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I already know it's not a good idea to date or flirt in the workplace.

I work for a company that does marketing. They send me around to different stores to give out samples of products.

The other day I was in such a store, doing my job as normal. An attractive lady came in. She started speaking to me. She seemed more interested in me than any products. She left and I carried on as normal.

I forget why but I stepped out of the store for a moment. Just as I was about to come back inside the same lady walked out of the store. I don't remember my exact words but they were short and I asked her if she wanted to exchange phone numbers. She said no and we parted ways.

To be clear I didn't flirt with her. I have never done anything like this before. I realize I shouldn't have asked for her phone number, though technically there are no rules against it and others have done it (admittedly not a male asking a female).

An hour later my (new) manager messaged me that there had been an incident and to call her when I got a chance. It turned out the lady in the store was a secret shopper. She claimed I was following her around, bothering her and kept asking for her phone number. I said this wasn't true, and I guessed because she was a secret shopper she was hanging around me a lot so I asked if she wanted to swap numbers. It's the first time I've ever done anything like this. My manager said it had been escalated to a much higher level of management but they told her to talk to me about it and that she didn't know what to say. She kept repeating "be careful". What does that mean?

We were at the end of the topic and my manager was about to hang up. That's when I told her I wasn't attending my shift today.

I'm very upset by the incident with the secret shopper. Does quitting make me look guilty? Is there a way I can still work part time at this company and would it be a good idea? Is there anything I should or can do at this point?

I could ask the manager of the store I was working in to contact my manager, as he had confirmed he was unaware of any incident. Should I bother defending myself or at least collect more information?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Sep 18 at 16:38
  • Please confirm: If I understood your question you are not an employee of the shop. I.e. the shop and your employer are separate corporations, is that right? – Mefitico Sep 18 at 16:50

10 Answers 10

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+150

Be Careful

In a broad sense just means that you need to choose your actions and your words very carefully from here on in, because senior management is now aware of you.

Your manager is a bit lost to know what to do, which given the situation, is somewhat understandable. So the best they can offer you is a bit of a vague warning.

If you know of specific things the secret shopper said that were strange or unusual that could have made you act in a way that you would not usually act, you should document those things, in case you are given the opportunity to defend yourself.

Senior management would want to understand if this is usual behaviour from you, or behaviour brought on by the secret shopper acting in an unusual manner. Obviously if this secret shopper was a real customer who took offense, the situation may have be a lot worse.

  • This answer seems to suggest that the secret shopper could have acted in a way that justifies an employee asking for a customer's phone number. – jcm Sep 20 at 9:21
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    @jcm That's not what I'm suggesting. The purpose of the secret shopper is to understand how employees act (among other things). If the situation is unusual, it wouldn't be far to make an assessment on how the employee would act usually. They world is also not black and white, and not every violation of company rules is the same. If there is some mitigating factor that could be the difference between the employee getting off with a warning, or getting fired, it's in the best interests of the employee to being that factor to the fore. – Gregory Currie Sep 20 at 9:29
  • Thanks for the answer. This seems to have "blown over" and nothing came of it. – user109861 Oct 11 at 9:56
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She seemed more interested in me than any products

From your words, you are not the one that initiated advances. I would note that in your defense.

She kept repeating "be careful"

This is a threat. If you have evidence that your manager threatened you, it may be grounds for both disciplinary and legal action.

She claimed I was following her around, bothering her and kept asking for her phone number

That is lie and slander, and once again, potential grounds for disciplinary and legal action. Request in-store video footage to defend yourself. Consider reporting the events and submitting a claim against the disguised shopper to the management and/or HR yourself.

They reduced my pay and refuse to give me a reason. They told me not to discuss pay, which is actually against the law where I live [...] They may not be paying for training, which is illegal where I live [...] I have received no reward [for overtime]

Based on these and other important points you mentioned, the company acted very unprofessionally by not examining evidence, and likely broke the law by your own admission. At this point, you should contact a local attorney immediately. Document the events as you laid them out here. Collect as much information and evidence as you can. You may need to press charges in accordance with your local labor laws, possibly on the account of discrimination and emotional distress. It is likely advisable not to quit since you hold that you are innocent. Once again, consult a professional and be ready to go to the court.

