I have been literally chased around the conference room table by the head boss of the bank. I am female and he was chasing me for sexual reasons. What makes it’s more creepy is that he is the stepfather of a guy I used to date. What can I do?
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY FRANKE JAMES
Your short letter raises lots of questions – but answering it is challenging since so much information is left out. Nevertheless, I’m going to attempt to help you by prompting your thinking — using the type of self-diagnostic techniques that emergency health manuals offer for First Aid.
For example in those emergency guides they ask the reader a series of questions to determine whether a doctor, an ambulance, an aspirin or a bandage is the right First Aid to apply. The reader diagnoses the malady for themselves – which is exactly what you are going to have to do.
My first thought in reading your letter is that you are very aware of the power imbalance here. You don’t tell us whether a sexual assault occurred, but you do tell us that this fellow is in a position of authority, heading up a bank.
You sound like an intelligent person, so much of this will be common sense to you, but let’s walk through it step by step and you can draw your own conclusions. Here are some questions for you with possible actions:
1. Did a serious sexual assault take place?
If ‘yes’ then you should immediately call the police and a lawyer. Get yourself to a hospital. Get your injuries documented, samples taken etc. You will need this evidence to press charges.
Considering that you’ve written into Office-Politics after the fact and don’t mention any injuries, let’s proceed assuming that it was not a serious sexual assault but it was sexual harassment.
2. Did you feel threatened that a sexual assault or further sexual harassment would have taken place if you did not evade the head boss?
Before you answer this one let’s step back and think about what sexual harassment is. Office-Politics Adviser Jennifer Glueck Bezoza offered this succinct definition:
“Sexual harassment falls into 2 categories. The first is creating a hostile environment where the individual no longer feels comfortable doing his/her job. The hostile environment might be created by one severely damaging statement or sexual advance, or it could be a series of behaviors that impact the employee and make them feel unable to meet their daily job obligations and/or feel comfortable in the work environment. From what I understand, there is a lot of subjectivity in the law’s ruling of what creates a hostile environment and it’s obviously different for different people.
“The second type of harassment is quid pro quo, which essentially is “this for that.” If the Boss of the bank made the writer feel as if she would be rewarded in some way if she gave into his advances or if she felt she would be punished if she did not, than this would fall under the quid pro quo definition of sexual harassment.”
If you felt threatened that a sexual assault or further sexual harassment would have taken place if you did not evade the head boss, then you have a number of choices. Whatever your decision, your first step should be to talk to a lawyer. At the very least you will want to get this incident on record. Your lawyer can help you to figure out the best course of action. Going it alone – without legal counsel – could end up in the disastrous situation of you being charged with slander or defamation – which would be a truly horrible and unjust result of this harassment.
Review these actions with the help of a lawyer:
a. You could lodge a written sexual harassment complaint against the boss and the bank
b. You could report the sexual harassment incident to the police
c. You could have your lawyer write a letter to the boss (and possibly his wife) documenting the sexual harassment and issuing a warning.
d. You could work with the police to set up a situation so you can gather evidence (witness or video).
e. You could choose to not report it – but take steps to ensure you are never alone with him again.
f. You could take a seminar on sexual harassment prevention training
Actions ‘a’ and ‘b’
The problem with actions ‘a’ and ‘b’, is that it will be your word against his. And since he is the ‘boss of a bank’, his word may very well carry more weight than yours. You can lodge your written complaint (with the assistance of a lawyer), but in the absence of hard evidence (or any other women who have had similar incidents) it may be impossible to get a conviction. But you may decide that you want this incident on record, whether or not charges are laid, in order to protect other women from sexual harassment by him.
Let’s consider action ‘c’ in which you write a letter to the boss and his wife. This could give you lots of personal satisfaction. But will it achieve anything? Well, his wife will know he was trying to cheat on her. He will know you are not to be fooled with. But he may take retaliatory action, including suing you for defamation. You don’t state if you work for him, but he is clearly someone in your circle, as he is the stepfather of a guy you used to date. You should think carefully whether any action he would take to discredit you could actually be more harmful than the problem you are reporting. I can’t stress enough that you need the help of a lawyer whatever you are going to do.
So what about action ‘d’, where you ‘set up’ a situation to gather evidence? This is akin to a police sting with a witness wearing a voice or video recorder. This poses huge risks for you – and you would not want to go this route unless you had the police in the wings waiting to rescue you.
What if you go with action ‘e’ which is ‘Do nothing, but make sure that you are never alone with him again.’
The problem with doing nothing and sweeping it under the rug like nothing happened, is that it may be the worst course of action. You may be suffering today because other women decided to look the other way and ‘do nothing’. This could be a pattern of behavior by this man which has been going on for years.
If you don’t report it you will have saved yourself from the anguish and formidable ordeal of pressing charges – but what if another woman is targeted by this boss? She may not be so lucky as you. Can you live with that?
Take a seminar on sexual harassment prevention:
Below is the description of a course on sexual harassment prevention in the San Francisco area. Do a search on seminars available in your area and consider this option. You would probably learn a lot and it would be helpful in deciding the best course of action.
Sexual harassment prevention training The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, with help from the California Employer’s Association, will host a seminar on sexual harassment prevention Dec. 12 in the chamber’s boardroom at 235 Montgomery St., 12th floor. Attendees will learn details of AB1825, California’s sexual harassment training law, which is mandatory for businesses with 50 or more employees and recommended for all others. Participants will receive sexual harassment prevention certification. The two-hour seminar, part of the chamber’s Business Success series, begins at 8:30 a.m., with a light breakfast included. Registration costs $25 for chamber members and $35 for prospective members before Dec. 10, and $5 more after that date. Register online at links.sfgate.com/ZBRK or call Paula Zamudio at (415) 352-8818.
Summary: What can I do?
Only you can answer the ‘What can I do?’ question. Only you know the best course of action.
Sexual harassment is a serious problem that is happening all the time. If we keep quiet about it, the problem only gets worse and spreads. But if we step forward and report it — which is the courageous and right thing to do — we must be prepared to do battle against the ‘justice’ system. Before you go into battle make sure you are well armed (and thoroughly prepared).
Thanks for writing to Office-Politics. Please let us know if this was helpful to you.
Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com
Inventor, The Office-Politics® Game
Franke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of The Office-Politics® Game a dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. It’s used by HR departments, and corporate trainers worldwide. The Office-Politics Dilemmas have been inspired by the hundreds of letters submitted to Office-Politics.com.