Co-worker’s being harassed but scared to report issue

Marie G. McIntyre
Tribune News Service

Q: One of my colleagues is being sexually harassed by a male co-worker. “Lori” recently confided that “Ryan” has been making sexual comments to her on a regular basis. When I overheard some of his remarks, I was completely taken aback. I advised Lori to go to our boss, but she is reluctant to do this.

We work in a very small section of a large government agency, so Lori fears that reporting Ryan will make things uncomfortable. Also, our manager tends to ignore problems in the hope they will disappear, so he might not do anything. Having been harassed myself in the past, I would really like to help Lori. What can I do?

A: Fortunately, your ineffectual boss is not the only recourse. Virtually every government agency is covered by federal sexual harassment law, so someone is responsible for investigating complaints. To identify that person, you should contact your human resources department.

If Lori goes to HR, you might offer to accompany her, both for moral support and to validate her story. Your first-hand account of Ryan’s behavior may help to prevent a frustrating “he said, she said” debate. But if Lori still prefers not to make an official report, perhaps you can provide some helpful coaching.

Instead of tolerating these improper comments, Lori should calmly inform Ryan that his suggestive remarks are inappropriate and must stop immediately. She doesn’t need to be confrontational, but she does need to be firm. She should avoid responding to off-color jokes or flirtatious banter, because that will only encourage him.

Finally, if you wish, you could actually file your own complaint. By making sexually explicit comments in your presence, Ryan is subjecting you to harassment as well. You may not be able to speak for Lori, but you have every right to speak for yourself.

Q: After I complained about a co-worker, I became an outcast in my office. “Sharon” helped me learn the ropes when I was new, but now I’m tired of her attitude. She makes comments about my work, even though I’m doing nothing wrong. I finally asked our boss to tell her to leave me alone.

Now Sharon and her friends no longer talk to me. They chat and laugh right beside my desk without even looking in my direction. When they go to lunch, I am never invited. My friends and family say I should quit. Do you agree?

A: Leaving one job before finding another is usually a bad idea. So if these “mean girl” co-workers are your only problem, perhaps you should try to repair the relationship. However, you need to realize that you are not exactly blameless here.

Your complaint concerned a personal irritation, not a business problem, so involving your manager was inappropriate. For that, you should offer Sharon an apology. If you seem sincerely contrite, perhaps she will welcome you back into the fold.

The lesson to be learned is that whining to the boss has a tendency to backfire.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.