Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Co-Worker is a Relentless Bigoted Sexist”

I work at a small business where I am the only female employee. All the guys I work with are great, except one. He is considerably older than the rest of us (I am in my twenties, the other guys are in their thirties), less educated, and much more conservative. While he is good at his job (which requires little contact with the public), and I fully understand why he is still employed there, I find him extremely offensive and irritating.

He trash talks the other employees when they aren’t around, makes racist comments, goes on long tirades about “the liberals”, talks about how superior he and his family are, and generally passes judgment on every topic brought up in conversation. On top of this, he gets angry and confused when the workplace conversation steers toward a topic he is not familiar with and interrupts and talks loudly over whomever is speaking. It is clear he has no regard for anyone but himself, but up until now it was more irritating than harassing. I’ve even been able to look past the fact that he constantly refers to me as “the receptionist,” even though that is not remotely close to my job description, but rather because I am the only woman in the office. However, when I recently found him at my desk inspecting my lunch, and he spent 15 minutes telling me about how fat (exact words) I am going to become “eating like that,” I lost it. I can’t deal with his often hour long rants on topics no one in the office wants to hear about (like how “nobody would be in poverty if they just worked harder” and how there are no hungry children in America).

My coworkers are open-minded, women-respecting, non-judgmental men. It seems they put up with his behavior because he is good at his job and the comments he makes are rarely directed at them personally. I don’t want to report him to my boss because I don’t want to be the over-emotional woman who can’t handle him by “letting it bounce off” like they do. I’m still relatively new there and don’t want to alienate myself from them. Instead, I want to know what I can say to my coworker directly to make it known that I do not want to have these unsolicited one-sided conversations with him. Feigning disinterest (looking at my computer/work while he speaks, going into another room) is not working. I’ve also tried acting offended, but that just prompts him to say he is “only joking,” when it is obvious he is not. — Lone Lady

Do not try to reason with this person. It will only make things worse. He obviously has zero respect for you and won’t thoughtfully consider anything you have to say anyway. And don’t report this guy to your boss. Report him to your HR department. Immediately. Tell your HR rep exactly what you’ve said here. If your office doesn’t have an HR department, then go to this man’s boss. Write down everything that has been said or done to you personally in a derogatory fashion. Keep a file of these issues, with as many times and dates as you can recollect. Sexual harassment and discrimination in the work place is illegal, so the more proof or record you have of your co-worker’s (or anyone else’s) discriminatory behavior — and this goes for anyone who might treat you like an “over-emotional woman” for reporting your scumbag co-worker — the better. Keep fighting. There is no reason to put up with this kind of shit in your work place. Dealing with an overbearing boss? Fine. Experiencing work-related stress and anxiety? It happens. Sitting through boring meetings? Par for the course in many offices, sadly. What you do not need to accept is sexism or racism in the work place (or attacks against your political or religious views, for that matter). This is 2011, for Christ’s sake. Woman up and take this man down.

63 comments… add one
  • Budj

    Budj November 16, 2011, 2:21 pm

    I’ve said this before…but depending on your companies politics if you don’t try and work this out with your boss or directly with this dude with 0 tact before going to HR you may get egg on your face for complaining about it. So just navigate your course of action based on your assessment of the politics.

    My guess is with such a small company your HR department is non-existent or very small – so maybe it will be different than my experience in larger companies.

    Question: By “losing it” do you mean you told him, respectfully, that you don’t appreciate those comments and you wish he would keep his topics of conversation more work related with you? Or was it an internal explosion of emotion “losing it”? If the latter I would really emphasize approaching him first – like a dog – the next time he does it correct it on the spot. Everything you listed in your letter sounded passive-aggressive. Someone in HR might be able to pipe in here, but I feel like they would ask you if you tried to work the situation out with him first.

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    • avatar

      cporoski November 17, 2011, 11:38 am

      I totally agree with the reproaching it on the spot. Because i find that many women stay quiet and stew. One day, the snap and look “Crazy”. Or “She went to HR out of nowhere.” I say you deal with it issue by issue right when it happens.

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  • Budj

    Budj November 16, 2011, 2:54 pm

    It would be illegal to fire her for it – but if she is the new person and this guy performs a critical function in a small business they will find something else to fire her for or worse make her life a hell at work through legal means until she quits.

    I’ve seen this happen which is why I’m saying it isn’t as easy to just report it. She needs to make sure she understands the nuances of her work environment to protect herself too.

    Example:

    -If she is an administrative assistant then “receptionist” could be argued a dated term due to his age.
    Worst case for him = slap on the wrist / stern talking to
    Worst case for her = potential reputation smear at a small company (easier to handle in bigger companies – gossip doesn’t reach as “far”)
    -Even worse – the situation I described above

    -Weight discussions… while insulting he did not actually call her fat – he said she would be fat if she kept “eating like that”…

    There are ways to spin it is all I’m saying. Employers aren’t always out for every individual employee and if it’s easier to hire a new person in her role than fire him that’s what will happen.

