how to handle a creep at someone else’s workplace, should I return to the office if I’m immunocompromised, and more

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

1. How to handle a creep at someone else’s workplace

My chiropractor’s office has an admin assistant who sits at the front desk. She checks people in, sets up appointments, etc. The staff is all still wearing masks.

The other day as I was checking in, a man at the other side of the front desk was talking to the admin assistant. I was caught off guard when he said “You have such beautiful eyes, it’ll be good to see the rest of your face once these masks are gone.”

The only other people around were a mom and two kids, also in the waiting room. As the man left, they turned out to be his family (!).

I (a man) almost jumped in and said something along the lines of “That’s suuuper creepy dude, leave her alone,” but backed off and didn’t say anything. I guess I didn’t want to make it more awkward for the admin assistant.

I have played this scene out over and over in my mind since it happened and really wish I had said something. What are your thoughts? Should I have spoken up? If so, what should I have said?

Agggh, these situations can be hard because while you don’t want the creepy behavior to stand with no pushback, you’re right that you don’t know whether saying something would have made a bigger deal out of it than the admin assistant would want to have to deal with. One approach is to keep it really short — like a disgusted snort or a quietly muttered “eeww,” either of which might rightly embarrass this guy without being a more direct confrontation, which the assistant might not have wanted to deal with at work (particularly when she’s got to navigate the weird emotional labor expectations of customer service).

But while those responses feel right to me, maybe they downplay it too much. They’re also less assertive than your own proposed line, and I wonder if that reflects some gendered socialization (on my part) too. I’m interested to hear from readers … not fantasy responses of what we all like to imagine saying to guys like this, but real responses that you’d really use in this situation and which respect the position the employee is in.

2. Should I return to the office if I’m immunocompromised?

I am immunocompromised and can’t decide if I should return to the office now that my company is pressing for everyone to come back, or press for more work-from-home time.

My company was very slow to allow any work-from-home at the beginning of the pandemic (the official attitude seems to be one of “if you’re not in the office, you can’t possibly be working”) and their initial attitude towards employees at high risk was bad enough to make the news. Once they decided to send everyone home, however, everything went pretty well, and the group I work in even pulled off some better-than-normal productivity. Now they want everyone back in the office (after a couple months of varying forms of some folks in, some folks WFH).

The option for WFH with a doctor’s note is still in place for now, and my immediate bosses are awesome and will back me up whatever I decide. I know my doc will give me a note if I want it (they’ve previously said to go with whatever I feel comfortable with). On the one hand, I’d love to get out of the house and see people again, and I know my immediate coworkers will be very conscientious about helping me avoid the plague (they’re awesome during cold and flu season). On the other, I don’t trust the company to be on the ball if we see another surge this fall, or if someone working in a nearby desk tests positive. Everyone I know will support me whatever I choose to do, but I don’t know what to do!

Talk to your doctor. I know she’s previously said to go with whatever you’re comfortable with, but you’re trying to make a specific decision based on health info, and your doctor is better positioned to guide you on that than anyone else is.

If she says you’re at risk, I wouldn’t rely on coworkers’ good intentions to keep safe, especially if you don’t trust your company itself to be on the ball.

But if your doctor says you’re low-risk for returning to the office (which might be what “go with whatever you’re comfortable with” means, but verify that), at that point I’d decide based on your sense of (a) how effectively you’ll be able to do your job from home, (b) how effectively your company will think you’re doing your job from home (not always the same thing), and (c) how effectively you think they’ll deal with remote people once most employees are back in the office (for example, will they maintain systems that keep you in the loop, will they have the right technology at meetings so you can actually hear what’s being said once no one else needs it but you, etc.).

3. Why don’t recruiters name the employer in job postings?

I feel like I see job postings that list the employer as a “growing local bank” or “top international bank,” but isn’t it better for everyone if the candidate knows the company and can do research on the employer before investing time in applying? And what’s preventing me from accidentally applying for a job at my current company?

Most of the time, those ads are from external recruiters, who aren’t naming the company because they want you to apply through them rather than directly through the company … because that’s how they get paid. If you apply directly with the company and get hired, that recruiter won’t get a commission — so it doesn’t make sense for them to spend money advertising the position but then make it easy for you to go around them.

That said, often if you google distinctive phrases from the job description, you’ll find the job posting on the employer’s own site and can apply directly if you want to, or at least know what company it is.

You’re right, though, that not knowing the company introduces the possibility that you could unknowingly apply for a job at your own employer. No ethical recruiter would tip your employer off if that happens (it’s just not a thing that’s done), but obviously that’s not a guarantee and googling the job description is one way to lower the chances of that.

4. Should I mention that I’d love to live in the city where the job I’m applying to is?

I’m fresh out of grad school and looking for a job in my field. I found a job listing that I’m 100% qualified for in a city that I have visited, loved, and would love to move to. Is that something I could briefly mention in my cover letter? For example: “Pleasantville, USA is a city I fell in love with when visiting and I would be thrilled to make it my home.” Or is that just too personal for a cover letter?

Mention it! It’s not too personal at all. In fact, when you’re applying for non-local jobs, employers usually appreciate you addressing up-front that you do want to move to their area and why, so they know that you’re not just applying on a whim/going to ask to do the job remotely once they make you an offer/etc. (Here’s more advice on applying long-distance.)

{ 516 comments… read them below }

  1. Julia*

    LW 1: I’d stick with Alison’s “eww” or something even subtler, like a dirty look. I have been hit on before in public and can imagine feeling mortified if someone called it out. Also, this may be controversial, but it’s not clear whether LW has the whole story. He’s a fellow customer, not a coworker. There is some remote chance that these two are acquaintances who like to flirt with each other. Unlikely, particularly given admins get creeped on… but possible and worth taking into account in your response. That is, unless you have more info than you included, like the look on her face or the energy in the room etc.

    What I would probably end up doing is “wow, that guy seemed like a bit of a creeper?” after he left. But I’m a coward :)

    1. Julia*

      Oops. “He’s a fellow customer, not a coworker.” I meant, *LW* is a customer and so presumably doesn’t spend a ton of time around these two.

      1. Sopranohannah*

        I think I’d appreciate the “wow, that guy was a creeper” more than a direct response. It’s acknowledging that the customer was in the wrong, so the employee isn’t wondering if they were misunderstanding the interaction.

      2. Joan Rivers*

        It’d be tempting to say, “DUDE! You say that in front of your wife and kids?!” but only if you end up where it’s just the two of you for a moment. Even then, you never know who’s violent these days. An eyeroll may be best.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      Calling him out directly is tricky – odds are, you go from an uncomfortable employee, to an uncomfortable employee who has two customers arguing in front of her and dragging her into the middle.

      But acknowledging the inappropriateness to the employee after the guy leaves, and offering a bit of rueful sympathy doesn’t help the behaviour, but might make the employee feel better. I might go with an eye roll and a “some people!”. This works for other bad behaviour, not just the gendered/racial stuff as well.

      And as an add on – if you *do* know the creeper – call them on it. Not necessarily right that moment, but when you leave, make an issue of it, and push back on the “but I was just being friendly” and “it was a compliment” crap that creepers use to defend their creepiness.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        In this particular case, I think rueful sympathy afterward could land well. Let the brief weird one-off be a brief weird one-off.

        I just want to note that when I see this in more extreme cases of harassment (guy won’t take a hint, or heaps abuse when he realizes that’s a no), the belated question of whether the target is okay often comes across as “Hey there, harassed person, now that the harasser is gone you must now reassure me, a silent bystander, that you are TOTES FINE and it’s all fine and you acknowledge I’m not like that guy but also that you didn’t want me to intervene, you just want me to come over now that he’s gone, and I hope you understand that the ONLY acceptable answer to my “Are you okay?” is “Absolutely!” For ongoing harassment, you should be the person who wanders in between them and makes it all much more awkward for the unchallenged jerk.

      2. aebhel*

        Yeah, MTE. Especially since it was one comment and then the guy left – I work in a customer-facing role, and I get comments like that from time to time, and while they make me uncomfortable, I’d be made WAY more uncomfortable if someone else turned it into a big scene that I then had to navigate professionally.

        If someone is hanging around and escalating the behavior, that would be the time to intervene more directly.

        1. myswtghst*

          Same. When I was in customer service, I was unfortunately very practiced at handling unwanted advances quickly and relatively gracefully. As long as it’s just one remark, I’d rather not have a well-meaning bystander escalate the situation into something I have to do more work to manage/de-escalate.

          AcademiaNut is also spot on – if you know the creep, definitely call them on it later, once the employee isn’t around to get dragged into it.

      3. Exhausted Trope*

        “This works for other bad behaviour, not just the gendered/racial stuff as well” Well said, AcadamiaNut! I’ve often responded to other behaviors using similar responses. I always do when I witness someone abusing a cashier or other customer facing worker. I used to be a cashier. I know how terrible they are often treated.

      4. Springtime*

        I’m female, and I agree that escalating or introducing conflict is not what I’d want if I were the admin. I think that the best thing to try to do, for a third party who feels they have some power, is to draw the creep’s attention away from the admin and towards yourself. For example, say to the creep, “Wow, I was just thinking the same thing about you!” or to be even less pointed, join the conversation but deflect by changing the subject, such as, “Cute kids over there, are they yours?” (Even if you didn’t think there was any chance they were his, a confusing question can be good here.) If the creep expresses annoyance toward you for interrupting, you can make more of a point by saying, “Oh, I thought we were all making personal chit chat.”

        The creep is going to feel thwarted, but without having been directly criticized and insulted, he’s less likely to find an excuse to get angry and retaliate, especially when there are now multiple people watching him. And if you don’t allow the question of whether the admin likes that kind of attention to arise, she’s not going to find herself put on the spot of trying to answer it.

        1. Paris Geller*

          Agreed. The few times I’ve ever seen a creep shut down effectively, the person doing it draws attention away from the focus of the creep’s attention. Sometimes making a joke or striking up your own conversation (if you feel comfortable doing so and do not think you will be creeped at) is the most effective.

          1. OhNo*

            Agreed, and (as a man) that’s my go-to when I’ve been in similar situations in the past: distract, deflect, and give the affected party a chance to think for a moment. I’ve even gone so far as to “drop” my keys at the harasser’s feet so I can interrupt by apologizing for being clumsy.

            So often people freeze up when they’re subjected to unexpected sexual harassment, so I figure the least I can do is give them a second to weigh the pros and cons of whatever responses they’re considering.

          2. Susana*

            On a somewhat related note/strategy: I’ve found that if a man harasses me on the street, it doesn’t do anything to shout an obscenity or even call him out on it – they seem amused by that.

            So I bark.

            Seriously – I start barking, and even growling, walking towards them in a way that’s sort of menacing but more confusing to them. The way to take control of a situation, I think, is to deliver the unexpected response. They expect you to be indignant, scared, whatever. They do not expect you to bark.

            I’ve found that they either slink away, nervous and confused, or just start laughing – and really, some of them are also sort of laughing at their own behavior. Defuses things.

            1. Bunny*

              I give it back to them. A man — with his wife present— insisted the book I was reading must be “chick lit, because all girls read chick lit”. He would not go away. Finally I asked him if he read Dick lit, because all dicks just read Dick lit.

              He retreated.

              We were on a river cruise and I was not tolerating the DENNIS Method.

      5. Sharrbe*

        Why are we assuming that the admin asst wasn’t handling this herself by not “handling” it? She isn’t necessarily some shrinking violet who needed someone to stand up for her. The likelihood is high in a chiropractic office that this customer is a repeat customer. He could be become a total jerk to the admin asst the next time he comes in if he felt slighted by the LW’s criticsism. In an ideal world we should be able to call out this behavior freely, but when you’re dealing with certain egos things can go south very quickly.

        1. Happy Lurker*

          Yep, this! OP might have asked after the fact if assistant and creeper was a personal friend or not, but I would strongly consider escalating to the Chiropractor/owner depending on personalities. The owner has the power to ban creeper, or empower their employee to stop making appointments.

        2. lecturer*

          There’s no need to use the term ‘shrinking violet ‘ women have a right to have a job and not be harassed. If everyone caused a stink this behaviour would virtually cease to exist

      6. Lauren*

        but since LW is a man, it makes it safer for the admin. She didn’t ask him to do anything on her behalf, and the offender will likely stop. Honestly, he prob will go to a different chiropractor, which is a win for the admin.

        LW – YOU ARE AWESOME. Best line ever. It shuts the offender down fast and makes him check his male privilege in a way that nothing the female admin can say that would get him to change his behavior. You are an amazing ally. This line is perfect, use it next time. In fact, try to get an appointment at the same day / time next week. He will likely do it again, and then you can really feel good about saying something. Call him out. “dude, you said something similarly creepy last time you were in here – in front of your family. Admin may not be able to call you out while on the job, but I am and you should apologize. Hell, I’m going to tell the chiropractor how inappropriate you are repeatedly being to her staff. You need to stop – now – because obvious you have a problem saying creepy things to women.” This guy is going to go off in a huff, but won’t do anything to you. Stare directly intensely at him when you say it too. If he starts any bravado BS, just say – “wow now you are looking for a fight? ok, let’s call the cops and see how they handle this.”

        As a man, you are in a unique situation to create change in this human/creepy moron. Do it for all women. You are in a safe office, and they likely won’t do anything – but step up with this type of language and you can stop him for awhile. He won’t do it for fear of being called out again – for a while again or he will just make sure he is alone with the admin next time.

    3. MK*

      I agree. I have had well-meaning bystanders involve themselves in situations where I was made uncomfortable in public (not being hit on, I must say, just general rudeness). One time it wasn’t what it appeared to be, it was a long-standing joke from a close family member. Others times I found the response disproportionate to the incident, and even when it wasn’t, I don’t actually appreciate strangers involving themselves in my business. I understand it’s coming from a good place, but, unless I am being attacked, I don’t want a champion.

      1. Scrabble*

        I don’t think we should avoid calling people out because there’s a small change they’re actually people who know each other.

        I think people who make jokes in front of strangers that mimic creepy behaviour should a) expect people to find that creepy and b) not seriously expect that to discourage others from legitimately calling out bad behaviour.

        Your comment is kind of odd to me anyway, because bystanders mostly stay out of things more than they should.

        The one time a bystander got involved I really needed them. Sorry if that ruins your anecdata-l curve.

        1. Asenath*

          I’d be on the “I don’t know the whole story” side. Unless it’s a physical attack, I’d stick to a cold or baffled stare at the person making the comment. In addition, I really don’t like it if some stranger takes over my response to the offensive behaviour, particularly when I’m the employee. It communicates “You are incapable of handling this/handling it wrongly” more than “I’m supporting you.”.

          1. Insomniac*

            In my case I do appreciate it because the burden of responding to creeps has worn me down. I find any intervening comments to be refreshing and supportive because every incident just makes me more and more exhausted.

          2. pancakes*

            Another person responding doesn’t actually take over your response, though – you can still respond however you choose. “It’s ok, we know each other,” or “he’s actually a friend of mine” or whatever. I’m not saying I’m in favor of the bystander in this scenario making a speech or something, I just don’t understand the idea that reacting at all somehow prevents the employee from expressing themself.

          3. PT*

            It can be a problem, though, because now as an employee you not only have to manage the behavior of Creepy Customer, you now have to manage the behavior of White Knight and the conflict between them.

            I had a customer facing job and there were very few situations where having a customer step in to help made the situation better. It often just added fuel to the fire, and gave the Creeper a chance to file a dissatisfied customer complaint because they’d been harassed by White Knight and felt that the staff hadn’t handled that situation satisfactorily.

            The few situations where customer assistance was helpful was when we had regulars who really knew the lay of the land and would be good witnesses or go get backup, rather than get directly involved.

        2. MK*

          You aren’t ruining anything for me, although you seem to think that your experience trumps mine for some reason? You are rather devaluing your argument by focusing on a small segment of my comment, and totally ignoring by main point that many people don’t want random strangers to rush in and defend them white-knight-like from perceived or real insults. If it wasn’t clear, I am not saying that bystanders should stay out of it; I specifically agreed with the top comment that a restrained disapproving reaction is more advisable than calling creepers out. My anecdotal experience is that rolling your eyes with a bored/disgusted expression and bringing the conversation back to business is likely to make them feel like a fool, while calling them out starts an argument.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        Well, I’ve been blatantly sexually harassed by customers and on the street more times than I care to remember and not once has any bystander said a single word. So personally I’d rather not discourage the extremely minimal number of people who actually want to speak up with “but what if it’s an in-joke??” We are not exactly swimming in kindhearted strangers who care about the wellbeing of service workers out here.

        OP, I do agree that you should stick with something lowkey – even just going over and interrupting to ask a question or something. But please don’t talk yourself out of doing anything! What I always found so demoralising about this stuff was the sense that it was happening right there in front of everyone and nobody seemed to care, so anything that demonstrated that someone else saw that it was happening and considered me enough of a real person to know that it wasn’t okay would have really helped.

        1. Myrin*

          Also, what are the terrible consequences of intervening when it was actually an in-joke between two friends/relatives? The “victim” will say “oh, he’s my brother, we just have a weird sense of humour sometimes” and that’s it, no harm done.

          1. Insomniac*

            I agree with Marin and the similar comments. If I had a friend or relative that made a creepy comment that ended up being an inside joke, I would hope my friends and family would appreciate a stranger cared enough to say something. I definitely would be touched.

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              I witnessed an interaction on my street recently like this – a kid was running pretty far ahead of his mom down the sidewalk and a guy in an SUV stopped and started talking to the kid. I knew, and it became pretty clear pretty quickly, that the guy was his father, on his way home a few houses down. But a contractor working on a house across the street was on high alert until it was clear what was happening, and ended up kind of joking with the dad about how he wasn’t sure if he should call the cops or start recording or something.

              Now, a potential stranger abduction of a child is more of a crisis moment than a creep hitting on a woman in an office, but absolutely no one on the street at the time thought the bystander was out of line because the kid and the guy in the SUV were actually family – the dad understood what it looked like and appreciated that someone was looking out for his kid.

              If you make creepy in-jokes in public, shouldn’t you appreciate that someone is looking out for the well-being of the “victim” of the creepy joke?

          2. tamarack and fireweed*


            Also, if it is an in-joke that sounds enough like harassment to alarm bystanders the joking might possibly better be taken to a less public venue, or toned down. It’s useful for the jokesters to know that.

          3. Littorally*

            Right, yeah. If people are joking around publicly in a way that mimics something terrible, they shouldn’t be all that surprised when people who aren’t in on the joke take it at face value.

        2. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

          Hard agree. It’s not like the world needs any more plausible deniability flatus to add to the already rampant gas-lighting of sexual harassment reports.

        3. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

          Precisely. Even the sympathetic silent shock of bystanders doesn’t reach me in these types of situations so absolutely make support known visibly and audibly in some way.

          And if there was a genuine in-joke surely this can be equally responded to with kindness and appreciation to a bystander and simply explained – mild awkwardness until everyone laughs at a misunderstanding is hardly on the same terms as stopping harrassment.

        4. aebhel*

          Seconded going over and interrupting with a question (especially if the behavior is ongoing or escalating). I’ve had patrons – mostly older women, tbh, but some men – do this when another patron was being obviously creepy to me, and it’s a really nice way to head off the creep without dragging me into the middle of an argument. It gives me a built-in excuse to move away from the creep and focus on something else, while a direct call-out is just as likely to drag me into the middle of it (I’ve had that happen and then the creepy dude will go ‘Oh, she doesn’t mind, do you?’ and then I have to deal with THAT, so.)

          1. Sandan Librarian*

            I’m so glad you mentioned that last part. About ten years ago, I was working as a receptionist directly out of college (for a chiropractor, actually!) , I dealt with a lot of interactions like the one described in the letter which made me uncomfortable and bordered on creepy, and once in a while someone (usually the dude’s wife or ride giver) would point out that they were being creepy and Every Single Time the quasi-creep would say, “Oh, she doesn’t mind, do you?” I would’ve honestly preferred that the Well Meaning Companion had kept their mouth shut, rather than force me into saying that I didn’t mind (when I very much did) or saying that I did mind (and potentially getting into trouble later for poor customer service).

        5. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I was violently mugged in broad daylight on a major London street and not one person stopped to intervene or even say a word. I’ve got no faith in bystanders doing anything anymore.

          Having said that, if I saw someone having gross comments made to them I’d probably do the very British thing of a sigh, a tutting noise and a shake of my head. Maybe a quiet vocal ‘oh come on mate..’.

        6. Betteauroan*

          I’m sorry you’ve had to go that. It is very frightening to be hit on by a complete stranger.

    4. Snow Globe*

      I was wondering if a quick question to the Admin might work. “Are you all right?”, which might allow her to either indicate she’s fine or maybe roll her eyes if she’d like you to say something?

      1. ecnaseener*

        If the creep is still there, she’s not going to say in front of him that he’s bothering her.

        1. Zelda*

          There are facial expressions that mean ‘Get me out of here!’

          As others have pointed out, suddenly needing her help Right Now with That Thing Over There may be preferable to full-frontal confrontation. A dirty look at creeper might communicate that yes, you absolutely did that on purpose, without giving creeper anything to seize onto as substance for complaint. It might also do nothing if he is or chooses to be oblivious, but at least Admin knows she’s not in this alone.

    5. JayNay*

      I (as a woman) would’ve really appreciated the LW‘s proposed response!
      One thing I would watch out for when you witness creepy behavior is to not make the employee the adjudicator. For example I wouldn’t say something like “she probably doesn’t appreciate this.” That would put the employee in the bad position of having to downplay behavior they probably dislike. Instead I’d focus on the behavior itself, like “ew”, or “that’s a bit much, so you mind moving on so I can check in?”
      Generally, if you’re a man and you feel like speaking up, please do! Even a “bad” interjection is better than standing there looking at your shoes. Men need to be called out for their creepy acts by other men.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I often think we should speak for ourselves: “I find it kind of creepy and unpleasant when men comment on the physical appearance of a woman who’s forced to be nice to them.” And not “she probably finds this creepy.”

        1. UKDancer*

          Definitely. If the OP finds the behaviour inappropriate and it makes him uncomfortable himself he’s within his rights to say so or to use any of the redirection tactics people have suggested.

          While it’s important to think what the employee wants, if the OP himself finds it makes him feel bad, or he doesn’t like it then he’s got a right to speak up on his own behalf.

        2. Properlike*

          Yes, this. I’m not a fan of asking the target, even after the fact. What can they say that won’t seem to be making “a big deal out of it?” Even if the target claims they “don’t mind,” speaking up to the harrasser (in the moment or after) give feedback to the creeper that other people are watching and DO mind, or that the next person he tries it on won’t like it.

