44

I work at some IT firm and recently, they have hired a "former" criminal (as a programmer) who was considered to be a possible suspect of two rape cases, and has spent some years in a jail for robbery. The thing is, that I am a 24 year old girl and I don't feel very comfortable while working with him.

The firm I work in is quite new and we all work in the same hall, which is small. Often, he used to come by my station and say things like, "What are you tasked with today?", "Well, that's a nice little nose you have there", "Do you know that you're a fruit salad?" and other quips.

He used to do them frequently but stopped doing so for the past few weeks. But he still just walks around the hall and gives me a very....strange stare for a few seconds that makes me insecure. This sounds odd but how would you feel being stared at by some criminal? He is always messing around and yesterday, as the HR manager came by (who is a woman), he started a conversation that I didn't hear, but he said "Darling...my head is full of sunshine!" in a high voice that I heard and she just laughed and walked by with a smile.

On next tuesday, I'll be working with him on something as a team and I don't want to do it as he is well...you know what he is. It's a very strong project that I do not want to reject, because it'll increase my change of promotion. However, with him around, I think that's unlikely.

Should I tell the manager that I do not work with him? The manager, who is a male, is fond of him despite his criminal history. If I should, then how should I?

  • 44
    The comments about your appearance and calling you a "fruit salad" are completely inappropriate and unprofessional. These should be called out. However, will you ever be in a situation where you will be alone in the office with him? Make sure you avoid this, given your concerns. Otherwise be professional, report inappropriate behaviour but there is no reason why you should not just do your job to the best of your ability. – Jane S Jul 30 '15 at 22:51
  • 6
    @sjuan It's not written as a hypothetical question; therefore, we should assume it is asked in good faith. New 1 rep users ask questions here all the time, so there is nothing extraordinary about that. – jmort253 Jul 31 '15 at 7:54
  • 5
    There have been a lot of comments here which are unacceptable. If you are curious how to behave professionally, take care to read this meta post and remember - if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. – enderland Jul 31 '15 at 11:20
  • 1
    I'm a little confused on this question. Was the person in question actually charged with anything or just a suspect? – d0nut Oct 20 '16 at 20:22
  • 1
    @iismathwizard first paragraph "has spent some years in a jail for robbery" – AakashM Oct 21 '16 at 8:56
36

Though this may be difficult, I would suggest you not focus on his criminal background. It was your company's decision to give a convicted criminal a "second chance," not yours.

What you can do, however, is focus on the inappropriate comments he's made. The "fruit salad" and "nice little nose" comments are clearly inappropriate. I see a few options immediately available to you:

  • Interpersonal issues can often be resolved by clearly communicating your concerns to the offender. I realize you may not be comfortable speaking directly to him about this, but you should consider making the offender your first stop. It may work to explain to him that comments about your appearance make you uncomfortable, and that you would appreciate him refraining from them in the future. If he responds positively, problem resolved. If not, then you have a bit more ammo if you need to escalate it. Whenever you go to management for help with resolving interpersonal issues, it's always better to be able to say, "I tried to take care of this myself, but it didn't work."

  • If that doesn't work, or you just aren't comfortable with that, you can go to HR. When you talk to the HR manager you referenced, you can start the conversation with, "I know this kind of interaction doesn't bother you, but it does bother me because..." This kind of thing is what HR is for, and just because something doesn't bother the HR manager doesn't give her the right to dismiss your concerns.

  • Along with HR, you should also make your immediate supervisor aware of the situation if directly speaking with him didn't stop the behavior.

If both your HR department and management are unable or unwilling to address the behavior, you may have to seek legal counsel outside the company. Laws will vary by locality, but this behavior may fall under sexual harassment or "hostile work environment" in the US.

Again, I would avoid bringing up the criminal history. I think you have a strong enough case considering current behavior. If you bring up the conviction, people may perceive your complaints as an attempt to punish him for past behavior that he has (presumably) already been punished for.

