Sunday, May 01, 2011

Should employee report sexual harassment?

An acquaintance confided:

My manager, who I will call Mr. Bully, belittles, intimidates and harasses one of my employees on a regular basis. Yesterday he threatened to write her up for no apparent reason and made her cry. We are both afraid of him and fear retaliation if I speak up or report him to HR. I’ve tried talking to his manager, but he says Mr. Bully is a friend of our company’s President and there is nothing he can do. When I try to discuss his treatment of my employee or other problems in our department directly with Mr. Bully he yells at me. Then he says we are good right and asks for a hug.

Oh and another thing, he touches and gropes both myself and my employee. I know his manager has seen him do this, but he pretends he has not. This manager then told me to tell him to never touch me again. My employee does not want me to go to HR about the touching because she doesn’t want Mr. Bully to find out we reported him. Both of us really need our jobs and are certain our company’s President will not allow him to be reprimanded.

Mr. Bully is from another country and we understand his behavior towards us (we are women) may be influenced by his culture, but we don’t like it. What should I do?

To start with Mr. Bully’s manager is a spineless weasel. The minute you reported the touching to him regardless of whether he witnessed it himself, he was required to take reasonable care to correct the harassment. In saying that, you also have an obligation to protect your employee from sexual harassment. It is your responsibility as a manager to thoroughly investigate a sexual harassment charge even if you are asked not to. If it comes out later you were aware of sexual harassment and did nothing your job could be in jeopardy.

I recommend you go home and write down every harassment incident you recall. Include dates, times, locations, who was present and what occurred. Include the “asking for a hug” incidents. Stick to the facts. Don’t write: he’s a creep and everyone I talk to thinks he’s a creep too. Don’t give excuses like he is not from our country and doesn’t understand our culture. Don’t say: Mr. Bully’s boss witnessed the incident, but refuses to admit it. Just write Mr. B’s boss was in the room.

First thing tomorrow morning pull out your employee manual and determine how to report a harassment incident. Follow the procedures indicated and file your report. Your company, most likely the HR department, will begin an investigation. They are required to make every effort to keep your identity confidential during and after the investigation. However, you or your employee’s identity may be obvious from the facts of the complaint.

It doesn’t matter that Mr. Bully is a friend of your company’s President. There is nothing he can or should do to prevent Mr. Bully from being investigated, but if you think your employer didn't fulfill its obligation under the law, or you experience retaliation consider contacting the EEOC.

In the interim if Mr. Bully touches you or your employee again tell him his behavior is not acceptable and must stop immediately. He is trying to bully and intimidate you as well as your employee and has created a hostile work environment.

It was hard for me to hear blatant sexual harassment such as this is still occurring in my back yard and that managers remain unwilling and afraid to report it. When this acquaintance initially came to me I was reminded of Penelope Trunk’s post Don’t report sexual harassment (in most cases). Penelope states:

After you've filed a report, human resources will protect the company, not you. The law is set up to encourage a company to take proscribed steps to protect itself from liability rather than to protect your emotional stability, or, for that matter, your career.
She suggests employees have a frank talk with their harasser prior to going to HR and to negotiate with him/her themselves. She recommends asking to be transferred to another department and if that doesn’t work to begin looking for a new job.

I am sure Mr. Bully has harassed women who have worked for him in the past and will do so again if he is not stopped. The thought of this manager getting away with this sickens me. I hope Penelope is wrong and HR will be successful in changing his behavior.

What do you think? Should employees report sexual harassment?


  1. Absolutely! You have given a clear and accurate account of what to do and why. Most of all, both women need to document, document, document. If HR does not IMMEDIATELY begin an investigation, they should absolutely contact the EEOC, who are way better prepared to deal with this sort of thing than anyone else. Mr. Bully does not get a "pass" because he's a buddy of the owner. The EEOC will also be the ones to file suit and pay for it. A necessity if they do lose their jobs. They should NOT quit, so that they can draw unemployment - which they will need.

  2. Webb,
    Thanks for the added details. Great advice. I didn't want to take away from the question of whether or not to report by divulging Mr. Bully is from Egypt, but I just watched the 60 minute segment on Lara Logan's attack in Egypt and decided to share. It just goes to show how good some people are at intimidating that these poor girls are afraid to report. Can you imagine how bad it must be in Egypt.

