you card.

      5. Quill*

        No, it would be one thing if it were extras / leftovers or something he got free but didn’t want, it’s another, absent other circumstances, to teach him that someone with more spending power expects freebies from him.

    4. The Original K.*

      Right?! She knows what he makes! Gifts, who treats who, etc. should always flow down. It sounds like OP wanted this to be a date.

    5. Van Wilder*

      Exactly! The fact that she let him buy coffee turned it from “mentor/mentee coworker” situation into a “man/woman date” situation. NOT OKAY.

    6. Penny*

      If she wouldn’t let any other intern buy her coffee, she should not have let Andre buy her coffee. It screams inappropriate and like a date!

  12. Decima Dewey*

    Hasn’t nearly every illicit affair ever been preceded by one of the parties telling themselves or others “I’d never cheat on my spouse/significant other and never will”?

    1. Littorally*

      Right? And justified by “this person makes me feel better/happier/younger/more desirable.”

        1. Clisby*

          Me, too. Possibly partly because I have an 18-year-old son. I kind of want slap OP silly.

    2. Batgirl*

      Yeah; nobody is immune to feeling attractions to others, but the only ones who really need to worry are the ones playing chicken with that concept. Personally, if it were my spouse, I would consider this type of behaviour cheating even if it never went any further. They’re dating at work. I would leave a relationship over this.

      1. JeanB in NC*

        “Playing chicken with that concept” is a perfect way to describe this. They are playing a dangerous game and someone’s going to get hurt.

        1. Observer*

          I would put it as someone is going to get MORE hurt. Because Andre is ALREADY being hurt, even if he doesn’t know it yet.

        2. Alice's Rabbit*

          Yes! My mom always told me “You can’t cheat if you never put yourself in a position where cheating is possible.” If you don’t want to cross that line, don’t even get close to the line.

      2. A Silver Spork*

        I think most people would consider it an emotional affair, at this point! The touching, the quasi-date behavior with the coffee, the toner comment (!!!), the not telling her husband… I mean, the LW even calls it flirting in her own letter! I know some relationships don’t treat flirting as cheating, but I think the fact that she’s not telling her husband about it is indicative that hers is not one of them.

        I’d seriously consider divorce if my spouse was doing this with a regular friend, but the work and power dynamic just makes it so much worse.

        1. Batgirl*

          Absolutely to your last point. Also, you cant walk away from things that have overheated when it’s your livelihood. OP is operating on the assumption it’s ‘private’ and ‘hubby doesn’t need to know’ but OP is so giddy she’d have better luck hiding Lord Lucan in her handbag.
          So, if her husband sees it as an emotional affair and needs contact to stop, then what? Leave the job? Lose the marriage? This is actually the best case dilemma since the other alternative is “There’s no choice to make; You’re fired”. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

          1. allathian*

            Yes. Seriously, she could be fired for this, because she’s surely failing in her most important job, teaching a student employee proper workplace norms. And she’s in HR!

  13. Karo*

    I was all ready to be indignant on OP’s behalf, and then I got to the touching part and started feeling like she needed to reign it back…And then I read about the jokes and my jaw dropped open.

    OP, this isn’t okay, and even if your excuses were valid, they don’t hold water. It’s *not* private – others have witnessed it. People *are* complaining – Jane is one of them.

    More than anything else, it’s not that you’re being unbecoming because you’re 40something, it’s that you’re being gross because you’re an adult in a workplace.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      YES. This behavior would not somehow be more acceptable from another 18 year old, or if your target was also 40 something, or if you were single, or if the genders were reversed, or under literally any other circumstances. Like, if you worked with your husband and you were doing all this with HIM at work, STILL WILDLY INAPPROPRIATE.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        If the genders were reversed, OP would already be convicted.

        OP needs to sit Andre down, dispassionately explain her mistakes–yes, he’s wrong, too, but as the senior individual, it’s OP’s role to own it–and put a stop to the inappropriateness immediately. It’d be a further disservice to Andre to create the understanding that this will be appropriate for him going forward in his career.

        1. MayLou*

          When you say convicted, do you mean literally of a criminal offence, or just in the court of public opinion? If the latter I agree, but as far as I know in the USA 18 is over the age of consent so even if they’d actually had sex, it wouldn’t be a crime. In the UK the age of consent is 16, but if a teacher has a sexual relationship with a student at their school, even if they’re 16, 17 or 18, that’s also a crime – although I don’t think that is the case once they’re at university.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            The court of public opinion, and possibly by the employer for breach of policy, but not literally a criminal conviction.

      2. Galloping Gargoyles*

        Yes this right here. This behavior is so inappropriate for the workplace in general. Then you add in the 18/40-something age gaps ~and~ that this is a student worker and an HR person and it goes from “yikes” to “this can’t even be a real letter” or “holy crap, Batman, what the heck is wrong with you, OP?!?”.

        OP, I hope you’re reading all this feedback and really reflecting on how many people are saying to stop this behavior now. I think Allison’s advice is spot on. Please take the time to do the soul searching that she has recommended and determine if HR is really the right field for you.

        1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

          Absolutely. I would NOT want to hear this kind of gross conversation between two of my coworkers, regardless of their ages, genders, power differentials, roles in the company, marital status, etc. But in the OP’s case, every one of those factors compounds to make it even worse.

    2. ieAnon*

      Same! I’ve heard others in academia be accused of having a “flirtatious” relationship with student employees because they were advocating for them to attend a conference as a learning experience or because they were developing a mentorship with the student. That’s what I expected going into this letter, not this craziness!

      I have also seen a VERY inappropriate relationship between a student and administrator, though, so I know this is not outside the realm of possibility.

      1. Casper Lives*

        One of my professors got fired for sleeping with a student. He taught small discussion-based honors classes for us as 1st & 2nd tear honors students. The professor was an attractive, fit, early 30s guy who would play shirtless pickup outside our dorms. When she told the dean later, he decided it was between consensual adults (and prof had tenure). Nothing was done. When a tenured honors female professor with a daughter our age heard about it… I hear she burst into the dean’s office and there was much heated discussion. Ultimately the male prof was fired.

        1. Quill*

          Sometimes you need a mom to come and fight the administration. That’s how a local high school got a cheer coach fired for making sexually demeaning comments about her cheerleaders. Somebody’s mom rolled up her sleeves and did not come back until there was a body count.

      2. Kate*

        Yeah, I was totally expecting “you spend so much time teaching him” type of accusation. Not sexual jokes and touches at workplace…

    3. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, I supervise 18 year old students and I kept thinking if I heard someone speak to one of my students like this, I would be horrified. This is very much not okay.

  14. Katiekaboom*

    5 Million yikes.
    “He’s been spending a lot of time in my office since that’s where the scanner is” Understandable.
    “He suggested we grab lunch together” OK.
    “He offered to pay” Um… Questionable.
    “He took my arm to help me up” Unless your leg is broken or you’re elderly…no
    “We brush up against each other in the hallway” Are your hallways 2 feet wide?
    “Do you bang your dates like that?” STOP

      1. Emi.*

        Honestly my alarm bells went off as soon as we got to “Andre.” I feel like that’s kind of a hot name, you know? There’s a reason OP chose it instead of John Doe or one of the AAM standbys like Fergus.

      2. Kate R*

        Yeah. I was really trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, even brushing off Andre holding her arm because while I personally think it’s weird, people have different thresholds for physical interaction. But the innuendos sent me over the edge, and this comment just struck me as so odd. My parents and close friends know the name of my coworkers just because when I talk about my life, I talk about work. So I think it’d be normal for OP to have mentioned Andre to her husband instead of, he “doesn’t need to know”. That came across to me as there really was something to hide.

        1. Parenthetically*

          “innuendos”

          That’s not an innuendo, it’s the opening scene of a porno.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I was alright with helping her up–if it’s not intentionally done in a wrong way, that’s pretty harmless. I would see that roughly on level with holding a door under normal circumstances.

      But the rest? +5MM.

      1. 867-5309*

        Honestly, I thought she was elderly because he was “helping her up.” It wasn’t until the point that she said she was 40-something that I realized it was date-like behavior.

      2. Delta Delta*

        I was thinking that, too. When I was Andre’s age, it was sort of the habit among my peers that if one was sitting and others were standing, a standing person would extend a hand to help up the sitting person. No idea why we all did this (from being on sports teams, maybe?), but I can see where to a kid that might seem totally normal but to an outsider who has observed increased flirting it would seem really inappropriate.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          There’s more than one way to help a coworker up, too, and some are more appropriate than others.

        2. KatieKaBoom*

          My mom is disabled and has been since I was a child, so I’m in the habit of offering my arm to people over a certain age, even if they don’t seem like they need it. It’s just a habit now and I usually don’t even realize I’m doing it.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Yup. Combined with buying her coffee and inviting her to lunch, Andre is dating OP (in his mind at least). This is all date-like behavior. The fact that OP can’t see this for what it is is disturbing.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            I had to reread the letter a few times because I felt like I kept missing where it said they were quacking to each other.

            1. PeonyBella*

              I thought they’d already crossed the line but had forgotten about the duck line!

              1. Quill*

                Dear Penthouse, I never thought it would happen to me, but 20 years after I wrote in about the Duck Club…

        2. miss_chevious*

          Yeah, the helping up is one thing (although I would have ignored it unless I actually needed help), but the arm holding? No. NO NO NO. In the U.S., at least, that speaks to social intimacy and is not something that co-workers do.

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      Honestly, I think even grabbing lunch together isn’t a great idea given that she’s HR (and since he’s a teenager here as part of a student group). It’s be one thing if OP was his manager or if the two of them were going out as part of a group to grab lunch, but just the two of them comes across as odd (obviously it’s the least red flag of the ones here – maybe more of a pink flag).

      1. SciDiver*

        Came here to say this too. OP says she gets coffee with other coworkers so why not Andre…honestly you shouldn’t be doing social coffee hour with non-HR employees! If she was his manager/mentor/some other formal role that puts her in a position to manage him, that might be appropriate, but it’s definitely not in this case.

    3. Bostonian*

      I had that exact same progression of reactions as I read this letter! I went into it trying to see things from OP’s side, but ended up seeing Nothing but Nope.

    4. Miss May*

      It just kept getting worse! Its like that gif of the football player saying, “they had us in the first half not gonna lie…”

      It sounds like OP is trying to rationalize the behavior and NOBODY is having it here.

    5. aubrey*

      Same progression for me as I read it, at the beginning I was hoping she was just being nice to the student worker and the coworker was someone who read too much into friendliness… but then noooooo. All the touching and the toner and legs comments would be work inappropriate even if they were both teenage student workers but her being so much older and senior in the company and IN HR is just a whole other level of wrong.

  15. AvonLady Barksdale*

    Typically on this site we find the “Janes” to be nosy busybodies. Bravo to this Jane for doing her job. It sounds like Jane wants to give the LW the benefit of the doubt and a chance to modify her behavior… and this LW just wants to keep nurturing her budding relationship with Andre. Ew.

    I don’t care that you’re married. I don’t even care that he’s 18. I care that you’re AT WORK and you’re the one in charge of making sure this stuff doesn’t get out of hand.

    1. Ali G*

      Yes! I was all set for Jane to be an annoying busybody who needs to mind her own damn business, but NO. Jane is right and trying to help the LW. LW needs to come out of her haze of a new relationship high and get back here on earth with the rest of us.

    2. Hoo boy*

      And I would like to remind the letter-writer that because of the unfortunate biases people have, Jane probably would not have given her the benefit of the doubt if she was a man and Andre was a woman.

      You are disgusting, OP. If you don’t stop this immediately, then don’t be surprised if you become the subject of public outrage in due time.

      1. Wednesday of this week*

        Men get the benefit of the doubt in these situations all the time, which is why they are so common. Universities in particular are rife with male faculty and staff who harass students with little to no accountability, and men are still far more frequent perpetrators.

        1. Hoo boy*

          I see what you mean, and I didn’t know that about universities.

          The reason for my earlier comment, however, is that while both sexes can become the perpetrators and victims of sexual harassment, it is often downplayed if the woman is the perpetrator and the man is the victim.

          A clear example is when teachers have inappropriate relations with students and how they are reported:

          For the male teacher, “EIGTH-GRADE TEACHER RAPES 13-YEAR-OLD STUDENT,” accompanied with the teacher’s mugshot.

          For the female teacher, “EIGHTH-GRADE TEACHER HAS AFFAIR WITH TEENAGED STUDENT,” accompanied by the teacher’s cute selfie, sometimes even a full-body selfie.

          In the latter case, if the victim is male, comments that come up too often are how “lucky” the victim was, especially if the female perpetrator was conventionally attractive.

          Everyone here in this comment section fortunately sees the tragedy for what it is in the letter, and it looks like things are looking up in terms of the biases society places on these situations.

  16. ChemistryChick*

    I…just…oh dear.

    OP, I also think you need to understand that you’re doing Andre a massive disservice regarding his future employment anywhere else. He’s going to think this is normal and ok, and I guarantee it will hurt him professionally if you don’t take all of Alison’s advice.

    1. EGA*

      Wow, I hadn’t even thought about that angle. Really well put. Poor Andre may think this is OK/normal (especially since it is with someone in HR), and inadvertently harass someone in a future job.

      1. AKchic*

        He might be harassing other women *now* at this very job site outside of LW’s hearing/sight and LW may not be aware of it.
        However, if someone complains about Andre’s harassment, will LW be unbiased, or will Andre face less scrutiny/punishment due to favoritism and the inappropriate relationship going on, and will the victim be treated fairly at all because the victim could be seen as a potential rival for Andre’s affections?

