My boss is sexually harassing me but I’m afraid to report it. What should I do?

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week, sexual misconduct in the workplace, a new starter afraid of being locked into a career, and clashing work styles.

Am I protected if I report my boss’ sexual misconduct?Credit:Dionne Gain

I am 25 and almost every day my boss whispers sexual comments in my ear. He touches me and he looks for opportunities for us to be alone. I have kept a diary of everything he has done and it is now dozens of pages long. He makes my skin crawl and I hate being near him but I am terrified to report it because I can’t afford to lose my job. I have not done anything to encourage this but feel like it is my fault. I feel trapped and stressed every morning when I think about having to go to work. Do you have any suggestions?

Your boss is breaking the law. None of this is about you or anything you have done. This is all on him. Your employer cannot sack you for reporting his behaviour and if they do, they will be breaking the law too. You do not have to put up with this.

My strong recommendation is to report his behaviour immediately and do whatever you need to in order to keep yourself safe. It sounds like you may have good reason to call the police; if he is touching you then he may be committing a criminal offence. If you have a whistleblower line at work, you can call them for confidential advice about how to make a complaint. You can also make a complaint, at no cost, to the Human Rights Commission for sexual discrimination and they will investigate this for you. If you feel able to do so, you can go straight to the most senior person in your organisation or the head of HR and ask them to investigate. Please know if anything at all happens to you as a result of speaking up – like changing your role or you lose your job – your employer will be breaking the law and will face serious consequences.

I know this will be a really stressful and difficult time for you. Please make sure you have good support around you. You can always call 1800RESPECT or Lifeline (13 11 14) to talk. You have done nothing wrong and your boss needs to understand this behaviour is totally unacceptable. Do take care.

I am a new graduate and have just completed an internship with a big company. They have offered me a full-time role which I am excited about but they keep asking me about my career goals with the company. I feel like they want to lock me down a path I am not even sure about myself. I keep delaying the conversation and they keep chasing me up. What do I say to them?

Go and have the meeting – delaying it may make your employer think you are disinterested or procrastinating about your future with the company. Anything you say is not going to lock you in forever – it sounds like they just want to make sure they are providing you with the opportunities you need to develop. This is a good thing and a sign of a great employer.

Feel free to tell them you are not sure yet about your career goals – remind them it is early in your career you still want to learn about the available options. They may agree to rotate you through different areas of the business to expand your visibility of career paths. Think about other ways you might also be able to understand all your options such as further training or professional development opportunities they might be willing to fund.

A colleague I work with is constantly seeking to prove herself in a demanding job. She has taken on a habit of saying I don’t understand certain tasks, when in fact she’s disputing the evidence I have provided for the way I’ve done them. I’m getting sick of constantly having to prove her wrong. How should I tackle this?

It sounds like you have a clash of working styles which is making it hard for you both to listen to or appreciate each other’s point of view. As hard as this may be for you to hear, it is unlikely you are 100 per cent correct just as it is unlikely your colleague is. Next time your colleague lets you know she thinks you have made a mistake, can you approach it with genuine curiosity? Ask her to help you understand why she thinks that, and then actively listen to the answer. The goal is to try and create a relationship where you trust one another and then can hear feedback without feeling it is an attack on you personally. Not easy, but well worth trying to do if you both want to find a way to work better together.

Support is available from the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service at 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to [email protected] Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson is a company director, executive coach and author. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the QUT Business School and former Deputy Chair of the ABC.

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