My workplace received an application from someone I knew about 10 years ago. “Dick” stalked, emotionally abused, and sexually harassed my good friend “Anya”. To make matters worse, at the time this occurred, Anya and I were both college students who knew him in his professional capacity–he was employed at our college, in positions of authority over both of us.
At the time of the abuse, Anya confided in me, and I tried to help prevent her from being stuck alone with Dick. I witnessed many of Dick’s behaviors first-hand, and heard about others. Dick underestimated how close Anya and I were, so I don’t think he ever realized the extent of what I knew about. I never reported it because Anya begged me not to–she was a college kid terrified of the fallout of making a formal accusation against a well-liked authority figure. There’s no official record anywhere of Dick’s abusive and inappropriate behaviors towards Anya. Anya eventually extricated herself from Dick, and Dick changed jobs not long after, so he’s been out of our lives for years.
Now Dick has applied for a job where I work. My bosses didn’t select him this time, but there are going to be additional spots opening in our offices in a few months, and Dick may apply for another position. Maybe in the intervening years, Dick’s gotten some therapy and is a healthier person now. But I can’t possibly un-know what I know about his past behavior, when I saw him violate professional and personal boundaries left and right. I wouldn’t feel safe with Dick at work, and worry he might go out of his way to hurt me professionally because of what I know about his past behaviors–or, worse, that he still violates boundaries. It’s also hard to forget he told Anya his fantasies about wanting to fuck me (…I was his student…).
If he applies again, what can I do or say? Is it appropriate/ethical to tell my supervisor that I’d be uncomfortable working with Dick because of past professional and personal (way too personal) experiences? The positions he’d apply for are above my pay grade, and I normally wouldn’t have any input on those hiring decisions. Is it appropriate to tell my boss that I knew Dick from one of his previous jobs, and have an unfavorable opinion? How much can/should I disclose? Dick may be a totally different guy now, and it feels awkward to bring all this up to my boss—is it even ethical?
I’m terrified just thinking about this. I wasn’t even the primary object of his obsession, but I can’t forget how creepy and awful it was.
Thanks for all you do,
Trying to be a Professional
I don’t think it’s a bad idea for you to run this by Ask A Manager. My take: Wait to see if he applies again and then make use of your company’s Human Resources department.
Request a meeting and then say: “I noticed that Dick Lastname applied for the open (position). Is that the same Dick who worked at (College)?”
Upon confirmation, tell them, briefly, “While I do not know if there were any formal complaints* from back then, I would like to tell you in confidence that Dick sexually harassed at least one of his students when I was in school there and I personally witnessed some disturbing behavior from him at that time. I know I’m not normally included in hiring decisions at that level, but do you think I should tell my supervisor or someone else on the hiring committee? I would hate to see (Company) run into problems of that sort if they bring him on.”
If the HR person you talk to is not good at their job, you may get some standard Rape Culture 101 questions, like “If it was so bad, why didn’t you report it?” or “This is a very serious accusation, are you sure you want to ruin someone’s reputation** like that?” so brace yourself, and remember that HR’s mission is about protecting the company and not about you. Possible answers if you get sexist pushback :
“I wasn’t personally the target of the harassment, and at the time the victim requested that other people keep it quiet so she could just get through school without the publicity and bother of a formal case. I have no desire to re-open all of that business or bring myself or that history to the candidate’s attention. I am only breaking that confidence now out of concern for (Company), and only here in HR where I know you can keep it confidential. Thank you.”
“I realize that this is an uncomfortable topic. I would really like your advice on what is ethical, for example, if I knew a potential applicant had stolen money, or falsified documents or disclosed confidential client information would you want me to disclose that?” (LW – choose whatever the biggest ethical No No of your industry is – the biggest No No that isn’t ‘harming a woman,’ that is – as an example of a bad behavior they would WANT you to disclose).
I would avoid getting deeply into detail about what this person did, and if you are receiving unfavorable responses that start to make it seem like you are the problem, cut the conversation short as soon as possible. Take care of you. Another note: I know you are scared and worried by this guy, but more calm you can appear, the more the other person will respect your case. That is all kinds of fucked up and unfair, but if you know that going in you can rehearse the conversations ahead of time with a trusted party.
Tell Human Resources and leave it in their hands. Then, document that you did so, both in a follow-up email to them – “Thanks for our discussion today” – and in more detail in a personal file that you keep with the date, the names of who you talked to at that meeting, and a businesslike synopsis of the discussion and their recommendations to you. There are lots of reasons not to hire someone – and since they already haven’t hired him, you won’t know if your report is the thing that made the difference. If they hire him anyway, you may want that documentation of “REALLY? BUT I TOLD YOU!” especially if he starts his old tricks up again.