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    • Budj

      Budj November 16, 2011, 2:59 pm

      I know this was a doomsday discussion – in reality the discussion probably wouldn’t have such high stakes if it is a one time thing…just some food for thought while the LW decides what is best for her.

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    • avatar

      ForeverYoung November 16, 2011, 3:06 pm

      Thank you for bringing up such great points. It would be great if it was so easy to make behavior like this stop, the real world is different than the laws. I have worked at a lot of small companies and the atmosphere is quire different. I had an old supervisor that upon finding out that her secretary was pregnant literally began making her life hell so she would quit and he wouldn’t have to pay for maternity leave. He was a real gem. I don’t think it’s that helpful to tell her to report it. There are always legal ways for her company to get revenge on her because of it. And if she is the only girl it would probably be easier for them to make her quit and hire a guy and not rock the boat. Sad but true.

      LW – if I were you I would just start looking for a different job and ignore him the best you can

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      • avatar

        rangerchic November 17, 2011, 8:51 am

        I agree with Budj. It is not always easy or the best thing to go to HR (if she even has that department). And if she is the newest employee it would be easier and cheaper for the company to fire her than the man. I do agree with document everything. And, maybe put on some headphones and just flat out ignore him.
        These type of guys have a comeback for everything you say to – it is like nothing you say will put them in their place and if you loose it is just like adding fuel to the fire.
        Good luck!

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph November 17, 2011, 11:19 am

      “There are ways to spin it is all I’m saying. Employers aren’t always out for every individual employee and if it’s easier to hire a new person in her role than fire him that’s what will happen. ”

      Like how a certain institution kept allowing a certain member of the football establishment to keep raping little kids rather than deal with the situation? Not trying to incite a riot on DW, but plenty of workplaces (big and small) are willing to cover up all manner of indiscretions rather than fire important members of the team and/or admit that their employees are less-than-upstanding members of society. The only thing any single person can do is fight it to the best of their ability; but you very well may put your job on the line in doing so.

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  • avatar

    silver_dragon_girl November 16, 2011, 2:08 pm

    What Wendy said. Go to HR.

    Aside from that, though, have you ever actively argued with this guy? About your lunch, for instance, you could say, “You know, Bob, I don’t walk over to your desk and critique your lunch or your health or your appearance. Why do you feel like you have the right to do that to me? You always say you’re “just joking,” but then you turn around and say the same kind of crap again and again. Please stop, or I’ll be forced to go to HR or your supervisor.” Personally, I’d feel obligated to at least warn the guy before making an official complaint, but also understand that this could make the situation worse. If, however, he’s never really been called out on his shit before, he might at least tone it down for a while. Just a thought.

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    • EscapeHatches

      EscapeHatches November 16, 2011, 5:57 pm

      This right here.

      I was in the same scenario (tiny, office, only woman that wasn’t the secretary) and when confronted, cooly, logically, and without disrespect the guy toned it wayy waayy down. This was good, as the HR manager was the guy’s wife and the owners of the firm were slow to do much about it.

      I always caution women in my industry to try and discuss it with the problem person, preferably with a witness around, before going to HR. Like it or not, a harassment claim colors all of the involved parties. I 110% respect the desire to not be seen as the weak little lady in the office, and would be GLAD to share my experiences with my ridiculously male dominated field to anyone who has to deal with this crap.

      Try an intervention – then go to the appropriate authorities.

      Oh, and good luck!

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  • avatar

    Carolynasaurus November 16, 2011, 2:08 pm

    What I don’t understand from the letter is the coworkers’ reactions to all of this. Are they not around when he says inappropriate things to you? If they were, I would in no way call them “woman-respecting”.

    While I completely agree with Wendy that you should talk to HR about him, I would try to collect some examples of how his behavior is impacting multiple people, not just yourself. You should definitely present the things he has said that offended you personally, but if you present to HR how he’s negatively impacting everyone, it makes it more clear who they should take action against. You want them to see that they should be targeting your coworker and his behavior, not trying to figure out a way to get rid of you legally to make the problem go away.

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    • avatar

      TheOtherMe November 16, 2011, 2:13 pm

      I agree about the coworkers, I was going to suggest talking to a few closer ones & see what their take on it was & f they would be willing to have her back once she goes to HR.

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    • avatar

      Britannia November 16, 2011, 3:34 pm

      I would really suggest tape recording him a few times, just so that you have SOLID evidence to bring to HR about the kind of topics he broaches.

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      • avatar

        Meredith November 17, 2011, 11:57 am

        I would be careful on this. Depending on the state that she is in, it could be illegal to record him without his knowledge.

