I am a manager. I noticed a coworker who reports to me was looking very uncomfortable when another manager came to visit our office, and walked out of the room.

Later, I asked her what was going on. She told me had raped her about a year ago after a party, and that he has been behaving like a stalker. I told her I would need to report this to HR. She begged me not to, saying she would tell them she hadn't told me anything.

I have heard rumours from others that this manager is sleeping with his team members, and possibly blackmailing a worker. He is good at his job, charismatic and popular. I have been good friends with him previously.

As a manager, how should I handle a subordinate's report of sexual misconduct, when she refuses to cooperate in reporting to HR?

  • 15
    I strongly suggest that you contact an organization that works with abuse victims. You've not said which country you're in; if it's the US, then rainn.org/articles/help-someone-you-care-about is a good start. These organizations can help you figure out how best to help your worker.
    – Jenny D
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 13:11
  • @Blobfather Your post wasn't "long", but nonetheless, I have edited your post to rework the narrative a bit and also incorporated your comment into the description. You might also want to specify your location because what a manager can/should do will usually depend on it.
    – Masked Man
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 13:37
  • 19
    Be aware that there are many reasons a victim may not want to report an incident, among them are victim blaming, not being believed, retaliation, a desire to avoid public knowledge of the event, etc. I don't know how to proceed, but be careful. Commented May 13, 2018 at 13:47
  • 9
    He raped her. You shouldn't go to HR. You should go to the police!
    – pistach
    Commented May 14, 2018 at 6:19
  • 1
    In all honesty, since it happened outside the workplace, I am not sure there is much you can do at the workplace. However you can handle the stalking which happens at the workplace.
    – Walfrat
    Commented May 15, 2018 at 12:04

4 Answers 4


I would potentially do one or more of the following steps in roughly that order, where the next step would depend on the outcome of the last. Please note that the first three steps are to establish which legal conditions you have to fulfill. The outcome of these supersedes anything which is said here, and the output of these steps in not to be replaced by anything which we say here, since nobody here can give you advice on you legal obligations.

Do not make your action dependent on the your employees wishes or fears, but immediately try to establish by contacting (legal experts) what you need to do based on company rules and laws in your country.

  • Consult the company compliance rules on what to do

  • Added after reading comment from @Jenny_D contact an organization that works with abuse victims and ask there how you can/should proceed. They most likely can give you a more complete picture

  • Contact - if available - an ombudsman or another person responsible for handling sexual misconduct in the company

  • Inform/ask your legal department/lawyers on how to proceed in a very general way.

  • Potentially (depending what Guidelines/Ombud/Legal say): involve your boss.

  • Potentially (depending what Guidelines/Ombud/Legal say): go to HR and ask them anonymously (without telling the involved persons names) what to do in such a situation

  • Potentially (depending what Guidelines/Ombud/Legal say): Advise the person you manage to seek legal help

  • 10
    With the unfortunate current culture of victim blaming and social stigma in cases like this, I would think you should consider the victim's wishes as you may end up causing a huge amount of distress on this individual with any kind of reporting. I'd remove any steps from your answer after "talk to one or more victim's support groups" for advice.
    – HorusKol
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 21:39
  • 5
    Reliably establishing how you need to proceed in order to keep the law is not optional if you manage people. It is not unlikely that the perpetrator does harm to other employees too, and if he does so using his power given by the company, then it is not an optional thing to act. And sometimes it is possible to act without disclosing information about the victim.
    – Sascha
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 21:44
  • 4
    The victims' support groups will be best able to tell you how to do what you're saying
    – HorusKol
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 22:45
  • 5
    As someone who was raped and did not report it, I would never forgive you if you reported it and I had to end up testifying to what I did not want to report because it would damage my reputation more than his. You will put her through hell if you report it. Remember you only have hearsay evidence.
    – HLGEM
    Commented May 14, 2018 at 18:26
  • 4
    @Ray - this person's space and body has already been grossly invaded. It is unfair for the OP's employee to further bear the pain of testifying/reliving the trauma when they're not willing to. Assuming the trail goes the right direction and the sleaze bag is found guilty (big assumption), do you think OP's employee's career will not have any impact? And what happens if this person is not found guilty? While you obviously have a valid point, it shouldn't be the victims responsibility to bring their rapists to justice. In my opinion, the choice should be the victim's.
    – Jo Bennet
    Commented May 14, 2018 at 22:01