*You know that Anya didn’t bring any charges, but you don’t know whether she was alone in receiving his attentions and there might well be a paper trail out there somewhere.
**”Sexually harassing women” is already part of this guy’s professional reputation because of HIS actions. If his gross and inappropriate actions are still following him 10 years later, that’s on him, not you.
You rock, Letter Writer.
61 thoughts on “#829: When your harasser applies for a job where you work.”
Alison from Ask a Manager has spoken before that these sorts of things people do like hearing about, but the only one I can think of specifically off the top of my head is when an ex boyfriend was trying to get hired on the same level as the letter writer. I would write to Alison if I were you, because she generally has good responses. I think she tends to reply to letter writers reasonably quickly when there are time constraints involved even if they don’t get published to the site immediately.
Good luck. I can imagine not wanting to be any where near this guy, and I hope your company isn’t stupid and listen to you 🙂
I had a letter published by Alison recently: I didn’t indicate it was time-sensitive and she answered it on her site within a week.
Can I answer right here for the sake of speed? Yes, yes, yes, please do talk to the hiring manager! You can talk to HR too, but if I were the hiring manager (meaning the person doing the hiring and who will be this person’s manager once hired), I would so want to hear about this, and I worry that if your HR isn’t good, it may never reach her. On the other hand, if the hiring manager isn’t good, then it could make sense to go to HR. All else being equal though (like if you have no reason to doubt the competence of either), I’d start with the hiring manager. If you get anything other than “thank you so much for telling me this; that’s something I take really seriously,” then you could follow up with HR to make sure the message sticks.
In any case, it is totally reasonable to say, “Dick severely sexually harassed a close friend of mine when we were in school and he was our academic advisor (or whatever his position was). I also heard secondhand that he made inappropriate sexual comments about me. I’d be really uncomfortable working with him.” Assuming they are reasonable people, they will not think that you’re overstepping or sharing inappropriate information; they will be grateful that you spoke up. This is the sort of thing that people who hire *want* to hear about candidates when you’ve had direct experience with them.
Thank you, as always, for following the Ask A Manager signal when it’s flashed in the sky!
Alison, I immediately thought of a question you answered from someone whose stalkerish ex applied at her company. LW, you might particularly find it comforting to read her update:
(her original letter is linked in this post as well.)
I am a hiring manager and I would want this feedback. The captain’s advice is extremely spot on. However, here’s a caveat. This is going to depend a LOT upon the reputation you have. If you’re a good worker, professional, “team player”, do well, etc, then this is going to take more weight. However I have a few people I work with who have a tendency to make lots of accusations (unproven after investigations) or deliberately stir up drama. This feedback from them? That I would ignore. So if you are new, you are going to have to tread a lot more carefully because they don’t know you well enough to judge.
And in the meantime, to borrow a phrase from another website – don’t let him live in your head rent free. Unfortunately, he’s always going to have a tiny little apartment in your head because of the past history, but don’t let him upgrade to the penthouse. Try focusing as much as possible on other things and wait to see if he applies again.
“Don’t let him live in your head rent free.” That’s ace; I’m borrowing that.
I first heard that as a quote from George Tiller: “Don’t let the protesters live in your head rent-free.” It’s a good saying, however it’s phrased.
Re: the rent-free thing–it’s also ok if you remain worried, anxious, overwhelmed, all the feels. It’s not like you’re a wuss for somehow “letting him” into you head and make you uncomfortable/freak you out: those are natural and appropriate responses! And, as someone commented below, there’s no time limit on their appropriateness. So if the “rent free” idea is actually not helpful, ignore it.
“If the HR person you talk to is not good at their job, you may get some standard Rape Culture 101 questions, like “If it was so bad, why didn’t you report it?” ”
they might not LET you report it, as a third party. I don’t know if it’s a state by state thing (in the US), but some 5 yrs ago I tried to report to HR some harrassment a friend and coworker was dealing with (from another coworker), and I was told by HR that I couldn’t report it if it didn’t happen to me personally and that it would only be dealt with if the person being harrassed brought it to HR’s attention. My friend didn’t want to but eventually did, and the coworker was given a stern talking to and a note in their file and kept their job for awhile but was later fired for an entirely different thing.
So the answer to “why didn’t you report it” can be “it wasn’t against me, therefore I was unable to make the report.”
