How Do You Gently Reject a Coworker’s Unwanted Romantic Advances?

How do you deal with a coworker who has also been behaving hostile towards you as a result of turning down her advances?

Dear Jane,

I share my cubicle wall with a coworker who has asked me out for drinks from time to time. For the sake of this email, let’s call her ‘Alicia.’ In the past few weeks, I’ve shot down aggressive requests from Alicia to nip out for coffee and salad at lunch to carpooling together. Now it has come to a point where co-workers in earshot are calling me ruthless for ‘tantalizing the poor girl.’

I could write you a novel longer than TSOFAI about all the things Alicia has done, but here are just a few examples to give you a preview of her complete lack of respect for my boundaries:

  1. She got upset with me for not accompanying her to Dunkin’ Donuts, because “who’d ever want to be seen with a fat girl like me.” I’m not comfortable with this because it’s a war I can’t win. My choice to not date her has nothing to do with her weight.
  2. She has acquired my personal phone number and calls me at home after work and on the weekend. This includes frantically leaving voicemails after bumping into me at the mall and mistaking my sister for my girlfriend.
  3. Last week she brought homemade cookies for everyone and refused to hand me one unless I kissed her on the cheek. She has asked about this more than once.

Alicia’s behavior is way over the line. I’m sure my coworkers wouldn’t have the same outlook if the genders were reversed. Sadly, we don’t have an office policy that addresses workplace relationships. Is there a way I permanently address the harassment without damaging my relationship with any of my coworkers?

ANSWER:

This is not only sexual harassment but also workplace bullying. Your cubicle mate is punishing you for refusing to be in a romantic relationship with her. Instead of helping you, it seems your coworkers have bought the front row tickets to this spectacle.

The best way to deal with this situation is to approach it head-on. Tell her you have a rule against dating coworkers and she cannot treat you however she chooses to. Speak with her in a conference room with your HR around as a mediator. Tell her that she needs to start acting like a professional and you are disappointed in how she chooses to handle the rejection. If she doesn’t start acting professional, then you will go to management and report her for sexual harassment. You need to stand up for yourself, and show your coworker how to behave professionally around the workplace.

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