    6. Annony*

      I also lean towards more subtle in this situation. For me, the key fact is he was walking away. Confronting him at that point risks escalating and prolonging the situation and thus making the receptionist even more uncomfortable. A more direct approach would be called for if he wasn’t leaving.

    7. Nursey*

      Something similar happened to my daughter in a shop. I was with her at the time (she was 14) and I don’t think the man thought we were together (she is white passing, I’m a POC). He was middle-aged, he wolf whistled at her and muttered something. I asked her if he had directed this whistle and mutter at her (I was standing across the aisle looking at something different); she said yes. I totally cut through the aisles, chased this man down, told him off, told him my daughter was 14, asked him if he was a paedophile AND reported him to the store manager.
      I strongly believe that we need to be the change we want to see and this type of behaviour needs to change. It’s wrong and disgusting.

      1. PT*

        And now your daughter knows to say “no” next time you ask her if someone directed a whistle at her.

        1. Manchmal*

          What???? Or the daughter feels loved and protected by their parent, who won’t let someone get away with harassing them. Nursey is a f*ing hero!

          1. Boof*

            I think PT is just saying mom did a nice job demonstrating that that sort of thing is not cool and at least one way of handling it!

              1. Boof*

                Erk, I must have dyslexiced the sentence the first time I read it as “and now your daughter knows how to say “no” when someone wolf whistles at her” D: I see it actually says “and now she will lie to you if you ask her if someone whistles at her”
                PT WTF?

          2. Elena*

            It can be really dependant on the person! At 14, I would have been mortified and vowed to never tell my mom if it happened again. Doesn’t mean it’s correct, just that I’m positive that’s how I would have felt! Other girls might have felt protected. Either way it seems mom had a good intention so it wasn’t a terrible thing to do

          3. Nursey*

            Thank you. I would do the same for anyone I saw being harassed. I actually wanted to punch the man’s face in, but the health dept I work for frown on that kinda thing.

            My daughter was a bit embarrassed but also grateful that I did what I did and she’s growing up to be a beautiful nd strong young lady, who understands how to stand up for herself and call out behaviours that are wrong.

        2. Velawciraptor*

          Now their daughter knows she has a parent who believes her and will protect her if someone is sexually creepy with her. More girls need parents like that.

        3. boo bot*

          Maybe, but I’m not sure that’s a problem. She might be embarrassed, but the lesson she learned here was, “my mom will stand up for me when somebody sexually harasses me,” and that’s valuable. Maybe she won’t report the next whistle, but she knows her mother will support her if something serious happens.

          1. NotJane*

            Good point, re: the lesson learned. I think it’s possible she’ll also learn that what the man did was not okay, that if he made her uncomfortable, those feelings were valid, and/or that she has the right to stand up for herself when/if someone does make her uncomfortable.

            If Nursey’s daughter was anything like I was at 14, she was probably embarrassed by a whole host of things her parents did, even the most benign of actions (that’s just part of being a teenager, right?). So, even if the lesson is, in the moment, eclipsed by the embarrassment, the seed has been planted. There are many things my parents did that embarrassed 14 year old me, but which I, now in my 40s, can look back on and appreciate, given the perspective that comes with age.

            1. Zelda*

              Other side of the coin: There was an incident in my own youth when I stood up for myself just a tiny bit (by ignoring a jerk instead of placating him), and my mother (verbally) tore strips out of ME. Nearly forty years later I am still trying to unlearn that lesson.

              If what Nursey did was too much (and I don’t think it was), by God at least it was in the right direction. Nursey, from PastMe/ FutureYourDaughter, *thank you*.

        4. Regardless of Personal Cost*

          Or she knows that drawing attention to the gross creeper, shaming him publicly and reporting it to the store manager is the right response, instead of keeping quiet and feeling ashamed.

        5. Observer*

          And now your daughter knows to say “no” next time you ask her if someone directed a whistle at her.

          Why? You think she ENJOYED the “compliment”?

        6. nothing rhymes with purple*

          No, now Nursey’s daughter knows her mother will stand up for her. You might want to think about why you neeeded to say in public that that’s a bad thing.

      2. Aitch Arr*

        When I was 15, my parents and I went to Greece.
        A couple of men on the street made a lewd comment about me and my mother (who is bilingual) told them off in Greek. It was beautiful.

    8. Velawciraptor*

      I think the comment LW1 wanted to make was necessary in the situation. Women can be afraid of being that direct because it can imperil not only our physical well-being but also our employment. I think that when men notice other men behaving badly, they have a responsibility to make sure the offender knows their behavior is being seen and is inappropriate. At best, this sort of creeper doesn’t take women seriously when we push back on this behavior; at worst they get violent. If you’re someone the offender is more likely to take seriously, you need to use your privilege to help.

    9. meyer lemon*

      What stands out to me in this situation is that this guy sounds like someone the admin has to deal with on a regular basis. Because of that, my move would be to say something to her afterwards, letting her know you heard the comment and asking if she’d like you to weigh in if she’s planning to bring it up with her boss. She’s the one who has to live with this guy in future, so she would know best what would be a good long-term strategy. My concern with calling him out directly is that he’ll just try to creep on her in less public ways, or it might just make him more aggressive toward her.

    10. JB*

      I have been this admin assistant, and in this and other similar circumstances, I either 1) say something like, “wow…that’s inappropriate,” or 2) stare at them blank-faced until they get uncomfortable and go away. I use the same strategies as a bystander watching things like this get said to someone else. Very effective.

      The most important thing is to not give in to pressure to protect the creeper’s feelings. They put themselves in this position-they can go ahead and feel embarrassed. That’s not my fault.

      As a receptionist/admin/front desk concierge and even drive-through cashier, I have had these interactions and it is the worst because you’re literally trapped-you cannot just walk away, and they perpetrator knows that and is using it. I had an across-the-hall office neighbor regularly come into my office when I was a receptionist and tell me to smile. I blank-faced him every time until eventually I told him he could not come back into the suite unless he had legitimate business with us. Eventually my role changed and I was moved off the front desk and he started it up again with the new receptionist, who was not as aggressive as me (I admit particularly relishing conflict), and I made a point to be in the lobby when he came through so I could tell him to GTFO.

      Bystanders, please do something in these circumstances. It’s such a regular experience for women, and it can get so exhausting. It’s helpful and affirming to have an ally do the dirty work every once in a while.

    11. June*

      Maybe just make a comment to draw the attention back to the workplace. I wouldn’t call out that remark. If it got worse, I might.

    12. Observer*

      There is some remote chance that these two are acquaintances who like to flirt with each other. ~~snip~~ … but possible and worth taking into account in your response.

      Talk about bending into a pretzel to justify the unjustifiable. Seriously.

      Unless you know this receptionist to be unprofessional and waaaay too casual, the idea that she’d be ok with someone flirting that hard with her in office in front of other clients is sheer absurdity.

      Why would you even go there? On the one hand you have behavior that is clearly inappropriate and which fits into a long standing pattern. On the other hand you have a really, really unlikely scenario. Why on earth would any reasonable person worry about the 1 in a million scenario when the 99% probable scenario is staring you in the face?

      1. Julia*

        Sigh. I think it’s telling that in order to make this critique, you were forced to deliberately snip out the parts of my comment where I emphasize how unlikely this scenario is.

        People flirt at work. Regular customers sometimes end up dating service professionals. I’ve seen it, you’ve probably seen it. It’s a thing that happens sometimes. Doesn’t mean it’s necessarily happening in this case.

        1. Observer*

          Sigh. I think it’s telling that in order to make this critique, you were forced to deliberately snip out the parts of my comment where I emphasize how unlikely this scenario is.

          No, it’s irrelevant that you say that you know it’s unlikely. Because given how utterly ridiculous this scenarios, there is simply no good reason to go there. In fact, on thinking of it, your saying that it’s an unlikely scenario makes your suggestion worse. Why are you suggesting that people should ignore that overwhelmingly likely scenario in favor of a scenario that is that unlikely?

          People flirt at work. I get that. However, receptionists do NOT generally flirt with people while the are working with the public. It is SUCH an unlikely scenario that there is simply no reason to factor it in.

        2. Mayflower*

          Why did you feel the need to play the devil’s advocate using an extremely unlikely scenario? So many people do this when it comes to sexual harassment and assault. It is tiresome at best.

          “People flirt at work”. Decent people don’t! Men who hit on baristas and waitresses because they genuinely believe that there exists some “sexual tension” between them and the pretty young woman that’s being paid a minimum wage to smile at them, are vile. Please google “difference between flirting and harassment”. Don’t be an advocate for the latter.

    13. Glitsy Gus*

      Yeah, I’ve seen this kind of thing happen and done the “Wow, that was kinda creepy!” Sometimes I’ve said it juussst loud enough for it to travel. It’s a bit cowardly but done right you have plausible deniability to have been talking about something else if the person is weirder than you anticipated. It is totally an in-the-moment judgement call as to the volume, though. If it feels at all volitile I just say it loud enough for the counter person to hear.

  2. Sami*

    For LW#1: I’d say something along the lines of, “Wait. What did you say?/What did you ask her?” Not quite in a complete outrage tone, but not really friendly either. Make him explain what he meant (we know what he meant). Maybe his wife could hear it. Maybe someone else in the office would hear it. Maybe it would embolden the woman to snap back at him.

    1. Anon Mouse*

      What Sami suggested is a great strategy frequently suggested in bystander intervention classes – “you couldn’t possibly have said what I thought you said.” Gives them an opportunity to walk it back.

      Please allow me to also suggest Impact Self Defense and Hollaback, both of which have great trainings about bystander intervention, for anyone who’d like to learn more about how to interrupt situations – not just sexual harassment but also racist and homophobic comments.

        1. Faith the twilight slayer*

          Does that involve telling someone “this $hit is bananas”? Because sign me up

      1. Sleepless*

        This is really good to know about. Oddly, I’ve been the bystander to two different ugly incidents at the same strip mall, and I thought about them the other day when I was there. I’ve always wondered if I handled them both ok.

    2. KimberlyR*

      This was my thought. Creepers generally like the idea that its between them and their victim. The LW asking him to speak up, repeat what he said, explain what he meant, etc will likely make him back off the creeper situation. If the LW was belligerent or angry-sounding, the creeper would be more likely to escalate. But a tone of confusion or concern is most likely to make him de-escalate. Then, based on the admin’s body cues, the LW could drop it or quietly ask if she was ok when he was out of earshot, or whatever felt correct in the moment.

    3. Emi*

      I sort of disagree — imo this approach raises the chances of getting into a back and forth about “it was just a compliment,” “no it wasn’t,” and then he starts trying to explain customer service power dynamics, and it goes nowhere. In my experience, it’s way more effective in the moment to say something like “don’t be weird, man” that sounds more like a man-to-man rebuke for violating a social norm. (Do I love this on principle? Not entirely. But I do think it’s a particularly helpful way for men to intervene, and I always appreciate it.)

  3. Chilipepper Attitude*

    Since you probably return to the office multiple times, you can ask the person if they would have wanted you to say something and if you should if it happens again.

    Also, I sometimes interrupt when I hear things like that. Like it would be rude in a typical situation to interrupt staff talking to a customer. But I will say, excuse me, sorry to interrupt, am I in the right line, or is the bathroom that way, or whatever. Just to change the dynamic.

    1. Just Commenting*

      I agree about just primarily interrupting the dynamic. Even though it can seem cold, having some kind of reset to baseline professional customer/service provider dynamic can affirm that that kind of interaction isn’t/shouldn’t be normal. Also it can flag to the guy that he is being observed/noticed and to the worker that she isn’t “alone” with this guy. It can feel isolating when no one will even acknowledge you during an uncomfortable interaction, even if you’re not physically alone.

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        Yep. “Excuse me, *reaction gif level face towards creep* I wanted to make sure you have my wife’s contact info as my emergency contact for your records.”

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I totally agree with you. It’s often hard to navigate the fine line between making space for the admin to exercise her own autonomy and boundaries, and shutting down bad behavior. But it might help to let her know you heard what happened and wanted to know if she’s ok or if she’d be comfortable if you intervene if you see it happens again.

      1. Myrin*

        Princess! I don’t know if you’ve recently commented again already and I just missed it, but I couldn’t just scroll by your name without saying how happy I am to see you’re back! You were dearly missed!

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Aw, thanks! It’s been a wild 1.5 years personally and professionally, but I’m glad to have a little more bandwidth at the moment :) And it’s always a treat to names I recognize still commenting!

      2. Internet Stranger*

        Seconding this! You have veritable library of incredibly wise and thoughtful comments on this site. Love seeing your name pop up again.

    3. aarti*

      I agree with your second point. De escalate the creep by inserting yourself with a question or clarification about your next appointment or even something totally made up. Subtle reminder to the man that a) this is a workplace and b) there are other people around. In most situations I’ve found this to be the most effective way of ending the interaction which is likely what the admin wants.

    4. Hannah Lee*

      That’s a great suggestion!

      It defuses whatever the heck creepy guy is doing, takes him out of any one on one power position he may be trying to exploit as a “customer” over a ‘sitting duck’ worker, and lets creep know there are watchful witnesses.

      And it gives the worker back power in that she can turn her attention to you, away from creep, but without having to confront him.

      It’s a variation of “light is the best disinfectant” in that you entering the dynamic shines a light on it, adds a witness IN in conversation from that point forward making it less likely that the ick will continue.

    5. Despachito*

      I’d tend to do that (ask the admin afterwards whether she was OK).

      I think that there are situations in which the creepiness is obvious, but in this particular case, it was fairly mild and I’d be hesitant. There are some things I’d personally hate to hear to be directed to myself but I have a female friend working in predominantly male industry and when she sometimes describes interactions with her clients and coworkers, I internally cringe but she seems to be perfectly OK with this. If she expressed annoyance or felt harassed, I’d of course support her but from the way she describes it I think she considers it to be a part of her job, is perfectly capable to handle it herself and even finds the sexually laden banter amusing.

      This is why I think it would be safer to check first.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      I like the “interrupt and change the dynamic” thing. Often what’s needed in this general situation is for someone to knock the creepy person off their script, rather than follow the instinct to all stay huddled silent and observing until the harasser decides this is done, for only they have that power. Step in front of him and say “I need to discuss this change in my health insurance.”

    7. myswtghst*

      Agreed on all counts. I think it’s important to consider what the admin wants as far as support, especially given how divided the comments here are on what different individuals would prefer, and to interrupt the grossness with something innocuous to redirect the conversation in a way that most likely won’t create additional conflict for the admin to have to de-escalate.

    8. Autistic AF*

      I agree with both parts… The first I think is important as it acknowledges the previous situation and gives the receptionist agency over what she would have wanted then (and in the future). The second reduces the chance of creepy guy getting defensive and exacerbating the situation. I have a feeling that a poor reaction from him would carry over to how he treats his wife as well.

  4. JI*

    I found a bored “You going to leave her alone?” while sounding resigned to the fact that while it may escalate, you are OK with that, dissuades people.

    Of course, I’m a fairly big bloke.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      As a woman who got harassed (luckily, at a fairly low level) when I worked customer service jobs many years ago, I wish there were a LOT more men like you in the world. Keep doing this, please.

    2. ecnaseener*

      That’s awesome. I think you’re unfortunately right that your size makes the difference — the same tactic probably wouldn’t work for less-intimidating people.

      1. quill*

        Can agree. I’ve had some pretty sturdy guy friends who instantly change the mental calculus of if bothering people is worth it, and you can see a creep doing the math.

    3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      I like this.

      If I’m waiting in line or actually at the desk checking in, I’d also add something along the lines of “I’d like to get my business done in private, if you’re done hitting on her”

    4. JB*

      Thank you, JI!

      Let me add that being big isn’t the only way to intimidate people. As an average sized girl-next-door baby-faced blonde, it freaks the heck out of people when I come at them hard because they are not expecting it. Looks can be deceiving!

      1. LunaLena*

        Yes, totally agree! I am 5’2″ so bigger people are definitely surprised and taken off guard when I challenge them.

      2. Jack Straw*

        Can confirm.

        I’m a 5’1″ soccer mom and people are TOTALLY thrown off when I flip on a dime and go on the offensive with them. I’ve had 6″+ men physically back up from me.

        I typically go hard, to. A quick wit combined with thinking on my feet and the ability to diffuse a situation with a single sentence is a side effect of teaching teenagers for years. lol

  5. Kathryn Fletch*

    LW1 doesn’t say how the admin reacted to the man. I find that a little strange actually. He felt the need to jump in a save her but doesn’t day if she needed saving. I am a woman and have been in the admins position, it would bother me more that some guy thought I couldn’t handle it myself.
    That being said, if she seemed in distress or uncomfortable, you could have written a note and handed it to her pretend it was some form she asked for or whatever. Ask her if she needs a hand and if so, do something subtle like drop her pen or run her fingers through her hair.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eh, women in customer service roles get hit on so frequently and are hesitant to push back because of the expectation that they make customers feel welcome that it’s not unreasonable for a bystander who doesn’t have those same restrictions to wonder what they can do, and to not want to act like nothing problematic is happening to someone who probably feels some pressure to be polite to the guy.

      1. Reluctant Manager*

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the practice/employer have a legal obligation to protect her from harassment by clients? Hard to do in practice (and not something another patient can just handle), but she shouldn’t be having to handle unwanted advances in her own.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          They do, although this comment on its own is unlikely to meet the legal bar for harassment. (More to the point, though, it’s not really actionable for the OP!)

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Theoretically, yes, but in practice it can be very tricky to have appropriate safeguards for harassment from third parties over whom the employer has limited control. Also, from what we’ve been told, I don’t think this incident meets the elements of a third party sexual harassment claim (yet). There’s no quid pro quo harassment from the letter, and I suspect this exchange, alone, would not satisfy the criteria for a hostile work environment claim.

          1. Jay*

            When I ran a medical office, we had a policy that anyone who behaved inappropriately towards our staff would be asked to leave the practice. We did not define “inappropriate” in the policy. We invoked it three times in three? four? years (can’t remember), once for behavior I witnessed and twice for behavior reported by my staff. There were also a few people who managed to change their behavior after I warned them that I wouldn’t be able to see them if they persisted in abusing my staff. I told them they could yell at me instead. They did not choose to do that. None of the incidents were sexual and none would have risen to the legal standard of hostile work environment.

            My point (and I do have one!) is that the office can (and in my view should) back up their staff whether the behavior meets a legal standard or not.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I agree! I think folks tend to run to the law or the idea of a lawsuit for relief. There are a ton of ethical and business reasons to care about your employee’s safety in the workplace, and employers should be mindful of that without the threat of litigation.

      2. Wendy*

        This, plus too many employers place the blame on their female employees if the creep goes to complain that she was mean to him :-\

        1. Insomniac*

          I had a boss make the guy apologize to me (and he sent flowers to my workplace with a note of apology that I promptly dumped in the trash). The boss also told me he and his gf had been to dinner with this guy and his wife and he’d never seen any issues ….

          My friend had her butt slapped by a contractor behind the bottle shop where she was working. She told the owner AND HE GAVE THE CONTRACTOR HER PHONE NUMBER so he could text an apology.

          This same friend was working with a male one night at the bottle shop and a male customer was saying sexually explicit things to her. The male coworker told her he wasn’t going to get involved because it wasn’t his place.

          Alternatively, my mom has fired male clients who have creeped on her receptionist. My female friend used to manage a restaurant and has told a male customer to leave after he kept touching her waitress on the arm and hitting on her. He was banned from returning.

          I think workplace harassment and how management of different genders (and likewise race, sexuality, nationality, disability, etc) highlights the importance of diversity in the workplace. When you’re able to be empathetic to your employees experiences, you will react in a much more supportive way when they are being harassed or subjected to uncomfortable interactions.

          1. KGD*

            Eww, those stories are awful. Sending flowers is such a gross and overfamiliar response that shows he doesn’t get it at all. And I cannot fathom how dumb you’d have to be to give a harassed their victim’s number. Just brutal. Your last paragraph is spot on, and I also think in situations with clueless/sexist male bosses, a male customer being willing to call it out could be really helpful to the employee being hassled.

      3. Despachito*

        I know it sucks, but I imagine that people in customer roles, unfortunately, have to face a whole range of inappropriate behaviour, not only sexually creepy but demeaning and abusive of all sorts.

        I’d find it helpful for their bosses to have their backs if they decide to push back in the way they seem proper (because they are in the best position to decide whether the specific interaction in question is awkward but not dangerous, and therefore best to let go, or whether it escalates beyond their threshold of tolerance)?

      4. eons*

        At a local hardware store, waiting in my car for pick-up, a guy is SCREAAAAMING at the top of his lungs right in the face of a female manager. You stole from me! You B- you F-B, F you – because of whatever was wrong with his order. I rolled down my window, told him to go F himself, who the F does he think he is talking to someone like that, called him an Fing A. The manager kept saying “oh noooo, it’s okaaaaay!” – it was not. The dude shut up and started to go back to his car. She walked towards him and they started talking LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE. He obviously had a problem that needed to be sorted but that was NOT the way to do it. I don’t feel like I went too far and if I had been inside a store or office, I probably would have made more of a “HEY, don’t talk to her like that” comment without the swearing. But screw that guy for real.

    2. Happy*

      I think if that asking her to run her fingers through her hair as a sign would just come of as Creepy Request from a Man #2.

      1. pancakes*

        Same. It would be weird, and it’s totally unnecessary. This is a fairly commonplace scenario in a public-facing office, not a Lifetime movie.

    3. Scrabble*

      I am going to have to stop reading these comments and go scream into a nearby void.

      PLEASE STOP discouraging people who want to be allies. Just stop.

      1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

        Screaming too. It’s really not that hard and it doesn’t need to be this convoluted. Secret notes and covert fingers in hair..? Please. This is not a British comedy sitcom circa 1960. Why are we dancing so delicately around, trying to find the perfect words, trying to save everyone potential embarrassment here?

        The creeper deserves to feel embarrassed. It’ll be an awkward moment, sure. But if your concern is support for the admin assistant, speaking up – even if you don’t say the perfect thing – is far better than being appearing to be yet another quiet, oblivious or complicit man.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes. Just say something to redirect the conversation, ask a professional question to give her a reason to stop talking to the creeper and he’ll probably go away. If he doesn’t or does something more overt or outrageous then you can respond to that but the overwhelming likelihood (in my experience) is that he’ll probably move on.

