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I live in Kentucky. I'm male and in my ninth week at a new job in a warehouse and within the first week my female boss and I started talking about how we both used to work at the same company at different times and how working at this new company was a refreshing and relaxed change and while we were talking, she started rubbing the middle of my back straight up and down with her hand and that's the day that it started.

  • She has come up from behind me 3 different times and put both her hands around my neck for making a data entry mistake, patted me on the back as she walked by me, and started bumping her hand on my thigh to talk to me.

  • She's asked me to dance with her in the warehouse in front of coworkers and even asked if I was going to whip her one day when my belt broke loose while putting boxes on a skid for inventory.

  • When I was putting boxes on a skid one day the bottom of a box broke open letting glass bottles break on the floor and when she saw it, she told me to come over to her and she playfully slapped me.

  • I was bubble wrapping glass bottles for protection for shipping and I had a large roll of bubble wrap at my feet on the floor I was using and she came over to help on the other side of the roller conveyor and looked at me and said gimme some, so when I started to bend down to get her the bubble wrap, she said to me, "If you think I'm going anywhere near down there to get the bubble wrap from you, you're crazy," well, I didn't say anything to her but, just looked at her confused and was saying to myself, I wasn't expecting you to go down at my feet to get the bubble wrap but I felt she was implying something else.

I have confronted her about what she's doing but, it hasn't stopped, she says I've taken it the wrong way but, why would she ask me to dance with her in the warehouse, she's my boss, that I don't even know well enough for her to do that.

I don't know if it's harassment or her being friendly and I'm very confused about why she ever started this and I haven't laid a finger on her. I've never had this happen at work before, she has over 20 years experience as a supervisor.

Is this harassment? How can I deal with it?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Neo
    Dec 16 '20 at 13:16
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If we reverse the sexes you'd have a slew of answers telling you this was blatant sexual harassment and should be reported to HR immediately.

I don't know if it's harassment or her being friendly

Some women are naturally flirtatious like this. Does she act the same way with everyone or just you?

If she does it to everyone, and does it openly, then it could just be her personality.

I have confronted her about what she's doing but, it hasn't stopped

Have you asked her to stop? Asking why is not the same as saying, please stop doing this.

Either way, unwanted touching, (especially after you've asked it to stop) is harassment. Up to you if you report it to HR.

If you want to report it, make sure you're documenting everything that happens, including witnesses, so you have specifics to give HR. Also stick to the facts. It's better to say what she did and let HR decide if it's harassment or not.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Neo
    Dec 16 '20 at 13:15
  • The chat has been deleted. But I wonder what would happen if we reversed the sexes in this: “Some women are naturally flirtatious like this. … If she does it to everyone, and does it openly, then it could just be her personality.” You seem to be sending a mixed message here. Mar 7 at 13:55
  • I thought I was clear. If we reverse the sexes, it would be considered harassment and unacceptable, as proven by past questions on here. - From a woman to a man it's often accepted and considered "just their personality". However... it is still harassment and if the OP wishes to report it, then he should start documenting her actions and then report the facts to HR.
    – flexi
    Mar 7 at 16:26
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I have confronted her about what she's doing but, it hasn't stopped, she says I've taken it the wrong way

It doesn't really matter what she thinks, you can ask people to stop touching you just because you don't like it, no matter if it's flirt or not.

Here is what you can do:

  1. Talk about it again and firmly ask her to stop. "Please stop touching me" would be enough, you don't need to explain why you don't want that. I guess the least awkward moment would be when she does something like that again.
  2. If it doesn't stop, ask her again in writing (email, chat etc) and wait for any reply from her (to have a proof that she read it and doesn't deny that this is happening). If you have any friends among your colleagues, ask them if they will be able to confirm her inappropriate behavior. With these proofs you can already go to HR.

This of course won't be good for your relationship, so if she doesn't get fired or moved to a different department, be ready to look for another job.

