Boss makes female employee uncomfortable

| 15/06/2017

Because of the nature of my work, I quite often have to sit quite close to my boss while we go over documents. But increasingly often when we’re talking, his hand will rest very casually and briefly on my knee. I’m not sure if he’s flirting or not, it mostly seems more like a friendly gesture. I’ve tried keeping my knees as far away from his hands as possible but he doesn’t get the hint. We otherwise have a really good working relationship, which I don’t want to put in jeopardy over this. He is married, seemingly happily, and a few years, but not a lot, older than me. I am single but dating someone. We talk about our partners in conversation and it’s never awkward. What do you think I should do?

Auntie’s answer: First of all I want to say that it’s a shame that you even have to be put in a position to ask this question, but I am very glad you did because I suspect this type of thing happens more often than people would think. And at the risk of sounding sexist, I cannot imagine too many women bosses touching their male underlings in the manner you describe.

The way I see it, one of two scenarios is possible: either, as you suggest, your boss’s brief knee-touching is an innocent, friendly form of non-verbal communication or it is sexual harassment, subtle as it might seem.

The overriding point here is that if it makes you uncomfortable, it is not acceptable, not to mention that your boss should not be touching you at all, unless it is to shake your hand.

Since you say the two of you have a good working relationship, I think you need to approach him directly. Start by saying how much you like your job and respect him as your boss; it is best to keep the conversation non-confrontational. But then you have to tell him that there is one thing that makes you uneasy. You could say something along the lines of he probably doesn’t mean anything by it, but you would prefer he doesn’t touch your knee when you are together.

Depending on his reaction, you should be able to tell if the touch was innocent. If he is embarrassed and apologetic for making you feel uncomfortable, then most likely he didn’t mean anything untoward. If he becomes defensive and acts offended, I think that means his action was more deliberate.

But whichever way he reacts, I expect going forward he would be taking a hands-off approach. If you continue to interact with him as you did before, I would hope that your working relationship would not be affected in the long term.

One other point: If you have a colleague you are close with, I think you should confide in them about what’s going on and perhaps email them about it as well. In case things take a bad turn, it would be helpful to have documentation to take to the human resources person in your office.


Category: Ask Auntie

Comments (8)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    No matter how close you’re sitting next to each other, there’s no reason why your bosses hand should rest on your knee. Sit further apart next time and if he does it again, you know he’s just doing it to get his jollies.
    Being married doesn’t mean anything to some people on island these days and there’s plenty of baby strollers being pushed round to prove that.

  2. Anonymous says:

    lucky hes not like Trump and goes straight for the goods.

  3. Rob says:

    If the table has opposing sides, sit on the other side. If it doesn’t, find one that does. Solved.

    I don’t know how Aunty managed seven paragraphs from something so straightforward.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Many employees have over-active imaginations that turn into legal allegations to try and grab some cash when their career hits a wall.

    • Anonymous says:

      Really? Why is he putting his hand on her knee? That can’t be an overactive imagination. I can understand sitting close to each other and his leg accidentally touching hers but not his hand on her knee.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m sorry…there is absolutely no excuse [ zero ] for a boss to put his hand on a female work colleague’s knee . There is no reason whatsoever in the work place for a male in a role of authority to think this is acceptable behaviour. There is no innocence in this gesture , its a test to see if she will react and then take it to the next level outside work. A Creep….

  5. Anonymous says:

    Good advice Auntie.