        This are legitimate questions now that the LW’s impartiality come into question.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Exactly this. She’s encouraging highly unprofessional behavior that’s going to get him fired anywhere else. Presumably, he’s working in OP’s office to learn office norms – OP, you are not helping this kid. Leave him alone, get therapy for your self esteem issues, and deal with your marital problems without involving an innocent third party who works for you.

    3. LadyByTheLake*

      I agree with Allison’s advice and all of the Commentariat above, but this one is SO true. If Andre somehow is led to believe that this is normal workplace behavior and takes this elsewhere . . . he’s not going to do well and he’ll be subjecting his new colleagues to deeply inappropriate behavior and comments.

    4. Daffy Duck*

      Definitely! She is teaching him that sexual discussions and touching at work are acceptable. The fact that she works in HR makes this really, really unacceptable.
      He will try this with another person at work and if not get booted out immediately have a huge black mark on his record and a dressing down. She is setting him up for a horrible reputation that can really impact his future work life (as in no one will want to hire him).

  17. Justin*

    “Nobody’s complaining.”

    Yes, that’s what people in positions of power usually say!

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Right– my boss always says, “If you have a problem, tell me!” Well, not so easy when he dismisses every complaint. He’s pretty typical.

    2. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox*

      Plus, someone IS complaining: Jane! Just because you don’t like what she’s saying doesn’t mean she doesn’t count.

    3. username required*

      They might not be complaining but you can be darn sure they are discussing the situation and OP’s awful behaviour.

    4. Cedarthea*

      I run a camp, we always go over this concept

      “Just because you are okay with it, doesn’t mean it’s okay”.

      Overnight summer camp is a cesspool of boundary issues (too many people who are too close for too long) but its still a workplace and so I do my best to teach workplace norms and that is a big one. Just because you are okay with someone (peer of either gender or a camper) sitting on your lap, doesn’t mean its appropriate or acceptable.

      1. Quill*

        High school theater was another one of those with nonexistent boundaries (couch stacking game, anyone?) but at least none of us was supervising anyone significantly younger than us.

        Honestly though we had better boundaries based on a system of “harass anyone and the senior in charge of you will make you clean the bathrooms with a toothpick” than some of our advisors… which chills me in retrospect.

    5. Alice's Rabbit*

      Jane is complaining. If one person has the guts to speak up about something like this, guaranteed other people are gossiping about it.

  18. Yeah_I know*

    I guarantee that you are not as private as you think you are.

    I have endured the “private” flirtations of several sets of coworkers and it is always uncomfortable. They probably were just having a fun flirt at work and not having an actual romantic relationship, but it was enough to make me want to leave the room every time.

    And these were all adults close in age and authority level to each other.
    The fact that he is so young and new to the work force and you are a grown woman in HR just makes this 100 times worse.

    1. Sara without an H*

      This. Trust me, OP, “Jane” is not the only one who’s noticed your behavior, and word is probably spreading even as I type this.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      Yeah, even if you take out the LW being married, the LW being older, the LW working in HR—if they were both single, both older, not working in the same department, not working in HR, and they just wanted to flirt and date… those kinds of sexual innuendos in the workplace are wholly inappropriate, and if you think you’re making them only when others can’t hear, you’re wrong.

    3. HS Teacher*

      I had a coworker I became close friends with, and people in the office were whispering about her having an affair with another of our coworkers. I told her what people were saying because we were friends, and I defended her whenever I heard the whispering.

      It wasn’t long before she left her long-time husband and married the guy. They’re still married, but they left a path of destruction behind them. Where there’s smoke there’s fire. I gave her the benefit of the doubt because we were friends, and to this day she insisted their relationship started after she left her husband, but I disagree; the relationship started with the flirting and going to lunch together almost every day.

    4. AnotherLibrarian*

      Absolutely. I have also noticed this before and it has never been okay. The HR angle, power differential and several other factors make this even more not okay.

  19. MsClaw*

    What a terrible example to set for this student employee! You’re doing Andre a huge disservice by teaching him that physical contact, open flirting, and social entanglement with a colleague is no big deal. Even if no one in your office cared about how inappropriate you two are being, what happens when he goes onto his next job and gets fired for sexually harassing a coworker. On the one hand, yes he should know better. On the other, he’s 18 and this may be his first professional job and what you’re telling him is that this behavior is normal. Gross. Stop it now. You can be friendly with coworkers, but none of that includes sexual innuendo and literally touching each other in the office.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      Oops, jinx — our comments crossed in the ether. Suffice to say I entirely agree!

      1. MsClaw*

        Ha! Yeah, this is just amazingly inappropriate. I’m thinking there are going to be a lot of similar comments as everyone is just agog at how this woman is behaving.

    2. Akcipitrokulo*

      yep.

      18.

      Student.

      Being told by 40+ person in *HR* that harassing behaviour is normal social interaction.

      Poor kid.

    3. JB*

      Yes! This is a really crucial point! Part of your job is not just to train him in specific skills, but to expose him to workplace norms. You are explicity teaching him that touching, flirting, and sexual jokes are appropriate. He will carry that with him and act accordingly until he gets into big trouble. And hurts and damages women.

    4. Smithy*

      Absolutely this.

      Additionally – lots of jobs that people have in their teenage years/early 20’s can be a lot more lax on professional norms. Thinking certain kinds of seasonal employment, retail, food service, etc. Therefore, whether a student employee/intern enters a more traditional professional environment at 18 or 24 – even if it’s not their first job, it can often be incredibly critical to see how you can form friendships, networks, and socialize at work while remaining professional.

    5. Some Lady*

      Yes! If you actually like and care about this person, help him develop skills that will help him for the rest of his career, not norms that could get him in trouble.

  20. OrigCassandra*

    OP, I work at a university. If Andre were a student in a class of mine, or my advisee, and I learned what you set out in your letter, I would go on an immediate rampage to get you fired. That’s how bad this is.

    Alison and other commenters have discussed your derelictions in detail. I only have one thing to add: you are teaching Andre horrible work boundaries, putting him at serious career risk. He cannot behave at work the way you are teaching him to.

    Once you’re done with Alison’s suggested soul-searching, this is a thing you need to tell him — or better yet, ask Jane to do it, since Jane seems vastly more competent and work-appropriate than you are.

    1. AnotherSarah*

      +1. OP, if I heard from my student Andre or his cohort that this was happening, you would not be long in your job.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        If my nephew told me even half of this, I would be furious at OP’s flagrant abuse of her position and the damage she has done, both to his reputation and to his education.

    2. Quill*

      An actual good workplace mentor for an 18 year olds is someone who will hunt down the people who attempt a working relationship like this.

    3. Brisvegan*

      I was reading this long comment list to see if anyone said this!

      I am an academic and have placed students in work placements in a past role. If anyone told me that someone was treating a student the way OP is treating Andre, I would have taken immediate action. Andre and all other students would have been removed from the organisation, the organisation would have been flagged as somewhere to never send a student and I would have gone as high as possible in the organisation to explain why and make complaints about OP. Even if OP was fired, I would never send a student there again, since OP’s superiors and coworkers did not prevent the sexual harassment of my student. The risk and liability issues would be too great.

      I probably also would have told everyone I know in my Uni and others to avoid the organisation.

      OP would very likely lose her job if she worked in the professional field I teach in. Her organisation would NOT want to be known as a place where sexual harassment led to revocation of student placements.

  21. HBJ*

    After reading the title, I was waiting for this to turn into a letter like a couple prior ones where someone accused the LW of cheating on her husband when she got lunch with her husband, or other ones where LW has been accused of flirting when it wasn’t. But it never turned into that, and my eyebrows kept going up.

  22. PJ*

    This letter reads like the first fifteen minutes of a Lifetime movie.

    (Spoiler alert: those never seem to end well.)

      1. AKchic*

        “It’s totally platonic! I was inseminated at the clinic with his baby and I didn’t actually know it was his, I swear! I had been planning on IVF for a long time by a donor, and it’s just a coincidence that *he* was the anonymous donor!”

    1. The Original K.*

      In fact, I can think of a Lifetime movie that DID start in a similar way! I can’t think of the name of it but a married professor started an affair with her student, who was played by Brian Austin Green, and of course he started stalking her when she tried to break it off – he started dating her daughter to get closer to her.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        There was a similar one. A friend of the mother started an affair with her son when he came to visit the local college? In the end the friend lost her BF and her lover also, I think. The details are vague because I watched it when I was home sick and kept nodding off.

      2. DarnTheMan*

        There’s also ‘My Teacher, My Obsession’ about a girl who moves to a new town and gets befriended by another girl who initially seems really nice – until it turns out the girl is secretly obsessed with the new girl’s dad, who’s a teacher at their school.

  23. AnonACanada*

    1) you’re at work, keep it professional.
    2) you’re in HR, you should know better!
    3) you never really have true privacy at work.
    4) if you wouldn’t say it in front of your spouse, it’s not good for your marriage.

    1. MonteCristo*

      #1 is the biggest for me…I wouldn’t find this appropriate office behavior from spouses, much less between HR and a student employee.

  24. Person from the Resume*

    Also … MOVE THE SCANNER so that your interaction time is reduced.

    I know the LW doesn’t want to do this because she is welcoming and enjoying the flirtation, but that is a concrete step in the right direction when she tries to reign in her inappropriate attraction to a teenager.

    1. Moose*

      I dunno . . . OP should be able to behave appropriately without needing to move office equipment.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        Should be able to, yes. But she clearly isn’t, and she has allowed this relationship to take a serious turn into Nopeville. She needs to end any contact with this kid that she can, STAT. That means moving the scanner, or leaving when he comes to use it. Among other things.

  25. 867-5309*

    I am rendered speechless.

    “Jane doesn’t seem to understand more nuanced social interactions like flirting can be harmless and common in office settings…” Commonality doesn’t mean it isn’t uncomfortable for everyone else, even when both parties are peers. And everyone always knows. The fact that you sit in HR and are doing this with a student employee (!) only adds to the ick factor.

    1. 867-5309*

      I also keep thinking that one year ago this person was likely in HIGH SCHOOL. HIGH SCHOOL.

        1. allathian*

          Technically he’s an adult, even if just barely. But that doesn’t excuse her behavior at all, it would be inappropriate in the workplace even if they were the same age.
          And when it comes to coffee and lunch at work, the person with more seniority/bigger salary pays, or both pay their own way. Under no circumstances should the person with the smaller salary be expected to pay.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Emotionally and mentally, a teenager is still a child. I don’t care what he may be “technically” per the law – he just came out of high school. There was no switch that went off when he turned 18 that magically, suddenly made him an adult. The OP is grooming this child and being predatory in the workplace, and she needs to stop.

          2. The Other Katie*

            He just got out of high school.
            He’s probably still got acne and a few inches to grow.
            He’s not even entered his second decade yet.
            Being able to legally sign up for a bank account does not mean it’s open season. He’s a kid.
            (Not to mention, this would be very nearly as inappropriate if he were 30.)

          3. jenkins*

            I think if you have to use the word ‘technically’ to describe his adult status, it’s a bright neon sign that anyone more than a few years older than him should not consider him any kind of a romantic interest.

      1. Parenthetically*

        If this happened recently, it’s possible he was in high school two months ago!

      2. Quill*

        Honestly if this letter was written recently, it’s more likely he was in high school FOUR MONTHS AGO, you know, this spring.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        Agreed, because clearly, this isn’t harmless. If it was, she would have no problem telling her husband every little detail. After all, it’s harmless, right?

    2. Autistic Farm Girl*

      I’m under the impression that workplaces where flirting is common are also massively dysfunctional workplaces in loads of other ways. I’m not sure it’s something to aspire to!

      1. EPLawyer*

        that’s where I am. Where on EARTH is flirting in the office common — and accepted. Banter yes. Flirting no. I have to wonder where OP has been working all these years that she thinks this is a common practice.

    3. Ali G*

      The kind of flirting LW is doing with Andre is so not “nuanced social interactions.” It’s blatant sexual talk.

      1. Heidi*

        Agreed. If the examples given are what OP considers “nuanced,” what qualifies as blatant harassment?

        I get the feeling that the OP is not in a place to hear that what she’s doing is inappropriate for work and a damaging influence on Andre. She was likely expecting everyone to come to her defense against “meddling” Jane. I hope this ends better than we have reason to expect it to.

        1. fogharty*

          I wonder if OP chose what she thought were innocuous examples of workplace “banter” which leads me to wonder what other conversations they might have had and are they probably worse.

    4. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah, sounds like LW’s been reading too much Ether-Perel-esque “oh, but it’s perfectly ok to be cheating… those naysayers are just not *sophisticated* enough to understand your higher-chakra, elegantly-lounging-with-a-French-cigarette way of exuberantly living” crap.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        P.S. Not that this would be ok if she was single, mind you, but this sort of “no, this behavior is totally ok and just what the non-rubes do” attitude is something I’ve only seen in the Perel-verse.

    5. Viima*

      This part makes me seriously question her ability to do her job, because (aside from all the obvious things going on in her letter) if I was being harassed and reported it, am I going to be told that I just need to learn the nuances of office flirting? She’s not just being inappropriate in her position and personal life, she’s setting Andre up for career disaster later AND putting every single employee at risk of harassment by allowing this attitude.