  3. I hate to agree with Penelope Trunk but reporting harassment is 9 times out of 10 a useless endeavor. I've seen the harasser protected more often than not (even when he's an outcast and not the boss's body). I think managers see penalizing other managers as some sort of vicious canablism.

    You're better off confiding in another senior manager to get their support but not making it official. It also might be worth it to report the incident to the police rather than your own company. I've seen harassers go through half a dozen victims before they finally act an ass in front of a DUDE at work and get reprimanded for violent behavior or some such.

    So document, protect yourself, talk to the bully's boss about ways in which you can increase the safety of you and your employee (assign a male employee to work with him, move your proximity, make sure there are witnesses and no one on one meetings or interactions). It's pretty disgusting women at work have to do this sort of thing but I don't know what else to say, if you need your job (or need any job in the industry) I don't think you can get away with complaining officially. Do all this, protect yourself above all else, and look as avidly as you can for another job.

  4. Frau Tech:
    Thanks for sharing your perspective and your advice. I think it is helpful. I only know one person who has filed a harassment suit and it was for age-discrimination. The accuser felt HR protected her harasser and in her eyes the only thing that changed was her manager now avoided her. When she followed up with HR they said they had performed an investigation and had determined age-discrimination had not occurred. So you are probably right; reporting the harassment to HR will in many cases be useless.

    I did consult with a friend who works in HR. Initially, she recommended my acquaintance report her harassment to HR. She said at her company he would be fired. When I told her the manager was also a friend and college buddy of the President. She said, “Oh that is tricky. In cases such as those he would be told to never do it again.” She also indicated in either case her name would be disclosed to the harasser.

    I then asked if she had ever worked on a sexual harassment investigation and what the outcome had been. She had once and a Last Chance Report had been filed. This report means he doesn’t get another chance.

    Finally, she recommended my acquaintance still go talk to HR. Don’t give names. Tell them she is not ready to file a report and see what they have to say. Then definitely tell him the touching has to stop. If it doesn’t file a report.

  5. Anonymous9:30 AM

    First, great post and vitally important post, too. You give all the necessary information on how to proceed when harassed. And I have to say that I disagree with FrauTech when she ways that 9 times out of 10 it is useless to report an incident. It is not useless and we women need to report it when it happens. We need to report again and again if no one is listening. I work as a director in a non profit and I can tell you, this is something we do not take lightly. It is the law to protect employees from being harassed on the job--whether it happens to a woman or a man, so please follow the rules as described in this post. Do not be discouraged. Excellent post and I'm glad I stopped by from LBS tea party today!

  6. Anonymous10:37 AM

    Great information shared here, especially with respect to what the EEOC can do for you. Sine it sounds like these ladies will need to get help form resources beyond the company.
    I'm not litigious by nature, but in this case, I think she should document like crazy, follow the rules, file a complaint and when nothing happens, sue the pants off of them!

  7. Excellent topic. One i have seen one too many times take place.

    Stopping by from LBS!

  8. Your advice sounds completely the right way to go about it, and your colleuge should consider submittinag a formal complaint.

    I was in a similar situation myself and I wish I had the courage to speak up for myself. Instead I just handed in my notice as soon as I could.

    Peg x

  9. Of course... especially in this case b/c there are two women reporting who presumably have no reason to collaborate and make up a story, rather than just a he-said-she-said. A woman should never have to put up with that kind of abuse, especially if other people can see that she's telling the truth. Were I there and had I witnessed something like that, I would raise such an ungodly stink that they'd have to fire me, haha!

  10. Monica,
    Thanks for reminding us the reason why sexual harassment laws were created - to protect employees from being harassed on the job.

    I agree if every thing fails I think she would have a strong case for litigation.

    Thanks for stopping in and leaving a comment.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    I love your attitude. In telling her story my acquaintance did reveal her place of employment, manager’s name and her department. Her manager made me so angry I had to hold myself back from blasting her story including those details all over the internet, but in the long run probably not a good idea.

    Thanks again everyone for all your comments. I am going to forward this post to my acquaintance I am sure it will help knowing how much we support her.

  11. Khalid,
    Thanks for sharing your perspective. Good point by reporting they are saving "changing" the future for others.