You have no evidence, hence you have nothing to report. If a victim doesn't want to report, you need to respect that. I know it is hard knowing what a sleaze he is and not being able to do anything about it, but you have no evidence. Would you want someone to report you because they heard some rumors?

You can be on the lookout to stop any harassment you personally see, you can ask your subordinate to text you an emergency message if he starts up with her at work so that you can come into the room and provide a witness or at least get him to back off because there is a witness. You can offer to make sure she has someone with her if she needs to go near the other person's work area or walk her to her car at night if he is stalking her there.

Since she has told you in confidence why she is uncomfortable around this man, I would try to make sure that she doesn't have to work with him. No reason need be given, simply other assignments take priority.

  • 8
    "You have no evidence, hence you have nothing to report." I have an issue with this comment. That comment means that you're discarding the employee's first-hand account as the victim as nothing even worth reporting. IMO, it's not the manager's job to decide whether there is or isn't evidence for what the employee claimed. It's his/her job to make a good-faith report to the people who are qualified to make a proper and confidential investigation into the matter to determine whether the employee's claim actually has merit. Investigators should then move from there based on the outcome.
    – code_dredd
    Commented May 14, 2018 at 21:47
  • 2
    Also if manager has no evidence of sexual assault, he still himself can witness that the guy stalking her at the office, so he can do something for this.
    – Walfrat
    Commented May 15, 2018 at 12:02
  • @SteffenWinkler in Germany if you gain knowledge of a crime - regardless if you have proof or not - you have to report the crime to the police or you yourself may become chargeable as well. Is that .. true? That sounds awfully dodgy. Commented May 13 at 7:14
  • @nicholaswmin I think your doubts are justified. This government site states that private citizens do not have a duty to report crimes AFTER they've been committed: aufarbeitungskommission.de/service-presse/service/glossar/…
    – Stefan
    Commented May 13 at 17:50
  • 1
    @SteffenWinkler No problem at all Steffen and thank you very much for correcting it. Be a bit careful about statements like these as I am under the impression they are used as fodder to extremist views, i.e "Look at the Europeans, the govt of Germany is arresting it's citizens for not snitching on their neighbours" or some other crock of BS it can be twisted in. Commented May 18 at 13:26

Go on the Defense

Because your coworker is not willing to speak up you cannot go on the offense, as such you need to go on the defense. There are three general categories/goals behind going on the defense in this situation:

  • Minimize opportunities
  • Maximize chance of getting caught
  • Empower employees

I hope that just by mentioning those categories that you already are thinking of ways and things that can be done that fit those goals. Below are some of the ones that I have seen done or practice myself. Also, be sure to check your HR policies since hopefully they already have a number of policies in place that try to achieve these goals (and with any luck the manager in question is violating them and at the very least can be reprimanded for breaking them).

Visibility into Managers Offices

With my current company our HR policy requires all managers offices to have a full sized unobstructed window into the office. The reason is so that when a manager needs to have a one-on-one with an employee and closes the door people in the work place can see what is going on in the manager's office. This helps protect both the manager and the employee from possible rumors and false accusations.

If a manager is trying to make inappropriate contact with a subordinate and a person comes walking by and sees it, then it is no longer a case of he said she said. Likewise if the the employee falsely claims that their manager was doing something inappropriate, the manager can point out that no one walking by saw anything.

