How to approach a colleague who is inappropriate

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Q:  I was recently transferred to a new division of my company.  My new job feels like a great fit for my career interests and skills.  However, I have a colleague who is annoying.  He hangs out at the doorway of my office too much.  He nags me about joining him for lunch.  He tells me inappropriate jokes.  He makes comments about how I dress and asks me too many questions about my weekends and my personal life.  He emails me stupid cartoons.  I feel uncomfortable sharing too much with him.  One of my friends calls him “invasive.”  I call him a pervert.  What can someone do?  He has more seniority than I do.

A: Thanks for sharing your concerns.  It sounds like this colleague’s behavior is annoying but also could be illegal.  You don’t specify that he has told sexual jokes but you also label him as a “pervert,” which makes me think he could be inappropriate and crossing the line with sexual comments or jokes.

Sexual harassment is unlawful.  Examples of sexual harassment include unwelcome jokes, teasing or comments.  It sounds like your colleague’s behavior could be described as sexual harassment.

As a newly transferred employee, it might be a greater challenge to confront this behavior, but he needs to understand that his behavior is unacceptable.  I would recommend that you send him that message.  “Hey John, I don’t want to hear any of your perverted jokes anymore.  And I don’t need your comments on my wardrobe.”  He might get it or he might not.  If he is smart, his behavior will change.

If his behavior continues, you should raise the concern with your supervisor.  You have given him the option of changing his behavior and he hasn’t.  I would try to raise the concern with your supervisor in a face-to-face meeting, so he or she has the opportunity to ask questions.  Your supervisor is responsible for ensuring that your workplace is safe and laws are not being broken.  Your supervisor may have to approach your colleague.  Ideally, it would be helpful if your supervisor observed this behavior too.  If that occurred, your supervisor could address the behavior firsthand.  However, we all know that many employees behave differently in front of their supervisor.  When you meet with your supervisor, I would try to give specific examples of the behavior and others who may have heard his comments of observed his behavior.  I would also provide copies of the emails he has sent.

In 2019, all employees need to contribute to a respectful and lawful work environment.  No one should feel uncomfortable at work.  If your colleague is behaving like this with you, others may also feel uncomfortable.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.