  26. Chai Latte*

    I teach eighteen-year-olds and while they are adults in the legal sense they are psychologically and developmentally still in the throes of adolescence. We talk a lot about socially appropriate behavior, professional norms, and I worry about some of my more naive (or delusionally invincible) students finding themselves exploited in the great wide world. Andre may well know what he’s doing and claim his own autonomy, but OP certainly knows better and should not be building her self-esteem by risking his. Sorry if this sounds harsh but I’ve seen this show before and it never ends well for anyone.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I teach eighteen-year-olds and while they are adults in the legal sense they are psychologically and developmentally still in the throes of adolescence.

      Because this bears repeating – OP’s behavior is predatory. Grooming is not okay even when the person doing so is a woman.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Amen! And further, grooming is not okay even when the person being groomed is a fully-fledged adult! I was extremely proud of my grad school for RAPIDLY firing a prof who was found to have groomed and slept with a student. He used his position of power to coerce her into sex and into secrecy about it, and just because she was in her 20s when it happens doesn’t mean it’s okay. It’s creepy AF.

    2. Fancy Owl*

      Yes, exactly! And I think a lot of 18-year-olds feel like they’re totally mature and adult because they’re used to being the big fish in high school but I’d bet money a lot of people look back on themselves at 18 and think, “Wow, I was so naive”. I know I do.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, me too. Although I was lucky and learned quickly and didn’t get into any serious trouble. But then, I was out on my own and paying my own way at 19, thanks to a system where I didn’t have to pay for tuition. I did have to work during weekends and summer vacs and was lucky enough to find jobs even during the 1990s recession, but my experience, while common in Northern Europe, is very different from what most US college students experience or what their parents expect.

      2. Kate*

        That kind of makes a 18yo MORE open to attack than a younger person – they themselves believing they are grown-up and mature.

        1. Wednesday of this week*

          Absolutely. If he felt vulnerable and out of his depth, he’d be more likely to tell a trusted older person, who would be like WTF.

          I’d actually say this about any young person in a subordinate work role, including myself earlier in life. Every one of them who flirts (or more) with a higher-up believes that they know exactly what they’re doing, are safe and in control, and that the power differential doesn’t apply in their situation for this or that reason. The older I get, the more convinced I am that there are *no exceptions.* The rules and laws are there because people’s own judgment just isn’t accurate.

      3. nm*

        Agreed! When I was 18 I felt very “grown up”. Now I teach 18 year olds and there’s no mistaking that they are not “full-grown” adults.

        1. allathian*

          Yes to this. They aren’t children like 11 or even 15 year olds are, and in most jurisdictions they are legally adult and responsible for their own actions. But they certainly aren’t *mature* adults. There’s a reason why in many wealthy families heirs don’t get full access to their inheritance until they turn 25. As it turns out, brain science gives some credit to the idea that humans aren’t fully mature until about age 25 (with women possibly maturing slightly earlier).

    3. Environmental Compliance*

      +100000

      I used to teach 18 year olds. Adults? Legally. By no means mentally or emotionally. There’s a lot of maturing still to do, which was dangerous for those 18 year olds that felt they could handle anything the world threw at them and that they knew *everything* about *everything*. I had to have a discussion more than once with a student about to fail because they got into a new ‘friend’ group and trusted too much.

      Absolutely agree that this is predatory on OP’s part.

      1. Mme*

        What’s with all these people shouting in horror that an 18-year-old is a “child”? I bet if the same 18-year-old assaulted or killed someone, they wouldn’t be encouraging the local D.A. to prosecute him as a juvenile.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          Because there’s plenty of evidence to support that brain maturity has not happened yet for 18 year olds. Whether or not they’d be tried for murder as an adult is….. not on the same level as getting taken advantage of by an older, should-know-better, 40-something year old.

          And to be honest, no, I can’t say I agree that every 18 year old automatically needs to get charged as an adult. That’s a really broad blanket statement for topics that have a crap ton of nuance. 18 is not this magical number where Now Am Full Adult, Hear Me Roar.

          1. Quill*

            There’s also a gulf of decisionmaking difference between the two actions: percieving yourself to be sufficiently mature to be in a relationship with someone 20 years your senior is not an act of disregard for another person’s life, and 18 year olds have been taught not to harm other people for their whole lives, while they’ve generally never been taught about the risks to themselves in relationships.

            (Also, people far younger than 18 have been charged as adults in cases of murder. There’s a huge racial and economic disparity in teenage convictions, even ones that were judged to be in self defense. For example, I’m thinking of a local case where a sixteen year old victim of sex trafficking was sentenced as an adult for killing her abuser, which was just doubly awful in regards to the law saying “well, you’re black and 16, we won’t give you any of the protections we afford to children in the legal system.”)

        2. BookishMiss*

          Why is Andre’s ‘legally an adult’ status what you’re latching onto, here?

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Right?! What kind of shit is this?! He’s being sexually harassed by someone old enough to be his mother when he just got out of high school – his brain has not even fully developed yet, and OP thinks using this kid to make herself feel pretty is acceptable. And this language above is damn near co-signing the nonsense, smh.

            I’ll post here what I posted down below to an anonymous male poster who called this situation for what it is because I think the poster you responded to needs to see it:

            I’m sorry this happened to you, but I’m so glad you shared your story here and called this what it is from a man’s point of view: grooming. There are a lot of people acting obtuse in this thread saying, “Oh, he’s legally an adult. He’s not a child. He’s grown.”

            No, he’s not. Yes, he is still very much a child mentally and emotionally – there is not much difference between a 17 year old “child” and an 18 year old “adult.” And I have a hunch these same people would not be making these arguments if the victim in question was an 18 year old girl. Society has done a huge disservice to men in glorifying male hypersexuality, especially teenage male hypersexuality, to the point where people now don’t believe that boys and men can be victims of sexual harassment and abuse because he’s a guy – they’re always horny. Sleeping around with everyone, no matter the age, is what they do!

            No. We need to stop this. Stop giving people passes for violating adolescents, and start defending and protecting male children from adults who mean them harm.

        3. Avasarala*

          People really struggle with what to do with young adults in the 16-25 range. Are they children, in which case they can’t be trusted with anything and can’t be held responsible for their actions? Or are they adults, in which case they should know better and have to suffer the consequences of their actions?

          It’s not a black-and-white thing, and we don’t have a lot of good words for this stage (“young adult” emphasizes adult, “adolescent” emphasizes child, “teen” doesn’t work for 21-year-olds, “kid” is relative). The truth is somewhere in between. People in this stage are often incredibly intelligent, and individuals could be smarter than people much older. They’re often physically mature and can perform athletically, often better than people much older. They are sexually mature and can become parents. So it makes sense that society deems them adults in these regards.

          The issue is “wisdom and experience”–the one area that older people have it better! This is also a sliding scale and individuals are so different from each other. It’s a real shame that we don’t have a more nuanced way of determining adulthood, because it makes sense that a wise 16-year-old should be able to drive and make decisions for themselves, but an immature 23-year-old still has training wheels on. Currently different systems just make the case based on things like “well he’s black so he seems older” (per another letter we had on AAM) or “she’s a sweet girl who needs protecting” or “my kid is my baby forever” vs “that jerk [who is a young person whose age I don’t know]”. It’s so subjective and it’s unfair.

          But the bottom line is, even if Andre were OP’s age, OP’s behavior would be inappropriate. The age difference–and power differential that creates–is just another factor that makes this even worse.

          I don’t like describing 18-year-olds as “children” because I think it downplays the maturity and intelligence that they do have (and I think a great deal of the “but they’re so young!” feeling comes from people who are much older than 18). But it is still grossly inappropriate for 40-year-olds to flirt with 18-year-olds at work.

          1. allathian*

            Great post! People mature at different rates. I definitely have an issue with people describing 18-year-olds as children. Young adults, yes. Inexperienced adolescents who still have a lot to learn? Definitely.

  27. Delta Delta*

    I think it’s great to have a nice rapport with coworkers. And if coworkers get along and can talk about hobbies, that helps to make for a friendly workplace. But this really seems to have crossed over from shared interests into full-on flirting, and OP’s really got to reel it in.

    I also am uncomfortable with allowing Andre to have paid for the coffee. Yes, he gets paid for his job, but he’s a student, and OP is a grownup with a real job. Getting coffee is a nice perk that sometimes managers and student employees do together, but it seems like coffees ought to stop, too.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I should clarify about having coffee with a manager – I was thinking of times that managers of mine (back in the Stone Age when I was early in college) either offered to pick up a cup of coffee for me because they were already going that way or we specifically met for coffee as a part of a meeting. I had a campus job with managers who specifically would meet student employees for coffee as a part of learning the skill of how to go out for coffee in a professional setting for future career networking, etc.

    2. Alanna of Trebond*

      This is the second letter in a few months about intern-supervisor relationships around “shared interests” (the other was someone who kept in touch with her former supervisor) and it’s starting to really ping my “something’s off here” radar. I manage college-aged interns. I talk to these kids at work daily over IM, we meet in person (pre-Covid) weekly, I usually take them out to lunch once or twice in a semester. I’m in my early 30s, my workplace is pretty casual, I’m a talkative extravert who actually likes getting to know my colleagues.

      What I’m building up to is… in four years with more than 10 interns, all of whom I had good, collegial working relationships with, I had maybe one or two actual conversations about “shared interests” that lasted longer than 15 seconds, and none of them led to any kind of long-term bonding. College kids, as a rule, don’t have that many hobbies, the hobbies they have tend to be things that other people do too (hiking, running, cooking, TV watching), and even if we did happen to discover we shared a niche interest, it would be good small talk fodder for the first couple minutes of a meeting, not something to aggressively bond over. Bonding is a choice, and one that a manager should avoid making, imo.

  28. Alex*

    The fact that this interaction is making you feel attractive is indicative that it is inappropriate.

    Your coworkers–ESPECIALLY ones with whom you hold the bigger share of the power dynamic (but really, all of them)–are not there to make you feel attractive. If you are using interactions with them to make you feel attractive, you are behaving inappropriately. It doesn’t matter if they are also “in” on the joke. It doesn’t matter if your husband doesn’t know or doesn’t mind. None of this is OK.

  29. Grammy*

    Seriously, check your state laws as well. In my state that 18 year old is NOT an adult yet.
    Have your mid life crisis if you must, but keep it out of the office.

    1. Remizidae*

      What state are you talking about? I agree OP’s behavior is terrible, but let’s not exaggerate. 18 is above the age of consent in all states. We’re not talking about child abuse here.

      1. Bostonian*

        I know in Nebraska, the age of consent is 19 years old. There are probably others. I could google it (and so could you, instead of getting huffy and disagreeing incorrectly).

          1. Clisby*

            Yes – the only “age of consent” I’m aware of is age when someone can legally consent to sex. It looks to me like most states set that at 16 (mine does). Age of majority is when you’re legally considered an adult (minus those few weird things like you can’t buy alcohol.) In my state that’s 18. My state finally got around to setting 16 as the minimum age for marriage.

        1. MassMatt*

          No, it isn’t, and no, there aren’t. Age of consent varies by state from 16 to 18. There are no states with an age above 18.

          Please stop with the false concern about age of consent laws, which in any case cover sex, not touching the arm or innuendo. The behavior in the letter is bad enough without this hyperbole.

          1. Courageous cat*

            Agree. Drives me nuts when people pull out sensationalized concepts like these to justify how bad something is – it’s plenty bad on its own accord.

      2. PJ*

        19 is the “age of majority” in Nebraska. All I really know about that is my kids needed notarized parental permission forms to go on out of state college field trips. And is this letter even for real??? Could someone really be so clueless? Yikes!

    2. Beth Jacobs*

      While sexual harassment is indeed illegal regardless of age, can you specify in which state flirting with an 18-yo is criminal because of the age? It doesn’t sound likely to me, no US state has the age of consent above 18.

    3. Amy Sly*

      WTF? An 18 year old can vote, sign binding contracts, get married, buy cigarettes, and even join the military but they aren’t an adult?

      He’s an adult. Yes, he’s a young adult with much still to learn and his brain hasn’t completed the myelination process that helps evaluate risks properly, but a “kid” can’t consent to contracts, sex, and dying for his country.

      None of which is to say that anything she’s doing is appropriate, of course. Just that he deserves to be respected as an adult.

      1. A Silver Spork*

        The US is raising the smoking age to 21 at the moment, just like the drinking age. I don’t know what the rationale is, but I suspect that the “18 is literally a kid” rhetoric is part of it. (Having another excuse to criminalize People of Color and poor folks is another, almost certainly. Kind of wonder if the trend toward legalizing weed is what kicked it off.)

        Which doesn’t change the fact that at 18, he’s an adult, not a child. His decision making may be questionable… but so is the LW’s (who’s flirting with her junior and dismissing the sexual harassment concerns) and she’s 40-something, so it’s not merely a factor of age.

      2. Batgirl*

        Honestly I think coming of age is a really vulnerable time for new adults; their only experience is of being a kid. What objection is he really supposed to have to this friendly, attractive fellow adult? He’d need the experience he’s currently being denied to even know.

    4. NerdyKris*

      I think you’re talking about the age of majority, which is different than the age of consent. There’s one state where it’s 19 instead of 18.

  30. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I don’t say this often, but I really and truly hope that this is a fake letter. I do not want to believe it’s real.

    1. Southern Academic*

      Yeah, it’s cringingly clueless. The question wasn’t, “Hey, reality check. I thought I was okay, but AITA?” The question was actually “How do I get Jane off my back?” which indicates a problematic level of obliviousness, like that one letter where the manager wanted to explain to her former employee that quitting to attend her graduation was unprofessional.