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  • Simply keeping a diary of events can be compelling evidence even if no one else can confirm all of her behavior.
    – Peter M
    Dec 16 '20 at 21:12
  • @PeterM yes, it's better than nothing and can be helpful, but a diary alone is not a good proof, one can write even about events that didn't happen. Dec 16 '20 at 21:21
  • I agree a diary can be fabricated. But the action of keeping a diary over en extended period does add credence to the veracity of the data as locations and times etc can be cross checked. However if you want to be really sure about it, write your notes in a company email account and email yourself (and cc yourself at an outside account).
    – Peter M
    Dec 16 '20 at 21:25
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    I like point 2. I also had issues with someone being touchy and it stopped after I emailed them about it. I already requested the same thing when talking, but emailing this person made them stop. If 1 is difficult, I think it's also fine to email right away.
    – josephine
    Dec 17 '20 at 14:41
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Because of the downvotes I'm going to add this: In the Netherlands/West Europe my suggestion would be a fairly normal response. The "Dont touch me, or I'll go to HR" kind of responses are considered very hostile/direct (and thats coming from a dutchy) and overly political correct. We tend to first try the 'medium' way, the suggested more 'American' feedback/approach as first step would backfire here.

Interestingly, the most downvotes came when I was asleep, when America is awake :) No judging, just interesting.


I don't think you can easily change her actions, because:

  • She's your supervisor, there is a limit you can push back without it backfiring
  • You're a guy and she's a woman, and unfortunately that sometimes means you get takes less seriously (It shouldn't, but we're not there yet).
    To be clear: I dont think it should be like that, but that doesnt change facts. We need to keep working on equal rights, both directions :)

It's frustrating that your boundaries aren't taken seriously. I'm going to assume she really doesn't know what you find inappropriate and so should you, err on the safe side.

What you can do: Everytime she (or other colleagues!) touch you, you reply with a polite but firm "I prefer not to get touched unnecessary" and take a little step back, creating physical space. Directly continue your conversation, don't give it room to create awkwardness (or at least to keep it to a minimum):

I prefer not to get touched unnecessary. But yeah, I've done the thing, ....

You can follow up with a "sorry, I really prefer not to get touched like this" and if needed a (still friendly toned) "I would like you to stop touching me". This way you're not correcting her, but simply stating your boundaries.
Be sure to say it clearly, if it's possible so that colleagues can here it too.

If that still isn't enough, you continue to the "Please don't touch me, it makes me uncomfortable, I do not want to be touched like this". Again, it would help if other people can hear this. Because the next step will be HR and that will require some proof that you've tried.

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    IMO those follow-ups are too easy-going. "I prefer" and "I would like" make it sound like the OP is giving their supervisor an option to continue doing so. OP needs to state very clearly, with zero ambiguity, that the unwanted physical contact must stop. "Please do not touch me, it makes me uncomfortable."
    – alroc
    Dec 15 '20 at 13:03
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    @DJClayworth I could go with a little more than that. Maybe I'm the n=1 who experiences it differetly, But it most definately is true for my suroundings. Not for everything, but for this subjecT? Heck yeah. And I well try to make people in my surroundings aware of it in the attempt to correct itr
    – Martijn
    Dec 15 '20 at 18:18
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    Could you explain why you think that is sexist? To me it's an conclusion based on real statistics and examples. One I'd like to see changed! How can facts be sexist? Stating that mothers get easier custody than fathers isnt sexist. It's true. I think thats wrong, but that doesnt change the current state.
    – Martijn
    Dec 16 '20 at 12:48
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    OP is from the US and not Netherlands, that's why this answer got downvoted, I think. I'm not very familiar with US culture, but in my country the most appropriate answer in this situation would be not "I prefer not to get touched" but rather "Wtf are you doing, get your hands off me". So, it really depends on the country. Dec 16 '20 at 21:16
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    To your boss? Might be good internet advice, but in real life... I doubt that'll work very well (if you want to keep your job)
    – Martijn
    Dec 17 '20 at 8:07
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I suggest telling a couple people and trust you know - a friend, family, etc. - by emailing and writing up these incidents so you have some documentation that is timestamped. If something were to come down from this (i.e. she accuses you), your friend could supply the emails and the timestamps to show that you had made these allegations to someone you know weeks/months before. Make sure you CC yourself so you also have copies in case they get erased, but at least they'll be in both your sent mailbox and inbox.

I would report this to HR right away. These problems never go away on their own, and the problem is bound to get worse before it gets better. If HR asks you how long this has been going on, you could ask your friend(s) to forward your emails with the timestamps that you sent to them to HR directly, this way HR knows that you've been in contact with others about this activity and that the information is already locked in and archived in your friends/families email accounts.

If you can afford it, I would also consult an attorney, too, as they might be able to provide you with information on how to proceed should you be fired.

Good luck!

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  • Why was this downvoted? Mar 7 at 14:00

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