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  • avatar

    lets_be_honest November 16, 2011, 2:15 pm

    My sister sent this to me a few weeks ago and I think it applies here.
    Hopefully links work on here.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yashar-hedayat/a-message-to-women-from-a_1_b_958859.html

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    • avatar

      artsygirl November 16, 2011, 3:21 pm

      I loved that post – it was fascinating and very true.

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest November 16, 2011, 3:59 pm

        I did too. Something all women should read.

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        Addie Pray November 16, 2011, 6:02 pm

        Yea, thanks for posting. I liked that.

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    • Lili

      Seattle _lili November 16, 2011, 3:59 pm

      I agreed with this article 100% I also sent it to an ex who I thought could benefit from reading it, since ‘you’re acting crazy’ was one of his favorite lines. His response to the article was ‘thats so gay’ Yep. Exact words. Thanks for the reminder buddy on why we aren’t together.

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest November 16, 2011, 4:24 pm

        I don’t know whether to laugh or groan. Glad he’s an ex!

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    • Alena

      AlenaLynn November 16, 2011, 4:23 pm

      That is a wonderful article! Thanks for posting it. I absolutely hate it when people behave that way, far too many people think it’s perfectly appropriate, and the man the LW is talking about is a great example of such people.

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  • avatar

    bethany November 16, 2011, 2:18 pm

    Many small businesses don’t have an HR rep, let alone HR Department. I know mine doesn’t. If I was in this situation I have no idea who I would talk to about this!

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    • avatar

      Addie Pray November 16, 2011, 2:27 pm

      Your supervisor or an officer of the company, for sure. How big (# of employees) is your company?

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      • avatar

        bethany November 16, 2011, 3:39 pm

        We’ve got about 20-25 people- If something really bad happened I’d have to talk to the President, I guess… Lets just hope that never happens! I love all my coworkers, and have a pretty open relationship with them all, so I could probably just resolve conflict with them one on one, without having to take it to a higher level.

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      Sarah November 16, 2011, 2:34 pm

      My company doesn’t have one, and to be honest, I’ve needed it in the past. Some co-workers have said things that I found incredibly sexist (one gem of a co-worker will even sometimes shout C***! to female callers after they hang up) and going to my boss, while having some effect, is not what I have hoped for. My boss is reasonable about it though, and asks me what solution I’d like to have to fix it. Whether or not the co-workers actually change is still left to see.

      I think no matter what, its important for the LW to not worry about fitting in with the boy’s club and wondering if talking to her boss will make her seem over-emotional. Frankly, I think its why the douchebag keeps doing things to her, because he knows he can always throw out the “jeez, calm down, I was just joking” card and make her quiet down. While my worst co-worker (the c*** guy) is still as awful as ever (he is crazy stupid though), a few other co-workers have learned not to make the “women will spend all your money” and “women are bad at using computers” statements because they know it comes with a long conversation with our boss.

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    • avatar

      GatorGirl November 16, 2011, 3:03 pm

      They might not have a HR Rep or Department, but surely there is someone who handles the payroll, employee benefits, vacations, ect. I would recommend asking that person who to contact. Or just go to your direct supervisor, or if they are the one with the behavior in question, their supervisior. Technically my company of 10 doesn’t have an HR Rep/Department, but I serve that position because I’m the most knowledgable in that area (technically I’m the bookkeeper and office manager). I’ve handled all kinds of strange HR related questions/issues and when I can’t I refer our employee’s to the owner/boss.

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    • avatar

      Michelle.Lea November 16, 2011, 5:23 pm

      I know I worked in a place of only 6 employees. No HR, no nothing. you couldn’t complain to anyone, and nothing was taken seriously. i even worked for a larger company of about 20, and same thing. if you had an issue, you either worked it out yourself, or you left. In both of those cases, i ended up leaving.

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  • avatar

    Addie Pray November 16, 2011, 2:25 pm

    LW, I am a labor and employment attorney who counsels employers on a daily basis about all aspects of the employment relationship … including this very horseshit you are dealing with. Does your company have an employee handbook? (Probably. Even small companies do.) Read its anti-harassment policy. (It probably has one.) And read that policy’s reporting procedure. It probably has one that says, “if you witness discrimination or harassment of any kind, you *must* [not may, *must*] report it to HR or your supervisor or an officer. (I counsel all employers to include this provision because it is critical to insulate an employer when they are later sued; a successful defense to a claim for harassment by a coworker is (a) we have a procedure in place for reporting the harassment; and (b) the employee did not follow it. Claimed denied, no matter how egregious the harassment!) So you really must/should report it. Out of curiosity though, how big is your company? Depending on your state, it actually may not be against the law to sexually harass in the work place. You need at least 15 employees to be recognized as an “employer” subject to federal anti-discrimination/harassment law. State law varies but is often consistent with the federal law. But regardless, report it. Your employer may just do the right thing and put a stop to it! And of course if other people give you shit about telling, well that’s called retaliation for engaging in a protective activity – also illegal (if you have 15 or more employees….). Report it already.