          I’d always think it’s better to do something simple rather than complicate things with codes.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Secret notes (though I would NOT do the “run fingers through hair” as a signal) are used in some bars–if a guy is failing to respond to subtle no’s, clear no’s, etc, the bartender might hand his target a “bill” that says “If you want this guy bounced, move your pony tail to the other shoulder.”

          It let’s a weird one-off be a weird one-off, initially leaves it the target to handle as she prefers, but if it drags on and she seems to need help discretely offers that help. Of the “a large man will come and carry him away” sort.

          For a brief interaction with a receptionist, notes are definitely overkill. I favor the tactic “Interrupt with A Thing Target Must Look At, make it awkward for him to try to get everyone back on script, don’t just huddle silently in a corner watching.”

          1. UKDancer*

            Interestingly in the UK we have an “Ask for Angela” policy in a lot of bars and pubs. If you feel you’re in an unsafe situation you can ask for Angela at the bar and they’ll help you or get you to safety.

            That said I agree with Falling Diphthong that notes / codes etc are a bit overkill for a work situation.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I don’t think anyone is saying “don’t be an ally.” There’s a bit of tension that OP will have to navigate. On one hand, creepy behavior negatively affects all of us, even if it was primarily directed to someone. In those circumstances, folks who take pride in standing up for what’s right will also want to swoop a la white horse. But intervention, if unwelcome, could come across as paternalistic and/or disempowering.

        Although I didn’t come away with the same understanding as Kathryn regarding OP or his motives, I’m reading a different takeaway than “don’t be an ally.” My impression is that Kathryn is primarily asking OP to consider following the platinum rule (do unto others as they would want you to) instead of the golden rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you).

        Part of being an ally is understanding how to support someone the way they want to be supported, including not depriving them of agency by swooping in like a savior.

      3. quill*

        Especially because a single comment intervention of “gross dude” is like… the mildest possible consequence that could befall the dude making possibly (PROBABLY) inappropriate comments? So if the bystander is theoretically in the wrong that the comments are unwanted… it doesn’t ducking matter, it takes 30 seconds to be embarassed and think “hey maybe we shouldn’t be carrying on like this in public, it’s going to make people concerned.”

        The odds are large that this comment was not appreciated, and that OP can stop it continuing in the moment. And TBH if it’s an in joke, it’s one that deserves to die since it provides cover for creepers.

    4. Emma*

      This is a weird suggestion. It’s kind of cloak and dagger, in a way which would make sense if the admin was in physical danger but doesn’t really here. The stakes are relatively low: you want to help the admin get rid of this creepy dude quicker, and hopefully nudge the creepy dude into being less of an entitled creep in future. The admin probably just wants to get rid of the dude and get on with her job, so a quick facepalm “oh my god”, or one of the other suggestions here, is conducive to that goal. Taking the time to write a note setting up secret codes isn’t, and then you still have to decide how to react if she does drop her pen or whatever.

      The other thing to bear in mind, especially if you’re a man, is that getting women to ask them for help is also something that creepy dudes sometimes do as a prelude to further creeping. The admin isn’t going to want to interact with a customer in a way that sets them up as her saviour, and also isn’t going to ask for help dealing with another customer, especially when there’s a risk that your help might mean decking the guy or being overly aggressive (it wouldn’t but she can’t know that). The advantage of a brief comment is that you can say what the admin is thinking (“douche!”) without her being responsible.

    5. Chas*

      While I’ve never worked in customer service, from accounts I’ve read online it seems like a lot of them get so used to poor treatment by customers (and bad managers who don’t support them) that they tend to either not react or just grin and bear it, so the admin not (visibly) reacting doesn’t mean that she wasn’t upset by him.

      The only time I’ve ever spoken up at another customer was when a guy at a fast food place was loudly complaining that the staff were taking too long. (I said something like ‘Hey, they’re trying their best! It’s not their fault it’s busy!’ and he turned around and said ‘I wasn’t talking to you.’ but stopped complaining after that.) And while all the staff had just been ‘ignoring’ him and getting on with their jobs while he was complaining, it was pretty obviously from the demeanour of the woman I ended up taking my food from that she appreciated my speaking up for them.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        This is exactly it. The ability to deal with bad behaviour from customers without “making a scene” is practically a requirement in many customer-facing roles, which allows harassment to flourish. I once applied for a job at a very prestigious hospitality establishment where they had listed “an innate desire to please” as an essential job requirement – how are you supposed to speak up when someone’s making you uncomfortable in that kind of environment? You don’t, you smile and shake it off or just don’t acknowledge it, but that doesn’t mean you’re okay with it. And the same attitude is prevalent in all kinds of customer-facing roles, not just hospitality. You are just not supposed to make a fuss, so you really can’t read much into someone not seeming to respond to this kind of thing.

      2. Spotted Kitty*

        I’ve done this too. I was in line at a fast food place during the lunch rush and a woman was bitching about how long it was taking and turned to me and said something along the lines of “Gosh, they’re so slow here, aren’t they?” And I just deadpanned, “I think they’re doing great.” And she made a face and turned back around but didn’t complain anymore.

        I was waiting in line at a clothing store dressing room once and two women were just berating the girl working there. Once they left, I said to her, “Those people are jerks.” From her reaction, people acted like that everyday so it didn’t even register with her. I strive to be like her.

        The craziest thing I’ve done was yell at a catcaller. He was following a woman trying to get her attention saying gross things and I finally couldn’t take it anymore and just yelled, “Don’t talk to her like that!” And he looked surprised and then said, “I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to–” and I yelled, “Don’t talk to ANYONE like that!” It probably wasn’t the smartest thing because he was a big dude and could have knocked me out with one punch, but I seriously couldn’t hold my tongue any longer.

        1. 2 Cents*

          In a former life, I worked retail. The line was too long, but our store was always understaffed on purpose. When the person who grumbled the loudest in line finally got to my register and complained, I said, “Yes, I agree, that was too long a wait, but I’m alone here, despite repeatedly asking my manager for help. Here’s a card with the corporate number where you can call to complain that the manager isn’t staffing correctly.” Shut her up (because she couldn’t believe I agreed with her), but I wish she had called corporate.

          1. Jack Russell Terrier*

            I was at a CVS a while back before self-checkout and they had one person checking people out and she was obviously new and still getting up to speed. The long queue was doing its best and didn’t say anything about every transaction taking forever – it wasn’t her fault yet there was an atmosphere of course. I corraled the manager and he did the ‘short-staffed. I loudly told him he should be helping her out as she was doing a great job but it was an impossible job. He declined – but it helped the poor woman feel a bit better.

            1. laser99*

              As a former CVS employee, I can confirm they intentionally under-staff. They somehow think it saves them money on payroll. What they lose in theft, customers becoming disgruntled and shopping elsewhere, etc far outweighs it.

      3. Autistic AF*

        I was at the hardware store about a year ago and the elderly man in front of me ripped into the cashier at the outdoor (garden centre) till for not being able to go back into the store without waiting in line. He complained about having to sanitize his hands again and the cashier wisely pointed out that he was wearing gloves… They were pink rubber dish gloves too. She and I had a good conversation about the abuse they get after that. At least he was masked, I guess?

    6. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      The admin is trying to remain professional, and doesn’t want to cause a scene. She’s barely allowed to stick up for herself and there’s no guarantee her boss would stick up for her if the client made a scene.
      A third party ally can intervene, saying that he doesn’t like hearing guys hit on women like that. I think the way to do it is to say, it’s nothing to do with her and how she feels, I as a client do not like to see the staff being harassed by other clients. It’s not the primary reason for calling the behaviour out, of course, even if nobody decent likes to see an admin being harassed but it’s a way of making it about the business, rather than the hapless admin scared for her job. The boss will be able to stick up for his admin, since it’s a matter of two clients wanting two different things, so he can choose the right thing. The admin won’t feel bad about needing help either, since it’s not about her any more, but about the business.

    7. paxfelis*

      Playing with your hair is regarded as a flirtatious maneuver. I’ve had several men think I’m flirting when I’m just trying to be able to see.

    8. Washi*

      I’m a woman in healthcare too and if someone actually said anything in this situation (which has literally never happened) I would assume it was because the creepiness offended them as a person and they recognized as a man, they were in a position to be able to say something. Not a commentary on whether I can handle it. Similarly, as white person, when I hear racism, I say something because it is wrong and it offends me. I’m pretty sure anything I’ve heard is a drop in the bucket to what the person on the receiving end has to deal with, but that doesn’t mean I can’t address it and make it clear that what they said is not ok.

      1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

        And I’m pretty sure that at some point those on the receiving end just get tired of having to politely handle it on their own all the time and appreciate someone else stepping in once every now and then.

      2. BatManDan*

        Male here. What I have done (fewer times than I’m sure I SHOULD have done) when witnessing this from a (another) customer towards an employee, is said “That makes me uncomfortable when you speak to employees like that.” That removes the part of wondering if the employee herself was uncomfortable, or whether or not she feels diminished because now an ally has had to step in. Plus, the creeper’s attention is now on ME, and MY feelings, and has to defend himself to ME, not the employee. Don’t know if y’all will love this idea or hate it, and I’m open to other or better ways to say it. But, it really DOES make me uncomfortable to witness this.

        1. UKDancer*

          I think it’s good to say that it’s about you being uncomfortable not about what the employee thinks. You’ve the right not to feel comfortable with the situation even though it doesn’t directly affect you.

          Also once one person steps in and says something it shows to others that they can intervene also.

          1. Despachito*

            I remember a recent TV interview with an actor who, just before the cameras turned off, patted the behind of a female make-up artist.

            It went viral, and he countered the criticism with a particularly nasty usual harasser’s BS (like “we are just friends, it’s a perfectly normal thing and if you criticize this, you must be an ugly old hag who would like to be touched but nobody wants to touch her” – btw I hate such attacks with the force of thousand glowing suns), which was like he tattoed “DISGUSTING OLD CREEP” all over his forehead.

            BUT: the make-up artist confirmed his version (“we indeed are friends and it was our inside joke”). And I was asking myself – is she doing it for fear of being tagged as “difficult” and possibly harm her working opportunities (which I sadly think quite likely), or does she speak the truth and it really is their inside joke?

            I must confess that I am at a loss what should be done in such a case when someone perceived as a victim herself claims she isn’t? When, on the other hand, I can very realistically imagine the atmosphere in which she is afraid of saying something for the above reason.

            (Irrespective of the result, I will still thinking of him like of a disgusting creep, more so because what he said after was a definite proof.)

          2. TootsNYC*

            and if it is friendly banter, it’s good for the to hear that it makes OTHER people uncomfortable to hear it.

            Just because you two are enjoying the joke doesn’t mean the rest of us want to hear it. We’re here too, and we deserve to feel comfortable with the interactions around us in a public space.

            1. UKDancer*

              Definitely! When I was in my first student job in a tourist attraction I had a very flirty relationship with one of the people in a different part of the organisation. He was a flirt anyway and I liked it. One of my colleagues asked me to stop flirting with him in a public setting because it was unprofessional and something the public might not want to hear in the office. She said my colleagues also probably would prefer not to hear it as it was awkward. So after that I stuck to flirting with him when it was just us two in the staff room.

              While our flirting was consensual, she had the right to point out how unprofessional it was. I learnt to dial it down after that which helped me in subsequent jobs in a white collar setting.

        2. Sparkles McFadden*

          This is a really good response. It takes the focus off of the object of the creeping while calling out the behavior. It’s one person telling another person “We live in a society and you are breaking societal rules by being disgusting, so stop doing that.”

        3. Mollie*

          I love this! As a woman and a rape survivor, I am really uncomfortable with most of the other ways that have been suggested here. It’s way easier for me to let things go by than to deal with them in situations like this, and I hate the idea of someone coming to my rescue, because it feels like one more way I’m losing control. But this is absolutely ideal! I would be relieved and encouraged if someone did this for me. It would remind me that there is so much good in the world, and people are willing to truly stand alongside me. This is awesome.

        4. Napkin Thief*

          I really like this, for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. Most who wish to be allies stop short of taking on discomfort themselves (myself included at times) – thank you for embracing it!

    9. Wry*

      This is assuming you’ll always be able to clearly read that someone is uncomfortable. But many women are used to this kind of behavior and are able to outwardly brush it off while still being creeped out on the inside. And women in customer-facing jobs, particularly, get this kind of thing a lot, and are used to keeping their composure. None of that means it isn’t worthwhile for someone witnessing it to call it out. It’s not about whether the woman can handle herself. Most likely, she is already handling it in the way society (and in this case, her job) deems safe for her to do. Women risk a lot by making a big show of “handling” men, which is why it can be helpful for men to call each other out for crappy behavior. I don’t see it as LW trying to save her, but as LW signaling to both the woman and the other man that this isn’t okay. Every little thing like that helps society move in a better direction.

    10. Delphine*

      I don’t know why we frame these things as “does she need saving,” when what a bystander is doing by speaking up is showing support for a person and standing in solidarity with them.

    11. AKchic*

      Sure, but even when it’s written into company policies, it is so vague (on purpose), that it is essentially worthless, and done so in order to protect the company, not the employee(s).

      I worked food service, cashiering, and front desk for a long time. So many “let me clear you off a space to sit and take a break” followed by wiping of the mouth *eyeroll*. So many “Imma need your personal number with that receipt”. The amount of “I’m here to take you out to lunch/dinner” random show-ups. The blatant “tell me what your so-called man has that I don’t? He got you working and you’d never have to lift a finger as my woman” (I had a wedding ring and they finally noticed). And most of them were serial harassers. The constant staring at my chest. The leering. The attempts to pinch, slap, and grope if there wasn’t a counter/table/physical barrier between us. The demands for hugs. The begging for a quick kiss “for luck” (soldiers and rotational workers are *the worst* about that crap). The constant whining about how their wives/girlfriends are cheating and how they need sympathy (“boo hoo, come tug my trouser snake” is the unspoken message).

      There are so many reasons why I stopped working customer-facing jobs and why I am so glad that I started aging (I looked like a teenager until I was in my early 30’s).

      The way women in food/retail are spoken to needs to not only be addressed, but changed. Same with any customer-facing work. Bank tellers, receptionists, hospital workers? They all get the “dirty old man” treatment from older guys who revel in their aging status but still have sharp minds, specifically so they can get away with that kind of thing (I had one actor who was banned from two banks for harassing female tellers doing that, and he bragged about it; his peers could not convince him to stop. I was relieved his health required him to leave state so I didn’t have to make the recommendation he not perform anymore).

      *sigh* this was not meant to be a rant.

  6. Just Commenting*

    LW #1, I think one way (not the only way) to approach it is to push back but in a way that’s more about customer satisfaction/preference? Which I realize sounds kind of weak and shallow, but I worry being direct about “this guy is acting like a creep” can potentially put the employee in an awkward position if she gets questioned later like, “I think that customer was assuming the worst of me. Do /you/ think I was acting creepy towards you?”

    So for example in your situation, something like, “Well, I’m glad we’re all still wearing masks because the pandemic isn’t over and safety and public health has to come first” would be a form of pushing back but isn’t directly addressing him being a creep. I don’t like especially like that in terms of not addressing the core issue (sexism and sexual harassment), so if there is a better way to actually approach it from other commenters, I’d go with that.

    1. Just Commenting*

      I also just realized I assumed the guy was a supervisor or coworker, not (only) a customer. If he was only a customer, I think you can respond more strongly about him being a creep but I would be casual about it. So, a disapproving groan or “Ugh, who cares about seeing anyone’s full face during a pandemic?” I think would be fine. Just whatever to signal to him that that’s an poor comment to make.

      1. TootsNYC*

        or even, “One thing I like about masks is that we all get a bit of a respite from having to please other people with our faces and our smiles, and have them decide how pretty we are. We can just have ‘resting bitch face’ or be tired in privacy.”

  7. Manana*

    LW1- email the practice/your provider, and let them know what you saw. Commend the office admin on her professionalism, let them know you did not want to intervene and potentially escalate the situation, but that you noticed and want to support the staff. Then, explain that as a patient you expect a professional, therapeutic environment and hope that they will hold all guests to a standard to ensure that environment respected and that the staff is kept safe.

    1. Chidi-Janet & The Tarantula Squids*

      Yes! In addition, I’d probably go up to the admin after the creep left and say, for the record, I heard the sleazy line you just got from that customer/ client. If you decide to report it and you’d like me to act as witness I’m perfectly willing to do that.

    2. Ali G*

      Yes! After the guy left I think I would have asked her if the Creep made her uncomfortable and then documented the date and time you were there. Then email the practice as Manana suggests. This also helps the AA if she did report it but heard crickets or was even blamed for the incident.

    3. Mr. Cajun2core*

      Agreed and agreed on commenting to the admin. However, I would not have waited to email the practice. I would have gone directly to the chiropractor and told her what happened.

    4. Ya Girl*

      YES! I used to have this job and that’s exactly what I would want. Often in my office we see patients as often as every week, so while OP telling this guy off might feel good in the moment the creep will likely be back and will bring it up Every. Time. he comes in. If you let your provider know what happened they can address it significantly better, patients tend to listen to their doctors when they tell them to cut this stuff out so they aren’t fired as a patient.

      My advice would be different if the receptionist were being touched of if explicit comments were being made, but for this garden-variety creepiness it’s best to just loop the practitioner in.

    5. Cat Lady in the Mountains*

      1000% this. I used to work in a customer-facing role and the amount of harassment I faced really messed with my norms. I got so jaded that when I had one particularly gross stalker-ish repeat customer, I resented it but thought it was just ‘part of the job.’ One day another customer came up to me after an interaction with him and said “wow, that really wasn’t ok, I just wanted to let you know I saw what happened and see if there’s anything I can do to help.” I had been so sure that it was all in my head, it was SO nice to hear that it wasn’t just me. I ended up reporting it to my boss, who told the customer he was no longer welcome, but honestly the thing that made the biggest difference to my morale was just being validated. (FWIW, the person who talked to me after was a man, and so was my boss. I never had concerns my boss wouldn’t believe me, but I was worried he wouldn’t understand. So the fact that it registered with another man gave me more confidence to talk to my boss about it.)

    6. Washi*

      I really like this especially for this circumstance (one creepy but not violent remark). I am a medical social worker and would appreciate it if a bystander said something similar to me. (But if someone said something in the moment that would be fine too! I just don’t really expect it and it has never actually happened.)

    7. Autistic AF*

      This is a great suggestion, although “you did not want to intervene” may not be the right wording since LW indicated otherwise. The second part about expecting professional conduct is right on and takes advantage of the same power creepy guy wields as a customer.

    8. ShinyPenny*

      I so agree with this suggestion.
      Witnessing that garbage alters the experience (for the worst) of being a patient in that office.
      The admin is the overt target, and absolutely this should be addressed on that basis alone. But making it clear that bystanders are also negatively affected might give the owner a better understanding of why it benefits EVERYONE when this crap is addressed firmly.

  8. Anon Mouse*

    LW #4: I would go stronger and put that on your resume because cover letters and resumes get separated all the time. It also gives interviewers an opportunity for safe small talk – they can ask about where you are or they can ask about where you’re going. “Based in New York, relocating to West Covina.”

    1. alienor*

      I agree. I’m relocating, and at first I was just putting that information in my cover letter when applying for jobs in my target location, but I seem to be getting more interest now that it’s also in my resume. I added it as a line above the rest of my contact information (phone, email) where an address would normally go.

      1. Anon Mouse*

        Crazy Ex-Girlfriend joke. She relocates to West Covina, California, quitting a high powered lawyer job in NYC, at the very start of the show.

    2. Junior Assistant Peon*

      As someone who’s gone through a stack of resumes, I always suspect anyone not local is indiscriminately blasting out applications unless I’m told otherwise.

      1. PennylaneTX*

        This. I need to know that you plan to relocate and your timeframe. I searched for two jobs long-distance (one across the country, and one in the same state but three hours away), and was up-front that it was a done deal (“I will be moving” and not “I hope to/plan to”) and also about my affection for the city itself (in the across the country scenario). Shortly after getting my job in another city, I was hiring for a position on a short timeline, and got resumes and cover letters from all over the country with no reference to planning to move or a timeline or anything and those candidates were not even considered (I also had great local candidates to choose from, so that made it easy to knock those out!)

    3. LW#4*

      Thanks! I’m definitely willing to relocate anywhere I need to so I really don’t want to look lazy about it. (And thanks Alison for posting my question!)

    4. Glorified data entry*

      Thirding this advice. I relocated because of a spouse’s job and all my applications had where I was relocating (and when) on the address line. Then at the end of the cover letter I mentioned how I’d visited the city as a kid and the lasting impression it made on me (I’m in a tourism-adjacent industry, so it really helped!)

    1. Constance Lloyd*

      I’ve also used, “Well THAT’S oddly personal,” when I’ve been the employee on the receiving end of these sort of remarks. It was a way to push back without giving the creepy customer much room to say, “It’s a compliment! You should be flattered!” or giving my (very crummy) employer a chance to punish me for being rude to a customer. I’m a cis woman of not remotely intimidating stature, so delivering this line in a breezy but surprised tone before changing the subject was the most confrontational I was willing to be, especially as a 16-22 year old server/bank teller.

  9. nnn*

    Can commenters answering #1 provide their gender and any other relevant demographic/contextual information? Not all responses would work for all demographics, so I think it’s useful to have that context.

    1. Tussy*

      I disagree, I think most of the suggestions here work for pretty much all demographics and genders and the only ones that might not the people already offered that information.

      Anyone can interrupt or change the subject or offer support afterwards or with a glance at the time or go stand in closer proximity. You don’t have to be a certain type of person to do any of these things.

      1. New Bee*

        I disagree with your disagreement, though I’m not sure yet where I stand on nnn’s original request. The situation, including the internal decision-making of whether to say something, would likely be different if creeper were a white man and bystander a MOC vs. the reverse or both men being white.

      2. Scrabble*

        So far some comments are so dismissive and infuriating that I for one would have appreciated this context.

        1. Anononon*

          Most of the comments I’ve read that are disagreeing with OP confronting the other patient directly are base on those commenters own preferences regarding similar situations.

          From this thread, it’s clear that you think OP should have stepped in a shut it down, which is a fine opinion to have. However, I’ve got no idea why you think other comments are “dismissive” when they’re literally saying that if they were in that position, they specifically would not want OP to step in.

      3. nnn*

        My thinking is that the creep’s reaction might change with the intervener’s demographic, and if someone pitches an idea that’s unlike anything I’ve ever thought of or tried before, I’m not confident that I can accurately determine whether it would be equally helpful coming from me.

        1. BatManDan*

          Legit point. Large males can probably say things, and use intonations, that other demographics cannot.