There’s a difference between a formal report of harassment* and the disclosing of information which is relevant to HR. Your HR person was being overly legalistic in only wanting to hear a ‘formal’ report. Any sensible HR department will want to be on top of both formal and informal reports about harassment or other instances of behaviour that could cause problems for the company. Ignoring or refusing to even hear the informal reports is only kicking the can down the road and is lazy thinking.
*Depending on which laws are operating a formal report may trigger an investigation and other mandated actions. There are usually regulations in place around who can make a formal report that requires action.
Certainly in the industries I work in where there is a big culture of patriarchy and not reporting this sort of thing, informal information is crucial. It doesn’t necessarily go through HR but finding feminist people (usually women) in your organisation and having a word in their ear about inappropriate behaviour can help keep everyone informed and reduce the likelihood of the employer hiring predators/misogynists/abusers. Also, if this stuff is very personal/painful to you, you can be selective about what you say. I once felt obliged to comment on a new contact of my line manager’s (partly because she knew I’d worked with him before and saw me pull a face when she mentioned him!) but instead of talking about all the gross boundary violating behaviour when we’d been personally involved, I was selective and just mentioned grossly unprofessional stuff that I had witnessed (that he made inappropriately sexual comments about his female students and dismissed female colleagues work). I think that was enough to make her think twice about this person. And I like to think that sharing that information will help keep her safer in her interactions with him as well as protect my own interests in not working with this person.
This may be dependent on the policy of the organization. I can remember the “what is harassment and what do you do about it” video trainings at one of my retail jobs made sure to stress that if you witnessed something that made you uncomfortable because of [list of marginalizations covered by company policy], even if you weren’t the target, you should report it.
See I remember being explicitly told on sexual harassment training that it didn’t have to be the person affected. That a big percentage of people complaining against their particular policy could be for example, spouses being cheated on (it was a university) or other people who felt uncomfortable about the level of sexual tensions -I am flirting with person a in a manner that they are okay with but person b doesn’t want to see. Person b can still say it’s a hostile workplace.
Your HR had a stupid policy; it’s not the law.
I wish you the best of luck, LW, and I truly hope that your company does the right thing if Dick applies for another position. Not every company does.
I witnessed a similar situation a a supposedly “progressive” national nonprofit group where I worked years ago. One of my coworkers knew the racist/sexist/homophobic man who was applying to become the defacto head of the organization, but her warnings were ignored by the Board of Directors who made the hiring decision. He was hired and went on to actively harass and denigrate women, LGBT people and racial minorities with impunity. The directors turned a blind eye to his awful behavior until he was caught embezzling tens of thousands of dollars. Then the Directors finally forced him to resign, though they didn’t prefer charges, as they didn’t want the adverse publicity.
It was a real eye-opener to discover that even a “liberal” organization whose mission was supposedly to fight on behalf of the little guy could be so unconcerned about the well being of their own employees.
My take on this (as a regular non-manager person) is that this guy’s past behaviour at work is part of his work history, hence it’s relevant to any subsequent job applications he submits. If you’d only had a personal relationship with him and he’d been a dick to you or a friend, but that didn’t spill over into his work life, then that may not be relevant to bring to a HR person at work. But your complaint is about how he has conducted himself AT WORK in a professional capacity, which makes it directly relevant to whether a new workplace should hire him. This is the stuff that doesn’t get put on resumes that hiring managers probably wish they knew when they were considering someone! So give them the info, you’re probably doing them a favour.
It’s the kind of thing they can pretty much no longer find out by calling the candidate’s previous employers, even if there’s a paper trail. I’m not sure if this is actually the law or if HR departments just *think* it is but most of them won’t ask or answer anything beyond “did [name] work for this organization at x time”.
It’s not the law. You can give a bad reference as long as it is factual.
But may organizations will not want to, because there is the risk of dealing with a lawsuit for slander or libel. They might win it, but it’s just such a pain. So they will avoid, avoid, avoid.
Right. Absolutely, organizations can have their individual policies differ. But it’s still not against the law and I think that’s a really important point.
It’s not because they are afraid of slander or libel. It’s to protect themselves if the employee sues them for discrimination.
“We fired Revelentia because her work performance was subpar.”
“Then why did you give a reference stating that you recommend her enthusiastically and her new job would be lucky to have her?”
But how do you prove it is factual? Particularly on something like this that was not reported? That’s the issue, and why most companies won’t anymore. The paper trail required is too high.