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    • avatar

      Addie Pray November 16, 2011, 2:50 pm

      Reading back over your letter, you want to know what you can say directly to the coworker… well, against, like I said and like Wendy and everyboday is saying, you must report it. But let me make a few more comments: First, just because someone is good at their job does not mean they are allowed to harass. So to the extent the company is tolerating him because of that, that’s wrong, and unlawful. Second, I’m concerned that this guy is more of a supervisor. You mentioned that you (and most everyone else) is young but he is older. To the extent he is your supervisor, he could make things difficult for you if you approach him and don’t go through HR (or an officer of the company). And the reason being, he will know you don’t like him. He could give you a bad review or use his influences to get you fired (worst case scenario). If you complain for the first time then (“Oh he was just out to get me because I told him I did not appreciate his sexist/racist comments”), then the company will say “Oh, yeah, when? And if that’s true, why didn’t you report it to us?”… And that’s where you get no where. So tell HR. (It doesn’t have to be a big, big deal – just go, in person, and say you’d like to discuss something…. then you can send a follow up email saying “thank you for hearing me out about so and so.” (So you have the documentation.) So, in short, that’s why you really can’t/shouldn’t go to the harasser. You got to tell your company and let them handle it.

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      • avatar

        6napkinburger November 16, 2011, 3:04 pm

        I’m sure that Addie Pray will agree with me that, in this particular case, to achieve your goals, you will be relying on your employer’s desire to have a non-crappy workplace and to live up to its handbook; to avoid any threat of legal action and the empathy of nicer coworkers.

        Based on what you describe, this does not (remotely) qualify as something that would win as a “hostile work environment” in terms of descrimination based on sex, and would probably not based on race either (though you don’t describe the extent of the “jokes”). What you are describing is a boor and a bully, but as of now, general “harassment”/bullying is not against the law. And if he is not a supervisor and is not actively surpressing your freedom of association by penalizing you for “being a liberal”, his tirades about liberals is also just good ole shitty assholery, which is not illegal either.

        So, you are going to have to take a page from Dale Carnegie on this one, and make friends in high places, and influence people. Follow the handbook to the letter. And become friends/friendly with both your manager, HR, and possibly his manager. People are more likely to care when others are hurting people they like. Ingratiate yourself to your other coworkers.

        Also, wait until Mr Douchey McDouche says something that is over the top, no question, anyone in the world would be offended/uncomfortable and THEN, in the presence of others, request that he not do anything like that, about other races, women or political affiliation anymore, because it makes you incredibly uncomfortable and you would appreciate it if he’d make an effort to stop. Wait until it is something that even the other men would find cringeworthy/awkward as all hell. Then you can’t be faulted for “being emotional.”

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray November 16, 2011, 3:11 pm

        I whole-heartedly agree that the actions described above are likely not sufficient to constitute actionable harassment under the law. But she cannot wait until he does something that blatantly is against the law, and here’s why: the handbook does not differentiate between levels. Any behavior remotely offensive should be reported. But more importantly, once she reports the inappropriate conduct (even if she does not call it “harassment” — she could simply say — he makes jokes that I find offensive – that’s enough), then she has engaged in protected conduct. If she were to get fired (like, if this asshole gets her fired or something because she’s easily replaceable), she can head straight to her local EEOC office and file a charge. She won’t have to prove the complained of conduct amounted to actionable harassment – all she will have to do is show she complained about conduct the reasonably believed was offensive, and then was fired. So, while I agree, she really can’t wait until he does something worse. And like someone else said, most employers want to do the right thing – they want a happy, harmonious work environment – so I trust her employer will do the right thing.

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      • avatar

        6napkinburger November 16, 2011, 3:18 pm

        Oh, totally agree. I think she should absolutely report it immediately. That’s what i meant by “follow the letter of the handbook.” But I just meant that to all the other people crying HUGELY ILLEGAL, most of the crap he is doing (bullying, mean, self-aggrandizing, political discussions) actually isn’t and so she needs people to like her to get what she wants.

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      • avatar

        6napkinburger November 16, 2011, 3:16 pm

        And I meant to say that I believe this conversation should come AFTER you follow the handbook and depends entirely whether you are allowed to voice your displeasure to the person who is offending you. If the policy is for you not to, then clearly don’t. But, for example, if their policy is for structured mediation and a continued dialoge, then making this public statement after you go through mediation and he still makes comments shows that it is not working and that you are still being offended and letting him know that, so he can’t say “I didn’t realize it offended her.” And then report it as well. And keep records.

        My point is that you want to get the rest of the men on your side and telling him to stop after he says something that is universally offensive is one of the best bets, because they’ll agree with you.

        Unless you want the fact that it is you complaining to be a secret. Then you can’t talk to him directly.

