I have a friend who I consider lucky to have. Her kindness, intelligence and understanding helped me on many occasions since childhood. There is just one problem; she does not understand professional boundaries and her jovial and joking manner that could be considered "cute" or "endearing" in high school is creepy, perverted and inappropriate at the workplace.

She is attracted to one of our colleagues and has no compunction bothering him in the middle of his work, lunch or any other time. She would go to him and make lewd remarks. For example, "Hey can you play with my Pooku, she'd love to see you." The poor guy thought Pooku was her niece or daughter and did not know that it meant the vagina in our native tongue.

Initially, he would listen to her blather good-naturedly, but now the problem is so bad that he cringes and stiffens every time she sits next to him. I'm worried that one day he'll decide enough is enough and complain to our superior about sexual harassment, which may result in her getting sacked without notice. I would not want that to happen to a dear friend of mine.

On more than one occasion, I warned her about this inevitability and got only careless replies from her, "You're just jealous that I'm not flirting with you" or "He likes it, just pretends not to."

Can anyone offer me advice on how to deal with this without losing my friend?

Edit: Please explain the downvotes and how I can clarify my question.

  • 17
    Sounds like saying nothing and watching her get sacked might work fine. She'll learn that you were right and she'll have no way to blame it on you.
    – Erik
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 7:39
  • 41
    Our PSA on the "Be Nice" policy was recently re-featured on the main site and I'd suggest reading it again before commenting. Sexual harassment is a serious issue, especially in the workplace, and making light of it in the comments is Not Okay for a professional site. Our site has a reputation for lacking a sense of humour but that is a small price to pay if it means people can ask questions about sensitive topics without having to deal with inappropriate jokes and condescending remarks. Please remember what comments are for.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 9:25
  • 14
    Ask her how she would feel if a man to whom she was not attracted were treating her the way she treats your mutual colleague. Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 14:30
  • 4
    Why is this your problem? You've provided input & she's told you to mind your own business. Live your own life & let her worry about hers. Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 21:18
  • 3
    Your friend is not a flirt, she is a bully. This is a dangerous situation for your colleague.
    – user44634
    Commented Mar 11, 2017 at 19:08

4 Answers 4


Your friend is clearly living in her bubble. You are going to be the one who has to figure out how to punch a hole in her bubble and burst it because none of us can help you with that - we don't know her and consequently, we have no idea how to reach her.

Her delusion is that the world reacts in the way she expects it to react when she acts in the "flirty" way she does. What's "flirty" to her may very well be sexual harassment to someone else and she needs to drop that delusion before the reality check comes in and she is made to pay a price for her delusion.

You've tried talking to her. Try something else - maybe get her mother or her siblings on the act and have them talk to her. Have another friend than you talk to her about how dangerously close to sexual harassment her conduct is, regardless of her intentions. Read her the chapter of the employee manual on sexual harassment. Have the person she was flirting with send her a private email to her private email using his private email account - as long as he is not hostile to her and as long as he is not cringing at the idea of using his private email (**). Basically, my suggestions to you amount to throwing paint on the wall and seeing what sticks. Maybe you can think of something else (*).

Keep trying to reach her directly and indirectly. You may have to get in her face and irritate the hell out of her.

(*) HLGEM suggests that you have HR arrange sexual harassment training for your entire group - I think it's a great idea. HR needs to be explicit to everyone what it considers to be sexual harassment, how it handles allegations of sexual harassment and what the penalties of sexual harassment can be. I'd say that a few too many of us have our own self-serving definition of what sexual harassment is and right now is a great time for HR to weigh in with how it defines sexual harassment. And states that its view is what counts in the context of this particular workplace.

(**) He can create a throwaway private email account and use it to communicate with her private email account.