      Except this one is worse because of the power dynamics and harassment.

      Big yikes.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        Yeah, it’s so self-incriminating the only explanation I can think of is that the “Jane” in this situation wrote it “in character” as the OP based on her observations. But that’s some WILD speculation on my part, and it doesn’t really hold up to Occam’s Razor.

        Moreover, I’m used to seeing this sort of letter in other advice columns, where someone’s basically looking for permission to have that affair they really want to have. It’s not something I’d normally expect here, though…apart from the added element of an HR rep as the fox guarding the proverbial henhouse.

      2. Kate*

        And the person oblivious to sexual comments is in HR. That’s not a problematic, that’s catastrophic.

    2. Lexi Kate*

      Yes the OP is 40years old and in HR and has no clue this is bad behavior, I’m hoping no one is this off and this letter is fake.

    3. Pancake Friend*

      Maybe I’m just being willfully optimistic (since we all fear what the alternative is), but am I the only one who thinks that this is indeed fake?

      OP seems to perfectly cast herself as the villain in this letter, down to the oblivious tone and scapegoating of the third party. This better be a creative writing exercise on the OP’s part, because otherwise, Andre needs to run for the hills!

      1. Littorally*

        We’ve had way more delusional letters than this in the past. This feels pretty par for the course in terms of self-deceit and justification.

      2. WorkIsADarkComedy*

        LWs can indeed be delusional, but there have been letters here that I thought were fakes (the one denying the customary birthday day off 3 years out of 4 to the person born on February 29 comes to mind).

        I look not only at the level of seeming self-delusion, but also the details included in the post and their order. Both of these come into play with the mention of the husband not needing to know. It seems like a gratuitous point for an honestly delusional LW to include in her request for advice, but it’s sure AHA-bait for the rest of us. And it comes almost at the climax of the letter, with other salacious details not showing up until late.

        This seems like a fake to me.

        That being said, a number of advice columnists, including I believe Alison, don’t mind responding to fake letters when the response might be informative broadly.

        Whether a fake or real, this is a humdinger.

        1. RestroomTimeExtraordinaire*

          “LWs can indeed be delusional, but there have been letters here that I thought were fakes (the one denying the customary birthday day off 3 years out of 4 to the person born on February 29 comes to mind).”
          Same, but then we were blessed with a mind-blowing, double-down on the insanity update, weren’t we?

          The most scary parts about this LW if it isn’t fake, is that the writer lacks both self-awareness to recognize the warnings Allison gives AND seems prone to self-rationalization which would lead them to reject the advice as not applicable! “But I *only* asked about handling Jane!!!”

          Allison’s advice was A+++++ spot on.

        2. Do As I Say, Not As I Do*

          I agree with you. This included unnecessary details that a storyteller would not have included if they were trying to paint a picture of themselves as an innocent party.

          My guess is that the letter was actually submitted by the “Jane” in this story, to show to a clueless colleague in HR in her 40s who is behaving like this with an 18 year old.

      3. Second time I've read this story*

        This person wrote into another site I read about whether she should tell her husband, because flirting with Andre’s has made her feel more attractive and caused her to be more sexually active at home.

        Same ages, wording, printer cartridge joke. So, either she has been caught at work, or someone copied the story from the other website and emailed it to Alison with this new Jane character added, and the relationship guilt removed.

      1. Batgirl*

        But there isn’t going to be any double standard for OP. They will fire her! Jane is trying to warn her.

      2. SAS*

        I thought along the same lines although I thought it could be the letter writer gender-swapping themselves and the student (for “equality”) and likely getting a heck of a surprise at the response to how inappropriate the behaviour is as it stands. Yikes.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      There’s plenty of adults who prey on the youth and try to spin it in a love-story kind of way. So my cynical ass believes this is real.

      Mary Kay Letourneau just died a couple days ago. Never forget the villains who have lived among us and still have supporters!

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Oh, I know. I am just so tired of hating everything that I don’t want this to be real.

    5. Granger*

      I wholeheartedly agree. It does, however, have that authentic giddiness that others have mentioned and it *feels* authentic despite being wildly outrageous.

    6. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      I don’t, but I find it sadly plausible. I hope the commentariat can serve as a reality check.

      OP has like, a dozen phrases out of the cheater’s handbook all ready to go, all about her ego, rather than reality:

      “It’s harmless”
      “What happens in private is private”
      “Feel prettier than I have in years”
      “Would never cheat [but here are a bunch of ways I’m edging toward doing it]”
      “It doesn’t concern my husband”
      “everyone does it – Jane just doesn’t understand how sophisticated I am”

      Etc.

    7. Anon 2.0: Now 50% Less Detectable*

      I truly hope this is a fake letter too, but situations like this do happen. Many, many years ago, I (male) was 17 and had been with my first legal employer for a year or two when a new HR rep (late 30’s woman, divorced with a ~8 YO child) transferred in. This was a type of work where the staff was largely a) young, b) male, and c) from tough backgrounds. At first, the new HR rep seemed friendly, going out of her way to give us (again, very young men without a good foundation in professional norms) individualized guidance, attention, and advice. Over time, things got incrementally more personal – taking us to one-on-one dinners, slowly introducing more “adult” topics, etc.

      The silver lining to a childhood of physical and occasional sexual abuse is that I was able to recognize grooming behavior from a few hundred miles away, and for me at least, this never progressed beyond a really uncomfortable dinner (hey, I was broke and hungry). Other than rumors, I don’t know how far things went with others in my position. I do know the HR rep didn’t last long at that particular location.

      Whether I or anyone else suffered professional consequences, I have no idea. Scheduling was always erratic, so it would be hard to say if my few weeks of unfavorable shifts after swerving her advances was related or not. Found a different job in a different industry and lost touch with my former coworkers, so your guess on fallout is as good as mine.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I’m sorry this happened to you, but I’m so glad you shared your story here and called this what it is from a man’s point of view: grooming. There are a lot of people acting obtuse in this thread saying, “Oh, he’s legally an adult. He’s not a child. He’s grown.”

        No, he’s not. Yes, he is still very much a child mentally and emotionally – there is not much difference between a 17 year old “child” and an 18 year old “adult.” And I have a hunch these same people would not be making these arguments if the victim in question was an 18 year old girl. Society has done a huge disservice to men in glorifying male hypersexuality, especially teenage male hypersexuality, to the point where people now don’t believe that boys and men can be victims of sexual harassment and abuse because he’s a guy – they’re always horny. Sleeping around with everyone, no matter the age, is what they do!

        No. We need to stop this. Stop giving people passes for violating adolescents, and start defending and protecting male children from adults who mean them harm.

        1. Anon 2.0: Now 50% Less Detectable*

          I struggled with how or if to respond, not because I disagree but because you absolutely nailed what I was hoping to get across with my story. Thank you.

          Even though I’m a man that went through this (and other things that are so, so much worse than the story shared here), women are far more likely to bear the burden of these unbalanced “relationships” based on both personal observation as well as an understanding of broader power imbalances in society, so I hope my story isn’t used to invalidate that of anyone else going through this.

          A decade or two on, I’m now in a position of relative power with a multinational company in my industry. If nothing else, my past has taught me to recognize and head off to the degree I’m able this kind of predatory behavior among my (usually male) colleagues. Additionally, since I now have two sons, it’s my hope that I’m able to teach them to simultaneously have appropriate boundaries for themselves while recognizing and respecting those of others.

          Again, thanks for the reply, since it sums up my story better than I could hope to.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Hugs to you, for real. It sounds like, despite everything awful you’ve been through, you grew up to be a well-adjusted man who is raising other well-adjusted young men who will also go out into the world and raise other good people someday. I’ve seen too many damaged men over the years who were sexually traumatized as kids (as young as 13) who then turn around and traumatize others because of it – this cycle needs to be broken. Part of this is people need to stop promoting the idea that boys having sex early is okay and natural (it’s not, especially when it’s with older women who should know better) and that men are unfeeling beings who are largely driven by hormones and nothing else (also a lie and very harmful), so are not remotely capable of being taken advantage of by others.

      2. Hrodvitnir*

        I’m sorry you had those experiences. This stuff is so viscerally disturbing.

        Good to hear you’re doing well now! And while I never will have wished you to live through any of that, I’m glad you have the understanding and drive to teach your kids about this.

    8. Jupinel*

      This was actually posted in AITA or relationship_advice I believe – I did a double take when I read it. Not sure if it’s fake or of they sent here hoping for different results, but we were all appropriately horrified there too.

  31. annakarina1*

    I at first thought this was fun banter between co-workers who are close in age or on the same level, but I agree with Allison. Being in HR makes this inappropriate, as well as the big age difference and being this senior to him.

  32. Daffy Duck*

    This is so not OK.
    You are teaching Andre sexual innuendo and touching women at work is acceptable. It is not.

    1. miss_chevious*

      SO. Much. This! It honestly seems to me from the letter that Andre might also be flirting with the OP — the offering to pay, the arm holding, et cetera — but the appropriate response for a superior is to guide him into the right workplace norms. She should be teaching him that gifts flow from boss to employee, and that touching and sexual innuendos in the workplace are generally a bad idea, and instead she’s encouraging this behavior. He’s going to take this into his next workplace and get metaphorically swatted on the nose for it, if not worse.

    2. NoviceManagerGuy*

      Yes, I’m tremendously glad I never encountered somebody like the LW during my internships. It would not be serving me well in my 30s.

  33. The Grey Lady*

    “I admit that interacting with Andre makes me feel more attractive than I have in years, but it’s not relevant.”

    OP, with all due respect, you’re kidding yourself. You’re in denial. It is relevant.

    Whether or not this affects your marriage is your business, but it’s definitely affecting your workplace and making everyone else extremely uncomfortable. You keep saying that you only interact with him when y’all are alone and that no one else knows. Let me assure you that EVERYONE knows.

    Also, even if he is the one initiating a lot of this, keep in mind that he is the young, vulnerable one. Is it possible that he thinks flirting with you will advance his career? What would you do if he found out he was using you? And, if the relationship goes south, what if he does claim sexual harassment against you? He would have a strong case.

    Acting like this with a coworker of any type would be inappropriate, but doing so with a young student employee crosses a line. Even if he is 18, there is still a very unequal power balance at work, and it doesn’t make you look good. I think you need to end this immediately before you wreck both of your careers.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yes, so much eyebrow raising stuff in this letter but that sentence was the most baffling to me. How can they honestly believe that isn’t relevant?

    2. Observer*

      Is it possible that he thinks flirting with you will advance his career

      That’s extremely likely, in my opinion. And the OP is giving him reason to believe that – even if that’s not the reason he’s engaging in this behavior.

      OP, people have mentioned how you are teaching him really, really bad office norms. This is just another REALLY terrible thing you are teaching him – That flirting with the boss is a good way to improve you chances at work. Just another layer of grossness and damage that you are doing.

        1. Observer*

          I’m not blaming him. Firstly, no matter what his motive is here, the OP is the one with ALL the power in this situation. And not only is she not shutting this down, she’s actively encouraging and participating in it. The Fault here it TOTALLY on the OP.

          What I was getting at is this: I would be surprised if he were going along with this simply to improve his career. But if he’s a bright young man, he is seeing that right now, having this relationship with the OP is going to be good for his career in the company. The OP is essentially teaching him that this kind of behavior is a valid tool for furthering his career. That’s a TERRIBLE thing she’s teaching him. Especially since what he’s not seeing is the damage this is doing to him. What he also is not seeing and really has no way to understand is how badly this could (probably would) go if he tried that anywhere else, and how quickly this could wreck any chance of a career in this company if people decide that he’s not really a serious worker, but just got where he is because he’s someone “pet”.

          In other words, she’s feeding him a notion of how to get ahead which is utterly toxic – in general and to him.

        2. Observer*

          I just wrote a longer reply, but I wanted to put the TLDR for those who don’t have patience for a new wall of text.

          I am NOT blaming the victim. I am saying that he may be naive enough to think he’s doing some good for his career. And the OP, with all of the power, knowledge and experience in the relationship is ABSOLUTELY taking advantage of his naivete! AND she is also teaching him a very bad and dangerous lesson in the process.

    3. AKchic*

      And since she is teaching him that sexual commentary is both okay and normal in the office, what happens when she fields a complaint about Andre sexually harassing another person? Will she consider that person a rival for his affections? Someone who doesn’t understand nuanced relationships and dismiss it? Will Andre get favorable treatment? Will he be treated coldly for dallying around?

      This is work, not Love Island. If she can’t check her pantsfeels at the door, she needs to at least make sure she has no professional ties to Andre whatsoever.

    4. Luna*

      The fact *that* OP has mentioned it proves that it is relevant. And it makes me hold onto the tiny hope that there is still a (small) part of her that *knows* this is wrong. Just that the bigger part of her refuses to admit that because it likely means dealing with many bigger problems, some that might have been ignored [for too long].

      Honestly, I don’t care how old the guy is. Flirting is not something that should occur at work. Regardless of positions, age, gender, etc.

  34. Southern Academic*

    oh dear god in heaven no

    Look, I teach college students, and I try to cultivate a comfortable relationship with them (I share about my hobbies, I ask about theirs, I go by a title but am unbothered if they use my first name). But by the time I got to “we’ve felt more comfortable with physical contact” all my alarm bells were ringing (“poking” (!!) a student???) and when I hit the sexual innuendo part of this, everything went code red.

