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Coworker Keeps Staring at My Chest

Coworker Keeps Staring at My Chest

What's the worst case of sexual harassment you've handled?

Alison Green l Ask A Manager

Employees hitting each other, a coworker wetting his pants, and now this — is it just me or have the letters really taken a more bawdy turn around here lately? In any case…

A reader writes:

I just started a fantastic job working as a legal assistant to General Counsel for a small (60 employee) company. I absolutely love my work, my boss (who is possibly the coolest attorney I know) and most of my coworkers. I say most of because one of them is causing me a bit of discomfort, and I’m not sure what to do about it.

I’ll say this in the most delicate of terms: I am a fairly large-breasted woman. I cover them appropriately during the workday, but it’s not always as effective as I’d like it to be, and I understand that even in the most professional of environments, sometimes, people will look. It happens, and I don’t take offense to it in most cases, because in most cases, it’s generally pretty rare. But there is one particular employee, a manager who most of the higher ups like, including my boss. In fact, my boss plays poker with him – hence why I can’t exactly talk to my boss about this particular situation.

This employee, we’ll call him John, REALLY likes to stare at the chests of every young woman in the office, myself included. And when I say stare, I mean full-on, lower-your-eyes-and-even-your-head, talk-to-the-chest STARE. If it were just once in a while, again, I wouldn’t really think much of it, but it’s very difficult to work with this manager (which in my position is a frequent occurrence) when you can feel him trying to get a glimpse down your shirt. It really is VERY obvious, and it makes most of the ladies extremely uncomfortable. I’m not a very easily-offended person, and I suppose I’m not even so much offended here as just… squicked out.

I don’t want to take it to HR, because that’s a bit extreme for what I’m almost sure he doesn’t realize he is doing. In addition, I don’t know that my boss is the person to talk to either, given his friendship with the manager and my general uneasiness with going “higher up” at this point. Do you have a recommendation of how to handle this situation at a more personal level, short of wearing turtlenecks all year long?

Men, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think guys who do this are generally oblivious.

There are all kinds of options to clue him in, from body language (pointedly crossing your arms over your chest), to worriedly looking down and asking if you have something on your shirt, to saying something direct (“my eyes are up here”). Hell, you could even send him an anonymous note telling him that many women in the office have noticed him staring at their chests and this is his chance to stop it before someone complains.

One other option: Are there any women at his level or higher in your office? Discreetly mentioning it to one of them and asking if they can handle it without making a big deal about it is an option too.

And you should keep in mind that HR is of course an option as well, although I’d share your instinct to try to handle it directly first.

Whatever option you choose, you should say or do something, because it’s making you and others uncomfortable.

What do others think?

And I’ll promise we’ll get back to the more staid letters from here on out.