I have been working in company Z for a year now. I get along very well with most of my coworkers except for one who is sexist. This coworker is older than me and has been working for the company for longer than me.

He would make very inappropriate jokes about how females look. Jokes about "trigger" and "snowflakes". Always talk to me in a patronizing way and act like I'm basically stupid.

Thankful, I don't have to work with him often. I work on multiple projects at the same time and he works only on one.

Since working with him is really not nice, I usually avoid the situation by deprioritizing his project and doing other ones first instead.

This technique is doing fine for now, but I don't think I will be able to avoid working on his project forever.

Is there a way I can officially refuse to work with him? (without me getting fired)

He is so insensitive and not nice. Every time I talk with him, I need 30 minutes or more to calm down afterwards.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Neo
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 16:36

6 Answers 6


Is there a way I can officially refuse to work with him? (without me getting fired)

Going straight to refusing to work with them is not the best course of action (nor is it likely to be successful).

Instead you need to establish cause not to work with them. Start by documenting everything they do that you feel is over the line, just a notepad or a text file is fine - it doesn't need to be anything fancy. As much as possible go with the concrete stuff rather than more subjective things e.g.

2020/02/04 15:23 - Coworker Bob used a sexist slur ""

2020/02/05 11:28 - Coworker Bob referred to Female Coworker Jane's "fine ass" which was inappropriate and made me feel uncomfortable.

2020/02/06 10:08 - Coworker Bob referred to Female Coworker Sarah as a "silly little girl" which was inappropriate and made me feel uncomfortable.

"I felt patronized" is a lot weaker as an event than "Bob said x"

Once you've established a pattern of inappropriate behavior then approach either your manager or HR with the log and explain that you're uncomfortable working with/around "Bob" because of this pattern. They may just arrange for you to work with others, they may investigate and take action. Either way they should do something, if they won't then is the time to push back and refuse to work with "Bob", reiterate that you have observed the pattern over the documented period (and before) and stand your ground.

Depending upon your rapport with your coworkers (who also interact with "Bob") it may be worth a discreet conversation with them to see if they feel the same way, going to HR/management as a group strengthens your case and can be much less scary than feeling like you're the only one creating a fuss.

I usually avoid the situation by deprioritizing his project and doing other ones first instead.

Be very careful with this strategy in the long term - the longer you do this without raising the issue of the problematic behavior the more you risk compromising your own work performance and it's only going to weaken your position if the first time you mention Bob's behavior is when you're defending yourself for why your work on his project has been lagging/suffering. I don't think you are there yet but it's a real risk - no matter how much I sympathize with the urge to do it, ultimately it could prove extremely counter-productive.


I'm fortunate to be at a company in the US with clear policies and training on Workplace Harrassment. From that training, I'd judge your coworker is not harrassing you per se, but that person is certainly being disrespectful.

I don't believe you have grounds to refuse to work with this person. Honestly, it could be relatively mild behavior compared to others, so keep that in mind. I saw your comments about not wanting to raise this with your manager and I understand that. But you are going to leave yourself vulnerable to further upset if you don't do anything. If the person is a real bully, they may escalate with you. But some people will back down if they hear a simple reply like, "I do not appreciate your comments. Please stop it now." Others might not...

If you go to management, before talking to your manager, document precisely as possible, dates & times and the specific language used. From your company's policies, it should be clear why some statements are objectionable.

Here's an interesting article: https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/global-france-gender-equality-obligations.aspx

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    In France an employer is obliged to prevent this unwanted behavior as a matter of employee health and safety.
    – O. Jones
    Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 11:52
  • From that training, I'd judge your coworker is not harrassing you per se, but that person is certainly being disrespectful in the US, it counts as (unlawful) sexual harassment simply if someone's actions create a feeling of a hostile workplace, even if those actions aren't aimed at you, personally. The OP's case would certainly qualify.
    – dwizum
    Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 18:26

The fact you didn't raise HR any formal demand to avoid work with your colleague hints you probably already imagine the answer to your question is "no" - you can't refuse to work with him without at least risking to get fired.

You can however complain to relevant organization (HR or your "CSE" representative) that your coworker is making sexist jokes, and engage route to get his management agree that his behavior should stop or be punished. Documenting might help to remember the fact more accurately. Being backed by one or several colleagues is also going to be helpful if there is no written proof (there rarely is).

