I am a woman who has been working on a team of men for a number of years now. Up until recently I have been treated very well and with respect. I love my job and get on well with my boss and colleagues.

A few weeks ago, my boss hired a friend of his to join our team. He is, admittedly, very good at his job and my boss thinks very highly of him.

Initially we got along well, but after he found out I was single, he started making unwanted advances towards me. It was just talking in the beginning. Asking questions about me personally. I originally just thought he was being friendly, but grew uncomfortable when he started moving into my personal space. I thought it was just in my head until he started touching my arm and shoulder. I politely moved out of the way.

I got up the courage to talk to my boss about it. We have a good relationship and I thought since they knew each other that could help. My boss just brushed it off and said he was just a flirt and that I had nothing to worry about. He seemed completely unconcerned about my discomfort.

So now it has escalated to the point where he is making serious advances on me. I have repeatedly turned down his invites to coffee/lunch/dinner and am now actively avoiding him as much as possible. He has become increasingly arrogant and bold in his statements. My colleagues know, but they don't know how bad it has become. As far as I can tell, they think he's just a flirt.

I am not very experienced in dealing with men like this. I have a quiet personality and generally avoid confrontation. I realize that other women probably would have slapped him by now or something. But that's something I wouldn't do.

I now am at a loss. I am seriously considering looking for another job. Apart from this, I love my job and find it rewarding. I don't want to leave. I also don't want to give up because of him.

How do I make him stop this? Or convince my boss that this is serious?

More detail:

The company is a small start-up in California. My boss is the CEO.

As an example, I used to get to work early and often was one of the first ones there. He boxed me in in the kitchen and said I deserved to be "punished" for a bug found in my code the day before. He then claimed I'd "enjoy being spanked". I was speechless, no man has spoken to me like that before, with such presumption.

I thought I was quite clearly declining his invitations, but these comments are making me question if I was clear enough. I initially said "No, thanks", and later "I'm not interested" when he persisted. He seems to be completely unfazed by my rejection and claims that "I want him and just don't know it yet". This morning he touched my face and I pushed his hand out the way and said "don't touch me!". He seemed surprised but it didn't seem to bother him too much. I am trying to be more assertive and more clear that I'm not interested. I am, frankly, terrified of this man.

When I spoke to my boss the first time, things weren't that bad but now I'm going to make a serious case and be more detailed in my examples of his behaviour (as suggested). I am at the point where I don't care what happens with the job, I just want this over. It is stressing me out and making it hard to get myself to work every day.

Thanks for the answers, they have been so helpful. I thought I didn't have a chance and now I feel more hopeful.

So I spoke to my boss this afternoon and gave him a list of what happened and when and I think he was pretty shocked. He said he'd investigate. I also think he saw I was upset about the whole thing because he also said I could work from home the rest of the week.

It's a relief already that he knows, and took it seriously.

It all worked out in the end. I still have my job, my coworker no longer has his. It came out that this wasn't the first time this has happened; he's had a history of behaving this way at previous companies. My boss knew about his history and hired him as a favour because he was having difficulty getting a job elsewhere.

I'm still feeling very unsure about the whole thing. The fact that my boss knew about his history and let this happen is very bothersome to me. I am looking for a new job now, even though this has worked out in my favour. I don't respect my boss and his character anymore.

Thanks so much to everyone for their advice and encouragement! I am certainly a lot happier now and relieved this is over.

It's been a couple of years later now and I basically ended up leaving the company and getting another job. I'm now at a much better company on a new team of amazing respectful people and it is so nice to have this all behind me.

  • 4
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Continue the discussion there not here.
    – Jane S
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 13:05
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    If you ever find the time, we would appreciate an update about the outcome. Hope everything went well!
    – Lot
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 10:37
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    @Lot it has all worked out in the end. I still have my job, my coworker no longer has his. He apparently has a history of this kind of behaviour.
    – eipi
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 18:58
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    Addendum after-the-fact: It's possible his boss knew about the reports, but simply didn't believe them, or at least not entirely. It can be difficult for people to really internalize that their friend is someone they'd consider repugnant; he might have just assumed it wasn't as serious as it was made out to be. It's unfortunate to be sure, and you're well within your rights to leave over it, but it's something to consider at least.
    – anon
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 17:21
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    Thank you for letting us know of the aftermath!
    – kiradotee
    Commented Sep 19, 2019 at 17:24

20 Answers 20


He's counting on you to avoid confrontation. And you feel that saying something more forcefully will make things uncomfortable and be rude. But here's the thing: he's already being rude, and things are already uncomfortable, at least for you.

So, in addition to writing things down after they happen each time, start speaking up anyway. When he touches you, say "Please don't touch me." Get louder each time. It will become easier as you do it, and enforcing boundaries is a useful skill.

When he asks you out, say "I'm not interested in going out with you. Please quit asking." If he asks again, say "I said I wasn't interested, why are you still asking?" "I need you to quit asking me out, can you do that?" And you can get louder there, too.

Eventually, it will become more uncomfortable for him than it is for you, and he will stop. Or else the boss will start seeing and hearing the problem. And when the boss finally takes notice, you'll have your log, if he's interested.

If you have an HR, it's worth going to them and explaining that you've told him to stop, and he won't.

As BradC says in the comments "to be absolutely clear, there is zero chance he doesn't know exactly what he's doing. The reason to be clear and loud, as this answer recommends, is not to "make sure he understands", the reason is to remove his plausible deniability, and to make sure that everyone else in the office also sees what is going on." Yes, start making it more uncomfortable for him, start making it really visible to others what he is doing. He already knows what he is doing, and will continue as long as only you are uncomfortable.

Edit, based up updates to question If he's touching you and not backing down, then you need to go to HR and your boss now. (Which you have.) Don't arrive early when he might be the only one there. Don't work late. Make sure, as far as you can, that he never has a chance to be alone with you. Working from home is a good start. (If it hadn't escalated as much as it has, I'd suggest that when he's around, make your documentation a lot more obvious: pull out your phone, and tell him that you'll be taking a video of your immediate area, and if he moves into it, he will be in the video. But don't ever be alone in the building with him now, even with the camera phone - that's not enough to protect you, and it might make it worse. You don't want evidence after something happens, you want nothing to happen.)

If he isn't completely professional when you return to the work building, you should consider finding a new job and getting a restraining order, and ask to work from home until that happens. (You might mention to your boss that you're considering a restraining order, and ask if he'd like to handle it differently than you working from home.)


Firstly, write down every instance of unwanted attention in a log and date it. This is for if it goes really bad, you want a record so you can litigate.

Involve HR. Tell them that you are recieving unwanted attention from a colleague and that you have done due diligence in letting him know it is unwanted and that you wish HR assistance in the matter. Be sure to let them know that you are perfectly satisfied with it just stopping (they are, technically, working for the company and will start to cover their tracks in case of litigation - but they are legally obligated to provide a workplace safe from harassment so they should, in theory, be helpful)

If you do not involve HR you could make your log known to the person in question by loudly saying what you are writing as you are writing it. "Monday the third, touches me despite being told not to last wednesday. Inviting me out to dinner, again, after being told not to ask," - this is dangerous but bullying works surprisingly often. Either which of these paths you chose:

And, ask assistance from a lawyer, depending on your financial situation of course. IANAL, so you are just getting what I would have done if I were a woman and in your shoes.

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    I think the "luck" the OP has (if you can call it that) is he is committing unambiguous wrong acts (e.g. touch). Several days' worth of documentation should be enough for a fleshed out case to HR... who hopefully is committed to dealing with this effectively.
    – user42272
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 22:54
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    And if you live in a location where it's legal to do so, record. Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 1:54
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    @djechlin Assuming this is a startup, HR or the CEO may deem it more efficient to blackball OP out of the company rather then get rid of the CEO's friend.
    – Magisch
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 8:34
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    @djechlin: Maybe it's a cultural thing, at least in Europe touching an arm or shoulder isn't "unambiguous wrong".
    – Chris
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 8:50
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    *The company is a small start-up in California. My boss is the CEO. * => I am afraid there is not much HR to have in this specific case :( Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 9:23

I think you will probably end up leaving this job. But perhaps try a few last-ditch things:

  • give this person a loud clear NO every time. "Please don't touch me." "No, and please don't ask again, it's not flattering." "I do not like the turn this conversation is going." Yes, it's rude to express yourself this directly, with no please or thankyou, no if-you-don't-mind, no face-saving I'm-sure-you-didn't-mean-to-make-me-feel-uncomfortable. He was rude first. Taking notes and saying what you're writing as you write it is also an option in this category.
  • give your boss a chance to get through to his friend. If the "just a flirt" line comes out, say "there is no 'just' about it for me. It's making me uncomfortable. I am having trouble working here because of it." Make it clear this is not an "I wanted to let you know" conversation and is an "I want you to make this stop" conversation.
  • if there is an HR, talk to them. Your situation is crystal clear, so my guess is there is no HR or it would have been handled by now.
  • if you live in a country that has laws against this behavior, and a line you can call for advice and to start a "human rights" claim of some kind, get that started. Optionally, tell your boss you have done so.

It should not be on you to point out that being flirted with when you just came here to work is not cool. It should not be on you to set up and enforce the line between "nice" and "trying to date me". It should not be on you to educate your harasser, your boss, and all your colleagues about how this makes actual human people feel. Nor to remind them that women are actual human people. Yet here you are. If you don't feel like taking all this on, you don't have to - but you probably won't be able to work there harassment-free unless you do, and you may not be able to work there harassment-free under any circumstances. Take as much control as you can.

  • Agree with everything except saying that standing up for yourself is rude. If this employee doesn't understand (willingly or not) the basics of workplace interaction, then you are completely in the right for doing/saying these things or much more. I'm very sorry that women are so often put in the position of deciding whether they can stand up for themselves or not without repercussions. It's not fair and it's not right. I'm gay and and if I did half the things to this guy that he's done to OP, I guarantee he would not be concerned about whether he was rude or not. Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 19:24
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    The issue is that people feeling uncomfortable often don't express that discomfort because it feels rude. Telling them "it isn't rude" is less helpful than you think. Telling them yes, it can be rude to talk that bluntly and to announce that you know their motivations and what they are hinting but in this case such rudeness is ok is, in my opinion, helpful. So I did. Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 14:27
  • I'm never going to get on board with saying that standing up firmly against sexual harassment is rude in any way, but whatever works for you. Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 14:47
  • My guess is you have not been socialized to believe that standing up for yourself and taking your fair share is rude, that you should demur, that you should not make a scene and so on. Demanding that those who have been raised that way think just like you is not helpful. Acknowledging how they think and encouraging them to take the action we both agree on regardless of that thinking, that actually changes things. Whereas your approach leaves her stuck at "I can't do that, it would be a rude response to what might have been meant harmlessly." Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 15:07
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    "give this person a loud clear NO every time. "Please don't touch me."" "Please" is for requests. This is not a request. This is a demand. And it should not be presented as referring just to the current incident. "Do not touch me. EVER." "give your boss a chance to get through to his friend." The only "getting though" that the boss should have to do is to say "If you touch OP again, you'll be fired. Period." Commented Dec 21, 2020 at 1:03

So I was reading this question, nodding along. Thinking "that sounds quite annoying, but not too serious".

Then you gave the specific example at the end and I was frankly shocked. That wasn't a bit of flirting or attention. That was pure sexual harassment, he was very far across the line!

But none of your description up to then really portrayed that. If you went to your boss and said only what you said in the first half of the post then I can understand him not taking it too seriously.

Go to the boss with this specific example written down with date, time and what he said. Collect a few more examples if possible. Say "this is what is happening. In the company of others he is persistent and annoying. Whenever he gets a chance to catch me alone I'm being sexually harassed." Hand the list to your boss (take a copy first for your own records) and tell him what you are dealing with.

Unfortunately you will need to make a stand here, even if you would prefer not to. Hopefully the list can speak for itself though so you do not need to.

Then make it clear. You cannot tolerate this situation any further. Either this behavior stops now or you will have to consider your options. If you do not feel comfortable having any further contact with this person then specifically request that.

Hopefully this will make the CEO take notice. If not then you have the evidence you need to involve a lawyer. In a fair world you should not have to leave a job you love because one idiot is ruining it for you but it may come to that. All I can suggest is that you try a written complaint first, then evaluate your options from there.

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    I felt the same way reading this. This is just plain harassment. Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 11:39
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    @AnthonyGrist It's pointless to argue that point if people are saying/thinking that what they've witnessed is harmless.
    – Tim B
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 21:32
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    Yes, let's just reinforce a completely misguided idea about what actually constitutes sexual harassment to avoid a "pointless argument". It's not pointless and, frankly, it's not even an argument. Pretending that all but the very worst is merely "annoying" is horrendous advice. Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 21:43
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    @AnthonyGrist I'm offering practical advice to improve her situation. Not trying to fix the world. Feel free to post an alternative answer but keep in mind things like cognitive dissonance. Her co-workers have already brushed off the complaints and think nothing serious is going on. Any attempt to make them think otherwise is unlikely to work and may in fact make them more resistant to the idea. Once they accept that something was happening they weren't aware of they will then start to re-evaluate everything else themselves which is the only way to convince anyone of anything.
    – Tim B
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 22:08
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    Because otherwise you are accusing them of being an enabler of sexual harassment and friends to a sexual predator - and 90% of people when confronted by that prospect will reject the whole thing even when presented with proof rather than internalize that rather uncomfortable realization. By framing it as something they were not aware of you have a much higher chance of actually getting them to take action and accept the problem exists which is the biggest hurdle.
    – Tim B
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 22:12

I just want to add something to the useful answers here: since you are the quiet type and dislike confrontation, I suggest that you practice telling (NOT yelling) him to stop at home, best in front of a mirror. This will make it less hard to do so with him, in the real situation.

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    I don't get why answers like that get upvoted. Scream at a mirror will not solve the problem. The guy need to be put in his place, period.
    – SpongeBob
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 15:41
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    Many of the other answers are recommending firm, loud responses, especially around other people. This isn't easy to do, especially for someone who describes themselves as quiet and not liking confrontation. Practicing in a mirror, as silly as it sounds, can be an effective way to get used to responding that way.
    – BradC
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 16:01
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    @BradC: exactly. I am also quiet and avoiding confrontation if possible, and I can confirm that practicing helps.
    – Purrrple
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 16:20
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    It felt silly to do, but I practised this morning at home before work and it did help. Thanks.
    – eipi
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 19:58
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    @Fernando - screaming at the mirror (as you put it) is not presented as a full solution to the problem, but merely a step to help the OP resolve the situation. And for introverts, it's a good suggestion and really does help some people.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 21:07

This is a clear case of sexual harassment, which is illegal.

If your company has at least 15 employees, then your employer bears the responsibility for ensuring that your workplace is safe, including that there is no sexual harassment. See San Francisco's Sexual Harassment: Frequently Asked Questions. If your employer refuses to address this behavior, you have a very strong legal case.

The point and purpose of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is to eliminate the need to choose between your dignity and your job. Under that act, your employer is required to address sexual harassment... it's not up to you to stop it. If your employer refuses to do so, they are violating the law, which is meant to protect you from exactly this situation. You have legal rights. Your only responsibility is to exercise those rights.

If your company has less than 15 employees, and your employer refuses to address the harassment, then you should still consult with a lawyer. This kind of behavior may still be considered assault, and you may still have legal protections, but a lawyer would be better able to make that determination.

You should not fall prey to victim blaming. The other person is the aggressor here, and you should not be made to change your behavior or routines to accommodate his disgusting behavior.

Since you've updated your answer to indicate that your boss has, indeed, taken some initial action, keep in mind that the end goal here is to make the harassment stop.

Things can get a bit ugly, because it's unlikely that the aggressor will own up to the accusations and the friendship between him and your boss could make things complicated. If you get into any kind of back-and-forth, remember to stay focused on what you're asking for: that you want the harassment to stop.

Your goals should not include any kind of discipline for the aggressor, including dismissal or reassignment. Asking for or expecting those things could cloud the issue and bring your motives into question (unfortunately). Legally, your boss is only required to ensure that the harassment stops. You, likewise, should not be required to accept reassignment or severance. The goal is to make the harassment stop.

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    Right. This is a hostile work environment issue as well as a sexual harassment issue. If the CEO doesn't do something, the OP should collect records so that options are open later. CA startup culture has a very poor reputation around this kind of thing right now. She should not assume that this will be addressed adequately. It's really unfair but these kinds of cases, if pursued can limit careers so she may want to simply leave. This guy sounds pretty psycho though so a restraining order may be needed later. Document, document, document.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 15:42
  • When you say placing the responsibility on the victim, I assume you mean stopping the behavior? Because reporting the behavior to a manager, calling HR, etc., like most answers suggest SHOULD be the responsibility of the victim, shouldn't it? I certainly wouldn't rely on the guy doing the harassing to report it, or on a co-worker to report it, or even on the manager to magically know how serious it is.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 15:02
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    @Omegacron - I mean the advice about shouting, changing arrival/departure times, getting a new job, or even the requirement to give a "clear no" (whatever that is), etc. This suggests that it's up to the victim to challenge and correct the behavior of the aggressor. According to Title VII (which, admittedly, does not apply in all circumstances, unfortunately), it's her boss' job to approach the aggressor and take the steps necessary to change his behavior. She should not be required to shout to the entire office, etc., to feel safe in her work environment.
    – JDB
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 15:07
  • @Omegacron If the issue was that her boss ignored dangling live wires, I don't think people would be saying "you should wear a rubber suit." If her boss let diseased feral animals rove the halls because he felt bad for them, I don't think the advice would be "get up to date on your vaccines." This is simply intolerable... it's ridiculous to suggest that she should raise her voice... this simply shouldn't be allowed to happen at all.
    – JDB
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 15:13
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    @JDB - you should probably add that, then. We're not talking about live wires or feral animals, or anything obvious that others would complain about. We're talking about people, and until the update yesterday afternoon, the OP said she had mentioned it once to the boss, admittedly as more of an FYI comment than a complaint. It is not the responsibility of the victim to avoid the guy or address the behavior, but it IS the responsibility of the victim to accurately report the behavior and/or complain about it. She went back and did that, and it would seem the boss is acting appropriately.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 15:20

You say "He boxed me in in the kitchen and said I deserved to be "punished" for a bug found in my code the day before. He then claimed I'd "enjoy being spanked". "

This isn't just harrassment, this is assault. According to what you say, you had to be in reasonable fear of physical force against you. And that is assault, even if the physical force didn't happen. It's criminal. People can go to jail for this.

My advice to the boss: If this is a person that you call a friend, then you really need to be more careful about your relationships. This man is not anyone's friend, he is an animal.

Write down what happened, and what you reasonably feared would happen. Take this to your boss. Tell him that there is no "flirting" going on whatsoever, but that you have been assaulted. If your boss doesn't think it's assault, tell him that the police will think otherwise. If he doesn't want to do anything about it, tell him that he as your boss is personally responsible for the safety of the workplace. That by his inaction he is making this a very hostile workplace.

On the other hand, if he is convinced that this is just harmless flirting, then he won't mind if you tell every male colleague about how this man has been acting. After all, it's just flirting.

PS. After your final update: With what I know now, your boss has acted truly irresponsible. So he had a friend who has been fired for sexual harrassment more than once and has difficulty finding a job. In that situation, if the boss decides to help his friend out and hire him, then it is absolutely essential that he tells the friend that such behaviour will be totally unacceptable at his company, and it is essential that he acts in the most forceful way possible if there are any complaints about him.

When you complained the first time, the boss should have talked to his friend and made it clear to him that this is his last chance. He should have told you that this behaviour would never happen again. Or at most once, and that you should tell the boss immediately if anything happens again.

What he did instead, telling you that this was "just flirting", was absolutely and inexcusable wrong. What he did would have been bad and wrong if he hadn't believed you, but he knew or should have known that you were telling the truth.

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    The exact names are different, but it is a punishable crime if you convince a judge that you were in justified fear of violence.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 19:45
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    Indeed, this is assault in most U.S. jurisdictions. OP's specific case is important, but state specific law isn't something this site is good at, so this general information is better.
    – user30031
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 21:30
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    Getting police involved is an excellent way to never get a job in your industry again. Sucks that it is that way, but employers (especially in startups) will blackball you for such things, most likely.
    – Magisch
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 8:12
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    @Magisch Do you have any references for your assertion? That has not been my my experience, but I don't have any significant data.
    – Eph
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 14:13
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    @Ben: The combination of "You must be punished" and "you enjoy being spanked" is most definitely a threat. And an average woman (one who isn't 6'2" with 200 pound of muscle, or one that isn't the local karate champion) would be afraid.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 23:00

My boss just brushed it off and said he was just a flirt and that I had nothing to worry about. He seemed completely unconcerned about my discomfort.

Find a new job. Your boss will never do anything about this. Not only will he not do anything about you being harassed, but I personally would never trust him again because of it. Life is too short to work for someone who doesn't care even the tiniest bit about your wellbeing.

Even if you can eventually force your boss to do his job (and it is literally his job to keep people from ruining his team's productivity, which is what your harasser is doing) by hounding him until he does it, do you really want to work for someone who will only look out for your best interests (and your productivity!) if you make it more trouble to ignore you than to protect you?

Imagine that instead of a harasser your office had a broken electric tea kettle that shot sparks whenever someone turned it on. If you reported that to your boss and he didn't do anything about it, you would leave, right? Not even necessarily because of the kettle, but because your boss wouldn't do the simplest thing to keep you safe.

I also don't want to give up because of him.

Don't look at it as giving up because some creeper is harassing you, look at it as refusing to stay at a company that doesn't care in the slightest that someone is harassing you.

There's one thing that the other answers seem to be missing that's frustrating me: actually suing the company for not doing anything about your harasser has consequences. As a woman developer myself, I hope you sue and win and the judge makes an example of them, but I'd be a real jerk if I didn't acknowledge the fact that a) going to court sucks - it's an expensive, grueling process that may not yield any good results - and b) it's wildly unethical and a huge red flag, but some employers will look at an employee who sued their employer as a troublemaker and not hire them.

Absolutely consult with a lawyer, but you should in no way feel obligated to actually sue. If you do decide to speak with a lawyer, be sure to ask what potential downsides going to court could have.

I thought of a better way to explain what I'm trying to get at: a lawyer is not a magic wand. You cannot wave one around and expect all of your problems to disappear.

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    "your boss will never do anything about this". ??? Why? Just cause he's friends with possibly-a-terrible-person doesn't mean he's 1) unwilling to fire that person 2) aware the person has the problems they have or 3) so unwilling to intervene he'd rather open the company up to lawsuits. Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 4:44
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    @thedarkwanderer "My boss just brushed it off and said he was just a flirt and that I had nothing to worry about. He seemed completely unconcerned about my discomfort." Does that sound like someone who is going to see the light?
    – Mel Reams
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 5:24
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    We don't know yet how the boss will react to repeated complaints. His first reaction was based on knowing his friend's usual behavior, and he was probably trying to de-escalate. Repeated complaints will tell him that there is really a problem, and he might act accordingly.
    – user24582
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 8:39
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    A simply worded letter from a lawyer in the effect of warning about possible legal issues due to the harassment should wake the boss up.
    – Snowlockk
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 13:00
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    @MelReams - tbh, it sounds like a manager in a small company who knows his friend is an obnoxious flirt but doesn't realize how far he's taking things. And based on the update from her, it would seem that he indeed IS taking the matter seriously once that information became available to him. Only time will tell if that's true, but hopefully she gets to keep a job she likes, rather than leaving bitter.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 15:11

Talk to the Police

With your edit, this no longer sounds like 'persistent annoying' behavior but rather extremely threatening, dangerous behavior. If I was you, I would be afraid for my safety.

In the state I live, getting permission to carry a weapon on company property is basically impossible, but if that's something that is a real option for you I'd definitely consider it.

I would call the police (non-emergency), and ask for a restraining order. I would then call a lawyer specializing in workplace harassment or women's rights issues and ask to talk with them about this ASAP because I'm worried for my safety. If they couldn't give me preliminary advice quickly, I'd find someone else.

My default plan would be to contact my CEO, explain what happened, especially the 'spanking' episode and the 'you want me, you just don't know it yet' creepy talk. I would then refuse to go into work until the sexual harrassment situation is dealt with. I would explain that I am afraid for my safety and until the company can provide a workplace free from sexual harassment I will not be coming in to work.

If I had any friends at work, I would tell them (via phone or email, obviously, since you aren't going in to work) what was happening and ask them, if appropriate, if they would be willing to cover parts of what I was working on until the company decides what it's going to do about the sexual harassment. Something like:

"Hi, Tom, So John (the creepy stalker guy) has gotten pretty serious with his threats and I don't really feel safe coming to work right now. I'm hoping the Boss will take care of it soon, but it doesn't really feel like he's listening to me. In any case, I'm going to be out of the office for a few days at least, do you think you could handle (one of the things you were going to do that John is also qualified to do) for me? It's alright if you can't, I'm just supposed to have it done so (larger project) can go online by (date).

Also (appropriate additional communications based on your relationship and trust and desire for support from this person and whatnot)

(your signature email ending thing or lack thereof)"

Once I heard back from people, I would email my boss and be like "Hey, so I got Tom and Dennis to cover (thing A) and Paul said he'd be willing to do (thing B) if he has time. I couldn't find anyone to cover (thing C), though. Hope I can come back to work soon."

If you want to take matters into your own hands, what's being done is almost certainly a violation of several criminal laws in California, may be a violation of several others, and may lead to additional criminal violations. Specifically, Stalking, Violation of a Restraining Order, Criminal Threats, and Sexual Assault.

There are also several civil violations, such as civil harassment, that are relevant here. Criminal problems you can get solved by talking to the police by yourself. Civil problems are more likely to require a lawyer (which you should be getting anyways at this point).

I would also make sure to lock my doors and windows, and to travel with friends when going out.

To reiterate, this sounds like a serious and immediate threat to your personal safety and you should react appropriately.

  • 8
    I agree with the recommendation to be clear and straightforward, but there is ZERO chance he doesn't know exactly what he's doing. He might be hiding behind the veneer of plausible deniability, but that is a common tactic, not genuine cluelessness.
    – BradC
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 14:28
  • 2
    @BradC Given that we're only getting one side of this, and she's said she's not very assertive, it seems perfectly plausible that he doesn't know how he's affecting her. Again, we're only getting one side of this, and it's from someone who feels strongly that it's inappropriate harassment. This seems like one of the more reasonable responses here, without demonizing anyone or exploding with moral outrage.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 0:46
  • 4
    In the OP's update she says she has told him "No thanks", "I'm not interested", and "don't touch me". That's not a "hint".
    – user812786
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 14:16
  • 1
    @whrrgarbl Welp, that changes everything. Should I delete this and repost to clear votes? It's back to 0 anyways so I figure it's not that big a deal... Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 18:11
  • 1
    @thedarkwanderer hm I'm not sure what the standard is actually if you change your whole answer, but editing will allow people to retract their downvotes if they check back, so I would stick with that.
    – user812786
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 20:12

How do I make him stop this? Or convince my boss that this is serious?

Threats sometimes work. Sometimes you need to escalate.

If the individual doesn't leave you alone after being threatened about going to the boss, then go to the boss.

If the boss doesn't do anything after being threatened to go to HR, then go to HR.

If HR doesn't do anything after being threatened with a lawsuit, then get your lawyer involved.

Start with the easiest/simplest, then work up to the most involved.

  • 1
    I like your strategy, however, I think I would start with a cattle prod. ;-)
    – closetnoc
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 2:48
  • 8
    This is a small startup, there is most likely no HR.
    – Summer
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 10:10

I'll take a different tone to the other answers.

You got a really raw deal here, and I think it'll end with you having to leave the company. Prepare for this.

No, it's not fair. But you already saw, the CEO is sticking up for the guy, it's his friend, so complaining to the CEO or HR will probably get you nowhere.

You can look into whether or not what you experienced is enough to file a lawsuit, you'll have to consult with a lawyer for that, but I'd advise against it. Suing your employer is a very easy way to get blackballed in your entire industry.

Fairness aside, realisticly, it's probably best for you to move on to another job without causing a stir. It sucks that it has to be that way, but suing and/or filing a sexual harassment complaint against your employer or his friend may completly ruin your career even if your claim is just and gets ruled in your favor.

  • 2
    I respect that this answer tries to look out for OP's well-being in a non-perfect world, but I am not sure things are quite this hopeless
    – user30031
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 21:22

After reviewing some of the other answers, I can only recommend one thing: consult a lawyer. He can guide you through documentation and possibly if criminal charges have been committed. As gnasher729 said the whole kitchen incident could be assault.

Another option is to call the police and file a complaint about the kitchen incident. After listening to your side of the story, the cop will determine if his actions were criminal. With the implication that he was going to spank you, I would say that there was a criminal act. There is nothing quite like the threat of criminal charges to take down a bully.

Above all I would not respond with a slap. If he escalates to grabbing you or you feel physically threatened, then knee to groin (or similar self-defense move) to protect yourself. A slap for some of the actions you described could get yourself in just as much trouble as it might not have been justified. For others a slap might communicate you did not truly feel physically intimidated (even though I feel intimidated by what you describe).

I would not leave unless you talk to a lawyer first. You want to work there, and you should share in the wealth if this startup takes off. If this bully forces you to leave, then a just compensation should be had.


Don't insult. Don't explode. Don't get overly loud. These actions can all be viewed as innapropriate behavior from you. You have a smart phone, use it. Every time this man approaches you, start videoing. You don't even have to be taking a video of him, but it will capture the place, the voice, and the time. In a firm voice say "I am not interested in you. I don't want you to approach me personally or touch me".

E-mailing this same statement, preceded by a list of the actions that have made you uncomfortable, so it provides more evidence that you've communicated your position, is a good idea. Send it with a delivered and return reciept requested. You could even send a registered letter to him at the work address, documenting the contents.

Document everything related to his interactions with you.

Tell your boss that you intend to file a grievance, with the labor board, for sexual harrassment against the man and the company unless the behavior stops immediately.

The boss is liable for such behavior happening in his company. This way, if you somehow lose the job you will clearly deserve unemployment and you can still sue for wrongful termination. There is no reason for you to quit your job or go quietly. It's a right, by law, in the United States to NOT be sexually harrassed in the workplace.

I'm 55 years old, with some experience of being mistreated in the work place, so I hope this helps.

  • 3
    The State of California requires the consent of all parties for recording (audio or video), so that part of this answer is questionable. The rest is good advice.
    – BradC
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 21:55
  • @BradC You're incorrect. It's illegal to record a conversation to which you are not a party.
    – Xavier J
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 15:35
  • 2
    @codenoir That's one consequence of the law, but you also can't record a conversation you are a part of if the other party doesn't know you are recording (in person or over the phone). See this page for full details. In this particular case, OP therefore couldn't set her phone to record audio and keep it in her pocket, but she COULD whip out her phone in full view and make it plain she is recording (which would of course, change his behavior). So it depends exactly on how it is done.
    – BradC
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 15:43

Please review the sexual harassment laws for the State of California.

Any unwanted words or actions should be reported to someone of authority within your organization, and followed through with a conversation with the man that is harassing you giving him a warning. If this goes on after that, then you have created documentation and he has been warned, so there is a record that can result in his dismissal.

Also it's a good idea to let your boss know he could be liable also for allowing it to go on even though it has been documented and taken to an authorized person in the company.


Great to hear your boss took it seriously the second time around. People coming here via Google might like to consider this for their own problem:

Bosses usually optimise their management strategy for the most common case. In an industry full of extremely forthright people (one horrifyingly forthright person in this case), even a good boss can mistake politeness for indifference.

Expressing problems more concretely can help (in this case, a list of specific events did the trick). It can also help to spell out the general problem - that unusually polite people need to be managed a different way.

Good bosses consider that sort of thing an interesting challenge, and this question shows it's worth giving them a second chance to understand. But bad bosses also exist, and anyone still looking for advice after several attempts to communicate might have no choice but to leave their company.


Take care of yourself!

Other people have talked about logistics (i.e. not being alone at work and being with friends after work), legal implications (I agree that you should consult a lawyer, and if you contact me with your jurisdiction on my website, I can ask a couple of lawyers I know for a referral), and involving the police (I agree there too).

But there's something this thread is missing.

You are probably going through the greatest suffering you've experienced in your life, and you should act and take measures accordingly.

This means finding a therapist (https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms is one resource; also see http://locator.apa.org/) and probably a psychiatrist. You've suffered many deep wounds, and a good therapist with a good psychiatrist can support you as you heal.

Are you eating right? Drinking lots of water? Exercising? Sleeping neither too much nor too little? Enjoying nature? If you go out to exercise it should be in the company of friends for safety (for now), but the times when you may hurt enough that you don't feel like getting out of bed may be the times when you need exercise the most.

You can feel better, even if it's not overnight. I believe after some inappropriate experience that it is possible to heal and your feelings when you are "in crisis" (as psychologists say) do not need to be how you feel for the rest of your life.

Your friends can help!

I would lean on your friends as much as you can, but would add one note, especially with guys: one friend mentioned sexual abuse and said she was sometimes regretful of telling guys, not because it was too much to tell, but because they are sometimes afraid to touch her after hearing that. Different people have different experiences at different times; you may want a specifically female (literal) shoulder to cry on, or you may be sexually uncomfortable talking to a friend on the other side of a room not because of anything about the friend but because with your experiences you are simply sexually uncomfortable all the time no matter how they support you; one (attempted) rape survivor I knew was tremendously helped by many hugs from people she trusted, both male and female. In all of these things, trust your gut.

You know most likely what you want and need in terms of physical affection from friends, and you owe it to yourself to ask your friends explicitly, whether that's "I'd rather not even shake hands now," or "I really need a hug," or both "I'd rather not shake hands" to one friend and "I really need a hug" to another friend, or at another time. Or visit a friend with a sweet cat, and ask not to be touched but cry on the cat's shoulder. Some pets are good at that (humane shelters usually welcome people spending a little time with sweet pets even when they know you're not looking to adopt). Explicitly ask for what you want and need.

Get absorbed: Don't be alone with your pain.

This advice may or may not work for you, but try not to be alone physically unless you are in your locked home, and try not to be alone mentally with your pain. If I may hawk my own wares as an author, The Sign of the Grail (Kindle) (bookshelf) is one of several works that's gotten comments like "Rivited." [Spelling original.] Or do you have favorite movies? A favorite Youtube channel? Do you enjoy exploring Wikipedia?

You have presumably had many wonderful things that have happened during your life. It may be awfully hard to remember pleasant memories when you're feeling miserable (a cruel trick of memory), but you have had good things happen, positive people to deal with, surprise gifts, and people who have given you good memories. I would encourage you to write down explicitly the good things that have happened for your life, the people who have cared for you, gentle surprises from friends and loved ones, all of your reasons for living. Go back to it. If you use a word processor, you might go back and add more detail when things start coming back to you. There is no cure-all, but being uncomfortable and trying to remember your very most comfortable lifelong memories is less heavy of a burden than just being sexually uncomfortable and not really having anything else competing with pain for your mindshare.

One last note.

I am one of many people praying for your every well-being.


The behavior of this person towards you is unacceptable, unprofessional, and most likely violates your companies policies on conduct

Documentation is your best friend. Document subsequent attempts of his harassment. Specific and important information to capture includes the following:

  1. When the incident took place
  2. How it happened - email , verbally, physically through touching etc.
  3. Exact wording of what was said, if you remember
  4. If email / IM, a copy of the message or a screen capture of the IM

Also any communication to him showing you object to his behavior should also be in written form so later he cannot deny you wrote it. By keeping documentation, you create a paper trail that can only help you and avoids he said / she said. Do not editorialize, but simply stick to the fact of what was said / written by this harasser.

  • 2
    If it's a startup, it's pretty likely they don't have any official code of conduct.
    – enderland
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 16:43
  • 1
    @enderland while that may be true, there is always the law which serves as a baseline code of conduct. This guy is pretty clearly violating the law so whether or not there is a company specific policy being distributed is moot.
    – Erik
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 20:23
  • I don't think it's legal to have a policy "coworkers can't fall in love" so I don't know where you've going with violation of company policies. I encourage to look at the story from both sides of the table.
    – MrE
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 8:10
  • @MrE, this person is harassing the OP because the attention is unwelcome
    – Anthony
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 11:13

I'd say you've definitely reached the point at which the only sensible course of action is to lawyer up. You're being harassed at your job, talking to the harasser has not helped, and your company's "HR" (the CEO) is turning a blind eye. Any lawyer would start drooling at these facts and start to see you as a giant walking moneybag. You might feel that you don't want to profit from another person's stupidity (or the CEO's apparent naiveté), etc, but for a moment just consider how much it sets women back in the workplace if they're expected to silently quit jobs they do well and enjoy merely because some dude can't keep himself to himself when he's clearly been asked to so.

There is indeed such a thing as "token resistance" - a phenomenon where women not opposed to sexual relations will initially rebuff sexual advances so as not to seem easy, especially if the man has not done much in the way of traditional courtship. However, in a usual setting a woman may say no at first, but actually doesn't leave if it's his place or doesn't kick the man out if it's her place. Based on this and other factors, there usually isn't a lot of ambiguity about what is going on with token resistance. Of course, all this means it's extremely inappropriate for a man to assume that a woman is engaging in token resistance in the workplace, since the woman doesn't have the authority to just kick him out if just so happens that it isn't token resistance.

So you should definitely look at lawyering up! With a story like this, there's no question that you'd get free consultations, and probably have your pick of legal counsel.

  • So while I agree with seeing an attorney if the CEO doesn't ultimately take action (see OP's latest update), I disagree with pretty much the rest of this answer: First, while it might in fact be winnable, this isn't a "slam-dunk" case that would "have attorneys drooling" (no clear monetary damages, to state the most obvious); Second, if OP decides that walking away without a fight is necessary for her own safety and sanity, I'm not going to second guess that in the name of "setting women back"; Third, "token resistance" is PUA (pick-up artist) bullshit, pure and simple.
    – BradC
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 21:59
  • @BradC No clear monetary damages in a sexual harassment case? You must be joking. Absolutely joking. See this: nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/…. To quote the relevant part: Punitive damages are available if your employer was aware of the harassment but didn’t take any steps to correct the situation. This usually means that human resources or someone in upper management knew what was happening to you and failed to do anything about it. Which just fits like a glove in OPs case. Also, compensatory damages and front pay would be a given. Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 22:14
  • @BradC And as to token resistance, well, I don't have mountains of sexual experiences to go by, but from my understanding it's a sufficiently real thing to receive some treatment in Psychology textbooks, etc. It may not apply to all women but certainly to some. Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 22:21
  • Compensatory damages won't exist until/unless she is fired and/or loses a promotion, etc, which hasn't happened in this case. There is nothing to compensate for right now, financially speaking. And sure, it's possible she could win a punitive damage claim, but it is far from a slam dunk, especially since (up until the last update), the CEO didn't have all the details. Attorneys are less likely to take case on contingency if there are only punitive damages, because that is much more of a risk (for them).
    – BradC
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 22:24
  • Outside of psychology textbooks, "token resistance" is pretty much used only by the PUA community to excuse their ongoing harassment of a woman who has already told them no. So unless your point was "some dudes are total sleazebags that have convinced themselves your NO doesn't actually mean NO", then I don't know why you even brought it up. Because we already know this guy is a total sleazebag.
    – BradC
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 22:29

One thing worth nothing that I haven't seen here yet (though I might've missed it) is informing your boss that unless something is done about this behavior, that you consider the company's failure to act in this matter to be not only remiss but that it makes them complicit in creating a hostile work environment as well as any incidents that happened after your initial attempts to report it. Say it forcefully, with conviction -- if it doesn't catch some attention, you need to burn off all the sick time you have and start talking to a lawyer (and the police, if they so advise).

IANAL, but this falls within "knowledge any manager/HR representative should have"; failure to act when a complaint of harassment (most especially sexual harassment) is registered is directly contributory to the creation of a hostile work environment and exposes the company to a MASSIVE liability. If your CEO is a typical startup CEO (little to no "real world" managerial experience), he doesn't understand the gravity of this situation, and by putting the fear of the Law into him you'll most likely prompt him to have a discussion with a lawyer/HR person, who should immediately clarify the gravity of the situation to him.


A lot of good answers, but as your probability of staying there is low, I'd advise another approach to my daughter, if she was in that kind of situation. It's rather desperate anyway, so maybe it's time to do something desperate too.

You say you are non-confrontational. He is bullying (and that's probably a weak word) you exactly because of that. He sees you as a prey, not a fellow human being. He's the kind of predator who does see the world only in terms of power.

You have to prove that you do not fear him (even if you do). You have to confront him. You have to counter-attack him. With verbal violence. Of course no physical violence (then you would and only you would be wrong), but verbal violence. Just once. Use the surprise effect. Be ready for the next time he is bullying you. And suddenly, without a warning, explode and throw him a flow of insults, as ugly as possible.

Yeah, I know. This might get you fired. But if you don't solve the situation quickly, your days within the firm as numbered anyway, as other people said. So be prepared to leave, and then send him back to the school bench he should never have left.

P.S.: One of the risks of that kind of tactics, though, is that you risk to like it. And it should be used only in desperate circumstances, so it's better to be reluctant to use them. And you have to assume your behaviour if the boss asks you.

And you might be fired for it, if your boss does give the priority to his buddy. It's a high-risk strategy. But in such a small startup, with, I guess, not much formal process, standard advises like "write down everything" and "call HR", which are very sound in a big corporate environment, are not even giving you as much chances of success, I fear.

TL;DR: The situation is desperate, and it is time to try desperate things, and be harshly confrontational, once in your life.

  • No. He has built too much confidence by now, so this will only fuel his investments. This could've worked on the beginning.
    – SpongeBob
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 15:50
  • 3
    Hate is not the opposite of love, apathy is. An agressor is going to see this tactic as progress. Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 17:42
  • I actually agree with this. If when he boxed you into the kitchen and talked about "you would enjoy being spanked," you said in a not-so-quiet voice "Well, you certainly enjoy being a pathetic a**hole", and then if he keeps up, responding like that in front of other people too, it'll drive him off - he's not doing this because he is confident in his manhood, he's doing it because he's an insecure punk at heart. When others ask about it, you can say "Oh yeah, he's sexually harassing me all the time, and no one else is doing anything about it so now I am."
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 17:53
  • 1
    @mxyzplk - You are probably wrong. There are a lot of Dominant men that are very comfortable with who they are. The problem is that these men tend to think that if a woman acts submissive that she wants to be submissive with them. "Bratty" behavior is part of submissive play to them. Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 21:44
  • 2
    This is a risky play IMHO
    – Neo
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 0:32

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