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Old 06-19-2006, 12:03 PM   #1
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Default Is calling someone "Sweetheart" harrassment in the workplace?

I work in a male-dominated industry. One of my many duties is answering the phone. A particular customer calls me "sweetheart" every time he calls. For awhile I just let it go, attributing it to the fact he is an older man.

A few weeks ago, he started getting more personal, asking me if I was married (I am not, but have been in a committed relationship for two years.) I'm sorry, but it just CREEPS ME OUT.

Today, I was brave enough to ask him to stop calling me anything but my name, because I barely know him, and I reserve terms of endearment for my boyfriend and/or my dad. His excuse was he didn't know my name ( I say it every time I answer the phone!!) So when I get ready to transfer his call, he calls me sweetheart AGAIN!! He did not hear a word I said.

I'm about ready to go to my boss about it. I am not comfortable with this man being so personal with me. The fine line is the fact that he is a good customer, and I don't want our company to lose his business because of me. I also don't want to get the reputation in the company of being a candy-butt and not being able to handle stuff like this.

I've been harrassed like this at a previous job--maybe that is why I am so sensitive about it.

So...what now?
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Old 06-19-2006, 12:44 PM   #2
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Jen: I used to work with about 2 dozen manager-type guys at Kodak once upon a time. Everyone was really professional...they were all about in their 50-'s - 60's in age and I liked it because they all reminded me of my dad. But there was one guy that was more like the overly romantic, divorced, gentlemanly type...if you get my drift. Like, there were times that we all had to pile in a van and go to a different place in Kodak and Bob would always make sure and open and close doors for me and was really just polite and...gentlemanly. One time, though, he actually came into my office and asked me OUT! He was, literally, about 60 years old and here I was...about 30 with a 2-year-old daughter. I always felt sorry for him because the other guys picked on him called him an airhead and here, I still felt sorry for him. I politely told him no (can you imagine me bringing home a boyfriend to my parents and he was older then THEM!!...Actually, that would have been pretty funny!!) and pretended it never happened...but then he kept coming to my office for me to do dumb things because, well, he wasn't really very busy, but he kept coming in and asking me to do things for him (business-wise...I was a secretary) and, literally, wasting my time on menial things. It was then I decided to tell my boss...when it was starting to effect my job performance. Looking back, I probably should have gone right to my boss the minute he asked me out, but I didn't want to give the guys anything more to talk about. I think old guys just have old paradymes that they work with in dealing with women at work. Like the guy that's calling you sweetheart. It would drive me nuts, too...but at the end of the day, I guess you could be called worse? Later on, at a different job, I sat across from a guy that was a new Vice President of our company...he was in a cubicle while waiting for his new window office to be done...and he flat-out...about two days into the job, asked me out, "You know, not as a business lunch, but as friends..." I thought, what a suave, concieted thing. I told my boss, who was a female my exact same age..."I don't want to get him in trouble or cause problems...I just wanted you to know this guy asked me out and get it out on the table between the two of us that it happened and I said no...in case he gets weird."

And, so, that's what I suggest to you....just tell your boss this guy calls you Sweetheart and that it bugs you and that you just want to get it out to him (your boss) that it's a problem for you in case he gets weird....in case it DOES get weird, the boss won't say, "Well, why didn't you tell me this before?" Now it'll be out there and if it gets weird, you're boss will know it's been an ongoing problem.

JMHO...and, long, boring story...hope it helps...Kris
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Old 06-19-2006, 01:55 PM   #3
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It's important to trust yourself in these situations. If you feel like you are being harassed, you probably are. I definitely think you should talk to your boss about it.

It also might be a good idea to start keeping a log of everything this guy does that makes you uncomfortable. The log should show the date/time each incident occurs and a short description of the incident. If his behavior escalates, if it is necessary to take legal action, or even if your boss just wants to confront him about his behavior, a log like this can be very powerful.

