By Linnda Durre, Ph.D., Author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace – Protect Yourself Against Co-workers Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day published by McGraw Hill, February 19, 2010
As a business and corporate consultant, I’ve analyzed and worked with many difficult bosses over the years. In order to cope and deal with them, you need to know why they act the way they do and how best to deal with them, in order to earn their respect, get things accomplished, stop their toxic and/or illegal behavior, and preserve your sanity. In my twice-monthly column, I will help you cope with a different type of boss. This week, let’s take another one of the most frequently complained about types – Sewell the Sexual Harasser – who can be male or female.
THE SITUATION: Sewell the Sexual Harasser uses many different tactics to get his way: manipulation, bribery, flattery, guilt, threats, coercion, and blackmail, with the added factor of using sex – flirting, sexual threats, and/or quid pro quo sexual bargains – all to get his/her way, get a cheap sexual thrill, and/or have sex with you. Many times it is not even about sex – it’s about power. He has no morals or ethics in being sexual or demanding sexual favors.
Sewell the Sexual Harasser may start out with compliments and flirting, but it can easily and quickly lead into more serious infractions and illegal behavior –he tells lewd jokes, grabs breasts and body parts, pats you on the rear, rubs against you, talks about your body and graphic sex acts in front of you, propositions you, asks you to come to a motel for sex or for “lunch” — the list is endless. When you object, sometimes he covers it up by saying, “Oh, I was just kidding,” or “You’re too sensitive,” or “Can’t you take a joke?”
Young, innocent women and/or single mothers needing the job, the insurance and the benefits, can fall prey to the office predator. Lecherous bosses cause fear, distrust, terror, avoidance, absenteeism, arguments, fights, dissension, and work disruptions because of their behavior. He may be sexually harassing several employees at the same time or serially. He sometimes has a sense of entitlement and sees his female employees as his “harem.”
EXPLANATION: Sewell the Sexual Harasser has few boundaries, is very determined, and may be a sex addict. He may be a sociopath, psychopath, or even a rapist. He can’t take a hint that you’re not interested. Even when you say no, he may not stop. He needs to be reported to HR and confronted directly about his illegal behavior in front of the HR director, so you have a witness to his reaction. If your boss has sexually harassed other women, and those victims are willing, bring them along to the HR director. There is power and safety in numbers!
You may have to sue him publicly. Sometimes a law suit is the only wake up call he and the company will respond to. When confronting a sexual harasser, you must be clear, direct, and firm. Anything else he may interpret as a green light to continue the harassment and a sign of weakness or hesitation in you. He may believe that his behavior is acceptable and that you like what he’s doing, so you must be blunt and confrontive. Refrain from smiling and “being nice.”
SOLUTION: Bosses should keep their hands off their employees. Do not get involved sexually or romantically with people you work with. It’s too dangerous for your reputation, for the company, and for your future. Sexual harassers can be very sneaky and he can try to set you up to take the blame by saying that you were coming on to them. So always document everything.
Make duplicate tapes of his phone messages. Make photocopies of all: cards, emails, phone records and bills, text messages, letters, photos, and/or gifts and other proof of his inappropriate statements and attentions to give to your attorney, with the second copy and originals locked up in your safety deposit box so no one can get them but you. If this ends up in mediation, a law suit, or even gets all the way to the Supreme Court, you will need stamina, evidence, and witnesses.
When you confront Sewell the Sexual Harasser in front of the HR director in the HR office, bring your attorney with you. You must be blunt and confrontive. Either let your attorney talk or say: “Sewell, I experience you sexually harassing me. I resent it and I’m not interested. What you’re doing is illegal. You can’t rub against me, grab me, and make suggestive, sexual remarks about having sex with me. What makes you think you can get away with that obnoxious behavior? You and this company can be sued. If there are other women you’ve done this to, we will file a class action suit against you and this company, which would be very bad publicity for all involved.”
If HR takes no disciplinary action against Sewell and/or his sexually harassing behavior continues, you may want to go to EEOC and file a complaint with them. That costs you no money, and they can sometimes work out a settlement. If that doesn’t work, hire a lawyer, and have your attorney write a letter to and/or meet with the HR director, Sewell, and the executives, stating that they will be facing a law suit if his illegal behavior doesn’t stop. You may want to dispense with the letter and/or the meeting and directly file a law suit. You may also want to file a complaint against Sewell with the ethics board if he is a member of any professional organization or holds a state license. Be prepared for the worst – character assassination, your reputation in ruins, and your finances tapped. Media exposure – websites and/or going to print, TV, radio, and/or Internet investigative reporters – may garner you other victims as witnesses. Hiring private investigators may also elicit more women. Be strong, stand up for yourself, and surround yourself with excellent professional advice and legal representation. You can win these cases!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Linnda Durré, Ph.D., a psychotherapist, corporate consultant, national speaker, and columnist, currently hosts and produces her third radio show, “The Linnda Durré Show” on WEUS 810AM Orlando. She has hosted and co-produced two live call-in TV shows, including, “Ask the Family Therapist” on the Mayo Clinic-affiliated America’s Health Network, and has been interviewed on Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and The O’Reilly Factor, among others. She has been featured in publications including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Parade, and San Francisco Chronicle, and has written for Forbes Online, American Cities Business Journals, and Orlando Business Journal.