A couple of years ago, my direct supervisor at a previous workplace confessed her feelings for me through a series of lengthy emails. I was young and a greenhorn in the industry. She was some 20 years older and several levels above in seniority. I rejected her advances and, reluctant to risk derailing my new career, chose not to report the matter to HR.
However, the rug was still pulled from under me: it seemed like I was not only passed over for opportunities but also often put in situations of distress. I eventually quit.
I wasn’t sure if what happened was enough to count as harassment, sexual or otherwise. Plus, I wasn’t explicitly harassed — I wasn’t touched inappropriately or made an audience to lewd comments. But my career progression was seemingly curtailed and life in the office became painful because of the feelings she imposed on me.
And even if I knew exactly how to categorise the experience, I might not have handled the matter any differently because I didn’t know if there were measures in place to protect me. I didn’t know enough and wasn’t about to dive headfirst into a losing battle.
But I now know better. And if you’re going through a similar experience and, for whatever reason, don’t want to approach HR, you need to know that there are laws in place here to protect victims of harassment and sexual harassment — whether or not happening at the workplace.
For one, AWARE launched a Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory (WHDA) service to provide practical and emotional support to individuals facing harassment and discrimination at work, so should you encounter any sort of harassment in the office in this day and age, there are several resources you can turn to for help.