    There are some things that are just inappropriate between students and supervisors and physical contact / sexual innuendo are way, way high up on that list. Just no, OP. Respect the fact that your colleagues’ shocked “policing” of your behavior is giving you important info about how you’re perceived, and back way the heck off.

    1. Anne Elliot*

      OP, whatever story you are telling yourself, you already know that you are acting inappropriately with Andre, and the reason I know that is this sentence: “Andre has never shown any discomfort when we share jokes like these, especially when he initiates them, and we never do so in front of others to make others feel uncomfortable.”

      The fact that you know you must avoid behaving like this in front of others means you already know you are not acting appropriately in the office. If this was all perfectly acceptable professional social chit-chat, it wouldn’t make others uncomfortable to witness or hear it.

      Most people would love to find someone new to add a bit of sparkle to their workdays. A lot of positive emotions can flow from that, which it turn can make a bad situation hard to see clearly. I get that. But OP, please hear this: This situation is not a red flag, it is a red flag factory. The red flags have become sentient and are crawling all over you and poor dumb Andre. Please, please, for your sake and his: Get a hold of yourself, move the scanner out of your office, and allow Andre to do his job with only minimal and strictly professional interactions from you going forward.

    2. Batgirl*

      Indeed. If OP does end up falling out with the HR field, I would also suggest she steer clear of education too.

  35. Catherine*

    And this is why many places have policies that any kind of non-work related interaction with interns, fellows, student workers is grounds for immediate termination.

    1. Former Young Lady*

      If the OP is truly an HR professional, I’m gonna have to assume the employee handbook at this place is just a verbatim transcription of the lyrics to Belle and Sebastian’s “Step Into My Office, Baby.”

    2. Sacrificial Pharmacy Tech*

      I was a student worker at my university, 19 years old when I started in my department. When I left, I made a joke to one of my friends that if I really wanted to, I could have gotten over half my department and at least a quarter of two other departments fired for sexual harassment (and in a couple cases, sexual assault) for the way they behaved towards me. Now that I’m older and have been in the working world longer, it doesn’t feel like a joke anymore.

  36. MassMatt*

    Wow. Based on the headline I thought this was an update on the letter from a while back where the LWs coworker really was being a busybody. Brushing up against one another in the hall? “Comfortable with physical contact” at work? No!

    This would be gross even if you two were married. This is work! I guarantee your coworkers are rolling their eyes and wondering WTH is wrong with you.

    Stop, and as Alison said do some serious soul searching about how you got so off-kilter. I think a key phrase is where you said this “makes you feel more attractive than I have in years”. Coworker interaction/flirtation should not be the way you feel attractive.

  37. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    He’s in this job to learn professional norms, how to work in an office, how to treat coworkers. OP is skewing his sense of normal and appropriate. OP, you are justifying this as something between the two of you. It is not. Andre is not either. He is learning that it is OK to make sexually charged comments to coworkers.
    I hope someone speaks to him about this. As in, “it’s not your fault, but things are out of hand. You both need to stop.”

  38. Emma*

    This whole letter reminded me of teachers who have sex with their students. Creepy as hell.

  39. Fancy Owl*

    OP, beyond how messed up it that you’re flirting with an 18-year-old (!!), you are doing Andre no favors by teaching him that that sort of flirting is professionally normal. It isn’t. If he left your workplace and came to mine, he’d be getting written up for sexual harassment for that legs comment before he could finish the sentence. And Allison is right, you really need to soul search over this. 18-year-olds might be legal in the eyes of the law, but they’re still children.

  40. Phony Genius*

    As I was reading this, I was ready for an entertaining answer and comment section. I was getting the popcorn ready and everything. Then Alison’s response reminded me that the writer is in HR. Suddenly, my mood changed, as that fact just sickened me.

    The fact that the details of this letter made a reader feel sick should be a good indication of just how wrong all of this is, especially when working in HR. By the way, some of his comments need to be addressed, too; it’s not OK for a student employee to make those kinds of comments. Normally, HR would help address this, but…

    (At least I hadn’t started the microwave, so I didn’t waste the popcorn.)

    1. The Grey Lady*

      I hate it when people say, “Well, they’re 18!” as a defense for doing something inappropriate with them. Just because the law arbitrarily picked 18 as the age of adulthood does not make them adults. They’re still teenagers, and they’re still vulnerable and immature.

  41. SunnySideUp*

    Wow.
    Wow wow wow wow.

    If I’d witnessed any of the interaction you took part in, I’d be going right to your manager to say that you’re creating a sexualized workplace WITH A STUDENT WORKER.

    You seriously don’t see anything wrong with any of this? Really truly?

    1. SunnySideUp*

      Also… perfect example of a woman initiating and normalizing (dare we say grooming?) sexual behavior towards a male — just as gross as a man doing so to a woman who’s his junior.

  42. Autistic Farm Girl*

    I don’t think I’ve ever been so uncomfortable reading a letter on this site before. This is so inappropriate that I’m not even sure where to start.

    Why would you want your colleagues to make you feel attractive?
    Why would you want to flirt with someone half your age whilst at work?
    Why is your answer about the husband comment “he doesn’t need to know”?! We all know that if he knew he’d be livid, and rightly so.

    What you are doing is cheating. It’s emotionally cheating and it’s vile. Jane is a million times correct and you’re so far out what’s acceptable in that situation that the boundary is probably on another continent.

  43. Blushingflower*

    I LOVE a flirtation that exists just for flirtation and has no intention of going anywhere. A little playful banter between consenting adults is one of my favorite things.

    But this:
    > Andre was jamming the cartridge in aggressively, so I said, “Damn, I hope you don’t treat your dates like that.” He had replied, “Only if they ask for it.”

    was a super inappropriate interaction, and you’re not doing Andre any favors by letting him thing that was an appropriate thing to say at work. Jokes about rough sex have no business in the workplace, unless that workplace is a sex club. You’re behaving inappropriately and failing to teach Andre professional norms, which is usually part of why we hire student employees (to help them gain experience and learn about professional norms).

    1. Daffy Duck*

      She is starting the sexual talk also. This is just so bad on so many levels. Really, anyone working in HR should be fired for this. She will be lucky if she keeps her job.

  44. Akcipitrokulo*

    Wow. No. A world of no.

    Stop flirting.

    Stop interacting if you are able to.

    This is 100% not ok.

    Apart from anything else… you are teaching Andre that this behaviour is acceptable … and when he is your age and in a position of authority over an 18 year old?

    You’ve taught him it’s ok to harass his junior.

    No.

    Stop.

  45. Grasshopper*

    Holy shirtballs, OP, this is do, so wrong. Gross and unprofessional and unethical type of wrong. You are so out of line it’s terrifying! Please, stop. Stop for the sake of 18 year old kid you are using to get your self esteem boosted (!!!I mean, WHAT?!), for the sake of the marriage you appear to have disregarded, for the sake of your colleagues who have if witness this appalling display of inappropriate behavior – from their own HR person, no less (!!! I MEAN WHAAAAAAAAAT!!!), if not for the sake of the career you seem both wholly unsuited for and completely inadequate for.

    Just. Stop.

    Please.

  46. UbiCaritas*

    A student probably doesn’t have a great idea of what is work appropriate and what isn’t – it’s your job to teach those boundaries, which are there for very good reasons.

    1. The Grey Lady*

      Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. Even if Andre was doing all the initiating, OP has the burden of responsibility for shutting this down immediately.

  47. SQL Coder Cat*

    I was all set to read that the OP was just out of college and much younger than anyone else in the office, and that Jane just doesn’t understand how people their age interact. And then I found out the OP was in her 40s, and my jaw hit my desk.

    OP, this kind of behavior would be understandable from someone just starting their career and with no idea of office norms. You are in your 40s and in HR- you have to know what you’re doing is wrong. You need to do some serious thinking (perhaps with the help of a therapist) on why you are willing to throw away your professional reputation (and potentially your marriage, depending on how your husband would react if he knew) to flirt with a child half your age.

    1. Damn it, Hardison!*

      That’s exactly what I was expecting, that the OP was fresh out of college in her first professional job. It would be more understandable if that were the case, as perhaps she was still learning professional norms. It still wouldn’t be ok, and would need to be addressed, but not as icky as a 40-something woman who should know better.

    2. JustKnope*

      Saaaaaame. I thought this was going to be two young people who didn’t know any better. The age gap here is stunning and appalling.

  48. PrettySticks*

    This is definitely one of those where as I was reading, my brain was saying, “No… um, no…. ew, no… noooooo… What? NoNoNoNo!”

  49. Bend & Snap*

    OMG yuck. If you were a dude you’d be the one the other women warn you about when you start a new job.

    Please stop it right now.

    1. Liane*

      It sounds like OP is going to become the one everyone warns all the new people about, regardless of anyone’s gender identity.
      “Whatever you do, don’t be work pals with this woman unless you want a bad professional reputation.”

  50. oranges*

    I thought the LW was any early 20-something employee. It’s an unprofessional power imbalance, but they’re roughly the same season of life and the attraction would have made sense. But 40-SOMETHING? What!? Hard no.

  51. Generic Name*

    Jane understands perfectly well what’s going on, and frankly, so do you, OP. I was ready to push for more understanding of your perspective if you were under 25, but you are in your 40s, and honestly, you know better. I’m in my 40s, and have a teenage son, and my friends have kids in college. If I were single, I would not see that age group as good for dating prospects. I’m not even going to comment on the fact that you are married, because even if you were single, this behavior would not be okay. And that type of talk at work between coworkers (even if both are single, both are the same age, no-one is in HR, and no one has power over the other- none of which is true here), is just not okay. It is sexual harassment (even if he seems to like it) and you need to stop.

    1. Fancy Owl*

      This is a good point, I think it’s worth pointing out explicitly that Andre is young enough to easily be OP’s child. Don’t flirt with children who could be your children! Yikes.

      1. feministbookworm*

        Setting aside the workplace context, which makes this behavior wildly inappropriate for people of any age, I think the age/life stage of the younger person is the issue more than the age gap between them. if OP was 65 and the guy was 30 and they weren’t coworkers but met at a bar and hit it off… then everyone’s old enough to make their own decisions, do whatever floats your boat. But the fact that this is happening in a workplace, and that the guy is 18, makes this super, super sketchy.

  52. Caliente*

    OMG OP you are BLINDED by some needs that you seem to have that you are filling totally inappropriately! You are using a “child” to fulfill some need that you have.
    As a mother let me tell you something – if my 18 year old son came home and told me this stuff was going on with some older woman at work, I’d be pissed enough to take action. In other words, I’d raise the roof. You sound like a deluded predator and I’m not trying to be mean.
    If you really think this is OK, you need to get some help STAT. In fact, just get some help before you find yourself in a world of trouble.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I’m glad you said it because I was thinking the same thing. I would be up at that building immediately if I was Andre’s mother, and OP and I would have words. She would be out of a job by the time I was finished. This is disgusting behavior coming from an alleged adult.

    2. Observer*

      Yeah. I’m not someone who thinks it’s ok to get into my kids’ workplaces, even at 18. But that is for NORMAL situations, even when the boss is not being right. But this?! No, this is a place where a parent needs to step in. I would be raising the roof so fast, you wouldn’t know what hit you.

      1. Caliente*

        Yeah – I mean, no joke, I have been told I am one of the most relaxed person (people?) some folks have met. I have been the one that some folks (whether they be close friends, acquaintances or coworkers) want to talk something out with because I don’t judge and frankly, what you want to do with your own life is what you should do. I even have my tween son interact with his teachers himself, with guidance at this point, but its like lets help you learn to handle your own stuff.
        But this? This kid needs help.

      2. Sleepless*

        This. I commented above but it’s worth repeating. My kids are 20 and 17. I have never interfered with their workplaces, but if either of them told me a 40 something HR person was doing these things, they would get a visit from me, and I can be loud and scary. This would tell me that a. my adolescent child was totally in over their head and b. that the workplace was not handling it.

    3. AKchic*

      Agreed.
      My teens and adult children work. I field some… interesting questions from my adult children sometimes. If an HR person were to do this to my kid, I’d want to raise some serious noise.

    4. Quill*

      I went off hard enough on a twenty one year old asking my brother for his number when he was seventeen that I cannot imagine the nuclear levels of sororital rage I would be unleashing on OP if Andre was my brother.

  53. Postess with the Mostest*

    So your colleague told you this didn’t look right and your response was essentially “I don’t care”?

    Not a good look, OP. Just because something is not illegal doesn’t make it a moral or ethical thing to do. 18 year olds are looking to older adults for guidance and wisdom. Don’t be the person who insists the younger person is equally responsible. Be better than that.

  54. Jenny*

    “I admit that interacting with Andre makes me feel more attractive than I have in years, :”

    Yikes. No no no no no. Shut it down before you lose your job and your marriage.

    1. Ailsa McNonagon*

      That line leapt out at me, and made me feel so sad. I’ve been a lonely wife in an emotionally unfulfilling marriage and I can understand how OP feels- but this is not going to end well… Someone down-thread suggested “restoring factory settings” and that’s good advice!

  55. CTT*

    OP, I really hope you take Alison’s advice and consider whether HR is the right job for you. Your coworkers are likely losing their confidence in whether they can trust you to take their concerns seriously.

  56. dddeee*

    i’m 26 and wouldn’t dream of flirting with an 18 year old. they just graduated high school! they’re children! this is gross.