          1. Jay*

            My husband is 6′ and burly. He is also bald with a white beard. He can shut things down *much* faster than 5’5″ average-sized female me, even though I am capable of speaking *very* firmly and clearly, a vestige of running emergency responses during my medical training.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            Same, in its way, for my mild-mannered small white woman schtick. (I am constantly asked for directions, so harmless do I appear.)

            1. PT*

              I’m a very small woman and I used to be the person to kick out men who were about to get violent at work. The reason being, a lot of them were looking for a fight. If we’d sent over one of our larger male employees, they’d start escalating to fight. If we’d sent over one of our small male employees, they’d REALLY start escalating to a fight, and they’d probably have done the same to some of our larger women.

              But when a woman who’s barely 100 pounds comes over and is “I’m sorry, you need to leave now” their brains explode. They don’t know what to do. They want to fight, but picking a fight with someone so tiny doesn’t compute in their worldview. There’s no masculinity points to be gained fighting with someone so little over something so trivial and their friends would make fun of them for it.

              So they sputter, call you some gross names, wave their hands in anger, and leave.

              1. Zelda*

                I seem to have a “dear friend of your mother’s” aura about me. Some guys seem less likely to be really gross when something is telling them that their granny is going to hear all about it.

          3. Nobby Nobbs*

            To further complicate things, a large black man, for example, might have different calculus to do on the “do I want to play the Big Intimidating Guy card here” front than a large white man.

        2. NoviceManagerGuy*

          Nobody would ever be intimidated by my size, but I instead exude strong “business guy, tips well, might know the mayor” vibes which also helps convince people acting out of line to tone it down.

    2. Yorick*

      I think we can all just evaluate how comfortable we would be with all the options presented. You may recognize that as a member of X group, a particular suggestion wouldn’t work in your case.

    3. Jack Straw*

      This comment is why I like Happy and Constance Lloyd’s suggestions of “Wow, that’s really inappropriate.” and “Well THAT’S oddly personal.” They work with literally anyone and in any situation.

      FTR I wholeheartedly disagree that gender, age, or any other demographic info would change the way this was dealt with.

  10. Quickbeam*

    Re#1: I am an older woman and I find a weird kind of gravitas has come with age. I confront stuff like this all the time. I’m just tired of boors and the ugliness of treating face forward customer service personnel without respect.

    1. RB*

      So what do you say? Do you have any clever quips that could apply to a broad range of situations?

      1. bookartist*

        I also have found that as I got stouter and a grey streak grew into my hair, people treat me (white cisfemale) with more respect (Im 52 now so am assuming this drops off ~age 60.). In this case I would say in an annoyed tone ‘Some of us are here to do business.” in a ‘move it along” tone.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          That’s actually a great answer, bookartist. You’re making it about you, another client, rather than about the hapless admin. If it gets escalated, the boss has to choose between two clients, rather than between losing a client or letting the admin get hassled. It also means that the admin doesn’t have to say anything excruciating like “Oh don’t worry, I’m used to it”.

      2. Forrest*

        Eh, I would emphatically stay away from “clever quips”. Your goal here is to support the person being creeped on, not to be the hero of The You Show.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Yes, but sometimes the snark is the best way to support the person being creeped on — when done well, it shames the creeper in a way that makes him unlikely to escalate, which is key.

          Besides, a direct callout also falls in the category of making you the hero. Your focus should absolutely be on the best strategic choice, not on your ego — but doing ANYTHING in this situation is going to be ego-relevant.

          1. Forrest*

            Yeah, that’s why I don’t think a direct call-out is a good way to go— there’s always a danger you’re just going to escalate stuff and make it a bigger deal and more awkward for the person who’s been targeted. I would always favour a bystander addressing the person being creeped on and letting them take the lead on how to respond.

    2. singlemaltgirl*

      yes, this is stuff in my younger days i would have kept my mouth shut about. now i’m older and don’t give a shit. also, as a customer vs being an employee in this situation gives me less worry to call someone out. that being said, i’ve usually said, ‘what did you just say to her?’ – that usually gets, from a man, ‘what biz is it of yours?’ or a dirty look. i usually follow up, b/c they kinda realize they’ve been idiotic, ‘don’t be creepy’ or ‘let her do her job without you being creepy’ or something like that.

      most men try to walk it back or get flustered or, if they lash out, i don’t really give a crap. i’m a woman of colour and i’ve heard it all. if they follow it up with something racist or misogynistic, then usually ‘it figures you’d be a [racist] [creep][misgoynist]’. if i feel it’s going to escalate in any way, i ask the admin to call her manager. bullies tend to shut up quick when you bring in management and it’s not the employee’s word but another customer’s word about how inappropriate or uncomfortable someone is making me. mind you, i’ve never had a man with his family right there doing the hitting on. that’s a new low.

      i also don’t make it about the admin. i make it about how uncomfortable dude is making me….which let’s the admin off the hook and directs dude’s ire on me instead of at the admin. maybe as a woman, i have a little more capital to be able to do it this way.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah, great reaction.

        The fact that the guy is there with his wife and family might mean he’d be less likely to push back, in case the family hadn’t picked up on him creeping. If not, it could get very ugly very quickly…

      2. Hazel*

        Everything you said is very helpful to me (white, cis, middle aged, queer woman). I think your last point is especially important – the creep IS making you uncomfortable. AND I’m going to start making even more use of my middle aged woman “authority” and don’t- really-give-a-shit-anymore attitude, especially on behalf of other people.

    3. WS*

      Same, the greyer I go, the easier it is. I just say, “Excuse me,” and stand right in front of the staff member being harassed. Then I wait for the harasser to go away, which they do. I planned to ask them something banal to do with whatever I’m there for, but it seems that an older (white) woman standing there looking unimpressed has always been enough so far.

      (Except one time in my own workplace, but that customer is the one and only person to ever be banned.)

      1. Person Of Interest*

        Same – the older I get, the easier it is. It feels like using Karen energy for the power of good.

    4. Not playing your game anymore*

      Old, Fat, White, Librarian here. Been on campus 30+ years. Yes to the “gravitas has come with age.” I find a Wow! or Seriously? answers in many situations. Now to be fair, it’s usually one of my student workers or younger staff being disrespected by other students or faculty members. With students jerks, if I don’t think Seriously? dealt with the situation, I tend to send the staff member off somewhere “Waukeen has a question for you” while I take over assisting the jerk. We’ve had stalkers and other people who needed to be escalated to campus security or student services, but don’t underestimate the power of a well placed Wow! With faculty members, sometimes, just for fun, I ask them if they’ve heard from x-prof x, y or z lately. All formerly tenured male faculty members who were sent packing for the way they treated students and staff. Once I had to invoke x-prof q a tenured female faculty member, notorious for her poor treatment of everyone around her. She’s also no longer on campus.

    5. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      The best thing about hitting our 40’s…the level of things we are willing to tolerate drops dramatically. Suddenly we have no cares to give and the ability to NOPE all over the place.

      1. the cat's ass*

        65 here and it’s wonderful. I have absolutely no f*cks left to give if you creep on my colleagues. Add a lab coat and if I whip around the corner to reception, bad behavior usually deflates. Practice manager is a petite 50+ woman and she can be absolutely terrifying. I can also, if need be, use the nuclear option: escalate to my 6’4′ male grandboss. And we have and do fire people for abusive/creepy behavior, first in person and then by registered mail so there’s absolutely no chance they’re ever coming back.

  11. Hadespuppy*

    For LW1, I recently took a workshop on bystander intervention from Hollaback, and one of the tools they suggested people keep as an option is to just check in with the person after the creep /racist/otherwise questionable person has left. Anything from a “can you believe that guy” eyebrow to telling them you’re sorry they had to deal with that, to asking if they’re ok is all worth a lot from the standpoint of the victim. And if you’re wrong, and they were just friends teasing one another, then no harm no foul.

    1. Llama face!*

      I also took either the same or a similar workshop from Hollaback not too long ago (mine was the one focused on anti-Asian-American harassment) and was going to mention that some of their 5 Ds might work in this situation. :)

      For anyone unfamiliar with the 5 Ds of bystander intervention they are: Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct.

      Distract is what it sounds like: Making a loud noise, dropping something, or interrupting the conversation to ask for the time.
      Delegate is asking someone else (often an authority figure) to intervene. If the admin person seems really uncomfortable you could quietly pull aside another employee or a manager walking by and ask them to shut down the creeper’s behaviour.
      Document is recording the incident which may be an issue in a non-public space so it’s likely not applicable here. (for public situations the key is that you’re documenting for the use of the person being harassed and then leaving the documentation in *their* control- not you posting it online or sharing on social media)
      Delay is saying something to the person being creeped on after the incident. It could be just affirming that the guy was being creepy and that wasn’t okay or checking if they want you to make a complaint to their boss about the creeper (or to back them up if they do).
      Direct is actually saying something to the creepy dude about his behaviour. You want to evaluate whether it’s likely to escalate the situation because that could end up making things worse for the person being creeped on.

      I definitely recommend Hollaback as a resource if anybody wants to grow their toolbox for responding well to harassment or bigotry.

    2. Marina*

      I was also going to mention Hollaback’s training! Highly recommended.

      Definitely keep in mind that your goal is to make the admin feel more comfortable, not to be the hero. If directly confronting the creep will mean the admin now has two customers to de-escalate instead of one, that’s no good. I agree checking in with the admin afterwards might be the most helpful option! Another option would be to interrupt the conversation with something work related – “Excuse me, I wanted to make sure you had my correct address” or whatever will take a couple of minutes and make the creep sit down.

      1. Jen*

        Also really found the Hollaback training valuable, and was thinking of a similar “Distract response” here. Then when the creep leaves you can ask if she ‘s okay

    3. Scrabble*

      If they were just friends that was massively inappropriate in front of customers.

      Checking in with people after says you listened and did nothing.

      1. Susan Calvin*

        I feel like that’s really dependent on the severity of the situation – if I’m standing in line, patiently waiting while some creep badgers the admin/cashier/whoever for 5 minutes without saying anything, it’s trying to bond over it afterwards is shitty.

        If it’s a situation where the creep fires one or two salvos of weirdness over the course of an otherwise normal interaction and then moves on by themselves (which this kind of sounds like, but I could be wrong), acknowledging the weirdness can be really validating to the person on the receiving end. I know I’ve had A LOT of situations where some low-key external confirmation of “that was weird, right? I’m not overreacting or missing the joke?” would’ve been very reassuring.

      2. Washi*

        I would appreciate a check in + offer to take action (like reporting the person through the appropriate channels). I welcome but don’t necessarily expect a stranger to intervene bc I don’t know all their circumstances (idk, what if they have a stutter? Or processed the interaction a little too slowly to react in the moment?) and I would still appreciate them saying something supportive after.

    4. WoodswomanWrites*

      Thanks to all who have mentioned Hollaback’s bystander training. I didn’t know about it, and I’m now signing up.

    5. Alison2*

      I took their training a few years ago and it was amazing! They told us if we feel safe we can just say, “stop. I don’t like that, no one likes that.”

  12. LizM*

    I’ve been hit on in a customer service role, and what I appreciated the most was just someone interrupting and changing the subject.

    Customer 1: “Creepy comment.”

    Customer 2 (comes up to the desk, preferably either standing between me and creep or at an angle that it’s not weird that I turn away from creep): “LizM, can you remind me your cancellation policy? I want to make some appointments, but I’m not sure about my schedule right now.”

    1. Managamber*

      I came on to say this. I always appreciate another customer (usually another guy) coming up and talking business–or asking the creep something non-me-related (“Saw your Sportsball hat. How about that game?”) to deflect him off me.

      1. an infinite number of monkeys*

        Coming up and talking business to the creepee is a good suggestion, but I personally don’t like the friendly “sportsball” comment to the creep – it feels kind of like an expression of solidarity to me, even though it may be effective at distracting the guy.

        I’m a woman; I frequently stop in at this convenience store near my house, and recently a dude in line behind me sidled right up and said “hey, baby.” I ignored him, finished paying and walked away, but as I was leaving the clerk – who had to have heard him – gave an enthusiastic “hey, Steve! How’s it going?” It felt really bad, like I just didn’t matter at all.

    2. SpringIsForPlanting!*

      This can be combined with a low-key comment also (although it helps either way imo). I would probably say “wow, okay” with a startled/nonplussed affect, then physically move into the conversation space and immediately raise a work topic. A creeper who isn’t truly committed is less likely to interrupt a work convo to be all fake-aggrieved.

    3. UKDancer*

      This is what I’d do or recommend. I think reception staff often don’t want to make a big scene of things so redirection works better than taking the creep on or saying something directly to them.

      In the before times I was on a Eurostar in business class and a couple of drunk businessmen were leering and saying inappropriate things to one of the train crew while she was serving food. I could see she looked really uncomfortable. So I called her over and asked about arrival times and asked if she could get me some more water (so giving her a reason to leave their proximity).

      Similarly when I was being harassed on a bus I am very grateful to the couple who pretended they knew me to give me a reason to move down the bus and away from the scary man.

      One doesn’t always want a massive scene, sometimes an escape route does very well as well as reminding the perv that they’re in a work setting.

    4. Allypopx*

      A good addiition for a setting where the employee can physically move (like on the sales floor) is I usually ask them to show me something elsewhere in the store and check if they’re okay on the way, and once we’re a comfortable distance from the creep let them know I’m good. More often than not they thank me and go hide somewhere.

  13. Pennyworth*

    Re the creepy guy, it can help to physically join the space bubble he is in. Just go and stand next to him as though you have a question for the admin assistant. It will break the ‘twosome’ vibe and provide her with silent support. You can even say ”You OK?” to her. After he left you could also ask if she is OK with what he said and if she would like you to report Mr Creepy’s behavior to her manager, in case he is a repeat offender. It is possible to intervene without confronting the person directly. I was once ”rescued” from a drunk customer in a pharmacy. He was actually just being excessively drunk-talkative, but from a distance the pharmacist thought he might be pestering me so she asked me to go behind the counter to ”check” my order. I was very grateful for her intervention.

    1. JI*

      That can work… but on the other hand the creeps are frequently so self-centered they can get irritated and feel you are butting into a conversation between them and their victims.
      One should be prepared for that reaction.

      1. Tussy*

        In social situations maybe, but rarely are people going to be openly annoyed like that when they are socialising with someone who is on the job and it is interrupted by something work related like a question or a request.

        1. Chilipepper Attitude*

          You would be surprised, a guy hitting on a woman in customer service DOES think every setting is just like a bar and will often be annoyed that another guy is butting in.

        2. JI*

          I saw some guy get on the subway at 830am, make a beeline for the unaccompanied women, creep on them while they tried to remain stonefaced, then get visibly angry when a bystander asked him to leave them alone, demanding of the women that he wasn’t bothering them, was he?
          Creeps are typically spectacularly entitled, socially oblivious and lacking in empathy.

      2. WS*

        This is my tactic (as a fat, middle-aged woman) and it has always worked for me. As soon as there’s a witness, they just don’t bother.

        1. Hazel*

          I’m going to keep this in my mental arsenal for dealing with creeps & jerks who are harassing other people.

          It works like something my fellow technical trainers and I used to do. We had a tactic of continuing to teach while walking over and standing right next to people who were having side conversations. Shuts them right up.

  14. Tussy*

    I think for LW1, the best way is to offer support to them after the fact by commenting “that was a weird thing he said to you” or just giving them a look. It doesn’t call the guy out directly or let him know it’s not cool, true, but it lets the admin assistant (or receptionist or till worker or waitress) know that it didn’t go unnoticed and bystanders didn’t think it was okay without causing a potentially unwanted escalation and unpleasantness to their workplace.

    It’s what a couple of customers did when they witnessed creepy/rude people saying stuff to me and so it is what I do now as well. At the time I appreciated it because if I wanted to make a scene I would have. Just a “wow that was an interesting comment from that guy…” or a grimace goes a long way.

    1. shush*

      As a person who hates confrontation, both as a witness and participant in said confrontation, just knowing that yes I as a human being deserve respect and should not be treated as suchl, I would prefer the after the fact comment as well.

  15. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    #2: the important question isn’t ‘should I go back?’ It is ‘is it safe to go back?’ Or possibly ‘how safe is it to go back?’ Definitely doctor questions, not Alison questions!

      1. Fried Eggs*

        Asking for an extension on the decision is very reasonable. You could even frame it along the lines of “I’m trying to find a way make in-office work with my health needs, but I need to clarify some things with my doctor. Unfortunately that means I won’t be able to give you an answer until Tuesday.*”

        That way if you do decide to stay home, you’ve laid the groundwork for it while also signaling you’re making an effort to comply with company preferences.

        *If possible, give yourself a day to sleep on the decision.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        One thing I might discuss with your doctor is whether there are metrics or external guidelines that could be used to enable to you easily switch back to WFH if your risk rises. My father is immunocompromised (but retired so he’s not dealing with any workplace questions – but he’s had the post-vaccine tests and has no antibodies) and the fact that there’s currently ~1 case/day per 100k people where he lives is a pretty big factor in how safe he feels and how safe he actually is. If he were going to the office I’d want him to be able to switch back to WFH the moment case rates rose back to, say, 5/day, or if certain kinds of CDC guidance came out, or if anyone at that work site tested positive. Or if his normal work would have him around a bunch of people with lower vaccination rates than the high average in his area – like work travel out of state.

        Not sure if that would work for you, your doctor, or your company, but it seems worth thinking about whether there are guidelines that could give you comfort that There Is A Plan if your risk from being at the office changes in the future.

        1. Willis*

          Your last paragraph makes me think that OP would also be in a better position if the response she gives her office is not a simple yes or no on being back in the office. Even if she goes back in now, respond in a way that leaves open the possibility to return to WFH if the situation changes and her doctor then advises WFH.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            I’m picturing a doctor’s note that says, e.g. “While the county dashboard/state department of health/New York Times tracking assesses local conditions as being in the “low risk of transmission” or “very low risk of transmission” categories, LW2 is medically cleared to return to in-office work, provided she is not required to attend meetings or events with more than 25 people present in the same room where social distancing is not feasible and she is not required to travel for work. Any increase in the local risk assessment would require a return to work from home.”

            Or whatever conditions make sense for LW2’s situation and comfort level.

          2. LW #2*

            That is good thinking, if I do end up staying WFH, I’ll ask my doc to include something like that in my note.

      3. A tester, not a developer*

        As someone going through the same process, concrete measurements can be super helpful too – for example, my number of sick days dropped by over 70% compared to the last 12 months we were in the office, and my number of consecutive days off sick is lower too (i.e. now I’m often sick for less than half a day instead of 2-3 days at a time). Showing your boss/HR that they actually get more work out of you when you’re at home can help put their minds at ease.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I have an autoimmune disorder, and the treatment for managing symptoms of the disorder results in me being chronically immune compromised. Most of my coworkers are in the process of transitioning back to the office, but it’s been harder for me because the current guidance for my particular disorder is “get vaccinated but continue to isolate, mask, and take the same precautions you would as an immune-compromised person without the vaccine.” But there are other folks who are immune compromised and are safe to return. All that said, the guidance has changed so quickly (literally sometimes day by day) that the best I can do is keep in contact with my PCP on a weekly basis.

        One thing to consider is asking HR if they can go through the ADA accommodation process with you so that there’s a plan and framework for how to handle your reintegration (or continuing WFH) without you having to feel pressure about returning before you have adequate medical clearance.

      5. Pobody’s Nerfect*

        Also, “ I know my immediate coworkers will be very conscientious about helping me avoid the plague” – they can be super conscientious & still spread it to you, it’s airborne and especially the new variants are much more contagious! Even with masks, indoors environments can still be very risky, especially if not well ventilated & also considering the amount of spread/cases/vaccination levels in your area.

    1. LKW*

      Absolutely. You’ve got to manage at least two significant risks right now:
      1. The Delta variant is pretty harsh
      2. Vaccinations are not a guarantee you won’t get sick. A 5% chance is still a chance.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        And vaccination may be less effective for someone who is immunocompromised. People with immune conditions were excluded from all the trials (understandably – it got really effective vaccines to market a whole lot faster, and that helps everyone including those with immune conditions) and there’s a lot that we still don’t know, though more data is being gathered all the time.

        My father had his antibodies tested post vaccine because of his health conditions, and he is considered a “vaccine failure”. They don’t know his exact risk, but he basically has to act as if he is high risk and unvaccinated.

        LW2, my family has found the national research and advocacy organization for his illness to be a helpful resource for information about what’s known about his risk. That won’t tell you whether to go back to the office, but might help you have some concrete info to base your decision on, or to refer your employer to.

        1. LW #2*

          I’m very definitely concerned about the Delta variant.

          And unfortunately, we don’t yet know how many antibodies from the vaccine correlate to protection from the virus.

          I will check with the national organization – I also have an autoimmune disorder, and I know off the top of my head that a study of patients who take the same medication I do had just over 50% success rate with the various vaccines. (I don’t recall how they defined success for that study, though).

      2. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

        A friend of mine is immunocompromised and got a doctors note since our company has decided to drag us back in. Her boss is extremely understanding and she doesn’t feel comfortable taking that kind of risk in a state with a lower vaccination rate.

  16. Questionable*

    I’ve been the admin assistant having people say creepy stuff to me before, and by far the best help has been coworkers physically butting in to hand me “very important paperwork that needs to be discussed immediately” or giving the guy a pointed/disgusted look and commenting to me afterward “the hell was that?” or something similar. The first gives me an out, the second just makes me feel better.

  17. Jessica Fletcher*

    #1 – My go-to for gross stuff in the workplace is either to say it’s weird, which names it as out of place but doesn’t risk retaliation in my experience, or to make a joke that marks it as out of place. In this example, maybe something like, “Whoa, is this a bar or a doctor’s office, Romeo?!” (Don’t creep on ladies working in a bar, either, of course, but it sends a message without risking a big reaction from the creep.)

  18. Pregnant Mama*

    LW 2, you have my sympathy. When I had questions about covid vaccinations while pregnant, my midwives would say “It’s a personal decision and it’s up to you.” I think they were trying to be supportive of whatever I chose, but it left me feeling totally abandoned to make a complicated choice on my own! It’s okay to push back and say things like, “I don’t feel confident to decide on my own. What would you do in my shoes?” Etc. Often when doctors don’t want to be liable or freak you out or they just don’t know, they say nothing, but it’s okay to ask more. Good luck!