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    First sane answer I see in this question. All the other questions seem to be "it's your fault, now deal with the consequences". – hjf Sep 19 at 19:17
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    What, exactly, is the threat here? There is no implication of harm whatsoever, and employers are well within their rights to terminate your employment based on certain behaviors - the employer telling you that isn't an illegal threat (if that's even what's happening here). And in what way is the OP being discriminated against? – Nuclear Wang Sep 19 at 19:25
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    @NuclearWang Depends on state/country, but overall saying something that upsets a secret shopper (aka an ad-hoc/quasi-employee) is grounds for terminations anywhere I know of. What's stopping the employer saying they wanted to see how their employees would react to an overly attached customer hanging on and following employees around asking them numerous questions? The OP failed, and now he wants to play the blame game and that's going to backfire in the worst way possible. – Dan Sep 20 at 13:01
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    @hjf The end result was that the OP had an unpleasant conversation with their manager, and that's it. Lawyering up at this point to claim illegal threats, slander, discrimination, and emotional distress is not a sane response. Perhaps if the OP loses their job over this, but contacting a lawyer to resolve a situation where no damages whatsoever have occurred is absurd. – Nuclear Wang Sep 20 at 17:50
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You can certainly document the incident and explain things from your point of view, but there is absolutely nothing that the woman did that would justify you crossing that line. Your actions were entirely unprofessional at best, at worst they could be considered as sexual harassment.

The best-case scenario is that your recall of the event is factual and accurate; that is you simply misinterpreted her conversation as flirting and/or personal interest in you. But when you saw her outside the store and asked to exchange phone numbers you crossed the line of acceptable professional business behavior. You represent a business and she was a customer, I don't know how to explain it any simpler that.

It's important to understand that many women have documented frequent and everyday events where something as simple as eye contact or normal polite interaction with a man has been perceived as flirting or a sexual advance resulting in unwanted advances by the man. Just because a woman is polite, makes eye content, or strikes up a conversation with you it doesn't justify a sexual advance or inappropriate behavior.

Worse case, her explanation of the event is accurate. Following her around, bothering her, and repeatedly asking for her phone number would most certainly be considered as sexual harassment.

Based on the entire post, you're generally not happy with the company and more than likely should look for other work anyway. Perhaps it would be best for you to simply move on.

Learn from the experience and don't let it happen again.

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    I'm curious as to why you think this would be so serious. I'm not an expert in this area, but it seems to me that this certainly couldn't be considered sexual harassment if it wasn't repeated behaviour. Furthermore while he was reprimanded by management, there isn't a specific policy against this, it's certainly not illegal, and in fact he's heard of other employees doing similar things. Why is it so bad? – Phueal Sep 16 at 4:01
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    I would like to know what's sexual about asking for someone's phone number? – user109861 Sep 16 at 9:27
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    Obviously this is not "sexual harassment". – DaveG Sep 16 at 12:23
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    @user109861 "An attractive lady came in", "She seemed more interested in me than any products", "I already know it's not a good idea to date or flirt in the workplace.". If this interaction was entirely non-sexual - you need to update the post to be clear, because currently I think any reader will assume you asked for her number in order to date her. If you did, and don't understand why that's wrong (or considered sexual); you absolutely need re-training, people don't go to a shop to be propositioned by the staff there. – Bilkokuya Sep 16 at 12:25
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    @Bilkokuya It sounds more like she propositioned him (or, at least, that’s how he was interpreting the nonverbal signals she was sending him), and he was just reciprocating, to me. – nick012000 Sep 17 at 0:15
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Store video cameras would prove that you didn't follow her around (as @alroc says). You need to fight for your reputation. Get a lawyer and hit back. Better act asap because the store probably doesn't keep their videos around for weeks.

And just to clarify: You should not have asked her for her phone number. That was unprofessional.

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    OP is gonna piss away a lot of money if he gets a lawyer ahead of time. – Adonalsium Sep 19 at 19:45
  • Based on what is it unprofessional? – Gherman Sep 19 at 22:06
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    @Gherman Unless you're in a job where flirting is industry standard, it's going to get you into trouble. The vast majority of employers don't allow it. – HenryM Sep 20 at 6:45
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Should I bother defending myself or at least collect more information?

At the moment there is nothing to defend. Until you have been formally written up for this incident there is nothing you can do other than asking for the store manager to save the video footage ( if any exists ) from the date/time in question.

The bottom line is that you did ask this woman for her number and she was sufficiently bothered by the incident to make a complaint against you. You won't be able to defend approaching her and asking for the number, but you can ( if video exists ) defend the claim that you followed her around. Just wait until ( if ) you are formally accused, there is very little you can do now.

Does quitting make me look guilty? Is there a way I can still work part time at this company and would it be a good idea? Is there anything I should or can do at this point?

You made a bad decision so you need to own up to it. I would start by apologizing to your boss for what you actually did. You can still work at the company, just learn from this experience so that you don't make the same mistake again.

  • You're assuming the store would invest a lot of time into this matter. Regardless the OP acted unprofessionally and admitted it. That's enough to simply let him go. Even then, he's most likely an at-will worker so regardless of a lawsuit, the company would always win, especially if they have reasons to believe so. Even if OP was 95% helpful, the company could say that 5% he wasn't was when it mattered to them. – Dan Sep 19 at 16:43
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This isn't necessarily a huge deal, and you are blowing it out of proportion (given what you've reported here). Relax, understand what mistakes you made, and accept that you made them.