  • 6
    I would like to add that forewarned is forearmed. At one point or another if a person does not listen to your advice it is time to cut your losses. Getting too involved in a person that is heading for disaster on their own volition can rope you in as well, those cases have a nasty tendency to become infected and ruining the friendship as well. Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 7:50
  • 1
    Thanks for the advice. I'll try contacting her parents. We've been friends for a whopping 15 years and our respective parents are friends too. Losing it means that my life will change radically.
    – SSP
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 8:20
  • 13
    I don't think it's "close to sexual harassment". It pretty clearly IS sexual harassment.
    – Erik
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 8:29
  • 10
    You could also suggest that sexual harassment training be scheduled for your group and ask the instructor to make a point of reminding people that women can harass men, too. In the 1980s we had this required training annually until everyone in the workplace was clear on what was and was not sexual harassment. It was necessary to change the culture. Perhaps it is time to reinstate that annual training.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 14:57
  • 9
    While I agree with most of your points, asking your targeted colleague to send her a private email sounds like a very bad idea. Getting access to his private email address might seem like a reward to your friend and could add cyber stalking to the workplace harassment.
    – Llewellyn
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 18:10

Are you sure your friend doesn't understand the professional environment?

I agree that the behavior is non-standard and perhaps even risky employment-wise, but some people are risk-takers and therefore often more direct. Calling it 'perversion', seems a step too far.

Being based in Denmark, I cannot evaluate what the actual risk of being terminated for sexual harassment is in your locale; whether it is a no-tolerance transgression or warnings precede more drastic measures. My guess would be that sexual harassment performed by females is dealt with more leniently than when the perpetrator is male.

Your friend is an adult, so all you can do is carefully state your actual opinion - that she is treading a risky path. You cannot make her agree or conform to your standards. However, if your friend is given a warning, she might be more sympathetic to your view - but until then, she is doing as she sees fit.

  • We are based in Australia. In our employment contract, it says that we will be given a month's notice before being fired unless the reason for being fired is sexual harassment, gross misconduct or some other thing that I don't remember. It might be true that female offenders are treated with more leniency, I would rather not have the issue escalate to such a level that mercy might be necessary.
    – SSP
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 8:25
  • 12
    Even if it's more lenient, once you hit the point where people cringe when you sit next to them, you're clearly going way over the line.
    – Erik
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 8:26
  • 5
    @toadflakz: 'Highly sexist' - for pointing out that the two sexes actually are treated differently when it comes to sexual harassment (and crime in general)? Whether or not that's fair, is another question. I find your view (that any sexualized behavior always is off-limits) simplistic, considering how many relationships actually start in the working place.
    – morsor
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 10:34
  • 6
    @toadflakz sexual harassment whether perpetrated by a male or female should make no difference and should be dealt with in the same manner with equal sanction -- you're quite right to note that this should happen. Any organisation that doesn't treat these things equally is being sexist of course, but I don't think morsor is wrong, or his(?) answer sexist, for noting that this isn't always the case.
    – Rob Moir
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 10:37

There is, alas, no way to force someone to listen to you, and certainly no way to force them to accept what you have to say.

You can try to get others to talk to her; you suggested parents.

You can try to find a manager (perhaps one not in her direct reporting chain initially) to tell her unofficially that this has been noticed and is over the line for acceptable workplace behavior and that the next talk will be with someone who can make it a "you bet your job" situation. Or go directly to her first-line if he counts her as a friend and a good employee otherwise.

In my company, there was a quietly famous new-hire lecture which memorably expressed the policy as "Sex is forbidden on company time and furniture." If she can't invite the guy out and flirt with him elsewhere, it's going nowhere and she should knock it off -- or at least tone it down to a level that does not make people wince.


The one other concrete suggestion I can give you is, As you've said, she could get in trouble for sexual harassment. You might point this out to her. That is, instead of "you're being annoying and embarrassing yourself and others", say, "the company has a policy against flirting with people at work, whether you think this is a reasonable policy or not, you could get in trouble, maybe even get fired". Or depending where you live, maybe even "get into legal trouble". Indeed that approach can be to your advantage: you're not being judgemental, you're not insulting her, you're telling her that someone ELSE is being judgemental and insulting. :-)

Ultimately, though, I presume that she is an adult. While you can try to help her, her life is not your responsibility. You can give her advice. There's not much you can do beyond that. If she doesn't listen and things go badly, that is her responsibility, not yours.

  • The time when she gets into trouble is probably when her victim gets told what her words actually meant. Female colleague says things that I don't quite understand - I stay polite and smile. Female colleague asks me if I want to play with her vagina - shit hits the fan.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 17:59

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