      1. Lady Kelvin*

        This is exactly how I get more concrete answers from my doctors, especially since I am pregnant and was trying to decide if I should vaccinate or not (as well as removing a suspicious mole, etc). I find that doctors give me multiple options usually from most aggressive treatment to basically wait and see and then tell me it is up to me. Sometimes that’s nice and I have an opinion, but usually I ask, “well what would you do?” And usually they give me an answer, which is what I go with. I figure they are the experts and would pick the best thing to do for themselves, so I can trust that is a good decision for me as well.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      Another great question to ask doctors in this situation is “what would you do in this situation? (Or “what would you advise one one of your family members in this situation?”) I’ve asked medical professionals this question twice – once when my mother-in-law was close to the end of her life and once when my dog was diagnosed with cancer. In both cases, the answers gave me tremendous peace of mind.

    2. TCH*

      I’m an OB/GYN and advise all my patients to get the vaccine. All the data shows a great safety profile in pregnancy similar to many other vaccines we give in pregnancy (tdap, flu). On the flip side, covid has a much higher morbidity and mortality rate in pregnancy. Ive seen some really sad (and now preventable) cases. I got it myself while breastfeeding (and would have gotten it during pregnancy if it was available).

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        I thought it was pretty cool that my niece was born hopefully immune to covid!

    3. BroadwayBookworm*

      Same! I was scheduled to get my second shot about two weeks after I even found out I was pregnant and asked my doctor. They said it was up to me, but sent along their practice’s stance (which was that no tests have shown there is a risk and the benefits outweigh any potential risks). I did end up getting it (still 12 weeks strong so I think I made the right choice) but I would have preferred a simple yes or no.

    4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I think they were trying to be supportive of whatever I chose, but it left me feeling totally abandoned to make a complicated choice on my own! It’s okay to push back and say things like, “I don’t feel confident to decide on my own. What would you do in my shoes?”

      My default phrasing is “I value your expertise and am asking you for it.” I think it’s only failed for me once, when the person tried to derail by downplaying their expertise, but in a way that still improved my decision-making information set.

    5. Lora*

      Also would add, maybe detail to your doctor a bit about how the workplace actually has been handling Covid and their lack of responsiveness.

      Many of my doctors really haven’t known a whole lot about industrial hygiene at ALL, and they seem to default-assume that employers who are fearful of being sued or fined by OSHA will therefore have an interest in doing the right thing, with no real understanding that diligently doing the right thing in terms of industrial hygiene and safety is really the exception to the rule (everywhere, not just in the US or developing countries). I also run into the assumption that I sit behind a computer all day and the worst thing that could happen to me is carpal tunnel syndrome, so if your job involves anything other than that, definitely I would explain that too, in little words.

      I would hope that seeing how so many places (including sadly many health care facilities) have handled Covid spectacularly badly, they would be more aware, but after my last two visits to a couple of health care providers I have to say this is not something to take for granted.

      1. Allypopx*

        This. I upped my brain meds during the pandemic and told my doctor rarely leaving the house was really getting to me. He told me I should leave the house if I felt I could do so safely and I really had to double down that like “I don’t, I live in [high risk area] and people really aren’t wearing masks” and he was FLOORED to hear that. Sometimes they really need to have the situation spelled out for them.

        1. Lora*

          Well, also it came out during the pandemic – they were literally taught stuff in medical school out of textbooks that is factually incorrect about droplets vs aerosols and particle size, how long things can hang in the air, and how the six-foot / 15 min social distance rule came out of a very old medical book based on an extremely simplistic model of flu viruses (which we also know now is not correct even for flu, it was just they didn’t have computational fluid dynamics computer models or the kind of sensitive instruments to test in the 1930s) that had simply been repeated over and over without ever having been empirically tested on anything other than one relatively mild flu virus in one hospital. In real life it’s much more complicated and depends on the environment, how the HVAC system is, weather etc. and you really cannot make a rule – some workplaces with insufficient or poorly maintained HVAC systems or plenum-type recirculating distributions, and old buildings that don’t have proper ductwork at all will never be safe even if you are 100 feet apart. And how are you, or your doctor, supposed to know if your particular office building gets 6-10 ACH or 1-3 ACH, whether it’s recirc or once-through air, whether the recirc goes through various filters before being returned? Half the time the building manager has to call the city for copies of the drawings, they don’t know either. And businesses aren’t going to pay for upgrades or retrofits in any case, because if someone gets sick on their premises, they can’t really be held liable.

          Last time I visited my primary care doctor, she said she was quite shocked at all the health care providers who had either cared for Covid patients or had Covid themselves who still refused to get vaccinated; recently went to a specialist and his X-ray lady treated me to a conspiracy theory-full rant about how it’s a bioweapon invented five years ago by Obama’s communist Chinese…something, I don’t know, my brain shut down out of self-preservation.

  19. Wendy*

    “Dude, seriously?”

    I’ll admit I’ve only said this out loud once, and received a dirty look for it in return, but a) it just slipped out, and b) the dude stopped creeping on the barista. (Small coffeeshop, I was the only other customer there, and he just… wouldn’t take her hint.)

    1. Insomniac*

      This is what I would want said if I, a woman, were that receptionist. “Eww” would almost make me neurotic – like is this a second creepy guy saying eww about me?

      Men calling out men has been a big soapbox of mine recently. I’ve experienced, and many women I know have experienced, men being rude by being sexually gross or dismissive toward women in conversations. And it happens in front of other men without any notice. So many men feel like they are feminists because they don’t engage in this behavior. The problem is, this behavior happens in front of them and it isn’t even noticed or called out. I get tired of telling male friends what just happened to me in conversations they were a part of and hearing, “I didn’t catch that but I believe it happened to you.” I’m a bit over being “believed” when it’s something that should also be noticed when it happens in front of these men. If a guy was being creepy to me at work, I personally would love if another male stepped in. Research shows that people listen to those who are like them more than they listen to the objects of their statements (example: “I was being nice and you’re just being sensitive.”). Even if it escalated the situation, I would still be grateful because these things get let go by others way too often. That being said, I applaud LW1 for noticing and being upset by the comment. And I understand not knowing the best way to react. I’ve been there myself as a witness to other situations where someone is being rude or unfair. I think it’s so great he wrote in for advice because it will prepare him for next time he has an opportunity. I just really love knowing some guy out there is thinking, “Did I do the right thing? What can I do next time?” I want to also add that I know it’s not observers responsibility and they aren’t required to step in. It’s just really, really nice when they do.

      1. BethDH*

        I think it’s different when your friends are the men in question and they know how you feel, or when it’s a social situation.

        At work, I personally would prefer the subtler versions — the “dude, seriously” is about the top level, and I’d probably be most comfortable with someone referencing it afterwards in a way that suggested that I wasn’t being too sensitive for being discomfited by it. Any way you can distract the guy is useful too. Or after he leaves, tell the admin that if she wants to report it to anyone or confront him, you’re willing to report it and go on the record on her behalf (most useful if she’s getting accused of “not being friendly” or some other thing where you can imagine someone complaining about her being unwilling to indulge his fantasies.)

        The last thing I want is that guy coming in the next time and saying something like “of course you aren’t offended by a simple compliment!” And then just putting ME in the position of confrontation or telling him it’s okay because I no longer have support present. This has happened on more than one occasion.

        OP has no way of knowing whether the admin is more like you or more like me.

        1. myswtghst*

          Seconding this. While I wish it was as easy as men standing up to other men, it overlooks that women often will still pay the price. I don’t want to discourage men from holding their peers accountable, but as a woman, I also don’t want to be dragged into a conflict where *compliment guy* looks to me for affirmation that “of course I don’t mind a compliment”, especially if it happens at a later date when callout guy isn’t there to back me up.

          Absolutely call out your friends, especially if you can do it afterwards when the woman in question doesn’t have to deal with additional discomfort while she’s on the clock for an employer who may or may not be supportive of her standing up for herself. But if you want to say/do something in the moment, be sure you think about the potential longer term consequences of what you say/do.

          1. MassMatt*

            The fact that this incident happened at the woman’s workplace where she had a customer service role makes it creepier on the guy’s part but harder to intervene. Creeps are creeps, but it’s especially creepy when guys do this to women when their professional role as receptionist/waitress/salesperson means responding as they might like could bear financial repercussions. Ugh.

          2. OhNo*

            In my personal experience, men confronting men works best in a male-only conversation. Anytime I’ve tried to call out a dude directly in mixed company in the past, they have almost always immediately turned toward the nearest woman and said something like, “That’s not true, is it? You’re a woman, make me feel better by telling me I’m not being creepy/weird/sexist.”

            It’s not ideal, of course, because then some creeps like this one don’t get called out nearly as often as they should. But doing it that way means women don’t have to shoulder the emotional labor of managing some creeper’s emotions about being called out, so there’s pros and cons.

            1. JI*

              I once had this happen where the guy (subway creeper) turned to the woman. I redirected it back to me and reexplained exactly what I saw, pointed out the woman had been doing her best to ignore him… he got angry, indicated he was considering taking a swing at me.
              I just said I hoped this conversation wasn’t going to get unpleasant, and smiled.
              He thought better of it, walked off muttering.
              He got off at the next stop.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Agreed, Insomniac. Addressing this kind of behavior ‘dude to dude’ seems to work well, because sometimes it takes another guy to make the point with a creeper. I’ve been creeped – crept? – on and even being blunt and direct resulted in laughs and more creeping.

        We all need to be ready to speak out against lousy behavior, and I appreciate the OP for writing in. There’s a lot to think about and prepare for. Hopefully, ‘Dude, seriously?!’ will be enough next time.

        1. Tehanu*

          If you want to go a bit beyond dude-seriously, which is great in the moment, asking the guy if you can speak to him a second, pulling him into a quieter spot, and saying something like “I just want you to know that what you said to the assistant made me feel really uncomfortable. She probably can’t say anything since you’re a client, but commenting on women’s appearance can come across as inappropriate and even creepy. I’m sure you don’t want to come across this way.”

          1. Hamish the Accountant*

            I’m not sure about the “made me really uncomfortable” part, even if it’s true. I can’t imagine saying that to another guy (or at least, another guy who would do this) and it actually helping. It’s a little waffley and a little “hello Mr. Jerkface, I am also a sensitive person who can’t take a joke.” I mean, it shouldn’t be taken that way obviously, but I bet it would.

            Maybe something like “What you said to the assistant was really inappropriate, especially since she’s not in a position to object to what you as a client say to her. I’m sure you don’t want to come across like a creep. So heads up.”

            1. Tehanu*

              The advantage of talking about how you’re personally impacted by behaviour is that it takes away deniability/excuses (e.g. “how do you KNOW it was inappropriate, maybe she likes it/I was just trying to be nice” blahblah). If you’re not uncomfortable, maybe you’re upset, angry, frustrated, concerned, appalled — whatever emotion it is you’re feeling when you witness this, say it. It also conveys that women aren’t the only people affected by this.

            2. OhNo*

              Or the old AAM-recommended standby phrase: “What an odd thing to say!”

              If you’re really trying to drive the point home, perhaps expand to point out the current situation, e.g.: “What an odd thing to say when she’s just trying to help you with your insurance billing!”

      3. MCMonkeybean*

        Yeah I was thinking if one guy said “I wish I could see your face” and another guy just said “eww” I might be unsure if he was saying that about the comment or about my face…

    2. AKchic*

      This. An AA isn’t responsible for a client reacting to the creepiness of another client, no matter how much the creepy client wants to spin it. It is 100% on the creepy client to act appropriately.
      I have read articles that have likened masks to tops. That telling women that they can’t wait to see women without their masks, or asking women to take them off and show them their smiles is akin to asking women to remove their shirts or flash their chests, with ALL the same undertones (for a tip/better tip). Covid has shined a light on just how horrible service sector is for women.

      1. Cj*

        An the creepiness scale, I find what the customer said to be pretty mild to a lot of stuff I’ve heard. In my opinion, it is not even in the same category as asking a woman to take off her top/flash them. I actually find the comparison really strange.

        I’d really appreciate it if a bystander called out a guy for suggesting I flash them. I would want them to let the pretty eyes/mask thing go.

        FWIW, I am a woman.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          It’s not on the same place on the scale, but it’s still on the scale, and I would definitely appreciate a guy calling this out.

    3. EZ Like Sunday Morning*

      I like it because it says a lot without saying much. I’ve had “Are you serious?” and “Wow, really?” slip out when I’ve been around comments like this before I even had a chance to think about it, it was just a natural reaction I was so surprised by the inappropriate comments.

      1. Joielle*

        I was once in a situation like this and unthinkingly said “WOW,” apparently louder than I intended because the guy turned around and was like “WHAT.” I couldn’t even form words to express the ridiculousness of it all so I just gestured at him, then her, then him, then shrugged and laughed. He left in a huff so I guess it worked?

        Dudes like this think they are soooo suave, laughing really takes the wind out of their sails.

        1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

          That is awesome! This was my morning laugh over coffee. I’ll be replaying it in my mind for amusement.

    4. Hannah Lee*

      I like this response. It calls out the person being inappropriate without putting anything back on the CS person.

    5. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

      This is a great response.

      But also, you don’t have to agonise about finding the perfect wording for a situation like this, OP. Just speak up in the moment because it’s so rare that other men actually do.

      While waiting for an elevator once, a random creeper made a gross comment towards me and another random man retorted with “Way to go creep, like she now wants to get into a confined space with you.” (I decided to take the elevator with them both anyway just to enjoy the spectacular shade of vermillion Creeper Mate wore for the next few floors.)

      Thinking about it now, what worked for me in that situation is that in just a few words Ally Mate managed to clearly articulate why Creeper Mate’s throwaway comment made me so uncomfortable in a way I wasn’t capable of verbalising at the time. His support made me feel safer getting into that elevator, and he showed it without issuing presumptuous orders to leave me alone on my behalf, or resorting to macho threats (which are just as entitled and creepy to me).

      1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        Joielle’s scenario and Vermillion Elevator Creeper have given me a full fit of the giggles. The great part of having an over active imagination is I can replay these scenes in full technicolor glory anytime I need to. Ask A Manager-where the comment section is as good as the column.

      2. Hamish the Accountant*

        >While waiting for an elevator once, a random creeper made a gross comment towards me and another random man retorted with “Way to go creep, like she now wants to get into a confined space with you.”

        Hilarious and effective. I love it. Total hero. I’m taking notes.

    6. ecnaseener*

      My thought was an incredulous laugh + “jeez” or “yikes.” Feels less awkward than “ew,” but still sounds like an automatic reaction rather than a direct call-out, therefore less likely to make the creep angry (which again in this situation we don’t want to do for the AA’s sake)

    7. Emma2*

      I think this is great, it makes the point while leaving the receptionist space to manage the situation as she wishes rather than LW stepping in and trying to take control of the situation.

    8. PolarVortex*

      That’s a politer version of what I’d suggest:
      “What the F*** Dude?!”

      I’m also a fan of a very, very grossed out tone saying “Wow”. < Which I would say this has been the easiest for me in terms of confrontation because it's very hard for people to start fights with that, instead they tend to just slink away.

    9. Nobby Nobbs*

      I think the fact that your situation sounds like an ongoing conversation that needed to stop, rather than a one-off comment, shifts the equation in the direction of speaking up. It’s all so contextual! (There’s also something to be said for an honest reaction that just slips out. Once in a while the unvarnished truth beats all the carefully planned strategic responses in the world.)

    10. Mimi*

      This is good.

      I also like a quick “Yikes!” for any sort of out-of-line comment. It’s been encouraged in the traditional song community recently (for problematic lyrics as well as in conversation) and seems to work pretty well — it doesn’t make a big deal of it, but acknowledges that something Not Okay just happened.

    11. quill*

      I have seen that one work in the wild, but at college, where everyone involved (including the female cashier) was a student, so like… maybe not the same dynamics? But yeah. You’ll get dirty looks, but if you’re a white dude that’s not visibly disabled or gender nonconforming, most creeps won’t bother responding past maybe going “what? I’m just being nice.”

      1. nonegiven*

        “what? I’m just being nice.”

        Dude, is that what it takes to let you sleep at night?

    12. TootsNYC*

      this is what I told my kids, when they were in school. Not to get into a whole argument, or lecture. Just register disapproval.
      “Dude, not cool.”

      (the “dude” is a nice touch; it comes with that tinge of negative judgment, but it’s not actually name-calling, and it makes it personally directed)

    13. Abogado Avocado*

      Agree. Say this.

      Also, be prepared to hear from the admin — who for many reasons may not want to navigate your reaction — that this guy is an old friend, a longstanding client, or the practitioner’s relative whose verbal proclivities are tolerated.

      When I see staff being mistreated by clients in someone else’s office, I wait for the offending client to leave and quietly say something commiserating to the staffer. Then, if staffer agrees they felt uncomfortable, I ask what I can do: can I express my discomfort to their supervisor or whoever I’m there to see or something else? I don’t do anything without taking the admin’s temperature on it because I don’t know inter-office dynamics and, again, for all I know, this is the practitioner’s idiot brother-in-law who the practitioner has asked staff to tolerate. (Which I agree isn’t optimal, but hearing this from the mistreated admin gives me information about whether I want to patronize a workplace that requires staff to tolerate this kind of behavior.)

      1. myswtghst*

        I really like your last paragraph. I absolutely think we need more dudes calling out other dudes, but without any context it makes me nervous that callout dude will be able to walk away patting themselves on the back while the employee will end up facing longer term repercussions.

        Like, what compliment dude is doing is never okay, and I don’t want anything I’m saying to come across as condoning his creepiness. But I think it’s worth considering that doing the right thing in the moment could have a ripple effect that causes a lot more pain for the employee, and they should have a voice in how this is handled.

    14. Jack Russell Terrier*

      Yes – this is what I was thinking. Even just ‘Dude’ with a headshake.

  20. Cassie*

    As an external recruiter I can add a couple more reasons to Alison’s explanation for number 3.

    1) so other recruiters don’t find out who the company is and create more competition (because not every firm does exclusivity)

    2) i might be working on several similar roles looking for similar profiles of candidates, and I’ll decide which ones to speak to the candidates about once I’ve spoken to them in some more detail

    Also if you can find the company by googling some aspects of the job description then the recruiter has messed up. I work in a super competitive industry and we’ve always been taught to Google our own adverts before posting to make sure this doesn’t happen.

    1. allathian*

      So if someone applies through you, I sure hope you let them know if the job they seem to be the best match for is with their current employer.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I was applying to senior level positions in tech and almost all of them were posted by recruiters, so this became normal for me. If the companies were local, I pretty much knew right away because there is only one “Fortune 500 Pharmaceutical Company” or the like.
      But I still worked with recruiters because they had the in. They could tell me up front if I was right for the role and they had inside details because they had discussions with the company’s recruiters. And it is so much easier to negotiate with a recruiter!
      This was very different from 5 years ago when I was applying for more junior roles. Those recruiters were just looking for bodies to throw at every open position they scraped off of Indeed. It could be that the industry changed, or that I get a better quality of recruiter because I’m looking for higher level roles now.

    3. 40 Years in the Nonprofit Trenches*

      Yet another reason an employer is not named is that they are doing a stealth search/hire in preparation for firing the incumbent. I have been the new hire; the 1st time I saw the office was my 1st day on the job, which was 9 a.m. the day after my predecessor had been escorted out.

  21. Simply the best*

    Number 1 is definitely a bit tricky. For me personally, the particular comment that was made would barely register to me. The fact that his family was in the room also would make it even more innocuous. That doesn’t mean it’s a wanted comment, but it would barely be something I remembered 2 seconds later. Definitely not something worth the potential trouble that some kind of confrontation from OP could make.

    But other people might feel quite differently. This single standalone comment would not make me feel uncomfortable and OPs stepping in would be unwelcome. But for other people it may make them deeply uncomfortable and OP would be doing them a solid by saying something.

    So I think my advice might be to hold off until the situation has unfolded a bit more and you have a better read on it. Step in if the comments continue for a prolonged time or if the comments are more explicit than the one shared in the post. Or if the receptionist is visibly uncomfortable. I wouldn’t just White knight on in immediately because sometimes it doesn’t need to be my job to teach this person that these kinds of comments are unwelcome and letting them roll off my back is all I’m up for today.

      1. Anononon*

        They’re saying how they personally feel about it, so I’m not sure why you’re pushing back?

        1. nothing rhymes with purple*

          Why, in turn, have you come in several times on the side of “say nothing, it’s probably no big deal”? At least Scrabble is on the side against harassing workers who can’t say no.

          1. Anononon*

            Excuse me? Where have I said that? I’ve made two comments in this thread. The above and:

            “Most of the comments I’ve read that are disagreeing with OP confronting the other patient directly are base on those commenters own preferences regarding similar situations.

            From this thread, it’s clear that you think OP should have stepped in a shut it down, which is a fine opinion to have. However, I’ve got no idea why you think other comments are “dismissive” when they’re literally saying that if they were in that position, they specifically would not want OP to step in.”

            As I said in that one, I think Scrabble’s personal opinion is fine. I never said it’s probably no big deal, and I’ve never made a comment supporting that – just that people’s own thoughts as to how they personally feel should be respected.

            (My actual personal opinion is that I like the suggestions to OP of just interrupting with a business-related question. That’s what I would appreciate it if I was the employee.)

      2. Simply the best*

        Yes, considering the amount of times people have commented on my tits while working customer service, “you have beautiful eyes” is a pretty innocuous comment in my experience. With family right there, that makes it feel even less like it’s someone actually hitting on me and more like it’s a misguided compliment. That doesn’t make it a wanted comment, but it also doesn’t make me want some other random person to jump into the fray.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          Your “creepy” meter is broken after years of use and could use servicing. In comparison, yes, the beautiful eyes comment is mild but still inappropriate. It’s even worse in context though: “You have such beautiful eyes, it’ll be good to see the rest of your face once these masks are gone.”

          I’m glad you’ve developed a thick skin because god knows it can get ugly out there, but that doesn’t mean the admin assistant feels OK as a result.

          1. Foof*

            That doesn’t invalidate what STB would feel or want from a bystander in this situation and highlights how there’s no one perfect approach.

            1. WellRed*

              Agreed. I also think the comment is annoying but not worth registering. Remember to pick the hill to die on which STB has done. Others may not agree but they don’t have to.

          2. Cat Lover*

            I think it’s hard to know without context of the rest of the conversation.

            I work in a doctor’s office as an admin/manager, and in the past few weeks I’ve been getting a LOT of similar mask comments.

          3. Shirley Keeldar*

            Hey, c’mon, it’s not nice to say STB is “broken” in some way because they’re saying what kind of intervention (i.e. none) they’d prefer in this situation. They never said anything about what the admin in the scenario would want; they were talking about themselves.

          4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Your “creepy” meter is broken after years of use and could use servicing.

            Hard disagree. Simply the best is the authority on her life and feelings and I find telling her what she must feel and think as distasteful as commenting on her body or appearance.

