Sexually Harassed in Someone Else’s Workplace: What Would You Do?

August 30, 2013
A woman holds up her palm in a "stop" gesture.

Image by Thinkstock

I have always felt confident that I would never be sexually harassed in my own workplace. Little did I know that I would be sexually harassed in someone else’s.

During my lunch break one day, minutes before a meeting, I entered a restaurant to pick up a sandwich. Conscious of the time, I quickly selected my usual toppings and was taken aback when the man preparing my sandwich began to repeatedly wink at me and make sexual innuendos about said sandwich.

I will not delve into the specifics of what he said — I was completely dumbfounded that he would even make this kind of joke or think it was remotely appropriate. I was even more shocked at myself for not doing anything about it.

As a strong and empowered woman surrounded by other strong women who are constantly addressing sexual harassment issues, I thought I would be equipped with the tools necessary to defend myself. Instead I froze, feeling completely humiliated and exposed, uncertain of what to do. What’s more, I was not sexually harassed in the street, where my immediate instinct would tell me to just ignore it and walk away; I was forced to wait until my meal was prepared and proceed to the checkout area to pay for it. Needless to say, I ate the sandwich with pure disgust in the situation and in myself.

After reading other women’s stories of street harassment, I learned that reactions like mine are not uncommon. Many women and men who think they are trained to know what to do in these situations often do nothing because they feel scared or believe they should not make a scene. I felt this way. I was scared the man behind the counter might spit in my sandwich or other customers might give me a strange look. I thought to myself, “I work down the street; others might recognize me and I’d be forever scarred as the woman who flipped out over an ‘innocent’ joke.”

After accepting that it was NOT an innocent joke and refusing to feel helpless, I eventually did return to this restaurant to make a complaint about the employee. Certain I would at least receive an apology, I received a complimentary sandwich instead. I explained to the manager that it was not acceptable to talk to women (or anyone) the way this employee did, and that I did not want a sandwich, but rather for the employee in question to be reprimanded. The manager said he would “talk” to his employee and kept offering me whatever I wanted from the menu. At no point was there any mention of required sexual harassment trainings for their employees, a response that might have eased the awkwardness of the entire situation.

Unsatisfied, I took to this blog to ask, What would you do in a situation like this? There are laws in place involving sexual harassment in the workplace, but what happens if it is not your workplace?

By:   |   August 30, 2013


  1. Christina Soto says:

    My thoughts exactly, Ann! …After the fact, unfortunately. Sometimes my brain and mouth don’t cooperate with each other when I need them to the most. Perhaps it was a good thing I waited and thought it over. I can only imagine the kinds of things I would have said in that angry state!

    Thanks for your feedback.

  2. Christina Soto says:

    J Morphew,

    Thank you, I appreciate your kind words. While I agree that ‘hitting them in the pocket’ would have made a huge impact, I didn’t want to penalize the business and potentially another employee’s job because of this bad judgment. I wanted to defend myself, educate and act with as much grace as possible. As disgusted as I was, I needed to keep my composure and make it clear to the manager that this behavior was not acceptable. Trust me, it wasn’t easy, but it was necessary!

    Thanks again for your thoughts!

  3. Just keep saying to the guy- What did you say? WHat? WHat do you mean? WHat was that? What? -So he has to keep repeating himself and speak louder and embarrass himself in front of everyone.

  4. J Morphew says:

    Christin, I applaude you for going back to the manager to make a complaint, and to continue to make an effort to get him to understand. That’s why we need more enforcement of the laws, to get the message across to owners and managers that they must take steps to put a stop to such behavior, or pay the consequences. And that’s why it’s important that you spoke up. Perhaps the next thing would be to tell the manager that you’re going to let all the people you know not to come eat there, or they don’t know what they will be subjected to, like the inappropriate remarks, or spitting in their sandwich! Who knows, he might do that! When we hit them in the pocketbook, it always makes them think twice.

    Again, Kudos to you for standing up to it!

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