If they sued, the burden would be on them to prove it wasn’t factual, wouldn’t it? And in any case, you can be as vague or specific as necessary – from “unfortunately, I’m not able to provide a reference for this employee” to “we had (documented) issues of x, y, and z.”
But most reference seekers, if they’re good, aren’t necessarily looking just for giant red flags. They’re also looking for strengths and weaknesses that would make you a good fit for the position and company they’re considering you for.
In the U.S., it is very hard for plaintiff employees to win discrimination suits. They have the burden to prove actual discrimination, then the burden shifts to the the defendant employer to show that there was an otherwise legitimate reason for the “adverse employment action,” and then the burden shifts back to the employee to show that the employer’s stated reason was mere pretext. Also, even before you get to this very expensive litigation, you have to “exhaust your administrative remedies” with your state and/or federal employment discrimination offices. It’s no joke to say that the statutes were written and the caselaw has been built by the efforts of rich, white men, and the results tend to show.
Additionally, the employer will usually have much deeper pockets than the employee, so they can usually hire lawyers with more skill and experience than the employee can. And the employers can afford to let the litigation take years and years to finish up.
Some wild cases of egregious discrimination and huge damages payouts to employees make the news from time to time. The vast majority of cases, however, go nowhere or are settled for pennies. Employers generally have very, very little to fear from discrimination suits.
“But how do you prove it is factual?”
Whether or not the HR department received formal complaints is a factual thing. Whether or not the applicant was subject to formal disciplinary action as a result of these complaints is a factual thing. Whether or not the applicant is eligible for re-hire is a factual thing. There are lots of factual things in HR records that don’t require the HR person to give an opinion.
As a professional, I am not really “allowed” to give bad references or make negative comments about peers. The secret is that if I do not give a *glowing* recommendation of someone, it is because I do not like them for whatever reason.
Positive: “Dr. X? Yes, he is fantastic! I loved working with him for years.”
Negative: “Dr. Y? Yes, I used to work with him.”
Positive: “She has a fantastic approach and she really gets results. She did a phenomenal job and I’d hire her again in a heartbeat, but with her change in her schedule, it no longer worked out.”
Negative: “It did not work out due to scheduling issues.”
I know it is not true of everyone or of everything, but if someone is very carefully polite and neutral, that is not a good sign, in my opinion.
At the very large, multinational, for-profit company I worked for several years ago, they had a very strict “no references ever” rule. So that even when I called my former boss, who I had a great relationship with, for a reference she said it was against company policy.
Candidates *could* sue for libel if a reference spoke ill of them to a future employer without evidence of their claims. I always think of that episode of Studio 60 where the lawyer shows up, in part, because Matt Albi told a hiring manager (at another company) that a former employee sucked and the former employee sued the network for gender discrimination. So companies with smart HR policies strictly adhere to the “Bare Minimum of Facts” policy.
Don’t worry, it’s completely appropriate to give this feedback to HR. I’ve mentioned to HR when I noticed they were looking at someone I knew wasn’t a good worker–HR loves to hear from people who actually know something about a candidate, good or bad. Especially when it’s something they can’t get from a resume or interview, like “Does the candidate sexually harass women?”
I also second the Captain’s recommendation to treat this as not just a reflection of his character, but an HR violation waiting to happen.
“I am only breaking that confidence now out of concern for (Company), and only here in HR where I know you can keep it confidential.”
Also keep in mind that your HR department may have no obligation (or desire) to keep your conversation confidential. There generally aren’t confidentiality laws around human resources. I know I would want to know, as a hiring manager, and I hope your company is understanding. Best of luck!
Men aren’t abusive to women in a vacuum. Even if your company doesn’t care about allegations of past sexual harassment, it’s likely a sign of other poor behavior that will be directly relevant to his work. My mom’s company once had to fire someone for a whole host of behavioral issues. After he left, it came out that another employee in a different part of the company unrelated to the hiring process was this man’s neighbor, and had semi-regularly heard him screaming at his wife. Had the people who hired this man known that then, they probably never would have hired him, and a lot of time and energy would have been spared. Reporting this isn’t just something you’re doing to help you; you’re doing it to help your company too.
This! Somebody who abuses their power and doesn’t care about behaving appropriately is going to, you know, abuse his power and behave inappropriately sooner or later. This is something very, very relevant to new job and perfectly ethical to share with them. If Dick didn’t want people to hear about his bad behaviour, he shouldn’t have harassed anyone.
It sucks that we have to frame this shit as “his behavior was unprofessional because…” but it works.