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    • avatar

      GatorGirl November 16, 2011, 2:56 pm

      I serve as the HR department for our small company (10 full time employee’s and 3 full time subcontractors). The legal advice we were given was to follow the laws, even if we’re technically under the employee limit, because 1) one day we might be over it and it will be hard to change behavior and 2) it’s better to be safe then sorry. Personally I think it’s bull that there are employee quota’s in order for the law to apply. She should definitely report it.

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    • avatar

      Flake November 16, 2011, 2:58 pm

      ” Depending on your state, it actually may not be against the law to sexually harass in the work place. You need at least 15 employees to be recognized as an “employer” subject to federal anti-discrimination/harassment law.”

      Holy cow, how messed up is this??

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      • avatar

        lk November 16, 2011, 3:22 pm

        LOL yeah, now I want to get myself 14 employees & let the inhumane treatment begin…

        Oh, America, I really do love you. Humans, you are all wonderful too : )

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  • avatar

    GatorGirl November 16, 2011, 2:32 pm

    “Hostile work environment harassment occurs when unwelcome comments or conduct based on sex, race or other legally protected characteristics unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment…The victim can be anyone affected by the conduct, not just the individual at whom the offensive conduct is directed.” (Federal Communication Commision website)

    This is illegal and reprimandable behavior. You need to go to HR immediately. When you say “I don’t want to be the over-emotional woman who can’t handle him by “letting it bounce off” like they do” I wonder if you’re afraid you will loose you’re job. It would be illegal for your company to fire you for reporting harassment and if that happened you would be eligible for un-employment benefits and the company could face harsh penalties from the government. Don’t try to talk to or reason with this man, go through the appropriate work channels and have him disciplined that way.

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  • avatar

    Colleen November 16, 2011, 2:39 pm

    Yes, be firm and clear the next time he bothers you. Don’t engage with him about his opinions or try to prove his “facts” wrong. Instead, focus on the behaviors that offend you: “I feel very intruded upon when you look through my lunch and comment on my choices, so I need you to stay away from my personal space,” “I have a hard time getting my work done when you come over to chat, so I need you to end this conversation,” “Please refer to me by my actual job title,” etc. He clearly doesn’t pick up on subtle cues so be very clear about what behaviors you want to stop and what you need him to do. You might not be able to quell his annoying lack of social skills, but you can stop his harassment. Document all of this obsessively, then address the issue with HR or his supervisor. If you don’t feel that they respond appropriately, consider getting another coworker on your side. Is there someone you trust or someone who seems even slightly bothered by this oaf’s behavior? Ask them privately to also talk to the supervisor. Be careful to stay professional and avoid drama. That will only make you look bad and discredit your case, especially since you are somewhat new. But you have every right to a comfortable and safe workplace.

    I have also worked in small offices and I know that sometimes the situation isn’t ideal. The boss his/herself may be unprofessional, social and work boundaries may blend a lot, and sometimes the great entrepreneur who started the company is not such a good day-to-day manager. You may not be successful in shutting down this guy’s behavior, but you have to try. If you don’t get support from the higher-ups, keep documenting that, too. Then start looking for a new job and consider seeking some legal advice if you think it has come to that.

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  • avatar

    Greebo November 16, 2011, 2:59 pm

    If there are witnesses, document who they are. While I, personally, would tell the old man to go away, my company’s manual has no such requirement. However, we are required to do unmentioned possible witnesses to harassing or threatening behavior and statements.

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  • avatar

    Renee November 16, 2011, 3:07 pm

    If you choose to address with your supervisor, also frame the issue as not only discriminating behavior but also it takes away from the company’s productivity. You weren’t hired to keep your co-worker company or be an audience for his opinions, you were hired to do your job. Every moment you’re stressed out by him with his personal rants and distractions is stealing the employers time.

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    • avatar

      Colleen November 16, 2011, 3:12 pm

      Great advice. His rants are consuming your work time.

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  • avatar

    Flake November 16, 2011, 3:07 pm

    I am a Union rep at a big company. I agree with Wendy. Do not talk to the guy directly. Do not give him any ammunition. Do not let it become a case of “she said, he said”. Document every instance of this perceived harassment (I say “perceived” just to be on the safe side, but by no means I’m implying that you are overreacting). Write down dates and time, and if possible, the exact words that were said by both of you. After you have more than a few concrete examples, go to your HR rep or his supervisor (continue keeping the “harassment” records even after, at least until the matter has been acknowledged, or, better yet, resolved). You do not have to put up with anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe at your work place. In the very least he should be reprimanded. Do not feel guilty, but realize that he may lose his job over this. And good luck!

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    • Budj

      Budj November 16, 2011, 3:51 pm

      The entity of the union protects their employees more than non-union. It is a lot easier to fire me than any union employee at my company.

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  • avatar

    mf November 16, 2011, 3:21 pm

    Preach it, Wendy!