Let's get a few things out of the way, as there is a flurry of information in the post that may or not make you feel better about the situation but does not help you out of this position:

  • You absolutely did something which can, apparently, get you in trouble (asking for the phone number)
  • You've acknowledged that that you did this, and were aware at the time that it was not appropriate
  • Your description of events is thin, and does not mitigate the mistake you made
  • You seem to be in a highly defensive posture, but haven't suggested any potential consequences that you've suffered (or been threatened with)

All other details are secondary. If your employer wants to reprimand you, they have a sound basis for doing so. There is not a single thing written in the question that makes the mistake better or milder for you, and trying to minimize events will give the impression that your judgement is still not good enough to navigate similar situations in the future.


Some things that don't matter very much:

It is irrelevant if you've ever done something like this before or not. The question doesn't suggest that anyone is accusing you of serial bad behavior. If employees are supposed to ask customers for their phone numbers 0% of the time at most, the argument that you haven't asked for phone numbers 90% of the time is worthless. It's the time you did ask that matters.

It is curious that you assert that there is no rule against asking for phone numbers, but also assert that you did something wrong by doing so in this case. If it's not prohibited, it's not clear why you would be concerned. "It's not against any rules or policies" is a solid, affirmative defense (if it's true), and it wouldn't matter if you ask every customer for their phone number. Especially if you're aware of other instances of people from your company doing it. That you are concerned anyhow seems odd, though I don't doubt there are potentially valid reasons that you might be (I just don't know about them here).

Your description of events doesn't help you very much. It's not that it's incriminating or anything, it simply does nothing to rebut what you've heard about the complaint. The worst parts are that you went outside for a reason you don't recall, conveniently happened to run into this woman, talked to her but don't remember what you said, and asked for her phone number. This is all consistent with the complaint.

Your guesses about what the secret shopper was doing and why are also not important. Presumably she understood her job and was doing it in accordance with her employer's requirements. It is unlikely, though possible, that she decided to risk her job in order to mess with you by knowingly filing a totally false complaint. It easier to believe that there is some truth to what she's describing (even if it's not 100% accurate) than to believe that she made all of it up for no apparent reason.

Your assumption that she seemed more interested in you than in your products is also unimportant. Even if part of her job was to "simulate" a customer displaying some interest in you, a claim for which we have zero evidence of any kind, then she discovered that you at least might respond in as you did. It wouldn't really be different than if she were testing whether or not you would give away free merchandise to an attractive woman who asked for it-- even if she prompted you, you are still supposed to follow the rules. Advancing this claim only suggests that you think, under some circumstances, asking for a customer's phone number is OK. That doesn't mesh with an acknowledgement that it wasn't.


Something that does matter:

If there is internal security footage in the store, try to get a copy of it. The secret shopper's claim that you were following her around may be more serious than asking for her number, and camera footage is the only convincing evidence you're likely to come across. Bear in mind that, even if you can demonstrate that that particular claim is not true you are not "innocent". You have acknowledged doing something you should not have done.


Your specific questions, in order:

She kept repeating "be careful". What does that mean?

You were not very cautious when you asked for this person's phone number, and it's led to a problem. You should make efforts to be careful in the future, to avoid future problems.

Does quitting make me look guilty?

Maybe, but I don't see that it matters. You aren't being targeted for a civil suit or anything. It seems like the consequence you're worrying about is some kind of formal reprimand or losing your job, but the complaint itself probably doesn't exist outside of a note in your HR office's file.

Is there a way I can still work part time at this company and would it be a good idea?

I don't see why not. They haven't fired you so far, and indeed there seem to have been zero actual consequences at all. You'll know your employer better than us, but it doesn't seem like your job there is ruined. As for whether or not it would be a good idea, again I don't see why it wouldn't be (as things stand now). Your call, either way.

Is there anything I should or can do at this point?

  1. Get the video footage from the store (if available) to demonstrate the one (potentially) verifiable claim still at issue.

  2. Shift your rhetorical posture. Your current position seems to be that you feel you deserve to suffer no consequences of any kind, despite admitting some fault. That will be difficult to maintain, especially if you want to keep working for this employer and they impose any sort of punishment over this incident. Own up to your mistake, accept that there may be consequences for it, and try to move on. Don't endlessly relitigate this issue trying to find reasons your mistake wasn't so bad, or wasn't your fault, or any other kind of minimization.

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A lot of folks here say you should document it. Document it with who? And what? Thus far you only talked to your manage who got second hand information. Doubtful you're going to talk to anyone else beyond that.

