I just started a new job. My boss and I were having a meeting, and he started asking me about my personal life – whether I have a boyfriend, who I live with. No biggie. He then began grilling me as to why I don’t have a boyfriend and whether I’ve ever had one. I started deflecting these prying questions back to him, and he told me that he lives only with his younger brother, so he understands me well. Weird, but whatever. Well, it turns out he actually has a wife and a 4-year-old daughter! This isn’t my first experience with managerial prying, either. In a previous job, my married manager scheduled after-work “meetings” with me, delving into non-work topics. When I’d go to leave, he’d say, “Sit down! You have nowhere to be!” My exit statement every time? “Uh, well … I have to change my cat’s litter.” I’m definitely leaving this job. My last boss was an ethical kinda guy, and that’s the kind of person I want to work for. –Creep Inc. Employee
We usually feel sorry for a man who has lost his wife and child. Of course, this is usually a tragically permanent event; they don’t pop back into existence as soon as he gets home from taking a detailed ex-boyfriend history from his hot employee.
Some people would tell you to sprint to the nearest sexual harassment lawyer’s office and sue your employers until they’re living out of a dumpster. The truth is, these cases can be hard to win; your supervisor can retaliate in ways that are hard to prove; and having a claim on the record can make it hard for you to get another job. Also, after a single creepy line of questioning from your boss (even one that makes you suspect that – eeuw! – he wishes he could make sex biscuits with you), you aren’t exactly ready to pick out an outfit to wear to court. Wayne State University law professor Kingsley Browne explains in “Biology at Work” that the “hostile environment” type of sexual harassment involves a work environment “permeated with sexuality.” Browne told me via email: “The legal question is whether the harassment is sufficiently ‘severe or pervasive,’ and the way you show that something is pervasive is to show that there’s a lot of it.”
There’s probably no need for things to get to that point. As for your approach, if you’d like a role model, think more Sigourney Weaver in Alien than Bambi in Bambi. This doesn’t mean you pull out your flamethrower every time some guy says, “Hey, nice dress.” You just need to be firm and immediate in shutting down any situation that’s uncomfortable for you, and you did a superb job of that the last time. You didn’t go limp or hysterical; you coolly informed the guy that the closest he’d get to your personal life was a status update on your cat’s turds. You might also consider whether you should dial back on how bubbly and open you are at the office and maybe err on the side of a vibe that says, “Talk to me about some boring work question!” And here’s to finding a more admirable new boss – one whose remarkable qualities don’t include the ability to make his wife and child disappear without doing jail time.
©2013, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Weekly radio show: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon
On “Biology at Work”: http://www.amazon.com/Biology-Work-Rethinking-Evolution-ebook/dp/B000SPCVQI