This week, someone asked me if my business typically slows down in December. Nope. If fact, more people appear to “misplace” their good judgment during the holidays than at any other time of the year. Speaking of misplaced good judgment, this week I’m introducing, On What Planet Is This OK? In this occasional feature, I will answer questions that begin or end with, “On what planet is this OK?” Have a question about an employee issue that’s out of this world? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our very first question is from Ken: I started working for my employer in February, so this is my first holiday season with the company and with my co-workers. When everyone started decorating their work areas after Thanksgiving, I decided to join the festivities and bring in a few things – a tabletop tree with mini ornaments, a Santa candy dish, and the extra Elf-on-the-shelf we had at home. Everything was great! Then, the next morning, I opened my desk drawer and found the Elf posed in a sexually-suggestive position with a half-naked Barbie doll and a mini bottle of vodka! Next, I heard a co-worker yell, “Ken got the whore-in-a-drawer today!” followed by cheering and laughter. I found out that every day until New Year’s Eve, a name is drawn and that person gets the whore-in-the-drawer and a mini bottle of alcohol. I decided to discuss it with my manager—the same day she got the doll in her drawer—and tell her I felt it was inappropriate and offensive. As soon as I brought it up, she cut me off and said the HR manager told her, “it’s not a problem as long as nobody complains.” Then she looked at me and said, “you’re not going to ruin this for everyone, are you?” With all the attention on workplace harassment, #MeToo, and the mandatory sexual harassment training we received in October, on what planet is this OK?
Ken, thanks for kicking off our new feature, “On What Planet Is This OK?” with an example of why I’m so busy these days! I’d heard of Elf-on-the-shelf and Mensch-on-a-bench, but, I’ll admit, whore-in-a-drawer was a new one for me. It’s probably safe to say the mandatory sexual harassment training your company provided wasn’t entirely effective, right?
Let me be clear, a whore-in-a-drawer doll is inappropriate, offensive, and demeaning to women—not just in the workplace—and I’m glad you recognize that. (Oh no, it’s Frank the fun crusher coming to crush everyone’s holiday spirit!) I’ll also bet a giant candy cane that you’re not the only person who is offended by these behaviors in the workplace. However, with messages from management like, “it’s not a problem as long as nobody complains,” and “you’re not going to ruin this for everyone, are you?” they’re laying low and all but impossible to identify.
Given the realities of your current situation, you have two choices: 1) you can go-along-to-get-along, ignoring the inappropriate behaviors around you, or 2) you can be the first to come forward and complain about the offensive and demeaning actions that occur daily, with management’s participation and approval. From what you’ve described, it sounds like you’ll need to contact someone at a higher level than your supervisor and the HR manager. In my experience, senior management wants to ensure a safe, harassment-free workplace for all employees. They also understand, and will likely want to minimize the business and financial risks associated with the behaviors you described.
Finally, to answer the eternal HR question, on what planet is this OK? Not this one, Ken. Not this one.
Thanks for spending a small part of your day with me, and have a great weekend!
Please feel free to contact Frank at email@example.com, or 585-380-1566 with questions or for more information.
Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute a legal opinion, and is not legal advice. The facts of each situation should be considered and analyzed individually. Therefore, you should always consult with competent employment counsel regarding any issues discussed here.
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