This!!! I had an awful office mate for a few months who–in our office–talked a lot with another new coworker about sex and made lots of awkward comments about people not of his race, religion, or gender. (Including when an employee of that ethnicity, say, had just passed our door.) Think Borat-like questions about stereotypes. I blamed ignorance for the first few weeks (he was a foreign national but had attended college here, and I tried to teach him why his comments were inappropriate) but he continued.
I informally told HR about these problems and they switched his office. A few weeks later, he was suddenly no longer an employee. Rumor has it he dissed a female boss and/or lied on his resume. So, yes, problems in one area may signal other, underlying problems with boundaries, respect, or honesty.
Do you know the hiring manager(s)? Do you have a good relationship with them? If so, consider having a quiet, low stakes conversation as such: “HM, it just came to my attention that Dick applied for the chocolate teapot job last month. I know I’m not involved in the hiring decision, but I wanted to let you know that I was a student of his in college and I have serious concerns about his ability to behave appropriately in a professional context. I know we have several similar openings in the next few months, which is why I wanted to pass along my concerns.” You can also add that you’re happy to discuss this in further detail if interested but it’s very unlikely that they’ll be invested enough in him as a candidate to actually want to investigate. You’re a known quantity, he’s not, and if you’re a good employee, they’ll generally place a lot of value in your (lack of) recommendation. Heck, if they knew about the connection beforehand, they probably would’ve asked.
I would go to the hiring managers before HR if you know them, though.
I would like to have “the chocolate teapot job” embroidered on a pillow! It’s such a lovely turn of phrase!
I would start the way that you suggest here — with a reference to the fact that you were a student under him and he conducted himself VERY inappropriately. That might be all that’s needed, especially if they’re not sold on him already. It sounds like he’s just a resume at this point, and not “connected” in your company, so it won’t take much to get him bumped from the list.
I’m so glad that Ask a Manager chimed in! I would say that I had a good relationship with the hiring manager at a place I worked during law school, and one of the guys I knew during law school applied to work there. He was a douchecanoe of the first water. Former manager called me and said, “Hey, Douchecanoe applied here. What do you know?” And I basically said, “I would think twice about working anywhere he was employed.”
So, if you know the hiring manager, and have a decent relationship with them (even just a relationship where they know you’re a good worker and don’t make trouble just because), I would definitely approach them. There’s a reason people say “it’s who you know” when you’re looking for work. It’s not JUST the “good ol’ boys” network etc. Sometimes it’s a person saying, “Yeah, I know them and they’re great/okay/maybe run far away from them.” Hiring managers (and I’ve been one, and am one) want information, and the information you have is golden and might save Company from a sexual harassment lawsuit down the road.
I echo the others who have said that you can be as vague, but I think it’s good to bring this stuff up in a general sense.
I once explicitly told my employers that if they hired Person X I would quit, because he had been my boss at a previous job, and I had left because he was abusive. I’d like to say I did this professionally but actually I had a full-blown crying panic attack when my officemate told me, as a joke, that Person X had actually BEEN hired.
At the time we were getting a lot of other people from that organization, because it was abusive through and through; one of those people had mentioned to my officemate that I had had to work for Abusive Boss, poor thing, he was the WORST in the whole place, I can’t imagine what she went through dealing with him.
Why my officemate then thought it was so funny to joke that Abusive Boss had just been hired I will never know.
In my early 20s, I once dated a friend of a friend while on the rebound, and it turned out to be a big mistake — he was clingy, obsessive, ignored boundaries, and was in love with some idealized version of me after having met me once four years previously (a meeting I didn’t even remember). I dumped him via email a week in, because I was scared to see him face-to-face at that point. He harassed me with daily phone calls and emails for awhile, but eventually it seemed to taper off.
About 9 months later I got a new job after having been made redundant from my old one (IT bubble bursting) and on the first day we were taken around the office to be introduced to everyone, and this guy already worked there, on my floor but in a different department. I was as distantly polite as I could be, but he wouldn’t stop staring and it freaked me the hell out. I thought it’d be okay if I kept my head down, but 3 days later he arranged a meeting with me, the other new girl, and my boss, and told us newbies about this “new project” we would be working on where we would both be answering directly to him on a daily basis and blah blah blah. It was the most uncomfortable meeting I have ever sat through in my life.
