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I'm very uncomfortable around my colleague who has made advances at me. Did I deal with him in the right way?

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Question - (13 July 2017) 7 Answers - (Newest, 14 July 2017)
A female United States age 26-29, anonymous writes:

An older male colleague made advances towards me in a (in my opinion) really creepy and passive aggressive way, half a year ago. I shut him down, almost got HR involved and we had a long frank discussion where I told him not to call me anymore, not to ask me out to dinner anymore, not to ask me personal questions anymore, etc. I made it clear I was not and would not be interested in him ever, in that way. We made a deal that we could still work together, but only in a strictly professional capacity.

Anyway, since this conversation, things have mostly been better. The problem is, I still feel deeply uncomfortable being alone with him and I avoid it at all costs. When we're on lunch break, I make sure not to sit next to him or walk next to him if we're having lunch outside. I don't do it on purpose, per se, but I am aware that my behavior towards him is a lot more cautious than it is towards other colleagues.

He's noticed and complains about my 'weird behavior' and when he does I usually just wave it off or ignore it, but today, at the end of the day, when nobody else was left in the building, he tried to confront me about it.

I told him that for all I'm being 'weird', he sure is very focused on policing my behavior and I told him I didn't appreciate it and then made my exit very quickly. I just really cannot shake the feeling that I just really do not want to be alone with him.

Unfortunately, I have to go to work again tomorrow, and work with him, because we're in the same team, so I sent him a message, saying: "you're right that I am more cautious around you than other people. Once somebody makes me uncomfortable, that feeling lasts for a long time, and you confronting me about it doesn't make it go away; in fact, it makes it worse. You'll just have to accept that this is the way I am, and if you can't, we'll just have to limit our interactions to only what's necessary."

Did I do the right thing?

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A male reader, Been there Now over it United States +, writes (14 July 2017):

HR should have been made aware of this at the time, but I don't see them being able to do anything, at least at this point. As you requested, he's stopped hitting on you, and HR would probably tell you that he doesn't seem to be a threat and that you should be dealing with this better at this point. If you do go to HR, they will interview him, and he will likely note various examples of how you've reacted negatively even though he's behaved as you've requested. And he'll note that your reactions have hurt company productivity. So, at this point, I would think twice about filing a formal complaint. I suggest opening some sincere communication with this man, letting him know how you feel, and how it gets worse when he confronts you. As you noted, you really don't want to go to work when your relationship with a close associate is so poor. Try giving it a friendly, maybe even a little humorous slant. As it is now, your body and mind are getting ill over this situation. So it is time to make amends with him or find a different place to work.

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A male reader, judgedick France +, writes (14 July 2017):

judgedick agony auntI go along with what the others here from your country say, just wonder if you need proof to go to HM

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A female reader, Youcannotbeserious United Kingdom + , writes (14 July 2017):

Youcannotbeserious agony auntI felt uncomfortable just reading about your experience with this man, so can only imagine how you must feel being in this situation. Ironic that he sees YOUR behaviour in trying to stay away from him as "weird" but thinks HIS behaviour in approaching a young woman colleague in a creepy way is ok.

I can fully understand why you didn't go to HR in the first place but, if he carries on making you feel so uncomfortable, you may have to resort to doing so. You seem to have tried everything else. I don't think you could be any plainer in your wishes. He obviously feels you should just forgive and forget, but it's not that simple to shake off feelings of unease and discomfort around someone who has invaded your space inappropriately.

In your shoes I would simply carry on avoiding any one-to-one contact (we all have people we would rather avoid) and, if he approached me about my "weird behaviour" I would quietly tell him, in simple words that will penetrate his thick skull, that he is lucky you didn't report HIS inappropriate behaviour to HR in the beginning and that, if he doesn't leave you alone, you WILL take it further.

Having suffered this sort of creepy behaviour myself once, I would not be as polite as you in handling it as creeps like this often refuse to "get it" when you are polite. I would be telling this guy to f*** off if he approached me on my own and then, after that, if he still didn't learn, I would be asking "which part of f*** off did you not understand?". I am not as professional as you though.

For the record, you sound to have handled it admirably. If he carries on putting you on the spot however, you may have to get even firmer with him than you have been. Don't be afraid to hurt his feelings. He is having no regard for yours.

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A female reader, mystiquek United States + , writes (14 July 2017):

mystiquek agony auntI worked in a government office for years and this happened to people, once to me. It didn't work being nice, he didn't get the hint or didn't want to get it. Time to stop tip toeing around go see HR. Sometimes it just doesn't pay to be nice, people can and will walk all over. Its not like you didn't try! This could escalate into something even uglier so let someone else step in. You shouldn't have to be uncomfortable or trying to avoid someone. The man should stop and he won't. I'm sorry you are going through this, it is really not a very nice situation. I hope it can be resolved. Its not fair that one person can be made to make another feel so uncomfortable.

The man that harassed me was old enough to be my father and the entire office knew he was an old letch but he had been allowed to get away with it for years and he thought he could continue to do so. He LEARNED...the hard way!

Good luck!

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A male reader, WiseOwlE United States + , writes (14 July 2017):

BTW...they can delete the record of your email for their own protection. So don't consider that as any form of notification that he has been bothering you. You should however print it out and hang-on to it.

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A male reader, WiseOwlE United States + , writes (14 July 2017):

I run an office and just want to remind you of something. You sent him an email, and what goes on company emails becomes the property of the company. Your emails to your colleagues may be subject to legal-review and/or monitoring.

Companies monitor inter-departmental emailed correspondence; and sometimes monitor and record phone conversations for their own protection. Not necessarily for better customer-service as claimed. They do this for security reasons, to protect themselves against liability, and to monitor possible espionage; and to some small degree, to protect employees. Trust me, it's mostly to be nosy and to protect their own interests; less with your welfare in-mind. They have to protect their name and reputation; first and foremost.

If they get sued or investigated; their company files, records, and all emails can be subpoenaed. A legal adversary can use anything they find to tarnish the company's reputation or credibility. Careful how you use their computers!!! They could just find reasons to rid themselves of your threat to their assets. Sexual-harassment can be pretty costly in damages! They know it! Reporting it protects you, and strengthens your complaint. Then it's their responsibility to protect you. Got it?

That being said; you would not have to be on-edge had you taken your problem to HR from the start.

You have a right to feel safe and comfortable at your workplace. If he was persistent and aggressively approaching you for the reasons you mention in your first paragraph; your lack of reporting the issue defuses or weakens your future complaints. The whole mess is a liability to the company; and makes your day to day experience at work stressful.

I know you were avoiding getting him into trouble and trying not to rock the boat. It seems that's exactly the case now. You can't feel safe being alone with him. He has no right to confront you; when you've asked him to leave you alone. In America, the laws protect you as an employee/female-employee. Statistics support the likelihood of men being the culprits behind sexual-harassment complaints ahead of women.

Thus the law requires companies with a certain number of employees to provide sexual-harassment seminars and training for proper conduct in the workplace. Seems your company has been non-compliant.

You may as well consider it on-record if you personally addressed him on your company computers. So if he doesn't get the point. Take it directly to HR.

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A female reader, Honeypie United States + , writes (13 July 2017):

Honeypie agony auntYes, and I think if he DOESN'T stops thinking it's OK for him to "confront" or "police" your behavior, you GO straight to HR or first your boss then HR.

YOU do not OWE him SHIT. If you are being professional and generally polite at work he has ABSOLUTELY no right to complain. What a whiny intrusive dick. WHO cares if it "hurts" his feelings that you FULL on avoid him? As long as you don't create drama he needs to shut up and leave you alone!

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