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    eelizg23 November 16, 2011, 3:31 pm

    The headline here is really bothering me. It should read “unrelenting” or “relentless,” not “unrelentless.”

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    AKchic November 16, 2011, 3:34 pm

    There are a lot of ways this can go. I would recommend taking Addie Pray’s advice on the reporting issue. Take Wendy’s advice about documentation. Documentation is ALWAYS key.

    I’ve been in plenty of places where the “Good ‘Ol Boys Club” is prevalent. Working with truckers, soldiers, prison guards, slope workers, rough necks, construction workers, mechanics, etc. There is no delicate or easy way to deal with it.

    As Budj said – if you’re an “administrative assistant”, or even “office manager” but the only one to answer the phone then yes, technically you are the “receptionist” (the more “antiquated” term). Answering phones, scheduling appointments, taking messages – those are receptionist/secretarial duties. That may not be your new-fangled job title, but honestly, it’s part of the job.

    Other than that, all I can say it take the advice of Wendy and Addie. There may be backlash because it is a Good ‘Ol Boy you’re working against. In fact, expect it. I’ve lost jobs because of it. You may have to go to your local labor board to fight it.

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    • caitie_didnt

      caitie_didn't November 16, 2011, 5:11 pm

      It seems a lot of people on this thread have pointed out that “well, if you’re an office manager or administrative assistant, he’s technically not wrong to call you receptionist”. The LW said in her letter that her job description includes NOTHING that could be remotely construed as administrative assistant/receptionist/office manager. I’m going to take the LW at her word on this one. I read this as she’s in a male-dominated field and so just happens to be the only female in the office.

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    • avatar

      pamplemousse November 16, 2011, 8:03 pm

      I do not answer phones (unless no one else is there), take messages, schedule appointments or do any secretarial duties to speak of. Which is why I find it strange that he calls me “the receptionist.”

      You are correct about the “Good ‘Ol Boys Club” though…

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  • avatar

    artsygirl November 16, 2011, 3:38 pm

    LW – Chances are this office bully has never been called on his shit. If he is older and been with the company longer, people have probably written off his remarks in the past as “Oh Larry, he is just crazy” and moved on, like a lot of us do when grandparents or members of their generation make a somewhat racist, sexist, or homophobic comment. The problem is that positively reinforces the behavior. He thinks people are in agreement with his thoughts and that he is acting in a way that is acceptable. It is always smart to report things like this so it doesn’t delve into a he said/she said argument. I would also firmly inform him that you do not find the topic acceptable for the work place if he starts railing on other employees or politics; or inform him that his comments on your eating habits are not wanted or appreciated. Seriously do you care if this guy thinks you are emotional? He is a jerk and it sounds like most of the other employees think he is too. The fact that you are new to the work place might be in your favor because if you keep silent about his comments then it is harder to say something at a later date.

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    Jubietta November 16, 2011, 4:37 pm

    It hit me oddly that LW’s co-worker goes to “It’s just a joke” when she stands up for herself. I fully agree that Addie, AKChick and Wendy are right about how to go about protecting yourself within the system. I also have worked in some heavily male-dominated fields (UAW shops, engineering labs, design houses) and the two things I learned were that often the attention of the “pretty young thing” is a very valuable commodity (even when it’s achieved negatively), and that if you can “zing back” like a guy they tend to respect you more.
    So…my thoughts are, in addition to following the “official system approach” above I would treat your attention like it’s gold from a goose’s butt and don’t give it to anyone who doesn’t deserve it, AND tell him that he’s NOT FUNNY, so don’t do anything that might jeopardize his day job because he’s got not chance at a career in stand-up comedy!

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    • caitie_didnt

      caitie_didn't November 16, 2011, 5:07 pm

      “It’s just a joke” is a classic minimizing technique that harassers like to use. See Herman Cain’s “i have a sense of humour and some people just don’t get that” with regard to his sexual harassment charges. Especially when the “victim” is female, the harasser can pass off their behaviour as just an over-emotional women taking things too seriously.

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    evanscr05 November 16, 2011, 4:45 pm

    A couple of years ago I was on a team with this woman who went off her rocker and decided she had a problem with every single person on our team. She was in and out of our boss’ office every day with a complaint about everyone. At one point she filed a harassment case against one of my coworkers that was completely unfounded, but she twisted everything that was ever said to her or about her work (even if it was constructive) and made it seem like everyone was out to get her. She also would reply to emails that we would send, always CC: our boss, and then bitch about us individually with all kinds of false allegations. No one liked her, but we dealt with it for some reason. When she finally started attacking me, it made me have issues sleeping, eating, and focusing on my work. I had enough. I went to my boss and complained. I had facts to back it up, including emails, and dropped the “hostile work environment” phrase because, legally, if a boss hears that, they HAVE to get HR involved. And involved they got. Because of the nature of the request, she was not permitted to know WHO filed it, I had to provide all of my documentation, she was removed from our office and put in another room, she was no longer allowed to work on the same projects as me, and there were discussions with every single person on the team to back up my claims. It was an air tight case (plus, she had done this before), and she was let go.