          5. Simply the best*

            Nope, not broken. Just have lots of experience and know which battles to pick and which don’t matter.

            This is a man who the AA is going to have to see again and deal with again in a professional way. I don’t want somebody to intervene on my behalf based on this comment alone and leave me to have to smooth things over or make every encounter with this person uncomfortable, two things that are likely to happen. If the comments were something more egregious, my opinion would likely change.

            People are welcome to feel differently. But I’m not wrong for feeling how I feel. That’s what makes this tricky. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.

        2. Despachito*

          Although I agree with the need to react to creepers overall and I realize the dangers of minimizing other people’s feelings , for me personally, and in this particular case as described, I would consider a massive overreaction to call the man a creep. Mildly inappropriate, yes, but (and I repeat that in this particular case), I’d err on the side of good intentions

          – the man’s wife and kids were within hearing distance, and it would take a SUPERCREEP to hit on someone in their presence;
          – in the times running, I reckon a lot of people say something along the line: it is/would be nice to be able to see each other’s faces again.
          – I do find the “beautiful eyes” a thing indeed not really appropriate to say to a stranger, yet also not gross/molesting, and if it ended there and did not escalate, I’d be more inclined to think that it was meant as a misguidek compliment, and I would find it rather awkward for a stranger to intervene (if it escalated, it would be a completely different story).

          I think that it is about picking one’s battles, and for me personally, this one would be not worth it (although of course others may feel otherwise and act accordingly).

        1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

          Oh no, not hitting on you sweetheart – my family is right there! Of course not! You should just be happy to hear that people find your eyes so pretty!

          1. Cat Lover*

            There was no comment in the letter that that was the tone of the conversation?

            I’m also an admin in a doctor’s office and people make mask comments a LOT, since doctor’s offices still require them for everyone regardless of vaccination status. Pick your battles.

            1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

              Ah, my HTML sarcasm tags didn’t work…

              My point was just that it doesn’t matter what the creeper’s intent was or how he or anyone else could spin it in retrospect, his comment is inappropriate and demeaning regardless and not something the admin should have to deal with.

              I get the mask thing and picking your battles, I work in a hospital. Where I’m coming from is that it’s especially important right now to back respect for our healthcare and adjacent staff because of the sustained impact on their mental health after 1.5 years of stretched resourcing and burnout being on the frontline of a global pandemic.

              1. Cat Lover*

                No, I read your sarcasm, and I was saying that there was nothing in the letter that gave us tone.

                I understand your point, and everyone seems to have different feelings about it.

                My feeling is that I don’t need some random patient forming opinions about how I may or may not feel about a conversation he wasn’t a part of- and potentially acting on those opinions.

          2. Anonym*

            “I’m excited about your face” is fricking weird to say to someone you’re not dating.

            1. Cat Lover*

              I also am an admin in a doctors office and it’s a common sentiment (from men and women) due to still having mask mandates in healthcare facilities.

              “It’ll be so nice to know what you look like!”

              “I’ve never seen your face! That’s so weird!”


            2. Boof*

              I would agree but OTOH I think there’s an element of it being a very visible sign of the pandemic and isolation being over; we’ve had a few comments of “it’s so nice to see everyone’s faces again!” at a small outdoor graduation ceremony we just had – we’re in health care and though we’ve been together we’ve been hardcore masking for over a year. We’re all vaccinated, covid levels are low, it was outdoors; it WAS nice :P So a lot does depend on tone (though from the letter, if LW found it creepy + it included a comment on other things being attractive; agree it was creepy)

  22. Akcipitrokulo*

    LW1 – The first half of your idea would be perfect – end it before referencing her (keeps attention on creepy behaviour) and gives the information, not an instruction (attention on creepy behaviour & less opportunity to sidetrack into “who do you think you’re ordering about?”)

    “That’s suuuper creepy, Dude!”

    But saying the whole thing would also have been awesome!

  23. Tuesday*

    I think LW#1 should give himself a break for not saying anything because it’s hard to know what the best response would have been when women are all different, and even the same woman might feel differently at different times. Personally, I would suggest avoiding things like “leave her alone.” If I were the admin, it would make me uncomfortable to be “rescued” like that. What I think gets lost sometimes in discussions about how women are socialized to be too nice and polite is that there are times when I just don’t want to deal with it. Sometimes I will be nice, not to protect the creep, but because it’s more work to acknowledge that there’s something creepy going on, and sometimes I just don’t want to. So I think the LW’s instincts about avoiding making things awkward for the assistant are good, even though some women would have really appreciated him stepping in. In the end… it’s just complicated.

  24. zaracat*

    #1. I think there is a gendered aspect to what makes a good response. Personally (F, 56), I find it an extra layer of creepy if a woman is being hit on and a guy comes in all “white knight to the rescue” with a direct remark about how creepy guy #1 is being. There’s a hint of forced teaming about it. I think in this situation it works much better to simply interrupt and deflect the interaction. A woman intervening could probably make a more direct remark if they felt inclined (but wouldn’t have to – deflection would likely be equally effective).

    One thing I would do in this situation of a health practice, where the staff would likely know the name of the person making the inappropriate comment, is encourage the practice manager or the practitioner themselves to speak privately but very directly to the commenter to let them know that that sort of behaviour is not acceptable.

    I know that the bystander intervention advice is to ask afterwards if the person is okay, but I have mixed feelings about this response. Some people will feel supported by it, for others it will only add to their embarrassment at being subjected to unwanted attention, or they may feel the question is only being asked out of guilt for non-intervention and not out of genuine concern and a readiness to follow up an answer of “no I’m not ok”. When I’ve been in a similar situation, it made me really angry to be offered sympathy afterwards when none of the multiple people observing the incident intervened while it was happening.

    1. LizM*

      This is a good point. Not saying that LW1 was doing this, but there is definitely a type of guy who is a “good guy” and expects women to fall all over him because he is such a “good guy.” That can be just as creepy as the outright creepers. Especially if the creeper gets upset and then tries to get me to side with him and tell the “good guy” that it wasn’t really a big deal. Now I’m in the middle of having to defuse a conflict between two men, neither of whom I’m particularly excited to be talking to.

  25. Junior Dev*

    RE: the creepy customer, I have had success interrupting bad behavior with a “legitimate” request for the customer service worker’s attention, which serves to interrupt the bad interaction. In my case, a drunk man was going on a racist rant at a drugstore clerk. I approached and said “excuse me, can you help me find the coconut oil?” (I already had found it and knew it was several aisles away) The employee looked momentarily confused but quickly regained his composure and led me to the part of the aisle. The drunk kind of stood there dumbfounded but didn’t follow or yell after us—after all, I was just asking the clerk to do his job! It would be very rude to interrupt :) the clerk was then able to escape to another part of the store.

    The equivalent would be something like (addressing the receptionist and making eye contact with her) “excuse me, I have a question about my insurance billing, do you have a minute?” And be a little more assertive than normal with reclaiming the space in front of the reception desk, but not overtly aggressive! You wouldn’t want to be rude! You’re not starting an argument or disrespecting anyone, heavens no, you just happen to have a very important series of questions that coincidentally take exactly as long to answer as it takes for the creep to back off or get distracted by something else.

    It’s not the showdown or callout some people like to imagine themselves making—the goal is to de-escalate the situation, get the harasser away from their target, and reassert that this is a professional context and we are here to do business. Trying to be a hero and cuss the jerk out risks making him mad and leading him taking to it out on the worker the moment you leave the room.

  26. Bobina*

    OP1 – I’ve read a few things which talk about unfortunately, men who are being creepy are more likely to stop if other men call it out rather than women – so personally, thanks for wanting to do something, and dont feel put off from doing something in future!

    As others have already suggested, the best thing is often to try and intervene in a less obtrusive way (distract) so just interrupting the person and directing a question to the assistant might have been a good one. And someone else mentioned it, but subtly using body language to try and break the bubble is often a really good way to signal that hey, its not just you and this person here. Dirty looks can also be effective.

  27. Forrest*

    My advice if you observe a creep (or a microaggression) and don’t have the full backstory — like, you don’t *know* for sure that it’s not an injoke or a consensual situation — is to ignore the aggressor but check in very lightly with the person being creeped/shredded on. That might making eye-contact with a concerned face if the aggressor is till there, or a very quick, “Are you ok? That was a bit…” once they’ve gone.

    If it is an unpleasant situation, then even just a shared glance of, “shit, did he just say that??!” can be very validating, but also respects their right and ability to handle it however they want and shrug it off if that’s what they need to do. Hopefully it also lets them know that there is a bystander/ally* who’ll back them up if they do want to address it more directly.

    * (kinda hate the term ally because it’s so often something people name themselves and not something that marginalised people can ever rely on, but here I mean it in a very short-term conditional sense with lots of caveats.)

    1. Homophone Hattie*

      But if people are having in-jokes in public that might be perceived as creeping or otherwise being inappropriate, especially when the one who is being apparently creeped on is providing customer service or otherwise on the wrong side of a power imbalance, they should expect that they will be perceived as creepy and inappropriate. If they are surprised to be called out, well, they have learned a valuable lesson about when and where these kinds of in-jokes are appropriate.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      It fascinates me how differently people feel about this kind of situation, because honestly, I always hated that kind of after-the-fact thing. I have never once had somebody actually speak up and do something when I actually was in the process of being harassed, but now that it’s all over you (generic you) want *me* to reassure *you* that I’m okay? What help is that? Because if I told the truth and said no, I’m upset and pissed off, what are you going to do about it? It’s already happened. You had the chance to speak up, and you didn’t. Not saying that this is the Objectively Correct Way To Feel about it but that’s certainly how I would feel.

      1. Forrest*

        I felt like that once when I was on a rail replacement bus and there was a gang of kids who shouted misogynist things at me for AN ENTIRE HOUR and nobody did anything. But when it’s something like a single inappropriate comment I’d rather just move on than have someone else turn it into a big deal in the moment.

      2. Forrest*

        But also, you’re quite right that there’s no right answer here and part of being an ally is accepting that whatever you do might get you a dirty look! If what you’re aiming for here is to always do The Right Thing and have a grateful person appreciating you, it’s better to say nothing.

        1. Despachito*

          And as opinions widely differ, what would it mean to be an “ally” in this case?

          You (generic you) as a bystander perceive the situation as creepy, AA as the affected person may or may not feel the same. If you pose as an ally without actually knowing what I feel, you are acting on YOUR feelings, not hers.

          (there are situations which are very clear but I do not see this particular one as such)

  28. Myrin*

    #1, first of all, don’t beat yourself up over not saying anything in the moment! We all have moments where we retroactively go “dang, I wish I’d said this and that” and it’s okay to keep it in mind for later but to also let it go in the meantime.

    Second of all, I unfortunately don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all solution in cases like this one. You can already see from the comments that some people would strongly prefer someone call a creeper out and feel alone and helpless when no one does, others don’t want to draw attention to what’s happening and would be very embarrassed by another’s intervention; some would prefer an understanding and supportive comment after the fact, others would get a feeling of “okay, so why didn’t you say anything in the moment/how does that help me now?” about it.

    I personally will always and forever be on the side of calling things like this out and it’s what I have done in the past. I’m a woman but I’m weirdly creep-repellent (I have been creeped on exactly four times over a course of 19 years) so I can’t really speak from personal experience here but I know that when I was being bullied as a young teenager, I so wished that someone, anyone had spoken up just once to show me that I, too, can stand up to bullies and that others see that there’s something wrong with how I was treated and also because, frankly, it would’ve been such a satisfaction to see my bullies be put in their place. I can’t tell if my stance on creepers comes from that or if it developed independently but it’s definitely the stance I have in all of those situations.

    In your case, since you’ll presumably go back to the chiropractor’s, I’d flat-out ask the admin how she wants you to treat a situation like that should it ever arise again. I also like the approach some other commenters suggested above where you write an email to the office showing your support and underscoring how impressed you were with how professionally the admin acted or something along those lines.

    Finally, my dialect of German has two staple reactions in cases such as this: one is untranslatable but its tone and incredulity are very well-reflected by an English “Seriously?”/”Are you for real?”, the other is just a drawn-out, incredibly bewildered “Hello?!?” complete with pushing yourself into the perpetrator’s line of sight. I’ve done both and they work incredibly well without drawing a lot of attention.

  29. Christmas850*

    LW 1 – Sometimes you don’t need to say anything to the creep at all. If you’re worried about blowing the situation up by saying something pointed to the guy, just insert yourself as a third wheel. If you approach the desk and come up with some mild reason to ask her a question (for example) you can disrupt whatever the creepy guy is trying to establish with her. This also gives her an opportunity to plausibly redirect the conversation away from him in a more natural way.

  30. cncx*

    for LW1, i was married to an abusive guy and a third party calling him out would make it worse for me later. so in real life what i have done is wait for the situation to pass then ask the person quietly what i can do something to help, like mention it to the chiro, or if it happens the next time i am in. you gotta let the person also feel safe with what you are doing. if it was more than a passing creeper comment, like a guy hovering at her desk or hanging out to chat after she said she was busy, i would probably do something like go up to her and ask her about my new insurance details and whether those are in the system and oh did you get anything from jane smith about my copay and so on.

    i understand creep at work is not the same level as abusive husband but my point still stands that the person may have their own ideas about what would make them feel safe and how to navigate the situation.

  31. Amy*

    My husband has a recruiting business. If you apply, the application will not go directly to the company that is hiring. Part of what they are paying him for is the vetting of candidates. They don’t want to deal with 500 applications- they want to be presented with 3 or 4 really great candidates and go from there.

    You couldn’t accidentally apply to your own company because he goes through the applications and then has a call with you. Then if it’s a good fit, an interview with the hiring manager is set.

  32. Foof*

    Ahh, yes. When i did a brief stint at the front desk (of a law firm!) as a teenager I got hit on rather a lot. Teenage me was more puzzled than bothered, fyi, though one guy pushed a little hard for my contact info (finally left it at giving me his contact info, no i did not use it). I know others noticed and didn’t say anything until after the fact. Honestly at the time i think that was the best way; it assumed i was competent to handle it or ask for help if i wanted it. I would say only jump in if someone is looking distressed, or say it after the fact (after the hitster leaves) and maybe just say “wow that was gross” or something. Agreeing that if you say anything just leave it as a short “wow, really?” or “eww”. Again, as long as the person being hit on doesn’t seem too distressed; if they’re looking upset or intimidated that’s a whole other thing.

    1. Boof*

      on second thought, agree with others that “Eww” might be confusing – I think the safest bet is to just say “wow, really” or “dude, no” if the comment/interaction is enough that you think it’s weird. It’s not making a huge deal out of it, but it’s a slight nudge that maybe they shouldn’t make those kinds of comments.

  33. KP*

    Letter 1 Why does the letter writer assume that it is his place to say anything? The woman was not in any danger and i she works at the front desk, she’s likely heard sleezy pick up lines all the time. The idea that an outsider needs to step in and ‘save’ her just furthers the idea that she’s a damsel in distress who can’t handle this situation in her own way. Personally, I would be far more offended by someone inserting themselves where they don’t belong to speak on my behalf than by a sleezy comment that was meant to be flattery.

    1. Colette*

      That kind of behaviour happens because it’s consequence-free for the creep, so it’s good to contribute to making it socially unacceptable – and we know that violent behaviour sometimes results from women turning men down. And she’s at work, so her options for handling the situation herself are limited.

      1. Cat Lover*

        Yeah, but remember we are reading this from the view of the other customer, no the admin or a coworker.

        1. Colette*

          I don’t think that matters. Even if the woman in question was thrilled with the flirting (from someone who has never seen her full face, so it’s not like they are close outside of work), it’s not appropriate at work, and it would still be appropriate for the OP to speak up.

          1. Cat Lover*

            I’m also a young, female admin at a doctor’s office and patients try to butt into conversations I’m having with others all the time (because people are pushy and their needs are Very Important). I don’t need some dude inserting himself into a conversation he’s not in. If I was on comfortable I’d just tell the patient to leave.

            I just don’t think there is enough in this letter to go off of.

            1. nothing rhymes with purple*

              They let you tell the patient to leave? When I was a medical secretary I got yelled at for leaving my desk when someone tried to hit me. Multiple times. You must work in the most humane office in the world.

            2. Observer*

              If you get to tell the customer to leave, you work in a VERY unusual office. Also, if you work in an office where that kind of flirting is considered normal and ok, that’s also unusual, in a different (and much more problematic) way.

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes. The fact it happens all the time doesn’t make it right. Also it’s quite hard at work to tell someone to stop doing things. In many ways it’s easier to have someone else stepping in.

        I think on balance it’s better to step in and do something like redirecting the conversation rather than stand by and do nothing.

        I’d also say that it’s fine for a bystander to find something uncomfortable and intervene even if it’s not something that directly affects them. For example my grandfather (who was old) described one of his visiting continence nurses by a racial descriptor that was once acceptable but is now considered insulting. The nurse in question didn’t say anything. I intervened and gently corrected his terminology, not because I thought the nurse was incapable of handling it, but because I thought she’d find it harder to correct grandfather than I would as she was in a service role.

        Furthermore I don’t want racially insensitive language used in my presence even if’s not directed at me. It doesn’t directly affect me but I don’t want to be around it. Likewise if the OP feels uncomfortable with the remark that creep is making, it’s fine to do something to stop it.

    2. Boof*

      Because LW1 has probably heard that general social pressure can be pretty effective at stopping gross behavior like this.

    3. Observer*

      i she works at the front desk, she’s likely heard sleezy pick up lines all the time

      And that makes it ok?

      The idea that an outsider needs to step in and ‘save’ her just furthers the idea that she’s a damsel in distress who can’t handle this situation in her own way.

      No. The idea that only “weak” people who “can’t handle” a situation are the only ones who benefit from bystander intervention is what furthers abusive behavior. Customer service people are especially limited in how they can handle rude, creepy and / or abusive people. That doesn’t make them “weak”. It makes them people with limited tools to stop bad behavior.

      Personally, I would be far more offended by someone inserting themselves where they don’t belong to speak on my behalf

      That’s a very weird thing to say. By stander intervention is not about speaking for anyone else. It’s about stopping inappropriate behavior. If you happen to not mind guys hitting on you, that’s your choice. Other people finding it gross doesn’t have to constrain your reaction.

      a sleezy comment that was meant to be flattery.

      That’s gross. Even if the comment was meant as flattery (which is not likely to be the case), that does not make it in the least bit ok. Please do NOT perpetuate the idea that people should be given a pass for inappropriate and offensive behavior because “it’s a compliment”!

  34. Cat Lover*


    As you can see from the comments, people have different feelings on what would be appropriate. I think it’s hard to know without context of the rest of the conversation, the tone of his comment, and the admin’s reaction.

    I work in a doctor’s office as an admin/manager, and in the past few weeks I’ve been getting a LOT of similar mask comments. We are one of the few places that still require masks for everyone (due to being a healthcare provider) so it’s a hot topic of conversation, LOL.

    Personally, I don’t need some random dude making a comment about a conversation he’s not in. If you’re concerned, I’d rather you say something after he left, or even slide yourself into his space so I can deflect the conversation if I need to. But actually *saying* something to this guy would be inappropriate and awkward. If the guy was a creep, it could make it into a weird confrontation that I don’t want to deal with.

    1. Snailing*

      Same, I worked in customer service for a long time (food service/hospitality) and I would feel really awkward if someone next in line jumped in and made it a Big Deal, but I would greatly appreciate recognition after the fact, “Wow, sorry you had to put up with that creepy dude.” On the other hand, I did always appreciate the distraction technique, where I could tell the next person in line was trying to help me out (usually for longer unwanted flirting, not just one passing gross comment) – “Hey Snailing, how’s XYZ going?” basically interrupting the creepiness and changing the subject so the offender has to play along with that.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I would greatly appreciate recognition after the fact, “Wow, sorry you had to put up with that creepy dude.”

        That’s what I’d feel most comfortable with. Along the lines of “My condolences that you have to endure those in your role.”

      2. Cat Lover*


        People creating confrontation in front of me isn’t necessary or helpful.

  35. Old Lady*

    The “creep” isn’t even worth the effort as it isn’t creepy. It would be super strange for you or anyone else to comment on his behavior- implying that you are able to judge the situation better than the receptionist. If she is concerned she can say something. I would be more bothered by a stranger jumping in with some comment than by some harmless flirty comment.

    1. Colette*

      She’s at work, so she can’t say something. Even if the flirty comment is wanted (which it likely isn’t), another customer can intervene with a work-related question or comment.

    2. pancakes*

      Not everyone agrees that it’s harmless for women who work in reception to be treated like eye candy, and saying something along the lines of “seriously dude?” (to the creep) or, later, “that was gross” (to the woman) requires negligible effort.

    3. Mami21*

      ‘As it isn’t creepy’

      ‘Harmless flirty comment??’

      The letter writer thought it was creepy, and he wasn’t even the one being creeped upon, so we should take his word that that was indeed the vibe.

      Also, women in customer facing roles cannot just tell a creepy dude off or remove themselves from the situation in the way that they potentially could in other situations.

      1. Cat Lover*

        My comment from a previous thread:

        I work in a doctor’s office as an admin/manager, and in the past few weeks I’ve been getting a LOT of similar mask comments. We are one of the few places that still require masks for everyone (due to being a healthcare provider) so it’s a hot topic of conversation, LOL.

        Personally, I don’t need some random dude making a comment about a conversation he’s not in. If you’re concerned, I’d rather you say something after he left, or even slide yourself into his space so I can deflect the conversation if I need to. But actually *saying* something to this guy would be inappropriate and awkward. If the guy was a creep, it could make it into a weird confrontation that I don’t want to deal with.

        1. nothing rhymes with purple*

          You do know that you’ve providing plausible deniability for creeps everywhere, right?

            1. nothing rhymes with purple*

              By offering 101 reasons why people shouldn’t intervene which a creep could cite.

              1. Cat Lover*

                No where did I say that. I said in my personal experience, as someone who is in the same job as the LW said the woman was, I don’t think verbally confronting someone is helpful. There are a few comments below mine that outline it better.

                I, and some others in the thread, would much rather the other patient check in afterwards, or try to give a subtle out, instead of confronting the person or making a snide remark (usually that leads to an awkward encounter that I now have to deal with, which is the opposite of helpful).

                As you can see from the comments, people have different opinions, which is fine.

