How to Deal
Don't turn a dream internship into a sleep-over on your boss's couch
Thursday, June 24, 2010; 4:03 PM
So I got myself in a messy situation and would appreciate some ideas of ways to deal with it. I landed a dream internship working for two men who are business partners with a small but up-and-coming brand in my industry of choice. I truly love the work I get to do with them and relish the chance to observe them as they attain further success and recognition. I have been with them for three weeks and will likely continue at least through the fall. Problem: these guys thought it would be fun to have me work my first day during a special evening-long project with other prominent professionals, culminating in a victory party at a bar. Of course, I, as a first day intern, resisted the offer for multiple drinks, wanting to give a good impression. Well the bosses wouldn't take no for an answer, and the night ended with my boss drunkenly coming on to me and trying to kiss me (which surprised me not just because he was my boss, but because I until this point had assumed him gay!) And then me being sick in his apartment and crashing on his couch. The next day, I got several apologetic phone calls from him, but none mentioned his attempts to kiss me. Since then, he has shown me favor over the other interns and seems genuinely interested in me (I had thought it was all just the booze talking), and I'm pretty sure his partner is unaware of most of this, aside from the fact that I was allowed to sleep on the couch rather than taking the train home. Is it foolish of me to assume I can work peacefully with these guys for a few months if I remain professional? And should I ever mention the fact that I do in fact remember everything about that crazy night? I don't want to give up this opportunity because of one horny guy.
Dating the boss is never a good idea. Hitting on an intern is hardly a brilliant move, either. So, where does this leave you and your metrosexual mentor?
If you are serious about making the most of your internship, then you would be wise to try to put the whole unfortunate couch-crashing incident behind you. It is nice that your boss had the good sense to apologize, albeit ambiguously, about his behavior. Ideally, you would have accepted his apology while stressing your professional admiration for him and his partner and your desire to move forward without committing any such future blunders.
I surmise that your response was probably not so definitive. In fact, I hear a note of flattery in your recounting of the romantic interest your boss has since displayed. Beware. You are not at all foolish to believe that you can recover from and move beyond that "crazy night," but doing so will require that you set very clear boundaries regarding the behavior that you are willing to engage in and tolerate.
Foremost, I would caution you not to overindulge in alcohol at company events, including team outings. By now you have hopefully learned the potential consequences of allowing your judgment to become impaired in this way. Sober or drunk, your boss should know better than to come onto to you, but the fact is that he does not get it. Given the favoritism he has been displaying toward you at the office, you can expect him to attempt some other sort of sexual overture the moment the opportunity presents itself. It is not your fault that he is behaving this way, but neither should you participate in creating the circumstances that support his inappropriate conduct.
If, despite your sincere efforts to maintain a completely appropriate and platonic relationship with your boss, he continues to make passes at you, then you should be more direct. Tell him flatly that you are not interested and ask him to stop. If he tries yet again, then tell his business partner.
You might be tempted to humor your boss, especially if it means higher quality assignments or exposure during the term of your internship. But I encourage you to take the longer view. Your internship could lead to a valuable professional reference and an offer of future employment. Or, if you engage in a reckless affair, your internship could lead you instead to disrepute within the company and your industry.
Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail HRadvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.