In the future, use some sense. Ask yourself, "Why would an attractive woman follow me around a store and ask me random questions?" Does she like you? Maybe but chances are you were an easy target for whatever it was she was going to do. In this case a secret shopper.

If you are given a chance to talk, which I doubt you are since you already spoke to your manager, then explain you made a mistake, acted unprofessionally and read the situation wrong. Otherwise don't bring it up anymore.

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    For the record, I'm saying "document" so if there is a follow up meeting, the OP has a list of things to say, and doesn't have to rely on their memory on the fly. – Gregory Currie Sep 18 at 8:39
  • Honestly, it sounds like she was harassing him. But it's in her job description to harass men, I guess. – HenryM Sep 18 at 15:00
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    @HenryM Customers are expected to ask store staff questions about things, following them around (if necessary) to do so. That's not harassment, that's what floor employees in stores are employed to do. A secret shopper is supposed to imitate a regular customer. There is zero evidence that the shopper harassed the OP, or that harassing men is what her job is. Countering with "no, she was harassing me before I unprofessionally asked for her phone number while on the job!" is the weakest imaginable defense, and indeed does not excuse or defend what the OP undisputedly did. – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Sep 19 at 16:29
  • @Upper_Case Couldn't have said it better. – Dan Sep 19 at 16:40
  • Tongue in cheek. I don't think asking for a phone number once is harassment but it's 1000% unprofessional and likely to get one fired. Obviously the "customer"'s opinion trumps my own in this context. – HenryM Sep 19 at 19:07
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She kept repeating "be careful". What does that mean?

It means, don't ask anyone for their phone number while on the job as it could be interpreted as harassment. People are very sensitive to harassment these days and the definition of "I know it when I see it" is wildly irrational, but this wildly irrational and open definition only hurts cases of real harassment.

Does quitting make me look guilty?

If I were an innocent bystander you would look at least suspicious.

Is there a way I can still work part time at this company and would it be a good idea?

Ask them.

Is there anything I should or can do at this point?

Stop asking people for phone numbers, be professional. Ask for video footage of the other woman's claims. If your story is true, there will be no footage of you "following her around" or any of her other claims.

  • Definitely wouldn't call the secret shopper's employer as this could be seen as further harassment. OP should contact his boss with video evidence and leave it at that. – rath Sep 18 at 13:10
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    @rath Disturbed people continue to do damage when individuals only think of themselves and say nothing. There was no evidence OP was actually following the SS around. This is a time to think of the community at large and how a possibly mentally unstable person (secret shopper) is harming others for no reason. Whatever happened to the sense of community with people? – Bulrush Sep 18 at 13:16
  • @rath If there's any calling of the SS' employer, it probably would be best to come from the OP's manager. These he-said-she-said situations get read into a lot. Add in that the SS' job is to check up on people, there's probably a little bias toward her word. And, in the arena of sexual harassment, initial opinions tend to err on the side of the accuser. – John Spiegel Sep 18 at 13:35
  • @JohnSpiegel Ok, that's a good point. – Bulrush Sep 18 at 13:36
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First about the incident:

If what she said happened then yes: you were wrong, it is harrassement.
If what you said happened then it can still be harrassement. Depends a little on what you exactly said. Because you were there for work if (and that is a big if) you decide to ask someone's number you have to ask it extra politely and extra carefull because she (or he for that matter) is more likely to be caught of guard and therefore be offended.

My advice: try to remember exactly what you said, apologize and ask this store manager if he can confirm atleast that you did not follow her arround

The phonecall with your manager:

To me it sounds like she was also caught a little of guard with the whole situation. bE carefull probably means atleast don't do this again, but also probably do not go full offensive on this matter. Caneling you shift at the end of the phonecall is understandable but not proffesional.

Overall:

Sexual harrassement is extremely difficult. Not only is it often one person's word against another person's word. But there is also a lot of interpretation involved. Without anything official (reprimand of the company or a conviction of any kind) quiting might be interpreted by some as admittance of guilt and by others as a logical step after so much ado about nothing (not my personal opinion)

So be honest, defend yourself (but not aggresively) and accept the possibility that even though you think you did nothing wrong that does not mean you really did not do anything wrong (atleast not in the woman's opinion)

-2

The fact is that you behaved unprofessionally. You claim that the seriousness of your misbehaviour has been exaggerated, but that does not change the fact that you have done something wrong. You should explain the facts of your interaction with this person in writing to set the record straight, and ensure that you do not make the same mistake in future.

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    Note that putting down in writing a fireable offence is an easy way to give them the green light to fire you. – Gregory Currie Sep 18 at 8:40

protected by Jane S Sep 21 at 5:07

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