  • 9
    I deleted quite a few comments here that were... a bit confrontational in nature. Many were blatantly inappropriate. The summary related to concerns with #1 - telling a young woman who is uncomfortable around someone due to inappropriate comments to talk with the person who makes her uncomfortable 1/1 not necessarily being a good idea. – enderland Jul 31 '15 at 11:24
  • 15
    Also, just an FYI intended primarily at men who think this is just a "get over it" thing, I would encourage you to read this Ask Reddit. This was very enlightening to me when I read it a few months ago. Women experience blatantly inappropriate sexual advances/looks/comments at young ages. The extent (and inappropriateness) of this is also much more blatant than I ever realized. Suggesting a 1/1 context when this is how she feels is really, really missing that perspective... – enderland Jul 31 '15 at 11:32
  • 9
    @enderland I disagree that this answer is missing that perspective, though I did rephrase/reformat it a bit to put less emphasis on the 1:1 meeting. I'm a victim of sexual assault myself, so I assure you that I understand the implications of communicating directly with someone that makes you feel uncomfortable in that way. I think communicating with the offender is a fair suggestion in this case since both HR and the OP's supervisor don't have a problem with him. Making the attempt to resolve the issue first gives her a bulletproof case if/when this needs to be escalated. – skrrgwasme Jul 31 '15 at 16:42
  • 4
    @enderland For what it's worth though, I thank you for disagreeing with me in a reasonable and respectful way. I understand that a lot of people can (and do) disagree with me, so I appreciate you keeping the comment thread much more civil than it was before. – skrrgwasme Jul 31 '15 at 16:45
  • 4
    Great edits! I'd also suggest having that meeting in full visibility of other people (maybe in a conference room with windows facing everyone) and to take detailed notes of the events that happen for harassment. It's more credible to tell HR, "guy said X at 3:43pm, stared at me for 10 seconds at 5:34pm" etc than "guy is creepy." – enderland Jul 31 '15 at 21:14
30

When I was around your age, I was attacked by a coworker in the office who tried to rape me in front of 20 other people. It is now almost 30 years later and I still cannot sit in an office space unless I can see who is approaching me. So I understand why you are nervous. Trust those instincts, if someone makes you uneasy, you are right to be wary. Just what you wrote made me very uneasy and I too would have a problem working with this person.

Unfortunately when this someone is someone at work, it is hard to avoid that person. So what you have to do is protect yourself until you either find another job and leave (which I highly recommend in this particular case) or he does.

First talk to your boss and let him know that this person is making inappropriate comments and staring at you in a way that makes you uncomfortable and that you are worried about your safety. Ask him to not to assign you to work with him if at all possible. Ask for a work space where you are in sight of other people and where you can see him coming. Go to HR is need be. Make sure he has no access to your cell phone number or personal data. You are in a dangerous situation, protecting your safety is more important than any job.

Next, never under any circumstances be alone with this person. If he tries to get you alone, leave that area immediately. In your particular case, be especially careful in the parking lot. Always go out to your car in the company of another person. If possible commute with someone else.

Personally I would suggest finding another job ASAP. Once you leave, change your cell phone number (and address if there is any possibility he might have had access to it).

Could I be overreacting here and the guy be totally innocent. Yes, he could be. But when someone make you feel unsafe, you need to make sure you can get somewhere that you do feel safe. You are not making an accusation here (except to point out that his creepy statements and staring to you make you feel uncomfortable) and you are not asking them to fire him (which would be unfair if he has not committed a crime against you.)

But you have to be responsible for your own safety when the situation calls for it. Take the actions you need to take to be safe and don't worry about your career at this point. That is one reason why I recommend that you leave as soon as possible. You will never feel safe at this workplace as long as that person is there. If you can afford to quit, I would do it today.

If you see this guy hanging around where you live or if he follows your car when you leave, quit immediately and move. Don't mess around with a potential stalker.

