Advice column: how can I help my colleague who says she is receiving unwanted sexual attention from our boss?

Dear Ash,

I have a friend at work who recently confided in me that she has had to cope with sexual advances from our boss. I have not had any similar issues with my boss but I have no reason to doubt what my friend has told me. I am just not sure whether I should tell someone as my friend was visibly distressed by the matter but has said she will handle it in her own way. I am more conscious of my boss around the office and it is making me feel awkward around him. I am not sure how to handle the situation as I feel the issue should be notified to the head of the department.

Ash replies:

Sexual harassment is a serious matter but is not always reported, especially where the perpetrator is in a higher position of authority than the victim. It must have taken your friend much courage to confide in someone about it, especially if this person normally comes across as a “nice” guy around everyone else.

I would strongly urge your friend to speak to someone more senior in your department or at least in confidence with HR. Although she feels that she will be able to handle the situation herself, she may not realise how the situation could impact on her both at work and in her personal life. The more the issue is shrouded by secrecy, the worse she may feel about having to act normally around this person.

It may not be wise for you to report the matter yourself, as not only would you potentially be breaching a friend’s confidence, she may deny the claim when asked about it by others, leaving you to look silly.

Try and support your friend: as you work in the same team you may find ways of ensuring she is not ever alone with this person unnecessarily. You could also offer to accompany her to HR if she feels she needs your support?

My suspicion is that your boss may have treated other female colleagues in a similar way and it is only a matter of time before someone will be brave enough to speak out against him. In the meantime be there for your friend. 

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor: peter@connectcommunications.co.uk, or mail to Studio 2001, Mile End, Paisley PA1 1JS. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.
  • Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Registrar’s Department. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, Manager in the Registrar’s Department on 0131 476 8105/8200, or katiewood@lawscot.org.uk
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