  57. Just Me*

    Let’s just assume that the attention never becomes unwanted. There are still two big issues here. Sexual harassment can still happen if someone is exposed to a sexually charged environment even if that person is not actually a part of the conversation. The other is that it can contribute to a culture that someone who is being sexually harassed or is inclined to sexually harass others perceives to be condoning or tolerating sexual harassment. Jane has done OP a kindness by flagging it for her privately. She could have just as easily reported it further up the chain.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      If Jane does kick it up the chain, the blame is going to fall on the OP because Andre is basically a kid in his first job. OP is supposed to be experienced enough to know better and therefore held to a higher standard. Also, because Andre is still just a kid, there is no way he is not telling his friends about the hot cougar at work who is into him.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Yes! I was thinking this exact same thing about Jane doing the OP a kindness. If this is real (and I’m still clinging to my adamant belief that it is not because that’s the only way my brain can process it), then OP needs to realize this.

    3. Jennifer Thneed*

      Thank you! This is what I was trying to compose in my brain. LW seems to think that the sexual harrassment could only come between the 2 people flirting, but it also affects any observers. So not only Jane ethically correct, she’s legally correct as well.

  58. Miss H*

    OP, this would be inappropriate at the office if it were two 18-year-olds in the student group playing this game.

    Jane has brought up to you that this is inappropriate. She said that “everyone else can feel the ‘sexual tension’ between us, and she said that people sometimes refer to us as ‘work spouses.'” Other people are talking about this, and it isn’t going to stop. She is the one who has been kind enough to warn you before you get a stern talking-to from the higher-ups or fired. You’re seeing her as a busybody, but if you act now and get out with your career intact, you should look back on her as the best friend you had at this office.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Yup. If other people are gossiping about this, it’s only a matter of time before OP is escorted from the premises with a box of her things.

      1. Eulerian*

        Yes. Not might be – will be. And then she’ll have to explain why she was fired to her husband.

    2. Ali G*

      I cannot fathom how the LW doesn’t understand that Jane was trying to help her. And if Jane is also in HR, this may have been her one chance to fix this before Jane has to escalate the situation.
      LW: you could lose your job over this. Apologize to Jane and Andre and fix this before it’s too late!

  59. Foreign Octopus*

    This letter did not go where I thought it was going to.

    I clicked on the link fully ready to support the OP, remembering that letter about the woman who was chastised for talking to her husband at work (or something similar), but then I started reading and…oh boy.

    This isn’t good, and I admire Jane for taking the bull by the horns and having what I imagine was a difficult and awkward conversation with OP, but now that she’s been told and is doubling down on her behaviour, Jane may feel the need to kick it up the chain as a warning.

    OP, there is no scenario where this ends well for you: professionally or personally. The best thing to do would be to restore your relationship with Andre to factory settings.

  60. LifeBeforeCorona*

    My first thought it was a couple of students flirting and a pearl-clutching older co-worker. But 18yrs old and 40 something? LW, you are old enough to know better. One person approached you because your friendly flirting is obvious and inappropriate. It’s possible that everyone is uncomfortable and she was delegated to speak to you, heed her words. Stop with the sexual banter with this kid because even though he is 18 he is still a kid developmentally and emotionally.

  61. AnotherAnon*

    Allison left out one other point – your aren’t social distancing if you keep touching each other!!!

  62. Rexish*

    Nope. I mean, I love innuendo jokes and wouldn’t bat an eye in my personal life if someone told these jokes. Actually I might make those joke myself. It is not something you do at work, especially with that power dynamic.

    I was expecting this to be a 22 yo hr admin flirting with the student. Age should not be a factor but in this case it is and being married does not help.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      I’m about the LW’s age, and I have made those jokes in my personal life – well away from work, at a hobby I share with my husband. And even then, there are limits – I’m joking with the people who are within about a decade of my own age. I don’t make them with the guy old enough to be my dad, or the guy young enough to be, if not my son, then at least my nephew.

      When I’m at work, I keep my mouth shut and pretend I don’t know such jokes even exist.

  63. ENFP in Texas*

    “Jane also asked if my husband knows about Andre, but my husband doesn’t need to know about Andre since I’ve never cheated on him and never would.”

    Whoa. Talk about another huge red flag. If you are doing something and you’re not comfortable sharing that fact with your spouse, WHAT YOU’RE DOING IS WRONG, no matter how you rationalize it to yourself.

    If the roles were reversed and your husband was flirting with an 18 year old female student intern, I doubt you’d have the same reaction.

  64. (Former) HR Expat*

    OP, I don’t want to pile on with what others have said, but I do want to put a different spin on things.

    We (HR) are different than other employees. Not that we get or deserve special treatment, but there are different expectations for us from the companies where we work. If you weren’t in HR, this would still be inappropriate for many reasons mentioned before me. However, the bar is higher for us. If, on a scale of 1 to 10, we expect employee behavior to be a 5, then the expectation for HR behavior is that we are at LEAST a 7. We have to model good behavior, which includes not making sexual comments toward another employee (even jokingly or when reciprocated).

    That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun and joke with people, but our jokes need to be something that you would tell a 4-year old. As in, interrupting cow knock knock jokes. If that bothers you or you think that’s unfair, I would strongly encourage you to look at whether HR is the right field for you.

    1. Amber Rose*

      I can’t resist the urge to share my favorite work appropriate joke.

      A drum set falls off a cliff. Ba-dum tssh!

      OK, now that that’s out of my system. I agree 100%. There’s a line between friendly and friends, just like the line between friends and flirting, and they are all thin but still need to be walked pretty carefully. If that kind of social management is too hard, HR is not the right career path.

      1. Southern Academic*

        This drum joke is hilarious and I will save it to tell to students, right alongside my elephant jokes.

        “Ever seen an elephant in a cherry tree?

        Hide pretty well, don’t they?”

          1. Southern Academic*

            OH THERE’S MORE.

            “You know why elephants have flat feet?

            It’s from jumping out of cherry trees.”

            “You know what Tarzan said when he saw the elephants coming over the hill?

            Here come the elephants!”

            “Now, what did Tarzan say when he saw the elephants coming over the hill, only this time, they were wearing sunglasses?

            He didn’t say anything, he didn’t recognize them!”

            1. Gumby*

              Ah, I see you have “101 Elephant Jokes” – a book I loved when I was in elementary school and was dismayed to find was a much poorer experience when I tried to re-read it again as an adult.

      2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        My old boss had a book of Dad Jokes he used to bust out at Orientation. Or staff meetings. Or in emails to staff!

      3. AKchic*

        I will break out the pirate jokes. Don’t make me do it.

        What’s a pirate’s favorite kind of sock? Arrrr-gyle

        What’s a pirate’s favorite vegetable? Arrrr-tichoke

        What’s a pirate’s favorite letter? You’d think it’d be R, but ’tis the C!

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Favourite work appropriate joke:

      What’s Whitney Houston’s favourite kind of coordination?

      (top of your voice) HAND EYE.

      1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

        Mine is:

        Hey, you know how when you see geese flying in a ‘V’, there’s always one leg of the ‘V’ that’s longer than the other?

        You wanna know why that is?

        Because there’s more geese in that line.

        1. Miss Climpson*

          I heard that one from an elderly monk who had been a high school math teacher! I was definitely expecting a reason that had to do with math or science!

      2. Emeileia*

        I have these kind of jokes for my students! (Elementary)
        What do you call cheese that isn’t yours?
        Nacho Cheese!

        How much does a pirate charge for ear piercing?
        A buck an ear.

        What’s a pirate’s favorite letter of the alphabet?
        You’d think it would be R, but his first love is the C.

      3. Amber Rose*

        I love this, I’m going to use it as soon as I can. <3

        I also really like, "Two fish are in a tank. One turns to the other and says, you man the guns and I'll drive."

    3. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      All of this. Even having friends at work can be dicey if you aren’t careful. I qualify EVERY PIECE OF ADVICE I GIVE when asked because it is so easy to turn into “But HR said …” And that’s just advice.

      1. (Former) HR Expat*

        Yes! I personally won’t have friends at work, unless they’re in the HR department. I won’t accept social media requests outside of LinkedIn for anyone I work with, even in HR. Our field is filled with land mines, and employees will always think of you as “the HR person.”

  65. Catabodua*

    Daaammmmnnn! I thought this was going to go in a totally different direction.

    Go tell Jane that you appreciate her opening your eyes and THANK her. Then get yourself back to reality.

  66. PurpleSheep*

    There’s a good chance that Andre is leaving work and regaling his friends with stories of what-I’ve-done-at-work-today.
    Imagine if he’s tweeting about the comments, or posting them on Instagram or other social media!
    He’s 18, that means he’s immature by definition. Think what could happen if he acts his age.

    1. Ginger*

      This was my first thought as well. Andre very well could be laughing at OP hard behind her back as in “hey friends, look at this cougar I’m taming at work” type of thing. He puts that on social media and boom, OP’s name is the next headline of fired employees for preying on students.

      OP – these relationships never end well. Jane did a tremendous kindness to talk to you, don’t lose the chance to turn the ship around. Move the scanner out of your office, stop touching Andre (!!!) and get therapy.

      An 18 yr old flirting with you at work shouldn’t make you feel better than you’ve felt in years. And if you can’t share word-for-word what you guys say to each other to your husband, let alone the touching, then you have your answer on that front.

      Final note – EVERYONE KNOWS. Once one person heard an inappropriate comment, now everyone is eavesdropping on your interactions with Andre.

        1. Batgirl*

          I suppose it is a stretch to describe this as a relationship. According to the reddit version OP is just hoping to use the fantasy in bed with her husband. It might be more accurate to say using a teen coworker as a stand in for Pornhub is not a career move that ends well.

        2. AKchic*

          RARELY do these relationships end well… and pointing out one politician’s marriage isn’t going to erase the damage done to countless other individuals.

  67. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Oh no, you have crossed WAY over the line into the land of inappropriateness. And you should really know better. You’ve been (presumably based on your age) working in a professional environment for 20+ years and most importantly, you WORK in HR! He’s a kid and is probably following your lead. You need to put an end to this NOW. Jane is doing you a favor by letting you know how others perceive you. If you don’t want to tank your job and possibly your career, it needs to stop immediately.

    1. Batgirl*

      Yeah I’m honestly impressed by Jane’s courage here. It was probably not an easy thing to raise.

      1. allathian*

        I agree. This unprofessional behavior really needs to stop. Jane could claim sexual harassment even if she isn’t directly involved. She’s still exposed to a sexualized working environment. The OP needs to be fired and someone else needs to show Andre that OP’s behavior is inappropriate at work.

  68. Buttons*

    It is shocking to me that this person is in HR. If you need to write to Alison to ask about this situation when you are in an HR position, you need to change careers or get some training. Everything about this situation is wrong. He is an intern while you are an employee, he is barely legally an adult, you are in a position of power over him. Any one of those things should be enough to know better, but to add all of those in to the situation. Seriously, lady, you need to get some training in HR. I recommend SHRM.

  69. Crivens!*

    I can’t think of a kind way to say “what the heck is WRONG with you?!” so….what the heck is WRONG with you?!

    1. anonymous 5*

      that is, to be fair, a MUCH kinder phrasing than the one that went through my head…

  70. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    Hi OP. You say that these conversations are private. How do you know that? Doesn’t it strike you as at least a possibility that an 18-year-old might be bragging to his friends all about the lady at work he’s totally got wrapped around his finger? He’s exhibited incredibly bad judgment already (“only if they ask for it”, hello rape culture). Why would you expect him to be honest? ALL of the “he’s using you” alarms are going off in my head right now. I’m sure he’ll make you feel attractive and sexy and all kinds of other things until he gets a better job with your reference — and then he’s gone.

    If you don’t feel attractive and sexy with your husband, go get counseling; but do NOT let this kid use you anymore.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      “only if they ask for it”, hello rape culture

      I did not take that wildly inappropriate comment as promoting rape culture. Rough sex between consenting individuals is not rape. That being said, he had no business saying it at work.

      1. Daffy Duck*

        She started the sex talk in the example. I’m not sure I would say he is using her, I think she is using him to add some (extremely inappropriate) excitement to her life. I would definitely expect he is talking to his friends about her.
        Sex talk is not appropriate at work.

    2. Moose*

      Agreed to your first point–and the conversations already aren’t private. One coworker has already overheard and approached OP about it. Imagine how many others have overheard but felt too uncomfortable to say something!

      However, while you might not be wrong about the 18-year-old bragging . . . it seems far more likely the OP is using him, rather than the other way around. The power is imbalanced way, way in her favor. She’s much older; he’s a student employee/intern, and she is a full-time employee with some authority over his position. He’s the one who might not be able to report if he’s uncomfortable–because she is *literally HR*–and whose job, references, etc. could be harmed by the OP. He is a teenager, and she should know better.

  71. Batgirl*

    Firstly, I thought OP was someone being blamed for normal interactions while being female which as we all know = flirting. But no…she’s full on, no holds barred, explicitly sexual flirting.
    Secondly I assumed OP must be early 20s and still not quite sure of the line between college friend banter and co-worker banter.
    But no. In her forties. Married. Works in HR?! Considers the interactions with a new student and teenaged employee to be ‘private?’
    Also..is completely and fully aware that the whole point is not friendliness or bantz.. but is happening in order to make her feel more attractive.
    OP, for the love of sanity, pull up out of the nose dive now.
    Maybe you’ve only ever worked in just the one horribly inappropriate workplace full of sexual banter (the only benefit of the doubt explanation I can muster) …but it’s never too late to do better.

