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Navigating unwanted advances from a superior

Considering that people spend about 35% of their lives at work, forming bonds with coworkers is expected. Spending so much time together can also cause attraction and feelings to develop. However, it’s not always mutual. When there is a power imbalance, such as in a superior-subordinate relationship, it can be difficult for an employee to express refusal.

Unwanted advances and its career-damaging effect

Unfortunately, being a target of unwanted advances can leave employees no choice but to quit or change jobs, affecting their ability to earn an income. Having to quit abruptly to escape a bad situation could force the victim to rebuild their career from scratch.

To avoid losing their job, the employee might agree to date their superior. They may also do so knowing that saying no could result in repercussions at work, such as:

  • Wrongful termination
  • Negative performance evaluations
  • Reduction in salary
  • Reassignment
  • Change in responsibilities
  • Rejected or excluded from promotion
  • Threats and intimidation

As there’s no way to tell how someone might react to rejection, employees should be careful with how they approach the situation.

Approach with caution

Addressing an unwanted advance can start with employees engaging in a composed and respectful conversation with their boss. Perpetrators are not always aware that their actions are making others uncomfortable. Sometimes, the employee can just say they are not interested in anything beyond a professional relationship.

Situations like these can undeniably exert a great deal of pressure on a person. However, employees must recognize that they are under no obligation to give in. Resorting to white lies to soften the pain of rejection, such as saying they will think about it, might give the perpetrator the wrong impression. Being honest is most advisable.

If possible, the employee should document the conversation, including the time, date and location. In case the superior’s actions escalate into sexual harassment or retaliation, the employee can use such records as proof when reporting to human resources.

Additionally, employees can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and seek the help of a lawyer. Doing so as early as possible might help the employee avoid experiencing adverse job actions from their superior or employer.