I called the firm who’d helped me get the job — I was in a bit of a panic. They told me the HR at the company was good and to talk to them. So I did. The HR lady was lovely and listened to me — he hadn’t technically done anything to me, so what I said was that I’d dated him once and that his behaviour made me feel afraid to be around him, which was true — and she said she’d see what she could do. She came back to me quite quickly and specifically told me that my boss had said “yeah, I thought that meeting was a bit weird” and that they would make sure that I never had to work directly with him, a promise which they kept. 6 months later they had to do some lay-offs as well and he was one of the ones that got made redundant. But even though I never had to work with him again, and he had no reason to be in my part of the office ever, he went out of his way to make shared work spaces (kitchen, cafeteria, elevators, hallway to toilets) really, really, really uncomfortable for me during those 6 months.
I definitely support going to HR if you have a decent HR department. It’s depressing how uncomfortable your work space can become just because of the knowledge that a person who can hurt you is in the next room and you might run into them at any time.
(FWIW, that was 15 years ago and this guy still harasses me every 6-12 months or so, via email or some other online space. At least he’s a lazy stalker? )
I am so sorry about the shit he put you through and that he continues to do so.
Interesting timing for me, with highly relevant advice I will use. Thank you, LW, Cap’n and Alison.
I’m not in HR and not the hiring manager, but I am department coordinator for a faculty hire in my very small discipline. I know many if not most of our potential applicants, one of whom confided to me years ago that another was harassing her.
Recently I took a mandated HR training in equal employment opportunity (EEO) hiring. I brought up this very situation as a hypothetical case, and it caused a heated discussion.
According to HR, U.S. EEO law requires the college to treat all applicants for a position *exactly* the same. We may not consider any info that’s not on the application form, cover letter, or letters of reference. During interviews, we must ask the same questions in the same manner and may not do any follow-up conversation to draw a candidate out or ask them to clarify something. We can’t chat about the weather or the traffic, because we might not chat exactly that same way with the next candidate.
All hiring committee members will be signing a statement that we won’t let any prior knowledge of the applicants color our decisions. “But, but, but . . .” said a couple of colleagues at the training.
The worst-case scenario, the HR guy said, was that the new hire would only last a year. I said, “No. The worst-case scenario is that the new hire harasses students. What if you knew that an applicant harassed students in a previous position? Wouldn’t it be irresponsible to *not* bring that to the college’s attention?”
People responded as the Captain’s predicted, and added a twist: “How would we know that you aren’t just biased against the candidate’s ethnicity or sexual orientation or have an axe to grind?” (Fun fact I hadn’t mentioned: both harasser and victim are LGBT.)
It’s so fraught. I get that hiring is subjective and that faculty hiring in particular has a nasty history of being an old, white cis hetero boys’ club. But I don’t see how that rigid interview structure is going to encourage any applicant to feel welcome or to demonstrate the conversational give and take that’s essential to great teaching. And harassment — anathema to great teaching — isn’t likely to show up in the application materials.
My hiring manager, fortunately, listens and cares. But it’s very interesting to me that not one commenter here (including managers) has said that considering such info would make the hiring process unfair.
That’s probably because this kind of rigid, exactly-the-same-for-everyone robotic interview isn’t actually the law nor even all that common outside academia, as far as I know.
I don’t know what you can do within the confines of that system, though.
It’s not common *in* much of academia, either. Just at some public universities with very over-aggressive HRs. (I’ve spent most of my career at public universities and we do not follow robotic hiring procedures! But these are campuses with strong traditions of faculty control.)
Yes — the university I work for is a private (US) one, admittedly, but our interview requirements are nothing like that, for faculty or staff. We’re expected to try to make every candidate’s interview roughly the same, but that means “have them interview with the same number of people, at the same level, insofar as you can, and disclose if anyone has prior acquaintance or connection with anyone,” not “ask everybody exactly the same questions, word for word, regardless of their answers, and do not consider any prior knowledge even if it’s relevant.” The latter policy sounds terrible in every way!
I think it’s because the hiring process is kind of by it’s nature supposed to be unfair. That’s why there are background checks and drug tests and top grading interviews. The process isn’t supposed to be necessarily biased, but in no way is it supposed to be fair to the applicants. It is the company’s job to hire the best possible people for the job.
You would have to be a university or some other not for profit to take this point of view. Hiring people who suck at their job is EXPENSIVe, legal liabilities in the form of harassment or unsafe work conditions are even MORE expensive. So most companies are mostly concerned with getting people who are going to be good at their and not cause problems. Firing someone after a year is not a successful HR strategy in a corporate environment.
