DEAR HARRIETTE: I work at a restaurant with counter service only. In my short weeks working here, my manager has begun to comment on my looks and put his hands on my waist. I complain about this to my friends, who are also 18, and they tell me to quit. I need the money, but can't stand the harassment. Also, part of me wants to make sure he won't harass other girls who work at this restaurant. Should I go on a quest for justice, or just quit and try to find a new job? — Paws Off, Brooklyn, New YorkDEAR PAWS OFF: This is an unfortunate and common occurrence in the workforce, particularly for young people. Your boss's behavior is inappropriate and unlawful. Sadly, there is a chance that you could lose your job if you speak up. But this is one of those times that your voice is incredibly important.
The next time your boss touches you, ask him not to do that again. Tell him that it makes you feel uncomfortable for him to make comments about your appearance and, more, to touch you inappropriately. Point out that you thought this would be a great job for you and you would like to stay working there, but you do not think it is fair for him to treat you in this manner.
Chances are, your boss will be surprised. He is likely banking on your youth being a deterrent to you being able to speak up for yourself. I also recommend that you look for another job. You may never feel completely comfortable there, given your boss's proclivities. Unless you are prepared to sue and go the distance with him in court, make a plan for departing, but not without letting him know how you feel.DEAR HARRIETTE: How can I go about earning respect as a younger administrative employee at a company? Some of the people I work with are a decade older than me, and even though we have the same position, I still get treated like I don't know what I am talking about because of my age. My experience and education make me qualified for the job, so do I just have to wait until I get older to gain respect from my peers? — Young'un, Jackson, Mississippi
DEAR YOUNG'UN: This is a classic experience, almost a rite of passage for many young employees. While it is discriminatory for employees to be treated differently because of their age, it happens all too often. There are a few things you can do to support yourself.
Avoid getting into sparring matches with the offenders. They likely are intimidated by the new person in the office and may feel that you are either a current or future threat. Be kind to them despite their bad behavior. Dress professionally. When you look the part, it helps to deflect from your youth. Keep good records of your work and accomplishments so that if anyone attempts to claim your work as their own, you can prove what is yours. Bide your time. After the team gets to know you better, most will relax their unacceptable behavior.
Lifestylist and author Harriette Cole is president and creative director of Harriette Cole Media. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or C/O Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.