Business/Economy

Office creep has new employee wondering whether she made the wrong move

Question:

I’m not sure what I’ve walked into with my new job. I started work in a medical clinic three weeks ago. In the past, I’ve worked in warehouses and for construction companies. I was so excited to land a job in a medical facility because I thought the atmosphere would be more professional. It’s not.

One of the doctors regularly makes inappropriate comments to the employees, often critiquing his wife’s body by comparing her looks to those of patients. He also thinks it’s totally OK to give light shoulder massages to the staff. I have nothing against massages, but the doctor makes comments as he massages like “You like this? Hmm?” that make me uncomfortable.

I try to tune out his comments, but last week when I was eating my lunch in the breakroom, he came in and started a conversation about how great it is for women to go commando. He said it liberated them and once they’d done it, they’d feel freed. One of the older staff members rolled her eyes but didn’t say anything. I left the room.

Then, when I went into the breakroom Friday morning to get a cup of coffee, he asked if I was hungry. I hadn’t eaten breakfast and when I admitted I was hungry, he gave me a banana. When I thanked him and took it, he told me he wanted to watch me eat it. He stood there as if he was expecting me to eat the banana as he watched. I felt my face redden, placed the banana on the counter and fled the breakroom.

What do I do? No one else seems to mind this doctor’s antics. Some like the massages and even say “me too” when he’s working on someone else. Am I making too big a deal of this? I’m afraid I’ll lose my job if I say how I feel to the wrong person.

Answer:

You’re not making too big a deal of this. You’ve described a physician who sexualizes the work environment by placing his hands on employees and making inappropriate comments. The banana incident, for which he set you up, had a sexual subtext. Worse, as a newly hired employee, you fear you’ll lose your job if you protest what’s going on. He’s a poster child for the fact that sexual harassment isn’t only about sex; it’s also about power.

You have three options.

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You can seek out the HR manager and ask for confidentiality and then ask for coaching. By phrasing it as a coaching request, you indicate that you’re not making a complaint, you’re asking how to handle a situation. If the HR manager is on the ball, she’ll realize she has a problem she needs to fix and end this doctor’s pranks.

If she doesn’t investigate and fix this, she allows a high-risk situation that can explode as soon as a patient or employee connects with the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, the Alaska State Human Rights Commission or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A complaint made to any of those will likely trigger an investigation. If you’ve accurately reported this situation, any of these agencies will learn that your clinic’s management knew or should have known that they had a sexually inappropriate work environment. That will trigger fines.

If you fear identifying yourself as the whistleblower, you can write an anonymous letter and mail it to the clinic’s chief executive officer or managing physician. Unless they’ve been sleeping for the last decade, they’ll realize they have a situation that needs handling.

You can also call me, let me know the name of your clinic and I’ll call your clinic’s chief executive officer. I won’t reveal your identity. I’ll say I’ve heard rumors of continuing sexual harassment involving comments and physical touch on the part of a physician at their clinic.

If any of the above actions places your job at risk, immediately contact the AERC, ASHRC or EEOC, as you and your job are protected against retaliation when you protest sexual harassment.

Good luck and please let me know how this turns out.

Lynne Curry | Alaska Workplace

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Navigating Conflict,” “Managing for Accountability,” “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully,” and workplacecoachblog.com. Curry is president of Communication Works Inc. Send questions to her at workplacecoachblog.com/ask-a-coach or follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10.

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