    LW, I tell you this because I’ve been in a similar position (though different circumstances), and my advice to you is this: document everything this man says and does. Discuss with your coworkers about the incidents and make ABSOLUTELY SURE that they all not only know what’s going on, but would be willing to discuss it with someone should this get addressed up the chain. DO NOT go over your boss. If you go over their head and they have no idea something is going on, it could cause your professional relationship with them to degrade. They have a right to know what is going on with their teams and an obligation to resolve issues. Getting HR involved is very serious, and can take a long time to resolve (took 6 months from the time I filed a claim until she was out). If it’s serious enough to warrant HR involvement, your boss will HAVE to go to them if you use the term “hostile” or if you request it. The woman I worked with was batshit crazy (like, legit, I was worried for my safety crazy), but this man you work with, while offensive, MAY be reasonable if this is brought to his attention. I have no idea. It doesn’t have to come from you, though. If you’re too uncomfortable to say anything yourself, have your boss do it. Give him an opportunity to correct it, and if he doesn’t, then escalate. But remember, if you involve HR they will be relentless to get to the bottom of it and will want all kinds of proof and verification. Make sure you can provide that before you move forward.

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  • avatar

    SGMcG November 16, 2011, 4:49 pm

    The importance of documenting every incident that bothers you cannot be stressed enough. As you document everything, be sure to put the date, the time, potential witnesses, what was said…whatever you feel is important. Before you hand over your documentation to HR when you file your complaint against this guy (because that is what you ultimately should be doing), make sure you make a copy of it for your records and get it notarized by a notary public, thus your documented record becomes a sworn affidavit of record regarding your incident.

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  • avatar

    AKchic November 16, 2011, 5:04 pm

    I’ll admit, personally, I’m a smart-ass. When I had a guy tell me that I’ll get fat eating the way I do/did (a burger and fries at a company bbq), I simply said “thanks for the advice Doctor, when should I expect the bill?”

    Granted – this is not exactly the time to do such a thing. It would only encourage such behavior, or, get him to complain to YOUR supervisor that you’re being “lippy” (a complaint I’ve had filed against me).
    Make sure that ALL of your interactions are “above-board” with ALL of your co-workers. Nothing can be misconstrued as after-office hours ‘hanky-panky’, or flirting. That your clothing cannot be considered ‘suggestive’. In the last few years, clothing designers have decided that “professional” must mean “borderline hooker-wear”. I can’t find many shirts that DON’T show off a part of my cleavage. Granted, with DDs on a good day, it’s kind of hard to hide them, but still, I’m not trying to pull a Christina Hendricks at an awards show kind of thing.

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  • fast eddie

    fast eddie November 16, 2011, 7:13 pm

    Document everything and buy a cheap webcam with a microphone, let it run and let him effect his early retirement.

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  • avatar

    Chantelle November 16, 2011, 6:45 pm

    Get email replies and documents from HR/his boss/your boss as often as possible. Had a meeting with someone about the incidents but nothing was put in writing? Send an email confirming the conversation and action that was discussed. Make things formal, request documents, signatures. You need to create this paper trail. Say you’d feel more comfortable with a witness present or that you’d like everything to be recorded.

    I say all this because I know it can be harder in a smaller, less formal office setting where having procedures to stick to is not always the case.

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    • avatar

      AKchic November 16, 2011, 7:12 pm

      Very good point. Take notes during the meetings, bring a small recorder in (if needed, tell them that it helps you in note writing).

      I have a recorder that records up to 70 hours of data. It plugs directly into my computer. I love it. Bought it at Wal-Mart for like $50. I take it to all of my meetings, and I get managers asking to borrow it for THEIR meetings (and the board of director meetings).
      If needed, record everything during the day. You don’t HAVE to let anyone know, but at least when he DOES do things, it’s all on tape and you can refer back to it, or bring it up as evidence later on. Just make sure to keep COPIES of the digital recordings so that if something happens (fire/flood at the office destroys a copy), you can make sure that you still have copies of all of your material.

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  • avatar

    pamplemousse November 16, 2011, 7:05 pm

    I am the LW and long-time Dear Wendy.com lurker. In my angered state, I’m afraid I forgot some important details when I wrote my letter.

    First, when I said my office was small – I meant really small. The entire company consists of 5 employees. Needless to say, there is no HR department. If I were going to report this man, it would have to be to my boss. I don’t want to do this because, as EscapeHatches mentioned, it would likely change the comfortable group dynamic I have with the other 3 guys. One of the things I like best about where I work is that I never feel excluded or tiptoed around because I’m the only woman (with the exception of when this one man is around). I should also state the he is a part-time employee and is not in the office half as often as myself and the other guys.

