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.