How Do I Report Sexual Harassment During COVID-19?

It’s just one of the many perils of working from home

My husband is retired. COVID-19 has forced me to work from home. Translation: I am at home with him all day every day. Trying to work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

He walks into my office (the dining room) without invitation. He passes by me and grabs my behind or other parts, leans in and kisses me, stands behind me and massages my shoulders (for too short a time), suggests ways I might spend my lunch break with him (and it isn’t always a Walmart shopping trip). I’m not suggesting this is unpleasant, but, really, it is inappropriate at work.

Can you claim sexual harassment in the workplace if the harasser is not a colleague?

(Ever since I told him I was writing this post, he now takes even more delight in sexually harassing me, pointing out that, yes, he is doing just that.)

I had to sign a “work from alternate location” form to work from home — even though I’m not “essential personnel” and, therefore, banned from going to the office. I noticed it has a section that covers injuries in the “alternate location” workplace. It gives a phone number to call for worker’s compensation.

I see no such easy access for reporting sexual harassment.

A couple of months ago, when his retirement was official, my husband found a cartoon depicting a couple speaking with a man at his retirement party.

“What are you doing with your time now that you’re retired?” one asked.

“I’m obsessing over my lawn and getting on my wife’s last nerve,” said the new retiree.

Steve had printed the cartoon from the New Yorker and had shown it to me — quite joyfully — when I had returned home from work one day. (Yes, going to work used to be a thing.) He laughed at how accurately it portrayed his retirement.

So he knows exactly what he is doing. That was my thought when he gave me the cartoon.

Steve spends a lot of time in the landscape, giving particular attention to the front lawn. When I had the pleasure of commuting to an office for work (and I never thought I’d consider commuting a pleasure), he gave me his full attention before and after my workday, which, I admit, sometimes got on my nerves. (As he purposed, apparently.) Now I work in his presence. All. Day. Long.

Yay, me.

Did I mention that I have spent the past four weekends planting St. Augustine sod plugs? (I used to content myself doing multiple loads of laundry and cleaning house.) You may have seen me wearing hefty “No Cry” knee pads over my leggings as I crawled all over the front yard, pulling weeds, breaking up the skeleton roots of sod that failed, finally digging holes, sprinkling black grains of Milorganite into them, and tenderly tucking each sod plug into its new home.

Grow, sod, grow.

I’m aiding and abetting his lawn obsession AND practically holding out my last nerve for his own pleasure.

Business casual must be cool

Every year my husband and I differ on when comfort becomes more important than cost. We enjoy the open windows. The fresh air, the singing of birds, and unmuted sunshine appeal to us — as does the lower number on our electric bill.

But at a certain point, Florida “spring” feels like summer — even in April. Temperatures rise — sometimes into the 90s. Worse, humidity rises. (The highest my barometer reaches is 99 percent, but my hair tells me it’s much higher.) My small window of comfort — and Goldilocks has nothing on me — makes me ready to close up the house and crank on the air conditioning.

My husband, who can run around the house stark naked and still think himself sufficiently clothed, doesn’t mind a little sweat. Normally, when I’m comfortably working in a chilly office building, a slightly warm house seems almost welcoming at the end of the workday. But when I’m working at home during a Florida spring, the clammy warmth is almost intolerable.

(God help me if this extends into summer. And by summer I mean May. Or tomorrow.)

When my lips, beaded with sweat, dared speak of such misery to my dear (cheap) husband, he reached into the freezer, pulled out a medical ice pack and unceremoniously plopped it against the back of my neck.

Ah! Relief. (The only relief I will get.)

I understand why he wants to keep the windows open as long as possible. (He’s a penny pincher.) But the weather is so changeable. We may have a few days of delightful warmth (low humidity), a cold front that brings clear skies and crisp air, and then days of unbearable humidity and heat with the promise of a cool front to break that trend. Those promises of cool are becoming fewer and farther between.

If you see me on a Zoom call when it’s warm and humid, I may look all professional on the top, but you can bet I’m wearing shorts. (I’ll try to keep my naked husband out of the picture.) Business cool is the new business casual.

Make a stand for your happy place

Since I typically work at a standing desk, the first day and a half sitting at my dining room table to work was enough time to determine that I needed to stand in my home office. But how?

My husband, who is good for things that aren’t sexual in nature too, helped me heft a small cedar chest and a coffee table on top of our dining room table in my new “office.” (We can’t entertain anyway during COVID-19.) The cedar chest, 13 inches tall, is where I place my keyboard and mouse. The coffee table, at 15 inches tall, stands behind the chest and holds my laptop and a large monitor.

On the ceramic tile floor, I placed a rug from the bathroom and an anti-fatigue mat from my kitchen. My back is happier, and the only downside is that I now stand all day long. All. Day. Long. But standing all day is still better than sitting.

Far worse is the sound in which I stand

My husband listens to talk radio all day every day. He has radios in the laundry room, kitchen, master bedroom, foyer, dining room, on the back porch, and in the garage. All are manually operated, so changing the station is a big commitment.

News is at the top of the hour, along with station identification, followed by discussion of the news by talk-show hosts and their guests. It is all COVID-19, all the time — except for the weather. (Weather is the real “fake news,” by the way.)

The first couple of days working from home, I couldn’t take the incessant blather and bad news. “Everyone’s going to die! The economy is tanking! Life as we know it is over.” I turned off the radio in the dining room — but I could hear the radios in the hallway and the back porch calling my name.

No. That was my husband.

After a couple of days, I found I was able to tune out the radio entirely. I divorced myself from the blaring airways and concentrated on my job — which did require a lot of concentration.

Occasionally, I’d hear my husband laugh loudly, but I refused to take the bait. I had work to do.

“Did you hear that?” he would then call.

“No,” I would say, “I’m tuning it out.”

He would enter my space and tell me what the announcer had just said. The opposite of “Home on the Range,” radio seems to thrive on discouraging words. I would explain to my dear husband — again — that I was tuning out the radio. (I figured that was more mature than sticking my fingers in my ears and saying, “Blah, blah, blah” to prevent me from hearing what he said.) Because. I. Had. Work. To. Do.

“The bad news will still be bad news at 5 o’clock,” I would say to him. “I can’t entertain all this terror during the day and still do my job.”

(And by “terror,” I mean the news, although I can understand if you thought I meant my husband and his propensity for sexual, climate, and sound harassment.)

My office at work has a door. With a lock. Despite my floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lobby and the coffee bar that attracts clients from all over the building, I am alone. My climate-controlled office space, complete with a flowing fountain, shelters me from noises and voices.

And sexual harassment by my husband.


Originally published April 23, 2020, on Publishous on Medium.com.

2 thoughts on “How Do I Report Sexual Harassment During COVID-19?

  1. Hi, Sara! Another well written blog!☺. Tongue 😝 in cheek, some remarks! Does Stephen listen to Chris Plant. 9:00-12:00? DCA station. I do. It goes National! 💘. Love, Aunt Claire

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi! Glad you liked it! Our stations are local with some syndicated segments, but I don’t think Chris Plant is one of them. Guess I can’t come work at your place either. Sounds like you and Steve would get along just fine. 😀

      Like

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