If you have further interaction with him, it could help avoiding remarks that you remain straight to the point and work-focused, and in case of digression signify him you find his humor to be unfunny - or explicitly tell you find it downright inappropriate. We have a climate in France where people feel allowed to joke and be provocative, you might want to take a chance to remind him it doesn't allow to be rude.


Short answer: not unless you've already reported a pattern of behavior

And now, the longer answer with explaination

First and foremost HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND

If you were to suddenly start to avoid him, gave him the cold shoulder or otherwise acted in an evasive manner, HR could construe your behavior as being hostile, and creating a hostile environment.

This can be tricky, so I would carefully consider what your goal is.

Is your goal to avoid this person, or to change their behavior?

Regardless of which, DOCUMENT EVERYTHING

If your goal is to change his behavior, take the following steps.

  • Speak to him directly, in private, telling him you don't like his comments.

  • If the behavior persists, speak to his manager

  • If the behavior persists, escalate to HR, with every incident well documented


If your goal is to avoid him. - Compile a list of times, dates, and incidents

  • Bring the list to YOUR manager, and note that you do not wish to work with this person

  • Develop a plan with your manager.

  • Continue to document, keep one set of documentation off-site

Then, make sure your own behavior is above reproach. Do not engage in any unprofessional acts at all.

  • Do not use foul language
  • Do not engage in gossip
  • Do not make personal phone calls
  • Watch your internet usage.

In other words, be beyond reproach, as you want any attempts at retaliation to be very very apparent, and entirely and demonstrably false.


First, I agree with all motosubatsu said.

Some companies I have worked for have some sort of anonymous complaint inbox. If this Bob is acting in an inappropiate way, you could make use of such tool. The more documented the complaint, the better. That way HR could look into the situation.

If they act on it, he might change his attitude, and even if he doesn't, when they hear that female employee X refuses to work with Bob, they are more likely to side with you than if they had no prior knowledge of the problem.

Take this with a grain of salt though, I do not know the level of tolerance with these situations in your office and in your country in general. In some contexts the 'going straight to hr' might not be appreciated either.

  • Some companies are mandated by Compliance laws to have denounce channels that go to an external office. While they are mostly supposed to prevent corruption and stealing, they also work on cases where workplace behavior may cause mental health issues on employees. They are not fast, and they work in the dark. They would also prefer to change Bob's behavior rather than finding grounds to terminate him, als surely they would not step in to especifically prevent OP from working with Bob.
    – Mefitico
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 3:27

Nobody should have to work with a sexist or a bully. Not you and not your colleagues. You don't know if many people are suffering the same problem. If nobody speaks up and has the courage to highlight the problem, it will never be addressed. Your manager and HR don't know what they don't know.

Directly refusing to work with your colleague is not a good approach and can damage your reputation. Your way to "refuse" to work with him is to raise this problem. First with your manager, with backing evidence, and if your manager doesn't do anything about it, then go to HR.

Don't forget: it's him who needs to adapt and learn how to behave, not you.

If you don't raise this problem because of your fear of the possible repercussions, you'll be suffering, as you already are, and even your performance might be impacted (e.g. why didn't Ælis complete the project on time...?).

Finally, keep the following in mind: if you raise it and the company doesn't act on it, why do you want to work so much for them? No job is so amazing that you should have to tolerate this kind of behaviour.

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    I don't want to "work for them so much". But I have handicaps which make finding a job who suits my needs really hard.
    – Nettle
    Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 12:38
  • I'm keen to understand the reason behind the downvotes so I can improve my answer.
    – Charmander
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 10:14
  • As with many of society's problems, both people need to adapt. While Bob's behavior is likely something that should be brought to his manager and to HR, I've always been told that being a professional means that you should be able to work with people you dislike, and sometimes do work you don't enjoy as well. So while I'm not excusing Bob (he needs to change), I'd urge you not to enable the attitude some people take thinking "I'm on the right and the person I dislike should be fired right away!".
    – Mefitico
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 3:33
  • Furthermore, even if OP is to quit his/her job, he/she is always on the risk of finding him/herself in a position he/she cannot quit, yet has to deal with possibly even more people akin to Bob.
    – Mefitico
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 3:34

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