  72. AvonLady Barksdale*

    Must add something else here. I am a senior level employee and struck up a friendship with a junior employee who does not report to me. We have similar interests. We like to tell weird jokes. He’s 26, I’m 42. Before I came along, he was the office loner and never talked to anyone. He chats with me often.

    But he doesn’t brush against me in the hallway, he doesn’t hold my arm, he doesn’t buy me coffee, he doesn’t make sexual jokes, and not only does my partner know about him, they sometimes send recommendations and messages to each other through me.

    My relationship is not inappropriate. LW, if you can’t see the differences, you have a lot of work to do.

    1. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      Which also means that probably someday, you’ll walk into his office and he’ll be there chatting with his new love before they go out for lunch, and he’ll give you a huge smile and say, “Hi, AvonLady! This is great, you get to meet Chris!” You know, like normal professionals.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      That is a really good way to think about this. I was 25 and became good friends with an older employee who was in their 50s. We had similar interests and chatted over lunches in the break room often. He gave me really good advice both about how to hold it together after the with the end of my engagement at work when I kept breaking into tears. Nothing inappropriate ever happened, nor would it have. This is a strong work friendship. What is happening here is not.

    3. DarnTheMan*

      +100 – my first ever work friendship was with a guy who was probably about 55 when I was 23. We were friendly, especially because we shared a lot of personal interests but most of our conversations revolved around work stuff and I eventually grew to view him as something of a mentor (he was aces as helping me, who’d sort of fallen into the job I was doing at the time, figure out what I really wanted to do with my life.)

  73. In Yo Biz*

    I AM SO GROSSED OUT READING THIS. LW, just think about how this would feel if YOU were 18 – a female – in your first job, and your 40 something male boss was acting this way. Not only are you teaching HIM that this kind of unprofessional behavior is ok at work, you are showing by example to your teammates and staff that this is ok. AND you’re in HR, where you should be so completely buttoned up. Also, you shouldn’t have let your student worker pay for you, or even touch you. You should also SHUT DOWN any inappropriate remarks, not RESPOND IN KIND TO THEM. I can’t stop writing in caps, BECAUSE HOW DO YOU NOT SEE THIS? Please, please, reevaluate. I would also recommend requesting the student worker no longer works with you.

    1. Batgirl*

      This actually did happen to me as a teen intern with a 50-something boss, and I was so visibly squicked out that the person concerned gave me a lecture about it being just joking and I would understand adult office humour one day. Then in a rare instance of quick justice, they were fired, The End.
      I think girls are a lot more wary (we have to be) and this is just a really sorry example of making a clueless boy so much more clueless than he was to start off with.

  74. tylena*

    this can’t be real this can’t be real this can’t be real dear god this CAN’T be REAL

  75. Pumpkin215*

    Can you imagine if the genders were reversed here? (NOT that what is going on is in any way ok). The conversation would probably take a turn regarding “predator” and “grooming”. Seriously OP, if you are reading the comments stop trying to convince yourself that this is mild or harmless. You have the ability to end this and I strongly suggest that you start immediately.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I already went there above because that’s exactly what this is – predatory, grooming behavior regardless of OP’s gender.

    2. Pumpkin215*

      Oh I agree with both of you. Unfortunately, we just seem to hear those terms more with the genders flipped vs Mrs. Robinson.

  76. HR Bee*

    It’s taken me a few minutes to pick up my jaw from the floor here, OP. Honestly, the judgment is so wildly off that as an HR Manager myself, I would be seriously contemplating whether you should remain employed. This isn’t a stern talking to and move on. This is termination worthy. Every single part of this is wrong and for you to be in HR just raises it to an entire new level.

    I know some HR professionals disagree with me, but I adhere to the philosophy of not having friends at work. You HAVE to know the line between being friendly and being friends (obviously, this instance is a bright red line into harassment, but the point stands). Otherwise, no one can trust you. What if your friend is doing something that needs reported? Are people going to feel comfortable coming to you to report it? That answer will 99% of the time be a resounding no. IT IS NOT WORTH IT. You have to have that layer of trust and you’ve beyond lost it with Andre.

    Please, please that the advice you have gotten from Alison and the comments and take it seriously. You need to majorly change your behavior, apologize to Andre and Jane, and determine whether you should remain in your role.

  77. IndustriousLabRat*

    Now that I’ve picked my jaw up off the floor and pulled my eyebrows back out from under my hat…

    The only one who should be throwing down for some coffee right now is YOU; OP. And not for the student worker who ‘makes you feel attractive’, but to JANE who deserves a sincere apology for making her watch you being gross, and an enormous thanks for being the one who jolted you out of your potentially career- and marriage- ending spiral of delusion, even if you initially took her words as nosey and came to AAM for validation of the bizarre narrative you’ve built around this.

    Break if off now. Set boundaries. Become the epitome of reserved, dignified professionalism. Quite frankly you may also want to start looking at other jobs, because if it’s bad enough that a colleague actually braved the very real personal discomfort of broaching the subject with you, I can guarantee that everyone else is also fully goggling at the spectacle! Jane is a REAL work friend, letting you kindly know that you are out of line. But your reputation there may already be toast.

    And I seriously think this is a situation in which a therapist will be able to help you with the rest of it.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Jane told OP that others in the office have noticed OP and Andre’s sexual chemistry (ew!) and they’ve begun referring to them as work spouses, so that cat is already out of the bag. OP has already damaged her professional reputation with her peers and she’s threatening to do the same to Andre. It’s gross.

    2. JJ*

      The coffee date, yiiiikes! How are professional norms not so ingrained in her at this point that she didn’t automatically pull away when he took her by the HAND and then HELD HER ARM FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD!!! I don’t think I’ve ever touched hands with a coworker outside of a handshake EVER. Like, just don’t touch your colleagues maybe?!

  78. Amber Rose*

    OP, this has nothing to do with your age and everything to do with professionally acceptable behavior. You’re supposed to be modeling that for Andre as the more experienced worker, not devolving to meet his immaturity.

    And I say this as someone who works at a place where this behavior and worse is the norm. It’s not fun, it’s not comfortable, it sucks.

  79. tinybutfierce*

    Andre is an eighteen year old student employee presumably there to learn workplace norms. He isn’t there to do anything in order to make you feel attractive and the fact that that has come into play in your workplace relationship so much is a HUGE red flag. He is a student employee. You are more than twice his age and in HR. I guarantee you more people know about your behavior than you think. You need to course correct HARD immediately, move the scanner from your office, reset your boundaries and relationship with Andre, and seriously do some reflecting on why you think this is in any way okay.

    If absolutely nothing else, know that continuing this has the enormously likely chance to tank not only your own professional reputation, but the relationship your workplace has with whatever school Andre and his fellow students come from.

  80. SMH*

    This may have been covered but I want you to consider how you would respond if another employee filed sexual harassment charges against Andre. If they used similar examples to the ones you provided but they didn’t respond positively and they are not happy about those comments are you going to be willing/able to address these comments with Andre? Are you going to have just as stern of a conversation with him that you would with someone else? What if he escalates and goes to your boss or someone else and states “I’ve been having these types of conversations with HR for months. If HR is OK with it then it must be OK and I shouldn’t be punished.”
    Andre may be 18 but he is still learning to navigate the world and you should try to be a good mentor so he can go out in the world and be successful. He may be learning habits that could set him back for years. If you care about him you need to tell him you were wrong and your relationship has to change and these comments/actions are not appropriate.

    1. Clisby*

      Excellent point, and I hadn’t even thought of that. OP is basically giving Andre the green light to behave inappropriately with anyone in the current workplace.

    2. Observer*

      The thing that worries me is that the OP will NOT do anything of the sort. Remember, she’s calling highly sexual behavior (brushing up against each other!) “more nuanced social interactions” that “ can be harmless and common in office settings“. That’s her justification for her wildly wrong behavior.

      So when someone comes to her with a complaint, I suspect that she’s going to take that tack with other victims and “explain” to them how this is “just flirting” and they need to be “nuanced” and learn to deal with “common” officce behavior.

      Honestly, if I were her boss and knew about it, I’d be working on her exit package – sooner rather than later and preferably without any severance. I MIGHT not fight unemployment, simply because I would want there to be as little record of this grossness as possible.

  81. RetailRat*

    I have a friend at work that I have a similar but extremely platonic relationship with. We have a large age difference, I’m over twice his age, and get on really well. We get a lot of stcik from people about cradle snatching and granny grabbing but we’re not worried as we don’t have any attraction to each other. You can’t say that.

    You need to step back, you’re married, you’re in HR and you are doing yourself so much professional damage you might not recover if it goes south. I’ve known my mate for years and even though we’re both single, we do not and never will do anything to compromise our working relationship. You do not have any of the luxuries I have in your situation and you will only hurt yourself and the people you love.

  82. ap*

    reading progression
    Raised eyebrows @ “He offered to pay” Giant eyeballs when I went back and confirmed I had read she is HR
    Wtf head tilt @ “brushing against in the hallway”
    EXPLODING BRAIN at “40 something”

    I had nothing left to give when I got to the part where she said a concerned co-worker didn’t understand nuanced communication.

    1. jamberoo*

      hee hee I enjoyed the progression I saw in my mind of your mind as I read your reactions. Sincerely, exploded brain also

      1. Accounting Otaku*

        Going in I was hoping this was someone who was also new to the workplace, and it was all misunderstood. Then I read “40-something”, and this needs to stop yesterday. This is a recipe for disaster. OP needs to stop.

        1. ap*

          I thought OP was maybe 23, 25 for the beginning portion. I’m just about to have a 40 something birthday, and I’ve got 6 nieces/nephews in the college age range, and I’m screaming at the idea they could encounter this in an office

  83. Philly Redhead*

    “Jane doesn’t seem to understand more nuanced social interactions like flirting can be harmless and common in office settings”

    So much nope.

      1. Observer*

        Yeah, really. It’s not the worst thing in the letter. But in a way it’s just SOO jaw dropping.

        OP, what exactly would it take for you to characterize behavior as NOT nuanced? Do you really need it to be full on all over each other?

        1. Talia*

          Having sex on the desk as far as I can tell. Anything less than that apparently doesn’t count (/s)

  84. Perfectly Particular*

    So gross! When I was a co-op, (20-21 years old), The company that I worked with had about 90 coops at any given time and we had a co-op specific chat forum for casual chat, making lunch plans, etc. One day the boys (young men really) got to talking about Hummers (the cars). There was a tiny bit of innuendo, but mostly legit car talk. HR shut down our forum for the rest of the semester because they felt it was inappropriate. That’s how HR should be responding – not sparking the inappropriateness!

  85. Coder von Frankenstein*

    Me reading the headline: “Ha ha, man, people will interpret anything as sexual. Let’s see how absurd this one is.”

    “I’m part of the HR department… student panel… he’s only 18.”

    Well, yeah, okay. You do need to be extra super careful in that situation. Even so, I bet this is all…

    “When I told Andre about it, he suggested we go there for break.”

    Hmm, this seems unwise.

    “Since then, we’ve felt more comfortable making physical contact, but it’s been nothing inappropriate. It’s usually just a poke or bump on the shoulder or brushing up against each other in the hall.”

    Er, no, hold on a minute. This is not normal coworker interaction.

    “Andre was jamming the cartridge in aggressively, so I said, ‘Damn, I hope you don’t treat your dates like that.’ He had replied, ‘Only if they ask for it.'”

    Excuse me, I have to call the fire department. My eyebrows are stuck up a tree.

    “She has also heard Andre tell me on a separate occasion, ‘If only I could get a girl with legs like yours, I’d be in business.'”

    WHOA! You’re in HR! He’s a student worker! You’re supposed to be teaching him how this stuff works! Comments like this are straight out of the “what not to do” section of a sexual harassment video! Just overhearing this stuff could end up in hostile work environment territory, never mind what happens when he does it to someone other than you. This has to stop.

    “Jane also asked if my husband knows about Andre, but my husband doesn’t need to know about Andre since I’ve never cheated on him and never would. Jane doesn’t seem to understand more nuanced social interactions like flirting can be harmless and common in office settings…”

    Oh, just… just no. If you even have to ask whether your husband “needs to know,” you know how far over the line this has gone. When Andre makes a serious move on you–which he will, come on, you know he will, he went way past mild office flirtation a long time ago–how do you think that’s going to turn out? Can you imagine any way that scenario goes well?

    Normally I would give the side-eye to this line of reasoning and say the primary responsibility is on Andre, as the initiator, to keep things within appropriate boundaries. But he’s an 18-year-old kid with no professional experience. He doesn’t know what boundaries are appropriate. You’re in your 40s and you work in HR, for Pete’s sake! It’s your job to tell him, and to back that up by modeling good boundaries yourself.

  86. PartialToPort*

    Oh. Dear.

    If Andre, who is so, so, so young, is genuinely clueless and is learning from LW that sexually charged flirting is any kind of normal workplace banter, she is leading him down a catastrophic path — and some other woman (or women) is going to get caught up in the inevitable train wreck. And on the off chance that Andre is a manipulative twerp who tries flirting with older women to get things he wants, LW is teaching him that it works.

    LW, you are genuinely endangering Andre’s future — and blowing up your own credibility as well.

    Something is seriously interfering with your judgment here, LW — you’re in HR, I’m SURE you know better than this.

  87. Lalitah28*

    “I admit that interacting with Andre makes me feel more attractive than I have in years, but it’s not relevant. ”

    If it’s not relevant, then why did you mention it?

