“I met Mr Lim* eight years ago, when I became his personal assistant. He was married with children. I thought he was a great boss, patiently teaching me what I needed to know and making sure I didn’t miss my meals. He seemed to care a lot about me and never raised his voice. I thought I was the luckiest employee in the world – until he started making sexual advances towards me.
The problems began one year after I started work. Mr Lim took me out to lunch one day, saying it was a reward for my good work. During the meal, he kept telling me how good I looked and smelled that day. I was flattered, so I thanked him. After lunch, he asked me to accompany him to the nearest shopping mall – he said he needed to buy a birthday gift for his wife and would appreciate my advice.
We ended up in a lingerie store, where he held up bras and nightgowns against me. He said I was about the same size as his wife, so he was using me as a guide. Although I felt uncomfortable, I thought I was just doing him a favour. Once he’d bought what he wanted, we returned to the office.
The next morning, I found a package addressed to me on my desk. Inside was the lingerie that I’d helped Mr Lim pick out. Thinking that I’d mistakenly unwrapped his wife’s gift, I quickly rewrapped it and put it on his table. Two hours later, after his morning meeting, Mr Lim called me into his office and asked why I’d returned his present.
“But didn’t you buy it for your wife?” I asked in surprise.
He replied: “I did, but I think it looks better on you. So I’m giving it to you instead. I’ll get my wife something else.”
I politely declined, but he insisted. “Consider it an early birthday present,” he said firmly. Not wanting to anger him, I reluctantly accepted the gift.
That night, Mr Lim texted me, asking if the lingerie fitted and whether I was wearing it to bed. When I said no, he replied: “Do it now, and send me a picture of you wearing it.” I was shocked and ignored the message.
The next day, I braced myself for awkward moments, but Mr Lim didn’t bring up what had happened the night before. I felt relieved and excused his odd behaviour as a one-off incident. Maybe he was drunk and didn’t know what he was doing, I rationalised. Little did I know that he was only warming up.
One midweek evening, as I was leaving the office, Mr Lim said he needed me to work late that night to help him with a big project. He asked me to go into his office. Then, he told me to go around to his side of the desk to help him type out an e-mail that he would dictate. I had to stand slightly bent over his keyboard to do this, as he was seated in his chair behind me.
What came next horrified me. He suddenly wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me onto his lap – he said I’d be more comfortable. I immediately jumped up, said I wasn’t feeling well and quickly left. I was trembling in fear and was about to cry.
I couldn’t sleep that night – I kept trying to make sense of things. Why would he do that? He’d always been a perfect gentleman. Had I been wrong about him all this while? I was so stressed, I took medical leave for the next two days. He texted to ask if I was feeling better and apologised for being too forward. He said he hoped to see me back at work soon, as he couldn’t cope without me.
I don’t know how I did it, but I found the courage to go back to work. Mr Lim behaved normally for the first few days, but his dirty streak soon returned. He found opportunities to brush up against me – he would sit very close to me during meetings, so our legs or arms would touch; he would put his hand on my shoulder or on the small of my back to “escort” me in and out of his office; he even slapped my butt once and asked if I liked it.
He made suggestive remarks, too. “You should wear shorter skirts to work. Show off those long legs of yours; you’re distracting me with that blouse – I can’t take my eyes off your ample bosom.” He even asked me about my favourite sex positions, and how often I masturbated.
The harassment went on for almost a year. I was deeply traumatised, but didn’t tell anyone as I was too ashamed. I dreaded going to work each day and started taking longer lunch breaks to get away from him. I wanted to quit, but I was only 26 then and was supporting my parents and two younger siblings, and the pay was good. I thought he would soon get bored and things would go back to normal. But the sexual innuendo became worse – and he became even bolder.
One day, after our monthly office lunch gathering, Mr Lim pulled me aside and asked if I could feel the sexual tension between us and suggested going somewhere for a quick romp. I refused to look at him, shook my head, and ran after my colleagues who were leaving the gathering.
That was the last straw. I knew I had to put a stop to this nightmare. I reported my boss’ misbehaviour to the human resources (HR) department. After hearing me out, the HR manager asked if I’d told any of my colleagues about the incidents. I said no. She asked me to remain silent on the matter while she looked into my allegations.
The next few days saw me being questioned by HR. They wanted to know how long the harassment had been going on for and if I had proof of the wrongdoings. Had anyone witnessed his advances towards me, they asked? No, I answered, and it dawned on me that Mr Lim’s lewd remarks were always verbal – he never e-mailed or texted them to me, so I had no evidence. I had naively deleted his first text about the lingerie as I hadn’t thought things would get this far. It was my word against his.
Two weeks after reporting him, I was called into a meeting with HR, Mr Lim and his superior. Mr Lim apologised to me for any “misunderstanding” that he might have caused – he said he was deeply sorry for taking his flirtatious jokes too far. He said he never meant any harm – he was just under a lot of stress and was trying to lighten the mood by telling crude jokes. He should have known better, he said. HR added that Mr Lim had been given a severe warning, and had promised not to repeat his actions. They then offered me a transfer to another department.
Obviously, Mr Lim had understated his actions. Everyone thought they were crude jokes gone wrong, when what he did had bordered on molest. But he had been with the company for over 10 years, and had performed well. Without evidence, I couldn’t win.
I accepted the transfer, but resigned two months later. I had lost faith in the company, and my morale was low. Besides, I still saw Mr Lim during meetings, which made me very uncomfortable. He still gave me lusty looks when nobody was looking, although he never touched me again.
The experience made me distrustful of male bosses. I worked at three different companies after that incident, and only had one male boss – but he was nothing like Mr Lim, and just to be safe, I kept my distance and always surrounded myself with colleagues. I’m now married, and a stay-at-home mother. I’m happier this way – I don’t think I can handle any more workplace problems.”
*Names have been changed
This article was originally published in Simply Her April 2013.
Text: Azlinda Said