                We also don’t really have much more to go off of, other than “guy I didn’t know made a comment to a woman I don’t know that may or may not have been creepy”

    4. All Hail Queen Sally*

      I am an old lady (64) and I think it IS creepy and I would have said something! However, when I was younger (20’s and 30’s) I wouldn’t have seen it that way. I was in the military (1975-1996) and heard a LOT of inappropriate comments and as I look back on them now I can see how my perception and tolerance of them changed over the years.

    5. Observer*

      harmless flirty comment.

      Except a flirty comment that the recipient CANNOT reject is never “harmless”. There is a power differential here that comes into play. Even if the OP were totally misreading the situation, their discomfort comes from the understanding that receptionists and people in roles like that are generally not in the position to reject such flirtatious comments.

  36. Fierce Jindo*

    Re: #1, what about just, “Dude, cut it out” with a sense of finality? Not with sustained eye contact that demands a response, which would escalate it. With vocal tone and body language conveying that this completes the interaction.

  37. OtterB*

    Re #1, I (an older white woman) took the “disrupt the dynamic” option. I was in line at the pharmacy. The older white man in front of me was creeping on the young Asian woman pharmacist with a series of increasingly personal comments/questions (you’re so pretty, are you married, etc.). I said, in a neutral tone and to him, not to her, “There’s a line.” He immediately said, “I was just trying to be friendly,” which … meant that wasn’t what he was trying to do. I didn’t say anything else to him or to her. It served the immediate purpose without escalating things.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Love the double meaning:

      There’s a line (and we’re all waiting here).
      There’s a line (and you crossed it, buddy).

    2. Snailing*

      This is my favorite technique, speaking as a former customer service worker who was frequently fielding off creeps while juggling ringing up items and moving along a long line. I worked at a very small community place, so we had many regulars – if it was someone who knew me, they could jump into the convo and help navigate it to something else entirely, or if it was not a regular customer, sometimes they find another way to disrupt/distract the creepy offender. It didn’t make it into a big deal that I didn’t have time to deal with, but also bolstered me in knowing other people could recognize the creepiness!

  38. Lacey*

    #1 I have a low tolerance for bad behavior in public spaces, but this is a weird one to figure out, because you don’t know what this woman or what she would prefer. I generally err on the side of, “I think this dude is creepy, but I have no idea if this woman is creeped out by him”

    You realized afterward that the people in the waiting room were this guy’s family, but you didn’t know at the time. What if he’d actually been the receptionists boyfriend? Or some dude she’s been flirting with for months?

    I do think that if she flinched or was visibly icked out you could say, “Ew.” or give him a look of disgust. And certainly if she rebuffed him and he kept up you could say, “Dude, cut it out”

    The exception would be if you know she’s a teenager and he’s clearly a grown man. Then I think you can go straight to telling him to cut it out. But you can’t just think she’s a teenager. I was mistaken for a high-schooler well into my 20s and I’ve found myself making the same mistake with others, it’s too hard to tell.

    1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

      Presumably though, she can’t demonstrably flinch or show she’s being visibly icked out. Part of the job in customer service is to always keep a pleasant expression and tone.

      1. pancakes*

        That’s true, but there are a lot of facial expressions and reactions between “visibly disgusted” and “seems to be enjoying flirting.” If she seems polite but frosty, for example, that’s a good cue the guy isn’t in fact her boyfriend. I think the type of scenario Lacey refers to – one where there are no indications at all whether the two know one another or are enjoying one another’s company or the attention is unwanted – is pretty unlikely.

        1. Allypopx*

          It’s not unlikely, it’s incredibly common. Women are conditioned to deal with this stuff a certain way – the same mild indicators you might pick up on, the creep might pick up on as well, and that can escalate the situation. In a world where creeps will feel entitled to sit and lecture a woman about why she should be smiling during her job, neutral or even pleasant expressions are a default defense mechanism.

          This commentary reeks of victim shaming. “If she doesn’t like it she should look subtly disgusted” is just not the reality of the situation.

          1. pancakes*

            I am a woman, and I’m not unfamiliar with social conditioning. In my experience it isn’t common for there to be no clues whatsoever as to whether a dude making objectifying comments to a woman is bothering her, or has a relationship with her, or they’re flirting with one another. My point was that subtle disgust is a thing that tends to show up on people’s faces and/or their body language, not that anyone on the receiving end of objectifying comments is obligated to subtly register their disgust.

            1. Forrest*

              hmm, I think there’s quite a gender split on this. Not 50/50, of course, but I think women who’ve been on that situation are much more likely to recognise the very subtle facial changes that mean, “ok, I’ve got to stay nice here because customer but Jesus dude” and most men are very bad at spotting them.

      2. Lacey*

        Yeah, if a person is able to maintain their professional demeanor you won’t have that opening to say something. I’ve noticed that many people don’t maintain their professional demeanor entirely when confronted with someone behaving boorishly – and then you have a better idea of what sort of reaction from you might be welcome. Yeah, it does mean you won’t jump into assist people with a better poker face, but to swoop in as a stranger and assume they need your help based on nothing but your own feelings doesn’t feel like the right solution either.

    2. Mami21*

      ‘But you can’t just think she’s a teenager’

      No one raised the idea of her being a teenager. Just the fact that she is a woman being subjected to inappropriate comments at her workplace. You don’t have to ID someone to decide that something is iffy.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Removed personal sniping here. Y’all, if you can’t comment on this one without getting heated (which is certainly understandable with this topic) or snarky toward others, please pass it by.

    3. Myrin*

      What if he’d actually been the receptionists boyfriend? Or some dude she’s been flirting with for months?

      I’m going to repeat myself from another comment and say: Yeah, what of it? The admin will say “oh, this is actually my boyfriend” and OP will say “oh, sorry, I didn’t know” and no harm will have been done.

  39. Lacey*

    #3 I’ve had some pretty good success with googling distinctive phrases from recruiter listings. It doesn’t work every time, but often enough to be worth trying.

    #4 I’ve found that most companies love when you love their town/community. I often mention it in cover letters even when I’m local to the area. Something along the lines of loving the community and I would be thrilled to be apart of such an essential piece of the community like company X. They eat it up! And it makes for some good opening chat in the interview. They ask you what you love and you tell them your favorite restaurant or park or what-have-you. It’s very good.

  40. Beth*

    LW #1: I may be a minority voice here — but as a woman who’s been creeped on and is completely fed up with it, I would LOVE to see more people, especially men, stepping up in the moment and calling the creeps on their crap.

    Silence is regarded as supportive; it’s what the creeps depend on to continue misbehaving. You did nothing because it might have made it awkward? It was ALREADY awkward. The only person who wasn’t feeling the awkward was the creep; he had your silence supporting his ugly behavior.

    Return Awkward to Sender.

    The only exception I would make would be if the admin assistant’s attitude and body language made it clear that she was enjoying the attention. And I’d bet cold hard cash that she did not.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Even if she enjoyed it, it’s inappropriate for work, surely? If LW had been able to say “Dude, why are you hitting on the receptionist?” and he’d turned out to be her boyfriend or something then it would have been a strong indication to them both that it wasn’t the time and place for flirting.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Like, not that we should all be policing each other’s behaviour 24/7, but just that even in the case that LW might have been mistaken, it would still not have been his mistake.

      2. Jennifer*

        Agreed. If I were a customer, I don’t necessarily want to sit in a waiting room and hear that.

    2. Old dog*

      Hard agree. Back us up. It really matters when men call out men on this type of behavior.

    3. nothing rhymes with purple*

      Well and truly said. Thank you for speaking up, especially considering the number of people discouraging trying to help and especially the women saying “it wouldn’t bother me so don’t worry about it”

  41. Melanie's Shadow*

    OP 1, here’s exactly what I’ve done in a similar real life situation and how it played out. This was at work between three coworkers, Sally, Joe, and me. Sally and I were the only women in the office and we sat next to each other. Joe was kind of condescending and sexist in general and he had already called me Sally’s name a few times by accident (we look nothing like each other). So when he came over to Sally and was calling her “Lil Honey BBQ Ribs” I was very suspicious that this was not an inside joke about her height or food preferences. But I wasn’t sure, so I took a similar tactic to the “distract method” described above: I talked to Sally, not Joe.

    Me: Oh, do you like that nickname? (in a puzzled voice)
    Sally: Oh… I don’t care.
    Me: Oh, it’s just so weird to call someone that at work. That’s a really weird nickname.
    Long pause.
    Joe: …Oh, I guess I’ll have to come up with a better nickname.

    The drawback is that when used often, you become known as pretentious, judgemental, and humorless because “everything is weird” to you. But I think it’s a nice compromise between just intervening with an unrelated question and directly calling someone out. If the person doesn’t realize they’re being creepy, it gives them more of a chance to learn what’s up. But it does this while giving the victim a chance to deflect / handle it themselves. And you absorb the blame/awkwardness for them and (hopefully!) don’t make the harassment worse for them.

    In this specific situation, I would’ve said something like, “Oh, do you like compliments about your eyes?” “I don’t mind.” “Oh, I just couldn’t imagine saying that to someone at their workplace!” (in a tone of real wonder)

    1. pancakes*

      The thing I don’t like about this approach is that it really puts Sally on the spot. Not only is the creep’s attention on her, she’s being asked to talk about her feelings about it in front of him. There’s a pretty powerful incentive for her to brush it off. I much prefer the type of approach where the bystander communicates their own feelings.

      1. Cat Lover*

        Yeah honestly if someone said something like “Oh, do you like that nickname?” I would’ve asked why they felt the need to comment on a conversation that didn’t involve them.

  42. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    “No ethical recruiter would tip your employer off if that happens”

    Ha ha ha.

    One recruiter sent my details to my employer on spec as an interesting prospect. Fortunately one of my responsibilities at the time was to open my boss’s post. I intercepted it and sacked the recruiter. They’re on my permanent blacklist, which seems to surprise them.

    1. Allypopx*

      Yeeeah assuming you’re dealing with an “ethical recruiter” is a big assumption to start with.

      No disrespect to recruiters in the commentariat, there are certainly good ones out there. But it’s a dice roll that I wouldn’t stake my career on.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I’m imagining that Alison wrote “No recruiter” in her first draft and added “ethical” with a sigh during an edit.

  43. Old dog*

    Say something. Please. Being an effective ally is
    more than silently thinking the guy is inappropriate. It shouldn’t be, but men are more impacted when another man calls out their behavior. Several years ago a male colleague called out a client who told me I was pretty and I should smile more. My (higher ranking) male colleague addressed it on the spot and I could not have anticipated how meaningful a intervention like that would be. I can’t think of this colleague without remembering how he stepped up and supported me. It matters. In this case saying something like, “Seriously? “ would suffice.

  44. Me*

    I think it’s pretty clear from the comments on LW 1 that women aren’t homogenous and we feel very differently about how we’d want the situation handled. I’m a 40 year old woman and at this point pretty tired of men’s behavior and this is my stance.

    I worked a lot of direct customer service when I was younger (and prettier) and the customers comments on my eyes wouldn’t have phased me. And much like someone further up, I am a capable adult who doesn’t need “saving”. Had you stepped in and the situation escalated that would have stressed me out much more than a stupid comment. I’d probably be fine with you asking- Is this person bothering you?

    If it was a situation where the comments were more intense, more sexualized, more abusive and the person was not letting up no matter what I did, then sure tell the guy to knock it off.

    I think you really need to read the room which may be harder with masks on. But observe the person you are concerned about. Do they look disgusted, annoyed, etc? If so, then it’s probably safe to say something.

    1. Cat Lover*

      “I worked a lot of direct customer service when I was younger (and prettier) and the customers comments on my eyes wouldn’t have phased me. And much like someone further up, I am a capable adult who doesn’t need “saving”. Had you stepped in and the situation escalated that would have stressed me out much more than a stupid comment.”


  45. Moi*

    LW #4, I did somethings similar with my job hunt a couple years back. I was job hunting in an area known for much worse winter’s than where I’m from, and letting potential employers know that I had intentionally visited in the middle of winter went a very long way with them taking me seriously.

  46. Jester*

    #1 Just letting the person who is being creeped on know you noticed the behavior after the situation has ended can still be really helpful. It’s called delay in the five Ds of bystander intervention. It’s just checking in and making the person feel validated if you can’t or don’t feel comfortable intervening.

  47. MCMonkeybean*

    #1 is tough cause you don’t want to escalate the situation. I think your line would be good but maybe something like “man, c’mon just let her do her job” if you’re looking for something slightly less confrontational could work?

    Also, with things like this if you can’t speak up in the moment it might be nice to at least say something to her after he’s gone like “Sorry that guy was such a creep.” I think it can be a little helpful just to have someone acknowledge what happened and validate your feelings. (Though with this particular situation you just have to make sure you don’t say it in a way sounds like a pickup line and you’re now the one hitting on her haha.) But I had an interaction earlier in the pandemic where some guy (defying the store’s mask policy of course) was being kind of rude and impatient with the cashier and I couldn’t bring myself to say anything in the moment because dude was very large (and maskless) but during my own checkout was just kind of like “ugh, what a jerk, I’m so sorry you have to deal with that.” And then of course try to be extra kind and patient in your own interactions!

    1. MCMonkeybean*

      Ok after reading some other comments I guess I’m not clear on who was the employee in this situation lol. If she is a customer and the creep was an employee then obviously much of my comment doesn’t work for this particular interaction. And if he was an employee then it might be worth asking to speak to a manager or something and letting them know what you witnessed.

  48. Anonymous Hippo*

    I don’t really have a helpful suggestion, but it greatly saddens me how much we are talking about not escalating and tiptoeing around this obnoxious man. It’s one thing to have the conversation be around de-escalation if we are talking about a knife wielding attacker, but the fact that’s the space everyone headed too for just a random jerk in an office is a sad commentary on the safety of women today.

    1. Allypopx*

      It’s because we see it so often. Men yelling, swearing, hell even coming back later and starting the whole cycle again. You’re right, it’s super sad. And sadder how many employers enable it. I’ve had coworkers tell me to hide in the back or whatever if they see a repeat creep come in, but management much more rarely.

  49. Bee Eye Ill*

    #3 – I once applied for a job like that and after sending my resume, the recruiter told me it was a former employer. I then pulled my application. It was a terrible place to work and had very high turnover, but they also didn’t have an official HR department and I guess it is easier to let a recruiter do the screening for them.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I’ve written to recruiters before and said “I’m interested in this role but not if it’s with TerribleReputations R Us: please let me know if you think we can proceed”. Sometimes it isn’t just former employers you want to avoid, but former coworkers/managers who have moved, your friend’s former employer, or companies you have had other dealings with.

  50. MoinMoin*

    #1 This might be in the fantasy territory, but it might have been pretty funny to loudly say, “I have beautiful eyes, will it be good to see the rest of my face once these face masks are gone?”

    Takes the attention off her, repeats what he said so he hears it in a very different context, reminds him that other people can hear him. It’s humorous, but still has potential to escalate same as what you thought of saying, so there’s some risk there.

    1. Allypopx*

      Are you a guy? I’ve seen guys do stuff like this before and I find it really effective! Especially if they’re bigger or burlier than the creep.

      Adding a little eyelash bat at the end doesn’t hurt!

        1. MissBliss*

          I think the eyelash bat would be a bit too much and verging on homophobic stereotypes, but I think MoinMoin’s suggestion is itself fine–it’s pointing out that the comment is gendered and therefore inappropriate in the context.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            The eyelash bat would be leaning into the fop stereotype (and others), but even without it you’re using the idea of a man hitting on another man to disgust and shame someone presenting as heterosexual. Isn’t that the opposite of normalizing other sexual orientations?

            1. MoinMoin*

              I made the original suggestion and my intent was more to repeat something in a non-sexual context in order to juxtapose how inappropriate the original statement was in the context. It’s good to know that some people might perceive it as you did, though.

        2. Boof*

          To an extent I think it’s more taking away plausible deniability than appealing to homophobia, but i tend to agree its probably best to just say no to bad behavior rather than trying to reflect it back (two wrongs yadda yadda)

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        There’s a cute rule I’ve heard to help men assess whether they’re going to be considered creeping/hitting on women in an unwelcome way: Would You Say That To The Rock?>/b> With obvious exceptions, if you wouldn’t feel it appropriate to say to someone who looks like Dwayne Johnson, you’re probably being inappropriate to the barista/doctor/bus driver.

        Hoping LW is built like Maui, now.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          damn you formatting nonsense. I checked like five times.

          There’s a cute rule I’ve heard to help men assess whether they’re going to be considered creeping/hitting on women in an unwelcome way: Would You Say That To The Rock? With obvious exceptions, if you wouldn’t feel it appropriate to say to someone who looks like Dwayne Johnson, you’re probably being inappropriate to the barista/doctor/bus driver.

          Hoping LW is built like Maui, now.

        2. BI*

          I’m more of a Brock Lesnar man, meself… while a golden god of a man, the Rock always seemed affable and approachable…. vs Brock Lesnar who glowers balefully

  51. a clockwork lemon*

    OP1, I’ll be honest, as a woman who is more than capable of handling herself I wouldn’t love it if a random person jumped to my defense for stuff like this. This is extremely YMMV from person to person, but this tends to read to me as “white knighting” from a stranger–patronizing at best, at worst something that makes me worry if you’re using the interaction as a springboard for hitting on me at work in a situation where I now come off as the jerk for not being receptive to your advances.

    It’s great that you’re thinking about this stuff, but the reality is that you don’t know this woman, you don’t know what’s going on in her head, and there was nothing to clearly signal that she wanted or needed a third-party intervention. It’s one thing if you have a standing relationship of some sort with this admin and feel comfortable asking her directly what the deal was, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

    1. Jennifer*

      Just as a counter to that, when I was younger I was very uncomfortable in these situations and was unsure of how to handle myself. I was always hurt by the many people, men and women, who saw what was going on and did nothing and am still thankful for the VERY few people that spoke up. I think it’s better to help than to stay silent, and if you have it under control, you can just let the person know that you got it instead of assuming they have bad motives. I don’t want to discourage people from intervening. Sometimes I’ll just simply mouth to the person: Are you ok?

    2. BI*

      On the other hand some people do appreciate it because
      1) They actually *are* intimidated by the creep.
      2) They have limited ability to speak up because they are expected to endure this stff.
      A simple “What’s your game, fucko?”from a bystander can help.

    3. Anonymous Hippo*

      The bystanders response isn’t necessarily about you. It isn’t a rescue. I don’t want to live in a world where this kind of bullshit goes on, so I would hope I would speak up in the moment. It’s not about if the woman can take it or handle it herself, but rather me putting out into the world how I believe society should behave. This is where I fall on the “what if they know each other and it’s a joke” thing too. I really don’t feel it’s appropriate to “joke” about harassment, especially when we are making so little progress in actually removing it from society. Maybe one day the jokes will be funny once it isn’t a reality for most women.

    4. Boof*

      Geez, I’m a little astounded at the number of people jumping on women for sharing what they would prefer if it doesn’t fit what they want

      1. Observer*

        The reason is because the framing is actually quite harmful and not reality based. Accusing people of being “white knights” who are infantilizing women and implying (or outright stating in one case) that only “weak” women who “can’t handle” things benefit from by stander intervention is simply not the case, and totally unfair to most women who really are not in a good position to push back effectively.

        1. Boof*

          I mean, this specific poster stressed that this varies and put white knight in quotes as how some people (themselves specifically) might feel. Some of the responses were ok some are gross “it isn’t about you” yes, yes it IS primarily about supporting the person being creeped on.

  52. Office Pantomime*

    I drop any recruiter that refuses to tell me the name of the employer. If they aren’t interested in building trust with me, then I won’t work with them. I would never apply blindly to any organization. I’ve been burned once and so that boundary has served me well ever since. I have maintained a relationship with a few recruiters over the years as I do contract work, and it works great.

  53. SometimesALurker*

    I’d strongly encourage everyone interested in LW#1’s conundrum to look into taking an active bystander training, sometimes called upstander training. They are workshops designed to help people learn how to think through these situations and react in a way that maximizes your chances of keeping both yourself and the target of the harassment safe. (For example, they offer a variety of strategies for checking in with the target discreetly.) The nonprofit Hollaback! is one that offers these, and their work is trauma-informed and research-based, although I don’t know what kind of research or how rigorous. The founder of Hollaback!, Shawna Potter, also has a great, very short book called Making Spaces Safer. It’s largely for people who are in positions of power in community organizations, gathering places like bars and music venues, and other public locations, but I found it valueable even though I don’t have that kind of position. Some rape crisis centers also offer this type of training, and while their trainings are often focused on sexual harassment, it can be useful for reacting to other types of harassment one might witness as well.

  54. ThinMint*

    OP #4, we just had 2 candidates to decide between and both would be relocating to our state. They had expressed to me in our interview about why they wanted to move, but in the larger group interviews, only one had mentioned it. I had coworkers in that group interview mention that when debating the candidates merits (something like ‘Abby is ready to move here and Jocelyn didn’t mention anything about coming to X state’) so it absolutely is helpful context for the companies.

  55. staceyizme*

    Okay, “ew!” covers it pretty well! Creepers gonna creep. Or, as a youngster of my acquaintance once observed of the beginnings of a sexy scene featuring the bad guy: “that’s ‘SCUSTING! that’s just so ‘SCUSTING!”. She had good instincts, in my view.

  56. TootsNYC*

    3. Why don’t recruiters name the employer in job postings?

    In the long, long ago, I needed a new junior person; my office admin put the ad in the NYTimes for me. She included the company name; it was very recognizable both in the industry and outside of it.

    I was inundated with responses—two photocopier-paper boxes’ worth—and more than half of them did not have the specialized skills for the job, but might have been reasonable for some other job at the company. Those all said, “I recognize the business name, and I really think it would be cool to work there” or even flat-out, “I know I don’t have that skill set, but I wanted to get my name in front of you in case you could give it to someone who hires for the OTHER skill set.”

    What a horrendous waste of my time. I’d have gotten tons of completely unsuitable responses no matter what, but putting my company’s name made it so much worse.

    I vowed never again to put the company name on a listing that was going out to a broad, unfiltered audience.

    Maybe today’s online advertisements don’t present the same sort of problem; I haven’t used them. And automatic sorting makes it easier to sift out the chaff, I suppose.

    But that might be part of it as well.

    1. Bee Eye Ill*

      This does happen, unfortunately. The worst is when you have people’s parents calling you personally to ask about the job and practically beg you to do an interview. Most any job posting, though, gets a bunch of those random apps.

  57. Jazzy P*

    To OP 1, I was in a similar situation many years ago. I was a manager in retail and was helping a man find a gift for his wife. As I was showing him a top, he mentioned she had long arms. I held my arm out at my side and said I did as well and the arms on the shirt were plenty long enough for me. That’s when he decided to reach out, grab my wrist, and start feeling my arm up. I was so shocked he got to my mid upper arm before I yanked it away, said “This is outside of my job description” and proceeded to continue (a little frostily) to show him additional tops.