    OP, you might be using this situation to make you feel better about yourself. Yes, that’s human thing to do but this is not the place to deal with that and Andre is not the means to deal with that.

    And that fact that you’re writing in to tell us how wrong Jane is speaks volumes about how you’ve not reflected on her comments to see if there was a grain of truth and value.

  88. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Let me give a kinda similar experience I had way back:

    I was 20, in my very first job after university and the 40 something head of the lab started off by being nice and joking. Then we got into jokes, shared interests, then exchanging the kind of filthy jokes and flirting that I’d encountered all the way through uni. Harmless?

    Until my direct boss pulled me aside and told me to be wary. Said head of lab was going through a rough patch in his marriage and others in the lab were starting to wonder, based on our actions, if I was the cause. I got told what was cool in the lab (rude jokes up to a point, foul language actually ok) and what wasn’t (flirting with married people twice your age).

    So I stopped. I toned down the flirting. I learnt that my inexperience in the workplace had nearly caused a major issue. We all continued okay eventually but I spent a good number of days PANICKED at home because I thought I was going to lose my first job and kill my career.

    (Btw for detail, I was a 20 yr old female and the head of lab was a 40 something male)

    TL:dr: OP should modify THEIR behaviour before someone comes down like a sack of bricks on this youngster. If you really like them, save them this pain.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      P.s. I’m 40-something now and I still feel cringe when I remember this. Off to have a shower.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Very unlikely. I left about a year later and I haven’t kept in touch with anyone who remained either. He might have had maybe one of the other managers make some joking comments asking him how I was ‘in bed’ but I didn’t personally see or hear anything like a reprimand to him.

          Then again, I was a 20 year old naive person and now I’m a 40 something on a load of psychiatric meds so my memory might not have retained it!

          1. Kate*

            Sounds like the typical “it’s all that other woman’s fault, the actually married 40something is absolutely innocent of anything”…

        2. andy*

          The higher up the hierarchy you are, the less likely are people to call you out or criticize you. It is against contemporary professional norms to talk to managers and people high up in hierarchy. Plus, they can easily retaliate and even if they are not retaliating, it is better for you if they like you. People dont like those who tell them they do something wrong.

      1. Observer*

        Good grief! It’s a good thing that someone gave you a heads up. But blaming YOU for this? That’s beyond gross!

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          They told me to dress better too, ‘show less curves’, ‘don’t wear v necks’. Usual stuff.

          I just want to get across to the OP that this kind of behaviour can seriously mess up the younger, naive, person you’re doing it to, EVEN if they appear totally into it.

    2. Akcipitrokulo*

      FFS.

      They spoke to YOU and not the creepy harassing head?

      Not your fault. His.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yep, all the fault of the seductive young woman in the lab, I.e. me. I still blame myself to an extent, I’d escaped from an abusive relationship about 6 months prior and in a way I did want to latch onto a ‘protector’ figure.

        (I know it’s not logical. And I’m lucky to have a husband now who understands my scars. But my god was I messed up)

    3. Batgirl*

      You have no need to cringe. It stinks that you were made to feel responsible for some old creep and speaks really well of you that you were able to extrapolate the lesson that you needed from such a garbage fire anyway.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Ha! My work history does honestly read like the school of hard knocks, complete with my own mess ups (believe me, I’ve made some right howlers) but overall the scars have taught me valuable lessons.

        (Mostly to not trust anyone…)

  89. Krakatoa*

    Flirting is a big deal, even if you’d never cheat, and the fact that you haven’t told your husband isn’t just a minor oversight on your part, it’s an intentional act. I thought like you when I started dating my wife, and it caused a huge argument between us. It took some serious self-reflection to realize how it really did look if you flirt with someone else while you’re supposed to be in a committed relationship. It’s not OK.

  90. MissDisplaced*

    Oh dear! Yes those are all definitely all boundary crossing words and gestures OP. You need to stop it at once.
    And you are in HR? You should know better, honestly. And I question why you don’t.

  91. Jacki Peters*

    OP – Holy Shiitake Mushrooms !!!!

    STOP, STOP, STOP my recommendation is resign, walk away and do some soul searching BEFORE you this goes higher up the food chain, you get fired and this is reflected on any references, because I suspect that there is likely no recovering your reputation at this workplace.

    You are so far out of bounds in this scenario it’s comical

  92. Adrienne Oliver*

    OP, when I started reading I thought that you were barely older than the intern and just didn’t know better. My jowls dropped when I got to the bottom of your email. That behavior is bad enough in the beginning of your career but at the stage where you are could very well get you fired and deservedly so.

  93. Jennifer Strange*

    “Jane doesn’t seem to understand more nuanced social interactions like flirting can be harmless and common in office settings”

    OP, I work at a theatre that has two married couples on staff and previously had a dating couple employed there. We also have a rotating group of interns who sometimes will hook up, not to mention creative teams, actors, and musicians which sometimes include couples. I also previously interned at another theatre company which included a married couple on its staff and two of my fellow interns ended up becoming a couple. At no point in ANY of my work experience have I witnessed flirting in the workplace. Because whatever relationship might exist outside of the office has no business being brought in during work hours. So even if you and Andre were a couple, and even if your being romantically involved wouldn’t have so many moral issues tied to it, flirting would still be inappropriate here.

    “Is there a tactful way I can explain to her that she shouldn’t try to police her coworkers’ social interactions, especially if they’re not meant to be public?”

    But you have made them public. You and Andre are doing this AT work, around your co-workers. To be clear, it would be wrong even if you were doing this in private, but you can’t get made at her for noticing something you’re doing right in front of her.

  94. HR Jeanne*

    Please stop these behaviors. What you are forgetting is that you are in a position of power over this person. He may be exceedingly uncomfortable, but can’t push back on anything because you are his boss. Even if he isn’t, you are in Human Resources. Please know better and do better.

  95. Erinwithans*

    Leaving aside that this is absolutely appalling and absolutely opening up your company for a sexual harassment complaint, it’s also doing Andre a deep disservice to make him think this kind of thing is ok at work. He’s going to go get a not-student job and quickly end up in front of HR at any functional company.

  96. Sara without an H*

    I work in higher education. In the last couple of years, there have been several widely-publicized national scandals in which very prominent scholars (not all of them male) damaged or ended their careers by hitting on their own graduate students. They, too, defended their actions as “consensual flirtation.”

    When the power imbalance is great enough, there’s really no such thing as “consent.”

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Yes, and Monica Lewinsky as well. Ten years ago, she was still saying that the “affair” with Clinton was consensual – it’s only in the last five years or so that she has started to realize how effed up it really was.

      Interns cannot consent to sexual relationships with non-peers in their workplace. They just can’t. I don’t care how much it looks like they’re participating, how much it looks like they’re having fun – the power imbalance makes it impossible for this to be an equal relationship. And in most cases, their emotional immaturity means that they probably don’t have a good understanding of the risk they’re taking, or the potential consequences.

  97. Anonymous at a University*

    OP, it sounds you know very well that this is flirting and that it’s weird and could easily cause all sorts of problems, but you’re looking for a blessing to continue it anyway. Why? I think that’s the question you need to answer second most urgently after whether you’re in the right field at all. Why is it so important to you to continue trading sexually-charged jokes with and brushing up against an 18-year-old?

    I’m university faculty and have seen students and professors interact in a way that made me highly uncomfortable, especially when the students were underage and the faculty wanted to talk about how “hot” they were. It blew up Every. Single. Time. It cost some of my colleagues their jobs and cost students their emotional well-being if nothing else. Stop this.

  98. JJ*

    THIS POOR KID!! You are setting him up to get super-fired at his first real job when he behaves like this there. Move the scanner out of your office and assign him to someone else immediately, geeeeeeeeez.

    1. jamberoo*

      Yes! I remember my first job at 18 (one epoch ago): I was a sponge desperate to internalize what was appropriate in a job setting. OP, you have injured your charge’s future success trajectory.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      He’s also being groomed to get himself into much deeper trouble here than just fired. This will get you tared, feathered and blacklisted at some places. It’s not just like “I was fired for being late a few too many times” it was “I was fired for sexual harassment.”

  99. Observer*

    We thought we were alone, >snip< and we never do so in front of others to make others feel uncomfortable.

    also

    <She said that she saw us on that outing, and she confessed that she overheard a short conversation we had while Andre was replacing toner. Andre was jamming the cartridge in aggressively, so I said, “Damn, I hope you don’t treat your dates like that.” He had replied, “Only if they ask for it.” She has also heard Andre tell me on a separate occasion, “If only I could get a girl with legs like yours, I’d be in business.”

    As for “more nuanced social interactions like flirting can be harmless and common in office settings”

    That’s pretty iffy to start with. When it’s in a work setting, one of the parties is new(ish) to the work world and learning the ropes, there is a MAJOR power disparity and the person with power is old enough to be the parent of the other party. . . . No, NO, NOOOO. This is a blow up waiting to happen.

    It’s true that your private life is not anyone’s business, but the reality is that she’s not policing random social interactions. The fact that your behavior was MEANT to be private does not mean that she’s not allowed to react with concern to the behavior that she is seeing and hearing.

    Stop and read this back to yourself. You say that you never do this in front of anyone, and you thought you were alone. Yet Jane saw / heard THREE (!) problematic interactions!

    There is absolutely no question about it – your judgement is totally compromised. Why you thought no one would see or hear is questionable to start with. But when you respond to INCONTROVERTIBLE EVIDENCE THAT SOMEONE DID SEE / HEAR YOU with a claim that “no one heard us”, that’s evidence of willful blindness.

    1. Observer*

      Something weird happened here and I seem to have scrambled my post. Here is a do over:

      We thought we were alone, >snip< and we never do so in front of others to make others feel uncomfortable.

      also

      <She said that she saw us on that outing, and she confessed that she overheard a short conversation we had while Andre was replacing toner. Andre was jamming the cartridge in aggressively, so I said, “Damn, I hope you don’t treat your dates like that.” He had replied, “Only if they ask for it.” She has also heard Andre tell me on a separate occasion, “If only I could get a girl with legs like yours, I’d be in business.”

      Stop and read this back to yourself. You say that you never do this in front of anyone, and you thought you were alone. Yet Jane saw / heard THREE (!) problematic interactions!

      There is absolutely no question about it – your judgement is totally compromised. The idea that no one would see or hear is questionable to start with. But when you respond to INCONTROVERTIBLE EVIDENCE THAT SOMEONE DID SEE / HEAR YOU with a claim that “no one heard us”, that’s evidence of willful blindness.

      As for “more nuanced social interactions like flirting can be harmless and common in office settings”

      That’s pretty iffy to start with. When it’s in a work setting, one of the parties is new(ish) to the work world and learning the ropes, there is a MAJOR power disparity and the person with power is old enough to be the parent of the other party. . . . No, NO, NOOOO. This is a blow up waiting to happen. And that’s the BEST case scenario. In reality, it’s a flat out abuse of power.

      It’s true that your private life is not anyone’s business, but the reality is that she’s not policing random social interactions. The fact that your behavior was MEANT to be private does not mean that she’s not allowed to react with concern to the behavior that she is seeing and hearing.

  100. jamberoo*

    “I admit that interacting with Andre makes me feel more attractive than I have in years, but it’s not relevant.”

    It absolutely is relevant. It influences your choice to continue this behavior that is deeply unprofessional, inappropriate, and concerning on myriad levels, both personal and professional.

    You’re in HR! Do you not understand that nothing in the workplace can be considered private, or at the very least, very much within the bounds of what the company is allowed to know about???

  101. Nonprofiteer*

    OP, you should also consider that as managers of student employees, we are also giving them their first/early professional experience. This is an incredible disservice to Andre.

  102. CoffeeCoffeeCoffee*

    This is depressing on another level-Andre is 18 and this is probably one of his first (if not first) office jobs; which means he could go on to another workplace, make sexually-charged jokes and flirt with coworkers without realizing how wrong it is because his first supervisor made it seem fine.

    1. Rebecca!*

      In so many cases, Dan Savage’s campsite rule for dating younger people applies to student workers and interns: Leave them in a better condition than when you found them, and don’t burden them with baggage they’ll take to future partners(or employers). She’s doing such a disservice to this young man, which is probably the opposite of what this student worker program is supposed to accomplish!

  103. Square Root of Minus One*

    If Jane actually used the word “unbecoming”, I hereby dub her the world champion of euphemism.

  104. Once 18*

    OP: You are a PREDATOR. Please, if you have a shred of decency in you, stop now. Your selfish thinking is going to harm that boy for the rest of his life. His personal and professional relationships will be tainted forever. I am not exaggerating. This path will cause lifelong problems for him. Please stop now. Get professional help. Please stop.

  105. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    You need to go back and be retrained in HR procedures. This is outrageously out of touch with what they teach us at even the most basic HR seminars. Stop putting your employer at risk, stop putting this man at risk, stop putting yourself at risk.

  106. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    At no point should you be having any sort of flirtatious interaction with anyone who is with you in a student capacity. Even if that student is an adult learner and the same age as or older than you! The fact that he is younger, makes this extra unacceptable. Full stop, this cannot go on and you should be terminated.

  107. Hills to Die on*

    OP, I hope you are concerned by the chorus of comments by this point. Enough so that you take action right away and put the brakes on this thing with Andre. This community of posters won’t hesitate to call it as they see it, but they are also pretty caring and supportive and I hope you see the concern for you in the comments as well. I am worried for you myself.
    Please come back and give us an update. I hope this has a positive outcome for you and for Andre.