Heh. I have excused myself from interviews upon learning they expected to drug-test me or take a credit report. Companies that think 1) either of these things have empirical value to signal how a worker does a job; 2) either of these things are any of their honking beeswax are going to be a bad fit for me. Better to not waste any more of our mutual time.
Oh i 100% agree. Super fun when your company gets bought out and you have no choice.
Yeah, so that’s not true. The university might have those internal policies itself, but the person telling you that it’s law is wrong. No law requires that.
The law does require that you not discriminate on the basis on race, sex, religion, disability, or other protected class. And sometimes employers, especially really large employers, decide that it’s easier to comply with that law if they impose rigid requirements like “treat everyone precisely the same and do not deviate from a standard checklist for anyone.” Easier than actually training your managers in how to hire effectively and legally, I guess?
Anyway, academia in particular is notorious for having really, really rigid hiring practices (and for often thinking it’s law when in fact it is not).
I knew that I had internalized your wonderful advice from years of following you when I was about to comment almost the exact same thing 🙂 Thank you for swooping in to correct common misconceptions about employment & law!
I was in a kind of similar situation, except that my company was taking on a project with “Dick,” as sort of a contract type position, rather than hiring him outright. When I told them about his past bad behavior, they were very understanding and respectful, and offered me the option of not participating in any projects with him (for Reasons, they could not just fire him). I hope you find that your company listens and takes your experience seriously–I think most would, in these modern times, and if they don’t, well, you now know something about the character of your company. If you have any doubt about whether or not you have the “right” to take this behavior to your company, rest assured you do. You do not have any obligation to protect Dick and his “reputation.” His past behavior has no confidentiality clause. He chose to behave badly, not you.
LW, I am not a manager of any kind, but I recently had a sort of similar, if inverted, concern. I work for a fairly large company, and recently learned that a former coworker (whom I love dearly) was applying for a job here. This job is both entirely out of my department AND above my pay grade, so really has nothing to do with me, and I’d met the hiring manager all of once, so I was really unsure if any input from me would be appropriate, much less welcome. But I decided I’d regret not saying anything, so I sent the person doing the hiring an email, laying out as concisely as I could all of the wonderful qualities she possesses that might not show up on a resume, e.g., her superhuman ability to remain calm and kind and helpful under staggering workloads. It turned out to be very well received, and the hiring process still isn’t over, but I know she’s one of their top candidates!
Obviously this is different in a number of ways, but at least in this specific case, I found that stepping well outside my role to give them important information about a candidate, which they otherwise wouldn’t have, was indeed the right thing to do. Whatever you choose, I hope your situation turns out as well as possible for you, and major props for wanting to stop this chump from hurting other people.
LW I’ve been thinking about your letter all day and in addition to my previous comment I want to say how deeply sorry I am this is happening to you. Having people like this affect your personal life or your school life is awful, and for that to then follow you into your workplace is just absolutely horrendous. I’m not surprised you’re terrified – if it was me I would be in bits. Work is stressful enough with all the responsibilities of your job, having to maintain a good professional image, and the pressure of this being your source of income without some boundary violating creep getting mixed up in it. You absolutely deserve to have a work environment that is free of that sort of gross personal invasion and I really hope you get the support you need from your workplace to make sure this jerk doesn’t work there.
And please don’t worry about it being unethical to say something. The only unethical thing has been his behaviour to you and your friend (and goodness knows who else). Abusers and creeps rely on us feeling like we can’t say anything to operate. All the very best to you.
You’ve gotten tons of good advice here, LW, and I just wanted to add my own voice to the people saying you’re doing the right thing, even though it’s scary!
I’m part of the hiring process at my workplace (we usually have a hiring manager and a team manager at an interview) and I would 1000% want to know. My industry already has HUGE issues regarding sexism and sexual harassment/assault, and while the culture of our studio is really good, we had to make it that way, and we definitely want to keep it that way. It’s hard enough for women in our industry — our studio might have one of the better ratios when it comes to diversity in teams and management, but “better ratios” is still not equal. We have to actively work to make sure women aren’t overlooked, that the PR or PR-facing teams we send out aren’t all white dudes, because that’s totally not reflective of our company or values (but it’s so easy to default to that).
Also, I’m sorry this happened to you. I’ve had something similar happen — someone who harassed me applied to where I was working — and it opened up a huge pit of emotional feels and I was on edge for weeks despite being told no way would we hire him (because what if, what if, what if). I hope you’re able to find support with people you trust who will take this as seriously as it is.
PS! You’re not overreacting. You’re reacting EXACTLY as you should. Your feelings are so valid, and there’s no time limit on having them.