    Also, to answer some commenters’ questions about whether he makes these comments while others’ are around: Yes, he does go on long tirades around my other coworkers, but they are usually more general (usually directed at politics or institutions). However, the comments I’ve found most horrifying and offensive have been made while he and I were alone in the office. He also tones it down a lot when the boss is around.

    Hope that clarifies a few things and thank you all for all the helpful advice, shared experiences, reading material, etc. I plan to read every response and hopefully form a good plan-of-attack. You guys are awesome.

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    • avatar

      AKchic November 16, 2011, 7:15 pm

      He singles you out for more direct rants? That’s not exactly a good thing.

      Again – a digital recorder is going to be your best friend. And yes, you DO need to say something to your boss. This guy needs to learn boundaries, and what is and isn’t appropriate in the workplace. I think he knows, otherwise he wouldn’t tone it down around the others. There needs to be another person there with you two once the “talk” has happened, otherwise, it could escalate into all-out bullying/harassment to try to get you to leave.

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  • katie

    katie November 16, 2011, 8:25 pm

    gosh, lw, that sucks. i hate to say it, but i dont think that there is anything legally that you can do… and i totally agree with your above comment about how going to the boss would mess up the whole office. i was involved in an incident once, and i was so terrified of it getting out that i had come forward… i didnt want anyone to know. that would be basically impossible at your work it sounds like.

    i think the best approach may be to tackle it with him personally first. maybe look up some good strategies on diffusing situations like that. if you are at all close to your boss, maybe just in conversation you can bring up something that he said that made you a litte uncomfortable… you could phrase it as, ya know, so and so said this yesterday. i thought it was really out of character for him. we were just alone in the office, i dont think anyone else heard it. maybe then your boss would kind of keep his ears open for bad stuff…

    atleast be happy that he is a part time employee, right?

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  • avatar

    GTR November 16, 2011, 11:26 pm

    I’m surprised that no one else has voiced the suspicion that this guy has a low-key mental illness, like very mild Aspergers. Perfectly sane people don’t give 15 minute lectures on lunch choices. At the very least, he suffers with poor socialisation skills.

    It may be useful to change the power dynamic here. At the moment you are being the victim and allowing him to set the agenda. But you’re the full-time employee, and you probably get on better with your coworkers than he does. Smile pleasantly at him, and speak in calm, bland, clear tones as you would to an vacant elderly relative. No sarcasm, no offense, just detatched pleasantness. Without a reaction, he won’t be motivated to keep bugging you. And you’ll be reminding him of the thing he probably fears most: that he’s a dinosaur and no one really likes him.

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    • avatar

      moonflowers November 17, 2011, 1:02 am

      Even better – truly, completely ignore him. As if you’re alone in the room. Animal trainers use a complete absence of attention to “extinguish” behaviors they don’t want the animals performing, while rewarding them with attention when they do what they want. And negative attention (being obviously upset or irritated) is better than none at all.

      It will be tough, but if you can completely blank this guy for a week or two, he might realize he’s not going to get a rise out of you and leave you alone. However, I fully understand that it would take the patience of a saint not to get upset by some of the crass things coming out of his mouth.

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  • avatar

    cporoski November 17, 2011, 8:07 am

    I have found that these types of men tend to be easily trained, it is just getting up the nerve. I had a guy who would make comments and I turned around and said politely, “Hey, I am a lady and should be treated as such.” about 3 years later, there was a a guy who made a general sexual comment and I whipped around and said, “Where do you think you are and who do you think you are talking to.” But that comment took experience and confidence in my place in the company. Both times it took one public comment and it stopped completely. If it doesn’t for you then you should go to HR.

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  • avatar

    Betty Boop November 19, 2011, 7:00 pm

    Late to the party here, but as someone who has worked in HR for both small companies and in a national corporation, most HR departments, bosses, what have you, require you have a respectful conversation with the offending party to make it clear you find the behavior to be harassment before you can file a grievance. There are exceptions for egregious violations, but in general you have to make a good faith effort with the harasser to make sure they understand their behavior is unwanted. I, personally, would take the next inappropriate remark as an opportunity to express calmly and clearly that you are bothered by his comments and that it feels like a personal attack. I’m sure he’ll just say he’s only joking again. Respond that you understand he may mean it as a joke but that it doesn’t come across as one and you would greatly appreciate him refraining from those sorts of comments in the future. It’s unlikely to do any good, but you will be on very firm ground to go higher up and get this fixed. Document the basics of this conversation and then document every incident for the next 2 weeks to month to have further proof of his inappropriate behavior. You are welcome to then give a second warning but I would just go right to HR or your direct supervisor to start the process of stopping this. Many companies would prefer to handle things quietly and discreetly with a long term employee and your professional handling of the situation will show that you are NOT a weak, whiney woman.

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