Open Door Policy

As a manager and as a coworker make sure your subordinates and coworkers trust you enough to communicate problems and concerns with you. The sooner a problem is communicated the faster and easier it tends to be to fix. Also, having a strong professional relationship with your subordinates and coworkers makes it easier to communicate defensive strategies and encourage them to stand up for themselves.

Open Door Policies for Rooms

In this case, I am referring to any room that has no clear visibility into it when the door is closed. This can be anything from conference rooms to server rooms. If such a situation arises where exactly two employees are in said type of room the door must always be left open. The reasoning for this is the same as why manager's offices should have windows, but since said rooms do not have windows, leaving the door open accomplishes the same goal.

Inform Employees of HR Policies

This may seem like stating the obvious, but it is very important. How many of your employees know why offices have windows in them, or know of techniques or strategies to avoid being in a situation that could prove compromising? How many of them are actually following those strategies?

Once I had to explain to a young female coworker who was straight out of college why I propped the door to the noisy server room open when I entered and saw she was already in there. She was naive to the situation that by us being alone in that room it created that could prove compromising, and by doing a simple action of propping a door open that it could be mitigated. Since then I have spotted her propping the door open when she has been in there with other coworkers.

There is a phrase "knowledge is power." If your employees know these things and are properly on their guard it can help create an environment where sexual misconduct is hard to do without getting caught.

Last Thoughts

Even if you are working for a company where you are confident that there are no problems with sexual misconduct it is still a good idea to leverage these types of things to create an environment that makes it hard for sexual misconduct to become a problem. If your company's HR does not have these kinds of policies push hard for them. These things help protect employees, leadership, and the company from a variety of problems.

These types of things also apply to outside of the workplace too. There is a reason why Boy Scouts of America has a Youth Protection Policy and it contains a section about creating barriers to abuse with things like:

One-on-one contact between adults and youth members is prohibited. . In situations requiring a personal conference, such as a Scoutmaster conference, the meeting is to be conducted with the knowledge and in view of other adults and/or youth.


Unpopular opinion time:

From both the company's point of view, and your managerial career's point of view, there is only one possible path forward: You have to report this to HR, even if your subordinate does not want you to.

As a manager, your primary duty is to protect the company's interests. The company needs to know that one of their employees has raped (!) another employee, since this has "lawsuit" written all over it, and you will be negligent in your duties as a manager if you don't tell HR. What's more, if the company ever finds out that you were aware but did not report this, you will now be in hot water.

Yes, I'm aware it's uncomfortable to go against your subordinate's explicit wishes, but while it's rational for her to be scared of him, it's probably in her own best interest as well that the company deals with the incident. Given the severity of the accusation, if there's any sort of evidence to back it up, odds are pretty high the harasser will be fired. Even if the investigation cannot conclude anything, in any half decent company she (and you) will be protected from any form of retaliation -- and if the company/accused is not decent and retaliates against her anyway, well, that's more fodder for a lawsuit.

  • 1
    You're telling us a rape victim is to be treated as a liability who has no say in the matter. Not only does this attitude exhibit a basic lack of common decency, I think it could land you in very hot water. Commented May 15, 2018 at 16:23
  • 2
    @reinierpost This is Workplace.SE, not Ethics.SE. Check with your own company's HR and ask what they would want to be done if you disagree. Commented May 15, 2018 at 21:04
  • 1
    @reinierpost - If it occurred in the US, then local and federal laws, and corporate governance would probably agree with this answer. The manager who heard the confession has duties. The rapist is a liability and poses a risk to the company and employees. Risk includes reputation and financial risk. The company has to comply with laws and reduce the risk to the company and shareholders. It does not mean other things cannot be done, like counseling/support for the victim. (I think the victim is in the wrong state of mind. She needs help to get angry instead of feeling like a victim).
    – user25792
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 15:59
  • 1
    Also see A Coworker (and friend) may be wrongfully terminated. What can I do? It is about a manager who knew about harassment and inappropriate behavior but did not act. The manager is in jeopardy of losing their job because the inaction put the company at risk.
    – user25792
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 8:31

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .