Published in the Summer 2006 issue • Advice
My boss is a creep!
I work for a married couple at a small restaurant. The wife is great but her husband is intolerable. He makes inappropriate comments and I’m extremely uncomfortable when I have to work alone with him. He offers me shoulder rubs and goes out of his way to talk about sex. I laugh at his jokes because I need to keep my job, but listening to him makes me sick. I don’t know how to tell him to stop because he’ll deny saying anything inappropriate. What should I do?
You are experiencing sexual harassment. It’s illegal, in some cases criminal, and you don’t have to deal with it on your own.
Sexual harassment is any unwanted attention of a sexual nature, including (but not limited to) being exposed to degrading words or images, physical contact or sexual demands. It can be remarks about your looks or personal life, which may be framed as compliments but make you feel uncomfortable. Sexual harassment can also mean that someone is bothering you (or discriminating against you) because of your gender. Harassment could be a series of incidents over a period of time, or it could be just one incident.
Sexual harassment can happen to anyone, but mostly it happens to women. Statistics show that 80 to 90 percent of women in Canada will experience sexual harassment at some point in their working lives, either from a co-worker, customer or, often, a boss who uses his or her position of power to get away with unwelcome sexual comments or actions. Sound familiar? There are several things you can do.
Many people convince themselves that harassment is not really happening, that they’re being too sensitive or that they are somehow to blame. But no one deserves to be harassed or molested.
People often feel more empowered when they can identify and understand what’s happening. You need to know your rights and your options so you can channel your frustration into positive action.
Don’t ignore it
Sexual harassment often gets worse over time. It may start off as joking but can escalate to unwanted touching or sexual assault. Sometimes it continues even after you quit a job. Stalking, or criminal harassment, is when someone follows you around, calls you a lot or sends you letters you don’t want. Sexual harassment can also affect your health. You can feel depression, anxiety, humiliation, anger, shame and stress. Some people develop headaches, nausea, ulcers, sleep disorders or other illnesses.
Get support from someone you trust
This can be a friend, parent or co-worker. You can also access free counselling by phone (see resources at the end of the article). If you decide to take this harasser on, it would help your case if there are others to corroborate your story.
Keep a record
Keep a journal with the specific dates and descriptions of what is happening. If you decide to take this further, a journal will make your case stronger and can show a pattern of harassment. A bound notebook is best; that way no one can add pages or switch them around. Harassment can be embarrassing to talk about, so if you have detailed records, chances are you won’t have to answer as many embarrassing questions. If he touches you, write down exactly where he touched you, with what body part and for how long. If he says things, try to quote his exact words and write down what you said, too.