Dear David: Too Friendly

I recently got a promotion at work, which I was very excited about. Unfortunately, I have two different male supervisors who have always acted overly friendly to me. It used to be that I could mostly ignore their behavior because I didn’t see them all that often. Also, I knew they behaved the same way to my coworkers. However, as I have been training for my new position I have been spending more time with both of these supervisors, and their inappropriate actions and attitudes are becoming more obvious. Both of them will stand very close to me, lean over me when unnecessary, touch me on the shoulder or back, and say things that make me feel uncomfortable. One of them has even gone so far as to bite my hair. I had absolutely no idea how to react. I’ve had problems with customers in the past at work, and management has been of very little help. For this reason, I am reluctant to go to them now about my supervisors, especially because one of the reasons I received a promotion was because I get along so well with everyone. I’d prefer not to quit. Any advice?

— Once bitten, OR

Answer:

It’s time to bite back. You do have rights, although it sounds like management missed that memo. Some key steps: First, find a secure way to document every instance of inappropriate behavior. Best to email it to yourself—that proves the date. Be specific about what they did and what your response was—e.g., “So-and-so inserted a lock of my hair into his mouth, bit down, and then said ‘xxx.’ I immediately turned the subject back to work.” Second, send a written note to the supervisors making it clear that you want to keep a professional environment at work and are asking them to refrain from any sexual remarks or touching. It helps to write a first draft for your eyes only in which you say what you really feel, and then rewrite it to what you’d like to see in, say, a newspaper account. Look for other women this is happening to—these guys don’t sound like they’ve reserved this behavior just for you. Having more than one person file a complaint makes it a lot harder for management to ignore.

You’re smart not to put all your eggs in the management basket, but find out what channels there are for making a sexual harassment complaint if you need to. You have the right to go to the EEOC, but they’d want to know you used internal channels first.

“Getting along well with others” should never mean “putting up with bull.”