By Jack Tuckner, Esq.
Yes, if your boss constantly stares at you in a sexual way that makes you uncomfortable, that’s sexual harassment, because the discomfort that you’re feeling is negatively affecting the conditions of your employment by stressing you out.
As your job description does not include looking attractive for the boss’ visual enjoyment, it seems that his lewd gawking is creating hostility in the workplace that you didn’t bargain for and you don’t deserve, and the only reason this is happening to you on the job is that you’re a woman. So, that’s sex discrimination, plain and simple.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination, so if your boss’ special attention to you is both sexual in nature, unwelcome and causing you distress, that is sexual harassment, and it is illegal under federal and state workplace discrimination laws.
What Should You Do?
Now that you know that you’re dealing with sexism at work, the tricky part is what do you do about it? Is there any way to handle it without making a federal case out of it?
Yes, if this can be resolved in a non-confrontational way that won’t affect your standing in the company, then do it, especially if your job is worth protecting and keeping. One executive assistant we know gently reminded her boss that her eyes were “up here,” when his focus strayed to her breasts during conversation, and deeply embarrassed, he was the perfect gentleman from then on. Some men will get it, problem solved, job saved.
Many other men will not get it, so when playful directness, or hints and subtlety hasn’t stopped him from ogling and objectifying you, then it is important to complain, to push back, to just say no in a way that matters.
Document in writing everything that’s going on, so that you’ll have a paper trail of evidence to prove that you complained before you were demoted or fired or forced into quitting. Stand up for yourself and make it count.
Consider Sending a Complaint Letter if Other Actions Don’t Work
And whether you stand up for yourself by sending a complaint letter to your company’s human resources person or to the company’s president, or even by sending a complaint directly to your boss, it is your responsibility as an employee who’s feeling sexualized to alert the company to what’s going. This formal notification forces the employer to promptly investigate your complaint and take corrective action to fix it. Your company is prohibited from making it worse for you just because you complained, as that would be illegal retaliation.
So, if your boss is making you uncomfortable by treating you differently because you’re female, e.g., by staring lasciviously at your body, hitting on you, touching you without permission, treating you worse than the men, etc., such conduct is sexist and illegal.
If you’re dealing with unwelcome sexual attention at work, please contact us for a free, confidential and empowering consultation. We feel your employment and labor pain.