    It was a small store and 2 other customers witnessed it. One woman stared him down, caught his eye and then slowly looked from his feet to his face before making a disgusted snort and flipping her hair while resuming her shopping. The other was checking out at the same time as him and chose a more direct approach, leaned over to his side of the register and said “I just want you to know you handled that man extremely well”. He heard it. I smiled at her and said thank you. Woman number 1 stayed until he left, gave me her business card and told me to contact her if anyone tried to get me in trouble, presumably so she could back me up.

    As a victim of sexual abuse, I can’t tell you how much those responses helped me. Either one would have been enough. I cried for days but my DM was on my side and I still am grateful to those women a decade later. So I suppose it’s tough but even just a disgusted look for a second can convey you find what happened gross and inappropriate. I guess it is dependent on the situation but there are subtle ways to show you disagree that likely would not get the admin involved in a dispute. Just my opinion but it’s heartening to know you’re wondering how you could have handled it so kudos to you for recognizing his behavior was likely out of line.

  58. Elizabeth West*

    #4 happened to me once, but it was directly with the company. I applied to a blind ad and got a phone call. The HR person mentioned the name of the company—an older job I wouldn’t return to (and that was mutual), which she would have known had she bothered to look at the rest of my resume. It was very awkward.

    #5 I’ve applied to some remote jobs but I really want to move and I’ve been saying that in my cover letter (I don’t apply anywhere I wouldn’t want to live). My portfolio says that too. If they ask, I can/would do it myself. With remote work booming due to the pandemic, I figured now is the best time.

  59. Erin*

    Re: the pretty eyes.

    I worked in customer service at a luxury company for 8 years. I was hit on constantly by creepers who know they had a free pass to be as inappropriate as they want (I was asked my bra size, what color bikini I wore, and many other out of line things). With compliments like “you have such pretty eyes” I would usually thank the person, and then immediately re-direct back to the reason for the visit “Thank you. Now, let’s get back to your daughter’s birthday”. When I was asked my bra size, I just turned up the volume on my response, and stated the question back, and always while smiling “Sir, why do you need to know my bra size to select a birthday gift for your daughter?” I spoke my response louder than my normal voice so others would hear, and could go to bat for me if a negative customer service call/email about my service came in. I smiled because, welp, dare a customer service person not have a perma-grin, and get called out for “she wouldn’t even smile at me!” In those awful customer service surveys.

    As a commission based employee, and with the nature of customer service to include customer abuse (unless the employee wants a nasty email or phone call to corporate HQ about how the customer was treated so badly BC the employee decided to not indulge the creeping) it is an incredibly difficult thing to navigate. Most companies do not back the employees because of the belief that the customer is always right. Those negative customer service comments prevent employees from getting raises, career advancement, etc.

    It’s sad that I feel compelled to include this: the company I worked for is a business-formal company, and I dressed in high necklines and traditional business attire each day. All of the other employees also wore traditional business attire, and we were all creeped on, regardless of our age/sex/gender/race/martial status/height/weight/etc.

    The few times that other customers gave an “eeewww” or stood back & looked at the creep who was creeping on me were lovely. It assured me that not everyone is a creep.

    As a result of my experience in luxury customer service, I make a point of doing every customer service survey that I can, and I point out how kind, knowledgeable and efficient the service provider was. If I can remember the person’s name, I use it in my survey response. I do this even for mediocre service because the service industry is hard, and service professionals take a lot of crap.

  60. TotesMaGoats*

    LW1: I had a very similar situation happen just this week. My family was at our local mexican restaurant for dinner. There was a loud guy at the bar, clearly drunk. Assuming late 50’s. We could hear him clear across the empty restaurant speaking to the young waitress. It made my skin crawl. “I owe you a graduation present. We should go out on my boat. I’ll take you to dinner. I’ll let you drive it.” Ugh. My husband is giving him a hard stare the whole time. Shades of my high school job are flashing before me with creepy men hitting on a 16 yr old. So, our waitress comes back by and asks how we are. I ask her, is she ok. She drops down out of view so the guy can’t see her and is visibly upset. He’s a repeat offender in predatory comments. We ask how we can help. Do you want us to stay a while and she did. So, we hung out until the place got really busy. I asked if there was a manager to speak to and there wasn’t plus she wasn’t sure there wouldn’t be blowback. I let her guide that but did send a message on FB about it to the owner. Left her name out of it. It was so gross. I wish I had done more now but there was a cop there when we were leaving.

  61. beep*

    I can pretty much imagine how the scenario would have gone for LW #1. After he told the older man he was being creepy, the older man would have said something like “You weren’t creeped out by that, were you? You know I was just giving you a compliment” to the admin and she, most likely, would have agreed just to end the situation. I mean, that’s what I would do. The older man would absolutely be defensive and recruit the admin to defend him, and women are trained to never, ever hurt men’s feelings.

    1. UKDancer*

      I think that’s why a lot of us are suggesting diversions as being a good tactic. While making a scene and trying to put the creeper on the spot is emotionally satisfying, redirecting and stopping the situation can be more effective and remove the emphasis from the employee and bring the situation to a tactful end. That way you’re not putting the employee on the spot, you’re simply saying that you need the employee to do something else and giving them a graceful exit.

  62. learnedthehardway*

    LW#1 – I always like the “Is this person bothering you?” question that you see in black and white movies – it puts the creep on notice that they’re creepy, while leaving the agency to the woman in question, who can respond as she feels the situation warrants.

    It’s also really hard for the creep to argue that he isn’t being creepy, because the question isn’t directed at him. It’s effectively taking away the power the creep is trying to obtain, and putting it back in the hands of the woman he’s trying to make uncomfortable.

  63. Ezri Dax*

    When I was a teen, working as a cashier, I remember an incident where I, along with the even younger employee working as a bagger, were verbally abused by a customer to the point that the bagger started to cry. No one intervened directly, but afterward, a couple in line behind that guy reported the incident to our manager, praising how we had handled the situation. The praise we got from leadership helped to alleviate the stress of the moment, at least somewhat. In a situation where someone is being sexually harassed, I would ask before talking to someone’s manager, but asking after the creep is gone if you can back her up/praise her to her supervisor for how gracefully she handled the situation might be an option?

    Also people who work in customer service deserve to make six figures.

  64. middle name danger*

    I’ve jumped in with an exasperated, “Dude, she’s WORKING,” when someone has been creepy to a receptionist/cashier in front of me. It’s hard to make a suggestion without physically being there to read the room.

  65. Public Sector Manager*

    For LW #1, when men run into male creepers being creepy with women, I’ve had a lot of success giving the creeper a taste of their own medicine. Here, I’d walk up to the creeper, look him in the face, and say “you have really pretty eyes. What are you doing later?” I did that to one creeper and he turned 50 shades of red before practically running away.

    1. Boof*

      omggggg hahaha bonus if you yell after them “I was just trying to be friendly! / can’t you take a compliment?”

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I said it above… I don’t think homophobia is the right tool to use to fight sexism.

      1. Forrest*

        Yeah, I find this pretty grim too. Humiliate a homophobe and you don’t know who he’s going to take that out on.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            I don’t think they’re doing evil. The intervener isn’t being homophobic.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              From above… you’re using the idea of a man hitting on another man to disgust and shame someone presenting as heterosexual.

              How is this not homophobic?

              1. New Jack Karyn*

                Because the disgust and shame isn’t coming from the intervener. It’s coming from the creep himself.

  66. hiring manager*

    Mention it, but don’t make it the main reason you want the job. I’ve interviewed numerous people who can go on and on about why they like my city, but can’t talk about why they want THIS job at THIS organization. That was a hard no for me since it felt like they only wanted the job as a way to move to my city. Pair your interest in the city with interest in and knowledge of the organizational mission, culture, the position itself, etc.

  67. Rachel*

    The creep comment in #1 came a couple days too late for me. Was waiting at the dentist and a patient was just extra creepy to the dental hygienist and I made a ugh face, but under the mask no one can see. I am not at all confrontational, but really really wanted to say something. This dude was just all around creep+++++ in the 3 minutes I was in his presence so I doubt even if I said something it would register.
    – yelled at the receptionist that he was too busy for emails / calls reminding him of the appointment, needed text only! TEXT ONLY!!
    – had a loud phone call in a very small waiting room to prove his importance
    – made the hygienist wait until call was over to acknowledge as she waited patiently – then he said the inappropriate comment to her

  68. Arts Administrator*

    LW 1: I had a guy say something really similar to me while I was working, the man waiting behind him in line said “not cool, bro.” It was direct but casual and he also moved the conversation creepy dude tried to engage in away from me. Not sure if that was purposeful or not, but it save me from having to smile and say everything was fine, when it was indeed “not cool, bro.”

  69. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    I’ve had a situation similar and I just (probably inadvertently) let out a low growling “What the hellll.” This creepy dude was so literally out of touch he did not realize other people were paying attention and shut up for the whole rest of the time. His comment clearly made the woman he directed them at uncomfortable but he assumed we all went deaf when he started talking. I expected the proverbial “mind your own business” clap back but was satisfied with the embarrassed look and stunned silence.

  70. PlainJane*

    LW1: My inclination is to let the admin assistant take the lead. She may not want a knight in shining armor, and, if she knows the person in question, she may well find it creepier to have a stranger jump in. As someone who’s in a front-facing position, I hear things like “Boy, I can’t wait for the masks to come off so we can all see each other” (though phrased a little condescendingly with “You have such pretty eyes”) so often that it barely registers. Heck, since they’ve come off, I’ve said it myself–“It’s good to see your face again!” But someone jumping in to chastise the remark would really come off as savior syndrome.

    1. PlainJane*

      Just to be clear, if you’re witnesses clearly abusive behavior, then yes, by all means, interfere. But in this case, it sounds less like creeping to me than clumsy conversation. Not great, but not particularly horrible. I wouldn’t be offended at it, at any rate, unless it came along with getting in my personal space, making a pass, or otherwise being obviously intrusive. Every day, older guys come in with the old “You should smile more,” and the response doesn’t need to be a full-on war. Just a cool little closed-mouth smile that clearly indicates, “Oh, yeah, that’s a new thing to hear, let me just make a note of it,” and then it’s over, whereas an escalation between two customers would make it an incident.

      1. Despachito*

        “Just to be clear, if you’re witnesses clearly abusive behavior, then yes, by all means, interfere. But in this case, it sounds less like creeping to me than clumsy conversation. Not great, but not particularly horrible.”

        +1, yes, this!

        I am surprised how many people classify this particular man’s behaviour as “creepy” and awful, and I thought I was pretty sensitive to sexist remarks of all kinds.

  71. LabTechNoMore*

    For LW1, one thing to be careful of is escalation. Unfortunately, creepy dudes harassing women tend to beat their chest and go from zero to violent pretty quickly. Anything directed to the aggressor in question can easily escalate and make the situation substantially worse for all parties involved. Be subtle and proceed with caution.

    1. staceyizme*

      It’s awful that anyone would be expected to put up with that and react with subtlety or caution. As a bystander, I’d be inclined to be direct. (And I hope that others would, too. Not to the extent of trying to police every random statement, but to the extent of cutting in on an inappropriately personal conversation or remark.)

      1. LabTechNoMore*

        Being direct often escalates the situation. The goal here isn’t “save damsel in distress,” it’s “balance addressing shitty behavior with safety.” If you go the direct route, it will assuredly become violent (ask me how I know). Unless you’re assisting someone in physical danger, a fight breaking out in a waiting room helps no one, including the admin being creeped on. And this isn’t some macho BS about whether or not you can take the guy, it’s about intervening without escalating the situation any more than is absolutely necessary.

  72. Kelly Kapoor*

    LW1: I recently completed a free online bystander training with Hollaback (ihollaback [dot] org) that empowered me to have some options on how to act in situations like these. Here I would go with distract – go up to the admin assistant and say something like “so sorry for interrupting but I just wanted to check on my appointment” or something like that to stop the situation in progress.

  73. RagingADHD*

    LW#1, in situations where someone is being harassed, I focus on the recipient, not the perpetrator. The point is to empower and support them, not jump in and rescue them with actions they might not want.

    As a woman, I might have more leeway to do this, but for example I would try to catch the receptionist’s eye while the guy was at the counter and silently mouth, “are you okay?” Usually the person will nod or otherwise indicate that they want to handle it themselves.

    Then after he left I’d follow up by commiserating about the creepiness and asking her if she wanted me to say something to her boss about the client.

  74. Workfromhome*

    #1 I think one needs to be very careful especially as a male when things are not to a level where things are 100% clear or there is clear danger.

    Inserting yourself into the situation might just as easily result in a “so you think I need a man to protect me I can handle myself” response. As I said if the person was being blatantly vulgar it the admin was clearly uncomfortable or if he was putting ands on her that’s different.

    In situation where its not obvious better to check in after the incident to see if in the future our help would be welcomed or not. If ou say it looked like that guy may have been making you uncomfortable are you OK. Based on the answer you can explore if they would want you to intervene next time.
    To me its a kind of sad its come to that offering help if its not wanted (even if it seems reasonable to do so) seems to be as bad as doing nothing when help is wanted for some people.

  75. Lizy*

    #1 – I’ve read about half the comments and wanted to post before I get influenced one way or the other too much.

    If someone said that to me, I would either side-eye them hard and and possibly say “that’s inappropriate/not cool” or brush it off as “I know – I don’t like the masks either”, depending on how well I knew them. For example, if it’s a customer I see often, I’d definitely use the “that’s creepy/inappropriate”. First time I’ve seen them? Option 2.

    That being said – I don’t get a lot of those types of comments, honestly. For context, I’m a short, decent-looking female. However, I wear long skirts and loose shirts most of the time, and generally present as one of those weird uber-religious people (think dressing like the Duggars). I definitely DID get more creeper comments when I was younger, thinner, and dressed more… “normal”.

    If I saw/heard someone say that to someone else, in this type of setting (i.e., customer to an employee), at the very least I would exchange looks with the employee – furrowed brow or mouth “creepy” or something. Depending on my mood, I might half-laugh and say “that’s creepy/inappropriate”. “oh it was a COMPLIMENT” – “sure. Still creepy”.

  76. eons*

    At a local hardware store, waiting in my car for pick-up, a guy is SCREAAAAMING at the top of his lungs right in the face of a female manager. You stole from me! You B- you F-B, F you – because of whatever was wrong with his order. I rolled down my window, told him to go F himself, who the F does he think he is talking to someone like that, called him an Fing A. The manager kept saying “oh noooo, it’s okaaaaay!” – it was not. The dude shut up and started to go back to his car. She walked towards him and they started talking LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE. He obviously had a problem that needed to be sorted but that was NOT the way to do it. I don’t feel like I went too far and if I had been inside a store or office, I probably would have made more of a “HEY, don’t talk to her like that” comment without the swearing. But screw that guy for real.

  77. argh*

    #1, I don’t know, I’m in my late 20s and have been working as an admin since I was 19. Comments like this are so run of the mill that I would much rather let it go than have someone step in. The absolute most I would want someone to do would be a dirty look or an eyeroll. I’d much rather just diffuse and ignore that type of situation on my own. To be clear, worse behavior than that type of comment could warrant a different response.

  78. Sometimes Charlotte*

    As someone who has frequently had to deal with creepy men while keeping my customer service face on, I agree that another customer confronting them about their creepy behavior would be uncomfortable, but NO MORE SO than dealing with the creep. It’s all well and good to commiserate with the admin after, but it does nothing to stop the creepy customer from being creepy to her or someone else in the future! I also suspect that a lot of women who are saying they wouldn’t want the other customer to say something are reacting based on the way we as women are socialized to keep the peace and accept that “boys will be boys.”

    To illustrate how not doing something about a creeper could possibly escalate, I want to share a story. I was a supervisor in a Big Box store and found out that the supervisors I supervised were running interference to keep a creepy customer away from one of our cashiers. As soon as I found out about it, I reported it to our security and to management – who basically told me they really couldn’t do anything. A couple of weeks later, Creeper grabbed the breast of another salesperson. A visiting manager happened to be nearby and called the police. Creeper was arrested for assault. He was served a trespass notice that kept him out of all Big Box locations. My point is, this didn’t need to happen. If someone had SAID SOMETHING to creeper when he was just saying creepy things, maybe it wouldn’t have escalated. If another CUSTOMER, particularly another MAN whose gender gives these comments much more weight to other men, unfortunately, had something maybe it wouldn’t have mattered that our store managers refused to intervene.

  79. SweetFancyPancakes*

    #4- mentioning that you’d love to live in New City (and why) can be helpful. A couple of years ago I applied to a job in a teeny tiny rural town that would involve me leaving a large city and taking a 50% salary hit, but in my cover letter I mentioned how I had family connections to the area and had always loved it when I would visit. I think it helped put the interviewers’ minds at ease that I knew what I would be giving up but that I saw the trade offs as worth it. That may not be your situation, but in my mind, showing your enthusiasm for the area as well as the job can’t hurt.

  80. Hokius*

    Once upon a time, a recruiter DID try to recruit me for a recently opened position at the company I already worked for.

    I went to my boss and HR over it because the job description called for someone junior to me but the salary range was greater than what I was being paid at the time. Long story short: they didn’t give me a raise, they DID chew out the recruiter for…accidentally reaching out to someone already employed there I guess, and then the recruiter accidentally tried to recruit me again the following week. And all that was with the COMPETENT managerial and HR staff, at least in comparison to the one that took over shortly before I finally got out.

  81. Steggy Saurus*

    LW1, I had an incident once while in the waiting room at a lab. An older white couple came in, were confused by the electronic sign in system, and began taking it out on a young African American lab tech, using obnoxious, racist language. I ended up walking over with a dirty look on my face and saying something like, “Is that really necessary?” By this point, the lab tech had asked them to leave and I just stayed standing until they left the office and then checked in with the clerk afterwards. I am very non-confrontational as a general rule, but this was so far beyond all bounds of propriety that I really could sit there and do nothing.

    In your specific case, I think it’s a little less obvious that the statement was quiet that far beyond the pale, so I probably would have gone with a very pointed and obvious look of disdain, a curled lip, and a check in with the receptionist after he left.

  82. Lils*

    Stepping in with a business-related question is my go-to in this situation (I’m female). I act impatient in direct proportion to the inappropriateness of the harasser’s comments. I direct my impatience at the harasser as in “you’re wasting this woman’s time and my time with your inanity, now please step aside, the grownups need to conduct business.” Then I make up something complicated on the fly, something that requires 5 follow up questions so they guy gets bored and/or has to stand there looking like a chump. This works for me because IDGAF about some twat giving me the stinkeye or being a bitch. Worst case scenario I’m being a bit rude and pushy (say, if they’re truly friends flirting or whatever). Having been on the receiving end of customer harassment approximately 5 billion times, I appreciate when other people do this for me–allow me to focus on this supposedly annoyed customer instead of Mr. Douchebag.

  83. Faith the twilight slayer*

    Fun story time! realized one of the recruiters I had been using a few years ago was especially craptastic when they asked if I would be interested in X Company. When we initially met they had noticed X Company on my resume and asked about my reasons for leaving. I was honest and said that I loved the industry but working for the demon sociopaths at X Company was still giving me nightmares literally years after I left.

  84. lecturer*

    1. This is clearly going to happen again he has already lined it up with ‘I’ll see your face when the mask is gone. In addition to this if this is how he behaves when his family is present what will he be like when he is alone?

    I would talk to the admin assistant and ask if she wants some assistance
    I would check with HR or management what your policy is and strongly encourage them to implement the policy because most people will be confronted with it, especially in certain roles.
    If you catch him at it again say in a calm firm voice ‘we do not tolerate harassment in this place, cut it out.’

  85. Sopranohannah*

    We have a practice in nursing to “rescue” people who are with mean/creepy by walking in and needing urgent help in another room. If you wanted to intervene without making things awkward for the admin, you could ask a question about a form or say that you needed to correct some info, so the admin could cut off the other conversation. You could mention that you thought the other guy was creepy and ask if she wanted to report it after he left.

  86. Cathie*

    LW#4 I’m a hiring manager and always look for this info in the cover letter for non-local candidates. It helps to provide context and lets me know the candidate is serious. I also see a lot of candidates who don’t address the location change and/or have a weak answer on it during the interview also have bad references or some other issue. It’s just important for me to see they’ve thought it through and can articulate something reasonable.

  87. Raida*

    #2 I’d also add – check how quickly you would be able to get back to WFH again in the situation where there’s a surge or ill co-workers.
    Could you literally pick up your laptop at lunchtime, be back online an hour later at home and come back in person two weeks later?

    If so, that’s a good indicator that you are well placed in keeping your health a priority personally and not be an outlier at the office.
    If no, what is in the way of doing that? Is it meeting rooms not equipped for remote attendance? Bulky equipment? Different security for remote workers?

    A good way to tell is to see if there’s anyone working part-time in the office and part-time at home – ask them how it’s going, is it an easy task of “on Wednesdays I take my laptop home, on Mondays I bring my laptop to the office” and that’s it?

  88. WantonSeedStitch*

    Personally, I would not directly confront the creep, but I would probably check in quietly with the admin when the creep left, just saying, “hey, everything OK? I feel like it would make me uncomfortable if a customer talked to me like that.” She might be fine. She might be sketched out but not want to make a big deal out of it with another customer, and will say she’s fine. She might admit that she’s sketched out. If she did say she was sketched out, I might offer to back her up IF she wanted to talk to her boss about it. If she declined, I’d respect that. Personally, if I were in her situation, I might not want to admit to a customer that I was upset , but I would appreciate the check-in, and would thank them for it.

  89. LukeChester*

    Curious questions. Awkward situations happen sometimes. But every situation has its solution, anyway :)

  90. Clogerati*

    I know this post is a few days old, but I wanted to add my experience since I’ve had this almost exact thing happen to be while in a customer service role. A customer got inappropriate with me (not overtly so but along these lines) while I was assisting another customer. I brushed off the inappropriate customer, made a pointed “that was weird” face, then redirected my attention back to the customer I was assisting. The customer I was assisting looked at me and said “did you know that guy?” and I said “absolutely not. ” the customer said “that was weird…” and I replied with, “yup I’m gonna talk to my boss about that when I’m done helping you. He responded with, “great, that guy went over there. you know where I am if you need me.” Then my boss and I dealt with the inappropriate man.

    I didn’t need the customer’s assistance, but having him confirm that it was inappropriate while also letting me take initiative was incredibly helpful!

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