  • 6
    A very conservative approach but certainly the safest in this situation. I would add that, if he starts following you outside of work, your first call should not be to your boss but to the police. Talk about your concerns with friends, and document them as you feel to be appropriate. Cynical as it may sound, it's in your best interest to start laying the groundwork for a TRO in case his behavior escalates (and you can't/won't quit and move at a moment's notice). – Air Jul 31 '15 at 16:15
  • 8
    I have to say what concerns me most in the story is that he has been accused of rape twice. If he was unjustly accused, one would have expected he would have learned to be more careful about the sort of harassing behavior the OP describes. And as a programmer it is probably relatively trivial for him to find her personal data. This is a very unsafe situation for any young woman to be in. No job is worth staying in this situation. – HLGEM Jul 31 '15 at 17:46
  • 5
    That's my point though, we don't know he's a predator. Being a suspect, being arrested, and being convicted are all quite different things. And we don't know if he was suspected twice, we know there are two cases, but it could be at one time he was suspected of both. We also don't know if his behavior is the reason he was suspected. It could have been that he was in the area at the times the women were assaulted, and the reason he's no longer a suspect is they caught the guy or guys that actually did it. By your logic i should never be trusted again because i was once a suspect. – Andy Aug 1 '15 at 19:57
  • 5
    There's reasonable caution, and then there's flat out paranoia. What reason does she have to get out of the situation immediately when you yourself say we don't know he's dangerous? Be cautious, sure, but be reasonable as well. – Andy Aug 1 '15 at 19:57
  • 7
    @Andy - without the conviction and the rape allegations I would agree with you. The problem is the cost of being wrong is tremendous for the OP. The company may have good reason to trust him, or he may be childhood buddies with the boss. At the least, she needs to limit engagement with this person, which puts her at a disadvantage at her current job. – sevensevens Aug 2 '15 at 15:29
8

Have a talk with your boss. Tell him straight out that this individual scares you and the least interaction you have with him, the better. In fact, you don't even want him to look at you let alone stare at you. Ask that if you are to work on any project with him, that you are never left alone with him.

Say that it is only fair that since the firm chose to hire him, that the firm looks out for you and makes an extra effort to provide you with a working environment that you deem safe. Say that you enjoy working at the firm and that you'd really appreciate being able to work and not have to look over your shoulder while you are working.

  • 6
    Also I realize that a couple of guy's comments are inappropriate and should be reported, you answer is really strange. It is kind of hard to work with people without looking at them. I have people in my office who have been in special forces in army. They can be way scarier than described here. Should I start asking my employee to assign a couple of bodyguards so that I will feel safe? – Salvador Dali Jul 31 '15 at 7:30
  • 14
    When talking to HR, focus more on what he's done and his inappropriate interactions with you, than on his background. – Hazel Jul 31 '15 at 10:36
  • 6
    I'm not advocating she remain silent, I'm pointing out a risk that should be considered and mitigated if possible. Telling someone to march into their boss's office and demand a coworker not work with them or even look at them without pointing out the risks involved doesn't strike me as a responsible answer. – Air Jul 31 '15 at 16:07
  • 3
    @Hazel: The background is part of it. You may have a colleague who sometimes says stupid things, but you know he wouldn't hurt a fly. And you may have another colleague who sometimes says stupid things, but has a conviction which means he has been found guilty of hurting people. It's not the same thing. – gnasher729 Jul 31 '15 at 19:28
  • 3
    Why would they be "way scarier"? Your comparison doesn't really work. Nothing in the ex-SEAL's background would lead you to believe he'd hurt you (he easily ~could~, but that's not the same thing). This is very different from the OP's situation. – jcm Aug 2 '15 at 3:31
2

You need to file a complaint with HR or whatever the company policy is. My first concern would be to have this behavior formally documented in case something more severe happens.

Also, the HR person needs to think about her behavior when interacting with this person as well. Hopefully, someone who doesn't mind being called "Darling" doesn't take if further and thinks being called "fruit salad" means nothing as well. For a person who has been given a second chance to work after being convicted, he better learn how to behave in the work place. I don't think he should be singled-out and held to a higher standard, but I would hope he has half a brain and realizes he should be more diligent in this area.

  • 3
    I have no trouble singling him out - eh, who's the felon here? - and holding him to a higher standard - he does something stupid to one of the employees and that employee's lawyer will be all over the firm in a court of law. Como se dice "should have known" and "failed to be proactive in providing a safe working environment"? A second chance with any employer and in particular, the OP's employer, should be seen as a privilege not an entitlement. – Vietnhi Phuvan Jul 31 '15 at 15:57
1

You are entitled to feel safe at work, without fear of personal attack - and it is your employers responsibility to deliver this.

Part of that, is to talk to HR, raising that you are feeling uncomfortable, and are looking for reassurance that this persons past is in the past, and that the company has good reason to believe that he is not a danger to you.

If the company steps up, treats your concerns seriously and puts together a confidence and trust building strategy for yourself, then great.

However, if they pay little more than lip service, or disregard your concerns, then I would recommend looking for your next role sooner than later. In part - just for your own sanity and mental well being, but more importantly, there are better employers out there.

protected by enderland Oct 20 '16 at 22:03

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.