You might also consider correcting him every time he calls you sweetheart. I realize this is tedious and tiring for you and it shouldn't be your responsibility to teach him how to appropriately interact with women, but, if you feel up to it, correcting him might help you establish a boundary with him. It lets him know that you have a boundary, that's he's crossed it, and that you aren't okay with him crossing it. You don't have to be confrontational about it, you could just say something like, "Now, [his name], I thought we agreed that you would call me by my name." Hopefully after a few times, he'll catch on.

I have to deal with a number of older men as well. Luckily, they all know by now that calling me "sweetheart" and other terms of endearment isn't acceptable (and luckily I wasn't the one who had to teach them this). But I do get tired of them expecting me to be their stenographer. Honestly, take a typing course--it's not rocket science!
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Old 06-19-2006, 03:05 PM   #4
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You have to be direct, (but respectful- for your business' sake) with this sort of person. Just say, "My name is Jennifer not Sweetheart, please remember that, I'd hate to have to report you for harassment."
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Old 06-19-2006, 03:21 PM   #5
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You don't report "customers" for sexual harrassment in the workplace. Might be different if it were a manager or co-worker.

However, IMHO, it's such a small thing, if it were me, I'd overlook it. I myself call people "honey", "sweetie", and other such terms of endearment. I'm a 42 year old woman. Am I harrassing them?
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Old 06-19-2006, 04:38 PM   #6
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I was thinking along the same lines-it's a customer, not a fellow employee. Where legally does a person stand in this?

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Old 06-19-2006, 04:53 PM   #7
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for any company..employees are more important than ANY customer!!! You must stick to what you feel comfortable with!!!
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Old 06-19-2006, 04:58 PM   #8
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Its all in the way he says sweetheart to you. I have plenty of male friends that can call me sweetheart and i wouldnt think twice about it. But if he says it in a way that creeps you out and you are uncomfortable with it then you should tell your boss if you have told him (i think more than once) and he continues to do it. I would explain to him one more time that you are very serious and you will report it the next time it happens.
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Old 06-19-2006, 05:20 PM   #9
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Fine and dandy - but it's a CUSTOMER - so again, I ask: WHERE do you report such a thing? The "proper authorities"? Come on! That's ludicrous. She simply feels uncomfortable that he calls her sweetheart. Now if the dude starts stalking her or whatever, THEN she has a case. Otherwise, she needs to buck-up and get over it. People do things we don't like all the time. You can ask them to stop, you can threaten, plead, beg, etc. But you can't MAKE THEM do anything.

Such is life.
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Old 06-19-2006, 05:31 PM   #10
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If you read my original post, it is more than that. He is asking personal questions, like am I married and things like that.

Believe me, I have been "sucking it up" for awhile now. It just seems to be getting worse. And I shouldn't be subject to feeling the way I do for a customer.

At the very least, I am going to let my boss and our HR liason know what is going on. I know there may not be anything legal that can happen, but at least they won't be able to say they don't know about it.
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Old 06-19-2006, 05:39 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jen415
If you read my original post, it is more than that. He is asking personal questions, like am I married and things like that.

Believe me, I have been "sucking it up" for awhile now. It just seems to be getting worse. And I shouldn't be subject to feeling the way I do for a customer.

At the very least, I am going to let my boss and our HR liason know what is going on. I know there may not be anything legal that can happen, but at least they won't be able to say they don't know about it.
I'm sorry- I don't mean to lessen your frustration over this - I know it can be a big ol' PITA! - but the fact is, he isn't HURTING you. He may be BOTHERING the heck outta you! - aggravating you, upsetting you, etc. - but he's not HURTING you. You have the choice to hang up when he gets too personal; you have the choice to tell him, "I'm sorry, but I don't answer personal questions with customers - thank you for your business, Good day." CLICK.

The fact is, you are not exercising your own personal rights here. HR can't do a thing to help you, other than maybe give you the same kind of advice as I have. It might help to have your boss speak to this man, but in all likelihood, that will alienate him as a customer - never a good thing.

