Real Simple etiquette expert Catherine Newman shares advice on what to do if you find yourself in a sticky workplace situation.

Ross MacDonald

Q. Recently my new boss and I traveled to a corporate training session. On the way, as he was driving, he asked me to reference an item from his company-issued iPad. As soon as I entered his passcode, a pornographic site came up. Panicked, my boss took his hands off the wheel and grabbed the iPad from me, almost wrecking the car in the process. I have been creeped out ever since this happened. I continue to work with him but can’t get this incident out of my mind. Should I say anything to my boss—or to his superiors?

D.K.

A. Yuck. This should not have happened to you, and one would hope that your boss feels the same way. I don’t know the rules at your company, but in many workplaces viewing pornographic material on a work-issued computer is a fireable offense.

You may well wish to talk to your boss’s superiors or to human resources, since he endangered you while driving his car in addition to probably violating workplace rules. And you certainly should go this route if his behavior has been lascivious or otherwise inappropriate—or if you feel that the “accident” was in any way intentional. In that case, the incident probably constitutes sexual harassment. Just know that your complaint could end with his dismissal.

On the other hand, if you think that your boss simply made a terrible (and creepy) mistake, you might want to communicate with him directly. You could send him an e-mail that says something like “Ever since I saw that pornographic website on your iPad, I’ve felt uncomfortable around you. How can we straighten things out?” (Sending an e-mail will also create a paper trail, which could be helpful if he repeats this behavior in the future.)

Hopefully your boss will reply, “I know—I’m totally mortified. Please accept my deepest apologies.” And then nothing untoward will ever happen again. However, if his response is hostile or unapologetic, you may want to reconsider Plan A and tell his supervisors about the incident.

—Catherine Newman


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