Oh geez. This has to be my worst nightmare-I still live in the same city as the person who sexually abused me, and I’m always afraid that I will run into them. I can’t imagine what would happen if they showed up to my workplace.
Please listen to the Ask A Manager, and all like-minded comments. I wish you the best, I wish you and Anya security, safety, happiness, and peace of mind-and I hope that this Dick person doesn’t reapply.
You know what’s “fun”? My next column is ALSO about sexual harassment…and in it I link to a different CA post about the bullshit women have to go through (#823…I was gonna say “that horrible guy with the dog” but that could get confused with #831, because apparently life is just an infinite recursive loop of boundary violations and poorly trained canines).
Anyway, I 100% agree with your advice here and AAM’s, even if the coincidence–which serves to underscore how common this stuff is–chipped away at my faith in humanity.
LW here. Thanks to the Captain, Allison, and all the commenters for helpful advice and support! So much appreciated.
I didn’t mention in my letter, but I work in higher education administration, and I know from Dick’s resume that he’s been employed with other divisions on campus here at University of Booklearning College. I assume he’s probably applying for a lot of other positions at the school, since most of his professional life has been in that sector. The fact that he’s still been working in higher ed makes my skin crawl, but I don’t think there’s a lot I can do about that. I do know that some of the positions he’s held in the intervening years would have involved fewer one-on-one interactions with student populations, but still…ugh. I’d love to believe that maybe things have changed, and he’s not still moving through patterns of abuse and harassment, but I have no way of knowing.
Back when I knew Dick, he was one of those tricksy, deceptive Darth Vaders in that he didn’t seem AT ALL like a Darth to most people (and I never would have expected it of him until it was actually happening). Like a lot of abusers, there was genuinely a lot to like about him, until you got to the rotten, clinging, terrible parts; Anya was always trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, and because of that, she was adamant about never reporting anything because she didn’t want to be responsible for ruining his professional reputation. Dick was VERY well-liked among the students that he worked with, and mentored other friends of mine without any inappropriate incidents ever occurring (that I know of). Those folks still have fond memories of him, of how funny and supportive he was, and how willing he was to make time when students asked for help. It’s doubly sad because I remember the good things about him, too, and how much I had liked him before he met and became obsessed with Anya and started making her life miserable. Seeing his name in a pile of resumes after all these years brought up all the FEELINGS because I’ve always felt guilty—that I should have done more to get Anya out of that terrible situation when it was happening.
If Dick applies for another position with us, I’ll most likely take the advice to start with the hiring manager rather than taking the conversation directly our HR staff. I have good working relationships within my office, and I’m told that my reputation here is for being very calm, which bodes well—I think I’m less likely to get the sexist treatment of being written off as “hysterical female trying to manufacture drama.” I really appreciate the helpful scripts for how to handle this conversation.
Can we take a moment to light a match and hold it to labels like “Your Harasser” and “My Alcoholic.” To me, this isn’t the mere quibble over semantics that it might appear to be.
Whomever these labeled people are, they are autonomous human beings, not possessions. I heard enough of the odd-but-real-pride as people wrung their hands and intoned, “My Alcoholic” in 12-step meetings to run me right off. To me, creating a link when there isn’t one just can’t be the path away from an abuser to autonomy.
“The person who harassed me” puts the proper distance between speaker and criminal.
That is an incredibly powerful reframing. Thank you for sharing it.
My comment was just eaten by the spam trap, presumably because it’s my second comment to this thread with a link in it. In any case, look up Jason Lieb. That’s what happens when people with red flags get hired. This isn’t a matter of deciding whether to put someone in prison, not even fire someone. They haven’t even been hired yet, so requiring formal findings of sexual misconduct when you have a collection of red flags is just stupid.
Hope it is not a wrong thing to attemp to repost in a way that avoids the spam trap.
A phrase I have used several times with situations that have come up in my life that are similar (fortunately, not as severe – more on the scale of attendance issues, being dressed provocatively in a job environment where that is inappropriate or against dress code, etc.) is explaining that I have worked with or known someone in the past, and “I have concerns about their professionalism.” It’s not saying anything specific in terms of libel or slander or whatever, it’s phrased so that it is CLEAR that it is your opinion. Your very negative opinion.
I used that phrase a lot when doing first-round interviews. Even if I hadn’t met the person before, if they were exceedingly late to the interview without an excuse, rude, inappropriately dressed, etc. that’s what I would write on my summary sheet to the actual hiring manager.
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