You should try handling this on your own. Go for it! - YOU CAN DO IT! And you'll feel more in control & more empowered as a woman AND as an employee if you handle it yourself. Trust me on this.
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Old 06-19-2006, 05:54 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Beach Patrol
I'm sorry- I don't mean to lessen your frustration over this - I know it can be a big ol' PITA! - but the fact is, he isn't HURTING you. He may be BOTHERING the heck outta you! - aggravating you, upsetting you, etc. - but he's not HURTING you. You have the choice to hang up when he gets too personal; you have the choice to tell him, "I'm sorry, but I don't answer personal questions with customers - thank you for your business, Good day." CLICK.

The fact is, you are not exercising your own personal rights here. HR can't do a thing to help you, other than maybe give you the same kind of advice as I have. It might help to have your boss speak to this man, but in all likelihood, that will alienate him as a customer - never a good thing.

You should try handling this on your own. Go for it! - YOU CAN DO IT! And you'll feel more in control & more empowered as a woman AND as an employee if you handle it yourself. Trust me on this.
I guess this is a situation that I cannot completely convey over the internet with the written word. Let me try putting it a different way--I get PHYSICALLY ILL when he calls. (I don't know if this falls under your definition of "hurting" me or not.) I can't stand to answer the phone thinking he's going to be on the other end. I've tried handling it myself (as I stated in my first post), but he's blown me off. The way he talks to me is not professional in any way, shape or form.

It sounds like my only recourse now is to hang up on him when he calls and starts in again. This is why I want to tell my boss, so that he will know why if I have to do this.
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Old 06-19-2006, 05:56 PM   #13
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How often does this man call?

Why is he calling?

Is it specifically to speak to you (claiming to be en route to a different official?)?

Would he be calling even if you weren't the one answering the phone?

Sounds like you're giving him too much power over your life.
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Old 06-19-2006, 06:01 PM   #14
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Jen, I don't want to lessen your situation or anything like that because I know this a support forum. But, what is happening to you is far, far away from harrassment.
I work in a male dominated industry as well. I deal with an office full of men and truck drivers every day. I get called sweetheart, honey, babe, hon, etc. etc. And a whole heck of a lot worse. But, I don't let it get to me. A lot of them I know and I know that they're just doing it because they feel comfortable with me and that's just how they are. I get asked if I'm married all the time. If I'm married, when we're planning on having kids, what I'm doing over the weekend, etc. It's just innocent conversation.
The whole sexual harrassment thing is just getting out of hand and it's minute things like this that ruin it for the times when there really is something BAD happening. If women start crying, "Harrassment!" for every time they're called "hon", "sweetheart", whatever, it's going to make it much harder for someone to be taken seriously when something bad DOES happen!!
Harrassment is being told you would, "look good in leather, holding a whip", it's being told, "I'd like to be a fly on the wall in your honeymoon suite", it's being told that you should go to a sex toy store and buy a strap on to use on your husbad. Blunt, I know, but this is what happened to me with one of the drivers here. Harrassment is being fired because you won't "put out". Harrassment is being grabbed or touched in an inappropriate way.
Being called "sweetheart" really is the least of your worries. I would not talk to your boss about it. Talk to the man again if it's bothering you that much. Keep notes on what is said and the dates that it happens. But, all in all it just sounds to me as though the guy feels that you are easy to talk to or the like.
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Old 06-19-2006, 08:27 PM   #15
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Is there someone else that he can deal with other than you? If not then I definitely would hang up on the guy when he starts or at least tell your boss first and see what he has to say about it. You should never have to deal with people you are uncomfortable with.

I think in your case it could be different or construed as harrassment, especially if you asked him to not call you that and you get creeped out from his calls. But...(always a but isn't there?) I get called that from people all the time. Not sure if it is a midwesterner thing or not. But even women and young girls have said Thank you sweetheart, hon, or honey. Seems a little odd to me but some people are like that.
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